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having this hui is that during Anglican controversy since 2003 evangelical Anglicans, along with other conservative Anglicans have refused to be quiet.1 We have spoken up because we believe that some decisions endorsed within member churches of our Communion contradict Holy Scripture.2 The possibility that a decision of a church contradicts Scripture raises at least two questions. One is the question whether we understand Scripture correctly. The other is the question what kind of authority Scripture has over the church. Both questions lead to consideration of Scripture itself, historical Anglican theology, and canon law.3 What is our understanding of Scripture on a given matter? Necessarily several questions flow from this question: is this a common understanding?4 If not, is there a majority and a minority understanding,5 or a plurality of understandings6 for which space to „agree to disagree‟ can be found in our life together? If not, is there a shared confusion?7 If this is so, do we see a future day when confusion will give way to understanding? These questions involve hermeneutics, which is the science and the art of interpreting Scripture. My aim today is to speak from an evangelical perspective with these matters in mind. I do so not seeking your agreement so much as to ensure that in our hui we hear voices we do not agree with and thus are provoked to think and to talk through our difficulties and disagreements rather than to avoid issues of controversy. Our general aim, as I understand it, is that through meeting to read Scripture together we might discover common understanding of the meaning of Scripture. There will be no common understanding if issues of controversy are avoided! Our particular task at this hui is to read Scripture together to discover common understanding of the church according to Scripture. In doing so we build on our first hui in 2007 in which we engaged with some basic steps in the hermeneutical task: learning, for example, to read the text with the worlds in view which lie behind the text, within the text, and in front of the text. Today, under the heading of Jesus and the Word: an evangelical perspective on Christ, Scripture and the church I want to speak to these four sub-headings:8 Jesus Christ at the centre of Scripture Jesus Christ the hinge on which the meaning of Scripture turns Jesus Christ and continuity of scripture in Scripture The Christ of Scripture and the body of Christ I will then conclude with a reflection on the role of theology and Scripture in the life of the church. My overall argument is this: theological reflection on Jesus, Scripture and the church supports the wisdom of the English Reformers that Scripture is the Word of God written. This conclusion, if accepted, decisively shapes any Anglican church project to understand Scripture and undergirds the claim that Scripture has authority over our church.
Jesus Christ at the centre of Scripture When Christians read the Bible we are reading „Holy Scripture‟, the unique book of the church. It is this unique book because it is centred on Jesus Christ, the head of the church. But Jesus is not only its chief subject but also the centre of Scripture‟s authority over the life of the church. He endorses the Old Testament as Scripture (for example, Matthew 4:1-10) and authorises the New Testament in this way.9 The apostles, including Paul, are commissioned by Jesus to continue his mission in word and deed. Jesus promises that when the „Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth‟ (John 16:13): the outcome of this is the New Testament. Jesus Christ is the centre of Scripture, the sacred writing which he has authorised as truthful revelation of the God whose human face he is (John 1:1-18; 2 Corinthians 4:4-6; Hebrews 1:1-3; 1 John 1:1-4; Revelation 1:1-3). What the elder John says of his first letter is true of all Scripture: „our theme is the Word which gives life‟ (1 John 1:1 REB).10 Scripture is „Holy Scripture‟ because it is both the first book of the church and the chief book of the church. Even in the Anglican church where we live with Scripture in one hand and our prayer book in the other, the latter utilises the language of the former, not the other way around. To speak in this way, of Jesus Christ at the centre of Scripture, it is not possible to avoid reflection on the relationship between Jesus Christ as „The Logos or Word‟ and Holy Scripture. If Jesus Christ authorises Scripture, if Jesus Christ is the Logos of God, is it reasonable (i.e. logi-cal) to speak, as Article 20 does, of Scripture as „God‟s Word written‟?11 The tension in the Anglican Communion today reflects different answers to this question.12 Although evangelicals tend to affirm that Scripture is God‟s Word written and others disagree, or at least query this, there is an important theological issue at stake here. Four brief observations, just a sketch of an argument that needs filling out both in detail and in logic: (i) If we believe (as Anglicans do) that Jesus Christ is of one being (homoousion) with the Father and also that the Holy Spirit is of one being (homoousion) with the Father,13 then when Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit speak, their words are the words of God (even as they are also the words of human authors). (ii) Further, when the Logos of God becomes human flesh, the Word of God in human form (John 1:14) it is logical to consider that the Logos of God might also become the Word of God in written form. („Become‟ is crucial here). (iii) In fact, another perspective on our knowledge of Jesus Christ gives another reason to describe Scripture as the Word of God written: our knowledge of the Logos of God is derived almost exclusively from Holy Scripture: there is no one known to us as „the Word of God‟ who is known apart from Holy Scripture whose theme is the Word which gives life. (iv) In connection with (iii): Jesus Christ himself promises that the Holy Spirit „will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you‟ (John14:26 ESV): the New Testament fulfils this promise, the written Scripture which conveys the oral teaching of the living Logos of
God (and more revealed through the Spirit of Jesus, including apostolic proclamation of the gospel about Jesus Christ and his offer of salvation to the world).14 In the providence of God the human form of the Word of God is re-presented to us in written words, that is, as Holy Scripture: the Old Testament providing the background, the Gospels the deeds and dialogue, and the Epistles the mind of Christ for the church, the body of Christ which is the continuing presence of the Word in the world. There is difference between the living Word of God and the Word of God written, but there is familial continuity between the two. We may distinguish them but we may not divide them. We have no voice of the living Word of God which is inconsistent with Holy Scripture. The latter is properly understood as the written down voice of the living Word, that is, as the Word of God written.15 Thus the English Reformers responsible for the 39 Articles wrote both responsibly and wisely when they used the phrase „the Word of God written‟ to describe Scripture. Evangelicals today remind our church of this wisdom. Now this conclusion is much contested. But the argument towards it, which builds on the homoousion as the landmark distinction between Christian orthodoxy and its opposites in the form of Arianism and Gnosticism carries an implication for our task at this hui, to work on interpretation of Scripture. (Arianism denied that Jesus was of one being with the Father, affirming instead that he belonged to the created order of beings; Gnosticism emphasised the separation between the realm of God and the realm of humanity). Alan Torrance, a Scottish theologian who once taught at Otago University, having studied the writings of Athanasius, the famous opponent of Arianism, explains how Athanasius laid out the grounds on which „the mind of the church‟ (ekklesiastikon phronema) could be discerned in accordance with the mind of God. First, only the Logos who is of one being with the Father (homoousion to patri) yet becomes incarnate enables true disclosure of God within the created order. Without this aspect of the homoousion there is no „theology‟ that is, truthful talk of God, only human-sourced „mythology‟ that is, speculation about the character of God.16 Secondly, the natural state of the human mind to be hostile or alienated to the reality of God (e.g. Romans 1) needs transformation through the Holy Spirit. Without this aspect of the homoousion humanity is not able to understand the mind of God (e.g. Romans 8; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 1). Torrance then draws this conclusion: „For the Nicene fathers, the twofold homoousion constitutes the necessary condition by which our contemporary understanding can participate in the “apostolic mind,” enabling semantic continuity with the theological paradigms of the apostles. Through the Spirit, our phronein [mind] is given to share in the mind of the body of Christ (ekklesiastikon phronema).‟17
In other words, there are two major approaches to reading Scripture which the church can undertake. One approach avoids, ignores or fails to understand the implication of God who is Trinity for Scripture, and reads Scripture as a set of words in one dimension only: records of human experiences of God, to the interpretation of which we bring „our own prior agendas in a loud voice‟.18 The other understands this implication as the ground for knowing God through Scripture and for engaging in truthful God-talk because of the decisive witness of Scripture.19 These two approaches are not equal but different valid ways of reading Scripture. Only one constitutes faithfulness to God revealed as Father Son and Holy Spirit. It is this approach that validates the phrase in Article 20, „God‟s Word written‟! Two important implications for the interpretation of Scripture follow from my argument to this point: first, our aim, in keeping with Article 20, should be to not „expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another‟, for neither God nor God‟s Word is divided by contradiction; secondly, we should expect when reading Scripture that it will become „clear‟ (or „perspicuous‟) to us through the illumination of the Spirit, for both God and God‟s Word is light (e.g. Psalm 118:105).20 Then a third matter requires comment. Understanding Holy Scripture as „God‟s Word written‟ requires response to the challenge of critical biblical scholarship. On the understanding proposed here, Scripture is absolutely both a human and a divine work. The human words which convey God‟s Word are subject to critical investigation, and often they are found wanting!21 My simple point is this: there is critical scholarship which „destroys‟ Scripture (i.e. diminishes, denigrates, deconstructs Scripture as „Holy Scripture‟), and there is critical scholarship which „reconstructs‟ Scripture (i.e. like an engine rebuild, pulls Scripture to pieces, examines each piece, then rebuilds it): is it not an obligation of the church, as the body of Christ seeking the mind of Christ, to work in the latter way rather than the former?22 Polanus (b. 1561), a post Reformation theologian in Switzerland, offers this definition of interpretation which is always pertinent to the church seeking to understand Scripture: „The interpretation of sacred Scripture is the explanation of its true meaning and its true application, set forth with clear words to the glory of God and the building up of the church.‟ („Interpretation sacrae Scripturae est explication veri sensus et usus illius, verbis perspicuis instituta ad gloriam Dei et aedificationem ecclesiae‟).23 Back to Jesus Christ at the centre of Scripture: consideration of Jesus and the Word leads us to the centre of Scripture, Jesus Christ the Word. One implication is this: in seeking to understand Scripture, Christians have normally understood Jesus to be the hinge upon which the meaning of Scripture turns. Jesus Christ the hinge on which the meaning of Scripture turns One access point into consideration of this sub-heading is Jeremiah 33:17-18,
„For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.‟ (ESV) The larger context here, by the way, is the Babylonian exile of Judah, the sacking of Jerusalem, and the vision of a „new‟ covenant with a rebuilt Jerusalem also envisaged. Now, if we press the „literal‟ button of understanding Scripture, Jeremiah 33:17-18 is a falsehood. David has lacked a man to sit on his throne and the Levitical priesthood has been in vacancy mode for thousands of years. But if we approach Jeremiah 33:17 through the lens of the whole of Scripture, including the Synoptic Gospels, Paul‟s writings, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, then we (i.e. the church collectively through its history) understand Jeremiah 33:17 to be truthful in this way: the throne of the house of Israel is the throne of the kingdom of God and on that throne forever sits Jesus Christ, a descendant of David, the temple of Jerusalem is consummated in the person of the great high priest, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross incorporates all Levitical sacrifices and is eternally present to God.24 Our point here is not only that Jesus Christ „makes‟ Jeremiah 33:17-18 to be true but also that in the person of Jesus Christ a new expression of the authorial authority of God comes to humanity. Who dare offer a new interpretation of the words of God? The Word of God himself! Matthew‟s Gospel, for example, takes up Mosaic teaching in the teaching of Jesus and recounts for us a new interpretation of Moses‟ law. Is this the work of another rabbi from among the ranks of the learned rabbis of first century Israel? No, according to Matthew, this is a new and greater Moses who has come among us! John's Gospel, as with many themes in the Synoptic Gospels, develops the idea of Jesus as a greater Moses, offering the more penetrating insight that Jesus is the Word of God and his teaching transforms 'law' into 'grace