Saturday, January 23, 2010

Apostles and Inspiration

I'm working on a paper right now on the relationship between Christ and the New Testament in Torrance. For Torrance, the inspiration of the New Testament is not dealt with in terms of the Spirit's operation in and through the apostles in the particular acts of composing their distinctively inspired and authoritative documents, but in terms of the whole sweep of revelation and reconciliation accomplished in Christ as including the preparation, empowerment, and authorization of the apostles to mediate the ongoing presence of the risen Christ through power of the Holy Spirit. The preparation and empowerment included learning from Christ as disciples under a rabbi, encountering Christ in his crucified and resurrected form as the firstborn of the new creation they were given to share in, and their baptism in the Holy Spirit in which their understanding of Christ was bound to Christ's own understanding of himself. Thus for Torrance, "the apostolate, expressly formed and created by the human end of revelation, belongs to the once for all nature of the incarnation, and is caught up in its finality and authority" (Atonement, 329-330). Torrance's concept of "onto-relations", or relations that contribute to one's identity, seems at play here; a description of the historical Jesus Christ that does not include his relationship with the apostles, his calling of them and the struggle of teaching them, the drama of their being brought into more and more intimate union with him, would be so incomplete as to be false. Christ binds them into such intimate union with them that he can tell them "whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me." Torrance's doctrine of the inspiration of the New Testament derives from this relation between Christ and his apostles, those he sends in his name.

As I follow Torrance through this narration of inspiration, I become aware that the doctrine of Scripture I grew up with puts far less emphasis on this relation between Christ and his apostles and far more on the work of the Holy Spirit in the particular moments of inspiration. Have any of you wrestled with a similar tension? Let me pose it as a question: do you believe the New Testament books are more inspired by God than their authors were when they weren't writing those books? Do you believe that the apostle's (or other writer's of the New Testament) were given temporary infallibility when writing the New Testament documents but then lost it as soon as they stopped writing/dictating? Or are the New Testament documents the product of an ongoing ministry in which Christ was in control of his Gospel in the mouths and lives of the apostles through the ministry of the Holy Spirit? Do we worry that this latter view makes human bias and corruption too much of an obstacle for God to reveal himself through? If so, doesn't reacting with a "higher" view of Scripture (one free of the human influence of the apostles) actually mean a lower view of God's self-revealing power?


  1. The God I believe in is not a dictating machine. If the Word is its own Reality surely we don't have to worry about the human dimension for the incarnation sees to that? Surely it is the nature of the Gospel itself, that human shortcoming is no obstacle to God? Are we not asking all too human questions here, ie. questionning from a centre within ourselves instead of from within the circle of God's knowing and inspiring ...Surely Torrance does not use the term infallibility for his interpretation of God is beyond rationalism or empircism, beyond fundamentalism or liberalism etc? Surely too the estimation of God's power is an all too human construct having nothing to do with bringing our minds to bear under the Reality in which God has chosen to reveal himself? I think the deemphasis on the centrality of the Holy Spirit is that Torrance has undone the traditional reformed view of God, so much of our traditional understanding has, if we follow Torrance, to be revised. Generally speaking, does it not say something about us if we have no problem excepting that our humanity is taken up in the Incarnation, and yet when it comes to witnessing statements as in the Bible, we sink into 'technical issues'?

  2. Adam,

    I've been working through that material in 'Atonement' as well, and I think you are on some really good tracks of inquiry here. The only think I would nit-pick a bit with at this point is the notion that onto-relations are merely relations that contribute to identity. I think if we look at it from a standpoint of Torrance's indebtedness to J.C. Maxwell and his inchoate field theory, we have to say that onto-relations for Torrance are relations that in some way (he's never really clear) constitute one's being. That's a bit stronger, I think.

  3. Timothy, it sounds like we're on pretty much the same page, but I'm never quite sure with you...

    Travis, I think you're right that onto-relations constitute being for Torrance. I use the word 'contribute' because its seems that for Torrance onto-relations are a field of relations so that no single relation constitutes the being of the related, but each contributes to the field - it is the field that constitutes. So I don't think I could say that Christ's relation to the apostles constitutes his being (though might say it constitutes theirs) apart from his relation to the Father and Spirit, Mary, Pontius Pilate, and so forth, but that each of these relations contributes to the field that constitutes the being of Christ. At least that seems to work with Torrance's many comparisons of personal onto-relations to those inherent between particles in magnetic fields. However, maybe the whole concept is misplaced here; Torrance doesn't invoke onto-relations in this discussion in Atonement; maybe I'm applying inappropriately. Anyway, thanks for making me think about it.

