Beyond the Historical-Critical Method

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Willard M. Swartley§

→237# In his 1980 presidential address to the centennial meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Old Testament scholar Bernhard W. Anderson called biblical scholars to both utilize and go beyond the historical-critical method in their study of Scripture:

During the [last] century of [the Society’s] growth and service, much academic water has gone under the bridge and, as they say, many academic bridges have gone under the water. Perceptive members now say that the Society has reached a turning point, when “our fundamental methodologies for interpreting biblical texts” are in question and when even “the historical-critical method, in various forms the dominant modus operandi since the Enlightenment, is under fire from many directions.”[1]

Recognizing the important contribution that the study of tradition history has made to our understanding of the biblical text-and the crucial role that various critical methods have played in our understanding of that history, Anderson called biblical scholars, however, to a more serious regard for the final (canonical) form of the biblical text. He urged scholars to move through criticism to “the second naivete,” a post-critical posture toward the text in which the text speaks to us with full power. Anderson extended the challenge of Paul Ricoeur who, already in 1960 in the conclusion of his hermeneutical study The Symbolism of Evil, signaled this new direction: “Beyond the desert of criticism we wish to be called again.”[2] In introducing Ricoeur’s essays twenty years later, Lewis Mudge wrote:

This longing is shared today by the many for whom [the] historical-critical method remains indispensable, but at the same time insufficient to bring us to a “post →238 critical moment” of openness to the biblical summons. Is there an intellectually responsible way through the critical sands, always shifting, sometimes abrasive, to an oasis where bedrock, with its springs of water for the spirit, once again appears?[3]

A similar sentiment has appeared on numerous fronts of biblical scholarship during the 1970’s. Most radical of all was the conservative German Lutheran Gerhard Maier’s cap for The End of the Historical-Critical Method.[4] Arguing against the possibility of discovering “a canon within canon” by which critical evaluative judgments are made and the trend to separate Scripture into divine (more authoritative) and human (less authoritative) compartments, Maier called for a “historical-biblical” method in which the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the church’s spiritual experience function as the major determinants in interpretation.[5]

Preceding the appearance of Maier’s challenge, Walter Wink wrote that “historical biblical criticism is bankrupt.”[6] While Wink held it necessary that the historical-critical method continue in biblical studies (a return to fundamentalist assumptions is impossible), Wink’s critique was very harsh: biblical criticism “was based on an inadequate method, married to a false objectivism, subjected to uncontrolled technologism, [and] separated from a vital community; [it] has outlived its usefulness as presently practiced.”[7] Wink then called for a radical altering of the method, indeed a new paradigm, in which the critical distantiation/objectification of the text becomes part of two additional stages: critical analysis of the interpreter followed by communion between text and interpreter, the goal of interpretation. This then will enable Scripture to become alive, illumine our present, and generate personal and social transformation.[8]

Two Tübingen University New Testament professors have also issued deep and penetrating criticisms of the historical-critical method. Martin Hengel, calling for recognition of the adequacy and reliability of New Testament sources for the history-writing of early Christianity (especially when compared to sources used in other ancient history-writing), argued that it is questionable to →239 speak of “the historical-critical method;” in reality there are many historical methods and this corresponds to the multi-faceted nature of history itself.[9] The so-called historical-critical method cannot establish value-free facts; all historical information is inextricably intertwined with value-perspectives. The biblical writings possess the double character of historical sources and faith-witnesses; hence we must utilize historical-theological exegesis in study, deliberately holding together historical and theological interests.

Recognizing also the inadequacies of the historical-critical method, Peter Stuhlmacher, Hengel’s colleague, proposed several significant new directions for the historical-critical hermeneutical task. First, we must commit ourselves to “a hermeneutic of consent (Einverständnis):” we will best fulfill our obligation to the tradition in which we stand and to the certainty of truth for the present when we seek to practice a method of interpretation which in its historical outcome (Wirkungsgeschichte) enables consent, i.e., life-conformity, to the biblical text. [10] This assumes that Scripture is directed to the learning and living of the church, which thus provides both the context and goal of interpretation. [11]

Second, the method of interpretation must have as it starting point correspondence with the nature of the biblical text and must enable the interpreter to communicate with the scholarly world of the present era. The four principles of the historical-critical method enunciated by E. Troeltsch (doubt, analogy, correlation, and religious subjectivity) are not adequate. To these must be added the principle of accepting the report (Vernehmens, which Schlatter called “der Wahrnehmung”). Though this sets up a tension with Troeltsch’s principles, it is essential to maintain this point if the new and unique claims of biblical revelation are to be grasped. [12]

Third, the goal of interpretation is to blend the horizon of the text with that of the interpreter i5 light of the church’s tradition and confession. [13] Stuhlmacher recognizes the tension between this point and the Protestant principle which Gerhard Ebeling identified as the basis for the necessity of the historical-critical method, namely, that all tradition must be judged at the bar of Scripture. [14] It is essential, on the one hand, for biblical →240 interpretation always to be conscious of the tradition of the church - since this itself arises from biblical interpretation and informs subsequent interpretation. On the other hand, the task of biblical interpretation requires continual critical evaluation of the tradition. The interpreter cannot withdraw from this task; otherwise interpretation falls victim to dogmatics, the history of tradition itself, or the faith of the community and thus reneges on its calling to bring all of these into critical encounter with the source and ground of their legitimacy, the Scripture. [15]

Fourth, the testing and authentication (Bewährung) of interpretation occurs in the praxis of faith. This occurs three ways: in personal and corporate (Gemeinde) meditation upon the text from which come vision and power for living; through preaching the word, which powerfully witnesses to the faith--such textual exposition is preaching’s legitimation; and through living faithfully the love, righteousness, reconciliation, and peace of the gospel.[16]

Finally, Stuhlmacher proposes that reconciliation (Versöhnung) is central to New Testament thought. By recognizing this we can thus discover the basic lines of unity for New Testament theology. He proposes this to be a hermeneutical key, a canon within the canon. In concluding his work and in two other volumes, Stuhlmacher seeks to show how reconciliation (Versöhnung) is present in the variety of literature found in the New Testament.[17]

With these new directions calling us beyond the historical-critical method, it is essential to assess the method. Shall we, can we live with it, or without it?


Informed by the work of these several writers and other critiques of the historical-critical method as well, especially the assessment of the method by Edgar Krentz,[18] I here identify its contributions and deficiencies. Krentz has identified ten achievements and ten inadequacies of the historical-critical method. The ten achievements are:

1. Critical scholars have provided a wealth of useful research tools: grammars, lexica, →241 concordances, original text editions, theological dictionaries, commentaries, and histories. They have pioneered in critical methods of study that inform these resources.

