You and I, literate citizens of the modern world, typically engage the New Testament gospels in the same way we engage most narratives: we read them; we don’t listen to them read aloud. And in our reading, we naturally employ the habits and skills we have acquired for reading and interpreting modern narratives, historical or fictional. We read the gospels as if they were modern narratives.
Some of us listen to passages from the gospels read aloud in church. But the printed liturgy for the day usually includes the text of the passage, inviting us to follow along by reading. And even if we don’t follow along, our listening is no different, in essentials, from reading the passage for ourselves.
Almost always, our reading of the gospels consists of reading snatches. Few of us have ever read a gospel straight through, and, almost certainly, none of us has ever listened to a gospel read aloud straight through. We don’t have time. In our liturgies, our group Bible studies, our private devotions, we content ourselves with snatches.
In our interpretation of what we read, we typically treat each gospel as part of that larger composition which is the Gospels, or the New Testament. And we employ theological lenses—the lens of Pauline theology, the lens of the theology of the book of Hebrews, or some alternative. We interpret what one of the gospels says about salvation, about sin, about righteousness, about Christ’s crucifixion, in the light of what the other gospels say about those matters and through the lens of our theology.
Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard Reviewed in Review of Biblical Literature, SBL/RBL, 10/2003. Roy E. Gane, Andrews University
At first glance the subtitle of Paul Borgman’s Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard (252 pages, including selected bibliography plus subject, author, and scripture indices) looks pretentious. After all, the analyses of Genesis over hundreds of years and the plethora of recent commentaries coming at it from a variety of scholarly and popular angles, how could we not have heard the story of this biblical book? Haven’t sensitive and astute literary critics, such as Robert Alter (Genesis: Translation and Commentary [New York: Norton, 1996]), alerted us to every nuance on several levels?
Borgman delivers on his subtitle. The contribution of this English professor is to convincingly expose a web of narrative/literary connections that reveal dynamics of human and divine repetition and change within the context of a unified drama. Rather than viewing Genesis as a series of exegetical, literary, theological, or devotional bits and pieces, Borgman perceives under the surface of the whole book a powerful clarification of human experience that can transform hearers or readers by involving them in the narrative.
J.E. Tollington, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 2009
In this monograph B. challenges readers to engage with the story of David in the books of Samuel and Kings with the ears and interpretative skills of an ancient audience rather than the methodology of modern readers or literary critics.
Initially he reviews recent scholarship that focuses on interpreting the story‘s final form and draws attention to what he perceives as weaknesses in the approach adopted or conclusions reached. According to B. the story is unified and has been carefully crafted, making deliberate use of patterns and repetitions, so that a ‘reader‘ is prompted to recall a memory from earlier in the story both to enhance understanding and to move the story forwards.
Each chapter explores one or two of the patterns identified by B. through a close reading of the relevant sections of the biblical text whereby the whole story is studied. He argues that the story concerns the identity, character and intentions of Saul, David and above all, the God of the Bible. Through the complexity of the narrative, the choices made by the major participants, the good and bad outcomes that result, the messiness through which the story moves and the indeterminate future to which it always points, the audience ultimately comes to know God, a God whose steadfast loyalty towards Israel‘s well-being is unchanging even though the divine mind can and does change.
B.offers a new way of understanding ambiguous or seemingly contradictory texts which is a welcome contribution to this field of study.
Thelologische Literaturzeiting, 132 (2007) 6 (translation, Joanna Epling)
Borgman wishes us to learn to hear, since the Lukan double work [Luke and Acts] itself goes back to oral tradition and must have been read aloud originally. A professor of English at Gordon College in Wenham/Massachusetts, the author chooses the path of narrative exegesis, managing almost completely without diachronic analyses. In his introduction (1-15) he states the problems inherent to modern-day recipients of the Lukan writings and communicates in this way his own motivation: To promote a better understanding, we should not just read but read aloud the text of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles in their total context, not split up into individual text portions. Borgman’s work is easy to read because of its clear structure, and he addresses it to exegetes, as well as to students and interested laypeople. The latter will presumably not mind the absence of a discussion with other scholarly authors and approaches, though the first readership might. There is no attempt to structure the work into the history of research or to synchronize it with the concert of Luke-exegeses, and Borgman’s remarks limit themselves mostly to Biblical references.
It is clear that those attempting to delineate the entire Lukan works in one book cannot offer any detailed individual exegeses – Borgman sketches the broad strokes of the narrative and studies the places and themes that seem to him most important. With short italicized passages at the beginnings and ends of individual sections, he creates reader-friendly headlines. He also encapsulates his conclusions in precise summaries.