[#] Analogy and Clarity: Scripture

One of the great parts of being a dad is living with your kids when they are growing up – except when they wake up at 1:30 in the morning, climb into your bed, and then proceed to kick you for the rest of the night so you don’t actually sleep in spite of having to work the next day.

Sure: I hear you. Don’t let them in the bed. Yeah. Whatever. That’s advice from non-parents in the same class as, “clean out the van every time you come home.” When you live that way for more than two days in a row, write a book for the rest of us idiots to read and from which to learn.

I say all that to note that it is not all downside when your son will not respect your need for 7 hours of sleep. I was able to crack open a few books last night regarding the matter of Scripture and whether it says anything of particular use, and I have a few thoughts on the matter which might be of value to the blog.

The first is this: anyone who is willing to either read or write has no business contesting the ability of the writer/reader relationship to take meaning from one end of the process and transmit it to the other end. I’m sorry: while I agree that in the strictest sense language is analogical, analogy is not a process by which the “real clear” meaning is lost or obscured beyond utility. We all love Van Til and Frame as brothers in Christ, but I agree with Robert Reymond when he says this:
    Christians should be overwhelmed by the magnitude of this simple truth that they take so much for granted – that the eternal God has deigned to share with us some of the truths which are on his mind. He condescends to elevate us poor undeserving sinners by actually sharing with us a portion of what he knows. Accordingly, since the Scripture require that saving faith be grounded in true knowledge (see Rom 10:13-14), the church must vigorously oppose any linguistic or revelational theory, however well-intended, that would take away from men and women the only ground of their knowledge of God and, accordingly, their only hope of salvation. Against the theory of human knowledge that would deny the possibility pf univocal correspondence at any point with God’s mind as to content, it is vitally important that we come down on the side of Christian reason and work with a Christian theory of knowledge that insists upon the possibility of at least some identity between the content of God’s knowledge and the content of man’s knowledge.
    (Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1998, Thomas Nelson, 102)(Italics from Reymond, underlined emphasis added)
To those who at this point say, “well, duh!” but then go on to complain about the use of historical/grammatical exegesis as a means of receiving the truth of Scripture, God spoke and wrote for the express purpose of being understood. Even Reymond, in outlining the WCF’s doctrinal confessions of Scripture, elaborates emphatically
    The Scripture’s doctrine of Scripture, espousing its own revelatory and inspired character, binds us to the grammatical/historical method of exegesis. … that each biblical document and each part of any given biblical document must be studied in its immediate literary context and the wider situation in which it was written. This will require an understanding of (1) the structure and idioms of the biblical languages, (2) a document’s literary genre (is it prose or poetry, history or allegory, parable or apocalypse?), (3) the document’s historical background, (4) its geographical conditions, and (5) its Sitz und Leben (“life-setting”), that is, what occasioned it? What problem or question did it intend to address? (Reymond, 49)
It is not arrogant (or, as Reymond points out, idolatrous) to read the text closely, critically, even grammatically to try to begin to comprehend it. It is in fact what Scripture calls us to do.

So what is the point of confessing that language is analogical? What does one actually mean by confessing that? Here’s what I mean, and you can take it for what it’s worth as it agrees with fellows like Gordon Clark and J.I. Packer: it is a terrible mistake to think that language is the thing itself, but it is equally damaging in the systematic sense to think that analogy, as Van Til has said, has no point of contact with the thing itself.

Reymond gives Clark’s example of knowledge about King David, but I’m going to offer another one which, I think, accounts for “more parts” of the problem. Let’s say that Timothy is in Ephesus, and of course God knows Timothy is in Ephesus. But Timothy is thinking about Jerusalem for a moment as he reads Paul’s letters, and he turns to face Jerusalem for whatever reason. Of course, Timothy does not have a GPS or even a geographically-exact map, so when he turns to face Jerusalem he turns roughly Southeast and thinks about the city.

Now think on this a second: God knows Timothy is in Ephesus, and knows that Jerusalem exists not at exactly 45º East off the North-South Longitude but more like 47.5º, so when Timothy is facing Southeast, he certainly does not know the position of Jerusalem as God does – he knows the position of Jerusalem “analogically”, which is to say well enough to get there from here, but not ontologically or categorically.

But there is a problem with taking this fact – that Timothy’s knowledge of Jerusalem is not as complete as God’s – and concluding that Timothy and God share no points of contact regarding the truth: both Timothy and God know that Jerusalem exists. In fact, they both know that Jerusalem and Timothy exist. Thus while Timothy’s knowledge of Jerusalem may be analogous to God’s knowledge of Jerusalem, it is illegitimate to say that God and Timothy share no qualitative coincidence. Timothy can know what Jerusalem is, and if he is there, even if he cannot know (as God does) how many people are there at any particular moment or at what point in redemptive history exactly Jerusalem finds itself in during Timothy’s lifetime – the hour and the day, so to speak.

This truth is underscored by Reymond who makes this particular point
    What I am urging here is that the success of any analogy turns on the strength of the univocal element in it. Or as Edward John Carnell has stated, the basis for any analogy is the nonagalogical, that is, the univocal.(97)
Speaking of man’s reception of, and understanding of, God’s truth as analogical does not change the fact that God intends man to know something in particular about Himself. Moreover, this analogical understanding of man’s understanding of God’s mind cannot be parlayed into enough skepticism or equivocation to overturn the exegetical apple cart.

So what’s the point? I think there are at least three:

(1) Opting to advance the position that Scripture truth is analogical truth (which I would do) is not the same thing as saying that univocal truth is obscured in such a way that man must find some other co-validators to help achieve some degree of certainty about a given text.

(2) Understanding the basis for analogy – which is, for those keeping score, foundational at its core – allows us to receive analogical data in epistemologically-reliable ways.

(3) Because the source (that is, God) of the analogy we are speaking of (that is, the Bible) is actually a univocal source and also the source of the actual truth being represented (that is, God), there is a strong basis to approach the text without fear of distortion, given the orthodox presupposition that the testimony of the Holy Spirit, removing the blindness of sin, allows man to see the testimony of Scripture.

I have to get ready for work now. I’m sure this will come up again.