on revelation

It’s been hanging over me since summer, the fact that I promised to revisit some issues relating to scripture. But now that several attempts to write out something nicely coherent/cohesive have had to be scrapped as miserable failures, I’m only going to flag up the general topic and let anyone who wants to discuss anything do the running. Feeble I know, but here are some loosely worded, loosely connected thoughts which should hopefully give an idea of where I’m coming from – accompanied with the invitation to all to chip in if they’re so minded, as well as the caveat which should really be stamped across every post I write: layman’s views voiced here.

  1. Our understanding of scripture has to begin with God – and God communicating. It’s not that people wrote texts which the religious community came to agree would be treated as sacred; rather, God had a message to convey to human beings, which he inspired specific people to write down (and which was presented to the worshipping community to be received as what indeed it was, ie the Word of God).
  2. Saying that people were inspired to write down God’s message means at least this – that the Holy Spirit made use of these people (and their individual gifts, graces, circumstances, and experiences) in such a way that whatever they wrote under his inspiration is exactly what he intended them to write, unique as they were and unique as their circumstances were
  3. His inspiration of what they wrote is not only what gives Scripture its divine authority but also guarantees that it is (i) timelessly true in every matter it mentions, ie whether promises of salvation, threatenings of punishment, narration of history, testimony to the being and nature of God, the state and condition of mankind, the scheme of salvation, etc, and (ii) consistent with itself – ie, however multi-faceted its contents are, there is one single coherent message running through the whole, and the parts do not clash or conflict with each other
  4. As well as being true in every matter that they treat of, the scriptures are also a complete guide to (i) what we need to know about ourselves and God and how God and human beings relate, and (ii) how we are to behave (before God and in relation to our fellow human beings)
  5. As well as being true and complete, the scriptures are comprehensible. Part of what’s involved in saying that “God communicating” is behind the scriptures is that what he communicates is in principle accessible and understandable to human readers, needy and sinful as we are
  6. We absolutely must be acquainted with what is revealed in the scriptures; this is indispensably necessary to salvation. We can only know God as he has revealed himself; we can only know his purposes towards us to the extent that he reveals them; and he has clearly and definitively revealed himself and his purposes in the scriptures. Without the scriptures, we would have no way of making sense of ourselves, or of what our environment reveals about God, or of what God reveals in events in providence (including events such as the incarnation of God the Son and Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection). Nor could we have any idea where to start in making our approach to God as guilty sinners for forgiveness and reconciliation
  7. Prioritising the scriptures in this way as the source of our knowledge of God and the basis of our penitent/believing approach to God does not undermine the fact that Christ is the ultimate revelation of God and that we must be saved (and can only come to God) through him. This is because the scriptures bear witness to him, and reveal and announce him for what he is. Just as we cannot know God except by Christ, we cannot know Christ except by the Scriptures
  8. Indeed, the theme of the Scriptures is best summarised as Christ and him crucified. The various threads of scripture are all designed, one way or the other, to lift our minds to Christ as the only Saviour for sinners such as we are. Himself, or his work, or his dealings with his people, are displayed more or less vividly in every part of the scriptures
  9. The most appropriate response we can give to the scriptures is to recognise the authority of God behind them, treat them with reverence, adore God their author for what they reveal about him, accept their verdict on us as sinners, pray to be instructed in them by the same Holy Spirit who inspired them, and above all accept their invitations to embrace Christ himself manifested there in his glory as the one who God has ordained to be the Saviour of sinners from their sins.

And that’ll do for now.

________________

PS – no longer sure what the original discussion was that sparked this off, but there’s some previous discussion here and here.

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37 thoughts on “on revelation

  1. Hi Cath,

    I think that overall I would agree with you but I would want to tease out some more certain statements. For example, you write “the parts do not clash or conflict with each other” yet the Deuteronomist and Chronicler present different orders of events, e.g. how are we to reconcile the differences in chronology shown below?

