My Dissertation, The Next Chapter—A Preview

3.0  Τὰ ΒιβλίαPersistently Polyphonic

“I accept diversity among the biblical witnesses and recognize the dialogical character of the Bible. … The Bible does not speak with a single voice; there is dialogue between the different voices. The writings contain a long and complex search for the mind of God and in this struggle various points of view compete and interact. … We should listen to the Bible as we would listen to a conversation; we are not meant to quarry Scripture for proof texts. This means I cannot claim that the Bible teaches the open view of God or any other subject simply and straightforwardly such that there is no counter testimony which probes and questions and objects…Scripture is inexhaustibly rich and, when approached prayerfully [curiously] with new questions, yields new insights.”

—Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness

“Frymer-Kensky also sees as a given the “complexity and multivocality of Scripture.” Sweeney emphasizes the dialogical nature of the Hebrew Bible, and the fact that it expresses a “variety of viewpoints.” Thus, the view that the Bible does not have a center and is a diverse, polyphonic book dominates Jewish biblical theology.”

—Marc Zvi Brettler, “Jewish Theology of the Psalms”

In the previous chapter, evidence for the persistent pluriformity of the prebiblical, as well as the biblical, texts was presented and discussed with regard to the theological implications. It is clear that these texts have always existed in multiple, non-static, forms and versions from their creation through to the present.

In the early sections of this chapter, the concept of biblical polyphony will be explained and demonstrated. Specific examples will be will be presented that clearly show that no matter which forms of the prebiblical or biblical texts one examines, they bear the unmistakable quality of being multivocal, often presenting multiple divergent and contradictory views particularly with regard to God’s nature, will and work. I contend that the creators and collectors of these texts must have been aware of this multivocality and thus their purpose, at least in part, was to create writings which collectively—and in some cases, individually—were, and are, intentionally dialogical in nature. In the latter sections of this chapter, the theological implications of biblical polyphony will be discussed, especially with regard to many Christian scholars who ignore, explain away, or deny this multivocality in order to present an internally uniform and consistent theology.[1]

[1] On a personal note, for 30 years—constrained by conservative evangelical doctrines of inerrancy and inspiration—I ignored, explained away, or denied the Bible’s multivocality, and confidently presented completely harmonious theological perspectives. In the last 15 years, I have become increasingly “suspicious of univocal readings or readings that seek to make everything consistent and coherent.” See Terence E. Fretheim & Karlfried Froehlich, The Bible as the Word of God in a Postmodern Age (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 88.

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