Is the Bible a contemplation of God
PONTIFICAL BIBLE COMMISSION
Interpretation of the Bible in the Church
The interpretation of the biblical texts arouses great interest even today and gives rise to important discussions. These have gained new dimensions in recent years. Since the Bible is vital to the Christian faith, to the life of the Church, and to relationships between Christians and believers of other religions, the Pontifical Biblical Commission was asked to give its opinion on this matter.
A. The current problem
The problem of biblical interpretation is not a modern invention, as some are led to believe. In the Bible itself we see that it is difficult to interpret. In addition to clear texts, it contains dark areas. When Daniel read certain prophetic words from Jeremiah, he searched for a long time for their meaning (Dan 9, 2). In Acts of the Apostles, we hear a first-century Ethiopian referring to a passage from the book of Isaiah (Isa 53, 7-8) was in the same position and had to turn to an interpreter (Acts 8, 30-35). In 2 Peter we read that “no prophecy of the Holy Scriptures may be interpreted arbitrarily” (2 Cor Petr 1, 20), and further that in the letters of the Apostle Paul "some things are difficult to understand, and the ignorant, who are not yet established, twist these passages as well as the other scriptures to their own ruin" (Ex Petr 3, 16).
So the problem is not new, but it has grown in weight over time: to get to the facts and statements of the Bible, readers have to go back nearly twenty or thirty centuries, and that is not without difficulty. In addition, the problems of interpretation have become more complex today because of advances in the humanities. Scientific methods were developed to open up the texts of antiquity. To what extent are these methods useful for interpreting the Scriptures? For a long time, out of pastoral prudence, the Church reacted very cautiously to this question, because these methods, despite their positive values, were often tied to options that were contrary to the Christian faith. Finally, a positive development has taken place, which is marked by a whole series of papal documents, starting with the encyclical Providentissimus from Leo XIII. (Nov. 18, 1893) to the encyclical Divino afflante spiritu by Pius XII. (Sept. 30, 1943). This development was made possible by the declaration Sancta Mater Ecclesia (April 21, 1964) of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and above all through the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council (Nov. 18, 1965).
The fruitfulness of this constructive attitude was clearly shown. Biblical studies in the Catholic Church enjoyed a remarkable upsurge, and its scientific value was increasingly recognized among scholars and believers. This made the ecumenical dialogue much easier. The influence of the Bible on theology increased and contributed to a theological renewal. Interest in the Bible grew among Catholics and served the advancement of Christian life. All those who have received serious training in this field find it impossible to return to the level of pre-critical interpretation which they rightly find inadequate.
At the same time when the most widespread scientific method - the "historical-critical" - is generally used in exegesis, i.e. also in Catholic exegesis, this method is being questioned: on the one hand by the emergence of other methods and approaches in the scientific world itself and, on the other hand, the criticism of many Christians who consider this method to be deficient from the standpoint of faith. The historical-critical method, which, as its name suggests, deals particularly with the historical development of the texts or traditions, are now in competition with methods that insist on a synchronous understanding of the texts, be it in relation to the language Composition, the narrative structure or the rhetorical form. In addition, in many of them the attempt of diachronic methods to reconstruct the past is replaced by the tendency to question the texts by placing them in the perspective of today, be it from a philosophical, psychoanalytic, sociological or political point of view. This pluralism of methods and approaches is valued by some as a wealth, but for others it leaves the impression of great confusion.
Whether this confusion is real or supposed, it certainly provides new arguments for the opponents of scientific exegesis. In their opinion, the conflict in interpretation shows that nothing is gained by submitting the biblical texts to the claims of scientific methods. On the contrary, you lose a lot in the process. They stress that scientific exegesis creates confusion and doubt in things that were previously easily assumed; it urges certain exegetes to take positions that contradict the faith of the church on such important issues as the virgin conception of Jesus, his miracles, even his resurrection and his divinity.
Even if such negations do not occur, in their opinion scientific exegesis is characterized by its sterility in relation to Christian life. Instead of creating easier and safer access to the fresh sources of God's Word, she turns the Bible into a closed book, whose interpretation, which is always problematic, requires sophisticated technical means and thus makes the Bible a reserve for specialists. For these, some believe, the word of the Gospel applies: “You have taken away the key (the door) to knowledge; you yourself did not go in, and you prevented those who wanted to go in ”(Lk 11, 52; see. Mt 23, 13).
Consequently, it is now of the opinion that, in place of patient work, scientific exegesis should be replaced by simpler approaches, such as one or the other form of synchronous reading which one considers sufficient; or one even praises a so-called “spiritual” reading of the Bible, by which one means a reading that is guided solely by personal, subjective inspiration and which is intended to nourish this inspiration. Some seek the Christ of their personal conception and the satisfaction of their spontaneous religiosity in the Bible. Others claim to find direct answers in it to a wide variety of personal and community questions. Many sects offer as solely true an interpretation that they claim they would have received in a revelation.
B. Objective of this document
It is therefore a matter of seriously considering the various aspects of today's situation with regard to the interpretation of the Bible, listening carefully to criticism, complaints and expectations and using the possibilities opened up by the new methods and approaches. Finally, the orientation that best corresponds to the mandate of exegesis in the Catholic Church should be precisely determined.
That is the aim of this document. The Pontifical Biblical Commission would like to show the ways that lead to an interpretation that is as faithful as possible to the human and at the same time divine character of the Bible. It does not purport to take a position on all questions relating to the Bible, such as the theology of inspiration. It only wants to examine the methods which are intended to make it possible to tap into all the riches contained in the biblical texts, so that the word of God can increasingly become the spiritual nourishment for the members of his people, the source for a life from the Faith, hope and love and to the light for all humanity (cf. Dei Verbum, 21).
To achieve this goal, this document aims to:
1. give a brief description of the various methods and approaches (1) with their possibilities and limits;
2. Address issues of hermeneutics;
3. Present reflections on the specific dimensions of the Catholic interpretation of the Bible and on its relation to the other theological disciplines;
4. Consider the place that interpretation of the Bible has in the life of the Church.
I. Methods and approaches for interpretation
A. Historical-critical method
The historical-critical method is the indispensable method for scientific research into the meaning of ancient texts. Since the Holy Scriptures, as “the Word of God in human language”, were written in all their parts and sources by human authors, their genuine understanding not only allows this method to be legitimate, but also requires its application.
1. The history of this method
If one wants to evaluate this method correctly in its current state, one must take a look at its history. Certain elements of this method of interpretation are very old. They were used in ancient times by Greek commentators on classical literature and later, in the Patristic era, by authors such as Origen, Jerome and Augustine. At that time the method was still poorly worked out. Their modern forms are the result of perfections, especially since the humanists of the Renaissance and their recursus ad fontes. However, the textual criticism of the New Testament only developed as a scientific discipline from around 1800 after the textus receptus had been detached, while literary criticism dates back to the 17th century. The work of Richard Simon was groundbreaking, drawing attention to the duplications, the differences in content and the differences in style, as can be found in the Pentateuch, statements that are incompatible with the idea of a single author Moses. In the 18th century, it was sufficient for Jean Astruc to explain that Moses had used various sources (especially two main sources) to write the Book of Genesis. But the criticism subsequently more and more decisively denied the authorship of Moses for the Pentateuch itself. For a long time, literary criticism was limited to the attempt to separate the various sources (documents) in the texts. So in the 19th century the "document hypothesis" developed, which tries to take into account the editorial staff of the Pentateuch. Four partially parallel documents or source writings from different epochs would have been merged: the Yahwist (J), the Elohist (E), the Deuteronomy as a source (D) and the priestly scriptures (P). The latter would have served the final editor to structure the whole thing. Analogously, the two-source hypothesis was invoked to explain the similarities and differences observed between the three synoptic Gospels; According to this hypothesis, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke would have originated from two main sources: the Gospel of Mark on the one hand, and a collection of words of Jesus on the other (called Q = source). Essentially, these two hypotheses are still represented in scientific exegesis today, but they are also controversial.
In an effort to establish the chronology of the biblical texts, literary criticism was limited to the separation and dissection of text units in order to distinguish the various sources. She did not pay enough attention to the final form of the biblical text. The message it expresses in its current form was of no importance to her (little respect was shown for the work of the editors). For this reason, the historical-critical method could appear corrosive and destructive, all the more so as certain exegetes under the influence of comparative religious history, as it was then cultivated, or philosophical views expressed negative judgments about the Bible.
Hermann Gunkel brought the method out of the ghetto of narrowly understood literary criticism. Although he continued to regard the books of the Pentateuch (2) as compilations, he turned his attention to the particular nature of the various sections. He tried to determine the genre of each individual unit (e.g. "legend" or "hymn"), as well as its origin or its "seat in life" (e.g. legal system, liturgy, etc.). This research into literary genres is linked to the “critical research into forms”, the “history of forms”, which was introduced into the exegesis of the synoptics by Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann. The latter combined the study of the history of form with a biblical hermeneutics that sought inspiration from Martin Heidegger's existentialist philosophy. The consequence of this was that the history of form often led to serious reservations. But this method in and of itself led to the result that it became clear how the New Testament tradition had its origin (3) in the Christian community, and received its form from the early church, that it was from the preaching of Jesus himself to the preaching about Jesus as to whom Christ came. The editorial history, a critical examination of the editorial team, was added to the history of form. This attempted to highlight the personal contribution of each evangelist and the theological orientation on which his editorial work was based. By using this last method, the series of different steps of the historical-critical method became more complete: from textual criticism one comes to literary criticism, which dissects the texts (source research), then to a critical exploration of forms and finally to an editorial-historical analysis which pays attention to the text as a whole. This enabled a clearer understanding of the intentions of the writers and editors of the Bible, and thereby the message they were trying to convey to the first recipients. The historical-critical method thereby gained outstanding importance.
The basic principles of the historical-critical method in its classical form are as follows: it is a historical method; not only because it refers to ancient texts - in the present case to those of the Bible - and explores their historical scope, but also and above all because it tries to clarify the historical process of the creation of the biblical texts: this diachronic process was often complicated and of long duration. At different stages of their creation, the scriptures addressed different categories of listeners or readers who found themselves in different situations in space and time.
It is a critical method because it works in its entire procedure (from textual criticism to editorial criticism) with the help of scientific, as objective criteria as possible, in order to enable today's reader to access the content of the biblical texts, the meaning of which is often difficult to grasp is.
As an analytical method, it explores the biblical text in the same way that it explores any other ancient text. She explains it as a product of human language. In this way, however, it helps the exegetic, especially when researching the editing of the texts, to better grasp the content of the divine revelation contained in the Bible.
In the current state of its development, the historical-critical method goes through the following stages:
The Textual criticismwhich has been practiced for a long time opens the series of scientific research processes. By relying on the testimony of the oldest and best manuscripts, as well as the Papyri, the old translations and the patristic, she tries, according to certain rules, to create a biblical text that comes as close as possible to the original text.
The text is then subjected to a linguistic (morphological and syntactic) and semantic analysis using the findings of historical-philological research. The literary criticism then tries to determine the beginning and end of the large and small text units and to examine the internal coherence of the text. The existence of duplicates, irreconcilable opposites and other indications reveal the composite character of certain texts; they are divided into small units in order to determine their possible association with different sources. The genre criticism tries to determine the literary genres, their original milieu, their specific characteristics and their development. The critique of tradition situates the texts in the streams of tradition, the development of which it tries to specify over the course of history. Finally, the editorial review examines the changes which the texts underwent before they reached their final form; she analyzes this final form by distinguishing the texts from one another from the point of view of their respective orientations. While in the previous steps one tried to explain the text in its becoming from a diachronic perspective, this last step closes with a synchronous investigation: one now explains and contemplates the text as such, thanks to the mutual relationships of the various elements him from the point of view of a message that the author wants to convey to his contemporaries.In this way, the pragmatic function of the text can also be taken into account.
If the examined texts belong to a historical literary genre (4) or are related to historical events, the historical criticism supplements the literary criticism in order to determine the historical meaning of the text in the modern sense of the expression.
In this way the various stages of the concrete development of biblical revelation are brought to light.
What is the value of the historical-critical method, especially in the current state of its development?
If this method is used in an objective manner, it does not imply an a priori. If such a priori determine their application, this does not come from the method, but from hermeneutic options that determine the interpretation and can be tendentious.
At the beginning, the method focused on source criticism and the history of religion; but then it turned out that it opened up a new approach to the Bible by showing that it is a collection of writings which mostly, especially in the Old Testament, do not come from a single author, but rather have a long history. This, in turn, is inextricably linked with the history of Israel or that of the early Church. Before that, the Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Bible were not so clearly aware of the concrete historical circumstances in which the Word of God had taken root. Their knowledge was summary and fuzzy. The confrontation of traditional exegesis with a scientific method, which in its beginnings consciously disregarded belief, and sometimes even contradicted it, was certainly a painful process; but later it turned out to be salutary: after the method was finally freed from its inherent prejudices, it led to a more precise understanding of the truth of the Holy Scriptures (cf. Dei Verbum, 12). According to Divino afflante spiritu the exploration of the literal sense of the Holy Scriptures is an essential task of exegesis. In order to fulfill this task it is necessary to determine the literary genre of the texts (cf. EnchB 560). The help of the historical-critical method is indispensable for this.
Certainly, the classic application of the historical-critical method also shows limits, because it is limited to researching the meaning of the biblical text in the historical conditions of its creation and is not interested in the further possibilities of meaning that arise in the course of later epochs of biblical revelation and church history came to light. Nonetheless, this method has contributed to exegetical and biblical theological works of great value.
A mixture of the method with a philosophical system has been avoided for a long time. Recently, an exegetical tendency has bent the method into an emphasis on the shape of the text at the expense of interest in its content. However, this tendency was corrected through differentiated semantics (semantics of the words, the sentences, the text) and research into the pragmatic dimension of the texts.
As for the inclusion of a synchronous analysis of the texts in the method, it must be recognized that it is a legitimate undertaking. Because the text in its final form and not in any earlier version is the expression of God's Word. (5) The diachronic reconstruction, however, remains indispensable in order to show the historical dynamics inherent in the Holy Scriptures and their rich complexity: for example, the Federal Book (Ex 21-23) a different political, social and religious situation of the Israelite society than the other collections of laws in Deuteronomy (Dtn 12-26) or in the book of Leviticus (holiness law, Lev 17-26). One could accuse the old historical-critical exegesis of its historicist tendency, but neither should one lapse into the opposite extreme, i.e. into an exclusively synchronous exegesis that ignores the history of the texts.
It is the aim of the historical-critical method to emphasize in a predominantly diachronic way the meaning that the authors and editors wanted to express. Together with other methods and approaches, it gives the modern reader access to an understanding of the biblical texts as they are available today.
B. New methods of literary analysis
No scientific method of studying the Bible can quite do justice to the richness of the biblical texts. So even the historical-critical method cannot claim to satisfy everything. She inevitably leaves many aspects of the texts she explores in the dark. It is therefore not surprising that other methods and approaches are also being proposed today in order to grasp one or the other important aspect of a text more deeply.
In this section (B) we would like to introduce some recently developed methods of literary analysis. In the following sections (C, D, E) we will briefly examine various new approaches; some relate to research on tradition, others to the “humanities”, others to particular contemporary situations. Finally (F) we will turn to the fundamentalist reading of the Bible, which rejects any methodical attempt at interpretation.
Biblical exegesis, which uses the advances in today's linguistic and literary studies, is increasingly adopting the new methods of literary analysis, especially rhetorical, narrative and semiotic analysis.
1. The rhetorical analysis
In reality, rhetorical analysis as such is not a new method. What is new is, on the one hand, its systematic application to the interpretation of the Bible and, on the other hand, the emergence and development of a “new rhetoric”.
Rhetoric is the art of convincing with a speech. Since basically all biblical texts want to convince to a certain extent, a certain knowledge of rhetoric is part of the normal armament of the exegetes. The rhetorical analysis must be applied critically, for the scientific exegesis must meet critical demands.
Much recent biblical research has paid close attention to rhetoric in Scripture. One can distinguish three different approaches. The first is based on classical Greco-Latin rhetoric; the second devotes its attention to the drafting processes in the Semitic cultural area; the third is based on modern knowledge called "New Rhetoric".
Every speech is given in a specific situation that consists of three elements: the speaker (or author), the speech (or text) and the audience (or recipients). Classic rhetoric thus distinguishes three persuasive factors that contribute to the quality of a speech: the speaker's authority, the argumentation of the speech and the emotions that the speech triggers in the audience. Differences in situation and audience influence the speech very strongly. Since Aristotle, classical rhetoric has distinguished three types of speech: forensic (in front of the court), advisory (in political meetings) and descriptive (at celebrations).
In the Hellenistic culture, rhetoric had an enormous influence. For this reason, an increasing number of exegetes are using the classical literature on rhetoric in order to be able to analyze certain aspects of the biblical writings, especially the New Testament, more precisely.
Other exegetes turn their attention to the specific features of the biblical literary tradition. Since this is at home in the Semitic culture, it has, like the Semitic culture in general, a pronounced preference for symmetrical compositions that create connections between the various text elements. The exploration of the diverse forms of parallelism and other Semitic compositional methods makes it possible to better grasp the literary structure of the texts and thus to arrive at a better understanding of their message.
The "New rhetoric“Starts from a more general point of view. It does not want to be just a kind of inventory of the stylistic figures, the rhetoric and the genres of speech. She explores why this or that specific use of language is effective here or there and can arouse conviction. She wants to be "realistic" by not simply limiting herself to a shape analysis. She pays the necessary attention to the situation of the conversation. She explores style and composition as a means to the end of influencing the audience. To this end, it benefits from recent research in certain disciplines such as semiotics, anthropology, and sociology.
If one wants to apply the “New Rhetoric” to the Bible, this means that it wants to penetrate to the core of the language of Revelation as a religious language that is supposed to convince and determine its effect in the context of social communication.
The rhetorical analyzes deserve a lot of attention, especially in their most recent results, because they enrich the critical research of the texts. They remedy a long neglect and let original perspectives emerge or put them back into the light.
The "New Rhetoric" rightly draws attention to the persuasiveness of language. The Bible is not simply an expression of truth. It is a message and has a communication function in a certain context. This message is based on an argumentation dynamic and a rhetorical strategy.
However, the rhetorical analyzes also have their limits. If they are purely descriptive, their results are often only of stylistic interest. Because of their synchronicity, they cannot claim to be an independent method that was self-sufficient. Their application to biblical texts raises questions: Did the authors of these texts belong to a highly cultured milieu? Up to what point did you use the rules of rhetoric in writing your texts? Which rhetoric is more suitable for the analysis of such texts: the Greco-Latin or the Semitic? Are you not tempted to attribute an overly developed rhetoric to certain biblical texts? These and other questions do not, of course, advise against the use of such analyzes; they only want to warn against making use of them indiscriminately.
2. The narrative analysis
Narrative exegesis offers a method of understanding and communication for the biblical message that corresponds to its narrative and testimony character. This character is a main form of communication between people and is therefore also a characteristic of the Holy Scriptures. In it the Old Testament presents a history of salvation, the narration of which has an impact and leads to the content of the creed, the liturgy and catechesis (cf. Ps 78, 3-4; Ex 12, 24-27; Dtn 6.20 -25; 26.5 -11). The proclamation of the Christian kerygma, for its part, contains the narrative sequence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, events the detailed narration of which is contained in the Gospels. Catechesis is also presented in narrative form (cf. 1 Cor 11 , 23- 25).
As far as the narrative approaches are concerned, it is important to distinguish between analytical methods and theological reflection.
Numerous analytical methods are used today. Some start from exploring the narrative models of the past. The others are based on current “narratologies”, which can have certain similarities with semiotics. The narrative analysis pays particular attention to the textual elements on which the suspense, the characters and the point of view of the narrator are based; it explores the way a story is told in order to involve the reader in "the world of narration" and its value system.
Different methods differentiate between “real author” and “implicit author”, between “real reader” and “implicit reader”. The "real author" is the one who wrote the story. "Implicit author" is the image of the author as the text gradually makes it appear through reading (his culture, temperament, tendencies, beliefs, etc.). The "real reader" is about everyone People who have access to the text, from the first recipients who read or heard it, to today's readers or listeners. The "implicit reader" is those who are presupposed or produced by the text, who are capable to make the mental and affective movements necessary to enter the world of narrative and respond to it as the real author strives for through the implicit author.
A text exerts its influence as long as the real reader (e.g. we, at the end of the 20th century) can identify with the implicit reader. It is one of the most important tasks of exegesis to facilitate this identification.
The narrative analysis creates a new way of measuring the scope of the texts. While the historical-critical method sees the text more as a “window” that allows observations to be made on a given epoch (not only on the narrated details, but also on the situation of the community for which the narration was intended), it is now emphasized that the text also has the function of a "mirror" in the sense that it reflects a certain image of the world - the "world of narration" - which exerts its influence on the reader and induces him to adopt certain values.
Theological reflection has combined with this specifically literary research genre in order to determine the influence of the type of narrative - i.e. the testimony - of the Holy Scriptures on the acceptance of faith, and from there to derive a hermeneutic for concrete life and for pastoral care. This is a reaction to the reduction of the inspired text to a series of theological theses that are formulated according to categories and in a language that is not biblical. One expects narrative exegesis to transpose the forms of meaning and communication of biblical storytelling into new historical contexts in order to better experience its effectiveness for salvation. Emphasis is placed on the necessity of "telling salvation" ("informative" aspect of the narrative) and "telling it with a view to salvation" ("performative" aspect). Explicitly or implicitly, the biblical narrative actually contains an existential call to the reader.
Narrative analysis is obviously useful for the exegesis of the Bible because it corresponds to the narrative nature of a very large number of biblical texts. It can help facilitate the often laborious transition from the meaning of the text in its historical context - as the historical-critical method tries to define it - to the significance of the text for today's reader. In contrast, the complexity of the interpretation problems increases with the distinction between “real author” and “implicit author”.
As far as the Bible is concerned, narrative analysis cannot be content with imposing any pre-fabricated models on it. The analysis must endeavor to take account of the specificity of the Bible. The synchronous access to the texts must be supplemented by diachronic research. Furthermore, it must guard against the possible tendency to exclude any systematizing, doctrinal interpretation of the narratives contained in the Bible. It would thereby contradict the biblical tradition, which contains such doctrinal texts, and the ecclesiastical tradition, which has continued on this path. Finally, the existential, subjective effectiveness of the narrative transmitted Word of God should not be regarded as a sufficient criterion for only true interpretation.
3. The semiotic analysis
Among the so-called synchronous methods, i.e. the methods that concentrate on researching the biblical text as it is presented in its final version, we find the semiotic analysis, which has developed very strongly in certain circles over the last twenty years. This method, which was first designated by the general term “structuralism”, has the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure as its ancestor. At the beginning of this century he worked out a theory according to which every language is a system of relationships that obeys certain rules. Linguists and literary scholars had a decisive influence on the development of the method. The majority of Biblical people who use semiotics to study the Bible refer to Algirdas J. Greimas and the Paris School of which he is the founder. Similar methods or approaches based on modern linguistics also developed elsewhere. As an example, we want to briefly introduce and analyze Greimas' method.
Semiotics rests on three main principles or prerequisites:
The Immanence principle: every text forms a unit of meaning; the analysis looks at the whole text, but only the text; it is not based on any "external" circumstances such as author, recipient, narrated events or editorial history.
The Principle of the structure of meaning: there is meaning only through and in the relationship, especially in the relationship of differences to one another; the analysis of a text thus consists in determining the network of relationships between the elements (oppositions, identifications), from which the meaning of the text then emerges.
The Principle of text grammar: every text uses a grammar, i.e. a certain number of rules or structures; in a set of sentences called speech there are different levels, each with its own grammar.
The entire content of a text can be analyzed on three levels:
Narrative level: In a text, the changes that have taken place between the initial and the final situation are explored. Within a narrative arc, the analysis seeks to work out the various phases that are logically connected with one another and that led to the transformation. In each of these phases, the relationships between the “roles” performed by the “actants” who define the situations and bring about the transformation are specified.
Discursive level: The analysis consists of three steps: (a) the figures, i.e. the elements of meaning of a text (characters, time and place) are determined and classified; (b) the path taken by each figure of text is determined to determine how that text uses it; (c) the thematic values of the characters are examined; This investigation consists in answering the question "in whose name" (= value) the persons in a given text are going through this development.
Logical-semantic level: This is the deepest level. It is also the most abstract. It is based on the postulate that every speech and its narrative and discursive design are based on logical forms and forms of meaning. At this level, the analysis consists in specifying the logic inherent in the basic structures of the narrative and figurative arc of a text. For this purpose, an instrument is often used that is called a “semiotic square” (“carré sémiotique”); it uses the relationships between two "opposing" and two "contradicting" expressions (e.g. white and black; white and non-white, black and non-black).
The theorists continue to expand the semiotic method. Current research refers specifically to the “mode of expression” (“enonciation”) and to “intertextuality”. First, this method was applied to the narrative texts of the Scriptures as they are better suited to it. But they are increasingly being transferred to other types of biblical presentation.
This very concise description of semiotics and, above all, the presentation of its requirements give an idea of the benefits and limits of this method. By increasing the awareness that every biblical text is a coherent whole that obeys certain linguistic laws, semiotics contributes to our understanding of the Bible, the word of God in human language.
Semiotics can only be used to study the Bible if this method of analysis is freed from certain preconditions developed in structuralist philosophy, i.e. if it is detached from the negation of the narrative subject and the extra-textual reference. The Bible is a word about reality. God spoke it in a story. In it he still addresses us today through the mediation of human authors. The semiotic approach must be open to history: first to the history of the actors in the texts, then to those of the authors of the text and to those of their readers. Those who use semiotic analysis run the risk of being content with a formal exploration of the content and thus bypassing the message of the texts.
If semiotic analysis does not get lost in the labyrinths of a complicated language, if it is presented in simple language in its main elements, it can awaken in us Christians a legitimate need to study the biblical text and to discover its dimensions of meaning, even if we do not have all historical knowledge related to the text and its socio-cultural world. This method can prove useful even in pastoral care, especially for the acquisition of the Holy Scriptures in non-specialized circles (6).
C. Approaches to Scripture based on tradition
Although the literary methods presented above differ from the historical-critical method in that they place greater emphasis on the inner unity of the researched texts, they alone are insufficient for the interpretation of the Bible, since they examine each text in isolation. But the Bible is not simply a collection of texts without any relation to one another. Rather, it is a unity of evidence from a single great tradition. Biblical exegesis must take this fact into account in order to correspond to its object of research. Several modern approaches to Scripture can be understood from this perspective.
1. Canonical approach ("Canonical criticism")
The "canonical" approach originated in the USA about twenty years ago. After it has been established that the historical-critical method sometimes finds it difficult to achieve theologically relevant results, the "canonical" approach would like to use a theological method of interpretation that is explicitly within the framework of faith: it is based on the Bible as a whole.
Every biblical text is accordingly interpreted in the light of the canon of Holy Scripture, i.e. in the light of the Bible as a directive for the faith of a community of believers. The method seeks to situate each text within the only plan of God in order to strive for an actualization of the Holy Scriptures for our time. This is not intended to replace the historical-critical method, but to supplement it.
Two different points of view have been suggested:
Brevard S. Childs focuses his interest on the final canonical form of the text (book or collection of books), the form adopted by the community as the authority expressing their beliefs and directing their lives.
James A. Sanders, for his part, pays more attention to the "canonical process" - the progressive development of scriptures recognized by the religious community as normative - than to the stabilized final form of the text. Critical research into this process tries to find out how the old traditions were used anew in a different context, before they formed a whole that is both permanent and adaptable, coherent and encompassing diverse elements, a whole from which the religious community defines its identity can draw. Hermeneutic methods were used in this process, and are still used today after the canon was fixed; they often resemble the style of the midrash and serve to update the biblical text. By invoking an interpretation that seeks to update the tradition, they encourage ongoing interaction between the fellowship and its scriptures.
The canonical approach rightly reacts against an overestimation of what is considered original and original, as if that alone were authentic. However, the inspired scriptures are actually the scriptures recognized by the church as their rule of faith. (7) In this regard, emphasis can be placed either on the final form in which every book of the Bible is found today, or on the entirety that makes up the canon. A book becomes a “biblical book” only in the light of the whole canon.
The denominational community is undoubtedly the appropriate context for interpreting the canonical texts. In it, faith and the Holy Spirit enrich exegesis. The ecclesiastical authority at the service of the community must ensure that the interpretation remains true to the great tradition from which the texts arose (cf. Dei Verbum, 10).
The canonical approach poses several problems, especially when it tries to define the "canonical process". From when on can a text be considered “canonical”? It can be argued that this is the case from the moment a community recognizes normative authority over the text; this can even be done before this text is finalized. One speaks of “canonical” hermeneutics when the repetition of traditions, despite new religious, cultural, theological conditions in changing situations, maintains the identity of the message. But the question arises: Should the interpretation process that led to the formation of the canon still apply today as a rule of interpretation for the Holy Scriptures?
On the other hand, the complex relationships between the Jewish and Christian canons of the scriptures cause numerous problems of interpretation. As the “Old Testament”, the Christian Church has adopted the scriptures that were authoritative in the Jewish-Hellenistic community; among them are those that are not contained in the Hebrew Bible or are contained in a different form. The corpus of the texts is thus different. For this reason the canonical interpretation of both “scriptures” cannot be identical, since every text must be read in its relation to the whole corpus. Above all, the church reads the Old Testament in the light of the Easter events - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This led to something fundamentally new and gives the scriptures a decisive and definitive meaning with sovereign authority (cf. Dei Verbum, 4). This new definition of meaning belongs entirely to the Christian faith. Nevertheless, it must therefore not deny any meaning to the older, canonical interpretation that preceded the Christian Easter faith. Because every phase of salvation history must also be respected in terms of its intrinsic value. To empty the meaning of the Old Testament would be to cut off the New Testament from its historical roots.