    1 Chronicles 13:1-4 (No parallel)
    1 Chronicles 13:5-14 = 2 Sam 6:1-11
    1 Chronicles 14:1-16 = 2 Sam 5:11-25
    1 Chronicles 14:17 (No parallel)
    1 Chronicles 15:1-24 (No parallel)
    1 Chronicles 15:25-16:3 = 2 Sam 6:12b-19a
    1 Chronicles 16:8-22 = Ps 105:1-15
    1 Chronicles 16:23-33 = Ps 96:1-13
    1 Chronicles 16:34-36 = Ps 106:1, 47, 48
    1 Chronicles 16:37-42 (No parallel)
    1 Chronicles 16:43 = 2 Sam 6:19b-20a

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  2. Berenike, as I am sure you are aware of, there are four main answers summarised below by Adam Clarke:

    1. Some say to Timothy, who is called the pillar, etc., because left there to support and defend the truth of God against false doctrines and false teachers; and is so called for the same reason that Peter, James, and John, are said to be pillars, i.e. supporters of the truth of God, Gal. 2:9.

    2. Others suppose that the pillar and ground of the truth is spoken of God; and that ὁς εστι, who is, should be supplied as referring immediately to Θεος, God, just before. By this mode of interpretation the passage will read thus: That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, Who Is (ὁς εστι) the pillar and ground of the truth. How God may be fitly termed the pillar and ground of truth, requires no explanation.

    3. Others think that the words should be understood of the Church of the living God; and in this case the feminine relative ἡτις εστι, which is, must be repeated immediately after εκκλησια, the Church. The house of God is the Church of the living God; Which (Church) Is the pillar and ground of the truth. That is: The full revelation of God’s truth is in the Christian Church. The great doctrines of that Church are the truth without error, metaphor, or figure. Formerly the truth was but partially revealed, much of it being shadowed with types, ceremonies, and comparatively dark prophecies; but now all is plain, and the full revelation given; and the foundation on which this truth rests are the grand facts detailed in the Gospel, especially those which concern the incarnation, miracles, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the mission of the Holy Spirit.

    4. Lastly, others refer the whole to το της ευσεβειας μυστηριον, the mystery of godliness; and translate the clause thus: The mystery of godliness is the pillar and ground of the truth; and, without controversy, a great thing. This gives a very good sense, but it is not much favored by the arrangement of the words in the original.

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  3. Hi Cath,

    There is a lot to think and study in what has been said and I feel very ignorant!

    I would just say that apparent contradictions in the scriptures test whether we think we or the scriptures are the ultimate authority. The scriptures do not have to make perfect sense to us to be accepted as the Word of God and therefore the ultimate authority.

    Take care
    Sarah

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  4. Hi,

    I was thinking about Berenike’s question and looked up the passage – But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how though oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.

    The cross reference for the house of God in that passage is to Hebrews 3 v 6 “But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”

    S

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  5. An impressive crop of comments so far – thanks everyone!

    Richard – Thanks for the comprehensive statement in #3! I ran out of time yesterday evening before I could say anything to your first comment. Re reconciling differences, what I wanted to ask you was, before getting into the details of the chronology, whether as a general guiding principle you’d expect the accounts to be basically reliable (inc non-conflicting) or whether it’s an open question as to whether the accounts are compatible? Ie the claim in point 3, as far as i understand it, flows out of the claim in point 1 (and 2) – which means that the spirit we can discuss 2 Sam and 1 Chron will depend on whether we share these prior principles.

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  6. Cath, I have very little problem with the content of your points 1 & 2, I agree that God had (and still has) a message to convey to human beings and which he inspired specific people to write down. Of course how we tease this out may differ, if I may bring up the prophetic books the following quote from Marvin Sweeney is helpful:

    Although the words and actions of the original prophets initiated the composition of the prophetic literature, the writings of the later editor and tradents completed it. Obviously, they saw something of value in the words as an address to them and their own situations. Only by investigating the process by which such later tradents understood, reformulated, and reapplied the earlier words of the prophets can the form critic identify the impetus for the preservation, growth, and continued vitality of the prophetic tradition. In order to understand fully the meaning and significance of the prophetic literature in relation to the communities that produced it, the form critic must account for the prophetic book in its entirety. This means that the form critic must consider both the “original” prophetic speech forms and the later material that defines the present form, insofar as they can be identified. The setting of a text form therefore includes both its Sitz im Leben (”setting in life”) and its Sitz im Literatur (”setting in literature”; Richter, Exegese, 148)

    This is important in relation to your point that “whatever they wrote under his inspiration is exactly what he intended them to write”, I agree but how do we or should we work this out in terms of redactional editing etc?

