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APPROACHES TO NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS
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APPROACHES TO NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS, providence in conveying his word to men not in fragmented or situation less. dicta but in the total context of the historical milieu of an ancient people. Israel the early church and through the medium of a set of languages. which make use of non prescriptive modes of expression Failure to recall. this last point turns the New Testament into a legal code or a set of cold. facts like a telephone directory, On a different level another version of the dogmatic approach is evident. in those instances in church history when an ecclesiastical authority has im. posed an interpretation on Scripture To give one example the Council of. Trent gave clear directive about the meaning of Jesus eucharistic words to. the disciples in the upper rpom, He said in plain unmistakable words that he was giving them his own body and. his own blood, These words have their proper and obvious meaning and were so understood by. the Fathers 1, This ruling by the Magisterium indicates an authoritative appeal to one.
highly particularized interpretation of Scripture and its use as a dogmatic in. strument to establish church teaching Again as with the previous discus. sion about Protestant proof texting Scripture has assumed the character of. a law book,2 THE IMPRESSIONISTIC APPROACH, The impressionistic approach may seem to be the exact antithesis of the. method just described Its main characteristic is a way of approaching the. New Testament Scripture in which the reader equates the message of the. passage before him with the thoughts which fill his mind as he reads The ex. ercise is one of gaining impressions from the text which has its function in. exciting and engendering a series of thoughts triggered by the verses in. question This is a popular treatment of the Bible with some recent. evangelical young people s groups for example the Jesus people 2. There can be no doubt that this approach is open to grave objection It is. a treatment of Scripture which is at the mercy of human feelings it fails to. submit to some objective control in a recognition of the plain sense of the. text set in its historical context Therefore it overlooks the reality that Scrip. ture comes to us in historical dress and requires that we respect its contex. tual setting in the day in which it was first given Moreover the approach ig. nores the fact only too painfully obvious that the Bible is not an easy book. to understand and its study demands our full attention and the mental dis. cipline of concentrated effort to grasp the import of the words before us if. we are to penetrate to their true meaning It is a counsel of despair to turn. away from serious Bible study because it is difficult in preference for the. easy way of impressionism,NEW TESTAMENT INTERPRETATION. 3 THE GRAMMATICO HISTORICAL METHOD, The grammatico historical method has everything to commend it as an. antidote to both of the approaches mentioned It takes seriously God s. revelation which he has been pleased to communicate in verbal form in the. pages of holy Scripture The New Testament is the word of God in the. words of men 3 For that reason the reader begins his enquiry into the. meaning of a passage with a conscious endeavour to know what the words. Gr grammata meant in their historical setting And that means that he will. strive to gain understanding of the text through the language form which. any specific passage employs Certain corollaries follow from this apprecia. tion of what Scripture is and how God has been pleased to make it available. to his people For one thing there is the problem of the best text of the New. Testament in the original Greek The student will want to satisfy himself as. far as he is able that either the Greek Testament in front of him or the. translation based upon it is the best By that word is meant that it is as. close to the original autographs as it is possible to get through the science of. textual criticism The transmission of the New Testament text has been. affected by the contingencies of historical circumstances and since we do. not possess the original autographs for inspection it is incumbent upon us. that we use all the means available to recover the text which stands nearest. to the original, The other matter is the ascertaining of the meaning of the Greek words. and their translation equivalents in our native language For this we need the. help of grammar books lexicons dictionaries and concordances To be. sure there will also be a residue of places where the grammatical or syntac. tical sense is unclear The first epistle of John contains several instances of. this ambiguity and it is uncertain e g at I John 4 17 exactly how the. prepositional phrases dependent clauses and adverbial expressions fit. together as the author originally intended Several permutations and com. binations are possible 4, Then the clothing of God s saving revelation of himself in historical.
events and their interpretation means that the present day student must take. history seriously and be alive to the setting of Scripture s story as far as the. New Testament is concerned in the world of first century Graeco Roman. society Luke s notice in his gospel 3 lf shows the evangelist s purpose in. describing the historical framework in which the gospel events took place. This anchoring of the saving message in history is of immeasurable impor. tance It was appreciated by the early Christians in their refusal to evacuate. the gospel of its historical content and to cut it loose from its historical. moorings a refusal which led them to oppose gnostic influences as. heretical cf 2 Pet 1 16ff, Furthermore the grammatico historical method enters a needed protest. against an inordinate desire for relevance which marks out the im. pressionistic approach According to the aim of the latter the reader. professes a desire to study and to heed only those parts of Scripture which. APPROACHES TO NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS, have an easily convertible theological and spiritual value and whose applica. tion to life stands out most obviously This proclivity to accept only parts of. the Bible as relevant and spiritually valuable has been severely criticized in. recent years notably by J Barr 5, This is a tendency however to be held in check as we pay due recogni. tion to the demands of the grammatico historical requirements They in. clude the reminder that the scope of the Bible covers the entire range of life. and offers a comprehensive world view which is distorted if we choose to. narrow it to our personal interests at any given moment of our Christian ex. perience A true corrective is supplied by our resolve to treat the whole cor. pus of Scripture with serious intent and to hear what its total witness may be. by the rigorous and disciplined application of a method which seeks to. elucidate the message in its original setting and in its literal sense. 4 THE MEANING FOR THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, The question is now raised whether a Christian reader of the New Testa. ment can remain content with a line of study which sets its aim only at the. ascertaining of the first century meaning Granted that this is a legitimate. and necessary starting point must we not press on to enquire about the. meaning of the text for ourselves today This second stage of enquiry is the. determining of the true transition point needed to move from What did the. text mean to What does the text say and how do I understand it for. myself today The issue was first pinpointed by W Dilthey when he drew. the distinction between explanation and understanding 6. At this point we should notice an approach to the interpretation of the. New Testament which regards as totally unsatisfactory any attempt to stay. with the first century meaning of the text This is the existentialist approach. which is more fully described and criticized later in this book pp 294 300. It will be sufficient to mention here its main emphasis since it is regarded as. the most serious rival to the view which has just been mentioned. Its starting principle is the acceptance of the thesis stated by H G. Gadamer in his Wahrheit und Methode Tiibingen 1973 3 that a modern. reader is bound to understand the meaning of an ancient author in a way. different from the one which that author intended This barrier led Gadamer. to enunciate the principle that interpretation inevitably includes translation. from one situation to another and that the modern interpreter should ask. what the text is saying to him in his situation Basically the approach of ex. istential hermeneutics is Granted that the text meant such and such to its. first writer and his readers what does the text mean to me today even. though I cannot share the presuppositions of that ancient situation and am. separated by a barrier of world view and culture from that old world scene. Put otherwise this method of exegesis asks What would the ancient author. have meant by his words if he had been living in our contemporary situation. and how does he speak to us today We can hear his message by taking. what we think to be his meaning given long ago and bringing it over. NEW TESTAMENT INTERPRETATION, trans lating into our frame of reference The chief exponent of this way of.
looking at and listening to Scripture is E Fuchs See further pp 308fT. But it would be wrong to imagine that this method has gained general. currency outside a limited constituency Opponents of Bultmann e g 0. Cullmann whose teaching on salvation history is based on the priority of. the grammatico historical method insist that we must listen to what the. New Testament meant to its first readers and give that our obedience. however unpalatable and strange its message may be Writing from within. the Bultmannian school E Kasemann objects that the existential exegetical. method may lead to serious distortions of what the New Testament is all. about and set up a new norm by which the New Testament message is re. quired to be tested 7, One important way of bridging the gap between the poles of reading the. New Testament in order to ascertain the first century meaning and arriving. at the contemporary application of that message is the approach known as. the seeking of sensus plenior By this term is meant the deeper meaning of. the text a meaning not apparently intended by the author but seen to be in. tended by God when we have regard to the further light which is shed on the. text by developing revelation 8, A good example of this method is the exegesis of Old Testament. Messianic prophecies e g Is 7 14 which yield their full meaning to the. Christian believer when he reads them in the light of interpretation given by. the New Testament writers e g Mt 1 23 There is much value in this ap. proach inasmuch as the New Testament itself encourages its readers to see. larger fulfilments of what appeared only in embryo or in part in the Old. Testament revelation Heb 1 1 3 But some firm control is needed and the. principle of sensus p enior is misused if it opens the door to the notion of a. tandem relationship between Scripture and tradition even in the modified. form suggested by Y M J Congar 9 or suggests that the later church has. power to sanction as authoritative for Christian doctrine ideas and dogmas. which are held to be latent in Scripture and subsequently elevated to the. status of articles of belier 10 The criteria by which we may decide what. constitutes sensus plenior are a an authorization in the New Testament. which gives warrant to the fuller sense to be accorded to an Old Testa. ment passage This credential would have the effect of placing the Old. Testament teaching in a wider context and making it germane for the. history of salvation e g the Immanuel prophecies in Isaiah Then b the. New Testament s larger fulfilment should be congruous with the literal. sense Examples of the possible homogeneity of two passages may be given. in the prophetic psalms 2 and 110 where the original setting in the Israelite. monarchy is capable of wider and deeper application to great David s. greater Son, A more cautious way of framing the interrelation between the Old Testa. ment preparation for Christ and the fulfilment in the New is in terms of. typology According to this method the emphasis is shifted from the words. in the Old Testament passages which are thought to contain hidden truth. APPROACHES TO NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS, which later became clarified through further revelation to events or things. described in the Old Testament which are the subject of interpretative com. mentary in the New Thus we are encouraged to see in a series of historical. happenings the Passover the manna the bronze serpent and persons. Adam Melchizedek Moses David the types for the word typos see Rom. 5 14 and for the adverb typikos see 1 Cor 10 11 of the later events in the. ministry of Jesus and the explications of the ways in which his person and. work were understood,5 SALVATION HISTORY, This brings us to consider the method which goes right to the heart of the.
Christian concern with Scripture particularly the New Testament We may. express it in terms of salvation history 12 Scripture is the record of God s. redeeming acts and their interpretation directed to his people and calculated. to evoke their response in obedience love and service The latter part of that. APPROACHES TO NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS Ralph P even their best translation into modern English the gospel of its historical content and to cut it

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