The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (Frei)

Frei, Hans. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Frei investigates the breakdown between story and reality, realistic and figural interpretation. His Yale post-liberal presuppositions aid his analysing German liberalism. Unfortunately, tyalehey do not help him construct a coherent alternative.

A realistic interpretation is a strict correspondence between word and reality. There can only be one meaning: that of the author. This is problematic when one approaches biblical prophecy: were the prophets’ intended meanings the same as that of the New Testament readers? At this point the realistic paradigm breaks down.

A figural reading is close to Reformed typology: the narrated sequence contains its own meaning (Frei 28). While Frei doesn’t draw the explicit conclusion, if typology is true, then one must also employ a narratival epistemology. One will note this is standard Protestant–especially Reformed covenantal–hermeneutics. So what happened in history, especially in Germany? The blossoming liberal schools quite correctly saw that if typology is true, then the bible has a coherent unity. If the bible has a coherent unity, then it forces a narratival epistemology. If that is true, then dualisms of a Platonic or Kantian sort are ruled out.

“What if Plato were a German Liberal?”

The development of hermeneutics didn’t take place in a vacuum. Scholars were interacting with contemporary philosophical shfits. The liberal schools would not accept a realistic hermeneutics because it was obvious (for them) that miracles and resurrection were not part of “reality.” They could not accept a typological reading because typology is at war with internalized, spiritual pious gush.

Schleiermacher’s comments are appropriate at this point. His denial of the Resurrection and the miraculous is well-known, but perhaps not his reasons why. They are several: if the truth of the story is in the event, then it stands or falls apart from my internalized spiritualization of the text. Further, if the goal of Jesus (on the liberal gloss) is his coming-to-realization of God-conciousness, then the Resurrection makes such reading pointless. Indeed, the cross is an anti-climax.

Lessons to be learned: A Conclusion of sorts

It’s not clear if Frei himself avoids all of the criticisms of liberal theology. His distinction between factuality and factuality-like probably won’t hold up under scrutiny (which is why few liberals adopted it). His understanding of narrative theology is brilliant, but narrative theology only works if the narrative is…well..real. Did it actually happen?

If we do not have eschatology as the corresponding pole to history, as none of the liberals did, then it is hard to avoid D. F. Strauss’s criticisms. If the goal of hermeneutics is eternal, timeless truths (ironically shared by both modern Evangelicals and Schleiermacher), then Lessing’s ditch is insurmountable. If truth is Platonic and necessary and eternal, necessary because it is eternal, then why bother with historical contingencies like narratives? If this is the case, Lessing is absolutely correct.


Sacramental Preaching (Boersma)

It is tempting among some evangelicals today to call everything “sacramental” (not unlike the recent phrase to use “kingdom” or “gospel” as an adjective modifying every single noun). As such, I wish the book had another title. In any case, a sacramentum points to and reveals the res. Thus, sacramental preaching will see Christ unfold in the Old Testament. It’s neither crude allegory nor typology.

I’ve criticized Boersma’s approach in the past. My problem is he uses “sacrament” as a term to cover everything, especially relating to hermeneutics. If he would simply use another term, maybe one such as “participatory” or even typological, then much confusion could be avoided. This book is closer to typology than to allegory, and as such it has a fair bit to commend it.

Each chapter contains a short sermon he preached to his students at Regent College. Each sermon is followed by technical “preacher’s notes.” The notes are where the real money is at.

The book is structured around blessedness:
1) Sensed Happiness
2) Pilgrim Happiness
3) Heavenly Happiness
4) Unveiled Happiness

Boersma suggests that patristic and medieval exegesis is 3-D, whereas modernity is 1-D. In a participatory metaphysics, there is always “moreness.” Modernity is characterized by lessness. (Postmodernism is characterized by nothingness). A sacramental reading simply means the text points to Christ.

Me: That’s fine, but I wish he would have actually defined “participation.” Platonists are sometimes notoriously vague on that point. On a similar note, instead of “sacramental” I am going to say “participatory.”

A participatory metaphysics points to (or makes present) realities beyond that of the physical. One neat benefit of participatory preaching is that it bridges the gap between exegesis and application, since we are “in Christ” and Christ is “in the Old Testament,” so in a significant way we have a link with the realities of the Old Testament. And as we open the text and find Christ, we find all the gifts he brings to us.

Boersma’s collection of sermons has an anagogical structure. In each sermon we successively ascend the mountain until we are face to face with Christ in the beatific vision. This, quite simply, is happiness. It is blessedness.

Song of Solomon, Motherhood, and Virginity

The tradition justified an allegorical reading on the grounds that it was so easy and “fitting” to find Christ in it. Secondly, as Boersma notes, a realist epistemology held that “objects of sensed experience lie anchored in the reality of the eternal, heavenly Word of God.”

So far, so good. Boersma’s next move is rather shocking for Protestants, though one should have seen it coming. If you feel that you can do an allegorical reading of the Song of Solomon, then there is no logical reason why you can’t see the Virgin Mary in it. Make of that what you will. Boersma takes this key point to highlight “virginity” and “motherhood” within the history of salvation. Gregory of Nyssa noted that life and death are connected. Motherhood implies grief. Virginity attempts an end-run around that cycle.

Nota Bene:

“How people interpret the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, says a great deal about how they understand the nature-grace relationship.”

The section on Nathaniel being a true Israelite is good. The backdrop is Jacob’s ladder. Jacob, however, was full of guile. Nathaniel is now face to face with the real Ladder, and there is no guile in Nathaniel.

There is a fascinating chapter on Ezekiel 1. Boersma makes the argument, which I can’t develop here, that the heavens opening means God is ready for battle. The wheel within a wheel is a war chariot of the heavens. Where else did the heavens open with angels? The nativity. Also, Boersma reminds us of Fra Angelico’s “The Mystic Wheel.” The wheel within the wheel is the Gospel within the Old Testament.

First Theology (Vanhoozer)

Vanhoozer, Kevin. First Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress.

Kevin Vanhoozer (KV) bases this prolegomena off of speech-act theory.   He is working from several methodological presuppositions, all of which I think are sound:  our understanding of God and our understanding of Scripture presuppose one another (or are correlates). This is helpful because it alleviates the problem of whether we need to start with God or Scripture.

His book has three parts:  God, Scripture, and (Cultural) Hermeneutics.


KV raises the problem of whether the Trinity belongs in a philosophy of religions.  He advances the standard claims against pluralism: whenever a pluralist defines a “core” of all religious beliefs, that core is inevitably exclusivistic–it excludes other categories (57).

Drawing from themes by Robert W. Jenson, KV places God’s identity in his self-identifying acts as the God of Israel.   Before that he notes the problem of the term “identity.”  Does it mean ontological sameness or self-constancy in the case of God?  According to Paul Ricoeur, the God of the Philosophers is the God of idem-identity (bare essence; ground of being, the ineffable One swallowing the Many).  This makes differentiation of any sorts (persons, relations) a movement towards non-being. By contrast, the God of Israel is the God of ipse-identity (constancy, covenantal fidelity).  God identifies himself as Israel’s God and ties his name to a promise.  This is not the god of the philosophers.  Very fine section.

Effectual Call as Case Study

KV perceptively notes that the doctrine of effectual call is simply an example of the problem of the God-world nexus. Does God operate on the world in a causal manner merely, or is the relation one of calling, speech?  As Descartes noted, the God-world nexus is seen in the following problem:  how does the mental (God, mind, spiritual, etc) have any effect on the physical?

KV proposes we see this relationship in communicative categories.  If there is a God-world nexus, the “calling” is the “communicative joint” (118).  The Word that summons has both content and illocutionary force (energy).

Speech Act Terminology

Before continuing it will be helpful to explain key speech-act terms.  A perlocution is what one brings about by one’s speech act (120).  Locution is the speaking (154).  Illocution is the content and intent of the Locution.

Scripture as Speech-Act

KV proposes that speech-act theory allows us to transcend the debate between revelation as content and revelation as act, since Speech-Act includes both (130).

He has some good responses to high-church readings of Scripture and tradition:  “I see no reason that cognitive malfunction could not be corporate as well as individual” (223).   He notes the Anabaptist claim to “read in community” is not that materially different from the Trad Cathodox claim that the Church reads the Bible.

