In Our Image & what it means (i)

One of the key phrases we have read the past week confidently asserts man’s being after the image and likeness of God. This tells us much about humanity. It also – perhaps surprisingly to some – tells us much about God. The great Master of the Sentences (Peter Lombard) explains:

In Genesis, the Lord shows at once the plurality of persons and the unity of nature by saying: Let us make man in our image and likeness. By saying let us and our, he shows the plurality of persons, but by saying image, he shows the unity of essence.

The Sentences, Bk. 1 distinction 2, par. 2.

Once again this sort of reading conflicts with historical -critical reading. The latter is always bravely attempting to divine “authorial intent” which is a rather polished way of saying “playing a guessing game at what I think the author could have intended.” Of course, this procedure is put forward as rendering the objective truth concerning the meaning of the Scriptural text. This approach is sharply contrasted with the fanciful subjective, reading of the Church Fathers and the great Medieval authors (such as Master Peter). The Fathers and Medievals, you see, are merely reading into the text what they wish to find there. They do not (could not) pay sufficient attention to the historical context and therefore they often miserably fail to give truthful and reliable readings of the Scriptural text. It is, of course, entirely ignored that the “objective truth” entirely depends upon the subjective criteria used by the researcher that determines what he will find. This should be abundantly clear from Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus.

It cannot be denied that historical critical research provides valuable insights to be considered in what the Scriptural text says about God and our relationship to Him. The connections (for example) thus established between the story of the Flood and other ancient Near-Eastern flood stories add significantly to the meaning and function of the text and cannot be ignored. The problem arises when researchers are using the wrong criteria to do their research. When seeking to establish authorial intent … exactly who is the presumed author? More specifically in the case of Genesis: is the author J? or E? P? or perhaps D? or even an increasingly awkward combination of them? as critical research has often proposed? And if we can establish these (hypothetical ! ) authors with some degree of likelihood  does this prove that the text written by these pre-Christian author(s), in pre-Christian times could not possibly have written concerning the Trinity?

Far from it. Even if JEPD or some recombination of these hypothetical authors are established with any degree of certainty that does not at all invalidate the way the Fathers and our Medieval Doctors read the text of Scripture. Again … who is the author of Scripture? To the historical-critical researchers the author is JEPD (or some combination of them) – and certainly there must have been someone putting some sort of pen to a piece of paper to write these stories. But the text is not just any text … It is Scripture and its primary author cannot be said to be JEPD but it must be said that the primary author of the text is God! Without specifying the mechanism Christians are bound to consider that the process of writing, composing, selecting the text which is now counted as Scripture is subject to God’s intentions. It is therefore important to remember that not science provides the key to understanding Scripture but God does. Scientific analysis has its place, but it cannot replace God’s given key to understanding Scripture.

Master Peter does not have the benefit of modern day science. That much is true. He does, however, understand that God is the primary author of Scripture and that it is His intent that we must seek to unravel in prayerfully reading the text. The central question is not what JEPD intended to write or say (though this question has its place) but what God intends with Scripture as it is given to us. This is the question the Fathers and Master Peter are answering in their writings.

(to be continued … )



About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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