Gadamer on Prejudicial Frameworks

Philosophical Hermeneutics
Hans-Georg Gadamer

According to Hans-Georg Gadamer,

Prejudices [i.e., prejudgments] are not necessarily unjustified and erroneous, so that they inevitably distort the truth. In fact, the historicity of our existence entails that prejudices, in the literal sense of the word [i.e., prejudgments], constitute the directedness of our whole ability to experience. Prejudices are biases of our openness to the world. They are simply conditions whereby we experience something—whereby what we encounter says something to us. (Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 9)

In his following discussion, Gadamer draws a helpful illustration from the process of language acquisition:

How does it happen that [words] are “words,” that is, that they have a general meaning? In his first apperception, a sensuously equipped being finds himself in a surging sea of stimuli, and finally he begins, as we say, to know something. Clearly we do not mean that he was previously blind. Rather, when we say “to know” [erkennen] we mean “to recognize” [wiedererkennen], that is, to pick something out [herauserkennen] of the stream of images flowing past as being identical. (Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 14; brackets original; underlining for original italics)

Even when language is acquired inductively, a judgment about meaning may develop from a “surging sea of stimuli,” but this sea itself does not “make sense” to the acquirer until the acquirer reflects on the sea in the context of this judgment—that is, until the judgment becomes prejudgment and allows the sea to speak sensibly.

Irenaeus on 666 and 616

Irenaeus of Lyons
Irenaeus of Lyons (Image via Wikipedia)

In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus argues that 666 is a particularly “fitting” number for the name of the beast in Rev 13:18:

since he sums up in his own person all the commixture of wickedness which took place previous to the deluge, due to the apostasy of the angels. For Noah was six hundred years old when the deluge came upon the earth, sweeping away the rebellious world, for the sake of that most infamous generation which lived in the times of Noah. And [Antichrist] also sums up every error of devised idols since the flood, together with the slaying of the prophets and the cutting off of the just {cf. Matt 24:37–38/Luke 17:26–27}. For that image which was set up by Nebuchadnezzar had indeed a height of sixty cubits, while the breadth was six cubits; on account of which Ananias, Azarias, and Misaël, when they did not worship it, were cast into a furnace of fire, pointing out prophetically, by what happened to them, the wrath against the righteous which shall arise towards the [time of the] end {cf. Matt 24:15/Mark 13:14}. For that image, taken as a whole, was a prefiguring of this man’s coming, decreeing that he should undoubtedly himself alone be worshipped by all men {cf. Rev 13:15}. Thus, then, the six hundred years of Noah, in whose time the deluge occurred because of the apostasy, and the number of the cubits of the image for which these just men were sent into the fiery furnace, do indicate the number of the name of that man in whom is concentrated the whole apostasy of six thousand years, and unrighteousness, and wickedness, and false prophecy, and deception; for which things’ sake a cataclysm of fire shall also come [upon the earth]. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.29.2 [ANF 1:558]; square brackets original; curled brackets added)

This argument is, therefore, substantially canonical-internal. Given his reading of the Gospels’ testimony about the eschaton and how Revelation itself portrays the beast, Irenaeus thinks the number 666 makes good sense in Rev 13:18. Having established the propriety of the number 666 on these grounds, immediately following, Irenaeus comments on the variant reading 616:

{1} Such, then, being the state of the case {with Noah’s age at the deluge and the dimensions of Nebuchadnezzar’s image}, and {2} this number {i.e., 666} being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the Apocalypse], and {3} those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; {4} while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six; that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds, and the number of hundreds equal to that of the units (for that number which [expresses] the digit six being adhered to throughout, indicates the recapitulations of that apostasy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end),—I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads they will have it that there is but one {i.e., 616}. [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.]* {5} Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number. Now, as regards those who have done this in simplicity, and without evil intent, we are at liberty to assume that pardon will be granted them by God. {6} But as for those who, for the sake of vainglory, lay it down for certain that names containing the spurious number are to be accepted, and affirm that this name, hit upon by themselves, is that of him who is to come; such persons shall not come forth without loss, because they have led into error both themselves and those who confided in them. Now, in the first place, it is loss to wander from the truth, and to imagine that as being the case which is not; then again, as there shall be no light punishment [inflicted] upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the Scripture, under that such a person must necessarily fall. Moreover, another danger, by no means trifling, shall overtake those who falsely presume that they know the name of Antichrist. For if these men assume one [number], when this [Antichrist] shall come having another, they will be easily led away by him, as supposing him not to be the expected one, who must be guarded against. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.30.1 [ANF 1:558–59]; square brackets original; curled brackets added)

To his appeal to canonical harmony {1}, Irenaeus adds the further, stylistic assurance that {4} 666 is the proper numerical equivalent of whatever the beast’s actual name may be “according to the Greek mode of calculation,” although he explicitly advises against speculation about this name’s identity (cf. {6}). Although this stylistic observation does not directly help Irenaeus establish the reading 666 as preferable to the reading 616, a consequence of Irenaeus’s assertion here is that it sets some bounds—however flexible they may be—around the translation of the number into the personal name for which it stands. That is, this translation should happen “according to the Greek mode of calculation,” apparently as opposed to any other special or more esoteric “mode of calculation” that could be applied to the number. The related point that Irenaeus does try to make toward substantiating the reading 666 is that this reading, unlike the alternative 616, aligns the three-ness of its sixes with the three-ness of the relevant apostatic periods: “at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and . . . at the end.”

