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Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 12. Post-Reformation Reformed Orthodoxy (I)

February 18, 2014 Leave a comment

The theological methodology of the post-Reformation Reformed orthodox: The theological methodology of the post-Reformation Reformed orthodox was, in the first place, exegetical. In order to get a firmer grip on their methodology, we will examine it from the vantage point of what it is not – 1. a hyper-syllogistic method; 2. an Aristotelian, rationalistic method; and 3. a universal method – and what it is – 4. a pre-critical method; 5. an exegetically-based method; 6. a redemptive-historically sensitive method; and 7. a multi-sourced method. The last four mentioned methodological characteristics are especially visible in the writings of John Owen, one of the premiere post-Reformation Reformed scholastics.[1]

1. Not a Hyper-Syllogistic Method: Their method was not reduced to syllogistic argumentation ad nauseam. In fact, Muller claims that “[f]ew of the orthodox or scholastic Protestants lapsed into constant or exclusive recourse to syllogism as a method of exposition.”[2] Syllogistic argumentation was utilized, but mostly in polemic contexts and not as an exegetical tool. Logic–the science of necessary inference–was utilized by the Reformed orthodox in the drawing out of good and necessary conclusions from the text of Scripture,[3] but it was a servant and not lord of the interpreter. Muller says that “the drawing of logical conclusions appears as one of the final hermeneutical steps in the [Reformed orthodox exegetical] method…”[4]

2. Not an Aristotelian, Rationalistic Method: The Protestant scholasticism of the post-Reformation era must be distinguished from rationalism. The Reformed orthodox did not place human reason above, or even equal to, divine revelation.[5] The place and function of reason was subordinate to the authority of Scripture. Reason was an instrument not an axiomatic principle.[6] The Protestant scholastics utilized a modified (or Christian) Aristotelianism “that had its beginnings in the thirteenth century.”[7] Muller explains:……

 

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Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 11. Renaissance and Reformation

February 11, 2014 2 comments

The Renaissance: The Renaissance was a very complex humanist movement within Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Two of the most important contributions it gave to the Reformation were a return to critical scholarship and philology. What the Renaissance gave to the Reformation, then, was an academic climate of questioning the status quo and seeking to arrive at conclusions based on primary documents. Pelikan comments:

The insistence of humanistic scholars on an understanding of the biblical text based on a fresh reading of the Hebrew and Greek originals …acted as a catalyst in the reconsideration of the doctrine of authority during the age of the Reformation.[1]

This insistence led to the study of Hebrew and Greek grammar, the study of Augustine, and most importantly, the study of Paul and the Bible.

The Reformation: The Reformation was both a break with the negative elements of the past (especially the late medieval doctrine of ecclesiastical authority and the system of human merit theology) and a continuation of the discussion that had been taking place from the beginning. The Bible took center stage at the Reformation due, in part, to the influence of the Renaissance. With this came a renewed interest in Bible interpretation and historical theology, both from primary sources. The maxim ad fontes[2] produced intensified study in the original sources of the Christian tradition – the Bible first and foremost and, secondarily, the Apostolic Fathers, Patristics, and Augustine.

 

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The Bible and hermeneutics

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

by Andrew S. Kulikovsky

Hermeneutics is the formal process by which the interpreter employs certain principles and methods in order to derive the author’s intended meaning. Naturally, this is foundational to all theological studies, and before a biblical theology of creation can be built, it is necessary to discuss the hermeneutical approach that should be utilized and how it should be applied to the text of Scripture, and in particular, the creation account of Genesis

The biblical account of creation simply assumes that God had endowed man with the faculties to communicate with his Creator.

 

Biblical inerrancy

Presuppositions and prior understandings have always played a significant role in the hermeneutical process, and one such presupposition is biblical inerrancy. Inerrancy is a complex doctrine, but it is internally coherent, and consistent with a perfect and righteous God who has revealed Himself. Broadly speaking, the doctrine of inerrancy identifies Scripture as true and without error in all that it affirms, including its affirmations regarding history and the physical universe.1 Article IX of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states:

WE AFFIRM that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.

WE DENY that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.’

Concerning the role of history and science in the interpretation of Scripture relating to creation and the Flood, Article XII states:

WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.’

Indeed, as Herman Bavinck noted, when Scripture touches on science it does not suddenly cease to be the Word of God.2

Of course, a high view of Scripture is ‘of little value to us if we do not enthusiastically embrace the Scripture’s authority.’3 Indeed, many scholars who claim to be evangelical have either rejected this doctrine outright, or have redefined it to allow for errors in historical and scientific references. Francis Schaeffer described the denial of biblical inerrancy as ‘The great evangelical disaster’. He noted that accommodating Scripture to the current scientific consensus has led many evangelicals to a weakened view of the Bible and to no longer affirm the truth of all that it teaches—not only in regard to theology and morality but also regarding science and history.4 Why, then, have many so-called evangelical historians and theologians denied inerrancy and infallibility in relation to history and science? John D. Woodbridge suggests they believe that if the Bible is only infallible for faith and practice, then it cannot be negatively affected by evolutionary hypotheses.5 The irony of this position is that in trying to defend inerrancy, they have essentially given it up!

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Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 10. Middle Ages (III)

February 4, 2014 2 comments

Scholasticism. One of the ways that Medieval Scholasticism influenced the Reformation was through the universities attended by the Reformers. Our modern university system evolved during the late Middle Ages. Luther was well-schooled in the scholastic method and philosophy. His utter contempt for Aristotle was no doubt an over-reaction to his university training and the element of superstition in much of late medieval scholasticism.[1] McGrath comments:

Scholasticism is probably one of the most despised intellectual movements in human history. Thus the English word ‘dunce’ derives from the name of one of the greatest scholastic writers, Duns Scotus. Scholasticism is best regarded as the medieval movement, flourishing in the period 1200-1500, which placed great emphasis upon the rational justification of religious beliefs. It is the demonstration of the inherent rationality of Christian theology by an appeal to philosophy, and the demonstration of the complete harmony of that theology by the minute examination of the relationship of its various elements. Scholastic writings tended to be long and argumentative, frequently relying upon closely argued distinctions.[2]

 

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Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 9. Middle Ages (II)

January 28, 2014 2 comments

Four-fold method (quadriga): Of the many things the era of the Middle Ages is known for, one of its most important contributions to biblical interpretation came from John Cassian (circa 360-435). Cassian inherited the theory of the three senses of Scripture from his Patristic predecessors. Origen had developed the three-fold sense of Scripture – the literal (historical or somatic), the tropological (moral or pneumatic), and the allegorical (doctrinal or psychical). Cassian added a fourth – the mystical, analogical or ultimate/eschatological sense.[1] Augustine (circa 354-430) utilized a form of the four-fold method and his book On Christian Doctrine became “the volume which was to be the basic hermeneutical manual of the Middle Ages.”[2]

The medieval quadriga or fourfold pattern of meaning was comprised of the following: the literal or historical, the tropological or moral, the allegorical or doctrinal, and the anagogical or ultimate/eschatological.[3] Muller comments on the quadriga:

 

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Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 9. Middle Ages (I)

Introduction: Gerald Bray opens his discussion of Medieval interpretation as follows:

The medieval period of biblical interpretation is one of the most complex and difficult of all, and it has not received the attention it deserves from theologians or biblical scholars. Most of the work in this field has been done by medievalists, who cannot escape the all-pervasive role which the Bible played during those centuries. But medievalists have their own agenda, and it is not always possible for a theologian to gain ready access to their work. There is also the fact that centuries of training have made Protestant scholars particularly wary of the medieval period, which they have been inclined to think of as an age of darkness. As most modern biblical scholars have been Protestants, this prejudice has contributed to the relative neglect of medieval exegesis.[1]

