Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Behr, Louth, Hanson, Newman, Giles and the development of doctrine

In the comments section of the LAST THREAD here at Articuli Fidei, Iohannes (John) provided a quote from John Behr’s book, The Nicene Faith – Part 1 which is critical of certain reflections made by R.P.C. Hanson in his book, The Search For the Christian Doctrine of God, and his essay The achievement of orthodoxy in the fourth century AD (important pages missing in the “limited previews”; I own all three books, and can provide further quotations if requested).

Behr argues that, “Christian theology, at least as vindicated by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople, has been shown to be very much, and in a very specific manner, an exegetical task” (p. 16). And again, “Christian theology, as established as normative by the end of the second century, on the basis of the way the gospel was proclaimed from the beginning, and then reaffirmed by Nicea and Constantinople, is an exegetical enterprise, reflecting on the revelation of God in Christ through the engagement with the Scriptures, understood as having been spoken, by the Spirit, of Christ, and so to be read in a reciprocally ‘spiritual’ exegesis” (ibid.).

Now, what Arian would argue against the notion that “Christian theology…is very much…an exegetical task”? Further, the assumption that “Christian theology”, was “vindicated by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople”, would be hotly contested, via an exegetical method, by Arians. Behr’s ‘method’, IMHO, solves little; and his criticisms of Hanson stem from the faulty notion that doctrine does not develop. Dr. Liccione has thoroughly exposed Dr. Behr in his thread, THIS TIME, FR. BEHR. (Dr. Liccione’s previous thread, DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE, FR. LOUTH, AND ECUMENISM, addresses Dr. Louth’s skewed concept of DD.)

Despite Dr. Behr’s and Dr. Louth’s pleadings to the contrary, doctrine does develop—the real question is this: how does one determine authentic development from corruption? So, with this introduction of sorts in place, we can now examine Iohannes recent comments on DD; JOHN WROTE:

To make an end of this rambling on my part, if the question is whether Scripture is clear enough "to bring the reader to the [substance of the] doctrine of the Trinity apart from development/tradition," I think it indeed is, but in this sense: when the Nicene formula is presented, and its terms explained, we can see for ourselves that it is correct, even independently the Church's say-so. The tradition is public, and is amenable to investigation by all, with no one set up as a privileged interpreter (someone who can see more in principle than others can see). Thus St Athanasius defended Nicaea and knew it was right, not because a duly constituted ecumenical council had promulgated it, but because he could look at what Nicaea said side by side with what was taught in Scripture, and could see the correspondence between them. He saw for himself the truth of the Church's doctrine. Hence he stood up for it, even when he faced opposition from others in the Church.

Here is the ‘rub’: “when the Nicene formula is presented, and its terms explained, we can see for ourselves that it is correct, even independently the Church's say-so”. Yet without the “Church's say-so”, the vast majority of Christians were subordinationists; without the “Church's say-so” (creeds, confessions, catechisms, seminaries, et al.) many do not embrace one of the forms of Trinitarianism.

Once again, doctrine develops. A fairly recent book illuminates this point even further; Kevin Giles in his, JESUS AND THE FATHER, raises some very interesting (and controversial) issues concerning the ‘revival’ of subordinationism among conservative Evangelical theologians. Dr. Giles believes that many of his Evangelical brothers are not only misreading the Church Fathers, but also, the Scriptures! (Dr. Giles book sheds some further light on the controversial issues I reflected on in the JOHN CALVIN: A TRI-THEISTIC HERETIC? thread.)

Yet one more time: doctrine develops (and still is developing). The implications of this fact raises not only serious questions concerning the very nature of DD, but also over the doctrine of sola scriptura.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lonergan and Newman on the development of doctrine.

At the FIDES QUAERENS INTELLECTUM BLOG, a discussion concerning the development of doctrine (DD) as espoused by Bernard Lonergan in the book The Way To Nicea (a translation of the first part of Lonergan’s De Deo Trino by Conn O’Donovan), with John Henry Newman’s theory of DD has been taking place during the last few days. Yesterday, I received a request from Iohannes (John) to type up page 13 from the book; I am responding to that request, with this new thread, typing up not only page 13, but a also a portion of page 14, and adding some of my own reflections on the material.

From Lonergan’s pen we read:

In the first place, within ante-Nicene movement we have to recognize two distinct, though related, developments. There is no doubt that those early Christian centuries produced a development in trinitarian and christological doctrine, but this doctrinal development contained within it another, more profound development: the development of the very notion of dogma. But this latter development was implicit not explicit; the question was not sharply defined, methodically investigated and unambiguously answered. Yet somehow the question was both asked and answered within the process of development which, if it had not taken place, we could not now describe. Investigating that process now from our perspective, we can identify and isolate both the question and the answer in a way that the ante-Nicene authors themselves neither did nor could have done. For those early Christian writers, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, paved the way for the definition of dogma, without really knowing what they were doing. This is hardly surprising, since it is a feature of every significant advance in the field of intellect that it must first be accomplished before it can be reflected on, examined in detail, and accurately explained.

Secondly, there is an important distinction to be made between the type of doctrinal development that leads from obscurity to clarity, and the quite different type that leads from one kind of clarity to another. The emergence of the very notion of dogma, grounded in the word of God as true, was a movement from obscurity to clarity; on the other hand, the doctrine of the Christian Church concerning Jesus Christ advanced not from obscurity to clarity, but from one kind of clarity to another. What Mark, Paul, and John thought about Christ was neither confused nor obscure, but quite clear and distinct; yet their teaching acquired a new kind of clarity and distinctness through the definition of Nicea. But further dogmas had to follow, and then the historical investigation of dogmas, before the fact and the nature of dogmatic development itself could be clearly established.[7]

7. For this reason the question of dogmatic development is a much more recent one. Athanasius neither wanted nor intended to bring about dogmatic development; on the contrary, in his profession of faith he would have preferred to use only the words of scripture, if “the malice of the Arians” had not rendered necessary another mode of speech. Cf. De decretis niciaenae synodi, 32; AW II, 28, 1ff. ; MG 25, 473D-476A.

