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My response to the article cited by Anthony Sacramone in his blog post about losing faith

"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him." -- Proverbs 15:8

Not what He wants: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.” — Proverbs 15:8

 

Anthony Sacramone, a former editor of First Things and former author of the defunct blog Strange Herring, has written an article about losing his Christian faith. He is still a conservative of sorts, but he now says this:

One day, should enough people care, and the proper venue provide itself, I will attempt a more thoroughgoing explanation of what happened, of the internal revolution that has left me with no more confidence that the New Testament is reliable, inspired, true, or “inerrant” than I do that astrology, Marxism, or the Happy Healthy Vegan Kitchen is reliable, inspired, true, or inerrant.

If you are surprised or stunned by that last sentence, believe this: no more than I….

Frankly, the existence of an evil deity has far more explanatory power to me in relation to this vale of tears than either no god or a “good” god. But he doesn’t make for nearly as appealing Christmas carols.

I am very saddened to hear this. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Sacramone’s honest and heart-felt writing over the years, even as I got the sense sometimes that he was teetering near the edge.

As he says, he may in the future provide more details on his journey to where he is now. Suffice it to say, however, that he did drop a hint in his article:

In fact, I believe some of the worst pathologies of leftist-progressive thought has its roots in Christianity’s inability to come to terms with its own internal contradictions. For that matter, I have never understood how conservative pro-lifers could find support for their cause in the cult of YHWH, which, as Jon D. Levenson has shown, began with a fetish for child sacrifice that was only extinguished later in its history. (In fact, the early history of this deity, one of several in a Near Eastern pantheon but singled out by ancient Israel as its God, illustrates a near penchant for the killing of children. Think of the Flood and Canaanite-massacre narratives, not to mention the Matthaean infancy story, in which how many babies were supposedly slaughtered because a providential star led “wise men” to Herod first rather than directly to Bethlehem? Fortunately—for some Near Eastern families of antiquity, at least—this episode is a fiction, merely a reboot with different actors of the story of the slaughter of the Hebrew babies in Exodus.)

Nevertheless, because I am a conservative, I do not suddenly believe that the American experiment would be perfected if all religions were wiped from the cultural landscape….

The link to the chapter by Jon D. Levenson hit me pretty hard, because four years ago I had an LC-MS friend send it to me as well who, I got the impression, found the argument compelling (and he wanted me to read it).

Before I read it and replied to him (my friend, that is), I said this:

Well, evidently [child sacrifice] was legitimate among some of the neighbors – and, as false worship in Israel increased, those immersed in these things certainly would be tempted to take that Exodus 22 passage in isolation and use it apart from its full context, right?….

Since the fall, sacrifice is as natural as breathing for mankind (see Girard’s insights here as well).  Even those things considered most valuable among us – the things that seem to be the greatest cause for hope (like firstborn and firstfruits) – die and need to die because of sin.  The core concept is this: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  We need bloodshed to absorb and protect us from the consequences [and] judgment that bloodshed-causing sin brings on itself (Passover as analogy here).  What we are dealing here in Exodus 12 and 13 are sin offerings: God is showing, through the example of the firstborn (again what is considered among us on earth to be more valuable and hope-giving than a firstborn?  I note that the wider creation to is redeemed… donkeys in Exodus 13 : ) ), that it is only through bloodshed that He provides (Jungel’s work here is good if I recall….) that the groaning creation is set right – even the things on earth that seem to be indicators of the most hope.  No, apart from God’s provision, there is no hope.  We are condemned.  Yet death conquers death.  What is hopeless brings hope.  What is meaningless brings meaning.

Now – how much did the Old Testament folks think along contours like this?  Well, the faithful among them at least understood the core truth that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  And they surely knew of the Promise.  That much is unmistakeable.

Also note: even thank offerings (not sin or guilt) that involve the shedding of blood would not exist if it were not for the power of sin in man that demands atonement.

After I read the article, this was my reply to him:

Babies.  Children.  Sacrifice.  So – I also finally read the article you gave me.  Thank you again for copying it for me and desiring to engage me (I presume) on this issue.

In response, I’ll just *try* to ask questions.  Answer any you feel comfortable answering and have time to answer.

By the way, the whole idea of Christians asking questions like these has been on my mind lately.  The whole question of “intellectual honesty” (3) as it relates to “academic freedom” (which we know, no institution of higher learning has en toto, as there are always parameters) is a difficult one.  Here at Concordia, it seems there is the potential for a new openness regarding the homosexual question (have run into this 2 x in the past week as regards some encounters with leadership here on campus).  Some may cheer, and others might wonder if God is sending us a strong delusion (2 Thes 2:11).  I take that latter view very seriously, even as I struggle to know how best to handle issues like these.

Questions.

