Catholics deploy stereotypical arguments when attacking Protestantism and defending Rome. It's interesting to see what happens when Catholics debate Mormons. To some extent Mormons co-opt Catholic arguments while, in other respects, they operate with very different presuppositions. Some staple Catholic arguments can backfire when deployed against Mormons:
Saturday, April 14, 2012
The large majority of the evidence suggests that the Shroud of Turin predates the medieval era. The 1988 carbon dating of the Shroud is an exception that's often cited. However, there are a lot of problems with that carbon testing. Dan Porter has gathered together some of the relevant evidence here.
Friday, April 13, 2012
From my amigo Nick Norelli:
Lutherans accuse Calvinists of being Nestorians as well, so the Orthodox are in Protestant company on that one.
True. However, Lutherans and Orthodox anathematize each other for their respective “heresies,” so I can sit back and let mutual annihilation do the rest.
But more to the point, patristic and conciliar Christology’s primary concern was with biblical (OT & NT) Christology. The debates that took place in the 3rd to 5th centuries were exegetical debates.
i) There’s a difference between treating patristic/conciliar interpretations as inherently authoritative, and valuing or evaluating patristic/conciliar conclusions based on the quality of the exegesis.
Frankly, Catholics and Orthodox don’t care what was said, but who said it. They treat patristic/conciliar interpretations as ipso facto authoritative because that emanates from authority-figures, rather than treating the bishops or fathers as authority-figures insofar as the quality of their exegesis merits special deference. It’s a case of ascribed status rather than achieved status.
ii) Even denominations that venerate the church fathers don’t automatically endorse every interpretation of every church father.
iii) In historical theology there are theological refinements that go beyond the exegetical data. And it’s often the refinements that are dogma.
iv) The art of exegesis has made major strides since the patristic era. Although there are things we can learn from the church fathers, there are things the church fathers can learn from us. Patristic exegesis can go seriously awry. And that’s not just my Protestant prejudice. You can see that tension in contemporary Catholic Bible scholarship, where lip-service is paid to the church fathers, but modern scholars often break with patristic tradition.
Church fathers and church doctors (e.g. Aquinas) were frequently quite ignorant regarding the sitz-em-leben of Scripture. They filtered the text through their own period, and not the period of the text. Likewise, many didn’t know one or both Biblical languages.
Here’s a Catholic response to my recent post:
Peter Sean Bradley The Triablogue argument is confusing oral tradition with inerrancy.
No, I didn’t confuse them. Rather, I demonstrated how an oral tradition of the highest pedigree turned out to be unreliable.
It also ignores the fact that John 21 offers an example of the Church’s teaching authority in action.
Actually, it offers an example of the Bible’s teaching authority in action.
First, there is nothing in John 21 that says that anyone misquoted or misremembered anything. Jesus actually said, ““If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” in reference to the Beloved Disciple.
Jesus made a statement (21:22) that gave rise to a false rumor (21:23). How did his true statement give rise to a false rumor? I can only think of two possibilities: it was misreported or it was misinterpreted.
“Brothers” actually speculated that John was not to die until the Second Coming.
That’s the false rumor. They attributed to Jesus something he didn’t say. They misquoted him. So John corrects the rumor:
“22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?””
Note the relationship between v22 & v23.
Where in that is there anything involving “faded” memories or erroneous memories of events? There simply isn’t.
I already explained that. Why is Bradley unable to follow a simple lucid argument. I drew attention to Jn 14:26 (“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you”).
Why would Jesus send the Holy Spirit to bring to remind them of everything he said if unaided memory was sufficient? Why can’t Bradley draw an elementary inference like that?
Second, the Triablogue account engages in a bad bit of historical anachronism. Namely, because we now know that the speculation about John remaining alive until the Parousia is now known to be false, the writer retrojects our present knowledge to the past when John was alive and no one knew that the speculation was wrong! The speculation could have been correct, after all. So, the Triablogue critique that seems to assume that the speculation was lame or insipid or clearly wrong is nonsense.
i) It’s not clear what Bradley is alluding to. Is he saying the narrator retrojects our present knowledge into the past? Is he saying the narrator is guilty of a historical anachronism?
