Spectrums of Scripture: Historical-Critical Criteria (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

HistoryThese foundational methodological tenets in place, this paper now considers several overarching historical-critical methodological points. Writ large, these criterion stem from the importance of understanding an ancient work in as much context as possible.[1] Consideration of availability, accessibility, genre, language, and prior attribution remain standard considerations for any historically-oriented study. In addition to these contexts, oral tradition, memory, and textual fluidity constitute additional aspects of the ancient world worthy of attention when dealing with the retrieval of sources. By themselves, these general historical-critical concerns reveal little about specific uses of one text in another. They do indicate, however, the need for nuance, caution, and contextualization before digging into the complexities of the ancient world. Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Foregrounding Method

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

medieval-scienceThe method of reception practice should begin with the recognition of the need to clarify assumptions, the subjectivity of scholarship, and the transformative reception of ancient texts. Amid the winds of postmodern criticism, all scholarly discussions should foreground their confessional, methodological, and/or post-methodological claims. Methodology in the humanities involves drawing boundary lines around that which is studied and then offering comparative explanations for why those concerns are worthy of attention.[1] Thus, method should address the mechanics employed to draw those boundaries and make meaning of what comes within them.[2] Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: The Intersection of Reception and Intertextuality

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

Map of the InternetThis study’s location at the intersection of the ongoing conversations regarding reception history and intertextuality means that several aspects of these discussions are formative in the creation of a composite methodology for understanding uses of one source in another. Most broadly, the terminology of reception and “reception practices” is employed to describe the ancient phenomena of textual use, borrowing, and re-use. Second, reception history’s concern with pattern recognition and mapping are central to this project.  Brennan Breed summarizes the mandate of reception history as the need to “demonstrate the diversity of capacities, [and] organize them according to the immanent potentialities actualized by various individuals and communities over time….”[1] In significant ways, categorization and organization constitute the primary tasks of the methodological outlines below. Third, this project recognizes the limitations of reception history as currently constituted, especially the overemphasis on the literary contexts of texts and relative neglect of other sociocultural factors.[2] To begin addressing these concerns a number of the principles below incorporate theological and sociocultural insights. Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Intertexuality

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

Richard B. Hays

Richard B. Hays

The phenomenon of intertextuality involves the imbedding of portions of one earlier text within a later text.[1] Intertextuality is more than exploring how writers cite other sources, but also why such citations were made and the effect of those intertexts.[2] Although scholars now recognize the practice of intertextuality in literature as ancient as Plato’s Socratic dialogues,[3] the term “intertextuality” itself is only several decades old. Building on M. M. Bakhtin’s notion of all utterances as double voiced (that is, responding to an addressee and a cultural milieu),[4] Julia Kristeva coined the term “intertextuality,” arguing that all texts are simultaneously in conversation with their audiences and their surrounding sociohistorical environments through the recycling of earlier texts.[5] Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Reception History

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

rossano-gospel-good-samaritanSimply stated, reception history involves critical engagement with the history of meanings associated with a particular event or text.[1] As Jonathan Morgan summarizes, reception history moves beyond traditional interpretive practices and “combines various insights and methods drawn from philosophical hermeneutics, reception theory (which is closely associated with both reader-response criticism and audience theory) and certain literary-influenced trends in historiography and the philosophy of history.”[2] When applied to texts within faith traditions, reception history incorporates “texts, stories, images, and characters through the centuries in the form of citation, interpretation, reading, revision, adaptation, and influence” not only in clearly theological texts, but in “visual art, literature, music, politics, and other works of culture” too.[3] Continue reading

Spectrums of Scripture: Introduction

“For this reason, righteousness and peace are far removed, since each has abandoned the reverential awe of God and become dim-sighted in faith, failing to proceed in the ordinances of his commandments and not living according to what is appropriate in Christ. Instead, each one walks according to the desires of his evil heart, which have aroused unrighteous and impious jealousy—through which also death entered the world.”[1]

