HERMENEUTICS: Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei

This is the title of chapter two of CONFESSING THE IMPASSIBLE GOD: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility (CIG). The purpose of this chapter is to highlight the two most necessary hermeneutical principles that are required when doing theology – not only theology proper, as is the concern of CIG, but all theology. As the title states, these are the hermeneutical principles of Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei, which are the Latin phrases for The Analogy of Scripture and The Analogy of the Faith.

Before going forward, defining these most important hermeneutical principles, and stating where they come from, is necessary.

To put it simply, these principles are not formulated and then imposed upon Scripture, but rather, and drawn from the way that the Biblical writers themselves did theology. Thus, they come from Scripture, and so, from God – they are principles of understanding Scripture which the Author of Scripture imbedded in His Special Revelation to us, that we might not make the mistake of pitting Scripture against Scripture, but could rather understand it, and all the doctrines which it teaches us, by a synthesis of the whole.

Richard Mueller gives us excellent definitions of both these hermeneutical principles:

*Analogia Fidei – the analogy of faith; the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci (q.v., locus), as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae (q.v.), the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture.

*Analogy of Scripture – the interpretation of unclear, clear, difficult, or ambiguous passages of Scripture by comparison with clear and unambiguous passages that refer to the same teaching or event.[1]

Our Confession of Faith sets these principles out in the first chapter:

  1. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience… (LBC 1.1)

The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved (LBC 1:10).

That it is God who gives us guidance in all these things pertaining to His Word is also considered and plainly spoken in our confession:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts (LBC 1.5).

Taken together, we may surely say that what is being expounded by these principles has to do with the entirety of Scripture, both as our God has given it to us and confirms it within our spirit, and also as He has ensured to give us faithful men to continue to pass on His truth to other faithful men who will in turn teach others His great truths (2 Timothy 2:2: and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also).

This is the basis, then, of the chapter which we are reviewing. These hermeneutical principles, as they are drawn from Scripture, not only form the basis and the foundation for our Theology Proper (the Doctrine of God), but of all theology – all doctrines our God has delivered to us, and kept delivering to us through His faithful servants throughout the ages of His people – but give us that harmonized understanding of Scripture which allows us to know that Christ is the target of all Scripture, as well as what that has to do with both believers and unbelievers.

In this understanding and spirit, then, let us look at some of what is set forth in this second chapter of this theological work which is, I believe (as I have said formerly, and will continually present) the most important theological work of recent decades, and perhaps the last century.[2]

“The introductory comments above draw attention to the foundational importance of the interpretation and use of Scripture in the formulation and defense of any doctrine, no less than in the context of doctrinal differences. With regard to the doctrine of divine impassibility, the exegetical material is not generally in dispute, in terms of what texts need to be considered. In other words, the parties largely agree that the Scriptures speak of God repenting (e.g., Gen. 6:6-7) and of God not repenting (e.g., Num. 23:19). Differing doctrinal conclusions result from differing interpretations of the sense or meaning of such texts, considered both individually and in their necessary interrelation. In other words, hermeneutics is at the heart of the debate.”[3]

This points to the opening paragraph of chapter 2 of CIG, which asserts the same things as this review article’s opening remarks (only better). While Scripture is the norm for all our theology, the Reformed confessions, such as the 1689 LBC, may be considered ecclesiastical authorities which are normed by Scripture – that is, Scripture is that foundation upon which the confessions stand, and that source upon which they depend. Rather than taking the place of Scripture, they confess those doctrines of Scripture in a manner which churches who adhere to Scripture hold in agreement and common communion, to prevent deviation into separate interpretations. This has precedence from within Scripture according to apostolic tradition.[4]

Notice in the above quote that it says “differing doctrinal conclusions” and “hermeneutics” “is at the heart of the debate.”

It is the contention of this reviewer that the hermeneutics which lead to a reformulation of Theology Proper, in any regard, present a flawed, “from the creature to the Creator” set of doctrinal conclusions which are not properly either doctrinal, in an orthodox sense, or conclusions, in a rational sense. Such considerations that lead to modification of the Doctrine of God, in any of its parts, were unheard of, in historical theology, until after the 17th century.[5]

Sadly, there are many evangelical, Calvinistic theologians who are widely sought for lectures, who teach and write many books – even commentaries – who propound the modification of Theology Proper. A Noteworthy example is D.A. Carson, who states, concerning classical Theism:

The methodological problem with the argument for divine impassibility is that it selects certain texts of Scripture, namely those that insist on God’s sovereignty and changelessness, constructs a theological grid on the basis of those selected texts, and then uses this grid to filter out all other texts, in particular those that speak of God’s emotions. These latter texts, nicely filtered out, are then labeled “anthropomorphisms” and are written off.[6]

