Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Letting Scripture speak for itself

Because I was eager to submit to the Bible itself, whatever I found there, more than any presupposed theology about the way God should have inspired it, I simply adjusted my understanding of inspiration to fit what I found there. I want to submit to whatever God’s Word says, not impose a philosophic or theological straitjacket on it. That was because I believed that the Bible, rather than any inherited theology about the Bible, should direct our beliefs.

Yes, it sounds good to say we shouldn't impose our expectations on Scripture but let it speak for itself. Who doesn't say that? That's a fine ideal to aspire to. 

Problem is, people who say that are often oblivious to the presuppositions they bring to Scripture and the inferences they draw. They lack the critical detachment to realize that they're not just letting Scripture speak for itself. 

There's nothing wrong with bringing assumptions to the Bible. That's unavoidable. The Bible is part of the world we live in.

But scholars need to recognize and examine their operating assumptions. Unconscious presuppositions are treacherous. 

Peter Enns says we should just let the Bible speak for itself, and when we do, the Bible doesn't behave like an inerrant book. But Enns has preconceptions of what an inerrant Bible ought to say. Preconceived notions of what evidence should survive if these events actually happened. In reality, his position is quite naive. 

1 comment:

  1. One thing I often notice, and I'm afraid Keener is not immune to this tendency, is that stern injunctions to other people to let Scripture speak for itself are often followed by actual practice on the part of the interpreter that resists harmonization. Harmonization is viewed as arising from an a priori theological commitment rather than being normal, good historical practice that is *precisely* the way in which we let Scripture speak for itself. Making matters even worse, such interpreters will too often create weird "tensions" out of extremely weak arguments. (I surveyed some of these in a recent post at W4 on Keener's alleged incidents where John supposedly "narrates theologically.") In other words, not only does their version of supposedly "letting Scripture speak for itself" not involve the normal use of the historical imagination in harmonizing places where there is some prima facie tension between two accounts, it also involves creating utterly phony tensions where letting the document speak for itself would not show even a prima facie problem in the first place! Hence, Jesus' dipping the sop in the bowl and handing it to Judas is artificially contrasted with his saying (in Matthew) that the person who will betray him is one who dips into the bowl with him. There is no tension here at all. It's not as though only one thing could happen in the entire evening involving Judas, a bowl, and dipping! And so on, through many other examples.

    This is about as far as possible from letting the Scripture speak for itself. It's wringing problems out of the text where no problems even exist and then hypothesizing some kind of partially ahistorical narration to solve the artificially created "conflicts."

    Unfortunately, this trope that literary device theorists are letting the Scripture speak for itself or studying it "from the bottom up" has becoming nothing but a kind of pointless put-down of those who disagrees with their often highly contrived and implausible interpretations. Such a person, it is implied, must be applying an artificial and a priori rubric to Scripture rather than taking it as he finds it. It is far more arguable that the shoe is on the other foot.