Saturday, September 27, 2008

Development, Justification/Soteriology and the Early Church Fathers


During this past week, three new threads, by Dr. Michael Liccione, concerning the development of doctrine (DD), have been posted at Philosophia Perennis: FIRST ; SECOND ; THIRD.These three new threads have, to date, generated some 92 comments. The level of the content and dialogue is quite high, and intellectually stimulating; as such, I would like to recommend all three threads to those with any interest in DD.

Obviously, these new threads have caused yours truly to reflect a bit further on DD. Rather than duplicate the material that has already been presented, I would like to explore a specific facet of DD, the development of the doctrine justification, and how it raises some serious questions concerning sola scriptura and perspicuity. I shall begin my foray into this topic by asking three questions: first, what line of development did the early post-apostolic Church proceed on; second, how does this direction relate to the original revelatory deposit; and third can 21st century Christians gain some important insights on how this development took place.

What line of development did the early post-apostolic Church proceed on?

Two dominant themes are to be found in the early Church Fathers concerning justification/soteriology: interior regeneration of the believer, and the ex opera operato nature of the sacraments. One is at a loss to find a line of development that proceeds along the line of “salvation by faith alone, through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness alone”—such a line of development did not exist, and does not appear until the 16th century (A.N.S. Lane postulates that Bernard of Clairvaux may be an exception). Many patristic scholars are keenly aware of this historical fact (e.g. Alister McGrath, A.N.S. Lane, Jaroslav Pelikan , Thomas F. Torrance, H.E.W. Turner, William Cunningham), however some contemporary Reformed apologists are not comfortable with this, and have attempted to read post-Reformation developments into some of the early Church Fathers. Before I proceed any further, the very nature of the question I am fleshing out demands that I address this recent polemic. One representative of this school of thought is James R. White. Mr. White delineated his position in his book, The God Who Justifies (Bethany House, 2001). In an attempt to avoid charges of misrepresentation, I shall provide copious quotations from the book to establish Mr. White’s position:

SO WHAT ABOUT THE EARLY CHURCH?

There are only a few valid contextual citations—that is, citations that are fair to the context of the author and the author’s expressed beliefs and theology—that can be mustered in reference to justification by grace through faith alone in the writings of the early church. Ironically, one is from one of the earliest non-scriptural writings, traditionally identified with Clement, bishop of Rome, around the turn of the first century. The work more probably produced by the elders of the church at Rome (the monarchical or one-man episcopate did not develop until the middle of the second century, so the church at Rome at that time would have been led by a group of elders, as is the biblical pattern), speaks often of God’s work of saving His elect people. In section 32, the epistle makes this bold statement:


Therefore, all these were glorified and magnified, not because of themselves, or through their own works, or for the righteous deeds they performed, but by His will. And we also, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by means ourselves, nor by our own wisdom or understanding or godliness or works which we have done in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which the Almighty God has justified all those believing from the beginning. To whom be glory for ever and ever, amen.

This statement is surely in harmony with orthodox Protestant understanding of justification, and it can only be made to fit other systems by some imaginative (and anachronistic) redefinition of the terms.(TGWJ, p. 130.)

And:

In another very orthodox (i.e. biblically based) reference, the anonymous author (sometimes called Mathetes, the Greek term for “disciple”) writes to Diognetius[sic] and explains the leading elements of the Christian faith. In section 9 the author shows the depth of his familiarity with the writings of the apostle Paul:


This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life.


Aside from these brief glimpses into a period when apostolic teaching continued without philosophical and traditional accretions, most of the discussion one finds of the topic is either based upon considerations far removed from the biblical text or is so shallow and surface-level as to give the reader no real insight into the beliefs of the author.(TGWJ, pp. 130, 131.)


First off, I have attempted to pin down the English translation of the text utilized by Mr. White, but alas, among the 9 translations of Clement (Lake, Richardson, Sparks, Kleist, Staniforth, Lightfoot, Grant, Glimm, Roberts & Donaldson), that I possess within my library, none matched Mr. White’s text. And unfortunately, he does not tell his readers which translation he used (it may, in fact, be he own).

