Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gerhard on Scripture as a Principium of Theology.

In the first volume of his systematic theology, Gerhard argues that Scripture is one of the two principium of theology.  By principium, Gerhard means an informing principle.  For example (as we shall see) how numbers are the the principle of math.  The other principium of theology (as he articulates in the second volume on the divine Trinity and its attributes) is the Triune God who speaks through Scripture.  Both principium presuppose the other.  If God exists and we can talk about him, he clearly has spoken.  If there's speech (the Bible), then clearly there's a speaker.  Gerhard in this holds the same position as all other Protestant scholastics. 

How though do we know that the Bible is God's Word?  Gerhard isn't as excited by answers like those given to Chemnitz in Examination of the Council of Trent.  In that work, Chemnitz mainly makes the argument in the first volume, that the Scriptures are reliable kerygma because the historical evidence says that they are Apostolic.  Similarly, the Apostles were vindicated by the fact that they did miracles.  This is actually an old stock argument from the Middle Ages (Aquinas in pt. 1 of the Summa uses it as well), with a new Lutheran twist.  The Lutheran twist is that only the Biblical material has been vindicated by these historical proof, not the unwritten traditio (which he lambasts as the only form of invalid traditio, out of 8 he outlines).  

Of course, from the perspective of a Protestant living in the wake of Bellarmine (like Gerhard was) one can see why this argument might be less attractive.  Bellarmine had emphasized that the authority of Scripture was not a good one because at the end of the day it was dependent on Church attestation and therefore authority.  In the early 17th century, it is easy to see why this historical line of reason declined (it totally disappear in a thinker like David Hollaz at the end of the 17th century- He also, in keeping with this, doesn't even mention the distinction between homologoumena and antilogoumena!).  Scriptural authority had to be independent of Church authority, even mere historical attestation, as much as possible.

While not rejecting historical arguments (as anyone who has read the Confessio Catholica knows), Gerhard is more interested in the argument from the inner testimony of the Spirit.  Since as Paul writes, it is the Spirit that testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16) and he does so through the preaching of the Word (Gal. 3:2), clearly the Spirit is the one who testifies that the Word we are hearing is God's Word- because what it says is true and from God.  This isn't a new argument of course.  Both Calvin and Luther had both made this argument and it was also present in a number Patristic authors as well.

For Gerhard, then, the principium of Scripture is to theology the way that numbers are to math.  In fact, he makes this analogy.  Just as to do math at all you would need numbers, you need the Bible to do theology.  This of course brings us back to the question of why Scripture is authoritative.  It is, he says, for the same reason that numbers are- theology as an enterprise just doesn't happen without it.  Neither can you prove it in an ordinary sense, in the same way that it is absurd to say to someone "Prove 5."  5 is a self-evident principle.  You can't ground it in anything because it is the principle.  Your knowledge of the world intuitively and functionally accepts "5."  In the same way, Gerhard says, that we possess an intrinsic knowledge of "5" through the Spirit convicting us through his inner-testimony, we too who are Christians have an intrinsic knowledge that the Bible is the Word written into us.

So, does this work?  I would say yes (based on the exegetical argument), but I would also make some other observations.

First, the Word is not quite self-authenticating thing the way that math is, since it comes from something external to ourselves (the Word working through the power of the Spirit), rather than something built into us.  Secondly, it's not universal the way math is.  It's particular to the elect.

This though, I think, is the basis for it being a proper principium and self-authenticating.  In other words, we're certain that math is true because everyone knows it to be true.  It's built into us.  Conversely, we know that the Word is true because everyone doesn't know true.  If it has been revealed by God, presumably it's something alien.  Otherwise, why reveal it?  It's not something you would dream up.  If it were, then you might begin to doubt that it really came from God and wasn't just a projection of our inner consciousness (the old Feuerbach critique of Schleiermacher).  

But why isn't it something that we wouldn't just make up?  Precisely because in the opposition to math, it's counter-intuitive.  In other words, it tells us that we are completely unrighteous because we have violated God's law.  Being that in all our experience of the world, the law is there to tell us what to do, and therefore assumes we can do it (a point made both by Pelagius and Kant!), this is counterintuitive.  Why tell someone that they are sinner if there's no hope for them getting better?  Also, why would we believe a something makes us think so lowly of ourselves?  Humans always want to think the best of themselves, yet we are told that we are the worst we can be and for some reason we believe it.  

Secondly, it tells us the gospel, which testifies that we are completely forgiven by God's grace alone.  This again doesn't make sense in according to our analogy of experience.  Gods as a rule accept sacrifices, they do not sacrifice themselves to us.  This works well with how religion normally functions.  As a form of social manipulation, religion helps keep people good and the priests fat by telling people the good works they can do and sacrifices they can perform.  In fact, all the gospel does is give free forgiveness and therefore freedom.  It doesn't prescribe anything.  Also, it takes away all our power to manipulate the gods/God, because it says "hey, it's already done.  You can't buy me off."

For this reason, Gerhard makes the correct analogy.  Nevertheless, the principiums of theology function exactly in the opposite way of other principiums.  The principium of theology works precisely because it is counter-intuitive, rather than intuitive.


  1. How many things are there that are neither intuitive nor counter-intuitive? Wouldn't anything and everything be either intuitive or counter-intuitive and therefore self-evident? I would tend to want more particularity in an argument (why this counter-intuitive thing and not that one?), but maybe I'm expecting something in dogmatic theology that really belongs to apologetics.

    J. W. Montgomery in his apologetics grounds the authority of Scripture in a miracle, but it's in the miracle of Christ's resurrection, attesting to His divinity, and making whatever He said authoritative. It's sort of interesting, because the OT is then authoritative to us because Christ authenticated it thousands of years after it was written. The NT is authoritative because Christ, who is God, told the apostles to write, and not necessarily just because they worked miracles.

  2. Phil-

    1. When I say "intuitive" I just mean the sort of basic structures of our consciousness whereby we are capable of making truth claims or experiencing truth. I would follow Alvin Plantinga and call these "necessary and basic" beliefs. Just incidental facts are of reality I would say are neither intuitive or counter-intuitive since they are not part of the "necessary and basic" beliefs that we interact with reality on the basis of. These "necessary and basic" beliefs would be things like, I exist, my senses can give me real information about a real world, evidence validates truth claims, math works, there is an objective morality, etc.

    Now, because we are creatures under the law and therefore post Genesis 3, self-justification through the law is built into our basic perception of the world (I think this isn't hard to prove even from cross-cultural anthropology) then the Word of God will be counterintuitive. Since all human religion and philosophy works on the basis of the intuitive self-justification model of divine-human interaction (again, I believe this can be empirically proven) that which breaks with the model built as this data suggests, into our basic structure by the Fall, clearly cannot come from that basic structure and therefore must have come from the outside and be true.

    2. Yes, I agree with Mongomery. In fact this was a post (as you might recall) back in January. The point I would make is that you will not be free to see the empirical evidence of the resurrection unless you are already convicted by the Holy Spirit through the Word.

    This is why I buy the whole distinction between homologoumena and antilogoumena also. Now, we know what the Word's content is because we are convicted of it by the Spirit. If we are convicted of it, then we have a commitment to what the Apostles taught- because there's no other source of the kerygma. Nevertheless, we need to take the next step to establish what the Bible is via the historical argument. By this, I mean we must say "OK, I believe the Apostles teaching, but this isn't a delusion on my part, because Jesus authorized it and he rose from the dead" and then we can go the next step and say "Yes, historically, these texts were established in the canon by the Apostles themselves (an argument I've made in the past and Chemnitz also makes) and were also historically witnessed by the early Church- so this is the Bible and it's authoritative and inerrant."

    So, I guess my point is, that once the Spirit has convicted us of the truth, we can rely on both the inner testimony of the Spirit to know the Word is the Word, and then subsequently, Jesus' own authorization of the Apostolic kerygma and it's historical attestation to know that the documents found in the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

    Does this make sense?

