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ctrace • 10 years ago

"To speak this way is not Marcionism–not even quasi, latent,
or incipient Marcionism, but an articulation of a perennial theological
problem of Christian doctrine: the very real presence of
both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments."

Yes, a problem if one leaves off the table classical Reformed Covenant - Federal - Theology; kind of like the way Marxists leave free market solutions off the table when discussing directions to move in...

mark • 10 years ago

Hey, let's keep this thing going. Here's an article my brother just sent me that seems very relevant to the ongoing discussion here: Does God Care About the Bible As Much As We Do?

Below are a few excerpts that frame the issue in fairly stark terms. Note two things: IMO, the author is implicitly raising the issue that I keep referring to--first, why do we say that these ancient books are somehow "revelational," and what do we really, I mean really, mean when we say that; second, he offers an example that is uncannily like the examples that Pete was giving in the comments:

For many in the church today, using the Bible as the go-to, definitive, and final answer for everything is the whole point of the Bible.

Otherwise, God wouldn't have chopped it up into nice chapters and verses that we could weaponize at the drop of a hat, right?


But what if God had other intentions for the Bible? What if God didn't intend for it to be the unquestioned final authority on everything that we've turned it into? What if, dare I say it, God doesn't care about the Bible as much as we do?

I don't mean God thinks that it's worthless, but what if we think more highly of the Bible and its authority than we should?


My suspicion begins in the Gospels where time and time again we hear Jesus declaring, "You have heard it said... but I say...." Now, sometimes he's just talking about tradition or the teachings of other rabbis. But a lot of times, he's talking about scripture itself, what we would today call the Old Testament. We tend to gloss over Jesus' words as nothing more than a rhetorical device, but when we do we miss the gravity of what he's actually doing.

He's breaking the bonds of scripture to bring new truth and breath fresh life into the people of God. He's refusing to be held captive to the words on the page in order to get to the real heart of faith.

Then he continues by citing the example of the revelation to Peter in Acts re the food laws--God is telling Peter to ignore the "revealed word of God!" What could possibly be up with that?

Read the whole thing--he has a number of provocative, thought provoking things to say. I'm not gonna say I agree with everything to say, but IMO it's very worthwhile for people who are concerned with the issues Pete's been raising.

Toward the end the author asks, well, if God doesn't seem to care about the Bible as much as we do, then how how is the Bible supposed to be a guide for us? He has a succinct answer, one that is highly condensed, but also highly suggestive of the issues we as Christians need to address:

The same way the church has always let scripture guide us before we fell for the delusion of sola scriptura -- tradition can lead us, the church teach us, reason inform us, and experience shape us into the people of God formed but not shackled to the Bible.
Rob • 10 years ago

Peter, you make me think outside my normal paradigms and for that I thank you. Love the challenge to stretch and grow.
I am wondering how your view of a different perspective on God being presented in the NT is reconciled with the apocalyptic violence of God in Revelation - ie. Rev 19:11ff? Seems to me all the OT illusions of Revelation bring OT perspective of God to a very present and future realization of His divine violence.

Pete E. • 10 years ago

Rob, I think this is a great question. A full answer would take a bit more than I have time for, but in brief, Revelation is apocalyptic literature and as such participates in the rhetoric of violence, which is part of the symbolic world of 1st century Judaism. What that means, practically speaking, is that this culturally sensitive explication of God's justice and ultimate vindication is refracted through that apocalyptic lens, where, for example, blood will run down the street for 200 miles and as deep as a horse's bridle.

To be clear, that does not mean that God does not "experience" anger or that he won't will put "all things to rights" somehow (as NT Wright is prone to say). I am only saying that Revelation presents a picture of that that reflects it's setting.

Rob • 10 years ago

I'm tracking with you, and agree that it must reflect it's setting and be in accord with the genre. Yet it seems that the future putting of "all things to rights" may well have some violence in it, even if not literally as vividly bloody as apocalyptic literature might present it. Still the evil that persists today seemingly will be destroyed in the end, and will that not likely evoke some actual violence of God beyond ancient rhetorical effect? Even if the evil is simply vaporized, that would be violent as it is the divine arrest of the will of those perpetrating evil.
My point is, while the message of the gospel and letters is largely to evangelize and bolster the faith of believers by grace through faith (simply stated) is there not a real violence of God still to be expected against the evil of the present world. Put another way, has God gone soft on evil and has his covenant love lost it's consuming fire?

Pete E. • 10 years ago

I definitely here what you are saying, Rob. No, I don't think God has gone soft on evil on its various forms (e.g., African genocides or western materialism). The question is what is God going to do about it. I am not sure that "violence" describes it, even though that is the language that may be used to express it.

mark • 10 years ago

Pete, I'd like to return briefly to something you said several days ago:

It is somewhat ironic in this very long (....) discussion that one of Marcion's main problems with his contemporaries is that he took the OT
as an accurate description of God as he is
(rather than as he was
understood). Like his contemporaries in the 2nd century, he knew that
this God and the Gospel were not compatible, but rather than allowing
this tension to invite an allegorical interpretation, Marcion took the
other solution: the God of the OT must be a different God. I'm glad the
allegorists won that skirmish,
but we continue the marcionite error--at
least part of it--if we think the solution can be found at taking these
texts at face value as "inerrant" descriptions of the nature of God.

I think I understand that you're not actually advocating for a full blown "allegorical" approach to "the Bible," as that approach has traditionally, or often, been used by "Christians" of one sort or another. My view, the 25 words or less version, is that an allegorical approach lapses into utter subjectivism unless there is some objective control to which it is subject. OTOH, Marcion is making an important point, laying down a challenge, in effect: If you say that the OT is not to be taken as a specific description of "God as he is," then what approach do you advocate? What are its parameters? How do you justify that approach? (Of course Marcion didn't say that, but that is the challenge for those who disagree with Marcion, as I do.)

The Catholic Church draws a number of useful distinctions in this regard, and a handy resource to for accessing those distinctions is a document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission: The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. (Other Church documents discuss these issues, but this document is handy "springboard" for thought/discussion--and not just for Catholics.) The link leads to a very detailed table of contents, which gives a pretty good idea of the ideas that are discussed. I assume that you're familiar with these ideas, but for the benefit of others I'll quote some brief excerpts.

Basically, the document sets up a distinction between the "literal sense" of Scripture and "literalism." By "literalism" the authors mean what they specify as "fundamentalism." OTOH, they use the term "literal sense" to mean the sense of the text when understood within its total context: linguistic, literary, historical, sociological, anthropological, archaeological--whatever. No allegorical interpretation can be considered valid that is not based in the "literal sense." (This distinction has a long history, btw.) So, that said, here are the few brief excerpts, which come from Section "II, B, 1, The Literal Sense":

1. The Literal Sense

It is not only legitimate, it is also absolutely necessary to seek to define the precise meaning of texts as produced by their authors--what is called the "literal" meaning. St. Thomas Aquinas had already affirmed the fundamental importance of this sense (S. Th. I, q. 1,a. 10, ad 1).

The literal sense is not to be confused with the "literalist" sense to which fundamentalists are attached. It is not sufficient to translate a text word for word in order to obtain its literal sense. ...

The literal sense of Scripture is that which has been expressed directly by the inspired human authors. Since it is the fruit of inspiration, this sense is also intended by God, as principal author. One arrives at this sense by means of a careful analysis of the text, within its literary and historical context. ...

Does a text have only one literal sense? In general, yes; but there is no question here of a hard and fast rule ...


... The literal sense is, from the start, open to further developments, which are produced through the "rereading" (relectures) of texts in new contexts.

It does not follow from this that we can attribute to a biblical text whatever meaning we like, interpreting it in a wholly subjective way. On the contrary, one must reject as unauthentic every interpretation alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written text. To admit the possibility of such alien meanings would be equivalent to cutting off the biblical message from its root, which is the word of God in its historical communication; it would also mean opening the door to interpretations of a wildly subjective nature.

I'd like to stress several points with regard to this document and the excerpt that I provided. First, I'm not going to contend that this document is dispositive of all issues in this field. Second, as the document itself makes clear, there is no simple "paint-by-number" approach to Scripture--exegesis is by its nature interdisciplinary and painstaking. Third, the question of how well the Church has adhered to the principles set out in the document is a separate issue.

Andrew Dowling • 10 years ago

"On the contrary, one must reject as unauthentic every interpretation
alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written

And thus comes the necessary subjectivity. Matthew 16.7 being a prime example :)

mark • 10 years ago

Bad translation. I would have said "inauthentic" rather than "unauthentic," but the Vatican doesn't consult me on these matters. :-(

Mt. 16:7:

And they reasoned among themselves about it, saying, It is because we did not bring any bread.
Andrew Dowling • 10 years ago

Oh whoops. meant Matthew 16:17-19.

mark • 10 years ago

Thought so. In that case I refer you to point #3:

Third, the question of how well the Church has adhered to the principles set out in the document is a separate issue.

OTOH, issues like papal primacy aren't simply a matter of saying: Ha, Matthew 16:17-19, gotcha! This is a very complex historical and theological issue.

I recently bought a book I still haven't gotten around to reading, Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present. Looks pretty informative, though.

Andrew Dowling • 10 years ago

I know. As a fellow (albeit a bit lasped) Catholic I was partly just havin' fun :)

mark • 10 years ago

Yeah, I knew that.

Turns out I have read the book, just forgot. I know that doesn't sound like a recommendation, but it is actually an informative and thought provoking book. The author is an historian and the book is not apologetic in nature--he's not trying to persuade anyone, he's describing the history of it all, from Christian origins to the present.

mark • 10 years ago

One thing I forgot to point out, but which should be fairly apparent. Since the "literal sense" includes the "total context: linguistic, literary, historical, sociological, anthropological, archaeological--whatever," and all other interpretations must be validated by that literal sense, that means 1) that the literal sense must always be primary, and 2) that historical-critical scholarship must also be primary.