This claim to “self-referentiality is artificial; it disconnects the text from the extratextual world and from the process of reading…[quoting Francis Watson] To regard the church as a self-sufficient sphere closed of from the world is ecclesiological docetism” (Vanhoozer 216).

Indeed, such a position reduces to “interpretive might makes right.  One may very well question the grounds of such optimism: the believing community in Scripture is too often portraryed as unbelieving or confused, and subsequent church history has not been reassurring either” (219)

And Vanhoozer asks the most painful and unanswerable of questions:  how can we guard against the possible misuse of Scripture?  If we have to read the Bible with the church, we have to posit the corollary:  the church’s interpretation is what counts.  But what are the criteria so we know the church interpreted it correctly?


The book is mostly magnificent.  The final sections on Cultural Hermeneutics have promise, but only if you are already interested in that topic.

Back Toward the Future (Kaiser)

Kaiser, Walter C. Back Toward the Future: Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishing, reprint 2003.

Regardless of your eschatological viewpoint, Walter Kaiser, mighty in the Scriptures, gives guidelines for hermeneutics and how to approach prophetic texts.  Only one chapter deals with so-called “millennial issues.”

Make Prophetic Interpretation Center on the Living God

Prediction isn’t an add-on to divine revelation– “it is one of the methods of revelation” (Kaiser 18: Rev. 19:10).  Characteristics of biblical prophecy:

1) Plainly foretells things to come. No ambiguities.
2) Entails designed and intended predictions.
3) Written or spoken prior to the event.
4) It is not isolated but correlated to larger biblical revelation.

1 Peter 1:10-12 doesn’t mean Old Testament prophecy was vague or needed NT for the “real meaning.” It just means the OT writers didn’t know the time of Christ’s coming (Kaiser 23). A prophet didn’t “speak better than he knew,” but rather, on issues where he confessed ignorance (Dan. 8:27; 12:8; Zech. 4:13), he merely confesses ignorance of the time or “wants to understand what is said before he writes it down” (24).

Because biblical prophecy involves the Lord of space and time, its fulfillment isn’t intended to be ambiguous, as we see in Greek oracles.

Don’t Believe Every Prophet

Kaiser gives some criteria for discerning false prophets.  They are known for their immoral lifestyles. They are crowd-pleasers. They do not distinguish their own thoughts from biblical revelation.  Finally, they plagiarize (Kaiser 31).

Yet some prophecies do not appear to be fulfilled.  Kaiser mentions several kinds of prophecy: unconditional fulfillment; conditional fulfillment, and sequential fulfillment (35). We shouldn’t be surprised by conditional prophecy: prophecy is intended for holy living. God’s character doesn’t change; his actions might.

Word Packages

When the Bible uses “earth” in distinction from heaven, it is usually universal.  When it uses earth in distinction from the Gentile world, it probably means Israel (48). 

Go Back to the Past in Order to Get to the Future

Thesis:  Biblical prophecy uses the language of previous revelatory events: creation, flood, Egypt, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.

Biblical Theology of Prophecy

Kaiser’s method for studying prophecy is standard Evangelical hermeneutics.  He wisely recommends finding longer passages and units rather than just proof-texting verses.  Indeed, he gives a table of key biblical texts to understand prophecy:

Gen. 12 Promise to Abraham
Lev. 25/Dt 28 blessings and curses for obedience/disobedience
2 Sam. 7 Promise of a kingdom to David
Isa. 9 Promise of Immanuel and his dominion
Isa. 24 Devastation of the earth and the millennium
Isa 52:13-53:12 Suffering Servant
Isa 65-66 New heavens and new earth
Jer. 31:31-34 Promise new covenant
Ezek. 37 Restoration of Israel
Dan. 2 and 7 Succession of empires and coming of kingdom of God
Joel 2:28-3:21 Coming of the Holy Spirit and the judgment on nations
Amos 9:11-15 Restoration of David’s hut
Micah 4 Future assembly of nations in Jerusalem
Zech. 14 Christ’s return on the Mount of Olives

Kaiser recommends we focus primarily on the promise plan of God.  While it is true that Christ is the center of the Old Testament, Christ emerges from the Old Testament promises.  It is like a tree that is branching out. This is a much better approach than seeing Jesus as a rock on the road to Palestine.  It avoids allegorical goofiness.

