Saturday, April 19, 2008

Orthodox Study Bible, My Turn III

Continued from parts one and two.

The Apostle Paul urges us to “hold fast the pattern on sound words which you have heard” (2 Tim 1:13). St Basil the Great, in the first chapter of On the Holy Spirit, writes: “those who are idle in the pursuit of righteousness count theological terminology as secondary, together with attempts to search out the hidden meaning in this phrase or that syllable.” Indeed, “instruction begins with the proper use of speech, and syllables and words are the elements of speech.” The Orthodox Study Bible, as I will attempt to demonstrate, does not “hold fast the pattern on sound words” in its attempt to explain the dogma of the Holy Trinity.

The OSB's first study article (online here) is dedicated to the doctrine of Creation. There we read that the Orthodox Church has “dogmatically proclaimed that the One Triune God created everything that exists.” This Church, in fact, has proclaimed no such thing. Nowhere in the Scriptures, the Fathers, the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, or the liturgical texts does one find reference to the “One Triune God.” What one does find is the term “Tri-hypostatic Divinity/Godhead (theotis/bozhestvo)”– which is not at all the same as “Triune God,” which is distinctly modalist, as if the one God appeared in three forms. Furthermore, the very term “Triune God” is difficult if not impossible to construct in either Greek or Slavonic.

I here reproduce in full the study notes on the first page of the Biblical text (which can also be read online here):
1:1 God the Father made heaven and earth. “I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” (Creed).

1:2 The Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit (BasilG; EphS). He proceeds from the Father, and is “the Lord and Giver of Life” (Creed). Since He is Lord, He is coequal with the Father, and is His Coworker in making heaven and earth.

1:3 God the Father spoke to His Word and Only-begotten Son, through whom He made the light (AthanG). Since the Son, too, is Lord, He is coequal with the Father, and is His Coworker in making heaven and earth.

The Holy Fathers teach that the Father made heaven and earth through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Trinity made heaven and earth, and the Church sings, “We glorify the Father, we exalt the Son, and we worship the Holy Spirit – the indivisible Trinity who exists as One – the Light and Lights, the Life and Lives, who grants light and life to the ends of the world” (CanonAnd).

1:4-25 Since the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit made heaven and earth, They also made everything mentioned in these verses.
A very simply question arises: Who, then, made heaven and earth? First we are told that the Father made the heaven and earth; then that the Holy Spirit is the Father’s Coworker; then that Christ is the Father’s Coworker; then that the Father made heaven and earth through the Son and in the Holy Spirit; then that the Holy Trinity made heaven and earth; then that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit made heaven and earth and everything else. The result, needless to say, is mystifying. Let us examine each note carefully.

1: 1 One simply cannot put a period after the first sentence, nor quote the first verse of the Creed in isolation, ignoring that we confess in the same Creed that through Christ were all things made. To say that the Father made heaven and earth, full stop, is simply wrong. One cannot thus isolate the activity of any one Person of the Trinity, attributing Divine acts to particular Divine Persons. God accomplishes all His activities through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. God always works with His “two hands,” as St Irenaeus puts it.

1:2 The first statement is, of course, true. But here, as throughout the OSB, the Patristic reference is simply useless. Yes, we can be quite confident that St Basil the Great and St Ephraim the Syrian did in fact affirm this – but where? Given that the OSB has no bibliography of any kind, it’s simply impossible to locate the texts the compilers of the OSB had in mind. The second sentence is also true. But the third sentence is again confusing: Since the Holy Spirit is Lord, the Holy Spirit is coequal and Coworker with the Father. Why the causal conjunction? In other words, what is the causal relationship between the Holy Spirit being Lord (which, in fact, in not cited in Gen 1;2) and Him being coequal and Coworker with the Father? Is “Lord” simply equated with “God”? This is left unexplained.

1:3 (first paragraph) “God the Father spoke to His Word”? Genesis 1 doesn't describe something like a physical conversation, but an ineffable event beyond the limits of descriptive language. It is precisely the language used – "God said...," in Genesis 1 – that indicates that the Father creates through the Word Himself. It's this understanding that lies behind John 1 and all Patristic commentary on the Word as Creator. St Gregory of Nyssa, in his Answer to Eunomius' Second Book, the whole of which is necessary and relevant, writes: "Still we take a very low view of God, and drag down the Divine to our own grovelling standard, if we suppose the Father speaking with His mouth, and the Son’s ear listening to His words." He continues that there is no need of speech with God, and that it is ridiculous to posit that the Father has lungs, vocal cords, mouth, and tongue; or that the Son has ears, and that there is air that carries the sound between them. These anthropomorphisms (God said, saw, smelled, etc) point toward Divine perception that is entirely different than our own. Again, in the note's transition from the first sentence to the second, we have the same problems as above: a useless Patristic reference and an unsupported causal relationship between the Word’s attributes.