2. Approaches via the Jewish tradition of interpretation
The Old Testament received its final form in Judaism in the last four or five centuries that preceded the Christian era. This Judaism was the original milieu of the New Testament and the emerging church. Numerous studies of ancient Jewish history, and in particular the research that gave rise to the discoveries of Qumran, have highlighted the complexity of the Jewish world of that time, be it in the Land of Israel or in the Diaspora.
The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures began in this milieu. One of the oldest testimonies to the Jewish interpretation of the Bible is the ancient Greek translation, the Septuagint. The Aramaic Targumim are another testimony to the same endeavor that continues to this day. Judaism has produced an extraordinary amount of learned resources in the service of preserving the text of the Old Testament and clarifying the meaning of the biblical texts. At all times, since Origen and Jerome, the best Christian exegetes have tried to use Jewish biblical scholarship for a better understanding of the Scriptures. Numerous modern exegetes follow this example.
In particular, the ancient Jewish traditions allow us to get to know the Septuagint better, a Jewish Bible in Greek that formed the first part of the Christian Bible during at least the first four centuries of the Church, which is still the case in the Orient to this day. The rich and varied Jewish non-canonical literature called apocryphal or inter-testament is an important source for interpreting the New Testament. The various exegetical approaches that were practiced in Judaism of the various directions can be found in the Old Testament itself, e.g. in the chronicle books in their relationship to the royal books, and in the New Testament, e.g. in certain exegetical arguments in Paul. The variety of forms (parables, allegories, anthologies and centos, "relectures", (8) pescher(Connection of widely spaced texts, psalms and hymns, visions, revelations and dreams, wisdom compositions, etc.) is common to the Old and New Testaments, as well as the literature of all Jewish circles before and after the time of Jesus. The Targumim and the Midrashim represent homiletics and the biblical interpretation of broad circles of Judaism in the first centuries.
Numerous exegetes of the Old Testament also turn to Jewish commentators, grammarians, and lexicographers of the Middle Ages or more recent times in order to gain a better understanding of unclear passages or words that occur rarely or only once. Far more than in the past, reference is now made to such Jewish works in exegetical discussions.
The wealth of Jewish knowledge from antiquity to the present day in the service of the Bible is a first-rate aid for the exegesis of the two testaments, provided, however, that this knowledge is used properly. Ancient Judaism was very diverse. The Pharisaic form, which later lived on in rabbinism, is not the only form. The ancient Jewish texts are spread over several centuries, and it is important to put them in chronological order before comparing them with one another. Above all, the overall framework of the Jewish and Christian communities is fundamentally different: on the Jewish side, it is about a religion, albeit in various forms, which defines a people and a way of life on the basis of a revealed scripture and an oral tradition, while on On the Christian side, faith in the dead, risen and now living Lord Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, is the foundation of the community. These two starting points create two contexts for the interpretation of the scriptures which, despite many contacts and similarities, are radically different.
3. Access via the history of the impact of the text
This approach is based on two basic facts: a) a text only becomes a literary work if it finds readers who bring it to life by making it their own; b) this appropriation of the text, which can take place individually or socially and in different areas (literature, art, theology, ascetics and mysticism), contributes to a better understanding of the text itself.
This approach to the text developed mainly between 1960 and 1970 in literary studies, although it was also known in antiquity. It was then that literary criticism began to take an intense interest in the relationship between text and readership. Biblical exegesis benefited from this research, all the more since philosophical hermeneutics, for its part, emphasized the necessary distance between work and author, as well as between work and reader. That is why one began to pay attention to the history of the effect of a book or a section of the Holy Scriptures in the work of interpretation (history of operation or history of reception). An effort is made to follow the development of the interpretation in the context of the function of the changing situation of the readers and to determine the meaning of the tradition and its function for the understanding of the biblical texts.
In the encounter between the text and the reader, a dynamic arises; because the text has a charisma and triggers reactions. He lets out a call that is heard by the readers, individually or collectively. Incidentally, readers are never isolated individuals. They belong to a social space and are within a tradition. They approach the text with their questions, choose, propose an interpretation and finally can create a new work or take initiatives that are directly inspired by their reading of the Holy Scriptures.
Examples of this approach are already numerous. The history of the interpretation of the "Song of Songs" is particularly clear evidence of this. It shows how this book was written in the time of the Fathers of the Church, in the Latin monastic milieu of the Middle Ages or in mysticism like St. John was taken up by the cross. It therefore makes it possible to better grasp all the meaningful dimensions of this seal. In the same way in the New Testament it is possible and useful to use the meaning of a pericope (e.g. the rich young man in Mt 19, 16-26 par.) In the light of the impulses it triggered in the course of church history.
But history also shows the existence of false and one-sided tendencies of interpretation, which had disastrous effects, e.g. when they led to anti-Semitism or other racial discrimination or millenarian illusions. It can be seen from this that this approach alone cannot suffice for interpretation. Differentiation is necessary. One must be careful not to privilege one or the other point in time in the history of the impact of a text in order to make it the only rule of interpretation of this text.
D. Access through human sciences
In order to communicate, the Word of God took root in the concrete life of a people (cf. Sir 24, 12). It worked its way through the psychological conditions of the biblical writers. Therefore, the human sciences - especially sociology, anthropology and psychology - can do much to improve the understanding of certain aspects of the texts. It must be noted, however, that there are several schools with considerable divergence in the nature of these sciences.Nevertheless, numerous exegetes have actually benefited from the latest research in these areas.
1. Sociological approach
Religious texts are in a reciprocal relationship to the societies in which they arise. This statement undoubtedly applies to the biblical texts as well. Consequently, critical study of the Bible requires as precise a knowledge as possible of the social behavior characteristic of the various milieus in which the biblical traditions arose. This socio-historical information must be supplemented by a correct sociological explanation that scientifically evaluates the significance of the social conditions of existence in individual cases.
The sociological approach has long made its way into the history of exegesis. This is evidenced by the attention that the history of form has paid to the environment in which the texts were created (“seat in life”): it is generally recognized that the biblical traditions reflect the characteristics of their socio-historical transmission milieu. In the first third of the 20th century, the “Chicago School” researched the socio-historical situation of early Christianity and thereby gave historical criticism a strong impetus. For the last twenty years (1970-1990), sociological access to biblical texts has been part and parcel of exegetical research.
The questions which therefore arise for the exegesis of the Old Testament are numerous. One must ask oneself, for example, what different forms of social and religious organization Israel knew in the course of its history. Is the ethnological model of an acephale segmental society sufficient as a starting point for describing the pre-state epoch of Israel? How did one get from a loose clan association to a monarchically organized state and from there to a community that receives its unity solely from religion and ancestry? What economic, military and other changes have been brought about in the structure of society by the movement of political and religious centralization that led to monarchy? Doesn't research into the norms of behavior in the ancient Orient and Israel contribute more effectively to understanding the Decalogue than purely literary attempts to reconstruct a postulated original text? (9)
Of course, other questions arise for the exegesis of the New Testament. One must ask oneself, for example: What value is to be attached to the theory of a charismatic group that has moved about without permanent residence, without family and without possessions, in order to explain the pre-Easter way of life of Jesus and his disciples? Is there a continuity between the radical detachment (10), as practiced by Jesus and to which he called the disciples to follow him, and the attitude of the Christian, post-Easter movement in the most diverse milieus of the early Church? What do we know of the social structure of the Pauline congregations in the context of the corresponding urban culture that comes into question on a case-by-case basis?