Thirdly, we can now see how we have to go about investigating the ante-Nicene development. For we have to deal not with one, but with two distinct developments, and not with two developments of the same type, since one is from obscurity to clarity, the other from one kind of clarity to another. (Bernard Lonergan, The Way To Nicea, trans. by Conn O’Donovan, pp. 13, 14.)

[In the above quotation, one can discern an implementation of Hegelian dialectic: thesis-statements about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures; antithesis-development of the very notion of dogma; synthesis-Trinitarian doctrine (i.e the Nicene Creed).]

Newman too affirmed a certain sense of “clarity” concerning the Scriptural witness of the person of Jesus Christ, as attested in the writings of the ante-Nicene Church Fathers and “heretics”. In his Introduction of An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine he points out that there was a consensus among the CFs concerning the clear affirmations about Jesus Christ as found in the Scriptures; but then is quick to point out that:

The Catholic Truth in question is made up of a number of separate propositions [as clearly testified within the Scriptures], each of which, if maintained to the exclusion of the rest, is a heresy. In order to prove that all [ANY] the Ante-nicene writers taught the dogma of the Holy Trinity, it is not enough to prove that each still had gone far enough to be only a heretic—not enough to prove that one has held that the Son is God, (for so did the Sabellian, so did the Macedonian), or another that the Father is not the Son, (for so did the Arian), and another that the Son is equal to the Father, (for so did the Tritheist), and another that there is but One God, (for so did the Unitarian)…(John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Notre Dame Press 1989 ed., pp. 14, 15.)

Newman also wrote:

You have made a collection of passages from the Fathers, as witnesses in behalf of your doctrine that the whole Christian faith is contained in Scripture, as if, in your sense of the words, Catholics contradicted you here. And you refer to my Notes on St. Athanasius as contributing passages to your list; But, after all, neither you, nor I in my Notes, affirm any doctrine which Rome denies. Those Notes also make frequent reference to a traditional teaching, which (be the faith ever so contained in Scripture), still is necessary as a Regula Fidei, for showing us that it is contained there; vid. Pp. 283-431; and this tradition, I know, you uphold as fully as I do in the Notes in question. In consequence, you allow that there is a two-fold rule, Scripture and Tradition; and this is all that Catholics say. How, then do Anglicans differ from Rome here? I believe the difference is merely one of words…(John Henry Newman, Certain Difficulties Felt By Anglicans In Catholic Teaching Considered, vol. 2, pp. 11, 12.)

For those who embrace the NT as the word of God, one should be able to ascertain that the issue is NOT over whether or not there are “clear” teachings/statements concerning the person of Jesus Christ within the pages of the Scriptures (there are many), but rather, whether or not the clarity is such to bring the reader to the doctrine of the Trinity apart from development/tradition (it never has).

Grace and peace,


Monday, December 1, 2008

James White vs. Dr. Ergun Caner; or Baptist vs. Baptist

After a week long hiatus from the Internet (albeit there were some very brief exceptions), I spent a considerable portion of my day attempting to take in what I have ‘missed’. One of the items that caught my attention was the A Former Calvinist “Saved Out of Calvinism” video clip by posted James White at AOMIN. (Also posted the same day on YouTube under the title: John 3:16 Conference: Former Calvinist in the Q&A Session.)

The John 3:16 Conference referenced by James took place on November 6 and 7, and appears to be the latest of an ongoing series of sermons/conferences on Calvinism produced by prominent pastors/theologians of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention). Prior to this was Dr. Jerry Vines Sermon, and his Baptist Battles – Calvinism: A Baptist and his Election .

This is certainly not the first time that James has taken up his pen (or video camera) to address challenges made by fellow Baptists over the issue of Calvinism. Not that long ago, James became somewhat fixated with Dr. Ergun Caner, as evidenced by the numerous posts he ‘dedicated’ to Dr. Caner on the AOMIN blog.

Now, as most probably already know, the issue of Calvinism among modern-day Baptists has been quite a hot-topic over the past few years. IMHO, much of the ‘heat’ has been generated via the reaction of non-5Point Baptists to the vocal devotees of the Founders Ministries; as well as to committed Reformed Baptists like James White.

I suppose some of the questions that need to be asked include: is the issue of Calvinism an “essential” doctrine; if not “essential” should Baptists (or any other Protestant denominations) divide over it; are the divisions really schisms; and if the are schisms, does that not qualify as a grave sin?

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Degrees of “worship” in the Bible

Yesterday, there was a ‘light shredding’ of one William Albrecht (a lay, Catholic apologist) by the anonymous, anti-Catholic, Reformed polemicist, known as Turretinfan over the issue of Marian devotions (see THIS THREAD).

Since I do not engage in personal Marian devotions, I am under no inherent compulsion to defend them. However, I would like to entertain the notion that both sides of this ‘debate’ are ignoring (at least I have yet to come across examples, though I may have missed something) important Biblical data, which clearly demonstrates that degrees of proper “worship” (devotion, homage, obeisance) exists. For instance, 1 Chr. 29:20:

And David said to all the congregation, Now bless the LORD your God. And all the congregation blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the LORD, and the king.

The term “worshipped” (shaha) denotes prostrating (bowing down) in an act of worship/devotion.

In Rev. 3:9 we read:

Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

The Greek term proskuneō, is used to describe the act of prostrating (bowing down, "worship") before Jesus (and God the Father) throughout the NT, but in the above text, it is utilized with reference to the saints, the adopted Sons of God.

The evidence strongly indicates that one must speak of degrees of “worship”.

