Him We Proclaim, 4

May 13, 2008

After a break, I write again…

Chapter 4 of Him We Proclaim deals with the history of apostolic preaching in the church. Johnson explicitly states his thesis on pg. 98:

“Our hypothesis is that much of the debate throughout the history of the church over the question of whether and how the Old Testament, in particular, bears witness to Christ turns on disagreement over the weight to be accorded to various concentric circles of context in which a biblical text can be read.”

One of the major debates throughout the history of the church, and which will explode in the “Enlightenment,” is how biblical interpretation should be understood considering the manner in which the apostles interpreted the Old Testament. While historically the church would say that “Scripture is its own interpreter,” Enlightenment philosophers would look at the New Testament’s use of Old Testament Scripture as being uneducated, illogical, and incorrect.

Johnson breaks the history of biblical interpretation into three phases, and I’ll just give what I thought was particularly interesting from each summary:

Complication: From the Church Fathers through the Middle Ages

It’s important to understand that while the early Church Fathers are often criticized, particularly on the dawn of the “Middle Ages” which would witness the increasing corruption of the Catholic church, early biblical interpretation was generally text-driven and Christ-centered. Much of the interpretation often went too far to stress the allegorization of scripture and the three or even four-fold meaning of each text. However, early interpretation should not be written off as being without any benefit.

Chastening: The Reformation

Reformation hermeneutics focused on scripture’s ability to interpret itself, particularly with a personal, “private, invincible access to the mind of the Spirit” that would help with interpretation. This is not the extreme of private revelation as the final authority. I thought it was interesting that reformation hermeneutics reject that a large number of theologians adopting an interpretation of a text, or antiquity of an interpretation is a legitimate reason to accept a particular meaning of a text. Scripture is its own interpreter, and neither popularity nor antiquity take precedence over this (114).

Rejection: The Enlightenment and Historical-Critical Biblical Theology

This has already been mentioned, so I will just give a few more words to the matter. With the rise of “historical criticism” the Bible no longer was viewed as one book written by many authors who were inspired by the Divine Author, but instead Scripture was viewed as being written by a number of intellectually-inferior, conflicting, superstitious authors. Therefore, Scripture was rendered as more of a collection of folktales that the Word of God. Johnson puts it,

Once they had set aside the concept of a divine Author of Scripture, nothing stood in the way of their critiquing the biblical authors’ statements with regard to Ancient Near Eastern history, human origins, or a whole host of other issues (117).

This is just a snapshot of the history of Biblical interpretation in the church, but it reflects greatly that the modern Christian should 1) be respectful of the more ancient methods of understanding the text 2) understand that an evolutionary hermeneutic (that we are superior to our predecessors) is both arrogant and dangerous and 3) the incredible danger of setting aside God’s inspiration of Scripture for the sake of “academic pursuits.”

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2 Responses to “Him We Proclaim, 4”

  1. Jonathan P said

    Bryan, this is a good summary of the chapter that is just elaborated in the following one. I find Johnson’s writing to be dense and tough to work through, but very rewarding. The concentration on the hermeneutic question and his categorical figures such as Beale and Kaiser are very helpful. The book is doing a great job at helping me form the right questions, which in and of itself is not an easy task concerning this subject.

    I affirm the interpretation of the NT authors. I do not doubt that they understood the OT better than us, for they were taught from Jesus himself. And at the same time I do not doubt that the OT authors knew what they were doing. I think our view on authorial intent should be expanded to include more than the folks back in the day who ate the same kind of food and wore the same kind of sandals that Moses did. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says something about their inquiry, but it also says something about for whom they were writing, namely the church!!!

    Praise God for this book and for the grace God has given us in the cognitive ability to read and think. Praise Him!

  2. Bryan Barley said

    I agree. I’m still trying to digest all this because it’s not easy. However, like you said, this book is having me ask the right questions. I’m always thinking now when I hear somebody preach – how is Christ seen in this text? Where is redemption? How does this fit into the larger narrative? I’m realizing more and more that it’s our responsibility to show how the story fits in the big picture of God’s redemptive narrative!

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