Not only do Bray’s statements seem to reflect reality, they are peculiarly true of me. I have been trained to think of the Middle Ages as the dark era of Christian interpretation and, thus, unhelpful and unnecessary for anything good. Certainly the rise of Islam during the eighth century had its ill effects upon Western culture at large and Christian interpretive methods in particular. The old Mediterranean culture broke up and neither Greek nor Latin were universal languages. During the Middle Ages Western Christians maintained Latin while those in the East did not. Some time in the ninth century Charlemagne (Holy Roman Emperor, crowned as such by Pope Leo III) “sponsored a revival of learning, which officially recognized that the ancient world had disappeared. Latin now had to be learned as a foreign tongue, even in Italy…”[2] This and other factors, such as illiteracy and a distinctly monolithic, “Christian” culture made the common Christian entirely dependant upon professional scholars who taught the clergy and, especially, the papacy (“Church”) as the final word on interpreting the Bible.

 

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The Danger of Reformed Traditionalism

January 14, 2014 3 comments

This is a good article that explains how we ought to be careful in our exegesis of scripture and not always read into scripture our Reformed traditional understanding of scripture. Sometimes interpreting scripture through the lens of our traditions will result in a faulty interpretation of the text.

 

Actually, the danger is really subtler. Few Reformed pastors today would begin their sermon by asking the congregation to turn to page 250 of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion or to chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Like the 16th century Reformers, modern Reformed pastors endeavor to take God’s people back to the Scripture. With a growing interest in and appreciation for the Reformed tradition, however, there can be a tendency to look at the Bible only through the lens of Reformed tradition. In other words, there is a real danger of imposing the Reformed tradition as a grid over the Bible and then insisting that every interpretation and application must agree with that tradition.

In principle no Reformed pastor or theologian would elevate his tradition to the same level as Scripture. But in practice I believe there can be a very subtle tendency in that direction. Let me give you two examples: first, consider Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics. This is a systematic theology written by a professor of the Protestant Reformed church. Let me quote the volume’s description from the dust jacket:

“Here is a thoroughly Scriptural and Reformed exposition of the faith once delivered to the saints…. In the view of the author, there are three factors essential to a sound dogmatics. The first is that dogmatics must be faithful to the Scriptures, and therefore thoroughly exegetical. The second is that fundamentally all of dogmatics must be theologically construed, and must therefore be theocentric. The third is that a sound dogmatics must be faithful to the Reformed creeds and to the dogma of the church (emphasis added).2”

A perusal through the book demonstrates the author’s coordinate concern to base his doctrinal formulations both in the teaching of Scripture and also in the Reformed continental symbols.

A second example of this determination to remain within the confines of Reformed tradition can be found in D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship. In the introductory chapter, the authors identify the purpose and method of their book. In light of what they see as wrong assumptions and practices in modern worship, they write,

“We need to return to basics on worship. That is the purpose of this little book. On the basis of Scripture and Reformed confessions, we have designed a primer on what is arguably the Christian’s most important calling. A primer is defined as a short, introductory book on a single subject. This is exactly what follows—a brief overview of how Reformed theology informs the way we think about, put together, and participate in a worship service (emphasis added).3”

Can you see how in both of these examples the authors want us to look at the Scriptures through the lens of Reformed tradition? Of course, they affirm the authority of Scripture. But there seems to be an underlying assumption that the only right way to interpret and apply the Bible is through the medium of Reformed creeds.4 The unfortunate result is that one can begin interpreting the Bible in light of John Calvin instead of interpreting Calvin in light of the Bible. Instead of looking at the Confession through the lens of Scripture, we begin to view Scripture through the lens of the Confession. The result is that historical theology sometimes manipulates or misuses exegetical and biblical theology. Kevin Vanhoozer’s portrayal is not too far from the mark when he remarks, “One typically begins with a doctrinal confession and then sets off trawling through the Scriptures. One’s exegetical ‘catch’ is then dumped indiscriminately into parenthesis irrespective of where the parts were found.”5

Read the entire article here.

Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 8. Antioch

Antioch: Silva says, “We would not be exaggerating greatly if we described the progress of biblical exegesis as the gradual abandonment of allegorical interpretation.”[1] The Antiochene school arose as “a fairly systematic program aimed at debunking the more objectionable features of Origen’s approach.”[2] It is obvious from subsequent history that it failed at this task.

A school at Antioch was established toward the end of the third century by Lucian (circa A.D. 240-312). It became the rival school to Alexandria. Antioch’s most respected pupils were Theodore of Mopsuestia (circa A.D. 350-428) and John Chrysostom (circa A.D. 354-407). As noted above, the Antiochene school utilized aspects of literalism, typology, and allegory, though certainly not like the Alexandrians. Where did the Antiochenes get their brand of literalism from? Dockery suggests, “It is likely that wherever the synagogue’s influence was felt, the church’s interpretation of Scripture had a tendency toward literalism. Certainly this was the case at Antioch.”[3] Granting Dockery’s claim, we see once again how contemporary factors contribute to hermeneutical practice.

 

Read the entire article here.

Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 7. Alexandria

Alexandria: Clement of Alexandria and, especially, Origen (circa A.D. 185-254) are the most well-known and influential Alexandrians. As noted above, with Clement of Alexandria we come into contact with the Christian allegorical method. He believed that truth was conveyed “in enigmas and symbols, in allegories and metaphor, and in similar figures.”[1] But this does not mean that Clement and the Alexandrians did not “recognize the literal sense of the Bible…”[2] Dockery says that Origen attempted “to defend the literal interpretation [of Scripture] in De Principiis (On First Principles).[3] They believed that since inspiration meant “utterance in a state of ecstatic possession,”[4] though distancing themselves from the irrationalism, some sort of mystical[5] interpretation was appropriate.

“…Clement and Origen turned to Platonic philosophy and allegorical hermeneutics to handle the pressing objections to…the Bible.”[6] These pressing objections included the claim that the Old Testament’s God was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Gnostic heretics), the Old Testament is Jewish Scripture (the Jews and Marcionism), and that the Old Testament did not comport with Neoplatonism, the ruling philosophy of the day and, thus, had little or no apologetic value in defending the faith. To combat these objections, the Alexandrians utilized allegory to argue away any “undignified” things predicated of God (anthropomorphisms [ascribing human parts to God] and anthropopathisms [ascribing human passions to God]) and to show the fundamental continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Neoplatonism was assumed and applied as a working presupposition. Remember, Neoplatonism is the view that what the physical senses perceive on earth below is but an imperfect reflection of the true and perfect reality of heaven above.[7] Allegory was a hermeneutical tool that gave expression to Neoplatonism. Dockery says:

 

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Brief survey of the history of hermeneutics – 6. Alexandria and Antioch

December 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Introduction: Our study of the Patristics has set the stage for a brief discussion on the schools of Alexandria and Antioch. In one sense, they are a natural development of things already in place. In fact, Bradley Nassif claims, “Origen did not invent his interpretive techniques but borrowed them from a complex hermeneutical environment [Christian and non-Christian] that was already present in his day.”[1] Both Christian allegory and Christian typology pre-date these schools of thought. These two schools have sometimes been pitted against each other. Silva says:

This description, however, leaves out a series of interesting and suggestive bits of information. It is simplictic, for example, to view Origen and the Antiochenes as representing two opposite approaches more or less exclusive of each other. As we shall see, Origen used and defended literal interpretation on a number of occasions. Moreover, certain exegetical features that we would quickly dismiss as in some sense “allegorical” were consciously adopted as legitimate by the Antiochene exegetes.[2]

 

Read the rest here.

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