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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion


Publication details for Professor Walter Moberly

Moberly, R.W.L. (2003). Jonah, God’s objectionable mercy and the way of wisdom. In Reading texts, seeking wisdom: scripture and theology. Ford, David F. & Stanton, Graham. London: SCM Press. 154-168.

Author(s) from Durham


We have been invited to consider the relationship between Scripture and Theology with special reference to wisdom. The significance of wisdom in relation to biblical study can be conceived in at least two quite different ways. On the one hand, there is the familiar agenda of wisdom as an aspect of biblical religion, to be studied like any aspect of biblical religion. Familiar issues here include: the history and development of wisdom within Israel; the nature and extent of wisdom literature; the relationship between wisdom in Israel and wisdom in the ancient Near East; Jewish and early Christian developments and reworkings of wisdom, especially, in a Christian context, in relation to Christ; and so on.

On the other hand, there is wisdom as an existential reality, less the object which one studies than that light and enablement whereby one's study is (one hopes) carried out. Here, of course, the familiar debates are those about the relationship between faith and biblical study, where the context is set by the fact that it was only by disentangling the Bible from certain kinds of faith-defined contexts and assumptions in the 18th and 19th centuries that biblical study could become a subject in its own right. Thankfully, the intense hermeneutical debates of recent decades have put an end (at least in principle) to the kinds of implicit positivism that could sometimes characterize biblical study in formal detachment from faith and theology. I hope that an emphasis on wisdom, rather than faith as such, may be one way of helping us to rethink what is, and is not, appropriate to our continuing responsibility to relate Scripture and Theology in imaginative, faithful, searching, and life-enhancing ways.

Although all these issues could usefully be discussed as issues of principle, my preference is to work with the text of Scripture itself. For I take it that one element in the renewal of interaction between Scripture and theology is to show how theological thinking can be enhanced by attention to scriptural exegesis and interpretation; and if that is so, then it is more fruitful not just to talk about it but to try to do it.