Jabez: A Man Named Pain: An Integrative Hermeneutical Exercise -- By: Elaine A. Heath

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 33:0 (NA 2001)
Article: Jabez: A Man Named Pain: An Integrative Hermeneutical Exercise
Author: Elaine A. Heath

Jabez: A Man Named Pain: An Integrative Hermeneutical Exercise

Elaine A. Heath

Elaine A. Heath (M.Div, ATS) is a PhD candidate in theology at Duquesne University and pastor of the United Methodist Church in McDonald, OH.

Hermeneutics, the Bible and Barth

A kind of holy unrest is brewing in biblical scholarship today. Camps are mingling, walls are coming down, the old labels aren’t working so well anymore.1 The causes are many: ecumenism, spiritual hunger, a renewed respect for the genuine wisdom of the ancients, a growing humility toward the limitations of the scientific method. Whatever the cause, it is no longer enough to speak only of the historical setting of the text, the original audience, authorship, or date. Nor is it enough to read the Bible with a fideistic literalism, or as an esoteric analogue in which nothing means what it says because everything means something else. It is not enough to analyze the Bible as if it were merely another book, for to do so is to ignore the claims the Bible makes of itself.2 What then is a responsible hermeneutic of scripture?

The current struggle in biblical hermeneutics reflects the struggle in Christian theology. The stuggle is, to borrow William Thompson’s words, to put back into biblical studies and Christian theology the “soul” which has been demythologized nigh unto death.3 That soul is the very Spirit of Christ.

The struggle is not new. It emerged in this century most vigorously in the work of Karl Barth, whose response to Protestant liberalism and fundamentalism was neoorthodoxy—a return to the best of the old while reaching out for the best of the new.4 For Barth, the centrality of Christ is the foundation for biblical hermeneutics. In many ways he is a man for our time, as we struggle to hear what the Bible says.

The Bible audaciously claims to be the written word of God for the people of God. Both Old and New Testaments are the written means through which the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus Christ to the church.5 This is the central conviction of Barth. While Barth welcomes the tools of historical-critical scholarship, literary criticism and typological reading, and so on, his overall concern is that readers submit themselves to the claims made by the Word of God encountered in the text.6 All tools of scholarship are to serve the reader in that task.

The essay that follows is an ex...

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