Biblical Theology and Theological Exegesis
Stephen Fowl begins his recent book, Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation, with an observation germane to this consultation. "The discipline of biblical theology," he writes, "in its most common form, is systematically unable to generate serious theological interpretation of scripture."1 When I first read this sentence, I gave immediate assent. Influenced by Hans Frei's genealogy of modern biblical scholarship, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, I have long nurtured a critical suspicion of contemporary students of the bible, even a suspicion of the work of scholars committed to serving the church with their learned expertise. More recently, reflection upon the spiritual logic of the modern critical tradition has deepened my conviction that the mental habits of contemporary intellectual life, habits often nurtured in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century origins of historical-critical study of the Bible, have a morbid and sterile tendency.2
Unsystematic reading in the history of modern biblical interpretation has only reinforced my suspicions. The link between anti-dogmatic theological liberalism and the methodological program outlined by Benjamin Jowett in his influential essay, "On the Interpretation of Scripture" in Essays and Reviews, is patent.3 His essay is a treasure trove of modernist truisms that continue to underwrite the methods of historical-critical biblical study.4 One can be brought to despair by the ways in which modern historical critics of the Bible are so blissfully ignorant and uncritical of their own intellectual discipline.5 This ignorance is compounded by the fact that in the United States biblical scholarship is overwhelmed with refugees from the most dominant form of American Christian modernism, fundamentalism. Thus, the shift from shrill Biblicism to an equally shrill anti-Biblicism is seamless, and the consensus is preserved. As Jowett proclaims, the dead hand of dogma corrupts the pure and original biblical faith. Exegesis disciplined by the doctrinal tradition of the church is to be opposed. Modern myths of pure access and foundational certainties triumph across the board.
Yet, the more I have thought about Fowl's assessment of our current situation, the less I have been satisfied with my own happy assent. For I worry that I have been judging the failures of biblical scholarship on the basis of my own half-baked ideas about theological exegesis, playing the superior critic of the critics with my own postmodern smugness. The more I have thought about the key comparative term in Fowl's assessment, the less confident I have become that I know just what might constitute the "serious theological interpretation of scripture" that "the discipline of biblical theology" fails to "generate'. After all, one should hesitate to accuse a discipline of failing to deliver desired results if one cannot adequately characterize the desideratum. My goal, then, is to formulate an account of theological exegesis, to take a material stand by which to clarify what is lacking in contemporary biblical exegesis.
To achieve this goal, I will not attempt a theological definition of "theological exegesis." Instead, I wish to work inductively. I will begin with a modest survey of recent biblical commentaries, leavened with some backward glances to the patristic tradition of exegesis. My selection is ad hoc and limited, but I am increasingly convinced that one of the impediments to clear thinking about theological exegesis on the part of theologians is a drift toward abstraction. To exhort one and all to read the Bible "theologically," or to read it "for the church," offers little insight into what is necessary. Furthermore, digressions into Riceourian, narrative, and postmodern hermeneutical theory seem to produce more ideas than exegesis.6 My hope is that attention to particular exegetical performances will help bring the question of theological exegesis into focus, and do so at a level of textual specificity familiar to biblical scholars.
In what follows, I offer a commentary on some commentaries, moving from New Testament to Old Testament. This brief tour through instances of modern exegesis will allow me to formulate the problem—the problem of distance -- that dominates most efforts to recover a theologically rich interpretation of scripture. Insofar as I am able to give clear expression to this problem, I will be better able to suggest a way forward to a vigorous practice of theological exegesis.
For focus, consider a relatively obscure verse from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans—8:26. The verse reads as follows: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." This passage has a fruitful richness. It has philological puzzles: the rare word "intercession. The "likewise" raises questions about the unit of text appropriate for fruitful exegesis. The parallel of the Spirit's intercession with the Son's intercession places the verse within a Trinitarian horizon. More importantly, for my purposes, the recent history of commentary is marked by telling failures and some useful successes.
Anders Nygren does not directly discuss Romans 8:26 in his Commentary on Romans.7 Instead, he offers comment on 8:18-30 as a whole unit, emphasizing the single theme of eschatological victory. For Nygren, these verses are best understood as St. Paul's expression of confidence in "God's mighty acts." The exegesis is interesting for two reasons: (1) it echoes Nygren's own theology of Christus victor, and (2) it reflects the a-Trinitarian pattern of so many New Testament commentaries. "God" and "Christ" are the only subjects of divine predicates in this exegesis. This is very striking, because I have the impression that this a-Trinitarian framework is not the result of historical-critical compunction. That is to say, Nygren is vigorously "theological" in his reading of the text and spends little or no time discussing philological or historical questions.
Paul Achtemeier's commentary on Romans is more detailed than Nygren's, and he comments directly on 8:26, but like Nygren, the exegesis is strikingly similar in theological consequence.8 Furthermore, like Nygren, there is no operative Trinitarian language. So, when explaining the intercession of the Spirit, Achtemeier concludes, "Without the Spirit, we are simply at a loss to know how to communicate with God'.9 Achtemeier's exegetical approach does more than repeat Nygren's approach and theology. Achtemeier advances apologetic, doctrinal, intratextual, and anagogical comments as well. For example, against those tempted to spiritualize preemptively, Achtemeier observes the Pauline idea of creation's "groaning" is not simply poetic. A polluted environment suffers. At the doctrinal level, Achtemeier treats all of Romans 8 as testimony that the doctrine of predestination produces confidence and not fear. "We have confidence in our future with God only because that future is in God's hands."10 On this theme, he points to numerous Old Testament passages that affirm that the future is in God's hands (e.g., Isaiah 44:6-8). And finally, Achtemeier offers an anagogical exegesis (though he may not see it as such) of 8:26-27. God will heed prayers "characterized less by petitions for personal good than for the good of the community of God's people"11
This anagogical approach to 8:26 is not unique to Achtemeier. Another commentator interprets the verse as reassuring us that even our feeble efforts in prayer will be appreciated by God.12 Still another makes the anodyne comment on 8:26 that St. Paul is trying to remind us "that we who are Christians are not spiritual giants we would like to be."13 Compare these instances of spiritual interpretation with John Chrysostom. As a moralizing interpreter, Chrysostom often scans as a contemporary exegete. In his Homilies on Romans, his comment on this verse observes that "we are ignorant of much that is profitable for us."14 Yet, the homiletical point is made in the context of a discussion of what might be called the pneumatic history of the church. Referring to 1 Corinthians 14, Chrysostom notes that "God did in those days give all that were baptized certain excellent gifts." This pneumatic plentitude stands in contrast to his own day. Exploiting the presence of the notion of intercession in Roman 8:26, Chrysostom observes that pneumatic potency has been concentrated in the ordained clergy who offer up prayers on behalf of the people. I do not want to commend Chrysostom's material analysis. The point is that the homiletical chestnut about our spiritual immaturity is placed within a briefly outlined scheme of pneumatological development. Chrysostom presumes that the history of the church provides an apt context for exegetical discernment, and the effect is to draw together his audience and the text.
In contrast, a Roman Catholic commentator, Hermann Schelkle, illustrates the abstractive move that is so characteristic of modern commentary.15 For Schelkle, theological abstractions such as "redemption," and "sonship" and "the new, transfigured corporeality" dominate. This approach is typical of much of what we think of when someone commends "theological exegesis." Modern theological interpretation relies on words and concepts ('redemption') that stand at least two removes from the text. That is to say, Schelkle is glossing the text with broad generalizations about "the Christian view of salvation," a view that seems to float in an ether of ideas. There is little or no connective explication. It is as if an already highly ramified theological scheme were superimposed upon the text, and the exegesis moves from the particularity of the text to the generalities of the scheme.
I want to dwell on the difference between Chrysostom and this modern approach. I have little doubt that Chrysostom has some quite specific ideas about ministry, intercession, and the economy of corporate prayer. Yet, notice how his exegesis does not discuss a "theology of ministry," nor does he use the text to formulate a pneumatology. Chrysostom does not develop his comments at such a remove, either from the text or from what is going on in his church. Needless to say, we might judge Chrysostom's exegesis materially bad. The context of Romans 8 suggests that Paul might treat the silence (or inarticulateness) of the laity of Chrysostom's time as precisely the weakness that the Spirit brings before the Father, a reading well supported by the silent weakness of Jesus' intercession on the cross, which, in turn, has its own prophetic warrant in Isaiah 53. My purpose, however, is to highlight the formal success of Chrysostom's approach. He draws a detail of church practice into the text, and in so doing, illuminates a Christian particularity (the practice of priestly prayer) with a textual particularity ('intercession" in the verse). Modern criticism, in contrast, titrates out theological propositions.
Just why modern exegesis moves away from particularity and toward abstraction is difficult to determine. For most scholars socialized into the historical-critical tradition, the biblical text is self-consciously isolated so that it is not "contaminated" by anachronism. For this reason, the more ahistorical the theological concepts, the less threatening they are to the historical critical method, and not surprisingly, we find that biblical scholars who offer theological comment tend to reach for the most abstractive and de-particularized formulations.16 The effect is a superimposition of theological terminology. Notice how pre-critical exegesis does not tend to superimpose theological schemes on the New Testament as a form of commentary. Pre-critical exegesis may presuppose such schemes. One rightly notes, for example, that Chrysostom exploits the presence of "intercession" in order to retail his view of pneumatic development that justifies a discrete clerical office with a special intercessory role. Nonetheless, to presuppose is not the same as to superimpose. For the Church Fathers, the actual practice of exegesis usually involves highly particular intratextual analysis in which the comment, as such, is closer to the literal sense—an interweaving of concerns rather than an isolation.
Origen's comment on Romans 8:26 illustrates.17 He parses the threefold use of "groaning" in Romans 8 as a whole, connecting it to St. Paul's "three appeals" to the Lord for relief from his torment (2 Corinthians 12:8), which is, in turn, commended by a verse from the Psalms: "My groaning is not hidden from you" (Psalm 38:9). And why are our groanings not hidden? Origen adverts to 1 John 2:1: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus, the just." This allows Origen to turn to a reflection on the way in which the Spirit of God adopts a kenotic pedagogy, giving us words for our prayers that—now turning to 1 Corinthians 14:15—turn out to be the signing of the Psalms and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Surely one can claim that Origen's comments presuppose something like a Trinitarian theology, as well as the liturgical practice of the church, but it would be absurd to say that his exegesis "imposes" such things on the text. The skein of intratextual association constitutes the reading. Origen is not drawing out or proving theological propositions. His exegesis is densely allusive, and the "theology" in the exegesis simply is the network of associations and allusions. It is not some further thought or inference made at a distance from the text. In short, Origen draws out no conclusions that might supersede or be superimposed upon the text.
One can speculate about the reasons why a modern commentator might not offer such a close reading. Romans 8 does not mention "Father," and in general historical-critics feel it anachronistic to import a developed Trinitarian theology that would support exegetical comment on the interplay of Spirit, Son, and Father in the dynamics of intercession. As a consequence, modern critics express the theological significance by recourse to concepts such as "redemption" that are very much a part of the biblical and doctrinal vocabulary of the tradition. However, because they are concerned to avoid the supposed distortions of a doctrinally governed raeading, modern ciritics sterilize theological concepts of the classical Trinitarian theology that defines them in a rigorous fashion (e.g., "redemption" in an Athanasian and not Gnostic sense). In other words, instead of exegetically "showing" the Christian vision of intercession—a "showing" that the tradition has presumed requires a Trinitarian vocabulary—modern commentaries draw conclusions at a remove from the specificity of the text. The text provides evidence for a "theology of x." The text guides us toward the message; it is not the message itself.18
I find the appeal to theological abstractions and drift away from textual particularity throughout the literature, and I want to be clear that I do not think historical-critical compunction is the sole explanation. Such a move is supported by the post-Trinitarian theologies of liberal Protestantism, as well as the dangerously formal Trinitarianism of both Calvinist and Tridentine theologies in which the God-world-human person problems are expressed such a rigorous metaphysical fashion that classical Nicene forms become conceptually subordinated.19 Still further, much of the modern intellectual tradition privileges the "drawing out" of truth.20 Recall Bacon's image of torturing nature with experiment in order to gain her truths. Scientists have found general formulae and symbolic mathematical abstractions very useful, and this reinforces the sensibility of the modern intellectual in which inherited forms of life are reshaped into conceptual ramified formulations. Hegel was, of course, the master of this, and however much we might reject the grandiosity of his synthesis, our intellectual imaginations remain characteristically "phenomenological" rather than "literal" or "material.'
