Scriptural Authority and Believing
The Seriousness of the Evangelical Predicament
study of literature that one considers sacred can be a tricky
business. A believing
student must continuously find ways to concurrently openly receive
and “objectively” critique the literature in question.
Many evangelical philosophers1 who base their
beliefs primarily on the Bible must simultaneously approach
what they perceive as an authoritative Scripture with both faith
and suspicion. For all the diversity that has begun to increasingly
characterize evangelicalism, an amazingly resilient expression
of faith at least amongst American evangelical Christians remains:
“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word
of God written and therefore inerrant in the originals.”2
A statement like this sociologically and theologically
aims to communicate the import of a doctrine of Scripture that
emphasizes its divine origin and subsequent authority.
However, in spite (or perhaps because) of the vogue of
acknowledging one’s historical moment and attendant, though
often latent, presuppositions, it appears a virtual impossibility
to be both an evangelical believer of this kind and a critical
scholar at the same time—a sort of believing critic, if you
will. The religious icon of the evangelical believing
scholar has become a disingenuous cultural construction that
ought to be replaced by a more realistic aspiration.
what follows I write from experience of at least two problems
that attend the integration of evangelical philosophical thought
and evangelical biblical studies.
The first is an observation that so many conservative
Christian scholars wittingly or unwittingly allow one characteristic
of Scripture (authority) to dominate their intellectual queries,
not least those that investigate the phenomenon of Scripture
itself. It seems that
too often the parameters within which such scholarship is conducted
can become predictably restrictive in order to preclude results
that are incompatible with conservative Christian affirmations.
Dispositions are noticeably defensive even in works where
an insistence upon Scripture’s ultimate authority is never mentioned
and remains unsaid.
their credit, one conservative seminary in the U.S. that I attended
attempted to methodologically compensate for these limitations
by pre-supposing the inerrancy of Scripture; however, on account
of newly expanded parameters—and this is the second problem—conclusions
from critical scholars were regularly accepted that were, at
least in my view, in considerable tension with the above affirmation.
These biblical scholars, then, found themselves battling
for their Bibles with their right hands while they accepted
critical conclusions that undermined these very convictions
with their left.
results of critical scholarship have by no means affected only
conservative Christian scholars in the States; they have forced
believing scholars of every tradition (and not only within Christianity)
to respond in their own ways.3
This essay reconsiders the prospects of the enterprise
of an evangelical (as defined above) believing criticism by
collectively considering a handful of findings within biblical
scholarship and highlighting a philosophical tension that irascibly
hounds believing evangelical scholars of the said kind. Perhaps, this tension will prove a representative
example of the lurking incompatibilities that beset academic
study within the context of conservative religious allegiance,
especially with respect to religionists who believe in written,
above EPS affirmation claims that the Bible is the Word of God
and inerrant in the originals, meaning, presumably, the
autographs. The claim
implies that even though a complicated prehistory and a convoluted
subsequent history can be admitted for several (if not all)
of the writings contained in Scripture, there can only be one
particular phase, even if it is beyond historical recovery,
during which God inspired the holy writings.
Consequently, it was only during that phase that the
divine authority was imbued.
It is held that obviously subsequent handlings of the
text cannot be considered authoritative in the same way that
this elusive and vague autograph phase of production is. After all, there might be errors or corruptions
in these. In the same
way, there is no infallible, divine authority in any of the
traditions that pre-exist the autograph, even if it turns out
that that pre-existing material was in large measure (or even
singly) responsible for the specific content of that autograph.
That both pre- and post-histories of the Bible can shed
much light on the Bible is freely admitted (though not by all),
but these are never as authoritative as the autograph itself.