    As an aside I would heartily suggest that you find a copy of The Changing Face of Form Criticism for the Twenty-First Century edited by by Marvin A. Sweeney and Ehud Ben Zvi.

    The timeline of 1 Samuel and 1 Chronicles in the exmple above conflict, the former has the timeline X and the latter Y and X does not equal Y. Is there a solution? Indeed, but before I give mine, I would like to hear yours.

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  7. 5 – Now, Catholics and Orthodox do believe in an objective meaning to the Bible, a meaning that is clear when read properly with the Church as a guide; We just don’t believe that one can always find this meaning by simply appealing to the generic “plain meaning” of the Bible, whatever that even is. This objective meaning is only fully known in the context in which the Bible was produced: the Church. The dialogue between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 shows this method in action:

    So Philip ran to him, and heard [the Ethiopian] reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him (Acts 8:30-31, RSV).

    Was the Ethiopian Eunuch told to read the plain meaning of Scripture individually with the aid of the Holy Spirit? No, he knew that in order to properly understand the Scriptures he needed Apostolic guidance and the proper interpretational framework. Thus, Philip explained to him the true meaning of Scripture. Without Philip’s guidance, the Ethiopian was unable to understand the proper context of the passage from Isaiah.

    http://www.ancient-future.net/plainmeaning.html

    As a child of the C of S, I was always confused by the variety of interpretations of scripture, when I learned of the ‘reading scripture in the mind of the Church’ approach it made sense to me.

    Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. – St Jerome

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  8. Richard – i’m still not sure that your understanding of inspiration and mine converge. I know that you’ve read much more about this kind of topic than I’m ever going to, so it’s more than possible that there are big loopholes in what I say that are wholly invisible to me :) and so I’m maybe not being as clear as I could. But to say both that the inspired writer wrote exactly what the Holy Spirit meant them to write, and also that the writings were later edited and reformulated, seems to suggest to me that you take the view that the texts are a mixture of inspired (as written by the original inspired person) and edited (by people who weren’t inspired?) such that we can’t really be sure who wrote what and what therefore was really inspired to start with. I suppose what’s missing from the original post is then a mention of the fact that what was inspired is preserved?

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  9. To the Cellarer – I have to say that it is indeed very important to read/interpret the scriptures in line with how they have been understood by the community of believers through the ages. But the conclusions that the community of believers come to are only valid to the extent that they accurately reflect what the scriptures are teaching. Guides to the meaning of scripture need to be chosen carefully – it would clearly be a mistake to be so suspicious that you only trust your own interpretation, but the hearers of even as orthodox an interpreter as Paul needed to exercise their critical faculties when they heard him, by searching the scriptures for themselves.

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  10. Cath,

    to say both that the inspired writer wrote exactly what the Holy Spirit meant them to write, and also that the writings were later edited and reformulated, seems to suggest to me that you take the view that the texts are a mixture of inspired (as written by the original inspired person) and edited (by people who weren’t inspired?) such that we can’t really be sure who wrote what and what therefore was really inspired to start with.

    You are correct that “we can’t really be sure who wrote what” but other than that I think you have caught the wrong end of the stick, my fault for being unclear. Let’s take Amos chapter 1 for an example.

    Within this we have the original units of prophesy and the work of redactors

    The words of Amos, who was among the sheepbreeders of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
    And he said:

    “The LORD roars from Zion,
    And utters His voice from Jerusalem;
    The pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    And the top of Carmel withers.”

    Thus says the LORD:

    “ For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four,
    I will not turn away its punishment,
    Because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron.
    But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael,
    Which shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad.
    I will also break the gate bar of Damascus,
    And cut off the inhabitant from the Valley of Aven,
    And the one who holds the scepter from Beth Eden.
    The people of Syria shall go captive to Kir,”
    Says the LORD.