Second, Mr. White’s remarks that the above selection from Clement “is surely in harmony with orthodox Protestant understanding of justification, and it can only be made to fit other systems by some imaginative (and anachronistic) redefinition of the terms” is highly suspect; one will gain an entirely different outlook from the following patristic scholars:

It is obvious that in asserting justification by faith Clement was simply reproducing Paul’s idea without appreciating what it involved, and that he really agreed with the other Christians of his day that salvation is to be had only by obeying God and his will. That the early Christians should have departed from Paul in this matter is not surprising at all. (Arthur Cushman McGiffert, A History of Christian Thought, vol. 1. 85.)

The fundamental idea at the back of the words dikaiosunē, dikaioumai seems to be the moral qualification which avails before God conceived as a quality of the soul. That is achieved by faith which is fear of God working itself out in obedience. And so Clement can say that we are “justified by works, not by words” ergois dikaioumenoi, mē logois, and insists that we are not justified by pistis alone but by pistis and eusebeia, by pistis and philozenia, by pistis and alētheia. (Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace In the Apostolic Fathers, p. 49 – note: I have transliterated the Greek for my readers.)

…while sometimes Clement speaks in the very tones of Paul, as for instance on justification by faith (ch. 32:4), his leading convictions are somewhat different…Clement has moved away from the Pauline gospel into an atmosphere more concerned with moral life, and in particular with virtues of humility and order. Where ethical injunctions are secondary to Paul’s letters, they are primary in Clement. (Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, p, 38.)

And Clement himself wrote:

Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile.” (ch. 50, Donaldson & Roberts trans. – in ANF 1.18, 19.)

[Also: “Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words.” (ch. 30 – ANF 1.13); “We see, then, how all righteous men have been adorned with good works, and how the Lord Himself, adorning Himself with His works, rejoiced. Having therefore such an example, let us without delay accede to His will, and let us work the work of righteousness with our whole strength.” (ch. 33) – ANF 1.14; “Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God.” (ch. 49 – ANF 1.18.]

IMHO, an objective reading of Clement’s ENTIRE epistle to the Corinthians forces one to reject Mr. White's assessment; Clement is not a proto-Protestant; but rather, he is a proto-Catholic.

Now to The Epistle To Diognetus. Once again, Mr. White did not inform his readers whose English translation he was citing/using. However, unlike the Clement passage, I was able to find the actual source: Donaldson & Roberts translation – in ANF 1.28.

We know Mr. White’s position on this selection from the epistle, but what do patristic scholars have to say? The most definitive study of the epistle to date is Henry G. Meecham’s, The Epistle To Diognetus – The Greek Text With Introduction, Translation, and Notes (Manchester Univ. Press, 1949). Note what Meecham wrote:

By righteousness of the Son man’s sins are ‘covered’ (see note on ix. 3). “In that righteousness we are justified. The Pauline term is used, but the meaning has become much less forensic. The thought is not that of an externally imputed righteousness, but of a real change in the sinful heart of man, and the writer seems to feel that the righteousness of Christ actually becomes ours” (Grensted). (Page 25.)

Now, when one takes into consideration the rest of writings of the early Church Fathers who wrote on the doctrine of justification/soteriology, I believe that one is forced to conclude with Dr. McGrath, “that there are no ‘Forerunners of the Reformation doctrines of justification’”; and that the Reformation understanding of justification was “a genuine theological novum (Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, vol. 1, p. 187 – 1986 ed.). [For a very recent informative study on the doctrine of justification in the early Church see Thomas P. Scheck’s, Origen and the History of Justification, (2008).]


More on the line of development of the early post-apostolic Church in my next thread, the Lord willing.


