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Scriptura vol.119 no.1 Stellenbosch  2020 



The reception and delivery of the oracle in Revelation 13:9-10



David Seal

Cornerstone University Grand Rapids, USA




This study will examine how the oracle in Revelation 13:9-10 might have been regarded by the original audience as it was recited by the lector to each of the seven churches. The oral cultural context from which it originated decisively shaped the oracle's form and content. That oral cultural context will be considered in this analysis. The investigation will be conducted in three steps. First, this essay will argue that in the recitation of Revelation, the assemblies in Asia Minor would have perceived the following: the author's presence, his authority as a prophet, and the divine presence. Second, it will demonstrate that in hearing the oracle in Revelation 13:9-10, the congregants would have heard John's voice and accepted the prophet's words as caring and authoritative. Finally, the poetic nature of the oracle will be examined for its ability to foster a sense of the semantic divine presence. Consequently, when the prophecy was read aloud, it may have nurturedfeelings of awe, reverence, and respect for God in the listeners.

Keywords: New Testament prophecy; Orality; Poetry; Revelation, book of



1. Introduction

Most studies on the phenomenon of early Christian prophecy, as described in the New Testament, address either one or a combination of the following (e.g. Ellis 1978; Hill 1979; Gillespie 1985; Callan 1985; Tibbs 2007; Aune 1983; Boring 1991): 1) They attempt to determine what the prophets were doing by assigning a definition to their activity; 2) they endeavour to describe the function of the prophets; or 3) they investigate the nature of the oracles. However, these studies have not closely examined how specific oracles, embedded in the New Testament books, would have been delivered once they arrived at their intended destinations, or how they would have been understood by the communities that heard them recited.1 The oral cultural context from which they originated decisively shaped their form and contents and must, therefore, be considered in any analysis.

I am grateful for the comments and suggestions received from the anonymous reviewers for Scriptura.

This study will address this gap by examining how the oracle recounted in Revelation 13:9-102 might have been regarded by the original audience.3 In part, this study is concerned with determining the ancient understanding of the authoritative force of John's prophetic words. This investigation will be conducted in three steps. First, following a summary of the socio-historical situation of the churches in Asia Minor, this essay will argue that in the recitation of Revelation, the assemblies would have perceived the following: the author's presence, his authority as a prophet, and the divine presence. Second, it will demonstrate that in hearing the oracle in Revelation 13:9-10, the congregants would have heard the prophetic voice of John and accepted his words as caring and authoritative. Finally, the poetic nature of the oracle will be examined for its ability to foster a sense of the semantic divine presence. Consequently, when the prophecy was read aloud, it may have nurtured feelings of awe, reverence, and respect for God in the listeners.


2. The socio-historical situation of Revelation

What follows is a brief summary of the socio-historical situation of the author and the members of the seven churches receiving Revelation. The discussion will provide important background for understanding the significance of the prophetic oracle for John's listeners.

Recent scholarship claims that a crisis setting for Revelation is appropriate given that apocalypses emerge out of a critical situation (Boxall 2006:12; Collins 1984:137; Osborne 2002:11; Mounce 1997:3). Evidence in the book and from external sources suggests that the seven churches in Asia Minor faced major economic, political, and social issues. It is likely that there was pressure in the commercial arena for Christians to submit to pagan worship practices. For example, every craftsman and trader had the opportunity to belong to the relevant guild. These guilds included practices like sacrificing to a pagan god (and likely to the emperor as well) and participation in a common meal dedicated to a pagan deity (Kraybill 1996:196). In order to survive in the international marketplace, it was essential to join trade guilds. It would have been a compromise of a Christian's faith to participate in the activities of these organisations. The Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6, 15) seem to have been a group that corrupted the church by suggesting compromise with the culture of the day. Rather than worshiping God alone, they said it was appropriate to engage in cultural activities of the empire. The Nicolaitan practices were linked with Balaam (Rev 2:14-15) and Jezebel (Rev 2:20-23). One of the sins found in both the Balaam narrative and the Jezebel narrative (1 Kgs 16:31) is idolatry. Therefore, it is probable that the Nicolaitans encouraged the church in Ephesus to accommodate the pagans by participating in their practices (Osborne 2002:120-121). To counter the Nicolaitan's instructions, Revelation discloses the rewards for those who remain faithful despite the pressure to compromise (e.g. 6:9-11; 7:9-17).

Christians in Asia Minor also experienced harassment from their Jewish neighbors. Informing the local authorities of Christian nonparticipation in emperor worship may have been one form of harassment enacted by some Jews. Another could have been pointing out to the Roman establishment that despite the apparent similarities between the two groups, the Christians were not, in fact, Jews, and therefore, were not exempt from emperor worship, as were the Jews.4 In the early years of the church, Rome did not see a distinction between Christianity and Judaism. But later Jews antithetical to Christianity could act as informants for Rome against Christians. This scenario might explain the references to "the synagogue of Satan" in Rev 2:9 and 3:9 (DeSilva 1992:279).

In addition to external pressures to compromise, the letters to the seven churches reveal that the communities faced internal strife. These problems emerged in the form of false prophets whose teaching threatened to weaken community boundaries (Balaam, Rev 2:14, the Nicolaitans, Rev 2:6, 15, and Jezebel, Rev 2:20). As noted, it is likely the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6) falsely "redefined apostolic teaching" so Christians could feel comfortable participating in the practices of pagan organisations (Beale 1999:30).

John's community was experiencing various forms of stress such as ostracism and social contempt. They likely faced some local persecution, but not widespread state persecution. The Christian community felt threatened and insecure and would have been subject to religious as well as social stress. This stress was produced by the externally enforced worship of the Roman emperor, with social and economic sanctions applied against nonconformists.


3. Reception: Authorial presence

John, who was confined5 to Patmos (Rev 1:9), wrote and sent correspondence to the seven churches in Asia Minor,6 where a lector stood before each community and recited the letter (Rev 1:3; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14).7 The letter acted as a substitute for face-to-face communication (cf. Cicero, Att. 8.14.1; 12.53; Seneca, Ep. 75.1), which would presumably have taken place if John was physically present at the congregations. Written correspondence, as with other literature in the 1st century, was often read out loud by the recipient or by another literate individual on behalf of the recipient. While low literacy rates contributed to the popularity of oral recitation, even highly literate persons were accustomed to listening to passages read out loud, especially when the availability of texts was limited (e.g. Pliny, Ep. 9.34). Seneca articulated the benefit of listening to something recited, even if a person was fully literate, when he asked and answered, '"But why,' one asks, 'should I have to continue hearing lectures on what I can read?' 'The living voice,' one replies, 'is a great help.'" (Ep. 33.9).8 The 1st century Mediterranean world was a blend of an oral and a scribal culture. It was a world familiar with writing, but still significantly, even predominately, oral.

1st century oral cultures believed that the reading of a letter created a sense of the author's tangible presence (e.g. Seneca, Ep. 40.1). The letter was considered by some ancient rhetorical theorists as one half of a conversation or a replacement for dialogue (e.g. Demetrius, Eloc. 223; Cicero, Fam. 12.30.1). Seneca conveyed this notion when he wrote: "Whenever your letters arrive, I imagine that I am with you, and I have the feeling that I am about to speak my answer, instead of writing it" (Seneca, Ep. 67.2).9 The words were a mirror of their spoken counterpart, letting the absent author come to life (Fögen 2018:61). The author was regarded as concretely present in the reading or hearing of his letter, almost seen and heard through his written words. This notion is expressed in another one of Seneca's letters: "I see you, my dear Lucilius, and at this very moment I hear you; I am with you to such an extent that I hesitate whether I should not begin to write you notes instead of letters. Farewell." (Seneca, Ep. 55.11:371, 373)10

Like these secular letters, there is a significant amount of oral/aural language in New Testament epistles, suggesting an ongoing conversation between the author and the recipients of the letters.11 For example, James exhorts his audience to "listen, my beloved brothers and sisters" (Jas 2:5). The author of Hebrews uses language that stresses the actions of speaking, which are appropriate to persons engaged in a conversation (e.g. Heb 5:11; 6:9; 9:5). Both Jesus and John repeatedly urge the audience to "listen" to or "hear" what the Spirit is saying to the churches (e.g. Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22;


John's epistle to the congregations in Asia Minor served as a substitute for his personal presence.12 The individuals reciting the epistle effectively eliminated the distance in time and space between the author and the reader/audience, giving John's words real immediacy. In the oral/aural experience of the hearers, the voice that was heard within the assembly was not only a text but was at the same time the voice of the lector and the voice of John. John was not present in any mystical way but was in attendance by means of his voice.


4. Reception: A prophetic presence

In several New Testament documents it is apparent that the authors believed they had received an authoritative divine message and were communicating these prophetic words in writing to various church assemblies. For example, Paul tells the Thessalonian community "with a word of the Lord" (έν λόγω κυρίου) what will happen to the Christians who had died before the hoped-for return of Jesus (1 Thess 4:15). Also, in Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 13:2 - 3: "Since you desire proof that Christ is speaking... ", λαλοΰντος (speaking) is a present tense participle, communicating that Christ is speaking through Paul even as he now speaks to them through the reading of the letter. The author of Hebrews also believed his discourse was an extension or form of God's own speech. He indicates that he expects his sermon to function with the power and authority of God's own word: "See to it that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!" (Heb 12:25).13 The audience is hearing God's voice in the moment of the delivery of the sermon. Finally, John was a Spirit-endowed prophet, called to communicate the words of God to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev 1:1 -2; 1:7; 22:6). This language conveys that not only were the recipients receiving correspondence from John or Paul, but from God or Christ, who had conveyed the communication to a divine envoy.14

The individuals who received messages from God or Christ and were commissioned to deliver the oracles were to be viewed and treated by the members of the church as divinely authorised agents. Agents or messengers would have possessed some of the comprehensive authority delegated to them by their commissioners (Derrett 2005:55). In the Greek world, heralds were sacred and under the divine protection of Hermes, the divine herald (Hesiod, Theog. 939; Homer, Od. 12.390). The sacred and protected nature of heralds was also respected amongst the Romans, who recognised the essential nature of the protection (7he Digest of Justinian 50.7.18; Watson 2009:436). One of the great maxims of the Jewish law of agency was that a man's agent was like himself (b. Hag. 1:8, IV.1.C; Derrett 2005:52). The person commissioned was always the representative of the man (or God) who authorised the commission.15 Jesus likely had this law of agency in mind when he spoke to his disciples: "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Luke 10:16).16 Thus, when the language in Revelation indicates that the author is conveying a divine message, not only is the lector giving voice to John, but he is also invoking the presence of the divinely commissioned prophetic messenger.


5. Reception: Divine presence

While the congregations heard the voice of the prophet John through the lector, they actually heard far more, as the prophet became a surrogate for God or Christ as he delivered a divine oracle (e.g. Rev 1:7-8; 13:9-10).17 So, as the lector personified the prophet, he also represented the presence of God or Jesus in the community.18 Ancient written documents from various levels of leadership carried a sense of the presence of the ruler in epistolary form (Doty 2014:6).

Timothy Ward's (2009) work helps to explain how the divine presence might have been conceived by a 1st century audience upon hearing the prophetic announcement. Ward (2009:60-67) argues that God is semantically present when a person hears (or reads) God's words. He claims that Scripture indicates an "astoundingly close relationship between God as himself and the words (spoken or written) through which he speaks" (2009:26). To support this assertion, Ward (2009:26-32) cites, amongst other examples, Adam and Eve's disobedience to God's spoken command and the ensuing punishment. Their disregard of his spoken order to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil result in a fractured relationship with God himself, as they are sent out of his presence in the Garden (Gen 2:17; 3:24; Ward 2009:26-27). In another example, the Lord's anger is aroused when Uzzah irreverently touches the ark that houses the words of God inscribed on the tablets (2 Sam 6:7). According to Ward (2009:29-30), Uzzah is struck dead instantly because God is represented in the ten words or commandments inscribed on the tablets in the ark to such an extent that he is, in some sense, present in those words. For Ward (2009:66), God has so identified himself with his words that whatever someone does to God's words (whether it is to obey, to disobey, or to treat with disrespect, etc.) they do directly to God himself. God has chosen to use words as a fundamental means of revealing himself to humanity - though not exhaustively. God reveals himself by being semantically present to readers or listeners, as he promises, warns, rebukes, reassures and so on in Scripture.

When God or Jesus (or any person) promises, warns, rebukes, or reassures (or speaks any other performative verb) they are executing what speech-act theorists call an illocutionary act.19 John Austin's book (1975) on speech-act theory provides ways for linguists to think about words as actions, or performatives. To denote the effect or intention of an illocutionary act, Austin uses the word "perlocutions". The term perlocutions refers to how "saying something can bring about certain consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the audience, or of the speaker, or of other persons" (Austin 1975:101). An illocutionary act is achieved in saying something, while a perlocutionary act is achieved by saying something. For example, a person performs an illocutionary act by saying "the toaster is hot". He or she is verbalising a warning. The goal, however, of giving this warning, is to persuade anyone in the vicinity of the toaster to act with caution and thus avoid getting burned. The goal of the statement is labelled a perlocutionary act. In this sense, words can be viewed "like servants dispatched to do the bidding of their master" (Caird 2002:21).

People (and God) speak to bring about various outcomes or effects, or to accomplish specific purposes. Speech-act theory reaffirms the interpersonal nature of textual communication. God, rather than a text, is promising, warning, rebuking, and reassuring humanity. Perlocutions may also operate through delegation (Caird 2002:25). When a person encounters the words of an Old or New Testament prophet, he or she is in direct contact with God's words - his semantic presence.20 Thus, the public reader stood in the place of the prophet John and made both him and God present. The prophet was more than God's representative for, in "the moment of delivery of the prophecy he was an active extension of God's personality and as such, was God in person" (Myers and Freed 1966:50). Subsequently, we will examine how a specific prophetic word from John to the churches may have been expressed.


6. Delivery: A compassionate and authoritative word from John (Rev 13:910)

Following the vision of the beast who wages war against the church, and who likely was the representative of the Roman Empire, is a prophetic proclamation formula or a call for attention: "If anyone has an ear, let him hear" (Rev 13:9; Aune 1983:282). Here, without warning, anyone listening to the lector is abruptly addressed in the text. The formula is similar to those that open many Old Testament prophetic speeches (e.g. Isa 7:13, 28:14; Jer 2:4). In the Iliad, Zeus makes use of the call for attention formula: κέκλυτέ μευ, πάντες τε θεοί πασαί τε θέαιναι ("Hear me, all you gods and goddesses"; Homer 1925: 340-341). The call for attention formula suggests that the poetic saying that follows, is of oracular nature (Aune 1983:282).

If anyone has an ear, let him hear.

If anyone [is destined] for captivity, into captivity he goes.

If anyone kills with the sword, by the sword he must be killed.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Rev 13:9-10)21

The oracle is arranged in two parallel lines. It appears to be formulated in close association with Jeremiah 15:2 LXX and 43:11 LXX (Rev 13:10a). A concluding formula articulates a call for Christians to endure persecution, and is likely the seer's own words rather than part of the divine message (Rev 13:10b; Aune 1983:282).

The difficulties in this text have produced multiple textual variants, providing evidence that scribes found the original passage quite problematic.22 At issue is the identity of who is taken captive and killed, and by whom these deeds are done. Craig Koester (2014:587-588) believes the saying has a double meaning.23 First, the warning pertains to the faithful, who may lose their freedom and lives if they refuse to worship the beast. Second, the statement expresses the principle of retributive justice (jus talonis). As such, persecuted Christians should exercise patience because God will punish the guilty for their crimes. The concept of retributive justice and divine vengeance may have brought present comfort, hope, and encouragement to Christians who were victims of evil. Other scholars do not consider the oracle as a promise of divine punishment of the wicked but, instead, believe the warning affirms the suffering of God's people and exhorts their perseverance through it (Beale 1999:704).

It is not the point of this essay to determine the intent of the oracle. Regardless of its meaning, for the purposes of this essay it is significant that the message to the oppressed churches originated with John, a fellow victim of persecution who cared for the Christians' plight. While it was not possible for John to be with the congregations in person, his presence was felt through the reading of his letter. In the ancient world sending a letter was not a trivial matter, but a clear statement expressing the author's concern and compassion for the recipients (cf. Seneca, Ep. AdLucilius 59.1). According to Pseudo-Demetrius (Eloc. 224), a letter is "written and sent as a kind of gift". In his absence, John thought of sending a gift to those he loved - an oracle (Rev 13:9-10), providing insight into how the church should respond to its oppression.

John was not merely a compassionate brother providing good advice for Christians experiencing persecution, but also a Spirit-endowed prophet, called to communicate the counsel of Jesus and God to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev 1:1 - 3; 1:7; 22:6). The recipients were receiving guidance from a divine envoy in the form of a prophetic word concerning the proper view of suffering that Christians should hold,24 bolstering John's exhortation that they remain faithful to their confession regardless of the pressures to do otherwise. Next, we will consider the poetic nature of the prophetic word, which would have resulted in the lector delivering it in a manner distinct from the other voices in the text competing for the listeners' attention.25


7. Delivery: The poetic nature of the divine word (Rev 13:9-10)

In addition to the compassionate and authoritative nature of the words from John, it is also important to note that the poetic form of the oracle cultivates a sense of the divine presence. Oracles in both Testaments are often poetic with formal regularities which set them apart from prose literature.26 Citing the speech of Moses (Deut 32), Josephus noted that the poetic form is characteristic of Hebrew prophecy (Ant. 4.303).27 James Kugel (1990:5) observes certain connections between the act of prophesying in the Old Testament and the accoutrements of music making or poetry (1 Sam 10:5; 2 Kings 3:1416). John's prophetic word in Revelation 13:9-10 has several poetic features, distinguishing it from what is written before and after the instruction.

Εϊ τις εχει ούς άκουσάτω.

εϊ τις εις αίχμαλωσίαν, εις αίχμαλωσίαν υπάγει·

εϊ τις έν μαχαίρη άποκτανθήναι αυτόν έν μαχαίρη άποκτανθήναι.

Ώδέ έστιν ή υπομονή και ή πίστις των αγίων.

An initial poetic characteristic in the oracle is that the text is an example of anaphora (Demetrius, Eloc. 268; Quintilian, Inst. 9.3.30) in that successive phrases begin with the same words (εϊ τις). An additional poetic device is present in the first line of the oracle, which is written in the form of anadiplosis (Quintilian, Inst. 9.3.44-45). Anadiplosis exists when there is a repetition of a word or words which end a clause at the beginning of the next clause (εϊ τις εις αίχμαλωσίαν, εις αίχμαλωσίαν υπάγει). Anaphora and anadiplosis both contribute to the rhythm and rhyme in the oracle. Rhythm transpires with the periodic re-emergence of the same significant element or factor. Pseudo-Longinus, in discussing the sublime or that which produces exalted language and has the effect of being dignified and filled with grandeur, points to the aural effects of rhythm ([Subl.] 39-42). Furthermore, rhythm could have provided auditory stability to the original hearers' already chaotic world, thereby minimising their anxiety (Myers and Freed 1966:43).

The oracle's rhythmic poetic style may have been one of the characteristics that conveyed its authority. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the poetic form of oracles was viewed as an indication of their divine origin, because the Greeks widely accepted the divine inspiration of poetry. Socrates stated that poets "don't do what they do from wisdom, but from some natural inspiration, like prophets and oracle mongers" (Plato, Apol. 22b8-c2; 1925:125). Socrates noted about poets that: "For the god, as it seems to me, intended him to be a sign to us that we should not waver or doubt that these fine poems are not human or the work of men, but divine and the work of gods; and that the poets are merely the interpreters of the gods, according as each is possessed by one of the heavenly powers" (Plato, Ion. 534e-535a; 1925:425).28 Some of the Psalms, which are poetic by nature, contain oracles where God is addressing Israel, or the nations, or pagan deities (e.g. Ps 81:6-16, 82:2-7; Kugel 1990:6). As Robert Alter (2011:147) says, poetry is our best human model of complex and rich communication, being "solemn, weighty, and forceful". Consequently, it is appropriate that divine speech should be represented as poetry. Katie Heffelfinger (2013:38) states it another way: by setting prophetic texts in poetry, ancient Israelite prophets were "putting divine speech in special divine speech quotation marks".

Given that the style of language of the oracle is different from that which precedes or follows it, the poetic form tends to indicate a change in speaker - God is now addressing the church. The transformation in language contributes to the sense of the divine presence within the community. Oracles set in poetry help the prophet project the persona of God himself to the audience. While John is speaking as a prophet, the oracle is verbalised as the present utterance of God (or Jesus) in person - he is personally speaking and addressing the listeners (Boring 1992:336). This divine persona also increases the chances that the audience will experience a type of divine encounter as they hear the oracle recited (Heffelfinger 2013:45).29

In political, judicial, or religious settings, ancient recitations were not flat or mumbled (Meyer 2004:87). They were a marked mode of expression to be used on deeply serious occasions. Poetry, with its aesthetic component, was a marked mode of communication that could call attention to itself through expressions of rhythm, rhyme, and other poetic devices (Barr 1988:50-51). As the oracle in Revelation 13:9-10 was brought to life by the lector, the audience would have recognised its unique language, which perhaps would have alerted them to the importance of the communication, its divine origin, and the need for it to be considered dependable and binding.

Reverence and awe were likely stimulated by hearing the word from God. Jonathan Haidt (2012:28) contends that awe is usually triggered when two situations are present: first, vastness (something larger than us overwhelms us and makes us feel small), and second, our experience is not easily assimilated into existing mental structures. When people are mystified, they feel small, powerless, and passive.

Awe associated with the experience of being in the presence of an entity greater than the self, such as God, endows the being with higher status, respect and authority. A potential response of a subordinate who has perceived the characteristics of the person or deity who produced the awe, could involve heightened attention to the powerful person (Keltner and Haidt 2003:306). Endowing status to God, inspiring awe as a result of the divine voice, may have been encouraging for persecuted Christians and/or influential in motivating a faithful Christian commitment from the members of the churches in Asia Minor.


8. Summary and conclusion

This essay has demonstrated that, for the seven churches in Asia Minor, the prophetic word in Revelation 13:9 -10 would have been received simultaneously as the voice of the divinely commissioned prophet John, the divine himself, and the lector. John's letters are "voiced texts" - written with the intent of an oral proclamation. Both the human and divine speakers were made present across great distances by having the written words proclaimed by a public reader. The congregants would have heard John's voice and accepted the prophet's words as caring and authoritative. In addition, the poetic nature of the oracle, when communicated, may have fostered a sense of the semantic divine presence. Prophetic poetry mediates the divine voice as direct speech. God was not absent, but present as his voice was heard in the reading of his commanding word. Consequently, when the prophecy was read aloud, it may have nurtured feelings of awe, reverence, and respect for God in the listeners. Furthermore, the poetic style of the oracle (Rev 13:9-10) gives it a unique style when delivered, bolstering its authoritative nature.



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1 David Barr (1986) has done some work on orality in Revelation. This present study will provide more robust support for how the Apocalypse would have been performed by the public reader and received by the original audience.
2 This passage reads as follows: "Let anyone who has an ear listen: If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints." All biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
3 Other oracles in the New Testament could be similarly investigated. However, Revelation lends itself to this type of examination because the book is not only apocalyptic in nature, but it is also prophetic. It is prophetic both by forthtelling (e.g. Rev 1:8) and foretelling (cf. Rev 1:19).
4 In contrast to the pressures facing Christians, Judaism, under Roman rule, enjoyed the privilege of the right to practice religion unhindered (Kraybill 1996:172-173). Josephus cites a long list of privileges extended to Diaspora Jews (Ant. 16.6.2). Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, and Laodicea all had Jewish communities. It is possible there was little or no persecution during Domitian's reign, assuming a late date for Revelation's composition (Collins 1984:70).
5 The phrase
δώ χόν λόγον χοϋ θεοϋ καί την μαρχυρίαν Ίησοϋ (Rev 1:9) may indicate that John was on Patmos for missionary purposes or it could mean that he was sent there as an exile. It is likely that his presence on the island was not for the purpose of proclaiming the word of God, but rather that he had been exiled there by the state as punishment for preaching. The phrase "because of (δώ) is always used in Revelation for the result of an action and not to designate a purpose for an action (Boring 1989:82).
6 The number seven may be symbolic. If so, the seven historical churches are viewed as representative of all the churches in Asia Minor and probably, by extension, the church universal. See Gregory Beale (1999:186-187) for further discussion.
7 No conclusive consensus has been reached on the identity of the angels of the churches to which each of the seven letters in Rev 2-3 are addressed (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). See Everett Ferguson (2011) for a list of proposals. Ferguson contends that the designation
άγγελος refers to the human congregational reader of each church.
8 As noted by Rex Winsbury (2009:112).
9 See also Seneca, Ep. 40.1; Cicero, Att. 9.10.1; Quint. fratr. 1.1.45; Pliny, Ep. 6.
10 See also Select Papyri (1932:112).
11 "Aural" means of or relating to the ear or to the sense of hearing.
12 This was true of other New Testament epistles as well (cf. 1 Cor 5:1 -5).
13 The identity of the "one who is speaking" is somewhat ambiguous and is disputed. However, Jonathan Griffiths (2014:147) contends that in its immediate context, God must have been the ultimate speaker.
14 Of course, the Spirit is also ministering through all these voices, making the message efficacious to the congregations (Matt 10:20; John 16:13; 1 Thess 1:5; Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
15 Contra Thomas Martin (2018:249) who says that "ventriloquism does not carry quite the same authority as God's direct voice".
16 See also Matthew 10:40 and John 13:20.
17 Despite John's claim to possess prophetic status (Rev 1: 1-3), there was no guarantee that his message would be accepted by everyone as coming from God. He could have been rejected as other prophets who claimed divine authorisation (cf. Hos 9:7; Mark 6:1-4; Luke 13:31-35; 2 Cor 13:2-3).
18 William Doan and Terry Giles (2005:29) make a similar claim regarding the Old Testament scribe.
19 Daniel Vanderveken (1990:166-219) lists over 270 English performative verbs.
20 For pagan ways of staging the divine presence see Angelos Chaniotis (2013:169-189). It is important to note that Ward (2009:65) is not claiming that God is present when the Bible is open and being read and he is not present when the book is closed. Neither is he saying that individual words or phrases from the Bible, when read privately or out loud, are somehow filled with divine presence, as if they are religious relics believed to possess magical powers.
21 My translation.
22 See David Aune (1998:750-751) for a discussion of textual variances and interpretive options.
23 George Wesley Buchanan (2005:358) also understands both lines to be promises of divine justice on behalf of the persecuted saints.
24 Of course, the Spirit is also ministering through all these voices, making the message efficacious to the congregations (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 13:9).
25 See M. Eugene Boring (1992:334-359) who analyses the various speaking voices in Revelation.
26 For example, in the New Testament see Revelation 3:5b, 10; 13:10; 16:6; 22:12, 18-19 (Boring 1991:156). See also Luke 1:14-17, 32-33, 35, 46b-55, 68-79; 2:29-32, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 3:17; 14:38; 15:51-52; 16:22; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Romans 2:12; 11:25-26; Galatians 1:9.
27 As noted by Boring (1991:156).
28 See also Homer, Od. 8.488.
29 See David Seal (2017) for a similar argument regarding the hymns and prayers in 4 Ezra and Revelation.

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A journal for biblical, theological and / or contextual hermeneutics?



Ernst M. Conradie

Department of Religion and Theology University of the Western Cape




This contribution reflects on the current sub-title of the journal Scriptura, namely "Journal for Biblical, Theological andHermeneutics ". It shows that this has been a core interest of the journal over a period of forty years. It also discusses the methodological tensions between these three forms / aspects of hermeneutics - to the point where one may wonder whether the "and" in the subtitle could be understood as "or ". It does not propose a way forward but commends Scriptura for offering the space to explore such tensions further in the South African context.

Keywords: Biblical hermeneutics; Contextual hermeneutics; Scriptura; Theological hermeneutics



On a personal note

When the first issue of Scriptura was published in 1980 I was a first-year student in the then Department of Biblical Studies of Stellenbosch University (SU). The first editor, Bernard Lategan, newly appointed at SU from the former Faculty of Theology at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and the later editor Johann Kinghorn taught some of our modules. I was also a student in philosophy classes presented by Hennie Rossouw, one of the contributors to that first volume. His article on strategies of appropriating the meaning of the text (archaeological, analogical-typological and eschatological-critical) remains (in my view) one of the more insightful contributions ever published in this journal (Rossouw 1980a). In one way or another I have been involved in Scriptura ever since - as a student, subscriber, administrator, author, reviewer and co-editor.

In this contribution I will reflect on the history of Scriptura, not so much the history of my engagement with Scriptura but certainly the history from my perspective as an insider-outsider (given my affiliation with UWC since 1993). The current subtitle "Journal for Biblical, Theological and Contextual Hermeneutics" was only formalised in 2018. It nevertheless reflects a core concern with hermeneutics that has been evident throughout its history of forty years. I will suggest that the most interesting word in this sub-title is the word "and". This indicates the intention to hold together three forms of hermeneutics. Whether this can be maintained, is another matter. Given long-standing methodological disputes, one is inclined to wonder whether these are not held in opposition to each other, despite the journal's deliberate intention to the contrary. This is indicated in the "or" and the question mark in the title of this contribution. By reflecting on these methodological tensions I merely commend Scriptura for offering the space to explore such tensions further in the South African context.


An emerging hermeneutical awareness

When I embarked on my studies at SU in 1980 it soon became clear to me that hermeneutics, in one form or another, was a common interest of most of my lecturers, cutting across most disciplines. It took me longer to understand why. The critique of apartheid that developed amongst minorities within the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) since the 1950s coincided with disillusionment with both the way in which the Bible was read in support of apartheid and the mode of doing theology that could produce apartheid theology despite overtly maintaining an orthodox reformed approach. What went wrong? The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk. The interest in hermeneutics arises once one becomes aware of radically distorted interpretations.

One may say that the earlier 19th century debates around John Colenso and "modernity", and the early 20th century debates around Johannes du Plessis already signalled such a hermeneutical awareness (see recently Jonker 2019). One may add with Johann Kinghorn (1986:55-58) that the Du Plessis trial left a hermeneutical vacuum, a lack of competence in and sensitivity for hermeneutics in the DRC in general and in SU in particular. The teachers (some from outside Stellenbosch) who most influenced me each tackled an aspect of the hermeneutical problem. Hennie Rossouw paved the way philosophically with his formidable doctoral dissertation on the clarity of Scripture (1963) and his subsequent reading of the history of philosophical hermeneutics (e.g. 1980b). An array of biblical scholars such as Ferdinand Deist, Bernard Lategan and Bernard Combrink reread the Bible in search of adequate tools to refute Totius' conclusion that the whole Bible supports apartheid. Jaap Durand grappled with a fully historical understanding of God's economy that challenged the more static and formalised categories employed by Herman Dooyeweerd and Hendrik Stoker (see Durand 1980, Smit 2009). Willie Jonker adopted Berkouwer's understanding of correlation to propose a more dynamic constant engagement with the Word of God that cannot be captured in orthodox formulae even if they may be "true" (see Jonker 1973). Dirkie Smit took the Barthian emphasis on the Word much further through his engagement with Habermas and introduced me to David Tracy and his "revised correlation" model (Tracy 1974). David Bosch (1980) regarded missiology as the "storm centre" of theology where hermeneutical debates on relating "Christ" and "culture" are played out. He also made me aware of the possibility / danger of an inverse hermeneutics, i.e. one where the meaning of the context for (an assessment of) the text is explored (Bosch 1991:430).

When the new journal was named Scriptura, this indicated such a hermeneutical interest but also a commitment to reread the text within an ever-changing context. The journal was administratively established in a Faculty of Arts, not in a Faculty of Theology or a Seminary - which also signalled that the Bible is not only read in the church but also in the academy and indeed in society, for better but often also for worse. The Latin name Scriptura conformed to academic parlance, but it certainly also evoked the classic Protestant emphasis on sola scriptura - Scripture alone. Naming the journal thus would have made it far more church orientated. Did leaving the sola out of the name signal a protest against not only the ecclesial authorities of the day but also against the formula itself? This is for Bernard Lategan as the founder and first editor of Scriptura to answer, but I do remember him once saying that sola Scriptura is one of the most radical slogans in the history of ideas. This signalled a willingness to test an entire tradition of more than a millennium and to call for radical reinterpretation. If the pope is not infallible, neither is the synod of the Dutch Reformed Church! In fact, it may well be horribly wrong. David Tracy's distinction between the three publics of theology (academy, church and society) is as old as Scriptura and the tension between these publics remains evident in contributions to the journal (Tracy 1981). Lategan has long argued for the need for "taking the third public seriously" but also indicates how difficult that often is (see Lategan 2015).


Institutional changes over forty years

The history of Scriptura as a journal is not particularly complex but still important. In the 1980s it served as the official journal for an academic society dedicated to teaching biblical studies in schools. It later focused more broadly on religious education. Therefore, for a while one edition of Scriptura annually was dedicated to articles in this field. By the mid-1980s the Centre for Contextual Hermeneutics was established in the Faculty of Arts with Bernard Lategan as its first Director. The emphasis clearly shifted to the so-called "third public" of theology, namely "society", although this is an over-generalised rubric that encompasses government, business and industry, the media, jurisprudence and civil society alike. Lategan hosted an annual seminar on contextual Bible reading and many articles emerging from these seminars were published in the journal. In 1990 Johann Kinghorn became head of the Department of Biblical Studies in the Faculty of Arts (SU) with Bernard Lategan taking up the position of Dean of the Faculty of Arts. In 1994 the Department of Biblical Studies became the Department of Religious Studies. With Kinghorn as editor, the journal maintained its interest in hermeneutics, but the focus was no longer only on reading the text (which was still in place) but also on "reading", understanding, analysing the context - during a time of rapid transition from apartheid.

When the Department of Religious Studies was subsequently closed around 2000, the journal was almost discontinued too. Hendrik Bosman had the wisdom not to let a precious resource slip away and ensured a transition by which Scriptura would be administratively located in the Department Old Testament and New Testament at SU from 2001. Ironically, this signalled a shift away from a journal in a Faculty of Arts to a journal now housed in a Faculty of Theology. For a decade and a half Hendrik Bosman, Elna Mouton and myself served as three co-editors with Bosman being the first among equals in bearing the bulk of the administrative burden. At the time the sub-title of the journal was "International Journal of Bible, Religion and Theology". This name signalled the broad interest of the journal in seeking to hold together interests in biblical studies, theological studies and religious studies. The danger was of course that its focus was too all-inclusive and not really distinctive if compared with other journals in the field. The order of Bible, religion and theology was admittedly odd. An order of religion, sacred texts (as one dimension of religious traditions) and theological reflection on such texts would make sense - but not given the name Scriptura. A classic theological encyclopaedia would have text, tradition, doctrine, ethics and contemporary appropriation (roughly biblical studies, systematic theology and practical theology, here including mission, treating religion as an object of mission).

The name change in 2018 signalled a narrower focus on hermeneutics although this is very broadly understood. If everything is a matter of interpretation, nothing much is excluded from consideration for publication. The journal maintains its interest in the South African context despite the word "international" in the former sub-title. One may say that the earlier emphasis on international and ecumenical engagement hoped to break through the isolation associated with apartheid and the subsequent academic boycotts and to ensure subscriptions from libraries further afield. If anything, there is now a commitment to publish articles from the wider African context.


A quantitative survey

Given the comments above, it would be interesting to see what has been published in Scriptura over a period of forty years, from one decade to the next. The survey below includes only articles and special editions, not editorials, responses or book reviews. It is indeed remarkable to see the variety of genres in the first decade (conference reports, homilies, literature reviews, opinions) before the current subsidy formula inhibited such creativity. If some rather traditional subject areas are employed and if each contribution is forced into one main category (which any form of hermeneutics can hardly sustain), based mainly on the title of each contribution, the following pattern emerges:



This table indicates that the focus on hermeneutics does allow for contributions from all the traditional disciplines and sub-disciplines of the fields of religion and theology. The decrease in contributions about discourse on biblical studies as a school subject / religion / religious education since the 1990s is understandable given that the academic society that focused on this, no longer exists.

It would be quite interesting to explore demographic changes in the contributing authors in terms of nationality, institutional affiliation, gender, race, age and denominational background but this cannot be offered here. It would be even more interesting to offer a survey of themes covered and changes in the underlying theological discourse - a good topic for a postgraduate project. Suffice it to say that while the quality of the typographical layout (but not of the copy editing) in the 1980s compared to contemporary standards left much to be desired , there were some truly excellent articles over the years. These include articles by SU and UWC affiliated scholars, articles derived from seminars on contextual hermeneutics and a few by famous German theologians such as Wolfgang Huber, Eberhard Jüngel and Theo Sundermeier, to name only a few. The increase in quantity over the decades does not necessarily indicate an increase in quality, although some of the early contributions would not have been accepted according to contemporary double blind peer review processes, at least if the titles are considered (e.g. "Fundamentalism - yes or no?").


Mapping the keys to adequate interpretation

Another strategy to detect hermeneutical trends in publications in Scriptura since 1980 may be to employ forms of hermeneutics that focus on the world behind the text, the world of the text and the world in front of the text. This distinction has been widely employed by contributors to Scriptura. A few examples will suffice to illustrate this analysis.

A first attempt to map the terrain of biblical hermeneutics may be found in the textbook by Ferdinand Deist and Jasper Burden, An ABC of Biblical exegesis (1980). In an influential essay Bernard Lategan (1984) shows how two shifts occurred in New Testament hermeneutics, namely from historical critical approaches, to text-based approaches (new criticism, structural analysis), and then to contextual approaches (the role of the reader, reception theory and cultural approaches). In a widely used textbook, Dirkie Smit (1987) identified six aspects of hermeneutics, namely the world behind the text, the text itself, the role of the tradition, contemporary appropriation, ideological suspicion and the social context. Gerald West (1991) used the distinction between the world behind, of and in front of the text in various publications (early 1990s). In the first edition of Fishing for Jonah Roger Arendse, Louis Jonker, Douglas Lawrie and myself adopted and adapted Smit's analysis, identifying the same six aspects. In various contributions during the 1990s Louis Jonker argued for multi-dimensional modes of hermeneutics (see 1996). Finally, in Angling for interpretation (2001, 2008) I added a seventh set of factors namely related to the role of the contemporary rhetorical context in which a classic text such as the Bible is interpreted, and its meaning appropriated.

One may say that these attempts at mapping the terrain of biblical, theological and contextual hermeneutics are typically South African. Given our Dutch and British colonial history and our situatedness in the global South, we are influenced by discourses in continental Europe, the UK and USA, Latin America and elsewhere in Africa. Of course, the terrain of hermeneutics is contested in South Africa where the Bible is regarded as a site of struggle (Mosala 1989) and indeed an object of theft (West 2016). Admittedly, such mapping is never innocent and typically reflects a position of power. Since this is an all-male cast of mostly white scholars mapping the terrain, one needs to add that many others have contributed to the debate, not least Elna Mouton and Charlene van der Walt (see 2012) as former co-editors. The analysis will always be contested but the basic identification of three, four, six or seven sets of factors influencing biblical and theological interpretation has thus far withstood the test of time, with only some details described with different vocabularies.

Let me on this basis again offer a statistical survey of contributions to Scriptura, now asking where the main focus of each contribution lies in terms of the seven sets of factors playing a role in biblical, theological and contextual hermeneutics as identified in Angling for interpretation. One may say that even though most scholars would acknowledge the complexity of interpretation, the key to adequate interpretation is found in different areas. Note that the focus here is not only on biblical hermeneutics, but also on theological hermeneutics (understanding the content and significance of the Christian faith) and contextual hermeneutics (arguably critically reflecting on the perceived implications of text and tradition for contemporary or future Christian praxis, for the role of religion in society or for society itself). The statistics indicated below are admittedly rather imprecise and to some extent arbitrary, but suffice to suggest that the analysis of aspects of interpretation holds:



And / or?

Hermeneutics is studied in multiple disciplines, but especially of course in philosophy, jurisprudence, literature, religion and theology. One may argue that it is hermeneutics that holds together the various sub-disciplines of Christian theology. As Dirkie Smit argues in a lesser known article (1991), the task of (evangelical) theology is to understand the Word of God anew. He observes that this entails three tasks, namely, to understand the biblical texts, to become cognisant of the tradition of interpretation and to study the contemporary context. This is a single integrated task: even though one may focus on one aspect, the others inevitably play a role, whether acknowledged as such or not. For example, biblical scholars are situated in a particular context that shapes the way they read the text. Liberation theologians and pastoral theologians alike may be concerned with particular social or personal needs, but the context is always already shaped by the biblical texts. Systematic theologians may proclaim adherence to the axiom of sola Scriptura, but their reflections are always shaped by the particular tradition in which they stand and by philosophical assumptions derived from contemporary discourse. No wonder the Methodist quadrilateral acknowledges Scripture, tradition, reason and experience as sources of Christian theology.

To recognise such a single integrated task may help to avoid the fragmentation of theological sub-disciplines. However, this cannot hide the deep methodological tensions that have emerged between theological sub-disciplines. How, then, is it possible for Scriptura to maintain the "and" in its subtitle? To have "Biblical, theological or contextual hermeneutics" as subtitle may provoke even more questions but it would at least point to the underlying problem.

One may fill volumes in explaining such tensions, but it may suffice to say that these are found between biblical studies and dogmatics, between biblical studies and ethics (see Mouton 1997 though), between the history of Christianity and systematic theology, between dogmatics and ethics, between practical theology and systematic theology, between religious studies and theological studies and between theology and a wide range of other disciplines, including the humanities, the social sciences and nowadays also the natural sciences. In working on Fishing for Jonah (and much of it in jest) I reached a half-serious ceasefire agreement with my colleagues and friends biblical scholars Douglas Lawrie and Louis Jonker. Accordingly, I may quote the Bible as a systematic theologian as long as I do not pretend to have any real clue how the text is situated in its historical context and the history of the coming into being of the text. Any quotation is also misquotation. They may study the biblical text and may spell out its contemporary significance as long as they admit that they have no real clue how to understand the doctrinal and ethical vocabulary that they employ in doing so. Any appropriation is also misappropriation.

These methodological tensions remain entrenched, as illustrated by a recent article by Izak Spangenberg. Spangenberg (2017:209) comments on the "old-fashioned use of the Bible to support specific convictions" by "most South African theologians". Inversely, he observes that "Christians project their prejudices and values onto the Bible, arguing that they are 'biblical norms and values'" (2017:212). Note the distinction here between appropriations of what the text means (for us today) and reconstructions of what the text has meant. Spangenberg is in my view right to point to the distance between the biblical texts and contemporary beliefs and values, but then seems to assume that it is possible to avoid reading the context into the text and the text into the context. He argues that those who supported apartheid on the basis of the Bible and those who rejected apartheid on the basis of the Bible followed the same strategy. However, even an atheist rejection of the relevance of the Bible for today is still a (negative) form of appropriation. His own emphasis on humanism and human rights categories operates in the same way, namely, to indicate historical distance, to question the authority of the text and to regard the Bible as one possible source of inspiration alongside many others. Elsewhere I argue that such hermeneutical keys to relate text and context cannot be avoided (see Conradie 2010). They identify / construct / enforce a point of similarity between text and context (idem-facio = to make similar). Moreover, these hermeneutical keys are typically of a doctrinal kind. This was well illustrated by an empirical project on how established Bible study groups read the Bible - in which it became clear that their doctrinal presuppositions shape their appropriation of the text (see Bosman, Conradie and Jonker 2001). I also illustrate this claim with reference to the "small dogmatics" employed as principles in the Earth Bible series (Conradie 2004). Without them, neither appropriation, misappropriation nor rejection is possible. In short, the role of doctrine (expressing deeply held convictions) cannot be avoided in exegesis. The most vehement denial of the role of doctrine may be the most doctrinal. The only way forward is to acknowledge and then discuss the relative adequacy of such doctrinal keys. Biblical and theological hermeneutics cannot be separated from each other.

The most dramatic instance where such methodological disputes surfaced in the forty years of Scriptura is in a volume of essays on New Testament ethics published as a supplement in 1992. In a concluding essay to a volume of essays on New Testament ethics, Dirkie Smit (1992:325) observes that the very sophisticated work done by his New Testament colleagues is of very little use to respond to the South African challenges of the time because they do not take into account the immense complexities involved in forming moral judgements. In particular, the distinction between ethos and ethics is not taken into account sufficiently. As a result there is a tendency to be either very vague about the contemporary significance of these texts or to jump almost directly from a particular text to a particular contemporary issue. He argues that as competent as the New Testament scholars are in analysing the texts, so superficial is their analysis of the contemporary social problems. In a scathing last sentence he comments that, with this volume of essays, we are still in the house of the deaf.


To conclude

Suffice it to say that biblical, theological and contextual hermeneutics remain in tension with each other thirty years later, as the reference to Spangenberg above illustrates. My hope is that this subtitle will serve as an acknowledgement of what David Bosch (1991:381-389) describes as a creative tension. By juxtaposing all three these modes of hermeneutics, Scriptura is signaling that the one cannot be done without the other. It also provides an academic space where this can be explored further. It is only through the collaborative efforts of authors, reviewers and readers that any distortions in the relatedness of biblical, theological and contextual hermeneutics can be recognised. May we remain vigilant in this regard in the decades to come!



Bosch, DJ. 1980. Witness to the world: The Christian mission in theological perspective. Atlanta: John Knox Press.         [ Links ]

Bosch, DJ. 1991. Transforming mission: Paradigm shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.         [ Links ]

Bosman, HL, Conradie, EM and Jonker, LC. 2001. Biblical interpretation in established Bible study groups: A chronicle of a regional research project, Scriptura 78:340346.         [ Links ]

Conradie, EM et al. 1995. Fishing for Jonah. Various approaches to Biblical interpretation. Study Guides in Religion and Theology 1. Bellville: UWC Publications.         [ Links ]

Conradie, EM. 2004. Towards an ecological biblical hermeneutics: A review essay on the Earth Bible project, Scriptura 85:123-135.         [ Links ]

Conradie, EM. 2008. Angling for interpretation: A first guide to Biblical, theological and contextual hermeneutics. Study Guides in Religion and Theology 13. Stellenbosch: SUN Press.         [ Links ]

Conradie, EM. 2010. What on earth is an ecological hermeneutics? Some broad parameters. In Horrell, DG et al. (eds), Ecological hermeneutics: Biblical, historical, and theological perspectives. London: T & T Clark, 295-314.         [ Links ]

Deist, FE and Burden, JJ. 1980. An ABC of Biblical exegesis. Pretoria: JL van Schaik.         [ Links ]

Durand, JJF. 1980. God in history: An unresolved problem. In Kõnig, A and Keane, MH (eds), The meaning of history. Pretoria: Unisa, 171-178.         [ Links ]

Jonker, LC. 1996. Exclusivity and variety: Perspectives on multidimensional exegesis. Leuven: Peeters.         [ Links ]

Jonker, LC and Lawrie, DG (eds). 2005. Fishing for Jonah (anew): Various approaches to Biblical interpretation. Stellenbosch: Sun Press.         [ Links ]

Jonker, LC. 2019. Herinnering en verlange: Gesprekke oor mag, geskiedenis en die Bybel. Stellenbosch: Sun Press.         [ Links ]

Jonker, WD. 1973. Dogmatiek en Heilige Skrif. In Bakker, JT et al. (eds), Septuagesimo anno - Theologische opstelle aangeboden aan Prof. Dr. G. C. Berkouwer,. Kampen: JH Kok, 86-111.         [ Links ]

Kinghorn, J (ed.). 1986. Die NG Kerk en apartheid. Johannesburg: Macmillan.         [ Links ]

Lategan, BC. 1984. Current issues in the hermeneutical debate, Neotestamentica 18:117.         [ Links ]

Lategan, BC. 2015. On taking the third public seriously. In DJ Smit (ed.), Hermeneutics and social transformation. Stellenbosch: Sun Press, 149-158.         [ Links ]

Mosala, IJ. 1989. Biblical hermeneutics and black theology in South Africa. Grand Rapids: WB Eerdmans.         [ Links ]

Mouton, E. 1997. The (trans)formative potential of the Bible as resource for Christian ethos and ethics, Scriptura 62:245-257.         [ Links ]

Rossouw, HW. 1963. Klaarheid en interpretasie: Enkele probleemhistoriese gesigspunte in verband met die leer van die duidelikheid van die Heilige Skrif. Amsterdam: Jacob van Campen.         [ Links ]

Rossouw, HW. 1980a. Hoe moet 'n mens die Bybel lees? Die hermeneutiese probleem, Scriptura 1:7-28.         [ Links ]

Rossouw, HW. 1980b. Wetenskap, interpretasie, wysheid. Port Elizabeth: University of Port Elizabeth.         [ Links ]

Smit, DJ. 1987. Hoe verstaan ons wat ons lees? Kaapstad: NG Kerk-Uitgewers.         [ Links ]

Smit, DJ. 1991. The challenge of theological studies for evangelical students, Apologia 6(2):48-57.         [ Links ]

Smit, DJ. 1992. Oor 'n Nuwe Testamentiese etiek, die Christelike lewe en Suid-Afrika vandag. In Lategan, BC and Breytenbach, C (eds), Geloof en opdrag: Perspektiewe op die etiek van die Nuwe Testament, Scriptura S9: 303-325.         [ Links ]

Smit, DJ. 2009. In die geskiedenis ingegaan. In Conradie, EM en Lombard, C (eds), Discerning God's justice in church, society and academy: Festschrift for Jaap Durand. Stellenbosch: SUN Press, 131-166.         [ Links ]

Spangenberg, IJJ. 2017. Is God a ventriloquist and is the Bible God's dummy? Critical reflections on the use of the Bible as a warrant for doctrines, policies and moral values, Scriptura 116:208-223.         [ Links ]

Van der Walt, C. 2012. Close encounters: Creating a safe space for intercultural Bible reading, Scriptura 109:110-118.         [ Links ]

West, GO. 1991. Biblical hermeneutics of liberation. Modes of reading the Bible in the South African context. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications.         [ Links ]

West, GO. 2016. The stolen Bible: From tool of Imperialism to African icon. Leiden: Brill.         [ Links ]

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The early years: the quest for a free space in a restricted environment



Bernard Lategan

Department of Information Science Stellenbosch University




This article discusses the considerations which led to the establishment of Scriptura in 1980. Against the backdrop of a looming social and political transformation, the intellectual, political and ecclesial climate was restrictive in many ways and on various levels. The strict adherence to disciplinary boundaries in academe, the dominant political ideology of oppression and exclusion, and the inertia caused by hierarchical systems of ecclesial control all contributed to the need to find spaces where alternative approaches could be explored and tested. In the process, fortunate co-incidences or instances of serendipity played an important role. The intention of this article is neither to provide a historical account of these developments nor an overview of the contents of the journal, but rather to explore the forces which influenced the course of events, often behind the scenes and on a meta-level. After the first decade, the journal was established enough to pursue more conventional objectives.

Keywords: Scriptura; Academic journals; Biblical scholarship; Disciplinary isolation; Ecclesial control; Socio-political transformation




Journals, like people, are children of their time. Scriptura is no exception. The intention of this article, which focuses on the first decade (1980 - 1990), is neither to provide a historical account nor an overview of its contents, but rather to sketch the denkklimaat (intellectual climate) and tydsgewrig (epoch - terms very much in vogue at the time) in which the journal came into being. In the forefront were several immediate needs and practical reasons for its establishment. The editorial of the first issue (July 1980) offers an extensive rationale for launching yet another publication in an already crowded field. I shall return to some of these arguments in due course.

However, the wider background of these more immediate concerns was the ominous rumblings of a society on the verge of a fundamental and comprehensive social and political transformation that would affect every aspect of life. Although the eighties were the high point of the apartheid state and of the power of the governing National Party, it was equally clear that this dispensation was nearing its end. In the circles of the "struggle", the coming liberation was eagerly and enthusiastically anticipated, while in the camp of the government and its supporters it was awaited with growing fear. Tensions ran high, fed by contrasting emotions of hope and despondency, of longing for a new dawn and of trepidation at the loss of privilege and power - and the violence and chaos that was presumed to follow. International sanctions against the country became more stringent and internal insurgence escalated. A partial state of emergency was declared in 1985, and it became nation-wide in 1988. Forty years down the line, it is difficult to re-imagine this situation of a society at war with itself, in a state of physical and psychological danger, characterised by an all-pervasive sense of uncertainty.1

The turmoil on the political front was the most visible manifestation of a much wider realisation that an era was coming to its end. This Zeitgeist permeated all spheres of life - music, art, literature, lifestyle, and even the distant and dusty halls of academe. Change was in the air. Time-honoured dogmas and the pillars supporting the status quo came under critical scrutiny. A willingness - even urgency - to abandon current paradigms energised an unprecedented quest for alternatives.

This formed the existential context in which Scriptura first saw the light. Although it was - as an academic enterprise - far removed from the actual sites of struggle, it was nonetheless affected by them in direct and indirect ways. This relates to both the forces of change and the forces resisting change. The latter consisted mainly of attempts of physical and mental control, using force or other strategies of containment, thought policing and intimidation, which resulted in a highly restrictive environment in which borders, limits, laws and rules featured prominently. To explain its peculiar setting, more needs to be said about the "social location" of the journal.


Social location

The journal had a hesitant beginning, characterised not only by the usual trepidations of such an undertaking, but also by the awareness that it was entering unchartered territory. Because its long-term sustainability was all but assured, each issue was published as a separate volume (see the volume numbers). The first issues (in ungainly A4-format) were manually clamped into plastic binders - a far cry from the professional appearance of the print and online issues of today.

The initial social location of the journal had a physical as well as an intellectual dimension. Its physical address was the Department of Biblical Studies at Stellenbosch University, but intellectually it was linked to departments which were not directly involved in preparing students for the ministry (UWC, Unisa, UPE). There hangs a tale: at the time, Biblical Studies did not have the same standing as disciplines like New or Old Testament, which formed a substantial part of the curriculum of theological students training for the ministry2. It was primarily a "school subject," popular among education students preparing for a teaching career. It did not require knowledge of Hebrew or Greek (except in certain cases, at a post-graduate level) and was consequently not taken as seriously as other theological subjects. From the perspective of church authorities and university management, the actual placement of the subject and in a department posed a dilemma. In some cases, it was housed in the Faculty of Arts or Humanities (SU, UWC, UPE). In other cases, it became part of the Faculty of Theology (UP, Unisa, PU for CHE).

The establishment of the Department of Biblical Studies at Stellenbosch was a prime example of what Nettelbeck (2019) calls "serendipity" - one of those fortunate, unintended coincidences which opened unforeseen possibilities. Its founding was not based on any pressing academic or intellectual reasons, but was in fact the by-product of a staff reshuffle in the Department of Semitic Languages. The outcome was that it remained in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. In due course, it became a flourishing department with large numbers, mainly students preparing for a teaching career.

As an initial home for Scriptura, this specific social location had both advantages and disadvantages, as will soon become apparent. One disadvantage was that the Department was not that influential, neither in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences nor in the Faculty of Theology. On the other hand, being free from ecclesial supervision and a bit under the radar, there was more space for experimentation and the exploring of alternative approaches.

The first editorial (Scriptura (1980 (1):1-6)) sets out the parameters of the proposed journal: The target readers are students preparing for a teaching career and teachers in need of further in-service training; scholarly rigour will be the over-all norm; research will be conducted in dynamic interaction with other (secular) disciplines in the humanities and further afield and will be informed by the socio-political challenges of the day; the journal intends to provide a publication platform for the latest research; expository articles, wherein "illustrative exegetical procedures" will form an important component; an inclusive approach will be followed to enable the co-operation of a wide as possible spectrum of colleagues and universities.3

These "surface goals" were signifiers of a less visible "hidden transcript" and part of a strategy to prepare the ground for a bolder objective: To circumvent the restrictions inherent in the situation described above and to actively pursue alternatives to the status quo. The predominance of students following the subject for general or teaching purposes (in contrast to students preparing for the ministry) meant less ecclesial scrutiny and more space to experiment. The emphasis on scholarly rigour and on the latest research signalled the commitment to intellectual integrity and intended to counter the mistaken impression of pietism which is often associated with Biblical Studies. The inclusive approach was meant to expand the circle of students and scholars participating in the conversation. The reference to "our troubled society" and its "difficult problems" was an acknowledgement that socio-political realities could no longer be ignored. The basic hermeneutical orientation of the journal was underlined by the emphasis on "interpretive procedures" and the fact that the opening article by Rossouw (1980) was a programmatic statement of the "hermeneutical problem" to be followed by a hermeneutical analysis not of a Biblical text, but of Brahms' selection of scripture passages for his Deutsches Requiem (Lategan, 1980). But perhaps most significant was the insistence that students of Biblical Studies give account of themselves in an academic world which they share "with students in the sciences and the humanities. Biblical Studies cannot be studied in isolation, but only in dynamic interaction with other fields of science". The horizon of the discourse in which students of Biblical Studies would immerse themselves would not be constituted by the boundaries of neighbouring theological disciplines, but encompass academe in toto.

Right from the start, the journal thus has had a two-fold agenda. On the first level, it pursued customary academic goals, attempting to carve a distinctive niche for itself in the already crowded world of academic publishing. On a second level, it was intent on exploring - more tentatively or more boldly - alternative approaches to the one which it experienced as a stifling and constrictive environment. At stake were constraints of a diverse nature, operating on different levels. Not all of them were the exclusive product of the Zeitgeist of the eighties. Nonetheless, the tensions and uncertainties of the time increased their intensity and made it that more urgent to break the stranglehold of these constraints.


Academic constraints

South African universities did not escape the general turmoil which engulfed the country at the time, but as institutions of higher learning they faced a unique set of challenges. The disruption of academic programmes, international isolation (including academic boycotts), protest movements and clashes with security forces which turned some campuses into sites of struggle - all of this contributed to a highly unstable environment. However, there were also uniquely intellectual constraints at play which were not the direct result of the current situation, but which had a longer history with implications for the intellectual agenda Scriptura was pursuing.

The most important of these was a growing disciplinary isolation and disengagement from the encyclopaedia of knowledge or "academic universe". Disciplinary specialisation, no doubt, contributed greatly to the rapid growth of knowledge, but during the eighties this trend began to develop negative tendencies.

A prime example is the curriculum for students intending to enter the ministry.4Previously theology students had a thorough preparatory training in the humanities, consisting of a bachelor degree with a minimum of two years of Hebrew and Greek. Many of these students continued with post-graduate study in subjects like philosophy, Semitic and classical languages, psychology, or history, thereby enriching and broadening not only their own development, but that of theology itself.

By the second half of the previous century the tide began to turn. For a variety of reasons, including cutting the high cost of university education, the goal became to shorten and streamline courses by eliminating all components which were considered to be "non-essential". The practical outcome was that broad-based education fell by the wayside. The physical outlay of campuses, which did not encourage inter-disciplinary contact, also played a role. One could complete one's whole degree without any serious interaction with students from a different faculty or discipline. Not only theology, but also medicine, engineering, law and other professions suffered from this isolation.

Added to this general pedagogical attenuation was a certain "internal" contraction of Biblical Studies itself, namely the expectation that the subject should restrict itself to the "background" of the Bible, namely its historical, archaeological, and geographical setting and to the history of the text and its transmission. This expectation - based on what Kinghorn (1982:32) calls a "naïve hermeneutics" - disregards the integrative nature of the full cycle of interpretation, sense-making and application and can only lead to the trivialisation of the subject.

The situation was exacerbated by the policing of disciplinary boundaries which discouraged any cross-border incursions. In one instance, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch, the appointment of a supervisor from Biblical Studies for a PhD student in Greek met with strong opposition. General linguistics was separated from Afrikaans linguistics, music from school music, maths from maths for engineers, psychology from educational or industrial psychology and so forth. Whatever advantages these sub-specialisations might have had in their specific context, they certainly did not encourage inter- and cross-disciplinary pollination.

Against this backdrop of intellectual contraction and the patrolling of disciplinary boundaries, the academic location of Biblical Studies - and per implication of Scriptura - suddenly became its most important asset. It is not by accident that the "founding" partners of the journal shared a similar position: Biblical Studies at UWC, UPE and later the Institute for the Study of the Bible at UKZN formed part of the Humanities and Social Sciences at their respective universities. At Unisa, Biblical Studies was housed in the (non-denominational) Faculty of Theology, but Willem Vorster's Institute for Theological Research from the outset had an inter-disciplinary and ecumenical character.

Consequently, the reality on the ground was that colleagues in Biblical Studies worked in constant dialogue with a wide spectrum of "non-theological" disciplines, rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with their counterparts from political science, sociology, philosophy, history, journalism, performing and visual arts, and the like -often sharing the same building or tea-room and being exposed to a wide variety of methodological traditions and scientific paradigms. Even more importantly, they found themselves in a secular environment where their subject had no privileged or sacrosanct status. They had to fend for themselves on an equal footing where the quality of their insights and their arguments was the only currency. The loss of influence in theological circles was thus compensated by a robust and creative interaction with secular subjects. This had a profound effect on the nature of the discourse which ensued and which also influenced the style of the journal which started to promote the widest possible interdisciplinary participation. Kinghorn's article on Biblical Studies as "theology in the market place" (Kinghorn 1982) and Deist's discussion of the task of Biblical Studies in a secularised world (Deist 1990) were some of the earliest ventures into what later became known as "public theology".

There was also another reason why Biblical Studies and Scriptura were more at home in the humanities, namely the deep cultural-historical impact which the Biblical tradition had on so many aspects of human life, such as literature, art, architecture, philosophy, history, education, law, music, ethics, war and peace (Kinghorn 1982:35).

Right from the start Scriptura published articles from a wide range of disciplines. Apart from contributions from other theological fields like systematic theology, practical theology and theological ethics, the first decade saw work from disciplines like philosophy, psychology, musicology, education, value studies, political science, psychology, linguistics and hermeneutics.

At the same time it must be conceded that these "non-theological" or "secular" articles seem to be collected in an unsystematic and almost random way, giving the journal a certain rogue appearance. There is little evidence at this stage of a sustained dialogue between disciplines where methodologies and bodies of knowledge engage with one another. It is almost if the ice had first to be broken before substantial interdisciplinary interaction became possible. This did follow later - not necessarily on the pages of Scriptura, but in the wider university environment. Here, a gradual mind-shift was taking place, loosening the confines of a strict mono-disciplinary approach and based on a growing realisation of the deeply-interrelated nature of knowledge - what Nyamnjoh (2015) would later call the "incompleteness" of knowledge as part of his plea for "convivial scholarship". One example was the emergence of interdisciplinary academic courses in the nineties when universities were required to review and restructure their whole academic offering. Post-graduate master courses became a popular vehicle to achieve this, where modules from different disciplines were added to a bachelor degree, of which the M in value and policy studies, applied ethics, and international relations are examples. In some sense, this was the precursor of the kind of interdisciplinary research promoted by STIAS (the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study).


Ecclesial constraints

The study of theology as part of the process of preparing candidates for the ministry is not purely an academic matter - a situation similar to other professions. As in engineering, medicine, or law, the "licence" to practice in the field is granted by a professional body which also has a say in the curriculum which is taught by universities. Each church or denomination has its own set of requirements for admission to the ministry. Some do not require formal academic qualifications but, where they do, this normally depends on an agreement between the specific church and a university (or number of universities). Regardless of how this relationship is structured in practice, the system of (additional) external control creates the possibility to impose certain restrictions on the content and method of academic teaching.

Although Scriptura was located in a department at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch, it had to contend with the presence of a Theological Faculty of the Dutch Reformed Church at Stellenbosch. The situation at the other "founding" universities was slightly different. UWC had a School (later Faculty) of Theology serving the then Dutch Reformed Mission Church, but Biblical Studies was part of the Arts Faculty where students were preparing for teaching careers or chose the subject as part of a general bachelor's degree. UPE had no Faculty of Theology and students aiming for the ministry had to complete their studies elsewhere. The Faculty at Unisa was non-denominational, but a number of churches and denominations made use of the courses it offered - a situation similar to the School of Theology at UKZN which followed later.

The constraints in the ecclesial domain functioned on two levels: control exercised by church authorities and the limitations imposed by the discipline itself in the way it approached its scientific task.

Admission to the ministry in the DRC, for example, was granted by the Curatorium (Board of Curators) through a formal process of "legitimation". This "licence" depended on a number of criteria like personal character, ability, academic qualifications, and adherence to the doctrine of the church. The latter was by far the most important and used very effectively as shibboleth to prevent questionable individuals (in the opinion of the church authorities) to participate in the training of students for the ministry. But, in addition to these confessional criteria (cf. Kinghorn 1982:32), there were also criteria like political correctness (that is, adherence to the policy of apartheid) at work. Examples range from the infamous Du Plessis heresy trial of 1930 to the withdrawal of Jaap Durand's permission to preach in the DRC (cf. Lategan 2001; Die Burger 29/11/2019). The careful vetting of appointments to the Theological Faculty (candidates had to be approved by the church) was another form of control which was even extended to the pre-theological phase, as the well-known side-lining of Degenaar illustrates (cf. Van Niekerk 2017). These measures stifled free scientific enquiry, but they ironically also had an unintended effect. Research-minded students found other outlets to satisfy their intellectual curiosity and turned to post-graduate study in other disciplines - largely in philosophy but also in psychology, history, literature, and Semitic and classical languages (cf. Nash 1997b).

Students of Biblical Studies preparing for teaching or "secular" careers were not subjected to these ecclesial controls. The same applied to Scriptura as an academic journal. Under the auspices of the Faculty of Arts, it was not only slightly under the ecclesial radar, but also more free to experiment with alternative approaches which moved beyond the strict doctrinal or confessional boundaries of a given denomination.

Did the journal make full use of these opportunities? As will be explained below, the issues of the first decade present a mixed picture. The fact was that the relevant academic disciplines, and more specifically Old and New Testament studies and Education, were to a large measure (quite apart from external constraints) also caught up in their own isolation, following the guidelines of their respective guilds for what qualifies as scientific research. In the Bibliological subjects, for example, the fixation on the text and its internal relationships reinforced an a-historical approach. Exegetical analyses and articles on the teaching of Biblical Studies at school show little methodological innovation or evidence of a critical consciousness.

It was only with the decisive shift of focus away from "inception" to "reception", that is, from the conditions of text production to the realities and implications of text reception and the deliberate inclusion of the full spiral of communication in both theoretical reflection and in pursuing its practical implications, that new impulses were released. The establishment of the Centre for Contextual Hermeneutics played an important role in this regard. Scriptura became the regular outlet for the research and discussions at the annual meetings of the Centre (see for example Scriptura S9 (1991)).

The acknowledgement of the critical role of contextuality made it possible to integrate different aspects of the hermeneutical process in a holistic way (Lategan 1991).

The historical dimension (that is, the singular original context of communication) could thus be connected via the mediating and preserving structural dimension of the text with the multiple contexts of reception. This theoretical extension enabled the inclusion of a spectrum of readers (implied, unintended, 'ordinary' and the like), as well as a variety of readings (resisting or affirming; or from a black, liberation, gender, minority or power perspective). At the same time, it provided the theoretical basis for the inclusion of readings from other disciplines, that is, readings in different settings and for different purposes. For example, the contributions of Van Huyssteen 1981, De Gruchy 1981, De Villiers 1983, Esterhuyse 1986, Jüngel 1988, Kinghorn 1988, Sebothoma 1989, and Smit 1990, 1999 illustrate the increasing scope of the journal. At the same time it signalled the beginning of a shift away from fixated paradigms and the undermining of the status quo.


Socio-political constraints

In what way was the journal constrained by the socio-political situation? Like any academic journal worth its salt, scholarly rigour; critical, unbiased analysis; and intellectual integrity were important values if Scriptura was to earn the respect of its peers and to be accepted by the world of academic publishing. As we have seen, these values were explicitly articulated in the editorial of the first issue.

The right balance between engaged scholarship and academic distance is an issue with which most disciplines and publications in the social sciences have to grapple. There is the constant possibility that academe becomes directly involved in the "subject matter" it studies, especially in a highly charged political atmosphere. Nyamnjoh has recently argued that certain strands of engaged social anthropology run the risk of becoming an "evangelising public anthropology" if they forsake their rigorous commitment to science, theory building and an acknowledgement of associated epistemologies. He consequently calls for a commitment to "the essential task of producing critical knowledge of critical value, and to re-embrace and fulfil anthropology's core mission and ambition as an evidence-based field science" (Nyamnjoh 2015:48).

In the case of Scripura, the socio-political context did not act as a constraint on the ambitions of the journal to maintain a rigorous academic profile. Its effect was more indirect, but at the same time all the more pervasive. Omni-present was a gnawing awareness that the political dispensation was fundamentally unjust, discriminatory, divisive, suppressive, and undemocratic. What made it especially acute in the case of Biblical Studies was that the moral justification of the system was based on the very subject matter of the discipline, namely Biblical Texts. This placed a heavy onus on this core subject. During the eighties, the condemnation of apartheid and its purported Biblical justification was gaining momentum, locally and internationally, mostly outside, but also inside the church - including isolated voices in the DRC.

Denouncing an unjust system and exposing the roots of its ideology was just the first step. What was more urgently needed, was the articulation of an alternative dispensation which was morally sound (cf. Kinghorn 1986:192). Finding alternatives was (as we saw) one of the "hidden" ambitions of Scriptura. It is in this regard that Biblical Studies was hampered by a serious constraint - ironically, one of its own making.

In his incisive analysis and sharp criticism of South African exegetical Biblical scholarship during the nineteen-eighties, Smit (1990:42) makes clear how ensconced the discipline still was in its ethos of institutionalised scientific scholarship, "safeguarding its practitioners from the aberrations and conflicts of both the socio-political and dogmatic struggles". Furthermore, most scholars from Afrikaner Reformed circles "could not rid themselves of the controls and the inherent constraints of the institutionalized ecclesial and spheres". When they did address issues of ecclesial conflict with socio-political overtones, they were hesitant and reserved, "almost apologetical of the mere fact that they write with a view to a specific present-day conflict" (1990:46).

Although Smit addresses his critique mainly to the scholarship of the New Testament Society of South Africa, his remarks also apply to many of the contributions published in Scriptura during its first decade. The same hesitancy and socio-political "detachment" are in evidence here, illustrating how the constraints under discussion also came from within the guild itself. At the same time, there were also early signs of a wider, more inclusive and integrative approach, of which the programmatic essay of Kinghorn (1982) is one example.

Here again, the broadening of the scope of the discipline and especially the inclusion of reception on both the theoretical and pragmatic level, started to change things. When not only the original audiences and the first readers of Biblical texts but also their present-day readers and their existential contexts became part of the equation, no part of the communication process could be excluded arbitrarily. For the same reason, a retreat to the historic-critical level and the confines of scientific scholarship is also not an enduring option. Vorster is correct in his contention that many of the critics of apartheid theology use exactly the same hermeneutical approach as its proponents (Smit 1990b:31-35). Vorster consequently calls for strict adherence to the tenets of the historical-critical approach. But when he then proceeds to rely on individualistic, almost casuistic, decisions on an ad hoc basis, further questions arise, as Smit (1990b:36) makes clear: What does it mean to be "in line" with the Bible? How does "hope in Christ" or the "salvation of the Christian" function as an interpretive guideline? Could it be that the wisest course of action is to remove as far as possible the many constraints we have discussed and to allow the theological and rhetorical thrust of the text to run its own course?

As far as Scriptura is concerned, the situation also began to change towards the end of its first decade - slowly and tentatively at first and perhaps not so strongly influenced by Schüssler-Fiorenza or Wuellner as Smit (1990:29, 37, 42) would have wished. It was rather via reception that the door was openend for the influx from other perspectives and disciplines like contextual hermeneutics, liberation theology, gender studies and even ethics. One example of the latter is the special edition "Geloof en Opdrag" (Scriptura S9a) published in 1992 on initiative of Cilliers Breytenbach and in which ethical issues related to the South African situation formed the focal point.

By the end of the second decade, the journal was past its hesitant stage and fully engaged in ethical, socio-political and multi-religious issues in South Africa, across Africa and beyond (see for example the contributions of 1990 in volumes 68-71 of Scriptura).

However, to return to the goal of moving beyond mere criticism of apartheid to propose - as stated above - an alternative dispensation that was morally sound, The Option for Inclusive Democracy (Lategan, Kinghorn, du Plessis and de Villiers: 1987) was a more substantive contribution in this direction. Although not published in Scriptura but by the Centre for Hermeneutics (soon to become the Centre for Contextual Hermeneutics) it came from the same department and by authors who were regular contributors to the journal.

The Option was unusual in several respects. The first part consisted of a discussion of fundamental theological-ethical values of special significance for "the structure of a future South Africa". These included values related to human equality, unity and interdependence, freedom, governance, social responsibility, and human rights. In the second part, these theological values are translated in" secular" terms in order to be accessible to religious and non-religious citizens alike. A list of unacceptable values is followed by a set of positive values which are then applied to the South African situation. Finally, an appendix of basic human rights is added, which is in reality a rudimentary draft of a bill of human rights intended to be included in a future constitution for the country.

The authors come from an Afrikaans Reformed background, but they make clear that the document is the product of a collaborative effort and ongoing consultation with fellow South Africans from various sectors of society. The initial impulse was the report of the HRSC's Investigation into Intergroup Relations (1985). One of its main findings was that there does exist a potential consensus of social values among South Africans which could contribute to the establishment of a more just society - a finding which was validated in their discussions with black compatriots and the latter's support of the same basic values. Thus a re-evaluation of the authors' own theological tradition "makes clear that the case for an inclusive democracy without an ethnic or racial basis can be argued more strongly and more convincingly from this very tradition" (The Option: iii).



Did Scriptura succeed in the goals it initially set for itself? If the question is whether the journal provided space to experiment and a platform to explore alternative approaches -given its social location and the constraints of the time - the answer must be yes.

If the question is whether the journal itself changed things, the answer becomes more complicated. How is such a contribution (or lack thereof) to be measured in any case? Judgement in this matter is best left to others, who were not intimately involved in the establishment of the journal. What can be said of the first decade is that it remained work in progress. Much of the work is still hesitant, carefully formulated and apologetic in tone. Smit is correct that in many cases contributions remain within the confines of conventional Biblical scholarship, showing little or no awareness of wider ethical and social issues. On the other hand, there were also daring ventures into the unknown, exploring substantial questions beyond the limits of linguistic or historical concerns. The emphasis on the reader and contextual hermeneutics contributed largely to initiate this shift. In this sense the journal did pave the way for more momentous and substantial changes which were to follow later.

By 1990, many of the original constraints fell away or assumed different configurations. Inter-disciplinarity and the cross-pollination of ideas are currently prominent features of research in general as well as among theological disciplines5. Contextuality and hermeneutics have become mainstream, and the masthead of the journal now reads: "Journal for Biblical, theological and contextual hermeneutics". The fact that mono-denominational training was largely replaced by multi-denominational teaching in multi-denominational faculties meant that ecclesial control lost much of its former hold, although it remains in more subtle forms. The fact that the Department of Old and New Testament at Stellenbosch University was willing to take over Scriptura, when Biblical Studies morphed into Information Science and the journal was about to close, is evidence of its changed status - but it also injected much needed energy and signalled the beginning of a flourishing new lease on life. And presently, the journal has co-editors from Stellenbosch and UWC with an editorial board from all over the country and the continent. With the advent of an inclusive democracy, the socio-political landscape changed irrevocably but brought with it new ethical challenges, including continuing and even increasing levels of inequality, new forms of discrimination and exclusion, and environmental ethics. So, the task continues!



Breytenbach, C. and Lategan, B.C. (eds.) 1992. Geloof en opdrag. Perspektiewe op die etiek van die Nuwe Testament, Scriptura S9a.         [ Links ]

De Gruchy, J.W. 1981. Bonhoeffer's English Bible, Scriptura 3:9-18.         [ Links ]

Deist, F.E. 1990. The hermeneutical of the sacred and the task of Biblical Studies in a secularized world, Scriptura 33:6-15.         [ Links ]

Deist, F.E. 1994. Ervaring, rede en metode in Skrifuitleg. 'n Wetenskapshistoriese is ¡ondersoek na Skrifuitleg in die Ned. Geref Kerk 1840-1990. Pretoria: RGN.         [ Links ]

De Villiers, E. 1983. Putting the recent debate on conscientious objection into perspective, Scriptura 8:21-33.         [ Links ]

Esterhuyse, W.P. 1986. Die rol van waardes in die proses van konstitusionele hervorming, Scriptura 18:22-40.         [ Links ]

Jüngel, E. 1988. Hat der christliche Glaube eine besondere Affinitãt zur Demokratie?, Scriptura 27:1 -7.         [ Links ]

Kinghorn, J. 1982. Bybelkunde: Teologie op die markplein, Scriptura 6:29-42.         [ Links ]

Kinghorn, J. 1988. Twee teologies-etiese perspektiewe op 'n keuse vir inklusiewe demokrasie in Suid-Afrika, Scriptura 27:8-19.         [ Links ]

Kinghorn, J. (ed.) 1986. Die NG Kerk en Apartheid. Johannesburg: MacmiIlan.         [ Links ]

Lategan, B.C .1980. Ein Deutsches Requiem: Notes on Brahms' selection of Biblical texts, Scriptura 1:29-41.         [ Links ]

Lategan, B. C. 1991. The challenge of contextuality, Scriptura S9:1-6.         [ Links ]

Lategan, B. C. 2001. Preparing and keeping the mind-set intact. Reasons and forms of a theology of the status quo, Scriptura 76:63-75.         [ Links ]

Lategan, B., Kinghorn, J., Du Plessis, L. and De Villiers, E. 1987. The option for inclusive democracy. A theological-ethical study of appropriate social values for South Africa. Stellenbosch: Centre for Hermeneutics.         [ Links ]

Nash, A. 1997a. Wine-farming, heresy trials and the 'whole personality': the emergency is of the Stellenbosch philosophical tradition, 1916-40, South African Journal for Philosophy 16:55-69.         [ Links ]

Nash, A. 1997b. How Kierkegaard came to Stellenbosch: the transformation of the Stellenbosch philosophical tradition, 1947-50, South African Journal for Philosophy 16:129-139.         [ Links ]

Nyamnjoh, F.B. 2015. Beyond an evangelizing public anthropology: science, theory and commitment, Journal of Contemporary African Studies 33(1):48-63.         [ Links ]

Nyamnjoh, F.B. 2019. ICTs as Juju: African inspiration for understanding the compositeness of being human through digital technologies', Journal of African Media Studies, 11:3, pp. 279-291, doi: 10.1386/jams_00001_1.         [ Links ]

Nettelbeck, J. 2019. Verwalten von Wissenschaft, eine Kunst. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.         [ Links ]

Rossouw, H.W. 1980. Hoe moet mens die Bybel lees? Die hermeneutiese probleem, Scriptura 1:7-28.         [ Links ]

Schüssler-Fiorenza, E. 1998. The ethics of interpretation: de-centering biblical scholarship, Journal of Biblical Literature 107:3-17.         [ Links ]

Scriptura S9 (1991). Issues in contextual hermeneutics.         [ Links ]

Sebothoma, W. 1989. Contextualization: a paradigm-shift?, Scriptura 30:1-14.         [ Links ]

Smit, D.J. 1990a. The ethics of interpretation - new voices from the USA, Scriptura 33:16-28.         [ Links ]

Smit, D.J. 1990b. The ethics of interpretation - and South Africa, Scriptura 33:29-43.         [ Links ]

Van Huyssteen, J.W.V. 1981. Opmerkings oor geloof en geloofsuitsprake, Scriptura 3:1-8.         [ Links ]

Van Niekerk, A.A. 1990. Textuality and the human sciences: an appraisal of Paul Ricoeur, Scriptura S5.         [ Links ]

Van Niekerk, A.A. 2017. A department under siege: How philosophy at Stellenbosch was split to survive, Stellenbosch Theological Journal 3 (1):451-473.         [ Links ]

West, G.O. 1990. Can a literary reading be a liberative reading? Scriptura 35:10-25.         [ Links ]



1 To quote from the 2020 virtual exhibition of SAHA (the South African Historical Archive) to commemorate the End Conscription Campaign ( consulted on 25.1.2020):
"By the mid-1980s, South Africa was in flames, with violent resistance and escalating insurgence from all borders, including the ones inside the country. Rural uprisings in the desiccated countryside of South Africa's Bantustan homelands were met by violent demonstrations within the sprawls of South Africa's peri-urban townships.
The state's response was to declare a state of emergency, something usually declared when the welfare of a nation is so threatened by "war, invasion, general insurection, disorder, natural disaster" that such a declaration is deemed "necessary to restore peace and order." It gave the President of South Africa the ability to rule by decree, to heighten the powers of both SADF and SAP, and to restrict and censor any reportage of political unrest. The constant state of low-level siege experienced throughout this decade was divided by two such 'declarations.'"
2 Kinghorn, (1982:31) refers to the "para-theological" status of Biblical Studies at the time.
3 Compare this to the self-description of the Journal in 2020: "Scriptura is an independent journal which publishes contributions in the fields of Bible, Religion and Theology refereed by peers. It is international in scope but special attention is given to topics and issues emerging from or relevant to Southern Africa. Scriptura publishes contributions in English but also in other languages relevant to the Southern African region (such as Afrikaans, Xhosa, Sesotho, Zulu, French and German)".
4 The relationship between church and higher learning, between seminary and university (including the issue whether theology belongs at the university in the first place) form part of a centuries-old debate which cannot be discussed here in any detail.
5 A glance at Scriptura 115 (2016) reveals contributions from environmental issues, food and eating, African feminist pneumatology, film interpretation, gender studies, black theology, land reform, restoration theory, the biblical critic as a public intellectual, food symbolism and food security, biblical-ethical hermeneutics, African biblical hermeneutics, indigenous belief systems, Orthodox ecclesiology and exegetical methodology, religious liberty and the South African constitution, African philosophical analysis, Pentecostal theology, syncretism, hybridity and ambivalence, the NT as political documents, poverty reduction, land, farming and socio-economic development, leadership studies, feminist critique of educational models, parenting, Jesus' identity, and Ricoeur's concept of metaphor.

^rND^sBreytenbach^nC^rND^sLategan^nB.C.^rND^sDe Gruchy^nJ.W.^rND^sDeist^nF.E^rND^sDe Villiers^nE^rND^sEsterhuyse^nW.P.^rND^sJüngel^nE^rND^sKinghorn^nJ^rND^sKinghorn^nJ.^rND^sLategan^nB.C^rND^sLategan^nB. C.^rND^sLategan^nB. C.^rND^sNash^nA.^rND^sNash^nA.^rND^sNyamnjoh^nF.B.^rND^sNyamnjoh^nF.B.^rND^sRossouw^nH.W.^rND^sSchüssler-Fiorenza^nE.^rND^sSebothoma^nW.^rND^sSmit^nD.J.^rND^sSmit^nD.J.^rND^sVan Huyssteen^nJ.W.V.^rND^sVan Niekerk^nA.A.^rND^sVan Niekerk^nA.A.^rND^sWest^nG.O.^rND^1A01^nDanie^sVeldsman^rND^1A01^nDanie^sVeldsman^rND^1A01^nDanie^sVeldsman



Coming face to face through narratives: evaluating from our evolutionary history the contemporary risk factors and their conceptualisation within a technologised society



Danie Veldsman

Department of Systematic and Historical Theology University of Pretoria




Technological developments represent wide-ranging and multifarious economic and cultural forces worldwide - even in South Africa. As forces, they must be faced and addressed contextually and critically since they have shaping impacts on societies, that is, they imply agency. The vantage point and focus of my critical engagement with technological developments as shaping agencies is the conviction that these developments are in no way neutral. In an explorative manner the article will focus on the most recent publication (Feb 2020) by the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA), namely The IRMSA Risk Report 2019 (5th edition). In the report, a very sophisticated analysis is given of the contextual challenges as risks that the South African society are facing but at the same time, conceptual skills (as tools!) are proposed for the risk manager as futurist to address these (technological) challenges. I subsequently raise and ask the question against the background of brief remarks on the (technological) challenges from the 4th Industrial Revolution whether it is helpful to judge and critically evaluate the proposed conceptual skills from the narratives on our evolutionary history as Homo sapiens. The evaluation of the proposed skills, transversally undertaken as the narratively-shaped face to face encounter of our evolutionary history and the contemporary-contextual conceptualisation of the management of risks within the South African society represents the original contribution of the argument.

Keywords: IRMSA Risk Report (2019); Risk Management; 4th Industrial Revolution; Evolutionary history; Cardiac Discernment




Can an evolutionary starting point on human anthropology perhaps assist us in a constructive way in valuing contemporary decision-making and envisioning the addressing off contextual societal challenges and risks? The challenges I have in mind are specific technological challenges that currently affect the very fibre of our societies in numerous ways. Can we learn something from, on the one hand our evolutionary history (including toolmaking)1 and the various challenges that confronted Homo sapiens, and on the other hand the conceptualisation of the current (technological) challenges and identified risks that confront us?

In an explorative manner, I take as vantage point, the most recent publication (Feb 2020) of the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IMRSA), namely The IRMSA Risk Report 2019 (5th edition).2 In the report 3a very sophisticated analysis is given of the contextual challenges as risks4 that are facing South African society, captured in a template of risk impact, risk likelihood and risk readiness. At the same time an analysis is given of the risk causal relationship, structured by means of identified drivers, pivots and outcomes. Twenty risks5 are identified and ranked so that guidelines can be formulated in order to address the risks in a constructive manner. Or simply captured by Gillian le Cordeur, Chief Executive Officer of The Institute of Risk Management South Africa, in stating that "risk management is optimally used as a tool to bring about positive change in the country" (Le Cordeur 2020:16), and risk managers therefore can be best seen as "futurists"!6 For my critical engagement with, and evaluation of, the constructive guidelines for addressing these risks, I will firstly briefly discuss the report and its formulated guidelines, embedded within a few general remarks on the multi-dimensional challenges flowing from the 4th Industrial Revolution. Secondly, I will give a brief paraphrased overview of Homo sapiens from evolutionary anthropology, limiting myself in my exposition to focussing only on the manner in which they addressed their challenges (amongst others in toolmaking). Lastly the contemporary-contextual conceptualisation of the risk factors will be critically and transversally7 explored and valued.


IMRSA Report and Technology

IMRSA Report

In his "Foreword" to the report, the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan (2020:11), states that risk managers "... are in a unique position to connect the proverbial dots - finding the linkages and trends in information, vertically and horizontally, from a number of different planes that enable [them] to navigate the level and pace of complexity of what we are going through in the world and certainly in South Africa". It is therefore of the utmost importance for Gordhan (2020:11) that the dots be connected by the guiding question: "Where to from here and how do we as public officials or private operators in companies influence and chart our own destiny?" From the important conviction that "Silence can be costly", Gordhan (2020:12) urges the risk professionals to find "bold solutions with new mind sets that can enable us both to overcome the difficulties of the past and present, and also to make determined efforts to create a very different kind of future".

One such solution is offered by Graeme Codrington in two contributions, namely "The risk practitioner as a Futurist" (Codrington 2020a) and "Dealing with disruption -don't get caught behind the 8-ball" (Codrington 2020b). In the latter contribution, he states emphatically:

We live in the digital age, and so looking at technology is an obvious place to start. Which technologies to focus your attention on is obviously the most important starting point - even having that conversation with your team will be valuable. The technologies you should analyse are those that bring the greatest opportunities and the biggest threats to your business. Technologies are not just external 'shiny things' coming our way - we must also consider the intangible shifts driven by digital trends like personalisation, cloud, data analytics, social proof, gamification and connected platforms (Codrington 2020b:50).

Indeed. A discussion of technology is not "a" place to start but "the" place to start. Codrington therefore unfolds the five major areas of his exposition - what he calls areas of disruption - in close alignment with current technological developments within our society. The five major (disruptive) areas that he identifies as influential forces are Technology, Institutional Change, Demographics, Environment and Natural Resources, and lastly Shifting Societal Values.8 Since the risk manager for him is a futurist who "intentionally builds the capacity to see and understand the implications and meaning of change" (Codrington 2020a:48), he proposes six key skills (read: conceptual tools) that in his opinion we can learn and apply in our South African context. How does he "see" our context, and what are the six skills? The former is described as follows:

The last two decades have been preparation for what we're about to experience. At some levels, we merely developed the key building blocks for deep change, including cell phones and digital communication networks, the Internet (and now the Internet of Things), robotics, artificial intelligence, automation, quantum computing, augmented reality, the block chain, regenerative medical options, and many other disruptive technologies and mega forces. All of these are also fuelling deep structural changes in politics, economics and society itself. Every aspect of our world is currently in flux (Codrington 2020a:48).

The latter, namely the skills (see Codrington 2020a:49) that he proposes, are:

Switch Your Radar On9

Be More Curious10

Collect Sense-making Frameworks11

Embrace Diversity12

Unlearn and Relearn13

Experiment More14

Before I direct my attention to the evolutionary anthropology and history of Homo sapiens from which I would like to evaluate the skills that Codrington proposes, a brief interlude in which I sketch an overview of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4th IR) is relevant.


The societal importance and influence of technology on contemporary societies cannot be underestimated or overemphasised! It represents both an economic and cultural force (cf. Franssen and others 2018:1) affecting every fibre of our respective societies in multifarious and penetrative ways. It was the German engineer-economist Klaus Martin Schwab who coined the term 4th IR to signify the current technological revolution for the world we are living in. If our current world is then described as in the grip of the 4thIR, the core of the previous revolutions can be best described with steam as a power source (1st Revolution), electricity (2nd) and information (3rd). Our current world, in the grip of the 4th IR is characterised by the seamless, intelligent (or smart) integration of multiple disciplines and sectors into a single whole. The markers of the 4th IR are insightfully captured and described by the industrial psychologist Theo Veldsman (2019:14; cf. 2019b:97-101) in the acronym DIVAS, namely:

Digitisation: making everything, anything and anywhere computer readable and processable. Examples are smart phones, voice and facial recognition, augmented reality.

Interconnectivity: everyone/everything talking to everyone/everything. Examples are the Worldwide Web, Social media, Internet of Things, Cloud, and virtual collaboration platforms (such as Skype).

Virtualisation: being present and delivering on an ongoing basis in cyberspace, anything, anywhere, anytime, anyhow, for anyone. Examples are smartphones, voice and facial recognition.

Automation: performing a process or practice, and taking decisions and actions, through technological means with no/minimum human mediation. Examples are robotics and 3D printing.

Smart: generating data from everything/anyone, affecting machine learning through feedback and/or turning data into intelligence through decision-making algorithms in order to take focused real time, in time, validated, predictive action. Examples are Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.

These markers clearly indicate not only the wide-ranging influences of technological developments, but also their (implicit) intensity and effective depths. Schwenger (2016:44) confirms its range and rightly cautions that the "importance of technology in our time can hardly be overestimated. Technology is ubiquitous and all areas of life are influenced by it, such as work processes, mobility, relationships (especially the realm of communication), leisure activities and health". And Jeffrey Shaw (2018:152) adds on a very scary note that the "...whole massive complex of technology, which reaches into every aspect of social life today, implies a huge organization of which no one is really in control, and which dictates its own solutions, irrespective of human needs or even reason". The Israeli historian Yuval Harari (2016:59) sings in the same out-of-control-technology choir by stating that "nobody really has a clue where we are heading in such a rush nor can anyone stop it" since - according to McGinnes (cf 2018) - it is currently disruptively blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds.

Against the background of these brief and sketchy remarks on contemporary technological developments that highlight their wide ranging disruptive and out-of-control and blurring character, I turn to the narrative of Homo sapiens as a framework into which I subsequently would like to transversally embed my exploration and evaluation of the conceptualisation of the management of risks.


Homo sapiens: a brief history16

The story of human evolution goes back more than six million years. It is a fascinating story that tells us that our species name, namely Homo sapiens - that is, "wise man" -gives us an important indication of what characterises "being human" or "what makes us human". Wisdom17 is an answer,18 albeit a debatable answer, but there are very good reasons to present and qualitatively defend it as one of the better answers! In evolutionary anthropology, wisdom is mostly defined as "the pattern (and ability) of successful complex decision-making in navigating social networks and dynamic niches in human communities. It is suggested that much of the core development of human wisdom occurred with the evolutionary advent of symbolic thought and its correlated material evidence"19 (Fuentes & Deane-Drummond 2018a:11). Niches? What does it entail in an evolutionary context? And: To talk about contemporary successful decision-making in this context does not imply that it can be fully grasped alone from either reconstructive understandings of wisdom or from our evolutionary history. Both terms, namely niches and decision-making, must be explicated in a broader evolutionary narrative of becoming human.

To add significantly to the challenges of unfolding the range and depth of "becoming human" and "being human"20 from our evolutionary history (that is, from the archaic form of our genus Homo sapiens into the current form of Homo sapiens sapiens), the very history itself is an ongoing evolving history. The crux for my evaluation of risk management in light of our evolutionary history lies precisely here, namely that the "focus on this transition in our current socio-cognitive niche will add to our insight into how we, as humans, experience the world in the here and now" (Van Huyssteen 2018:38).

"Becoming" and "niche" are the two keywords in contemporary discourses on our evolutionary history, since Darwin's original theory of evolution that was formulated more than 160 years ago has insightfully and dramatically evolved. In the contemporary Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (ESS), Darwin's theory is not only understood through a variety of lenses, but has also been excitingly broadened. Evolution is much more than the inheritance of genes! The variety of lenses and its broadening have unearthed the influential totalising discourses on the insistence of natural selection as a creative force as well as opened up new exciting interpretative anthropological horizons. The former, namely EES has taken on and revised the classical understanding of Darwin's evolutionary theory in that "becoming human" restrictively entails past fitness, potentials and survival mechanisms in which natural selection and sexual selection were taken as the key factors in change and adaptations for evolutionary success over a period of time (cf. Van Huyssteen 2018:26). In their important revision of evolutionary theory, Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb (2005) argue convincingly in Evolution in Four Dimensions that apart from genes, three other inheritance systems come into evolutionary play.

Alongside the important genetic inheritance system, Jablonka and Lamb (cf. 2005:18) argue for three other inheritance systems that may also have causal roles in evolutionary change, namely epigenetic, behavioural, and symbolic inheritance.21 What important implications flow from this broadening of traditional evolutionary theory? Evolution is now much more than simply the inheritance of genes. Behaviour and behavioural patterns are vehicles of the transmission of information, and its transmission occurs through socially mediated learning. Language not only ensures symbolic inheritance, but also the ability to engage in complex information transfer containing a high density of information (cf. Jablonka and Lamb 2005:193-231). And here emerges a special and distinct human trait, namely the organisation, transferral and acquisition of information. In short: It is our ability to think and communicate through words and other types of symbols that makes "being human" different. And even more enlightening flowing from the broadening (read: extension) of traditional evolutionary theory, is niche construction, that is, the important implication that variation on which natural selection acts is not always random in origin or blind to function. As response to the conditions of life, a new heritable variation can arise. Niche construction entails the insight that organisms are constructed in development, not simply programmed to develop by genes, and consequently do not evolve to fit into pre-existing environments but co-construct and co-evolve with their environments (see Fuentes 2016:13ff). In this, humans construct ecological, technical, and cultural niches that influence the structure of evolutionary landscapes (cf. Fuentes 2016:14).

In the period from about 2.5 million to 12 000 years ago (the so called Pleistocene period), we find a significant evolvement of increasing complexities regarding culture and social traditions, tool and manufacture, trade and the use of fire. But evenmore: enhanced infant survival, predator avoidance, increased habitat exploitation and information transfer via material technologies (cf. Van Huyssteen 2018: 28). Van Huyssteen (2018:28) insightfully summarises in reference to Augustin Fuentes' article "Human Evolution, Niche Complexity, and the Emergence of a Distinctively Human Imagination" the implications:

All of these increasing complexities are tied directly to a rapidly evolving human cognition and social structure that require greater cooperative capabilities and coordination within human communities. Thinking of these developments as specific outcomes of a niche construction actually provides a mechanism, as well as a context, for the evolution of multifaceted response capabilities and coordination within communities.


(T)the emergence of language and a fully developed theory of mind with high levels of intentionality, empathy, moral awareness, symbolic thought, and social unity would be impossible without an extremely cooperative and mutually integrated social system in combination with enhanced cognitive and communicative capacities as our core adaptive niche (Van Huyssteen 2018:29).

A last important remark and quotation must suffice: the key part of our evolutionary niches, and perhaps the best explanation for why our species succeeded and all other hominins went extinct, is a distinctively human imagination as intrinsic evolutionary force!22 There is not only a naturalness to human imagination, but also to religious imagination23 - and it makes our engagement with the world in some ways truly distinct from any other animals! Van Huyssteen (2018:29-30) concludes:

Now existing in a landscape where the material and social elements have semiotic properties, and where communication and action can potentially be influenced by representations of both past and future behaviour, implies the possession of an imagination, and even something like hope, i.e., the expectation of future outcomes beyond the predictable.

The latter remark, namely "the expectation of future outcomes beyond the predictable" represents the connection from our evolutionary history to the subsequent evaluation of contemporary decision-making and envisioning the addressing off contextual societal challenges and risks.


Coming face to face through narratives: Our evolutionary history and risk management

Facing contemporary (technological) challenges within the given context of risk management should in my opinion, be pre-guided by a crucial and helpful distinction that is prompted by our evolutionary history and specifically niche construction, especially between human technological intelligence and human social wisdom. Following Fiona Coward (2018) in her very readable exposition "Technological Intelligence or Social Wisdom? Promiscuous Sociality, Things, and Networks in Human Evolution", she argues that it is not only an important distinction to be made, but a significant one. Whereas in the study of the evolution of human cognition the emphasis tends mostly to fall on intelligence, Coward proposes an emphasis on human social wisdom in contrast to human technological intelligence.24 In her understanding of human social wisdom, she explains that whilst wisdom requires and is predicated on intelligence, it actually represents intelligence tempered by experience (cf Coward 2018:41). And the application of that intelligence is based on a deep and rich understanding of the world in which one lives.25

For the world in which we currently live in South Africa, Codrington (2020a:48) proposed in the IMRSA Report six key skills for addressing the risks we are facing. Do his proposed skills make sense against the background and in the light of the preceding evolutionary history of Homo sapiens, and especially the importance that our evolutionary history intrinsically places on the role of imagination for our semiotic species? Contemporary risk management surely represents a specific type of complex decision-making for the benefit of our South African societal context. In this qualified and restricted sense, the six skills should constructively contribute in navigating our social networks and dynamic niches in our communities. Our adaptive societal niche can indeed do with "looking beyond what we can see, that is, to look beyond the horizon (skill: Switch Your Radar On). The same goes for the emphasis on "curiosity", that is to ask better questions, cognitively prompted (skill: Be More Curious). Closely tied to curiosity, is the acknowledgement of complexities, that is, to go looking and working towards sense-making frameworks in which we can be assisted to connect the dots, to see the ripples of the cause and effect of disruptive change, and then anticipate the implications of these changes across all of the systems that we live and work in (skill: Collect Sense-making Frameworks). To collect sense-making frameworks, implies for me discernment, and discernment presupposes pluralism and diversity. I can therefore also support the celebration of different opinions and many different viewpoints on the same issue (skill: Embrace Diversity). The last skill that I can positively acknowledge is that we intentionally have to build our capacity for change and doing things differently (skill: Experiment more).

But from this evaluative point onwards, our paths critically divert in the light of our evolutionary history. I can agree in a qualified sense that merely building on past experiences is not good enough (skill: Unlearn and Relearn), but I cannot light-heartedly accept the dismissive statement that the past offers little help in finding solutions for our so called new challenges. A skill should rather be added for taking deep history more seriously: there is much more to learn from our history than Codrington suggests. The same goes for the strange omission of the utmost importance of one of our most outstanding characteristics for "making it" as Homo sapiens, namely co-operation. Those groups in the past that addressed their societal challenges (read: risks) together made it! Those that did not hold cooperation in high esteem did not make it! Cooperation is far more powerful than the suggested skill of merely "seeking meaning with others" and "building diversity" into one's system. And perhaps the most crucial omission of skills for risk management is what I will call in light of our evolutionary history, Cardiac Discernment. Cardiac Discernment is a very "risky human dimension" that should be acknowledged for its highly complex and problematic influential composition, but precisely for this reason - it must subsequently be moulded into a skill - and perhaps emphasised (prioritised?) as the "first skill" to be crafted and pursued. With Cardiac Discernment, I take seriously, the words from wisdom literature that were formulated in Ancient Israel that warningly states: "Be careful what is going on in your heart. It determines everything you do" (Proverbs 4:23).26 Our successful evolutionary history is deeply driven by passions (affective dimensions such as empathy, compassion and attachment). Not only are we biologically woven together affectively (feelings, moods, emotions), but our affectations represent core elements of being a societal human being in community, in relationships. At the very same time I would acknowledge the lurking dangers in the suggested skill of Cardiac Discernment, but that is why it carries the qualification of "discernment". Closely tied to Cardiac Discernment lies the evolutionary insight of the naturalness of the role of imagination, and then specifically the naturalness of religious imagination. The qualified point that I would like to make is not to emphasise a religious disposition as such, but the unavoidable role of morality or moral awareness within a context of discernment since that is the "place" from which we or I speak and from which we or I manage our societal risks (the "space") as futurist. Risk management for embodied persons has a very concrete contextual address (Tshwane in the first place and not Tokyo; Durban in the first place and not Dubai), embedded deeply in sociality and therefore (moral) values - both organisational (and institutional) and societal values. It is therefore necessary that the skills for the management of risks should entail a skill as a moral guideline to ensure that it does not itself contribute to the privileging of those in (economic/political) power, or the silent marginalisation of those that are excluded from the mainstream of technological developments.



According to Codrington, we need risk practitioners as futurists in South Africa who will intentionally build the capacity to see and understand the implications and meaning of change, and therefore learn and apply at least six skills that he proposes. His proposed six skills are helpful guidelines, but then only as a starting point for extension and deep revision if viewed and evaluated from our evolutionary history. If these revisionary challenges that come from our evolutionary history are simply ignored, our risk practitioners are themselves at risk in being human beings without social addresses and with a shallow sense of (moral) discernment in our contemporary deeply disrupted South African environment.



Codrington, Graeme. 2020a. The risk practitioner as a Futurist, in: IMRSA 2020.         [ Links ]

Codrington, Graeme. 2020b. Dealing with disruption - don't get caught behind the 8-ball, in: IMRSA 2020.         [ Links ]

Coward, Fiona. 2018. Technological intelligence or social wisdom? Promiscuous sociality, things, and networks in human evolution, in: Fuentes and Deane-Drummond (eds).         [ Links ]

Franssen, M and Lockhurst, G and Van de Poel (eds). 2018. Philosophy of Technology. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.         [ Links ]

French, Jennifer. 2018. The Palaeolithic archaeological record and the materiality of imagination: A Response to J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, in: Fuentes and Deane- Drummond (eds).         [ Links ]

Fuentes, Agustín. 2016. The extended evolutionary synthesis, ethnography, and the human niche: Toward an integrated anthropology, Current Anthropology 57 (13): 13-26.         [ Links ]

Fuentes, Agustin and Deane-Drummond, Celia (eds). 2018a. Evolution of wisdom: Major and minor Keys. Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing, University of Notre Dame.         [ Links ]

Fuentes, Agustin and Deane-Drummond, Celia (eds). 2018b. Introduction: Transdisciplinarity, evolution and engaging wisdom, in: Fuentes and Deane- Drummond (2018a).         [ Links ]

Gordhan, Pravin. 2020. Foreword, in: IRMSA 2020.         [ Links ]

Harari, Yuval N. 2016. Homo Deus. London: Vintage.         [ Links ]

IRMSA. 2020. The IRMSA Risk Report 2019 (5th Edition). Institute of Risk Management South Africa.         [ Links ]

Jablonka, Eva, and Marion Lamb. 2005. Evolution in four dimensions: Genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic variation in the history of life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.         [ Links ]

Le Cordeur, Gillian. 2020: Preface, in: IMRSA 2020.         [ Links ]

Schwenger, Björn. 2016. 'Heresy' or 'Phase of Nature'? Approaching technology theologically. EJT 25 (1): 44-54.         [ Links ]

Shaw, Jeffrey M . 2018. Illusions of freedom: Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul on technology and the human condition. Religion and Theology 25 (1): 151-154.         [ Links ]

Van den Berg, J A (ed). 2020. Engaging the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Perspectives from theology, philosophy and education. Bloemfontein: SUN MeDIA.         [ Links ]

Van Huyssteen, J. Wentzel. 2018. Human origins and the emergence of a distinctively human imagination, in: Fuentes and Deane-Drummond (2018a)        [ Links ]

Veldsman, Daniël P. 2019a. Embracing the eye of the apple: On anthropology, theology and technology. HTS Theological Studies vol.75 (1).        [ Links ]

Veldsman, Danie P. 2020. From Harari to Harare: On mapping and theologically relating the Fourth Industrial Revolution with human distinctiveness, in: Van den Berg, J A (ed).         [ Links ]

Veldsman, Theo H. 2019. Organisational design in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The challenge of virtuous, people-Technology optimized integration. Conference Paper at the University of Johannesburg. Johannesburg.         [ Links ]

Veldsman, Theo H. 2019b. Designing fit-for-purpose organisations. A comprehensive, integrated route map. Johannesburg: Kr Publishing.         [ Links ]



1 The reason for "and toolmaking" in brackets and the formulation of "and" is to emphasise that I will concentrate more strongly on the dynamics of the "social niche" within which the toolmaking takes place rather than the story of toolmaking itself. On social niche, see my section 3. Homo Sapiens: a brief history. An important qualification on the study of technology or toolmaking (stone tools, pottery, metalwork, etc.) is made by Coward (2018:42) in stating that it is one of the most significant specialist areas in archaeology. She insightfully adds: "This is not in itself problematic: stone tools are a major class of evidence for early hominin behaviour ... and technology-and material culture more generally-do play a hugely significant role in human lifeways both past and present. Indeed, it could be argued that other disciplines do not pay enough attention to the kind of information that can be gleaned from studying technology ... The danger comes when the alluringly oversimplified, linear schemes of technological development lurking in broader cultural narratives about human 'progress' are allowed to shape the understandings of human evolution we claim are entirely objective and scientific".
2 The IRMSA Risk Report creates awareness of the risks facing the achievement of the South African country and industry objectives. It stimulates debate on how to best manage the risks highlighted in the report through communicating current challenges clearly to create effective risk treatment plans benefiting the country and all South Africans (cf. IMRSA 2020:36).
3 In the report more than 85 experts provided summarised and consolidated opinions for each of the top risks for both country and industry.
4 In the report, a risk is defined "as the effect of uncertainty on objectives" (IMRSA 2020:35)
5 The following risks for the South African context are identified: 1 Structurally high unemployment; 2 Growing income disparity and inequality; 3 Failure of governance - public; 4 Unmanageable fraud and corruption; 5 Inadequate and/or sub-standard education and skills development; 6 Energy price shock; 7 Labour unrest and strike action; 8 National political uncertainty/instability; 9 Cyber-attacks (ransom, algorithm shutdown of the internet of things); 10 Macro-economic developments; 11 Skills shortage, including the ability to attract and retain top talent; 12 Lack of leadership; 13 Breakdown of critical infrastructure & networks (e.g. transport, information, roads); 14 Government policy, legislative and regulatory changes and uncertainty; 15 Failure of State, a State crisis or a State collapse; 16 Global political uncertainty/disruption; 17 Capital availability/credit risk; 18 Insufficient supply of electricity; 19 Failure of governance -private; 20 Business interruptions (e.g. production, supply (IMRSA 2020:2). Interestingly, there are some global risks - such as climate change, loss of biodiversity etc. - that the compilers do not see as important enough to include in their identified risks.
6 In the report, a "futurist" is described as "someone who intentionally builds the capacity to see and understand the implications and meaning of change" (IMRSA 2020:31).
7 Why the specific emphasis on transversal? The emphasis is to distinguish my approach from interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches. The former focuses on the spaces between disciplines and strives to create a relational connection. In the latter approaches, we find that actors from distinct disciplines unite for an investigation, sharing insights but seldom incorporating them into their own worldviews. Although both approaches are important sources for data generation, they are thin on the integration of frameworks from different disciplines and therefore on the broadening and deepening of a specific intellectual approach. A transversal approach entails collaboration that incorporates some of the assumptions, worldviews, and potentially the languages of different disciplines. But even more importantly: It has the goal of developing a relationship that creates the possibility for discourse in which the terms of all the participant disciplines are, or can be, expressed, thus facilitating the possibilities for intellectual transformation that is more thorough, intensive, and generative than in inter- or multidisciplinary approaches. Transcending disciplinary boundaries enables the possibility of synthesizing knowledge anew (cf. Fuentes & Deane-Drummond 2018b: 11-12).
8 Codrington (2020b:50) calls his model for addressing the four major areas of disruption appropriately the TIDES model!
9 For Codrington (2020a:48) this entails that we look beyond what we can see with our naked eyes, that is, looking beyond the horizon.
10 For Codrington (2020a:48) this entails that we ask better questions since questions are fundamental to the learning process and the gateway to challenging existing realities and orthodoxies.
11 For Codrington (2020a:48) this entails in a complex world the developing of a shared vocabulary and frameworks. It is the latter that helps us to connect dots, to see the ripples of the cause and effect of disruptive change, and then anticipate the implications of these changes across all of the systems in which we live and work.
12 For Codrington (2020a:49) this entails the celebration of different opinions and many different viewpoints on the same issue.
13 For Codrington (2020a:49) this entails the conviction that the past offers little help in finding solutions since tomorrow's challenges will not be solved by yesterday's solutions. Merely building on past experiences is not good enough.
14 For Codrington (2020a:49) this entails that we intentionally build our capacity for change.
15 See the interesting discussion from our evolutionary history by Coward (2018:42ff) on technology not being a uniquely human trait.
16 I call it a "brief' history since it only focusses on very limited and deliberately chosen dimensions of being human.
17 The importance of wisdom for characterising "being human" was creatively explored at the conference, - Human Distinctiveness: Wisdom's Deep Evolution at the Notre Dame London Global Gateway in July 2017. The conference was the culmination of the transdisciplinary Evolution of Wisdom research project supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and led by Celia Deane-Drummond and Augustin Fuentes at the University of Notre Dame. A collection of articles that originated from the papers presented at the conference was published by the Centre for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing, University of Notre Dame as e-book Evolution of Wisdom: Major and Minor Keys. I gratefully acknowledge that I make use of many of their insightful explorations of the role of wisdom for the characterisation of "being human".
18 In contemporary discourses on human distinctiveness, we find many answers to the question, conceptually captured in symbolic behaviour (including religious imagination), morality, and language. However, see my later remark that we can no longer propose exclusively one specific trait for human distinctiveness.
19 Since archaeological data represents the basis on which interpretations of and inferences for human symbolic thought relies, it will always be challenged and remain problematic!
20 See the important critical discussion of the formulation of "becoming human" and being human" by Jennifer French (2018:57ff) in which she argues that this transition is often difficult and problematic to pin down. She refers to and discusses the example of the dating of the recently discovered hominin Homo naledi, found in the Rising Star Cave in South Africa. Only c. 300,000-200,000 years old?
21 Epigenetic inheritance is found in all organisms, behavioural in most, and symbolic inheritance occurs only in humans.
22 One of the most important insights that emerges from our evolutionary history of "becoming human", is that there is neither a single trait that explains human evolutionary success, nor is there a particular environment that created it!
23 The argumentative emphasis on religious imagination at this point, is not an insight that we can merely bypass in a friendly noteworthy manner and then continue on our "being human" merry way! It is of crucial importance because, as paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall has insightfully and convincingly argued, every human society, at one stage or another, possessed religion of some sort, complete with origin myths that purportedly explain the relationship of humans to the world around them. The point is: Religion cannot be discounted from any discussion of typically human behaviours (cf. Van Huyssteen 2018: 31). There is indeed a naturalness to religious imagination that challenges any viewpoint that would want to see religion or religious imagination as an arbitrary or esoteric faculty of the human mind.
24 Coward (2018:41) quotes an example to make the difference clear. She refers to a poster on that states, "... intelligence is being able to clone a dinosaur, and wisdom is stopping and asking 'hey, is this really a good idea?'".
25 Coward (2018) discusses the important shift that has taken place regarding the dividing line between humans and non-humans from technology to sociality. She aligns her argument for the decisive emphasis on wisdom with the viewpoint that the distinctive elements of human nature relate primarily to the complexity of our social worlds, rather than to technology per se. This she does convincingly by employing an alternative to the technological model of human wisdom, namely the "Social Brain Hypothesis" in which the emphasis falls on the fundamentally social selective context for brain evolution.
26 My own translation from the Hebrew text. It is also very illuminating to compare with other translations. I shall note a few. The Living Bible reads: "Above all else, guard your affections, for they influence everything else in your life". The KJV translates: "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life". The MSG reads: "Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that's where life starts", and the NASB: "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life".

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Towards an inclusive and collaborative African biblical hermeneutics of reception and production: a distinctively South African contribution



Gerald O. West

School of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics & Ujamaa Centre University of KwaZulu-Natal




In a recent article I characterised the biblical hermeneutics of James H. Cone as a hermeneutic of radical reception and the biblical hermeneutics of Itumeleng Mosala as a hermeneutic of radical production. In this article I argue that though a hermeneutic of reception is the distinctive feature of African biblical hermeneutics, a hermeneutic of production is a particular and distinct contribution by South African biblical scholarship to African biblical scholarship. The article then reflects on how these two hermeneutics might intersect through the inclusion ofordinary African readers of the Bible in both the reception process and in a collaborative analysis of the contested sites of the Bible's production.

Keywords: Ideology; Redaction; Reception; Production; African




South African biblical scholarship has been at the forefront of an insistence on the recognition of a hermeneutics of production. While much African biblical scholarship tends to work with the biblical text in its final form, there is a trajectory within African biblical scholarship which argues for the importance of an analysis of the Bible's processes of production. This article analyses the formative work done by African biblical scholarship during the 1980s, focussing on the work of South African scholars Gunther Wittenberg and Itumeleng Mosala, but making reference to others, like Justin Ukpong from Nigeria. My article will place considerable emphasis on the significance of a hermeneutic of production, given that this is a particularly significant contribution of South African (African contextually engaged) biblical scholarship to African biblical hermeneutics.1

However, the article will also analyse the importance of a hermeneutic of reception within African biblical scholarship. African reception of the Bible is what is most obviously 'African' about African biblical scholarship. African contextual realities are foregrounded, constituting the starting point of African biblical scholarship. As Ukpong so eloquently put it, African biblical scholarship "seeks to make the African ... context the subject of interpretation", which means that every dimension of the interpretive process is "consciously informed by the world-view of, and the life experience within that culture" (Ukpong 1995:5).

Given the early (1960s) disciplinary formation of African biblical scholars, trained within (Western/Euro-American) historical-critical method (LeMarquand 2000; Holter:2002), the insistence on the African context as the subject of interpretation has a distinctly post-colonial orientation, though African biblical scholarship has preferred until recently to speak of an 'inculturation' or a 'comparative' orientation (Ukpong 1995; Ukpong 2000a). South African biblical scholarship, as a particular variant form of African biblical scholarship, has foregrounded the ideological dimensions of inculturation hermeneutics, insisting that context and text are always brought into dialogue/conversation/contestation via a mediating post-colonial theoretical orientation (West 2016a).


A hermeneutic of production

In the midst of the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s, Itumeleng Mosala engaged in a vigorous critique of the biblical hermeneutics of both South African and African American Black theologians. Allan Boesak and James Cone came in for particular scrutiny (Mosala 1989a:13-42). I have analysed Mosala's critical engagement with both Boesak and Cone in detail.2 However, though both Boesak and Cone have training in biblical studies, their primary orientation is theological, so it could be argued that Mosala is being somewhat demanding in his critique of their biblical hermeneutics. However, Mosala's contention is that how we do our biblical hermeneutics has theological implications. Indeed, I will argue, Mosala might claim that how we do our biblical interpretation in contexts where the Bible is a significant sacred text is in itself theological. Theory and method are theological.

I will return to Mosala's trenchant analysis and its theological implications in due course. My point here is that Mosala's critique is founded on a particularly 'biblical studies' understanding of the Bible. That the Bible is the product of particular sites of production is axiomatic to the discipline of biblical studies. Justin Ukpong, for example, makes it clear that "the biblical text itself is not acultural and universal, rather it is steeped through and through in the culture and life experiences of those communities that produced them" (Ukpong 1995:6). And though as "[a] preliminary condition for doing inculturation hermeneutic is awareness of, and commitment to, the inculturation movement which seeks strong interaction of the Christian faith with all aspects of African ... life and thought" (Ukpong 1995:10), the "first step in the interpretation process" requires "identifying the interpreter's specific context that dynamically corresponds or approximates to the historical context of the text, and clarifying his/her perspective in relation to the text" (Ukpong 1995:10). An African hermeneutic of reception requires a hermeneutic of production.

Biblical studies as a discipline has a well-worn set of methodological resources for identifying a text's site of production, and African biblical scholars like Ukpong deploy them in a systematic manner. Historical-critical tools are used to identify and delimit a particular 'text' within its particular historical site of production (Ukpong 1996:194204). Since the 1970s, sociological methods and models have been used alongside or integrated with historical analysis in order to thicken the social dimensions of historically reconstructed sites of production.3 Indeed, Norman Gottwald's pioneering work, The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250-1050 B.C., which was formative for both Wittenberg and Mosala, made the bold claim that sociological models are (and should be) constitutive of historical reconstructions (Gottwald 1999:16-17).4

Gottwald's point is that historical data is not ideologically innocent, and is always given a particular historical shape by an interpreter's (whether ancient or contemporary) ideological orientations. The historian Hayden White made a similar point, using a broader notion of ideology, in his analysis of the "tropes" of historical reconstruction (White 1978). But the trajectory within South African biblical scholarship I am analysing here uses a more orthodox Marxism-informed notion of ideology, following Gottwald, where ideology has explicitly economic dimensions.5 As African biblical scholars, both Wittenberg and Mosala acknowledge and embrace the ideological role of the African reader, but they insist that the biblical text too is an ideological product. This is their distinctive contribution to African biblical scholarship.

The particular emphasis of South African (African socially engaged) biblical scholarship has been on the ideological nature of a text's site of production. Biblical texts are indelibly etched with the ideological markers of their sites of production.6 The plural 'sites' here is important, for among the historical-critical methods, South African biblical scholarship has given special attention to the ideological dimensions of redaction criticism. The Bible, as we have it in its final form, is the product of successive socio-historical processes of collection and composition, known as redaction, with each and every socio-historical moment of (re)collection and (re)composition having a particular ideological site of production. More significantly, South African biblical scholarship has argued that the process of redaction is ideologically contested, so that the Bible is itself, intrinsically and inherently, a site of ideological struggle. Redaction is not additive but ideological. Redaction, to use a recent South African expression, 'captures' the ideological identities and voices of the texts it co-opts and redacts.

As Mosala sets out to demonstrate his understanding of the redaction process in his seminal 1980s work with respect to the biblical book of Micah, he invokes this axiomatic understanding of biblical scholarship: "Biblical scholars have always been aware of the tendency in biblical literature for older traditions to be reused to address the needs of new situations. ... This practice has, in fact, been seen as a natural order of things in the internal hermeneutics of the Bible" (Mosala 1989a:101). Among those Mosala cites to support this claim is the work of South African biblical scholar Ferdinand Deist. What is significant about Mosala's choice of Deist's work is that Deist is overt about how older texts are ideologically reused in order "to authorize the new" (Deist 1982:65; Mosala 1989a:101). Deist, like Mosala, insists on South African biblical scholarship being attentive to the ideological dimensions of the Bible, at a time when much of white South African biblical scholarship was avoiding the ideological dimensions of biblical interpretation (Smit 1990; Draper 1991).

Mosala's second citation is equally telling, for he cites the biblical-theological work of Gerhard von Rad, which resonates here rather well with Mosala's own theological worries about the final redactional form of the Bible. Von Rad makes the point that in the reuse of older texts, "the factual historical data [of the older traditions] can no longer be separated from the spiritualizing interpretation, which penetrates everything" (Von Rad 1975:118; Mosala 1989a:101). The ideological diversity of older traditions, what Von Rad refers to as "the old disassociated traditions", are given through later redactions "a reference and interpretation which in most cases was foreign to their original meaning". Von Rad, cited by Mosala, goes on to add that "the [later] reader is not aware of the tremendous process of [theological] unification lying behind the picture given in the [redacted] source documents" (Von) Rad 1975:118; Mosala 1989a:101). In Mosala's terms, redactional ideo-theological "co-optation" is an inherent and intrinsic aspect of any and every biblical text (Mosala 1989a:188).7

Mosala's particular problem with Boesak and other black theologians is that by neglecting to discern the ideological character of a particular biblical text they participate in the Bible's ideo-theological co-optation and perpetuate within contemporary contexts ideo-theological co-optation. A hermeneutic of reception (on its own) "conceals the hermeneutically important fact that the texts of the Bible, despite being overladen by harmonizing perspectives, are problematical - if only because they are products of complex and problematical histories and societies". By this Mosala means "that as products, records, and sites of social, historical, cultural, gender, racial, and ideological struggles, they radically and indelibly bear the mark of their origins and history" (Mosala 1989a:20). The "ideological aura" of the final form of the biblical text, often referred to by African Christian believers as "the Word of God" (Mosala 1989a:20), obscures and obfuscates the historical reality of the contending ideologies 'behind' the Bible's final form. "A black biblical hermeneutics of liberation", Mosala insists, "must battle to recover precisely that history and those origins of struggle in the text and engage them anew in the service of ongoing human struggles" (Mosala 1989a:20). It is only "[w]ith the agenda of the text laid bare", Mosala contends, that "we can make hermeneutical connections with similar agendas in the contemporary setting" (Mosala 1989a:185).

Mosala is confident that biblical scholarship is able to discern that sites of production are indeed sites of ideological contestation. However, he is sceptical that "the struggles and projects of the oppressed peoples in biblical communities" are readily apparent (Mosala 1989a:152), even to biblical scholarship. Successive co-optation by dominant ideologies through successive redactional processes has meant that the presence of oppressed sectors is almost entirely absent. Mosala laments "the absences in the text of material concerning the experiences of the oppressed in ancient society" (Mosala 1989a:152), but recognises that "while the oppressed and exploited peasants, artisans, day laborers, and underclasses of Micah's Judah are entirely absent in the signifying practice that the wider text of Micah represents, something of their project and voice has almost accidentally survived" in the redacted texts that have co-opted their struggles and projects (Mosala 1989a:152).

"The task of a biblical hermeneutics of liberation", therefore, "is to go behind the dominant discourses [represented in the final form of the Bible] to the [co-opted] discourses of oppressed communities in order to link up with kindred struggles" (Mosala 198a9:153). The final form of the Bible is a "contradictory" or contested text (Mosala 1989a:152); "the texts of the Bible are sites of struggle" (Mosala 1989a:185). As James Scott argues, in most contexts of domination "the terrain of dominant discourse is the only plausible arena of struggle" (Scott 1990:102-3). Given this reality, the importance of contemporary struggles for liberation as a biblical exegetical resource is, as Mosala insists, that "there are enough contradictions within ... [biblical texts] to enable eyes that are hermeneutically trained in the struggle for liberation today to observe the kin struggles of the oppressed and exploited of the biblical communities in the very absences of those struggles in the text" (Mosala 1986:196). The contradictions are embodied -textually inscribed - within the final form of the text because, insists Mosala, the Bible is itself "a product and a record of class struggles" (Mosala 1986:196). Black theologians, because of their social location within the struggle against apartheid, were able, Mosala argues, to detect "glimpses of liberation and of a determinate social movement galvanized by a powerful [liberation] religious ideology in the biblical text" (Mosala 1989a:40). But because of the "middle-class origins and character" of South African Black Theology (Mosala 1989a:96), even Black Theology required an interpretive alliance with the epistemological eyes of the most oppressed, whom Mosala refers to in class terms as "the 'commoners'" (Mosala 1989a:97). So the exploited classes have an exegetical contribution to make, working alongside biblical scholars in recovering what has been co-opted through redaction. I will return to this significant recognition later.

Mosala's method for going "behind the dominant discourses" is itself a substantive ideo-theological formulation. Mosala offers an analogy of method as an ideo-theological resource: in the same way that contemporary social sites are sites of struggle, so biblical texts too are sites of struggle, indelibly marked as they are by their ideo-theological contested sites of production. Interpretive method is an ideo-theological resource. This foregrounding of method, recognising the ideo-theological capacities of method, is Mosala's distinctive contribution to African biblical interpretation. Mosala's contribution goes beyond historical-critical and historical-materialist sociological method's subverting of theologically determinative interpretations of the Bible. His contention and contribution is an understanding of the Bible itself - inherently, intrinsically, and indelibly - as a site of struggle, a conceptualisation, he believes, should carry ideo-theological import.

Biblical scholarship as a discipline emerged as a response, in part, to the church's control of the Bible through theology, interrogating theologically determinative interpretations of (ideo-theologically diverse) biblical texts.8 Like Ukpong, Mosala does not shirk the theological in African contexts in which the Bible is a significant sacred resource, but reconceptualises it. While Mosala foregrounds hermeneutical method as an ideo-theological resource (West 1995:74-75), Ukpong foregrounds the ideo-theological dimension itself. "The goal of interpretation", Ukpong argues, "is the actualization of the theological meaning of the text in today's context so as to forge integration between faith and life, and engender commitment to personal and societal transformation" (Ukpong 2000b:24). Wittenberg makes similar methodological moves to both Ukpong and Mosala, but emphasises the economic and political dimensions of theology more than Ukpong, and is more optimistic than Mosala about the textual presence of what he refers to as "resistance theology" (Wittenberg 2007).

For Mosala, ideo-theological redactional co-optation of peasant/working-class struggles is a distinctive feature of the final form of the biblical text, and so, often, "[t]he category of the 'black struggle' as a hermeneutical factor draws its poetry from a future that [,] in this struggle's collision with ... [much of the biblical text as we have it] [,] is experienced as an 'absence'" (Mosala 1989a:188). So, as I have already noted, Mosala finds only the already co-opted voices of "the oppressed and exploited peasants, artisans, day laborers, and underclasses of Micah's Judah ... in the signifying practice ... of [the final form] of Micah" (Mosala 1989b:152). By focussing on the final form of the biblical text, Mosala warns, we find only the absence of marginalised voices. However, "their project and voice" is not entirely lost (Mosala 1989b:152), for this absence is partially present precisely because redactional processes do not entirely eradicate the voices they co-opt. 'Accidental' remnants of marginalised voices remain. The poetry that Mosala refers to is the capacity of future contexts of struggle, such as the black South African struggle of the 1980s, to provide avenues of access to the fragmentary presence of ideologically redacted and co-opted social sectors. If Africans persist in their use of the Bible, there is an ethical imperative to engage in such African Marxist socio-historical ideo-theological poetry (West 2020).

Like Mosala, Wittenberg locates resistance in historical communities of struggle, both ancient and contemporary. The persuasiveness of Wittenberg's argument for a pervasive "resistance theology" within the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible resides partially in his location of resistance theology within a particular sector of ancient 'Israel', the am ha'aretz, "the Judean 'people of the land'" (Wittenberg 2007:18). Though the resistance theology of the am ha'aretz takes form in its engagement with the rise of the monarchy, Wittenberg is careful to demonstrate the political and economic significance of this sector prior to the changes wrought by monarchy. The "men of Judah", in Wittenberg's analysis, are Judah's relatively stable, relatively prosperous, and relatively educated "traditional leadership" (Wittenberg 2007:57), representing the rural agricultural community of the am ha'aretz. Wittenberg sees this sector as the repository of an early Judean agriculture-based wisdom tradition, which drew on the Egyptian wisdom traditions that characterised "Judean towns which had long been under direct Egyptian control" (Wittenberg 2007:57). Importantly, the am ha'aretz retained a substantial independence, rooted in their ownership of rural land, their memory of "a period in their history when they were not ruled by kings" (Wittenberg 2007:98), their "segmentary ... [relatively "democratic"] acephalous society" (Wittenberg 2007:98-99), and the leadership of clan-based "elders" and/or "judges" (Wittenberg 2007:99).

The resistance theology of this sector takes on a distinctive socio-economic shape, however, "within the context of historical struggles and conflicts" (Wittenberg 2007:137); it is a theology of struggle. And the locus of the struggle is the rise of the monarchy. The resistance theology of the am ha'aretz is forged, firstly, in opposition to Egyptian colonial control of the towns of Judea - for though they "shared in the great tradition of the ancient Near East ... they no longer shared the royal-urban imperial values" (Wittenberg 2007:57), and then, secondly, in contestation with the attempts of David and Solomon "to establish an empire according to the Egyptian model" (Wittenberg 2007:57). Wittenberg's analysis is nuanced, and he is careful to point out that, though the am ha'aretz are clearly apprehensive about monarchy, given their memory of the Egyptian model (and their experience of the Canaanite city-states) (Wittenberg 2007:57), they supported David's kingship. Within the "stable world" of an agricultural community, "where wealth came from the land", "everybody had a place, the rich and the poor, even the king, all of whom the am ha'aretz of Judah had come to accept as part of the just order of creation" (Wittenberg 2007:74).

Incrementally, as the monarchic system under David developed ominously oppressive systemic features, so Wittenberg discerns contestation among the am ha'aretz. The stable world, on which so much of the agriculture-based life and wisdom was based, became unstable. As Wittenberg shows, wisdom literature, itself a site of struggle, reflects the emergence of the recognition of a systemic relationship between wealth and poverty. Proverbs 22:2, "The rich and the poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all" seems to reflect a non-systemic relationship between "the rich" and "the poor" when compared to Proverbs 29:13, "The poor and the oppressor have a common bond, the Lord gives light to the eyes of both".9 "The two sayings are almost identical", Wittenberg notes, "but there is a major shift in meaning in the second one - from the neutral 'rich' to the pejorative 'oppressor'". "This shift in emphasis", he continues, "from wealth as a desirable asset and a blessing of God typical of old wisdom, to wealth as a means of oppression, can best be understood ... as a reaction of the old economy to the dynamics of a growing urban-based monetary economy", to the introduction of "Canaanite [city-temple state] business practices, especially interest on loans", systems that "could be seen as being primarily responsible for the exploitation of the rural population" (Wittenberg 2007:75).

With this systemic socio-economic shift, contestation develops within the am ha'aretz, for a certain sector of the am ha'aretz not only benefited from but were co-opted by this emerging monarchic city-temple state economic system, and so contributed to the exploitation of "the poorer Judahite fellow citizens who were sinking even deeper into debt and serfdom" (Wittenberg 2007:71). A sector of the am ha'aretz, Wittenberg argues, "in the latter part of the monarchy", "became a rich, land-owning class who participated in the oppression of the poorer sections of the people, together with the merchants and other feudatories in the city of Jerusalem" (Wittenberg 2007:71, 133). However, Drawing on the "dangerous insights" (Marcuse 1964) and "dangerous memory" (Metz 1980)) of "their own ancient sacred traditions", especially the Exodus tradition (Wittenberg 2007:14), there remained "a counter-movement" within the am ha'aretz (Wittenberg 2007:71). It is this counter-movement and its resistance theology that is the focus of Wittenberg's scholarship.

For both Mosala and Wittenberg socio-historical method is framed by an eclectic array of liberation theory (West 1991:70-74, 78-79), but with an emphasis on an African Marxist orientated economic analysis.10 Their hermeneutic is similar. African liberation theory - specifically and respectively, South African Black Theology and South African Contextual Theology - shapes their interpretive project, including accountability to contemporary poor and marginalised African sectors and responsibility to the socio-historical realities of similar sectors within the sites of production of biblical texts. Historical-critical methods, and redaction criticism in particular, provide resources for locating a biblical text within its historical period of production. Redaction criticism is key in their analysis (West 2017), for both recognise that the final form of the biblical text is a product of continual ideo-theologically driven reuse (until the canon is closed) (West 2019). What is distinctive about Mosala's and Wittenberg's understanding of redaction criticism is that it is ideo-theological, not simply historical. Sociological theory, and Marxist oriented historical-materialist theory in particular, provide resources for identifying the economic dimensions of the contested site of production that generated a 'text', and for identifying the contending sectoral voices within that text. Marxist oriented notions of 'mode of production', taken up into biblical scholarship by Gottwald and others (West 2020:56), provide them with socio-economic categories for identifying contending and co-opted sectoral voices.

These then are the two ends of an ideological orientation to redactional criticism. At the one end are the voices of the exploited classes; at the other end is the final form of the text. In-between are successive stages of redaction. The purpose of an ideologically determined redaction criticism is precisely to delve for each and every voice, no matter how co-opted and 'redacted'. Identifying poor and marginalised sectoral voices within historical sites of struggle is the focus of Mosala's and Wittenberg's socio-historical work.11 They recognise, however, that this oral voice is always 're-presented' by other sectors. For Mosala, the closest we come to this voice is the representation of the prophet; for Wittenberg, it is the representation of the Judahite landowning sector. Both recognise, however, that even this partial representation is itself coopted and represented by the scribal sector, which subsists on and so tends to serve the city-temple state ruling elite sectors, who are responsible for the final redactional compositions and their ideo-theologies.12

Though a historical orientation is somewhat fashionably unfashionable at this time (Moore and Sherwood 2011), Mosala's and Wittenberg's liberatory project requires the work in order to identify and hear kin voices of struggle within and behind what they understand to be systemically and thoroughly ideo-theologically co-opted biblical texts. Significantly, both Wittenberg and Mosala emphasise the economic dimensions of ancient and contemporary life. That class is constructed and configured racially in South Africa shapes their prioritising in the 1980s of the socio-economic (Terreblanche 2002). Ukpong's "inculturation biblical hermeneutic", though having a broadly 'cultural' orientation, also includes recognition of the "oppressive structures of contemporary economic systems" (Ukpong 1996:208), though his tendency is to foreground emerging globalised economic systems, such as the 'Structural Adjustment Programmes' that have so devastated emerging postcolonial African economies (Ukpong) 1996:207; Ukpong 2002:25-37). In general, African biblical scholarship outside of South Africa has tended to emphasise the religio-cultural aspects of their own African realities,13 and where the socio-economic is analysed it tends to be at the 'international' level. Wittenberg and Mosala are more local in their socio-economic analysis, preparing the way, both in terms of contextual emphasis and interpretive method for the work of successive generations of South African biblical scholars.14

Like most other African biblical scholars, Mosala's and Wittenberg's project is given its impetus by an already read and regularly used Bible within the South African context of struggle in the 1980s. They take up the hermeneutical tools they do in order to serve poor and marginalised Bible-using communities within contemporary sites of struggle. It is a hermeneutic of reception that gives shape to their methodological choices with respect to a hermeneutic of production.


A hermeneutic of reception

An African biblical hermeneutics of reception is predicated on two assumptions. The first and most fundamental is the actual presence of the Bible in African contexts among African communities. African biblical scholars recognise the reality across African contexts of an already 'entangled' Bible. I find Achille Mbembe's notion of 'entanglement' useful here. The "time of African existence", argues Achille Mbembe, can be characterised as the "time of entanglement". He goes on to elaborate, arguing that the time of African existence "is neither a linear time nor a simple sequence in which each moment effaces, annuls, and replaces those that preceded it, to the point where a single age exists within a society. This time is not a series but an interlocking of presents, pasts, and futures, each age bearing, altering, and maintaining the previous ones" (Mbembe 2001:16). In my recent book, The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon", I offer an account of this entanglement (West 2016b). The Bible that comes in European imperial-commercial trading ships in the mid-1600s and which is used to take, among many African things, African cattle, is later, in the 1900s, stolen by African healer-prophet-messiahs, with the clear recognition that those who stole African cattle now have had their own potentially powerful sacred text stolen by those whose cattle were stolen (West 2016b:66-75, 252-60). The Bible that is translated by missionaries who despise African languages and cultures, yet have to turn to those same African languages and cultures in order to translate, is the Bible that Africans pry from missionary control and appropriate for their own purposes precisely because of those languages and the African reader discerned religio-cultural resonances between biblical cultures and their own African cultures (West 2016b:164-231, 32-43). The Bible that is used by Whites to craft the racial-economic system of apartheid is used by Blacks to assert Black dignity and claim political, legal, and economic liberation (West 2016b:369-75, 26-28). The Bible that is used by Whites to take Black land is used by Blacks to expropriate land taken by Whites (West 2016b:447-49, 545-61).

The second assumption that undergirds an African reception of the Bible is that the Bible is, in the words of Takatso Mofokeng writing in the 1980s, an "accessible ideological silo or storeroom" of "ideological and spiritual food" for "the Black masses" (Mofokeng 1988:40). While much of African biblical scholarship concurs with the trajectory of early Latin American biblical hermeneutics, in which the Bible is understood to have a liberatory "axis" (West 1983:26-28), the trajectory of South African biblical scholarship I am engaging here rejects the notion that the problem is with the misinterpretation of an inherently liberatory Bible. Mofokeng is clear in his rejection of this argument. "The most commonly held approach", Mofokeng argues, "has been to accuse oppressor preachers of misusing the Bible for their oppressive purposes and objectives. This misuse is based, it is argued, on misinterpretations of biblical texts to support or promote oppressive intentions" (Mofokeng 1988:37). However, he continues, "It is clear that this critique is based on the assumption that the Bible is essentially a book of liberation. This assumption is held in spite of the obvious presence in the Bible of texts, stories, and books which can only serve an oppressive cause" (Mofokeng 1988:37). "We contend", he counters, "that there are stories and texts which are basically oppressive and [their] interpretation (not misinterpretation) only serves the cause of oppression. On the contrary [,] it is (in fact) their interpretation and use for liberation that would constitute misinterpretation and misuse" (Mofokeng 1988:37).

Formally-trained black biblical scholars and theologians are part of the problem, argues Mofokeng, for they "have been brought into the ideological universe of the dominant and oppressive Christian world and accepted it" (Mofokeng 1988:37), and so attempt to "save" or "co-opt" inherently oppressive biblical texts (Mofokeng 1988:38). Such attempts to use "oppressive texts for the oppressed only serve the interests of the oppressors who desire to have the oppressed under the same cultural, spiritual and ideological (sic) as themselves because they are in control of it" (Mofokeng 1988:38). Mofokeng calls on "formally-trained" black biblical scholars and theologians to align themselves with the "hermeneutical approach of lay Christians" (Mofokeng 1988:38), in which these "untrained black hermeneutists" bring their social context "into a dynamic and fruitful interaction with the Bible", so that "[t]he progressive elements of the black life experience, history and culture interact with the progressive life experience, histories and cultures of some biblical communities" (Mofokeng 1988:39, 41).Black biblical scholars and theologians "who are organically connected to the above Christian hermeneutical communities but who also stand with both feet in the liberation struggle do not frown", insists Mofokeng, "on this hermeneutical approach of lay Christians. On the contrary they lift the above hermeneutical exercise to a higher formal level" (Mofokeng 1988:41), joining with the Black masses "to assert their claim on the Bible as a weapon of ideological and spiritual struggle for liberation". "As they assert this claim", Mofokeng continues, "a new kind of struggle ensues, namely, the struggle for the Bible or, to be more precise, the struggle for control of the Bible" (Mofokeng 1988:39). Profoundly, Mofokeng understands how a hermeneutic of reception requires a hermeneutic of production.

Mofokeng does not develop how he understands the task of 'lifting' lay hermeneutical practice "to a higher level", but as we have seen, his comrade and dialogue partner, Mosala, does. Mosala takes up the hermeneutical task where Mofokeng leaves off, using Marxist theory and method to construct a historical-materialist biblical hermeneutics of liberation (West 2020). What Mofokeng is clear about, however, is that the "analytical tools" forged by Black Theology in collaboration with the masses of lay Black Christians must serve what Marx referred to as "the sigh of the oppressed" (Marx 2010:175) and what Mofokeng refers to below as the "story of pain, fears, and hopes" of "the downtrodden of this world":

Using these analytical tools as members of a silenced, marginalized and sometimes ignored race, they discover the silenced, ignored and marginalized people in the Bible and develop an affinity with them. They also discover the text behind the text of the Bible - a text that has been silenced but one that speaks through this silence about the struggles of the silenced and marginalized people of the Bible. As members of a people whose story of pain, fears and hopes has been suppressed, they are enabled, by their physical and psychological scars, together with the analytical tools they have chosen, to discover the suppressed and forgotten stories of the weak and the poor of the Bible. These seem, according to them, to be the stories wherein God is identifying with the forgotten and the weak and is actively retrieving them from the margins of the social world. It is through these stories that God, the creator of humans, is manifested as the God of the oppressed and accepted as such. This creator God acts incarnately in Jesus to end the rampant enmity in creation and restore real humanity to people. Only the reading of these stories of the downtrodden God among the downtrodden of this world strengthens the tormented faith of the oppressed of our time, as well as enhancing the quality of their commitment to the physical struggle for liberation. This discovery constitutes the liberation of the Bible from the clutches of the dominant in the Christian fold who impose the stories that justify their victories onto the oppressed (Mofokeng 1988:41; see also West 2020).

Mofokeng invokes a theological trajectory given its shape by "silenced" voices and texts, recognising together with Wittenberg (and to some extent Mosala) that a remnant resisting presence is recoverable. What all three of these South African liberation hermeneutics scholars recognise is the required presence of 'lay' (Mofokeng) or 'commoner' (Mosala) or 'poor and oppressed' (Wittenberg) Bible-using 'readers' (Wittenberg 1993:5). Reflecting back on this period and its contribution to African biblical scholarship, Ukpong too recognises the inclusion within African biblical scholarship of "ordinary African readers (that is, non-biblical scholars) as important partners" (Ukpong 2000a:23).


Inclusive reception and collaborative production hermeneutics

How each of these African scholars goes about actually working with African ordinary users of the Bible is different. Mosala laments the lack of methodological capacity among African commoner Christians (Mosala 1996:57), but does not put forward or implement a clear procedure for working hermeneutically with this sector. Ukpong shares similar concerns about popular West African ways of reading the Bible, seeing them as a "serious challenge" (Ukpong 2000b:593), and gives glimpses of how an overt use of inculturation method at work on Matthew 20:1-16, a parable about day-labourers in first-century Palestine, interacts with "the situation of day labourers in Southern Nigeria" when the method is used among them and with them (Ukpong 2001:196). Though Ukpong is not clear and precise about his inclusive reception and collaborative production interpretive processes, he acknowledges that he is following the kinds of interpretive processes forged by Wittenberg and the Institute for the Study of the Bible (ISB). Wittenberg's work is overt about method, but his emphasis is on the potential resistance theology resources that the method recovers from the final form of the biblical text. In this regard, Wittenberg and Ukpong are very similar. Where Wittenberg is distinctive is, first, in offering popular forms of his biblical studies method (Wittenberg 1993), and, second, in his recognition that inclusive and collaborative hermeneutical work requires an organised and institutionalised site in which socially engaged biblical scholars and ordinary readers of the Bible collaborate (ISB 2000:14-16). Mofokeng, as a theologian, offers a theological trajectory constructed from across biblical texts, centred on Christology (Mofokeng 1983), of "the downtrodden God among the downtrodden of this world". While Wittenberg reconstructs a resistance theology trajectory of "an Old Testament theology" (Wittenberg 1993: xii), Mofokeng does something similar with the New Testament (Mofokeng 1987).

My own work since the late 1980s follows in these footsteps, but diverges in terms of method. Briefly,15 while I acknowledged the significant contribution of the socio-historical methods advocated by Wittenberg, Mosala, and Ukpong, I also recognised that an inclusive reception and collaborative production hermeneutic could not begin with the socio-historical. Socio-historical method excludes what I came to call 'ordinary readers'. So within the Institute for the Study of the Bible (which then became the Institute for the Study of the Bible & Worker Ministry Project, which then became the Ujamaa Centre) I began to experiment over the next thirty years with how we might use literary-narrative method to include ordinary readers in discerning contending voices within (and then behind) the biblical text.

My early work grappled with the arguments put forward by Norman Gottwald, Itumeleng Mosala, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza about why socio-historical method ought to be privileged in liberation hermeneutics and why literary-narrative method risked sustaining forms of "neo-orthodox theology" in which the Bible was understood as offering a singular authoritative voice (Fiorenza 1983:135-54), rather than the reality of contending voices. My argument then (West 1991:146-54), and now (West 2019), is that literary-narrative method offers an egalitarian entry point for an inclusive and collaborative hermeneutic, working from Mosala's "glimpses" within the text of contending voices to a more in-depth analysis of the socio-historical sites of production that generated this contestation and co-optation.

Gottwald's, Mosala's, and Schüssler Fiorenza's (as well as Wittenberg's and Draper's)16 concerns are understandable, given the rudimentary nature of literary-narrative method within biblical scholarship in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But literary-narrative tools have come a long way since. Mosala is justifiably worried by interpretations that follow the ideo-theological grain of what is a co-opted text (Mosala 1989a:123-53, 73-89), what the literary biblical scholar Denis Olson refers to as the "constructive literary approaches" characteristic of the 1970s and 1980s, in which "scholars often assumed a basic unity, structure, and coherence in the text" (Olson 2010:16). However, continues Olson, with the recognition of the presence of real readers and their role "in constructing meaning from texts", "literary scholars began to question the new critic's assumption about the stability of literary texts with a unified meaning. They also resisted structuralism's assumption of a set of universal binary oppositions that transcend cultural and social location" (Olson 2010:19). Alongside this reader-centred generated recognition, text-centred approaches themselves became more focussed "'in' the details of the text itself", recognising both the text's "internal complexity" and the text's "gaps and omissions" (Olson 2010:19). The grain of the text was destabilised from without by the reader and from within by the text's own detail and (post-structural) gaps, each of which are ideologically determined (in both senses of the English word). Such "deconstructive literary approaches" (Olson 2010:19) are better equipped to do the work Mosala envisages at the textual level, and lend themselves to inclusive and collaborative work. Using deconstructive literary-narrative method, inclusive and collaborative interpretive work is able to detect more detailed "glimpses" of the struggles that produced the text, in the text.

Two examples from the 'Contextual Bible Study' (CBS) work of the Ujamaa Centre reflect how we move from literary-narrative to socio-historical contestation. Our work on 2 Samuel 13:1-22, the story of the rape of Tamar, separates this text from the patriarchal and monarchical narrative that has co-opted it. Our claim is not that 2 Samuel 13:1-22 is devoid of redactional co-optation; our claim is more modest, using literary-narrative analysis to facilitate inclusive and collaborative recognition of internal textual gendered contestation and the option to go behind the text to the kinds of socio-historical gendered contestation taking place in the ancient world.17 A second example is even more explicit about the move from literary-narrative method to socio-historical method. Working together with my colleague Sithembiso Zwane on the same parable as Ukpong (Matthew 20:1-16), we have offered local community projects we work with two 'texts' to interpret, with half the group interpreting Matthew's religiously oriented redaction of the parable and other the half a partially recovered pre-redaction economically oriented 'source' parable.18 Here too we begin with a literary-narrative inclusive and collaborative interpretation, through which ordinary readers recognise internal economic contestation, and then move overtly to the socio-historical sectoral economic contestation within the text's site of production in first- century Palestine (West and Zwane 2013).

The Ujamaa Centre has become increasingly overt about the kind of Bible we work with. The values or orientations that shape our work are the following: Community, Criticality, Collaboration, Change, Context, and Contestation (West 2015). The last has been added relatively recently, in response to a growing recognition that we should be more overt about the reality of a Bible that is a site of struggle and contestation, both in terms of its sites of production and its sites of reception.



South African Africa-oriented biblical scholarship in the 1980s emphasised the importance of the recognition, both in the academy and in local communities of ordinary users of the Bible, that the Bible is itself, intrinsically and inherently, a site of struggle. Scholars like Gunther Wittenberg and Itumeleng Mosala advocated socio-historical analysis of a text's site of production and the socio-economic forces at work within this site. This article has argued that this is a distinctive contribution of South African Africa-oriented biblical scholarship to African biblical scholarship. Though other African biblical scholars, like Justin Ukpong, would take up aspects of this work, the pioneers of a biblical hermeneutics of production were South Africans.

Though the emphasis of these African biblical scholars was on a hermeneutics of production, like almost all other African scholars, they embraced a biblical hermeneutics of reception, with African contexts as the subject of interpretation. Each of these biblical scholars offered African communities of reception both their interpretive method and the theological outcomes of their method. Wittenberg emphasised the forms of resistance theology that socio-historical method offered to contemporary sites of resistance. Mosala's emphasis was almost entirely on method, so much so that one could argue that for Mosala method is theology.

Each of these South African biblical scholars recognised a role for ordinary African users of the Bible in the interpretive process. Mosala invokes their presence and their potential for guiding the socially engaged biblical scholar in the search for resonances between contemporary and ancient kin struggles. Wittenberg not only acknowledges their collaborative interpretive potential, but establishes a site, which is now the Ujamaa Centre, within which such collaboration can be nurtured. It is from this inclusive and collaborative site that 'Contextual Bible Study' has emerged as both a hermeneutic of inclusive reception and a hermeneutic of collaborative exploration of the Bible's contested sites of production.



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_______. 1999. The tribes of Yahweh: A sociology of the religion of liberated Israel, 1250-1050 Bce. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press; Maryknoll: Orbis.         [ Links ]

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ISB. 2000. The tenth anniversary celebration and evaluation. Institute for the Study of the Bible and The House of Studies for Worker Ministry. The Worker Ministry Project. Pietermaritzburg.         [ Links ]

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Masenya, Madipoane, and Hulisani Ramantswana. 2012. Anything new under the sun of South African Old Testament scholarship? African Qoheleths' review of Ote 1994-2010, Old Testament Essays 25: 598-637.         [ Links ]

Mbembe, Achille. 2001. On the Postcolony. Berkeley: University of California Press.         [ Links ]

Metz, Johann Baptist. 1980. Faith in history and society: Toward a practical fundamental theology. New York: Seabury Press.         [ Links ]

Mofokeng, Takatso. 1988. Black Christians, the Bible and liberation. Journal of Black Theology 2: 34-42.         [ Links ]

Mofokeng, Takatso A. 1983a. A Black Christology: A new beginning. Journal of Black Theology in South Africa 1(1): 1-17.         [ Links ]

_______.1983b. The crucified among the cross-bearers: Towards a Black Christology. Kampen: H. Kok.         [ Links ]

Moore, Stephen D., and Sherwood, Yvonne. 2011. The Invention of the Biblical Scholar: A Critical Manifesto. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.         [ Links ]

Mosala, Itumeleng J. 1989a. Biblical and black theology in South Africa. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.         [ Links ]

_______. 1989b. Race, class, and gender as hermeneutical factors in the African Independent Churches. Pretoria: Unpublished report to the HSRC.         [ Links ]

_______.1996. Race, class, and gender as hermeneutical factors in the African Independent Churches' appropriation of the Bible, Semeia 73: 43-57.         [ Links ]

_______.1986. The use of the Bible in black theology. In Mosala, Itumeleng J. and Tlhagale, Buti (eds.), The unquestionable right to Be free: Essays in black theology. Johannesburg: Skotaville, 175-99.         [ Links ]

Mtshiselwa, Ndikho. 2014. A re-reading of 1 Kings 21:1-29 and Jehu's revolution in dialogue with Farisani and Nzimande: Negotiating socio-economic redress in South Africa, Old Testament Essays 27(1): 205-30.         [ Links ]

Nzimande, Makhosazana K. 2008. Reconfiguring Jezebel: A postcolonial Imbokodo reading of the story of Naboth's Vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-16). In de Wit, Hans and West, Gerald O. (eds.), African and European readers of the Bible in dialogue: In quest of a shared meaning. Leiden: Brill, 223-58.         [ Links ]

Olson, Dennis T. 2010. Literary and rhetorical criticism. In Dozeman, Thomas B. (ed.), Methods for Exodus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 13-54.         [ Links ]

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Smit, Dirk J. 1990. The ethics of interpretation: And South Africa., Scriptura 33: 29-43.         [ Links ]

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_______.2000a. Developments in Biblical interpretation in Africa: Historical and hermeneutical directions, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 108: 3-18.         [ Links ]

_______. 2000b. Developments in Biblical interpretation in Africa: Historical and hermeneutical directions." In West, Gerald O. and Dube, Musa W. (eds.), The Bible in Africa: Transactions, trajectories and trends. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 11-28.         [ Links ]

_______. 1996. The parable of the shrewd manager (Lk 16:1-13): An essay in the inculturation of Biblical hermeneutics, Semeia 73: 189-210.         [ Links ]

_______. 2000c. Popular readings of the Bible in Africa and implications for academic readings: Report on the field research carried out on oral interpretations of the Bible in Port Harcourt Metropolis, Nigeria under the auspices of the Bible in Africa Project, 1991-94. In West, Gerald O. and Dube, Musa W. (eds.), The Bible in Africa: Transactions, trajectories, and trends. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 582-94.         [ Links ]

_______. 2002. Reading the Bible in the global village: Issues and challenges from African readings. In Ukpong, Justin S. (ed.), Reading the Bible in the global village: Cape Town. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 9-39.         [ Links ]

_______. 1995. Rereading the Bible with African eyes, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 9: 3-14.         [ Links ]

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West, Gerald O. 2019. Scripture as a site of struggle: Literary and socio-historical resources for prophetic theology in post-colonial, post-Apartheid (neo-colonial?) South Africa. In Havea. Jione (ed.), Scripture and resistance. New York and London: Lexington/Fortress Academic149-63.         [ Links ]

West, Gerald O. 2016a. Accountable African Biblical scholarship: Post-colonial and tri-polar. Canon&Culture 20: 35-67.         [ Links ]

_______. 2019. The Bible and/as the lynching tree: A South African tribute to James H. Cone, Missionalia 46(2): 236-54.         [ Links ]

_______. 1995. Biblical hermeneutics of liberation: Modes of reading the Bible in the South African context. Second Revised ed. Maryknoll and Pietermaritzburg: Orbis Books and Cluster Publications, 1995. Cluster Publications 1991.         [ Links ]

_______. 2013. Deploying the literary detail of a Biblical text (2 Samuel 13:1 -22) in search of redemptive masculinities. In Aitken, James A., Clines, Jeremy M.S. and Maier, Christl M. (eds.), Interested readers: Essays on the Hebrew Bible in honor of David J.A. Clines. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 297-312.         [ Links ]

_______. 2009. Interpreting 'the Exile' in African Biblical scholarship: An ideotheological dilemma in postcolonial South Africa. In Becking, Bob and Human, Dirk (eds.), Exile and suffering: A selection of papers read at the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the Old Testament Society of South Africa Otwsa/Otssa, Pretoria August 2007. Leiden: Brill, 247-67.         [ Links ]

_______. 2017. Redaction criticism as a resource for the Bible as 'a site of struggle',Old Testament Essays 30(2): 525-45.         [ Links ]

_______. 2020. Serving the sighs of the working class in South Africa with Marxist analysis of the Bible as a site of struggle, Rethinking Marxism 32(1): 41-65.         [ Links ]

_______. 2016b. The stolen Bible: From tool of imperialism to African icon. Leiden and Pietermaritzburg: Brill and Cluster Publications.         [ Links ]

_______.2004. Taming texts of terror: Reading (against) the gender grain of 1 Timothy, Scriptura 86: 160-73.         [ Links ]

_______. 2015. "Reading the Bible with the marginalised: the value/s of contextual Bible reading." Stellenbosch Theological Journal 1 (2): 235-261.         [ Links ]

West, Gerald O., and Zwane, Sithembiso. "Why are you sitting there?" Reading Matthew 20:1-16 in the context of casual workers in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In Wilkinson, Nicole Duran and Grimshaw, James (eds.), Matthew: Texts@Contexts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 175-88.         [ Links ]

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Wittenberg, Gunther H. 1993. Prophecy and protest: A contextual introduction to Israelite prophecy. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications.         [ Links ]

_______. 2007. Resistance theology in the Old Testament: Collected essays. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications.         [ Links ]



1 This rather awkward formulation, "South African (African contextually engaged) biblical scholarship", is necessary for 'South African' biblical scholarship is not homogeneous, with fairly distinct racial and cultural orientations; see for example Gerald O. West, Biblical hermeneutics of liberation: modes of reading the Bible in the South African context, Second Revised ed. (Maryknoll and Pietermaritzburg: Orbis Books and Cluster Publications, 1995), 47-59; Madipoane Masenya and Hulisani Ramantswana, "Anything new under the sun of South African Old Testament scholarship? African Qoheleths' review of OTE 1994-2010," Old Testament Essays 25 (2012); Maarman S. Tshehla, "Africa, where art thou? Pondering post-apartheid South African New Testament scholarship," Neotestamentica 48, no. 2 (2014).
2 See, respectively: West.2019. Biblical hermeneutics of liberation; Gerald O. West.2019 The Bible and/as the lynching tree: A South African tribute to James H. Cone, Missionalia 46, (2),
3 See the insightful analysis in: Lategan, Bernard C.Current issues in the hermeneutical debate, Neotestamentica 18; Chaney, Marvin L. Micah - models matter: political economy and Micah 6:9-15, in Esler, Philip F. (ed), Ancient Israel: the Old Testament in its social context, Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
4 Though not as clear in her formulation, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza's 'feminist' sociological method frames her historical reconstructions; see Fiorenza Elisabeth Schüssler. In memory of her: a feminist theological reconstruction of Christian origins. London: SCM.
5 See Per Frostin's careful contrasting of Boesak's and Mosala's notions of ideology: Frostin Per. Liberation theology in Tanzania and South Africa: a First World interpretation. Lund: Lund University Press, 165-66.
6 Mosala would, I think, acknowledge Stephen Fowl's interrogation of the notion that texts 'have' ideologies, but would want to insist that significant features of a text's production are ingrained in the text; see Fowl, Stephen. 1995. Texts don't have ideologies, Biblical Interpretation 3; West, Gerald O. 2004. Taming texts of terror: reading (against) the gender grain of 1 Timothy, Scriptura 86.
7 I use the term 'ideo-theological', admitting as it does to both ideological and theological dimensions to interpretation; see: West, Gerald O. 2009. Interpreting 'the exile' in African biblical scholarship: an ideo-theological dilemma in postcolonial South Africa, in Becking, Bob, and Human, Dirk (eds), Exile and suffering: a selection ofpapers read at the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the Old Testament Society of South Africa OTWSA/OTSSA, Pretoria August 2007, ed. Bob Becking and Dirk Human Leiden: Brill.
8 See for example the following book, and a response by a South African biblical scholar: Moore, Stephen D. and Sherwood Yvonne. 2011. The invention of the biblical scholar: a critical manifesto Minneapolis: Fortress Press; Dijkhuizen, Petra. 2013. The state of our discipline, Neotestamentica 47(2).
9 These are my translations.
10 For a detailed analysis of Mosala's use of Marx see: West, "Serving the sighs of the working class in South Africa with Marxist analysis of the Bible as a site of struggle."
11 For an overview of what such a sectoral analysis might look like across 'the Bible', see: Walter Brueggemann, Walter. 1993. Trajectories in Old Testament literature and the sociology of ancient Israel, in Gottwald, Norman K. and Horsley, Richard A. (eds), The Bible and liberation: political and social hermeneutics, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
12 For a fuller analysis see: West, "Serving the sighs of the working class in South Africa with Marxist analysis of the Bible as a site of struggle," 53-56.
13 See also: Dube, Musa W. 2001a. Fifty years of bleeding: a storytelling feminist reading of Mark 5:24-43. in Dube, Musa W. (ed), Other ways of reading: African women and the Bible. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature; Dube, Musa W. 2001bDivining Ruth for international relations. in Dube, Musa W. (ed), Other ways of reading: African women and the Bible. Atlanta and Geneva: Society of Biblical Literature and WCC Publications.
14 See for example: Nzimande, Makhosazana K. 2008. Reconfiguring Jezebel: a postcolonial imbokodo reading of the story of Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-16). in De Wit, Hans and West, Gerald O. (eds), African and European readers of the Bible in dialogue: in quest of a shared meaning. Leiden: Brill; Mtshiselwa, Ndikho. 2014. A re-reading of 1 Kings 21:1-29 and Jehu's revolution in dialogue with Farisani and Nzimande: negotiating socio-economic redress in South Africa, Old Testament Essays 27(1); Ramantswana, Hulisani .2016. Decolonising biblical hermeneutics in the (South) African context, Acta Theologica Supplement 24,
15 For the longer version see West, Biblical hermeneutics of liberation.
16 See for example: Draper, Jonathan A. 1995. Wandering radicalism or purposeful activity? Jesus and the sending of messengers in Mark 6:6-56, Neotestamentica 29.
17 See for example: Gerald O. West, "Deploying the literary detail of a biblical text (2 Samuel 13:1 -22) in search of redemptive masculinities," in Interested readers: essays on the Hebrew Bible in honour of David J.A. Clines, ed. James K. Aitken, Jeremy M.S. Clines, and Christl M. Maier (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013).
18 See for example: William R. Herzog, Parables as subversive speech: Jesus as pedagogue of the oppressed (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1994), 79-97.

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"Sola Scriptura" against the background of the Reformation and the recent "Gay Debate" in the Dutch Reformed Church



Hendrik L Bosman Old

New Testament Stellenbosch University




Although "sola Scriptura" was an important doctrine of the Reformation, it was not perceived to be a generic and exclusive principle that Scripture or the Bible had final authority with regards to any conceivable topic. The Reformation, with " sola Scriptura" as rallying cry, played a significant role in the development of critical biblical scholarship, and it was only after the emergence of evangelical fundamentalism in the late nineteenth century that the reinterpretation of " sola Scriptura" created a less accommodating attitude towards critical biblical scholarship. It is against this backdrop that the function of biblical authority in the recent "gay debate" in the Dutch Reformed Church will be discussed. In conclusion it will be asked whether " sola Scriptura" led to the Bible becoming a type of "paper pope" when the Counter-Reformation triggered the Protestant emphasis on the authority of Scripture to counter papal authority.

Keywords: Authority of Scripture; Sola Scriptura; Reformation; Gay debate; Dutch Reformed Church




Some form of appeal to the authority of the Bible as Holy Scripture forms an indispensable part of Christian theology, but since the Enlightenment, it cannot be taken as a given. Sceptical academics in general and critical theologians in particular are challenging more traditional ways of presupposing the authority of Scripture (Paddison 2011: 448, 450-451). Adrian Thatcher (2008:142) goes even further and argues that it is "morally complacent" to turn a blind eye to the negative impact that certain claims of the authority of Scripture have had on marginalised and vulnerable groups in society -he makes special mention of the suffering endured by people of colour, Jews, the LGBQTI community and women due to prejudice ostensibly backed by Scriptural authority.

The Bible perceived as Scripture can be defined as "literature that is both holy and authoritative" without indicating what type of power is presupposed or what the extent of the authority amounts to (Sundberg 1964: 1-8). Any reflection on the authority of the Bible is soon confronted by the complexity involved in the conceptualisation and the appropriation of the term. Susan Schreiner (1996:197) ascribed the complexity of the crisis of biblical authority to its "theological, social and political dimensions" because power is involved in all these dimensions.

There is a tendency in Reformed churches across the globe to treat their doctrinal confessions "as ahistorical documents with timeless propositions" that do not require "responsible hermeneutics when reading the documents from our confessional tradition" (Smit 2010:x). In his historical research on the types of authority involved in the process of second century scripturalisation (canonisation), Francis Borchardt (2015: 182-196) comes to the conclusion that there were a variety of reasons for which a text became authoritative: it was presumed to be divinely inspired, historically accurate, politically expedient etc. - but one should take note that all of these reasons constituted different acts of reception resonating with aspects of its historical context. This contribution will focus on how the authority of the Bible was conceptualised in the term "sola Scriptum" by both the Reformation (Luther and Calvin) and the recent so-called "gay debate' in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa.


Sola Scriptura during the reformation

In his discussion of sola Scriptura during the Reformation, Gerrit Berkhouwer (1967:333-334) points out the concept's close link with the doctrinal presupposition concerning the sufficiency of Scripture, indicating that this sufficiency was focused on Christian life as a religious confession.3 The view of the Reformation on sola Scriptura did not entail the total rejection of tradition because it viewed Scripture and tradition as mutually dependent on one another (Berkhouwer 1967:340-341).

For Martin Luther (1483-1545), his exegetical engagement with Scripture was totally integrated with his theological reflection, but as a professor in biblical interpretation, the Bible was his primary source (Ebeling 1970a:2; Nürnberger 2005:80). The fundamental position of the Bible in Luther's theology is well illustrated by his comment as quoted and paraphrased by Klaus Nürnberger (2005:80):

"For Christians nothing but the divine Words (= the Scriptures) should be the first Principles, while all the human words (of later theologians) are deductions, which are derived from these and which again have to lead back to them and be confirmed by them (WA VII 96ff; H 84; Knaake 1883)"

Although Scripture as "divine Words" were his "first Principles", Luther never subscribed to biblical inerrancy in a fundamentalist manner (Massing 2018:815).4

There is general agreement that for Luther the authority of the Bible was closely related to Jesus Christ (solus Christus), who formed the centre of his interpretation of the Bible - for both Old and New Testament. The New Testament is not merely a text concerning Jesus Christ, but the presence of the Living Word in Scripture forms the basis for its authority - ie, "that what promotes Christ" ("was Christum treibet") is constitutive for its canonical authority (Childs 1992:44). According to Richard Soulen (2009:115), two poles can be discerned in Luther's conception of Scripture: what God has done in Christ (("was Christum treibet" as "objective side") and that "God's forgiveness in Christ is to be received by faith alone " (the doctrine of justification as "subjective side"). Therefore, for Luther, sola Scriptura implied that "the Scriptures have supreme authority in matters of faith" because they "proclaim the good news of God's saving grace in Jesus Christ" (Soulen 2009:119).

Did Luther make use of sola Scriptura as a foundational motto for his understanding of the authority of Scripture? The short answer is "no". In Luther's response (WA 7,98) to his excommunication in 1520, his critique of the importance of church tradition in the Roman Catholic Church was "sed solam scripturam regnare" ("that Scripture alone reign"). This does not exclude tradition but emphasises the primacy of Scripture as opposed to interpretation based on arbitrary opinions (van den Belt 2016:209).

John Calvin (1509-1564) shared many theological focal points with Luther: the centrality of Christ, justification by faith, emphasis on the Word etc.; and although he felt strongly about these foundational issues, he exercised some scholarly restraint that often eluded Luther (Childs 1993:47). What was the underlying reason for this more cautious approach to the authority of Scripture by Calvin? On the one hand, Calvin did not perceive law and gospel in the same dialectical opposition than Luther did; and on the other hand, Calvin "was willing to draw on all fields of endeavour - language, classical studies, philosophy, even science - to explore the meaning of the biblical text" (Harrisburg & Sundberg 2002:19).5

A good example of Calvin's appreciation for science can be found when he acknowledges that the reference to the moon as a "lesser light" in Genesis 1:16 is incorrect according to astronomy: "Moses described in popular style what all men without training and education perceive with their ordinary senses" (Calvin 1958: 356).

According to Calvin, the authority of Scripture was grounded in the presupposition that it was "self-authenticating ("autopistos") because God himself was speaking through this vehicle (Inst. I.vii.5). This involved an important "shift in perspective from seeing the church as the source of the Bible's authority to that of the Bible itself" -Scripture had to be interpreted in terms of itself (Childs 1993:48-49).