1:3 (second paragraph) The first sentence for the first time establishes what should have been stated from the very beginning, rather than being divided into discrete assertions about individual Persons of the Trinity. But the second sentence simply does not follow from the first: the action of each Person of the Trinity within creation cannot be collapsed into a single Trinitarian action. That is, to say “the Father made heaven and earth through the Son and in the Holy Spirit” is not the same thing as to say “the Holy Trinity made heaven and earth,” because the distinctive activity of each Person is thus overshadowed by a single, as it were, Trinitarian action. The verse from the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete does not in fact state “the Holy Trinity made heaven and earth,” but instead glorifies each Person of the Trinity, who exist as One: “We glorify the Father, we exalt the Son, and we worship the Holy Spirit – the indivisible Trinity who exists as One – the Light and Lights, the Life and Lives, who grants light and life to the ends of the world.”

1:4-25 Here, again, the language has reverted from the affirmation that “the Father made heaven and earth through the Son and in the Holy Spirit” to a new affirmation: “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit made heaven and earth.” And then, once again, a causal relationship is made without being established. The first note on the next page again changes formulas: the “Holy Trinity also made man.” Again, confusion.

It might be charitably suggested that since each of the first three study notes is directed to a single verse of Scripture, and therefore no single note should be taken in isolation. Unfortunately, however, the very points to which I have objected are then systematized in the second study article, dedicated to the Holy Trinity (online here). There we read of the Persons of the Trinity: "They [sic!] are One God because They [sic!] are one in essence in nature.” This is in direct contradiction to Greek Fathers' consistent emphasis that there is one God because there is one Father. The source of unity in the Trinity is the Father, not the consubstantial essence. (These two points are central to the Greek Fathers' insistence on the "monarchy" of the Father.) How the OSB could refer to the Persons of the Trinity as "They" is quite beyond comprehension. How is this not tritheism? Consider the words of St Basil the Great in On the Holy Spirit (18:45):
For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to multitude, and saying one, two, and three,-nor yet first, second, and third. For "I," God, "am the first, and I am the last." And hitherto we have never, even at the present time, heard of a second God. Worshipping as we do God of God, we both confess the distinction of the Persons, and at the same time abide by the Monarchy. We do not fritter away the theology in a divided plurality,because one Form, so to say, united in the invariableness of the Godhead, is beheld in God the Father, and in God the Only begotten. For the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son; since such as is the latter, such is the former, and such as is the former, such is the latter; and herein is the Unity. So that according to the distinction of Persons, both are one and one, and according to the community of Nature, one. How, then, if one and one, are there not two Gods? Because we speak of a king, and of the king's image, and not of two kings.
Four bold and capitalized statements follow, the first two of which read: “THE HOLY TRINITY CREATED THE WORLD” and “THE HOLY TRINITY SAVES THE WORLD.” Again, this is not the language of Scripture, of the Fathers, or of the liturgical texts. Both of these affirmations are then followed by a series of proof texts, several of which, once again, make affirmations about each of the Persons of the Trinity that cannot stand alone. We read, for instance: “Isaiah 63:16 – The Father is our Redeemer. He not only created the world but redeems it as well.” The verse cited from Isaiah in fact reads: “You are our Father, although Abraham did not know us, and Israel did not acknowledge us; but You, O Lord, are our Father. You delivered us, and from the beginning Your name was upon us.” The OSB, then, would seem to claim that the “Father” here is God the Father alone, and the Father’s “deliverance” means our Redemption by God the Father, all of which is intended to support the assertion that “the Holy Trinity saves the World.” Furthermore, it's interesting to note that the proof text here employed in fact follows the Masoretic text, not the LXX. The NKJV reads: "You, O Lord, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name." Note the present tense. Here is the same verse in the OSB: "[B]ut You, O Lord, are our Father. You delivered us, and from the beginning Your name was upon us." Not both the past tense and the wording. One can only conclude that the study notes were compiled without reference to the OSB's own text.

One could continue to work through the study page on the Holy Trinity, but it would simply involve more of the same. All the problematic statements we have looked at come from the first three pages of text alone.

