Beginnings 1 (RJS)

Bouteneff ds3.JPG

I am currently reading a book by Peter Bouteneff, a theology professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, entitled Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. This book explores the use of the creation narratives in Second Temple Judaism (ca. 200 BCE to 100 CE), in the New Testament, and in the writings of the early church fathers through the first four centuries of the church.  This is a fascinating book – a bit academic, but not too strenuous a read.  We will devote a few posts to this book over the next several weeks.

The first chapter of this book discusses the development of the text of the Old Testament – especially the Septuagint (LXX) used by almost all of the NT and early Christian authors.  Bouteneff also talks about the way that the text was used by Second Temple era Jewish authors in non-canonical writing, apocrypha and pseudopigrepha

Bouteneff makes several interesting points in this chapter.

First: The OT canon developed slowly over the centuries before ca. 200 BCE.  The various authors and editors may or may not have been familiar with the text of Genesis and the creation stories therein. There are a few clear references (Exodus 20:11 and 31:17 for example), and a few potential references – but by and large the creation narrative was not integral to the development of Israelite faith and practice. There are, of course, many references to creation in general terms to establish the sovereignty of God, but these do not use details of the creation narrative of Gen 1-3. Adam, Eve, and original sin are simply not part of the picture.

Second: The interpretation of Adam in some segments of second Temple Judaism and more significantly in the early Christian church, was influenced by the translation choices made in the LXX.  As Bouteneff points out: But to translate is to interpret. Many of the choices made by the translators hinged on issues of sexuality and gender. In particular adam is a ambigous term in the original Hebrew and the decision to translate “adam” as a generic term, humankind (άνθρωπος), or a proper name, or to use a phrase avoiding either, played a role in the later interpretations of the text.   In addition word plays in the Hebrew which may modify the understanding of a particular passage, are lost in translation.

Third: Many Jewish texts of Second Temple Judaism reflect on the creation narrative and on Adam and Eve in particular.  The way that these texts are used vary dramatically – there was no clearly agreed upon method of interpretation.

Second, the authors show themselves quite at liberty to take license with not only the purported “meaning of Genesis 1-3 but also the details of the text itself. We see especially in Jubilees, but also in other retellings of the narratives, that details are freely omitted and others added to help support the author’s agendas. This may indicate that the gradually emerging concept of “Scripture” and “canonicity” was not one that fixed a particular reading. Indeed, the authors here reviewed tacitly acknowledged multiple possibilities of meaning in the scriptural texts and dealt with them not only on the level of what might be called their “plain sense” but also on that of implied or derived meaning. (p. 25)

Fourth: Philo (ca. 20 BCE – 50 CE) is a particularly interesting source.  He reflects at length on the creation narratives and the 6-day creation (which he concludes is not a literal 6 days) :

Eden was not a garden that one could have walked through: “Far be it from man’s reasoning to be victim of so great impiety as to suppose that God tills the soil and plants pleasaunces” (Leg. 1.43). Likewise in Quaest. 1.8 he states that paradise was not a garden, but, rather, symbolizes “wisdom.” (p. 31)

Philo is interesting in this discussion for two reasons – his writing influenced the early church fathers, especially in the Alexandrian school and this will become important as we discuss the interpretation of Gen 1-3 in the early church.  On another, equally important level, he provides an example, largely contemporary with the development of the NT, of the variety of the ways the scriptural texts could be and were used.  In fact the interpretive methods of 1st century Judaism are often not our methods. And more importantly, while the use of the Old Testament by New Testament authors seldom approaches the extremes seen in Philo, it is nonetheless the case that the interpretive methods used and the interpretive traditions they adopt are those typical of Second Temple Judaism.

This leads us to an interesting point.

Enns ds3.JPG

Peter Enns in Inspiration and Incarnation has a chapter (#4) – a long chapter at that – on the topic of “The Old Testament and Its Interpretation in the New Testament.” The New Testament writers used and interpreted the Old Testament – the Scriptures – in the same way that there contemporaries did.  They were creative in their handling of the text not because they were divinely inspired to break with tradition, but because some level of liberty and license was the norm in their day and age.  Speaking of the apostles and authors of the New Testament Enns reflects:

They do not interpret the Old Testament in odd ways because they are apostles and can do what they want. They do what they do because they are first-century biblical interpreters who are heirs to a long and vibrant history of interpretation. We cannot appeal to apostolic authority to avoid the problems caused by apostolic hermeneutics. (p. 157).