He suggests we read “All Israel will be saved” as sequential in thought.  It might be temporal. It seems to be temporal, but even if it isn’t, nothing is lost by seeing it as sequential to the promises (114).  It follows from the promises made in the OT about including the Gentiles in salvation. It isn’t negating Israel. The phrase “life from the dead” brings to mind Ezek. 37. 

Kaiser gives a good premillennial account of two ages.  

The                 Age                       to Come

This Age   ——                                                         The Millennium/Eternity
                    Resurrection of XP              2nd Coming Great                       Judgment Throne

Three Resurrections

In 1 Cor 15 all humans will be raised by the power of God, but each in his own platoon (tagmata). Paul uses the epeita….eita construction similar to Mark 4:28: first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn appears (120).

The              Age                         to                      Come

This Age——                            The Millennium/                                       Eternity

Resurrection of Chr.              Resurrection of believers                   Resurrection Unbel.

The Pentecost Problem

Simply because Peter cited a few verses from Joel 2, does that mean all future referents in Joel are exhausted on the day of Pentecost?  Of course not.

Kaiser mightily refutes the “double-meaning” theory of prophecy, which is akin to allegorism.  Note, he isn’t addressing the fact that some prophecies have a partial or delayed fulfillment. That is perfectly legitimate.  Nay, he refutes the Philonic allegorism.

(1) This sets aside the common laws of language and makes communication meaningless.
(2) If there were a double/allegorical meaning, how could it be identified (129)?
(3) What boundaries, if any, are to be placed on double-meanings (130)?
(4) Advocates of double meaning admit it shouldn’t be used to establish doctrine, but why this reluctance all of a sudden?
(5) While it is sometimes claimed that the NT writers give a “spiritual” interpretation to OT passages, they wouldn’t have expected prophecy-fulfillment to make any sense if the rules of language were conveniently thrown out the windom.

Toward an Exegetical Theology (Kaiser)

Kaiser, Walter C. Toward and Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching & Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, reprint 1998.

This is the greatest “how-to” manual on Greek and Hebrew exegesis.  It runs the gamut from basic linguistics to the proper method of outlining a passage.  This won’t be a formal review, as the nature of the book is to be savored and imitated.  

While Kaiser never directly expounds the Alexandria vs. Antioch debate, he sides clearly with Antioch.  He has no mercy on “allegory” (Paul doesn’t count, for what Paul did is not what the early church did). Directly related to this is “single-meaning hermeneutics” (Kaiser 47). Anyone who rejects single-meaning hermeneutics assumes that his/her own work has a single meaning.

“The How-To” of exegesis:

Contextual analysis:

Kaiser recommends looking for the natural paragraph break (71). These could be anything from repeated terms that act as headings, transitional conjunctions/adverbs, rhetorical questions, change in tense and mood, etc.

What about jumping to doctrines or ideas that are later on in biblical history?  Kaiser urges caution. We believe in interpreting Scripture by Scripture, but that phrase doesn’t really tell us which Scripture is clearer.  Instead of the analogy of Scripture, Kaiser recommends the analogy of antecedent Scripture (82). Let Scripture develop its own story. This is simply a corollary to the claim that the author knew what he was talking about and didn’t know what he wasn’t talking about.  We can identify antecedent theology in the text by noting the following:

1) The use of certain terms which have already acquired a special meaning: seed, servant, rest, inheritance (137).
2) Reference to a previous event in the progress of revelation
3) Reference to previous quotations.
4) Reference to the covenants of accumulating promises.

In other words, the canonical center of the bible is “God’s word of blessing…or promise…to be Israel’s God and to do something for Israel and through them something for all the nations on the face of the earth” (139).

Syntactical Analysis:

Kaiser recommends using a “block-diagram. Write out each proposition or clause in the natural order of the text.  Isolate each syntactical unit on separate lines. Bring the theme proposition out to the left hand margin (right in the case of Hebrew), and indent material which modifies the theme proposition (99). Further, note that sub-points will have a parallel feel to their structure.




Gospel and Spirit (Gordon Fee)

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Fee, Gordon.  Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

The real battle over inerrancy doesn’t concern whether the autographa are (were?) inerrant.  The conservative has no access to them and the liberal can’t produce any arguments on why they would be errant.  The real problem, however, is hermeneutics.  Lacking any fear, Gordon Fee jumps into the fray.

Hermeneutics and Inerrancy

Since Scripture is a divine-human product, it creates tensions in the life of the church.  We have eternal truths applied to human particularities.  The temptation to get around this tension results in a “divine rule book” hermeneutics. Many conservatives (since liberals scorn Scripture, we don’t even need to address them) level all the imperatives in Scripture with the result that they can’t live by their own advice.  As Fee wryly notes, “One whole wing of evangelicalism, for example, argues vehemently for the eternal validity of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 on the silence of women, while rejecting every other imperative in the chapter, including the final one, not to forbid speaking in tongues” (Fee 45).

Even worse, but proving Fee’s case, Paul doesn’t always give the same imperative to the same situation. The guidelines for widows in 1 Cor. 7 is different from 1 Timothy 5. So how do we do ethics?  First, we realize that God’s gift precedes his obligation (good Augustinianism here).  We do not start with “law” but with God himself, who gives himself to us (good Wyclifite insight here).  As Fee notes, “All things are measured by the character of the Father; as his children we are privileged by the power of the Spirit to bear his likeness in the world” (46). To do otherwise is to make the medieval mistake: turning the gospel into a “New Law.”

While some of Fee’s comments decisively rebut the cessationist, he is on weaker ground when it comes to women in leadership.  He makes several important points, but none of them is logically overwhelming. Still, they are worth considering.  Should women be quiet in church (1 Tim. 2:8-15)? The question we should all ask is which part of 1 Timothy is particular and which eternal?  For example, no patriarchalist literally holds to 5:3-16 (which, interestingly enough, is opposite of Paul’s advice in 1 Cor. 7).  What grounds do we have for thinking that is particular to that situation and not eternal?

I don’t know.  Fee raises good points that few patriarchalist have thought about (or even are aware exist), but the structure of his argument resembles a tu quo que fallacy.  I’ll leave it at that.

His two most important chapters deal with distinctives in the Assembly of God and the larger pentecostal church.  Can we draw doctrine from narrative and is the baptism of the Holy Spirit subsequent to regeneration?  The answer to both questions is “sort of.” While cessationists, Baptist and Reformed, oppose basing doctrine (or practice) on narrative in theory, they do so in practice.  Where is the didactic teaching that says we baptize infants (or believers after a credible profession)?  It’s not there.  They base the teaching (correctly, I believe) on the household baptisms in Acts.

Fee suggests that a better question is how can we draw doctrine from narrative. Which experience of the primitive church is normative for us?  The Jerusalem Church shared everything, yet we have no evidence the Antioch Church did, and we know for a fact the Corinthian (and probably Roman) churches did not.

Even more problematic, while the epistles have didactic elements, they are occasional letters not systematic theologies.  Even if we draw doctrine from them, and we should, we have no warrant to treat them as Pauline Summas.

This book is a fantastic intermediate level text on hermeneutics.  It presents a number of tough case-studies that will make everyone uncomfortable.

Review: Scripture as Real Presence

Boersma, Hans. Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.

Any book by Hans Boersma can function as a master’s level course in whatever subject it addresses.  That’s not to say I agree with everything he says.  That only highlights his skill as a teacher: he forces you to think through the implications of an issue.

This book isn’t simply about allegorical exegesis.  It isn’t about typology, either.  In fact, Boersma strongly resists the urge to conflate the two.  Rather, it is about seeing the mystery of Christ is already present in the Old Testament (Boersma xv).

While I certainly hold to a Patristic metaphysics, such as it is, I am uncomfortable with some of their interpretive moves.  Very few of them had any working knowledge of Hebrew. Still, the thrust of it is true.  Christ is present in the OT.  Unless we want that to be a cliche, we need to see how.

Case study: Would Paul’s exegesis in Galatians pass a seminary exam?

Metaphysics and Hermeneutics

Boersma notes that one’s metaphysics and one’s interpretation are linked.

Origen: the earthly scene contains patterns (exemplaria) of the heavenly things.  They teach us to mount up (ascendere).  “We contemplate heavenly things by means of their forms and likenesses as they appear in visible things.  It is by means of actual things and copies (rebus ipsis et exemplis) that we can move on to heaven itself” (10).

