‘Theological Interpretation’ And Its Contradistinctions -- By: John C. Poirier

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 61:1 (NA 2010)
Article: ‘Theological Interpretation’ And Its Contradistinctions
Author: John C. Poirier

‘Theological Interpretation’ And Its Contradistinctions

John C. Poirier


The label ‘theological interpretation’ has been used recently as a technical term to denote a certain approach to Scripture. This development is most unfortunate, not least because it implies that other approaches, especially historical criticism, cannot be equally theological in focus. The use of this term in such an artificially narrowed way creates the false impression that anyone wanting to do exegesis in the service of the Church must do so according to the particular practices of the ‘theological interpretation’ movement. The implied argument is hardly an argument at all, and it promotes a number of poor hermeneutical habits.

1. Introduction

Some terms denote more indirectly than directly—that is, they carve out a meaning by way of excluding something rather than by direct reference. When a movement puts its weight behind this type of term, its designation-by-negation can be operative even where the term takes the form of a (positive) direct reference. Brevard Childs’ narrowed use of the word ‘Scripture’ (as in the title of his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture) is a poignant example of this sort of thing. For Childs, to read Scripture as ‘Scripture’ means to refuse a number of aspects of the historical-critical project—including some central ones, like a commitment to authorial intention. The way Childs used ‘Scripture’ implies that approaches incommensurable with his outlined approach—specifically, the approaches found in other Old Testament

introductions—do not constitute readings of ‘Scripture’ per se.1 Here the refitting of an everyday term with an artificially narrowed definition creates an unusual capacity for rhetorical heavy-lifting.2 The fact that the definition has been custom-fitted for his own programme escapes the notice of most readers.

The purpose of this article is to suggest that the term ‘theological interpretation’, as used in current theological parlance, is cast from the same mould as Childs’ ‘Scripture’. As such, the term is not at all helpful, at least where fair representation is the goal. Like Childs’ ‘Scripture’, ‘theological interpretation’ has the effect of stemming options that should remain open, at least beyond the stage of laying out definitions.

2. ‘Theological Interpretation’ As A Technical Term

‘Theological interpretation’ is a term very much in vogue. It is a term that a number of ...

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