The Prophets Samuel and Elijah as Preachers

Continuing on in Old’s book, we come to an interesting distinction he notes from Roland de Vaux. This distinction is that “priests were concerned with the interpretation and application of the Word of God as it was revealed in the law of Moses, while the prophets were concerned with proclaiming the Word of God as God revealed that Word directly to the prophet” (p. 41). Undoubtedly, this is a bit simplistic, as there were preachers who also proclaimed a new word from the Lord. Ezra was one of these. However, the distinction is still helpful, as long as it is remembered that the preaching of the Word of God IS the Word of God (while it is faithful to the Word of God, of course).

What motivated prophets to say “Thus saith the Lord?” Old says that “It was not that they were so convinced of the truth of their interpretation of current events and so impassioned by the moral imperatives of what they thought ought to be done that they were willing to call their view the word of God in order to get people to listen. As they understood it, God had given them His Word” (p. 42).

Old asks the question what Samuel was doing in Shiloh with old Eli (p. 44). The answer was almost certainly that he (probably along with other boys) were “being taught the sacred traditions, both the written and the oral ones” (p. 44). In terms of the distinction noted above, Samuel also constitutes something of a crossover, since he combined both priestly and prophetic duties in one person. Given the fact that he was a judge, he also had a somewhat kingly function as well. Von Rad points comes to the conclusion that Samuel can best be regard as a preacher of the Law (Old Testament Theology, 2:7, referenced on p. 44 of Old).

When it comes to Elijah, he must be vigorously contrasted with the ecstatic Canaanite prophets (pp. 45-46). Elijah was something “much more profound.” Elijah mediated the Law to the people, especially in terms of the first and second commandments, as the incident on Mt. Carmel indicates. Both of these two prophets understood the necessity of preaching the Law of God to the people of God.

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The Medieval Scholastic Doctrine of Scripture, part 1

Chapter one of volume two of Richard Muller’s magnum opus is concerned with the doctrine of Scripture as it developed over the course of the Medieval period.

Muller notes that “The doctrine of Scripture was, after all, not an independent locus (topic of theology, LK) or quaestio (question, in the technically scholastic sense, LK) until the second half of the sixteenth century” (p. 23). This was surprising to me. The reason for this late development is the Reformation itself. Anything said about Scripture before the Reformation was included in the sections on prolegomena. Indeed, the doctrine did not really receive much explicit notice at all until the high scholastic era of the Middle Ages (p. 25). In the course of the Reformation, the debate between the Reformed/Lutheran, on the one hand, and the Romanists, on the other hand, meant that the topic of Scripture came into its own as a separate locus. The other factor Muller notes is that, in order for there to be a separate doctrine of Scripture, there must arise a “distinction between Scripture as source and doctrine as result – and such a distinction itself took centuries to arise” (p. 23).

Muller says that “the formulation of a doctrine of Scripture virtually presupposes the formulation of the other doctrines in the theological system and assumes an exegetical, hermeneutical, and methodological analysis of those doctrines from the perspective of their relationship to and use of the text of Scripture” (p. 23). In other words, all the doctrines of the faith are closely intertwined.

As with many other loci, the Reformed doctrine of Scripture was not in radical continuity or discontinuity with the Medieval traditions (p. 24). Instead, there is continuity and discontinuity in various ways. Medieval theology certainly constitutes a backdrop to the Reformed understanding of Scripture.

The Medieval doctrine of Scripture manifested “a relative fluidity of the canon” (p. 30). Different authors regard different books as inspired, ranging from the Shepherd of Hermas to the Revelation of Peter. Muller notes (as does Whitaker in many places) that the Apocrypha, THE battle ground in terms of the canon issue between Rome and Protestants, was quite commonly rejected by the Medieval theologians (such as Hugh of St. Victor, see references on p. 31 to Patrologia Latina 175, columns 15-17).

The Medieval period did not draw sharp distinctions between exegesis and doctrine, as we tend to do today. Instead, “the language of Scripture and the language of theology flowed into one another. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, one cannot distinguish firmly between biblical and theological language, but only between the fundamental elements of theological language learned from Scripture and the other aspects and elements of theological language learned from the larger tradition and used to interpret Scripture and to formulate doctrine” (p. 33).

The Medievals interpreted Scripture using the quadriga. The quadriga is a four-fold method of interpretation involving the literal, the allegorical, the tropological, and the anagogical methods of interpretation. The literal describes what really happens in the text. The allegorical is how one understands one thing through another. The tropological is moral declaration, and has to do with the ordering of behavior. And the anagogical is the vertical, almost-Platonic leading into “higher things” (p. 35). However, even within the Medieval tradition, there started to be leanings towards a more heavy emphasis on the literal interpretation. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas were “largely responsible” (p. 35) for this shift. They understood the literal as being foundational for the other three methods. Aquinas, in particular, argued that the literal sense contains within it every truth necessary for salvation (p. 36, quoting ST Ia, q. 1, art. 1).

The Medievals were considerably more sophisticated in their interpretations that we tend to think they were. For instance, they recognized the importance of genre for correct interpretation (see p. 37). They even stated that Scripture mostly contains the history of salvation (p. 38)! The historia salutis thus has an ancient pedigree, even in doctrinal formulation.

As to the issue of authority of Scripture, “the emerging concept of theology as a science” (p. 42) had a profound relationship to the inspiration of Scripture. This is so because “logically derived conclusions, no matter how expert and precise the logic, cannot be endowed with certainty unless certainty is known to reside in the principles from which they have been drawn” (p. 43). Hence, “If theology is to be a divine scientia, it must rest on revelation” (p. 43, quoting Aquinas, ST Ia, q. 1, art. 1; art. 8, ad. 2).

Why the Scripture Debate?

I recently announced a shift in this blog’s emphasis from the material principle of the Reformation (justification by faith alone) to the formal principle of the Reformation (Scripture alone). The reason I have done this is not difficult to assess. A denial of the one will eventually result in a denial of the other. The two doctrines are inextricably intertwined. For how will we know about salvation unless God tells us? And what has God told us but Jesus’ Person and Work, which comes to us via justification? It is no accident that the attack on justification characteristic of our times has come lock-step with an attack on the doctrine of Scripture. No doubt, the people who are advancing these views think that they are being more faithful to Scripture, not less. Genuine questions that arise in the study of Scripture make these men uncomfortable with the older explanations, and so they seek to find more up-to-date answers.

Take Dr. Peter Enns, for example (who is listed as a visiting scholar at Rev. Craig Higgins’s church in New York). He has recently come to the conclusion that Adam is not the father of the entire human race. Why is that? He has difficulty with the traditional explanation of where Cain got his wife. He argues that Genesis does not support the reading that Adam is the father of the whole human race. One wonders why Eve is explicitly named “Eve” because she was the mother of all living. Notice that the syntax shows that the reasoning is not said to be Adam’s explicitly, but the author’s. The author reflects what Adam thought, namely, that Eve was the mother of all living beings. Of course, vitally important in this discussion is the Adam-Christ typology that works itself out in Romans 5. I’m not sure how Enns would deal with this question, other than to say that Romans 5 should not impact how we read Genesis 2-3.

Other issues with Enns revolve around his book Inspiration and Incarnation, upon which see the outstanding critique that Dr. Richard Gaffin made of it. I cannot really improve upon it, and so I will not even try.