‘The Whole Life, Activity, and Passion of Jesus Christ’ as the Ground for Reading Scripture: With Reference to Thomas Forsyth Torrance

Reading Scripture and its practices continue to be very important to me. I am a Christian, as such I hold that the Scriptures have a certain and intended ontology; an order relative to its place within the economy of God and His Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. As such when I approach Scripture I approach it confessionally and Dogmatically; which means that I approach, as noted, as a Christian sciencebiblefrom within a frame of reference that logically understands that God precedes Scripture just as He does creation itself. Of course the difference between creation simpliciter and Scripture is that Scripture becomes Holy because it, as John Webster so elegantly develops, reposes upon its genesis as God’s triune speech-act for us as it is given for us, first and ontologically, in its real text, in the Logos ensarkos, the enfleshed Word, in the Incarnate son of God, Jesus Christ.

What I would like to do for the remainder of this post is to continue to highlight the impact that approaching Scripture this way has upon the way we read it as Christians; or the way it should impact the way we read it. As I noted, there is an order and thus ontology to Scripture. Scripture therefore is not the ultimate, but its reality is, Jesus is. Scripture from this frame of reference is subordinate to its reality found in Jesus Christ; once we recognize this we can appreciate Scripture and its ‘being’ in God’s economy the way we ought to, and as a result read Scripture the way it was intended to be read from within the Domain of God’s Triune life. Here’s how Thomas F. Torrance unfolds this:

The Holy Scripture is not Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate. We may express this differently by saying that Jesus Christ the incarnate Word of God is not merely a reflection of divine Light, a transparent medium through which that Light shines into the world, nor is he therefore merely a witness to the Light, for he is identical with the Light to which he bears witness. He is in fact “the real Light,” the Reality of the enlightening Light of God of which all created light is a reflection and to which it bears witness (John 1:9). In the same way we must say that the Holy Scriptures are not themselves the real Light that Christ is, but are what they are only as enlightened by him and as they therefore bear witness to him beyond themselves. In no way can the light of the Scriptures substitute for the Light of Christ, for they are entirely subordinate to his Light. Indeed it may be said that if the Scriptures are treated as having a light inherent in themselves, they are deprived of their true light which they have by reflecting the Light of Christ beyond themselves—and then the light that is in them is turned into a kind of darkness.[1]

Does that make sense? It seems quite self-evident to me that this is the way we ought to approach Holy Scripture. I.e. Scripture does not precede God in Christ, but God in Christ precedes Scripture; if we get this backwards Scripture’s ontology can only at that point be derived from the authority and reality we give it, and its meaning can only be reduced down to the sense that we make out of it as we analyze its literary structures, grammatical connections, syntactical arrangements, historical situations, its historical development, its traditioned sources etc. This is a concerning and profound thing; I think that largely this has become the frame through which modern Biblical Studies operates (whether that be in so called Liberal or Fundamentalist locations).

Torrance extrapolates further; he provides a way forward for how reading Scripture within its proper orientation and ontology in relation to Christ ought to look. He writes,

so far as the New Testament Scriptures are concerned, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ constituted the ground on which they were understood and validated, brought about a radically new conception of God and a complete transformation of man’s outlook in terms of a new divine order, and—thus bracketing within them the whole life, activity, and passion of Jesus Christ—gave rise to the basic framework within which the New Testament Scriptures are set and have to be interpreted. That is to say, the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gave the New Testament the comprehensive scope within which all its writings took shape and form. Thus these realities forced themselves upon the mind of the Christian community in sharp antithesis to what people had believed about God and in genuine conflict with the framework of secular thought or the prevailing world view; they took root in the church, which they had called into existence, only through a seismic restructuring of people’s religious and intellectual beliefs. Through the New Testament Scriptures the self-revelation and self-communication of God in the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ continue to supply the objective framework within which the gospel is to be understood and the Scriptures are to be interpreted. But they are ultimates, carrying their own authority and calling for the intelligent commitment of faith, and they provide the irreducible ground upon which continuing theologico-scientific inquiry and formulation take place.[2]

This seems quite radical, I think, to typical North American evangelical and mainline Biblical Studies (i.e. the discipline) ears. It takes the Bible back from the naturalist approach that has come to dominate what it means to do Biblical exegesis (see Gabler [1787]), and places the Bible itself, again, back into its proper orientation and ontology relative to God. Torrance’s challenge is for Christian exegetes and students of Scripture to repent and come back to reading Scripture with Jesus Christ as its theological and real life center. As we can see from the prior quote, as Torrance develops it, the ground of Scripture’s meaning is particular to ‘the whole life, activity, and passion of Jesus Christ.’ If this is the case it is not possible nor advisable to attempt to roam over large areas of academic discipline when attempting to read Holy Scripture; it is important instead to attend to Scripture’s scope and reality grounded and conditioned by Jesus Christ Himself. If we do this we will be in a good place to actually hear from the Lord of Holy Scripture, and will be able to avoid our attempts to adoptionistically attach our readings and exegetical conclusions of Scripture onto God (this is what happens if we follow naturalistic or maybe we could say Ebionite readings of Scripture).

[1] T.F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology: A fresh and challenging approach to Christian revelation (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1982), 95.

[2] Ibid., 105-06.

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10 thoughts on “‘The Whole Life, Activity, and Passion of Jesus Christ’ as the Ground for Reading Scripture: With Reference to Thomas Forsyth Torrance

  1. Pingback: T Torrance, The Grammatico-Historico Biblical Exegete: With Reference to John Webster | The Evangelical Calvinist

  2. I agree with Torrance’s thought, but I want to be a little bit much precise. Indeed, what is the bible, is it the Qur’an? No! The Bible is not a book, it is a library. So, what is the point which rely all these parts? Yes, this is not a point but a person: Jesus-Christ. But, how do we recognize his identity out of the Christian tradition? So, what are the texts ever persist in the church, in testimony for Christ? The canonical scriptures AND the unaltered Nicene Creed, according to Ac.5/33-42, Jd.3, Heb.13/8-9, Eph.4/4-7. If this is true, I don’t understand why the Christian world is so splited? Yes, the canonical books of the bible are sufficient for salvation, faith and morality. But, is it existing something like scriptures without faith (Rom.10/9-10)? So, this faith, which is it? This faith is the faith of the cat-holic church, not the roman church, but the Christian church, which exist since the last two thousand years ago. Then, we must admit that the unaltered Nicene creed is the word of God, ACCORDING TO the holy scriptures ALONE ( 2 Tim.3/16, 2 Pet.1/19-21, 1 Cor.12/3). In other terms, Scriptures are the word of the triune God, whom identity is definite by the unaltered Nicene creed, according to these scriptures ALONE. Also, when you study the Nicene creed, you may see that there is four points, which lead in controversy : 1- One God (Holy Trinity, Mt.28/19), 2-One Lord (Incarnation, Jn.1/14), 3-One baptism ( salvation by faith alone-Sola Fide, Mc.16/16) and, the least but not the less, 4- One church (Hermeneutic, Rom.12/6). As you can see, the problem with these points is that we must deal with the notion of unity and multiplicity. So, the scriptural resolution of all these points constitute the common faith of all true Christians. If this is true, why don’t we gather ourselves, protestant people, in a great synod to definitively crash out our divisions, to eliminate them, according to the great commission of Christ, in John 17 or 1 Cor.1/13? I’m ever waiting for a response, or an answer…

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  3. Hi Alain,

    I’m not sure I understand your point about the Nicene Creed being the Word of God or on par with Scripture if that’s what you’re getting at. As Protestants, of course, we hold that Scripture (Old and New Testaments) reflect God’s written Word, and that the subsequent creeds and confessions of the church are subordinate to that reality. I think the real ecumenical reality that binds Christians together, as TFT has suggested, is the partaking of holy communion. https://growrag.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/the-apocalyptic-eucharist-as-the-reality-that-unites-the-churches-under-the-primacy-of-jesus-t-torrance/

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  4. The UNALTERED Nicene creed is the Word of God, ACCORDING TO the Scriptures, ALONE. In other terms, the Scriptures are formally, structurally, as RULE, the one word of God, but the explanation of these scriptures are word of God, too, because this explanation is, firstly, as the scriptures, conformed to Jesus-Christ, when you considered their duration-two thousands years, approximately, or their universality (Heb13/8, Ac.5/33-42, Jd.3, Eph.4/4-7, Vincent of Lerins’ commonitorium). Secondly, the unaltered Nicene creed is plainly conform to the scriptures. In fact, the Christian predication is the word of God, too, when it is conformed to the scriptures, as Barth said, too. So, how can we deny this recognising to this august testimony of the church, conform to Jesus-Christ and to the scriptures? What I try to say, here, is that it exists two aspects of Truth, with the Tradition: ontological, manifested by their duration, and theological, by their conformity to the scriptures. So, when Barth said that the Bible is not the Qur’an, that is true. But we have to add, at the same time, that the Nicene is materially, as correct reception and explanation of the scriptures, also the word of God. This, if we want to avoid Gnosticism, in the same sense of the word which Irenae of Lyon employed against the heretics of this time, because they didn’t want to profess, literally, the proto-creed.

    ***
    N.B. The “materia” is the element of a thing, as you can see for water or peroxide, you have hydrogen and oxygen. The ” form” is the structure, the rule, the organisation. So, with water, the form is the ratio 1O/2H, for the peroxide, 2O/2H. So, you have the same elements but not the same ratio, and you don’t have the same thing. As well, the Nicene creed is the element and the scriptures, the ratio, and there is one Word of God. This the meaning of my description of the unaltered Nicene creed, as word of God. But, never, I will oppose the Nicene creed to the scriptures, and ever I will respect the subordination of the Nicene creed to the scriptures. Nevertheless, I cannot deny this quality to the Nicene creed, because these duration and this conformity to the scriptures. It is enough obvious?

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  5. About the point of partaking holy communion, I think that it is impossible if you cannot confess, minimally, the same faith in Jesus-Christ, in the same terms: scriptures and Nicene creed. Didn’t Christ say: “do this in REMEMBRANCE of me”? About the real presence, this point was fully understood, between Luther and Bucher, with the Wittenberg Concordia (1536), which Calvin agreed too, in 1538. In this text, you can understand that the real presence is happening ONLY AT THE TIME of the communion, when you eat and drink, never before or after. So, you cannot domesticate the Christ, or make some superstitious or idolatrous move or act. This is the same thing with the Nicene creed: this is not a domestication of God’s word, when you consider its duration, according to Ac.5/33-42, Jd.3 or Heb.13/8-9. Instead, this his a true testimony of the Holy Ghost’s power.

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  6. You get it. Indeed, I think that Gnosticism is the specific illness of a certain understanding of Protestantism… So, Gnosticism consist to refuse to admit literally the official creed, according to the scriptures ALONE. Luther nor Melanchthon never did that. This kind of attitude has begun with Calvin, when he had refused to agree, as normative interpretation of the scriptures, the Nicene creed. Then, I can confess Sola scriptura and sola fide, as the Augsburg confession, and be protestant, even I disagree with you. I understand, now, why certain kind of Protestantism is so divided: rebellion and arrogance, against the testimony of the Holy Ghost, in the church, according to the scriptures Alone. How can we resist to the evidence of the Church’s history, when we read Ac.5/33-42, Jd.3, Heb.13/8-9 or Eph.4/4-7?

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  7. I don’t think that, when W.C.C, in his publication, directed by J.M.Tillard, ” confessing one faith”, has admitted the preeminent statute of the Nicene creed in the church, there is something as a proper ecclesiology, neither with Jean Bosc, nor Lutheran, Roman, Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic churches… But, I don’t want to bother you with this kind of discussion, moreover. I’ve gotten the answer that I had wanted to have. So, thank you and have a good day.

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