Who is best at biblical interpretation?
With a heavy heart and a tear in my eye I have to disagree (slightly) with Jim West. I think. Besides, it's not as if sibling rivalry is anything new. ;-) Anyway Jim and the more extreme view put forward on adversaria give confessional types pride of place for top biblical interpretation.
I agree, to an extent, that interpreters of Scripture should stand within the hermeneutical circle...Who, then, is the ideal interpreter of the Biblical text?... 2- A person standing within the Jewish or Christian tradition. 3- A person who actively participates in the community of faith and who has one eye on that community while the other remains fixed on the text.
The most essential training in biblical interpretation that we will receive is not that provided by a theological degree, important though that is, but the training provided by belonging to a faithful Christian community under wise and faithful pastors. For this reason I am as suspicious of the assured interpretations of much modern biblical scholarship as I am of the interpretations of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others like them. For all of their valuable linguistic gifts and scholarly credentials, biblical scholars outside of the Church are dilettantes who lack the basic training to interpret the Church’s Scriptures aright...Those who have not undergone and are not undergoing the paideia of the Christian Church, living as a community of discipleship under the Word of God, have no right to interpret the Scriptures. For this reason we should not even enter into debate with them on questions of interpretation.
Jim I notice is careful to use words like 'extent' and 'ideal'. This seems to me to downplay the exclusivism of a confessional approach. And it seems pretty clear to me from the past that Jim, if he doesn't mind me saying, is more than open to engaging with people from non-confessional perspectives. Adversaria is clearly much stronger ('we should not even enter into debate...).
Ok readers of this blog will not be overly surprised to hear my views I suppose. I am a little worried by the latter comments and they mirror the issues raised from a secular perspective that I find problematical, i.e. secular alone is right and no dialogue with confessional approaches etc. If I were a church person I'd also be worried because then the church would exclude a load of scholarship which could be entirely valid and accurate and the church would effectively be engaging in self-deception. But that, I suppose, is not my problem.
The other issue is when the more extreme view is applied elsewhere as it starts to look very unusual. Soviet historians were trained as historians and were committed to Soviet Communism but, it seems, wrote what was effectively propaganda seriously lacking in historical accuracy and often deliberately distorting fact. Should that history only be studied by a devotee? I know where I would go to find out about Soviet history and most likely it will not be written by someone dedicated to Soviet Marxism.
And we can of course take this further. Should a Leninist be the only proper guide to Lenin? Should Trots alone study Trotsky? Who would be left to study ancient pagan religions? Should we call on the pagan community to study religions of the UK before Christianity? Are traditional Catholics the only true interpreters of medieval Catholicism? I was taught Islam and the Quran by a non-Muslim so would it have been better for me to have looked for a Muslim lecturer?
I would also wonder how this could be implemented in the secular university department. In theological colleges/seminaries it would be obvious but in state colleges and universities?
And if we take the extreme view and say that there is going to be no dialogue then what happens to all those important books written in biblical studies from a non-confessional standpoint? Are they just to be disguarded? Isn't this slightly Soviet-esque?
And on the issue of 'no right' to interpret scripture that's just too bad I'm afraid. Bibles, for good or ill, are sold everywhere and telling people not to interpret them once they buy them would hardly work. Some non-religious people have been brought up with the Bible and what do they do? Forget it? The Bible is everywhere, used in secular literature, advertising, film, you name it. It is not an easy thing to ignore and if it is not an easy thing to ignore it is not an easy to avoid interpretation. If people want to convert non-believers then why shouldn't the non-believer ask tough questions? Is all of this going to be so easy to ignore?
There are other problems:
What to non-religious types do if they are worried about the use of the Bible by (say) the Christian right?
And what of the spectacular interpretations by the church that many might think are spectacular mis-interpretations?
Which church is right? They have differed dramatically over biblical interpretation so which do we choose?
Another worry is the sort-of-scientific feel to the more extreme view: only one perspective can, effectively, be right. It seems to me that the assumption that one is right makes the discipline largely pointless as all answers are more or less known and the only new questions are those that arise within the church (or even synagogue).
Now it seems to me that the only fair way to settle this is not to exclude any perspective. At the very least someone might then ask you a question you might not have thought of before.