Thomas Torrance’s View of Scripture as ‘Human’
November 13, 2012
Have you eve wondered what Thomas Forsyth Torrance’s doctrine and ontology of scripture is, and even more; how his view implicates his hermeneutical approach (maybe you were unable to get to sleep last night because this wonderment so preoccupied you)? Well, you’re in luck; Christian Kettler, who wrote his PhD dissertation on Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ (which is what I will be writing my PhD dissertation on as well … if I ever actually am able to start that thing) provides development and answer to your longing wonderment on this very issue. Here is how Kettler develops this for us:
The apostolic authority of the New Testament has its basis for Torrance in its correlation with the saving humanity of Christ. The apostolate is the place where revelation, based on the Incarnation, is “earthed.” One wonders whether Torrance is stating it too strongly when he says that the apostolate was “the human expression of his [God’s] Word.” Should not such strong language be reserved for the Incarnation alone? However, he does stress that Scripture, the writings based on the apostles’ teaching, like the apostolate, stands with sinners under the judgment and redemption of the cross. Torrance is quick to point out that this “creaturely correspondence of the Holy Scriptures to God’s Word” is “a human expression based on the Humanity of Jesus Christ.” Thus, since it is related to the historical humanity of Christ, Scripture must have the character of “learned obedience to the Father.” “Just as we speak of his [Jesus’] life in terms of obedience, so we must speak of the Bible as obedience to the Divine self-revelation.” Therefore, the doctrine of verbal inspiration should not mean the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible in a literary or historical sense. “It means that the errant and fallible human word is, as such, used by God and has to be received and heard in spite of its human expression then must point beyond itself “to what it is not in itself, but to what God marvelously makes it to be in the adoption of his grace.” If revelation [and, therefore, inspiration of Scripture] takes place in the midst of fallen humanity, we must allow the “fallenness” of the humanity of the Scriptures to have its proper place if it is to be regarded as truly human. It is on the basis of such a consideration of atonement as taking place within the realm of fallen humanity that has caused Torrance to call for a serious interrelationship between revelation, Scripture, and “a doctrine of atoning mediation between the Word of God and the word of man.” Our doctrine of the human written Word must be seen in correlation, but not to be identified with, the human living Word.
Torrance finds crucial hermeneutical implications in such a view of Scripture. The real text of which we are to be concerned with, according to Torrance, is not the letter of Scripture but the humanity of Christ “as the actual objectification of the Word of God for us within our human mode of existence in space and time. It is to this which the Scriptures refer.” The “this-worldly reality,” the human aspect of hermeneutics is inherent in the genre of Scripture itself. This is best seen in the parables of Jesus. As they relate their humanness to the humanity of Christ, they point to Christ as the real text of Scripture. “He is God’s exclusive language to us and He alone must be our language to God.” It is a mark of the New Testament authors, according to Torrance, that
Far from obtruding themselves and their own spirituality upon us, the New Testament writers serve the gospel by directing us back to the representative and vicarious humanity of Christ as the creative ground and normative pattern for actualization of every response to God on our part. It is in fact the humanity of Jesus Christ himself which is the real text underlying the New Testament Scriptures; it is his humanity to which they refer and in terms of which they are to be interpreted. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, (Euguene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010), 135-36]
By the way, I have taken this quote from the above bibliographic information; and this is a review copy sent to me by James Stock (of Wipf and Stock), of which I am rereading (currently)—since I failed to do the review after I finished reading it the last time, and thus need to refresh myself in order to do a proper review—anyway, you can purchase this book (and you should) by clicking here.
So, there is a lot in this quote. And I would imagine for the typical Evangelical or Reformed person that what is communicated about Torrance’s approach on all of this won’t go down too smoothly. But, understand that Torrance’s view is not “amening” the higher critical method which seeks to undercut the “authority” and centrality of Scripture as God’s Word to humanity. Just the opposite! Torrance (and Barth) are seeking to articulate a doctrine and ontology for scripture that sees it in its rightful dogmatic place relative to Jesus Christ’s Self-revelation as God’s first and last Word for us. We, in America, especially, are obsessed (still!) with scripture meeting some kind of external and public mode of criteria for verifying whether or not it can be trusted or not (as God’s Word). But rest assured, scripture is God’s Word not because we say so, but because God has said so through his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. God’s Word, as it finds its groove and grip in its rootedness in God’s triune speech to us, has the capacity to contradict all of our thoughts (including verification models for adjudicating whether or not scripture can be trusted), ‘all the way down’.
In effect, when we ask whether or not Barth, Torrance & co. believed that the Bible was “errant,” we need to ask these questions cognizant that Barth, Torrance & co. were not antagonistic toward scripture (as is the case of most of the critics who are usually, and modernistically, trying to punch holes in scripture); instead they were highly driven by their devotion to the God of scripture’s giving. Just bear this in mind.