John Calvin made incidental references to the concept of sola Scriptura, in, for example, his Institutes (3.17.8): "the true rule of righteousness is to be sought from Scripture alone (ex sola scriptum)" Clearly, the concept is not absent, but as clearly, it is comparatively rare and to some extent accidental in Calvin's work (van den Belt 2016:224-225).

Despite the unquestionable centrality and in a certain sense priority of Scripture during the Reformation, Anthony Lane (1994:324) pointed out that sola scriptura as doctrinal motto did not originate in the initial Reformation period and Henk van den Belt (2016:206) established that sola scriptura, sola fide and sola gratia as a triad "is absent from the writings of the reformers and of sixteenth and seventeenth Protestant orthodoxy". The emphasis on sola Scriptura is explained as a Protestant reaction to the Council of Trent in 1546. This reaction rejected the combination of Scripture and tradition in the statement that "the Bible alone, without unwritten traditions, is the final judge, rather than the exclusive source, of all saving truth and moral rules, thereby confessing the sufficiency of Scripture, along with its necessity, authority and perspicuity" (van den Belt 2016:205).

It should be clear that sola Scriptura, as an important motto of Protestantism in general, initially did not intend to separate or isolate its adherents "as a theoretical axioma", but this became visible in concrete action (like preaching) when it was guided by the Holy Spirit and its obedience to Christ (Berkhouwer 1967:369). In his study of Biblical Authority, Kevin Vanhoozer (2016:127) concludes that the Reformation did not view sola scriptura "simply as a principle but as a practice: the practice of using Scripture to interpret Scripture" as reflected in the well-known dictum of the Reformers "scriptura sui ipsius interpret".


Sola Scriptura and the influence of fundamentalism

Between the Reformation and the rise of fundamentalism at the end of the nineteenth century, Protestant scholastics were "preoccupied with establishing the supreme authority of Scripture over and against Roman Catholic claims on behalf of the pope", and eventually "biblical inerrancy' was identified as one of the fundamentals of Christian faith" (Soulen 2009: 120-121.) In this brief survey, the focus will be on the approach to Scripture that was espoused by emerging fundamentalism at the end of the nineteenth century. During the Niagara Falls conference in 1895, five fundamental doctrines were formulated and published in booklets titled The Fundamentals between 1909 and 1915, with the first being (Badley 2002:138): "The Bible is God's verbally inspired and inerrant word" (the remaining four fundamentals were on Christ's virgin birth, Christ being God incarnate, Christ's substitutionary atonement and his bodily resurrection from the dead). Although sola Scriptura is not specifically mentioned, verbal and not organic inspiration as well as inerrancy are taken as points of departure for the rest of the "fundamentals" that are focused on Christ.

Similar presuppositions about the authority of Scripture in fundamentalist churches can be detected in more recent times. Harriet Harris (2008:816-818), as an expert on Christian fundamentalism, pointed out different aspects of the foundational nature of Scripture in these circles: (i) the authority of Scripture is based on the doctrine of (full) verbal inspiration and therefore the understanding of the Bible is unmediated; (ii) the Bible is perspicuous and readily accessible for everyone, with a plain sense that requires no or little interpretation; (iii) the Bible is self-authenticating or self-justifying and therefore allows for circular arguments that Scripture verifies its own authority and inspiration; (iv) the Bible as a reliable foundation also necessitates it being inerrant.

One of the few studies on fundamentalism and conservatism in South Africa, conducted by Christopher Stones (1977:155), argues that conservatives and fundamentalists "in an insecure context characterized by uncertainty will be resistant to change, except when the proposed change is perceived to be in the direction of increased security". David Chidester (2008:362) points out in his study of religious fundamentalism in South Africa that fundamentalism is not only engaged in global politics "but also in the most intimate sexual politics, gender politics and family politics", and his study is in agreement with previous studies (eg., Hoodfor 1996) that "religious fundamentalism is obsessed with women's bodies and male power" by making the family "a site of male power and dominance" as a "ritual substitution for political problems they cannot solve."

This world-wide phenomenon of protecting male power in the family appears relevant in South Africa given the emphasis placed on same-sex-sexuality and marriage by conservative evangelicals and religious fundamentalists. The COVID pandemic, economic decline, rampant corruption and increasing racial tension have aggravated already high levels of anxiety and insecurity in South Africa; this is an ideal environment for fundamentalism to thrive in since it offers "moral absolutism, traditional social values and the certainty of faith" - and one could add the absolutism of a certain understanding of sola Scriptura (Boucher 2006:1).

A word of caution is needed, since it seems to be advisable to speak about fundamentalisms (in the plural) to accommodate the wide range of its manifestations in South Africa, ranging from crude anti-modernism and anti-intellectualism to a more sophisticated postmodern version in which camouflaged appropriations of an intolerant understanding of sola Scriptura survive (Bosman 2008: 425).6


Sola Scriptura and its recent protestant reception

On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of John Calvin's birth, the influential Dutch Systematic Theologian Herman Bavinck (1909/2010:66) summarised that for Calvin "the essence of Christian faith" was that "in Scripture God tells us how much he loves us" - the foundational importance of grace and mercy for Reformed Theology. Although Bavinck pays scant attention to the role of Scripture in his discussion of Calvin, he is much more explicit eight years later when he speaks on the commemoration of the Reformation in 1917 about the "triadic principle of the Reformation: Scriptura sola, gratia sola, fides sold" (Bavinck 1917:7). One year earlier, Theodore Engelder (1916:99), as part of the Lutheran celebration in the USA of the Reformation, was the first to identify the three principles of the Reformation as "Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides".

Wolfgang Pannenberg concluded that Luther exalted the authority of Scripture to such an extent that it can be detected as a type of "Scripture-positivism." In a similar vein, Harrisburg and Sundberg (2002:17) argue that Luther considered the Bible to be both source Qfons") and judge ("judex") of the life of the church and that he asserted that the Bible alone is to be trusted because it is "through itself most certain, most easily accessible, comprehensible, interpreting itself, proving, judging all the words of all."7

In his comments on Scripture and tradition, Gerhard Ebeling (1970b:282) is of the opinion that "sola scriptura sei obsolete geworden" in ecumenical dialogue. Antonius Gunneweg (1983:184-185) concurs with Ebeling and points out that theologians like Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann are critical of a "Biblizismus" that emerged from Biblical Science orientated towards Scripture as canon. It would seem that the major hermeneutical dialectic has shifted from Scripture and church or dogmatic tradition to Scripture and the sciences and technology (Gunneweg 1983:196-197).

In South Africa, the influential systematic theologian Johan Heyns (1973:156-157) made it quite clear that the Bible did not intend "to say everything about everything" and that sola scriptura did not imply that theological-scientific reflection about Scripture "must be brought to a stand-still"; on the contrary, its close connection to the other attributes of Scripture (authority, reliability and perspicuity)t should stimulate the ongoing reformulation (semper reformando) of the interpretation of the Bible - without adding or deducting anything from the main scope or central message of the Bible.

The "Alliance of Black Reformed Christians in Southern Africa" (ABRECSA) defined the authority of Scriptura in their ""Charter and Declaration" of October 1981, in which they articulate their theological point of departure as follows: "The Word of God is the supreme authority and guiding principle revealing all we need to know about God's will for the whole existence of human beings. It is this Word that gives life and offers liberation that is total and complete." Piet Naude (2010:59) responds to this seminal statement by pointing out that it corresponds with "the classic Reformed belief about the claritas and perspecuitas of Scriptures linked to its liberative intentions."

The Bible is central to modern evangelical Protestants8, not only as doctrine but also as a component of their daily Christian practice of Bible reading - private and communal. According to Timothy Larsen (2007:8), sola Scriptura is "foundational to this stance" because evangelicals "believe that human beings are judged by the Bible and called to change in the light of it, rather [than] standing in judgement over the Bible and rejecting those parts that are not in line with their own sensibilities." As the first point of their statement of faith, the "Association of Evangelicals in Africa" clarifies how they conceptualise sola Scriptura: "The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament... are the Word of God. [They are] divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant, entirely trustworthy and serve as a supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct (Larsen 2007:9). Where fundamentalist Christians presuppose the Bible to be the sole source of Christian belief and practice, evangelical Christians accept that Scripture has "final authority" over "Christian belief and practice" - but that it is more "ministerial" than "magisterial" (Treier 2007:35).

It is clear that sola Scriptura as a theological concept has developed over the five centuries since the Reformation and that fundamentalist trends within Protestant churches have redefined the concept to suit their exclusive claims to power and influence within faith communities.


Sola Scriptura and recent gay debate in the Dutch Reformed Church

Does sola Scriptura still have any significance in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa today or is it a mere doctrinal fossil that has survived since the Reformation of the 16th century? On the official church seal of the DRC, a seated female (representing the church) holds a cross in her left hand and the Bible in her right hand. In the discussion of the elements of the church seal on the official website of the DRC, the depiction of the Bible is explained as follows: "The Bible is central in all reformed churches who consider the Bible as their highest authority. A church meeting or a pope cannot take any decision that is contrary to the Bible. Therefore, "sola Scriptura" ("Scripture alone"), is one of the cornerstones of the reformed or protestant confessions of faith (Dutch Reformed Church Website: "Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid-Afrika se Kerkseël 4.6").

The appeal to sola Scriptura in the recent "gay debate" in South Africa is focused on the decisions and statements made by the General Synod of the DRC on same-sex relations and the authority and use of the Bible9.

It has been observed that Protestant churches seem to be more prone to motivate their views on economic, political, and social issues by referring to some form of Biblical authority (De Villiers & Smit 1995:39-40). Christianity in South Africa has a chequered history with regards to its acceptance of oppressive social institutions like slavery (up to 1830's) or its legitimation for discriminatory political ideologies like apartheid (up to 1990's). Secularisation and the democratisation of South African society have also eroded the authority of religion to make any pronouncement on societal problems, and at most some form of dialogue with social sciences seems to be the way forward when engaging with societal challenges as a collective (De Villiers & Smit 1995:43).

The role of sola Scriptura within the DRC should be evaluated against the background of its decisions with regard to the authority and interpretation of the Bible as Holy Scripture and the reports on the appeal to Scripture as part of ethical decisions during the past three decades. In the following survey, the official website of the DRC was consulted, and summarised translations of the Afrikaans texts are provided.10

One could start with the research report on the authority and use of Scripture by the General Synod of the DRC in 1986.11 The Bible as Holy Scripture came into being through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and an "organic inspiration theory" is presupposed. In accordance with article 7 of the Confessio Bélgica, Holy Scripture is the infallible Word of God and the result of inspirational dialogue between the Holy Spirit and human authors. Historical-critical interpretation is considered suspect because it approaches the Bible as any other historical document, and this placed the infallibility of Scripture under threat. On the one hand, the absolute authority of Holy Scripture as Word of God is fully accepted, while on the other hand, it is stated that the Bible cannot be considered as a handbook for science and history. It is important that this tension is addressed by pointing out that the Bible has a specific religious scope or goal that must be taken into account when interpreting Scripture.12 Furthermore, the Reformed principle that Scripture is its own interpreter, as opposed to church tradition interpreting Scripture, is again emphasised. Biblicist interpretation of the Bible is rejected because it does not do justice to the historical context of the text of the Bible.

Against the backdrop of the unresolved tension in the General Synod of 1986 between doctrinal presuppositions about the infallibility and absolute authority of Holy Scripture as Word of God and the acknowledgement that the Bible cannot be used as a handbook for science and history and that ahistorical interpretations of the Bible must be rejected, the following resolution was accepted (Bartlett 2017: 19-21): homosexuality and homosexual relations do not fit in the divinely ordained gender differentiation, does not comply with the essence of marriage and is at odds with the human as being created in the image of God; and this led to the recommendation that "in the light of Scripture" homosexuality must be perceived as a "deviant form of sexuality" and therefore "homosexual practices and homosexual relations" are considered to be in contravention of the will of God "as revealed in Holy Scripture."13

The DRC General Synod of 1986 requested a study on how an appeal to Scripture can be made in dealing with ethical matters. Taking as a point of departure a similar report made to the DRC Synod of the Western Cape, the following recommendations were made to and accepted by the General Synod of 1990: i) That any appeal to Scripture in Ethics should be made according to "the correct interpretation" of Scripture - each word of the Bible must be understood in its historical context and in agreement with the central meaning of Scripture as the bringing of the good news of salvation in Christ etc; ii) that there are general laws and moral principles in the Bible that are normative for all times, but that it is part of responsible interpretation of Scripture to indicate how general principles are appropriated in current life contexts; iii) that problems emerging in the modern era must be addressed in view of the 'total message of the Bible"; iv) that the central message and goal of the Bible must always be kept in mind when ethical decisions are made; v) that the guidance of the Holy Spirit in ethical decisions is non-negotiable.14

In 1993, the Regional Synod of the DRC in the Western Cape requested a report on how gay church members can receive pastoral care based on the Bible. An extensive report was tabled after four years in which the DRC's view of the use of Scripture was combined with research by psychologists and sociologists, as well as empirical research amongst ministers of religion and gay church members (Gaum 2020:147). This report also advocates that the authority of Scripture is based on the message of salvation in the Bible as a whole and not on the literal meaning of a few texts. Serious consideration was given to the ground-breaking decision of the American Psychiatric Association in 1994: "Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality."

To supplement the 1986 report on the authority and use of Scripture, the General Synod of 2002 required some clarification of the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. It seems that the reference to the human character of the Bible caused problems, since it was perceived to undermine the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. The following recommendations and to some extent emendations were made: i) That the authority of the Bible as the Word of God must set us free; ii) that the human nature of Scripture is not a threat to its divine character since the latter is an expression of the former; iii) that Scripture is not given as an infallible source for scientific and historical information but to make known salvation through faith in Christ Jesus; iv) that it is clear from the Bible that not all parts of the Bible are inspired in the same way and therefore there must be discernment with regard to the heart of the message of the Bible; v) that the authority of Scripture is based not on individual verses but on Scripture as a whole; vi) that the authority of Scripture is based not on decisions of the church but on the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the Translator of the grace of God in Christ; vii) that the following eight points with regards to the text and interpretation of the Bible are accepted for reading and understanding Scripture. The eight guidelines for the interpretation of Scripture are as follows: a) To understand Scripture, the intention of Scripture is crucial; b) as the "book of the church" the Bible must be interpreted within the context of the community of faith; c) the interpretation of the Bible is influenced by assumptions related to its text and background; d) that although the intention of Scripture is not historical accuracy, history remains important; e) that not only the text of Scripture but also its historical context are important, as well as knowledge of the languages in which it was originally written; f) that it must be considered that the text of Scripture on occasion also went against its context and culture; g) that the "salvation-historical development within Scripture" must be taken into account; h) that the different literary genres of Scripture must be considered. The last paragraph (5.11.4) of the report is critical of both the lack of recognition of the incarnation of the Word of God by "fundamentalists" as well as the negation of this incarnation by "liberalists".

The 2002 report of the DRC General Synod mentions the concept sola Scriptura twice. While discussing the Bible as revelation, it is emphasised that sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone") also means tota Scriptura ("whole of Scripture"). This implies that each part of Scripture must be understood in terms of the whole and vice versa. It is also pointed out that sola Scriptura, sola gratia and sola fide are intertwined, and to understand each one of these concepts, all three must be taken into consideration. It is also of importance to note that this 2002 report acknowledged that the criticism that the Reformation possibly exchanged a "Roman Pope" with a "Paper Pope" must be taken seriously because it indicates a real danger when discussing the authority of the Bible as Holy Scripture. In this regard the report argues that the depiction of Scripture as a "Paper Pope" is based on a misunderstanding of the role of the Holy Spirit that guides the interpreter or reader of Scripture into the love of God and neighbour.

The 2002 report on homosexuality wanted to relate the acceptance of the authority of the Bible with a monogamous relationship between two same-sex partners. It cautions the General Synod not to get bogged down in a literal interpretation of the Bible and points out how this type of interpretation tolerated slavery up until the 19th Century (Gaum 2020: 149). The DRC was also reluctant to accept that same-sex relationships can be considered to constitute a marriage.

Another report on the use and authority of Scripture was submitted to the General Synod of the DRC in 2004. In its "Introduction", mention is made that there is a crisis in the Reformed view of Scripture and that it is in a phase of transition. The synod is cautioned that there are pressure groups impacting on church decision making: on the one hand, fundamentalism; and on the other hand, "radical reformers" (ie. "Nuwe Hervormers"). Although theological renewal is required, it is emphasised that the boundaries of renewal must be clearly demarcated. The main points of the eventual decision were the following: i) The DRC, as part of the Reformed tradition, confesses that the Bible is the Word of God and that it therefore has authority over the totality of life; is trustworthy because God as Trinity made Him known through Scripture; is clear because the church can hear the gospel of God's love and grace; sufficient because the Holy Spirit teaches us through the Bible everything we need to know to have faith in God and to be obedient to His will. ii) This confession, in accordance with Reformed tradition, does not imply any of the following: that the ability to think is sacrificed, that the Bible can be seen as a handbook for historical and scientific knowledge, that all of the Bible can be independently and immediately understood by everybody, or that the Bible provides comprehensive knowledge about all aspects of reality that does not require further human reflection or research. iii) That the Holy Spirit guides the church through the ages by means of the truth of Scripture as the living Word of God. iv) That Scripture as Word of God must not be juxtaposed with the responsible interpretation of Scripture. v) That God will lead his church through his Word and Spirit and in close community with the church through the ages and across the world, striving for truth, justice and mercy in all doctrinal and ethical matters.15

After several years of consultation and study, a report on "Homosexuality" was submitted to the 2007 General Synod of the DRC. Consensus was reached by the commission on several important issues: The Bible was taken as point of departure for reflection and decisions concerning homosexuality and there was an honest attempt to interpret biblical values in a meaningful way within its context. Other matters on which consensus was reached include the importance of human dignity for all church members, inclusive church membership that is not determined by sexual orientation, the acknowledgement that the marriage between a male and female was an important institution introduced by God, and the acknowledgement that all forms of promiscuity (both hetero- and homosexual manifestations) are to be rejected. Despite these important points of consensus, the following differences of opinion could not be resolved and resulted in two reports with diverging recommendations: The Bible rejects all homosexual behaviour; and in opposition to that, it was argued that the Bible rejects certain sexual misbehaviour without providing any judgment on homosexuality. On the one hand, the first point of view cannot be depicted simply as fundamentalism since they consciously attempted to remain within the parameters of Reformed hermeneutics and therefore made a distinction between the scope and the periphery of Scripture, as well as consistently taking the historical context of the Bible into account. On the other hand, the second report cannot simply be pigeon-holed as liberal theology, since they also attempted take the Bible seriously within the broad parameters of the Reformed confessions.

The General Synod of the DRC in 2013 reconfirmed the 2007 decision and stated that this reaffirming was the result of thorough exegetical and theological study and requested further study on same sex relations in view of Scripture and Reformed tradition. The General Synod also decided that all students (hetero- and homosexual) preparing for ministry in the DRC must comply with the same Christian-ethical standard in view of legitimation.

The General Synod of 2015 decided to recognise the status of civil unions of persons of the same sex whose relations are characterised by love and fidelity. In view of the stark differences of opinion on same sex relations, the DRC acknowledges the right of church councils to formulate their own decisions in this regard. A further decision was made to develop a Christian-Biblical ethical model on sexuality for all people to council local congregations.16

Soon after the General Synod of 2015, Andre Bartlett (2015) described two trends with regard to the understanding and use of the Bible in the debate leading up to the decision to accommodate gay church members. According to him, the first trend makes use of "proof texts" to motivate that the Bible is against any form of heterosexual practice and therefore the church must be obedient to these prohibitions of Scripture. The second trend does not restrict its focus to only a few texts in the Bible but sets out to follow broad trends in the Bible - with special attention to the ministry of Jesus, in which love is summarised and the appropriation of the law is qualified by the inclusion of marginalised groups into the community of faith.

Due to a flood of objections or gravamina (ca 80 consisting of more than 600 pages!) against the 2015 decision, a special General Synod was organised in 2016 - the first time in the history of the DRC. After vigorous debate, the 2015 decisions of the DRC General Synod regarding same-sex relations were overturned. Some of the decisions related to their view of the Bible are the following (Notule 2016:73): The General Synod reaffirms her commitment to decisions taken in 2011 concerning "View of Scripture, authority of Scripture, Hermeneutics and authority of Scripture", as well as the 2004 General Synod's statement on "Use and authority of Scripture" that entails a summary of the DRC's view of Scripture. In conjunction with the 2011 decision, previous decisions and reports regarding the authority and use of Scripture, the appeal to Scripture when dealing with ethical matters accepted in 1986, 1990 and 2002 must be also be considered.

This raises the question of how the General Synod could come to different decisions about same-sex relations in 2015 and 2016, both based on the same views on the authority and understanding of the Bible as Holy Scripture. To understand the taking of diverging decisions within 13 months, special attention will now be given to the claims concerning the authority and understanding of Scripture made by the authors (individuals and church councils) of the numerous objections raised against the 2015 decisions. The focus will especially be on the use of the doctrine of sola Scriptura to motivate their objections or gravamina.

It is unnecessary to quote all references to sola Scriptura in these gravamina, but a few examples will illustrate the main trains of thought regarding the authority of Scripture and its appropriation when making ethical decisions (discussed in alphabetical order as printed in the official documentation of the DRC):

Dr A Bartlett (Gravamina 2019: 5-10) As in 2015, he makes a distinction between a "proof text" approach motivating the rejection of same-sex behaviour and a broad trajectory of the Bible approach that accommodates same-sex behaviour within the faith community. In agreement with previous statements of the General Synod, he argues that the debate is about the mere tolerance of homosexuality as a defect or the positive acceptance of a homosexual relationship as a good gift. In short, the crucial question remains: "Is it possible to accept the authority of Scripture and at the same time approve of a durable relationship between two people of the same sex (Gravamina 2019:9).17 To resolve the deadlock between diverging opinions in the DRC, he suggests that the DRC must follow the Reformers and listen to the Spirit of God in the "letters' of the Bible. Only in this manner will the Bible remain the "living Word of God. This debate on homosexuality is a text case of the underlying problem: the functioning of the authority of Scripture, not only within the church but also where ethical issues are addressed in view of Scripture.

DRC Burgersfort (Gravamina 2019:76-83): In their introductory paragraph, they express their prayer that the Holy Spirit will guide the Synod and that the church in all its deliberations can declare, "sola Scriptura". They insist that the DRC must reaffirm that the Word of God must take priority over all "General Revelations" and that the DRC as a church of the Reformation is steadfast in maintaining the confession "sola Scriptura" .

DRC Charl Cilliers (Gravamina 2019:84-90): After recognising the Bible as the only true Scripture inspired by the Spirit of God, they reject input from "human sciences" because it is considered to be at the heart of a humanistic approach to the Bible that undermines the authority of Scripture.

Rev T Danzfuss & Rev HM Janse van Rensburg (Gravamina 2019:94-122): They argue that the 2015 decisions on homosexuality are invalid because they are contrary to the Reformed principle of sola Scriptura, depart from a false view of the authority of Scripture, presuppose a relational understanding of truth and a one-sided view of love ethics. Furthermore, "general revelation" must be understood through the lens of Scripture and not the other way round.

DRC Eendracht (Gravamina 2019:136-137): Their formulation summarises most of the general objections raised. Homosexuality is a deviant form of sexuality because it is the result of falling into sin and is contrary to God's will and creational order as revealed in Scripture. Holy Scripture has the highest authority because the Bible as the Word of God must be the foundation of all church decisions.

Dr JH Ernst (Gravamina 2019: 139-235): His extensive objections are based on the Bible, the Confessions and the Church Order, and he argues that the 2015 decisions were not made in accordance with of any of the three. Ernst (2019:199) points out a certain "logic" to the 2007 decisions: (i) The Bible and biblical values guided the DRC deliberations on homosexuality; (ii) the love of Christ is basic to all relations within the faith community, and therefore all people are welcome; (iii) the DRC does not discriminate against people with a homosexual orientation because they can be members of the church, have access to the sacraments and be ordained if they adhere to church discipline and order. According to Ernst (2019:215), it is a soft option to explain the diverging points of view in the DRC regarding same-sex relations as the result of a difference in the use and interpretation of Scripture. It is not merely the juxtaposition of a literal and historical reading of Scripture.18 To address this dichotomy in the DRC, his recommendation is as follows (2019:220): "The infallible Words of God, as articulated through fallible human words, must be cautiously and painstakingly read and interpreted in each other's company and in the presence of God." He continues by suggesting that no decision on same-sex relations can be reached by the DRC without the framework of a "Biblical, hermeneutically responsible, Reformed, Christological theology" - this framework should focus on the Bible as Holy Scripture and Gospel and not on the foundation of natural theology (2019:221). Ernst (2019:222) is convinced that the problem facing the DRC and other Reformed churches is not two diverging paradigms or schools of thought about the use or interpretation of Scripture but more fundamentally the lack of clarity about the authority of the Bible as the Word of God (sola Scriptura). He concludes that the confession of sola Scriptura can unify the DRC and other Reformed churches if the variety of views about sola Scriptura is first explained within the framework of an accountable Biblical-Reformed hermeneutic that establishes church unity in love and fidelity (Gravamina 2019:222).

Prof Johan Janse van Rensburg (Gravamina 2019:269-306): He argues that the 2015 decisions reflect little of the central position that Scripture ought to have in decisions made by church meetings. Instead, he finds questionable attempts to focus on human dignity, new scientific approaches, love, and context to function as underlying hermeneutical keys when making theological-ethical decisions (2019: 270-277). Janse van Rensburg (Gravamina 2019:278-279) reaffirms the authority of Scripture as his hermeneutical key and claims that the 2015 decisions shifted the authority of Scripture from an ontological to an existential level that amounted to natural theology that does not take Scripture to be the final authority and does not comply with the Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura.19

Dr JD Kirkpatrick (Gravamina 2019:307-320): He points out that there seems to be a close relationship between the deliberations of the DRC on the use of Scripture and their 2015 decisions on same-sex relations. While the DRC engages difficult ethical issues, it has consistently chosen to read the Bible historically and with cultural sensitivity (Gravamina 2019:307). He concludes that there is no lack of clarity in the DRC about the authority of the Bible as the Word of God and that there is a clear trend to reject fundamentalism as an a-historical reading of the Bible - "what it meant and what it means" is not necessarily the same and true to a reformed understanding of Scripture. There can be no final decision about the Bible because all decisions are open for ongoing reflection (Gravamina 2019:220).

Rev J Theron (Gravamina 2019: 458-466): He identifies three focal points in the discussions of the Special General Synod of 2016: sola Scriptura, the juxtaposition of sin against human rights and the use of confessions of faith to affirm the Reformed tradition of the DRC. It seems that the 2016 General Synod emphasised sola Scriptura as protection against what they perceived as an onslaught from liberal theology, in a way similar to how Luther used it to counter the power of tradition and the pope. He reminds the General Synod that the Reformation always related sola Scriptura with sola gratia and it seemed to him as if the 2016 reversal of 2015 decisions did not focus enough on the link with sola gratia. Furthermore, sola Scriptura as the mere citing of a few verses from the Bible does not imply that one is following the will of God. One must keep in mind that sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone") must also be interpreted in close connection with tota Scriptura ("whole of Scripture"). If the 2015 decision can be summarised by "love is love", then the gist of the 2016 reversal is "sin is sin" - only tota Scriptura allows the law to be in service of love (Gravamina 2019:459).

Dr C van Wyk (Gravamina 2019: 467-532)20: In a well referenced and extensive objection against the 2015 decision, van Wyk states that this decision is contrary to the Bible as the holy and infallible Word of God and that it was not aligned with Reformed tradition in this regard. He claims that same-sex relations and not only same-sex behaviour were well known in antiquity and were rejected by all three monotheistic religions (Gravamina 2019:469). The authority of the Written Word is paramount and with that as point of departure, he formulates his own hermeneutical framework for the exegesis of biblical texts (Gravamina 2019:474 - 480: i) The Bible is never read in isolation from other readers; ii) God exercises his authority through the Bible; iii) therefore, the authority of the Bible is based on God21; iv) the voice of God can be heard in the Bible; v) the Bible as the canonised legacy of the oral truth and gospel is authoritative as the written Word of God; vi) God establishes his Kingdom with the message of the Bible. One of his final recommendations is that the 2015 decisions on same-sex relations are contrary to article 1 of the Church Order of the DRC that affirms the doctrine that the Bible is the holy and infallible Word of God22. This is further qualified by his clarification that the "Written Word of God" is the point of departure for the church in all matters concerned with doctrine and life (Gravamina 2019:527). For the Reformation, "Scripture alone" is the highest and final authority for all decisions made by the church, and the understanding of the biblical text must be based on the interpretation of the text, since the text of the Bible is the inspired Word of God, both in its divine and human character (Gravamina 2019:528).

During the much anticipated 2019 General Synod of the DRC, the decision of the Western Cape Synod concerning same-sex relations was tabled, discussed, and accepted23. The decisions relevant for this discussion were formulated as follows (Gaum 2020:207-210): i) The General Synod acknowledges that the differences of opinion with regards the use and interpretation of Scripture have reached a dead-end-street ("vasgelooptheid") and that ongoing reflection on the responsible interpretation of Scripture is still required; ii) The General Synod confesses that the unity of the church is based on a unity between Christ and its confessional base and that this unity is not weakened by the diverging use and interpretation of Scripture regarding same-sex relations but is enriched and enhanced by it; iii) The General Synod is committed to an ongoing and humble listening to one another, with respect for diverging approaches to the use of Scripture and hermeneutics; iv) it is requested that study must continue regarding what constitutes a marriage and what human sexuality entails for feedback during the next synod.

It is clear from this case study on the gay debate in the DRC that more than three decades of agonising discussions have not yet reached a point where adequate common ground has been found between the diverging points of view. There seems to be a whole range of different opinions and approaches on how a Reformed church should interpret the Bible as Word of God and how it should be appropriated when discussing theological-ethical matters such as same-sex relations and marriage. After three decades of deliberations, it has become obvious that it serves no purpose to make sweeping statements about opposing points of view by simply describing it as a juxtaposition of theological fundamentalism and liberalism within the DRC.

Although some clarity has been reached about the "ears of the hippopotamus" (diverging approaches in the gay-debate), further dialogue and reflection are required to address "the hippopotamus" of doctrinal and hermeneutical presuppositions that lurk beneath the surface of future discussions.



According to Martin Luther, "Nothing is more miserable than uncertainty" (Schreiner 1996:189). It is ironic (even tragic) that in times of tribulation, such as famine, pandemics and war, sources of possible certainty and security inevitably become more attractive. Hard-line ideologies and religious fundamentalisms seem to flourish in uncertain times, such as ours during the COVID pandemic, and therefore attempts to claim unqualified, infallible Scriptural authority for one's point of view should come as no surprise.

Is it foolhardy to hope for a decrease in religious fundamentalism and an acknowledgement by certain traditions amongst Protestant churches that the Bible as supposedly inerrant Holy Scriptura has become a "paper pope" that is rooted in the rise of twentieth century fundamentalism and not in the Reformation of Martin Luther or John Calvin? The appropriation of sola Scriptura must take into account how it, together with sola gratia and sola fide, formed part of a doctrinal triad that articulated the Protestant response to the Counter-Reformation launched by the Council of Trent (van den Belt 2016:207).

Jean Oosthuizen (2018: 247-260) is correct when he points out that the "elephant in the room" for the Dutch Reformed Church, when it discussed contentious issues like same-sex marriages, sexual intimacy, the existence of the devil etc, was the authority of the Bible as divine or Holy Scripture. This point of view is also accepted by Frits Gaum (2020:45) when he acknowledges that the Dutch Reformed Church is aware of the challenge of diverging interpretations of the Bible within its denomination but have yet to succeed in establishing a hermeneutic that allows the co-existence of diverging biblical interpretations.24

Sola Scriptura, in a qualified sense, remains an important point of theological orientation within Protestant theology and probably for theological reflection in general. However, sola Scriptura does not imply the exclusion of church or ecclesial tradition that came into being prior to the Reformation; neither does it imply the rejection of scientific research since the Reformation. If sola Scriptura implied a consistent literal interpretation of Scripture that did not allow any input from church tradition or scientific research, a geocentric worldview and slavery might still be around. It took the "courage of Christians to interpret Scripture from a new hermeneutic perspective" informed by critical biblical studies to abolish untenable cosmological presuppositions and abhorrent social practices (van den Belt 2016:216). Similar courage will be needed to relate the scriptural affirmation of human dignity with growing scientific evidence related to gay sexuality.

The ethics of interpretation should also be kept in mind when reflecting on the authority and use of sola Scriptura. Biblical interpreters (trained exegetes and members of synods alike) must not only be held responsible by requirements of the academic guild and the doctrinal framework of a church but also for the impact that their interpretations have on vulnerable groups in society. Theology has long ago abdicated as queen of the sciences, and the Bible is no longer a "paper pope" because the authority of the Bible (including sola Scriptura) is intrinsically relational. It should not exert power over an interpretive or faith community but guide the dynamic interaction between those who have power and authority and those who have not: the aliens, the orphans, the poor, the widow and the gay community.

All interpreters of the Bible must be aware of the power-play involved when invoking Biblical authority as divine warrant for their point of view - making it almost impossible to argue for an alternative. Constructive future dialogue on establishing a common hermeneutic depends on it.

For forty years, the journal Scriptura focused on theological topics that were examined from a broadly contextual hermeneutical perspective - a methodology that gained in relevance and importance during the past four decades. The appropriation of sola Scriptura in the 21st century can gain a lot by becoming more aware of the initial contextual interpretation of the doctrine during the Reformation and its eventual reinterpretation by fundamentalist Biblicists at the turn of the previous century. It also needs to avoid succumbing to the temptation of superimposing this fundamentalist interpretation on the Reformation and the appeal to Scripture in current theological-ethical discussions.25



Badley, Ken. 2002. Fundamentalist and Evangelical perspectives in education, Journal of Education and Christian Belief6(2): 135-148.         [ Links ]

Bartlett, Andre. 2015. Sinode se gay-besluit: keuse vir die verantwoordelike gebruik van die Bybel, LitNet Akademies (Godsdienswetenskappe) 2015-10-20.         [ Links ]

Bartlett, Andre. 2017. Weerlose weerstand. Pretoria: Protea Boekhuis.         [ Links ]

Bavinck, Herman. 1909 / 2010. John Calvin: A Lecture on Occasion of his 400th Birthday, July 10, 1509-1909. The Bavinck Review 1:57-85.         [ Links ]

Bavinck, Herman. 1917. De Hervorming en ons national eleven, in Bavinck, H. & Kuyper, H. (eds.), Ter herdenking der Hervorming, 1517-1917. Kampen: Kok.         [ Links ]

Berkhouwer, Gerrit C. 1967. De Heilige Schrift II. Kampen: JH Kok.         [ Links ]

Borchardt, F. 2015. Influence and Power: The Types of Authority in the Process of Scriptualisation, Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 29(2): 182-196.         [ Links ]

Bosman, Hendrik L. 2008. Larger ears and smaller horns. Towards distinguishing conservative from fundamentalist theology, Scriptura 99: 422-431.         [ Links ]

Boucher, J. 2006. Postmodern conservatism and religious fundamentalism, paper delivered at the "Postmodern Conservatism " Conference, February 2006, University of Melbourne.).         [ Links ]

Calvin. John. 1958. Calvin: Commentaries. Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox.         [ Links ]

Chidester, David. 2008. Religious Fundamentalism in South Africa, Scriptura 99: 350-367.         [ Links ]

Childs, Brevard S. 1993. Biblical theology of the Old and New Testaments. Minneapolis: Fortress.         [ Links ]

De Villiers, D. Ettienne, and Smit, Dirkie J. 1995. Met watter gesag sê U hierdie dinge? Opmerkings oor kerklike dokumente oor die openbare lewe, Skrif en Kerk 16(1): 39-56.         [ Links ]

Dutch Reformed Church Website: Research Report on "Algemene Sinodebesluite oor die SKRIF: 1986, 1990, 2002, 2004" (Accessed in August to September 2020).         [ Links ]

Dutch Reformed Church Website: Research reports on "Homoseksualiteit [Algemene Sinode 2007] (Accessed in August to September 2020).         [ Links ]

Dutch Reformed Church Website: "Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid-Afrika se Kerkseel" (Accessed in August to September 2020).         [ Links ]

Dutch Reformed Church Website: "Gravamina gerig aan die Sinode" [Algemene Sinode 2019] (Accessed in August to October 2020).         [ Links ]

Ebeling, Gerhard. 1970a. Luther: An introduction to his thought. London: SPCK.         [ Links ]

Ebeling, Gerhard. 1970b. 'Sola Scriptura' und das Problem der Tradition. in Käsemann, Ernst (ed.), Das Neue Testament als Kanon. Dokumentation und kritische Analyse zur gegenwärtigen Diskussion. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Rupprecht, 282-335.         [ Links ]

Engelder, Theodore. 1916. The Three Principles of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides. in Dau, WHT (ed), Four hundred years: Commemorative essays on the reformation of Dr Martin Luther and its blessed results, in the year of the four-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. St Louis: Concordia, 97109.         [ Links ]

Gaum, Frits. 2020. Kerk oor die muur of oor die Rubicon? Kaapstad: Naledi.         [ Links ]

Gunneweg, Antonius H.J. 1983. Sola Scriptura. Beiträge zu Exegese und Hermeneutik des Alten Testaments. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Rupprecht.         [ Links ]

Harris, Harriet A. 2008. Fundamentalism(s). in Rogerson, J.W. and Lieu, J.M. (eds.), The Oxford handbook of biblical studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 810840.         [ Links ]

Harrisburg, RA and Sundberg, W. 2002. The Bible and the modern culture. Baruch Spinoza to Brevard Childs (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.         [ Links ]

Heyns, Johan A. 1973. Brug tussen God en Mens. Oor die Bybel. Pretoria: NG Kerkboekhandel.         [ Links ]

Hoodfor, Homa. 1996. Bargaining with Fundamentalism: Women and the Politics of Population Control in Iran, Reproductive Health Matters 8:30-40.         [ Links ]

Kelsey, David H. 1975. The uses of Scripture in recent theology. Philadelphia: Fortress.         [ Links ]

Kinghorn, Johann. 2000. My last word, Scriptura 75: i.         [ Links ]

Knaake, J.K.F. et al. 1883. Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Weimar. [WA - "Weimarer Ausgabe"]        [ Links ]

Lane, Anthony. 1994. Sola Scriptura? Making Sense of a Post-Reformation Slogan. in Wright, D.F. and Satterthwaite, P. (eds), A pathway into the Holy Scripture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 297-327.         [ Links ]

Larsen, Timothy. 2007. Defining and locating evangelicalism. in Larsen, T and Treier, D. (eds), The Cambridge companion to evangelical theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-14.         [ Links ]

Massing, Michael. 2018. Fatal discord. Erasmus, Luther and the fight for the Western Mind. New York: HarperCollins.         [ Links ]

Naude, Piet J. 2010. Neither calendar nor clock. Perspectives on the Belhar Confession. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.         [ Links ]

Nürnberger, Klaus. 2005. Martin Luther's message for us today. A perspective from the South. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications.         [ Links ]

Oosthuizen, Jean. 2018. Die opkoms en ondergang van die NG Kerk. Johannesburg: Penguin Random House.         [ Links ]

Paddison, A. 2011. The authority of Scripture and the triune God, International Journal of Systematic Theology 13(4): 448-462.         [ Links ]

Provan, Iain, 2017. The Reformation and the right reading of Scripture. Waco: Baylor University Press.         [ Links ]

Rossouw, Hendrik W. 1963. Klaarheid en interpretasie. Enkele probleemhistoriese gesigspunte in verband met die leer van die duidelikheid van die Heilige Skrif Amsterdam: Jacob van Campen.         [ Links ]

Schreiner, Susan S. 1996. The spiritual man judges all things: Calvin and the exegetical debate about certainty in the Reformation, in Muller, R.A. and Thompson, J.L. (eds.), Biblical interpretation in the era of the Reformation. Essays presented to David C Steinmetz in honor of his sixtieth birthday. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.         [ Links ]

Smit, Dirkie. 2010. Foreword: The Ongoing Task, in Naude, Piet (ed), Neither calendar nor clock. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp ix - xv.         [ Links ]

Soulen, Richard N. 2009. Sacred Scripture. A short history of interpretation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox.         [ Links ]

Stones, Christopher R. 1977. The Jesus People: fundamentalism and changes in factors associated with conservatism, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 17:155-158.         [ Links ]

Strauss, Piet. 2020. Kerkorde en leer en aktuele sake: NG Kerkorde Artikel 56 in perspektief, Koers 85:1-14.         [ Links ]

Sundberg, Albert C. 1964. The Old Testament of the early church. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.         [ Links ]

Thatcher, Adrian. 2008. The savage text; The use and abuse of the Bible. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.         [ Links ]

Treier, Daniel J. 2007. Scripture and hermeneutics, in T Larsen, T. and Treier, J.D. (eds), The Cambridge companion to evangelical theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 35-49.         [ Links ]

Van den Belt, Henk. 2016. Sola Scriptura: An Inadequate Slogan for the Authority of Scripture, Calvin Theological Journal 51:204-226.         [ Links ]

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. 2016. Biblical authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the spirit of mere Protestant Christianity. Grand Rapids: Brazos.         [ Links ]



1 Although the title entails a wordplay on the name of the journal whose fortieth year of existence we are celebrating, the topic itself has somewhat less scope for amusement and mirth!
2 When celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Scriptura, it is fitting to be reminded where and how it all started in the late 1980's when Bernard Lategan (first editor), Johann Kinghorn (second editor) and Willem Vorster (NT scholar from UNISA) decided to launch an independent, academic journal that intended to provide a credible voice for intellectual discourse in South African Theology (Kinghorn 2000:i). For the first twenty years, Scriptura was managed by the Department of Biblical Studies in the Faculty of Arts, and for the past 20 years, it was housed in the Old and New Testament discipline group of the Faculty of Theology, still maintaining its character as an independent academic journal.
3 One of Berkhouwer's PhD graduates, the well-known Hennie W Rossouw (1963), focused on sola Scriptura in a similar fashion in the second thesis of his doctoral defence: "The reformational sola scriptura is falsified when the Holy Spirit in the exercise of its power is isolated from the activity of the church in service of the proclamation."
4 This article will argue later on that the emphasis on the supposed inerrancy of the Bible is a product of post-Enlightenment fundamentalism, and it is simply anachronistic to relate it to the major figures of the Reformation such as Luther and Calvin.
5 Calvin drew on all these scientific sources amidst his adherence to the priority of Scripture!
6 The limited scope of this article does not allow a more detailed investigation of the different modes of fundamentalism in South Africa. Against the background of persisting fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible as inerrant and infallible Scripture that defies scientific research, it is not surprising that the Bible has become a "paper pope" to counter the onslaught of areligious science and relativistic liberal theology.
7 It might be suggested that in certain respects the Protestant (especially the Lutheran tradition) critique of papal authority (triggered by the Council of Trent) resulted in the Bible becoming a type of "paper pope' whose authority was invoked for all spheres of life to counter the authority of the pope in Rome.
8 Daniel Trier (2007:35) defines "evangelicals" as "confessionally orthodox Protestants oriented to piety that is personal."
9 The following section must be understood as a case study that illustrates the preceding sections and is probably less relevant for someone not involved or acquainted with the gay debate in South Africa.
10 It must be noted that prior to any synodical decision by the DRC, a University of Pretoria doctoral dissertation by Albert Botha was completed in 1975 with the title "Pastorale sorg aan die homoseksuele mens" ("Pastoral care to the homosexual person"). This dissertation was used as point of departure to compile a manual for pastoral carers, titled "Pastorale sorg aan die homoseksueel" ("Pastoral care to the homosexual").
11 The decisions made by General Synods of the DRC between 1986 and 2004 related to the authority and interpretation of Scripture are summarised by a research report "Algemene Sinodebesluite oor SKRIF: 1986, 1990, 2002, 2004" available on the official website of the DRC. A summarised translation is provided in this article and the original Afrikaans text is available on the DRC website.
12 Echoes of Johan Heyns mentioned above.
13 Piet Strauss (2020:10) considers this decision to be in accordance with the first article of the DRC Church Order that the Bible is the "objective" Word of God as opposed to the relational understanding of truth that was espoused by some Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
14 Strauss (2020:10) argues that since 1986 the DRC gradually shifted its understanding of the authority and reliability of the Bible as determined by its intention or purpose ('die Bybel word "n tendensboek") - amply illustrated by the General Synods from 1990 onwards.
15 Strauss (2020: 1-14) also reflects on the implications and impact of article 56 of the DRC Church Order, according to which the church exerts itself to reach decisions on current, doctrinal and ethical matters based on Scripture; as well as on article 21 that advocates that the church must discuss all matters in light of the Word of God and in a manner that resonates with being a church.
16 These decisions were qualified by the comment that they were made in humility and after seriously seeking the best appropriation of the message of the Bible as it is currently understood.
17 A similar attempt was made in the 2002 report on "Homosexuality".
18 This seems to be a response to the submission of Dr. J. Kirkpatrick that will be discussed in more detail,
19 In a somewhat melodramatic manner, he concludes that the "monster of relativism" is already standing "salivating" at the door of the DRC and threatens the sola Scriptura principle of the Reformation (Gravamina 2019:306).
20 The compilers of the Agenda of the 2019 General Synod of the DRC pointed out that this gravamen reflected the essential arguments in most of the other objections.
21 This might be considered an unfortunate example of circular argumentation - see comments by Harris (2008 above.
22 Compare the similar argument by Strauss (2020) above.
23 The official minutes of the 2019 General Synod was not yet available on the DRC website at the completion of this article in 2020.
24 This resonates with the strong plea by JH Ernst in his gravamen of 2019 that further dialogue about same-sex relations in the DRC must be conducted within the framework of a Biblical - Reformed hermeneutic (see above).
25 A toast to (sola?) Scriptura - may the next forty years be as exciting as the first four decades!

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Ten years (2010 - 2020) of exciting missiology in South Africa: trends and trajectories



Lukwikilu (Credo) MangayiI; Eugene BaronII

IDepartment of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology University of South Africa
IIDepartment of Practical and Missional Theology University of the Free State




Missiology as a theological discipline is dynamic and forever evolving. This dynamism can be observed through trends and trajectories in biblical, theological, and contextual hermeneutics. The authors of this article, by means of literature analysis, scrutinise contributions of some retiring and retired South African missiologists to unearth trends and trajectories in biblical, missiological, and contextual hermeneutics prevalent in South Africa. The authors used the data analysis programme Atlas.ti with a focus on the current four pertinent questions in missiology: What is mission? How should we do mission? What are the goals of mission? What are the contextual issues of mission today and in the near future? The findings reveal interesting trends and trajectories, and points of divergence and similarities, and because of the dynamic nature of missiology, current emerging and established missiologists should continue to shape the future trends and trajectories.

Keywords: Mission; Missiology; Contextual hermeneutics; South Africa; Trends; Trajectories




Missiology, the cutting edge of the Christian movement, is dynamic and forever evolving. This dynamism can be observed through trends and trajectories in biblical, theological, and contextual hermeneutics that have emerged on the global as well as national stage. The face of missiology, including trends and trajectories, is expected to change if the issues that preoccupy it change in different contexts.

Current missiological focus areas, namely evangelisation in context, intercultural communication, interreligious dynamics, patterns of mission theology, mission practice and history, women and youth empowerment, and sustainable communities and earth healing remain relevant in these changing landscapes. However, appropriate ways to attend to these focus areas vary from context to context and can be observed in trends and trajectories relating to missiological, biblical, and contextual hermeneutics. Missiology in South Africa and the world has been exciting in this decade. In this article, we aim to unearth trends and trajectories in biblical, theological, missiological, and contextual hermeneutics prevalent in South Africa. Therefore, the central question of this article is this: What trends and trajectories have emerged in South African missiology from 2010 to 2020? Answers to this question will undoubtedly contribute towards an understanding of the South African theological landscape from a missiological perspective and reveal gaps that need further reflection and research.

In the process of answering the central question in this article, we will first provide a global overview pertaining to missiological discourse. We are conscious that we live in a globalised context and that missiological discourses in South Africa should be read against the backdrop of globalisation. Therefore, in our quest for global impulses and perspectives, we engaged three prominent missiological documents of this decade written by people from different traditions of the Church (Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical) and listened to reports of the International Association of Mission Studies. Secondly, through desktop research, we unearthed the scholarly contributions and discourses that preoccupied some South African missiologists in this decade. Thirdly, we present glimpses based on the gaps found in the works of scholars whose contributions we scrutinised to envisage future trends and trajectories on which South African missiology should focus going forward.


Trends and trajectories in missiology: A global overview as precursor

A global overview is important as a precursor. For this article, we engaged three seminal mission documents that emerged in this decade, namely Together Towards Life (TTL) (2013), written by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) of the World Council of Churches (WCC); Evangelii Gaudium (2013), the pastoral exhortation of Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church; and the Cape Town Commitment (2010) of the Lausanne Movement. The precursor to these documents is the centenary celebration of the Edinburgh 1910 Conference in 2010, which in many ways set the scene for the issues that were raised in the TTL document, but also indirectly in the Evangelii Gaudium and the Cape Town Commitment. The Edinburgh Conference1 celebrated and reflected on a centenary of world missionary work as well as on considering ways of "Witnessing to Christ today" at the turn of a new century (Edinburgh Conference Listening Group Report 2010:1).

In short, the Edinburgh 2010 centenary conference followed up and further developed the paradigm shift in world mission for the worldwide Church in terms of its emphasis on missional ministry. This shift consists of the following elements: from mission as the Church's mission to God's mission (missio Dei), and thus from a Church-oriented mission to a mission-centred Church; from world mission and a global Church dominated by Western culture to a worldwide community with a major growth in the global south, with many colours and a multifaceted face; from competition among Churches and missionary organisations to co-operation and unity; from a split between ecumenism and evangelism, dialogue and mission to a more united ministry with the Gospel; from a focus on verbal communication to a more holistic understanding of the Gospel and Christian ministry; from a power-exercising Church to vulnerable communities and a Church among and for the poor; and from male-dominated ministries to full involvement of women, young adults and children in the life and ministry of the Church (Edinburgh Conference Listening Group Report 2010:2). In our view, the TTL broadens this emphasis on the missional ministry of the Church as articulated in the following paragraph.

Essentially, the TTL reflects on Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes and commences with the World Council of Churches' affirmation on mission and evangelism under the auspices of the ecumenical Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME).

In a way, it encapsulates a new ecumenical discernment to seek vision, concepts and directions for a renewed understanding and practice of mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. It also seeks a broad appeal, even wider than the World Council of Churches' member Churches and affiliated mission bodies, so that all can commit themselves to the fullness of life for all, led by the God of Life (TTL 2013:3)!

Through this document, the ecumenical call affirms, on the one hand, that "life in all its fullness is Jesus Christ's ultimate concern and mission (John 10:10)" (TTL 2013:4), and on the other, belief "in God, the Holy Spirit, the Life-giver, who sustains and empowers life and renews the whole creation (Gen. 2:7; John 3:8)" (TTL 2013:4). Moreover, this document affirms that "a denial of life is a rejection of the God of life. God invites us into the life-giving mission of the Triune God and empowers us to bear witness to the vision of abundant life for all in the new heaven and earth" (TTL 2013:4). Missiological discourses and praxes were and continue to be challenged to figure out how and where they discern God's life-giving work that enables God's agents to participate in his mission today (TTL 2013:4). Recognition of "God's mission in a cosmic sense and [affirmation of] all life, the whole oikoumene, as being interconnected in God's web of life" (TTL 2013:5), as well as recognition of the Holy Spirit as being essential and central to mission in this document, broadens the horizons of the missio Dei2. Due consideration is also given to the shift in world Christianity, where the majority of Christians either are living or have their origins in the global South and East where socio-economic poverty and deprivation are endemic realities; migration as a global phenomenon; the emergence of strong Pentecostal and charismatic movements and the fact that people at the margins are claiming their key role as agents of mission and affirming mission as transformation. These are key issues in landscapes that should inform the development of trends and trajectories in theologies of mission, agendas, and practices.

Francis (2013), the current Roman Catholic Church Pope, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful, calls the Roman Catholic Church to carry on the proclamation of the gospel in today's world. He asserts that the gospel is at its heart a message of joy as captured in these lines:

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew (Francis 2013:1).

In this exhortation, Francis encourages Christians to embark faithfully upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by this joy. This joy, ever new, should be shared in today's world pervaded by consumerism, complacency, covetousness, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. This pervasion has resulted in our inner life being caught up in its own interests and concerns. Consequently, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor (Francis 2013:3). He therefore "invites all Christians, everywhere, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ or at least an openness to letting him encounter them" (Francis 2013:4), so that the truth and goodness of Christ, which by its nature liberates, will grow within them. The assumption is that "any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others" (Francis 2013:9).

The joy of the gospel and its liberating nature should enthuse Christians to an ongoing proclamation of the gospel, as the following verses show: "The love of Christ urges us on" (2 Cor. 5:14); "Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16). These portions of scripture capture what Francis' preoccupations are in relation to mission and evangelism in our contemporary world. He proceeded thereafter by presenting "some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelisation, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality" (Francis 2013:16). These guidelines aimed at addressing questions pertaining to a) the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach; b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers; c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God, which evangelises; d) the homily and its preparation; e) the inclusion of the poor in society; f peace and dialogue within society; and g) the spiritual motivations for mission (Francis 2013:17). Answers to these issues are in the form of guidelines which map theological trends and trajectories that might be considered by the Roman Catholic Church in its mission and evangelisation.

The Cape Town Commitment of the Lausanne Movement (2010) is a confession of faith and a call to action from mainly the evangelical tradition of the Church. The confession of faith section revolves around "The Lord we love" in relation to mission and evangelisation. It is developed in themes such as "We love because God first loved us" (pp. 6-7); "We love the living God"(pp. 7-8); "We Love God the Father" (pp. 9-10); "We love God the Son" (pp. 10-11); "We love God the Holy Spirit" (pp. 11-12); "We love God's word" (pp. 12-14); "We love God's world" (pp. 14-16); "We love the gospel of God" (pp. 17-18); "We love the people of God" (pp. 19-20); and, "We love the mission of God" (pp. 20-21). With reference to loving the mission of God, the Cape Town Commitment elucidates that, on one hand, 'Ourparticipation in God's mission'has its origin from and is motivated by God, who calls his people to share in his mission, and on the other, 'The integrity of our mission' in that the source of all our mission is what God has done in Christ for the redemption of the whole world as revealed in the Bible.

Further, the Cape Town Commitment's call to action revolves around "The world we serve" in participation to God's mission. It includes bearing witness to the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalised world; building the peace of Christ in our divided and broken world; living the love of Christ among people of other faiths; discerning the will of Christ for world evangelisation; calling the Church of Christ back to humility, integrity and simplicity; and partnering in the body of Christ for unity in mission (The Cape Town Commitment 2010:22-47).

Each one of these documents discusses various theological-missiological understandings which capture trends and trajectories and contextual hermeneutics in relation to the Church in general on the global scene. The similarities in contents on issues such as the globalised changing landscapes of the whole creation as the context for mission, God as the source and the initiator of mission, and the call of God to the Church to join him and the role of the Holy Spirit are vividly articulated. There is consensus, we note, that salvation and transformation of the whole of Creation is the aim of God's mission. Of significance in these documents is, on the one hand, the call to the Church to rediscover contextual and authentic expressions as it participates in the missio Dei in the globalised world, where migration and complex diversities have become the norm. On the other hand, the need to re-read the Bible afresh to find contextual hermeneutics for transformative applications in mission is explicitly articulated in these three missionary documents.

