Theological Interpretation: Roadmap for our Course
The Rise, Fall, and Rise (?) of Theological Interpretation of Scripture
Premodern biblical interpretation is unapologetically informed theologically:
The New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:11, Matt. 2:14-15) reads (so Richard Hays) through the community of faith, the cross, and the new creation.
Irenaeus (Against Heresies) follows "the rule of faith," solidifying the Christian strategy of reading the Bible as centered on Jesus Christ.
Origen's allegorical method ties spiritual senses to the literal sense.
Augustine's fourfold allegorical method makes biblical interpretation a deliberately orthodox theological practice.
Luther's "literal meaning" (e.g., John 10:1-6) still interprets the Bible in terms of Luther's understanding of the present mission of the Word of God.
Modern biblical interpretation pursues theological neutrality:
Modernists contend that believers' opinions of Scripture's meanings are liable to distort interpretation.
The "masters of suspicion" argue that even the writers' own opinions and ulterior motives must be critiqued.
"Academic" biblical studies moves the Bible's practices of meaning away from the life of the Church.
Theological interpretation is one postmodern movement in biblical interpretation.
Fowl defines theological interpretation of Scripture as "that practice whereby theological concerns and interests inform and are informed by a reading of scripture" (xiii).
Theological interpretation is distinct from modern biblical interpretation (xvi):
1. It is interested in taking positive lessons from premodern interpretation (thus KarlFried Froehlich's Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, Mary Ann Donovan's One Right Reading? and Irenaeus' Against Heresies, and John O'Keefe's and R.R. Reno's Sanctified Vision).
2. It shapes and is shaped by Christian communities' concerns (thus Ephraim Radner's Hope among the Fragments).
3. It resists the compartmentalization of disciplines and marginalization of theology (thus Henri de Lubac's Scripture in the Tradition).
4. It embraces a plurality of interpretative methods, even modern ones, rather than endorsing only one (e.g., historical-critical or grammatical-historical) (thus African-American, feminist, and other readings in Fowl's Theological Interpretation of Scripture).
Our Game Plan We will learn the background of Christian theological interpretation with
exposure to patristic interpretive techniques (Froehlich);
appreciation of patristic exegesis' theological shape (Donovan and Irenaeus, Yeago, myself);
introductions to the differences between precritical and critical interpretation (Steinmetz, O'Keefe and Reno);
descriptions of several popular contemporary schools of theological interpretation (Camp, Wimbush).
We will apprentice under masters of theological interpretation with
precritical and contemporary treatments of Exodus 3, Isaiah 52-53, Matthew 5-7, and Romans 9-11 (Fowl part II);
in-depth Catholic and Protestant visions of theological interpretation that are Church-centered, scripturally informed, and theologically guiding (de Lubac, Radner, Lindbeck).
We will practice theological interpretation by reading Deuteronomy together as participants in Christian theological traditions, in conversation with Jewish and Christian sources.