  1. …first of all, as I said in my previous email about this stuff, you may have to educate me as to why JEDP lives. Levenson’s argument on pages 3 and 4 strike me as odd, to say the least, for the reasons I mentioned earlier.  Now, I know there are issues with the simple “inerrantist” opinion, things that Sasse pointed out (i.e. there was no properly Christian theory on the nature of inspiration [i.e. it is a fact but what is the process?], what does it mean that they are also truly human literature, what about the fact that it was common for disciples to write books under their master’s names [i.e. Pythagorus, Isaiah?], why is almost every important event in the history of salvation told not once, but twice or even more often, what about situation like the David of Samuel or the pious David of the Chronicles,(why two version of Israel’s history and what seem to be contradictions?), is it the Hebrew canon or the Septuagint (not just a “translation”!) – why does the N.T. recognize both?  Are we working with the concept of truth of Greek philosophy, i.e. Aristotle’s logic?, in what way do we see truth and in what way must it be believed….?, what does it mean to do thorough historical research accompanied by thorough dogmatic thought?), but I do not need to accept uncritically this JEDP scholarship, do I?  What is one book that I absolutely must read as regards this?
  1. Regarding Ezekiel 20:25, 26 (to dive right in), let’s assume that the laws God gives to indeed have to do with child sacrifice (as, I admit, it does seem to be the case, on the face of it). If that were indeed the case, why would it not be perfectly reasonable to think that the laws that God gave them, were simply the religious “codes” or “laws” of the godless – i.e. the Canaanites, or Israelites influenced by Canaanite practice?  I know that Hammurabi’s “code” did not really have to do much with religious matters, and that even Jahweh notes that the gods of other nations did not care enough about their people because they did not give them their law (as Yahweh did), but still – of course these nations had some of their own “theological or moral ideals” (which could be seen to go hand in hand with the concept of “law” – see Psalm 94:20 and Isaiah 10:1 here) – their gods most definitely preferred sacrifice, not obedience!  Why is it not the best explanation that, given the rest of the other “anti-infant sacrifice stuff” in the prophets and the Torah (again, JEDP here I know….) God gave the Israelites over to what they, in fact, wanted  (and with this, perhaps the hope that some, at least, would come to their senses)?  This is not to say that God desired this, but that he gave, after numerous attempts to alter the situation, man what he wanted – even as, as Luther says, “God is all in all”, as he energizes all of the life and activity of life in the universe – not to mention allows and permits certain things (therefore, he “does” them) , and uses evil for good in His plans as they unfold for us in history, even as they all times exist simultaneously for Him as He not only actively controls all things, but also reacts to His creatures, losing no control, but always actively remaining the Captain of the ship (in what sense is God “behind” all things? – in a sense like this…God only “decrees” Pharoah “do” evil [i.e. lets him do it] after numerous attempts to change Pharoah, and when Pharoah continues resisting as he does, he is appropriated into God’s plan for His glory in the way He is….)
  1. Again, if we assume that Ezekiel 20:25 and 26 does indeed connect these laws to child sacrifice, it seems to me that this would mean that the Israelites were not being faithful to God’s Law because they were being idolaters (Ezekiel 20:18) – why should we assume that many Israelites (perhaps most, with only a few faithful remaining, a la Elijah) innocently misread Exodus 22:28-29 instead of assuming, that first, through the lure of the idolatry of the nations (i.e. unbelief and bad-character-forming actions) they had fallen into the practices of the nations (i.e. child sacrifice) and then, they perhaps justified their actions by reading Exodus 22:28-29 out of context (i.e. chapter 13:2,13)? (further, how would reading Exodus 22:28-29 in this way, given the failure to account for chapter 13 be a “literal interpretion” (8)?!) I also note that Levenson himself sees the Laws given as God’s retaliation for idolatry (7).  Therefore from my view, It’s not that God perverts their hermeneutics, but that he confirms them in their sin, which has caused them to previously adopt faulty hermeneutics (sin=spin) to justify their actions.  Why is this not the best way to look at things?  It certainly seems to flow with the rest of the biblical accounts, does it not?
  1. When Levenson writes: “Could it be that Jeremiah’s hearers saw themselves as apostates or syncretists but as faithful YHWHists following the ancient tradition of their religion?” I get very confused. Is this not always how syncretists and apostates see themselves?  When is it otherwise?  Does Kathryn Jeffries Schori see herself as an apostate and syncretist?   Definitely not.  Nevertheless she is.
  1. Levenson quotes Greenberg “at least from the time of the last kings of Judah it was popularly believed that YHWH accepted, perhaps even commanded [child sacrifice]” and then he comments “What is curious in Greenberg’s comment is his certainty that popular practice was so radically separate from the normative religion.Why , if there is no evidence in the Bible (outside of Ezek. 20:25-26) for the sacrifice of the first-born son to YHWH, did so many Israelites come to adhere to such a practice?” (end quote)  I reply:  why, if there is no evidence in the Bible that homosexual activity is permissible did so many who follow the lead of Gene Robinson and Kathryn Jeffries Schori, did so many Episcopalians (and ELCA, and Presbyterians, etc. etc. – in spite of the fact of the Orthodox presences around them!) come to adhere to such a practice?  I know – from their (your?) perspective – the passages in Romans could very well be the equivalent of the “bad laws” of Ezekiel 20.  How to know?  The Spirit of course.  But why is it wrong to ultimately approach the Scriptures (after as much historical investigation as desired has been engaged in) with the view that Jesus himself seems to have of the Old Testament?  Believe like a child the simple words?  (saying, it might seem this other view is likely, but ultimately, there is much we can’t confidently assert here….)
  1. Obviously, I do not think that the “the latter opinion… better fits the biblical data: YHWH once commanded the sacrifice of the first-born but now opposes it”.
  1. Regarding Molech (10), why should God not execute Molech by the instrument of his own choosing – Tophet? Why not put him down via his own bread and butter?  Does Levenson have no sense of sweet poetic justice?
  1. Why not assume that at the time Micah writes he does not condemn child sacrifice because he didn’t need to – because it was now widely known now due to Hosea and Isaiah having made known the teachings of the Penteteuch again. Why not assume that everyone in their audience basically now knows this?  Just because the pagans may have thought that child sacrifice was the greatest act of devotion to god – i.e. he desired [a cult of child] sacrifice not obedience – does not mean that the prophet expected his readers to buy into this.
  1. Top of 12: “presented lovingly to his Lord”. Ugh.  As to why the account of Abraham and Isaac survived in the midst of this condemnation of child sacrifice (which, according to my reading of Genesis, I believe is condemned in that very book as well), why should we not assume that the most important thing here is that Abraham was willing to ***obey**** God here when it was, understandably really, really hard?  Levenson, states Gen. 22 shows that Abraham’s piety “was not to be taken as paradigmatic – a most unlikely interpretation”.  Why not say that it *is* but that the key point is to let God be God.  To listen to Him even when He seems to contradict what He says elsewhere, because we trust Him to fulfill His promises?  To think that He desires obedience, not sacrifice?  Paradigmatic indeed – but not because of a general piety that embraces child sacrifice as part and parcel of this piety!  Why is Levenson’s suggestion here not bordering on ridiculous and parody?  If this were as important as he claims why would this practice not be continued in the Scriptures (again, one must assume JEDP….) by other prominent and respected fathers of the faith?
  1. Regarding Jephthah (not a prominent and respected father of the faith, by the way), the author of Judges is notoriously vague on whether many of the things he shares are descriptive rather than prescriptive, but I’d suggest the last line of the book should have the most weight here (everyone did what was right…) Why not simply assume that Jephthah, though heroic, is simply evidence of how incredibly affected Israel was by their neighbor’s views?  I think this simply underscores the tragedy of how badly off the Israelites were.  And yet, God was merciful and worked through such corrupt folks as these, who had gotten so far from the truth.
  1. I don’t think II Kings 3:26-27 necessarily underscores the “full acceptability of this act even to the Israelite author of this narrative”. I think it could just as well underscore how much the demons appreciated and actually reciprocated child sacrifice.  It really works.  See Girard as well.
  1. P. 16 and 17: God is in the dock everywhere here. It is hard for me to not see all of this reasoning as undermining the message that the Scriptures really present.   Our Spirit-suppressing hermeneutics are a sight to behold.

