Why scripture scholars and theological ethicists need one another
For a variety of reasons, in the field of biblical ethics, Scripture scholars do not use much ethical theory, while theological ethicists do little actual exegesis. Even those recent attempts to bridge better Scripture with Christian ethics have either stressed the importance of the scriptural text or the importance of ethical hermeneutics. Throughout this entire work I advocate for a more integrated approach for a Scripture-based Christian theological ethics. In so doing I first propose using Allen Verhey's distinction of Scripture as 'scripted' and 'script': The former refers to exegesis and the latter to admonitions for ethical living. A more integrated approach will therefore treat Scripture as both 'scripted' and 'script', taking exegesis seriously and interpreting the text by using a sound hermeneutical framework. Subsequently, we can both acquire a more accurate understanding of the original meaning of the text and obtain a more complete and consistent interpretation of the text for today. From the perspective of Christian ethics, I further suggest virtue ethics as a worthy hermeneutical tool in treating Scripture as 'script'. Virtue ethics complements principle-based ethical theories by emphasizing practices and the importance of exemplary models. It also attends to the character formation and identity of both individuals and the moral community. Moreover, as I argue, there exists an explicit link between Scripture and virtue. Both the biblical link and the uniqueness of virtue ethics make it suitable as the hermeneutical tool for doing Scripture-based Christian ethics. In order to demonstrate concretely how the methodological shift into a more integrated scriptural ethics as such leads to actual benefits and improvements, I offer a three-step illustration. I begin with treating the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 as first `scripted'; that is, I exegete the text. Then I look at the text as 'script' through the hermeneutics of virtue ethics. I identify a new set of core virtues (and corresponding practices) not just for personal formation but also for the formation of the community and the larger society. Third, I then bring the fruits of this treatment forward by exploring the possible reception of the Beatitudes and its core virtues by the Confucian tradition. Methodologically speaking, Confucianism goes to its own texts in its search of ethical teachings; and Confucian ethics is primarily the fruit of careful interpretation of their 'sacred' texts. In other words, it is both text-based and interpretative, and shares a common methodological approach with the Scripture-based Christian ethics proposed here. Subsequently, we find significant parallel virtues in Confucian texts although dissimilarities (such as worldview) exist between the two traditions. As a whole, the proposed methodological shift into a Scripture-based Christian ethics produces a more accurate, complete and consistent interpretation of the biblical text for our contemporary audience and makes Christian ethics more explicable to Confucian society and more supportive of cross-cultural dialogue with Confucian ethics.