We All Do Theological Exegesis, and Trinitarian Exegesis, Or It Isn’t ‘Christian’ Exegesis

Something that the whole movement being spawned by N.T. Wright and company is failing to emphasize (and in fact is undercutting) is the reality that theology has in biblical exegesis. As Christian interpreters, we do so from a certain vantage point; we, along with the rest of historical orthodox Christianity affirm that God is Triune, and that He has Self-revealed in hypostatically unioned person, His Son, Jesus Christ. Neither one of these bedrock conceptual realities about the Christian God are something that can simply be read off of the pages of Scripture; nevertheless, this reality is the ultimate one that shapes all of the writings found in the Holy Scriptures. And it is this reality, at a fundamental level, that tenses the way we interpret and think as Christians; and yet it is not something that is contingent, per se, upon recovering or reconstructing history, it is contingent on who God is. Every Christian affirms this reality about who God is, and thus it behooves us to be consistent in our hermeneutical thrust; viz. in the way that construct our hermeneutical posture. The history of second Temple Judaism certainly offers enlightening insights into the text of Scripture, but to pretend as if these insights are definitive and ultimate and terminal relative to the reality of the Gospel needs to be re-considered; because really, all of the history is contingent and given meaning by something and someone else. 

The following is a repost that I wrote that was seeking to illustrate how it is that all Christians do theological exegesis; and I use the Trinity to illustrate this.

Inner Logic is an important concept to realize when approaching Scripture and its interpretation. These two words actually signify another way of saying theological exegesis; yet I find that many in my own tradition of “Evangelicalism” shy away from such thinking when it comes to Biblical interpretation. There is this unspoken (but often spoken) belief that when we interpret scripture that it is simply a staightforward exercise (of course the multitudinous interpretations of scripture put this belief to death quickly). The irony of this perspective is that so many of our Essential Christian Beliefs are grounded in anything but straightforward exegesis. Let me provide an example:

trinity-icon

One of the bedrock, touchstone foundations of Historic Christian Belief is the doctrine of God known as the Trinity. Of course nowhere in the Bible will we find the nomenclature of Trinity; in fact one of the so called church Fathers, Tertullian, coined the term Trinitas very early on in the Churches’ genesis; here’s what J. N. D. Kelly says:

. . . He, too, is a ‘Person’, so that the Godhead is a ‘trinity’ (trinitas: Tertullian is the first to employ the word). The three are indeed numerically distinct, being ‘capable of being counted’. . . . Thus Tertullian can state: ‘We believe in on only one God, yet subject to this dispensation, which is our word for economy, that the one only God has also a Son, His Word, Who has issued out of Himself . . . which Son then sent, according to His promise, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete out of the Father’; and later in the same context he can balance the divine unity with ‘the mystery of the economy, which distributes the unity in Trinity, setting forth Father, Son and Spirit as three’. (J.N.D. Kelly, “Early Christian Doctrines,” 113)

I mention this to further substantiate that the language of Trinity, itself, is indeed foreign to the text of scripture; in fact as Kelly notes it came from a church Father. What I would like to further add, in flow with the context of this post, is that while the language of “Trinity” may be foreign to the text of Scripture; indeed, the grammar or concept is not. This brings us back to the language of inner logic or theological exegesis. In other words, how did Tertullian and the other church Father’s come to conclude that God is not only one (de deo uno); but in fact He is three (de deo trino) in one and one in three? Simple they read scripture, and discerned that when they read the Apostle Paul, for example, that there was an unstated theological concept about God that Paul was assuming in order to make benedictions like this:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” ~II Corinithians 13:13

As you engage the rest of Paul’s writings (like all of II Corinthians for example) there is this constant assumption that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are at work in salvation. This is what discerning the inner logic leads to; i.e. key and fundamental doctrines upon which the Christian faith hangs — starting in the early church and into the present.

