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The Critical Text: Very Word of God? Fallible “Witness” of Man? Both!?

Lecturns out of fashion but not pulpits? What might this mean?

Lecturns out of fashion but not pulpits? What might this mean?

 

“But the notion that in Scripture some things are recondite and all is not plain was spread by the godless Sophists (whom now you echo Erasmus)–who have never yet cited a single item to prove their crazy view; nor can they. And Satan has used the unsubstantial spectres to scare men off reading the sacred text and to destroy all sense of its value, so as to ensure that his own brand of poisonous philosophy resigns supreme in the church.” – Martin Luther to Erasmus

Original post here. Part II here.

This post features more follow-up thoughts about Satan playing the long game with what is known as the critical text. It amounts to part III, and looks to…

  • tie up some loose ends
  • address some of the misunderstandings of my first post, and
  • answer some of the best questions and challenges I have received.

One of my current students, reflecting on how much she has appreciated being forced to read and wrestle with the Bible, said this to me about her past efforts to read it:

"Did God really say?"

“Did God really say?”

“I would find myself questioning more of what I read rather than understanding and appreciating what it was. …we often find things in readings that are very small and compare them to others. We find something that really isn’t that important or shouldn’t have that big of a difference, but yet we focus on it. Why is it that when we read the Bible we find those small things that are so insignificant but yet we dwell on them as if there’s an unanswered question lurking behind?”

Its a good question. We all sometimes miss the forest for the trees. And I think this is especially true when it comes to text criticism of the Bible.

Why the hostility towards the Byzantine text? http://bgnt.net/

Why the hostility towards the Byzantine text?

 

That said, I believe there is still a window for us, the church, to make adjustments in our attitudes regarding text criticism, because again, Satan plays the long game, as he evidently needs to do. Currently, there are a good number of persons in the Western world who still believe and teach that God’s word is reliable – and even without error (some don’t deny this because of outside pressure, even if they want to, but many still firmly believe this). And they are right – even when it comes to the critical text! In spite of its coming out of the academy, and not the church, the NA 28 critical text is the very word of God, period (also note that, for the time being, even liberal churches that now deny traditional Christian doctrine and practice still use the historic creeds and basically the same Bible as those who willing to assert they believe it)!

This is a time, I submit, to strengthen what remains – to pray that God would restore the Church’s confidence in His true Word.

At a theology conference last week in Bloomington, Minnesota, my pastor gave a rip-roaring scholarly paper (trust me, it is good, particularly because it is packed with the kind of important historical detail my pastor excels at, but I can only post some excerpts for now) titled “Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura”. At the end of the paper, he summarized as follows:

A "coherence-based geneaological method...disregards a given manuscript in time and space, focusing solely on the grammatical composition of the text which it no longer calls a text, but a "witness".

A “coherence-based genealogical method…disregards a given manuscript in time and space, focusing solely on the grammatical composition of the text which it no longer calls a text, but a ‘witness’.” — Paul Strawn

Modern textual criticism, in the face of 5600 manuscripts of New Testament texts has, with Nestle-Aland 28, thrown its hands in the air finally and conclusively determining that it is no longer their goal to establish an original text of the New Testament. And so the appeal has been made that Lutherans in particular return to the time of the Reformation, to once again understand how we can grasp Scripture as the Word of God, and yet have a somewhat transient or even “plastic” text of Scripture. A cursory overview of the efforts of Martin Luther demonstrates, however, that he himself grew up with the fixed text of the Vulgate, and even though confronted by an impressive number of Latin corrections of it, German translations, and even Greek texts of the Byzantine variety, he himself remained fixed upon the idea that the original texts of Scripture could be arrived upon, and translated clearly, so that they could read and understood.

Probably most troubling, is that the challenge of Nestle-Aland 28, is not new, but old. Writing in the first volume of his Christian Dogmatics Francis Pieper noted already in 1924 that “…now the objection to the inspiration of Scripture assumes another form, namely that an inspired Scripture becomes useless and should no longer be urged, since the presence of variant readings makes it, after all, uncertain which is the original Word of God.”[1] What follows then in that volume is a meticulous treatment of all of the issues involved, questions raised, concerns expressed.[2] But Pieper’s argument for the veracity of the Bibles we have was simple. 1) We know we have God’s Word before we even begin to investigate the text, for Christ promised that we would by: a) saying that all who come to faith would through the apostles’ Word (John 17:20); b) admonishing all Christians to remain in His Word (John 8:31-32); c) commanding that His Word be taught to all nations (Matt. 28:20). 2) And by textual criticism, the same conclusion is reached, for “not a single Christian doctrine has been rendered doubtful in any point by the “legion” of variant readings.”[3]

Of course for Luther, the issue was even simpler. The Bible as we have it is a work of the Holy Spirit even in these end times. Therefore, in spite of the questions raised by modern textual criticism, it remains without error, readable and understandable.

[1] Quotation from English edition (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950), p. 238.

[2] Pp. 238-265.

[3] Ibid., 239.

Un-Peiper-like scholars such as Rudolph Bultmann distinguished between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith". Now, the "Bible of history and the Scriptures of faith"?

Un-Peiper-like scholars such as Rudolph Bultmann distinguished between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith”. Now, the “Bible of history and the Scriptures of faith”?

 

“The Bible as we have it… is without error, readable, and understandable”. The Word of God for us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, even in these end times!

Amen and amen and amen!

Take up and read, right? What are we waiting for?

"...you don't necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible "witness" of man to God's word" - Paul Strawn, on Karl Barth's view of the Bible

“…you don’t necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible ‘witness’ of man to God’s word” – Paul Strawn, on Karl Barth’s view of the Bible

“…but wait a minute”, you might say. “Didn’t you, in that past post, imply that Satan was behind the critical text?” Well, to be clear, that is not at all what I was getting at. In fact, Again, I think that the critical text, as it exists today, fully remains God’s word. In short (and to answer the question posed in the title), what we now have really is the Word of God (no confusion!) – even as some who are involved in certain kinds of textual criticism will look at the same text and think that it is a fallible, though “generally reliable”, “witness” [of man] (perhaps, however, capable of “becoming the word of God” in a person’s subjective experience).

My main point, again (many missed this) is simply about the importance of the church being thought of primarily as the receiver and preserver of God’s word – not it’s corrupter.[i] Just like Jesus and His apostles received the various manifestations of the Old Testament as God’s word in their day (in spite of the problems He identified with the Church’s leadership![ii]), so should we – for God preserves His word through His Church. Especially, when God’s Spirit inspires the leaders of His Church to put their best persons on the job and officially promulgate Bibles, our default reaction should not be to be skeptical – “They are just conserving and consolidating their power and keeping us down… authority is constructed, contextual, and saturated with unsavory privilege!” On the contrary, this, like few other things, should make us cry out with vigor, “Thanks be to God!”[iii]

Some expressed concern over my talking about the “highly flawed” Latin Vulgate. The fact of the matter is that even with the problems that existed in the Latin Vulgate, God was merciful to his people. For example, it was while he was lecturing from the Vulgate that the Holy Spirit led Martin Luther, in his “tower experience”, to see the truth about justification before God by the faith which lives in repentance (even as the Vulgate caused great confusion because of its translations of the words “justification” and “repentance”, and hence reinforced Rome’s aberrant teachings on these doctrines).[iv]

Kurt Aland et al., "the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland in 1979[] signal[ed] the rise to prominence of the methodologies of the intellectual behemoth which was Kurt Aland... at the INT in Munster..." -- Paul Strawn

Kurt Aland et al., “the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland in 1979[] signal[ed] the rise to prominence of the methodologies of the intellectual behemoth which was Kurt Aland… at the INT in Munster…” — Paul Strawn

And, to emphasize it yet again (third time is a charm), even with the “critical text” that we have today, the Lord has been merciful to us! Yes, it is true that out of Muenster, home of the critical text, we now hear the idea that those who value the Bible should think that they are unable to arrive at the text God gave His people through His apostles and prophets.[v] And yet, in spite of this unfortunate turn, what we have right now continues to be a reliable text. When I suggested that Satan was “playing the long game”, what I mean to call into question is faulty attitudes, orientations, mindsets, and methodologies – and not the critical text that we currently have. God, after all, can even use evil for good, and has a habit of doing so.

But then – am I obliquely implying that all textual criticism is evil? Again, my original post said nothing of the sort, and in fact sought to encourage younger textual critics. My point was simply to encourage those who feel led to explore these matters do so faithfully (as text criticism cannot avoid dealing with the matter of the church’s canon, i.e. what is found in the Bible it promulgates), and always with the good of the entire church in mind. Why say or do anything that is likely to give the impression that the basic content of the Bible is in anyway unstable or in question – when it clearly is not?

“…theological notions like providence and preservation need to be connected with the content of the New Testament and not with the letter. In that sense, the New Testament is historically and theologically fully preserved.” (p. 66)

Text critic Ernst Boogert: “…theological notions like providence and preservation need to be connected with the content of the New Testament and not with the letter. In that sense, the New Testament is historically and theologically fully preserved.” (p. 66 here)

And this not only means avoiding unnecessary confusion but making clear, for example, that prominent Bible detractors like Bart Ehrman excel more as rhetoricians than they do as decent scholars (and people think it is the Church that has a problem with bias!?). One should never expect persons like Ehrman to give us anything approximating an accurate and nuanced presentation of the reality that exists as regards early New Testament texts.

My hope is that the prayer of text-critics, established as well as up-and-coming, would be that they are led by a godly and reverent curiosity regarding these matters (yes, I realize some may not think that can exist – I think they are wrong), and one that works to encourage all confidence not only that the critical text we have is fully God’s inerrant, readable, and understandable word, but that other versions of the Bible – particularly those put forth by Christ’s Church specifically for worship! – are fully the Word of God. To crib the Apostle Paul “each [Church] should be convinced in [its] own mind”. (and I think it is even possible, but not provable, that even the individual N.T. writers themselves had Old Testament texts that they favored, whether in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek versions, including the Septuagint).

But isn’t that the issue, you say? Aren’t these texts different? I would say “No, that’s not the issue and has never been the issue”. Again, for the variations that do exist, nothing changes when it comes to doctrine. And here is the thing: even when it comes to the basic content, nothing really changes.[vi] This seems to be in line with the attitude of Martin Luther, who said:

Martin Luther believed "the Holy Spirit is no skeptic" and that the text was not just established, but actually existed: "Holy Scripture is God’s Word, written & formed in letters, just as Christ is the eternal Word of God enveloped in the human nature." - Luther (photo: Dr. Luther debates Dr. Eck - Martin Luther Memorial in Eisleben, Germany)

Martin Luther believed “the Holy Spirit is no skeptic” and that the text was not just established, but actually existed: “Holy Scripture is God’s Word, written and formed in letters, just as Christ is the eternal Word of God enveloped in the human nature.” – Luther (photo: Dr. Luther debates Dr. Eck – Martin Luther Memorial in Eisleben, Germany)

 

“…people… raise all kinds of questions for which they want to have answers. If one, however, has a correct understanding of Scripture and possesses the true statement of our faith that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has suffered and died for us, it will not be a serious defect if we are not able to answer them… When discrepancies occur in Holy Scripture (namely concerning such chronological questions as these: how many years Jesus taught openly, how the account of the Temple cleansing in John agrees with Matthew, and similar questions) and we cannot harmonize them, let it pass, it does not endanger the article of the Christian faith.”[vii]

My pastor, in his paper, says that Luther gives the impression of believing “Scripture to be a coherent whole, in spite of its many writers, languages, historical contexts and transmission issues… [and] Where conundrums were discovered he let them be.”

tollelege

"Tolle lege" (take up and read). The words Augustine said he heard about the Bible.

“Tolle lege” (take up and read). The words Augustine said he heard about the Bible.

Yes, there are nuances to be carefully and responsibly addressed, but I am saying that getting caught up in what amounts to minutiae misses the big picture[viii] – a big picture that we should be shouting from the rooftops: “We live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and He has, in these last days, given us His very own word!”

Take up and read! Even if you have a “critical text” in your hands! (again, the product is good, even if with the process in the background makes it easier for the text to be considered, by some, to be something less than the very word of God). Words that are Spirit and life indeed!

(and if you are one of those who feel called to role of text criticism, I also say: “Take up and read first and foremost for the life of the world, including you – and also give a good guy like Boogert a read“).

FIN  

Images:

Adam and Eve by Cranach studio, 16th c. ; Kurt Aland, by Roberto Cruz ; Ernst Boogert, by Prostestantse Theologische Universiteit (used with permission); “Tolle Lege”, St. Augustine’s at Hammersmith (Longdon) by ramson ; Karl Barth by Hans Lachmann, Rudolf Bultmann, Porträtbüste von Michael Mohns, 2002 by Dbleicher ; St Pius X Church Lecturn, Saint John NB by Cusack5239 ; Byzantinischer Maler um 1020 – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH (public domain) ; Martin Luther window at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC by cadetgray

Notes:

[i] From Charles Wiese, who has contributed to the Byzantine Greek New Testament project here: “Mainstream textual criticism holds to the idea that the church did not preserve the text but corrupted the text and so textual critics must recover and restore the text that the orthodox corrupted. It’s similar in some ways to the way that the Campbell/Stone movement and other Protestant groups view the Church in general where they think everything went to hell after the Apostles and now they have discovered the truth and restore the true teachings.”

[ii] From my first post: “Even as Jesus Christ Himself urged the laity of his day to obey those who sat in “Moses’ seat”, He nevertheless blamed those same church leaders for a variety of  theological errors (painful detail here). And yet, in spite of this, He trusted that the Scriptures the church had received had been reliably preserved by God. Jesus’ default position was not that God’s assembly, or church, was the corrupter of the biblical texts, but its grateful recipient.”

[iii] Pastor Jordan Cooper: “It is also true that the whole manuscript tradition has in some sense been ‘received’ by the church, but not all of those manuscripts have been used by the church or viewed as its canonical text.”

[iv] Charles Wiese says: “For myself, I think it’s best to adopt the text that is the most catholic and has been received by the church most widely and which the church has shown the greatest care in its transmission. I think there is some room variation and I’m really more concerned with defending the idea of divine preservation than I am about having some elusive perfect text. I don’t think variant readings are evil. I have helped do some editing for this text [the Byzantine Greek New Testament] and it’s the one I typically use http://bgnt.net” This view makes some sense to me, even as I shy away from the importance of the numbers. In other words, even as God preserved His reliable word in a flawed Latin Vulgate, in the Eastern church he had preserved His word as well, promulgating many wonderful copies with the church’s imprimatur, and without the issues regarding things like justification and repentance.

[v] This is problematic, because, as Pastor Jordan Cooper says, over and against the goals of critical scholarship, we need to think about these questions: “what text serves as the church’s canon?” What has been “received, preserved, and used” in God’s church? This is related to the matter of the original text because, one assumes, that the church wants to hand on just that which God gave to His Apostles and Prophets for our salvation!

Still, as I argue in this post, it is good for us to not get bogged down in what amounts to minutiae. Of course, the questions will nevertheless come: “What about the longer ending of Mark? What about the periscope adulterae (John 8)?” These issues were known from early on in the church’s history, and have been dealt with in a variety of ways – and I think it does us well to admit there is much we can’t know for sure from our “scientific” or historical investigations. See the end of this post as well as the final footnote for more.

[vi] For example, in part II, I noted this: “…having read through the variants for example, I just can’t get too excited about them. If I gave two separate accounts of an event to two different persons, for example, I would have no trouble saying that I had told them the same thing, even if there was a little variation here and there. And, so long as there was nothing I had said was meant to hide anything from a certain person, I don’t think anyone else in their right mind would have a problem with my saying I had told them the same thing. I don’t think we are meant to be exacting and robotic persons like that. I can use totally different words and the meaning and content of what I say can basically be the same…..In general, interrogating me by saying ‘but you didn’t say exactly the same words!’ seems pretty lame.” (if this produces more questions in you, check out the full context here).

[vii] Found in Reu, Luther and the Scriptures, p. 90.

[viii] Some might counter here and say things like: “But what about the antilegmomena? Should those books really be in the canon at all? What about the longer ending of Mark and the story of the woman caught in adultery? Why do you reject the Apocrypha?” Here, I insist that, in the bigger picture, these are small things. Again, Luther, in spite of his hesitations regarding certain books, did not look to exclude them from the Bible even as he made clear that they, being books that were “spoken against”, should not be books that could singlehandedly be used to determine doctrine. This view has a very long pedigree in church history: these are certainly not the most important of the New Testament books. As for the longer ending of Mark and the woman caught in adultery, I fully understand if there are brothers who think they cannot accept these sections as canonical. I simply ask that they allow others, and the church at large, to do so – and without being overly critical of them for doing so! – even as again, these are passages that should not used to determine doctrine. Finally, Luther himself included the Apocrypha of the Western church in the German Bible, although he made it clear that they, also, were books of a lesser authority than even the antilegomena. The unique theological situation in the 16th century church, where Rome used not only the Vulgate but these books in particular against the Lutheran Reformers, resulted in them being excluded from Lutheran Bibles in the future. Again, the fact is that the church had never given these books pride of place, and had not, until Rome countered Luther, ever used these books to argue for doctrines. Insofar as Rome persists in doing this, I think it is reasonable for us to insist on keeping the Apocrypha out of the Canon altogether (note that if it were in our Bibles, it would not necessarily need to be “Scripture” – Jesus Himself, after all, only says to accept what the Pharisees teach in Matthew 23:2, and there is no indication that this would have included the Apocrypha, as seen, for instance, from the decision made at the council of Jamnia in 90 A.D.).

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Follow-up on Yesterday’s Pro-Byzantine Text Post

There have been a number of thoughtful response to the post I did yesterday, although most of the discussion has happened on Facebook, and not my blog here or the Just and Sinner blog (it is posted in both places).

Here are some other things that I have said in reply to some of those posting. One gentleman pointed out, for example, that in a significant number of places in the early church books like Hebrews were not considered Scripture (this book, and some others, like James and Revelation, were “spoken against” (“antilegomena”). It was also said that God preserved the text so that where there is a manuscript record no two manuscripts perfectly agree – so when we talk about how he has preserved the text which text are we talking about? Where is divine preservation (of the kind that I promoted in my post) in that?

Brief responses:

First, regarding the antilegomena, as I say in a footnote in the article: “And to be honest, I think that after a while, the 16th century reformer Martin Luther realized, for example, that he should just shut up about his misgivings about the book of James, Hebrews, and Revelation, for example. I suspect that as a good churchman, he recognized it was enough to say what some in the early church said: these books were received as canon, but, since some orthodox persons spoke against their inclusion in the canon, should not be used to determine any doctrine.”

Second, regarding the wider issue of variations within the books (particularly within those books that the entire church at all times received without question), I think the point here is that the N.T. writers took all of the O.T. texts they used (probably largely from versions of the LXX) – even though there were known variants – to be inspired. Keeping things simple, I do think we can still honestly say that the doctrine does not change and the basic content does not change either when it comes to passages of Scripture – having read through the variants for example, I just can’t get too excited about them. If I gave two separate accounts of an event to two different persons, for example, I would have no trouble saying that I had told them the same thing, even if there was a little variation here and there. And, so long as there was nothing I had said was meant to hide anything from a certain person, I don’t think anyone else in their right mind would have a problem with my saying I had told them the same thing. I don’t think we are meant to be exacting and robotic persons like that. I can use totally different words and the meaning and content of what I say can basically be the same…..In general, interrogating me by saying “but you didn’t say exactly the same words!” seems pretty lame. I know there is the story about adultery, the longer ending of Mark, the ending of the Lord’s prayer, etc. And that in some cases what I say above might be debatable (“that one says they can only come out by prayer and fasting – the meaning is different!”), but these cases seem so small as to not be worth getting worked up about. To each his own (yes, and I think my position is, in general, “just accept the text you receive” – and if you feel called to be a text critic, be sensitive to the importance of that default attitude) People in the church have known about these things for a long time in church history, and seemed to get along just fine… I’ll say it again, I think wringing out hands too much about this plays right into the hands of those who would encourage distrust and disarray in the church. If you read the article closely you will see that I am not saying it is a bad thing to be curious about all of this stuff, just that we should be careful not to give the impression that anything folks like Erhman say is worth any respect at all.

Third, here is a response to a friendly Majority Text advocate from Pastor Jordan Cooper on his Facebook page:

“…you outlined a number of specific issues which go into the decision as to what readings should be used in our current editions of the NT. I appreciate the nuance that you bring to the discussion, as some MT advocates do speak rather simplistically about how the various textual decisions are made.

Westcott and Hort did generally argue that the earlier reading is better, and that the Alexandrian manuscripts are generally better. There has been quite a bit of development in textual criticism since then, and sometimes MT guys speak as though the field hasn’t advanced beyond Westcott and Hort. I’m very much aware of the developments in this area. There are now a number of different considerations in exactly what reading should be used, as you mention.

What I’m criticizing is not just the use of the Alexandrian text type, or the oldest is best mentality, but the use of such a methodology for determining canon at all. What you construct is a theology wherein critical methodologies determine the canon of the church based upon what scholars can best guess is closest to the original autographa. This is not, I don’t think, how the church has thought of canon until the late nineteenth century.

In your perspective, it is the _scholar_ who is the one who preserves the inspired text by the use of critical methodologies. I think this is backwards. This is the role of the church, and the canon for the church is that which the church received, preserved, and used.

Textual criticism is based on theological presuppositions. It is not some neutral field, where Bart Ehrman can tell the church what is the most likely “original” reading for autographs that no one has. As Christians, especially as ones who are very much aware of church history, should we not trust that God actually preserved his Word in the church? Including the long ending of Mark and the Pericope Adulterae.”

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Satan Playing the Long Game? What’s the Problem with the Critical Text?

“These copies that were made centuries later contain numerous mistakes. Thousands of mistakes. Tens of thousands of mistakes. Hundreds of thousands of mistakes…” Whatever, Bart. Don’t have a cow.

“These copies that were made centuries later contain numerous mistakes. Thousands of mistakes. Tens of thousands of mistakes. Hundreds of thousands of mistakes…” Whatever, Bart. Don’t have a cow.

 

Despite the picture and provocative caption that leads off this post, it is not really about the molehill that is Bart Ehrmann. It rather attempts to critically address, in a thoughtful way, the modernist/Enlightenment world of biblical criticism from which he has come. I make no claim to expertise in what I write of below – my hope is that this post and any subsequent discussion can get interested persons, including myself, thinking more about this important topic.

Pastor Jordan Cooper, the owner of this blog, has written and podcasted about how he is in favor of supporting what is called “the Majority text” over what we today call “the critical text” (think Nestle-Aland, now in its 28th ed.). In his support of this “Ecclesiastical text”, he is decidedly against the mainstream of biblical scholarship.

I think that Pastor Cooper has done us a service is clearly stating his viewpoint and giving persons an accessible introduction to these important issues. If you have not had a chance to look at these yet, I encourage you to do so (here is another good introductory post).

My own view is also that what we might call the Byzantine text is the text that we should trust (and my reading of a recent scholarly treatise on this topic further confirms me in my own view, which I lay out below[i]).

Why do I think this? In brief, I believe that God, in His providence, preserved His word in the churches of the East, and that this word performed two critical functions in history: a) to provide a common, shared text for the churches of the Eastern churches ; and b) to provide a needed corrective to the churches in the West, for whom the highly flawed Latin Vulgate had become the default biblical text.

During the time of the Reformation, apologists from the Roman Catholic church argued that the Greek text of the New Testament and the Hebrew text of the Old Testament had been corrupted and that the Vulgate alone preserved the authentic text. And yet, when it came to the Latin Vulgate, many could see clearly that distrust had rightly been earned here, and a “shake-up” of sorts was necessary. This largely came in the form of what we call the “Textus Receptus” of a Roman Catholic scholar named Erasmus. He introduced this new edition of the Greek text of the New Testament when he did (based largely on what were understood to be Byzantine copies of the original biblical text in Greek) in order to fix problems in the Vulgate. The rest, in the “Protestant” West at least, is history.

“If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. Troeltsch). Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” (theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich, quoted by Marquart on p. 114)

Probabilities, i.e. death by a thousand cuts: “If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. [Walter] Troeltsch[, pictured]). Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” (theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich, quoted by Kurt Marquart on p. 114, Anatomy of an Explosion)

At least, until the end of the 17th century and beginnings of the 18th century, when some doubts about the Textus Receptus’ synonymity with the original texts of the Bible (the “autographs”) begin to emerge – and the “scientific” study (more on the reason for the scare quotes below) of the biblical text took off in earnest. This culminated in a way in the early 1880s, with the publication of Westcott and Hort’s critical edition of the Greek New Testament, which deferred heavily to a couple of manuscripts containing the entire Bible (from the 4th century): Codex Vaticanus and Code Sinaiticus (see more here).

My impression is that this quest was largely wrongheaded, but let me be clear about why I think this is so. I actually do not have difficulty with a person arguing that these early editions of the Bible, produced as they obviously were with the imprimatur of the church’s hierarchy, are basically indicative of the biblical text the Western church has recognized, preserved, and passed down (here, I think, it is like the Apostle Paul says: “let each be convinced in his own mind”![ii]). In other words, in an effort to address the problems clearly seen in the Vulgate, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater (again, the Vulgate would seem to have been largely based on codexes like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), but this did not need to be the case.

The problem, however, is that the discussion about these things in the church today, because of the impact of a modern scientific and technological mindset (as opposed to using something more akin to a careful legal case) that permeates the academy, basically reduces to the quantitative, i.e. to numbers and percentages. In brief, those advocating for the ever-changing critical text in the train of Westcott and Hort usually do so on the basis of the numbers of the earliest manuscripts (which, as a whole, do tend to conform more to codexes Vatincanus and Sinaiticus), while those in the minority who advocate for what they call the “Majority Text” (basically, the “Byzantine Text”) usually do so on the basis of the total number of manuscripts from the first copies of the Bible up until the Middle Ages.[iii]

In short, I think what this really shows – for all involved – is a lack of trust in the church, and does not show a proper deference to its authority. In general, I suggest a further implication of this, because God preserves His word in His church (a word which is sufficiently clear even to unbelievers – they can indeed, begin to understand the Scriptures and its core theme), is a lack of trust in God and a lack of deference to His authority.[iv]

Speaking of numbers, I am guessing that I might have lost upwards of 99% of the Christians in America with that statement, but stick with me here as I explain my reasoning!

“[Descartes] declared that all past beliefs, all ideas inherited from family or state, or indoctrinated from infancy onwards by ‘authorities’ (masters, priests) must be cast into doubt, and examined in complete freedom by the individual subject… – Luc Ferry, discussing the impact of Rene Descartes, pictured (italics and bold mine).