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Triablogue thread worth reading

Jason Engwer, a member of the “Triabloggers” squad, posted what may in fact be the most cogent and substantial contra-Roman Catholic Church thread I have encountered during my forays into the blogsphere world of Catholic and Protestant apologetics. Jason’s POST, (along with Darby’s Analysis of Dr. Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua), presents solid evidence that brings into question the issue of authority—more precisely, whether or not any Christian church can substantiate the claim of infallibility. The actual content of Jason’s thread is concise, accurate, and presented in a charitable, non-controversial, manner. As I reflect upon the material, I am left asking myself the question: “where does all this lead”? Questions concerning interpretation, development of doctrine, eccesiology, schism, church discipline, et al., are racing through my thoughts…

So, once again, “where does all this lead”? In the words of Dr. Gary North, “you can’t beat something with nothing .” If one jettisons the possibility that there exists an infallibility teaching authority instituted by Jesus Christ and His apostles to guide His Church through the perils of heresy and schism, what is left? Should we just hand each individual the Bible (putting aside the issues of the canon for now), step aside, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct each person into the truth? Are we to attempt to identify qualified, authoritative “teachers” to assist our private interpretation/s? If so, how does one come to know that they speak the truth? If one replies, “we test them by the Scriptures”, does this not raise the question: “if I can discern whether or not their teachings conform to God’s Word, why do I need them, is it not better to continue to drink directly from the infallible Scriptures, unfiltered by fallible teachers”?

Once more, “where does all this lead”?


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Tetragrammaton: Should Christians use God’s OT ‘personal’ name?


This morning, while do some research on a non-related topic, I came across an interesting article posted last week on the Christianity Today website concerning the recent ban of the use of “Yahweh”, by the Vatican, in all liturgical uses (CT article HERE; Vatican ruling HERE).

When the Vatican release (English translation), via Zenit, originally appeared on 08-19-08, it precipitated a considerable amount of cyberspace discussion (GO HERE for some examples).

Now, as a former 4th generation Jehovah’s Witness, I think one could expect that yours truly has experienced a bit of consternation over this Vatican ruling; as such, I would like to ask a couple questions:

Do you agree or disagree with the Vatican’s ruling?

Do you believe that Jesus and/or His apostles pronounced the Tetragrammaton when it appeared in the passages they cited from the OT?



Grace and peace,

David

Monday, September 15, 2008

Samuel Clarke, sola scriptura and the Trinity


This thread is going to begin an exploration into the teachings of the late 17th century/early 18th century Anglican divine, Samuel Clarke, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. Clarke was a clear, and ardent, supporter of sola scriptura; in his book, The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity, he wrote:

the Books of Scripture are to Us Now not only the Rule, but the Whole and the Only Rule of Truth in matters of Religion. (Samuel Clarke, The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity, p. v - emphasis in the original.)

In the “Contents” section of the book, Clarke sets forth 55 “diftinct Propofitions” (distinct Propositions). These 55 propositions clarify his position on the doctrine of the Trinity (see pages 15-27 of the PDF VERSION ); his view clearly endorsed a heavy dose of Subordinationism (some maintain that it is Arian, or Semi-Arian; though Homoiousian or Homoian are probably more accurate options/descriptions). Clarke presents 1,251 Scripture verses to establish the basis for his 55 propositions, and devotes over 100 pages defending them via Scripture and early Church Fathers.

The following are Clarke's first nine propositions (I have used the updated list provided by Pfizenmaier in his The Trinitarian Theology of Dr. Samuel Clarke, p.5):

I. There is one supreme cause and original of things; one simple, uncompounded, undivided, intelligent agent, or person; who is the alone author of all being, and the fountain of all power.

II. With this first and supreme cause or Father of all things, there has existed from the beginning, a second divine person, which is his Word or Son.

III. With the Father and the Son, there has existed from the beginning a third divine person, which is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

IV. What the proper metaphysical nature, essence, or substance of any of these divine persons is, the Scripture has no where at all declared; but describes and distinguishes them always by their personal characters, offices, power, and attributes.

V. The Father alone is self-existent, underived, unoriginated, independent. He alone is of none, either by creation, generation, procession, or any other way whatsoever.

VI. The Father is the sole origin of all power and authority, and is the author and principle of whatsoever is done by the Son or by the Spirit.

VII. The Father alone is in the highest, strict, proper, and absolute sense supreme over all.

VIII. The Father alone is, absolutely speaking, the God of the universe; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Israel; of Moses, of the Prophets and Apostles; and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

IX. The Scripture, when it mentions the one God, or the only God, always means the supreme person of the Father.


I have often confided in my theological friends that if I held to the principal of sola scriptura I would probably be a Homoiousian, or a Homoian Arian (I am Trinitarian due to Tradition, more precisely, Nicene and post-Nicene Tradition). It is quite interesting to find in Clarke one whose position is nearly identical to what mine would be if I rejected post-Nicene developments.


Grace and peace,

David

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The eclectic grammatical-historical literary method and sensus plenior

In our last THREAD an “eclectic grammatical-historical literary method” (EGHM) was explored. This EGHM, as espoused by Dr. Beale and Dr. Carson, is the method that I personally hold much in common with—with one very important exception: I add elements of what is known as sensus plenior. What is sensus plenior? Dr. Raymond Brown provides a concise definition:

The sensus plenior is that additional, deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, which is seen to exist in the words of a biblical text (or group of texts, or even a whole book) when they are studied in the light of further revelation or development in the understanding of revelation.” (Raymond E. Brown, The Sensus Plenior of Sacred Scripture, p. 92.)

One fairly recent Evangelical author affirms sensus plenior as one of the methods of interpretation utilized in the Scriptures. Please take careful note of the following extracts:

When interpreting the Old Testament and NewTestament each in light of the single grammatical-historical meaning of each passage, two kinds of New Testament uses of the Old Testament surface, one in which the New Testament writer observes the grammatical-historical sense of the Old Testament passage and the other in which the New Testament writer goes beyond the grammatical-historical sense in using a passage. Inspired sensus plenior application (ISPA) designates the latter usage. Numerous passages illustrate each type of New Testament use of the Old Testament. The ISPA type of use does not grant contemporary interpreters a license to copy the method of the New Testament writers, nor does it violate the principle of single meaning. (Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, p. 241)

Clearly the New Testament sometimes applies Old Testament passages in a way that gives an additional dimension beyond their grammatical-historical meaning. This does not cancel the grammatical-historical meaning of the Old Testament passage; it is simply an application of the Old Testament passage beyond its original meaning, the authority for which application is the New Testament passage. Such an application is ISPA. (Ibid., page 251.)

The ISPA of Old Testament passages by New Testament writers raises several questions. First, can today’s interpreter imitate what New Testament writers did in assigning additional and different meanings in applying Old Testament passages? No, they cannot, because that would depart from grammatical-historical interpretation and violate the principle of single meaning. Current interpreters and preachers may apply the Old Testament passages to different situations, but their applications are not inspired, as are those of New Testament writers.

But someone will say, “Why can’t we imitate the principles used in the New Testament writings? Don’t we learn our hermeneutics from them?” The difference in qualifications is the answer. New Testament writers possessed the gift of apostleship and/or the gift of prophecy that enabled them to receive and transmit direct revelation from God. No contemporary interpreter possesses either of those gifts. Those gifts enabled the gifted ones to practice what is called “charismatic exegesis” of the Old Testament. That practice entailed finding hidden or symbolic meanings that could be revealed through an interpreter possessing divine insight. It was similar to the technique called midrash pesher that members of the Qumran community used, but neither did the members of that community possess such gifts as apostleship and prophecy.

Another way of expressing the differences in qualifications is to point out that New Testament writers were directly inspired by God, but today’s interpreters are not. That allowed New Testament authors prerogatives that readers of Scripture do no enjoy. Through direct revelation from God, they could assign applications based additional meanings to Old Testament passages. That rules out ISPA of Old Testament texts to new situations other than those applications that appear in the New Testament.

A second question relates to the principle of single meaning. Does not the New Testament’s assigning of an application based on a second meaning to an Old Testament passage violate that principle? That a passage has two meanings is obvious, but only one of those meanings derives from grammatical-historical interpretation of the Old Testament itself. The other comes from a grammatical-historical analysis of the New Testament passage that cites it. The authority for the second meaning of the Old Testament passage is the New Testament, not the Old Testament. The Old Testament produces only the literal meaning. The sensus plenior meaning emerges only after an ISPA of the Old Testament wording to a new situation. The New Testament could assign such new meanings authoritatively because of the inspiration of what they wrote.

