The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies

A thesis:

When ethics of biblical interpretation are determined by religious divisions and political reasons, plus effects of humanism  and its hyper-rational discursive platform, then we have a textualization and multiple strategies of relativism (as a secularization of authority).

And a hilarious paradox:

the maximization of reason and the weakness of the authority of Scriptures led to weakness of reason and hyper-individualism and hedonism (as new authorities).

Scripture died a quiet death in Western Christendom some time in the sixteenth century. The death of scripture was attended by two ironies. First, those who brought the scriptural Bible to its death counted themselves among its defenders. Second, the power to revivify a moribund scriptural inheritance arose not from the churches but from the state. The first development was the Reformation, and the second was the rise, two hundred years later, of modern biblical scholarship.
For over a millennium, Western Christians read and revered the Christian Bible as Scripture, as an authoritative anthology of unified, authoritative writing belonging to the Church. The scriptural Bible was neither reductible to a written “text” nor intelligible outside a divine economy of meaning. It was not simply the foundation of the Church’s academic theology; it also furnished its moral universe, framed its philosophic inquiries, and fitted out its liturgies. It provided the materials for thought, expression, and action, becoming what Northrop Frye famously called the “great code” of Western civilization. As the book at the center of Western Christendom, the Bible functioned scripturally. However, in the wake of the traumatic religious divisions of the sixteenth century, the fractured Church ceased to be a unified body capable of maintaining a coherent claim on the Bible as its Bible. Because both Roman Catholics and Protestants claimed the Bible, in different ways, as their own, the Bible could no longer function unproblematically as Scripture. Its nature and authority had to be explicated and legitimated with reference to extrascriptural concepts, whether juridically, as among Catholics, or doctrinally, as among Protestants. Over the course of the post-Reformational controversies, the Bible showed itself to be a contested legacy for Western Christians, ultimately devolving into a multiplicity of bibles with  distinct canons, separate ecclesial contexts, and prolific theological superstructures. What had functioned centrally in the life of the Church became, in the early modern period, a kind of textual proving ground for the legitimacy of extrascriptural theoretical understandings: at first theological and polemical and then, over time, literary, philosophical, and cultural. As a text, an object of critical analysis, the Bible came into clearer focus; however, as Scripture, the Bible became increasingly opaque.

(Michael C. Legaspi, The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 3-4, emphasis mine)

  4 comments for “The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies

  1. sam
    July 23, 2010 at 1:52 am

    A monolithic structure built up in the course of centuries in order to unify the christian languages into One and Only etcetera. A sudden event deadly shaking the structure, an explosion of new languages following suit.
    Can we see a pattern here? Babel tower comes to mind.
    It seems that by trying to become One (catholic, orthodox lutheran, presbiterian etc), humankind is always on the path of the self-destruction mirroring the Lucifer’s attempt to “create” a world of his own inside the Kingdom but outside the King’s will.
    I sometimes think that God is not so keen on the image projected outside by churches as He is on the substance,the fabric of The Church.
    The real Scriptural Christian action could be more about spreading rather than unifying. More of celebrating the diversity of the Creation in oposition to engaging people in order to become the new slave-labourers, brick-makers for the never ending projects of Babel-like churches.
    In this light, the demeaning of the Scripture in favour of washed-down Bibles can be seen as a less destructive, fashionable tendency as it seemed in the first place.
    As Jesus said about the Sabath being for the people and not the other way round, I could say that The Scripture is the word of God but God is Not the Scripture.

    • Marius Corduneanu
      July 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm

      I agree with your comment, but I think I’m a greater relativist than you ( 🙂 ): (1) not every kind of unity is demonic (I Pray That All Of Them May Be One – John 17:20-26) and (2) not every kind of pluralism and diversity is desirable. I think that Adam and Eve are two tragic and silent witnesses of “the dark side” of pluralism. We shall learn from their history. I think a good discernment is desirable – then, but especially now. Correct me if I’m wrong!

      About “The Scripture is the word of God but God is Not the Scripture” – very clearly and precisely put. I’m totally agree with you!

      • sam
        July 24, 2010 at 2:16 pm

        Has ‘relativity’ anything to do with ‘relative’? Or ‘relation’? 🙂

        As you’re saying ‘balance’ and ‘caution’ are the keys in judging reality.

        I was merely pointing out the failure which every human action, imposed Christian unity and its reaction – lifelong rebellion, is prone to. And this happens when people in an organisation are substituted with members in the first case. As for the rebellious they are the visible collateral victims. The less visible one chose to die hard.

        The danger of defending a “wrong” kind of balance is to cut out loose Christ from Christianism in order to “keep” the latter. By “wrong” balance I mean the fake, imposed balance created out of fear of losing something which we cannot actually control: unity.

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