Skip to main content

The Art of Reading Scripture: Chapter 5

Today we will look at chapter 5 (I'll post on chapter 6 on Thursday) of 'The Art of Reading Scripture.' The fifth essay, by Brian Daley, is titled, 'Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Some Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms.' His main goal in this essay is to examine how we might learn from Patristic exegetical method. Daley begins by noting that for the past century and a half that we've largely ignored Patristic exegesis. The historical critical method has been dominant, and all other approaches to the text have been ignored until recently. We had thought that we could study history scientifically and come up with objective conclusions of what happened (or what the original meaning of the text was) and why. The problem is that an underlying principle of this method is that natural events are assumed to have natural causes and we, being outside the event/text, can objectively measure what happened, which is an athiestic and arrogant assumption. As post modern critiques have pointed out, we don't have the objectivity that we think we have. 'Understanding a text is precisely the event of the interpretation of horizons: the author's and the reader's...it can never be a simple mater of recovery of the objective, "original" meaning through a scientific historical criticism that is free of the concerns and commitments of the later reader' (p. 73). So, historical criticism is not all that many crack it up to be.

Does this mean that we can abandon it and have complete interpretive freedom? Definitely not. In the next section, Daley lays out what the interpretive framework of the early church was. They:
  1. Saw the hand of a provident God in Scripture, and they interpreted historical texts in light of that.
  2. Read the Bible as a unified narrative
  3. Interpreted the Bible using 'the Rule of Faith,' or as some put it today, interpreting within the framework of creedal orthodoxy (a la Kent Sparks). Core theological truth could not be denied, but there was much freedom regarding the interpretation of individual passages of Scripture.
  4. Recognized the diversity of Scripture, but at the same time saw the story of the Bible as being coherent, thus in their view, the Bible never contradicted itself.
  5. Primarily focused on the scriptural rather than the historical meaning of the text, meaning a focus on what the Bible meant to them in their time, not just in 'application' of the text, but its theological meaning. The more pious interpretation was favored.
In the next section, Daley looks at patristic exegesis of the Psalms and asks whether or not their way of reading the psalms might work for us today too. As Daley notes, the Psalms were adored by the early church (as they are by many today). They readily appropriated the Psalms to their individual lives, seeing the Psalms as providing the words to say to God what we are commanded to say to him elsewhere. I wonder, though, if Daley's choice of the Psalms doesn't prejudice the answer (he comes to a 'yes let's follow their pattern' conclusion) somewhat. I don't know much about Patristic exegesis, but I wonder if the way the early church used other parts of Scripture might be tougher to follow. Many of the Psalms, while being used for corporate worship, have a strong individual element. It's somewhat easy, for many Psalms, apart from the historical critical method, to appropriate the text in a valid and helpful way. I think his case may have been harder if he picked apocalyptic literature (to go on the other end of the spectrum).

In the final section, Daley asks if historical criticism has any roll to play in our understanding the Bible as Scripture. He says it still does and that its roll, 'must be to free readers from the same destructive literalism that Origen recognized as the basis of most false interpretation of the Bible - taking the apparent face value of a text so seriously, so much in isolation from the rest of the cannon, that we invest it with a meaning at odds with both its probably original sense and its traditional Christian application' (p. 87). I think this point is helpful. The historical critical method is seen here as being more defensive than anything else. It helps guard us from going in an unfruitful direction.

Daley then concludes with a plea to interpret the Bible along the lines of the ancient Christians, for the sake of the church. Biblical scholarship is not an end in itself, it has a roll, to feed preaching, to feed the feeding of the church, and that must remain our central concern.

As much as I want to agree with Daley, I must ask, though, if the 'Rule of Faith' is a good rule. But perhaps that should be the subject of another post on another day.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Commentary Series Overview

When I write commentary reviews, one of my main goals is to assess how well the commentator hit the intended audience of the commentary and utilized the format of the commentary. This often necessitates cluttering up the post discussing issues of format. To eliminate that, I thought that I would make some general remarks about the format and audience of each of the series that appear in my reviews. Terms like liberal, conservative, etc. are not used pejoratively but simply as descriptors. Many of you are familiar with Jeremy Pierce's commentary series overview. If you don't see a particular series covered here, check out his post to see if it's reviewed there. I am making no attempt at covering every series, just the series that I use. Additionally, new series (such as the NCCS) have been started in the five years since he wrote his very helpful guide, so I thought that it might not be completely out of order to have another person tackle commentary series overviews. This…

Paul's Argument in Galatians 3:15-29

15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. 19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! Fo…

Doctor Who: Rose Tyler - Traitor?

The end of season four was very, very controversial. When I first saw it, I felt cheated. I was angry. The more I think about it, the more I think I see what Russell Davies was doing. He is too good of a writer and the show is too carefully crafted for him to screw up Rose's character and the end of a four season storyline. So while the ending isn't strictly part of our series, it is tangentially related, and I've agonized over that scene in Bad Wolf Bay so much that I have to write about it. :)

To briefly set things up, near the end of the final episode of season four, there is a meta-crisis, that results in a part human. part Time Lord Doctor being generated. He has all of the Doctor's memories, and thinks and acts like the Doctor. However, importantly, he only has one heart and cannot regenerate. He only has one life to live. The meta-crisis Doctor brought full resolution to the battle fought against the Daleks, and in the process, wiped them out. Thus, the real Doc…