The divine authority resides in the autograph plain and
simple, end of story.
this understanding of authority be maintained, given what we
know of the early production and use of Scripture?4 Could it ever have been practically meaningful
for any believer living at any time throughout history to affirm
such a thing? The latter
question may prove anachronistic, but it has become increasingly
difficult to see how such an emphasis on autographs can be insisted
upon without accepting a version of divine dictation (and the
majority of conservative evangelicals do not). Still, even if that is conceded, there
is still the matter of reckoning with how the degree to which
the interpretive traditions of a non-inspired, non-authoritative
Second Temple Judaism, for example, permeate the New Testament
writings does not speak against any theory of inspiration and
authority that allows for a measure of divine “perfection” to
affect the autographs only. I have not concerned myself with the question of the identity of
an inspired text in light of subsequent textual transmission,
preservation, translation and availability;5 I am
inquiring rather after the relative status of late Second Temple
and early Christian traditions in light of how intrinsic these
are to the Scriptures’ own identity. In fact, without their profound infusion of
prevailing traditions, the New Testament writings lose a great
deal of the coherence that they apparently evinced to their
earliest readers. We can even go so far as to say that the New
Testament that we read today is not the New Testament
of the first Christians insofar as the New Testament that we
handle has been of historical and cultural necessity stripped
of its Second Temple context. The evangelical hermeneutical truism that stipulates
a Bible without a context is no Bible at all has come to plague
me to the effect that a Bible without an infallible context
simply cannot be infallible.
A naysayer might interject, “You have simply confused ‘text’
and ‘interpretation!’” I,
too, had hoped that in a naïve way I had made some such category
mistake (and maybe I have), but let us take care in articulating
the matter more clearly: Is it the mere words that make the
page of a printed or copied Bible part of the Bible?
After all, strings of words that appear on a sheet (in
whatever language or translation) that happen to match those
that are read (in whatever language or translation) in the opening
chapters of Genesis, for example, do not in themselves constitute
‘the Fall,’ do they? If
Genesis 3 were omitted, Christians would likely feel that their
Bibles were not intact, but can the same be said if one took
out ‘the Fall’? Obviously
(is it?), the Fall is a derived concept, a full-blown interpretation
that goes above and beyond the strings of words that appear
on a page. Still is
it not curious that if a chapter heading that read ‘The Fall’
were removed and replaced with, say, ‘The Maturation’ or ‘The
Prank’, many evangelicals would feel as if they were not reading
the Bible at all?
seems correct to say that the Bible is often thought of on at
least two different levels: one where the actual text is in
mind, the very words that comprise a verse (B1),
and one where an interpretation is in mind, where the rubber
actually hits the road and academic reflection begins (B2).
This means that if I were to say, “The Bible alone, and
the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore
inerrant in the originals” (hereafter, *) there would be a need
to elaborate and indicate to which Bible I am referring, whether
B1 or B2. It appears to me that equivocation is inevitable whenever * is affirmed.
instincts compel to avoid equivocation and one might do so by
maintaining B1 throughout *: “Only the very words in this book, and all of these very words,
are the Word of God written and therefore these very words are
inerrant as they appeared in the originals.”
Let us call this (or something like this) *1.
Here, I might understand that the very words in the elusive
autographs were God’s very words and that God never slipped
up in his spelling or had a prophet or apostle write the incorrect
word. I could also be
affirming that the grammar and syntax of every biblical clause
was immaculate (how about punctuation?). However, no evangelical would make a big deal of this (unless he
or she happened to be interested in claiming that God is a God
who can guarantee proper spelling and grammar).
Obviously, this is not the reason why so many evangelicals
affirm *. Any attempt
to get at that reason would call upon B2.
of this book alone, and the interpretation of all its parts,
is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the originals”
seems more like (but is not quite exactly) what I would think
that I were saying if I said *.
However, notice how the phrase ‘interpretation of this
book’ is now the stand-in for ‘Bible’ in the original *.
In other words, I understand both something like
B1 and something like B2 to be
implied by the word ‘Bible’ in *.
Without B1 I would not have B2,
but without B2 I have no use for B1, especially
with respect to authority (which is what the whole ‘written’
and ‘inerrant’ business is supposed to achieve). So I would be forced to equivocate when affirming
* or, at the very least, insist that both B1 and
B2 are somehow implied, if not conflated, in the
one word ‘Bible’. Only usage and intention can determine which
aspect is primarily in view in a given occurrence.
with respect to B2, many conservative evangelicals
are given to connecting interpretation in one way or another
to some type of authorial intent.
I will not make a particular issue out of that here.
