Monday, March 14, 2022

Re-thinking Scripture (3)

 More brilliant comments on last week's post - thank you!

One way to think about what I am trying to push for is expressed in this (albeit somewhat triumphalist - or "mock ironical" triumphalist) Tweet:

Scripture generates theology (our response to what we read, our understanding of what we read, with "our" invoking the church reading Scripture rather than "my" reading which might lead to "private interpretation.") and theology influences how we read Scripture. Hopefully this is a virtuous rather than vicious circle!

A lovely example in practice occurred this weekend where the readings set down for me to preach on were:

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 9:28-36.

The Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke) is connected to our transfiguration (our lowly bodies becoming bodies of glory, Philippians).

Yet, somewhat trickily, from any kind of "neat" biblical textual connection perspective:

- Luke does not use the lovely Greek word for transfiguration which Mark and Matthew use (in English, metamorphosis);

- in any case, Paul in Philippians uses a different Greek word for the transfiguration he is talking about (metaschematisei).

Some theology (building on themes of glory in both passages, including Matthew and Mark as voices in the reading of Luke) is required to say (as I the preacher said), our transfiguration is connected to Jesus' transfiguration.

Then: relating Philippians to some aspects of current life, I made two further points, from 3:17 and 3:20 - points which involve some theological reflection as well as reading out the words of the text.

On 3:17: there are some Christian examples we should not follow (e.g. very difficult to follow the example of Patriarch Kirill at the moment), so how do we apply this verse to our lives and the question of whose lives we model our lives on. In short, my proposal was that we follow those whose lives demonstrate the influence of the whole of the New Testament on them.

On 3:20: picking up a cue from a great footnote in my New Oxford Annotated Bible, "our citizenship in heaven" means we should not give any ultimate allegiance, in politics or otherwise, to any human figure or hero.

To say the latter in a sermon (which is pretty unremarkable and I imagine most preachers would say something along those lines, though maybe not in Trumpian on Putinian churches) is a theological interpretation of what Paul writes about our heavenly citizenship.

In some ways, the significance of what I am discussing here is about our willingness to acknowledge the role theology plays in all reading (and preaching) of Scripture.


Unknown said...

"Theological interpretation..."



Varanasi is not Jerusalem, but hear me out on this.

You will sometimes hear it said that Hindus have or worship 100 gods. This is a clumsy Victorian way of saying something more profound: Hindus believe that the methods and experience of devotion to a god are the same no matter what concept is the focus of that devotion. Indeed, an object becomes a god by receiving that devotion. When you understand devotion to a god that way, words like *theology* do not make any sense.

On one hand, the story and character of a god may partially explain why a given person is devoted to a given divinity, but they do not explain the logic of the devotion itself. A science of that god might be a psychology of the devotees it attracts, but it is neither what Hinduism's great speculative minds have done, nor what say St Paul did.

On the other hand, if the story and character of one god were the inescapable reality of all things, then it seems that other godlings, real though they might be, are in some way not ultimate. The science of such a god would be what we, with our Judaic and Hellenistic traditions could recognise as a theology.

Unknown said...

If a stack of documents mentions what many people take as the focus of their devotion, then you can read it in a way more native to Varanasi or in a way more native to Jerusalem.

In the former way, you have a theory of devotion (aka religion) that explains what devotees see in those documents. In the latter, the nature and character of YHWH explain everything, including the documents. The former is not theological; the latter inevitably is.

How theological reading of the Bible came to be rare in some provinces of the Body is a long story that begins with the Hundred Years War.


Unknown said...


In framing *theological interpretation* as I have done, I have included both those (eg Richard Hays, Robert Jenson) for whom the creeds are a *rule of faith* for reading the scriptures, and also those (esp N T Wright, Jeremy Begbie) for whom they are clear without any rule, provided that Jesus is not abstracted from the ancient people of YHWH.


Father Ron said...


This was not the canonical Scriptures, which are about 'The Word' - a useful indicator of the existence and the living work of The Word Made Flesh in Jesus Christ. One of the problems, I feel, with some modern-day Christians, is that they have mistaken words of Scripture for the as a substitute for an experience of THE WORD made flesh. This is one reason why the Scribes and Pharisees found it so difficult to accept that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. And this is why their great Scriptural learning was not sufficient for their conversion - without the grace of their Christian Baptism into Christ, The Incarnate Word.

If the Church relied on Sola Scripture - without the conviction of the Holy Spirit, given as promised in Christian Initiation rituals - there would be no Body of Christ, committed to the ongoing work of reconciliation and redemption in our world today. YES, we need the Scriptures as a foundation of belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer, but we must also remember that the WORD had/has to become actual flesh and blood before we humans could properly understand 'The great LOVE of God - as revealed in The Son'. This fact gives warranty to the Holy Week Antiphon: "Where Charity and Love are: - There is God!" God's Word is no longer buried in the writings, but has become flesh and blood in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said: "They will know you're my disciples by your LOVE" - not by your endless quarrels and arguments about scriptural authority and authenticity.

Yes, I know, I do end up actually quoting Scripture to back up my arguments. The point is that 'Scripture is given for our learning about 'God in Christ' BUT it not the sole instrument of Christian revelation, which continues through the action of the Holy Spirit, Whose work will not be done until God determines the time and circumstance of THE END.

Mark Murphy said...

I love your first point here, Father Ron: incarnation, THE WORD made flesh, and how this was missed by those with their heads in books, so to speak.

How many other 'incarnations' do we miss?

'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my family, you did it to me.'

THE WORD made flesh, made flesh, made flesh...

Two thousand years and a bit later, we are all still unpacking what that really means, dissolves, and opens - aren't we?

Of course, this illustrates what I think (?) is Peter's point: I am reading Matthew through the theology of John.

Mark (who once went to St Luke's)

Unknown said...

"Ye are servants no longer, but friends, for a servant does not know what his master is about."

Bible bullies are menacing because they are are bullies, not because they have bibles. Their error is not in failing to look for *revelation* outside the canon-- the creed alone has all that we can have in this aeon-- but in bending what has been revealed to the desires of their authoritarian personalities.

Bluntly-- because it is morning here and I am still sipping my first coffee-- they are excited to excess by *he shall come to judge*. One can have compassion for the souls whose formation and wounds have made the kaleidoscope of this aeon troubling. But they err in trying to force that Not Yet into its totality Now by human will.

Doing so runs afoul of *I believe in God, the Father Almighty*. He alone has that power, and he mostly exercises it by creating and transforming creatures, not by legislating for them.

Nothing that we can know about this God of Abraham's family is separable from the datum that he creates and maybe recreates absolutely every single thing. When this Creator-creature relation is not central to our thinking about him, that thinking is wrong. Or at least, it is faithful to some idol.

If one does, in fact, love the Creator God mentioned in bibles, then one trusts his providence. Necessarily then, one faces perplexity with a heroic patience that he is working out his good purposes. No patience, no faith.

So, we who believe respond to bible bullies by calling them back from a hysterical and futile activism to the faith that inspires the deep patience for which all our souls were made. And if fear of us is what made them so menacing in the first place, then we are especially careful to practice what we preach.


Unknown said...


If I were to say that the way to make coffee is *revelation*, then I would be saying that God has acted with the intent of making it known as a medium of relation to himself. Three such insights have been revealed.

If were to say that the way to make coffee is *dogma*, then I would be saying that an ecumenical council has clarified an article of revelation by defining that recipe.

Most Christians are surprised by what are, strictly speaking, *not* even dogmas-- the canon of scripture, theories of the atonement, rituals and sacraments, justification by grace through faith, etc.

If I were to say that my recipe is *doctrine*, then I would be placing it in that lesser group of several ideas that have been officially taught somewhere in the Body.

Finally, saying that my way of making coffee is a *theologoumenon* would be asserting that it is a widespread private inference from revelation or dogma. For example, there was a late Byzantine theologoumenon that St Mary's heroic virtue in her youth had repaired the human fault from Adam, so that Jesus received from her an uncorrupt human nature.

Some readers here will be startled to notice that an idea seemingly well-grounded in the Bible is not necessarily even a theologoumenon in the Body. For example, the idea that all will be saved through a purgative fire has been inferred from the scriptures, but it was not widely studied until the C19-20, and no ecumenical church officially teaches it today, although several informally tolerate it.

That reminds us that the most heated disputes in the Body tend to be, not about the few things directly revealed, but rather about that penumbra of tolerated speculation. In those disputes, it is not unusual for happy warriors to claim more for their opinions than even standard doctrine should be accorded. Hence this note.


Unknown said...

Poor Father Fred.

He is a good priest and a theologically solid Anglican. But he has still not found a parish as solid as he is.

His first parish was bored with saints and sacraments, but reliably fascinated by hell. They did not like bible-reading, but could find all the texts that proved that they were not going there.

(However, when a parishioner found the Jerusalem location for Gehenna on Google Earth-- a mostly empty field with apartment towers near a Hadassah hospital-- those planning a Holy Lands tour insisted on going to hell to take selfies there.)

When Father Fred asked the souls in his charge to do something-- food, drink, shelter, anything-- for the poor, the families who liked him best went through the motions. But others grumbled about helping freeloaders. Then a nearby evangelical asked their help with a mission to save the poor from hell-- food, drink, shelter, anything-- and their generosity was limitless.

When he carefully said that Anglicans believe in *prima scriptura*, they thought that he was using a fancy Latin phrase for *sola scriptura*. When he expounded the historicity of the Resurrection, they thanked him for proving that the Bible is literally true.

They could not understand his affection for the C14 English mystics. How could you be sure of avoiding hell in a cloud of unknowing? If contemplating the Crucifixion like Walter Hilton could really make you a new person, didn't that defeat Jesus's purpose in dying so that you would not have to?

Strangest to their mind was Julian of Norwich. Turning 30 could be a disturbing experience; they could relate to that. But unless God were *really angry* at her, why would he have her walled into a church, make her feel 16 times like she was Jesus hanging on the cross, make her relive that by writing a book about it, and then make her rewrite it?

Father Fred, they decided, had too much faith not to be saved. But he had some weird interests.

Father Ron said...

Thanks, Bowman, for this link. I am not surprised at scholarly exegesis that supports a wider view of gender/sexual identity than those of the binary mindset.

Anonymous said...


Putin, like Hitler, has made bad decisions when his evolving ideology has interfered with his military judgment. In this instance, an overestimate of his army's logistical capabilities and an underestimate of the effectiveness of Ukrainian resistance have led to a stalemate. So Putin's commanders are nihilistically blasting civilians and risking their own lives on the front lines-- four Russian generals have died there-- to show him that they are somehow fighting.

But this destruction does not serve-- in fact it subverts-- Putin's ideological objective. So there are absurdly wide gaps between the Putin's restoration of throne-and-altar Russia and the demolition of what that project regards as the spiritual heart of the old empire. That is, one could be an enthusiastic supporter of Putin's authoritarian rule, his geopolitical aims, and his use of force to attain them, and yet horrified by the fortunes of a triumphal entry that has become a war dangerous to the whole empire.

That is Kirill's position. His appearances with Justin and Francis allow him to say so. Those appearances also allow all three to apply whatever pressure they can to stop the shelling and missile launches. It probably will not work, but it is worth the try.

Archbishop Cranmer protests that their expressions of concern about the conflict are not saying enough. True, but anything more that can be said begins to unravel the Moscow patriarchate itself.

For Kirill, to agree with Justin and Francis on say just war theory or subsidiarity would be to acknowledge Ukrainian sovereignty. To do that is, in a few ways, to abandon the rationale for an authoritarian Russian state that unifies most of Eurasia. To symbolise that is, to Russian nationalists-- and defenders of Christendom elsewhere-- Kirill's job.

Kirill and Francis would have a similar difficulty urging Justin to call for a secular republican state in England. That explains their restraint.


Father Ron said...

Contrary to the Putin Offensive (both verb and noun), he we have Pope Francis' Gospel wisdom for today (would this could also be the understanding of the Russian Patriarch Kirill):

"SUNDAY, MARCH 20, 2022

“Lent is a favourable time to seek out – and not to avoid – those in need; to reach out – and not to ignore – those who need a sympathetic ear and a good word; to visit – and not to abandon – those who are lonely. Let us put into practice our call to do good to all, and take time to love the poor and needy, those abandoned and rejected, those discriminated against and marginalized.”
Pope Francis