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Friday, November 12, 2004

Inerrancy and Ephesians 4:8 and Pslam 68

Recently I read both The Discarded Image (1964) and Reflections on the Pslams (1958) by C.S. Lewis for the first time. Both are wonderful books written in Lewis' later years (he died the same day Kennedy was assassinated) and are addressed to quite different audiences.

The Discarded Image is an introduction to medieval and renaissance literature born out of the lectures that Lewis gave after becoming the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge in 1953. In this short book Lewis explicates for his readers what he calls "The Model". The Model is no less than the lens in which people (probably more of the elite than the common man) in the medieval world viewed life. Lewis is often praised as one of the few people who really understood the medieval mind and this book makes you believe it.

Lewis begins with a short reconnaissance through important authors of both the classical and seminal periods (directly before the medieval period). And here his description of the works of Boethius (480-524) I found the most fascinating. If you've read much of Lewis you'll immediately see how influential Boethius was in Lewis' writings. Particularly, Boethius discusses the concepts of determinism and free will and Lewis sides with Boethius where he makes the distinction between God being eternal but not perpetual. God is outside of time and so never foresees, he simply sees. And for this reason he does not remember your acts of yesterday, nor does he forsee your acts of tomorrow. He simply experiences it in an Eternal Now (as the demon Screwtape says in Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters).

"I am none the less free to act as I choose in the future because God, in that future (His present) watches me acting."

Lewis then moves on to discussing The Model proper by breaking it into sections that include the heavens and the Primum Mobile (the outer sphere that God causes to rotate and that in turn causes the other fixed spheres to rotate), angels in all their hierarchical glory, the Longaevi (long-lived creatures like fairies, nymphs, etc.), the earth and animals, the soul, the body, history and the human past, and finally how these were taught using the seven liberal arts.

Although a more learned person would get more out of this book than I did, I can say it definitely opened my eyes and gives you just a glimpse of how a person in that time thought. I say a glimpse because we're so set in our modern ways of thinking that it is difficult even for a second to take in the night sky (as Lewis recommends) and imagine the vitality and purpose they saw in it.

The Reflections on the Psalms is a collection of essays on the Psalms that address issues and interpretations that Lewis came in contact with over the years. Unlike The Discarded Image, this book is not a scholarly work but as Lewis says in the first chapter, "I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself".

For me, perhaps the most interesting part of this book is his discussion of "the cursings Psalms" such as Psalm 109 where the Psalmist rails against the "wicked and deceitful man" hoping all kinds of calamity for him and Psalm 137 where the poet says:

"O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock. "


Unlike the modern critic Lewis says that it is "monstrously simple-minded to read the cursings in the Psalms with no feeling except one of horror at the uncharity of the poets." Instead, Lewis looks past the sentiments that he says "are indeed devilish" and uses them as a spur to reflect on his own thoughts of uncharity and to look at the consequences of our own evil behavior on others. He also uses this occasion to see a general moral rule that "the higher, the more in danger". And as is typical of Lewis this comes from an unexpected direction with the idea that the higher or more developed moral code of the Jews made it more likely they would be tempted to a self righteousness contrary to those with lower morals. This too should be a lessen Christians can take from these Psalms.

The title of this post, however, is reflective of what Lewis later says regarding the both the inspiration of Scripture and "second meanings" in the Pslams. In the chapter titled "Scripture" Lewis says:

"I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous. Some people find the miraculous so hard to believe that they cannot imagine any other reason for my acceptance of it other than a prior belief that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But this I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation 'after the manner of a popular poet' (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction."

In other words, Lewis did not hold to a belief in the inspiration of Scripture inclusive of the concept of inerrancy. To modern evangelicals a belief in inerrancy is indeed fundamental and usually is taken to mean that the "original autographs" of the Old and New Testaments were without error. Further, the concept of error encompasses not only where moral or spiritual matters are concerned but also scientific, historical, and literary. And of course this is why some in the evangelical community view Lewis' writings as dangerous.

While mulling over Lewis' view I then came upon his chapter on "Second Meanings in the Psalms" and to Paul's quote of Pslam 68 in Ephesians 4:7-8:

"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, 'WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.' " (NASB)

Paul is here "speaking of the gifts of the Spirit (4-7) and stressing the fact that they come after the Ascension". Unfortunately, neither the Greek nor the Hebrew Old Testament supports the reading "gave gifts to men" and instead say "received gifts from men" and in context refers to Yahweh and the armies of Israel as his agents, taking prisoners and booty (gifts) from their enemies (men) as Lewis points out. It appears that Paul is here relying on the Aramaic Targum, a Jewish commentary of the OT. Although most evangelicals assume that Paul is simply expanding the meaning of "received" to include the concept of giving, that seems a stretch to me. Instead it seems more realistic to assume that Paul used an incorrect translation.

For Lewis these are not problems because he viewed all Scripture as "profitable" when read in the right light and with proper instruction (human and through the Holy Spirit) per the teaching of 2 Timothy 3:16. Although I was once firmly in the evangelical camp on this issue, it now seems to me that this is the most reasonable way to understand the Bible and helps us to keep from getting bogged down in issues about possible or probable contradictions.

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