Should Biblical studies continue to exclude theological concerns from its agenda? What is the real significance of the new literary, canonical and feminist approaches that have established themselves as alternatives to the conventional historical-critical methodologies? These are question of crucial importance for contemporary Biblical studies. Francis Watson contends that the new approaches make it possible to rethink the relationship of Biblical studies to Christian theology. If interpretation is determined in part by the perspective of the interpreter, then it no longer makes sense to insist that historical questions about the test’s origins must always be given priority over explorations of its theological potential.
Indeed, given that the primary location of the Biblical text is the Christian community, the object of investigations must be the Biblical text in its final, canonical form. Historical questions about its circumstances of origin are less significant than its role in furthering the process of theological and hermeneutical thought. Watson therefore engages critically with the work of, for example, Barth, Childs, Derrida, Frei, Lindbeck, McFadyen and Schussler Fiorenza. He also offers examples of a Biblical interpretation that gives precedence to theological concerns, drawing on texts from both Old and New Testaments. The outcome is a major challenge to the fundamental methodological assumptions of historical-critical Biblical scholarship.
“the idea that the Bible should be read ‘just like any other book’ is misleading” (Page 2)
“The position developed in this book is, in one sense, a familiar one: that biblical interpretation should concern itself primarily with the theological issues raised by the biblical texts within our contemporary ecclesial, cultural and socio-political contexts.” (Pages vi–vii)
“To regard the church as a self-sufficient sphere closed off from the world is ecclesiological docetism, and it also makes impossible an adequate theological understanding of the world and its alleged secularity.” (Page 236)
“One of the merits of contemporary emphasis on the final form of the biblical text is that it breaks out of the vicious circles that revolve perpetually around the various so-called ‘problems’ acknowledged and licensed by the interpretative community.12 One of its dangers is that it may lead its advocates to overlook the genuinely and permanently significant work that is still being undertaken within the historical-critical paradigm. The difficulty, of course, is knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff (and from the tares).” (Pages 58–59)
“Childs’ important hermeneutical proposal locates the texts in their proper ecclesial context, but misconstrues that context as a self-contained, autonomous space isolated from the world. In fact, the world permeates that space, and the ‘truthful witness’ offered by the canonical text cannot simply be read off its surface but must be given and discovered in the midst and in the depths of the conflict-ridden situations in which it is inevitably entangled.” (Pages 44–45)
Francis Watson is a Christian scholar and professor of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Durham. He formerly taught at the University of Aberdeen where he was the Kirby Laing Chair in New Testament. Watson is a respected scholar in the areas of biblical interpretation and the theological interpretation of Scripture. He has an MA and DPhil from Oxford.