Re Reading Bible as Tradition

The more I read Anchorite apologetics, the more I realize they never deal with Reformed Presbyterians, but Baptists. That’s cool. Baptists are ubiquitous. The problem is the subconscious projection of Baptist mentality upon Magisterial Presbyterianism.

Reading the Bible as Tradition by Andrew Stephen Damick.

Interestingly, I had this same thought yesterday.  Question:  is the LXX translation also a tradition?  It most certainly is, since translations are tradition. I’ll come back to that.

I recently came across a conversation online in which someone insisted that he didn’t need tradition at all, because he had the Bible.

This statement is universally rejection by our confessions (though it is the American mindset, sadly).

If you are reading the Bible for yourself at home , then you are unlike most Christians in history, most of whom could never afford a Bible and many of whom could not read.

I agree 100%.  This is why our confessions say that especially the preaching of the Word of God.  This reinforces the Verbal Ontology that is from God’s revelation.  So I say “amen” to the good father.

If you believe that the Bible’s meaning is simply apparent to you without anyone’s help, then you are discounting everything you have learned about what the Bible means from other people and even what language itself means

Again, I agree.  The above mentality, typical of American evangelicals but firmly rejected by Confessional Protestants, is simply Greek autonomy in new dress.  The desire for unmediated truth.

If you are reading a translation of the Bible, then you are trusting someone else’s word about what it says. The Bible never says it’s okay to use translations, and it doesn’t endorse one over another.

This is a good rebuttal to King James Onlyism.  I would like to add my own thoughts.  We see the apostles using both the LXX and the Hebrew traditions.

If you are reading the Bible in the original languages, then you not only had someone teach you Greek or Hebrew, but you also made a choice or accepted someone else’s choice when it came to which version of the Biblical text you would read. There are multiple manuscript traditions, and they’re not all the same.

See above.  I took years of textual criticism and this is old hat.

If you are reading the Old Testament in Hebrew, then you’re not using the Old Testament most often used by the apostles in their writings, which was the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament made by Greek-speaking Jews completed perhaps as early as the late second century BC.

I dispute that it’s overwhelmingly so.  What we don’t see from the apostles is a clear endorsement of the LXX over the Hebrew, nor does it vindicate a lot of the LXX’s goofiness as a whole.

If you are reading the Old Testament at all, then you are benefiting from the Jewish community’s traditions of textual transmission and editing—and not just the Jewish community in general, but particular parties within Judaism, which as a whole had several different incipient canons all by the time of Christ. And within the text itself, there are clear signs that not everything written under someone’s name is from that person. For instance, the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, both attributed to Moses, include the details of his death and burial. How could Moses have written that? He didn’t. Those details were included in a process of tradition.

There is a lot of stupidity in American evangelicalism, but this borders on insulting their intelligence.  Anyone with even a mediocre study bible knows all of this.

And the Bible you read may have a different Old Testament than the one the apostles did, i.e., not just different in language but with a different list of books (the Septuagint includes books like Tobit, Baruch and the Maccabees).

But in his above point he conceded that the Judaisms had multiple canons.  How does he know that the apostles are using the Hellenized Alexandrian canon and not the Hebraic Palestinian one?   Textual scholarship is by no means leaning towards the former view.   After Beckwith it is hard to even countenance it.

But what I try to tell anchorites is that Protestants hold to tradition in a ministerial sense.

It’s impossible to read the Bible without tradition. Tradition gave you the Bible. So the question really is: Which tradition?

I’ll take it a step further:  how do you know which tradition in a non-circular manner? This problem is by no means limited to sola scriptura.  It is the heart of every claim to authority.

Argument: The Apostolic Church teaches it, therefore it must be so.

Dilemma: This is 100% circular reasoning. In order to accept this, you have to first accept the presupposition that the “apostolic” church in question is infallible, which is in and of itself circular reasoning. It should likewise be noted that I have heard this argument made even when all previous evidence already stated in this post has been brought forward. At this point, it’s just appealing to authority of the individual church group, despite evidence that this group is in error.

Extra Israel nulla salus

The question in the canon debate is not whether the Church approves–and hence creates–the canon, but whether Israel’s Scriptures approve the church (per Robert Jenson).

The second question is not whether am I saved because I am part of Institution x (which makes mutually exclusive claims from Institution y, both of which damn eternally members in the Set ~{xy} ), but rather “Am I ingrafted in Israel?”

That question gets tricky.  Paul specifically says the true church (leaving undefined at the moment, which he did) is en grafted into God’s olive tree, which identity is Israel.   But he says ethnic Israel has been (temporarily) cut off (sidenote:  regardless of millennial views, how someone can read Romans 11 and not see a future inbringing of Jews is simply amillennialism’s desperate last gasp).

This brings us back to the question of identity:   those who are saved are the in-grafted-into-Israel-ones.  I leave aside questions of eternal salvation at the moment.  Paul affirms a future inbringing of Jews–which will be the catalyst for life-for-the-world.

Corollary:  Communions which are anti-semitic are under a negative judgment per Paul’s comments circa ingrafting.

Corollary 1b: I do not agree with everything the modern nation state of Israel does.  I do not vote Republican.

Corollary 2: Is the Church the New Israel?  I know covenant theologians like to make that connection, and I am sympathetic to some of the conclusions (e.g., infant baptism), and I understand that New Testament writers use OT priestly language in reference to the church, but I hesitate saying that.  While the position isn’t fundamentally wrong, it clouds the discussion and turns attention away from the dialectical purpose of God in history (I know that was a very Hegelian sentence.  I don’t mean it that way): the church is a mystery revealed in these last times, of whom ethnic Israel is jealous, which jealously shall lead to their conversion; which conversion shall be life for the world.

That is the essence of New Testament eschatology.

A narratival sola scriptura

Formally: The scriptures are a witness to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ (Karl Barth).
Materially: The scriptures narrate the story of Israel’s God who raised The Israelite from the dead (Robert W. Jenson) and ushered in the kingdom (Pannenberg and NT Wright).

Implications: At this point I am simply arguing based on the Hebrew scriptures alone. We can debate whether this OT canon was formally closed or not, but neither the Sanhedrin of Jesus’s time, nor Jesus himself, seemed too bothered about a “horizon-less” canon.

Corollary: By anchoring my view in the Hebrew Scripture (and seeing the NT documents as supplementary witnesses to the revelation of the Kingdom in Jesus of Nazareth, again Jenson), I am doing an end-run around the claim that I am accepting the documents of the church but rejecting the church. I think that claim is silly, but I will pretend it holds water for the moment.

If one doesn’t anchor sola scriptura in some form of “narratival epistemology” or “narratival ontology,” then its hard to see how it can stand against more tradition-based claims.

Passing a Peace Pipe on the Canon

I am willing to consider 1 Maccabees canonical if those High traditions concede the very point of 1 Maccabees:  the complete destruction of Hellenization, which would mean, among other things, the removal of the LXX, and the eliminating of overly-allegorical hermeneutics (Paul used it for illustration, not doctrine, and certainly not the negation of the “earthiness” of the Old Testament, which is precisely how it was employed; and this also applies to some Reformed folks today.  Typology only works if your audience already agrees with you on type and anti-type).

I really can’t consider 2 Macc. as canonical.  It’s okay as far as literature goes, but there are some problems (like sacrificing for dead idolaters).  3rd Macc is one of the worst books in human history.

Review of Turretin, volume 1, part 1

Recent (that is, pre-1992 A.D.) Reformed theology can be sadly described as a generation arising “which knew not Turretin.” To paraphrase Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring: Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Turretin’s categorical form of argumentation was one of those “things.” Turretin’s strength is in identifying precisely the issue in question. This allows him to accept and acknowledge points of agreement with his opponents,rather than simply seeing everything as “Arminian.” Recent Reformed (and Arminian-Papist) polemics have all focused on a few issues: predestination, free will, assurance, the Canon, etc.

Turretin understood that there were other issues, too: anthropology, middle knowledge, etc. which also need to be addressed. The English translation of Turretin fills a woeful lacuna.


While it might be anachronistic to label Turretin’s epistemology as “Common Sense Realism,” one can see similarities. Reason is not ultimate, but it is a reliable guide not only in matters of “nature” but also in “grace.” In using reason in theology, Turretin distinguishes between two extremes. Unlike the irrationalists (Anabaptists, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox), reason can function as a principia in theology. It is not the fundamental principia upon which all theology rests (that is the principium essendi); rather, it is an instrumental principle (I: 24).

Turretin does ascribe a functional role to “natural reason.” Natural man, whatever that phrase means, can understand axiomatic truths (29-30). Reason is of particular instrumental use in terms of inference and middle premises. For example, Christ’s ubiquity denied in the following way: “Besides, while the theologian uses arguments drawn from reason, he does it rather as a philosopher rather than as a theologian. As to the ubiquity of the body of Christ, we reject this doctrine both philosophically and theologically, because it is absurd and contradicts the first principles of theology and philosophy.” In other words, the definition of a human nature is that it isn’t ubiquitously extended into space. The Lutheran (and EO) view of the communicatio extends it ubiquitously in space. Therefore, such view is wrong.

Turretin explains:[T]he middle term [in the theological syllogism] is not taken from reason, but scripture…For example, I deny that the glorified body of Christ is everywhere, having taken from Scripture this mean, that it is a real body” (26-27)
Canon and Scripture

So did the Church create the canon? If so, doesn’t that mean the church has authority over the canon? Turretin meets this challenge head-on and notes, given what everyone accepts about principia, proves that the Protestant position is the only feasible one. If the Scriptures come primarily from God—as all must concede—then they bear God’s authority. If they bear God’s authority, then they get their primary authentication from God (85ff). That the church was instrumental in delivering aspects of a canon (I still dispute that the church gave a neat canon) no one denies. That is precisely the point: the church was instrumental, not original. Only the Protestant doctrine of magisterial and ministerial authority can make sense of this point.

Reformation and Ratio Legis

I’ll open comments in a few weeks.  Right now it seems to simply serve the opportunity to repeat old arguments from Energetic Procession, not really bothering to really get to the heart of the issue.

George Gillespie made an interesting argument in English Popish Ceremonies.  The question, raised and practiced by his adversaries, is who (and by what rule) gets to bind the conscience concerning a ceremony in the church?  Phrased another way: what makes a ceremony/act (lighting a candle, bowing, crossing, kissing the relic of St Agnes’ toeknuckle) intrinsically holy? (and by that last phrase it really depends on the tradition.  For the Romanist it could mean conveying the material substance known as grace.  For the Anchorite it could be transmitting God’s own energies.  For the Episcopalian it could mean whatever fluffy thought she saw on Oprah that morning).

Ponder that question for a moment:  what makes an act holy in church worship?  I might be missing some categories, but I think it reduces to two options:  an act is holy because the Church says so, or an act is holy in and of itself.   Taking the first option, we have something close to nominalisim–things become what they are because someone says so (I realize this isn’t the specific definition of philosophical nominalism, but it is a practical application of it).  Other problems are concurrent with it:  tracing the practice of this act in earlier times of the church (which is, quite frankly, impossible; Tertullian admits that the earliest use of the sign of is in the mid 2nd century.  This is hard to square with Jesus’ promise that he lays no further burden on you.  If something as innocent and innocuous as the sign of the cross is missing from this list Jesus gives us, what do we say about the more elaborate rituals? )

The other way a practice can be morally binding is that if it corresponds to the “ratio legis,” law or principle of reason.   Far from being a blanket statement of rationalism, one must keep in mind the cornerstone of Reformed epistemology:  concerning theological matters Scripture is the principium cognoscendi et obiectum formale fideo ac theologiae revelatae.  If Scripture is our principium, and our worship is to correspond to the ratio legis, then our worship corresponds to Scripture.

I realize that may not convinced the Anchorite Apologist, but I do not think it has the same flaws that his position has.

The Anchorite will quickly respond, “Oh yeah, if you want to appeal to the Bible, then you need to explain how you got the Bible except through the Church.”  The implication in this argument, such that it is, is that if the Church created the canon, then it has the right to say how it is to be read.    How do we respond to this?

  1. If we say that the Church created the canon, then we have to admit something like the Church determines God’s word. If the Church determines God’s word, then the church is claiming to determine God’s Word.   This is blasphemy.  It is placing fallible man above God.
  2. God’s word, since it comes from God’s Word, has authority independent of the Church’s recognizing it’s limits in time and space (e.g., the Canon).   If God’s Word has authority vis-a-vis God, and God is eternal, then God’s Word has eternal authority.
  3. I know traditionalists do not like the Protestant argument that the church merely recognizes the canon, but I don’t see a way around it.   Given who the speaking-God is, the church merely recognizes where he has spoken.   However, even this recognition is fallible and human.  If the  perfect Incarnate Logos did not have infinite knowledge according to his human nature, then how can the church claim such knowledge vis-a-vis the Canon?

If Judith be canonical

…then inerrancy must be abandoned.  Consider the chronology:

We have a seventh century B.C. Assyria, under the rule of a sixth century Chaldean (Babylonian) king, invading a fifth century restored Judah, with an army led by a fourth century Persian general (Holofernes was the Persian general under Artaxerxes III in the successful campaign against Egypt in the fourth century B.C.). In truth, no major attacks were made on Jerusalem while under Persian rule in the fifth and fourth centuries (an unprecedented period of peace for war-weary Canaan).

Similar problems can be leveled at Tobith.   Anchorites have tried to exonerate these two books, but their attempts prove my point.  Jimmy Akin suggests either (1) the errors are traced to bad manuscripts, or (2) they are fairy tales.  The problem with (1) is that Akin gives us no examples of this being the case, nor does he list any scholars who take that position.  (I am not an expert on apocryphal manuscript traditions, but I doubt many are; I have, however, read a good bit on the Apocrypha and for a time argued for it, and I never came across that claim.  There are no doubt minor manuscript variances–that is true with any document.  What the Anchorite needs to show, though, is that there is a significant error or variation at this particular point.  No argument was given, though).   Affirming (2) effectively concedes the point.  You can’t hold to inerrancy and call key parts of the Bible, which are presented as history, fairy tales.