Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hermeneutical pedigree

Grano: Good lord, one hardly knows where to begin...

SH: That’s one thing we both agree on.

Grano: First of all, as Chrysostom’s reading of St. Paul is readily available in his homilies on Paul's epistles there's no need to rehearse it here. If you don't believe it differs from St. Augustine's, look it up.

SH: You miss the point. The question at issue is not whether Chrysostom’s reading differs from Augustine’s.

Rather, the question at issue is whether his interpretation is correct. What’s the supporting argument for his interpretation?

Why should we prefer Chrysostom on John or Romans to Carson or Schreiner?

Grano: Same holds for the other Church Fathers -- their writings are easily obtainable and consultable. The Patristic evidence comes down starkly against Calvinistic notions of total depravity, limited atonement, irresistable grace, etc. If you bother to read them, you'll see it (unless of course you read the Fathers with your Calvinist template attached.)

SH: Once again, Grano misses the point. To compare and contrast one position with another doesn’t tell us which position is right.

Where are the supporting arguments?

There’s a difference between a true description and a description of what is true.

Grano [quoting me]: "Exegesis never proves anything? So Gnostic or Arian exegesis is just as good as patristic exegesis?"

You left out my "in and of itself."
As early as St. Irenaeus, Christian teachers understood that the heretics could wield the Scriptures too. This is why they seldom, if ever, argued by exegesis alone, despite their very high view of the Scriptures. See how St. Irenaeus refuted the Gnostics (exegesis based on "the rule of faith," i.e. the mind of the Church.) A chief argument of St. Athanasius against the Arians could be summarized as, "Sure, you've got some Scripture passages to back you up, but where's the pedigree for how you interpret them?" -- "Where are the fathers for your beliefs?"

1.So, according to you, patristic exegesis isn’t any better than Gnostic or Arian exegesis.

Rather, the church fathers bring in the makeweight of hermeneutical pedigree to shore up their lack of exegetical superiority.

2.What’s your criterion for a church father?

3.What’s your criterion of the “mind of the Church”?

Grano: And St. Basil argued for the full divinity of the Holy Spirit based not on Scripture alone but on the liturgical tradition of the church. See his "On the Holy Spirit."

SH: So his pneumatology isn’t based on divine revelation alone, but revelation plus liturgical tradition.

Once more, Grano is admitting that Orthodox theology is underdetermined by divine revelation. That it goes beyond what can be inferred from the text of Scripture.

Grano: One exegetes the Fathers and the councils by the same methodology as above. By the power of the Holy Spirit the teaching of the Church, the body of Christ is of necessity self-correcting. This is the way that the Church understands Christ's words that "when the Holy Spirit comes he will guide you (plural) into all truth."


1.Do you think that Orthodox believers have an exclusive contract with the Holy Spirit, or is the Holy Spirit also on speaking terms with Evangelicals like Thomas Oden?

2.The Montanists would appreciate your pneumatic criterion.

3.What’s your criterion for the identity of the true church?

4.Jn 16:13 uses the plural form because Jesus is addressing the twelve in the upper room.

5.Notice the vicious circularity of Grano’s argument: the Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit to discern that the promise of the Holy Spirit is indexed to the Church.

So his interpretation of Jn 16:13 presupposes ecclesiastical authority even though Jn 16:13 is cited to authorize the teaching ministry of the church.

6.”Self-correcting.” What does this mean? That the Church first makes a mistake, then corrects it? Is that how the Holy Spirit guides the Church? He first leads it into error, and then leads it out of error?

7.Is the Church of Rome self-correcting as well?

Is so, why should we be Orthodox rather than Romanist?

If not, why not?

8.How, exactly, do you think the Holy Spirit teaches the church? Do you have an open canon? Continuous revelation?

Grano: I asked, "Out of the 8,000 commentaries floating around out there, how do you know you've got a ‘good’ one?”

Steve's response: "By sifting the quality of the argumentation in support for any given interpretation."

So whoever Steve thinks makes the best arguments is the best interpreter? Puts an awful lot on one's shoulders, I'd say. Every man has indeed become his own pope.


1.How did Grano come to the conviction that the Orthodox communion is the true church? By flipping a coin?

Or by exercising his private judgment? If the latter, then I guess that makes him his own pope.

2.Orthodoxy simply canonizes the private opinions of a few select church fathers.

3.We don’t have the right to shift the burden to a second party.

Grano [quoting me]: "Modern commentators know far more about ANE history, 2nd Temple Judaism, and 1C Greco-Roman history than the church fathers."

In a sense this is true, but in another sense they are further away from the reality -- the Fathers were closer to the source, not just chronologically but culturally and in terms of the spiritual milieu.

SH: That’s very vague. How is a 5C AD church father culturally and spiritually closer to the Pentateuch than an Egyptologist or Assyriologist?

How is a Greek Father, tutored in the Classics, closer to the cultural or spiritual milieu of Matthew’s Gospel than, let us say, Jacob Neusner?

Grano [quoting me]: "Later commentators have the benefit of earlier commentators. Knowledge is cumulative."

This is only true if one denies the existence of possible error accumulation.

SH: Oh, I don’t deny the possibility of cumulative error. That’s why we had the Reformation.

Grano: Don't quite get all the list of all the OT events. Is Steve perhaps positing that Calvinism is to Patristics as Patristics is to the OT? This brings new meaning to the idea of "development of doctrine." There is in fact an organic unity between the Orthodoxy of today and the Orthodoxy of the Patristic age -- it is a continuation of the same "mind." Which is why we Orthodox are so wary of innovations.

SH: What is there not to get? You appealed to historical theology to validate Orthodox theology and invalidate Reformed theology.

By that same criterion—which is your criterion, not mine—historical theology thereby invalidates Orthodox theology since Orthodox theology lacks the historical validation of 2nd Temple Jewish theology, or Intertestamental Jewish theology, or postexilic Jewish theology, or exilic Jewish theology, or preexilic Jewish theology, &c.

If you’re going to argue that Calvinism is false because Calvinism is new in relation to Orthodox theology, then Orthodoxy is false because Orthodox theology is new in relation to pre-Christian Jewish theology.

Your historical criterion is a double-edged sword. If antiquity is your yardstick, then Orthodoxy comes up short in relation to Jewish tradition.

You seem to lack experience in debating with those who don’t already share your question-begging assumptions.


  1. You just don't get it do you Steve

    By interpreting the sound arguments of biblical exegetes you are becoming your own pope!!

    You must give up this schismatic behavior and allow the actual, established pope to tell you what arguments you are to consider sound.

    More like the Deformation if you ask me!!

  2. As early as St. Irenaeus, Christian teachers understood that the heretics could wield the Scriptures too. This is why they seldom, if ever, argued by exegesis alone, despite their very high view of the Scriptures. See how St. Irenaeus refuted the Gnostics (exegesis based on "the rule of faith," i.e. the mind of the Church.) A chief argument of St. Athanasius against the Arians could be summarized as, "Sure, you've got some Scripture passages to back you up, but where's the pedigree for how you interpret them?" -- "Where are the fathers for your beliefs?"

    This is facile. For starters, Anathansius exegeted Scripture for his arguments. When he quotes the Fathers, it is because they agree with Scripture. He is not appealing to them as an infallible rule of faith separately from the Scriptures and necessary to interpret them correctly; rather he pulls from them to demonstrate that Arian exegesis was at variance with the greatest minds of the church that had gone before. This same Athanasius stated very clearly that everything that is necessary can be found clearly in Scripture, and he further stated that the content of Scripture was not at variance with orthodox tradition. The heretics, by way of contrast, disagree with the Fathers, because Scripture itself does not agree with the heretics.

    When Iranaeus appeals to tradition, he's writing against Gnostics which claimed a secret tradition. The whole point of what Iranaeus says is that the rule of faith agrees with Scripture, because Scripture itself is clear (the Gnostics said otherwise) and the rule of faith is not hidden (the Gnostics said otherwise). So, when he appeals to "the rule of faith," he isn't appealing to a hidden rule, rather its the one found in Scripture and in the open, verifiable teaching of the church. All who would know the truth, he says, can find it clearly in the known succession of bishops from the Apostles in his day. Unlike you, he was very near this line of succession. Unlike you, he is not appealing to a secret knowledge passed down, but one that is open and accessible. Unlike you, he is appealing to Scripture's clarity. In fact, he specifically castigates the Gnostics as those who "gather their views from sources other than the Scriptures."

    The reason that he speaks of tradition is because these Gnostics when confuted from them, turn around and accuse them of being ambigous at best, incorrect at most. Ergo, the only reason he appeals to "tradition" and "succession," is to prove that it agrees with Scripture and that Scripture is not unclear. Why? Because the rule of faith can be found through appeal to Scripture alone as the infallible authority. You appealed to tradition and named Iranaeus. Why then do you not agree with his view of Scripture? Why do you appeal to tradition as your authority, when he himself stated that when we are confronted with a dispute we should appeal to Scripture, because it is permanent? He said that men should not be depended upon more than Scriptures, and that the apostolic tradition of his day could both be found in Scripture and was supported by Scripture. He even says that if a doctrine cannot be proved by Scripture it is to regarded as speculative (But whence or in what we He produced it, neither has Scripture anywhere declared; nor does it become us to conjecture, so as, in accordance with our own opinions, to form endless conjectures concerning God, but we should leave such knowledge in the hands of God Himself."