The books of the Bible did not just drop out of heaven,
after all; they were composed, edited, etc. within various literary,
cultural and historical matrices by living, breathing human
beings who existed during distinct historical eras in determinate
geographic locales (even if they cannot be determined).
Perhaps, texts proper (B1) can arguably be
identified and distinguished without reference to such contexts
(though I doubt it), but the possibility of discourse (B2)
is absolutely abandoned when contexts are thus disregarded (as
if that could be done). By
continuing to rely upon authorial intent, it seems to me that
many conservative evangelicals are recognizing that B2
inherently implies a further delineation such as B2a
and B2b, where B2a is the author’s interpretation
of what he has written and B2b is a hearer/reader’s
interpretation of what is written.
The objective in much of conservative Christian hermeneutics
is to have B2a and B2b coincide as closely
as possible. That leaves us with *3: “The authors’ own interpretations
of their writings (contained in this book alone as far as conservatives
are concerned), and their interpretations in all their parts,
are the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the originals.” It is this and other similarly implicit claims
that ultimately prove so problematic for the maintenance of
a full-fledged evangelical believing criticism.
truncated version of *3 (which I’ll call T*3)
reads as follows: “The authors’ own interpretations of their
writings (contained in the Bible alone as far as we are concerned)…is
inerrant in the originals.”
One problem that appears immediately is that what these
authors (i.e., the biblical writers) so frequently do in their
writings and the interpretations that they depend upon in their
writings have proven unmanageable insofar as I have tried to
find a way to integrate them into a statement like T*3. The problem nags me on two fronts: There is
an academic restraint that obtains from the use of the terms
like ‘inerrant/infallible’ and a related critical selectivity,
which results from the insistence upon a notion like ‘the original.’ Let me try to explain.
degree to which the B2-dimension of the New Testament
depends upon its literary, cultural and historical matrices
should be considered inversely proportionate, in my opinion,
to the degree to which conservative evangelicals and others
can approach the Scriptures—particularly in its autograph phase—as
an ultimate source of authority. Theoretically, I could imagine holding another
opinion if it were the case that the New Testament depended
solely upon what Christians traditionally call the Old Testament
and that the New Testament was grounded in this Old Testament
in such a way that it did not rely upon pre-existing extra-biblical
interpretive traditions. Perhaps, then, some case could be made for an authoritatively inspired
the reality of the matter is quite the contrary.
For the sake of space I will only briefly mention the
conclusions of two studies by evangelical biblical scholars.
a study of the book of James, Peter H. Davids observes:
of James needs the reader to supply the traditional embellishments
of the biblical account to fully understand the passage…The
freedom with which James combines the canonical with the extra-canonical
means that he apparently had no firm boundary in his mind between
the two…His apparent biblical references are not so entirely
biblical at all.7
find it impossible to believe (if Davids is right—I suppose
an EPS-type evangelical could always contest this) that James
had thought that only the autograph was vested with divine authority
when he seems to have in a number of places (in order to make
his points) mined traditional embellishments more than he did
the B2a’s of the autographs that (should have?) comprised
his authoritative Old Testament. In other words, in various sections of his
letter, James (even if he did so theoretically) does not practically
distinguish between a primary, authoritative autograph and a
secondary interpretive tradition.
On pains of oversimplification, for James there was not
only a B1 and a B2a (was there a B2a
at all?), but something more like a B3, which I will
categorize by example.
mention of Job, for instance, in the epistle of James implies
that the author was working with a B3. B3 will be for us a renegade B2b
that was given such a life of its own by a religious community
that it effectively eclipsed its B2a source. It, in fact, becomes B2a for all intents and purposes,
giving rise to a case where extra-biblical tradition takes the
place of the author’s own interpretation of the biblical material
by way of embellishment, elaboration and/or supplementation.
One can find examples of this in the book of Jude, the
Pauline corpus and other places.
the book of Jude, the author employs “midrash on midrash,”8
quoting and alluding to extra-biblical material just as often
as he does biblical material.