In the nature of the case, John is writing after the rumor spread, to dispel a false rumor that was circulating in the early church. But that’s not anachronistic.
Is Bradley saying the Johannine account is unhistorical? That this is an etiological fable, a just-so story? If so, attacking the credibility of the Bible is an odd way to defend the credibility of oral tradition, or the church of Rome. For one thing, Jn 21 is the source of a standard papal prooftext (vv15-17). But even if (arguendo) we grant the Catholic interpretation, if Jn 21 is a fictitious backstory, if Jesus never said that, then so much for the traditional Petrine text.
ii) Or by “the writer,” does he mean me? But I’m not adding anything to Jn 21. I’m merely drawing some obvious logical inferences. My arguing is only “anachronistic” if Jn 21 is anachronistic.
We can compare the speculation about the Beloved Disciple to the various rumors that whip up excitement among certain sects of Protestants. For example, will there be a “rapture”? No one thought there would be until around 1850. Does that mean that speculation about the rapture is “wrong”? Probably, but we really won’t know until it doesn’t happen. Is that an example of the “failing of oral tradition”? Not hardly.
i) Actually, the notion of a rapture goes back to 1 Thes 4:17. Of course, how that event should be understood is a different question.
ii) Apropos (i), that’s not based on oral tradition. That’s a misinterpretation of Scripture.
Third, John died without the return of Christ. That left the question of how to explain Jesus’ accurately remembered statement with the reasonable bit of theological speculation. When similar things happen with Protestants, entire new churches are started. (See e.g., the Seventh Day Adventists.)
That’s one explanation for Jn 21. Another explanation is that Peter’s death, rather than John’s death, occasioned this postscript.
Moreover, even if John's impending death were in view, that doesn't mean John can't correct the rumor before he dies.
In Catholicism, in contrast, there is a teaching magisterium aided by the Holy Spirit to…you know…teach!
That assumes what he needs to prove.
That means that the Church can explain authoritatively that Jesus hadn’t meant that John would live to the Parousia.
We didn’t get that from “the Church” or the Magisterium. Rather, we got that from the text of Scripture (i.e. Jn 21).
Of course, if it was a modern Protestant church, there would have been a dozen different interpretations leading to a dozen different new churches.
One erroneous interpretation isn’t preferable to several erroneous interpretations. Contrasting an erroneous Catholic interpretation to one or more erroneous Protestant interpretations is not an argument for Catholicism.
Finally, consider how silly this argument is. All of this occurred before the Gospel of John was written!
And, yet, they got it right!
Without a written text!
i) Who got what right? The “brothers’ didn’t get it right. They got it wrong.
The narrator got it right. And the narrator wrote it down.
ii) What does Bradley mean when he says “all this occurred before the Gospel of John was written?” The event recorded in Jn 21 took place before the Gospel was written. And the rumor took place before the Gospel was written.
But “getting it right” didn’t take place without a written text. For the text is the medium by which John corrects the erroneous rumor. John doesn’t first correct the rumor by word-of-mouth, then later write down what he said. No, this is the occasion when he corrects the rumor. Through this very chapter.
We know that this happened before the writing of the Gospel of John, by the way, because the Gospel of John is talking about how the Beloved Disciple didn’t live to see the Second Coming…
Notice how Bradley is turning the prospective viewpoint of the narrative description into a retrospective viewpoint. But the text never says the Beloved Disciple didn’t live to see the Second Coming. The text isn’t cast in the past tense. It transcribes a conversation about the future, not the past. About what will or won’t happen, not what has already taken place.
…and how this misunderstood but accurately remembered oral saying of Jesus…
It’s just the opposite of an “accurately remembered oral saying of Jesus.” Rather, it corrects an inaccurately rumored statement.