I know my saying this might cause you to feel that you want to stop the conversation, but I hope not!  Know that I think all of us are permeated with the Satanic, since his venom is deep within us, infecting us, killing us and driving our relationship-killing actions as you say.

But Christ is risen as well, as you say.

(end of email to my friend)

My friend never responded to my questions though I will not assume it is because he would not be able to provide answers to them. It’s just as possible it may have simply fallen off his radar.

In any case, I hope that if these questions are not helpful to Mr. Sacramone, they may at least be helpful to others who have read Levenson.

Our God does not desire the death of the wicked – whether they be old or young – period. Jesus, who bid the little children come to Him, fully reveals to us the face of YHWH. Little ones to Him belong… they are weak and He is strong.

And this strong one – again, who is the only one who can help us understand the Old Testament in its depths – puts to flight the lies of the evil one. As I noted in a recent post about Martin Luther’s view of Scripture, summing up a recent paper from my pastor (partially quoting him):

“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.’”

In other words, if the explanation that I am hinting at above in my questions to my friend is not the correct one, there is, rest assured, another one. Christ shows us the kindness of God – even as He still speaks of hell! (He is decidedly not a safe and tame lion!) – and reveals His firm desire to save all from all the myriad varieties of unlove, unlive, and unlight that Satan would peddle.

“Jesus loves me” – and all – “this I know“, by the grace of God. That grace that continues to reach out to, and be there for, Mr. Sacramone as well.

Much love to you sir!

FIN

 

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Foster_Bible_Pictures_0074-1_Offering_to_Molech.jpg

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Is Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura Our Sola Scriptura?

The seal of the author's church body, Note the three solas.

The seal of the author’s church body, Note the three solas.

 

Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, “one of the fastest growing, most highly visible churches in the country” (see here). He is the author of several popular books, and in his book When Christians Get it Wrong, he writes that the Bible is a document that is both divine and human, which for him means that the authors “were people who had a deep faith in God” who “heard and understood God in light of their culture and times.” He goes on to write that “..the Bible is the timeless, inspired word of God found within the writings and reflections of very human authors.” (italics mine, quote from here)

From a more scholarly perspective, Stephen Fowl, in his book “Engaging Scripture”, writes the following

“…theological convictions, ecclesial practices, and communal and social concerns should shape and be shaped by biblical interpretation” and “Biblical interpretation will be the occasion of a complex interaction between the biblical text and the varieties of theological, moral, material, political, and ecclesial concerns that are part of the contexts in which they find themselves.” (p. 60).

How do these views of the Bible compare with those of the 16th century church Reformer Martin Luther? Not long ago I had noted that at a recent theology conference in Bloomington, Minnesota, my pastor, Paul Strawn, had given “a rip-roaring scholarly paper” titled “Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura”. The paper has not been published yet, but I have been given permission to publish some excerpts from the paper, which are found below.

In the paper’s introduction, Strawn writes about the recent history of the phrase “sola Scriptura” in his church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod:

“The Latin expression sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) used to be regularly included in the slogan that summarized the Reformation of the western church in the 16th century via Martin Luther (1483-1546): sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide. At the last centenary of the Reformation in 1917 it was accepted as an accurate summation of the causes of that event.[1] It was incorporated into the newly designed seal of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1948 and popularized by the Oscar-nominated film Martin Luther in 1953—a film on which both Theodore G. Tappert (1904-1973) and Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) served as consultants. A more recent (apparently) derivation of the slogan replaces sola Scriptura with solus Christus, that is, instead of Luther’s championing of the Bible being a leading cause of the Reformation, it was his confession of Christ…..

He goes on to provocatively state:

So perhaps can be understood the liturgical innovation of late of removing the place where the lectionary—a book containing the readings from the Bible used in worship—has traditionally been placed and from which it was read: the lectern… The Bible no longer has an authority in its own right deserving its own liturgical appointment (lectern) as does baptism (font) the Lord’s Supper (altar) and preaching (pulpit). Instead, its authority is derived from its proclamation (from the pulpit) by the church (the pastor).

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)

Again, 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.”

