Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Even John Meier can illustrate...

... how hard it is to get into the world of the text, rather than bring the text into your world.

Since I've read Charles Taylor, I have been using this lens to try to help students see the difference between inductive Bible study and theological interpretation as I define it. I consider both approaches valid, with theological interpretation as the default Christian approach (I won't take the time to clarify). The problem I see with evangelical hermeneutics is that it can't tell the difference between the two. It pretends to do the former to get the latter, when in fact the two are logically distinct and both legitimate.

Inductive Bible study aims to read the biblical texts on their own terms in their own categories. Theological interpretation brings the text into the Christian world of the interpreter. IBS is exegetical. Theological interpretation has an element of eisegesis that is not only appropriate but is necessary for biblical theology even to exist. Theological interpretation is the ground floor of the Bible as the living word of God. Inductive Bible study is the basement of the original, ancient meaning.

The distinction I am getting at is very hard to convey by telling, as I continually try. It is much easier to show by example. When talking about outlining biblical texts today, another example popped up, and this by the brilliant and renowned John Meier.

Meier and others see a chiasm in Hebrews 1:5-14. (It has occurred to me that the tendency to see chiasms is in certain individuals a tell tale symptom of "bringing the text into my world" rather than "getting into the text's world.") A chiasm is an A-B-B-A pattern and I have heard astounding papers that see ingenious ABCDEFGGFEDCBA patterns in a text. Such papers reflect the ingenious active mind of the interpreter--and the interpreter's complete inability to listen to the text on its own terms.

Back to Meier. His chiasm sees something like the following (I'm doing it from memory, so I'm sure I'm messing it up a little, but you'll get the picture)

1:5 exaltation (A)
1:6 pre-existence (B)
1:8 eternal God (C)
1:10 pre-existence (B)
1:13 exaltation (A)

This seems to me a wonderful example of an eisegetical outline. It brings the text into Meier's theological world and connects the words of the text with ideas in Meier's head.

But an outline that is inductively driven looks for literary clues in the text to discern the structure of argument rather than imposing ideological labels on the text. Topical outlines of biblical books are thus always impositions of meaning on the text.

Here is an outline that is based on the text itself and its categories:

1:5a To which did God say... (inclusio with 1:13)
1:5b And...
1:6 And...

1:7 On the one hand (contrasts with)
1:8-12 On the other (quote one and quote two)

1:13 To which did God say (end of inclusio)

Outlines that follow the ideas a reader sees in the text are always eisegetical rather than truly inductive. And I tell my students that once they truly understand what I am saying, they can easily be a better scholar at some points than some of the most recognized scholars out there.

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