We can ascend precisely because heavenly realities are related to particulars. We always brings a metaphysics to our hermeneutics.  In this chapter Boersma contrasts the metaphysics of Origen (and most of the fathers) with those of Hobbes and Spinoza.

Some notes on Typology

Type and archetype are anchored in God’s eternal providence.  Both participate in God’s foreknowledge (24).

Chapter 2 explores how Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine interpreted Genesis with an eye towards a literal interpretation.  It’s important in the sense that those who don’t know Patristics will say the Fathers (or Boersma) shunned a literal reading.  They didn’t.  Still, some of their conclusions are….odd.  I am only going to highlight some key aspects of Gregory’s reading as they relate to his overall metaphysics.

On the Making of Man

Genesis 1:27.  The first part of the verse refers to the universal essence of man (which Boersma elsewhere argued that “man” is  God’s foreknowledge of the fullness of all human beings at the end time (Boersma 32). This culminates in the eschaton.  This lets Gregory take Galatians 3:28 in the following: since there is no male or female in Christ, and Christ is the universal, the prototype, the image of God, then the universal man is neither male or female.

Strong stuff, and we will take issue with it later. The main problem is that Genesis 1:28 implies that sexual activity will take place regardless of the fall.

Ancient readers relished verbal associations in the text (39). Phrases like “tree of Life” or “Wisdom” were “trigger-loaded.”  This is like a non-Satanic version of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (how it should have been, before it was corrupted by the Deep State).

A Harmonious Reading of the Psalms

The church fathers saw a direct, almost physical analogy between the harmony of music, which represented an almost mathematical metaphysics, and the harmony of the Psalms. As Boersma notes, “Music, therefore, has the ability to make one grow in virtue and heal the emotions; music tunes people and makes them more harmonious” (132).

Ancient man knew that music was based on objective laws. Musical pitches are related by simple mathematical ratios of whole numbers (136). Plato noted “that God created the intellectual reality of the world soul with proportions of double intervals (1, 2, 4, 8) and of triple intervals (1, 3, 9, 27)….separating a portion of the whole and then doubling and tripling it, so as to arrive at a series of seven terms (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 27)” (136). This means the cosmos was created at harmonious intervals.

Music, therefore, participates in this cosmic order. The church fathers were keen on this. The Word of God even recapitulated the great musician himself: “The Word of God introduces something altogether new; he is the New Song, whose music, like that of David, chases the demons and heals us of our wickedness” (140).

If the Psalms are true music, and if music represents a rational cosmic order, then singing (chanting) and living these psalms puts us “in line with the order of the universe” (142).

Gregory of Nyssa and the Skopos of the Psalter

The aim of the Psalter is the blessedness of the virtuous life (154).  From here Gregory traces an ascent (anabasis) to that goal.  This blessedness will imitate the harmony of the universe. Psalm 42:1 forms the second part of the Psalter and it mentions the soul that thirsts for God.  Psalm 73 describes the one who is now able to discern justice and “participate in divine judgment” (155). In Psalm 90 we approach the boundary between divine and human natures. The climax arrives on a mountain peak in Psalm 107.  It is the recapitulation of human salvation.

Boersma suggests that a sacramental reading of the text (Proverbs 8) allows us to overcome the impasse between Nicene and Arian readings of the text.  When Wisdom said “God created me at the beginning of all his works,” does this mean that Christ was created?  That seems to be what the text says, but that can’t be right.

A huge portion of the problem is the lack of Hebrew knowledge, since qana doesn’t mean creation ex nihilo.  Gregory of Nyssa was aware of this but he really didn’t utilize it (not that anyone would have cared). Of course I side with the Nicenes, but neither side did a great job in this debate.  More to the point, however, are the moves that Boersma makes that allows us to participate in a sacramental reading.

Athanasius in reading a text seeks three elements: time, person, and purpose.  This allows him to make distinctions between economy and Trinity.  Therefore, Christ’s creation is linked in the economy of salvation (172).

Song of Songs

Of course the Fathers read it in a non-literal sense, but not for the reasons you think. The material sexuality in the Song is very real.  If it weren’t, it could function as a participatory link to the spiritual realities.  You have to have both. And unlike some “spiritualizing” or “allegorizing” tendencies, the Fathers took their starting point in the nuptial passages from God’s dealing with Israel (190).

