Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chrysostom and Scripture

In the context, Chrysostom is complaining about people who can't be bothered hearing the scriptures because they claim they are too obscure. They will come to church to hear the letters of kings, but not to hear the letters of the apostles.

Well of course, Chrysostom is right. Anyone can listen to the bible and more or less understand what the apostle is talking about.

The problem comes when you start asking questions that go beyond what is directly addressed in the scripture.

What is the ordo-salutis? At what age ought one be baptised? What is the relationship between God's will and man's will?

Many verses have been pressed into service on the finer points of these questions, even though they were not written with the purpose of addressing these questions. One can easily say that these passages are clear enough at expressing the main point they were written to express. But whether they are clear when pressed into service at answering a more technical question, needed to complete one's systematic theology textbook is a lot trickier.

So Chrysostom is right, that no-one has an excuse to be not reading the scriptures on the basis that they are obscure.

Does this therefore mean, that because all Christians can glean the general surface meaning of scripture, and are therefore without excuse for avoiding reading scripture, that it is therefore implied that Chrysostom believes that the deeper meanings of scripture are therefore also plain?

"We are bidden to “search” the Scriptures, because most of the words, although at first sight easy, appear to have in their depth much hidden meaning." - Chrysostom, Homily LVII on John

There's the surface level meaning that is "at first sight easy", and which all can benefit from. Then there are the deeper meanings, where a verse refers indirectly to something, where disputes arise.

So then, are the scriptures plain in the sense of the way that they are pressed into service in... oh say the Westminster Confession? And were they so to Chrysostom's obstinate congregation if only they would read and listen? Well, clearly not, because the facts are in and very few Christians agree with many of the WC's use of proof texts.

Take as an example the proof texts given for the WC, XXVIII on Baptism:
III. "Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary"

Proof texts given are:

HEB 9:10 "Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

ACT 2:41 "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."

ACT 16:33 "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway."

MAR 7:4 "And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables."

Heb 9:10 has nothing to do with Christian baptism. It uses the word baptism without being clear what exactly it is referring to. Acts 2:41 and 16:33 seemingly don't address the question at all. Mark 7:4 is no doubt a lexical argument about the meaning of βαπτίζω, the usual argument being that tables would not be immersed. The trouble is, other than this obviously being a tenuous argument, is that this is a textual variant. The only certain things that Mark said were baptised are cups, pots and vessels, as one can see reading the NIV.

And balanced against these arguments are verses like Rom. 6:4 and Col. 2:12 which refer to being "buried with Him in baptism", which tradition sees as a reference to being placed under the water. (Not just Tradition, also many protestants). And these verses are actually addressing the topic at hand, which is more than can be said for the WC's proof texts.

The topic of this debate is whether sola scriptura is workable as to the contents of the Westminster Confession. The question is then whether as an example, the above set of proof texts found in the WC represent the clear teaching of scripture that Francis claims we can apply to finding the rule of faith for the church. I think anyone honest can see that these verses don't cut it, and therefore Francis' thesis fails.

However, as to Chrysostom's comment, no-one has cause for saying that they ought not read Heb 9:10, Acts 2:41, 16:33, Mark 7:4, Ro 6:4 or Col 2:12 on the basis that they are obscure, so Chrysostom's comment stands. Obviously they are clear enough as to their main point. But the deeper implications and meanings, well these are constantly debated.

Of course, there is an inherent problem in Francis' question. If he wants to imply that Chrysostom believed in sola scriptura, or something like it, why is Chrysostom so much the same as Eastern Orthodox and not like Presbyterians? If Chrysostom thinks the scriptures are clear in the sense Francis says, then either the scriptures clearly teach Eastern Orthodoxy, or Chrysostom (and Francis) are wrong in thinking them to be clear. Neither of these outcomes are helpful to my opponent.

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