Saturday, 14 May 2011

Senseless Plenior

Christians have read their story back into the Hebrew Bible from the beginning. Or, more accurately perhaps, into the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The idea is that there is a meaning in the pre-Christian writings that goes way beyond the clear intent of those documents. This dubious strategy is dignified by the Latin term sensus plenior, meaning fuller sense.

Most famously, the Tanakh has been dredged for "prophecies of Christ." No matter that nobody previously imagined them as such, or that you have to grab a shoehorn to make them fit. If the life and death of Jesus is imagined as the culmination of a predetermined "salvation history," the crescendo of some "grand narrative," then the Jewish scriptures must be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and jammed head-first into the straight jacket.

The ESV Study Bible (2008) contains a feature entitled History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ. The title says it all. Proof texts are ripped, still bleeding, from the Hebrew Bible as exhibits in the cause of Christian apologetics. And not just the usual suspects. It's just amazing what can be made to "prefigure" what. Even unlikely books such as Ruth are pressed into service. Commenting on Ruth 3:9 (wherein Ruth makes an amorous advance when Boaz awakes to find her unexpectedly snuggled up in his bed) the ESV Study Bible piously informs us:
Christ spreads his protection over the church, his bride (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27)
Do tell! I'm sure that's exactly what Ruth and Boaz had on their minds that night.

It's moments like this that you kind of wish that Marcion had succeeded in detaching the emerging church from the Old Testament, and leaving it in the possession of its rightful owners. 


  1. That's why I hate devotional study Bibles so much.

  2. I'm with you on that one, but sadly, the ESV Study Bible does not market itself as a devotional study bible, but has pretensions at being scholarly.

  3. The funny thing to me is that while I agree with you 100% on the Ruth/Boaz thing, I still hear the "Christ spreading his protection over..." type of response in the back of my head at the same time. While I don't believe it, it is still there, having come from an ESV-doctrinal church. Just plain weird.

  4. Ha - we are just beginning a study of Ruth, a book I translated first in 2009. You should just replace Christ with the Anointing Spirit of the TNK. And you should consider that the problem with the Church in Christianity is that she thinks the Spirit only happened at Pentecost and she doesn't know what Pentecost means either.

    The Orthodox study Bible says for psalm 1 that the righteous man is Christ. Another 'answer' where the question is not even formed - choking off the learning process.

    How long must I put up with this generation?

  5. The Orthodox SB is quite a piece of work; absolutely naive in its approach. Strangely enough I quite like it for just that reason. It's a time trip back into the way the Bible was read when Holy Mother Church had it all her own way, with little or no reason to tie itself in knots trying to respond coherently to reality. No need to justify anything, just pronounce upon a matter with the backing of ecclesiastical authority. Gotta love it!

  6. "It's moments like this that you kind of wish that Marcion had succeeded in detaching the emerging church from the Old Testament, and leaving it in the possession of its rightful owners."

    I know, I know, your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek, but I wonder, Gavin: Are you questioning whether or not Jesus was a Jew? this PBS documentary suggests otherwise (and has absolutely no, zero, zip, zilch affiliation with any Church of God group). Or are you saying Christ never existed at all?

    Hmmm...could it be that our own Mr. Rumney is (gasp) a mythicist? (My tongue is firmly planted in my own cheek here.)

  7. Velvet, I don't know anyone who can leap to strange conclusions more nimbly than you! Insofar as we know anything about Jesus it's pretty clear he was a Galilean Jew.

    As to mythicism, I'm firmly seated on the fence...

  8. Hardly a conclusion, Gavin, more a touch of curiousity. hence the tongue-in-cheek question. :-)

  9. And speaking of curiousity...What is a "devotional study bible" anyway??