So there is more to scripture interpretation and exegesis than engaging in exegetical and syntactical analysis of the Koine Greek of the New Testament; there in fact is an inner logic that holds the text of scripture together. It is the theologian’s job to discern and lay bare this “logic” and work out the implications of that “inner logic” for the church and all of her exegetes. The Trinity is just one example of working out the inner logic of scripture; all of Scripture actually hangs together on Christo-logic, but this is discussion for another post.

I hope folks realize the depth embedded within the scriptures themselves; if you do you will be set up to enjoy the richness and freshness that scripture has to offer.

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6 comments

  1. Others besides myself may, or perhaps ought to, recognize the core conceptual incongruity in what you are asserting here Bobby. You readily acknowledged the contradiction, then pressed on to transcend it in metaphysical assertions the likes of which must surely leave the Apostles and New Testament authors wagging their heads in wonder. Observe:

    BOQ: As Christian interpreters, we do so from a certain vantage point; we, along with the rest of historical orthodox Christianity affirm that God is Triune, and that He has Self-revealed in hypostatically unioned person, His Son, Jesus Christ. Neither one of these bedrock conceptual realities about the Christian God are something that can simply be read off of the pages of Scripture; nevertheless, this reality is the ultimate one that shapes all of the writings found in the Holy Scriptures.

    Sure, I get it, most all “orthodox” and intellectually honest Christians make some such assertions. But not all, and not all who do give the nod to traditional formulations and conversational conventions regarding the “trinitarian godhead,” do so acknowledging the lack of canonical consent (as you seem to have acknowledged). But doesn’t it give you pause when you assert this particular “reality” can’t be “read off the pages of Scripture”?

    It is far more than ironic, as you put it, that “so many of our Essential Christian Beliefs are grounded in anything but straightforward exegesis.” For me it is more tragic than incongruous. Pentecost doesn’t seem to have fully overcome the confusion of tongues God sent to those seeking God in their own terms. Is there no possible end to the creation of what Bobby has called “unstated theological concept[s] about God”? If there is one thing we can read off the “scripture” of history it may be that we all have our own formulations of “the inner logic” of scripture. So, where do we go from here? Back toward scripture as best we can or onward ever deeper into our own traditional formulations of “inner logic.” I do understand why you want to limit this creativeness to things somehow seen as being within the bounds of certain dogmatic theological systems which have since evolved beyond the canonical matrix–that would at least be some limit. But I don’t admire or understand your fear of Second Temple conceptual constraints. The purposes of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ are obscured, when not completely abrogated, by a long history of intellectual obfuscation abetted by those with power to impose their will and concepts on others. Why not strive to see yet more clearly scriptural revelation in its own terms and context rather than through the lens of post-biblical logical structures? Oh, how I long to see God’s worst antagonists as someone other than us Christians.

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  2. A good word for Trinity Sunday, by the way. Our Pastor preached on the Trinity today. She hit on some great points, common in the EC message, like, the eternal love of God has been eternally interpersonal, not love of self.

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  3. Richard,

    See my most recent post on ‘Trying to Clarify …’, it actually responds to your issues here.

    Duane,

    You have a female pastor Duane; wow, you are more progressive than I thought ;-)!

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  4. Not only that, I have a high school classmate friend on facebook who is an inactive Lutheran female pastor.
    I don’t like the word “progressive”. I prefer the word “eccentric” 😉 back atcha

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  5. Richard,

    I never communicated that I don’t appreciate Second Temple Judaism, or studying it for the riches it might hold; I just don’t hold that what we find there should be ultimately normative, I think Jesus should (I don’t think we validate Jesus through our historical reconstruction, I think he validates us, and I think what is present in Scripture, in its final canonical shape is adequate for and sufficient for God to encounter us viva vox Dei). Unless you believe that the Christian faith has been banally aloof until the 21st century and the NPPs etc., then I am not sure what your point is. Do you have one?

    I also don’t appreciate your parting clause “Oh, how I long to see God’s worst antagonists as someone other than us Christians.” That is absurd! Of course, I am sure you don’t see yourself as God’s worst antagonist. That was simply an unnecessary thing to say, even if that is what you feel.

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