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Monday, May 18, 2009
  Monogamy, polygamy and the verbal inspiration of Scripture
John Hobbins nearly always provides a good read. I have lost count of the number of his posts I have pointed out to students. He is often at his most thought provoking when one diagrees with him, or when he is pushing a rhetorical point to its limits ;)

So, I found his post Theological vs. “Plain-Sense” Exegesis of Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 with respect to the Marriage Covenant stimulating, especially since we only partly agree about some of the key issues. In the course of his argument John wrote:
This [monogamous] take on Genesis 2 is possible if and only if it is read against the grain of its proximate context - the book of Genesis, in which polygamy is taken for granted - and with the grain of its macro-context – inclusive of the New Testament, in which the ideal of monogamy is upheld by Jesus and Paul. This kind of exegesis is convincing if and only if one has a high view of scripture according to which, in classical terms, it is verbally inspired. On this view, each and every word of scripture is there for a reason that goes beyond what its human author could possibly have imagined.
A fun argument, with stirring rhetoric, but is John right? Must I swallow the camel of verbal inspiration, imagining e.g. God putting on funny voices to "do" Jeremiah and Isaiah differently, if I want to read Gen 2 in the light of the rest of, and the trajectory of, Scripture as a whole. I do hope not, because a God with "mouth" squinched to make Mark sound different from John, though possessing a fine sense of humour can hardly be taken more seriously than one who assiduously plants fossil animals in order to confuse 19-20th century natural philosophers!

Surely the simple fact that Genesis 2 is found, read and used as part of a canon - a collection of literature that I perceive as related and (at least somewhat) coherent is sufficient to enable me to read Gen 2 in a way that is like the way Jesus does in the Gospels?

Fun rhetoric, but I submit no score!


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Sunday, June 10, 2007
  Why do we need a canon?
Duane, whose (ab)normal interests usually settle around ancient epigraphy responds to the blog storm elicited by John Hobbins series of posts on "Canon": Thinking About Canon (Part One) and First Update with a question: Why The Need for a Canon? It is, from a human perspective, a very good question. Working with John's functional definition of a canon:
A writing is canonical if and only if passages from it can be appealed to for the purpose of establishing a point of doctrine.
Duane asks:
...why would anyone or any group want to do that?
and like all good teachers, he answers his own question
A written authority, often, but not always, of obscure origin replaces a human authority. And it does it precisely in those areas of human thought where no human can be authoritative: religious doctrine.
Sociologically it is a good answer, but I think there is a little more to tease out here. A canon is a closed list of varied works - I realise that a canon need not be varied, though the Christian and Jewish ones John is discussing are, and need not be closed as indeed, at least for many centuries the Jewish canon was not (though I suspect that at any time it "felt" closed). As such a list a canon, as authority, allows an interesting mix of stability and flexibility.

Stability is useful to counteract the natural tendency for humans to "go off the rails" - at least with a canon there is some standard (the "rails") to call the human leader(s), or even whole communities, back to. (I can't think of any easy and simple way to avoid that sentence ending with a preposition ;-) Thus having a written authority over against human authority can be a "good thing". Both the reformers and the anabaptists are examples of such a calling back process that used Scripture as their primary tool.

Yet a canon is also flexible, the variety in the writings allows a greater degree, perhaps even a greater kind, of interpretation and thus allows for significant change. Think of the example of slavery, to some extent the battle for the Western mind over slavery was a battle over the interpretation of canon. A canon (of the sorts that Christians and Jews have) is both a tool for stability and for change.

Bob expresses this sort of idea vividly on a personal scale (I'll quote just a few lines here, but there is so much else in his post related to our question of the psychology of canon):
I must admit I like the canon I think I have. And I am not sure I could define it. I have my favorites - Psalms, Leviticus, bits of Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy, Job, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, the Song, Jonah, large chunks of Isaiah, bits of Jeremiah, and in the NT - Romans, John, Hebrews. I am grateful that the forest is large and for a late starter, too large, but I am also grateful that it has a border. I am grateful that the trees are varied.
In his "Second Update" John also explores some of this, with a particular focus on Christian praxis in its relation with canon and doctrine (personally doctrine is a good word, but I am not so happy with "dogma", John) in this he is responding to a post by Doug (which I have not managed to mention above, but should have).

[12 June: Quote corrected to mirror author's correction]

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Friday, May 11, 2007
  Nominations for May's Biblical Studies Carnival
I've been somehow too busy to write responses to most of the good posts I've bookmarked so far this month, so, for students who might miss out, and as my first round of nominations for May's Biblical Studies Carnival I'll not especially these posts that I wanted to respond to, but haven't :(

John at Ancient Hebrew Poetry mused on questions of Canon, Inspiration, and Authority in probably the most thought-provoking biblical post this month. His superb Electronic Dictionaries of Biblical Hebrew series was mainly last month... but I'm still hoping to respond to that... one day!

Of course there was the Class Attendance debate, since in the Tyndale Carey Graduate School I'm living at the intersection of two systems:
  • one that says if students don't attend that's their loss - and potentially failure
  • the other says less than 80% on the register (yes people they take a register!) and you cannot pass the course
I'd love to write an opinionated response to Tyler, Jim (who deserves an opinionated response), and the rest of you. Frankly and briefly, since B is awake and needs coffee - any student who voluntarily misses classes is not worth having (I was such a student, so I know that of which I speak) and any teacher who cannot be interesting or provocative enough keep students coming deserve each other!

Oh, yes, and they found the tomb of some guy called Herod, who appears in the other third of the Bible.

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