That’s a really good approach to the book.  Granted, some of the details are a bit fancy (but no less arbitrary than how we explain away the literal in biblical prophecy).

Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

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Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

Realism:  claim that the world (the real) is “out there” and is what it is independent of whether or what we might think of it (18).  Plato intimated as much when he said the philosopher apprehends the purely intelligible structures (Phaedo 66e). 

immediacy:  “the object is given to the subject without any mediating input from the subject” (20).  

But Kant said we don’t perfectly mirror the world, we apprehend it mediately through the forms and categories we bring with us to experience.  

Historical Background

Schlieiermacher:  sought to apply a general hermeneutics that would apply to all culturally relevant texts.  Hermeneutical circle. Also advocated historical method about author.  

Psychologism:  language is primarily to be understood as the outer expression of the inner psychic life (29).  Project oneself into the experiences of the text (ala Romanticism).  

Against Romantic Hermeneutics

Relativist hermeneutics:  1) we are always somewhere and never nowhere when we interpret; 2) We never escape from hermeneutical circularity.

Speech-Act Theory

Words are performative.

Wolterstorff argues that speaking does not necessarily have self-revelation as its primary function for either human or divine discourse.  Divine discourse usually comes to us in the form of promises and command (covenant).  authorial discourse interpretation: per Wolterstorff to interpret the bible correctly is to ask what speech acts did the author perform (40).  

Revoking Authorial Privilege

Even the French trio doesn’t think the author is truly dead.  “To deny that the author is the unilateral source of a text’s meaning is not to deny that the author plays an important role” (58).  Westphal explains, “For our French trio, the finitude of the author in relation to the text is expressed in a double relativity. In the first place, human authors ‘create meaning’ only relative to the language available to them…this language shapes and conditions their thought in ways of which they are unaware and over which they do not preside” (59).  

To say it yet another way: “The author is not a godlike, infinite creator of meaning” (65).  Humans are finite and our sub-creations (what Milbank would call mythopoesis) are always within the realm of the finite and conditioned.

Rehabilitating Tradition

Gadamer.  Fundamental thesis about tradition is “belonging.”  p. 70. Tradition plays a double-role. It gives us a place to stand and it is is plural.  We do not belong to a single, universal tradition. “All interpretation is relative to traditions that have formed the perspectives and presuppositions that guide it” (71). 

“To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 301-302).  

Alterity Thesis.  Tradition as other.  Tradition will set before us what it has already done within us.

Authority Thesis.  We acknowledge tradition as a “sub-authority” over us.  “My conscience is a grounded opacity that allows a richly mediated knowledge of its object” (Westphal 74).  

Fallibility Thesis.  Question of critique:  “How can we distinguish the true prejudices–by which we understand–from the false prejudices (by which we misunderstand” (75).   Tradition must be open to this critique. Even worse, the difference between true and false is not always either/or but a matter of degree. 

Back to authorial intent

It’s important but maybe not the main point.  When I read a text I am only interested in the author to a certain degree (unless it’s an autobiography).  This is a bad problem in a lot of conservative introductory surveys to the Bible (cf Carson, Moo, Morris). One gets a lot of different theories on authorship and place (important, no doubt) but the meaning of text gets sidelined. 

Authorial intent is important in understanding a text, but only to a degree. Authors themselves are wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstein, historically effected consciousness.  They don’t have absolute self-transperancy either.  Westphal has an interesting suggestion: “there is a power at work in finite authorial creation–for Gadamer, tradition–of whose agency and effects the author is never fully aware” (81).  

Truth Beyond Method

Art as the location.  Classic texts of literature.

It should read “Truth Beyond Scientific Method.”

“Language is at once a primary bearer of tradition and an ever-changing form of tradition” (90).  

Bildung/education as formation…training in the sensus communis. 

Performance and Application

Interpretation is not so much a completed object but an event (102).  It is performative.


The Bible Unfiltered (Michael Heiser)


Heiser, Michael. The Bible Unfiltered.  Lexham Press, 2017. Kindle.

Michael Heiser takes several of his core ideas and distills them into a short, readable book.  Each chapter is only several pages long. If you are familiar with his work, then most of this is review.  However, several ideas are readily available for quick retrieval.

