A Trinitarian Basis for Reforming Our Approach to Meaning in Greek Exegesis — Frame-Poythress.org

Vern Poythress is a math whiz. He received his PhD in math from Harvard. Later, he also earned another doctorate in theology from a university in South Africa. Thankfully, he does not use “clean and scientific” methods to interpret the bible and points to limitations of the empirical approach. The Age of Enlightenment (so-called) features empiricism as its sole governing compass. It is the measure of man. It involves only what a person’s senses register. However, God ordained the laws of the universe as they are. Yes, these laws are stable, at least to the end of the age. God promises it. Therefore, scientific knowledge and the laws of nature do not change (for now). If man believes only what registers in his senses (or other sensors remotely situated), then man is the measure of himself. He is his own god. He is acting autonomously as a god. However, man did not create himself nor does man sustain the created world. This is my Father’s world.

Exegesis is nothing more than bringing out the meaning from a host text to the target language. In the PDF below, Vern Poythress discusses linguistic features which are easy to understand. He illustrates the work of Kenneth Pike and his use of structures which govern linguistics. Pike taught bible translators at Wycliffe. The ultimate meaning of God’s word is not found through mysticism but is anchored in the words written as illumined by the Spirit. This does not involve private interpretations since there is one Spirit given to all believers. There is only one truth. This does not mean unanimity of understanding on all the fine points of the faith. It does mean agreement on the foundational matters. Neither does it imply that all bible mysteries will become transparent to the student. Some end-times mysteries, I believe, will only be known by the generation affected by those events.

This is an easy to grasp essay for an informed layperson. The issues are plain and Poythress writes very clearly.

 

Vern S. Poythress, “A Trinitarian Basis for Reforming Our Approach to Meaning in Greek Exegesis, Illustrated by John 17:3” (PDF), Originally published in McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 18 (2016–2017) 142–59. Used with permission. The article is also available at the MJTM site.

via A Trinitarian Basis for Reforming Our Approach to Meaning in Greek Exegesis — Frame-Poythress.org

Truth vs. Pagan Revival

Ps. 104.32: [He] who looks on the earth and it trembles,

who touches the mountains and they smoke. (see also Ps. 144.5) 

God, who wrote the bible and set the earth and heavens in order, is the one who (ultimately) causes Kilauea’s eruption. I live on Oahu and love this chain of islands (despite the high cost of living here). About 20 years ago a fellow carpenter tried to get me to buy a lot in the same area that the current eruption is happening. I declined for a number of reasons, one being the current Kilauea eruption that has been taking place constantly since I moved here over 30 years ago (this world has risks wherever one lives).

This latest phase is certainly a destructive one in terms of human property damage. For most of the last 30 years Kilauea has not been so destructive even though the typical daily output of lava was something like three quarter million cubic yards. It was mostly depositing lava upon lava building a mountain of it. Here is a perspective from a pastor in the area (note-Mahalo=thanks):

What Kīlauea Cannot Take

How to Pray for Churches in Hawaii

Article by

Pastor, Pahoa, Hawaii

It is heartbreaking to see the daily destruction happening here in Hawaii. As I write this, three families in my congregation have homes in Kapoho, where the lava is flowing today. They stand to lose six properties total — godly, generous, and sacrificial saints.

Two of my employees at the bakery have been held up at gunpoint. Another man (and customer of mine) hanged himself at the evacuee shelter a few days ago. Just before writing this article, I had to rush outside to break up a fight at my bakery, where our church also meets for worship. One man was holding a chair over his head to smash another man on the ground, a demon-oppressed man I have known for a while. He has strange writing on his face, and is known for starting fights.

While fear, crime, and loss spread, we also have seen much potential for spiritual revival. The churches here have a remarkable spirit of unity, generosity, and partnership. Our political leaders also are eager to work with churches, even allowing prayer tents and more at the county shelters. There has been an uncovering of longtime sins and abuses in the hyper-sexual and drug-infused communities this year, even prior to this event. Our area has a number of hedonistic retreats and “spiritual” centers, along with cults with sordid histories of abuse, which have been decimated by the lava flow. As we hope for the recovery and renewal of all that has been lost, may the Lord grant that the hidden strongholds of abuse do not return again, but are replaced with centers of worship.

Our Promise for the Crisis

We planted Grassroots Church in 2006. Since then, we have faced open demonic activity, as well as the more “normal” spiritual warfare (under the surface of what we can see). We just lost our place of worship to fire in 2017. The spiritual atmosphere here is filled with paganism and new-age spirituality.

The word of God has prepared us for this kind of disaster. The faith of our members is not faltering as the lava spreads — thank God! We are preaching through the Gospel of John and clinging together to the promise Jesus makes to those who abide in him: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

We now have major opportunities to serve in the area of housing and job creation, and that leads to how you can pray for us here on the slopes of Kīlauea.

1. Pray for boldness to witness to the hurting.

We have been given many new opportunities to serve in different roles (government, business, and ministry). Pray for us that we put our greatest commission first. Pray that we love one another well through the crisis, and that we are faithful witnesses by the Holy Spirit to others around us. We are having a number of significant conversations about Jesus because of the devastation here. We are receiving this opportunity as God’s will and praying that we will be ready to share boldly and joyfully about the hope that is in us (John 15:26–27).

2. Pray for strength to persevere in ministry.

This is a time for prayerful and painstaking perseverance. The enemy would love to destroy the church by siege and attrition. We are losing members and losing employees (from my bakery), and so I and others are carrying greater responsibility, through greater adversity. We have reached out for help to “hold up our hands” during this time. Please pray for perseverance and rest through all of this, especially for local church and ministry leaders.

3. Pray for provision and wisdom to move forward.

An amazing amount of people are willing to donate to this emergency, or even to come and help. My hopes are to be of service in the housing and job-creation part of this recovery, which will be an immediate and long-term project. We praise God for his provision so far, and need wisdom to direct funds and labor into the most spiritually fruitful areas and to delegate work well. When the news cameras are gone and the politicians are back in their offices, may God’s people still be serving and speaking of their Savior.

Mahalo for Your Prayers

Our district of Puna is the site of an incredible nineteenth-century revival, as told by congregationalist missionary Titus Coan and others. He also was a witness to volcanic eruptions on our eastern rift, like the one we are experiencing. In Coan’s day, the Hawaiian people eagerly set aside their lesser “gods” at the preaching of the gospel of grace and the effective call of his Spirit. The power of Pele, the volcano goddess, was nothing to Chiefess Kapi‘olani, a Christian convert from the Hawaiian nobility who publicly defied the goddess in the boiling caldera. “Pele is naught,” she said in 1825, as she ascended the crater.

May God again be pleased to sweep this island with gospel awakening, calling his own out of the world to true joy through Christ. May he unite his church in proclaiming the gospel of grace, rescuing many from the lie that we must provide sacrifices for a hungry goddess, to the good news that he has provided the one and final sacrifice for mankind in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Titus Coan said in 1837, “Only let us preach the gospel in living faith, and under the awful pressure of the world to come, and I defy this people . . . to sleep. Why they might as well sleep under a cataract of fire.” We share his burden for the lost people in Hawaii today.

Mahalo — thank you — for your prayers for God’s church and his purposes here.

Delineating the Extent of the Canon (Michael Kruger)

https://www.michaeljkruger.com/did-the-church-fathers-view-their-own-writings-as-inspired-like-scripture/

A number of years ago, Albert Sundberg wrote a well-known article arguing that the early church fathers did not see inspiration as something that was uniquely true of canonical books.[1]  Why?  Because, according to Sundberg, the early Church Fathers saw their ownwritings as inspired.   Ever since Sundberg, a number of scholars have repeated this claim, insisting that the early fathers saw nothing distinctive about the NT writings as compared to writings being produced in their own time period.

Just recently, Lee McDonald has repeated this claim numerous times in his latest volume, The Formation of the Biblical Canon, vol. 2 (T&T Clark, 2017), particularly as he responds to my own work.  To be sure, McDonald has done some great work on canon, and I appreciate much in this new volume.  But, I have to disagree with him on this point.

Of course, now is not the time for a full-scale response. But we can (briefly) observe several factors that speak against this idea that the church fathers so their own writings as on par with the apostles.

First, the early church fathers repeatedly express that the apostles had a distinctive authority that was higher and separate from their own.  So, regardless of whether they viewed themselves as “inspired” in some sense, we have to acknowledge that they still viewed the inspiration/authority of the apostles as somehow different.

A few examples should help.  The book of 1 Clement not only encourages its readers to “Take up the epistle of that blessed apostle, Paul,”[2] but also offers a clear reason why: “The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The Christ therefore is from God and the Apostles from the Christ.”[3]  In addition the letter refers to the apostles as “the greatest and most righteous pillars of the Church.”[4]

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, also recognizes the unique role of the apostles as the mouthpiece of Christ, “The Lord did nothing apart from the Father…neither on his own nor through the apostles.”[5]  Here Ignatius indicates that the apostles were a distinct historical group and the agents through which Christ worked.  Thus, Ignatius goes out of his way to distinguish own authority as a bishop from the authority of the apostles, “I am not enjoining [commanding] you as Peter and Paul did.  They were apostles, I am condemned.”[6]

Justin Martyr displays the same appreciation for the distinct authority of the apostles, “For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number…by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God.”[7] Moreover, he views the gospels as the written embodiment of apostolic tradition, “For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them.”[8]

Likewise, Irenaeus views all the New Testament Scriptures as the embodiment of apostolic teaching: “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.”[9]  Although this is only a sampling of patristic writers (and more could be added), the point is clear.  The authoritative role of the apostles was woven into the fabric of Christianity from its very earliest stages.

Second, there is no indication that the early church fathers, as a whole, believed that writings produced in their own time were of the same authority as the apostolic writings and thus could genuinely be contenders for a spot in the NT canon.  On the contrary, books were regarded as authoritative precisely because they were deemed to have originated fom the apostolic time period.

A couple of examples should help.  The canonical status of the Shepherd of Hermas was rejected by the Muratorian fragment (c.180) on the grounds that was produced “very recently, in our own times.”[10]  This is a clear indication that early Christians did not see recently produced works as viable canonical books.

Dionysius of Corinth (c.170) goes to great lengths to distinguish his own letters from the “Scriptures of the Lord” lest anyone get the impression he is composing new canonical books (Hist. eccl. 4.23.12).  But why would this concern him if Christians in his own day (presumably including himself) were equally inspired as the apostles and could produce new Scriptures?

The anonymous critic of Montanism (c.196), recorded by Eusebius, shares this same sentiment when he expresses his hesitancy to produce new written documents out of fear that “I might seem to some to be adding to the writings or injunctions of the word of the new covenant” (Hist. eccl. 5.16.3).  It is hard to avoid the sense that he thinks newly published books are not equally authoritative as those written by apostles.

Third, and finally, Sundberg does not seem to recognize that inspiration-like language can be used to describe ecclesiastical authority—which is real and should be followed—even though that authority is subordinate to the apostles.  For instance, the writer of 1 Clementrefers to his own letters to the churches as being written “through the Holy Spirit.”[11]  While such language certainly could be referring to inspiration like the apostles, such language could also be referring to ecclesiastical authority which Christians believe is also guided by the Holy Spirit (though in a different manner).

How do we know which is meant by Clement?  When we look to the overall context of his writings (some of which we quoted above), it is unmistakenly clear that he puts the apostles in distinct (and higher) category than his own.  We must use this larger context to interpret his words about his own authority.  Either Clement is contradicting himself, or he sees his own office as somehow distinct from the apostles.

In sum, we have very little patristic evidence that the early church fathers saw their own “inspiration” or authority as on par with that of the apostles.  When they wanted definitive teaching about Jesus their approach was always retrospective—they looked back to that teaching which was delivered by the apostles.

Redaction Theory and Roman Catholicism

Roughly speaking, Redaction Theory of the bible holds that one version was given to an earlier group of listeners and then later in the production sequence of copying or editorializing, this message was changed to speak to the issues of the current generation. This concept is wrong because of the repeated and explicit claim that God is intimately concerned and involved in the lives of His people. God knows what the problem is and, despite human creative sinning, the remedy never changes. Redaction theory, at its heart, negates the omniscience of God. Redaction Theory has God changing His mind or worse, the bible is merely the production of humans.

So, how does that square of Roman Catholicism? Roman Catholics believe in the authority of development. They hold to the idea that, over time, the needs of the church changes, and therefore the principles applied to an early group are inadequate to meet the new needs. Catholics believe in a secret oral tradition among the clergy. They will point to 2 Th. 2.15 as their basis for this idea: Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter. (NET)

Since Paul is writing to church (see 2 Th. 1.1) he is not only speaking to the clergy. What Paul says is not only his letters are authoritative for the Thessalonians. This does not mean there were secret oral traditions floating about that only the clergy knew about and enforced. Paul had ministered among them and said things the whole church knew about but were not committed to writing. This was merely a way for Paul to avoid pedantically to repeat himself in written form and not to say a secret tradition floats about among the clergy. Further, in 2 Th. 3.6, Paul mentions the tradition he left with the believers (not the clergy) and he defines it in 3.7f. So, in reality, there is no secret tradition.

Yes, The Roman Catholic Church will point to Christ building the church on Peter as another justification of clerical hierarchy but the text doesn’t say what they affirm. I have written about that text here: https://beliefspeak2.net/the-rock/

Enough of the Clamoring Point Scoring

Retired Professor Larry Hurtado has called for the end of scholarly debates in the biblical sphere. I wholeheartedly agree with his concerns. Many bloggers tend to fall into this trap. Repeatedly, I notice unhealthy obsession to score debate points on a topic or against a favorite opponent. Yes, a Christian needs to stand for correct principles, doctrines (the faith), and associates (other godly Christians). A Christian needs to also stand against evil entities (see Eph. 6. 10-18) and false teachings and teachers. However, a Christian’s walk should be holistic and not eccentric: 1 Thess. 5.23-24-Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.

Dr. Hurtado observes the all-or-nothing nature of debates fails to reveal nuances of these complex studies. He is is a debater himself but refrains so listeners may evaluate the arguments carefully and by merit. Here is his post:

https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/a-plea-for-round-table-discussion-not-debates/

A Plea for Round-Table Discussion, not Debates

June 3, 2018

My posting about the publication of the interestingly early fragment of GMark elicited a number of comments, a few of which caused me to wonder about the persons writing them.  One, for example, citing the erroneous claims of a first-century fragment of GMark made in some public fora over the last couple of years, kept alleging these were lies and the speakers liars.

I won’t publish the comment.  For one thing the language of “lying”, “liars” would, in a good many courts, likely be deemed libel.  And if I published the comment I could be judged complicit in the libel.  But also, how does somebody who simply repeats what they’ve been told become thereby a liar?

This kind of vituperation clearly reflects an aspect of what is now called the “culture wars” afflicting the USA.  People on both sides of what they see as the chasm of differences  give no quarter to the other side.  It’s not quite (yet) as crazy as Northern Ireland during the “troubles” in the 70s-80s, but the analogy does come to mind, as far as mindsets are concerned.  North of the 49th parallel and on this side of the Atlantic, it all seems so bizarre.

Part of the problem, I think, is that many American “Evangelicals” unthinkingly link themselves also to so-called “conservative” political and social stances (when, actually, there is no necessary connection  . . . at all).  So if someone appears to affirm some kind of traditional Christian theology, others (who espouse more “liberal/progressive” stances on the social issues) will quickly label him/her as “the enemy”.  And those espousing a “conservative” stance will likewise demonize those who take a different view.

But back to the fragment of the GMark.  The erroneous claims about the GMark fragment were sometimes made in the context of a public debate, which seems to have become a now-staple feature of what passes for scholarly discussion in some circles.  Now, I was a very successful high-school debater (top level in the National Forensic League), and I know how to debate.  But I don’t do debates on issues that are scholarly in nature.  Debating is a win/lose contest, little subtlety or complexity allowed.  It doesn’t make for the sort of careful consideration of matters that is most often required. It certainly doesn’t allow for people to grow, develop/alter their understanding of matters.

Why not, instead, have round-table discussions, in which participants of various points of view could air their position, and engage more in dialogue with those of other views?  A round-table (if properly run) allows people to talk to those of other viewpoints.  There’s no win or lose, just an effort to try to understand one another, and, hopefully, clarify issues.  Participants can remain in disagreement thereafter, but a round-table ought to encourage respect (essential) for others, and careful presentations of viewpoints.

Just a thought.