Still working on my presentation on Luke's Gospel in Christchurch at the end of this week ...
One 'authorial intention' of Luke which we can be pretty clear about because he tell us it is his intention is to help Theophilus to be more sure of the things he already knows.
We also observe of Luke - to pick out one observation of many we could make - that his gospel, for one so close to Paul, is very light on understanding Jesus' death as an atoning sacrifice for sin. Indeed we could fairly readily argue that Paul's atonement theology is non-existent; that the necessity of Jesus being killed is that, according to Scripture, the Messiah must suffer.
Is it possible that Luke is negligent of atoning theology because this is not a matter of concern to Theophilus? If Theophilus, for example, is like the two centurions (of Luke 7 and Acts 10) then he is an upright man, generous to a fault, and keen as mustard on the God of the Jews but unsure whether truly welcomed into God's kingdom as a Gentile. By the end of Acts Theophilus should be in no doubt that the Messiah of the Jews is the Christ of the Gentiles, God's suffering servant for the world, who welcomes him into God's kingdom.
That is, Luke interprets the gospel of Jesus Christ for his primary audience.
One 'trick' of gospel scholarship is to compare similar gospel passages, make a presumption about who is following whom, and deduce some characteristic or another of a gospel writer.
A case in point concerns today's lectionary reading from Mark 10:35-45 (just looking at one aspect). In Mark's version, James and John seek Jesus out and demand seats of power next to the throne. Jesus tips their thinking upside down and they emerge, for the reader, somewhat the worse for the occasion, arrogant upstarts that they were at that point in their careers as disciples. In Matthew's version, the request comes from the mother of James and John (20:20-21) which, most scholars thinking Matthew follows Mark, raises the question whether Matthew is safeguarding the reputation of James and John. Obviously they do not emerge with complete credit from the occasion, mummy's boys that they are (!!), but they are not as power and status hungry as in Mark's account. But is Matthew safeguarding their reputation?
I suggest it is hard to tell. It is possible that Matthew has better access to the reality of the occasion than Mark, so the mother asking is a more accurate reporting of what happened. But it is also possible that Matthew is concerned for the two brothers' reputation, writing some years after the event, in a time when James' lustre as a martyr for the faith is shining brightly, and John's mana as a senior apostle is growing.
Intriguing then is Luke's account of Jesus' teaching servitude to his disciples. In Luke 22:24-27 this conversation (or one similar to it) is placed later than Matthew and Mark, in the discourse at the Last Supper itself; no request is made by anyone, rather a general dispute breaks out as to which disciple is the greatest; and the names of neither James nor John (nor any other disciple) appear in the account.
Is Luke even more concerned than Matthew about the reputation of James and John? Does he edit the Markan account to make a point in favour of the later apostleship of Paul, namely that none of the Twelve was greater than another? Is Luke dealing with another conversation, similar to Mark 10:35-45, and chooses to omit a copy of Mark 10:35-45? (If so, then the question of whether Luke is saying anything about anyone's reputation remains in the air!)
When options have been canvassed we are left (I suggest) with a great deal of uncertainty as we try to guess the intentions of the gospel writers on some matters.
I see some ten days has whizzed by since last posting here. That's partly because of working on my seminar on Preaching Luke's Gospel (see a post or two below). Now I am off on a school camp, needing to remember to think, pray, and prepare a sermon for this coming Sunday. Perhaps some inspiration will come re a little something for Hermeneutics and Human Dignity! One of the ideas percolating in my mind concerns the engagement between Scripture and culture (especially when shifts in culture occur within a generation, as appears to have taken place, and, indeed, continues to take place re human sexuality). There are arguments that cultural shift changes the way we understand Scripture (a good example being attitudes to divorce and remarriage). But then there are arguments that Scripture's role is to critique and to counter culture ...
I have really enjoyed reading a book on Bishop Jewel of Salisbury called John Jewel and the Problem of Doctrinal Authority by W. M. Southgate (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962). It got me thinking a little about doctrinal authority within the Bible itself:
(a) Consensus achieved over time: the canon of Scripture itself is an example of how an authoritative interpretation can be achieved through consensus - this the New Testament is received by the church as the authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament.
(b) Council referral: when certain questions arose in the early church they were settled with reference to a council (Acts 15).
(c) Consulting an apostle: when the Corinthians were troubled by some questions they referred them to the Apostle Paul.
(d) Christ's own authority: within 1 Corinthians Paul appeals to Christ's own teaching (1 Corinthians 7:10) as authoritative.
(e) Complementary collation rather than competition: the inclusion of the four gospels in the New Testament is a stunning example of the church living with variation in the authoritative interpretation of the life and teaching of Jesus. In theory the church could have chosen one and only one version of the Gospel, but it refused to do so. It accepted the four as complements rather than contradictions of each other.
In current Anglican controversy a bit of each of these strategies is being played out.
Some hope that, over time, if we are patient, gracious, and keep talking, a consensus will be achieved.
Some see the answer lying in councils. But which council? Lambeth 1998, for example, or GAFCON 2008 or General Convention 2009?
Quite a lot of consulting of apostles (i.e. their modern equivalents) is going on. But, again, who is right? JI Packer ... NT Wright ... G Robinson ... D Tutu ... R Williams?
Naturally Christ's own authority is invoked! Though curiously, for some, on one issue, it is the authority of Christ's silence on homosexuality, while for others it is the authority of Christ the upholder of the (whole of the) Law of Moses.
Then, as various views are circulating in the Communion, some wish to see the Communion decide on one, others want to attempt to hold all sincerely hold views together.
That's all I have for now.
I guess further questions to consider could include this: do our current controversies have more in common with one question within Scripture rather than another?
The Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) is on a journey of understanding in respect of Scripture and human sexuality. In August 2007 it held the first of three Hermeneutical Hui. It was an introduction to hermeneutics. The second was held in May 2009. It's topic was Scripture and Church. The third is likely to be held in 2010. It's topic will be Scripture and Human Sexuality.
During the second hui a point was made in a discussion between some evangelical Anglicans: we have not done work ourselves on how we understand the Bible in relation to homosexuality ... or marriage and divorce ... or, for that matter, the ordination of women.
We may organise some hui ourselves. In the meantime this blog may be of service in developing an evangelical hermeneutic 'Down Under' (Australians welcome too!).
Why a specifically 'evangelical' blog? Well, it's possible another site may be developed which will be a kind of 'whole of ACANZP' site. On such a site presumably everything will be up for discussion, and all perspectives will contribute. On this site I hope we will not have to debate matters on which evangelicals generally have a common understanding. Comments from other perspectives are very welcome - but posts from other perspectives will be directed towards this other proposed site. Out of the deliberations here I hope some good ideas will feed on to the larger site.
There will be no posts/comments accepted which are not in accordance with respecting 'the other person', whoever that may be, as one made in the image of God; similarly for posts/comments which make presumptions about the sins and failings of 'the other side'.
I will keep under review Anonymous comments. My preference is for commenters here to name themselves when simply discussing issues. Those wishing to talk about their experiences may have understandable reasons for remaining Anonymous.
If you wish to submit something to be posted, please let me know in a comment or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, a last word from our sponsor, Soren Kierkegaard,
"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."
We are guided by traditional interpretation: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (what is believed everywhere, always, by all) - Vincent of Lerins, d. 450.
We are wary of 'private judgement': it is more likely that the judgement of many scholars is correct than our own judgement as individuals.
We seek what the text meant when written and when incorporated into the canon of Scripture, and seek its meaning for today -both how we understand the text and how we might apply it.
We explore the world behind the text (the historical context in which the text was composed), the world within the text (the narrative world created by the text itself), and the world before the text (the world in which we as readers belong) in order to understand the text from multiple perspectives.
We read any text against the background of the whole of Scripture, seeking an understanding which is not contradictory of the remainder of Scripture; and seeking the light of Scripture as a whole to illuminate the understanding of its parts.
We acknowledge the role of our own cultural context affecting the way we read Scripture: like fish in water we may not be aware that other contexts for life exist in which there may be more light!