I have been spending time this evening with Dr. Ken Wilson’s Oxford dissertation. My main purpose this evening was to determine if Dr. Wilson took the time to do what is necessary: define and illustrate, from original sources, “Manichaean hermeneutical practice.” Obviously, if you are going to allege that Augustine adopted “Manichaean” interpretations of various passages of Scripture you have to be able to back this up by defining Manichaean exegetical foundations. Given what the religion taught, its rejection of entire portions of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and its acceptance of other scriptures that are fundamentally contradictory to the worldview propounded consistently by the Law, Prophets, Writings, and Apostles, “Manichaean interpretation” would be quite a sight to behold! But alas, a full search of the entire text on all relevant key phrases and terms has produced nothing relevant to this most necessary element of any meaningful thesis.
Instead, what you regularly find are utterly contradictory religions/worldviews tied together as if they would produce a singular, consistent interpretation. So, on page 185 we have “while retreating to his Gnostic/Manichaean interpretation of Rom 11:33 for a defense.” So there is a consistent, documentable “Gnostic/Manichaean” interpretation of “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”? Given the differences even between, say, Valentinian Gnosticism and the form of Manichaeism that flourished in Augustine’s day, how could there be such a singular interpretation? Neither has a monotheistic, unchanging, self-sufficient, personal, revelational God—so how could they interpret this text, which is followed immediately by citations from Isaiah 40 and Job 35 (all about that nasty demi-urge Yahweh!), and then by v. 36, which plainly identifies this God as the Creator of all things, even have a place in either Gnosticism or Manichaeism? But we are not told where to find this interpretation by Dr. Wilson. The same thing can be found with other texts on p. 171 and p. 174.
But while looking at these passages I ran into the repeated claim by Wilson that Ephesians 2:8 has a “demanded” Greek interpretation. You will recall that on the DL a few programs ago I read through a list of early writers who wrote *before* Augustine who identified the referent of “that” (in “and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”) as “faith.” I likewise argued that the referent is actually the entirety of the preceding phrase, encompassing salvation, grace, and faith. Without providing any rebuttal of the wide stream of Greek grammarians who have said otherwise, Wilson decides the issue for us all:
“For the first time (by Christianizing the Stoic/Ciceronian doctrines of good and evil ‘wills’), only the believer has free will while unbelievers are slaves (Spir. et litt.59). Augustine now first foists Eph 2.8–10 as a proof for faith as a gift (Spir. et litt.56) rather than ‘salvation by grace through faith’ as the gift, which the Greek text demands. This infelicitous welter constitutes his index proofs that initial faith is God’s gift.(19)
Perhaps he means for the first time in Augustine’s writings, since others had identified faith as the referent before Augustine. It is hard to say. Wilson’s writing is opaque, convoluted, and disjointed. This dissertation is terribly written on a simple grammatical and syntactical level, and hence is ambiguous to follow. But there is also a complete lack of self-restraint in the text. Note the phrase “now first foists Eph 2.8-10.” Perhaps I am just old-fashioned, but this is not appropriate language for a dissertation. It is prejudicial, and shows a lack of objectivity on the part of the writer. Likewise, the work is filled with undocumented, unsubstantiated parentheticals, such as the above “by Christianizing the Stoic/Ciceronian doctrines of god and evil ‘wills’.” Objectivity is not Wilson’s goal in this work.