snubnosed in alpha

Christian reflections on the way the world is and ways the world might be

Saturday, November 25, 2006

discussion questions for better understanding Dr. Tipton's ETS lecture

Well, I’m going to step out on a limb here and post some of my own reflections on the papers given last week at ETS by Westminster’s own Drs. Pete Enns and Lane Tipton. Before I incriminate myself, however, I do wish to echo the sentiments of my brother, Tony Stiff, in saying that both of these men are very dear to me. Studying under both of these men has been a joy and a privilege and I respect both of them as Christians. Initially I typed up these comments as a critique of Dr. Tipton’s proposal. But, having corresponded with Dr. Tipton, whom I consider a friend, it seems that I may have misunderstood his thesis. Nevertheless, I am aware that my (mis?)understanding of Dr. Tipton’s thesis is one shared pretty widely by those whose current area of study is Biblical studies and who have heard the lecture he delivered at ETS. This fact raises the question of whether the Biblical scholars and the systematicians have been largely talking past each other as of late? So I want to offer some questions, the sorts of questions that make up the meat and potatoes of Biblical scholarship, for which it would be helpful to see how Dr. Tipton’s proposal would specifically apply. If we can begin to try to work out how Dr. Tipton’s proposal bears on some of these specific questions, we may be able to begin to clear up some of the thick smog of miscommunication that has been choking our campus in recent days.

I had understood Dr. Tipton to be arguing that if we would appropriately employ the incarnation as an analogue for inspiration, we cannot stop with the assertion that, like Christ, the Bible is fully human and fully divine and leave it at that. Rather we must recognize also that the divine aspect of Scripture precedes, conditions, subordinates the human aspect of Scripture at every point. As with the incarnate Son of God, with the inscripturated Word of God, the divinity has priority over the humanity. So far, so good.

I also (mis?)understood him to be arguing that pneumatology and not anthropology (and, by “anthropology”, I presumed that he meant historical, philological, archaeological, paleographical, literary, and sociological study and the like of that) provides the ultimate context for navigating all hermeneutical questions. Specifically, he claims that this is the case with respect to questions concerning the New Testament’s use of the Old.

Now, I found this claim to be puzzling because it is really hard to see how the bare recognition that the humanity of Scripture is subordinate to the divinity of Scripture helps me to understand why it is that the author of Matthew does what he does with Hosea 11:1 (Matt. 2:15). Matthew is pretty clearly not doing grammatical-historical exegesis here. Why does he use Hosea in this way? While it is very helpful to recognize that this sort of employment of texts was common in the Second Temple period and that, therefore, Matthew’s practice was in accord with the standard hermeneutical practices of the day, it is unclear how recognition of the priority of the divinity of Scripture contributes to my understanding of why Matthew does what he does. In other words, it’s hard to see how that recognition helps me to read and understand Matthew better. What would be helpful for many of us is a clear delineation of exactly how the recognition of the priority of Scripture’s divinity sheds light on the way the New Testament uses the Old and a few examples (perhaps the one I suggested in Matthew 2:15).

Another puzzling piece of Tipton’s thesis is (what I understood to be) his claim that God’s writing of the Ten Commandments with His own finger and without a human mediator should serve as a paradigm for understanding Biblical revelation as a whole. I say that this is puzzling because to acknowledge that God wrote the Ten Commandments without a human mediator is not to remove all hermeneutical problems surrounding the Ten Commandments. For one thing, the Commandments were presumably written, as all writing is, in a language. What language might that have been? Was it the post-10th century-ish Jerusalemite dialect of our MT Pentateuchs? Or an earlier Semitic language that Moses and his contemporaries would actually have been able to understand? Or were the Commandments written in the King’s English? Regardless, the Commandments were not written, per impossible, in some sort of context-less, divine meta-language. To read the Commandments, whether written by the very finger of God or not, requires us to delve into the studies of linguistics, lexicography, grammatology, paleography and so forth. The very employment of human language by God, even without the use of a human mediator, is an incarnational action in that it necessitates our engagement with all of the messy historical questions that the recognition of divine priority was supposed to render superfluous.
What would the phrase, “kabbed et-abbika we’et-immika” have communicated, if anything, to an Israelite in Moses’ time? The only way to find out is to delve into the history of the Hebrew language. In fact, the evidence seems to point towards the Ten Commandments, if they come from the days of Moses, being a translation from an earlier Semitic dialect into the later Hebrew dialect of our BHSs. In other words, if we would read our Bibles, some historical work is inevitable. We often forget that this necessary historical work underlies our BHSs, UBSs, lexicons, Weingreen grammars, parsing guides and our English translations. Without that historical, linguistic, paleographical and lexicographical work, no amount of pneumatology is going to make "ha-asarah debarim" readable for you. So the question becomes, Does Tipton mean for his Sinaitic-paradigm for revelation to be a paradigm for hermeneutics? If so, what does that hermeneutic look like? If not, then what does Tipton understand the giving of priority to the divinity of Scripture over Scripture’s humanity to mean practically in the discipline of Biblical scholarship?

It should also be noticed that the sorts of research mentioned above must be applied beyond simple translation of words and phrases if we would understand how larger units of discourse functioned in their contexts. The meaning of discourse units does not lie simply at the level of the units’ words and phrases but extends also to figures of speech, semiotic systems that inform a culture’s figurative language, genres, literary standards and so on. This fact is the reason why comparative literature is another discipline vital for reading the Ten Commandments in their original context. Meredith Kline’s reading of Deuteronomy, and the place of the Ten Words therein, depends upon a knowledge of the structures of Hittite suzerainty treaties and a recognition of affinities between those structures and those of Deuteronomy. The identification of Deuteronomy’s genre as a suzerainty treaty requires, not a stronger awareness of the divinity of Scripture, but paleographic research and studies in comparative literature. Indeed, without such research, the genre and function of Deuteronomy would be significantly obscured. If it is legitimate to associate the Pentateuch with the legal writings of the Ancient Near East, is it also legitimate to associate the OT historical writings with the historiographical practices of the ANE, or the OT creation narratives with the creation narratives of the ANE, or the composition histories of our Scriptures with the compositional practices common to the ANE? Do such associations, per se, amount to prioritizing the humanity of Scripture? Many have (mis?)understood Dr. Tipton’s proposal to be attempting to tacitly demarcate the limits of legitimate literary comparison in Biblical scholarship. Is this perception an instance of miscommunication?

What remains to be done is the fleshing out of specifically what it means for hermeneutics and biblical scholarship to give priority to the divinity of Scripture over the humanity of Scripture. I think that this point was what some were trying to get at in the Q&As. As it stands, it is hard for some of us to see what the hermeneutical payoff of Dr. Tipton’s proposal is or if he meant for his proposal to be one for hermeneutics. I think these are the sorts of questions Biblical scholars would like to see Theologians squarely address and I’m sure there are also questions that Theologians would like to the Biblical scholars squarely address as well. Perhaps what would be helpful for communication at this juncture would be the direct addressing of each others concerns.
I will probably be posting more reflections on these issues out of my conviction that this is a conversation that is long overdue. These are the issues that we, as a church, must wrestle with and my prayer is that this blog may play some small part in our resolving them. I am especially thankful for Dr. Tipton’s taking time out of his holiday to correspond with me on these issues.


Blogger Joel said...

Dude, some more paragraph breaks here would be helpful.

I find the suggestion intriguing that the finger of God writing the Ten Words should be taken as paradigmatic of Scripture as a whole. Assuming you've communicated his argument aright, I'd like to see that explained further. Is a text of Tipton's talk going to be made available at some point?

I ask about further explanation for two reason. First, I would have been inclined take that event of God's writing with his very own finger as somehow setting apart and distinguishing the Decalogue from the rest of Scripture in some way.

Second, making that event paradigmatic also might be seen to flatten out the progressive nature of revelation, taking what was suited for humanity in its minority and for Israel in its inception as the model for succeeding phases of redemptive history.

As for the general suggestion that, if we are going to deploy the incarnational analogy, we should allow a fully Chalcedonian christology to inform that - I heartily agree. At least, it seems that it's a Chalcedonian model that Tipton is deploying here.

But, again, not having the text of what Tipton said, I have a couple questions.

First, which post-Chalcedonian trajectory of development will we follow out for our doctrine of Scripture? Calvin, Aquinas, Maximus the Confessor, and Barth (just to name a few) all take Chalcedon in somewhat different directions.

Second, we can distinguish between priority in the order of being from priority in the order of knowing. Sometimes knowing procedes in the opposite direction from being, so that we move from knowing the secondary sense of an analogical term towards its primary sense or, to put it in other terms, from the ectype to the archetype.

In that case, one might argue that, just as the ontological priority of the divine Son is only arrived at through knowing Jesus' humanity, so also the ontological priority of Scripture's divinity is only arrived at through knowing Scripture's humanity.

Now, of course, there are all sorts of complications here (including the notion that know an analogue as an analogue because we are already aware of the primary reality to which it is analogous and in which it participates). But it's an area in which I'd like to see more discussion.

Just a few thoughts.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

David's post and Joel's comment have together done a good job of pointing out that Tipton's presentation of a particular Chalcedonian trajectory as the necessary basis for any incarnational analogy of Scripture is far from a slam dunk, especially as Tipton has thus far refused to interact as to how his paradigm should be applied as a hermeneutic. "Refused" might sound like a strong word, but I was at the ETS presentation and heard him deflect or refuse to answer any questions of specific interaction with the way Enns applied the incarnational analogy in his book. Now it's true that our faculty are under an administrative order to not directly discuss the book in public, but that raises the question of how did Tipton think his presentation could be truly helpful if he couldn't interact with the book? As it stood, Tipton's talk raised by innuendo and implication disturbing charges against Enns (namely, that he effectively exalts Christ's humanity over his divinity), charges that come off to me as unfair when they are delivered without the ability for the one bringing them to be questioned about them.

1:46 PM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Joel, as you can see, I have heeded your sage advice concerning the paragraph breaks. They were always there, but the blogger format had rendered them practically invisible. Whether (or to what degree) I have communicated Tipton's argument aright I do not yet know. Dr. Tipton did not say specifically how I have misunderstood him, but he has volunteered a hard copy of his lecture for me to pore over and he and I will confer soon to discuss it over a couple of pints. I do not know if the text of his talk will be made available, but I'll be sure to ask him.
Your point on the variety of available Chalcedonian trajectories there are out there was raised by John Franke in the Q&A with Tipton at ETS. Franke suggested the trajectory of Barth as an alternative but did not mention Calvin, Maximus or Aquinas. These are voices that deserve to be heard.

I appreciate too your point on the difference between ontological and epistemological priority and how that may play out in an incarnational model for Scripture. However, in my reading of Van Til at least, the distinction between ordo essendi and ordo cognoscendi is horribly muddled in CVT's thought. I have had little success effectively communicating that distinction and its implications to Van Tilians. Typically, I've found Van Tilians to be very taken with the very vague notion that ontology and epistemology are "involved in one another" and I've had no luck at all in getting them to flesh out precisely what that means.
Mark, you know, I really don't feel like Dr. Tipton really answered the questions that were posed to him either, even the ones that did not directly touch on Pete's book. But seeing as how I may have not understood what Tipton was getting at anyways, I'm going to withhold judgment (for now) on why that is. Really, what it comes down to is the question of how (or whether) this Chalcedonian proposal is relevant to doing Biblical scholarship and how (or whether) it is helpful for wrestling with the concrete data with which Biblical scholarship deals on a day to day basis.

4:38 PM  
Blogger jkirklin said...

(a) He doesn't say that God's finger writing the TW should be taken as paradigmatic of Scripture as a whole. He says something like the Law, which comes from the voice of God, becomes paradigmatic for the ministry of the prophets, evidenced by their use of "Thus says the Lord." He's employing Poythress here in the lecture.

(b) If I wanted to be naive, I might just say I don't see where the beef is. I think Tipton's point on the centrality of the Spirit in the doctrine of Scripture is incredibly important, especially on NT use of the OT. After all, if not for the Spirit, how could we justify the way the NT uses the OT?

It seems like what he's trying to do in the main is to give a tighter systematic-theological definition to the relation between incarnation and inspiration, and I think bringing in the Spirit makes sense, not least because the Spirit is active in incarnation.

Maybe it's a genre issue. I mean, it is a ST proposal. Does that tell you how to do lexicography, archaeology, etc? Not any more than God's providence tells you how to do historiography. But we don't pretend that God's providence doesn't exist when we do history; we just don't employ it as a historical explanation. Neither should we ignore the primacy of the divine in Scripture. We do still believe that it is God's word, don't we? That doesn't mean that when someone asks why Matthew uses Hosea in the way he does we say "Primacy of the Divine." It just means that when we go about a historical and theological explanation of Matthew's authorial intention we simultaneously confess that the Spirit speaks through Matthew.

As far as I can tell, Tipton's proposal just seeks to put some historical-theological meat on the skeleton of Poythress' trinitarian hermeneutics.

You have a way better mind for this stuff that I do David. If a word starts with "onto-" I'm usually lost by the next punctuation mark. Help me see what I'm missing on this stuff.

10:56 PM  
Blogger jkirklin said...

Sorry, meant "than I do" rather than "that I do".

10:58 PM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Perhaps your issue a) is the point at which I've misunderstood what Dr. Tipton was after. I could have sworn he said that the finger of God writing the TW was to be paradigmatic for all later revelation. I'll have to listen to the audio (yet) again.
As for b), I don't necessarily have any beef with his Chalcedonian suggestion except insofar as it may be aimed at a hermeneutical program that seeks to avoid consistently dealing with the Bible in context. At the moment, I cannot shake the sneaking suspicion that Tipton's thesis was intended to serve as a theological rationale for (what Enns has called) "selective engagement" or (what Noll has called) "critical anti-criticism." Basically, I suspect that the purpose of the proposal is to set up a theological framework wherein one can invoke backgrounds (e.g., Hittite suzerainty treaties) when they support the interpretations of Scripture one "knows" by the Spirit to be correct and then turn around and discount backgrounds (e.g., ANE creation myths, 2T Judaism) when they inconveniently do not support interpretations one "knows" by the Spirit to be correct. That's a horribly muddled way of putting that, but I'm about to fall asleep at my keyboard....

12:04 AM  
Blogger jkirklin said...

I'll agree that selective engagement is a bad thing.

12:10 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Now, I'm not necessarily saying that that is what Tipton is trying to do. But so long as we lack examples of how Dr. Tipton would engage with specific questions, that sneaking suspicion will be hard to lay to rest. One particular issue I'm interested in is whether (or how) Tipton would see his model relating to questions concerning the composition of the Scriptures like the ones we discussed at my post, “Inerrancy of ‘the autographs’?”, a few months back.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

Thanks, Jason, for your comments in this thread. They're helpful, I think.

The pneumatological dimenson seems important to me too (and provides an interesting angle from which to develop the Chalcedonian model, by the way). And if, as you say, Tipton is attempting to put some historical-theological meat on the bones Poythress's trinitarian hermeneutics, well, I'm certainly sympathetic with that.

I don't really have anything to add until I can get a copy of the paper in question (I find listening to audio difficult unless I've got some uninterrupted time to give to it).

I do have some thoughts bouncing around my own mind, growing out of continued thinking and reading on some of these issues and growing out of some of my initial reactions to Enns's book (with which I had various quibbles, while appreciating the general approach). The Chalcedonian and pneumatolgical angles had actually already been on my mind for a while (with Aquinas and Thomas Weinandy in the background, among others).

Perhaps I'll find manage to find time to post something on that in the near future, though I'm not sure it'll directly address the kinds of hermeneutical questions that David is raising.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Michaela said...

Wow, maybe once I start seminary I'll make posts as long as a published paper...

But for now I'll just say (as I said on Mark's blog and my own), that you've posted some good and timely words here!

7:10 PM  
Blogger Michaela said...

Frick! I posted my comment on the wrong post! No wonder my quick scanning of them didn't make any sense...

I'm going to crawl back into my hole now...

10:32 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Thanks, Michaela, for the kind words, whichever post they were meant for :-)

2:42 PM  
Blogger Michaela said...

They were for your one above, the Schaeffer quote.

I should not be allowed to work the Internet.

6:30 PM  

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