Old Testament Theology Thursday! (Childs Edition)

Today is a goodie from the late Brevard Childs in his little book Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Fortress Press, 1985):

The initial point to be made is that the canonical approach to Old Testament thoelogy is unequivocal in asserting that the object of theological reflection is the canonical writing of the Old Testament, that is, the Hebrew scriptures which are the received traditions of Israel. The materials for theological reflection are not the events or experiences behind the text, or apart fro mthe construal in scripture by a communty of faith and practice. however, because the biblical text continually bears witness to events and reactions in the life of Israel, the literature cannot be isolated from its ostensive reference (6).

I am appreciative for what Childs says here: the emphasis is most fruitfully placed on the canonical text. Where I disagree with Childs–and where I continue to be unsatisfied with his canonical methodology–is in his confidence that the larger canon intentionally serves as the hermeneutical lens through which one must interpret various texts. For instance, elsewhere in this tiny volume he argues about a topic near and dear to my heart–the ethically problematic tales of the patriarchs–suggesting that in the biblical canon the emphasis is not on their ethical infelicities but instead on the grace of God in choosing such figures and remaining steadfast to them. While I don’t disagree with the idea that God’s grace is in evidence (abundance!) in the ancestral narratives, I am quite hesitant to suggest with any sort of confidence that these later texts (for instance, Psalm 105, among others) are intentionally reinterpreting the Genesis texts. Why could the opposite trajectory not be equally, if not more, authoritative? Could the Genesis texts be offering a comment on Psalm 105 et. al.? I have never been convinced that the way one adjudicates the direction of interpretation and influence is anything but arbitrary. But in the end, I am deeply appreciative for Childs’ emphasis on the importance of the final form of the text as the locus of Israel’s theological reflection and thus the necessary starting point for the interpreter’s theological reflection as well.



2 thoughts on “Old Testament Theology Thursday! (Childs Edition)

  1. Joseph Kelly says:

    First of all, kudos to the new (to me?) I’m-a-hip-and-chic-Christian blog design. It’s almost evangelical of you!

    Second (and seriously), Lyle Eslinger and Benjamin Sommer duked it out in Vetus Testamentum regarding the direction in which one reads texts and their intertexts. Eslinger urged greater hermeneutical freedom (than Fishbane advocated in BIAI), while Sommer defended Fishbane and a more historically aware hermeneutic. However, Sommer conceded that where historical dependency is uncertain, the type of freedom Eslinger advocated can be justified. It was a good exchange. Both sides made positive contributions to the discussion.

    • John Anderson says:

      @Joseph: Many thanks for the site design comments. It has the “edge” and “grunge” OT feel. I like it!

      Many thanks for pointing out the conversation between Sommer and Eslinger. These are important questions indeed, and things I think Childs left unfortunately undeveloped. I am an advocate of Fishbane’s work, but I remain–as you might expect–hesitant to base one’s conclusions upon an historical case unless it is quite solid. With biblical texts continuing to be dated later and later (and the elusiveness, in my view, oftentimes of tradition and transmission historical enterprises), I have found myself in my own work attempting to focus more upon echoes or intertexts within the same biblical book or an obvious collection (i.e., the Pentateuch). But I will have to check out this discussion and be informed by it. Thank you!

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