This is not a treatise in this history of ideas, so I must leave speculation behind. What is crucial, for me, is the effect of modern intellectual sensibilities on biblical exegesis. "Theology" is treated as something to be "drawn out." The upshot is a tendency to move away from the text as one moves toward its theological import. This move drains theological exegesis of its scriptural immediacy. Examples are legion. To read Luke Timothy Johnson is to read a theological exegesis in which scripturally saturated doctrinal vocabulary (e.g., Father) does not function in the exegesis. In his summation of the larger context for Romans 8:26, he writes, "It is difficult to overstate the degree of intimacy between the divine and human freedom that Paul here presents"21 The abstract problem of divine and human freedom—itself a modern gloss on the particular arguments characteristic of the Pelagian controversy and then the Reformation—is warmed by the word "intimacy," but the effect is negligible. To say that Romans 8:26 testifies to the false juxtaposition of divine and human agency in no way illuminates what makes the juxtaposition false, or how one might see the relationship accurately. The same holds for "redemption" or "realized eschatology" or other theological formulations used by modern commentators without a scripturally (or liturgically or ascetically) thicker connection to the text. The concepts are presented as giving meaning to the text rather than the text giving meaning to the concepts.
To my mind, the distance between the literal sense and theological abstractions is the single greatest failure of earnest and well-meaning attempts by modern exegetes of the New Testament to produce theological exegesis. I have attempted to illuminate this failure by recourse to some patristic exegetes. Now I wish to attend to some successful instances of modern exegesis. They do not succeed by being more synthetic and comprehensive. Nor do they manifest a uniform approach. Instead, the success rests in the willingness of the commentators to use scripturally saturated theological language, structured by Nicene assumptions and suggestive of intratextual links to other parts of scripture. Rather than "draw out" theological propositions, the movement is one of "drawing together" scriptural details.
The first example is minor, but telling. In his commentary, Roy Harrisville observes that the weakness in which the Spirit helps us is "our cruciform life."22 Harrisville offers no further detail, but his exposition of weakness by recourse to the crucifixion links Romans 8:26 to Jesus' Passion, as well as St. Paul's appeals to the power of the cross in I Corinthians. To speak of "our cruciform life" instead of "our spiritual life" stimulates intratextual reflection that pulls other details of the biblical text closer to the reader, details that revolve around the particularity of Jesus. Moreover, specific liturgical and ascetic practices are present in "cruciform," but not in a word such as "redemption" or "eschatological." My point is that "cruciform" is a scripturally saturated word. Jews have eschatological beliefs. Muslims seek redemption. But "cruciform life" is so close to the claims and practices that make Christians Christian that Jews and Muslims would deny that theirs is a "cruciform life.'
In his Shorter Commentary on Romans, Karl Barth offers a unified analysis of the whole of Romans 8.23 Barth does not proceed verse by verse, but over the course of his exposition, he draws in textual detail. It is in the context of his larger discussion of the middle section of Romans 8 that he offers his comment on verse 26: "In their joyless and powerless groaning God hears the voice of his own Son..."24 Here, Barth presumes that the help and intercession of the Spirit is to draw us into Christ, the one who was crucified for our sakes. Thus, the larger theme of "groaning" (in the faithful, in creation, in the Spirit) is given a paschal meaning. The "intimacy" of divine and human—Luke Timothy Johnson's theme—is given content. The upshot is not simply a more scripturally immediate exegesis. God is a person rather than principle (hearing the groans of the Son), and we can see the connection between the Pauline teaching and the larger narrative (not only of Jesus, but the Old Testament as well, echoing the groaning and wailing of the Israelites in Egypt and Babylon). Here, we are much closer to pre-critical tradition and a view of theology as a dense act of exegetical "showing" rather than exegesis that draws theological conclusions at a remove from the text.
My final example parallels Barth's reading of 8:26. In her verse by verse reflections on Romans 8, Adrienne von Speyr gives an explicitly anagogical reading to verse 26.25 She does not treat St. Paul's description of our weakness as a general reassurance that God will love us even in our failures. Nor does she speak of a generic intimacy between divine and human. Instead, she identifies a specific exchange. The verse teaches us that "we may confide our insufficiency to the Son and the Spirit, that they may transform it into what is theirs, what can be heard and accepted by the Father." Von Speyr does not identify any intratextual supports for he reading. One could imagine turning to Romans 5 and the way in which the Son takes on the greatest of our insufficiencies—death. Moreover, I am left wondering how and in what sense our insufficiency is transformed into something that might become a predicate of the Spirit and the Son. How, for example, can death become "theirs," and what would a "transformed death" be? Yet, I am convinced that the success of von Speyr's exegesis stems from the explicit and confident use of a Trinitarian horizon for interpretation. Indeed, I find myself thinking that Barth is disappointingly abstract when he makes "God" the subject who hears the Son—though this is the way in which St. Paul speaks throughout Romans 8 and Barth is exhibiting a honorable Calvinist restraint by keeping as close as possible to the particularity of the text.
The lesson I draw from this brief survey of New Testament exegesis is simple. Drawing theological conclusions is not the same as offering theological exegesis. Luke Timothy Johnson is very free with his theological vocabulary, and he is often championed, along with Richard Hays and others, as a leader in the postcritical project. Yet, his approach is very different from the exegesis found in the Church Fathers and which is present in Barth and von Speyr. Exegesis that speaks of "the divine-human relationship" or "God's victory over death" functions differently from exegesis that speaks of the "cruciform life" and "the groans of the Son." The former offers theological comment as a gloss or epitome at one or two removes from the text, while the latter organizes and expounds the text theologically. Both are theological, but only the latter intensifies and deepens the Nicene framework for Christian language and practice, a framework that is itself much closer to the text—not in the sense of relying on particular passages, but in the sense of being able to maximize affirmations of the plain sense. But I am jumping ahead of myself. We need to briefly survey some recent commentaries of the Old Testament.
If modern New Testament commentators can speak of Jesus and God, but not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the New Testament, then the parallel problem in Old Testament exegesis is that commentators can speak of God (and even then, the scholarly invention "Yahweh" is likely to displace God), but they cannot speak of Jesus Christ. Here, the problem is not prophecy and fulfillment, narrowly understood. Rather, modern interpreters have rejected the larger figural assumptions of pre-critical Old Testament exegesis. David is not a type of the King of Kings. Moses is not a type of the one who fulfills the law. On a much larger scale, the history of Israel is not a prefiguration of the history of the church. For this reason, modern Christian commentators have an extremely difficult time seeing how the great bulk of the Old Testament is, in fact, a text that teaches truths about Jesus Christ and the people who call him Lord rather than generic truths about God. As a consequence, Christian theological concerns must remain distant from the text.
The Interpretation commentary on I and II Kings illustrates this situation perfectly. Richard Nelson uses the canonical form of the text and places no emphasis on philological details. His stated purpose is to treat the text as a fully-fashioned whole and interpret it according to its own evident theological intent. As Nelson reports, the narrative "offers us insight and perspective on the nature of God."26 Yet, this God has no clear relationship to the God who raises Jesus from the dead. At most, Nelson identifies exactly the abstractive theological features that make so much of New Testament commentary thin. For example, he observes that the tension in Kings is between the unconditional and condition dimensions of God's promise (unconditional to David and his line; conditional to Solomon), and in this way, reports Nelson, "the narrative offer one possible way of balancing [the] two opposing theological grammars" found in Augustine and Pelagius, Calvin and Arminius.27
This approach to theology is typical. The books of Kings are not concerned with Christ and the church. Rather, they are "theological" only insofar as it addresses theological "problems" such as "grace and free will" or "unconditional and conditional promises" that are shared with the New Testament and the subsequent Christian tradition. The logic of the analysis is a straightforward instance of "normal science" at work. Christian theology has inherited problems x, y, and z that transcend the particularity of the biblical texts. Attentive to the logical structure of such problems (e.g., the relation of transcendence and imminence, eternity and time, divine power and human freedom), the exegete shows how the structure of specific stories in the Old Testament address such problems. One offers a phenomenology (Hegel's notion of a conceptual account purified of particularity) of Israelite history, and this provides us with something relevant to an equally conceptual and de-particularized account of Christianity. I and II Kings may be about something entirely alien to Christianity—different time, different place—but they meet in the rarified sphere of "theology'. To be more provocative: they meet in a conceptual allegory of about God, world, and humanity.
Mark Throntreit's commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah in the Interpretation series offers further evidence of this presumption that theological exegesis involves jumping from the text to putatively "theological questions."28 Consider Ezra 3:7 (the import of cedar from Lebanon for the reconstruction of the Temple) as a test case. Throntreit offers nice intratextual clues, pointing out how the second temple recapitulates the first, and echoes Isaiah 60:13. Throntreit observes that foreigners participate in the rebuilding of the temple. However, there is no forward movement into the New Testament and Pauline teaching on the role of Gentiles. Later in the commentary, present Christian reality enters briefly. However, the theological interpretation that Throntreit gives to Ezra 10 and the expulsion of foreign wives is utterly vacant of any scriptural specificity: "Of greater significance for contemporary readers is the message of these chapters regarding the need for continual reformation" (p. 57). A vague nostrum, "continual Reformation," serves as the only link between past and present.
One intrepid commentator of a historical book, Gene Rice, does presume the classical link between Israel and the church, but just like so many New Testament commentators, the theological reflection is very, very distant from any scriptural (or historical) specificity.29 Of 1 Kings 5:6 (Solomon's commandment to secure cedars from Lebanon for the construction of the Temple), he writes, "This passage is a reminder of the delicate relationship of Israel (and the church) to the world." The most he can say about this "delicate relationship" is that "Israel's (and the church's) mission is not to condemn or to escape from the world but to transform it."30 Rice is important because he shows that one element of Christian exegesis of the Old Testament—a presumed relationship between Israel and the church—is insufficient. For Rice, the link is made, but he so consistently treats the history of Israel as an allegory for conceptual points (e.g., not to escape but to transform) that the theological pay-off leads away from rather than into scripturally saturated conclusions.
The same interpretive results obtain for all the contemporary efforts of Old Testament exegesis (except Peter Ochs') in Stephen Fowl's collection, The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings.31 For example, Walter Brueggemann draws out nuggets such as the following. Moses' commission reveals a general truth about all Old Testament history: "it is human agency in the service of Yahweh's solidarity with Israel.'32
A contrast between contemporary and ancient exegesis is illuminating. Gregory of Nyssa's comment on the same passages (also included in the Fowl collection) defies epitome. Commenting on Exodus 4:3 where Moses' rod becomes a serpent, Gregory notes the link between "serpent" and "sin" in the larger canonical context. Then, turning to John 3:14 ('Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up'—itself an echo of Number 21:9), Gregory observes that while Jesus was not sin, he did assume our sin so as to destroy it. But even here, there is no theological nugget. Instead, Gregory returns to the framework of Exodus, now pressing forward to Exodus 7:12, to make the point: "But for our sake he became a serpent, in order to devour and consume the Egyptian serpents..."33 The economy of atonement is expressed, but unlike the modern exegesis that moves toward conceptual allegory expressed as an abstract statement of the doctrine of atonement, Gregory treats theological exegesis as the discernment and expression of the logic of atonement within the immediacy of the textual idiom. Theoria—Gregory's term form spiritual or theological interpretation -- is not resident in propositional truths (e.g., a correct conceptual account of atonement). Theoria, for Gregory, is the insight that allows one to arrange exposition of the text so that one sees its capacity to disclose the truth. The serpents can be brought into the service of expressing the victory over them. This is the "conclusion" of the exegesis.
Moderns have objected that the literal ambiance of Exodus does not control Gregory's exegesis, and they—we—worry about how one can reliably know what the text discloses and what arrangements of the text render more visible the truths of salvation. The "arrangings," we worry, are whimsical deformations rather than wise illuminations. I do not want to gainsay these worries. I only wish to emphasize that whether we think the specific allusions whimsical or wise Gregory does not draw away from the semantic particularity of Exodus. One the contrary, he exploits that particularity (e.g., rods and serpents) in order to weave a larger account of Moses' role in the drama of redemption in Christ. Seeing how this arrangement of the literal sense of Exodus so as to form the figure of Christ is championed by Gregory as the insight that divinizes the reader of the text, and as such, for Gregory, such arrangements are the proper end of theological exegesis.34
No matter how we might judge the legitimacy of Gregory's exegesis, we must allow that his theological interpretation remains within the verbal atmosphere of the text—something one cannot say about conceptual allegories that dominant modern attempts to provide theological exegesis of the Old Testament. Gregory is not "drawing out" a message in a moment of theological application. His reading involves "drawing in" the text. In other words, Gregory reads the scriptures in such as way that the very words of the text are the privileged building blocks for theological insight. To turn the word "serpent" into the idiom for expressing Christ's triumph over sin says more than any statement of doctrine.
The Problem Expounded
My survey of the commentaries is limited. Nonetheless, the modest effort has convinced me that announcing and urging theological seriousness in exegesis is insufficient. There are commentaries already available that do attempt to provide theological comment. In my judgment, however, the results are too often inadequate. The reason, it seems to me, is simple. For nearly all the commentators I read, theological exegesis means the theological inference one draws from the exegesis conducted by some other means. In other words, nearly all commentators treat "theology" as a result of exegesis rather than a method of exegesis. They do not assume that the specific structure and content of classical Christian doctrine functions as an exegetical framework for organizing, focusing, and developing textual analysis, and that the most basic form of theology simply is the web of textual allusion, typology, and semantic interconnection—or perhaps more accurately, theology is the habitus that allows one to generate such an interpretive web. For most modern theological exegesis what counts as theological comment is eccentric. It arches out of the text and into a discussion of some x: the Pauline theology of grace, the Israelite theology of covenant, the Priestly theology of sacrifice. Or it reaches even further into abstraction with discussions "grace and free will" or the "covenant of grace" or "a theology of redemptive divine excess.'
A brief focus on one of the most compelling spokesmen for the recovery of a theologically vigorous reading, Brevard Childs, illustrates the conceptual issues at stake in this problem. Childs argues that Christian exegesis should seek to discern the unity and cogency of the whole biblical text, hence his affirmation of canonical interpretation. However, I am struck by the way in which Childs assumes that this unity should be sought at a distance from the scriptural text. Here is how he states his approach in A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: "A major thesis of this book is that this basic problem [of the unity of the two testaments] can only be resolved by theological reflection which moves from a description of the biblical witness to the object toward which these witnesses point, that is, to their subject matter, substance, or res.'35
I have no interest in quarreling with the theory of language or interpretation entailed in the signum/res distinction. Indeed, that distinction may be a crucial exegetical premise for all Christian interpretation. However, Childs does not suggest the distinction as a premise. Instead, he is making a proposal about exegetical practice (hermeneutics in the old sense of the term). One should organize and frame reflection upon the biblical text with a sustained analysis of the text according to genre, within its historical context, attending to philological details, and so forth. On this basis, Childs wishes the interpreter to give space for the "discrete voice" of the diverse parts of the canon (the Old Testament in particular). Only then can the classical questions of Christian theology be engaged, with the answers given by the exegete now properly disciplined by the biblical text in its "literal historical" particularity.
This proposal captures the failure of so much well-intentioned and earnest modern attempts to provide theological exegesis, for it endorses the eccentric pattern that produces theological reflection at a distance from scripture. Put simply, the operative assumption is that theology is something other than close textual analysis. To be sure, such reflection is disciplined by the text, but the key conceptual point is that the text is presumed to be at a remove from theology (whatever that might be), and the job of the Christian exegete is to bring the text to bear on this strangely non-scriptural form of reflection. To return to the signum/res distinction, Childs treats theological reflection as concerning the divine res, not the scriptural signa, and thus understood, the combination "theological exegesis" is oxymoronic. One must discipline theological reflection with exegesis conducted by some other means.
I am all in favor of disciplining theological reflection with exegesis, but I do not think we should presume the separation implicit in Childs' approach. The patristic tradition has treated the scriptural signa and the puzzles they create as the proper concern of theology.36 Theology is disciplined, not by an external science of exegesis, but by the task of making exegetical sense of the signs —not the least of which is the puzzle that the stated purpose of these signa is to bring us into fellowship with the divine res. For this reason, most of the pre-critical tradition has regarded theology as an exegetical project from start to finish.37 It treated theology as a discussion of questions that arise from the scriptures (e.g., how can one say "Jesus is Lord" and, at the same time, obey the first commandment?).38
What difference does this difference make? To my mind, it makes a great difference. Childs assumes that true theology must move from "description" of what the text says to "analysis" of its subject matter, and this subject matter is formulated with the abstracted and scripturally thin concepts that characterize so much unsuccessful theological exegesis. Notice how Childs' presumption that the subject matter of scripture is God leads him to organize his material reflection around loci, e.g., "reconciliation with God," that seem more perspicuous than the dispersed details of scripture. Then, under such topics, he gives the impression that the real question is not "how can Galatians be reconciled with Leviticus?" but rather "what is the biblical view of justification?" So, he writes, "Rather than seeing righteousness as an ethical quality or a virtue, the NT assumes the OT's perspective of the righteousness of God as a relational term'.39 The concept "relational" does the work of linking the Old Testament to the New Testament. The concept is the theoria toward which the exegete works; it is a conceptual artifact resident in a domain of propositions independent of the specific literal world of scripture. Nothing could be further from the theoria Gergory of Nyssa expounds in his Life of Moses.
Allow me to illustrate further this strategy of "drawing out" theology from the text. To return to the commissioning of Moses in Exodus that occupied Gregory, consider Childs' theological reflections on the same passage in his Exodus commentary. Here is a sample of the level of abstraction. "The being and activity of God are not played against each other, but included within the whole reality of the divine revelation." "History is the arena of God's self-revelation..." "The divine reality of which this passage speaks encounters Moses as well as the writers of the New Testament in a particular situation and seeks to evoke a response of obedience within God's plan."40 "History," "divine reality," "self-revelation," "response of obedience': these are concepts that commend themselves because of their abstracted quality. The distance between such high-level notions and the literal sense of the Old Testament is necessary in order to negotiate the diffuse particularity of scripture. Theology must be done at arm's length, and the reified concepts of modern theology (self-revelation!) makes this distance seem natural and normal.