In tandem with insights from these documents, the International Association for Mission studies (IAMS) continues to highlight the issues and themes deserving further theological and missiological reflection. However, not all the themes or issues are new. In fact, some have been discussed regularly in missiological discourses in the recent past. Nonetheless, reflection on these themes should continue to be part of the missiological agenda for the future. In 2012, at the IAMS congress in Toronto (Canada), issues and themes such as migration, incarnation, understanding of the notion of "home" in relation to migration and migrants including Pentecostal Christianity received much attention. Other important themes that emerged at this conference included: 1) the strong link between the biblical narrative and the narratives and dramas of present-day migration; 2) migrants are not and should not be simply objects of our mission, hospitality, and pastoral care. They are also agents of mission; and 3) an insistence on missiology not only of theory but one of action-or better, of praxis.3

In 2016 at IAMS in Seoul (South Korea), the conference emphasised the conversion of the Church over the conversion of the 'other..'4 Related to the conversion of the Church was the theme of the multidirectional flow of conversion through ongoing encounters, the notion of spirituality being essential and foundational to missiology, and the way in which we bring together conversion and missiological themes. Further discussions focussed on 1) how conversions and transformations are mutually interdependent and that it is an ongoing process, 2) the nature of conversion itself, 3) questions like: What are we converting from? Moreover, what we are converting to? and 4) the question of the "How?" of conversion and transformation were central matters of discussion.

The upcoming IAMS conference in Sydney (Australia), which would have been addressing the issue of vulnerabilities, power and inequality has been postponed to 2021 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the theme of this conference shows that future mission agendas must include addressing vulnerabilities, power, and inequality. This theme resonates with the tenets of missiological discourses covered in those documents.

It is apparent from the foregoing that discourses covered in the missiological documents, together with IAMS-conference inputs, provide us with some of the 'impulses', at least on the global scene, important trends and trajectories in biblical, theological-missiological and contextual hermeneutics, and preoccupations relative to missiological discourses during this decade (2010-2020). We will later discuss how South African missiology hinges unto the global trends.


Research methodology

The authors approached the study from a critical realist paradigm and were committed to the belief that there are multiple realities that should be critically engaged. The authors used a qualitative approach because they were interested in the deeper meaning of the core questions within South African missiology. Therefore, the authors analysed the various formulations and articulations of six South African missiologists and used it as a springboard to discuss the future of missiology in South Africa. The authors therefore posed the question: How do the perspectives of various senior missiologists in South Africa allow missiologists to reimagine missiological research and mission practice in South Africa?

The authors were specifically interested in understanding the recent discourse and trends in mission and missiology and therefore limited the scope to the discourse of six missiologists in South Africa. These scholars include JNJ (Klippies) Kritzinger, Thias S Kgatla, CJP (Nelus) Niemandt, Nico Adam Botha, H, Jurgens Hendriks,5 and Pieter Verster.6 The authors made use of purposive sampling to analyse trends in missiology. The chosen six missiologists were employed in public higher education institutions. These include Universities where missiology is taught (i.e. Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Free State, South Africa). Five of the six are retired and one will retire soon. Common among these six missiologists is that they have been in academia for a considerable amount of time and have vast exposure and experience relative to the discipline of missiology in South Africa, and they all belong to Reformed Protestant tradition. These individuals have worked with mission organisations and societies - nationally as well as internationally - to be able to provide basic contours for mission discourse.

To engage their voices, the authors were able to select the 'final' words (though they continue working in various capacities) or some of their notable works (that is their much-cited and referenced works) to unearth the trends and trajectories.

The authors limited the quest in terms of their h-indexes, their most referenced works, and in other cases their valedictory lectures, and cases in which they provide an overview of the issues that they regard as critical for missiology to engage. The authors also consulted the festschrifts that were published to honour some of these colleagues to determine issues or concerns which preoccupied the scholarship of these missiologists in relation to South Africa.

The authors then used Atlas.ti software to codify the documents focussing on the four pertinent questions in missiology: What is mission? How should we do mission? What are the goals of Mission? What are the contextual issues of mission today and in the near future? Through these questions, the authors were able to grasp essential understanding(s) that these missiologists have on these issues. The authors then grouped the various codes into code groups that would be able to relate to the four pertinent questions in mission and missiology. Data were then analysed to highlight the trends within missiology from a South African perspective and were then further analysed through comparisons, highlighting contrasts, and recurring themes.


Trends and trajectories in South African Missiology (2010 - 2020)

The study yielded interesting quantitative results. For instance, the question on How to do mission turned out to be a contentious and significant question to address in mission discourse in South Africa. It is probably one of the reasons why the researchers were able to identify the highest number of codes (50) that relate to this question. The second highest number of codes (42) relates to the definition of mission. This is followed by the contemporary issues in mission (33); and lastly, the goal of mission (24). In terms of the space and depth of discussion on the goal of mission, it seems that most missiologists have a bit more clarity in this regard. The following section will present a qualitative reflection on the findings of these results and what they reveal about the trends in missiological discourse in South Africa.

What is mission?

Answers to this question highlight the interconnectedness of mission with God, the kingdom of God and its manifestation, salvation of sinners and holistic communication of the gospel, and other various concepts.

The findings of the study reveal that there is much said about God as the initiator of mission in that "it starts with God" or "God as the author" of mission. However, there is also a focus on Christ ("grounded in Christ"), and reference to the crucified and resurrected Christ. The emerging significance shows an increased number of references to the Spirit and mission. However, the reference to the 'Spirit' is not as prominent as would be expected. The reference to the role of the Spirit in mission does not receive as much attention as the roles of the other persons in the trinity. Though there is much emphasis on the mission of God as "Trinitarian," there is an emphasis on one or the other person in the trinity but not as equal an emphasis as there should be. Therefore, the authors submit that missiologists still have a long way to go before they embrace the articulations made in the three mission documents highlighted earlier regarding the role of the Spirit in mission.

There is also a focus on the Kingdom and clear articulation on the eschatological vision of God, who will redeem the world at the end of time, but that in the present - the here and now - the transformation of the present and pressing realities should occur. Therefore, the emphasis is on social involvement, salvation with social justice, and "radical transformation" (not general empowerment but radical salvation in Jesus). More specifically, there is an emphasis on mission as "political and revolutionary" and the phrase "radical transformation", which appears (though not too frequently) in the data. Mission is also seen and described within the context of empire, and cultural approaches should not blur the realities of imperial approaches. Mission is about 'all' the 'sent ones', and there seems to be a conscious and intentional move from a "Church centric" mode of understanding of mission to a "theocentric" one. The data reflects an ambivalent relationship between Church and mission in terms of mission being simultaneously about a "community of witness", which articulates the embodiment of God's mission within the life and practice of the Church, and the "essential task" of the Church.

The idea that mission is about "sinners" also surfaces most likely because this is quite central within Reformed Theology, which has shaped all the missiologists considered in this study. However, the notion of corruptio totalis (total depravity), which belongs to the reformed tradition, does not receive much prominence nor is extended in the sense of the structural nature of sin in the world even though the word "evil", which has to do with external forces, is accentuated within the discussion on the Kingdom of God on earth.

Mission is articulated within the data as the "holistic good news communication", and this serves to counter the "tug war" between the "evangelism gospel" and the "social gospel." From a rhetorical perspective, this seems to be a contentious issue within the South African context, which is therefore described in such strong-worded terms like "tug-of-war." Though this might be apparent in the perspective of Reformed theologians, it would be interesting to see the fusion of Pentecostal-missiological perspectives with that of current and emerging discussion and trends in this regard.

Finally, the one issue that has received much agreement among missiologists in the data is the emphasis on "people" in mission. This encapsulates that the notion that mission should be "people-centred" rather than institution and "programme-centred", and that it is "people" who participate in the mission of God. While this is important, there seems to be quite an imbalance between the position of people in mission than the rest of the cosmos (which has only been squarely placed by one missiologist as part of the emphasis of mission. It should be noted that people are important as far as they are part of the Oikos - the whole household of God (cf. Baron and Mangayi).7 It would also be interesting to see how the emphasis on people will be engaged with in the emerging context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)8, especially the ushering in of 3D imaging, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), in terms of decreasing dependency on people regarding certain types of work.

How do we do mission?

The data reveals the considerable emphasis on the question of how mission is performed. There seems to be a sensitivity in terms of "how mission" has been done in the past and a great concern for the integrity of mission. One of the missiologists who conducted the study is of the view that mission should not only be about a mission agent that wants to know the other only through literature (concerning beliefs, practices, rituals etc.), but rather through encounters - in which a person opens up, not only to know (cognitive exercise) the other but to experience the other, so much so that the mission agents themselves should be vulnerable and willing to 'change' in their own beliefs. This is therefore, based on the 'experiential' factor, in which mission agents 'experience' the world of others. The notion of 'encounterology' becomes an imperative component for doing mission in the post-apartheid context. It is also stressed that the integrity of mission would be to move from a 'deductive', theory-practice method to an "interactive theological-practical method." This links with themes in research where the data shows the use of words such as "contextual", "cultural analysis", "dialogue" (towards a possible reformulation of ecclesial beliefs, practices, and traditions"), and a move from the "ontological to hermeneutical" that also relates to the "interactional-change" that needs to take place during mission encounters. This implies an intentional move away from the notion that every community is homogeneous to a notion that they are heterogeneous; this involves a deliberate shift from a copy-paste method to an appreciation for the "self-identification" of the people that participate in mission activities in parallel with the evolving of "self-knowledge" on the part of mission agents. This also echoes and propagates the idea of "respect" for others and therefore a move from "essentialism" towards an "analysis of attitudes." What also stems from this is the issue of "creativity in mission", which has been under-estimated as a significant component and imperative for Churches in South Africa.

There is also a trend to speak about mission as a method "in the community", "discernment with others" and reference to "participatory action research." It is interesting to see how much the method of mission has to do with words such as "interactionality", "interdependence" and "discernment in communion", as well as a "shoulder-to-shoulder towards a common purpose." The "side of the poor" also goes along with "interfaith encounter 'in the street'" which brings in immediately the notion of class and a class approach within the centre of discussion of mission practice. The latter issues relate to the notion of "solidarity", which also has found prominence in the work of South African theologians/missiologists like Allan Boesak, Desmond Tutu, and Steve Bantu Biko. This 'solidarity' refers to a 'black' (marginalised) solidarity.

The notion that mission should be done through the lens of the "cross" - a "Christological Vision" - becomes the ideal within a society that has suffered immensely through colonisation and colonialism of a special type (apartheid) (where the colonialist and colonised share geographical space). This Christological vision calls for an empathetic mission, a position from which we do not approach mission and contexts from a position of "victory" but from a position of vulnerability. A final thought is the issue of "people" before principles as a way in which mission agents should approach communities in which they do mission.

The issues in mission

The tension around the argument about whether mission comes before or after ecclesiology is common for all these scholars. Yet, they agree that mission should be understood to be before the Church. The data reveals the issues that have been crucial for missiologists to contend with in the South African context. These include issues and challenges such as globalisation, emphasis on the cross, denominational diversity, mission and empire, poverty, postmodernism, the missionary nature of the Church, as well as the Bible as a missionary document. Therefore, reimagining the Church is crucial, especially to reimagine "old ecclesiologies." There also seems to be a focus on "children as agents of mission", the "influence of social media" and the impact of "4IR" as some of the evolving issues that have not been addressed comprehensively by these missiologists, as well as in missiological engagements in South African public higher education institutions where missiology is taught. Further, the data highlighted issues related to South African realities such as "violence", "internalised racism and oppression", "migration", and "xenophobia" as issues that preoccupied these scholars. They contended also that mission and missiology in South Africa should not neglect these issues.

The goals and motivation for mission

The data reveals that the goals of mission should be to address the pressing realities and not to opt for a "pie in the sky, bye-bye" approach. These goals should aim to overcome "the powers of evil" and to proclaim the reign of God, of Christ, and the centrality of the cross in the mission of God. Mission agents should therefore be "radically Christo-centric" as they allow the "future [kingdom] to invade the present" and to bring forth transformation of the most vulnerable, the marginalised and the poor. Furthermore, mission must bring more "questions to the fore" and continuously foster 'intercultural perspectives.' The data also reveals that the motivation for doing mission should be "God" through salvation, not only of people but the "whole of creation," not only of the "soul" but the shalom in God's Kingdom on earth.


The future of missiology in South Africa

It is apparent from the foregoing that there is enough evidence to believe that these scholars engaged their context. However, these authors perceived that there was hesitation from their contributions and praxes to propagate a 'radical-Christocentric' mission approach, which could have brought forth the most unheard voices into mainstream missiological discourse in South Africa. Unheard voices of marginalised groups, such as children, women, and homeless communities, are not yet taken seriously in South African missiology. For example, the focus on 'children' as agents of mission as an important issue to challenge and transform the hermeneutics of mission in the future is not taken as seriously as it should be. It will assist with bringing all under the "reign of God" and with the conversation of the other. There is a definite need for a model that would allow the "encounterology" to be practised. There is also not so much missiological engagement on how one should address the influence of 4IR in terms of challenging ideas about what it means to be human. This remains, therefore, a question on how missiology as a discipline should position itself in the face of this present challenge. There remains also a deep concern from these scholars in terms of how the previous how of mission can be transformed, especially because it has been entrenched in the pattern of the Church. How do we bridge the gap between 'othering' towards 'oneness' and 'Oikos (Household of God)'? How do we deliver the Church from dichotomies that are not helpful in a diverse post-apartheid context?

It should be also noted that all these questions find a coherent narrative on points relative to praxis such as "mission flows from God," and as a concern for people, proclaiming the reign of God allows for a dialogue that allows for self-knowledge and self-identification at the same time. This can be done if we adhere to Kritzinger (2008) in seeing truth as a person and not a principle and objective. The Church as mission with God is witnessing the truth embodied in the person of Christ by becoming an embodiment of the same truth to communities. It is more about being than doing as affirmed below.

In discussion with the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) Free State's Partners of Witness Council, it was affirmed that congregations and presbyteries believe that mission is about "being a witness," not any more a focus on "outgoing" mission. Nevertheless, this does not mean abandoning mission activities such as outreaches. It should therefore be equally stressed that being missional means "being a witness" though proclamation. This means that mission agents are not focussed exclusively on "being" at the expense of action. Rather both being and doing are fused within an adequate understanding of the missio Dei.

Of great concern in the data is the grounding of mission discourse to become almost "a pie in the sky" discourse. This can be observed in the reluctance to speak in contextual terms and confront historical and structural issues. There is a failure, on the one hand, to engage explicitly the 'empire' that South Africans have to deal with daily, and on the other, coming short towards unmasking (prophetic posture) structural issues that impede the shalom of God. The authors, therefore, contend that missiological discourse in South Africa has no option, but to opt for prophetic posture. This entails unveiling and exposing systemic and structural frameworks that keep on reproducing evil, pain and suffering in society. Therefore, as much as other issues are important, the looming issue of racism, for example, should be squarely placed as a central issue that missiology must address in the South African context. Failure to embrace the prophetic posture has resulted in a pastoral approach that seems entirely consistent with mission practice in the past. Thus, the reluctance to move towards a radical approach that would address South African structural realities as revealed in the data suggests an ongoing commitment from missiologists in the Southern African context. Nevertheless, there is a sense of relief that some missiologists currently affiliated with institutions of higher learning in South Africa have started to address these gaps in their scholarship. We will highlight some of the issues that they are wrestling with in their research in the following section as we envisage missiology post-2020.


South African missiology post-2020

Going forward, in the context of globalised changing landscapes, and specifically with reference to the global south, where multidimensional socio-economic, historical, political and ecological degradation remain real challenges for the Church and its survival, the authors contend that there is a need to subscribe to a missiology that is biblical, contextual, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and intentionally aimed at holistic transformation. In keeping with our understanding of "mission as the 'cutting edge'" of a Christian community, that is, its attempts to change the world through projects of evangelism, healing, teaching, development or liberation, missiology has to remain the "systematic and critical study of the missionary (world-changing) activities of Christian Churches and organisations."9 It is an applied theological study and should therefore rely on practical frameworks to realise transformation in any specific context.

Research interests and fields of specialisation and publications of South African missiologists in this decade slightly indicate, we hope, trends and trajectories in the future. In depth analysis regarding motivations that these current missiologists may have pertaining to their declared research interests and specialisation is unfortunately beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, they are mentioned here to give a glimpse as to how they engage some key issues in South Africa.

A glance at their ongoing research interests, as captured on Google Scholar, reveals that at the North-West University, for instance, colleagues work on missiological perspectives on issues of children and youth including urban missions. At the University of KwaZulu-Natal, colleagues work on public theology of mission, missiological perspectives, economic ethics, theology of work, ethical leadership, the agenda of the Palestine Kairos Document, the Church, development praxis, ecclesial, and sociopolitical history of missionary Churches, theology and democracy in South Africa, and the role of the Church in participatory development.

At the University of Pretoria, colleagues work on ecumenical theology of mission, religion, politics, post-colonial literature, African spirituality, and African culture. Colleagues at the University of South Africa are working on a variety of missiological issues, including transformative urban missions and ministry and African Theology; faith communities and community development; women, gender and missiology; oiko-missiology and ecofeminist theology; mission in African cities and local economic development; sustainable development discourse; African Pentecostal Christianity; intercultural theology; and missional theology. Their transformative urban mission focus, for example, has developed into a community engagement project that works towards finding pathways out of homelessness and poverty in The City of Tshwane.10

Colleagues at Stellenbosch University are working on issues of post-colonial theology, youth movements, and anti-racism, as well as intercultural and inter-religious missiology.11 There is a focus on how the youth would reimagine their identity in a post-colonial society like South Africa. Nel (2013) is specifically interested in youth contributions to the Church, in particular in his own denomination (United Reformed Church of Southern Africa [URCSA]), when he unpacks the projected future of South Africa. His caption on "remixing" and merging of "old" and "new" ecclesiologies and the search for new identities features in many of his academic contributions. However, one also observes in his work the impact and integral missional role of young people in the transformation of Church and society. Simon's contributions underscore the integrity of mission in Africa, in particular models and systems that would contribute to change in society. The concept that rings through his research contributions is that of "interculturality." Interculturality would enable the "unity and diversity of cultures."12

Colleagues at the University of the Free State (UFS) focus on issues of reconciliation and post-colonial mission and mission engagements in the township precinct in Mangaung.13 Baron's work focusses particularly on articulating the processes of reconciliation within the Church and society. He highlights the emphasis on the relationship between the powerful and the marginalised in his research as an important point of consideration within a post-colonial context. The notion 'missional consciousness' at the Church's grassroots level14 rings through emerging missiological research contributions at UFS since 2019. Baron's work on corruption and the influence of the media in post-apartheid South Africa are some of the focus areas of missiology at UFS.

Finally, colleagues at the University of Western Cape focus on theological issues of mission and development, and ecumenical movement and development.

When grouped into six categories that make the focus areas of the discipline of missiology, (see Figure 1 below)15 the following picture emerges:

a) In the focus area of evangelisation in different contexts, there are the works of colleagues Mashau, Mangayi, Kgatle, Knoetze, Le Bryuns, Kumalo, Maluleke, and Nel.

b) In the focus area of intercultural communication, there are the works of colleagues Maluleke, Banda, Nel, and Simon.

c) In the focus area of interreligious dynamics, the works of Banda and Mashau were associated with this area of study.

d) In the focus area of patterns of mission practice, mission theology, and history, the works of Mashau, van Schalkwyk, Mangayi, Le Bryuns, Kgatle, Kumalo, Makofane, Maluleke, Banda, Klaasen, Knoetze, Baron, and Ferreira were associated with this study area.

e) In the focus area of women and youth empowerment, the works of van Schalkwyk, Kgatle, Knoetze, Banda, Nel, and Baron are associated with this study area.

f) In the focus area of building sustainable community and earth-keeping, works of Mangayi and van Schalkwyk are associated with this study area.



It is obvious that most South African missiologists continue to work in the focus area of patterns of mission practice, mission theology, and history. As stated earlier, this is perhaps to make missiology connect theory and practice in different contexts. Colleagues' contributions to scholarship and impact in each one of these study areas in missiology in South Africa is traceable through their publications.16 However, in the lines that follow, we handpicked a few of these publications in Missionalia: Southern African Journal of Missiology in this decade to support our argument.

In relation to evangelisation in context, Mangayi, for example, highlights the need for the ongoing conversions of the missionary. "These conversions pave the way for informed mission encounters enriched with insights on cross-cultural communication, mission praxis, and stimulate reflexive engagement and enhance perspectives on contextual praxis" (Mangayi 2017:78-79). In relation to migrated people, Knoetze (2013:40) contends for a missionary diaconate which focusses on proclamation that is anchored at Koinonia. Kgatle (2016:333) discusses the impact of the Azusa Street Revival in the early evangelistic developments of the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) of South Africa and its ability to unite people beyond differences of race, gender, age and colour, and Pentecostal experiences. It is worth noting here that evangelisation is associated with the ongoing conversions of the agents of mission by Mangayi. Knoetze anchors it in Koinonia, and Kgatle, in relation to the AFM, connects evangelisation with revival which ushered in unity.

With reference to intercultural communication, Nel (2013:557) contends from a post-colonial theological perspective, which frames and remixes intercultural discourse for the sake of social transformation. Banda (2015:151) highlights the role of religion in the life story of the African Renaissance, specifically in terms of offering a "contribution from the praxis of Christian mission as an important adjunct to the realisation of African Renaissance." We note with appreciation that both Nel and Banda associated intercultural communication with social transformation and the African Renaissance, respectively.

On interreligious dynamics, Mashau and Ngcobo assert that Christian mission coexists in creative tension with African traditional religions in Africa. "They contend that the notion of life after death would help in making Christianity relevant to Africans by addressing their hopes and fears." (Mashau & Ngcobo 2016:48). Mashau and Ngcobo's insights suggest that missiology has an inescapable responsibility to learn more from African Traditional religions.

Regarding the patterns of mission practice, mission theology and history, Klaasen (2017:29) contributes towards an approach to development based on personhood, which is "viewed from the perspective of the types of relationships the self has with God, with other selves and the rest of creation." Le Bryuns (2015:477) contends for "a public theological engagement that seeks to draw from the African soil and to dream of overcoming all that oppresses and dehumanises." Baron (2014:145), in relation to homelessness in the City of Tshwane, was in the quest for a missiological praxis which would help homeless people to identify 'bad habits,' 'take them off' and 'put on' new ones with the hope that they will manage to live a life that is better - and valued by others. Makofane (2019:145), in relation to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, discusses patterns and ways that could assist missionary Churches to be liberated from paternalistic legacies of mission societies. Maluleke engages the life of Archbishop Tutu regarding strategies on remembering, and through these he unearthed Tutu's own Biblical and historical hermeneutics in "terms of which God always takes the side of the weak" (Maluleke 2019:189). It is encouraging to see missiology being associated with a development project that rebuilds the person in community and uproots dehumanisation, fostering moral renewal and behavioural change, liberation from paternalistic legacies, and God's preferential option for the weak in South Africa.

In relation to women and youth empowerment, Knoetze (2015:219) also reflects on the impact of TTL and Evangelii Gaudium in relation to African child and youth theology today. Missiological reflections on the African child and youth are much needed, given the fact that Africa is a 'youthful' continent.

Finally, in reference to sustainable communities and earth keeping, Mangayi weaves together missio Dei and sustainable local economic development in townships into an articulation of a form of "oiko-missiology" that aims to "promote both human and non-human beings' harmony with the environment" (Mangayi 2016:504). Additionally, van Schalkwyk (2019) attempts to formulate an oiko-theological response to the Amadiba Crisis Committee of Xolobeni's struggle for ubuntu, land, and ecology. Discourse on the ecological dimension of missio Dei in relation to sustainable development is not only pertinent but, also urgent given the unfolding ecological crisis.

What is obvious from the foregoing is the omission of missiological discourse on 4IR, as stated earlier. In addition, not much is done on endemic contextual issues, such as gender-based violence and multiple vulnerabilities, as well as the matter of children and their position in God's mission. The issue of globalised cities with associated religious plurality and multidimensional poverty and marginalisation of the poor needs ongoing missiological attention. African expressions of Christianity and their role in building communities should not escape missiological reflection. The issue of mission and health must be revisited as we are in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ecological dimension of missio Dei in relation to building sustainable communities is another issue missiology should not forget going forward. The Holy Spirit's role in the missio Dei is also a crucial issue that needs more emphasis.

South African missiologists must rise to contend with these and many other challenging issues staring at us at the dawn of another decade to remain relevant in their scholarship. As a final remark, it should be known that the epistemological landscape has been shifting. The authors speculate that this could be attributed to various factors. Nevertheless, it is probable that the appointment of various missiologists in these institutions that subscribe to traditions other than the Reformed tradition, for example, Pentecostal, Anglican, Baptist, etc., are contributing to the shifting epistemological landscape. Secondly, missiologists that have been driven by change in context in the last decade had also to speak to change in spirituality, which in a sense opens the space in these institutions. One of the results is the increased number of theology students, including missiology, who come from various walks of life and mostly subscribe to a Pentecostal spirituality. The undercurrent for this phenomenon could also be the recent and unresolved racial, cultural, and religious tensions globally and locally. As a result of all these, carving an authentic missiological agenda is inevitable and remains a dynamic undertaking.



This contribution has certainly provided the researchers with glimpses of current trends, trajectories, and biblical and contextual hermeneutics relative to missiology in South Africa in this decade. A scrutiny of the works of some colleagues reveals in vivid ways the contributions these retired/retiring colleagues have made in missiological discourse. It is left to current emerging and established missiologists to continue shaping future trends and trajectories for missiology. There is a need to remain conscious that it is not in the nature of missiology to be idle or remain "pie in the" sky. It remains an applied practical theological discipline.



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Niemandt, C. J. P. 2012. Trends in missional ecclesiology, HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies 68(1):1-9. doi: 10.4102/hts.v68i1.1198.         [ Links ]

The Lausanne Movement. 2010. Cape Town Commitment. (Accessed 12 April 2010).         [ Links ]

Van Schalkwyk, A. 2019. Living in the land: An Oiko-theological response to the Amadiba Crisis Committee of Xolobeni's struggle for ubuntu, land and ecology, Missionalia 47(1): 31-57.         [ Links ]

World Council of Churches. 2010. Edinburgh Conference Listening Report, Meeting of the world missionary conference, 2-6 June 2010.         [ Links ]

World Council of Churches. 2013. Together towards life: Mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. Geneva: WCC Publications.         [ Links ]



1 Edinburgh Conference Listening Report, Meeting of the World Missionary Conference, 2-6 June 2010.
2 The book entitled ""Ecumenical Missiology: Changing Landscapes and New Conceptions of Mission." Volume 35, edited by Ross, Kenneth R., Jooseop Keum, Kyriaki Avtzi, and Roderick R. Hewitt in 2016 provides elaborate articulations on this discourse.
3 Listeners' Report, Meeting of the International Association for Mission Studies, August 19, 2012. Prepared by Stephen Bevans, Pavol Bargar, Jacob Kavunkal, Valentin Kozhuharov, Susan Nganga and Atola Lungkumer.
4 Listening Report, Meeting of the International Association for Mission Studies, August 17, 2016. Prepared by: Melody Wachsmuth, Klippies Kritzinger, Alison Fitchett, Eun Ah Cho, Varughese John, Thias Kgatla, Jonny Baker.
5 Jurgens Hendricks was employed at Stellenbosch as a practical theologian, though because of his own work and contributions in missional ecclesiology and theology, the authors decided to include him in the list of contributors in the field of missiology at the University of Stellenbosch.
6 (Kritzinger 2008); (Kritzinger 2012); (Niemandt 2012); (Hendriks 2007); (Kgatla 2016); (Kgatla, 2016); (Botha, 2020).
7 These missiologists wrote a Study Guide in Missiology at the University of South Africa. It focusses on the mission of God as God's involvement in the Oikos, "Household of God." However, these scholars draw from the work of the Oikos Journey project, the contributions of Ernst Conradie, especially his edited work with Clive W Ayre, "The Church in God's household. Protestant Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ecology," pp.1185 (Conradie & Ayre 2016).
8 Schwab (2016), the founder of World Economic Forum noted "4IR is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human."
9 Definition of missiology by Unisa faculty found on the website.,-departments,-centres,-institutes-&-units/School-of-Humanities/Department-of-Christian-Spirituality,-Church-History-and-Missiology/Discipline-of-Missiology
10 This community engagement project, the Meal of Peace, started in 2010 and has published two volumes and more than 10 articles. It is a project of the Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology in the College of Human Sciences.
11 The areas of research of Prof RW (Reggie) Nel and Prof Xolile Simon.
12 See his chapter on Transforming Power Relations for the definition of "interculturality" in the book edited by Jochen Motte and Andar Parlindungan, "Mission still impossible? Global perspectives on mission theology and mission practice," 2017, pp. 203-215.
13 Dr Eugene Baron and Prof P Verster.
14 See Baron's article The call for African missional consciousness through renewed mission praxis in URCSA, Studia Historiae Ecclessiastae, 45(3): 1-19.
15 This categorisation does not claim to be exhaustive; there are many colleagues who contribute to missiological discourses and development who are not professors of mission studies. This should be seen only as a glance used to support our point of view.
16 Readers can find the publications of these scholars on Google Scholar, Scopus and ResearchGate to establi sh readership and impact in academia and the broader society. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover all of that here.

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Past the glorious age: Old Testament scholarship in South Africa - are we moving anywhere close to blackening Old Testament scholarship?



Hulisani Ramantswana

Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies UNISA




Old Testament scholarship in South Africa has deepened, broadened, and evolved over the years; and various trails can be traced within it. The article interrogates whether Old Testament scholarship has passed the glorious age. The following issues are explored: First, the retirement of scholars in recent years as a signal of the coming to an end of the second-generation of Old Testament scholars in South Africa; second, the developments in black Old Testament scholarship as a trail which developed alongside white Old Testament scholarship; and third, the prospects of Old Testament scholarship from a decolonial perspective. This article argues that the future of Old Testament Scholarship in (South) Africa is in a blackening, that is, a redress process through broadening of the scholarship to reflect the continent in which it has to thrive.

Keywords: Old Testament Scholarship; South Africa; Africa; White; Margins; Blackening




At the 2019 meeting of the Old Testament Society of South Africa (OTSSA), I was invited to participate in a panel which focused on "Reading Old Testament texts in contemporary contexts/Reading the Old Testament in contemporary contexts". The panel included Prof Madipoane Masenya, Prof Gerald O. West and retired Prof Eben Scheffler and me. We were required to focus our discussion on our scholarship and the prospects of Old Testament scholarship in South Africa. As a young scholar in the company of scholars who were at the tail end of their scholarship, I also had to start envisioning the future of Old Testament scholarship in South Africa-the next thirty to sixty years. I do not intend to simply rehearse the things that I mentioned at the OTSSA conference. I do build, however, on those initial thoughts. Therefore, this article will reflect on the present (where we are), the past (where we have been), and the future (where we are going) of Old Testament scholarship in South Africa.

However, let me make a disclaimer at this point. Any attempt to describe Old Testament scholarship in South Africa is relative, as it is impossible to follow all the trails. We cannot ride the wagon of pseudo-objectivity that assumes that history can be formulated from a God's-eye view. The dominance of certain trails does not negate the existence of other trails. As Gericke (2018:299-322) also highlights, historical overviews tend to take different research contexts and formats. Gericke identifies about thirteen types of historical overviews of Old Testament scholarship in South Africa, which have been done over the years.1 There are other areas to be explored, such as the following:

The teaching of the Old Testament outside of the mainstream academic institutions. In this case, the focus would be in private or church-run Bible schools, Bible colleges, and theological seminaries;

The development of Old Testament scholarship within the historically black universities;

An overview of books which have been published by Old Testament scholars in South Africa over the past thirty-three years;

The development of specialist groups in the study of the Old Testament in South Africa;

The contribution of black South African Old Testament scholars to the field pre-1994 and post-1994.

This article is structured as follows: First, I reflect on second-generation Old Testament scholarship in South Africa with particular interest in the retirement of scholars as marking the end of an era. Second, I focus on the developments in black Old Testament scholarship as a trail which in some sense developed alongside white Old Testament scholarship. Third, I reflect on the prospects of Old Testament scholarship from a decolonial perspective.


Second-generation Old Testament scholars in South Africa coming to an end: Is white dominance also coming to an end?

Second-Generation Old Testament Scholars

Hendrik Bosman, towards the end of an article in which he reflects on Old Testament scholarship since 1994, asks the question: "Who are OT or HB scholars in South Africa"? (Bosman 2015:647) However, because he does not answer this pertinent question, I will attempt to answer it, whether directly or indirectly.

What better place to start than with Jurie le Roux's monumental work, A Story of Two Ways: Thirty Years of Old Testament Scholarship, which covers the period 1957-1987 and in which he reflects on Old Testament scholarship in South Africa? (Le Roux 1993). This range of years was chosen because 1957 was the year that the Old Testament Society of South Africa was established, and 1987 was chosen so that the range would be thirty years (Le Roux 1993:11). During this period, as Le Roux notes, Old Testament scholars produced an immense number of books, theses and articles (Le Roux 1993:11). My interest is in the historically marginalised black people of South Africa, but as I perused A Story of Two Ways, it became apparent that there was not one single reference to a black Old Testament scholar except C. S. Mngadi whose Master's thesis was written under the supervision of Professor Jasper J. Burden at the University of South Africa (UNISA).

In Le Roux's (1993:11-12) view, at the time, the thirty years period was what may come to be referred to as the golden era of Old Testament scholarship in South Africa. However, if the period has to be referred to as the golden era, it was the golden era of white Old Testament scholarship in South Africa as practised in the historically white Afrikaans and English universities. While UNISA as a distance learning institution accommodated black students, the staff of the Old Testament department was white. The same situation prevailed in all the other historically white universities as well. Therefore, as we shall see below, A Story of Two Ways is a one-sided and biased telling of a story that completely ignores black Old Testament scholarship in South Africa.

The so-called "golden era" in Old Testament scholarship was an era of white dominance that thrived under the colonial-apartheid regime. For example, in 1983 at UNISA, the Department of Old Testament had fourteen lecturers, who were all white (Burden 1983: iv-vii).2 The number of lecturers at the Department continued to grow over time. Except for the respective size of each of the departments, the situation at other Afrikaans universities was no different-the Old Testament scholars where all white. However, when Le Roux wrote A Story of Two Ways, the wind of change was blowing over South Africa, and therefore, he contemplated the future in the follow words:

The thirty years may well be described as the flowering of Old Testament in South Africa. Economic developments and social circumstances created job opportunities which allowed many a young scholar to enter the academic life. These events had, of course, far reaching consequences for the study of the Old Testament in South Africa. A younger generation now had the opportunity of devoting their lives to a study of the Old Testament. With enthusiasm they set themselves to their task and accomplished much over many years. In the long run they have contributed to the growth and development of an exegetical and theological tradition. Before that time this was impossible. A limited number of theological faculties, to which only a few Old Testament scholars were attached existed. These lecturers had to teach the whole field of Old Testament study leaving very little time for research and publication. Present-day South African Old Testament scholars must always keep those who carried the burden under difficult circumstances in high esteem. But it was the generation of the sixties, the seventies and the eighties who had the

privilege of contributing to and enjoying the fine fruits of a flourishing South African science of the Old Testament. South Africa is, however, now standing on the verge of radical and far-reaching social and political change. These events will certainly cause dramatic changes to the university system and the nature of its staff. The possible lowering of standards and the adaptation of courses in order to address the grave social and economic needs of Africa may endanger the good work of the past thirty years. Radical changes may lead to the lack of a second and a third generation to continue the progress of the past three decades (le Roux 350-351).

In the words above, I cannot help but sense some fear and pessimism in le Roux at the time he wrote. The changing political dynamics in the country were not viewed positively. Basically, the white fear was that the looming takeover politically by the black people could undo the good work that Old Testament scholars had accomplished in the thirty years. Moreover, it was possible that there would not be a second or third generation of Old Testament scholars.

Thirty-three years later, Old Testament scholarship is still alive and well. The second generation indeed continued the progress of the first generation. What was feared is what the Vhavenda people refer to as u ofha swiswi li sina phele (fearing the dark in which there is no hyena), which means that sometimes we tend to fear what we have no reason to fear. The young scholars in the 1980s and early 1990s were the second generation of scholars to carry the baton forward, and for most of them, the journey in academia is coming to an end with mandatory retirement. This includes such scholars as Jurie le Roux, Herrie van Rooy, Hendrik L. Bosman, Willie A. G. Nel, Sakkie Spangenberg, Coenie Scheepers, Eben Scheffler, Peet van Dyk, Willie Wessels, Phil Botha, Fanie Snyman, Gerald West, and Willem S. Boshoff. I include Jurie le Roux in the list of the second-generation scholars though his career spans from the middle of the first generation era, beginning in 1971 to 2006 when he officially retired. In him, the first generation lives on and the second generation draws its inspiration. It comes as no surprise that several scholars have reflected on his scholarship over the years. Apart from the OTE Festschrift 19/3 (2006), which was dedicated to Jurie le Roux, see particularly Human (2006):801-819; Gericke (2013:1-6); Bosman (2013:1-8); Lombaard (2006b:912-925; 2019); and Scheffler (2019:1-9).

Do we have to look at the recent spate of retirement as a sign of the coming to an end of an age? In my view, the ongoing retirements signal the coming to an end of the second generation of Old Testament scholars in South Africa. Retirements in general have the potential to bring down an academic unit or discipline where there is poor planning for succession. This may also result in the phasing out of this academic discipline as it may become absorbed in other disciplines with no unique identity of its own. In some instances, the mass retirements may result in the institution offering incentives to its retiring staff in order to continue to benefit from their experience. However, delaying retirement or offering contracts to the retired also has the potential of straining departmental budgets, especially in underfunded departments. Keeping retired people in the system may also amount to reducing job opportunities for upcoming scholars and disadvantaging minority groups, which may eventually have negative effects on the academic discipline (Bahrami 2001:297). In other instances, mass retirement may also result in mass hiring, which will eventually lead to another crisis down the line, thirty to forty years later (Ummersen, McLaughlin & Duranleau 2014; cf. Foxall et al. 2009:172175).

In the case of UNISA, the mandatory retirement of seven scholars in the past four years has not resulted in the mass hiring which happened in the 1980s. In addition, it has not decimated the Old Testament unit at UNISA considering the number of scholars in other comparable institutions (Table A).



The profile of Old Testament scholars at the different South African universities shows that3UNISA currently has eight permanent staff members: Elelwani B. Farisani, Ig Gous, Magdel le Roux, Madipoane Masenya, Ndikhokhele Mtshiselwa, Gerrie Snyman, Schalk W. van Heerden and Hulisani Ramantswana. The University of Pretoria has six: Dirk Human, Sias Meyer, Alphonso Groenewald, Ananda Geyser-Fouche, Gerda de Villiers, Gert T.M. Prinsloo and Charlotte Sibanyoni. North-West University has nine stationed at different campuses: Albert Coetsee, Chris van der Walt, Lekgetho Moretsi, At Lamprecht, Gideon Kotze, Godwin Mushayabasa Murhiyashe, Hans van Deventer, Jaco Gericke and Lerato Mokoena. The University of Free State has five: Loedewyk Sutton, Marius Terblanche, Cynthia Miller-Naude, Jacobus A. Naude, and Tshokolo J. Makutoane. Stellenbosch University has five: Juliana Claassens, Louis Jonker, Ntozakhe Cezula, Christo van der Merwe, Alexander Andrason, and Izak Cornelius. University of KwaZulu-Natal has two: Helen Keith van Wyk and Charlene van Der Walt.4 The University of Johannesburg has two: Hennie Viviers and Gudrun Lier. Lastly, the University of the Western Cape has two: Tiana Bosman and Sarojini Nadar.5

The reduction in the number of scholars at UNISA implies that the dominance that UNISA used to enjoy in terms of numbers is waning, and soon it will no longer enjoy it. Therefore, scholars at UNISA are standing on shifting ground, as the University of North-West may become dominant considering its structure, which allows it to offer programmes at the different campuses and therefore expand even its theology training.

Too many retirements may threaten the viability of an academic discipline. However, in the case of Old Testament scholarship in South Africa, retirements at UNISA do not necessarily reflect the trend in other public universities. The declining number at UNISA does not necessarily imply that the Old Testament discipline is dying, but it may be symptomatic of the challenge that lies ahead. Already, the general disconnection of biblical languages from the theological training programme was a blow to Old Testament studies.6 Most of the retiring Old Testament scholars, if not all, were also equipped with biblical languages, and this implies the vanishing of those skills within the discipline. In the current situation, there are people who hold doctorates in both Old Testament and New Testament without grounding in biblical languages. This is not to belittle those who have their doctorates without knowledge of the biblical languages, nor is it to blame the student; it is simply a reflection on the present situation. Perhaps the blame should be on those who leave the system without finding models of transferring rare skills and knowledge which are crucial for the discipline to continue to operate at present levels or at the higher level it needs to compete with its global peers.

In our current South African context, is it necessary, after over twenty-six years of democracy, that we should still bother about the racial profile in our institutions or departments? It may be that in other departments and disciplines, the issue of transformation has become a non-issue; however, considering the history of apartheid and the lingering ugly head of racism, it is necessary to also consider the racial profile of Old Testament scholars. Old Testament scholarship in South Africa's public universities is still pretty much a white-dominated discipline. This white dominance cannot simply be traced back to the hiring in the 1980s and the 1990s; it also reflects the continuing hiring trend in our universities, which favour the minority whites. Old Testament scholarship in South Africa has not done enough to produce a pool of black scholars. Is it not embarrassing that in the current dispensation, representation of black scholars is still lower than that of the whites (eleven blacks versus twenty-nine whites)? Furthermore, for almost thirty years, the black female voices of Madipoane Masenya (Ngwan'a Mphahlele), Sarojini Nadar, and Makhosazana K. Nzimande (who entered the scene for just a short while) were the only black female voices in Old Testament scholarship-compared to white female voices in the same period, among whom are Joan Annandale (or as also known Joan Annandale-Potgieter), Dalene Heyns, Frances Klopper, Helen Efthimiaded-Keith (also known as Helen Keith-van Wyk), Magdel le Roux, Julie Claassens, Gerda de Villiers, and Charlene Van der Walt. The recent appointment of two black females, Charlotte Sibanyoni as a lecturer of Hebrew at UP and Lerato Mokeona at North-West University (Mahikeng Campus), is a positive addition. However, these two and others belong to the emerging third generation of scholars that I will refer to subsequently.

Legacy of the second generation of Old Testament scholars

An emerging trend in the last three decades is the development of multiple specialist areas in Old Testament study in South Africa. This move has to do primarily with the scholars' area of interest, which has led to the emergence of focus groups or specialist groups. In the academia, specialisation is justified by the argument that it is impossible of any one person to be an expert in more than one area-a narrowing that is satirized as, one "knows more and more about less and less" (Shipman & Shipman 2016). It should be noted, however, that areas of specialisation do not remain static. As Jenniskens and Morphew (1999:95-120) note, "scholars' interests evolve, students' needs change, and the external environment shifts as well". Unfortunately, specialist groups/focus areas tend to breed disciplinary silos and this situation encourages scholars to limit their research to the scope of their area of interest or specialisation (Cohen & Lloyd 2014:196). The existence of specialist groups does not imply that scholars simply stick to their group and cannot contribute to other groups. Considering the pool of Old Testament scholars in South Africa, it is only logical to expect that such cross-contributions in the different areas would be there, howbeit from the different perspectives of scholars who are not necessarily specialists in the group.

Specialist groups have also been enriched through collaboration with international scholars from across the continent of Africa, Europe, and the USA. The appointment of extraordinary professors in universities, the invitation of guest lecturers, and the appointment of research fellows/associates who publish with our institutions are indicative of the collaboration and networking which Old Testament scholars engage in to develop the discipline and their respective areas of specialisation. The current climate in South African public universities fosters collaboration and networking by providing room for such appointments to boost their research output. Furthermore, the National Research Foundation with funding instruments such as the Knowledge Interchange Collaboration (KIC) fosters collaboration and knowledge exchange between scholars.

Various areas of specialisation have developed in the last three decades, some of which I will simply mention without going into details. The areas include Pentateuch (Pro-Pent), Psalms (Pro-Psalms), Prophets (Pro-Prophets), Eco-theological, Trauma, Feminist/Womanist, Spirituality, Philosophy of religion, Hermeneutic of vulnerability, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Exilic and Post-exilic periods, Second Temple period, Septuagint studies, African biblical hermeneutics and Decolonial readings (Bosman 2015:636-654; Gericke 2018:299-322). The existence of multiple areas of specialization in Old Testament scholarship advances the scholarship, and we ought to remain open to venturing into new areas to be at the cutting edge of Old Testament scholarship. However, as Bosman warns, we should also "reflect on the impact and legacy" which our research will have in the future.

The second generation of Old Testament scholars is still pretty much white dominated and so hands over to the third generation a scholarship that has started to transform but has not yet fully transformed. Therefore, it is incumbent on those of the third generation to ensure that Old Testament scholarship continues to be blackened. This, however, will require targeted intervention, such as identifying potential students and nurturing and developing their interest in Old Testament studies. For example, I, in part, owe my interest in the Old Testament to my undergraduate Hebrew lecturer, Jan Kroeze, and my emeritus professor, Herrie van Rooy, who nurtured in me the love of Semitic languages as well as the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. What is needed now is to intensify such efforts-by showing the relevance of Old Testament study to our students. The common perception among theology students preparing for ministry is that disciplines such as missiology, spirituality, practical theology, and systematic theology or dogmatics are more relevant to ministry than disciplines such as Old Testament and New Testament.


From the margins: Black Old Testament scholarship

During the colonial-apartheid period, black scholarship had to operate in the margins. In 1959, the apartheid government passed the Extension of University Education Act, which banned blacks from receiving higher education at the same universities as whites. This act, as Badat (1999:50-51) notes, was intended to "arrest and reverse" the developing situation in which blacks received higher education at the same institutions with whites, particularly the white English-language universities.7

This act also laid the foundation for the establishment of black universities and colleges, specifically, University Colleges of the North, University of Zululand, University of the Western Cape, and University of Durban (later, University of Durban-Westville). The apartheid policy at the time required that such institutions be established in the "Native areas", away from the white urban centres (Rose & Tunmer 1975).8 The education minister of the apartheid regime had the responsibility to appoint senior academic and administrative staff. As Balintulo points out, the modus operandi was "to appoint their own men, some of the recent graduates, invariably from the Afrikaansmedium universities, and promote them rapidly" (Balintulo 1981:150). Badat (1999:71) further notes that, "Liberal senior administrators and academics were fired and repressive measures like a ban on staff engaging in political activity resulted in resignations". The academic positions at black universities were dominated by whites, especially at professor and senior lecturer levels.

In line with the Extension of University Education Act, churches also continued to establish separate theological schools or seminaries for the training of blacks. In most of the black seminaries, training was mainly in the hands of the whites. Most of the black theological schools were established by white churches for the training of the black-it was their school for them, and so the Afrikaans saying, "ons skool vir hulle". Ntwasa (1972:179), reflecting on the situation of black students at the seminaries at that time, wrote,

The problems do not end here in the white staff/black student seminary situation. The white staff are frequently highly competent academically judged by the standards and requirement of Western universities. None of them, however, have any existential knowledge of what it is to be a black man in a white racist South Africa. This makes it impossible for them to think theologically from the basis of this human experience common (in varying degrees) to all South African blacks. This is bad enough, but it is still not all. Few, if any, of them have any first-hand experience of either black communities or parishes in their living or work situation. Those who do not come from overseas to the seminaries have experienced South Africa from the situation of the white suburbs.

The black theological students who wanted to continue with their education at postgraduate level had to do so at the white universities (Afrikaans or English) or go abroad. Desmond Tutu went to further his studies in London at King's College, where he obtained his Master of Theology in 1966. Manas Buthelezi did his postgraduate studies in the USA at Drew University, where he obtained his PhD in Systematic Theology in 1968. Allan Boesak obtained his PhD at Kampen Theological Institute in the Netherlands in 1976. Ephraim K. Mosothoane obtained his PhD at the University of Aberdeen. Barney Pityana, while in exile in London, studied theology at King's College London and at Ripon College Cuddesdon. Ntwasa (1972:180) reflecting further on the training of black students, notes that,

At the moment it would be unfair to say that the most positive contribution our seminaries have been able to make is that they have enabled students to be sufficiently competent to study abroad (in white Western academic institutions). These students can study the Bible in the original languages and learn something about church history, the historical debates on doctrine, and doctrine itself. But as creative agents for change in South African church embedded in the South African socio-political situation they have largely failed.

While the scholars listed above did not earn PhDs in Old Testament, it is worthwhile to note that when Desmond Tutu joined the staff at Federal Theological Seminary, he taught Old Testament among other modules.

It was not the PhD degrees which qualified blacks to engage in critical reflection on the Old Testament; rather, they were qualified by their existential situation of damnation. It was in the context of the struggle for human dignity, justice, life, and land that they started theologizing from the Old Testament. As Ntwasa (1972:181) argues,

If the Christian gospel is about liberation from sin, then it is not simply from individual, personal, private sins (like swearing and fornication) but also about liberation from the social sins which dehumanize and debilitate people (especially black people in South Africa). The vast majority of our black people suffer shockingly under the impact of racism but poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease. The problems of most of our people are immediate bread and land issues.

Black scholars began to publish in outlets such as the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, Pro Veritate, Reality and Missionalia. For black theologians in South Africa in the 1960s to the 1980s, the study of the Scriptures could not be divorced from the lived experience of the black masses. Theirs was not a theology enclosed in the ivory towers of academic institutions; rather, it was a theology of liberation, and the Old Testament played a central role in their theologizing. Of particular concern in reading the Old Testament was the issue of social justice. Therefore, there was emphasis on the creation of all human beings in the image of God, the theme of liberation (exodus motif, YHWH as a liberator, and YHWH being on the side of the oppressed), and the call for a just society (YHWH as God of justice and relating acts of injustice in the biblical text and today's context). For example, West (1995:64-66) points out that Boesak's biblical hermeneutics utilised three interpretive procedures: First, he read the biblical text in the context of the struggle of black people of South Africa. Second, he linked the struggles in the text to the struggles in the here and now, thereby advocating for a shared or common humanity. Third, he focused on the final form of the text-reading the texts as self-contained and yet as part of the broader canonical story, which finds its culmination in the person and works of Jesus Christ (see also Boesak 1977; 1984).

In the ivory tower of white Old Testament scholarship, an outlet such as Old Testament Essays, of which I am the current editor, was in the 1980s a product that served white scholarship, whose publications did not speak to the reality of the black masses. The first publication by a black South African Old Testament scholar in Old Testament Essays was in 1991. The article, "In the School of Wisdom: An Interpretation of Some Old Testament Proverbs in a Northern Sotho Context", was written by Madipoane J. Masenya. I return to Madipoane Masenya (Ngwan'a Mphahlele) shortly.

Flint, in his "Old Testament Scholarship from an African Perspective" (1986), notes that only few black Old Testament scholars were found in South Africa, and he could only identify two, namely, E. K. Mosothoane, a lecturer at a black university, the University of Transkei,9 and C. S. Mngadi, a senior lecturer (Old Testament) at the University of Zululand. Mngadi obtained his master's in theology at the University of South Africa in 1982 with a thesis entitled "The Significance of Blood in the Old Testament Sacrifices and its Relevance for the Church in Africa". Mngadi would later serve in the editorial board of Old Testament Essays. What is significant about these scholars is that they engaged in Old Testament scholarship from the margins.

It is quite unfortunate that, when black universities were established, departments of theology or religion were not entrenched in the systems of those institutions. Today, theology departments and faculties of theology exist in only a few of the historically black universities in South Africa-University of the Western Cape and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which is the product of the merger between University of Durban-Westville (historically black) and University of Natal (historically white, with a medical school for blacks). This, in turn, implies that biblical studies (Old and New Testament) could not gain a foothold at academic institutions in the margins. In the current context, it is difficult to say whether there is room to revive some of those departments in the historically black universities, considering that the field of theology or religion does not necessarily draw large numbers of students.

While Flint in 1986 could only identify two black Old Testament scholars, the ground was shifting. Two others emerged in the 1980s and early 1990s-Itumeleng Mosala and Madipoane Masenya (Ngwan'a Mphahlele). To these two I turn attention.

Itumeleng Mosala: 1987 and the rise of Black Theology Old Testament scholarship

While 1987 marks the end of the first generation of white Old Testament scholarship, from a black perspective the same year should be viewed as a monumental year in black Old Testament scholarship That year, Itumeleng Mosala completed his PhD at the University of Cape Town with a dissertation entitled, "Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa", which was published in 1989.10 I can safely say that Mosala's book contributed immensely to shaping the hermeneutics of subsequent black theologians in South Africa. Not only did his book become important to black Old Testament scholars, its influence cuts across theological disciplines, particularly in the following ways.

First, it marks a hermeneutical shift among black theologians in South Africa. Mosala saw the need for black theologians to "break ideologically and theoretically with bourgeois biblical hermeneutical assumptions" and be theologically well grounded. The Bible, for Mosala, does not have to be viewed as an innocent book which contains the "Word of God" and therefore does not have to be critically scrutinised. The Bible in Mosala's hermeneutic should be viewed as a human product tainted by oppressive ideology.

Second, the primary concern for black theology of liberation should be the struggles of the black masses. For Mosala (1986:120b), "Black Theology has roots in the Bible in so far as it is capable of linking struggles of the oppressed people in the communities in the Bible". Therefore, black theology has to be rooted in "black history and culture in order for it to possess apposite weapons of struggle, that can enable black people to get underneath the biblical text to the struggles of the oppressed classes".

Third, the Bible has to be analysed using historical-critical tools. This is important so that the biblical texts can be understood in their own contexts. As West (2016:334) notes, the interpreter needs "to identify and delimit the 'sources' that underlie the final canonical form of the text and then to historically locate those source texts within a particular time and place". Mosala (1989:29) also writes that, "A century of historical-critical scholarship has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Bible is made up of a multiplicity of varying and often contradictory traditions that are a function of both a long history over which they have been produced and a variety of situations that produced them".

Fourth, the interpreter has to pay attention to the materialist and ideological conditions of the text, and by so doing, investigate the world behind the text, the class struggles in ancient Israel and the ideologies of those who composed the biblical texts. The materialist struggles in ancient Israel are in this case analysed from a Marxist perspective, which pays attention to the different classes in society and the modes of production. The ideological component considers the class struggle behind the text and the class interests in the text as it stands.

Fifth, the interpreter draws an analogy between the class struggles in the present-day context and those struggles that lie behind the biblical text. While Mosala agrees in principle with the analogical method of the other black theologians, his focus was different. Whereas other black theologians such as Tutu and Boesak focus on the struggle as projected by the text (or in the text and in front of the text); for Mosala, the focus is on the struggles behind the text which can be understood through a historical-materialist analysis of the text (West 1995:74-75).

The central contribution of Mosala is in providing the hermeneutical foundation, which helped to shape the second phase of Black Theology (West 2016:329-330). The work of Mosala should not simply be located within black theology; his study fits within the scope of biblical or Scripture studies. Although the book has a canonical focus, it can rightly be claimed as a monumental work in black Old Testament scholarship. Therefore, it is incumbent on black scholars to build on the foundation that Mosala laid as an excellent builder. He can rightly be regarded as the ntate/khotsi/baba (father) of black Old Testament scholarship.

Madipoane Masenya: Female voice centring the struggles of African women and the African knowledge system

The first black female voice in South African Old Testament scholarship is that of Madipoane Masenya (Ngwan'a Mphahlele). Masenya developed a unique approach to reading the Bible, which she calls bosadi (1992:271-287; 1996; 1997a:55-68; 1997b:15-16; 1997c:439-48). Her voice began to rock the boat of white Old Testament scholarship as it emerged within a white-dominated Old Testament department at UNISA. Masenya's work is significant for Old Testament scholarship from the following fronts.

First, it brings to the centre the experiences of African women in the theological enterprise. Masenya's bosadi approach is significant in this regard, as she affirms, "I deliberately make my African-South African sisters' context the main hermeneutical focus" (Masenya 2005a). On the concept of bosadi, Masenya (2005b:183) explains,

Reclaiming the use of the Northern Sotho word bosadi not only makes sense to African-South African women at the grassroots level, women with whom I interact constantly and thus, naturally, it also succeeds in enabling these women to read the Bible in that affirms them, because the bosadi approach acknowledges the uniqueness of the context of African-South African women.

The bosadi approach demands the centring of African women's struggles in the reading of the biblical texts-it is a reading from the perspective of a woman/mosadi. The "African" aspect is important and Masenya (2015:68-79) takes Africa as a hermeneutical focus in her approach.

Second, for Masenya, the Bible is not an innocent book; rather, its ideology projects both degradation and affirmation of women. While the Bible is a book of faith, it does not follow that ideologies in the text that are oppressive to women must be uncritically accepted. In the bosadi approach, thus, the patriarchal nature of biblical texts is not ignored; rather, it is critically engaged.

Third, in Masenya's interpretation, African cultures are also not innocent. The patriarchal tendencies in our cultures have to be confronted and negated. Therefore, the bosadi approach reflects on the conditions of basadi or women in the current context and challenges the life-denying realities that women face.

Fourth, Masenya utilises African knowledge systems to read biblical texts. Although she often uses African proverbs as lenses through which to engage critically with the biblical text, her approach is not limited solely to the use of proverbs. Other knowledge systems and life experiences such as HIV/AIDS, racism and xenophobia are also appropriated and utilised in reading the biblical texts.

Where there is a father, there should also be a mother. Therefore, I contend without fear of contradiction that Madipoane Masenya (Ngwan'a Mphahlele) is the mma/mme/mama ("mother") of black Old Testament scholarship in South Africa. It was by drinking her sweet African milk that some of us grew as Old Testament scholars, as she taught us to value our cultural elements in our engagements with biblical texts. Furthermore, it was under her wings that I learned the trade of scholarly publishing as one who had a mother to guide him. Through her, we learned anew the beauty of our African proverbs.

There are those like Lombaard (2006a:144-155) who contend that there is nothing particularly African in the approaches that have been developed by African biblical scholars. The idea that the approaches developed by our black theologians are merely contextual should be viewed as reflecting a mindset which tends to view the Western approaches as the standard. Pace Lombaard, the community of faith and the people in our country are not better served when what we engage in remains an elitist endeavour in the corridors of academia. Rather, the community of faith and the people are best served when our scholarship speaks to and helps provide solutions to our people's needs.


The decolonised future of Old Testament scholarship in South Africa

Snyman (2016:99), reflecting on the future of Old Testament scholarship in South Africa, declares that, "Old Testament scholarship in South Africa is in a unique position by being the meeting ground for African approaches to the Old Testament as well as the traditional Western approaches. It is not a matter of either/or, but rather a matter of both/and". This option may have its appeal, but as a black Old Testament scholar, I approach the matter from a different perspective. The challenge for African biblical scholars is to delink from the Euro-Western paradigms and start thinking outside them. To transcend Euro-Western paradigms, it is crucial to approach the Old Testament from the perspective of colonial difference. Pertinent for black Old Testament scholars is to recognize the provinciality and limitations of Euro-Western paradigms and to choose to liberate our minds and practice our scholarship outside of the confines of the Western hermeneutical practices.

Therefore, in envisioning the future, I propose the following.

The third generation of Old Testament scholars should be a decolonised generation

A decolonised future requires resistance to the notions of racial superiority and knowledge superiority. The story of two trails should evolve as the two trails merge and we build a decolonised Old Testament scholarship. Black Old Testament scholars no longer have to see themselves as the accommodated other in a white guild. White Old Testament scholars, on the other hand, have to work with black scholars as their equals. The third generation has to be different, and I would like to believe that things will be different. We can make things different as we work together to build Old Testament scholarship in South Africa.

The third generation already incorporates black scholars such as Charlotte Sibanyoni,11 Lerato Mokoena, Ndikhokhele Mtshiselwa, Hulisani Ramantswana, Lekgetho Moretsi, Ntozakhe Cezula, Lehlohonolo J. Bookholane, and Tshokolo J. Makutoane. Included also in the list are the following scholars from other African countries who are establishing their roots in South Africa: Funlola Olojede, Sampson S. Ndoga, Godwin M. Mushayabasa, and Daniel Simango. Therefore, it is in joining hands with white scholars such as Sias Meyer, Ananda Gyser Fouche, Alphonso Groenewald, Charlene van der Walt, Helen Keith-van Wyk, Jaco Gericke, Gideon Kotze, Albert Coetsee, Chris van der Walt, Marius Terblanche, and Lodewyk Sutton, as well as those who will join in this generation, that we can build a better future for our discipline.

In my view, because scholars such as Elelwani Farisani, Juliana Claassens, Louis Jonker, and Hans van Deventer emerged at the midpoint of the second generation, they should anchor, so to speak, the third generation of scholars. Therefore, they have great responsibility on their shoulders. As a way of passing the baton in the practice of their scholarship, scholars must shift gear to strengthen the next generation. Just as Jurie H. le Roux functioned as a link between the first and second generations, these scholars also have a role to play in strengthening the third generation of Old Testament scholars.

However, as the baton is passed, we cannot ignore the reality of our South African context. Black people are the majority, and this need to be reflected in our scholarship. The historically white institutions are blackening, and they will continue to blacken irreversibly and irresistibly. The more they blacken, the more they will also require black scholars.

Production of Old Testament theology from the (South) African perspective

In his recent article, "Mapping Recent Development in Old Testament Theology", Snyman (2019) presents a historical overview with a focus on developments in Old Testament theology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. However, his conclusion notes two things among others:

Women made huge and important contribution to the understanding of the Old Testament in recent decades in all fields of the study of the Old Testament, yet an Old Testament theology written by a woman has not been published.

Africa has not yet produced a theology of the Old Testament. This is a challenge to Old Testament scholarship in Africa. Although the study of the Old Testament is a vibrant part of the study of theology in general, Africa has not yet produced an Old Testament theology originating from African soil (Snyman 2019:7).

Snyman's challenge to African theologians to produce an Old Testament theology should be welcome, particularly, by those of us who belong to the third generation of Old Testament scholars. The more important question which we have to answer is whether such an Old Testament theology will be done through the Euro-Western lens or indeed be an African Old Testament theology. Therefore, we wait to see how this challenge will be answered.

Reviving prophetic theology: Overcoming the disconnect with the masses

The strength of our scholarship does not have to be simply in our writing for our peers- those in the scholarly guild. It is high time we wrote with the community in mind. Our scholarship has to target not only academic libraries, but also home libraries; we have to write for laypeople as well. In this way, our scholarship will help shape the ordinary people and those who are in ministry who require resources that speak to their context. In this way, we shall revive the Kairos Document's call for a prophetic theology:

To be truly prophetic, our response would have to be, in the first place, solidly grounded in the Bible. Our KAIROS impels us to return to the Bible and to search the Word of God for a message that is relevant to what we are experiencing in South Africa today. This will be no mere academic exercise. Prophetic theology differs from academic theology because, whereas academic theology deals with all biblical themes in a systematic manner and formulates general Christian principles and doctrines, prophetic theology concentrates on those aspects of the Word of God that have an immediate bearing upon the critical situation in which we find ourselves. The theology of the prophets does not pretend to be comprehensive and complete; it speaks to the particular circumstances of a particular time and place-the KAIROS (Kairos Document 1986; cf. Leonard 2010:63).

As third generation Old Testament scholars, our moment requires us to seek decolonial justice while considering the continuing structures of colonialism and apartheid, which continue to shape our society and subjugate us culturally, socially, politically, and economically. In seeking decolonial justice, our scholarship has to be prophetic as we engage with the masses. Furthermore, our scholarship has to engage the powers that be considering the corruption and the failure to improve the quality of life for the majority of our people on the part of the leaders.

The blackening of Old Testament Society of South Africa and the shift to an Old Testament Society of Africa

The future of Old Testament scholarship is in its blackening. The same also applies to sister societies such as the Society of Ancient Near Eastern Studies (SASNES) and the Association for the Study of the Septuagint in South Africa (LXXSA). If these societies do not become blackened, then, they will have to strengthen their bonds with Europe to survive-which will happen for some time, but they will die anyway. How is it that after six decades of the Old Testament Society of South Africa, blacks are still in the minority in a country that is predominantly black? As a young black Old Testament scholar who loves this discipline, I therefore have the right to ask, why have we failed to nurture the South African black child in our discipline? What has happened to the black child? Senzenina (What have we done)? What have we done that makes our presence invisible? I ask this question so that we can steer the ship in the right direction. The future of this discipline and the society lies in its production of black South African Old Testament scholars. Otherwise, the future is bleak.

The blackening of the Old Testament Society of South Africa should not be understood in exclusionary terms as though the blackening implies the exclusion of the other. The blackening of the society is a process of redress in a situation which was characterised by exclusion and discrimination. The blackening of the society amounts to the broadening of the society in a way that the society would reflect the continent in which it has to thrive. Thus, the decolonial turn will be incomplete as long as we do not move beyond the Old Testament Society of South Africa to an Old Testament Society of Africa, which would involve crossing boundaries and breaking down colonial boundaries. In that way, we further blacken Old Testament scholarship in Africa. What is currently known as the Old Testament Society of South Africa should in the future evolve to be a regional space. Our meeting place with fellow African scholars should not primarily be in Europe or the USA when we attend Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) or the International Organisation for the Study of the Old Testament (IOSOT), but here on the African soil.

As editor of Old Testament Essays, I am humbled by the article contributions that our journal receives from scholars across Africa. The publications of these scholars in Old Testament Essays point to the richness on the African continent and we can glean more from one another not simply through publications, but also through other engagements with one another. The poem by my sister, Muneiwa Ramantswana, rings in my head:

Africa my home

Africa our continent

Africa the place of ubuntu

Where black, white, and coloured are accommodated

Africa the home of many like myself

Many have landed on you, but many have left without a reason

Oh! Africa the continent of the happy and sad - the poor and rich

Africa the continent where heroes and heroines are born every break of dawn

Oh! Africa the continent with creative minds

Wake up! Child of Africa

The father calleth his son who seeketh shelter for the night

Many have for today's world

But many are no longer with us as we speak

Rise up! Daughters of the soil

The land awaits your hard work and prosperity

"Life and death in the soil", they say

Then why wait for the future generation to die of hunger

Why wait for the cattle to die without use

Vukani! Amadoda ne Bafazi

The world is in your hands

The rest look at you to bring out the map to success

Oh! Afrika die wêreld is ons s'n

Takalani nohe dzitshaka dza Afurika

How many nations are there,

Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Zambians . . .

They are so many, some we never know where they live and hibernate

A ri tsamaye Ma Afrika!

The journey can come to a halt at any time

Though some say the journey is too long, some say it is too short

There is one thing we stand for

Our vision is to fight poverty

Our prayer is to have a peaceful environment

To have harmony - the sweet perfume of friendship and unity

Oh! Africa my home, Africa, our continent (M. Ramantswana 2003:4-5).



Old Testament scholarship in South Africa is a story of two trails-the white trail and the black trail. I hope that members of the third generation of Old Testament scholars will embrace each other and work together to develop Old Testament scholarship. The immediate challenge that confronts us as South African Old Testament scholars is to train more black scholars. We fail to do this to the peril of our discipline.



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1 Gericke classifies the historical overviews under the following categories: 1) large-scale studies of a distinctive period in the history the Old Testament Society of South Africa (Jurie H. le Roux), 2) critical appraisals or corrective and justifying responses to Le Roux's analysis (James A. Loader, Jurie H. le Roux); 3) subsequent supplementation to Le Roux's analysis in number 1 (Hendrik L. Bosman); 4) local reflection on exegetical methods (Ferdinand E. Deist, and Alphonso Groenewald); 5) local perspectives on a particular theme/approach (Willie S. van Heerden); 6) a particular scholar's contribution (Hans J. M. van Deventer); 7) critical comparisons of scholarly contributions (Christo Lombaard); 8) Old Testament scholarship vis-á-vis other theological disciplines (Wentzel J. V. van Huyssteen and Izak J. J. Spangenberg); 9) Old Testament scholarship at particular universities (Andries P. Breytenbach, Andries Breytenbach and Jurie H. le Roux, Jurie le Roux, and Dirk Human et al.); 10) Old Testament interpretation in particular church traditions (Ferdinand E. Deist, and Herrie F. van Rooy, and Marius Nel); 11) the Old Testament or Bible in the whole of Africa (Knut Holter); 12) Western perspectives' irrelevance to African concerns (Madipoane M. Masenya and Hulisani Ramantswana); and 13) perceived fallacies in contextual African perspectives (Christo J. S. Lombaard, and Esias E. Meyer).
2 These were Professors: J. J. Burden, F. E. Deist, and J. A. Loader; Associate Professor: Jurie le Roux; and Senior Lecturers: Joan Annandale, H. L. Bosman, and W. J. Wessels; and Lecturers: E. H. Scheffler, W. A. G. Nel and P. J. van Dyk; Junior Lecturers: J. A. Burger, J. P. H. Wessels; C. L. van W. Scheepers and Dalene Heyns.
3 Old Testament scholars are also found in departments such ancient languages (UP, NWU, SU) and Bible Translation (UFS).
4 Charlene van Der Walt is appointed Associate Professor in the Gender and Religion discipline at UKZN.
5 Sarojini Nadar is currently serving as the Director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Spirituality and Society within the Department of Religion and Theology.
6 We do sit with students who wish to pursue Old Testament or New Testament studies at postgraduate level without knowledge of biblical languages, but we need to begin to require of those who work within the biblical disciplines to demand of their students to take some basic Hebrew and/or Greek. Therefore, it is also incumbent on biblical scholars of the Old and New Testament to find ways to get the students to learn biblical languages, be it as short learning courses or as additional modules during the undergraduate years as part of requirements for specializing in these areas.
7 Prior to the 1959 Education Act, higher education for black students was focused mainly on teacher training, which was carried out at teacher-training institutions, some of which were run by churches. The teacher-training institutions were initially a continuation of secondary education. Prior to 1948, a higher teaching diploma was offered at the South African Native College, which became Fort Hare University. Some of the black students, however, gained access to English universities such as the University of Cape Town, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Natal, and the University of South Africa. The Afrikaans universities, however, did not admit black students. I am indebted here to Badat (1991:47-75).
8 The black universities initially had the status of colleges and therefore awarded degrees from UNISA. It was only in 1969 that these universities started to function as fully-fledged universities.
9 In my view, Prof Mosothoane was more of a historical theologian, and some of his works tended to focus on the New Testament rather than the Old Testament.
10 Prior to 1987, Mosala had published several works including Mosala (1985; 1986a; 1986b; 1986c; 1986d; 1986e).
11 Having listened to her first presentation at the Old Testament Society of Southern Africa, I am hoping that she will not limit herself simply to teaching Hebrew language, but will also venture more into the study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

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Weerkaatsende woorde: 'n (outo)biografiese refleksie van 'n (praktiese) teoloog



JA van den Berg1

Department Practical and Missional Theology University of the Free State




Sommige van diepersoonlike ervaringe en bevindinge van 'n (prakties) teologies-akademiese skrywer word in die artikel onthul. Dié onthulling geskied op 'n intiem-persoonlike wyse aan die hand van 'n outo(biografiese) reis. Meesleurend vanuit 'n aanvanklike en terloopse aanraking van die persoonlike lewensruimte van die praktiese teoloog, word 'n trajek gebied aan die hand waarvan die ontwikkeling van akademiese skryfwerk gekaart kan word. Onverwagse mylpale langs die pad van gedokumenteerde prakties-teologiese navorsing sluit onder meer verbandhoudende aspekte van 'n plaaslike, konkrete en beliggaamde aard in. By elk van dié mylpale, wat 'n steil reliëf en gradiënt op die roete verteenwoordig, word op outobiografiese wyse aangedoen. In 'n persoonlike tuiskoms by dié mylpale word tot die ontdekking gekom dat skrywer en leser inderdaad die mees persoonlike in gemeen het, maar dat dít ook universele betekenis het. In die konstruering van dié reflekterende gedagtes word moontlike coordinate vir die toekomstige neerpen en kartering van persoonlike teologies-akademiese onthullings gebied.

 Kernwoorde: Outobiografie; Narratief; Refleksie; Praktiese teologie; Akademiese skryfwerk


This article discloses, in an intimate personal manner and based on an (auto)biographical journey, some of the secrets and treasures of a (practical) theological academic author. Drawing on an initial casual contact with a practical theologian's personal living-space, it presents a trajectory for charting the development of academic writing. Unexpected milestones along the path of documented practical theological research include aspects of a local, concrete and embodied description. Each of these milestones describes the steep elevation and gradient along the course. In viewing these milestones, one discovers that both writer and reader share in the most personal matters and that this intimacy has general significance. An analysis of the reflecting words of a (practical) theologian reveals potential coordinates for future writing and charting of other personal theological academic secrets and disclosures.

Keywords: Autobiography; Narrative; Reflection; Academic writing




Dit is vir my 'n voorreg om dié bydrae aan te bied as deel van Scriptura se 40-jarige feesviering. Dit is juis ter herdenking van dié besondere mylpaal ten opsigte van akademiese navorsing en publikasie dat ek dit goedgedink het om 'n bydrae aan te bied wat die rol van die outobiografiese in teologiese skryfwerk verken. In dié bydrae probeer ek persoonlike ervarings akkomodeer aan die hand van akademiese argumente en -bronne ter vestiging van 'n diskoers wat moontlik resoneer met dié ander outeurs in dié veld.



Hoe vreesaanjaend is dit nie wanneer die skoon wit bladsy met die flitsende invoegingswyser van die woordverwerkingsprogram voor jou opdoem nie? Dié skoon bladsy met die flitsende én wagtende roep van die wyser vra 'n eerste letter, 'n eerste woord, 'n eerste sin en 'n eerste paragraaf. Mettertyd, as jy gelukkig is, vul die swart karakters op die wit skerm 'n bladsy en nóg later, verdere bladsye. Tog is daar altyd die moontlikheid dat gedeeltes van dié formulerings of selfs alles later uitgevee mag word. Hoe dié skryfproses in my lewe, en in die besonder ook as (praktiese) teoloog afspeel, is die onderliggende tema van die bydrae.



Die "Cloudgate", ook bekend as die "The Bean", is sekerlik een van Chicago se bekendste toeristebesienswaardighede (Chicago 2020:n.p.). Die massiewe 110 ton boonvormige kunswerk van gepoleerde vlekvrye staal is onthul as deel van Millenniumpark se inwyding in 2004 (Cloudgate 2020:n.p.). Sedertdien is dit een van die bekendste besienswaardighede vir toeriste aan Chicago. Die enigmatiese aantrekkingskrag van die vlekvryestaalkunswerk is geleë in die moontlikheid wat dit bied om die ideale foto - juis 'n sogenaamde "selfie" - te neem met die bekende geboue van Chicago weerkaatsend in die agtergrond.

"The Bean" het ook al in verskeie akademiese werke opgeduik as metafoor vir die dinamika geassosieer met teologiese refleksie (Graham 2017:n.p.; Bennet & Rowland 2016:152). Die dinamiese aard van die refleksie wat die vlekvrye staal van die kunswerk bied, word dikwels gesien as uitdrukking van die proses van interpretasie en refleksie -ook aangaande dit wat persoonlik en intiem is. Ek sit dié tradisie in die bydrae voort wanneer ek "The Bean" as metafoor gebruik om (outo)biografies op my (prakties) teologiese skryf-praktyke te reflekteer. Voortspruitend uit onder meer ooreenstemmende perspektiewe vanuit drie onlangse saamgestelde en geredigeerde werke in praktiese teologie deur gesaghebbende outeurs en redakteurs (Miller-McLemore, 2012a; Cahalan & Mikoski; Mecer & Miller-McLemore); beskou ek om die volgende vier redes, dié vertrekpunt, gekarakteriseer as praktiese teologie:

Eerstens, verteenwoordig die reflekterende karakter van die bydrae die sogenaamde "reflexive turn" in praktiese teologie waarvolgens implisiete waardes soos onder meer subjektiwiteit (lees óók outobiografie) en kontekstualiteit erken word (Graham 2017:n.p.).

Tweedens, word die voortgaande, sirkulêre beweging tussen praktyk en teorie in die formulerings van refleksie in dié bydrae weerspieël. Dit sluit goed aan by die ontwikkeling in kontemporêre praktiese teologie wat 'n voortgaande reflekterende spiraalbeweging tussen praktyk en teorie (let wel éérs praktyk en dán teorie) veronderstel (Browning 1991:84; Ganzevoort 2009:n.p.). Ek probeer daarom die refleksie tussen persoonlike fragmente asook die teorie wat deel uitmaak van akademiese skryfwerk, op 'n dinamiese wyse in die bydrae vasvang.

'n Derde is geleë in praktiese teologie se besondere belangstelling in die dieperliggende betekenis van praktyke, waarvan outobiografiese werk 'n belangrike voorbeeld is. Dit is juis in die funksionering van dié praktyke asook die beskrywing daarvan, soos byvoorbeeld in outobiografiese skryfwerk, dat 'n belangrike spirituele dimensie onderskei word (Staude 2005:250).

Vierdens, word die karakter van praktiese teologie ook in hierdie beskrywing verwoord. Ter beskrywing van dié karakter skryf Julian Müller dat praktiese teologie inderdaad handel oor die beskrywing van 'n oriëntasie tot die lewe wat "always concrete, local, and contextual" is (Müller 2009:205). Die Amerikaanse praktiese teoloog, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, skryf in aansluiting hierby dat praktiese teologie fokus op "the tangible, the local, the concrete and the embodied ... it remains grounded in practice and stays close to life" (Miller-McLemore 2012b: 12).

In die neerpen van fragmente van my eie (outo)biografie, gaan ek aansluitend by hierdié twee aanhalings van Julian Müller en Bonnie Miller-McLemore ter verdere strukturering gebruik maak van die drie ooreenstemmende merkers, naamlik plaaslik ("local"), konkreet ("concrete") en beliggaam ("embodied"). In die inkleding van dié drie merkers gaan ek telkens die inhoud vul met (outo)biografiese perspektiewe ter verheldering van die verband met my eie navorsing en skryfwerk. Ek gaan egter ook probeer aantoon dat die drie merkers nie net losstaande van mekaar verstaan moet word nie, maar dat dit ook komplementêr in opbou is.


Plaaslik ("local")

Die semantiese betekenis van die woord "plaaslik", oftewel "local", het volgens my mening 'n sterk geografiese betekeniskomponent wat weer onder meer direk met die begrip kontekstualiteit resoneer. As praktiese teoloog vanuit Afrika eggo klanke, geure en belewenisse vanuit stofstrate, grasdak-hutte, maar ook 'n besige stadskern waarin individue woon, werk en leef na my en spel dit heel persoonlik en uniek: "plaaslik". Dit is juis hiér, plaaslik, waar ek woon en werk, waar my (outo)biografiese (praktiese) teologiese navorsing en skryfwerk gestalte vind:

Ek onthou nog goed die moment in Graad 1 toe ek ontdek het dat my klasonderwyser my naam ken. Die feit dat sy my naam geken het, was vir my tekenend en bevestigend daarvan dat ek betekenis dra. Jare later het dit teenoor my ervaring gestaan waar ek in ander kontekste slegs op my van aangespreek is. Ek het dit meestal as onpersoonlik en selfs degraderend beskou. Tog vreemd dus dat in akademiese skryfwerk daar dikwels na outeurs slegs by wyse van hul vanne verwys word. So asof sy/hy net 'n bron sou wees, sonder 'n naam en bepaalde lokaliteit en konteks met bepaalde betekenis. Juis daarom verkies ek om in dié bydrae, uitgesonder die tradisionele gebruik van verwysings in hakies, na die name en vanne van outeurs te verwys en daardeur te beklemtoon dat dié intieme naam deel van die bydrae vorm van reflekterende woorde wat deur 'n bepaalde persoon aangebied word.

"Cloudgate" is aanvanklik só gedoop op grond van die reflektering van die hemelkoepel vasgevang in die weerkaatsing vanaf die vlekvrye staal oppervlakte (Cloudgate 2020:n.p.). Mettertyd het dié naam van die beeld in die volksmond verander na "The Bean", verwysende na die simplistiese boonvormige karakter van die kunswerk. Dié spontane naamsverandering het inderdaad ook betekenis vir die bydrae, veral gedagtig aan die titel van die artikel, juis veral gedagtig daaraan dat 'n naam óf titel betekenis dra wat identiteit ontsluit.

Die titel van die artikel suggereer reeds 'n sterk (outo)biografiese aksent. In die klem op "weerkaatsende woorde", word op simboliese wyse aangesluit by "The Bean" se kenmerkende reflekterende eienskap. Nou is die klem egter op die insinuasie dat geskrewe woorde 'n spieël word waarin die skrywer se gesig sigbaar word. As ek dan verder doelbewus kies om outobiografies te skryf word woorde intensioneel gebruik om myself aan ander bekend te maak. Hieroor skryf John-Raphael Staude (2005:252) tereg dat:

We all practice the craft of autobiography every day in our inner conversations about the meaning of our experiences and those conversations, no matter what language or metaphor we use, are fundamentally philosophical and theological by their very nature in that they are concerned with meaning and value.

In die subtitel word dié veronderstelde betekenis van refleksie duideliker opgeneem en verbind aan die (outo)biografiese beskrywing met die implisiete nuanse dat 'n openbaring of onthulling gaan plaasvind. Dit is egter opvallend dat "outo"biografiese met hakies om die voorvoegsel (outo) geskryf word. Dit dui op die gespanne verhouding tussen die "eie" en die "biografíese", dus soekend na die verband en sistemiese verweefdheid van 'n eie verhaal met dié van ander (Müller 2011:n.p.).

Die titel dra egter ook 'n aksent van verdere betekeniswaarde naamlik dat dié opgetekende perspektiewe afkomstig is van 'n teoloog, met weereens 'n aanduiding in hakies dat dit 'n "praktiese" teoloog is. Daarin word reeds implisiet verwoord dat die outeur (ekself) van mening is dat alhoewel verskillende akademiese vakgebiede in teologie onderskei word, dat teologie nie primêr as 'n naamwoord gebruik behoort te word nie, maar eerder soos Jurgens Hendriks (2004:24) voorstel, die karakter van 'n werkwoord, wat prakties bedryf word, vergestalt.

Die titel van enige skryfwerk is die "naam " van die navorsing wat dikwels die sleutel word tot die ontsluiting én lees daarvan. Dikwels gaan alleen die formulering van 'n titel, die potensiële navorser in 'n soektog laat besluit om die inhoud wat volg te lees. In die betrokke akademiese skryfwerk hou die aangeduide titel op ten minste drie vlakke verband met die gedokumenteerde navorsing: Dit verteenwoordig sleutelkonsepte wat verken gaan word; dit bied 'n moontlike wyse vir indeksering en gee uitdrukking aan die sentrale vraag wat die navorsing rig. Vir my is 'n titel tot voor finalisering van publikasie hoogstens 'n moontlikheid waaraan voortdurend op die rekenaarskerm getimmer kan word. Aan die formulering word voortdurend geskaaf: bewustelik en aktief voor die rekenaarskerm as die invoegingswyser ongeduldig oor woorde poets, maar ook meer onbewustelik as die ritme van die titel saam met jou deur die ure van die dag en nag gaan en jy gedurigdeur aan dié betekenis proe. So byvoorbeeld, was "weerkaatsende woorde" eers 'n latere toevoeging tot die titel van die artikel en spruit dit uit 'n persoonlike gesprek met 'n predikantvriend. Die kollega het in 'n pastorale gesprek teenoor my gereflekteer oor die betekenis van 2 Korintiërs 3:18 in sy eie lewe en die wyse waarop ons maar net die heerlikheid van die Here weerkaats. Ek het onmiddellik aan die metafoor van weerkaatsing gedink en gewonder op watter wyse die woorde in (outo)biografiese (praktiese) teologiese skryfwerk in wese weerkaatsend van aard is. Dié perspektief het gelei tot die herformulering van die titel van die betrokke bydrae.


Konkreet ("concrete")

Die vlekvrye staal plate van "The Bean" vereis dat dit ten minste twee maal per dag gepoets moet word om die maksimale reflektering te bied (Cloudgate 2020:n.p.). Vir my verteenwoordig akademiese skryfwerk dieselfde opheldering van bepaalde vraagstukke. In aansluiting by die metafoor van "The Bean" wat gepoets moet word, sou ek die vrae wat die skryfwerk rig, wou formuleer aan die hand van die beeld van opheldering. Ek stuur daarom my (outo)biografiese refleksies, en getrou aan aanvaarde akademiese konvensies wat 'n navorsingsvraag vereis, deur eers enkele perspektiewe te bied op die sentrale vraag wat die bydrae rig.

Ek is wel huiwerig om die formulering van 'n navorsingsvraag te benader asof ek besig is met 'n eksakte wetenskap. Ek skram dus weg van die formulering van 'n navorsingsvraag asof navorsing die presiese antwoord daarop gaan bied. Inteendeel, ek is veel gemakliker met beskrywende perspektiewe waarin narratiewe, metafore en assosiatiewe netwerke van betekenis, 'n sentrale rol speel (Müller & Maritz 1998:64).

Met dié oriëntasie in gedagte, maar tog ook sensitief vir die aanvaarde konvensies ten opsigte van akademiese skryfwerk waarin 'n bepaalde probleem geïdentifiseer word, is my soeke in dié bydrae na perspektiewe wat die rol van die mees intieme-persoonlike in akademies-teologiese-, en meer spesifiek prakties-teologiese skryfwerk kan belig. Gedagtig aan die sentrale rol wat die subjektiewe in die "reflexive turn" (Graham 2017:n.p.) speel, is my ondersoek gerig op die rol van die mees persoonlike in die aanbied van akademies-(praktiese)teologiese skryfwerk. In dié soeke na die beskrywing van perspektiewe vir opheldering is die erkenning van die persoonlike register dus belangrik.

Ek vind my inspirasie as (praktiese) teoloog in konkrete kontekste. Dink ek reflekterend terug aan my skryfkamer, is die omtrek daarvan juis groot genoeg om my te sien sit by 'n persoon geaffekteer deur 'n depressiewe gemoed; hoor ek die persone in die gevangenis gereedmaak vir middagete; sien ek hoe 'n chirurg floreer in die spirituele ontdekking van 'n roeping by 'n teatertafel en proe ek hoe iemand besig is om teologie op Twitter te skryf. Dié konkrete, hier lokaal, is my muse; my inspirasie vir die doen van (praktiese) teologie.

In haar bydrae, "Theology in the way we live now: a theopoetics of life writing" (2017), vertrou Heather Walton die leser met die intieme inligting dat sy die laaste paragrawe van haar bydrae by haar kombuistafel skryf. Dit is by dié komsbuistafel waar teologie geleef en gedoen word. Die intimiteit resoneer juis met Kevin Vanhoozer se bydrae dat "Theology is not for Sundays only ... Theology is an everyday affair ... Theology not only articulates beliefs but suggests 'designs for living'" (V anhoozer 2007:7). Dit is juis in dié plaaslike en konkrete ontwerpe waar ek die ruimte vind om ander, maar ook my eie diepe verbintenis tot die lewe te beskryf en daarop te reflekteer. Natuurlik, met die verwagting dat die uitdagende reliëf en kontoere van dié lewe somtyds sorg vir die ruimste horisonne.

My veronderstelling is dat dit juis onder meer daarom is dat Elaine Graham (2017:n.p.) in haar outobiografiese refleksie wys op die beweging en ontwikkeling van praktiese teologie van 'n aanvanklike kerklike toepassingsmodel tot 'n kontekstuele oriëntasie waarin die heilige in die alledaagse nagespoor word (Ganzevoort 2009:n.p.; Ganzevoort & Roeland 2014:n.p.). Ter uitdrukking van dié oriëntasie, en begryplikheidshalwe ook so, is die plaaslike en konkrete konteks, die betekenis van kontekstualiteit, vir my belangrik. Dit is juis in verskillende plaaslike en konkrete kontekste dat die teenwoordigheid van God nagespoor en beskryf kan word. Wanneer die hemel aan die aarde raak, word dus konkreet beliggaam in kontekstuele beskrywings.

"The Bean" is aanvanklik "Cloudgate" gedoop aangesien dit ongeveer 80 persent van die hemelkoepel reflekteer (Cloudgate 2020:n.p.). Alhoewel 'n mens dus op grondvlak is, skep dié kunswerk die illusie dat die hemel aan die aarde raak en dat een werklikheid gekonstrueer word. Na my oordeel is dié waarneming uiters gepas vir my (outo)biografiese verstaan van teologie en, in die besonder ook vir die aard en karakter van (praktiese) teologie.


Beliggaam ("embodied")

"The Bean" sal altyd relevant bly, bloot in terme van dié kunswerk se inherente en dinamiese vermoë om die fluktuering van beelde wat konstant verander te reflekteer. Ek het gewonder in watter mate (outo)biografiese (praktiese) teologiese beskrywings oor dieselfde vermoë beskik deurdat dit die verteller uitdaag om ten diepste betekenisse op so 'n wyse te verwoord en te artikuleer dat dit voortgaande moet kan resoneer met die leefwêreld van die leser.

In dié opsig is die belangstelling in populêre kultuur as ruimte vir prakties- teologiese refleksie inderdaad betekenisvol. Nie net ontwikkel populêre kultuur as gevolg van verskeie faktore, onder meer die invloed van die sogenaamde 4de Industriële Revolusie, teen 'n duiselingwekkende spoed nie, maar skep dit die ruimte vir diepgaande vrae na die bestaan van die mens. Dit is juis in refleksie vanuit hierdie voortgaande kontekstuele verbondenheid en in die soeke na die taal en woorde om juis dít te beskryf, dat (outo)biografiese (praktiese) teologiese skryfwerk relevansie aan lesers bied.

Van die jongste ontwikkelings in praktiese teologie poog juis om hierin 'n bydrae te lewer. Voorbeelde hiervan is hoe die verhale van gewone mense op skrif gestel word om juis daardeur 'n sogaamde teologie van onder te skryf. Hieroor skryf Adriaan van Klinken (2018:216):

Storytelling is not only a method for developing a culturally relevant theology, but it is also political significant as it allows foregrounding the perspectives and experiences of people and communities who otherwise do not become part of the theological discourse, granting them an epistemological privilege.

Met (outo)biografiese (praktiese) teologiese skryfwerk is daar na my mening 'n sterk soeke na die verbinding met die inhoud van betekenisvolle akademiese refleksie vir 'n eie lewe, maar waarin veral betekenis gevind word in die verbintenis met ander lewens.

Ek word dikwels deur nie-professionele teoloë gevra waaroor my navorsing gaan. Vertel ek dan aan die individue waarmee ek besig is, kan ek dikwels sien hoe hulle onseker wonder - dikwels sonder om dit openlik te sê - wat die betekenis of doel van dié werk nou eintlik is. Aanvanklik het ek dit doelbewus begin sien as 'n uitdaging om my navorsing se relevansie te toets aan hoe ander daarop reageer. Die afgelope tyd, het ek egter begin om vir mense - binne, maar ook buite die kerk - te vra waaroor hulle dink ek navorsing behoort te doen. In 'n oomblik se tyd het ek in dié antwoorde van kenners - oënskynlik hoe vreemd ook al - dinamiese refleksie begin ontdek en sien oor die moontlike relevante beliggaming van wat teologie vir mense op voetsoolvlak beteken.

Die argitek van "The Bean", Anish Kapoor, het met dié ontwerp 'n bepaalde kreatiwiteit beliggaam ten opsigte van die funksie van dié beeld (Cloudgate 2020:n.p.). Hierin word die bekende argitektoniese beginsel "form follows function" ondermeer beliggaam. Ek het egter ' n vermoede dat teologiese skryfwerk somtyds nog die gevaar loop om uitdrukking te gee aan die teenoorgestelde en uitgediende beginsel van "function follows form". Hiervolgens sou navorsing aangebied kon word binne bepaalde bestaande denkraamwerke, maar sonder om te verstaan wat die funksie daarvan is en of dit enige verandering gaan fasiliteer. Juis daarom is Heather Walton van oortuiging dat "artistic creativity does not supplement the theological enterprise it also deconstructs and fundamentally undermines its authority" (Walton 2017: 3).

In die passing van dié outobiografiese beskrywings sou ander vorme soos byvoorbeeld outo-etnografie of sogenaamde "life-writing" (Moschella 2012:224; Walton 2017:2) ook 'n rol kon speel, maar ek verkies (outo)biografie omdat dit in die eerste plek die subjektief-persoonlike beklemtoon en tweedens omdat dit die karakter van prosaïese vertelling van 'n betrokke lewensverhaal vergestalt (Anderson 2014). Dié perspektiewe was na alle waarskynlikheid ook sentraal in die motivering van ander outobiografies-teologiese werke (Jonker 1998; Moltmann 2009). In die konstruering van outobiografie gaan dit juis oor die self-dialoog wat die individu (ék met myself) voer oor gebeure in die verlede ter wille van die beter verstaan met betrekking tot die hede en die toekoms. "Autobiography is defined as 'a dialogue of the self with the self in the present about the past for the sake of self-understanding" (Staude 2004:249).

Die intieme beliggaming van die plaaslike met die konkrete kan onder meer in die beliggaming van die lewe en werk van Anton Boisen gesien word wat as gevolg van sy eie psigiatriese siekte gehospitaliseer is en op grond van dié ervaring later instrumenteel was in die ontwikkeling van die sogenaamde Clinical Pastoral Education-beweging wat tot vandag wêreldwyd 'n onskatbare bydrae lewer in pastorale versorging (Boisen 1960:7). Dit is in die besonder betekenisvol dat Anton Boisen in sy werk waarskynlik van die eerste bydraes gebied het in die vestiging van narratief-outobiografiese teologie met onder meer die munting van die metafoor "living human documents" (Boisen 1960; Gerkin 1984).

Juis hierom skryf John-Raphael Staude (2005:265) dat: "Autobiography represents a form of creativity ..." In die navolging van vorige pogings van andere en in my voortgaande projek van die skryf van (outo)biografiese (praktiese) teologie, val dit my op dat in bestaande ontwerpe en skryf-pogings, die leesbaarheid - net soos die ontwerp van "The Bean" - gekenmerk word deur 'n toeganklikheid geleë in eenvoud. Moontlik is die rede daarvoor dat in die eenvoud van die optekening van ' n eie lewensverhaal, dit wat mees persoonlik is, juis ook mees algemeen met ander resoneer. Juis daarom word outobiografiese teologie die beliggaming van "... transforming the way in which theology is written and understood" (Walton 2017:2).

In dié aspek van beliggaming bied "The Bean" in terme van 'n plaaslike, konkrete, maar ook beliggaamde uitdrukking van praktiese teologie, 'n bepaalde perspektief. "The Bean" is van vlekvrye staal gebou. Dit is juis in dié keuse van konstruksiemateriaal dat die eiesoortige effek van refleksie gevind word. In die weerkaatsende oppervlak van die vlekvrye staal word dinamiese beelde vasgevang wat afhangend van die tyd van die dag, lig, donkerte en skemerte verskillende projeksies van reflektering bied. Sentraal tot die karakter van die teologiese wetenskap en taal is die soeke om deur letters, woorde en sinne waarhede oor God te probeer formuleer, reflekteer en weerkaats (Migliore 1991:2). In aansluiting hierby erken ek aan die hand van 'n (outo)biografiese perspektief die sosiaal konstruksionistiese aard van taal asook die gegewe dat ek my eie werklikheid deur my eie tongval skep en beliggaam. Net soos wat my eie fotobeeld in "The Bean" se refleksie van Chicago stad as agtergrond vasgevang en weerkaats word, reflekteer ek in die woorde en aksente wat ek kies - bewustelik en onbewustelik - fragmente vanuit my eie verhaal. Dikwels word my eie verstaan dan selfs in oënskynlike onbewuste momente vasgevang in my eie formulerings. Dié fragmente is implisiet sigbaar en teenwoordig in die formulerings wat opgeneem word in die artikel, maar ook eksplisiet in kort refleksies vanuit my eie lewe wat in kursiewe ingekeepte formaat aangedui word. Dit word egter verder beliggaam, op plaaslike en konkrete wyse deur die die keuse van die gebruik van outobiografie as genre. Dit weer word niks anders as geleefde praktiese teologie nie. Daarom kan Elaine Graham (20017:n.p) dan ook skryf:

It is not about reducing practical theology to autobiography but seeing how our standpoints and concerns have informed our intellectual and academic interests, and vice versa. In the interests of integrity and transparency, the self as researcher as one who brings particular presuppositions, questions and interests, must be prepared to write themselves into the text of their research.

Dit is juis in dié outobiografiese beliggaming dat die soeke na integriteit en deursigtigheid die sogenaamde "pastoral cycle" in momente van refleksie lokaal, konkreet en beliggaam aanbied. Daarom skryf Pete Ward (2017: 115): "Reflection should arise from, and have a location in, what is happening. In other words, the key to developing theological reflection is found not in following a method but in practice itself." Die Suid-Afrikaanse praktiese teoloog, Julian Müller, het na alle waarskynlikheid die meeste vir die beliggaming van dié praktyk van outobiografiese teologie binne 'n eie plaaslike en konkrete konteks gedoen. Behalwe die opteken van momente vanuit sy eie lewensverhaal, reflekteer hy ook vanuit 'n akademiese omgewing op die ontwikkeling van narratiewe teologie tot die vestiging van outobiografiese teologie. Met "story theology" of "theology of life" kom Julian Müller (2011:2) dan tot die volgende gevolgtrekking: "Ek kon veral ook ontdek dat my teologie eenvoudig deel van my lewensstorie is. Dit was 'n ontdekking van die verhouding tussen outobiografie en teologie ..." (Müller 2011: 2).



"I thought I knew myself until I began writing about myself (Johnson 2003:227).

Alhoewel ek ongelukkig nog nie die voorreg gehad het om in Chicago "The Bean" te kon besigtig nie en dit dus onbekende terrein vir my is, sal ek dié besienswaardigheid graag eendag wil besoek. In my refleksie met die stad se profiel agter my vasgevang, sal ek dan terugdink aan hierdie opgetekende woorde as deel van ' n (praktiese) teoloog se voortgaande (outo)biografie. Dié beskrywing is egter nie bedoel om staties gedokumenteerd te wees nie. Daarom kontrasteer skrywers soos Elaine Graham (2017:n.p) juis die dinamies, lewende en reflekterende beelde van "The Bean" met die statiese gevangeneming van die Narcissus beeld in die bekende skildery van Caravaggio. John-Raphael Staude (2005:252) som dié voortgaande dinamika treffend op wanneer hy skryf: "Autobiographical consciousness is prospective as much as it is retrospective. The self of the autobiographer exists as something unfinished, full of potentiality, always overflowing the actuality". In dié voortgaande en dinamiese (outo)biografiese refleksie op my lewe as (praktiese) teoloog, veral juis ook nou lokaal, konkreet en beliggaam in 'n Covid-19 grendeltyd, vra dat ek "... remains grounded in practice and stays close to life" (Miller-McLemore 2012b:12). Juis dít en die invloed daarvan op elkeen se lewe, is vir my bepalend van hoe teologie en outo(biografie) bedryf, máár veral geleef behoort te word. Moontlik is dít een van die redes, gedagtig aan die woorde van Johnson aan die begin van dié Terugskouende-perspektief, waarom ek myself eers begin leer ken, namate ek ook oor myself begin skryf ...



Anderson, L. 2014. Autobiography. London: Routledge.         [ Links ]

Bennet, Z. & Rowland, C. 2016. In a glass darkly: The Bible, reflection and everyday life. London: SCM.         [ Links ]

Boisen, A.T. 1960. Out of the depths. An autobiographical study of mental disorder and religious experience. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.         [ Links ]

Browning, D.S. 1991. A fundamental practical theology. Descriptive and strategic proposals. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.         [ Links ]

Cahalan, K.A. & Mikoski, G.S. 2014. Opening the field of practical theology, an introduction. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.         [ Links ]

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Cloudgate. 2020. Millennium Park Foundation. Online: (Accessed 28 February 2020).         [ Links ]

Ganzevoort, R.R. 2009. Forks in the road when tracing the sacred, Practical theology as hermeneutics of lived religion. Presidential address to the ninth conference of the International Academy of Practical Theology, Chicago 3 August 2009. Online: (Accessed 10 April 2010).         [ Links ]

Ganzevoort, R.R. & Roeland, J. 2014. Lived religion: The praxis of practical theology, International Journal of Practical Theology 18(1), 91-101. Online: (Accessed: 4 September 2015).         [ Links ]

Gerkin, C.V. 1984. The Living Human Document: Re-Visioning Pastoral Counselling in a Hermeneutical Mode. Nashville: Abingdon Press.         [ Links ]

Graham, E.L. 2017. On becoming a practical theologian: Past, present and future tenses. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 73(4), a4634. (Accessed: 31 July 2018).         [ Links ]

Hendriks, H.J. 2004. Studying congregations in Africa. Wellington:Lux Verbi BM.         [ Links ]

Jonker W.D.1998. Selfs die kerk kan verander. Kaapstad: Tafelberg.         [ Links ]

Johnson, R.R. 2003. Autobiography and transformative learning. Narrative in search of self. Journal of Transformative Education. 1(3):227-224.         [ Links ]

Mecer J.A. & B.J. Miller-McLemore, 2016, Conundrums in practical theology, Brill, Boston.         [ Links ]

Migliore, D.L. 1991. Faith seeking understanding: An introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.         [ Links ]

Miller-McLemore, B.J., 2012a, 'The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology', Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.         [ Links ]

Miller-McLemore, B.J. 2012b. Introduction: The contributions of practical theology. In Miller-McLemore, B.J. (ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1-20.         [ Links ]

Moltmann, J. 2009. A broad place. An autobiography. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.         [ Links ]

Moschella, M.C. 2012. Etnography. In Miller-McLemore, B.J. (ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 224-233.         [ Links ]

Müller, J.C. 2009. Transversal rationality as a practical way of doing interdisciplinary work, with HIV and Aids as a case study. Practical Theology in South Africa 24(2), 199-228.         [ Links ]

Müller, J.C. 2011. '(Outo)biografie as teologie\is_ HTS Teologiese Studies/ Theological Studies 67(3), Art. #1113, 5 pages.         [ Links ]

Müller, J. C. & Maritz, B. 1998. Die waarde van metafore binne die hermeneuties- pastorale sisteem. Praktiese Teologie in Suid-Afrika. 13(1):64-71.         [ Links ]

Staude, J.R. 2005. Autobiography as a spiritual practice. Journal of Gerontological Social Work 45(3):249-269.         [ Links ]

Van Klinken, A. 2018. Autobiographical Storytelling and African Narrative Queer Theology. Exchange 47:211-229.         [ Links ]

Vanhoozer, K.J. 2007. What is everyday theology? How and why Christians should read culture. In Vanhoozer, K.J., Anderson, C.A. & Sleasman, M.J. (eds.), Everyday theology: How to read cultural texts and interpret cultural trends. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 15-60.         [ Links ]

Walton, H. 2017. Theology in the way we live now: a theopoetics of life writing. Concilium 5:1-9.         [ Links ]

Ward, P. 2017. Introducing practical theology: Mission, ministry and the life of the church. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic.         [ Links ]



1 Departement Praktiese en Missionale Teologie, Fakulteit Teologie en Religie, Universiteit van die Vrystaat E-pos:

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Still plausible and intelligible? Towards a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology for today



J.M. Vorster

Faculty of Theology North-West University




This article focusses on the question of whether a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology, founded in the classic reformed tradition, can still be regarded as plausible and intelligible for doing theology and applying Christian ethics today. The central theoretical argument of the discussion is that a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology in the abovementioned sense can still be plausible and intelligible under specific conditions. First and foremost: Scripture should be seen as the written revelation (Word) of God, inspired by the Spirit of God, and as more than just an ancient text. This inspiration can be termed "organic inspiration" because the Spirit inspired and used humans, within their cultural and socio-historical contexts, their spiritual experiences, languages and expectations to write the texts. Approaching Scripture from this premise, interpreters shouldfor understanding the text, read the text using the modern tools of lexicography and deal thoroughly with the cultural and socio-historical contexts of the ancient authors and the implications thereof. In this process, interpreters must be aware of the fact that they approach Scripture with various forms of pre-understanding and should deal with these by way of the tools of the hermeneutical circle. Passages in Scripture must be analysed and interpreted in light of the wholeness of Scripture and its congruent biblical theology. Furthermore, a "hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology" can add value to biblical studies and new theological knowledge by considering findings in modern literary theories as long as these do not disregard the belief that Scripture is the inspired authoritative written Word of God. Lastly, a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology must function within the ambit of the Reformed dictum of "semper reformanda" - the quest for continuous revisiting and reevaluation of the findings of biblical interpretation in the course of history.

Keywords: Hermeneutics; Revelation; Congruent theology; Hermeneutical circle; Pre-understanding; Inspiration of Scripture; Organic inspiration; Semper - reformanda.




The principles of biblical interpretation as they were developed in the classical Reformed tradition are, since the emergence of the science of theological hermeneutics, under serious review. The late nineteenth-century schools of historical criticism (see Barton 1998:9), literary criticism (see Jasper 1998:21) and form criticism (see Bultmann 1967) were the first to question the positivist approach to the interpretation of the biblical text in the history of Christian theology (see Van der Walt 1962; Berkouwer and Van der Woude 1969). These were followed by challenges posed to biblical hermeneutics by the radical liberal theology of secularism and the death of God proposed by Vahanian (1961), Cox (1965), Altizer (1966), and Hamilton (1966) and the contextualism of liberation theologies (Fierro 1977). Contemporary hermeneutical theories, inspired by theorists such as Gadamer (1975), Ricoeur (1981a; 1981b) and Derrida (1997; 2004), make a case for the ambiguousness of any notion of objectivity in the pursuance of truth either by claiming the existence of an "objective truth" or the neutrality of either the ancient author or the modern reader. Some of the new literary theories propose a deconstruction of the text on the grounds that the text does not mean what it appears to mean and nothing ultimately means what it first seems to say. When reading the biblical text as an ancient text, the reader must be aware of the fact that the biblical text is an interpretation of an interpretation and must therefore approach it with a sense of suspicion (hermeneutics of suspicion)1. These hermeneutical theories inspired biblical scientists to apply various new literary theories to the interpretation of the biblical text and to question traditional doctrines about the notion of "biblical truth" and the divine authority and inspiration of Scripture.

Tracy (1994:302) is correct when he says that "The influence of literary criticism and literary theory on Christian theologies has become a major factor in any reasonable interpretation or assessment of theology today". Furthermore, these developments in hermeneutical theories in modern theology cast a shadow over the principles of biblical interpretation as they were entertained in the classic Reformed tradition with its emphasis on the idea of God's revelation in Scripture. The Reformation's hermeneutic can be termed "hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology", although many theologians in the Reformed tradition have set aside classic Reformed principles and endeavoured to design new theories on how the ancient biblical text should function in the current post-secular and post-modern paradigm. In view of modern hermeneutical theories, the hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology is suspected of entertaining a "naïve realistic"2 approach to Scripture and of being "fundamentalist"3 and "biblicist"4 and is regarded by many as no longer plausible and intelligible for doing responsible theology.

This article focusses on the question of whether a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology, modelled on the basic trajectories of classic reformed tradition, can still be regarded as plausible and intelligible for doing theology and applying Christian ethics today. The central theoretical argument of the discussion is that a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology is still plausible and intelligible under specific conditions. My argument rests on the confessional premise that theology is not possible if we discard the notion of God's self-revelation through Scripture. The structure of the article will unfold as follows: The first section, explains the knowledge of God and the role of the written word in the Reformed tradition. The second section, argues that the hermeneutical principles flow from the knowledge of God and affirm a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology, and the last section, will postulate the findings and offer an answer to the research question above.


The knowledge of God

The classic Reformed creeds commence with a confession that God exists. They resonate the three ecumenical creeds of early Christianity, which bear witness of belief in the existence of the triune God. The existence of God cannot be proved by way of philosophical reasoning, as in the Aristotelian view of the "initial mover" or the modern concept of "intelligent design". The existence of God is a matter of belief, and Christian faith stems from this axiom. Modernism, with its high regard for a positivist approach to scientific research, rejected the validity of any axiomatic foundations for epistemology. This idea is still present at many universities which regard theology as below reason and pseudo-science, with no place in academic scholarship.5 However, the authority of reason and the notion that theology is below reason are gradually becoming less accepted in current academic research. This development is due to the influence of Kuhn's account of paradigms in doing science and the devaluation of the dominance of reason in science and "scientific methods" by post-modernism (see Kuhn 1970; Foucault 1970; Lyotard 1991). This development reinvigorates the plausibility of axiomatic angles of approach in scientific research when they are scientifically agreed upon in a ruling paradigm. The post-modern (post-positivist) view of science thus provides space for doing theology on the foundation of the Reformed creeds' axiom about the existence of God. The academic use of this axiom is thus plausible.

Calvin (Inst. 1:2:1:7) founded his theology on the conviction that God exists and that humans can know God. The perfect knowledge of God was a creational gift, implanted in the human mind, but was distorted and corrupted by sin. However, every human being still "has a seed of religion, divinely sown in all" (Calvin Inst. I:4:1:12). This seed of religion brings about the light of reason and a moral sense in every human being (lex naturalis) that is sufficient to prevent humankind and society from falling into total chaos (Calvin II:2:13:166).6 But the light of reason and the seed of religion are not enough to reconcile humankind with God. Reconciliation can only occur by way of atonement founded in Christ. As an act of free grace, God reveals this knowledge in Scripture. Scripture is God's special revelation. The Reformed creeds7 utilized Calvin's idea of the duplex cognito Dei, that is God's general revelation in the "book of nature" and his particular revelation in "the written word" (Scripture). The Belgic Confession testifies in Article 2:

We know Him by two means: first, by creation, preservation, and government of the universe; (Ps. 19:2; Eph.4:6) which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his internal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul sayeth (Rom. 1:20). All things which are sufficient to convince men and to leave them without excuse. Secondly, He makes Himself more clearly and more fully known to us by his holy and divine Word (Ps. 19:8; 1 Cor. 12:6), that is to say, as far as it is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation." (see also Heid. Cat. Q/A 122; Canons of Dort, Head III and IV, arts. 6 and 7; Westminster Confession of Faith, I:1 and the Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 2 and the references to Scripture in these statements.)

The creeds then proceed with an explanation of the history, character, purpose and inspiration of the "written word" (Scripture).


God's revelation in Scripture

The creeds concur that Scripture was inspired by the Spirit of God and written by humans. God has spoken through the prophets and apostles in ancient times and still speaks to us today through the Holy Scriptures (Belgic Confession: art 3; Second Helvetic Confession God inspired people within ancient cultural and social contexts to write down his revelation in their own styles and languages with the purpose of speaking to the people of God in a certain time and context about the creation and recreation of his reign (kingdom) and its relevance for humankind. Scripture, containing the sixty-six canonical books, is an ancient text in the sense that people wrote the texts in a certain time and place, but it is more than any other ancient text because it was inspired by the Spirit of God (theopneustie).

Word and Spirit are inextricably linked in Reformed Theology. The Word of God can never be detached from the Spirit of God. The Word alone is unable to correspond to the riches and the mysteries of God. It is the Spirit which first enables people to speak from, and to God. Without the Spirit, human beings do not get the power of faith and the language of faith. The word without the Spirit is weak and becomes fossilised, leaving humans with uncertainty. Without the Spirit, the word is an outdated book or, in the words of Barth (1978:525), a "paper pope". Only by and through the Spirit does the Word become powerful enough to overcome the uncertainty, according to Welker's (1996:77) defence of the close connection of Word and Spirit and his proposition of a realistic theology of the Spirit for the contemporary world.

