Is Typology Part of Grammatical-Historical Exegesis?

Typology has come on hard times these days. It is often thought to be wild, subject to flights of fancy. This is probably because very few people have read Patrick Fairbairn’s book on the subject. For him, it is a completely valid part of the scientific theological enterprise, precisely because it is in itself biblical. Typology is not something invented by the early church. It is in the Bible itself. 1 Peter 3:20-21, wherein the flood in Noah’s time is connected to baptism as a type is to an antitype. For those who have not heard the terms before, a type is a person, place, thing, or idea in the Old Testament that has a larger, better version in the New Testament. Think of it as a repeated pattern that gets bigger the second time around. Or, in computer terms, version 1.0 is the type, and version 2.0 is the antitype.

Now, Dr. Dan McCartney has challenged the idea that typology has any part in grammatical-historical exegesis. This is a part of McCartney’s Christotelic hermeneutic. One reason he adduces is that distinguishing typology from allegory is only partially successful. And since allegory is not part of grammatical-historical exegesis, then neither is typology. McCartney accepts the validity of typological interpretation, incidentally. He is not rejecting typology. He just rejects the idea that typology is part of GHE. Furthermore, his position is that the New Testament authors were not engaging in grammatical-historical exegesis (hereafter GHE). As a result, GHE of the Old Testament will result in the “first read,” which really has nothing to do with the second Christotelic reading. McCartney thinks that we should read the OT the way that the NT writers do, but then accept that it is not the meaning of the OT itself, at least exegeted in a GHE way.

I would challenge this view of things on a number of levels. When Paul in Galatians 3:16 makes a special point about “seed” being singular, and not plural, is not Paul making a grammatical point, something very much within the purview of GHE? Yes, Paul goes on to make a typological point from that, but doesn’t that prove the point? GHE is not so easily separated from typology as McCartney would like to believe. Paul uses both in proximity. Similarly, many of the NT authors make specific points about Israel’s history. One thinks of Paul in Romans 9-11 as an example. Yes, there is typology involved there, too, but there is also GHE going on, in a somewhat broader sense that Paul was aware of and made use of the grammar and the history of the OT to make his points. Just read it through and see how many things that are simple history of the OT Paul points out precisely in order to make typological connections. This leads us to the core of the issue.

McCartney claims that the interpretive moves of allegory and typology are not so easily separable, but he misses a crucial point: everything about typology is tethered irrevocably to history. Allegory is not thus tied to history. Allegory can make a text stand for anything it wants to, whereas typology is firmly limited by history. The methodology is not the key point here. What matters is that nothing about typology is ahistorical. Two very real, very historical events are connected in typology. So, when one does GHE on the OT, one has half of the typological bridge already in place.

On a more basic level, let’s just ask the question this way: how can we get at the meaning of a text in a GHE manner without involving typology, if the text itself has typology built into it? In 1 Peter 3:20-21, the word and the concept of typology are both present. How can we possibly engage in GHE of that text without doing typological analysis to find out what the grammar and history of typology says in that passage? The problem here is that McCartney has sought to seal off typology from GHE, when the New Testament itself does not do that. Does that mean that there is no room for saying anything like, “Our culture of interpretation is different from the first century?” We can say things like that. But we also have to remember that separating interpretive moves like GHE and typology from each other is a distinctly modern phenomena. It would never have occurred to the ancients. Of course, they would never have thought in modern categories of GHE at all. They would probably have just called it “interpretation.”

By way of analogy (a VERY closely related analogy, indeed, one that is part of the same phenomenon), one can look at commentaries these days, and how reticent they are to make any kind of systematic theological statements. If I had a dollar for every time I read, in a commentary, something like “That’s a doctrinal or ST thing, and we can’t deal with that in an exegetical commentary,” I would be fabulously wealthy. The Reformers never took off the exegetical hat to do ST, and they didn’t take off their ST hats to do exegesis. It was all happily mixed up together. They included historical theology and practical theology in there as well. In fact, they tended to do all of them at once, all together. Our growing specialization and fragmentation is not a healthy trend at all. That trend came with the Enlightenment. I believe that a divorce of GHE from typology comes from the same impetus.