Now, with that said, there is one Greek term of religious devotion reserved for God (the Father) alone: latreuō.

So in ending, which ever side one chooses to defend, one cannot ignore the issue of degrees of religious “worship” (devotion) as being Biblical.

Grace and peace,


Monday, November 10, 2008

What did Arius actually teach?

In the recent John Calvin thread, we touched upon an anomaly—the accusation of tri-theism leveled at Calvin by an Eastern Orthodox professor. I pointed out that the predominate charge from Eastern Christians against their Western/Latin ‘brothers’ is that of modalism; while the latter accuse the former of tri-theism. Both accusations are vehemently denied by each respective tradition, though the end result precipitates little change in the overall polemical landscape.

Many have seen such controversies as an indication that something ‘went wrong’ with the Trinitarian speculations of Christendom. Certainly with the advent of Islam, via Muhammad and the Qur’an, we witness a significant challenge to all forms of Trinitarianism; and in the Reformation period of the 16th and 17th centuries, another strong challenge was raised by the Socinians (and to a lesser extant, the British Arians). However, I believe that perhaps the greatest challenge to Catholic Trinitarianism came in the 4th century via Arius and the subsequent schools of thought associated with his name (e.g. Anhomoians, Homoians, Homoiousians, et al.).

Now, given some of my past discussions with Trinitarian Christians from various disciplines and/or denominations, I am left pondering over the question of how many individuals actually know what Arius himself taught. With this in mind, I shall now let the pen of Arius elucidate his theology for us—from his letter to Alexander, bishop of Alexandria (which has a solid consensus of patristic scholars agreeing that it is genuine) we read:

To Our Blessed Pope and Bishop, Alexander, the Presbyters and Deacons send health in the Lord. Our faith from our forefathers, which also we have learned from thee, Blessed Pope, is this: — We acknowledge One God, alone Ingenerate, alone Everlasting, alone Unbegun, alone True, alone having Immortality, alone Wise, alone Good, alone Sovereign; Judge, Governor, and Providence of all, unalterable and unchangeable, just and good, God of Law and Prophets and New Testament; who begat an Only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom He has made both the ages and the universe; and begat Him, not in semblance, but in truth; and that He made Him subsist at His own will, unalterable and unchangeable; perfect creature of God, but not as one of the creatures; offspring, but not as one of things begotten; nor as Valentinus pronounced that the offspring of the Father was an issue; nor as Manichæus taught that the offspring was a portion of the Father, one in essence; or as Sabellius, dividing the Monad, speaks of a Son-and-Father; nor as Hieracas, of one torch from another, or as a lamp divided into two; nor that He who was before, was afterwards generated or new-created into a Son, as thou too thyself, Blessed Pope, in the midst of the Church and in session hast often condemned; but, as we say, at the will of God, created before times and before ages, and gaining life and being from the Father, who gave subsistence to His glories together with Him. For the Father did not, in giving to Him the inheritance of all things, deprive Himself of what He has ingenerately in Himself; for He is the Fountain of all things. Thus there are Three Subsistences. And God, being the cause of all things, is Unbegun and altogether Sole, but the Son being begotten apart from time by the Father, and being created and founded before ages, was not before His generation, but being begotten apart from time before all things, alone was made to subsist by the Father. For He is not eternal or co-eternal or co-unoriginate with the Father, nor has He His being together with the Father, as some speak of relations, introducing two ingenerate beginnings, but God is before all things as being Monad and Beginning of all. Wherefore also He is before the Son; as we have learned also from thy preaching in the midst of the Church. So far then as from God He has being, and glories, and life, and all things are delivered unto Him, in such sense is God His origin. For He is above Him, as being His God and before Him. But if the terms ‘from Him,’ and ‘from the womb,’ and ‘I came forth from the Father, and I am come’ (Romans 11:36; Psalm 110:3; John 16:28), be understood by some to mean as if a part of Him, one in essence or as an issue, then the Father is according to them compounded and divisible and alterable and material, and, as far as their belief goes, has the circumstances of a body, Who is the Incorporeal God. (Preserved by Athanasius in, Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, 16 – NPNF II.4.458.)

With the above, we have a rigorous defense of God the Father as the sole, beginningless “Monad”. God is “before” everything, including the Son. In essence, Arius argues that it is illogical to postulate more than one, true/ultimate archē (beginning)—with this I concur.

Grace and peace,


Friday, November 7, 2008


It has become a rare occasion for this beachbum to come across something truly unique while engaged in my religious studies—today happens to be one of those occurrences—and I think all will agree that this internet site, THE TRUTH CONTEST, is if anything, quite unique.

Maybe the site is a total hoax, maybe it is not; either way, it certainly provides an interesting forum for gifted apologists/writers to submit their respective worldviews. To date, only one individual has taken up the challenge, Michael Smith, via the submission of his nearly 400 page book, The Present.

I would like to extend the challenge to any of my readers (a diverse group that includes, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Evangelical, and Reformed adherents), who may feel up to the task, or who may wish to encourage someone they know, to make a submission.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

John 14:28 and the three views of Athanasius, Augustine and Calvin

One of the preferred Biblical passages utilized Arius (and virtually all subsequent Arians) to support their doctrine of God is, “for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28b – ASV).

The Trinitarian response to this particular verse has a somewhat diverse history, exemplified by at least three differing interpretations. As the title of this thread suggests, I shall draw upon a trio of the greatest theologians Christendom has produced, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, and John Calvin, to provide our three examples:

But since he has here expressly written it, and, as has been above shown, the Son is Offspring of the Father’s essence, and He is Framer, and other things are framed by Him. and He is the Radiance and Word and Image and Wisdom of the Father, and things originate stand and serve in their place below the Triad, therefore the Son is different in kind and different in essence from things originate, and on the contrary is proper to the Father’s especially it is that the Son too says not, ‘My Father is better than I ,’ lest we should conceive Him to he foreign to His Nature, but ‘greater,’ not indeed in greatness, nor in time, but because of His generation from the Father Himself, nay, in saying ‘greater ‘He again shows that He is proper to His essence. (Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.58 – NPNF 2.4.340)

They say, for instance, that the Son is less than the Father, because it is written that the Lord Himself said, “My Father is greater than I.” But the truth shows that after the same sense the Son is less also than Himself; for how was He not made less also than Himself, who “emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant?” For He did not so take the form of a servant as that He should lose the form of God, in which He was equal to the Father. If, then, the form of a servant was so taken that the form of God was not lost, since both in the form of a servant and in the form of God He Himself is the same only-begotten Son of God the Father, in the form of God equal to the Father, in the form of a servant the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; is there any one who cannot perceive that He Himself in the form of God is also greater than Himself, but yet likewise in the form of a servant less than Himself? And not, therefore, without cause the Scripture says both the one and the other, both that the Son is equal to the Father, and that the Father is greater than the Son. For there is no confusion when the former is understood as on account of the form of God, and the latter as on account of the form of a servant. And, in truth, this rule for clearing the question through all the sacred Scriptures is set forth in one chapter of an epistle of the Apostle Paul, where this distinction is commended to us plainly enough. For he says, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and was found in fashions as a man.” The Son of God, then, is equal to God the Father in nature, but less in “fashion.” For in the form of a servant which He took He is less than the Father; but in the form of God, in which also He was before He took the form of a servant, He is equal to the Father. In the form of God He is the Word, “by whom all things are made;” but in the form of a servant He was “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” In like manner, in the form of God He made man; in the form of a servant He was made man. For if the Father alone had made man without the Son, it would not have been written, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Therefore, because the form of God took the form of a servant, both is God and both is man; but both God, on account of God who takes; and both man, on account of man who is taken. For neither by that taking is the one of them turned and changed into the other: the Divinity is not changed into the creature, so as to cease to be Divinity; nor the creature into Divinity, so as to cease to be creature. (Augustine, On the Trinity, 1.7.14 – NPNF 1.3.24)

For the Father is greater than I. This passage has been tortured in various ways. The Aryans, in order to prove that Christ is some sort of inferior God, argued that he is less than the Father The orthodox Fathers, to remove all ground for such a calumny, said that this must have referred to his human nature; but as the Aryans wickedly abused this testimony, so the reply given by the Fathers to their objection was neither correct nor appropriate; for Christ does not now speak either of his human nature, or of his eternal Divinity, but, accommodating himself to our weakness, places himself between God and us; and, indeed, as it has not been granted to us to reach the height of God, Christ descended to us, that he might raise us to it. You ought to have rejoiced, he says, because I return to the Father; for this is the ultimate object at which you ought to aim. By these words he does not show in what respect he differs in himself from the Father, but why he descended to us; and that was that he might unite us to God; for until we have reached that point, we are, as it were, in the middle of the course. We too imagine to ourselves but a half-Christ, and a mutilated Christ, if he do not lead us to God.

There is a similar passage in the writings of Paul, where he says that Christ will deliver up the Kingdom to God his Father, that God may be all in all, (1 Corinthians 15:24.) Christ certainly reigns, not only in human nature, but as he is God manifested in the flesh. In what manner, therefore, will he lay aside the kingdom? It is, because the Divinity which is now beheld in Christ’s face alone, will then be openly visible in him. The only point of difference is, that Paul there describes the highest perfection of the Divine brightness, the rays of which began to shine from the time when Christ ascended to heaven. To make the matter more clear, we must use still greater plainness of speech. Christ does not here make a comparison between the Divinity of the Father and his own, nor between his own human nature and the Divine essence of the Father, but rather between his present state and the heavenly glory, to which he would soon afterwards be received; as if he had said, “You wish to detain me in the world, but it is better that I should ascend to heaven.” Let us therefore learn to behold Christ humbled in the flesh, so that he may conduct us to the fountain of a blessed immortality; for he was not appointed to be our guide, merely to raise us to the sphere of the moon or of the sun, but to make us one with God the Father. (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, vol. 2, p. 102 – trans. Pringle.)

In summation, we have Athanasius teaching that the Father is greater than the Son because of, “His generation from the Father Himself, nay, in saying ‘greater ‘He again shows that He is proper to His essence.” With Augustine, Father is greater than Son as pertaining to His incarnation, His “form as a servant” (i.e. humanity). And according to Calvin, the passage is not addressing either the Son’s divinity, or His humanity, but rather, His office/role as Mediator and Savior.

I shall let my readers judge for themselves which interpretation is the correct one (or, perhaps, supply yet another interpretation).

Grace and peace,


Thursday, October 30, 2008

John Calvin: a tri-theistic heretic???

In the recently published book, His Broken Body, the Eastern Orthodox professor, Laurent Cleenewerck (go HERE for an abbreviated biography), contributed the following:

Paul Owen [for context, see THIS ESSAY] is correct when he notes that the Western tradition tends to the conclusion that each Person is autotheos, but it should be clear that this has never been the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. This heresy of tri-theism was only proclaimed by John Calvin who denounced the eternal generation of the Son as “an absurd fiction”. (Page 324 – bold emphasis mine.)

Shortly thereafter we read:

For whatever reason, what we call the Western tradition has tended to theologize on the opposite extreme of Arianism. As we have mentioned, the early tendencies of the Roman Church were on the Modalistic side, and it is in Reformed / Protestant Western Christianity that we find such aberrations as ‘Oneness’ theology and the triple autotheos of John Calvin. (Page 341.)