…an oral tradition that would not have been recorded in writing but for the fact that the Beloved Disciple had inconveniently died before the Gospel of John was written – was floating around “Christendom.”
i) Bradley is systematically confusing the dominical statement in v22 with the rumored statement in v23. V23 is a distortion of v22.
ii) Bradley is also assuming that Jn 21 is a posthumous addition by a different hand than the narrator of Jn 1-20. That’s hardly the traditional Roman Catholic position. Rather, that’s the modernist position.
iii) He also ignores arguments to the contrary.
My big objection with this article is obviously its anachronism. It somehow assumes that there was a written Gospel of John to act as some kind of check on things – as if everyone was confused until some author wrote down the Gospel of John and then – poof! – all doubt was cleared up.
And why do I assume that? Because that’s right there in the text of Jn 21! That’s one of the functions of Jn 21.
It’s striking to see how Bradley’s unconditional allegiance to his denomination blinds him to what’s staring him right in the face. Jn 21 is a text. I’m quoting from a text. Jn 21 explicitly “acts as a check on” the false rumor in question. It’s written, in part, to “clear up” that misconception. This isn’t something I made up. This isn’t something I’m projecting onto the text. You can see it for yourself.
As if for the first 60 years of Christian history, Christians were just sitting on their thumbs waiting for a inspired writing because if it’s written it must be true, but if it’s just an oral statement it can’t be trusted.
Notice how Bradley is utterly impervious to the explicit counterevidence.
Incidentally, I’m inclined to date John’s Gospel to the 60s, not the 90s. But however we date it, we can’t disregard the data in Jn 21 because it doesn’t comport with our preconceived theory of “the Church.
Think about that last, and you see “chronological snobbery.” Protestantism develops after the printing press and so incorporates a human tradition that could only have developed after the invention of the printing press – namely that writing is trustworthy and oral tradition is not.
Notice how he disregards my qualified statement about testimonial evidence.
That, however, is a perspective that the First Century Christians would never had recognized. See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Eyewitnesses-Gospels-Eyewitness-Testimony/dp/0802831621
i) Catholic culture is not an oral culture. Catholic culture is profoundly textual. Catholic teaching is disseminated through the written word as well as the spoken word. Patristic writings. Conciliar documents. Lectionaries. Catechisms. The Vulgate. Canon law. Papal bulls, encyclicals, &. Monks transcribing texts. All this antedates the printing press by many centuries.
Catholicism doesn’t operate like Alex Haley’s Roots, where bards pass along oral lore from one generation to the next by telling stories. So Protestant textuality is no more anachronistic than Catholic textuality.
ii) Why does Bradley think (or rather, not think) we have a New Testament–or an Old Testament? Why does he think (or rather, not think) we have Bible writers who committing things to writing for posterity? Why does he think (or rather, not think) we have Scripture in the first place? A written record? A documentary account?
Think of it another way: Without tradition being an authority we would not even have the Scriptures themselves, as it is only through tradition that we know what Scripture is actually Scripture. The Scriptures have no place where there is an inspired list telling us which books belong in the Scripture (we call this the “canon” of Scripture). It is through the traditions of the church that we know which books are the final authority. Therefore, tradition must be an authority to some degree.
Sounds like Michael was swayed by Francis Beckwith’s facile and fallacious objection to sola Scriptura. But there are several problems with Michael’s argument:
i) Why cast the issue in terms of authority rather than truth? An authority can be wrong. Congress has authority. Yet Congress can pass laws based on faulty assumptions. A Federal judge has authority. Yet a judicial ruling can get the facts of the case wrong. A judge can also misinterpret the law.
I find it odd that so many people automatically cast the issue of canonicity (or interpretation) in terms of authority. They apparently default to this framework because they’ve been conditioned to think that way from seeing the issue framed that way, so it doesn’t occur to them to question that framework and consider alternative ways of casting the issue.
But even if the issue comes down to tradition, or having a list, the salient question is not whether the tradition is authoritative (whatever that means), but whether it’s correct. The salient question isn’t whether the list is “authoritative, but whether it’s correct.