Of course, in the case of Jude, Ellis (as do countless
other conservative evangelical scholars) proffers a cautious
caveat, insisting upon Jude’s (and by implication this is believed
to hold for all NT writers) conscious distinction between canonical
and non-canonical writings.9 But if one is convinced, on the basis of Davids’
and others’ arguments, that Ellis’ caveat is not easily sustained,
can he still affirm *? In
other words, how does * fare when lore, tradition, custom and
canon were practically (and sometimes theoretically) indistinguishable
for some of the NT writers? There definitely seems a tension here wherein
a believing scholar must decide, at least on some level, whom
she will allow to have the final say, faith or criticism, Scripture
most interesting example is the “movable well” tradition that
Paul seems to have unconsciously accepted in 1 Cor 10:4.10 If we grant that none of the writings that
contain a variation of the movable well tradition were ever
considered “canonical,” it is hard for me to doubt that the
oral or written tradition itself was seen as sure (i.e., this
is what “really” happened), authoritatively filling in perceived
exegetical gaps of the OT.11 Whether there was an oral or written exegetical tradition, as it
were, to which it would have been perfectly legitimate for Paul
to appeal, conservative evangelicals would not find a “movable
well” tradition in any text that they (or any Christian as far
as I know) would acknowledge as Scripture (and, therefore, authoritative).
So instead of appealing to a B2 to make his
point, Paul, here and elsewhere, appeals to a B3
as if it were a B2.
course, conservatives are free to disagree with the conclusions
that are being drawn with respect to James and Paul, but if
a conservative believer were to accept them (as I have), would
not his scholarship force him to disaffirm *?
Perhaps, he would consider following Richard Swinburne,
who, in his book, Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy,
proposes that modern readers of Scripture must weed out cultural
presuppositions before deciding upon the truth or falsity of
a statement compared therein.12 Roughly, Swinburne suggests that readers must
convert B3’s into B2’s when engaging Scripture
academically. He writes:
to separate statement from presupposition, we must ask, whatever
the speaker’s actual beliefs, what were the common beliefs of
the culture which they could reasonably presuppose that the
speaker shared with them; and whatever the actual purpose of
his utterance, can any such presupposed beliefs be siphoned
off, leaving what the culture would naturally suppose to be
the main message intact? If they can, we must then judge the truth-value
of the utterance by criteria to which the falsity of the presuppositions
most certainly believed in “the well…that had provided Israel
with water during the march through the desert.”14 In fact, the whole culture understood something
along the lines that God had provided Israel with a rock or
a well (traditions differ) that followed them in their travels
in order that they might have water for their journey.
According to Swinburne, “the statement is whatever the
speaker, by public criteria, is seeking to add to the existing
beliefs of the hearers.”15 Paul writes in 1 Cor 10:4 that the Israelites
“were drinking from a spiritual rock that followed them; and
that rock was Christ” (NASB).
Irrespective of how one might understand Paul here,16
what Paul is adding to pre-existing beliefs is, minimally,
that “that rock was Christ.”
we were to follow Swinburne, the fact that Paul, along with
his hearers/readers, assumed the movable well tradition is entirely
irrelevant to the “something new” that Paul is asserting. In conservative terms, the authoritative
Word of God resides primarily in Paul’s teaching that “that
rock was Christ” and not in the presuppositions behind the assertion. Some would go on to argue that since the presuppositions are not
themselves iterated in Scripture, they cannot be construed as
the Word of God. It
seems to be the case, though, that, without the pre-existing
beliefs, Paul’s identification of the rock with Christ is meaningless.
What rock is Paul talking about?
The rock that moved, the one that followed
them. That rock
was Christ. It does
not seem to me that a reader can simply disregard the cultural
presuppositions in this case.
