May 04, 2006

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 1: Plan of Attack

There has been a lot floating around about the doctrine of inerrancy recently. I posted on this subject not long ago, responding to a post at World of Sven and a lengthy series at Chrisendom. Since then, there has been a second World of Sven post, and also a post from the No Kool-Aid Zone about just how important inerrancy is.

This is a problem that I've been thinking seriously about for some time. Actually, I started by asking the question "just why do I believe in the Bible?" then realized that the answer to that question would have a big effect on exactly what I should believe ABOUT the Bible. I do believe that there is good reason to accept Scripture as an authoritative source of divinely revealed truth. I haven't got all the kinks out of the arguments, so I'm hoping for a little help along the way, but what I propose to do is a five (or more?) part series laying out an argument for the authoritative nature of the canonical Christian Scriptures (we'll get into what counts as 'canonical' along the way). This may take me quite a while to get through, as I'm about to start finals, and still have one more term paper to write here in Athens, then will be moving back to the States on the 19th, but by breaking it into so many pieces, I hope to have manageable chunks and be able to keep working on it. Major influences on the arguments I'm going to make are Richard Swinburne's book Revelation (I posted my first response immediately after finishing it here) and a series of teachings on the subject by John Piper, which I downloaded from the Theopedia article on the inerrancy of the Bible. I hope to accumulate more sources along the way. In particular I'm planning on reading Calvin, the Westminster Confession, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy on this subject.

My plan for this series is outlined below. If I change my plan, I will update this post to reflect it. I will also link each post from here.

  • Part 1: Plan of Attack is the post you are reading right now, which outlines how the subject will be pursued.
  • Part 2: The Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth will argue in a manner based heavily on Swinburne that there is good reason to suppose that the life and teachings of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth represent a revelation of God to mankind. The canonical gospels will be used in the same way we use any other historical sources, but not assumed to be inerrant. The legitimacy of this usage will be discussed briefly.
  • Part 3: Jesus' Witness to the Hebrew Bible will argue, still treating the gospels as fallible historical sources, that part of the content of Jesus' teaching was that the Hebrew Bible as used in the original Hebrew (NOT the Septuagint, and NOT including the 'Apocrypha or 'deuterocanon') by the Jewish community in Palestine was also a revelation of God. How exactly he treated this revelation will be examined. One of the kinks arises here: it is difficult to determine the specifics of Jesus' theory of revelation, but an argument can be made that he accepted a traditional Jewish view which claims that the Hebrew Bible is divided into three sections (Torah, or Law, Neviim, or Prophets, and Ketuvim, or Writings - whence the ackronym "Tanakh"), each of which possesses a different degree of inspiration. This argument is troubling (for Evangelicals who see the whole Bible as equally inspired) but at this stage, I think, ultimately inconclusive. It may come back to haunt us in part 4 after we've established that the gospels are more than just historical sources and are forced to take every sentence of them more seriously.
  • Part 4: The Church's Witness to the Scriptures will examine the status of the Church as a divinely authorized authoritative herald of the revelation of God to man in Christ, using Jesus' own words in the gospels (still treated as mere historical sources at this point) to back this up. It will then ask just what the Church has witnessed about the Scriptures and the canon. The big problems come along here, as it is extremely difficult to determine just what the Church is and what it has proclaimed. For purposes of the argument, the Church is the continuation of the group Jesus founded when he appointed the apostles to spread his message, but which groups are continuous? The Bible's witness is, of course, decisive, since it tells us how Jesus and the apostles conceived of the Church, and it doesn't tend to support the idea of the Church being some specific hierarchy or institution, but it does support the idea that the Church is manifested in the world in the form of local gatherings of believers. There are groups that have at least SOME historical claim to continuity with the apostles (note that I'm not talking about the doctrine of apostolic succession as it is understood by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches) which have different canons and different views of what it means for a book to be canonical. However, there are certain books that all of the important candidates for this continuity agree are divinely inspired, and we can get a pretty good idea, from the writings of the apostles themselves and from Christian writers close to them what the true Church must mean when it declares a collection of books to be "God-breathed." All in all, I think this historical argument, when it has the others to build on, gets us very close to the view of (small o) orthodox Christianity, as I understand it, but it doesn't quite get us there. I'm hoping others will be able to offer improvements upon it.
  • Part 5: The Argument From Religious Experience will examine religious experiences connected with the Bible, and ask what they might tell us about its inspired status. I will necessarily focus on my own experience, but will try to keep my statements general enough that some other people out there will have had similar experiences so that the argument applies to them as well. This argument can serve as a verification of a canon once we've got it, but I don't think it is much help establishing a canon in the first place, because we can't experiment on each book individually. Of course, there are some exceptions. For instance, the canonicity of the Epistle of Jude is disputed, and I have had 'religious experiences' connected specifically with that book, which helps to make me more certain of its canonicity (though if I had the same experience with a book that, as far as the witness of the Church, was undisputedly NOT part of the canon, it wouldn't be enough for me to even consider the possibility of THAT book being inspired in the way that the canonical books are).

