Thursday, March 03, 2005

C.S. Lewis on Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism

One of the most popular Protestant authors, C.S. Lewis, refuting the novel claims of modern biblical scholars, stated:

"The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early church..."

(C.S. Lewis, "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," Chapter 31, McDowell, J., The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1999, pg. 574)

C.S. Lewis goes on to explain why he is skeptical of this new "authority of experts." With all due respect to the late C.S. Lewis, I would say the same thing with regard to my skepticism of the authority of the self-proclaimed biblical experts which emerged from the Reformation. They too are an "authority of experts ... in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early church..."

With regard to modern biblical criticism, C.S. Lewis rightly compares the reliability of biblical criticism to the reliability of those who attempted to review and theorize about his own literary works. C.S. Lewis wrote many works of science fiction, children's stories, as well as scholarly works. Reviewers would often attempt to apply literary criticism to his works, to reconstruct his authorial intent, and in C.S. Lewis' view, what "he can say with certainty" follows:

"I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his overall intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why--and when--he did everything.

... My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 percent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as they miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can't remember a single hit.... What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong....

Now this surely ought to give us pause. The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But one is afterall sailing by dead reckoning; the results cannot be checked by fact. In order to decide how reliable the method is, what more could you ask for than to be shown an instance where the same method is at work and we have facts to check it by? Well, that is what I have done. And we find that when this check is available, the results are either always, or else nearly always wrong.

... While I respect the learning of the great biblical critics, I am not yet persuaded that their judgment is equally to be respected. But secondly, consider with what overwhelming advantages the mere reviewers start. They reconstruct the history of a book written by someone whose mother-tongue is the same as theirs; a contemporary, educated like themselves, living in something like the same mental and spiritual climate. That have everything to help them.

The superiority in judgment and diligence that you are going to attribute to the biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumptions, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and distinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter, there will be more pressing matters to
discuss." (ibid., 578-579)

11 Comments:

Blogger Wray Davis said...

It's great to see you reading Lewis so thoroughly. He's certainly a favorite of the Protestant apologists, though I have long suspected that his Protestantism was more reliant on his geography than his reason - the Church of England is not known in many circles, especially Protestant, to be defined in terms of theological principles.

I think you are right to apply Lewis' logic to the reformation, but only if you will offer examples of major Protestant principles that took that arm of the chruch further from the principles of the early church. Many of the points Protestantism protested, such as indulgences, seem to be in strong opposition to the nature of the early church.

As the pre-eminant scholar on British Literature of his day, Lewis was in an excellent position to combat deconstructionism in his milieu, and had very good reason to suspect it when he saw the same thing among Christian scholars. Re-defining the positions of the early Church through deconstructionism and rationalism, rather than source materials, can lead to dangerous and foolhardy results.

I would be curious to see how much his position might shift if he'd had as much access to the Nag Hammadi library and other relatively recent finds as we have today. Re-defining the positions of the early Church through new source material might have been to Lewis an undiscovered country, rather than a fantasy land.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Michael Jensen said...

"Many of the points Protestantism protested, such as indulgences, seem to be in strong opposition to the nature of the early church." - Wray DavisI would disagree with this point... The protest of the first Reformers were not against the teachings of Indulgences but the practice of indulgence. The teaching against Indulgence came shortly after this first initial protest of the practice... Protest begets Protest... and thus the belief that Indulgence as a bad doctrine was born... Even Martin Luther was not against a “man who truly buys his indulgence” (Luther, Ninety Five Theses:31) but the practice of selling Indulgence as a pretense to acquire wealth… and that was a true cause for reform… but not to abandon the Body of Christ…

1:40 PM  
Blogger Wray Davis said...

You're right, Michael - I would have been more correct to say "...such as the buying of indulgences without real contrition...". Though most Protestant groups believe that the idea of passing on indulgences to others is incorrect (since it seems to run contrary to the idea that salvation is personal, and that acts, rather than faith, can buy salvation), and many Protestants don't believe in Purgatory at all, thus eliminating the need for indulgences altogether, as I understand them.

With that clarified, I think my original point is still valid - in order to apply Lewis' logic here, one would need to offer examples of major Protestant principles that strayed from the practices of the Early Church, as opposed to the practices of the Medieval Church.

Thanks for the point, though - it's an important distinction.

5:24 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...

Wray,

You said:
"in order to apply Lewis' logic here, one would need to offer examples of major Protestant principles that strayed from the practices of the Early Church, as opposed to the practices of the Medieval Church."

I believe there are many. But let me give just one for now: The Book of Daniel.

Protestants have rejected the Book of Daniel accepted for 1500 years of Christian history. In discussion about the canon of Scripture, Protestants frequently claim to be merely accepting the scholarship of St. Jerome. Yet they reject Jerome's book of Daniel, so I find this claim rather unconvincing.

St. Jerome, in an argument with Rufinius, defended his acceptance of the Theodotian recension of the Book of Daniel by stating to Rufinius, "What sin have I committed if I follow the judgement of the Churches?"

Protestant Bible scholars such as Bruce Metzger admit that every Greek witness of Daniel (to which there are thousands) follow Theodotian, as did St. Jerome's Latin, as do all the old Latin, all the Arabic, and all the Coptic versions. Even Origen defended the Theodotian version of Daniel in his writings.

So, by what authority do Protestants reject it?

Theodotian was a 2nd century Jew whose Greek translation of the Book of Daniel includes parts that are rejected by all of Protestantism as "apocryphal," yet is accepted by Catholics and Orthdodoxy and have always been accepted as Scritpure by Christianity since apostolic times.

It seems that every Christian Church in the world up to advent of Protestantism accepted this version of the Book of Daniel and read it as Sacred Scripture.

Yet, why don't Protestants accept it? On the authority of the 10th century Masoretic manuscripts alone? Weren't the Masoretic texts non-Christain manuscripts, maintained by Jews who rejected Christianity? Surely the Protestants have a better reason than that for rejecting that which all of Christianity accepted until the advent of Protestantism, right?

7:44 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...

Wray,

You said:
"Though most Protestant groups believe that the idea of passing on indulgences to others is incorrect (since it seems to run contrary to the idea that salvation is personal, and that acts, rather than faith, can buy salvation)"

Actually, it is "faithful acts" that bring salvation. Works without faith is non-salvific, and faith without works is dead.

In Scripture, the paralytic was cured and forgiven of his sins by Jesus based upon the faithful actions of his friends. So it seems the merits of Christ can be obtained through the faithful acts of some for the benefit of others. I have no reason to believe this to be no longer true today.

You said:
"many Protestants don't believe in Purgatory at all, thus eliminating the need for indulgences altogether"

I believe you have an incorrect understanding of indulgences. If purgatory didn't exit, indulgences would still bring blessings upon the faithful, for themselves and for others.

"The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead." (CCC 1471).

If purgatory didn't exists, the faithful would include the "Church Militant" on earth still battling with sin, and the "Church Triumphant" already glorified in heaven who have no need for indulgences. The reason indulgences can apply to the dead is because the reality is that there is a third part of the Church, the "Church Suffering," who are enduring temporal punishment for their sins in purgatory because they did not complete this temporal punishment on earth.

I realized the necessity for the existence of purgatory when I learned that King David, even after being forgiven of his sins by God, had to endure temporal punishment for his sins. So, forgiveness does not necessarily mean no more suffering or punishment for one's sins. It certainly means the remission of the ETERNAL consequences of sin, but not necessarily the TEMPORAL consequences.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Wray Davis said...

Dave -

I have a difficult time refuting you when it comes to the Apocrypha. I've only read it once, and I've read a few histories of it, and I can't see a good reason for its continued exclusion from the Protestant canon. I believe it was originally excluded in an attempt to return to the canon used by Jesus and his disciples, but I think the Catholic Church has the more convincing argument here.

That said, in my one reading, I didn't notice any theological points in the Apocrypha that would support the Catholic church over the Protestant church, or refute and major planks of the latter. I'm certainly open to being shown otherwise.

Can you provide any theological differences between the Protestant Church and the Early Church as opposed to the Medieval Church?

----

In response to your second comment, I looked for a case where Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic based on the request of another. I found Matthew 8, where Jesus healed the Centurion's servant because of his faith, and Matthew 9, where Jesus healed and forgave a paralytic, though they do not seem to be the same paralytic in both chapters. There's no indication that I can see that the paralytic in chapter 9 did not ask Jesus himself for salvation and healing.

As for the question of Purgatory, I'm not sure I follow your line of reasoning. If a Protestant did not believe in Purgatory, there would not be anyone dead to whom he could transmit his extra merit.

You said:
"I realized the necessity for the existence of purgatory when I learned that King David, even after being forgiven of his sins by God, had to endure temporal punishment for his sins."Is there a passage in the Bible that says David had to endure punishment for his sins after death, or are you referring to the story where the prophet offers him a choice of 3 punishments for numbering the people of Israel? If it's the latter, does it make sense to jump from an inlife punishment to an afterlife punishment? Would it not make better sense to attribute this punishment to making an example of a public sin, since David's punishment for his gravest sin (killing Uriah to cover his indiscretion with Bathsheba) was only to endure the death of his son and not being allowed to build the temple, which God didn't seem to want anyway?

Thanks!

10:35 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...

Wray,

You said:
"I believe it was originally excluded in an attempt to return to the canon used by Jesus and his disciples"

Perhaps that was their intent, but I think they should have done as St. Jerome did, that is, despite their personal views, they should have simply trusted the judgment of the churches. The judgment of the churches was made quite clear in the councilar canons of the 4th century, the Ecumenical Council of Florence 100 years before Protestantism, and affirmed again and definitively by the Council of Trent.

What appeared to happen is that the Protestants, having lost their faith in the Church, saw the Hebrew Bible of the 10th century Masoretic tradition and presumed that this must have been what Jesus and the disciples used, and those wiley Catholics must have added their "traditions of men" to the Bible.

Ironically, many Protestants cite the 4th century canons of the councils of Rome, Carthage, and Hippo, for their authority for the NT, yet these very same canons also define the Catholic OT canon, which they reject.

