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Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002). S. Coe, 'Contextualizing Theology', in Gerald H. Anderson and T. F. Stransky (eds.), Third World Theologies: Mission Trend No. 3 (New York: Paulist Press and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), pp. 19-24; Virginia Fabella, 'Contextualization', in Virginia Fabella MM and R. S. Sugirtharajah (eds.), Dictionary of Third World Theologies (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000), pp. 56-8.

of power, if the texts really met at all. The situation was very different from that of the earlier 'hidden history of Christianity'23 when the Bible came mainly with believers in their individual capacity as merchants, traders, travellers or temporary settlers from west Asia, who usually did not mingle extensively with the local people nor present any military or cultural threat to the natives. Some of them stayed in small communities at the seaports in south Asia or along the Silk Road in central Asia. These Syrian forms of Christianity came to India (Mar Thoma Christians) and China (the Nestorians) in quite a peaceful manner with few reports of conflict. Both the Mar Thomas and the Nestorians adapted well to local religious forms. Buddhist concepts, Hindu ideas and Confucian terminology are used in their articulation of Christian doctrines. At the time of the Jesuit missions to Asia in the sixteenth century, accommodation to the native cultures was in general part of their policy, and the conflict between the Bible and Asian scriptures was not as severe as it became during the colonial era, since, among other socio-political reasons, the Catholics did not give the same significance to the Bible in their confession as compared with the Protestants, who were strongly influenced by the doctrine of sola scriptural4 Translation of the Bible into Asian languages was not therefore the primary task in the Jesuit mission, but it certainly constituted an indispensable part of the Protestant missionary endeavours.

Ever since the introduction of the Christian Bible to the pluralistic scriptural context of Asia, the hermeneutical issue of probing the meaning of 'the scripture and scriptures' has been one of utmost significance in Asian biblical interpretation.25 The effects of the encounter of the Christian text with multiple religio-cultural texts in social relations and power dynamics were far-reaching. Most Protestant missionaries with a deep conviction of sola scriptura and a strong commitment to evangelical zeal would understandably claim the absolute authority and exclusive validity of the Word entrusted to them. They saw themselves as being commissioned by the Church to spread the Word to the 'heathens' and the 'pagan' world. Without attempting to learn and understand the other texts in context, they valiantly made the categorical proclamation of the idolatrous nature ofall scriptures other than the Christian Bible, which alone

3 John C. England etal., Asian Christian Theologies: A Research Guide to Authors, Movements, Sources,

24 3 vols. (New Delhi: ISPCK; Quezon City: Claretian; Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002—2004).

J. N. J. Kritzinger, 'The Function of the Bible in Protestant Mission', in Philip L. Wickeri (ed.),

Scripture, Community, and Mission: Essays in Honor of D. Preman Niles (Hong Kong: CCA and

S. J. Samartha, One Christ — Many Religions: Toward a Revised Christology (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991).

embodied the whole truth. The 'crash of authorities'26 in the face of the plurality of scriptures was inevitable when the Christian text was proclaimed the sole authority over and against all other texts of scriptural status.27

Millions of Asian people have been nurtured and their lives sustained by the Asian scriptural traditions that provide ethical guidance and spiritual strength, not only to individual adherents of the religions concerned but also to the wider community. Fundamentally, the very social fabric and political order of these Asians are shaped by their scriptural insights. It is to no one's surprise that drastic political measures aimed at eradicating the power of traditional Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist claims on the mindset and practices of the Chinese people during the Communist Cultural Revolution (1967-77) did not succeed in getting rid of the age-old grip of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and the syncretistic form of popular religion. The authority of the scriptures of these religio-cultural traditions, though being called into question and shaken at the very foundation, still functions to guide the social practices and the life orientations of most Chinese people. The fact of the matter is that the deep-rooted Chinese mentality has been formed by the syncretistic Chinese religious world.

Samartha, an Indian biblical scholar, comes to a succinct observation in his discussion of the Bible and the Asian multi-scriptural context, and his remarks are worthy of our serious pondering:

To enter this multi-scriptural situation with the claim that the Bible 'is the only written witness to God's deeds in history' is to cut off all conversation with neighbors of other faiths in the world. This attitude makes it impossible for Christians to develop 'their own hermeneutics.' In a continent like Asia a claim for the supreme authority of one scripture can be met by a counter claim for similar authority for another scripture.28

Samartha's warning should be taken seriously in order to avoid having a detrimental effect on both the Asian scriptures and the Christian Bible. The multi-scriptural reality of Asia resists any claim of absolute authority and challenges the principles, purpose and practice of hermeneutics in the Asian context.29 Most of the Asian scriptural traditions, be they Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian or Taoist, understand the notion of scripture and

Samartha raises the highly complex hermeneutical concerns of the Asian churches and the larger

28 Asian community in the chapter 'Scripture and Scriptures', ibid., pp. 66-86.

S. J. Samartha, The Search for a New Hermeneutics in Asian Christian Theology (Bangalore: Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College, 1987).

scriptural authority differently from the Christian traditions, both Catholic and Protestant. The idea of a strictly closed canon with the final revelatory authority ascribed to a Christological understanding of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth is basically foreign, if not totally strange, to the other Asian scriptural family members.30

It was not uncommon that in the historical processes of co-existence, quite a few of the Asian scriptures engaged with one another in constant interactions. Buddhist scriptures from India were translated into Chinese, accommodating Confucian conceptions and terminology. The Taoist canon and its scriptural commentaries employed Buddhist ideas. Even in conflict, criticism of and attacks on another tradition resulted in an interactive transformation and enriched articulations. Some commentarial works took a synthesized interpretive mode of reading other scriptural texts. The three religious traditions of China stand as good examples of cross-scriptural hermeneutics.31 In the case of India, profound re-interpretations of the prasthana-traya (triple canon) of the Upanishads, Brahmasutra and Bhag-avadgita characterize the powerful renewal movements, bringing fresh meanings out of the text through the writing of commentaries.32 The challenges from other religious texts coupled with the impact of contemporary political struggles shaped the commentarial world and enlarged the boundary of imagination.33 The Qur'an also entered the religious worlds of India, Indonesia and China and produced rich and fruitful interactions with Asian texts. This observation on the interactive and dialogical relationship between Asian scriptures in historical processes will provide us with a critical stance to assess the current practice of reading the Bible in context.

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