All of this points to the OSB's fundamental methodological problem. Christian dogma does not exist in a metaphysical void. To understand a given doctrine one is obliged to study how its articulation was developed, defined, and defended in the Church's ongoing engagement with Scripture. Christ Himself, as understood within the Church, is the criterion of all Scripture. Therefore one is to read and interpret Scripture through the prism the Church's canon or rule of truth, which gives us the key to Scripture. The OSB has, so to speak, put the donkey in front of the cart, taking ecclesiastically-defined doctrine and then choosing, at its own whim, proof-texts to support these dogmas. This approach reduces Scripture to little more than an extended set of proof-texts, rather than the thesaurus (i.e., treasure) of all that pertains to Christ. Let us take St Irenaeus's words as a corrective and warning:
If anyone, therefore, reads the Scriptures [i.e., the Old Testament] this way, he will find in them the Word concerning Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ is the “treasure which was hid in the field” (Mt 13:44), that is, in this world – for "the field is the world" (Mt 13:38) – [a treasure] hidden in the Scriptures, for He was indicated by means of types and parables, which could not be understood by men prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of the Lord. And therefore it was said to Daniel the Prophet, “Shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the consummation, until many learn and knowledge abounds. For, when the dispensation shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things” (Dan 12:4,7). And Jeremiah also says, “In the last days they shall understand these things” (Jer 23:20). For every prophecy, before its fulfillment, is nothing but an enigma and ambiguity to men; but when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then it has an exact exposition [exegesis]. And for this reason, when at this present time the Law is read by the Jews, it is like a myth, for they do not possess the explanation [exegesis] of all things which pertain to the human advent of the Son of God; but when it is read by Christians, it is a treasure, hid in a field, but brought to light by the Cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of men, and showing forth the wisdom of God, and making known His dispensations with regard to man, and prefiguring the Kingdom of Christ, and preaching in anticipation the good news of the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem, and proclaiming beforehand that the man who loves God shall advance so far as even to see God, and hear His Word, and be glorified, from hearing His speech, to such an extent, that others will not be able to behold his glorious countenance (cf. 2 Cor 3:7), as was said by Daniel, “Those who understand shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and many of the righteous as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12:3). In this manner, then, I have shown it to be, if anyone read the Scriptures. (AH 4.26.1)
One comes from reading the OSB knowing less about the dogma of the Holy Trinity than he did when he began. Indeed, what little the reader may have learned does not correspond to the Church's exacting Trinitarian language – and is therefore dangerous. What one has learned has exactly nothing to do with how the Church has historically defined the doctrine of the Trinity.

Bearing all this in mind should help explain why I reject the argument that the OSB, for all its failings, is somehow better than nothing.


Eric Jobe said...

"Furthermore, it's interesting to note that the proof text here employed in fact follows the Masoretic text, not the LXX."

This is incorrect, and a common assertion made by those who do not bother to actually check the Hebrew text, the fallacy being the mistaken notion that X translation = MT. The NKJV is not the MT! The MT verse actually contains no verbs at all (when referreing to God. There are two verb in the perfect conjugation referring to Abraham). The statements are accomplished by verbless clauses, i.e. only a subject pronoun followed by a substantive.

אתה אבינו, אתה אבינו גאלנו, מעשלם שמך

The LXX renders these clauses in three different ways. The first is by supplying the verb εἶ. The second maintains the form of a verbless clause, and the third takes the "אתה אבינו" as a vocative "You, our Father," and the following phrase "אתה אבינו גאלנו" as an imperative, "ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς."

The OSB translation is incorrect on both accounts. It is neither correct in translating the MT or the LXX. The insertion of verb "tenses" (there are no such things as tenses in Hebrew) is an addition that must be made. This is why the KJV and NKJV have those words in italics. The use of the past tense in the OSB is simply a an error. The NKJV is rendering the MT correctly, but it must be noted that the MT contains no verbs per se. The corresponding English or Greek "tense" must be inferred. The LXX is adding them the same as the NKJV and OSB.

One must always be careful when talking about translations to check the original languages, especially the Hebrew, because many times, the LXX rendering can be explained by examining the ambiguities present in the Hebrew unvocalized text (which was not "Masoretic"). Many times, the various English translations of the MT are in fact incorrect. It is very poor scholarship to equate an English translation with the MT, and thus give people the impression that the MT is "erroneous" (read: differs from the LXX) more often that it in fact is. A good example of this is Psalm 120/121(MT):3 where the English translations consistently render the Hebrew incorrectly. The LXX is not a new reading, but rather the correct reading of the negative prohibition form using 'al+jussive.

Gabriel said...


