The Order And Essence Of Canon In Brevard Childs’s Book On Paul -- By: John C. Poirier

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 20:4 (NA 2010)
Article: The Order And Essence Of Canon In Brevard Childs’s Book On Paul
Author: John C. Poirier

The Order And Essence Of Canon In Brevard Childs’s Book On Paul

John C. Poirier

Kingswell Theological Seminary

Brevard Childs’s final book attempts to apply the canonical approach to the Pauline canon. In so doing, it exposes two problematic assumptions lying behind Childs’s approach: (1) it assumes that the phenomenal is always intentional, and (2) it treats the intentional as always hermeneutically significant, regardless of whether the intention is that of the author or that of a compiler of the canon. The former of these assumptions manifests in a spectacular way in Childs’s attempt to derive hermeneutical significance from the placement of Romans at the head of the Pauline canon.

Key Words: Brevard Childs, canonical approach, hermeneutics, meaning, NT canon, Pauline canon, stichometry.

Brevard Childs (†2007) left an impressive body of work defining and promoting the so-called “canonical approach.” Although he specialized in the OT, he sought for many years to establish the canonical approach as a key to a panbiblical theology, and he led the way toward this goal by sometimes wandering into the field of NT theology himself. His final book, in fact, was an attempt to show how the canonical approach might affect one’s reading of Paul.1

Childs had a gift for writing—one scarcely was at a loss to understand what he was saying. When it came to understanding why Childs said what he said, however, things were hardly so clear. Childs had an annoying habit of taking back with his left hand what he had just given with his right, and his “system” of interpretation was based on a set of assumptions that he hardly ever enunciated, let alone explained. These problems plagued Childs’s writings to the very end. This article looks at the impact of Childs’s hidden assumptions in his final work, The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul.

It also revisits a number of basic assumptions lying behind some recent hermeneutical discussions.

Two Suppositional Moves In Childs’s Program

Childs’s program of finding hermeneutical significance in the paratextual aspects of the Bible depends on two distinct suppositional moves: (1) it views the phenomenal as always intentional, and (2) it treats the (purported) intentional as always religiously binding or hermeneutically significant, regardless of how late the aspect in question happens to be. Both moves are highly problematic, yet Childs is so sure of them that he never ventures an argument for either one. He never argues against treating aspects of the canon (especially...

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