Saturday, July 07, 2018

Gerhard Forde 1972 Where God Meets Man: Notes on Chapter 1

Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel, Published by Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis.
https://archive.org/details/wheregodmeetsman00ford

In his Preface Forde states that he wrote this particular book for people struggling with “thinking about the faith.” It is written for those who “see that it is difficult to affirm many things that have come to us from the past but … find modern substitutes equally uncomfortable.” (5) Forde states that his work is meant to represent Luther’s theology based on a “two-fold conviction: first that many of our problems have arisen because we have not really understood our own traditions, especially in the case of Luther; and second that there is still a lot of help for us in someone like Luther if we take the trouble to probe beneath the surface.”(5f)

Forde argues that “we have failed to understand the basic thrust or direction of Luther’s theology.” (6) His contention is that “modern scholarship has demonstrated that Luther simply did not share the views on the nature of faith and salvation that subsequent generations foisted upon him and used to interpret his thinking.”(6) The key to really understanding Luther, according to Forde, is modern scholarship:
“This book attempts to bring the results of some of that scholarship to light and make it more accessible for those who are searching for answers today.”(6)

Chapter 1 “Up the Down Staircase”

Forde uses the illustration of the Ladder or Staircase as his point of comparison in explaining two main different types of faith. The illustration is from Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. At the base, Forde asserts, is that too many think Christianity “has to do primarily with ‘going up’ somewhere — either to heaven or to some kind of ‘religious perfection.’”(7) Forde states that this notion is wrong, “it involves us in the task of ascending to heaven when we should be seeking like our Lord to come down to earth, to learn what it means to be a Christian here on earth.” (8) Forde calls this a “down to earth movement” and maintains that this movement “is an important key to understanding the theology of Martin Luther.”(8)

Here Forde makes a puzzling assertion about Luther’s history. His claim is that there is theological significance in the way that Luther rejected the use of the ladder, as in Forde’s illustration.
“Surely this is the significance of his leaving the monastery. He was turning his back on the piety of the ladder, the belief that the Christian life must be understood as the task of ascending to heaven by special spiritual exercises.”(8)
Forde might be conflating Luther’s writings against monasticism with other events. Luther did not leave the monastery. Luther became an Augustinian Monk in 1505. In 1511 Staupitz transferred him from the monastery in Erfurt to teach at the University of Wittenberg. In 1520 Luther wrote in favor of the marriage of priests and monks in “To the German Nobility” and in “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” In 1521 Luther was excommunicated by Leo X. The same year but after his excommunication Luther published a harsh critique of monasticism titled “On Monastic Vows.” This particular writing is an explicit rejection of system of monasticism as it was practiced in the Church at that time. This particular pamphlet was written to reform monasticism, to do away with the abuses, but not to destroy monasticism. Luther certainly wrote in this document against the idea that monastic life is somehow superior to other vocations. Luther did not take off his monastic habit make a full break with monasticism until 1524 — after he had been sent from the monastery and after he had been excommunicated. I realize this might appear as nit-picking, but I think it is important to demonstrate the difference between Forde’s generalization of Luther and how Luther’s development took place through the events and writings over the years. Forde uses this generalization to fortify his own view of Luther’s theology in this chapter.

Luther understood the ladder differently than the way Forde represents Luther. Forde is accurate that for Luther the Ladder is not meant to be climbed by our righteousness. But in Luther the Ladder is also not for us to climb down for our neighbor. Luther confessed that the Ladder is Christ himself. In commenting on John 1:51 Luther wrote:
“This is also an extraordinary word. But Christ applies the history of the dear patriarch Jacob, (Gen. xxviii.,) to himself, that the angels should ascend and descend upon him as on a ladder. … Before the advent of Christ, heaven was firmly closed, and the devil ruled powerfully; but through Christ ("hereafter") and in Christ heaven has been thrown open again, and now Christians see heaven open, and continually hear God, the heavenly Father, converse with him.”
[Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, compiled from his works by Rev E. Mueller, Translated by Rev. P. Anstadt, D.D., 1899, Page 281 https://play.google.com/books/reader?printsec=frontcover&output=reader&id=iVpIAAAAYAAJ&pg=GBS.PA281 ]

Actual

This is a term that Forde used frequently throughout his writings with reference to Christ and the Scriptures.
“We must learn to think and speak about the gospel, as far as that is possible, within the limits of what we actually know, within the limits of what actually happens to Jesus here on earth and to us when we are confronted by the story of Jesus.”(13, italics mine)
Within the context of this chapter and book, and within the greater context of Forde’s writings he uses the term actual to refer to vaguely defined subset of gospel verses in contrast with what he maintains are the Evangelists’ later interpretations of the meaning of Christ’s words, death, and resurrection. Forde held to an historical critical view of the interpretation of the New Testament. The casual reader may make the mistake of thinking that Forde was making an appeal to the actual words of the New Testament as it is written. He was not. His meaning is that to truly understand Jesus one needs to get rid of what he considers to be the interpretations of the Apostles, the Evangelists, the apocalyptic passages, and to strip the text down to what his historical criticism claims can be found in the hypothetical Q source. This is how he uses the term actual. He does not explain this meaning to the reader in this chapter. But he practices this with how he selects texts and refuses to discuss texts in his interpretations of Law, Gospel, and the Atonement in this chapter. He does explain his historical critical approach to the text in his 1984 “The Shape of the Tradition” in the Braaten and Jenson Christian Dogmatics.

Law

Forde’s discussion of the Law consists of many statements that direct his readers away from the words of the Law of God in Scripture. For example, he states:
“For Luther the crucial question was not so much what the law says, i.e. the information it contains, but what it actually does to you when you hear it.” (13, italics original)
At this point he summarizes what Luther stated on the uses of the Law in the Smalcald Articles (Part III, Art. II). Here Forde emphasizes that in Luther’s formulation:
“It is not said that the law was intended as a way of salvation. The law is not in that sense a ladder to heaven.”(13-14)
But immediately after this he also inserts his claim against the vicarious atonement:
“That would make the law into mere theory … into a theory about how it is satisfied.”(14)
In the place of the written word and law of God Forde maintains that for Luther:
“In its theological ‘use’ law should be understood as a concrete and actual ‘voice’ which ‘sounds in the heart’ and the ‘conscience,’ a real voice which afflicts a man in his isolation from God and demands that he fulfill his humanity.”(14)
Two points, at least, are important to note here. First, Forde is limiting the law to that which is not written in Scripture but which is felt in man. Forde does not explicitly tie his expression to natural law, but perhaps this is close. But making this connection does not appear to be Forde’s interest. He appears more interested in showing that the idea of law must be distanced from the written word of God.

