A Review Of Joel B. Green, Ed., “Dictionary Of Scripture And Ethics” -- By: Ray Van Neste
JBMW 18:2 (Fall 2013) p. 32
A Review Of Joel B. Green, Ed., “Dictionary Of Scripture And Ethics”
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. 912 pp. $59.99.
Professor of Biblical Studies
Director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies
A comprehensive reference work on Christian ethics and the role of Scripture in ethics is a great idea. Regrettably, however, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics is problematic at certain critical points. While granting that biblical interpretation isn’t always easy, this volume seems to go out of its way to stress that Scripture doesn’t speak directly to our ethical behavior and when it does speak it is not very clear. The book begins with three essays that frame the way the Bible should be and has been used to form ethical opinions. These essays stress that Scripture alone isn’t sufficient for doing ethics. Granted, ethical questions do arise which are not directly addressed in Scripture, but Christians have historically affirmed that the Bible stands at the authoritative center of our ethics. By contrast, these essays undercut the idea that Scripture provides binding ethical norms, suggesting instead that it is a varied collection of witnesses which churches today must sift in order to determine what continues to be binding.
While still appealing to biblical authority in a vague way, it is clear that Scripture is not seen as norma normans non normata (“the norm of norms which cannot be normed)” that is, the authority to which everything else must concede. Rather, this reference work, which will likely inhabit numerous pastors’ studies and seminary libraries, addresses the ethical issues of our day from the perspective that Scripture is so culturally bound that we must decide which portions “continue to manifest the redeeming power of God” and which do not (32). A few quotes from one of the guiding essays will make its approach clear:
A proper understanding of canon emphasizes that canon is not a definitive collection of timeless, divinely revealed truths. Canon is a collection of witnesses to an ongoing encounter with the presence of God in the lives of persons and communities. . . . The canon functions not as a static deposit of timeless truth, but rather as a partner in conversation with our own experience of God’s presence in our lives.
. . . The end result toward which we should strive is a deabsolutized canon which allows for the honoring of ancient witness to the degree that it reveals to us the basic truths of our faith while at the same time honoring the power and authority of our own experience of God.1 (28)
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