 

The paper’s first section is titled “Scriptura Plastica”. Some of the highlights from this section:

  • The idea of establishing an original text of the New Testament (i.e. an “autograph”) was abandoned already in 1979, by critical scholar Kurt Aland, in the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (the critical edition of the Greek New Testament). A new process, called the “local-genealogical method”, or “eclecticism” was adopted instead.
  • The contemporary “coherence-based genealogical method” is the newest method whereby scholars endeavor not to discover the original text of the New Testament, but rather the first “witness” in the New Testament tradition.
  • According to Strawn, we now have “witness criticism”: “The use of this term ‘witness’ is not insignificant, for it was an important term in the theology of the preeminent Protestant (Reformed) theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth (1886-1968), allowing him to assert that in Scripture, you don’t necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible ‘witness’ of man to God’s Word.”
  • “…the methodology of NA28 [i.e. the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland text noted above] has further implications, specifically that of the authority of Scripture, or in essence, the meaning of sola Scriptura”, and this has prompted some to suggest that traditional approaches towards biblical hermeneutics (that is the art and science of biblical interpretation) need to be reconsidered.

The final point made in this section:

  • “Why did [Martin] Luther take a number of manuscripts, reduce them to a single text, insist that that text was the inerrant Word of God, and also that its simple meaning be pursued? Was is that Luther was simply ignorant? Or could it be that he had a difference understanding of sola Scriptura than what we have today?”

The next section of the paper is titled “Luther and Scripture”. Within this section, the following points are made:

  • Martin Luther lived during a time when the Bible was seen to exist as a fixed text (i.e. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate), and her personally had extensive exposure to the Bible in this form while growing up.
  • “The sheer volume of Luther’s interaction with the Bible simply overwhelms. He read the Bible cover to cover twice a year.. Luther prepared a timeline of the history of the world, based on the text of Scripture… he translated the entire Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German (1534).” Throughout his life he held classes on many of the particular books of the Bible.
  • It is interesting to note that Luther received his first degree in Aristotelian philosophy and even taught the same. That said, in the long run, he “bypassed Aristotle (philosophy), Plato (mysticism), Lombard (medieval theology) and the patristics (Dogmengeschichte) and spent his life studying, teaching, preaching and translating the Bible.”
  • According to Luther, “The reason Scripture has never erred, is ‘clearer, simpler, and more reliable,’ and ‘alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on earth.’ The Bible is the ‘book of the Holy Spirit’ Luther asserted in comments on Psalm 40:8-9.[2] The Scriptures ‘did not grow on earth’[3] but ‘have been spoken by the Holy Spirit.’”[4]
  • “Thus Scripture, for Luther, seems ultimately to be a matter of the work of the Holy Spirit, especially in view of the end times, who is to convict the world of ‘Sin, righteousness and judgment’” (John 16:8).[5]
“All Holy Scripture was divinely inspired and perfected by God, its author…divine Scripture…contains nothing idle…Believe none of those things which you see with your own eyes and handle with your own hands to be as true as what you read there. It is certain from the divine words that heaven and earth will pass away…Although men lie and err, the truth of God neither deceives nor is deceived.” -- Erasmus, Luther’s skeptical opponent!

“All Holy Scripture was divinely inspired and perfected by God, its author…divine Scripture…contains nothing idle…Believe none of those things which you see with your own eyes and handle with your own hands to be as true as what you read there. It is certain from the divine words that heaven and earth will pass away…Although men lie and err, the truth of God neither deceives nor is deceived.” — Erasmus, Luther’s skeptical opponent!

 

The final section of the paper is titled “Luther and the Texts of Scripture”. There, we read:

  • “Even though Luther grew up hearing and studying the text of Jerome’s Vulgate, he was not unaware of its textual tradition. Jerome’s edition was not a straight translation… already in 1504, when Luther was 21, the first edition of the Vulgate with variant readings had been printed.”
  • In Erasmus’ “Textus Receptus”, “he also compared the Byzantine texts [Greek texts of the New Testament] to the references to Scripture found in the writings of the church fathers[i]—something not done with the critical text until the middle of the 20th century!”
  • “Erasmus apparently had access to the Greek manuscripts of the Eastern fathers he mentioned. This is not insignificant, for it means that he had access to some of the earliest manuscripts of Scripture known today.” (see a summary of another important paper by my pastor here: “An Overview of the Influence of the Publication of Patristic Literature Upon the Reformation”)
  • Why did Luther undertake the translation of Scriptures into German at all? “Eighteen editions of the Bible in German—fourteen in High German and four in Low—were published before Luther’s… the reason was clarity of meaning: a Bible which people could read and understand.”
  • For Luther, “the literal or historical meaning of the text was its Christological meaning, since the center of Scripture was Christ…” As he said: “In the Scriptures, therefore, no allegory, tropology, or analogy is valid, unless the same truth is expressly stated historically elsewhere. Otherwise Scripture would become a mockery.”
  • “How did all of these resources which clearly revealed a complex history of the textual transmission of Scripture affect Luther? It really seems not to have been an issue at all. A text, a clear text is assumed, and consequently, bad renderings, bad translations, can be spotted and corrected.”
  • “Modern scholarship…most assiduously endeavors to create unique contexts for each author, language and time period. Luther had no such proclivity, believing apparently Scripture to be a coherent whole, in spite of its many writers, languages, historical contexts and transmission issues.”

The views of Hamilton and Fowl, noted at the beginning of this article, are both related to the teachings of Karl Barth, i.e. his “Neo-Orthodoxy”. Approaches like theses are decidedly different from those of Luther. In the paper’s conclusion (you can read the entire conclusion, as well as other quotes from the paper in this article, which examines these issues in a larger context), we read the following: “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.”

Some in the church today would see this as opposed to solus Christus. This would have made absolutely no sense to Martin Luther. As noted earlier in the paper, the Church has always viewed the Scriptures as “a third-article topic, as that of the work of the Holy Spirit in history” and not “so much as of that of the second article, the person of Christ, in the present.”

FIN

 

Note: if you would like to talk to my pastor about his paper, he can be reached at pstrawn@lutheranpress.com

Notes:

[1] Theo. Engelder, “The Three Principles of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides,” in Four Hundred Years. Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and Its Blessed Results. In the Year of the Four-Hundredth Anniversary of the Reformation. By Various Lutheran Writers, Ed. by W.H.T. Dau (St. Louis: Concordia, 1916), p. 97-109.

