Thursday, March 17, 2005

Perspicuity of Scripture?

Many of my Protestant friends and family claim that by merely reading Sacred Scripture, even the unlearned can come the to same truth. They call this the "perspicuity" of Scripture.

The Protestant Westminister Confession of Faith states:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture ...

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them....

The essential truths of Scripture, what is "necessary to be known," they say, are so clearly propounded in Scripture that the learned or unlearned may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them by merely reading Scripture alone.

Yet, Calvinists see the essential truths of their TULIP theology in Scripture, whereas Arminians refute the Calvinist theology as error. The Unitarians reject the doctrine of the Trinity using Scripture alone. The Universalists say that all will be saved, each and everyone of God's creatures, to include Satan and his demons, using Scripture alone. Several Protestant "scholars" have rejected the Nicene Creed's insistence that Jesus is "eternally begotten of the Father" because of their learned exegesis of Scripture, where as other Sola Scriptura Protestants insist that the eternal Sonship of Christ is an essential truth of Scripture.

So much for perspicuity.

Many Protestants seem to think their own personal exegesis is infallible, although they don't use the word infallible. They only act as though they are infallible --this is de facto infallibility. They seem to think that anyone can exegete Scripture and come to the same infallible understanding of authorial intent. If they don't agree with another as to what Scripture says, well, the other is simply using "eisegesis" or the interpretation of the Bible by reading into it one's own ideas. Rather than simply understanding that exegetes disagree, they thrust out the word "eisegesis" to all those they disagree with.

Let's look at an example of Protestant exegesis, called the Jesus Seminar. These Jesus Seminar PhD's have passed and often teach the exegesis coursework at Protestant seminaries and universities. These Protestant "scholars" claim the following: "the scholarship represented by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar is the kind that has come to prevail in all the great universities of the world."

Have you read their conclusions? They've concluded that Jesus is dead and likely to have been eaten by dogs, and that the resurrection and all miracles are just parables. They contend, "We now know the nature miracles of Christ (walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes, etc.) are not to be taken as literal events. They are instead parables told in dramatic form by the evangelist to make a spiritual point about Jesus."

I hope to never pass such an exegesis course.

G.K. Chesteron's words are aptly applied to the commentary of the Protestant PhD's who call themselves the Jesus Seminar...
"Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators."

Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar may sound like some kind of wacko, but in Protestant circles, he's holds rather scholarly credentials . He was Fulbright Senior Scholar, University of Tübingen, Germany, 1966–1967, and Guggenheim Fellow, 1966–1967. He holds an A.B., Butler University; M.A., Butler University; B.D., Christian Theological Seminary; and a Ph.D., Vanderbilt University.

For those who are unfamiliar with the University of Tübingen, where Robert Funk was hailed as a scholar, it is the birthplace of modern Protestant exegesis called the "historical critical method." Now, the method is not bad in and of itself. However, when the method is utilized without the guidance of the apostolical men of the Catholic magisterium, it is like a ship without a compass. Chances are, the one using it will soon be lost.

Liberal Catholic exegetes who also rely heavily upon the historical-critical method, like Fr. Raymon Brown, represent a school of Catholic opinions as to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture.

The difference between this Catholic school and the Protestant school is this: Catholic exegetes (liberal and conservative) offer their opinion to the Magisterium for their authentic interpretation. Protestant exegetes offer their opinion as though it was already de facto infallible dogma.

Many Catholic theologians are certainly using historical critical exegesis (a methodology invented by Protestants, and so rightly called Protestant exegesis). Fr. Brown, for example, was a graduate of the Protestant Union Theological Seminary, and so has placed much emphasis on the Protestant historical critical method. However, he did not insist upon exegesis alone as many Protestants do.

Can this Protestant "exegesis alone" approach be trusted? I don't believe so, not without the guidance of the Magisterium. The problem with Protestantism is that they reject the guidance of the Magisterium so ALL THEY HAVE is the speculative opinions of the historical critical exegesis. Their practice of "exegesis alone" falls well short of being a certain method of understanding Scripture, as the history of Protestantism proves. The historical critical exegesis so relied upon by Protestantism produces so many wildly variant conclusions that it cannot be of any trustworthy value.

Even such liberal Catholic exegetes as Fr. Raymond Brown admit that this method of exegesis can only help us to discern what might have been the "literal" sense (authorial intent) of Scripture. The "literal" sense is not the only sense of Scripture, although it is the only sense that this exegetical method seems to speculate upon.

Fr. Brown admits of a critical meaning of the Bible that goes beyond the literal sense:
[A] writing, once composed, has a life of its own, and so the literal sense of the author's intent cannot absolutely control the meaning." (Brown, R., The Critical Meaning of the Bible, 33)
Clearly St. Paul did not use the literal sense when he described Adam as a type of Christ. He instead sanctioned a "typological" sense. Historical critical exegesis of the Book of Genesis alone would never have drawn this conclusion. This is what Fr. Brown calls the canonical sense, that is, the sense of Scripture after it had been canonized by the Church, when taking all of the canon into consideration.

Brown admits that "it is extremely difficult to be sure that a Mary/Eve parallelism was the literal sense (author's intent) in the accounts of the mother of Jesus in John 2 and 19 and of the woman who gives birth to the messianic child in Revelation 12. But ... when John and Revelation are put in the same canon, a catalytic action may occur, so that the two women are brought together and the parallelism to Eve become more probable." (ibid, 31-32)

Fr. Brown also described a larger sense that includes spiritual and theological aspects that go beyond the literal sense, but have been accepted by Christian thought. As liberal as Fr. Brown was, he asserted the legitimacy of the beyond-the-literal sense. In other words, Fr. Brown asserted that what the Bible meant according to exegetical opinion, is not equivalent to what the Bible authentically means.

Fr. Brown held to this view: "The foremost and greatest endeavor of the interpreters should be to discern and define that sense of the biblical words which is called literal ... so that the mind of the author may be made abundantly clear" (ibid., 24, from Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu). Fr. Brown also held to this view: "The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, where authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." (ibid., from Dei Verbum)

"Knowing clearly the 1st century situation," asserts Fr. Brown, "need not lead one to deny the validity of subsequent development" (ibid., 36). What many advocates of the historical critical method seem to think is that through their "science" of Biblical criticism, they can "clearly" know the 1st century situation with reliable accuracy. I disagree.

Fr. Brown states, "For me the principle that the teaching office of the Church can authentically interpret the Bible is more important now than ever before, granted the diversity and contrariety among Biblical authors uncovered by historical criticism."

While I agree with Fr. Browns insistence on the importance of the Church to authentically interpret the Bible, I believe the "diversity and contrariety" that he speaks of lies not as much within the Bible as within the wildly variant opinions of "scientific" exegetes using the historical critical method.


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