Monthly Archives: September 2022

Conversations on Scripture: Blunt, 6 (Interpretation)

Blunt’s sixth chapter is entitled “The Interpretation of Holy Scripture.” However, a more accurate title would be “Hierarchies of Guidance with regard to Holy Scripture” as that is what he presents here.

This will be (should be??) a fairly short post, because Blunt’s presentation here is simple and straight-forward. He begins out of the gate with a flat denunciation of the notion of the perspicuity of the Scriptures, that is, the idea championed in the Reformation that Scripture is clear and simple enough to be read and understood by all:

It is sometimes alleged that this true meaning and sense becomes evident to pious and humble minds at once by a kind of instinct; but however correct such an allegation may be to a small extent, it is contrary to fact when made as a statement applicable to the Bible in general, and to pious and humble minds in general. It is perfectly certain, for instance, that the Song of Solomon, the prophecy of Ezekiel, and the Book of Revelation are not capable of interpretation by instinct. It is also clear that many various interpretations of nearly every part of the Bible will be given by different good men who have no other guide; and that some of these interpretations will be so utterly inconsistent with, and even contrary to each other, as to make it certain that they cannot all represent the truth. Hence, although piety and humility are the proper foundations for a penetrative insight into the meaning of Holy Scripture, external guides to its interpretation are also necessary.

Blunt, 106-107

So—to clarify the argument—Blunt’s two principle proofs for the non-perspicuity of the Scriptures are 1) the really hard books, and 2) a diversity of interpretations even among the well-meaning.

While I agree with Blunt generally in this chapter, this initial establishment of the reasons makes me squirm a little. Perhaps it’s my Lutheran upbringing that emphasized the importance of everyone reading the Scriptures for themselves, perhaps it’s his assumption that a diversity of interpretations is an inherently bad thing. However, I’ve also heard and seen enough very bad biblical interpretation to agree with him that flat, unmediated, unbounded, undirected Bible reading can frequently do more harm than good.

I do want to highlight his second point, though: it’s not what he says explicitly, but implicitly he appears to be arguing for a restricted range of “correct” interpretations if not a single true reading of every passage of Scripture. (I’d like to know if he, like some at the time, would argue for a single right reading of every passage, but he seems too catholic to fall into that particular trap.)

So—guides are required for right reading. The guides Blunt will identify next are ecclesiastical and hierarchical. He begins his discussion of guides with Christ himself, followed by the examples of the apostles from Acts from which he proves his prior point:

In fact, we can hardly open a page of the New Testament but we find the writer of that page guiding us to some interpretation of Scripture which not one person in ten thousand would have found out for themselves; and thus showing the general application of the words spoken by a humble and pious man to Philip, when asked if he understood the mysterious Scripture about the death of Christ, “How can I, except some man guide me?” [Acts 8:31]

Blunt, 108.

(The way he keeps repeating “humble and pious man” makes it clear to me that he is citing some source [likely Calvinist?] that uses that phrase defending the perspicuity of the Scriptures, but I don’t recognize it off the top of my head…)

The move to the post-apostolic age brings with it the first mention of the Holy Spirit which I find both purposeful and deliberate. Note here the context and caveats connected with the Spirit and its interpretive gifts:

It is clear that these interpretations of the Apostolic age were made by those to whom the Holy Ghost had been given for this among other purposes. In some cases it is mentioned that the interpreter was “full of the Holy Ghost;” and in every case it will be reasonable to suppose that our Lord’s promise, “He will guide you into all truth” was fulfilled.

But this province of guidance by the Holy Ghost was not given solely to the Apostles. The represent the Church of all ages, and especially the ministers of Christ in the Church; and as our Lord promised his own perpetual Presence in the words, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” so He promised the perpetual Presence of the Holy Ghost, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he made abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.” Thus the Holy Ghost has been always believed to guide the solemn assemblies of Bishops which are called Councils, whenever they have sought His Presence in a humble determination to abide by his guidance; and it is not difficult to distinguish such Councils from those in which questions have been prejudged or decided from secondary motives instead of humble desires for the Truth.

And as this guidance is given in its highest degree to Councils of Bishops, so in a lower degree, it is part of the ordination gift which is bestowed on all priests and Bishops when the words are spoken, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”

Blunt, 108-109.

Thus, in the hierarchy of guides, Blunt establishes:

  • Jesus
  • Apostles
  • Councils of Bishops
  • individual bishops
  • priests/clergy

Blunt gives particular attention to the clergy piece in discussing their interpretive status:

And although it cannot, of course, be maintained that these authorized interpreters [the clergy] are infallible interpreters, it cannot be doubted that those of them who wish to use the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their expositions of Scripture will receive that guidance, and be preserved from error to the extent to which they submit their studies and ordinary means of knowledge to His benediction. One purpose of their office is the instruction of the laity. It is an universal rule that such instruction shall be founded on Holy Scripture. Hence it is one purpose (and many regard it as the chief purpose) of their office that they shall be the ordinary interpreters of the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Blunt, 109-110.

