Listening to the Word of God, Day 1
The first day of the “Listening to God’s Word” theological symposium at the Lutherische Theologische Hochschule, Oberursel, focused on “Historical Approaches” to the text, using Genesis 1 and Matt 14:22-33 as test cases. The symposium’s goal is not to “settle” right and wrong interpretations, but to discuss together different ways that the biblical texts are studied.
The structure of the symposium is to have a major paper, followed by a brief response, and then the group breaks up into smaller groups for discussion of the papers and the texts. I won’t be giving a blow-by-blow of the papers, nor the small-group discussion. The essays and responses will be published, Lord, willing, in late Spring.
The first paper was by David Adams (Concordia Seminary), “Some Observations on the Historicity of the Biblical Creation Account”, with a reaction by Achim Behrens (Lutherische Theologische Hochschule)
Adams’ paper sought to understand Genesis 1 as a historical narrative within (and in opposition to) other “creation” myths in the Ancient Near East. Adams noted that it is not possible to determine the historicity of any event by the study of a text that purports to describe that event. This does not mean that the text does not have historicity. Rather, it leads us to approach the question of the nature of the text’s historicity from a different perspective.
God’s nature, character, and will are revealed through the way that he has created the world. If God did not create the world “in this way,” there is no ground for believing that Yahweh differs at all from the gods worshipped by the surrounding cultures of ANE.
Behrens agreed with Adams’ point about not proving historicity from texts — historicity cannot be proven or demonstrated solely on that basis. Rather than focusing on Genesis as an abstract account, he sees it in view of the confession that God “created (geschaffen) me and all my senses.” Creedal faith is in God who made the heavens and the earth, and who in Christ is bringing about the new heavens and the new earth.
Jorg Salzmann: “Historical Approaches: Matt 14:22-33” (Lutherische Theologische Hochschule), with reaction by Vilson Scholz (United Bible Societies and Concordia Seminário São Leopoldo, Brazil).
The focus in the paper and reaction was on different methodologies which might be applied to a text like the account of Jesus walking on the water, and Peter’s lack of faith. Textual criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, etc. are all tools that the interpreter might use to focus on the key elements of the text: Peter’s “little faith” and, above all, the confession of Jesus as Son of God. The point of the text is not to be like Peter and try to walk on the water (a focus on our faith), rather, focus on Jesus, who is able to save even in the most desperate circumstances, because he is the Son of God. Scholz’s response added a literary approach and raised questions regarding the value of source criticism for textual analysis.
The papers were followed by discussion in small groups, which proved highly engaging and stimulating. The evening closed with vespers and a excellent meal in the mensa.