Inspiration and Ancient Texts

(Posted by Paige)

Here is another question along the theme of speaking to curious laypeople about inspiration and ancient texts: How would you go about describing the differences between certain passages in the LXX and MT in terms of the doctrine of inspiration? Again, the complexity of the process of inspiration is certainly in view, here involving multiple Hebrew versions and the work of translators. I am wondering what we can fairly say about diversity among OT texts that is in keeping with an orthodox doctrine of inspiration?

Is it fair to say, for example, that if I am reading the Septuagint I am reading the inspired text of the OT? Or is it just to be considered a translation, with editorial changes (i.e., redactions that do not come under the umbrella of inspiration)? — But if the latter, were the NT writers not reading the inspired OT? (Not to mention us, since we read translations too!)

What of the different versions of the Hebrew Bible that apparently existed before the LXX was made, and which may account for some of the differences between LXX and MT? Must we assume or posit that any one version, Hebrew or Greek, was “more inspired” than another? Or might we use the analogy of multiple Gospels, and the unity-in-diversity that we see between scenes in the Synoptics, to make sense of the differences?

For those of you with some knowledge in this area, how often and to what degree do the LXX and MT vary? I am entering into these questions via one particular portal, the book of Hebrews, so I do not yet have a sense of the big textual picture.

I would love recommended resources on this subject, too, if you have any to suggest. My “curious laypeople” will probably not want to venture much past their study Bible notes, but I can be a bridge to them for some of these more complicated ideas.


Re. Angels and the Law

(Posted by Paige)

I’m hoping some of you thoughtful people can help answer a pedagogical-theological question I’m pondering, prompted by my need to explain to some curious laypeople Hebrews 2:2 — “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution…”

I know that while Paul (Gal. 3:19) and Stephen (Acts 7:38, 53) mention the bit about the angels in passing to audiences who apparently knew what they were talking about, we don’t get the background history for this reference in the OT accounts of the giving of the Law. (Maybe vaguely in Deut. 33:2, but not to the extent that we’d be able to say what Paul or Stephen said with just this to go on.)

So how would you explain to curious students how these NT authors got their information? Because it looks like they were repeating a more fully developed Jewish tradition, not an OT teaching. This situation seems to beg a bit of textual apologetics. How would you speak of inspiration and authority in this case?


An Argument Against the Apocryphal Books Being Canonical

I have wondered about the timing of the writing of the Apocryphal books for a while now. They were written before the New Testament church came into existence. The New Testament church were not the people of God at the time the Apocryphal books were being written. The people of God at the time of the writing of the Apocryphal books were the Jews. Does that not mean that the New Testament church cannot be God’s instrument by which the canonical status of the Apocryphal books is decided? Does that not mean that the Jews must be God’s instrument by which their status is decided? The Jews have always rejected those books. So also did many of the church fathers, most notably Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate! Many of them agreed with the Jews that the Apocryphal books were not canonical. We get off on the wrong foot from the beginning, however, if we say that the church has the authority to decide on the Apocryphal books. The New Testament church cannot decide on the canonicity of books written before the New Testament church even existed. The people of God in existence at the time of the writing of a book receives or rejects the canonical status of a book.

John 1:6-8

Verses 6-8 as a whole: Keddie notes the importance of fanfare to the introduction of heads of state. This is Jesus’ fanfare: the ministry of John the Baptist. This passage introduces us to the forerunner of Jesus Christ. Godet well describes the connection to verse 5: “There appeared a man…,” can only be thus mentioned with the design of giving through history the proof of the thought declared in ver. 5.” The outline of the passage is given by Dodd (quoted in Boice): 1. John is not the Light; 2. John was sent to bear witness about the Light so that 3. all might believe through him. This is the outline of John’s testimony in the rest of chapter 1: verses 19-28- John is not the light; 2. verses 29-34- John points to the Light; 3. verses 35-51- John’s witness produces the first disciples. Note also the contrast between John the Baptist and the Word (see Hendriksen, p. 76): “was” verses “came;” “Word” versus “man;” “is God” versus “commissioned by God;” “is the real light” versus “testifying about the light;” “is the object of trust” versus “being the agent through whose testimony people might come to trust God.” The Word is the truth, but it becomes known to us through witnesses (Keener). Note the differences between the John of John’s Gospel and the John of the Gospels: his sole task was witnessing, in the eyes of the apostle John (McHugh). Luther writes: “It has always been the world’s misfortune to be infested with wiseacres and smart alecks, self-styled lights who explore their own way to heaven and presume to be the lights of the world, to teach it, and lead it to God. John warns against this.” This passage shows the immense important of the ministerial office, and yet also its limitations (Schaff). Ministers aren’t doing their job unless they point to Christ.

