Attentive to the Word: Biblical Scholarship and the Devotional Life1 -- By: David A. deSilva

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 045:1 (NA 2013)
Article: Attentive to the Word: Biblical Scholarship and the Devotional Life1
Author: David A. deSilva


Attentive to the Word: Biblical Scholarship and the Devotional Life1

David A. deSilva*

When you curl up on your couch underneath your favorite blanket, cup of coffee sitting on a coaster on the end table beside you, Bible opened in front of you, and when you start to listen for the divine voice speaking to you as you practice lectio divina or otherwise read and reflect upon the words on the page, what are you really hearing? To what are you really about to ascribe divine authority and legitimacy? How clearly and fully will you hear the voice of Jesus, or the voice of Paul, or the voices of the Hebrew prophets? How much will their voices be muted, distorted, transformed and domesticated by the filters of your own background and context?

Biblical scholarship, at its best, exists to empower a full, authentic hearing of the Word and, thereby, a fuller, more complete obedience to the Word in a new context. It exists, at its best, to preserve the power of the Word as a voice that speaks to us from outside our systems, our structures, our traditions, our theologies, our ideologies, our assumptions, and thereby retains its power to challenge, even shatter, all that we have internalized in our context that insulates us against the full transformation that God desires for us, for our faith communities, for our presence and engagement in our world.

A common image used to describe the task of biblical scholarship is dissection. The biblical text is laid out in front of the exegete like a frog spread-eagled in the zoologist’s pan. The prejudice behind the analogy is that, if you look at something too closely, taking it apart, as it were, and examining each piece, you may learn something about it but you leave it dead and, like the poor frog, thereafter experience it as something dead to you. I don’t actually mind this analogy up to a point—that is, the point at which we are left with something as useless as a gutted, pickled frog. But this has not been my experience of studying the Bible as a professional scholar. But, then again, I also learned a rather long time ago not to idolize this English translation of a library of ancient Scriptures. I really wanted to hear what the Scriptures were saying. I really wanted to find out about how God was acting and the Spirit was working in living, breathing communities of faith removed from me by language, by culture, and by two millennia. And I was convinced that this pursuit would lead me closer to understanding what the same Spirit was seeking to communicate to the churches of my culture and age. You see, in the end, I’m not left with a gutted frog; I’m left with, I believe, ...

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