Dischronologization–that’s a word you probably can’t say ten times fast. But it’s an important word, or at least concept, to understand when we read our bibles. I’m not sure if he coined the term or not, but O. T. Allis, founding professor of Old Testament (hence his interesting initials!) at Westminster Seminary, gives us a good explanation of the way scripture will at times take an historical narrative and shape it for another purpose. In his very important The Old Testament: Its Claims and Its Critics, he says, speaking generally about scripture, that “The sequence in which events are recorded may not be strictly chronological.” Why is this the case? Because the author has “the tendency to complete a topic or subject, carrying it forward to conclusion or a logical stopping-place and then to return to the point of departure and resume the main thread of the narrative” (p. 97). An example of his pattern of dischronology is Ezra 4:1-24, where the temple is being built but suffers from opposition. In vv. 1-5 there is opposition to the rebuilding during the reign of Cyrus (late 6th century), in vv. 6-23 the author stops, and moves back in time to the opposition to the building of the temple in the fifth century, and in v. 24, returns again to the sixth century.
This pattern of dischronology is helpful to understand the New Testament text as well, especially when we are confronted with “contradictions” between gospel narratives (the so-called “Synoptic Problem”). If one were to compare two accounts of our Lord’s temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, it becomes readily apparent that there are differences in the chronological rendering. As New Testament scholar Darrel Bock puts it in the first volume of his commentary on Luke: “It is…clear that one of the Gospel writers has rearranged the order for literary reasons. The event shows that the Gospel writers are not averse to arranging materials for the sake of topical or theological concerns” (p. 365).
Ronald Youngblood, an Old Testament scholar who has taught at TEDS, Wheaton, and Bethel, applies this to Genesis 1 in his JETS article “Moses and the King of Siam“: “Chronology was not always important when relating historical events. Other concerns were sometimes in the forefront. Let us assume, then, for the sake of argument, that the events recorded in the first chapter of Gnesis are not set down in chronological order. This would explain, for example, how light could appear on the first ‘day’ although the light-bearing bodies were not made until the fourth ‘day.'”
Thus dischronologization is a helpful category for us when we are confronted with those who want to disparage the integrity of Scripture and point out so-called “errors.” Sometimes the author is making a theological point when he structures a passage rather than a chronological one. While this might sound odd to twenty-first century ears, who are used to reading rugged historical accounts by experts with PhD’s and lots of footnotes, this was quite a common practice in the ancient Near East and Graeco-Roman times.
Should the matter of diverse interpretation concern evangelicals when they think through the issue of biblical authority? Is it naïve to hold to sola scriptura when evangelicals can’t agree on interpretive decisions on even the most generally agreed upon texts? These are questions that Christians have struggled with since the early days of the church; recently Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith has asked them in The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not A Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Brazos, 2011). For Smith, a recent convert to Roman Catholicism, the “biblicism” of evangelicalism is challenged by what he calls “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (PIP). I have not read the book and this post is not intended as a comment on Smith per se. Rather, in response to reviews of it by Robert Gundry, Peter Leithart and Kevin DeYoung, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has lamented that they have missed the point of Smith’s argument. McKnight questions whether evangelicals believe PIP is a serious enough challenge or if it has been adequately met. He asks: “does not our claim that the Bible is revelation and clear get a massive shock when we examine who (sic) pluralistic our interpretations are? Shouldn’t a clear Bible yield clearer interpretations? Or have we fallen so much for diversity that we don’t even see this as a problem.”
“The desire of the righteous ends only in good;
The expectation of the wicked in wrath.”
Mark Futato, Academic Dean of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, is interviewed on Fox News about bible translations in light of the updated NIV and NAB.
US Catholic Bishops unveil new Bible, also available on the iPad: MyFoxORLANDO.com
The following are point-form notes that I’ve taken on Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) work The Characteristics of the Style of Scripture as Evidential of its Inspiration that can be found in the third volume of his collected Works.
