Saturday, February 07, 2009

Response to Jay Dyer on Calvinism (Part 6 of 13)

This is part 6 of the thirteen part series in response to Jay Dyer. The previous part may be found here (link).

Jay Dyer says:

5) "[A consistent Calvinist must be] A gnostic iconoclast, because the Logos cannot be imaged."

I answer:

a) The Calvinist Position (whether right doctrine or error let Scripture decide)

It is improper to make images of God (2nd Commandment), and though Jesus was a real, visible man, a picture of Jesus would only be a picture of his humanity. No image can capture Jesus' divinity (I John 4:12). Jesus was not a phantom even after the resurrection (Luke 24:42-43). Nevertheless, we are not to make or worship idols (I John 5:21).

Not only was the Bible not an illustrated book, there are few physical descriptions of Jesus to tell us what he looked like. We know he was a Palestinian Jew, and that he "he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). The beauty of Christ is in the gospel of repentance and faith that he preached, and it is that message we proclaim, not a painted, carved, or sculpted image:

Romans 10:15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

Thus, when John describes Jesus - he calls him the "Word" - the Logos. Thus, as John explains:

John 1:14-17
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

Thus, the Word was made flesh - the Creator put on the creation. And what did the Word bring? He brought grace and truth - the fulfillment and completion of the law given by Moses. Thus, Jesus' apostles completed the book (the Bible) that Moses began.

Furthermore, Scripture (the Bible) is both formally and materially sufficient (II Timothy 3:15). What Jesus taught has been revealed openly and not kept secret (John 18:20). Thus, the Scriptures contain a sufficient and full statement of revelation for salvation (John 20:31).

b) The Accusation Disputed

There may have been gnostic iconoclasts, but they are not a major issue in church history. Iconoclasts were generally anyone opposed to the worship of God by the use of images. It's a Scriptural position. Although Calvinists don't like the pejorative term "iconoclast," Moses himself was an Iconoclast, destroying the golden calf, grinding it up into powder, and making the people drink it - so being an Iconoclast cannot be all bad.

Gnostics had a variety of odd beliefs. One of the beliefs of many gnostics was the idea that Jesus was a phantom, lacking a true body. Thus, the Gnostics denied that Christ's body and blood were sacrificed for us. They refused, therefore, to participate in the Eucharist, because it symbolized something they didn't believe in. Another Gnostic teaching was the idea that Scripture was insufficient, and that consequently tradition (especially oral tradition) was necessary. Calvinists celebrate the Eucharist (we normally call it "the Lord's Supper" to distinguish it from the practices of Rome) and we affirm the formal and material sufficiency of Scripture, denying the need for any external body of oral tradition.

c) The Accusation Redirected

Rome has a Eucharist, but they deny the formal and/or material sufficiency (depending who in Catholicism you ask) of Scripture. I wouldn't blame their denial of the sufficiency of Scripture on Gnostic influences, it is simply a similarity. Instead, we tend to see Gnostic (and related) influences in terms of an excessive focus on Mary. The Gnostics were fond of focusing on minor Biblical characters, of which Mary is one. Some of the odd teachings of Gnosticism regarding Mary seem to have found their way into Catholicism's folklore and legends, if not always into dogmatic teachings (such as the idea that Mary's birth of Jesus was pain-free: Gnostics, imagining Jesus to be a phantom, wouldn't expect the birth to be very painful).


Continue to Part 7

Friday, February 06, 2009

Proverbs 3:1-10

Proverbs 3:1-10
1 My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: 2 For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: 4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. 7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. 8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. 9 Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: 10 So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.

This passage is a second parental lecture. The first two verses essentially restate the fifth commandment.

First they declare the command using a parallel:

forget not my law || but let thine heart keep my commandments

Then they declare the promise:

For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.

What is particularly interesting here is the use of the term "peace." This provides a parallel to the phrase "that it may go well with thee," in the second giving of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5). A blessed life is one in which peace and longevity are combined.

"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:"

Here "mercy and truth" are an internal parallel to speak figuratively of Scripture. They are speaking of Scripture in its essence and its reward. Recall that the Psalm tells "All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies." (Psalm 25:10) These two concepts are often found paired in Scripture - in Samuel's blessing (2 Samuel 15:10) and in Psalm 85 (Psalm 85:10 "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.") to give two examples. Lord willing, we will see it again later in these very proverbs.

