Thoughts on Rhetoric and Theology, Figural Reading of John 9, William M. Wright (2)

This is a multi-part series, taking each section at a time. Some of my conclusions will no doubt change as I get deeper into the book. I will post the final review at my other site when it is complete.

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While I cannot readily critique Martyn’s theory, as it would be difficult to do while reading his work and that much more so reading only a brief synopsis, Wright’s work is shaping up to provide a self-contained rebuttal. After his first chapter, in which he lays out, crudely, Martyn’s attempt at contextualizing John’s Gospel, the author moves into the second chapter by reframing allegory as a figural reading. He is correct, that the one large gulf between the Alexandrian school of interpretation and the Antiochian method is closer now, he doesn’t make use of it to buffet Martyn, but uses it to move forward to criticizing the move away from allegorical interpretations of modern theologians.

After analyzing, crudely, Augustine’s method of interpreting Scripture, which is the highlight of the first two chapters, Wright concludes,

To be sure, the reading strategies of Martyn and Augustine are not identical, and they do differ in some key respects. (emphasis mine, p92)

The some differences (p93) which Wright correctly highlights are hardly ‘some’, as Martyn and Augustine are going in different directions. Martyn is attempting to find the Sitz im Leben while Augustine is looking for a modern application. Augustine is doing theology, Martyn resides in the biblical studies framework. They only thing which units both Augustine and Martyn is both authors, instead of relying on the literal sense of the text, seeks to expand the meaning based on (perceived, in Martyn’s case) application. By not allowing Martyn’s work to remain within the older author’s setting, Wright is not only theologizing John 9 but Martyn as well. While Write is correct that a two-level reading of the Gospel is figural, Martyn was not attempting to read it figuratively, only to show that the first audience understood it to be so. Wright eventually acknowledges that Martyn may be incorrect (p96), but, as his work is shaping up to be, reframes Martyn’s previous reframing of John’s Gospel as a two-level reading as a theological allowance in the footsteps of Augustine, Chrysostom and others to be examined in the next chapter.

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