After Pentecost: Language and Biblical Interpretation

Overview

"There is always some view of language built into biblical interpretation. If we are to read Scripture to hear God’s address it is vital that we attend to current debates about language and become critically conscious in this respect."
Craig Bartholomew

After Pentecost is the second volume from the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar. This annual gathering of Christian scholars from various disciplines was established in 1998 and aims to reassess the discipline of biblical ...

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Overview

"There is always some view of language built into biblical interpretation. If we are to read Scripture to hear God’s address it is vital that we attend to current debates about language and become critically conscious in this respect."
Craig Bartholomew

After Pentecost is the second volume from the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar. This annual gathering of Christian scholars from various disciplines was established in 1998 and aims to reassess the discipline of biblical studies from the foundations up and forge creative new ways for reopening the Bible in our cultures.

The Seminar was aware from the outset that any renewal of biblical interpretation would have to attend to the issue of language. In this rich and creative volume the importance of linguistic issues for biblical interpretation is analyzed, the challenge of postmodernism is explored, and some of the most creative recent developments in philosophy and theology of language are assessed and updated for biblical interpretation.

CONTRIBULTORS INCLUDE:

Mary Hesse
Ray Van Leeuwen
Anthony Thiselton
Kevin Vanhoozer
Nicholas Wolterstorff

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Craig Bartholomew (MA, Potchefstroom University, Ph D, Bristol University) is professor of philosophy and biblical studies at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. He is the author of Reading Ecclesiastes: Old Testament Exegesis and Hermeneutical Theory. He has also edited In the Fields of the Lord: A Calvin Served Reader and co-edited Christ and Consumerism: A Critical Analysis of the Spirit of the Age. He is the series editor for the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series.

Colin Greene is head of theology and public policy at the British and Foreign Bible Society and visiting professor of systematic and philosophical theology at Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Christology and Atonement in Historical Context and the forthcoming Making Out the Horizons: Christ in Cultural Perspective.

Karl Möller is lecturer in theology and religious studies at St. Martin's College, Lancaster, and senior tutor at the Carlisle and Blackburn Diocesan Training Institute. He is the author of A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of Persuasion in the Book of Amos. He has also co-edited Renewing Biblical Interpretation and After Pentecost: Language and Biblical Interpretation.

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Read an Excerpt

From Speech Acts to Scripture Acts

The Covenant of Discourse and the Discourse of the Covenant Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Introduction: Language in Jerusalem and Athens

A word is dead

When it is said

Some say.

I say it just

Begins to live

That day.

Emily Dickinson

'Know thyself'. Socrates' demand that philosophers reflect on what it is to be human has been taken up by many in other disciplines as well. It is possible to study the functions of humans considered as biological organisms (physiology) as well as human emotional and mental dysfunctions (psychology); the actions of individuals in the past (history) as well as the behavior of various human groups (sociology). The study of human language is similarly interdisciplinary. It can be studied by linguists, cognitive psychologists, historians, logicians, philosophers - and, yes, theologians. If the third-century theologian Tertullian was correct in defining a 'person' as a being who speaks and acts (which is not so very far from what a philosopher, Peter Strawson, would say about individuals some seventeen hundred years later), then it may well be that we have to treat both topics - language and humanity - together. To study language, then, is to touch on issues involving a whole world and life view. Some approaches to the study of language's origin and purpose, for example, presuppose that human existence and behavior is best explained in terms of Darwinian evolution. In their highly regarded work on linguistic relevance, for instance, Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson suggest that human cognition is a biological function whose mechanisms result from a process of natural selection: 'Human beings are efficient information-processing devices'.

For Sperber and Wilson, language is essentially a cognitive rather than communicative tool that enables an organism (or device) with memory to process information.

On the other hand, George Steiner claims, on the basis of his experience of transcendence in literature, that 'God underwrites language'.

Such disparate analyses should give philosophers pause. They also raise the question as to whether Christians should not approach the study of language from an explicitly Christian point of view. Such, however, is the intent of the present article: to reflect on language from out of the convictions of Christian faith.

Craig Bartholomew has recently called for those interested in the theological interpretation of Scripture to clarify just how the relation of philosophy to theology bears on biblical study.

Here we probably do not want to follow Tertullian's suggestion, stated in the form of a rhetorical question, that Jerusalem (theology) has nothing to do with Athens (philosophy). We would do better to follow Alvin Plantinga's advice to Christian philosophers not to let others - people with non-Christian world-views - set the agenda, but to pursue their own research programs. What is needed, he says, is 'less accommodation to current fashion and more Christian self-confidence'.

Indeed.

Why should Christian faith be excluded from the search for understanding when other faiths - including modernity's faith in instrumental reason, empiricism and naturalism - are not?

Christian theology takes faith in the revelation of Jesus Christ, attested in the Scriptures, as its ultimate criterion for judging what is true, good and beautiful. While not at all turning our back on the results, assured or not, of modern learning, it is important to acknowledge that all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, come to the data with interpretive frameworks already in place. The present essay approaches the 'data' concerning language and interpretation with an interpretive framework largely structured by theological concepts. Instead of excluding considerations of Christian doctrine from my inquiry, I intend to make explicit use of them. This is not to turn one's back on philosophy, but to let human reason be guided and corrected by Christian doctrine, and by the language and literature of Scripture itself. Only by first conducting 'theological investigations' of language and literature in general can we then come to discuss, with philosophy, the task of interpreting Scripture.

The most fruitful recent development for the dialogue about language between philosophy and theology is undoubtedly the emphasis on language as a species of human action: speech acts. Examining what people do with language represents a fascinating case study for the broader dialogue between philosophy and theology. Of course, the idea that humans do things in speaking was well known to the very earliest biblical authors, even without the analytic concepts of speech-act philosophy.

The present essay evaluates the extent to which speech-act philosophy approximates and contributes to what theologians want to say about language. This is not to say that speech-act categories will dominate the discussion. On the contrary, we will see that Christian convictions concerning, say, divine authorship, the canon and the covenant, will lead us to both modify and intensify the typical speech-act analysis. My goal is to let the 'discourse of the covenant' (e.g., Scripture) inform and transform our understanding of the 'covenant of discourse' (e.g., ordinary language and literature).

The first, and longer, part of the chapter explores what I shall call the 'covenant of discourse': a philosophy and theology of communication. My hope is to achieve a certain consensus about language and understanding based on a strategic appropriation of certain philosophical concepts that will be amenable to Christian biblical scholars and theologians.

In the second part of the chapter, I turn to the 'discourse of the covenant', that is, to a consideration of the Bible as written communication. Dealing with the canon - a complex, intertextual communicative act - will lead us to modify and develop our understanding of how biblical language works in ways that again go beyond typical speech-act theory. However, the benefit of using speech-act categories to describe the divine discourse in Scripture will also become apparent. Throughout the essay I examine not only what speech acts are, but the implications for looking at language as a form of human action as well, particularly for the sake of interpretation. Here too the leading theme of covenant proves helpful, insofar as interpretation is largely a matter of fulfilling one's covenantal obligation towards the communicative agents, canonical or not, who address us.

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Table of Contents

Contributors xiii
Abbreviations xvii
The Artists xix
Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew xxi
1. From Speech Acts to Scripture Acts: The 1
Covenant of Discourse and the Discourse of
Covenant
Kevin J. Vanhoozer
Introduction: Language in Jerusalem and Athens 1
The Covenant of Discourse: Speech Acts 4
The Discourse of Covenant: Canonical Action 31
Conclusion: The Covenant Community 44
Summary of Theses 46
2. Ricoeur, Speech-act Theory, and the Gospels 50
as History
Dan R. Stiver
The Gospels between History and Fiction 52
Ricoeur’s Interweaving of History and Fiction 55
Speech-act Theory’s Integration of History and Fiction 62
An Interweaving of Ricoeur and Austin 67
3. The Promise of Speech-act Theory for 73
Biblical Interpretation
Nicholas Wolterstorff
Where We Are Now in Theory of Interpretation 73
The Promise of Authorial-Discourse Interpretation for Biblical 82
Interpretation
Interpreting Scripture for Divine Discourse is ‘Dogmatic’ 85
Interpretation
Objections and Answers to Objections 87
Should We Practice Divine-Discourse Interpretation? 89
4. How to Be a Postmodernist and Remain a 91
Christian: A Responce to Nicholas Wolterstorff
Mary Hesse
5. ‘Behind’ and ‘In Front Of’ the Text: Language, 97
Reference and Indeterminacy
Anthony C. Thiselton
The Metaphorical Force of ‘Behind’ and ‘In Front Of ’ in 97
Hermeneutics
Why is there Dissatisfaction with Representational or Referential 102
Accounts of Texts and Language?
Is there Still Value in Drawing Distinctions between Worlds 107
‘Behind’ the Text and ‘In Front Of ’ the Text?
The Conflict between Consumerist Hermeneutics and Both 111
Theism and Reasonableness: Two Sides of the Case?
Concluding Postscript 116
6. A ‘Polite’ Response to Anthony Thiselton 121
William Olhausen
Language, Meaning and Theology 122
Politeness 125
Biblical Interpretation and the Holy Spirit 127
Conclusion 129
7. Before Babel and After Pentecost: Language, 131
Literature and Biblical Interpretation
Craig G. Bartholomew
Summary of Argument 131
Introduction 132
Origins and Development of the Modern and Late Modern 132
Debate about Language
Relevance of this Debate to Biblical Interpretation 134
Derrida, Language and Biblical Interpretation 139
Postmodernism as Confronting Us with Our Ultimate or Religious 142
Orientations Towards the World and Language
Scripture and Language 147
Theology and Language, and Biblical Interpretation 151
Conclusion 163
8. Language at the Frontiers of Language 171
Gregory J. Laughery
Introduction 171
Religious Language versus Other Types of Language 173
Should Scripture be Read as any Other Book or in a Special Manner? 183
Conclusion 189
9. ‘Starting a Rockslide’ - Deconstructing History 195
and Language via Christological Detonators
Colin J.D. Greene
Introduction 195
Apocalyptic and the Metaphor of the Kingdom of God 196
The Meaning of Apocalyptic and Eschatology within Recent 198
Biblical Scholarship
Jesus, Apocalyptic and the Kingdom of God 201
The Early Christian Communities, Apocalyptic and the Kingdom 205
of God
Further Implications for the Philosophy of History 209
Further Implications for the Philosophy of Language 215
10. Words of Power: Biblical Language and 224
Literary Criticism with Reference to Stephen
Prickett’s Words and the Word and Mark 1:21-28
Stephen I. Wright
The Transparent Text? 225
Religious and Poetic Language 229
The Prophet and the Poet 231
‘Disconfirmation’ and Revelation 234
Metaphor and Reality 236
11. Reviving the Power of Biblical Language: 241
The Bible, Literature and Literary Language
Brian D. Ingraffia and Todd E. Pickett
General and Special Hermeneutics in Vanhoozer and Ricoeur 243
(Ingraffia)
Informing and Reforming the Scriptural Imagination: The Guest 248
in Parable and Poetry (Pickett)
Reforming or Deforming the Scriptural Imagination 259
12. Naming the Father: The Teaching Authority 263
of Jesus and Contemporary Debate
David L. Jeffrey
Religious Language versus Other Types of Language 173
Should Scripture be Read as any Other

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First Chapter

From Speech Acts to Scripture Acts
The Covenant of Discourse and the Discourse of the Covenant Kevin J. Vanhoozer
Introduction: Language in Jerusalem and Athens
A word is dead
When it is said
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.
Emily Dickinson
'Know thyself '. Socrates' demand that philosophers reflect on what it is to be human has been taken up by many in other disciplines as well. It is possible to study the functions of humans considered as biological organisms (physiology) as well as human emotional and mental dysfunctions (psychology); the actions of individuals in the past (history) as well as the behavior of various human groups (sociology). The study of human language is similarly interdisciplinary. It can be studied by linguists, cognitive psychologists, historians, logicians, philosophers -- and, yes, theologians. If the third-century theologian Tertullian was correct in defining a 'person' as a being who speaks and acts (which is not so very far from what a philosopher, Peter Strawson, would say about individuals some seventeen hundred years later), then it may well be that we have to treat both topics -- language and humanity -- together. To study language, then, is to touch on issues involving a whole world and life view. Some approaches to the study of language's origin and purpose, for example, presuppose that human existence and behavior is best explained in terms of Darwinian evolution. In their highly regarded work on linguistic relevance, for instance, Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson suggest that human cognition is a biological function whose mechanisms result from a process of natural selection: 'Human beings are efficient information-processing devices'.
For Sperber and Wilson, language is essentially a cognitive rather than communicative tool that enables an organism (or device) with memory to process information.
On the other hand, George Steiner claims, on the basis of his experience of transcendence in literature, that 'God underwrites language'.
Such disparate analyses should give philosophers pause. They also raise the question as to whether Christians should not approach the study of language from an explicitly Christian point of view. Such, however, is the intent of the present article: to reflect on language from out of the convictions of Christian faith.
Craig Bartholomew has recently called for those interested in the theological interpretation of Scripture to clarify just how the relation of philosophy to theology bears on biblical study.
Here we probably do not want to follow Tertullian's suggestion, stated in the form of a rhetorical question, that Jerusalem (theology) has nothing to do with Athens (philosophy). We would do better to follow Alvin Plantinga's advice to Christian philosophers not to let others -- people with non-Christian world-views -- set the agenda, but to pursue their own research programs. What is needed, he says, is 'less accommodation to current fashion and more Christian self-confidence'.
Indeed.
Why should Christian faith be excluded from the search for understanding when other faiths -- including modernity's faith in instrumental reason, empiricism and naturalism -- are not?
Christian theology takes faith in the revelation of Jesus Christ, attested in the Scriptures, as its ultimate criterion for judging what is true, good and beautiful. While not at all turning our back on the results, assured or not, of modern learning, it is important to acknowledge that all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, come to the data with interpretive frameworks already in place. The present essay approaches the 'data' concerning language and interpretation with an interpretive framework largely structured by theological concepts. Instead of excluding considerations of Christian doctrine from my inquiry, I intend to make explicit use of them. This is not to turn one's back on philosophy, but to let human reason be guided and corrected by Christian doctrine, and by the language and literature of Scripture itself. Only by first conducting 'theological investigations' of language and literature in general can we then come to discuss, with philosophy, the task of interpreting Scripture.
The most fruitful recent development for the dialogue about language between philosophy and theology is undoubtedly the emphasis on language as a species of human action: speech acts. Examining what people do with language represents a fascinating case study for the broader dialogue between philosophy and theology. Of course, the idea that humans do things in speaking was well known to the very earliest biblical authors, even without the analytic concepts of speech-act philosophy.
The present essay evaluates the extent to which speech-act philosophy approximates and contributes to what theologians want to say about language. This is not to say that speech-act categories will dominate the discussion. On the contrary, we will see that Christian convictions concerning, say, divine authorship, the canon and the covenant, will lead us to both modify and intensify the typical speech-act analysis. My goal is to let the 'discourse of the covenant' (e.g., Scripture) inform and transform our understanding of the 'covenant of discourse' (e.g., ordinary language and literature).
The first, and longer, part of the chapter explores what I shall call the 'covenant of discourse': a philosophy and theology of communication. My hope is to achieve a certain consensus about language and understanding based on a strategic appropriation of certain philosophical concepts that will be amenable to Christian biblical scholars and theologians.
In the second part of the chapter, I turn to the 'discourse of the covenant', that is, to a consideration of the Bible as written communication. Dealing with the canon -- a complex, intertextual communicative act -- will lead us to modify and develop our understanding of how biblical language works in ways that again go beyond typical speech-act theory. However, the benefit of using speech-act categories to describe the divine discourse in Scripture will also become apparent. Throughout the essay I examine not only what speech acts are, but the implications for looking at language as a form of human action as well, particularly for the sake of interpretation. Here too the leading theme of covenant proves helpful, insofar as interpretation is largely a matter of fulfilling one's covenantal obligation towards the communicative agents, canonical or not, who address us.
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