    When Iranaeus refers to the rule of faith, he defineds "traditon" for us. "The Chruch, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the end of the earth, has received from the Apostles and their disciples this faith...For although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world...For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it." The rule's content, it seems is found in Scripture and is equivalent to what was handed down by the Apostles.

    He appeals to this rule, against men who said that the Scriptures were unclear. When they were shown the Scriptures, they appealed to "tradition," but the tradition to which they appealed was secret and not in the open. Only they could interpret Scripture. Iranaeus is not repudiating an appeal to Scripture, rather he is repudiating the assertion that the Scripture is unclear and requires a secret tradition of knowledge to interpret it. The Scriptures establish the doctrinal content. That, in turn, grounds "apostolic tradition," and then Iranaeus proceeds to establish that the bishops' teaching is the same teaching that is in Scripture. He even defines the doctrinal content be a summary of the teachings of the two testaments. All "apostolic tradition" is, for him, is the oral teaching of the chruches insofar as it is congruent with Scripture itself. It is not separate from Scripture, nor does one require a knowledge of it to correctly understand Scripture.

    And St. Basil argued for the full divinity of the Holy Spirit based not on Scripture alone but on the liturgical tradition of the church. See his "On the Holy Spirit."

    Would that be the same Basil, who stated that the authority of that tradition was secondary and contingent by nature? The only reason that he appeals to it is because he believed it conformed to Scripture. Perhaps you need to read On The Holy Spirit one more time. "What our fathers said, the same say we, that the glory of the Father and of the Son is common; wherefore we offer the doxology to the Father with the Son. Buty we do no rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too folloed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you." In Ascetical Works, he wrote: Concerning the Hearers: that those hearers who are instructed in the Scriptures should examine what is said by the teachers, receiving what is in conformity to the Scriptures and rejecting what is opposed to them; and that those who persist in teaching such doctrines should be strictly avoided."

    Your view of Scripture, sir, is not that of the Fathers to whom you appeal. Further, we know the Eastern Orthodox and the Latin Rite churches appeal to different sets of Fathers, so why should we choose the Greek Rite over the Latin Rite?

    The Reformers were trained in the Fathers. Perhaps you would do well, before saying their doctrines have no historical precedents to actually read the debates in which they were involved in which they appealed to the Fathers a great deal. I'd further add that if we start playing "Top the Patristic Quotes" for soteroiological doctrines, we'll find quotes that can be construed to support non-Reformed, Catholic, Reformed, and Orthodox traditions. The "tradition" is not uniform in that period in that respect, because soteriology was not a subject about which they were compelled to write. We should not expect an infant church to understand doctrines that are not as foundational as "Who is God?" and "Who is Jesus?" which underwrite the soteriological doctrines themselves.

  3. And I had to laugh at this one:

    "The Patristic evidence comes down starkly against Calvinistic notions of total depravity, limited atonement, irresistable grace, etc. If you bother to read them, you'll see it."

    Really? May I ask who you think said, "He did not give His life for every man, but for many, that is, for those who would believe."

    Who said, "They that are carnal (unbelievers) cannot do the things that are spiritual...Nor can unbelievers do the things of belief." That sounds remarkably like: "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto," which is the standard definition of "Total depravity," within the Reformed tradition.

    And while we're at it, who do you think wrote: "God has completed the number which He before determined with Himself, all those who are written, or ordained to eternal life...Being predestined indeed according to the love of the Father that we would belong to Him forever."

    How about this one: (In response to the assertion that Christ gave Himself for "all,")..."To what "us" does he refer, unless to them what believe in Him? For to them that do not believe in Him, He is he author of their fire and burning. The cause of Christ's coming is the redemption of those that that were to be saved by Him."

    How about this one: "To believe is not ours, or in our power, but the Spirit's who is in us and abides in us."

    Or this one: The victory lies in the will of God, not thine own. To overcome is not in our power."

    And somebody was affirming what we think of as a standard interpretation of John 6:44,45 in the Reformed churhches rather early. Who is this: When He says, "No man can come to Me," He breaks the proud liberty of free will; for man can desire nothing, and in vain he endeavors...Where is the proud boasting of free will?...We pray in vain if it is in our own will. Why should men pray for that from the Lord which they have in the power of their own free will?

