One of the oldest methods of using biblical texts is ‘proof-texting’. This is when a specific text is used to legitimate or ‘prove’ a particular argument or position. The early Church fathers were fond of it and it can be frequently found in the writings of the Bible. It is therefore not surprising that most of the references to biblical texts today take this form. Particularly important texts are even referred to as ‘clobber texts’ (originally associated in relation to the homosexual debate) as they are known to deliver the knockout blow in a debate, thereby rendering the opposing side speechless. Follow any theological argument, whether that be abortion, sexual orientation, or female ministry (and countless others) and you will quickly begin to recognise each side’s favourite ‘clobber texts’.
As someone who makes a living from studying and lecturing on the Bible, I have to admit to finding proof-texting often rather irritating and unsatisfactory – whether that is Matthew’s use of them (although I do recognise they also have other functions), Justin Martyr’s or from a participant in the latest Facebook/Twitter argument. I do, however, accept that this practice has a long heritage and, like it or not, has a place within the community of faith. It is the trend towards clobber-texting that I find very concerning. Whereas proof-texting seeks to advance a scripture that neatly encapsulates a particular viewpoint (albeit in an often simplified shorthand form), clobber texts are often grabbed texts that are used to support an existing ideological view (in other words to argue that that viewpoint is ‘biblical’) and they are employed to shut down the debate. Anyone encountering an argument between two Christian positions will be familiar with this tactic.
Most readers of the New Testament are familiar with the idea that Paul used the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament). However, they might be more surprised to realise that he also makes frequent use of a range of Jewish religious writings that are not included in the Hebrew Bible (sometimes referred to as ‘apocryphal’). Which apocryphal book did he use the most and which of his letters reflect the influence of this group of writings?
The keynote session of the 2015 Newman Research Centre for the Bible and its Reception conference (Dead Letters and Living Words) was given by Dr Lloyd Pietersen who presented a paper on ‘An Anarchist Reading of Romans 13’ (video and notes below).
The question about what is the relationship between church and state is one that has repeatedly been raised throughout Christian history. Romans 13 is a key passage in this debate and is often quoted to endorse a pacific and accepting attitude by the church towards state authority and rule.
Is Paul, a frequent and hostile critic of the Roman Empire who spends much of the time contrasting it unfavourably with the new empire being established through Jesus Christ in the church, really saying that either the church should accept the dictates and of the state? Pietersen’s paper challenges this reading. Continue reading
It was a great pleasure to have one of our Visiting Professors, Steve Moyise, with us the other week to present a couple of papers to students, staff and members of the public.
His first paper assessed NT Wright’s understanding of Paul’s use of scripture in his recent book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, (PFG), published by SPCK in 2013.
Steve has generously allowed us to upload his handout (link below) as well as an audio recording of this session.
Professor Steve Moyise, Newman University, 12th Feb 2015
Steve makes particular note of Wright’s methodological framework for arguing that Paul’s theology was thoroughly ‘biblical.’ Steve noted Wright’s appeal to a “controlling narrative or worldview” (for example, the ‘end of exile’ theme) as key to understanding Paul’s use of the Hebrew scriptures. Furthermore, Steve argues that, from Wright’s perspective: