A “Rules of Affinity” Objector

I’m not ready with my new post so I thought this response to someone who assailed the Rules of Affinity might be of use in clarifying why they are helpful.  His argument is bereft of any biblical interaction or falsification of the “Rules” by the “Rules.”  This has become quite typical.  I see no need to name the objector in this venue, although his full argument is at SI, who have kindly hosted the RoA here: http://sharperiron.org/article/rules-of-affinity-part-5-clarifying-purpose

I shall refer to the Objector as CO.

CO “I wanted to wait for the series to finish before I posted any thoughts. I think it has at least gone long enough for me to put out some ideas.

I am not taken with this idea, because I do not think that measuring affinity between the wording of a particular text and any theological propositions that refer to that text is useful or even relevant. At most, it tells us only something that it patently obvious: that a particular theologian does or does not replicate the wording of a text.

So if a theologian says that he believes that justification is by faith he is not telling us anything relevant, but, presumably, if one says justification is by standing on one’s head he is?  The departure from the Bible’s own wording is what opens the door to that which is useful and relevant?

CO: Consider, for instance, your comparison of the two commentators on Rev. 7. [link section 3] You call them two “interpretive views.” An interpretation is by definition the explanation of the meaning of something.

The word “interpretation” is used by biblical scholars in several different ways, one of which is “an understanding of the intent of the author.”  So, in Jn. 21:20-23 we read:

Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23 This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”

According to your ideas of interpretation, only the false story of verse 23a is an interpretation.  What then was the correct interpretation?  Perhaps verse 23b fits the bill?  You would say “No, all v.23b is doing is “replicating the wording of the text” which is neither useful nor relevant.”  But to most people verse 23b is pointing to the meaning of something.

As far as Rev. 7 goes, may I issue you with a challenge?  What would a “literal” interpretation of those verses would look like?  What if the meaning of the words is present in the words as plainly understood (as above)?  What if the text means what it says?

If someone tells me “shut the door” I should think, having interpreted the meaning correctly, to do just that.  When Jesus, in Lk. 10:26, asked the lawyer, “What is written in the law?  What is your reading (anaginoskeis) of it?,” and was given a replication (possibly) of Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18, He seemed to be satisfied with that as an understanding and thus an interpretation.  He said, “You have answered rightly, do this and you will live.” (Lk. 10:28).  The meaning was on the very surface of the words.  If it wasn’t, how could the lawyer “do” them?

Communication involves a text and an interpretation.  If you say, “My name is CO,” the correct interpretation of your words is to call you CO, not Horace or Sam.  Interpretation is present anywhere comprehension is present.

This is done precisely by drawing inferences or parallels between one thing and other things.

In some cases it is, and in others it isn’t.  If J.B. Smith thinks a correct interpretation of Rev. 7:4-8 is that the 144,000 “from every tribe of the sons of Israel” really are 144,000 “from every tribe of the sons of Israel,” what would be a good way to communicate it?  Surely you can see that to deny his view the status of an interpretation (while permitting Johnson’s view that the 144,000 is not 144,000 and that the tribes of the sons of Israel” is the Church) is to rule out a priori any prima facie interpretations?  What then happens when we come to the Gospel?  Setting aside the American War of Independence and Shakespeare [which he directed me to] and instead focusing on the Bible, I want you to explain this from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q33:What is Justification?

A:Justification is an act of Gods free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins1, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight2, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us3, and received by faith alone4.
1.In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7, KJV).
2.For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2Corinthians 5:21, KJV).
3.As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (Romans 5:19, KJV).
4.Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ. (Galatians 2:16, KJV).

What would qualify as an interpretation of it?  There is very close affinity between the wording of the Question and the texts used to support it.  I would say that was a good thing and both useful and relevant.  Presumably you would not?  Only if something quite different was stated as justification would we have an interpretation?  Granting such a thesis, can’t you see that the only things that would qualify as “interpretations” would be false statements of justification.  But the statement “we are justified by faith,” even if it restates Rom. 5:1, is surely a candidate as an interpretation of Scripture’s teaching (if it is comprehended) as “we are justified by standing on our heads.”?  Just because the second statement does not resemble any text of Scripture and the first statement almost reproduces it does not mean only the second can be considered an interpretation while the first is a “replication.”  

CO: In any case, that first comment is not in any way an interpretation: it is simply the words rephrased and summarized. The person who reads that comment has no greater understanding of the significance of the text than he did after he read the text by itself. It is rather an un-interpretation.

Then every statement of faith or Confession which asserts the major doctrines by appealing to clear scriptures is an “un-interpretation.”  I beg to differ!

