Thursday, April 22, 2010

In and Out Hermeneutics

I don't know if it's helpful to you (you can tell me), but nice little ditty came to mind this week to try to explain the difference between inductive Bible study and default pre-modern way Scripture is used (and I might throw in here the postmodern way it is used in theological interpretation). We were talking about the book of Matthew at the time.

"What I see you doing in this assignment is bringing the book of Matthew into your world. Inductive Bible study aims to get you into Matthew's world."

What I was trying to say here is what I have said elsewhere about the fact that we inevitably provide most of the "glue" that holds the individual bits of the Bible together into a coherent whole. The question that sparked this comment was an assignment in which we were going through the Great Commission and asking questions of Matthew's text like "When does Jesus receive all authority in this text?" I was expecting to have a dialog over whether the resurrection that has just taken place has brought Jesus this authority.

But understandably we got into a theological discussion about Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. Thus the comment, we can easily find ourselves bringing the words of Matthew into our theological world. The much more difficult skill--and one that often does not come naturally or easily--is to be able to get into the world of Matthew, to read Matthew as it stands in its own right without blurring its thought with thought from elsewhere.

This gets back at the question of theological interpretation. To me, it's perfectly appropriate--but don't confuse it with the original meaning.


JohnLDrury said...

This is a great example. Thanks for this. Here are some thoughts to continue our ongoing conversation about the relation between exegesis and theology:

I agree that we ought to avoid confusing original meaning interpretation with intentional theological interpretation, for the sake of the integrity of both modes of interpretation. However, I'd like to hear more on how to construct a conversation between original meaning interpretation and intentional theological interpretation. I've heard you speak of constructing a biblical theology by drawing on the wider witness of scripture. That's good. But I'm wondering here more about how the two modes of interpretation engage each other in the exegesis of specific texts.

For instance, in the case of Matthew 28, to what extent does the giving of authority to Jesus Christ in his resurrection from the dead help us to reconsider some (bad) habits of thought in the Christian tradition, such as when the incarnation renders the resurrection either logically necessary or superfluous, so that in either case it lacks dramatic significance. Without bringing original meaning interpretation to bear on theological interpretation, the latter cannot be challenged and/or developed by means of exegetical insights.

In the other direction, to what extent can we consider later trinitarian reflection as an appropriate (though not necessarily exclusively valid) attempt at making sense of the explicitly theological claims made by a texts. Matthew 28 seems to say some things about the identity of Jesus. It seems to me that we cannot rule out in principle later doctrinal concepts. Though in practice I would agree that such concepts are the usual suspects for obscuring original meaning, I am leery of ruling them out altogether inasmuch as they might be occasionally helpful in the task of solving interpretive puzzles. I say this especially because, historically, it was such puzzle-solving capacity that contributed to the ascendancy of certain doctrinal proposals over others.

Perhaps these musing just add to the confusion. I just don't want to give up on some kind of living relationship between exegesis and theology. Perhaps you have some thoughts on constructing a conversation between original meaning interpretation and theological interpretation that will clear up the confusion...

Ken Schenck said...

I have a feeling you already have some good ideas for this sort of conversation! Thanks for such a thoughtful response.

I'm sure it would do me well to know how a particular text such as this one played in the progress of working out a doctrine like the Trinity. I feel a stab at a typology coming on--probably too long to post as a comment. I'll take a stab and set it to post in the morning.

I'm sure it's been done before--you may even already have something like this in mind.