Sacred ScriptureThus reads 1 Clement 3:4, a passage which scholars have argued over for years. Is Clement building this passage around Isaiah 59:14? Is he citing Wisdom 2:24? What about the reference to the commandments: are there other reminiscences at work? These questions—here raised over 1 Clement’s use of the scriptures of Judaism—serve as paradigmatic queries for a whole host of late antique literature. Not only in 1 Clement but also in almost every other piece of literary evidence from the ancient world there appear reflections and citations of other literary sources.[2] Although scholars of late antiquity have long discussed these literary uses, nothing close to consensus has emerged on how to best understand and discuss these phenomena. Continue reading

How to Approach Theology

New College CloistersTheology is important. Good theology is even more important. Everyone is called to “do” theology.1 These are guiding principles for my theological work, which I seek to undertake with thoughtfulness, faithfulness, and charity. Of course, to merely say (or write) that theology holds a place of value is not the same as actually living out one’s faith while seeking understanding.2 Too many times in my own life it is at the place where the proverbial “rubber hits the road” that my abstract, intellectualized theological principles fall prey to my sinful nature and laziness. As important as it is to speak truth, it is not enough to merely say the right things. As James says in his epistle, “Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”3

Thus, truly good theology consists not only of thinking rightly about God, but also living rightly (and righteously) in his presence. Of course, this raises that all important question of how: how do we not only think but also live faithfully? In reflecting on this task, I have developed some practice-oriented musings for how we should live as Christians in today’s world, which I now submit as theses for discussion: Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Bible Reading

Open BibleSome thoughts on Bible reading for your morning:

1. Never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph, preferably more. Best is reading a whole book (more on that below). You can make any one verse mean any number of things, but considering the larger context of passage places that verse within a more meaningful narrative, making it easier to understand what the verse is saying. So always read verses within their larger narrative context.

2. Keep a couple of different versions on-hand. Having two or three different Bibles around serves as a reminder that English Bibles are translations and that, whatever you may believe about inerrancy and inspiration, translations are neither. Having multiple versions around also enables you to draw upon different renderings of a passage when you try to understand what’s being said. Not all translations are created equal, of course, and which translations you choose will vary based on your preferences and Bible knowledge. But keep a couple different versions around. Continue reading

The Day That Jesus Died

When students are first introduced to the historical, as opposed to a devotional, study of the Bible, one of the first things they are forced to grapple with is that the biblical text, whether Old Testament or New Testament, is chock full of discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable…. In some cases seemingly trivial points of difference can actually have an enormous significance for the interpretation of a book or the reconstruction of the history of ancient Israel or the life of the historical Jesus.”—Bart D. Ehrman1

Bart D. Ehrman

As this statement from contemporary (and popular) New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman indicates, there those who study Christianity—its scriptures and history—who argue that the canonical gospels2 do not present a historically accurate account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Around Easter every year, scholars and journalists of this perspective often pen pieces on the ”Why the Resurrection Story is a Myth” or ”Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” In more nuanced versions of these discussions, the credibility of early Christian accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection is called into question, even on facts as seemingly mundane as the day on which Jesus was crucified.3 Such is the position of Ehrman, who argues that the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and Gospel of John portray Jesus as being killed on two different days, thus revealing their historical inaccuracy and untruthfulness.4 As is my Good Friday custom, in this post I examine this claim and explain why the canonical gospels indicate that Jesus died on the same day: Good Friday. Continue reading

Looking Forward to the Future: Goals for 2016

2016Generally, I’m not one to craft a bunch of New Year’s Resolutions. Not necessarily because I am bad at following through, but rather due to my propensity to try and “fix” something when I see that it needs fixing. Nevertheless, over the past couple of weeks I have found myself reflecting on the need to use the New Year as an opportunity to revitalize some practices in my life. Below are five goals I have set for the coming year. Continue reading