Context: the right context for understanding the Bible is the context that produced the Bible (Heiser loc. 240).  This means a supernatural context with supernatural entities. This means not protecting the Bible from the “weird stuff.”

There is an interesting chapter combating cultural marxism.  While it sort of appears out of nowhere, it is much appreciated.  The one thing missing in the Bible’s command to care for the poor is the intermediate role of the bureaucratic, Leviathan state.

Is Heiser (and others) arrogant on modern commentaries?  We might bristle at the claim that older commentaries aren’t superior on the languages, but consider the argument: “Archaeology produces more discoveries. Computer technology makes ancient language analysis more thorough (and faster).  Information becomes more accessible and searchable. It’s no exaggeration to say that what scholars had access to years ago is literally a fraction of what’s available to you today using only a smartphone” (loc. 661).

He isn’t saying Calvin and Matthew Henry are bad.  He’s just doing what Luther did: what right did Luther have to say that his understanding of dikaioo was superior to that of St Barsanuphius?  The sword cuts both ways.

Parsing Yahweh: Yahweh is a third-person form in the Hiphil imperfect.

He repeats his sections on the Angel of Yahweh = Yahweh.  It’s worth considering but I won’t spend much time on it here, save to say that Yahweh is inseparable from his presence.

Good section on the goat demons in Israel’s worldview.  They are the se’irim, to whom there was a constant temptation to sacrifice (Lev. 17:7).

Secret things belong to the Lord: This verse in Deut does not mean we shouldn’t work hard in bible study. Rather, it is the climax of Moses’s sermon about the curses and blessings they will receive for obeying the law.  Rather, it is God’s seeing the secret sins. They are known to God (loc. 1073).

In Mark 5 the demons inhabiting Legion say something rather unique.  Unlike earlier demons, they say Jesus is the God Most High. This language is reminiscent of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.  The Most High God had disinherited the nations and assigned them to the sons of God. The demons know this. They know Jesus is reclaiming the nations.  He is removing the legal rights.

The Inspiration Process: God didn’t usually download material to his people’s brains.  He didn’t make them “automatically write.” That sounds like divination. If God did do something like that, then why are there differences in the gospels (or the first chapter of Ezekiel)?  Rather, God used instruments, not puppets.

Demons and the Shema:  James isn’t saying that demons acknowledge the existence of a supernatural being, pace literally every sermon on James 2.  Rather, James is connecting this with Shema. The demons know they are outside the plan of God, that God has disinherited them forever.  That is why they are scared.

Review: Medieval Exegesis, volume 2

Henri de Lubac’s writing style is similar to M Night Shamalyan’s film success: in some works he was wildly successful, in others he just got lucky, and some just failed to deliver.  Volume 2 of Medieval Exegesis is in the last group. (Though to be fair volume 1 was fairly good).


A book of end notes

De Lubac killed the forest for the sake of the trees. The book did explain medieval exegesis, so I give him credit on that. And many of his quotations were quite interesting, even stirring–so that’s good. But he drowned his argument for the sake of piling on citations. Within 226 pages of text, I counted a total of 2,563 citations, leaving 208 pages of end notes.

So what’s his argument? I’m not sure. (I’m kidding). On de Lubac’s reading, allegory isn’t the wax nose that it would later become. Rather, Allegory is when one thing is being accomplished and another pre-figured (de Lubac 7). Sounds a lot like modern typology. The “mystic sense”of Scripture refers to a reality ‘hidden in God’ and then revealed to mankind in Christ (20). And the movement from history to eschatology (anagogy) isn’t completely arbitrary. It unfolds within the prior historical moment of the Incarnate Word. The object of allegory is a reality of things to come (94). It is an opposition of sign and thing signified within a single duration (95). History, in short, can never fully contain that which it foretells. Allegory, then, is an irruption from the historia into the allegoria, what de Lubac calls “another dimension” (95). Interiority: not necessarily the inner life, but the interiority of the mystery (97). These “hidden facts have an inside,” which is salvific (98).


I’m not sure if I recommend this book. It is very expensive and crowded with citations that don’t always add to his argument, leaving the actual argument in fog. And I say this as someone who loves de Lubac’s work. Read Boersma instead.