Concerning the term autotheos, and its usage by John Calvin, the esteemed Reformed theologian, B. B. Warfield wrote:

The circumstance that Dr. Charles Hodge, writing three centuries afterwards (1559-1871), reproduces precisely Calvin's position may intimate to us something of the historical significance of Calvin's discussion of the Trinity. Clearly Calvin's position did not seem a matter of course, when he first enunciated it. It roused opposition and created a party. But it did create a party: and that party was shortly the Reformed Churches, of which it became characteristic that they held and taught the self-existence of Christ as God and defended therefore the application to Him of the term autotheos; that is to say, in the doctrine of the Trinity they laid the stress upon the equality of the Persons sharing in the same essence, and thus set themselves with more or less absoluteness against all subordinationism in the explanation of the relations of the Persons to one another. When Calvin asserted, with the emphasis which he threw upon it, the self-existence of Christ, he unavoidably did three things. First and foremost, he declared the full and perfect deity of our Lord, in terms which could not be mistaken and could not be explained away. The term autotheos served the same purpose in this regard that the term homoousios had served against the Arians and the term hypostasis against the Sabellians. No minimizing conception of the deity of Christ could live in the face of the assertion of aseity or autotheotēs of Him. This was Calvin's purpose in asserting aseity of Christ and it completely fulfilled itself in the event. In thus fulfilling itself, however, two further effects were unavoidably wrought by it. The inexpugnable opposition of subordinationists of all types was incurred: all who were for any reason or in any degree unable or unwilling to allow to Christ a deity in every respect equal to that of the Father were necessarily offended by the vindication to Him of the ultimate Divine quality of self-existence. And all those who, while prepared to allow true deity to Christ, yet were accustomed to think of the Trinitarian relations along the lines of the traditional Nicene orthodoxy, with its assertion of a certain subordination of the Son to the Father, at least in mode of subsistence, were thrown into more or less confusion of mind and compelled to resort to nice distinctions in order to reconcile the two apparently contradictory confessions of autotheotēs and of theos ek theou of our Lord. It is not surprising, then, that the controversy roused by Caroli and carried on by Chaponneau and Courtois did not die out with their refutation; but prolonged itself through the years and has indeed come down even to our own day. Calvin's so-called innovation with regard to the Trinity has, in point of fact, been made the object of attack through three centuries, not only by Unitarians of all types, nor only by professed Subordinationists, but also by Athanasians, puzzled to adjust their confession of Christ as "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God" to the at least verbally contradictory assertion that in respect of His deity He is not of another but of Himself. (B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity”, in Calvin and Calvinism, volume V of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield – Baker Book House, 1981 reprint, pages 251, 252; note: I have transliterated all Greek terms for my readers.)

Warfield concluded his essay with:

In his assertion of the autotheotēs of the Son Calvin, then, was so far from supposing that he was enunciating a novelty that he was able to quote the Nicene Fathers themselves as asserting it " in so many words." And yet in his assertion of it he marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. Not that men had not before believed in the self-existence of the Son as He is God: but that the current modes of stating the doctrine of the Trinity left a door open for the entrance of defective modes of conceiving the deity of the Son, to close which there was needed some such sharp assertion of His absolute deity as was supplied by the assertion of His autotheotēs. If we will glance over the history of the efforts of the Church to work out for itself an acceptable statement of the great mystery of the Trinity, we shall perceive that it is dominated from the beginning to the end by a single motive - to do full justice to the absolute deity of Christ. And we shall perceive that among the multitudes of great thinkers who under the pressure of this motive have labored upon the problem, and to whom the Church looks back with gratitude for great services, in the better formulation of the doctrine or the better commendation of it to the people, three names stand out in high relief, as marking epochs in the advance towards the end in view. These three names are those of Tertullian, Augustine and Calvin. It is into this narrow circle of elect spirits that Calvin enters by the contribution he made to the right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. That contribution is summed up in his clear, firm and unwavering assertion of the autotheotēs of the Son. By this assertion the homoousiotēs of the Nicene Fathers at last came to its full right, and became in its fullest sense the hinge of the doctrine. (Ibid. pages 283, 284.)

So, is one to conclude with the venerable Warfield that Calvin’s, “assertion of the autotheotēs of the Son”, “marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity”; or, should one side with our Eastern Orthodox professor, denouncing Calvin’s “triple autotheos” as heretical and an aberration?

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Subordinationism in St. Irenaeus

In the ESSAY that I linked to in the previous thread, I provided numerous examples of clear, unequivocal, Subordinationism from writings of various early Church Fathers. One Church Father who was absent from the list was St. Irenaeus, the second century bishop of Lugdunum (i.e. Lyon). I shall now remedy that vacancy via the following quotations from the corpus of the esteemed Church Father:

But, beyond reason inflated [with your own wisdom], ye presumptuously maintain that ye are acquainted with the unspeakable mysteries of God; while even the Lord, the very Son of God, allowed that the Father alone knows the very day and hour of judgment, when He plainly declares, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father only.” If, then, the Son was not ashamed to ascribe the knowledge of that day to the Father only, but declared what was true regarding the matter, neither let us be ashamed to reserve for God those greater questions which may occur to us. For no man is superior to his master. If any one, therefore, says to us, “How then was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. (Against Heresies, 2.28.6 – ANF 1.401)

For if any one should inquire the reason why the Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day [of judgment], he will find at present no more suitable, or becoming, or safe reason than this (since, indeed, the Lord is the only true Master), that we may learn through Him that the Father is above all things. For “the Father,” says He, “is greater than I.” The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge; for this reason, that we, too, as long as we are connected with the scheme of things in this world, should leave perfect knowledge, and such questions [as have been mentioned], to God, and should not by any chance, while we seek to investigate the sublime nature of the Father, fall into the danger of starting the question whether there is another God above God. (Against Heresies, 2.28.8 – ANF 1.402)

God, therefore, is one and the same, who rolls up the heaven as a book, and renews the face of the earth; who made the things of time for man, so that coming to maturity in them, he may produce the fruit of immortality; and who, through His kindness, also bestows [upon him] eternal things, “that in the ages to come He may show the exceeding riches of His grace;” who was announced by the law and the prophets, whom Christ confessed as His Father. Now He is the Creator, and He it is who is God over all, as Esaias says, “I am witness, saith the LORD God, and my servant whom I have chosen, that ye may know, and believe, and understand that I AM. Before me there was no other God, neither shall be after me. I am God, and besides me there is no Savior. I have proclaimed, and I have saved.” And again: “I myself am the first God, and I am above things to come.” For neither in an ambiguous, nor arrogant, nor boastful manner, does He say these things; but since it was impossible, without God, to come to a knowledge of God, He teaches men, through His Word, to know God. To those, therefore, who are ignorant of these matters, and on this account imagine that they have discovered another Father, justly does one say, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” (Against Heresies, 4.5.1 – ANF 1.466)

Therefore have the Jews departed from God, in not receiving His Word, but imagining that they could know the Father [apart] by Himself, without the Word, that is, without the Son; they being ignorant of that God who spake in human shape to Abraham, and again to Moses, saying, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have come down to deliver them.” For the Son, who is the Word of God, arranged these things beforehand from the beginning, the Father being in no want of angels, in order that He might call the creation into being, and form man, for whom also the creation was made; nor, again, standing in need of any instrumentality for the framing of created things, or for the ordering of those things which had reference to man; while, [at the same time,] He has a vast and unspeakable number of servants. For His offspring and His similitude do minister to Him in every respect; that is, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Word and Wisdom; whom all the angels serve, and to whom they are subject. Vain, therefore, are those who, because of that declaration, “No man knoweth the Father, but the Son,” do introduce another unknown Father. (Against Heresies, 4.7.4 – ANF 1.470)

Truly, then, the Scripture declared, which says, “First of all believe that there is one God, who has established all things, and completed them, and having caused that from what had no being, all things should come into existence:” He who contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one. Rightly also has Malachi said among the prophets: “Is it not one God who hath established us? Have we not all one Father?” In accordance with this, too, does the apostle say, “There is one God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all.” Likewise does the Lord also say: “All things are delivered to Me by My Father;” manifestly by Him who made all things; for He did not deliver to Him the things of another, but His own. But in all things [it is implied that] nothing has been kept back [from Him], and for this reason the same person is the Judge of the living and the dead; “having the key of David: He shall open, and no man shall shut: He shall shut, and no man shall open.” (Against Heresies, 4.20.2 – ANF 1.488)

I have also largely demonstrated, that the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father; and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit, was present with Him, anterior to all creation, He declares by Solomon: “God by Wisdom founded the earth, and by understanding hath He established the heaven. By His knowledge the depths burst forth, and the clouds dropped down the dew.” And again: “The Lord created me the beginning of His ways in His work: He set me up from everlasting, in the beginning, before He made the earth, before He established the depths, and before the fountains of waters gushed forth; before the mountains were made strong, and before all the hills, He brought me forth.” And again: “When He prepared the heaven, I was with Him, and when He established the fountains of the deep; when He made the foundations of the earth strong, I was with Him preparing [them]. I was He in whom He rejoiced, and throughout all time I was daily glad before His face, when He rejoiced at the completion of the world, and was delighted in the sons of men. There is therefore one God, who by the Word and Wisdom created and arranged all things…” (Against Heresies, 4.20.3, 4a – ANF 1.488)

But let us revert to the same line of argument [hitherto pursued]. For when it has been manifestly declared, that they who were the preachers of the truth and the apostles of liberty termed no one else God, or named him Lord, except the only true God the Father, and His Word, who has the pre-eminence in all things; it shall then be clearly proved, that they (the apostles) confessed as the Lord God Him who was the Creator of heaven and earth, who also spoke with Moses, gave to him the dispensation of the law, and who called the fathers; and that they knew no other. The opinion of the apostles, therefore, and of those (Mark and Luke) who learned from their words, concerning God, has been made manifest
. (Against Heresies, 3.15.3 – ANF 1.440)

...there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption. Since, therefore, this is sure and steadfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption. (Against Heresies, 4.1.1 – ANF 1.463).

Wherefore they also imagine many gods, and they always have the excuse of searching [after truth] (for they are blind), but never succeed in finding it. For they blaspheme the Creator, Him who is truly God, who also furnishes power to find [the truth]; imagining that they have discovered another God beyond God, or another Pleroma, or another dispensation. Wherefore also the light which is from God does not illumine them, because they have dishonored and despised God, holding Him of small account, because, through His love and infinite benignity, He has come within reach of human knowledge (knowledge, however, not with regard to His greatness, or with regard to His essence — for that has no man measured or handled — but after this sort: that we should know that He who made, and formed, and breathed in them the breath of life, and nourishes us by means of the creation, establishing all things by His Word, and binding them together by His Wisdom — this is He who is the only true God); but they dream of a non-existent being above Him, that they may be regarded as having found out the great God, whom nobody, [they hold,] can recognize holding communication with the human race, or as directing mundane matters: that is to say, they find out the God of Epicurus, who does nothing either for himself or others; that is, he exercises no providence at all. (Against Heresies, 3.24.2 – ANF 1.458, 459)

We do indeed pray that these men may not remain in the pit which they themselves have dug, but separate themselves from a Mother of this nature, and depart from Bythus, and stand away from the void, and relinquish the shadow; and that they, being converted to the Church of God, may be lawfully begotten, and that Christ may be formed in them, and that they may know the Framer and Maker of this universe, the only true God and Lord of all. We pray for these things on their behalf, loving them better than they seem to love themselves. For our love, inasmuch as it is true, is salutary to them, if they will but receive it. It may be compared to a severe remedy, extirpating the proud and sloughing flesh of a wound; for it puts an end to their pride and haughtiness. Wherefore it shall not weary us, to endeavor with all our might to stretch out the hand unto them. Over and above what has been already stated, I have deferred to the following book, to adduce the words of the Lord; if, by convincing some among them, through means of the very instruction of Christ, I may succeed in persuading them to abandon such error, and to cease from blaspheming their Creator, who is both God alone, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Against Heresies, 3.25.7 – ANF 1.460)

But as we follow for our teacher the one and only true God, and possess His words as the rule of truth, we do all speak alike with regard to the same things, knowing but one God, the Creator of this universe, who sent the prophets, who led forth the people from the land of Egypt, who in these last times manifested His own Son, that He might put the unbelievers to confusion, and search out the fruit of righteousness. (Against Heresies, 4.35.4 – ANF 1.514)

Now man is a mixed organization of soul and flesh, who was formed after the likeness of God, and molded by His hands, that is, by the Son and Holy Spirit, to whom also He said, “Let Us make man.” (Against Heresies, 4.pref.4 – ANF 1.463)

For never at any time did Adam escape the hands of God, to whom the Father speaking, said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” And for this reason in the last times (fine), not by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man, but by the good pleasure of the Father, His hands formed a living man, in order that Adam might be created [again] after the image and likeness of God. (Against Heresies, 5.1.3 – ANF 1.527)

For by means of the very same hands through which they were molded at the beginning, did they receive this translation and assumption. For in Adam the hands of God had become accustomed to set in order, to rule, and to sustain His own workmanship, and to bring it and place it where they pleased. (Against Heresies, 5.5.1 – ANF 1.531)

Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modeled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God. (Against Heresies, 5.6.1 – ANF 1.531)

Now this God is glorified by His Word, who is His eternal Son, and by the Holy Spirit, who is the wisdom the Father of all. And those, powers of the word and wisdom, which are called Cherubim and Seraphim, praise God with unceasing voice, and all who have existence in heaven praise, God the Father of all. He formed all the world by the Word. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, chapter 10, trans. by Bishop Karapet and Dr. S.G. Wilson, in Patrologia Orientalis, vol. 12, p. 667.)

Grace and peace,


Addendum (12-23-08) – “But we must necessarily believe God in all things, for God is in all things truthful. And that there was born a Son of God, that is, not only before His appearance in the world, but also before the world was made. Moses, who was the first to prophesy, says in Hebrew: BARESITh BARA ELOVIM BASAN BENUAM SAMENThARES, of which translation [ ] is: A Son in the beginning God established then heaven and earth…for the Son was as a beginning for God before the world was made…(Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 43 – ACW, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, trans. Joseph P. Smith, 16.75.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Subordinationism and the pre-Nicene Church Fathers

I have gotten involved in a new thread at Fides Quaerens Intellectum, concerning the issue of Subordinationism and the pre-Nicene Church Fathers. I have long maintained, with John Henry Newman, R.P.C. Hanson, and many other Patristic scholars, that ALL of the pre-Nicene Church Fathers held to some form of Subordinationism. However, this view is being challenged by one who posts under the name “Photius Jones”. In the comments section of the above mentioned thread, Photius wrote:

I believe Hanson to be wrong when he states that every single theologian East and West was a subordinationist. I do not see Subordinationism in the anti-Gnostics. The result of subordinationism falls upon a defective ordo theologiae, taken from pagan philosophy, that starts with the Apologists, Clement, and Origen. This inevitably led to the Nicene Crisis. The explanation of the Faith based on philosophical concepts resulted in this confusion. Look at Justin Martyr, is the Logos a Person, a power, or an attribute to St. Justin? Hence, the problem. (October 22, 2008 at 10:03 am.)

A bit later he posted:

Your are [you are; or you’re ?] ambiguous on subordinationism. Subordinationism in its heretical form is that the Son is inferior in nature to the Father. The Son is however subordinate to the Father qua Person according to Orthodox Theology. Where do the 1st Century Fathers and Irenaeus teach that the Son is inferior in Nature to the Father? Igantius? Clement of Rome? They do not, nor does the New Testament teach this. You beg the question based on your received Augustinism, and read the Fathers through that lense. (October 22, 2008 at 2:43.)

Before moving on to the writings of the Church Fathers themselves, in an attempt to eliminate any charge of ambiguity, I shall provide a few selections from recognized, scholarly sources that delineate “Subordinationism”:

SUBORDINATIONISM. Thus we call the tendency, strong in the theology of the 2nd and 3rd cc., to consider Christ, as Son of God, inferior to the Father. Behind this tendancy were gospel statements in which Christ himself stressed this inferiority (Jn 14, 28; Mk 10, 18; 13, 32, etc.) and it was developed esp. by the Logos-christology. This theology, partly under the influence of middle Platonism, considered Christ, logos and divine wisdom, as the means of liaison and mediation between the Father’s position to him. When the conception of the Trinity was enlarged to include the Holy Spirit, as in Origen, this in turn was considered inferior to the Son. Subordinationist tendencies are evident esp. in theologians like Justin, Tertullian, Origen and Novatian; but even in Irenaeus, to whom trinitarian speculations are alien, commenting on Jn 14, 28, has no difficulty in considering Christ inferior to the Father. (M. Simmonetti, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Early Church, II.797.)

SUBORDINATIONISM. Teaching about the Godhead which regards either the Son as subordinate to the Father or the Holy Ghost as subordinate to both. It is a characteristic tendency in much of Christian teaching of the first three centuries, and is a marked feature of such otherwise orthodox Fathers as St. Justin and Origen. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., p. 1319.)

SUBORDINATIONISM. The term is a common retrospective concept used to denote theologians of the early church who affirmed the divinity of the Son or Spirit of God, but conceived it somehow as a lesser form of divinity than that of the Father. It is a modern concept that is so vague that is that it does not illuminate much of the theology of the pre-Nicene teachers, where a subordinationist presupposition was widely and unreflectively shared. (John Athony McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology, p. 321.)

Ante-Nicene SubordinationismIt is generally conceded that the ante-Nicene Fathers were subordinationists. This is clearly evident in the writings of the second-century “Apologists.”…Irenaeus follows a similar path…The theological enterprise begun by the Apologists and Irenaeus was continued in the West by Hippolytus and Tertullian…The ante-Nicene Fathers did their best to explain how the one God could be a Trinity of three persons. It was the way they approached this dilemma that caused them insoluble problems and led them into subordinationism. They began with the premise that there was one God who was the Father, and then tried to explain how the Son and the Spirit could also be God. By the fourth century it was obvious that this approach could not produce an adequate theology of the Trinity. (Kevin Giles, The Trinity & Subordinationism, pp. 60-62.)

I could literally spend hours, typing up like quotations from various other contemporary scholars, but shall refrain from doing so, being somewhat confident that the above references have dispelled (at least for most) charges of ambiguity concerning the sense of the term “subordinationism”, as applied to the pre-Nicene Church Fathers.

Specific examples of subordination from the pre-Nicene Church Fathers corpus will have to wait until after lunch, a workout, and beach run. Until my next thread, I would like to urge my readers to reflect upon what I contributed in THIS OLDER THREAD.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Presuppositional apologetics vs. atheism.

Right or wrong, I have, for a number of years now, embraced many of the aspects of the apologetic method developed by the Reformed philosopher/theologian Cornelius Van Til, known as presuppostionalism and/or TAG (transcendental argument for the existence of God).

Van Til’s most erudite disciple, the late Greg L. Bahnsen, is now being represented via YouTube. His debates with two prominent atheists, STEIN, and SMITH (along with many other items) are available for all to take in, and reflect upon. ENJOY!!!

Grace and peace,


Perspicuity: Recent controversy sheds some “light”.

I am still deep into my research concerning the development of the doctrine of justification. While engaged in some online research this morning, I came across a new blog (new, of course, to yours truly), The Heidelblog, which has two recent threads discussing Peter Leithart, “Federal Vision”, and the NW Presbytery of the PCA: FIRST POST; SECOND POST. The following snippet from the second post, should wet the appetite of some of this blog’s readers:

The refusal yesterday by the NW Presbytery of the PCA to discipline a minister who deliberately, provocatively, and openly challenged and contradicted God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed Churches serves as a reminder that adopting “pastoral advice” is not enough.

It seems that many PCA brethren were not as convinced as Mr. Clark that Dr. Leithart, “deliberately, provocatively, and openly challenged and contradicted God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed Churches”. The fact that conservative, Reformed, confessional, Presbyterian scholars cannot come to a clear consensus on the doctrine of justification, certainly speaks to the issue of PERSPICUITY. It also raises the question: which interpretation/doctrinal stance is the correct one?

If brilliant, Reformed scholars, remain embattled over this issue, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

James Swan on justification

The way things unfold in the blogsphere can at times be quite interesting. For instance, my last thread here at AF (09-27-08) dealt with the topic of justification, with the broader picture of the development of doctrine in the background. In the comments section, “Interlocutor” in THIS POST posed a couple of important questions that I chose not to answer at that time. I started ‘hitting-the-books’, focusing on Lane, McGrath, and Oberman. After lunch, I enlisted the internet, and while browsing, came across THIS THREAD, posted yesterday at the AOMIN blog. Though the thread itself is essentially a diatribe directed at James’ all too frequent internet foes, his link to a THREAD at his Beggar’s All blog, which references three books I had read: Oberman’s, The Harvest of Medieval Theology; McGrath’s, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification; and Sproul’s, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, caught my interest.

In that same post, James’ then links to yet another BA THREAD, and cites two more books I have read: Pelikan’s, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation and his, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism. NOTE: all of these books touch on the questions that “Interlocutor” had posed, and all (with the exception of Sproul’s book) are part of my self-imposed re-reading list for a future attempt at try to address those questions. Interesting indeed!

Now, I still have at least a couple more days of intense reading before I attempt an answer to “Interlocutor”, but in the meantime, feel somewhat compelled to address some of the comments I came across in James’ threads:

In dialoging with Roman Catholics on sola fide, I have sometimes argued from their point of view: that is, the doctrine of justification was not, at the time of Luther’s writing, dogmatically defined in the Roman Catholic sense. In other words, Luther had freedom to hold the view on justification that he did within a Roman Catholic framework.

I think James is substantially correct on this, as long a one keeps in mind that Luther did in fact introduce a theological novum—i.e. justification (soteriologically speaking) via imputation alone.

I share this for one reason: don't get sucked into those silly arguments that "sola fide" was a theological "novum" previous to the Reformation.

Now this depends on how one defines “sola fide”. There is, and has always been, a Catholic sense of the phrase. However, the way in which Luther and Calvin qualified the phrase, one finds a clear departure from the Augustinian and Thomistic understanding, which dominated Middle Age thought/theology. (See Heckel’s informative ESSAY.)

I admit, the historical aspect of sola fide is a difficult issue, but applying a historical test to the Catholic notion of justification has its problems as well. Historically, one can make a case that Augustine didn't know Greek and the entire direction of the Church was redirected away from what the Bible says on sola fide.

This issue has been addressed in a concise and cogent manner HERE.

There is so much more that could be commented on, but I do not want to spend too much time on James’ musings. If others wish to engage the content contained in James' threads and links, please feel free to do so. As for me, time to hit-the-books…

Grace and peace,


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:


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.)


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,


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,


Thursday, September 18, 2008

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

This morning, whilst engaged in 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). [UPDATE: Letter to Bishops' Conferences HERE.]

When the Vatican released the ruling on 08-19-08 via Zenit, 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,


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,


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,


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 -

Grace and peace,