Some traditions are right while other traditions are wrong. That’s the relevant distinction.
Something doesn’t have to be “authoritative” to be right. Consider the debate between the blind man and the religious authorities in Jn 9. He was a nobody. He had no institutional standing. Yet he was right while they were wrong-dead wrong.
And that’s the point of the chapter. It’s an instance of Johannine irony. Those in the know didn’t know. Those who ought to know better didn’t, whereas this ignorant layman knew something they didn’t–something all-important.
ii) You can’t have a blanket appeal to tradition, for tradition isn’t monolithic. Tradition doesn’t speak with one voice. So you have to sift tradition.
You can’t begin with “authoritative” tradition, for identifying authoritative tradition would be, at best, the end-result of sifting different traditions. You must first isolate and identify which traditions are “authoritative” (whatever that means).
In this case, “tradition” is just a synonym for prima facie evidence. But that needs to be evaluated.
iii) The issue of a “list” raises an interesting question: which comes first: the collection or the list? Do you begin with a list of books, then compile the books on your list? Or do you begin with a collection of books, then compile a list?
For instance, suppose Second Temple Jews didn’t have a list of canonical books. Does that mean they didn’t have a canon? No.
In fact, as long as they already have the books, there’s no urgency in listing the books. If, say, the books of the Hebrew Bible were archived in the Temple, then that was the frame of reference. That was the standard for local synagogues or rabbinical schools.
Likewise, David Trobisch has noted that early Christian codices sequence the books of the NT in a stereotypical order. And they must be doing so because Christian scribes copied the books in that order. After all, that’s what scribes do: they copy. There must have been a standard edition that scribes copied. A template.
The point of these to illustrations is that if you have a collection, you can always copy down what you have. You make a list based on what’s before your eyes.
Now perhaps that’s not Michael’s point. I’m simply distinguishing the issues.
iv) Many books of the Bible contain internal authorial attributions. Self-attributed to prophets or apostles. At the very least, that’s prima facie evidence for the canonicity of those books. Only if we thought the self-attributions were spurious would we challenge their canonicity.
v) Authorial attribution can be implicit as well as explicit.
vi) Of course, some books of the Bible are anonymous, so this argument won’t work in their case. However, Michael seems to be using an all-or-nothing argument concerning the canon. But surely it’s overstated to say we can’t know any book of the Bible unless we know every book of the Bible.
vii) In addition, books of the Bible often form larger literary units. It’s not a random collection of disparate books. Take two examples: Luke-Acts is a literary unit. The Pentateuch is a literary unit. So it’s not as if you need separate attestation for each book in a literary unit.
viii) On a related note, some books of the Bible share common authorship. Take the Pauline epistles. We’d automatically group them together as the collected correspondence of Paul. We don’t need to begin with a list. We don’t always need to take a top-down approach. A bottom-up approach will frequently work just fine.
ix) Books of the Bible can also witness to each other in a distributive, cross-referential network. Intertextuality is a form of internal mutual self-attestation.
x) Likewise, some books of the Bible form a continuous historical narrative. They naturally go together.
xi) Apropos (x), the internal chronology of the books generally tracks the external chronology of their composition inasmuch as you can roughly date each book by the last recorded event. (Although we must make allowance for prophecy.)
On a related note, although some books rehearse the past, historical authors generally write about contemporaneous events. So that gives us a rough outer terminus ad quo and terminus ad quem for the probable date of composition. And books of the Bible fall within the era of public revelation.
Of course, apocrypha may depict the past as if it’s present or future. That’s difficult to successfully pull off. Anachronisms betray the artifice.
There seems to have been a round of dust-ups over Christology in recent days.
The opening words of David King’s work struck me hard when I first read them, and they strike me hard now, in the matter of Christology:
Christianity is preeminently a revealed religion (religio revelata); a revelation of the one true and living God manifested in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. When we speak of revelation in general terms, we mean that process by which God has disclosed what otherwise could not be known of himself. Only God can reveal God. Scripture states that ‘the secret things belong only to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law’ (Deut. 29:29). (From David King, “Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith,Vol 1”. Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources, Pg 25.)
Thus, only God can tell us the things he tells us about himself. And does so in a way that what is revealed “belongs to us and to our children forever”. That way is through the Scriptures.
The editors of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, in their introduction to the section on “The Person of Christ”, note: “The doctrine of Christ is the central point of the whole system of dogmatics.” And this is merely the result of the understanding of Hebrews 1: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word”.
So we had better get our Christology, our study of Christ, correct.
Steve linked to some articles on Christology at a relatively new site called CalvinistInternational.com. I believe the writer here, Steven Wedgeworth, is precisely correct when he says:
Reformed theologians … should be profoundly confident in their own tradition of doctrine and reflection. In fact, B.B. Warfield wrote some extremely insightful essays in his collection, The Person and Work of Christ, ... The Reformed masters interact with ancient and modern arguments without skipping a beat. Bavinck's third volume of Reformed Dogmatics is magisterial, confidently interacting with world religions and philosophical concepts from the broadest of traditions. He consistently connects the right dots without getting side-tracked.
The Reformed tradition's classic distinctive is that God is always and ever God, and man is always and ever man. Even in the unity of Christ, the two natures remain unmixed. And it is God who does the saving. Far from being a weakness, any reluctance to go beyond this is our foremost achievement: a biblical theology of Christ. Jesus didn't go around teaching people how to energize their hypostases. He preached the kingdom, judgment, and how to gain rest in Him. This is the gospel, and this also happens to be both catholic Christology and Reformed theology.
I hope to say more about this down the road. But Steve Hays makes the most important distinction of all when he says: “Now, our primary concern ought to be with NT Christology, not patristic or conciliar Christology.” The “magisterial” Bavinck, too, points to the Scriptures as our primary knowledge of Christ: “The Synoptic [Gospels] already contain all the things that the apostles and the Christian church later taught about taught about the person of Christ. True, before Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples did not yet have the right insight into his person and work. The Gospels themselves tell us that. It is for this reason that Jesus in his teaching also took account of the diciples’ capacity to understand, gradually introduced them to the knowledge of his sonship and messiahship, and left a great deal to the instruction of the Spirit (John 16:12). But the resurrection already marvelously illumined the person and work of Christ. From that time on, he was to all the disciples “a heavenly being”; the teaching of Paul and John concerning the essential character of Christ was in now way opposed by any of the other disciples.” (Bavinck, Vol 3, pg 252).
I’ve already hinted that, per Hurtado, Paul’s letters themselves are the best and earliest source of what the earliest Christians believed about Christ.
Oscar Cullmann, in his “The Christology of the New Testament” (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press (translated from the German Die Christologie Des Neuen Testaments, Tubingen, 1957), goes into some detail about this:
The ancient formulas (such as those found in 1 Cor 8:6 and 2 Cor 13:14, for example) are especially important for knowledge about early Christian thinking, because, as short summaries of the theological convictions of the first Christians, they show what these Christians emphasized, which truths they regarded as central and which as derived. We can therefore say that early Christian theology is in reality almost exclusively Christology. In so far as it concentrated its whole theological interest for several centuries in Christological discussions, the early Catholic Church remained close enough to the early Church….
It must be acknowledged from a historical point of view, of course, that it was necessary for the Church at a certain period to deal with the precise problems resulting from the Hellenizing of the Christian faith, the rise of Gnostic doctrines, and the views advocated by Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches and others. That is, it was necessary for the [later] Church to deal with the question of the natures and attempt to answer it. We may say, however, that although the Church attempted a solution to the problem by reference to the New Testament, its statement of the problem was nevertheless oriented all too exclusively in a direction which no longer corresponds to the manner in which the New Testament itself states it.
The New Testament hardly ever speaks of the person of Christ without at the same time speaking of his work … When it is asked in the New Testament ‘Who is Christ?’, the question never means exclusively, or even primarily, ‘What is his nature?’, but first of all, ‘What is his function?’ Therefore, the various answers given to the question in the New Testament (answers which are expressed in the various titles we shall investigate one after the other) visualize both Christ’s person and his work. This applies even to the titles of honour referring to the pre-existent Christ ….
As a result of the necessity of combating the heretics, then, the Church fathers subordinated the interpretation of the person and work of Christ to the question of the ‘natures’. In any case, their emphases, compared with those of the New Testament, were misplaced. Even when they did speak of the work of Christ, they did so only in connection with discussion about his nature. Even if this shifting of emphasis was necessary against certain heretical views, the discussion of ‘natures’ is none the less ultimately a Greek, not a Jewish or biblical problem (pgs 2-4).
So, we must know what we know of Christ primarily from the New Testament. To be sure, it was important, as Bavinck noted, to draw some “clear-cut boundaries” “within which the church’s doctrine of Christ would be further developed” (v. 3, pg 255). The formula of Chalcedon helped to do that. But the substance of the doctrine of Christ always must be Scriptural, not speculative.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together...20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Jn 21:1-2,20-23).
One argument which Catholic epologists commonly deploy is the claim that you can’t find Protestant distinctives in the early church. Protestant distinctives are theological innovations.
This argument takes two forms: (a) the claim that a Protestant distinctive (e.g. sola fide) isn’t mentioned in the church fathers, or (b) the claim that Protestant theology contradicts the church fathers (e.g. the real presence). (a) is an argument from silence (i.e. absence of evidence), whereas (b) appeals to (alleged) counterevidence.
This argument is generally bolstered by the attendant claim that patristic testimony, especially from the apostolic fathers, is presumptively apostolic. The apostolic fathers reputedly knew the apostles. Hence, they are transmitting apostolic doctrine.
There are several steps to this argument. Key assumptions. For instance, how many of the apostolic fathers actually knew the apostles? If so, which apostles did they know? How old were the apostolic fathers when they allegedly heard the apostles? How often did they hear them?
In addition, the appeal to patristic attestation is double-edged. Newman introduced the theory of development to account for innovations in Catholic dogma.
But let’s address the argument head-on. In Jn 21:23 we have an agraphon: an oral tradition of something Jesus said.
We can also narrow down the source to one of the seven disciples present when Jesus spoke. This was then handed down by word-of-mouth.
[BTW, this is a mark of authenticity. If John’s Gospel was fictitious, why would the narrator invent 7 disciples for this post-Easter scene, rather than the 11 remaining disciples (prescinding Judas)? This is the sort of incidental detail that we’d expect from the narrator if he were an eyewitness, reporting what he saw.]
Yet what Jesus originally said quickly became garbled in transmission. It became a false rumor about the Parousia.
That doesn’t necessarily mean one of the seven disciples misreported what Jesus said. Rather, that what he reported was misinterpreted.
John therefore adds this editorial postscript to correct that distortion. John quotes Jesus, then carefully parses his statement.
But if we didn’t have that canonical corrective, if we were at the mercy of oral tradition, then the rumor would assume the status of venerable apostolic tradition. An erroneous tradition.
And not a mistake about some side issue, but something as fundamental as the return of Christ.
This doesn’t mean testimonial evidence is inherently suspect. We generally remember events better than words. And we generally remember the gist of what was said better than the verbatim wording.
The fourth Gospel itself doesn’t rely on the vicissitudes of unaided memory. Inspiration is necessary to refresh fading memories (Jn 14:26).
The Orthodox routinely accuse Calvinists of being Nestorians. Now, our primary concern ought to be with NT Christology, not patristic or concililar Christology. But for those who take a keen interest in historical theology, here are some useful discussions regarding traditional Reformed Christology:
I'm going to post a recommended reading list from a prominent Orthodox blog. Notice what's missing from this lengthy list: it's all historical and philosophical theology. Nothing specifically on exegetical theology. No commentaries. No OT or NT theologies. No exegetical monographs.
