Perriman on reading NT eschatology
What do you think of Perriman’s four hermeneutical points, listed at the start of his fascinating book, The Coming of the Son of Man, for dealing with NT eschatological language?:
1) ‘We will try to read forwards from the first century rather than backwards from the twenty-first century … We must also make an attempt at a much harder task, which is to imagine that we share their ignorance about what lies in the future’ (3).
2) ‘New Testament apocalyptic relates meaningfully to the world as it was seen from the first century’ (4).
3) NT ‘apocalyptic is thoroughly allusive … [and] borrowing language and imagery is not inconsequential but must be taken into account in at least three important respects’ (6).
- ‘First, it brings into view a surrounding argument or narrative that is likely to have a significant bearing on how the New Testament argument or narrative is to be interpreted’ (7).
- ‘The borrowing is virtually an admission on the part of the author that the future is not seen clearly … If we find, for example, that Jesus describes what is going to happen in terms of what has already taken place, this is surely because he is less concerned to give a literal account of events than to draw attention to certain underlying theological continuities’ (7).
- OT prophecy is often better understood not as fulfilment but as reapplication.
4) He ‘will endeavor to construct an integrated and consistent apocalyptic narrative for the New Testament’ (8).This last point is reflective, of course, of the wider problem concerning how one constructs an argument. What comes first, context or context, and how do they relate? For Perriman, important is ‘narrative coherence’ as ‘not every interpretation can be properly defended on intrinsic grounds, either because we lack space or because texts out of context are often irreducibly ambiguous. It is important that we do not lose sight of the wood because we have our noses up against the bark of the trees’ (9).
This last point hits on a massively controversial area. To no doubt over generalise, I suggest that German speaking scholarship is happier to leave inconsistencies in Paul, and to build either developmental hypotheses around this perception (cf. Schnelle. I.e. Paul changed his mind about this, that and the other, and this is perhaps why), or simply posit blatant contradiction. Anglo-American scholarship, on the other hand, tends to prefer to at least attempt a reading that bears in mind the intrinsic weight of the bigger picture as in a greater measure significant for understanding individual elements.
But who is right?