Iain Provan – On Reading the Bible Literally
Episode: Pour yourself a wee dram of whisky and tune in as Matt and Dru talk with Iain Provan about the perils and benefits of literal(istic) interpretation of Scripture and his new book The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture (Baylor, 2017). In addition to some great convo, in this episode you’ll witness the special guest appearance of an Eastern European thought leader, and a new edition of ‘How Scottish Are You?’ This is a republished episode.
Guest: Iain Provan is Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College (no, not Regent University) in Vancouver, BC. Provan has written numerous essays and articles, and several books including commentaries on Lamentations, 1 and 2 Kings, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, and co-authored with Phil Long and Tremper Longman A Biblical History of Israel (John Knox Press, 2nd edition, 2015). He has also published Against the Grain: Selected Essays (Regent College Publishing, 2015), Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It Matters (Baylor University Press, 2014), Convenient Myths: The Axial Age, Dark Green Religion, and the World that Never Was (Baylor University Press, 2013), and The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture (Baylor, 2017). His most recent book is Seeking What is Right: The Old Testament and the Good Life (Baylor, 2021).
Book: (from the publisher’s website) The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture (Baylor, 2017). In 1517, Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s castle church. Luther’s seemingly inconsequential act ultimately launched the Reformation, a movement that forever transformed both the Church and Western culture. The repositioning of the Bible as beginning, middle, and end of Christian faith was crucial to the Reformation. Two words alone captured this emphasis on the Bible’s divine inspiration, its abiding authority, and its clarity, efficacy, and sufficiency: sola scriptura.
In the five centuries since the Reformation, the confidence Luther and the Reformers placed in the Bible has slowly eroded. Enlightened modernity came to treat the Bible like any other text, subjecting it to a near endless array of historical-critical methods derived from the sciences and philosophy. The result is that in many quarters of Protestantism today the Bible as word has ceased to be the Word.
In The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture, Iain Provan aims to restore a Reformation-like confidence in the Bible by recovering a Reformation-like reading strategy. To accomplish these aims Provan first acknowledges the value in the Church’s precritical appropriation of the Bible and, then, in a chastened use of modern and postmodern critical methods. But Provan resolutely returns to the Reformers’ affirmation of the centrality of the literal sense of the text, in the Bible’s original languages, for a right-minded biblical interpretation. In the end the volume shows that it is possible to arrive at an approach to biblical interpretation for the twenty-first century that does not simply replicate the Protestant hermeneutics of the sixteenth, but stands in fundamental continuity with them. Such lavish attention to, and importance placed upon, a seriously literal interpretation of Scripture is appropriate to the Christian confession of the word as Word—the one God’s Word for the one world.
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If you enjoyed this episode … listen in to our earlier interview with Iain about his book Discovering Genesis.