On Eisegesis

” . . . [E]ven the most rigorously exegetical readers are eisegetical, or might be called so by someone more rigorously exegetical than thou. Everyone brings information to the text that is not in the text, and seeks to illuminate the text with light from outside. They fill in the gaps between words and sentences to produce a whole picture. That is perfectly fine and, I have been arguing, inescapable. What is not fine is the pretense that literal reading does not involve this process, the claim that a reading is doing nothing but getting what is there.

“It is quite common, for instance, to suggest that the setting for John 9 is in the temple precincts, and that this narrative forms the climax to a series of incidents during the Feast of Tabernacles. This seems perfectly reasonable, and illuminates several details of John’s account. But the fact is that John 9 nowhere says that Jesus is in the temple, or that it is the Feast of Booths. That has to be plucked up from the context and read into John 9. Such a procedure looks sleekly scientific, grammatical-historical, and literal. If one suggests that Jesus working with the clay should be read in the light of Old Testament potter-and-clay passages (as I will below), many would cry foul, or, more likely, ‘eisegete!’ In principle, though, there is no difference between reading the Feast of Booths into John 9 and reading Jeremiah 18 into John 9. The fact that one text is further away than the other appears to make on literal and the other arbitrary. But in principle, it is the same procedure, and Jeremiah 18 is no further from John than, say, Homer is from Virgil. Certainly Jeremiah 18 is at least as close to John as the Jamnia Council, that symbolic marker of the parting of the ways of Jews and Christians, which is often proposed as the master historical context for John’s narrative. Studying historical context, extrabiblical usage of words, archaeologythat all looks scientific and scholarly, but it is just as much eisegesis as apostolic allegory.”

Peter Leithart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009), pages 116-7.

Allow me only to say that this is a fantastic book that should be read by everyone.

A Calm Suggestion

Perhaps you are aware, my gentle snowflakes, that since May 1, 2010, smoking indoors at most public establishments has been against the Law in the fair State of Michigan. You might suspect that not every segment of the State’s population has welcomed the new law with great enthusiasm, and of course, you would be right: Michiganders are a proud and freedom-loving people who do not take kindly to the treacherous encroachment of Government upon their Liberties. As a result, a number of establishments have chosen to adopt an attitude of open defiance to the law, which has resulted in public expressions of outrage such as the following, which may be observed outside a bar not too far away from my humble abode:

This primal cry for freedom came to mind as I read our friend Nick Norelli’s post noting the dramatic price increase for first two volumes of Fr Dumitru Staniloae’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Indeed, from an original $19.95 a piece, these books went up to an impossible $85 and $95, respectively. How is such a thing even possible? Nick observes that the only change seems to be that, while previously the books were published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press, they now appear to be under the imprint of T & T Clark.

Now we are all aware, I trust, that certain publishers cater specifically to the “library market,” and that their books are therefore outrageously expensive beyond the means of us mere mortals (e.g., Brill). It is not unusual, however, for these same publishers to eventually license the publication of some of these titles in more inexpensive editions by other publishers. It is not a perfect system, to be sure, but it is not without its merits: at the very least, it makes some scholarship more accessible than it would be otherwise. What benefit is there, however, to the reverse procedure? If a  book initially sells for $20, how will raising its price by approximately 400%  make it more accessible? And let us not forget that we are talking about the very same book, probably still with the Holy Cross imprint, whether it sells for $20 or for $95.

Do you feel the rage? Do you want to climb on a rooftop and shout,

“TAKE YOUR PRICE HIKE AND SHOVE IT”?

I assure you that no one blames you. But you might be heartened to learn that you can do something more concrete than shouting to the wind about this. You see, while Amazon has already succumbed to the price hike, this is not yet the case everywhere. Below you will find a short list of select online bookstores where these volumes may still be purchased for something close to their original price. I encourage you to visit any one of them and purchase these books for cheap while you still can. Say no to these outrageous prices! We may not be able to do anything about the price of forthcoming volumes, but we can do something about the price of these two.

N.B.: Several online used book dealers still have vols. 1 & 2 listed for reasonable prices, and smaller Orthodox bookstores without an online presence may also have the books available at the original price.

Sundays with Silva: The Real Payoff of Learning Greek

While I have previously posted some excerpts of the quotation below (see Greek and Pride), the point our Infallible Hero makes here can never be emphasized enough, and therefore bears repeating.

It may be worthwhile to keep in mind that, more often than not, grammar has a negative yet important function; grammatical knowledge may not directly result in a  sensational new truth, but it may play a key role in preventing interpretive mistakes.  Take, for instance, the doctrine of Christ’s deity.  It would not be quite accurate to say that Greek syntax directly proves this doctrine.  It is certainly true, however, that it can disprove certain heretical ideas.  For example, proponents of some cults are fond of pointing out that the last reference to God in John 1:1 does not include the definite article and so should be translated ‘a god’ or ‘divine.’  Someone with little or no knowledge of Greek could easily be persuaded by this argument.  A reasonably good understanding of predicate clauses in Greek, however, is all one needs to demonstrate that the argument has no foundation whatever (the article that accompanies the predicate noun is routinely dropped to distinguish the predicate from the subject of the clausebesides, there are numerous and indisputable references to God, as in verses 6, 13, and 18 of the same chapter, that do not include the article).