We can see more clearly that these refer to the commands of God, because the parallels to "let not [them] forsake thee" are "bind them about thy neck" and "write them upon the table of thine heart." To bind them about your neck or write them on your heart, is to put them in a secure place where you won't lose them. If something is around your neck, it won't come off unless you lose your head. If something is engraved into the tablet of your heart, it's a permanent record that goes with you wherever you go.

Furthermore, we see that we are speaking of them as to their result, for the result is described as:

"So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man."

The commandments of God are universally beneficial to you. If you live a life of following them, not only will God look favorably upon you, but men will recognize your morality as well.

Solomon then draws a distinction between God's ideas and our ideas, with a repetition of promised favor:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart // lean not unto thine own understanding
In all thy ways acknowledge him || he shall direct thy paths.
Be not wise in thine own eyes // fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.

Notice the elegant structure of this section of the proverb. There is a positive command, a parallel negative command, a positive command and its parallel positive result, and finally a negative command and a parallel positive command.

Trusting in the LORD with all of one's heart is contrasted with leaning on one's own understanding. We must be careful to commit ourselves wholly to God. If we only think of God on Sundays (or worse yet, only on Sunday mornings), we are not trusting in the LORD with all of our heart.

Notice how we are to acknowledge God in all our ways, and as a result he will direct our paths. This is just a natural result. When we do what he says, he is guiding our paths. If you read the instructions, you are being led by the author of the instructions. If you want to know how to live your life, read the Bible.

The proverbs continues to point out the absolute necessity of humbling ourselves before God's Word. If we are wise in our own eyes, and think we can do it on our own, we are not following God. This contrasts with the person who fears God and stays away from evil and sin.

And the proverb goes on to explain that doing so is in our best interest:

"It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones."

Obviously there is a bit of cultural reference there, which is lost on folks today, but the basic idea is that you will be comfortable and provided for. Your bones will be comfortable, not dried out and aching. Your stomach will be full, not empty.

Is this the "health and prosperity" message? No, not really. This is just an encouragement to obedience. God does not promise everyone that they will have a 100 camels, but enough to eat, with peace, is an enormous blessing.

The next parallel is one that is, of course, constantly used in those "prosperity" calls:

Cause: Honour the LORD with thy substance || [Honor Him] with the firstfruits of all thine increase
Effect: thy barns [shall] be filled with plenty || thy presses shall burst out with new wine.

The point is that God does reward obedience. If we give to God, he will give to us. It's not rigid formula, and its not an absolute promise. God is not an ATM from which we demand money. We need to honor God with our physical possessions. That means giving to the church, to the poor, to widows and orphans as God gives you the ability. It also means showing hospitality as you are able.

Look at all the things that come from obedience as set forth in this paternal lecture! Long life, peace, favour and good understanding, health and wellbeing, and more than enough food and wine. But we should be humble, realizing that even if God were like an ATM, and even if we could "demand" these things for having done what we were commanded, we would be unable to demand, because we so inadequately obey.

Nevertheless, whether drawn by the "carrot" of this lecture, or the "stick" of the one that is about to follow, let us seek to learn what God has commanded by reading His Word, memorizing it, and following it diligently.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Thomas Smythe on Church Harmony

The Virginia Huguenot has provided a list of 12 ways to enhance the harmony of one's church, taken from the great Southern Presbyterian, Thomas Smythe (link). It's rich in Scriptural truth, and promotes the peace and unity of the body. An excellent preventative medicine for every generation.



This Bible is a Little Too Old

I was amused by the headline "Nine arrested over 2,000 year-old Assyrian Bible." (link to article) That would put it at A.D. 9, or a minimum of about 30 years before the earliest autographs of the New Testament books!

It is a truly beautiful Bible, written in gold letters. However, as one finds upon reading further into the article, the manuscript is not likely to be any earlier than the fourth century, and is probably several centuries younger (later) than that. In short, a more accurate headline probably would have read, "Nine arrested over 1,500 year-old Assyrian Bible."