It is ironic – and disheartening – we oft quote 2 Tim. 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

But we take this as a “proof text” for the foundational nature of scripture and then use this definition to demand an approach to scripture that differs substantially from that of Paul and his contemporaries.

What is at work here (to quote Enns again) is more an attempt to conform scripture to predetermined ways of thinking than allowing scripture to shape how we think.

In the next installment of this series we will look in more detail at Paul and the New Testament and their use of the Old Testament, especially the Creation Narratives; (See Chapter 2 in Bouteneff and Chapter 4 in Enns). But at this time I would like to consider this question:

If we allow scripture to teach us how to view scripture isn’t the obvious conclusion that much of the modern evangelical approach to the Bible is dead wrong?

Stated rather strongly I admit. But I personally feel that, among other things, this has profound implications for the interpretation of Genesis 1-11 in light of the scientific and historical information available in our day and age. It seems to me that the biblical approach to scripture is much more a dialog with the text in the context of community than a submission to the literal sense of the text.

What do you think?

  • Darren King

    Amen, RJS. I agree wholeheartedly. I have found, for years now (and I’m only 37!), that the typical evangelical interpretation of scripture – specifically in its one-size-fits-all form – just isn’t tenable.
    I think many evangelicals of some learning either know this outright, or suspect it, without going so far as to pursue further studies to confirm the suspicion. However, the reason I think people avoid either admitting the truth, or pursuing it further, is because they are afraid of the Pandora’s box that might necessarily open as a result.
    Even in some of your other posts, RJS, I often hear people critiquing your perspective, not because they think its wrong – historically, textually, etc…, but because they think the consequences of pursuing such a course are just too dire. But of course this is a completely upside-down way of looking at biblical history. I know many people fear this direction (the one you’re pointing us towards) because they’re afraid, from a pastoral, point of view, that it will lead people to abandon their faith. But I would argue that the writing’s been on the while for a while now. And if a more robust Christian faith is to emerge in the 21st century, it must be forged on legitimate grounds, not merely wishful thinking.

  • angusj

    “… isn’t the obvious conclusion that much of the modern evangelical approach to the Bible is dead wrong?”
    Absolutely. This has been exacerbated by evangelical colleges and preachers avoiding articulating a clear and credible position on the creation story simply because they fear disenfranchising young earth creationists.

  • Rick

    Prof. Ken Schenck at his Quadrilateral Thoughts blog had a nice interview with Enns over a series of posts.
    Some of Enns thoughts in the interview and comments to readers:
    “…evangelicalism has given pride of place to the “original” meaning of Scripture as the locus of authority, and this creates significant tension with the behavior of Scripture itself. As I have often put it with my students, it is a grammatical-historical study of the NT that shows that the NT authors are not doing grammatical-historical exegesis of the OT. This does not sit well with some evangelical paradigms.”
    “In my opinion, what I see happening in the NT is a hermeneutical commitment to the centrality of the resurrection for understanding all of Scripture (i.e., what we call the OT). That forms the central proclamation for the NT writers, and the Scripture is then understood in light of that reality.
    Accepting the hermeneutical priority of the death and resurrection of Christ is important for understanding why the NT handles the OT the way it does. The resurrection specifically is not argued for or “proven” in the NT but is the basis upon which Israel’s story is now to be re-understood.
    You might say that the primary Christian authority is the risen the Christ, and Scripture (i.e., Israel’s story) is now subservient to that central event.
    Yes, the NT authors spend a considerable amount of energy (theological and hermeneutical) to demonstrate that reality, and they handle Scripture in what that modern people would not, but there it is.”
    Ken Schenck, in a comment to a reader, agrees with you point RJS:
    “From my perspective, what you will create as you go verse by verse is exactly that, something you will create. From my perspective, while you think you are honoring the Bible, you will actually do great violence to the Bible because you will not let the words have anything like their straightforward sense. You will instead change the meaning of each verse to fit with some hypothetical harmonization you are trying to create. When you are done, all the verses will be different–they will take on the hidden meaning that only you have been able to find. You will have rewritten the whole Bible to fit your needs rather than letting each verse simply say what it seems to say.”
    You wrote: “It seems to me that the biblical approach to scripture is much more a dialog with the text in the context of community than a submission to the literal sense of the text.”
    Does this not give a sense of a very “human centered” approach and contribution, rather than a “God centered” approach? I am not saying that God does not use community, but His presence seems absent from your discussion.
    I also wish you would mention some of the counter thoughts to this, such as those of Greg Beale.

