Reflection on History as Scripture

Repeatedly in this class you have seen people interpret the Bible in different, often incompatible, always culturally determined ways. In some circles of the Church this fosters a sense of cynicism about tradition and an impulse to jump over the centuries between the apostolic age and our own, reading the Bible "directly."

Of course that is what many of the people were trying to do who ended up interpreting the Bible in different, often incompatible, always culturally determined ways!

I would like to help you think of Christian history and tradition not as a hindrance but as an indispensable aid in interpreting the Bible. Consider this exchange from Acts 8:

Philip ran to [the Ethiopian eunuch], and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

The Christian community remembers its past, interprets its present, and expects its future by telling the biblical story of God who created and redeemed the world through Jesus Christ. Why not invite its guides to come up and sit with you?

At first I considered having you imagine yourself as the eunuch and asking whom you would invite from Christian history to help you interpret a biblical passage, but I don't want to endure all the inevitable eunuch jokes. Besides, the lessons of Church history come from events as well as personalities. So instead:

Imagine the word gets out at your local church that you are enrolled in Church history, and the leader of one of its Bible studies — a self-styled historical theology buff — invites you to lead a special meeting. She asks you to choose a biblical passage and explain to the class how events and/or people in the history of Christianity help reveal its meaning. (This is more than just how history illustrates biblical texts; this is about how history enriches their meanings.)

Of course you accept, because the prospect of reviewing all that course material and applying it to the Bible simply thrills you. The leader tells you that you are free to choose any passage and any era in Church history that you wish, but you wisely decide to restrict yourself to passages that will allow you to use three of the following sources: lectures, Moynahan, McKim, and Galli and Olsen.

Write a transcript of your comments at the meeting. These may simply be prepared remarks that you could have read in the Bible study, or they may include Q&A from the leader and the participants. Don't forget to cite the course materials on which you are drawing to make your points. You will also want to include your translation of the passage.

Note that on most of my lecture outlines I have included a suggested Bible reading. These passages may be good places to start looking for connections, but feel free to choose others.

Please keep your paper three pages (not including the Bible passage), double-spaced, and follow the directions in my handout for writing papers. As always, I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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