[T]he principal author of the Bible—the entire Bible—is God himself. Of course each of the books of the Bible has a human author as well; still, the principal author is God. This impels us to treat the whole more like a unified communication than a miscellany of ancient books…. [T]he fact that the principal author of the Bible is God himself means that one can’t always determine the meaning of a given passage by discovering what the human author had in mind…. [W]e can’t just assume that what the Lord intends to teach is identical with what the human author had in mind; the latter may not so much as have thought of what is, in fact, the teaching of the passage in question.[--Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief]
[In Warranted Christian Belief,] Plantinga thus moves from the identification of Scripture as revelation—that is, as a communication from God—to the view that the entire corpus of biblical works, both Jewish and Christian, are to be viewed as essentially a “unified communication” since they have only one “principal author,” which is God himself. The fact that the different works in the biblical corpus were written over a period of many centuries, often arguing with one another and seeking to advance points of view that are at odds even on central issues, is not something that Plantinga is unaware of. But he deals with this problem by proposing that what the biblical authors—Moses or Jeremiah, say—believed to be God’s word to them is not always “in fact, the teaching of the passage in question.” Indeed, the “meaning of a given passage,” which is “what the Lord intends to teach,” may well be something that Moses or Jeremiah “may not have so much as thought of.” For this reason, we may be seeking in vain for the biblical teaching if we are trying to “determine the meaning of a given passage by discovering what the human author had in mind.”
Now, this view—and similar views that one finds among Jewish writers—works systematically to undermine the possibility of what I have been calling the philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. For on the view that I have proposed, what should be of interest to us when we take up the study of the Bible is precisely “what the human author had in mind” (or, if this is deemed impossible, then what the human final editor had in mind) in creating the text that we now have before us. Indeed, the whole aim of my book was to persuade readers that we should be at least as concerned to reconstruct what Isaiah or Jeremiah “had in mind” as we are to reconstruct what Parmenides or Plato “had in mind.” This, I suggest, is because Isaiah and Jeremiah were towering figures in the history of ideas, whose works deserve our respect and consideration. We should wish to recapture the unique ways in which they understood God, man’s nature, and the moral and political realm. We should wish to properly assess the impact and influence of their ideas, and to seek the relevance of their insights to our own lives and world today. And we should desire this not a whit less than in the case of the early Greek philosophers who came centuries after them, upon whom academic scholarship has lavished such a prodigious intellectual effort--Yoram Hazony, Jerusalem Letters: What is Revelation? [Recall also Friday's post.]
I have already noted that Hazony's position is in a certain limited respect not far removed from Spinoza. They both allow that the Hebrew Bible can be taken to express a unified point of view ultimately rooted in the intentions of the "human final editor." For Hazony this editor has allowed an unfolding of different political and moral perspectives in a search for a politics grounded in ethics as well as a shining through of the presence of distinctive (even philosophical) individual voices (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.) [see also this].+ Leaving aside Hazony's views on the nature of revelation, his insistence that the Hebrew Bible has a unity and integrity of its own puts him on a collision course with Christian (and Islamic) teachings that insist that its (that is, the Hebrew Bible's) meaning/teaching is (re-)shaped by a larger unity of which it is thought to be a part.
At first sight Hazony's interpretive stance on inferring meaning from authorial intent echoes Quentin Skinner's (1969) hermeneutics, although Hazony is more willing than Skinner originally was to extract enduring lessons from the original meaning of the text. But Hazony's position is a bit unstable because he cannot fully object to Plantinga's principle that a Biblical passage's teaching may transcend what the author of the passage had in mind because even the Hebrew Bible is sometimes based on and contains bits of texts whose authors' intentions are almost certainly left opaque (e.g., the Book of Jashar (recall); the Book of the Wars of the Lord, etc.). Even Hazony allows that the meaning and aim of the Hebrew Bible as a whole can transcend at least some of the intentions of some of the authors of some of its texts; according to him the whole is an "artful compendium," which includes diverging, more parochial "viewpoints." (Hazony, p. 41) So his disagreement with Plantinga is not wholly about hermeneutics nor only about the status of a purported distinction between reason and revelation, but also about what counts as the proper unity (for teaching/meaning purposes): the Hebrew Bible as such or the "entire Bible."* (For Plantinga on such unity, see p. 385.) Obviously, there are connections among the disagreements between Plantinga and Hazony because one may be tempted (as Plantinga seems to be) to treat revelation as a source of authority in settling what counts as the proper unity.
While I have considerable affinity with Hazony's enterprise, I have already noted that I am doubtful that, as is, he has the resources to insist that the Hebrew Bible is the sole proper unity to which the texts that compose it belong. Moreover, against a critic, who insists that the whole Bible has a “principal author” who “is God,” it is not sufficient to show that such a critic’s views are not in accord with the manifest (or inferred) teaching of the Hebrew Bible (as Hazony does, for example, with Swinburne’s account of revelation).** For, even if one denies the existence of such a principal author or the identification of the principal author with God, if the Hebrew Bible can be included in (if not superseded by) a larger unity, then Hazony's arguments, even if they exhibit -- as I think they do -- the philosophical fruits of the Hebrew Bible, do not wholly succeed against the critic (yet).
It is, thus, always possible that a later text can incorporate an earlier text into a larger, shared unity and thereby change the meaning and significance of the earlier text (even if for various purposes we can still try to study, for example, the earlier text on its own terms); such a new unity is not inevitable, of course, and it may be contested. That is to say, I agree with Plantinga (as well as the mathematical economists Khan and Schlee) that a text can say more than its (human) author intended to say; this principle forms the basis for what I call "philosophical prophecy."
+ Spinoza and Hazony agree that the Hebrew Bible offers significant insight in political theory, but Spinoza makes a sharp distinction between what he calls "philosophy" and the Bible, while Hazony offers a continuity thesis (recall).
*There are, of course, other possible proper unities in the vicinity with some such unities including Israelite texts post the restoration of the second Temple, and, on the far end of the spectrum, perhaps, a grander unity including The whole Bible and the Quran (recall).
**Here I ignore the epistemic status of the intentions of the "principal author."