In this post, I discuss the first three sources of theology of the Theological Hexagon. These sources are Scripture, reason, and tradition.
Special Revelation, i.e., Scripture
The term “special revelation”, i.e., Scripture, means the Bible (i.e., sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible). The Bible is God’s Word according to 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) and 2 Peter 1:21 (ESV), which read:
2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) – 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
2 Peter 1:21 (ESV) – 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The Word of God does not change, according to Psalm 119:89 (ESV):
89 Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
Isaiah 40:8 and 1 Peter 1:25 each teach that God’s Word stands forever:
Isaiah 40:8 (ESV) – 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
1 Peter 1:25 (ESV) – 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
It is beyond argument that the Bible, i.e., Scripture, trumps any other source of theology for the Theological Hexagon. The Bible must be the overwhelmingly dominant source for our theology that controls our lives. Article V of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (https://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_2.pdf) reads:
WE AFFIRM that the Holy Spirit enables believers to appropriate and apply Scripture to their lives.
WE DENY that the natural man is able to discern spiritually the biblical message apart from the Holy Spirit.
The divine authority of Scripture is the reason. Scripture is at the very top of the Theological Hexagon. Scripture is the origin of the pathway of biblical interpretation, which eventually leads to the development of one or more relevant theological principles.
It takes very little exposure to religious discussions to appreciate that different theologians interpret the Bible in different ways. The meaning expressed in a biblical text is “single, definite and fixed.” See Article VII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. For We must interpret Scripture according to the grammatical-historical hermeneutical approach if we are to develop a correct interpretation. A concise definition of the grammatical-historical approach is:
The grammatico-historical method, on the other hand, refers to studying the biblical text, or any other text, in its original historical context, and seeking the meaning its author(s) most likely intended for its original audience(s) or addressees based on the grammar and syntax.
“The Historical Critical/Grammatical View” by Craig L. Blomberg in Biblical Hermeneutics Five Views (2012), IVP Academic Press, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426 at p. 28
For more details, see Articles XIII, XIV, and XV of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.
The term “reason” means “information that comes from the human mind’s capacity for logical, rational, and analytic thought.” See page 99 of the Notebook. Reason is the critical discipline one uses to study Scripture, and thereby, correctly interpret Scripture. Examples of “reason” can come from mathematics, such as, for example, the basic truth that 1 + 1 = 2 or that a triangle has three sides. Reason includes using fundamental principles of logic like the principle of non-contradiction, which states that that contradictory propositions cannot both be true, e. g., the two propositions ” A is B ” and ” A is not B ” are mutually exclusive.
Referring to the New Testament, the Greek verb dialegomai means “to reason, argue, prove, persuade.” See Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of New & Old Testament Words (Zondervan) at p. 561. Mounce’s expounds on dialegomai in a Pauline context:
… we must do much more than just talk, dialegomai involves preaching and teaching that harnesses reason and logic into a defensive and positive exposition of God’s Word to persuade and edify.”
God created mankind to include a mind. A believer’s “sold out” love for God includes his or her mind per Matthew 22:34–40 (ESV), which reads [emphasis added]:
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In verse 37, the ESV translates the Greek noun dianoia as “mind,” and it means “the psychological faculty of understanding, reasoning, thinking, and deciding—‘mind.’”. See Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 323–324). New York: United Bible Societies.
Reason is part of our cognitive thinking process to arrive at the single, definite, and fixed interpretation of a passage, i.e., the correct interpretation, of Scripture. It is through the use of our mind to reason in applying the principles of the grammatical-historical hermeneutical approach that we arrive at the correct interpretation of Scripture, which forms the foundation for our theology. One quotation from Jonathan Edwards reads (see page 99 of the Notebook):
While God wants to reach the heart with truth, he does not bypass the mind.
“Reason”, which is below Scripture, ranks second on the Theological Hexagon. It is the source that employs the grammatical-historical hermeneutical approach to arrive at the correct interpretation of Scripture. We take the correct interpretation of Scripture and move along the pathway of biblical interpretation to engage tradition.
The term “tradition” means “religious information that has been handed down from various sources.” See page 98 of the Notebook. Tradition can mean the collective wisdom of the church in interpreting Scripture. Tradition provides us with insight as to how our predecessors in the faith practiced faithful discipleship, as well as ways in which they may have strayed off course. Tradition is a powerful teaching tool that is always in development.
Looking at the New Testament helps to understand “tradition.” The ESV translates the Greek noun paradosis as “tradition” in Colossians 2:8, which reads:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Paradosis means the content of traditional instruction. It has the sense of a specific practice of long-standing handed down from respected authorities. See Logos 8, Exegetical Guide. Paradosis can have an unfavorable sense when used of the tradition that is added to Scripture. According to one theological dictionary, one can use paradosis in a positive sense:
2. Christian teaching is also tradition in 1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Th. 2:15. It must be adhered to by the churches (1 Cor. 15:2). To be valid it must be handed down (1 Cor. 15:3) and must derive from the Lord (11:23), i.e., it must have divine authority. One may see from 1 Cor. 15:3ff. and 11:23ff. that it is older than Paul and is already acquiring a fixed form in his day.
Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 168). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.
Paul handed down paradosis or traditions. One biblical example is 1 Corinthians 11:2 (ESV), which reads:
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
Another biblical example is 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV), which reads:
15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
A third biblical example is 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (ESV), which reads:
6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
Christ-followers were to abide by those traditions taught or delivered to them by Paul. It is safe to assume that the traditions handed down by Paul were consistent with Scripture.
While Scripture should not be bound by tradition, in our quest for truth, we should not disregard how sincere Christian leaders who were sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit looked at theological issues. Examples of tradition are creeds, statements of faith, sermons, a liturgy of worship, and other kinds of church-generated materials.
The background of a tradition helps to assign theological weight. For example, a tradition like the Nicene Creed, which was the result of much study and discussion, carries more weight than one sermon by one preacher. For “tradition” to meaningfully impact the development of our theology, it must be consistent with the teaching of Scripture.
“Tradition”, which is below Scripture and Reason, ranks third on the Theological Hexagon. Tradition functions to either confirm our theology or act as a bumper stop to prevent our theology from going “off the rails.” After interacting with the correct interpretation of Scripture, tradition will either confirm the interpretation or raise a question about the correctness of the interpretation.
If tradition confirms the interpretation, we continue on the pathway of biblical interpretation. If tradition from a credible source raises a serious question about the biblical interpretation, we return to apply again reason to arrive at the correct interpretation. If, after review, the correct interpretation remains the same, we continue on the pathway of biblical interpretation past tradition and on to general revelation. If the interpretation changes in light of tradition, we move on to general revelation.
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