The Need to Consult Aristotle in Biblical Hermeneutics

As an illustration of the principle that faith requires us to expect and to undertake much, Charles Bridges makes this comment: “Our Saviour called this principle into exercise in almost all his miracles, and his almighty power appeared (so to speak) to be fettered by the influence of unbelief.” He lists, in a footnote, these passages: Matt 8:2-3; 9:2; Mark 9:22-3 and Matt 13:58; Mark 6:5-6.

Bridges himself hedges his comment with the parenthetical interjection. Nor does he want to say that the Lord was actually fettered, only apparently so, but he is obviously searching, though unable, to find a more satisfactory expression. And it is the word ‘fettered’ that makes me blog, because it is not the only time in recent days I’ve run across this idea of the apparent fettering. It is not unusual to interpret those last two passages in which it says the Lord could not do many miracles, as in some way an inhibition on the Lord’s abilities. As if the lack of faith in other people created an inability. As if when people did not believe in him, he was diminished or that there were unsuccessful attempted healings. Understandably, the interpreter is unwilling to say as much, though I think Bridges writes as he does because he feels that the passage is still pushing that way.

What the lack of faith actually does is to undersupply the material causes requisite for the performance of miracles. Consider at the account of the paralytic lowered through the ceiling. What made his four friends cart him all that way and then risk that enormous act of vandalism on the house? Faith. Had they not had faith, the Lord would not have done that miracle in that crowded room: no paralytic would have been present.

When you make a statue, Aristotle explains, you have bronze or marble with which you make it, that is the material cause. If you do not have something to sculpt with, you can have the efficient cause lined up—the sculptor—you can have the formal cause lined up—the artist’s vision of the end product—you can have a purpose for doing so—the final cause—and you will still not get a sculpture. No material cause, no sculpture, for all that this is the least of all the causes we typically consider.

No bronze, no bronze statue. No marble, no marble bust. And when no sick people are presented to the Lord, the people lacking the faith in him which would impel them to bring the blind, the lame, the bedridden, etc., no miracles can be performed. He could do no miracle because he lacked people on which to perform miracles, there being nobody willing to bring them to him, since they didn’t believe there was a point. And as a result they missed out.

Aristotle, not the greatest philosopher ever, but still handy nevertheless.

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