Thursday, 23 September 2010

Vintage South African New Testament exegesis?

I spend six years of my life at the Department of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa. One of the highlights of my training there was the exegetical tools I acquired from New Testament scholars like proff Andrie du Toit and Jan van der Watt. In 2009 Protea Book House published an important book: Focussing on the message. New Testament hermeneutics, exegesis and method (with Andrie du Toit as editor).

Professor Andrie du Toit's chapter: New Testament exegesis in Theory and Practice has valuable principles for exegesis and a few striking sayings too. I name a few:

On deconstruction:
"The deconstructionist position that a text can have an unlimited number of meanings, with the implication that it would be impossible to derive any reliable meaning from the biblical documents, is certainly untenable. If someone were to shout "Fire!" in an office complex, certainly nobody would respond with "There is a cold spell coming. I need to fetch my winter coat" (p109).

On the role of the Biblical Text:
"[S]ound exegesis requires that we should be critically aware of all the factors that impinge on the supremacy of the text. Responsible exegesis is first and foremost a recognition of the decisive importance of the text. To ignore this basic rule and read our own pet ideas into the text of the biblical authors is a blatant abuse of the Bible" (p119).

I love this one on the difficulties surrounding some personal presuppositions:
"The role of presuppositions in the analysis of New Testament texts can be seen most clearly in the history of Jesus research. In the period of rationalism a Jesus emerged who acted according to the canons of human reason. Jesus' resurrection, for instance, was explained as an awakening from a deep coma. Romanticism made of him a romantic hero. In the Hitler period Nazi theologians produced an Aryan Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes. During the revolutionary period of the twentieth century, Jesus became a revolutionary, gathering around him a group of politically motivated, anti-Roman disciples. The anti-metaphysical trend of the late twentieth century created Jesus the sage. This Jesus, according to the presuppositions of his protagonists, could not have performed any miracles, could not have been resurrected from the dead, and certainly could not have been the Son of a transcendent God, because such a god does not fit in a closed, anti-metaphysical world-view" (p118-9).


Steve said...

Very encouraging to see some good scholarship. I hope it's not restricted to those who have retired and moved on. What about the younger generation?

Frederik Mulder said...

Steve, I can't tell about South Africa but here in the UK there are certainly some positive signs - the likes of Simon Gathercole, Pete Williams, Dirk Jongkind etc represents a new generation of Evangelical Scholars with academic credentials, but also a humble and honest faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
My God raise up a generation of Christian pastors and academics that will glorify God, and change the world forever.