«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
Other significant contributions to reception theory in the (German) EKK series, which originally published Luz’s work, include Ulrich Wilckens (Romans) and Wolfgang Schrage (1 Corinthians).
Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7, trans. Wilhelm C. Linss, vol. 1, Hermeneia (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1992), 95.
Räisänen offers two important insights here that point to the need for reception history as well as Wirkungsgeschichte. Firstly, he argues that the distinction should not be between types of media, but between the actual effectiveness of particular receptions. Secondly, he asks whether one can distinquish between the effects of the Bible and the general effects of culture/civilization/history. Räisänen, “Effective ‘History’,” 311–12.
suprahistorical (i.e. Barth) only covers the issue without truly addressing the concern and the historical nature of the biblical texts.284 Therefore, Luz suggests that the function of historical-critical exegesis is 1.) to distance/alienate the modern reader from the text and; 2.) to foreground the preconceptions of the modern interpreter through this alienation so that the process turns into self-reflection. He sees interpretation enriched through the incorporation of a text’s Wirkungsgeschichte, which clarifies “for the interpreter (1) who he or she is in confrontation with the texts and (2) who he or she could be in confrontation with them.”285 For Knight and Childs, the problem with Luz’s model lay in its prioritisation of historical-criticism.
Knight sees Luz making Wirkungsgeschichte an activity that “follows from exegesis rather than being intrinsic to it.”286 From a theological perspective, Childs remarks that Luz makes the historical critical research the criteria of truth, rather than the rule of faith, with Wirkungsgeschichte only registering the “subjective interpretations”287 of the Church.
In terms of which interpretations to prioritise in Matthew’s Wirkungsgeschichte, Luz produces a rubric for selection that prioritises texts that are approximate to the original meaning of a passage and that influence our present pre-understanding of a text.288 Unfortunately, this necessarily excludes provocative, maverick texts from consideration and can potentially perpetuate voices of dominance.
Cf. Pannenberg, Basic Questions, 1:15–16.
Luz, Matthew 1-7, 1:96.
Knight, “Wirkungsgeschichte,” 142.
Brevard S. Childs, The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 32.
Luz, Matthew 1-7, 1:95–96. Here Childs’ criticism reverberates loudly.
None would question the magisterial quality of Luz’s commentary on Matthew. Yet even in his reconstruction of the original horizon of expectations, a misstep shapes the remainder of his interpretation. Luz determines that the gospel came from a Jewish-Christian community in the first century that criticised Judaism as a group of insiders, thereby accounting for the harsh tone against “the Jews” in the gospel, and his interpretation proceeds within the strictures of this initial commitment. Matthew’s gospel was intended for a Jewish-Christian audience.289 It becomes clear throughout his commentary that Luz wants to defend Matthew against the anti-Semitic interpretations that it has engendered historically. Undoubtedly, the language of Matthew indicates a Jewish-Christian origin, but the emphasis on mission to the Gentiles (Matt 28:16-20) and the rapid and widespread dissemination of the gospel militate against such an insular audience.290 Therefore, Luz raises important questions about the possibility of realistically recreating the horizons of expectations of a work and whether an attempt like his is not a venture into the psychologism that Jauss denounces.
iii. The Blackwell Bible Commentaries (BBCS) The BBCS, edited by John Sawyer, Judith Kovacs, and Chris Rowland (and later volumes by David Gunn also), is the first commentary series completely dedicated to a “reception history”291 of the Bible in the format of a commentary.292 Because there are so many volumes in the series, we will Ibid., 1:79–95.
Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (London: SCM Press, 2000), 76–78.
The quotation marks are not to be taken as patronising, but indicate a distinction from our own definition of the term.
Judith Kovacs and Christopher Rowland, Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, Blackwell Bible Commentaries (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), xi–xii.
dedicate our attention to the stated aim of the project and a selection of volumes from the series: Revelation, Judges, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
Within the aim of presenting a reception history of the Bible, the series leaves a great deal of textual selection and the emphasis of particular passages to the individual authors. The shared expectation is that the series should produce a sampling of works from different eras and leave it to the readers to determine “the value, morality, and validity of particular interpretations.” There is a somewhat incautious use of the terms “reception history,” “history of influences,” and “history of interpretation” in the series description. It appears that the latter two follow Luz’s distinctions and that both should be classified under “reception history,” though Wirkungsgeschichte would be more appropriate in many cases.293 It is also perplexing that a series dedicated to reception history fails to make mention of Jauss, even if in disagreement with his approach.294 The preface to the Revelation commentary only compounds the problem by the repeated and seemingly interchangeable appeal to all of the above terms, including Wirkungsgeschichte, subsuming them all under the concept of “reception history.”295 The introductory chapter of the commentary offers an important framework for the more materially diverse commentary that follows, describing interpretive trends and categories that have Ibid.
The exception to this comes not from the published works, but the series’ website in which an article in defence of the BBCS approach cites a paper by Mary Callaway, who outlines Jauss’ definition of meaning, horizons of expectations, timelessness, and his relationship to Gadamer approvingly. Nevertheless, confusion over terminology is not helped with the website, which emphasises its reliance on reception history, but bears the slogan “Tracing the Bible's influence through the centuries.” Influence and reception are related, but distinct, as we have tried to show. Chris Heard, “In Defense of Reception History,” Blackwell Bible Commentaries, 12 June 2011, http://bbibcomm.net/?p=216 (15 July 2012); Mary C.
Callaway, “What’s the Use of Reception History?” (presented at the SBL general conference, San Antonio, 2004).
