It is easy for us to underestimate the aura that surrounded a written text in the ancient world. As you read this review, you are performing something that once seemed like magic: converting signs on a printed page into human speech.
“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:31). “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16).“Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:30).
One of the comical moments in the early history of printing occurred in 1631, when the English printer Robert Barker produced an edition of the scriptures which became known as the “Wicked Bible.” This edition contained a misprint of the seventh commandment.
In a famous 1936 lecture, “The Presentation of New Testament Texts,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer proposed to the Confessing Church an alternative strategy of reading scripture. Instead of questioning the Bible from their standpoint, as the German Christians were doing, Bonhoeffer challenged them to let the Bible question them.
When I was 12 and far more interested in horses than high culture, my father dragged my sisters and me to a student production of The Pirates of Penzance in the gymnasium at the University of Alabama. I had seen plenty of movies by then and had watched plays on television, but nothing prepared me for the experience of live theater.
A cartoon in the New Yorker shows a man making inquiry at the information counter of a large bookstore. The clerk, tapping on his keyboard and peering intently into the computer screen, replies, “The Bible? . . . That would be under self-help.”
A new translation of the Bible has created a tug of words between camps in the evangelical world. Moderates and conservatives are fighting with ultraconservatives over a gender-inclusive New Testament, part of Today’s New International Version Bible, which is based on the best-selling New International Version (NIV).
It seems to me a wonderful irony that Christians in America are preoccupied with debates about biblical authority just when all parties to the debates are less knowledgeable about the content of scripture than many of our predecessors were.
Since the publication of his Biblical Theology in Crisis in 1970, Brevard Childs (recently retired from Yale Divinity School) has pursued a single-minded interpretive agenda with passion and imagination: that the legitimate interpretation of the Bible is as the scripture of the church.