The following continues a series of excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as published in his Self-Intepreting Bible (1859 edition). (Punctuation and Scripture references have been modernized).
OF RULES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE SCRIPTURES OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
- Let us labor, in much fervent prayer and supplication, for the powerful influence and inhabitation of the Holy Ghost (who perfectly understands the Scriptures, and indited and appointed them for our spiritual edification,) that he may effectually interpret and apply them to our heart. He is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ; He it is who searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God:–He is the Anointing, that is Truth, and teacheth all things. He can enlighten our eyes, and make us to know things freely given us of God, and to see wondrous things out of God’s law; can make us by the Scriptures,–wiser than our teachers—wise unto salvation (Ephesians 1:17-18; 3:16-19; 1 Corinthians 2:10, 12; 1 John 2:20, 27; Psalm 119:18, 96-109; 2 Timothy 3:15-17).
- Being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and having in us the mind of Christ, we ought, under a deep sense of God’s presence and authority in the Scripture, earnestly, and with much self-denial, to search the Scriptures, by much serious reading and meditation thereon; chiefly that we may spiritually know the mind, behold the glory, and feel the effectual power of God therein, in order to our faith in, and obedience to them. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: it is the man who feareth God to whom he will teach his way, and reveal the secrets of his covenant;–it is the man who hat the Spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ–who hath seen the Lord, and tasted that he is gracious—the man who hath had his eyes opened, that can discern, judge of, and understand the matter or manner of Scripture revelations (1 John 2: 20, 27; Psalm 25:12, 14; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; John 14:21-23; Luke 24:45; Psalm 114:18). A deep sense of our ignorance, and of our absolute need of Scripture influence, must animate us to the earnest study of knowledge. He, who thinks that of himself he knows divine things to any purpose, knoweth nothing as he ought to know—only with the lowly is wisdom. God, who resisteth the proud, giveth grace to the humble: the meek will he guide in judgment; the meek will he teach his way. The mysteries of the kingdom he hides from the self-conceited, wise, and prudent; and reveals them unto babes (1 Corinthians 8:2; Proverbs 11:2; James 4:6; Psalm 25:9; Matthew 13:11; 11:25). Scarcely can anything then more effectually to blind the mind, and harden the heart, than the searching of the Scriptures in a philosophical manner, regarding merely or chiefly the rational sense of the passage. Hence multitudes of preachers, who daily study the Scriptures for the sake of their external performances, are of all men the most ignorant how Christ’s words are spirit and life. The god of this world blinds their minds; so that hearing many things, they never open their eyes; and seeing many things, they never behold one truth, or the subject thereof, in its glory (Isaiah 6:9-10; 42:18-19; 56:9; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
“Heart knowledge” of Scripture’s Self-Attesting Evidences Persuades of Its Divine Inspiration and Authority
The following continues a series of excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as published in his Self-Intepreting Bible (1859 edition).
X. Though the above arguments are sufficient to silence gainsayers, and to produce a rational conviction that the Scriptures are of divine original and authority, it is only the effectual application of them to our mind, conscience, and heart, in their SELF-EVIDENCEING DIVINE LIGHT and POWER, which can produce a cordial and saving persuasion that they are indeed the word of God. But, when thus applied, this word brings along with it such light, such authority, and such sanctifying and comforting power, that there is no shutting our eyes nor hardening our hearts against it; no possibility of continuing stupid and concerned under it: but the whole faculties of our soul are necessarily affected with it, as indeed marked with divine evidence, and attended with almighty power; 1 Thes. 1:5; 2:13; John 6:63.
Pleasing to the eye, desirable to make one wise 😉 Get one for yourself, and one for your church library!
I just thought I’d share the video of one of my favorite podcasts, if you’ve got the time.
Reformed Forum is a reformed theology media network, which seeks to serve the church by providing content dedicated to issues in reformed theology. (Link)
The flagship podcast of the Reformed Forum media network is the weekly program, Christ the Center. Hosted by Camden Bucey, a doctoral student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who is often joined by a panel of other students, Christ the Center features interviews of authors and theologians, as well as discussions among the panelists themselves. While accessible and engaging, these guys are not afraid of dealing with the technical and academic aspects of Reformed theology, but I know everyone will find something that will benefit them.
The most recent episode posted at the Reformed Forum YouTube channel deals with the issue of “Nature and Scripture”:
In 1946, the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary published a symposium on the doctrine of Scipture titled The Infallible Word. Cornelius Van Til’s contribution, an essay titled “Nature and Scripture,” is an important work describing the relationship of general and special revelation. In this episode, Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster, expounds on this essay and connects it to contemporary issues in philosophy and theological methodology. (Link)
Here’s another example of how people are incapable of absolute objectivity. As you know, I’m currently reading Oxford Church Historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 2009 book, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (© 2009, Viking). Fortunately, the author makes no pretense to absolute objectivity. In his telling of the history of Christianity (or, more fashionably, “Christianities”), he explains that at times his own opinion will show through. Boy, does it ever! In some cases, these opinions appear in the form of his own imaginative theory for how something fundamental to Christianity may have developed in a way other than how the Bible explicitly states that it did. What scholar worth his salt is going to take the Bible’s historical claims at face value? Especially those involving supernatural experiences.
In his introduction, MacCulloch calls “modern neurosis” the presupposition that the Bible is authoritative. The “scholarly” approach is to take the Bible “seriously” in a way that disregards the literal interpretation of the Bible.
“The Bible’s authority for Christians lies in the fact they have a special relationship with it that can never be altered, like the relationship of parent and child. This does not deny relationships with other books which may be both deep and long-lasting, and it does not necessarily make the parental relationship easy or pleasant. It is simply of a different kind, and can never be abrogated. Once we see this, much modern neurosis about the authority of the Bible can be laid aside. Maybe the Bible can be taken seriously rather than literally” (MacCulloch, page 8).
In what way might we take the Bible seriously without taking it literally? I suppose the answer is to simply admire and attempt to follow the Bible’s moral teachings, receiving them as wrenched from their presumably mythological context. In other words, orthodox Christians need to become theological liberals. We should bravely affirm that the Bible can be wrong about history, but right about morality and spirituality. In other endeavors, if one is wrong in one area, it undermines his credibility in other areas. If the Bible is historically untenable, then it is spiritually untenable. Why, then, bother with the Bible’s morality, when we can change our morals with the times—which is precisely what theological liberals do with biblical morality. They lay it aside, along with their neurosis about the authority of the Bible. MacCulloch’s own unrepentant homosexuality is a prime example of this fact.
In chapter one, “Greece and Rome (c. 1000 BCE-100 CE),” MacCulloch gives us an example of how he takes the Bible seriously, though not literally. In his description of imperial Rome’s racial inclusivity, and generous granting of citizenship to foreigners of all kinds, he finds the possible origin of the preaching of the Christian gospel among Gentiles. MacCulloch suggests that “pride” in Paul’s own Roman citizenship could have been the real source of his desire to invite Gentiles into the number of God’s chosen people. If we took the Bible seriously, then we, too, could confidently make up our own reasons to explain away the Bible’s historical narratives! MacCulloch leads by example:
Why was Rome’s expansion so remarkably successful? Plenty of other states produced dramatic expansion, but survived for no more than a few generations or a couple of centuries at most. The western part of the Roman state survived for twelve hundred years, and in its eastern form the Roman Empire had a further thousand years of life after that. The answer probably lies in another contrast with Greece: the Romans had very little sense of racial exclusiveness. They gave away Roman citizenship to deserving foreigners—by deserving, they would mean those who had something to offer them in return, if only grateful collaboration. Occasionally whole areas would be granted citizenship. It was even possible for slaves to make the leap from being non-persons to being citizens, simply by a formal ceremony before a magistrate, or by provision in their owners’ wills.32
Where this highly original view of citizenship came from is not clear; it must have evolved during the struggle for power between the patricians and the plebeians after the fall of the kings. In any case, the effect was to give an ever-widening circle of people a vested interest in the survival of Rome. That became clear in one dramatic case in the first century of the Common Era, when a Jewish tent-maker called Paul, from Tarsus, far away from Rome in Asia Minor, could proudly say that he was a Roman citizen, knowing that this status protected him against the local powers threatening him. It might have been his pride in this status of universal citizen which first suggested to Paul that the Jewish prophet who had seized his allegiance in a vision had a message for all people and not just the Jews (MacCulloch, p. 42).
If we only had the scholarly authority to associate things that are historically verifiable–like the extent of Roman citizenship–with fundamental elements of Christianity–like their proclaiming to Gentiles the life, death, resurrection and royal ascension of the Jewish Messiah–then we wouldn’t have to suspend our disbelief enough to take the Bible literally when Paul’s physician-associate, Luke–himself a careful historian (cf. Luke 1:1-3)–records in the sequel to his gospel, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s conversion on his way to Damascus, and divine calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles:
[9:1] But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest  and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.  And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.  Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.  And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”  And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying,  and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”  But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.  And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”  But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;  and taking food, he was strengthened.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. (See also Acts 22:1-21)
I mean, seriously!
Why does the Gospel According to John have Jesus calling three disciples and attending the wedding at Cana after his baptism, when the synoptic Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke all have Jesus “immediately” being driven by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 3:1-4:11; Mark 1-13; Luke 3:1-4:12)? This seeming discrepancy was recently brought to my attention. After a little homework, I’d like to share with you what I discovered about John 1:19-2:25 and how this pericope is reconciled with the synoptic narratives of Jesus’ baptism and temptation. First, let’s read the passage in question. Passages relevant to chronology or paralleling the synoptic narratives are highlighted either in bold or italics:
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 1:19-2:25 ESV)
You see? It seems upon a quick reading of this passage that after Jesus’ baptism, instead of immediately being driven into the desert to be tempted by the devil, John rather has Jesus calling disciples, attending a wedding, cleansing the Temple and keeping the feast of Passover. But is this really what is going on? Look at John 1:19-34 a little more carefully…
John and the Synoptics Reconciled
It is true that the three synoptic gospels contain the narrative of Jesus’ baptism “immediately” followed by his departing for the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It is also true that John chapter one contains some language shared by the synoptics’ baptism narratives, and it even contains a reference to the Spirit in the form of a dove descending and remaining on Jesus, which is what happened upon his baptism at the hands of John. But the big difference between the John narrative and those of the synoptics is the fact that in John’s gospel, the account of Jesus’ baptism is not given.
John 1:19-28 is John testifying to the priests and Levites sent by the Pharisees, which testimony contains some of the same language as is found in the synoptic baptism accounts. Then John 1:29-34 present the events of the day after John the Baptist’s testimony to the leaders from Jerusalem. Watch the action carefully: Jesus approaches, John announces his Messianic identity and then he “bears witness” that he saw the Spirit like a dove descend on him.
Nowhere does it say that it was on this day that John baptized him, nor does it say that John saw the Spirit descend on him on that very day, but in his dramatic announcement to his followers upon Jesus’ arrival, he informed them that he had seen the Spirit descend on him when he had baptized him in the past. This means that Jesus had been baptized by John some 40+ days prior to this. So the baptism and temptation in the wilderness takes place prior to John’s opening narrative which begins in John 1:19 (verses 1-18 are simply introduction).
Therefore, the days which follow this account—calling disciples for two days and the third day going to the wedding at Cana—do not contradict the eyewitness accounts contained in the synoptic gospels.
The following is the next few paragraphs from C. S. Lewis’ essay, “Fern Seed and Elephants,” in which he gives one educated sheep’s skeptical perception of modern liberal theology and higher textual criticism. You will find among Lewis’ comments that he evidences a lack of entire agreement with the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, but overall, his critiques of the more extermely liberal theological and textual critical views remain helpful even for conservative Evangelical inerrantists.
For more information on the Evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (this link takes you to my Creeds, etc. page on the statement, from which you may link elsewhere to read the document).
The Skepticism of One Educated Sheep
The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early Church, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Reformers, and even the nineteenth century. I want to explain what it is that makes me skeptical about this authority. Ignorantly skeptical, as you will all too easily see. But the scepticism is the father of the ignorance. It is hard to persevere in a close study when you can work up no prima facie confidence in your teachers.
Lewis’ First Bleat: New Testament Critics Lack Literary Judgment
First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgement, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading. It sounds a strange charge to bring against men who have been steeped in those books all their lives. But that might be just the trouble. A man who has spent his youth and manhood in the minute study of New Testament texts and of other people’s studies of them, whose literary experience of those texts lacks any standard of comparison such as can only grow from a wide and deep and genial experience of literature in general, is, I should think, very likely to miss the obvious thing about them. If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spend on that Gospel. But I had better turn to examples.
“Reportage,” or a Genre Ahead of its Time
In what is already a very old commentary I read that the fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a ‘spiritual romance’, ‘a poem not a history’, to be judged by the same canons as Nathan’s parable, the book of Jonah, Paradise Lost ‘or, more exactly, Pilgrim’s Progress‘. After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim’s Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave our the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass – Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable nv vuz (13:30). I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read. I would recommend him to read Auerbach.
“Reassimilating” the Parousia and the Passion
Here, from Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament is another: ‘Observe in what unassimilated fashion the prediction of the parousia (Mark 8:38) follows upon the prediction of the passion (8:31). What can he mean? Unassimilated? Bultmann believes that predictions of the parousia are older than those of the passion. He therefore wants to believer – and no doubt does believe – that when they occur in the same passage some discrepancy or ‘unassimilation’ must be perceptible between them. But surly he foists this on the text with shocking lack of perception. Peter has confessed Jesus to be the Anointed One. That flash of glory is hardly over before the dark prophecy begins – that the Son of Man must suffer and die. Then this contrast is repeated. Peter, raised for a moment by his confession, makes his false step: the crushing rebuff ‘Get thee behind me’ follows. Then, across that momentary ruin which Peter (as so often) becomes, the voice of the Master, turning to the crowd, generalizes the moral. All his followers must take up the cross. This avoidance of suffering, this self-preservation, is not what life is really about. Then, more definitely still, the summons to martyrdom. You must stand to your tackling. If you disown Christ here and now, he will disown you later. Logically, emotionally, imaginatively, the sequence is perfect. Only a Bultmann could think otherwise.
The Personality of the Lord
Finally, from the same Bultmann: ‘the personality of Jesus has no importance for the kerygma either of Paul or John… Indeed, the tradition of the earliest Church did not even unconsciously preserve a picture of his personality. Every attempt to reconstruct one remains a play of subjective imagination.’
So there is no personality of our Lord presented in the New Testament. Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a personality if it were there? For it is Bultmann contra mundum. If anything whatever is common to all believers, and even to many unbelievers, it is the sense that in the Gospels they have met a personality. There are characters whom we know to be historical but of whom we do not feel that we have any personal knowledge – knowledge by acquaintance; such are Alexander, Attila, or William of Orange. There are others who make no claim to historical reality but whom, none the less, we know as we know real people: Falstaff, Uncle Toby, Mr. Pickwick. But there are only three characters who, claiming the first sort of reality, also actually have the second. And surely everyone knows who they are: Plato’s Socrates, the Jesus of the Gospels, and Boswell’s Johnson. Our acquaintance with them shows itself in a dozen ways. When we look into the apocryphal gospels, we find ourselves constantly saying of this or that logion, ‘No. It’s a fine saying, but not his. That wasn’t how he talked’ – just as we do with all pseudo-Johnsoniana. We are not in the least perturbed by the contrasts within each character: the union in Socrates of silly and scabrous titters about Greek pederasty with the highest mystical fervor and the homeliest good sense; in Johnson, of profound gravity and melancholy with that love of fun and nonsense which Boswell never understood though Fanny Burney did; in Jesus of peasant shrewdness, intolerable severity, and irresistible tenderness. So strong is the flavour of the personality that, even while he says things which, on any other assumption than that of divine Incarnation in the fullest sense, would be appallingly arrogant, yet we – and many unbelievers too – accept him as his own valuation when he says ‘I am meek and lowly of heart’. Even those passages in the New Testament which superficially, and in intention, are most concerned with the divine, and least with the human nature, bring us fact to face with the personality. I am not sure that they don’t do this more than any others. ‘We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of graciousness and reality… which we have looked upon and our hands have handled. What is gained by trying to evade or dissipate this shattering immediacy of personal contact by talk about ‘that significance which the early Church found that it was impelled to attribute to the Master’? This hits us in the face. Not what they were impelled to do but what impelled them. I begin to fear that by personality Dr. Bultmann means what I should call impersonality: what you’d get in a Dictionary of National Biography article or an obituary or a Victorian Life and Letters of Yeshua Bar-Yosef in three volumes with photographs.
That then is my first bleat. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.
I’m looking forward to attending the upcoming debate between the evangelical Dr. Dan Wallace of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and the agnostic Dr. Bart D. Ehrman of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill on the trustworthiness of the text of the New Testament at McFarlin Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, October 1, 2011. (debate website) This debate necessarily involves the issue of the undermining effect the discipline of higher textual criticism has had on orthodox theology in general, and the orthodox doctrine of the inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy and authority of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in particular.
Several decades ago, world famous Christian apologist, novelist and literary critic, Dr. C. S. Lewis, addressed a body of Anglican ministers and shared his concerns as an educated parishioner (or “sheep”) that modern higher criticism lacks credibility, and thus higher critics, in his view, lack literary judgment. The next several posts will include sections of this lengthy lecture/essay including my own helpful section titles. It is not the easiest read, due to many unfamiliar literary or other academic references, but there is much wisdom to be gained by the diligent reader, and it may help to motivate further diligence to know that it is generously sprinkled throughout with Lewis’ characteristic wit.
Originally entitled ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism’, Lewis read this essay at Westcott House, Cambridge, on 11 May 1959. Published under that title in Christian Reflections (1981), it is now in Fern-seed and Elephants (1998). HT: Homepage for Orthodox Theology
Introduction: A Sheep to Shepherds
This paper arose out of a conversation I had with the Principal one night last term. A book of Alec Vidler’s happened to be lying on the table and I expressed my reaction to the sort of theology it contained. My reaction was a hasty and ignorant one, produced with the freedom that comes after dinner. One thing led to another and before we were done I was saying a good deal more than I had meant about the type of thought which, so far as I could gather, is no dominant in many theological colleges. He then said, ‘I wish you would come and say all this to my young men.’ He knew of course that I was extremely ignorant of the whole thing. But I think his idea was that you ought to know how a certain sort of theology strikes the outsider. Though I may have nothing but misunderstandings to lay before you, you ought to know that such misunderstandings exist. That sort of thing is easy to overlook inside one’s own circle. The minds you daily meet have been conditioned by the same studies and prevalent opinions as your own. That may mislead you. For of course as priests it is the outsiders you will have to cope with. You exist in the long run for no other purpose. The proper study of shepherds is sheep, not (save accidentally) other shepherds. And woe to you if you do not evangelize. I am not trying to teach my grandmother. I am a sheep, telling shepherds what only a sheep can tell them. And now I begin my bleating.
How the Uneducated Might Respond to Modern Theology
There are two sorts of outsiders: the uneducated, and those who are educated in some way but not in your own way. How you are to deal with the first class, if you hold views like Loisy’s or Schweitzer’s or Bultmann’s or Tillich’s or even Alec Vidler’s, I simply don’t know. I see – and I’m told that you see – that it would hardly do to tell them what you really believe. A theology which denies the historicity of nearly everything in the Gospels to which Christian life and affections and thought have been fastened for nearly two millennia – which either denies the miraculous altogether or, more strangely, after swallowing the camel of the Resurrection strains at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes – if offered to the uneducated man can produce only one or other of two effects. It will make him a Roman Catholic or an atheist. What you offer him he will not recognize as Christianity. If he holds to what he calls Christianity he will leave a Church in which it is no longer taught and look for one where it is. If he agrees with your version he will no longer call himself a Christian and no longer come to church. In his crude, coarse way, he would respect you much more if you did the same. An experienced clergyman told me that the most liberal priests, faced with this problem, have recalled from its grave the late medieval conception of two truths: a picture-truth which can be preached to the people, and an esoteric truth for use among the clergy. I shouldn’t think you will enjoy this conception much once you have put it into practice. I’m sure if I had to produce picture-truths to a parishioner in great anguish or under fierce temptation, and produce them with that seriousness and fervor which his condition demanded, while knowing all the time that I didn’t exactly – only in some Pickwickian sense – believe them myself, I’d find my forehead getting red and damp and my collar getting tight. But that is your headache, not mine. You have, after all, a different sort of collar. I claim to belong to the second group of outsiders: educated, but not theologically educated. How one member of that group feels I must now try to tell you.
