So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Foundation of the Answer to the Question of Cessationism: Part 6

Okay, welcome back sports fans! I'm back on track: chapter and verse attack...The word'll hit ya like it's door knobs in a gunny sack! So sit up straight, and for your bibles please be reachin' cause it's time now on "Reflections" for expository teachin! (one day I'll have to teach a whole sunday school class entirely in rap. That would be stupid, but definitely using my 'spiritual' gifts! Definitely seeker sensitive!)

Back to earth. Okay. I've calmed down. Now for the last several posts, I've been basically hammering home the foundational concept of the authority and sufficiency of scripture; how special revelation (the Bible) interprets general revelation (and more specifically experience) and not vice versa. In this post, I'm going to give the strongest biblical argument for this concept that I know of. This is one of the passages that initially slammed against my own misconceptions and non-biblical ideas about experience and scripture and whatnot. Let's examine 2 Peter 1:16-21 together!

Now in the first chapter, Peter is writing "to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours" (vs.1). He writes that "His (God's) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (vs. 3). He then comments in verse 4 on how God has "given us his very great and precious promises" so that we may become holy and no longer be enslaved by our evil desires.

Peter then lists several spiritual virtues (vs. 5-7) and comments on how the aforementioned virtues "will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (vs. 8). He states in verse 9 that the lack of the aforementioned virtues reveals that a person "is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins". In view of this somber warning, he urges the recipients to make their calling and election sure (vs. 10) Peter then explains to the recipients of the letter that he will continue to remind them of "these things" because he will, one day soon, no longer be with them (vs. 12-15). After this, we get to our focal passage.

Peter then moves into some comments regarding the truth that he has given the readers. He claims that the apostles "did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." (vs. 16). He comments that he was a personal witness to the transfiguration, personally hearing the voice of God (vs. 17-18). He continues on, commenting on the transfiguration, that "we have the word of the prophets made more certain and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (vs. 19) And the reasoning he gives for this tremendous faith in the 'word of the prophets'?

"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (vs.20-21).

Now for a little commentary.

1. One must understand what the transfiguration would have meant to a Jew. The transfiguration is recorded in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36. In that event, a few important things happened. First off, Jesus' glory was unveiled. They saw him appear in glowing garments, like an angel. That would confirm that he was special, if not an angel. That would be quite an experience in itself.

Next, Moses and Elijah show up. One must understand that these are the two spiritual giants in the Old Testament (Abraham was important, but not in the same way that these two were). Moses gave the law and lead the people through the Exodus (God's defining act in the entire Old Testament), and Elijah was the prince of the prophets. For a Jew to actually see these two and hear them talk has absolutely no possible historical paralellism; there's really no way to explain what this would do to a Jew. I'm sure 'deer in the headlights' doesn't begin to even come close. Peter, James and John were so afraid they didn't know what to they offered to 'set up camp' for Moses, Elijah and if they were planning on settling down back on earth. HA! Either way, when both of these dudes show up, this gives pretty strong support to Jesus' messiahship; hence the question about Elijah coming first (Matt. 17:10 & Mark 9:11). The three disciples would have logically wondered what was pulling off here; Jesus had been born and had grown up and now Elijah is showing up second. Seeing Elijah would have been confusing, on that point alone. Either way, when Elijah and Moses show up, all doubts as to whether or not 'this was the time' (of the messiah) would have disappeared in a wink.

Finally, God descends on a mountain in a cloud and starts to speak. Sound familiar? Well, God seemed to show up on mountains and do some talking both in the ministries of Moses and Elijah. And when God says "his is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Matt.17:5), that would likely almost melt a Jewish mind. Hence in Matthew 17:6 it says that they fell facedown on the ground, terrified (most likely for their lives). Now God shows up and confirms that not only is Jesus the messiah, but he's also God's son, meaning that Jesus is God. God ascribes diety to Christ.

Bottom line: as experiences go, this is the mother. Having Moses, Elijah and God all show up and confirm Christ's divinity and messiahship would be enough that even if Jesus would have allowed them to talk about it, nobody would have believed them. Either way, this was the experience to end all experiences.

2. On the understanding of just how Peter could have used his witness of the transfiguration as some sort of verification for apostleship, or his teaching, or whatever, one sees his comments in 2 Peter 1:19-21 taking on serious intensity. In verse 19, Peter says that the entire experience of his witness of the transfiguration is 'trumped' by the word of the prophets. (Exegetical note: The rendering of 2 Peter 1:19 is arguably more likely "We also have the more sure prophetic word", though I won't fight this too strong.) Regardless of the rendering you take with verse 19, Peter's argument is essentially the same: The word of the prophets is what the readers should pay attention to, not Peter's amazing experience.

3. And Peter's reasoning? Why would he not want the readers to pay heed to his experience? Well, verses 20 and 21 deal with this. Peter says that when the prophets were speaking, they were speaking by the Holy Spirit. The inscripturated prophesies of the prophets, the Old Testament, was not men simply speaking their own thoughts, or even divinely influenced thoughts. When they spoke (and recorded what they spoke), it was actually God speaking. The Bible is divine speech, and the same voice that Peter had subjectively heard on the mount of transfiguration is the same divine voice that speaks in the scripture. This is what is being talked about in 2 Timothy 3:16 when Paul says "all scripture is theopneustos". The bible is theopneustos, or "God-breathed". The Bible is the very words of God, and the relationship between the scriptures and the words of God are akin to the relationship between breath and speech; they're inseperable.

So, Peter urges his readers to not pay heed to his experiences, but instead to God's word. The former is untrustworthy, the latter is trustworthy. Peter's own experience only confirmed the writings of the prophets, and that's where his foundation of obedience and faith lie.

This is not to say that experience is "bad", or that experience doesn't have any value. Instead, this is only to say that experience is not ultimate. Experience isn't the ultimate authority of the faith. The truth of God, revealed in the Bible, which is God's divine speech, is the ultimate authority; that's what people should heed. So, experience doesn't trump scripture; it only serves to confirm it. If the experience and scripture disagree, then you simply misunderstand your experience. Bottom line and I'm now done hammering this one home. Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian


Blogger 4given said...

Like the rap. You're funny and theologically sound. If you started to sing I might think you were Steve Camp.

5:27 PM

Blogger Andrew L said...

But reading the Bible is one of my experiences . . . If I am to doubt what my own eyes have seen, how can I be sure that my own eyes have read the Bible properly?

In fact, now that I think about it, my faith in God is rooted in my belief that someday I will experience him fully. If, after I die, I find that the afterlife (my experience there) does not conform to what the Bible says, I will stop believing the Bible.

Don't get me wrong: I'm willing to believe that in many cases the Bible does trump my experience because I have only limited perspective. I am willing to believe that what I experience might temporarily be false, but ultimately my test for truth can only be what I myself can sense and understand.

12:01 AM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

Well Andrew, if we're going to use philisophical language, the I'd say that you're sense experience and reason are not inherently epistemically deceptive. On the whole, your senses percieve the world with general epistemic accuracy. I'm saying they are NOT the ultimate epistemic authority; they are not the bottom line in interpreting experience.

Here's an example. Renes Descartes, when approaching the question of epistemology, ended up with the bottom line of saying something along the lines of "I can doubt, but if I doubt that I am doubting, I'm lost. So, my epistemic lowest common denominator is my own doubt. I cannot step back lower than that, epistemologically speaking. SO, Cogito Ergo Sum...I think, therefore I am".

Over the years, the following philosophers (Locke, Hume, Kant, etc.) kicked Descartes' ideas around and worked through some of the holes. In the end, Kant simply laid down the hammer and said 'mankind cannot cross the noumenal/phenomenal barrier to claim that he knows anything at all. All mankind can claim is that "such and such is most likley".

This is some of the thought behind the whole "well, that's just your opinion" talk of postmodernism.

As a reformed philosopher, I actually categoricall reject Cogito Ergo Sum. Instead of saying "I think because I am", I would say "God is and has told me that he created me, therefore I am".

Having an epistemic authority outside myself allows for epistemic certainty. Many people don't like this line of reasoning, but Alvin Plantiga (bless his little heart) evidenced that it's a sound (in the philisophical sense; having no inherent contradictions) argument.

I can either start with myself as a knowing mind, and work out from there, OR I can start with a knowing mind outside myself and work out from there.

So, when I read the Bible, I experience reading it. That is true. And if I didn't know that I was real, I wouldn't have any reason to trust my own perceptions of my eyes. BUT, God, who ultimately exists regardless of my experience, tells me in the Bible that he made me and that he is truthful. God reveals to me that the reason for creation was ultimately for his own glorification, and part of that is God's radiating forth of his goodness in revealing himself TO me. So, it seems reasonable (again, using the term in the philosophical sense) that the God who made all things and (including language and communication) has revealed himself in the scriptures would be operating outside his own character (ie. lying) if he did not provide an epistemically generally reliable source of interacting with his self revelation in both creation and scripture. And, seeing that Scripture makes propositional suggestions that it is an epistemic authority above creation, I then am told IN scripture to hold scripture as an ultimate epistemic authority.

Seeing that I read the scripture and it sets itself up as an ultimate epistemic authority, I then either choose to believe it or not believe it. If I choose to believe it, I operate within the bounds of reality. If I choose to not believe it, I operate in a false reality of my own concoction.

Again, almost all modern philosophy is vehemently opposed to such overt "religious philosophy" but that's fine. They can do what they want. Seeing the 'navel gazing' state that secular philosophy is in these days, I'm glad to not be on that bandwagon!

My epistemology is philosophically grounded in the existence of God and his self revelation to me. I believe that God exists because he tells me that he made me, not because I logically cannot reason past my own existence as a knowing mind. I don't ultimately doubt my sense perceptions, but I also don't consider them ultimate.

Chances are, in my typical style I've only confused things more. Any more questions?

11:03 AM

Blogger Rob LeBlanc said...

Hello Armchair Theologian,
Just by random happenstance, I stumbled across your blog as I searched for former BBC people amongst the pantheons of other online authors. I must say, it's interesting to see another BBC person continuing a weekly theological discourse (and rather frightening that your blog looks almost identical to mine). When did you go to BBC? I ponder if perhaps we went around the same time, though your name is absent from your postings. That being said, I'm curious to discuss your thoughts on Scripture and Scriptural authority. You certainly seem to have a philosophical understanding of some of the moral and authoritative impetus behind scripture (one does not kick around names like Kant, Hume and Descartes willynilly), though I ponder if you've done some reading along the lines of historical or textual criticism. Always looking for constructive dialogue with a fellow scholar, I'd be happy to hear back from you.
Robert LeBlanc

5:47 PM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

Well, I was at BBC from 1995-1999 and at BBC/BBS (kinda both at the same time) from 2001-2004. I did my B.A. in Youth Ministry and my B.A. in Theology there, as well as part of my MDiv.

Historic and textual criticism? Sure. What's on your mind?

9:02 PM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

OOPS! What a massive typo! In the second last paragraph of my mammoth post, I SHOULD have said:

I believe that I exist because he tells me that he made me, not because I logically cannot reason past my own existence as a knowing mind.

DOH! I should draft up my posts on MsWord or something. Dag nab it!

9:07 PM


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