    Thus says the LORD:

    “ For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four,
    I will not turn away its punishment,
    Because they took captive the whole captivity
    To deliver them up to Edom.
    But I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza,
    Which shall devour its palaces.
    I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod,
    And the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
    I will turn My hand against Ekron,
    And the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,”

    Says the Lord GOD.

    Thus says the LORD:

    “ For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four,
    I will not turn away its punishment,
    Because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom,
    And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.
    But I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre,
    Which shall devour its palaces.”

    Thus says the LORD:

    “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four,
    I will not turn away its punishment,
    Because he pursued his brother with the sword,
    And cast off all pity;
    His anger tore perpetually,
    And he kept his wrath forever.
    12 But I will send a fire upon Teman,
    Which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.”

    Thus says the LORD:

    “For three transgressions of the people of Ammon, and for four,
    I will not turn away its punishment,
    Because they ripped open the women with child in Gilead,
    That they might enlarge their territory.
    But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah,
    And it shall devour its palaces,
    Amid shouting in the day of battle,
    And a tempest in the day of the whirlwind.
    Their king shall go into captivity,
    He and his princes together,”

    Says the LORD.

    The final form of the Book of Amos is the result of editorial shaping but we must say that this editorial shaping was inspired.

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  11. Just to summarize and check whether I’ve understood correctly:
    We need to apply inspiration at different levels:
    1. the original speech / writing (some if not most of the prophetic messages were spoken first);
    2. the editing process until we have the final product (although there still remain differences of opinion about the shape of the final product e.g. in books like Jeremiah or Daniel).
    Potentially, you want to apply inspiration to additional levels:
    3. the choice of the canon (after all, some books were disputed much longer than others);
    4. interpretation?
    5. translation?
    I’m not trying to throw some wrenches into the works, just wondering where inspiration starts and where it stops (having been encouraged to do so by Cath’s mention of possible ‘loopholes’).
    Greetings from Nairobi,
    Oliver

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  12. Hi Oliver,

    Your point 1 is well made, writing in ancient Israel did not really become established until the monarchy. The vast majority of revelation to the Israelites was of an oral nature. So whilst Moses probably said a great deal of what we find in Deuteronomy it would have been transmitted orally for a long time before it ever being transcribed. Recall that prophets often went around in ‘schools’ so the words of Isaiah were transmitted by his disciples through generations each recasting the original words to suit their own situation.

    On point 2, indeed, the speeches of Moses were then at a leter date placed into a covenant treaty formula by editors. Who were these editors? I have no idea, but they are called Deuteronomists.

    On point 3, we must differentiate between inspiration and canonisation. The former is the precondition to the latter. I would suggest a look at Brevard S. Childs’ Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context and his Introduction to the Old Testament As Scripture.

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  13. Richard – thanks – that’s unlikely to be your lack of clarity as opposed to my lack of knowledge! So can I just check then – the editing that’s involved in ‘redaction’ is some writer’s collating of existing sources?

    Can i also just clarify – (i) you’re saying it’s this redaction process that’s inspired? (ii) How do you go about deciding what to call the original units of prophecy, and what is redaction? Couldn’t “Thus saith the Lord” have also been part of what Amos prophesied? (iii) Is the spoken prophecy also inspired?

    Meanwhile, on the differences between 1 Chron and 2 Sam in your your very first post – now that I’ve (ahem!) looked up the passages (for I confess I am sufficiently unspiritual that my eyes tend to glaze over on encountering chapter/verse refs :) ) I don’t have any very startling thoughts to offer, except that presumably one of the writers (ie of 2 Sam?) organised the events thematically rather than as a strict chronology. But I’m v willing to learn from whatever you might offer :)

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  14. the editing that’s involved in ‘redaction’ is some writer’s collating of existing sources?

    The process, very much simplified, looks something like this:
    1. Multiple oral traditions
    2. Multiple oral traditions written down
    3. Multiple written sources combined to form a larger source
    4. This larger source edited

    The redaction is indeed inspired as are the original words of the prophet.

    The introductory formula “Thus saith the LORD” may well have been original, but what we do note is that we are able to mark off individual units by looking carefully for introductions and conclusions, much like “Once upon a time…and they live happily ever after”.

