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.