Archives For Scripture

Old Book. Selective focusWhile reading Timothy Ward’s book on Scripture I came across a paragraph which is a helpful distillation and counter to the popular pitting of the person vs. the book.

Ward begins by quoting John Barton.

The biblical scholar John Barton puts it this way.

it is not primarily the Bible that is the Word of God, but Jesus Christ. I do not think one could find a single Christian who would dissent from this proposition, for to do so would plainly be to commit what is sometimes called bibliolatry: the elevation of the Bible above Christ himself….Christians are not those who believe in the Bible, but those who believe in Christ.

Michael Gungor recently posted something similar on his blog.

If you asked any Christian before the birth of the modern era and the Enlightenment, “what is the foundation of Christianity?”, they would say “Jesus Christ.”  If you asked many Christians that same question today in the post-Enlightenment world, they would respond, “the Bible.”

Why is this?

But the nature of the thinking is reductionist by nature.  It takes things apart, dissects them and reduces them to little certainties. And the reason for this is that the God that we see in the Bible and the God of Jesus Christ is not something that can be dissected in a laboratory or examined under a microscope.  God cannot be contained by reductionist, scientific thought.

This kind of argument sounds persuasive. Indeed it can seem impossible, at first, to disagree with this quotation from Barton and Gungor. Christians certainly are in relationship with a Person, not a paper-and-ink book. Our devotion should be to a living Lord, not to words printed on a page. And Gungor is right, Jesus cannot be contained by scientific thought.

Of course many Christian, looking again at Barton’s and Gungor’s words, would soon realize he is forcing a false dichotomy on us. We do not have to choose between ‘believing in the Bible’ and ‘believing in Christ.’

As Christians we can do both.

Ward goes onto give a few propositions about the nature of the relationship between God and Scripture. He argues that the words of the BIble are a significant aspect of God’s action in the world. To say that God spoke is to say that God did something (see Gen 1:3; Ps 29:5,8). And God also has invested himself in his words. Whatever you do with God’s words (obey or disobey) you do directly to God.

Although Gungor attributes the emphasis on the Bible as the expense of the person to Enlightenment thinking I think the argument can go the other way. Separating the two is in fact a result of the Enlightenment.

I have only be partially following this Gungor debacle, and from his posts it seems like his heart is in the right place. I would rather not stamp out someone who falls on the other side of some debates than I, especially if we will be enjoying eternity together.

However, having said that, I think the division he set up is unhelpful and misleading.


9780199832262I am excited to see that the new Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation has hit the shelf, but boy it is pricey!


The two-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation (OEBI) fills a crucial need in the field of biblical studies by providing detailed, comprehensive treatments of the latest approaches to and methods for interpretation of the Bible written by expert practitioners. It will provide a single source for authoritative reference overviews of scholarship on some of the most important topics of study in the field of biblical studies. As with all high quality reference works, it provides a solid foundation that students and scholars can use to orientate themselves before venturing into original research.

The Encyclopedia contains nearly 120 entries, ranging in length from 3,000 to 5,000 words. It is organized in an A-to-Z format. Each entry is signed, contains a bibliography for further reading, and is cross-referenced to other useful points of interest within the Encyclopedia. It also features a topical outline of contents and an extensive index.

Shawn Wilhite has posted a little teaser of what you get out of the articles. He gives the four concluding points from Paul Blowers article on “Patristic Interpretation.” Below are what Blowers calls axioms of patristic hermeneutical principles.

(1) First is the conviction of the internal unity and harmony of the Bible, discernible [sic] solely through careful attention to the letter and to hidden meanings, and through assiduous inter-scriptural interpretation.

(2) Second, the divine Word is semantically inexhaustible and polyvalent, with any text admitting of multiple legitimate meanings, allowing for the possibility of fresh insight, an ever ‘fuller sense’ (sensus plenior). Exegesis must accordingly adapt to the texts’ sophistication and pliability.

(3) Third, the church is the primary hermeneutical matrix, since interpretation functions foremost to shape Christian identity, doctrinal consistency, liturgical and sacramental practices, and ethics.

(4) Finally, scripture is sacramental communication, a medium of the presence of Christ the Logos, in which case interpretation itself demands the abiding presence and aid of the Holy Spirit.[1]

[1] Paul M. Blowers, “Patristic Interpretation,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, ed. Steven L. McKenzie, vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 87–88.

One Bible, Many Versions

January 13, 2014 — 7 Comments

one-bible-many-versions.png?w=512Dave Brunn’s book One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? is a different type of translation book.

It does not deal so much with theory but rather looks at what many English translations have done in light of their description of their theory in the introduction.

His aim is not to fuel the ongoing translation debate, but rather to bring greater unity to the English translations by highlighting their similarities. Brunn claims the different English translations are mutually complementary and mutually dependent, rather than contradictory.

The book provides examples of how translation is more complicated than simply saying we translate “word for word” rather than “thought for thought.”

At the end of the book Brunn has the following list of what all of the translations do.

This is no revelation to translation theorists, or those working in the translation field, however it could come as a surprise to those who have not studied translation technique.