    Look at Hosea and note how in 14:9 we have redactional work:

    Who is wise? He will realize these things.
    Who is discerning? He will understand them.
    The ways of the LORD are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.

    Sweeney’s Form-Critical Re-Reading of Hosea makes for interesting reading.

    To gain a good grounding in how form critcism works I would suggest a read of Form Criticism of the Old Testament by Gene M. Tucker.

    On 2 Sam and 1 Chron, if they are not “a strict chronology” but rather “organised…thematically” in what sense are they historical?

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  15. Thanks Richard, that’s v helpful. This is going to sound obtuse, but just on the term ‘redaction’ again, does it cover only step 4 or would it also include steps 2-4?

    A further query or two on “Thus saith the Lord” too, if your patience will stand it :) When you call it an introductory formula, and compare it to ‘once upon a time,’ do you see its function as purely introductory, and not rather (or at least, also) as a statement of fact and a kind of stamp [&/or claim] of authority? And what are the implications of this formula being (i) original, (ii) redactional, or (iii) hard to tell?

    Along similar lines, when you draw attention to Hosea 14:9 as redactional, what are the criteria that you’d use to identify it as such?

    (Please forgive all the questions – this is something i know next to nothing about … if you don’t mind acting as unofficial tutor to the blog! :) ) (Actually, scratch “next to” …)

    Ok – 2 Sam and 1 Chron – in what sense they’re historical. In that they relate information about God’s dealings with his people in the past ? What am I missing? I’d hazard the guess that 1 Chron 13-15 presents the events in the order they happened, but in 2 Sam 5-6 the account of the battles is got over with before the account of bringing back the ark. My understanding was that as a general rule ‘there are many other things, which, if they were written, the world itself could not contain the books that should be written’. The accounts that are given, are given for our learning, but what we’re supposed to learn from one passage might be slightly different from the purpose intended in another passage that mentions the same events (eg in the gospels). (Not that I’m claiming to know the intended purpose in every instance obviously.)

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  16. In general one would speak of redaction as being stage 4 however we ought to recognise that stage 3 will probably include redaction.

    In terms of the introductory formula, it marks out the beginning of a unit of prophesy whether it is original, redactional, or hard to tell. For more see this.

    Regarding Hosea 14:9 I would base this upon the form of the unit, i.e. themeatically it looks like an addition. For more detail see this and this.

    In terms of 2 Sam. and 1 Chron. (1) Both are presenting the same events but in a different order, once is saying A then B and then C. The other is saying B then C and then A. If we were to draw a timeline they would contradict one another. The solution then is to recognise that they are not historical accounts per see. (2) The Deuteronomist compiled 2 Sam. long before the Chronicler compiled 1 Chron. (3) There is also the issue of whether they were both using different historical sources, but then the Chronicler would have had access to 2 Sam. so why did he not follow the order of events presented there?

    The solution is to determine the theological concerns of the writers, whilst keeping in mind 3 above. Martin Noth points out:

    Chr.’s central concern was to demonstrate the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty and of the Jerusalem temple as Yahweh’s valid cult center…we must conclude further that Chr. Aimed to demonstrate that the Jerusalem cultic community was the genuine successor of this ancient and legitimate ‘Israel’. The opposition whom Chr. had in view can only have been the Samaritan community with a cult of their own on Mt Gerizim.

    I have far more questions than answers! :-)

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  17. Re redaction – in that case, it seems like there are two layers of editing, once when multiple written sources are combined into a single text, and then again when this single text is edited. And if I understand right, you’re saying that inspiration guides both of these processes?
    I’m not sure if that’s certainly what you’re saying, but, if it is, it’s rather different from how i’d have otherwise thought the texts were produced.

    Ie – I’d have said that inspiration is a specific influence of the Holy Spirit, who guided specific people to write down a specific message. His guidance would include their selection and use of any existing texts, but once they wrote what he gave them to write, I’d have a hard time accepting that that was anything other than a finished product, ie that it would have needed further editing with or without his further inspiration.

    This is what I mean when i say your and my understandings of inspiration seem to diverge. For me to say that a person was inspired, or that a text was written under inspiration, means some very definite things – ie that the text is exactly what the Holy Spirit intended the writer to write, and that his message then written down is authoritative, true, comprehensible to its human audience, etc.

    Ie, inspiration makes a text qualitatively different from any other kind of text, and an inspired text is received (by those who honour the God who inspired it) as not only unique but authoritative and final. Presented with God’s word, the last thing a believer should presumably do is modify it, or engage in any kind of redactional (step 4) activity.

    I should add that often the contents of the message that the Holy Spirit inspired people to write was entirely new in the sense of being hitherto unrevealed – eg like the prophecies of events to occur hundreds of years after the writer’s own time. So again (unless i’m again mistaking what you’ve been saying!) this view of inspiration doesn’t really seem to square with the process you’ve outlined above for how a text reached its particular form.

    Indeed, if it doesn’t sound too sweeping, esp speaking as i am from what can scarcely be called an informed position :S , what really seems to be missing from what you’ve been saying so far is any real concept of the supernatural (- or is that being unfair?) There doesn’t seem to be a feeling of what might be expected to be the properties of a text inspired by God the Holy Spirit, [so for ‘supernatural’ read ‘divine’?] or any attempt to construe the writing process as anything other than something fairly naturalistic ? Although I’m just throwing this in just as an impression, it’s not meant as an accusation or anything since I clearly don’t have any good familiarity with the literature you’re citing.

    Ok this is already a bit long , but one last quick thought

    – to do with the real significance of the “Thus saith the Lord” formula – i don’t have a problem with it signalling breaks in the text, but i’d see its significance as much greater than that – as a claim of audacious boldness to be presenting the words of the Lord, demanding attention and obedience, and bearing all the weight of a stamp of divine authority. Claims/prefaces like these are one of the biggest reasons why i started off with point 1 in the original post – that we absolutely must ground our understanding of the scriptures in an awareness that they are divine in origin and nature. Which again is the concept that i’m feeling is uncomfortably missing from the approach you’ve been outlining so far (?)

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  18. Fascinating discussion!

    Cath, if only the final written product is inspired, are you saying that Moses’ original words (which most certainly were not exactly the same as what has been written down many years, if not centuries later) were not? ;-)

    Why does our understanding of inspiration have to focus on the “supernatural”? What if God chose to reveal Himself in humanly amenable form? Including this communication being subject to the natural influences of human memory, language, psychology, history … – all of which were created by Him in the first place anyway. So why not use them? Imho, that would definitely increase His credibility (at least to those skeptical minds which seem to abound among academics).

    Still more questions than answers …

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  19. Cath, there may well have been multiple layers of editing. Take the Psalter for example and have a glance at this chart. Other complex ones are the Tetrateuch, as well as the Deuteronomistic history.

    The idea that the OT is unique has shown to be wrong depending upon your understanding of the term ‘unique’. A simple comparison of the OT laws with the Code of Hammurabi and Hittite suzerain treaties show almost vertatum copying at times, and the Instruction of Amenemope is very similar to the book of Proverbs.

    I agree “that inspiration is a specific influence of the Holy Spirit, who guided specific people to write down a specific message.”

    However regarding your stating, “I’d have a hard time accepting that that was anything other than a finished product” I would say that such a view is not evidence based. Let’s take a simple example, who wrote Joel and when was it written and could you present your evidence for your conclusion?

    Here is Bavinck:

    …the organic view of inspiration does furnish us with many means to meet the objections advanced against it. It implies the idea that the Holy Spirit, in the inscripturation of the word of God, did not spurn anything human to serve as an organ of the divine. The revelation of God is not abstractly supernatural but has entered into the human fabric, into persons and states of beings, into forms and usages, into history and life. It does not fly high about us but descends into our situation; it has become flesh and blood, like us in all things except sin. Divine revelation is now an ineradicable constituent of this cosmos in which we live and, effecting renewal and restoration, continues its operation. The human has become an instrument of the divine; the natural has become a revelation of the supernatural; the visible has become a sign and seal of the invisible. In the process of inspiration, use has been made of all the gifts and forces resident in human nature.

    Consequently, and in the first place, the different in language and style, in character and individuality, that can be discerned in the books of the Bible has become perfectly explicable. In the past, when a deeper understanding was lacking, this difference was explained in terms of the will of the Holy Spirit. Given the organic view, however, this difference is perfectly natural. Similarly, the use of sources, the authors’ familiarity with earlier writings, their own inquiries, memory, reflection, and life experience are all included, not excluded, by the organic view. The Holy Spirit himself prepared his writers in that fashion. He did not suddenly descend on them from above but employed their whole personality as his instrument. Here too the saying “grace does not cancel out nature but perfects it” is applicable. The personality of the authors is not erased but maintained and sanctified.

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  20. Richard – looks like a clarification is needed from my side this time – “unique” didn’t mean necessarily in contents, but in terms of the properties of the finished text. Some parts of the contents of the inspired scriptures were available and known to the world/society at large, eg historical events, genealogies, “common-sense” observations in the book of proverbs perhaps, but other things in the scriptures could not have been known by human searching and needed to be supernaturally revealed (such as the name and character of God, the person of Christ, the redemptive significance of historical events, God’s plan for the future, and so on and on). [Girardeau says that the inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit was “either strictly revealing unknown truth to the mind, or presenting to it known truth. In the former case what is not actually cognized, or not cognizable, by the human faculties is made known; in the latter known truth is so presented or suggested as to limit attention to it and designate it as that intended to be delivered by the inspired person.”] But whatever the truths being written, the texts inspired by the Holy Spirit have certain properties which make them qualitatively distinct from any other text – the scriptures are unique in that they are infallible, authoritative, binding on the conscience, etc. My point in that context was that when God’s people had in their possession a text with these properties, to the extent that they were receptive to God’s communication, to that extent they would not be minded to modify it.

    Oliver – I don’t think there’s any “what if” in your second point :) Clearly God DID choose to reveal himself in humanly amenable form and I totally, totally agree that he did create/provide all the circumstances and backgrounds of the writers, along with what was called to their memory, how they were feeling, how they reacted to their situations, what they’d learned, what they’d read, the selection of what they copied out of other writings – and used them as they were. I very briefly tried to say as much in point 2 of the original post – “the Holy Spirit made use of these people (and their individual gifts, graces, circumstances, and experiences)” – in a way that did no violence to the humanity/humanness, but at the same time, in a way that conveyed intact the divine and divinely-originated message. The Bible was written by humans, for humans. But there absolutely must be a supernatural dimension to this – what these humans wrote were the words of God. What humans read, are the words of God. I haven’t read much of Bavinck, but if he’s anything like the other Reformed theologians in his tradition, very close to his words in the excerpt quoted, he’d be likely to have said something along the lines that the humannness of the writers and the written product must not obscure the divine properties of that same text. Eg here’s Packer (the early Packer!) :

    “[The inspiration of the prophets was] a divine work, taking many psychological forms, whereby, having made God’s message known to them, the Holy Spirit so overruled all their subsequent mental activity in giving the message poetic and literary form that each resultant oracle was as truly a divine utterance as a human, as direct a disclosure of what was in God’s mind as of what was in the prophet’s. … The inspiring process, which brought each writer’s thoughts into such exact coincidence with those of God, necessarily involved a unique oversight and control of those who were its subjects. Some moderns doubt whether this control could leave room for any free mental activity on the writers’ part, and pose a dilemma: either God’s control of the writers was complete, in which case they wrote as robots or automata (Which clearly they did not), or their minds worked freely as they wrote the Scriptures, in which case God could not fully have controlled them or kept them for error. … Instead of imposing on God arbitrary limitations of this sort, we should rather adore the wisdom and power that could so order the unruly minds of sinful men as to cause them freely and spontaneously, with no inhibiting of their normal mental processes, to write only and wholly the infallible truth of God.

