Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Further Response to TGE (Part II)
04/05/2005 - James White
1) Did Hebrews 8 have a meaning when it was penned originally under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God? Yes. (But that meaning isn't necessarily identifiable with the assured results of the distinctly Modern and scientific type of hermeneutics that Dr. White practices.)What is "modern" about the examination of the text in its original context? Isn't the whole point of exegesis to allow us to "hear" the text in its ancient context, in its ancient setting? Isn't the imposition of some later tradition truly the "modern" viewpoint, the "modern" concept?
2) Was that meaning understandable to the audience to which it was written? Yes. (But Dr. White doesn't think about Scripture or live it out like that audience,How does Mr. Enloe know this? Does Mr. Enloe think about Scripture or live it out like the original audience of Hebrews by making reference to a Presbyterian form of church government?
for whom Scripture was part of a full-orbed culture, not a standalone text conveying all things only with its bare words interpreted via grammatical techniques.)I reject this repeated, yet, honestly, meaningless mantra. Standalone? WCF 31 is the context of the text to the original audience, perhaps? Bare words? We keep asking for where this "clothing" is---what clothing did the text have for the original audience that I have stripped from it that Enloe has kept by holding a particular ecclesiology or by studying the views of people who lived 1200 years after the writing of Hebrews?
3) Is that meaning obtainable today? Yes. (But perhaps it’s somewhat harder to do so than Dr. White appears to think it is?)Why? Why can't Mr. Enloe show this from my written works? Even if, as it seems obvious, Mr. Enloe has not read any of my recent works, surely he has enough to work from to demonstrate something concrete here, but he simply refuses to do so. This has been one of the great problems in attempting to dialogue with Mr. Enloe over the past many months: asking for concrete examples is met with this kind of nebulous response, and when this is pointed out, we are told that *we* are the ones who believe in abstract "eternal truths" that "float about in our heads." It truly makes it impossible to come to any conclusions when one side simply won't touch down to earth long enough to provide solid examples to examine. Elsewhere Mr. Enloe commented, "Several, including me, have said that proper exegesis is more difficult than the methodology James White uses." OK, which specific elements of my hermeneutic methodology are wrong, Mr. Enloe? Is it the examination of lexical meanings in a historical context? Semantic domains? Syntactical analysis? Discourse analysis? What is it? Can you answer, directly, clearly, specifically?
4) Has the meaning of Hebrews 8 changed since it was written? No. (But whether Dr. White grasps that meaning when he filters Hebrews 8 through a distinctly Modern individualistic tradition is up for debate--and that debate is not determined by how good Dr. White is at manipulating the symbol system that is Koine Greek.)Then how DO you know what Hebrews 8 meant when written if you do not START with the text as it was written in the context in which it was written? And if my "distinctly Modern individualistic tradition" is so patent, so obvious, so clear, why can't Mr. Enloe document it? It should be so very easy to do this, should it not? For example, I will be debating Robert Wilkin in Oklahoma City in just a few weeks. I am reading and studying his writings, of course, in preparation for the debate (thank the Lord for the Libronics library system!). I wonder, truly, if I am even able to actually know what Wilkin teaches, since I am applying the same standards of exegesis to his writings. But in any case, Wilkin provides examples of his "exegesis" of Scripture, say, John 2:23-24, regarding his belief that any act of faith in the truth, no matter if it lasts but a moment, brings salvation. Now, I interact with his assertions on the basis of the text, context, context of John (the "Johannine corpus"), and the rest of Scripture. Am I wrong to even make this attempt? Is it useless? Is this just one Modernist battling another Modernist without ever touching the real meaning of John 2? If so, can Enloe prove it? If not, why not?
5) Is there a different meaning for Hebrews 8 today that is other than the meaning it had when it was written? No. (But that's why historical theology is more foundational than systematic theology, and also why factors outside of grammatical technology are more foundational than competence with grammatical technology.)What is historical theology? How does Enloe define it? Does he define it as someone in the patristic period would have defined it? If not, does that not make him a "Modernist" of some sort? What factors outside of "grammatical technology" define the meaning of the phrase "which has been enacted on better promises" in Hebrews 8:6, specifically? I say one defines that phrase on the basis of 1) the lexical meanings of the words; 2) the grammatical forms; 3) the syntactical relationships the terms and phrases bear to one another; 4) the meaning of the phrase in the sentence; 5) the sentence's meaning in the paragraph in which it is found; 6) the meaning of the discourse itself in the context of Hebrews. I challenge Mr. Enloe to explain the meaning of the phrase without engaging these factors FIRST. How else can Mr. Enloe "hear" the Word of God? Is he content to let some kind of magisterium mediate it to him without his encountering it directly?
