|Dr. Iain Provan asking the question: Were the Reformers Wrong?
for the 2016 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship
This morning we held Day 2 of the 2016 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship with Dr. Iain Provan, the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College. The theme of the Old Testament lectureship was: Were the Reformers Wrong? Some Reflections on Protestant Biblical Interpretation. His two lectures are based on a current book project on Protestant Biblical Hermeneutics.
The title of the 1st lecture was: On the Meaning of Words: The Literal, the Spiritual, and the Plain Confusing. This presentation made my head spin a bit. Dr. Provan wanted to recover a proper understanding of a “literal” reading of Scripture that was not “literalistic” but was defined as the Reformers understood literal vs. an allegorical interpretation of the biblical text. He cited Calvin and Luther who demonstrated, to my surprise, a remarkable sensitivity to grammar, historical context, the text within the larger canonical context, and other communicative acts between the author and the reader. In the past, I always made a distinction between the historical critical method and a literal reading of Scripture, favoring the former over the latter. But under Provan’s redefinition of “literal” according to Calvin and Luther, the historical critical method and a literal reading of biblical texts are not competing but mutually informing. Listen to what he has to say on this topic directly by watching the video of his lecture below:
The title of the 2nd lecture was: Empty Speculations and Froth: The Reformers and Allegorical Reading. Here Dr. Provan traced the history of an allegorical reading of texts beginning with Homer, through the patristics, and into the Medieval Age. He argued that the primary purpose of allegory was to domesticate the text and remove its offense. Hence Heraclitus removed the embarrassment that the Greek gods of Homer were barbaric, crude, and no better than vicious humans were by allegorizing the gods as symbols of something else less offensive. When applied to Scripture, Dr. Provan argued that the allegorical reading seriously undermined the authority of Scripture because it often removed the offense of a “literal” reading (note: “literal” as redefined by the Reformers).
Rather than allegorical, or typological, Dr. Provan believes the biblical authors employed “iconic mimesis” or a figural reading of Scripture, the example of which he gave was Paul’s use of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31 translating ἀλληγορούμενα as “figuratively” and not “allegorically.” Provan compared Philo’s allegorical reading (i.e., symbolic mimesis) of Genesis with Paul’s figural one (i.e., iconic mimesis), giving a clear example of the differences between the two. You can listen for yourself with the video lecture below:
With this last lecture, the Lund series concluded this morning. But the 2016 Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture began the same day later in the evening and will continue on the theme of Science and Religion through Saturday afternoon. Since the schedule is packed, I may not be able to post summaries and links to the video until after the symposium ends. But like the Lund Lectures, the sessions are being livestreamed here: http://livestream.com/northpark/lund-and-symposium
Stay tuned! MJL