James Dunn on NT Interpretation as Dialogue
I was skimming through a book I had read a while back and rediscovered this quote that adequately sums up my perspective on the importance of reading the New Testament through “1st-century eyes” before we seek to apply it to our current context.
“New Testament interpretation is a dialogue, simply because any twentieth-century attempt to inquire into first-century writings is bound to be a dialogue. A dialogue that starts by recognizing the inescapable distance between the first century and the twentieth, which begins with the recognition that a first-century text is bound to be in some degree or other strange and foreign to us. For if it is not, the likelihood is that we have assimilated the one to the other too quickly; we have allowed the voice of the twentieth century to drown out the distinctive tones of the first century; or the word of the first century to drown out the questions of the twentieth century. If the former is the temptation of the too critical, the latter is the failing of the too uncritical. But if we want to hear the distinctive voice of the New Testament writings, whether in terms of what marks them out from other first-century writings, or in terms of hearing the otherliness of the word of God addressing us now, some sort of dialogue is unavoidable: a dialogue in which we find our own questions being clarified and redefined and in which we allow ourselves to be put in question.” – Dunn, James D. G ( The Living Word)