My chapter sits in section 2. I employ the famous command to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” as a case study for answering the question set for the section: how important is the history of biblical interpretation (Auslegungsgeschichte) for the understanding of a New Testament text?
My argument is, in short, twofold: first, that at the exegetical level, the history of New Testament interpretation provides mixed results for New Testament interpretation. Second, at the hermeneutical level, that history offers richer benefits by raising questions about the parallels and discontinuities in the methods and motivations of ancient and modern reading cultures. To illustrate this second point, I provide an enlightening (for me at least) comparison of the exegesis of this command by Origen and Tertullian and by the renowned NT scholar Adela Yarbro Collins. The book will hopefully appear sometime in 2022.
This Sunday’s lectionary features the tribute passage, which appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and ends with Jesus’s famous words “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. I wrote a piece a few years back for Currents in Biblical Research which summarised the four main ways that contemporary commentators have read this saying. You can read the article for free, here.
Image: Jacek Malczewski, The Tribute Money (part of triptych) 1908, (Wikiart)
I’ve come back to many passages of the book. But there’s one I come back to the most:
I won’t pretend there isn’t something scandalous about his advice. Augustine will unapologetically suggest that you were made for God—that home is found beyond yourself, that Jesus is the way, the the cross is a raft in the storm-tossed sea we call “the world”. But what I hope you’ll hear in this is not a solution or an answer, not merely a dogmatic claim or demand. For Augustine, this was a hard-fought epiphany that emerged after trying everything else, after a long time on the road, at the end of his rope. The Christian gospel, for Augustine, wasn’t just the answer to an intellectual question (though it was that); it was more like a shelter in a storm, a port for a wayward soul, nourishment for a prodigal who was famished, whose own heart had become, he said, ‘a famished land’. It was, he would later testify, like someone had finally shown him his home country, even though he’d never been there before. It was the Father he’d spent a lifetime looking for, saying to him, ‘Welcome home’.
On 24th March, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York penned a joint letter in which they advised clergy not to enter churches to conduct services.
For some, this decision has spelled not only a missed opportunity but a dereliction of duty. Giles Fraser has complained that in abandoning its church buildings, the Church of England has retreated from public life. Fraser echoes Bishop Selby who has similarly registered his despondency over the church hierarchy’s decision to go beyond government advice. In doing so, Selby writes, those in positions of leadership
…seem to have accepted the idea that Christianity is a matter for the domestic realm, that our cathedrals and parish churches are just optional when useful and available, no longer the eloquent signs of the consecration of our public life and public spaces. The conviction that the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the places of beauty set apart is an “essential work” undertaken by “key workers” will have become a wistful “BC” [Before Coronovirus] memory.