Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises
by Scott W. Hahn
Yale, 589 pages, $50
Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the Anchor Bible was the flagship series for “scientific” biblical scholarship in the modern mode: historical, philological, and religiously neutral. The Anchor Bible Reference Library (now the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library) soon emerged to provide a series of equally magisterial monographs on major biblical themes. It is somewhat surprising that one of the newest entries, Kinship by Covenant, comes from the pen of Scott Hahn, an ardent Catholic apologist.
Hahn’s project is ambitious: to defend the New Testament accounts of covenant fulfillment by the “Christ event” (an unfortunate Bultmannian turn of phrase). In the first half of the book, Hahn attempts to make historical-critical “covenant research” serve as the basis for a Christian reading of the Bible as a whole. The dog, however, won’t walk. The usual historical-critical insights emerge from methods that treat the Bible as a heterogeneous residue of ancient Israelite religion. As a result, they resist integration into what Hahn calls a “canonical” or “narrative” reading of the Bible.
The second half of Kinship by Covenant treats important New Testament passages. Knotty texts in Galatians and Hebrews are illuminated, but it is telling that the extensive scholarly apparatus of the first half contributes very little. In fact, Hahn’s important historical claims about Galatians and Hebrews cut in exactly the opposite direction. Hahn suggests that New Testament covenant theology should be understood as a sophisticated form of Old Testament exegesis, a form already being developed among ancient Jews. If so, the important historical questions move backward from the New Testament to intertestamental literature, and only then into the Old Testament—exactly the opposite of the structure and implied logic of Kinship by Covenant.
Overall, the book does not succeed in its effort to synthesize modern covenant research into a workable template for New Testament interpretation. On the contrary, Hahn’s enthusiastic embrace of the scientific rhetoric of historical criticism, as well as his effusive praise of leading scholars whose critical sensibilities, pedagogy, and academic patronage have long worked against the Church’s traditional reading of the Bible, take us down the wrong path. Our present crisis in biblical interpretation cannot be resolved by cherry-picking congenial historical theories and then redeploying the supposed authority of biblical science to support orthodox theological interpretations. Modern biblical scholarship cannot be gathered up and pressed back into the old salvation-historical molds. On this point I imagine that John J. Collins, the present editor of the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library, agrees.