• Christian Theology and the Bible is a section of the Society of Biblical Literature. Our task is to explore the intersection between the disciplines of Christian Theology and Biblical Studies. Does or can such an intersection exist? What then could be or would be theological exegesis? What is its relation to religious communities, the history of interpretation, historical theology, history of confession and doctrine, so-called Higher Criticism, etc.?
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Abstracts for Hagar and Sarah in the Bible: Session 2

Christian Theology and the Bible
Society of Biblical Literature
Annual Meeting 2009
New Orleans, LA

Benjamin Laugelli, University of Virginia
“Sarah’s Eden: A Reconsideration of the Meaning of ‘ednâ in Genesis 18.12”

“So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure (Heb. ‘ednâ)?'” (Gen 18.12, NRSV). According to the NRSV’s reading, Sarah laughs at the suggestion that she, though quite old, will experience the sensual delights of sexual pleasure with her husband, who is even more advanced in years than she. While such a reading is semantically possible, the paper considers the merits of another interpretive option, namely that in Gen 18.12 Sarah marvels not that she will experience sexual pleasure but that her womb at last will become fertile. The following evidence commends this reading: first, a recent archaeological find that associates the root ‘dn with depictions of a well irrigated fecund land; second, the concern throughout Gen 11-18 for Sarah’s procreative (in)capacity; and third, ancient Jewish interpretation of Gen 18.12, according to which Sarah’s body is regenerated in order to regain the capability for conception. Further, the verbal relationship and semantic similarity between ‘ednâ in Gen 18.12 and ‘eden in Gen 2-3 implicitly associates Sarah’s soon-to-be fertile womb with the abundant fecundity of the primordial garden. Just as the mythic Garden of Eden was the place of origin for the first humans, so Sarah’s well irrigated fertile womb will nourish and sustain a new humanity, the promised seed of Abraham.


Hubert Keener, Baylor University
“De Doctrina Christiana and the Crisis of Biblical Theology: Augustine’s Hermeneutic and Brevard Childs’s Exegesis”

Beginning in the late 1960’s, Brevard S. Childs expressed his discontent with the contemporary historical-critical approach to biblical commentary and articulated an alternative approach to the text wherein the canonical context was to be normative for biblical interpretation. Since then, a substantial body of literature has responded directly to the canonical exegetical program of Childs, and several salient concerns about Childs’s work have emerged concerning both the theoretical basis for his approach and the implementation and practice of his approach. This paper argues that a post-critical appropriation of Augustine’s hermeneutic, as articulated in De Doctrina Christiana, provides the best theoretical basis for a canon-exegetical approach. The first part of the paper demonstrates how attempts to connect Childs with postmodernism (Brett) fail because postmodern epistemic systems are incompatible with a canon-exegetical approach, and attempts to carry forth Childs’s work on Childs’s own terms (Noble, Scalise) fail because they do not adequately address Childs’s theoretical shortcomings. The second part of the paper suggests a way forward by arguing that Augustine’s hermeneutical theory provides a solid theological foundation for a canon-exegetical approach. A canonical approach built upon the theology articulated in De Doctrina Christiana will be able to avoid the pitfalls of fundamentalism, modernism, and post-modernism. The paper concludes by proffering some practical principles for canonical exegesis, based on Augustine’s hermeneutical principles, which address some of the difficulties that Childs and others have encountered in attempting to put a canon-exegetical approach into practice. This paper is interdisciplinary in nature in that it integrates the related disciplines of biblical studies, theology, philosophy, and literary theory.


Gregory Lee, Duke University
“Text Tormented or Treasure Untold? Calvin and Augustine on Galatians 4”

Calvin considers Augustine one of his chief theological influences, but the two differ radically on the interpretation of the Old Testament. No locus in Scripture more clearly highlights their differences than Paul’s treatment of Sarah and Hagar in Gal. 4. Augustine considers this passage paradigmatic for Christian appropriation of the Old Testament. Sarah signifies the church, and the Old Testament is a book of signs that refer allegorically to Christ. Calvin acknowledges the beauty of Paul’s illustration but rejects the idea that this passage legitimizes allegory. Origen and his followers tortured Scripture, undermining its true sense, and mobilized the rise of medieval interpretation – a contrivance Calvin judges Satanic. Augustine and Calvin’s divergence on Gal. 4 corresponds to deeper differences concerning Israel and the unity of the testaments. Augustine treats Israel primarily as a figure for the church, and he construes the unity of the testaments in terms of a sign-referent framework. The Old Testament signifies the New Testament as the word “ox” signifies the animal, and allegory unearths Scripture’s deepest mysteries. For Calvin, Israel simply was the church during Old Testament times, and the unity of Scripture is the one covenant of Christ across the testaments. Calvin’s insistence on the integrity of the covenant before Christ secures his emphasis on the literal sense, allowing little room for mystical readings. The differences between Augustine and Calvin demonstrate the organic relationship between theological substructures and concrete interpretive practices.


Gesila Uzukwu, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
“The Promise to Abraham and Sarah: Reading Gal 3:38c in Light of Galatians 3-4”

In the exegetical discussion of promise in Galatians, scholars focus almost exclusively on the figure and role of Abraham to discuss Paul’s understanding of the promise and the connection between Christ and the promise. They have paid little attention to Sarah, as if a reference to her had little significance. In Gal 3:15-29 and 4:21-31 (Rom 9:9) where Paul speaks concerning the promise, he does not only mention Abraham and Sarah as the recipients of the promise (3:16-18, 4:23b), but also discusses the major role they have played in the promise (3:14, 4:28). In addition, Paul discusses both figures in his Christological reading of the promise (3:16, 4:22-23), in the manner in which the coming of Christ redefines their position in the promise and in the way in which believers are now included in the promise (3:23-29). In seeking to find the role of Paul’s statement in Gal 3:28 for the rest of Galatians, Troy Martin (2003) suggests that Gal 3:28 parallels the discussion in Genesis 17, a text which deals with the covenant of promise. Martin, however, focused narrowly on Gal 3:28 and Gen 17:9-14 LXX, leaving his reader wondering whether his discussion of the ‘covenant of circumcision’ sheds any real light on the function of Gal 3:28c in the letter. In contrast to the majority of scholarly studies which suggest that Gal 3:28c does not fit in the letter to the Galatians, we will suggest that Paul wrote Gal 3:28c with the significance of the promise narrative in Gal 3:28c in mind. On the basis of the structure of Gal 3:28c we are going to show how we can read Gal 3:28c as Paul’s new interpretation of the recipients of the covenant of promise.

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