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How the Bible Means. Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D. Department of Religious Studies John Carroll University. How the Bible Means What is “Revelation”? . an “objective” view: God makes known the divine reality and will via an explicit message exact formulation (doctrine) is content of revelation

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how the bible means

How the Bible Means

Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.

Department of Religious Studies

John Carroll University

how the bible means what is revelation
How the Bible MeansWhat is “Revelation”?
  • an “objective” view: God makes known the divine reality and will via an explicit message
    • exact formulation (doctrine) is content of revelation
    • intellectual knowledge of God’s truths is object of revelation
    • faith outcome is assent of the mind to these divine truths
  • a “subjective” view: God makes self & will known via an interpersonal relationship
    • establishing relationships with human beings is vehicle for revelation
    • the Divine Self is the content of revelation
    • faith outcome is a personal commitment in response to the God who reveals
how the bible means queries
How the Bible MeansQueries:
  • 1: How did you come to know your best friend? By hearing things about the person? Or by entering into a relationship with the person?
  • 2: Are there “things” that you know about your friend? E.g., can you describe that person to another? Can you list her/his character traits? Can you tell stories that illustrate what kind of person your friend is?
  • 3: Will this description, list, or set of stories convey everything your friend is? If someone wants to really understand & know your friend, what would you suggest?
how the bible means the paradox
How the Bible MeansThe Paradox
  • the revealing God is beyond human knowing,
  • Yet
  • God is active within human history as Revealer
  • what is one illustration of each of these two statements?
  • what do you see as the implications of each of these two statements?
how the bible means is the bible god s revealed word
How the Bible MeansIs the Bible God’s Revealed Word?
  • The “revealed Word of God” is, in its fullest sense, the human person, Jesus, the Christ
  • We also find God’s Word in:
    • Jesus’ words & deeds
    • Jesus’ words & deeds in the proclamation of the apostles (= the kerygma)
    • the Bible, a written record of the apostolic proclamation
  • So, the Bible is derivatively “God’s word”
how the bible means6
How the Bible Means
  • Saying “The Bible is God’s Word” means by reading the Bible, we can come to know the God Who Reveals
  • Q: Do you agree or disagree? Why?
how the bible means claim 1 reading the bible we can know god the revealer
How the Bible MeansClaim 1: reading the Bible, we can know God the Revealer
  • Biblical stories illustrate how God interacts with the world, especially human beings
  • The stories of God’s activities provide directions for understanding characteristics of God (e.g., God as giving, loving, faithful, merciful)
  • Biblical theologians present their interpretations of events and of God’s role in them
  • They also present their own ideas of God, which give us further directions for understanding (i.e., knowing-in-relationship)
how the bible means8
How the Bible Means
  • Claim 2: The Bible is God’s Word in human words
  • Q1: Do you agree or disagree? Why?
how the bible means the bible is god s word in human words
How the Bible MeansThe Bible is God’s word in human words
  • This is the official teaching of the RC Church
  • God did not write the Bible; God “inspired” human authors to write the Biblical materials
  • “inspiration” = guidance, not dictation
  • the authors aimed their messages so they would be understood by their own audience (i.e., the one at the time when it the text was written)
  • their meaning may not be at all obvious to us now
how the bible means the bible is god s word in human words11
How the Bible MeansThe Bible is God’s word in human words
  • Q2: What are the implications of this statement?
  • A1: Human beings of different times and places wrote the Biblical stories, laws, etc.
how the bible means the bible is god s word in human words12
How the Bible MeansThe Bible is God’s word in human words
  • there were many human authors to the Bible
  • each book of the Bible (and often even different passages within the same Biblical book) is a distinct composition written on its own and for its own unique purpose
  • these writings were not produced for the collection we call the Bible (= “the books, the library”)
how the bible means the bible is god s word in human words13
How the Bible MeansThe Bible is God’s word in human words
  • How then do we read the Bible?
  • remember that the human author chose the images and shaped the language of each text
  • learn the social, cultural, economic and historical context of each text
  • understand the language and use of images in each text
  • ask what each author assumed due to cultural factors
  • ask what each author might have omitted from the text due to social, cultural, or historical factors
how the bible means the bible is god s word in human words14
How the Bible MeansThe Bible is God’s word in human words
  • e.g., “Jesus’ words” are the sayings of Jesus the way they are recalled by the Biblical author
  • the authors changed the impact of Jesus’ sayings by collecting them and reporting them seriatum, without mentioning their original context
  • the authors adapted Jesus’ sayings to new situations
  • the authors inferred from Jesus’ teaching and deeds what he would have said or done in a new situation, and wrote their stories showing this
how the bible means the bible is god s word in human words15
How the Bible MeansThe Bible is God’s word in human words
  • Why not God’s Dictated words?
  • Exegetes from II CE onward have noticed, e.g., that the four gospels have contradictory details about the life and deeds of Jesus
    • Tatian’s Diatessaron (Harmony of the Four Gospels, ca. 150) rejected as wrong strategy
    • Each evangelist offers something unique and significant for understanding the person and message of Jesus
how the bible means the bible is god s word in human words16
Contradictions exist in the Biblical text, but God cannot err or be contradictory

Thus, variations and contradictions must arise elsewhere

The human authors are the only other source for the Biblical texts

The assumption of early authorship of the gospels is not valid:

No gospel was written during Jesus’ lifetime

The earliest gospel was finished 40 years after Jesus’ death

evangelists were not eyewitnesses of Jesus

How the Bible MeansThe Bible is God’s word in Human words
how the bible means17
All the gospel material originated in Oral tradition

Variations in the gospel reports are due, at least in part, to variations in the oral tradition which underlie the texts

Oral Tradition

the “rule of three”

re-contextualization

habit of “relocating” events

acquisition of names

acquisition of details

mnemonic devices

How the Bible Means
how the bible means depends upon how we read
How the Bible Meansdepends upon how we read
  • Four Common Reading Strategies:
    • historicist or literalistic reading
    • public reading in churches
    • inspirational/spiritual reading
    • scholarly or analytical method
how the bible means historicist or literalistic reading
How the Bible Meanshistoricist or literalistic reading
  • read the Bible text to learn facts about Jesus’ life: “It happened just like it says.”
  • take every text as historically factual
  • add together the details of history and doctrine from all the various Biblical books
  • confidence in knowing what God expects of you
  • certainty that the Bible can answer any question
how the bible means public reading in churches
How the Bible Meanspublic reading in churches
  • direct proclamation of living word to contemporary audience
  • may include some background data in exposition
  • show that interpretation of Scripture must be done from within the community of believers
  • discover meaning of text for individual-in-community
  • insight into contemporary meaning of text
how the bible means inspirational spiritual reading
How the Bible Meansinspirational/spiritual reading
  • meditative or imaginative strategies
  • begin with “face value” of text and engage it with the imagination
  • discover personal meaning for me (as an individual) today
  • find emotional comfort and personal challenge
how the bible means scholarly analytical method
How the Bible Meansscholarly/analytical method
  • reminds us that Jesus’ time and culture are foreign to us
  • provides background for understanding Jesus in his own social & historical context
  • uncovers the fresh and distinctive message of Jesus
  • supplements other ways of reading the Bible
  • shows that the Bible raises important questions for us as well as providing answers
how the bible means depends upon how you read
How the Bible Meansdepends upon how you read
  • Q1: What do you see as the advantages of each of these reading strategies?
  • Q2: What is the “cost” of each reading strategy?