  • Every version translates thought for thought rather than word for word in many contexts.
  • Every version give priority to meaning over form.
  • Every version gives priority to the meaning of idioms and figures of speech over the actual words.
  • Every version gives priority to the dynamics of meaning in many contexts.
  • Every version allows the context to dictate many of its renderings.
  • Every version steps away from the original form in order to be grammatically correct in English.
  • Every version steps away from the form to avoid wrong meaning or zero meaning.
  • Every version steps away from the form to add further clarity to the meaning.
  • Every version steps away from the form to enhance naturalness in English.
  • Every version translates some Hebrew or Greek words many different ways.
  • Every version changes some of the original words to nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs or multiple-word phrases.
  • Every version sometimes translates an assortment of different Hebrew or Greek words all the same way in English.
  • Every version leaves some Hebrew and Greek words untranslated.
  • Every versions adds English words that do not represent any particular word in the Hebrew or Greek text.
  • Every version changes single words into phrases, even when it is not required.
  • Every version translates concepts in places of words in many contexts.
  • Every version sometimes gives priority to naturalness and appropriateness over the ideal of seeking to be transparent to the original text.
  • Every version sometimes chooses not to use a literal, transparent rendering even though one is available.
  • Every version paraphrases in some contexts.
  • Every version uses interpretation when translating ambiguities.
  • Every version makes thousands of changes that amount to much more than dropping a “jot” or a “tittle”
  • Every version adds interpretation, even when it is not absolutely necessary.
  • Every version replaces some masculine forms with gender-neutral forms.
  • Every version often sets aside the goal of reflecting each inspired word in order to better reflect the inspired naturalness and readability of the original.

St_ John ChrysostomPeter Leithart has an excellent post on the Quadriga or the “fourfold sense” of Scripture.

Protestants generally cast a suspicious eye on this “method” of reading. That’s a mistake. It’s a handy guide to the questions we should always ask as we study Scripture.

The first question we ask is, What happened? What events or people or places or requirements does the text give us? Each text has a literal sense: It speaks of real people, real places, real events…all other dimensions of textual meaning grew out of the literal sense. Thomas Aquinas argued that the text referred only to the literal sense, to things and people and events of the real world. Since God writes with things as well as with words, though, the things that the text speaks about are themselves signs of other things. If you don’t have a literal sense at the beginning, you don’t get the other senses either.

Protestants often want to stop with the literal sense. But that’s equally an error, and leads to boring, truncated readings of Scripture. Medieval theologians knew better.

They understood that Scripture speaks literally of things that serve as allegories or types of other things. The word “rock” in Exodus 17 refers to a rock at Horeb, and the water was water. But God orchestrates history so that the real rock and the watery water foreshadow the temple rock of Ezekiel from which water flows, the Rock on the cross whose side is opened by a spear, who was the Rock that followed Israel. The Spirit really did hover over the waters of creation, but that actual event offers a perspective on events of new creation: The same Spirit who hovers on the waters hovers over Israel in the cloud, over the tabernacle and temple, overshadows Jesus at His transfiguration, finally hovers over the apostles in the upper room. Those are all literal events too, but those literal events are interpreted as new-creation events by the re-deployment of the imagery of creation. And these events in their turn becomes foreshadowings of still future events. And all of it comes to a climax in Jesus.

Leithart also speaks of the tropological and anagogical nature of Scripture. He closes with this.

It would be too much to say that the Quadriga heals all our hermeneutical diseases, but it heals an awful lot of them. And not only hermeneutical diseases. The Quadriga is not only a method of reading but a practical theology and a spirituality, a historiography, an ethics, and a politics, a way of training our senses to discern Christ not only everywhere in Scripture, but everywhere and in everything.

Via Dr. Pennington via Brian Renshaw.

I enjoyed this little meditation on reading Scripture by Charles Halton at the Houston Baptist School of Christian Thought.

I am convinced that hardly a Christian reads the Bible. We may crack its spine every morning, study it groups, or vocalize it in services, but we never, ever, actually read it.

That’s because we use the Bible. We approach Scripture with the specific agenda of learning from it. We burn through four chapters a day to complete it in a year, distill theological principles from paragraphs, and make moral applications from the Decalogue.

Learning from the Bible is undoubtedly good, but when is the last time that you just read it? Not to prepare for a lesson or to discern a principle or to understand theology but merely to rest inside a narrative? To feel the energy between sentences, to let a poem’s emotion wash over you, to feel the horror of Judges 19 and sublimity of Psalm 23? Maybe never. But this is what reading is. It’s approaching a text with the agenda of mere enjoyment.

He concludes:

Many Christians approach the Bible through a rigid system — a liturgical calendar, a prescribed reading schedule, or a daily quota. This is tremendously problematic if these are the only ways in which we relate to our most sacred text. Potentially, the Bible becomes another task that we tick off our to-do-list. We need to cultivate times of unstructured reading. To borrow a phrase from Alan Jacobs, we need to read at whim. If the desire arises to read a Psalm or a Pauline letter, or, dare we say, Leviticus, and it’s not the specified passage for the day, carve out a few minutes and soak in it.

But equally problematic is the person who reads the Bible with no rhyme or reason, retweeting a random verse here and flicking open a Bible to whatever page there but never getting around to finishing an entire narrative. There’s hardly a chance that this person will enjoy the Bible’s story lines or integrate its teachings into coherent ideas. The books that make up the whole were intend to be read through. If we treat the Bible like a jumble of hypertexts and bounce around its pages we will never appreciate it in the ways its authors intended.

There is an inherent tension in our relationship to the Bible. This tension is similar to the ways in which Jewish tradition approaches prayer — certain prayers are to be recited at particular times but petitions should also flow out of the heart. Prayer demands both keva (set times of recitation) and kavanah (spontaneous intention). We could loosely translate these terms as “fixed and free.”

Like prayer, the Bible is best read fixed and free. Impromptu sessions should accompany liturgical recitations and whim should interrupt schedules. In addition, we should read the Bible for enjoyment as well as study it for understanding. To a large degree these are very different acts but embracing the Bible more fully involves holding together the tension of keva and kavanah.


Which is to be Master?

January 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

humpty-dAn imaginative, thought-provoking paragraph from Lewis Carroll.

“There’s glory for you!”

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t–till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knockdown argument for you!”

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knockdown argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean -neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’