The Bible contains a record of something that happened. What that something is is told us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Jesus of Nazareth was not a product of the world, but a Savior come from outside the world. His birth was a mystery. His life was a life of perfect purity, of awful righteousness, and of gracious, sovereign power. His death was no mere holy martyrdom, but a sacrifice for the sins of the world. His resurrection was not an aspiration in the hearts of his disciples, but a mighty act of God. He is alive, and present at this hour to help us if we will turn to him. He is more than one of the sons of men; he is in mysterious union with the eternal God.” (“History and Faith,” first published in the “Princeton Theological Review 13” (1915), pgs 337-351, and cited here in D.G. Hart, “J. Gresham Machen, Selected Shorter Writings”, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, ©2004)
I just wanted to keep that in mind as we move forward. In my last post, I showed, in Pope Ratzinger’s own words, that not only his own “exegetical” method, but that of Roman Catholic exegesis in general, relied heavily on the liberal “historical critical” method of Biblical interpretation.
It’s true that as Ratzinger said, “the debate about method has moved on, both inside and outside the Catholic Church.” I have previously shown precisely how this “debate” has moved on, in the form of a confluence of methods which enabled modern conservative Evangelical exegetes to retain:
Ladd’s commitment to the historical study of the New Testament, [which emphasizes] an openness to its theological truth. He sees his task as fundamentally a descriptive one, focusing on what the text “meant.” But since he accepts the Bible as the record of the acts of God for the redemption of the world, he therefore accepts the normative character of the New Testament witness and its ongoing relevance for humanity today, i.e., the importance of what it “means.” Ladd thus refuses to regard New Testament theology as merely the history of early Christian experience. Ladd employs the historical-critical method, but in a modified form that allows him to remain open to the possibility of the transcendent and thus enables him to do justice to the content of the materials being studiedConsider the definite nature of the language in this paragraph above: the Bible is “the record of the acts of God for the redemption of the world,” and the “normative character of the New Testament witness”.
Now consider the conditional, almost shadowy way that Ratzinger, however, must characterize his own method in what follows:
I would like to sketch at least the broad outlines of the methodology, drawn from these documents [linked at the end of my last post], that has guided me in writing this book. The first point is that the historical critical method—specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith-is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work. For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnates est—when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history.
Look at how Ratzinger weasels his way through a message that he wants to sound like what Machen said above, but there are many hedges.
So for Ratzinger, the Bible is not “a record of historical events,” as Machen said. It only about historical events. At this point, we are one step removed from Machen. But Ratzinger posits something further.
If we push this history aside, Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion. So if history, if facticity in this sense, is an essential dimension of the Christian faith, then faith must expose itself to the historical method—indeed, faith itself demands this. I have already mentioned the conciliar Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum); it makes the same point quite explicitly in paragraph 12 and goes on to list some concrete elements of method that have to be kept in mind when interpreting Scripture. The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s document on the interpretation of Holy Scripture develops the same idea much more amply in the chapter entitled “Methods and Approaches for Interpretation.”Here, it’s important to call your attention to another distinction. For Ladd, “He sees his task as fundamentally a descriptive one, focusing on what the text “meant.” [And this is consistent with the historical-critical method, as Ratzinger described it here.] But since [Ladd] accepts the Bible as the record of the acts of God for the redemption of the world, he therefore accepts the normative character of the New Testament witness and its ongoing relevance for humanity today, i.e., the importance of what it “means” today.
The historical-critical method—let me repeat—is an indispensable tool, given the structure of the Christian faith. But we need to add two points. This method is a fundamental dimension of exegesis, but it does not exhaust the interpretive task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God. We will have to return to this point at greater length in a moment.
For the time being, it is important—and this is a second point—to recognize the limits of the historical-critical method itself. For someone who considers himself directly addressed by the Bible today, the method’s first limit is that by its very nature it has to leave the biblical word in the past. It is a historical method, and that means that it investigates the then-current context of events in which the texts originated. It attempts to identify and to understand the past—as it was in itself—with the greatest possible precision, in order then to find out what the author could have said and intended to say in the context of the mentality and events of the time. To the extent that it remains true to itself, the historical method not only has to investigate the biblical word as a thing of the past, but also has to let it remain in the past. It can glimpse points of contact with the present and it can try to apply the biblical word to the present; the one thing it cannot do is make it into something present today—that would be overstepping its bounds. Its very precision in interpreting the reality of the past is both its strength and its limit.
On the other hand, Ratzinger denies that the text, in its historical context means anything for us today. He very clearly separates “what the text meant” from “what the text means.”
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Just to step aside for a second, I want to bring up some comments that Nick has been making; most recently, Nick has been making comments on this topic that show that he really has not got the foggiest interaction with what real “biblical scholarship” entails, and he shows his total unfamiliarity with this world in some comments he’s made:
The sad truth of the last few decades is that "scholars" of the liberal and historical-critical camp generate lots of endorsements because they're part of a ring of elites in academia and publishing. (It's a fallacy to think that because someone is a scholar that they're automatically right or should be given consideration.) If someone like Lampe denies the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals and even says they contain blatant historical errors, then he's not a "conservative." He could be right in other departments or with other arguments, but that's case by case, and doesn't change the fact a rejection of Biblical inerrancy can never place a person in the "conservative" category.Note how Nick’s disavowal of “the liberal and historical-critical camp” is totally at odds with what Ratzinger has been saying in this introduction. He’s correct, to point out that we need to check things on a “case by case” basis. And as I’ve said, it is instructive to see just how little Lampe refers to the Scriptures in his primary work on the Church at Rome; rather, as I’ve said, his work is a vast compendium of all the primary sources that can be gleaned from that period.
From a Scriptural point of view, I don't see how I can trust someone who already admits the historical events in some parts of Scripture are wrong, because that just raises the question: how do you know these other historical events are right?
Nick also said:
At most your argument would amount to saying B16 is operating from a liberal MO.But isn’t this bad enough? We’ve established that Ratzinger is “liberal”. But not only that, but he, personally, and the whole Roman Catholic Church has adopted “the historical critical method.” Nick also said:
What's probably the most astonishing about all this is that I'm the one championing total Biblical inerrancy and inspiration as a non-negotiable for good, conservative Biblical exposition...while John has to take a more low-key approach to save face for his buddy Lampe (in order to keep him 'credible' enough to bash Catholics).Nick is making a category error here. He really has no idea what “inerrancy” is, he seems just to like saying the word. Lampe is incredibly credible, apart from any efforts of my own. His influence will continue. Nick’s disjointed statements here, however, provide yet another example of what Matthew Schultz has been saying for a long time. There is no value engaging with the opinions of individuals such as Nick.
And one more thing. Nobody is “bashing” Catholics. The Roman Church has largely re-calibrated its emphasis on the papacy over the last 50 years. No one can deny that. I’ve had Roman Catholics tell me that this is just plain out of the goodness of their hearts, out of a desire for “ecumenism”.
Instead, for a thousand years, the papacy has been like Leo DiCaprio in “Titanic” – standing on the bow of the ship, arms extended, proclaiming “I’m the King of the World!”
It is the papacy that has bashed the church of Christ. The papacy is as grotesque a distortion of Christianity as I can imagine; and given that such a posture was purchased at the cost of the forgeries and lies that went into it, the schism with the Greek speaking church, the abused trust of those who may have been good people who followed that wolf in sheep’s clothing; the briberies, the wars, the mass murders to achieve such domination.
It’s no small thing to unearth the historical details of how such a misshapen monster came to be.