Full Text for Exodus- Volume 17 - Why can't we ever agree on what the Bible says? Why do the different means of interpreting scripture find such acceptance? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY EDUCATION NETWORK EXODUS DR. DAVID ADAMS #17 Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. 10 E. 22nd Street Suite 304 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *** >> When I hear and read stuff that people say about the Bible, I sometimes wonder where they got that. There seems to be so many different ways of reading the Bible. Why can't we ever agree on what the Bible says? Why do the different means of interpreting scripture find such acceptance? >> Nick, I think that one of the things that's often difficult for us is to realize that people have not always read the Bible the way we read it today. We are so accustomed to reading the Bible a certain way that we have inherited in the church today in the modern era that it's difficult for us to realize that for most of the history of Christianity, the Bible has not been read the way that we read it today. Perhaps the thing to do is to step back and do something of an overview of the different ways that the Bible has been read up to the modern period. And then talk about some of the modern developments that have led to the Bible. And especially the Pentateuch in books like Genesis and Exodus to have been read the way that they are read today. So let's back up to the time of the early church and the time that the Bible was first written. I don't want to talk too much about Jewish interpretation. But you should be aware of the term ***midraush. Midraush is the most common method of Jewish interpretation in the early rabbis. And it's important because it affects the way that the New Testament reads and uses the Old Testament. What midraush tends to do -- and here I'm going to simplify just a little bit. Actually not simplify so much as smooth over the differences. There are a lot of varieties of things that are called midraush. But they have a couple of features in common. The first feature that midraush has in common is it tends to read the Bible as if it's flat. That is to say without recognizing any sense of historical development. As if it were all handed down in one time and in one place and it's all the same kind of literature. So midraush doesn't recognize different kinds of literature and having different questions that need to be asked of different kinds of literature. And it doesn't recognize the fact that say Abraham didn't know everything that Isaiah knew, that God had revealed more about himself over time between Abraham and Moses and Moses, you know, and Samuel and then Samuel and Isaiah or whatever. And so the tendency of midraush is to simply take a verse or a word, even a single word, and take it out of its context and use it without any real reference to its context. Usually connecting it with the same word or another word somewhere else. And bringing these two different passages together and treating them as if they are one text, one passage. And so we see this in early rabbinical literature all the time. They will take a passage from Genesis and a passage from Isaiah and read them almost as if they are two verses in a row and interpret them in the same way. And the New Testament does the same thing. There are many examples in the New Testament of quotations that are actually combinations of two different verses in the Old Testament that are simply put together by way of quotation. And this way of reading the Bible seems very foreign to us as moderns. And it sometimes seems very arbitrary. What principle guides the reader so he knows to connect it with this word, with that word or this verse or with that verse? There doesn't seem to be any discernible controlling principle or method. And the reason is is that in midraush, there's not any controlling method. It's almost -- I don't want to sound too degrading or too negative. But it's almost a kind of word association. You know, a particular word reminds me of another particular word. And therefore, I just put them together without any inherent connection between them. The New Testament does that except that Christ becomes the principle that is used to connect the verses. So it's -- the New Testament doesn't have the kind of arbitrary feel to it that some of the rabbinical literature does because there is a -- what we might call a hermeneutical key that the New Testament writers use as they read the Old Testament to sort of associate words and concepts with one another. And that is the Messiah, the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. So the New Testament approach is very similar in some respects to midraush with the exception that Christ is the hermeneutical key that guides the New Testament writers as they do this putting together, assembling of the text. Well, this approach to the text didn't last all that long in the early church. And the reason is because as the church moved from the Jewish church to the Gentile church, other factors came into play to affect the way that the Bible was read. And those factors were largely influences of Greek philosophy and Greek rhetoric along the way. And so in the early Christian church, there -- in the first couple of centuries, there developed two different but somewhat compatible ways of interpreting the Bible. And we usually define these in terms of the center where they were taught almost like they are different methods from different seminaries or something like that. It wasn't exactly that way. But it's a helpful organizing principle for us. So we sometimes talk about the Alexandrian method and the Antiochian method. That is the method from Alexander in Egypt and from Antioch in Syria. And we'll use that here. I just want to make sure you understand that, again, we're simplifying the picture a little bit just to help us understand the basics here. The Alexandrian school used an approach that was called in Greek to methodikan, t o m e t h o d i k a n. This approach emphasized getting at the spiritual meaning of the text or the theoretical meaning of the text. It was looking for not so much at interpreting the words themselves as the ideas behind the words. It was heavily influenced by the Greek philosopher Plato and those who were in turn influenced by him. And some of the early Christian writers like ***Origin and Clement met who developed this approach really followed it into the -- what was a later Jewish approach that was also influenced by Plato that we today call allegory. You know, looking for the spiritual or hidden meaning behind the text. This -- in philosophy, this meaning behind the text corresponds to the platonic ideal, this sort of abstract concept that exists in the realm of ideas instead of in the realm of nature. And so following Origin -- Origin taught in Alexandria. And this -- what we might call Alexandrian school or Alexandrian approach led over time to embrace the approach today that we call allegory. Looking for hidden spiritual or metaphysical meaning in the text that does not depend upon the real history or grammar or literature of the text itself. So that was the emphasis in Alexandria. The emphasis in Antioch wasn't so much on the philosophical approach at getting at the hidden meaning behind the text. But rather, their approach was more influenced by rhetoric and more by Aristotle than Plato. So their method came to be called to historikon. T o, the, h i s t o r i k o n. So the historical method we might say today. This approach focused on the historical, the rhetorical and the grammatical aspects of the text. It was more concerned with what the text said and how you move particularly from the text to the moral lessons for life that you could draw from the text. And so it was kind of more located, if you will, in the here and now and more located in the text itself than -- while the Alexandrian method is more located kind of off in heaven as it were and with the spiritual ideas behind the text. So early writers in the Antiochian school like Theodorid or ***Cristisdom was primarily concerned with how you draw lessons from the text and apply it to the lives of people today. It's not entirely free of allegory. You do find allegory or things similar to allegory within this approach. But they are much more restrained. And they are much less central to the method itself. Now, we shouldn't give the impression that these two approaches were sort of absolutely opposite of one another. Sometimes you will find people from Antioch using the allegorical approach and sometimes people from Alexandria using the more rhetorical approach. That's characteristic of Antioch. So this is not a hard and fast separation. There is leakage between the two methods. But it's more a matter of emphasis. Both of these contributed something in the end to what becomes medieval exegesis. And for a time even in the western part of the church, the Alexandrian method, the more allegorical approach, tended to become the dominant one. And that was because over time the Greek philosopher Plato became the more influential of the Greek philosophers in the early church and in western society. And because of that, the method of interpreting the Bible that was more sort of in tune with platonic philosophy also became the dominant method. And so we find writers in the first few centuries of the church drifting more and more into this kind of allegorical approach as time goes on. Now, there was in the end kind of a move away from that, too. So that by the fifth century you get writers like Jerome, who because he went to Palestine and had more contact with the Jewish tradition, he was one of the few people in the early church who spoke -- who knew Hebrew. And was also then influenced more by the Antiochian approach, which is closer to the Jewish midraush approach. And so there were people like Jerome who kind of rejected the Alexandrian approach all together. There were other people like St. Augustine who particularly in the early part of his career follows a more Alexandrian approach and toward the latter part of his career kind of moves away from it closer in the direction of a more Antiochian approach. So again, we shouldn't give the impression that this was sort of a hard and fast either/or that was always maintained throughout the history of the church. And in the end the two methods, as I said, each contributed something to the dominant method that came to be used over the centuries of the Middle Ages. And this was a kind of allegorical method. It was primary allegorical but it really looked for four different levels of meaning in the text. And I don't want to again go into tremendous detail here. But it's useful that we should have some basic understanding of this. The first level of meaning that they looked for was the literal level. This was the basic literary, historical, grammatical meaning of the text. They certainly understood grammar. They understood history. They understood literature. They weren't naive about these things. And they understood that this grammatical, historical, rhetorical literary meaning was there in the text. That was the starting point for them. And the first level of meaning was the literary or literal level. The second level of meaning was the spiritual or allegorical meaning. Here we can see the influence of Alexandria coming in. We can see the influence of Antioch in the first of those. But now in the spiritual or allegorical meaning we sort of recognize