Re: [asa] Methodological Atheism in Biblical Studies

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 20:43:20 EDT

Murray addressed the Biblical exegesis question. I might also add that the
notion of "scientific" exegesis of any text, IMHO, is hopelessly
self-defeating. The suggestion is that the exegete should lay aside his or
her presuppositions, religious or otherwise, in order to discern the
original intent of the text's author. But that suggestion is itself a
presupposition about how to read texts, as well as a whole nettle of
presuppositions about "intent" and "authors." So the exegete is not to lay
aside his or her presuppositions after all -- at least not those
presuppositions the proponents of scientific exegesis claim are the most
As to "activist judges and strict constructionists" -- I reject that
dichotomy. "Strict construction" of a legal document such as a constitution
is impossible because the document has been created over time by multiple
authors and redactors, ratified as authoritative by yet another deliberative
body that purports to represent an even broader community, interpreted in
various ways by courts that are removed from the drafting process, and often
amended by new generations of the governed community . So whose "intent" is
the "original" intent? And what if the "intent" is that the formative
document provide a framework to be applied flexibly over time? In fact,
this does sound very much like the problem of discerning "original intent"
in the supposedly scientific exegesis of scripture.

Last, the lawyer's obligation to a client (which differs of course from
legal scholarship) is indeed to represent the client zealously. But that
duty is bounded by the duty of candor to the court and to the lawyer's
adversary. A lawyer is an officer of the court as well as an advocate for a
party. The lawyer can only do for his or her client that which these
interrelated ethical obligations permit.

On Thu, Oct 2, 2008 at 5:36 PM, D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>wrote:

> I think you've missed the point. Doing exegesis, the scholar should not
> try to make the text conform to what it "should" say. Unfortunately, this
> may be incompatible with a position, either in a church or in academia.
> Although it is continuously done, do you want to beat a stubborn opponent
> with a club of misinterpreted text? For example, I often find proof texts
> from the speech of Elihu (Job 32-37) though at the end God asks about the
> one talking nonsense.
> As to the law, there is the battle between the activist judges and the
> strict constructionists. The only way to settle the disagreement, it seems
> to me, would be to exterminate one side, for "I'm right" (usually phrase as
> "we're right" to be PC) does not reach beyond the individual's cranium
> (assuming there's something within it). The practice of law is different,
> for the lawyer has to find everything that will help his client and counter
> everything opposed to his client's well being.
> Dave (ASA)
> On Thu, 2 Oct 2008 11:35:24 -0400 "David Opderbeck" <>
> writes:
> There is an interesting conversation on the Biblioblogs site between a
> couple of Biblical scholars about the role of faith in Biblical studies (
> The parallels to methodological naturalism and the role of faith in
> scientific studies is fascinating. Here is a key quote:
> Ideally, however, academic believers should tune out what you are calling
> "static," that is, their theological beliefs, in their academic work. (You
> suggested the metaphor!) That's my advice. They should practice
> methodological atheism when pursuing academic Biblical Studies. They should
> remove their theological commitments from their mind's throne and welcome
> the hegemony of self-critical human autonomy.
> Well, I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I heartily disagree with respect to
> Biblical scholarship, my own discipline of law, or any other discipline.
> Particularly with respect to Biblical scholarship, if Christian scholars
> take the Biblical text as scripture, how can they consider that "static"
> when studying what the Biblical text means? And, doesn't the same reasoning
> apply to the study of "nature" -- a term that Christians ultimately must
> contest in favor of "creation?"
> --
> David W. Opderbeck
> Associate Professor of Law
> Seton Hall University Law School
> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
> ____________________________________________________________
> Click to learn about options trading and get the latest information.<>

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Thu Oct 2 20:43:47 2008

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