  4. I see Prof. Webster has a piece on TFT and Scripture on Partipatio, online. He mentions the Apostolate in a later section of the paper, but its meaning was unclear to me, or at least the intention of Torrance here, was unclear to me. I was just curious, but back in Theological science Torrance talks about what he terms existence statements and coherence statements, but seem to drop their usuage in later works. Why? I am not sure. At the level of language Torrance has much to say about theological statement, but that is not itself the biblical words, rather derived from it. PS. Webster is so clear in his piece, and similiarly as Adam projects his intentions here, Torrance begins and ends with Revelation, ie understanding of scripture is controlled at the highest level and hence Torrance cannot be reduced to even a sola scripture man as traditionally understood!

  5. As for the work of the Holy Spirit at particular moments, i got thinking about the reader reception and the Holy Spirit at particular portions of the text or as of a selective portion of the text when preached and the speaking to our minds. Apparently, Torrance does not deal with the Bible except as the whole sweep of the Word in action, and this points as Webster suggests to an insufficiency by Torrance or lack of emphasis as to the place of Bible commentaries. Doesn't this in fact point out that Torrance was doing Dogmatic theology rather than Biblical theology as such? Moreover, the fact that we are illumined or 'inspired' by preaching surely goes to show that even in the absence of the whole that is of the whole sweep of biblical history, to know the Word , in part, is effectively the same as knowing the Word (as a whole), as we never have full knowledge of the Word?

  6. Per your questions, why can't it be both?

    I mean beyond dealing with Torrance, who you know I appreciate, how about dealing with Jesus' view of scripture? How about looking at how He understood it (i.e. when He speaks of the OT)? How about what the text of scripture says about itself? It says "scripture is inspired," which I take to mean that scripture is God-breathed . . . and that when the Apostulate wrote scripture they did so like the OT prophets (i.e. everything they said wasn't "thus saith the Lord"). This seems to be the implication of what you're getting at, Adam. Could you clarify your point?

  7. Lets start with why it can't be both - re-read the questions. Either the apostles' ministry from Pentecost on (including but not limited to the composition of the New Testament) carried divine authority BECAUSE Christ had bound it to himself through training the apostles and pouring out his Spirit on them, or the NT document have a greater divine authority than the rest of the apostles' ministry because of a special work of the Holy Spirit above and beyond that of Pentecost and the rest of Christ's ministry through them. I'm asking if Peter's and Paul's sermons were as inspired, as much the word of God as their writings or not - its an either or question; it can't be both.

    As to Jesus view of the OT, I don't find it very fruitful for this question. He obviously sees it as God's very word, reading it as being addressed by God. I see it the same way. This doesn't help us in getting at a theory of inspiration. The question I'm asking is about the relationship of the inspired text to the acts of God in history. Torrance proposes a view (at least of the NT - he is often strangely silent on the inspired composition of the OT) in which the act of God of giving the church inspired texts (as a part of God's self-revelation) is bound up with and organically outflowing from his acts of redemption. I champion this view because it offers what I see as a healthy corrective to the kind of view I grew up with in which inspiring the texts is a work of the Holy Spirit only marginally connected to, and in fact superior to the ministry Christ gave the apostles in terms of revelatory authority and truth.

  8. Adam,

    I see what you're asking in re. to Peter and Paul, and it's interesting, but how are you going to answer it? It seems that you'll have to make an inference about that . . . and then it just becomes a matter of predisposition.

    I have no problem with what you say in your second paragraph as far as revelation and acts of redemption; I just don't see why this has to be at odds with the view you grew up with. Why not see this as a more robust christo-pneumato version of what was lacking in the Fundamental past? In other words, I would rather see what Torrance is doing as more than and not less than what the "Fundies" have tried to communicate per a bibliology. That's why I like TFT, he fills out many of the holes that my past left for me as well. I just don't see a necessary competition, Adam.

  9. It seems to me that lacking any theological or biblical reason to say that the historical ministry of the apostles was less the word of God than their writings, it is proper given everything Christ says about him speaking through them that the Scriptures need to be understood under the larger umbrella of the apostolic ministry of preaching and teaching.