2. Through critical study of the world of the Bible, the Ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world, biblical scholars have illumined the geographical and historical context of Israel and the early church.

3. Critical study has given us a “better grasp of the original grammatical and historical sense of the Bible.”

4. “The time-conditioned, historical character of the Bible has been made evident.”

5. Biblical criticism has enabled us to enter into the world of the Bible, strange and foreign as it really is; it points up and respects the gap between that world and ours.

6. Historical criticism has enabled “the Scriptures to exercise their proper critical function in the church” so that the Bible speaks its own message afresh, without dogmatic traditions and church history determining its message.

7. Historical criticism has proven itself to be self-correcting. Theories are tested, confirmed or modified, retained or discarded in the face of further evidence.

8. Historical criticism has effected significant change in theological insight, especially in pointing up the rich variety in biblical thought, testing in turn dogmatic schemes of thematic unity.

9. With historical criticism has come also the increased awareness that the Bible cannot be separated from history; it must be read historically and then interpreted for today.

10. Since historical criticism yields only probable results, the relativity of its claims protects against historicism, guards against rationalist, positivist proofs for faith, and acknowledges “‘that there is truth that cannot be demonstrated by historical proofs.’”[19]

The ten “objections and modifications” are:

1. The historical-critical method is secular and profane and is not able to handle the biblical claims of divine revelation and unique events in history.

2. Since faith claims cannot be handled by the historical-critical method, use of the method by believing historians leads to intellectual dualism. →242

3-7. These five points consist of modifications which represent efforts to respect both faith and history in the use of the historical-critical method. History does not exist apart from perspective and significance; this opens the door to faith’s interpretation. Some scholars also call for a redefinition of history that includes divine action. Further, the principle of analogy is not omnicompetent; the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event has no analogy. And objectivity in research does not require neutrality, nor does it mean that the interpreter has no presuppositions.

8. Biblical critics continue to disagree over the appropriateness or necessity of evaluating the content of a text as to its veracity. The extent to which criticism stands over the text continues disputed.

9. Historical criticism tends to exalt itself as the only way to read the Bible.

10. Historical research objectifies the claims of the text, distancing the text from the reader, thus frustrating the effort to read the Bible as revelation to/for the church.[20]

Krentz ends his assessment with a tempered optimistic note for the future of biblical criticism in the church:

Historical criticism in the service of the gospel and the mission of the church is the ecclesiastical ideal. Historical criticism in the service of verifiable fact placed into a significant narrative is the historian’s ideal. The possible conflict between these two ideals can be resolved only in the person of the interpreter living in the community of faith who combines dedication to historical truth with the recognition of his own humanity and need for forgiveness. Historical research like all of man’s efforts is also perverted by sin. But in the community of scholarship that lives in the fellowship of the people of God the errors that arise from human frailty can be corrected and sins forgiven by God’s grace. Then biblical criticism will grow together with faith into the full measure of the stature of →243 Christ, his Gospel, his Word and his Holy Scripture.[21]

Reflection upon these contributions and inadequacies yields provocative observations. What is regarded as its strength, distancing the text from the interpreter’s bias and the tradition of the church so it can speak its own word, turns out also to be a weakness by objectifying the claims of the text and frustrating what Wink called communion with the text. Similarly, historical criticism’s achievement in freeing the Scripture from dogma in order to function critically for theology, tradition, and the congregation turns out to be also a liability in that the method itself has no way of affirming the biblical faith claims, or validating such claims as revelation for the believing community. Further, historical criticism’s contribution in relativizing all historical knowledge, thus saving faith from historicism and rationalist positivism, in turn provides no secure footing for faith to affirm divine steadfastness and covenant truth.

What then shall be said of the method and its appropriateness for use by scholars of faith? Some type of historical method is indeed essential to the study of biblical historical texts. This is so not because the facticity or historical authenticity of the biblical narrative-borne historyI prefer this phrase to Hans Frei’s “history-like narrative,” though some parts of biblical literature (the early chapters of Genesis and certainly Jesus’ parables) might be better described as “history-like narrative,” The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1 97 3), p. 10 and passim. To use the phrase “history-like narrative” for the entire biblical story is hardly appropriate. It selects our modern (rationalist?) definition(s) of history at the expense of excluding ancient views of history from the term history. The terms history and historical method should be freed from narrow definition and be allowed to describe and handle what the biblical narrative contains. In this I am in agreement with Martin Hengel’s proposal, op. cit. Further, the phrase, “narrative-borne history,” applies well to Frei’s description of what the narrative is like. Frei’s rather unclear description of his thesis (p.13) may be stated in two points: the biblical accounts are a “narrative rendering of the events constituting them” and this narrative makes sense [historically, I think he means] by employing “at least partially,...the device of chronological sequence.” My position would argue that this device is inherent to the content, arising from the nature of the biblical revelation in history.</ref> must be established or proven. The historical-critical method can neither prove nor falsify unique revelatory events; further, the use of the method for these purposes often puts the scholar at cross-purposes with the text; the text is not being heard as it was meant to be heard.[22] The concern for verification must look in other directions. Peter Stuhlmacher has identified some of these above and I have addressed this issue elsewhere.[23]

Rather, some type of historical method--and one that makes critical judgments--is necessary for the following reasons:

1. An historical method is essential because the biblical story happened in history over a period of several thousand years. The study and understanding of this story, as James Barr points out, requires the sequencing or layering of historical traditions and the setting A these traditions in specific historical contexts.[24] Barr aptly notes that the word ‘historical’ means “the reconstruction of spatial-temporal events in the past” and this implies →244 the word ‘critical,’ because it inquires into the sequence of the events spoken of by the text or the sequence of events giving rise to the text itself.[25]

It may be argued that such historical comprehension of texts, or of the story as a whole, is unnecessary because texts are self-contained units of meaning (structuralist theory, see below) which is apprehended via the commonality of human experience (see the “air routes” in Janzen’s article above). Or, with only slightly more persuasiveness, at least to me, it may be argued that historical study is necessary, but that the critical part must be left out. But consistency on this point would exclude textual criticism along with the various investigations of biblical criticism. For the principles used in the internal evidence of text-criticism are basically the same as those used in so-called higher criticism. Upon these principles the comparative reliability of the manuscripts has been established. B. H. Streeter’s epoch-making study, The Four Gospels (1924) amply demonstrates the interlocking relationship between text-criticism theory and Gospel source theory. In my judgment, it is impossible to avoid the critical component in biblical studies. The legitimacy of the role of reason must be acknowledged and affirmed, and it should be used to criticize both text and interpreter, including rationalistic assumptions and many others we might bring to the text.

This process of historical sequencing is necessary, first and foundationally, to make sense out of the whole story, whether that be through such basic data as the chronological sequence of Abraham-Moses-Isaiah-Jesus or the theological grasp of a promise-fulfillment shape for biblical revelation. But these historical learnings are readily evident from the canonical form of the text. Examples which show, in increasing uncertainty in my judgment, the role of critical judgments are:

- the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) come earlier in the historical sequencing than do Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.

- Paul was not the author of Hebrews (on basis of literary style).

- Isaiah 40-55 has a later historical context than does Isaiah 1-39, and chs. 56-66 appear to have a still later place in chronological sequencing.→245

- The Gospels were written after the Pauline letters.

- The Pastoral Epistles, on the basis of content analysis, were written by Paul’s disciples, not Paul himself.

- The Pentateuch consists of a mosaic authorship, (i.e. sources) not Mosaic authorship, though it certainly carries Mosaic authority.

- The chronological order in which the Gospels were written is Mark, Matthew, Luke, John.

- The problems of i Corinthians 11-14 were caused by Gnostic-type enthusiasm in Corinth with women leading the ecstatic, charismatic developments.[26]

Some scholars accept these statements as virtually conclusive; others demur and remind us that all historical investigation gives only more or less probable results, and these might vary from 95% to 58% in degree of probability. Then arises the question: how do we base faith and life-practice upon a foundation which is only 58% assured? This may, of course, be answered either by: (1) almost all the points above have no immediate consequence for practical faith. and life anyway--but this is short-sighted in view of my second major point below, (2) if before critical examination faith was based upon knowledge 100% unexamined, a 58% certainty is really after all a more assured position--but this assumes that historical-critical study is the major source of verification, a point with which I could not agree,[27] or (3) the appropriate response as I see it, the nature of the biblical testimony is forever embedded in history and thus presents a challenge, and perhaps offense, to both the modern historian and believer. Revelation in history thus requires our belief to ride to some extent upon the waves of historical reconstruction, for Christian truth cannot be distilled out of the historical, cultural matrix in which it came nor in which it must be expressed today. Changing understandings about individual historical elements in the Bible affect--and usually enrich--our overall perception of the biblical story. For legitimate reasons God’s people sometimes revise their views and positions accordingly (witness the Reformation). Biblical study should result in real learnings and behavioral change. Unfortunately, past assumptions regarding critical study have tilted too heavily toward rationalist agenda rather than toward practical behavioral agenda and, for this reason, have →246 produced the cleavage between the pulpit and the pew and not effected social transformation.

Because historical study of the Bible has so often been seduced by this rationalistic agenda of proof or disproof, by fundamentalists and liberals alike, the positive values of historical critical study have been hijacked and commandeered to a host of noncanonically ticketed destinations, such as: the use of factual discrepancies to disprove the Bible’s authority or, conversely, the harmonization of such discrepancies to bolster our faith in the Bible’s “inerrancy ;” the dispute over miracles, in which 16th century natural law categories played umpire; or whether belief stands or falls with particular theories of source analysis. The proper destination of critical historical study, rather, lies in the discovery that divine revelation expressed itself authoritatively in a variety of human historical situations with diverse accents--which a propositionalist may see, unfortunately, as detrimental contradictions. As I have argued in my study of case issues,[28] this quite fundamental characteristic of the biblical text demonstrates its historical and cultural vitality. It is God’s missionary principle, part and parcel of incarnational revelation and the canonical community’s contextualized faithful witness to what God continues to do through what he has done.

2. When critical historical study undertakes its task from this angle of vision, a second significant contribution--which confronts us also as necessity--falls into focus. The diversity of Scripture in its particularized historical and cultural expressions enables us as interpreters to enter into the intra-canonical dialogue and critique. Strands of thought and tradition interact, cross-fertilize and at times compete. Critical assessment of this multi-instrumental choir is essential. We observe that Jesus identified with certain Old Testament traditions and turned others on their heads. Paul appealed to both traditions of creation and redemption, setting them even in dialectical juxtaposition (1 Cor. 11:3-11).

Any attempt to discern the biblical word on socio-ethical issues such as slavery and war, sabbath observance and male/female role relationships requires an historical and critical study of the canon’s pluriform testimony. Otherwise, slavery stands, war →247 wins, and Jesus weeps. Entering into, hearing and discerning the intra-canonical dialogue is a necessity for believers who take the Bible as an authoritative guide for living. An historical, critical method of study, sensitive to the Bible’s intentions and the church’s faith, is a - even the - necessary way.

3. But, and here I register a most basic critique and defense of the critical study of Scripture, the agenda of (the) historical critical method(s) has been too narrowly conceived. If we take our clues from Jesus on this topic, we must speak of an historically critical moral method of Bible study. On the divorce question (Mk. 10:1-10) Jesus not only drew upon his perception of the historical sequencing of Genesis 2 and Deuteronomy 24, but he was guided also by moral discernment: what conforms to God’s will for humanity. Likewise, the antitheses (Mt. 5:1 7-4 8) show Jesus going behind the letter of the text in order to grasp God’s moral intention. Similarly, he rebukes the Pharisees for failing to discern “the weightier matters of the law” (Mt. 23:23, emphasis mine).

If historical critical method is to serve the life of the church and enable the church to fulfill its prophetic role in society, then it must be converted in this Jesus direction. Such moral criticism of Scripture is further a sine qua non for responsible engagement and discernment of the intracanonical dialogue and critique.

4. However, a critical-historical method is necessary also in order to enable us as interpreters to submit our own prejudices, tradition, and pre-established beliefs to a fresh encounter with Scripture as divine Word. The world of the text with its strangeness and the text itself with its distinctive word must be first heard and comprehended before it can speak to and critique our thoughts, being, and situation in life. To regard this point only as the Protestant principle, the savior from ecclesiastical dogma and tradition, as Ebeling has done,[29] is to too narrowly focus its significance. The horizon of our lives that needs the criticism of the Scripture is broader than the landscape of tradition. Liberation and feminist hermeneutics have taught us and are teaching us that our economic, social, political, and gender biases mist also bow before Scripture’s critique and authority.[30]

→248 In summary then, a critical historical method is necessary, but its limited scope and potential seducement toward illusory agenda, must be kept clearly in mind. For these reasons, my own proposals for method have introduced considerations and processes that go beyond the old tasks of the method and point toward fruitful transforming consequences.[31] Biblical study may not stop with a descriptive statement of past tense reality, however well-deserved. Not until horizons blend and springs of water refresh parched spirits has the Christian task of biblical interpretation achieved its goal.


In an article in Christian Century (Oct 28, 1981) David L. Bartlett identified five new directions or emphases in biblical interpretation. These also, for the most part, beckon us to go beyond the historical-critical method, or at least majorly modify the agenda on its program.

1. A focus upon the social world of the biblical text (Gager, Wilson, Gottwald, Theissen), through which we today might grasp analogically what our society and community might be like as we reflect upon the community(ies) that produced the texts.

2. Psychological, reflection upon the text (Rubenstein, Scroggs, Wink), which by focusing upon the structures of the mind and self-assessment underlying the texts can enable us to find healing for our own broken selves.

3. Sociological and psychological [and economic and political] analysis of the interpreter (Cone, Segundo, Schüssler-Fiorenza), which calls interpreters, despite the heralded objectivity of the historical-critical method, to take seriously their own biases and prejudices which affect their understandings of the text.

4. New models of literary study of the texts, consisting of those focusing upon the shape and structure of the text to determine its meaning (Wilder, Crossan, Via, McFague, Tolbert, et al.) and those focusing upon larger units of total narrative structure and themes (Kermode, Peterson, Fowler).

5. Canonical criticism (Childs, Sanders), which takes seriously the life of the community in forming the canon (Sanders) and the authority of →249 intracanonical dialogue for understanding specific texts.[32] Bartlett’s analysis provides a helpful overview of recent developments; my own categorization and description of these new directions offers some alternative perceptions. I propose three major emerging directions: interpretive emphases seeking greater accountability to theology, tradition, and the church; interpretive emphases arising from language itself together with influences from linguistics and the literary nature of texts; and interpretive emphases arising from socio-cultural analyses, be they of the social world of the text or the social world of the interpreter. In numerous cases the fruits of these latter two emphases also serve the interests of the first category, making the texts more meaningful to the church and more theologically accountable.

A. Contributions Calling for More Theological and Churchly Accountability

For first mention here are the two well-known Yale scholars, Paul S. Minear and Brevard Childs, and James Smart as well.[33] Theology Today provided the forum for Paul Minear to enter into dialogue with scholars and church leaders on this subject in two related articles: “Ecumenical Theology--Profession or Vocation” (April 1976, 66-73) and “Symposium on Biblical Criticism” (Jan 1977, 354-367). In the latter article, thirteen biblical scholars were asked to address five key questions (formulated by editor Hugh T. Kerr):

(1) does biblical criticism tend to avoid the big, basic theological issues, (2) do you think biblical scholarship has any influence on theology and the church, (3) what is criticism’s constructive role, (4) how is your own personal faith involved in your research, (5) where will biblical scholarship move next, and what contribution would you like to make?[34]

Most, though not all, responses represented concern for greater theological and churchly accountability. Several focused on the need for even more critical investigation of texts as the only safeguard against theological imperialism and a sterile churchly relevance that misses the real needs of the world. Minear’s basic concern, however, that biblical scholars and theologians anchor their work in →250 their vocation, their calling as Christian scholars, was clearly registered.[35]

Brevard Child’s concern has been marked by demonstrable exegetical contributions. In his Biblical Theology in Crisis[36] he articulated not only a problem but suggested a new approach to Scripture which has come to be known as “canonical criticism.” The canon makes the Bible the church’s book; one text is to be understood via dialogue with the larger canonical voice on the subject. In this way the biblical text functions authoritatively fn. the church. Child’s commentary on Exodus[37] demonstrated further the necessary interconnection between Scripture and tradition by systematically showing how the various texts in Exodus have been understood in the tradition of believing communities. Scripture is thus not objectified into an archaic past but represented in life through its influence upon tradition impinging upon our own selves and our life worlds.

Closely allied to and perhaps even foundational to the concerns of Minear and Childs has been the work of James A. Sanders, with echoes in James Barr’s contributions. Sander’s work, focusing on the process of canonization,[38] has emphasized that “the believing community always was and always will be the proper Sitz im Leben of canon”[39] and that the canonical quality of Scripture gives it certain features: remembered significance and repeated use in the community, acquisition of new meanings (resignification) as it is repeated in new contexts, consequent multivalence and pluralism yielding diversity which should be viewed as enriching rather than threatening the integrity of the tradition - the failure of both fundamentalism and liberalism,[40] a built-in constraint allowing for adaptability but also assuring essential stability, and demonstration of hermeneutic principles at work.[41] With similar emphases, James Barr says,

The Bible takes its origin from within the life of believing communities; it is interpreted within the continuing life of these communities; the standard of its religious interpretation is the structure of faith which these communities maintain; and it has the task of providing a challenge, a force for innovation and a →251 source of purification, to the life of these communities.[42]

The contributions of Martin Hengel and Peter Stuhlmacher noted above, though with some differing emphases, move in the same direction, namely the effort to make the work of biblical criticism more serviceable to the church. Hengel calls for a reappraisal of the assumptions and criteria of the historical-critical method(s); he asks scholars to use a method in harmony with the history-faith nature of the texts. Stuhlmacher’s call to accept the report (Vernehmens) and to place interpretation in dialogue with one’s tradition/confession contributes directly to interpretation’s accountability to the theology and the life of the church. Similarly, Walter Wink’s fundamental concern and proposal for a new paradigm witnesses directly to this concern, though his psychological model cannot carry the task, in my judgment.[43]

A helpful contribution to this direction of concern is Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s article, “‘For the Sake of Our Salvation’… Biblical Interpretation as Theological Task.”[44] After identifying the predominant models (or paradigm methods) for biblical interpretation in recent centuries as dogmatic and historical, she calls for a new paradigm, a “pastoral-theological paradigm.” This method of interpretation would integrate both the historical and dogmatic models but would “radically question the presupposition that value-free, neutral and uncommitted exegetical work is possible.”[45] This use of the Bible would put the pastoral situation and our theological response to it in creative tension with historical and theological study of Scripture. It would profit much from biblical study that seeks to show how texts are concrete responses to specific needs within the community of faith (such as redactional and social world studies).[46] Training for such scholarship would need to include systematic reflection upon one’s own presuppositions or prejudices as well as upon those of scholarly interpretations. Schüssler-Fiorenza concludes by calling for an institutional basis, presently lacking in America, to support such biblical study.[47]

George T. Montague’s excellent 1978 presidential address to the Catholic Biblical Association of America calls also for the same direction of movement in biblical studies and teaching, showing major →252 influence from →253 the contributions of both Paul Ricoeur and Bernard Longeran. From Ricoeur we learn that communication, important to teaching, is itself part of the hermeneutical process; the word-event of interpretation-communication is generated by the word-event of the text. Noting that Ricoeur’s model presupposes the (a) community as part of the interpretive word-event, Montague questions why the current hermeneutical discussion does not give more attention to “the community which the word-event creates and how that community affects the interpretation of the word.”[48] Montague criticizes the private interpretation model and appeals to Longeran’s concern for “discernment” in interpretation. Interpretation within a discerning community will better identify the “arrow” of the text, provide “a corrective and a supportive matrix for hearing or reading the word,” and uncover the meaning sod life-transforming power of the text here and now.[49] This use of the word will lead also to corporate celebration of the word. Finally, Montague proposes a method of eleven steps for biblical interpretation, eying with “doing,” Scripture’s final call to praxis.[50]

B. More Attention to Language, Linguistic and Literary Dimensions

Growing out of several philosophical roots and focused especially in the work of Hans Georg Gadamer,[51] the decade of the seventies has heard a chorus of voices calling for more serious attention to language itself and the biblical text as it is in its literary power with its distinctive structures of meaning. Some forms of this emphasis react strongly to the use of texts for historical information, looking through texts as windows to get to reconstructed history behind the text. Rather, the text itself as a mirror reflects essential meaning, stands on its own with its distinctive life-world, and addresses us in such a way as to incorporate us - and we also incorporate it - into a new creative word-event. In the new hermeneutic, prominent in the latter sixties and early seventies,[52] the language event of interpretation was viewed as a new word-event, the blending of the text and interpreter into a creative new historical Gestalt. Language is not the object of interpretation, but the vehicle of interpretation.[53]

The contributions of Paul Ricoeur, standing within this stream of emphasis and drawing upon insights--but also critical--of structuralism, blend together the literary and linguistic approaches to biblical study. Ricoeur’s model for the interpreter’s hearing of the text consists of three fundamental stages of encounter: the reading of the text to enter its life-world, the confronting of the text to grasp the meaning of its testimony (the critical stage), and the text’s encountering of the interpreter (the post-critical, second naiveté). Such encounter with texts puts interpretation in the service of hope and freedom; it enables the text to appeal directly to our will and action. The fruit of interpretation therefore is not simply one more idea about the past (what some ancient thought or said), but the joining of the text’s and interpreter’s horizons for a new experience of meaning and living.

At least four fronts of exploration and work have contributed to a quite diverse group of literary- oriented allies: redaction criticism beginning in the late fifties in Europe and flourishing internationally in the last two decades; structuralism beginning in the sixties with a relatively small but ardent group of advocates; rhetorical criticism evident in the trajectory running through James Muilenberg, Amos Wilder, and Phyllis Trible, whose book, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, most ably demonstrates the fruit of this yet inadequately described method; and an art approach to literary narrative, beckoning us to open ourselves to a text’s pluriform meanings via inspired imagination. A fifth emphasis, known as reader-oriented criticism, should perhaps be mentioned here as well; current emphases call for understanding through oral reading and hearing of the text.[54]

Within the scope of this article, it is impossible to describe adequately the significant contributions of these approaches, much less assess each for its strengths and limitations. This survey will need, therefore, to restrict itself to a limited sketch, identifying only the prominent literature and general contours.

1. Redaction criticism put forth its bud with major works on the Synoptic Gospels; Hans Conzelmann on Luke (1953),[55] Willi Marxsen on Mark (1956),Mark the Evangelist, Studies on the Redaction History of the Gopel, trans. James Boyce (Nashville and New York: Abingdon, 1969. [Germ. orig.: Der Evangelist Markus].</ref> Bornkamm, Barth and Held on Matthew (1963, though earlier forms of Bornkamm’s essays date back to 1948 and 1954).[56] A helpful survey and evaluative →254 analyses of these and other redactional studies on the Synoptic Gospels is to be found in Joachim Rohde’s Rediscovering the Teaching of the Evangelists (1968). A more recent anthology of contributions is available also in Interpreting the Gospels (1981), edited by James Mays.

Because of the synoptic relationship between the first three Gospels and the scholarly acceptance of interdependent sources in these Gospels, redactional criticism has flourished most in Synoptic studies. Aspects of the method have been transported into other quarters of the canon as well, but under modified form, often better described as compositional analysis. In its earlier and “purer” form redaction criticism sought to determine the theological viewpoint of the author - not “collector” as in form criticism - by observing either the distinctive patterns of the writers or the peculiarities of the particular Gospel text: additions, omissions, preponderance and seemingly intentional use of term/phrases not in the parallel sources, seams joining together the pericopes, reordering the sequence of stories and teachings, and, quite often, very small, subtle but significant changes. As the “science” matured, the methodology subsumed the more common features of compositional analysis: selection, adaptation, organization, emphases via repetition, and viewpoint. These factors show the distinctive literary character of the text and thus disclose its meaning. The way in which traditional material is used carries the author’s intentions as well.

2. Structuralist method, with its roots in the linguistic studies of Ferdinand de Saussure and the anthropological contributions of Claude Levi-Strauss, represents a radical departure from the prevailing canons of biblical criticism. Its focus is upon the text as it is, without regard for either the historical circumstances behind the text or the intentions of the author. A text lives by its own right; meaning lies in the text as mirror, not behind the text as window. Texts are to be understood as participants in cultural givens, whose forms and significations flow from the culture and impose themselves upon writers. Language structure and conventions are not chosen by authors; only words are selected. More is subconsciously given than consciously created. A text has three levels of structure: structures of enunciation (surface →255 structure), cultural structures, and deep structures. Since the latter two structures are established as givens, a story (in any culture) may be studied according to pre-established structural components (A. Greimas’ six actant model, et al.). Synchronic (vertical depth) study of a text takes priority over the diachronic (meaning through time).

The most “user friendly” initiation into this virtually computerized form of literary studies is to be found in Raymond F. Collin’s Introduction to the New Testament (Doubleday, 1983, ch. 7) and in an issue of Interpretation (April 1974) devoted to structuralism. Daniel Patte’s introduction, What Is Structural Exegesis? (Fortress, 1976) and his later book, co-authored with Aline Patte, Structural Exegesis: From Theory to Practice (Fortress, 1978) are both helpful. The book by Dan O. Via, Jr., Kerygma and Comedy in the New Testament: A Structuralist Approach to Hermeneutics, is also quite helpful, especially in distinguishing structuralist literary study from redactional and historically motivated studies, and for maintaining at least a marginal place for the latter. Norman R. Petersen’s proposal calling scholars to recognize the essential roles for both methods, as complementary to each other, offers a helpful corrective, in my judgment, although his illustrative textual study in Mark documents his thesis in only a quite limited - and also debatable - way.[57]