6. The verb “there came” has as its prime significance the fact that it places John’s ministry among those “all things” that have come about through the Word (McHugh). It is a continuation of the plan of creation (Michaels). The fact that John was sent is the main thing behind the significance of John. This word has in its focus a specific task, and the idea of authority of the (divine!) sender is also present (McHugh). This also establishes his credentials (Keddie). He was sent as a forerunner. Of course, he was the first prophet that God had sent in quite a long time (Godet). Hengstenberg notes that the name of John is significant here (the Lord is gracious). From the other gospels we know that his testimony started even in the womb (Origen).

7. John’s sphere of concern narrows here from all creation to the world of humanity (Brown). The concept of witness is exceptionally important to John. In fact, the entirety of John’s Gospel could be viewed as a trial narrative. The idea of a witness is that it is competent testimony concerning firsthand experience (Lenski). There is also the idea of commitment: a witness commits himself to a certain interpretation of the events: no commitment, no witness (Morris). Schnackenburg notes that John sees all faith as a result of testimony. It is pathetic that the world would need to be told about the light. Only the blind have to be told that the sun is shining (Pink)! It is not Christ who needs human testimony, but rather the world’s darkness (Henry). Henry says, “John was like the night watchman that goes round the town, proclaiming the approach of the morning light to those that have closed their eyes, and are not willing themselves to observe it.” Bultmann notes that here it is simply the purpose of the witness that receives stress. Only later on will there be a discussion of its content. The world’s witnesses are only false witnesses. However, Jesus’ witnesses not only clear Jesus of any wrong-doing, but actually put the entire world under judgment (Painter, quoted in Keener). The Samaritan woman (4:39), the works of Jesus (5:36, 10:25), the Old Testament (5:39), the multitude (12:17), the Holy Spirit and the apostles (15:26ff), and God the Father Himself (5:37, 8:18) are all witnesses to the Christness of Jesus (Barrett). There are 7 witnesses, just as there are 7 signs and 7 “I Am” statements. There are also 7 discourses. Imagine then, the courtroom scene, with John calling his witnesses, one after another, in order to testify as to the status of Jesus Christ. This directly serves John’s purpose (20:31). John’s purpose in witnessing to Christ is that all might believe in Jesus through his testimony. Many authors have noted that since several of Jesus’ disciples came to faith through John the Baptist’s ministry, and also since John’s ministry prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, it could, with only a little exaggeration, be said that all Christians can trace their spiritual ancestry through the ministry of John the Baptist (Tasker).

8. John’s witness to Christ is vitally important when it is recalled that many in that day thought that John was the light. John himself knew that he wasn’t the Light, and he was constantly bearing witness to the otherness of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus was the one true Light. John was a lamp, not the light (5:35). Hendriksen notes that Christ is the light whereas the Baptist is only the reflector. John is like the moon, whereas Jesus is like the sun. John the apostle was himself a disciple of John the Baptist at one time (Bernard). Hutcheson notes the importance of having a calling that is sent from God, and also that the minister’s job is to point out Christ, not to draw attention to themselves. Keddie notes that it is quite possible to follow the wrong man, even if that man is on the right track (Acts 18-19). All true possessors of the Holy Spirit function as witnesses to the grace of God, as John did (and as his name signified). Boice notes that “God regards your testimony as being important enough to be included among all those other monumental testimonies to the person and work of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” What are we doing as witnesses?