I think it is highly unlikely that the Bible dates to the 4th century. The oldest known (at least to me) Syriac manuscript is 5th century. I would guess 6th century is a more likely earliest date for this particular Bible given the limited evidence available. In a related article (link), there is an interesting discussion of a 1,000 year-old Syriac Bible that is alleged to be a faithful copy of a now-lost 2nd century Aramaic manuscript. There a number of reasons to be dubious of these claims (especially because they are normally accompanied by assertions of Aramaic priority, i.e. untenable claims that the Greek was actually a translation of Aramaic originals), but still the basic concept demonstrates the concern people should have over automatically dismissing a document because it is not itself one of the earliest manuscripts available. But this is a tangent.

Generally speaking, gilt Bibles were for royalty, and consequently if this particular codex is intact, it may be possible to more exactly date this Bible from a dedication or similar preface. I am sure that Dan Wallace would love to be able to image this document, and hopefully it will not disappear before he or other manuscript preservers have a chance to make some high quality images of its text.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Response to Ehrman (part I): God Has Preserved His Word


In listening to the debate, I think Ehrman provided a very good summary of his position in what he called (in his opening statement), a "very quick conclusion." Ehrman stated:
Do we have a reliable text of the New Testament? Are there places where the Bible misquotes Jesus? The short answer is, there is no way to tell. We don't have the originals, or the original copies, or copies of the copies. There are passages that scholars continue to debate: is this the original text or not? and there are some passages where we will never know the answer.
To this conclusion, I direct a few points of criticism.

1) Ill-formed Set / False Dichotomy

Ehrman seems to try to break things down into two possible categories: (1) The Text is Reliable or (2) The Bible's Text is Uncertain in Some Places. These categories are not mutually exclusive. There is a difference between a "reliable" text and a "perfect text." The argument is that the text has been substantially preserved, not perfectly preserved. The argument is that the text we have is reliable, substantially unaltered from the original.

On this issue, Erhman and our KJVO brethren agree. They both consider that the text is only reliable if it has been perfectly preserved. The KJVO folks assert that it has been perfectly preserved, whereas Ehrman says it has not. Both groups, however, seem to assert that the only way the text is reliable is if it has zero uncertainties.

This is not a standard that we normally apply to the word "reliable." If say that so-and-so is a "reliable preacher" we don't mean that he never makes mistakes. If we say that our car is a "reliable machine" we don't mean it never breaks down. If we consider rail to be reliable form of transportation, it doesn't mean that there are never stoppages.

2) "There is no way to tell."

This is simply a rejection of conventional textual criticism. That is to say, his claim that "there is no way to tell" is basically a rejection of the idea that we can determine with a high degree of confidence the text of an original document from the copies that remain.

Ehrman is not open about the fact that his conclusion that there is no way to tell is a break with almost 300 years of modern textual critical scholarship. Thankfully, later in the debate, Dr. White was able to bring to light the fact that other scholars believe that we can know what the original said, and consequently can know whether a particular manuscript has an original reading or a misquotation at a particular point, in most cases.

This throwing up of one's hands, is the reason Dr. White refers to Dr. Ehrman's position as "radical skepticism." What is interesting is that Dr. Ehrman doesn't seem afraid of the fact that the conclusion is that we cannot know about anything where we don't possess the particular artifact in question (or an exact replica of it).

3) "We don't have the originals, or the original copies, or copies of the copies."

I bet Ehrman is right about this. I think it is reasonably certain that we don't have even any fragments of the original, autographs themselves. It seems probable that we also don't have any copies that were made directly from the autographs. How on earth, though, can Dr. Ehrman assert that he knows we don't have any second generation copies. Keep in mind that all that would be necessary for a second generation copy to exist is this: (1) an autograph survived for a couple of hundred years, and was copied by a scribe, then (2) the first generation copy survived for about 800 years, and was copied by another scribe. That would put our "third generation" copy in among the large number of manuscripts that exist from 11th or 12th century.

There are two questions though: how can Ehrman be so sure that there are no copies or copies of copies, and why should it matter? After all, why must we insist that we would need the originals, or first or second generation copies in order to know what the original text said? Why should that be the standard?

Ehrman pointed out that there was the possibility of accidental errors in the transmission of the text and of intentional alterations to the text (either to fix errors or for other reasons). These possibilities, however, only reduce our knowledge of the text from 100% regarding 100% of the words, to a standard of the text being merely "reliable."

4) "There are passages that scholars continue to debate: is this the original text or not? and there are some passages where we will never know the answer."

This may be true as well, but these are very weak claims compared to the very strong claims that preceded it. There are a few places (a very small fraction of the text) where scholars disagree over what the original says, and sometimes the issues are very hard to resolve (to the point where the scholars may disagree with each other). This, however, undercuts Ehrman's thesis.

First, because the number of such places is relatively small, the arguments about those few small places normally involve arguing from the "internal" evidence of the context. Of course, one could never argue from the internal evidence, if one doesn't know what the internal evidence is.

Second, the scholars that are engaged in this activity either do not share Ehrman's extreme cynicism or they are deceivers. The scholars that are engaged in this activity normally purport to be engaged in this activity in order to determine what the original reading of the text is. Thus, the very fact that they are engaged in the activity (leaving aside the idea that they may just be frauds) demonstrates that they disagree with Ehrman's view as a practical matter.


I was not impressed by Dr. Ehrman's glib claims. His presentation emphasized heavily the fact that there were mechanisms for manuscript change in the manuscript tradition. His presentation, however, failed to account for the fact that there are mechanisms (especially the large number of copies made, the geographic distribution of the copies, the large number of translations made, and the relative isolation of the translations and copies especially in the early centuries) that God providentially provided for the preservation of the text.

His presentation failed to provide an adequate reason for departure from the 300 years of textual criticism, and relied on an extreme standard of "perfect preservation" to assert that the Bible is not reliable. If all that Ehrman means is that we are not 100% certain about the precise spelling and word order of 100% of the words of the New Testament, he's right - but that doesn't mean we have an unreliable text.

God has preserved his word for us. Does the Bible misquote Jesus? The answer is "no," which we can know from God's promise to preserve his Word, and which we can see evidence of in the science of textual criticism. I don't believe that God has preserved his word because Dr. Bruce Metzger (Ehrman's former teacher, with whom Ehrman now disagrees) says so, but yet Dr. Metzger's work confirms the fact that the text we have today is substantially the same as the text that the prophets, apostles, and evangelists wrote.


Bad News for Romanism

So, it turns out that Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Romanist order called the "Legion of Christ," was apparently a bad guy and the Legion that he founded covered up for him supported him, and silenced his accusers over the years, hiding him from the law.

Does this remind one of Reformation-era Rome? Of course. Is this a reason to suspect the Romanist hierarchy? Absolutely. Does it prove that Rome teaches a false gospel? Not at all. I'm not going to be dwelling on this scandal here, and I'm taking the unusual step of closing comments and backlinks on this post. This scandal confirms my impression of the godliness of the hierarchy of Romanism, but it doesn't prove anything, and it certainly doesn't establish the gospel.

The gospel is that we should repent of our sins and trust for salvation in Jesus Christ alone. If anyone leaves Rome because of this scandal and doesn't embrace the gospel, they are no better off for it.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Response to Jay Dyer on Calvinism (Part 5 of 13)

This is part 5 of the thirteen part series in response to Jay Dyer. The previous part may be found here (link).

Jay Dyer says:
4) "[A consistent Calvinist must be] A tri-theist, because God the Father cuts off His own Son in the crucifixion (and maybe the Holy Spirit as well?): but Jesus, in all orthodox Trinitarianism, shares the same divine will as His Father."

I answer:

a) The Calvinist Position (whether right doctrine or error let Scripture decide)

Daniel himself prophesied that the Messiah would be cut off (Daniel 9:26), and his prophesy was fulfilled in the death of Christ. So too, Isaiah prophesied that Christ would be cut off out of the land of the living (Isaiah 53:8), and this prophecy also was fulfilled in the death of Christ. The death of Christ was something that happened to his person, but was not something communicable to his divine nature. God cannot die. Jesus, in dying, was not removed from the Trinity, and there is no clear logical reason why Mr. Dyer would attribute such a view to Calvinism. Why Mr. Dyer thinks the Holy Spirit was somehow removed from the Trinity in Calvinism is so far from being what Calvinism teaches that it is mystifying to try to guess why he would say that.