  3. You've certainly clarified things, and I apologize for asking you to rehash things you've been over...

    If our understanding of historical events attesting to Jesus' divinity and the Bible's authority is subsequent to the Spirit's own testimony, am I correct in seeing the apologetic task as a kind of deception in which I say to someone, "Look at this evidence, examine it rationally, and see how it undermines your false belief" while in a hidden way I am really just preaching the Word and Spirit to work faith in the person? It seems like a disingenuous thing to do.

    I was going to write more, but I think I've thought through it. It seems like the key is to understand the distinction between apologetics and dogmatics and therefore the audience to whom you're speaking and writing (unbelievers vs. the Church). I think the only reason it makes me uneasy is the concern for particularity: Scripture is in fact unique, as is the unique and historically particular Christ. Today there are a lot of claims that things are self-authenticating (relativism, truth "in the community"), which have a habit of cropping up in a lot of the contemporary attempts to defend the Liturgy.

  4. Phil I wouldn't say that the apologetic task is deceptive. I just don't think it can do the things that Montgomery and other conservative Protestant theologians think it can. Namely, it can't actually convert people or make them certain of the truth.

    If we believe in the bondage of the will, then Gerhard's way of thinking makes sense. God by the Spirit simply "strikes us with the gospel" (as Elert puts it). We have no free will to choose God or not. Now this means that we have no free will whether or not to believe in Scripture as a principium. It's like math, again. Because I'm simply built to acknowledge two-plus-two, I have no free will over against that either.

    Nevertheless, I think that there is room for the apologetic task and that's in thinking through what we believe. In other words, faith is something that involves the whole person and therefore if we "take every thought captive to Christ" in it involves our rationality and how we think about the world. So, the real apologetic task is not to convince people who don't believe, but rather to help people who do believe to have the intellectual furniture to articulate their faith in a meaningful and coherent manner.

  5. I don't think Montgomery believes that apologetics can convert people. To be sure, from time to time he does use "decision" terminology that I wish he wouldn't. Apart from what he does or doesn't believe about apologetics, though, the best explanation I've heard of the apologetic task is that it serves to knock down the objections of unbelievers. Its role then is completely negative and therefore can't be said to construct faith or anything else. Now, since apologetics is done by believers, this still squares with the idea that it helps believers to articulate their faith.

    What I find interesting is that apologetics involves discussion of the kerygma with unbelievers. Because Lutherans (unlike Protestants) believe in the efficacious Word, there are always two things going on when "apologetics" takes place between a believer and an unbeliever: apologetics itself, or rational arguments against unbelieving thought, and proclamation of the Word. I think this can become very confusing for people who are tempted to think that apologetics leads people to faith, but if we believe in the Spirit's working through the Word, we can see more clearly what is going on in an "apologetic" discourse.

    If Scripture is authenticated both by the inner testimony of the Spirit and by the historical record of Christ, the Apostles, and their writings, then one could ask the question of how this plays out in salvation. The inner testimony of the Spirit does not authenticate the Scriptures to the unbeliever qua unbeliever. Now maybe we could say that the proclamation of the inner testimony of the Spirit is proclamation of the Word and therefore the Spirit works faith through this proclamation. However, I would tend to think that if all one proclaimed was the inner testimony of the Spirit, though, one would be separating the Spirit from Christ, because faith is faith in Christ and His work. So you might say that the historical authentication of Christ is temporally prior to or simultaneous with the inner testimony of the Spirit, for a person, whereas I think Gerhard is saying that the inner testimony is logically prior, and these aren't necessarily in conflict.

    Now, who asks for authentication? I think both people outside the Church and people inside the Church ask for authentication. Dogmatics, as far as I can see, is a task done inside the Church. But do those of us in the Church ask for authentication out of faith or unbelief?

    I hope all this was neither confusing nor trivial.

  6. Phil-

    I don't think this is confusing or trivial.

    1. Montgomery (in the limited sense that I have read him) is not explicitly saying that apologetics can convert people, you are correct. He does seems to imply that though and does talk about "decision."

    2. I don't think that the inner-testimony of the Spirit separates Word and Spirit. The priority of the inner testimony of the Spirit has to do with why we believe. We only believe because of the Spirit and the Spirit only comes through the Word (Gal. 3:2). And the Word is about Jesus and his death and resurrection. My point in giving this priority is that a person has to be free to accept the historical evidence before they believe in it. If I'm caught up in unbelief and therefore self-justification, then the resurrection is inherently bad news. It's the story of sinners killing Jesus and him coming back to show us that they (and presumably us) were in the wrong. Therefore I need to protect myself from this by making incredibly lame counter-arguments against the historical facts (I've heard this over and over again from non-believers).

    The point is though, that an ordinary uneducated person (for example my grandparents before they passed away) can believe in the gospel without those proof which of course they are unaware of. If you say that a person is only justified in believing in the gospel if they have certain intellectual proofs, you 1) Make faith an intellectual work. 2) Make faith the providence of smart people with information. Consequently, in actuality, the inner-testimony of the Spirit is good enough proof in that it's not proof in the typical sense, but rather a conviction that we "suffer" (to use Bayer's description) in the same manner we "suffer" the reality of numbers. This is why dogmatics is done within the Church and the principium o f Scripture functions the same way that numbers does in the community of mathematicians. It's simply the a prior principle which the intellectual task of doing dogmatics wouldn't get off the ground without.

    3. Yes, one could say that apologetics can destroy barriers (my old pastor in Boston was very taken with this idea), but in my experience people continue to put up those barriers no matter how absurd you make them look. As sinner's their just bound to make up as absurd excuses to justify themselves as they can. With many of my student it has to do with something as trivial as sex. A lot of them just want to be able to sleep with whom ever they want and therefore Christianity, no matter how many arguments you make in favor of it for them just isn't good, because it impedes their ability to have sex. With some of them who believe, they insist that there's no proofs and they resist you giving proof because they want to feel in control of their faith, that is, if there is no evidence and it's just your act of will to believe it or not, then you could just take it or leave. If it gets to scary, then you can bail and say "we'll it was all just irrational belief anyways."

  7. On #3, I wonder whether this isn't a circumstance of our times to some extent. I know exactly what you're talking about, but I wonder whether in past times people wanted to consider themselves much more rational, so that the ultimate "easy out" didn't occur to them and realizing their rationality actually looked like a "dead end" to them.

    Regarding the rest, thanks--it helped.

  8. just to talk about something minor -- which is probably the specialty of LPC (Dr. Lito) -- I think that the self-authentication of math isn't so obvious either. A modern approach to the foundations of math recognizes that all mathematics is based on axioms (not really unlike Euclid's Elements of Geometry has axioms). To make the claim these axioms actually reflect any reality is itself an assumption which cannot really be proven.

    Of course, for the most part people consider the link between "abstract" mathematics and real life so obvious as to not be questioned.

    But the fat that LPC can get a PhD in mathematical logic shows that there's a lot that's not so obvious.


  9. George-

    Correct, in a sense. By self-authenticating I don't mean it quite in the way that Gerhard meant it. If you read my first response, I suggest with Plantinga and Thomas Reid that it is a "necessary and basic" way of interacting with reality. In other words, yes, you could doubt it, but then where would you be? You couldn't live your life. This is the point that Reid made against Hume.

    In the same way, liberal theologians cast doubt on the supposed contradicts in Scripture, but then they get no where. In the mainline Protestant denominations, theology is non-functional. That's why I think that even if we aren't able to work out every discrepancy between Scripture and secular science/history etc, inerrancy is necessary to posit. Otherwise theology is non-functional and if we are Christians, we are by our very commitment to Christ bound to think theology is functional. It's just like the clarity of Scripture. Even if we some times cannot perceive that clarity, it is apparently clear, otherwise we would posit that God had made revelation that could communicate nothing and that didn't save anyone.

  10. Just to clarify the last statement, I don't mean this in a purely utilitarian sense. What I mean is, if these sources of truth are in fact non-functional without our assumption of their reliability, then they must be assumed to be true. Otherwise our access to reality (empirical or theological) would be non-functional. If it was non-functional, the any proof of their non-functionality would logically also come into ill repute (I've made this argument about evolution in the past) and hence we would left not only with no access to reality, but no disproof of our lack of access. Hence any argument against them logically implodes.