• 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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Fowl on History and Historical Criticism, pt. 3

This is the third in an eight-part series of excerpts from Stephen E. Fowl’s forthcoming volume in the Cascade Companion series. Theological Interpretation of Scripture will be released later this summer by Cascade Books.

Theological Interpretation of ScriptureContents
Introduction: What Sort of a Companion Is This?
One – Scripture: Its Nature and Place in God’s Drama of Salvation
Two – Theological Interpretation and its Relation to Various other Concerns
Three – Practices and Habits of Theological Interpretation
Four – Prospects and Issues for the Future
Five – Guests at a Party

The series of posts will follow Fowl’s sustained discussion of history and historical criticism in the second chapter. Feel free to comment.

Part one Part two


The nature of biblical interpretation shifts decisively when the relationship between text and world is reversed in the modern period. When the world becomes seen as, more or less, immediately intelligible to all rational people, the “real” world becomes detached from its biblical rendering. In the light of this transformation,

[t]he real events of history constitute an autonomous temporal framework of their own under God’s providential design. Instead of rendering them accessible, the narratives, heretofore indispensable as means of access to the events, now simply verify them, thus affirming their autonomy and the fact that they are in principle accessible through any kind of description that can manage to be accurate either predictively or after the event. It simply happens that, again under God’s providence, it is the Bible that contains the accurate descriptions. (Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, 4–5)

The causes of this transformation are numerous and complex. They are for the most part related to the scientific, political, economic, and philosophical upheavals that accompany the rise of what we have come to call modernity. For our purposes it is less important to explain how this transformation took place than to explain some of its consequences for the study of the Bible and theological interpretation. For example, in the light of this shift “the real” or “the historical” becomes its own realm, accessible to all, if not immediately evident to all. This move separates Scriptural, theological and ecclesial concerns from the concerns of historical investigation. In the light of such a separation scholars came to see historical investigation of Scripture as its own autonomous realm of inquiry. It is not surprising that once “the real” or “the historical” became its own autonomous realm, then a great deal of effort would also be devoted to developing procedures and methods for understanding, and interpreting reality. Eventually, historical investigation actively sought to exclude theological and ecclesial concerns. Instead, the scholars began to devote a great deal of intellectual effort to inquiring into the historical accuracy of the Bible.

Once the shift is made from reading Scripture so as to understand and live within the world (past, present, and future) more faithfully, to reading Scripture to see if it matched up to an already known and understood reality, a gap opened up between the real world and its past, on the one hand, and the world depicted in Scripture, on the other hand. It is within this historical context, and within this set of concerns that “historical criticism” develops.


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