Friday, November 09, 2007

Instone-Brewer Responds to the Use of Extra-Biblical Literature for Scriptural Exegesis

A blogger critical of Instone-Brewer's use of history from Josephus, Philo, surviving documents and the Talmud for I-B's books and C-T article quotes John Piper:

Piper comments on the article:
Instone-Brewer’s interpretation is an example (common, it seems, in New Testament studies today) of taking extra-biblical observations and using them to silence the fairly plain meaning of biblical texts.
I-B responds:
Thank you for taking my work so seriously.
The method I use is the same as that used by John Piper who argues that the meaning of porneia is not how it is normally translated in the New Testament, but it means instead ‘pre-marital fornication’. This is based on the work of the Qumran scholar Abel Isaksson. It is similar to the well-established theory of the French scholar Bonsirven which was popularised a few decades ago by the Catholic scholar Murphy O’Connor, who found supporting evidence in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This kind of interpretation is important for Catholic scholars because it means that Jesus did not allow any divorce after marriage has occurred – the same teaching that Piper supports.

It is also the same method by which many scholars show Matthew and Luke were not contradicting each other when one says Mary and Joseph were betrothed, and the other says Joseph planned to divorce her. They solve this by means of extra-biblical rabbinic documents which show that a betrothal could only be ended by a divorce certificate (something which is not recorded anywhere in the Bible).

I employ rabbinic documents and marriage & divorce documents from Jesus’ time to discover how to translate the phrase ‘Any Cause’, which was a legal title for a particular type of divorce in Jesus’ day. Anyone reading Matthew in the first century would recognise that legal phrase, and we have to take this into account when we attempt to understand Jesus’ teaching. People outside the first century understand that phrase differently. Does that mean that their interpretation is correct? Jesus spoke first to his audience in the first century, and we have to hear his words through their ears. It is part of the translation process.

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David Instone-Brewer

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