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The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture.

The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture. By Sandra M. Schneiders. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991. Pp. x + 206. $20.

Cardinal Newman observed that asking questions isn't difficult; what's difficult is asking questions which can be answered. Schneiders has spent 15 years refining the questions about spirituality that she asked at the start of her biblical career and assembling academic resources for answering them. This fruit of her labor should be required reading for all theologians, biblical scholars, and spirituality experts, academic and pastoral, clerical and lay. Indeed, S. reaches out to the nonscholarly, critical lay readers in her audience, especially to women struggling to relate to the Bible while fully conscious of its complicity in their oppression.

Two questions prompt S.'s well-organized discussion: What is the New Testament as Sacred Scripture? What is an integral interpretation of it? Before taking up these questions, however, S. identifies herself as a Roman Catholic, white, middle-class, European-educated, feminist, religious sister, a NT scholar and lover of the Bible. One might profitably begin reading this book with a similar exercise in self-identification, noting as one reads how this affects one's understanding and response both to the Bible and to this book. For S.'s aim is "to elaborate a theory of [NT] interpretation that can ground a reading of the text that is unreservedly critical, on the one hand, and that interacts meaningfully with the personal and communal spiritual life of the believing reader . . . on the other" (13).

In laying out the problematics of NT interpretation, S. draws primarily upon the hermeneutical insights of Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur to appreciate "human being" as characterized by language and understanding, and "meaning" as an event constituted by the dialectic between sense and reference. Recognition of this mediated quality of human knowing invites study of symbols and metaphors that make understanding possible. This in turn raises questions about whose interest a particular interpretation serves (ideology criticism), resulting in a hermeneutics of suspicion. She notes, however, that theoretical discussion of hermeneutics is more advanced in other fields because biblical studies is still held within the firm grip of the historical critical method. Notwithstanding the great achievements of modern biblical scholarship, one must draw the conclusion which is "critical, even harsh: contemporary [NT] scholarship actually lacks a developed hermeneutical theory" (21).

While affirming the historical and human character of the Bible, S. argues that neither attribute describes the Bible's final reality. It is only when we recognize the Bible as the word of God and the book of the Church that we name its full and intended reality. Accordingly, "faith is necessary for any adequate interpretation of the Bible, because this text's truth claims bear upon religious reality, that is, the transcendent" (60). S. not only asserts this truth, but she delivers what she promises: by drawing upon modern hermeneutical theory, she provides "an intellectually reputable access to this theological dimension of the [NT's] reality, an access that does not rely on unsubstantiated dogmatic assertions but on publicly discussable positions" (25). Much of the book's giftedness in Part 1 lies in S.'s probing discussion of metaphors like "word of God" and of concepts like revelation, inspiration, and tradition.

S. presents her own hermeneutical reflection on NT interpretation in terms of three worlds: (1) "The world behind the text" refers to the historical context of a biblical writing; S. uses "historical Jesus" research to expose the limitations of historical methods or biblical texts and to introduce her work on the paschal imagination. (2) "The world of the text" focuses on the Bible as witness, as intending "to reach the reader with implications for his or her reality (its ultimate reference)" (147); (3) "The world before the text" shows how texts are transformative, what happens when we enter the world before the text, so that when we return to our lives, we have been changed; only then has one experienced an integral, transformative interpretation of a biblical text.

Her final chapter, "A Case Study: A Feminist Interpretation of John 4:1-42," puts S.'s hermeneutical theories and principles to work on a text. This case study illustrate what S. has been saying. It also inspires us to learn what she knows, in order to do what she does so well--interpret the revelatory text.

Seattle University Karen A. Barta
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Author:Barta, Karen A.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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