But let me present you with another little challenge (your first is to demonstrate how Smith could believe the 144,000 of the tribes of the sons of Israel” etc., could be presented as an interpretation).  You say, [quote] The person who reads that comment has no greater understanding of the significance of the text than he did after he read the text by itself. It is rather an un-interpretation.[/quote] Could you provide me with an interpretation of that statement?  Be sure not to simply rephrase or summarize it.  To do so would be to give an “un-interpretation.”

This brings me to the Positive Application of the “Rules.”  In that post I said: “All the doctrines listed below can be established via C1 or C2 formulations, with some C3s supporting.  Even if, due to a blind spot, I may be inferring more than is there in the text, I can be corrected with these same rules.  None of the major biblical doctrines are established with C4s or C5s!

The propositions below are examples of what might be predicated of each doctrine in an evangelical Statement of Faith.”

You have decided to join the conversation at the last with:

“Your rules of affinity seem to be concerned only with a one-to-one correspondence between a text and a claim, so I find them less than useful.” (which is a mis-interpretation!).

Why you didn’t chime in at the second post, when surely your alarm bells were ringing is hard to understand.  Your prompt action might have halted the proceedings there and then.  Of course, if you could prove that the major doctrines of Christianity do not bear a close affinity to the texts they appeal to you might have a point.

CO: That is, page 85 is not interpreted by itself, but as the page after the previous 84 pages. A remark that the reader of page 85 alone might find totally innocuous, may in fact to the cumulative reader appear fraught with irony or malice. So, the seemly inferential reading of Johnson may in fact be entirely natural given the text up to this point. Whether it is or isn’t is beside the point. The point is that a snapshot comparison cannot do justice to the cumulative nature of literature, and I do not see your rules of affinity functioning as anything other than snapshot comparisons.

I see, so the problem is that the RoA give only “snapshots” and ignore the matter of cumulative argumentation? (I’m not sure if I have  interpreted you or just rephrased and summarized you?).  So when someone makes a theological claim and appeals to a Scripture to back it up should we just let it slide until we get a cumulative argument?  The example of the two interpreters comes at the very close of the fifth article!  And what was it used for?  Look: “The rules do not adjudicate on matters of “genre.”  And, “The Rules do not say that either approach is right or wrong.  But they do show that the second interpretation is more inferential than the first.”

Having made this quite clear, I don’t really get your line of thinking here.  I suspect you just like Johnson’s interpretation from Smith’s “un-interpretation,” and you want to protect what you like.  Naturally these were just snippets of fuller cumulative treatments, but remember my express point.

CO: A final problem I have concerns the nature of theological claims. Most theological claims are not based directly and independently on individual passages

Whoever said they were?  They may be, but most – see my many examples in these posts – are based on what you call cumulative “readings of several passages.”

CO: In a cumulative argument, no piece of evidence needs to bear the weight of the whole, so an examination of individual texts is bound to be misleading. Your rules of affinity seem to be concerned only with a one-to-one correspondence between a text and a claim, so I find them less than useful.

Perhaps you find them useless because your desired theological convictions come a-cropper on them?  I have said as much in these articles.  Perhaps not; in which case I don’t know what your objection really is; but as I have said many times, what I am trying to do is comparing a theological statement (you allow that such an animal exists I’m sure) with the biblical passages it purports to be founded on.  I have given more than enough evidence of it.  You have given none to the contrary.

CO: Finally, you claim that the rules of affinity are pre-hermeneutical

I do?  Several times in the posts and comments I state that the rules measure proposition and text (I’m not sure I say text and interpretation until the final post, but in any case, “interpretation” equates to “proposition” or “assertion” if you are reading in context).  In a comment I wrote:

“If the conclusions of a chosen hermeneutics can be fed through the RoA then although there is some inevitable overlap (both are dealing with texts!), the two cannot and should not be equated.”

Therefore I did not claim “that the rules of affinity are pre-hermeneutical” as you put it.  Actually, they may be utilized at different stages of the ongoing interpretative process, and after it has finished.

CO: As Michael Polanyi and Thomas Khun (sic) pointed out regarding science…

Presumably you wish to use these non-theologians to support a point?  That is what I did when I just quickly mentioned Kane’s work to —–.  You thought you needed to tell him that Kane was “not a theologian.”  It is okay to use non-theologians sometimes then?

Every assertion purporting to base itself upon biblical texts is an interpretation of those texts.  I hope your next comment will provide biblical support for any opinions about the RoA.

We’ll see 😉

Postscript: The objector never did respond!

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