Second, Forde asserts that the law functions not to show sin, but to “demand that he fulfills his humanity.” But what does it mean for one to “fulfill his humanity”?

One must at least grant that Forde’s language is very different from both Scripture and from Luther. Luther was pretty clear in his meaning in the Smalcald Articles:
But the chief office or force of the Law is that it reveal original sin with all its fruits, and show man how very low his nature has fallen, and has become [fundamentally and] utterly corrupted; as the Law must tell man that he has no God nor regards [cares for] God, and worships other gods, a matter which before and without the Law he would not have believed. In this way he becomes terrified, is humbled, desponds, despairs, and anxiously desires aid, but sees no escape; he begins to be an enemy of [enraged at] God, and to murmur, etc. 5] This is what Paul says, Rom. 4:15: The Law worketh wrath. And Rom. 5:20: Sin is increased by the Law. (SA II:II.4-5)
Forde’s states that for Luther:
“the voice of the law reaches its climactic crescendo in the preaching of the cross.”(15)
This is true.  But the solution Forde poses is puzzling:
“For the point is that ‘the law’ is not merely a set of commandments, not a list of requirements that could be disposed of merely by doing a few things and choking them off. The law is that immediate and actual voice arising from the sum total of human experience ‘in this age,’ up to and including the cross, a voice which will not stop until our humanity is fulfilled.” (15, italics mine)
The archetypal language “actual voice arising from the sum total of human experience…” is an unusual and rather Jungian mode of expression that casts an awkward and foreign paradigm on the notion of original sin.
“The law is that which accuses and terrifies and in a real sense, anything that does this functions as law. … It is a voice, which for the sinner, never ends.”(15-16, italics original)

Sin

As we saw above in Luther’s Smalcald Articles, he stated that
“the chief office or force of the Law is that it reveal original sin with all its fruits, and show man how very low his nature has fallen.” 
Yet, so far in this chapter, Forde has referred to sin only with reference to the guilt the person feels when accused by law. And the law, in Forde, is not the Ten Commandments, or the Two Great Commandments, but “anything” that accuses and terrifies.

For Luther, the aim of the law is to drive us to repentance for our sins. For Forde the aim is different and has to do with pointing out, in Forde’s terms,  how we have not “fulfilled our humanity.”

Gospel

Forde’s definition of Gospel is different from what is found in Scripture and Confessional Lutheranism, and for that matter from most of organized Christianity. For Forde:
“[T]he gospel too must be seen in terms of what it does. For what is the Gospel? It is the end of the law! That is to say that what the gospel does is to put an end to the ‘voice’ of the law.” (16)
Now, this is how Forde is representing his interpretation of Luther:
“The voice stops, really, only when what the law demands is really there. That is, the voice stops only when we become fully what we were intended to be. The command to love, for instance, stops when we actually do love.” (16)
Forde does not understand this as a work of Christ credited to us. He teaches that
“In Christ this new creation has already and actually broken in on us, and the promise that it will be carried to its completion.”(16)
There is nothing in Forde’s interpretation of Luther or the Gospel that actually deals with or preaches the forgiveness of sins. Christ’s death
“Is the story of something that happened here on earth strong enough to break the actual hold of the law on us….”(17)
Forde explains Luther as teaching that the proper distinction between law and gospel is:
“[a] battle … between these contending voices or powers. That is why the basic question for Luther was the proper distinction between law and gospel. It is a question of how you hear the words, what they actually do to you. Some think they are hearing gospel when it is actually only another form of law.” (17)
Here it should be pointed out that Forde has repeatedly highlighted the vicarious atonement of Christ as one of these false gospels. Forde continued:
“Rightly to distinguish law from gospel is to hear that other voice, the voice that tells of him who came down to earth to give us also the gift of being able to live down to earth. It is a voice strong enough to make and keep us human, to enable us to live as we were intended to live — as creatures of God.”(17, italics original)
The Gospel does not have to do with the announcement of sins forgiven for Christ’s sake. Instead, for Forde the gospel consists of having the ability to hear “love” and to do “love,” the ability to be and do without self-doubt and guilt, particularly without fear of judgment from God.

Atonement

Throughout this chapter Forde describes the doctrine of the Penal Substitutionary Atonement as legalism and antithetical to the Gospel.

Forde asserted that Luther was attacking and disagreeing with the doctrine of the Vicarious Atonement:
“But it was precisely this ‘natural’ way of thinking that Luther attacked. … But we misunderstand if we think that it was only this system or its abuse that he was attacking. He was attacking a way of thinking which is a kind of universal disease of mankind: the very idea that the law is a ladder and that God is one who can be bargained with or obligated to ‘pay off’ according to such schemes.” (9-10)
Forde is not arguing that we are unable to pay our debt because of our sin. He is arguing that the very idea that because of sin there is a debt we owe before God that must be satisfied.
  “Let me explain. We begin by assuming the law is a ladder to heaven. Then we go on to say, ‘Of course, no one can climb the ladder, because we are all weakened by sin. We are all therefore guilty and lost.’ And this is where ‘the gospel’ is to enter the picture. What we need is someone to pay our debt to God and to climb the ladder for us. This, supposedly, is what Jesus has done. As our ‘substitute’ he has paid off God and climbed the ladder for us. All we have to do now is ‘believe it.’ 
  “But what have we done when we understand the gospel in this way? We have, in fact, interpreted the gospel merely as something that makes the ladder scheme work. The gospel comes to make up for the deficiencies of the law. The gospel does not come as anything really new. … It is trapped in the understanding of law which we have ourselves concocted.
   “The net result is that the gospel itself simply becomes another kind of law. …. If you want to be saved you must now ‘believe’ all that. That is the new law. (10-11)
Forde says the notion of Christ paying our debt of sin is part of ‘climbing the ladder’ to make ourselves better before God. And that this notion of the vicarious atonement faces several difficulties.
“In the first place, can we so lightly assume that God is one who can be ‘bought off’ — even by Jesus?” (11)
Forde asserts that the way one knows this is true or not about God is how this question affects our sensibilities:
“If the question shocks us, we ought to take it as an indication that we cannot really think that way about God at all.”(11)
Luther called this way of thinking about God enthusiasm. (SA II:VIII Of Confession, 3-13 http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php#part3.8.3 )