A third question is, “Did God know from the beginning that the Old Testament passage had two meanings?” Obviously He did, but until the New Testament citation of that passage, the second or sensus plenior meaning did not exist as far as humans were concerned. Since hermeneutics is a human discipline, gleaning that second sense is an impossibility in an examination of the Old Testament source of the citation. The additional meaning is therefore not a grammatical-historical interpretation of the Old Testament passage. The additional meaning is the fruit of grammatical-historical interpretation of the companion New Testament passage. The Old Testament passage has only one meaning
. (Ibid., pages 252, 253.) [All emphasis in the above quotes are in the original.]

Now, Dr. Thomas has made a very important distinction, he terms the sensus plenior method used in the Scriptures as the “inspired sensus plenior application” (ISPA)—I concur with his distinction. I would also add that there is an “inspired eclectic grammatical-historical literary method” used within the Scriptures. Dr. Thomas believes that post-Biblical interpretation must utilize an uninspired GHM (I would substitute this with EGHM), but emphatically states that one should NOT employ an uninspired SPA—it is here that I strongly differ with our esteemed author; and much more importantly, so does the Pontifical Biblical Commission document, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (April 15, 1993) [English translation available online HERE - see II.B.1-3.]

In ending, what I find particularly interesting is that among Evangelicals, the majority of those who believe that the Scriptures clearly utilize the ISPA, then go on to deny that apostolic hermeneutics should be employed by post-Biblical interpreters; however, the majority of those who deny that the Scriptures use the ISPA then proceed to affirm that post-Biblical interpreters should attempt to duplicate apostolic hermeneutics.

Anyone else have some thoughts on this?


Grace and peace,

David

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Apostolic hermeneutics, the grammatical-historical method, and Beale/Carson

Before commenting any further on the numerous accusations and misrepresentations that have recently been leveled at yours truly by Steve Hays (and Gene Bridges) over at Triablogue, I thought it best to obtain the book that they have tauntingly been presenting as a must read, namely, the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson). I ordered the book a few days back using the slowest delivery method in order to get free shipping, so it was just yesterday afternoon that I finally received the tome. I have finished reading the Preface, main Introduction and many of the other introductions to the books/epistles of the NT corpus. The book a good resource for those who do not own and/or have access to a broad range of New Testament commentaries; it is also a useful reference for those that do, by putting the specific genre/topic into a single volume for easy access. However, as the editors point out in the Introduction, the volume does NOT “survey contemporary debates over the use of the OT in the NT” (p. xxiii).

Now to the content; more precisely, the editors prolegomenon, which provides some insights into how they understand the relationship between apostolic hermeneutic/s and the “grammatical-historical literary method”. Note the following extract:

…here and there within the pages of this commentary one finds brief discussion as to whether a NT writer is drawing out a teaching from the OT—i.e., basing the structure of his thought on the exegesis of the OT text—or appealing to an OT passage to confirm or justify what has in fact been established by the Christian’s experience of Christ and his death and resurrection. This distinction is more nuanced one than what was mentioned earlier, viz., the distinction between those who think that the citations bring with them the OT context and those who think that the NT writers resort to prooftexting. For the evidence is really quite striking that the first disciples are not presented as those who instantly understood what the Lord Jesus was teaching them or as those who even anticipated all that he would say because of their own insightful interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures. To the contrary, they are constantly presented as, on the one hand, being attached to Jesus, yet, on the other, being very slow to come to terms with the fact that the promised messianic king would also be the Suffering Servant, the atoning lamb of God, that he would be crucified, rejected by many of his own people, and would rise again utterly vindicated by God. Nevertheless, once they have come to accept this synthesis, they also insist, in the strongest terms, that this is what the OT Scriptures actually teach…Rather, they keep trying to prove from the Scriptures themselves that this Jesus of Nazareth really does fulfill the ancient texts even while they are forced to acknowledge that they themselves did not read the biblical texts this way until after the resurrection, Pentecost, and the gradual increase in understanding that came to them, however mediated by the Spirit, as the result of the expansion of the church, not least in Gentile circles. This tension between what they insist is actually there in the Scriptures and what they are forced to admit they did not see until fairly late in their experience forces them to think about the concept of “mystery”—revelation that is in some sense “there” in the Scriptures but hidden until the time of God-appointed disclosure

