A CHRISTO-CANONICAL APPROACH TO

                                       THE BOOK OF PSALMS










                                          Jerry Eugene Shepherd








                               A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of




                                     in Partial Fulfillment of the

                                    Requirements for the Degree

                                         Doctor of Philosophy






                        Faculty Advisor: Tremper Longman III

                        Second Faculty Reader: Peter E. Enns

                        Chairman of the Field Committee: Vern S. Poythress

                        Librarian: D. G. Hart








                                       To my loving wife Cheryl,

                                  and my three wonderful children,

                                      Jennifer, Joel, and Timothy


                        TABLE OF CONTENTS


LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  ix

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiv

PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xvii



                                 PART ONE


            AND CANONICAL INTERPRETATION . . . . . .  1



       INTERPRETATION OF THE PSALMS . . . . . . . . . . . 2


            Apostolic Fathers to ca. AD 200


            The Alexandrian and Antiochene Schools

                        to ca. 500


                        The Alexandrian School

                        The Antiochene School


            Middle Ages to ca. 1500


            The Reformation to ca. 1600


                        Martin Luther John Calvin

                        Other Reformers


            From the Reformation to the Present


                        "Conservative" Exegesis to the Twentieth


                        "Liberal" Exegesis to the Twentieth Century

                        Twentieth Century Developments

                                    The Early History of Religions School

                                    Form Criticism

                                    The Myth and Ritual School

                                    Sensus Plenior


                                    Neo-orthodoxy and the Biblical Theology





            A Description of Childs's Approach


            Objections to Childs's Approach


                        1. The Question of Methodology

                        2. The Question of Definition

                        3. The Question of Focus

                        4. The Question of Intentionality

                        5. The Question of Canonical Plurality

                        6. The Question of Emphasis

                        7. The Question of Tradition

                        8. The Question of the Whole Canon

                        9. The Question of Confessionalism

                        10. The Question of Theology







            A Description of Sanders's Approach


                        The Need for Canonical Criticism

                        The Agenda and Assumptions of Canonical Criticism

                        Reconstruction of the Canonical Process

                        Differences with Childs

                        The Gains of Canonical Criticism


            Evaluation of Sanders's Approach

                        Evaluation of Sanders's Reconstruction

                        Evaluation of the Assumptions and Gains of

                        Canonical Criticism







                                      PART TWO


           THE CHRISTO-CANONICAL APPROACH . . . . . .  182



            WALTKE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183


                        Assessment of Prior Interpretation

                        A New Proposal

                        Dependence on, and Distance from, Childs

                        Similarity to, but Distinction from, Sensus Plenior

                        Four Convictions

                        Four Stages

                        Issues to Be Raised in Regard to Waltke's Canonical

                        Process Approach






                        Thesis Number One:

                        Christ Is Criterion of Canon


                        Thesis Number Two:

                        Christ Asserts Himself as Canon by His Spirit


                        Thesis Number Three:

                        Christ is Lord over the Whole Canon


                        Thesis Number Four:

                        Christ Asserts His Authority in Covenantal Canon


                        Thesis Number Five:

                        Christ Has Incarnated Himself in Biblical Canon


                        Thesis Number Six:

                        Christ is Lord over Canonical Meaning


                        Thesis Number Seven:

                        Christ is Lord over the Canonical Meaning of the Old Testament







            Thesis Number Eight:

            Christ is Lord over Hermeneutical Methodology


            Thesis Number Nine:

            Christ is Lord over the Disclosure of Meaning


            Thesis Number Ten:

            Christ's Canon Is Canonical over All

            Scholarly Reconstruction


            Thesis Number Eleven:

            Christ's Canon Is for Christ's Church


            Thesis Number Twelve:

            Christ's Canon is Paradigmatically Authoritative


            Thesis Number Thirteen:

            Christ's Canon Is to Be Interpreted in

            the Light of Its Canonical Unity


            Thesis Number Fourteen:

            Christ's Canon Is a "Fuller Sense"



                             PART THREE


          APPROACH TO THE BOOK OF PSALMS. . . . . .  386



   THE BOOK OF PSALMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 387

            The Psalms Superscriptions

            The Authorship Ascriptions

            The Historical Titles

            Earlier Psalter Collections

            Earlier Forms of the Psalter

            The Elohistic and Yahwistic Psalters

            The Five Books


            Competing Canonical Psalters?


            The Final Shape of the Psalter:

            Theological? Canonical? Christological?


                        Is there a Theological Rationale?

                        Is the Psalter's Shape Canonical?

                        Does the Psalter Have a Christological Structure?




    IN THE CONTEXT OF THE WHOLE CANON . . . . . . . . . . 453


            Three Lines of Evidence


                        Royal Interpretation of the Psalms

                        Canonical Process

                        The Intertestamental Period


            The Use of the Psalms in the Old Testament


            The "Flash Point":

            The Use of the Psalms in the New Testament


                        The Use of Psalm 22 in Hebrews 2:11-13


                                    Suggested Explanations

                                    Septuagint Influence

                                    Philonic Influence

                                    Qumran Influence

                                    Rabbinic Midrash

                                    The "Testimony Book" Hypothesis

                                    Sensus Plenior

                                    The "Redeemer" Myth



            Towards a Solution


                        The Use of Psalm 22 in the New Testament





                        The Context of Psalm 22:23

                        New Testament Use of the Context of Isa 8:17-18

                        Linked Contexts


            Other Passages in Which Christ is the Psalmist


                        Matthew 13:35 (Psalm 78:2)

                        Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 (Psalm 22:2)

                        Luke 23:46 (Psalm 31:6)

                        John 2:17 (Psalm 69:10)

                        John 13:18 (Psalm 41:10)

                        John 15:25 (Psalm 35:19; 69:5)

                        John 19:24 (Psalm 22:19)

                        Acts 2:25-28 (Psalm 16:8-11)

                        Romans 15:3 (Psalm 69:10)

                        Romans 15:9 (Psalm 18:50 [2 Samuel 22:50])

                        Romans 15:11 (Psalm 117:1)

                        Hebrews 10:5-7 (Psalm 40:7-9)





 9. THREE MESSIANIC PSALMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 533


            Psalm 8


                        Matthew 21:16

                        Hebrews 2:6-9


            Psalm 41


                        Psalm 41 in the Context of the Book of Psalms

                           and the Old Testament








                        bĕliyya al

                        Intra-Psalter Connections

                        The Use of Psalm 41 in John 13


            Psalm 129


                        Psalm 129 in its Old Testament Context

                        Psalm 129 in its New Testament Context







            The Psalms Are to Be Interpreted According

                        to the New Testament Paradigm


            The Psalms Are a Messianic Reservoir


            The Psalms Are the Skandalon of the Old Testament


            The Psalms Are to Be Prayed




 BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 608



















AB                   Anchor Bible

ALGHJ           Arbeiten zur Literatur und Geschichte des

                        hellenistischen Judentums

ANF                The Anti-Nicene Fathers

ANQ               Andover Newton Quarterly

AOAT             Alter Orient und Altes Testament

ARG                Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte

ASTI                Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute

ATR                Anglican Theological Review

AusBR            Australian Biblical Review

AUSS Andrews University Seminary Studies

BA                   Biblical Archaeologist

BASOR           Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental


BETL             Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum


Bib                  Biblica

BibOr             Biblica et orientalia

BibRev            Bible Review

BibS(N)          Biblische Studien (Neukirchen, 1951-)

BJRL             Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of


BJS                 Brown Judaic Studies

BSac               Bibliotheca Sacra

BT                   The Bible Translator

BTB                Biblical Theology Bulletin





BZAW            Beihefte zur ZAW

CBC                Cambridge Bible Commentary

CBQ                Catholic Biblical Quarterly

CBQMS          Catholic Biblical Quarterly--Monograph Series

CH                  Church History

CJT                 Canadian Journal of Theology

ConBNT         Coniectanea biblica, New Testament

ConBOT         Coniectanea biblica, Old Testament

CQR                Church Quarterly Review

CR                   Critical Review of Books in Religion

CRINT            Compendia rerum iudaicarum ad novum testamentum

CTM               Concordia Theological Monthly

CurTM            Currents in Theology and Mission

DJD                Discoveries in the Judaean Desert

ETL                 Ephemerides theologicae lovanienses

EvQ                 Evangelical Quarterly

ExpTim           Expository Times

FB                   Forschung zur Bibel

FBBS              Facet Books, Biblical Series

HAR                Hebrew Annual Review

HBT                Horizons in Biblical Theology

HeyJ               Heythrop Journal

HNTC             Harper's New Testament Commentaries

HTR                Harvard Theological Review

HTS                 Harvard Theological Studies

HUCA             Hebrew Union College Annual



IBC                 Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and


IEJ                   Israel Exploration Journal

IBS                  Irish Biblical Studies

ICC                 International Critical Commentary

IDBSup           Supplementary volume to Interpreter's Dictionary of

                        the Bible

Int                    Interpretation

JAAR              Journal of the American Academy of Religion

JBC                 Jerome Biblical Commentary

JBL                 Journal of Biblical Literature

JCS                 Journal of Cuneiform Studies

JETS               Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

JHNES            John Hopkins Near Eastern Studies

JJS                  Journal of Jewish Studies

JNES               Journal of Near Eastern Studies

JQR                 Jewish Quarterly Review

JSNT               Journal for the Study of the New Testament

JSOT               Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

JSOTSup         Journal for the Study of the Old Testament-

                        Supplement Series

JSS                  Journal of Semitic Studies

JTS                  Journal of Theological Studies

MNTC            Moffat New Testament Commentary

NCB                New Century Bible

Neot                Neotestamentica

NICNT            New International Commentary on the New Testament

NICOT            New International Commentary on the Old Testament



NIGTC                        The New International Greek Testament Commentary

NovT                           Novum Testamentum

NovTSup                     Novum Testamentum, Supplements

NPNF                         Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers

NTS                             New Testament Studies

OBO                           Orbis biblicus et orientalis

Or                                Orientalia

OTL                            Old Testament Library

OTS                             Oudtestamentische Studiën

PTMS                         Pittsburgh (Princeton) Theological Monograph Series

PSTJ                           Perkins (School of Theology) Journal

RelS                            Religious Studies

RelSRev                     Religious Studies Review

ResQ                           Restoration Quarterly

RevExp                       Review and Expositor

RevQ                           Revue de Qumran

SBLDS                       Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series

SBLMS                       Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series

SBLSP                        Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers

SBLSS                        Society of Biblical Literature Semeia Studies

SBT                             Studies in Biblical Theology

SJT                              Scottish Journal of Theology

SNTSMS                    Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series

ST                                Studia Theologica

STDJ                           Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah

TBT                             The Bible Today



TD                               Theology Digest

TDNT              Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

TDOT              Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament

TS                                Theological Studies

TToday                        Theology Today

TU                               Texte und Untersuchungen

TynBul                        Tyndale Bulletin

TZ                               Theologische Zeitschrift

USQR                         Union Seminary Quarterly Review

VC                               Vigiliae Christianae

VT                               Vetus Testamentum

VTSup                         Vetus Testamentum, Supplements

WBC                           Word Biblical Commentary

WTJ                            Westminster Theological Journal

WUNT                        Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament

WW                            Word and World

ZAW                           Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft

ZNW                           Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft


















            There are many to whom I must express my sincerest

appreciation for the help and support I have received during the

work on this dissertation. I wish first of all, to thank my

advisor, Dr. Tremper Longman III, for his constant

encouragement, his invaluable advice, and his friendship. My

gratitude also goes to my second reader, Dr. Peter E. Enns, for

his careful reading of the manuscript and his valuable

suggestions as to how the work could be improved. I owe a

great debt to my external reader, Dr. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., of

Princeton Theological Seminary, both for his encouragement

and for his constructive criticisms which have only helped to

make this a better work.

            I also wish to express my gratitude to the other faculty

in the Biblical Department at Westminster Theological

Seminary for all they have done to shape my thinking in the

area of hermeneutics and biblical interpretation: Dr. Richard B.

Gaffin, Jr., Dr. Moisés Silva, Dr. Vern S. Poythress, Dr. Dan

G. McCartney, and Prof. J. Alan Groves. My thanks go out as

well to Dr. Bruce K. Waltke, my initial advisor, now at Regent

College, for the original motivation to write on the Psalms

from a canonical perspective. With sadness, and yet with






gratefulness, I remember the teaching, encouragement and

friendship of the late Dr. Raymond B. Dillard.

            I say thank you to Ms. Donna Conley, Registrar, for her

assistance in the final stages of the dissertation. Thank you also

to various members of the Library staff, Dr. Darryl G. Hart,

Ms. Grace Mullen, and Ms. Jane Patete for all their valuable


            With special gratitude I acknowledge the congregations

of three churches: Peace Baptist Church in Germanton, North

Carolina; Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church in Maple Glen,

Pennsylvania; and West Meadows Baptist Church in

Edmonton, Alberta. Without their gracious support, this

dissertation would never have been completed.

            I wish also to thank the administration, faculty, and staff

of Edmonton Baptist Seminary (and North American Baptist

College) for all they have done to enable me to complete this

dissertation while serving on their faculty. It is an honor to

work alongside these colleagues.

            My greatest debt of gratitude and love is to my dear

wife, Cheryl, for her undying love and for believing in me. She

has earned this degree as much as I have. Thank you for being

my wife and for being there when I needed you. My wonderful

children, Jennifer, Joel, and Timothy, have had to live with

"Dad's dissertation" longer than they should have. Thank you

for the constant joy you bring into my life.




            Finally, praise to the Lord who has revealed himself to

in canon and in his Christ.  May he be pleased to use this

work for his glory and the god of his Church.









































            This dissertation is an investigation into the proper

interpretation of the messianic psalms, with special reference

as to whether the current emphases on canonical analysis can

assist in that process.

            Part One investigates the history of messianic psalm

interpretation and the relatively brief history of canonical

analysis and criticism. Chapter 1 is a look at the history of the

messianic exegesis of the Psalms from after the time of the

New Testament to the present. Chapter 2 focuses entirely on

the canonical analysis of Brevard Childs, while chapter 3

examines the canonical criticism of James Sanders.

            Part Two deals with the what I have called the

Christocanonical approach to distinguish it from some

approaches that are called canonical, but, which, I will argue,

should not be considered so. Chapter 4 deals with the canonical

process approach of Bruce Waltke, who provided the original

stimulus for the topic of this dissertation. Chapter 5, then,

outlines the theses and assumptions of the Christo-canonical

approach with respect to the nature of canon. Chapter 6

outlines the theses and assumptions of the Christo-canonical

approach with respect to the nature of the interpretive

canonical task.

            Part Three applies the approach to the book of Psalms.

Chapter 7 deals with the shape of the Psalter. Chapter 8



investigates the function of the Psalms in their canonical

context. Chapter 9 applies the findings of the two previous

chapters to three test cases, Psalms 8, 41, and 129. Finally,

chapter 10 briefly outlines some of the implications of the

Christo-canonical approach for reading and understanding the

book of Psalms.

            Throughout the dissertation the Hebrew verse

enumeration is used for the Masoretic Text of the book of

Psalms. When reference is made to the Greek text of the

Psalter, the Septuagint enumeration is used. Except for those

places where I felt it was necessary to give a more literal

translation, the New International Version (copyright 1973,

1978, 1984, International Bible Society and Zondervan Bible

Publishers), has been used.

























                                        PART ONE



                        CANONICAL INTERPRETATION






                                        CHAPTER 1



                       INTERPRETATION OF THE PSALMS


            This survey could begin with the very writing of the

Psalms themselves, for, as I will try to show, there was a

messianic intention present from the very start. This intention

becomes increasingly clearer as the canon grows and becomes

fully developed with the revelation of Jesus Christ and the

completion of the canon of the Old and New Testaments. Also,

this survey could start with the New Testament, for it is

certainly true that the early Church Fathers saw their exegesis

as being of a piece with the apostles (though not canonical, of

course).1 However, since that is part of the thesis I am trying to

prove, this survey will begin post-canon, that is, from the time

when the canon is complete, though not necessarily well-

defined and recognized. The survey will cover the following

broad areas: Apostolic Fathers to ca. AD 200, the Alexandrian

and Antiochene schools to ca. 500, Middle Ages to ca. 1500,

the Reformation to ca. 1600, and from the Reformation to the



            1Glenn W. Olsen, "Allegory, Typology and Symbol: The

Sensus Spiritalis. Part Two: Early Church through Origen,"

Communio 4 (1977): 366, 371.





                       Apostolic Fathers to ca. AD 200

            The Old Testament exegesis of the Church in this time

period must be seen in the light of the Church's struggle with

enemies on several different fronts: the military might of the

Roman Empire, Greek philosophy, the anti-Christian polemic of

the Jews,2 and heretical tendencies within the Church itself.

Use and exegesis (not necessarily Christological) of the

Psalms served to combat enemies on all these fronts. In

particular, it helped to combat Marcion's attempt to cut the

Church off from the Old Testament, an attempt which the

Fathers rightly recognized would result in cutting off the

very foundation of the Church's argument that Jesus was the

Christ.3 At the same time, it should be remembered that we


            2I believe, however, that William L. Johnson ("Patristic

Use of the Psalms until the Late Third Century" [Ph.D. diss.,

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1982], 3) goes too far

in characterizing the whole of Psalms exegesis in this era as

being "anti-Jewish." The dissertation fails both to define "anti-

Jewish" and to distinguish various levels of opposition to the

Jews and their exegesis. An example of this is as follows (pp.

100-101): "Some anti-Jewish attitudes in the Fathers supported

by the Psalms which have already been referred to and/or

implied can now be noted in summary fashion. The Christian

affirmation of Jesus as the messiah stands as a single but

profound rejection of Judaism's insistence that the messiah was

yet to come. In accounts of his passion, the Fathers habitually

found prophecies in the Psalms which the Jews said were really

references to some Old Testament figure. The Fathers openly

and emphatically pointed out direct participation of the Jews in

the death of Jesus. The Jews were even accused of deleting

parts of the Psalms which made reference to the cross of

Jesus." The problem here is that "Christian affirmation of Jesus

as the messiah" should not be seen as "anti-Jewish" on the

same plane as the other things he mentions.

            3Peter R. Ackroyd, "The Old Testament in the Christian

Church," Theology 66 (1963): 51. Ralph L. Smith notes that

"early Christians could continue to use the psalms because they



have no extant Psalms commentaries from this time period, and

that there is no hard evidence that there was a conscious

attempt to find Christ in every psalm.4 The Fathers did not

always draw a straight line from a particular psalm to Christ,

nor did they always feel the need to allegorize to "search for

some hidden meaning."5 The earliest uses of the Psalms in the

Apostolic Fathers seem to be directed more toward motivation

to good works than for pointing either prophetically or

allegorically to Christ.

            Among the Apostolic Fathers, 1 Clement (ca. AD 95) and

Barnabas (ca. AD 100) are the only works that use the Psalms

to any significant degree.6 For the most part their use is

parenetic, but they engage in Christological exegesis as well.

An example from each will demonstrate this. Clement

introduces the words of Ps 34:12-20 by putting them in Christ's

mouth: "Now faith in Christ confirms all these things


reinterpreted them in the light of Christ" ("The Use and

Influence of the Psalter," Southwestern Journal of Theology 27

[1984]: 6).

            4Raymond E. Brown, "Hermeneutics," JBC, ed. Raymond E.

Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, and Roland E. Murphy

(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 611.

            5Contra R. D. Richardson, "The Psalms as Christian Prayers

and Praises," ATR 42 (1960): 343.

            6O. Linton, "Interpretation of the Psalms in the Early Church,"

in Studia Patristica 4, ed. F. L. Cross, TU 79 (Berlin:

Akademie-Verlag, 1961), 146. Johnson notes that even the

Didache, which gives elaborate instructions in regard to several

of the liturgical and ritual functions of the early Church, makes

no reference to the Psalms as a part of these services, nor does

it do any prooftexting from the Psalms ("Patristic Use of the

Psalms," 161-63).



for he himself through the Holy Spirit thus calls us: `Come my

children, listen to me . . ."7 Motivation for making Christ the

speaker of this particular psalm could come from the use of v.

21 in John 19:36; yet, interestingly, Clement stops just short of

quoting v. 21 in his rather lengthy citation.

            The author of the Epistle of Barnabas, allegorizes to point to

both baptism and the crucifixion in Psalm 1. He introduces his

quotation of Ps 1:3-6 as the words of "another prophet," and

then, after finishing the quotation, says:

            Notice how he pointed out the water and the cross together. For

            this is what he means: blessed are those who, having set their

            hope on the cross, descended into the water, because he speaks

            of the reward "in its season"; at that time, he means, I will

            repay. But for now what does he say? "The leaves will not

            wither." By this he means that every word that comes forth

            from your mouth in faith and love will bring conversion and

            hope to many.8

            Among the apologists there is not much use made of the

Psalms except for Justin Martyr (AD 96-166).9 Linton

comments on how Justin followed a well-recognized method in

order to make his Christological interpretations. The method

was (1) to over-literalize the language of a particular passage,  (2)


            71 Clem. 22. Cited in J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The

Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their

Writings, 2d ed., rev. and ed. Michael W. Holmes (London:

Macmillan, 1891; 2d rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 55.

            8Barn. 11. Cited in Lightfoot and Harmer, Apostolic

Fathers, 305. See also Frederic W. Farrar's comments on this

passage (History of Interpretation [E. P. Dutton, 1886; repr.,

Grand Rapids: Baker, 1961], 169-70).

            9Linton, "Interpretation of the Psalms in the Early Church,"




to show, based on the over-literalized language, how the

passage in question cannot refer to the "natural subject," (3)

then substitute, or rather, "reintroduce," the correct subject.10

For example, Justin refers Psalm 22 to Jesus, remarking that

David suffered none of the things mentioned in the psalm.11

Again, in Psalm 24, Justin shows how the gates in vv. 7-10

cannot be the gates of the temple, for they are no longer

existent; they must, therefore, be the doors of heaven. The

King of glory cannot be either Solomon or Hezekiah, for they

were both well-known, and in either case, "it would be absurd

to think, that the guardians of the temple-doors should ask him,

who he was." Nor can the text refer to God, for he has always

been in heaven and has never had an occasion to enter it. "Thus

the text must concern the risen Lord, who enters heaven to sit

on the right hand of God. The scenery is not of earth but is

cosmic. It is the guardians of heaven who do not recognize

Christ in his kenosis."12

            Another device that Justin used was that of trying to

distinguish the person or prosopon speaking in the passage.


            10Ibid., 144-47.

            11Justin, 1 Apol. 35.6. Quoted in Linton, "Interpretation of the

Psalms," 147.

            12Linton ("Interpretation of the Psalms," 147-48) paraphrasing

Justin (Apol. 51; Dialog. 36, 85). Linton notes that this is not

far removed from the argumentation used by Peter in Acts 2

regarding Psalm 16. On other early Christian usage of Psalm

24, see Allen Cabaniss, "The Harrowing of Hell, Psalm 24, and

Pliny the Younger: A Note," VC 7 (1953): 65-74; and Alan M.

Cooper, "Ps 24:7-10: Mythology and Exegesis," JBL 102

(1983): 37-60.



That is, it is important to determine whether the prophet is

speaking from himself or "out of person" (apo prosopou).

When it is according to the latter, the psalmists are speaking

"by the divine word which moves them."13 We will see this

again in Clement of Alexandria.

            Justin also argued with the Jews over textual matters.

Evidently, a Christian interpolation in Psalm 96:10 had added

the words "from the tree [or "cross"]" after the declaration "The

Lord reigns." Several of the Latin Fathers quote the passage

with the interpolation, even though there is only a single extant

Septuagint manuscript that has the addition. Rather than

recognize the addition as an obvious interpolation, Justin

argues with Trypho that the Jews were, in fact, the ones who

had left out the phrase."14

            Irenaeus (AD 135-202), as the father of biblical theology,

stressed the essential unity of the Old Testament and New

Testament and the normativity of New Testament exegesis of

the Old.15 The Psalms became for him a source of details

regarding Christ's earthly life. He found the virgin birth

prophesied in Ps 85:13 and the memorialization of the virgin

Mary in Ps 45:18 ("I will perpetuate your memory



            13Linton, "Interpretation of the Psalms," 147.

            14Noted by Johnson ("Patristic Use of the Psalms," 39-40).

Johnson notes that Tertullian also supports the authenticity of

the phrase and ridicules the Jews for not being able to recognize

the obvious reference of the psalm to Christ.

            15Linton, "Interpretation of the Psalms," 149.



through all generations"; cf. Luke 1:48, "From now on all

generations will call me blessed").16

            Two scholars closely related in their exegesis are Tertullian

(AD 160-220) and his great admirer Cyprian (AD 195228).

Tertullian, like others before him, found details of Christ's life

in the Psalms. Using Ps 22:10 he showed how it had been

prophesied that the Messiah would come forth from the womb

and nurse at his mother's breasts.17 Everywhere in the Psalms

he could find references to the Lord's passion, and in at least

two different places found in the Psalms conversations between

Jesus and his Father.18 Cyprian followed his master Tertullian

closely in his exegesis. Indeed, it has been suggested that the

Psalms were as important as the Gospels in forming his


            Three things should be noted at this point. First, as

Donald Juel notes, there is no one method of Scripture

interpretation here that takes precedence over another in


            16Johnson, "Patristic Use of the Psalms," 32-33.

            17Ibid., 33.

            18Ibid., 14. Interestingly, Max Wilcox ("The Aramaic Targum

to the Psalms," in Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of

Jewish Studies, ed. David Asaaf [Jerusalem: World Union of

Jewish Studies, 1986], 147) has shown how in one of his

messianic interpretations, Tertullian agrees with the Targum to

the Psalms against both the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text.

