«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
The task set out in Vanhoozer’s work becomes the pursuit of how the ancient author would have applied the texts were he alive today. His model of exegesis locates the singular meaning of the text in the distant past. Yet “the historically situated New Testament documents themselves in fact give no encouragement whatever to the idea that a quest for history ‘behind’ the texts promises access to their ‘real’ meaning and significance.”60 Additionally, Vanhoozer’s historicism amounts to an advocacy for the Christian to work out the significance (as opposed to meaning) of the historical results for the present and apply it to their lives by means of analogy. In essence, God spoke or revealed himself in some way in the past, the biblical authors captured this event, and Christians must apply the significance of that singular, textually frozen meaning.61 The hermeneutical issue with divine speech has to do with our understanding of how God’s voice is heard in Scripture— is it directly, through historical excavation, or is it mediated through the text and by those who came before us?
individual author to the concept of canon and the divine author. D. Christopher Spinks, The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning: Debates on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (T&T Clark, 2007), 92.
Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study, Studies in Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 46–47. Emphasis original.
At this convergence of history and meaning, Adam adds the sharp critique that historical criticism lacks the capacity, for example, to defend against heresy or to assert the divinity of Christ— only Chalcedonian Christianity can do that. Historicist methods have no access to theological claims. Adam, Faithful Interpretation, 37–55; similarly, Paddison criticises Donfried’s historical approach to the theology of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, observing that it is insufficient to draw conclusions about the situation of the original recipients of the letters in purely functional terms and then to attempt to draw analogies between that scenario and the present. Theology has to do, primarily, with the subject matter of the text. It is at this locus that the ancient and the modern meet. Paddison, Theological Hermeneutics, 34–37.
Added to these problems, the model is inadvertently anthropocentric.62 The Christian reader must master the text through historical knowledge and self-application. This domination over biblical texts that historicism advances largely forgets “to make significant sense of them— or to understand why they were written or how they survived.”63 Bockmuehl suggests, “At least for those communities who still feel that the Bible has something to say to them, to isolate the ancient meaning is not enough— even supposing such a thing could be done.”64 Watson follows this point by reminding his readers to consider more seriously the biblical texts’ “role as holy scripture”65 as opposed to simply historical documents, locating the purpose of Scripture in the context of communal worship and as the primary means of divine communication.
This is not a dismissal of historical research or questions, but rather learning “how to bring historical thinking into the recovering of our own questions”66— i.e. perceiving how the Scriptures were answers to historical questions so as to make old questions comprehensible and therefore our own.67 Finally, it is not clear that a strict division between what a text meant and significance is possible. For historical “facts,” notably authorial intent, Pannenberg makes a similar claim about historical criticism and its exlusion of “all transcendent reality.” Wolfhart Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology, ed. George H.
Kehm, trans. Paul J. Achtemeier, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), 39–50. We can extend this to neo-Hirschianism in its implicit relegation of “transcendent reality” (i.e. divine speech) to events in the past.
Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 46. Emphasis added.
Bockmuehl, “A Commentator’s Approach,” 58.
Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective, 4.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, “Reflections on My Philosophical Career,” in The Philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer, by Lewis Hahn (Chicago: Open Court, 1997), 8.
Both Fuchs’ and Vanhoozer’s methods share what Stuhlmacher describes as the first functional characteristic (and difficulty) of historical-criticism: it detaches from “the present the historical phenomena which it examines, and despite all tradition and the history of their effects, describes them at a historical distance.” Stuhlmacher, Historical Criticism, 62.
only take on meaning in the context and process of present interpretation.68 Following this Hirschian model in restricting meaning to a largely semantic notion of meaning or only to more straightforward models of inter-personal communication only postpones the problem. It does not help to use the term ‘significance’ as a catch-all for more complex and more context-relative examples as if these functioned only as subjective connotations, all of the same kind. What meaning is, as Wittgenstein observes, depends on the language-game from within which meaning-currency is drawn.69 For a faith tradition rooted in an expectant eschatological outlook, it is notably ironic that so much effort lies in excavating behind the text rather than looking forward at what the text has projected and continues to project in the Christian community in terms of meaning.70 Historicist interpreters must bear in mind, first of all, that “the literal sense [of a text] is not merely the semantic or linguistic level of meaning alone, but an actualisation of the text for each successive generation of the community of faith based on the linguistic meaning in its canonical context,”71 and, secondly, that “the notion that scripture has only one meaning is a fantastic idea and is certainly not advocated by the biblical writers themselves.”72 I am admittedly sympathetic to two operative concerns in Vanhoozer’s work that compel him and other coservative scholars to rely on Hirsch.
Namely, the “historical” extremes of 1.) “liberal” theology, which takes the facticity of history behind biblical texts, especially the gospels, to be different Ellis, History and Interpretation, 9; for a similar point, see Hengel, Studien zum Urchristentum, 100 (thesis 2.2.3); Parris adds to this critique that discerning authorial intention reduces understanding “to a subjective process that takes place between the creative mind of the author and reproductive mind of the interpreter. This stands in distinction to the meaning of the text that is objective and historically fixed.” Parris, Reception Theory, 171.
Thiselton, New Horizons, 13. Emphasis original.
Paddison, Theological Hermeneutics, 24–25 and 52–54.
Thiselton, “Canon, Community and Theological Construction,” 7.
David C. Steinmetz, “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis,” in The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Stephen E. Fowl, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1997), 31.
than what the biblical authors wrote about certain events, and; 2.) the “limitless play” that makes biblical meaning purely subjective in postmodern/socio-pragmatic hermeneutics. I am not convinced, however, that returning to a historicist hermeneutic offers a viable solution.