Eastern Orthodox theology isn't based on divine revelation; it's based on man-made tradition and speculation. Eastern Orthodox theology is an exercise in the history of ideas.
Now there's nothing wrong with historical and philosophical theology. But Christianity is first and foremost a revealed religion. That's the starting point. That's the primary source and standard.
Eastern Orthodox theology isn't based on divine revelation; it's based on man-made tradition and speculation. Eastern Orthodox theology is an exercise in the history of ideas.
Now there's nothing wrong with historical and philosophical theology. But Christianity is first and foremost a revealed religion. That's the starting point. That's the primary source and standard.
The biblical writers spoke not from a lofty height, separate from the customs and conventions of their day. They spoke of God from out of their own place and time. We are seeing God through their eyes.
That’s why we today should try to see the historical shaping of Scripture not as something to tip our hat to or a hindrance to be over come, but as the very means by which God chose to speak.
Inerrantists don’t deny that Scripture reflects the cultural milieu in which it was given. But what Enns ignores is the source of the cultural milieu in which Scripture was given. Divine agency isn’t confined to the psychological process of inspiration. For divine agency lies behind the culture milieu in which Scripture is given.
Enns acts as though God was stuck with the historical status quo. That God had to make the best of the hand that history dealt him. But this disregards the creatorship and the providence of God. If Scripture has a historical shaping, God is shaping the history. God is the Lord of history.
Enns speaks of the “cultural limitations” of Scripture, but God isn’t limited by culture; rather, culture is limited by God. God isn’t limited to who or what he can find in the world. Rather, God “finds” what he put there in the first place. As Warfield pointed out so long ago:
This is the general problem of the origin of the Scriptures and the part of God in all that complex of processes by the interaction of which these books, which we call the sacred Scriptures, with all their peculiarities, and all their qualities of whatever sort, have been brought into being. For, of course, these books were not produced suddenly, by some miraculous act—handed down complete out of heaven, as the phrase goes; but, like all other products of time, are the ultimate effect of many processes cooperating through long periods. There is to be considered, for instance, the preparation of the material which forms the subject-matter of these books: in a sacred history, say, for example, to be narrated; or in a religious experience which may serve as a norm for record; or in a logical elaboration of the contents of revelation which may be placed at the service of God’s people; or in the progressive revelation of Divine truth itself, supplying their culminating contents. And there is the preparation of the men to write these books to be considered, a preparation physical, intellectual, spiritual, which must have attended them throughout their whole lives, and, indeed, must have had its beginning in their remote ancestors, and the effect of which was to bring the right men to the right places at the right times, with the right endowments, impulses, acquirements, to write just the books which were designed for them. When “inspiration,” technically so called, is superinduced on lines of preparation like these, it takes on quite a different aspect from that which it bears when it is thought of as an isolated action of the Divine Spirit operating out of all relation to historical processes. Representations are sometimes made as if, when God wished to produce sacred books which would incorporate His will—a series of letters like those of Paul, for example—He was reduced to the necessity of going down to earth and painfully scrutinizing the men He found there, seeking anxiously for the one who, on the whole, promised best for His purpose; and then violently forcing the material He wished expressed through him, against his natural bent, and with as little loss from his recalcitrant characteristics as possible. Of course, nothing of the sort took place. If God wished to give His people a series of letters like Paul’s, He prepared a Paul to write them, and the Paul He brought to the task was a Paul who spontaneously would write just such letters.
