On The Protestant Doctrine of Inspiration

"That God cannot lie, is no advantage to your argument, because it is no proof that priests cannot, or that the Bible cannot." Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine – God cannot lie

We err when we assume inspiration requires inerrancy, as though the doctrine of Sacred Scriptures would be unreliable if the text were not inerrant. When Protestants ascribe inerrancy (in its modern theological formulation and understanding) to Sacred Scripture, they are subscribing to a view of inspiration that goes beyond what Sacred Scripture says about itself. Moreover, the concept of inerrancy is not derived from Sacred Scripture, but is a theological presupposition imposed upon the Word of God. As such, it is a divinization of the text and a desacrilization of the doctrine. Practically speaking, the divinization of the text forces us to spend time and energy focusing on side issues (like proving that the Bible is scientifically accurate) instead of focusing on Jesus Christ. And what did Jesus say about himself? “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. (John 14:6) The Sacred Scriptures are not the way, but the means through which the way is revealed to us. Christ alone is the divine self-expression of the Father; the text is the guidepost pointing us to Christ, the medium through which the Holy Spirit works to bring us to faith in Christ. For this purpose the Sacred Scriptures were given to us as the inspired revelation of God the Word — to make us wise unto salvation, and are therefore profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.

Unfortunately, many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals assume inspiration requires inerrancy. If you extract the material regarding inerrancy from their statements, what is left is an entirely inadequate description of inspiration. As an example, the following is the statement of Moody Bible Institute, modified to remove the references to (and consequences of) inerrancy.

The Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments, is a divine revelation. Revelation is God’s making Himself known to men. God has revealed himself in a limited way in creation. But the Bible is a form of special revelation. The Bible is “special” revelation in the sense that it goes beyond what may be known about God through nature. It is divine in origin, since in the Bible God makes known things which otherwise could never be known.

The Bible is unique because it is God’s revelation recorded in human language. According to II Timothy 3:16–17 the words of Scripture are “God breathed” or inspired. This implies that God is the source or origin of what is recorded in Scripture. God, through the Holy Spirit, used human authors and human language to make himself known to men.[1]

There is nothing in this altered statement about the Scriptures making us wise unto salvation, no unpacking of the statement that Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness, nothing about the manner in which Scripture brings us to perfection, or how by means of the Scripture we are thoroughly furnished unto good works (2 Tim 3:15-16). There is no mention of how the special revelation of the ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, and incomprehensible God can be contained within the limits of human language, and no discussion of how the infinite God can be circumscribed by the finite mind. In other words, the doctrinal statement of Moody Bible Institute asserts inerrancy rather than inspiration.

I have tried this experiment with a variety of doctrinal statements, and have come up short every time. This leads me to conclude that the 20th century Evangelical Protestant Church have replaced inspiration with inerrancy (and its corollary, infallibility). In doing so, they began to argue over trivial issues (like science vs. religion) that have nothing to do with the Christ who is revealed in the Scriptures. It is past time to remove the false idol of inerrancy from the temple of our hearts.


Moody Bible Institute. (n.d.). The Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Bible. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from Moody Bible Institute: http://www.moodyministries.net/crp_MainPage.aspx?id=600


[1] (Moody Bible Institute n.d.)

Verbal Inerrancy, Literalism, and the Re-opening of the Canon

The Bible is always right.


In modern statements of faith, the connection between inspiration and inerrancy is made plain, such that Christians believe the concept of inerrancy is necessary to properly define inspiration. But that is incorrect. In fact, the idea that the scriptures are trustworthy and infallible is an ancient Christian teaching, whereas the idea that the Scriptures are inerrant is a modern conceit.

First, it depends what exactly is inerrant: the Sacred Scriptures that make us wise unto salvation (the forma), or the text—the peculiar combination of marks on a page (the materia), which change from language to language, and from translation to translation. These textual differences can be significant. A particular word may have a subtle range of meanings in Hebrew, but when that word is translated into Greek, the translator picks one word to represent the primary meaning. Thus the act of translation is an act of textual interpretation.