I know of no conservative evangelical who believes that
there was a rock (or a well—the tradition developed over time)
that followed the Israelites around for forty years in order
to give them water (how many are even aware of the tradition?). Quite the contrary, many biblical scholars
(not only conservative) have argued singly against the possibility
that Paul could have so naively accepted the popular tradition
at face value. Such a thought is somewhat of an embarrassment
to a believing conservative evangelical scholar, but if she
resists the instinctual search for alternative explanations
or is convinced that they are unsatisfactory, what she seems
to have is a situation where she, as a conservative scholar,
can admit that she has succeeded in roughly approximating a
B2a but has found that it is intrinsically linked
to a B3 in such a way that it is not possible to
extricate the one from the other or the other from the one in
a meaningful way. The B2a wholly depends upon a B3.
does all this mean for a “believing scholarship” for EPS-type
evangelicals? My conclusion
is that on account of the practices of some of the NT writers,
* must be considerably revised to something analogous to T*4:
“The prevalent interpretation of the author’s interpretation
of their own writings is inerrant in the originals.”
And with this, any hope of meaningfully affirming something
in line with the original aims of * comes crashing down.
There arise at least three problems that we can adumbrate:
idea that the Bible alone is the Word of God is confused on
account of the fact that the canon itself does not seem to
understand itself this way: How can a B2a alone
be the Word of God when it so intimately depends on a B3
for its intelligibility?
How can a non-Word of God become the Word of God only
as it is appropriated in the Bible? Isn’t there a bit of fudging going on here
on the part of conservative evangelical scholars (quite a
bit of B2b–ing and B3-ing under the
guise of B2a)?17
follows, then, that the emphasis on “written” needs to be
rethought on account of the distinctions that must be made
between B1, B2a, B2b and
different versions of B1’s are extant, B2b’s
and B3’s often circulate orally and are those
that become authoritative;
to (1)) The “written” Word of God must now include at
least some non-canonical materials;
the end, the insistence upon “originals” is unwanted: the
historical development of B2b’s and B3’s
necessitates that there be an allowance for the divine inspiration
of successive revisions, interpretations and uses of Scripture.
philosophers and theologians should, in light of these and other
considerations, at least begin to acknowledge (or at the very
least be made more aware) that it may be the case that with
nothing but considerable difficulty can an EPS-type “believing
criticism” continue to claim anything like “the Bible alone,
and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and
therefore inerrant in the originals.” The existence of a discrete autograph seems impertinent, and it
seems the case that conservative evangelicals have well-intentionally,
yet stubbornly, committed themselves to a pious chimera. Scripture always exists as an “interpreted Bible” if not a “rewritten
Bible”: the Christian Bible repeatedly usurps, builds upon and
even coincides with varying streams of tradition, lore, and
cultural stock.18 Given the B3-ness of the unrecoverable
autograph phase of production, evangelical scholars of the EPS
type should buffer their claims about the authority of their
Scriptures, at least as they are contemporarily articulated
in philosophical societies, such as the EPS.
could go on and suggest that, by extension, non-conservative
(or even non-Christian, by analogy) claims of authority might
also be in need of similar attenuation.
Religion’s indelible dependence upon and explicit inclusion
of contemporary culture, tradition and interpretation should
preclude religious scholars from confessing statements comparable
to * as they conduct their scholarship.
Otherwise, there is a great danger that either historic
distinctions between canonical and non-canonical will become
arbitrary, or scholars will turn blind eyes toward what might
be called “tradition history.”
Either way, one will almost always have to give way;
be it religion or academic integrity, belief or criticism.
will conclude now with some reflections upon the prospect of
an evangelical believing criticism of the EPS-type, based upon
my observations from within conservative Christianity. Clearly, I am not the only student of Scripture and philosophy who
has wrestled with this existentially painful dilemma. Other evangelical scholars (and others from
other traditions) have also written candidly of an enduring
tension that has attended their work as scholars and believers.
For example, Dennis E. Johnson writes:
between God’s Word and my understanding of God’s Word is hardest
to recognize in ourselves, and it is perhaps the riskiest distinction
to admit out loud. Simply acknowledging that there may be a
difference between what Scripture says so plainly to my group
and what Scripture itself actually says raises suspicions that
the clarity, if not the authority, of Scripture is about to
proposes, for his part, that conservatives can cope more effectively
with what he sees as the modern-postmodern dilemma by trying
to learn from both. His
strategy is one where conservatives should give the Bible “primacy”
while giving general revelation (i.e., among other things, philosophy,
scholarship in general) “priority.”