“Quite possibly, however, the most significant benefit of acquiring a knowledge of the biblical languages is intangible.  Most of us are conditioned to think that nothing is truly valuable that does not have an immediate and concrete payoff, but a little reflection dispels that illusion.  Consider the teaching we all received from birth.  Has most of it been immediately rewarding?  We are simply not conscious of how deeply we have been molded by countless experiences that affect our perspective, our thinking, our decisions.  Similarly, a measure of proficiency in the biblical languages provides the framework that promotes responsibility in the handling of the text.  Continued exposure to the original text expands our horizon and furnishes us with a fresh and more authentic perspective than that which we bring from our modern, English-speaking situation.

“In my own preaching during the past twenty-five years, explicit references to Greek and Hebrew have become less and less frequent.  But that hardly means I have paid less attention to the languages or that they have become less significant in my work of interpretation.  Quite the contrary.  It’s just that coming up with those rich ‘exegetical nuggets’ is not necessarily where the real, substantial payoff lies.”

Moisés Silva, “God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation: Six Volumes in One, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), page 278.

See also:

Saturday à Machen: The Minister and His Greek Testament
Sundays with Silva: On the Study of Greek

Biblia Triglotta Serbianna?

Earlier this summer I was asked by a kind and selfless traveler on his way to Serbia whether there was anything that I needed him to bring back for me. Given that the Srbljak appears to be permanently out of print (but see here!), and since I couldn’t think of anything else at the time, I expressed my gratitude for his thoughtfulness and simply let the opportunity pass. Only later did it occur to me that I might have asked him to keep his eyes open for any Greek-Serbian diglot New Testaments he might find. Now, I don’t know whether such a book has actually been printed, but given that there is at least one Hebrew-Serbian diglot Psalter in print, it requires no great leap of faith to imagine that at least one Greek-Serbian New Testament might be available as well.

My interest in such a book was prompted by the fact that, when I first set out to learn Church Slavonic, one of the exercises I found most useful was to set the Greek text of the Bible (or a liturgical text) side by side with its Church Slavonic translation. I decided to start doing this after I had spent some quality time with Arcbishop Alypy’s Grammar of the Church Slavonic Language (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2001), translated by Archpriest John R. Shaw [now Bishop Jerome of Manhattan] and then only very recently published. This book features an appended “chrestomathy” that consists of the first three chapters of the Book of Acts. Being rather familiar with this biblical book in Greek, I decided to reach for my Greek New Testament to check my progress (or lack thereof) against it, and what I saw was nothing short of a revelation: it often seemed as though the syntax of the Church Slavonic text was borrowed wholesale from the Greek! (This is a phenomenon that becomes even more evident in liturgical texts.) Eventually I purchased a copy of the Bible Society’s edition of the Church Slavonic Bible, which enabled me to study in this same fashion biblical passages that were more familiar to me in translation, thereby significantly increasing the pedagogical value of my little exercise.

Since in recent years I have made many strides, not all of them altogether successful, towards learning Serbian, it occurred to me that I might use a Greek-Serbian New Testament for similar purposes. Of course, no modern Slavic language is able to approximate the Greek text they way Church Slavonic does, but I figured that nearly 20 years of acquaintance with the New Testament in Greek ought to allow a person to use its text, at the very least, as a vocabulary crutch! I had been pondering these things for a few weeks when, quite unexpectedly, I stumbled upon some PDF files on the excellent site Svetosavlje that feature the text of the Johannine and a few of the Pauline Epistles, not in a Greek-Serbian diglot, but in a Greek-Slavonic-Serbian triglot format. I must admit that the possibility of combining all three texts had not even crossed my mind, but it is clearly a brilliant idea. Here are the links for the comparative texts currently available:

I was unable to find any information on the origin of these files, but one can only hope that it is an ongoing project that will eventually give us an online Biblia Triglotta Serbiannathough if this is indeed an active and ongoing project, it is far more likely that those responsible are only aiming at completing a Novum Testamentum Triglottum. I would be ecstatic beyond words either way.

Be that as it may, since we have once again reached that time of the year when St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is read liturgically (the weekday readings from the Epistle ended on Wednesday, and the Sunday readings will start in a couple of weeks), I have decided to commit the bulk of my time during my annual return to Galatians to the study of the triglot text linked above. I’m eagerly looking forward to it.

On Blurbs, Again

On at least two previous occasions, we have reflected upon the unnerving sycophancy of most publisher’s blurbs. One of those times, I mentioned that in a moment of unusual inspiration, I myself had crafted a blurb of such perfection as to be (or so I thought) without peer:

Thus far, the earth has rotated around its axis in anticipation of this book. Now that it is here, it does so in thanksgiving.

