Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Panacea Society: A 20th-Century Millenarian Movement

Just down the street from the John Bunyan Museum is a large property that was once the headquarters of the Panacea Society, and is now home to the Panacea Museum. I was anxious to get to our next destination, so we only had time to take a brief glimpse at a few rooms in the museum--long enough to be thoroughly intrigued.

At its peak in the early 20th century the Panacea Society had over 70 residents living in the community in Bedford. According to the Panacea Museum website, eventually "[o]ver two thousand people became members of the Panacea Society" from around the world.

The society is most well-known for an advertising campaign to pressure 24 Anglican bishops to open a sealed box of prophecies left behind by the 18th-century prophetess, Joanna Southcott:

Before her death in 1814, the 64-year-old virgin had announced that she was pregnant. This news became a national sensation, and thousands of her followers made clothing for the promised child, Shiloh, the second-coming of the Messiah:

(Read Genesis 49:10 for the details.)

No child materialized, however, and Southcott died 10 months after announcing her "pregnancy."
Fast-forward to 1919 when Bedford resident, Mabel Barltrop (1866-1934), a widowed mother of four children, announced that she was Shiloh. Mabel changed her name to Octavia and, together with twelve female apostles, founded the Panacea society.

One of the society's main occupations was advocating for the opening of Joanna Southcott's box. True to its name, the society also advertised a panacea:
"The cure was ordinary tap water over which Octavia had breathed and prayed. ... [D]emand from non-resident members prompted the development of a new method of transferring the healing power believed to be in Octavia’s breath. In a ceremony Octavia first prayed then breathed over long rolls of linen, which were then cut up into one-inch squares. Anyone applying for healing would be sent one of these small squares of healing linen. They were instructed to keep the linen square in a jug of water, and pray each time they used it. ... [O]ver 120,000 people have applied to the Panacea Society for healing since it began. Members of the Society meticulously archived the extensive correspondence from recipients of the healing squares replying whenever possible and the resulting archives are a fascinating record of faith and health from around the world."
In 2012, when the last member of the society died, the religious movement officially ended. The society--now with considerable financial assets--changed its name to the "The Panacea Charitable Trust," and transformed the Bedford property into a museum. The Trust's dual aims are to support the study of the Panacea Society and other similar millenarian groups and to contribute to needy causes in the Bedford area. (Christopher Rowland once served on the board; Justin Meggitt of Cambridge University is currently board chair.)

The Panacea Museum also hosts art exhibitions, though we didn't make it to the floor that held this one:

If I ever return to Bedford and have my druthers, I will give the John Bunyan Museum a pass (with all due respect), and spend my time at the Panacea.

Further Reading: As you would expect, the Wikipedia entries on the Panacea Society and Joanna Southcott contain basic information. The Panacea Museum website has a helpful overview of the society's history, but for some reason a much more detailed biography of Mabel Borthrop preserved on the Wayback Machine is no longer included on the site (HT: Wikipedia). I also consulted Stephen Coates's piece on Joanna Southcott's box.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

On the Comparison of 17th-Century Christianities: John Bunyan and Nicholas Ferrar

After visiting Little Gidding we drove 25 miles south to the town of Bedford and stopped for lunch by the River Great Ouse.
Our reason for stopping in Bedford, aside from the pleasant picnic spot, was to visit the shrine of another 17th-century protestant saint, whose best-selling book begins as follows:
"As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream." 
The Den, I assume, was inspired by the Bedford County Jail where John Bunyan was imprisoned between 1660-1672, and where he began to write The Pilgrim's Progress:

The actual jail, of course, is long gone. Visitors today can view a replica in the John Bunyan Museum that stands next to a 19th-century Bunyan Meeting church building, a few blocks east of the old jail site:

In addition to the model jail cell, the museum houses a selection of 17th-century relics: This key may have belonged to Oliver Cromwell, this block of wood may have come from the Bedfordshire barn where Bunyan preached--that sort of thing. There is also a door that really was removed from the Bedford County Jail when it was demolished in 1801; whether the door goes back to 1672 is another question. The museum also includes a library of Bunyan's works published in a wide variety of modern languages.

