More on Fee/Stuart

A very productive comment from my friend Doug has convinced me to post a set of notes I started taking on Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s bestselling little book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 3rd ed: 2003). So, here are the notes, headed by the quotations from the book on which I’m commenting.

15 October 2010 @ home: Notes on Fee & Stuart _How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth_, 3rd ed (Zondervan, 2003) — noting objections for the use of this book by Orthodox Christians.

(I start these notes now after having read through the book into chapter 5 on the OT narratives. Through the course of my reading thus far, I have noted that my reactions have ranged from mildly pleased to slightly objecting (quibbling even) to outright rejection of various statements and even approaches. This body of notes intends to accurately chart these reactions to one of the better-contructed and most popular handbooks on Biblical exegesis (“Bible Study”) in the Protestant worldview. Perhaps, as is my hope, these notes will be useful to myself or to another in the construction of such a work for an Orthodox Christian audience. For this reason, I begin now to read the book again and note things here, with my copy of the book bearing exclamation points in the margin and page numbers for this journal. We’ll see how that goes!)

p. 14:

But we are also concerned about the (sometimes) hidden agenda that suggests that a seminary education or seminary professors are thereby a hindrance to understanding the Bible.

It must be admitted that inasmuch as such seminarians and sem. professors adhere to “historical criticism” they are right to be described as a hindrance to the understanding of the Bible that is valued by the Church and its faithful. If Christ is not the center, then such interpretation is a hindrance.

p. 14:

The great urgency that gave birth to this book is hermeneutics; we wrote especially to help believers wrestle with the questions of application. Many of the urgent problems in the church today are basically struggles with bridging the hermeneutical gap—with moving from the “then and there” of the original text to the “here and now” of our own life settings. But this also means bridging the gap between the scholar and layperson. The concern of the scholar is primarily with what the text meant; the concern of the layperson is usually with what it means. The believing scholar insists that we must have both. Reading the Bible with an eye only to its meaning for us can lead to a great deal of nonsense as well as to every imaginable kind of error—because it lacks controls. Fortunately, most believers are blessed with at least a measure of that most important of all hermeneutical skills—common sense.

Note the focus on “the text”, not on the Church! In a Protestant view, the reader takes the place of the Church, in that the reader is presumed to possess the inherent possibility to approach the text (i.e. Scripture!) alone and with only the meager introduction of some various methods or reading and study. No wonder Protestantism is such a chaos of beliefs! It is the job of the Church to, among other things, provide the framework for every Christian by which all of life, including the reading of the Bible, is comprehended. The Body of Christ, permeated by the Holy Spirit, has had and does have an approach to Scripture that is its own, seen in the Scriptures themselves—that reading which holds our Lor and Saviour Jesus Christ as the central character of all history and of all this present age. And as much as we are members of His Body, we feel nothing otherwise is relevant. All notion of the individual as qualified to interpret the Bible is incorrect and to be avoided and indeed to be warned against.

p. 15:

Our concern, therefore, must be with both dimensions. The believing scholar insists that the biblical texts first of all mean what they meant. That is, we believe that God’s Word for us today is first of all precisely what his Word was to them. Thus we have two tasks: First, our task is to find out what the text originally meant; this is called exegesis. Second, we must learn to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day; we call this second task hermeneutics. In its classical usage, the term “hermeneutics” covers both tasks, but in this book we consistently use it only in this narrower sense. To do both tasks well should be the goal of Bible study

—excellent paragraph.

p. 15 (and passim): “Word” is capitalized and used as a synonym for Scripture. For an Orthodox Christian, however, this is unacceptable—the Word, the Logos, of God is Jesus Christ Himself. HE is the ever-living Word, obviously, not a book. Our reverence for and delight in Scripture lies in its origin as inspired by God the Holy Spirit working in the Prophets and Apostles. We do not hold a view of Scripture that it is some kind of Christian Koran, an inviolate and perfect entity which is the copy of some eternal heavenly exemplar. For us, the Word IS God, and Scripture is a record of those who have in this world worshipped God, expected Him, worked with Him, and served Him in very particular and extraordinary ways, expressing and recording their thoughts and deeds through inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. They lived their lives filled with God’s Spirit—they were inspired to record what they recorded and how they recorded it.