  • RJS

    God-centered goes with out saying, although I should have been explicit. If it isn’t God centered we will go wrong from the beginning. But my point about community was simply that this is not an individualistic anything goes approach. As part of the community we must be in conversation with the community – otherwise heresy is all but guaranteed for everyone of us in some way or other.
    I have not yet read Beal.

  • Mark Traphagen

    Great review!
    I think one clarification should be made to your section on Pete Enns. He does believe the NT writers were “inspired” in their use of the OT, just not in the way that most conservative Evangelicals would use “inspired.” In the chapter you mention he makes clear that he believes the NT writers’ use of the OT looks so much like that of their 2nd Temple Judaism contemporaries not only because “they are one,” but because that is the way that God chose to inspire them to write. In other words, when God decided to put his message to us into written form, he deliberately chose to do it in and through the literary forms and historical situatedness of the human authors.
    This is the central thesis of Enns’s book. We don’t need to be afraid that the humanity of the Bible somehow detracts from (or even eliminates) the divinity. Rather, the Bible we have is the way it is (including human error and human literary devices) because that is the way God chose to do it.

  • Scott W

    RJS’s conclusions are “no-brainers.” If Evangelicals were consistent with their docrtine of inspiration, they should be using the Septuagint (LXX),the Bible of the early church and NT authors, as the text of the OT,and the canon of the OT should be broader.

  • John W Frye

    I thank and applaud you for inviting us into the segment of Jesus Creed conversation. Your post reminded me of a comment I think Sct Mcknight made about N.T. Wright out Bible-texting the conservative justification by faith crowd’s use of the text.
    The admission that we evangelicals are forcing the text into a predetermined set of meanings rather than letting it speak for itself in the ways of its provenance is chilling. So, the struggle shifts from a mysterious text to the ego-driven pride of those who “rightly divide the word of truth.”

  • RJS

    I also think that both Enns and I agree that the author of Genesis 1 was inspired to write this text. But the text reflects ANE cosmology – a limited and flawed human viewpoint. The author gives us a God centered reflection on the glory of God’s creative majesty. He is in dialog with God’s revelation in creation.
    I am not putting words in Peter Enns’s mouth here – but giving my own reflection. I think that the posture of the NT author’s toward the OT scriptures is a dialog with the text to explore and and attempt to understand the mind of God. Our approach to scripture should also be a reverent dialog not an obedient submission.
    This is important – because people don’t learn, transform, and follow by obedience to rote prescription and proscription. People are transformed by wrestling with and internalizing the fundamental ideas – and this comes in dialog.

  • dopderbeck

    Oooh, juicy. Here is the core of the dispute: do the phenomena of scripture decide the doctrine of scripture, or does the doctrine of scripture decide how we approach the phenomena? For an approach directly contra Enns, see Paul Helm here: and here:
    Helm’s conclusion in a nutshell is this: “In the mercy of God, the doctrine (along with other doctrines) will illuminate the problems; the problems never control the doctrine.”
    How to adjudicate? Between Enns and Helm? Is there anything in between?

  • Derek Leman

    First, I would say there is no need to worry that the underpinnings of interpretation are pulled out from under us. There are a few things that mitigate the call to a loose hermeneutic: (1) it is true they had a storied approach to interpretation rather than a technical/grammatical one, (2) many of the examples of a loose hermeneutic are rhetorical use of the text and not intended as models of strict interpretation, and (3) the apostles (and rabbis) knew the difference between the p’shat (plain meaning) and the d’rash (derived meaning).
    The New Testament writers developed some very clear points from a plain reading of the text, even though some of their conclusions were revolutionary for the time. The greatest example is their realization that God was including all nations and that the kingdom was not just for Israel and converts. This was derived from a plain reading of the Sinai narrative, Deuteronomy 32, and the prophets and psalms.
    Derek Leman

  • Hank

    “Our approach to scripture should also be a reverent dialog not an obedient submission.”
    I don’t see why an individual can’t have it both ways? When I read the scriptures, I find my self in a conversation with both the writers and God. When I’m conversing with God, I’m a human, the Divine is the Divine. I’m going to be obedient towards God’s commands, but I’m still going to dialog and struggle with God to find out exactly what those commands entail.

  • RJS

    I think it is both ways – but it is obedient submission to God, not obedient submission to a literal interpretation of the text.
    It is a juicy one. And no doubt you can guess where I fall. The oft quoted 2 Tim 3 text in fact helps define my approach to scripture – it is all a gift from God for our teaching, reproof, and correction. This means that I approach the text with reverence and in a God-centered fashion.
    But nowhere does this fact demand the evangelical definition of literal inerrancy. And I suggest that it means we look first (but not only) to the text to learn how to treat the text. And this means if we do not include the phenomena in the development of the doctrine we will invariably err.

  • Hank

    RJS, Thank you for responding to me. I’m going to be entering seminary next year, and I’m going to check out Bouteneff’s book. I think the title is apt for a guy just about to take the plunge at Princeton!

  • Kacie

    I wrote yesterday about my frustration with and journey out of the typical evangelical method of interpretation – particularly in the creation narrative.
    I think it IS stated too strongly here, though. After all, the evangelical method of interpreting was really born out of the scholarship of the enlightenment, and the scholarship is HELPFUL. It is the exclusivity of our methods that is damaging. We limit how the Word speaks.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS — #12 — ok but let’s work it through a little more carefully. Helm (who is no fundamentalist) would respond this way, as would most evangelicals in the tradition of Old Princeton (this is my take on Helm’s book “The Divine Revelation”):
    P1: All scripture is inspired by God. (2 Tim. 3 et al.)
    P2: God, being omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good, does not err, therefore:
    P3: Scripture does not err.
    It isn’t so easy to escape this syllogism. P1 is established by scripture itself, and it would be heretical to deny P2. P3 seems to follow, unless there are further assumptions to flesh out about the meaning of “inspired” in P1 — which there are:
    Helm would say that:
    P1: “Inspiration” must relate to the content of scripture
    P2: Scripture contains propositional statements, therefore
    P3: “Inspiration” refers to the communication by God of propositional statements, and, therefore,
    P4: The very words of scripture are God’s inspired revelation, and, therefore,
    P5: Scripture consists of infallible propositional content
    Again, it isn’t so easy to brush off this syllogism. Helm discusses two main contemporary approaches:
    1. The Barthian approach: “revelation” is distinct from the text of scripture. Scripture in itself is not revelation; it only become revelation when it is used by the Holy Spirit to instruct the Church.
    2. The Yale School Narrative Theology approach: the content of “revelation” is not inherent in any text but rather inheres in the performance of a faith narrative within a community according to rules (“doctrine”) inherent only to that community.
    The problem with both of these approaches is that it is exceedingly difficult to see how scripture can serve as the final authority for faith and practice when the content of “revelation” is either undefined or entirely relative.
    A fair critique of Enns, I think, is that it isn’t clear when Enns falls on what “revelation” means (though I tend to think Enns falls on the Barthian side of things).
    My query for Helm, though, is (a) has Helm really properly understood Barth (I’m not so sure); and (b) has Helm overlooked the significance of the “Rule of Faith” in the early Church, which is being rediscovered now by the hermeneutic of “theological interpretation” (I think so).

  • RJS

    Where I think that Helms fails is in P2 of the second set of propositions – scripture contains very few important propositional statements and to reduce it to propositional statements is to set one’s self up for failure and to miss the true significance of scripture as the word of God.
    Scripture contains the inspired word of God in the form of stories and context located text. It is told through human authors for human dialog and relationship with God.

  • Travis Greene

    dopderbeck @ 15,
    The problem, as always, is in the premises. To even use the word “err” to talk about statements or ideas distinct from factual, propositional statements gets us off on the wrong foot. To think of what we find in Scripture as “problems” with our doctrine about Scripture is wrongheaded. Our doctrine about Scripture should come, at least primarily, from Scripture. And since Scripture doesn’t (in my opinion) seem to think or speak of itself in inerrantist, and frankly quasi-Islamic terms, I don’t see why we should.
    As to Enns, I think when describing what “revelation” means, he’d again point to how God reveals himself in Scripture and in Jesus: by Incarnation into human life.

