Book Notes: Dunn, “The Living Word”


About This Log

About These Notes: These notes stretch across intellectual, spiritual, social, and psychological phases, from college years to the present. Do not presume their content (whether quotes, summaries, or commentary) or tone reflect my current interests, views, or disposition. Note also that these notes are selective and do not indicate all the books I have read (since many were not worth taking notes from, or I simply failed to for whatever reason), or even which books I have taken notes from (since many were hand-written and lost, or have not yet become digitized). I publish these notes to more widely and conveniently disseminate potentially useful information to others. Finally, out of necessity, respect, and clarity, each entry in this log category begins with a full citation of the source material, with quotations and page numbers clearly indicated throughout. Quotations were to the best of my ability and knowledge but are undoubtedly fallible; I am not responsible if any errors in these notes are uncritically repeated in other publications. You, the reader and referencer of this work, are responsible for ensuring the integrity of the material by consulting the primary source yourself and not relying on these notes. If you cannot verify the integrity of such primary source quotations and material on your own publications, it is necessary, for your own protection, to cite the material from these notes in the standard format of “…cited in…”, and reference this log as appropriate.

Most Relevant Audience: Anyone interested in doctrine of the bible/scripture, bibliology, the problem with conservative and fundamentalist views of the Bible

Date: 4/5/2016

James Dunn, The Living Word (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009),
“…a primary feeder of fundamentalism is the lust for certainty and security. It is the certainty that God has spoken in particular words and formulations which are clear-cut and fixed for all time, which alone gives the fundamentalist the security (s)he craves for.” vii b
“The ecumenical and political tragedy is that the craving for such certainty becomes itself a slippery slope which can quickly lead to disaster.” Vii m
“…Paul’s counsel of complete submission to the authority of the state in Romans 13 can easily be misconceived and misapplied, unless we remember the vast gulf between the political realities of the Roman state in the first century and that of the ancient and developed democracies of the twenty-frist. [sic] We who can exercise political power…need to make an effort of historical imagination to appreciate the political powerlessness of the great mass of the populace in Paul’s day. It simply did not lie within the bounds of possibility for Paul to exercise political power. He did not advocate a more pro-active political stance simply because such a possibility would not have occurred to him; such a possibility was not contained within the horizon of thinkable thoughts for Paul.
Similarly with the issue of slavery. We need not wonder at the earliest Christian assumption of slavery as an unavoidable and therefore acceptable part of society. For that is what is was—simply the lowest level of the socioeconomic ladder. The conviction that slavery is morally repulsive was a much later growth within Christian consciousness, and if we are rightly to appreciate what the New Testament says on the subject we must avoid judging it by the standards of another and later time. Otherwise the dialogue of New Testament interpretation becomes merely a twenty-first century monologue.” 11 -12
“since these writings were heard to speak with more than ordinary authority, and with an authority that outlasted the occasionalness and conditionedness of their origins, since the word of God was heard in them from the beginning and beyond the circumstances of their initial reception, to that extent they were accorded the status of scripture from the first.” 12 m
“The correlation between the word of God and the words of the New Testament is not a simple one-to-one correlation. We cannot simply read a text from the New Testament and assume that it is the word of God for ourselves today.” 13 t
“…there is no such thing in the New Testament as an absolute and unchanging form of the gospel which is independent of circumstances and occasion and which therefore can be abstracted from the New Testament for use in every and any circumstance thereafter. We only ‘hear’ the gospel in the New Testament when we hear it in its conditionedness and relativity, in its different expressions.” 15
“Trust is seldom simple enough to be grasped fully by a single mind….Insights gleaned by different viewpoints and different expertise will provide a stereoscopic view of increased depth that would be impossible for the individual working on one’s own. Of course, the individual specialist naturally tends to honor his own discipline by attributing as much significance to it as he can in explain the data under examination—this applies as much to the theologian as to the psychologist or sociologist. But such professional pride will almost certainly lead more often than not to a distorted picture of the whole. The individual specialist needs to bear in mind one’s own limited horizons, and for the sake of the truth needs to be open to the fuller view provided by the diversity of specialisms and to the correction to one’s own more limited perspective that they make possible.”
“…no claim to make an authoritative pronouncement has ever been accepted at face value or been regarded as self-authenticating within the Judeo-Christian tradition. The words of prophets were tested to eliminate false prophecy. The words of Jesus have been subjected to interpretation from the beginning. The word of God has to be heard as such before it is obeyed or reckoned worthy of preservation….To function within the community of faith the interpreter of the New Testament requires and depends on the evaluation and assent of the community. The dialogue of New Testament interpretation takes place within the community, with all the possibility of correction and sharpened insight that his involves.” 18-19
Form criticism: “…the traditions have almost certainly been shaped and elaborated and added to…in the light of the Easter faith and in response to the changing needs of the Christian congregations.” 22 m
Gospels as biographies 26 m
Difference in Sermon on mount/plain? “The most likely explanation of this phenomenon is not that Luke broke up and scattered Matthew’s Sermon, but that Matthew has constructed the Sermon by grouping together elements of Jesus’ teaching which were actually delivered at different points during his ministry. This is simply good teaching technique….”29 m
“…it is hard to deny Jesus the title ‘liberal.’ Within the religious context, in relation to the dominant traditions and beliefs of his day, Jesus was certainly not conservative.” 45 m
“Over against the current religiousity and system of faith and religion, Jesus was liberal, and Paul was a heretic. And that is the only contemporary context we can set them within.” 50 t
“…the Old Testament commandments…were the word of God to millions of Israelites down through many centuries. But they no longer are so for us—certainly not in their obvious and intended sense. We honor these passages as God’s word in a historic sense.” 51 m
“…the Christian operates with a canon within the canon, like it or not. The canon within the canon for the Christian is, of course, the New Testament…..”51 b
On deception and pseudonymity 56 m b
Expansion of LXX: “There was evidently no sense that  document once written was complete and closed, that additions to it would violate its character or the integrity of the original author.” 56
“…we have a concept of what we might better call open canon, or open-ended canonical authority: a writing, an oracle, which could be regarded as speaking with word-of-God authority, but whose content could be developed or elaborated without loss of canonical authority, presumably to adapt the earlier word to different circumstances or help retain its continuing force, or simply because the new material was coherent with the earlier. Here, in other words, we have a variation on the idea of living word, living tradition.” 57 m
The law “was not a closed authority, but open, “that could be and was expanded and elaborated as new insights emerged and that could be and evidently was adapted and modified as circumstances changed.” (deut) 58 m
Isaiah as another case study, 60 m
Another case study: 70 being called out in gospels 64 t
John 10:35, scripture cannot be broken
On inerrancy. How it ignores author’s intent. In four passages supposedly supporting inerrancy, it is assumed that inerrancy is the author’s intent. But is it? 78 b
“I fear that the ICBI, in its position on scripture, cannot escape the charge of Pharisaic legalism….it is the harmonizing expedients of the proponents of inerrancy that have reminded me so strongly of the rabbinic casuistry which drew such outspoken condemnation from Jesus.” 84 b
“By asserting of the Bible an indefectible authority, they are attributing to it an authority proper only to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit….We cannot argue for a precise analogy between the divine and human in Christ (effecting sinlessness) and the divine and human in scripture (effecting inerrancy) without making the Bible worthy of the same honor as Christ—and that is bibliolatry.” 85 t-b
“…the inerrancy line is pastorally disastrous. Integral to the inerrancy position is the all-or-nothing argument, the slippery-slope mentality, the repeated reasoning that if we cannot trust the Bible in all, we cannot trust it at all. That may be an argument which appeals to the oversimplifications of spiritual infancy, but it is hardly an appropriate expression of the spiritual maturity defined by Paul as the enabling to discern the things that really matter, to approve what is essential (Phil. 1:10)…The worst thing about the slippery-slope imagery is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy in far too many cases…even those who cling firmly to the top of the slope—what a burden of (subconscious) fear they carry: fear of finding even one error in the biblical record, fear of what the archaeologist’s spade might turn up, fear of engaging in open-ended discussion, fear of asking searching questions in case the answer does not fit into the system. The top of that slippery slope looks to me too much like that state of spiritual immaturity which Paul was delighted to have left behind, where the spirit of slavery to fear and bondage to the letter is more noticeable than the liberty and life of the Spirit of sonship…” 85-6
“In short, if I had to sum up my criticism of the Warfield position, it would be that it is exegetically improbable, hermeneutically defective, theologically dangerous, and educationally disastrous.” 86
A passage beginning with “God” said isn’t enough…87
Galatians, “seed” and “Seeds” interpretation: “The point is that the scripture which is recognized as authoritative is not the scripture in its original and originally intended and understood meaning. The authoritative scripture is scripture interpreted, scripture understood in a sense that constituted a significant variation or development or departure or difference from the original sense.” 87
Jesus recognized relative authority of OT. 92 t, 94 b
100 m on inerrancy
102 m on what “applies”
104 m, task of hermeneutics
119 b, arbitrariness of “final” or “original author”
123b-4t b; freezing place in the tradition
131 t, final canonical form
133 t fir book; establishment of canon by popularity
138 b, canon within canon not an option…
“…this desire for certainty confuses confidence of faith with certainty of knowledge. The danger is that a legitimate desire for confidence becomes an illegitimate lust for certainty—the danger being that a lust for certainty actually undermines faith.” 141 m
142 a start and end 143: same for b c
A. “Human speech is simply inadequate to express divine reality.” 142; example: “procession” vs. “generation” of Son from Spirit; example: analogy (God’s “Son”; not literally)
