Friday, 1 July 2011

Applying modern scholarship to Christian scripture: a fundamental error


Who were the authors of the Gospels; and when were they written?

Was St John the Apostle also St John the Evangelist; and was he/ they the same person as St John of the Revelations; and did he also write St John's Epistles (one or both)?

Was Dionysius the Aeropagite a disciple of the Apostle Paul, or someone who lived some hundreds of years later (the Pseudo-Dionysius)?


Such questions, but especially the methods used for answering them, have had a deeply corrosive effect on Christianity over the past couple of hundred years.

The methods used have been - in a word - scholarly.

And the scholarship has inbuilt secular assumptions.


This means that Christianity is now seen by many to hinge on scholars, and the processes of scholarship, and the funding and fashions of scholarship, and the limitations and specialisms of scholarship...

And, since the process of scholarship is open-ended, and scholarly conclusions are continually being revised - this means that Christianity itself is seen to be undecided, evolving, and at any moment subject to radical revisions due to some unforseen 'discovery'.

And scholarship is secular.

Consequently, Christianity has declined from The Truth, to research findings.


So, we find that major points of modern Christian controversy are being argued on the basis of things like history, translation and archaeology; that is, apparently the modern situation is taht Christian understanding of 'right and wrong' - how Christians are supposed to live - is being (presumably because we believe it ought to be) decided on the basis of very precise scholarly nuances in the interpretation of inferred meanings of certain ancient texts seen in their social context.

All of this has the assumption that we simply discard (and explain away - as a consequence of their social situation) the tradition of Christians for the past two millennia. Because their views are automatically invalidated since they lacked modern scholarly knowledge and methods...

(When St Paul said X, was that really said by St Paul, and if so was this perhaps a scribal error, or a mistranslation, or a later editorial addition, or does the phrase - properly understood - have a double meaning, and anyway what did he mean in the specific context of his time ???... )


Or else we could acknowledge that this whole approach to the scholarly validation of scripture is crazy and misguided.

It is not that scholarship has gone 'too far' but that the whole enterprise was an error: root and branch.

And the whole apparatus of scholarship applied to scripture needs to be discarded.

(Harsh, I realize - but necessary...)


Ask yourself: Is the meaning of Christianity - the meaning, purpose and nature of human existence - to be put into the hands of scholars whose expertise is secular in essence and assumptions?

Whose whole method is based on subtracting the possibility of divine revelation and divine intervention in human affairs?

Whose whole method is non-Christian?


Surely the meaning of Christianity ought to be determined now in the way it has been determined until recently in the 2000 year history; by the discernment of those who are holiest, those who have the greatest understanding and experience of God; and not those who have the greatest mastery of paleography and ancient languages?


It all depends on whether you acknowledge the principle of divine inspiration, and the authority of those Saints and advanced religious who transmitted revelation through the centuries.

If you do not acknowledge the authority of this mystical 'tradition', then you are left entirely in the hands of the modern secular scholars - whose methods make no judgment of, hence exclude the possibility and possibilities of, divine revelation.

(And even if they did not exclude divine revelation, since modern scholars are very seldom (or never) themselves advanced in holiness, they certainly would not be able to make the necessary discernments concerning the validity of revelation.)


So, given that modern-era scholarship is radically incomplete in terms of its evidentiary base and given that it is performed by people inadequately qualified in terms of their sanctity - then it really has nothing whatsoever to say about the authorship of scriptures and holy books.

All that modern-era religious scholarship is doing is playing a subversive game; making the deadly assumption that divine inspiration doesn't exist, is not real, cannot be real; and then treating scripture just like any non-inspired historical text, and seeing what happens...

Then forgetting (deliberately forgetting) that their initial assumption invalidates any and all conclusions...


By contrast, if we go by the idea of the question of divine inspiration being evaluated by those who are themselves divinely-inspired (who are themselves advanced in holiness; and therefore in a position to 'detect', to understand and to evaluate divinely inspired texts) - then there is seldom any problem.

The creation of the canon of Christian scripture, was decided by this means: inspired men evaluating inspired texts.

The decision was that all the divinely-inspired content of the St John's of the New Testament (Gospel, Epistles, Revelation) derive from the authorship of the same man - insofar as that is how they were evaluated by many generations of Holy Fathers whose sanctity far outstrips that of any person alive today.

And the substantive authorship of the texts traditionally attributed to  Dionysius the Aeropagite indeed lies with a disciple of St Paul - and not some figure centuries hence.


And when there is disagreement among the Holy Fathers and Saints, then it needs to be settled by comparisons of their authority and sanctity, and their views of other Holy Fathers and Saints - and not by modern-era scholarship of whatever type.


Once the authorship is established in this fashion, then there is scope for what are really trivial and optional conjectures about how texts may have been transmitted by various combinations of oral tradition, formal teaching, discipleship, copying and translation of written texts, editing and compilation of such texts etc.

All of this (it must be presumed) under some form of divine inspiration such that the revelatory essence is preserved for those competent to understand it.

It ought not to be a big issue, it is not a genuine challenge for faith, because in our era there are few - perhaps none - alive who are competent to make scriptural discernments.


In sum, Western culture has made the logical error of allowing its Christian faith to be eroded by scholarly methods which treat scripture just like other texts.

But, if you believe that scripture is just like other texts, then you do not believe in scripture: indeed you do not believe in even the possibility of scripture.


So, it is not so much the conclusions of biblical scholarship which are erosive, but its assumptions and its methods.

To accept as relevant to faith the scholarly method of treating scripture 'just like other texts' is, in and of itself, to accept the assumption that scripture is just like other texts - to accept that scripture is of merely human authorship - to accept that scripture is not divinely inspired in any meaningful sense.

To base faith on scholarship is to accept that Christianity should hand-itself-over to secular institutions.


We modern men are spiritual pygmies in a low and corrupt era, therefore we can have nothing new and true to say about such matters as scriptural authorship. The proper attitude is to learn and accept the tradition of discernment from those far better than ourselves.