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Title: 'We poor idiots in the pew' : lay and academic uses of historical-critical methods of biblical exegesis in dialogue
Author: Hall, Sarah A.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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Historical-critical study of the Gospels, though a recognised area of expertise in ministerial training and a core focus of biblical scholarship, is largely unknown in local churches. The thesis investigates the question whether lay people in local churches might profit from the ability, which theologically trained clergy possess, to use such exegetical methods, in the cause of their own appropriation of the texts. Scholars with a faith commitment to Christianity typically adopt some combination of the three following styles of biblical hermeneutics: the historical-critical approach, the literary approach and the liberationist approach. While historical-critical scholars privilege the hermeneutical use of history over that of personal experience, literary scholars emphasise the priority of the text's story over that of its interpreters, and liberationists stress the hermeneutical priority of experience. For historical-critical exegesis the hermeneutical use of history appears to be a sine qua non, using a perspectival rather than a positivistic understanding of the term 'history'. Such exegesis may be made more accessible in local churches through the complementary use of a hermeneutic of personal experience. Understood as narrative communicated between persons in relation, personal experience can become a vehicle for appropriation of the biblical narratives - a literary approach. Understood as a locus theologicus, everyday experience can be a source of revelation in its own right - a liberationist approach. Combining these uses of history and personal experience in a modified form of the hermeneutical circle -a model of interpretation with antecedents in biblical and pastoral hermeneutics - a model of Bible study labelled community hermeneutics has been trialled in eight Scottish local-church study groups, largely from the Reformed tradition. Analysis of group and interview data according to the social-science approach of grounded theory has produced a threefold typology of group members, labelled Thinker, Relater and Changer respectively, according to their view of the aim of appropriation of the biblical texts. This theory has been validated by triangulation with theories of general and Christian adult education. Analysis of interviewees' hermeneutical uses of both history and personal experience, correlated with the academic approaches named above, highlights how people within each study mode make use of historical-critical exegesis. The thesis concludes with the proposal that, as well as group leaders' own hermeneutical preferences, successful use of historical-critical exegetical methods in local-church study groups will need to take group members' study modes into account, considering the theological worldview informing their preferred mode of text appropriation. With this element of conditionality, the thesis points to the conclusion that historical-critical exegesis can be profitable for people in localchurch study groups in their appropriation of the Gospels.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available