Søren Kierkegaard on Biblical Scholarship

As a New Testament scholar, I feel this acutely, with some caveats. On one hand, interpretation is inevitable (even reading a grocery list is an exercise in interpretation), and so the question is not whether we’ll interpret but whether we’ll be good interpreters. Take for instance what he says below about the rich young man who was told to sell all he had and follow Jesus. Is it a command intended for all Christians? What do you do with the several passages in Luke-Acts which (ironically, given how Luke is supposedly the “social Gospel”) seem to present and tacitly affirm a modicum of wealth and a more or less bourgeois existence? I’m not sure if Kierkegaard gets the intricacies involved or appreciates the necessity of interpretation, but if not, I certainly know why; he’s living in an age in which scholarship excelled in reading between and behind the lines of the text to find almost the exact opposite of what the text said.

On the other hand, scholarship often functions to justify conclusions already reached on other grounds, here thinking of things today like queer theology or (to use the most obvious and nefarious example) Nazi theology. It sometimes seems, as John Locke said, that Scripture has a nose of wax.

It’s for these reasons that I think the Catholic approach to Scripture is helpful, and, indeed, necessary; you have tradition and Tradition guiding you as an interpreter, keeping you honest and faithful, but it’s a living tradition, evolving, developing in continuity, allowing new interpretive insights.

In any event, here’s the Great Dane himself on “Christian scholarship,” “the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible,” with words we all need to hear, lest we end up domesticating our faith:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in this world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
 
I open the New Testament and read: ‘If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come follow me.’ Good God, if we were to actually do this, all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the entrepreneurs, the whole society in fact, would be almost beggars! We would be sunk if it were not for Christian scholarship! Praise be to everyone who works to consolidate the reputation of Christian scholarship, which helps to restrain the New Testament, this confounded book which would one, two, three, run us all down if it got loose (that is, if Christian scholarship did not restrain it).

(Stolen quite shamelessly from @AyJay’s Tumblog)

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