In many ways, Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637) of Little Gidding and John Bunyan (1628-1688) of Bedford could not be more different. Nicholas's father was an elite London merchant, members of the family were friends with royalty, and Nicholas served in parliament before the move to Little Gidding. John Bunyan's father was a tinker, just well-enough off to own his own cottage and provide for his son's basic education. Nicholas Ferrar was a Cambridge-educated scholar who was ordained by the future Archbishop of Canterbury. Bunyan was a nonconformist whose refusal to give up preaching without a government license led to his twelve-year imprisonment. Despite their differences, both shared an unwavering commitment to the proclamation of the gospel and to ordering their lives by their common faith.

My historian spouse reminds me that Bunyan and Ferrar also belonged to different generations. The English civil war (1642-1651) that came between the death of Nicholas Ferrar in 1637 and the adult re-baptism of John Bunyan in 1653 changed England dramatically. Bunyan's imprisonment must be understood in the context of a sudden shift from toleration of nonconformists under Oliver Cromwell to an official attempt after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 to enforce conformity to a single church. (I don't know enough to comment on non-conformity and toleration before the civil war--but the shift from toleration back to official prohibition is one significant difference.) In any case, even though they both lived in the 17th century, you can't directly compare Ferrar in the 1630's with Bunyan in the 1660's anymore than you can juxtapose the 1950's and the 1980's. Conditions for existence had changed. Who knows? The same might be true of Judaism(s) in the Second Temple Period ....

Monday, August 6, 2018

Little Gidding and Gospel Harmonies

I keep a separate blog for family and friends who might have an interest in our little UK adventures, but I decided that my posts on our recent drive around the countryside have enough to do with the general biblical studies / academic nature of this blog to justify including them here. This is the first installment:
Unless you come on pilgrimage "to kneel where prayer has been valid," following the "broken king" Charles I or drawn by the famous lines in T. S. Eliot's poem, there is not much to see or do in Little Gidding beyond inspecting the tiny church, parts of which may go back to the building that was standing when Charles visited in the 1640's (see the links here and here).

I didn't notice a pig-sty, but in other respects T. S. Eliot's description of Little Gidding can't be matched:


If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
...
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull façade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, ...
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.
- From T. S. Eliot's "Little Gidding"

To be honest, we came to inform curiosity not to kneel, but out of respect for those who were already there when we barged in, I didn't get many pictures of the inside of the church:

The "Four Quartets," of which "Little Gidding" is the final part, has long been one of my favourite poems, and it was neat to be able to pick up a copy and skim through "Little Gidding" on location. Perhaps I will find that "the purpose is beyond the end [I] figured, and is altered in fulfilment."

At any rate, I am also fascinated by the story of the religious community that drew King Charles to Little Gidding in the first place.

The property was purchased in 1625 by Mary Ferrar, the widow of one of the founding members of the Virginia Company, and her son Nicholas. They were joined by her other son John, her daughter Susanna, and their extended families. Nicholas was ordained as a deacon by the future Archbishop Laud in 1626 and soon established a devotional routine based on the Book of Common Prayer that included daily services for the whole family--matins at 6:30 a.m., the litany at 10 a.m. and evensong at 4 p.m.--as well as hourly prayers and a night vigil with readings from the Gospels and Psalms. According to the Little Gidding Church website,
"To instruct the younger members of the extended family in the gospel story and to develop their manual dexterity, Nicholas devised a Harmony of the four gospels. This Harmony provided the narrative for the hourly gospel readings. To create it, individual lines were cut from the four gospel narratives and pasted together on the page to make one continuous text. The pages were also illustrated with engravings, some of which Nicholas may have brought back from his continental travels many years earlier. When King Charles heard of the Harmony’s existence, he sent to borrow it, returning it only when the family agreed to make another for him."
I like telling my students this story to show that studying a synopsis of the Gospels--with parallel passages laid side-by-side--can be a devotional practice.

The best information we located about Little Gidding is in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries on Little Gidding, Nicholas Ferrar, and John Ferrar. Less authoritative, but free alternatives may be found here, here and here.