    So much for the concepts … specific points – Oliver – Moses’s original words. It seems to be a bit of a vexed question whether the prophets spoke many words under inspiration and only some of them are written under inspiration, or whether only their spoken words that are written were spoken under inspiration. Either way, because we now have no access to their spoken words except as they are written, it’s the written words that we have to deal with, and we know the written words are inspired.
    Richard – all I know about the book of Joel is what’s on the page in front of me – that it presents “the word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.” I simply can’t comment on who wrote it or when … but would be interested if you’d like to use it as an example yourself :)

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  21. Cath, my point re Joel was to simply draw attention to tha fact that internal evidence of authorship and date in most of the OT is almost non-existent. Richard Pratt defends Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in He Gave us Stories and yet offers no substantive proof from the OT itself.

    Hence in Joel how much of what we have are the literal words of the prophet? The opening verse which you alluded to is editorial rather than ‘original’.

    I would challenge your position that “when God’s people had in their possession a text with these properties…they would not be minded to modify it”. Such a position stems from your assumptions rather than being driven by the evidence contained within the OT itself.

    The waters muddy when we realise that there were many different manuscripts of the OT each one differeing with one another, cf. Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible by Emanuel Tov.

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  22. Cath, your quote from Packer calling the Scriptures as truly divine as human is reminiscent of the incarnation, of course. To that extent, the Written Word of God is just as dual in its essence as the nature of the Living Word, i.e. Christ. At least in the case of the OT, would you regard these divine revelations as a precursor to the Word Incarnate even in its duality of nature / essence?

    It’s a long time since I’ve grappled with these issues (I left Bible college in 1995), and I’m thoroughly enjoying this. Thanks!

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  23. But Richard, why do you say that the opening verse of the book of Joel is editorial rather than original? What criteria underlie that statement? Again it could be that I just don’t know enough, but I don’t see that discriminating/distinguishing between original and editorial comes even from anything as principled as an assumption – aren’t there any replicable, ‘third-party-observable’ procedures that could be demonstrated to show how particular sections of the text can be classified as one or the other?
    And again you’ll forgive me if I say I don’t really understand why it should be problematic to accept at face value the claim of Joel 1:1, that these are the words of the prophet Joel which the Holy Spirit inspired someone, perhaps even Joel, to write down?

    Oliver – I’d think of these divine revelations perhaps not so much as a precursor to the Word Incarnate, as simply our source of information about him (the place we can most clearly/truly see him). I mean, neither prior to nor subsequent to the incarnation would the scriptures have been a substitute for personal acquaintance with the promised Messiah, but at the same time nobody could ever come to a true knowledge of him without believingly engaging with the revelation embodied in the scriptures. I’m not sure i’ve said that very clearly. I do believe that the way of salvation was the same in both the OT and the NT – ie faith in Christ, either Christ-to-come or Christ-as-come. [That’s a separate controversy ( https://ninetysixandten.wordpress.com/2006/03/18/ot-believers-were-saved-the-same-way/ and https://ninetysixandten.wordpress.com/2006/05/29/what-did-peter-know-about-the-trinity/) but i thought i should state it outright!] But sticking with the present discussion, I said in point 7 in the original post, “Just as we cannot know God except by Christ, we cannot know Christ except by the Scriptures.” As Jesus opened up the (OT) scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaeus, what he showed them was himself in all the scriptures – that’s the key, i think, to my understanding of the purpose and function of the scriptures. They are a reliable, and compelling/authoritative display of all that we need to know about the Saviour, and they are both reliable and authoritative because they are God’s display/revelation of what we need to know.

    Ok, that’s a bit rushed and i’m going to regret not polishing it up any better but have to run now … :)

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  24. Cath, pretty impressive for a “rushed” statement :-)

    All I was focusing on was the similarity of the two Words with regard to human/divine interaction, i.e. the dual nature of Christ possibly being mirrored in the dual nature of Scripture.

    Happy running!

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  25. Yes, i’m sure it can be a helpful analogy actually. I was just following out a train of thought there and should have said so at the time :)
    (Altho just for the avoidance of ambiguity i’d better just add that of course the analogy breaks down in that the union of the divine and the human in the person of Christ is a personal union, which must be more mysterious than even the mystery of how human words can simultaneously be the words of God.)

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  26. Pingback: the linguistics of inspiration* « ninetysix and ten

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