And that's the argument. If you have any suggestions of issues to deal with, directions to take, or sources to read along the way, please let me know. I expect to write part 2 some time in the next two weeks (before I leave Greece), but no promises.

Posted by kpearce at 02:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 25, 2005

Meditations on the Incarnation

It is officially Christmas in the Eastern timezone! (We'll conveniently ignore, for the moment, the fact that I am currently at my parents' house in the Pacific timezone.) This being as it is, and since I have no classes and therefore time for blogging, I thought it would be appropriate to post some thoughts on the miracle of the Incarnation.

We will all, I'm sure, be hearing the story of the birth of Christ read from Matthew's or Luke's Gospel in the near future (most likely, in fact, we'll all be hearing Luke's account of the birth of Christ and the events preceding it, and Matthew's account of the visit from the Magi). These stories are wonderful, traditional, and inspirational (and also, importantly, TRUE). However, these are, in important ways historical accounts of the coming of Christ, and as such, at least for me, they fail to impart the true magnitude of the event. They are tip-of-the-iceberg Ernest Hemingway types of accounts and it requires long hard consideration for us to even begin to understand their import. On the surface, Matthew and Mark tell a simple story of a peasant girl giving birth to her peasant son in a barn in a backwater province of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Other children have been born in barns in backwater provinces. Sure, Matthew and Luke record various signs and portents surrounding the birth, but history claims the same for such figures as Alexander the Great. What is so special about the birth of this Jesus of Nazareth fellow?

For years, I believed that Christmas was greatly overemphasized in the church. I often stated quite explicitly that Christmas was important only insofar as it was a necessary prerequisite for Easter. I no longer believe this; I believe that this event of the Incarnation is deeply meaningful in its own right, independent of the further important events in the life of Christ. This realization could, I'm sure, have been made by a deeper reading of Matthew and Luke in the broader context of Scripture, but, for me, it came through John's account. He writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

As often in the Johannine literature, we have a beautiful glimpse of what is really happening behind the scenes. Matthew and Luke give us neat factual narratives of events that took place in Roman Judea 2,000 years ago, but here, here in John, is where we find the meat of the matter. The Word became flesh.

There is something very unusual about God, logically. John expresses this in his bold statement, "The logos was God." Logos, "word," in Greek is the intelligible content of speech. A proposition, if you will. A statement, a truth, a story, a message. It is the content, the meaning. The Meaning was God. And the Meaning became flesh. Huh?

The Scholastics expressed something like this when they said of God things like, "his essence includes existence." Or they sometimes explained that you and I represent the instantiations of essences, but God - God is His essence. God is something deep, something logical. He has His existence in the realm of logical truth, God exists the way 2+2=4. And yet ... personal. He is no mere abstraction. He is at once the Deep Truth of the universe and a person (or three), a living entity actually existing in the world, existing as you and I do, only infinitely more so. The logos was God.

Here is a highly exalted picture of eternal glory that is positively unimaginable! "He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him." And so the Word, the logos, the Meaning, the Rational Principle brought the world into existence, and brought the world to order. Christ was that Word God spoke in the beginning when He commanded, "let there be light!" And the Word of God is effective, it is potent, it is irresistable. And there was light. "And the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it."

The word "comprehend" here is like the English word "grasp." We speak of "grasping" a message or a truth, to mean that we understand it, but this use is figurative. Really the word means to grab hold of something, and so here. The word here also possesses a definitely hostile sense. This is expressed by the NKJV footnote which gives the alternative translation, "overcome." The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. It completely fails to grasp the situation taking place around it. It can't get a grip. It has no way to work against, to react to, this light. The darkness is baffled.

Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
'Til He appeared
And the soul felt its worth

The thrill of hope!
The weary world rejoices!
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn!

The word became flesh, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father. And the darkness was baffled.

In the beginning the Word was God. In Him was life and that life was the Light of men. And the Word became flesh. And the darkness was baffled.

Not only is the Eternal Word - this logical construct, this eternal truth, this deep organizing principle of the universe, the meaning of all things - not only is this Word a Person, but this Person became a Man. And we beheld His glory. Not just glanced at, but beheld, gazed upon, stared at. John writes as an old man, remembering. "We, my fellow disciples and I, we for three years were looking, gazing intently, at His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth!" The Eternal Word became human, and moved in with us. The darkness was baffled.

I once heard a pastor giving a Christmas message refer to something Robert Lewis Stevenson said as a child. The story is that the young Stevenson saw the lamp-lighter out the window of a home in London and exlaimed, "Look! A man poking holes in the darkness!" The darkness was baffled. The glory of God came down to earth and rested upon a Man, a Man full of grace and truth, a Man who, little did we know, was the Eternal Word of God - God Himself. What could the darkness do? How to react? How much darkness does it take to extinguish the light of a single lamp? And here, not a lamp, not a hole poked in the darkness, but a tear, a rip, and suddenly, all heaven breaks loose upon the earth. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!'" And the darkness trembled, quivered, and gave way.

And so the Light was born into the world. "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him." Suddenly, in that instant, the Creator, the Sustainer of the world, the Eternal Word, the Meaning of it all, was here, among us, in the form of ... What? A baby? In a barn? In a backwater province of the ancient Roman Empire? The illegitimate son of a poor carpenter from Galilee?

And so the story has its meaning. And what a meaning it is! "The thrill of hope" indeed. The God who saves, here among us, humbling Himself to be the least among us, although He was before us and is eternally, completely, necessarily. And one day that baby would be the sacrifice for us, that sin might be punished to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law. He bled and died. And so, once for all, the darkness perished.

Merry Chrismas.

Posted by kpearce at 01:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 29, 2005

Christos as a Proper Name in Matthew

So I was looking at the Greek text of Matthew 27 today (for those of you who have not read my posts on these subjects before, I have been studying classical Greek at Penn for two years now and have been taking some time on my own to look at the text of the NT), and I noticd that Pilate twice (vv. 17, 22) identifies Jesus of Nazareth with the phrase, Iesous hos legomenos Christos, "Jesus, who is called 'Christ.'" The reason I thought this was curious is that it lacks the article (equivalent of the English word "the"). My first intuition was that if the article was added, that is, if the phrase was Iesous hos legomenos hos Christos, then the phrase would be "Jesus, who they say is the Appointed One," and I wondered, at first, if perhaps Pilate, being Roman, didn't really understand what all this "Messiah" stuff was, and was using christos not substantively, but simply as an adjective attributed to Jesus, in which case the correct translation would be "Jesus, who is called 'anointed,'" with a "whatever the heck that means" implied by the context. However, my intuition may very well have been based on English rather than Greek (English "Anointed" vs. "the anointed one"). To research this point, I used the Greek Lexicon to find all the occurences of christos in Matthew (I ignored occurrences of the phrase "Jesus Christ", assuming that that was a different case than the one I was interested in). The result was somewhat surprising. Christos occurs without the article and without the name Iesous immediately preceding or following it only four times, and three are in the phrase Iesous hos legomenos Christos (two of these are uttered by Pilate in chapter 27, the third is at 1:16, in the genealogy). The fourth usage is in 26:68 where Jesus is addressed as Christe, the vocative case of Christos. The surprising conclusion that I have come to is that Matthew is using Christos (in his own mouth in 1:16, and in the mouths of Romans in the other three cases) as a proper name of Jesus.

Perhaps this is not surprising to some people. The reason it surprises me is that I was always taught that Christ was not part of Jesus' name, but rather a title.
In fact, Matthew does not seem to use the word always this way, but sometimes seems to treat it as a surname, just as Peter was a surname of Simon Bar-Jonah. Surnames in the ancient world were primarily meaningful (in the Bible, usually very deeply meaningful) nicknames used to distinguish between people with the same first name. For instance, in a few texts of 27:16, Barabbas's first name seems to be Jesus as well, so that Pilate is asking, "which Jesus do you want me to release - the one who is called 'Barabbas', or the one who is called 'Christ?'" (As for the significance of the name "Barabbas", it happens to look suspiciously similar to the Aramaic for "son of my daddy." I don't read Aramaic, but it has been guessed that this may have been a name this bandit/insurrectionist went by to hide his identity.)

What effect does this have on translation? Well, I would suggest, first, that where Christos is used as a proper name it should always be transliterated (i.e., rendered as a proper name, "Christ" with a capital C, in English translations). Second, it seems that we can identify some cases where it is not used as a proper noun. For instance, both Matthew 22:42 and 24:5 are obvious cases where it is not a name, but a title. In these cases we should probably NOT transliterate, but render the word as "the Appointed One" (a rendering I was convinced of by my interaction with The New Testament in Plain English Blog) or something similar. Of course, the meaning of the name Christ should be footnoted at its first use in a given book. Note also that, since this is a blog post and not a dissertation, I haven't looked at the uses of the word in the rest of the NT, let alone all of early Christian literature, so I couldn't say just yet whether this should be extended to the rest of NT translation, or if it only applies to Matthew.

Anyway, for those of you who read this far in expectation of some kind of theological point, I don't really have one, I just ran across this today and thought it was interesting. I also thought that if I posted it and I happened to be greatly mistaken in this matter, someone would be good enough to tell me.

Posted by kpearce at 08:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 02, 2005

Jesus as a Philosopher

Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, meditates on Jesus as a philosopher in a post today on his blog, Culture Watch: Thoughts of a Constructive Curmudgeon. The article makes a good read and asks an important question, Why has there been so little serious study of Jesus as a philosopher to date? I have long propounded a belief that Paul has a sophisicated philosophy of mind, and John a philosophical cosmology, but what of Jesus Himself? Professor Groothuis points to a couple of passages suggesting a deeply philosophical outlook in the thought of Jesus; a devotion to reason and thorough examination of the world. In particular, Groothuis suggests that Matthew 7:1-5 is significant not to ethics directly, but to the epistemology of ethics (i.e., the question of how we can know ethical truths), since a failure to apply our ethical standards objectively, applying the same standards to ourselves which we apply to others, impedes our ability to make ethical judgments. I think this area could easily yield much fruitful analysis, for both our understanding of Christian doctrine, and philosophy in general.

Posted by kpearce at 06:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack