Friday, July 13, 2007

The Theological Interpretation of Scripture

My focus on NT studies has been largely historical and I have only approached theological questions well-after thoroughly engaging the historical horizon of the biblical texts. But what of theological interpretation and its value? I understand theological interpretation to be the model of interpretation that focuses on the ecclesial context in which Scripture was written and its utility for answering the theological questions confronted by its ecclesial readers, ancient and modern, when reading these texts. That means that one consciously approaches the NT not simply as a historical artifact as any other, nor as a source book for creating religious dogma, but as a document created by Christians and for Christians that speaks fundamentally a word from God and about God. A sympathetic reading of Scripture means that faith and theological perspectives can never be divorced from reading and research of the message of the Bible itself. That does not require jettisoning the historical horizon or blanketing them with theological issues, but theological readings are not ancillary to the task of reading Scripture in and for the church.


Geoff Hudson said...

The theology of the earliest Christians drove their actions and determined their history. My problem is that the theology of the extant NT does not fit into a first century Jewish context. So the revealed earliest Christian history cannot be true. But there must have been a Jewish based theology that brought about an early Christianity whose history was different from that revealed.

Doug Chaplin said...

Alternatively, it's possible that the NT writers were more familiar with first century Judasim(s) than Geoff Hudson. Hmm, that's a hard one to call!
Mike, I'm not sure that there's only one sort of theological interpretation, and I think in quite a few instances theological linterpretation can masquerade as historical.

Geoff Hudson said...

Well perhaps they were more familiar Doug. That would explain how they could cook the books so well - and deliberately cooked they undoubtedly have been. Perhaps you could explain how worship of a human being is compatible with Jewish theology? Or is that really too hard to call? What we have could not have come out of Judea.

Rabbi Saul said...

Worship of a MERE human being, no. Worship of a human being who has been revealed as Yahweh, who had promised to come to Israel in Person, aye.

I suspect that for people of faith (and that's who the texts are directed to), a theological reading is inescapable. The real question is whether it will be good or bad, and thus how to approach the texts theologically.

Geoff Hudson said...

Revealed as a human God promised to Israel is only in the extant NT, isn't it?

T Michael W Halcomb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T Michael W Halcomb said...

I am going to bypass the issues raised by geoff here because he seems to forget that there were varieties of Judaism. He also seems to ignore the fact that in the Heb. Scriptures, Israel was constantly worshipping animals, creation, other gods, humans, etc. Okay I guess I didn't bypass it but I am leaving the issue now.

My take on the theological interpretion of Scripture seems to be incredibly close to yours. The big breakthrough for me came when I had to ask the question, "Okay, so, this is the historical backgound. Now what?"

As you say, the two can't be separated from one another. If they are, we lapse into a static, irrelevant past or a mere pscyhological symbolism. As one who values the social sciences in understanding Scripture, though, I can often and readily see how historical / social context is the key to making sense of what the text is saying from a theological perspective.

Thus, I support a theological hermeneutic that never divorces itself from the socio-historical context.

Chris Spinks said...

Michael, if you will allow a bit of self-promotion, I'd like to enter the fray with some links elsewhere. My dissertation was on the very topic of theological interpretation, namely the concept of "meaning" in the differing programs of theological interpretation proposed by Kevin Vanhoozer and Stephen Fowl. My dissertation should be available from T&T Clark in October under the title of The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning. Also, I have been discussing the topic of theological interpretation every once in a while over at my blog, katagrapho. In the end I think the future of theological interpretation - whatever it is - must be found in the communities of interested/sympathetic readers. You are spot on to suggest that theological readings are not ancillary to the task of reading Scripture in and for the church.

T Michael W Halcomb said...


self-promotion accepted. i will look for your publication - you shoud remind me in Oct.

Joel Green and S. Fowl opened me up to theo. interp. Green, as you might know, has started the Journal for Theo. Interp. Sad that he's leaving Asbury (where I attend).

Anyways, I am going to check out your site! Thanks.

MhacLethCalvin said...

Hello Dr. Bird,
Thank you for this post. I have been reading a lot of blogs lately that _emphasized_ the importance of separating _history_ from _myth_ (I think that's what they call the theological interpretation of the early church). And here you are, promoting a Theological Interpretation of Scripture. You are like an oasis in a vast desert to me.
I was wondering about the use of stripping the NT to its _kernel_ and leaving snippets of a powerless Jesus that walked the Galilean soil. In my mind, there isn't any.
I use historical background a lot to understand NT passages, but it doesn't make me disregard the miracle stories -- whether they were theological interpretations of the early church, or a factual report of events.

OR maybe I'm just reading you wrong. :-) I'm coming from the perspective of an Asian, where supernatural events are 2 cents a dozen; may even be free at times. ;-)