«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
By “responsible hermeneutics,” we have in mind a program of biblical interpretation that is fundamentally attentive to the “subject matter” of Scripture and its intended receptive community. Historical research must serve the former and guide the latter. Such a program must engage an ecclesial context where it may challenge and be challenged.
David Paul Parris, Reading the Bible with Giants (London: Paternoster, 2006), xi.
boundaries35 that prevent readers from projecting ideas back into the text.36 An example will aid in illuminating this point.
In the second thanksgiving of 2 Thessalonians, Paul describes God’s election of the Thessalonians “εἰς σωτηρίαν ἐν ἁγιασµῷ πνεύµατος” (2:13).
The language of πνεῦµα elsewhere in the Pauline corpus (e.g. Rom. 8:9-11, 8:21-23; 1 Cor. 2:6-16, 12:3-11; 2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Gal. 4:6, 6:8; 1 Thess. 1:5, 4:1-10, 5:19, 5:23; cf. 1 Cor. 2:12) helpfully directs us to understand this, differently from his earlier use of the phrase (2:2), as a reference to the Holy Spirit. The anarthrous state of πνεύµατος does not undermine this perspective, because, as a genitive noun following an anarthrous head noun (ἁγιασµῷ), it coheres with Apollonius’ Corollary, which contends “in genitive phrases both the head noun and the genitive noun normally have or lack the article.”37 Substantive constructions of this type are typically definite, especially when the head noun is the object of a preposition,38 as is the case with ἐν ἁγιασµῷ.
Furthermore, the only parallel use of ἐν ἁγιασµῷ πνεύµατος in the NT appears in 1 Pet 1:2, which articulates a “trinitarian” formulation of the unified works of God the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ. All of this directs one to understand εἰς σωτηρίαν ἐν ἁγιασµῷ πνεύµατος (2 Thess 2:13) as a reference to the Holy Spirit, rather than as a generic allusion to some unifying human spirit, perhaps as in Hegel, or the “spirit” of the individual.39 Attentive lexicalAnthony C. Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2009), 52.
Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 44.
Daniel B Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 239.
On the more ambiguous uses of “spirit” in Paul, see Anthony C. Thiselton, The Holy Spirit: In Biblical Teaching, Through the Centuries, and Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming 2012), ch. 5.
historical work limits the interpretive trajectory of πνεύµατος (2 Thess 2:13).40 In terms of meaning, “we may doubt,” however, “whether historical exegesis, essential as it is, can do full justice to the potential of a single text. Much less can it give us clear directions about the meaning of the whole.”41 This is a challenge to a hermeneutical method that overestimates the value of “history” in the terms of historicism.
From the more conservative end of the theological perspective, we find a strikingly similar understanding of history. In what has become a standard seminary textbook on biblical hermeneutics in the United States, The Hermeneutical Spiral, Grant Osborne advises the biblical interpreter to begin their exegetical work by first situating a text in its historical context.42 Carson echoes this and likewise suggests that the responsibility of the interpreter lies in “bridging the cultural gap from the original situation to our own day.”43 This entails setting aside biases and then excluding nearly two thousand years of biblical interpretation in order to access the “closed” history of the text.
Osborne even enlists the support of Gadamer in this regard, arguing that this is the fusion of horizons described by the philosopher.
This exhibits a profound misunderstanding of Gadamer’s work, and especially Wirkungsgeschichte. “The gulf between the ancient text and contemporary life cannot be bridged by an exclusively historical elucidation of the Bible” and Osborne appears to have fallen victim to the notion “that good To this point Thiselton importantly adds, “[the] reason for historical enquiry arises from the task of determining the life-word in relation to which the text draws its currency.” Thiselton, New Horizons, 559.
Robert Morgan and John Barton, Biblical Interpretation, Oxford Bible Series (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1989), 411.
Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 19.
D. A. Carson, “Approaching the Bible,” ed. D. A. Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Leicester: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 15–16.
hermeneutics is mainly a matter of ‘fusing two horizons,’ the ancient and the modern: the two thousand years in between are of little interest.”44 As with Räisänen and Dunn, Osborne et al. reduce historical truth and meaning to a commodity and apparently operate under the metaphysics of historicism that believes ‘history’ exists as an independent fact apart from the perception of the historian. In other words, [they] relate to their subject matter epistemologically in terms of a subject/object dichotomy. The New Testament scholar qua historian is construed as the single point of reference of an objective, rational, self-present cogito, distinct from, and outside the historical field being investigated.45 Gadamer’s approach to textual meaning is closer to a road through history than a bridge over it. He never suggests disregarding the history between the origination of a text and the modern context, nor the immediate ejection of traditions/pre-judgments, but rather only the scrutiny of them.
Osborne is closer to Gabler and Räisänen in his understanding of history than he is to Gadamer. It is for the reasons above that Möller appeals to the scholarly community to renew the historical critical methodologies.46 Similarly, Karl Barth avers that historical criticical work is justified and necessary, but he complains that (then) recent commentators “stop at an interpretation of a text, which I cannot call an interpretation, but merely the first, primitive attempt at one.”47 By this he means that the historical critical Bockmuehl, “A Commentator’s Approach,” 57–58.
McLean, “Crisis of Historicism,” 222.
Möller lists three reasons for maintaining the historical critical methods, similar to those above: 1.) a denial of history fails to “account for the historically real,” e.g. we did not invent Hebrew or Greek; 2.) ethically, we have to allow for the text’s otherness; and 3.) knowledge of the past can critique present ideologies/voices of domination. See Möller in Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene, and Karl Möller, eds., Renewing Biblical Interpretation, The Scripture and Hermeneutic Series 1 (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000), 163–65.
“Aber nicht die historische Kritik mache ich ihnen zum Vorwurf… sondern ihr Stehenbleiben bei einer Erklärung des Textes, die ich keine Erklärung nennen kann, sondern nur den ersten primitiven Versuch einer solchen.” Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief (Munich: Chr.
Kaiser, 1933), x.
work is only preliminary, and not the complete task of biblical interpretation.
This dissertation, therefore, does not object to the essential, historical research of responsible hermeneutics. Rather, the objections are to: 1.) the degradation of biblical studies to historicism. Due to the homogenous approach to history across the theological spectrum, it is clear that historicism/historical positivism is the larger problem and not historical criticism, per se; 2.) The limited definition/scope of history imposed upon biblical texts by historicism, and; 3.) making historical research the first foray into and the epistemological foundation of biblical studies. Inevitably intertwined with a hermeneutical method that operates under these objectionable propositions is a perception of biblical meaning with similar restrictions.
III. Meaning For Gabler, the meaning of biblical texts rests in “what the holy writers felt about divine matters.”48 This loaded phrase hints at what will unfold in the remainder of Gabler’s address namely that biblical meaning is 1.) singular and; 2.) the intention of the author. Stendahl refines the teaching of Gabler in his advocacy for a distinction between “what it [the biblical text] meant” and “what it means.”49 The former of these distinctions becomes the task of the biblical theologian, while the latter is the responsibility of the systematician.
Despite the plethora of critiques brought in recent years, Stendahl’s division is understandable, for it attempts to allow biblical texts to remain historically other while at the same time providing them room to speak presently, but these tasks are essentially competitive for Stendahl.50 Sandys-Wunsch and Eldredge, “J. P. Gabler,” 137.
Krister Stendahl, “Biblical Theology, Contemporary,” in Reading the Bible in the Global Village: Helsinki, ed. Heikki Räisänen (Atlanta: SBL, 2000), 72–73.
