Friday, December 23, 2005

Biblical Studies debate

There has been a lively debate going on in the biblical-studies yahoo group for several days now on interpreting the Bible. I received permission from Professor Jerry Shepherd to post his contribution. There was some discussion of Luther's view as interpreted by David Steinmetz in Archiv fur Reformationgeschicte 70 (1979), saying basically that the Holy Spirit is all we need.

"In my hermeneutics class I teach that Christians have no cognitive or epistemological privilege in biblical interpretation simply because they are Christians. This goes against evangelical tradition which says that because Christians have the Holy Spirit, they can expect to be supernaturally illuminated in their interpretive activities. When I teach against this tradition, this at first rankles some of the students. But all I have to do to demonstrate the truth of my thesis is put a Greek or Hebrew text in front of them and ask them to pray for the Holy Spirit to zap them to make them understand what it means. Of course it never happens. From there, it is only slightly more difficult to show that there is no special privilege when it come[s] to an English text of the Bible either. So in this regard, I am somewhat uncomortable with Steinmetz's take on Luther, or perhaps with Luther himself, in that, frankly, it is our intellectual activity and careful, disciplined study that brings the text to intelligibility. In this regard, interpretation does belong in the hand of scholars.

"But on another level, the affective, many times those whose orientation is toward the text as an object of joy and love and delight, rather than away from the text, treating it merely as an artifact, are better able to understand the text and resonate with its ethos. Our study of the prophetic books has been greatly enhanced with the various critical studies that have been done in recent decades, but I don't think any of them understand the prophetic books as well as did Abraham Heschel. Our Psalms scholarship has been vastly improved over the last thirty years, but I'd rather read John Donne's sermons -- he understood the Psalms. This just to say that sometimes those who love the text can better understand the text than those who don't. And sometimes, after I've exerted much energy and spent many hours in my hermeneutical endeavors, someone in my class, or my church, or my small care group, may understand that text better than I do."

Dr. Jerry E. Shepherd
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Taylor Seminary

<idle musing>
Seems to go hand in hand with the quote from Bonhoeffer I posted this morning as well as one of my favorite Augustine quotes, which I can not remember the reference for: "The word of God is like an ocean, deep enough that the oldest saint cannot plumb its depths, shallow enough that the youngest will not drown exploring it." We need all of our abilities, as given by God, to understand what the scripture is saying. That's why I have a library full of books--and work for a bookseller with a warehouse full of them. And besides that, Heschel's book The Prophets is a great book!

But, in the end the secrets are revealed to the one who seeks with a humble heart.
</idle musing>

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