“[Descartes] declared that all past beliefs, all ideas inherited from family or state, or indoctrinated from infancy onwards by ‘authorities’ (masters, priests) must be cast into doubt, and examined in complete freedom by the individual subject… – Luc Ferry, discussing the impact of Rene Descartes, pictured (italics  mine).

Even as Jesus Christ Himself urged the laity of his day to obey those who sat in “Moses’ seat”, He nevertheless blamed those same church leaders for a variety of  theological errors (painful detail here). And yet, in spite of this, He trusted that the Scriptures the church had received had been reliably preserved by God. Jesus’ default position was not that God’s assembly, or church, was the corrupter of the biblical texts, but its grateful recipient.

So, why can’t the churches of the East simply be thankful for and trust the biblical texts that they have received? And why can’t the churches that used the Greek text of Erasmus – largely produced from the aforementioned texts – largely do the same? And why can’t those who think that we should defer to what has been called the more “Alexandrian” “text-type” (this is what the critical, or Nestle-Aland text, is largely based on), simply talk about receiving the text as well, apart from the problems with the Latin Vulgate that derived from them (these texts being exemplified by, but perhaps not limited to, codexes like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus)?

Am I saying that it is always wrong to doubt the church? What about “trust but verify”?

To answer these questions in brief, “no, it is not wrong to distrust the church (see more reflection here), but distrust, where it exists, ought to be earned, i.e. justified” (think “Donation of Constantine”[v]) and “’trust but verify’ is really an oxymoronic statement.”[vi]

The fact of the matter is that when it came to receiving the biblical text, distrust was never truly justified, even if some, of course (like the deists and others with anti-Christian motivations), were eager to say that it had been earned. What happened, it seems to me, is that some persons became aware of variants in the various text-traditions (realizing there were rough “text types”, or perhaps, as some say today, “text clusters”), and started exploring more. I don’t have an issue with this per se, because I do believe that God has made all of us simply curious about this or that, and I don’t doubt that he raised up persons who were curious about this kind of thing as well – and that he provided avenues for them, at their unique point in geography and history, to begin further exploration.

The problem, however, is that this exploration was not openly explored and discussed in the church, and with a proper respect of church authorities and their responsibilities in mind.[vii] Persons in the church hierarchy, understandably, were eager to safeguard the integrity of the text, and to let persons know that serious matters about the Bible were not in doubt. Those on the cutting edge of this exciting and attention-getting scholarly work, however, were not always eager to work slowly, carefully, deliberately, and intelligently with the top leadership in the church. They often acted alone in this sense (though not without the help of, for example, the state and the academy), and, at the very least, fueled the impression of a conspiracy among the orthodox (often maligned as “dead” or “Pharisaical”) to hide the “many errors and corruptions” of the biblical text.[viii]

In response, the orthodox leadership could hardly be blamed for seeing something dark in the critical scholar’s work from the beginning (unfortunately, the attempts to “call out” the irreverent – and sometimes downright impudent – critical scholars and their pietistic allies may have, at times, been both too weak and rather ham-fisted). This, it seemed, was something altogether different from the kind of textual criticism the earliest of the church fathers themselves admitted to openly – after all, before the church as a whole (i.e. the leadership), thankfully, had the means to “first, [when doing biblical interpretation] correct your copy of the text” (as Augustine had said), it was these individual Christians who had to make decisions regarding the various variant manuscripts they were aware of.

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.” And here, Satan urges a long, “frog-in-kettle” game.

So again – none of this means that Christians should be opposed to scholarship per se (see more thoughts on scholarship vis a vis Christianity here). On the contrary, I think all of this comes down to not respecting authority. Of God, the Bible, and the Church.[ix]

Again, didn’t Jesus Christ and His apostles quote the commonly used text of their day – the Torah that people actually had – as God’s inspired Word? As Charles Wiese points out: “We…have evidence of a variety of different textual traditions that pop up in the New Testament. Most of the time, Jesus and the Apostles don’t quote from the textual tradition behind the Hebrew Masoretic text but the tradition stands behind the LXX.” How does this compare with the church’s approach today, where it seems the decisions of an editorial committee in Muenster (home of Nestle-Aland 28, the “standard text” of Christendom) are of inevitable authority for us and our theology?!

In short, the kind of approach advocated in even the most conservative Christian colleges and seminaries is tremendously lacking. It is an atomized individualism – regarding persons, texts, and churches – that is on display in spades. In matters as simple as receiving the Scriptures to the matter of corporate worship, there is no respect shown to the authority of those above one’s self – and so there is also no mutual submission of the brethren to one another.

No thanks. I, for one, will buck this trend and say:

“I will receive in humble and grateful child-like trust what is given unless there is something really off like the glaring Comma Johanneum (even this was not in the earlier editions of Erasmus’ text, and hence is not in Luther’s German Bible). To say the very least, there is no need to give any kind of false impression that the church has anything to be hiding or has been hiding anything when it comes to God’s word.”[x]

Please challenge me on this. Attempt to educate and inform me, and if you suspect I am unteachable, try to do that for others.

Let’s talk more about how the Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum.

FIN

 

Image credits:

Bart D. Ehrmann by Dan Sears UNC-Chapel Hill ; Rene Descartes ; Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), from http://kcm.kr/dic_view.php?nid=37849 (published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US) ; Kurt Marquart, by http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/djw/marquartlectures.html maintained by David J. Webber

Notes:

[i] The author of this treatise, erstwhile master’s degree student Ernst Boogert, says at one point: “Truth may and should be questioned, because by testing it, it is strengthened.” (p. 63) My own view on this is a bit more nuanced: it is indeed possible, through God’s providential care, that truth can be strengthened in the act of questioning – but that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, depending on our attitude towards the things of God, I submit that sometimes received truth should not be questioned, even if God might use unwarranted skepticism for good (more on this in the broader piece above).

“It is not enough to say that historical criticism means ‘discriminating appreciation.’ The historian,’ says [David] Lotz, ‘must cross-examine, test, weigh, probe and analyze all written records of the past. If he fails to do this he de facto surrenders his claim to the title of historian!’” (Marquart, Kurt; quoting from a May 1975 issue of Forum Letter, in his Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Lutheran Perspective, p. 114, italics mine). I note that view/attitude well. Evidently, we can’t seek to learn more about history simply because we are curious to do so. Of course questions will come, but no one can question absolutely everything about their own history or history more widely conceived.

With all of that said, I believe that my own view comports quite well with Boogert’s recent and rather detailed study (again available here) that seeks to constructively address and overcome the impasse that currently exists between CT and MT (Byzantine) advocates.  Elsewhere, in his study he writes: “Both Byzantine protagonists and eclectics need to take time for careful analyses of each other’s arguments. This thesis provides a wealth of arguments that need consideration and reinvestigation.” (p. 63)

[ii] Ernst Boogert again (see above endnote): “…theological notions like providence and preservation need to be connected with the content of the New Testament and not with the letter. In that sense, the New Testament is historically and theologically fully preserved.” (p. 66)

[iii] Numbers can wow us to be sure. They might even tempt us with their perceived usefulness. As my pastor put it: “There are a little over 3.5 million letters in the Bible (3,566,480). In that most textual variants have to do with letters, even if the “mistakes” or “conflicts” are determined to be in the thousands, that is still, simply statistically, insignificant. There are 783, 137 words in the Bible. The same could be said about them. Overall agreement between the RT, MT and CT seems to be about 99.5%. So for a book that is from 2000-3500 years old, and copied by hand for much of its existence, that is simply amazing.”

[iv] In other words, I believe that the actions of the church authorities in this case were certainly God-inspired acts of love for good of – and order of – the one church.

From this it simply follows: Those who don’t think this results in an infallible and inerrant text should, at the very least, point out how reliable and firm it is! And this should be, if they desire to be friends of God and His people, their constant public refrain.

Again, recognizing that there are variant traditions, deriving from various schools and centers of Christian influence should not change any of this.

[v] A line from the 2003 movie Luther comes to mind. In it, Martin Luther jests: “the priests assured me that by gazing at sacred relics, I could cut down my time in purgatory. Luckily for me, Rome has enough nails from the holy cross to shoe every horse in Saxony… but there are relics elsewhere in Christendom. Eighteen out of twelve apostles are buried in Spain…” see here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0309820/quotes

[vi] And to be honest, I think that after a while, the 16th century reformer Martin Luther realized, for example, that he should just shut up about his misgivings about the book of James, Hebrews, and Revelation, for example. I suspect that as a good churchman, he recognized it was enough to say what some in the early church said: these books were received as canon, but, since some orthodox persons spoke against their inclusion in the canon, should not be used to determine any doctrine.