A Further Response to Dr. Evans

Rather amazingly, Dr. Evans has responded to my post here. I say “amazingly” because most of the time when I critique seminary professors, they do not reply.

Firstly, he says that he did not say what I said he did: “He goes on to intimate that I view the WTS critics of Dr. Green as saying that ‘the fullness of understanding that we have in the NT’ was ‘completely present in the OT writer’s minds,’ and he characterizes this as a ‘straw man.'” Let me remind him of what he said in his original post:

Green’s critics, however, contend that such thinking effaces the “organic connection” between the Old Testament and the New. They believe that grammatical-historical interpretation is the normative method of biblical interpretation, and that the meaning of the text resides in the human author’s intention. However, the grammatical-historical method is redefined and expanded to include divine influence on the human authors’ psychology as legitimate considerations for interpretation. Thus they conclude that the NT meanings (i.e., the OT Christological content referenced by the NT writers) must have been present in the minds of the OT writers. The OT is, as one of Green’s critics puts it, “christomorphic,” in that references to Christ are objectively present in the text of the Old Testament and were intended by the human author. (emphasis added)

If he was not saying what I said he did, then he was a bit confused in what he said. It does not seem to me to be a terrific leap to go from saying that Green’s critics hold that the meaning of the text resides in the human author’s intention, and that the NT meanings must have been present in the minds of the OT writers, to saying that the fullness of understanding that we have in the NT was completely present in the OT writers’ minds. Maybe Dr. Evans is objecting to the word “completely.” The fact of the matter is that what was in the minds of the OT writers is a red herring. It is not relevant to the point at issue. See Rick Phillips’s reply to Dr. Evans’s piece. So, that whole paragraph that I quoted is evidence that Dr. Evans is locating the debate in the wrong place.

The reason I did not address the “similarities” between Ferguson/Poythress and the TRV is that these are not the points at issue. Ferguson/Poythress cannot be read as arguing anything more than simply taking the literary and historical context into account when we read the OT. As Rick Phillips has pointed out (link above), this is not the issue. Neither Ferguson nor Poythress advocate a TRV that posits a grammatical-historical exegesis devoid of typology (like McCartney advocates), or a TRV that divorces divine and human meanings. Maybe Dr. Evans could call up Drs. Ferguson and Poythress and ask them if they are advocating a Christotelic interpretation by their words.

The last point I will address is Dr. Evans’s misunderstanding of my point about ST. He writes, “Keister suggests that this two-readings view results in the ‘scorn of systematic theology.'” This is not what I said at all. I said, “The TRV is inevitably connected with a scorn of systematic theology.” The problem here is Dr. Evans’s use of the words “results in.” That is not my point. My point is that the TRV is connected with a scorn of ST. If anything, the scorn of ST is a contributing factor resulting in the TRV, not the other way around. In Dr. Evans’s understandable attempt to set the record straight with regard to himself, he (inadvertently, no doubt) set my record crooked. By the way, I was not accusing Dr. Evans of holding to Christotelic interpretation. Nowhere did I suggest this. Dr. Evans is defending people who hold to it. That is different from holding to it oneself. Given the fact that Dr. Evans is not defending the particular point that is actually in debate, and that Rick and I have a problem with, I have seen no evidence as of yet that Dr. Evans holds to the TRV. So, Dr. Evans’s example of himself and ST is beside the point. My experience is with Longman, Enns, Green, and McCartney, all of whom have in class or in writings, expressed their disdain for ST having any kind of impact on their exegesis. The only kind of shackles they want for exegesis is Second Temple Judaism, or ANE parallels. That is their grid for exegesis, not ST. This is not a unified encyclopedia such as Vos would have practiced. So, the point is far from baloney.

A Response to Jonathan Bonomo on Christotelicism

Jonathan Bonomo has written a piece defending the Christotelic hermeneutic (what I will abbreviate here as the Two-Readings View, TRV). I thought I would interact with this a bit, and then in a follow up post interact with Doug Green on Psalm 8 and the Enns/McCartney article on Hosea 11:1.

First, we’ll deal with what we agree on, and then move to areas of disagreement. Bonomo and I agree on what Luke 24 is saying: that the entire OT is about Jesus. We also agree that the historical context of the OT is important to help us understand how the first audience would have heard something. And, being somewhat guarded here, we agree that Christ is the telos of the Old Testament. Telos is, after all, a word that the New Testament uses to describe Christ’s relationship to the OT. We should not avoid the term simply because the TRV has taken it over. Otherwise, we would have to throw out Romans 10:4 and other passages. Bonomo and I also agree (with McCartney) that we should employ the hermeneutics of the apostles. What that hermeneutic actually is will be the question under discussion. We also agree that the human authors did not know the full extent of the meaning of what they wrote. Full stop. Read that last point again. I think Bonomo thinks the point is in dispute, when in fact it is not. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says as much.

We disagree in several areas. I would first point out a rather large tu quoque. He says,

You who are in Reformed churches should care, because we now seem to live in an ecclesial world where it is supposedly OK for men to make accusations against other men and take action against them without any substantiating evidence and without clearly divulging the reasons for their accusations and their actions.

First of all, I don’t see WTS making accusations or taking action against people, although they have been accused of that. I certainly don’t see why he can say that there is no substantiating evidence at this time, since Bonomo is not privy to the inner workings of the seminary. How does he know 1. that there was “action taken against someone,” and 2. that if there was, there was no substantiating evidence? Was he at the board meetings? the faculty meetings? How does he know this? At the moment, the best information he could possibly have would only constitute one half of the story. He doesn’t know WTS’s side of the story. Also, I have written before about the why’s and wherefore’s of whether a seminary divulges all the reasons for what they do or not, and when (the wheels of an institution can often turn slowly). Apparently, Bonomo has been influenced by Longman and others who are making rather large claims to knowledge which they cannot possibly have. By what right does Bonomo get to level accusations like these against an entire institution, drag an entire institution’s name through the mud, and make accusations against an entire institution without substantiating evidence? Tu Quoque, Mr. Bonomo. You need to be much more careful. In my opinion, we can talk about Green/Enns/McCartney’s views. Their writings are public. The actions of WTS are not fully public, the discussions are not public, the reasoning is not public. Wouldn’t it be best to wait on judging WTS, until we have more public information?

Secondly, Bonomo’s version of the TRV does not square with other versions of it. Take Pete Enns’s book Inspiration and Incarnation, for instance. On page 115, he lays out in option 1 the very position that Bonomo was claiming is the TRV, and then rejects it. Option 1 is actually the correct position to take on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. Instead, Enns’s conclusions are as follows: “1. The New Testament authors were not engaging the Old Testament in an effort to remain consistent with the original context and intention of the Old Testament author: 2. They were indeed commenting on what the text meant. 3. The hermeneutical attitude they embodied should be embraced and followed by the church today” (emphasis original, pp. 115-116). For our purposes, the first conclusion that Enns states is the important one. The original context and intention of the Old Testament authors is irrelevant to the NT author in the view of the TRV. Later in the book, it becomes clear that God can have a meaning that He intends for a text to have that has nothing to do with what the human author meant. This is definitely not the theory of concursus, folks. Either the human author is hijacking God’s meaning, or God is hijacking the human author’s meaning. Never the two do meet (or at least, rarely! This CANNOT be squared with 1 Peter 1:10-12).

