The Bible in Human Transformation
by Walter Wink


Woe to you Scholars! for you have taken away

the key of knowledge;

you did not enter yourselves,

and you hindered those who were entering

Luke 11:52

It has been all too easy for us scholars to deceive ourselves about our situation. Even the excitement with which we have greeted each new technique has been due in part to the vain hope that it might solve the field’s basic anomaly. Form and redaction criticism, now more recently audience criticism, structuralism, psychohistory and sociological analysis, all of these, if only added serially to the old objectivist paradigm, can do nothing to dislodge us from our alienated distance. If we are bankrupt, it is not because we have not tried, but because we have continued to try too long in the wrong way.

For we are dealing with not simply false notions but an alienating ethos: a principality and power which shapes not only our thoughts, but our lifestyles, self-images, ambitions, commitments and values. No simple shift of categories will touch that. We are possessed, and we require exorcism. We must be freed from dependence on the good opinion of the guild, from anxiety about success as professionally defined, from Faustian perversity which has become frozen in the dialectical moment of distance, from a critical suspicion directed everywhere but at ourselves.

And are there those who say they are not possessed? Very well. But those who know their possession and have fought to become free speak differently. They say: no longer possessed.

This essay has been nothing less than an attempt at public exorcism. Its primary object is myself. It is not directed against any other persons as such, but at a particular role typification which is never, thank God, wholly incarnated, but which, to the degree that it is internalized as the professional superego, exercises demonic compulsive power over the self. Before it our finest hermeneutical and personal convictions are rendered powerless. I have personally found it extremely difficult to admit that I have taken away the key of knowledge. I have sought to hide that fact by the normal display of academic erudition and role dependency. To become free — to "respond though I must change" — for many of us that spells a kind of dying. Indeed, the dialectical hermeneutic proposed here is nothing other than a methodological elaboration of the truth of losing and finding one’s life.

He must unlearn his heroic willing; let him be uplifted as well as exalted — let the other lift him up, devoid of willing!

He overcame monsters, he solved riddles; but now let him absolve and redeem his monsters and riddles and transform them into children of heaven. . .

To stand with muscles relaxed and will unharnessed is the hardest task of all for you, you exalted men!

I credit you with all the evils; that is why I want the good from you.1

We conclude then where the matter belongs: not simply at the level of our professionalism, but of our humanity. It is not simply for the future of a discipline that we struggle, but for our lives. Perhaps it is too much to hope for, but let us hope nevertheless: for a new paradigm — a new, more human way — for biblical study.


1. Nietzsche, "About Exalted Men," Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1966), pp. 119-20.