For external testimony to the correctness of the 666 reading, Irenaeus cites both {2} the presence of 666 in the best and most ancient texts available to him and {3} the explicit approval of this reading by “those men who saw John face to face.” Therefore, in the face of appeals {1–4}, Irenaeus regards the reading 666 as sufficiently well established and sufficiently significant to result in deleterious consequences for those who opt for the alternative 616 ({5–6}; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.30.2). Even after this text critical argument, however, Irenaeus stresses that properly deciphering the number 666 is sufficiently problematic that, “on account of the fear of God, and zeal for the truth,” “[i]t is . . . more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfilment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.30.3 [ANF 1:559]; square brackets added).


* The editor regards “the whole of this clause as an evident interpolation. It does not occur in the Greek here preserved by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., v. 8)” (loc. cit.).

Learning a Proverb from a Pagan

Angelico Silence
Image via Communio

Earlier this semester in Exploring Religion, we discussed Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods, and one paragraph particularly struck me as an apt illustration of Qoheleth’s advice that עת לחשות ועת לדבר (Eccl 3:7b; there is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak):

When Cotta had spoken, Velleius said, ‘It was indeed rash of me to attempt to argue with someone who is both an academician and an orator. I would have no fear of an academician who had no gift of words or of an orator however eloquent who was not a good academic philosopher. I am not put out by a stream of empty words, or by subtle propositions quite devoid of eloquence. But you, Cotta, are  a champion on both counts. You only lacked an audience and a jury. But more of this another time. Let us now hear Lucilius, if he will favor us with his views. (123; underlining added)

Roughly the first half of bk. 1 is Velleius’s argument for the Epicurean position, and the second half is Cotta’s Academic rebuttal. At the beginning of bk. 2, therefore, Velleius could well have stood to attempt to refute Cotta’s initial rebuttal. Yet, he defers this attempt to “another time” and passes the discussion to Lucilius Balbus, the Stoic, who will also do the Epicurean position no particular favors in the body of bk. 2.

This action serves Cicero’s larger purpose of transitioning into a discussion of the Stoic position. Yet, how he does so—namely, Velleius’s reservedness toward Cotta and his yielding the floor to Balbus—suggests, perhaps, an interesting perspective for applying Eccl 3:7b not simply to situations where speaking in general might be out of place but also to situations in which one’s own speech might be out of place (e.g., because of its preceding quantity; cf. Prov 10:19) but another’s speech might not be so.

Cicero on the Earth as Sphere

The Flammarion woodcut is an enigmatic wood en...
Image via Wikipedia

Jim Davila has picked up a discussion about ancient testimony to the earth’s spherical shape. Cicero also, by way of his Stoic character Balbus, comments to this effect, saying,

[T]he sea, which is above the earth, tends still toward the earth’s centre, and so is itself shaped in conformity to the globe of the earth and nowhere spills or overflows. (171; italics added)

So, the Stoics, and perhaps Cicero, also would have acknowledged a spherical earth “before their time” (75, 238).

Et tu, Brute . . . Facts

Christian Apologetics
Cornelius Van Til

In the introduction to the second edition of Cornelius Van Til’s Christian Apologetics, Bill Edgar helpfully summarizes Van Til’s perspective on “brute facts”:

For Van Til . . . there could never be isolated self-evident arguments or brute facts, because everything comes in a framework. That is why he calls his approach the “indirect method.” One cannot go directly to the facts, as though they were self-evident. First, one must recognize the foundation and go on from there. . . . This is resolutely not a denial of the use of evidences. Everything proclaims God’s truth. Only there are no brute facts, or data in a vacuum. (5, 8; emphasis original)

From this perspective, Van Til comments:

It is these notions [of brute fact in metaphysics and the autonomy of the human mind in epistemology] that determine the construction that the natural man puts upon everything that is presented to him. They are the colored glasses through which he sees all the facts. . . . (193)

The method of reasoning by presupposition may be said to be direct rather than indirect. The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to “facts” or “laws” whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to [the] debate. The question is rather as to what is the final reference point required to make the “facts” and “laws” intelligible. The question s as to what the “facts” and “laws” really are. (129)

Of course, for Van Til,

There is one system of reality of which all that exists forms a part. And any individual fact of this system is what it is primarily because of its relation to this system. It is therefore a contradiction to speak in terms of presenting certain facts to men unless one presents them as parts of this system. The very factness of any individual fact of history is precisely what it is because God is what he is. It is God’s counsel that is the principle of individuation for the Christian man. God makes the facts to be what they are. (193–94)

In some ways, Van Til’s perspective much resembles Thomas Kuhn’s arguments about the natural sciences. Yet, one major difference is that, where Kuhn has ever-mutable paradigms, Van Til has, on the Christian’s side of things, a perception of ever-knowing, reality-constituting mind of God.

Translation and Rewriting

The Nature of the Gods
Marcus Tullius Cicero

In his translator’s comments on Cicero’s Nature of the Gods, H. C. P. McGregor makes the following observation about the task of translation:

One can . . . choose verbal accuracy at any price, translate each sentence word for word, and so produce a safe bud deadly crib. In an opposite extreme, one may throw all scholarly impedimenta overboard, let vocabulary and syntax go, seeking only to preserve in English dress the sense and argument of the original. . . . A third method goes beyond translation altogether and creates a new work in the image of the old, as Pope and Chapman did with Iliad and Odyssey. (64)

Although his main interest in this introduction lies elsewhere, the passing reference to “creat[ing] a new work in the image of the old” seems also to be some good, vivid language for describing what happens in “rewritten Bible” texts from the Second Temple period.

Rasputin and Romans 6

In his Tyndale series Romans commentary, F. F. Bruce offers the following colorful, if also sad, illustration as he discusses Rom 6:

A notable historical instance [of a tendency to read Paul as advocating antinomianism] may be seen in the Russian monk Rasputin, the evil genius of the Romanov family in its last years of power. Rasputin taught and exemplified the doctrine of salvation through repeated experiences of sin and repentance; he held that, as those who sin most require most forgiveness, a sinner who continues to sin with abandon enjoys, each time he repents, more of God’s forgiving grace than any ordinary sinner (134).

A reported discussion between Rasputin and one Vera Zhukovskaya expresses a similar example of Rasputin’s saddening and disturbingly illogical “evil genius” on this topic (Radzinsky, 240).


In this post:

Romans (TNTC)
F. F. Bruce
The Rasputin File
Edvard Radzinsky

Letting Paul Be Paul

In his Romans commentary, F. F. Bruce gives the following, sound advice for those who want to understand Paul better:

We may agree or disagree with Paul, but we must do him the justice of letting him hold and teach his own beliefs, and not distort his beliefs into conformity with what we should prefer him to have said (136).

Of course, determining what exactly Paul believed is a task that inevitably involves readers and those readers’ preunderstandings, but still the adage holds: “if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time” (cf. Hermeneutics and “the Near”).


In this post:

Romans (TNTC)
F. F. Bruce

Licona on Paul’s View of Believers’ Possible Fates

The Resurrection of Jesus
Michael Licona
In his new monograph, The Resurrection of Jesus, Michael Licona summarizes as follows how he sees Paul conceiving of believers’ possible ends:

Paul sees two options before believers. Some believers will die prior to the parousia and will become disembodied until the general resurrection, while believers alive at the parousia will have their earthly bodies clothed with their new resurrection body made by God. Paul certainly prefers to avoid the former. But his faith gives him confidence that, if he dies prior to the parousia, he will be with the Lord, although in a disembodied state, which he prefers over present life in the earthly body. And being with Christ is what matters most to Paul (435–36).

Yet, those who do die before the parousia remain conscious in their disembodied state, but they also await the fresh clothing of their disembodiment by a “resurrection body” (420–22, 425–36).

Paul in Acts and the Letters

While expressing doubts about the correctness of the “New Perspective(s) on Paul,” Stan Porter makes the following, interesting observation about the New Perspective(s) vis-à-vis the question of continuity between the portraits of Paul in Acts and the letters:

If this new perspective is correct, then it would appear that the Jewish elements that typify the account in Acts, such as Paul’s beginning much of his local preaching with a visit to the synagogue . . . , his agreeing to participate in the ritual in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17–26 . . . ), and his defenses focusing upon his continuity with Judaism, all point toward continuity between the Paul of Acts and of the Letters. Thus, the new perspective on Paul would appear to render this criticism of [E.] Haenchen [that Luke is unaware of Paul’s answer to the question of the law and the Gentile mission] no longer valid (191).

Despite Porter’s preference for “the traditional view of Paul and the law” (190), he still disagrees with Haenchen’s position about the portraits of Paul in Acts and the letters, but Porter bases his argument on grounds other than those that are available to those who prefer a New Perspective reading of the background behind these key texts (see 191–93).


In this post:

Paul in Acts
Stanley Porter