His is an “all truth is God’s truth” approach that acknowledges
that all truth is from God and is revealed through his Son,
but that human understanding is finite and always only partial.
One can discern in Johnson’s strategy a tactic of deferment:
Things may not be meshing now, but they will on the last day.20
would not be wrong—at least I would not think them wrong—if
they interpreted Johnson as implicitly appealing to mystery. The majority of believing scholars (of any
tradition) would surely agree that there must always be a place
for such an appeal when dealing with things religious; however,
various members of different communities will appeal to mystery
in different ways. I, for my part, was driven to the uncomfortable,
but relatively firm, conclusion that faith of the EPS-type and
critical scholarship are mutually inimical for the study of
religious literature because, among other things, I thought
it inappropriate to invoke an appeal to mystery at this particular
juncture of my own research.21 As I continue to reflect upon personal experiences
and hear or read about reflections that have been penned by
others, I suggest that a question that Christian philosophers
of all stripes should entertain more fervently is: When is it
acceptable for a believing member of a scholarly community to
legitimately appeal to mystery?22 The willingness of a scholar to appeal to mystery
may determine for him a personal capacity for a believing
believing academic communities will likely not be able to settle
upon parameters for appeals to mystery, and, if this turns out
to be the case, the burden will fall upon individual believing
scholars to create their own niches within which they might
conduct legitimate critical scholarship.23 This is a heavy burden indeed.
the absence of consensus parameters for the invocation of mystery,
let us consider a working paradigm that might assist believing
academics of every stripe in their respective academic studies
in the short- to mid-run. I
speak as a wavering evangelical, but others should be able to
translate my proposal into their own philosophic and scholastic
predicaments. The proposal
is as follows: The feature of a religious enterprise that should
most concern believing scholars as they involve themselves in
their research and spiritual lives is its practicality.
We will continue with the example of the conservative
study of Scripture; it remains for others to analogize accordingly.
our exposition of what is meant by “practicality,” I cautiously
and critically commend Helmut Koester’s description of the
formation of the Christian canon as a methodological paradigm:
“Whatever attested the events of salvation and told the shared
story and whatever proved useful for the building of communities
was acceptable.”24 Koester maintains that in the early church,
writings themselves never constituted the gospel; rather, the
gospel consisted of “the saving message that created and sustained
Christian faith.”25 In other words, whatever proved practical,
serviceable, and suitable for the faith and life of the early
church was seized upon by the church for the perpetuation of
believing communities and the establishment of new ones.
Lee M. McDonald observes similarly with regard to Pseudipigrapha,
“If a particular writing fit theologically with that which was
acceptable to a particular Christian community, then it was
acceptable even though it may have been written by someone other
that the author listed.”26
the oft-quoted 2 Tim 3:15-17 lends support to such a pragmatic
view. According to Brian
S. Rosner, “Christians, Paul says, are to do two things with
Scripture: believe it, for it testifies to the gospel, and obey
it, for it instructs them concerning proper conduct.”27
In 2 Tim 3:15-17, Rosner sees that Paul is claiming that
the Scriptures point to the gospel and are useful for ethical
instruction.28 The fact that Scripture is “God-breathed” perhaps
should not be plumbed for its implications of ultimate authority
as so many often do, but rather for its implications regarding
God’s ongoing love for his people, especially in light of the
gospel, such that the Scriptures will ever be useful
for the edification of the church and the furthering of the
is a property that depends on the user just as much as it depends
on what is being used. The
critical conclusions presented above, for example, might be
taken as evidence that much of Scripture’s “authority” actually
lies in its practicality. In
other words, the early church’s various hermeneutical approaches
were so integral to the ancient understanding of Scripture that
biblical writers could write “midrash on midrash” in order to
further the gospel. This
may be one reason why Christians have historically opted for
a “Christocentric” hermeneutic where they try to relate every
part of the Bible to Jesus Christ (notably, otherwise irrelevant
portions of the Christian Old Testament), realizing that the
authority of Scripture somehow involves itself in the hermeneutical
approaches to Scripture—the uses to which it could be put. I am persuaded, nevertheless, that conservative
faith commitments too easily tend toward a tendentious one-sidedness
in understandings of the Christian religion generally and the
Christian Bible specifically, especially in American conservative
setting Scripture’s usefulness (perhaps somewhat artificially)
over against its authority, attention can be drawn to other
facets of Scripture and especially interpretive traditions
that tend to be obscured when authority to “the Bible” is given
disproportionate and equivocal consideration.