3. A third stream of literary emphasis, utilizing aspects of both redactional and structuralist contributions, is rhetorical criticism. Joanna Dewey in her study, Markan Public Debate (1980), describes briefly this method, tracing it to James Muilenberg’s 1968 SBL presidential address in which he called for the study of texts as literary compositions, and in such a way that we grasp how the structural patterns stand in the service of “a unified whole.” Second, the component parts that constitute the literary fabric of the text and the rhetorical devices employed to mark sequence and movement, shifts or breaks, must be essential dimensions of our study. This twofold approach will thus enable us to achieve the goal of biblical study: to “reveal to us the texture and fabric of the writer’s thought, not ones what it is that he thinks, but as he thinks it.”[58] This approach to the text, as Dewey aptly states, “does not seek to replace either historical or →256 theological studies...; it hopes rather to provide them with a solid base.”[59]

As indicated above, Phyllis Trible’s God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality models this method at work. Joanna Dewey’s study of Mark 2:1-3:6 also shows the good fruit of the method and describes basic literary techniques which Mark utilizes in his composition.[60] Recent contributions in parable study also reflect the fruits of literary structural analysis, e.g., Mary Ann Tolbert’s Perspectives on the Parables (Fortress, 1979, see esp. pp. 67-74) and Jan Lambrecht’s Once More Astonished: The Parables of Jesus (Crossroad, 1981). As Jan Lambrecht’s contribution demonstrates - and note also his earlier structural study of Mark 13,[61] this literary-structural approach has come into prominence also in European biblical scholarship, especially in the work of Erhardt Güttgemanns, in his call for a linguistic, Gestalt analysis of the text. The numerous essays in the journal he edits, Linguistica Biblica, and its progenitor, Studia Linguistics Neotestamentica show counterpart features to North American rhetorical criticism, but reflect more philosophical indebtedness, especially to the new hermeneutic - that understanding comes through language - and the linguistic roots of structuralism.

4. Bearing similarities to these developments, current emphases on understanding the Bible as literature and as literary art have become increasingly significant. While the two volume set of essays edited by Kenneth Gros Louis, et al., under the title Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives (Abingdon, 1974, 1982) and Leonard Thompson’s Introducing Biblical Literature (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1978), show the fruits of the literary approach, the two most striking recent contributions - and both emphasize the art dimension of literature - are Northrop Frye’s The Great Code (Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1982) and Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books,1981).[62] Neither is kind to traditional historical methods; both call for a radical rethinking of the nature of the biblical text and the methods best suited to grasp its message. But caution must be registered: for when Frye says that the biblical writers were too clever literarily for modern historians who can never find what they’re looking for, i.e., good empirical evidence, the converse can also be said: the genre, the plot-pattern, and the →257 potent mythos - in which the literature expert rejoices - points beyond itself; as narrative it testifies to a real history and a real God whose word-deed in time and space creates life – praxis - historically, socially, economically and politically. The God of the Bible does not merely ride in a literary cloud over the blood and guts of historical struggle and eschatological promise.

Each of these literary approaches and emphases has its power - and I indeed am part devotee - but the half, at least another third, has not yet been told.

C. Sociological Awareness: The Worlds of the Text and the Interpreter A third major current force in biblical interpretation, showing increasing influence and significance during the last decade, comes from socio-historical and sociological analyses of the world of both the biblical text and the interpreter. A recently published collection of essays, The Bible and Liberation: Political and Social Hermeneutics (Orbis, 1983), reflects the variety of contributions. An outline of the types of investigation will enable us to sort through the array of work:

1. Social history/sociological interpretations of the biblical text. Since studies in this area are quite diverse, several essays survey the literature and assess the method. Two of the more useful such resources are Robin Scrogg’s essay, “The Sociological Interpretation of the New Testament: The Present State of Research” (NTS 26 [1980] i64-79) and Bruce Malina’s analysis of method, “The Social Sciences and Biblical Interpretation” (Interp 37 [1982], 229-42), both reprinted in Gottwald’s collection of essays above.

A second group of studies might be classified as social history. Appearing mostly in the New Testament field, the works of E. A. Judge (The Social Patterns of the Christian Groups in the First Century, 1960), Martin Hengel (Property and Riches in the Early Church, 1974) and Wayne Meeks (The First Urban Christians, 1983) merit special notice. Many other writers could be cited also, but these exemplify well the socio-historical approach. In comparison to the next group to be cited, they represent a more cautious approach; they focus upon the realia and social data in the biblical texts, remain eclectic in use of sociological theories, if used at all, and seek →258 primarily to show meaningful intersections between early Christian belief and social experience.

A third set of contributions reflect to varying degrees the use of sociological or socio-economic models to reconstruct the history and/or development of ancient Israel or early Christianity. Again, citations must be limited to those most representative of the developments. John Gager’s Kingdom and Community (1975) represents the use of sociological cognitive-dissonance (a conflictual model) for reconstructing early Christian origins. Bruce Malina’s The New Testament World (1980) seeks to understand five prominent aspects of early Christianity against the grid of structural functionalist, conflict, and symbolic (integrationist) models. Norman Gottwald’s Tribes of Israel (1979) combines the conflict model with Marxist economic analysis to reconstruct the history of Israel. Gerd Theissen, though not limiting himself to any one sociological method, uses primarily functional categories to develop a most provocative portrait of both the Jesus movement - viewing Jesus and his first followers as wandering rural charismatics (Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity, 1978) - and Pauline Christianity in Corinth - portraying it as a socially diverse urban group with numerous members of middle to high socio-economic class (The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity, 1981). John Elliott focuses on 1 Peter (A Home for the Homeless, 1982) and draws correlaries between the orphaned plight of the community and its social solidarity in/through suffering.

2. Social analysis of the interpreter’s world, a prerequisite to biblical interpretation.

The ground-breaking study in this category is certainly that of Josh Miranda’s Marx and the Bible (1974), which by viewing the biblical text through the lenses of socio-economic realities in today’s world turns up biblical exegesis on justice and righteousness unrivaled in its penetrating grasp. His later work, Being and Messiah (1977), contains laser-like exposition of i John, splitting previously pious platitudes into two-edged deed-imperatives that distinguish between Christ and anti-Christ belief-behavior.

Three main streams of contribution merit notice:

a. Latin America liberationist hermeneutical perspectives, articulated by such writers as Miranda, Jon Sobrino, Leonardo Boff and Luis Segundo. American →259 black liberationist hermeneutic, in the writings of James H. Cone, Major J. Jones, and Hubert Brown, are also part of this emphases. The direct biblical commentary from the oppressed, as presented by Ernesto Cardenal in the four volumes of The Gospel in Solentiname (1975-81) must be considered most significant, for in contrast to writings of the educated, this Bible exposition from the base community represents more authentically the “hermeneutical privilege of the poor,” a Grade i perception in this school of learning. Not only do these writings insist that we must begin or preface study of the text with an analysis of our social situation, but they also inseparably link knowledge and praxis. The true meaning of the text is grasped from the demand and insight of praxis.

b. Materialist exegesis, originating in Portugal and France, shares many of the emphases of the Latin American liberationist hermeneutic. With roots in the plight of the worker class and anti-clerical persuasions, the writings reflect a distinctive union between historical materialism and structuralism, a two-edged tool for biblical exegesis. The primary representatives of this emphasis are Fernando Belo (Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark, 1974, trans. 1981), Michel Clevenot (Approaches materialistes de la Bible, 1976) and Georges Casalis (Les Idées justus ne tombent pas du ciel, 1977). Kuno Füssel (see Gottwald’s book of essays), Luise Schottroff and Wolfgang Stegemann (see forthcoming The God of the Lowly) have supportively disseminated these contributions. These writings stress that (a) the poor are a primary concern of the Bible, (b) the Bible must be rescued from the hands of people in power, and (c) the Bible must be read to give clarity to political praxis.[63]

c. A third and most significant force for North American scholarship has been feminist liberation hermeneutic. The two most outstanding contributions have been those of Phyllis Trible (God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, 1978) and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (In Memory of Her, 1983). While these writings and many others share the larger liberationist characteristic of “seeing from the underside of history,” they do not correlate directly with materialist/Marxist socio-economic philosophical orientation, as do a and b above. Whether it be the egalitarian exegesis of the Genesis narratives →260 (Trible) or the “discipleship of equals” as central to earliest Christianity (Fiorenza), the growing spate of exegetical work from the feminist perspective has turned up surprisingly keen exegetical insights that for centuries have eluded male interpreters. This work demonstrates that one’s social situation does indeed affect the reading of the text.

The text then is not the only focus for biblical interpretation, but both text and interpreter together are under scrutiny, according to all three streams of liberationist hermeneutic. The implications of this are far-reaching for all developments mentioned above.

For this approach to biblical study begins with what is called the “sociology of knowledge.” As David Loch head puts it in his essay, “The Liberation of the Bible”: “There can be no escape from this kind of [how our perception is influenced by our place in a complex socio-economic set of relationships] politics of understanding” (Gottwald, ed., p. 86). Further, as Juan Luis Segundo argues in “Faith and Ideologies in Biblical Revelation”: hearing the word of the Revealer through socio-economically aware biblical study will create and intensify distinctive faith ideologies (ibid, pp. 494-95). Hence biblical study never has the option of functioning in a value-free laboratory. Historical investigations and literary analyses, as well as our theological traditions, are ever “prejudiced,” and such “prejudice” is a necessary condition for knowledge.[64] The term “prejudice” is used here not pejoratively but descriptively to indicate that every interpreter has certain allegiances--religious, socio-economic, political, familial, etc. Until these realities are acknowledged, the wonderfully inviting garden variety of hermeneutical methods remain unpollinated - and fruitless, at the time (kairos) and place (en te odw) where it really counts. Hence the call: while recognizing the necessity of some aspects of historical, critical biblical study, the challenge before biblical scholars is: beyond the historical-critical method! And the promise: the Spirit gives life;

whoever wills to do my will,
shall know…
and be set free
to love.


§ This essay was published in Essays in Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives, ed. Willard M. Swartley (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1984), pp. 237-264. Copyright © 1984 Institute of Mennonite Studies. All rights reserved. Published online by permission of Institute of Mennonite Studies.

# These numerical notations indicate the page breaks in the published book. When citing this essay, please cite the appropriate page number(s) in the published book.

