Perspicuity and Postmodernity

I’m in between two parts of a review of Merold Westphal’s introduction to philosophical hermeneutics and have been reflecting on the importance of approaching Scripture according to its peculiar nature and subject matter, whatever may be gleaned from a general theory of texts and textual interpretation.  In keeping with those musings, I came across this comment from Irish Puritan James Ussher (1581-1656) in his defense of the clarity of Scripture:

Scripture is our Father’s Letter unto us, and his last Will to show us what Inheritance he leaveth us.  But Friends write Letters, and Fathers their wills, plain (A Body of Divinity [Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007], p. 18).

Ussher gestures toward something that we would do well to remember in a time when we are keen to avoid the appearance of epistemic arrogance or crudeness, namely, that the Bible is a covenantal book originated and commandeered by someone who actually wants us to understand it and, indeed, as our Creator and Lord, is eminently capable of accomodating his speech to the human intellect.  The subject matter, the divine authorship, and the redemptive, covenantal telos of Scripture compel an admission of its perspicuity, even in an era rather skeptical of human noetic prowess.  To vie for the  possibility of real textual understanding vis-a-vis the biblical texts is not to sink into “modernism” but to think theologically about Scripture and to keep in step with the emphases of classic Protestant bibliology.

Any thoughts?

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31 thoughts on “Perspicuity and Postmodernity

  1. Why do we have 2,000 years of Biblical explication, why do we historically have hundreds of churches fighting to the death over different readings of the Bible – if its meaning is plain or self evident?

    Obviously, the Bible’s meaning is NOT simple or self-evident at all. Many in fact have said the Bible was “written by a poet”; and most of the passages of the Bible, are often literally poetry. And almost all are almost always, poeticially amibiguous, open to dozens of different readings.

    Curiously in fact, even Ussher’s remark – at least as it appears in excerpt, above, with no context indications – is just itself, not plain; but is open to two readings.

    The first meaning, is the one you assume: 1) a) the Bible is the Father’s expression; b) Fathers will that their meaning be plain; and therefore c) therefore the Bible must be plain.

    But note, there is a rather shattering, SECOND reading, which is absolutely consistent with what we have read above, gives us exactly the opposite result. First, it is 2) a) advanced as a logical proposition: the Bible is the father’s will. Then, syllogistically, b) Fathers usually want to make their will plain. c) Yet we know from history, personal experience, that the Bible is not plain. Therefore we must logically conclude, d) the Bible is not actually the expression of our Father, God.

    Were either of these assertions, the right understanding? In fact, I suggest that the Bible is quite complex, even postmodern/”poetic,” even from the earliest days. But I also feel that its meaning CAN be found; the same as we can roughly understand even poetry. But it can only be understood by those who are capable of fairly sophisticated readings.

    But what then, IS that fuller, more sophisticated meaning within the Bible? Underneath the surface meanings, that have been made into the dogmas of a thousand churches?

    The fuller, deeper meaning of the Bible, is perhaps is even a secret, known only to a few. But roughly, surprisingly, to those who understand poetry explication, and polysemic utterances, it seems to me, that much theological, biblical writing, is at times, rather self-critical; critical of most accepted positive theologies; even almost consistent with the “second” meaning, above.

    • Brett,

      1) The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture doesn’t pretend that every biblical text is easy to understand but posits only that the things that believers need to understand in order to exercise faith and experience redemption in Christ are accessible to those who read the Bible carefully. In this way the doctrine allows for significant interpretive debate. You would do well to become acquainted with the doctrine rather than setting up a straw man and knocking him down with hasty criticisms.

      2) The fact that the Bible includes poetic literature in no way undermines the doctrine. To be sure, poetry often proves more difficult to understand than prose. However, as stated above, the perspicuity of Scripture is centered on those teachings required for saving faith and is not affected by the fact of degrees of hermeneutical difficulty attending different sorts of discourse. In addition, your statement that poetry is “open to dozens of different readings” is an ambiguous one. As someone who holds to hermeneutical realism as a subspecies of metaphysical realism, I believe in the determinacy of textual meaning by the author. Therefore, I am sympathetic with your statement only in the sense that there are often multiple aspects to a text’s meaning which may generate multiple perlocutionary effects. I would disagree with the notion that textual meaning is not fixed by the author because I would want to define meaning, with Jeannine Brown, as “the complex pattern of an author’s communicative intent” (see her Scripture as Communication from Baker).

      3) I’m not sure if your comment about a perceived lack of contextual background for the quote was meant to be snarky, but I assure you that enough setup was given for readers to get the gist of Ussher’s thinking.

      4) Your comments on reading Ussher in a different way are very muddled. The meaning of the quote from Ussher in no way invites your second reading. What you mean to say is that you’d like to take pieces of his content and use them in a certain way to prove a point. There is a huge different between saying Ussher could have meant something and saying that you would like to experiment with the logic and incorporate it into a different line of thinking.

  2. @Steve, What a timely and relevant message.

    I wish I had something constructive, wise and pithy to comment, but I don’t.

    How much pain and conflict could be avoided if this were taken to heart by all.

    I’d call myself a hopeless idealist, but that would make no sense.

    To vie for the possibility of real textual understanding vis-a-vis the biblical texts is not to sink into “modernism” but to think theologically about Scripture and to keep in step with the emphases of classic Protestant bibliology.

    …..my thoughts….AMEN!

  3. As I have read the Bible over the years, I have found within it a consistent theme of … the Bible’s criticism, of itself; our holy men’s confession of fallibility, in themselves, and their pronoucements about God. Earlier in this blog for example, in my comments on the Free Church, I noted the Bible warning that even “angels,” the “messengers” from God, and “churches,” often sin and err.

    Underneath the layer of apparently positive assertions of this or that value in the Bible, I find as a consistent layer of the text, an alternative but massively consistent reading. One in which the Bible itself confesses its own tentativeness and self-doubts; about its own adequacy, and the adequacy of even the holiest religious leaders, and the words they have attributed to God himself.

    This layer of the text, might seem obscure and unlikely, to those without PhD’s in reading texts. And it certainly is different and unsettling. However, I believe it is provable, and consistent. My remarks to Kent on the Free Church began to outline part of this self-critical theme in the Bible itself, with a dozen or so quotes. While I continue this reading, and find yet another example of the self-deconstructive theme in religious wriiting …by re-reading say, Ussher.

    Though I do not know the larger work by Ussher, and I am not familiar with the precise context, the isolated quote you offer for example, can taken in itself, be read as yet another example of a critical comment on religious figures, by a religious figure. In my analysis of Ussher’s remark, I employ a modified version of “Form Criticism”: in the above case I suggest reading Ussher’s statement as being in the “form of,” a logical syllogism. In logical syllogisms, the initial statement – here, that the Bible was written by the Father – is offered not necessarily as a positive true statement, but as an hypothesis.

    This theme of doubt, I believe, is not imposed on religious writing; I believe I can show it is a consistent theme. Citing ultimately, hundreds of examples. Here and in a recent entry to this blog, I have cited about a dozen.

    And after all, sometimes religious writers confess Humility; doubts of their own ability to adequately convey God to us. I believe that theme – of self-doubt by religious writers, the “angels” or messengers from God – is consistent throughout the entire Bible. And in much religious writing; like Ussher’s comment, above.

    This suggests to be sure that the Bible though, has been almost universally misread. And so the notion that the BIble is “plain” or easy to understand, needs indeed to be clarified.

    I might tentatively accept your definition of “perspicacity.” But commonly, the claim of the “perspicacity” of scripture, often IS presented as the idea that the Bible is “plain” (a word used in the Bible itself); or “easy to understand.” Indeed, the dictionary definition of “perspicacious” is: “plain to the understanding esp. because of clarity and precision of presentation” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dict., 10th ed.). In that common formulation – not just my own – the theory is obviously false.

    Note too that even very, very highly educated theologians, differ in their understanding of different passages; so that even vast amounts of learning, have not found a clear or single, meaning to the Bible. Which would also suggest there is no very accessible, single, or assured, path to salvation evident there, either.

    Personally though, by the way, I do not believe that the Bible is without determinate intention, or finally a fairly firm, single or primary meaning. I am arguing for example, that it was its very deliberate, and consistent, and conscious intention, to humbly indicate in some way, its own inadequacy. And those who read the Bible carefully, furthermore, CAN discover this determinatation. Though this final message, is a determined indeterminacy, in effect.

    To be sure, this is an unsettling, even shattering reading; hard for many to “face.” But the Bible told us that one “day” or another, we would be face-to-face with God; and he would show us sins and errors, even in our religion; even in our best ideas of God and Good.

    Both the Bible and Ussher and the dictionary, by the way, used the word “plain.” So would you hold that Ussher and the Bible and the Bible, were presenting a false or straw man version of perspicacity?

    I believe that in all honesty, the more common and even uncommon version of your theory, really DOES assert an easy-to-understand aspect to the Bible; in which case the theory is simply, largely, false. Though your own articulation is admittedly, more defensible, it does not seem to be the prevailing one.

  4. Steve, really nice post. Thank you for this. If you haven’t read John Webster’s essay “Biblical Theology and The Clarity of Scripture” in Out of Egypt (Zondervan, 2004) you should try and get hold of it. Its highly consonant with the direction you’re charting here.

    My concerns related to doctrines of the Scripture’s perspicuity have nothing to do with their necessity, but in how they have often been deployed. The clarity of Scripture is often put to work in tandem with stirring shouts of sola Scriptura in such a way that undermines the intimate relationship between doctrine and Scripture, a relationship that was clearly at work for premodern interpreters of Scripture.

    Take Tertullian as only one example:

    we must not appeal to Scripture . . . one point should be decided first, namely, who holds the faith to which the Bible belongs, and from whom, through whom, when and to whom was the teaching delivered by which men became Christians? For only where the true Christian teaching and faith are evident, will be the true Scriptures, the true interpretations, and all the true Christian traditions be found (On Prescription of Heresies).

    Don’t misread Tertullian; this wasn’t meant to downplay the preeminence of Scripture – by no means! It was meant to point up that because in the debates being played out Scripture was pitted against Scripture, a regula fidei was necessary in order to discern true, canonical interpretation. St. Augustine’s debate with Maximinus is another of many examples where the same scenario played out (See, Debate with Maximinus), and you could point to the Confessing Church’s rejection of Nazism as another.

    I know I sound like a broken record lately, but this is occupying my research and writing this summer. Any thoughts would be helpful Steve.

    • Kent,

      Thanks for mentioning Webster’s essay; I’ll have to read it at some point. On a related note, I like his use of the term “reading” in Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch because with it he stresses a more stripped down approach to interpreting the Bible.

      I am definitely in agreement that it’s easy to combine perspicuity and the sola scriptura slogan in our day in a naive, myopic way that seeks to bypass the riches of the tradition. Around someone overly enamored by the postmodern insistence on our noetic limitations I’m inclined to urge that they develop a doctrinal take on biblical interpretation (hence this post), but around an evangelical with an anti-tradition attitude I’d be inclined to say, in a nutshell, “not so fast.” Doing exegesis under the weight of the church’s doctrinal tradition is a non-negotiable.

      My thinking about the perspicuity of Scripture is mentored largely by Bavinck, Turretin, and Owen, all of whom also provide good Protestant examples of honoring and utilizing the tradition. The way they focus perspicuity on the teachings necessary for saving faith enables them both to affirm an indispensable clarity about the Scriptures and also to reach into the the doctrinal and conceptual storehouses of the church in order to help believers advance through, not different kinds of theological understanding, but different degrees of it. In other words, if perspicuity pertains primarily to the essential truths of the faith and that in an absolute sense (knowing them at a basic level versus not knowing them at all), then there is no threat to the doctrine in promoting growth in conceptual precision and sophistication under the guidance of tradition.

      The importance of the rule of faith in the patristic era seems to me to be the most acute challenge to the scriptural attributes of sufficiency and perspicuity. I say that because it would seem to take us beyond an affirmation of the usefulness of tradition in biblical interpretation toward tradition being absolutely necessary. I’d like to do some more thinking and reading about that dimension of this topic in Bavinck especially. The regula fidei in the early church is something that I’ve thought about more in relation to the authority of Scripture and I think that in The Drama of Doctrine Vanhoozer makes some useful comments on that issue.

  5. Both Ussher AND Tertullian seem like unlikely heros here.

    Ussher – who is advanced here as a sort of exemplar of the centrality of the Bible – is the guy who read the BIble all too literally; and said the universe was formed the night before Oct 23, 4004 BC.

    On the other side of the scale, Tertullian – who is advanced here as an example of the stength not of the Bible, but of ecclesial or church authority – eventually left the Church. Suggesting a) there Tertullian found some problems with some forms of church authority, after all. While b) then too, Tertullian left The Cathuch, for a montanist sect; that held that Judgement Day was immanent in his time; the 3rd century AD. A prediction that was obviously false. So that even his second choice for a church, was false according to T himself, too.

    Having seen the study of History witness to the failure of so many theologians and churches, today when we ask “who is speaking, and to whom,” it is not so much as to find the one true church tradition. But to suggest that nearly all religious pronouncements should be seen as the flawed, fallible product of, after all, all-too-human communities.

    For this reason, though I value 1)the Bible itself, I also 2) know well that we need interpretative tools to read it. But I do not trust 1) Church/dogmatic interpretative traditions or dogmas at all. Which have historically failed, all too many times. Instead, I 2) trust far more (if even here, not totally), modern/postmodern, academically-accepted tools.

    [Editorial correction to earlier post: speaking of "perspicacity" I meant rather, your "perspecuity"; which however is still asserted to mean "plain" or self-evident, in the dictionary definition]

    • Feels like we are back again to the same old worries about authority, etc. and not really discussing the post at hand. I’m just not going to go round and round the mulberry bush on this any more.

  6. Great post. Perspicuity — which in my mind is divine elegance — is sometimes, wrongly, pressed to mean simplicity, as though every passage should yield to brains not yet prepared for them. When this does not happen for them, the Book is blamed.

    In my experience, those who focus on the problematic nature of interpretation suffer from one of four maladies: ignorance, prejudice, a bad conscience or, the ultimate problem, a reprobate heart.

    Strangely, they expect their own words to be understood. They do not apply these precious interpretive issues to themselves.

  7. Well, what IS your criterion for a criterion? Given the record, going with a pre-critical trust or faith, does NOT seem right. Faith is good … unless you have faith in the wrong thing.

    • Brettongarcia,
      Not sure if you were asking me but, given my penchant for self-importance, I will assume it. So, here I go…

      First, faith is not pre-critical, it is, rather, an aspect of my temporal experience that I share with every other human being. It exists as a co-equal with my critical apparatus. Faith is an expression of the pre-theoretical commitment of the supra-temporal heart. The differences between men lie in the deeper regions of the inner disposition, not the expression of faith, although this is a sign pointing back to what lies beneath. In other words, faith follows on from the roots, it is not the root.

      My faith is not my spiritual shopping list, it is a gift from God. I really had no critical say in the matter.

      Second, the critical or analytical aspect of my life is, again, based on the pre-theoretical commitment of the heart — and is driven by that commitment. The notion that man is an autonomous, free-agent who neutrally analyzes things, or seeks what is true is based on a non-Biblical assumption- one that is in-line with the spirit of the age (expressed in both modernity and post-modernity). But, the Biblical disposition of the heart is one that is possessed only by those to whom God grants it (Luke 8:10, John 6:65, Acts 11:18, Philippians 1:29, 2 Tim. 1:19).

      To put it shortly: my criterion of a criterion is the impossibility of the contrary. If not God’s Word, then what else? Or as the apostle Peter said: “To whom else shall we go Lord? You have the words of life.”

      You say that you trust the modernity-post/modernity tools. This betrays a deeper commitment in you that is not Biblical. What is needed in your case is not more intellectual stimulation, but repentance.

      Once you have experienced this, then the laws of interpretation (embedded in the creational order by the Lord- Genesis 2:19) will not be so troublesome to you, and you will not be at odds with yourself, as you continually demonstrate.

      Blessings,
      Chris

  8. Chris:

    My remark was directed at everyone; but especially Duby, who was interested in the problem of circularity (or I would say, also, Infinite Regress) in determining which way to interpret the Bible. But I deliberately left my address open to all; thank you for your response.

    When we look for the “PLAIN” or core message in the Bible, people often focus on “faith.” But that I suggest elsewhere is wrong. I feel the pull, the appeal of “faith” in the Bible. But I also see some warnings about even faith itself.

    Personally, I see SOME place for faith. But the Bible itself often warned about problems, even in faith. Which 1) Paul said, is not as great as “love,” say; which 2) can be mistaken in its object, having faith in a “false spirit,” a false idea of God. Even 3) the heart to which you refer, can be “deceived” and wrong, the Bible often warned.

    So that neither “faith” nor the “heart” are a sure guide to finding God. According to the Bible itself. And they are not quite the core or “plain” message.

    To be sure, faith has a role in our Christianity. But not quite as prominent a role as many think. Indeed, I assert, faith should NOT be our major criterion, in life, religion, or – our main subject here – in understanding the Bible. Rather, I show elsewhere, the Bible itself demands a more critical approach to life and to the Bible itself. Since the “heart” is often deceived and false; since our faith is often inadequate, or directed at the wrong object.

    Still, I do hear what you are saying; and partially agree. But only partially. (And I’m less at war with myself than you think; eventually I reconciled these apparently warring trends).

    Be careful; faith and the heart are less reliable than you think … even according to the Bible itself.

    If we want to understand the Bible, and follow it, recourse to “heart” and “faith” are actually, far, far less central than most theologians and churches have though. But also unreliable, finally, is the notion that there is some kind of simple or “plain” message in the Bible; like the message to follow faith. Not only the testimony of History, but also a more careful reading of the Bible itself, proves that common notion is wrong. Look up the words “faith” and “heart” in a Bible concordance; and follow up not the places where the Bible seemed to support them, but the counter-examples where the Bible warned about problems in them.

    To be sure, I sense something right in you; but be more careful and … humble. “For we all make many mistakes.” As even one of the Twelve Apostles, one of the authors of the Bible, said of us, and of himself (James).

    There are many, many “false spirits” out there; indeed the Bible warned, one “day” God is supposed to reveal that the whole earth, even most of its religion, has been deceived, by a false religious leader, a false idea of Christ (Rev. 13, etc.).

    Be careful! Simple, “blind” reliance on “faith” or the “heart” is NOT the core or “plain” message of the Bible.

  9. brettongarcia,
    A healthy mistrust of oneself is always, well, healthy. This seems like a truism. But, there is such a thing as an unhealthy mistrust of things like grammar, syntax, literary structures, and thematics.

    I am not sure that my placement of faith was all that clear in my previous post, given how much you are harping on that note. I do not trust “faith” (which seems like another way of saying I do not trust trust, which gives away the conversation already). Let me try and be as clear (perspicuous?) as I can this time.

    Faith is not the Scriptures. Faith is an aspect of my temporal experience that is expressed in theological formulations, creeds, etc. It is not the core of my life. Rather, the inner disposition of the heart is, which is likewise NOT faith, rather, it is the new birth.

    But, to place my analytic faculties as some kind of neutral mode of discovery is making the same mistake as placing faith there. It is just another way of dilating my temporal experience above the Word. Besides, where in the Bible does it tell us to follow faith, as you said?

    When Anselm said “credo ut intelligam” he was on to something. But, had he dug deeper he would have said with the Apostle Paul, “faith…it is the gift of God” just as understanding is. The new birth is the beginning, not faith.

    In saying this I am not trying to deny the place of the mind nor of faith, but rather what I want say is that the starting point of all understanding is a new life. The harmony between a man and the Scriptures is evident in the child-like acceptance of them as absolute, apart from empirical study (1 Thess. 2:13). This is something that is not obtained through study.

    About the modernity-post/modernity thing- I have an appreciation for the contribution that men on both sides have made. In your emphasis on the analytical mode of life you seem to side with the modernists, but in your mistrust of certainty you sound like Badiou. Is it possible to have it both ways?

    For the modernist assumption of knowledge is based on a very certain and dogmatic principle, just as post-modernity is. But, they are contrary, and I highly doubt that a dialectical synthesis between them is possible. Actually, I know it is not possible, for they are based on the dilation of aspects of our experience into two religious commitments, which are antithetical to one another.

    PS- Circularity is not really a problem. Everyone stands on a circle. Some are bigger, some are smaller. The real question is: which one is true?

    Blessings,
    Chris

  10. Chris:

    You seem to suggest that the transparent/”plain” center, core, of the Christian experience is something like this: it is the feeling of a simple, new heart, new life, new spirit; that we get when we say, “accept Jesus Christ as our personal God and savior,” rather as Billy Graham used to say. And we are to accept this new spirit, with a childlike acceptance. Without worrying about mistranslations or misunderstandings, or the possibility we are accepting the wrong spirit.

    So in other words, in your core, I sense a feeling that you and many feel that the plain center of Christianity, it is supposed to be essentially, an acceptance of – or 1) faith in? – 2) something new, a new life or 3) spirit, 4) in your “heart” or deep feelings.

    But I’ve been suggesting, here in this post and earlier ones, that the Bible itself, if you read it closely, warned constantly of bad and “false” things in nearly every aspect of religion; even in 1) faith; 2) some “new” things; 3) spirits, and 4) our “heart”s. As well as earlier, 5) every other aspect of religion, including “angels.” And 6) “church”es. Even when they are presented as the heart of Christ. (See earlier remarks here, on the “Free Church”). In particular the Bible warned, even things, spirits that appeal to our emotions or “heart,” are often misleading. The Bible even warned that essentially, the whole earth or world, would be deceived by a false idea of Christ (Rev. 13 etc.).

    Many feel that the essence of Christianity, is a simple feeling of acceptance of a “spirit” of acceptance and faith, in our “hearts,” particularly. But given all these warnings from the Bible, about false things in such elements in religion, how trusting should we be? Of whatever new spirit or faith in our hearts it is, that Christians have accepted worldwide? Because finally, this problem presents itself: when you are accepting a new spirit or lifestyle, into your heart, how can you be sure you have accepted the RIGHT spirit? And not one of the foretold, “false spirits”? How can you be sure you are not just bying into the worldwide “delusion” or false religion, the Bible warned about?

    So what is, finally, the right spirit? The right vision of God? What does the Bible itself say?

    Many assert that the message of the Bible is simple, “plain,” or reliably accessible in some way. Many churches assert that their theology, is from some kind of plain and simple and self-evident – or here, “perspicuous” – message or spirit, from the BIble. But in my studies, I found many warnings in the Bible, that we should not trust the “plain” surface of language, or even a “spirit” that appeals immediately, to our “heart.”

    In my studies I found hundreds of warnings, about deceptions particularly in religious writings and words: even in apparently open, plain, religious writings and language; “false” things even in ” gospels”; false and unreliable “words” and sayings that “the Lord said.” Problems in language itself; in the “confusion of tongues.”

    Therefore, to read the Bible better, to find out what the Bible considered the right spirit, its core message, I spent many years in school learning about syntax, grammar, semantics, and literary and historical interpretation.

    And finally, after having done that, I came to the conclusion that the message of the Bible, the spirit it REALLY wants us to have, is somewhat different from the often simple spirit of faith, or simple faithful acceptance of a spirit, that you or most churches seem to have accepted, as the spirit from God.

    Among other things, the Bible did NOT want you to be TOO trusting and accepting, of the plain surface of religion; of the things that appeal to simple understanding; the spirit of simple acceptance of things asserted to be “plain” and clear.

    Life just isn’t that simple or “plain” or that easily-accessible. And neither is the Bible, or religion, or God either. When the world grasped for and accepted a number of concepts as simple, plain, self-evident, and took them to heart, when it took in an all-too-simple and all-too-trusting “faith
    … it took into itself, a partially false spirit. Perhaps the false spirit was, an exaggerated and dangerous and too-trusting, simple-mindedness?

    My studies of the Bible finally suggested that, that the simplest faith – faith in simplicity; faith in miracles; faith in spirits; a circular faith in faith – actually, largely mislead the whole world. What the Bible itself finally called for, ultimately, beyond a “blind” and simple faith, was a more developed, analytical, critical spirit.

    What the Bible itself finally called for, I suggest, beyond a simple, “blind” acceptance of simple formulas and dogmas, was acceptance of the spirit of something more like … critical academic theology. And that was not to be, a quick acceptance of a few simple or plain formulas, or memorized phrases, or dogmas.

  11. Brettongarcia,
    No, that is not what I am saying. I am suggesting harmony between the renewed heart and the written revelation of God. I am saying what Athanasius and Augustine said, although they said it better. I think I am trying to say what 2000 years of Christendom has said as well. My trust is not in trust, but in the written Word.

    You, on the other hand, are opposed to it all- no matter how it is framed.

    I suppose time will reveal who was right.

    When Mary met Jesus near the tomb, after His resurrection, she was not as sophisticated as you are, but she knew more than you do. She knew her Lord.

    See you at the end.

  12. The Bible warned that our “hearts” are often “deceived” and false. Therefore, to understand scripture we should not just use our “hearts,” but also our minds; we need to have “the mind of Christ.” Without that critical mind, the world has ended up following a false, sentimental idea of Christ; a false Christ.

  13. Bretton,
    The thing is, you are certain that you understand the passages about our hearts being deceived, but you deny that there is certainty when it comes to the rest of Scripture? You will not allow that there are others who know more than you, but you are certain that you know what you are talking about? You are dogmatic in your denial of ecclesiastical dogmatics.

    Yes, we engage our minds, no doubt, but a mind guided by an unrenewed heart is going to end up with the kind of self-contradictions that you are displaying here. You oppose yourself (2 Tim. 2:25). This is the rub with post-modern assumptions- it always leads to a kind of nihilism.

    PS- Revelation 13 is not about an idea, but a person who presumptively takes on the role of savior.

  14. Chris Zodrow:

    The usual ideal of the core or “plain” meaning of the Bible, is tht we must following the loving “heart” of our priests and ministers, or their vision of a loving Jesus. They see a heart-guided message, as the “plain” or “core” meaning of the Bible; and stress our hearts specifically, should be guided by our churches. As priests assures us that the Bible tells us, we should duly follow our priests and ministers and churches.

    But the reading many PhD academics and others have, finds a very, very different core meaning to the Bible, entirely: one that warns us about essentially “all” religious leaders, and churches (“all have sinned”). While that reading seems confirmed not only by many academics’ readings; and by what we see “come to pass” in real life (Deut.).

    History, the record of what comes to pass in real life, tells us this: our churches, ecclesiastical dogmatics, 1) engaged in physical wars with each other; as they 2) told each other they were wrong. They 3) promised us miracles, that do not appear as often as promised. While 4) in the present-day Church, priests are sexually molesting little boys, and 5) essentially all the Bishops lie to cover it up.

    Therefore, 6) when I and others, read in the Bible, warnings about churches being bad, often, that seems to be doubly confirmed; it not only corresponds to a) our reading of hundreds of passages in the Bible, but b) also correlates to what I see “come to pass” in real life.

    For these and other reasons, I reject ecclesiastical or church-centered dogmatics. And 7) trust, far far more, critical academic theology, and Biblical criticism. And to the parts of the Bible that warned us about churches.

    Many of us therefore adamantly refuse a church- or ecclesiastical reading of the Bible.

    For me, a more objective reading, comes up with an entirely different “core” or “plain” meaning than our churches do. And yet this is not entirely, proudly individualistic. Indeed, 8) the Protestant reading, remember, until very recently often said adamantly that the Catholic Church was a foretold false church; and its Popes, were the foretold “anti-Christ”s. This reading was long accepted by most Protestant churches. Then suddenly, recently, it disappeared.

    Should I follow my heart? My 9)heart tells me that you yourself, are deceived, or are a deceiver. You have been programmed, by hypnotic repetition from childhood, into the service of a false church, a false Christ. So: 10) will you not listen to your heart, and examine the evidence objectively?

    The Bible better read, delivers a core message, that in many respects is exactly opposite, to what you believe. A message that does not stress ecclesiastial dogmatics, to say the least.

    Will you 11) be able to put off your “illusions” and “delusions,” the “false spirit” of your “deceived heart”; and “see” at last?

    This may help you get over your spiritual blindness: 12) can you remember the moment of disappointment, when you discovered that promises of physical miracles were not real? Can you carry that further, to at last, see many other sins, even in the “spiritual” or metaphorical version of Christianity?

    Learn to see this side of the Bible; which finds a very, very different “plain” core meaning.

    For that matter 13) how “plain” is the message of the Bible? Though parts of the Bible seem to suggest that God at times speaks to SOME “plain”ly, other times it suggests it speaks very, very indirectly, allusively; and only to a very few.

    By the way – 14 – I went through nihilism, and got over it. I now have a positive vision – but one very different from yours).

    The whole world follows a false idea of the “plain” core of religion; open your eyes and see at last. Your appeal, your “love,” of a “heart,” is seductive; but … it is a dishonest seduction. “Love” finally – especially the love of the deceived, or the deceptive – must be firmly rejected.

    Many are seduced into evil, into love of evil things, by “love.” So that, your core truth, is not the core truth of the Bible or of God, either.

    Open your eyes, and see. 15) Your idea that only YOUR own church-based idea is the right interpretatation of the Bible, is where you and the churches fell, to one of the foretold deceits of the heart: to Vanity, and Pride.

    There are 16) many of us out here, who are not following institutional religion, for these reasons; consider joining these more honest people; who testify to what they have seen and heart, of the true word of God.

    Can you get over your Pride and Vanity? And see?

  15. “The Bible better read, delivers a core message, that in many respects is exactly opposite, to what you believe”.

    So, what is it? Do you have a blog or research site where you are enlightening the minds of the lost such as myself?

    Will you be starting a church where everyone believes in your new dogmatics? You see, dogmatics, the “core message” is, as you inadvertently admit, impossible to avoid.

    You just want a different dogmatics. One that will unleash a new church on the world where guys such as yourself hold sway.

  16. I don’t yet have a good, representative blog at this time; just a specialized-subject blog, on my stance specifically against the conservative and anti-abortion heresies (“God Doesn’t Say, ‘Vote Republican’”; Brettongarcia’s Blog @Wordpress).

    But here and now, in part, I’m modestly suggesting something as revolutionary as what some Protestants said for centuries: the churches are not reliable. Added to that, what good, objective academics have been saying for years: let’s not trust churches, as much as good, objective, academic metholology.

    So if you’re interested in any of this in a positive way, just keep/start looking into say, Religious Studies, Biblical Criticism, and so forth. With maybe an historical glance backward, at the old Protestant critiques of the Catholic Church. Which I extend to all churches finally; including Protestant churches themselves.

    This critique though, can be unsettling: it finally sees churches as almost a sort of conscious conspiracy to fool, “enchant,” hypnotise, domesticate the masses. The churches typically read an otherwise liberating Bible, in such a way as to emphasize only its emphasis on conformity and blind obedience to authority, and churches. Until they deem you of sufficient maturity to be released to your own personal recognizance, or a “well formed conscience.” Which most of us would have developed long ago, if we had only been allowed to.

    Personally, I am rather centered on the Bible itself; which I think is a whole order of magnitude better than any existing church’s doctrines allegedly based on it. And better those whose doctrines, theologies, that simply or secretly leave the Bible altogether.

    Probably no popular church whatsoever, really gets beyond an all-too-simple, all-too-”plain,” oversimplified and misrepresentative reading of the Bible. In particular, there seems to be a massive over-emphasis in nearly all churches, in the parts of teh Bible that might be read to support churches, religious authority; and a massive under-reporting of the even more parts of the Bible, that warn about all religious authorities altogether.

    Since I support the constant criticism of ALL religious authority though, I have no particular desire to become one myself; like many academics, I currently insist on allowing the field to remain very, very open, and free of dogmatism.

    But if I have any preferences, I emphasize 1) the Bible itself, and a broadly educated reader, as often a far better authority than any existing Church. Noting that 2) the Bible in fact, warns about all religious authorities, churches (and even, selfdeconstructively, about itself).

    While I and other allies, will soon suggest elsewhere, 3) ultimately the Bible defers, beyond churches, beyond even “faith” and “love,” to a rather objective, Science of God. One rather like our current Religious Studies, and Biblical Criticism.

    But if I have a center, it is still the Bible; though I believe the word “Plain” is rather misleading. There is finally a liberating message under all the conformity and dogma and mental coercion; but it takes some work to find it.

    Though to be sure, just jumping the track, and just reading a few dozen random parts of the Bible that were not assigned to you in class or church … will give you an impression of a wilder, far more open Bible, than you will ever hear about in church.

    • Bretton, Chris has a point. This blog is not the place for you to write your treatises; use your own blog for that. From here on out, we are not going to approve these exceptionally long posts that consist of you laying out your views on various topics. Please, no offense Bretton, just do it on your blog.

  17. Sorry for any digression. To try to briefly tie my comments very directly, to the central topic here: here, I support aspects of “Perspecuity,” while giving my take on the four main, conventionally-recognized sub-issues relating to this topic. Especially I support the 1) primacy of the Bible itself; but feel we need discussion on 2) the issue of “Plainness.” As well I discuss the recognized, absolutely central issue of 3) the usefulness of our own, independent readings of the Bible; 4) particularly as versus, the churches.

    Though I have presented my own position on this, I hope I have tied it systematically and consistently, to the four major, recognized issues in scholarly discussion of the present blog subject: to the problems and strengths, of “Perspecuity.”

  18. I’m reading Sailhamer’s opus magnum released this year, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, which is as much an exercise in the perspicuity of Scripture as it is a study of the Pentateuch, per se. I find his basic thesis fairly convincing, that when we look at authorial intent embedded in the inspired final form of the text, lots of confusing things seem to clear up.

    Has anyone else read it?

    • Jim, I haven’t read it, but I find myself increasingly less sure that searching about for the authorially intended meaning “embedded in the final form of the text” is the only (or even the best) way to construe the sum and total of biblical interpretation. This is a conversation for another day though; I’m on holiday.

  19. Yes, Kent, I gathered that is where you’ve been leaning from previous comments you’ve made on TF. But I’m concerned about the modern/postmodern erosion of confidence in Scripture and appreciate Steve’s questions on this post. Is “confidence” in Scripture really warranted, and if so, what kind of confidence? The extended dialogue we had on TF with Kenton Sparks about his God’s Word in Human Words raised the same kinds of thorny issues about “science/archaeology” and the reliability of Scripture that Brettongarcia has been pestering us with lately. It’s so hard to wade through his verbiage, I can’t tell whether he embraces Sparks’ flavor of “critical realism” or something more nuanced, although it seems he has “given away the store” to science; he is certainly not alone, and with Sparks we all but totally lose our theological compass in Scripture: What, if anything, can you trust?

    In that thread with Sparks, we surfaced at least one hermeneutical crux in this regard: the analogy between the Passover/Exodus and the work of Christ (1 Cor 5:7); i.e., if the former never occurred in any historically meaningful way, how was Israel’s faith in God legitimately grounded? I’m convinced that there is a good “answer” to Sparks’ thesis that allows us to place a great deal more confidence in the “final form” of the text of Scripture, and I think Sailhamer has produced a very effective “shot across the bow” in this regard in The Meaning of the Pentateuch, even though that was not his ostensible purpose. It is really well done, IMHO, with a particularly good defense of authorial intent as a manifest “intelligent design” in both composition and compilation of the texts.

  20. What box? Kent, I certainly did not just blithely assume that you embraced the presuppositions I was concerned about and I apologize if that was the impression I gave—I freely admit I don’t know the source of your skepticism about the sufficiency of the final form of the text for biblical interpretation. My point was only to underscore one quite prevalent source of skepticism and offer what I see as a valid model worthy of more confidence. If this model can also encourage those whose skepticism arises from other concerns than those I mentioned, it will be because res ipsa loquitur, not just because I think it.

    Hope your enjoying your holiday!

  21. Jim:

    The “final” form of the Bible I find particularly interesting and liberating. But is it “perspicuous” in the sense of being “plain”; in the sense of being simple? Does the final form, outline a few simple, traditional rules for life?

    James Barr and Richard Bauckham both at least once referred to the “literary” or poetically polysemous or metaphorical – or complex – quality of the Bible (“Interpretation,” Ox. Comp. to the Bible, p. 320; also “2 Peter,” p. 586.)

    In its “final” form especially (say in the RSV or NIV?), I likewise don’t find the Bible to be particularly “perspicacious” in the sense of being a) “plain” or simple. I instead find b) it to be “perspicuous” in Duby’s sense: of being more complex; more “literary” or “poetic” or selfdeconstructive. But offering through this more complex means, a final, difficult, more complex, but ultimately accessible, liberation or salvation.

    • I’m not sure if you’re saying that my take on the perspicuity of Scripture is what comes after the colon above, but I’m not able to find my viewed summed up in what you’ve said. Yes, the Bible has its literary and poetic subtleties, but I’m not sure what you mean by “self-deconstructive” and I hold that both the salvation described in the Bible and the description of it in the Bible (res significata and modus significandi alike) are accessible. However, as I commented above, this in no way strips away the need for rigorous exegetical work and it doesn’t mean that every part of every text is straightforwardly grasped by the reader.

  22. Wow, Brett . . . that was really clear and refreshingly succinct! Thank you for making that effort; I really feel you heard me and honored me in the discussion.

    In response to your first two questions, the answer is a definite and emphatic “No. ” I would move in exactly the opposite direction from a “rules” or “plain” or “simple” or “obvious” notion when I speak of perspicuity. In fact, such an approach to the perspicuity of Scripture typically only leads to more “constraint” or false sense of “obligation” or downright “slavery” to the letter of the text.

    To the rest of your comments I give a hearty “Yes!” in just the way you framed it, “…ultimately accessible, liberation or salvation.” My only qualification would be: “salvation” understood three-dimensionally and not merely the shop-worn sense of justification that we evangelicals so typically obsess about.

    Sailhamer IMO simply makes the more complex; more “literary” or “poetic” or selfdeconstructive “cookies” more accessible to those less familiar with hermeneutical terminology, yet he liberally quotes the original Latin and German as he develops his case historically in his well-conceived and thoughtful footnotes, esp. for those who suspect he may be using smoke and mirrors. In this light, your notion of “selfdeconstructive” is especially well handled in the way he conceives the composition of the Pentateuch and the “apparent contradictions” therein.

    In response to Steve, if I understand you correctly (Brett), I would therefore hear Brett saying “selfdeconstructive” in this sense: God’s revelation is given “historically” to the people of God in a particular context and time in a way that reflects His character in direct response to their need for deliverance in that context. This particular revelation will need “deconstruction” for subsequent generations of the people of God with progressive revelation when they face an evolving context in “history,” but the composition and compilation of the text (i.e., canonical ordering and placement of literary “seams”) takes into consideration this “adaptation” throughout the history of these people, as the final form of the text takes shape under the guidance of God. I think it is not too presumptuous to call that process “selfdeconstruction” and still see perspicuity.

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