Visualizing the Flow of Communication and Ultimate Interpreters

The chart above shows the relationship of various parties with respect to a flow of communication. First, let’s consider the left hand side of the chart. God spoke directly to Adam and Moses. Moses spoke directly to the people of Israel, but he also provided Scripture. Scripture speaks both to individual believers and the church, and the church speaks to individual believers.

On the other side, the Roman Catholic view with respect to public revelation is that it comes through the church, either directly from the church to Roman Catholics, or via Scripture, which Roman Catholics are not to read contrary to the teachings of their church.

It should be apparent, looking at a chart like this, that both Reformed believers and Roman Catholics claim that God is their ultimate authority. But here’s a very odd thing we see sometimes in Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura. They make comments like this: “if the Holy Spirit directly and immediately [not through the Magisterium of the Church] guides my interpretation of Scripture (WCF I.10), then not only am I my own ultimate interpreter of Scripture, but I am my own ultimate interpreter of what the Holy Spirit is saying.” (Source, Comment by Bryan Cross – bracketed item in original)(Brought to my attention by Dr. White)

One thing, of course, is true: in any chain of communication, you interpret what you hear. So, if you are Adam, you interpret God’s very voice. If you are people of Israel, you interpret God’s voice as repeated by Moses. If you read the Scriptures, you interpret them. If you sit under a preacher, you interpret what the preacher tells you. Likewise, if you are a Roman Catholic, you interpret Scripture (assuming you read it) and your church.

You are always at the last link in the chain that ends with you, so you are always the “ultimate” interpreter, in some sense, of what you hear.

What is odd is the idea, apparently propounded by Mr. Cross, that it would be worse, not better, to be receiving communication directly from the Holy Spirit, as opposed to indirectly through the church. His rational as to why this would be bad is, that you would be the “ultimate interpreter” not only of Scripture but also of the Holy Spirit Himself. But who in their right mind doubts that it would be better to receive God’s word directly from God rather than through some other intermediate mechanism? How does the inescapable reality that you will have to interpret what you hear change the fact that more direct revelation from God is preferable to less direct revelation from God?

-TurretinFan

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19 Responses to “Visualizing the Flow of Communication and Ultimate Interpreters”

  1. Strong Tower Says:

    Paul Helm is doing a multi-part piece on nature vs. grace. In it he is using Turretin. One of the things T said was that we use our emotions, for we cannot do without them, to help to imform us in our interpretation. In light of that, even when an authority claims exclusivity, it in reality never is the last link, but the final one is the exclusive domain of the hearing interpreter. The RCC might be able to dictate what is taught, but it can never dictate what is learned because the natural perceptions are the gate keeper.It is important to point out that in our fallen state, the natural abilities have been impaired and so there can never be any truth trust until regeneration. But, they have not been eradicated in fallen man, either. It is still through the natural attributes of reason, senses and emotive response in the born-again person that we relate to the Word of God. Indeed, as Helm points out, the Lord used the several faculties of hearing, seeing, sensing through touch, the reason, et cetera, to proclaim the Gospel.Until the Catholic church can control what makes man man, it will never be able to assume exclusive authority over him.http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/

  2. Jennie Says:

    I think that about sums it up. The Holy Spirit is able to communicate directly with His people, who are able to hear His voice. Nice short response to that really long post on Bryan Cross's blog.

  3. natamllc Says:

    I would answer these last two questions:But who in their right mind doubts that it would be better to receive God's word directly from God rather than through some other intermediate mechanism? [NO ONE WOULD EXCEPT THOSE DECEIVED BY THEIR FLESH, THE WORLD AND THE DEVILS' DOCTRINES]How does the inescapable reality that you will have to interpret what you hear change the fact that more direct revelation from God is preferable to less direct revelation from God?[THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM EITHER REALITY, DIRECT REVELATION AND INDIRECT REVELATION THROUGH GODLY INTERMEDIARIES]For instance, if one takes time to read the Scriptures and gain insight and instruction, one easily understands both realities.Here are some Scriptures which teach it as such:::>Pro 1:1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: Pro 1:2 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, Pro 1:3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; Pro 1:4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth– Pro 1:5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, Pro 1:6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. Pro 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Pro 1:8 Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching, Pro 1:9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. Your case against the RCC side of the diagram is well noted:"….On the other side, the Roman Catholic view with respect to public revelation is that it comes through the church, either directly from the church to Roman Catholics, or via Scripture, which Roman Catholics are not to read contrary to the teachings of their church….".As I have cited from Scripture, Scripture teaches otherwises! Hmmmmmm?