6) When the WCF says the Bible in its original languages was immediately inspired by God and hence, "so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them" (1:8), how did I do anything but make final appeal to them, in their original languages, in my exegesis of Hebrews 8? Anyone can "appeal" to the Scriptures as their "final" authority.Of course: is this to say that one cannot tell when someone is doing so in a meaningful and consistent fashion, and when they are not?
I do myself, and have seen scores of additional examples in the historical record. This is why questions of assumptions that are brought to Scripture are important. I find it odd that Dr. White admits the influence of "pre-exegetical" factors in the exegetical works of, say, the Church Fathers, but fails to admit the influence of such factors in his own exegetical work.I once again simply invite Mr. Enloe to end this debate by documenting the fact of my errors in exegesis---which is NOT the same as simply pointing to differences in conclusions based upon the same text. This is where we have always found Mr. Enloe to back away from the challenge, as he has done repeatedly in response to crewbear, an engineer and regular in our chat channel, who has so painfully clearly laid out what Enloe needs to do to back up his claims.
Further, I doubt Dr. White's understanding of the cultural decline from Medieval Christendom into the secular Enlightenment.Let's say this is true. Let's say Tim Enloe is the greatest living expert on the subject of Medieval Christendom on the planet. If in fact Hebrews 8 had a meaning before the medieval period, and that meaning has not changed, what precludes me, Mr. Ignorant-of-Medieval-History, from knowing that meaning? Please, be specific. Examples. Facts.
I don’t think he grasps how this terrible transition shaped all the post-Reformation controversies between Christians. For instance, he blithely speaks of Medieval Christendom as a “sacralist” entity (sort of like the “cultural religion” he accuses the Orthodox of having?), but he seems to have no time for discussing his basically Modernist assumptions about religion and culture—the very things which underly his charge of “sacralism”.Wonderful. Exciting. But, could Mr. Enloe explain how this determines the meaning of Hebrews 8 and the exegetical methodology one must use to avoid nuda scriptura and in fact practice sola scriptura so as to hear God's voice today with clarity?
This is exactly what he does to Scripture itself, but it’s difficult to argue this point with him because he constantly redirects attention from it and begs the important questions.I will allow the reader to determine who is begging the questions here. :-)
He doesn’t want to discuss John Locke because like Locke he has trouble admitting his intellectual debts (debts, that is, to tradition). He doesn’t want to discuss Rene Descartes because like Descartes he simply takes for granted his own native language and all the categories of thought with which it has shaped his mind. He wants to do exegesis without doing the necessary prolegomena. How can discussion take place on such a basis?And, if this is true, Mr. Enloe should be able to post my exegesis of Text X and easily, clearly show us all where his "necessary prolegomena" determines the reading of the text in opposition to my own reading, correct? I anxiously await this demonstration.
Dr. White asks how his exegesis implies nuda scriptura since he agrees with WCF 1. I’ve already pointed to WCF 31 as the necessary corollary of the Confession’s Scripture principle, but let me restate the point. Unless I am quite mistaken, Dr. White's exegesis is fundamentally disconnected from a concept of "the Church" that is bigger than an autonomous local assembly operating in terms of intellectually autonomous individuals.The only term I can come up with in response to such a statement comes from my recent time in the UK: "rubbish." I'm sorry, but anyone who has read my published works on the topic, including my defense of the church against Camping, can judge for themselves. Mr. Enloe wants to impugn my teaching without doing what any honest person would have to do: read my teaching. When he has done so, he can take a second shot.
This is a basically “Lockean” tradition overlaying Dr. White’s entire theological project. It acts as a filter for his exegesis, and I think it reduces all authority outside of the private individual’s own head to phantasms.Isn't the weather today wonderful? How about them Suns? Best road record in the NBA. (My comments are as relevant as the above).
As expressed by Locke himself here and here, it leaves us with a church which doesn’t have any publicly-binding ministerial authority over the autonomous individual congregants. I believe that Dr. White is a Lockean, and that’s why I say that he holds to nuda / solo Scriptura.Mr. Enloe has not a clue what he is talking about. :-) Given he has had every opportunity in the world to educate himself, but has derived his conclusions based upon ignorance, I shall not invest the time in attempting to re-educate him.
Dr. White takes up my remarks on The Forgotten Trinity. He asks if I believe the Scriptures “don’t teach the doctrine of the Trinity outside of an external framework of tradition”. That’s the wrong question.No, it is a necessary, vital question, even if Enloe's system cannot answer it.
What I believe is that nobody is a sui generis intellect contemplating timeless abstractions solely on the basis of high competence with grammatical technology.I don't know anyone who does believe such a thing, of course. :-) That's why there are rules of exegesis, as has been explained to Mr. Enloe countless times in the past by numerous people.
I don’t believe that White’s exegesis in The Forgotten Trinity is wrong, but neither do I believe that he arrived at any of his positions in an intellectual vacuum. That’s why I cited Rushdoony on the enduring influence of Chalcedon on the Western concept of “personhood”. Did Dr. White understand that point, or the similar point I made about the Latin juridical tradition’s influence upon Western exegesis?The question is not whether historical writers were influenced by cultural conditioning: the question is, do I believe what I believe today on the basis of, say, an Augustinian interpretation of a text in his work on the Trinity that I would reject on textual grounds? I say no. Does Enloe say yes? I happen to know a lot about those influences, but I don't spend my time talking about them, nor do I find a lot of reason to include such issues in my teaching. I find God's people to be significantly more interested in hearing the Word of God. But that does not mean I am not very aware of many of the things Mr. Enloe thinks are somehow the private purview of the elite. The question remains, is the Trinity a biblical doctrine or not? If my exegesis was correct in the book, then how did I violate sola scriptura?
Dr. White asks if I believe in testing traditions according to Matthew 15:1-4. Of course I do. I deny that Dr. White’s view of how to test traditions is correct. I believe that Scripture is inspired and the only infallible rule of faith. I deny that Scripture is the only functional authority, and / or that other proposed functional authorities ultimately resolve into the private individual autonomously exegeting the Bible while pretending to be uninfluenced by external factors. I believe that Scripture is enduringly relevant to the Church. I deny that Scripture teaches “timeless truths”. What is a “timeless truth”, anyway?Personally, I think there is something to the common sense observation that if you can't answer a straight question there is probably something wrong with your position as a whole. And though Mr. Enloe believes it is because the rest of us just aren't as smart as the folks at NSA or others, the fact of the matter is, answering questions like the above in a tortured manner is indicative of a problem on his part, not ours. Let's try to unpack this, if we can.
If Mr. Enloe believes in testing traditions according to Matthew 15:1-4, how does he do so in a way that is substantively different than I do, in accordance with that text? Specifics, please. What is my "view" of how to test traditions? Where did he get it? References, please. Specifics. Examples. Since I do not deny that there are functional authorities below Scripture, why does Enloe misrepresent me? It is a straw-man, oft refuted, and unworthy of repetition, to say that "other proposed functional authorities ultimately resolve into the private individual autonomously exegeting the Bible while PRETENDING to be uninfluenced by external factors." If Mr. Enloe wants to continue beating that drum, he will have to start coming up with meaningful examples that survive examination, and thus far, he has completely failed to do so.
Mr. Enloe denies that Scripture teaches timeless truths. That would mean, evidently, that the truth the Bible teaches must change over time, yes? If the truth of God's creatorship, for example, is not timeless, that is true in every time, in every culture, in every generation, in all ways and at all times, then why did Enloe say Hebrews 8 has a meaning that has *not* changed over time? Or, has Enloe been operating with a false view of what a "timeless truth" would be anyway? That is, just because something is timelessly true does not mean it does not, inevitably, impact each and every generation.
Lastly, Dr. White asks me how I identify the difference between divine truth and human tradition. He asks subsidiary questions that assume the worst of my view (probably in keeping with his inadequate understanding of “postmodernism”)Or, possibly, because of Mr. Enloe's inadequate understanding of the same?
and claims that I’ve repeatedly failed to give specific answers to “real simple” questions. Not so. Against all these questions I say that the issue is not whether truth can be known, but how it’s known; not about whether Scripture is the final authority, but how that final authority is administered. My answers are based on different historical and theological assumptions than the ones White holds, which is why talking about things other than grammatical technology is importantI think this is a very convoluted way of saying "I can make whatever allegations against White I wish to, and, when asked to substantiate those assertions, I really don't have to. I can simply say that his assumptions are wrong, mine are right, and given my right assumptions, he is wrong." The problem is, as we have shown many times, on any logical or rational basis, the accusations he makes requires him to provide the very kind of proof he says he is not under any obligation to give!