On the dynamic of Holy Scripture

path‘In order to have vision we must have memory. Indeed forgetfulness or amnesia is precisely what strips us of vision – without the past there can be no future. So our contemporary improvisation must be informed and directed by both a profound indwelling of the biblical vision of life and a discerning attentiveness to the postbiblical scenes that have already been acted out in the history of the church.

There is a certain dynamic in this approach to biblical authority that could be described as a dance between innovation and consistency. Our serious reading of Scripture must be characterized by fidelity to the thrust of the narrative and thus provide our life with a consistency and stability, a rootedness. At the same time, however, the Bible as an unfinished drama gives us freedom for historical innovation and thus a creative and imaginative flexibility in our historical responses. It is only by maintaining the essential relationship between stability and flexibility that we “may avoid the hazards” of both a rigid fossilization of our faith and “a deeper relativizing which gives up everything for a moment of [contemporary] relevance” [Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982, 7].

As we read through the biblical story, it is clear that the Israelites themselves retold their stories with such fidelity and innovation. As the ancient Israelites encountered new situations, they remembered and interpreted their traditions in such a way that they engaged contemporary problems and concerns. Indeed without such dynamic interpretation, the texts and traditions contained within them were seen to be incomplete. There is therefore a dynamic of “inner-biblical exegesis” wherein various biblical traditions are creatively reworked in Israel’s Scriptures. As the biblical story unfolds, the received traditions were “adapted, transformed, or reinterpreted” …

Stability and flexibility, fidelity and creativity, consistency and innovation – these are key if a narrative text is to have any current authority in our lives’.  – Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2004) , 134-5)

[Image taken stolen from deepchurch]


  1. Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth:

    This sounds like “typology” or “figurative” reading, which constitutes large chunks of Scripture and church tradition. The difference, as far as I can see, is that typological extension is not so much a matter of creative freedom but of discerning the common substance that bridges the temporal gap. Assyria and Babylon are the same thing, even though they aren’t. The second Exodus from Babylon isn’t just a creative re-construal of a received tradition, it participates in the same kind of redemption as the first as well as every other act of God since. It is the “substance,” the ontological reality which binds together the diverse formulations and reformulations found in the Bible and it is the quest for the substance – the attempt to “pierce” the text to what lies behind it – that ought to characterize theological exegesis.

    This links up with your phrase: “the Bible as an unfinished drama … .” Is the Bible an unfinished drama? I can see everything in it, from creation to new creation. What is left open is the way in which we are to perceive this drama at work in our own lives, but again, that has less to do with imaginative reconstruals of inherited tradition and more to do with learning to see the unity within the diversity, by means of the canonical shape of Scripture, which has itself been constituted by a similar process (cf. e.g. Childs’ Isaiah commentary).


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