Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Do we need to agree with past thinkers?
I recently read through Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, which has given me a lot to reflect upon. One quote that struck me was from Jud Davis:
A beloved teacher once said, “If you cannot find at least one ancient, one medieval, and one modern commentator who shares your view, it probably means you are wrong.” Over the years, I have thought long and hard about this statement, and I believe it is exactly right because if you could not find such examples, you would be forced to say, “Everyone before missed it until me.” (215)
I thought this was an interesting quote because it says much about how one approaches theological issues. First, there is some concern regarding this passage for me because it seems that some truths are indeed missed by everyone until someone discovers (or rediscovers) them. Second, there is a real concern for whether one innovates in doctrine and thus becomes a heretic. That is, innovation in theology is often divergence from established truths. These established truths are often established exactly because they follow from the text. Thus, an innovation which says, for example, that Jesus is not God is rightly denounced as heretical.
Based upon these conflicting concerns, I think it is permissible to say there is some tension within the practice of historical theology and exegesis. We must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of either ignoring the voices of the past or being too cautious to reconsider the evidence for certain positions. Going to either extreme would be dangerous. The most prominent danger, in my opinion, is the danger of using a passage like this to squelch debate or exploration. Ultimately, the text is the arbiter of truth, not established interpretations. If someone comes up with a “new” look at a text, it is important to consider it on its own terms rather than reject it because it is new. The weight of unanimity in the past should be seen to increase the standard of proof for those who disagree, but it should not be used to silence those who seek truth.
What are your thoughts on the balance between historical scholarship and new interpretations?