In general, the sociological approach to exegetical work has many positive aspects; in particular, this makes it more open. For historical criticism it is essential to know the sociological realities. These help to make the economic, cultural and religious situation of the biblical world understandable. The task given to the exegete to adequately grasp the testimony of the apostolic church's faith cannot be fulfilled without exact scientific research into the close connections between the New Testament texts and the social context of the early church. The application of sociological models opens up many new possibilities for the biblical to investigate the historical conditions of that time, but these models must of course be adapted to the reality to be examined.
However, we must also point out some of the risks that the sociological approach brings with it for exegesis. The work of sociology is to study living societies. Indeed, it would not be surprising that difficulties arise when one tries to apply these methods to social conditions long past. The biblical and extra-biblical texts do not necessarily represent a sufficiently large documentation to offer a general overview of the society of that time. The sociological method also tends, at times, to give greater weight to the economic and institutional aspects of human existence than to its personal and religious dimensions.
2. Access through cultural anthropology
Access to biblical texts based on research in cultural anthropology is closely related to sociological access. The difference between these two approaches lies at the same time on the level of sensitivity, method and aspects of reality that attract attention here. While the sociological approach - as we have just seen - primarily analyzes the economic and institutional aspects, the anthropological approach is interested in a multitude of other aspects that are reflected in language, art, religion, but also in clothing, jewelry, celebrations, and dances , Myths, legends and everything related to ethnology.
In general, cultural anthropology tries to define the characteristics of the different types of people in their social environment - e.g. people from the Mediterranean region - with all investigations into their rural or urban milieu, the values recognized by society (honor and dishonor, secrecy, loyalty, tradition, Art education, schools), the way in which social control is exercised, the ideas about family, house, relatives, the position of women, the institutional binomials such as patron - client, owner - tenant, benefactor - recipient, free person - Slave, also the terms holy and profane, taboos, initiation rituals, magic, the origin of the natural means of production, violence, information, etc.
On the basis of these various elements, typologies and “models” are created that occur in several cultures.
This line of research can of course be useful for the interpretation of the biblical texts. It is mainly used for researching kinship concepts in the Old Testament, for the position of women in Israelite society, for the influence of agrarian rites, etc. In texts that reproduce the teaching of Jesus, e.g. the parables, many individual features can be illuminated by this method become. The same applies to such basic concepts as “Kingdom of God” or to the way of understanding time in salvation history, as well as to the processes of church formation in the early Church. This approach allows a better distinction between permanent elements of the biblical message that are rooted in human nature and contingent imprints that stem from particular cultures. However, like other special approaches, this approach alone is unable to grasp the specific contribution of Revelation. One should not lose sight of this when assessing the significance of one's results.
3. Psychological and psychoanalytic approaches
Psychology and theology never broke off their mutual dialogue. The modern expansion of psychological research to the dynamic structures of the unconscious has led to new attempts at interpreting old texts, including the Bible. Whole works were devoted to the psychoanalytic interpretation of the biblical texts. Lively discussions ensued: how far and under what conditions can psychological and psychoanalytic research contribute to a deeper understanding of Scripture?
The psychological and psychoanalytic research contributes to the enrichment of the biblical exegesis, because thanks to them, biblical texts can be understood as life experiences and behavioral patterns. We know that religion is always in a relationship of dialogue and tension with the unconscious. It contributes to a considerable extent to the correct orientation of human instincts. The dimensions that historical criticism methodically explores are to be supplemented by an analysis of the various levels of reality that are expressed in the texts. Psychology and psychoanalysis try to go in this direction. They open the way to a multidimensional understanding of the Holy Scriptures and thus help to break down the human language of Revelation.
Psychology and, in its way, psychoanalysis, in particular, have brought about a new understanding of symbols. The symbolic language makes it possible to express spheres of religious experience that are not accessible to purely conceptual thinking, but are valuable for the question of truth. Interdisciplinary research carried out jointly by exegetes and psychologists or psychoanalysts therefore brings real advantages that are objectively justified and prove themselves in pastoral care.
Numerous examples can be given that show the necessity of joint efforts by exegetes and psychologists, e.g. when it comes to illuminating the meaning of the cultic rites, the sacrifices, the taboos, the figurative language of the Bible, the metaphorical scope of the Miracle stories to determine the driving forces of the drama that takes place in the apocalyptic visions and auditions. It is not simply a question of describing the symbolic language of the Bible, but of dealing with its revelation and appeal character: in it the numinous reality of God comes into contact with man.
It goes without saying that the dialogue between exegesis and psychology or psychoanalysis must be critical with a view to a better understanding of the Bible and observe the limits of each discipline. An atheistic psychology or psychoanalysis would naturally not be able to adequately understand the realities of faith. Psychology and psychoanalysis are certainly useful in determining the extent of human responsibility; but they must not question the reality of sin and salvation. One must also be careful not to confuse spontaneous religiosity with biblical revelation or to interfere with the historical character of the biblical message, which gives it the value of a once-in-a-lifetime event.
It is also important to note that one cannot simply speak of "psychoanalytic exegesis" as if there were only one. In reality, depending on the various schools and directions of psychology, there are a great number of discoveries that can serve to deepen the human and theological understanding of the Bible. It is by no means an advantage for the common task if certain positions of the different schools are absolutized, on the contrary, it is more harmful.
The human sciences are not limited to sociology, cultural anthropology and psychology. Other directions of research can also be useful in interpreting the Bible. In all these areas one has to respect the mutual competencies and realize that only rarely is the same person qualified in exegesis and a human science at the same time.
E. Contextual Approaches to Scripture
The interpretation of a text always depends on the mentality and the situation of its readers. They pay special attention to certain aspects and unconsciously neglect others. It is therefore inevitable that the exegetes will discover new points of view in their work under the influence of current currents of thought which were previously not sufficiently perceived. However, this requires critical discernment. Today it is particularly the liberation movements and feminism that are receiving the greatest attention.
1. Access to Scripture in the context of deliverance
Liberation theology is a complex phenomenon that cannot be unduly simplified. As a theological movement, it consolidated in the 1970s. Together with the economic, social and political realities of the Latin American countries, there were two great ecclesiastical events that produced them: the 2nd Vatican Council with its expressed will to aggiornamento and to align church pastoral care with the needs of today's world; the 2nd General Assembly of CELAM 1968 in Medellin, which adapted the teaching of the Council to the needs of Latin America. This movement then spread to other countries and parts of the world (Africa, Asia, colored population of the USA).
It is difficult to say whether there is "a" liberation theology and what its method is. It is just as difficult to adequately describe how she reads the Bible in order to identify her contribution and its limitations. It can be said that it is not a special method. She reads the Holy Scriptures from her own socio-cultural and political standpoints and relates them to the concrete needs of the people, who should find nourishment in the Bible for their faith and their lives.
So one is not satisfied with an objectifying interpretation of the text that focuses on what it says in its original context. Rather, one is looking for an understanding that grows out of the people's situation. If they live in oppression, they must turn to the Bible to find the nourishment that will support them in their struggle and in their hopes. Concrete reality must not be ignored; on the contrary, it must be approached directly and illuminated by the light of the word of Scripture. It is from this light that authentic Christian practice emerges, which aims to transform society through justice and love. Faith finds the incentive in Scripture to work for integral liberation.
This access is based on the following basic insights:
God is present in the history of his people to redeem them. He is the god of the poor who does not tolerate oppression or injustice.
Exegesis cannot remain neutral either, but must, like God, take sides with the poor and engage in the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed.
Those who take part in this struggle will find meaning in the biblical texts that only becomes apparent when they are read in the context of real solidarity with the oppressed.
The community of the poor is the best addressee of the Bible as the word of liberation, for the liberation of the oppressed is a communal process. Moreover, the biblical texts were written for communities, and it is communities that are primarily entrusted with reading the Bible. Thanks to the power inherent in the “founding events” (exodus from Egypt, the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus) to bring about new realizations in the course of history, the word of God is and will always be topical.
Liberation theology contains undoubtedly valuable elements: a deep sense of the redeeming presence of God, emphasis on the communal dimension of faith, the urgency of a liberating practice rooted in justice and love, a new appropriation of the Bible that draws light and nourishment from the word of God the people of God draw in the midst of their struggles and their hopes. In this way, the full topicality of the inspired text is highlighted.
However, such an engaging way of reading the Bible carries risks. But since it is tied to a movement that is still in its infancy, the following remarks are only provisional:
This way of reading the Bible relies primarily on narrative and prophetic texts that illuminate situations of oppression and inspire a practice and are thus oriented towards social change. Here and there it can be a little biased and not pay equal attention to all the texts of the Bible. Exegesis can never be entirely neutral; however, it must guard against one-sidedness. In addition, social and political engagement is not directly part of the exegete's duties.
Theologians and exegetes had to make use of the instruments of social analysis in order to bring the biblical message to bear in a socio-political context. Certain currents in liberation theology have undertaken an analysis from this perspective that was inspired by materialistic doctrines. The Bible was then read in this context. This raises questions, particularly about the Marxist principle of class struggle.
Under the pressure of immense social problems, the emphasis has been more on an earthly eschatology, sometimes at the expense of the transcendent end-time dimension of Scripture.
The social and political changes lead this liberation-theological approach to Holy Scripture to ask itself new questions and to look for new orientations. For its further development and its fruitfulness in the Church it will be crucial to clarify its hermeneutical presuppositions, its methods and its coherence with the faith and tradition of the entire Church.
2. Feminist approach
Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics emerged at the end of the 19th century in the USA, in the socio-cultural context of the struggle for women's rights, with the Committee of the Bible Revision. This brought out "The Woman’s Bible" in two volumes (New York 1885, 1898).Since the seventies of our century, in the wake of women's emancipation, this trend emerged with new strength and had an enormous development, mainly in North America. Strictly speaking, one must distinguish between various feminist biblical hermeneutics, because the way in which the Holy Scriptures are dealt with is very different in this area. Their unity comes from the common theme, the woman, and from the pursued goal, the liberation of women and the attainment of equal rights as those of men.
We want to mention three main forms of feminist biblical hermeneutics: the radical, the new orthodox, and the critical form.
The radical form totally rejects the authority of the Bible by saying that the Bible is a product of men with the purpose of ensuring man's rule over woman (androcentrism).
The new orthodox form takes the Bible as a prophetic book and is ready to use it to the extent that it takes the side of the weak, including women; this orientation is regarded as a “canon within a canon”, in order to bring into light everything that serves the liberation of women and their rights.
The critical shape uses a subtle methodology and tries to discover the position and role of Christian women within the Jesus movement and in the Pauline churches. At that time one would have committed to gender equality. But this situation would have been largely blurred in the holy scriptures of the New Testament, and even more so later, as patriarchalism and androcentrism gained more and more the upper hand.
Feminist hermeneutics has not worked out a new method of its own. She uses common methods of exegesis, especially the historical-critical. But it adds two research criteria.
The first is the feminist criterion, which is taken from women's emancipation and moves along the line of the more general movement of liberation theology. It uses a hermeneutic of suspicion: since history is regularly written by the victors, one can only arrive at the truth if one does not simply rely on the texts, but looks for clues in them that reveal other facts.
The second criterion is sociological. It is based on research into the society of the biblical epoch, its social classes and the position of women.
As far as the New Testament texts are concerned, the ultimate goal of the research is not the conception of women as they appear in the New Testament, but the historical reconstruction of two different situations of women in the 1st century: the common one in the Jewish and Greco-Roman World and the creatively new that had arisen in the movement of Jesus and in the Pauline congregations, where everyone, men and women, would have formed a “community of disciples of Jesus” who were “all equal”. This view is based on the text of Gal 3, 28. It is about rediscovering the forgotten story of the role of women in the early Church for the present day.
The positive contributions of feminist exegesis are numerous. Since their emergence, women have been more actively participating in exegetical research. They have often succeeded better than men in realizing the presence, importance and role of women in the Bible, in the history of Christian origins and in the Church. The modern cultural horizon, which pays more attention to the dignity and role of women in society and the Church, makes us ask new questions about the biblical text, from which there are opportunities for new discoveries. The womanly sensibility finds and corrects certain common interpretations that were tendentious and amounted to justifying the rule of the man over the woman.
As far as the Old Testament is concerned, various studies have sought a better understanding of the image of God. The God of the Bible is not the projection of a patriarchal mentality. He is a father; but he is also a god of tenderness and maternal love.
To the extent that feminist exegesis subscribes to a one-sided program, it exposes itself to the temptation to interpret the biblical texts in a tendentious and thus contestable way. In order to substantiate her theses, she often has to rely on the lack of better arguments Argumentum e silentio To fall back on. As is known, this is mostly unreliable; in any case, it is not enough to draw solid conclusions. On the other hand, the attempt to reconstruct a historical situation with the help of fleeting clues in the texts that these texts supposedly want to conceal is questionable. The ultimate consequence of such an attempt is to reject the content of the inspired texts themselves in order to prefer a different, hypothetical construction.
Feminist exegesis often raises the question of power in the Church, which is known to be the subject of debate and disagreement. In this area the feminist exegesis of the Church can only be of use to the extent that it does not succumb to the evils which it itself accuses and, for its part, does not lose sight of the teaching of the Gospel on power as service, a teaching that Jesus did addressed to all his disciples, men and women. (11)
F. The fundamentalist approach to Scripture
The fundamentalist use of the Bible assumes that the Holy Scriptures - the inspired Word of God and free from any error - apply literally and must be interpreted literally in every detail. By such a "literal interpretation" she means an immediate literal interpretation, i.e. an interpretation that a priori excludes any effort to understand the Bible in its historical growth and development. Such a way of reading the Bible is in contrast to the historical-critical method, but also to every other scientific method of interpreting the Holy Scriptures.
The fundamentalist approach to the Holy Scriptures has its roots in the time of the Reformation, when people fought to remain true to the literal meaning of the Holy Scriptures. After the Enlightenment, this way of reading the Bible appeared in Protestantism as a reaction to liberal exegesis. The term "fundamentalist" was coined at the American Bible Congress, held in 1895 in Niagara, New York State. The conservative Protestant exegetes laid down "five points of fundamentalism": the doctrine of the literal inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth of Jesus, the vicarious atonement of Jesus and the physical resurrection at the return of Christ. As the fundamentalist use of the Bible spread to other parts of the world, it led to further varieties in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, all of which also read the Bible "literally". In the second half of the 20th century, the fundamentalist use of the Bible found more and more supporters in religious groups and sects as well as among Catholics.
Although fundamentalism rightly insists on the divine inspiration of the Bible, the inerrancy of God's Word, and the other biblical truths contained in the five principles mentioned, its way of presenting these truths is rooted in an ideology that is not biblical no matter how much their proponents claim the opposite is. Because this requires a total agreement with rigid doctrinal attitudes and demands as the only source of teaching with regard to the Christian life and salvation a reading of the Bible, which rejects any critical questions and research.
