Old Testament Studies

Robert Jenson: Burns Lecture 3 – The New Testament and the Regula Fidei

robert jenson

© 2009. Photo taken by John Roxborogh, when Robert Jenson visited the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin. Used with permission.

Professor Jenson’s third Burns Lecture was concerned with the emergence of the NT as canon.

Initially he looked at the emergence of the NT canon as documented in the writings of Irenaeus. He noted that Irenaeus‘ arguments are circular, however, this is not a vicious circularity, indeed ‘circularity is the very mark of the Holy Spirit’.

In the search for authoritative apostolic teaching, Paul’s writings were accepted in spite of the appearance of gnosticism. Paul’s letters are scripture but only in the broader context of the story to which they contribute. The acceptance of the gospels arose due to the ‘logical relation’ between the gospel and the earliest expressions of the regula fidei. ‘Jesus is risen’ – ‘the ‘shortest statement of the gospel’ – calls out for narrative specification of Jesus’ identity. The gospel offered precisely that thickness of description and ‘morally and religiously specific news’ that the Church’s continuing identity required. On the other hand the theology of Paul and the other writers gave specificity to the meaning of ‘is risen’. So ‘Jesus’ is a reference to a real person; ‘is risen’ is a statement of ‘utmost salvific import’, especially in Second Temple Judaism.

The overall argument of the lecture was for the mutual interdependence of gospels and letters, alongside the mutual interdependence of creed and canon. Just as the crisis of identity threatening the Church’s fading regula fidei called for both the narrative of the gospels and the theology of the letters, so the emerging creedal formulations arising out of the regula fidei required the canon.

In something of a introductory survey of the Second-Century Church, Jenson reminded us that it was Clement of Alexandria who was the first to refer to the ‘Old Testament’ and to the ‘New Testament’. He also argued that the NT canon probably would have been formed even without Marcion, but that it may have been a different canon. Still, ‘we cannot say’.

Jenson proceeded to argue that creed and canon ‘fit together’ like two halves of a puzzle: the NT is indispensable to the creedal tradition and the canon is indispensable to the NT. Although he didn’t specify which creeds have authority for the Church (e.g. what ought we make of the Reformation creeds?), he did define the criterion by which that may be determined. He reserved the title ‘creed’ for those statements which derived ‘organically out of the regula fidei‘. Thus this notion of the communal self-consciousness of the first witnesses (he praised Bauckham’s recent study here, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) becomes more and more central to his emerging argument. Canon and creed together as the source of the identity of the Church over time take over where ‘regula fidei’ leaves off.

He made a brief comment on inspiration, stressing that the work of the Spirit – undergirding that circular reasoning we talked of earlier – was a work from within (not from outside) both the writers and the interpreters of the canon. The inspiration of the Spirit, on Jenson’s view, is not a gift separable from the presence of the Spirit. Like other gifts, it is a gift in the self-giving of the Spirit and not apart from that.

Past Lectures:

1. Creed, Scripture, and Their Modern Alienation

2. The Tanakh as Christian Scripture

Next Lectures:

4. The Apostles’ Creed

5. The Creed as Critical Theory of Scripture

6. Genesis 1:1 and Luke 1:26-38

 

Notes by Bruce Hamill and Jason Goroncy

Robert Jenson: Burns Lecture 2 – The Tanakh as Christian Scripture

robert-jenson-3-1

© 2009. Photo taken by John Roxborogh, when Robert Jenson visited the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin. Used with permission.

The Burns Lectures are definitely warming up. In this lecture Robert Jenson dealt with the Tanakh, or Old Testament (as is his preferred terminology with appropriate qualification: ‘old’ equals ‘prior’ rather than ‘antiquated’) as Christian scripture. He began by clarifying the appropriate questions – the status of the OT as Christian scripture was never questioned and for Jenson this can’t be the Church’s question since it is both absolutely prior (presumably in the sense that it constitutes the world in which the Christian faith is born) and necessary for the Church’s self-understanding. Jenson says that the really interesting question for the first Christians was a kind of obverse to that which questions the status of Israel’s scriptures, namely whether Israel’s scriptures could accept the proclamation of the resurrection. The Church, he insisted, did not accept Israel’s scriptures. Rather, Israel’s scriptures received the Church. Jenson noted that for the century, it was Israel’s scriptures which served the Gospel rather than the obverse. This question is alive even though it cannot be clearly asked since God has already answered it in raising Jesus.

Jenson proceeded to highlight how this question is constantly in the background of NT writing and how the NT demonstrates in the way it tells its story a ‘narrative harmony’ with Israel’s scriptures – relationship between passion narrative and Isaiah 53 being a case in point. The OT prophets were the one’s who provided the answer to ‘why’ did Jesus needed to die. Jenson argued that we cannot ask why the OT Scripture after Christ. Rather, we can only ask how scripture is the way for the Christian community. He also observed that the Church reads the OT as narrative because her gospel is itself a narrative, and because her gospel recognizes itself as the climax of the story told in the OT. Jenson cautioned about ‘unguarded talk of the unique fullness of God’s revelation in Christ’ [is that the mythological Christomonism?]. Such talk requires, says Jenson, the important qualification that the God present to the OT sages is the same Word, Jesus Christ. Jesus taught the scriptures with ‘authority’ says Jenson, ‘that is, as if he were the author … because, in a sense, he is’. Jenson continued this line with comments like ‘Christ prayed the psalms as the leader of Israel’s worship gathered as the body of Christ’. When ancient Israel gathered in the temple with their hymns and lamentations they were gathered as ‘the body of Christ’. At this point he introduced some of the difficult issues that were to arise later in his lecture also. In response to those who wonder whether Christians can pray the Psalms that call for the destruction of their enemies and the bashing of babies against rocks, he suggested, with some rhetorical flourish, that they could pray them at the foot of the cross against the devil and his angels. [We shall return to this claim]

The key question which the latter part of Jenson’s lecture focuses on is not whether the OT is Christian scripture but precisely how it so functions. Jenson’s answer is that it functions as ‘narrative of God’s history with his people’, including the Church. This arises because the Church’s gospel is narrative and it identifies itself as the climax of the narrative of Israel’s history. Why this should be so stems from the character of the ‘regula fidei’ as a ‘plotted sequence of God’s acts’ (economy) on the one hand and the nature of the book the Church wrote as a second testament. He interestingly contrasts the two movements to emerge from old Israel with the destruction of the temple – rabbinic Judaism ended up using the Tanakh differently from the Church because their second testament (Mishnah) had a legal character which meant that they read their Torah with law as a guiding concept. On the other hand the Church with its narrative gospel ended up contextualising law within the narrative of God with his people. This also had a lot to do with Paul’s very complex problematisation of the law.

The ‘how’ question in relation to the role of the OT was forged in contrast to various challenges to the initial role of the OT – Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Platonism. Although there was a certain ‘Church History 101’ feel to the lecture here, Jenson’s characterization of the movements and issues was always interesting. In response to all these developments, but particularly to that ‘monomaniacal Paulinist’ Marcion, Jenson says that Christians have no way of avoiding the fact that the God of Israel is a ‘man of war’ who goes into battle, sometimes for, sometimes against, his people, but a God who takes sides in history. This, says Jenson, is the only alternative to a god who abandons history. God is either involved in fallen history as the God of Israel is, or God is not. If God is to engage a violent history God cannot do so without being a ‘God of war’, that is, without getting God’s hands dirty. And it seems, for Jenson, to be involved is to be implicated as an agent of violence. Like Hans Boersma has also recently argued, Jenson seems to hold that God uses violence as a means justified by God’s ends – that God participates in the world’s violence but he does so by entering into that violence and dying in it, through which violence is undone.

When questioned as to whether there was a third alternative, namely to suffer violence as the crucified one, Jenson responded effectively that in relation to this issue it was not really a third alternative since the crucifixion was an event in which God was both the crucifier and the crucified – and therefore, presumably, not non-violent. He also presumed that the question was motivated by the issue of theodicy.

Three critical questions arise at this point:

  1. The first picks up on the difference the revelation of God in Christ makes. Why did Jenson limit the praying of that psalm to prayers against “the devil and his angels”? If he is to be consistently true to the ‘man of war’ motif, why do not Christians pray against their human enemies and their enemy’s babies? And if they do so, how is this consistent with love for one’s enemies?
  2. Is it necessary that if the Father sent the Son to the cross and the Son went to the cross in obedience to the Father that the God of Israel must be seen as both the crucified and the crucifier? Surely the willingness to be crucified and the willingness to let the Son be crucified (not my will but yours) do not entail the agency of crucifixion. Surely the fact that this evil event is ultimately good (Friday) lies in the good consequent upon it (for the joy that was set before him). There is no paradoxical necessity to make God (in whom there is no darkness) the agent of death. Surely the triune God is here its defeater.
  3. Finally, does the fact that the Old Testament is the Church’s scripture rule out the possibility that it, like the New Testament, is a ‘text in travail’ bearing witness to Israel education by God. Is it not possible to discern in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ a journey within Israel to unlearn pagan violence – we think here of a trajectory which includes the Cain/Abel story, the Akideh, the repentance of God post flood, the Joseph story, story of Job, the servant songs and so much more. So rather than accepting a strand which is taken for granted in the scriptures – God as man of war – why not discern how that strand is being deconstructed in the course of Israel’s journey with God? If such a reading is persuasive then the motivation to question the ‘man of war’ motif need not be motivated by theodicy, or not in any simplistic way.

 

Past Lectures:

1. Creed, Scripture, and Their Modern Alienation

Following Lectures:

3. The New Testament and the Regula Fidei

4. The Apostles’ Creed

5. The Creed as Critical Theory of Scripture

6. Genesis 1:1 and Luke 1:26-38

 

Notes by Bruce Hamill and Jason Goroncy

De Troyer to take up St Andrews post

Professor Kristin De Troyer will be taking take up the post of Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at the University of St Andrews as of 1 June 2008. Professor De Troyer is currently Professor of Hebrew Bible at the Claremont School of Theology and Professor of Religion at the Claremont Graduate University in California. She is also the Program Chair for the International Society of Biblical Literature.

The current focus of her research and teaching is on the Second Temple Period and she has developed a special interest in the history of the biblical text, its translations and their hermeneutical aspects.

She has authored, among other books, Joshua (Papyri Graecae Schøyen, PSchøyen I , ed. Rosario Pintaudi, Papyrologica Florentina, XXXV/Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, V; Firenze: Gonnelli, 2005); Rewriting the Sacred Text: What the Old Greek Texts Tell Us about the Literary Development of the Bible (Atlanta: SBL, 2003), which was translated and revised in a German edition, Die Septuaginta und die Endgestalt des Alten Testaments: Untersuchungen zur Entstehungsgeschichte alttestamentlicher Texte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005); and The End of the Alpha Text of Esther: Translation and Narrative Technique in MT 8:1-17, LXX 8:1-17, and AT 7:14-41 (Atlanta: SBL, 2000-English; Louvain: Peeters, 1997-Dutch).

She has also co-authored Minor Prophets (Biblia Qumranica, 3B, Leiden: Brill: 2004) and From Quest to Q (Peeters, 2001) and co-edited and/or contributed to several volumes including: Pre-Maccabean Literature from the Qumran Library and Its Importance for the Study of the Hebrew Bible (DSD 13/3; Leiden: Brill, 2006); Reading the Present in the Qumran Library: The Perception of the Contemporary by Means of Scriptural Interpretation (Symposium Series, 30; Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2005); Truth: Interdisciplinary Dialogues in a Pluralist Age (Studies in Philosophical Theology; Louvain: Peeters, 2003); Wholly Woman, Holy Blood: A Feminist Critique of Purity and Impurity (TPI-2003). She is also preparing the publication of Kristin De Troyer, Armin Lange, with the assistance of Luke L. Schulte, Prophecy and the Dead Sea Scrolls (CBET, Louvain: Peeters).

Kristin De Troyer is a member of the Council of the Society of Biblical Literature and co-director of the Biblia Qumranica Project, which envisions to publishing the Biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a synopsis. She is editor of the series Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology (Louvain: Peeters), a board member of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament and the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and a project director for CGU’s Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. She is also member of the executive committee of the International Organization of Septuagint and Cognate Studies.

Currently, she is writing on a commentary on the Septuagint of Esther, and preparing a commentary on the books of Ezra-Nehemiah, and working on 1 Esdras.

She sounds like a suitable choice for the post, and a very busy person … I only hope not too busy for a beer or two, or a dram or two … or three, with the humble postgrads.