The fact of the matter is there was no fixed canon of the OT in the 1st century. The Sadducees were "Torah only" and the Pharisees were "Torah +", yet the writings of the Hebrew Bible were still being debated even after the second century AD.

Jesus told his disciples that the Pharisees sat on the chair of Moses (cf. Matt 23:2), so even though they were hypocrites, they still possessed an authentic teaching authority which ought to be respected. He seemed here to recognized the authority of the Pharisees over and above the Sadducees. Yet, there were also Essenes who had even more sacred books than the Pharisees or the Sadducees, even maintaining different recensions of the same texts. Furthermore, the Diaspora Jews used the Greek Septuagint, which is what the apostles themselves seemed to have used, based upon the OT citations in the New Testament (which makes sense, as they were evangelizing a Greek speaking, reading, and writing world). The Septuagint had more books in it than what would later develop into the Masoretic tradition.

Nonetheless, according to even Jewish scholarship, the Hebrew Bible was not fixed until the end of the first century to early 3rd century AD, and even then it would take some time before the Diaspora Jews would accept it.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, Johanan ben Zakkai, founded a new home for Jewish Law in Jabneh (Jamnia), it was there that the Jews began to formulate a fixed canon of the Hebrew Bible that would later become the Masoretic tradition.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906) article "Bible Canon", only books that "defiled the hands" were considered sacred. It states:

"an assembly of the Hillelite and Shammaite schools in Jerusalem ... in the year 90, on the day that Gamaliel II was dismissed, the teachers of the Law [at Jabneh] decided which books were to be honored as canonical...."

However, after AD 90, the decision at Jabneh referred to above was still in much dispute among Jewish Rabbis even after AD 200...

"According to the eminent rabbi Samuel (after 200) [d. AD 254], Esther "does not defile." Simeon (150) states that only Ecclesiastes is doubtful; while Ruth, the Song of Solomon, and Esther "defile the hands." It is evident from many sources (compare Sanh. 100a; Yer. Ber. xiv. 15; Meg. 19b) that the canonicity of [Esther] was not certain." (ibid)

Some, like the Ethiopian Jews, never did accept the Jamneh Bible canon, and still use the larger canon of the Septuagint.

Christianity didn't wait for the Jew to make up their minds as to what they would consider sacred books. After Christ's deat and resurrection, the Jews no longer had the authority of God, according to Christiantiy. So, the Christians used what they knew to be the Bible, Greek Septuagint, and accepted books as sacred that the Jews would later exclude from their Bible. Nor did the decision at Jabneh have any authority over the Christian Churches, as the Christian canons of the 4th century demonstrate.

5:19 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...

Wray,

You said:
"I didn't notice any theological points in the Apocrypha that would support the Catholic church over the Protestant church"

According to Catholics (and Orthodox, and Jews), it is a holy thing to pray for the dead. The Catholic Church has prayed for the dead for 2000 years. Why? Because they have always historically proclaimed the reality of the final purification of purgatory after death. It was not until the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century that anyone denied this doctrine.

The Bible tells us that praying for the dead is a holy practice:

"In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the dead to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin" (2 Macc. 12:43–45).

Of course, Protestants reject 2 Maccabees, probably because it didn't help support their novel theological perspective.

I'll have to discuss David, his temporal punishment, and it's relevance to purgatory later. I have chores to do.

God bless,

Dave

5:32 PM  
Blogger Wray Davis said...

Yes, I agree that it was unwise for the Protestants to disclude the Apocrypha during the Protestant inception (methinks they Protested too much!), and to continue to disclude it is basic stubborness. I find it interesting, though, that what I imagine would be the Protestant defense ("We are holding to the tradition of our Church") is the same reason used to oppose their Protestantism in the first place.

Thanks for pointing out a major point of Apocryphal theology! (It seems wrong, at this point, to continue to refer to it as the Apocrypha - is there a more appropriate term that refers to just these books and chapters?)

I think that if one was working from the Protestant position of personal justification by faith, one could argue against praying for the dead without excluding the books of the Maccabees by arguing that Old Covenant practices, like circumcision, are no longer necessary after Christ's sacrifice. Of course, there's a major difference between unnecessary and incorrect - and the Law was perfected, not abolished by Christ, so that argument would be weak.

Along with the pruning of the canon, the complete elimination of indulgences by most Protestant sects does appear to be an act of overzealousness rather than reason, perhaps in this case designed to streamline what they thought Pauline theology to be.

7:36 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:03 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...

Wray,

You said:
"It seems wrong, at this point, to continue to refer to it as the Apocrypha - is there a more appropriate term that refers to just these books and chapters?"

Yes, we call them biblical. ;) But the term deuterocanonicals is also used in Catholic sources.

You said:
"...arguing that Old Covenant practices, like circumcision, are no longer necessary after Christ's sacrifice."

This also wouldn't be a very convincing argument, given the doctrine and practice of ALL Christianity since the first century, which unanimously held to the efficacious and holy practice of prayers for the dead.

See here for the quotes regarding prayers for the dead and purgatory from throughout Christian history:
http://www.catholic.com/library/Roots_of_Purgatory.asp

5:05 PM  

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