Jaco van Zyl • 10 years ago

When I first learnt of "Marcion the Heretic," my initial and years long impression of the man could have been likened to that of a monstrous, second-century Rasputin of sorts. In later years my impressions of the man changed. Most Evangelical Christians will undoubtedly still cling to the monster connotation of him; but Marcion - heretic or not - was a radical thinker of his time, and a formidable one too. While his moral sensitivity led him to "split" the Gods of the OT and NT, his opposers and their successors later came to display the very brutality and violence Marcion was so opposed to. Quite a paradox!

Steve Ranney • 10 years ago

I see it has been stated already by mark and probably others - I was just going to say that this method of guilt by association is common. It really seems to be intended for the faithful masses - once they can categorize a person in a box as bad, then there is no need to read the book or think about the issue. Another example I have seen is 'well that is just liberation theology' about someone advocating some kind of economic reform.

Lotharson • 10 years ago

"To say that there are two Gods, one of the Old Testament and one of the New, is Marcionism. To say that the one God is portrayed in various–even conflicting–ways is simply a matter of reading the Bible in English with both eyes open."

Amen to that!
I think that the best way to dissolve the problem is to view the writing of the whole Bible in the same way one views all other Christian books , i.e. as fallible human thoughts about God.
This this (by and large) what liberal Biblical scholar Tom Stark calls us to do, but there is no need to become anti-supernaturalist.

The Gospels and letters of the Apostle have (for me) a more central position because they were closer to the events but not because the authors were more inspired than future Christian authors.

Actually, when I compare the book of Joshua (assuming the literal interpretation is the correct one) with books of C.S. Lewis, I find it obvious that the latter are far closer to a God of love and justice than the former.
It seems extremely problematic to keep apart our current Canon.

"My big concern in all this is that the charge of Marcionism simply
deflects from the real theological/hermeneutical problem of divine
violence by giving a false sense of having solved the problem. "

This is what makes it so frustrating to deal with conservative Evangelical apologists.

James • 10 years ago

Jesus said, if your eye offends you pluck it out, etc. I've seen this recently as a NT way of purging the Canaanites from the land as described in the OT. We are called to die to self and follow Jesus. That means cutting off offending desires and burning them up as an act of worship and total surrender. With respect to this requirement, the God's of the Old and New Testament seem roughly the same!

Beau Quilter • 10 years ago

I'm extremely grateful that Christians tend to read Matthew 5:29-30 and Mark 9:43-48 as poetic hyperbole. Otherwise, our churches would be filled with maimed and disfigured members.

Neo • 10 years ago

I'm pretty certain I'm guilty of being snarky when I ask this but sincerity is at the heart: So is there insinuation that Moses (or whomever authored the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy) loved God but misunderstood Him? I really would be grateful for any response.

Karen K • 10 years ago

I can't speak for others, but I am not necessarily insinuating anything. Only making the observations of what is in the text. Even using a close, literary reading of the texts, one could arrive at various ways of understanding the narrative flow of the Pentateuch. I sometimes think we are not curious enough so we just go with status quo readings.

One could also ask did the biblical authors love God but misunderstand God when it asserted a "Divinely ordained" law that could require a woman to marry her rapist?

My response is that what we see in the law codes are fairly standard ancient Near Eastern law codes. The laws themselves are not necessarily Divinely inspired. They are for the most part cultural products. But they still have meaning because they have been contextualized in the sacred text to portray theological concepts of righteousness, obedience to God, etc.

Beau Quilter • 10 years ago

Now, Karen, be fair about Deuteronomy 22. God didn't let the rapist marry his victim until he paid her father 55 shekels of silver. No crime unpunished.

Neo • 10 years ago

I see those laws about preservation. If the woman who was raped wasn't married by the rapist, she would be married by no one. In that agrarian society, even more in the Exodus, she would be so destitute she'd have no choice but turn to prostitution and even then she would inevitably not survive. So I see that in terms of trajectory for women's rights, which no other culture at that time had anything close to for preserving a female rape victim. It certainly isn't perfect or easy to explain. But neither as easily dismissed as the post just above this one. These things are complex and I'm sure there are treasures that abound if we continue the journey.

Karen K • 10 years ago

Neo, more likely she would have remained in the house of her father and when her father died, lived in the house of another male relative. Forcing her to marry the rapist had less to do with her being put out on the street and more to do with honor/shame culture. As for trying to frame the horrific experience of a rape victim having to marry her perpetrator as on the trajectory of women's rights, I think that is appalling. I understand what you are trying to say. Its true that ANE thinking is different. But the fact that it is different does not make it less appalling anymore than it makes the OT genocides more palatable. The fact is these kinds of customs are still practiced in some places in the world and it might serve us all well to remember that these women do suffer. Here is a story from just last year out of Morocco of a young woman who committed suicide: http://america.aljazeera.co...

