There is a Place Where Someone has Testified

Those who formulate doctrines of Scripture tend to focus on some classic statements which sound like they can be turned quickly into dogmatic statements. Phrases like “All Scripture is God-breathed” in 2 Timothy 3:16 and the like.

I think those who want to determine and define what the Bible is ought to spend more time looking at what these writings show themselves to be.

One great example, which came up in my Sunday school class yesterday, is Hebrews 2:6. There the author prefaces a quotation from Psalm 8 with the words, “But there is a place where someone has testified.”

Any view of the Bible and its inspiration which cannot allow its human authors to have occasionally forgotten where something was to be found is contrary to the evidence from the Bible itself, and no proof-texting should be accepted as justifying a doctrine that simply doesn’t fit evidence such as this.

  • Nick Gotts

    Surely, this is just God testing you? He wants to know if you remember where the passage was. Wrong answer or no answer: 1,000 years extra in purgatory!

  • Jay

    Is it really “All Scripture is God-breathed” or is it “Every divinely inspired writing…” πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      It could be rendered either way. But it isn’t usual terminology for “inspiration.” And so one could relate it to the story of Adam, God giving it life and causing something which is itself just dust to come alive. That would be an interesting analogy to explore. Or perhaps one could say that it is God-blown, moved by divine wind/spirit?

  • John

    Did he really not know where the text was? How about in 4:4? Did the author not know where Gen 2:4 was? James, is it not better to suppose that this is rhetorical on the author’s part? It is a sermon after all. Need to pay attention to genre. Any good inerrantist does this. This is a cheap shot as far as I am concerned.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Perhaps the more relevant part is that he refers to the author as “someone” and does not simply attribute the text to a divine author as an inerrantist might?

      • John Meade

        Well, ok. But an inerrantist does not deny human authorship any more than divine authorship. The author to the Hebrews acknowledges both authors. Hebrews 3:7 attributes Psalm 95 both to the Holy Spirit (3:7) and to David (4:7). How do you synthesize the evidence?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Why does it need to be synthesized?

          Inerrantists seem to me in practice to deny human authorship, even if they say they do not. Once you claim that God wanted every word to be what it is, even though it looks like different authors with different abilities in Greek or Hebrew and different styles, then what you really end up with is God pretending to be different people, and not the writings of different people.

          • John Meade

            Well, is there a contradiction in Hebrews over who wrote Psalm 95? The Holy Spirit or David?

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              4:7 seems fairly clear that it understands that text, in which the psalmist speaks in the first person as God, to God speaking through David. Can one extrapolate from this a doctrine that would equally well have suited places where the psalmist speaks to or about God, whether from that ancient author’s perspective or our own?

              • John Meade

                Ok, 4:7 seems fairly clear: God spoke through David. Is this not affirmation of a primary author and a secondary author? The biblical writers seem to affirm primary and secondary agency. The latter is not insignificant. Human beings are not robots. That is why inerrancy does not affirm a dictation theory of inspiration. I would synthesize the data as God had written what he wanted to have written through free human actions. Your examples from Hebrews only affirm that is what the author thought. He clearly believed that the Holy Spirit spoke Psalm 95 and it is equally clear that he spoke it through David. The Jews and Christians believed that the text of the OT was inspired. I hope this is not what we are debating.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  On what basis did you determine that the author of Hebrews thinks that the entire psalm is spoken by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the author having spoken a message from God when inspired to speak in the divine first person, while speaking in his own voice when speaking about God in the third person?

                  • John Meade

                    Well, the author begins his citation of Ps 95 where there is a reference to the third person, “Today if you hear HIS voice, do not harden your hearts.” This appears to be the Psalmist speaking, which the author also considers to be the Holy Spirit. The rest of the pronouns are in the first person, indicating divine speech. This shows me that the author considered both the third and first person references to come from God.

                    • John Meade

                      Furthermore, how do you understand all of the places where the author simply introduces OT citations with a reference to God as the speaker, even though he is referring to the words of the OT author? Hebrews 1 contains places where God truly is the speaker such as in Psalm 2, but what about his citation of Ps 104:4, which says, “He makes his angels winds and his ministers a flame of fire”? Is God speaking in Ps 104:4? Hardly. But the author to the Hebrews claims that God spoke these words (1:5).

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Well, he also treats that text as though it is about angels! :-)

                    • John Meade

                      I’m ok with that conclusion. I see no reason why it could not refer to angels, but one issue at a time :).

                      It does not have to be circular, though I would presuppose that all basic worldview claims are circular, but this is another conversation. Why cannot one simply see that the NT authors claim that God spoke in the OT, both in places where God clearly spoke in the OT and in other places where he did not “speak” explicitly? This is not a circular claim. It is a claim based on observations, leading to a conclusion that God inspired the OT.

                      Well, clearly we will not agree on this matter, but I thought I would chime in on this post. I found the initial post to be a bit flawed because it set up a straw man regarding inerrancy. The author probably knows where Gen. 2:4 is. Even if the more relevant part is that the author says “someone”, we cannot be sure of what he does know or what he doesn’t know. He does not usually list an author. The reference to David in 4:7 is an exception. Rather, he appears to place God behind most if not all of the citations from the OT. He was a good preacher :).

                      Thanks for the exchange, James.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Perhaps I just take too much comfort from the idea that I’m not the only one who sometimes has a failure of memory and has to say, “There is a place where someone has testified…” :-)

                      Thanks for taking the time to chat about this!

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Perhaps. I am not sure that the inclusion of the earlier words can bear that weight, especially as the author to the Hebrews sometimes interpreted such changes in person not to a different voice speaking, but in other ways, such as that God was at that point referring to the Son.

                      I remain convinced that ancient authors such as the one who wrote the letter to the Hebrews had a more nuanced view of the role of God in inspiring and using Scripture than most inerrantists I’ve interacted with – or than I had when I was one myself! :-)

                      But ultimately a work like Hebrews also illustrates how differently ancient readers interpreted texts than we do, and so it is not enough to simply point out what early Christians thought, and assume that that should be definitive of our thinking about the Bible today. Indeed, that very approach would simply to be a circular argument, taking the Biblical authors’ view of Scripture as definitive because we have already treated their own writings as Scripture and definitive in a comparable way.

  • jwalker_cht

    one would think that if God Himself were ghost writing the scriptures that
    all NT references to OT passages would cite them exactly (and in Hebrew
    rather than Septuagint Greek)


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