Thoughts on Gillingham’s book, “One Bible, Many Voices” – Part 3

Thoughts on Chapter 2: A Biblical Theology? Two Testaments, One Book?

I took a lot of notes on this chapter, as I found Gillingham’s discussion to be quite helpful. She reinforced what I’ve learned over the last fifteen years and presented new thoughts for serious consideration. I agree wholeheartedly when she writes, “Given that the Bible has been written and compiled in many different settings, it must contain many different theologies…” (p. 27). She concludes, “There are too many deviations, even within the independent collections, let alone within the final body of literature as a whole, to assume any unifying theology is the key” (p. 31).

Most Christians, however, are completely unaware of these varying and contradictory theologies because most Christian scholars and church leaders assert the uniformity of Old Testament theology by Christianizing it. Scholars such as Brevard Childs and Gregory Boyd make the claim that everything in the Old Testament scriptures is about Christ. However, I agree with Gillingham when she states, “…the purported ‘Christcenterdness’ is often so hidden in the Old Testament that one wonders whether it is really there, except by way of deciding it ought to be there on account of what is known later” (p. 32). In other words, because Christians believe that Jesus was (and is) the Christ, the Son of God, they read Jesus back into the ancient Hebrew scriptures and interpret passages in ways that the original authors never intended.

Gillingham also argues that the New Testament also presents a diversity of theological perspectives, as various influences came to bear on the interpretation of the predominant Jesus traditions. Specifically, she discusses the diversity introduced by the interpretations of Jewish, Gentile, experience focused, and apocalyptic focused communities of Christians (p. 37). Also, Gillingham discusses the use of the Old Testament scriptures by the New Testament authors, where they find prophecies they see fulfilled in Jesus, many of which in their original context are not about a coming Messiah (i.e., Christ) at all.

For me, that use of the Hebrew scriptures both by the New Testament authors and by many Christian scholars ever since smacks of Supersessionism.[1] This is the idea that Christians (i.e. the church) have replaced Jews (i.e., Israel) as the people of God and that their Christological interpretation of the Jewish scriptures is the only correct interpretation. I, personally, reject Supersessionism in all its forms, both subtle and direct. The Old Testament (or I prefer, Hebrew Bible) needs to be interpreted as a Jewish anthology in and of itself.

I so agree with Gillingham’s conclusion to Chapter 2 that I present it here in its entirety with an emphasis on what I see as the key words and phrases:

  • One of the features common to many of the theological approaches to the text is the inclination to simplify and universalize its meaning in order that those offering the interpretation may then control the meaning of the text. Hence the meaning proposed becomes the one true meaning; and this meaning is the means by which, as theological interpreters, they control the beliefs and behaviour of their community, whether for good or ill. But we have seen repeatedly how the complex nature of any biblical text (however small) defies such universalizing tendencies, and so undermines any authoritarian claims made for them. … Literary sensitivity encourages theological pluralism, and…such pluralism seems to accord with the evidence (p. 44).

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supersessionism.

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