To take a specific example of Enns’s teaching, in The Evolution of Adam, pp. 86-87, we find some very clear statements on how the TRV sees Paul’s handling of Adam. He says that “Paul’s use of Genesis is clearly rooted in something other than a simple reading of that story. There is more at work in Paul’s thinking than simply repeating the plain sense of Genesis” (p. 86). Does this mean that he thinks it is still possible for Paul’s interpretation to be in line somehow with Genesis? Not at all. On page 87, he says, “Paul’s reading of Genesis is driven by factors external to Genesis. Paul’s use of the Old Testament, here or elsewhere, does not determine how that passage functions in its original setting.” On page 103, he says, “Paul does not feel bound by the original meaning of the Old Testament passage he is citing.” Jesus Christ is a wholly unexpected transformation of the Old Testament story, according to Enns (p. 104 and 82). How can a “wholly unexpected” transformation of the OT story be in organic unity with it? According to Enns, the one meaning of the OT has nothing to do with Christ. Only on the basis of Second Temple Jewish interpretative techniques can Paul (and other NT authors) get Christ out of the OT. In other words, Christ is not in the OT, according to Enns. Certainly, Jesus would be wrong to claim that Moses wrote about Him. Jesus is talking, in John 5, about authorial intent. No doubt, Enns would claim that this flattens out the development of the OT story. Not at all. Does looking at a fully grown oak tree flatten out the development of that oak tree? If one takes pictures at various times of the growth of the oak tree, one can see all the contours of growth one could wish. But the oak tree is not a unicorn. It stays an oak tree throughout.

I want to point people to read Dr. Gaffin’s response to Clair Davis once again. Read especially Gaffin’s comments about Vos’s position on the relative position of history and revelation. Bonomo is claiming that Gaffin is wrong (not directly, but indirectly). Gaffin’s understanding of the TRV is certainly the same view that I hold. Enns is clear on this. Next up will be an examination of Green and Enns/McCartney.

An Answer to Dr. Bill Evans

Dr. William Evans has written several posts on the Christotelic controversy. I wish to focus on this post. As I see it, the key issues here surround the initial similarity between Poythress/Ferguson/Hodge, on the one hand, and the Christotelic interpretation, on the other. In fact, Evans does not seem to find any difference at all between the two. I beg to differ.

The first thing I wish to point out is that I believe Evans has not quite described Green’s critics accurately. Evans writes:

Green’s critics, however, contend that such thinking effaces the “organic connection” between the Old Testament and the New. They believe that grammatical-historical interpretation is the normative method of biblical interpretation, and that the meaning of the text resides in the human author’s intention. However, the grammatical-historical method is redefined and expanded to include divine influence on the human authors’ psychology as legitimate considerations for interpretation. Thus they conclude that the NT meanings (i.e., the OT Christological content referenced by the NT writers) must have been present in the minds of the OT writers. The OT is, as one of Green’s critics puts it, “christomorphic,” in that references to Christ are objectively present in the text of the Old Testament and were intended by the human author.

This is not quite accurate. The fullness of understanding that we have in the NT need not be completely present in the OT writer’s mind. That is a straw man, and it unfortunately affects the remainder of Evans’s analysis. Now, part of the description is accurate. References to Christ are indeed objectively present in the text of the OT and were intended by the human author. That does not mean, however, that the OT author saw everything as clearly as we see it now. 1 Peter 1:10-12 is immensely instructive in this regard. Indeed, I am not sure that there is any more important passage in the NT about this issue than 1 Peter 1:10-12. What did the OT authors know? They knew about the grace that was coming (verse 10). They knew about the messianic sufferings and glories (verse 11), since the Holy Spirit was indicating it to them. They knew whom they were serving (verse 12). In other words, they knew more than the TRV (two-readings view) folks think they knew, though they did not know as much as we know now through the New Testament. Even more importantly, the Holy Spirit was testifying the messianic sufferings and glories in advance (verse 11). From the same passage, we know that they did not know the circumstances or timing of the events (verse 11).

The second point I want to make is that Ferguson’s and Poythress’s views are NOT the same as the Christotelic interpretation. I will use an illustration that I used in one of my comments on a previous post. The correct understanding of the OT is that it is like an acorn that grows up to full flowering in the New Testament. All along, you can see that it is an oak tree. Branches may come and go, but it is always an oak tree. The TRV believes that the OT grows up like an acorn of an oak tree, and then when it comes to full flowering, we discover that it is actually a unicorn. This illustration might be a bit overblown (and the illustration will certainly disintegrate if pressed too far), but it puts the point clearly, I think. The point is this: merely saying that we need to understand how a passage would have sounded to the first audience, as Poythress and Ferguson do, is NOT the same thing as saying that an acorn grows up to be a unicorn. Poythress and Ferguson are also NOT saying that the understanding of the context and the passage as it would have originally sounded would have resulted in a dead end that did not lead to Christ. Every tributary branch leads to Christ. That is what Poythress and Ferguson believe. That is NOT what the TRV believes. So Poythress and Ferguson are not advocating the TRV at all. I also would agree that it is very helpful indeed to ascertain how something would have sounded to the original audience. What I would go on to say is that the result of that inquiry feeds into a tributary branch that will eventually lead us to Christ. There are no dead ends in the Old Testament.