[2] Walch 2nd ed., IX,  col. 1775.

[3] Sermon on John 3:34 (ca. 1538-1540), Walch 2nd ed., VII, col. 2095.

[4] From the Last Words of David (2 Sam. 23: 1-7), Walch 2nd ed., III, col. 1895.

[5] Cf. Martin Luther, Convicted by the Spirit, trans. by Holger Sonntag (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2009).

[i] “Complete New Instrument diligently reviewed and improved by Erasmus of Rotterdam in relation to not only the Greek truth but also the trustworthiness of many codices – old and improved – of both languages [Greek and Latin]; then also in relation to the quotations, improvements, and interpretations by the best authors, chiefly Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril, Vulgarius [d. 928], Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, Hilary [of Poitiers d. 367] , Augustine – together with annotations that may instruct the reader concerning what has been changed for which reason. Therefore, whoever you are and love true theology, read, understand, and then judge. And do not be offended right away, should you indeed find fault with what was changed, but consider whether it was changed for the better.” (NOVVM IN strumentū omne, diligenter ab ERASMO ROTERODAMO recognitum & emendatum, nō solum ad graecam veritatem, verumetiam ad multorum utrius [que] linguae codicum, eorum[que] veterum simul & emendatorum fidem, postremo ad probatissimorum autorum citationem, emendationem & interpretationem praecipue, Origenis, Chrysostomi, Cyrilli, Vulgarii, Hieronymi, Cypriani, Ambrosii, Hilarii, Augustini, una cū Annotationibus, quae lectorem doceant, quid qua ratione mutatum sit. Quisquis igitur amas veram Theologiam, lege, cognosce, ac deinde iudica. Ne[que] statim offendere, si quid mutatum offenderis, sed expende, num in melius mutatum sit) (Basil: Froben, 1516).

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

My Six Sentence Secular Response to President Obama and Liberals in His Train

So, maybe like you, I woke up this morning to this:

bathroom_laws

Coincidently, yesterday I spent a couple hours thinking about and writing the following, which addresses issues very much like this:

When Richard Rorty defines truth as “what our peers will let us get away with saying”, how does this not, in effect, make truth liable to being nothing more than a power play for one’s advantage? From which it follows that it is really true (!) that it is ultimately only things that overpower other things that can be said to exist… to be. This certainly puts a new spin on what Aristotle said about truth, namely that “to say that which is, is and that which is not is not, is true”! With this assumed, the best among us can only be those who take – and lead – leaps of faith into oceans, hoping that the evolving beliefs we think are “good” – and not just our genes – will be spread and passed on. Here, any classical notions of knowledge as “justified true belief” are banished as whatever can win, if only temporarily, is all that remains for us to hope in. On the other hand, what if what we ultimately need is real knowledge… real wisdom… involving a truth that even goes beyond “accuracy” – implying perhaps even a goodness that goes beyond our own subjective impressions?

The President is making a grave mistake here, even as it is a mistake that, given his view of the world, he can hardly avoid making. Still, as I implied earlier this week, this kind of “compassion” is a lie:

Update:

I had sent the paragraph above to my pastor, along with my three-part explanation of how my Christian faith dovetailed with it:

  • Many believe knowledge is power. Further, power is truth. In short, what works to accomplish the desires I believe are good that I have for myself and those I choose to love is true.
  • But if truth is only about the “is” that overcomes and outwits the desires of those we compete with by “effective knowledge practices” are we not left without hope?
  • If we desire to become that “is” ourselves, are we not embracing not what we are meant to be and become, but rather death itself? Death is that “is”. But there is also “I am”.

My pastor comments:

“As I understand what you have written:

In the world, knowledge is power and power establishes truth. More simply: Power establishes truth. So the question: In order to “grasp” the “truth” must we acknowledge, believe in, succumb to, or simply embrace the “power”? Whatever we do, however, we do not discover what is true, but simply become the “power”.

If I remember right, this was the subject-matter of Orwell’s “1984”.

FIN

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Intelligent Public Discourse on Transgenderism – Able to Moderate the Current “Bathroom Battle”?

Are there limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?

Are there limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?

.

If you are a serious Christian – or even if you aren’t – and you feel like you could use a good primer on the issues transgenderism presents, I wrote this article for you. And… I even revised my initial draft with the help of this article by David Blankenhorn about being an effective de-polarizer (learned about it here). We’ll see if it works. : )

One can rest assured that most traditional Christians think that the new progressive (will refrain from putting that in scare quotes!) demands regarding “bathroom laws” are both a bad and unnecessary idea, even if they don’t speak out about it.

And why might they not raise their voices?

When even professors from Harvard University now suggest treating conservative Christians, the losers in the culture wars, the way that America treated Germany and the Japanese after World War II, one might begin to understand such unwillingness on the part of some (others might have other reasons as well). On the other hand, Christians can always hope and pray that some of our other liberal friends will take the tack of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof instead. In any case, we who just celebrated Ascension Day are confident that Jesus reigns already, even as “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him”, as the author of the book of Hebrews (2:8) put it.

On to the specific issue at hand.

Some Christians, like Aaron Wolf for example, make a case that making an effort to win this battle is a losing cause. As Wolf puts it, “When we as a society accepted the notion of transgenderism itself, we lost the bathroom battle”. Based on what I have read, I am not sure that is right and want to lay out some of the more interesting content that I have found on the very helpful website Public Discourse, which

is an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute that seeks to enhance the public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies by making the scholarship of the fellows and affiliated scholars of the Institute available and accessible to a general audience.

What follow, therefore, are clips from a few of the articles on the website dealing with transgenderism that I found particularly helpful and interesting. I’ve divided the concerns into a few main categories.

I. What can account for the transgender inclinations some persons experience?

Gregory Brown writes in his article, “Conservatives and Transgenderism: A Response to Jennifer Gruenke” (see Gruenke’s Public Discourse piece here) the following:

I welcome Jennifer Gruenke’s recent essay in Public Discourse, wherein she describes the rare intersex condition “from a biological point of view” and argues that, given the scientific facts surrounding many of these cases, conservatives should take a more tempered approach toward transgenderism. As long as other possible explanations of gender dysphoria are ruled out, she argues, conservatives should give transgender people the benefit of the doubt and take their introspective reports at their word. Because there is a plausible genetic account of transgenderism, conservatives should assume that the transgender person’s professed divergence between bodily sex and reported gender is a result of some variety of intersex condition.

Unfortunately, I do not find Gruenke’s case convincing…

This account of sex.. has much in common with the account of sex identity that Christopher Tollefsen recently introduced at Public Discourse. Because human beings reproduce sexually, human beings are either male or female in the typical case, and their sex corresponds with the function that their reproductive organs can play in coitus. There is no other principled way for picking out the sexes.

As Tollefsen argues, sex being so defined, it is not even possible to change one’s sex, and attempts to do so will mutilate otherwise functional organs. So long as the practice of medicine is correctly understood as the practice of restoring human bodies to their proper functioning, gender-reassignment surgeries will fall outside the domain of medicine. The conservative can happily grant Gruenke’s biological account, for the sake of argument if not because it is true—there is a fair bit of disagreement over the science and how best to interpret it, after all. But Gruenke’s account, in what it presupposes, offers only reasons to accept Tollefsen’s argument, while offering nothing to resist his conclusion…”

To another of Gruenke’s objections, Brown writes:

“It would be silly to doubt the honesty of an anorexic person; though we think there is something wrong with her introspective report, we do not doubt that there is something behind it, that she makes it for some reason. The anorexic person might have brain chemistry similar to that of someone who is overweight. In fact, the chemical imbalance might be a result of some heritable mutation, shared by one’s identical twin. But an anorexic person’s introspective report is nevertheless incorrect.”

Consider reading the whole thing.

II. Concerns about the mental health – and lives – of the transgender community

Walt Heyer, in his article “The Danish Girl: People Aren’t Born Transgender, But Playing Dress-Up Can Spark Psychological Problems”, writes the following:

The usual diagnosis for patients who identify as transgender is “gender dysphoria.” According to the DSM-5 (the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), gender dysphoria is characterized by a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and one’s biological sex, lasting at least six months. Although it isn’t talked about much, studies show a majority of transgender patients suffer from other comorbid (co-existing) disorders.

A 2011 survey found that 41 percent of transgender people reported attempting suicide at least once. Unhappiness and suicides were first reported in 1979 by a doctor at Harry Benjamin’s gender clinic, endocrinologist Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld. After six years administering cross-gender hormone therapy to five hundred transgender patients, Dr. Ihlenfeld said that 80 percent of the people who want sex-reassignment surgery should not have it. The reason? The high rates of suicide among the post-operative transgender population. More startlingly, Dr. Ihlenfeld stated that transgender surgery was never intended to be a life-long treatment solution, but only a temporary reprieve.

In another article titled “50 Years of Sex Changes, Mental Disorders, and Too Many Suicides”, Heyer writes…

… Charles Ihlenfeld administered hormone therapy to some 500 transgender people over a period of six years at Benjamin’s clinic—until he became concerned about the outcomes. “There is too much unhappiness among people who have the surgery,” he said. “Too many of them end as suicides. 80% who want to change their sex shouldn’t do it.” But even for the 20% he thought might be good candidates for it, sex change is by no means a solution to life’s problems. He thinks of it more as a kind of reprieve. “It buys maybe 10 or 15 years of a happier life,” he said, “and it’s worth it for that.”

But then, Ihlenfeld himself never had a sex change. I did, and I disagree with him on that last point: The reprieve is not worth it. After I had a reprieve of seven or eight years, then what? I was worse off than before. I looked like a woman—my legal documents identified me as a woman—yet I found that at the end of the “reprieve” I wanted to be a man every bit as passionately as I had once yearned to be a woman. Recovery was difficult

…two powerful and influential doctors were early pioneers in the treatment of transsexualism. Dr. Ihlenfeld is a homosexual psychiatrist; Dr. Paul McHugh is a heterosexual psychiatrist. Both came to the same conclusion, then and now: Having surgery did not resolve the patients’ psychological issues.

… A 2014 study found 62.7% of patients diagnosed with gender dysphoria had at least one co-occurring disorder, and 33% were found to have major depressive disorders, which are linked to suicide ideation. Another 2014 study of four European countries found that almost 70% of participants showed one or more Axis I disorders, mainly affective (mood) disorders and anxiety.

Again, suicide rates of this group are very high:

… Transgender people report attempting suicide at a staggering rate—above 40%. According to Suicide.org, 90% of all suicides are the result of untreated mental disorders. Over 60% (and possibly up to 90% as shown at Case Western) of transgender people have comorbid psychiatric disorders, which often go wholly untreated.

His conclusion is devastating:

Allowing a political agenda to override and silence the scientific process will not prevent suicides or lead to better treatments for this population. It’s not compassion; it’s reckless disregard for people’s lives.

Also in this article, Heyer links to a piece that Paul McHugh, mentioned above, wrote about these issues in the magazine First Things. In the article, titled “Surgical Sex: Why We Stopped Doing Sex-Change Operations”, he concluded as follows:

I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. Their parents usually lived with guilt over their decisions—second-guessing themselves and somewhat ashamed of the fabrication, both surgical and social, they had imposed on their sons. As for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their “true” sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.

III. Concerns about the encroachment of these issues into the lives of children

In her article, Transgenderism Has No Basis in Science or Law, Margaret A. Hagen writes:

While no one is yet publicly advocating the surgical alteration of children, loud voices in the media and among advocates—even at Boston Children’s Hospital—have called for and have even implemented hormone therapy to delay the onset of children’s puberty in order to facilitate gonadectomy later in their teens or young adulthood. Research on the sexual development of children who at some point are seen to be nonconformist shows that more than 80 percent of such children outgrow their “transgenderism” by the end of their teens. Interference with the normal sexual development of children on the basis of political ideology is not just unethical—it is child abuse. It is not only past time for an extensive public discussion of this practice; it is past time to put an end to it.

In light of this, might progressives better understand the position taken by the state of North Carolina namely that of “allow[ing] accommodations based on special circumstances, including but not limited to transgender individuals”? I thought “hard cases ma[d]e bad law”.

Another very interesting point in this article (not related to children) is the following:

The conviction that one is a “one-limbed person trapped in a multi-limbed body” is now being treated as an actual mental disorder called “Body Integrity Identity Disorder.” Seven such patients are reported as having had an arm or a leg electively amputated as “treatment” for this disorder. Immediate post-operative reports seem to be positive, but what about follow-up reports on life as a voluntary amputee ten and twenty years after the surgery? How about an extensive social discussion of the ethical limits of elective amputation—both for the doctors and for the society at large?

Some other good articles at Public Discourse you might want to check out include the following:

An African-American Woman Reflects on the Transgender Movement by Nuriddeen Knight

Is Christian Teaching on Sexuality Psychologically Harmful? by Andrew T. Walker and Glenn Stanton

Sex Identity by Christopher O. Tollefsen

Gender Identity by Christopher O. Tollefsen

“Sex Change” Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, and You Should Know by Walt Heyer

When My Father Told Me He Wanted to Be a Woman by Denise Shick

The Girl in the Tuxedo: Two Variations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by Jean C. Lloyd

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme by Paul McHugh

The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern but Necessary Critique by Carlos D. Flores

Our Great Sexual Adventure: Where Does It End? by Jeremy Neill

The End of Single-Sex Higher Ed by Kelsey Paff

Freedom to Change Your Life: Why the Government Shouldn’t Ban “Reparative Therapy” by Walt Heyer

North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill and the Constitution by E. Gregory Wallace

And one of my favorites: The New Dignity: Gnostic, Elitist, Self-Destructive Will-to-Power by Roberta Green Ahmanson

My conclusion is that we do not need to deny that there may very well a biological component to transgenderism. In any regard, I think based on what was said above, it makes sense to be opposed to progressive bathroom laws for reasons other than concerns about enabling male predators, as Wolf also points out. There is also a good case to be made that the government should not give the impression that transgenderism is a good thing. In any case, I think it is certainly right for us to have compassion for those who deal with these issues, while at the same time remembering that “hard cases make bad law”, as many in the legal profession put it.

Of course, for the Christian, there is a wider concern about what all of this means in the big picture. First, there are the concerns that are raised, and second, there is, in light of this knowledge, the hope that we gain. Here, Scripture can give us the clue that even much that seems to occur according to nature has to do with the Fall into sin, and this presents us with the opportunity to talk about the promise of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Christ and His redemption help us to address the nagging sense we all have that the world is not the way it is supposed to be – He saves us not only from our sins (and death and the devil), but also the effects of the sin which manifests itself differently from person to person (more on that here).

FIN

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Does Neil deGrasse Tyson Know there is a God?

Tyson_-_Apollo_40th_anniversary_2009Christian commentator Albert Mohler had a very interesting program last Friday on current stories from the world of science. One of the four stories he covered I found quite interesting:

“Agnostic scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson says its very probable the universe is a simulation”

What follow is some of Mohler’s commentary, interspersed with a few of my comments in brackets…

… the Business Insider recently ran a story about Neil deGrasse Tyson. The headline says this: that Tyson, one of the most influential science educators in the media, “thinks there is a very high chance the universe is just a simulation.”

[Question to ponder: Just how might this be similar or dissimilar from the Bible’s idea that we know ourselves to be created beings but suppress this true knowledge?]

What in the world does that mean? This means that one of most popular scientist, presented as possessing scientific authority in this culture, thinks that the entire cosmos as we experience it, coming right down to our lives as we experience them, might not be even real. They might just be a simulation run by some species of a higher intelligence. Now the first thing we need to note is that this kind of nonsense actually gains headlines. The second thing we need to note is that if someone who did not present himself or herself as a scientist made such a claim so outlandish, unprovable, then you would have people who would say this is some form of religious mysticism masquerading as a form of knowledge. But that’s exactly what we do need to say about Neil deGrasse Tyson. This is some form of spiritual mysticism masquerading as science. Kevin Loria, writing for Business Insider, seems to understand exactly what’s going on when he begins his article by saying,

“We trust the scientists around us to have the best grasp on how the world actually works.”

[Of course, this means that scientists know that the universe is basically a machine that they are trying to figure out, which means that it is only natural for them to be tempted to have thoughts like deGrasse Tyson’s. Of course it looks like a computer program, because it looks like a machine (see here for more).]

Thus he takes us to the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the American Museum of Natural History, which addressed the question of whether or not the universe is a simulation. Neil deGrasse Tyson was one of the participants—he was actually hosting the debate—and he says the likelihood of the universe being a mere simulation—that is, just an experiment undertaken by some higher being—“may be very high.”

[You get that? Implications for the intelligent design debate?]

…..Now there’s another interesting aspect about this, because when you look at Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re looking at someone who is granted a great deal of cultural authority in our society. He’s also someone who has repeatedly denied the possibility of the divine creation of the cosmos. Keep that in mind when you hear Neil deGrasse Tyson in this context, say that we should use,

“…a thought experiment to imagine a life form that’s as much smarter than us as we are than dogs, chimps, or other terrestrial mammals.”