Ronald Baines notes that “Carson simplistically mischaracterizes their (Classical, Confessional Theologians) use of Scripture…” and “What is perplexing with Carson’s objections to both classical impassibility and present day versions of passibility is that he fails to provide a hermeneutical framework for dealing with the biblical material. He offers no alternative “category of explaining the texts” of Scripture which need to be understood in order to formulate a coherent doctrine of God.”[7]

Baines continues: “What is objectionable, however, is Carson’s unwillingness to engage the central hermeneutical questions related to the doctrine of divine impassibility in a serious and substantive fashion. For instance, to suggest that texts are ‘labeled ‘anthropomorphisms’ and are written off”’ is simply not the case, nor is it accurate to suggest that classical impassibilists teach the following:”

“You may then rest in God’s sovereignty, but you can no longer rejoice in his love. You may rejoice only in a linguistic expression that is an accommodation of some reality of which we cannot conceive, couched in the anthropopathism of love. Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14–21).”[8]

Such broad-brushing without actually treating of the texts of Scripture that deal with both God’s essence, existence and acts, according to His decree, are less than helpful. Indeed, one would think that our brother Carson, so well acquainted with the Biblical text, would investigate fully, but it is plain that the philosophical considerations which stem from the enlightenment of the 18th century onward, which a good brother has rightly, and often, called “the endarkenment,” [9] are at play in such statements without substantiation as “give me a break.” The “break,” then, is from proper theology as it was practiced throughout the church age, from the Patristics who warred against heresy onward, and the formulations they necessarily defended from the heretics. While not all doctrines held from the early church onward may be considered universal (catholic), and to be held by the catholic body of believers worldwide today, such is certainly not the case with the Doctrine of God, Christology, and a number of other doctrines, and to fail to heed and hold orthodox, catholic historical theology has led the church of this modern age into errors that were dealt with decisively early on in the church’s toddler years.

Ron Baines continues:

What is perplexing with Carson’s objections to both classical impassibility and present day versions of passibility is that he fails to provide a hermeneutical framework for dealing with the biblical material. He offers no alternative “category of explaining the texts” of Scripture which need to be understood in order to formulate a coherent doctrine of God…While we will deal with this in greater detail below, no classical impassibilist that we have encountered reads Paul this way. Doesn’t Paul affirm that the love he wants the Ephesians to know is that which “surpasses knowledge”? Classical impassibility seeks to maintain that God’s love is not dismissed nor diminished, while at the same time affirming that it is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, something human love can never be. Further, it affirms that God’s love is essential while love in us is accidental, and that the differences are not quantitative but quidditative.[10] The doctrine of classical impassibility does not diminish or make meaningless the love of God, but places it in the larger context of God’s glorious transcendence. For this reason, Carson’s misrepresentation of classical impassibility is deeply unfortunate…[11]

It is unfortunate that there are theologians of no lack of ability who have yet not considered that same ability in those whom they laud and stand upon the shoulders of, regarding so much of historical Christianity, who are yet so ready to dismiss that which those whose shoulders they stand, and depend upon, to the tune and tenor of that which passes for evangelical scholarship nowadays, and yet ignores and discharges that which went before them in the name of a logic which reasons from the creator to the Creator, rather than the Scriptural formulae of vice-versa.

What is objectionable, however, is Carson’s unwillingness to engage the central hermeneutical questions related to the doctrine of divine impassibility in a serious and substantive fashion. For instance, to suggest that texts are “labeled ‘anthropomorphisms’ and are written off” is simply not the case, nor is it accurate to suggest that classical impassibilists teach the following: “You may then rest in God’s sovereignty, but you can no longer rejoice in his love. You may rejoice only in a linguistic expression that is an accommodation of some reality of which we cannot conceive, couched in the anthropopathism of love. Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14–21).”[12]

Ronald Baines rightly observes:

While we will deal with this in greater detail below, no classical impassibilist that we have encountered reads Paul this way. Doesn’t Paul affirm that the love he wants the Ephesians to know is that which “surpasses knowledge”? Classical impassibility seeks to maintain that God’s love is not dismissed nor diminished, while at the same time affirming that it is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, something human love can never be. Further, it affirms that God’s love is essential while love in us is accidental, and that the differences are not quantitative but quidditative. The doctrine of classical impassibility does not diminish or make meaningless the love of God, but places it in the larger context of God’s glorious transcendence. For this reason, Carson’s misrepresentation of classical impassibility is deeply unfortunate.[13]

It is a sad commentary on modern evangelicalism’s manner of looking at Theology Proper that such statements as Carson makes here ignore the historical evidence of the many orthodox theologians who have benefitted us so much by being of those who have been taught of faithful men, who have in turn taught others (2 Timothy 2:2).