The idea of the divine inspiration of the biblical text has been thoroughly researched in Reformed theology since the late nineteenth century in reaction to the rationalism and Positivism of the Enlightenment and the emergence of classical theological liberalism. The Dutch systematic theologian Bavinck (1928:357) explained, in that era, that the biblical text itself claims divine inspiration, and he constructs his argument on various biblical material in both the Old and the New Testament. He claims that the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture is the oldest and most widely accepted doctrine in the Christian tradition. Welker (1994:276) contends that, without the divine inspiration, Scripture would be only a library of human wisdom and ideas. The acceptance of the divine inspiration of Scripture determines its interpretation. However, ideas about the character of this inspiration moved into various patterns of reasoning (Kärkkäinen 2019:17). Very influential was the dictation theory of Orthodox Reformed theology that defended the idea of "verbal inspiration", which entails that not only the general intent of Scripture, but the words of the biblical authors were thought to be directly inspired and dictated by God's Spirit. This theory was also labelled as a view of "mechanical inspiration", as if the biblical authors were no more than automations, instruments of the Spirit without any contextual influences from their environment (Van der Kooi and Van den Brink 2017:538). The idea of "verbal inspiration" became highly influential in the development of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism in the twentieth century as well as in neo-Calvinism in the Netherlands and South Africa; this resulted in questionable ecclesiastical customs and moral stances due to the use of mere "proof texts" (loca probantia). The South African biblical scientist, Deist (1994:322) typified this approach as "naïve realism", which was in his view responsible for the biblical justification of the political structure of Apartheid in South Africa. Over and against this theory in Orthodox Reformed theology, Bavinck (1929:402) made a case for the theory of "organic inspiration", which means that God is the auctor primarius, who inspired the authors as the auctors secundarii and used their contexts, reasoning, emotional conditions, styles and personalities to write down God's revelation. Recently, Kärkkäinen (2019:18) defended this theory by speaking of "divine-human synergy", an outlook: "...where the humanity of the biblical writers is not set aside, but confirmed" (Kärkkäinen 2019:18).

The authors were children of their time and their writings bear the stamp of their time (Peels 1996:53). The angle of approach in this research is the view of "organic inspiration" as the theory is argued by Bavinck and held by the above-mentioned expositors.

Closely related to the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture is the confession of the self-convincing authority of Scripture (Autopistia) due to the testimony of the Spirit (Belgic Confession, art. 5; Second Helvetic Confession II; Westminster Confession of Faith I, 4-6; Canons of Dort III and IV, 13-14). This pre-modern idea was criticised in the age of modernism with its positivist view of science, which claims that science cannot depend on unchanging and self-convincing truths. However, the recent research of the Dutch theologian, Van der Belt (2006:324) about the concept autopistia indicates that the contemporary post-modern paradigm is more open to such an idea, because the validity of an idea depends on the scientific agreement in a ruling paradigm and not on the notion of "objective" rational proof as modernism claimed. Postmodernism rejects the idea of authoritative, objective principia of science. Van der Belt (2006:324) therefore argues that:

The idea that we do not believe the Scriptures on account of the church or of logical demonstration by professional theologians, but because we are personally convinced by the text of Scripture itself, fastens upon the feeling that truth is something personal and that the only reason to believe the Scriptures lies in the personal conviction that they are true.

The concept autopistia, as it is confessed in Reformed theology, can thus also be regarded today as a plausible angle of approach in biblical interpretation.

Another very important determinant for a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology in the classic Reformed creeds is the acceptance of the "consent of the parts" in Scripture. Q/A 4 of the Westminster Larger Catechism reads, inter alia, as follows:

The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty (Hos. 8:12; 1 Cor. 2:6-7, 13; Ps. 119:18, 129) and purity (Ps. 12:6; 119:140;, by the consent of all the parts (Acts 10:43; 26:22), and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God (Rom. 3:19; 27)...

Scripture is thus not an inconsistent compendium of independent narratives that take place in various periods and situations. Irrespective of historical and chronological differences in the dating of biblical texts and contrasting and even contradictory historical facts, there is still a "consent of the parts" pointing to a theological unity. This theological unity has been described by various Reformed scholars with different concepts, such as "heilsgeschicte" (salvation history), biblical theology, covenant history, and revelation history (see, for example, Cullman 1948:147; Barth 1961:136; Reuman 2005:833; Ciampa 2007:254). Barton (1997:152) contends that the canonical books of Scripture should be read as "chapters in a single work" and that the Old and New Testaments are congruent. Kelsey (2009:154ff) discusses the view of the wholeness of Scripture in depth and agrees with Barton but, with certain pre-conditions. He utilises the concept of "canonical holy Scripture" and concludes that Scripture contains a "canon-unifying narrative" (Kelsey 2009:477). Some scholars in the Reformed theological paradigm argue that the wholeness (theology, harmony, congruence, unity) of Scripture becomes clear in the overarching theme of the reign (kingdom) of God. Scripture reveals in different narratives, prophecies, wisdom expressions and cultic experiences God's reign and his intention to renew creation by way of redemption (Christology) and regeneration (Holy Spirit). The idea of the constant reign of God in communion with people constitutes, according to Vriezen (1966:146), the unity of the theology of the Old Testament. The reign of God is also the basic message of the New Testament (Van der Walt 1962:37). Within this overarching theme, various theological themes such as, among others, reconciliation, life, liberation, communion, love, and holiness can be discerned and outlined. This harmonious wholeness makes the study of biblical systematic theology possible. For this reason, I choose the concept of hermeneutic of congruent theology as an expression of what the hermeneutics of the classic Reformed tradition entails. This approach to scripture means that the part should always be understood within the framework of the whole, and the exegete should be extremely cautious to single out isolated parts of the text and to phrase them into doctrines or moral codes applicable to all times and situations. The congruent theology determines the validity of doctrines and moral norms.

The theological foundation for a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology can be summarised in the following statements:

Scripture is the written revelation of God and is a holy text.

Scripture is inspired by the Spirit of God and is more than just a collection of ancient texts.

Scripture came into being by a divine-human interaction and is authoritative for faith and life.

Scripture originated within different linguistic and literary contexts and contains multiple literary genres.

Scripture is theologically congruent, irrespective of chronological and historical differences and contradictions that may occur in the text.

Scripture reveals the reality of the renewing reign of God and its implications for the renewal of his creation.

These fundamental beliefs constitute the pre-conditions for a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology and flow into a certain hermeneutical approach which will be outlined in the next section.


Guiding principles for interpretation in a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology

Six guiding principles can be formulated from the fundamental beliefs mentioned above. These guiding principles can guide a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology. These are as follows:

Dealing with the reality of pre-understanding

Research does not take place in a void. Researchers are influenced by their presuppositions which on their part are paradigm driven. This is also the case with biblical interpretation. No reader approaches the Scripture without some form of pre-understanding (Vorverständnis). Spykman (1995:121) explains that the self is always involved in the process of interpretation. Exegetes can never escape themselves or turn themselves off. They all approach Scripture with a sense of anticipation. In studying Scripture, they all wear "glasses" of one kind or another. The "glasses" can be the influence of their cultural contexts, social positions, education, and other forming and influencing factors that determine the paradigm of the reader. The "glasses" can be belief systems, theology, and ideology. Osborne (2006:29) also emphasises the pertinent role of the reader's context because readers often wish to harmonise the text with their belief systems and see its meaning in light of their own respective preconceived theological systems. The theological and ecclesiastical tradition of the reader brings about a certain expectation of what the text may reveal. Osborne (2006:29) then continues to say: "The problem is that our pre-understanding too easily becomes prejudice, a set of a priories that place a grid over Scripture and make it conform to these preconceived conceptions." The claim of a hermeneutic of congruent theology, that Scripture is the written Word of God and that it is organically inspired by the Spirit, is itself a pre-supposition that drives certain forms of pre-understanding in the process of interpretation of Scripture.

The question arises: Suppose that readers of the biblical text do their readings from the premise of their respective pre-suppositions, would it then not be a foregone conclusion that they are all left in a hopeless sea of subjectivity? This will indeed be the case if interpreters do not recognise their pre-understandings and deal with them. Subjectivity can be dealt with as long as the interpreters acknowledge and deal with pre-understanding by using the tools of the hermeneutical circle which entails the confirmation of pre-suppositions and the willingness to challenge them (see Osborne 2006:407; Grondin 2017:299-305). Therefore, readers of Scripture should be aware that their understanding of the text is influenced by a pre-understanding because of their respective paradigms, and they ought to deal with this reality. In this respect, three steps are important in the process of interpretation. Firstly, readers can acknowledge the existence of their pre-understanding, identify their pre-suppositions and affirm them in the process of deeper understanding. Secondly, as Gadamer (1975:258ff) proposes, interpreters can, from the angle of their respective contexts and pre-understandings, ask questions of the text. In this way, the thought world of the text opens itself up, and the dialogue that follows, reshapes the questions of the interpreter. A "fusion of horizons" (the horizon of the reader and the horizon of the text) emerges and flows into a valid interpretation. Thirdly, the findings of other readings driven by the pre-suppositions of other paradigms could be perused and compared with one's own, because biblical interpretation is a collective and ecumenical endeavour, as we are reminded by the apostle Paul in Eph. 3:16-19.8 Furthermore, the universal basis of language brings readers closer to each other. Other interpretations of readers driven by other paradigms, but dealing with the same text, can become a corrective of our own reading and interpretation, and in this way the influence of pre-understanding can be managed. In sum, the tools of the hermeneutical circle should be utilised in dealing with pre-understanding. These are as follows: affirm the pre-understanding, do the reading, compare the interpretation with other paradigm-driven interpretations and then revisit, and if necessary, rectify the determinants of the own pre-understanding.

Dealing with the literary genres in the biblical text

The revelation of God in the written word was written down not only by several authors but also in different several genres. He spoke to people in historical narratives, by way of people's experiences in the psalms and expressions of truth and wisdom, by way of symbols and metaphors, in prophecies, and by way of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. The text of Scripture consists thus of various literary genres. Each literary genre of the biblical text poses its own challenges to the reader. Narratives, wisdom literature, prophecies, epistles, and symbolic images and expressions require different tools of interpretation (Ricoeur 1981b: chapter 3). They may be studied with literary interest in their genres, the structure of their compositions, the devices and force of their rhetoric, and the way in which they arrive at their respective answers (Kelsey 2009:135). Osborne (2006:181-343) proposes a comprehensive, thorough, and well-argued genre analysis and the implications of the various genres for their respective interpretations. To neglect the challenges posed by a genre can lead to erroneous interpretations and findings. For example, in the narrative genre, a description of a certain situation or cultural custom cannot be elevated to a prescription. Descriptions of the way of life of a patriarchal family and a polygamous marriage cannot be translated into an ethical principle condoning and advocating patriarchy and polygamy. Descriptions of capital punishments for various transgressions in ancient Israel cannot be interpreted as being prescriptions for the biblical sanctioning of capital punishment. The deeper spiritual experience of an author should not be proposed as normative for spirituality today, and customs in families and other relationships in antiquity cannot be prescribed as examples for family life and relationships today. Turning descriptions into prescriptions led to many questionable moral codes that influenced the moral life of Christians in the history of Reformed ethics, such as the inferiority of women, the defence of slavery, and the endorsement of violence as a way to solve problems and serve a good end. The reader ought to use the tools required by every genre to excavate the deeper meaning and message within the scope of the whole. In this respect, the acknowledgement of the congruence of biblical theology is important because it can serve as the tool for distinguishing between prescriptive and descriptive material in Scripture. For example, certain isolated parts of the biblical texts refer to the inferiority of women or the legitimacy of violence but, interpreted within the context of congruent theology, such conclusions will not be valid. To understand what the Bible teaches about the status of women or about human relations, the congruence of biblical theology must shed light on individual passages dealing with these issues in order to understand what is prescriptive and what is merely descriptive.

Dealing with a grammatical analysis of the text within the context

Gadamer (1975:258ff) reminds us that the connecting point of the authors of the biblical text and the readers of the text through the centuries is in the end the universal text. The universal text brings authors, readers, and Christian traditions in the same space, and the art of good and sound exegesis therefore remains the foundation of responsible theology. This article will not discuss the whole process of exegesis; it will discuss only the focal points flowing from a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology. First, of all, the text under scrutiny can be established by way of the tools of the science of text-criticism and redaction criticism. Secondly, the grammatical structure has to be analysed within the historical context, and the meaning of the unit of thought in the text can be excavated by using the tools of lexicography (Van der Belt 2006:328). (For a thorough explanation of the other rules of exegesis see Peels 1996:52-92; Silva 1996:197-286; Osborne 2006:35180). Thirdly, the passage can be collated into what Kelsey (2009:458-477) epitomises as the "wholeness" of Scripture. The relation "part" and "whole" is fundamental in a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology and will be briefly explained in the following paragraph.

Dealing with the harmony of the text with the congruent theology of Scripture

One of the principles of the reformed doctrine of Scripture mentioned above is that the revelation in Scripture is theologically congruent, irrespective of chronological and historical differences and contradictions that may occur in the text. This principle implies that grammatical analysis can be complemented by the theological interpretation of Scripture. Van der Kooi and Van den Brink (2012:554) indicate, with reference to various exponents of this idea, that this approach has again become a productive movement in the contemporary hermeneutical discourse. The "part" (passage in the biblical text) can thus be illumined by the "whole" (the congruent biblical theology). This principle has important implications for the process of interpretation. Firstly, the principle entails that Scripture can be regarded as its own interpreter (Scriptura Scripturae interpres) and enables the reader to approach difficult passages from the passages in which meaning is obvious. Secondly, the principle determines the necessity of the interpreter to distinguish between the centre of the revelation and the periphery. In dealing with Scripture, the reader ought to ask the following question: What are the essential teachings of Scripture that are a sine qua non for salvation, faith and life, and what are non-essentials (adiaphora) that are time bound or mere guidelines for a particular situation or a certain way of life. On the one hand, these directives protect the reader against a total secularisation of Scripture and, on the other hand, against "biblicism", which was defined earlier in this article. A hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology still holds these two directives in high esteem although they were sometimes neglected by some reformed traditions in South Africa when they resorted to forms of "biblicism". In this respect, one can refer to the defence of Apartheid theology, the exclusion of women for ordination in ecclesiastical offices and the forming of erroneous biblical-ethical norms for marriage, family, and sexuality. In all these cases, theological points of view, ecclesiastical practices and ethical norms were shaped on the foundation of certain passages taken out of the context of congruent theology and given a prescriptive status of their own.

Dealing with the principle of Semper Reformanda

One of the well-known sola's of the Reformed tradition is sola scriptura. This dictum typifies the centrality of Scripture as the inspired written Word of God and the only rule of faith and life in Reformed thinking. No human ideas (be they philosophy, ideology, papal claims, resolution of ecclesiastical councils or synods or creeds and confessions) can be equated with the authority of Scripture in this tradition. The Reformers, their contemporaries, and their followers through the ages proclaimed that Church, theology, worship, and Christian faith and life must adhere to the teachings of Scripture. To do this and keep on doing this, Scripture needs to be continually investigated with all the valid hermeneutical tools available for the reader. Closely related to this dictum is the saying in this tradition: ecclesia reformata semper reformanda (the reformed church must continue reforming). What does it mean for biblical interpretation today? Among other things, it means that the findings of exegesis are always provisional. Findings of biblical scholars can never be cast in stone. In a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology, the idea of semper reformanda pictures the spirit in which readers should engage with the biblical text, encounter each other, and present their findings. This principle reminds us that understanding Scripture requires humility and the acknowledgement that all interpretation must always be revisited, reaffirmed and, if necessary, reformed. The same principle applies to all ecclesiastical resolutions which claim to be founded on Scripture. Therefore, Reformed Church Orders make provision for the revisiting of any resolution of major assemblies when such a resolution is deemed to be founded on an erroneous use or interpretation of Scripture.



The research question dealt with in this article reads as follows: can a hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology, founded in the classic reformed tradition, still be regarded as plausible and intelligible for doing theology and applying Christian ethics today? I venture to say, "yes", but on the following conditions:

Scripture ought to be perceived as the written revelation (word) of God, inspired by the Spirit of God and as more than just a compilation of ancient texts.

This inspiration can be termed "organic inspiration" because the Spirit inspired and used humans within their cultural and socio-historical contexts, spiritual experiences, language, and expectations to write the texts.

Interpreters approach Scripture with various forms of pre-understanding, and they ought to deal with these by way of the tools of the hermeneutical circle.

The deeper meaning of passages in Scripture come to light when they are interpreted in light of the wholeness of Scripture and its congruent biblical theology.

A hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology can add value to biblical studies and new theological knowledge by taking into account findings in modern literary theories as long as they do not contravene the belief that Scripture is the inspired, authoritative written Word of God.

A "hermeneutic of congruent biblical theology" must function within the realm of "semper rerformanda" - the continuous revisiting of past and current interpretation of Scripture.



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1 The concept "hermeneutics of suspicion" is attributed to the philosophy of Ricoeur. Thiselton (2009:228-254) explains and argues the hermeneutics of Ricoeur in a constructive way, with references to other exponents and critics of Ricoeur's plea for suspicion of the speech of the ancient biblical author, which is a speech of another behind the author.
2 In his thorough research of the influence of Calvinism and neo-Calvinism on the development of Christian nationalism and "Apartheid theology" in South Africa, Deist (1994:155ff) employs the concept "naïve realism" to refer to an approach to Scripture where the naïve acceptance of Scripture as the Word of God, as an objective truth and above any form of rational scepticism, is seen as essential for the development of Calvinism as a life and worldview. Naïve realism should, in his view, be a distortion of Reformed faith and as the direct reason for "Apartheid-theology".
3 The term fundamentalism emerged in the US in 1920 as a description of conservative Christians who adhered to the "fundamentals" in the face of liberal theology. These fundamentals were, among others, the inspiration and verbal inerrancy of Scripture and a strictly literal interpretation of the ancient text (Marsden 1991:9). In his study of fundamentalism, Marsden (1991:57) indicates that, since 1930 in the US, the term was increasingly used to describe several groups of American Protestants who were willing to wage ecclesiastical war against modernism in theology and the cultural changes that modernists celebrated. See also the description of Barr (2001:363).
4 The term "biblicism" is commonly used to denote a particular way of dealing with the Bible, especially the expectation that it can be transposed directly into modern reasoning and lifestyles (Ritschl 1999:255). Douma (1996:363) employs the term to "that appeal to Scripture which uses the biblical texts in an atomistic (isolated) way by lifting them out of their immediate contexts or out of the whole context of Scripture."
5 Welker (1994:40ff) argues, with valid arguments, that theology today is still influenced by old forms of thought that inhibit the translation of biblical ideas in society today. These outdated forms stem from the modernist paradigm where reason, objectivity, and neutrality guided science and devalued faith and religion. Theology today should in his view be liberated from these old forms of thought in order to become a vibrant and inspiring force in human life today (for an illuminating explanation of his critique on the old forms of thought, see Van der Westhuizen (2017b).
6 Barth, in his debate with Brunner, questioned the viewpoint that Calvin accredited any theological significance to the idea of natural law (Brunner and Barth 1946). Modern research on the theological meaning of natural law in Reformed theology indicates that Barth misinterprets Calvin in this regard, possibly due to his fierce resistance against the natural theology of German Christians of his time. Calvin indeed entertained the idea of natural law, which enables all humans to be reasonable and moral and to have a longing for God (see Grabill 2006:70; Witte 2007:59; VanDrunen 2010; 2014:41)
7 The direct quotations from the Reformed creeds, namely the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Canons of Dort (1619), The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) and the Westminster Larger Catechism (1648) are taken from the publication of a synopsis of the original texts of these documents by Beeke and Ferguson (1999).
8 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

^rND^sAltizer^nT.J.J.^rND^sBarr^nJ^rND^sBarton^nJ.^rND^sCiampa^nR.E.^rND^sDerrida^nJ.^rND^sGrondin^nJ^rND^sHamilton^nW^rND^sJasper^nD^rND^sPeels^nH.G.L.^rND^sReuman^nJ^rND^sRitschl^nD.^rND^sSilva^nM.^rND^sTracy^nD.^rND^sVan der Westhuizen^nH.^rND^sWelker^nM^rND^1A01^nErnst M^sConradie^rND^1A01^nErnst M^sConradie^rND^1A01^nErnst M^sConradie



The project / prospects of "redeeming sin?": some core insights and several unresolved problems



Ernst M Conradie

Department of Religion and Theology  University of the Western Cape




This contribution offers an overview of a five-year project on Redeeming Sin that included a number of postgraduate projects registered at the University of the Western Cape, a series of international colloquiums hosted more or less annually, two monographs by Ernst Conradie (one forthcoming), and a number of articles. The notion of "redeeming sin" is ironic, as Christians typically speak of redemption from sin. Here it refers to attempts to retrieve the category of sin in the public sphere, for example in relation to ecological destruction, economic inequality and various forms of violence based on race, gender, language and culture. The polemic nature of the project is highlighted - to acknowledge but also to challenge a preoccupation with the theodicy problem (focused on the relationship between natural evil and social evil) in North Atlantic Christian theology.

Keywords: Anthropocene; Christian theology; climate change; food contestation; sin; social diagnostics




In 2014 I registered a project entitled Redeeming Sin: Hamartiology, Ecology and Social Analysis at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). This was framed as a collaborative project involving staff members and postgraduate students at UWC. It became intertwined with three related projects, namely one on Food Contestation: Humanities and the Food System located at the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security at UWC (led by Desiree Lewis and myself),1 ongoing work on Christian theology and climate change leading to the publication of the T&T Clark handbook of Christian theology and climate change (2019), edited by Hilda Koster and myself, and a senior fellowship on the ethics of the Anthropocene entitled Whose Anthropocene -What Diagnosis? that I held at the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam. International collaboration on this project was facilitated especially through a series of colloquiums on Redeeming Sin? hosted in Stellenbosch in South Africa, and in San Antonio, Denver and San Diego in the United States between 2015 and 2019.

In this contribution I will highlight some of the core insights that I gained through this project and outline some of the many unresolved problems that were discussed and to some extent clarified. Although the insights gained are necessarily personal and reflected in the rather many publications mentioned below, such insights would not have been possible without many conversations with colleagues and students at UWC and the VU in Amsterdam, comments and questions from the audiences at numerous conference presentations and especially the in-depth critical explorations through the series of colloquiums mentioned above. I often had the sense that the discussions were probing the line of the watershed distinctions in Christian sin-talk. This is an attempt to capture some of these. I will give credit mainly to publications from such conversation partners as far as this is relevant, including work in progress.


Sin-talk in the public sphere? The role of social diagnostics

Christian sin-talk has been widely ridiculed in the public sphere. Nowadays it is no longer restricted to sexual indiscretions but also to sin-tax (smoking and drinking), sinfully delicious food, sugar tax, carbon sins or "sin bins" (e.g. in rugby). Can sin-talk be retrieved in the public sphere, for example to address environmental concerns, but also economic injustices related to poverty, unemployment, inequality and the many manifestations of violence - domestic violence, gangsterism, race discrimination,2 rape,3femicide, crime, corruption,4 hate speech, human trafficking, the mass migration of people, tariffs on trade, terrorism, civil war, etc? Clearly, the conciliar agenda of justice, peace and the integrity of creation requires the retrieval of sin-talk in the public sphere. But how should this be approached? A purely prophetic approach, as it were shouting from a safe religious distance, can only have a limited impact.5 If so, the only way forward is a multi-disciplinary approach where Christian theologians contribute to matters of public significance alongside other spheres of society (politics, industry, business, media, law and civil society) and alongside a range of other academic disciplines.6

This poses additional problems: While the role of faith-based organisations in civil society may still be acknowledged, especially in the African context, the legitimacy of Christian theology amongst other academic disciplines is highly contested. The question is: What can Christian theology contribute to public debates that other disciplines cannot? One may argue that the presence of theologians is in itself significant in order to ensure that some issues are addressed. There is sometimes a need to support what others have to say. Also, theologians may seek to speak alongside other activists on behalf of the voiceless (with the dangers that such representation entails). But at some point the distinct contribution of Christian theology needs to be clarified.

The assumption behind the project on Redeeming Sin? is that sin-talk may be regarded, at least from the outside, as a form of social diagnostics.7 Alongside medical and psychological practitioners, political and economic analysts, and a range of other commentators, theologians may help to assess what has gone wrong with the world. With philosophers they may contribute to conceptual clarification in this regard and help to analyse and critique the underlying assumptions of their conversation partners. They would typically focus either on local pastoral experience or at the ultimate level on the deepest roots of the underlying problem.

My sense is that this proposal indeed helps to take the debate forward. The proof of the pudding still lies in its eating, but there is an intuitive recognition of the need for in-depth diagnostics in the public sphere. Admittedly, an adequate diagnosis is only helpful if coupled with a prognosis and an appropriate remedy/therapy/policy. There may well be scepticism over any prescribed religious remedy (redemption from sin), but there should at least be some openness to a possible role of Christian sin-talk as a form of diagnostics.

From inside the Christian tradition sin-talk could be regarded as at least also a form of social diagnostics, although all problems are not only of a social nature. Whatever else sin may be (e.g. a broken relationship with God), it does have an impact in society. However, a re-description of social problems as "sin" should not be taken for granted. For example, what would it mean to describe climate change as a sin?8 A deeper reservation may be that knowledge of sin is ultimately only possible through knowledge of salvation and indeed of the Saviour (see below). An acknowledgement of guilt before God emerges when one is confronted with the magnanimity of God's forgiveness. However, there may be many steps before such a recognition emerges and comes to fruition. It is theologically inappropriate to work only deductively from a position (e.g. the Nicene Creed or another confession) if that position was the result of a lengthy inductive process. Such prior steps need to be traced and retraced and can be debated in the public sphere. Another problem with social diagnostics is more serious. The search for an adequate diagnosis may not only be futile or become highly abstract and generalised. The possibility also exists that the diagnostic gaze itself is the problem since it may well presume a self-righteous appointment to assess what is wrong with the world, as it were from the outside.9 The famous comment by GK Chesterton comes to mind here. When asked by a newspaper to respond to the question as to what is wrong with the world, his alleged short answer was: "Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G. K. Chesterton." But is his answer not somehow arrogant? Can one person be the cause of all the trouble?


Three conceptual toolsets

In recent contributions I offer three particular suggestions for how sin-talk can be retrieved in the public sphere, which can be briefly summarised as follows:

First, theologians can draw on an extended history of pastoral and prophetic experience that provides them with a conceptual toolbox loaded with the vocabulary for sin that may be required to name and analyse the underlying problem. At first, I identified five such concepts, namely sin as pride (anthropocentrism), greed (consumerism),10 sloth (failure, a lack of development), the violation of dignity (domination in the name of differences) and the privation of the good (alienation). As the terminology in parentheses indicates, each of these Christian concepts have become secularised and open for public debate. Each is also relevant to address environmental concerns. If so, sin-talk may be helpful to explore the origins and the relationship between these concepts.11 In later contributions in conversation with Newton Cloete (a PhD candidate at UWC) I added the roles of sin as folly, pollution and corruption (which is related to the privation of the good).12

Second, the history of Christian theology yields a sensitivity for different ways in which the story of the emergence of evil and the subsequent conflict between good and evil can be told. There are not that many options available. In Christian debates these are distinguished as the Augustinian (good is original, corruption is total), the Pelagian (good is original, corruption is not total), the Manichaean (good and evil are co-original and in constant conflict) and the Irenaean (initially good and evil were undifferentiated) versions of the story. There may be many variations on these themes, but I maintain that these are the main options. It is remarkable that secular debates, at least in the West, follow these options as well. In Redeeming Sin? I outline these options in terms of the Manichaean-Darwinian-capitalist, the Augustinian-Marxist, the Pelagian-liberal and the Irenaean-Whiteheadian-Teilhardian trajectories.13 My sense is that some form of Manichaeism is the default option in contemporary debates14 albeit that there are two diverging trajectories, namely those who maintain either a tragic disposition (finitude, mortality, extinction will have the last word) or Promethean aspirations (the forces of good will ultimately trump the forces of evil). This is also applicable to discourse on the Anthropocene.

Third, in an unpublished manuscript on the Anthropocene I employ a different toolset derived from the theological critique of apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. There were different levels of criticism that did not exclude but complemented each other. Accordingly, apartheid could be regarded in terms of injustice (a violation of dignity), oppression (structural violence), ideology, quasi-soteriology,15 idolatry and also a form of heresy. Again, it is striking to see how secular discourse on sin adopts and adapts such categories to come to terms with what has gone wrong with the world - to the extent that humans have become a geological force of nature in the Anthropocene. One may observe that there is more common ground with other disciplines towards the one end of the spectrum (injustice), but theology can make a more distinctive contribution towards the other end of the spectrum (heresy).16


Obstacles to a retrieval of sin in the public sphere

In the introductory session of the first colloquium on Redeeming Sin? held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies in 2015 I identified five obstacles that have to be addressed in order to retrieve the category of sin in the public sphere. At that stage these were merely mentioned intuitively. I discuss these five obstacles in more detail in Redeeming Sin?(2017) and have been grappling with them ever since. I will use these to structure the rest of this contribution, except the first one, namely the cultural ridicule around sin-talk in the public sphere. This certainly remains a reality but will not go away easily, even if all other problems can be resolved.


What kind of category is sin?

In Christian reflection on the nature of sin the same conclusion is reached again and again, namely that sin cannot be defined but can only be opposed.17 Any attempt to define sin may well underestimate the way in which sin morphs into different manifestations. If it can be captured in a single formula, it may also be possible to isolate, contain and surgically remove sin like a cancerous growth. Instead, sin is seen as elusive and hideous, ever re-emerging in new forms.

Nevertheless, in my view it is helpful to understand the category of sin. What kind of thing is sin? Of course, it is not a thing but a category. In several contributions I list the following options which are clearly in tension with each other:18

Sin describes individual acts of human wrongdoing: what individuals do to others, to themselves and to the surrounding nature by not doing what is right, not abiding by rules (anomie).

Sin is not just a matter of doing, but also of thinking and saying. It is about dispositions, attitudes and attachments - which provide the breeding ground for wrongdoing. Sin affects the mind, the imagination, the sense of longing, desires, feelings, the will, the conscience and therefore also the senses, every part of the human body.19

Sin also refers to what is left undone, a failure to accept responsibility, duties not fulfilled.

Sin describes the character of a person rather than specific deeds that a person may do. Being a sinner is a more pervasive problem than committing acts of sin; it is much harder to stop committing habitual sins.

Sin describes the quality of a (broken) relationship of trust and loyalty, not the dispositions or deeds of any one individual. Selfishness is a manifestation of a broken relationship. If so, one cannot sin on one's own. Sins in the plural are manifestations of broken relationships.

Such broken relationships are embedded in wider networks of families, clans, institutions and affiliations. Sin becomes manifest in what one party does to another but is indeed best described as a relationship going awry.

Sin is best understood as structural violence; it describes systems of oppression such as patriarchy, slavery, colonialism, apartheid, castes, capitalism, ecological destruction - situations in which individuals and organisations alike are caught up.

This may be true, but then the focus should be on the power of ideological distortions: sin is about classism, sexism, racism, elitism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.

Sin cannot be reduced to something moral but is primarily something religious. It is indeed about broken relationships but then a broken relationship with God, broken at least from our side.

Sin is best understood as idolatry.20 If it is religious in nature, it is not merely about an individual's relationship with God but about unbelief, rebellion, idolatry, apostasy, putting one's trust in principalities and powers that cannot save us.

Sin is about heresy, about radically distorting the Christian gospel to serve one's own interests.

What kind of thing is sin, then? The answer may well be that sin is not something that one can identify and describe but rather the privation of the good. This Augustinian position assumes the ontological priority of the good so that evil is a distortion of such good. Accordingly, in a sense sin does not exist, at least not on its own. This may well be contested on evolutionary grounds but rests on an affirmation of the goodness of creation and therefore the benevolence of the Creator.

Another way of reflecting on these notions of sin is in terms of the classic distinction between sin as guilt and as power.21 Some would focus on sin as guilt and then attend to things that individuals do. Others would focus on sin as power and then attend to how individuals are influenced by forces beyond their locus of control. We are caught up amidst evil forces that are more powerful than we can cope with and from which we cannot escape. A one-sided emphasis on either is dangerous. To focus on individual actions is to trivialise sin, to look for particular instantiations of sin as if there are other actions, attitudes, dispositions and thoughts that are not contaminated by sin. To focus on sin as power only is to portray individuals and groups as victims of forces beyond their control for which they therefore ultimately do not need to accept responsibility. This would undermine agency, also the agency of victims.

I think it is possible to combine an understanding of sin as power and as guilt in order to avoid such excesses. Perhaps one may start with sin as power (structural and cultural/ideological violence). Accordingly, sin may be understood as pervasive perversity.22 Sin is the mess that we find ourselves in.

One would then first need to add that this is a mess to which we (humans) and our predecessors have all contributed in one way or another, creating or worsening the mess. However, there is no need to argue that we have contributed equally. Consider the role of moral agents in positions of political and economic power but also moral patients (infants, the sick, the senile) on whose behalf others act. The victims of history are never completely innocent either and may well become the perpetrators of tomorrow. If we are all equally guilty, then we can no longer introduce gradations to establish who is truly guilty or not.

Second, this is a mess that causes suffering for all of us, including other animals and plants, albeit - again - not equally so. The suffering of victims may be obvious, but tyrants and torturers also suffer the consequences of oppression. However, it would be obscene to equate the suffering of the rapist and the rape victim. This is obviously relevant in the context of climate change where those who contribute next to nothing to carbon emissions will suffer, indeed are suffering, disproportionally under its impact.

Third, Augustinians (more than Pelagians) would add that this is a mess from which we cannot escape, at least not by ourselves. Our best efforts at moral renewal, reconstruction, transformation and social development remain flawed and often even exacerbate the problem.23 In short, sin describes the mess that we find ourselves in, to which we all contributed (but not equally so), under which we all suffer (again not equally so) and from which we cannot escape.


Unresolved theological problems

In Redeeming Sin? I also discuss a series of six unresolved and probably unresolvable theological problems around sin.24 Again these are simply listed here:

Where does evil ultimately come from? The default (Augustinian) answer may be to define evil as the long-term impact of sin but that merely begs the question where sin then comes from (see below). This question cannot be resolved but must be addressed, if only to warn against inadequate responses to the question. Clearly, both monism (the view that God is the origin of everything including evil) and dualism (allowing for a power co-original with God) need to be avoided. As Robert Williams observes, "The classic doctrine is impaled on the first horn of the dilemma (original righteousness excludes sin), while modern theological reconstructions are confronted with the other (to acknowledge a flaw seems to equate finitude with sin)."25

If evil comes from sin (as suggested by an Augustinian critique of both monist and dualist approaches), where does sin come from? The question about the origin of evil should in my view not to be confused with the notion of original sin, that is primarily a comment on the pervasive consequences of sin that cannot be escaped and confront us collectively and individually.26 Again, this question has to be addressed, if only to respond to the many inadequate answers provided. Of particular concern is the suggestion by some theologians that sin is the more or less inevitable - if not strictly necessary - by-product of human freedom. Others, following the Gnostics, equate sin with anxiety over finitude. In both cases God ultimately has to accept responsibility for sin, for offering finite humans an ability to respond, knowing that they would face such anxiety.

What, then, is the causal relation between sin and evil (the demonic)?27 Is the problem of sin a subset of the problem of evil or vice versa? Does sin lead to evil or is evil the root cause of sin? Note that the question is not whether evil has causal efficacy. That is more or less obvious. What is less obvious is the interplay between sin, sickness and death. Clearly, from a theological point of view, sin is not always the cause of sickness, while, from an evolutionary point of view, death in God's good creation is not the result of sin. Nevertheless, sin does exacerbate natural suffering. Ongoing climate change is one thing, anthropogenic climate change is quite another.

How serious is sin really? Does sin lead to a corruption but not the destruction of being human? What impact does it have on human nature? And on being the image of God? And on human freedom?

What is the nature of sin? There is some consensus in theological literature that sin cannot be defined, it constantly appears in new forms and disguises. It is both fatal and fertile, leading to a progression of corruption, like a cancer killing by reproducing. To define sin may be to explain and to control it. This would underestimate the deviousness of sin and evil. However, this refusal to define sin does not resolve the problem since rival definitions are often offered in literature. Again, one needs to guard against inadequate responses. This debate remains far from resolved, as is indicated by framing the underlying question this way: How and where does sin enter into the tension between body and spirit, between flesh (the libido) and word (the tongue)?28 What about salvation? Does salvation enter from the side of the "flesh" (through genes, medicine, detoxification, vitamin supplements, muti, economic upliftment, technology, biotechnology, money, bread and wine), or via the "soul" (through language, culture and ideas)? The problem is that when theology falls prey to any form of dualism it tends to pay only lip-service to the biological rooted-ness of the human condition. This is not only theologically self-destructive but cannot do scientific justice to the co-evolution of the human brain and symbolic language.29

How is knowledge of sin possible? We may be able to realise that something is wrong in the world through general human experience. However, sin is more than knowledge of life's abnormalities and distortions. To locate the deepest roots of what went wrong in humanity's turning away from the triune God requires knowledge of the triune God. If so, the deepest question is not so much where evil comes from but where good comes from. How, then, is an understanding of the nature of sin correlated with an understanding of the nature of salvation? Is it true that sin can be recognised only from its inverse, i.e. from what it distorts, e.g. trust in God's love, the hope of shalom? How should the dialectic between law and gospel, or between sin and grace, be understood?

One rather surprising further comment suffices here, namely that none of these unresolved theological problems actually inhibit the retrieval of sin-talk in the public sphere. Distorted responses to these problems may do that, but recognising and admitting such problems is in fact a condition for retrieval in the public sphere. Perhaps some honesty in grappling with such issues - which are indeed of wider significance - is appropriate for Christian witness.


The universality of sin

In contemporary debates the universality of sin and therefore of guilt have become highly contested. One may observe that, despite resistance against inherited guilt, the notion of original sin (following Reinhold Niebuhr) retains some empirical credibility given its emphasis on the structural universality of sin as pervasive power. This prompted ongoing debates on how to reconcile the universality of sin with individual responsibility for sin - if universal sinfulness precedes individual sinful acts.30

The universality of sin remains attractive for several reasons. The Lutheran emphasis that all human beings have sinned before God, that we are all "beggars", that sin cannot be graded, is widely appreciated for its recognition of human equality. In most contexts guilt is mutually implicated, so that confession of sin may help to prevent or end a cycle of mutual accusations - where evil is always blamed on someone else or on some system of oppression (apartheid, colonialism) and where no one seems willing to accept responsibility for the destructive legacy of sin. Indeed, open confession is good for the soul and for the sake of community (Bonhoeffer again). The radical universality of sin also implies that evil cannot be attributed to only one group so that stigmatising and scapegoating others must be avoided. Evil is not merely something out there that has to be overcome or defeated or escaped from - since evil cannot be located somewhere outside ourselves. Moreover, moral exhortation and evangelical appeals for conversion remain insufficient to overcome an addiction to sin that is widespread, pervasive and delusional. The universality of sin is indeed a core assumption in much of evangelical theology, even though such a notion of sin often remains rather vague and even though structural dimensions of evil are often not recognised. At best it is a protocol against proposals that offer easy answers or quick fixes to eradicate evil.

By contrast, a sharp distinction between perpetrators and their victims has gained prevalence in several contemporary theological discourses. If sin has social consequences, the category of "being sinned against" is required in order to confront violence against women, slavery, torture, oppression, dictatorship and (environmental) destruction. There is nothing equal about the consequences of sin. If so, the language of sin can be used to disguise the suffering of victims and to obfuscate human evil. There seems to be a self-centredness in traditional discourse on sin in that the focus remains on the sinner rather than on the wounds of the victim, on the consequences of sin. Whereas confession may be the cry of the sinner, lament is the cry of the victim.

This debate clearly remains unresolved. On the basis of the suggestion above that sin may be understood as the "mess' in which we find ourselves, I suggest (following conversations with Miranda Pillay and other colleagues and students) the notion of the proportionality of guilt.31 Climate change, global economic inequalities and widespread violence suggest that we are in this mess together, even though not everyone contributed to it equally or suffer under it equally.32 Anton Rupert, at times the richest person in South Africa, rightly stated that if one's neighbours do not eat, one will not be able to sleep. He was a resident of Stellenbosch, one of the most unequal towns in the world, where this has implications for sanitation: If one's neighbours do not have access to adequate sanitation, this poses a disease risk for the whole population.


The plausibility of the fall of humanity in evolutionary history

In contemporary discussions on theology and evolutionary history there is widespread recognition that the biblical narrative of creation and the subsequent fall of humanity is not plausible. It is hard to read the early history of hominins as one where things went awry at a certain point (or period) in time. The argument has been reiterated so often that it is not worth repeating here. What is far less clear is what the theological implications of such a recognition may be. Should we drop the fall?33 Is it possible to "do away with a fall"?34 Is sin-talk at all possible without a notion of fall? Should one therefore hold onto a symbolic interpretation of the fall (an event happening time and again) rather than a historical interpretation (the fall as an event in human history)?

In my view this debate is partly mistaken or at least imprecise. To put this provocatively: there is no contemporary theologian who does not assume some notion of the fall. If one agrees with Cornelius Plantinga that things are "not the way it's supposed to be",35 then one has to maintain that something went wrong somewhere sometime. If things could be better than they are, then this constitutes at least a minimal notion of a "fall".36 This need not imply a dramatic event but is based on prophetic moral discernment, a critique of the present more than a reconstruction of the past. And when the world is not as it ought to be, we have every reason to ask why.37

Consider the alternatives. There are only two that I can think of. The one alternative would assume satisfaction with present circumstances - which would invite a vehement critique of positions of power given domination in the name of gender, race, class, caste, language, culture, sexual orientation and species - you name it. Consider also Nietzsche's will to power by which he accepts the world as it is without wanting it to be different - which includes the will to live with all of its evils.38 At best, this is born from the fear that any desire for something better constitutes a betrayal of life itself.39 At worst, this serves as a legitimation of power. In the words of Adorno: "Only when that which is can be changed is that which is not everything."40

The other alternative would assume that things may not be perfect, but this is the best that could be expected. This is a modification of Leibniz's best of all possible worlds argument, now framed in evolutionary history as an upward trajectory from brutish savages to civilised common humanity.41 While this view is quite common, it does not exclude a critique of the present in the sense that moral progress could have been further advanced than it is. This leaves room for a critique of various forms of violence, injustice and environmental destruction. If so, I would argue that this still assumes the need to reconstruct what went wrong and why human societies have not reached their full potential yet. This is surely a minimalist view of the "fall", but it illustrates the point that almost no contemporary scholar does not assume that something went wrong somewhere sometime, perhaps everywhere all the time.

My sense is that the real problem does not lie with the plausibility of the fall but with how the affirmation of the goodness of God's beloved creation can be reconciled with the reality of social evil. Since this affirmation is particular to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, such a problem would not necessarily emerge in other visions of the world, for example in a classic Greek sense of tragedy, Manichaeism, social Darwinism or contemporary discourse on socio-biology or evolutionary psychology. The affirmation of the goodness of God's beloved creation is in fact a deeply counter-intuitive confession of faith given the presence of pain, suffering, injustice, oppression and destruction in the world.42 The goodness of creation is often almost taken for granted but then only on the basis of a rather speculative reconstruction of how the world might have been before the impact of sin. This is also the way in which debates on the naturalistic fallacy are typically framed, namely that the gap between what is and what ought to be can be addressed through a reconstruction of the natural order so that the natural order and the moral order can be in harmony. But what if the natural order is itself deemed to be less than adequate?

I have argued elsewhere that such a reconstruction is not only speculative but completely misses the profound nature of the confession, namely that the world (or individual human beings) is declared to be good despite the obvious presence of evil. It introduces a tension between what is and what ought to be, the world as we find it around us and the demand that it be different. This is at best possible through what I call the emergence of a liturgical vision, seeing the world through God's eyes, in the light of the Light of the world, as beloved by God despite its obvious fallenness.43 This is not an empirical claim but a counter-intuitive confession that requires much further explanation. One needs to tell the rest of the story to make sense of it.

This requires further theological discussion, but on this matter there is no consensus. It is at least clear that the story of good and evil is told in diverging ways, with far-reaching implications for the moral of the story. In order to ensure a proper focus on the primacy of social evil I remain attracted to some form of the Augustinian version of the story, perhaps with some Irenaean revisions.44 I must admit though that this is hard to sustain. The Augustinian narrative assumes the (original) possibility of avoiding sin. The question is whether an affirmation of the notion of an original posse non peccare can be sustained given what we know of aggression, predation and natural disselection.45Eating, one may say almost any kind of eating, provides a test case for the plausibility of an affirmation of posse non peccare.46It is not surprising that this has been heavily criticised while other alternatives have been explored. Such alternatives pose theological problems of their own, as I will indicate below. Likewise, the subsequent non posse non peccare (after the fall) also remains disputed given liberal (Pelagian) assumptions that we humans need to save ourselves from whatever evil we have caused and that we have it within us to do so, perhaps with a little help from God's side.

I presume that the point of divergence between these alternatives can be framed in many ways but the relationship between so-called natural evil and social evil comes close to the heart of the matter.


The relationship between natural evil and social evil

Framing the question with such terminology obscures two important issues. The first is that humans form part of nature and of the evolution of life so that a clear distinction between natural evil and social evil is not tenable. Humans form part of the ecosystems they are embedded in. In Christian categories: humans are God's creatures that do not somehow occupy a middle position between the Creator and other creatures.

The second is that the term natural evil remains awkward, at least if evil intentions (wickedness)47 or some form of intentionality are invoked. Social systems (such as apartheid) may be called evil since these are the collective outcome of institutionalised human decision making over longer periods of time. One may argue that other animals can be evil-minded, at least in terms of their temperament, and that there is some continuity between such "evil" and human evil.48 But the term natural evil is also used with reference to earthquakes (such as the one in Lisbon), natural disselection, viruses, parasites, cellular degeneration, predation, death and extinction - where there is no suggestion of consciousness, freedom, intentions or decision making processes. If the term evil is to be used here, this should either be applied to an evil-minded divine Creator or to an inherent tendency in nature that comes to fruition amongst humans - in which case no distinction between natural evil and social evil is needed. One should remember what is at stake in making this distinction. Susan Neiman puts this starkly: "The distinction between natural and moral evil began as a debate about how much of the world's misery was God's fault, how much of it ours. Once God was overcome as a human projection, the distinction itself must be overturned."49 But abandoning God does not provide any solace: if evil forms part of nature itself, then it is hard to denounce crimes against nature.50

I suggest that it may be better to focus on forms of pain and suffering rather than on evil. One may say that suffering is not only a matter of pain but also the awareness of such pain, including past pain, and anxiety over possible future pain. One may of course find suffering amongst other animals with a degree of consciousness so that human suffering is one instantiation of animal suffering. "Natural suffering" could then be used to refer to forms of suffering in nature where humans are not involved. Given the global impact of human presence and the "end of nature",51 such suffering has become rather scarce, but the category of natural suffering would still apply to prehumen forms of suffering. This is the theodicy problem as posed in contemporary science and theology discourse.52

While such distinctions may be helpful, one should not overlook the question about the underlying causes of such suffering. The word "evil" hints in this direction, namely that behind so much suffering must be some form of evil intent, sometimes referred to as metaphysical evil. In an earlier contribution I speak of "sources" of suffering.53 I identify six such sources, some found only amongst humans, namely self-induced suffering (e.g. lung cancer derived from smoking), vicarious suffering on behalf of others (a special case of self-induced suffering), suffering induced directly by another human (e.g. assault, rape, murder), structural violence (imperialism, colonialism, apartheid, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc), suffering due to contingency (being in the right place at the wrong time) and finally suffering with purely or at least predominantly natural causes that are outside the locus of control of any moral agent (fragility, sickness, ageing, death, predation). The last category is often associated with a recognition of limits in power, space, time and knowledge. It is pastorally important to distinguish between such sources of suffering (e.g. in the case of poverty) although pastoral sensitivity also requires some hesitation to assign a particular source of suffering (as in the case of HIV infection).

The focus on (human) suffering is helpful to move away from attributing evil intentions but does not resolve the underlying problem, namely how the possible sources of suffering are related to each other. My sense is that the first four of these are theologically easier to deal with, even while existentially hard to swallow. If one's suffering is the result of injustices for which one is partly responsible, then that could be addressed through the processes of reconciliation and restorative justice.54 This remains highly complex, but there are ample theological categories available to address such concerns. Natural suffering and the role of contingency are theologically harder to address because God's own complicity is implied. This is where the problem of relating human and other than human causes of suffering retains its sting

This problem can hardly be solved - existentially, philosophically or theologically. It cannot be avoided either. Indeed, in her superbly crafted book Evil in modern thought, Susan Neiman shows that this problem is core to understanding the whole history of modern philosophy.55 Since the days of Job the best approach is not to seek final answers but to unmask the many inadequate answers for what they are. In Job's case he refused to accept that his suffering was the result of his own sins and could not relate it to the sins of others. He had to reckon with the possibility that his suffering was the result of a heavenly bet between God and Satan but refused to blame God for that either.

Let me mention two especially inadequate responses, retaining the categories of natural evil and social evil:

The first response suggests that social evil is the cause of natural evil. This presumes that what is incorrectly termed natural evil is in fact God's punishment for human sin, individually (in the form of sickness) or collectively (in the case of natural catastrophes). The widely presumed response to the Lisbon earthquake was that the earthquake was God's punishment for Lisbon's sins. If so, God is not the cause of moral evil, but God is the cause of natural evil!56 The inadequacy of this position has engaged modern intellectuals since then, including Leibniz, Kant and Hegel. According to Susan Neiman's analysis, Christianity maintains that human beings should take the blame for (all) suffering upon ourselves in order to give life in all its misery and grandeur meaning. Sin gives suffering an origin; redemption gives it a telos.57If some suffering cannot be traced back to sin, the myth of sin and redemption becomes implausible. If so, it seems that either a tragic vision or a Nietzschean will to power is more sensible.

The second inadequate response suggests that social evil is caused by natural evil. Expressed in theological terminology, sin is the almost necessary or at least inevitable result of human anxiety over finitude and the suffering that such finitude implies.58 But finitude is neither a form of punishment nor is it evidence of sin. It is not even a lack of something. Instead, the problem with finitude seems to be the vulnerability that it entails. As Susan Neiman puts it: "Either the world should have been made less vulnerable: we to moral corruption, or the world to being damaged by it."59 Michel Serres locates the origin of evil more precisely in terms of the violence produced in the vicinity of boundaries by the exclusion of the other - the inverse of a sense of identity and therefore finitude.60

In other words, according to the second response, the blame for sin can be shifted to natural causes - which makes nature all the more threatening and senseless.61 We humans are then the more or less innocent victims of forces beyond our control. Once suffering becomes manifest, sympathy for the victim is required. The underlying causes of such suffering can best be addressed through medicine and therapy at the individual level and through social contracts, policy making and appropriate forms of technology at the collective level. Economic growth and education are the keys to ensuring well-being for all. Where that fails, "development",62 "safety nets" and "corrective services" may be required. This pathological and therapeutic model for addressing social evil is widespread in contemporary culture, not only in the West. It is not surprising that some commentators, including psychologists, respond with the question: "Whatever happened to sin?".63 The problem of guilt and complicity cannot be resolved through more therapy.64 Even where a deep sense of guilt is not invoked, moral (and legal) responsibility is required.

The lines demarcating these two responses become blurred when the category of contingency is introduced,65 typically invoking the problem of metaphysical evil. If this is the best of all possible worlds, at least in theory, this would seem to require an underlying sense of purpose or lawfulness: the laws of nature. If there is room for radical contingency, if God is playing dice, then this suggests some imperfection - and to accept imperfection is to accept a world that is not as it ought to be. To allow for contingency and the many forms of suffering that "accidents" bring, given the fragility of any form of life, is to acknowledge a source of suffering beyond law and purpose, beyond God or our locus of control. The logic of cause and effect is broken, but this yields an unbearable solution: suffering may be either a matter of deterministic fate (written in our genes if not in the stars) or more likely a matter of luck (the roll of the dice). This again suggests a tragic vision where the best one can do is to ride one's luck.66 Neither Hegelian nor Marxian attempts to embed contingency within a dialectic of necessity can resolve the underlying problem.

I conclude that natural evil (better: non-human sources of suffering) and social evil can neither be separated from each other (as the Kantian tradition maintained in response to the Lisbon earthquake), nor can these be fused to identify only one source of all suffering. The distinction between nature and morality, what is and what ought to be, can neither be abolished nor can it be maintained by insisting that evil is a moral category only.67 The problem of relating these terms remains unresolved.68 We (including agnostics and atheists) can neither relinquish the theodicy problem nor can we even begin to address it. Like children, we need to refuse to accept a world that makes no sense, even if, as adults, we know we cannot make sense of evil.69


Social diagnostics and the primacy of social evil

The notion of "social diagnostics" may easily fall into the traps associated with the second response described above given the way medical terminology is employed. However, the project on Redeeming Sin? (with the question mark) is best understood as a response to the one-sidedness of the second response. It assumes the theological need to emphasise the primacy of social evil. As I stated before, at least from an African perspective, "our primary problem is not vulnerability but rape, not service but slavery, not death but murder, not sickness but the spread of preventable diseases, not economic scarcity or even inequality but capitalism, not being ruled but Empire, not the evolution of species but the loss of biodiversity, not an always changing climate but anthropogenic climate change, not hunger due to inadequate food production but due to its skewed distribution and/or the over-supply of fast food with high sugar and high fat contents".70Neither is it human anxiety but the arsenals built to alleviate such anxieties.

The assumption of the primacy of social evil is core to theological movements in the global South such as liberation theology, black theology, Dalit theology, African women's theology, indigenous theologies and non-Western forms of ecotheology. From this perspective, the apparent preoccupation with the problem of natural evil in science and religion discourse in Western contexts remains suspect, to say the least. Put briefly, the suspicion is that guilt for Western imperialism, slavery and genocide is attributed to natural evil! Put differently, a soteriological orientation71 (how God saves us from sin and evil) may be contrasted with an exploration of the theodicy problem (how we may "save" / defend God against various accusations), whether the focus is on social evil or natural evil (how could a loving Creator have given rise to a world governed by natural disselection and predation?). From the perspective of ecotheology it would not make sense to love creation while questioning the Creator for its inadequacies.72 Even if the same doctrinal themes are employed, soteriology and theodicy are two rather different ways of telling the story.73 Admittedly, the North Atlantic preoccupation with natural evil may be a response to the perceived threat of secularisation, namely that the existence of natural evil jeopardises the credibility of the Christian faith.74 If so, the question remains which interlocutors are privileged - the "cultured despisers of religion" or the victims of social evil.

I hasten to add that "primacy" requires further clarification. It is used here in a pastoral and prophetic sense - as priority public concerns on theological agendas. Such (political) primacy does not necessarily apply epistemologically (how does one begin to unravel the sources of suffering), ontologically (is evil co-original with good?) or chronologically (the slow evolution of morality and the emergence of moral visions). The order of being cannot be equated with the order of knowing. This is where the debate clearly remains unresolved. Nevertheless, it would be inappropriate to use this as an excuse for not addressing the problem of social evil with the urgency required. To do so, the project of Redeeming Sin (without the question mark) may in my view be helpful. It has gathered together some resources and core insights that may indeed help to retrieve the category of sin in the public sphere.