Beau Quilter • 10 years ago

Well, there is no question that this section of Deuteronomy reflects a complex set of ancient cultural norms, including other "commandments" in which "slandered" women could resort to a "cloth" to prove their virginity (vindicated if "proved", stoned to death otherwise).

But this only underscores the reality that such ancient commandments reflect the brutal prejudices one would expect in ancient societies.

Neo • 10 years ago

Yeah. Sigh. Well, at least a few of you were willing to engage. It's good. However, the way Pete eluded cogent and reasonable points by Jerry, just poo-pooing them with a retort about edumacation shows what kinda dude he is. So with that I'll try not to let the door hit me where the Good Lord split me.

Beau Quilter • 10 years ago

Happy to engage, but I don't speak for Pete.

Carlos Bovell • 10 years ago

Marcion was taken to be a threat to proto-orthodoxy for many reasons, not just for being a protege of Pete Enns : )

First, Marcion denied that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies. I don't think Pete denies that. He is not a Marcionite on this score.

Second, and even more interesting, Marcion insisted that the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative. Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued. Anyone arguing against allegory/typology was arguing against a fundamental feature of what became orthodox Christianity. Pete passes this test, too. He sees value in the OT precisely by reading it typologically. He is definitely not Marcionite on this score.

Third, Marcion thought Paul was the only true disciple of Jesus and that the rest were not to be considered authorities. Pete has said nothing like this. Pete is not a Marcionite on this score.

Fourth, Marcion was not a monotheist. It was monotheism (and not the integrity of scripture per se) that drove many of the proto-orthodox to insist that the God of the OT and NT were the same (and that's why they needed allegory, etc.). Pete may have a high regard for the Yankees, but he probably still qualifies as a monotheist.

Fifth, Marcion also viewed matter as evil and could not imagine that the good deity (as opposed to the evil deity) would involve itself with matter. Pete's christology does not match Marcion's. In fact, given Pete's insistence on the incarnation as a helpful analogy for scripture, it might even be that those critical of Pete would have Marcion's approval here.

Lastly, Marcion wanted absolutely no Jewish connection to Jesus and this necessitated a radical dichotomy between law and grace. He accepted only epistles that he considered Pauline as scripture along with the Gospel of Luke which he heavily edited, going so far as to cut out portions of it that he thought were too Jewish. He also was a very strict ascetic. It seems clear that Pete parts company with Marcion on these points as well.

So the only part of Marcion's teaching that can apply to Pete, it would seem--- and this is a loose match at best--- is Pete's taking seriously the discontinuity between OT and NT. Any believer can contemplate this and even insist that there are legitimate discontinuities between OT and NT, but that doesn't make him a Marcionite.

In this particular area of inquiry, the plan of attack Marcion took was to insist that the OT was an accurate, historical record of the people of Israel and to consistently point out that if Jesus' life and ministry is going to be continuous with the OT read historically/literally, it must be reconciled with that history. He thought this could not be done, so he dropped the OT. The proto-orthodox said indeed that this could be done, but it required the use of allegory. Marcion would not allow for this.

One more thing, those who want the OT to be historically accurate and who demand that the OT prophecies be literally fulfilled by Jesus are expecting exactly what Marcion expected from scripture. The Church's response to the problems that arise from this approach was to make recourse to allegory.

To the extent that Pete is self-consciously trying to work through the discontinuities he sees between the OT and NT without restricting himself to literal, historical readings puts him on the side of orthodoxy, trying to find analogous, typological readings that can prove helpful for Christians today.

Jerry Shepherd • 10 years ago

Carlos, thanks for your taxonomy on a number of points on whether one qualifies as a Marcionite or not. Some of your points are valid, some are irrelevant, and some are just way overdrawn. For example, your second point needs a whole lot more nuancing. For one thing, it's quite anachronistic. Purposeful reflection on the practice of allegorical interpretation doesn't really take place till after Marcion has passed off the scene. For another, It just isn't true that, "Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued." This just isn't the case. Many of the allegorists also practiced very literal, historical interpretation. They believed that the recorded events happened, AND, that they could be interpreted allegorically. To be sure, allegorical interpretations of the ancient church fathers could be quite fanciful, but by no means did they regard these as the only way to maintain that Jesus was the Messiah. I'm willing to be corrected on this if you can demonstrate otherwise.

But, the point that you say is the "only" point on which the Marcionite label might stick is, in fact, the important point. Marcion jettisoned the OT because he could not reconcile its description of God with the person of Jesus. He refused to believe that the violent deity depicted in the OT was the Father of Jesus. So the question to ask is whether an approach to the same problem today that relegates significant portions of the Old Testament to "human projections onto God," or "wrong perceptions of the character of God," does not do the same thing as Marcion does. Again, to use, the example of Joshua 6, aside from any question as to whether or not the account is historical, the question is, is the character of God as portrayed in this account consonant with the God whom Jesus called his Father. Did Jesus worship, praise, and pray to, that God. If the answer is "no," then without formally doing so, the approach has effectively decanonized the account, as well as large swaths of the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Ironically, It also ends up distorting our picture of who Jesus is.

Recognition of the discontinuities is not the issue. Methodology in dealing with them is.

Carlos Bovell • 10 years ago

To Jerry:

I'm sorry, I don't follow what exactly you're trying to say or what you would like to talk about. My list enumerating Marcion's views is pretty standard, I think. If you have a problem with #2, though, we can surely talk about that. That would probably make for a good discussion, one everyone can benefit from.

Oh, and where is the specific anachronism you see? It seems to me that the entire discussion is anachronistic. That's why I decided to comment and introduce the list--to try to illustrate that. It's a different world today, we can't place Enns in an ancient context; he doesn't fit and it's simply not fruitful to do so. So if you do see anachronism, I might suggest that it's symptomatic of the broader Marcion/Enns comparison that's being attempted.

Jerry Shepherd • 10 years ago

Hi Carlos,

I'm sorry if I was less than clear. Here is your second point:

"Second, and even more interesting, Marcion insisted that the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative. Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued. Anyone arguing against allegory/typology was arguing against a fundamental feature of what became orthodox Christianity."

My questioning here was two-fold.

(1) It is anachronistic to say Marcion "came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer," as if he was in a kind of debate, exchanging theoretical statements as to how to interpret the OT. Perhaps I'm wrong here, but I think the proto-orthodox writers to whom you refer would have come on the scene after Marcion.

(2) I don't think it is accurate to say that what you refer to as proto-orthodox writers ever argued that "allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah." As I said, the early church fathers interpreted literally as well as allegorically. And they certainly found places where they believed that Christ was "literally" prophesied or referred to in the Old Testament. So, I don't know of any church father who made this kind of statement. I could well be wrong; and I would be grateful to be shown differently if this is the case. I'll revise my history of interpretation lectures.
Thanks Carlos. Blessings.

Carlos Bovell • 10 years ago

To Jerry,

What I wrote was a synopsis of what I recall from secondary literature I've read. The list I provided you should find to be pretty standard. As far as #2 goes, I only have time to provide only some remarks from the literature that I recall, although I am not sure that they'll completely satisfy you. As I think about it, it's probably not the proto-orthodox statement that bothers but perhaps rather what is meant by "allegory/allegorical":

H. Chadwick: "Marcion's attack on the Old Testament depended on two axioms: the rejection of allegorical interpretation and the assertion that the first generation of Jewish Christian had misunderstood and misinterpreted the mind of Jesus . . . Marcion's rejection of allegory destroyed any invocation of the argument from the fulfillment of prophecy . . ."

H. Raisanen: “For mainstream expositors, the Old Testament was, for the most part, important as a collection of alleged predictions and promises about Jesus, which were ‘discovered’ in the Old Testament thought the use of allegorical and typological devices. Allegorising also helped one to side-step various difficulties caused by many biblical passages . . . His
suspicion of allegory was indeed ‘a mark of uniqueness in that age.’”

S. Moll: “In conclusion we can maintain: Marcion did
understand the Old Testament literally, but the only case in which this method categorically differed from all of his orthodox opponents—and agreed with the
Jews instead—was his idea that the messianic prophecies within the Old Testament did not refer to the coming of Jesus Christ.”

J. Barton: “. . . it is at any rate agreed that Marcion
refused to allegorize the Old Testament, and that this fits well with his insistence on its lack of concord with the New. His contemporaries spent a lot of effort interpreting the Old Testament in such a way that it would appear to be in harmony with the new revelation in Christ. Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho is a case in point: at every turn he tries to convince his opponent of the non-literal meaning of Old Testament texts, and so to show that Jesus can be seen as their fulfillment.”

Carlos Bovell • 10 years ago

To Jerry:

I thought about it some more and think that we can both say with some confidence that "The apostolic fathers could more easily show Christ fulfilled the OT through typology/allegory." What I would go on to say is that "Without typology/allegory, the apostolic could not have convincingly argued that Christ fulfilled the OT." I'm not sure it's going to be reasonable to expect to find such a concession from the writings of the apostolic fathers themselves because it's the kind of statement we could say only after some time has passed so that interested parties can critically assess the controversy between Marcion and his contemporaries to try to see what was at stake and to see where the controversy led in terms of historical developments. I think this is what Harnack and others writing on Marcion were trying to do, so I guess there's bound to be some "anachronism" creeping in as we try to talk about Marcion today.

Lampe: "As the Church found, particularly in its conflict
with Marcion, the use of typology is the most effective method of maintaining the unity of both Testaments. It rests upon the conviction that the Old Testament must be read as Christ and his disciples understood it—that is, as witnessing to himself as the fulfillment of the historical process of God’s dealings with his ancient people. . . . The long perspective of biblical history can be discerned only in light of the revelation of God in Christ. It is from this point that the records have to be re-read if their meaning is to be appreciated.”

There also seems to be a heavy anti-Jewish bias to Marcion's version of Christianity, that we have not given sufficient attention to.

Thanks for the dialogue.

Grace and peace,

Jerry Shepherd • 10 years ago


Thank you for these quotations from the secondary literature. Even though these are all very fine scholars,
there is a problem with the way they have, at least apparently, overstated the case. For Chadwick, it simply isn't true that "Marcion's rejection of allegory destroyed any invocation of the argument from the fulfillment of prophecy." And this is because Marcion's criticism would not have touched arguments made by the church fathers who understood there to be "literal" prophecies of Christ in the OT.

Raisenen's statement is ok, except that, again, the church fathers did not always resort to allegory or typology.

Moll's statement doesn't really address the issue.

Barton's statement, again, would only apply to those
passages where allegorical interpretation was conducted. But this did not happen at "every turn,"
even in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho.

To be sure, the early church fathers certainly used allegory and typology. But that was not the only
thing they used. Taking Justin's Dialogue with Trypho as an example, which I decided to re-read this past
weekend, we can see three different ways in which Justin saw Christ in the OT:

(1) Literally fulfilled prophecy; e.g., Micah 5; Isaiah 7,
40, 53; Daniel 7; Zechariah 9; Psalms 22, 24, 45, 72, 110. Indeed, his argument for some of these, the
Psalms texts in particular, is that there has been no literal fulfillment of them in the OT, therefore Christ must be the one who fulfills them literally. His methodology corresponds, apparently, to that used in Acts 2:25-31. It is a three-step process: 1. Interpret literally, in fact, over-literally. 2. Show how the "natural" subject cannot fulfill the literal language of the passage. 3. Show how the "real" subject, Christ, does fulfill it.

(2) Allegorically or typologically fulfilled passages –
which I admit are numerous. And sometimes, he does conflate literal interpretation with allegorical or typological one.. But it is also important to note that only rarely does he interpret only allegorically; he still believes, for the most part, that the events in the narratives actually occurred.

(3) "Real presence" texts; e.g., Justin argues
that Christ was the third "man" in Genesis 18. But, by this he means that Christ really was the third man, not allegorically or typologically, but literally.

Additionally, it is important to note that for most of these
early church fathers, the historicity of the narratives were actually quite important for them. For Irenaeus, for example, the historicity was very important for his theology of recapitulation. And even for Origen, he stressed time and again that the narratives were historical, with the exception of those texts where he thought the literal narrative said something unworthy of the character of God.

Again, thanks Carlos. I've appreciated the dialogue.


Carlos Bovell • 10 years ago

To Jerry,

I am happy to see that you agree the authors I refer to are all very fine scholars. At the same time, I am not surprised that you found occasion to explain why each one of them is wrong. In fact, I did not honestly think that any reference to the secondary literature--no matter whom I cited--would satisfy you, but I thought to try anyway. For my part, I am more inclined to accept the findings of the specialists who focus on early Christian studies over that of evangelical inerrantists who are primed to only accept scholarly results that allow for the Fathers to be (modern) inerrantists too. I am not sure what else to say.

One final thought that occurs to me is this: I am trying to keep in mind that for the most part the Fathers always tried to play by the rules of the game. They were very sensitive to who they were writing against. Accordingly, which game they played would depend in large measure on what dispute they were addressing at any given time. This can help put the sections of Dialogue with Trypho that you refer to into a broader historical setting that serves to explain why "literal" interpretations are provided in those sections. Did Justin believe that these literal interpretations alone proved his point? The early churches think this? Not likely. Without the typological/allegorical, the christological readings lose their substance.

Skarsaune: “But the scriptural proof which originally was developed in intense debates with Jews, proved to be useful in other debates, too. When addressing Gentiles, a Christian author could use the traditional ‘proof from prophecy’ in order to show the antiquity of Christianity, and he could exploit the apologetic argument implied in the ‘prophecy—fulfillment’ scheme: events predicted hundreds of years earlier proved the truth of the predictions, and vice versa. . . . While discussing with Jews, one could take the authority of the Old Testament for granted, while the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in Jesus and the Church were the objects of proof. In debate with Gnostics, it was the other way round: the authority of Jesus as the revealer of truth was uncontested. The very possibility, however, of proving that Jesus had been predicted by the prophets, and that therefore the Old Testament was a revelation given by His Father, was the best possible vindication of the authority and the divine origin of the Old Testament. In this way the proof-text tradition is developed and modified in different settings, and also becomes a cherished piece of supporting argument in internal Christian
instruction . . .”

One more thing, I remember reading somewhere that it is not accurate for us moderns to think of the ancients as reading "literally." What we think of this and what they would have thought by it along with why they read this way as part of their schooling are not to be equated. This is also good to keep in mind.


Jerry Shepherd • 10 years ago

Hi Carlos,
Wow! I'm not really sure where that stuff in the first paragraph came from. We weren't talking about evangelicals, and we weren't talking about inerrancy, and we weren't talking about whether the church fathers would correspond to modern inerrantists. We were talking about literal versus allegorical/typological interpretations. So I don't quite understand why you felt the need to move the conversation in that direction. That's unfortunate, for a number of reasons.

First, keep in mind that I responded to your list of quotations from the secondary literature with observations from my reading of the primary literature.

Second, the scholars you quoted, in particular, Chadwick and Barton, did not make their comments in the context of an analytical examination of the exegesis of the church fathers. Chadwick's was in the middle of a general survey of church history and Barton's was in an article on Marcion. If they had been writing analytical pieces about the interpretation of the church fathers, they might have been less generalizing and sweeping in their statements. As far as the secondary literature, more balanced and nuanced analyses of the hermeneutics and exegesis of the church fathers can be found in the writings of a number of scholars: Karen Jo Torjeson, Hans Frei, W. A. Shotwell, David Aune, Rowan Greer, Moises Silva, R. P. C. Hanson, A. T. Hanson, Ronald Heine, Christopher Hall, Oscar Skarsaune, to name a few. To my knowledge, Silva is perhaps the only person in this list who qualifies as an inerrantist. Maybe some of the others are; I don't know. These scholars are more careful to differentiate between literal versus allegorical/typological interpretation.

By the way, Skarsaune, whom you quoted in this last post (and which quotation I agree with), says something very similar to what I said in my last post: "While in other parts of the Dialogue a modern reader is offended by fanciful exegesis, in Dial. 56-60 he would complain that Justin is over-literal!" (exclamation point Skarsaune's).

Third--and I meant to mention this earlier--It is also important to note that the church fathers did not just allegorize the OT; they allegorized the NT as well. And it is a huge stretch to argue that they allegorized the NT in order to find Christ there! This tells us something about their purposes in allegorization. While for some of the allegorizers, Justin in particular, allegory did play a significant role in their apologetic, it would not be right, by any means, to understand that this was the controlling motivation for all of them. Allegory was used, to be sure, for apologetic reasons, but it was also used homiletically, paranetically, and pastorally.


Carlos Bovell • 10 years ago

To Jerry:

Yes, allegory was many things to many people, but by now I have lost track of what we are to talk about. The use of allegory/typology in the early church is too wide of an issue to get a handle on in a comments section. I thought we were talking specifically about the opinion in the apostolic fathers that without allegory/typology the case for Christ, as we might call it, loses the support it needs to be "credible," and this in every field you just mentioned: homiletics, etc.

When I saw how you meandered your way so matter-of-factly through the citations I troubled tracking down, it seemed to me, contrary to your subsequent explanation, that you were nit-picking as part of a wider attempt to open a way for "modern" inerrancy to be found somehow in the the church fathers. I have come across this strategy plenty of times in the inerrantist literature and was frustrated/disappointed.

Please accept my apology if there is a case of mistaken identity. I'm sure there will be an occasion to discuss this again. Until then,


Pete E. • 10 years ago

Jerry, can I make a suggestion? After being away for Saturday and part of Sunday, I came back to see many long comments from you, some of which I feel are worth weighing in on, and a goodly number in need of challenging, in my opinion (I read them all, as well as those of others). Even in your response here to Carlos I see a few things that do not ring true to me or need to be addressed more carefully. So, perhaps you could think about responding less often or more succinctly.

Andrew Dowling • 10 years ago

Jesus Himself apparently had no issue with contradicting clear precepts in the Torah, so he didn't view God as being part and parcel with every vision of God as seen in the OT (neither did several other authors in the OT agree with the author of Joshua in terms of the nature of God!)

You are trying to, in typical Reformed fashion, force consistency where it simply doesn't exist.

Jerry Shepherd • 10 years ago

Sorry, Andrew. I have to disagree with you quite strongly on this one. Jesus did not contradict anything in the OT. He did give new directives for the new people of God in a different age. He did condemn un-nuanced uses of OT laws and/or practices. He did bring certain OT practices to a conclusion. But he never passed judgment on those practises and he never contradicted them. And you're going to be very hard pressed to show how other OT authors disagreed with the author of Joshua.

Pete E. • 10 years ago

Could you be specific of a "new directive" and of "practices Jesus brought to a close?" One example is dietary laws. From my reading of the OT (and of Judaism's appropriation of it), I see no expiration for them in Torah. I also feel it is very difficult to miss the criticism of OT territorial violence (not least of which is Canaanite genocide) in the the Beatitudes and in Matt 5:43-48.

I also want to clarify that I do see a mixed bag, as it were, in the NT, re: violence/wrath toward God's enemies in general. But that mixed bag speaks volumes. I see it as the earliest followers of Jesus (including the Gospel writers) grappling with the very problem.

Jerry Shepherd • 10 years ago

As you said, one specific example is the dietary laws. Jesus has ended them. But that does not at the same time mean that they were not the will of God for the OT Israelites. Something can be changed, amended, nullified, etc., for any number of reasons, without at the same time passing judgment on it.

