Note on Historical/Theological Studies

I was in a discussion recently about the relation of biblical/historical studies to theological/dogmatic studies. It’s a bit of an odd question, to me at least, but I’ve found that dichotomies puzzle me in general. To be sure, historical study in and of itself can’t be the basis of dogmatics (I can’t imagine someone concerned with dogmatics would studying Scripture with that idea). Historical study can, however, inform theological and dogmatic issues (say, the translation of a word, or the context of a certain historical event, or any number of things). Something that comes to mind is (as an example) the priesthood of Christ, a doctrine which would probably not make a lot of sense if there wasn’t an historical understanding of the Jewish priesthood.


7 thoughts on “Note on Historical/Theological Studies

  1. Kevin Davis December 28, 2013 / 7:34 pm

    Yes, even in my zealous defense of the ST approach to exegesis, I do not exclude the value of historical context and authorial intention. I think the ST approach can responsibly include these. Rather, the problem is when BS rules-out trinitarian, christological, or other dogmatic readings that may not be included in either the historical context or authorial intention (as far as these are available to us, which is another debate) or as may result from cross-canonical interpretation (as the apostles did).

    Thus with Wright, my problem has less to do with what he affirms than with what he rejects, though the latter necessarily limit and distort the former.

    None of this became clear to me until I started doing actual exegesis, while sitting under professors who consistently reject theological “distortions” of the text and (of course) any subsisting unity to the canon. Wright finds canonical unity, though he has not convinced anyone in the guild except for evangelicals and a few moderates — rather, the majority report in BS is utterly contemptuous of canon and dogmatics.

    Sorry if this is a bit obtuse. I will be surely working through these things in the future, but my focus (as of late) has been to return to my philosophical studies.


    • whitefrozen December 28, 2013 / 7:51 pm

      I think there may be something worth digging into RE the ruling out of dogmatic readings on the basis of historical/authorial intention and context, and I think tradition has a fair bit to play here.

      What specific philosphical studies?


      • Kevin Davis December 28, 2013 / 8:48 pm

        Plato and Platonism.

        My undergraduate thesis was on Simone Weil, and I am returning to her works in consideration of her attempt to integrate Platonism and Christian faith. She is one of the most fascinating minds I have ever encountered, albeit severe and disturbing. She is unrelenting in her Gnostic suppositions about how eternity/God and matter/creature interrelate — purely apophatic. I am continually compelled to read Weil because I think she was the purest philosophical mind to ever exist, which is something I can’t explain until you’ve read her. No one, in the history of philosopher, grasped Plato and Platonist mysticism as thoroughly as she did.

        I also like Weil because she is the opposite of Barth. On almost every point, they are in total diametric opposition, so they actually illumine each other very nicely.


        • whitefrozen December 28, 2013 / 8:55 pm

          I’ll have to look into Weil, sounds quite interesting. Plato is such a delight to study – big, aesthetic and just a real fullness to his work, style and thought. Have you perchance read David Bentley Hart at all? A lot of his thinking, especially his aesthetic thought (specifically in his newest book) is fairly Platonic.

          Plus, of course, you can’t get away from the forms, no matter how hard you try. Schopenhaur is espeically good in that regard.


          • Kevin Davis December 28, 2013 / 9:47 pm

            Amazingly enough, I have not read Hart, except for the occasional excerpt or quote. That has been a longstanding gap in my reading. When I was at Aberdeen, I felt like I had read Hart because everyone else had — a poor substitute, I know. ‘The Beauty of the Infinite’ had been published a few years prior, and it was still garnering massive discussion. In my defense, when I went to Aberdeen, I had only been studying Barth (and theology proper) for about a year and a half! In hindsight, it is remarkable that I survived! So, I had a lot of catching-up to do — my extensive knowledge of Foucault was not helping me at Aberdeen!

            My impression is that Hart represents the Platonized Christianity of the early fathers, which is only about half-Platonist really, whereas Simone Weil is a pure Platonist and adjusts the dogmas of the church accordingly (as did the Gnostics before her and for the same reason). The more I study Platonism, the more I realize how miraculous it was that the Gnostics did not win (as they have in every other culture) — God was surely guiding the church at Nicaea and Chalcedon, political entanglements and all.

            Lest it sound like I’m bashing Plato, I really do love him. He was grappling with the basic problems of reality with an integrity that is unsurpassed and an imagination that is incomparable. His errors are simply because he didn’t have the Incarnation of God to deal with and correct him. Weil has less excuse, but her immense sufferings (constant migraines) and peculiar personality make her endearing to me. She was driven to Plato’s dualism because the world was so painful for her.


            • whitefrozen December 28, 2013 / 9:55 pm

              You’re right that Hart isn’t full-blown Platonist – while his use of transcendentals in his more metaphysical arguments (about, say, moral appetite, beauty, or reason) definitely reflect a broad kind of platonism that, as you observed, wouldn’t be out of place with, say, Justin Martyr, he’s no gnostic. Though your last remark about Weil reminds me of a passage where Hart sympathized with the Gnostic pathos, which actually says a lot about him as a thinker to me. You can snag his essays by googling his name, and clicking on the blogspot result that’s like the 2nd or third result. It’s a bunch of his essays, the best of which is ‘Christ and Nothing’. As one final plug, his new book is only like 15 bucks.

              It’s definitely Plato’s imagination which makes him such a joy to read. Like I said before, the best way to describe his work is ‘full’. It’s like a big, beautiful painting, with lots of colour, lots of subtlety, lots of technique, and lots of beauty.


              • Kevin Davis December 28, 2013 / 10:09 pm

                Thanks, I just copied the article to a pdf, so I won’t forget about it. I’m glad to hear about his sympathy for the Gnostic pathos, as you say. That does indeed demonstrate a generous mind and heart.


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