  • Derek Leman

    I would like to reiterate that the manner the apostles use scriptural text in the New Testament is not an inspired grammar for hermeneutics. They knew the difference between p’shat (plain meaning) and d’rash (derived meaning) and often used scriptures rhetorically according to conventions of discourse in their time.
    I remain convinced of the inspiration and authority of the text understood in an incarnational manner. Sure, a lot of the inerrancy debate gets into silly and overly rigid categories. Yet this need not lead anyone to abandon reading the story with faith nor need it lead anyone to doubt the truthfulness of the text. The true nature of Biblical discourse does render pointless all attempts to define doctrines by details of grammar, syntax, and word studies.
    Derek Leman

  • dopderbeck

    RJS (#16) — again, though, it’s not quite that simple. Helm acknowledges that scripture contains a variety of genres and that it isn’t solely propositional. However, it does contain abstract propositional statements (“All scripture is inspired by God…” “For God so loved the world…” “God is love…”)as well as propositional statements about people and events (“Jesus wept”). I’m not sure we can dismiss the fact that the Bible uses propositional language. When someone says “revelation isn’t propositional,” what that means is that the words of the Bible aren’t themselves “revelation” (usually this is a phrase used in Narrative Theology but also by Barthians).
    I’m an evangelical who’s sympathetic to Barth, to the extent I understand Barth… but I balk at a true separation between the text of scripture and “revelation.” Hint at a possible “third way” here: Donald Bloesch, and also Stanley Grenz.

  • RJS

    I am certainly not denying either the inspiration or authority of scripture. And I largely agree with what you are saying – so far as I understand it.

  • RJS

    You give examples of propositions:
    “All scripture is inspired by God…”
    “For God so loved the world…”
    “God is love…”
    “Jesus wept”
    But none of the propositions are standalone statements. They are all parts of stories, discourses, descriptions, conversations, letters, … The Bible is not a list of propositions it is a text of conversation. The number of important propositional statements that can be properly removed from context are small, I would say vanishingly small.

  • Derek Leman

    Dopderbeck #19:
    What RJS is saying is important. “All scripture is God-breathed,” leads to questions, “What is scripture? Which God is meant?” These come from a canonical context, an over-arching story. Reducing them to propositions is a bad move.
    Scot has a post here on heresies. The heretics are excellent at using scriptural propositions to prove their points. That is the kind of fruit you get when you view scripture as mere propositions. Understanding the above statement in its place in the canonical narrative would fill it out much more, something like this, “All the writings passed down to use from Moses and the prophets and sages have in them the living breath of the God of Israel . . .”
    Derek Leman

  • Michael W. Kruse

    #22 RJS
    What you are describing is what Kenneth Bailey calls the mathemitization of scripture. Math formulas are the same regardless of the language and context of the person using them. There is a tendency by some to take propositional statements and use them like we might a math formula. We lift them out of their context and try to combine them like math equations to find answers.
    Language is a cultural expression. Just that reality alone means we are dealing with a cultural context. Context always matters when reading scripture.