The basic problem with this fundamentalist approach to the Holy Scriptures is that it rejects the historical character of biblical revelation and therefore becomes incapable of fully accepting the truth of the Incarnation itself. For fundamentalism, the close connection between the divine and the human in relation to God is a nuisance. He refuses to admit that the inspired Word of God was expressed in human language and written down under divine inspiration by human authors whose skills and resources were limited. He therefore tends to treat the biblical text as if it were literally dictated by the Holy Spirit. He does not see that the word of God was formulated in a language and in a style which are conditioned by the respective epoch of the texts. He pays no attention to the literary genres and the human way of thinking as they exist in the biblical texts, although they are the result of an elaboration over several epochs and bear traces of very different historical situations.
Fundamentalism unduly emphasizes the inerrancy in details of the biblical texts, especially as regards historical facts or so-called scientific truths. Often he understands as historical what does not lay claim to historicity; for for fundamentalism everything is historical that is reported or narrated in the past tense without even paying the necessary attention to the possibility of a symbolic or figurative meaning.
Fundamentalism often tends to ignore the problems of the biblical text in its Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek language. It is not uncommon for it to be closely tied to a specific old or new translation. Nor does he go into the fact of "relectures" in certain sections within the Bible itself.
As far as the Gospels are concerned, fundamentalism does not take account of the growing tradition of the Gospels, but naively confuses the final text of this tradition (what was written by the Evangelists) with its first form (the deeds and words of the historical Jesus). At the same time he neglects an important dimension: the way in which the first Christian communities themselves understood the impact of Jesus and his message. It is precisely this early Christian understanding that testifies to the apostolic origin of the Christian faith and is its direct expression. Fundamentalism thus obscures the claim intended by the gospel itself.
One cannot deny that fundamentalism has a tendency towards intellectual narrowness. For example, he considers an old past cosmology, because it is found in the Bible, to be consistent with reality. This prevents any dialogue with an open conception of the relationship between culture and faith. He relies on an uncritical interpretation of certain Bible texts to justify political ideas and social behavior that is characterized by prejudices that are quite simply in clear contrast to the Gospel, such as racial discrimination and the like.
And finally, fundamentalism separates the interpretation of the Bible from tradition because it is based on the principle of "sola scriptura". The tradition, which is led by the Spirit of God, however, develops organically within the community of faith out of the Holy Scriptures. Fundamentalism lacks the knowledge that the New Testament arose in the Christian church and that it is sacred scripture of this church, the existence of which preceded the writing of its scriptures. Because of this, fundamentalism is often "anti-church". He considers the creeds, dogmas and liturgical life that have become part of the ecclesiastical tradition to be of secondary importance. The same is true of the teaching function of the church itself. It presents itself as a form of private interpretation which fails to recognize that the church is based on the Bible and that it draws its life and inspiration from the scriptures.
The fundamentalist approach is dangerous because it attracts people who are looking for biblical answers to their life problems. He can deceive them by offering them pious but illusory interpretations instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily provide instant, straightforward answers to each of these problems. Without saying it, fundamentalism invites you to give up your own mind. He gives a deceptive security in that he unconsciously confuses the human limits of the biblical message with the divine content of this message.
II. Problems of hermeneutics
A. Philosophical hermeneutics
The path of exegesis must be reconsidered in the sense that it must take account of contemporary philosophical hermeneutics. This emphasizes the implication of subjectivity in knowledge, especially in historical knowledge. Hermeneutic reflection has gained a new impetus with the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey and especially with Martin Heidegger. In the wake of these philosophers, but also independently of them, various authors have deepened contemporary hermeneutic theory and its application to Scripture. Among them are Rudolf Bultmann, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. It is not possible here to give a summary of their work. It must suffice to outline a few central ideas of their philosophy that influenced biblical interpretation. (12)
1. Modern Perspectives
Since there is a cultural distance between the world of the 1st and 20th centuries, Bultmann emphasized the "pre-understanding" that is necessary for any understanding. In this sense he worked out an existential theory of interpretation of the New Testament texts. For him it is important that the reality of which the Holy Scriptures speak speaks to people of today. In referring to Heidegger, he establishes that the exegesis of a biblical text is simply not possible without certain conditions that require understanding. The "pre-understanding" is based on the interpreter's relationship to the matter of which the text speaks. The "pre-understanding" must, however, be deepened and expanded, even changed and corrected by what the text speaks of, so that the interpreter escapes subjectivism.
The question that arises is that of the correct terminology with which the Holy Scriptures must be approached so that people today can understand them. Bultmann believes he can find the answer in Heidegger's existential analysis. Heidegger's existentials would have a universal meaning and would offer the most suitable structures and terms to understand human existence as it is revealed in the message of the New Testament.
Gadamer also underlines the historical distance between the text and its interpreter. He takes up the theory of the hermeneutical circle and develops it further. The anticipations and preconceptions that characterize our understanding come from the tradition that sustains us. This consists of a total of historical and cultural conditions that represent our living environment, our horizon of understanding. The interpreter is asked to enter into dialogue with the reality of which the text speaks. Understanding occurs in the merging of the two horizons, that of the text and that of the reader ("horizon merging"). It is only possible if there is a correspondence ("belonging"), i.e. a fundamental relationship between the interpreter and his object. (13) Hermeneutics is a dialectical process: the understanding of a text is always an expanded self-understanding.
Of Ricoeur's hermeneutical thinking, the emphasis must first be held on which he places on the process of distancing as an indispensable prerequisite for a real appropriation of the text. A first distance lies between the text and its author; because as soon as it is written, the text is given a certain autonomy from its author; he begins a career of meaning ‘. Another distance separates the text from its respective readers; they must respect the otherness of the world of the text. The methods of literary and historical analysis are therefore necessary for the interpretation. However, the meaning of a text can only be fully grasped if it is actualized in the experience of the readers who appropriate it. These are called upon to release new meanings from their situation in the perspective of the fundamental sense as it emerges from the text. Knowledge of the Bible must not get stuck in language. Rather, it must penetrate to the reality of which the text speaks. The religious language of the Bible is a symbolic language that "makes you think", a language whose meaningfulness is never exhausted. It is a language that means and refers to a transcendent reality and at the same time awakens in people the sense of the deep dimension of their being.
2. The contribution of hermeneutics to exegesis
How are these contemporary theories of text interpretation to be assessed? The Bible is the word of God for all successive times. Therefore one should not ignore any hermeneutic theory that allows methods of literary and historical criticism to be embedded in another model of interpretation.It is a matter of bridging the distance between the epoch of the authors and the first addressees of the biblical texts and our present time in order to update the message of the texts in the right way so that it nourishes the faithful life of Christians. Every text exegesis must be supplemented by a “hermeneutic” in the modern sense of the word.
The necessity of a hermeneutics, i.e. an interpretation in our world today, finds its justification in the Bible itself as well as in the history of its interpretation. All of the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the products of a long process of reinterpreting the founding events related to the life of the communities of believers. In the church tradition, the church fathers, the first interpreters of the Holy Scriptures, were of the opinion that their exegesis of the text was only complete when they had shown the meaning of the text for the Christians of their time, in their situation. One is faithful to the intention of the biblical texts only to the extent that one tries through their formulations to reach the reality of faith that is expressed in them and connects this with the experience of faith of today.
Modern hermeneutics is a healthy response to historical positivism and the temptation to use criteria of objectivity in the study of the Bible that apply to the natural sciences. On the one hand, the events mentioned in the Bible are interpreted events. On the other hand, any exegesis of the narratives of these events necessarily implies the subjectivity of the exegete. A correct understanding of the biblical text is only available to those who have a living relationship with what the text speaks of. The question that every interpreter asks himself is this: Which hermeneutic theory makes it possible to grasp the deep reality of which the Holy Scriptures speak, and to express this clearly and meaningfully for people today?
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