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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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The post of mine you link to is part of a somewhat more complex argument, but the underlying disagreement is precisely about the hermeneutics of Old (and New) Testament. Spinoza says (I don’t have reference with me right now) that there are three possibilities. (1) They meant exactly what they said, but were wrong. This undermines the authority of scripture. (2) They meant something quite different, but expressed themselves poorly. This undermines the authority of scripture. (3) They expressed themselves in a way that deliberately obscures the meaning, and requires expert hermeneutical attention to unravel the mystery. This seems to be Pascal's view ('cipher').

Spinoza’s preference is (1). They genuinely meant, e.g., that God is a larger than normal anthropoid whose head emits a blinding light (the Kabod) which can be fatal to humans. Spinoza believes this is impossible, and many would agree. Regarding (2) he thinks they would have to be very bad writers to express themselves so poorly, and he gives arguments to show why they are not such bad writers as that. I can’t remember exactly what he says about (3) but he is very rude about the Kabbalists (‘foolishness’, ‘childishness’, something like that).

Found it. TTP C. 40:

There are some people, however, who will not admit that there is any corruption, even in other passages, but maintain that by some unique exercise of providence God has preserved from corruption every word in the Bible : they say that the various readings are the symbols of profoundest mysteries, and that mighty secrets lie hid in the twenty-eight hiatus which occur, nay, even in the very form of the letters.
He comments ‘I find in their writings nothing which has the air of a Divine secret, but only childish lucubrations’, referring to ‘certain Kabbalistic triflers, whose insanity provokes my unceasing astonishment’.

There are some who believe Spinoza was himself a Kabbalist, this suggests not.

>>They meant exactly what they said, but were wrong.<<

Does that have the same meaning as 'They meant what they said literally, but were wrong'?

Hillary said, "Trump is a recruiter for ISIS." If I asked her whether she meant what she said, she could truthfully reply, yes. But no one would take her to have spoken literally.

Please answer this question: Apart from extant scriptures, do you accept the possibility of divine scriptural revelation? In other words, assuming that God exists, could he reveal himself to humans via the writing of certain humans?

>>Does that have the same meaning as 'They meant what they said literally, but were wrong'?

Yes obviously.

>>But no one would take her to have spoken literally.

"But these are written that you may believe .." John 20:31. Depends entirely on context.

>>Please answer this question: Apart from extant scriptures, do you accept the possibility of divine scriptural revelation? In other words, assuming that God exists, could he reveal himself to humans via the writing of certain humans?

I accept the possibility. But remember these things came to an end with the NT.

From the comments on your original post

Presumably, God gave us the intelligence to read what is obviously figurative as figurative.
The problem is obviously figurative. We assign a stable, though not necessarily an absolutely fixed meaning to language in order to make ourselves understood. So we have the concept of ‘literal’ meaning. Then we have the concept of ‘figurative’ where the intended meaning is different from the literal meaning, but where, at least if obviously figurative, the intended meaning is clear to anyone who understands. There is a good discussion by Boyle here.

The article by Boyle is very useful, and I can use it against you.

Note Boyle's point that for Thomas the literal contrasts with the spiritual/mystical, and that the figurative is included within the literal.

(I assume that 'figurative' and 'metaphorical' mean the same. Right or wrong?)

Hillary said that Trump is a recruiter for ISIS. Is what she said true or false? She spoke metaphorically/figuratively to express the proposition that Trump's talk causes there to be more ISIS jihadis.

Trump said that Obama founded ISIS. When pressed, Trump said he meant it literally. Well, he did mean literally that Obama's action led to the founding of ISIS.

You see how tricky this is. One can speak figuratively to express a proposition that is either literally true or literally false.

Did God make the first women from a rib of the first man? Of course not! There was no first man and no first woman, and even if there were, that was not how the first woman could have come into existence. Did God stomp around in a garden and make noise? Of course not! What size were his boots? Or maybe God doesn't wear boots.

These figurative sayings have to be plumbed for their spiritual/mystical meaning.

This is my approach, which you seem to deny.

I was going to refer to where Thomas says that we should interpret the scriptures literally when it is obvious they were intended literally, likewise we should interpret them metaphorically when it is obvious they were intended metaphorically, but I have lost the reference. Meanwhile, in support of the cipher thesis, Aquinas says (Part I q1 a9 ad 2)

those things that are taught metaphorically in one part of Scripture, in other parts are taught more openly. The very hiding of truth in figures is useful for the exercise of thoughtful minds and as a defense against the ridicule of the impious, according to the words "Give not that which is holy to dogs" (Matthew 7:6).

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