Forde continued:
“In the second place, to introduce the question of payment in this way inevitably raises the old question of how can we be sure that Christ has paid enough. … The usual answer is to say that because he is divine, his sufferings have infinite worth. But that is only a further theory which complicates rather than solves matters. For instance, can the divine suffer? … After all, if all his sufferings have infinite worth, one would think that the beating and the crown of thorns would have satisfied God!” (12)
With those words we can see that Forde does not accept what Luther plainly and repeatedly preached. For example, Luther taught:
57. But now, if God’s wrath is to be taken away from me and I am to obtain grace and forgiveness, some one must merit this; for God cannot be a friend of sin nor gracious to it, nor can he remit the punishment and wrath, unless payment and satisfaction be made. Now, no one, not even an angel of heaven, could make restitution for the infinite and irreparable injury and appease the eternal wrath of God which we had merited by our sins; except that eternal person, the Son of God himself, and he could do it only by taking our place, assuming our sins, and answering for them as though he himself were guilty of them. This our dear Lord and only Savior and Mediator before God, Jesus Christ, did for us by his blood and death, in which he became a sacrifice for us; and with his purity, innocence, and righteousness, which was divine and eternal, he outweighed all sin and wrath he was compelled to bear on our account; yea, he entirely engulfed and swallowed it up, and his merit is so great that God is now satisfied and says, If he wills thereby to save, then there shall be a salvation. As Christ also says of his Father’s will, John 6:40: “This is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life.” Also Matthew 28:18: “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.” And in his prayer in John 17:1-2 he says: “Father, glorify thy Son, that the Son may glorify thee; even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him he should give eternal life.”
[Lenker vol 2 p. 293-4, italics mine http://www.martinluthersermons.com/Luther_Lenker_Vol_2.pdf ]
Forde’s third issue is
“the troublesome question of forgiveness. If God has been paid, how can one say that he really forgives? If a debt is paid, one can hardly say it is forgiven. Nor could one call God’s action mercy.(12)
Indeed, it would not be mercy if the debtor had to pay his own debt. But in the Scripture it is not the debtor who has to pay his own way. It is the creator who pays the debt on behalf of the debtor. The master in in Jesus’ parable forgives the debt of his servant, the debt does not just disappear, the master is covering his servant’s debt.(Matthew 18:21-35)

For each of these issues Forde declares that Luther opposed such theology:
“We shall not approach an understanding of the theology of Luther unless we begin to see that he was against such thinking, against this ‘natural reason,’ ‘the devil’s whore.’ … For who knows, really, whether God is ‘satisfied’ in the kind of way the theory suggests? Who knows whether we are right in saying that the sufferings of the divine-human Jesus have the ‘infinite worth’ demanded by the scheme.”(12-13, italics original)
A student of Scripture in Confessional Lutheranism should have no problem dealing with these misinterpretations of Luther. Forde’s problems exist, at least in large part, because he has already rejected the Bible as the source and norm for what God teaches. Forde wants to find ‘what we actually know’ but chooses to discount anything in the New Testament and Old Testament which does not fit within his philosophical construct of what God must be like. He is not measuring his theology against Scripture. He is refusing any passage or context which does not fit with what he wishes Christ to be.

Forde’s claim to teach Luther more clearly and more accurately is open to exactly the same criticism. Forde selects only those phrases from Luther that fit the kind of theology Forde imagined Luther to have. But it does not take a great deal of searching in Luther to show how much Forde has to ignore or throw out.

Every child who has learned Luther’s Small Catechism should be familiar with Luther’s confession about the payment Christ made on our behalf for our sins.
“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” [ Small Catechism Second Article: Meaning, italics mine ]
Luther was also very clear in the Large Catechism that Christ paid the debt of sin, and my sin. Luther stats that the debt is a debt I owe as a sinner. Christ paid my debt with His own blood. That is, His being put to death.
“ how and whereby it was accomplished, that is, how much it cost Him, and what He spent and risked that He might win us and bring us under His dominion, namely, that He became man, conceived and born without [any stain of] sin, of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, that He might overcome sin; moreover, that He suffered, died and was buried, that He might make satisfaction for me and pay what I owe, not with silver nor gold, but with His own precious blood.” [ Large Catechism Second Article §31 ]
In 1519, Ten years prior, on Good Friday just the year after the Heidelberg Disputation Luther preached:
“[Y]ou see the severe wrath and the unchangeable earnestness of God in regard to sin and sinners, in that he was unwilling that His only and dearly beloved Son should set sinners free unless he paid the costly ransom for them as is mentioned in Is 53, 8: ‘For the transgression of my people was he stricken.’" [ Martin Luther, Good Friday Sermon, 1519, §4, italics mine ]
And a few paragraphs later:
“cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Is 53,6 says: ‘Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;’ and St. Peter in his first Epistle 2, 24: ‘Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree’ of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Cor 5,21: ‘Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’" [ §13  http://www.martinluthersermons.com/sermons45.html ]
It should be clear from these quotations that Luther did very much believe, teach, and confess that Christ paid the debt for our sin, and that this payment was made to make restitution to the Father.

Claims about Luther

 “I hope to show, by developing some of the important facets of Luther’s thought, that he was quite opposed to a theology based on the idea of the ladder, that one can look upon his work as a great attempt to reverse directions, to base faith entirely on a God who came ‘down to earth’ and to foster a Christian life which is likewise ‘down to earth.’” (8)
What Luther opposed was the notion that sinful humans paid or could make satisfaction for sin. Forde claimed:
“Luther understood the gospel as something more than a theory about how God might or might not have been ‘bought off’ up there in heaven. If it were only that it would be just another law; it would be merely a set of doctrines to which the command would be added: ‘Thou shalt believe this or perish.” (17)
But here Forde is appropriating parts of what Luther wrote to support the very different image of Christ, Atonement, and Gospel that he (Forde) has constructed. Forde is also reconstructing Luther to fit his (Forde’s) own image of what he wished Luther to have been. Forde is using terms and phrases in a way to imply that Luther rejected, or at least, would never support the notion that Christ paid the debt of sinners.

Summary

These notes are only on the Preface and Chapter 1 of this short book. My notes are probably longer than the chapter. I realize this is only the first part of this book and that Forde probably went on to explain some aspects of what he covered in this chapter. This chapter, however, does show that in 1972 Forde already clearly distanced himself from the historical Scriptural terminology and the theology of the Lutheran Confessions. His distancing is deliberate and clear. His discounting or ignoring of Scriptures to fit his theology is paralleled by his discounting or ignoring of Luther’s writings to fit what he wished Luther to have been.

What is amazing to me is that a work like this could be taken seriously as an explanation of Luther's theology! In his introductory Forde brought up Law, Gospel, and the proper distinction, the Atonement, all without ever dealing with Scriptural definitions or those topics or of original sin, actual sin. He claimed to present Luther's views, but Luther's frequent and clearly stated teaching on these were cleanly excised from the picture of Luther presented by Forde. Again, I have yet to do a full analysis on the rest of the book, but this introductory chapter presents Forde, not Luther. Forde presents his caricature of Luther and his doctrine, and his (Forde's) caricature of Scriptural doctrine to the reader as genuine, authentic, as actual. But all he has taught so far appears, to me, to be that Christ came to tell us, "Hey, God's ok with you. Just be you! Look! I did it! That's what you do." He rejects the notion that God is a Just God visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children. He rejects Christ's payment for sin.

As I have written previously, Forde's arguments and teaching grow in sophistication and in popular appeal, but I do not see him changing significantly in substance. He is capable of and adept at using historic Christian and Lutheran terminology with very different meanings.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Note 3 on Gerhard Forde's 1984 “Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ”

In Forde, Christ came and simply forgave. God is unconditional love and as far as God is concerned, He did not require the death of Christ in order to be able to forgive. He simply forgave and showed mercy. But this should make us happy! So how does Forde deal with reason for Christ’s death?
“But why did we kill him? It was, I expect we must say, a matter of ‘self-defense.’ Jesus came not just to teach about the mercy and forgiveness of God but actually to do it, to have mercy and to forgive unconditionally. … How can this world survive, how can we survive if mercy and forgiveness are just given unconditionally? … Actually doing it, giving it unconditionally just seems to us terribly reckless and dangerous. It shatters the ‘order’ by which we must run things here.” (92, italics original) 
“One who comes actually to have mercy and to forgive in God’s name is just an absolute and total threat to the way we have decided we must run thing here. So either Jesus must go or we must.” (92-93) 
“Those who advocated the ‘subjective’ view of the atonement were at least right in that, I expect. God is, indeed, sheer unconditional love.” (93)
In a human relationship Forde’s argument might be illustrated in this way:

A woman unconditionally loves her adulterous, drunken, abusive husband who refuses to work for a living. She provides for him: he spends the money in alcohol and prostitutes. She forgives him and shows mercy to him, going out to bring him home. She tells him she loves him and forgives him. But her declarations of love just do not break through. The man just does not even sense that he needs forgiveness. So the wife decides to be where her husband is in his sin. She is at the bar while he drinks to oblivion. She tells him she forgives him and loves him. She is there when he finds a prostitute, and while he violates their marriage she tells him she forgives him and loves him. She is there in his face with forgiveness and unconditional love and mercy wherever and whenever he rejects her and rebels against her. And he beats her. She realizes the only way she can get through to him —  to demonstrate how truly unconditional her love is for him — is that she must let him beat her to death. This, at last should shock him into realizing that she really does forgive him and loves him unconditionally.

The above illustration is my attempt to capture the main argument in Forde’s interpretation of the purpose for Christ’s death. In Forde’s description of Christ’s work Christ does not condemn sin or sinners or call them to repentance for their sin. He only shows mercy. The purpose of the Cross is simply a version of Scared Straight therapy.

For Forde, the divine purpose of the Cross, the purpose of the suffering and death of Christ was to provide a vivid and brutal demonstration of God’s unconditional love in order to shock us out of our self-justifying denials that God is unconditional love.
“The persistent question through theological history has been whether God could not have done it [convinced the world that He had already forgiven them unconditionally and without sacrifice or rendering of payment or satisfaction] in some other way. … Neither the persuasiveness of the example [of Christ’s love and service] nor the defeat of demons — nothing exterior to God himself — provides sufficient reasoning for abandoning Jesus to his cruel fate. Yet to say that the cross was necessary to satisfy the divine honor or wrath or justice is also clearly suspect. The event of Jesus tells us that God’s intent is simply to have mercy, that God is love.” (94)
“God’s problem is how actually to have mercy on a world that will not have it.” (94)
“He knows that to have mercy on whom he will have mercy can only appear as frightening, as wrath, to such a world. … So he refuses to be wrath for us. He refuses to be the wrath that is resident in all our conditionalism. … Thus, precisely so as not to be the wrathful God we seem bent on having he dies for us, ‘gets out of the way’ for us.”(95)
For Forde, Christ did not need to make satisfaction for sins in the sense of suffering the punishment we deserve in our place. Vicarious satisfaction, to Forde, is a self-justifying scheme to avoid having to admit that God is simply unconditional love and mercy.
“We are under his wrath not because of something so abstract as his ‘honor’ or his ‘justice’ to which ‘payment’ must be made, but because we will not let him be who he will be for us: unconditional love and mercy.” (94)
So our main offense to God, the thing that separates us from Him is that we refuse to accept his love for us. Which seems a bit shallow if, as Forde states, the whole purpose of this brutal death is to demonstrate how unconditional God’s love is for us. Why then would anyone have to bother with Christianity over any other religion? (This is a question Forde addressed in the same year as this article with in his locus on Christ in Braaten and Jenson’s Dogmatics) While Forde does not quite go into a universalism in this article, his basic position on the unconditional love of God certainly points in a universalist direction.

For Forde the idea of Christ bearing our sins on his body refers only to our abuse of Christ’s body. Forde rejects Christ as substitute.
“Thus he must ‘bear our sins in his body’ — not theoretically in some fashion, but actually. He is beaten, spit upon, mocked, wasted. That is, perhaps we can say, the only way for him to ‘catch us in the act.’ (96)
“Christ’s work is to realize [make real in this world] the will of God to have mercy unconditionally, and thus to make new beings and bring in the new age.” (96)
“[W]e can also suggest a somewhat different and, it is to be hoped, more acceptable sense in which Christ’s work, as tradition has insisted, ‘satisfies’ the wrath (justice, honor) of God. When faith is created, when we actually believe God’s unconditional forgiveness; then God can say, ‘Now I am satisfied!” God’s wrath ends actually when we believe him, not abstractly because of a payment to God ‘once upon a time.’ “(97, italics original)
Thus, when we can see how badly we have treated Christ and that he has maintained his unconditional love for us through it all, then we can finally be confronted with our own brutality — be scared straight. And when we arrive at this appreciation of how much God loved us in this way we can finally believe God is satisfied.

There can be no “Justification through Christ by faith” in Forde’s theology. Each term has been re-defined differently than Scripture and deliberately distanced from the definitions of the Lutheran Confessions.
Augsburg Confession,  Article IV: Of Justification.
1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. 
At the center of Forde’s theology is a denial that Christ is God taking on Human flesh for the purpose of giving His life to make satisfaction for our sins. In place of this Forde presents a Jesus who allows himself to be brutalized so that he can finally convince us that God is love even without Christ’s death.

Where Forde writes of the Cross, it is not of the Cross upon which the Divine-Human Christ paid the debt for the sins of the children of Adam. The cross is, instead, only an example of our brutality against God’s love. An example which is supposed to wake us up to realize how loving God is.

Where Forde writes of Mercy, it is not of the mercy shown by Christ’s willingness and choice to come into this world to be under the law to redeem those who were under the law by paying their debt in their place. For Forde, God is merciful without Christ. Christ is merely the example of mercy.

Where Forde writes of Faith, it is not of the faith given by God through Word and Sacrament that clings to the person and work of Christ alone as our salvation. For Forde faith is a rejection of the substitutionary atonement in favor of the simple acknowledgement that God is Love.

Where Forde writes of Justification, it is not of the Verdict of God rendered upon sinners as innocent through faith in the substitutionary work of Christ. He has deliberately distanced himself from the Scriptural understanding expressed in the Lutheran Confessions.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Note 2 on Gerhard Forde's 1984 “Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ”

Forde rejects the vicarious atonement. He does not describe the doctrine of vicarious atonement accurately, rather, he frames it as a human notion trying to appease an angry God. But, for Forde, God is not angry with sin. Nor, for Forde, is God concerned with justice nor with being just.
“In the so-called ‘objective’ theory it is maintained that God needed the death of Jesus in order to be merciful to us. God is the object of the atoning act. The demands of his law, or wrath, or justice had to be ‘satisfied.’ So we are exonerated because the cross was necessary to God. But the inevitable consequence of such thinking is that it doesn’t finally reconcile us to God. If the cross is necessary to pay God, God will be pictured as at worst a rather vindictive tyrant demanding his pound of flesh or at best an inept subordinate caught in the same inexorable net of law and justice as we are.”(86-7)
This is followed by an appeal to “the biblical witness” but not to a passage or context of Scripture. Forde wants to have the appearance of abiding by the word of God without actually having to do so:
“The persistent criticism of doctrines of vicarious satisfaction and substitutionary atonement since the Enlightenment has the same root. The picture painted of God is too black, too contrary to the biblical witness.”(87)
Then Forde presents his mischaracterization of mercy in the vicarious atonement:
"If the death [of Christ] was payment, how could reconciliation be an act of mercy? Mercy is mercy, not the result of payment." (87, italics original)
Forde misrepresents the vicarious substitution without any reference to what God says about His motivation for sending His Son to the Cross or of the Son’s motivation for going to the cross. For Forde the vicarious atonement is merely a matter of an angry god being offered a payment to keep him happy. This is a pagan misreading of the Biblical teaching. The mercy of God in the vicarious atonement  is Christ’s willingness to pay on behalf of his enemies. This merciful willingness and love is what makes the crucifixion an act of mercy done by Christ. Christ’s submission to death on the cross. Paul wrote in Romans 5:7-9
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
But for Forde this quote from Paul is not really relevant because in Forde’s historical critical view Romans 5 is a later re-interpretation of the crucifixion and does not refer to the actual story of the crucifixion (see Note 1 on this article).

Likewise, the simple and direct statement of John 3:16 explains the nature of the mercy of God. His love for the sinners of the world is what motivated Him to send His onlybegotten Son into this world to pay the debt the sinners owed.  It is the same gospel that records John the Baptizer’s explanation that Jesus is “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”(1:29) And the same gospel writer states that the whole of the suffering servant passages in Isaiah 32-53 directly speak of Jesus. This would include in context: “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”(53:6) “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin,”(53:10).

It is also helpful to remember the Apostle Peter’s words about Christ as our substitution according to Isaiah 52-53:
 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. (1 Peter 1)
For Forde Christ’s predictive statements about His death and the purpose of his death (as in John 12) do not belong to the actual story of Christ.  Nor do Christ’s explanatory statements after His resurrection (as in Luke 24:44-46). (see especially his 1984 “The Shape of the Tradition” p. 12-19 )  In Forde’s writings these predictive statements and explanatory statements were the theologizing rationalizations of the Evangelists and later editors of the Gospels trying to wrestle with the meaning of the brutal and otherwise inexplicable killing of Christ.

Thus Forde writes:
“If we are to get anywhere with these questions [about the necessity of Christ’s death] today, we shall have to begin by paying closer attention to the ‘brute facts’ of the case, looking at the actual events as they have been mediated to us in the narrative itself to see what we can make of them.” (p. 90, italics mine)
Forde’s ‘brute facts’ rest in his anthropology. He considers the why of Christ’s death not from ‘above,’ as he says with respect to a divine plan, but from ‘below’ with the human condition.  From this framework he states:
“Why could not God just up and forgive? Let us start there If we look at the narrative about Jesus, the actual events themselves, the ‘brute facts’ as they have come down to us, the answer is quite simple. He did! Jesus came preaching repentance and forgiveness, declaring the bounty and mercy of his ‘Father.’”(p. 90f)
The quotation marks Forde places around Father are meant to to be significant. But in this context it is hard to understand why Forde would use them this way unless he is implying that this relationship of God to Jesus is metaphorical or irreal or metaphysically existential in some way.  But, that aside, Forde’s claim is that Christ’s death was not necessary for us to be forgiven, we already were. Forde continues immediately after the above quote:
“The problem, however, is that we could not buy that. And we killed him. And just so we are caught in the act. … He came to forgive and we killed him for it; we would not have it. It is as simple as that.”
Forde’s interpretation differs from the explanatory words of Christ in the Gospels:
44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 
46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24)
And from Paul:
5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,  (I Timothy 2)
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. (I Corinthians 5:7)
And Peter:
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, (I Peter 3:18)
And the writer to the Hebrews
 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrew 9)
These are but a few of the many contexts in Scripture which speak directly to the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death. It can be helpful to preach about the brutality of His death and our shame for it. But Forde does this to the exclusion of God’s explicitly stated purpose by a selective rejection of Scripture. And in doing so denies Christ’s mercy in His willingness to pay the debt of sin we owed, as God’s written word clearly teaches.

Forde’s anthropology views humanity as sinful, and the measure of that sinfulness is in the killing of Christ. But the nature of that sinfulness, in Forde’s view, is not a debt of justice that needed payment.

So, Forde denies not only that sin needs atonement, but also he denies the explicitly declared nature of God being not only mercy, but also justice:
No one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified (I Thessalonians 4:6)
Indeed, if Forde’s argument is, as it seems, that we are enemies of God to the point that we kill him, then one cannot escape the judgment of God in Deuteronomy 32:
39 ‘Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand. 40 For I raise My hand to heaven, And say, “As I live forever, 41 If I whet My glittering sword, And My hand takes hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to My enemies, And repay those who hate Me. 42 I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword shall devour flesh, With the blood of the slain and the captives, From the heads of the leaders of the enemy.” ’
It is difficult on the basis of this particular Forde article to see if he is either 1) re-defining God by rejecting these passages as well as the stated purpose of the Old Covenant sacrificial system, or 2) if he is somehow distinguishing between a New Testament version of God (as in all mercy and no justice) v. and Old Testament version of God (who emphasizes justice). I am not sure yet which of these he is doing, or something else. But he is certainly defining God and His attributes differently than the Scripure does.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Note 1 on Gerhard Forde's 1984 “Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ”

Published in Word and World 3:22-31. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (85-97, quotations from this printing)

This article overlaps in theme and content with Forde’s “The Work of Christ” in Braaten and Jenson, Seventh Locus; particularly chapter 1, but also chapters 2 through 4.

Forde lays out his view on the work of Christ under four categories.
  • Theories Aside
  • The Brute Facts
  • Starting “From Below”
  • Why the Death of Christ.
Forde’s purpose in this article is to distance himself and his re-interpretation of the Atonement from the Biblical and historical confession of Scripture’s depiction of Christ’s death as substitutionary punishment for sin. He offers what he labels a new and better interpretation that is at once more brutal and more authentic.

Forde embraces, in part, Abelard’s criticism of Anselm. Though it seems neither Abelard nor Forde actually express an accurate understanding of Anselm’s point:
“Anselm, like subsequent thinkers, concentrated on the sin of Adam, arguing that it was so great an affront to the divine honor that only the voluntary sacrifice of the God-man could make satisfaction for it. But such thinking diverts attention from the brute reality at hand: Jesus, the innocent one, was murdered by us. The sin of adam, Abelard avers, was indeed bad enough, but surely it was small potatoes compared to the sin of murdering the Son of God. … Far from ‘satisfying’ God’s honor or wrath or justice or whatever, the murder of Jesus, Abelard thinks, would only make matters worse — much worse."(p. 86f)
In the first part Forde enlists Neo-orthodox theological categories and a version of the often repeated but always tailored evolutionary narrative from the history of religions school about the development of so-called atonement theories.

Readers should be aware that this is a re-framing of discussion of the doctrine of God’s word into pseudo-scientific and philosophical terms of a discussion about the theories men have about God. This terminology is deceptive and inappropriate. What is under discussion is the differences in confessions about what God actually teaches, His doctrine. What actually matters is how well the confessions of these teachers conforms to the whole written Word of God. The term theory rejects the very notion of a definitive doctrine given by God in His written word. One cannot have a theory of the resurrection, a theory of sin, a theory of the virgin birth, a theory of the hypostatic union, or a theory of six-day creation without undermining the very idea that these things are God’s doctrine in Scripture, unchangeable. But I think that this very point of definite doctrine from Scripture is something Forde would describe as legalism. At least this is a strong implication on p 86 where he states:
 “Indeed, the fatal flaw in most thinking about the atoning work of Christ is the tendency to look away from the actual events, to translate them into ‘eternal truths’. 
He states this while at the same time maintaining that anything he argues against is inadequate and (as he does in 1997) a false theology of glory.

The use of the word actual in this context is based in historical critical theology. When Forde says “what actually happened” with reference to the cross of Christ, or “as it is disclosed in the actual events” (86) what Forde means is what he considers to be the actual historical part of the record of Christ stripped of the layers of interpretation placed on Christ by what historical critics consider to be the Gospel writers, the final editors of the Gospels, of Paul, or the editors of Paul's letters, or of the Eschatological interpretations found in the New Testament. All of these are (in Forde’s view) of secondary origin and not the actual work and words of Christ. (see also Forde 1984 "The Shape of the Tradition", 12-19 where he lays this out very clearly.)

Précis: Ulrich Schmid's 2014 "The Diatessaron of Tatian"

A Précis of
Chapter six of Ehrman, Bart and Michael Holmes, Editors, 2014 The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, Second Edition, Brill.

This volume is an updating and expansion on the first edition of 1995. The volume contains 28 articles to cover the current status of research on many basic areas in NT TC. The first 16 chapters survey the sources of the NT text available to us. The 12 chapters making up the second main part of the book focus on NTTC Theory and Method.

Précis by Joseph Abrahamson

“Chapter Five: The Diatessaron of Tatian.” by Ulrich B. Schmid, pp. 115-142

[Note: this chapter demonstrates how important it is to understand the philosophical and methodological assumptions of scholars in their fields. And it demonstrates how important it is to recognize when these assumptions and methods change and why. Using the term from Thomas Kuhn: A paradigm shift has recently taken place in this particular area of research. This shift in paradigm affects the nature of what is considered data, how that data can be used as evidence, the kinds of standards for arguments and evidence, as well as openness about methodologies. This is especially important for those who look at Textual Criticism as simply “lower criticism” with the assumption that as a field it has nothing to do with “higher criticism”]
In the first edition (1995) of this book William L. Petersen wrote the chapter covering the Diatessaron. He summarized scholarship on the topic from 1923 to that date. Petersen died in 2006. The period he surveyed saw many advances and changes in Diatessaronic scholarship. Schmid points out that the fifteen years since that publication have increased in data and insight to call for a paradigm shift. This new paradigm Schmid labels the new perspective on the Diatessaron, patterning the name after the new perspective on Paul in Pauline studies.

Argument for a Greek Original Text

Under what is the author calls the old perspective Petersen argued that the “Diatessaron was almost certainly composed in Syriac.” (115n5) Schmid in the new perspective argues for a Greek original.
“The bare mechanics of composing a gospel harmony appear to require sources and end product to be in one and the same language.”
For Schmid it “seems hardly conceivable to perform a close word-by-word harmonization from Greek gospel texts and a Syriac translation simultaneously, without at least one intermediate Greek harmony stage during the compositional process.

  • “There is no direct evidence” that “Syriac versions of the canonical Gospels already existed.”
  • If one supposes such Syriac versions did exist for Tatian, then: “What evidence is there that Tatian composed any of his works in a language other than Greek?
  • Tatian’s “apologetic discourse was performed in Greek”
  • “The existence of multiple gospel writings was an issue in attacks on Christianity (cf. Celsus in Origen, Contra Celsum 2,27)”
  • Schmid views it as unlikely “that Tatian would have missed the opportunity to write up a Greek gospel harmony to counter such attacks.”
  • He concludes that “Tatian could have translated and issued a version of the Diatessaron in Syriac, but likely after he had composed it in Greek.”(115f,n5)


The State of the Text of the Diatessaron

The “original text of the Diatessaron is lost” (116) and must be reconstructed “by working through a great number of sources that are considered to have come under the influence of the Diatessaron.”(116, italics mine) An overly ambitious ten month project began in 1997 by six scholars on over “a hundred manuscripts and sources” in a variety of languages. These scholars “started to pursue more modest projects on their own” with the goal of bringing these together. “A unifying feature of such projects was the focus on understanding the individual historical and cultural settings of these harmonies within medieval Christianity and their traceable lineages between each other, prior to utilizing them for the reconstruction of a lost late second-century gospel harmony.” Petersen’s death in 2006 was a great loss which meant that his advocacy for the old perspective is gone.

A Historical Critical Goal of Reconstruction

Taitian composed the Diatessaron in about the AD 160s-170s. His text would be a witness to the “gospels in the form they had at that time. Reconstruction of the Diatessaron’s text therefore provides the researcher with a ‘snapshot’ of the gospels as Tatian knew them in the mid-second century.”(116)
[Note: this should give the researcher some pause to consider how historical critical frameworks shape both the reconstruction of the Diatessaron and the weight such hypothetical reconstructions should carry with respect to conclusions or suggestions made about the development of the Gospel texts.]
From here Schmid organizes his chapter into three chronological periods: 1) The old perspective up to 1994, 2) scholarship from 1995 and on, and 3) explaining the nature and methodology of the new perspective.

The ‘Old Perspective’ on the Diatessaron

The old perspective grew out of a challenge to the previously accepted view that “Codex Fuldensis lies at the heart of the Western harmony tradition.”(119) Fuldensis (F) originated before mid-sixth century. It is a Latin ms which contains the whole NT, but the gospels are present as a harmony rather than individual books. “Victor of Capua, who commissioned the entire manuscript between 541 and 546 … concluded that it [the gospel harmony] was likely the work of Tatian.”(119) But it cannot be determined how much Victor “might have reworked the harmony’s text.”(120) While scholars agree that F is ultimately derived from Tatian’s Diatessaron it has many readings conforming to the Vulgate of Jerome which would date after AD 400. This renders F “most unsuitable for reconstructing the exact working of Tatian’s (lost) Diatessaron.”(120)

Scholars since the late nineteenth century have believed a western version of the Diatessaron existed. In the early twentieth century confidence grew that this version could be found by researching medieval harmonies in Dutch, German, and Italian. These scholars argued that supporting evidence were readings that were found to be the same as those in Old Latin texts or the then current view of an Eastern Diatessaron witness. These readings were not in F so they were not transmitted through F. And these readings were considered older than both the Vulgate and F. This was taken as evidence that these readings were closer to the original Diatessaron. In this way “Diatessaron scholarship developed the hypothesis of an Old Latin version of Tatian’s Diatessaron as old as pre-200 CE…”(120) From this grew the then “‘standard’ procedure in Diatessaronic studies: (1) screening vernacular gospel harmonies of quite late dates and differing types against Vulgate Codex Fuldensis in order to identify differences, and (2) finding parallels in remote branches of the gospel text tradition, preferably in what are considered to be Eastern Diatessaronic witnesses, to those differences from Codex Fuldensis.”(120f) This was at the heart of Petersen’s method in the old perspective.

This old perspective resulted in a paradox that even though F is the oldest witness in the West, the history of that tradition has been reconstructed based on manuscripts that “are seven hundred to eight hundred years younger than” F. (121) “As a result, even the crucial parts of the history of the Latin harmony tradition were compiled from the vernacular harmonies without bothering to study the largely unpublished Latin manuscripts still extant today.” (121)

Diatessaron Scholarship from 1995 Onward

Here Schmid discusses two areas of scholarship that are distinguished by whether they use Eastern sources or Western sources. These studies are significant both in what they treat and methodology. They represent the struggle of the paradigm shift from the old perspective to the new perspective.

First the Eastern.
1994 Tjize Baarda’s Essays on the Diatessaron used “Ephraem’s commentary on the Diatessaron wherever possible as the main point of reference.”(122) This differed from the two point method under the old paradigm.

In the 1990s a print debate took place between Jan Joosten and Robert F. Shedinger on Tatian’s use of the OT Peshitta. Joosten used only the Old Syriac and Peshitta gospels as his point of reference. Shedinger faulted him claiming that both Eastern and Western Diatessaron sources were necessary for such work. “[T]hat is, one must adopt the procedures employed by the proponents of the old perspective.” In 2001 Joosten followed Shedinger’s reproof, but “came up with even more evidence of his contention.” (122) Shedinger published his doctoral thesis that year restating his view. Petersen negatively reviewed Shedinger’s thesis while explicitly stating that he “endorses neither position.” At the heart of Petersen’s critique was “lexical insensitivity to polysemous words” (123) which did not necessarily reflect unique readings in translation. Out of this debate the problems of  methodology from the old perspective came into focus. In 2006 Giovanni Lenzi suggested a different historical development theory which has not gained wide acceptance. [Note: the nature of this debate and the sweeping revisions these make in the reconstruction of the Diatessaron and its hypothetical history should make exegetes much more cautious in their consideration of so-called Diatessaronic readings.] Schmid lists a handful of other studies that are significant in the methodological debate and the struggle between the old perspective and the emerging new perspective. One main shift in focus was that the old perspective tended to focus on how to establish individual readings while the emerging new perspective was struggling with how to establish the order of the sequences in the harmonies and their relationship to the Diatessaron. There is still disagreement over how much significance particular manuscripts and manuscript traditions should be given in reconstructing the Diatessaron.(124-6)

Western Sources
Schmid states that “the starting point for the emergence of the new perspective on the Diatessaron” was in 1999 in Queeste: Journal of the Medieval Literature in the Low Countries. The focus was on “one of the most prominent sources of the Western Diatessaron tradition,” the Liège Diatessaron. (126-127) This research demonstrated that the resources available in Medieval times, including the Glossa Ordinaria, could explain readings in this text which previously were “claimed to derive from the otherwise lost Old Latin harmony of the Diatessaron.” (127) A hypothetical Dutch Diatessaron was not needed to explain the relationship of the Liège Diatessaron to Jakob van Maerlant’s Rijmbijbel. The old perspective “tended to ignore the medieval background of the sources they were handling” but with this publication a new area of research opened up. (128) Schmid reports on a research project between 2002-2008 looking at the medieval background and context of the manuscripts to understand the Latin gospel harmony tradition.(128-131) In connection with research on the Liège Diatessaron Tjitze Baarda found that proof texts enlisted by Daniel Plooij to demonstrate Diatessaronic readings in the Liège Diatessaron did not, in fact, support the old perspective method or interpretations. Valentine Pakis examined the type of scholarly argumentation and rhetoric in Diatessaronic studies. In 2005 he pointed out that even with Petersen there were significant methodological and rhetorical prejudices. “By modeling himself [Petersen] so painstakingly on his teacher, he brought along the latter’s prejudices: that the work of Diatessaron scholars addresses the value of the Gospels, that the subject is arcane and unapproachable to the uninitiated, and that outsiders are unfit — unequipped — to question the hypotheses of the experts.”(132) A.A. den Hollander and U. Schmidt were able to demonstrate that for Codex Fuldensis  “alleged ‘unique readings in Diatessaronic witnesses’” could be found in the Glossa Ordinaria. This undercuts the claims of a hypothetical Diatessaronic source text. (132)

The New Perspective

In his final section Schmid recalls the beginnings of the new perspective in Diatessaronic studies in the 1970s with Johannes Rathofer, Bonifatius Fischer, and Cebus C. de Bruin. Their insights faced ridicule by the established old perspective scholars, while those same old perspective scholars had to (at times) concede that these upstarts might have had a point to make. Rathofer, in particular, had a large number of examples which could not be simply shrugged off. Two serious issues came to the front:

1) it was shown that Codex Fuldensis “was influenced by a ninth-century local gospel text of the separate gospels with no connection whatsoever to the harmonized tradition. The old perspective saw the harmony tradition as “a closed shop that never took aboard material from non-harmony traditions.” But not only was cross-pollination possible, it was demonstrable.

2) it has happened that under the old perspective that errors in printed editions have been pronounced as Tatianic readings. Peterson conceded this was indeed a huge methodological flaw. But he continued to work with the same methodology.

Reaction to these insights was odd: “even if some of the parallels” are proved false, the old perspective scholars claimed the new perspective scholars were required to prove every instance false before they would concede their method and assumptions were no longer adequate to the task.(132-135)

But the new perspective “has now produced a coherent framework for studying vernacular harmonies of thirteenth to fifteenth centuries” and their relationship, if any, to Codex Fuldensis. These provide “examples that are conspicuously effective for knocking down supposed parallels between Western vernacular and Eastern Diatessaronic sources. The new perspective has also shown that the “other tradition” in the West is not by necessity a hypothesized old Latin version of the Diatessaron. Rather, it has shown that most of these supposed Diatessaronic readings are easily derived from the “Glossa Ordinaria, parallel passages, and blends of local gospel texts from the separate Gospels.” (136)

The new perspective requires that scholars actually look at the manuscripts and understand them before the data in the manuscripts can be claimed as evidence for one point or another.

The new perspective does not claim there was never an Old Latin translation of the Diatessaron, but rather that the old perspective was not methodological sound and incorrectly considered certain data as evidence where that data was better explained in a different way.

Schmid closes by outlining hopeful directions, including: focusing on Eastern data to build up understanding of those texts; focusing on the issue of harmony sequence rather than individual text readings. “[T]he study of harmony-sequence aspects could provide a new basis for an appreciation of a common underlying tradition.(138)

The chapter is followed by a three page bibliography.

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