Furthermore, Calvinism is monotheistic.

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

And Calvinism is trinitarian, notice that, in the following verse, "name" is singular, not plural:

Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Although many people try to claim that because we say that the Father is God (John 5:18 and 6:27), that the Son is God (2 John 1:9, 1 John 5:20, and John 20:28), and that the Spirit is God (1 Corinthians 6:19 and Luke 1:35), that consequently we worship three Gods. But we deny this, affirming that there is but one God (James 2:19, 1 Timothy 2:5, and Galatians 3:20).

b) The Accusation Disputed

Tri-theism is the view that there are three gods. This view is the caricature of Christianity found in various places, especially in Islam (since the Koran itself suggests that those who worship both the Father and the Son are worshiping more than one god). Calvinism is strictly monotheistic, affirming that there is no God but God, even while affirming that there are three persons in the godhead. It is absolutely impossible for consistent Calvinists to be tritheists, because to do so would undermine the sovereignty of God, who is Lord over all (Romans 10:12).

c) The Accusation Redirected

Roman Catholicism is formally monotheistic. Practically, however, Mary is often treated as a goddess (being addressed by such absurdly exalted titles as "Queen of Heaven"), and the "saints" are often a "Christianized" equivalent to the pantheon of Greek/Roman lesser deities.

It is important to keep in mind that God alone can hear and answer prayers. Thus, when those in Catholicism offer prayers to the dead, they are implicitly attributing divine powers to them. Mary, for example, was and is a true human being. If she were living here on earth, no one would expect her to be able to respond to all the requests that are daily made of her, let alone understand the myriad of languages in which such requests are made. However, Mary is treated as though she were God: able to hear prayers of the heart, able to answer prayers, able to understand prayers in any language, and able to understand a vast multitude of prayers at the same time.

I realize there are two common rebuttals to these objections. The first common rebuttal is to say that no one is really praying to Mary, they are just asking Mary to pray for them. This is not misleading at best, and certainly not accurate in general. To illustrate, allow me to present a paragraph from the web biography of Simón de Rojas (circa A.D. 1552-1624) who was added to the list of "saints" by pope John Paul II on July 3, 1988:
His greatest joy was to visit Marian shrines, to pray to Mary and with Mary, to imitate her virtues, to sing her praises, to acknowledge her importance in the mystery of God and of the Church. Through profound theological studies, he came to understand even better the mission of Mary in cooperation with the Trinity for the salvation of the human race and the sanctification of the Church. He lived his religious vows in the imitation of Mary. He held that, for everyone to be completely of God, as Mary had been, it was necessary to become her slaves, or better, slaves of God in Mary; for this reason he established the Congregation of the Slaves of Mary for the greater glory of the Trinity, in praise of the Virgin, in the service of the poor. For him, to be a slave of Mary meant belonging totally to her: "Totus tuus" in order to unite oneself more intimately to Christ and in Him through the Spirit, to the Father.
(source at official Vatican web site)

With that kind of description of his life, can anyone blame us for saying that there are those in Catholicism who worship Mary? and that this is an officially sanctioned worship? But undoubtedly there will be some who will blame us for saying this.

The second rebuttal is to say that because Mary is in heaven with God, she either has effectively an eternity to learn all human languages and hear them and then respond to each of them, and/or God somehow communicates them all to her and enables her to answer them. Neither of these views has Scriptural support. Both of these views, instead, is simply "special pleading" of speculative ideas in an effort to support the unbiblical practice of prayers to Mary. Rather than invent ideas about the afterlife to accommodate practices of Marian devotion, a better solution is to simply reject Marian devotion as contrary to Scripture, which commands to worship and serve God only. Remember Jesus' words:

Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Somehow also Samuel's words to Israel (which perhaps are the words of Scripture that Jesus had in mind in responding to Satan) seem to be a fitting reminder to people today:

1 Samuel 7:3 And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.


Continue to Part 6

Monday, February 02, 2009

Atonement Debate Continues

I have posted a new essay (the Affirmative Rebuttal Essay) in the Atonement Debate.