Another example would be the marriage and divorce legislation. Jesus declares that these laws were neither ideal nor in accord with God's original intention. But that does not mean that Jesus condemns the giving of those laws. Goldingay: "Legislation by its very nature is a compromise between what may be ethically desirable and what is actually feasible given the relativities of social and political life."

Violence? I find it very difficult to find a critique of what God commanded in the OT in the passages you cited. Christ gives his people a "new directive" with regard to how they are to relate to their enemies, and one which is in accord with the very different context of the NT people of God as a wandering, pilgrim, oppressed people of God, rather than a settling or settled political entity. But this by no means says that what the OT understands to be the command of God for his ancient people was wrong. Longman: "To say that the New Testament critiques this picture of God in the Old Testament is in effect to say that the Old Testament is not Scripture."

Regarding the NT "mixed bag," this metaphor hardly does justice to the issue. As Karen pointed out, if anything the violence is more horrific in the NT than in the OT, both in the recorded words of Jesus, and throughout the rest of the NT. I see no evidence of Jesus and the NT writers "grappling" with this issue. Instead, they rather strongly and plainly proclaimed it. The evidence of this latter understanding is substantial.
And that's my quota for today. :)


Andrew Dowling • 10 years ago

"As you said, one specific example is the dietary laws. Jesus has ended them."

He did? Well no-one told the Apostles, since adherence to the food laws was a major debate among the earliest Jesus-followers for decades .. . .

"Legislation by its very nature is a compromise between what may be ethically desirable and what is actually feasible given the relativities of social and political life."

So the Torah was a :compromise" between God's will and the cultural whims of the ANE Jewish people? You better tell the Jews that, apparently they have missed that nuance for several thousand years . . .

"one which is in accord with the very different context of the NT people of God as a wandering, pilgrim, oppressed people of God, rather than a settling or settled political entity."

Umm, most of the OT was written as the Jewish nation was under the thumb of some form of oppression.

Luke Breuer • 10 years ago
So the Torah was a :compromise" between God's will and the cultural whims of the ANE Jewish people? You better tell the Jews that, apparently they have missed that nuance for several thousand years . . .

I suggest checking out Eye for an Eye#Judaism:

Isaac Kalimi explains that the “lex talionis was humanized by the Rabbis who interpreted "an eye for an eye" to mean reasonable pecuniary compensation. As in the case of the Babylonian 'lex talionis', ethical Judaism and humane Jewish jurisprudence replaces the peshat (literal meaning) of the written Torah. Pasachoff and Littman point to the reinterpretation of the lex talionis as an example of the ability of Pharisaic Judaism to "adapt to changing social and intellectual ideas."
Andrew Dowling • 10 years ago

I think you misunderstood my point . . the Jewish people went and have gone through great evolution regarding how Torah laws were/are interpreted; that's an integral part of Jewish tradition. But the Torah itself wasn't considered something to change because God compromised initially (especially prior to the advent of the Reformed Jewish tradition)..

Luke Breuer • 10 years ago

I'm a bit confused; either God meant for the Jews to always take eye for an eye literally, in which case their reinterpretation was wrong, or he meant for them to reinterpret it, which seems to indicate that the initial version was a compromise based on where the Jews were at when it was given. So did God hope that they would reinterpret, or was he mad at it? I hope for the former, which seems to be corroborated by Jesus' stance, and therefore the word 'compromise' seems to fit the bill?

Andrew Dowling • 10 years ago

"So did God hope that they would reinterpret, or was he mad at it?"

That question goes to the heart of the liberal vs conservative religious debate going back centuries!

Luke Breuer • 10 years ago

I don't debate this. But your original comment—about the Jews missing out on this—is put into extreme doubt on the basis that it was Jews who turned 'eye for an eye' into 'money for an eye'.

Andrew Dowling • 10 years ago

But that interpretive posture doesn't have to indicate that it was God Himself who compromised.

Also historically the aspects of Torah that have to do more with Jewish identity (kosher, circumcision, acceptance/intermarriage with Gentiles) have been less apt to liberal interpretation than others (although the extent of adherence has long been a topic of debate).

It's a complex subject; Jesus's focus of purity of heart was not new to Judaism, and this link is often forgotten in the caricature of the stuffy "legalist" Pharisees vs Jesus's message of love and grace. But concurrently, I think its clear he said/did some things that diverged from standard Jewish practice, perhaps radically in some instances . . .he wasn't just a typical Jewish holy man.

Luke Breuer • 10 years ago
But that interpretive posture doesn't have to indicate that it was God Himself who compromised.

Then what is the nature of the compromise? God gave the good laws to Moses, but he wrote down different ones in compromise? This seems unlikely.

Jesus's focus of purity of heart was not new to Judaism

Of course not; the Israelites were to "circumcise the foreskin of your heart", and later God said he would do the circumcising. But was it clear to the Jews that the stringencies surrounding external things were to fully apply to the internal, to the heart? David certainly got the message—"you delight in truth in the inward being"—but how widespread was this understanding? Jesus' teaching on lust and anger seemed to indicate that at least the people he was talking to weren't 'getting' it. They were focusing on the externals.