Thus, Blunt pretty bluntly states that when we’re talking about interpreters guided by the Spirit, it ought to pertain to the clergy rather than the laity. He does get to the laity in the next paragraph, acknowledging they are part of the Church and also guided by the Spirit “so far as it is needed for the purposes of their own Christian life” (Blunt, 110). However, he sees it as a different an lesser order of interpretation than what the clergy receive—else why should the clergy be charged with instructing the laity on the Scriptures? Logically, then, the priestly comprehension is greater than that of the laity.

Finally, Blunt takes up the idea that the Holy Spirit cooperates with natural gifts and acquirements. Thus, he argues that of two devout men, one very learned and the other very ignorant, “the learned man is infinitely more qualified by God to become and interpreter of Scripture than the other” (Blunt, 111). Furthermore, there are great troves of wisdom in the history of the Church, and again—following the previous example—Blunt states:

and of two equally good men, the one of whom has used these treasures and the other has not, the best and most reliable interpreter can very easily be discerned. It is in these treasures, then, that we find the TRADITION of the Church as to the sense and meaning of Holy Scripture; the results of the co-operation of God’s Spirit with man’s learning in searching the Scriptures through many hundreds of years.

Blunt, 112.

Thus, both intellectual development and learning the teachings of the Church create far better interpreters than the “humble and pious man” with which Blunt began.

Blunt concludes the chapter with the acknowledgement that the Scriptures still need to be read, searched, and studied because time is always drawing us into new circumstances which can draw out “hitherto undiscovered meanings” and, indeed, “a special message to the nineteenth century may be found there, of which there would be no perception, because there was no need of its perception, in the ninth century or the third” (Blunt, 112).


Obviously, Blunt is very interested in making the argument for an educated priesthood as the central and local arbiters of the meaning of the biblical text. That makes perfect sense and, largely, I agree with that. I can’t agree that ordination gives an inherently richer/better interpretation of Scripture than the Basic Package Holy Spirit given in Baptism. I also think this argument lands more soundly if you envision Blunt’s target audience as school children in an English village where the vicar is the only man who’s been to university. That’s certainly not my context!

I also can’t help but see a certain symmetry between the model of inspiration and the model of interpretation, that strikes me as structurally suspicious… The notion that the Bible was written by a few specific set-apart men and that its interpretation should be likewise reserved for a few specific set-apart men (because of course they were all men in Blunt’s day) seems like a mutually reinforcing paradigm that is as much about maintenance of the present power structure as it is about the past…

Conversations on Scripture: Blunt, 5

Conversations on Scripture: Blunt, 5

Blunt’s fifth chapter is “The Object of the Holy Bible.” This is where he is talking about object and purpose. At first, this seemed to me an odd detour between chapter 4 on Inspiration and chapter 6 on Interpretation—why not just move directly from Inspiration to Interpretation? On further review, Blunt uses this intermediary chapter to make some good and useful points that might otherwise be overlooked about the character of the biblical texts. He gets at intention in some interesting ways. But enough prolegomena, let’s just get in to it…

Initial Section

The opening of the chapter is a strong appeal that Christians who read the Bible should come following Anselm’s famous dictum of “Faith seeking Understanding” (neither using that phrase or mentioning Anselm by name, of course). And the heart of that faith is its purpose:

That purpose,—so pervading Holy Scripture from beginning to end—is THE REDEMPTION AND SALVATION OF MANKIND BY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. The History, Prophecy, the Poetry, the Teaching, of the Bible all look towards this one object; and thus the Cross of Christ is the true “Key of Knowledge,” [Luke 11:52] the “Key of David,” [Rev 3:7, viz. Isa 22:22] and of all other treasuries of divine mysteries. By this Key the most secret pages of Holy Scripture may be unlocked, and the Personal Word revealed by the written word:— “Him first, him last, Him midst and without end.” [Paradise Lost, Book 5]

Blunt, 84-85; small caps in the original; parenthetical brackets listed sources added by me

As a practicing Christian and an academic student of the text, I have to say “Yes, but” at this point. Yes, as a Christian, I agree with him that Christ is at the heart and center of the Scriptures. However, to say that Christ is the only true object of the purpose and writing of the OT texts is problematic from both an inter-religious standpoint and an interpretive one. Christ as the center of the OT is not self-evident. If established as a hermeneutical framework, projected from the NT back on the OT text, it works—but it is far from the only acceptable hermeneutic for understanding these texts, their contents, and the through-line that holds them together. I do believe that there are some strong fundamental themes encoded throughout the OT that shape and encourage a messianic reading of the text of the OT as we have received it, but many of the messianic expectations are quite unlike the figure of Jesus.

(Always remember: the idea that Jesus is Messiah and the idea that Jesus is God are two distinct ideas fused in the NT and Christian thought; the messiah of the OT is chiefly portrayed as a restoration and continuation of Israel’s political power embodied in an heir of the Davidic line. Hence the many disagreements from readers of the OT past and present that Jesus is a perfect fit for the role! Again, it’s a clash of very different hermeneutics [frameworks for making sense of the texts].)

Blunt then sets forth proofs of his argument by stepping through a variety of genres of texts in the following arrangement:

  1. The object of the Bible illustrated from Old Testament History
  2. The object of the Prophetical Books of the Holy Bible
  3. The object of the Poetical Books of the Old Testament
  4. The object of New Testament History

Blunt on OT History

Blunt’s first section focuses largely on the book of Genesis. Thereby neatly bypassing in silence the 7,000+ verses from Joshua to Esther that speak (sometimes in excruciatingly genealogical detail) about the political events of Israel and Judah for a period of roughly 800 years. But—ok—we’ll give him Genesis… And he makes four main points about what we find there, talking about Creation and then—his topic categories, not mine—mysteries, prophecies, and types.

Essentially in this latter portion of his history section, Blunt gives a brief primer on allegorical and figural interpretation of the Bible without using either of those words! Mysteries he uses largely as references to the trinitarian character of God (the creative plural in Genesis 1, the 3 men at the oaks of Mamre, etc.) but also the sacrificial system which cannot be strictly literal but points beyond itself to Christ with the sacrifice of Isaac as the central representative. Prophecies are the many passages that will be interpreted in relation to Christ (God’s words to Eve at the casting out, God telling Abraham all nations will be blessed in him, etc.) Types are the “persons,…events, and…material things” “by which the Redeemer and his work are set forth in the course of this first historical book of the Bible” (Blunt, 91; rearranged for clarity).

It’s fascinating to me that these three are presented in basic, factual terms. He doesn’t argue for them, he doesn’t put forth a schema of levels of reading (literal/allegorical/moral/tropological), they just are the way that Scripture is read.

Before moving on, I must loop back to where he starts this section and therefore the main bulk of the chapter, because he uses it to make a very instructive point that I agree with and that is frequently overlooked in discussions of Scripture and its content. He’s talking here about Creation, and very specifically draws our attention to what is and isn’t described by the text. Because this is important, I’ll quote this at some length:

The history of THE CREATION is the only such history that we possess; but the fact that it is contained almost entirely in the first chapter of Genesis, while the family history of Abraham occupies forty times as large a space, shows that it is not intended for the purpose of setting forth an account of Creation such as would satisfy the mind which wishes to inquire into its various details. What is narrated must have been known to the writer from information communicated by God, who only, of all living beings, witnessed it; and therefore it must be entirely true. But the object of the narrative is to assert, (1) that God was the Creator of all things, (2) that when He created them there was no evil associated with them; and (3) that the whole earthly creation was bound up with man, to whom the sovereignty of it, under God, was given.

Thus the account of Creation is incidentally a history, and as such it is of the highest possible value as being communicated by the all-knowing Creator Himself; but its real object is to show that God created a kingdom on earth, of which he appointed man to “have” the “dominion,” and that this kingdom was committed to his trust in a condition of perfection, even including himself [i.e., that humanity be perfect too…].

Blunt, 86; emphasis & small caps in the original, bracketed section added by me for clarity

The very important point Blunt is making here is that creation specifically and biblical narrative more broadly is selective. It doesn’t say everything that happened—it says what is relevant to its story and purposes. I actually totally agree with Blunt that those are three foundational points that the author of Genesis 1 is trying to communicate through the narrative. Where we part ways is that, for me, that’s the take-away and the point. The narrative doesn’t have to accurate for those points to be real and true. That is—contra Blunt—I can discard the historical and scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of creation because the author who scribed this creation myth from Ancient Israel was communicating these three points as fundamental and foundational. (And, as a modern Christian, I can fully embrace the author’s points 1 & 2, while feeling that point 3 is entirely too anthropocentric and has had devastating consequences regarding how humanity has impacted creation…)

For me and my reading, myth is just a legitimate vehicle for truth as history which is a place where Blunt and I diverge broadly and about which more ought to be said—but won’t be in this post as I’m already slipping off topic…

Blunt on OT Prophecy & Poetry

I’ll treat these two together, as largely, Blunt does what you’d expect, with only a few points worth noting.

With regard to prophecy, Blunt has an admirable section at the start where he uses the general structure of prophetical proclamation to both see it in its historical context and to use it more broadly for Christian purposes:

The Old Testament prophecies were all written at times when the Jews were going through some national sorrow, as in the time of Hezekiah, at the close of Josiah’s reign, the times immediately preceding and during the Babylonish Captivity, and the sad return to the Holy City. The immediate purpose of most of the prophecies, was that of warning against the sins which had brought calamity on the nation, and of denunciation against all those who set themselves up as the enemies of God. But beyond this immediate purpose there was another, that of pointing to a glorious future, when the reign of the Messiah would more than compensate the nation for all past woes.

Blunt, 94

Naturally, the messianic promises point to Christ.

With regard to the poetic material—Psalms, Lamentations, Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes—Blunt goes full-on prosopological. That is, we read these texts best when we hear them (properly discerned, of course) coming from the mouth of Christ himself. It’s both interesting and telling that a large portion of this section is Blunt plagiarizing himself: fully a page and a half (pp. 97-99) is a quotation ripped straight out of the section on the Psalms from his Annotated Book of Common Prayer.

Blunt on NT History

Here we get again Blunt’s important reminder of the reality and importance of specificity:

When we open the New Testament, and come upon the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, we still move in the same track as we have done all through the Old Testament. For these five books all form part of the same History of the Redeemer and His work which is contained in Genesis, or the Psalms, or the Prophecies.

This explains why it is that the Gospels do not contain a complete Life of our Blessed Lord. As the history of Creation is narrated only so far as it is part of the history of Redemption, so the Life of our Lord is set forth only so far as it is necessary to illustrate His position as the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind.

Blunt, 100-101

Thus Blunt speaks of the Gospels & Acts portraying Jesus as Teacher, Healer, Light-giver, and Liberator in straight-forward terms.

And by “Liberator”, he does clarify what he means by this at the head of that section: “It is not any where recorded that [Jesus] [set captives free] literally (at least among living captives), and so it must be concluded that spiritual captivity is referred to” (Blunt, 105). A footnote here acknowledges that Jesus does refer to the healing of a woman “bound by Satan these many years” [Luke 13:16]. Despite this, he recommends that Liberator be equated with Absolver. So, Blunt sees it, but is not a proto-liberation theologian by any stretch of the imagination!

Final Thoughts

I see this chapter chiefly as Blunt teaching the art of interpretation and establishing hermeneutical principles. Of course, he’d never use that language, but this is the framing of thought that enables a person to see Scripture from a particular interpretive perspective. I never would have guessed it from the title, though! Using the term “Object” cloaks his actual purpose. Having said that, “cloaks” implies a deceptive intent that Blunt lacks; he’s not trying to smuggle it in, it just comes across like that from my own later perspective. Seeing the chapter for what it is does help clarify the logical progression of the chapters as being Inspiration – Hermeneutics – Interpretation.

Conversations on Scripture: Blunt, 4 (Inspiration)

Introduction to the Chapter

After completing a 3-chapter sweep of the Bible itself, its languages, translation, and contents, Blunt now embarks on a 4-chapter theological arc that deals with how Christians should regard and use the Bible. The first chapter in this section is our present focus: “The Revelation of the Holy Bible, and the Inspiration of its Writers.”

No. I don’t know why he felt the title needed a comma in it, but then—I do feel his repeated use of the semi-colon in his prose is odd to the modern eye as well.

This chapter is one of the key reasons I wanted to go in-depth on this work: to see without prejudice (or pre-reading) how a High Church Anglican of the 19th century would describe the mechanisms of revelation and inspiration. I have theories about the default assumptions that I find in American Mainline congregations, and I’m curious to see if his treatment confirms or challenges my hypotheses. In a nutshell, my hypothesis is that his portrayal of these mechanisms will be very much informed by Romanticism, its critique of empirical science, and the image of author as genius in a Kantian mode… (Fair warning: I’m not a philosophy guy, so I’m working with an educated laymen’s sense of Kant and Romanticism, not an expert’s!)

Now—there are two ways to work with a chapter like this; one is to walk through the argument and logic, using his words and headings, with points clarified by means of quotes from the text, the other is to convey a general impression, and then discuss the interesting bits that stand out. The first approach is helpful for clearly displaying the author’s thought (greatly increasing comprehension of the actual argument and reducing the author to a straw man) but is much less readable especially for those looking for a pay-off; the second is the reverse, more readable but less thorough. In a spirit of compromise, I’ll provide both: Up front, I’ll provide my thoughts and reflections, after that I’ll provide a full walk-through (here’s a link if you want to read that first!).

My Thoughts and Reflections

I must state up-front that, as an author, this has got to be a daunting chapter to write! Blunt approaches it from a different angle than I would—presenting it as a simple explication of objective truth—and this decision very much characterizes his approach.

Fundamentally, I agree with Blunt on the majority of his teaching—that the Bible is the revelation of God to humanity, the Word of God written by inspired humans. In the main, he does not attempt to nail down a specific mechanism of inspiration; specifically, there is no reference to verbal inspiration, and no declaration of an infallible text.

That having been said, Blunt presents a number of assumptions with which I do not agree. First, his model of inspiration very much appears to be that the Bible was written by a discrete limited set of named men writing directly what the Spirit inspired them to write. This assumption is supported by his careful attention in the previous chapters to authorship supplemented by which men made additions to which earlier works (usually in the case of historical documents). Additionally, he uses a vague couple of sentences to cover the possibility of factual errors within the histories, worth quoting here:

It is possible that errors may have crept in among the truth; but this is another question, to be answered by careful inquiry and criticism. Of one thing we may be certain, that when we have found reason to be assured that any thing in the Bible has really been revealed by God, or written by men whom He has inspired for the purpose of writing it truly, then we may also be assured that what is so recorded is removed beyond the range of all reasonable doubt, and is absolutely true and certain.

Blunt, 79-80.

With one hand, then, he acknowledges that some (few) errors might have crept in amongst the truth, however he does not make any reference to how or by whom this might have occurred. The next statement doubles down on the principle that whatever has been revealed or has been written by an inspired man is to be believed, free from doubt. The unspoken wiggle room in the middle suggests 1) there may be some additions to the texts, 2) these additions are presumably made by uninspired men, and therefore 3) these additions may contain errors. To me, that’s significant: the unspoken assumption that all inspired text must be the production of a discrete limited set of inspired named men.

Second, I believe that Blunt errors in painting Scripture with too broad a brush in terms of its genre and intention: for him, everything within the historical books is intended to be objective literal history. To me, this reflects an overly simplistic approach to genre, but also an overly simplistic approach to human purposes in writing. Blunt’s clearest statement on the authors’ role in biblical composition appears in this passage at the end of his discussion of unity within diversity:

Thus we find the first traces of a Divine as well as a Human Element in Holy Scripture: the HUMAN ELEMENT in the natural powers of the penmen who wrote its component books, the DIVINE ELEMENT in the supernatural influence by which the penmen were controlled.

Blunt, 69.

There is no sense here that human authors may have ulterior motives or purposes in their writing. I have most fully in mind the reality that histories written and promulgated by a certain regime at a certain historical point are hardly neutral products; they are written with intent to make certain things look good and others less good. To deny the presence of these within the biblical record is difficult and here I’m thinking very specifically of the way that Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 8 echoes Solomon’s reign (especially with regard to 1 Kings 9:22; 10:26-29; 11), or the casual dismissal of certain monarchs like Nadab (1 Kings 15:25-6).

One accounting for the discrepancy between the way Blunt and I read is in the very complaint Blunt levies against Jowett and Semler and others: I presume that the Bible is to be read as any other ancient text and is thus open to questions of intent and the presence of ancient propaganda. Blunt’s perspective appears to preclude this.

Third, Blunt’s hermeneutics (theory of interpretation) of Scripture determine his assessment of the content of Scripture. Thus, his discussion of both the Historical Unity of the Bible and proof of its Inspired Prophecy center on the person of Jesus to a degree I simply cannot agree with. Are the histories presented in the OT selective? Yes. Are they selective in order to point solely at the person of Jesus? No. Nor is Jesus the focus of all prophecy in the OT; unless Blunt reads the destruction oracles of various Ancient Near Eastern cities in Isaiah and other prophets more creatively than I, there is a lot of prophetic material that is fairly silent on Christ. That’s not to say I disagree with his broader point, that the New Testament and Church find types, antitypes, and figures of Christ within the history and prophecy of Israel, but to say that Christ is their central focus is not accurate.

Finally, the image with which I disagree the most is likely the one wherein he characterizes the separation between the authors of Scripture in order to emphasize the surprising unity and thus the inspired source of their messages:

Forty men writing at different times, in different languages, in different countries, mostly unacquainted with one another, often not knowing much or any thing of what predecessors among them had written, having no intention of working their writings into the system of those predecessors, and not knowing that their writings would form part of a collection—such a series of writers would not have written in this consistent manner if they had been left to themselves.

Blunt, 69.

This reads far more like the legend of the translating of the Septuagint from the “Letter of Aristeas” than it does a description of the Old and New Testament! I do understand Blunt’s rhetorical purpose, but in his exaggeration he has undercut the fundamental concept of the intertexuality of the Scriptural witness—that many of the writings we have are not only cognizant of one another but are intentionally participating within a dialogue on and through Scripture that grounds and establishes the interpretive process of the Church. I think he believes this has been covered by referring to the Holy Spirit as the author of all Scripture, but in emphasizing the separation of the authors, he fails to grasp what I see as a fundamental mechanism of the Spirit’s authorship itself: the facilitation of a theocentric conversation across time and place and language.

With regard to my initial hypothesis—that Blunt represents a Romanticism-shaped model of inspiration which I refer to as the “Mighty Man of God model”—I believe I am correct, but he largely leaves it at the level of assumption rather than being fully explicit. Truthfully, I was hoping he would be much more explicit on the matter, but nevertheless the assumptions that he makes are telling. Perhaps the most important thing I can draw from this source is the level of implicit assumptions that govern the conversation that I think a lot of modern American Christians also hold.

Full Walk-through

Blunt lays out his argument in this chapter with a clear, formal structure of points to explicate. He presents his central thesis at the start with definitions of his two key terms:

The Holy Bible has been universally received by the Christian Church as a REVELATION made by God, and a volume written by men who were under the influence of His INSPIRATION.

The plain meaning of these two terms is as follows: Revelation is an unveiling of something previously concealed. Inspiration is a breathing into the mind of knowledge which it could not naturally possess.

Hence the Holy Bible has been received as so directly coming from God that men have even ventured to call it by a Name Divinely given to our Lord Himself, The Word of God, the Word spoken by the Father through the Inspiration of human persons by God the Holy Ghost.

Blunt, 65-66.

From this point, Blunt proceeds along this outline:

  1. The grounds on which the Bible is received as an inspired book (in ascending order of importance).
    1. The uniform purpose and impulse despite the diversity of authors
      1. Historical Unity: “Their works were all written with reference to a central subject, the coming and work of Christ, the Messiah-King of the Old Testament, the Incarnate God of the New” (Blunt, 67).
      2. Moral Unity: “God is universally represented as holy, as hating sin, as being a just Judge, as rewarding the good and punishing the evil. Man is as generally represented as being in a lower moral condition than he might have been, aiming (in his better moments) at something higher, and as capable of recovering his original moral condition in a future life” (Blunt, 68).
      3. Spiritual Unity: (“constant representation of man as needing a Saviour; by the sacrificial system…ever-recurring references to the Mercy of God…idea of God as Supreme Spiritual Head of all mankind” (ibid.).
    2. Nature of its Contents
      1. Revelations
        1. Facts of Creation: “could be known only by those who were then in existence to observe them; and as man was the last of all created things, he could have observed none of them” (Blunt, 70).
        2. Person of God: “His Nature is continually spoken of from the days of Adam and Cain, all through the the long line of holy men and holy writers down to the last page of the Bible. … Such revelations all reached their climax in that made by our Lord’s words and work” (Blunt, 71).
      2. Prophecies: “Examples may be found in almost every page of the Bible; for, in reality, the whole Bible revolves around one central object, the Person and work of the Redeemer” (Blunt, 72).
      3. Moral Teaching: “No writings which are not plainly moulded after the pattern of the Bible in this respect make the faintest approach to its purity and its elevation above the ordinary thoughts and rules of men…their very nature reveals them to us as a reflection from Divine Holiness and Perfection” (Blunt, 73).
    3. Direct Assertions that it is a Revelation made to and through Inspired Men
      1. Paul (2 Timothy 3:16)
      2. Peter (2 Peter 1.21)
      3. “many passages throughout the Holy Scriptures in which the writers speak of themselves or their predecessors as speaking or writing that which had come from God”
        1. Moses
        2. David
        3. Prophets
        4. New Testament
    4. [Concluding summary] “And thus there are three distinct lines of evidence which all lead to the assurance that the Holy Bible is given by the inspiration of God:—(1) The wonderful unity of its contents, though written by many men in many ages; (2) the nature of its contents, which are such that they could only be known by revelation from God; and (3) the solemn assertions of the writers that they were speaking and writing what God had put into their minds” (Blunt, 78).
  2. The authority belong to Inspired Writings
    1. God speaks as One who is Omniscient, and who is absolute Truth: “Certainty and Truthfulness are, consequently, qualities which are inseparable from God’s word; and no inspired writing can possibly be untruthful or of doubtful authority: a principle which we may apply to inspired history, inspired prophecy, and inspired doctrine” (Blunt, 78).
    2. Inspired History
      1. [Haters gonna hate]: “Almost every section of these records has been made the subject of controversy and doubt. . . . But there is little or no consistency in the opinions of such sceptics, and the only thing in which they agree is their disbelief” (Blunt, 79).
      2. [No better alternatives offered]: “No more probable history has ever been substituted for the history contained in the Bible; and many of the things which have formerly been doubted by sceptical men have afterwards been proved to be true from independent testimony (such as the Assyrian sculptures) by men of deeper research and fuller opportunity for investigation” (ibid.)
      3. [Possibility of errors?]: “It is possible that errors may have crept in among the truth; but this is another question, to be answered by careful inquiry and criticism. Of one thing we may be certain, that when we have found reason to be assured that any thing in the Bible has really been revealed by God, or written by men whom He has inspired for the purpose of writing it truly, then we may also be assured that what is so recorded is removed beyond the range of all reasonable doubt, and is absolutely true and certain” (Blunt 79-80).
      4. [It’s not you, it’s me]: “Hence we may conclude that when we fail to recognize the perfect truthfulness of the Bible we are in fault, not the word of God” (Blunt, 80).
    3. Inspired Prophecy
      1. Truth of some prophecies proved by their fulfillment
      2. All others to be equally credited [even if some ideas of their fulfillment are wrong]
    4. Inspired Doctrine
      1. Many doctrines unintelligible, but not therefore to be disbelieved
  3. Divine and Human Care of the Scriptures: “How far the preservation of the Holy Scriptures has been owing to Providential care, and how far to the care of Jews and Christians, cannot be defined; but the fact is clear, that they have been handed down from one generation to another in a substantially unchanged condition that is quite marvellous, and all the more so because it would have been the interest of many sects to have altered portions of the sacred volume to meet their own views” (Blunt, 82).

Back to My Thoughts and Reflections

Conversations with Scripture: Blunt, 3

Conversations on Scripture: Blunt, 3

Having dealt with New Testament dating stuff in a previous post, I’ll head into Blunt’s third chapter on the New Testament.

His opening paragraphs introduce an interesting set of stats:

The books of the New Testament are twenty-seven, the writers eight, in number; the greater part being written by St. Paul, St. Luke, and St. John, who are the authors of three-fourths of the whole. The writings of St. Mark and St. Matthew to nearly one-fifth, and those of St. Peter, St. James, and St. Jude to one twenty-third part of the whole. Or, more exactly, supposing the whole New Testament to consist of 186 pages,

St. Peter, St. James, and St. Jude wrote 8 pages,

St. Matthew and St. Mark wrote 38 pages,

St. Paul, St. Luke, and St. John wrote 140 pages.

Blunt, 54.

Or, in pictures:

Blunt’s bird’s-eye view of the NT page counts thrown into an Excel chart

The point he’s making here is that there are five major authors (at least as measured by page count) and three minor. (Of course, as he’ll explain, he’s lumping Hebrews with Paul and Revelation with John the Evangelist.) What he doesn’t say, but clearly implies, is that these eight men represent our fundamental conduit of Christian truth. Furthermore, of those eight, three provide the bulk of the material. This is an interesting fact that I’ll say he leaves at the level of an assumption. But—I want us to notice what he’s doing here. We’ll come back to this in a post or two…

Then, Blunt provides a paragraph explaining the ordering principles of the NT. I didn’t want to quote this one in full, but after wrestling with it, I think we do need to see this two sentence paragraph in its entirety so that we can tease out a couple of observations with the assistance of some bracketed numbers inserted for later reference:

The several books of the New Testament are not arranged in [1] chronological order; for the the whole of them [2] having been written within the space of half a century, and nearly the whole within less than twenty years, [3] such an arrangement would have no particular advantage. The Gospels and Acts are [4] indeed thus arranged, but the Epistles are placed in the order of their length under each author; that to the Hebrews coming at the end of St. Paul’s and out of order, on account of some doubt whether it was or was not written by that Apostle.

Blunt, 54-55.

Whenever I teach an Intro to Bible/Exegesis class (and quite frequently when doing a forum or similar sort of biblical talk), a central source of confusion for the students/participants is around order and chronology. Here are two key things to remember:

  • Order implies chronology especially when disparate texts are assembled beginning with a chronological order.
    • In the OT, Genesis begins with creation, and the following books of the Bible maintain a narrative historical order through Esther (with a recapitulation for 1 and 2 Chronicles)
    • In the NT, Matthew begins the story of Jesus (which the other gospels recapitulate), Acts picks up the narrative thread, letters to churches follow, then time and history conclude with the end of the Book of Revelation
  • A distinction is necessary between “time in the text” and “time of the text”
    • “Time in the text” refers to the time period that the text is about.
    • “Time of the text” refers to the time period when the text was written/achieved the form in which we have received it.

When I talk about this stuff, I frequently refer to “the time referred to in the text” or simply “time-in” versus “the time when the text was written” or simply “time-of.” Keeping these two concepts distinct is especially important when talking about narrative material. Yes, the Gospel of Mark is describing the events of the year A.D. 33 or whatever year we decide Jesus conducted his main ministry in. But Mark was written in A.D. 65 or so. These are two different dates that represent two different things: when events happened vs. when the version of the events recorded achieved the form in which we encounter them.

Why does this matter?

Without any external cues, we tend to collapse these two mentally. Matthew is first; Revelation is last. If Paul mentions something about Jesus, we can just look earlier in the book to what he was referring to. Ah—but wait… In a single-author book you can totally do that… In a collection, it’s a totally different story (so to speak).

Thus, for one example, even though Paul is located after the gospels and is writing to churches established after the events of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, Paul’s writings were written before the gospels as we have them. Indeed, if we want to look at what Paul’s reference to Jesus might mean, we should look to Luke as—if we take the Acts narrative as reliable (which I think it largely is)—Luke himself was Paul’s student and the Gospel he leaves us, written a decade or two after Paul’s letters, gives us the Jesus-content of Paul’s proclamation.

While Paul was chronologically later than Jesus, his letters were written before the gospels were. 1

For another, I’ll throw in an OT example. When working with students wrestling with Psalm 8, they will often point to the fact that it references the creation story. Specifically, Psalm 8 has some parallels to the Genesis 1 account. (I’d say strong thematic parallels; the verbal parallels are actually less strong in the Hebrew than most English versions make it appear). They fail to appreciate that saying “the psalm quotes Genesis…” has some serious dating implications! The Torah as we have received it appears to have come together in and around the Babylonian Exile, and the Genesis 1 section appears to be from a Priestly source writing around that general time and possibly in deliberate contrast to a Babylonian/broader Ancient Near East creation-through-conflict narrative (which pops up in some of the older psalms!). To then say that “the psalm quotes Genesis” is not just an intertextual statement but also a dating argument that must place the composition of the psalm after the composition of Genesis (or at least that part of it which appears pretty late in the book’s history overall). This gets even more tangled if David (who lived roughly around 1000-960 BC) is identified as the author of the psalm!

[For more on all of this OT stuff, I refer you to the most excellent find by long-time friend Barbara in a comment below, the free full and complete open source text of John J. Collin’s Introduction To The Hebrew Bible And Deutero-Canonical Books, Third Edition (2018)]

Ok… Having said all of that, let’s pick up the Blunt thread again. Rather than forcing you to scroll up, I’ll put Blunt’s paragraph here one more time:

The several books of the New Testament are not arranged in [1] chronological order; for the the whole of them [2] having been written within the space of half a century, and nearly the whole within less than twenty years, [3] such an arrangement would have no particular advantage. The Gospels and Acts are [4] indeed thus arranged, but the Epistles are placed in the order of their length under each author; that to the Hebrews coming at the end of St. Paul’s and out of order, on account of some doubt whether it was or was not written by that Apostle.

Blunt, 54-55.

With regard to [1], Blunt does not clarify between time-in and time-of; however, [2] makes it clear that he is talking about time-of—at least, as he sees it. Therefore [3] refers to placing the various NT books in strict time-of chronological order which—given his dating scheme—would intermix Epistles and Gospels in a most confusing combination. [4] presents his thesis on gospel order, but fails to note the time-in/time-of hiccup represented by Acts. Thus, following the order of composition popularized by Eusebius and Augustine, Blunt will date Matthew at 61, Mark later in 61, Luke (and Acts) in 63, and John in 97. The reason for the canonical gospel order, then, is the chronology of their writing. (But—don’t forget—this is not the only order possible; the pre-Vulgate Old Latin Gospels that circulated in the fourth through seventh century followed the order Matthew-John-Luke-Mark which reflected the frequency of use in the lectionaries of the day.)

Following this introductory material, Blunt follows the pattern established in his OT chapter, providing a marginal date notation, then giving a quick summary of the content of each work. The notes on the gospels are largely about the evangelists, passing on the traditional material from Eusebius that was collected into the standardized prefaces that appeared in the medieval manuscript gospel books. Thus we’re told of Matthew’s Hebrew gospel, Mark being the deacon of both Peter and Paul but preserving Peter’s remembrances, and Luke being the disciple of Paul. His John section is different. Following Augustine’s lead he tells his readers that it:

…is chiefly a theological, and not a historical work, only so much narrative being introduced as is necessary for setting forth the particular truths to be proved and illustrated, and the whole of it being comprehended within broken periods, amounting altogether to only thirty-one days. His purpose was not to teach the history of our Lord, but the mysteries arising out of that history.

Blunt, 57-58.

Unlike the preceding Synoptics (and, no he certainly does not use that term!), he provides a brief guide for John:

Chapter 2Divine Nature of the Man Christ Jesus.
Chapter 3Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
Chapter 6Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Chapter 8Eternal existence of the Son. His equality with the Father. Doctrine of Plurality in Unity.
Chapter 10Pastoral work of Christ in the visible Church.
Chapter 11Power of Christ in the invisible world.
Chapters 14-17Various mysteries connected with Christ’s perpetual presence.
Blunt’s drive-by of John (Blunt, 58)

After noting the limited focus of Acts on Peter and Paul, Blunt heads into the Epistles and provides brief summaries of each, identifying the location from which it was written, the addressees, and—in a sentence or two—the chief arcs. He does attribute Hebrews to Paul. He places James in A.D. 61 (same year as Matthew and Mark) basing his date on the death of James following (here explicitly name-checking) Eusebius and Josephus. 1 Peter is dated to 49, becoming the earliest of all the NT writings. The writing of the Johannine epistles is correlated with the destruction of the Temple, but he places Revelation either in 67 (Nero) or 96 (Domitian), preferring the earlier date (pleading confusion based on the longer name “Nero Domitianus”).

As in the previous chapter, this one ends with the summary of Revelation with no concluding verbiage.

Again—despite my issues with his dates and some authorship matters, I think Blunt does provide a solid overview of the content of the NT, suitable for providing readers used to encountering the Scripture in pericope-length chunks (whether from the Eucharistic lectionary or the Daily Office one) a big picture view of the NT. I do find his opening paragraphs intriguing, less for what he actually says and more for what I think he is assuming and will build on in the next chapter.

Because…the next chapter is one of the key reasons I’m interested in working through this book: “The Revelation of the Holy Bible and the Inspiration of its Writers.” But that’s for next time…

  1. I was tempted to talk about the Jesus vs. Paul narrative you sometimes find in the church at this point, but that would have taken me completely of course! Another post, perhaps… [back]