Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Does God Blind the Blind?

The title of this post is the title of a post by William Watson ("Billy") Birch who thinks that he has found a weakness in Calvinism (though, as he admits, he's not actually responding to a Calvinist)(link to his post).

His essential argument is this (I am paraphrasing): "Reformed theology says God blinds the reprobate. But Reformed theology says that everyone is totally depraved. Therefore, God is placed in the odd position of blinding the blind."

But Mr. Birch cannot deny that God does harden the heart of some men. God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, for example. Furthermore, virtually every time we mention this to any Arminian who is opposed to Calvinism (there are Arminians who are simply ignorant of Reformed theology) they invariably insist that the man has to harden his own heart first. How exactly is this supposed to be different? God hardens the hard? God blinds the blind?

The argument may have a superficial appeal to Mr. Birch's fan base, but it lacks substance as evidenced by how easily it is turned on his own argument.

The problem, of course, is that Mr. Birch fails to appreciate the way in which God blinds the blind. God refuses to open their eyes - refuses to provide them with a cause that would lead to the effect of their seeing.

Jesus explained:

Matthew 13:13-15
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

Mark 4:11-12
And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

Furthermore, contrary to the theology of Mr. Birch, God is quite willing to take credit for concluding all in unbelief:

Romans 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

How does one conclude (i.e. enclose or shut) in unbelief an unbeliever? The same way one blinds the blind. Without God's grace we can do nothing:

John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

-TurretinFan

14 comments:

Ryan said...

"His essential argument is this (I am paraphrasing): "Reformed theology says God blinds the reprobate. But Reformed theology says that everyone is totally depraved. Therefore, God is placed in the odd position of blinding the blind.""

What a silly argument. The reprobation IS the blinding; the blind are blind to begin with because they are reprobate, and they are reprobate because God decreed that they should be reprobates. This man is apparently attempting to smuggle in a premise Calvinists do not hold, viz. that reprobation is a result of human autonomy.

natamllc said...

just a test

William Watson Birch said...

It is nice to hear from you. It has been way too long.

But Mr. Watson cannot deny that God does harden the heart of some men.

And notice that "Mr. Watson" did not deny that God hardens the heart of some men.

1) You are working and observing my argument from your presupposition, which is a no-no.

2) Hence your opposition to the notion that humanity "has to harden his own heart first." But man's heart is already hardened to God due to total depravity. You have a self-refuting argument here.

3) What "lacks substance," respectfully, is your own appeal to the quoted Matthew 13 passage. Notice the reason why their situation fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy: because of their own disobedience: because of their own closing of their eyes, refusing to listen with their ears, rejecting understanding, etc.

And what was Jesus' conclusion? The contrary would have been their conversion (if they had not been disobedient), "and should be converted, and I should heal them." Jesus was willing to heal them; a thing which Calvinism cannot admit, since God has unconditionally elected to save only some by decree.

How does one conclude (i.e. enclose or shut) in unbelief an unbeliever? The same way one blinds the blind.

This Greek word you're referring to (Rom. 11:32, "shut up," sugkleio, your word "conclude"), means "to shut together, i.e. include or embrace in a common subjection to" (Strong's #4788). It is a grouping together. In this context God has grouped together all people, both Jews and Gentiles as being under sin. He has not grouped them together "in unbelief," as your faulty interpretation is suggesting. That is just patently false from proper Greek usage.

Strong instructs: "The meaning, from the context, is that God has ordered that all should be convicted of disobedience without escape by human merit, that He might display His mercy, and has offered the gospel without national distinction . . ." (The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words1384).

But I certainly agree with your conclusion to the matter: Without God's grace we can do nothing.

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Watson? Ack. That was my typo. I'll go back and fix it. Thanks for pointing it out. I was trying so hard not to write "Billy" for fear of sounding condescending. Sorry about that.

Yes, you didn't deny it - and you cannot deny it.

As to (1) ... uh ... your argument doesn't work from where I'm standing. That's the point.

As to (2) ... uh ... again - its not my argument. It's your argument.

As to (3), while your criticism is respectful, it's mistaken. Mark clarifies the ambiguity in Matthew that you are attempting to exploit. They were given parables, so that they would not believe. That was so that the prophecy would be fulfilled. The cart follows the horse, not the other way 'round.

Do you really think that "New Strong's" is Strong?

But yes, sugkleio means locked up, from sun + kleivw (which itself is from kleis).

You seem to be confusing Galatians 3:22 (Concluded all under sin) with Romans 11:32 (Concluded them all in unbelief). Both things are true, of course, and both things are said.

-TurretinFan

William Watson Birch said...

Ryan,

That was Turretin's assessment of my conclusion, not my actual conclusion. You need to be careful, lest you be found misrepresenting another's beliefs.

ALL people are blind due to Total Depravity. Are ALL people reprobates? Obviously not, even from your own Calvinistic understanding of unconditional election. What are you to conclude, then?

This man is apparently attempting to smuggle in a premise Calvinists do not hold, viz. that reprobation is a result of human autonomy.

Where on earth did you grab that from? Reprobation is not a result of human autonomy, and I never even alluded to such a thing. Once again, you are putting words in my mouth which I never stated. Would you like the same treatment? Being a former Calvinist, I am quite capable of doing such if you prefer.

Notice this: In Romans 1, were the reprobates eternally reprobated by decree, or due to their own stubbornness? The Bible teaches the latter, not the former, as does Calvinism. Paul writes: "Therefore God gave them up . . ." (Rom. 1:24); "For this reason [not be eternal decree] God gave them up . . ." (1:26); "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up . . ." (1:28).

For God to have "given them up" at a specific time, there was a time when he had not "given them up."

Turretinfan,

Matthew used the Septuagint of the Isaiah passage. There is no "ambiguity," IMO. In the Mark passage, Jesus concludes, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear" (Mk. 4:9), placing the responsibility on each individual. Jesus did not say, "Whoever will be made to hear, or given ears to hear, let them hear."

This corresponds with Matthew's passage: "To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. This is why I use these parables . . ." and so on (Matt. 13:12-13 NLT, emphasis added).

When I was a Calvinist, I used to say the same thing: They were given parables, so that they would not believe.

Later, however, I saw the faulty logic behind it, for they will never believe anyway, so why would Jesus have to use parables to secure their unbelief. It's rather gratuitous, don't you think? Do you suppose that if Jesus had not used parables, then they would have come running in droves? No. Of course not. He didn't use parables in order to confuse them, or secure their unbelief.

Even from your own theology, you should know that no one will be saved or come to faith unless they are regenerated. Hence, Jesus does not need to use parables in order to secure their unbelief. What, are they going to get saved by accident?

You were right: I did have Galatians 3:22 in mind. Romans 11:32 is not "under sin," but "in disobedience," which is still not "in unbelief" as you suggested.

Now, back to my homework.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Please forgive me if I state the obvious here. I'm well aware that some here are qualified to read and understand original biblical languages, whereas I am not. However, I'll say my piece, and if I need correction, I welcome it.

13 "This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matthew 13:13).

This could mean that Jesus uses parables to increase the crowd's understanding because they are simply ignorant. However, then I would have to believe that when Jesus does speak plainly to the crowds, they don't understand him. Really? The incidents of the crowds and the Jewish leaders grumbling against Him in John 6, for example, should remove all doubt as to whether they understood Him or not, particularly in what He said about His pre-existence with and identification with the Father.

No, it's the parables that the crowds don't understand, not the plain teaching. If Jesus wanted to be understood by everyone, then why didn't He just stick to plain teaching? And the text is clear about the reason why: "...but to them it has not been given" (Matthew 13:11).

And Luke puts it even more starkly:

(Speaking to His disciples) "...To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand' (Luke 8:10, emphasis mine). Jesus' purpose here is to keep them in the dark through the use of parables. I don't see how that point can be disputed given the clear and obvious meaning of His statements in the text.

Why does He say this? Well, because Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 6 (as He clearly states in Matthew 13:13-15) in which Isaiah has a vision of the Lord, at which time the Lord gives him instructions:

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." 9 And he said, "Go, and say to this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

God is instructing Isaiah to bring a message of judgement against a stiff-necked people, and the Holy Spirit of Christ is the agent through which this judgement will be carried out. Why? For one reason, the Isaiah text provides us with two words which we translate as Lord: Lord = Adonai, and LORD = YHWH or Jehovah. This is similarly found in the Psalms:

"The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).

It is the voice of the Lord (Adonai) that is speaking to Isaiah in chapter 6. We then come to the wonderfully astonishing conclusion that in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 Jesus is actually quoting Himself from Isaiah! So it becomes even more evident that Jesus is using parables "lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

Why would He quote Isaiah 6 in this context if He intended His parables to open the eyes and ears of those who were not His true disciples (that is, the 12 and any other of the elect present)?

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Birch,

a) "has ears" is more vague than "autonomously wills to listen" or than "is given ears to hear."

Who is it that opens the ears of the deaf? God. (Mark 7:35; Isaiah 35:5; and Job 33:16)

b) Yes, the sense is that if the people could see, hear, and understand the truth - they would believe. And when God, in His infinite mercy, does open the eyes of the blind he sees and believes. When God opens the ears of the deaf, he hears and believes. When God straightens the legs of the cripple, he follows after Christ. When God cures the plague of the leper he enters into communion with God. When God raises the dead to life, he comes forth.

Joh 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

c) Romans 11:32 says unbelief:

Rom 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief (ἀπείθειαν), that he might have mercy upon all.

-TurretinFan

a helmet said...

But note that ALL are blinded (hardened) at least a period of time. An instance is Saul. There is no one who "sees" now and was never blind before.

-a helmet

Turretinfan said...

Men are born blind. Why? Does Scripture ascribe this to chance, to free will, or to God?

William Watson Birch said...

Rom 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief (ἀπείθειαν), that he might have mercy upon all.

Even so, everyone has been "bound together" in unbelief SO THAT God can have mercy on all. Since "all" are in unbelief, then that same "all" God shall show mercy to.

Men are born blind. Why? Does Scripture ascribe this to chance, to free will, or to God?

We are born in sin because of Adam, not chance, free will, or God!

Pilgrimsarbour said...

It really depends on what is meant by the word "see." The reprobate, along with the elect, may see, hear and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The difference is that the reprobate do not understand and believe the gospel unto the salvation of their souls because the Holy Spirit has not enlightened them and savingly renewed their spirits.

The more we see, hear and understand of the gospel, the more we are held accountable by God for what has been revealed to us and how we deal with that information.

I see the parables of Jesus Christ as an example of God's mercy to the reprobate in that the less they understand of the gospel, the less they will be accountable to God for on that great and terrible Day, since salvation has not been appointed to them (Acts 13:48).

47 "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more (Luke 12:47-48).

Ryan said...

"That was Turretin's assessment of my conclusion, not my actual conclusion. You need to be careful, lest you be found misrepresenting another's beliefs."

I phrased my response carefully, as you'll notice.

"ALL people are blind due to Total Depravity. Are ALL people reprobates? Obviously not, even from your own Calvinistic understanding of unconditional election. What are you to conclude, then?"

That the fall of man was the instrument of reprobation as well as election.

This man is apparently attempting to smuggle in a premise Calvinists do not hold, viz. that reprobation is a result of human autonomy. The decree to elect and reprobate are logically prior to the decree of the Fall.

"Where on earth did you grab that from? Reprobation is not a result of human autonomy..."

Inference. The caricature (that God is blinding those already blind) implies that people are already blind because of human autonomy. If that's not the case - that is, if their blindness is resultant from God's decree - then you would be dichotomizing what makes one blind from what God does to those who are blind for seemingly no reason. But as you say that you believe reprobation is not the result of human autonomy, I am more than willing to listen to what you believe is as well as why you are dichotomizing the decree to reprobate from present blinding. Of course, if T-fan's paraphrase is inaccurate, you could simply tell me so.

"Being a former Calvinist, I am quite capable of doing such if you prefer."

:yawn:

"Notice this: In Romans 1, were the reprobates eternally reprobated by decree, or due to their own stubbornness?"

Well, you just said that reprobation isn't the result of human autonomy, and as I agree, the former.

"For God to have "given them up" at a specific time, there was a time when he had not "given them up.""

So? He was giving them up to a depraved MIND. Common grace was withdrawn. None of this implies that reprobation itself took place in time.

Reprobation took place in eternity just like election (Romans 9:11-13, 19-23). To suggest that God was undecided as to who He would choose to save and damn until we willed one way or another is an implicit denial of God's eternal omniscience.

David said...

The is no question that all men who are not regenerate are blind to spiritual truth. Scripture indicates to me that God further blinds some men to temporal reality so that they will willingly act in irrationally self destructive ways to further His purposes

Turretinfan said...

"Even so, everyone has been "bound together" in unbelief SO THAT God can have mercy on all. Since "all" are in unbelief, then that same "all" God shall show mercy to."

Yes, of course. "Concluded all in unbelief" refers to Jews and Gentiles, and God shows mercy on Jews and Gentiles. "All means all," but it does not mean "each and every individual."

I had written: "Men are born blind. Why? Does Scripture ascribe this to chance, to free will, or to God?"

Mr. Birch replied: "We are born in sin because of Adam, not chance, free will, or God!"

Adam's sin is the legal reason, but God is the judge who sentenced Adam for his sin, and who condemned the human race to be born in sin.

Nevertheless, your answer suggests that men are born blind (spiritually) because of their (first) parents' sin. While this is true to a certain degree, the better understanding is that the reason is so that works of God would be made manifest in us (compare John 9:1-3).

-TurretinFan