He asked the question,

“What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence.

“Whatever that being is, it very well might be able to create a simulation of a universe.”

Then Tyson said these words exactly,

“And if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment. I’m saying, the day we learn that it is true, I will be the only one in the room saying, I’m not surprised.”

[Well, of course God hasn’t designed us for his entertainment, but He has created us. And we know it is true that we are creations. Which deGrasse Tyson seems to understand at some level as well, even as he is somehow able to pass off his beliefs as acceptable with the sophisticates of the scientific world]

So a man who denies the very possibility of the divine creation of the cosmos is here willing to entertain in public the idea that some higher species has merely created the entire cosmos as a simulation for that beings own entertainment.

[Yes, the irony is rich. All of this reminds me of the classic moment with Richard Dawkins in the Ben Steyn film, Expelled (see here and click on “Dawkins-alien moment”)]

God didn’t design the universe for our entertainment, but I am confident that he designed deGrasse Tyson and Dawkins for ours.

FIN

 

Image credit: “Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks as host of the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum, Monday, July 20, 2009 in Washington.” by NASA/Bill Ingalls

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

If Christians Enjoy Making Assertions, Why Speak with Them?

Asserting the Source of goodness for all: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."

Asserting the Source of goodness for all: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

 

“…and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” – Philemon 1:6

Christians, as the 16th century reformer Martin Luther liked to remind us, are those who assert things and even enjoy doing so! So how can this play out in our relationships with others without our being totally obnoxious or even dangerous? (OK, I’ll admit, as someone who has at times alienated family and friends, maybe I am not the one to be writing this). Especially when we increasingly live in a world where there are non-Christians who also are very forthright that they assert, and others who shy away from the fact and even deny that they do this (they are not ideologues like you!), preferring to talk about approaching everything in terms of being “working hypotheses subject to testing” (think of that most amiable of atheists, Steven Pinker).

You know, “truth”, but never truth and especially not Truth.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about… conversation. During it, I had basically asked him whether he thought it was ever appropriate to go into a conversation quite sure that you are right and the other persons is wrong, and with a desire to help that person “see the light”. He said, in part, that the main purpose of going into any conversation is to learn something, and that this is a “newly developing paradigm” which is opposed to what he sees as the predominant way of communicating: conversation at someone with the intent to change minds which are seen as pliable and weak (to illustrate his point, he talked about war propaganda in the West – things like this).

Here is what I said in reply:

I see the purpose of conversation, in general, as being to love my neighbor, who bears the image of God. This means, in general, not going into a conversation to learn something for myself, but to listen to them and to respond accordingly in love. If I learn something – or if I am able to more explicitly articulate the nature of God’s love for them – that is an added bonus.

Of course, we are still attracted to certain persons and want to start conversations with them because of our curiosity to learn – true enough. Other times, we are happy to have other “excuses” to start a conversation with this or that person we find attractive (and here, having a dog or a baby can help). But the Christian “stand” is to realize that God, in the midst of all of this, throws all our “conversation partners” into our path, and we dare not discriminate against any human being.

Thanks for helping me to realize that, to articulate what I know (for what I know is what I have yet to be shown is false).

The answer I gave here dovetails with another conversation I had this past week with a student, which kind of expands on the “posture”, or “stand”, I describe above. Stacie said the following:

This last week of class was interesting for me.  I work in child protections which in its self can be heart wrenching.  Thinking about government and God was something that I have always learned to separate.  However, I do my job because the love that God gave me for children and families; well I guess people in general.  Many times when walking downtown and seeing an elderly homeless man I see the eyes of Jesus. That may sound strange but I feel that it’s my responsibility to help these individuals.  I think that it’s important for us to get back to the basics.  Christianity is something that needs to be lived on the inside and outside.  I think that if we follow in God we will be better leaders and be better equipped to handle the situations that seem hopeless.

Holding the urge to speak here about how “social justice is not the Gospel” (believe me, in the class I do talk again and again about how the Gospel is first of all about what I Corinthians 15 says it is… Christ’s rescue of sinners from sin, death, and the devil through His death and resurrection) here is how I answered her:

I agree with you. Christ is in all. He is distinct from us, as He is our Creator, but He is in you and me and everyone else. In Him, we are told, “we live and move and have our being” (see Paul in Acts 17). That does not mean that all believe and are saved, but that His love moves all of us and anything that is good in life is to be attributed to Him.

I think my default orientation should be to be a “little Christ” to my neighbor. To come to them and love them with His strong love. I am to imitate Christ and to be Christ’s hands and feet and mouth to them. This responsibility starts with my own church, which, I thank God, includes my immediate family. It then means my friends and closest neighbors, particularly those who are fellow believers, and radiates outward – to include the whole world. Still, love is concrete and should start closest to home. It is easy to “love” my abstract “neighbor”. Love should never be content to have loved enough, in terms of the intensity of our love or the number of those we love.

Why such an active orientation? It is better to give than to receive, Jesus said. This is the kind of person that we want to be. All this said, we must receive! There is a time to realize we must just stop, shut up, and receive. We must receive from our neighbors, as they love us – with material and emotional assistance, but particularly with spiritual assistance – as they give us God’s life-giving word. If we are not first receivers we not only have nothing to give, but we die. It is really good to receive Jesus through words – and a big part of this is receiving these words from the saints of old as well – particularly those saints who God used to write the Bible.

With all of this said about being an active giver I note that I don’t feel like I excel at this by any means, even sadly, with something as simple as “lending an ear” (my wife will tell you…). And there are even some times I feel like I can basically only receive… and cry out: “Lord save me/us!”

And by your pulling me aside and reminding me – asserting to me! – that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!” you love me.

That is why I need you to speak with me – and to me.

FIN

 

Image: Christ True Vine {PD-1923}

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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

 
 
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