Searching For Meaning VIII: Canonical Criticism

The next interpretive methodology in Paula Gooder’s Searching For Meaning is canonical criticism. Simply put, it is “the study of a particular passage in the light of other passages and books of the Bible” (63). Unlike methodologies that look for meaning “behind the text” (such as source, form, and redaction criticism), canonical criticism interprets texts in their final textual form. This means that a text is interpreted “as Scripture”, within the context of faith.[1] In other words, texts are not “merely sources for what lies behind the texts” as they are often treated in historical-critical exegesis.[2] Biblical texts were “produced within and taken up into the life of the believing communities” and are interpreted in that context.[3] How does this differ from methodologies that are mainly driven by historical interests?

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Early Church | Can We Read Christ into the Exodus? St Ephrem and Hermeneutics


Listen to the simple symbols that concern the Passover,
and to the double achievements of this our Passover.
With the Passover Lamb there took place for the Jewish people
an Exodus from Egypt, and not an entry.

So with the True Lamb there took place for the Gentiles
an Exodus from Error, and not an entry.
With the Living Lamb there was a further Exodus too,
for the dead from Sheol, as from Egypt. [1]

St Ephrem (4th century) makes an interpretive move that would be considered questionable by many: the Exodus as a pre-figuration of the resurrection (“the dead from Sheol, as from Egypt”). This approach is acceptable in certain preaching contexts, but is questionable to those who take a strict historical-critical approach to the Exodus text. The Exodus, after all, is about Israel’s liberation from Egypt. To read Christ into the story would be an anachronistic reading. “Christocentric”, “Christoletic”, or “Apostolic” interpretation is often critiqued for going against the historical-grammatical grain of interpretation usually at the cost of the “authorial intent”. Is harmony possible? Is there more going on in Exodus than we have thought? There are several clues that give weight to St Ephrem’s insight.

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Frances M. Young On Marcion’s Hermeneutics and Modern Concerns

There are reasons for thinking that Marcion’s concerns were initiated by the problems of scriptural consistency… Marcion apparently wrote a work called the Antitheses. The aim of this work, according to Tertullian, was to show a diversity of gods by setting the Gospel at variance with the Law. Yet Tertullian argues in the same breadth that the opposition between Law and Gospel is what suggested the idea that the God of the Gospel is different from the God of the Law, and that, if this is the case, the opposition between the two gods must owe its origin to Marcion’s own analysis and cannot have been revealed by Christ. It is, of course, in Tertullian’s interests to insist on the novelty of Marcion’s position, but it also contradicts his first statement of Marcion’s purpose. That Marcion’s theology was derived from exegetical concerns rather than vice versa, seems highly unlikely. (64)

Frances M. Watson, in her book Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture, analyzes Tertullian’s critiques in an attempt to understand Marcion. I want to preface this discussion by saying that understanding and agreeing are not the same thing. Marcion (to me) is one of the most elusive interpreters in the Early Christian period. For those who are not familiar with Marcion, he was a excommunicated from the Church in the 2nd century for his heretical views. He rejected the Old Testament descriptions of God as violent, angry, and vengeful, prioritizing the Christian Gospel of God’s love. Marcion saw these two depictions as two different gods. The God of the New Testament replaced the God of the Old Testament. Most of Marcion’s writings were lost or destroyed, but we can reconstruct some of his arguments (though imperfectly) by reading the critiques of his opponents. However, this brings us to this question: on what grounds did Marcion reject the depictions of the God of the Old Testament? Watson states:

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Passages to Ponder | Panayiotis Nellas on the Relationship Between Hypostatic Union and Theosis

With the birth of the “blessed flesh” of the Lord the union was achieved of the two natures, the divine and the human, which until then had been “separated” from one another; the distance between them is abolished, since the common hypostasis, “being a term common to both natures, eliminates the distance between the Godhead and the man­hood” ; and the difference between the natures is also abro­gated, since, through His birth, Christ “adapted the whole human race to Himself.” The hypostatic union recreates man, making his prelapsarian iconic being whole again. For this reason the conception by the Virgin Mary of the “blessed flesh” of the Lord inaugurates a new human ontology, and Christ constitutes the real progenitor of a new humanity.

This passage from Panayiotis Nellas’ Deification in Christ: Orthodox Perspectives On the Nature of the Human Person is extremely important to me.  Many like to talk about how Christ inaugurates a new humanity (ala N.T. Wright), but I was always bugged by this question: how does Christ create inaugurate humanity?  Nellas remarks that we must not overlook the Incarnation’s importance.

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Interviewing Ikons: Edith M. Humphrey

Dr. Edith M. Humphrey is the William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Prior to her service at PTS, she taught at several colleges and universities in Canada, and was professor of Scripture at Augustine College, Ottawa, Canada, from 1997-2002, where in her final year she served as dean. She earned her bachelor’s from Victoria University (University of Toronto) and received her doctorate from McGill University, Montreal, where she was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal. The author of numerous articles on the literary and rhetorical study of the Bible, she has also written seven books, Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says (Baker Academic, 2013); Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven (Brazos, 2010); And I Turned to See the Voice: The Rhetoric of Vision in the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2007); Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit (Eerdmans, 2005); the Sheffield Guide to Joseph and Aseneth (Continuum/Sheffield, 2000); and The Ladies and the Cities: Transformation and Apocalyptic Identity in Joseph and Aseneth, 4 Ezra, the Apocalypse and The Shepherd of Hermas (Sheffield, 1995). In her popular writing she has addressed such subjects as the Jesus Seminar, the Trinity, sexuality and the human person, the authority of Scripture within the Great Tradition, and Christian spirituality.

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