Again, this discussion of meaning only raises critical issues with historicist programs, which will receive fuller attention in the description of Rezeptionsästhetik as a model for biblical interpretation. It is sufficient to bring these issues to the foreground to see the ramifications for biblical construal of meaning, the concept of Holy Scripture, and the notion of ongoing Divine address and revelation through Scripture.
IV. Revelation Though Gabler advises a historically objective interpretive enterprise, it does not prevent him from likewise maintaining the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as a reality that Scripture affirms. Likewise, modern, conservative biblical scholars would not deny this revelatory event, nor would pre-modern interpreters. The difference between modern and pre-modern interpreters emerges, however, in their construals of revelation.
The implications of history and meaning in the historicist paradigm result in an interpretation of revelation as a historical occurrence. For this reason, Vanhoozer’s hermeneutical model first severs the ties between the past and present by locating the revelation in the past, and then attempts to reattach the severed parts by applying the significance of the historical meaning to the present situation apart from revelation. The twofold problem with this model is 1.) that it is not clear that such an immediate leap from the past to present application is possible without greater attention to the subject matter of Scripture and a clearer delineation of authority73 and; 2.) it fails to consider God’s freedom in relation to the text in revelatory terms.
The primary issue for the present community of believers with this understanding of revelation is that it confirms that God acted and spoke several thousand years ago, but it is not clear that this is still the case. The concept of analogically “applying” truths resulting from past revelation makes it entirely the rational work of the believer, who has been abandoned to history by God.
Alternatively to Vanhoozer, Morgan proposes an understanding of revelation that has not been forcefully interlocked with historicism in which “revelation ‘happens,’ if at all, at the present moment of disclosure, when the foundational event becomes alive for a believer.”74 This is not a contention that the crucifixion and resurrection must recur indefinitely as long as people place their faith in God, but the advancement of a more dynamic and ongoing understanding of revelation. Barth removes the domination of human reason over revelation by arguing that revelation remains the unconditioned decision of the Divine.75 Is authority located in the “objective” history as reconstructed event, or Scripture’s subject matter, or both? This issue comes sharply to the fore in Wanamaker's commentary on 2 Thessalonians, in which he follows Vanhoozer’s model of theological interpretation. The limited knowledge of the historical situation surrounding the epistle restricts, for Wanamaker, its theological import. Greater attention to the text's subject matter, notably its eschatological directedness in Christ, however, overcomes this basic difficulty. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., Theological Interpretation of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 155–60.
Morgan and Barton, Biblical Interpretation, 405.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Thomas F. Torrance, and A.
T. Mackay, trans. T. H. L. Parker, vol. 1.1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), 133. Bonhoeffer locates the problem with the historicist approach to revelation in determining the relationship between the being of God in historical revelation and the mental act of comprehending the revelation by the interpreter. Bonhoeffer, Act and Being, 27–28. For Bonhoeffer’s understanding of God as “Personality” that accounts for this being, see Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Concering the Christian Idea of God,” Journal of Religion 12, no. 2 (1932): 180–81.
Pannenberg concentrates specifically on the problem of revelation and history, arguing that history is the revelation of God (if only indirectly), so that comprehension of historical The above discussion has served only to raise questions about the results of the historicist hermeneutics of biblical studies they relate to the central place of revelation in Christian faith and theology.76 Namely, it does not realistically allow for continued revelation, and thereby restricts God’s freedom to act and speak. Biblical studies, therefore, requires a way forward that sets aside historicism, can renew “historical” (in a fuller sense) research, considers the function and purpose of the Scriptures, and calls for an interpreter to scrutinise their own understanding of a text critically.
I contend that Jauss’ Rezeptionsästhetik,77 in part, provides a way forward that is able to accomplish the above goals. The foundations of this literary theory lay in the Wirkungsgeschichte of Gadamer, and for this reason a review of Wirkungsgeschichte will receive attention first, followed by Jauss’ modifications of Gadamer.78 In order to fit appropriately in the discussion of NT studies and because of Rezeptionsästhetik’s inherent openness to other disciplines, it receives helpful modifications from theologians, such as Thiselton, Parris, and Rush. Rezeptionsästhetik will provide the essential hermeneutical framework that encourages scholarly responsibility to acknowledge the continuity of the history of interpretation and its openness to the future, in order to prevent the regression to historicism.
2. Rezeptionsästhetik: A Hermeneutical Paradigm for Biblical Studies The historical developments that led to Rezeptionsästhetik could be enumerated endlessly. For the purposes of my work, however, it is sufficient revelation always and only remains partial, and it must be with reference to its telos.
Delimiting the revelation of God to the past, as Osborne and Vanhoozer do, fails to do justice to his revelatory process in history and the eschaton. Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed., Revelation as History (London: Collier-Macmillan Ltd., 1968), 15–17, 131.
Paddison, Theological Hermeneutics, 20–25.
From this point, the terms Rezeptionsästhetik and “reception history” will be used interchangeably, though with the view to the type of “reception history” envisioned by Jauss.
For a dynamic and insightful combination of Gadamer and Jauss for a hermeneutical model, see Parris, Reception Theory.
to begin with the more immediate impulse in Wirkungsgeschichte developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer. Jauss follows a number of Gadamer’s principles
understanding, and meaning, incorporating them into his literary history.
Exploring these points of agreement first will later illuminate how Jauss incorporates, modifies, and distances himself from Gadamer.