Sunday, May 15, 2011

SBL presentation on my book, The Reshaped Mind (Brill, 2011)

Gonzaga University hosted the Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature over the weekend of May 13-15th, 2011. I had the opportunity to present on my dissertation that was just published through Brill. The title of my book is, The Reshaped Mind: Searle, the Biblical Writers, and Christ's Blood.

In my book, I apply Searle's categories of language (five basic ways humans use language) and his categories of mind (phenomena in the brain that make language possible) to five NT texts on the blood-of-Christ motif (Rom 3:25, Heb 9:12, John 6:52-29, Rev 1:5b-6, and Rev 7:13-14).

I shared three main insights from my research on Searle's theory of speech acts and what it has to offer biblical interpretation:

1) Belief: categorizing these five texts as assertives indicates that the writers/characters each had a mental state of belief associated with their assertives. In other words, the writers/characters asserted what they believed to be the case concerning Jesus Christ and the benefits of his blood.

2) The Reshaped Mind: prior to the Christ event, the NT writers/characters would have had a particular mindset, that is, a set of beliefs and attitudes, directed towards Yhwh and the role of animal blood in dealing with sin as part of Israel's temple cult. After the Christ event, these NT writers/characters experienced a reshaping of their mindsets to accommodate a new belief system of God in Jesus Christ and his superior blood.

3) Layers of Meaning: Searle’s categories open a way to retain the layers of meaning associated with these texts: the literal sentence meaning and the metaphorical speaker meaning. Certain insights follow as to why the NT writers chose to use the word 'blood.' I argue that when they referred to Christ's blood, they had in mind Christ's blood, that his blood was qualitatively different compared to other types of blood (e.g., Abel's blood or animal blood). Ignoring the literal value of the blood-of-Christ expression creates a linguistic collapse. All you're left with is Christ's blood as a metaphor for his death or the cross. From here you lose the distinctiveness of death, cross, and blood. Distinguishing Christ's blood from his death creates continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament that treats blood as an atoning substance, death as an event. It also honors those passages in Torah that equate blood with life.

All of this has implications for NT theology, particularly for the incarnation and atonement theories. It shifts the question from asking what Jesus accomplishes in his death on the cross to who Jesus is for the NT writers and characters. For them, Christ's blood is superior because of who Christ is; Christ's blood is superior because it is Yhwh's blood. The result? All aspects of Jesus' earthly life, not just his death, have atoning significance because of who he is.