Friday, 7 March 2008

The Federal Vision And The Language Of Appearance (5)

Part one, part two, part three, part four

Of the eleven statements which Matthew referenced as examples of what the Bible says about apostates, I've responded to the use of seven of them. That leaves four:
 - Some receive the word with joy and believe for a time (Luke 8.13)
 - They are branches in the Vine, Jesus (John 15.2, 6)
 - They are baptized into the Greater Moses (1 Cor 10.2)
 - They drink of Christ (1 Cor 10.4)
The last two on that list are both from the same passage:
1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat;
4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
"They are baptized into the Greater Moses (1 Cor 10.2)" makes a few leaps from what the text actually says about the Old Covenant apostates it actually refers to. Still, I suppose the point is clear: New Covenant apostates have indeed been baptised into the greater Moses. The question, of course, is to what baptism is in view and what it is implied to have accomplished. The text doesn't actually say, and the answer has to be supplied from somewhere else in one's theological understanding. Therefore I think the use of this text to support the Federal Vision is something of a case of circular reasoning - the point Paul isn't really the FV point, and both friends and non-friends of the FV can understand the text quite happily within their own understanding.

I'd say something similar about the reference to verse 4. The text tells us that in some sense the Old Covenant apostates drank of Christ before apostatising. Matthew's point of course is to tell us that the Bible tells us this "without hedging". If I want to raise questions about in what sense those apostates drank of Christ, I'm doing something the Bible isn't - some kind of argument from silence. I find what Matthew is implying here deeply unconvincing. The major point of a response here (there are others) would be that this passage is figurative. The baptism spoken of was "in the cloud and in the sea"; the eating and drinking of the physical manna and literal water were also highly figurative (which is Paul's point). That means that the burden of proof that we can make such a simple and (I would assert) simplistic transfer of meaning as Matthew does falls upon him. When dealing with figurative language, it won't cut it to just say that there's "no hedging" - the burden is yours. Otherwise, the Bible becomes a nose of wax. The Bible says without hedging that God has wings (Psalm 17:8) - problem with that?

And that goes for the other two proof texts as well. The Bible says "without hedging" that apostates were branches in the vine - fine (John 15.2, 6). It also says without hedging that Jesus himself is the vine, verse 1. To use a favourite Roman Catholic proof text, it also says that we must eat and drink Jesus' blood, John 6:53. To draw immediate points of systematic theology from this kind of illustrative statement on the basis that the statements seem straightforward, though, would be illegitimate. Its a standard principle of Bible interpretation that you cannot treat figurative statements as if they were the same thing as unambiguous, self-interpreting statements of doctrine. John 15:17 has Jesus saying "These things I command you, that you love one another." That's a straightforward, self-interpreting statement. Words about branches being removed from vines are not. It seems to me that FV advocates are routinely guilty, in their use of such statements, of smuggling in their own interpretations between the lines, rather than it being the case that the statement is unequivocally advocating the FV position. Jesus statements about the vine and the branches have the primary purpose of encouraging believers to persevere. They are not fundamentally aimed at teaching about the relationship between election, covenant membership and the real status of those who later apostatise. To allege that they do bear on that question is a position that has to carry the burden of proof - pointing out the lack of hedging doesn't cut it. The method of the use of figure and parable does not allow for every statement to immediately have to be followed by "and by that illustration, I of course don't mean that..." It's the very nature of such genres that they are suggestive, and that not every possible suggestion we can see in there actually leads to correct doctrine. We are not meant to literally digest chunks out of Jesus body - the statement is not self-interpreting at such a crude level. Neither should FV advocates be allowed to make such an uncritical appeal to such passages.

At this point I think I've shown that none of the texts that Matthew references make the point he wants to make.

To be continued...

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