Wednesday, September 02, 2015

John of Damascus Interpreting James 2:26

It was interesting to read a late patristic-era author (his death is sometimes used as the end of the patristic era) interpreting James 2:26. In An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, vol. 4, chapter 9, "Concerning Faith and Baptism," (PG 94:1121-22) John of Damascus writes (translation available here, emphasis mine):
It behooves us, then, with all our strength to steadfastly keep ourselves pure from filthy works, that we may not, like the dog returning to his vomit [2 Peter 2:22], make ourselves again the slaves of sin. For faith apart from works is dead, and so likewise are works apart from faith. [James 2:26] For the true faith is attested by works.
It's particularly interesting to note that the Damascene correctly ascertains that James' point is that works testify to true faith.

For those who like the original Greek or the Latin translation in Migne:
The key word there is δοϰιμάζεται (comprobatur), which is accurately translated as "is attested by" as in the translation provided.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pseudo-Augustine "Doubt is an element of Faith"

One of my friends pointed out to me a quotation attributed to Augustine, but which didn't sound Augustinian. My friend's suspicions were correct. The quotation in question was this: "Doubt is an element of faith."

I found this attributed to Augustine in a number of sources:

"Doubt, as Saint Augustine wrote, is actually an element of faith." Immersion Bible Studies: 1 & 2 Corinthians, James L. Evans (2011), Section 4, "Hope Really Does Float" at 1 Corinthians 15-16.

"St. Augustine: 'Doubt is but another element of faith.'" and "Augustine could say, 'Doubt is but another element of faith.'" Faith and Reason, William Hemsworth (2009).

"Saint Augustine, early in the first millennium, wrote that 'doubt is but another element of faith.'" Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game (2013), John Sexton et al., Third Inning "Doubt".

"St. Augustine: 'Doubt is but another element of faith.'" Doubting Toward Faith: The Journey to Confident Christianity (2015), Bobby Conway, p. 35.

"As St. Augustine said, 'Doubt is but another element of faith,' so for some deeply religious people, the absence of doubt is not the best measure of religious commitment." Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, p. 19

"'I've told you what Saint Augustine said about not taking Bible completely literally—and "doubt is but another element of faith."'" Kurt Andersen, "True Believers: a Novel," (2012) p. 59.

The actual source for this quotation, however, is Paul Tillich. Ironically, the Baseball book above actually noticed the same thought in Tillich but apparently didn't realize that Tillich was the original source. Tillich wrote: "But doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith." (Systematic Theology, 1975, vol. 2, p. 116) The quotation falsely attributed to Augustine (never with any actual citation to Augustine's works) is actually just a slight rewording of what Tillich wrote.

I'm not sure exactly how the misquotation began. One possibility is someone misreading Kent Smith's "Faith: reflections on experience, theology, and fiction" where the quotation from Tillich comes shortly after a mention of Augustine (p. 2). Even more probably, the phrase got stuck in someone's mind as a pithy quotation. That person then later couldn't remember who actually said it, and assumed that a pithy quotation like that would have come from a smart guy, and consequently named Augustine as the source.

I'm constantly trying to call folks who write to a higher standard of scholarship, particularly when it comes to use of sources. If you quote something from someone, make the effort to track down your source. If you read something in a book that lacks citations, take it with a grain of salt. It may be right, but a lot of books without citations are poorly researched from other secondary sources, also without source citations. I have no reason to suppose that the original source of this misquotation had any malice. Still, this kind of false attribution can lead to problems that go beyond the original mis-attribution.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Molinism - Responses to a Some Attempted Defenses

Someone posting under the name Richard Bushey has a post attempting to defend Molinism against some of the criticisms offered by my friend, Dr. James White (link). I'd like to rebut a few points.

Is Molinism too heavily reliant on philosophy? Mr. Bushey argues that philosophy is inherent to every kind of theology. However, that misses the point. The problem is not simply that Molinism employs philosophy but that it is (at best) totally speculative, based solely on philosophy, rather than being based on Scripture with philosophy being employed to draw out what is implied by Scripture.

Does Molinism begin with libertarian free will aka the "autonomous will of man"? It certainly does. Mr. Bushey says that Molinist just "recognize that freedom of the will exists." The problem is that Molinists cannot establish this starting principle from Scripture. The Scriptures teach that man has a will and that he makes decisions, but not that man's will is autonomous. On the contrary, the Scriptures have plenty of contrary examples.

