Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Brief Review of Walter Kaiser’s Four Levels

By Max Strange

Walter Kaiser submits four levels necessary for one to have knowledge of a Biblical context. These four are:

• Sectional context

• Book context

• Canonical context

• Immediate context

Sectional context tells us that one goal for the reader is to locate sections or slightly exposed seams that aid the reader to see the author’s meaning. These sections can be identified by repeated phrases, key words repeated, conjunctions or adverbs, rhetorical questions, change in time and location, or a shift from one group to another. Book context tells us the plan of the book when one joins these sectional parts together. Sometimes the author tells us the purpose plainly (John 20:31-32; Luke 1:1-4). However, in most books the purpose must be more diligently sought out by pulling the contents and transitions together from section to section and from paragraph to paragraph. Sections, details, themes, and observation are gathered to help determine the Author/author’s implied theme. Canonical context, for Dr. Kaiser, is a side item in which after all the exegetical work is performed, is used to see what God has to say on the topic. This seems to create two interpretations, one for the immediate audience and one in the far-reaching story-line, which dislocates the text under investigation from redemptive history. This also seems to communicate that the task of exegesis discovery cannot include a meta-narrative/Canon/big picture presupposition for fear that this would detract the hunt for the one meaning for the original audience. Dr. Kaiser appears to place the author at odds with the Canon and the immediate audience at odds with God’s meta-narrative or overall scope of the entire Bible storyline. Given the fact the God is the author of all of Scripture, and Genesis 3:15 is moving all of history to it climax, then it would not seem so impossible to do the work of exegesis with an overarching principle in a Christian’s presuppositional framework. Lastly, the Immediate context helps the reader to consider the prose paragraphs and assists him to discover how various sections of a book relate to one another.

Mr. Kaiser is right by stating that the “primary obligation is to find this thread of thought which runs like a life stream through the smaller and larger parts of every passage” (71). Kaiser speaks of this life streams as the thread running through it all, but he cuts this thread into little pieces that start and end with each book in the Bible. This life stream never flows through all of Scripture in a marvelous and historically redemptive way because he builds 66 dams that halt the stream. Kaiser is scared to look down the barrel of the Canon.

It should be said that the unifying theme, this Life Stream that Kaiser so speaks of, is Jesus Christ. Genesis 3:15 is the Stone in the pond that in every direction sends Jesus ripples. Christ goes out in every direction and is either there explicitly or implicitly. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “I’d rather see Jesus where He isn’t, than to miss Him where He is,” which is to say that Spurgeon’s presupposition when approaching a passage was to see Jesus Christ as that Life Stream running through it all. Even though he articulates it, Canonical context is where Dr. Kaiser is most weak and fails to employ his own advice.

Dr. Kaiser gives a good summary to help Christian’s determine context. Yet, he sells short the Canon, this Jesus Life Stream, which runs through the Bible. Perhaps, and no doubt with good intention, Dr. Kaiser reacted too strongly against Liberal theologians, and created a narrow grid to keep out those poisoners. Unfortunately, he cornered himself by only looking for the author’s meaning instead of the Author/author’s meaning. He cannot see the entire Redemptive Life Stream of Christ that harmoniously connects the 66 books of the Bible and opts for solitary and isolated book meanings. When one actually uses the Life Stream in his or her hermeneutic, Scripture interpreting Scripture makes complete sense and rising up over the hill one will finally see the great vista of historic redemption in Jesus Christ.

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