    I fully agree that this is a 'more than' situation. I hope I haven't put it across as a less than - it is the fundies who are forced to say that the preached word is less the word of God than the written word. The reason it is a necessary competition is that the 'more than' here is the living Word of God active in the written word but above it and in distinction from it. The fundamentalist position gives the written word an independent status and makes it equal with God's eternal Word. However, in Torrance's words, "if the Scriptures are treated as having a light inherent in themselves, they are deprived of their true light which they have by reflecting the Light of Christ beyond themselves – and then the light that is in them is turned into a kind of darkness." Have you never encountered that darkness in the fundamentalist use of the Bible?

  10. Adam,

    Yes, I agree with you on the umbrella.

    And yes, I have encountered that darkness, which is why I do find TFT so refreshing in this re.

    As a 'Fundy' I never thought as the written word as equal to the living; but I always saw an inseparable relation. My concern, Adam, is to ensure that the written word maintains its 'special significance' in relation to the living (and this is where I want to go to scripture to see how it thinks of itself i.e. Heb 4:12). I just want to be careful not to mitigate the significance of scripture; certainly you've seen this opposite extreme at play in the circles you now inhabit, right?

  11. I totally share your concern to maintain the inseparable relation and special significance of the Bible, Bobby. Yes, I've seen the opposite extreme and even fell prey to it for a number of years between Bible college and seminary. I know that when Scripture is approached solely along socio-gramatico-historical lines its real significance is lost. But that is why I get so excited about Torrance's approach. If we start with God's redemptive acts in history, with Scripture's narration of those events and the community that forms around them, brought together and empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and kerygmatic ministry they undertake (OT and NT) which includes the composition and editing of the biblical texts, then we will read the Bible as God's very word, especially when we realize the universal and eternal significance of those redemptive acts which extend through the authorized prophetic and apostolic kerygma. I don't see how anything necessary or true to the gospel is sacrificed here. It starts on the conservative side, seeing God as the determining agent behind Scripture, and then just proceeds to tell a more complete (and more biblical) story about Scripture coming into being than the fundamentalists give. Its totally win win, win against liberals and win against the fundamentalists.

  12. I agree, Adam. I think our backgrounds sound very similar. I'm just struggling through my own "sentimental" committments at points . . . so thanks for helping me to do that! I think TFT definitely offers a true via media, of sorts (actually a whole new novum) for bibliology --- it's just outside my comfort zone at points :-). But when I read him --- like I just picked up "Atonement" and started reading it again --- all the reasons why I like TF come flooding back in (he is more grounded in scripture than most Fundies and actually, ironically, more 'pro-Israel' than most dispies ;-).

    Thanks for the feedback, Adam!

  13. Just read this in Atonement:

    "Through the unique ministry of the apostles in laying its foundations, the historical church has been equipped with oracles, ordinances and ministry. These are (1) the Canon of Holy Scripture, (2) the Rule of Faith, that is the canonical structure of doctrine and worship, and (3) the Apostolic Ministry. All three belong together and are not to be torn apart from one another. Thus we cannot separate the doctrine of Scripture from the doctrine of the apostolate and so from the apostolic foundation of the church. Nor can we separate it from the rise of the Rule of Faith, for it was through the Rule of Faith that Canonical Scriptures were set apart and others were rejected, and so apostolic tradition was sharply differentiated as normative and authoritative from all other tradition. Again, it was the regular and responsible development of the Ministry from the apostles, in obedience to the apostolic commands and in the apostolic tradition, that attested and secured the faithful keeping and handing on of the apostolic Scriptures and Rule of Faith. The Canon of Holy Scripture occupies the supreme place, but it is not to be separated theologically or historically from its relation to the Rule of Faith and the Apostolic Ministry" (397).

    SO GOOD!

  14. As an interjection, I looked up the rule of faith in the Roman Catholic tradition, and what a minefield. If ever there was a need not to truncate the long and tortuous history of the church it is here. Although we need clarity and the right tool-box, Torrance is altogether so brief, however tantalisingly authorative sounding, that the numerous dissensions and disputations do not come through in this quote. My immmediate reaction and intuition was to say, how Catholic the quote sounded and how unapostolate the Protestant church is, itself seemingly rather founded on side-issues of historical theological dispute!

  15. Adam,

    I see what TFT is saying --- not quite Catholic --- and it makes sense given the history and 'tradition'. I like to think of scripture of the 'norming norm' of which the rule of faith through the apostolic tradition is the "normed." I take TFT to speaking of apostolic trad. in re. to the actual apostles and not an office like Apostolic Succession represents. Some might call TFT's approach Prima Scriptura vs. Sola Scriptura. I would say I'm somwhere between the two of those.

    I'm only in the 70's in my "Atonement" reading, but plan on pushing forward today --- looks like you're a good deal further, Adam.