Our next destination, via back roads and rolling hills, was Bedford.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Scholarly Virtues: The Stone Seminar

I perused the new Festschrift for Michael E. Stone recently, and was not surprised to find several references to the seminar he held for many years in his home. The tributes at the beginning of the volume brought back fond memories of my own experience as a member of the "Stone Seminar" during my year as a visiting research student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem back in 2000-2001.

Some of the tributes comment on the seminar itself:
Harold Attridge: "Most memorable perhaps were the sessions of the seminar at your home in Jerusalem, where you and Nira so graciously hosted mature and budding scholars from around the world. You brought together there, as you have in many of your scholarly endeavors, talented people with very diverse interests, philological, socio-historical, literary. The one sine qua non was the competence to read ancient sources with care and be willing to contribute to the give and take of serious scholarly conversation. All of us who participated in that seminar or in conversations with you at international congresses learned from one another and from you." (p. 17) 
Esther Eshel: "Michael nourished our early academic appetites with exposure to scholars and scholarship—in his famous seminars. There we could meet first-rate visiting scholars, who shared with us their latest ideas and plans. And at the same time, we could share our first lectures, to be presented at international conferences, as well as our debut papers and articles. Here Michael’s criticism was the most valuable, because it always was constructive criticism. From Michael we learn to look at the broad picture, even when looking at the smallest philological question." (p. 35)
Others focus more on the way the seminar exemplified Michael Stone’s outstanding qualities as a teacher:
Esther Chazon: "I have been Michael Stone’s student for forty years. I will always be Michael’s student. It is impossible to put into words, especially in a brief tribute, all that Michael has taught his students. Reading ancient texts we had never heard of before was only the beginning. Over long coffee breaks on campus and in his home during evening seminars and private consultations, Michael continues to engage us in the texts, contexts, and broad implications. The image that encapsulates this for me is the move from precise textual work at his enormous living-room desk to the armchair conversations of “what it all means.” ... Like a father, but also as a friend, he never stops looking after our intellectual, professional, and emotional well-being." (pp. 24-25)
David Satran: "An initial meditation on Michael as teacher prompts me to remark on his extreme lack of caution. Now reckless isn’t a word that readily comes to mind in speaking about Michael Stone—it certainly would seem to fit neither the character of the man we so admire nor the scholarship we celebrate—but it may not be an inappropriate description of his pedagogy or, at least, our first impressions of his pedagogical method. Those of us who have enjoyed the privilege and the delight of studying with Michael—as well as the occasional attacks of anxiety which accompanied these—know that dizzying excitement of being sent off to track down the odd detail of an ancient text, armed only with a handful of obscure references and the encouragement to follow the path wherever it might lead. Those paths inevitably led many of us down innumerable rabbit holes, some with no apparent means of escape, but a fair number ultimately issued in seminar papers, theses, and even dissertations. Looking back, it seems difficult to fathom how Michael could have felt that we should be entrusted, at what seemed an impossibly early stage in our studies, with the responsibility of getting to the bottom of these matters. And no less: the solemnity with which we had to report back on our efforts and the seriousness with which these were recorded and held up for general discussion and appraisal. Slowly, at times ever so slowly, however, we began to trust Michael’s expectations from us and found ourselves more trusting of both our own research and our own judgment …. In his demonstration of confidence in our fledgling abilities and insights, Michael encouraged us to develop that intangible quality of security in our own work and in the scholarly directions we had begun to choose. In a certain sense, it is precisely this measure of his confidence which has come to define a large number of our own highly variegated pursuits." (pp. 31-32)
I am afraid I did not know enough to take full advantage of the seminar, but I still learned a great deal from Michael Stone that year. During the seminar we read the Letter of Thessalos and part of Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana in Greek—a struggle for someone like me who had really only read the New Testament in Greek. We also heard papers from members of the seminar, as well as from Greg Sterling, Esther Eshel, and, if I’m not mistaken, Peter Brown. (I confess I had no idea who Peter Brown was at the time.) Fortunately, I had the good sense to look up and read some of the books and articles Professor Stone mentioned, including selections from E.R. Dodds, Gershom Scholem, and Stone’s own seminal essays “Lists of Revealed Things,” “Three Transformations in Judaism,” and Scriptures, Sects and Visions. It was on Stone’s recommendation that I read John Barton’s Oracles of God and acquired my own inexpensive copy of Menahem Stern’s Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism directly from the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. My main point here, of course, is not to enumerate a list of now dated but still valuable books, but to confirm the influence of the teacher and the effectiveness of his pedagogy.

