Is the Bible “above” the Church? A Chat with Moses

11th c. Hebrew Bible manuscript with targum (explanation) in Aramaic
11th c. Hebrew Bible manuscript with targum (explanation) in Aramaic
I recently engaged in a sort of thought experiment about what it would be like for someone who believes that the Bible is “above” the people who actually produced it to have a chat with the earliest name associated with the production of the Scriptures. Here’s the result:

“Moses, Genesis is above you.”

“Um, I wrote it.”

“But it is above you.”

“Yeah, well, I wrote it, so I know what it says.”

“No, you are wrong, for it does not say what you say.”

“Dude, I saw God Himself on Sinai! I know what it means!”

“I can read the Scripture better than you, Moses. It’s obvious even to children.”

“Sure, but your kids don’t read proto-Hebrew. You know I wrote it in proto-Hebrew, right? And how do you know where the vowels go if I don’t tell you? And what about the bits that have my name on them but couldn’t have been written by me, such as my funeral? I was dead, you know.”

“God preserved it, even in my translation, Moses. And He set the canon. People just ‘recognized’ it. They didn’t make any actual choices.”

“Did God tell you to read it that way? And do you even know how much back-and-forth there was in canon formation? Looks like choices to me. You do know that Jews alive in Jesus’ time had different canons, right? Did you just pick your favorite Jewish sect to copy? I assume you also know about what they call the ‘oral Torah’ that is necessary to understand the ‘written Torah,’ right?”

“I don’t need that stuff. I know how to read it because it is obvious to all.”

“Tell that to the heretics.”

“Heretics are outside the boundaries of Scripture, Moses.”

“Says who? You?”

“The Bible, Moses.”

“My Bible doesn’t talk, man.”

“It’s obvious what it says, Moses! Even kids get it without any help!”

“Why isn’t it obvious to the heretics, then?”

“Because they are bad people.”

“So everyone who disagrees with you is bad?”

“Some are also ignorant. Some are maybe just too dumb to understand, I guess.”

“So everyone who disagrees with your reading of the Bible is either dishonest, uniformed or unintelligent?”

“How else could they be getting it wrong?”

“So, just collect all the honest, smart and well-read people in the world, and they will all read the Bible the same way. Right?”

“I don’t know, Moses. People make mistakes.”

“Do you think they ever found whole new denominations based on those mistakes?”

“Yes, but I can tell who’s wrong because the Scripture is above them.”

“I say you’re wrong. What do you say to that?”

“The Scripture is above you, Moses.”

*Moses mutters something colorful in Yiddish and walks off.*

11 comments:

  1. Dear Father Andrew,

    I love it! It is painfully funny because it is so true. We must bring them the light and teach our doctrines to them in a spirit of gentleness for they can only process so much at one time and in humility for we too are sinners. Indeed the fields are white.

    Regards,

  2. I wonder what the result would be if one were to replace the word[s] Bible [and] Scripture with “U.S. Constitution”
    and have a similar conversation; no, discussion I guess, with one of those who draughted and signed it.
    It seems to me that citizen A in a dispute with citizen B might argue the following:
    “It’s as plain as the nose on your face! The Constitution – lengthy citation- says so.”
    Citizen B says: “see you in Court…” to him,
    and so, if it should get so high, the Supreme Court will rule on what -lengthy citation- “means” as opposed to what it “says”; thereby setting a ‘precedent’ and establishing a ‘tradition.’
    I also wonder which of the authors J,E,P or D Moses was – or was he shall we say, the editor chief of them all?

  3. Humorous, but also a bit cynical. The real problem I see with this viewpoint is that so many “sola scriptura” professing people are actually not what they profess. They allow all sorts of influences to direct their views and only look to the Bible for validation of those viewpoints.

    I would love to see an article (of a more serious nature) discussing the parallels between laying the current cultural views (especially in North America) over the Bible to determine what it means and the Orthodox use of Tradition to determine the meaning(s) in the Scriptures (Orthodoxy having historical and divine precedent to do so while others simply set up Culture or Society as their god and use their Bible to validate the culture). I think the similarities and differences could make for a fascinating study.

  4. I wonder if someone on O&H could write concerning the issue of sola scriptura (not solo, as is the case for most baptists and general evangelicals) as the Reformed or Lutheran denominations view it, and the Orthodox response to it. The Magisterial Reformed have a more nuanced view of sola scriptura and posts like these, while helpful when speaking with run-of-the-mill evangelicals, do little to address the Magisterial Reformed’s view of the doctrine.

    John

      1. Father,

        Most often I hear from Magisterial Reformers (in the tradition of Calvin more than Luther from my personal experience) about the Westminster Confession of Faith and the use of Confessions, Creeds and tradition in general. But when confronted with posts like the one here I’m commenting on or the recent post at O&H on reasons why reading the Bible is tradition I am consistently told that they’d say almost the exact same thing, word for word, to Baptists and general evangelicals as you and others are saying to them in these sorts of posts. I admit my ignorance of how to approach such folks when talking about the role of Scripture with Reformed (high church) Calvinists and and Lutherans (those that follow the Augsburg Confession/Book of Concord). \

        John

      2. Father Bless!
        Matthison has the best popular level work on the subject. For a more “scholarly” book you might check out David T. King’s Holy Scripture: the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith.

        As you seem to have noted in your blog post sola vs. solo is a distinction without a difference. I remember reading Matthison’s book as a protestant and coming to that section awaiting the thundering power of the “real” protestant approach to the Scriptures and being severely disappointed. As you noted in your endnotes, Cross and Judisch have written two outstanding demolition jobs on Matthison’s position. I recently reread what Charles Hodge wrote in his systematic theology on sola scriptura and almost chuckling to myself in astonishment at how platitudinous and banal it was.

        Thank you for all that you do Father Andrew.

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