Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thesis 4: The Bible as Rosetta Stone

Thesis 4: The Biblical canon does not exhaust salvation history, but is a Rosetta Stone by which all subsequent history is to be understood.

Salvation history does not end with the closing of the Bible. As Katherine Doob-Sakenfeld has shown us, the Bible is not merely a “repository or databank of verbally correct information about God,” but rather, can be viewed as “establishing a trajectory for Christian living, a trajectory that the continuing community checks an rechecks by reference to the Bible.”(10) We can view the narrative of Scripture in similar fashion, not as exhausting God’s life with God’s people, but rather, as providing a snapshot of a relationship in motion. As in calculus, the narrative we have is a kind of derivative, establishing the rate of change at a particular point, and thus establishing a trajectory. Or, we could view the Bible as God’s Rosetta Stone, which, when laid alongside our own part of the story, enables us, with much difficulty and care, to begin to translate the strange language of God’s speaking, acting and relating in the present by reference to how God has been heard speaking, acting and relating in the past. While the canon itself has been closed, the story of God with God’s people continues to be written in the witness of the Church (and also of Israel).

Faithfulness to the canon, then, is in making it the measure of our times, with all its divergences and disagreements, without allowing it to exhaust or limit the surprising ways God continues to act in relationship with God’s people. As John Henry Newman beautifully notes, “Scripture cannot be mapped, or its contents catalogued; but, after all our diligence, to the end of our lives and to the end of the Church, it must be an unexplored and unsubdued land, with heights and valleys, forests and streams, on the right and left of our path and close about us, full of concealed wonders and choice treasures.”(11) Scripture leads to further adventures into the strange new world within its pages, and so remains a crucial site within which God’s people encounter God speaking today. It also provides, as in Calvin's famous image, a set of lenses through which to view all of reality in the fullness of its spiritual dimensions. History quite simply is salvation history, and through Scripture, Newman's adventure extends to the entirety of Christian existence and engagement in time.

10 - Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, “Feminist Theology and Biblical Interpretation” in Biblical Theology: Problems and Perspectives: In Honor of J. Christiaan Beker (ed. Johan Christiaan Beker. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 251.
11 - Cited in Jason Byassee’s Praise Seeking Understanding: Reading the Psalms with Augustine (Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdman’s Co., 2007), 240.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for reflecting upon this topic. It gives me quite a lot of trouble, as you know, particularly the seeming arbitrariness of the canon's closing date. I do appreciate the metaphors here, though! Helpful.