Fascinating Book on Vatican II

The biggest debate about Vatican II is undoubtedly its legacy. There are two main groups of interpreters, though it’s not as simple as “conservative” and “liberal,” but might be better couched in other language. It seems to me that there are two poles of extremes, and a continuum of interpretation between those two poles. On the one extreme are those who say that nothing happened at Vatican II. These folks believe that there is so much continuity of Vatican II with what happened in the past that nothing changed at all. On the other extreme are those who believe that post-Vatican II is a rather large break from the past. These folks fall into two camps: those who love the change and those who hate the change. Those who hate the change have sometimes gone as far as to deny Vatican II’s legitimacy as a church council (the so-called Lefebvrians, who were excommunicated, but rather significantly reinstated by Benedict XVI). Other reactions are less extreme. Those who love the changes have sometimes taken the changes into other areas that the original Council did not address. Navigating this fascinating but complex maze is Massimo Faggioli’s masterful treatment of the various positions on Vatican II. Faggioli has seemingly read everything ever written on Vatican II, and carefully. He delineates the various positions with great care and accuracy. It is an absolutely fascinating book, though not all will agree with his conclusions. He places himself firmly in the camp of those who believe that something changed, and that he likes those changes. However, he recognizes that this is not really the stance of the current pope, who is seeking much more continuity with the past in his interpretation of Vatican II. This is a highly nuanced treatment of the issues, and I found myself understanding the vast landscape of Vatican II much better after reading this volume. My own position on what happened at Vatican II is still under consideration. I have a lot more to read. But at least now I know what the options are.

Random Election Day Thoughts

Most of the time, I don’t follow politics. It’s much better for the blood pressure. It also means I don’t wind up wringing my hands over things I cannot change. I vote. I pray for the elected officials. And yes, sometimes I pray for 2X4’s to come into a resounding intersection with the pates of politicians. I am a political conservative when it comes to voting. I don’t mind saying that. We have a constitution, and we should not keep on re-interpreting it for the benefit of pork-barrel spending and taxes that would make our founding fathers gasp. We should not keep operating under the mindset that the solution to the debt-crisis is more spending. If government were a business, it would have been bankrupt long ago. Most importantly, we need to defend life, especially life at the poles of human age.

And I will also say this: a nation deserves its leaders.

It is disgusting to me how the particular race of our president is being made into a political matter. Folks, the color of Obama’s skin has NOTHING to do with whether he is a good or bad president. I don’t know why anyone on either side is thinking any differently. It makes no sense to me. For me, it is about policy, not skin color. I disagree with Obama’s policies. If Walter Williams or Thomas Sowell were to run for president, I’d vote for either one of them in a heartbeat.

Wants and Needs

I ran across this great quotations while studying for a Bible study on John. It is from Alexander MacLaren’s exposition of John 4:10 (p. 211):

Is it not strange that men should not desire; is it not strange and sad that such foolish creatures are we that we do not want what we need; that our wishes and needs are often diametrically opposite? All men desire happiness, but some of us have so vitiated our tastes and our palates by fiery intoxicants that the water of life seems dreadfully tasteless and unstimulating, and so we will rather go back again to the delusive, poisoned drinks than glue our lips to the river of God’s pleasures.”

A Great Listen

I know that this podcast has been around for a while now (since July), but I do not often get to listen to podcasts on a regular basis. There were many important things there to which I want to draw our attention.

First up, and most importantly: theistic evolution. Our denomination already has an in thesi statement against theistic evolution (in the creation days study committee report). We also have judicially disciplined someone in the SJC for teaching theistic evolution. And yet, there are still officers in our denomination teaching theistic evolution. This is a complete travesty of vows to submit to the brothers. This is thumbing their nose at the PCA and saying, “come and get me.” This is also dishonesty, and as Rich Phillips pointed out, extremely divisive.

Second point: why is the PCA so divided? Phillips’s answer is that our Reformed heritage is not controlling our methodology. The PCA prides itself on doxological diversity, and almost brags about it as if it were a strength. It is rather a great weakness. Phillips points out that only a disfunctional family talks about unity all the time. A functional family talks about what they’re going to do next (the mission). Our GA talked about unity all the time. Why? Because we are incredibly disunified. And talking about it is not going to solve the problem. Neither is hand-wringing. Bringing our worship into line with the regulative principle would go a long way, however.

Third point: Why would we not want to try to make our worship as biblical as possible? This has great relevance to the intinction issue. People usually bring up red herring issues in this regard like wine versus grape juice, and leavened versus unleavened bread as something you would have to regulate if you were going to regulate intinction. However, are those not separate, distinct issues? The arguments for wine and grape juice are distinct from the arguments for intinction. Some thing for leavened and unleavened bread. The real issue is the regulative principle underlying everything else.