            19Lars Olav Eriksson, "Come, Children, Listen to Me!": Psalm

34 in the Hebrew Bible and in Early Christian Writings,

ConBOT 32 (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1991), 132 n. 244.



seeing Christ in the Psalms.20 In other words, we are not yet

talking about schools of interpretation. Second, I think it is

important to note that, while these interpretations may seem

allegorical to us, most of the Fathers we have looked at (except

perhaps for the Epistle of Barnabas) were being, at least in

their own eyes, fairly literal in their exegesis. They talked in

terms of prophecy or promise and fulfillment, rather than in

terms of some arbitrary allegorism. I am not denying that they

were allegorical, but rather, that they did not perceive

themselves to be so. And in this, they somewhat unconsciously

practiced and anticipated the exegesis that Faber Stapulensis

(Lefevre D'etaples) consciously articulated in the fifteenth

century.21 Third, though it may seem like the opposite may be

the case, it is impossible, as noted before, to prove that these

early Church Fathers tried to find Christ in all the psalms.

Indeed, Justin's attempt to determine the prosopon of the

Psalms seems to show that there was no all-pervasive attempt

to find Christ in "every nook and cranny." But this would



                The Alexandrian and Antiochene Schools

                                         to ca. 500

            The contrast between Alexandrian and Antiochene exegesis

has been exaggerated. It is true, however, that the contrast


            20Donald Juel, Messianic Exegesis: Christological

Interpretation in Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress,

1988), 139.

            21See the discussion on Faber later in this chapter.



shows up most sharply in their respective exegeses of the Old

Testament and, most particularly, in the Psalms.


                        The Alexandrian School


            In opposition to the previously named Church Fathers, the

Alexandrians openly embraced Greek philosophy, thought of it

as being of divine origin, and brought its allegorizing technique

into their exegesis.22 The first prominent scholar of this school

was Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215). While his overall

approach to Old Testament exegesis was allegorical, he did not

always use it indiscriminately. For example, he used the

prosopon argument that we saw earlier in Justin Martyr to

show that Christ must be the speaker in Psalm

16. However, anticipating the concept which was later called

"corporate personality," he regards Christ as speaking not for

himself, but as the representative of the whole people of God

of all time, both Jew and Gentile.23

            Of course, the most prominent scholar of the Alexandrian

school and, to our knowledge, the first Christian commentator

on the Psalms, though the commentary is not extant,24 was

Origen (AD 185-254). There is no doubt that he engaged in


            22Farrar, History of Interpretation, 183-84.

            23Clement, Strom. 6.6, sec. 49,2-50,1. Cited in Linton,

"Interpretation of the Psalms," 150.

            24 Karen Jo Torjesen, Hermeneutical Procedure and Theological

Method in Origen's Exegesis, Patristische Texte und Studien 28

(Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1986), 19.



very fanciful and highly arbitrary allegorical exegesis.25 That

he did so, however, exclusive of the historical and grammatical

sense is simply not the case. Though he did tend to relegate the

literal meaning of a passage to a place of value only for the

more simple believer, he made it clear that he thought the

literal sense was important. For example, his exegesis of Psalm

37 is very literal with no real trace of allegory.26 Nor did he

necessarily try to find Christ in every psalm. In one place he

criticizes the Devil for his exegetical blunder in trying to apply

Ps 91:11-12 to Christ. Satan should have known that the

phrase, "He will command his angels concerning you, to guard

you in all your ways," could not be applicable to Christ, for

certainly Christ has no need of protection from angels.27 It

must be admitted, as Linton has pointed out, that this is

certainly not part of any program on Origen's part to delimit

the Christological interpretation of the Psalms.28 We should,

however, notice two things in this example. First, here is at least one

place in the Psalms where Christ is not to be found. Second, he is not


            25For a study of Origen's allegorical exegesis, see R. P. C.

Hanson, Allegory and Event: A Study of the Sources and

Significance of Origen's Interpretation of Scripture (London:

SCM, 1959).

            26Torjeson, Hermeneutical Procedure and Theological Method

in Origen's Exegesis, 23.

            27Origen, Homily on Luke, 31. Cited in Linton, "Interpretation

of the Psalms," 150-51.

            28Linton, "Interpretation of the Psalms," 150-51.



to be found there because, for Origen, the literal meaning

would not allow it. In fact, Origen seems to be using the

method we saw earlier in Justin Martyr's exaggeration of the

literal meaning, demonstration of how the literal meaning

cannot apply to the assumed subject (Christ), and substitution

(or "reintroduction") of the proper subject, in this case, any

righteous and faithful person in general.29

            Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 260-340), while not necessarily a

full-blown Alexandrian in his exegesis, engaged in allegorizing

of the Origenistic type. In commenting on Ps

110:7 ("He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore

he will lift up his head."), he combined Ps 123:4; Matt 26:4;

Phil 2:8; and Eph 1:20, and argued that the brook referred to

the Lord's temptations and cross (the "cup" he drank being the

brook) and his subsequent exaltation from the Father ("lifting

up his head").30

            Yet, Eusebius did not find Christ in all the psalms either or

think that the ego of the psalms always had to be Christ. Part of

his reasoning was that there are confessions of sin in many of

the psalms, and these confessions cannot be seen as Christ's,

but are rather to be seen as the confessions


            29Origen also used the prosopon argument we saw in both

Justin and Clement; see R. P. C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, 197-


            30Moisés Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible?: The

History of Interpretation in the Light of Current Issues,

Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation 1 (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, Academie), 69, citing D. S. Wallace-Hadrill,

Eusebius of Caesarea (London: A. R. Mowbray, 1960), 93.



of the pious who become convicted of their sins. Eusebius is

not always consistent with this line, however. For example, Ps

41:5 has a confession of sin, but v. 10 was cited by Christ in

reference to Judas in John 13:18. In this instance, Eusebius

makes Christ a confessor of sins on our account, on the

principle that the "I" of any psalm must be the same

throughout. The "I" of the psalms is not the same in every

psalm, but once it is established who the "I" is (in this case,

Christ), that person must be the "I" throughout the whole.31

            The effects of Alexandrian exegesis can be seen in many

others in the next three centuries, whether they should actually be

thought of as being in the Alexandrian "school" or not, but still

with varying views as to the pervasiveness of Christ's presence

in the Psalter. In the fourth century, Hilary of Poitiers (d. AD

368) argues that Christ is the key to the true knowledge of the

book of Psalms, suggesting that this is what is meant in Rev

3:7 when Christ says that he holds the key of David (David here

being not the person, but the Psalter which he was considered as

having authored).32 Ambrose (AD 339-97), who had such a profound

effect on Augustine, said that "the Psalter is the voice of the


            31Linton, "Interpretation of the Psalms," 151-52, citing

Eusebius, Demonstration evangelica 10.1, 18, 23.

            32A. K. Squire, "Adam's Song in a Commentary of Hilary of

Poitiers," in Studia Patristica 17/1, ed. Elizabeth Livingstone

(Oxford: Pergamon, 1982), 339.



Church."33 Jerome, before turning away from Origenistic

allegory, would try to distinguish from the psalm

superscriptions whether Christ or some other was the speaker,

and would even within individual psalms assign one verse to

David, the next to Christ, the next to another, the next to the

individual Christian, the next to the whole Church, and back

and forth.34 Commentators would take care to investigate

whether individual psalms were spoken vox Christi (by Christ),

vox ad Christum (to or about Christ), or both.35 The Songs of

Ascents were turned into songs about Christians ascending to

the heavenly city.36 Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, and the Temple all

became symbols for the Church; in particular, Jerusalem

represented the Church triumphant, and Zion, the Church



            33Henry de Candole, The Christian Use of the Psalms

(London: A. R. Mowbray, 1958), 39.

            34Linton, "Interpretation of the Psalms," 154-55; W. F.

Ewbank, "The Spiritual Interpretation of the Psalter," CQR 165

(1964): 429-36; G. W. H. Lampe, "To Gregory the Great,"

Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 2, The West from the

Fathers to the Reformation, ed. G. W. H. Lampe (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1969), 177.

            35Klaus Seybold, Introducing the Psalms, trans. R. Graeme

Dunphy (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990), 220. Massey H.

Shepherd, Jr. notes that these distinctions also became part of

the Church's liturgy (The Psalms in Israel's Worship

[Collegeville , MN: Liturgical, 1976], 35).

            36F. Hockey, "Cantica Graduum: The Gradual Psalms in

Patristic Tradition," in Studia Patristica 10, ed. F. L. Cross, TU

107 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1970), 356.

            37John M. Neale and Richard F. Littledale, A Commentary on

the Psalms from Primitive and Medieval Writers, 4th ed.

(London: Joseph Masters, n.d.; repr., New York: AMS, 1976), 1.449-50.



            Though he is not strictly an Origenist, this is the best place

to discuss the Psalms exegesis of Augustine (AD 354-430), whose

exegesis, though not necessarily his theology, dominated the

hermeneutical course of the Middle Ages. A stumbling-block

preventing Augustine's conversion to Christianity was his

literal approach to the Old Testament which he had adopted

from the Manicheans. But Ambrose taught him to read the Old

Testament spiritually or allegorically, thus lifting the veil from

his eyes and bringing about his conversion. Augustine, using

this allegorical method in his commentary on the Psalms, gave

them the most thoroughly Christological interpretation to that

time.38 As Neale and Littledale remark, "No commentator ever

surpassed S. Augustine in seeing Christ everywhere; `Him

first, Him last, Him midst and without end.'"39 For example,

Augustine saw the sun in Ps 19:5-6, "which is like a

bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion," as a reference to

the virgin birth of Christ: "That is, as a bridegroom when the

Word was made flesh, He found a bridal chamber in the

Virgin's womb."40 For Augustine, Ps 3:6, "I lie down

and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me,"

becomes a prophecy of the Lord's death, burial, and


            38Bruce K. Waltke, "A Canonical Process Approach to the

Psalms," in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles

Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg

(Chicago: Moody, 1981), 4.

            39Neale and Littledale, Commentary, 1.77.

            40Augustine, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, trans. anon.

(Oxford: John Henry Parker; F. and J. Rivington, 1847), 1.135.



resurrection.41 Sometimes, even Augustine himself seems to

recognize how hard it may be for the reader to recognize Christ

in the Psalm, as he says concerning Psalm 31:

            Here then Christ speaketh in the Prophet: I venture to say,

            Christ speaketh. The Psalmist will say some things in this

            Psalm, which may seem as if they could not apply to Christ, to

            that excellency of our Head, and especially to That Word

            Which was in the beginning God with God: nor perhaps will

            some things here seem to apply to Him in the form a servant,

            which form of a servant He took from the Virgin; and yet

            Christ speaketh . . .42

            It is important to note, however, that Augustine's exegesis was

not just the logical extension of the allegorical method; it was

also combined with the rules of Tyconius43 (late 4th cent.) to

give a new element to Christological interpretation. Up to

Augustine's time, the question had been whose voice was

speaking in any given psalm: was it a voice speaking about

Christ, a voice speaking to Christ, or was it the voice of Christ

himself speaking to the Father? Augustine combined

allegorical exegesis with Tyconius's first rule (concerning the

mystical union Christ and his body) to give a "whole Christ"

interpretation to the Psalter. As Miller says:

            It was left to the ingenious hand of Augustine later to

            combine all these aspects into one: "The psalm is the


            41Ibid., 1.11-12.

            42Ibid., 1.239. On this passage, see Marvin E. Tate, "The

Interpretation of the Psalms," RevExp 81 (1984): 366.

            43 See Pamela Bright, The Book of Rules of Tyconius: Its

Inner Purpose and Logic, Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity

2  (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), esp. pp.

61-62; also, Karlfried Froehlich, Biblical Interpretation in the

Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 104.



            voice of the whole Christ, Head and body": Psalmus vox

            toitus Christ, capitis et corporis.44

Linton's judgment on this significant exegetical advance is

worth quoting here, because it explains, in part, why

Augustine's exegesis (and not that of the Antiochenes to be

discussed below) had such hold over interpretation in the

Middle Ages:

            Although it cannot be maintained, that the solution of

            Augustine, as to the subject of the Psalms is in any respect

            exegetically convincing, it can nevertheless be reasonably said,

            that the central problem of the Psalms has reached a definite

            stage. For with Augustine's conception of Christus totus the

            christological and the parainetical, the dogmatical and the

            devotional use of the Psalms--both essential to the Church--are

            brought into harmony.45

            However, there were those who opposed this allegorizing,46

for they saw that heretics could use the method too. For

example, the Manicheans used Ps 19:5 (cf. the use by

Augustine mentioned above) as proof that Christ laid aside his

human nature in the sun.47 The opponents of allegorical

interpretation were those of the school of Antioch.


            44Athanasius Miller, "The Psalms from a Christian

Viewpoint," Worship 31 (1957): 340.

            45Linton, "Interpretation of the Psalms," 156.

            46Even among those who generally followed an allegorical

method, there were those, such as Athanasius, who may have turned

somewhat away from it for various reasons; see G. C. Stead, "St.

Athanasius on the Psalms," VC 39 (1985): 76.

            47Farrar, History of Interpretation, 208 n. 6.



                       The Antiochene School

            Diodore of Tarsus (d. AD 394) is usually regarded as the

founder of the Antiochene school. We have no extant work of

his, though Froehlich is of the opinion that portions of his

commentary on the Psalms may be preserved in an

"eleventhcentury manuscript under the name of Anastasius of

Nicaea."48 In his prologue Diodore somewhat anticipates

modern scholarship in his discussion of the order and

arrangement of the Psalms, and the non-authenticity of the

superscriptions.49 As regards the interpretation of the Psalms,

Diodore says nothing about type or antitype, but only about

how a psalm may be adapted for many different uses.

Commenting on Psalm 118, he says that it must first be

understood according to its historical context, but that it may

then be understood as fitting the circumstances of those who

come after. He is careful to note, however, that the latter is not

a case of allegory, but simply an adaptation to "many situations

according to the grace of him who gives it power."50

            The foremost representative of the Antiochene school was

Theodore of Mopsuestia (AD 350-428). Though his commentary

on the Psalms is not extant, we are able to piece together from

both his followers and opponents his exegesis of the Psalter.


            48Froehlich, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church,


            49Ibid., 85.

            50Ibid., 93.



It is well known that Theodore regarded only four psalms as

messianic (2, 8, 45, and 110). But it must be understood that by

messianic Theodore meant psalms that were actually prophetic

of Christ. He still regarded all the psalms to be Davidic and

believed that they were oracles given to David rather than a

collection of religious devotional poetry or a compilation of

cultically oriented hymns.51 For Theodore, just as much as for

earlier exegetes, David was a prophet; the difference was that

Theodore considered the period of fulfillment of the prophecy

to extend all the way from the time of David's son Solomon

down to the time of the Maccabees, considering only those four

psalms mentioned above as extending into New Testament

times.52 Aside from these four psalms, the New Testament

writers' usage of psalmic passages to refer to Christ was not

because they were predictive of Christ, but because the psalms'

"phraseology and the rich meaning and symbolism contained in

them supported analogous spiritual conditions in Christian

revelation."53 Theodore allowed only a typological

relationship between the literal meaning of Psalm 22

and Christ. He pointed out that the psalm could not in any

way be literally about Christ, for even the second half

of the verse which Christ quoted on the cross


            51Dimitri Z. Zaharopoulos, Theodore of Mopsuestia on the

Bible: A Study of His Old Testament Exegesis, Theological

Inquiries (New York: Paulist, 1989), 82-83.

            52Ibid., 84.

            53Ibid., 144-45.



("Why are you so far from helping [saving] me") could only be

uttered by a sinner, and Christ could never speak of his sins.54

His opponents replied that the psalm had to be messianic

because the title of the psalm said that it was "for the end" (eis

to telos, the Septuagint's rendering of lamnassēah, commonly

rendered in most translations today as "for the choir director").

Theodore's reply was that the titles were not always


            As for the psalms he did consider to be messianic, his

argumentation with respect to Psalm 45 will be sufficient to

show his reasoning. Throughout the commentary he seeks to

establish the "argument" of each psalm.56 This argument

consists of establishing what prosopon is to be assigned to

David in each of the psalms. David, being a prophet, wrote the

Psalms with divine guidance and assumed in each one the

prosopon of a future historical figure. In Psalm 45, argues

Theodore, David has adopted the prosopon of Christ and thus

prophesies of the time of his incarnation.57 But how does

Theodore know that David is speaking in the person of the


            54Ibid., 145-46.

            55Robert M. Grant with David Tracy, A Short History of the

Interpretation of the Bible, 2d ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 66.

            56Lampe, "To Gregory the Great," 178.

            57James L. Kugel and Rowan W. Greer, Early Biblical

Interpretation, Library of Early Christianity 3 (Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1986), 188; Joseph W. Trigg, Biblical

Interpretation, Message of the Fathers of the Church 9

(Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1988), 33.



Messiah here? Zaharopoulos's summary of Theodore's

argument explains that

            contrary to the current Jewish interpretation which read Psalm

            45 as a nuptial song written by David to be sung at Solomon's

            wedding, we, the Christian commentators, must maintain that

            the imagery is altogether too exalted, and the thought too

            peculiar to suit a royal epithalamium song. David, who was

            one of the greatest personalities of the Old Testament, could

            not have written such a secular song celebrating the marriage

            of an earthly king. A literal interpretation of this psalm will

            make it look like a joke or mockery. The only way out of this

            predicament is to "spiritualize" the whole content of the psalm,

            and then interpret it as a prophetic metaphor. The psalm is more than

            a love canticle celebrating the sumptuous nuptials of an ancient Israelitic

            king; it is written in the prophetic style and spirit. According to Theodore,

            it is a prophecy of Christ and his church. Consequently, we need not

            bewilder ourselves with fruitless attempts to identify the "king" with

            an earthly monarch (Solomon or Hezekiah), and the "queen" with a

            mortal princess, but we may at once see our Savior wedded to

            his bride, the church, in these adoring words of the psalm.

            Prophecy is here clothed with "spiritual metaphor."58

Noting Theodore's inconsistency here in allowing a messianic

interpretation for the psalm, Zaharopoulos notes that

            the Mopsuestian is neither the first nor the last biblical scholar

            who has been forced to compromise his guiding methodology

            and basic presuppositions. The esteem in which he held David would

            not allow him to accept his hallowed hero as a rhapsodist and entertainer

            composing wedding songs. With his emphasis on grammar and literalism,

            the secularism of the psalm forced Theodore to sacrifice irrationally his

            method of interpretation on the altar of allegory.59


            This leads me to two final observations about the

Antiochene exegesis. First, as many have pointed out

recently, the difference between the Alexandrian allegoria and


            58Zaharopoulos, Theodore of Mopsuestia, 150.

            59Ibid., 150-51.



the Antiochene theoria has been exaggerated. The

Alexandrians did give attention to the literal interpretation, and

the Antiochenes, their protests notwithstanding, did engage in

allegorical interpretation.60 Their theoria was, "for all practical

purposes a close equivalent of Alexandrian allegoria."61 As

Froehlich says,

            At close inspection both allegory and theoria, speak about the

            same analogical dynamic Origen so eloquently described: the

            biblical text leads the reader upward into spiritual truths that

            are not immediately obvious and that provide a fuller

            understanding of God's economy of salvation.62

            Second, it must be observed here that, no less for the

Antiochenes than for the Alexandrians, allegory was used, not

by choice but by necessity. And the necessity was caused by

the need for relevance. For some, the need was to find

meaning in what seemed to be so many obscure details in

various portions of the Scriptures. For the Alexandrians,

though it is simplistic to say so and does not account for

their entire motivation, the need was to integrate their

scriptural faith with philosophical allegorism. For Theodore,

the need was to account for the presence in the Scriptures of

what seemed to be no more than a secular wedding song.

Indeed, as Silva has pointed out, though working with a

broader definition of allegory than some would allow,


            60Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible? 53.

            61Brown, "Hermeneutics," 612.

            62Froehlich, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church,




"Allegorical interpretations are very difficult to avoid for a

believer who wishes to apply the truth of Scripture to his or her

life"; indeed, "every hour of the day thousands of Christians

allegorize the Scriptures as they seek to find spiritual


            No wonder then, that, by and large, it was the Alexandrian

exegetical method that continued into the Middle Ages.


                           Middle Ages to ca. 1500

            It was, indeed, the Alexandrian allegorical method that

dominated the Middle Ages. Until the fourteenth century there

were few proponents of the Antiochene exegesis, at least, few

whose writings have survived. Isidore of Pelusium felt that a

great disservice was done by making the whole Old Testament

refer to Christ, because then the force of passages that really do

refer to Christ are weakened in their apologetic force.64

Theodoret (d. 460) propounded Antiochene views for a while,

but then seems to have drawn back, even criticizing Theodore

for being more Jewish than Christian in his exegesis.65 Julian

of Aeclanum (d. 454) has left a commentary on the Psalms, but

it is most probably a translation from


            63Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible? 63, 66.

            64Lampe, "To Gregory the Great," 178.

            65Farrar, History of Interpretation, 219; Grant and Tracy, A

Short History, 63.



Theodore's work.66 Some of Theodore's teaching on the

Psalms seems to be represented in a manual composed by

Junilius Africanus (ca. 550), Instituta regularia divinae legis.67

Finally, Isho'dad of Merv (9th cent.) has an introduction to the

Psalms that defends Antiochene exegesis and refers to

"impious" Origen as the inventor of the art of allegory. The

introduction treats only Psalms 2, 8, 45, and 110 as messianic,

just as Theodore had.68

            Apart from these few remnants of Antiochene exegesis the

exegetical course of the Middle Ages is dominated by

Alexandrian allegory and by the "four-horse chariot" of John

Cassian (d. 435). Cassian's four senses of Scripture (literal,

allegorical, tropological, and anagogical) more fully fleshed

out the allegorical method.69 These four senses of Scripture

were further taken up in the Psalms commentary of Cassiodorus

(490-583) and in numerous medieval commentaries to follow.

The allegory was often highly arbitrary. Farrar makes

mention of one Antonius, Bishop of Florence, who allegorized

the eighth Psalm: "to mean that God put all things


            66Raymond E. Brown, "The Sensus Plenior of Sacred

Scripture" (Ph.D. diss., St. Mary's University, 1955), 44-45.

            67Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages

(Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1964), 18;

Grant and Tracy, A Short History, 70.

            68Zaharopoulos, Theodore of Mopsuestia, 115; Grant and

Tracy, A Short History, 64-65.

            69Smalley, The Study of the Bible, 38; Brown, "The Sensus

Plenior," 56; Grant and Tracy, A Short History, 85-86.



under the feet of the Pope." The sheep were the Christians, the

oxen were the Jews and heretics, the beasts of the field were

the pagans, and the fish of the sea represented the souls in

purgatory. For Antonius, the statement in Ps 74:13, "You broke

the heads of the monster in the waters," was proof that demons

could be cast out by baptism."70

            The main vehicles for the exposition of Scripture and, in effect,

Alexandrian exegesis, in the Middle Ages were the catena and

the gloss. These were largely compilations of interpretations

and comments by the Church Fathers and their successors on

various texts of Scripture (in this way bearing some resemblance

to the growth of the Talmud in Judaism).71 There were commentaries

on the Psalms in the Glossa Psalmora, the Magna Glossatura,

and the Glossa Ordinaria. In addition to the catenas and the

glosses, there were the postilla (commentaries that developed

from lectures). All of these perpetuated Alexandrian allegorical

and Christological exegesis. Also, the Psalms were abundantly

used in the Church's liturgy, in which Gregory the Great (540-604),

one of the greatest of allegorizers, had a dominant hand in


            70Farrar, History of Interpretation, 297.

            71For more information on the catenas and glosses see Farrar,

History of Interpretation, 249-53; Grant and Tracy, A Short

History, 83-84; Seybold, Introducing the Psalms, 249-50;

Smalley, The Study of the Bible, chap. 2; "The Bible in the

Medieval Schools," in Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 2,

The West from the Fathers to the Reformation, ed. G. W. H.

Lampe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 197-

209; and in the same volume, Dom Jean Leclercq, "From

Gregory the Great to Saint Bernard," 189-197.



formulating. The use of the Psalter in the great Christian

festivals and liturgies helped to secure its Christological

interpretation. Leafblad notes:

            It was the tradition to conclude every psalm and versicle

            (psalm verse which was used as a complete unit apart from the

            context of the entire psalm) with the lesser doxology Gloria

            Patri. Its use in this manner set the Psalm within a New

            Testament trinitarian framework. Furthermore, it served to

            affirm the pre-existence of Christ who is prophetically

            portrayed in the psalms. More than a mere gesture, this

            dogmatic and apologetic practice served to confirm the

            Christological significance of such texts from the Old

            Testament . . .72

            Before passing on to some of the later exegetes who

began to rediscover the importance of the literal sense, it

would be appropriate to mention briefly the course that Jewish

exegesis began to take in the eleventh to thirteenth

centuries. Judaism, in the face of the Christian proclamation

that Jesus was the Messiah, had tenaciously held on to a

messianic exegesis of the Psalms. There was also in Judaism,

as in Christianity, the parallel development of literal

interpretation (peshat) and a more figurative, mystical

interpretation (derash).73 With Rashi (1040-1105), David Kimhi


            72Bruce H. Leafblad, "The Psalms in Christian Worship,"

Southwestern Journal of Theology 27 (1985): 48; see also

Seybold, Introducing the Psalms, 220; Smalley, The Study of

the Bible, 29; Leclercq, "From Gregory the Great to Saint

Bernard," 189; S. J. P. van Dijk, "The Bible in Liturgical Use,"

in Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 2, The West from the Fathers

to the Reformation, ed. G. W. H. Lampe (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1969), 220-52.

            73Erwin I. J. Rosenthal, "The Study of the Bible in Medieval

Judaism," Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 2, The West

from the Fathers to the Reformation, ed. G. W. H. Lampe

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 253-54.



