Acts by Jaroslav Pelikan (Brazos Theological Commentary of the Bible: Brazos Press) This significant commentary kicks off the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, which will eventually grow to a library of 40 volumes. Unlike other commentaries that are written mostly by biblical scholars, these books will be penned by theologians interested in what the Bible has to say about enduring theological questions; as series editor R.R. Reno puts it, the series "was born out of the conviction that dogma clarifies rather than obscures." Pelikan's contribution, for example, is less about the socioeconomic conditions that informed Paul's missionary journeys than it is about systematic theology, Christian doctrine and the formation of the early church. Pelikan asks big questions: what is sin? what were the earliest creeds? what is the nature of apostleship? He is sensitive to nuances of Greek but not obsessed by them. As such, this book will be helpful to preachers and, to a lesser extent, general readers who are sometimes flummoxed by more specialized and technical biblical commentaries.
In 1905, exactly a hundred years ago, Adolf von Harnack urged upon his pupil and colleague, Karl Holl, his "fundamental conviction that those church historians whose concentration is, as ours is, on early church history must always be ready, when the situation requires it, to take on the exposition of a book of the New Testament."' He lived up to that rule himself when he published his book on Acts in 1908, which soon thereafter was translated into English.2 I have always believed in that rule, too. But I have never been able to live up to it myself until now, when I am also doing so with a commentary on Acts, as part of this series of theological commentaries on the Bible. Examining the first account of the first generations does seem a fitting way to follow up on over a half century of studying the history of the church and the development of its doctrine from those first generations and into all subsequent periods.
In many ways I am at heart a philologist, and, coming from a polyglot home, I have since childhood taken special delight in the permutations of grammar and etymology, especially then also in Greek and Latin. But whenever I have been asked whether I am a classicist, I have usually replied that I am interested in Greek and Latin only after they became world languages, for by training and scholarly experience I am a historian of Christian doctrine. As a rule, I have not so much investigated what the Bible meant as what it has been taken to mean. But the invitation, in my eightieth year, to join other scholars outside the biblical field in this theological commentary project was irresistible.
Series Preface: Near the beginning of his treatise against Gnostic interpretations of the Bible, Against the Heresies, Irenaeus observes that Scripture is like a great mosaic depicting a handsome king. It is as if we were owners of a villa in Gaul who had ordered a mosaic from Rome. It arrives, and the beautifully colored tiles need to be taken out of their packaging and put into proper order according to the plan of the artist. The difficulty, of course, is that Scripture provides us with the individual pieces, but the order and sequence of various elements are not obvious. The Bible does not come with instructions that would allow interpreters to simply place verses, episodes, images, and parables in order as a worker might follow a schematic drawing in assembling the pieces to depict the handsome king. The mosaic must be puzzled out. This is precisely the work of scriptural interpretation.
Origen has his own image to express the difficulty of working out the proper approach to reading the Bible. When preparing to offer a commentary on the Psalms he tells of a tradition handed down to him by his Hebrew, teacher:
The Hebrew said that the whole divinely inspired Scripture may be likened, because of its obscurity, to many locked rooms in our house. By each room is placed a key, but not the one that corresponds to it, so that the keys are scattered about beside the rooms, none of them matching the room by which it is placed. It is a difficult task to find the keys and match them to the rooms that they can open. We therefore know the Scriptures that are obscure only by taking the points of departure for understanding them from another place because they have their interpretive principle scattered among them.'
As is the case for Irenaeus, scriptural interpretation is not purely local. The key in Genesis may best fit the door of Isaiah, which in turn opens up the meaning of Matthew. The mosaic must be put together with an eye toward the overall plan.
Irenaeus, Origen, and the great cloud of premodern biblical interpreters assumed that puzzling out the mosaic of Scripture must be a communal project. The Bible is vast, heterogeneous, full of confusing passages and obscure words, and difficult to understand. Only a fool would imagine that he or she could work out solutions alone. The way forward must rely upon a tradition of reading that Irenaeus reports has been passed on as the rule or canon of truth that functions as a confession of faith. "Anyone," he says, "who keeps unchangeable in himself the rule of truth received through baptism will recognize the names and sayings and parables of the scriptures."2 Modern scholars debate the content of the rule on which Irenaeus relies and commends, not the least because the terms and formulations Irenaeus himself uses shift and slide. Nonetheless, Irenaeus assumes that there is a body of apostolic doctrine sustained by a tradition of teaching in the church. This doctrine provides the clarifying principles that guide exegetical judgment toward a coherent overall reading of Scripture as a unified witness. Doctrine, then, is the schematic drawing that will allow the reader to organize the vast heterogeneity of the words, images, and stories of the Bible into a readable, coherent whole. It is the rule that guides us toward the proper matching of keys to doors.
If self-consciousness about the role of history in shaping human consciousness makes modern historical-critical study critical, then what makes modern study of the Bible modern is the consensus that classical Christian doctrine distorts interpretive understanding. Benjamin Jowett, the influential nineteenth-century English classical scholar, is representative. In his programmatic essay "On the Interpretation of Scripture," he exhorts the biblical reader to disengage from doctrine and break its hold over the interpretive imagination. "The simple words of that book," writes Jowett of the modern reader, "he tries to preserve absolutely pure from the refinements or distinctions of later times." The modern interpreter wishes to "clear away the remains of dogmas, systems, controversies, which are encrusted upon" the words of Scripture. The disciplines of close philological analysis "would enable us to separate the elements of doctrine and tradition with which the meaning of Scripture is encumbered in our own day." The lens of understanding must be wiped clear of the hazy and distorting film of doctrine.
Postmodernity, in turn, has encouraged us to criticize the critics. Jowett imagined that when he wiped away doctrine he would encounter the biblical text in its purity and uncover what he called "the original spirit and intention of the authors.." We are not now so sanguine, and the postmodern mind thinks interpretive frameworks inevitable. Nonetheless, we tend to remain modernin at least one sense. We read Athanasius and think him stage-managing the diversity of Scripture to support his positions against the Arians. We read Bernard of Clairvaux and assume that his monastic ideals structure his reading of the Song of Songs. In the wake of the Reformation, we can see how the doctrinal divisions of the time shaped biblical interpretation. Luther famously described the Epistle of James as a "strawy letter," for, as he said, "it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it." In these and many other instances, often written in the heat of ecclesiastical controversy or out of the passion of ascetic commitment, we tend to think Jowett correct: doctrine is a distorting film on the lens of understanding.
However, is what we commonly think actually the case? Are readers naturally perceptive? Do we have an unblemished, reliable aptitude for the divine? Have we no need for disciplines of vision? Do our attention and judgment need to be trained, especially as we seek to read Scripture as the living word of God? According to Augustine, we all struggle to journey toward God, who is our rest and peace. Yet our vision is darkened and the fetters of worldly habit corrupt our judgment. We need training and instruction in order to cleanse our minds so that we might find our way toward God.' To this end, "the whole temporal dispensation was made by divine Providence for our salvation."' The covenant with Israel, the coming of Christ, the gathering of the nations into the churchall these things are gathered up into the rule of faith, and they guide the vision and form of the soul toward the end of fellowship with God. In Augustine's view, the reading of Scripture both contributes to and benefits from this divine pedagogy. With countless variations in both exegetical conclusions and theological frameworks, the same pedagogy of a doctrinally ruled reading of Scripture characterizes the broad sweep of the Christian tradition from Gregory the Great through Bernard and Bonaventure, continuing across Reformation differences in both John Calvin and Cornelius Lapide, Patrick Henry and Bishop Bossuet, and on to more recent figures such as Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar.
Is doctrine, then, not a moldering scrim of antique prejudice obscuring the Bible, but instead a clarifying agent, an enduring tradition of theological judgments that amplifies the living voice of Scripture? And what of the scholarly dispassion advocated by Jowett? Is a noncommitted reading, an interpretation unprejudiced, the way toward objectivity, or does it simply invite the languid intellectual apathy that stands aside to make room for the false truism and easy answers of the age?
This series of biblical commentaries was born out of the conviction that dogma clarifies rather than obscures. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible advances upon the assumption that the Nicene tradition, in all its diversity
and controversy, provides the proper basis for the interpretation of the Bible as Christian Scripture. God the Father Almighty, who sends his only begotten Son to die for us and for our salvation and who raises the crucified Son in the power of the Holy Spirit so that the baptized may be joined in one bodyfaith in this God with this vocation of love for the world is the lens through to view the heterogeneity and particularity of the biblical texts. Doctrine, then, is not a moldering scrim of antique prejudice obscuring the meaning of the Bible. It is a crucial aspect of the divine pedagogy, a clarifying agent for our minds fogged by self-deceptions, a challenge to our languid intellectual apathy that will too often rest in false truisms and the easy spiritual nostrums of the present age rather than search more deeply and widely for the dispersed keys to the many doors of Scripture.
For this reason, the commentators in this series have not been chosen because of their historical or philological expertise. In the main, they are not biblical scholars in the conventional, modern sense of the term. Instead, the commentators were chosen because of their knowledge of and expertise in using the Christian doctrinal tradition. They are qualified by virtue of the doctrinal formation of their mental habits, for it is the conceit of this series of biblical commentaries that theological training in the Nicene tradition prepares one for biblical interpretation, and thus it is to theologians and not biblical scholars that we have turned. "War is too important," it has been said, "to leave to the generals."
We do hope, however, that readers do not draw the wrong impression. The Nicene tradition does not provide a set formula for the solution of exegetical problems. The great tradition of Christian doctrine was not transcribed, bound in folio, and issued in an official, critical edition. We have the NicenoConstantinopolitan Creed, used for centuries in many traditions of Christian worship. We have ancient baptismal affirmations of faith. The Chalcedonian definition and the creeds and canons of other church councils have their places in official church documents. Yet the rule of faith cannot be limited to a specific set of words, sentences, and creeds. It is instead a pervasive habit of thought, the animating culture of the church in its intellectual aspect. As Augustine observed, commenting on Jer. 31:33, "The creed is learned by listening; it is written, not on stone tablets nor on any material, but on the heart."' This is why Irenaeus is able to appeal to the rule of faith more than a century before the first ecumenical council, and this is why we need not itemize the contents of the Nicene tradition in order to appeal to its potency and role in the work of interpretation.
Because doctrine is intrinsically fluid on the margins and most powerful as a habit of mind rather than a list of propositions, this commentary series cannot settle difficult questions of method and content at the outset. The editors of the series impose no particular method of doctrinal interpretation.
We cannot say in advance how doctrine helps the Christian reader assemble the mosaic of Scripture. We have no clear answer to the question of whether exegesis guided by doctrine is antithetical to or compatible with the now-old modern methods of historical-critical inquiry. Truthhistorical, mathematical, or doctrinalknows no contradiction. But method is a discipline of vision and judgment, and we cannot know in advance what aspects of historical-critical inquiry are functions of modernism that shape the soul to be at odds with Christian discipline. Still further, the editors do not hold the commentators to any particular hermeneutical theory that specifies how to define the plain sense of Scriptureor the role this plain sense should play in interpretation. Here the commentary series is tentative and exploratory.
Can we proceed in any other way? European and North American intellectual culture has been de-Christianized. The effect has not been a cessation of Christian activity. Theological work continues. Sermons are preached. Biblical scholars turn out monographs. Church leaders have meetings. But each dimension of a formerly unified Christian practice now tends to function independently. It is as if a weakened army had been fragmented, and various corps had retreated to isolated fortresses in order to survive. Theology has lost its competence in exegesis. Scripture scholars function with minimal theological training. Each decade finds new theories of preaching to cover the nakedness of seminary training that provides theology without exegesis and exegesis without theology.
Not the least of the causes of the fragmentation of Christian intellectual practice has been the divisions of the church. Since the Reformation, the role of the rule of faith in interpretation has been obscured by polemics and counterpolemics about sola scriptura and the necessity of a magisterial teaching authority. The Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series is deliberately ecumenical in scope, because the editors are convinced that early church fathers were correct: church doctrine does not compete with Scripture in a limited economy of epistemic authority. We wish to encourage unashamedly dogmatic interpretation of Scripture, confident that the concrete consequences of such a reading will cast far more light on the great divisive questions of the Reformation than either reengaging in old theological polemics or chasing the fantasy of a pure exegesis that will somehow adjudicate between competing theological positions. You shall know the truth of doctrine by its interpretive fruits, and therefore in hopes of contributing to the unity of the church, we have deliberately chosen a wide range of theologians whose commitment to doctrine will allow readers to see real interpretive consequences rather than the shadow boxing of theological concepts.
Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible has no dog in the current translation fights, and we endorse a textual ecumenism that parallels our diversity of ecclesial backgrounds. We do not impose the thankfully modest inclusive- language agenda of the New Revised Standard Version, nor do we insist upon the glories of the Authorized Version, nor do we require our commentators to create a new translation. In our communal worship, in our private devotions, in our theological scholarship, we use a range of scriptural translations. Precisely as Scripturea living, functioning text in the present life of faiththe Bible is not semantically fixed. Only a modernist, literalist hermeneutic could imagine that this modest fluidity is a liability. Philological precision and stability is a consequence of, not a basis for, exegesis. Judgments about the meaning of a text fix its literal sense, not the other way around. As a result, readers should expect an eclectic use of biblical translations, both across the different volumes of the series and within individual commentaries.
We cannot speak for contemporary biblical scholars, but as theologians we know that we have long been trained to defend our fortresses of theological concepts and formulations. And we have forgotten the skills of interpretation. Like stroke victims, we must rehabilitate our exegetical imaginations, and there are likely to be different strategies of recovery. Readers should expect this reconstructivenot reactionaryseries to provide them with experiments in postcritical doctrinal interpretation, not commentaries written according to the settled principles of a well-functioning tradition. Some commentators will follow classical typological and allegorical readings from the premodern tradition; others will draw on contemporary historical study. Some will comment verse by verse; others will highlight passages, even single words that trigger theological analysis of Scripture. No reading strategies are proscribed, no interpretive methods foresworn. The central premise in this commentary series is that doctrine provides structure and cogency to scriptural interpretation. We trust in this premise with the hope that the Nicene tradition can guide us, however imperfectly, diversely, and haltingly, toward a reading of Scripture in which the right keys open the right doors. R. R. Reno
THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION edited by John Barton (hardcover, Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 0521481449) PAPERBACK This book provides the first complete guide for students and pastors to the present state of biblical studies. It shows that there is no end to the varieties meanings being extracted from the traditional texts as new issues arise in Church and culture. The twenty-one specially commissioned chapters are written by established scholars from North America and Britain, and represent both traditional and contemporary points of view. They offer sound intermediate introduction to recent trends in biblical study. The chapters in Part one cover all the methods and approaches currently practiced in the academic study of the Bible, while those in Part two examine the major categories of books in the Bible from the perspective of recent scholarship, that is, historical books of the Old Testament, Gospels, prophetic literature. Major issues raised are: the relation of modern critical study of the Bible to pre-critical and post-critical approaches; the place of history in the study of the Bible; feminist, liberationist and New Historicism concerns; the relation of Christian and Jewish scholarship; and recent interest in the Bible as literature. This work is likely to be a standard reference for some years to come. It is also likely to age quickly as the approaches underdiscussion have in many ways just begun in their discoveries and possible influence.
After two thousand years, can there still be anything left to discover about the Bible? People who work in biblical studies are used to being asked this question. One answer, a true one, is that there is still primary research to be conducted, because the discoveries of modern times such as the Dead Sea Scrolls have increased our access to the world in which the Bible came into being. Archaeology is continually revealing more about the physical realities of life in the biblical world; and fresh linguistic evidence sheds new light on the meaning of biblical texts. New information justifies fresh investigation.
But ancient texts require not only research, but also interpretation. When we have as accurate a text of the biblical books as can be secured, and as much knowledge as research makes available, we are still faced with the question: what does the Bible mean? This question can never be answered once and for all, not because the Bible changes, but because it takes two for meaning to be perceived: the text and its interpreter. In every age interpreters ask different questions, and so different aspects of the texts meaning emerge. The task of interpretation, unlike that of research, is never finished even in principle.
This book offers the reader a progress report on biblical interpretation in the 1990s. Biblical studies have been in turmoil throughout the last ten years, revealing that what seemed in the 1970s and 1980s to be a time of sharp controversies was really quite placid and conciliatory by comparison. The turmoil concerns less the interpretation of any given biblical book than the methods that ought to be employed in studying them all. Almost everyone who writes about biblical studies today talks in terms of a new paradigm for reading the text a shift from an interest in political history and the historical meaning of the Bible to a social historical, sociological, literary or postmodern style of reading. At the same time, as readers will notice in many of the chapters below, interpreters are often at pains to claim that their new paradigm is not new at all, but the restoration of an older method which the intervening ascendancy of the historical-critical method had temporarily effaced. Thus there is a perception among many biblical scholars that the newest approaches are also a restoration of something very old: for post-structuralist read pre-critical. The volume is quite accessible and the chapters offer introduction to the most current directions of research. because biblical scholarship has become such a hydra-headed behemoth the only lack of the volume is depth and complexity of developments over the last 20-30 years. But to be faire an major reference work of several thousands pages would be needed for that task. This volume serves admirably well in its introductory capacity.
The first section of this book accordingly surveys the present ferment over the aims and methods that students of the Bible should adopt. The initial chapter concentrates on the paradigm shift itself, noting (what is undeniable) that the style of biblical studies has changed radically in the last decade or so, but at the same time asking whether the historical-critical method (itself something of a misnomer to describe a complex set of attitudes and questions) may not have been falsely demonized in the process. When this book was being planned, some advisers suggested that there should be no chapter on historical criticism at all, since it was now entirely past. Against this the editor has tried to show that historical critics raised (and raise) issues that should still be on the agenda for the student of the Bible, and which will not go away.
The paradox that the newest methods hark back to the oldest is particularly clear in David Jaspers study of literary criticism of the Bible. He argues that recent literary approaches often draw on the vast resources of pre-critical exegesis (Jewish and Christian) to revive insights into the text lost through historical criticism. In particular, he illustrates the current concern for holistic readings, in which biblical books are read just as they stand and without asking the questions about earlier sources and editions that characterized the historical interest in the text. This concern he traces back to pre-critical interpretation which, he argues, was similarly holistic in its interests.
John Barton is Oriel and Lain Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford.
Biblical Errancy: A Reference Guide by C. Dennis McKinsey (Prometheus Books) Defenders of the Bible can often cite chapter and verse from Scriptures to support their particular point of view. Biblical critics, on the other hand, are rarely as adept at citing biblical passages to defend their analysis. Merely knowing that the Bible contains many fallacies and contradictions is not enough to make an effective argument. The skeptic needs a comprehensive reference tool to allow quick retrieval of biblical contradictions, errors, and fallacies.
Biblical Errancy: A Reference Guide has been compiled specifically to meet this need. This work addresses virtually every significant dilemma of the Bible; arranges them by topic; and delineates the problems within each. Besides its handy alphabetical organization of subject matter, Biblical Errancy: A Reference Guide has many other user-friendly features: ii arranges the cited verses within a subject heading in the order in which they appear in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation; it uses a system of marking verses with one, two, or three asterisks to indicate their importance to the topic under consideration; and it has many cross-references to related areas of interest. Although many books critique the Bible from a wide variety of perspectives, none have been structured in such a manner as to provide a virtually exhaustive body of critical information that can be retrieved on a moment's notice on nearly every biblical topic imaginable. The volume and scope of the material discussed is such that anyone having any interest whatsoever in Scriptures will find something of value in these pages.
