Tuesday, November 01, 2016


As it's Reformation time of year, and I have just finished and enjoyed a biography of Luther, I have been reading a tiny bit of Calvin biography for fun.

One of the issues in reading any writer is what degree of unity and consistency we expect.

Did the writer's ideas develop over time?

Did they change to such a degree that what he wrote later contradicted what he wrote before?

To what extent did the writer realise that some of his views were in tension or were contradictory?

With a great writer, perhaps especially one given to logical thought and systemisation, we should assume a high level of consistency. Self-awareness is a different issue. It would be a mistake to say that even a great writer can't contradict himself, sometimes without knowing it.

In reading anyone else, we need to wonder to what extent we might understand him better than he understood himself. Or better than his contemporaries did.

And if these issues arise when reading any writer, they also apply to reading Scripture. Since God is the ultimate author of the Bible, all his words are consistent but there is certainly development and change (not least between the Testaments). We must not flatten out the different contributions of the human authors. Perhaps they could not see the tensions or the unity. Perhaps we can't. But with the Bible we do know that we have one united symphony.

With other writers, there will be some wrong notes. Some themes will be discordant. But which ones?

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