p. 17:

Every so often we meet someone who says with great feeling, “You don’t have to interpret the Bible; just read it and do what it says.” Usually, such a remark reflects the layperson’s protest against the “professional” scholar, pastor, teacher, or Sunday school teacher, who by “interpreting” seems to be taking the Bible away from the common man or woman. It is their way of saying that the Bible is not an obscure book. “After all,” it is argued, “any person with half a brain can read it and understand it. The problem with too many preachers and teachers is that they dig around so much they tend to muddy the waters. What was clear to us when we read it isn’t so clear anymore.”

—the great Protestant objection and failure—every individual becomes Pope, rather than rejecting papacy altogether.

p. 18:

Interpretation that aims as, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to “outclever” the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias).

—like Fee’s own peculiar reading of στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις as glossolalia!

p. 18:

The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text.” And the most important ingredient one brings to this task is enlightened common sense. The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of the text. Correct interpretation, there, brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart.

—excellent paragraph!

—Fee uses “the church” lowercase to describe whom? All Christians? All charismatics and those approved by him/them? For the Orthodox , there is only one Church, capitalized, which is the Body of Christ—the Eastern Orthodox Church. There are those outside her boundaries whom we regularly refer to (perhaps improperly) as “Christians” just as we refer to members of the Church as Christians. But properly speaking they are not two groups of people in an identical category with regard to Christ. Only in Orthodoxy is the fullness of truth held and guarded and preserved. Those outside the Church are adherents of various heresies. However, it is clear that God in His mercy and wisdom works where He will, without consulting or informing us! In view of this, I would opt for a usage of “Orthodox” or “Orthodox Christian” or even “Christian” for an Eastern Orthodox believer, but “other Christians” or “another Christian” or “non-Orthodox Christian(s)” for the others. Otherwise, lowercase “church” will, as is proper, be used to refer to a building of a local church, not to the Church Universal.

p. 18:

The first readon one needs to learn how to interpret is that, whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter. That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to thing that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent. However, we invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text, unintentionally to be sure, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text.

Several points:
1.) Proper exegesis will only be possible for someone who is fully conversant with theology, properly Orthodox theology. Only such a person has the unshakable foundation on which to build a proper reading. And how rare that is! It is why we rely so heavily on those Church Fathers who have left us commentaries, and why we do not arrogate to ouselves the ability to avoid all heresy in the process of constructing a personal reading of Scripture. In fact, there is no such thing as “a personal reading of Scripture”—this does not exist in the Church. One who insists on a personal reading is an heretic, pure and simple. Such a one is also not truly approaching Scripture, but is approaching their idiosyncratic idea of Scripture. Scripture belongs to the Church, through which alone is a correct reading possible.

2.) Nearly all aids to Scripture—lexica, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc—are, from an Orthodox perspective, tainted by the heresies of others. The vast majority of such works are produced by Protestants (either confessionally active ones or Protestants by intellectual heritage, as is “critical scholarship”). A large number are Romen Catholic. While the latter are in some ways sometimes closer to an Orthodox approach, the subtle difference are perhaps more dangerous for their subtlety. The all-pervasive papism of such works is an abomination and grave heresy, not adiaphora. There are undoubtedly a number of resources available from the Orthodox homelands (Greece, Russia, etc), but these are seldom translated into English. They are insufficiently available, what translations there are, or they are of insufficient quality. There number is dwarfed by the Protestant works, however, as they are also outdone in quality and availability. The sheer preponderance of these works lead many Orthodox (innocently ignorant) to believe any number of peculiar things—things which are not Orthodox—heresies. All this through availability! We need excellent tools of our own, motivated not by a “me too!” or a ghetto mentality, but rather as a natural result of our prayerful desire to save our souls and the souls of our fellow Orthodox, providing them a way to learn about Scripture from which every danger has been removed. The wretched “Orthodox Study Bible” does not count, as it was compiled by theological simpletons, with a hybrid translation of heretical origin, printed in a substandard manner on inferior materials. It will not do, and does not count toward the solution of providing excellent Orthodox Scriptural tools except perhaps as an excellent example of what to avoid doing.

—An idea: provide notes on various popular translations which would describe the problems that exist in the translation for Orthodox. E.g., not the mistranslaions in the NIV of all words relating to “tradition” (παραδιδ-). Various of us Orthodox could take a translation or two and then we’d collect our notes on them—the more involved, the better. This would be primarily for the NT, of course. The MT-based OT should be used only secondarily by Orthodox. Our OT is the LXX, for which NETS (not w/o its problems) is the only full translation of recent years widely available and of excellent quality. But, above all, we need our own approved tools!

p. 21:

The authors of this book labor under no illusions that by reading and following our guidelines everyone will finally agree on the “plain meaning,” our meaning! What we do hope to achieve is to heighten the reader’s sensitivity to specific problems inherent in each genre, to help the reader know why different options exist and how to make commonsense judgments, and especially to enable the reader to discern between good and not-so-good interpretations—and to know what makes them one or the other.

Separation of the contents of Scripture into a variety of genres, each w/ its own exegetical method for recommended results, is ingenious, but ultimately too atomizing. Most books are a mixture of genres, and it is as books that Orthodox readers will encounter Scripture, or isolated stories/pericopes, or psalms. Some core assumptions for Orthodox reading of Scripture:
1.) Christ is the centre of the OT as He is of the NT.
2.) Type-antitype or typological reading requires that we properly understand both the type and the antitype, with each illuminating our understanding of the other.
3.) The ways of reading exemplified by the Apostles in the NT and by the Church Fathers in their writings are not only suggestive for our own approach, but are normative. A properly Orthodox reading will not contradict their readings either in method or conclusion. If a reading does, then it’s a failure, an example of individual interpretation and likely heretical, even if unintentionally so.
4.) The 9 Rules of Orthodox Biblical Interpretation promulgated in 1786 by Metropolitan Platon of Moscow, Rector of the Moscow Ecclesiastic Academy:
1.) Open the literal meaning, and where it is dark because of translation or an ambiguity in the language, explain it in such a way that no passage is left which students cannot understand, apart from the very rare texts which are too complex to comprehend.
2.) Interpret spiritual and mysterious meanings, especially in the Old Testament, in those passages where such meanings are transparently concealed. In doing this, one has to be cautious so as not to do this with force. Thus, one ought not to seek out a secret meaning where there is none (or where one is forced, as is noticeable with many interpreters), but where links and the parallel passages follow directly from the words. Interpret spiritual and mysterious readings in agreement with the best interpreters.
3.) For a better understanding of dark passages, find and link the parallel passages, for this will make comprehension easier, since what is said in one place is often said ambiguously and briefly in another place, and despite the similarity between the two texts, the one differs in terms of a more detailed and clearer account.
4.) In interpreting Scripture, do not forget to conclude with the moral teachings flowing from the text. Formulate it with great regard.
5.) In interpreting the books of the Old Testament Prophets, indicate clearly when and in which circumstances their prophecies were fulfilled in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
6.) Where passages of Holy Scripture seem to contradict each other, explain these texts in agreement with published sources that contain general agreement.
7.) Wherever passages are found from which some false conclusions were drawn and which subsequently led to schisms or heresies, one is obliged to clearly indicate the right and true meaning of these passages, and to invalidate the opinions and arguments of heretics and schismatics.
8.) Where passages of Scripture are found to which human wisdom might make objections, such objections must not be hidden. Instead, allow them to be seen in a clear and satisfactory form.
9.) On the part of the teacher, it is critical to consult the Church Fathers, to read scrupulously the best Church teachers and interpretors, to know Church history well, and, above all, to beseech often and diligently the Father of Light to open the eyes toward understanding the wonders in His Law.
(adapted from Alexander Negrov, _Biblical Interptetation in the Russian Orthodox Church_ [Mohr Siebeck, 2008], pp. 61-62).

