Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Divine Qualities of Scripture (1): The Unity and Harmony of Scripture

All Scripture is God-breathed (“θεόπνευστος”)

“If anyone ponders over the prophetic sayings … it is certain that in the very act of reading and diligently studying them his mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and he will recognize the words he is reading are not utterances of man but the language of God” (Origen, Princ., 4.1.6)

“… the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God …” [WCF1.5].

The “beauty and excellency”, the “efficacy and power”, the “unity and harmony” of the Scriptures, in these qualities, the Scripture speaks, bearing “the very attributes of God himself” (Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books © 2012, pg 127). “When men encounter God, they are vividly aware of his beauty, majesty, and perfection and need no further ‘evidence’ that he is God (Pss. 27:4; 50:2; 96:6; Isa. 6:1-7; Rev 1:12-17; 4:3). In addition, Scripture itself is described over and over again throughout the Bible as bearing these very same attributes” (pg 127).

By contrast, Scott Hahn, a Roman Catholic apologist, for example, considers that “the Church” somehow gives the Scriptures their attribute of being Scripture:

“without reference to the meaning these texts possess in the [Roman Catholic] Church’s life and liturgy, the Scriptures become a kind of dead letter, an artifact from a long-extinct exotic culture. Biblical exegesis becomes an exercise in “antiquarianism” or “archaeology” or perhaps “necrophilia.” [quoting Joseph Ratzinger: [Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy”, 1986] … The Church makes the very individual texts into a single book or ‘Bible.” Without the [Roman Catholic] Church we have only a jumble of unconnected texts [Hahn, “Covenant and Communion”, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press ©2009, pg 35].

Kruger here draws on speech-act philosophy: “Speaking (and therefore divine speaking) can take three different forms: (1) locution (making coherent and meaningful sounds or, in the case of writing, letters); (2) illocution (what the words are actually doing; e.g., promising, warning, commanding, declaring, etc.); and (3) perlocution (the effects of these words on the listener; e.g., encouraging, challenging, persuading) (pg 119-120).

The very nature of their content, their “divine qualities” have a perlocutionary effect on the reader. Citing Hebrews 4:12, the Scriptures are “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”… “It changes, shapes, and transforms its reader or hearer. The canon [of the New Testament] is not so much to be judged as the thing that does the judging. When this attribute of the canon is appreciated, once again, we can see how the canon is not so much shaped by the community of faith, but a means of shaping the community of faith”.

Echoing this, Kruger cites Justin Martyr on the words of Christ” “For they possess a terrible power in themselves, and are sufficient to inspire those who turn from the path of rectitude with awe; while the sweetest rest is afforded those who make a diligent practice of them (Dialogue with Trypho, 8:2)

He cites the Apology of Aristides (C. 130) “the author invites the emperor to read ‘the Gospel’ because ‘you also if you read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it’” 2.4 (Syriac).

He cites Irenaeus defending “the fourfold Gospel” on the grounds that these Gospels are always “breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh” (Haer 3.11.8).

The Unity and Harmony of Scripture
Kruger affirms that in the Scriptures, “there is unity on a complex array of theological issues, such as the nature of God, the make-up of man, the nation of Israel, the purpose and structure of the church, the person and work of Christ, the message of forgiveness and redemption, the importance of holiness, the role and function of the sacraments, eschatology and the last days, and so on” (133-134). “Whenver we speak of a canonical book’s doctrinal unity with other divine revelation, that is just another way of saying that book is orthodox”.

Orthodoxy in Scripture manifests itself in several different ways. Traditionally, Protestants understand orthodoxy as exhibited through the test of a prophet (Deut. 18:20) or by examination (Acts 17:10), as the Bereans searched for themselves to verify that Paul’s inspired teaching is consistent with the inspired teaching of the Old Testament.

Kruger also works through two other perspectives on orthodoxy:

“First, from the perspective of the earliest Christians as they worked with an incomplete New Testament canon and sought to recognize (for the first time) the books that God had given”

“Second from our modern day as we work with a complete New Testament canon and ask whether there are sufficient grounds for thinking that these books are indeed from God” (134)

1. The earliest church working with an incomplete New Testament Canon
Critics such as Walter Bauer (“Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity”) argue that orthodoxy “could have not been a reliable guide in the development of the canon because there was no uniform standard for orthodoxy until the fourth century” (pg 135). Kruger instead, while acknowledging that Bauer “is certainly correct at a number of points” including that “early Christianity was quite a diverse affair, heresies emerged early,” and “this diversity certainly continued into the later centuries of Christianity, other aspects of Bauer’s thesis have been “challenged and roundly (some say decisively) critiqued”. “The sticking point for Bauer is whether there was a reliable standard by which a book’s orthodoxy could be measured in this earliest phase of Christianity”. Kruger argues that there were three sources:

a. The Old Testament. Citing Ben Witherington, “Gnosticism was a non-starter from the outset because it rejected the very book the earliest Christians recognized as authoritative—the Old Testament”. The Old Testament provided the earliest Christians with an initial (orthodox) doctrinal foundation).

b. “Core” New Testament books. Some works, such as the letters of Paul and the Synoptic gospels, as has been noted earlier, never were not regarded as Scripture, and thus a source of orthodoxy. “Thus, there appears to have been a collection of core New Testament writings that would have functioned as a norm for apostolic doctrine at quite an early point.

c. The “rule of faith”. While Kruger provides, elsewhere, a more detailed discussion of apostolic tradition in the earliest church, he notes here that “the rule of faith worked to bring harmony precisely because there was harmony already there” (within the OT, core NT works, and the understanding of redemptive history that the early church already had) “that could be summarized and expressed. It was this conviction about the internal qualities of Scripture that helped guide the church fathers in their reception of the canon.

2. Orthodoxy and a Complete New Testament Canon
“We must remember that the question about how we recognize the canon is not just a historical one (how it happened in the early church) but an epistemological one (whether the Christian religion [today] has sufficient grounds for thinking that these twenty-seven books are given by God as canonical)” (141-142). “When we answer the latter question, we can do so by considering the New Testament canon as a completed whole”.

Remember, we are now working in the context of considering the “divine qualities” of the 27-book New Testament canon. And of course, “the theological unity of the New Testament books has not gone unchallenged. Whereas Walter Bauer challenged the existence of orthodoxy in the early church, F.C. Baur has challenged the existence of orthodoxy across the spectrum of the completed New Testament canon”. Baur, in the 19th century, argued that each New Testament book was produced and motivated by separate particular theological agendas, some of which were in conflict. This type of objection, Kruger notes, constitutes a second potential defeater to the divine qualities of Scripture, “and certainly cannot be dismissed lightly” (143).

Again, though, while acknowledging some diversity within the New Testament, “it must not be assumed (though it often is) that differences necessarily entail genuine contradiction”. He discusses apparent differences between Paul and James, as well as many of their agreements (such as the unity of the Gospel Message, Acts 15, and Paul’s “ongoing care and affection” for the church at Jerusalem, and the fact that “there is no real disagreement” between Paul and James on Paul’s understanding of justification [145]).

Kruger also notes a key contradiction within the argument of the Bauer/Baur camp: “If the ‘winners’ [of the “orthdodoxy” battles of the early church] determined the canon, then why would they pick books from various and contradictory theological camps? One cannot argue that the canon is the ‘invention’ of the proto-orthodox designed to suppress the opposition [as Bauer claimed], and then turn around and argue that the canon is a cacophony of diverse theological viewpoints that stand in opposition” (146).

Thus, “Should Christians abandon their commitment to the canon’s authority because biblical critics, who view scriptural interpretations as merely a human enterprise, claim to have discovered theological incongruities? No” (147).

No comments:

Post a Comment