[vii] An Eastern Orthodox Christian, Rod Dreher, has expressed this responsibility well: “

“…what I can tell definitively about Orthodox Christian doctrine would be about one-third of the length of my big long Dante blog post yesterday. But I trust the guides who know the territory. I don’t need to know how to read maps to trust them to lead me out of the dark wood. Moreover, I don’t have to worry that there’s a big fight among the guide corps over whether or not the maps and the methods of map-reading have anything true to tell us about where we are in the world, and what we need to do if we are to get out of the dark wood.” (Does Doctrine Even Matter To Liberal Catholics?)

[viii] Those of a more pietist bent, eager to distinguish themselves from the orthodox, also promoted their work.

[ix] Today, we see this in full flower with “progressive religion” and its counterpart tendencies: radical social justice warring, identity politics, and the denial of truth and fact (see here, for example).

[x] Wikipedia has a useful list of the most significant New Testament textual variants here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_major_textual_variants_in_the_New_Testament”

Should we not be utterly amazed at how not only do none of these variants affect doctrine, but none of these variants can be said to necessarily contradict one another at all?!

As church historian Martin Noland has pointed out (from a private email correspondence, shared with permission): “The textual variants in the New Testament only become a big deal when anti-Christian polemicists blow their significance way out of proportion.  This happened first in the Deist controversies in the 18th century; and has been resurrected by Bart Ehrmann today, to his great financial and career profit.”

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Christians are Evil Hypocrites Who Always Need Threats from the Law

Hypocrisy Meter, Pegged“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)

First things first: I’m not anti-Christian and the “Law” in the title is referring to God’s law. If you’re disappointed though, please stick around.

In the online Merriam Webster’s dictionary hypocrisy is defined as “the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do: behavior that does not agree with what someone claims to believe or feel.” Another definition found online puts it this way: “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.”

I think a hypocrite is simply someone who lets others know that they should behave a certain way, whether they do this directly or indirectly (even if they only “virtue signal”, in effect saying “this is right and I am right… you should be right to… like me!”), but then does the opposite themselves. For example, I’m guessing Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly is thinking twice about the kinds of photo shoots she will do in the future (see here).*

So I suggest the first definition, as well as mine, comports more closely with how most persons in the West have traditionally understood this word.** The second definition seems lacking to me in that it implies that if one’s behavior does not conform to one’s stated standards or beliefs, one cannot, in any sense, actually hold or want to hold those standards or beliefs (hence, “pretense”).

On the contrary, I suggest that we not only can do this, but that we all do. All persons sometimes act like hypocrites (even if it seems the elite world usually only detects this in more traditional folks who are vocal about their standards and beliefs). Better: all persons act hypocritically because all persons, even Christians, are sinners, infected with the venom of Satan’s lie (if you think I am projecting this because I, as a father of five 3-13 year-old boys, can’t fail to be well acquainted with my own hypocrisy, I consider but ultimately reject your point).

adam_and_eveTherefore, when popular Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk says, in a recent You Tube video, that:

“…it is only the hypocrite who would hear such good news about the forgiveness of sins [in Jesus Christ] and say ‘Thank goodness! I am now free to be as evil as I want ; I can throw away God’s law.’”

…I know what he is getting at, but, on the other hand, Satan’s temptations are never quite that crass, right?

I teach a beginning Christianity class online at the university level. Not long ago, one of my students, a theologically astute and fine Christian women judging from all available evidences, privately shared the following with me (now shared with permission):

“I want to talk about [what Philip Yancey says in his book What’s So Amazing about Grace] on page 184. “But why don’t I just go ahead and do it anyway? I can always get forgiveness later.” This is powerful because when I sin I know that it’s wrong before and during the act…yet I do it anyway. This is tough because I know that God will forgive but I’m sure He must get annoyed when I constantly commit the same sin and keep coming back to Him with guilt.”

I took that to be some serious and authentic stuff. And yes, I understand if some reading this might wonder whether or not a Christian can talk this way! Consider, however, that there is big difference between telling God “I will not!”, on the one hand, and feeling utterly overwhelmed by one’s passions and ingrained habits, on the other.

Here I how I responded to her:

Yes – [this] is bracingly honest. Even believers, can, and do, abuse grace (in spite of the Apostle Paul’s heartfelt cry “may it never be!”).

First of all, let me say that you don’t need to be concerned about God forgiving you only reluctantly. He urges us to forgive seventy-times seven because He does the same! His mercies are new every morning! He remembers our sins no more! He buries them in the ocean forever! The blood and righteousness of His Son avails for sinners!

Peter: Preaching Christ - and the virtue that comes from Christ! (2 Pet. 1:5)

Peter: Preaching Christ – and the virtue that comes from Christ! (2 Pet. 1:5)

 

Second, the Bible does tell us that there is a worldly sorrow that is not in line with true repentance: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (I Cor. 7). This kind of remorse does not look to Christ, but elsewhere – or perhaps to a Christ of its own making (I Cor. 11). But to say all this does not mean that Christians – those who bear the fruits of true repentance (godly sorrow) – will not struggle with sin in the way you describe… See Romans 7, for example!

And the Apostle Peter tells us that we are to live “As free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” (I Peter 2:16)

A Lutheran theologian by the name of Adolph Köberle said:

“…unrestrained roving thoughts never remain confined to the hidden chambers of the soul, but they crowd out into the open and display themselves in words and actions, that enslave, burden and shape the future of their author…”

I especially like what Yancey says in that book a few pages earlier than the quote you mention:

“Forgiveness is our problem, not God’s. What we have to go through to commit sin distances us from God – we change in the very act of rebellion – and there is no guarantee we will ever come back. You ask me about forgiveness now [as in: “Will God forgive me for what I’m about to do, namely leave my wife for another”], but will you even want it later, especially if it involves repentance?” (180)

Challenging words indeed! But he knows our struggle, and is ready to give us help in overcoming it – again, His mercies – and His humble and steady power – are new every morning. Here is another post I did on a related topic, which you might like. It talks about the effects of the actual sins [not just the original sin infection in our heart] we commit not only on ourselves, but also our neighbor as well! This is important, because the Christian is the person who is being increasingly transformed by God to show Christ-like concern for one’s neighbors. The Apostle Paul gives us a startling picture of what this looks like in Romans 9:1-5, as he mourns for those from whom he has come by blood, the Jewish people:

“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

…I appreciate your honesty – I think many Christians feel the way that you do.

Back to the video mentioned earlier…

Yes, the church is full of them. And there is always room for more.

Yes, the church is full of them. And there is always room for more.

I would change the pastor’s statement “it is only a hypocrite who would hear…” to “only a person who is being hypocritical who would hear …” Why? Because I would not want there to be any chance I might give the impression that hypocrites like myself cannot be Christians – in fact, it is precisely because Christians remain hypocrites that we continue to need God’s law and gospel.

Pastor Fisk defines legalism as “trust in the law”, or believing that “the law has the power to regenerate fallen man into keeping it”. I think these are good definitions (though I would emphasize that the legalist believes he is saved by his law-keeping). He also goes on to say that Gospel creates a love for the law without needing to remind the Christian of the law – and that this is something that “legalism never seems to believe”.

Given our fall into sin, I certainly agree with Pastor Fisk that the Gospel alone is able to create a love for the law of God. And I would also say that we do not need to be reminded of it – to a point.

Sometimes, after all, even if we have begun to know it (10 commandments and the like), it seems we don’t really know it as well as we should (it’s not quite “in our bones” as it should be!) and need to be reminded. Pastor Fisk, for example, goes on to do this himself in his video, pointing out that we continue to have a sinful nature (our “Old Adam”) that needs to be compelled and threatened daily to do the right thing. How is this done? By the Christian’s Spirit-driven new man, who is eager to love and wield the law to be who he is – and who he is growing to become more of – in Christ. Pastor Fisk calls this activity on the part of the Christian “the work of the law” – even as he is eager to add that this work is neither the “meaning of Christianity’s center” nor is it empowered by the law itself.

christSo do believers, created to be law-lovers, ever need to be reminded of God’s law? Like I did with the student above – and like Pastor Fisk did as well?

I think he is certainly saying, given what he talks about here, that we sometimes do – even as he wants us to know that he is not a legalist who will never let the Gospel have the last word!***  So, perhaps we do need to be reminded of the law… insofar as its content is not deeply internalized in us?

For those however, who insist that we do not need to be reminded of God’s law, consider this: What is the Apostle Paul doing, for example, when he seemingly endeavors to guide, exhort, and encourage Christians in his letters with commands other than “believe the Gospel”?

If I even ask this question am I going back to legalism? Not letting persons rest in the Gospel? Not “getting the Gospel” myself?

May it never be!

None of this activity on Paul’s part means to say that the Gospel itself – the fact that Christ alone, grace alone, and faith alone frees us from sin, death, and the devil – is not the sole reason for the Christian to uphold the law of God, battle his sinful flesh, and to serve his neighbor.

On the contrary, it should be our only reason and motivation. It is only the Gospel that “fleshes out” for us the love of God – and can inspire us to say “Amen!” when we hear the beauty that is God’s law/will. In fact, with the Gospel ringing in our ears, the law can sometimes remind us of who we want to be – and who we have already begun to be in Christ.

FIN

For more thoughts on this see:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/justandsinner/the-first-table-of-the-commandments-relationship-to-the-third-use-of-the-law-part-i-of-ii/

 

Images: “Hypocrisy Meter, Pegged” by KAZ Vorpal. and “a hypocrite” by romana klee.

Notes: 

*Rod Dreher has recently brought attention to an example of the unapologetic hypocrisy of the religious left here.

**Digging deeper of course, one finds that the word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “stage actor, pretender, dissembler.” So when Jesus uses the word he seems to be saying that a hypocrite is a person who pretends to be a certain way, but actually acts and believes in a contrary manner.

***Nowadays, might one be forgiven for having the impression he must be considered a legalist if he asserts, for example, that pastors are not simply “above reproach” by faith alone – but that the Apostle Paul truly means for them to have this and other qualities, before men, in order to qualify for the pastoral office?

 

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Interview with Martin Luther Regarding Question of Who is Qualified to be a Bishop/Pastor

In need of a few good men.

In need of a few good men! Is it only faith that makes a man who aspires to be a pastor “above reproach”?

 

See AE 28:284, 294. Note that I have put words in our interviewee’s mouth in the brackets.

Dr. Luther, thank you for the interview: let’s speak briefly about your position on the qualifications for pastoral ministry.

[The Scriptures give us rather clear guidance in this instance. Of course] he must be above reproach. This is the first quality he must have. The man who wants to investigate, correct, and teach others should be above reproach… that is, that he is beyond accusation and can neither rightly nor justly be accused.

I see. Well, it certainly makes sense that if someone is falsely accused this should not disqualify them.

[Right,] if he is falsely accused, no harm; he is still above reproach; no law can accuse him before men. Samuel and Moses are good examples. Samuel said, “If I have defrauded anyone, etc.” (cf. 1 Sam. 12:3). There he showed how innocent he was, as far as men were concerned. Moses spoke this way before Korah (cf. Num. 16:15). To live this way, that you do not harm your neighbor by theft or adultery, means that no man can accuse you of anything or say: “You have stolen from me; you have raped my wife.”

So, if I understand you correctly, you do not believe that the Apostle Paul simply meant to show the pastor his inadequacy as a sinner, but actually meant to have his requirements followed.

[I am not sure I understand your question. Certainly] there is no one who is above reproach before God. Paul writes: “I am conscious of no evil” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4). Let the Our Father stand: “Forgive us.” Before God no one is above reproach, but before men the bishop is to be so, that he may not be a fornicator, an adulterer, a greedy man, a foul-mouthed person, a drunkard, a gambler, a slanderer.

But should the church really be so concerned about what those outsiders think who “know” they are better than everybody else, and don’t need the Gospel? Should it not rather focus on proclaiming the Gospel to those who are primarily concerned with their own sin and know they really need it?

[That is a perverse way of looking at things, really. No,] he must be well thought of by outsiders. …[Yes, s]ome theologian of the church might answer: “What is it to us what the heathen think or what the papists think? We live in such a way that the church does not judge us, for it is founded on love and gladly endures the criticism: ‘You bear it … if a man puts on airs’ (2 Cor. 11:20). The heathen, however, do not do this.”

[On the contrary,] Paul says: “It is especially fitting for you, O bishop, to care what the heathen think about you. You see, you have been exposed in your ministry to men and women. Therefore you ought to live in such a way that the heathen are forced to close their own mouths. This is the way you can gain and convert them. If you live in such a way that you are faulted, you frighten them away and force them to blaspheme the name of God.” Cf. Rom. 2:24. Therefore “well thought of.”

I am not sure you are getting the Law-Gospel distinction… Again, I have been taught that one doesn’t actually have to do these things that Paul is talking about… but that all pastors simply need to know they are unqualified. These simply show the pastor his inadequacy as a sinner…

[You try my patience, but may the Lord put up with my bearing with you a bit longer… ] Paul also wrote to Titus (2:8): “Having nothing evil to say to us.” Thus the heathen will say: “People wrong them.” Pliny wrote to Trajan: “There is a certain sect, etc.” He commends the Christians because they live good and holy lives. There those Christians closed the mouths of Pliny and of Trajan himself: “Let men say what they want about those Christians; they are humble and have every good intention.” So a person compares his own shameful life with that of the Christians and is converted. Why does Paul talk about what outsiders think? That he may not fall into reproach.

But the church doesn’t really want to attract persons who are concerned about moral goodness, right? Doesn’t it want to attract persons who realize that no one is morally good – starting with themselves? Don’t we all scandalize the church? Isn’t it only faith that makes a person above reproach?

[Away with such nonsense! This will be my last response to you. The apostle Paul says “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap”. Therefore, I repeat:] Why does Paul talk about what outsiders think? That he may not fall into reproach.… a slanderer should not have just reason to accuse. Look—let a man so live here, and let us be careful of reproach, lest we fall into it.

…Earlier I mentioned that a bishop can live blamelessly before the world but not before God… Paul intends a blamelessness before the world. It is true that whoever is not sincere in his faith and the purity of his heart does not escape falling into obvious wickedness. If he is greedy, he cannot cover up his greed to keep it from breaking out. If he is proud, he cannot hide and conceal it. It must show. If, then, he can live blamelessly, it is a sign that his soul is blameless before God, but not completely.”

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

To Miroslav Volf: Seven Reasons Donald Trump Resonates with Evangelicals

 

volf-trump

 

My short response to Dr. Volf?: “Perhaps. That said, at same time, the ‘Jesus’ of many evangelical elites seems to me pretty tame, cleaned up, and kind of PC.”

In short, I must confess the following: Many of the things that Mr. Trump says that upset people so much actually remind me of the God I know from the Bible[i].

Obviously, this post is meant to be controversial and to get persons thinking. Please note, I myself did not vote for Donald Trump in the Minnesota caucuses, largely in part because I have real doubts about his character and do not know if I can trust him (or is the problem that you can trust him?).

My goal here it to get persons thinking long and hard about the nature of God and what He has done for all persons in Jesus Christ, our Lord – using the Donald as a springboard. Again, I am not supporting Donald Trump for President and I also do not believe that any politician is going to be able to really satisfy those who vote for them – particularly when the problems in our country these days run so unbelievably deep (for example, see this from the Brookings Institution the other day – it is deplorable that many of our politicians don’t have the courage to keep things like this in the forefront).

So, with all of this said, why does Donald Trump make me think about the God of the Bible? Well, for example:

1. Donald Trump believes in being loyal to those closest to him. Ask his family. That said, Trump seems like a narrow-minded nationalist instead of a broad-minded globalist! Well, Christians should reflect here. In Galatians 6:10, the Apostle Paul, as God’s very mouthpiece, states: “… as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” While the Christian is to be concerned to bring good to all persons, there is also to be a hierarchy among our concerns. One notes that the Apostle Paul also said that the Christian who does not take care of his own family is worse than a pagan. Should this not also come into play when it comes to those neighbors who are physically closest to us? Further, in some Christian circles, one might get the impression that it is better to adopt children from poorer nations than from needy ones in one’s own neighborhood. But why, really, should this be the case? When it comes to how we distribute our love, should not family ties, one’s history with others, and physical proximity be, in general, the most critical factors that we take into account? Even as we also insist that God calls us to be good Samaritans, meeting the needs of the “outsiders” God just happens to throw into our paths?

"Sorry Papa [Francis], but Daddy Trump is the One Defending Catholics From Invaders." - Milo Yiannopoulos

“Sorry Papa [Francis], but Daddy Trump is the One Defending Catholics From Invaders.” – Milo Yiannopoulos

2. Donald Trump can use colorful, attention-getting language that stops us in our tracks and gets us thinking. Of course, God would never do this, right? Well, Donald Trump, at least, has not caused some religious believers to be taken back and offended by things like the Song of Solomon’s sex-drenched poetry or Ezekiel 23’s seemingly salacious description. According to Preston Sprinkle, editor of the forthcoming Zondervan book Four Views on Hell, the Bible is full of language and details many of would usually avoid. In part, he tells of the well-known Bible professor Tremper Longman admitting that our “translations are filtered through a bit of political correctness.” Sprinkle writes: “I spend a good deal of classroom time instilling in my students a passion to interpret and believe what the Bible actually says. Not what we want it to say, but what it really says in all its grit and occasional offensiveness. Cleaning up God’s word is like editing a love letter and sending it back for a re-write.” The title of Sprinkle’s post that implies God is OK with profanity is, I would say, going much too far. That said, some of the content of his post should at least cause us to wrestle with the significance of these matters.

3. Donald Trump knows the world is a cruel and evil place. In his 2007 book Think BIG and Kick A** in Business and Life (yes, I think that title says a lot), he and his co-author Bill Zanker write, in response to a question about Trump’s attitude towards people:

“The world is a vicious and brutal place. We think we’re civilized. In truth, it’s a cruel world and people are ruthless. They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you. You have to know how to defend yourself. People will be mean and nasty and try to hurt you just for sport. Lions in the jungle only kill for food, but humans kill for fun. Even your friends are out to get you: they want your job, they want your house, they want your money, they want your wife, and they even want your dog. Those are your friends; your enemies are even worse! My motto is ‘hire the best people and don’t trust them’” (p. 29).

We might think this is overly sad, cynical, and untrusting – especially for Christians, who know that God can begin to overcome the Cretan’s paradox in Christ! All that said, to me this kind of sounds like what God says about human beings in Genesis 6:5-8, 8:21, and Jeremiah 17:9. Jesus Himself had no pretensions about human goodness, calling his own disciples wicked (Luke 11:13) and insisting only God is good (Luke 18:19 ; see also John 2 and 3).

4. People who hurt Donald Trumps’s family and his friends will find themselves – and perhaps their families – hurt. Like God (see the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua), Donald Trump has been accused of encouraging war crimes. Trump has even said that he would order the military to go after the families of terrorists. When he talked about going after these folks prior to the March 3rd debate, he had made these comments noting that terrorists sometimes purposely use innocents as human shields (although very few persons who criticized him for this provided this critical context). Christians like to emphasize passages from the book of Ezekiel that say that the children will not be punished for the sins of the fathers. That said, other passages in the Bible do talk about God punishing in a more corporate fashion, i.e. there are “natural results of one persons’ actions ‘rolling downhill’ on another person” (quote from here). When it comes to God, even if one’s eternal punishment is not connected with the sins of one’s relatives or friends, this is, strictly speaking, not always true of the temporal realm.

Trump? : Don't behead Christians. Deftly behead Planned Parenthood...

Trump? : Don’t behead Christians. Deftly behead Planned Parenthood…

5. Donald Trump can catch evil ones in their own craftiness. If Donald Trump does actually want to take Planned Parenthood to task for abortion – and I will admit that this is a big “if” – he has set them up perfectly. Look at it this way: he has called their bluff about abortion only being 3% of their business. If this is the case, when he defunds them for the abortions they do, that means that they shouldn’t complain much! Of course, we know that those statistics are misleading, and that Planned Parenthood is really only about abortion, with the majority of the funding going to support just this practice. The irony is delicious: even though Trump has said that he will defund them for abortion, he actually has them praising him for supporting them in a debate! With his approach to the issue, assuming that he really does mean what he says here (I note Mike Huckabee defends his conversion), he is poised to catch them in their own words, and destroy their incomprehensibly evil work forever. Like God, perhaps he will “catch[] the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.” (Job 5:13) Maybe Planned Parenthood should actually be more worried than ever.

6. People who do not respect Trump’s will to protect his people will experience painful torture. “Good God, don’t go there!”, some of you are saying. Yes, I know what you mean, but let’s reflect here as well. As a Christian, I know that God does not desire the death of the wicked and desires all persons to be saved. Therefore, like many Christians, I struggle with the concept of eternal conscious suffering in hell, even as I ask those who say God annihilates people instead: “Is it man who desires that God does not exist, or God who desires that man not exist?” Luke 16, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, is not talking about hell (eternal punishment) but rather Sheol or Hades (the realm of the dead where evil persons go before the final judgment). Nevertheless, the rich man says about this place: “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Given that Christians have never believed that a person will get a second chance to receive Christ after they die, one might say of Trump’s position on water-boarding (something I consider an absolute last resort, “lesser-of-two-evils” thing that still requires forgiveness before Almighty God) that his torture, unlike God’s[ii], at least has a clearly stated purpose: that of protecting his countrymen.

7. Finally, Donald Trump mocks those who oppose him and his ways. In the Bible, we see that when God’s enemies oppose His ways (which, unlike Donald’s, are always good), He will not hesitate to mock his enemies – even calling them names in order to make a point. God’s servants do the same, with the classic example of this being Elijah confronting the impotent god of the prophets of Baal. Whether God wants to do this to wake up the person he mocks or to send a signal to those who are able to hear is beside the point – God creatively mocks persons to make specific points about their behavior. Jesus called the Pharisees “white-washed tombs” and labeled Herod a “fox”. As a Lutheran, I cannot help but think of the many names that Martin Luther gave to his opponents, usually with the intent of drawing attention to the evil things they were saying and doing (I even recently heard from one of my students about a Roman Catholic priest he met who had converted to Lutheranism shortly after discovering the Luther Insulter!). A scholarly view examining the significance and importance of Luther’s treatment of his opponents can be found here.

There are seven things off the top of my head where I see similarities between Donald Trump and God. I’m sure there are others that could be added.

There are many ways that Donald is not like God. The common people might hear both Trump and Jesus gladly (another clue why), but unlike our God — who comes to us in humility and simplicity (riding a donkey, or hidden in water, bread and wine) — proud and showy Donald Trump does need to apologize for his actions. To take just one example, Donald, like the men that Kamel Daoud writes about, has not always treated women the way he should. Trump has not hurt women like many men do, but he has, deplorably, cheating on his past wife and even slept with the wives of others. This is not a case of the jealous beta male calling out the guy who is lucky to have the alpha male traits. Our Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead that all may know that He is Lord and Savior, is a faithful husband to His Bride, the Church. This Donald has not done, and for this he certainly does need the forgiveness of Jesus, the Christ – forgiveness won through His death that abides not only for great sinners like him, but for each and every one of us.

Mock Him not! Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in Him! [Psalm 2:12]

Mock Him not! Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in Him! [Psalm 2:12]

May God have mercy on us all during these tumultuous and disturbing times – as we seriously wrestle with the meaning of Donald Trump’s candidacy (a couple recent articles I thought were very valuable, here and here).

FIN

 

Image: Milo Y. photo by @Kmeron for LeWeb13 Conference @ Central Hall Westminster – London.

Notes:

[i] And yes, I know some people not only think that Trump is a terrifying autocrat, but that Jesus’ teachings demand democratic governance. If you think that, I advise you listen to this insightful podcast.

[ii] And this is not to decry God for not giving us details about the actual nature of his punishment following our death, or His reasons for it – I submit to these without fully understanding. Other Christians who believe the Bible teaches eternal conscious torment, like C.S. Lewis for example, talked about how they believe “hell was locked from the inside”. What he says here seems to be a variation on what, in particular, many Eastern Orthodox Christians believe to be true about hell (see here). The 16th century church Reformer also commented that “You have the God you believe in…”, another idea which perhaps has some relevance to this issue.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

What Does the Rise of Trump have to do with Science and Christianity?

Donald “lex talionis” Trump: “I really believe in trashing your enemies and really being loyal to your friends I’m a strong believer in loyalty.”

Donald “lex talionis” Trump: “I really believe in trashing your enemies and really being loyal to your friends I’m a strong believer in loyalty.”

“Good God – absolutely nothing!” many will undoubtedly want to say.

But wait.

What is it that makes popular atheist scientist-philosophers like Michael Shermer strong Donald Trump supporters? You can listen to his own reasons, but part of it, I suggest, has to do with the idea that there are permanent and enduring things in the cosmos that cannot be fundamentally altered by our imagination or will (I also addressed this in two of my recent articles here – see this and this). Hard core scientific naturalists like Shermer do not submit to and worship the Creator, but highly respect and revere his creation (“nature”) instead.

And contrary to the suffocating politically correct dogmas that rule in our mainstream media, politics, and universities, many persons want to be able to speak freely about facts that we can all know by experience – including from nature, the physical world, biology, etc. – as opposed to one’s feelings about those facts.[i]

This important realization is something that seems to be lost to the political left more and more, but is embraced by forms of political conservatism (in the West, generally “classical liberalism”), now seemingly re-ascendant, perhaps in part because of what one has called “cultural libertarianism”[ii] (a.k.a., the “alternative right” – this, it seems, is a form of political conservatism with a reduced emphasis on ideological capitalism, small government, and sexual ethics).

Jonathan Haidt: “...liberals favor care, liberty, and fairness, and were often indifferent to concerns of sanctity, loyalty, and authority.”

Jonathan Haidt’s view, per Emily Esfahani Smith: “[Contemporary] liberals favor care, liberty, and fairness, and were often indifferent to concerns of sanctity, loyalty, and authority.” (summed up here)

That’s pretty much it for the political commentary in this post. I think what I just said is clearly related to what follows (i.e. the italicized and bold portion in the paragraph above), but my purpose in this article is really to get into a nuanced but hopefully interesting look at the origins and nature of science – thereby showing its relation to theistic forms of conservatism in general and Christianity in particular… (if that is not your thing, I bid you farewell now).

I truly enjoy thinking about God as the Creator. I have always had a strong interest in science, and prior to getting a theology degree, I studied biology and chemistry in college. Taking a strong interest in what scientists call the “natural world” is, contrary to what many persons say, completely consistent with the Christian faith.

As a matter of fact, the Christian faith actually encourages this. It is very interesting to note, as the Christian philosopher James Bachman does, that the God found in the Bible “demystifies the natural world by taking personal benevolence and malevolence out of the account of sun and moon an natural phenomena” – people of the Psalmist’s day really did worry that the gods of the Sun and Moon “might strike you by day…[and] by night”, respectively! (James V. Bachman, “Lutheran Theology and Philosophy”, The Idea and Practice of a Christian University, p. 174).