To be cont’d

And that’s where I ran out of steam, realizing that the way I was commenting, I’d have 500 pages of notes by the time I got through the Fee & Stuart book!

Further autumnal abundance of reviewlets

Moving on now to a more vague category, pre/early Christian Jewish-related stuff.

Richard Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Baker, 2007). This is a weird book, which is not to say that it isn’t good, but it’s certainly odd. I’d say that if the subtitle were switched around to “A Biblical and Archaeological Survey” it would be better descriptive. Hess spends too much time in this book doing footwork supportive of historical reliability for Hebrew Bible narrative. It’s very interesting, and convincing in the manner that it’s laid out, but it seems misplaced in a book on Israelite Religions. What I expected more of, and which I found to be lacking, was an exhaustive and detailed reading of all Biblical data related to religious practices among Israelites as described in the Bible, and in this sense, I would rather have set aside the normative/Prophetic religion (we know, or think we know, enough about that) and priveleged the non-normative religious practices that seem to be decried on every other page of the Prophets. There’s a wealth of material there. But in Hess, individual instances are not dealt with in any satisfying detail, probably so much of the book has been devoted to ephemera, though very interesting ephemera: the aforementioned pro-historical OT chapter, a survey of study of Israelite religion, two chapters on the religions of nearby nations, and then two chapters on early normative Israelite religion. Two thirds of the book is thus taken up with stuff that is basically already known and covered in better detail elsewhere. But the title of the book, Israelite Religions, with its provocative plural intimates that we are to expect some substantial coverage of a variety of religious practices in relatively distinct and coherent systems in existence in the United Monarchy and Two Kingdoms period of Israelite history. But the coverage of nearly all of that is scattered lines in one chapter, insufficient detail to make the presentation interesting, let alone informational. The presentation of the archaeological material here is cursory. The reader is better referred to Ziony Zevit’s The Religions of Ancient Israel (Continuum, 2001), not least for the better discussion and coverage of archaeological material, but for the better contextualization of that material in the Biblical text, which is both broader and deeper than is found in Hess. I see this Hess book as something of an introductory survey book, for which it would serve admirably, despite its distracted focus. Zevit would then be for the more advanced student or the one interested in detail.

Editors Huub van de Sandt and Jürgen K. Zangenberg, Matthew, James, and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings (SBL, 2008). The proceedings of a previous 2003 symposium, limited to discussion of the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache, was edited by van de Sandt in 2005 as Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the Same Jewish-Christian Milieu? (Royal Van Gorcum/Fortress, 2005). The 2007 symposium added the Letter of James to the discussions. The results are a series of very interesting, highly exploratory papers, as is only befitting the beginning stages of such a field of investigation. As many have noticed before, there are distinct resemblances, or reminiscences, or allusions, in and amongst all three of these works, and they’re suggestive of a particular form of early Christianity (namely, perhaps the earliest) which was still more Jewish than not. How precisely to describe those clearly perceived but elusively described connections is what this group is working on. So, while this series of papers may not be conclusive, they are at any rate very interesting for the manner in which we may eavesdrop on the founding of a particular direction of investigation, and watch its methodology unfold. I would also recommend the van de Sandt and David Flusser volume, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (Royal Van Gorcum/Fortress, 2002).

Anthony J. Tomasino, Judaism Before Jesus: The Events and Ideas that Shaped the New Testament World (InterVarsity Press, 2003). A couple of years ago a friend of mine at church asked me for a good introduction to the “intertestamental period.” So I bought myself a little stack of such books, and go through one now and again. (Two of that stack that I’ve discussed before are Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, and the Vermes, et al., reworking of Schürer’s The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ [scroll down to the next-to-last paragraph on that page]). I have yet to find one that I would recommend wholeheartedly, but this book by Tomasino comes close. He manages to squeeze in several hundred years of history, much of which is deliciously tempting to follow into other areas of research of course, a temptation which rightly and admirably avoids in this introductory level book. There are a few of those (to me, annoying) text boxes where various subjects are dealt a cursory swipe in coverage, and a few graphics, but the book is pretty solidly text-filled. It’s a straightforward account, avoiding controversy, again, perfectly introductory. I would quibble with the “Ideas” in the subtitle. Most of the book is dealing merely with events, and any in-depth coverage of “ideas” is lacking. Events can shape things pretty well on their own, even without the anachronistic imposition of ideology behind their inspiration.

George Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah (Fortress, second ed.: 2005). The book includes a CD with a complete Logos version of the book, including a number of old photos of various sites taken decades ago by Nickelsburg. These kinds of survey books are generally better as reference than as reading material. That being said, Nickelsburg has made his survey readable by not going overboard on nitpicky details, and by keeping a lively and well-informed active voice. It helps that this is the most recent of these survey works for this body of work, and so incorporates the findings of the last several decades, various aspects of which Nickelsburg has had a personal hand in. The book on my shelf that this most effectively updates as a compendium of descriptions of works of the period is ed. Michael Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus (Van Gorcum/Fortress, 1984). Even the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Yale, 1992) is getting a bit long in the tooth, as good as it is. But it’s nice to have everything in one volume, and very nice to have it in an electronic version included gratis with the book. Every book should have such, whether Logos or simply epub format (which I prefer) or something else. One could be at, say, a bar, and simply have to know the current discussion of the date and provenance of the Parables of Enoch (I’ve had stranger conversations at my local watering hole). It’s a nice thing to be able to pull up Nickelsburg on the iPhone and find whatever. Or to just blow some battery juice reading Nickelsburg under a tree on a nice day. Let that be the start of a trend.

Now for the two books I’m in the midst of reading right now, for which I’ll give simply short, preliminary impressions.

Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Eerdmans, 2009). In the comments to the first post of these autumnal reviewlets, Doug noted that he found Campbell “brilliant and fresh.” I entirely agree. I would also add, conscientious, concerned, thoughtful, intelligent, skilled, and comprehensive. It’s truly an astonishing amount of work that Campbell put into this book. It is well worth it. I’m about one third of the way through it, and have benefited greatly from his overviews of Justification theory (something that as a Catholic and Orthodox Christian, I’d never encountered). I tend to shy away from reading books like this, primarily because it seems books on Paul’s theology and work in particular seem to be less detached than those on the Gospels or other NT writings. Much scholarship on Paul therefore tends to hew more closely to one or another party line (=denominational theology) than is interesting or comfortable for me to explore. But one of the great examples of someone who managed to thrill me in not doing so was J. Louis Martyn in his Anchor Bible volume on Galatians, which was (pardon the pun) revelatory. And of course, Campbell rates Martyn well in this book, which is not surprising, as the focus on the apocalyptic Christ in the life of the believer is shared between the two. Already I sense that Campbell is going in a direction which will fit well not only with Martyn, but with Orthodox views on theosis, as well. So, we shall see. In any case, this is a very interesting and well-written book, one that I hope becomes influential in a degree relative to its heft.

Last but not least is Fr Nikolaos Loudovikos, Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor’s Eschatological Ontology of Being as Dialogical Reciprocity (Holy Cross, 2010). Fr Loudovikos, a student of Metr John Zizioulas, presents corrections to the theological writing of the latter (particularly as exemplified in Being as Communion) via the theology of St Maximus the Confessor, one of the most brilliant and therefore difficult and therefore avoided of the Church Fathers. There is system to St Maximus, and Fr Nikolaos draws it forth. I’m only about halfway through this one, and he has yet to substantially interact with Zizioulas outside of the notes yet, but already it’s been a fascinating ride through the writings of St Maximus. Very interesting! At times it’s a bit demanding, as Fr Loudovikos is no slouch (as I am) in terms of modern NW European philosophy, some familiarity with such will be helpful (at least I have that!). His interaction with such is concise, however, so it requires close, careful reading. It will be the more rewarding for that.