Fourth point: the PCA is a gospel denomination. If the GA can be persuaded that an issue has to do with the central issues of the gospel, then the denomination will vote in a landslide in favor of the gospel. Take the Insider Movement study committee report. Once the issues were clearly on the table, the PCA voted clearly for the gospel and for the Word of God. Same thing with the Federal Vision study committee report. This is both encouraging and discouraging. The encouraging thing is that we stand for the gospel. The discouraging thing is that if we don’t perceive that something is important to the gospel, then it doesn’t matter. This is not Reformed, but general evangelicalism.

Boettner’s Good Points

In an earlier thread, I promised I would say a few positive words about Loraine Boettner’s book Roman Catholicism. His book is flawed in many ways, and I have no intention of down-playing those faults by praising other aspects about the book. As with any theologian, it is our place to eat the meat and spit out the bones. These items are relatively unrelated to each other, except that they are concerned with Roman Catholicism. This is not an exhaustive list of good points, either.

He makes an interesting point that Roman Catholicism tends the thrive better in Protestant countries, where it has to stand in its own two feet, rather than in Roman Catholic countries, where it is the state church (p. 36). One could argue about why that is the case, of course, but it does seem to hold when one compares Spain and Portugal, on the one hand, with the United States, on the other.

In answering Roman Catholic apologists who accuse Protestantism of being so very divided, he argues that “the various Protestant denominations agree quite fully on practically all of the essentials of the faith” (p. 37). Then follows a list of doctrines on which Protestants agree. This unity of spirit undermines the denominational differences. Furthermore, Roman Catholicism is certainly not as united as its apologists would have us believe (p. 39). These days, one only has to point out the vast differences in the interpretation of the impact of Vatican II. There is definitely a liberal wing in the Roman Catholic church that is pushing for a more inclusivistic understanding of the Council (thus a disjunctive interpretation of the Council with what happened in the past), while just as many (including the current Pope) argue for relatively complete continuity between Vatican II and previous history. My, what a difference two words can make: “separated brethren!”

In arguing against the infallibility of Tradition, he argues exegetically from John 21:21-23, a remarkable instance of intra-apostolic tradition that was false (p. 78).

In arguing against Peter being the first Pope, he notes that Peter consistently refused to accept homage from men (see Acts 10: 25-26, 1 Peter 5, cf. Boettner, p. 113). No doubt the Roman Catholic will bring up the sophistic distinction between worship and service at this point. But there is no indication in Acts that the man was doing anything other than bowing down (the meaning of “proskuneo” can mean “worship” but can also refer merely to bowing the knee), which is something the Roman Catholic acknowledges can be part of service. This is something Peter refused to accept, contrary to the Popes.

In dealing with the infallibility of the Pope, Boettner makes a very important point, which includes the very nuance that most Roman Catholic apologists believe Protestants overlook: “Infallibility is not claimed for statements addressed to particular segments or groups within the church which may relate more or less to local conditions. And the pronouncements must have to do with matters pertaining to ‘faith and morals.’ In actual practice, however, the term ‘faith and morals’ is broad enough and elastic enough to cover almost any and every phase of religious and civil life. Practically every public issue can be looked upon as having some bearing on faith or morals or both. The Vatican takes full advantage of this, and the result is that within the Roman Church almost any statement issued by the pope is assumed to be authoritative” (pp. 235-236). I would add to this that whenever the Protestant points out heretical popes or problematic positions taken by the pope, the Roman Catholic is very quick to point out this supposed limitation in infallibility: “only in faith or morals when spoken ex cathedra.” However, when the Roman Church quotes previous popes, they quote them as being part of the infallible tradition. Is there a tertium quid, where the pope is “mostly” infallible in everything he says, but with the loophole that if he says something heretical, there is a deniability factor? This is one very frustrating thing for Protestants, because the Roman Catholic always has an answer. Whether it is a consistent answer is a whole ‘nother ballgame. Which papal bulls are infallible and which aren’t? In Denzinger, for instance, many papal pronouncements are used as the sources for Catholic dogma. Are they infallible? Papal bulls present a particular problem, because some of them are obviously intended to be infallible pronouncements. However, there are many papal bulls which are not viewed as infallible, even by Roman Catholics, though, when originally given, were given as supposedly fixed decrees. So, how does one decide which bulls are infallible and which are not? “Faith and morals,” as Boettner notes, is hardly a reliable guide, since the phrase is so elastic in meaning. This is a very serious problem for Roman Catholics, because the Roman Catholic church is so vague on when exactly the pope is infallible in concrete instances, and when he is not.