A favorite illustration of some in explaining this phenomenon is the picture of a seed. An apple seed contains everything that will organically grow from it. No examination by the naked eye can distinguish what will grow from the seed, but once the seed has grown into the full apple tree, the eye can then see how the seed has been “fulfilled.” [BTW, I cannot not help but think of John Henry Newman and his theory of doctrinal development.] It is something like that with the way OT passages are developed in the NT. There are “organic links” to one degree or another, but those links may not have been clearly discernible to the eye of the OT author or reader. Accordingly, there is sometimes a creative development or extension of the meaning of the OT text that is still in some way anchored to that text. But it would take another sort of book to father the exegetical evidence gathered in this commentary and whip it into the kind of biblical-theological shape that might address these sorts of questions more acutely…

…contributors have been encouraged to deploy an eclectic grammatical-historical literary method in their attempts to relate the NT’s reading of the OT. But it would be amiss to point out (1) that such an approach is fairly “traditional” or “classical”; (2) that such an approach overlaps substantially with some recent postcritical methods that tend to read OT books as whole literary units and that take seriously such concepts as canon, Scripture, and salvation history (concepts that would not be entirely alien to the authors of the NT), though it allows for more extratextual referentiality than do most postcritical methods; (3) that we sometimes need reminding that the NT authors would not have understood the OT in terms of any of the dominant historical-critical orthodoxies of the last century and a half
. (Pages xxvii, xxviii - bold emphasis mine.)

In an earlier work, G.K. Beale wrote:

Those texts with a low degree of correspondence with the Old Testament literary context can be referred to as semi-contextual, since they seem to fall between the poles of what we ordinarily call “contextual” and “non-contextual” usages. Indeed, there are instances where New Testament writers handle Old Testament texts in a diametrically opposite manner to that in which they appear to function in their original contexts. Often, upon closer examination such uses reveal an ironic or polemical intention. In such examples it would be wrong to conclude that an Old Testament refence has been interpreted non-contextually. Indeed, awareness of context must be presupposed in making such interpretations of Old Testament texts. On the other hand, non-contextual uses of the Old Testament may be expected to occur where there is unintentual or unconscious allusion. Caution should be exercised in labeling Old Testament usages merely either as contextual or non-contextual, since other more precisely descriptive interpretative categories may be better. (G.K. Beale, “Positive Answer To the Question”, in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts, ed. G.K. Beale, Page 391 - bold emphasis mine.)

And in a online review, D.A. Carson stated:

First, the thrust of the approach Enns adopts is that the hermeneutics deployed by the New Testament writers is indifferentiable from the hermeneutics of other first-century Jewish writers. However alien such interpretive principles may be to those of us weaned on grammatical-historical exegesis, those are the realities, and we need to come to terms with them. With much of this I am in happy concurrence. Indeed, this argument has been made by many people in recent decades, not a few of them evangelicals. (ENTIRE TEXT HERE - bold emphasis mine.)


Conclusion: Beale and Carson (and I presume most, if not all, of the contributors) have adopted what they term “an eclectic grammatical-historical literary method in their attempts to relate the NT’s reading of the OT.” Now, what is the “eclectic grammatical-historical literary method”? It seems that I am not the only one asking this question, for it was posed by Collin Hansen to Beale and Carson in a Christianity Today interview (HERE). Dr. Beale responded with:


Historical-grammatical exegesis traditionally has been used to exegete a Hebrew or Greek paragraph. You try to interpret it contextually in the book, using word studies, grammar, and syntax. You try to understand the logical development of thought within the paragraph, historical background, and theological or figurative problems. You check for parallel texts. It's a whole array of things you bring to bear on a particular paragraph
Eclectic and literary [method] extends grammatical-historical exegesis from just looking atomistically at the paragraph in the context of its book. In my view, part of exegetical method has to do with how the passage fits into the corpus of the author, how it fits in the New Testament, and how we relate it to the Old Testament. One would especially want to pay attention to Old Testament allusions and quotations, going back to see what's happening in the Old Testament. You might call that a biblical-theological perspective that really goes beyond the traditional understanding of grammatical-historical
.”

