The following blog was motivated in part by an exchange I had on an online board. It got me thinking about the Doctrines of Revelation and The Scriptures.
These statements got me thinking. I think they are proof of the wisdom of the common Protestant attitude towards Tradition. These statements were made in response to the biblical statement that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was also his half-sister and were followed by the denial of the statement because Tradition says there is a better – more moral – story. Ultimately, it is the anachronistic imposing of later-century morés into a millennia-old story, as if saying “eww” grants one the authority to change the story. At issue is the concept of Revelation.
The doctrine of Scriptures, for me, must include the concept of Revelation. God is God and he is not a man. Man cannot understand God or figure him out and so for knowledge of God and his will, man is dependent on God revealing himself. (Admittedly, this view assumes not only man’s finitude but also his rebellion against God, theologically called Depravity). I believe that God reveals himself and that Revelation to be the Scriptures. No commentary on the Scriptures, no Traditional teaching on the Scriptures – no matter how well-meaning, sincere or pious its source – attains that authority of Revelation. There are all kinds of teachers. Some are better (more pious and/or insightful) and more worthy of respect and consideration, but their teaching remains their teaching and it is subject to the Scriptures, not the other way around. Those who add Tradition authoritatively into the mix, as here, invariably place Tradition above Scripture in authority. It was stated by the author of the above quotes “if you only read the Scriptures apart from the traditional teachings you are not getting the whole story”. What I call STs (Sacred Traditionists – those of denominations who see “Sacred Tradition” as revelatory) within Christianity are even more blunt “Unless you fully accept the traditions of my One True Church, you are not part of the Body of Christ”. Scripture – God’s Revelation – is not merely inadequate, it is damning if only taken by itself.
In the illustration I started with, it may not matter much if Abraham married his niece rather than his sister, much like the common Christian claim that those called “Jesus’ brothers” in the NT were really his cousins (or half-brothers from some previous marriage of Joseph’s), but the attitude towards the Revelation is what I am concerned for. If the Scriptures are God’s Revelation, then that received text (No, I do not mean TR) means something as received. To make the received text subject to your morés and what would cause you to say “eww!” is a flipping of what should be the proper relationship between you and God’s revelation.
In the context of Abraham’s time, marrying one’s half-sister was not an issue. At the time, there was no “eww” involved. The Law of Moses forbidding that practice was almost 500 years future, and our own culture another 3400 years beyond that. The progressive nature of God’s revealing himself has bearing here. Abraham cannot be judged by later Revelation, he was faithful in his relationship with God and he was called God’s friend.
To use another example, later on in Genesis is the story of Jacob. He married Leah and Rachel, two sisters (and had what I have called “The Baby Wars” Genesis 29,30). Like Abraham, this was according to the rules of the day. There was no “eww” involved. Yet, were one to read commentaries on this story (I mean Christian commentaries, the ones I have read), they take great pains to let us know that Jacob was a sinner here, as if the lesson to be taught from the story is “one man, one woman” just in case there is some guy reading this in the 21st century thinking “Great! I can go marry some woman and her sister!” This story is strategically placed in the broad story of Jacob’s life to show us God fulfilling his earlier promise to bless and prosper him (Genesis 28:13-15) Yet, in many of the teachings, the lessons of the received text concerning God and his promises are made secondary to safe, “MC” (Morally Correct) keeping people in line, with the result that the text is tamed. One Christian writer conceded this story was God blessing Jacob by saying “God did ‘bless’ Jacob, but we can only guess how much more he would have been blessed had he done things God’s way.” – a horrible subjection of the text to modern moralizing.
As one who believes in the Doctrines of Scriptures and Revelation, my first commitment is to the text as received. Teachings and Traditions on that text may be helpful, insightful and pious but they are not Revelation. The thoughts of others do not “fill in the gaps” of Scripture with the authority of Scriptures themselves, which sometimes, frustrating our wish for trivia, has gaps. (Sometimes the music is in the pauses between the notes, said the pianist.) The text as received is the Revelation. Tradition is the inserting of someone’s “ewww” between me and the text. The one who revealed himself is concerned that I respond to the revelation, not with how creatively I cover up what I find disconcerting or fear someone may misuse.