Friday, March 17, 2006

Propositional Revelation and Scripture, pt. 2 of 2

Additionally, our orthodox biblical propositions are not all in the bible. For example, the developed doctrine of the Trinity, that all orthodox Christians believe, will not be found as a developed proposition in the bible.

Finally, if revelation was truly about pure and refined propositions, then why is it that almost all of Jesus’ original Aramaic words are lost to us. The gospel writers translated them in to Greek, and gave the words of Jesus their own interpretive stamp. From the very earliest layers of the NT, what we have are, at least as I see them, interpretations (even if reliable ones) of the significance and words of Christ. These words remain, however, second order.

It is for these reasons that it is better to see the bible after the analogy of art or music or story or drama – something that creates an effect and draws us into an encounter with God by the Spirit, but not as a storehouse of timeless propositions. It just isn’t that simple. Even a simple proposition like ‘Jesus is Lord’ is not a timeless abstract proposition. It can mean very different things depending on who is confessing it, when and why.

However, truths must surely be communicated in revelation. Not only that, for there to be a communication of revelation, there needs to be propositions (even if second-order and provisional) of these truths. And while the propositions may not be the revelations themselves, they can, by the Spirit, become the vehicle of the revelation or unveiling of the hidden God particularly in Christ. In this sense I want to affirm propositional revelation.


At 3/17/2006 6:09 AM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...


For these two posts you should be awarded the Karl Barth-Emil Brunner award. :-))

Simply stated you are in stark and dramatic disagreement with a diverse group of orthodox (not neo) theologians Carl F. Henry, C. Van Til ...

I am not trying to bait you. I like your blog and find it worth reading on a daily basis. So we can agree to disagree, right?

warm greetings,


PS - I was working on another one of my stories and was going to post it but thought better of it. I was going to tell about my encounter with Love Israel and the Love Family in 1969 and use it as an example of a witness to revelation. But telling stories is a vice of mine. Need to keep it under control.

At 3/17/2006 11:00 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hey Clay, I like your stories!

So we can agree to disagree, right?

Sure. But I will be real honest now: I am truly open to being convinced otherwise regarding these matters, so your feedback is most welcome. I'm no great expert on these things and was simply sharing my thoughts as they now stand. In other words, I have absolutely no interest in defending this position just for the sake of it. So if you want to, do share what you would consider to be the strongest arguments against my thinking. I am very open to being corrected!

The only thing I'm pretty settled against is the claim the bible is entirely 'without error'. Being a NT man, I am confronted regularly with errors here and there (whether of the copyist, or grammatical, factual ...) so either I adjust my doctrine of scripture, or be forced to have have to say something on secure grounds I can fail.

All the best to you, and I have always appreciated your feedback on my blog.

At 3/17/2006 1:19 PM, Anonymous dan said...

Hmmm, are there hints of Vanhoozer running through these two posts? Lindbeck? Perhaps even Hauerwas? [Although I suspect that book is still on the "to read" pile.]

I enjoyed reading these two entries although I don't have too much to add. Lindbeck has a few things to say about what he calls the "cognitive-propositional" approach to revelation, but I think you are careful to hedge what you say so that it avoids his rather damning criticisms.

I posted some of my own thoughts on this topic in a fairly recent entry called "Communicating Meaning". If you've got time to wade through it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Grace and peace.

At 3/17/2006 1:50 PM, Anonymous Simon Hardwick said...

Nice and thorough Mr Tilling!

At 3/17/2006 2:04 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Chris,

I think that a couple of things come into play here.

1) Our basic theological presuppositions about the Bible.

I believe that all Scripture is God breathed and that God is capable of communicating his mind in an accurate and understandable way. My presuppositions are based on: a) The Bible's testimony to itself. b) Jesus' attitude to the Bible as the authoritative word of God. c) That is what the witness of the Spirit says to my heart as a believer.
Inerrancy is the consequence of these basic assumptions about the Bible as God's Word.

2) What precisely do we mean by errors or contradictions in the Bible?

We should not expect modern day scientific accuracy in the Bible. The Bible often uses approximations and generalisations rather than absolutely accurate figures. For example. the feeding of the 5000 is an approximation rather than a statistically accurate tally of each and every member of the crowd. "Mistakes" in the Bible are sometimes due to scribal errors, textual problems etc. Only the original autographs were inerrant. Apparent contradictions can be and often are resolved by more research and study of the text. It is often assumed that the Bible is wrong, but evidence comes to light that vindicates the accuracy of Scripture. Luke calling the the leaders in Thessalonica "politarchs" (Acts 17:8) was assumed to be a mistake, until inscriptions using that word were found in Macedonia.

I could go on, but time would fail me. I think you get my drift.

Just one more point, "Jesus is Lord" is not "an abstract timeless truth", but the most eternal and concrete of all propositions. Yes, we must understand what the proposition "Jesus is Lord" means in the NT. But inerrancy is not the enemy of Biblical exegesis and Theology, but its best friend.

Guy Davies

At 3/17/2006 5:53 PM, Anonymous joel hunter said...

Happy to find your blog, Chris. I enjoyed these two posts of yours as they are congruent with some recent remarks I've posted in a comment thread at Phil Johnson's group blog. Best of luck in your studies.

At 3/17/2006 9:56 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Dan, I’ll have a look at your article, cheers – I have seen it before, just not given the time to read it in full.

Thanks for your comments again, Guy. Yes, I agree that some of the ‘contradictions’ in the bible can be thoughtfully explained in one or other of the ways you mentioned, but certainly not all of them. And this is demonstratable in my opinion. Perhaps I’ll post more extensively on this. ‘Yes, we must understand what the proposition "Jesus is Lord" means in the NT’ – and what it means for today.

Thanks, Joel, for your comments.

At 3/18/2006 6:13 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Guy wrote:

"But inerrancy is not the enemy of Biblical exegesis and Theology, but its best friend."

The incurable obsessive preoccupation with inerrancy has been a millstone around the neck of evangelical biblical exegesis for aeons. It is certainly not "its best friend."

At 3/18/2006 8:53 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Well Clay, some of the most admirable Evangelical exegetes and Theologians of the last 100 years or so have been on pretty friendly terms with inerrancy. BB Warfield, Leon Morris, Jim Packer, Lloyd-Jones, D A Carson etc.

I agree that obsession with inerrancy at the expence of other vital truths is not healthy. The same can be said for for the over emphasis of any doctrine. In its place, inerrency is the handmaid of good Bible exegesis.

Guy Davies


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