    So, you see, before you decide to play "top the apostolic testimony," you' d best be careful lest you find that you find some who disagree with your assertions. The ECF are a mixed bag. We can all find elements of our own doctrines in them, so more than others, but the issue isn't what they said but what Scripture states, and it is abundantly clear. The Protestant can find much more in agreement with what these men said about Scripture than what you and your Latin Rite friends can find.

    It is remarkable that both you and Exist Dissolve have yet to offer an exegetical argument to disprove Calvinist soteriology.

  4. To quote Alister McGrath:

    “The earlier patristic period represents the age of the exploration of concepts, when the proclamation of the gospel within a pagan culture was accompanied by an exploitation of both Hellenistic culture and pagan philosophy as vehicles for theological advancement…Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil…It is quite possible that the curious and disturbing tendency of the early fathers to minimize original sin and emphasize the freedom of fallen man is a consequence of their anti-Gnostic polemic…Justin’s anti-fatalist arguments can be adduced from practically any of the traditional pagan refutations of astral fatalisms, going back to the second century B.C.”
    –Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2nd edition (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1998), pp.17, 19, 20.

  5. Steve,

    What is your criterion for an appropriate means of exegeting scriptural truth? Is it necessarily the one that is most "scientific"?

    Why should I not believe that God intended that "truth" preside in His Church's (whatever that is) pronouncements, rather than the historical-grammatical method of interpretation-regardless of its putative rational superiority?

    I am neither Romanist nor Orthodox but merely wish to know the correct method of establishing scriptural truth.

    It seems to me that both the Romanist, Orthodox and Reformed positions take as their starting points propositional statements that one would be hard pressed to justify w/o question begging (for example, papal infallibility in the case of Catholics and sola scripture in the case of Protestants).

    Why should I not consider it inconsistent for a Calvinist to claim Truth can be explicated via manmade means ("proper exegesis") rather than as a God given "brute fact" that needs no rational justification? Likewise, can the Orthodox or Catholic believer claim infallibility for the Church w/o assuming it?

    Truly accounting for belief seems to me to be as much a problem for those outside Calvinism as those inside.


  6. Steve says: "You seem to lack experience in debating with those who don’t already share your question-begging assumptions."

    From your point of view this undoubtedly looks correct; my response would be that many of your and your cohorts' arguments would require a lengthy explication of Eastern Christian presuppositions that would literally take pages and pages. Although the East and West usually use the same theological terminology, as you are aware, the meanings often differ.

    Without such a description of presuppositions and differentation of terminology I fear we are in many cases talking past one another. An undertaking like this, however, would frankly take far more time than I have to spare. I don't doubt I could answer many if not all of these questions you've posted (although perhaps not to your satisfaction), but it would literally take hours, perhaps days, and that is time that I, unfortunately, just don't have available.

    There is one issue, though, that arose here that I find especially troubling and will return to later today. Perhaps if one particular topic is discussed we may be able to avoid the scattershot approach of the previous posts, which I claim some undoubted responsibility for.

  7. This is all very interesting. To begin just let me say that the acusations of Protestants being their own Pope or having a paper Pope, while poetic and all are simply imflamatory and not really an argument.
    However, I am struck Steve by the degree to which (at least in this thread of argument) you are in fact a rationalist. It is reason and argumentation that even trumps appeal to revelation.
    This of course is necesary since you deny continuity. As any Protestant does who wishes to claim that somehow Luther and Calvin discoevered the Truth of Scripture that either had been missed for several hundred years and or was never discoverd (as the Alister McGrath quotes so wonderfully shows a truely astounding bias against the church).
    As a Lutheran Pietist I agree that at the time of the Reformation there were things wrong with the Roman church. It is equally clear to me that Luther's and Calvins interpretations of Scripture are not closer to the truth than Patristics.
    And Steve wheter you admit it or not it is clear you are traped in a system and can't get out, and your Orthodox dialogue partner is actually less systematic than you and thus can accept ambiguity and that God didn't drop a complete book that is the revelation of God, rather the church that produced the figures you are so skeptical about actually gave you the Revelation in Scripture you believe you are defending with your rationilistic system.

  8. gene--

    It is remarkable that both you and Exist Dissolve have yet to offer an exegetical argument to disprove Calvinist soteriology.

    No exegetical argument is necessary. WHen the starting assumptions are bad, there is no need to deal with the conclusions. This is why I will never argue with a Calvinist about particular Scripture verses--it is pointless, and in the words of Tertullian, such arguments are only good for stomachaches and headaches. I will, however, argue till the end of time about Calvnism's beginning assumptions, being as this is where the crux of the issue is, in the first place.

  9. Since Calvin got his theology from the text, I find the above claim amazing. He had presuppositions, to be sure, everyone does (including you). But to through exegesis out the window leaves us arguing in circles over our presuppositions.....