Dr. Evans believes that there are “careful and considered christotelic approaches that respect the organic unity of Scripture.” This is not true. The Christotelic approach does not respect the organic unity of Scripture. However, the organic unity of Scripture is something that WTS Philly has been known for, and for a long time. It is the heritage of Geerhardus Vos.

Speaking of Vos, I wish to make one last point about the TRV versus organic unity. The TRV is inevitably connected with a scorn of systematic theology. I know of not one single practitioner of the TRV who loves systematic theology. They always believe that ST is a Procrustean bed that chops off the best of exegesis and biblical theology. And in this, they often think that they are the inheritors of Vos. Unfortunately for them, Vos was a practitioner of a unified theological encyclopedia. Vos taught ST at Calvin before going to Princeton to teach BT. His 5-volume ST is now being translated. It is no accident, this despising of ST among the TRV folks. ST tells us that Scripture has a unified message, and that God does not change His mind. The TRV denies both of these things. The TRV is thus the product of the Enlightenment’s fragmentation of knowledge, starting with Kant’s bifurcation of knowledge from faith.

Why the Two-Readings View of the Old Testament is Wrong

The two-readings view (hereafter TRV) says that we should first read the Old Testament as though the New Testament did not exist, and as though Christ had not come. The reasoning typically runs along the lines of seeking to ensure that we understand the text in its original literary and historical context. How would this have sounded to the original audience? What impact would it have had? Now, there are certainly important points here which we cannot afford to ignore. We need to know context, literary and historical. The Old Testament writings were written at a particular time and place, and there is a good reason for why those writings were written just then. It is good to seek answers to those questions. At this point, I might add a gentle reminder to TRV folks that opposing views do not necessarily ignore the context. That is not primarily where our disagreements lie (although how much weight we give to ANE materials in determining the nature of Scripture is certainly an issue of disagreement. On this I will only say that there is a difference between using ANE materials to understand how a text would have sounded to an original reader versus using the ANE materials to determine what Scripture actually is). It is not primarily the context of the OT that is under dispute (with the caveat just mentioned) but rather the intention of the OT that is under dispute. As Rich Barcellos helpfully put it to me, does the Christological reading of the OT predate the NT or not?

The second reading of the TRV is what we do after we re-factor Jesus and the New Testament into the equation, usually as a surprise ending. The apostolic hermeneutic is often likened (in the TRV) to rabbinical methods of interpretation (key-word exegesis, etc.). Oftentimes, the meaning that the NT writers see in the OT has little or nothing to do with what the OT itself actually says in its original context. There is often (not always!) a radical break between the meaning of the OT in its own context and the meaning that the NT authors assign to the OT text.

The problem with the TRV comes in the area of what the Old Testament actually intends. On a TRV, it is possible for a New Testament author to twist the meaning of the OT into something it was never originally intended to say. Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is an excellent example. We may ask the question this way: is Matthew’s use of Hosea a legitimate way of understanding what Hosea intended to say? Or, better yet, what God intended to say through Hosea? The standard Vossian way of interpreting Matthew’s use of Hosea is simply to note that Matthew everywhere describes Jesus as reliving Israel’s story, but in a righteous way (thus contrasting with Israel). Matthew treats Israel as not only typologically pointing to Jesus, but also as being embodied (in a faithful way) in Jesus. So, when Matthew looks at Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I called my son,” in the original context plainly speaking about God calling Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus), he sees Hosea not only talking about the old Exodus, but also talking about the new Exodus that Jesus brought into being by embodying faithful Israel. It is what he understands Hosea to be saying. The TRV would say that Matthew’s interpretation has nothing to do with what Hosea meant (and notice here how divine authorship fades very quickly from view here).

The deeper problem with the TRV lies in the character of God. If God has written the Bible, then God has changed His message from the OT times to the NT times. That means that God changes His mind and is open to the future. The TRV cannot avoid an ultimately open theistic view of God’s character. They would probably respond that it’s okay that God does this because the changeability resides in the humanness of Scripture. This is just God using the messiness of humanity to communicate to humans. This is a smokescreen, unfortunately. God inspired humans to write the Bible in such a way that there are no errors in recording God’s words. Yes, humans are fallen and sinful. That does not mean that they distorted God’s message in any way. They were carried along by the Holy Spirit. For the TRV to be correct, the message had to have been garbled in transmission. Yes, we see humanness in the Bible. Paul does not sound like John. We can tell the difference. God used the personalities of each writer. But He did so in such a way that there are no garbled transmissions. In short, the TRV is ultimately incompatible with our doctrine of inspiration, and it is incompatible with our doctrine of God.

More on the Enns/Green Controversy

I was directed by a friend to read Tremper Longman’s thoughts on the WTS situation, and the comments on his posts by various people, and my jaw just about hit the floor. There are an awful lot of people over there writing as if they know the entire situation, when all they have is one side of the story. Anger can be righteous, that is true (though I think it misplaced in this case). However, I wonder how many of those people, before they got all fired up over Green and Fantuzzo (both of whom I consider friends, by the way), actually bothered to see if there was going to be another side to the story published. Have they kept in mind also that the board may not be at liberty to discuss things done in executive session? Are there mitigating factors here of which they may not be aware? In these situations, it is quite often the case that there are details which would change the complexion of the picture entirely in the public eye, but which may never come to light for various reasons, maybe none of which are nefarious! There’s a lot of “shoot first, ask questions later” going on here. There’s also loads of assumptions and motive-reading present as well. They want a less heavy-handed approach to be extended to Green and Fantuzzo, but they are not willing to extend any courtesy or charity to those people they believe are being heavy-handed. Anyone for the Golden Rule, folks?

As to the theological picture, it seems that in the minds of many people on those threads, Jesus was wrong when He said that Moses wrote about Him (John 5). Certainly, those of Jewish extraction are not going to agree with Jesus at this point. Whom should we believe? It would be easy (through Holocaust guilt, maybe, or through other motives) to introduce man-fear into the picture here. I’m against anti-Semitism, don’t get me wrong. It is wrong to hate Jews. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them about the Old Testament! Is the Old Testament about Jesus or isn’t it? John 5 and Luke 24 say yes. The two-readings view says no and yes. And no, I am not flattening out the Old Testament at this point. There is a development and an unfolding. There are even some surprises. I’m okay saying that. But Jesus is still correct in John 5 and Luke 24 in saying that the Old Testament is about Him. The New Testament does not advocate a two-readings view, and Jesus never gave us any evidence that He did this. In all the instances in the New Testament where Jesus relates to the Old Testament, He makes a beeline straight to Himself. The Isaiah passage that Jesus reads in the synagogue is a good example. He doesn’t say, “Let’s do a first reading of this to make sure that the original context has nothing to do with me so that you can be really surprised when I read it the second time as being about Me!” He says flat out that He fulfilled that passage that day. He is saying that it was about Him all along. He doesn’t mention any other fulfillments.

I don’t see the apostles doing two readings of the Old Testament. I see the apostles saying that the Old Testament is about Jesus. They apply Old Testament language to Jesus and to the church as Christ’s body. I would challenge the two readings people to find one place in the entire New Testament where these two readings occur; one place where the apostles imply or say that the Old Testament wasn’t really about Jesus at all, but now that Jesus is here, we have to change the meaning of the Old Testament retroactively in order to make it fit. I just don’t see it.

Bernhardus de Moor, Volume 1 Available

It is with great delight and eager anticipation that I announce the publication of volume 1 of Bernhardus de Moor’s Continuous Commentary on Johannes a Marck’s Compendium. I should point out that the volume 1 of Dilday’s translation does not equal the entirety of volume 1 of de Moor’s work. My understanding is that it will take several volumes of Dilday’s translation to equal one volume of de Moor. Here are some things that Richard Muller says about this work:

De Moor’s efforts did for late Reformed orthodoxy what the massive system of Quenstedt did for Lutheranism in the concluding years of the seventeenth century: the work was so exhaustive and so complete in its detail and bibliography that it virtually ended the development of Reformed doctrine in the form of orthodox system (PRRD I.83)…De Moor’s work…provides evidence of the stubborn survival of theological orthodoxy, long after its era of dominance, into an otherwise rationalist era, without the loss of its scholastic balance on the issues of faith and reason, philosophy and theology, and without the loss of its scriptural principle (PRRD I.118)…massively erudite (PRRD I.146).

Tolle Lege.

Great Quotation on God’s Word

I was reading Douglas Kelly’s commentary on Revelation, and came across this wonderful quotation on God’s Word:

One old country preacher in North Carolina once said that the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, is the only sword that you can stick into a dead man, and he becomes a living man (p. 28).


When I was a witness for the prosecution in the Leithart case, one of the main ways that the defense sought to discredit my testimony was to attack my academic credibility. I didn’t have an advanced theological degree (apparently an M.Div. doesn’t count as an advanced theological degree, only Th.M.’s and Ph.D.’s would count). I just discovered that I am in good company. The best, in fact:

John 7:14-18 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” 16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. (NKJV)

The people were grudgingly admitting that Jesus did know the law well. And this is what puzzled them, since He had not gone through standard rabbinical training. He didn’t have the proper academic credentials. Therefore, how could His testimony be true?

Listen to what Dr. (!) Sproul says about the passage: “After college, I went on to seminary, which brought a whole new level of difficulty. But probably the biggest academic adjustment in my life occurred when I enrolled in doctoral studies in the Netherlands. I had no idea how rigorous the academic discipline at that level would be. But as I completed my academic work, I realized that there were many of us who had been educated well beyond our intelligence. That is a problem with upper levels of education-once we get through them, we have a tendency to think we actually know far more than we do, and we have a tendency to tilt the nose a bit and look down at those who have not gone through such rigorous training. We put a lot of focus on people’s degrees and wonder whether their credentials are really credible” (St. Andrews Expositional Commentary on John, p. 134).

Indeed, this is true. On the one hand, such academic training has value (witness the benefit that most of the Reformed world has obtained through the scholarship of Dr. Sproul!). On the other hand, truth is not determined by such an academic degree. I know of many people who hold Ph.D.’s in theology who wouldn’t know what true scholarship was if it hit them on the nose. I know of many other people who have no Ph.D. at all, and yet produce amazing work. What matters is not the degree, but the work, and the actual quality of the work produced. Many of the most famous theologians in all history had no advanced degree. John Calvin had no advanced degree in theology. Neither did C.H. Spurgeon. Nor did any apostle except Paul. Folks, we forget our origin if we engage in degreeism. We make man big and God small. Scholarship has its value, and so does a Ph.D. have a value (I hope to obtain one myself at some point). However, God exercising His wisdom through the Holy Spirit is the best teacher of all. We would do well not to forget this. We will do well not to make an idol out of education or letters after people’s names.

A King James Only Debate

I just watched this whole debate this morning, and found it very interesting and informative (from both sides). I just wanted to comment on some things I saw there. For full disclosure, I am not a King James only advocate, although I greatly respect the KJV, and use it rather often.

First, I think that James White had the better arguments. He had answers for Moorman’s queries, and had several things that Moorman could not answer, the Revelation passage in particular. Why Moorman would not admit that the KJV should be revised on that verse when no Greek manuscript whatsoever reads the way the KJV does is beyond me. The KJV at that point doesn’t even agree with the TR (Textus Receptus) or the MT (Majority Text)!