This is a bit pedantic, especially since it doesn't offset his point in any way. That the translators/editors of the OSB made their notes without reference to each other's translations is supported by comments I have heard from Fr. Patrick Reardon's mouth on more than one ocassion. In fact, it seems as if the translators/editors didn't even know to what extent their submitted notes were going to be used before the actual text was issued. (This may not have been universally true, though Fr. Patrick has claimed that only a fraction of his notes for Exodus made it into the OSB and he didn't know which ones made the grade until he received his copy.) Again, I am basing this off of comments Fr. Patrick made. So, even if the analysis of the texts offered here is incorrect on the basis of the original languages (a point I won't bother to dispute), the conclusion drawn is supported extrinsically.

Lastly, an analysis of the original languages is superfluous here since all that is necessary to show is that the text cited is different than the translation found in the OSB itself. Yes, a minor error was made in terms of referring back to the MT as the source for the mistake. In the end, of course, the OSB still falters on this point by failing to be internally consistent.

Eric Jobe said...

Reverend Father, Gabriel my dear friend,

Sorry for any sense of being "pedantic." This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine - I tend to obsess about it.

I was not referencing the commentary of the OSB in any fashion. I really have no care for the commentary, and I leave it to better men than I to deal with it. On the translation, however, I do take issue, since it is in the area of my own profession.

What I refer to here is not the OSB commentary's understanding of the text, but rather what our reverend host has stated concerning the MT. Yes, it is beside the point, to be sure, but I make the counter point for the sake of accuracy. The fact of the matter is that those who take up the matter of dealing with the translations are too often unskilled in direct knowledge of the MT and unwittingly say things that are inaccurate at best if not incorrect. That is why I (ought to) stay away from dealing with the commentary itself. I will let our reverend host and others of theological training deal with it. I will, however, comment on the translation itself, since it falls into the area of my profession.

Take it for what it is worth. I offer nothing in the way of criticism of the OSB commentary. The translation, however, I make the point of saying, at least in this passage, is erroneous. Also, it is incorrect to assume that the NKJV = MT, and thus all of our problems originate from the MT. The MT is not erroneous in this case. Rather, the LXX has "tweaked" the translation a bit due to an ambiguity in the grammar of the text. Both texts state the truth, and, if we take St. Augustine's point, both are inspired by the Holy Spirit (at least in regard to the original Hebrew, not the Masoretic text.) The point is that the OSB translation is incorrect. Whether or not the specific commentator was using such a text on which to base his comments, I do not know, nor do I care. The point is again, the OSB translation is an incorrect translation of both the MT and LXX. I would not let such a translation pass in a classroom much less make it to publication. If our comments are made on erroneous texts - i.e. if our commentators are not able to reference the LXX itself (which thankfully is not the case with the good Fr. Pat of great esteem), then God help us.

But please, for the sake of good scholarship, leave the MT out of it unless you can accurately describe the Hebrew text itself. The MT gets enough flack as it is.

Iyov said...

I'm surprised to hear that Orthodoxy rejects the notion of triunity. For example, I saw a book on Amazon by Fr. Dumitru Staniloae with the words "Triune God" in the title and a forward by Kallistos Ware. I thought they were both believed to have fairly solid Orthodox credentials.

Felix Culpa said...

Oh yes, one will find the term "Triune God" very frequently in contemporary Orthodox theologians, but that's simply sloppiness. One simply doesn't find it anywhere in the service books or early Fathers.

Moreover, the only use I've found of it in Greek is as a noun is a participle phrase, and as an adverb in Slavonic. I don't think it even possible to render "Triune" as an adjective in either language.

It's not, however, that we reject the notion of "triunity," its simply that it can not be used to modify "God," because is sounds distinctly modalist. We could, I suppose, speak of the "Triune Godhead/Divinity" (although the services don't). The service books tend to use the term "Tri-hypostatic Godhead/Divinity," and only very, very rarely "Tri-hypostatic God," which began to make appearances in late Byzantium.

Unfortunately, however, many of our English translations can be really imprecise with strict theological terminology. The best textbooks of dogmatic theology that exist are our canonical service books, but one really need read them either in Greek or Slavonic (or at least in English with an eye on the former).

People are becoming aware that one can't say "Triune God," however. I know that a book by a very significant contemporary Orthodox theologian was turned down by a seminary press because it had a chapter entitled "The Triune God."

One of my primary interests is in comparing contemporary Orthodox theology, particularly of the neo-patristic variety, with the very Fathers they claim to represent. The results are often surprising...

Adam Pastor said...


On the subject of the trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

Christine Erikson (aka Justina) said...

I don't understand how triune sounds modalist. tri - three une - united.
The Trinity, one and indivisible, is
right out of liturgics, and it can be
misinterpreted as modalist a lot more
easily than triune can. But since The
Trinity is referred to, the rest of
the truth about The Trinity is built in
by inference because of the rest of
the things said about The Trinity.