The rest of this chapter from CIG interacts with these misapprehensions, as well as delivering the true content of Scripture regarding the doctrine of our God and the blessing of His constancy, of which impassibility (a subset of Immutability) is a consideration. Additionally, the importance of the analogia fidei and the analogia Scriptura, which guide all orthodox and Reformed theologians in the past (and present, if I may be so bold) are given, with examples, within the remainder of this important chapter. Since these have been defined above, and it is beyond the scope of this present article to cover the entire chapter, our suggestion to the readers of this article is that they obtain this most important book for themselves, to determine what true of our unchanging (and as unchanging, so impassible) God.

This book is a milestone in the modern considerations of Theology Proper (Doctrine of God). While this writer will be reviewing each chapter separately, these reviews are in no way intended to take the place of such a keystone of practical, pastoral scholarship as this book represents (i.e. READ THE BOOK). All that fail to consider this book’s contribution to Theology Proper simply propagate the problem that has taken place in far too many modern treatments of this doctrine – again, as stated in 2 Timothy 2:2, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

That is what is going on in this chapter, and subsequent chapters which will be reviewed. Let the reader be forewarned, and so informed. Holding to modern formulations of Theology Proper runs the great risk of ignoring what God has seen fit to teach us through the ages – those who will not listen to the voices of those informed by the Holy Spirit, regarding His inspired Scriptures, run the risk of novelty which, ignoring the voices of the past on this most important doctrine, may well fall into, and lead those they teach into, that which was called heresy in the early church, and will also be recognized as the same in today’s church.

[1] Richard A. Muller. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Kindle Locations 325-327). Kindle Edition.

[2] The reason for this continued heralding of this work should be clear to the reader, but to lay it out in brief: All doctrine, including the doctrine of Scripture itself, rests upon the Author of Scripture, to wit, God. All else in His revelation is dictated and affected by He who is the Revelator. Where men argue from the creature to the Creator, at just that point – and all points in their theology beyond that point – they have skewed both Scripture and our understanding of He who gave us His Special Revelation.

[3] CIG, chapter 2, pgs. 81-82

[4] 2 Tim. 2:2: and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

[5] The material which addresses the rise of such modifications to Theology Proper will be found in subsequent chapters of CIG, as well as the resources addresses in the footnotes of those chapters.

[6] 4 D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2006), 165. As cited in CIG, chapter 2, pg. 82

[7] CIG, chapter 2, pg. 82 – further, in footnote 6 of that chapter, Baines further notes “Carson acknowledges that “metaphors litter the descriptions” of God in Scripture which are “suggestive of his profound emotional life.” Unfortunately, he provides little to no framework for dealing with these “metaphors” in a way that makes sense of the whole of scriptural revelation. As with many present day evangelicals, he further confesses that God suffers, but that “God’s suffering is not exactly like ours” (166). The problem with such claims is that he is critical of classical impassibilists for calling the language anthropopathic (a form of metaphor) while acknowledging them to be metaphorical. Nor does he ever explain how they can be metaphorical and yet speak directly to God’s “profound emotional life.” Furthermore, he does not adequately address the passages that speak of God in emotive terms, such as his relenting, while Scripture also declares that God does not relent. We cannot simply ignore these apparently contrary affirmations, but must seek to harmonize them in a logically and theologically defensible way. In his own case, Carson ultimately offers an approach that is similar to that of Rob Lister and others by affirming that “God is never controlled or overturned by his emotions” (167).

[8] Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, pg. 59. As cited in CIG, pg. 84 – NOTE – This reviewer has read this book by D.A. Carson, and highly recommends it, with the noted caution of discernment regarding the modification of Theology Proper which has been duly noted within both this article and the chapter it reviews in CIG.

[9] This good brother is Dr. Richard Barcellos, also a contributor and editor of CIG.

[10] This word means “as regarding essence” (my definition) or “Chiefly Philosophy. Of or relating to the ‘quiddity’ or essence of a person or thing; essential. (Entry from British & World English dictionary, accessed on Oxford Dictionaries site for free, 1/12/2016, at https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/quidditative

[11] CIG, chapter 2, pgs. 83-84

[12] CIG, chapter 2, pgs. 83, 84 – the quote from D.A. Carson is from Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of God’s Love, 59.  While this writer recommends Carson’s book to many, the caution that he modifies the Doctrine of God must be emphasized – if the Doctrine of God’s Love is Dangerous, as the title of our good brother’s book suggests, it must be said that modifying the Doctrine of God as he does is ever so much more dangerous.

[13] CIG, pg. 84

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One thought on “HERMENEUTICS: Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei

  1. Pingback: HERMENEUTICS: Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei | Reformedontheweb's Blog

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