Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Modern "Biblical" Scholarship

While thus in the orthodox camp the literal sense of Scripture was duly recognized as being the only true sense of Scripture, orthodoxy was not willing to divorce the Old Testament from the New was done within the circles of the Arminians. A renowned example of the Arminian approach to Scripture is Hugo Grotius. In the year 1644 Grotius published an exegetical work entitled: Annotata ad Vetus Testamentum (Annotations on the Old Testament). Grotius seeks to "protect" the Old Testament against any intrusion on the part of either the New Testament or dogmatic theology. ...

There was, of course, a formal similarity between what Grotius was trying to do and that which the reformers had done in their handling of Scripture. Calvin and also Luther in most of his commentaries, has broken with the idea of a multiple sense in Scripture, as this had been held during the Middle Ages. The reformers insisted that the literal sense was the only sense. ... Yet the difference between Grotius on the one hand and the translators of the Staten-Bijbel [Dutch Bible translation] on the other was a fundamental one, as fundamental as is the modern difference between those who still adhere to the Reformed principles of interpretation and those, who, while claiming to do justice to the Reformation principle of the literal sense, are nevertheless separated by a deep abyss from the real Reformation understanding of Scripture.

Kraus points out that the approach followed by Grotius is informed by the principles of humanism. His hermeneutics is historico-anthropocentric. The authority of the speaking God has been eliminated from Grotius's "exegesis." Grotius not only opposed the orthodox concept of Scripture-inspiration. He not only sought to guard against undue encroachments from the realm of dogmatic theology. He also effectively withstood the possibility that in these texts God himself would be speaking. Kraus correctly indicates that this is the great division of spirit that humanism has brought about.

Today we see the full fruition of the position that Grotius so ably developed. The authority of the speaking God who speaks in and through Scripture does not enter meaningfully into the study of the Bible as presently conducted. Atheists, agnostics, Christians, Roman Catholics, Jews, Protestants, all are said to have equal access to the primary sense of Scripture. While the need for a faith commitment is recognized by some, and while others speak of the inevitability of some ideology influencing the biblical scholar, all these admissions are carefully prevented from affecting the actual work of "biblical" scholarship.

[Marten H. Woudstra, The Synod and Bible Translation, in Peter Y. De Jong (ed.), Crisis in the Reformed Churches: Essays in Commemoration of the Great Synod of Dordt, 1618-1619 (Wyoming, MI, USA: Reformed Fellowship, 1968, 2008), pp. 132-134. Bold added]

The task of interpreting the Scriptures is a sacred task, since the Scriptures are the very word of God, being breathed-out by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Tim. 3:16). In his chapter in this monumental scholarly masterpiece on the great Synod of Dordt, the late Rev. Woudstra spoke of this humanistic fruit of Arminianism in the area of biblical scholarship. Instead of recognizing the truth of 1 Cor. 1:18- 2:16, the trajectory of the humanistic slant on biblical scholarship started by Hugo Grotius resulted in the modern idea of "biblical" scholarship whereby unbelievers are thought to know and understand the Scriptures as well as believers. While certainly the Scriptures are perspicuous, yet because the truths of Scripture are foolishness to those who perishing (1 Cor. 2:14), the unbelieving "biblical scholar" constantly rejects the true meaning of the text of Scripture as being foolish even though such is the plain meaning of Scripture, their rejection being a moral and spiritual one instead of a cognitive one.

The main line of division between Christianity and "Christian" humanism as propounded by Grotius, as Woudstra has pointed out, is that Christianity begins with the presupposition of faith even on the topic of hermeneutics, while Grotius and the humanists after him starts with the presupposition that the [naturalistic, humanistic] idea of a speaking God must be withhheld from the text even if such was truly the case. Therefore, the text of Scripture is approached by these humanists as purely a human text, with the divine element regarded at best as inconsequential. It must be noted that Grotius and the Remonstrants were professing Christians (and orthodox with regards to their view of God - Chalcedon trinitarianism). Therefore, it is not necessary that a person formally rejects the Christian faith, or even rejects the idea that God is speaking in Scripture, to be a humanist. Rather, it is the trajectory whether theo-centric or anthropocentric that determines the case.

"Modern biblical scholarship" utilizes the "historico-anthropocentric" hermeneutics, better known as the historical-critical hermeneutic methodology. In opposition to the historical-grammatical method, historical-critical hermeneutics follows Grotius in treating the Bible as a human work and relegate the divine element as inconsequential even if correct.

There are therefore two forms of theology in this world, and two types of biblical scholarships. The orthodox, evangelical and Reformed position is that of faith seeking understanding (credo ut intelligam), while the modern form in unregenerate academia is that of humanism whereby understanding is sought apart from the necessity of true faith. Faith may be extolled in the system, but it is not necessary at all in the unregenerate theological enterprise.

Whether they be liberal, neo-liberal, post-liberal, post-conservative, neo-orthodox etc, the issue of hermeneutics will expose the foundational orthodoxy or unorthodoxy of many Christian and/or biblical scholars. The question for us is always the same: Will we believe that God has revealed Himself in His Word? Note that we are not asking whether God is revealing Himself using the medium of the Word (the Neo-Orthodox position), but whether God has revealed Himself IN His Word.

Faith or Unbelief; Truth and Error; Christ and the World. These choices must be made even within so-called Christian academia. May we choose to build our theology upon faith, rather than upon the autonomous reason of men.


Beng said...

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

- 1 Thess 2:13

Daniel C said...


Amen, bro.

Joel Tay said...

I like this article! True of modern scholarship.

Mark Farnon (Tartanarmy) said...

Great post brother..very good!

Daniel C said...


you're welcome.