Monday, October 13, 2014

Grammatico-historical interpretive method as the death of scripture

Justo Gonzalez (Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes) writes about the toxic effect of the grammatico-historical method of biblical interpretation on readers of the bible:

Then I went to seminary (still in Cuba), and immediately new vistas opened before me. I was introduced to the historico-critical method of Bible study. I learned to distinguish among different levels of redaction, and to place texts in their historical setting. It was a fascinating experience, for now I understood much in the Bible that I did not understand before. For a time, I was so fascinated with the new methods and vistas, that I was convinced that, by simply following these methods, the Bible would become much more relevant for my life and for the church.

The result, however, was not as I expected. By a process so subtle and so slow that I was not aware of it until long after it had taken place, I came to a point where I could understand the Bible much better than before, but no longer had any idea what to do with it. To teach the Bible became synonymous with explaining the historical setting of the texts, and the process by which they had been redacted and transmitted. I remember a series of Bible studies on 1 Corinthians that I led in the church where I was working as a senior in seminary. It was an excellent course on the composition of the epistle, on where Paul was when he wrote it, and on its relationship to the rest of the Corinthian correspondence. I was able to impart much information, but was able to draw little wisdom from the epistle itself. Also, my Bible study lacked the engagement I had experienced in our Bible studies years earlier, when we read Paul, not primarily to learn about the life of the church in Corinth, but to learn what it  meant to be the church in our own day. Even more tragically, I came to realize that my Bible study, far from making the Bible more accessible to the people, made it more distant, for now they could do nothing with it unless a more learned person told them all there was to know on issues of dating, authorship, and composition (p. 23).

I think the problem is this. The method of the grammatico-historical method is naturalistic: it searches for natural causes for the phenomenon of the text, natural explanations for this or that of its features. This methodological predisposition closes oneself off to divine causation, divine inspiration, and the divine capacity to speak through the text here and now as it is being read. It naturalizes the scriptures and in this way negates their nature as scripture, as divine text.