Christian Askeland highlights four PhD studentships available at the University of Aberdeen set to engage the topic of “Authority and Texts: Concepts and Use,” considering questions like:
What constitutes authority and provides authenticity to texts and what is the role of textual criticism? How should authoritative texts (including religious, legal, and other texts), be used and interpreted, and how is this issue determined? Is investigation of the contextual meaning of texts at their time of composition necessary to understanding and respecting their authority, or do different criteria exist which influence readings of texts?
In yesterday’s mail arrived Daniel Driver’s Brevard Childs, Biblical Theologian: For the Church’s One Bible (Baker). The volume is a corrected, North American edition of Driver’s previous volume under the same title from Mohr Siebeck (2010; ix), which was itself a “thorough revision and updating” of Driver’s PhD thesis (Brevard Childs: The Logic of Scripture’s Textual Authority in the Mystery of Christ, St. Andrews, 2008; xi). This North American edition was just released in August, and Baker’s description of it is as follows:
Brevard Childs (1923–2007), one of the monumental figures in biblical interpretation in the last half-century, is a founding presence in the current resurgence in theological interpretation of Scripture. He combined critique of biblical scholarship with a constructive proposal related to the canon. Because his work is influential, complex, and contested, it needs and merits clarification. In this full-scale explication of Childs’s thought, Daniel Driver takes account of the complete corpus of Childs’s work, providing a thorough introduction to the context, content, and reception of his canonical approach. . . . [T]his affordable North American paperback edition adds an appendix giving English translations of the numerous German extracts in the book.
Asking whether the New Testament specifically or the biblical literature generally has a divine or human origin and a divine or human nature imports a dichotomy that literature itself does not reflect. From this literature’s own perspective, the literature is not viewed as always either human or divine in origin and nature, nor is it sometimes human in origin and nature and sometimes divine. Rather, this literature and several significant figures in early Christianity represent the biblical literature as having both a human and a divine origin simultaneously (see 1 Tim 5:18; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21; 3:15–16; Ferguson 2:5–6).
Herman Bavinck 1:434–35, further reflects on this intermixture of origins and natures within the biblical literature, saying:
The theory of organic inspiration alone does justice to Scripture. In the doctrine of Scripture, it is the working out and application of the central fact of revelation: the incarnation of the Word. The Word (Λογος) has become flesh (σαρξ), and the word has become Scripture; these two facts do not only run parallel but are most intimately connected. Christ became flesh, a servant, without form or comeliness, the most despised of human beings; he descended to the nethermost parts of the earth and became obedient even to the death of the cross. So also the word, the revelation of God, entered the world of creatureliness, the life and history of humanity, in all the human forms of dream and vision, of investigation and reflection, right down to that which is humanly weak and despised and ignoble. The word became Scripture and as Scripture subjected itself to the fate of all Scripture. All this took place that the excellency of the power, also of the power of Scripture, may be God’s and not ours. Just as every human thought and action is the fruit of the action of God in whom we live and move and have our being, and is at the same time the fruit of the activity of human beings, so also Scripture is totally the product of the Spirit of God, who speaks through the prophets and apostles, and at the same time totally the product of the activity of the authors. “Everything is divine and everything is human” (Θεια παντα και ἀνθρωπινα παντα).
An incarnational model, such as the one Bavinck employs, has received some attention in the past few years, and some problems with it have been noted (e.g., Beale 298–301; for an alternative model, see Sparks 229–59). Nevertheless, with this model, Bavinck does find a way to hold together two principles in the biblical literature that may often be set against one another but which the biblical literature itself does not hold in such opposition: scripture’s divine and human aspects.
The Muratorian fragment curiously includes a book named “Wisdom” in the middle of its discussion of New Testament literature (see Westcott 562). The standard interpretation of this reference appears to be that the fragment refers here to the well-known Wisdom of Solomon (e.g., Carson, Moo, and Morris 492; Ehrman 241).
The relevant sentence from the fragment itself reads, “Moreover, the epistle of Jude and two of the above-mentioned (or, bearing the name of) John are counted (or, used) in the catholic [Church]; and [the book of] Wisdom, . . . written by the friends of Solomon in his honour [sapientia ab amicis Salomonis in honorem ipsius scripts]” (Metzger 307; Westcott 562). B. F. Westcott, however, in his Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, considers the phrase ab amicis Salomonis (by the friends of Solomon) to refer to Proverbs as a figurative designation for Hebrews (Westcott 245). This interpretation is prompted by the tension Westcott feels at having a document by this title listed with New Testament literature.
Yet, Westcott’s solution fails to carry much weight. The book of Proverbs (Liber Proverbiorum, Παροιμίαι) probably would not have been identified as the referent of Sapientia (Wisdom) in a context where other well-known works had ‘wisdom’-language in their titles [e.g., Liber Sapientæ (Book of Wisdom), Σοφία Σαλωμῶνος (Wisdom of Solomon), Σοφία Σίραχ (Wisdom of Sirach)]. Likewise, Westcott’s willingness to tie Paul to the phrase ab amicis Salomonis (by the friends of Solomon) seems rather to grasp at straws than to explain the Muratorian fragment’s text. Thus, probably one should understand the Muratorian fragment as designating another work, and because of its general popularity during the period and perhaps even with Paul, interpreting the fragment as referring to the Wisdom of Solomon is certainly reasonable, however awkward such a reference might be in a sequence that describes New Testament literature.
In the third book of his work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus takes up a defense of the fourfold Gospel tradition. This defense proceeds as follows:
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” [1 Tim. iii. 15] of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. . . . As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, “Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth.” [Ps. lxxx. 1] For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, “The first living creature was like a lion,” [Rev. iv. 7] symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but “the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,”—an evident description of His advent as a human being; “the fourth was like a flying eagle,” pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church [Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.8 (ANF 1:428)].
In the middle of this quotation, Irenaeus draws together the point to which he believes the fourfold Gospel tradition finally moves: “From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains [συνέχων] all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit [ἑνὶ δὲ πνεύματι συνεχόμενον]” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.8 (ANF 1:428; PG 7:885)]. For Irenaeus, therefore, the Spirit produced a theologically exclusive, fixed corpus that existed before that corpus became a formally recognized, sociological reality in the church.
In his second plenary address at the eastern regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society last spring, Stephen Chapman, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Duke Divinity School, suggested some ways to navigate some of the pitfalls of current canon debates. In his closing remarks, Chapman emphasized the statement of the First Vatican Council (1868) that:
The complete books of the old and the new Testament with all their parts . . . the church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the church” (Tanner 806; emphasis added).
Many Protestants would certainly take issue with the documents Vatican I recognizes as fulfilling these criteria for canonical literature—namely, the books: (1) “as they are listed in the decree of [the Council of Trent]” [which includes some deutero-canonical documents (see Tanner 663)] and (2) “as they are found in the old Latin Vulgate edition” (Tanner 806). Yet, Protestants should still be able to benefit from and perhaps even agree with, the criteria provided and the theological perspective put forward in this section of Vatican I’s decrees.