the literal historical and then ask ourselves the question: What's the spiritual truth being communicated by this text? And this can often have nothing to do with the literal meaning of the text. It can be completely different and very difficult for us to see, again, how they got there from here in some cases. So this was, you know, again, the development of the Alexandrian school looking for symbols in the text where the words themselves become almost symbols for a hidden reality behind the text. And the interpreter is looking for that hidden reality behind the text not just for the basic meaning of the words itself, but there were two other levels of meaning, as well. One was the -- what came to be called the tropological. This is a long word. I'll spell it for you. It's t r o p o l o g i c a l. The tropological meaning. The tropological sense or meaning of the text was really the moral lesson that was to be drawn from the text. This was the ethical principle or the moral principle. This is what this text tells me about how I should live. And here again, we see the Antiochian concern coming into the text. And finally, the last level of meaning was known as the anagogical, a n a g o g i c a l -- the anagogical meaning. The anagogical meaning, what we might today call the eschatological meaning. This highlighted those elements in the text that pointed to some future fulfillment. And this was especially important for the church in the First Century because this was a time where Christians were often suffering persecution or were outcasts from society. And their hope and focus was on the fact that they could endure their suffering in life here because of the future hope that they have. And so highlighting that future hope in the text became an important part of Christians knowing how to live in the world. And the anagogical meaning of the text was an important one to them. Now, we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that because they had these four levels, they found these four levels in every text. Every text would have a literal meaning. And most texts would have a spiritual or allegorical meaning. Some would have a tropological meaning. And some would have an anagogical meaning or an anagogical sense. A few texts might have all four. But it wasn't that -- they didn't think that all four levels were all found in every text. And different authors would tend to emphasize one over the other. So you might find an author who was more Antiochian and emphasized the literal meaning and the tropological meaning or another author who emphasized the allegorical meaning and hardly mentioned any of the others at all. So in talking about this four-fold sense, we need to be careful not to oversimplify it to the point of distorting the picture. But this is the way the text was interpreted in the Middle Ages. Now, there are some strengths and weaknesses to this that we should be aware of. The strengths are that at least the Antiochian approach and the literal meaning of the text does affirm the historical meaning of the text. It recognizes that there is a historical meaning to the text. And another strength is that it provides the way to reconcile apparently contradictory texts. In his book on biblical interpretation, St. Augustine makes this point very clearly. He says that when biblical texts seem to disagree with one another, this is a sign from God that you should use allegory to interpret the text. Because it's obviously that you can't interpret it literally because that would lead to a contradiction. Therefore, you must interpret it allegorically. And so the allegorical approach helped them to reconcile what appeared to be contradictions. Now, some of the things that appeared to them to be contradictions we know today aren't because we know a lot more about the ancient world and about Hebrew language and so forth than they did. So some of those contradictions aren't really contradictions. But that's the way they handled them in their day. They also had a strength in that it provided a way to get to Christ in the text. You know, if you couldn't find any other way to get to Christ in the text, you could always allegorize the text. So every text becomes messianic just by way of allegory. So in a sense it allowed them to preach Christ from any text. And that is a strength. They could also get almost any doctrine of the church out of almost any text by allegorizing it. So in a -- in the sense that it makes the text relevant for preaching Christ and preaching the teachings of the church, I guess we would call that a strength, as well. Another strength is that it encouraged interpreters to find relevance in the text for the life of the people in their day. The looking for a tropological or moral or an anagogical sense, you know, helped the interpreter keep his focus on the fact that what we're doing here is trying to find meaning that helped people live their lives, as well. And so that was a valuable contribution. And of course, the last strength of this approach is that because it recognized an anagogical sense, it did preserve a place for eschatology. So that, you know, even when the church came to realize that Christ wasn't necessarily going to return today or tomorrow, they didn't lose sight of the eschatological hope because they were aware of the anagogical sense of the text. But there are some weaknesses to this approach, as well. It generally disregarded or at least deemphasized the historical and literary context. Context became not very important because the -- the point was to in a sense get beyond the context to the meanings -- or other levels of meaning hidden in the text. The idea that the intent of the author mattered is almost completely lost. They weren't really concerned with what the author intended to say or what the author intended to mean. Because what the author intended is at best part of the literal meaning and probably for most of them not even really very much a part of the literal meaning of the text. Another weakness of this four-fold approach is that it -- that it's an approach that's not generally used within the scripture itself. You know, it's -- you can't really look at the scripture and say, you know, "Were they doing this?" Sometimes because it is sort of midraushic within the New Testament there are things that are similar. But it's a completely different approach that the scripture uses itself. But there are some bigger problems, as well. And perhaps the biggest problem from our perspective is that it lacks any kind of verifiable control. There's no way that I would come to a text and interpret it and then someone else could come to the same text and be sure of interpreting it the same way. Or it's the meaning in the text is not so much in the text itself as it is in the -- what the reader brings to the text. In a sense the hermeneutical key becomes the key to interpreting the text. And there's no real way of ensuring a consistent method or approach to reading the text. In the end they recognized this themselves. And so the control interpreting the text became an external control. It became the authority of the church. It was the authority of the church that said what a text means and what it doesn't mean rather than the text itself determining what it means. And so the external authority of the church grew in importance as the church became the necessary control for maintaining the integrity of what the scripture taught. And another weakness I think that we would find today is that while it finds application in the text, it doesn't do a very good job of clearly distinguishing between the meaning of the text and the application of the text. It tends to merge those two together and blend them together somewhat. So this was how the Bible was interpreted, you know, in the early church in the Middle Ages and so now we come to sort of the modern period. And the modern approach to interpreting the text is really heavily influenced by the Reformation. The Reformation with its emphasis on ***solas scriptora, on the scripture itself, begins to move away from the external authority of the church as the controlling principle. And if we're going to make scripture the basis for what we teach, now then we need to have some way of interpreting the text that is defensible. That we can say yes, this is what scripture teaches. And anybody can reasonably look at the text and see that this is what scripture teaches. And so a method developed as a result of the Reformation. Not all at once. But over the course of a couple of centuries, you know, beginning with the Reformation. A method developed that was somewhat closer to the Antiochian school in that it emphasized history and grammar and rhetoric and literature and the context, particularly recognizing that a text has a context. And so one couldn't just take any old text anywhere in the Bible and make it say anything one wanted it to say. And so this return or this emphasis on the part of the Reformation and its heirs, so return to a more what we might call a more objective approach to reading the text, we sometimes call the historical grammatical method because it emphasizes history. And that includes history and context and grammar, which includes more than just grammar but syntax and rhetoric and literature, as well. And so this approach to the text grew up particularly in those churches that were heirs of the Reformation and who held solas scriptora as a principle of the life of the church. But it was pretty clear within a couple of centuries that this return to a method that was more like that of Antioch, the historical grammatical method, didn't solve all of the problems. That there were still people who did exactly what you said in your question, Nick, that read the Bible and came up with different answers. And so there came to be the conviction among some people that there must be another approach that one could find that would be more scientific. And this word scientific becomes a very important word at this point. And this sort of misrepresents science, too. As science became over the centuries sort of the answer to all problems, science came to be seen as sort of objective and unbiased and didn't require any interpretation. And so there began to arise a desire for a scientific interpretation, one that anybody could use and would come up with the same result. You know, would solve all the problems. Would do away with all of the differences in interpretation. And it was really the quest for this scientific interpretation of the text that created what we today call historical criticism. And that takes us, you know, sort of beyond your question, Nick, about how people read the text a different way. It takes us in the direction of understanding the rise of historical criticism. But historical criticism basically arose as an attempt to find an answer to the very question that you asked: Why is it that people read the Bible -- the same Bible and come up with different answers? And the answer that historical criticism ultimately looked for was a scientific approach that could be employed by everybody, that would guarantee that everybody came up with the same message from the text. And that wasn't the approach of the Reformation. And it wasn't the approach that was used earlier in the history of the church, either. And maybe we can take some time to look at historical criticism and see where it led and see if it solved the probem, as well, in the end. *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***