Monday, September 19, 2011

Penultimate thoughts on the Licona controversy

The Licona controversy raises a number of issues. I’m going to use this controversy as a launchpad to illustrate some general considerations which apply more broadly than this particular controversy.

1. Methodology

Does his interpretation employ sound hermeneutical methods? In Evangelical theology, that’s generally defined by the grammatico-historical method.

This is a different question than whether his interpretation is sound. A sound methodology can yield an unsound interpretation.

2. Inerrancy

Is his interpretation compatible with inerrancy? The answer depends on two factors: (i) The intent of the author and (ii) the intent of the reader.

In this case, if the author (Matthew) intends the pericope to be factual, and if the reader consciously reinterprets the passage contrary to the author’s intentions, then that’s at odds with inerrancy.

Evangelicalism generally favors authorial meaning whereas some other traditions favor an audiencial or communal meaning (or some designated class thereof). On the latter view, the Bible is “the Church’s book, so the church or community of faith can set aside authorial intent and assign a different meaning.

However, that’s a roundabout way of saying the author was mistaken.

3. Orthodoxy

Is his interpretation orthodox? The answer depends, in part, on what motivates the interpreter.

If he takes the position that the pericope is absurd if literally construed, then that’s unorthodox on two grounds:

i) It betrays a hostility to the supernatural.

ii) It is opposed, in principle, to the resurrection of the body.

4. Authority

Apropos (3), if an interpreter reinterprets the passage because a literal interpretation conflicts with his worldview, then he’s flouting the authority of Scripture–for he refuses to allow the worldview of Scripture to inform or challenge his own worldview. He doesn’t leave himself open to divine correction.

5. Permissibility

Christian institutions frequently promote a particular theological tradition, viz. Baptist, Anabaptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Calvinist, Arminian, Pentecostal. Such institutions are intolerant of any interpretations which contravene their doctrinal distinctives. That establishes the terms of membership (e.g. hiring, firing, ordination, excommunication).

It’s up to each institution to decide the range of permissible variation.

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