The Surprising Nature of Scripture: A Review of “Preaching the Luminous Word” by Ellen F. Davis

preaching-the-luminous-word*This review was originally posted over at The Englewood Review of Books. Do check out their other reviews if you have a few minutes. 

Near the beginning of Preaching the Luminous Word, Ellen F. Davis describes herself as “an exegete who teaches Old Testament and preaches, in that order” (xxiv). I’m grateful for that. It means the sermons gathered together in these pages are born out of a love for exegesis and attentive theological study, and it allows her to open up the unendingly rich and surprising world of Scripture in ways that invite her hearers and readers to slow down and linger with the text. Though her main academic background is in the Old Testament, Davis’s sermons in this volume reflect her engagement over the years with both the Old and New Testaments, delivered on a variety of occasions and in the midst of the seasonal rhythms of the Church’s liturgical calendar.

In the past, Davis has expressed concern over the harmful effects of shallow Scripture reading, which she finds to be an all-too-common problem, at least in some North American churches. What she speaks of as shallow readings of Scripture flow out from the presumption that we already know what the text has to say to us, so our readings become more like rehearsals than fresh explorations (xii). In sermons, this can manifest itself in a tendency to sentimentalize the Bible or rely too heavily on (sometimes rather contrived) illustrations to keep up the interest of those sitting in the pews. In light of these things, Davis wants to recover the importance of reading Scripture in deeply theological ways for the Church, especially from the pulpit. Stanley Hauerwas hits it on the head when he comments in the foreword that this sermon and essay collection “not only provides the exemplification of a theological reading of Scripture but also demonstrates the power of such a reading when articulated by someone of depth and elegance” (xiii). Continue reading

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The Dead Sea Scrolls, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, and Early Christian Interpretation

eta53uf0ste-samantha-schollThe identity of Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah has been central to theological reflection since the earliest days of Christianity. Indeed, Martin Hengel states in Between Jesus and Paul that by the time Paul wrote his letters, the term Christos had already become strongly intertwined with the name of Jesus—and without losing its messianic connotations (2003, pp.74-77). This position is also supported by N.T. Wright in his essay, “Messiahship in Galatians?” (2014, pp.4-7).

For these early Christian communities, the belief that Jesus had lived and died “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3, NRSV), as Paul phrased it, was no mere secondary issue. In fact, as Richard B. Hays contends in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, the first Christians were actually very concerned to show that, “Jesus’ teachings and actions, as well as his violent death and ultimate vindication, constituted the continuation and climax of the ancient biblical story” (2016, p.5). Among the many Old Testament texts that early believers drew upon to better understand the redemptive meaning of their Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection, the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah 40-55 turned out to be among the most significant passages for them. Continue reading