Richard Swinburne, Revelation, Oxford, 1992, pp. 102-103:
. . . there has been a strain in Protestantism, with its immense reverence for Scripture, to write of Holy Scripture itself as the original [propositional] revelation; what was given by God was the Bible. But that surely fits very badly with other things that those same Protestants wish to say: for example that there were Christians in the first four centuries AD. For the books of the New Testament were not written down until from twenty to seventy years after Christ taught on Earth, and were only put together and recognized as a New Testament in final form in the fourth century AD. If the books themselves were the revelation, how could there be Chrsitians when there were no books? [Footnote 6 not reproduced: it quotes Iraneus and Papias as quoted by Eusebius.] Holy Scripture must be regarded by Protestants as it is by Catholics, as no more than a true record of a revelation which existed before it.
My last post drew a number of e-mail responses. Here is one, by Joshua Orsak. Subheadings added. The ComBox is open in case Professor Anderson, or anyone, cares to respond.
First I'd like to make a quick note on purgatory. Purgatory is found in the Apocrypha, the 10 or so books of the Bible found in the Septuagint, the Hellenized Jews' Scriptures and not in the Hebrew Scriptures. You find it in Tobit 12:9, 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 and Ecclesiasticus 3:30. Protestants don't accept these scriptures as divinely inspired, but the Catholic faiths (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglo-Catholic, etc) do. I don't want to expound TOO much on arguments for including the Apocrypha, but I want to say this. The Jews did not canonize their scriptures until around 90 AD. They did this, in part, because the Septuagint, in particular the books we call the Apocrypha, were being used against them by the Christians in debates over Jesus' place as messiah. Ironically, Protestants later excluded the books because they are not included in the Jewish' canon. Anderson's point about purgatory is confused. The issue is not whether purgatory is found in the Bible but which scriptures should be included in the Bible at all.
BV: Perhaps the point could be put like this: The question whether purgatory is to be found in the Bible is not a well-defined question, and is therefore unanswerable, until we decide which books are canonical. "You tell me which books make up the Bible, and I will tell whether there is Biblical support for a doctrine of purgatory."
As to whether the Bible supports plenary inerrancy, in my opinion it does not do this consistently. The Bible is a collection of books that take a variety of positions on various theological issues. They are more like conversations around the Revelation of God to the Israelite people (and later the church) than the Revelation itself. The Bible is not the Revelation, but the record of The Revelation. Just to give an example, Jeremiah 28:7-9 modifies the conditions by which we test whether a prophet is genuine from an earlier set of conditions laid down in Deuteronomy 18:21-22. In the latter case we are told that a prophet is only a true prophet if his prophecy comes true. Jeremiah says that this is true only in the case of a prophet that prophecies peace. If a prophet gives you an oracle that you like, that is in line with what you want to hear, then his prophecy must come true or he was a false prophet. But Jeremiah insists that any prophet that challenges you or gives you a word of judgment, i.e., tells you what you do not want to hear, is a true prophet regardless of whether his prophecy comes true.
In the New Testament, the writers often quote passages out of context, and take them to mean something different than the original writers thought they meant. They take prophecies about the return from Babylon to Israel under Persian rule and talk about them as if they are messianic. This is not lying, from the writers' perspective. At the time the New Testament was written, it was believed that the truths behind scripture were hidden even to the original writers, and one needed the Spirit to guide one to dig into the hidden meaning behind the text. It is the Holy Spirit, and not scripture, that is primary in the New Testament, and it is guidance by the Spirit (rather than, say, the Pope) that gives credence to one's understanding of scripture. Jesus does this all the time in Matthew. He quotes scripture "you have heard it said" and then replaces or modifies it "but I say unto you...". Jesus has the authority to 'bind and loose' the law (to bind the law is to make it more strict, to loose it is to make it less strict, this was the pharisees' understanding of what a teacher was supposed to do). This authority derives from the Spirit. Just to give one example, think about Matthew 9:1-12. Jesus says that the allowance of divorce, found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 did not derive from God but from Moses, clearly implying that not all of scripture comes from God alone. Jesus then goes to a rather ambiguous passage from Genesis to clarify what our attitude towards divorce should be.
The Danger of Bibliolatry
This is just the beginning of a sketch of a Biblical argument, but I'd say you are on firm BIBLICAL ground when you reject plenary inerrancy. There are certain passages that do seem to support that doctrine, but there are many, many more passages that indicate a vastly different way of approaching scripture. God should be the center of our theology, not a book. Experience and reason have to play a role. The Bible is not a constitution that restricts our limits our relationship with the Divine, it is rather a long and storied history of one people's (or two peoples') relationship with God and how God revealed Himself to them over an extended period of time. It includes their reflections on that revelation. It has a lot to say to us, and gives form and function to our own experience. Without it, we'd be starting pretty much from scratch. I love the Bible and it plays a central role in my relationship with God. But if it becomes the end-all be-all it becomes idolatrous in its own right. Bibliolatry is a subtle but I think very dangerous form of that terrible sin.
C. Scripture is a product of divine-human interaction. It exists contingently and does convey divine revelation. But it is not inerrant. It contains errors and defects that reflect the fact that it is a product of divine-human interaction. God may be an impeccable transmitter, but we are surely not impeccable receivers. There will be plenty of human 'noise' mixed in with the divine 'signal.' God is not the author of the Bible, various human beings are the authors, but some of these at some times are writing under inspiration and thus are drawing truths from a transcendent source. Although the Book contains divine revelation, it is not the Last Word. Nor is it impossible that divine revelation is to be found in such writings as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Dhammapada, not to mention 'inspired' philosophers such as Plato and Plotinus.
I really enjoyed your recent post on various ways to approach revelation. I, too, opt for something like option C. It is similar to Karl Barth's position: that the Bible is NOT the revelation of God, but a record of God's revelation to mankind. I find that shift to be vital. Many Christians engage in a kind of biblolatry, they seek to have a relationship with a book. I don't want to have a relationship with a book, I want to have a relationship with God. I am a minister, I love the Bible, I study it every day and I find it to be an important part OF my relationship with God, but it is NOT the sum total of that relationship.
Let me see if I understand the shift. You seem to be distinguishing between the (human) record of God's revelation of certain truths to man and God's revelation of these truths. That is a good distinction and I accept it. You may also be distinguishing between God's revelation of certain truths to mankind and God's revelation of himself. It could be that God reveals little or nothing about himself while revealing certain truths to mankind. (In the same way that an anonymous caller to the police could reveal the whereabouts of a bank robber without revealing anything about himself.) The phrase 'revelation of God' can be interpreted as either an objective or a subjective genitive. Thus one could deny that the Bible is the revelation of God (objective genitive) while maintaining that the Bible is the revelation of God (subjective genitive). Putting the two distinctions together, I interpret you to be saying that the Bible is the human record of the revelation by God to mankind of certain truths. If that is what you mean, then I agree. This allows us to rule out two notions that ought to be ruled out, namely, scriptural inerrancy and the notion that the Biblical revelation is final. Once we admit that the Bible is a human product, though not merely a human product, we will give up preposterous claims to inerrancy. And if we grant that God does not primarily reveal himself in the Bible, then we will have much less reason to think that there cannot be any further divine-to-human communications.
I think that 'finding God' within scripture takes place because we have access to revelation that is outside scripture. We find some passage, some moment that 'links up' to an experience we have in our own lives, and we say 'yes, this matches, this fits'. It is because the Bible deepens and enlightens my own encounter with God's revelation that it has the weight it does with me. Peter Berger talks about a 'nexus' forming between our own experiences and scripture.
So thank you for your thoughts on this matter. I think they are spot on. Peace and Blessings.
Suppose you are a theist (classically defined) and are also open to the possibility of divine revelation. Suppose further that you are open to the possibility of a written revelation. Call the scripture of a religion its 'Book.' The three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, sometimes called 'religions of the Book,' each have their Book. Let's not worry about overlap, or translation, or influence, or sectarian squabbles over the canonicity or otherwise of certain writings. Let's think like philosophers in terms of big broad possibilities of interpretation. A philosopher worth his salt goes for the big picture. He is out to reconnoitre the conceptual landscape, not get lost in details. Off the top of my head, there are four main possible slants on scripture. These interpretations can be arranged on a spectrum from the radically transcendent to the utterly immanent.*
The question I want to pose and to which I do not have a firm answer — Nescio ergo blogo! — is whether every case of divine revelation is a miraculous event, or whether there are or can be cases of divine revelation that are not miraculous. To treat this question properly we need some preliminary definitions of key terms. After proposing some definitions I will suggest that they point in the direction of the possibility of non-miraculous revelations.