Kovacs and Rowland, Revelation, xiii–xiv.
materialised through the history of Revelation. Following this, Kovacs and Rowland describe a twofold structure for each chapter of the biblical book: the first part offers historical context for the biblical text, while the second explores the historical interpretations and is subdivided according to major themes.296 This appears to follow Jauss’ model of reading, with the assumption that the first and second steps (i.e. aesthetically perceptual and interpretive) have taken place, and that the reader can now incorporate the history of Revelation to deepen their self-understanding.
The benefit of offering a reception history of Revelation has to do with its necessarily “open” character inherent to its apocalyptic nature. The history of the apocalypse has an interpretive richness unparalleled by other biblical texts. This unveils, however, a critical weakness of the BBCS: an apparent standard word-limit assigned to every commentary.297 This may lead to a further weakness of the Revelation commentary in particular. Namely, the sections of reception/effective history group readings with similar themes together, but often with gaps of hundreds of years of interpretation between them. It fails to show active appropriation, or the taking up of the dialogue through the formulation of new questions. An example of this appears in the interpretation of Rev 1:1 and 19, which puts the reading of Victorinus of Pettau (d. early 4th century) alongside the Millerites (mid-19th century) without any other readings. The interpretations of Rev 1:4 are not even in historical order (Victorinus, Geneva Bible, Bede, Scofield Bible).298 In this way, it is more exclusively a history of interpretation than a reception Ibid., xv. Kovacs and Rowland divide interpretations of Revelation into chronological, decoding, and actualizing patterns. Ibid., 8–11.
Thiselton’s 1 and 2 Thessalonians commentary is actually longer than either the Revelation and Judges commentary.
Kovacs and Rowland, Revelation, 42.
history. Biblical reception history has to be about more than showing interesting overlaps of thought. The frequent non-chronological development of reading traditions make it difficult to picture how the traditions developed and the contexts in which the readings were actualized, which can help modern readers to get a larger picture of the hermeneutical endeavour— such as how one responds to a text from a given context— and it helps to make them reflective about their own hermeneutical paradigm, raising questions of interpretive legitimacy. As a further example, a chronological ordering of the interpretations of the seals (5:1) could have shown how later readings of Bullinger, Wesley, and Newton are reactions against the tradition of Joachim of Fiore, but the non-chronological presentation obfuscates the historical dialogue.299 I would like to conclude with the Revelation commentary with two positive observations. First, the section on the millennium is the best example of a reception history that the book has to offer by tracing a wide range of diverse interpretations chronologically.300 With a modern focus (especially in North America and its missions abroad) on the Millennium, this has the significant potential to engage modern horizons of expectation. Secondly, the commentary offers a number of more obscure and non-conformist readings, differently from Luz’s commentary and the reception history that I offer on 2 Thessalonians below. These readings can provoke our horizons in a manner differently from those that have given shape to our current reading traditions.
Gunn’s commentary on Judges reflects the diversity of the authors’ understanding of how one “does” reception history. He wisely begins by Ibid., 70–71.
limiting his engagement with the main stories of the book, which will have the most historical engagement,301 and he opens each chapter with an abstract describing the narratives under consideration, without situating the book historically. This aligns well with Jauss’ aesthetically perceptual reading.
From here, he offers diachronic interpretations of the section. This consistent order is an advantage over the Revelation commentary, yet it still approximates more to a history of interpretation. It is unclear whether the absence of historical-critical research indicates that these models are incommensurable, or that this commentary should be read in conjunction with a historical-critical commentary. Also, synchronic cross-sections could help disclose why particular interpretations became influential, or how they were contextual responses, but we can attribute this absence to limitation of space.
Lastly, Thiselton’s commentary in the BBCS on 1 and 2 Thessalonians amounts to a self-attempted reboot of the series. Before the publication of his commentary, Thiselton had already expressed reservations about the BBCS, remarking that (by that time) it largely amounted to a history of reception that did not measure up to the standards for reception history detailed by Luz.302 The dissatisfaction with the BBCS approach to reception history materialises concretely in his extensive introduction, which details a reception history according to Jauss and emphasises the reconstruction of past horizons of expectations to illuminate “the hermeneutic difference between the former and David M. Gunn, Judges Through the Centuries, 1st ed., Blackwell Bible Commentaries (Blackwell, 2005), 13–14.
Thiselton, Hermeneutics, 319.
current understanding of a work”303 for the purpose of enriching selfunderstanding.304 Thiselton also offers an abbreviated historical background for the Thessalonian corpus305 and each chapter begins with a content overview of the section of the epistles for which he offers a reception history. The difficulty with this structure is the apparent prioritisation of the historical approach above aesthetically perceptual reading of the epistle.
His reception history of texts attempts to show receptive influences that shape the understanding of historical readers, leading them to receive the text in particular ways. This entails the presentation of material chronologically, similar to Gunn. In his first example of 2 Thessalonians, Thiselton traces an understanding of “faith” (2 Thess 1:4) that precedes any apparent interaction with the epistle through Clement of Rome, the Epistle to Diognetus, Ignatius, and Irenaeus before the first direct, extant allusion to 2 Thess 1:4-5 by Tertullian. This more clearly exemplifies the receptive dimension of reading over against the effective nature of the text.306 He also presents a wide range of materials, including homilies, hymns, poems, and artwork. Taken together, Thiselton presents a methodologically more precise and clearly understood approach to reception history.
II. A Reception History of 2 Thessalonians The research below offers a concentrated reception history of 2 Thessalonians that illustrates the synchronic developments of interpretation at three epochal moments of the text’s history clearly. This should allow for Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 28.
Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 and 2 Thessalonians Through the Centuries, Blackwell Bible Commentaries (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010), 1–6.
greater appreciation of the aesthetic value of the respective interpretations.
Diachrony shows the questions that have been asked in the historical dialogue with the text, but synchrony better illuminates why interpreters asked particular questions. It is hoped that a display of punctiliar enquiry can aid the modern reader of Scripture in formulating “good” questions in their reading.