A Sanctified Vision

"To think in and through the scriptures is to have a sanctified vision."

So say John J. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno in their excellent study, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Johns Hopkins, 2005), 116.

After lecturing on the patristic Rule of Faith last week, I once again came away thinking it is a real loss that recent biblical and theological developments in canon, Scripture, the Rule, and patristic exegesis/tradition have not yet found much of a place in recent Reformed debates over Scripture and history. Sadly, much of the work on this front appears to continue to be done by those on the periphery (I mean this confessionally, not pejoratively) or outside of the Reformed theological tradition, and perhaps this reflects to some extent the general thinness, in quality and substance, of some Reformed discussions of these questions in recent years.

This is a shame, since I regard the complex of canon-Scripture-Rule-tradition to be only truly and fully at home within a Reformed theological framework, a framework which takes as its professed point of departure a self-conscious submission to the whole and varied thought-world, and not only the "ideas," of the Bible: the Scriptures are the revelation of the living and true God, not only in the facts and ideas which they contain and convey but also in the whole way of faithful thinking and living to which they summon us - a thinking and living through and with the Words. Indeed, such a relationship to the Text nearly serves as a synonym for faith, for properly hearing the Voice of the Shepherd as one of his sheep.

And so, with happy and sincere acknowledgement of the fact that I learn the most about this complex from non-Reformed (again, confessionally) writers and teachers, I still regard the complex to be most fully at home in Reformed theology. Hence the sadness. Indeed, I'd go so far as to suggest that "updating" the work of C. Van Til for contemporary theological challenges - and, yes, it can and should be done - really must involve a focused analysis of the intra-canonical function of the creed-like "summaries" of the Faith as an authoritative and received reading of the Old Testament - the Scriptures of the Church - in the light of its already-existing testimony to Christ. After all, the apostles assumed that one hears the Voice testifying to the Christ if one is properly disposed toward the text, if one is by faith "buying into" the thought-world of the whole Bible. This is to read the text as the text itself demands that we read it. "To think in and through the scriptures is to have a sanctified vision."

The book by O'Keefe and Reno is a stimulating read along these lines. The fuller quote in which the wonderful statement about "sanctified vision" occurs bears this out:

The intellectual disciplines and methods of modern interpretation are as diverse as the various assumptions about the x that the text is taken to represent. If one thinks the x is a sequence of historical events, then historical methods predominate. If one assumes that the x is the religious consciousness of the ancient writers, then other methods are employed. It is not our intention to explain modern exegesis. We want to explain the fathers and their approach, and this requires us to put aside for the moment some of our assumptions about what might count as disciplined exegesis. We need to see that they focused their attention differently because they had different assumptions about the subject matter that required their concentrated attention.

For the fathers, the scriptural text itself is the subject matter of interpretation; it is not the means to that subject matter. Origen is typical. He describes the study of scripture as a subjection of the mind to the scripture, and in that subjection, one who ponders the details of the text will find that 'his mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and he will recognize that the words he is reading are not utterances of man but the language of God.' The scriptures say exactly what the reader needs to hear, and the disciplines of reading therefore are not oriented toward using the text to get to some further x. The scriptures are the x, and the interpreter's job is to adopt the disciplines and methods suitable to drawing ever closer to the 'language of God,' for the mind that conforms to the specificity of the scriptures is shaped in a divine fashion. To think in and through the scriptures is to have a sanctified vision.