(1160-1235), and Abraham Ibn Ezra (d. 1167), there was a

more persistent insistence in Psalms exegesis on the peshat

versus the derash, in order to counteract Christian allegorical

interpretation. Thus, Psalm 2, traditionally interpreted in

Jewish exegesis of the day of the Messiah, becomes in Jewish

exegesis, at least according to the peshat, a psalm about

David's coronation.74 The importance of this exegetical move

on the part of Jewish scholars, for our study, is that for those

Christian scholars who were more apologetically inclined in

their exegesis, there was correspondingly more attention paid

to the literal sense in order to interact with Jewish scholarship

on that level. However, for those who were more concerned

with the life of the Church and the process of edification, there

was correspondingly less attention to the literal sense.75

            With the founding of the Abbey of St. Victor in 1110,

there was set in motion a recovery of the importance of the

literal sense. Hugh (or Hugo) of St. Victor (d. 1142)

emphasized the literal sense, though still retaining an


            74Michael A. Signer, "King/Messiah: Rashi's Exegesis of

Psalm 2," Prooftexts 3 (1983): 273-78.

            75For more on this subject see Rosenthal, "The Study of the

Bible in Medieval Judaism," 252-79; Signer, "King/Messiah:

Rashi's Exegesis of Psalm 2," 273-78; Uriel Simon, Four

Approaches to the Book of Psalms: From Saadiah Gaon to

Abraham Ibn Ezra, trans. Lenn J. Schramm (Albany: State

University of New York Press, 1991); James S. Preus, From

Shadow to Promise: Old Testament Interpretation from

Augustine to the Young Luther (Cambridge: Belknap Press of

Harvard University Press, 1969), 70; Smalley, The Study of the

Bible, 193.



allegory based on the literal sense.76 His exegesis was still

very much Christologically oriented,77 though little of it is

extant except for a few devotional notes on a few psalms.78

            One of his disciples, Andrew of St. Victor (d. 1175),

practically denied any role to allegory at all. His influence is

perhaps best seen in the Psalms commentary of one who was

"almost certainly a pupil of Andrew,"79 Herbert of Bosham

(ca. late 12th, early 13th cent.). Herbert declares that he is not

adept at explicating the mystical sense and will try to explain

only the literal or lowest sense of the Psalter.80 Yet for each

psalm he also mentions what has been the "traditional,

christological interpretation of each psalm." Smalley notes that

one would think Herbert would be forced to choose, at this

point, in favor of the literal over the traditional. Sometimes he

does, but he is inconsistent. At times he will choose the literal

interpretation in deference to Jewish exegesis. At other times he will

opt for the traditional Christological interpretation, while admitting


            76Smalley, The Study of the Bible, chap. 3; Brown, "The

Sensus Plenior," 58-59.

            77Norbert Lohfink (The Christian Meaning of the Old

Testament, trans. R. A. Wilson [Milwaukee: Bruce, 1968], 51)

quotes him as saying, "The whole divine Scripture is one book,

and this one book is Christ."

            78Smalley, The Study of the Bible, 97-98.

            79Ibid., 187.

            80Ibid., 187-88. My discussion of Herbert's exegesis relies

heavily on Smalley's description (pp. 186-94).



that it is not the literal interpretation. But here, he is almost

surely equivocating on the use of the word "literal," actually

making the literal meaning to be the opposite of the true

meaning.81 Herbert also interacts with Jewish exegesis,

sometimes siding with Rashi's historical exegesis, sometimes

chastising him for abandoning a traditional Jewish exegesis

and doing so out of hatred for Christians.82 Herbert nowhere

gives any one principle by which a messianic psalm may be

distinguished from one that is not. However, he does suggest

that on occasion the Apostle Paul has by his apostolic authority

changed the sense of some Psalms passages in his citation of

them (e.g., Ps 68:19).

            In the thirteenth century, with the rediscovery of

Aristotle, the importance of the literal sense as the

foundation for all the other senses and as the only true basis

for theological work was emphasized by Thomas Aquinas (1225-

74). He did not at all deny the allegorical or spiritual

sense, but held that this spiritual sense was limited in its


            81See Smalley's discussion of his exegesis of Psalm 64 (The

Study of the Bible, 192-93). S. B. Frost also notes that Herbert

considered the lowest sense of the Psalter to be Christological

("The Christian Interpretations of the Psalms," CJT 5 [1959]:


            82Smalley (The Study of the Bible, 193) further says regarding

Herbert's interaction with Rashi, "In a lively piece of historical

reconstruction, he argues that the Jewish people contemporary

with Christ must have been accustomed to hear the psalms

interpreted as messianic prophecies; otherwise the apostles

would never have gained a hearing when they applied these

prophecies to Christ in their preaching." I will try to show later

that this is not as reconstructive as Smalley suggests.



usefulness to edification and could not be used

apologetically.83 There is some disagreement over whether

this spiritual sense was, in fact, a "second" literal sense.84 This

carried over into the fourteenth century and the work of

Nicholas of Lyra (d. 1349) who, however, does indeed suggest

that a passage of Scripture may have two literal senses. There

was, on the one hand, the literal sense of the human author, and

then on the other, the "true" literal sense of the divine author.85

He was in touch with the Jewish scholarship of his day, and

being "the best equipped scholar of the Middle Ages,"86 he

interpreted the Psalms according to the "historical" literal

sense. But he was also a Christian who wanted to make the

Psalms relevant to the Christian life, therefore he also

interpreted each psalm according to the "spiritual" literal

sense.  Even though Nicholas is best remembered for his

emphasis on the human author's "historical" literal sense,

Preus notes that no one has pointed out (i.e., as of 1969)

that his designation of the spiritual sense as a second

literal sense, actually opened the way for a renewed


            83Smalley, "The Bible in the Medieval Schools," 215-16.

            84Contrast Grant and Tracy (A Short History, 88-89) with

Scott Hendrix ("Luther Against the Background of the History

of Biblical Interpretation," Int 37 [1983]: 232).

            85Hendrix, "Luther Against the Background," 232.

            86Heiko A. Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation: The

Shape of Late Medieval Thought Illustrated by Key Documents,

translation of documents by Paul L. Nyhus (New York: Holt,

Rinehart, & Winston, 1966), 286.



emphasis on spiritual interpretation and abandonment of the

historical sense. Preus writes:

            For the first time in literature, a New Testament reading

            of an Old Testament passage is dignified with the label

            "literal," and arguments are brought forward to defend it.

            Given Lyra's authority in the years that followed, it

            would now be easy for someone simply to dispense

            with the first of these literal senses (historical) in favor of the

            more edifying second "literal" sense. The near-suffocation of

            the historical-literal meaning, about which Lyra complained,

            would now be able to proceed, armed with the apparent

            authority of Augustine, Thomas, and the foremost champion of

            historical exegesis in the late Middle Ages.87

            Preus then gives an example of how Nicholas interprets

Psalm 2 literally in regard to the original historical situation, but

then goes on to say that he, in accord with "the doctrine of the

apostles and the saying of the ancient Hebrew doctors, will

explain this psalm as being literally about Christ."88 For

Nicholas, this spiritual literal sense does not always result in a

psalm being considered messianic, but it does open the way for

it in those who follow. Thus, unwittingly, Nicholas set in

motion a reversion to the elevation of the spiritual sense above

what was traditionally called the literal sense.

            Paul of Burgos (d. 1435) follows Nicholas's discussion

to a degree, but wants to find more of a grammatical or

historical connection that ties the spiritual sense to the

literal sense. So, for instance, that the New Testament


            87Preus, From Shadow to Promise, 69.

            88Ibid., 70 (emphasis Preus's).



quotes Psalm 2 in reference to Christ is not sufficient. Rather, it

is the grammatical fact that the son in Psalm 2 is addressed in

the singular and therefore can apply to only one person, and

that person must be Christ, that secures the Christological

interpretation. Also, with this line of interpretation, Paul seeks

to make this literal Christological interpretation serve an

apologetic function. Thus, he faults the Jews, not for their

inability "to discern the spiritual senses," but because they have

a "false understanding of the literal sense."89

            James (Jacobus) Perez of Valencia (d. 1490) argues seemingly

against Nicholas and Paul when he holds that the spiritual

sense is valid for theological (i.e., doctrinal) and apologetic

proof and seeks to discard the literal sense altogether. For him,

the Old Testament has theological value only as it is

understood to be about Christ. His commentary on the Psalms

is particularly Christological, though he may arrive at a Christ-

centered interpretation by one of two routes: either by promise

and fulfillment, or by allegorical or spiritual interpretation.90

            The last interpreter to be considered in this section is

Jacobus Faber Stapulensis (or Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples;

d. 1536). His commentary on the Psalms was published in 1509,


            89Ibid., 86-97.

            90See the discussion of Perez in Preus, From Shadow to

Promise, 102-116.



just four years before Luther began his first lectures on the

Psalms in 1513.91 Faber, in essence, says, "enough of all this

foolishness" and simplifies the entire discussion by putting

forth what he considers to be the one literal sense, which

encompasses both the meaning of the divine author and that of

the prophet.92 Nicholas had suggested two literal senses; Perez

had for all practical purposes abandoned the historical literal

sense; now Faber says: the spiritual sense is the literal sense,

and there is no other sense. The only "valid" sense is the

"prophetic literal sense or the New Testament literal sense. The

intention of the prophet is identical to the intention of the Holy

Spirit, who speaks through him."93 For Faber, it is a "tragic,

un-Christian confusion that calls the literal sense `that which

makes David an historian rather than a prophet.'"94 The

historical sense is practically entirely discounted:

            The actual intention of the psalmist (that is, David throughout),

            and the "autobiographical" confession arising out of that

            situation, have nothing to do with the proper interpretation of

            the Psalms. In fact, Faber opposes to that history David's claim

            of having been a mouthpiece of the spirit. One could scarcely

            remove himself more decisively from the sphere of historical



            91Oberman, Forerunners, 286-87.

            92Ibid., 287; Preus, From Shadow to Promise, 137-38.

            93Oberman, Forerunners, 287.

            94Cited in R. Gerald Hobbs, "How Firm a Foundation: Martin

Bucer's Historical Exegesis of the Psalms," CH 53 (1984): 486.

            95Preus, From Shadow to Promise, 138.



            As Preus states, Faber "has taken what seems to be the shortest,

least arduous route to an altogether christological exegesis of

the Psalms."96 However, as Preus goes on to state, the cost

was a high one, for doctrine, history, and the literal sense were

all sacrificed in the process.97 It was left for the Reformation

to recover the losses.


                          The Reformation to ca. 1600

            In this section, we will look at Martin Luther and John Calvin

in particular, and just briefly at a few other Reformers.


                                  Martin Luther

            Before he nailed the ninety-five theses to the church door at

Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther (14831546)

was an exegete of the Psalms. In August 1513 he began a

lecture series on the Psalms that only concluded in October

1515. From the outset, he exegeted the Psalms as being

literally about Christ. This can be seen by comments on various

psalms in the preface to these lectures.98 Regarding Psalm 1 he

says, "Literally this means that the Lord Jesus made no

concessions to the design of the Jews and of the evil and

adulterous age that existed in His time." For the second


            96Ibid., 142.


            98Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol. 10, First

Lectures on the Psalms I: Psalms 1-75, ed. Hilton C. Oswald,

trans. Herbert J. A. Bouman (St. Louis: Concordia, 1974), 7.



Psalm he says, "Literally this refers to the raging of the Jews

and Gentiles against Christ during His suffering." And

regarding Psalm 3 he says, "This is literally Christ's complaint

concerning the Jews, His enemies." His justification for this is

that "every prophecy and every prophet must be understood as

referring to Christ the Lord, except where it is clear from plain

words that someone else is spoken of."99 Even of the first

penitential psalm, Psalm 6, Luther says, "this whole psalm is

like raging fire and the most impatient zeal erupting from the

heart of Christ."100 And of another penitential psalm, Psalm

38, Luther says that it must be understood literally concerning

Jesus Christ. In v. 5 where the psalmist says, "my iniquities

have gone over my head," Luther declares that it must be

understood that, "in the first place, they went over the head in

the case of Christ with respect to punishment, but not with

respect to conscience."101

            His scheme, at least in the early part of these

lectures, is to give first the literal sense of each psalm as

it refers to Christ, then to give the allegorical sense as it

refers to the Church, and then to give the tropological sense

as it refers to the individual Christian. For the most part,


            99Ibid., 10.7

            100Ibid., 10.78.

            101Ibid., 10.177.



he ignored the anagogical sense.102 Also, contributing to

Luther's Christological exegesis is what Steinmetz has called

the caput-corpus-membra schema:

            All Scripture is written concerning Christ. Because of the

            union of Christ and the Church as caput et corpus, whatever is

            spoken prophetically concerning Christ is at the same time

            (simul) posited of the Church His body and of every member in


            However, during the course of the lectures, there seems to be a

shift away from this three or four senses of Scripture scheme,

along with a less and less explicitly literal-Christological

explanation of each psalm. Preus's explanation for this is that

Luther has turned away from the Stapulensis and Perez type of

christologizing and despite his apparent dislike, in the first part

of the commentary, for Nicholas of Lyra's "judaizing"

exegesis, he has in fact come round to Lyra in the end.104

Preus believes that Luther's hermeneutic, whereby the Old

Testament must be interpreted by the New Testament,

and the literal meaning of the Old Testament was only

what the New Testament interpreted it to be, was one that


            102Hendrix, "Luther Against the Background," 230. However,

David C. Steinmetz feels that this non-emphasis in individual

psalms on the anagogical sense was due to the overall

eschatological orientation of the commentary (Luther and

Staupitz: An Essay in the Intellectual Origins of the Protestant

Reformation, Duke Monographs in Medieval and Renaissance

Studies 4 [Durham: Duke University Press, 1980], 60).

            103David C. Steinmetz, "Hermeneutics and Old Testament

Interpretation in Staupitz and the Young Luther," ARG 70

(1979): 55.

            104Preus, From Shadow to Promise, 268-69.



left the Old Testament without any theological content.105 But

as Luther continued his lectures he began to have more of an

appreciation for the "faithful synagogue" of the Old

Testament, and then he finally "discovered that the Old

Testament faith and religion were so much like his own that

they could become exemplary for his own faith, and for the

Church's self-understanding."106 Preus theorizes that Luther

gradually came to an appreciation of Old Testament faith:

            In his first course as a professor of Bible, Luther's task was to

            provide an interpretation of his text that would be both learned

            and edifying for his Christian audience. Although the text was

            an Old Testament book, his first response was to abandon it, in

            effect, in favor of the New Testament. He outdid the whole

            tradition, from Augustine to Faber, both in his christological

            interpretation and in setting up an opposition between the

            "historical" sense and his "prophetic" interpretation. As he was

            at length to discover, however, he could not carry through this

            plan and at the same time do justice to the Old Testament text,

            for "all its goods" were not in present grace and spirit, but in

            future "words and promises." When Luther awakened to this

            fact and began hearing the testimony of pre-advent Israel, the

            result was not only the theological recovery of the Old

            Testament but the eloquent first themes of an emerging

            Reformation theology.107

            In essence, Preus is suggesting that Luther's

Christological interpretation of the psalms in the early part

of his lecture course is what kept him from coming to the full

realization of the doctrine of justification by faith.

Preus's theory has not gone unchallenged,108 and I do not


            105Ibid., 147-53.

            106Ibid., 166.

            107Ibid., 267.

            108See Gordon Rupp's review of Preus's book in JTS n.s. 23



believe that Luther's Christological exegesis was at all responsible for

hindering his discovery of justification by faith (though this may be

the case with the allegorical exegesis). Yet, one thing is certainly true:

though Preus may have exaggerated just how pronounced the change

is within the confines of the two-year lecture series in the Dictata super

Psalterium, there is no doubt that a change did occur between this first

lecture series and the next which began in 1518. Notice his different

perspective as disclosed in the preface to the publication of those lectures:

            At the urging and insistence of my fine students I am

            expounding the Psalter for the second time in your [Frederick]

            Wittenburg . . . As I expound it, I do not want anyone to

            suppose that I shall accomplish what none of the most holy and

            learned theologians have ever accomplished before, namely, to

            understand and teach the correct meaning of the Psalter in all

            its particulars. It is enough to have understood some of the

            psalms, and those only in part. The Spirit reserves much for

            Himself, so that we may always remain His pupils. There is

            much that He reveals only to lure us on, much that He gives

            only to stir us up. And as Augustine has put it so clearly, if no

            human being has ever spoken in such a way that everyone

            understood him in all particulars, how much more is it true that

            the Holy Spirit alone has an understanding of all His own

            words! Therefore I must openly admit that I do not know

            whether I have the accurate interpretation of the psalms or not,

            though I do not doubt that the one I set forth is an orthodox

            one. For everything that blessed Augustine, Jerome, Athanasius,

            Hilary, Cassiodorus, and others assembled in their expositions

            of the Psalter was also quite orthodox, but very far removed from

            the literal sense. For that matter, this second exposition of mine

            is vastly different from the first. There is no book in the


 (1972): 276-78; Scott H. Hendrix, Ecclesia in Via:

Ecclesiological Developments in the Medieval Psalms

Exegesis and the "Dictata super Psalterium" of Martin Luther,

Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 8 (Leiden: E. J.

Brill, 1974), esp. pp. 263-82; Steinmetz, "Hermeneutics and

Old Testament Interpretation," 26 n. 14.



            Bible to which I have devoted as much labor as to the


            In essence, Luther, humbly but decisively, turns his

back on allegorical exegesis, and it shows in his commentaries

on the Psalms. Now, for Luther, Psalm 1 is about the "personal

blessedness" that "is common to all men."110 In a preface to a

commentary on the penitential psalms he states that in his first

commentary on the Psalms he "often missed the meaning of the

text," and then goes on to exegete Psalm 6 as referring to any

penitent who is contrite over his sins.111 Psalm 38, of which

Luther had said that it must be understood literally about

Christ, is now to be understood as portraying "most clearly the

manner, words, acts, thoughts, and gestures of a truly penitent

heart."112 The prophetic-Christological interpretation is still to

be found, particularly in Psalms 2, 8, 19, 45, 68, 109, 110, 117, and

parts of Psalm 118.113 For example, in regard to Psalm 109, Luther

says that "David composed this psalm about Jesus Christ, who speaks

 the entire psalm in the first person about Judas, his betrayer, and


            109Luther's Works, vol. 14, Selected Psalms III, ed. Jaroslav

Pelikan, 284-85.

            110Ibid., 14.287.

            111Ibid., 14.140.

            112Ibid., 14.156.

            113Luther's Works, 12.1-93, 97-136, 137-44, 195-300; 13.1-

37, 227-348; 14.1-39, 41-106, 257-77, 313-49.



against Judaism as a whole, describing their ultimate fate."114

But the difference is that now Luther christologizes only when

led to do so by reason of New Testament citation or the

recognition of what appears to be the purely prophetic. Christ

is not to be found in allegory, but in promise and the belief of

the Old Testament faithful in that promise. Luther was not

entirely consistent and still occasionally engaged in allegorical

exegesis.115 But for the most part, the literal meaning of the

text now carries the day, though the New Testament had

priority in determining what that literal meaning was.

            What caused this change in Luther's approach? Some have

attributed it to a closer attention to the Hebrew text. When he

started the original lectures in 1513 he was not that proficient

in Hebrew. But during the years 1515-18 he studied Hebrew

more intensely in preparation for future lectures on the

Psalter.116 Luther himself referred to his new attention


            114Luther's Works, 14.257.

            115Though some have seen allegory where it does not exist;

e.g., Ronald Hals says that Luther "unashamedly allegorizes"

the "day [of Ps 118:24] as the time of the New Testament

("Psalm 118," Int 37 [1983]: 278). However, I do not believe

that this is an example of allegorizing, but rather a case of

following an exegetical track begun by Christ himself (Matt

21:42; Mark 12:1011; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet


            116Scott H. Hendrix, "The Authority of Scripture at Work:

Luther's Exegesis of the Psalms," in Encounters with Luther,

vol. 2, ed. Eric W. Gritsch (Gettysburg: Institute for Luther

Studies, Luther Theological Seminary, 1982), 150-52; see also James

A. Sanders, "Hebrew Bible and Old Testament: Textual Criticism

in Service of Biblical Studies," in Hebrew Bible or Old Testament:

Studying the Bible in Judaism and Christianity, ed. Roger Brooks



to the Hebrew text as "theological philology."117 Certainly

this was one factor. Preus, as already mentioned, attributes the

change to Luther's new appreciation for the expectant faith of

the Old Testament saints and to his new found ability to relate

both the despair and the hope of the Old Testament saints to

what was happening in the depths of his own soul; or, in other

words, Luther found that he could identify with the Old

Testament saints themselves, without having to do so through

the prism of the New Testament. In his developing doctrine of

justification by faith, he was able to identify with the Old

Testament faithful without first having to identify with Christ.

I believe there is a measure of truth here, though I would want to

modify Preus's theory to some extent. That modification will

be examined in the last chapter.


                                    John Calvin

            John Calvin (1509-64) has been called "the first

scientific interpreter in the history of the Christian

Church."118 He was certainly, up to his time, the most

judicious. In his commentary on the Psalms, as far as I can


and John J. Collins, Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity 5

(Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 44.

            117Hendrix, "Luther Against the Background," 232; "The

Authority of Scripture at Work," 150-51.

            118K. Fullerton, Prophecy and Authority, 81, cited in Bernard

Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of

Hermeneutics, 3d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 57.



tell, only Psalm 110 in its entirety is applied directly and

literally to Christ, though many other psalms are seen as

typologically referring to Christ. All the psalms, except for

Psalm 110, have their literal meaning in the life of David or

Solomon or whoever the author of the particular psalm was.

Calvin believes in only one literal meaning of the text, but with

either prophetic or typological applications to the life of Christ.

For example, Psalm 2 is applied first of all to the reign of

David, but Calvin says, "All this was typical, and contains a

prophecy concerning the future kingdom of Christ."119

Sometimes, Calvin recognizes the Christological nature of a

psalm because the psalm, hyperbolically, goes beyond what

can be said of David, as is the case with Ps 16:10.120 At the heart

of Calvin's hermeneutic in the Psalms, however, is what we

also saw in Luther, the solidarity of Christ and his members.121

A good example of this is Calvin's remarks regarding the New

Testament use of Psalm 40:

            There still remains another difficulty with this passage. The

            Apostle, in Heb. x. 5, seems to wrest this place, when


            119John Calvin, Joshua and the Psalms, trans. Henry

Beveridge (repr., Grand Rapids: Associated, n.d.), 125.

            120Ibid., 216-24.

            121As S. H. Russell ("Calvin and the Messianic Interpretation

of the Psalms," SJT 21 [1968]: 42) notes: "It is clear, therefore,

that the master-key of Calvin's exegesis of the messianic

elements in the Psalms is the solidarity of Christ and His

members both before and after the incarnation." See also James

L. Mays, "Calvin's Commentary on the Psalms: The Preface as

Introduction," in John Calvin and the Church: A Prism of

Reform, ed. Timothy George (Louisville: Westminster/John

Knox, 1990), 202.



            he restricts what is spoken of all the elect to Christ alone, and

            expressly contends that the sacrifices of the Law, which David

            says are not agreeable to God in comparison of the obedience

            of the heart, are abrogated; and when quoting rather the words

            of the Septuagint than those of the prophet, he infers from them

            more than David intended to teach. As to his restricting this

            passage to the person of Christ, the solution is easy. David did

            not speak in his name only, but has shown in general what

            belongs to all the children of God. But when bringing into view

            the whole body of the Church, it was necessary that he should

            refer us to the head itself. It is no objection that David soon

            after imputes to his own sins the miseries which he endures; for

            it is by no means an uncommon thing to find our errors, by a

            mode of expression not strictly correct, transferred to Christ.122

            Also, as in the case of Luther, there was, I believe, a

proper recognition of the faith of the Old Testament and an

identification of Calvin with the Old Testament saint, a

recognition that stands behind Calvin's oft-quoted sentences:

            I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not

            inappropriately, "An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;" for

            there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that

            is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit

            has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubt,

            hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions

            with which the mind of men are wont to be agitated.123

            The question that needs to be asked, however, even as in

the case of Luther, is what effect this identification with

the Old Testament faithful had on Calvin's Christological

interpretation. Does Preus's theory, that this recognition by

Luther caused him to downplay his Christological exegesis,

apply to Calvin as well? Did the discovery of the doctrine of

justification by faith take away a Christological element from


            122Calvin, Psalms, 437.

            123Ibid., 115-16.



Calvin's exegesis? Perhaps in one way it did, but in another

way, no, as Thomas F. Torrance remarks:

            It was this [doctrine of justification by faith] that led Calvin, as

            it had led Luther, toward such a clear grasp of the essential

            method we must adopt in interpretation and exposition if we

            are to be faithful to the actual matter of the Scriptures in their

            witness to Jesus Christ. Justification by grace alone calls a man

            so radically into question that he must be stripped of himself,

            and therefore in all knowing and interpreting he must work

            from a centre in Christ and not in himself.124

            This is hard to understand. How did the doctrine of

justification by faith result in a hermeneutic in which Calvin

worked from a Christological center, and yet departed so

radically from the Christological exegesis that went before?

And is the same thing necessary for us today? Again, I will

attempt to answer this question in the last chapter.

                               Other Reformers

Like Luther and Calvin, most of the other reformers of the

sixteenth century gave more attention to the Hebraica Veritas,

and along with it, the literal-historical interpretation of the

Scriptures.125 There was some carry-over from medieval

allegorical exegesis, but for the most part the trend was to

prepare for the Christological interpretation by


            124Thomas F. Torrance, The Hermeneutics of John Calvin,

Monograph Supplements to SJT (Edinburgh: Sottish Academic

Press, 1988), 158.

            125R. Gerald Hobbs, "Hebraica Veritas and Traditio

Apostolica: Saint Paul and the Interpretation of the Psalms in

the Sixteenth Century," in The Bible and the Sixteenth

Century, ed. David C. Steinmetz, Duke Monographs in

Medieval and Renaissance Studies 11 (Durham: Duke

University Press, 1990), 83-99.



laying a solid foundation in the historical meaning of the text,

as evidenced in the Psalms commentaries of Zwingli and

Bucer.126 There was always the threat that a strict historical

interpretation might exclude a Christological interpretation

altogether, and it actually happened in the case of the heretic

Servetus.127 But for the most part, the recovery of the literal

historical-grammatical interpretation resulted in a

Christological interpretation which was limited to either a

prophecy in those cases where the New Testament called for

such an interpretation, or to typology where there was the

recognition that the language of the psalm seemed to go

beyond the earthly Davidic king. This was the trend that would

continue among conservative Christian scholars right up to the


                      From the Reformation to the Present

            This section will give a broad, sweeping

characterization of Psalms exegesis up to the twentieth


            126R. Gerald Hobbs, "How Firm a Foundation: Martin Bucer's

Historical Exegesis of the Psalms," CH 53 (1984): 477-91;

"Martin Bucer on Psalm 22: A Study in the Application of

Rabbinic Exegesis by a Christian Hebraist," in Histoire de

l'exegese au XVIe siecle, ed. Olivier Fatio and Pierre Fraenkel,

Etudes de Philologie et D'Histoire 34 (Geneva: Librairie Droz

S.A., 1978), 144-63.

            127Servetus even considered Psalm 110 to refer exclusively to

David and his son Solomon. See Jerome Friedman, "Servetus

on the Psalms: The Exegesis of History," in Histoire de

l'exegese au XVIe siecle, ed. Olivier Fatio and Pierre Fraenkel,

Etudes de Philologie et D'Histoire 34 (Geneva: Librairie Droz

S.A., 1978), 164-78.



century, while focusing more narrowly on some significant

twentieth century developments.

            "Conservative" Exegesis to the Twentieth Century

            Among Catholic scholars during this time, there was

always maintained, at least in theory, the dual sense of Scripture,

literal and spiritual.128 There were of course those who

maintained the importance of the literal sense, and even those

who were engaged in textual and "higher" criticism.129 But the

spiritual sense of the text was always presumed to be there.

            In conservative Protestantism, allegorical became, more

or less, a thing of the past (except for some of the more pietistic

movements). Christ was present in the Old Testament in

typology, and he was present in prophecy. For the psalms, this

meant that David had to be upheld as type, prophet, and author.

Davidic authorship of the psalms was seen as necessary, not

only for the ones attributed to him in the superscriptions, but,

of course, those assigned to him by the New Testament. David

had, at least in some measure, to be regarded as a prophet,

for the New Testament so regarded him (Acts 2:30). And

for those psalms where there was recognition that the

setting of the psalm was one in the life of David,


            128Brown, "The Sensus Plenior," 64-65.

            129Emil G. Kraeling, The Old Testament Since the

Reformation (Harper & Row, 1955; repr., New York:

Schocken, 1969), 43.



but there was language in the psalm that seemed either to

resemble or foreshadow events in Christ's life, David had to be

upheld as type. Along with this, of course, it was important to

date, at least the psalms attributed to David, to the time period

of his reign. Consequently, the dating of a psalm became a very

important part of its meaning and interpretation.

            With David playing the dual role of author/prophet and type, it

became necessary to try to delineate just where in the psalms

David played these roles. Thus, more sophistication was

needed in putting whole psalms or parts of psalms into

categories. Some scholars, such as E. W. Hengstenberg

regarded all the messianic psalms as being prophetic, and

simply divided them into psalms predictive of the Messiah's

sufferings or predictive of his glories.130 Other scholars

divided the messianic psalms into various classes. Franz

Delitzsch used five main categories: typical, typico-prophetic,

Jehovic, indirectly messianic, and purely predictive (only

Psalm 110 being in this last category). 131  A. F. Kirkpatrick

used somewhat similar categories, but  had no corresponding

category to Delitzsch's purely prophetic.132


            130 E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament and a

Commentary on the Messianic Predictions (London, 1872-78;

repr., Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1956), 1.149-52.

            131Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans.

Francis Bolton (repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 3.66-71.

            132A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms: With Introduction

and Notes, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges



            It should be mentioned here as well that there were many

Psalms commentaries on the more popular level which set forth

a messianic interpretation of many of the psalms. For

example, Spurgeon's massive, originally seven-volume,

Treasury of David has been very influential on large segments of the

conservative Christian Church.133 The scholar who would

dismiss works such as these as non-scholarly or pre-critical

would do well to remember the words of Brevard Childs:

            With all due respect to Gunkel, the truly great expositors for

            probing to the theological heart of the Psalter remain

            Augustine, Kimchi, Luther, Calvin, the long forgotten Puritans

            buried in Spurgeon's Treasury, the haunting sermons of John

            Donne, and the learned and pious reflections of de Muis,

            Francke, and Geier. Admittedly these commentators run the

            risk, which is common to all interpretation, of obscuring rather

            than illuminating the biblical text, but because they stand

            firmly within the canonical context, one can learn from them

            how to speak anew the language of faith.134


                 "Liberal" Exegesis to the Twentieth Century

            I fully recognize that "liberal" and "conservative" are loaded

terms that have probably worn out their welcome. However,

I use the term "liberal" as a convenient label to broadly

characterize an approach to the Bible that is more critically

oriented toward the biblical text than had been the traditional

position of historic Christianity for its first


 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902), lxxvi-lxxxv.

            133The work appeared in several editions and has been

reprinted many times. The original edition was published in

London by Passmore & Alabaster, 1870-1885.

            134Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as

Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 523.



eighteen centuries, and that does not work from the

presupposition that the Scriptures are infallible and inerrant.

            Among the various elements in the Psalms that came under

scrutiny by the critics were: (1) the authenticity of the

superscriptions, (2) Davidic authorship of any of the psalms,

(3) the unity of the compositions, (4) their antiquity, and

(5) their value for Christian theology in light of their

troublesome elements (imprecations, confessions, pharisaical

righteousness, Jewish nationalism, materialism). Little wonder,

then, that these critical scholars, with their rejection of the

supernatural, found neither prophecy nor type in the Old

Testament psalms. Messianism in the psalms, for these

scholars, was a moot point.


                       Twentieth Century Developments

            Much of what has already been discussed continued into the

twentieth century. Conservative Protestant scholars still looked

at the messianic psalms as either predictive, typological, or a

combination of the two. Liberal Protestant scholars continued

to deny the elements mentioned above. But there have been

some new twists in this century. What follows is a brief

discussion of some of these new developments, not necessarily

in chronological order. Interaction with many of these

developments and their representative scholars will take place

in later chapters.



The Early History of Religions School

            Comparative studies in the first part of the twentieth century

tended to deny to Israel any originality in her religious

conceptions. This reached an extreme in the writings of

Friedrich Delitzsch and his "pan-Babylonianism." For

Delitzsch, the Psalms were totally unworthy of use in

Christianity and Christian worship, and bore no relationship to

Christ or the religion of the New Testament.135 Admittedly,

this was an extreme position, and the reaction against it came

even from within the religio-historical school; but clearly there

was no desire within this movement, as practiced in the first

part of the century with all its positivist assumptions, to find

any revelation of a future messiah in the psalms.136


Form Criticism

            Hermann Gunkel's work and the subsequent work of

his pupils, especially Sigmund Mowinckel, has had the

most profound impact of all twentieth century developments

on the study of the Psalms.137 Formerly, the key to the

interpretation of a psalm had been its date and exact


            135See Kraeling, The Old Testament Since the Reformation,


            136For more on this school see Herbert F. Hahn, The Old

Testament in Modern Research, exp. ed. (Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1966), 83-118.

            137See Erhard Gerstenberger, "Psalms," in Old Testament

Form Criticism, ed. John H. Hayes (San Antonio: Trinity

University Press, 1974), 179-223; Ronald E. Clements,

"Interpreting the Psalms," chap. in One Hundred Years of Old

Testament Interpretation (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976),




historical situation. Now, the key was to find the correct

Gattung for any given psalm, and then to determine the psalm's

Sitz im Leben. This had profound effects on both conservative

and liberal exegesis. For both, there was a shift away from the

need to find an exact date or historical situation in order to

interpret a given psalm. For those more liberally inclined, there

was no longer the need to be so radically bent on assigning all

the psalms a post-exilic or even a Maccabean date. For at least

some of those more conservatively inclined, it was noticed that

Gunkel and his followers had found that the Sitz im Leben for

many of the psalms fit better into a pre-exilic situation rather

than a post-exilic, and that the royal psalms, in particular, may

have gone back to the days of the divided monarchy, if not, the

united monarchy. For many conservatives, it was enough to

have the other side recognize that there may have been a

Davidic impetus to the Psalter, and they themselves began to

back off from the necessity of upholding the authenticity of the

superscriptions or the need to defend Davidic authorship of all

psalms attributed to him. In other words, form criticism seemed

to be, at least in Old Testament and Psalms studies, a rather

neutral discipline that both sides could engage in. The

conservative could practice form criticism in the Psalms and

still hold to both prophetic and typological messianic

elements in the psalms. The liberal could practice form

criticism and concede that, in a general way, Jesus Christ was



the fulfillment of the messianic hopes in the Psalms, without

conceding that there were actual prophecies or intentionally

typological elements in them.

            It is impossible to trace in a brief survey all the developments

that have taken place in trying to find the proper cultic Sitz im

Leben of the psalms, in particular the so-called "enthronement"

and royal psalms. Well known are the hypotheses of Sigmund

Mowinckel (enthronement festival), Artur Weiser (covenant

renewal), and Hans-Joachim Kraus (royal Zion festival).138

Again, I will be interacting with these in later chapters, but in

passing, I think it is safe to say that conservative scholars have

been much more prone to adopt portions of the Weiser and

Kraus hypotheses into their Psalms interpretation, than that of

Mowinckel's tie-in to the akitu festival and its resemblance to

the early pan-Babylonianism. In particular, those who saw the

messianic psalms as more typological in nature, rather than

purely predictive, have been able to point to various elements

in these hypotheses as messianically typological. This holds for

the next development as well.


            138Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship, 2

vols., trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas (New York: Abingdon, 1967);

Artur Weiser, The Psalms, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962);

Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary and Psalms 60-

150: A Commentary, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Augsburg,

1988-89); Theology of the Psalms, trans. Keith Crim (Minneapolis:

Augsburg, 1986).



The Myth and Ritual School

            The scholars in this school, known also as the "Scandinavian

school" and the "Patternism school" took Mowinckel's work to

another level. Mowinckel had posited the centrality of the

king's role in the cult, but had emphatically declared that it was

"wholly improbable" that the Israelite king "should have been

regarded as identical with Yahweh, or in the cult have played

Yahweh's part."139 However, those in the myth and ritual

school proposed the identification or near-identification of the

king with Yahweh in the akitu festival, and held that the

festival involved a ritual humiliation of the king as

representative of the humiliation, death, and subsequent

resurrection and exaltation of the deity, and that many of the

psalms (such as Psalm 89) reflected this ritual.140 Several of

the representatives of this school advocated that this way of

looking at the Psalms more clearly gave a typological picture

of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.141


            139Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship, 1.59.

            140For representative works of this school see Aage Bentzen,

King and Messiah, 2d ed. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1970); S.

H. Hooke, ed., Myth and Ritual (London: Oxford University

Press, 1933); ed., The Labyrinth (London: Oxford University

Press, 1935); ed., Myth, Ritual and Kingship (London: Oxford

University Press, 1958); Ivan Engnell, Studies in Divine

Kingship in the Ancient Near East, 2d ed. (Uppsala: Almqvist

and Wiksell, 1943); Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in

Ancient Israel (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1955).

            141For example, Bentzen, King and Messiah, esp. pp. 33-34,

75-76, 83 (n. 7), 86 (n. 12), 110 (n. 8), 111 (n. 8).




            This school, which had considerable success for a while, has

been declared to be more or less a thing of the past, and even

the hypothesis that Marduk was a dying and rising divinity in

Babylonian religion has largely been abandoned.142 Yet there

are still modified remnants in survival today, notably in the

work of John Eaton.143 And the typological, though not

explicitly stated, is implicitly suggested. For example, in the

last paragraph of the preface (p. ix) to Eaton's Kingship and the

Psalms, a work devoted to showing that most of the psalms are

royal psalms, the author says:

            I pray that the truth may be served and not hindered by this

            work, which after its fashion is turned toward the greatest

            mystery of religion, towards the representative figure that

            carries all the world's agony and hope.144

            This line of typological exegesis will be further examined in

chapter 8.


Sensus Plenior

            Among Catholic scholars, and some Protestant scholars as

well, one way of explaining the relationship between the Old

Testament and the New Testament has been the sensus plenior,


            142See Karel van der Toorn, "The Babylonian New Year

Festival: New Insights from the Cuneiform Texts and their

Bearing on Old Testament Study," in Congress Volume:

Leuven, 1989, ed. J. A. Emerton, VTSup 43 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991),


            143John H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms, SBT 2d ser. 32

(Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1976); The Psalms Come

Alive: Capturing the Voice and Art of Israel's Songs (Oxford:

A. R. Mowbray, 1984; repr., Downers Grove: InterVarsity,

1986), esp. pp. 116-44.

            144See also Eaton's conclusion (pp. 198-201).



the "fuller sense." Though there is no one authorized definition

of sensus plenior, the one put forth by Raymond E. Brown, will

serve for the present discussion:

            The sensus plenior is that additional, deeper meaning, intended

            by God but not clearly intended by the human author, which is

            seen to exist in the words of a biblical text (or group of texts, or

            even a whole book) when they are studied in the light of

            further revelation or development in the understanding of


            There are points in this definition over which there has been

extensive discussion and disagreement. For example, Brown

himself admits that the phrase, "not clearly intended by the

human author," involves a bit of hedging, for there are some

who suggest there must have been some awareness on the

human author's part, while others, Brown included, would say

that no awareness is required at all.146 Some would limit the

"further revelation or development in the understanding of

revelation" only to the New Testament authors, while others

would extend it into post-biblical times--even to the present-as


            Again, there will be more interaction with the concept of

sensus plenior in later chapters. For now, I would just note that

this has been one way that Catholic scholarship, in particular,

has been able to engage in scientific exegesis of the Psalms,

while still holding that there is a meaning, most


            145Raymond E. Brown, "The Sensus Plenior of Sacred

Scripture", 92.

            146Raymond E. Brown, "Hermeneutics," 616.




often Christological, intended in the Psalms, that is not

recoverable by scientific or critical investigation.148


Neo-Orthodoxy and The Biblical Theology Movement

            In 1789 Johann P. Gabler gave the famous address in

which he made the distinction between biblical theology and

dogmatic theology, and declared that the former should be a

purely descriptive discipline. The result was that biblical

theology was, in fact, separated from dogmatics and, in the

process, theology almost died. Biblical theology soon became

nothing more than an investigation of the individual biblical

writers' separate and diverse theologies. The practitioners

of this new biblical theology came to regard with suspicion

all dogmatic or systematic attempts to connect the biblical

writings with an overarching unity, and they felt it could

only be done by the imposition of philosophical categories


            148For further literature on the sensus plenior see Raymond

E. Brown, "The History and Development of the Theory of a

Sensus Plenior," CBQ 15 (1953): 141-62; "The Sensus Plenior

in the Last Ten Years," CBQ 25 (1963): 262-85; "The

Problems of the `Sensus Plenior'," ETL 43 (1967): 460-69;

William Sanford LaSor, "Prophecy, Inspiration, and Sensus

Plenior," TynBul 29 (1978): 49-60; "The Sensus Plenior and

Biblical Interpretation," in Scripture, Tradition, and

Interpretation: Essays Presented to Everett F. Harrison by His

Students and Colleagues in Honor of His Seventy-Fifth

Birthday, ed. W. Ward Gasque and William Sanford LaSor

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 260-77; Douglas A. Oss,

"Canon as Context: The Function of Sensus Plenior in

Evangelical Hermeneutics," Grace Theological Journal 9

(1988): 105-27; James M. Robinson, "Scripture and

Theological Method: A Protestant Study in Sensus Plenior,"

CBQ 27 (1965): 6-27; Bruce Vawter, "The Fuller Sense: Some

Considerations," CBQ 26 (1964): 85-96.



which were totally foreign to the biblical writers themselves.149

            But the historico-critical investigation of the various

books of the Bible left biblical studies cold and sterile.

Biblical theology had, in fact, become theologically bankrupt.

Karl Barth's commentary on Romans and his Church Dogmatics

were written in reaction to this situation, and thus was born

a movement, of which one of the goals was the reuniting of

exegesis and theology. Barth's particular method of theological

interpretation of the Old Testament came to be called Christological

exegesis. A passage from the Church Dogmatics shows his thinking:

            And now we have only to answer the question whether the Old

            Testament witnesses understood themselves in the same way,

            i.e., as called and separated witnesses of the one revelation of

            the one God in Jesus Christ, as they undoubtedly came to be

            understood by the men of the New Testament. This is the

            decisive issue between the Church and the Synagogue. In

            denying Christ, the Synagogue denies the one revelation of the

            one God. Its answer is therefore in the negative. But the

            Church gives an affirmative answer, as does also the New

            Testament: Christ has risen from the dead, and has revealed the

            fulfillment of Scripture and therefore its real meaning. In the

            light of this, how can the Church understand the Old Testament

            witnesses except as witnesses to Christ? A religiohistorical

            understanding of the Old Testament in abstraction from the

            revelation of the risen Christ is simply an abandonment of the

            New Testament and of the sphere of the Church in favour of

            that of the Synagogue, and therefore in favour of an Old

            Testament which is


            149See Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., "Systematic Theology and

Biblical Theology," in The New Testament Student and

Theology, ed. John H. Skilton, The New Testament Student 3 (Nutley,

NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1976), 34-35. The biblical theology

I am referring to here is not the biblical theology developed by

conservative Reformed scholars which deals primarily with

God's progressive self-revelation in the Scriptures.



            understood apart from its true object, and content. Already, in

            an earlier context, we have stated the basic considerations

            which have to be stated in this regard, and all that we can now

            do is to say once more that this question of the self-

            understanding of the Old Testament witnesses ultimately

            identical with the question of faith. If Christ has risen from the

            dead, then the understanding of the Old Testament as a witness

            to Christ is not a later interpretation, but an understanding of its

            original and only legitimate sense.150

            One adherent of Barth's Christological exegesis was Dietrich

Bonhoeffer. I will be interacting with and appropriating elements of

Bonhoeffer's Christological exegesis of the psalms later, but for now an

excerpt from one of his writings will give an indication of his basic direction:

            According to the witness of the Bible, David is, as the anointed

            king of the chosen people of God, a prototype of Jesus Christ.

            What happens to him happens to him for the sake of the one

            who is in him and who is to proceed from him, namely Jesus

            Christ. And he is not unaware of this, but "being therefore a

            prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him

            that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he

            foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ" (Acts

            2:30f.). David was a witness to Christ in his office, in his life,

            and in his words. The New Testament says even more. In the

            Psalms of David the promised Christ himself already speaks

            (Hebrews 2:12; 10:5) or, as may also be indicated, the Holy

            Spirit (Hebrews 3:7). These same words which David spoke,

            therefore, the future Messiah spoke through him. The prayers

            of David were prayed also by Christ. Or better, Christ himself

            prayed them through his forerunner David.151

            Many consider this movement to have reached its

Christological and typological extreme in the work of Wilhelm


            150Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. and trans. Geoffrey A.

Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark), 1/2.489-90.

            151Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the

Bible, trans. James H. Burtness (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1970), 18-19.



Vischer.152 Few have followed him. Von Rad was strongly

opposed to Vischer's brand of Christological exegesis and

typology for failing to appreciate the Old Testament's

independent witness and diversity.153 Yet he, too, tied the

Testaments together by a kind of typology, which he preferred

to refer to as "re-actualization" or "eschatological


            He declared that this typology was correspondent to the

belief that in the Old and New Testaments "we have to do with

one divine discourse."155 Yet, for all his brilliant insights,

his particular conception of typology seems to be emptied of

its force when he states that:

            typological interpretation has only to do with the witness to the

            divine event, not with such correspondences in historical,

            cultural, or archaeological details as the Old Testament and the

            New may have in common. It must hold itself to the kerygma

            that is intended, and not fix upon


            152See his The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ, vol. 1,

trans. A. B. Crabtree (London: Lutterworth, 1936); also

"Everywhere the Scripture is about Christ Alone," trans.

Thomas Wieser, in The Old Testament and the Christian Faith:

A Theological Discussion, ed. Bernhard W. Anderson (New

York: Herder & Herder, 1969), 90-101.

            153See Brevard S. Childs, "Gerhard von Rad in American

Dress," in The Hermeneutical Quest: Essays in Honor of James

Luther Mays on his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. Donald J. Miller,

PTMS 4 (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1986), 82.

            154Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M. G.

Stalker (New York: Harper & Row, 1962, 1965), 2.319-87;

"Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament," trans. John

Bright, in Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics, ed. Claus

Westermann, ET ed. James Luther Mays (Richmond: John

Knox, 1963), 17-39.

            155Von Rad, "Typological Interpretation," 36.



the narrative details with the aid of which the kerygma is

set forth.156

            The same problem existed for the biblical theology

movement in America. This was different from either the

biblical theology that was practiced in the nineteenth century

as a result of Gabler's essay, or the "history or revelation"

type practiced by conservative Reformed scholars like

Geerhardus Vos. Rather it was a movement that was concerned,

just as Barth, had been, to reunite theology and biblical

studies, and was perhaps best represented by the works of

George Ernest Wright.157 It was a movement that depended

heavily on a theology of the "Acts of God," and yet,

curiously, could deny that many of the acts had actually

happened, or would attempt to find naturalistic explanations

for them. Brevard Childs summarizes the criticism of Langdon

Gilkey on this point:

            They used Biblical and orthodox language to speak of divine

            activity in history, but at the same time continued to speak

            of the same events in purely naturalistic terms. "Thus they

            repudiate all the concrete elements that in the biblical

            account made the event itself unique and so gave content

            to their theological concept of a special divine deed."158


            156Ibid., 36-37.

            157In particular, George Ernest Wright, God Who Acts:

Biblical Theology as Recital, SBT (Chicago: Henry Regnery,

1952); The Old Testament and Theology (New York: Harper &

Row, 1969).

            158Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis

(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), 65, citing Langdon Gilkey,

"Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language,"

JR 41 (1961): 199.



            In addition, the movement sought to emphasize the unity

of the two Testaments as witness to Christ who was the "central

key to the contents of the Old Testament,159 yet gave warnings

about getting carried away and dissolving "theology into

Christology," and becoming ensnared in the trap of

"christomonism."160 It boldly declared that the Old Testament

was the Word of God for the Church, yet warned against

drawing the inference "that the Old Testament must be

understood christologically."161

            Brevard Childs declared in 1970 that the biblical theology

movement was in crisis.162 After describing the "rise and fall"

of the movement, he then proceeded to declare that there was a

need for a new biblical theology, one that was more properly

established in a context suited for studying the Bible

theologically.163 After rejecting several possible contexts

(ancient Near Eastern literature, Northwest Semitic languages,

history, culture, etc.,) he then pointed to what he felt was "the

most appropriate context from which to do Biblical

Theology."164 A new movement was thus set in place


            159Wright, God Who Acts, 29.

            160Wright, The Old Testament and Theology, 9, 13-38.

            161George A. F. Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old

Testament (Richmond: John Knox, 1959), 7-8.

            162Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis.

            163Ibid., 97-99.

            164Ibid., 99.



that has sparked great debate and caused a vast amount of

literature to arise. For the suggested context was--of all

possible things--the canon of the Christian Church.






                                    CHAPTER 2




            This chapter and the next will consist of examinations of the

canonical approach of Brevard Childs and the canonical

criticism of James Sanders, respectively. Examination of the

work of these two scholars, before I describe my own approach

in Part Two, is necessitated by the following considerations:

(1) while both men are recognized as the founders and leading

scholars in canonical study, their actual approaches are very

different; (2) both men have done special work in the Psalms

utilizing their approaches; and (3) both men have students

and/or followers who have used their canonical approaches in

the study of individual psalms or the Psalter as a whole.

            Both chapters will begin with a description of their respective

approaches, but from that point will proceed somewhat

differently. The interaction with Childs in the scholarly

literature has been more extensive than that with Sanders. So,

while the chapter on Sanders will consist of two parts,

description and evaluation, this chapter on Childs will consist

of, first, description, then second, an examination of the

arguments of his critics. While there will be some of my own

evaluation of Childs contained in this second part, I will

reserve most of my own criticism of Childs for chapters 5-6





where I set forth my own approach. From the outset I inform

the reader that my evaluation of Childs will be guardedly

positive, while the evaluation of Sanders will be more negative.

In short, I will be arguing that Childs's approach is not

canonical enough, and that Sanders's approach is not canonical

at all.


                  A Description of Childs's Approach

            In his 1964 article, "Interpretation in Faith: The

Theological Responsibility of an Old Testament Commentary,"1

Childs registered his disappointment with the methodology of

most Old Testament commentaries. Childs argued that the

supposed objectivity with which a commentator was expected

to begin the descriptive task destroyed the possibility of

discussing theological issues in the same commentary in any

authoritative manner:

            The majority of commentators understand the descriptive task

            as belonging largely to an objective discipline. One starts on

            neutral ground, without being committed to a theological

            position, and deals with textual, historical, and philological

            problems of the biblical sources before raising the theological

            issue. But, in point of fact, by defining the Bible as a "source"

            for objective research the nature of the content to be described

            has been already determined. A priori, it has become a part of a

            larger category of phenomena. The possibility of genuine

            theological exegesis has been destroyed from the outset.2


            1Brevard S. Childs, "Interpretation in Faith: The

Theological Responsibility of an Old Testament Commentary,"

Int 18 (1964): 432-49.

            2Ibid., 437.



He thus proposed that the writer of an Old Testament

commentary must consciously begin his work

            from within an explicit framework of faith. . . .

            Approaches which start from a neutral ground never can do

            full justice to the theological substance because there is

            no way to build a bridge from the neutral, descriptive

            content to the theological reality.3

            Childs suggested that the Christian exegete, in particular, must

interpret "the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament

and, vice versa, . . . the New Testament in the light of the

Old."4 This did not mean, however, that the Christian exegete

was bound by "theories of sacred language or sacred text which

restrict the full freedom of the exegesis and destroy the

grounds of precise textual description."5 Rather, the exegete,

working from a theological framework of the Bible as the

Word of God, is free to carry on the exegetical task without

having to harmonize historically the biblical texts either with

other texts or with extrabiblical evidence.6 Thus, we see

already Childs's concern that modern biblical exegesis, while

done in faith, cannot return to precritical naivete. Exegesis,

though explicitly done from a context of faith, must be just as

explicitly post-critical.

            More forcefully, and with a more comprehensive target than

just Old Testament commentaries, Childs's 1970 Biblical


            3Ibid., 438.

            4Ibid., 440.

            5Ibid., 439.

            6Ibid., 439-40.



Theology in Crisis7 unleashed a broadside against what he

referred to as the "Biblical Theology movement," particularly

in its American setting. Childs contended that the biblical

theology movement, with its emphasis on the revelational acts

of God in history, an emphasis that was not able to carry the

theological weight laid on it, and which, in essence, resulted in

a "canon within the canon" (i.e., concentration on the narrative

portions of the Old Testament), had begun to die in the 1950s

and had, in fact, suffered a fatal blow in the early 1960s.8 He

also faulted the movement for trying to integrate historical-

critical reconstructions of Israelite history with historical-

theological categories such as heilsgeschichte, as if a

reconstructed Old Testament history could have anything to

say theologically.9

            Childs proposed instead that the canon should be made to bear

the theological weight of a proper biblical theology:

            As a fresh alternative, we would like to defend the thesis that

            the canon of the Christian church is the most appropriate context

            from which to do Biblical Theology. What does this mean? First

            of all, implied in the thesis is the basic Christian confession,

            shared by all branches of historic Christianity, that the Old and

            New Testaments together constitute Sacred Scripture for the

            Christian church. The status of canonicity is not an objectively

            demonstrable claim but a statement of Christian belief. In its

            original sense, canon does not simply perform the formal

            function of separating the books that are authoritative from

            others that are not, but is the rule


            7Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis

(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970).

            8Ibid., esp. pp. 55, 62-66, 83-87.

            9Ibid., 39-44, 62-69, 84-85, 102, 110.



            that delineates the area in which the church hears the

            word of God.10

            Two things should be noted here. The first is that Childs is

already beginning to display a certain vagueness (or, perhaps

better, expansiveness) about what he actually means by

"canon" or "canonical context." For example, in discussing the

doctrine of inspiration, he chides the biblical theology

movement for having discarded the doctrine, and then suggests

that the canonical perspective offers fresh insight on the

doctrine: "In our opinion, the claim for the inspiration of

Scripture is the claim for the uniqueness of the canonical

context of the church through which the Holy Spirit works."11

In this case, "canonical context" is not the setting of a biblical

passage in the context of the entire Bible, but the canon's

setting in the context of the Christian community.

            Second, it must be remembered that Childs is explicitly post-

critical. He is not rejecting historical-critical methods; he is

simply saying that historical-critical reconstructions have

nothing to say theologically:

            The historicocritical method is an inadequate method for

            studying the Bible as the Scriptures of the church because it

            does not work from the needed context. This is not to say for a

            moment that the critical method is incompatible with Christian

            faith--we regard the Fundamentalist position as indefensible--

            but rather that the critical method, when operating from its own

            chosen context, is incapable of either raising or answering the

            full range of


            10Ibid., 99.

            11Ibid., 104.



            questions which the church is constrained to direct to its


            Surely some will object to this line of argument by asserting

            that the exegete's only task is to understand what the Biblical

            text meant, and that the critical methodology is alone capable

            of doing this correctly. The historical reading is exegesis;

            everything else is "eisegesis." Our response to this type of

            objection is by now familiar. First, what the text "meant" is

            determined in large measure by its relation to the one to whom

            it is directed. While it remains an essential part of Biblical

            exegesis to establish a text's function in its original context(s),

            the usual corollary that the original function is alone normative

            does not follow. Secondly, the question of what the text now

            means cannot be dismissed as a purely subjective enterprise

            suitable only to private devotion and homiletics. When seen

            from the context of canon both the question of what the text

            meant and what it means are inseparably linked and both

            belong to the task of the interpretation of the Bible as Scripture.

            To the extent that the use of the critical method sets up an iron

            curtain between the past and the present, it is an inadequate

            method for studying the Bible as the church's Scripture.12

In short, Childs accuses those who use the historical-critical

method exclusively of theological "tone-deafness."13

            Childs's next major work was his Exodus commentary.14 In

the first two sentences of the preface Childs set forth the

goal and program of the commentary:

            The purpose of this commentary is unabashedly theological. Its

            concern is to understand Exodus as scripture of the church. The

            exegesis arises as a theological discipline within the context of

            the canon and is directed toward the community of faith which

            lives by its confession of Jesus Christ.15


            12Ibid., 141-42.

            13Ibid., 142.

            14Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical,

Theological Commentary, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster,


            15Ibid., ix.



Further, in the introduction, Childs states that he

            does not share the hermeneutical position of those who suggest

            that biblical exegesis is an objective, descriptive enterprise,

            controlled solely by scientific criticism, to which the Christian

            theologian can at best add a few homiletical reflections for

            piety's sake.16

            The commentary dispenses with the usual lengthy critical

introduction; Childs feels that those matters are covered

sufficiently in other commentaries, but, more importantly, he

says, "In my judgment, a false sense of their importance is

created."17 The commentary follows the same sixfold format

for each pericope throughout: (1) Childs's own translation from

the Hebrew, (2) a treatment of the text's oral and literary

development, (3) exegesis of the text in its Old Testament

context, (4) a focus on the New Testament's use of the passage,

(5) a section on the history of exegesis of the passage, and (6)

"a theological reflection on the text within the context of the

Christian canon."18 One might have thought that this last

section would be nothing more than a repetition of the material

in the fourth section. However, it is important to notice how

Childs further defines what he intends to do in this section:

            It seeks to relate the various Old Testament and New

            Testament witnesses in the light of the history of exegesis to

            the theological issues which evoked the witness. It is an

            attempt to move from witness to substance. This reflection is

            not intended to be timeless


            16Ibid., xiii.

            17Ibid., x.

            18Ibid., xiv-xvi.



            or offer biblical truths for all ages, but to present a model of

            how the Christian seeks to understand the testimony of the

            prophets and apostles in his own time and situation.19

What Childs does here, in essence, is the same thing we

noticed in Biblical Theology in Crisis. "Canonical context," for

Childs, can refer to different things: either a particular

passage's context in the canon of Scripture, or the canon's

context in the Christian church. Or it can refer to both contexts

in combination. That is why the last section on "theological

reflection on the text within the context of the Christian canon"

is more than just an examination of the New Testament's use of

a passage, and why the history of exegesis section comes

before it: the canon's context is the church, and not just the

church of modern times, but the whole church.

            Up to this point, Childs had laid out his canonical approach in

monograph and commentary form, and also in several

articles.20 But in 1979 Childs raised the approach to a new

level with the publication of what was at that time his most

significant work, Introduction to the Old Testament as

Scripture.21 It was a brand new way of writing an Old

Testament introduction:


            19Ibid., xvi.

            20See Brevard S. Childs, "The Old Testament as Scripture of

the Church," CTM 43 (1972): 709-22; "The Exegetical Significance

of Canon for the Study of the Old Testament," in Congress

Volume: Göttingen, 1977, ed. J. A. Emerton, VTSup 29 (Leiden: E. J.

Brill, 1978), 66-80.

            21Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as

Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979).



            This introduction attempts to offer a different model for the

            discipline from that currently represented. It seeks to describe

            the form and function of the Hebrew Bible in its role as sacred

            scripture for Israel. It argues the case that the biblical literature

            has not been correctly understood or interpreted because its

            role as religious literature has not been correctly assessed.22

            An important phrase in this citation from Childs's

preface to the Introduction is, "sacred scripture for Israel."

Childs, while seeking to apply the canonical approach to a

larger scope, seems at the same time to have somewhat narrowed

the canonical context with which he is working, a narrowing

that has caused confusion among critics and reviewers. The

canonical context of the Christian church appears to have been

dropped. He states that his approach

            is descriptive in nature. It is not confessional in the sense of

            consciously assuming tenets of Christian theology, but rather it

            seeks to describe as objectively as possible the canonical

            literature of ancient Israel which is the heritage of both Jew and

            Christian. If at times the description becomes theological in its

            terminology, it is because the literature itself requires it.23

Later in this chapter the question will be asked as to whether

or not Childs has either been successful in this delimitation,

or if he even had the right to do so, based on the principles

he had been espousing for over fifteen years.

            The first chapter of Childs's Introduction is devoted to

a history of Old Testament introductions. At the end of the


            22Ibid., 16.




chapter he sums up the status of Old Testament studies with the

following observation and question:

            Those scholars who pursued historical criticism of the Old

            Testament no longer found a significant place for the canon.

            Conversely, those scholars who sought to retain a

            concept of the canon were unable to find a significant role for

            historical criticism. . . .

            In my judgment, the crucial task is to rethink the

            problem of Introduction in such a way as to overcome this long

            established tension between the canon and criticism. Is it

            possible to understand the Old Testament as canonical

            scripture and yet to make full and consistent use of the

            historical critical tools?24

            In the over six hundred pages that follow, Childs seeks to

provide an affirmative answer to the question. The success or

failure of the attempt will be evaluated later in this chapter. At

this point it will be enough to describe how he goes about it. In

the second chapter Childs sets out all the problems with canon,

ranging from terminology to scope. He says that "it is

necessary at the outset to settle on a definition of the term

canon."25 Yet he never quite gets around to defining it,

though he does make many points about what a definition

must include and emphasize.26 In the third chapter he

discuss how canonical analysis relates to the various Old

Testament critical disciplines. Though he has not yet

actually defined canon, he does tell precisely what he


            24Ibid., 45.

            25Ibid., 57.

            26He had, however, defined canon in an earlier article, "The

Exegetical Significance of Canon for the Study of the Old

Testament." We will look at that definition later.



means by canonical analysis. Several quotes from this section

are necessary to see Childs's thinking.

            The major task of a canonical analysis of the Hebrew Bible is a

            descriptive one. It seeks to understand the peculiar shape and

            special function of these texts which comprise the Hebrew canon.27

            Canonical analysis focuses its attention on the final form of the

            text itself. It seeks neither to use the text merely as a source for

            other information obtained by means of an oblique reading, nor

            to reconstruct a history of religious development. Rather it

            treats the literature in its own integrity. . . . To take the

            canonical shape of these texts seriously is to seek to do justice

            to a literature which Israel transmitted as a record of God's

            revelation to his people along with Israel's response. The

            canonical approach to the Hebrew Bible does not make any

            dogmatic claims for the literature apart from the literature

            itself, as if these texts contained only timeless truths or

            communicated in a unique idiom, but rather it studies them as

            historically and theologically conditioned writings which were

            accorded a normative function in the life of this community.28

            . . . the approach seeks to work within that interpretative structure

            which the biblical text has received from those who formed and used

            it as sacred scripture. To understand that canonical shape requires the

            highest degree of exegetical skill in an intensive wrestling with the text.

            It is expected that interpreters will sometime disagree on the nature

            of the canonical shaping, but the disagreement will enhance the

            enterprise if the various interpreters share a common understanding

            of the nature of the exegetical task.29

            In answer to the question as to why the final form of

the text is the special focus of this analysis, Childs says:

            The reason for insisting on the final form of scripture lies in the

            peculiar relationship between text and people of God which is

            constitutive of canon. The shape of the biblical text reflects a

            history of encounter between God


            27Childs, Introduction, 72.

            28Ibid., 73.




            and Israel. The canon serves to describe this peculiar

            relationship and to define the scope of this history by

            establishing a beginning and end to the process. . . . The

            significance of the final form of the text is that it alone bears

            witness to the full history of revelation. Within the Old

            Testament neither the process of the formation of the literature

            nor the history of its canonization is assigned an independent

            integrity. This dimension has often been lost or purposely

            blurred and is therefore dependent on scholarly reconstruction.

            The fixing of a canon of scripture implies that the witness to

            Israel's experience with God lies not in recovering such

            historical processes, but is testified to in the effect on the

            biblical text itself. Scripture bears witness to God's activity in

            history on Israel's behalf, but history per se is not a medium of

            revelation which is commensurate with a canon. It is only in

            the final form of the biblical text in which the normative

            history has reached an end that the full effect of this revelatory

            history can be perceived.30

            Childs recognizes that this approach flies full in the

face of all that historical-critical, form critical, and traditio-historical

disciplines desire to do in reconstructing Israel's history and earlier

stages of the text. Childs's answer, however, is that the canon must

be recognized as itself serving a critical function.

            It is certainly true that earlier stages in the development of the

            biblical literature were often regarded as canonical prior to the

            establishment of the final form. In fact, the final form

            frequently consists of simply transmitting an earlier, received

            form of the tradition often unchanged from its original setting.

            Yet to take the canon seriously is also to take seriously the

            critical function which it exercises in respect to the earlier

            stages of the literature's formation. A critical judgment is

            evidenced in the way in which these earlier stages are handled.

            At times the material is passed on unchanged; at other times

            tradents select, rearrange, or expand the received tradition. The

            purpose of insisting on the


            30Ibid., 75-76.



            authority of the final canonical form is to defend its

            role of providing this critical norm.31

            In other words, the earlier stages of a text's history

are important only if the canon says they are. The canon is

afforded an equal critical status with the critical scholars,

not in the reconstruction of the earlier stages of a text's

history, but in the assessment of whether or not those earlier

stages have any theological value.32

            Then comes one of the more controversial elements of

Childs's theory. Even the sociological or historical setting

of those responsible for the final form is irrelevant, for the

recovery of that setting is also largely a matter of

reconstruction, and besides, we do not even know the identity

of the canonizers.

            But basic to the canonical process is that those responsible for

            the actual editing of the text did their best to obscure their own

            identity. Thus the actual process by which the text was

            reworked lies in almost total obscurity. Its presence is detected

            by the effect on the text. . . . The canon formed the decisive

            Sitz im Leben for the Jewish community's life, thus blurring

            the sociological evidence most sought after by the modern

            historian. When critical exegesis is made to rest on the

            recovery of these very sociological distinctions which have

            been obscured, it runs directly in the face of the canon's intention. . . .

            It is not clear to what extent the ordering of the oral and written

            material into a canonical form always involved an intentional

            decision. . . . But irrespective of intentionality the effect of the

            canonical process was to render the tradition accessible to the

            future generation


            31Childs, Introduction, 76.

            32On this point see also Childs's Old Testament Theology in a

Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 11.



            by means of a "canonical intentionality", which is

            coextensive with the meaning of the biblical text.33

As for the relationship between canonical analysis and the

various Old Testament critical disciplines, Childs takes special

care to distinguish canonical analysis from other "critical"


            The approach which I am undertaking has been described by

            others as "canonical criticism". I am unhappy with this term

            because it implies that the canonical approach is considered

            another historical critical technique which can take its place

            alongside of source criticism, form criticism, rhetorical

            criticism, and similar methods. I do not envision the approach

            to canon in this light. Rather, the issue at stake in relation to the

            canon turns on establishing a stance from which the Bible can

            be read as sacred scripture.34

            This must be one of the most frequently skipped, hastily read,

or ignored paragraphs in the Introduction, for many reviews

and scholarly interactions with Childs, even several years after

the book's publication, still refer to Childs's approach as

"canonical criticism." But it is important to note that this is not

just a trifling distinction on Childs's part. Childs's very

important point here is that while all the other methodologies

are qualified to investigate the text from their respective

disciplinary stances, none of them are qualified to either ask, or

expect answers to, theological questions.

            After a fourth chapter devoted to the relationship between the

canonical approach and textual criticism, Childs


            33Childs, Introduction, 78-79.

            34Ibid., 82.



then applies his canonical analysis to the various sections and

individual books of the Old Testament canon. The format is

virtually the same in each case. First, he discusses the critical

issues in relation to each book, always concluding the

discussion by declaring that critical study of the book has

reached an impasse because of its failure to consider the book

from a canonical perspective. Second, he gives his own

analysis of the book's canonical shaping. Finally, he lists the

theological and hermeneutical implications of the canonical

approach to the section in question.

            Childs has published three more volumes since the

Introduction that will be only briefly touched on here, though

material from these works will be used in the next section to

show how Childs interacts with his critics. The first was the

New Testament Canon: An Introduction,35 the counterpart to

his Old Testament Introduction, and quite a venture for an Old

Testament scholar. The second was Old Testament Theology in

a Canonical Context,36 in which Childs further developed the

hermeneutical and theological implications of his canonical

approach. Finally, and just recently, he published what may be

considered his magnum opus, his Biblical Theology of the

Old and New Testaments: A Theological Reflection on the


            35Brevard S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An

Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984).

            36Brevard S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical

Context (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986).



Christian Bible.37 It is only in this last volume that Childs

has, in my opinion, returned in a consistent manner to his

original program of doing exegesis and biblical theology in

the canonical context of the Christian church:

            Biblical theology has as its proper context the canonical

            scriptures of the Christian church, not because only this

            literature influenced its history, but because of the peculiar

            reception of this corpus by a community of faith and practice.

            The Christian church responded to this literature as the

            authoritative word of God, and it remains existentially

            committed to an inquiry into its inner unity because of its

            confession of the one gospel of Jesus Christ which it proclaims

            to the world.38

            There are many elements and nuances to Childs's approach

which cannot be sufficiently explored in this brief

description. But many of them will be encountered in the

discussion of objections by Childs's critics.


                Objections to Childs's Canonical Approach

            Childs's canonical approach has come under intense scrutiny in

book reviews, articles, symposiums, whole journal issues,

books, and dissertations. In this section I will look at the

objections that are most relevant to my own appropriation of,

and yet distanciation from, Childs's approach. The objections

will be grouped under ten broad headings.


            37Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New

Testaments: A Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible

(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).

            38Ibid., 8.



                     1. The Question of Methodology

            The problem raised by critics and reviewers here takes three

different, though non-exclusive, forms: (1) Childs has not

given a clearly explained methodology for his program of

canonical analysis, (2) the program is really nothing more than

an extension of redaction and/or form criticism, and (3) even if

there is a difference between canonical analysis and redaction

criticism, Childs has failed to show how the canonical shaping

of a book can be distinguished from the redactional shaping.

            First, Childs has been faulted for lack of methodological

clarity. This has been expressed understatedly in a recent

volume by Mark Brett: "Childs's methodological statements

were often not, however, as clear as one would wish."39 More

forcefully, Donn Morgan states, not just regarding Childs, but

Sanders as well, that "despite numerous publications and the

intense debate over canon, there is little if any methodological

clarity concerning how one is to study the Bible



            39Mark G. Brett, Biblical Criticism in Crisis?: The Impact of

the Canonical Approach on Old Testament Studies

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 3.

            40Donn F. Morgan, "Canon or Criticism: Method or

Madness?" ATR 68 (1986): 84. See also, John J. Collins, "Is a

Critical Biblical Theology Possible?" in The Hebrew Bible and

Its Interpreters, ed. William Henry Propp, Baruch Halpern, and

David Noel Freedman, BJS 1 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns,

1990), 6; Robert P. Carroll, review of Introduction to the Old

Testament, by Brevard S. Childs, SJT 33 (1980): 290.



            Second, the canonical approach has been branded as

nothing more than an extension of form and redaction

criticism. Some of the following statements will show the

confusion in this area:

            Redaction criticism when applied within Old Testament studies

            has been variously designated but most often referred to as

            "canonical criticism" or "canonical analysis."41

            Most of what Childs calls "shaping" the literature into its final

            form is essentially what has long gone under the name of redactional.42

            Could it not, however, count as redaction criticism and thus as

            an extension of existing historical methods?43

            Childs has claimed too much and thus far demonstrated too

            little. It is possible to call [?] the approach no more than the

            giving of a new name to traditioning and redaction and then

            surrounding this process with mystery and certain abstract

            theological statements.44

            However, despite his own, probably unguarded, statement:

"In one sense, I have simply extended the insights of the form

critical method,"45 Childs rejects the simple equation of his

canonical approach with form or redaction criticism:


            41John H. Hayes and Carl L. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A

Beginner's Handbook (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), 101.

            42Douglas A. Knight, "Canon and the History of Tradition: A

Critique of Brevard S. Childs' Introduction to the Old

Testament as Scripture," HBT 2 (1980): 136.

            43James Barr, "Childs' Introduction to the Old Testament as

Scripture," JSOT 16 (1980): 12.

            44Walter Harrelson, review of Introduction to the Old

Testament as Scripture, by Brevard S. Childs, JBL 100 (1981):


            45Brevard S. Childs, "Response to Reviewers of Introduction

to the OT as Scripture," JSOT 16 (1980): 52.



            How does the canonical process relate to the redactional

            history of a book? The method of redactional criticism seeks to

            discern from the peculiar shape of the biblical signs of

            intentional reinterpretation of the material which can be related

            to an editor's particular historically conditioned perspective. A

            canonical method also makes use of the peculiar shape of the

            literature, often in direct dependence upon redactional analysis.

            However, the models by which the seams in the literature are

            interpreted differ markedly. Canonical analysis focuses its

            attention on the effect which the different layers have had on

            the final form of the text, rather than using the text as a source

            for other information obtained by means of an oblique reading,

            such as the editor's self-understanding. A major warrant for this

            approach is found within the biblical tradition itself. The tradents

            have consistently sought to hide their own footprints in order to

            focus attention on the canonical text itself rather than the process.46


            I have often made use of redactional criticism in studying the

            seams within the literature, but I have drawn such different

            implications from my analysis that I would distinguish my

            approach from that usually understood by that method. . . .

            Because the shapers of the material usually hid their identity,

            ascribing it no theological value, I do not feel that the main

            focus of critical research should lie in pursuing the redactors'

            motivations and biases. Rather, the emphasis should fall on the

            effect which the layering of tradition has had on the reworked

            text because of its objective status.47

            It seems here that Childs, for all his desire to

distance what he does from redaction criticism, still ends up

saying that the only difference is the goal of the analysis

and the implications to be drawn as a result.48 The goal is to


            46Childs, "The Exegetical Significance of Canon," 68.

            47Childs, "Response to Reviewers," 53-54.

            48In an earlier article ("The Old Testament as Scripture of

the Church," CTM 43 [1972]: 720), Childs even says that "the

canonical redaction shaped the tradition in order to serve as

Scripture for the use of later Israel" (emphasis mine).



understand the final text as opposed to the mind of the final

redactor. The implications are hermeneutical and theological

implications, as opposed to psychological ones that result from

probing into the "editor's self-understanding." If that is the

case, why not just admit that canonical analysis has no

methodology, but is simply a stance from which to interpret the

results of all the other critical methodologies? Childs comes

very close to doing just that. It will be remembered from a

quotation cited previously that Childs himself refuses to

consider the canonical approach a "critical technique which can

take its place alongside" the other critical methods, but

considers it rather to be a "stance from which the Bible can be

read as sacred scripture."49 There are, however, as I see it, two

major problems with Childs's attempted distinction.

            The first problem relates most closely to the third line of

criticism in regard to the methodology, that Childs has not been

able to show how a canonical shaping is any different than a

redactional shaping. In a 1977 article Childs listed what he

considered to be evidences of canonical shaping. He listed six:

            1.  A collection of material has been detached from its original

            historical mooring and provided with a secondary, theological


            2.  The original historical setting of a tradition has been

            retained, but it has been placed within a framework which

            provided the material with an interpretative guideline.


            49Childs, Introduction, 82.



            3.  A body of material has been edited in the light of a larger

            body of canonical literature.

            4.  An original historical sequence of a prophet's message was

            subordinated to a new theological function by means of a

            radically theocentric focus in the canonical ordering of a book.

            5.  The shaping process altered the semantic level on which a

            passage originally functioned by assigning it a lessthan-literal

            role within the canonical context.

            6.  Prophetic proclamation has been given a radically new

            eschatological interpretation by shifting the referent within the

            original oracles.50

            The problem with all of these is that it is hard to see

from any of the examples how the suggested canonical shaping

is any different from a redactional shaping. Morgan asks the question:

            What are the methodological guidelines for locating and

            isolating these canonical signs? It is precisely here that

            canonical study is dependent upon other critical

            methodologies. To the extent that these signs are to be found in

            the peculiar juxtaposition of sources and oracles, the method of

            redaction criticism is crucial in their identification. To the

            extent that these signs are to be found in the overall structure of

            books or sources, the study is really form criticism writ large.

            Each of these traditional methods does have guidelines or

            procedures that must be used if canonical analysis is to have

            any precision. At this point the distinction between canonical

            study and other methods is very difficult to define and maintain.51


            50Childs, "The Exegetical Significance of Canon," 70-75.

            51Donn F. Morgan, "Canon and Criticism," 89-90. See also,

James Barr, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism

(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 139-40, 146; George M.

Landes, "The Canonical Approach to Introducing the Old

Testament: Prodigy and Problems," JSOT 16 (1980): 38;

Roland E. Murphy, "The Old Testament as Scripture," JSOT

16 (1980): 41. Cf. the criticism of J. Clinton McCann ("Psalm

73: An Interpretation Emphasizing Rhetorical and Canonical Criticism"

[Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1985], 254): "If Childs would recognize

the distinction between the literary-historical reading of a text and



            However, the second problem, and for me, the more serious

of the two, is that Childs seems to be caught in the very trap

which he himself had chided the majority of commentators for

getting caught. If in fact, canonical analysis is dependent upon

historical, tradition, form, and redaction criticisms for its data,

then it seems that Childs has, to use his own words against

him, tried "to build a bridge from the neutral, descriptive

content to the theological reality."52 He has, in essence, made

the theological stance of his canonical approach dependent

upon critical methodologies and redaction criticism, in


                     2. The Question of Definition

            The second problem focused on by critics is that of Childs's

very definition of canon. As we noted earlier, he did not

actually give a complete definition of canon in his

Introduction, but he has done so in other places.

            I am using the term "canon" to refer to that historical process

            within ancient Israel--particularly in the post-exilic period--

            which entailed a collecting, selecting, and ordering of texts to

            serve a normative function as Sacred Scripture within the

            continuing religious community. In


the theological evaluation of a text, he could then admit that his

canonical approach in practice is virtually identical to the

application of redaction criticism to whole biblical books." For

defenders of Childs's distinction between redactional and

canonical analysis, see Mark G. Brett, Biblical Criticism in

Crisis? 3; Charles J. Scalise, "Canonical Hermeneutics: The

Theological Basis of Implications of the Thought of Brevard S.

Childs" (Ph.D. diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,

1987), 47-48; Rudolf Smend, "Questions About the Importance

of Canon in an Old Testament Introduction," JSOT 16 (1980): 46.

                52Childs, "Interpretation in Faith," 438.



            the transmission process, traditions which once arose in a

            particular milieu and were addressed to various historical

            situations were shaped in such a way as to serve as a normative

            expression of God's will to later generations of Israel who had

            not shared in those original historical events.53

            I am including under the term not only the final stages of

            setting limits on the scope of the sacred writings-canonization

            proper--but also that process by which authoritative tradition

            was collected, ordered, and transmitted in such a way as to

            enable it to function as sacred scripture for a community of

            faith and practice.54

            One would have thought, if the term "canon" itself did

not actually appear in the first citation, that these were

definitions of "canonization," not "canon." And, in a way,

this would be correct.55 Then why does Childs come under

such intense criticism for focusing only on the final form of the

text? It would seem entirely unjustified from these two

citations. The problem is that this "historical process"

whereby the "authoritative tradition was collected, ordered,

and transmitted" is almost totally unrecoverable. After a

section in the Introduction in which he tells what he knows of

this process, Childs then summarizes:

            First of all, it should be incontrovertible that there was a

            genuine historical development involved in the formation of

            the canon and that any concept of canon which fails to reckon

            with this historical dimension is faulty.


            53Childs, "The Exegetical Significance of Canon," 67.

            54Childs, The New Testament as Canon, 25.

            55Note Douglas Knight's ("Canon and the History of

Tradition," 138) statement and question: "From this it is

apparent that Childs is operating with a broad view of canon,

broad in terms of historical scope, nature of literary activity,

and theological interpretation. The question is whether it in fact

embraces so much that it loses its meaning."



            Secondly, the available historical evidence allows

            for only a bare skeleton of this development. One searches

            largely in vain for solid biblical or extra-biblical

            evidence by which to trace the real causes and motivations

            behind many of the crucial decisions.

            . . . the Jewish canon was formed through a complex

            historical process which is largely inaccessible to critical

            reconstruction. The history of the canonical process does not

            seem to be an avenue through which one can greatly illuminate

            the present canonical text. Not only is the evidence far too

            skeletal, but the sources seem to conceal the very kind of

            information which would allow a historian easy access into the

            material by means of uncovering the process.56

            The upshot of all this is that even though Childs defines canon

so broadly so as to take in what is normally thought of as

"canonization" rather than canon, he ends up focusing on the

final form of the text because it, rather than any historical

reconstruction of the canonization process, is the only thing we

have which actually bears the stamp of that process.57

However, if that is the case, then why does Childs feel the

necessity to define canon so broadly? The answer may be

found in several different places, but perhaps the most

illuminating one is where Childs interacts with James Barr's

criticisms of his definition of canon.

            Barr, in his book Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism,

accuses Childs of operating with three different definitions of

canon which Barr labels "canon 1, canon 2 and


            56Childs, Introduction, 68.

            57Cf. on this point Bonnie Kittel, "Brevard Childs'

Development of the Canonical Approach," JSOT 16 (1980): 3.



canon 3."58 Canon 1 is what we usually think of by canon,

"the list of works which together comprise holy scripture."

Canon 2 "is the final form, the so-called `canonical form', of a

book, an individual book, as it stands in the Bible." "Canon 3 is

more, a perspective, a way of looking at texts, a perception for

which the term `holistic' is often used."59 And then, at the

height of his satire, Barr states, "Canon 3 is not a canon in any

ordinary sense of the word, it is rather the principle of

attraction, value, and satisfaction that makes everything about

canons and canonicity beautiful."60 Childs, in response to

another article where Barr had reviewed his Introduction,61

had criticized Barr and others and said that "some of the

misunderstanding of parts of my book stem from replacing my

broad use of the term with such a narrower, traditional usage,

and thus missing the force of the argument."62 Now, in this

book, Barr answers the charge and says:

            But when one shows that canon 1, though a factual reality, is

            not as dominant in scripture as it has seemed, one is told that

            this results from failure to see the new and wider sense of

            "canon". In other words, at this point


            58Barr, Holy Scripture, 75.

            59Ibid., 75-76.

            60Ibid., 76-77.

            61James Barr, "Childs' Introduction to the Old Testament as

Scripture," JSOT 16 (1980): 12-23.

            62Childs, "Response to Reviewers," 53.



            canonical criticism depends upon systematic confusion in

            the use of its favorite word, "canon".63

And again,

            Words are no longer to be used in a sense which could provide

            a common platform with agreed values for contrary views.

            Rather, they are redefined so that their "new" meanings lead

            inevitably to the conclusion that canonical criticism is right. As

            Childs says, "some of the misunderstanding of parts of my

            book stem from replacing my broad use of the term [canon]

            with a much narrower, traditional usage, and thus missing the

            force of the argument". But the new "broad" use of the term

            has a very simple value: its meaning is identical with the

            proposition "Childs is right". If, however, one considers that

            the new broad usage of the term is a result of confusion in

            Childs's thinking, then of course one cannot express oneself

            properly in that new broad usage. In other words, the "new"

            terminology is a terminology which will lead inevitably to the

            solutions preferred by canonical criticism and will make equal

            and level discussions with other positions difficult. Thus terminology is

            no accidental factor in the question. The endless repetition of the word

            "canon" in canonical criticism is not accident, but necessity: for, as seen

            from without, the continual reuse of this word is necessary in order to hold

            together sets of arguments which otherwise would fall apart.64

            Now, it is in his response to this attack by Barr that

one can see why it is that, while Childs focuses on the final

form of the text, he still wants to hold on to such a broad

definition of canon that encompasses the historical

canonization process as well. First, he says, somewhat

surprisingly, "Indeed, what I am proposing can be described


            63Barr, Holy Scripture, 79.

            64Ibid., 146-47. See the criticisms of Barr's

"misunderstanding" of Childs in Gerald T. Sheppard, "Barr on

Canon and Childs: Can one Read the Bible as Scripture?"

Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin 7/2 (1983): 2-4;

James A. Sanders, review of Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority,

Criticism, by James Barr, in JBL 104 (1985): 501-2.



without immediate reference to the term ‘canon.’"65 But then,

seemingly self-contradictingly, he goes on to tell why he

defines canon so broadly and why retention of the term is so


            I use the term "canon" for this entire theological construal to

            avoid the pitfalls of Protestant orthodoxy when it spoke of the

            authority of Scripture. Such authority could be understood as

            lying in the mind of God without regard for its human

            reception. I chose the term "canon" because it includes both the

            concepts of authority and reception in order to express the

            process and effect of this transmitting of religious tradition by

            a community of faith toward a certain end in all its various aspects.

            I feel that it is important to retain the term "canon" to

            emphasize that the process of religious interpretation by a

            historical faith community left its mark on a literary text which

            did not continue to evolve and which became the normative

            interpretation of those events to which it bore witness.66

            In other words, Childs focuses on the final form of the

text because the historical processes which shaped the text

are recoverable only through that same text. But he defines

the term "canon" broadly to include those historical processes

to keep his canonical analysis from lapsing into "Protestant

orthodoxy," or, even worse, fundamentalism. Some of Barr's

criticisms are unjust, but it is hard to keep from concluding

that what Childs does is close to running a semantic


            65Brevard S. Childs, "Childs Versus Barr," review of Holy

Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism, by James Barr, in Int

38 (1984): 67.

            66Ibid., 68. Cf. a similar statement in The New Testament as

Canon (p. 26): "I use the term canon for this entire theological

construal to avoid the error of traditional Protestant orthodoxy

(cf. H. Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 22) when it spoke of the

authority of scripture as lying in the mind of God without

regard for its human reception (autopistos)."



theological shell game. If the customer is a historical critic, he

lifts up one shell and shows that the peanut (the canon) was

really under the final form of the text. If the customer is an

evangelical and points to that same shell, Childs lifts up

another one instead and says that the peanut is really under the

historical, canonization process, though he has to admit that the

process has left no evidence whatsoever except that which is

under the shell which the evangelical pointed to in the first


                       3. The Question of Focus

            The previous discussion leads us to an investigation of Childs's

fixation on the final form of the text. The criticism here is

twofold: (1) that to focus on the final form is to suppress the

very historical and sociological concerns with which the texts

themselves are marked, and (2) that earlier levels of the text

should be regarded as having theological value as well. I will

present both arguments first and then show Childs's responses

to them.

            Bruce Birch has well expressed the first concern:

            Was the biblical community unaware of the process of tradition

            development in shaping the canon? Have not levels of the pre-

            history of some texts been intentionally preserved so that an

            interaction of those levels is a part of the intended meaning of a

            book? Will not recovery of the historical context of those

            levels be necessary in order to apprehend the full range of the

            intended canonical dialogue?67


            67Bruce C. Birch, "Tradition, Canon and Biblical Theology,"

HBT 2 (1980): 122.



In other words, it would seem that if the canon itself

recognized the value of earlier levels of the text, we should

do the same, and there should be theological repayment for the

critical work expended in identifying these layers.

            The second concern has been most cogently formulated, I

believe, by Erhard Gerstenberger:

            Looking at the long chain of transmission and tradents of text

            and meaning, I cannot help but think that each station where a

            text incorporated itself, from the beginning to the present day,

            is worth serious consideration. It is difficult to imagine that any

            particular time or interpretation acquired or set forth a-or "the"-

            -normative meaning. Why is that so?

            Each historical situation has its own dignity and importance

            which may not be used one against the other. Speaking in

            traditional theological terms we may put it this way: God

            addresses humanity, taking its situation with utmost

            seriousness, no matter how humble and restricted the

            addressee's life might be. In fact, according to the Bible, God

            prefers the lowly situation of his weak and lost partners.

            Consequently, there certainly are no situations of power and glory

            to be singled out as guidelines for the interpretation of others.68

In other words, it is not just arbitrarily wrong to take one

point in the history of the canon's formation and make it

theologically normative, but it is theologically wrong as

well: given the Lord's preference for the powerless, it could

be considered anti-theological to regard the decisions of a

group powerful enough to make and impose canonical decisions,


            68Erhard S. Gerstenberger, "Canon Criticism and the Meaning

of Sitz im Leben," in Canon, Theology and Old Testament Interpretation: Essays in

Honor of Brevard S. Childs, ed. Gene  M. Tucker, David L. Petersen, and Robert

R. Wilson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 22; see also, Robert P. Carroll, "Canonical

Criticism: A Recent Trend in Biblical Studies," ExpTim 92 (1980): 76.



as valid for all time. I believe Gerstenberger has overstated his

case, but he does present a compelling argument against

freezing one canonical moment and making it theologically


            Childs's reply to each of these two criticisms would be to

affirm the premise but to deny the implication. Yes, earlier

textual layers and levels do have theological value, and, yes,

the canon bears the marks of these earlier layers as well as the

historical and sociological concerns which shaped them.

However, the canon must be given its full critical function in

its assessment of that theological value. The canon itself

informs us of theological lessons that may be gleaned from

earlier layers of the text. However, the canon's function is not

paradigmatic in this regard. The canon is not an example for us

to follow. Our redactional, form-critical, tradition-historical,

and sociological analyses and reconstructions of earlier layers

and contexts are not allowed to claim theological

normativity.70 The canon performs that


            69On this point see also, James L. Mays, "What is Written: A

Response to Brevard S. Childs' Introduction to the Old

Testament as Scripture," HBT 2 (1980): 161; Sean E.

McEvenue, "The Old Testament, Scripture or Theology?" Int

35 (1981): 233.

            70In this light it is interesting to note the perceptive comment

by Sean McEvenue (review of Introduction to the Old

Testament as Scripture, by Brevard S. Childs, in CBQ 42

[1980]: 535), regarding the sections labeled "Historical Critical

Problems" in Childs's Introduction: "These sections are done

with grace, erudition, and brilliance. However, as C. [Childs]

usually takes no position regarding these differences, an

impression is created that either no conclusion can be arrived at

in these matters or that the conclusion would make little




function uniquely, for it alone, and not our reconstructions,

constitutes the vehicle for revelation.71

                  4. The Question of Intentionality

What does the canon mean? Or does it intend to mean

anything? And where does its meaning reside? Is it in the

mind of the authors? the redactors? the canonizers? God? Or

can a text have an intentionality all its own apart from any

intentionality that may have been in the minds of the authors,

redactors, or canonizers? These are the questions that have

been put to Childs's canonical approach over the question of

meaning and intentionality.72

            An excerpt from the Introduction will show how Childs

has engendered these questions:

            But irrespective of intentionality the effect of the

            canonical process was to render the tradition accessible

            to the future generation by means of a "canonical

            intentionality", which is coextensive with the meaning of

            the biblical text.73


            71See the citations from Childs earlier in this chapter. Note

also Brett's comment: "Childs's solution is roughly this; if

historical reconstruction (whether emic or etic) is too

hypothetical, then a type of exegesis is needed that makes such

reconstruction largely irrelevant. Such an exegesis will be

focused on the `canonical shape' of the Masoretic text"

(Biblical Criticism in Crisis? 62). Childs himself ("Response to

Reviewers," 53-54) says, "Still I do not rule out of court the

need for investigating the historical influence on the canonical

shapers to the extent that they can be determined.

Unfortunately, we know so little about their work that many

theories have been exceedingly speculative and largely

unproductive up to now."

            72See    Dale A. Brueggemann, "Brevard Childs' Canon

Criticism: An Example of a Post-Critical Naivete," JETS 32

(1989): 314.

            73Childs, Introduction, 79.



It is almost as if Childs is saying, "whether or not there is

an intentionality, there is an intentionality." Barton

rightly characterizes Childs's move:

            "Canonical intentionality" seems to be used here with a deliberate

            air of paradox. Childs is saying in effect: if we cannot conceive

            of meaning without invoking "intention", we shall have to speak

            as though the canon itself did the intending! In fact, for him, meaning

            is not a matter of intention at all, but is a function of the relationship

            of a given text to other texts in the canon.74

            Childs's handling of a text-critical problem in 1 Sam

1:24 will show how he assigns the canon an intention apart

from any author or redactor. Childs admits that a case of

haplography has resulted in the difficult reading, wĕhanna ar

na’ar ("the boy was a boy"); moreover, what is apparently the

correct reading, without the haplography, is preserved in a

Qumran manuscript and in the Septuagint. Then he tells how

the canonical approach would handle the problem:

            It would attempt to assess the range of interpretation possible

            for this mutilated MT text, both in terms of its syntactical

            options . . . and its secondary vocalization. Within the

            parameters of a canonical corpus the method seeks to

            determine how the meaning of a given passage, even if

            damaged, was influenced by its relation to other canonical

            passages. The obvious gain in such an approach is that the

            continuity with the entire history of exegesis is maintained.

            Moreover, the means for its critical evaluation is provided

            rather than arbitrarily setting up an individualistic reading

            which never had an effect upon any historical community.75


            74John Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical

Study (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), 224 n. 12.

            75Childs, Introduction, 105 (emphasis mine). See Ralph W.

Klein's criticism of Childs's approach on this text (review of

Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, by Brevard S.

Childs, in CurTM 7 [1980]: 58-59).



            An interchange between David Polk and Childs over the

problem raised by such an approach is very illustrative. Polk


            Central to Childs' position is the understanding that the final

            edited form of the canonical text is always somehow

            intentional. . . . Never is the resultant product allowed to be

            regarded as an accident of transmission or the uncritical

            solidifying of botched editing. . . .

            My point of contention is that Childs considers himself

            required to treat possible aberrations in the final forms of the

            text as conscious and motivated because of a theological stance

            that proclaims the canon unreservedly to be intentional in its


But Polk makes this charge as if Childs were suggesting that

even obvious textual errors were always intentional on the part

of some redactor. This is exactly what Childs is not saying. He

admits that there are accidents in the text: "Certainly in the

process of the literature's literary and canonical shaping

accidental factors entered in. This observation seems to me to

be undeniable."77 What he is saying, however, is this:

"Nevertheless, a special level of intentionality was assigned to

the literature as a whole by virtue of its accepted role as


            Of course, the question to be asked at this point is restated by

Childs himself and then answered: "Frequently the


            76David K. Polk, "Brevard Childs' Introduction to the Old

Testament as Scripture," HBT 2 (1980): 167-68.

            77Childs, "A Response," 206.

            78Ibid., 206-7.



response is made: why should the modern Christian church be

tied to the errors of the canonical editors?"

            However, I have sought to defend the position that to interpret

            the O.T. as Scripture has its own integrity which is of a different order.

            It is constitutive of having a canon of Sacred Scripture that the

            theological "data" on which the Church's identity is grounded does

            not lie in the events themselves, or in the text itself, but in the

            canonical text which has interpreted the events and which

            receives its meaning in the context of a community of faith.79

Again, we see here, the importance of the community as context

for the canon. Barton's observation that meaning for Childs

resides in the relationship of a text to other texts, is only

partially correct. Rather, a text has meaning because it has

been assigned a place in the canon which has both, been shaped

by, and shaped, the community of faith for whom the canon

serves as theologically normative.80

            Unaddressed here, and reserved for another section in

this chapter, is the theological problem that is raised by


            79Ibid., 207.

            80I believe Brett recognizes this correctly: "Can we, for

example, make any sense of the idea that communicative

intentions can be attributed to texts, rather than to human

agents, or is this, as Barr and Oeming suggest, just a ‘mystic’

anthropomorphism? And how does the idea of textual intention

relate to Childs's claim about the intentions of the actual

biblical editors? First we should stress that the idea of

canonical intentionality is one implication of Childs's view that

the Old Testament is the product of a long communal process

of reception. He explicitly opposes the `modern' idea of books

produced by individual authors with the Old Testament books

which are `traditional, communal, and developing' (1979: 574;

cf. 223, 236). In this sense, the idea of canonical intentionality

is simply a new way of expressing the long familiar idea that

Old Testament texts are more often a deposit of tradition than

the product of individual authorship" (Biblical Criticism in

Crisis? 116-17).



allocating intentionality to the canonical text in its

community context, rather than to authors, and in particular,

the divine author, when it is claimed that the canon is the

vehicle of revelation.81

              5. The Question of Canonical Plurality

            The concern here is over Childs's insistence on the

Masoretic Text as the final canonical form for the text of the

Old Testament, in light of the plurality of canons that

existed in ancient Israel, in particular, the Septuagint.

Childs himself notes the problem:

            Why should the Christian church be committed in any way to

            the authority of the Masoretic text when its development

            extended long after the inception of the church and was carried

            on within a rabbinic tradition.82

            Childs has several reasons for his choice of the

Masoretic Text. First there is a practical one: "In order to

maintain a common scripture with Judaism I have argued that


            81For other criticisms of Childs's focus on the final form of the

text see the following reviews of Childs's Introduction:

Bernhard W. Anderson, TToday 37 (1980): 104; Carroll, SJT

33 (1980): 288; Thomas E. McComiskey, Trinity Journal n.s. 1

(1980): 91; Donn F. Morgan, ATR 64 (1982): 388; Barr, JSOT

16 (1980): 12-13. Also, see Barr, Holy Scripture, 161-62; D. Knight, "Canon

and the History of Tradition," 140-41; McEvenue, "The Old

Testament, Scripture or Theology?" 237; Murphy, "The Old

Testament as Scripture," 41-43; Bruce K. Waltke, "Oral

Tradition," in Inerrancy and Hermeneutic: A Tradition, A

Challenge, A Debate, ed. Harvie M. Conn (Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1988), 119.

            82Childs, Introduction, 89.



the scope of the Hebrew canon has also a normative role for

the Christian Old Testament."83 He states that he

            would not disparage the claims of those Christians who would

            follow Augustine in supporting a larger canon. However, the

            basic theological issue for its inclusion turns on the ability to

            maintain the crucial relationship between Christian and Jew.

            Up to now at least I have not seen this canonical argument for

            the inclusion of a larger canon developed.84

While I respect Childs's right to refer to this as a

"theological issue," it seems to me to be much more

pragmatically oriented.

            Second, there are historical reasons. Childs argues

that while the Masoretic Text was stabilized by the end of the

first century AD, "The Greek Old Testament continued to

remain fluid and obtained its stability only in dependence upon the

Hebrew."85 Also, of all the Jewish communities that had other

possible canons, it is only the one that had the Masoretic

Text that "has continued through history as the living vehicle

of the whole canon of Hebrew scripture."86 Furthermore, only


            83Ibid., 666; see also his Old Testament Theology (p. 10):

"One of the main reasons for the Christian use of the Hebrew

text of the Old Testament rather than its Greek form lies in the

theological concern to preserve this common textual bond

between Jews and Christians."

            84Childs, Introduction, 666. Though I have not seen this

particular argument in the scholarly literature, I suppose

Catholics could well inquire at this point as to why Childs is so

concerned to use the canon to maintain a "crucial relationship"

with the Jews, when it would seem, in the light of maintaining

Christian unity, he should be more willing to do so with


            85Ibid., 97.




this Jewish community "was the tradent of the oral tradition

of the vocalization of the Hebrew Bible."87

            Finally, there are reasons that I would refer to as more

theological or traditionally apologetic in nature. Childs

almost sounds like a conservative apologist in the following

excerpt from his most recent Biblical Theology:

            From the evidence of the New Testament it seems clear that

            Jesus and the early Christians identified with the scriptures of

            Pharisaic Judaism. The early controversies with the Jews

            reflected in the New Testament turned on the proper

            interpretation of the sacred scriptures (hē graphē) which

            Christians assumed in common with the synagogue. Although

            there is evidence that other books were known and used, it is a

            striking fact that the New Testament does not cite as scripture

            any book of the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha. (The reference

            to Enoch in Jude 14-15 is not an exception.)88

Also, Childs maintains that early Christian use of the Greek

Septuagint as opposed to the Hebrew Bible, was culturally and

not doctrinally motivated:

            The church's use of the Greek and Latin translations of the Old

            Testament was valid in its historical context, but theologically

            provides no ground for calling into question the ultimate

            authority of the Hebrew text for church and


            If there has been any response to Childs from A. C.

Sundberg in the scholarly literature I am unaware of it.

However, most of Childs's critics in this matter of focusing

on the Masoretic Text as opposed to the Septuagint have been


            87Ibid., 98.

            88Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, 62.

            89Childs, Introduction, 99.



much influenced by Sundberg's work. In his doctoral

dissertation Sundberg effectively destroyed the Alexandrian

canon hypothesis and laid claim that the larger Septuagint

canon should hold normative authority for the Christian church

rather than the narrower Jewish canon.90 In a subsequent

article he presents his case that Protestants (like Jerome a

millennium earlier) had wrongly looked to the synagogue

rather than to the early church for its authority, and should return

to the place from whence they came and embrace the larger


            Thus Protestant Christianity, in maintaining its practice of

            limiting its Old Testament to the Jewish canon, controverts the

            teaching of the New Testament scriptures that the Spirit of God

            is to be found in the church. It is evident that both in content

            and doctrine, Protestantism, in its view of Old Testament

            canon, has broken away from its spiritual heritage.91

            Most of Childs's critics in this matter have at least

partially sided with Sundberg. This is one of Sanders's major

points of criticism of Childs:

            He focuses almost exclusively, in his work on canon, on the

            final form of the text. To do that, he has to choose one text, and

            he has chosen the Massoretic Text. That is already an immense

            problem for me. It is to read back into canonical history a post-

            Christian, very rabbinic form of the text. By "very rabbinic" I

            mean a text unrelated to the Christian communities until

            comparatively late. . . . Focus on the MT leaves the NT, whose


            90A. C. Sundberg, Jr., The Old Testament of the Early

Church, HTS 20 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964;

repr., New York: Kraus Reprint, 1969).

            91A. C. Sundberg, Jr., "The Bible Canon and the Christian

Doctrine of Inspiration," Int 29 (1975): 358.



            Scripture was the Septuagint, out in the cold for the most


            Brett points out that Childs's insistence on the

Masoretic Text is almost ironic:

            It begins to look as if the golden thread of continuous usage

            passed into Judaism rather than into early and medieval

            Christianity, a strange turn of events for a library of books

            earlier described as Christian scripture.93

And Carroll suggests that adoption of the Septuagint would

actually be more advantageous for Childs:

            The differences between these two Old Testament canons are

            often substantial and in many cases it is the Greek canon which

            carries the more explicit Christian element (e.g., order of

            books) and is already part of that hermeneutic transformation

            which elsewhere Childs wishes to incorporate into his motif of

            canonical exegesis.94

            My own interaction with this question will come in

chapters 5-6.95


            92James A. Sanders, "Canonical Context and Canonical

Criticism," HBT 2 (1980): 186-87.

            93Brett, Biblical Criticism in Crisis? 65.

            94Robert P. Carroll, "Childs and Canon," IBS 2 (1980): 229.

            95For other critics of Childs on this point see Barton, Reading

the Old Testament, 91-92; H. L. Bosman, "The Validity of

Biblical Theology: Historical Description or Hermeneutical

`Childs' Play?" Old Testament Essays n.s. 3 (1990): 143; H.

Cazelles, "The Canonical Approach to Torah and Prophets,"

JSOT 16 (180): 29; D. Morgan, "Canon and Criticism," 87;

Scalise, "Canonical Hermeneutics," 201. Also see the

illuminating discussion in John Goldingay, Approaches to Old

Testament Interpretation, rev. ed. (Downers Grove:

InterVarsity, 1990), 138-45.



                       6. The Question of Emphasis


Even among those who basically appreciate his work and agree

that the Bible should be read from a canonical perspective,

there is criticism that Childs has overemphasized the approach.

This criticism runs along four basic lines: (1) Childs has

overemphasized the value of the whole canon, (2) he has

overemphasized the structure of canon, (3) what he has

proposed is not really new, and (4) his results, to use the actual

words of reviewers, are "monotonous," "bland," "trivial," and


            Knight's main criticism of Childs runs along the first of these


            In a word, our argument will be that Childs, like Gunkel

            and von Rad before him, has identified for serious study a

            largely neglected phase in the development of the biblical

            literature but that, also like them, he is overemphasizing the

            relative importance of this phase.96

            Brett, also, feels that Childs's approach, "suitably clarified,

should become one approach to the Bible among others,"97

and argues that

            the first problem with the canonical approach is its totalitarian

            tendency; Childs has sometimes argued as if everyone should

            become interpreters after his own image. At other times he

            envisions a more pluralist situation for biblical studies. The

            argument of this chapter is that the second Childs is to be



            96Knight, "Canon and the History of Tradition," 130; see

also Murphy, "The Old Testament as Scripture," 44.

            97Brett, Biblical Criticism in Crisis? 5.

            98Ibid., 11.



It is important to note here that Childs would somewhat accept

this criticism; however, Childs has never suggested that his

approach is the only way to read the Bible. What he has done is

posit that the canonical approach is the only approach that

reads the Bible in accord with the Bible's own ontological

nature: Scripture of the community of faith.

            The second line of critique, that Childs has overemphasized

the structure of the canon, is best represented by McEvenue:

            The canon's structure is meaningful in some ways, but it is not

            in others. There is a meaningful criterion of time in the

            organization of materials, beginning with Genesis and ending

            with the Apocalypse. There may be meaning in putting the

            Pentateuch at the head of the Old Testament and the Gospels at

            the head of the New Testament. There may even be meaning in

            the lack of an attempt to organize materials in an order which

            corresponds to date of authorship. I will agree that there is

            some structure and some meaning to the canon as a whole.

            But still, for the most part, the canon is no more than an

            anthology of inspired books, linked for the most part without

            altering the meaning of the individual books.99

I believe this criticism is somewhat unfair. While Childs has

paid a great deal of attention to the canonical ordering of

pericopes within individual books, to my knowledge he has

paid little attention to the ordering of the books as a whole.100

In fact in his most recent work, while granting that there was

some theological meaning in the way the Christian Old

Testament was arranged differently from the Hebrew Bible, he


            99McEvenue, "The Old Testament, Scripture or Theology?"

23839; see also Sanders, "Canonical Context," 185.

            100Noted also by Brett (Biblical Criticism in Crisis? 19).



specifically states that "caution is in order not to overestimate

the conscious theological intentionality of these changes . . ."101

In fact, he says that "a most striking feature in the

juxtaposition of the two testaments is actually the lack of

Christian redactional activity on the Old Testament."102

Furthermore, he says that

            it is historically inaccurate to assume that the present printed

            forms of the Hebrew Bible and of the Christian Bible represent

            ancient and completely fixed traditions. Actually the present

            stability regarding the ordering of the books is to a great extent

            dependent on modern printing techniques and carries no

            significant theological weight.103

            The third charge, that Childs is not really doing anything new,

comes from several fronts. From those who are inerrantists, the

reply to Childs is that they have always read the Bible

canonically.104 From the more liberal wing, the charge comes,

in particular from Barr, that the very Biblical Theology

movement against which Childs set his program in opposition,

was, in fact, "very much a canonical movement even


            101Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments,


            102Ibid., 76.

            103Ibid., 74.

            104See Brian Labosier, "Matthew's Exception Clause in the

Light of Canonical Criticism: A Case Study in Hermeneutics"

(Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990), 12;

Eugene H. Merrill, review of Canon and Community: A Guide to

Canonical Criticism, by James A. Sanders, in BSac 143 (1986):

83; Vern S. Poythress, Science and Hermeneutics: Implications

of Scientific Method for Biblical Interpretation, Foundations of

Contemporary Interpretation 6 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1988), 128.



if it did not use the word as a whole."105 To my knowledge,

Childs has nowhere attempted to respond to either of these


            Finally, the charge is made that the canonical approach is, in

the final analysis, monotonous, bland, and trivial. In

commenting on Childs's Introduction, Barr notes that at the end

of each of the "Historical Critical Problems" sections, the same

note is always sounded: "It is like the Book of Kings: for

failure to remove the high places, read now failure to read in

the canonical context."106 Harrelson, more harsh even than

Barr, says that Childs's approach is very "bland" and then

ponders, "I wonder even more why Childs is so eager to

straighten out the thought of all prior biblical interpreters,

when what comes out at the end is so trivial."107 Landes, says

that he finds Sanders's work "a corrective to and many times

more exciting than Childs."108 And Collins faults


            105Barr, Holy Scripture, 134 (this sentence comes near the end

of a discussion [pp. 131-34] in which Barr attempts to show

that Childs's analysis of the Biblical Theology movement failed

to demonstrate that "lack of attention to the canon was the

specific cause of its problems" [p. 134]).

            106Barr, "Childs' Introduction," 12-13. D. Moody Smith

criticizes Childs's New Testament introduction similarly ("Why

Approaching the New Testament as Canon Matters," review of

The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, by Brevard S.

Childs, in Int 40 [1986]: 407-11).

            107Harrelson, review of Childs's Introduction, 101.

            108Landes, "The Canonical Approach," 37.



Childs for isolating "biblical theology from much of what is

vital and interesting in biblical studies today."109

            Even his supporters and those who are broadly considered to

be within the realm the "canonical movement" are sometimes

disappointed with the results. Walter Brueggemann, for

example, while initially impressed with the potential promise

of the Introduction, expressed dissatisfaction with Childs's next

step, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context:

            Childs' book is enigmatic, because he does not seem to adhere

            stringently to the notion of canon, which he himself has

            articulated. He repeatedly insists that we must practice a

            "canonical construal" of the material. At times, my impression

            is that he means simply that we should say what the text says,

            but it must mean more than that. However, the "more than that"

            is not only unclear, but seems to be quite subjective."110

And on Childs's discussion of "How God Is Known" in chapter

3, Brueggemann says, "I regard this discussion as not only

legitimate, but on the whole, persuasive, although I cannot see

what makes this a ‘canonical construal’ any more than many

other scholars have done."111

            For the most part, I find the discussion on this issue primarily

to be subjective. For example, in contrast to Landes, I find

Childs's work to be a "corrective to and many times more

exciting" than Sanders's. However, I would agree


            109Collins, "Is a Critical Biblical Theology Possible?" 6.

            110Walter Brueggemann, review of Old Testament Theology in a

Canonical Context, by Brevard S. Childs, in TToday 43

(1986): 284-86.

            111Ibid., 286.



with Brueggemann that Childs has been inconsistent in the

application of the canonical approach.


                     7. The Question of Tradition

            The concern here is over the role of the early church in

the canonization of the Scriptures. The argument has been

well expressed by Barr (not in direct interaction with Childs):

            if one accepts the canon as a sign of the normative function of

            scripture for the church, on the ground that this canonization is

            a decision that the church has in fact made, I do not see how

            one escapes from ascribing a normative function to tradition

            also, a normative function that in the eyes of the canonizers of

            scripture would have seemed both right and normal.112

But Childs does not want to give the early church this

normative function. Barton expresses his dissatisfaction with

Childs in this respect:

            It seems to me, as to many readers of Childs's work, that in this

            he is trying to have it both ways. On his view it is in principle

            possible that the very same generation of Christians who fixed

            the main outlines of the canon is also a hopelessly unreliable

            guide to the correct way of reading that canon. Indeed, it is

            more than possible, it is in fact the case, for early patristic

            exegesis was notoriously given to practices Childs would

            outlaw, such as allegorization and the exploitation of merely

            verbal quibbles.113


            112James Barr, "Trends and Prospects in Biblical Theology,"

JTS n.s. 25 (1974): 274-75.

            113Barton, Reading the Old Testament, 97. For others who

have criticized Childs on this point see Carroll, review of

Childs's Introduction, 288; Polk, "Brevard Childs'

Introduction," 170; John F. Priest, "Canon and Criticism: A

Review Article," JAAR 48 (1980): 266; Frank Spina,

"Canonical Criticism: Childs versus Sanders," in Interpreting

God's Word for Today: An Inquiry into Hermeneutics from a

Biblical Theological Perspective, ed. Wayne McCown and

James Earl Massey, Wesleyan Theological



            Childs fully recognizes the problem and has two separate

responses. First, he gives the historic Protestant response that

the period of Christ and his apostles was uniquely revelatory.

And while the Christian church did play a part in the

canonization of the Scriptures, its primary role was that of


            The Early Church distinguished sharply between Apostolic

            tradition and later church tradition. It set apart the period of

            Christ's incarnation as sui generis. The revelation of God in

            Jesus Christ was "once for all" . . . . The Christian church was

            grounded on the Apostolic witness whose unique testimony

            was not to be simply extended.114

            The second is more enigmatic. He says, "The skandalon

of the canon is that the witness of Jesus Christ has been given its

normative shape through an interpretive process of the post-

apostolic age."115 But why this constitutes a skandalon is not

entirely clear. The word skandalon does have a magical ring to

it, but does it really serve any purpose here other than that of

permitting Childs to accept the post-apostolic decision

regarding canon, but reject whatever other post-apostolic

decisions he so chooses? While I appreciate


Perspectives 2 (Anderson, IN: Warner, 1982), 183. Note in

particular Dale Brueggemann's ("Brevard Childs' Canon

Criticism," 321) perceptive comment: "If the canon that

resulted from hermeneutical moves in the early Church has

authority, then the hermeneutical moves have authority." It

should be noted that Brueggemann's criticism here includes

Childs's reluctance to allow hermeneutical normativity to the

New Testament authors as well.

            114Childs, "A Response," 202. See also Biblical Theology of

the Old and New Testaments, 66-67.

            115Childs, The New Testament as Canon, 28.



Childs's dilemma here, I believe this second argument actually

runs counter to his first argument concerning the revelatory

uniqueness of the time period of Christ and the apostles. The

word skandalon was used by the New Testament and the

Reformers to refer to Christ's incarnation. To use the same

word in regard to post-apostolic activity seems to diminish, if

not destroy, that uniqueness.

            It should be noted here that Childs does not consider the New

Testament authors themselves to be reliable hermeneutical

guides either. Childs wants to maintain the distinction we have

seen before between canon as revelation and canon as


            The hermeneutical practice of the New Testament does not in

            itself provide a theological warrant of the church's imitation of

            this approach. We are neither prophets nor Apostles. The

            function of the church's canon is to recognize this distinction.

            The Christian Church does not have the same unmediated

            access to God's revelation as did the Apostles, but rather God's

            revelation is mediated through their authoritative witness,

            namely through scripture. This crucial difference calls into

            question any direct imitation of the New Testament

            hermeneutical practice.116

For me, this is more problematic than the rejection of church

tradition. I will give more attention to this in chapters 5-6.

            One more thing to be noted before we go to the next section is

that the same critics who fault Childs on his rejection of post-

apostolic tradition, also point out what


            116Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments,




they consider to be the inconsistency in his paying so much

attention to history of exegesis. McEvenue is perhaps the

harshest critic on this point:

            The New Testament authors and subsequent Christian and

            Jewish theologians were not trying to illuminate the past.

            Rather, they were writing a theology, each for his own

            community and time, and they were using Exodus freely to suit

            their own purposes . . . Why should one expect the writers of

            the New Testament to illuminate the Book of Exodus? Childs

            appears to expect them to do this, and it is his expectation

            which has led him astray.117

The criticism here is wide of its target, for Childs has never

said that the history of exegesis is a guide to the illumination of

the text, though he has found a theological depth in some of the

older commentators that he looks for in vain today.118

However, what McEvenue does here in this attack, rather than

disproving the value of paying attention to history of exegesis,

is prove another point that Childs makes: the failure of modern

interpreters of Scripture to recognized their own interpretations

as being time-conditioned:

            The canonical approach to Old Testament theology rejects a

            method which is unaware of its own time-conditioned quality

            and which is confident in its ability to stand outside, above and

            over against the received tradition in adjudicating the truth or

            lack of truth of the biblical material according to its own



            117McEvenue, "The Old Testament, Scripture or Theology?"

232; see also Barr, Holy Scripture, 162-64; and Barton, Reading the

Old Testament, 95-96.

            118Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis, 53-55, 139-47;

Introduction, 523.

            119Childs, Old Testament Theology, 12.



            Moreover, to take seriously a canonical approach is also to

            recognize the time-conditioned quality of the modern, post-

            Enlightenment Christian whose context is just as historically

            moored as any of his predecessors. One of the disastrous

            legacies of the Enlightenment was the new confidence of

            standing outside the stream of time and with clear rationality

            being able to distinguish truth from error, light from


Childs has spoken here both correctly and eloquently.


                    8. The Question of the Whole Canon

            Childs explicitly rejects any canon within the canon approach

and insists that the whole canon is the context for exegesis.

            The church searches for biblical authority by struggling with

            the whole canon. It cannot pick and choose what it likes, but by

            submitting itself to the whole of Scripture, Old and New

            Testaments alike, it identifies itself with the tradition of the

            past while keeping itself open to the new and unexpected from

            the future.121

Criticism here takes one of three shapes: (1) neither the

Jewish nor Christian communities have felt bound by the whole

canon, (2) the whole canon should not be considered the

context for every exegesis, and (3) the Christian community

has always operated with a canon within the canon.

            Representative of the first of these tracks is Carroll:

            It certainly looks as though neither the Jewish nor the Christian

            communities felt bound by the canon to such an extent that

            canon alone shaped their belief and practice.


            120Ibid., 14.

            121Childs, "The Search for Biblical Authority Today," ANQ

16 (1976): 205; see also, "Psalm 8 in the Context of the Christian

Canon," Int 23 (1969): 27-28; Biblical Theology of the Old and

New Testaments, 67-68.



            So why should modern scholarship be so bound by canonical


Compare here also the comments of Morgan:

            The fact of the matter is that, regardless of how beneficial a

            holistic reading may be, the evidence suggests that the

            community of faith rarely if ever "reads" the biblical texts in

            this way! Rather, the text is studied in snippets by scholars and

            scribes (for which there is surely biblical precedent and

            mandate) and, more importantly perhaps, is read to

            congregations in pericopes or other small divisions through

            lectionary cycles and other selective processes. Indeed, there

            are some books or sections of books that are rarely, if ever,

            read within certain communities. Moreover, the tendency in

            much contemporary Bible study is to concentrate on particular

            pericopes, even verses, and not to read and interpret a "book"

            as a whole. The question then becomes, "On what grounds

            does one justify a holistic reading, when this type of reading

            has not occurred in the past and does not occur within

            contemporary communities that see this literature as Scripture

            and canon?"123

And Sanders even reports that he and his students carried out experiments

with New Testament texts to see whether the authors were working

with Childs's conception of canonically holistic readings.

            But in no case did it work out in Childs' favor. Certainly there

            was evidence that some NT writers sometimes thought in

            larger terms than isolated passages: C. H. Dodd had shown that in

            According to Scripture [sic] . . . .     But it is not the same.124


            122Carroll, "Childs and Canon," 221.

            123Morgan, "Canon and Criticism," 93; see also, Barr,

Holy  Scripture, 91-92; Barton, Reading the Old Testament, 174; J.

Collins, "Is a Critical Biblical Theology Possible?" 6; James A.

Sanders, "Biblical Criticism and the Bible as Canon," USQR

32 (1977): 163; Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical

Criticism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 32; review of Holy Scripture:

Canon, Authority, Criticism, by James Barr, in JBL 104

(1985): 502; Spina, "Canonical Criticism," 183.

            124Sanders, "Canonical Context," 188-90.



            I do not know that Childs has responded in the scholarly

literature to this charge, but I believe that Scalise has

answered well at least part of this charge in responding to

Barton's claim that "as a matter of historical fact, the Bible

has no ‘canonical level.’"125 Scalise answers,

            Such a claim passes over at least a millennium of Christian

            history in which the Christian canon functioned distinctively

            (though admittedly precritically) as Scripture in an

            authoritative manner. How can one hope to make sense of the

            biblical interpretation of the Fathers, let alone that of the Reformers,

            without the assumption of a "canonical level" (or levels), which

            religiously construes all of the Bible as the Word of God?126

            In answer to Morgan I would suggest that his

observations say more about what exegetes, preachers, and

teachers have to do by necessity of the fact that no one can

say all that can or should be said at one time, than it does

about their commitment to the unity, coherence, and therefore

the possibility of a holistic reading of Scripture.127 As for


            125Barton, Reading the Old Testament, 174; see also, Barr,

Holy Scripture, 1, 59-60, 82-83; Eugene Ulrich, "The

Canonical Process, Textual Criticism, and Latter Stages in the

Composition of the Bible," in "Sha`arei Talmon": Studies in

the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to

Shemaryahu Talmon, ed. Michael Fishbane and Emanuel Tov

(Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1992), 267-74.

            126Scalise, "Canonical Hermeneutics," 144-45. On a different

track, Brett (Biblical Criticism in Crisis? 6, 121-22) suggests

that if Gadamer's notion of "the classic" were to be applied to

Childs's notion of canon, the charge of anachronism could be

largely discounted; on this point see also Frank Kermode, "The

Argument about Canons," in The Bible and the Narrative

Tradition, ed. Frank McConnell (New York: Oxford University

Press, 1986), 89.

            127See John Murray, "Systematic Theology," in The New

Testament Student and Theology, ed. John H. Skilton, The

New Testament Student 3 (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian &

Reformed, 1976),



the experiments of Sanders and his students, it is impossible to

answer the charge without knowing their suggested hypotheses

and the presuppositions with which they worked. However, I

would suggest that the evidence which would have supported

Childs's proposal could not have been found anyway, since no

New Testament author wrote either a commentary or a biblical

or systematic theology.

            The second track of criticism is that the whole canon is simply

not the context for every exegesis. Interestingly, Childs is

attacked here by both more conservative and liberal

conservative scholars. Kaiser finds Childs's approach to be in

violation of his principle of "antecedent theology,"128 and

McEvenue, without much solid argumentation (in my opinion),

simply declares:

            It is important to burst this balloon. Let us distinguish exegesis

            from biblical theology and say right away . . . the wholeness of

            the canon is meaningless. It is simply not true that the proper

            context for understanding one text of the Bible is every text of

            the Bible.129

It will be more convenient to evaluate this charge when I

present my own approach in chapters 5-6.

            The third track is that the church has always operated

with a canon within the canon, and that it is, in fact, right


26 (first published as "Systematic Theology--II," in WTJ 26


            128 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology:

Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1981), 82-83 (to be given more attention in chapter 6).

            129McEvenue, "The Old Testament, Scripture or Theology?"




to do so.130 Also, Kaiser, without using the canon within the

canon terminology, criticizes Childs for being "overly

concerned about a `reductionism' which would attempt to

locate the essence of the OT message in one formula or key

word such as promise, kingdom, lordship or the like."131 And

Carroll suggests that Childs does in fact have his own canon

within the canon, the theme of "Israel's encounter with

God,"132 a charge against which Scalise defends both Childs

and Karl Barth (of whose hermeneutics Scalise feels Childs's

hermeneutics is an extension).133 I will look at this issue

closer in chapters 5-6.


                 9. The Question of Confessionalism

            Childs has been accused of fostering attitudes that promote

confessionalism, fundamentalism, orthodoxy, neoorthodoxy,

biblicism, hostility toward critical methods, and a


            130See Bosman, "The Validity of Biblical Theology," 142;

McEvenue, "The Old Testament, Scripture or Theology?" 236.

            131Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., review of Old Testament Theology in

a Canonical Context, by Brevard S. Childs, Trinity Journal n.s.

8 (1987): 89-90. Kaiser himself opts for the "promise" theme

(Toward an Old Testament Theology [Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1978]).

            132Carroll, review of Childs's Introduction, 289.

            133Scalise, "Canonical Hermeneutics," 82; also his "Canonical

Hermeneutics: Childs and Barth," SJT 47 (1994): 66-67.



negation of the gains of the critical scholarship.134 I

suppose none has been harsher in this criticism than Whybray:

            This is in my opinion a new kind of obscurantism, one which

            while accepting the logic and many of the conclusions of past

            and present biblical criticism, yet dismisses it as irrelevant,

            barren and even harmful. Its purpose is praiseworthy, but its

            effect is likely to be the opposite of what its author intends.135

Whybray goes on to say that Childs approach is a "denial of

scholarly autonomy,"136 and a refusal to regard

            as bona fide students and interpreters of the Old

            Testament . . . all those whose aim is the study of the

            religion and literature of the ancient people of Israel

            simply as an historical phenomenon without prejudice or

            religious commitment, and so threatens to disturb, and


            134Most have done so, however, recognizing that Childs is not

a conservative, but arguing that in the final analysis, Childs and the fundamentalists

have the same agendas; see Barr, Holy Scripture, 147-51, 168-69; Barton, Reading

the Old Testament, 8485, 98-99, 223-24 n. 4, 230, n. 15; James A. Sanders, review

of Biblical Theology in Crisis, by Brevard S. Childs, in USQR 26 (1971): 303;

Gerstenberger, "Canon Criticism," 20; Eugene Lemcio, "The Gospels and Canonical

Criticism," BTB 11 (1981): 115. On a more theoretical level, Stephen Fowl ("The

Canonical Approach of Brevard Childs," ExpTim 96 [1985]: 76) asks whether Childs

has the right to use critical methodology: "A crucial question of a more theoretical

nature which Childs must answer is whether he can employ a historical-critical

methodology in the way he does. If Childs has created a new paradigm (to use the

language T. Kuhn employs in a philosophy of science) for understanding the Bible,

can Childs continue to use the methodology which is founded on the paradigm he

wishes to overturn? If (as Childs says) the canonical approach is not another tool

like source, form and redaction criticism, can Childs continue to employ these tools

once he has rejected the paradigm on which they are based? Childs often appears

to exercise the historical-critical method on one level and then to do biblical theology

on a level informed solely by the church's confession of the canon. Here, again, Childs

perpetuates the bifurcation between faith and reason he sought to eliminate."

            135R. N. Whybray, "Reflections on Canonical Criticism,"

Theology 84 (1981): 29.

            136Ibid., 30.



            indeed, if it wins acceptance, to destroy that happy

            cooperation among workers in the Old Testament field which

            has developed since the last century and now flourishes as

            never before.137

            Childs himself denies that his approach should be seen as in

any way an encouragement for fundamentalists or a return to

precritical exegesis.138 While some conservatives have

embraced Childs's approach as supportive of their position,

most have correctly recognized that the program cannot be

taken in its entirety.139

            Since I see the attack on Childs here as substantially an attack

on my own approach, I will interact with this dialogue in

chapters 5-6.


                      10. The Question of Theology

            This section will deal with what I believe to be the most

serious problem for the canonical approach as developed by

Childs. The charge here is that, all Childs's protests

notwithstanding, his approach is ultimately non-theological in

character. There are many nuances and variations in the way

this critique is advanced, but I shall try to group them under


            137Ibid., 30-31.

            138Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis, 107-8, 141-42;

Introduction, 56 (his discussion of Meredith G. Kline's

proposal), 73, 81; "Response to Reviewers," 58; The New

Testament as Canon, 26.

            139D. Brueggemann, "Brevard Childs' Canon Criticism," 311-

26; McComiskey, review of Childs's Introduction, 88-91; John

N. Oswalt, "Canonical Criticism: A Review from a

Conservative Viewpoint," JETS 30 (1987): 317-25. See also

Labosier's discussion ("Matthew's Exception Clause," 82 (n. 9),

93, 95.



three basic lines of attack: (1) the approach, rather than being

considered theological, should be seen instead as literary, (2)

Childs is either unable to give any real theological justification

for his position or has not done so, and (3) the theological

insights at which Childs arrives are not a result of the approach

but his own theology imposed on and through the canon.

            The first suggestion is that Childs's approach is ultimately non-

theological in character, but instead has more in common with

New Criticism and structuralism. To my knowledge this charge

was first made by Barr and then received more extensive

treatment by Barton.140 Childs admits the similarity of

interests between canonical analysis and the newer literary

methods, but vigorously maintains that the theological

dimension of his approach sharply distinguishes it from mere

literary analysis.141 I believe Barr and Barton have argued

their positions well; but I also believe that Childs has rightly

maintained that the canonical approach, if carried through

consistently, involves much more than literary analysis--it has

a theological faith dimension which does not


            140Barr, Holy Scripture, 78 (n. 2), 158-62; Barton, Reading

the Old Testament, 100-103, 133, 141-42, 153-54, 160, 167,

202, 206-9. See also, Walter Brueggemann, "Bounded by

Obedience and Praise: The Psalms as Canon," JSOT 50 (1991):

64, n. 1; McCann, "Psalm 73," 16, 254. Barr also argues (pp.

136-37) that by stressing form over content Childs has, in

effect, excluded theology.

            141Childs, Introduction, 74; Old Testament Theology, 6, 148;

Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, 72.



exist (at least not by necessity) in the New Criticism. The

question for Childs, however, is whether he has the right to

claim this theological faith dimension in light of the next

two lines of critique in this area.

            The second charge is that Childs has either failed to

provide theological justification for his approach, or is, in

fact, unable to do so. Some justification for this charge was

found in what appeared to reviewers of the Introduction to be

a backing away from the canonical approach as Childs had first

described it. Commenting on the Introduction, Polk says,

            The full scope of meaning in the phrase "canonical

            interpretation," initially spelled out in Part III of Biblical

            Theology in Crisis, goes underground for the first 670 pages

            and surfaces again only in the final paragraph. . . .

            Would canonical Introductions to the Old Testament and to the

            Hebrew Bible be identical twins? Their different canonical

            contexts would seem to suggest otherwise, but nowhere in

            Childs' rich analyses is there a hint of where they might


And Barr, comparing the Introduction to Childs's earlier books

and articles, is equally perplexed:

            It is surprising, therefore, when one passes to the Introduction,

            which is much the fullest expression of canonical criticism thus

            far, to find how little this sort of insight has been developed.

            The New Testament, in fact, is comparatively little mentioned;

            even the concluding chapter on "The Hebrew Scriptures and

            the Christian Bible" is devoted primarily to the question of the

            Christian Old Testament and its identity, in view of differing

            views of its extent and definition. Little or nothing is to be heard of

            the incarnate Christ as a personality inhabiting the books of Joshua

            or of Haggai. The discussion seems to stress the kinship of Judaism

            and Christianity in that the Old Testament is shared by them


            142Polk, "Brevard Childs' Introduction," 167.



            both. But this, while true, is of minor significance in

            comparison with the fact that the Christian canon contains also

            the New Testament, the content of which creates a great gulf

            between the two religions. The canon, far from being a bond

            holding Judaism and Christianity together, is a force that pulls

            them strongly apart.143

Barr then goes on to say that in light of this, Childs's program

seems to have failed: "In other words, the Old Testament has

not been interpreted as Christian scripture after all."144

            Childs's response to Barr and others on this point has been

categorized as particularly "thin" by Brett.145 His reply was:

            I was not writing a biblical theology but an introduction to the

            Hebrew Scriptures. Although I still believe that there is

            justification for treating one portion of the Christian Bible in

            this way, the larger task clearly needs to be done, and I hope to

            address these problems in a subsequent work.146

There was some justification for this answer. In the preface to

the Introduction Childs had said that his task was to "describe

as objectively as possible the canonical literature of ancient

Israel . . ."147 To be fair to Childs, it must be remembered that

the title of the volume was not Introduction


            143Barr, Holy Scripture, 151-52; see also Robert Morgan with

John Barton, Biblical Interpretation, The Oxford Bible Series

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 213.    

            144Barr, Holy Scripture, 152.

            145Brett, Biblical Criticism in Crisis? 58-59.

            146Childs, "Childs Versus Barr," 70. Childs's reply to Polk

was no less "thin" ("A Response," 205).

            147Childs, Introduction, 16.



the Old Testament as Christian Scripture. And since the

publication of his introductions to the two Testaments, Childs

has gone on to do the "larger task" with his Old Testament

Theology in a Canonical Context and Biblical Theology of the

Old and New Testaments. It must be recognized, however, that

this was not the program that Childs had set out in his earlier

articles and books. From the beginning he had advanced the

thesis that interpretation must be done in faith and that it was

impossible to bridge the gap from neutral objective description

to theological substance. But in seeking to write neutral

introductions as prefaces to his two theologies he has, in fact,

tried to do the very thing he said was impossible. As Childs

himself said, "The possibility of genuine theological exegesis

has been destroyed from the outset."148 Perhaps Childs would

respond that the Introduction was, in fact, done from a faith

vantage point. If that is the case, then it was certainly a

truncated faith in which the word "Christian" had been

bracketed out. And as Childs has said in his Old Testament


            To suggest that the Christian should read the Old Testament as

            if he were living before the coming of Christ is an historical

            anachronism which also fails to take seriously the literature's

            present function within the Christian Bible for a practising

            community of faith.149

And this relates to the first line of attack that Childs's approach

is more literary than theological. Childs is right


            148Childs, "Interpretation in Faith," 437.

            149Childs, Old  Testament Theology, 8-9.



when he says that his approach, as opposed to merely literary

approaches is motivated by theological concerns. However, it

seems very strange for him to complain that his reviewers have

misunderstood the theological character of his proposal, when

he himself was working with a very truncated theology. Dale

Brueggemann has summed up the problem this way:

            For every claim Childs would make to support his canonical

            approach, an explicit theological claim is the only thing that

            will give it substance. . . . Agreed, Childs is correct in his

            assertion that the canon must be taken as a given. One must,

            however, receive it explicitly as a gift (truly a given) from the


            One particular aspect of this theological problem to which I

cannot give sufficient attention here, but will address further in

chapters 5-6, is the theological rationale for canon for itself.

Barton asserts that the inability of Childs or any other advocate

of the canonical approach to provide internally biblical,

theological reasons as to the extent or the necessarily

authoritative status of the canon makes it "theologically neutral

at best."151 Scalise, feeling the force of this argument, has

suggested that Childs should defend his position theologically

either by following Barth's doctrine of Scripture as presented

in volume one of the Church Dogmatics, or by arguing for

a purely functional view of canon that would accord

authoritative status to the canon by virtue of its historic

and continuing role in the communities of


            150D. Brueggemann, "Brevard Childs' Canon Criticism," 318-19.

            151Barton, Reading the Old Testament, 93-94.



faith.152 We have already noted Childs's arguments for the

extent of the canon. We will investigate later their

theological adequacy.

            The third line of criticism is that Childs has imposed

his own theology on and through the canon, and that the

theological gain from canonical analysis has been put there by

Childs, not extracted from the canon itself. He has read his

own interests into the minds of the redactors and canonizers

and has imported extrinsic hermeneutical data into the

canonical text. The following comments are typical:

            The basic fault in all this is that Childs reads into the minds of

            the redactors and canonizers his own passionate hermeneutical

            interest. This is why he lumps together all sorts of process

            under the vague heading of canon.153

            Childs' judgment may be correct, but he has in any case made a

            judgment which is his own and not mandated by the text


            In practice his interpretation is often an oversubtle

            interpretation of a point within a book which must then provide

            a perspective for interpreting a book.155


            152Scalise, "Canonical Hermeneutics," 157-58. In fact, the

latter alternative is exactly what John Piper says is the case

("The Authority and Meaning of the Christian Canon: A

Response to Gerald Sheppard on Canon Criticism," JETS 19

[1976]: 88).

            153Barr, "Childs' Introduction," 17.

            154Walter Brueggemann, in "The Childs Proposal: A

Symposium with Ralph W. Klein, Gary Stansell, and Walter

Brueggemann," WW 1/2 (1981): 113.

            155Carroll, review of Childs's Introduction, 289. See also Jerry

Gladson, review of Introduction to the Old Testament as

Scripture, by Brevard S. Childs, AUSS 20 (1982): 78; D.

Morgan, "Canon and Criticism," 91-92; Spina, "Canonical

Criticism," 182-83.



            On a more theoretical level, McEvenue maintains that the

problem is not just Childs's but any biblical scholar's:

            It is simply erroneous to think that one can proceed to truth of any

            kind using the Bible or a deposit of faith as the sole criterion.

            Unless you are simply restating the explicit biblical statement,

            you are always using some criterion outside the Bible.156

            McEvenue's point (as well as those of the others just cited) is

well taken and rather than interact with it here I will do so as it

reflects on my own thesis in chapters 5-6.


            Brevard Childs is a brilliant scholar who has sought to

integrate faith and scholarship. Many of his insights will be of

great value for my own approach. I have personally been

convicted and challenged by many of the penetrating

theological statements which are contained in his two most

recent books. And in spite of those who would charge Childs

with possessing a certain hermeneutical arrogance, I have

found a refreshing humility evidenced in statements like the


            No one can program the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet one can

            testify to a hope in his guidance by an attitude of expectancy

            and through willingness to experience the Scriptures coming

            alive in new and strange ways in the midst of our present, great


            There must be an anticipation, an eager and even restless

            awaiting the signs of God's presence. One cannot study


            156McEvenue, "The Old Testament, Scripture or Theology?" 236.

            157 Brevard Childs, "A Tale of Two Testaments," review of

Die Biblische Theologie: Ihre Geschichte und Problematik, by

Hans-Joachim Kraus, in Int 26 (1972): 29.



            the Bible with the detachment in which one scans graffiti on a

            subway wall and expect these writings to produce great

            spiritual truths. St. Augustine approached Scripture as a man

            who had been invited to a banquet table and in sheer delight

            partook of its richness.158

            There is an important sense in which the church must wait for

            the outpouring of God's Spirit and no amount of furious

            activity will avail. Conversely there remains the equally

            significant task of watching and preparing.159

            I wonder, however, if something that Childs said about

von Rad could also in turn be said about him:

            As a young student who had fallen under the spell of von Rad,

            I shared with many others the conviction that his brilliant

            method held the key to a proper understanding of the O.T. Von

            Rad saw his approach as one which would revitalize the entire

            theological enterprise. Significantly, even he, in his last years,

            began to have second thoughts. . . . The promise had not

            materialized. . . . Slowly I began to realize that what made von

            Rad's work so illuminating was not his method as such, but the

            theological profundity of von Rad himself.160

Could it be that the appeal in Childs's approach is not really

so much in the approach as it is in the theological

discernment of Childs himself? Perhaps that is the reason why

this chapter, though guardedly so, has been so positive.






            158Childs, "The Search for Biblical Authority," 204.

            159Brevard S. Childs, "Some Reflections on the Search for a

Biblical Theology," HBT 4/1 (1982): 10.

            160Childs, "A Response," 208.



                                 CHAPTER 3




            With the publication of his Torah and Canon in 1972, James A.

Sanders joined Brevard Childs in the call for serious attention

to the canon of the Old Testament.1 The two scholars became

identified as leading proponents of canonical criticism. It soon

became evident, however, that their respective brands of

canonical criticism were poles apart theologically. Indeed, as

we have already seen in chapter 2, Childs does not like the

term canonical criticism at all, perceiving his canonical

analysis to be a stance rather than just another methodology.

Sanders himself does prefer to think of what he does as a

critical methodology, replete with reconstructions of the

canonization process. Sanders's particular variety of canonical

study was, in fact, accorded the status of a new kind of

criticism with the addition to the Fortress Press Guides to

Biblical Scholarship series of a volume by Sanders explaining

the new method.2


            1James A. Sanders, Torah and Canon (Philadelphia: Fortress,


            2James A. Sanders, Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical

Criticism, Guides to Biblical Scholarship (Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1984).




            This chapter seeks to describe and evaluate Sanders's canonical

criticism. Attention to Sanders, before stating in detail the

thesis of this dissertation, is not only warranted but

necessitated by the following considerations:

            (1) While Childs has been well reviewed in the scholarly

literature, there has not been sufficient critical interaction with

Sanders. Reviews of his books have been generally

sympathetic and have not dealt with matters that are potentially

destructive to the very foundations of Christian faith.

            (2) Sanders is seen by many as a needed corrective to Childs,3

while the present author feels that the gains won by Childs

would be nullified with Sanders's program. It is my contention

that while there is much in Childs's program that can be

appropriated by those who are theologically conservative, there

is little in Sanders's program of comparable value.

            (3) Sanders's concentration on canonical criticism seems to

have been sparked by his work as editor of 11QPsa, a Qumran

scroll which contains both canonical and non-canonical

psalms,4 a scroll, the evidence of which we will have to


            3For example, George M. Landes, "The Canonical Approach

to Introducing the Old Testament: Prodigy and Problems,"

JSOT 16 (1980): 37.

            4Sanders, however, would say that the use of "non-canonical"

to describe the "extra" psalms in this manuscript prejudices the

discussion. Conversely, his opponents say that his

denominating it a "psalms" scroll is what prejudices the




consider in chapter 7 in the examination of the canonical shape

of the Psalter.

            (4) While some evangelicals who welcomed Childs's approach

have begun to see that he was not really the ally they were

looking for, Sanders is even less so. He is openly hostile to

fundamentalists and expressly states that canonical criticism

cannot be practiced by anyone as dishonest as a

fundamentalist.5 Any claim by those who refer to themselves

as evangelicals that they would not be under the condemnation

is of no use, since it is precisely in those areas where

evangelicals and so-called fundamentalists share convictions

about Scripture that Sanders is most hostile.6 This is especially

important, since I believe that it is precisely those with a high

view of Scripture who are most qualified to do canonical


            The chapter will be divided into two major sections: a

description of Sanders's approach, followed by a critical


                    A Description of Sanders's Approach

            We will look at Sanders's canonical criticism under five major

headings: (1) the need for canonical criticism, (2) the agenda of

canonical criticism and the assumptions with which


            5Sanders, Canon and Community, xvi.

            6James A. Sanders, "The Bible and the Believing

Communities," in The Hermeneutical Quest: Essays in Honor

of James Luther Mays on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. Donald

G. Miller, PTMS 4 (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1986), 145.



it works, (3) Sanders's reconstruction of the canonical process,

(4) Sanders's points of contention with Childs, and

(5) the assumed gains of canonical criticism.


                        The Need for Canonical Criticism

            Sanders sees the necessity of canonical criticism arising

out of the fact that the biblical critics have locked the Bible into

the past, or, at the very least, they have chained it to the scholar's

desk. So much has this become the case that ordinary pastors

are afraid to preach exegetical sermons because there might be

some Bible scholar in the congregation who would call them to

task for not having been aware of the latest journal article on

the passage in question. Or they might be reluctant to preach

from a passage that they have been taught is "spurious" or

"secondary" or "from a later hand."7 Sanders argues therefore,

that the Bible must be put back where it belongs, in the context

of the believing communities which have both shaped and been

shaped by the canon.

            Sanders notes that there has been a change in the meaning of

canon: in the pre-critical days it referred to authoritative

Scripture; since the rise of biblical criticism it has rather come

to mean a closed collection of books.


            7Ibid., 147.



Sanders wants to return to the old view of canon, but with the

full advantage of critical scholarship.8

            Returning therefore to an older view of canon, he desires to

ask questions about the canon that he feels are not being asked.

Rather than investigate the question of the closing of the canon,

or the inclusion or exclusion of books from the canon, Sanders

desires instead to ask the more fundamental question as to the

very nature and function of canon, and posits that the former

questions cannot and should not be answered until the latter

question has been investigated.9 In essence then, rather than

investigate the closing, the endpoint of canon, he desires to ask

why there is canon in the first place, the beginning point of


            Canonical criticism also exists to answer questions about why

there is such a high degree of pluralism in the Bible. Sanders

notes that there is not a single idea in Scripture that does not

have its "contrapositive."10 Canonical criticism therefore seeks

to discover why such contradictory ideas and traditions were

allowed to exist side by side in the same canon.


            8Sanders, Canon and Community, 1.

            9James A. Sanders, "Adaptable for Life: The Nature and

Function of Canon," in Magnalia Dei, The Mighty Acts of

God: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Memory G. Ernest

Wright, ed. Frank Moore Cross, Werner E. Lemke and Patrick D.

Miller, Jr. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976), 531.

            10James A. Sanders, "The Bible as Canon," Christian Century,

2 December 1981, 1254.



            Only in this manner, then, will the Bible scholar be able to

approach the question of closing of the canon and why there

are so many different canons (Jewish, Roman Catholic, Greek

Orthodox, Ethiopic, Protestant, etc.) in existence today.


                The Agenda and Assumptions of

                            Canonical Criticism

            Canonical criticism as practiced by Sanders assumes that there

are several components and characteristics of canon or the

canonical process. I will be challenging several of these

assumptions later; for now I will simply lay them out as

Sanders holds them.

            The first component in the process is that of repetition.

Sanders posits that no part of the canon ever became such upon

its first presentation to the believing community:

            The process . . . had actually begun with the first

            occasion, whenever it was, perhaps in the late Bronze age,

            that a biblical tradent spanned a generation gap and

            addressed more than one context.11

            The second component in the process is that, along with the

repetition, there was also a resignification of the material. In

order for the material to span that generation gap, it had to be

of value for another community besides the one to which it was

originally addressed. Therefore it had to be capable of being

resignified to mean something different


            11James A. Sanders, "Biblical Criticism and the Bible as

Canon," USQR 32 (1977): 163.



from what it originally meant.12 This resignification needed to

be able to answer two vital questions for the later community:

who they were and what they were to do, i.e., identity and

lifestyle.13 Important to note also here is that what causes the

community to look to the canon for these answers are the

"historical accidents" which cause the identity and lifestyle


            A third component in the process (these components should not

be seen as necessarily occurring in chronological order) is that

of acceptance by the community:

            What is in the text is there not only because someone in

            antiquity was inspired to speak a needed word to his or her

            community, but also because that community valued the

            communication highly enough to repeat it and recommend it to

            the next generation and to a community nearby.15

            Especially to be noted in this regard is that the individual is

more or less reduced to a status of non-importance. It is the

community and the community alone which has shaped the


            No individual in antiquity, no matter how "inspired," slipped

            something he or she had written into the canon by a side door!

            It has all come through the worship and educational programs

            of ancient believing communities or we would not have it . . .16


            12Sanders, "The Bible as Canon," 1252.

            13Sanders, "Adaptable for Life," 537.

            14Ibid., 541.

            15Sanders, "The Bible as Canon," 1251.

            16Sanders, "The Bible and the Believing Communities," 147.



            This means also, that whatever a community decided to do

with a "canonical" book which it received and passed on to

another community, in the way of additions or alterations of

meaning, is what, in the final analysis, is really canonical.

Therefore it is important to recognize that it is not Jeremiah or

Ezekiel which is canonical, but it is the Jeremiah and Ezekiel

books which are canonical. Thus:

            If one can understand that it was not the prophet Isaiah who

            was canonical, but the Isaiah book which is canonical, then

            modern reputable scholars would not need to insist that the

            sixty-six chapters stem from a single author.17

            But what if a community is not able to find value for its own

particular situation in a canonical book which it has received

from a previous generation? Sanders's answer to this question

is the fourth component in the process:

            Then, once the sanctity of such reputation was transmitted

            along with community commendation, canon existed for the

            community and persisted whether or not that value derived was

            consistent, high, low, or latent for this or that community or

            generation. At that point when sacredness had been

            superimposed by the communities, then the survival power of

            the sacred literature as canon was assured without its having

            always to prove itself.18

            Canonical criticism, therefore, with these four steps in mind,

seeks to reconstruct the canonical process. It assumes that,

though the process was a lengthy one, there were two periods

of especially "intense canonical process" which are to be

investigated to inform the study of the rest of the


            17Sanders, Canon and Community, xvii.

            18Ibid., 34.



process.19 Those periods are the sixth century BCE and the

first century CE. These were the special periods in the history

of Israel when there was need for the discovery of self-identity

and canon was looked to for that discovery.

            Along the way there were even non-Israelite texts which were

incorporated into the canon, which Israel borrowed from her

surrounding neighbors. These all had to go through a fourfold

process of depolytheizing, monotheizing, Yahwizing and


            Based on these assumptions as to how canon came to us via the

canonical process, Sanders posits several properties of canon

itself by which it may always be characterized.

            The first two characteristics of canon are those of adaptability

and stability, with adaptability being the primary characteristic

and stability being the secondary.21 That Sanders regards the

adaptability as the most important characteristic, is highly

significant, for it really determines his whole approach to

canon. He feels that previous study of canon had focused

almost exclusively on the stability factor, i.e., what books are

in the canon; but for him, adaptability is the more important

quotient, for those texts which were not adaptable, never made

it into the canon in the first place. Therefore, while there is a certain


            19Ibid., 30.

            20Sanders, "Adaptable for Life," 541.

            21Ibid., 539-40.



stability to the canon (though that stability is manifested in

different forms, hence different canons for different branches

of Judaism and Christianity), adaptability is the reason why

there is a canon at all. Only that which was adaptable became

stabilized into a final canonical form. This is why tradition

criticism is especially important for Sanders, for only that

which is traditional can become canonical.22

            A third characteristic of the canon is that it is multivalent: it is

capable of being resignified and made valuable for the different

contexts of the different believing communities.23

            A fourth characteristic is that there are within the canon some

built-in self-restraints which serve to keep future communities

from interpreting the canon any way they please. These

constraints are not to be brought in from the outside but are

intrinsic to the texts themselves. It is the job of canon criticism

to uncover these restraints.24

            Closely related to this last is the fifth characteristic,

that there are imbedded in the texts "unrecorded hermeneutics."25

The uncovering of these hermeneutics is the special job of canonical

criticism. In fact, these unrecorded hermeneutics constitute what Sanders


            22Ibid., 542.

            23Sanders, "The Bible as Canon," 1253.

            24Sanders, Canon and Community, 24.

            25Sanders, "The Bible as Canon," 1253.



calls the "midterm" between the canon's adaptability and stability

quotients.26 In other words, the uncovering of these hermeneutics

will tell us how the traditions which were in the process of

stabilization were made adaptable to the different communities.

The uncovering of these hermeneutics may well, in Sanders's view,

be more important than the actual content of the canon itself. This

is because Sanders views the canon as being more important

paradigmatically than it is in substance. Indeed, the

hermeneutics of the Bible are to be regarded as more canonical

than the canon itself.27

            Another feature of the canon is its highly pluralistic nature.

I mentioned earlier Sanders's statement to the effect that there is

practically no idea or thesis in the Bible that does not also have

its "contrapositive." Sanders feels that we should take a cue

from the pluralism in the Bible and rather than try to deny it,

we should formally recognize it "as a blessing equal to any

other the Bible has to offer."28 Therefore, attempts at trying to

find a theological center to Old Testament theology or a canon

within the canon should be avoided.

            In contrast to selecting a canon within the canon on which to

            base the theological construct of whatever


            26Sanders, "Biblical Criticism and the Bible as Canon," 163.

            27Sanders, Canon and Community, 46. Note Eugene Lemcio's

perceptive comment ("The Gospels and Canonical Criticism,"

BTB 11 [1981]: 115): "Here canonization and hermeneutics become

almost identical phenomena."

            28Sanders, "The Bible as Canon," 1250.



            denomination, canonical criticism eschews efforts at either

            harmonization or reductionism and admits from the outset that

            like the awe-inspiring Cathedral of Chartres, the Bible as canon

            is a glorious mess.29

            However, out of all this glorious pluralistic mess, Sanders sees

one factor which seems to unite all the parts. It is what he

terms the "Integrity of Reality" or the oneness of God.30 Thus

the primary characteristic of our particular canon is that it is a

monotheizing book. It shows how the people of God have

pursued the monotheizing process:

            There appears to be only one certainly unchallenged

            affirmation derivable from it [the canon]: a monotheizing

            tradition which emerges through the canonical process. It gives

            the impression that Israel always doggedly pursued the

            integrity or sovereignty of God, his oneness.31

            We will return later to discuss this monotheizing process; but

first we must look at how Sanders reconstructs the history of

the Old Testament canon.









            29Sanders, "The Bible and the Believing Communities," 148.

Sanders explains elsewhere that the Cathedral of Chartres is the

result of a "long process. Numerous master masons and

builders contributed to it over several generations, and it would

be difficult indeed to express adequately what makes all its

disparate parts Chartres!" (From Sacred Story to Sacred Text:

Canon as Paradigm [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987], 4).

            30Sanders, "The Bible and the Believing Communities," 150.

            31Sanders, "Adaptable for Life," 551.



             Reconstruction of the Canonical Process32


            Sanders asks the question as to what factor in Israel's existence

would have been most responsible for giving her identity and

direction. He posits that Israel's source of identity would have

to meet four criteria: (1) it would have to be indestructible, (2)

it would have to be readily and commonly available, (3) it

would have to be highly adaptable, and (4) it would have to be

portable. He then analyzes all those things which were

seemingly most important for Israel's survival and discounts

every one as failing on at least one or more of the criteria:

neither temple, nor ark, nor tabernacle, nor monarchy, nor an

elaborate cult system measures up to the challenge of

answering the problems of identity or survival for Israel. For

when the supreme crisis of the nation's history arose, the

displacement of the Jews to the land of Babylon (one of those

things which Sanders calls "historical accidents"), none of

those things were able to constitute a source for life and the

survival of the nation. There was one element, however,

and only one, which could supply that need, and that was

a story. And story is the essence of what Torah is all about.

While it is true that there is a great deal of


            32The details of this reconstruction are to be found primarily in

three works: Torah and Canon; "Adaptable for Life"; and

"Hermeneutics in True and False Prophecy," in Canon and

Authority: Essays in Old Testament Religion and Theology,

ed. George W. Coats and Burke O. Long (Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1977), 21-41. Rather than footnote every detail of

Sanders's reconstruction I simply refer the reader to these three

works and will footnote only specific quotes or references to

other works.



law (ethos) imbedded in the Torah, this is not its primary

characteristic. Rather, it is a muthos, a story, which truly

comprises the Torah. It is a story which tells Israel who she is,

what her roots are, and where she is going.

            Now we know that the Torah received its basic shape in the

crisis of the Babylonian captivity. An important question to be