Certainly, Dr. Beale’s “semi-contextual” understanding also needs to be noted when attempting to come to grips with his (and Carson’s) ‘method’.

Basically, what we have before us is a synthesized hermeneutic, a ‘neo’ hermeneutic if you will, with ties to the grammatical-historical method, but in reality, certainly not the same thing.

Now, contrast Beale’s and Carson’s own words with what Hays and Bridges have been saying within their recent threads (and comments) specifically directed at me (THREAD 1; THREAD 2; THREAD 3; THREAD 4; THREAD 5; THREAD 6; THREAD 7), and then come to your own conclusion as to which of us throughout the discussion/s has been the better representative of what Beale and Carson were attempting to convey concerning their approach to apostolic hermeneutic (BTW, though Hays links to the CT interview, one must wonder if he actually read the entire article.)


One last note before ending this thread: a working definition for the grammatical-historical method, for without out it, one will not be able to effectively contrast the GHM with the eclectic grammatical-historical literary method

WE AFFIRM the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.

WE DENY the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.

The literal sense of Scripture is strongly affirmed here. To be sure the English word literal carries some problematic connotations with it. Hence the words normal and grammatical-historical are used to explain what is meant. The literal sense is also designated by the more descriptive title grammatical-historical sense. This means the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.

The Denial warns against attributing to Scripture any meaning not based in a literal understanding, such as mythological or allegorical interpretations. This should not be understood as eliminating typology or designated allegory or other literary forms which include figures of speech (see Articles X, XIII, and XIV). (Article XV from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, with commentary by Norman L. Geisler - http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago2.html.)



Grace and peace,

David

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Apostolic hermeneutics vs. Bridges and Hays

With little time during the extended Labor Day weekend to spend on the recent ‘blogging wars’, I would now like to return to apostolic exegesis and its relationship to post-apostolic interpretation. As a starting point for this thread, I shall begin by reviewing some comments made by Gene Bridges (in an apologia of sorts for Steve Hays) over at Triablogue (hopefully, they have been able to move past their Catholic serial killer mentality).

Gene Bridges posted (HERE):

>> Me: And the primary hermeneutic of Jesus and the Apostles was?

1. Notice that Waltz waltzes right past this one.

a. We are not God.
b. We are not Apostles.
c. Are we to exegete Scripture exactly like the Apostles? Which of us is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?
d. The NT, among other things, is an infallible commentary on the OT. The way to understand the NT is by the GHM, thereby the GHM takes account of the "primary hermeneutic of Jesus and the Apostles." The issue isn't the way THEY exegeted the Scriptures, but how WE are to properly understand THEM when they did so.
e. Perhaps, David, you should take a gander at Carson and Beale. When you've done that, get back to Steve on this response of yours. It's been offered here a number of times by others already
.>>

Bridges (and the same can be said of Hays) states the “issue isn't the way THEY exegeted the Scriptures, but how WE are to properly understand THEM when they did so.” Really? I totally disagree, for the “issue” IS HOW THEY EXEGETED THE SCRIPTURES. To take “account of the ‘primary hermeneutic of Jesus and the Apostles’”, and then conclude that their hermeneutic is not the “issue” is nonsensical. Bridges seems to justify his stance with the points made earlier in a., b., and c.; he then recommends that I “take a gander at Carson and Beale”. Fair enough, so this morning I turned to Beale, who wrote:

The conclusion of those who see the New Testament use of the Old Testament as non-contextual is that twentieth-century Christians should not attempt to reproduce the exegetical method of the New Testament writers, except when it corresponds to our grammitical-historical method…But it is not necessary to claim that we have to have such inspiration to reproduce their method or their conclusions. The fact that we don’t have the same “revelatory stance” as the New Testament writers only means that we cannot have the same epistemological certainty about our interpretative conclusions and applications as they did. Exegetical method should not be confused with certainty about the conclusions of such method, since the two are quite distinct. (G.K. Beale, “Positive Answer To the Question”, in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts, ed. G.K. Beale, p. 399.)

Amen Dr. Beale! I am truly left wondering if Bridges and Hays have actually read one of the authors they recommended…


Grace and peace,

David