Were the Christian intellectual tradition functional, we might allow that Childs' use of theological concepts presumed a scripturally saturated context for their meaning and use. The moment of abstraction can have a heuristic, orienting usefulness, and I have no interest in prohibiting it. However, I am convinced that in the late modern western context, the Christian intellectual tradition is not functional, and Childs' theological comments reinforce rather than reduce the distance between what theologians say (or biblical scholars say in theological idioms) and scripture. Concepts such as God, revelation, history, obedience, and so forth, are fixed mental objects rather than plastic concepts shaped to handle specific exegetical problems. For example, rather than treating "God" as a highly ambiguous concept that exegetical pressure forced the church to specify at Nicea, Childs treats the concept as available for use in drawing out exegetical conclusions. He seems to think that exegesis terminates with the concept rather than using the concept as a magnet around with to draw scriptural particularity, or to change metaphors, as a screen on which to project the literal figures of the sort that Gregory provides. As a consequence, for modern exegetes, "theology" seems to denote an abstracted, conceptual realm that expresses the results of interpretation. Theology is not an exegetical stance or method in itself. It is not a form of reading scripture.
The irony is that by distancing theology from the immediate work of ordering and analyzing scriptural signs, Childs cannot achieve his overarching goal of recovering a biblically disciplined theological practice. Theology is not disciplined by exegesis. It is so thoroughly deracinated that the literal sense can exert pressure only at a great distance, if at all. Or to put the matter differently, once an eccentric trajectory is presupposed -- exegesis concerns the scriptural signa and theology the divine res -- the only hope is somehow to bring theological propositions into correspondence with scriptural propositions, with fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists differing only in what counts as correspondence. Thus, the basic forms of Christian modernism predominate. Something other than the texture and detail of the language and practice of the apostolic tradition is the "essence of Christianity." If one is a conservative or liberal rationalist, the former is important only as evidence to warrant the latter, and even when one drops implausible forms of rationalism modern hermeneutics assumes that the linguistic particularity has meaning only insofar as it mediates something: consciousness, intention, Spirit, and so forth. As Stanley Fish might put the outcome, there is no text in biblical theology understood in this fashion.
Interpretation and the Divine Economy
I hope that my inductive approach has not been too tedious. I have circled back to the central problem a number of times: the abstractive nature of modern theological commentary, the project of "drawing out" that leads away from the details of scripture, the presumption that theology is a consequence rather than mode of exegesis. At this point, I wish to move out of the inductive and into the assertive by making some programmatic statements about the root problem facing contemporary exegesis and suggesting a way forward.
Modern theological reading drifts toward abstraction and its exegesis inscribes an eccentric trajectory away from the biblical text because it—we—cannot sustain a belief that human history, especially the history of the people of Israel and the Christian church (which includes the history of the composition, canonization, and interpretation of the scriptures) is so ordered that a deeper and more accurate understanding of that history will lead us toward a deeper knowledge and love of God. The issue is not the much confuted and confused question of the errancy or inerrancy of the scriptural text. This is a by-way of modernism. Rather, the nub of the difficulty is that we simply find it difficult to suppose that the biblical text functions in manifold and complex ways as the privileged key to the understanding a natural-historical order that is shaped by God for His own purposes, purposes both revealed and brought to fruition in Jesus Christ. Or, to put the point in a different idiom, we cannot believe that the complex historical nexus of events, persons, oral traditions, compositions, editorial revisions, interpretive traditions, and communally authoritative doctrine and discipline that constitute the many layers of the scriptures (as well as the created order in which those events, persons, traditions, compositions, and doctrines are anchored and from which they receive their being as concrete particulars) is the single witness of the Holy Spirit to the one redemption of all in Jesus Christ. As a consequence, we cannot see how organizing and connecting the myriad pieces of this natural-historical order in such a way that Jesus Christ is evident as the unifying hypothesis (Ephesians 1:9-10) would constitute the most essential form of theology. For example, we cannot see how ordering what we make of the Book of Judges (which may, in fact, be deeply informed by historical-critical methods) with what we make of the history of the early church (which, again, may involve a wealth of modern critical tools) is theology—the project of making the single witness more perspicuous and visible to the human mind. This blindness is the single greatest impediment to the recovery of an exegesis that is theological rather than an exegesis that draws out theological conclusions at a distance from the scriptures.
Ireneaus calls the natural-historical order fulfilled in Jesus Christ the divine economy. His extended argument against Gnostic exegesis, Against the Heresies, is an attempt to show how presuming this divine economy clears the way for a maximally cogent interpretation of the scriptures, where "cogent" means not only the most plausible intratextual order but also an interpretation that presupposes a non-mythological ontology. What does this mean? Ireneaus' approach to exegesis presupposed that one finds truth by thinking through the way in which the great array of facts (e.g., God delivered Israel from Egypt, Gentiles are baptized into Christ, the world is not eternal, there are four different gospel stories, Joshua and Jesus have the same name—the list could go on and on) fits together into a single "economy." One looks for the truth in these facts and the myriad ways in which they interact, not in the concepts or abstractions one might legitimately use to facilitate the ordering of them. In this way, Ireneaus proceeds in much the same way as a modern scientist. The crux of the project of modern science is not the formula or theory (e.g. E-mc2). Rather, what matters is the ability of the formula or theory to guide the scientist in ordering the world into a successful experiment.
The evident importance of structuring theory can easily create the impression that patristic theology is "drawing out" conclusions from scripture. Ireneaus offers epitomes of the divine economy such as the church's confession of faith in "the one God, omnipotent, the maker of heaven and earth, the creator of man, who brought the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devils and his angels."41 I do not wish to criticize nor commend Ireneaus' particular take on the structure of events from creation to consummation. It may be the case that any attempt to epitomize the divine economy, as any attempt to summarize a Shakespearian play, entails distortion.42 Instead, my concern is formal. Epitome functions to guide Ireneaus' material judgments about how to structure the countless details of scripture, and it is clear that doing arranging the details simply is theology for Ireneaus. Moreover, by so understanding theology, it follows methodologically, pedagogically, and mystagogically, that one given over to such a task will try to draw the diffuse elements of scripture into ever closer and more intimate interconnections. In short, however flawed in particular exegetical judgments, Ireneaus will not seek a theology "drawn out" or at a distance from the scripture. Theology is a practice of reading. It is not a conclusion drawn from reading.
