How crucial is historical context to our understanding of the Scriptures?
Is the Bible intended to stand, more or less, on its own and provide its interpretive clues within its text? Or, are our Scriptures so radically contextually bound that we are destined to misunderstand them without that setting?
These questions are at the core of many of today’s debates on theology and praxis, and yesterday I came across a video that perfectly illustrates this divide. (HT: Carson T. Clark)
In in Piper and Carson discuss the role of context in understanding Scripture, and Piper is particularly forward about his opinion.
Now, that Piper takes such a hardline stance should come as no surprise. After all in The Future of Justification, his response to N.T. Wright, he laid it out even more explicitly.
“Please do not be seduced, by N.T. Wright or anyone else, into imagining that you need to read the New Testament within its first-century Jewish context.”
Personally I believe that single statement summarized the entire Piper – Wright debate as well as any could, and it explains why people on both sides have been so reticent to cede their point. It’s not as much a question of conclusions as it is a question of methodology.
So on the one hand you have Piper, and those who find themselves likewise suspicious of using Second Temple context, and on the other hand you have Wright, Dunn, Perriman etc. who see it as the key to correctly understanding the Biblical narrative.
There are of course those who are trying to bridge that gap (Michael Bird and Kevin Vanhoozer come to mind), but it’s this gap in methodology, the very different principles of interpretation, that causes so many of today’s most intractable debates.
And until we discuss hermeneutics, all our debates over conclusions will be an exercise in missing the point.
– What do you think of Piper’s stance on Second Temple context?
– Is historical context necessary, or a distraction from the text itself?
– How can we move past this divide, or is a third way untenable?