and truth' (John 1:1, 17). If we read on in Jeremiah 33 and note the kind of underlining God gives through Jeremiah of his promise in 33:17-18, we can marvel at the authority of Jesus Christ over Scripture which gives 33:17-18 a new and unexpected meaning. The one who does this is rightly ascribed as both a new and greater Moses and the Word of God become human flesh.25 Believers in Jesus Christ sit under this authority as we seek a common understanding of the meaning of Scripture. But also, in accordance with Torrance‟s discussion of Athanasius and the twofold homoousion above, we seek a common understanding through the Spirit of God with expectation that our transformed minds will receive this understanding. A further consideration under the sub-heading ‘Jesus the hinge on which the meaning of Scripture turns’ Two texts of great relevance to a comprehensive study of Jesus both „at the centre of Scripture‟ and „the hinge on which the meaning of Scripture turns‟ are: (1) the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) with its refrain „You have heard … But what I tell you is this …‟ (e.g. 5:21, 22 REB), and (2) the Road to Emmaus Bible Study (Luke 24:13-32), in particular 24:27, „Then, starting from Moses and all the prophets,
he explained (diermeneusen; a marginal reading is hermeneusen) to them in the whole of scripture the things that referred to himself‟ (REB). Both passages place Jesus in the role of interpreter of Israel‟s Scripture. In the first passage Jesus offers a kind of „re-packaging‟ of ethics in the Old Testament: „repackaging‟ because it is difficult to distinguish anything Jesus says which is wholly new (one possibility is the injunction to „love your enemies‟), and it is easy to see multiple ways in which Jesus both draws his hearers back to the original „law‟ and then deeper into a more intense application of the law (e.g. when not just adultery but lust is prohibited, similarly not just murder but also hate). To an extent other rabbis in Israel did the same thing, indeed we all do the same thing when we apply the law of God to the situations of life. But Matthew marks Jesus as different (as we noted above). In the response at the end of the Sermon on the Mount the crowds are „astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes‟ (7:28b-29). Through the whole of Matthew‟s Gospel, Jesus is distinguished from the „scribes‟ because he is the Son of God. The content of the Gospel is the words and deeds of God‟s Son, which includes his interpretation of the Israel‟s Scripture.26 In the second passage, on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus is also interpreter of Israel‟s Scripture, but the focus of the interpretation is Jesus as the centre of this Scripture. Walter Moberly offers this explanation of what takes place, hermeneutically speaking, during the course of the journey to Emmaus which ends with the breaking of bread. Noting that Jesus neither explains in his own terms the significance of his ministry, death and resurrection, nor make disclosures consistent with his journey between death and resurrection such as apocalyptic heroes commonly made, Moberly writes, „Rather, he appeals to the Jewish scriptures. This has at least two primary implications. First, the point is that there is no knowledge available from a realm beyond this life which is more significant or helpful for understanding Jesus and life with God than the moral and spiritual content already accessible in Israel‟s existing scripture. Secondly, the implication is not that the story of Jesus does not have intrinsic significance, but that it needs to be set in a context beyond itself for its significance to be understood; that is, existing scripture provides the necessary context for understanding Jesus. … The clear implication is that the story of Israel in Hebrew scripture is no different from the story of Jesus – it is possible to know the material without understanding it (v. 25). The key is provided by a particular perspective, one which is indeed rooted in the actual content of the scripture, but which is only realized, and so made accessible, through the passion and resurrection of Jesus (v. 26). So, as Jesus cannot be understood apart the Jewish Scripture, Jewish Scripture cannot be understood apart from Jesus; what is needed is an interpretation which relates the two – and it is this that Jesus provides (v. 27)‟.27 If Jesus is the hinge on which the meaning of Scripture turns, then a question remains about the precise character of the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. To this we turn. Jesus Christ and the continuity of scripture in Scripture
One of the most difficult chapters of the Bible is Luke 16, with the Parable of the Dishonest Steward (16:1-8, 9-13) a frontrunner for status as „the most difficult parable to understand‟. On one thing all readers of Luke 16 can agree: the chapter is mostly based on stories and sayings involving money. But the word „mostly‟ highlights another difficulty: why in the midst of all the talk on money matters is there an isolated saying about divorce and remarriage (16:18)? Here is one explanation of this puzzle in Luke 16. Luke often works his source material into his particular ordering of it according to catchwords or catch phrases. In Luke 16 the first parable begins „there was a rich man‟ and the commentary following it ends with „You cannot serve God and wealth‟ (16:13). The catchwords of riches and wealth lead into an account of Pharisees present making comment. They are described by Luke as „lovers of money‟ (16:14). But they also ridicule Jesus so this leads to a counter-charge from him that they are those who „justify‟ themselves. This sets up a new line of thought for Luke‟s reporting of Jesus‟ speech and his next pericope concerns the law and the prophets and the good news of the kingdom of God (16:16). Incidentally, one of the acute exegetical difficulties in Luke 16 then arises at the very end of Luke 16:16: what does entry into the kingdom by „force‟ or „violently‟ mean? Luke 16:17 then offers a counterpoint to any reader tempted to take Luke 16:16 as licence to ignore the law and the prophets in favour of the gospel: „But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped‟. I suggest we are entitled as readers of Luke‟s Gospel to presume that 16:17 reflects some sensitivity on Luke‟s part to debates about Christian understanding of the Jewish law – a sensitivity which is attested to in the Acts of the Apostles. The charge that the new Christian movement is „soft‟ on the law is rebutted. Luke 16:18 then becomes an illustration of the depth of Jesus‟ own commitment to the law: he prohibits divorce, with no exceptions, and, pointedly, is „harder‟ than the Pharisees themselves on this issue. The oddity of a ruling on divorce and remarriage in the midst of a chapter on riches and wealth is explained through the sequencing of Luke‟s topics: riches and wealth, money-loving Pharisees who justify themselves, the law and the gospel, the permanency of the law, an example of the permanency. If we accept that no oddity is involved in the reference to divorce and remarriage in 16:18,28 nevertheless we might be tempted to judge that it is then odd for Luke to return abruptly to money matters with the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:1931). Yet even here we observe that this story connects back to the topic of the law and the prophets in 16:16-18: the ending of the story makes reference twice to „Moses and the prophets‟ (vv. 29, 31). Many implications follow from this reading of Luke 16. Here I mention only one. In the estimation of Jesus there is both difference and continuity between the law and the prophets and the gospel of the kingdom. In the fullness of the revelation of God which expresses God‟s rule, what will later be called the “Old Testament‟ represents the continuity of the Scripture, known and taught by Jesus, in the Holy Scripture of the church: that is, the combination into the canon of the church of the Old Testament and New Testament, is a union of the difference and continuity between the law and the prophets and the gospel of the kingdom.
There have been many questions arising in the history of the church concerning the practical implications of the continuity of Scripture in Holy Scripture. Sometimes the church has been severely tempted to ditch the Old Testament. But the resistance to that temptation has its beginning in the example of Jesus Christ himself. To think about „Jesus and the Word‟ is to consider carefully the relationship between Jesus and the whole of Scripture. The Christ of Scripture and the body of Christ If now we turn our attention to the church in Scripture as a subject for the practise of our hermeneutics these observations, in the light of what has been written above, are pertinent; with Paul‟s First Letter to the Corinthians particularly in mind. (1) We are the body of Christ. This Christ, as argued above, is the Christ who stands at the centre of Scripture. Indeed this Christ is the One whom we can only know through Scripture – the whole of Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament. (2) When we turn to 1 Corinthians 12, we find the first orders of ministry mentioned in 12:28 relate to communication of the word of God: apostle, teacher, prophet (see also Ephesians 4:11). The life of the church is nurtured through ministry of the word of God, modelled by Christ himself as apostle, teacher, and prophet. (3) In 1 Corinthians we find Holy Scripture in the making. In 11:17-34 Paul speaks to the gathering of the Christian community ostensibly in unity around the Lord‟s supper (i.e. the body of Christ of 1 Corinthians 12 in action), but in reality divided into factions (11:17-18). What is the remedy? Paul takes his readers back to their foundation in the truth: „For I received (parelabon) from the Lord what I also delivered (paredoka) to you‟ (11:23). This tradition before our eyes as readers becomes scripture (i.e. tradition written down for the benefit of the body of Christ). This scripture in turn leads to proclamation of the word of life: „For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord‟s death until he comes‟ (11:26). Scripture is to be central in the life of the church. Here it (potentially) leads to reconciliation between factions who have lost sight of the truth (i.e. of the common understanding which should bind them together in unity rather than divide them).29 Note also the source of Paul‟s teaching, the tradition which he has handed onto the Corinthians: „for I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you‟ (11:23). Here also Jesus stands at the centre of the teaching which is becoming the Scripture of the church as the letter to the Corinthians is being written.30 This, incidentally, challenges loose thinking notions, sometimes heard in Anglican circles, that (so to speak) „the church wrote the Bible and can, if it chooses, re-write
the Bible‟. Holy Scripture‟s canon was settled by the church sometime after the apostolic era.31 But this does not mean „the church wrote the Bible‟ in the sense that it could just as readily have written something else. What was accepted as canonical Scripture impressed itself on the church through its authenticity as either accepted Scripture of Israel or expression of apostolic witness to Jesus Christ.32 (4) Paul writing to the church of Corinth is an example of the catholicity of the church. No local church is an island to itself. Rightly the Corinthians have sought assistance with local difficulties by appealing to the apostle of the universal church of God.33 Instruction and correction are given from the larger communion of churches to which Paul belongs. „If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God‟ (11:16; see also 4:17, 7:17).34 One challenge Anglicans face is understanding how a world communion of provincial Anglican churches should organise its life. My argument here is that 1 Corinthians 11:17-12.31 (indeed, the whole of 1 Corinthians) implies the need for the „local‟ church to bring unresolved difficulties to the „universal‟ church in order for resolution to be found through teaching based on Scripture.35 (5) There is no Corinthian teaching about the body of Christ which is not also teaching about the Holy Spirit, „For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body‟ (12:13). The role of the Holy Spirit in the revelation and understanding of truth is striking, confident, and inspiring in this letter (e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, 10, 11-12). Building on his understanding of the role and purpose of the Holy Spirit in respect of understanding the truth of the gospel as the inner secret wisdom of God, Paul draws this conclusion at the end of chapter 2: „But we have the mind of Christ‟ (2:16). The „we‟ here is not Paul and his companions but the whole church of God. (6) In Paul‟s understanding of the body of Christ, elucidated in his letters, the life of the church as it faces ethical and ecclesial issues is not a matter of spontaneous spiritual direction through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does work spontaneously, but so do other spirits, so discernment as to what is in step with the Holy Spirit and what is not, is required (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; Ephesians 5:10; 1 John 4:1). In regard to this discernment within the life of the notoriously „charismatic‟ church in Corinth, Paul‟s written directions in 1 Corinthians provide assistance about practical matters of Christian living. This is, of course, an expression of the apostolic, teaching and prophetic gifts present in Paul‟s life. It is also an expression of the continuity of Scripture in Scripture noted above. For instance, in some of what Paul says there is explicit re-statement of the Lord‟s teaching (1 Corinthians 7:10) or dogged (dogmatic?) declaration that „the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord‟ (14:37). (7) 1 Corinthians exhibits a fascinating creative tension between the Spirit and Scripture! In 1 Corinthians 14, for example, gifts of speaking seem to collide with one another. How does Paul sort this chaos? With a louder or more eloquent speech? No, he responds in writing. The Spirit gives utterance but does not obviate the role of theological teaching which steers the life of the church „according to order‟ (1 Corinthian 14:40). The charismatic church of Corinth becomes the opportunity for a
theology master class in apologetics, ethics, and ecclesiology. Spirit and Scripture work together in love for the unity of the church and the glory of God (13:1-7). (8) 1 Corinthians also exhibits an important phenomenon of the Word of God written: it includes a series of „words‟ for the church: messages, commandments, explanations. The Word of God written is both God‟s great revelation of the gospel and the details of the application of the gospel in the faith and practice of the church. This in turn exemplifies the role of Scripture as authority over the life of the church: authority which is ultimately God‟s authority, expressed through God‟s prophets and apostles, as well as through God‟s Son.36 An observation about the Word of God written and idolatry (itself a concern in 1 Corinthians) A rejoinder to proposal that Holy Scripture is the Word of God written is this: it readily leads to a god who is limited by the boundaries of the text, an attractive god because we can contain, even control this god. In both Jewish and Christian perspective this constitutes idolatry, and is concomitant with the charge which is sometimes made of „biblical Christians‟ that they worship the Bible (bibliolatry) more than they worship the God of Jesus Christ.37 But this charge is readily rebutted: (1) the Reformers themselves, especially taking in the whole context of the theology of the Thirty Nine Articles, were not bibliolatrists, so it is not a necessary consequence of „Word of God written‟; (2) many readers of the Word of God written find there a god who is indeed God the Lord, disturbing, uncontrollable, and transcendent beyond the text – not least because repeated readings of the text continue to bring new dimensions to knowledge of God revealed within it. Conclusion: Christ and the role of Scripture and theology in the life of the church In this paper I have taken a route which consciously embraces the role of theology in the interpretation of Holy Scripture. In particular I have argued for the importance of orthodoxy informing our approach precisely at the point where orthodoxy matters most, in our understanding of the relationship of the Spirit and the Son to the Father. The twofold homoousion or affirmation of the one being of the Son with the Father and of the Spirit with the Father is crucial to recognition that in Scripture we have true revelation from God (through the Son, the Logos) and that through the transformation of our minds by the Holy Spirit we can receive this revelation. Scripture, properly understood in this Trinitarian perspective is the Word of God written. In turn, this affirmation draws our attention to the role of Jesus Christ in respect of Scripture as the Scripture of Israel and of the church: Jesus as the hinge on which the meaning of Scripture turns; Jesus at the centre of Scripture and ensuring the continuity of Scripture with Scripture. These elements are exemplified in a reading of 1 Corinthians with special attention to the church as the body of Christ. One example is notable for our present purpose: 1 Corinthians explicitly represents at certain points the formation of Scripture from the tradition which begins with Christ.38 One challenge of 1 Corinthians with its bold claim that the church is the body of Christ which has the mind of Christ is simply this: does the church – you and me live with Christ at the centre of our life together? Are we open to the Spirit and
Scripture informing our mind as one body so that we can say with Paul, „But we have the mind of Christ‟? Another challenge is whether we will accept the authority of this „mind‟ over our life together. In summary, then: theological reflection on Jesus, Scripture and the church supports the wisdom of the English Reformers that Scripture is the Word of God written. This conclusion, if accepted, decisively shapes any Anglican church project to understand Scripture and undergirds the claim that Scripture has authority over our church. Peter Carrell Nelson, May, 2009 Abbreviations: REB = Revised English Bible; ESV = English Standard Version. WORKGROUP QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AFTER PAPER AND RESPONSES ARE PRESENTED (yet to be added)
Definition of „evangelical‟ vary; some people embrace this label; some see it as one of several labels (if labels are to be used) to describe their theological commitments. My working definition here is this: evangelicals (a) adhere to the doctrines of the church generally considered orthodox in terms of the Great Creeds, (b) emphasise to a degree not shared by other parties in the church: the supreme authority of Scripture on matters of faith and practice, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is the most important explanation of the purpose of the death of Christ, the importance of each person making a response to the gospel of Christ by way of their own commitment in faith to Jesus Christ, and the sharing of the gospel with the aim of bringing people into a personal relationship with Christ. Evangelical Anglicans generally embrace the Anglican church in its faith and practice, as explained in the Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal, as being entirely in accordance with evangelical theology. 2 In this paper I will use „Holy Scripture‟ and „Scripture‟ (capitalised) interchangeably. For argument that there is such a thing as „Holy Scripture‟ in respect of „properties which the biblical canon has by virtue of its relation to God‟s communicative activity‟ and not merely „scripture‟ (non-capitalised) as a textual expression of „the activities of human agents in constituting a cultural and religious world‟, see John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, Cambridge: CUP, 2003 (citations in this sentence from p. 1). 3 In the course of this paper I make reference to the  Articles of Religion, drawing support for various points from these articles of our church which are fundamental to our heritage as a „reformed‟ church, and are no less fundamental when we understand ourselves as a „reformed and catholic‟ church. In making use of the Articles I am mindful of our constitution which says, [Part B 1] „This Church holds and maintains the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ as the Lord has commanded in Holy Scripture and as explained in The Book of Common Prayer 1662 Te Rawiri The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating Bishops, Priests and Deacons The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa.‟
One example of an understanding common to Anglicans is that priests and bishops may be married (see 1 Corinthians 7; 9:5). Examples here and immediately below are related to 1 Corinthians since this epistle is important to the final part of this paper.
An example in the life of the Anglican Church of Australia is that women may be ordained priests and bishops (majority of dioceses) and women may not be so ordained (minority of dioceses) (in part this latter decision turns on how 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:34-35 are understood). 6 Most obviously we accept a plurality of understandings of the eucharistic relationship between „bread/wine‟ and the „body/blood‟ of Christ (to which 1 Corinthians 10:1-22; 11:17-34 apply). 7 Hopefully we are not in the position the Corinthian church was in when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians: a shared confusion as to whom they „followed‟ (Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ; see 1 Corinthians 1:12). Though Paul was clear that „God is not a God of confusion but of peace‟, 1 Corinthians 14:33). 8 Late in preparation I learned that a presenter I was to be „twinned‟ with could not be present at the hui. Therefore I have lengthened one section, Jesus Christ the hinge on which the meaning of Scripture turns, to incorporate subjects which I understand would have been in the other presentation. The words used, however, are entirely my own. 9 Causa brevitatis, I move past the important question, „What is the Christian Bible?‟, noting Brevard S. Childs point when reflecting on differing understandings of what constitutes the Old Testament (Protestant, Roman, Eastern), „the exact nature of the Christian Bible both in respect of its scope and text remains undecided up to this day‟ (Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993, p. 63. Nevertheless in an Anglican context we are working with Article 6 (of the 39 Articles of Religion) which defines the Old Testament in terms of 39 books, Genesis – Malachi, and declares 14 apocryphal books to be of value through example and instruction of manners, but not for establishing doctrine. [By contrast the Eastern Orthodox churches accepts a slightly different list as part of the Old Testament, which they adopted as per its form in the Septuagint; with the exception of the First and Second Books of Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh, the Roman Catholic Church recognises the apocryphal writings as part of the Old Testament but describes them as „deuterocanonical‟, that is, later additions to the canon.] 10 When reflecting on the unity of Scripture with Jesus Christ as its centre, we could profitably draw on the Book of Revelation which is consciously both a rewriting of great tracts of Old Testament prophecy and apocalypse, as well as an exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ. An important phrase in Revelation which sums up the inherent vision within this book of the unity of Scripture is: „the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy‟ (Revelation 19:10; see also commendations in 1.2 „witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ‟; 6:9 „slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne‟; 12:17 „keep God‟s commandment and hold to the testimony of Jesus‟ (ESV). Note that „word of God‟ in this context is the Old Testament). 11 To be clear: „written‟ here means that God‟s revelation has been written down by human hand. It does not mean that generally the words of Scripture have been dictated to secretaries; no presumption is made as to the variety of ways in which the revelation of God‟s truth is received in human minds (e.g. vision, insight, reflection on events, memory of words and deeds spoken by (say) a prophet, hearing of oral tradition – stories, sayings, songs etc passed on from one generation to another) prior to being written down, and then, as the case may be, being edited or rewritten through a transcription process. Of course, in some cases in Scripture words appear to have been dictated, principally, when prophets are recorded as saying, „Thus says the Lord etc‟, and particularly in the Book of Revelation when John records for us that he is told to „Write!‟ (e.g. Rev. 2:1). But even in the latter case this may be a form of words which John uses to convey a specific message he believes God has given him. 12 Some answers offered are: Scripture is the Word of God; Scripture is the written Word of God; Scripture witnesses to the Word of God; the Word is in Scripture. There is, I suggest, a form of double function for Scripture. One function is that it bears witness to Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the full revelation of God‟s truth („No one has ever seen God … [Jesus] has made him known‟, John 1:18), then Scripture conveys this revelation to us. To the extent that the words of Jesus convey this knowledge then Scripture reveals the truth and does not merely bear witness to it. But to the extent that „the Word became flesh‟ in the man Jesus and the particularity of that fleshliness was experienced in a specific space-time context, then Scripture can only witness to that historical experience. „That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you‟ (1 John 1:3). The gospels are „Jesus remembered‟ not „Jesus the movie‟ let alone „Jesus the actual experience‟. Yet another function of Scripture is that it is God‟s invitation to come to Jesus. Through the reading of Scripture we can hear the call and command of God to „come to Jesus‟ (cf. Revelation 22:17). In this way Scripture is God‟s Word – God‟s message of good news, welcome, and acceptance in Jesus Christ. This message is not simply within Scripture, Scripture is this message, for its whole purpose is to convey the gospel. 13 From page 410 of A New Zealand Prayer Book: „… Lord, Jesus Christ … begotten not made, of one being with the Father … the Holy Spirit … who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who in unity with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified …‟
If all we had is the New Testament as the post-Jesus theological writing of the church, the promise would be fulfilled. It is proper to conclude that developments in theology, for instance, through the first centuries to the point where definition in the creeds is given of the Trinity (Nicea) and the Incarnation (Chalcedon) also constitute fulfilment of the promise. 15 Since presenting the paper I have come across a fascinating comment by Karl Barth (in the context of his study of Schleiermacher, very relevant here because Schleiermacher can be reckoned as the father of modern biblical criticism): „How remarkable that [Schleiermacher] does not seem to have considered the possibility that the thought which I understand in what is said by someone else … might be contingently, without any qualitative or quantitative possibilities of misunderstanding, the truth or Word of God, and that I should then have good reasons to treat this address more specifically and more seriously than any other as the bearer of this content, a reference to this subject. What if special New Testament hermeneutics, whether gratefully employing Schleiermacher‟s method or any other general method were to consist quite simply of taking these texts more seriously in this specific sense? Why should not God have spoken to man in a way that is necessarily and compellingly understandable as God makes it so? If God is God?‟ [cited from K. Barth, Die Theologie Schleiermachers 1923/24 (ed. Dietrich Ritschl. Zurich: Theologischer Verlag Zurich, 1978. Trans. Geoffrey Bromiley under the title The Theology of Schleiermacher (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), pp. 326-327; ET p. 183, in Richard E. Burnett, Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis: The Hermeneutical Principles of the Romerbrief Period, Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2004, pp. 255-6]. In other words, historical criticism as a method inherently sceptical of the possibility of God having spoken to us through fallible human authors via a difficult text overlooks the power of God to overcome obstacles in the path of divine communication. 16 That is, Arianism is contradicted (the Logos is identified with the being of God, not with creation) and the problem highlighted by Gnosticism is overcome (the Logos becoming incarnate overcomes separation between divine and human realms). 17 Alan J. Torrance, “Can Truth Be Learned? Redressing the “Theologistic Fallacy” in Modern Biblical Scholarship‟, in Bockmuehl, Markus and Alan J. Torrance (eds.) Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008, p. 153. 18 Torrance, op. cit., p. 157. 19 For those familiar with the concept of „two horizons‟ in biblical interpretation (the horizon of the people and culture of the biblical period, and the horizon of our culture in the twenty-first century), Torrance, op. cit., p. 158, argues that there are three horizons, the third is „another human horizon, through which God is present by the Spirit and which facilitates the transformative integration of these two horizons – what we might call the “mind of Christ”.‟ 20 A specific application of the second implication, much emphasised by evangelicals, is that we interpret Scripture using Scripture itself as a tool of interpretation, for example, a clearer passage will shed the light of understanding on a less clear passage. On the „clarity‟ of Scripture see Mark D. Thompson, A Clear and Present Word: the Clarity of Scripture (New Studies in Biblical Theology 21) Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2006. 21 A book to follow up on this point is: Kenton L. Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. Yet this book itself has been robustly critiqued in a review which makes the point that „historical criticism‟ is „totalitarian in its conception, claims, and demands, all of which completely and utterly rule out the intellectual validity of historic Christianity as in any sense a revealed religion‟ (Robert W. Yarbrough, „The embattled Bible: Four more books‟, Themelios Vol. 34/1, April 2009, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/34-1/the-embattled-bible-four-more-books/ 22 Four current biblical scholars who stand out for me as „reconstructors‟ are Richard Bauckham, James Dunn, Walter Moberley, N.T. Wright. The first three hold or have held academic positions in British universities; the last, having had a university career has served successively as Canon, Dean, and Bishop in the Church of England. 23 Cited by Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956, p. 714. 24 It is hard to avoid the impression of „supersessionism‟ or „typology‟ when writing thus! Nevertheless the argument here is not that Christianity has succeeded Judaism nor that David was a type of Jesus but that Jewish Christian writings such as Matthew 1 and Romans 1 present Jesus as a descendant of David, appointed as king by God, leading the enlargement of Israel as the kingdom of God, thus fulfilling prophecies such as Jeremiah 33:17-18. (For a fascinating exposition of themes of Israel/kingdom of God, Jesus as Son of Man/king/Son of David, see Matthew 19:23-21:17, including the pivotal text 19:28).
A key text here is John 1:17: „the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.‟ 26 Notable here also is the way in which the presence of Jesus in Israel is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, explicitly noticed many times by Matthew. On “Jesus in Matthew‟s Gospel as Son of God” in the context of The Bible, Theology, and Faith, see Chapter Six in the book with that title by Walter Moberly (full details below). 27 Walter Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus, Cambridge: CUP, 2000, p. 51. The title of the chapter from which the citation is taken is “Christ as the key to Scripture: the journey to Emmaus”. 28 That is, „no oddity‟ within the mind of Luke, a man sensitive to the contours of Hellenistic Judaism and of Hellenistic and Latin cultures in the Mediterranean region in the first century A.D. 29 Note Paul‟s commendation at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11: „Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions (paradoseis) even as I delivered (paredoka) them to you‟ (11:2). 30 Incidentally, when some (very eminent) theologians propose that „the eucharist makes the church‟ (e.g. Paul McPartlan, The Eucharist Makes the Church: Henri de Lubac and John Zizioulas in Dialogue, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993; Fairfax, VA: Eastern Christian Pub., 2006), it is worth remembering that the word (of Christ, handed down through the apostles) makes the eucharist. There is, in fact, in the course of the whole New Testament, less said about the eucharist than there is about teaching. „Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly‟ is the great manifesto of the New Testament church (Colossians 3:16). Regular eucharistic worship is coherent with this manifesto when we emphasise the „sacrament‟ as a visible word so that our worship in word and sacrament is worship in the audible and the visible word of God. 31 „Settled‟ is used here advisedly as (a) the canon of Scripture varies between Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism though not, I would argue, with any great theological significance in the differences (see further, a note above); (b) even today there are academic scholars who press the point that „canon‟ is an unfortunate statute of limitation on our reading of ancient scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. 32 The claims within the Johannine literature, for example, that these writings give expression to „eyewitness‟ testimony do not readily admit of re-writing by people living many centuries later! 33 1 Corinthians 12 bears witness to a conception of the body of Christ being the universal church rather than the simply local church when it states „God has appointed in the church first apostles‟ (12:28). 34 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is an extraordinarily difficult text for „church hermeneutics‟ which I readily pass by! It is difficult in at least the following ways: Paul advances an argument for a position untenable in the 21st century Western church (at least), namely that women ought to have short hair which is covered, and men ought not to have long hair; in doing so Paul makes appeals to important authorities such as „nature‟ (11:14), „tradition‟ (11:2), „Scripture‟ (implicitly 11:7-9), „private judgement‟ (11:13), „apostolic authority‟(11:16a), and „catholic authority‟ (11:16b); further, Paul‟s argument rests on the foundation of a principle much contested in the Western church (at least) today, „the head of a wife is her husband‟ (11:3)… „Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man‟ (11:9). Yet Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987, p. 530 astutely notes that Paul in the end draws no „commandment‟ for the situation by way of conclusion (unlike the next part of chapter 11). 35 On the relationship between „local‟ and „universal‟ church particularly in the context of Eucharistic ecclesiology see John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir‟s Press, 1985. At the heart of Anglican Communion responses to the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 such as the Windsor Report and the (ongoing) drafting of an Anglican Covenant is urgent recognition that we have no agreed relationship in respect of „authority‟ between „local‟ and „universal‟ within the Communion. 36 An important recent Anglican statement re the authority of Scripture is found in sections 53 and 54 of the Windsor Report (2004): 53. Central among these is scripture. Within Anglicanism, scripture has always been recognised as the Church's supreme authority, and as such ought to be seen as a focus and means of unity. The emphasis on scripture grew not least from the insistence of the early Anglican reformers on the importance of the Bible and the Fathers over against what they saw as illegitimate mediaeval developments; it was part of their appeal to ancient undivided Christian faith and life. The seventeenth and eighteenth century divines hammered out their foundations of “scripture, tradition and reason”; in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have seen the 'ChicagoLambeth Quadrilateral', in which scripture takes first place. The Bible has always been at the
centre of Anglican belief and life, embodied and exemplified by the fact that the reading and singing of scripture has always been at the centre of Anglican worship. 54. However, the common phrase “the authority of scripture” can be misleading; the confusions that result may relate to some of the divisions just noted. Scripture itself, after all, regularly speaks of God as the supreme authority. When Jesus speaks of “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28.18), he declares that this authority is given, not to the books that his followers will write, but to himself. Jesus, the living Word, is the one to whom the written Word bears witness as God's ultimate and personal self-expression. The New Testament is full of similar ascriptions of authority to the Father, to Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. Thus the phrase “the authority of scripture”, if it is to be based on what scripture itself says, must be regarded as a shorthand, and a potentially misleading one at that, for the longer and more complex notion of “the authority of the triune God, exercised through scripture”. The question of how this 'exercised through' works in practice is vital to understanding the kind of authority which scripture possesses and hence to the nature and exercise of actual authority within the Church. It may be, historically, that the phrase 'authority of scripture' has characteristically emerged in contexts of protest (when one part of the Church appeals to scripture against something being done by another part). When we attempt to apply it more widely, to an entire understanding of the Church's mission and common life, it quickly becomes apparent that its implications need to be thought out more fully.
This criticism was made by Rev. Dr. Howard Pilgrim in an oral response to this paper when delivered at the Hermeneutical Hui, Wellington, 19th May, 2009. 38 Yet if from this summary we take a reminder that theology or the formal teaching (doctrine) of the church contributes much to the way in which we read Scripture, we can also take away a reminder that Scripture contributes much to the formation of doctrine. Would the church, for example, have developed its understanding of the Trinity without the influence of John 1:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 2:116 and 8:6? On 1 Corinthians 8:6 see Howard Pilgrim, Benefits and Obligations: 1 Corinthians 8:6 in Context , http://howardpilgrim.com/download/PilgrimThesis.pdf .