Michael Pahls has written a response to something I said:
Actually, my remarks were not directed at Michael.
From what I’ve read of his stuff, and I’m not a regular at reformedcatholicism.com, Michael, along with Peter Escalante, is a man with whom it’s quite possible to have a constructive dialogue. Both men are erudite and reasonable.
“I don’t have a particular beef with Reformed Baptists (though there are numerous differences).”
For the record, I’m not a Reformed Baptist. I’m a Calvinist, but I don’t fee the need to choose between the Reformed Baptist tradition, Reformed Anglican tradition, Reformed Presbyterian tradition, or Reformed Welsh tradition.
On the sacraments, I’m closer to the Baptist end of the spectrum than the Presbyterian. But I’m not opposed to infant baptism.
However, I do think that one useful way of telling a Christian’s theological priorities is which side of the divide he’d break with if push came to shove.
For example, when a disgruntled Anglican leaves the Anglican Communion, he will often leave it for something more catholic (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy) rather than something more Evangelical (e.g. Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, SBC). That tells you a lot about his basic theological orientation.
So, to take the example of infant baptism, if I were forced to choose between credobaptism and the Federal Vision, I would, without hesitation, throw in my lot with the Baptists.
I don’t think I have to make that choice, but that is where my theological center of gravity lies.
Continuing with Michael:
“First, one must make the distinction between the original delivery of the ‘bread of life’ discourse and its situation in the Fourth Gospel. The Gospels never claim to present the ipsissima verba (very words) of Jesus and indeed cannot. Jesus likely spoke Aramaic or possibly Hebrew, but the Gospel autographs are all Greek (unless you propose a Hebrew original for Matthew, of course). Thus, the debate will really be the degree to which the recollections of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels diverge from the statements of the historical Jesus. Faith in an inspired Bible requires us to affirm that the Gospels do not falsify the words of Jesus and that they faithfully transmit his very voice (impsissima vox), but it is impossible to claim that the Gospels are a kind of transcript.”
This is not where Michael and I diverge. I stipulate to just about everything he says here, although his thesis is a bit overstated. Maurice Casey, in his studies on the Synoptic Gospels, has demonstrated the degree to which it's possible to retrotranslate the Greek back into the underlying Aramaic.
“All of this is faithful to an Evangelical understanding of inspiration and infallibility. Consult the various articles in Geisler’s Inerrancy to establish the distinction I am making. More importantly, it is true to John’s description of his own task. If stories of the words and works of Jesus are so numerous that the world couldn’t contain the volumes written (John 21:25) and if John selected from this pool a specific number of recollections to establish the faith of his audience (John 20:30-31), then the context of the late first century Johannine community does become important, and in some ways determinative for a proper apprehension of its theological content.”
i) This is true, but it can be misapplied. The understanding of the literary audience (for the Gospel) is a factor in our interpretations. That, however, does not override or cancel out the understanding of the narrative audience (for the speeches recorded in the Gospel).
ii) I’d add that I generally agree with the arguments of Barnett, Robinson, and Daniel Wallace in favoring a pre-70 AD dating for the Fourth Gospel.
(Conversely, the evidence seems to be a bit better for a post-70 AD dating of the Apocalypse, although there are first-rate scholars on both sides of that question.)
iii) Moreover, the Johannine community is responsible for being sensitive to the original setting of the discourses.
iv) And it’s more than possible that the Johannine community included Messianic Diaspora Jews who would appreciate the original setting as well.
“Secondly, this does not require a kind of independent historical access to the makeup of the Johannine community. The Gospel, Johannine epistles, and the Apocalypse allow us to isolate many of the central concerns of the community.”
This is true, although it necessitates the use of the grammatico-historical method to attempt a reconstruction of the Johannine community.
“We do know a bit about docetic/proto-Gnostic thinking in the Greco-Roman world that would have made their obsession with the physicality of Jesus intelligible. The preference for sarx over soma in John 6 is one such example. Its not that Jesus didn’t mandate the consumption of his flesh and blood to an audience of Jews, but the manner in which Jesus raises the stakes of the debate to make flesh and blood explicit probably proved useful to a much later community with a very different ideological opponent.”
This is where Michael and I more clearly diverge. It’s possible that proto-Gnostic thinking was afoot at the time John wrote the Gospel. At it’s possible that his selective emphasis, say, in Jn 20-21, is shadowboxing with that incipient heresy.
However, Jesus was not addressing proto-Gnostics in Jn 6. To backdate that idea to Jn 6 is too much like the old Bultmannian, form-critical view according to which the gospel narratives are not actually about the events they apparently descibe, but are really etiological allegories about the sitz-im-leben of the Church—wherein a fin de siècle church is inventing a backstory to illustrate and validate its later doctrine and practice.
That is not my view of the gospels, and I doubt it’s Michael’s.
“We can also know a bit about the liturgical context of the community from the various descriptions of the heavenly court in the Apocalypse. To the extent that John was anything of a biblical theologian, he would have noted how the Old Testament Tabernacle/Temple mirrored the divine throne room. He would have also been familiar with the manner in which synagogues were constructed as a kind of Temple in miniature (see Donald Binder’s work here). This presumes that the altar, the incense, the degrees of proximity to the throne, etc. found a counterpart in the liturgical space and liturgical practice of the Johannine community.”
i) This assumes that the Johannine community was worshipping in a synagogue rather than a house-church.
