Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dale Martin - Theology and Manuscripts

Today I read a chapter by Dale Martin in a volume co-edited by Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace called The Reliability of the New Testament.  His chapter is called "The Necessity of a Theology of Scripture."

Let me just say that I am frequently impressed with Martin's work. I don't think I introduced myself to him in 1995 when he was at Tübingen on sabbatical and I was there working on my dissertation.  He was working at that time on what I consider a tour de force on 1 Corinthians, The Corinthian Body.  His work in that book on our presuppositions about the soul were really paradigm-changing for me.

Perhaps the sentence that captures his chapter in Reliability best for me is this one: "Just as the church is embodied in particular, visible, physical groups of people but must not be identified with any of those groups or even with all those groups gathered together, so scripture is embodied in particular texts, manuscripts, editions, and translations but cannot be identified with any of them, including the imagined 'original autographs'" (88).  This may seem vague, so let me give a few more quotes.

"In the modern world since the dominance of the printing press, we are used to thinking that there is one right edition of every document, and that in most cases we (or at least the experts) can produce it. Realizing that Christian scripture cannot be so published--that no editor or group of editors can deliver 'the' right version, edition, or translation--may surprise modern people, but that is a reflection of the confusion about texts and textuality befogging modern people.  It is also a result of the fact that most modern people, including most Christians, are living with what is an immature and untrained theology of scripture" (87).

He goes on: "the Bible isn't scripture simply in and of itself. It is scripture, the word of God, when it is read in faith by the leading of the Holy Spirit."  He certainly is not opposed to historical readings of the Bible. He just thinks they are vastly incomplete when we are trying to talk about the Bible as Christian Scripture.

It goes without saying that Martin believes that if our faith is focused on being able to know the precise wording of the text, we're way off the mark. But he's saying much more than that. He's saying the whole theology of Scripture that pushes in this direction is way off.

I won't go into much detail. He prefers a theology of Scripture that sees us "entering a space where our Christian imaginations may be informed, reshaped, even surprised by the place scripture becomes for us" (90). He thinks models of the Bible as an "answer book" or a "user's manual" or even as an "authority" are incredibly vague and thus inadequate. The model of the Bible as the narrative of God's people comes closer for him, but he prefers his "space" analogy.

He ends with some interesting thoughts.  He quotes Elizabeth Johnson of Columbia Theological Seminary as saying, "the problem with evangelicals is that they don't have enough faith in God" (92). He says, "The text won't save us. God will save us."  And finally, "Ehrman allowed textual criticism to destroy his faith in scripture because he had an inadequate theology of scripture" (93).



Angie Van De Merwe said...

One has to believe in "spiritual beings", that "God" is not an idea that has evolved out from paganism. Myth is important to men, but can be dangerous, as well.

The myth that a Stalin or Hitler held over their people is similar to what "discipleship models" adhere to. A militaristic understanding of "Command" and "discipline" under "God" ("cross theology"). Such "worship" leaves one blind to reality in many ways. This is how faith works, ignoring the details or rationalizing them away and denying whatever one really desires, feels or thinks, because "God" comes first.

This is what a "theology of the text" sounds like to me...

FrGregACCA said...

"Just as the church is embodied in particular, visible, physical groups of people but must not be identified with any of those groups or even with all those groups gathered together...."

I see. So then, "the Eternal Logos of God is embodied, incarnated, in a particular, visible, physical man, but must not be identified with that man..."

Really? REALLY? I don't even know what to call this.

Gnosticism? Nestorianism? Both? Some new platonizing heresy?

Completely and totally bizarre.

Ken Schenck said...

What he's getting at here is the distinction between the visible and the "invisible" church, while recognizing that the church is always visible. As far as I can see, it is an incontrovertible conclusion because:

1. The true church cannot be identified with any visible group of people. We cannot know the concrete certainty of who is in and out by sight.

2.Yet as useful as the idea of the invisible church is, the church is not invisible. It is always made up of concrete, visible people.

So the physical boundaries of the church are seen but unseen, just as the precise wording of the original text is seen but unseen. We have good reason to think we have a great deal of it pinned down but we cannot know for certain which concrete words are certainly original and which are not.

FrGregACCA said...

That only makes sense, Ken, if one assumes that "the Church" properly so-called, is first invisible and is is synonymous with the elect, with all those who are saved or will be saved.

This notion flies in the face of all pre-reformation historic Christianity and ignores the issue of divinely-ordained offices of authority within the Church which are, obviously, impossible over time if the above is true.

And, as I noted, when this idea is carried back to the Incarnation, as any notion of Church ultimately must be, things get really messed up.

With regard to Scripture, I think what is happening is that there is a covert conflation being made between "Scripture" and "that which is revealed", likely a result of an embrace of something like sola Scriptura. We can argue about the extent of the canon all day long, but in the end, Scripture is one thing and the larger category, that which is revealed, is something else (although it obviously contains Scripture).

Ken Schenck said...

I agree with the importance of distinguishing revelation as a the broad category and Scripture as a sub-category. As for the concrete offices of the church, despite all my desire to reclaim the significance of the church catholic and my desire to ridicule those who by definition don't consider Roman Catholics to be Christians, I am alas a Protestant in the end. I cannot assign any absolute value to the historic offices of the church. I am a Pietist--God looks on the "heart."

Phil W said...

I understand the logical jump from the Church to the Logos, in the name of being consistent with the Incarnation. But I'm a bit more comfortable with the disputed quote because while the Incarnation of Christ manifests itself today through the Church, we need to be careful lest we reduce Christ to his community. Are "Church" and "Logos" perfectly interchangeable in this equation? All I know is that I once had my hand slapped in a theology assignment for saying the Church brings the "literal" presence of Christ instead of the "real" presence :)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Phil W.
What difference does it make, if one believes that the Church brings the 'literal presence" or the "real presence" of Christ, unless one is 'hung up" on whether "God exists" or not ("God" as leadership or "God" as represented by leadership)! The Church uses rhetoric, as well as "presence", as this is their job in their belief in incarnation and following in "Jesus' steps".

Representation of truth and not theological truth alone is the "piestic stance" and emphasis on "ministry". So, it matters not whether you really believe in angels, spirits, "God", or not, the Piestist is interested in behavior/action, which is "discipleship".

The problem is authority bringing about conformity, through discipleship, because conformity implies submission to some outside measurement, not self-governorship or self-determination. But, "self" isn't an accepted view in the Academy today. One can only know himself through the community he is a part of...and community is to determine, not the "self", which I find politically problematic, as to our understanding of "good government" and "contract"....

The text uses terms that are far removed and outdated such as; "covenant", "sacrifice"....but Pietists would historicize/politicize the text, meaning that people are to be "living sacrifices" to "God", not their own interests, or desires. This is abuse of power by those in authority, whether "God" or men.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Just last night I watched the history of Western civilization. The point made was that science made for the difference in expanding Western ideals, not under "God", but under a secularized State. It was the Muslim who thought it "blasphemous" to use the printing press, as they felt calligraphy a sacred practice.

Sacred practices get in the way of enlightened perspectives. And we might just find our communitarian "principles" at odds with private property, and the Constitution itself, which was a linch-pin of North American prosperity versus South American.

Altho South America did have many valuable resources, they were not owned by the common explorer, but confiscated for the Spanish King! Our country didn't believe in "divine rights". We believed that no one was "above the law". Representative government was a government that balanced and separated power, thus checking and balancing itself, for the sake of the people!