[Note before reading: In what I offer here is a very roughly worked out approach to relating Biblical exegesis and the task of theology. At moments there some thinking that seeks to approach the ideals of analytical rigor, but at other moments it can only be described as inchoate thoughts still seeking
I remember early on as I walked the grounds of seminary being ‘troubled’ by a specific question, although it is better articulated now than then: if the Christian life is to be lead by the Holy Spirit, how is it not problematic to make Christian thinking be controlled by Biblical exegesis?
The spirit, or if one wants to press further and say the Spirit, of the Protestant
And in saying this, I am not in anyway criticizing the task of becoming a more skillful exegete. My academic aspirations largely surround developing any possible exegetical acumen that I could have. However, in the midst of the great emphasis that is put upon us as readers to make sense of the text through our exegetical rigor and methods, does that not present a challenge to the role of the Holy Spirit in
In this, I have seen the judgment that can be dispersed from the sides of the aisle. The exegetically inclined cast judgment upon other that would go beyond what amounts to an epistemically justified interpretation of the Scripture is tantamount to mere subjectivism. Meanwhile, those whose faith extends beyond what is derived from exegesis treating exegesis as some lesser practice, that can miss the point. And I suspect if the exegetical and the theological minded were to not be challenged by the other, they would subject the methods of the other task to the purposes and goals of their task. In other words, many Biblical scholars would see theology simply
All this leads to the critical question: if there is a Triune God who is
Allow me to suggest a manner of understanding based upon a specific approach to language that suggests that they neither conflict nor is one mode enslaved to the other. Simply put: language and thought are not coterminous. As a speaker language expresses thoughts; as a hearer/reader language can lead us to have certain thoughts. However, thinking is never entirely reducible to the expression of words in a specific context. However, language often times reveals more than what was primarily intended to be expressed.
Consider the phenomenon of Freudian slips/slips of the tongue. A person’s intention in communication is focused on one topic, but as they speak, their words reveal other thoughts. Now, commonly, this slip of language becomes obvious when the words only make sense for the hidden thought but not for the presumed purpose. But, sometimes, the words would be suitable for both the pragmatic purpose at hand and other thoughts. These
By paying attention to the wider context. The normal practice of interpreting, which is generally attuned to the specifics pragmatic circumstances by skilled listeners, will not provide you with this further meaning. Instead, one can only make sense of this meaning by getting to know the person better and beginning to observe the patterns.
However, there is a distinct problem with observing patterns; pattern observation is fraught with subjectivity, especially when it comes patterns that we infer are there but we don’t directly observe. When we try to figure out what another person is thinking, the further we go beyond what they observably say and do, the more we are making inferences about what we do not observe, which entails us filling the gaps in with a combination of our own sense of ourselves (projection) and with our own experiences of others (transference). Thus, the practice of reading between the lines, of going beyond what is written is only as reliable in so far as a) our own sense of who we
But if I do not have direct, independent access to the other person entirely independent of my projections and transferences, how can I ever know that my understanding matches theirs? You can’t. You will never have a good reason for an absolutely confident knowledge that your thoughts and feelings are in perfect match with another. But, there are workarounds. My thoughts about another need not be slaves to projections and transferences, even if they are influenced by them.
Allow me to use romantic relationships, where projections can easily run amok, to demonstrate how subjectivity can be altered: If one person dating another says “I love you,” those words are not a projection, even as the other person may at the same time project their feelings as the feelings of the other. Projection is joined together with an matching expression and behavior of the other. Or, consider a different couple where one breaks up with another saying “I no longer love you.” Even as the one being broken up with has feelings of love for the other, the words of the other
Thus, there is the ever constant back and forth between attention to what is observable, which is what exegesis is based upon, and pattern-matching about the otherwise unobservable and inferred, which is what theology focuses on as God is not directly observable to us. But, what is different from pure exegesis is that theology emerges from seeing and making the connections drawn from wide-spread observations. In other words, theology emerges from a range of different observations across the spectrum. Much as the genuine feelings of romantic love do no rest simply on a single pronouncement, such as “I love you” or buying flowers, but on the whole way that person responds, so too does theology not rest on reading too much into a single pericope here or a single text there, but from making sense of the whole. But this sense of the theological whole
If then Scripture testifies to and expresses the thoughts of God, then by attuning ourselves to the whole of it, we can being to see how the various expressions may express something more than what was intended for the pragmatic purpose of the original context. For instance, when God made a promise for Abraham’s seed, God was in that moment intending something for Abraham regarding having a child of his own with Sarah, but yet this expression of God also gives a glimpse into the mind of God that extends beyond the concrete fulfillment in the person of God. That is what I
You don’t get that by simply reading Genesis and say “See! Christ is spoken of right here!” Rather, I would suggest that Paul got there by a) being deeply familiar with the Jewish Scriptures and b) being deeply familiar with Christ and through attention to both, making the connections between God’s various actions, including His speech-acts.
In short, I suggest the relationship between the exegesis of the Christian Scriptures and the reflection of Christian theology operates through the back-and-forth nature being interpretation attuned to the pragmatic, historical circumstance in exegesis combined with the theological reflection on making sense of the whole of what God has said and done. In this, we can see the connections between God’s word in the Old Testament with God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ. Yet, neither the methods and practices of theological reflection and Biblical exegesis are reduced to the concerns of the other, but they operate as distinctively different modes of thinking.
However, there is one roadblock still to overcome. What are the specific connections I should make between the various observations of my exegetically grounded readings? Even as I am consistently challenging my pattern-and-inferential thinking with the analysis-of-observations thinking, there are still many possible patterns we can perceive, even as we reject other possible patterns as untenable. In other words, two people can still have the same Biblical exegesis of various texts and still come to different conclusions. In other words, theology is underdetermined by exegesis. How then do we read to an understanding that is attuned with the will and thoughts of God?
The Spirit. But, by this, I don’t mean to say that we engage with some practice or word that the Spirit gives us that solidifies our interpretation over another. According to my understanding of Paul in 1 Corinthians,
The heart transformed through practice would then transforms the types of patterns we observe. At the core, the patterns we observe are determined by what our desires, values, and fears make salient to us, since the focus of our attention is determined what it is we are looking for. This will impact the type of connections we make between our attention to the various expressions of Scripture (and then even our attention to the work of God in our own lives).