30 May

Notes on Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament and Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 05/30/06

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005)

John J. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005)

"The problems many of us feel regarding the Bible may have less to do with the Bible itself and more to do with our own preconceptions." Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament

"Once one thinks that the scriptures are divinely inspired, then the primary project is not to assess them. . . . The church fathers sought to explain how the vast heterogeneity and diversity of scriptural data might be brought into an intellectually satisfying form. This was the basic project of interpretation, as they understood it." John J. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible

Two guests on previous editions of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal have written recently about how to read scripture. Susan Wise Bauer, a guest on Volume 66, reviewed a book in the May/June 2006 issue of Books & Culture that attends to difficulties readers face when studying the Old Testament and trying to submit to its authority. As Bauer explains, Peter Enns's Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament discusses how the apostles read the Old Testament. R. R. Reno, a guest on Volume 67, is co-author of a book whose subject matter is also biblical exegesis, but which focuses on the methods of the early Church fathers.

In the first of these two books, Inspiration and Incarnation, Enns encourages evangelical Christians to read the Bible on its terms. He notes that biblical scholarship in the last century contains claims that are difficult to reconcile with scripture, especially if readers are clinging to modern notions of how to read the Bible while also trying to respect its authority. Enns explores how readers can account for these claims while still keeping scripture as an authority at the center of their lives. In doing so he proposes an adjusted framework for thinking about Holy Writ, writing: "[Trust in God as the author and giver of scripture] encourages us to look to the Bible not as a timeless rule book or owner's manual for the Christian life—so that we can lift verses here and there and apply them. It helps us to see that the Bible has a dynamic quality to it, for God himself is dynamic, active, and alive in our lives and in the life of his church." Enns also studies three issues from the Old Testament that are in particular need of a fresh reading. He explains that once readers understand that the Incarnate Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, issues that are difficult to understand make much more sense. "Finally," writes Enns, "with respect to the New Testament's use of the Old Testament, what is modeled for us is that Christ is the goal of the Old Testament story, meaning that he is the ultimate focus of Christian interpretation. Not every verse or passage is about him in a superficial sense. Rather, Christ is the deeper sense of the Old Testament—at times more obvious than others—in whom the Old Testament drama as a whole finds its ultimate goal or telos. It is in the person and work of Christ that Christians seek to read the Old Testament, to search out how it is in Christ that the Old Testament has integrity, how it is worthy of trust, how the parts cohere. Such coherence is not found by superficially putting isolated pieces of the Old Testament together to make them fit somehow, but by allowing the tensions to remain and asking how our fuller knowledge of God's incarnational pattern can add to our reading of Scripture."

In Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible, professors John J. O'Keefe and Reno study how the early Church fathers thought about, read, and interpreted scripture. O'Keefe and Reno distinguish pre-modern hermeneutics from modern reading methods, working to dispel the unfair biases of the latter toward the former. The professors explain that the early fathers understood scripture not as referring to something other than itself, but as the subject matter of interpretation. The early fathers focused their attention on the text itself because they believed it to be the language of God and the source of wisdom about God's order and plan and its fulfillment in the Incarnate Christ. They also believed that through pursuit and study of the text, they would be conformed to its shape. The rule of faith and the authority of the Church guided their reading, which was disciplined and focused, rigorous yet creative; they sought, in their exegesis, to illuminate both the words and the work of the Logos of God. The fathers were convinced that "[t]he sacred texts do not just provide good data; they are fragrant with the aroma of the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ."

O'Keefe and Reno arrange their book in six chapters. The first chapter, "Scriptural Meaning Modern to Ancient," outlines the modern notion of scripture as significant because it refers to something beyond itself, a notion which is different from the pre-modern understanding of scripture as significant because "it is divine revelation," not because "of its connection to an x." Chapter two, "Christ Is the End of the Law and the Prophets," discusses the "cross, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ" as "the interpretive key" of scripture. It also describes three concepts from classical rhetoric the fathers used in their study of scripture: hypothesis, economy, and recapitulation, which refer, respectively, to the gist of a work, its plan or order, and its "point" or summary statement. Chapter three, "Intensive Reading," defines lexical, dialectical, and associative methods of reading. Lexical reading involves the strategies used for assigning reliable meanings to words and elements in texts; dialectical considers two seemingly contradictory elements of a text and looks for the deeper coherence; and associative pays attention to verbal echoes across a text. In chapter four, "Typological Interpretation," O'Keefe and Reno explain that, for the fathers, Jesus Christ is the type, or pattern, that "unlocks" all the stories in scripture, Old and New Testaments both. They write: "The text tells of events in the divine economy, [and the example under discussion] in this case [is] Joshua's leadership. The import of these events is not clear until they are typologically linked to another set of events that occurs later in the divine economy. Just as importantly, the later events are themselves not fully clear until the illuminating typological link is established. More succinctly, one learns about Jesus by reading about Joshua. The typology casts light forward as well as backward." Chapter five, "Allegorical Interpretation," discusses how allegory enabled the fathers to explore the full meaning of the scriptures, the meaning embedded in both its content and form. Chapter six, "The Rule of Faith and the Holy Life," states that early exegesis was tethered to the authority of the church, and that right reading of scripture was bound to righteousness, to holy living. "The goal of patristic exegesis," write O'Keefe and Reno, "was to pass through the narrow opening that led to thoughts that participated in the unspeakable mysteries, and only a person whose vision has been refined by prayer, fasting, and self-control could hope to effect such a passage. Therefore, the fathers identified interpretive skill with the ambitious regimes of ascetic practice that defined the spiritual endeavor of the ancient church."

Sanctified Vision concludes with notes, a bibliography, and an index. Inspiration and Incarnation comprises a preface and abbreviations section, five chapters, a glossary, and two indices. The chapter titles are, respectively: "Getting Our Bearings"; "The Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Literature"; "The Old Testament and Theological Diversity"; "The Old Testament and Its Interpretation in the New Testament"; and "The Big Picture." [Posted May 2006, ALG]