Upholding The Unity Of Scripture Today -- By: J. I. Packer

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 25:4 (Dec 1982)
Article: Upholding The Unity Of Scripture Today
Author: J. I. Packer

Upholding The Unity Of Scripture Today

J. I. Packer*

As it is natural for pendulums to swing, so it is also for academic opinion. Critiquing conventional wisdom and exploring alternatives that might fit the facts better is after all the name of the game, once our classes and grading are through. So it should cause no surprise that this century should have seen brisk oscillations of view regarding the unity and diversity of Scripture. Seventy years ago the liberal idea of an ultimate evolutionary pluralism in Scripture was in the ascendant. Reacting against this, Karl Barth and the pioneer British Biblical theologians developed theologically unitive hermeneutics based on Chalcedonian Christology and the concept of Heilsgeschichte respectively, and such theologians as T. F. Torrance on the Barthian side and Brevard Childs on the Biblical theology side still carry the torch for these approaches. (They have a good deal in common, of course.) But both these unitive approaches to interpretation are currently in eclipse, and the interest of academic Biblicists has come to center once more on forms and items of diversity in the canonical material. The common view, it seems, is that there is more to be learned from studying differences between the things that Biblical authors say than from noting their similarities. The pendulum has not swung back to unitive theologizing as yet.

So I may as well say at once that the views that I am going to express now are somewhat at a distance from the mainstream of professional theological thought in the west today. (I see no reason why that need worry either you or me, but I thought it best to come clean about it right at the start.)

I begin, now, by observing that in both east and west, in both reformed and unreformed churches, the traditional emphasis has been on the harmonious unity of the canonical Scriptures. Historically this emphasis went with a stress on their divinity as being in truth God’s message to the world, his instruction in faith and life—in other words, as being throughout God’s law (torah) in the Biblical sense of that term. Showing the internal unity of the Scriptures was then seen as part of the interpreter’s task. Interpretation accordingly was practiced, really if not always self-consciously, in terms of a specific model found both in Scripture and in all the cultures to which Christianity came—the model, namely, of the law of the land; and four ideas shaped and controlled the interpretative enterprise.

The first idea was of normarive content. Scripture was the heavenly Legislator’s didache, his teaching, his doctrina (to use the Latin equivalent beloved of Augustine and Calvin), from the explicit statements of which, both narrative and explanatory, we learn ...

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