I just finished reviewing Baker Academic’s newest addition to the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series, Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri’s Gospel of Matthew. On the whole, I found that the commentary accomplished what it set out to accomplish: “to offer scholarship illumined by faith, in the conviction that the ultimate aim of biblical interpretation is to discover what God has revealed and is still speaking through the sacred text” (9). In short, the commentary is an exercise in the theological exegesis and, for the most part, a commendable one.
A few points in the commentary left me with some questions, however, none of which were really answerable in the space of a short book review. I present them here as questions that I hope will be addressed at some point, not as questions to which I have an immediate answer.
- If theological exegesis includes reading biblical texts along with (perhaps even through) the tradition of the church (Catholic or otherwise), what happens when said tradition comes into tension with something found in the biblical text? For example, what is a Catholic interpreter, faithful to the Church’s teaching on divorce, to do with a passage such as Matt 19:9, which almost certainly allows for divorce in the case of spousal infidelity? Are tensions allowed to stand or must we declare either Scripture or Tradition to be victorious over the other?
- Must one be a Christian in order to practice theological exegesis? Is it necessary for one to profess faith in Jesus as the Messiah in order to read the Scripture rightly? At a more basic level, is it necessary to even believe in God? Is it possible for an atheist to interpret the biblical texts theologically empathetically, from the perspective of one who believes? I’m thinking here of Markus Bockmuehl’s proposition (in Seeing the Word) regarding the implied reader of Scripture.
- Does theological exegesis imply reversion to a more traditional, conservative view of issues surrounding the biblical texts? For example, does interpreting Matthew theologically necessitate ascribing the gospel a pre-70 date of composition in an effort to make temple destruction prophecies real as opposed to retrospective? Likewise, does interpreting Matthew theologically require one to believe that Matthew (the disciple) wrote the gospel that we have now?
My posing these questions in the wake of reading this particular commentary should not be taken as in indication that I thought it was bad. Quite to the contrary, I actually found it to be quite enjoyable. I’ll post a link to my review when it is up, for those who are interested.