1. Divine Origin of Scripture
The first issue I wish to address is the Confession’s stance on the divine origin of Scripture as it compares with tendencies within recent biblical scholarship in our circles.
Now, I think we all know it very well, perhaps too well, that one overriding characteristic of critical biblical scholarship in the modern period has been its emphasis on the human origins of Scripture. [This is not correct. The issue in critical scholarship is not an emphasis on human origins, but holding human origins as exclusive, i.e., at the full expense of ultimate divine origin. Pratt’s comment here, no doubt intended as an innocuous point of departure, is actually a misstatement that will be seen to affect his subsequent comments.]
Awareness of the ancient writers’ contexts and their intentions within those historical contexts has been the key that unlocks manifold insights that we now have into the Bible. In their more radical forms, these critical approaches to Scripture have utterly denied any connection at all between God and the Bible. [This is correct, in its more radical forms. It is important to note that Pratt here seems to be allowing fully for a “critical” stance that is not “radical.” This would prove promising, but, unfortunately, he does not seem to follow through below.]
The Scriptures are counted as nothing more than a collection of ancient books whose status does not differ from other ancient Jewish writings like the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, and the assortments of recently discovered texts from Qumran and other lesser known collections. Of course, some critical scholars have tried to rescue the Scriptures for religious use in Jewish and Christian communities by attributing some kind of divine qualities to the Bible. But, by and large, critical biblical hermeneutics has undoubtedly looked at the Bible first and foremost as an ordinary, human book. [This paragraph, and these last two sentences in particular, read to me more like setting up a straw man. Pratt’s statements are sweeping, reductionistic, and would be rejected by many scholars, Reformed, evangelical, or otherwise. Nothing will be gained from this kind of utterance.]
Unfortunately, for several generations now biblical scholars in our branch of the church have pursued advanced studies under the tutelage of critical scholars. As a result, viewing Scripture as a human creation has found its way in varying degrees into our circles as well. [There are several steps missing here. Pratt paints a reductionistic picture of critical scholars imposing a human view of Scripture upon unsuspecting, perhaps naïve, young students. The problem is that these students, for over 100 years now, have been presented with heretofore unknown historical evidence that challenges “pre-critical” statements such as WCF. Moreover, the humanity of Scripture is integral to the nature of Scripture, a point that will be missing almost entirely in Pratt’s argument.]
And as many of you know, I am among those who have this kind of professional training. So, I am convinced that much can be learned about the Bible when we place it in the hands of its human authors. [It would a tremendous help if Pratt were to put these thoughts in writing and engage constructively and specifically the data he is trained to handle in interaction with WCF. What I sense happening here, however, and will be confirmed below, is that the WCF plays a much less constructive theological role than it could.]
But in recent decades the humanity of the Bible has been stressed so much that the divine origin of the bible has increasingly become a footnote, a secondary qualification, one of those marginal teachings that we add by saying things like, “Oh yeah, I believe that too.” [Again, sweeping statements such as this may have a certain rhetorical effect, but I would know several people, including myself, who might feel quite misrepresented already at this early stage in the lecture. Pratt’s description of the hermeneutical problem is one I do not recognize as valid.]
Now, there should be no doubt in our minds that the Scriptures have both divine and human origins. [Actually, I would say that Scripture ultimately is most certainly of divine origin, but comes to us through full human agency, so that the product we have, Scripture itself, is—by God’s wisdom—something that is fully human and divine.]
Paul, for instance, not only spoke of all Scripture being “God-breathed” or inspired, as we all know, but also referred to David as the author of Psalm 32 (in Romans chapter 4). We know these facts are true, we know them well and we affirm that both are true. So, my concern today is not whether or not the Bible should be treated as inspired by God or written by people; both of these are certainly true. My concern is with the ways biblical scholars in our circles have stressed the human origins of Scriptures in ways that have shifted away from the emphasis of our confessional heritage.
As we consider what the Confession says about the divine and human origins of Scripture, it may surprise some of us to realize that the humanity of Scripture is not mentioned a single time in the first chapter of the Confession. I find that to be remarkable. [I don’t find it remarkable at all. WCF 1 is not a “doctrine of Scripture,” where the humanity of Scripture is wisely kept at bay. It’s purpose is to draw a polemical line in the sand against anything else other than Scripture that would claim to be the final court of appeal with respect to “His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life” (as 1.6). In brief, WCF says Scripture is our final appeal, not Rome. To appeal to WCF 1 in the current hermeneutical debate is misplaced. A Reformed doctrine of Scripture would need to address the two elements that Pratt himself states as being non-negotiable elements of Scripture: its divine and human origin (to use Pratt’s word).]