  • AHH

    Dopderbeck @15,
    Where would Calvin’s doctrine of “accommodation” fall for Helm? It certainly isn’t the same as Barth or Yale/Narrative, but it is another way to avoid the syllogism that otherwise leaves us (if held consistently) with a high view of Scripture entailing a solid dome in the sky holding back the waters above (and other problems with the modern inerrancy doctrine).
    While Enns doesn’t use the term in I&I that I recall, his “incarnational” approach strikes me as similar to Calvin’s idea that God “accommodates” his revelation to the limited capacities of the inspired writers and their audience.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS — no, I don’t think all the propositions I mention are part of “stories.” Many are parts of didactic letters (e.g., the epistle to Timothy, the epistle of 1 John). Certainly we can derive many, many more from the epistles of Paul, the sayings of Jesus, and in the OT from the law and the prophets. I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, but I don’t think “vanishingly small” is a fair statement at all concerning the propositional content of scripture.
    I think what you mean to say is that these propositions are embedded in the story of redemption that scripture tells. The propositions can’t be surgically extracted from the story. True! But they are propositions nonetheless. Indeed, the heart of the OT story is summarized in the Shema, a creedal propositional statement: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4), and the consummation of the story is summarized in the propositional protocreedal statements of the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 15: 3-12: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. . . .”)
    Here is where IMHO the Apostolic Rule of Faith is helpful. The early Fathers, even before there was a firm canon, read all of the scriptures through the sort of creedal statement summarized in 1 Cor. 15: all of scripture points to the death and resurrection of Christ. Here is where perhaps, I think, Helm’s emphasis on analytic philosophy is misplaced: the purpose of special revelation (scripture) according to the Rule of Faith is to reveal Christ. So: scripture infallibly reveals what God intends for it to reveal, which primarily is Christ. (Note that this is not the same thing as verbal plenary inspiration and total inerrancy).

  • dopderbeck

    AHH (#24) — Helm I think doesn’t like the notion of “accommodation.” However, he is clear that scripture doesn’t teach science and that genre conventions matter in determining what propositions scripture is asserting are true. Honestly, I thought this was the weakest part of Helm’s book, and that he really is saying “accommodation” without using that term as an analytical category. Further, Helm has a good chapter on the unity of truth — so that ultimately the truth of scripture and the truth of science (and all other truth) must cohere — and this does not mean for him asserting scripture “over” other truth. But don’t take me as an advocate for Helm — I simply think his arguments can’t just be brushed away.

  • RJS

    I didn’t say that all the propositions were a part of stories – I said that they are all parts of stories, discourses, descriptions, conversations, letters,…
    For example – we do not have a proposition “All scripture is inspired by God”
    We have a letter that includes this statement in a local context, within a greater context … the local context is:

    …Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. …

    Pulling the proposition out of context and using it the way many suggest is wrong. This letter is not a list of propositions. We have to look at the entire context.
    And then we have to look at the texts in the greater context of the greater story of redemption embedded in scripture.
    And we enter into dialog with God as we wrestle with the text of scripture.

  • angusj

    AHH (#24) said: “God “accommodates” his revelation to the limited capacities of the inspired writers and their audience.”
    An analogy I find helpful is thinking of Scripture as a painting. God the painter, while working within the limitations of the chosen medium, is not hampered in his goal of sufficient self revelation to inspire restoration of relationship with, and worship from his audience. This analogy denies neither inspiration nor authority. To apply “P1 and P2 therefore P3″ is to quite misunderstand the media of communication.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    I’m with RJS here. A propositional statement, even in a discourse or conversation is tied to a context. Using the 1 Timothy passage, what is “scripture?” It isn’t the New Testament. That is centuries away from being settled. The Jews end up with three portions of scripture: Torah, Prophets and Writings. In Luke 24:44 Jesus refers to the Torah, Prophets, and Psalms. Psalms became the first book of the Writings. The rest of “the Writings” do not appear to have been on Jesus’ list and some scholars suggest these issues were not settled until after the first century.
    Now, I do believe that the OT and NT are inspired by God and useful for teaching. However, only by taking the proposition about scripture out of context in 1 Timothy can you use it to give authority to the NT and likely even some books of the OT.
    Propositional statements can also be hyperbolic. Jesus said to hate your father and mother if you want to be his disciple. That is an obvious one we don’t take literally but there are other statements that are likely evocative rather than strictly factual descriptions that are not so easy to discern. I think some of things Jesus, Paul, and others says are along the line of mother in frustration telling me as child, “You never clean up your room.” Or the time a friend pulled me aside after making a god presentation and said, “I wanna be like Mike.” These were not factually accurate but they accurately conveyed mind sets given the context.
    I’m with RJS in that I think there are very few statements that simply transcend their context from the Bible.