“Paul in speaking of the experience of salvation uses a whole kaleidoscope of metaphors—metaphors drawn from life, from athletic contests, from business and commerce, from medicine, from horticulture, and so on. The richness and diversity of the reality he was trying to express evidently could not be contained within a single metaphor. That, however, has not stopped many Christians from exalting one of these metaphors into the status of a technical term—regeneration, justification, salvation itself—and from subordinating all the rest to that one. The danger then emerges of squeezing all that rich diversity of experience through a narrowing and constrictive filter of a rigidly defined process—the danger of transforming a living metaphor into a dead mathematical formula.” 143
“ A second reason why certainty is impossible is that everything written in the Bible has an inescapable degree of particularity, of contingency.” 143
C) “A third feature of scripture that runs counter to the desire for certainty is the fact that scripture consists of different kinds of literature and different literary forms….The point is that different literary forms make their truth-claims in different ways. The truth-claim of a poem or a hymn is not to be appreciated or evaluated  in the same way as the truth-claim of a legal ruling or a dogmatic assertion…the tendency in any claim to certainty is to ignore such differences, precisely because they give room to uncertainty….In Protestant fundamentalism, for example, the tendency has been to reduce the Bible to a book of doctrinal propositions.” 146
“In short, in its desire for certainty, fundamentalism shows itself unwilling to accept the unavoidable inadequacy of human speech to express God’s self-revelation, the degree of historical particularity in most biblical texts that prevents their being absolutized, and the different kinds of literature in scripture and the different conventions behind them, all of which should caution a modern reader straightforwardly reading off historical fact and Christian doctrine from these texts simply because they are in the Bible. The lust for certainty turns the icon into an idol, pulls the living word from the soil in which it was rooted, turns the metaphor into a mathematical formula, and abuses the scriptural authority it seeks to affirm.” 147 b
Other problems of fundamentalist handling of scripture:
1. interpretation. “scientific objectivity: that an inspired text had an objectivity of meaning which was transparent to inquiry; once grant the status of the text as divinely inspired and its meaning, uncovered by standard historico-grammatical techniques, would carry its authority in its face.” 148
2: “tendency to homogenize the whole.” 148
3. “the desire to harmonize divergent details of different accounts of the same episode.” 149
“This is why terms like inerrancy and infallibility applied to all the statements of the Bible are so unsuitable. They put the emphasis in the wrong places, they make the word of God subservient to a narrow human logic, they encourage a weak and immature faith that has not yet begun to discern what are the things which really matter.” 150 m
“Fundamentalists by predisposition do not recognize that there may be different ways of expressing what is actually the same, much more complex truth. Since their faith depends on the certainty of that which they believe, any alternative or counter faith is a threat to that certainty.” 162
“Of course, we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that textual criticism gives us ‘the original text.’…and we should be equally cautious about talking of the ‘final form’ of the text.” 167 b
“Authorial intent”: “It is the text as embodying that intention, as a communicative act between author and intended readers/auditors, to which attention is to be given.” 171 t
“The most vicious form of the hermeneutical circle, however, has proved to be that between reader and text as it has been developed within postmodern literary criticism. Indeed, deconstructionist hermeneutics attempt in effect to undermine the whole procedure envisaged in the hermeneutical circle by suggesting that the reality is an infinite series of interlocking circles, where the search for meaning is neverending and the play between signifier and signified goes on ad infinitum. The image conjured up is of a computer game without an end; or of an Internet search into the infinity of cyberspace as Web pages direct to other web pages in an endless sequence; or indeed of a computer hacker who has succeeded in so overloading a system that it crashes…Intellectually challenging as such exercises are, they do not much assist in the living of life or the advance of knowledge or the building of community. To conceive the hermeneutical process as an infinitely regressive intertextuality is another counsel of despair that quickly reduces all meaningful communication to impossibility and all communication to a game of ‘trivial pursuit.’” 175
“The trouble is that in a postmodern world all claims to stable meaning and single authority are called in question.” 182 b
“The reality is that the authoritative word for the people of God was never single nor uniform, never fixed nor unchanging. From the first it was a living word, which came to expression in diverse words and in changing terms and practices.” 183 tm
“Teaching was not regarded as something fixed in the final form in which Jesus gave it out; almost certainly he repeated much of his most important teaching in varied forms and wording. This was how teachers taught, then as today. Likewise, stories about Jesus were not fixed in a final form by some single authoritative witness; different witnesses with differing perspectives would have reported the same episode in differing terms. This is how reporting happened, then as today.” 187
Flexibility in oral tradition. 188 m b
“translations of biblical texts are one of the clearest contemporary demonstrations of the living quality of the biblical text.” 192

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *