Sunday, May 04, 2008

WTS’s Historical and Theological Field Committee (HTFC) on the Formulation of the Doctrine of Scripture, P. 1

Using the WTS’s HTFC’s “Inspiration and Incarnation: A Response”, I aim to examine WTS’ approaches to doctrinal formulation, which are being used as their measuring tape to negatively evaluate Enns’ thesis. Hence I will not be in any sense defending Peter Enns’ stance in particular. I am more concern with the 3 underlying theological presumptions and methods that gave rise to WTS’ disagreement with Enns.

Observation 1: Hermeneutics and the Formulation of Doctrine

“While it is appropriate and important to seek to understand biblical passages in terms of their cultural context, it is inappropriate, in a Reformed, confessional context, to let those phenomena determine what the Bible is (i.e., a doctrine of Scripture). Such a methodology denies that we determine our doctrine of Scripture in terms of its self-witness alone; it denies that a doctrine of Scripture is gleaned by virtue of what Scripture says about itself.” (Emphasis original. Inspiration and Incarnation: A Response by The Historical and Theological Field Committee, p. 5).

“…the consensus of Reformed thought has always been that Scripture is the Word of God; God is its primary author. Problems, interpretive and otherwise, are understood and worked out within that overarching context, so that evidential and extra-biblical phenomena are never meant to determine the doctrine of Scripture. In that sense, just how one handles extrabiblical material (important as those data are for other matters) is irrelevant to the doctrine of Scripture. However one chooses to work with those issues, the Reformed have insisted that, when working with Scripture, one is handling the very Word of God written. Thus, the doctrine of Scripture is something that can be gleaned only from Scripture itself. To move, even slightly, beyond Scripture in order to re-formulate a doctrine of Scripture is to take away from Scripture’s authority.” (p. 6)

In other words, the doctrine of Scripture has to be formulated from the Scripture’s own testimony about itself without external influences such as the Ancient Near East and 1st century Judaism contexts.

My response to Observation 1:

Agree that formulation of the doctrine of Scripture has to be done from the Scripture’s own testimony. Yet before the formulation of any doctrine, two more fundamental hermeneutical tasks need to be done: (1) the interpretation of the testimony found in the Scripture; (2) the understanding of the sacred text within the wider ancient world surrounding it. And both tasks have to include the cultural context of the Scripture into consideration.

Concerning the first task, the interpretation of Scripture cannot be done within the Scripture’s self-witness alone. That means in order to understand the meaning of the Scripture, we must not interpret it within the bound of its abstracted philology. Though the HTFC recognizes this task as ‘appropriate and important’ yet they failed to see the implication following it on the matter of doctrinal formulation, and deem it ‘inappropriate’.

Why the first task is not only important and appropriate? Is not it essential and necessary as well? Without that, we deprived ourselves from the intended meaning to their immediate historical context. For eg. In order to understand the significance of crucifixion (Greek: stauros), we have to understand the historical context of that punishment as the Romans’ ultimate military and political weapon to curb social and political unrest.

To interpret ‘stauros’ without the attached historical context, we miss the more comprehensive meaning of the cross. Therefore we have to consult, for example, Martin Hengel’s 1977 work ‘Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, published by London, SCM, if we want to have deeper understanding of the meaning of the cross.

In fact if our interpretation is confined within the philology found on the brief description of the crucifixion in the canonical gospels alone, we can barely know anything much about the severity and the political message of the heinous punishment (see J.B. Green, ‘Death of Jesus’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, p. 146-163).

This same principle applies to the second task. The understanding of the ancient world surrounding the Scripture helps us in our formulation of the doctrine of Scripture as well. For eg. the non-scientific nature of the book of Genesis cannot be used to argue for or as a scientific explanation of the origin of our world. Our doctrine of Scripture must consider such findings as well.

A side note: I think the WTS’s HTFC’s understanding of the Reformed orthodoxy (p.5) itself need to be reformed not by appealing to the conclusion of Warfield, Kuyper, Bavinck, Young, and others. Instead, their (and ours) understanding should be formulated according to our current awareness of the wider hermeneutical issues (the 2 more fundamental tasks as described above) surrounding the matter.

The invocation of 1 Thess. 2:13 by the HTFC (p.6) to argue that we should “accept God’s word as the word of God and not word of men” is not as helpful. That is because it still does not approach the more fundamental issue concerning the understanding of Scripture. For eg. How should we (in our fallen, complicated, and redeemed being) receive and accept God’s word as God’s word. Such issue has to be settled before we are able to formulate any doctrine of what the term ‘word of God’ really means. And since the reception and acceptance of God’s word lies in our interpretation of it, we have to go back and settle the primary hermeneutical task, which necessarily involved the consideration of the external cultural context of God’s word when it was first being revealed, as described earlier.

No comments: