Many Thanks to Paul Helm…

For his post on Charles Hodge and the Phenomena of Scripture. Gary Johnson alerted me to this post, which, ironically, I had requested Jeff Waddington to request Paul Helm to post. There are few men alive who are better acquainted with Charles Hodge than Paul Helm is.



  1. cbovell said,

    July 2, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    I was hoping to take a break from commenting here, but since I was the one asking about this precise issue and the one who brought up this exact Hodge quote on the post here at Green Baggins regarding the Tipton-Jue precis, I feel obliged to comment.

    I see now that I may have confusedly expressed an insight (I still think I may legitimately have) regarding Old Princeton’s attitude toward extra-biblical materials with the appearance of the word “phenomena” in both Hodge and Enns. The insight regards the “logical order” of Helm’s interpretation of Warfield and Hodge (or vice versa).

    I repeat my second quote of Hodge for consideration:

    “There is also a distinction to be made between the Bible and our interpretation. The latter may come into competition with settled facts; and then it must yield. Science has in many things taught the Church how to understand the Scriptures.” (ST, 170)

    I understand this attitude toward Christian theology to be concordist as I tried to explain at length on the other post. That means that when all the “facts” are in, both extra-biblical and biblical conclusions will agree: they must always finally agree. When they don’t, one has to be wrong. In the case of scripture, since it can never be wrong since it is the word of God, it is our interpretation that must be said to be wrong and the churches must struggle mightily to let go of the erroneous interpretation no matter how dear.

    Now I paraphrase Hodge for your consideration:

    “There is also a distinction to be made between the Bible’s statements regarding its authority and our understanding of the Bible’s statements regarding its authority. The latter may come into competition with settled facts; and then it must yield. Biblical studies has in many things taught the Church how to understand Scripture’s authority in a theologically appropriate way.”

    Paul Helm writes: “Note that [Hodge] judges the importance of didactic statements to be greater than that of ‘phenomena’. These statements in Scripture about Scripture are not among the phenomena but are distinct from it, and prior to it.”

    I do not note this in the passage cited. But I think I can interpret the following passage in that way:

    “The true method of theology is, therefore, the inductive, which assumes that the Bible contains all the facts or truths which form the contents of theology, just as the facts of nature are the contents of the natural sciences. It is also assumed that the relation of these Biblical facts to each other, the principles involved in them, the laws which determine them, are in the facts themselves, and are to be deduced from them, just as the laws of nature are deduced from the facts of nature. In neither case are the principles derived from the mind and imposed upon the facts, but equally in both departments, the principles or laws are deduced from the facts and recognized by the mind.” (ST, 17)

    I think this may direct our focus in this discussion to the question of precisely what “facts” are to be admitted and precisely when in our readings of scripture are such facts to be admitted. I’d say whatever facts we agree to admit when reading to discern what scripture is saying (using “ordinary means” as I recall the WCF advising) would also have to apply to that “first” reading of scripture, the one that provides Hodge, Warfield, et. al., with the pre-inductive establishing of a doctrine of scripture that Paul Helm seems to me to be invoking. The only way I know how to do this is to go back and have another go at that “first” reading after having gained a better understanding of what the words of scripture appear to have meant “in the sense attached to them in the age and by the people to whom they were addressed.” (ST, 187) Extra-biblical phenomena are required here at this stage.

    It would be odd indeed for the phenomena to be allowed only upon later readings for better understandings and not during that all-important, pre-induction, first reading, the reading that sets the foundation for it all. The better understanding would be more useful earlier rather than later in my opinion (earlier in the “logical” order, later temporally). To sum up, we would not be *beginning* with phenomena but with scripture and then *rereading* scripture *already consenting to scripture’s authority* with phenomena in hand, our intention being to gain a clearer understanding of scripture’s authority, an understanding that is not denying its authority but consenting to it and faithfully searching out what it really is.

    So I must disagree that trusting the Bible as a guide to doctrine implies that “This trust means giving that teaching priority over every other fact about Scripture which our inductions may lay bare.” For I understand “trusting the Bible” to be a post-hermeneutical commitment, one that says I as a reader will believe that whatever the Bible ultimately teaches is utterly trustworthy, reliable and authoritative. It does not mean to me that I must trust a first, somehow pre-inductive, reading of the authority of scripture to be eminently reliable because it represents more of what God says than other post-critical readings do. That would be, as far as I can tell, a very non-concordist gesture to make.

  2. cbovell said,

    July 2, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Oh and thanks Jeff for looking into this for me. I remember asking you about it on the other post. Thanks, too, to Paul Helm for his helpful explanation.

  3. cbovell said,

    July 2, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks, GB, for you efforts toward clarification.

  4. G.C. Berkley said,

    July 3, 2008 at 10:19 am

    No problem, brother…

  5. cbovell said,

    July 4, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Actually I was thanking Green Baggins, but thank you too Berkley for your interaction and your attempts to clarify.

    I would like to draw attention to certain passages in Herman Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and Its Authority (20, 35, 36):

    “From the standpoint of faith, the nature of the Scripture and its authority can surely be more sharply, clearly, and precisely distinguished when we see the Bible against the background and in the light of the time in which it was written. Then we come to see on the one hand the incomparable otherness of Scripture, and on the other that which is bound up with and limited to the time.”

    “…[R]emember that just those who have occasion to come to a more historical approach to the Bible and its authority will be able along the way to understand the unique and incomparable significance of Scripture. The world of the ancient Near East is being increasingly opened to us. We are discovering very ancient ‘literature’ in which the religious feelings of people who were contemporaries of the biblical writers are expressed. There is increasing Jewish background through the Talmud and through insights into the radical movements in the Judaism of Jesus’ time through the discover of the Qumran writings…All of this teaches us more strongly than ever to be mindful of the relationship between Scripoture and the world out of which it arose..there is nothing that more clearly brings to the light the unique character of the Scriptures than the qualitiatve comparison between that which here and that which there steps out to meet us…

    …in light of *this* authority authority, we can overcome the fear that we may be on a dangerous pathway if we view the ways of the Spirit in recording the word of God more historically, more critically, as more shaded, than along the way of an exclusively dogmatic reasoning.”

    I think Hodge’s concordism encourages precisely this type of approach to understanding scripture and its authority.

  6. G.C. Berkley said,

    July 6, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Oh yeah, Green Baggins, heh heh heh….

    Sorry :-)


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