- Carson expresses the pain he feels in having to critique fellow Christians on such a key doctrine as the inspiration of Scriptures
- He believes that this is a doctrine that all Christians should be united on: “Might it not be expected that all would unite in exalting the perfection of our common standard?” (ix)
- However, in spite of this pain, he is constrained to take up the task of defending truth
- Those Christians that he critiques he loves: “my love to these in error is not abated” (ix)
- He recognizes this doctrine, and the defense of it, as something that transcends denominational distinctions
- He makes the startling affirmation that “though a Christian should reject everything which I hold, but the way of salvation through faith, in the righteousness of the Son of God, I will receive him, as I trust God, for Christ’s sake, has received me” (ix)
- It is a serious matter to theologize and theologians have a great responsibility to not misrepresent truth or sway others into error
- “Nothing but the conviction that I am pleading the cause of God and truth could console me in opposing so many distinguished writers on the nature and inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (x)
- He again affirms that this question is “not a party question” (x)
- The doctrine of Scripture is something that all Christians should unite on: “Let us all celebrate the perfections of our common standard—the Bible” (x)
There are, of course, a large number of historical surveys of the doctrine and interpretation of Scripture and monographs emphasizing eras important to the development and alteration of the doctrine. Many of these treatises, from the older works of Pesch, Holzhey, Rohnert, and Farrar, to more recent efforts like the essays by Preus, Gerstner, or Rogers and McKim, fall into the category of theological treatises that offer a particular construction of the history as a basis for the formulation of doctrine in the present. None of these works ought to be overlooked–but all must be examined in the realization that they frequently miss the issues and problems of the past in their quest for or advocacy of present-day doctrinal and interpretive positions.
Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725: Volume 2: Holy Scripture The Cognitive Foundation 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 27.
Here is my review of John D. Woodbridge’s excellent book Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).
Here is a succinct quote by Alexander Carson (1776-1844) that well expresses his doctrine of Scripture: “I lay it down as an acknowledged truth, that the Bible is the word of God, or that the Scriptures were delivered by men inspired by God.”
Alexander Carson, “The Doctrine of the Atonement, set forth in an Address to the Public” in Works (London/Edinburgh: Hamilton, Adams/Wm. White, 1847), 1:7.
As I’ve been working my way slowly through Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) work on scripture, I’ve noticed that he uses very strong language against his opponents. To such a degree that I find it distracting. Here are some examples from chapter seven of Examination of the Principles of Biblical Interpretation of Ernesti, Ammon, Stuart, and Other Philologists (1863), entitled “Scripture Cannot Contradict Itself”:
The Neologists are bad interpreters as well as erroneous theologians. Does [Christoph Friedrich von] Ammon show any mark of a sound philologist? His principles of interpretation are false; and a greater number of blunders no man ever made in the same compass. What is it that entitles those men to the exalted seat to which common opinion has raised them? They are learned men, I admit; but they are not critics. They are universally acquainted with books, but not with the philosophy of language. Their interpretation is as destitute of science as their theology is of truth, and their audacious freedom with the Word of God is intolerable. This imperious man insults both the Scriptures and those who have dared to defend them from the imputation of contradiction…Ought such insolence to pass unchastised? Ought such infidelity to be recognised as a dictator in the science of interpretation? Should a man be suffered with impunity to charge the Word of the Most High with innumerable contradictions, when in the very charge he discovers that he does not know what a contradiction is? Must the vindicators of the inspiration of Scripture be charged with offending against truth that they may defend and sustain a fiction?
Alexander Carson, “Examination of the Principles of Biblical Interpretation of Ernesti, Ammon, Stuart, and Other Philologists” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1863), 5:324.
That the Holy Spirit sanctions the efforts of genuine eloquence is obvious, from his employing figures whose sole purpose is to affect the heart and the imagination, when the thing on which the figure bears needs no proof, but is clearer than demonstration itself. “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” Of the truth here asserted no man needs proof. But how deeply is the mind affected with this beautiful figure! The impression is much stronger than would have been made by the naked assertion.
Alexander Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture as Evidential of Its Inspiration” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1854), 3:86. Scripture quote from Psalm 103:15 (KJV).
I’m almost finished reading John D. Woodbridge’s Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982). This is an excellent book in many respects, but what I find most helpful is reading it as an aspiring historian. Woodbridge did his doctoral studies at the University of Tolouse in France and has taught church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for quite some time. He is an expert in Reformation, post-Reformation and modern church history, in particular French evangelicalism.
Because Jack Rogers and Donald McKim argue historically that certain Christians denied the complete infallibility/inerrancy of Scripture, Woodbridge critiques them on the level of historical method. He points up common fallacies that the authors regularly make, highlights their misuse of sources whether through dependence only on secondary material or disingenuous quotations, and pokes holes in the logic of their historical interpretations. When I read a book like this I get a little fearful–it’d be horrible to have a book subjected to such exacting critique! Could Rogers and McKim sleep at night after this was published?
So, not only would I recommend this book for its value in setting the record straight historically about the doctrine of Scripture, but I would also suggest that historians read it and consider their own work and the potential that they too might be at the receiving end of such a review. It should cause historians to be assiduous in their use of primary sources, to be honest with the texts they study, and rigorous with the logic of their interpretations.
As it turns out, Woodbridge says as much regarding historians himself at the close of the book:
In a way that the authors [Rogers and McKim] probably did not envision, their study creates a call for those historians engaged in the current quest to discover the ancient attitudes of Christians toward Holy Writ. These historians should do their research in an even-handed manner, consider well the conceptual problems associated with their undertaking, and write technically competent analyses on delimited subjects before attempting the grand synthesis (p. 155).
For more of Woodbridge on historiography, see his introduction to Paul Kjoss Helseth’s new book “Right Reason” and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), ix-xiv.
I’m sure that when Bart Ehrman’s new book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God: Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, is released next month there will be a spate of responses. How about one from the nineteenth-century?
Alexander Carson (1776-1844), in a discussion on the simplicity of Scripture, makes a comment about forgery. He argues that the Bible’s simplicity is such that it would render forgeries of it impossible. He quotes a passage from Cesar Vichard (1639-1692), Abbe de Saint Real’s Vie du Jesus Christ (1638) and compares it with the original text from Luke 2:8-14. While the Abbe’s language is eloquent, due to its lack of simplicity, it does not compare with the inspired quotation. In Carson’s words, “The greatest of human writers cannot, in a few sentences, imitate the noble simplicity of Scripture” (Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture,” 29).
A quote that has special relevance to Erhman’s forthcoming book, Carson says, “Forge the Bible! As well might it be supposed that some idiot forged the Iliad, and fathered it on Homer” (Ibid.).
I know the title of this blogpost is anachronistic when one considers that Alexander Carson lived in the nineteenth-century. However, a couple of quotes caught my attention that have affinity to some of Cornelius Van Til’s thought, in particular his distinction between true knowledge and exhaustive knowledge as well as his affirmation of “apparent contradictions.” Here is what Carson has to say:
“A man may know the meaning of the word chemistry, as accurately as it was known by Sir Humphrey Davy, who may yet know almost nothing on the subject of chemistry” (Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture as Evidential of Its Inspiration” in Works 3:16). While of course this is not a discussion of man’s knowledge in relation to God’s, as Van Til’s was, it does however speak to the difference between true knowledge and quantity of knowledge. I can know something truly without having to know everything about it.
Speaking of the perspicuity of Scripture, Carson says, “Indeed, the peculiarity in the employment of this attribute of style in Scripture is a most satisfactory evidence of inspiration. The phenomena of Scripture in this respect are curious and apparently contradictory. It is only as they are the production of inspiration that they can be reconciled or accounted for” (ibid). Van Til often used the language of “apparent contradiction” when he spoke of two propositions that, from the human vantage, appeared to be mutually exclusive, but from a divine vantage were perfectly compatible. Here, Carson appeals to the doctrine of inspiration to reconcile what appears to be contradictory phenomena in Scripture.
***UPDATE (Feb. 21, 2011)***
“The things in Scripture that are most offensive to human wisdom are the most easily defended, if Christians would use only Scripture weapons, and refuse to go beyond the bounds of Scripture” (Works 5:326).
Alexander Carson (1776-1844) breaks down the style of scripture to highlight its evidential use for the doctrine of inspiration. He does so in the following manner:
Moral Sublimity (63-68)
Vivacity or Energy (70-74)
Use of Epithets (74-76)
Vivacity as Depending on Fewness of Words (76-81)
Figurative Language (85-88)
Stamp of Truth Everywhere Impressed on Scripture (88-90)
Alexander Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture as Evidential of Its Inspiration” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1854), 3:3-90.
Here’s a great quote by the late Bruce Vawter, former chair of DePaul University’s religious studies department, in his book, Biblical Inspiration (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 132-133:
It would be pointless to call into question that biblical inerrancy in a rather absolute form was a common persuasion from the beginning of Christian times and from Jewish times before that. For both the Fathers and the Rabbis generally the ascription of any error to the Bible was unthinkable. If the Word was God, it must be true, regardless of whether it made known a mystery of divine revelation or commented on a datum of natural science; whether it derived from human observation or chronicled an event of history.
Cited in John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 32.
In Biblical Interpretation (1836), Alexander Carson (1776-1844) engages the work of the German critic Johann August Ernesti (1707-1781) and his English translator, Charles Hughes Terrot (1790-1872). In the fourth chapter, entitled “The Historic Canon,” Carson deals with how to determine the meaning of a word or term in an ancient text. The term “historic canon” that Carson refers to is slightly misleading–he is not referring to the sixty-six canonical books of the bible. Rather, the nomenclature refers to the method of interpretation that determines the meaning of a word or phrase from Scripture based only on historical usage. This method, developed in Germany amongst the “higher critics” and later carried into Britain, Carson also refers to as the “neological canon.” He summarises the view thusly,
It teaches that the interpretation of the doctrine of Christ and his Apostles is to be regulated by the history of the opinions generally current in the times in which they lived. The substance of this canon is, that if Christ and his Apostles used certain words, as applied to their doctrine, which were applied at the time to the doctrine of other sects, the doctrine of the former must coincide with that of the latter. The business, then, of the interpreter is, to find out the theology of the Jewish sects (Carson, Biblical Interpretation, 310; emphasis his).
In his critique, Carson affirms that accommodation is an integral part of the doctrine of inspiration. He readily admits that the inspired speakers/writers used language that was understood by the culture they were addressing. His concern, however, is that this hermeneutical approach confounds two things that differ: “It confounds the meaning of a term with the nature of the doctrine to which that term refers. A word may be intelligible as a term, while the doctrine to which it refers may not be understood” (Carson, Biblical Interpretation, 310). For Carson, “Agreement in the meaning of the term is no evidence of agreement in the nature of the doctrine” (Carson, Biblical Interpretation, 311).
“You’ve got to go out and ask the mother in her house, the children in the street, the ordinary man at the market. Watch their mouths move when they talk, and translate that way. Then they’ll understand you and realise that you are speaking German to them.”
“In Mark 14:4 the traitor Judas says Ut quid perditio ista unguenti facta est? If I followed those lemmings and literalists, I’d have to render that ‘Why was this waste of ointment made?’ What kind of talk is that? Whoever talks about ‘making a waste of ointment’? You make a mess not a waste, and anybody who heard you talking about making a waste would naturally think you are actually making something, when it fact you were unmaking it — though that still sounds pretty vague (nobody unmakes a waste either). What a real person would say, of course, is ‘What a waste!'”
Both quotations cited in Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), 185, 195.
I’m a bit miffed over this whole TNIV cancellation thing. It’s sad that a good translation is going the way of the buffalo over political issues. Admittedly, the TNIV’s marketing strategy is nothing like the ESV juggernaut, but as a translation it is tops. Dan Wallace has an article at bible.org called “NET, NIV, ESV: A Brief Historical Comparison” where he shares his opinions on various bible translations. Here’s what he said about the TNIV:
With the TNIV, the translation reached new heights in this respect: excellent scholars worked on it. The language went toward gender-inclusiveness, but it was certainly not as developed in this regard as was the NRSV. There are a few verses that I don’t care for in the TNIV, but on the whole I think it’s a very good translation. Still, the elegance factor is missing. As well, the TNIV has an excellent textual foundation. Many translations nowadays are satisfied with translating the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. But the TNIV had Gordon Fee on the translation committee, an outstanding textual critic. There are places where the TNIV has taken some bold moves away from the Nestle text—places that I think they have made the right choice.
My friend Darryl Dash has posted an interview that he just did with Douglas Moo on the new 2011 NIV that is to be published by Zondervan and the discontinuation of the TNIV – something I must say that I’m quite disappointed about. Our church plant uses the TNIV and we really like it.
Check out the interview and the related links that Darryl has posted, it’s all quite good.
“Interview with Douglas Moo on the 2011 NIV.”