Thursday, November 10, 2005

Biblical Theology?: Losing Sight of the Exegetical Trees for the Redemptive-Historical Forest


  1. In redemptive-historical exegesis there is a tendency to see a biblical-theological forest behind every exegetical tree. Redemptive-historical interpretation, especially when sensitive to exegetical echoes and backgrounds in a given text, is prone to overinterpretation, hearing echoes where none are sounded. For instance, in his sweeping book on the temple motif (and hardly the mission of the church), Greg Beale detects the influence of temple theology in Colossians 1 and 2 (Beale, Temple, 267-68). However, the primarily metaphor used to described the church and Christ in Colossians is that of the human body (cf. 1.18; 2.9-10, 19; 3.15). Here is a case of seeing the “forest” instead of the “tree,” the biblical-theological temple instead of the exegetical body. In fact, Paul’s concern in the letter is not so much the church’s expanding mission of temple construction and expansion as it is recognition of the thoroughly human and physical nature of the church. The reason for this is that Paul wants to correct the body-belittling acetic practices of the Colossians, which is rooted in their dualistic, deficient view of creation and Christ (2.16-23). Paul selects the body metaphor to drive home the point which is made in the Christ poem, creation is good and so is the body because Christ is the agent of all creation. Therefore, enjoy freedom in what you eat and drink, treat your body with honor, and do not enforce ascetic measures on others. Consider the “body” of Christ and glorify him for his creation, ecclesiastical and literal. Therefore, we must be cautious when we import valid biblical-theological themes invalidly into a text. The influence of a given themes must be weighed carefully against the immediate context of the letter, allowing for the appropriate exegetical constraints.

  1. There is a tendency to mark and meditate on the trees of the redemptive-historical forest instead of considering the exegetical tree in front of you. When detecting echoes and allusions in a given text, authorial intent is often derived by piecemealing an OT background from several disparate books. While this is certainly the case in some instances, there is a tendency to assimilate an OT composite that may not have been intended by the author. This attempt to be exegetically rigorous may in fact, be more reflective of modernist interpretive methods and not authorial intention. Moreover, the attempt to "do bibilical theology" may end up being more theology than biblical as "backgrounds" are given more wieght than the historical "foregrounds" of the given text.

4 Comments:

At 1:25 PM , Blogger Dave said...

I hope you are not condemning me for my paper/exegesis!

No, I completely agree. This is why we must first start with discourse analysis and following the argument of the text in front of us. Obviously, we want to be sensitive to the authors' biblical theology as that can consciously and unconscioulsy affect the language/direction of the argument. But we will be tossed to and fro by every word if we don't understand the flow of the discourse.

Good word.

Anything, beside Beale, triggering these thoughts.

 
At 2:22 PM , Blogger Josh said...

Context, context, context!

I looked up Beale's comments on Colossians 1. Someone not familiar with his hermeneutic of the OT in the NT, would think he was crazy. I don't think that. But I see what you're getting at.

One has to ask, "Did Paul really refer to Christ as the 'end-time temple' in Col 1:19?" If he did, it seems, as Dave suggested, to be an unconscious allusion. While this allusion is interesting it doesn't add much to our understanding of Paul's argument in Colossians, as you rightly have said.

Dave's right to emphasize the need to trace the author's argument. Discourse analysis is our best friend in doing exegetical, biblical theology.

By the way, I taught a summary of your study on the Passion of Paul to my NT Survey class--they really enjoyed it. Thanks!

 
At 2:32 PM , Blogger Jonathan Dodson said...

I guess there is a lot of BT being done today by scholars we all admire...Hafemann, Wright, Beale, Ciampa, Scobie, etc; whose heremeneutic is supposedly at tight as it gets. They teach Old in the New courses but make conclusisons that seem to force the text towards BT. I think of Ciampa's radical eschatological approach to Galatians, finding eschatology under every "tree" and Beale's maximalist work on the Temple. I sense a proclivity towards this myself and yet, want to remain as faithful to the text as possible. Sniffing out BT can be fun, insightful and powerful but misguided and even detrimental if we dont sieze the author by his pen.

Similarly, I have been challenged by Witherington's challenge of systematic theology, esp Reformed dogmatics, in his new book on Evangelical Tehology. He makes some great, but different points than Im making.

I just sense the temptation to "do BT" instead of exegete and lead others in truth.

 
At 2:34 PM , Blogger Jonathan Dodson said...

Glad to hear the Passion of Paul was well-received. Let me know if you get some more insight on that topic. Thanks for considering my work worthy of your teaching!

Hows the class going? Is is tough to balance everything?

 

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