If we bear this in mind, we shall know what estimate to place upon the common representation to the effect that the human characteristics of the writers must, and in point of fact do, condition and qualify the writings produced by them, the implication being that, therefore, we cannot get from man a pure word of God. As light that passes through the colored glass of a cathedral window, we are told, is light from heaven, but is stained by the tints of the glass through which it passes; so any word of God which is passed through the mind and soul of a man must come out discolored by the personality through which it is given, and just to that degree ceases to be the pure word of God. But what if this personality has itself been formed by God into precisely the personality it is, for the express purpose of communicating to the word given through it just the coloring which it gives it? What if the colors of the stained-glass window have been designed by the architect for the express purpose of giving to the light that floods the cathedral precisely the tone and quality it receives from them? What if the word of God that comes to His people is framed by God into the word of God it is, precisely by means of the qualities of the men formed by Him for the purpose, through which it is given? When we think of God the Lord giving by His Spirit a body of authoritative Scriptures to His people, we must remember that He is the God of providence and of grace as well as of revelation and inspiration, and that He holds all the lines of preparation as fully under His direction as He does the specific operation which we call technically, in the narrow sense, by the name of “inspiration.” The production of the Scriptures is, in point of fact, a long process, in the course of which numerous and very varied Divine activities are involved, providential, gracious, miraculous, all of which must be taken into account in any attempt to explain the relation of God to the production of Scripture. When they are all taken into account we can no longer wonder that the resultant Scriptures are constantly spoken of as the pure word of God. We wonder, rather, that an additional operation of God—what we call specifically “inspiration,” in its technical sense—was thought necessary. Consider, for example, how a piece of sacred history—say the Book of Chronicles, or the great historical work, Gospel and Acts, of Luke—is brought to the writing. There is first of all the preparation of the history to be written: God the Lord leads the sequence of occurrences through the development He has designed for them that they may convey their lessons to His people: a “teleological” or “etiological” character is inherent in the very course of events. Then He prepares a man, by birth, training, experience, gifts of grace, and, if need be, of revelation, capable of appreciating this historical development and eager to search it out, thrilling in all his being with its lessons and bent upon making them clear and effective to others. When, then, by His providence, God sets this man to work on the writing of this history, will there not be spontaneously written by him the history which it was Divinely intended should be written? Or consider how a psalmist would be prepared to put into moving verse a piece of normative religious experience: how he would be born with just the right quality of religious sensibility, of parents through whom he should receive just the right hereditary bent, and from whom he should get precisely the right religious example and training, in circumstances of life in which his religious tendencies should be developed precisely on right lines; how he would be brought through just the right experiences to quicken in him the precise emotions he would be called upon to express, and finally would be placed in precisely the exigencies which would call out their expression. Or consider the providential preparation of a writer of a didactic epistle—by means of which he should be given the intellectual breadth and acuteness, and be trained in habitudes of reasoning, and placed in the situations which would call out precisely the argumentative presentation of Christian truth which was required of him. When we give due place in our thoughts to the universality of the providential government of God, to the minuteness and completeness of its sway, and to its invariable efficacy, we may be inclined to ask what is needed beyond this mere providential government to secure the production of sacred books which should be in every detail absolutely accordant with the Divine will.
The answer is, Nothing is needed beyond mere providence to secure such books—provided only that it does not lie in the Divine purpose that these books should possess qualities which rise above the powers of men to produce, even under the most complete Divine guidance. For providence is guidance; and guidance can bring one only so far as his own power can carry him. If heights are to be scaled above man’s native power to achieve, then something more than guidance, however effective, is necessary. This is the reason for the superinduction, at the end of the long process of the production of Scripture, of the additional Divine operation which we call technically “inspiration.” By it, the Spirit of God, flowing confluently in with the providentially and graciously determined work of men, spontaneously producing under the Divine directions the writings appointed to them, gives the product a Divine quality unattainable by human powers alone. Thus, these books become not merely the word of godly men, but the immediate word of God Himself, speaking directly as such to the minds and hearts of every reader. The value of “inspiration” emerges, thus, as twofold. It gives to the books written under its “bearing” a quality which is truly superhuman; a trustworthiness, an authority, a searchingness, a profundity, a profitableness which is altogether Divine. And it speaks this Divine word immediately to each reader’s heart and conscience; so that he does not require to make his way to God, painfully, perhaps even uncertainly, through the words of His servants, the human instruments in writing the Scriptures, but can listen directly to the Divine voice itself speaking immediately in the Scriptural word to him.