Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Eastern Orthodoxy, the Enlightenment, and the Text of Scripture
Image: Depiction of St. Matthew, in the great lavra (monastic cell), Mt. Athos, Greece
I finally finished reading Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes, his study of Eastern Orthodoxy from a Reformed perspective. One of the points Letham makes in his analysis concerns the different cultural and historical context in which Orthodoxy developed, as compared to the Western church. He notes, “the East had no Middle Ages, no Reformation, no Enlightenment” (p. 137).
Among other things, this has had a significant impact on the intellectual approach to the Bible and to “critical theological study” in Orthodoxy. So Letham observes:
Firstly, much Western theology and Biblical study in the past three hundred years has come out of the worldview and methodology of the Enlightenment, with its inbuilt aversion to authority, including the authority of God. The Eastern church, in contrast, has not had to contend with the Enlightenment. Flowing from this, secondly, Western critical Biblical study has been pursued mainly in an academic environment detached from the church, with the Bible considered as simply another book. The Eastern church, however, places theology (correctly, in my judgment) in the context of the church, the believing community, since the Bible was given to the church in the first place (p. 179).
He later adds, “in the West, since the Enlightenment the theological enterprise has generally been hived off to academic institutions with no connection to the church” (p. 276).
Though Letham does not address the divide between East and West on the text of the Bible, this contextual distinction likely explains why in Eastern Orthodoxy the modern-critical text of the NT has made little headway. Rather than the academic, “Enlightenment” text, the Eastern churches have preferred the TR (NB: and not even the Majority Text!) [BTW, the OT is another story altogether, as the East follows the LXX rather the traditional Hebrew text, though this too reflects immunity to Enlightenment influences].
Can Reformed evangelicals get outside our circumstances to perceive the Enlightenment influence on the text of Scripture?