Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Biblical Interpretation and Preconceptions

We all bring pre-understandings to Scripture, but how to let Scripture do its work of shattering those preconceptions? The two most prolific preconceptions in need of shattering are represented by the two opposite ends of the spectrum, the trajectories of right-wing fundamentalism and socially minded liberalism. The right's commitment to inerrancy prior to reading and interpreting any particular part of Scripture is an example of Scripture squeezed into an ideological mould. It needs to be shattered for it will miss the unnatural truth of God's unity with a corpse that is the key to Easter. What kind of God does the fundamentalist trajectory impress upon Scripture with inerrancy? A God who can't make 'mistakes', by which I mean be part of the actual history of humanity, speak through th imperfections of individuals and communities of faith? The god of inerrancy is not the God of Jesus immersed in our human history. While inerrancy might hold out an attractive sense of consistency, it is a consistency won at the expense of the humanity of God. There are other ways of grasping Scripture's inner thread of consistency.

Liberal theology's commitment to expressivism, where the truths of Scripture are just one more expression of a timeless truth available to all at all times, is the left's version of ideological moulding. Jesus is not one more example of God's love to be found similarly in Hinduism, Socrates, or a modern Che Guevara. Teh universal significance of the call of Abraham, leading to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is played out on the canvas of universal history, but comes to that history as something new and unique.

So where might we begin to shatter our preconceptions? Reflection on the most unnatural truth of Scripture: God's union with a corpse.


  1. Warren, I couldn't agree with you more. However, any approach to Scripture will pre-suppose some ideological foundations. Being aware of them and their limitations, and temporarilty is the challenge.

    For my part I am strongly attracted to a 'deconstructionist' paradigm which allows the layers of meaning to be revealed and no one interpretation is final. Scripture, and the God breathing through it, is open to be 'experienced' new in each context.

    Where this applies to the narratives of the death and resurrection is that the living Jesus is encountered new on each reading and through the experience of worship. The road to Emmaus story acts as a good example. We encounter the risen Lord on the road, as we always will, and its through engagement with him through conversation and worship( breaking the bread), our eyes are open. Other 'resurrection' narratives suggest further nuances of engagement - community, liberation, repentance, wonder etc. These texts are never fully exhausted of insight and must be re-read over and over.

    Simply, I think the risen lord meets us in Scripture, interpretation and praxis.

    Chris McLeod

  2. Dear Chris,

    Thanks for the comment. I like what you write about the openness of Scripture to novelty and its inexhaustibility. Does this have to be deconstructionist though?

    Want to write me a post on the presence of the risen Christ in worship, wonder, repentance in some of the resurrection narratives?


  3. Chris

    When I see lots of scare quotes '', I wonder just what I should be scared of, or is that, warned off. Apparently it's deconstruction, experience and resurrection. I think I've got some idea of what these might mean, but when you surround them with scare quotes, then I'm lost. Care to elaborate, please.

  4. Hi Anonymous. I'm certainly not using scare quotes (a term I'm not aware of - to be honest). I'm just drawing attention to descriptive titles that have a particular meaning. A simple tool I use, and probably wrongly, for higlighting terms like deconstruction which can many things but when bracketed with quotes it simply means that I intend it to be understood in its technical and most common usage. I'm not into scaring people off and certainly not regarding deconstruction, resurrection and experience. I would hope you would see these as invitational terms to be explored at depth.

    I posted something on deconstruction on this site but it hasn't shown up. I'll try again.


  5. Chris, you'll need to email it to me and I will put it up. Warren

  6. OK Chris, thanks. I suspect I would have been helped more by not having the words in quotation marks. By the way,deconstruction in its technical and most common usage!!? Which one is it? Its technical usage or its most common? I guess I'll look forward to your post.