“Biblical Theology, Contemporary” in Ibid., 78.
manifests in the work of biblical scholars of all theological allegiances, who reach similar conclusions, though operating under different principles. From the school of (Bultmannian) existentialist theology, Ernst Fuchs follows Rudolph Bultmann in advocating preliminary historical work51 that discovers
“demythologization.”52 In the second step of this program, the interpreter seeks to understand the existential truth53 that lies behind the text. Historically contextual elements that do not aid in this task are discarded as irrelevant to present meaning. The extracted existential truths are then pronounced in the speech-event (Sprachereignis) in the present to “aid in the understanding of present experience.”54 The main difficulty with Fuchs and the “New Hermeneutic” is its inability to accept anything that lies outside the realm of human experience (perhaps the apex of self-centred objectivity), which includes the bodily resurrection of Christ, and renders everything as the product of human language.55 Furthermore, producing existential truths for extraction does not Thiselton rightly criticizes Fuchs and others of the New Hermeneutic for not emphasizing enough the historical work necessary for responsible hermeneutics. Thiselton, Thiselton on Hermeneutics, 481–88.
See Fuchs in John B. Cobb Jr., The New Hermeneutic, ed. James N. Robinson, vol. 2, New Frontiers in Theology (London: Harper and Row, 1964), 116–17.
Elsewhere, Thiselton furthers his critique of the New hermeneutic for its over-emphasis on experience and existentialism that causes its proponents to ignore the directedness of certain biblical texts. Thiselton, Hermeneutics, 190–95.
Gerhard Ebeling, “The Word of God and Hermeneutics,” in The New Hermeneutic, ed.
James N. Robinson and John B. Cobb Jr., vol. 2, New Frontiers in Theology (London: Harper and Row, 1964), 109.
Bonhoeffer proleptically critiques the New Hermeneutic as an ontological approach incapable of accommodating revelation (i.e. God in Jesus Christ), which he conceives of as the only possible means of entering truth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Act and Being, trans. HansRichard Reuter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 72–78 and 88–91; Thiselton further critiques them for reducing the resurrection to a linguistic event over against an event of objective history. Can it not be both? Thiselton, Hermeneutics, 193. He follows Pannenberg who sees the New Hermeneutic as offering a dualism of fact and value.
appear to be the historical focus of any of the biblical texts. In this case “meaning must be a thing that can be subtracted from the work. And if this meaning, as the very heart of the work, can be lifted out of the text, the work is then used up.”56 Though Fuchs would not venture in this direction, for he certainly asserts the importance of Scripture as creating a place of meeting, Iser’s comment above discloses the danger of Fuchs’ method. It can ultimately dispense with the need to preserve the Bible once existential truths are extracted and it fractures the relationship between historical and present meaning. Fuchs’ first stage is decidedly historicist, while the second stage, though presuming the historicist results, remains largely independent of it.57 From the other end of the theological spectrum, Kevin Vanhoozer wrestles with issues brought to the fore by Ricoeur and Derrida, and engages critically with E. D. Hirsch, the preferred hermeneutical authority for many conservative scholars. Vanhoozer ultimately determines that the biblical scholar’s task remains one of understanding and distinguishing between meaning (i.e. what it meant) and its significance (i.e. what it means).58 He contends “the text and its meaning remain independent of the process of interpretation and hence have the ability to transform the reader.”59 Yet this Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth,” in Theology as History,
ed. James M. Robinson and John B. Cobb Jr., vol. 3, New Frontiers in Theology (London:
Harper & Row, 1967), 126.
Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 4.
Ebeling, the other main proponent of the New Hermeneutic, argues that this “application to the present case is nevertheless not something entirely independent” of historical exposition, but the fulfilment of it. If the Scriptures were entirely devoted to existential truths, this would certainly be the case. Their overemphasis on existentialism, however, restricts the potential historical meaning of biblical texts to pre-determined parameters and denies the place of historical meaning for the present community. See Cobb Jr., The New Hermeneutic, 2:108–9.
A program advocated by Hirsch, though reworked by Vanhoozer. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 259–65.
Ibid., 467. Helpfully, Vanhoozer locates communication of truth in God. Yet this becomes complicated when he shifts from an emphasis on a historically discrete text by an only raises further questions as to whether text and meaning can be simultaneously independent and sufficient to transform readers without the concept of address, and whether meaning, even historical meaning, if not somehow embodied and participatory, can be transformative.