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1 For one contribution that relates food contestation to sin-talk, see Kotze (2016).
2 For one contribution within the context of the project on Redeeming Sin?, see Vorster (2016).
3 For feminist perspectives on sin-talk, see Baard (2019), Koster (2015a; 2015b), McDougall (2006; 2011; 2014).
4 See Baron (2018).
5 On the danger of issuing public statements without public engagement, see Conradie (2010a).
6 In Chapter 2 of Redeeming Sin? (2017c:29-60) I explore the question what such a multi-disciplinary conversation would require. See also Conradie (2015c) where I offer 12 theses on the place of Christian theology in multi-disciplinary conversations.
7 See especially Conradie (2017c; 2020a; also 2018d; 2018g).
8 See the reflections by Van den Brink (2018).
9 The warning of Slavoj
Žižek  (2011:358) is pertinent here: "Think about a religious fundamentalist who sees signs of sin and corruption everywhere in modern society - is the true evil not his suspicious gaze itself?"
10 See Conradie (2009, 2010c).
11 For a discussion, see Cloete (2014; 2020), Conradie (2016d; 2017c; 2017b).
12 See Conradie (2020a, forthcoming).
13 See Conradie (2017c:61-106).
14 See also Neiman (2002:124-125). She compares Manichaeism with Calvinism: "Wouldn't reason prefer two warring substances to the Calvinist God? A Being who makes the torments of hell eternal, restricts the number of those who escape them to a tiny minority, and determines who gets what without regard to merit makes Manichaeism look positively sunny." She adds that Manichaeism is less an explanation of experience than a reflection of it.
15 See Coetzee and Conradie (2010).
16 See Conradie (2020a, forthcoming).
17 The same applies to attempts to understand the origins of evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1997:120) understood this particularly well: "The question why there is evil is not a theological question, for it presupposes that it is possible to go back behind the existence that is laid upon us as sinners. If we could answer the question why, then we would not be sinners. We would blame something else. So the 'question why' can never be answered except by the statement 'that' which burdens humankind so completely. The theological question is not a question about the origin of evil but one about the actual overcoming of evil on the cross; it seeks the real forgiveness of guilt and the reconciliation of the fallen world."
18 See especially Conradie (2017c:120-130; 2018d; 2019b).
19 See the remarkable discussion by Herman Bavinck in his recently published Gereformeerde ethiek (2019:89-93).
20 See the innovative discussion by Stephen Fowl (2019) on the slow process through which idolatry emerges.
21 The next few paragraphs draw almost verbatim on my contribution on The Emergence of Sin. See Conradie (2019b:384-394).
22 See the excellent discussion by Larry Rasmussen (2013:100).
23 See the remarkable comment by Susan Neiman (2002:322): "The urge to unite is and ought stands behind every creative endeavor. Those who seek to unite them by force usually do more harm that they set out to prevent. Those who never seek to unite them do nothing at all."
24 Conradie (2017c:148-161).
25 Williams (1985:209).
26 The literature available on original sin in the light of evolutionary history has become quite extensive and, in my view, confusing, because the origins of sin and the pervasive impact of sin are conflated. On original sin in the context of the project on Redeeming Sin?, see Conradie (2016c), Houck (2020), Van den Brink (2015; 2017:207-260; 2018), Vorster (2015). Van den Brink identifies seven assumptions that constitute the "network" of original sin and captures these in the formula that original sin is "humans' universal, radical, total, effective, acquired, hereditary and inculpating inclination towards sin" (2018:119). The hereditary (through sexual reproduction) and inculpating connotations are typically highly contested.
27 See Sakuba (2005), Conradie and Sakuba (2006).
28 I was surprised to see how assured Herman Bavinck is in responding to this question, namely in locating the origin of sin in the human consciousness. His answer is worth quoting at length: "We zien dus, dat de zonde zich ingang verschaft door het bewustzijn, werkt op die verbeeldingskracht, doet verlangen, zich uitstrekken naar de ideaal dat voorgespiegeld is en het eindelijk, door de zintuigen onder de invloed dier verbeelding waargenomen, doet grijpen. Voordat de daad dus volbracht is, heeft er in één enkel ogenblik een heel proces in de mens plaats gehad. De ganse mens is erdoor aangetast, in geest, ziel, lichaam, in verstand, gevoel en wil. ... Zo ontstaat nog elke zonde. Ons bewustzijn, door twijfel aangetast, concipieert een idee, onze verbeeldingskracht maakt er een ideal van, onze zintuigen geven dat ideaal in de zinlijke wereld gestalte, onze wil tracht het te grijpen. De éne zondige daad is dus een daad van die ganse mens, waar al zijn krachten, vermogens in meerder of minder mate aan deel hebben (2018:82). Bavinck adds that the reason why it is no longer possible to restore goodness after the first sin, is because the consciousness and therefore the will were infected, resulting in the state of sin.
29 See Conradie (2017c:155-160).
30 This section summarises the argument in Conradie (2017c:143-148, see also 2017d).
31 See the analysis in Conradie (2013a) and the further debates on restitution in Conradie (2018a; 2018b; 2018g), also Nkosi (2016). On the basis of recognition that not everything can be given back in cases of injustice (the so-called "deficit"), I suggest a distinction between restitution (giving back what can be given back), compensation, reparation (creative strategies to address long-term injustices) and restoration (symbolic acts to restore broken relationships).
32 See also the distinction between the equality of sin and the inequality of guilt introduced by Reinhold Niebuhr (1941:222).
33 See Van den Brink (2011).
34 See Sollereder (2018), Southgate (2008:28-35).
35 See Plantinga (1995).
36 For an interesting discussion, see Smith (2017).
37 Neiman (2002:322).
38 See Neiman (2002:263).
39 See Neiman (2002:307).
40 Quoted in Neiman (2002:308, her translation).
41 This is the argument of Steven Pinker (2011).
42 On the counter-intuitive nature of the confession of God as Creator, see Conradie (2013c; 2014; 2015b).
43 See Conradie (2014; 2015b; 2016a).
44 This is the underlying tenor of my argument in Redeeming Sin? (Conradie 2017c).
45 I explore this question in Chapter 5 of Redeeming Sin? (Conradie 2017c:177-228).
46 I explore this question in the context of the UWC project on Food Contestation. See Conradie (2015a; 2016b; 2016e; 2016f; 2018e; 2019a).
47 See the collection of essays on "wicked problems" to be published in Philosophia Reformata, including Conradie (2020b).
48 For a discussion, see Conradie (2017a), in conversation with amongst others Celia Deane-Drummond (2009).
49 See Neiman (2002:107).
50 See Neiman (2002:269).
51 The reference is to Bill McKibben (1989).
52 There is a sizable corpus of literature here, far too many to reference. I have been influenced particularly by many conversations with Christopher Southgate in this regard. In his sizable oeuvre, see especially Southgate (2008; 2018a; 2018b), and for my contributions in conversation with Southgate, Gijsbert van den Brink and others, see Conradie (2018b; 2018c; 2018e).
53 See Conradie (2005; 2006b).
54 At UWC extensive work has been done on reconciliation since the early debates around the Belhar Confession. For more recent contributions, see Conradie (2013a; 2019c), Kobe (2015), Nkosi (2016), Solomons (2018; 2019).
55 See Neiman (2002).
56 Neiman (2002:120). She adds: "After years of watching the Portuguese prefer the goods of this world to God's word, He determined to speak a little louder" (2002:243)!
57 Neiman (2002:216).
58 See Conradie as early as (2005a; 2005c; 2005d; 2007), also Kotze (2016).
59 See Neiman (2002:60).
60 See Serres (2018:144). Serres argues that the course of evolution bifurcates with the emergence of self-consciousness that enables the recognition of the evolutionary war of all against all. The human species emerges when it departs from this war of species. On this basis he poses a profound question: "How, consequently, can we free ourselves from evil without abandoning life itself since it entails death, entropy, filth, and crimes?" (147).
61 Again Susan Neiman (2002:236) grasps what is at stake: "The paradox is just this: the urge to naturalize evil arose from the desire to tame and control it. But the more it is tamed, the more the quality of evil disappears. This leaves us with the fear that evil wasn't captured but trivialized. The banal doesn't shatter the world but composes it."
62 See my critique of the concept of development (Conradie 2015b; 2016f).
63 The implied reference is to Menninger (1973).
64 See my earlier contributions on confessing guilt in the context of climate change (Conradie 2010b).
65 See the comment by Susan Neiman (2002:92): "Contingency blurs the lines between moral and natural evil the eighteenth century tried to draw, for it is both microscopic and all-pervasive. Chance can turn our best efforts into quixotic last stands. The will to be effectively moral is therefore the will to remove it."
66 Susan Neiman (2002:230), in conversation with Freud, observes that the Greek gods were invented to serve three functions: "to exorcise the terrors of nature, to reconcile us to the cruelty of fate and to compensate us for the suffering that civilization itself imposes". The laws of nature may help to address the first, the second remains unresolved, while the third, the need for civilisation, responds to the first two.
67 See Neiman (2002:257, 267). She regards both Hegel and Nietzsche as representative of attempts to overcome the gap between nature and morality by abolishing either the one or the other. Strangely, Richard Dawkins' book The selfish gene may be regarded as an attempt to sustain the distinction: in the end he reaches the conclusion that we need to rebel against our genes (2006:200-201)!
68 There is ample literature on the emergence of sin in theological discussions of evolution. Often this is confused with the category of original sin. See my review of such literature in Redeeming sin? (2017) and the proposal developed in Chapter 5 that the category of "bifurcation" may be helpful to indicate that things can go wrong at various levels but that not all of these need to be categorised as sin. Things going wrong is not necessarily a moral or a religious concept; it may be used in business or sport without moral connotations. I recently reread Denis Edwards' discussion in The God of evolution (1999:60-70). He maintains a clear distinction between social evil and natural evil and does not make the latter the root cause of the former. Nature is damaged by human sin but not itself fallen (1999:67). I find his first thesis congenial to my own approach: "Humans are a fallible symbiosis of genes and culture, who experience drives and impulses from the genetic side of their inheritance as well as from the cultural side, and these drives and impulses can be disordered and mutually opposed. This experience is intrinsic to being an evolutionary human but it is not sin" (1999:65).
69 For Neiman (2002:325), to reject theodicy is to reject comprehension!
70 Conradie (2017c:110-111).
71 Especially three contemporary soteriological metaphors have been explored by UWC students under my supervision, namely liberation, reconciliation and reconstruction. See Conradie (2006a; 2010d; 2011), Brooks (2015), Solomons (2018).
72 See Neiman (2002:299).
73 See the intriguing proposal by Christopher Southgate regarding the need for a compound theodicy that combines various elements within a narrative scheme "that is consonant with the classic Christian confessions of creation, redemption and eschatological consummation" (2018a:305). He assumes the failure of fall-based arguments to account for natural sources of suffering. Redemption is therefore not from sin - since sin is inevitable in an evolutionary world - but from the disvalues (the many forms of suffering) embedded in the evolutionary process. Eschatological consummation is required to ensure a "new creation", "a dimension of existence in which there is no more suffering" (304). I would need to ask whether such salvation entails the redemption of the earth or redemption from the many flaws of God's otherwise quite good creation? Or is redemption aimed at making God's beloved creation fire-proof against sin (see Conradie 2013b; 2015b).
74 I am grateful to Frederick Simmons for helping me to recognise this.

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Deception in the language game. Tracing the natural roots of the vice of lying1



Celia Deane-Drummond

Laudato Si' Research Institute, Campion Hall , University of Oxford




In the public political sphere truth telling is becoming more the exception than the rule. Of all the tendencies to sin, lying is arguably one of the most destructive and most distinctive of human societies. Or is it? Is it, for example, right to exaggerate the importance of keystone species in order to enhance public support for biodiversity conservation? Longstanding philosophical debates exist about the moral legitimacy of lying in certain circumstances where not to do so would lead to harmful social outcomes. What might be the evolutionary roots of tendencies to deceive and how might this map onto human capacities for lying? Is an Augustinian approach to lying as always fundamentally wrong too rigid an approach or is it essential to Christian witness in a world where truth telling is habitually compromised? This paper will explore the fuzzy boundaries between natural and social evils and tease out in a preliminary way their relationships with original sin.

Keywords: deception; truth; lying; language; morality; natural evil; original sin




For the purposes of this paper I will be focusing on a specific aspect of sin - lying -which is, arguably, one of the most fundamentally important, as its ramifications are felt in the social and political sphere and not just expressed as a private but essentially individualistic sin. It is also particularly interesting insofar as there are analogies with evolutionarily significant natural tendencies for deception and psychological explanations as to why human beings tell lies. It is, therefore, one of the most important aspects of biocultural evolution that theologians need to take seriously and draw into conversation with their own theological and biblical traditions on lying as a sin and vice. The social politically charged nature of the topic of deception and lying is obvious. Having spent the last eight years working for a United States University in the period in which Donald Trump became elected, a kind of politics that is indifferent to truth telling became obvious to me. According to a report published in the USA, in three presidential debates in November 2016 Trump made a total of 104 false claims (Dale and Talaga 2016). His lies are significant, as they aim not just to deceive, but also to re-write history. While in office he continues to use these tactics, including accusations that his opponents are trying to deceive during impeachment proceedings (Smith 2019).

Another good example that is particularly important ecologically is the public debate sometimes known as "Climategate" surrounding leaked emails following Prof Philip Jones' private discussion of the results of his climate research with a colleague, Prof Michael Mann, in 2009, immediately prior to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting in Copenhagen (Deane-Drummond 2011). The problem with the leaked emails is that they seemed to suggest that the scientists involved were portraying the statistics in a deceptive way so as to make a high risk of extreme warming more likely. At the time reports in the media, including the Daily Telegraph, portrayed this as "the worst scientific scandal of our generation" (Booker 2009). Three months later, in February 2010, another equally strident report published in The Guardian claimed that the "Climategate" scandal was "bogus" and based on "climate skeptic lies" (Pearce 2010). Prof Jones claimed in his original email to a colleague that "the 'trick' hides 'the decline'", an ambiguous phrase that triggered the suspicion that some results had been covered up. His use of the word "trick" referred to his use of statistics. But the suggestion that this was meant to "hide the decline in temperature" was impossible, since in 1999 the global climate temperatures were still rising; rather he referred to the fact that analyses of tree rings, traditionally used by scientists as a marker to indicate temperature change, seemed to show a decline in temperatures in the last half century. However, this was a false result, since the correlation between temperature and tree rings has broken down in the last half century due to other interfering factors, such as pollution. The "trick" was a shorthand way of saying two different data sets were combined in order to remove the ambiguity in the presentation of the statistics.

A month later, in March 2010, an international panel of experts published a report which examined the research of the Climate Research Unit in East Anglia. They concluded that greater transparency is needed, and that "climate scientists need to take steps to make available all the data that support their work and full methodological workings, including their computer codes" (Oxburgh et al. 2010). They did, however, express regret that some information may have been deleted. The overall conclusion is that when there are heated political issues at stake, deception and deliberate manipulation of information are common, and are used at the personal cost of those who are caught up in processes. Are there ever cases of deception not just to disguise climate change, but to promote the work of environmentalists and ecologists? A photographer who published a photograph of a lone polar bear starving to death in 2017 and claimed that this was related to climate change, provides a good example. In retrospect many think that this went too far - the actual cause of that polar bear's death was not known. National Geographic later admitted this mistake (Mittermeier 2018).

Lies are socially and politically important, as they can not only ruin individual lives, but also change the social and political landscape through incitation to violence, cruelty and potentially warfare. Even when Trump is recognised as a liar, his popularity among his supporters does not wane, as he is seen to lie in the name of authenticity and legitimacy. Millennials' desire for authenticity means that lies do not appear to be quite as socially abhorrent in Western cultures today compared with attitudes even half a century ago. Lies are socially binding in the sense that they can bring people together under a common lie. Yet when directed against others, lies can break into violence. Hannah Arendt's analysis of the ineffectiveness of outrage about lying in politics (Arendt 1972) is true to the extent that moral outrage against racism and misogyny in the case of Trump seems to make very little difference to his popularity. His supporters tap into a different kind of rage over the loss of white masculinity as power and a rejection of "political correctness" (Dale and Talaga 2018).

Theological ethics cannot afford to be neutral, though it must be cognisant of the fact that simple moral outrage is ineffective against those who are driven by other emotively inspired lights. Lying is to an extent part and parcel of social and cultural fabric as recorded in countless works of literature. Shakespeare's plays, for example, include accidental incidences of deception (= non-linguistic lying), as in the Comedy of errors, or more deliberate manipulative tactics as in Othello or Julius Caesar, or fear of being deceived by faithless lovers as in The winter's tale, Othello, or Much ado about nothing, or even examples of self-deception as in Macbeth or Twelfth night.

The aim of this paper is to try and tease out a little more of those aspects of "natural evil" as reflected in deception and lying in psychological and evolutionary terms, and ask how that might impinge on theological ideas on "moral evil", including discussion of its source understood according to the doctrine of original sin. I will engage with an Augustinian approach to lying compared with the Thomistic position, and explore the way in which the boundary between natural and moral evil is blurred, but at the same time there are distinct features in Thomistic and Augustinian positions which are brought to the surface through their specific use of the language of lies.


Bio-cultural roots of deception

Psychologists and evolutionary biologists generally treat different forms of deception in social communities as natural phenomena to be explained rather than a matter of ethical judgment of right or wrong. The basic ability to deceive others is viewed as a psychological adaptation to learning the demands of living with others in a community (Lewis and Saarni 1993). Deception may be used either for socially approved goals or for reasons that provoke subsequent condemnation or distrust. There are usually strong psychological motivations behind deception, for example: (a) fear of being found out to have committed misdeeds, or (b) feeling threatened by another's dominance, or emotions of envy or greed, or (c) in some cases feeling protective of or desiring to care for vulnerable others (Lewis and Saarni 1993:7).

As well as these mixed motivations, deception may have different degrees of self-awareness, including self-deception. Lying that is self-aware can take various forms. First, is may be implemented to cover up a misdeed in order to avoid punishment, interpreted as part of an adaptive strategy in children as young as two years of age (Lewis and Saarni 1993:9-17). Second, people may lie in an attempt to gain advantages, such as cheating in school, common from elementary level. Third, deception may be a deliberate exaggeration in order to gain attention, also known as emotional dissemblance, found in children as young as three years of age. Children as young as five years can use deception in manipulative ways in order to attract attention or gain other advantages. Self-illusory deception is harder to identify in young children, but there is some evidence that from about seven years children are capable of it, such as believing a dead animal will suffocate if it is buried in the ground (Lewis and Saarni 1993:17).

Deception is a biological phenomenon described at the most basic level through evolutionary means, and can be defined as follows: In deception the deceiver represents something else to one who is being deceived than is actually the case in order for the deceiver to gain advantages that it would not have otherwise. Biologist Robert Mitchell proposes different levels of deception, beginning with basic mimicry through to behavioural deceptions. Snakes will sometimes feign death, and predatory fireflies mimic the reproductive displays of other species in order to capture them (Mitchell 1993:68). According to Mitchell's definition, something like camouflage would not count. Part of the difficulty of understanding deception biologically is that if deception is common, then there would be adjustment of behaviour where deception is assumed, so it is not obvious why deception would work to deceive at all. It therefore has to be part of a more general system in which "honest" signalling is the norm, and which includes means of detecting those who give incorrect information to their own advantage or who "cheat".

A good example of deception that is fairly common is false predator alarm calls between birds when feeding. Those that give the alarm calls are the less dominant, so that the predator alarm has the effect of giving them greater access to food. For the birds that are deceived the cost of not responding to a predator is death, while responding to a false alarm is temporary loss of food. When at a feeding source, false alarming for predators was observed to be higher than honest alarm calls at a ratio of 1.70 for great tits and 1.17 for white-winged shrike-tanager (Searcy and Nowicki 2005:65-66).

Anthropologist Donna Kean and her colleagues have observed important physiological changes among tufted capuchin monkeys, Sapajus nigritis, when making false alarm calls (Kean et al. 2017:37-46). Vocal production in terrestrial mammals is linked with affective states, and specific calls arise spontaneously rather like human laughter. However, Kean and associates report behavioural and neurobiological evidence to suggest that there is actually a degree of voluntary control over whether or not to produce an alarm call in a given emotional state. So, the emotional state may be necessary for the call to be produced, but may not be sufficient on its own to account for such calls. Their results show that for both tufted capuchins observed in the wild and in captivity, anxiety is a necessary precondition for producing false alarm calls, but such states are not sufficient.


The language of lies

One of the interesting aspects to explore is the relationship between biologically driven deception and lies. This forms a topic for an exploration of cultural evolution. Are lies that necessarily use language (at least in most definitions) just exaggerated forms of deception or not? Commenting on the psychological predisposition to lie in the context of a discussion of a contemporary interpretation of Augustine's doctrine of original sin, Jesse Couenhoven claims that such predispositions that seem to be based on deep psychologically driven tendencies amount to support for the idea of original sin arising from the social sciences. So "the traditional idea of sin's originality offers a variation on the theme via the striking claim that human beings, while first and fundamentally created good, are now constituted as sinners via an inherited infection that is shared among our race" (Couenhoven 2013:3). He assumes, incorrectly in my view, that it is possible that originating humans were not inclined to lying and deception - an assumption which is not supported by current science showing widespread deception in the animal world. His main point is that, even if we cannot help involuntary forms of sin, we are still responsible, and "we should not be too ready to excuse ourselves" (Couenhoven 2013:3).

He argues that psychological tendencies towards self-deception, such as attribution bias,2brings empirical plausibility to the doctrine of original sin (Couenhoven 2013:220). At the same time, facing up to such a bias allows an ownership of the narratives, rather than just characterising persons as puppets of moral luck or bodies with diseases (Couvenhoven 2013:222).

Couenhoven's argument is interesting, but only really adequate if the natural tendency for self-deception is in direct continuity with the basic ground for lying. My argument in this paper is that this is only a partial truth, in that language cannot be reduced to psychological or even evolutionary coherent accounts. In addition, Augustinian thinking, by prioritising grace over against natural tendencies to sin, is ambiguous with respect to its compatibility with psychological theories. Couenhoven argues that original sin is realistic in noting the depth of our ability to deceive ourselves in a way which is compatible with psychological theories, but he does not sufficiently acknowledge that the doctrine of original sin still relies on a different normative framework compared to that of science. Further, even if we agree with the theoretical moral importance of truth telling, Augustine's own absolutist analysis of the evils of lying leads to some troubling ethical conclusions.

Charles Taylor's The language animal argues for a constitutive theory of language drawing on the 18th century German philosophers Johann Gottfried von Herder, Johan Georg Hamann and Wilhelm von Humboldt, whereby language makes possible a very different kind of consciousness, one that is reflective, besonnen (Taylor 2016:6). Such reflection becomes a kind of sensitivity to "rightness" that he argues cannot simply be reduced to psychology, because it is about an inner recognition of validity (Taylor 2016:7-8). It is not, therefore, simply "success" in a task, but an "awareness which is independent from, or can sit alongside of, response triggering... a new kind of response, linguistic recognition" (Taylor 2016:9). Taylor suggests that the difference is that while sophisticated social animals such as primates may be able to use symbols, they are incapable of "symbolic invention" (Taylor 2016:10-11).3 For Taylor the significance of language is also about establishing new relationships and recognition of where someone is positioned in the social sphere, a process he terms "footings" (Taylor 2016:28). Language also helps constitute meanings not present before, having a creative existential function in terms of describing and understanding our human condition (Taylor 2016:46). Language is about a web of relationships in face to face encounters.

Rowan Williams similarly resists the view that the natural sciences are sufficient to capture the meaning of language (Williams 2014:1-34). Like Taylor, he is interested in material practices as the context which shapes language (Williams 2014:95-125). He develops the transcendental dimension of language, including the place of silence as part of making meaning (Williams 2014:156-185). It follows, therefore, that both Taylor's and Williams' understanding of language renders a discussion of lying rather different from one of deception, since it highlights the fact that lying is not simply a matter of lack of correspondence to a given fact, but rather subtler; a falsity whereby an active agent bears false witness (Williams 2014:45). Could lying, therefore, also be language free, that is, through a specific and deliberate use of silence? This is theoretically possible in Williams' scheme, though he does not discuss it. Furthermore, the philosophy of language tends to focus on the explicit use of language to deceive as an integral part of what a definition of a lie means.

Lying as a uniquely human activity is particularly interesting as it is about a philosophy of language and ethical dilemmas associated with lying. According to Jennifer Saul, lying in the first place requires a type of saying, something false needs to be said in order to lie (Saul 2012). However, it is not just about saying something false (as in jokes, for example), but also more commonly saying something false with an intention for another to believe that what is said is true (Saul 2012:6-7). It is a type of warranting (Saul 2012:11).

In ethics there are two different philosophical traditions on lying (MacIntyre 1994). One is broadly based on the intention to deceive; here some lying is permissible depending on motivations or consequences. Aristotle follows this view. While he is generally negative about the permissibility of lying, especially lying related to boasting and false humility, he allows for some lies to be morally permissible when they harm no one and when they stem from an excellence rather than a deficiency in character (Zembaty 1993).

The other tradition, such as that followed by Immanuel Kant, is narrower; in this case lying is never permissible. According to this second tradition, the distinction between lying and misleading is significant, and deliberately giving misleading information that is technically not a lie is morally better than acts which tell lies.

A well-known narrative tells of St Athanasius in disguise, who was asked by would be persecutors "Is Athanasius close at hand?" His reply "He is not far from here" technically did not lie, but was deliberately misleading (MacIntyre 1994:336). Of course, if Athanasius adhered to the first broader tradition on lying, then saying a deliberate lie to save his life would be permissible anyway. The point is that this second tradition goes to extreme lengths not to tell a lie.

Augustine and Aquinas are interesting as they follow the two different traditions named earlier, Augustine supporting a more absolute stance against lying, but Aquinas modifying that approach and leaning more towards a broader one that countenances some lies which are permissible, or, rather, are still sins, but count as venial rather than mortal sins.

Augustine believes the lie by definition to be a deliberate act of duplicity:

... that man lies, who has one thing in his mind and utters another in words, or by signs of whatever kind. Whence also the heart of him who lies is said to be double; that is, there is a double thought: the one, of that thing which he either knows or thinks to be true and does not produce; the other, of that thing which he produces instead thereof, knowing or thinking it to be false. (Augustine 1887 §3)

Theologian Paul Griffiths argues that the core of an Augustinian understanding of lying is this duplicity, duplex cor, so that what is said does not correspond to what the speaker believes to be true (Griffiths 2004:30). Griffiths' staunch defence of an Augustinian absolutism on lying based on a priority of grace means that lying is never under any circumstances defensible. Williams describes this view as "austere" and asks "how do we know that this hideously costly truthfulness will not be the occasion for smugness

rather than anguish?" (Williams 2014:49).

Aquinas supports a more flexible approach and extends the broader category of lying as a sin against the truth, not just in words, but also in actions:

... just as it is contrary to truth to signify something with words differently than what one has in mind, it is also contrary to truth to use signs of deeds or things to signify the opposite of what is in oneself, and this is properly called dissimulation. Thus dissimulation is properly a lie told through the signification of outward deeds. (Aquinas 2a2ae Qu. 3.1)

Aquinas, like Augustine, defines the lie, mendacium, as both saying something false and deceiving someone. He defines the lie as the sin against truthfulness, veritas, so it is always associated with falsitas (Aquinas 2a2ae Qu. 110.1). Truthfulness is a form of communication that relies on the use of reason that connects accurately signs with a particular idea, a conceptum.

To what extent is deceiving among animals related to human lying when considered from a biological perspective? It is worth commenting that biologists call accurate signalling by animals, honest signalling in a way that captures something of what is true about biological relationships. Of course, their own use of language is replete with human metaphors when used to describe animal behaviour. It is often difficult to capture meaning without some resort to human metaphors, that is, to anthropomorphic terms. The difference, in the case of human speech, is that humans alone have the ability to abstract ideas from situations in a way that reflects veracity or falsehood. According to Aquinas, the ability of the lie to deceive another is not so much intrinsic to the lie, but rather its perfection, so a lie that deceives is successful, but a lie that does not deceive is still lying. At the lower levels of deception in the biological world it would not make sense to talk about deception that does not work; it simply would not be registered as deception. At the same time, complex social animals do have complex cultural worlds, which in some cases includes intentionality, for example the behaviour of a lower ranking chimpanzee that aims to mislead a dominant but is unsuccessful, could be interpreted as a failed attempt to deceive.

Griffiths claims that Augustine's interest in lying just for the pleasure of doing so is more psychologically acute than Aquinas' two-stage model (Griffiths 2004:175). I am much less convinced of this point. If there is no ability to deceive, then that lack of ability undercuts the culminating purpose of the lie which, it seems to me, is still grounded in a biologically driven desire to deceive others. Further, in Aquinas' definition, if a person believes something is false (whereas in fact it is true), and states it as truth, that is not a lie, so, like Augustine, the issue of duplicity is very important to him.

Aquinas' less severe condemnation of moderate lying depends on his categorisation of lies as mortal and venial sins. When a lie is about what refers to God, or about the human good in a way opposed to love, then it is a mortal sin. It is also a mortal sin when it intends to harm someone else, either directly or indirectly, for example as in inciting scandal. Aquinas defines the difference between mortal and venial sin as follows: Mortal sin arises "when the soul is so disordered by sin as to turn away from its last end, viz., God, to Whom it is united by charity (...); but when it is disordered without turning away from God, there is venial sin" (Aquinas 2012: 1a2ae Qu. 72.5). All other lies are classified as venial sins, that is, they are not classified as opposed to humanity's end in God.

By dividing lies into mortal and venial sins, Aquinas moves away from the absolutist position of Augustine by generating a hierarchy of different types of lie, some of which do not necessarily separate those who commit such acts from God's love. Augustine insists that any lie, regardless of its effects, is always wrong. Aquinas' more moderate position allows for some lies in some circumstances if the intent behind that lie is love rather than harm, such as to protect a child or vulnerable person. In naming lies as sins against God, against the virtue of truth, he also refuses to accept a purely reductionistic explanation for their existence. Stewart Clem argues that Aquinas' focus on lies as primarily a sin against truth and only secondarily a sin against justice is important as it shows that moral wrongdoing goes further than the notion of harm (Clem 2018:261). Is the categorisation into mortal and venial sin fully convincing or does Aquinas not entirely escape Augustine's stricture against all lying? As with many aspects of the moral life, Aquinas intends to be faithful to Augustine while moderating or qualifying his position. In this respect it depends on how far venial sins are considered to be serious or not in the moral life. By naming such lies sins, of a qualified sort, Aquinas is refusing to declare any lie as good. However, distinguishing mortal and venial sins permits a more flexible approach to the moral life that avoids rigidity. Such an approach is also more compatible with moral psychology that tends to find social or cultural reasons why some lies are committed, such as in defence of the most vulnerable, rather than naming them as inevitable "evils". At the same time, given his elevation of the importance of truth, he refuses to reduce ethics to moral psychology. In so far as a lie, in his thinking, is always a sin against truthfulness it can never be classified as a good. Yet, by softening the condemnatory approach to all lying characteristic of Augustine's position, it takes account of the complexity of moral decision making in difficult or challenging circumstances where to tell a lie would lead to significant harm.


Preliminary conclusions

Studying deception and lying provides a fascinating way to probe the relationships between natural and social evils and interpret these in theological and ethical terms. Evolutionary biologists prefer to frame the debate on deception in terms of payoffs for advantages that are significant in evolutionary terms, such as basic survival with alarm calls, or other reproductive advantages like deception in attracting a mate. Too much deception is counter-productive, as it undermines trust in what a biologist would call "honest signalling". In chimpanzee societies deception is relatively rare, and there is evidence of some awareness of what another is thinking ("theory of mind"), and a degree of control about, for example, whether or not to emit false alarm signals, though anxious states presuppose such a tendency. In human communities there are signs of a very early development of a capacity to deceive in different ways, either to avoid punishment or in order to gain benefits (through exaggeration).

What difference might lying make to the tapestry of deception? Language is distinctive in allowing human beings to reflect inwardly on and create particular concepts. Language, in so far as it is able to identify what is right and fitting for a given context, can create social worlds that extend beyond a direct one to one truthful correspondence. Lying, similarly, in so far as it draws on the imagination, can create falsehoods and generate illusions both in the self and others, more often than not for destructive purposes, though on occasion arising from the desire to protect another. Lying can go further than simple deception, as it is also about the need for warranting. As language opens up to the beautiful and even the transcendent, so lying has the capacity to open up to the diabolical and destructive. Under psychological pressure, human beings are far more likely to tell lies. As climate change becomes more severe and ecological anxiety increases, lying is more likely to be the sin that chokes the human condition and prevents effective action. At the same time, it is important to recognise its natural roots and make at least some allowances for lying.

If humans have evolved a language-ready brain, then perhaps they have in some sense evolved a lying-ready brain as well. Discerning whether a lie is justifiable or not needs to recognise natural inclinations and cultural perspectives on the acceptability of lying. Theologians generally resist collapsing explanations of lying into such biocultural processes and perceive the lie as an offence against the truth as transcendental. The virtue of wisdom helps people to make right judgments as to when or under what circumstances particular passions are appropriate. I rejected an Augustinian hard line on the absolute prohibition of lying, favouring instead Thomistic moderation, which, while still consistent in attributing lying as sin, in so far as it is less judgmental, seems to be rather more in keeping with contemporary psychology and biology. At the same time a line needs to be drawn between truth and falsehood. Anthropologists as a rule refuse to draw such ethical lines. The link between individual, community and political forms of deception is all too clear in our contemporary social context. A theological analysis of lying alongside insights from the social and natural sciences may perhaps help to begin to make sense of it all.



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Deane-Drummond, Celia. 2011. A case for collective conscience: Climategate, COP-15, and climate justice, Studies in Christian Ethics 24(1):1-18.         [ Links ]

Deane-Drummond, Celia. 2022. Shadow Sophia: The evolution of wisdom Volume 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press (in press).         [ Links ]

Griffiths, Paul. 2004. Lying: An Augustinian theology of duplicity. Grand Rapids: Braznos Press.         [ Links ]

Kean, Donna, Barbara Tiddi, Martin Fahy, Michael Heistermann, Gabriele Schino, Brandon C. Wheeler. 2017. Feeling anxious? The mechanisms of vocal deception in tufted capuchin monkeys, Animal Behaviour 130:37-46. Available online:         [ Links ]

Lewis, Michael and Carolyn Saarni (eds). 1993. Lying and deception in everyday life. New York: The Guildford Press.         [ Links ]

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1994. Truthfulness, lies and moral philosophers: What can we learn from Mill and Kant?, Tanner Lectures on Human Values 1994, delivered at Princeton University, 1994. Available online: (Accessed 23 June 2019).         [ Links ]

Mitchell, Robert. 1993. Animals as liars: The human face of non-human duplicity. In Michael Lewis and Carolyn Saarni (eds), Lying and deception in everyday life. New York: The Guildford Press, pp. 59-89.         [ Links ]

Mittermeier, Cristina G. 2018. Starving polar bear photographer recalls what went wrong, National Geographic Magazine, August 2018. Available online: (Accessed 14 October 2019).         [ Links ]

Oxburgh, Ron, Huw Davies, Kerry Emanuel, Lisa Graumlich, David Hand, Herbert Huppert Michael Kelly. 2010. Report of the International Panel set up by the University of East Anglia to examine the research of the Climatic Research Unit, March 2010. Available online: (Accessed 5 April 2010).         [ Links ]

Pearce, Fred. 2010. How the "Climategate" scandal is bogus and based on climate skeptic lies, The Guardian, 1 February 2010. Available online: (Accessed 5 March 2010).         [ Links ]

Saul, Jennifer Mather. 2012. Lying, misleading and what is said: An exploration in philosophy of language and in ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.         [ Links ]

Searcy William A. and Stephen Nowicki. 2005. The evolution of animal communication. Princeton: Princeton University Press.         [ Links ]

Smith, David. 2019. The lies have it. Republicans abandon truth in Trump impeachment proceedings, The Guardian, 15 December 2019. Available online: (Accessed 16 December 2019).         [ Links ]

Sullivan, Maureen. 2003. The fundamental attribution error in detecting deception: The boy-who-cried-wolf effect, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 19(10):1316-1327. Available online:         [ Links ]

Taylor, Charles. 2016. The language animal: The full shape of the human linguistic capacity. Cambridge/Mass: Belknap/Harvard University Press.         [ Links ]

Williams, Rowan. 2014. The edge of words: God and the habits of language. London: Bloomsbury.         [ Links ]

Zembaty, Jane. 1993. Aristotle on lying, Journal of the History of Philosophy 31(1):7-29.         [ Links ]



1 A fuller account of many of the arguments in this chapter is presented in Deane-Drummond (2022).
2 There are various attribution biases that could be a factor in self-deception. For example, the tendency to believe that external factors are responsible for failure rather than the self and success the result of internal factors is thought to be characteristic of more individualistic cultures. The issue is complicated by the fact that it is also possible to make assumptions about someone else on the basis of attributing actions to the influence of a particular culture, known as cultural bias. Further, it is even possible to have cognitive bias in the ability to detect deception accurately (e.g. O'Sullivan 2003).
3 Referenced in footnote 10. Taylor unfortunately tends to dismiss the views of those working on chimpanzee language as if they presuppose it is the same as, or at least in continuity with, human language. In my own experience of discussing such topics with primatologists this is far from correct: the awareness of discontinuity is still acute, even if primatologists do not always have the philosophical language to identify what distinguishes human language from animal communication more precisely.

^rND^sArendt^nHannah^rND^sAugustine^nDe Mendacio 1887^rND^sBooker^nChristopher^rND^sDale^nDenis^rND^nTanya^sTalaga^rND^sDeane-Drummond^nCelia^rND^sKean^nDonna^rND^nBarbara^sTiddi^rND^nMartin^sFahy^rND^nMichael^sHeistermann^rND^nGabriele^sSchino^rND^nBrandon C.^sWheeler^rND^sMitchell^nRobert^rND^sMittermeier^nCristina G^rND^sPearce^nFred^rND^sSmith^nDavid^rND^sSullivan^nMaureen^rND^sZembaty^nJane^rND^1A01^nNico^sVorster^rND^1A01^nNico^sVorster^rND^1A01^nNico^sVorster



Land dispossession as "original sin". Can christian original sin talk be used as diagnostic tool within the public domain?



Nico Vorster

Faculty of Theology North-West University




This contribution considers the descriptive value of original sin talk within the public domain against the background of the South African land reform debate. The first section analyses the employment of "original sin" language within this debate by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in the light of the rise of "white privilege" discourse in South Africa. The subsequent section addresses the theological content and logical consistency of Augustine's version of original sin. It pays particular attention to Paul Ricoeur's analysis of the historical development of Augustine's thought on sin in response to Manicheanism and Pelagianism and concludes by identifying possible risks involved in transposing the Augustinian version of original sin talk to the public domain. The third section probes the question: Does Christian sin talk belong in the public domain at all? It examines the disconnections that exist between Christian sin talk and popular public notions of "wrongdoing". The article then considers the possible strengths of a non-literalist, non-biological version of original sin doctrine when applied to the public domain, while the last section illustrates the diagnostic benefits of the proposed version of original sin with reference to the South African land debate.

Keywords: original sin; Augustine; Ricoeur; public discourse; land dispossession; South Africa; colonialism




"Original sin" language is used surprisingly often in non-theological literature and public social discourses. In property law original sin theory refers to the origin of property rights. It states that the manner in which governments transfer property rights to individuals has ramifications for the legitimacy of those property rights. Property rights that are transferred by means of major transgressions of law are tainted and "retain their illegitimacy".1 Within economic theory original sin refers to the inability of emergent economies to borrow capital in local currency, either in international or domestic markets, as a result of their debt composition.2 Original sin language also features in political theory studies that trace the historical "pathways" of discriminatory legislation and evaluate their enduring effect on the current status of individual citizens3 as well as genocidal studies concerned with the aftermaths of mass killings4 and post-colonial discourses about the continuing legacy of colonialism and racism.5 While these usages of original sin language are devoid of explicit religious content or references to God, they mimic the underlying components of Christian original sin doctrine: i) the notion of an original, unlawful or irresponsible act that sets in motion a tragic chain of events, ii) the propensity of the original act to have a lasting, enduring and systemic impact on future generations, iii) the understanding that the "original act" taints the legacy of those who benefitted historically from the particular act, and iv) the acknowledgement that such an act incurs a level of moral culpability and requires some kind of remedy.

The South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, recently employed original sin language within the fierce and emotionally charged land reform debate in South Africa. On several occasions he described 20th century colonial land dispossessions from indigenous people as the "original sin" that plagues South Africa. On 18 February 2018 Ramaphosa stated before the South African Parliament: "The taking of land from the indigenous people of this country was the 'original sin'. It caused divisions, hurt and pain amongst our people." He continued to argue that rectifying the situation is a "collective task" and that a variety of mechanisms are available to resolve the issue of land. This includes, among others, the possibility of land expropriation without compensation under certain conditions.6

This essay forms part of a larger project named "Redeeming sin". The project was hosted by the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of the Western Cape and included a number of annual international colloquiums. The project examined a challenging and daunting question: Is it possible to retrieve Christian sin-talk in the public sphere?7 My essay contributes to the project theme by exploring the topic of original sin.8 I specifically ask whether we can transpose the theological concept of original sin to the public realm in a constructive and useful manner? Various sub-questions follow: Would the public use of a theological term not compromise the integrity of Christian doctrine? What are the social risks involved in applying the concept to the public realm? Are there any moral benefits to using the concept as a diagnostic tool within the public domain? I probe these interrelated questions against the concrete background of the South African land debate, specifically President Ramaphosa's use of original sin language as a moral entry point to the conversation on land reform.


Original sin language in the South African land reform debate

Ramaphosa's use of a theological concept within the extra-religious domain of politics received mixed reactions. Some land activists embraced it, while others openly denounced it. The South African Institute for Race Relations, for instance, publicly repudiated the remarks by stating that "doctrines of collective guilt have no place in a democracy founded on individual rights".9 We therefore need to ask: Why would Ramaphosa use a theological term within the political domain where juridical and constitutional language are perhaps more appropriate?

We can safely assume that political optics and rhetorical impact were important considerations in Ramaphosa's well-choreographed choice of words. South African politicians often employ pseudo-theological notions in political rallies, especially when they address church leaders and adherents of traditional African religions. But Ramaphosa's original sin remarks have a different sound to them. He employed the term in a speech before Parliament, not a religious audience. His use of the concept was also not a once-off event: he consistently and persistently utilised the term in subsequent speeches as a political-philosophical and moral entry point to the topic of land reform.10

Two other key factors also need to be taken into account when evaluating Ramaphosa's comments. Firstly, his original sin narrative emerged against the background of a wider postcolonial political discourse in South Africa about white privilege and intergenerational accountability. Ramaphosa on several occasions publicly endorsed the logic of the white privilege narrative.11 This argues that "whiteness" continues to act within previous colonial societies as a normative category against which other racial groups are valued, making colonialism an enduring mode of existence.12Whites still enjoy structural advantages of power in these societies and are afforded "taken-for-granted benefits and protections" based on their skin colour.13 The "white condition" is made possible by structures and processes that allow benefits to continue flowing to white people. To rectify this state of affairs, societies need to incorporate notions of "backward liability" in their legal discourses, and they should accept that Person A can be held accountable for the sins of Person B when they have benefitted indirectly from the actions of Person B. The South African white privilege narrative claims that since colonialism and Apartheid legislation appropriated land from black people unjustly, the profits from land that current white owners enjoy, can be considered unjust. The State can therefore not be expected to use market mechanisms to determine current values of land, nor can it be expected to compensate owners for land obtained illegally.14 The Vumelana Advisory Fund articulated this viewpoint as follows before the Parliamentary land hearings held in September 2018:

There is a sense of continuing injustice in the idea that those who profited from the land from which the original land occupants were removed without compensation should keep their profits and be compensated for the land they are now required to give up.15

Secondly, Ramaphosa used the term "original sin" within a specific political context. He attempted to silence political opposition to his land reform programme by providing a moral justification for the ANC policy of expropriation without compensation under certain conditions. On the one hand, Ramaphosa had to counter liberal arguments that individuals cannot be held accountable for the sins of past generations. Original sin tells us that racial and social inequality in South Africa can be related to a specific point in time in South Africa's history - a primal sin - namely the implementation of the 1913 Native Land Act and the 1936 Native Trust and Land Act that dispossessed many black South Africans. Ownership patterns had a sense of normality before the legislation was introduced, but the "sinful act" of this legislation produced the current state of unequal land distribution. The "original sinners" are historically liable for what went wrong. Backward liability and redress are warranted, not only when it comes to the original sinners themselves, but also those who benefitted from the original sin. Ramaphosa also employed original sin to refute the fatalist argument of neo-classicist economists and agriculturalists who claim that wrongs of the past cannot be rectified without endangering future prosperity. Original sin signifies landlessness as an "ongoing" disease that cannot be left untreated. It holds that the negative after-effects of land dispossession are trans-generational, systemic and enduring in nature, and that the "disease" of skewed ownership patterns will not be cured without a collective social response.

At face value, the original sin doctrine provided Ramaphosa with a powerful conceptual tool to promote his political agenda of land restitution and restorative justice. However, transposing the theological concept of original sin to the political domain without a substantive theological context can have unintended consequences.


The "risks" of transposing original sin talk to the public domain

In an essay entitled: Original sin. A study in meaning, first published in 1960 and republished in The conflict of interpretations (1989), Paul Ricoeur warns that we cannot speak about original sin as if it is a concept with proper rational consistency.16 He bases his argument on historical analysis of the theological and philosophical cross-pressures that Augustine faced when he formulated his doctrine on original sin.17 Ricoeur suggests that Augustine developed the notion of peccatum originale as a response to Gnosticism on the one hand and Pelagianism on the other. The unfortunate result was that an "anti-Gnostic" concept became a "quasi-Gnostic" doctrine based on a literal interpretation of the creation narratives and an erroneous exposition of Romans 5:12 and 19.18

Ricoeur emphasises that the term "original sin" is not directly derived from Scripture. The Biblical traditions largely use the metaphor of "captivity" when speaking about the effects of sin on human nature. Unfortunately, Augustine and certain strands of Reformed theology transformed this biblical image into a speculative and abstract rational concept that operates with juridical debt and biological inheritance categories.19

Gnosticism locates evil outside the agency of the human being in matter itself, thus awarding evil ontological status. It views sin as the result of the soul having been infected by the evil of matter, the body and the world. According to Ricoeur, the Church Fathers responded to the Gnostics by asserting the non-being of evil. Evil is not substance, nature or matter, but consists of "doing". Appealing to the creation narratives, they claimed that sin entered the world through the acts of the first human being, which means that "sin is not the world, but comes into the world".20

Sharing the Church Fathers' line of thought, Augustine, in his refutations of Manicheanism (a particular form of Gnosticism), reverts to an ethical understanding of evil. Sin is a deficient movement of the human will away from God; it finds its origins in non-being.21 According to Ricoeur, the question Augustine faced, was: How can the ethical understanding of sin be reconciled with passages such as Romans 9:10-29 that speak of the election of Jacob and the rejection of Esau before their births? Moreover, Augustine had to contend with the Pelagian movement, which portrays sin as a voluntary individual act based on imitation rather than necessity. The Pelagians also contested the possibility of one person being punished for the sins of others.22 This position naturally had drastic implications for orthodox Christology and the Pauline doctrine of grace.

To avoid Pelagian voluntarism and explain the human condition of sin, Augustine introduced the notion of inheritance. He contends that Adam was the initiator and propagator of sin when, as the primal ancestor, he transmitted the disease of sin to all of his descendants.23 We are all infected by sin, and thus we are accountable to God. According to Ricoeur, Augustine based this view on his erroneous interpretation of Romans 5, where Paul sets Adam as anti-type against Jesus, who represents the ideal human.24 Instead of interpreting δι ένός άνθρωπου in 5:12 as Adam being a first vehicle of sin in a "supra individual" sense, Augustine understood the term to denote Adam as the first agent of sin.25 The result was the loss of the mythic dimension of the Adamitic figure - which was still present in Paul's reflection - and the emergence of a juridical notion of "individual guilt corrected by a biologism of hereditary transmission".26

Ricoeur concludes his genealogical discussion of the development of Augustine's concept of original sin with a sharp rebuke:

It will never be said enough just what evil has been done to Christianity by the literal interpretation, the "historicist" interpretation of the Adamatic myth. This interpretation has plunged Christianity into the profession of an absurd history and into pseudo-rational speculations on the quasi-biological transmission of a quasi-juridical guilt for the fault of an other man, back into the night of time somewhere between Pithecanthropus and Neanderthal man.27

Ricoeur's otherwise informative examination contains one fundamental weakness: it does not take the central motive in Augustine's thought adequately into account. In Augustine's thought the comprehensive nature of sin serves as a foil to God's radical and encompassing grace. We are all sinful and guilty before God and are thus salvaged by God's grace alone. That said, Ricoeur's critique unveils shaky theological elements in Augustine's doctrine of original sin: it makes the error of interpreting archetypal, symbolical and metaphorical literature as literal history, it provides an erroneous exposition of Romans 5:12 and it abandons a metaphorical approach to sin as found in creation narratives, only to replace these with an exhaustive but self-contradicting, rationalist explanation of the transmission of sin.

Ricoeur's critique of Augustine's literalist notion of inherited sin is echoed by prominent 20th century theologians, most notably Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr. Barth calls for the total abandonment of the concept of inherited sin,28 while Niebuhr, in a similar vein, appeals for the cleansing of the original sin doctrine from "literalistic illusions". Niebuhr claims that the notion of "an inherited second nature" actually contradicts the idea of human responsibility for sin.29

So, can we transpose a concept that lacks consistency to the public domain, despite its weaknesses? With this question, various challenges come into focus. A first major obstacle is the historical plausibility of Augustine's doctrine. He understood the fall as a literal historical event committed by an original pair of human beings that altered the moral and biological dispositions of human nature. However, when we construe the creation narratives simplistically as literal science or history, we lose, as Duffy contends, "their genuine insights".30 The creation narratives contain prose, poetry, metaphors and symbols that introduce us, in the words of Karl Barth, to a world of "prophetic witness", "intuition" and "imagination" where "events are no longer susceptible as such of historical proof'.31 The absurdity of literalist interpretations of the creation narratives become even clearer when we compare them with paleontological and biological information on the natural history of humankind. McFarland summarises this as follows:

It is now beyond dispute that there was no point where human existence was characterized by immunity from death, absence of labor pains, or an ability to acquire food without toil. Nor are the facts of evolutionary biology consistent with the descent of all human beings from a single ancestral pairing and nothing suggests that humanity's advent occasioned any change in the basic conditions of biological existence.32

The literalist error and historical implausibility of Augustine's doctrine on the origin of sin not only pose a complex set of theological problems, but are also problematic from a public point of view, because the public sphere has to operate with diagnostic tools that are plausible and conform to basic standards of rationality. In a debate as sensitive as land reform, we need to apply moral language with a demonstrable factual basis.

Another major obstacle is the outdated anthropology that underlies the doctrine. Jenson describes the classic notion of human nature as highly problematic, because it understands human nature as something "given to each of us by our biological generation which hands on a deprived and infected version of that nature".33 But the notion that the first pair transmitted the alteration of human nature is theologically not a "sufficient explanation". It suggests an "impersonal something" that makes us human, the alteration of which can bring about a change in the "definition of humanity".34

Augustine regarded the soul as the controller of the body. After the soul deserted God through a wilful act of disobedience, it lost its ability to control the lower passions of the body. Sexual concupiscence and lust now exercised hegemony over the rational dictates of the human will. Human beings were conceived in sexual desire and, by means of this illicit desire, sin was propagated to subsequent generations.35 The natural state of the human being and the unity between body and soul were ruined as a result of sin, because God submitted the human body to death and destruction.36

The difficulty in transposing this aspect of Augustine's doctrine of original sin to a modern context should be clear: The idea that sin (a moral notion) can be transmitted to human generations through sexual intercourse (a biological act) is, anthropologically speaking, not intelligible. Herman Bavinck rightly observes that sin can never be conceived as a substance that settles in the human body that can be transmitted through procreation. This would imply that bodily human nature is, somehow, evil.37

Thirdly, Augustine's fusion of biological and juridical categories risks obliterating the important link between human accountability and human agency. Maintaining the link between human accountability and human agency is vitally important within criminal justice discourse, since the alternative would be to enter the realm of arbitrary justice. Once we ascribe guilt and culpability to a person in the legal realm based on their lineage or group association without taking into account the person's own agency and actions, a space is created for arbitrary discrimination. The most notorious crimes committed against humanity in the 20th century generally had one feature in common: a group of people were considered as undesirable simply because of their lineage, religion, group belonging or supposed criminal history and the law was subsequently used to persecute or discriminate against them. These cases clearly illustrate the danger of collectivist and arbitrary notions of guilt or innocence. When it comes to land, events in Zimbabwe serve as a vivid reminder of the disastrous effects that an arbitrary application of justice can have on a country. When we respond to injustice by doing injustice we not only lose our moral compasses, but we also create spirals of wrongdoing.


The compatibility of Christian sin talk and public discourse

If the Augustinian version of original sin is not transposable to the public domain, what about other types of Christian sin talk? McGrath rightly notes that Western culture has been deeply influenced by the Pelagian sin doctrine, even though its name means little to most people.38 Pelagianism upholds the free will of the human being and preserves the close bond between human agency and human accountability. It claims that moral actions and merit stand in a proportional relationship to each other and it dispenses with any notion of inherited guilt. It does not view sin as a permanent condition, but as a contingent moral act that emanates from the abuse of free will. At face value, it seems that public and juridical discourse can utilise this concept of sin quite easily.

But here we also encounter various difficulties.39 Pelagianism tends to understand the human will as an unconditioned neutral mechanism that can freely choose between competing options. When we cannot make decisions, we are in a position of coercion, and not engaged in a process of willing.40 Theoretically speaking, then, Pelagianism holds that it is possible for human beings not to sin, and even if they sin, they are always in a position to return to a neutral position of decision making. Semi-Pelagianism softens the voluntarism of Pelagianism somewhat by recognising that the human will is weakened by sin and that moral perfection is not possible, but it still claims that the human propensity for good combined with divine aid can overcome sin.

The biblical traditions largely use much more radical language when it comes to sin. As Horton rightly observes, sin is not something that can be overcome by simple "moral instruction" or "social engineering".41 We are, in Paul's words, slaves of sin.42 Our wills are not merely weakened by sin, but in bondage to it. The Reformers described the tragedy of human existence with the phrase "total depravity", which means that all parts of human existence are contaminated by sin; "there is no Archimedean point within us that is left unfallen."43 Hence, sin involves more than an act of wrong imitation. It denotes a condition of captivity and enslavement, a malevolent compulsion that preconditions our will and captivates us. Paul states it most eloquently in Romans 3:10-11:

As it is written:

'There is no one righteous, not even one;

11 there is no one who understands;

there is no one who seeks God.

12 All have turned away,

they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.'

Pelagianism's "thin notion" of sin inevitably leads to a thin Christology and soteriology that reduces Christ to a moral teacher, and grace to external divine guidance. The biblical traditions, in contrast, tend to magnify the radical nature of sin and the encompassing nature of God's grace, de-emphasising human autonomy and resisting the possibility of the human attainment of salvation through good works.44

From a political point of view, we could also argue that Pelagianism is too naïve a doctrine of sin to transpose to the public domain. Its weakness lies in not taking humanity's solidarity in sin seriously enough. It glosses over the harsh and cruel aftereffects of sin by proclaiming that every human being is in control of their own destiny and that we can conquer sin through human ingenuity. But reality tells us otherwise. The land debate in South Africa serves as an apt reminder that sin entraps generations of victims in vicious cycles of poverty and landlessness. Disparate acts of land dispossession have resulted in a condition, a mode of existence, which is almost impossible to reverse without risking food security, social conflict or severe damage to the economy. South African society is in the precarious position of having to choose between different evils. Niebuhr rightly contends that the Pelagians are so focused on asserting human freedom that they do not realise that "the discovery of this freedom, also involves the discovery of man's guilt".45

If both Pelagianism and Augustinian original sin doctrine do not meet the criteria for an adequate explanation of wrongdoing, should Christian sin language be used as a diagnostic tool within the public domain at all? Theological sin-language and public discourses do not seem at face value to be a natural fit. Three considerations immediately come to mind.

Firstly, Christian sin talk has God as referent. Jenson argues that sin relates to tha