What I am trying to generate with this question is some discussion about the role of virtue in the act of interpreting Scripture. Is there such a role? What would that role entail? What would it look like for the everyday reader of Holy Scripture?
The predominance of the historical-critical method for interpreting Scripture has made it difficult, or at least not self-evident, to speak about the place of interpretive virtue. For example, when reading Augustine’s On Christian Teaching with my students, they don’t quite know what to do with his interpretive model. Augustine first outlines the necessity of the reader’s fear of the Lord, holiness, and obedience to Scripture (even if we don’t fully understand it!) prior to the stage he describes as “knowledge” (II.11-26). Without the prior establishment of the reader’s disposition before God and their relationship to him through obedience, Augustine simply doesn’t consider him or her ready to pursue the knowledge of the Scriptures we would most readily associate with “finding its meaning.”
To give us someplace from which to begin, we might take the list of interpretive virtues provided by Richard Briggs in his recent book The Virtuous Reader: Old Testament Narrative and Interpretive Virtue (Baker, 2010). Briggs’ study is an extended exploration of what kind of reader one should be in order to be “best situated to receive, understand, and embody the life-transforming concerns of the Old Testament.” He lists the following five virtues, and I will give you an extended look at the later four: humility, wisdom, trust, love, and receptivity.
Wisdom – probably the strongest candidate for a virtue greatly to be sought after by the reader of Scripture […]
Trust – the virtue of hermeneutical trust is just beginning to reemerge in recent theological reflection after a lengthy period where suspicion has been so easily the default mode of biblical interpretation […]
Love – despite the all-too-common popular preconception that love represents the New Testament’s trump card after the harsh rigors of the Old Testament, it is clear that love is a key characteristic in the Old Testament vision of the moral life, once we have tuned in to the various ways in which the Old Testament itself wishes to set the agenda for what constitutes love.
Receptivity – it is important to consider explicitly the ways in which human virtue is understood in ‘responsive’ terms in the Old Testament, not as a self-sufficient moral category but as a way of life that is ‘summoned’ by the presence of the God of Israel (p. 43-44).
I was most intrigued by his treatment of receptivity mainly because it places in its proper place the importance of considering divine agency in the reading of Scripture. It is God who summons the interpreter, and this is something Augustine (and the Apostle Paul) knew well. Taking heed of this reality will cultivate the “receptivity” before the text essential for Christian reading of the Scriptures.