Monday, December 07, 2015

Laansma - Hebrews in Scholarship

1. In an attempt to crank up my reading machine, I'm trying to read every day in a rotation through a stack of books old and new I have piled on my desk. The first victim is a book that came out last year called Christology, Hermeneutics, and Hebrews: Profiles from the History of Interpretation, edited by Jon Laansma and Daniel Treier. I take it to be a venture in the theological interpretation of Hebrews.

2. Jon Laansma writes the opening chapter: "Hebrews: Yesterday, Today, and Future." That chapter is the notice of reading I'm giving today. I would say that Jon wrestles with two key concerns in this chapter. The one is the fact that Hebrews does not play on the same field of biblical theology as Jesus and Paul. It's more in something like a kiddy league. He wrestles with why this situation might be the case. The second issue he wrestles with is the appropriateness of historical method in interpretation. Is an Enlightenment approach to interpretation part of the problem in some way?

First, Laansma's awareness of Hebrews scholarship I did not know puts me to shame. (Of course it can't hurt to have Wheaton's library close at hand. If I could walk across campus and scan the shelves of a research library, I'd be in better shape. I'm not complaining about my library. We do a very good job of what we do and have a good library for what we do, which is train ministers, not research experts in theology.)

3. I might register my sense of theological interpretation, which I have done before in the forest that is this blog. For me, it is important to keep contextual exegesis and theological interpretation distinct from each other, although I consider both legitimate enterprises. On the one hand, there are theological dimensions to contextual exegesis, especially if you believe that God does indeed reveal himself and interact with the world. Believing exegesis should not be "functionally deistic" in a reductionistic sense (19).

Nevertheless, the myth of objectivity is essential in exegesis. Yes, we inevitably infect the text with ourselves. Yes, we cannot neatly separate ourselves as subjects from the object of our knowing. But it becomes a slop of free for all if we don't try. I would go so far as to say that it is helpful to do a "deistic read" of a text first before rereading with the eyes of theism. This is to keep us honest, to try our best to disentangle ourselves from the reading. We will fail, but not to try opens the gate wide for no agreed meaning at all, only agreements among tribes of readers.

The historical reading can then engage in theological appropriation, while not confusing categorically the appropriation with the interpretation.

4. On the other hand, the church fathers engaged in what I consider theological interpretation. They fully let their theology affect their interpretations. They "fiddled" with the text. Theological interpretation of this sort, in my opinion, is simply a form of reader-response criticism. I consider it legitimate, but it should be strongly distinguished from the original meaning in history.

5. Should Hebrews be a major player in biblical theology? In my reading, it should be because it provides the definitive lens through which we appropriate the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Without Hebrews, we have no definitive word in Scripture to stop the animal sacrifices of the old covenant. We assume Paul agrees but I am finishing up some work that questions whether this is in fact the case.

On the other hand, I am not so worried about the anathema of setting up a canon within the canon. I think that it is not only appropriate but inevitable. Also, the contours of that canon within the canon may change from time to time in Christian history. In that sense, I am not bothered to try to put Hebrews on the main stage. That is not a need I have theologically, even though I think Hebrews does belong there for the reason I mention above.

6. Of course I have to like the chapter because Jon mentions me a couple times. :-) For my next victim chapter, I see that John Barclay's Paul and the Gift is on top next.


John Mark said...

For me, part of the value of Hebrews has been the 'warning' passages, which support my Wesleyan-Arminian theology. Do you think taking Hebrews from the canon would have a significant effect on our theology in this respect? Or do you think there are plenty of other passages which support our position, enough to negate the necessity for such language as we find in Hebrews?

Ken Schenck said...

I think I can find other passages, not least in 1st Corinthians 9.