Friday, April 23, 2010

Biblical-Theological Relationships

John Drury had an excellent probing of a post I did yesterday. I tend to emphasize the distinction between earlier meanings of biblical texts and later uses of them (NT use of OT, orthodoxy's use of NT). "What, however, is the appropriate conversation between the Bible and theology?" John probes. Surely we are more interested in the end with how the two connect rather than how they might separate.

Here's a first attempt at potential relationships between the Bible and Christian theology or, as I would put it, between earlier and later points in the flow of revelation:

1. A biblical meaning may be "mature" revelation on a certain point and thus equate to Christian theology.

  • The "pre-modern" interpreter usually assumes that all points of Scripture reflect fully mature Christian theology and perceives no distance at all between the biblical text and Christian theology. Moses, David, and Isaiah all understand about the Christ. The Trinity is in Genesis 1:27, etc.
  • The "covenantal" or dispensational interpreter usually has some sense of the development between the OT and NT but sees this not as a development of understanding but as a divinely intended implementation plan.
  • A contextual interpreter recognizes a real and substantial development in understanding that takes place between the testaments and even between the NT and full Christian orthodoxy.
  • Nevertheless, there are moments of "mature" revelation in the biblical texts. Faith in resurrection is barely present in the OT (Daniel 12) but arguably reaches a mature form in the NT.

2. An earlier meaning of a biblical text may be general, but "underdeveloped" in a sense that a later biblical text or later Christian theology "fills in" or provides greater specifics.

  • The OT arguably reaches a point of maturity on monotheism in the middle part of Isaiah where revelation has moved beyond henotheism. But such monotheism is still "underdeveloped" in relation to the trinitarian Christian understanding.
  • A passage like 2 Corinthians 13:13 mentions all three persons of the Trinity but does not specify the relationship between them. (I'm putting this here for illustration--it might go more under 3 and 4).

3. An earlier meaning may stand among other moment-points whose mean is on the kingdom trajectory but which in itself is not precisely on the kingdom trajectory.

  • The idea here is that prior to a doctrine reaching "maturity," there can be a sampling of revelatory moments that have elements of the kingdom trajectory but also elements in tension with the kingdom trajectory. Alternatively, we might have a text that is further along on the path toward mature doctrine than another.
  • A difficult example of this might be some of the NT Christology that played into the hands of sub-orthodox positions in the early Trinitarian and Christological debates. Paul clearly considers Christ to be subordinate to God, for example (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:28) and relating such verses to Christ's humanity (versus his divinity) introduces elements into the discussion completely foreign to Paul's own.

4. The wording of a biblical text may be subject to a polyvalence which, whatever it meant originally, can be reinterpreted in such a way as to fit with later revelation.

  • The Spirit danced with the polyvalence of any number of OT texts to reflect mature doctrine, such as when Acts 2 uses Psalm 16 in reference to Christ's resurrection, even though this was not at all the likely original meaning of the psalm.
  • Arguably the Spirit danced with the polyvalence of a number of OT and NT texts to reflect mature doctrine in the early church, such as the common sense that the "we" of Genesis 1:27 refers to the Trinity or the tendency to take "You are my Son, today I have begotten you" in relation to the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father.

5. An earlier meaning of a biblical text may be context-particular in a way that does not move forward on a kingdom trajectory.

  • Although in a very broad sense this might be a sub-category of three, we have in mind here accommodations God made to cultures and or moments in the flow of revelation that represent elements left behind rather than carried forward.
  • Those parts of the OT that not only do not know about resurrection but that actually argue against any meaningful afterlife (e.g., Job 14:12; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).
  • So God allows for divorce in Deut. 24, even though it turns out not to be his ideal. The same might be argued for God's accommodations to slavery and patriarchy within the biblical text, perhaps even the genocide of various races.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, especially, for the examples.