As the Westminster Assembly composed a doctrine of Scripture [It is not a doctrine of Scripture. It is a statement on Scripture’s supreme authority for the church (which is certainly part of a doctrine of Scripture.]
that reflected its distinctive outlooks, it did not once mention the human origins of Scripture. The only hint of human involvement at all appears in 1.2 where we read that the canonical books were “given by inspiration of God,” and 1.8 where we read that they were “inspired by God.” But these implicit acknowledgments of human involvement are the only times that the Confession speaks in the first chapter of human involvement. Apart from this, the first chapter of the Confession speaks only of the divine origins of the Scriptures.
At one point Westminster does mention writings of [So as to avoid confusion, Pratt should insert “solely” here, since he himself regards Scripture as being of human origin.]
human origin. In 1.3 we read that “The books commonly called the Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration … are of no authority [Again, the central issue WCF is after is clearly biblical authority.] in the Church, nor are to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” In the language of the Confession “human writings” is a category that applies to writings outside of the Canon. Westminster speaks of the issue in binary terms: there are two kinds of writings in the world: “human writings” and the Bible. [I agree, but the Bible is not, by contrast, a divine book, but, as Pratt himself implies, a “divine/human” book. It is that human dimension that requires positive, constructive theological articulation, not, as Pratt seems to be doing, giving it a quick nod of approval and then casting it aside so one can get one with the true business of talking about Scripture.]
Notice how much the Confession positively stresses the divine origins [Is the plural a typo? It is repeated below but not consistently throughout the lecture.] of Scripture. First, the opening chapter describes the bible as “Holy Scripture,” a term that I do not hear very often in our circles, not even in our liturgies. It uses this terminology four times in 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, and 1.5. In 1.2 the expression “Holy Scripture” is closely linked to the expression “the Word of God written.” From the Assembly’s point of view, the sacred character of Scripture is not derived from the believing community treating it as sacred; it is not a quality granted to Scripture. It is a holiness that derives from the fact that it has its origins in God; the Scriptures share in the holiness of God from whom they come. [I am in agreement with Pratt here, although I do not draw the same conclusions about Scripture’s human dimension as Pratt does.]
In addition to this, the first chapter explicitly acknowledges the divine origins of the Bible by calling it “the Word of God” four times (1.2,4,8), as well as by claiming in 1.6 that “the whole counsel of God … is … set down in Scripture.” As we have said, Westminster confesses that the Scriptures are “given by inspiration of God” (1.2) and “inspired by God” (1.8), but one can hardly imagine a more radical way of pointing to the divine origins of Scripture than we find in 1.4. There God is called “the author” of Scripture. Yes, Westminster actually calls God the “author” of the Bible. [I have no quibble with the thoughts expressed in the last two paragraphs, and neither would some other scholars “in our circles” that Pratt is chiding. At this point it seems to be that Pratt is setting up an argument concerning proper emphasis. What Pratt does not do, here or below, is discuss concretely what the proper “balance” perhaps should be between the divine and human.]
Now, what has become a concern of mine during the decades of my ministry is that this confessional orientation has become increasingly absent from our scholarly discussions of the Bible. I am not at all concerned with the oft quoted comments of men like B.B. Warfield, E.J. Young, John Murray and the like on the importance of the human dimensions of Scripture. That is not my concern here. These men stood boldly both in their professional choices and in their writings for their commitment to the supernatural, divine origins of Scripture in ways that anchored and colored every aspect of their concern for the human origins of the Bible.
On the contrary, my concern is that in recent years the human origins of Scripture have virtually pushed consideration of the divine origins of Scripture off the table. Instead of emphasizing that Scripture is God’s word and adding to it the qualification that it came through human instruments, increasingly the focus of many of our scholars has been to emphasize that Scripture is a human book and to add only the occasional aside that it also comes from God. [As I see it—assuming for the sake of argument that such a sweeping statement carries a degree of truth—Pratt should ask not only whether such a trend exists but why. I respect Pratt’s experience, but I and others whom Pratt supposedly has in mind are also actively raising children, involved in the lives of God’s people, care deeply for the church, have been engaged in the full-time study of Scripture for over many years, etc. The question I often hear is, given that Scripture is ultimately from God, how can we think constructively about all these data that argue clearly for its historical situatedness? It is not clear to me whether Pratt think this is an important question, but, in my years of experience, many would find Pratt’s direction here unhelpful.]
I can recall years ago as a student how my heart rejoiced when I met or read a critical scholar who made mildly positive gestures toward the idea that the Bible is somehow more than merely human. But now I find myself feeling the same way when I occasionally find subtle gestures in that direction in scholarly writings by our scholars. I understand that our biblical teachers want to distinguish themselves from naïve Christian fundamentalism with its host of simplistic, even docetic, outlooks on the Bible. But frankly, I think that the energy given to this task is misplaced. Rarely have I encountered radical fundamentalism in our denomination. [My experience has been the opposite.] And even when it does appear, I have found that the better way to correct that extreme is to stress the divine origins of Scripture as our basic commitment to which we add other considerations, and not to create doubts about our basic commitment to divine inspiration. [Pratt seems to be making rather serious accusations toward some scholars of creating doubts in people’s minds. I think, rather that the doubts are already there. I would add that my experience is very different from Pratt’s. A fundamentalist understanding of the divine/human nature of Scripture is common, within and without “our denomination,” and it can be a stumbling block.]
There is a very important hermeneutical observation I want to make at this point. In an imaginary world, we might think that we could approach these issues with perfect balance. But this ideal hardly reflects the reality of our condition. In discussions of many issues, we tend to settle on one orientation as more basic, more central than others. [Unfortunately, it is Pratt who may be living in an imaginary world, where the words of a 17th century confession of faith, read in a particular way, carry unquestioned and full authority in contemporary debates. The real world I live in, where people love and want to submit themselves to Scripture, but struggle because of its human dimension, does not allow us the luxury of “choosing sides.” I would rather encourage people to engage the “incarnate” Scripture the Spirit has given us, this “divine/human” document, rather than, contrary to the nature of Scripture, chose one over other. This is where the incarnational analogy is helpful. For both Christ and Scripture, the divine is more “basic” in the sense that both are solely by divine initiative. However, with both Christ and Scripture, the result of this divine initiative is something where we must conclude that, without the human, they cease being what they are.]
One becomes, as it were, our default drive, that conceptual framework out of which we operate except for those times when some software leads us momentarily to another frame of reference. That default drive, the more basic conceptual framework, determines to a great extent our priorities and our emphases in very significant ways. And the default drive of the Confession is the divine origin of Scripture, not its human origin.
In recent years, a number of scholars have drawn analogies from the doctrine of Christology to help us think through the divine and human origins of Scripture. So, allow me to sum up my views along Christological lines as well.
In Christology we all confess that Jesus was very God and very man. The issue before us is not which of these claims is true, nor is the issue whether or not it is legitimate to emphasize one or the other for strategic purposes at any given moment. As I am accustomed to saying, “Because the deck of life is always shifting, balance can be nothing more than momentary synchronicity.” No doubt, when dealing with the challenge of docetism, the humanity of Christ should move to center stage. My question is this. Which of these truths does wisdom dictate ought to be the more basic conceptual frame of reference out of which we should see the other? [Well, according to Pratt’s own statement in the previous sentences, it depends on the “moment” at hand.]
Should our default orientation be primarily to think of Christ as divine and to explore his humanity in this light? Or should it be primarily to think of Christ as human and to explore his divinity in that light? We might be able to imagine a world in which we could explore both directions with equal vigor. After all, these beliefs do form webs of multiple reciprocities. But in reality, individual human beings and their theological traditions never do this. Individuals and traditions move into such issues with priorities, and the choice of these priorities is of critical importance. [I find Pratt’s argument here to be somewhat forced and out of accord with my own experience and those of many others. He is also saying, in essence, that we should give up on the idealistic task of thinking of Scripture as a mutually essential divine/human entity, and rather pick one or the other as ultimately more important and “work from there.” If the question is posed this way, of course one will pick the divine. But this is a false dilemma that, at the end of the day, will make it very difficult indeed to explain, for example, why Gen 1 looks like ANE myths, or why Hebrews 3 looks like Qumran pesher, or why the law of Moses looks so similar to the Code of Hammurabi but comes at least 200 years later. There are, I would contest, theologically and hermeneutically constructive answers to these kinds of questions, but Pratt’s approach will not help us get there. It is also worth noting at this juncture that it is liberals who also dichotomize the divine and human, but rejecting the former for the latter. The correct response is not Pratt’s, to do likewise (albeit in opposite fashion), to embrace the former at the expense of the latter, but, in true Reformed fashion, to articulate a doctrine of Scripture that gives positive and vibrant value to its divine and human elements.]
