Saturday, March 7, 2009

Martin Luther's Hermeneutic of Faith and Suspicion

I posted Martin Luther's 1522 "Preface to the Revelation of St. John" a month ago because it illustrates Luther's mid-way position between the patristic and medieval "hermeneutics of faith," on the one hand, and the wholesale hermeneutics of suspicion of the Enlightenment and its historical-critical heirs, on the other:
"For Luther, as for Erasmus and all earlier Christian hermeneuts, the disposition of the reader remains crucial: we must preface our reading with prayer and continue with the eye of faith, and our faith is thereby strengthened by our reading. But although his is clearly a hermeneutics of faith, it is also actually a hermeneutics of suspicion, at least in principle, for thereby we grow in faith in a typically circular movement from universal faith to particular inquiry and back to universal faith, which is strengthened in the process." - David Jasper, A Short Introduction To Hermeneutics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 59.
If Augustine would not stop until he found Christ in the text--by allegory if not in the literal sense, Luther was willing to discard New Testament books, such as James and Revelation, in which he could not see Christ.

My own working approach is to accept the canon on the basis of tradition. I assume the Spirit guided the selection of our 27 NT books, and I accept them as given as a rule of faith. I also happen to like Revelation--not least because of its fantastic visions and images.


John Ottens said...

My own working approach is to accept the canon on the basis of tradition. I assume the Spirit guided the selection of our 27 NT books, and I accept them as given as a rule of faith.

Now this may be a little off-topic, but considering your unique position as someone who specializes in early Jewish literature and teaches at a Protestant college, I'd be fascinated to read a post about which canon it is that you affirm as being Spirit-guided, and why . . .

d. miller said...

Why, the Protestant one, of course. You'll have to help me out here, John. What do you have in mind?

John Ottens said...

Oh, I was just thinking specifically of the Apocrypha. The NT canon is the easy one to affirm. :)

d. miller said...

I believe the rabbis discussed whether or not Ben Sira "defiled the hands," and presumably the Greek texts of the additions to Esther and Daniel were treated as Scripture in some circles, but I am not aware of debate about the inspired status of other books of the Apocrypha. In From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Shaye Cohen argues that the contents of early Christian copies of the LXX “reflect, at least to some degree, the biblical canons used by the Jews of the Greek diaspora” (181). I am not convinced.

It is important to remember that our LXX is an artificial construct. There was no such thing as the LXX as we understand it today in the ancient world. The LXX technically refers only to the translation of the Torah/Pentateuch in the 3rd century BCE. The rest of the Hebrew Bible was translated later (probably during the 2nd century BCE). It is also important to remember that the codex did not come into common use until well into the common era, and it was Christians, apparently, who popularized its use. This means we can't work back from our printed and bound LXX, whose contents reflect, I think, the great 4th century Christian collections, to conclusions about the Bible of Greek-speaking Jews.

Some Jews apparently did regard 1 Enoch as Scripture, but I don't think most of the books of the Apocrypha were serious contenders.