Not all sources Boettner quotes are bad, either. The sermon from Dr. C.D. Cole, quoted on pp. 257-258 is very eloquent: “The basic and fatal error of Romanism is the denial of the sufficiency of Christ as Saviour. It denies the efficacy of His sacrifice on the cross. Romanism has a Christ, but He is not sufficient as a Saviour. What he did on Calvary must be repeated (in the mass) and supplemented (through works of penance), and this makes priestcraft and sacramentarianism necessary. Romanism is a complicated system of salvation by works. It has salvation to sell, but not on Isaiah’s terms-without money and without price (Is. 55:1). It offers salvation on the installment plan, and then sees to it that the poor sinner is always behind in his payments, so that when he dies there is a large balance unpaid, and he must continue payments by sufferings in purgatory, or until the debt is paid by prayers, alms and sufferings of his living relatives and friends. The whole system and plan calls for merit and money, from the cradle to the grave, and even beyond. Surely the wisdom that drew such a plan of salvation is not from above, but is earthly and sensual.” Certainly pulling no punches, but gets to the point. I especially like the rhetoric about the “installment plan.”

On page 258, Boettner makes a great point about saints: “And it is to be observed further that the distinguishing mark of a saint is not, as in the Roman Church, what one has done for God, but what God has done for him.”

On whether Roman Catholics worship images, he argues: “Roman Catholics tell us that they do not pray to the image, or idol, but to the spirit that is represented by it. But that is the answer given by idol worshippers the world over when they are asked why they pray to their idols” (p. 280). I might add to this the further point that the Israelites believed that they were worshiping God through the golden calf, not some false god (see in particular Exodus 32:4). They believed that this was the form of the God who brought them out of Egypt.

The Strange Case of Bishop Strossmayer

During the debates on papal infallibility in 1870 (the council called Vatican I), at least one bishop was opposed to the doctrine of papal infallibility. His name was Joseph Georg Strossmayer, Bishop of Diakovar. The reason I bring him up in a blog post is as an illustration of some of the problems with Loraine Boettner’s book on Roman Catholicism, but also to dig a little deeper into the history of Vatican I.

On pp. 244-245 of the book, Boettner quotes a speech purportedly from Strossmayer. The problem with the speech is that it appears to be a forgery. Karl Keating, in his book Catholicism and Fundamentalism, points this out (on page 34), referencing the Catholic Encyclopedia. You can see that article in the Encyclopedia here. Believe it or not, there is an entire book written about the man, by Ivo Sivric, which also confirms that the speech is a forgery, perpetrated by a man named Jose Agustin de Escudero. The speech which Boettner quotes certainly sounds Protestant, and not Roman Catholic. If it had been a genuine speech from Strossmayer, it would have great weight indeed. However, it is almost certainly a forgery.

However, there is more to the story. Strossmayer was opposed to the proceedings of the Council. In a letter to Lord Acton, he wrote “There is no denying that the Council lacked freedom from beginning to end” (quoted on p. 133 of How the Pope Became Infallible, by August Hasler). He was accused of being another Luther (Hasler, p. 81). After the Council was over, the dissenting bishops were oppressed by Pope Pius IX himself until they submitted (Hasler, pp. 200-201). This included the refusal to grant marriage dispensations (the bishops were not allowed to perform marriages in their dioceses). This happened not only to Strossmayer, but also to Joseph Karl Hefele, Bishop of Rottenburg. This certainly brings a cloud over the later recantation and submission of Strossmayer. He submitted to the infallibility doctrine later, as many Roman Catholic apologists note, but they do not explore the reason why.

Now, Hasler himself, though an insider when it comes to Vatican politics (and who had access to the Vatican vaults) appears to be something of a dissident when it comes to papal infallibility. The fact that Hans Kung wrote the introduction certainly seems to be an indication of this. However, that does not mean that this perspective should be overlooked. The question becomes this: if the Council was not free, then are its proclamations binding? Strossmayer believed that the Council was not free, and that therefore he did not have to submit to the Council’s decision. The evidence amassed in Hasler’s book certainly points to a Council that was not free. Enormous pressure was brought to bear on anyone who opposed Pius IX’s desire to proclaim papal infallibility.