My prompt for this post is to clarify some of what I am doing in The Bible Tells Me So and Inspiration and Incarnation, which is to say this post addresses some questions I’ve gotten, especially since The Bible Tells Me So came out in September.
Questions like: “Pete, what exactly is your problem?” or “Did you take hermeneutics with Satan, because that’s the only explanation I can find for why you say what you do on page….”
I’ve also gotten far more very nice and supportive questions from non-crazy people who are genuinely helped by what I am trying to do and are working through their own paradigm shift on their journey of Christian faith.
Here are 5 words that I feel get at my approach to biblical interpretation. If you think of others, and you are a non-crazy person, please tell me and I’ll try to expand the list in another post.
Genre-calibration—(That’s technically two words, but the hyphen makes it one.) The Bible, like anything that has ever been written, can be classified according to genre—many genres, in fact (letters, laws, wisdom, apocalyptic, prophecy, story, parable, etc.). Recognizing what genre you are in is key to sound biblical interpretation (i.e., don’t expect a parable to relay historical information; don’t read proverbs as if they were laws).
Recognizing the various ancient genres of our ancient Bible is greatly aided by our ability to compare and contrast the Bible with similar writings from the ancient world, i.e., by “calibrating” the Bible against ancient analogs and thus learning to adopt ancient expectations for interpreting biblical literature rather than imposing alien, modern conventions of reading.
So, Genesis 1-11 is best understood when compared to other ancient origins texts rather than expecting something along the lines of modern science; the Gospels are best understood alongside of ancient Greco-Roman “biographies” rather than contemporary biographies.
Christotelic—Telos is a Greek word meaning “end” or “goal.” The Old Testament does not so much flow easily into the New Testament, nor do the Old Testament writers “predict” Jesus of Nazareth in any conventional sense of the word “predict.”
Rather, after the resurrection, New Testament writers read their scripture (the Christian Old Testament) in light of—in taking into account—the surprise ending of a crucified and risen messiah.
The faith of the New Testament writers is that Christ is deeply connected to Israel’s story while at the same time grappling with this surprise, counterintuitive development of the gospel. This led the New Testament writers (especially Paul and the Gospel writers) to cite the Old Testament well over 300 times (connecting the gospel to Israel’s story) and in doing so significantly re-read, i.e., transpose, Israel’s story to account for the surprise ending.
The tendency toward “creative”(i.e., midrashic) readings of scripture in Judaism in general at the time is the proper hermeneutical backdrop for understanding this “Christotelic” hermeneutic (another instance of genre-calibration).
This is why–as many Bible readers already know–New Testament writers, when quoting the Old Testament, typically “take it out of context,” meaning the context of the original utterance. The gospel requires creative re-framing of Israel’s story.
Incarnational—The incarnation is the grand mystery of the Christian faith and an apt and ancient analogy for understanding how the Bible can be embraced as God’s word while at the same time unequivocally displaying the mundane properties, cultural infusions, and simple human imitations of any text, ancient or modern.
By using the incarnation as an analogy for the Bible, no claim whatsoever is being made that the Bible is a “hypostatic union” or other language normally reserved to describe the incarnation of Christ. It is an analogy not an attempt at identification.
An incarnational model of scripture accounts better for the Bible’s own properties than do various inerrantist models, which at some point all need to tame or corral biblical phenomena that do not sit well with certain doctrinal needs.
Ecumenical—I use this term in the broadest sense, meaning wisdom and insight for interpreting the Bible can and does come from anyone, not limited to Christians alone, or Protestants alone, and most definitely not to particular tribes.
Genuine and deep insight into the nature of the Bible and its interpretation comes from Judaism, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, from agnostics, atheists—even mainline Presbyterians.
Further, insights concerning the Bible come to us from all sorts of unexpected, less cerebral places, like the world around us–which is God’s world.
Pilgrimage—This ancient metaphor for describing the Christian faith as a whole is also apt for describing the interpretion the Bible. Our understanding always has a provisional dimension to it, and we should expect our views to change over time as we all change and grow as human beings.
I do not think now as I did half a lifetime ago when I started seminary. I had better not. Nor do I think that my currents thoughts are now free from the need for future refinement, change, or abandonment.
Pilgrimage is a metaphor for humility. Pilgrimage encourages us to let go of the need to have final certainty on how we understand the Bible and be less prone to put up walls of division, because we are more willing to discuss, explore, and change rather than proclaim, conquer, and defend.