  1. Bernhard W. Anderson, “Tradition and Scripture in the Church,” JBL 100 (Jan 1981), 5-21. Quotation on p. 5.
  2. Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Emerson Buchanan (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), p. 349.
  3. Lewis S. Mudge, “Paul Ricoeur on Biblical Interpretation,” in Paul Ricoeur, Essays on Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), p. 1.
  4. Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method, trans. Edwin W. Leverenz and Rudolph F. Norden (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977).
  5. For arguments countering the historical-critical method, see Maier, pp. 11-47; for his counter proposals, see pp. 50-92.
  6. Walter Wink, The Bible in Human Transformations: Toward a New Paradigm for Biblical Study (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973).
  7. Ibid., p. 15.
  8. Ibid., the second and third stages are presented in their philosophical depth (pp. 19-46). For his statement of the threefold goal, see p. 2.
  9. Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), pp. 129-136.
  10. Peter Stuhlmacher, Vom Verstehen des Neuen Testament: Eine Hermeneutik, NTD Ergänzungsreihe 6 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979). In preliminary and partial form, Stuhlmacher’s contribution is accessible in English: Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Toward a Hermeneutic of Consent, trans. Roy A. Harrisville (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977).
  11. Stuhlmacher, Verstehen, p. 206.
  12. Ibid., pp. 219-220.
  13. For this terminology, Stuhlmacher draws on the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, to whom Paul Ricoeur, quoted above, is also indebted.
  14. Gerhard Ebeling, “The Significance of the Critical-Historical Method for Church and Theology in Protestantism” in Word and Faith, trans. James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), pp. 17-61.
  15. Stuhlmacher, Verstehen, pp. 220-221.
  16. Ibid., pp. 222-224.
  17. Ibid., pp. 225-247. See also P. Stuhlmacher and Helmut Class, Das Evangelium von der Versöhnung in Christus (Stuttgart: Calver Verlag, 1979) and P. Stuhlmacher, Versöhnung, Gesetz and Gerechtigkeit (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981). For an English statement, see Peter Stuhlmacher, “The Gospel of Reconciliation in Christ-Basic Features and Issues of a Biblical Theology of the New Testament,” trans. George Edwards, HBT 1 (1979), 161-190.
  18. Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975).
  19. Ibid., pp. 63-67.
  20. Ibid., pp. 67-72. I have represented these objections a bit more sharply than Krentz did; I have also omitted his several counter-objections to the objections.
  21. Ibid., p. 72. This assessment of biblical criticism may call to mind James Smart’s probing analysis of The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church (Westminster, 1970). Smart’s diagnosis attributed the distance between the laity and the educated clergy to historical criticism. He put the blame for the problem on the church’s theological leadership called it to take more seriously the education of the laity in the critical understanding of the Bible. The critiques of the seventies (with Wink onward) go deeper and call for a fundamental reassessment in the method itself. Some of this critique comes from within and may be seen as the historical-critical method’s own self-correcting contribution. But some of the critique comes from outside its structures, posing complementing and even competing considerations (see part II of this essay).
  22. Compare Christian Hartlich, “Is Historical Criticism out of Date?” in Conflicting Ways of Interpreting the Bible, ed. by Hans Küng and Jürgen Moltmann (New York: The Seabury Press and Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. 1980), pp. 3-8. Hartlich says of the interpretation of the miracle-story (Mk. 6:45-52), to which the forum of essays is devoted, that the purpose of this story and other miracle storiesis to summon the readers to belief. Exegesis has shown that these stories in their circulation and use have been “molded and shaped according to the particular literary intention of the person [or community] handling it.” Hence, Hartlich says, Anyone, therefore, who treats the apparently historical statements of the miracle-stories in the gospels as assertions of fact is taking them out of the functional context that exegesis shows them to have and exposes them to the rigour of the modern concept of objective fact, something that is the product of the scientific outlook of the post-medieval world. This misinterpretation surrenders these statements to a process of criticism from which they are bound to emerge the losers (pp. 7-8).
  23. Willard H. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1983), pp. 222-23.
  24. James Barr, The Scope and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1980), pp. 50-52.
  25. Barr, p. 30.
  26. So Parvey and Kroeger; see Swartley, pp. 172-173, 319, n. 103.
  27. Swartley, pp. 222-23.
  28. Swartley, pp. 186-199, 218, 232-33.
  29. See note 14 above.
  30. I find Barr’s statement too narrowly conceived here also: “the true legitimation of historical and critical reading lies in the relation between scripture, tradition and the church” (Scope, p. 50).
  31. Swartley, pp. 215-228. I grant that more must be done to spell out the implications of this method.
  32. David L. Bartlett, “Biblical Scholarship Today: A Diversity of New Approaches,” The Christian Century (Oct. 28, 1981), 1090-1093.
  33. I refer to Smart’s book cited above, note 21.
  34. Minear, “Symposium on Biblical Criticism,” Theology Today 33 (Jan 1977), 354.
  35. See also Minear’s more recent article, “The Bible’s Authority in the Congregation,” Theology Today 38 (Oct 1981), 350-356.
  36. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1970.
  37. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974.
  38. Torah and Canon (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972) and Canon As Authority (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977).
  39. “The Bible as Canon,” The Christian Century, (Dec. 2, 1981), 1252.
  40. A recent book by Paul D. Hanson addresses directly how the diversity of Scripture can be an enriching resource for the church: The Diversity of Scripture: A Theological Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982).
  41. Ibid., pp. 1252-1253.
  42. Scope., p. 111.
  43. Wink’s Bible study of Mark 2:1-12 (Transformation, pp. 54-60), while helpful in a personalistic way, overlooks the societal structural components of the story, e.g., Jesus’ clash with the religion of his time. Nor does his applicational use of the story reflect the insights derived from his own historical-critical study of the story. The gap between the scholarly work and the application illustrates need for more work on perhaps still another model of reflection upon the text.
  44. In Sin, Salvation and the Spirit, ed. by D. Durksen (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1979), pp. 21-39.
  45. Ibid., p. 28.
  46. Ibid., pp. 29-30. She sets this point in contrast to the efforts to show how the Bible reveals timeless truths or transmits historically accurate records (p. 31). But this contrast is unfortunate because elements of these two concerns are present within the pastorally oriented biblical literature. Nor do I fully agree with a later emphasis in her article which gives the impression that we pick and choose from the text what best meets our needs (p. 34).
  47. Ibid., pp. 35-36.
  48. George T. Montague. “Hermeneutics and the Teaching of Scripture,” CBQ 41 (Jan 1979), 9.
  49. Here Montague cites a Protestant writer, David Lochhead; the quotation appears in my Afterword.
  50. Ibid., pp. 13-16. This method merits serious study and may be fruitfully compared with the twelve step method I propose in Slavery, Sabbath, pp. 225-27. Another helpful resource for constructing a method appropriate to this pastoral-teacher use of Scripture is the article, “The Tradition as a Resource in Theological Reflection--Scripture and the Minister” by Eugene C. Ulrich and William G. Thompson in Method in Ministry: Theological Reflection and Christian Ministry, ed. by James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead (New York: Seabury Press, 1980), pp. 31-52.
  51. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Garrett Barden and John Cunning (New York: Seabury Press, 1975).
  52. Paul Achtemeier has written a helpful introduction to this hermeneutical approach: An Introduction to the New Hermeneutics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969).
  53. For an excellent survey and analysis of this emphasis, see Anthony C. Thiselton, The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1980), ch. 12, pp. 327-356, and ch. 5, pp. 115-139.
  54. Ted Boomershine and Edgar McKnight are currently working on manuscripts on reader/hearer oriented criticism. Werner H. Kelber’s recent study, The Oral and Written Gospel: The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Mark, Paul and Q (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), explores the relationship between orality and textuality in fresh ways. I do not, however, find his thesis convincing: that textuality was an act of “disorientation” and “reorientation,” employing text-writing as a weapon to conquer oral contributions, especially from early Christian prophetism (pp. 100 ff.).
  55. The Theology of St. Luke, trans. Geoffrey Buswell (New York: Harper and Row, 1960). [Germ. orig.: Die Mitte der Zeit].
  56. Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew, trans. Percy Scott (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963). [Germ. orig.: Uberlieferung und Auslegung im Matthäusevangelium].
  57. Norman R. Petersen, Literary Criticism for the New Testament Critics (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978).
  58. Joanna Dewey, Markan Public Debate: Literary Technique, Concentric Structure and Theology in Mark 2:1-3:6 (Chico, Cal.: Scholars Press, 1980), p. 11. The quotation comes from James Muilenberg in his 1968 SBL presidential address, “Form Criticism and Beyond,” JBL 88(1969), 7.
  59. Dewey, p. 12.
  60. Ibid., pp.31-37.
  61. Jan Lambrecht, Die Redaktion der Markus-Apocalypse: Literarische Analyse und Strukturuntersuchung. AnBib 28 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1967).
  62. Frank Kermode’s study of Mark’s Gospel also demonstrates this approach, but with more dependence on structuralist assumptions: The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979). See Gerald Graff’s critical, even scathing review in The New Republic, June 9, 1979, 27-32.
  63. I call attention here to the significant volume by Luise Schottroff and Wolfgang Stegemann, Jesus von Nazareth - Hoffnung der Armen (Stuttgart et al.: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1978).
  64. So Lochhead, p. 79 and also Rudolf Bultmann, “Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?” in Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann, trans. Schubert M. Ogden (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1960), pp. 289-96. Bultmann though redefines the word prejudice to preunderstanding and focuses the setter too narrowly on the religious dimension.