Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Phenomenon of Scripture

At the ETS banquet Andreas Kostenberger gave a good run down on the history of Evangelicalism in the United States (an important qualification!) through the publication of the book Quo Vadis Evangelicalism? which contains a number of plenary addresses by former ETS Presidents. (Say, did any one else note the irony of the fact that Quo Vadis was originally a Catholic novel and movie about how St. Peter returned to Rome to be martyred and how the designated ETS President was meant to be Francis Beckwith who converted to Catholicism ealier this year?).
Kostenberger made some remarks about a doctrine of Scripture which I found stimulating. I think he said something along the lines of: While some might want to focus on how the Scriptures came into being, we can still regard Scripture as inerrant as it arises out of a theological inference from the truthfulness of God. If God is truthful then his word will be truthful. What Kostenberger has in mind here is the book by Craig D. Allert A High View of Scripture who argues precisely for a phenomenological approach to the canon and a doctrine of Scripture over and against purely theological models.
Here's my thoughts: (1) I haven't read Allert's book yet, but I am definitely going to. (2) I have no problem with using theological reasoning from God to Scripture. For instance, I have no problem in inferring that the faithfulness of God translates in the faithfulness of his word. The problem is, however, when you then infer what that faithful, truthful, or trustworthy word will or must look like. Does inerrancy or infallibility follow logically from the faithfulness and truthfulness of God? I do not think it does. Even worse, you could use the same kind of a priori theological reasoning to argue for the KJV-only view or the Majority Text position. Anyone writing a doctrine of Scripture must hold in their hands a copy of Codex Vaticanus and ask, "Why does this exist and why does it look how it does?". Similarly, they should wrestle with the differences between the MT and LXX and note how the NT authors more often than not use the LXX even with its textual eccentricities. If the NT authors were so interested in the original autographs then why did they do that? Once one has a grip on the who, what, and how of Scripture, then one may speak of what God's faithfulness to his word does look like.


Nick Norelli said...

I'm a couple chapters into A High View of Scripture? and while I find the thesis interesting, I find the writing kind of boring. :(

Anonymous said...


This is thought-provoking.

Marty said...

Dear Mike,

Thanks for the post--it's really stimulating. Two things:

[1] It's interesting how many renditions of evangelicalism only look at the USA (I'm thinking particularly of Darrly Hart here).

[2] I recently read Allert's book (I'm currently writing a paper on the canon) and found it thoroughly disappointing. He simply traces what the early church believed about Scripture, NOT what Scripture says about Scripture. When Allert comes to critique a classic understanding of canon and inspiration he (i) doesn't expound the classic view and so (ii) deals with a straw man. Alas.

God bless,

Marty Foord.

Mike said...


Good thoughts! I've been thinking a lot about these issues lately. For example, if we were to stumble upon one of Paul's other Corinthian correspondences, should that be treated as Scripture as well, even though it wasn't preserved? If not, how does that differ from the Majority Text reasoning?

- Mike (also)

Biblioblog: exegeticalspiral.com

Steve Walton said...

Thanks Mike: I particularly appreciated your observation 'Anyone writing a doctrine of Scripture must hold in their hands a copy of Codex Vaticanus and ask, "Why does this exist and why does it look how it does?"' Too often evangelicals fail to take seriously that an adequate doctrine of Scripture needs to handle the fact that there is variety in the textual tradition, both in the NT and in the way the NT 'uses' the OT/LXX.

Roger Pearse said...

It is important for Christians not to adopt views on the nature of scripture simply because others expect them to. We need to believe what is right, and determine what that is.