(Actually, it would be more logical of Michael to argue that the original discourse was delivered in a synagogue, and use that as his springboard, rather than appealing to the church architecture of the Johannine community.)
ii) Even if we made that very debatable assumption, vis-à-vis (i), it further assumes that tabernacular symbolism is sacramental in character.
Put another way, there were covenant signs under the Old Covenant as well as the New Covenant. So you could possibly speak of OT sacraments.
But that would simply relocate the debate over the nature of covenant signs from the NT to the OT milieu. Instead of debating the efficacy of communion, we debate the efficacy of the Passover.
“Finally, I really don’t have a problem with historical-grammatical exegesis per se. In fact, one can really establish most of what I have written here without recourse to the history of interpretation and reception of these texts in later Christian communities. That said, attending to this can give clues to how an audience could hear these texts without the pressing intrusions of our Western, modernist, post-industrial ontology. If there is a fairly unbroken sacramental understanding of these passages in the Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation-era churches, the burden of proof is really on the modern interpreter who denies that import. Its not that historical-grammatical exegesis is off base, but practitioners need to have a fairly healthy appreciation of the doctrine of Original Sin and thus need to acknowledge its noetic effects.”
Once again we disagree:
i) Appeal to the noetic effects of sin can cut both ways. A high churchman can invoke this against a low churchman, but a low churchman can invoke this against a high churchman. So it’s a wash.
ii) How is an *unbroken* sacramental understanding relevant to exegesis? At most, the only pertinent interpretive consideration would be early Patristic testimony in case that happened to be a historical witness to the primitive understanding of the text.
iii) Even that is very precarious. After all, Michael’s defense of the sacramental reading is that the Fourth Gospel was shaped, in part, by the need to refute certain heresies which were already afoot during the time of the apostolic church.
So it is more than possible for a primitive error to creep into the subapostolic church.
“This latter point might be the most important. Historical grammatical exegesis is an attempt at a quasi-scientific method. As such it is designed to mitigate the presuppositions and biases of the interpreter. The only problem is that the method itself reflects the concerns and pitfalls of post-Cartesian modernity and does not sufficiently deliver on what it promises. Thus the need for the Church and its rule of faith.”
That is not how I’d characterize the grammatico-historical method:
i) It is designed to mitigate anachronistic interpretations, in which the cultural presuppositions of the modern interpreter swap out the original presuppositions of the text.
We will always bring a set of presuppositions to the text. But we can become self-aware of our presuppositions, and thereby position ourselves to compare and contrast our initial cultural viewpoint with the viewpoint of the text, as a result of which we, as Christians, adjust our operating assumptions by allowing the text to correct our initial assumptions.
ii)”Science” is a slippery word. For example, Charles Hodge is often criticized for describing theology as a science.
But the question is whether we are using “science” in the modern sense of the natural *sciences* and the scientific method, or in the Medieval Latin sense of *scientia*.
Hodge, for one, stood at the crossroads of both usages. The motion of theology as the queen of the sciences is hardly a modern, post-Cartesian idea. So this would involve a rather complicated investigation into the history of ideas.
“This is not to say that the church is somehow above the Scripture, but only that there is wisdom in much counsel. If only the whole Church knows the whole truth (a necessary conclusion from 1 Cor. 12), it would seem more probable that reading the Scriptures with the people of God would yield a surer testimony than going it alone with only your self-selected method to save you from error.”
This is riddled with equivocations:
1.Where does Michael locate “the whole Church”? Who is included or excluded in this identification?
2.How does he map 1 Cor 12 onto church history? Where does he draw the boundaries?
3.When he speaks of “the people of God,” who is he really talking about? Is he, in fact, referring to “the whole Church,” or is he really referring a tiny subset of “the whole Church,” consisting in the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church?
4.What happens when one part of the whole church disagrees with another part of the whole church? How does he adjudicate a difference between the way John Chrysostom construes a passage of Scripture and the way Jerome or Theodore of Mopsuestia construes the same passage of Scripture?
“The Spirit has been given to the Church first and to her individual children only secondarily for her edification. The ability to study the Scriptures with Spirit illuminated insight is not simply something to be kept in some private Spiritual cruvenet for our exclusive personal enjoyment. It is the common possession of the Church and other believers have a claim on our obedience as well as our insights.”
What does this actually mean? Does this mean the Holy Spirit gives the Christian (or the Church) a crash-course in Egyptology when he reads Exodus? Does the Holy Spirit give him a crash-course in Assyriology when he reads 1-2 Kings?
Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on the Bible. And they are not without penetrating insights along the way. He was a man of genuine piety, profound erudition, and supreme intellect.
But, in all honestly, I can learn a whole lot more about Job by reading Clines rather than Aquinas; more about John by reading Keener rather than Aquinas; more about Romans by reading Fitzmyer rather than Aquinas.