C. Dennis McKinsey (Hilliard, OH) is the editor and publisher of the Biblical Errancy Newsletter and the author of the The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy
Acknowledgments Preface Abortion Accomodations Misquotes Nonquotes Misinterpretations Alcohol Supporting Consumption Against Consumption Annihilationism Anti-Semitism Jesus Predicted the Gentiles Would Kill Him Who Really Killed Jesus Jesus versus the Jews Paul's Anti-Semitic Remarks Peter's Anti-Semitic Remarks The Apostles Which Is the Correct List? Authors/False Authorships Joshua Samuel Nehemiah David Isaiah Matthew Baptism Is a Necessity Is Not a Necessity Opposed by David? Cannibalism Capital Punishment in the Old Testament Crimes Warranting the Death Penalty Children Sanction of Abuse and Injustice toward Children Communism Biblical Support for Communism Contradictions Group Contradiction Chronological Contradictions in the Gospels Creationism Versus Science Key Problems Summarized Itemized in Detail Excluded Literature Primary Examples The Apocrypha Secondary Examples Gospels Omitted from Scripture Nongospel Books Omitted from Scripture Faith Salvation by Faith False Teachings The Flood and Noah Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Forgeries Gambling Biblical Support for Gambling Genesis Account of Creation First Account versus Second Account Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail First Account of Creation---Internal Problems Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Second Account of Creation---Internal Problems Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail General Questions Geography Old Testament Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail New Testament Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail God Omniscience Acts and Comments Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Summary Heaven Negative Features Key Questions Regarding Heaven Hell History Old Testament Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail New Testament Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail The Holy Ghost Is Not a Person Is a Person Homosexuality Ignored Teachings Commandments Old Testament New Testament Intellectualism Supporting Intellectualism Against Intellectualism Jesus Acts and Comments Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Ancestry Ascension Crucifixion Debunked Extrabiblical Writings False Prophecies Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Genealogically Disqualified Jesus versus Paul Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Jesus versus Peter Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Messianic Age Messianic Credentials of Jesus Are Invalid Messianic Prophecies Old Testament Events Confirmed by Jesus Resurrection The Resurrection Accounts Are Contradictory Nobody Returns to Life Others Participated in Acts More Astounding Than Being Resurrected Jesus Was Raised, He Didn't Raise Himself Second Coming Is Imminent or Past Due Second Coming Events Trinity Virgin Birth Koran Mathematics Matriarchs Miracles Mormonism Moses and the Pentateuch Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Additional Considerations Nationalism Original Sin All Are Sinners All Are Unjustly Punished for the Deeds of One Those Born of God Can't Sin Was Never Created to Begin With Summary of the Curses on Adam Overall Summary of Original Sin Paganism in Scripture Patriarchs Old Testament New Testament Paul Acts and Comments Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Paul versus Himself Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Paul versus the Old Testament Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Perfection Peter Acts and Comments Peter versus the Old Testament Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Peter versus the New Testament Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Peter versus Paul Peter versus Himself Polygamy Poverty Prayer Predestination Profanity Prophecies Three Major Categories of Misleading Biblical Prophecies Incorrectly Fulfilled Prophecies Unfulfilled Prophecies Nonexistent Prophecies Quotations Sabbath Saturady Is the Sabbath Arguments for Honoring Sunday and Refutations of Each A Sabbatarian Offer Conclusion Salvation Ways to be Saved Summary ``Science'' Key Points Summarized Itemized in Detail Testing the Bible Universalism (All Will be Saved) Versions of the Bible Differ Old Testament New Testament ``Kill'' versus ``Murder'' in the Bible Summary Women Works Required for Salvation Insufficient for Salvation Conclusion General Index, Index of Verse Citations.
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