That is a fantastic insight. Also, in his very interesting 1970 book, The Clockwork Image, the late Christian scientist Donald M. Mackay had this interesting comment about the rise of “scientific habit of mind” in the West:

“What are the telltale features of the scientific habit of mind? Historically, perhaps the first was a new kind of respect for the natural world as a worthy object of study. Nowadays we might scarcely regard this as a distinguishing feature; but that only shows the extent to which the new ideas have been accepted. Whatever truth there may be behind all the talk about ‘two cultures’, the scientific and the humane, there can be little doubt that the average layman today had absorbed far more than he realizes of the scientific habit of mind. Three centuries ago, the notion that ordinary matter could repay the attention of men of learning seemed absurd to many people. Only a few bold spirits ventured to believe that, if God thought matter worth creating, then they might find it worth studying, and might expect to be rewarded by discovering order and harmony in the most commonplace objects and events around them. By contrast with Plato’s disregard for the material world, and the scholastic preference for arguing in an armchair from first principles, these men shared the burning conviction that what God had written in the book of nature (as they put it) ought to be read. Like the Bible itself, it could not fail to reward the man who approached it in the right spirit.” (p. 24, italics and bold mine)

King David, precursor to modern science?

King David, precursor to modern science?

I think this nicely sums up the beginnings of the scientific revolution from a traditional, intellectual, Christian perspective.

I would add the following: we have very good reason for believing that the success of modern science, for example, is mostly due to faithful Christians who believed that God arranged the universe such that we would be able to discover the regularities in the creation and harness them (and so, the ancient knowledge that good boats will always float and the stars will always follow their patterns has been supplemented with harness-able knowledge that even a few years back was beyond our imaginations).

Truly, God has designed and orchestrated His creation in such a way that it goes through regularly repeating cycles: the sun rises every day, the rains and snows fall in season, each living thing reproduces “according to its kind”, etc. There are regularly occurring things happening all throughout the creation, so much so – and in so consistent a fashion – that we now commonly call these things the “laws of nature” (in our more modern times, the “laws of nature” are now for many thought to be completely autonomous from any “God”, but when this term was first used, most all scientists who used it believed that God had “written” the “laws”). Here we think about the things we call gravity, electricity, time and force – and how they are all a part of the world’s wonderful design by God. God “upholds all [of these] things by His powerful word” and “in Him, we live, and move and have our being”, although to say this does not imply that God is like a member of the Greek or Roman who endlessly expend effort in “working” the sun, wind and waters!

A Montessori school classroom: "Structured possibilities" to educate, inspire, and offer stability.

A Montessori school classroom: “Structured possibilities” to educate, inspire, and offer stability.

I think all of this can be better understood with a simple analogy, and here is where my view diverges from what you will usually hear from Christians interested in science: Parents arrange things in a consistent fashion so that a child can be captivated, play, create and experiment on the one hand, and they arrange things and act in a consistent fashion so that the child feels security, stability, and confidence, on the other hand (having five kids who have attended a Montessori school has contributed to me thinking about things in this way). Arranging things in a consistent fashion – more or less so – depending on what we are talking about, and acting in a consistent steadfast fashion is a part of love. Creating beauty and order for another is a fruit of love. In other words, order is born of love, not love of order – or from a love of order!

Adam "contra cultural libertarian [?]" Smith: “The man who barely abstains from violating either the person, or the estate, or the reputation of his neighbors has surely very little positive merit” – Adam Smith, in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, quoted by Donald Trump (who says “it’s definitely worth picking up”)

Adam “contra cultural libertarianism [?]” Smith: “The man who barely abstains from violating either the person, or the estate, or the reputation of his neighbors has surely very little positive merit” – Adam Smith, in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, quoted by Donald Trump (who says “it’s definitely worth picking up”)

And here is where my views differ from the new “cultural libertarians”, the sum of whose ethics seems to be “free speech” and “be honest about facts”. From them you will likely hear that we should not concede that language shapes reality. But the first goal of Christianity should not be winning a culture war (with the best tactics) but to live in, with, and by truth – and we know that words not only tremendously influence the social realities that we know (and words do hurt – and help – us), but lay at the base of them and all Reality, for God creates by speaking.[iii] To say this is not to emphasize some concept of information that is impersonal and can somehow be reduced to 1s and 0s, but rather that all knowledge, goodness, and life arises and flows from personal communication. And as the late Oxford linguist Roy Harris perceptively notes, communicative behavior cannot arise from non-communicative behavior. There must be an “infrastructure” in place from the beginning.

This does not means something like “truth is simply a social construct” instead of having to do with [cold and impersonal] factual correspondence, or something like that – but that how we conceive of and describe reality can’t not be done personally, or socially (more here). And such should not surprise, because Reality is personal, is social (rooted as it is in the Reality of the Triune God).

And this, perhaps, should remind Christians of Romans 1: “[the] divine nature… [has] been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

It is not that there is nothing to the idea that order = God, but rather that order can’t not be recognized as a fruit of love. Perhaps one’s proof of God does not begin by saying “Someone must have made this”, but rather by the love that one does know.

With this in the background, one can see how creation should be very important to each Christian believer. From the beginning, according to the Bible, humanity’s primary tasks were to: 1) have a relationship with God and live in love and joy with Him; 2) to serve others in God’s name; 3) to take care of God’s creation (plants, animals, planet, universe)[iv]. Marvelously simple!

No Janet "Redefining Realness" Mock - there are limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build - and that is a good thing! Come and see.

No Janet “Redefining Realness” Mock – there are limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build – and that is a good thing! Come and see.

I could say a lot more here, but let me simply close with this: the Christian view is that God’s good creation went awry. There was a fall into sin and things are now not the way they are supposed to be (what I think that means for so much of the “identity politics” we experience today I have written about here). In Genesis 3, the world is thrown into chaos by man’s sin – it is now fallen and in need of redemption.[v]

And here there is this: we are told that the Son of God was there in the beginning of the Creation and He will be there in the end as well – with all those who in faith share in the redemption that is by His blood. Perhaps because of the Fall into sin, Jesus Christ is not unambiguously declared by the Creation itself, but specific, revealed language about Who He is and how He reveals the heart of His Father (i.e. forgiveness for those who were His enemies – us!) is now absolutely vital so that persons might be brought to faith in Him – and continue in faith throughout the course of their lives.

Whatever happens in the world of politics, Christians will continue to talk about how Jesus Christ rescues us from the power of our sin, the scourge of death, and the rule of the demonic. He is the Great Deliverer of His Bride, the church, and looks to bring forgiveness, life, and salvation to all persons.

In the midst of currents that might seem more pressing, I invite you to come and see this One we call Jesus, the Christ.

FIN

All images are public domain and are obtained via a Creative Commons search: Trump from Wikipedia, Adam Smith from Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/surfstyle/272576639), Jonathan Haidt from Wikipedia, King David from Wikipedia, Montessori classroom from Wikipedia, Janet Mock from Wikipedia.

Notes:

[i] In the current environment of Western elites, the word “essence” or “nature”, if it is thought to be able to communicate anything (note I did not say “mean anything”), comes to be associated with things like class, race, gender, religion and even sexual desire. Persons will go so far as to deny basic biology in order to push whatever “evolving essentialism” they feel should be their right – revolting vs. biology, nature, the physical world.

[ii] Cultural libertarianism is all about being able to speak freely. Particularly about facts we can all know by experience – nature, the physical, biology – vs our feelings about those facts. Some will go so far as to say that they don’t believe, as the Left does, that language shapes reality. Well, of course it does and they also must believe it does (reality can be defined very broadly), but just not so much so that if overwhelms and makes irrelevant the facts by sheer force.

[iii] Christianity holds both of these things in tension. God’s words and communication did make all and get the ball rolling, and even us speaking His words brings change. But there are also things that are fundamental and that do not change. Platonists, Aristoteleans, Stoics, and even Materialist Epicureans agree with us on this of course, but the details are where we differ.

[iv] There can be no doubt that God desires humans to take care of His world. This is a simple matter of stewardship. As a matter of fact, the Christian thinker Francis Schaefer urged Christians to do as far back as 1973 (in his very interesting book “Pollution and the Death of Man”),

[v]This also may have been a significant thing that propelled modern science. Some of the predecessors of modern science, such as Roger Bacon, saw things like aging, for example as the unnatural result of Adam’s fall into sin. Therefore, men like Francis Bacon, for all of the flaws in his thinking, “addressed the ancient problem of the fall into sin, which effectively sundered godly relations between humankind and nature. Toil and suffering, the ruined earth, affliction with drought and storm, insects and disease, were the consequences of the Fall” ( http://science.jrank.org/pages/10450/Nature-Nature-during-Scientific-Revolution.html ) Again, since Christians never believed the spirits in the entities of the at times frightening world of nature needed to be appeased/placated (they were God’s “good”, though fallen creation), modern science could be pursued.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
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