Now, there can be little doubt that while our tradition affirms the full humanity of Christ, it stresses his divinity. A quick survey of the literature makes this quantitative disparity obvious. And in this respect our tradition follows the hermeneutical orientation of the New Testament as well. The New Testament and our tradition understood that Christ was a human being who came from God, but taking this as our basic orientation can too easily lead us to misconstrue what kind of human being Jesus was. As much as the New Testament reveals that Christ was truly a man, it is intent on making it clear that he is not an ordinary man. Instead, New Testament writers stressed Christ’s divinity because they were devoted to displaying Christ as a unique man, untainted by the Fall, well-acquainted with supernatural influence, holy in all his ways, even from his conception by the Holy Spirit. The traditional stress on Christ’s divinity displays wisdom in its basic choice of orientation.
And, in much the same way, this is why the tradition has stressed that the Bible is the Word of God. We have known that it is fair to say that the Bible is a human book that comes from God. But making this formulation our hermeneutical centerpiece can easily lead us to misconstrue what kind of human book the Bible is. The Bible is not an ordinary human book; it is a unique human book, untainted by the Fall, well-acquainted with supernatural influence, holy in all its ways, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit. [Pratt’s next step should be to put his formulation into practice, to show how his supposedly more careful emphasis on the divine origin of Scripture will do a better job of explaining the historical data. To lay out a theory, especially in as rhetorical a manner as Pratt is doing here, obliges him to demonstrate that theory’s persuasiveness. The rhetoric here is very disappointing to me.]
Westminster’s stress on viewing the Bible as God’s Word represents wisdom that we should imitate today. It indicates that the primary way we should acknowledge or approach Scripture in our confessing community is to be preoccupied with and to affirm with fervency that the Bible is of divine origin, and then to explore how this belief should define what we mean by the humanity of Scripture. [This is where I would expect more hermeneutical self-consciousness by Pratt. Surely, everything depends on what one assumes is a necessary property of a book of divine origin. Moreover, Pratt seems to assume that he can apprehend that divine standard and then confidently assess how we think of the human dimension, when in reality it is only through the Bible, in its divine/human wholeness, that the divine is understood for what it is. And it is here that an incarnational model is helpful: we only understand what God is like through the incarnate Son. We do not come to the incarnate Son with a ready made conclusion of what God should be like. This is one of the mistakes the Pharisees made and had been repeated throughout history. Rather, it is only through the incarnate Son, in his humiliation and exaltation, that we can grasp what the Father is like. So too with Scripture: it is in concert with, not despite, its human element, that God’s glory is revealed. This approach, I would argue, is in principle much more Reformed than what Pratt is arguing. It also assigns a healthier and more biblical role to WCF as a subordinate standard.]
To sum up, what I’m saying is that Westminster focuses on the divine character of the Bible much more than it does on the human character of the Bible. And the wisdom is this: that your default drive, your main or primary orientation on any issue, will have tremendous effects on the conclusions you draw with respect to secondary orientations. Because we cannot pursue both orientations with equal vigor, [It still escapes me what would lead Pratt to say this, other than rhetorical strategy.] we need to choose carefully which of these two serves as the melody line and which is the harmony line. And I’m proposing to you that one of the most serious issues arising in our circles these days is which will be the melody line for us. Is the Bible fundamentally divine or is the Bible fundamentally human? [This is a false dichotomy that I resist resolutely. For Pratt’s argument to find a convincing audience, he would need to speak not in principles and generalities, but demonstrate how such a posture as he is articulating here will lead to more pleasing and persuasive conclusions, not for the critical community, so to speak, but for the very people of faith Pratt is concerned to protect from an unhealthy focus on Scripture’s humanity. I would propose that a constructive way forward is to speak not of the divine and human at odds, over against each other, and then force a decision between them (guess which side will win?!). It is to stress the “bothness” of Scripture. That is our “default drive.” I should also point out that Pratt’s plan to have the divine as his “primary orientation” to serve as the “melody line” presumes a mediating stance beyond Scripture by which to make such assessments. How, one might ask, does Pratt or anyone else know the divinity of Scripture well enough apart from Scripture itself, which is not a “divine” book but, most obviously, a divine/human book? The wedge Pratt seems intent to drive between the divine and human is, in my view, in some tension with our Reformed heritage and with Scripture itself.]