Bibliography
DiTommaso, Lorenzo, Matthias Henze, and William Adler, eds. The Embroidered Bible: Studies in Biblical Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in Honour of Michael E. Stone. SVTP 26. Leiden: Brill, 2017.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Scholarly Virtues: John Barclay on Michael Wolter's Romans

In a recent book review, John Barclay commends Michael Wolter's 2014 Romans commentary as "a new high-water mark." It "is, now, the first commentary that any student or scholar working on Rom 1–8 should consult."

As valuable as the positive review of Wolter's commentary, which I dutifully noted, are Barclay's comments about what it means to be a good biblical scholar, using Wolter as an example: 
"The result has all the hallmarks of his scholarly excellence: acute exegetical observation, historical precision, clarity of thought and expression, and an independence of mind and originality in argument that manages always to have something new and interesting to say about this well-worn text."

"His philological and historical approach refuses to be bent by a theological or any other ideological agenda, while he takes the theological subject matter of the letter with full seriousness and does not attempt to turn it into something else. ... It is this rigorous historical stance, together with his delightful independence of mind, that makes Wolter’s commentary so valuable."

"Throughout there is the highest regard for clarity: One gets the sense that every word and every phrase has been examined afresh: on numerous occasions, linguistic parallels, drawn from across Greek literature, help support or clarify a reading of Paul’s Greek, with an attention to detail that never becomes obsessive or verbose. It is also clear that Wolter has thought through every exegetical debate anew: often he begins from an original starting-point, while his argumentation is robust but courteous, sober and without rhetorical flourish, and always supported by evidence."

"I know of no current Pauline scholar who can match this argumentative rigor, clarity, and skill."

"There is no attempt to squeeze Paul here into a theological programme, or to salvage the text for a theological or ethical cause. At the same time, there is no anti-theological agenda, which can often produce readings of Paul just as over-determined, whether by a political, moral, or ideological concern. All the virtues of a historian are here displayed - honesty, thoroughness, precision, independence of mind – as applied to the historical roots, contexts, developments, and functions of Paul’s language. Paul’s theology is here, first and foremost, a language-event, and whatever one does with it thereafter should not be allowed to prejudge or distort one’s careful observation of how his text actually works. ...  But because he recognizes that this [Paul's] gospel is inescapably theological, in that it makes huge claims about God and God’s saving action in Christ, his commentary will be as significant for those with a theological investment in the text as for those with only historical interests."

Bibliography
Barclay, John M.G. “Review of Michael Wolter, Der Brief an Die Römer.” Early Christianity 9, no. 2 (2018): 247–52.

Wolter, Michael. Der Brief an die Römer Teilband I: Röm 1-8. EKK 6/1. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Theologie, 2014. (According to Amazon, volume 2 is due out in October 2018.)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Biblical Leadership according to Josephus

In the first half of Flavius Josephus’s twenty-volume Jewish Antiquities, composed in the 90’s CE for a non-Jewish audience, the Jewish historian rewrites the narrative parts of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament in his own words. Although he claims not to have added or omitted anything, much has changed in the telling. There are entirely new episodes, like Moses’ conquest of Ethiopia at the head of an Egyptian army—the back story, if you will, of the strange biblical reference to Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman in Numbers 12. There are also major omissions. The golden calf, for instance, has entirely vanished from Josephus’s account. As a Greco-Roman historian, Josephus also follows convention by inventing speeches and attributing them to characters in his narrative.

One such speech that may at first appear to be entirely Josephus’s own creation is Moses’ final address to the Israelites on the eve of their entry into the promised land. In the Bible, Moses’ final speech consists primarily of a review of the wilderness wanderings and a series of laws that take up most of the book of Deuteronomy. Josephus omits the review of events because it duplicates what he has already described; much of the legal material appears in a separate summary of the Jewish national “constitution” that, according to Josephus, Moses presented to the people in a book. This gives Josephus freedom to innovate with the speech itself. The result is a shorter, punchier version that focuses on leadership—a topic that would have resonated with his Roman audience. Here is my slightly paraphrastic attempt at an idiomatic translation of part of the speech:
Now I am leaving you, rejoicing in your good things and entrusting you to the temperance of the laws, to the order of the constitution, and to the virtues of the governors who will take thought for what is profitable for you. And God who has been your ruler until now—and, really, it is a result of his decision that I have been of any use to you—God, I say, will not at this point stop providentially caring for you. No, you will continue to benefit from his thoughtful care as long as you wish to have a benefactor in the ways of virtue—provided, that is, that you remain in the ways of virtue. And the high priest Eleazar, Joshua, and the council of elders, as well as the tribal leaders, will propose the best counsels to you. If you follow their direction, you will experience true happiness (eudaimonia). Listen to them without causing trouble, knowing that all who know well how to be ruled will also know how to rule if they ever come to a position of authority. (Jewish Antiquities 4.184-6)
One might object that Josephus’s focus on human leaders obscures Deuteronomy’s overwhelming emphasis on God, that Josephus’s Moses resembles a Stoic philosopher, and, of course, that the words Josephus attributes to Moses never actually appear in the Bible in this form. Nevertheless, the speech deserves consideration as an interpretation of Deuteronomy, not just as an invention inserted to appeal to Josephus’s first-century audience.

Josephus rarely simply makes stuff up. His rewriting of his biblical source is a thoughtful interpretation that attempts to explain the text (or texts) he had in front of him, often in a surprisingly conservative way. With a few exceptions, Josephus’s imaginative conclusions about what biblical figures must have done and said are matched, I suspect, by popular contemporary interpretations of the Bible. If his revisions to the Bible seem strange, it is because his assumptions are foreign enough for us to notice them, while we tend to ignore the ways our own cultural assumptions influence what we think the Bible says. Indeed, the value of reading Josephus lies in part in his attention to details our own cultural blinders keep us from seeing. As a first-century interpreter, Josephus can also help us understand the basic assumptions and worldview of his contemporaries, including the writers of the New Testament.

I would suggest that the passage I quoted actually distills much of what Deuteronomy says about leadership. In Josephus, as in Deuteronomy, God is presented as the supreme ruler. And Deuteronomy does, after all, have quite a bit to say about human leadership, both directly in instructions about tribal leaders, judges, kings and prophets (Deut 1:9-18; 13; 16:18-20; 17; 18:14-22), and indirectly in its depiction of Moses as a model for other leaders, like Joshua, who will follow him (Deut 3:28; 4:22; 31:23; 34:5-12).
  • Good leaders are characterized by virtue. 
  • Virtue comes from fearing God and following the “temperance of the laws.” 
  • Good leaders, therefore, are those who have learned to follow.
Note that Moses does not encourage the Israelites to become leaders; he exhorts them to follow. As the speech continues, Moses reminds the people of their previous leadership conflicts in the wilderness. Examples of this conflict—including Korah’s revolt, jealousy about the choice of Aaron as high priest (Num 16-17), and the opposition of Zambrias (based on Num 25)—would be fresh in Josephus’s readers’ minds because Josephus has just described them in detail. Leaders are necessary, but in Josephus’s world, too many aspiring leaders results in civil strife.

While the language of “virtue” is obviously influenced by popular Greek philosophical thought, it is well-suited to what Deuteronomy says about the character qualities of leaders. In Deut 16:18-20, for instance, the cardinal Greek virtue of “justice” is given pride of place. Although the term is rare, the same concern for virtue emerges even more clearly in the New Testament, for example in the list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, in Phil 4:8 where the word “virtue” (aretê) actually appears, and in the qualifications for church leaders in 1 Timothy and Titus. In the Bible as well as Josephus, leaders are known by their virtue—not their mission, vision, and values. (For an example of why virtue—or “goodness”—is relevant in today’s context, consider Scot McKnight’s reflections on the recent problems at Willow Creek Community Church, which is known to many as the home of the Global Leadership Summit.)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Perspicuity 4: Suspended Reading and Wilful Misunderstanding

I once tried to dignify my typical reaction to reading the Old Testament as “The Spiritual Discipline of Bewilderment.” If I were called upon to teach or preach regularly from the Old Testament, the time and effort expended in careful study would doubtless clarify much of what at first seems confusing. I will gladly grant that specialists in Jeremiah might regard this Old Testament book as more understandable than Romans. But while no real discipline is required to be baffled by an initial encounter with an unfamiliar text, I was trying to get at something important about the posture of faithful reading.

A belief in the “verbal plenary” clarity of Scripture may generate an unhelpful anxiety that leads readers to move too quickly from questions to a premature conclusion about the one definitive right answer. After all, if the whole text is clear, I am at fault for not understanding, right?

I am not denying that correct interpretation is a valid goal and that better understanding is, in most cases, possible. I know from experience that puzzling out difficult texts is both arduous and richly rewarding. Still, there is something to be said for practicing a kind of reading that remains suspended between the question and the answer.

According to Augustine, this is the place to begin:
“In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them.” - Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 2.9.14
What I am calling “suspended reading,” N.T. Wright refers to as living uncomfortably with the text:
“I take it as a method in my biblical studies that if I turn a corner and find myself saying, ‘Well, in that case, that verse is wrong’ that I must have turned a wrong corner somewhere. But this does not mean that I impose what I think is right on to that bit of the Bible. It means, instead, that I am forced to live with that text uncomfortably, sometimes literally for years . . ., until suddenly I come round a different corner and that verse makes a lot of sense.” - N.T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?” 30
Scripture is a multi-faceted splendour that, as Gregory the Great said, is a river where a lamb may wade, and an elephant swim. The pressure to understand may, paradoxically, impoverish reading by leaving no place for wonder, and by making of interpretation an individual pursuit when, to comprehend the text more fully, we need each other’s varied perspectives.

But while it is okay not to understand, and it is important not to rush to easy answers, complaints about the Bible’s complexity are not always innocent. According to Erasmus,
“This doctrine [i.e., the teaching of Scripture] in an equal degree accommodates itself to all . . . . not only does it serve the lowliest, but it is also an object of wonder to those at the top. . . . It keeps no one at a distance, unless a person, begrudging himself, keeps himself away.” - Erasmus, Paraclesis, 96. 

No one put the danger of willful misunderstanding as forcefully as Søren Kierkegaard, and with these two quotes I conclude:
“[I]t is regarded in the world as definitely settled that people would like to know the truth if only they had the capacity and the time for it and if it could be made clear to them. What a superfluous concern, what an ingeniously fabricated evasion! Every human being truly has capacity enough to know the truth …. The one who has any knowledge of himself at all knows from his own experience that it is rather that one has in one’s innermost being a secret anxiety about and wariness of the truth, a fear of getting to know too much.” – Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses, 170 in Westerholm & Westerholm, 340-1.
“Suppose that it was said in the New Testament – we can surely suppose it – that it is God’s will that every man should have 100,000 dollars: do you think there would be any question of a commentary? … But what is found in the New Testament (about the narrow way, dying to the world, and so on) is not at all more difficult to understand than this matter of the 100,000 dollars. The difficulty lies elsewhere, in that it does not please us – and so we must have commentaries and professors and commentaries. … We really wish it to be doubtful, and we have a tiny hope that the commentaries may make it so. … We have invented learning in order to escape from God’s will.” - Kierkegaard, The Last Years: Journals 1853-1855, 334-35 in Westerholm & Westerholm, 347.
Other Posts in This Series:
Perspicuity 1: Is the Bible Understandable?
Perspicuity 2: The NET Bible on Old Testament Obscurities
Perspicuity 3: Limited Clarity, Perspicuous Theology and the Importance of Historical Context 

Works Cited
Augustine, Saint. On Christian Doctrine. Translated by D. W. Robertson. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Erasmus. “The Paraclesis.” Pages 97–108 in Christian Humanism and the Reformation: Selected Writings of Erasmus with the Life of Erasmus by Beatus Rhenanus. Translated by John C. Olin. 3rd ed. New York: Fordham University Press, 1987.

Naselli, Andy.  “On Swimming Elephants.” http://andynaselli.com/on-swimming-elephants. (For the Gregory the Great citation and the photo of a swimming elephant.)
Westerholm, Stephen, and Martin Westerholm. Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Wright, Nicholas Thomas. “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 7–32.