Q. Any suggestions as to how to help the church think more helpfully about these matters?
A. Yes– the suggestion: that gentile Christians, as a process of self-discovery, adopt a (suitably revised) form of the other pattern of reading that was present in the proto-orthodox church—that is, a deliberate strategy of reading scripture—both Israel’s scripture and the New Testament—from the perspective of the nations/gentiles. Israel’s scripture presents us with a narrative involving God’s dealings with Israel, a people chosen from all the nations of the earth to be a special people, partly for the purpose of reflecting God’s nature among the nations. The nations come into the story as a secondary but nonetheless significant character—the different “other,” often threatening or hostile, but nevertheless invited to serve and praise the God of Israel, and eventually to have a share in a final redemption. The New Testament presents us with what is seen as the surprising climax to this story in the figure of Jesus, whose ministry is described in primarily Israel-connected terms (messiah, mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, etc.), but which nevertheless contains a space for gentiles, both in the present and in expectations for the future. Subsequently, Jesus’ death and resurrection brings into being a new Jewish-centred movement, in which gentiles are invited to participate. The scriptural narrative, then, contains within it unambiguous and natural points of entry and connection for gentile readers. Given the history of the church, Christians automatically tend to approach scripture with the assumption that it addresses them directly and unambiguously. Such an approach has the effect of rendering (gentile) Christians oblivious to a central dynamic of the story and to the ways in which the dominant Christian reading practices have relegated Jews and Judaism to the margins. Gentile Christians have much to learn, I suggest, by a reading strategy in which they identify in the first instance with the gentiles in the narrative (and in the case of Israel’s scripture, resisting the impulse to foreshorten the story by immediately seeing these gentiles/nations as Christians in waiting). Again, I present this as a suggestion, not as a prescription—an exercise in reading, rather than as the imposition of an essential category.
As a corollary to this point, I believe that gentile Christian interpreters have much to learn by carrying out their interpretive task in dialogue with their Jewish counterparts and colleagues. In this connection I commend you for the commentary on Luke’s Gospel that you and A-J Levine have written, which provides a fine example of the kind of dialogue that is needed.