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Childs on Systematic Categories in Biblical Theology

Posted by on Mar 22, 2010 in biblical theology | Comments Off

[T]he issue of the use of dogmatic [systematic] categories in the study of the Bible is far more complex than often assumed and touches on difficult philosophical and hermeneutical problems. Can one actually read a text meaningfully without some sort of conceptual framework? Indeed it has become obvious that much of the most profound and critical reflection on the Bible operated with various philosophical and theological categories, often as a vehicle for the critical, descriptive task (e.g. Schlatter). The great giants of biblical study from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (de Wette, Baur, Wellhausen, Bultmann, Käsemann, von Rad) all worked within certain dogmatic and philosophical traditions.

In my judgment, the issue of the use of dogmatic categories for Biblical Theology calls for a careful reformulation. The often used cliche of ‘freedom from dogma’ seems now largely rhetorical. Nor can the categories of historical versus dogmatic be seen as intractable rivals. Rather, the issue turns on the quality of the dogmatic construal. It is undoubtedly true that in the history of the discipline traditional dogmatic rubrics have often stifled the close hearing of the biblical text, but it is equally true that exegesis done in conscious opposition to dogmatics can be equally stifling and superficial…

In sum, the use of dogmatic theological categories in the task of Biblical Theology touches on a basic problem of all interpretation and carries with it both the risk of obfuscation and the potential of genuine illumination. This balance between promise and threat cannot be adequately assessed by a general dismissal of all dogmatics, but must be tested in terms of adequate response to the continuing coercion of the biblical text itself. (Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993,12)