There’s an old adage about the fact that some things get “lost in translation.” The reason it became an adage is because it is so frequently true. Unfortunately, this is a fact that is easily and often overlooked by those of us who believe the Bible can and ought to be interpreted literally. The problem is, many of us forget, or refuse to accept the fact that there may be something more to interpreting the Bible literally than simply taking everything at face value. This messes up our understanding of the Bible and this thinking error can even mislead people into believing that the Bible contradicts itself.
Case in point: Jesus’ being in the tomb for “three days and three nights.” There are a number of schools of thought on just how long Jesus spent. The traditional view that he was crucified on Friday afternoon, and entombed just before sundown, spent all Friday night, Saturday day and night, and rising just before sunup on Sunday morning just leaves the twentieth and twenty-first century Biblical literalist cold.
A couple of weeks ago, I added a new blog to my blogroll. It’s called the Ehrman Project Blog. This is the blog for the larger site of the same name: The Ehrman Project dot com. Speaking of people who allow themselves to be mislead into thinking that the Bible contradicts itself, this blog is devoted to answering many of the misleading claims of Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, the world’s favorite skeptical Bible scholar who is teaching the popular reading public about the details of Biblical textual criticism, and spinning it with his own loss of faith in the reliability of the text of the Bible.
Today’s post at the Ehrman Project Blog offers some helpful pointers to how the Bible itself demonstrates that this is a Hebrew idiom that isn’t always to be taken merely at face value. The context determines the meaning of not only individual words, but also phrases, such as this one. Read “Aren’t there only two nights between Friday and Sunday?“
Saturday, October 1, 2011, Dr. Daniel Wallace will debate Dr. Bart Ehrman on whether we can trust the text of the New Testament. Wallace is an evangelical textual scholar and founder of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Ehrman is a former Christian, professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, and the author of books like Misquoting Jesus and Forged, in which he attempts to communicate much about the field of New Testament textual criticism and uses this information to attempt to demonstrate that the New Testament is not, in fact, either inerrant or inspired by God.
This debate is the second between these two scholars. You can purchase the first if you like from this site.
At the 2011 Twin Lakes Fellowship, Dr. Ligon Duncan announced the re-constitution of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI). Chief among their concerns is first to introduce the emerging generation of evangelicals to the true doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. So much slander and misrepresentation of this doctrine has been made by those “emerging” and Emergent church leaders that a re-affirmation of what historic orthodoxy has always believed about inerrancy must be broadcast far and wide. The blogger at Green Baggins is in attendance at the Twin Lakes Fellowship and is the one who has alerted me to Duncan’s announcement. He writes,
Some highlights: “If God is a Spirit, then the only way we can know him is if he speaks to us. And if he does not speak truth to us, we have no way of knowing him truly.” [Duncan’s] advice to pastors on how to be of help to our younger brothers and sisters:
- Re-read the classics on the doctrine of inerrancy.
- Walk with seminarians and others through the arguments of the current critics of inerrancy.
- Don’t assume Young Evangelicals own this tradition. Instead, persuade them into it by boht your understanding of the arguments from the critics and the biblical defense against those arguments.
You can read the rest of his comments on Duncan’s announcement in his post, “Twin Lakes and Inerrancy.” You can link to and read the original Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy from my Creeds, etc. page.
Did I mention that I’m excited about this?