Second, if one postulates the verbal (and plenary) inerrancy of the autographs (being the original peculiar combination of marks on a page), this postulate then drives the task of textual criticism. No longer do textual critics seek determine the authoritative text (a theological enterprise), but instead seek the recovery of the original text (a critical enterprise), which they deem authoritative by virtue of its being original.[1] The search for the original text is itself an act of textual interpretation. Although textual criticism proceeds on the basis of rules, and gives the appearance of being scientific, the rules are in fact arbitrary, based on assumptions made before one approaches the text. For example, if you favor the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, your rules will give primacy to that text and other texts will be of secondary importance.[2]

Verbal inerrancy in the autographs necessitates the understanding that only the original author was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that subsequent corrections, additions, and deletions by later copyists and/or churchmen are corruptions.[3] The clear implication is that the word of a particular man (the author) was inspired; indeed, that the author was himself inspired. When Peter writes of the “holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2Pe 1:21), the assumption is this applies to the particular man or prophet who initially produced the writing, as opposed to the later copyists and churchmen who modified the text in one way or another. This means that passages deemed by both conservative and liberal scholars to have not been part of the original text are suspect, even though the extant texts are part of the canon of Sacred Scripture. The natural result is the re-opening of the canon of scripture and the excision of suspect texts from Sacred Scripture. The obsession with verbal inerrancy logically leads to the error of Marcion.

There is another way of thinking about all this. What if we ignore the minor errors of scripture? As a practical matter, we do that already. Do we really care that 1 Kings 4:26 says that Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses, whereas 2 Chron 9:25 says Solomon had four thousand? No, of course not. We recognize that a copyist made an error and move on. It is not germane to the subject at hand, and represents no threat to the inspiration and trustworthiness of Scripture. The only way this becomes a problem is if we begin to incorporate modern understandings of inspiration into our thinking, which requires a series of rationales and tendentious arguments for each and every difficult passage in the Bible.

A literalistic understanding of Sacred Scripture can lead to all sorts of problems. For example, the United Methodist Minister Richard Hagenston writes of the direct contradiction contained in the final verses of Psalm 51. In his analysis of this passage, verses 16-17 indicates that God does not want sacrifice, while verses 18-19 says that God is pleased with sacrifices. So which is it?[4]

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar. (Ps 51:16-19)

You, dear reader, may find it interesting to compare different approaches to this passage. Richard Hagenston’s approach is to take the text at face value. The text means exactly what it says, and has no deeper meaning. The literal interpretation is the only interpretation, you might say. And having said that, we are left with a rather glaring contradiction.

Most other Bible scholars would look at this passage in its context of the Psalm as a whole. Since the overall theme is of repentance, verses 16-17 would indicate that God prefers repentance to sacrifice; verses 18–19 says that God is pleased with sacrifices when they are offered with a repentant heart. But note that this interpretation goes beyond the literal meaning of the text, and depends upon the idea that the text contains deeper meanings than the mere literal reading can reveal.

To a strict literalist, the passage in Psalm 51 represents a contradiction, which is clearly an error. The accumulated weight of these errors (and others, of different types) drives some, like the scholar Bart Ehrman, to a loss of faith in God. For others, like Richard Hagenston, these errors drive them to a loss of faith in the Bible, and a questioning of doctrinal orthodoxy. All because we conflate inspiration and innerancy. God help us.




Hagenston, R. (2014, September 29). 8 Things Your Pastor Will Never Tell You About the Bible. Retrieved October 4, 2014, from Patheos.com: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/09/29/8-things-your-pastor-will-never-tell-you-about-the-bible/



[1] The search for the original text ignores the fact that the bible has a history, and that the collection of texts into the canon existing today was curated by the Church. The search for the original text must yield to the search for the authoritative text.  In turn, this means that we can only understand the bible within the community that curated it, within the “matrix that includes the thoughts and writings of the early church: its bishops, priests, poets, monks, theologians, and artists.” (Miller 2012)

[2] Favoring the Masoretic text may seem reasonable, as (apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls) it is the most ancient extant Hebrew text. There is a marked preference for translating the Old Testament from the Hebrew text, a preference that goes back to the Renaissance Humanists who argued for a return to the sources. The rallying cry of this movement was the Latin phrase “ad fontes“, meaning “to the sources.” The reformers, being products of their time, thought that using Hebrew sources rather than the Greek translation was right and proper.

[3] Interesting examples include the following: 1) The epilogue of John 21 may have been added later. The original Gospel appears to end at Jn 20:31. 2) The pericope on the woman taken in adultery (Jn 7:53 – 8:11) is not in the oldest and best-attested manuscripts. 3) The oldest manuscripts for the Gospel of Mark do not include Mk 16:9-20; instead, it ends rather abruptly with the resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene. This all results in the following question: if the Sacred Scriptures were inerrant in the original manuscripts, and these texts were not part of the original text, are they then Scripture? Do we excise them from our bibles? And if so, how is this different from what the heretic Marcion tried to do?

[4] (Hagenston 2014)

Sola Scriptura and the Church

The Branch Theory of the Church

The Branch Theory of the Church

In his blog post entitled Questions about Sola Scriptura, Robin Phillips raises some very good questions about the relationship between Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) and the Church. If the primary or only source of spiritual authority is the Bible, how do we determine which Church Body or tradition properly interprets the Bible? Which set of doctrines are authoritative in the life of the Church? Of the individual Christian (if there is any such thing as a Christian apart from the Church?)

If Scripture is your primary authority, it becomes difficult to determine exactly which secondary authority may be used to interpret the Sacred Scriptures. Indeed, Protestantism — following the lead of Martin Luther — asserts the primacy of reason and the individual conscience as a means of interpreting Scripture. It must therefore be acknowledged that any number of people have approached the scriptures prayerfully, with great care, and in all sincerity, and have devised all manner of doctrinal systems from the pages of Sacred Scripture. Which dogmatic system is correct, and how do we know? There are many different contradictory positions within Protestantism, and differences on doctrine seem invariably to give rise to new denominations.

If you are a Protestant, you will likely point to your church or denomination as the true and visible church because it best understands the Bible. If you are Lutheran, you will point the the Lutheran Confessions as your guide to the understanding of Scriptures, and claim your Church as the true and visible Church, (although which branch of Lutheran, and on what basis do you decide?) If you belong to some other Church communion (Rome, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, etc.), you will point to the traditions of the fathers as a guide to understanding the Scriptures; the question then becomes which tradition, and which set of church fathers?

The problem is that if the Scriptures are self-authenticating, which is to say they attest to their own inspiration apart from the Church, then it becomes extremely difficult to determine which is the true and visible Church. The answer, according to some, is to differentiate between the visible and the invisible church. The invisible church, comprised of all the saints of God past, present, and future, is the true church; the visible church is the local manifestation of the invisible church — indeed, is a branch of the one, true Church. Thus, the branch theory of the Church, first postulated by the Church of England.

The problem with the branch theory is that it separates church and doctrine, in that a church may be doctrinally in error, and even heretical, and yet be a branch of the one, true church. Sola Scriptura and the Branch Theory provides no objective way to determine truth from error, making the choice of visible church a subjective affair. Moreover, it is almost impossible to draw any objective criteria by which a particular group claiming the name of Christian may be understood as apart from the invisible church. Indeed, that is the point, in that the saints are known to God alone. Thus, does it even matter which visible Church we belong to as long as we are part of the invisible Church?

As Robin Phillips points out, there is an element of circular reasoning at work here. We say the Scriptures are inspired by God, but so do other religions. How do we know our Scriptures are inspired, apart from some testimony external to the Scriptures themselves? And if we accept an external source that attests to the inspiration of Scripture, how then may we hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (especially as interpreted by the modern Fundamentalists and Evangelicals as Solo Scriptura, also known as Nuda Scriptura, the naked Scriptures?)

It is possible to accept a subsidiary authority attesting to a superior authority. Indeed, this is the general position of Lutherans, who accept the Lutheran Confessions and the testimony of the Church Fathers as secondary and tertiary authorities. Yet this does not resolve the question of which doctrinal system, derived from Scripture Alone, is correct.

The idea of Scripture Alone creates more problems than it solves. The sole reason for the assertion of the Scripture Alone was to separate Scripture from the Church of Rome. If that is the rationale, then the foundation for Scripture Alone is weak indeed.

On the Impossibility of an Inerrant Extant Text

Chart of Biblical Manuscripts

Manuscript Chart

Our existing (extant) biblical texts have quite a number of problems. Today, a literary work can be produced and reproduced almost without error, which fact colors our understanding of the ancient world. Part of our problem is that books as we know them today did not exist. Instead, of a book, think of a scroll — a single, long piece of paper rolled around a central spindle. Not only was the paper expensive, but the reproduction of the book was a long, laborious process. Moreover, in the scribal culture that existed prior to the Hellenistic era, literary texts as we know them today did not exist. But let us focus on the production of scrolls in the Hellenistic era, primarily using the arguments of Bart Ehrman, the popular author and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina.

[Books] could not be produced en mass (no printing presses). And since they had to be copied by hand, one at a time, slowly and painstakingly, most books were not mass produced. Those few that were produced in multiple copies were not all alike, for the scribes who copied texts inevitably made alterations in those texts—changing the words they copied either by accident (via a slip of the pen or other carelessness) or by design (when the scribe intentionally altered the words he copied). Anyone reading a book in antiquity could never be completely sure that he or she was reading what the author had written. The words could have been altered. In fact, they probably had been, if only just a little. (Ehrman 2005, 46)

The production of books in the ancient world was much different. Today, I write and edit a book on a computer. The book then goes through an editorial process, whereby a third party goes over the book to find flaws in its content and presentation. Eventually the book is typeset, printed, and the galley’s edited by the author to ensure the book is what the author intended. Finally the book is mass-produced and made available for sale. Authorship in the ancient world was much different.

In the ancient world, since books were not mass produced and there were no publishing companies or bookstores, things were different. Usually an author would write a book, and possibly have a group of friends read it or listen to it being read aloud. This would provide a chance for editing some of the book’s contents. Then when the author was finished with the book, he or she would have copies made for a few friends and acquaintances. This, then, was the act of publication, when the book was no longer solely in the author’s control but in the hands of others. If these others wanted extra copies …they would have to arrange to have copies made, say, by a local scribe who made copies for a living, or by a literate slave who copied texts as part of his household duties. (Ehrman 2005, 46)

In the ancient world, once a book was published, it was outside the author’s control. Anything could happen to the text, and often did.

[C]opies produced this way could end up being quite different from the originals. Testimony comes to us from ancient writers themselves. …In a famous essay on the problem of anger, the Roman philosopher Seneca points out that there is a difference between anger directed as what has caused us harm and anger at what can to nothing to hurt us. To illustrate the latter category he mentions “certain inanimate things, such as the manuscript which we often hurl from us because it is written in too small a script or tear up because it is full of mistakes.” …A humorous example comes to us from the epigrams of the witty Roman poet Martial, who, in one poem, lets his reader know

“If any poems in those sheets, reader, seem to you either too obscure or not quite good Latin, not mine is the mistake: the copyist spoiled them in his haste to complete for you his tale of verses. But if you think that not he, but I am at fault, then I will believe that you have no intelligence. “Yet, see, those are bad.” As if I denied what is plain! They are bad, but you don’t make better.”  (Ehrman 2005, 46-47)

As Bart Ehrman writes: “Copying texts allowed for the possibilities of manual error; and the problem was widely recognized throughout antiquity. (Ehrman 2005, 47) Thus, prior to the development of the professional copyists used by the Masoretes, the reproduction of the biblical texts was fraught with problems, leading to different families of texts containing different errors. Thus, the modern argument that inerrancy applies only to the autographs, to the original texts created by the original author. To this argument, we will let the following statement of Dr. Marvin R. Vincent serve as a the final word on this subject.

Nothing can be more puerile or more desperate than the effort to vindicate the divine inspiration of Scripture by the assertion of the verbal inerrancy of the autographs, and to erect that assertion into a test of orthodoxy. For:

1. There is no possible means of verifying the assertion, since the autographs have utterly disappeared.

2. It assumes a mechanical dictation of the ipsissima verba [the very words] to the writers, which is contradicted by the whole character and structure of the Bible.

3. It is of no practical value, since it furnishes no means of deciding between various readings or discrepant statements.

4. It is founded upon a pure assumption as to the character of inspiration – namely, that inspiration involves verbal inerrancy, which is the very thing to be proved, and which could only be proved only by producing inerrant autographs. [In other words, the definition is a tautology.]

5. If a written, inspired revelation is necessary for mankind, and if such a revelation, in order to be inspired, must be verbally inerrant, the necessity has not been met. There is no verbally inerrant, and therefore no inspired, revelation in writing. The autographs have vanished, and no divine guidance or interposition has prevented mistakes in transcription or in printing. The text of Scripture, in the best form in which critical scholarship can exhibit it, presents numerous errors and discrepancies. (Vincent 1899, 3)


Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

Vincent, Marvin R. A History of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. Edited by Shailer Matthews. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1899.



John Calvin, the Church, and the Canon

John Calvin

John Calvin

John Calvin, in his argument against the role of the Church in the canonical process, does discuss the role of the Holy Spirit. However, he seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit works in the individual, but not in and through the Church.

A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed—viz. that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 74-75)

Calvin then argues that since the apostles and prophets existed prior to the Church, that the inspiration of the Scriptures is intrinsic apart from the Church.

These ravings are admirably refuted by a single expression of an apostle. Paul testifies that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” (Eph. 2:20). If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the Church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter began to exist. Nor is there any room for the cavil, that though the Church derives her first beginning from thence, it still remains doubtful what writings are to be attributed to the apostles and prophets, until her Judgment is interposed. For if the Christian Church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets, and the preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be found, was certainly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the Church, since, but for this, the Church herself never could have existed. Nothings therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 75)

John Calvin is correct that the inspiration of the Scriptures precedes its recognition by the Church. But if the Church’s determination of the canon is invalid, what does John Calvin offer in its place? Why, the Holy Spirit who enlightens the individual believer’s heart.

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own Judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human Judgment, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our Judgment, but we subject our intellect and Judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.

Such, then, is a conviction which asks not for reasons; such, a knowledge which accords with the highest reason, namely knowledge in which the mind rests more firmly and securely than in any reasons; such in fine, the conviction which revelation from heaven alone can produce. I say nothing more than every believer experiences in himself, though my words fall far short of the reality. I do not dwell on this subject at present, because we will return to it again: only let us now understand that the only true faith is that which the Spirit of God seals on our hearts. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 78-79)

It is curious that John Calvin reason’s his way to a dismissal of human reason, but instead posits some ephemeral, mystical revelation of inspiration to the individual believer. Of course, John Calvin then modifies this by reference to the “children of the renovated Church” made up of the “elect only”, who “shall be taught of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13). So Calvin’s argument isn’t so much against the Church bearing witness to the canon of Scripture, but to the Roman Catholic Church bearing said witness.

In essence, John Calvin’s predisposition against the Roman Catholic Church colors his view of canonicity. We can break down his argument like this: 1) The Holy Spirit works within His true church. 2) The Roman Catholics do not constitute a true Church. 3) Therefore, the Holy Spirit does not work within the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin makes another argument: 1) The Holy Spirit works upon the hearts of the elect. 2) The Roman Catholic Church contains none of the elect. 3) Therefore, the Holy Spirit does not work within the Roman Catholic Church. And finally, with regard to the canon of Scripture: 1) The Holy Spirit works to reveal the canon of Scripture to His Church. 2) The Roman Catholic Church is not a true Church. 3) Therefore, the Roman Catholic canon of Scripture was not revealed by the Holy Spirit.[1]


Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2005.




[1] I may not have constructed these syllogisms correctly, but you get the point.

Facts vs. Faith, and Faith’s Seeming Fragility

The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries To Hide It)The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong by Thom Stark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Faith can be a fragile thing. It is possible to lose your faith when confronted by facts that don’t fit into your mental model. With that in mind, I cannot recommend this book to my Protestant friends, particularly those who are inextricably wedded to a literalistic interpretation of the bible. This book has the potential to change your perception of scripture and, with nothing to replace it, destroy your faith.

The Bible is not what we are so often told it is, particularly when we claim to be biblical literalists and interpret the text solely according to the historical-grammatical method. The fact is that no one is a biblical literalist, as the author aptly demonstrates. What are we to make of the evidence that our scriptures contain multiple points of view about who God is? About the existence of other gods? And even (God forbid) child sacrifice? The fact that we explain these away instead of taking them at face value is evidence that we are spiritualizing the scriptures, reading into them our point(s) of view.

