Performing the Scriptures

Interestingly, after writing yesterday’s post that included a footnote gesturing towards my reservations towards the historical critical method employed by biblical scholars, I felicitously happened upon this passage from New Testament scholar Stephen Barton:

“Arguably, the historical critic’s understanding of the context of the epistles is too narrow: ancient texts firmly tied to a context in Jewish and Greco-Roman antiquity.  But from the viewpoint of Christian faith the epistles are not just ancient texts.  They are also constituent parts of the canon of scripture, the appropriate context for the interpretation of which is the ongoing life of the Church in its participation in the life of God int the world.  In other words, the context for interpreting the epistles is the present: a present informed by the past – by an understanding of how the life of God has been understood and shared from the very beginning – and open to a future, an eschaton, which is in God’s hands and has been revealed in the resurrection.

This means that the truth about God’s ways with the world to which the epistles bear witness is a truth that is discerned as the epistles are read and reread in communities of faith generation after generation seeking, by God’s Spirit, to live in creative fidelity to God’s Word, Jesus Christ.  The trinitarian shape of this claim is not coincidental.  It is only as the church ‘performs’ the epistles in the ongoing context of its sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity that such performances contribute to the shaping of a holy people.”

– Stephen C. Barton, “The Epistles and Christian Ethics,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics, 2nd ed., edited by Robin Gill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 59

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