There are some weak arguments on both sides that I want to point out. First, the argument from vocabulary against the KJV is weak, in my opinion. The KJV is not that hard to figure out. We have dictionaries to help with the odd words. Not to mention that there are words in most modern versions that we will have to explain anyway: words like “propitiation,” “expiation,” “sanctification,” “justification,” “baptism.” These are not words (even the last one!) that regular people use in conversation. On the other hand, the point that White made about style is very important. The New Testament was written in the common spoken language of the day. It wasn’t slang, but it wasn’t high style either. If KJV advocates argue that we ought to keep using the KJV because of the majesty of its style, this is mere sentimentality, and an attempt to improve on God’s Word.

Moorman’s argument about “coherence” was incredibly weak. I have read most of the NT in Greek now. It is coherent in the critical text. When we start arguing that theological doctrines are clearer in one text than in another, we are on very dangerous ground. Here’s why: it is very easy to understand why a scribe would add something to strengthen a doctrinal testimony. It is very difficult to understand why someone would take away a doctrinal testimony, unless one subscribes to conspiracy theories, which are notoriously hard to prove.

White is correct that pejorative words like “take away” or “delete” assumes that which must be proven. In a given variant which has to do with words being present or absent, there can be no prior judgment rendered on whether the words were originally there and later deleted, or were originally absent and later added. So Moorman’s statement about the critical text having fewer words than the TR doesn’t prove anything. Maybe the TR added something that was not originally there. One cannot make broadbrush comments about these things either. Each textual variant has its own ins and outs and must be decided on its own merits. By saying that the CT has fewer words, Moorman was assuming already the standard of the TR which was the very thing under discussion. It was circular, in other words.

Also, Moorman kept on hinting that the majority of manuscripts should rule. He never came out and said it, but he always emphasized the difference in number between the vast majority, which support the TR, versus the 50 which support the CT. In particular, Moorman emphasized that the CT was based almost exclusively on Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. This may have been true in the days of Westcott and Hort, but it is not true today. There are plenty of places where Sinaiticus and Vaticanus disagree with each other, and where the CT does not follow one or the other, or both. We have a lot more papyri than Westcott and Hort did, and so we have a larger basis for an early text.

White made a good point about the age of the texts: before the end of the first millenium, the majority text was Alexandrian in text type. Moorman trotted out the old canard about the provenance of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which White promptly kaboshed by noting the Arian heresy prominent in the Byzantine area, which was refuted by an Alexandrian by the name of Athanasius. Provenance does not govern the value of a manuscript. This would be the poisoned well argument, which is a logical fallacy.

To Moorman’s credit, he was not frothing at the mouth at modern versions, claiming that they were all Satanic, like some cultists do. The book linked is full of more factual errors per page than any other terrible book I have ever had the affliction to read. It once took me 15 pages to document the factual errors of quotation that Riplinger made in just 15 pages of her text. Moorman is quite a cut above that riffraff. He even admitted that major doctrines were intact in modern versions, even if he accused modern versions of running on fewer engines. The latter criticism, by the way, is the argument of the beard, another logical fallacy. It runs like this: how many hairs does it take to make a beard? If one defines a beard as 1000 hairs, then you immediately run into problems if someone says, “Isn’t 999 hairs a beard?” The problem is in the definition. For many KJV advocates who argue this way (which is not all of them), a doctrine is fully proved by 1,000 mentions of it in Scripture. And if the CT only mentions it 900 times, then it has weakened the testimony of that doctrine. Folks, this is not how we define our doctrine, and it is not how we speak of a doctrine as being proven from Scripture. White actually brought up a few Scriptures where the deity of the Son is actually more strongly supported in the modern versions than in the KJV (courtesy of Granville Sharp’s rule!).

Ultimately, there are many versions of the Bible that can be said to be God’s Word. If someone wants to use the KJV, go to it, I say. A person has God’s Word if they use the KJV. But so does someone who uses the ESV. Please don’t disenfranchise those of us who want to use the ESV, NASB, or even (shocker!) NKJV. Are there too many English translations out there? Absolutely. Let’s try giving some people of the world a translation of their own, instead of creating yet another niche English translation for the benefit of a publishing house’s royalty problems (as was pointed out very well in the debate).