  4. natamllc Says:
  5. Principium Unitatis Says:

    TF,But who in their right mind doubts that it would be better to receive God's word directly from God rather than through some other intermediate mechanism?God. (Otherwise there wouldn't be a Bible.)In the peace of Christ,- Bryan

  6. Turretinfan Says:

    Bryan:That's a snappy response, but not really to the point. After all, God who gave us the Bible is the same God who talked to Adam. Nevertheless, it's surprising to hear you argue that the Bible is "better" (in any sense relevant to our conversation) than dialogue with God.-TurretinFan

  7. natamllc Says:

    TF,this comment or rather Scriptural reference is for P. U. and his response:::>Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Four things, one, God, two, the word of His Grace, three, builds up the Believer, four, imparts an inheritance.We serve the Triune God.We are the Body of Christ.Revelation chapter 22 points to the "workmanship" of the Spirit of Grace and the Church, discussed here by Paul and John:::>Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. andRev 22:17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

  8. Godismyjudge Says:

    Is Cross talking about the inner witness of the Holy Spirit? If so, it's not the same as the RCC teaching regarding the infallibility of the church. BTW, the chart it good, but would be better if it depicted the roles of Christ and the Spirit.God be with you,Dan

  9. Mike Burgess Says:

    TF, it seems to me that you take what amounts to a position that it would be better for fallen men to dialogue with God than have Him teach them through His chosen (mediate) means. I doubt that is what you intended. But perhaps it is. If that is better, though, then why did He establish the office of elder? Why inspire the Scriptures? Why not choose the "better" path and directly, immediately teach men?

  10. Turretinfan Says:

    Better from only the standpoint of more clearly understanding what is told, not better in terms of God's overall purposes. That objection, incidentally, is the same as Bryan's objection. God has other things in mind than having men in this life have the best possible understanding.Anyone who thinks that an elder can communicate God's word better than God can communicate it himself is … well … hard to persuade of even the simplest things.

  11. Turretinfan Says:

    Dan:Feel free to create an improved chart based on mine!-TurretinFan

  12. Mike Burgess Says:

    "Anyone who thinks that an elder can communicate God's word better than God can communicate it himself is … well … hard to persuade of even the simplest things." I notice you chose not to address His mediate teaching through inspired writers. Interesting. Perhaps you'd care to elaborate on why you insist on bifurcating God teaching and God teaching through His chosen means (i.e., Scripture).Once one admits the absolute binding nature of Scripture, it seems to me (and to the Magisterial Reformers) one can no longer maintain such a bifurcation, whereupon Mr. Troutman's analogy is brought to bear in full force.

  13. Mike Burgess Says:

    As an aside, I sardonically note that Adam was kicked out of Eden and Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land after their respective direct encounters with God.

  14. Turretinfan Says:

    Mike:You might as well point out that Peter denied Jesus thrice after sitting under the personal ministry of the Son.And, despite your protests to the contrary, I did address the fact that the Scriptures are not simply a mediate mechanism but the very word of God.Your and Bryan's argument from Providence is absurd in that you cannot reasonably deny that God can explain things better than an elder can. In fact, it borders on blasphemy to suggest otherwise.-TurretinFan

  15. Mike Burgess Says:

    Indeed, it is an awful thing for a sinner to fall in the hands of an angry God. Noone comes away from a direct encounter unscathed (to his very core). Of course I made my comment about Adam and Moses "sardonically," that is, in jest. As to the larger point, God teaches through His elders, and God teaches (whether rarely or frequently) immediately. There is no "better" or "worse" way for Him to teach. There are better and poorer understandings, better and poorer interpretations, and better or poorer instances of acceptance of His teaching, but, as I am sure I have said before, my former PCA pastor made it clear that when the teaching elder teaches, it is the voice of God which utters that teaching through the ministry of that elder, provided he teaches as one validly ordained and in exercise of his office (with all the appropriate caveats). The Catholic caveats for its episcopal ministry are clearly articulated, as are the caveats for the Reformed in, say, the WCF. That was my point. I don't think you deny that. There is no practical difference between effective ministerial/magisterial teaching and Scriptural teaching.

  16. Mike Burgess Says:

    I realize you've been busy dealing with heavier hitters like Mr. Cross and Mr. Troutman, but I wondered if you would be posting and responding to the most recent comments I made on this thread. Whether yea or nay, would you be so kind as to send me copies, I seem to have inadvertantly deleted them. Thanks.

  17. Turretinfan Says:

    Sorry for the publication delay.There's no difference between two things that are effective as to the fact that they are effective, naturally.

  18. Turretinfan Says:

    That said, of course, God is better at teaching than men are.

  19. Pianoman Says:

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