‘Is what I read here true?’

by Kevin Birnbaum

I just received my copy of Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, which covers what the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have to say about the baby Jesus. I’ve only had a chance to read the foreword, but already I’m reminded that, at 85, Joseph Ratzinger remains one of the most clear, honest, and serious thinkers around:

I am convinced that good exegesis involves two stages. Firstly one has to ask what the respective authors intended to convey through their text in their own day—the historical component of exegesis. But it is not sufficient to leave the text in the past and thus relegate it to history. The second question posed by good exegesis must be: is what I read here true? Does it concern me? If so, how? With a text like the Bible, whose ultimate and fundamental author, according to our faith, is God himself, the question regarding the here and now of things past is undeniably included in the task of exegesis. The seriousness of the historical quest is in no way diminished by this: on the contrary, it is enhanced.

In this sense, I have taken pains to enter into dialogue with the texts. In so doing I have been conscious that this conversation, drawing in the past, the present and the future, can never come to an end, and that every exegesis must fall short of the magnitude of the biblical text. My hope is that this short book, despite its limitations, will be able to help many people on their path toward and alongside Jesus. (pp. XI-XII)