Does Molinism compromise God's sovereignty? Yes, though not as much Mr. Bushey seems to be willing to let it. Mr. Bushey thinks that on Molinism, God "does not have to dictate every single movement to have sovereignty." Actually, on Molinism God does decide every single movement in his decree to instantiate a single feasible world. Even so, God's sovereignty is compromised because there is a difference between the set of "possible worlds" that God could create, and the set of "feasible worlds" that humans would cooperate in bringing about. Thus, God's choices are limited by human autonomy. Oddly, they are limited by a human autonomy not even yet in existence and consequently having no actual basis.

Mr. Bushey admits, "the Molinist is saying that with the additive of human freedom, then God’s choices become limited because he wants to persist in allowing humans the luxury and virtue of freedom of the will." Since this imagined freedom supposedly results in the eternal damnation of many, it hardly seems appropriate to call it a luxury, and it quite obviously isn't a virtue when exercised in that way.

Furthermore, the idea that freedom to fall into damnation is somehow a good thing contradicts the idea that heaven is going to be a good place, since we won't have the possibility of falling into damnation. Similarly, God himself necessarily lacks the freedom to sin, which suggests that the freedom to sin is certainly not a virtue and is not truly a luxury.

Finally, the Scriptures do not teach or suggest that God has a desire that humans be autonomous. That's that unbiblical philosophical presupposition creeping back in.

Is predestination still personal on Molinism? In some strains of Molinism, where it is suggested that God tries to save the maximum number of people, it does seem impersonal to that extent. Naturally, there are a variety of Molinistic views, so William Lane Craig's views on that point are not representative of the entire spectrum of Molinists. When God chooses to instantiate a particular world, that inevitably leads to a particular group of individuals certainly being saved and all the others being certainly lost, on Molinism. So, from that perspective, it is personal and individual.

Who dealt God the cards? One of the central problems of Molinism is the grounding objection. I've dealt with at length in a previous post (here), so I won't repeat it all. In short, while human autonomy is supposed to limit God's choices prior to the final decree of creation, the problem is that there is no existing created thing at that logical instant to provide the limitation, and the limitation is not internal to God. It's an insoluable problem that can get glossed over, but which ought to trouble every Molinist. On Molinism, God is not literally dealt cards by a card dealer, but what other than a co-eternal being could limit God before God's decree to create?

Does Molinism retain freedom of the will? On Molinism, a person in a particular situation would always make the same decision. That does not look, walk, or quack like autonomy - it sounds like determinism. IF a die is a fair die, it has an equal probability of coming up 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. But the Molinist will would, in a particular situation, always come up the same. That looks more like loaded dice.

Is David's experience in Keliah evidence for Molinism? Some Molinists think that God's answer to David's hypothetical question supports the idea of middle knowledge, because it suggests God knows what a person would do, even in circumstances that don't come to pass. Unfortunately, these Molinists have overlooked that God's answer is exactly the same as it would be if the men of Keliah were purely deterministic. If you don't see why, just substitute a non-human in David's question - "If I stay, will the walls collapse on me?" Obviously, in that case, the answer has nothing to do with middle knowledge. The same is the case with David's actual question. The only reason for thinking it has to do with middle knowledge is the insertion of the idea of an autonomous human will - an insertion that lacks basis in Scripture.

-TurretinFan

I've skipped over the stuff about Dr. White supposedly not knowing various things. Those accusations can hopefully be seen to be false in view of the explanations above.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Calling Discernment Bloggers to Use More Discernment

Chris Bolt did an excellent job of debunking JD Hall's inaccurate criticism of Karen Swallow Prior (link to Chris' post). I was disappointed to see that JD has not repented of his post, but instead has doubled down on it with a new post insinuating the same kinds of things as the original post.

I mentioned my concern about JD's hatchet job on facebook and tagged Karen. Her comments regarding her motivation were refreshing and provide a very different light on her actions:

Karen: "I was invited to the event specifically to represent the "non-affirming" view, which I did."
In response to the question: "Did you get a chance to use the divinely inspired biblical terminology and the hope of the gospel?"
Karen responded: "That's the goal I went with and I pray God used my witness. The event also included folks who have renounced their past homosexual behavior and it was a blessing to support and encourage them."

As I said in my facebook post, I may not agree with Karen Swallow Prior's choice to attend the event she attended. Based on Karen's further comments, I might actually agree with her choice, but that's a moot point.

Even assuming I disagree with her on that point, my disagreement with her on that point does not allow me to stand behind hatchet jobs accusing her of all sorts of worse things. We Christians need to hold ourselves and the "discernment bloggers" to a high standard of honesty, integrity, and accuracy. Thanks to Chris Bolt for demonstrating that. It's not about "choosing sides," or about necessarily agreeing with every last one of Karen's decisions, but it's about basic honesty and carefulness. It's a ninth commandment issue.

-TurretinFan

Monday, May 25, 2015

Two Recent Debates

I recently did two very different debates:

1. Is the Father Alone Almighty God? David Barron vs. TurretinFan (link to debate page)(direct link to mp3)

2. Intercession of the Saints - William Albrecht vs. TurretinFan (link to debate page)(direct link to mp3).

I'd like to provide more comments on the debates, but I lack time at present.

-TurretinFan

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Defining "Responsibility" for Leighton Flowers

I was listening to Professor Leighton Flowers talk about "responsibility," (mp3 - around 29 minutes into the debate) and he noticed that he tried to define it as "able to respond," as in being able to respond positively to God's commands and exhortations. That definition is just fanciful.

The term "responsible" actually means "answerable" or "accountable" - in other words, it's about the fact that the person is going to have to answer or respond for what he does. It means that the person will have to face the consequences of his actions. When we say that man is "responsible," we're not talking about some hypothetical philosophical ability to do something, but instead we're talking about the fact that man will have to give an account for all his actions before the Judge of All the Earth on judgment day.

Inability to do what is right is consistent with responsibility for doing what is wrong, because "responsibility" doesn't imply some very specific kind of hypothetical philosophical ability to have done otherwise, but rather it implies that the person will be punished for his sins - unless the person has a penal substitute in the person of Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Matt Slick Errs on Textual Transmission / Textual Criticism Again

Matt Slick has again (The Bible Thumping Wingnut, Episode 61, around 30 minutes into the episode) erred on the topic of textual criticism.

Unfortunately, Mr. Slick seems to be confused about the transmission of the New Testament compared to the translation of the Old Testament. His comment about adding up numbers seems to be based on something Mr. Slick has heard about the process used by the Masoretes (and it doesn't even appear to be accurate regarding their process). It does not describe the Christian process, especially not in the early Christian period. Early Christian textual transmission was, as far as we know, not done by professional scribes and did not include letter-counting techniques (such as those later used by the Masoretes) to ensure the reliability of the copies. These facts don't undermine the reliability of the New Testament text, but making errors in this area may undermine the other valid points that Mr. Slick is trying to offer.

Additionally, Mr. Slick repeated the same error regarding how textual variants are counted (which we already corrected here).

It's great that Mr. Slick is going to be debating a Muslim on the divinity of Jesus soon, but it seems likely that these issues of textual transmission will crop up in apologetics with Muslims (as they frequently do), and it would be good for one of Mr. Slick's friends to help get him straight on these issues before then.

*** Updated 4/13/2015

By the way, Mr. Slick should probably update his own web pages once he realizes his mistake. This same repeated error about how to count variants appears on at least the following pages of carm.org :

https://carm.org/bible-text-manuscript-tree

That same page also claims "Furthermore, the New Testament is approximately 99.5% textually pure. This means that of all the manuscripts in existence they agree completely 99.5% of the time." That's also not the case.

https://school.carm.org/amember/files/demo2/bible/reliable.htm

This page claims "The copies are so accurate that all of the biblical documents are 98.5% textually pure." Even if Mr. Slick decides he has some insight into textual transmission, he should presumably harmonize his own pages.

This page also claims (similar to Mr. Slick's comments on the show): "Similarly, the Greek writers of the New Testament would copy the biblical manuscripts. By default, every letter also has a numeric value. When the copies were done, the copyists would add up the numeric values of the words copied and compare them to the original copy. If there was an error, the copy was destroyed and a new one was begun. This was done with both the Hebrew and Greek writings of the Bible. Therefore, the Bible was copied with extreme care." That's not an accurate depiction of the New Testament transmission. It seems to be taken from some information regarding the extreme care the Masoretes took in copying the Old Testament, but even then it's not quite right.

The page also mentions the accuracy of the Isaiah scroll in the Dead Sea scrolls compared to the Masoretic text. It's true that the texts were very close. Not all the scrolls share that same closeness, however, especially in Jeremiah. So, it might be good to provide some additional information and caveats regarding the reliability of the Masoretic textual transmission.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Does Religion Poison Everything?

One of the claims of the new atheists is that "Religion Poisons Everything." This has been the subject of a number of debates. Typically, the non-atheist will point out folks like Stalin and Mao were not religious and yet were responsible for enormous harm. Thus, while religious people may also cause harm, the harm of atheism are even greater, certainly on a per capita basis. Some folks will also go farther and point out that the methodology used by atheists is fundamentally flawed - they don't have any controlled comparative data upon which to make their conclusion. All of these are legitimate criticisms of the atheistic assertion - but it occurred to me that Christians are missing an opportunity or two here.

Religion affects everything. We should be willing to concede that it does, or at least should, affect everything. No, it doesn't necessarily mean that a Christian cyclist will use a different kind of brakes, but religion (especially the true Christian religion) is a worldview. It affects everything - or should. The does not mean we all try to wear the same kind of sandals and robes that Jesus and the apostles did, or the same kind of leather that Adam and Eve wore. We certainly don't dress or eat like John the Baptist regularly. Still, religion as a worldview to does touch on and affect everything.

The term "poison" is a pejorative term - a value judgment. Obviously, atheists who object to the Biblical worldview are going to see those aspects of influence as "poison," but they are wrong to view them that way. As for the things that we commonly agree are "poison," we call on the atheists to distinguish between the sinners trying to live out the worldview and the worldview and the worldview itself. It is sin that poisons everything, while the gospel begins to correct that.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

John Owen on the Theonomy Debate between Joel McDurmon and Jordan Hall

John Owen, Works, Volume 8 ("Sermons to the Nations"), p. 394:
Although the institutions and examples of the Old Testament, of the duty of magistrates in the things and about the worship of God, are not, in their whole latitude and extent, to be drawn into rules that should be obligatory to all magistrates now, under the administration of the gospel, — and that because the magistrate then was "custos, vindex, et administrator legis judicialis, et politiae Mosaicae," from which, as most think, we are freed; — yet, doubtless, there is something moral in those institutions, which, being unclothed of their Judaical form, is still binding to all in the like kind, as to some analogy and proportion. Subduct from those administrations what was proper to, and lies upon the account of, the church and nation of the Jews, arid what remains upon the general notion of a church and nation must be everlastingly binding.
I wonder if both the debaters would agree with that quotation? If so, then the resolution of their recent debate can be affirmed in one sense (i.e. the civil laws are obligatory as to their moral aspects and analogously) and denied in another sense (i.e. the civil laws are not obligatory in their Judaical form).

I note that Bahnsen himself seems to have felt that he could agree with Owen, since Bahnsen himself quoted it in his interaction with Ian Murray (as can be seen here).

-TurretinFan

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Variants and Matt Slick

I'm listening through a variety of episodes of the "Bible Thumping Wingnut." Despite the very low quality stuff on theonomy in a few of the recent episodes (I don't see the point to correct these errors - there are plenty of other folks doing that and being ignored), there are some good discussions on a variety of topics, particularly when Matt Slick addresses atheists/agnostics. However, in Episode 44, when asked about textual variants, our brother Matt dropped the ball, so I want to take the opportunity to correct this point.

Matt took the position that if an article (a word meaning "the") is dropped in a copy, and then that typo is copied by five further scribes in their respective copies, that's six variants. Matt's not right - that's not how it works. That would be a variant with six witnesses.

The reason the number of variants is so high is because of the large number of hand copies, but not because each copy of each typo is counted as a variant. Instead, it's because there are numerous possible misspellings for many words, particular for words with a "movable nu" (similar to the difference between "a" and "an" in English) and numerous variants in the order of words.

In any event, to answer the bigger question about whether we can know what the original was, there are tools for reconstructing the original text from copies containing variants. While there are a few different ways of doing this, they all yield substantially the same text at most points. (see Dr. White's excellent discussion here).

-TurretinFan