Perhaps, in this way Christian philosophers can join
in and ponder a new way toward the establishment and practice
(of at least one kind) of a non-defensive, unequivocal believing-criticism
for these and other evangelicals.
“Evangelical” here refers to those Christian philosophers (and
other academics) of whatever denomination (or non-denomination)
who would align themselves according to their views of Scripture
and canon with the Evangelical Theological Society, the Evangelical
Philosophical Society and other like-mind affiliations. The view of Scripture in mind is stated below.
The belief in inerrancy is still ubiquitous and its equivalent
is taken for granted in many other religions where sacred texts
play an important role.
2. These words articulate the defining affirmation of the Evangelical
Philosophical Society (EPS), an organization that publishes
a journal that, according to the editor, “has the highest circulation
of any philosophy of religion journal on the planet” [Craig
J. Hazen, “Editor’s Introduction,” Philosophia Christi
4 (2002): 299]. A second and last sentence reads, “God is a
Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person,
one in essence, equal in power and glory”.
3. From a Jewish perspective, David Weiss Halivni, Revelation
Restored: Divine Writ and Critical Responses (Boulder, CO:
Westview, 1997) and, even more candidly, The Book and the
Sword (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996).
From a Muslim perspective, Shabbir Akhtar, “Critical
Qu’anic Scholarship and Theological Puzzles” in Holy Scriptures
in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, eds. H. M. Vroom and
J. D. Gort (Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997), 122-127.
4. See, for example, for historical concerns: Harry Y. Gamble,
The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Eugene,
OR: Wipf and Stock; repr. Fortress, 1985); Lee M. McDonald,
The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, Rev. and
Enl. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995); and for literary concerns:
James E. Brenneman, Canons in Conflict: Negotiating Texts
in True and False Prophecy (New York: Oxford, 1997).
5. A still-burgeoning field of study, see Eugene Ulrich,
“The Bible in the Making: The Scriptures Found at Qumran” in
The Bible at Qumran: Text, Shape and Interpretation,
ed. P. W. Flint (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 51-66.
6. I think that only pushes the problem back to the Old Testament;
however, nearly every recent conservative defense of Scripture
has somehow based itself upon Jesus Christ.
In other words, beginning with the OT has not been seen
as a live option.
7. Peter H. Davids, “Tradition and Citation in the Epistle of
James” in Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation: Essays
Presented to Everett F. Harrison by His Students and Colleagues
in Honor of His Seventy-fifth Birthday,
eds. W. Ward Gasque and William Sanford Lasor (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 113-126.
He covers a number of passages, including James’ references
to Job and Elijah. Davids went on to incorporate these and other
findings (his dissertation, too, was on the book of James) in
his contribution to the NIGTC.
8. E. Earle Ellis, Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 156 n.
9. On the failure of canonical/extracanonical dichotomies, cf.
John Barton, Holy Writings, Sacred Texts: The Canon in Early
Christianity (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox), 1997.
10. Though Ellis (Prophecy, 209-212) proposes (following
Driver) that “the adoption of such a puerile fable would be
‘totally out of harmony’ with the character of Paul’s mind”
and (against Driver) that “Paul and the Targum [of Onkelos]
are related more directly to a particular interpretation of
the passages of the prophets [Ps 77:20; 104:41; Is 48:21, etc.]
than to each other,” Enns surmises that “Paul’s matter-of-fact
reference to ‘the rock that followed them’ seems dependent on
a tradition of a “moveable well” (Bib. Ant. 10:7; 11:15;
20:8; t. Sukk. 3.11; Tg. Onq. to Num 21:16-20)”
[Peter Enns, “Biblical Interpretation, Jewish” in Dictionary
of New Testament Background,
eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity, 2000), 159-165, 164.].
If these two biblical scholars appear at first glance
to be saying the same thing, it should be noted how Ellis is
trying to trace Paul’s interpretation in I Cor 10:4 more directly
to the Old Testament whereas Enns surmises that Paul’s reference
to a popular interpretive tradition was an unconscious supplanting
of the biblical story with Second Temple lore.
See also his “The Moveable Well in 1 Corinthians 10:4:
An Extrabiblical Tradition in an Apostolic Text,” Bulletin
for Biblical Research 6 (1996): 23-38.
11. See Enns, “Movable Well.”
12. Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy (New York: Oxford,
13. Swinburne, Revelation, 31.
14. The Legends of the Jews: Moses in the Wilderness,
ed. Louis Ginzberg (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1939), 308. Of course, nothing can be said regarding any
association of the well with Miriam as recorded here. For more on the well traditions with respect to Paul, see the aforementioned
works by Enns and Ellis along with the works cited therein.
15. Swinburne, Revelation, 32.
16. For a survey of various proposals, see Anthony C. Thiselton,
The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
17. Note here the relative paucity of conservative attention
given to the problem of the NT’s heavy reliance upon Greek versions
of the OT, for example (Moises Silva being a notable exception).
18. For example, Craig A. Evans writes, “In a sense, exegesis
precedes Scripture, for the latter is largely the product of
the former” [“Luke and the Rewritten Bible: Aspects of Lukan
Hagiography” in The Pseudepigrapha and Early Biblical Interpretation,
JSPSup14, eds. J. H. Charlesworth and C. A. Evans (Sheffield:
Sheffield, 1993), 170-201, 170]. It was from his essay that I first learned
of the phrase “rewritten Bible” and the like.
19. Dennis E. Johnson, “Between Two Wor(l)ds: Worldview And
Observation In The Use Of General Revelation To Interpret Scripture,
And Vice Versa,” JETS 41 (March 1998): 82.
20. For a different take, see James K. A. Smith, The Fall
of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational
Hermeneutic (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000).
21. Some may at this point (if they have not already) inveigh
the charge of unnecessarily capitulating to methodological naturalism.
I, for my part, have no qualms with Michael J. Murray’s
“Natural Providence (Or Design Trouble),” Faith and Philosophy
(July 2003): 307-327.
22. The most candid discussion that I have found is Davis Young’s
The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response
to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).
23. Halivni’s reflections of comparable matters have led him
to contrast “traditional” study with “critical” study of Scipture. For his part, he has noticed that he was typically
drawn to traditional study of Scripture whenever he sought to
recapture his childhood “assurance of security.” He claims that he has since been able to fully embrace his own critical
approach to Scripture while maintaining a vigorous devotion
to Torah. It is interesting
to note that he laments the fact that, as happened to Mendolsohn,
his students have proven unable to follow in his footsteps in
this regard (The Book and the Sword, 123-126, 149-151.)
24. “Writings and the Spirit: Authority and Politics in Ancient
Christianity,” HTR 84:4 (1991): 353-372, 370.
25. “Writings,” 366.
26. The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, Rev.
Ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 289.
27. “‘Written for Us’: Paul’s View of Scripture” in A Pathway
into the Holy Scripture, ed. Philip E. Satterthwaite and
David F. Wright (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 81-106, 100. Rosner’s stress on the divine origin of Scripture is not disputed
here. The realization
that our understanding and appropriation of Scripture’s authority
operate within a substantially different social, cultural, and
hermeneutical context has prompted the present author to endeavor
to gain a more helpful perspective on the nature of Scripture.
28. “Written,” 104; cf. William J. Abraham, Canon and Criterion
in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1998).
29. A notable scholar who has taken a similar course in thought
is James A. Sanders. Among
his many works, see his seminal article, “Adaptable for Life:
The Nature and Function of Canon” in Magnalia Dei: The Mighty
Acts of God, eds. F. M. Cross, W. E. Lemke, and P. D. Miller,
Jr. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976),
30. See Anthony C. Thiselton, “Hermeneutics: Some Proposals
for a More Creative Agenda” in A Pathway into the Holy Scripture,
eds. Philip E. Satterthwaite and David F. Wright (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1994), 107-142.
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