If we come face to face with the obvious differences of opinion within scripture regarding fundamental things, what are we to do? For many, having no explanation and unable to integrate what they know into their religious perspective, they lose their faith. I don’t think that is what the author is trying to do, yet the author exposing these issues without providing a completely satisfactory solution.

Most of what Thom Stark describes is known to the Christian world — just not the Protestant world, and in particular the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. For most of the world’s Christians, the Bible is Sacred Scripture because the Church says it is. The Bible was written within the Church, declared to be scripture by that same Church, and interpreted within and by that Church on the basis of a living Holy Tradition (also known as the general consensus of the Church Fathers).

When Peter wrote that Paul’s letters were scripture, which ones? Paul wrote at least four letters to the Corinthians; we have only the second and the fourth. Again, in Ephesians 4:15,16 Paul tells the Ephesians to read in church the epistle he wrote to the Laodiceans. The missing Pauline epistles were determined by the Church not to be scripture, while others became part of the New Testament.

Thom Stark contrasts the literalist, historical-grammical hermeneutic with three other hermeneutical methods of dealing with problem texts, each of which come up wanting. These are the allegorical, the canonical, and the subversive readings.

Stark recognizes that those employing the allegorical method recognize the problematic nature of some texts (particularly the genocidal narratives of the conquest of Canaan), yet argues that when this reading becomes the traditional meaning, it prevents people from confronting the problem texts directly, and dooms us to repeat the conquest narratives (as in the Crusades, the Colonial era, and Manifest Destiny) instead of learning their lessons.

The Canonical Method recognizes that the scripture was created within, by, and for the community of faith. Stark argues that the determination of what is and is not scripture was not created by the faith community, but by the elites within that community. The argument seems to be that because the process was not democratic, it may be that the elites chose those scriptures most amenable to their point of view and the maintenance of their status. This is a highly problematic argument, as it reads the modern western culture back into the situation as it existed in the past. Moreover, it ignores the fact that in the early church, bishops were sought out for persecution; some early records show that the term of a bishop was typically in the low single digits, and bishops often died as martyrs. To be elevated to the position of bishop was, in many cases, a death sentence. And finally, the idea that the Holy Spirit moved within the community of faith apart from the bishop was foreign to the early church.

The Subversive Method points out that in many cases a meaning can be given to a text that subverts its obvious meaning. In some cases this is justified; the Revelation of St. John is full of coded language suggesting the end and judgement of the Roman Empire. Even Jesus’ call to ‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God” has a subversive message—since everything ultimately belongs to God, nothing rightfully belongs to Caesar. But it is possible to subvert the subversive message to justify confiscatory taxation, as took place in the Byzantine Empire, and under the Medieval popes. It is also possible to use scripture to justify racism, slavery, polygamy, and the subjugation of women.

Stark offers an alternative approach: viewing certain texts as condemned texts. Their status as scripture would be precisely because of what they reveal about us, and about what they fail to say about God. Under this reading, the text is valuable as an example of what not to do and how not to think. For example, few Fundamentalists think the fatalistic message of Ecclesiastes is an example for us to follow, but rather an example of just where an idolatrous and hedonistic life ends up. So too we don’t accept Satan as a role model to follow, even though his seven-fold “I will” is recorded in the book of Isaiah.

What Stark fails to recognize is the vibrancy of Holy Tradition as a guide for the interpretation of the text. The fathers recognized the problematic nature of some of scripture; not only that, but they wrote about it, and we use their writings today to help us deal with the same problems. We don’t hide these texts away, we don’t pretend they don’t exist, and we don’t explain them away. Just as the church has determined the canon of Sacred Scripture, so too the church has passed on the methodology of dealing with problem texts. This methodology is different on a case by case basis. In fact, there are competing hermeneutics within Holy Tradition, just as there are competing views about God within Sacred Scripture. None of this is either a revelation or a problem for the Orthodox. All the hermeneutics described by Stark are present to some degree or another, in some place or another, within Holy Tradition.

I finish this review as I began. If you are a Fundamentalist or Evangelical Protestant, avoid reading this book, as you lack the cognitive framework for dealing with the information.

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