I said then that I eagerly awaited an opportunity to put this bouquet of blandiloquence to good use, but alas, it appears that I may have to wait much longer than originally expected to endorse anything in those terms. You see, during a recent visit to the local Borders, I discovered, much to my dismay, a bit of publisher’s copy that so closely parallels my blurb that it could potentially raise troubling questions of plagiarism. The line in question is found on the back cover of Scot McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), where we read:

Until Scot McKnight wrote The Blue Parakeet, today’s Christian had little choiceeither side with out-of-touch fundamentalists or unrealistic liberals . . . which left millions in the middle disenfranchised, unsure how to read the Bible in a postmodern world.

Aside from the mislaid ellipsis issue, the similarities are clear to the naked eye. Obviously the publication of McKnight’s book is the pivot on which the history of hermeneutics turns, since prior to it (and in spite of the oceans of ink spilled on the subject), today’s Christian had no other possibility than to choose from either of two equally undesirable models. Oh, the doubt! Oh, the insecurity! Well, my gentle snowflakes, be of good cheer: that was so only until the publication of The Blue Parakeet. Up to that point, the whole created universe in all its parts had groaned as if in the pangs of childbirth; since then, it has clearly entered the glorious hermeneutical freedom of the children of God.

Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?

Introducing: International Moisés Silva Day

This is a great and wondrous day. Rejoice, my gentle snowflakes! For our Infallible Hero, the great Moisés Silva, was born on September 4, 1945, which makes this his 65th birthday.

Since one of the chief burdens of The Voice of Stefan is to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of Moisés Silva throughout the land, it occurs to me that his dies natalis should be a paramount observance in this blog’s yearly cycle. Therefore I have decided to proclaim this as International Moisés Silva Day, to be celebrated on this date in perpetuity.

In honor of the festivities, I wish to share with you two personal anecdotes that Silva used as illustrations for a sermon on Genesis 11:1-9 that he preached at a Gordon-Conwell chapel service during his tenure as Mary French Rockefeller Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at that institution (1996-2001). I listened to this sermon on tape (!) several years ago, and while I’m a bit fuzzy on some of the details, I sufficiently remember the thrust of the anecdotes to relay them in turn to you. [UPDATE: It seems that, like every other preacher in the world, Silva is in the habit of recycling sermons: I have just discovered that he preached this very sermon at a Westminster chapel service in 1991. You may listen to the full sermon, which features both of the stories below, here.]

The first takes us back to a romantic date that took place during Christmas break in our Infallible Hero’s freshman year of college. Apparently, while driving his date back home, he had asked her whether she liked to attend big spectacles such as the Orange Bowl, which would be taking place a few short weeks later. The young lady said that she loved to do so, and Silva replied that, for his part, he didn’t much care for big crowds. Later, however, and much to his horror, he realized that he hadn’t actually asked the girl whether she liked going to the Orange Bowl: he had asked whether she would like to go to the Orange Bowl, and she had said that she would love to! The frustration of having blown his chance at another date, he said, was only aggravated by the fact that he really liked that girl.

(As an aside, I speculate that the trauma associated with this incident might have driven Silva to become a consummate football fan: in the first lecture of his New Testament Introduction course, which as I have noted before is available for free from Westminster Audio Archive, he invites students to come to his office to discuss anything and everythingincluding, he said, the progress of the Miami Dolphins that year.)

The second anecdote is likewise romantic, and it takes us to the dining hall at Silva’s undergraduate institution sometime after the previously narrated events. It is perhaps not well known that our Infallible Hero attended Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist institution infamous for its various disciplinary strictures. One of these was the practice of rotating, assigned seating at the dining hall, which according to Silva, at least encouraged socialization. Well, one day it was time for everyone to assume their new seats according to the latest rotation, when the most “ineffably beautiful creature” the Infallible One had ever seen manifested herself before him. Within a couple of days he announced, halfway tongue-in-cheek and in front of everyone, that he would marry herwhich surely did not make him sympathetic either to her or to her boyfriend back home. As it happened, however, her relationship back home ended some time later, and our Infallible Hero (in this regard more of an Average Romeo) decided to take up writing romantic notes to her. He was so persistent in this activity that he started to fear that he might be actually bothering her. So, naturally, he wrote another note to apologize. This is where he says that his Spanish let him down. As many of you may know, the Spanish verb for to bother is molestar, which led him to start of his note as follows: “I am very sorry that I keep molesting you…” Mercifully, neither this linguistic faux pas nor indeed his insistent note-writing caused a turn for the worse, and he happily married his wife Pat right out of college in 1966, which will make next year their 45th wedding anniversary.

One final, more sober note. In Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001),  while discussing reader-response approaches to biblical interpretation, Silva mentions the work of Cuban-American scholar Ada María Isasi-Díaz, as she “presents a moving account of her personal use of Psalm 137, which helped her deal with her grief as an exile from Cuba” (page 203). In a footnote, he comments: “Having been born and raised in Cuba myself, I can more than empathize with her struggles.” Silva left Cuba in 1960, which makes 2010 the 50th year of his exile. I cannot even begin to understand the pain of exile, much less a half century of it. I don’t know if he has ever been on Cuban soil since then, but if not, I hope that one day he can see Cuba again.