Let me illustrate this point. Ireneaus' well-known description of Jesus Christ's saving work of recapitulation is no less exegetical than soteriological. Jesus Christ "sums up" the economy of the Father, providing the decisive clue about just how to structure one's reading of the biblical text so as both to discern the reality of events described (which may well be spiritual rather than carnal) and to grasp the particular literal genius of the sacred text that both reveals and hides ('He made darkness his hiding place" [Psalm 18:11]) so that we are brought to see this reality as it is rather than as we imagine it to be. Thus, Adam does not "fall" in an abstract sense. His disobedience come from the fruit of the tree, and from the tree comes death. Jesus Christ recapitulates this scene, though now in the key of righteousness rather than sin. Christ obedience triumphs over sin by his death on the tree of the cross, and the fruit of that tree is life. Or again, as sin come from a woman (Eve), so righteousness comes from a woman (the Virgin Mary). Or again, just as the tree of transgression was the greatest victory of the devil, so the cross of Christ is his greatest defeat.43 To my mind, the structured link of textual particularity is crucial. Ireneaus does not have a "theology of original sin', nor does he have a "theology of grace." He has an integrated array of exegetical statements that bring the details of scripture into certain patterns that make the divine economy visible. The presumption is that recapitulations of the patterns in the direct idiom of scripture is more perspicuous than a conceptual statement of the patterns. To see Christ as the recapitulation of Old Testament detail is more powerful than a statement that he does so recapitulate—and very little is to be learned by an investigation of the concept of recapitulation. In this way, Ireneaus would seem to follow the first principle for the writing of modern realistic narrative: show it, don't say it.
For this reason, and not because of the advent of historical-critical methods, what Ireneaus is doing is very different from contemporary biblical theology, to say nothing of contemporary systematic theology. His description is better than any account I might give.
One may bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith; and explain the operation and dispensation of God connected with human salvation; and show that God manifested longsuffering in regard to the apostasy of the angels who transgressed, as also with respect to the disobedience of men; and set forth why it is that one and the same God has made some things temporal and some eternal, some heavenly and others earthly; and understand for what reason God, though invisible, manifested himself to the prophets, not under one form, but differently to different individuals; and show why it was that more covenants than one were given to mankind; and teach what was the special character of these covenants; and search out for what reason "God hath concluded every man in unbelief that he may have mercy on all" (Rom 11:32); and gratefully describe on what account the Word of God become flesh and suffered; and relate why the advent of the Son of God took place in these last times, that is, in the end, rather than in the beginning; and unfold what is contained in the Scriptures concerning the end, and things to come; and not to be silent as to how it is that God has made the Gentiles, whose salvation was despaired of, fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers with the saints; and discourse on how it is that "this mortal body shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption" (1 Cor 15:54)...44
In short, for Ireneaus, theology defines the intellectual task of expounding "the whole picture." In that task, conceptual allegory will not do; one must depict the truth in and through the details, not in order to "control" theology with exegesis, but because those details, the signa, are ordained by God to bring us into fellowship with his ineffable divine res. Thus, expounding the divine economy as a particularized sequence (and not reporting on a conceptual pattern in that economy, e.g., recapitulation) constitutes theology.
We need not think such an approach inaccessible in our age. As I attempted to show above, Karl Barth and Adrienne von Speyr do not turn from description of what the text says to formulate a theological conclusion. They offer a theologically ramified exposition of what the text says, and that constitutes their conclusion. A patristic interpreter such as Gregory of Nyssa is more difficult to characterize. However, one striking feature is clear. The intratextual project of intensifying the Christological unity of the text is evident. For Gregory, what we would call "theological propositions" (e.g., Jesus bore our sin though he was not a sinner) are expressed in terms of immediate scriptural idiom (e.g., "For our sake he became a serpent, in order to devour and consume the Egyptian serpents'). In this way, what we think of as theology is not isolated and held at a distance from the text. The theoria that Gregory seeks to expound is found in his organization of the literality of the text so that its potency as a witness to Christ is perspicuous. Gregory shows the theoria, he does not say it.
Gregory" particular approach and exegetical techniques differ from Barth's, as do Barth's from von Speyr's, but the overall effect of their exegesis is similar. One feels as though the particular scriptural text under comment not only constitutes a part of a unified textual witness, but the particular text enters into a mutually illuminating relationship with other particular forms of scriptural language and apostolic practice. This is theological exegesis, that is to say, exegesis that brings one to see, in some small way, how scripture has an economy, a theoria, a "divine genius." To think with scripture in this fashion is to begin to conform one's mind to that divine genius. This conformity, not the search for scripturally deduced doctrinal proposition, guides the mind toward that which the mind seeks but cannot comprehend: knowledge and love of God
* * * * * * * * * *
A recent experience brought home to me that recovering theological exegesis of the sort I have commended will not be easy, even for those who champion it in theory. In May, I was in Vilnius, Lithuania, teaching a lecture class on Christian hermeneutics. My mind was much preoccupied with the issues I have tried to clarify in this paper, and I envisioned the lectures as a chance to work through some ideas about theological exegesis. One morning, I was preparing a class on St. Augustine's De doctrina Christiana. In Book II, as St. Augustine discusses the proper use of scriptural signs, he introduces an example from the Song of Songs: "Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes ascending from the pool, all of which give birth to twin, and there is not a sterile animal among them" (4:2). I immediately stopped and thought to invent an allegorical reading so that I might anticipate the great St. Augustine. I speculated, "Indeed, like the shorn ewes, divine love is fertile and generative'—exactly the sort of "theological" reading so prevalent in the contemporary literature. Then I read on. St. Augustine's reading of that passage, while allegorical, was like a blow to the head. "It gives me pleasure to contemplate holy men," he writes, "when I see them as the teeth of the church tearing men away from their errors and transferring them to its body, breaking down their rawness by biting and chewing. And it is with the greatest of pleasure that I visualize the shorn ewes, their worldly burdens set aside like fleeces, ascending from the pool (baptism) and all giving birth to twins (the two commandments of love), with none of them failing to produce this holy fruit."
My improvised theological reading of this verse from the Song of Songs exemplifies the basic pattern of modern theological exegesis. My "spiritual reading" moved from the particularized imagery of the Song of Songs to a vague spiritual nostrum about the nature of God and his grace. In contrast, classical exegesis provides a "spiritual reading" that moves from particularized imagery to particularized teaching and practice. Whatever St. Augustine is doing in his exegetical comment, he is not leading his readers away from the specific practices of Christianity. He is not justifying or proving anything, and he certainly is not drawing a theological "conclusion." Instead, he is taking a complex image from a love poem (which I do not fully understand in that context—teeth giving birth?) and illuminating it by establishing an interpretive relationship to a (relatively) clear Christian practice (baptism) and teaching (love commandment). Here as elsewhere in St. Augustine's vast body of writing theology is not a separate moment of conclusion, standing at a distance from Christian particularity. It is an entry into the medium of the scriptures, an entry made under the confidence that the scriptures and the church to which they give life are media divina. It is this exercise in intimacy that we need to recovery.
1. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1998), p. 1.
2. See my two recent efforts understand these contemporary mental habits, "Postmodern Irony and Petronian Humanism," In the Ruins of the Church, (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002), pp. 31-46, and "Fighting the Noonday Devil," First Things, No. 135 (September/August 2003), pp. 31-36.
3. (London: John W. Parker and Son, 1860), pp. 330-433.
4. Here are some gems. (1) "If words have more than one meaning, they may have any meaning" (p. 37)—a classic case of the slippery slope fallacy. (2) "A knowledge of the original language is a necessary qualification of the Interpreter of Scripture" (p. 390)—and yet, the Greek Fathers are miserable failures as exegetes. (3) "The simple words of [scripture] he tries to preserve absolutely pure from the refinements or distinctions of later times" (p. 338)—modernity is the great new beginning. "The true use of interpretation is to get rid of interpretation, and leave us alone in company with the author" (384)—notice how Jowett has the same interpretive ideal as John Nelson Darby.
5. For a richly compact and spiritually disciplined expression of this despair, see J. A. DiNoia's review of John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Pro Ecclesia, Vol. II, No. 1, pp. 122-5.
6. Recently, Rabbi Shalom Carmy told me that his teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik lamented that we live in an age of treatise, not commentary. One of my goals in the paper is to offer remarks underdetermined by prevailing theories of interpretation, and in this way, I hope to facilitate the writing of commentaries rather than contribute to the production of theory.
7. Carl C. Rasmussen, trans., (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1949).
8. Romans, Interpretation Series, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985).
9. p. 143.
10. p. 145.
11. p. 147.
12. Matthew Black, Romans, New Century Bible, (London: Oliphants, 1973).
13. Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 326.
14. I draw all the quotes in this paragraph from Morris translation, Library of the Fathers, Vol. 31 (Oxford: J. H. Parker, 1848), p. 251
15. The Epistle to the Romans: Theological Meditations, Joseph A. Kliest and Joseph I. Lilly, trans., (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964).
16. For example, in his otherwise fine study of the intratextual logic of Paul's letters, Richard Hays explains Paul's exegetical ambitions as growing out of "the hermeneutical priority of Spirit-experience" (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989], p. 108). It is precisely the lack of doctrinal, liturgical, and historical specificity that commends a term such as "spirit-experience." It is a concept innocent of particular meaning, and therefore cannot corrupt the exegesis.
17. See Origen's Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Bk. 7, Chpt. 6.
18. In The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975), Hans Frei again and again shows how this move away from the text to its "meaning" is the inevitable outcome of modern hermeneutical assumptions.
19. For useful background analysis of this danger, see William C. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1996).
20. Heidegger famously thought that this "drawing out" characterizes western philosophy since Plato.
21. Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary, (New York: Crossroad, 1997), p. 131.
22. Romans, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1980).
23. D. H. van Daalen, trans., (London: SCM, 1959).
24. p. 102.
25. The Victory of Love: A Meditation on Roman 8, Lucia Wiedenhoerer, trans., (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1990).
26. First and Second Kings, (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), p. 2.
27. p. 35.
28. Ezra-Nehemiah, (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987).
29. Nations Under God: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Kings, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).
30. Both quotes from p. 46.
31. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).
32. p. 161.
33. p. 111,.
34. Life of Moses, II. 35.
35. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), p. 80.
36. See Augustine's discussion of the temptation to seek the divine res without undergoing the pedaGogy of the scriptural signa (De doctrina Christiana, Preface). Certainly, in a broad sense, Childs agrees with Augustine. This difference rests in how to avoid the temptation. For Augustine, one must enter into the particularity of the way established by Jesus Christ. The divine res cannot be reflected upon. How could our finite minds take God as an object of inquiry? This is absurd, and we would be bereft were it not for the fact that "the whole temporal dispensation was set up by divine providence for our salvation," and through the scriptures, we can discern and conform our minds to this dispensation, thus allowing the pedagogy of the finite to lift us toward that divine res which is beyond the argument and analysis that constitutes inquiry.
37. Anselm is an interesting exception. See Cur Deus homo, Book I.4 where Anselm sets aside scriptural arguments in order to proceed remoto Christo. Even here, however, the background remains exegetical. For in the artful play on "body'—of Christ, of truth, of scriptural words—Anselm suggests that his non-scriptural arguments allow "the very body of truth to shine more brightly" (I.4). In this context and under the influence of a standard partristic equation of the carnal body of Christ with the carnal body of scripture (see Origen, C. Celsum VI.77), Anselm seems to be suggesting that his method of argument has an exegetical value. It allows the corpus veritatis—the body of the divine Word as depicted in scripture—to shine more brightly.
38. For a fully developed account of the way in which patristic doctrine emerges out of exegetical puzzles, see John Behr, The Way to Nicea: Formation of Christian Theology, Volume I, (Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001).
39. Biblical Theology, p. 501.
40. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974).
41. Against the Heresies, Bk III.3.3.
42. See Kendall Soulen's analysis of the problems latent in Ireneaus' "canonical narrative," The God of Israel and Christian Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), pp. 25-56. One of the perversions of modern reading of Ireneaus (and the Fathers in general) is the tendency to hunt for "doctrine" amidst the unruly mass of exegetical performance. This magnifies the distortions by focusing our attention on the abstractions and epitomes that the Fathers rely upon for exegetical orientation.
43. For Ireneaus' exposition of these recapitulations, see Against the Heresies, Bk V.19 ff.
44. Against the Heresies, Bk I. 10. 3.