  • Kevin Alan Wells
    The early Church fathers believed that only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit can the Old Testament be read properly. Thus, they spurned their Jewish counterparts as Spiritless teachers who only had the literal meanings of the Old Testament to work with. That, the Fathers and Apostles argued, was why they missed the Messiah. True to their belief, they built Christian theology with the tools of spiritual interpretation.
    Two thousand years later, most of my fellow Evangelicals embrace the inversion of that concept. Only the literal and original meanings matter to them. All spiritual interpretations are suspect and excessive—with over three hundred Old Testament references to the Messiah all neatly fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth, who needs messy allegories anyway? …asks the misguided Sunday school teacher.
    This is one reason why a clear majority of Evangelical youth defect after high school. (Crossing with the Youth Ministry 3.0 blog post.) They go to college and are torn to pieces by their philosophy of religion professors. They join Campus Crusade For Christ or Intervarsity Christian Fellowship only to get more of the same well-intended misinformation. The problem is tied with the aversion to spiritual interpretations.
    Current Evangelical theology feels like it’s led by a bunch of engineers and architects who can’t stand wobbly pieces that don’t line up. So the Apostolic Fathers had to be Trinitarians; Moses must have written the Torah; and Genesis 1-3 has to be literal. Otherwise, heresy isn’t as easy to define; the doctrine of inspiration becomes complex; and biblical interpretation gets knotty.
    It’s the symptom of a Western, Enlightened discomfort with mystery, the unspoken presupposition being that if something is true, it’s scientific. Theology is substantiated and categorized accordingly.
    We Evangelicals really need to take a field trip to Constantinople and rediscover from our Orthodox brothers and sisters the mystery of Christianity. Until we do, Evangelicals at large won’t embrace apostolic hermeneutics. Unless, of course, someone figures out how to fit it into a chart.

  • Derek Leman

    Kevin #30:
    The Fathers have a blemish on their record and it is their record of anti-Semitism. And wittingly or unwittingly you have cited them favorably on this account. I am calling you to be more reflective. Your statement is problematic from both a hermeneutical standpoint and and a historical one.
    Are the Jewish people devoid of divine guidance in their tradition? I don’t think so at all. Romans 11 provides some backing for my sense that God is still at work within Judaism to lead toward Messiah. If you decide someday to read Jewish texts, you will be surprised at what you find.
    Should our hermeneutic include faith that God will guide us as we rely on him to find mysterious meanings in the text? I don’t think so. The Holy Spirit has not guided the Church into any kind of unity on matters of doctrine. I believe the texts often read this way are read wrongly (maybe these were promises to the generation of the apostles and not for all time). If the Holy Spirit is allegedly guiding the Church in matters of Biblical truth, I would expect him to be doing a better job. Meanwhile, I will prefer to see scripture as incarnate: fully human and to be read as human literature but also divine and to be followed as such.
    Derek Leman

  • Kevin Alan Wells
    @Derek Leman (#31),
    Thank you for interacting with me. It seems, though, that you jumped from my comment onto a personal hobby horse. It would be monstrously silly for anyone to say the Jewish people have been devoid of divine guidance in their tradition. Please rub my name off of that straw man.
    And I share with you the same sense that God is still at work within the Jewish community leading them toward their Messiah—just as he is with every other people group in the world.
    As to something you mentioned that I did write, if the belief that only by the wisdom of the indwelling Holy Spirit can the Old Testament be accurately interpreted is a mark of anti-Semitism, then Christianity at its foundation is anti-Semitic—another monstrously silly thought.
    Greek philosophical leaders, Jewish religious leaders, and Christian religious leaders disagreed about God’s activities. The Apostle Paul, a Messianic Rabbi, wrote in 1 Cor 1.18-2.16 that the Jewish leaders and the Greek leaders are mistaken and Christians are right because what Christians believe has been revealed to them by none other than the Holy Spirit, himself. If anyone in the world would know about what God was doing, Paul argues, wouldn’t his own Spirit? Christians understand this because they’re spiritual people, indwelt by the Spirit. The Greeks and the Jews don’t understand this because they are natural people, not indwelt by the Spirit in the same way as Christians. This isn’t anti-Semitic any more than it is anti-Grecian. It’s just Christian. How the Apostles and Fathers felt personally about Jewish people as an ethnic group is a tangential discussion, one that I have not engaged, nor am interested in engaging at this time.
    You wrote: “The Holy Spirit has not guided the Church into any kind of unity on matters of doctrine.”
    Surely you’d like to rephrase that.

  • art

    Thanks for doing this review.
    I reviewed this book last this past fall here: