Friday, October 23, 2009

Athanasius, the Canon, and Sola Scriptura against Matthew Bellisario and Rome

Recently, Mr. Bellisario provided comments in a comment box attempting to attack the Reformed position using the issues of the canon and Athanasius (his post here). The following is a detailed reply.

MB wrote: "Turretin, the Church doesn't lie to me, your own flawed intellect deceives you."

It shows your zeal to state this so dogmatically, but you have no way of knowing this. How could you possibly know whether your church is lying to you? Are you competent to read the Scriptures and examine history and test the claims of your church?

MB continued: "The Bible doesn't tell you what the Canon is, does it?"

That's an inane comment, for at least the following reasons:

1) It is non-unique

Your church doesn't tell you what the canon of its teachings is. If it is a problem for me to lack an infallible canon of Scripture, then it is a worse problem for you to lack an infallible canon of "Tradition."

2) It is absurd

Jesus was able to tell the Jews to "Search the Scriptures" without the Jews needing an infallible canon to know what were the Scriptures. Paul was able to talk to Timothy about the Scriptures in the same way, and the whole visible church managed to get by without an infallible canon of Scripture at least until Trent.

3) It is inherent

If you have "the Bible" you can deduce the canon. To say that "The Bible doesn't tell you what the Canon is," is rather like saying that the Pizza doesn't tell you what its ingredients are. Well, there may not be a list of ingredients on the side, but if you have the pizza you can write your own list of ingredients.

4) It Forgets that Sola Scriptura assumes Scriptura

Having Scripture is the antecedent for having Sola Scriptura. First we are given the Scriptures, then we believe what they say. I realize this is boundlessly inconvenient for folks who wish to misrepresent Sola Scriptura, but it is what it is.

MB wrote: "You have no infallible way of knowing what the Canon is, so you, by your own flawed intellect go through Church Father writings trying to justify your own position on what you think the Canon is."

Most of the essence of this is addressed above. Here are the counter questions:

1) Since there was no one claiming to have an infallible canon prior to Trent, it seems the only logical conclusion is that your accusation regarding me is the same accusation you must hurl against Cajetan, Jerome, Paul, although we hope you'd have the shame not to hurl it against the Lord Jesus who spoke of Scripture before anyone claimed to have an infallible canon. Do you really want to make that kind of accusation?

2) But if you see that it is fruitless to make such accusations, then why not let me find the canon the same way they did? Why must I be held to a different standard than them, simply because your church has decided that it wants to make a supposedly infallible canon?

3) Finally, surely you ought to be aware that the Reformed position is not that we "go through Church Father writings trying to justify [our] own position on what [we] think the Canon is." We do certainly examine the Church Fathers and also the Jewish writings. We do so both because the historical record is one of the ways by which the Holy Spirit persuades us that this is His Word (from the positive angle) but also to answer the cavils of Romanists who try to claim that Trent's canon is what "the Church has always taught."

To pick on Trent, the statement that Trent is "following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament" (including the Apocrypha) is something that Trent claims, but is either simple ignorance of the historic record or a lie. The Apocrypha were not (and Jerome provides evidence of this) given equal affection of piety and reverence with the canonical books. We could provide additional historical documentation of this, if history and the truth mattered to you.

MB wrote: "As far as the Church being the Church, it is apparent that you are not as familiar with the Church Fathers as you think you are, or you selectively deciding to pick and choose from what they write based on your own flawed intellect."

1) The very idea of going to the church fathers to decide if modern Roman Catholicism is the "the Church" is at least mildly strange. Perhaps one could go to them for tests of the true church, but when we do, we find them using the test of faith, not walls. But they did not see Trent, or the blasphemies of Vatican I and Vatican II. Their doctrines, teachings, and practices were (in many cases) contrary to those modern councils, but they were not around to witness with horror what folks did while trying to claim the title "Catholic."

2) Furthermore, we conclude that Rome is not part of the church, not based on the church fathers, but on Scripture. It is amazing that you act as though you are unaware of this.

MB wrote: "You have no idea as to what history teaches, or what the Scriptures teach."

1) I suppose I could just take this as a personal insult. As such, it's dumb. I've provided extensive documentation on my blog that demonstrates at least some familiarity with both Scripture and history. Only someone who had never perused my blog would think that I have "no idea" what Scripture or history teach.

2) But perhaps you mean this in a broader sense. Perhaps you are trying to argue that no one can know what history or Scripture teach unless they first trust in your church. That would be consistent with you arguments above, although ...

3) Such an argument would, however, undermine any basis for us to accept your church. If we are unable to know what history or Scripture teach without your church telling us, why should we accept your church in the first place? Just on her say so?

4) Furthermore, Scripture itself teaches (and the Fathers did too) that the Scriptures are able to make a person wise unto salvation. To assert that they cannot is to go against Scripture and Tradition.

5) Moreover, as is plain from Scripture itself and is explicitly taught by many of the church fathers, much of Scripture is quite clear. Your claim that I have "no idea" what Scripture teaches is plainly contrary to both Scripture and tradition if you mean in it in a general sense, which it appears you do, because you continued:

MB wrote: "You are like all of those heretics before you, all using their own flawed intellect to come up with novel teachings on what they think the Scriptures mean."

1) Notice the fluid change in the argument from what the Scriptures are to what the Scriptures mean.

2) Notice the attempt to substitute rhetoric for argument. Instead of saying "heretics coming up with novel teachings on what Scripture means," Bellisario loads down his sentence with useless, pejorative rhetorical flourishes:

a) "their own"

Whose else intellect are they going to use?

b) "flawed"

Whose intellect is flawless?

c) "intellect"

Are we supposed to avoid using our intellects?

d) "they think"

Surely, everyone who has an opinion about Scripture thinks they know what Scripture means.

3) We understand, of course, the reason for these empty rhetorical flourishes. The sentence: "Bellisario doesn't like heretics" sounds more vehement when we phrase it as "Bellisario doesn't like those that he thinks are, using his own flawed intellect, heretics."

4) But the rhetoric distracts from the issue. How can we determine whether "the heretics" got it right or wrong? After all, some of the heretics did not and do not appeal to Scripture alone for their claims. The Gnostics, for example, claimed oral tradition - the Muslims and Mormons claim additional revelation - and so have many other heretical groups. The way that we determine whether heretics got it right or wrong is by appeal to Scripture (and, yes, in the process we have to use our minds, which involves thinking, and using our intellects, even though our intellects are not flawless).

MB wrote: "Do you remember a man named St. Athanasius, who refuted the Arians, who also were quoting Scripture to defend their heresies?"

He wasn't named "St. Athanasius." Yes, the Arians did attempt to quote Scripture - so do Romanists - so do Mormons. Lots of folks do that, once they realize the authority of Scripture. Lots of criminals quote the laws of the land (especially the constitution, in constitutional countries).

Satan himself quoted Scripture - and Jesus rebutted him. How? From Scripture.

MB wrote: "Since you apparently didn't learn anything from our debate (the one that you think you won), let me give you a refresher."

We've only done (you and I) one formal debate. That is the one to which you are referring, and which can be found here (link). The remainder, which can also be found there, are informal debates or conversations or the like. I am just as willing to have them examined by the reader as I am our formal debate.

MB wrote: "The Arians also thought they could take the Scriptures for themselves outside of the Church and interpret it for themselves."

This just shows MB's lack of familiarity with the error of Arianism. Arianism arose within "the church" and gained a majority position there. Athanasius (from whom MB is about to quote) put it this way:

Athanasius (297-373): For if ever God shall give back the churches (for we think He will) yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us. And lest, speaking without the Scriptures, I should [seem to] speak too strongly, it is well to bring you to the testimony of Scriptures, for recollect that the Temple indeed was at Jerusalem; the Temple was not deserted, aliens had invaded it, whence also the Temple being at Jerusalem, those exiles went down to Babylon by the judgment of God, who was proving, or rather correcting them; while manifesting to them in their ignorance punishment [by means] of blood-thirsty enemies. And aliens indeed had held the Place, but knew not the Lord of the Place, while in that He neither gave answer nor spoke, they were deserted by the truth. NPNF2: Vol. IV, Letters of Athanasius, I. Festal Letters, fragment.

Notice how Athanasius views the faith itself as more fundamental than the churches. Furthermore, he proves his position from Scripture, rather than from "the Church" (at least for the obvious reason, namely that "the churches" had been taken over by Arians).

MB wrote: "But St. Athanasius told them they were interpreting the Scriptures incorrectly and not as they had been handed on to them in the Church."

We tell you that same thing, namely that your views of Scripture are incorrect and novel. And you try to tell us that too. To answer those questions, one would expect to then find some sort of umpire by which to decide whose interpretation is correct.

MB wrote: "You know, the one you reject."

I reject the church of Rome, which anathematized the gospel at Trent. I don't "reject" the church as defined by the faith (which gets us back to what Athanasius said above).

MB continued: "The great Saint wrote,"

As an aside, it is interesting how he is "The great Saint" when he writes things that Bellisario thinks he agrees with, and merely an individual church father and private theologian when he writes things that Bellisario disagrees with. All rhetoric aside, let's examine the quotations that Bellisario provided.

First: "“However here too they (Arians) introduce their private fictions, and contend that the Son and the Father are not in such wise 'one,' or 'like,' as the Church preaches, but as they themselves would have it" Orat 3,10”"

1) The extra quotation marks there are because Mr. Bellisario cut and pasted this quotation from somewhere else on the Internet. I'm confident that Mr. Bellisario originally borrowed this particular quotation from Phil Porvaznik's website, and Phil got it (apparently) from Joe Gallegos. I don't know whether Phil or Joe ever bothered to read the context of the quotations, but I would be surprised if Bellisario did. Incidentally, these are the same quotations that have already been addressed in our debate. But we'll look at them again.

2) Athanasius does mention the "the Church" and talks about the church preaching. He is arguing that the Arians' view is out of line with what the church teaches, but he does not think that this concludes the argument. In fact, he treats it as simply a statement of the disagreement between the Arians and "the Church."

The part that Bellisario has quoted comes from the opening of chapter 25 of Discourse 3 against the Arians. The word "church" is used in that one instance in the opening section (section 10 of Discourse 3) and the word "church" is not used again until section 67, at the conclusion of the discourse, about five chapters later, where Athanasius says: "Therefore call not the Son a work of good pleasure; nor bring in the doctrine of Valentinus into the Church; but be He the Living Counsel, and Offspring in truth and nature, as the Radiance from the Light." (Athanasius, Discourse III against the Arians, Chapter 30, Section 67)

There is no reference to "tradition" as such, aside from a single reference to the church fathers very briefly at one point: "And yet, needless though it be to refine upon these passages, considering their so clear and religious sense, and our own orthodox belief, yet that their irreligion may be shown here also, come let us shortly, as we have received from the fathers, expose their heterodoxy from the passage." (Athanasius, Discourse III against the Arians, Chapter 25, Section 18)

This quotation itself highlights and illustrates Athanasius' approach. He thought that the Scriptures were "clear" as to their "sense," and he relied extensively on them. Discourse 3 against the Arians refers to Scripture over 100 times. So, yes, Athanasius claimed that his position was what "the church" taught, and he viewed the Arians' teachings as something properly foreign to "the church," but he did argued from the authority of Scripture.

And not only from Scripture, but from his own flawed intellect (I use this description simply to honor Bellisario's rhetorical flourish above, not to insult Athanasius or to suggest, as Bellisario was trying, that the conclusions reached are wrong). In fact, in Chapter 25, Section 11, from which Bellisario quoted, Athanasius goes on to apply reason to Scripture in this way:
For they say, since what the Father wills, the Son wills also, and is not contrary either in what He thinks or in what He judges, but is in all respects concordant with Him, declaring doctrines which are the same, and a word consistent and united with the Father's teaching, therefore it is that He and the Father are One; and some of them have dared to write as well as say this. Now what can be more unseemly or irrational than this? For if therefore the Son and the Father are One and if in this way the Word is like the Father, it follows immediately that the Angels too, and the other beings above us, Powers and Authorities, and Thrones and Dominions, and what we see, Sun and Moon, and the Stars, should be sons also, as the Son; and that it should be said of them too, that they and the Father are one, and that each is God's Image and Word. For what God wills, that will they; and neither in judging nor in doctrine are they discordant, but in all things are obedient to their Maker. For they would not have remained in their own glory, unless, what the Father willed, that they had willed also. He, for instance, who did not remain, but went astray, heard the words, 'How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning [Isaiah 14:12]?' But if this be so, how is only He Only-begotten Son and Word and Wisdom? Or how, whereas so many are like the Father, is He only an Image? For among men too will be found many like the Father, numbers, for instance, of martyrs, and before them the Apostles and Prophets, and again before them the Patriarchs. And many now too keep the Savior's command, being merciful 'as their Father which is in heaven,' and observing the exhortation, 'Be therefore followers of God as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us [Ephesians 5:1-2];' many too have become followers of Paul as he also of Christ. [1 Corinthians 11:1] And yet no one of these is Word or Wisdom or Only-begotten Son or Image; nor did any one of them make bold to say, 'I and the Father are One,' or, 'I in the Father, and the Father in Me;' but it is said of all of them, 'Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? And who shall be likened to the Lord among the sons of Gods?' and of Him on the contrary that He only is Image true and natural of the Father. For though we have been made after the Image, and called both image and glory of God, yet not on our own account still, but for that Image and true Glory of God inhabiting us, which is His Word, who was for us afterwards made flesh, have we this grace of our designation.
- Athanasius, Discourse III against the Arians, Chapter 25, Section 11

Notice how Athanasius argues from reason and Scripture there. This is not surprising, when we discover the context of these writings of Athanasius. Athanasius explains the point of the four discourses against the Arians in the first section of the first chapter of the first discourse:
Of all other heresies which have departed from the truth it is acknowledged that they have but devised a madness, and their irreligiousness has long since become notorious to all men. For that their authors went out from us, it plainly follows, as the blessed John has written, that they never thought nor now think with us. Wherefore, as says the Savior, in that they gather not with us, they scatter with the devil, and keep an eye on those who slumber, that, by this second sowing of their own mortal poison, they may have companions in death. But, whereas one heresy, and that the last, which has now risen as harbinger of Antichrist, the Arian, as it is called, considering that other heresies, her elder sisters, have been openly proscribed, in her craft and cunning, affects to array herself in Scripture language, like her father the devil, and is forcing her way back into the Church's paradise,— that with the pretence of Christianity, her smooth sophistry (for reason she has none) may deceive men into wrong thoughts of Christ—nay, since she has already seduced certain of the foolish, not only to corrupt their ears, but even to take and eat with Eve, till in their ignorance which ensues they think bitter sweet, and admire this loathsome heresy, on this account I have thought it necessary, at your request, to unrip 'the folds of its breast-plate,' and to show the ill savor of its folly. So while those who are far from it may continue to shun it, those whom it has deceived may repent; and, opening the eyes of their heart, may understand that darkness is not light, nor falsehood truth, nor Arianism good; nay, that those who call these men Christians are in great and grievous error, as neither having studied Scripture, nor understanding Christianity at all, and the faith which it contains.
- Athanasius, Discourse I against the Arians, Chapter 1, Section 1

I'm not sure I could say it any more clearly than Athanasius says it for himself, so I'll leave aside Mr. Bellisario's flawed reliance on a quotation bereft of its context from the third discourse and consider Mr. Bellisario's other quotation.

"But after him (the devil) and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power" Festal Letter 2"

1) Again, that odd quotation mark after "Festal Letter" is simply an artifact of Mr. Bellisario's cutting and pasting.

2) Mr. Bellisario has oddly quoted a text that teaches exactly contrary to his position. Since Mr. Bellisario provides no commentary on the quotation, one is left guessing as to the source of his confusion. Perhaps Mr. Bellisario mistakenly thinks that the "them" in "receiving them as the traditions of men" refers back to "opinions as the saints have handed down" as opposed to "the Scriptures." However, the Scriptures are what is in view. We know this, because Athanasius is making a Biblical allusion:

Matthew 22:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.

Mark 12:24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

Those verses are crystal clear as to what Jesus is referencing, and that clear verse resolves the ambiguity in Athanasius' sentence.

Athanasius is criticizing those who don't give proper respect to Scripture. It is in failing to give proper respect to Scripture that these folks depart from the opinions of the saints. We can see this further from the context.

3) The context itself refers to the Scriptures as divine tradition:
Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians [1 Cor. xi. 2.], because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions. And the Lord most righteously reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Wherefore do ye also transgress the commandments of God on account of your traditions [Matt. xv. 3.].’ For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. And about these, a little after, the blessed Paul again gave directions to the Galatians who were in danger thereof, writing to them, ‘If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed [Gal. i. 9.].’
- Athanasius, Festal Letter 2, Section 6

Notice not only that Athanasius is himself relying on the authority of Scripture, but that he is contrasting the Scriptures with human traditions.

And in case there was any ambiguity in what Athanasius says in section 6, see how he continues in Section 7:
For there is no fellowship whatever between the words of the saints and the fancies of human invention; for the saints are the ministers of the truth, preaching the kingdom of heaven, but those who are borne in the opposite direction have nothing better than to eat, and think their end is that they shall cease to be, and they say, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die [Is. xxii. 13.].’ Therefore blessed Luke reproves the inventions of men, and hands down the narrations of the saints, saying in the beginning of the Gospel, ‘Since many have presumed to write narrations of those events of which we are assured, as those who from the beginning were witnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered to us; it hath seemed good to me also, who have adhered to them all from the first, to write correctly in order to thee, O excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the truth concerning the things in which thou hast been instructed [Luke i. 1.].’ For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries. Of these the (divine) word would have us disciples, and these should of right be our teachers, and to them only is it necessary to give heed, for of them only is ‘the word faithful and worthy of all acceptation [1 Tim. i. 15.];’ these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, that which they had heard from Him have they handed down.
- Athanasius, Festal Letter 2, Section 6

Notice what is handed down: Scripture. That is contraasted with "the fancies of human invention" and identifies the testimonies of these saints who were "eye-witnesses" with the canonical gospels, particularly Luke's gospel. Nothing could be more helpful to the Reformed position and more undermining of Rome's and Bellisario's position, yet because (we must guess) Bellisario is unfamiliar with the context of the quotation, he has been kind enough to provide a quotation that refutes his own position.

Mr. Bellisario concluded: "You sir are sadly in the same boat."

Well, I'm certainly not an Arian. But even the Arians recognized the authority of Scripture. Athanasius recognized it too, and persuaded the Arians from Scripture to abandon their error and many did repent as Athanasius had hoped for (see the quotation from his first discourse, above). Perhaps you will similarly examine Scripture and join the boat of those who rely upon Scripture, rather than human tradition, as their authority: repenting of your errors and trusting in Christ alone for salvation.


P.S. On a rather ironic note, it is from Athanasius (without the benefit of any infallible canon) that we find our first preserved list of the 66 books of the Bible, in his 39th Festal letter.

UPDATE: It should be noted that Dr. White already provided a similar response to a similar attempt to misuse Athanasius, in an early post (link to the earlier post).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More not Less Church as the Day of the Lord Approaches

One of the questions that Mr. Arnzen asked Mr. Harold Camping, during the four-day discussion on Iron Sharpens Iron between Dr. James White and Mr. Harold Camping, was about whether the listeners of Family Radio have their own gatherings. Mr. Camping indicated that, aside from a small group in Almeda, California (where Mr. Camping resides), he does not encourage his listeners to gather together. As we will see below, this practice of abandoning the fellowship and communion of the saints is not only contrary to the historic creeds of the church, but also (and much more importantly) contrary to Scripture itself. In the current post we will see this shown from Hebrews 10:23-25.

Hebrews 10:23-25
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Harold Camping admits that Judgment Day is in view here: "We know that Judgment Day is in view in this verse ... ." (source) Mr. Camping is right because we see from the context that the "day" mentioned here is the day of the Lord, the day of judgment:

Hebrews 10:30-31
For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Nevertheless, Harold Camping argues that:
Returning to Hebrews 10, verses 24 and 25, we read a very curious comment. Verse 25 declares:

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner is...

This is indeed curious language. One would think that it would be more logical to say, "not forsaking the assembling of the congregation" or "not forsaking the assembling of the church." Why does God use the strange language, "assembling of ourselves"? As we have already noted, God is focusing on the time when Judgment Day is very near. We understand this by the phrase, "so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Another curiosity is the usage of the Greek word episynagogen which is translated "assembling together." This Greek word is used in only one other instance in the Bible. That citation is II Thessalonians 2:1, where we read:

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him.

The phrase "gathering together" in this verse is translated from the same Greek word episynagogen. When we look at the context of II Thessalonians 2:1, we know who is assembling or gathering together. This passage is speaking of those individuals who are gathering together to meet Christ at his coming. The only people who are ready to meet Christ at his coming are true believers. Churches will not be ready to meet Christ. Whole congregations are not ready to meet Christ. Even if Christ had come before the church age was over, only a remnant of the congregation would have been ready to meet Him.

The point God is making is that the Greek word episynagogen emphasizes the gathering together of individuals. It is not in any way looking at a body of people who are all members of one local congregation.

This agrees with the usage of the same Greek word, episynagogen, which we find in Hebrews 10:25, where God emphasizes that individuals are in view as indicated by the usage of the word "ourselves." Thus, a body of people, like a local congregation, cannot be in view in Hebrews 10:25 any more than a local congregation could be in view in II Thessalonians 2:1.
(same source)
This argument is absolutely absurd. Allow me to elaborate, though, because my simply saying it is absurd will have little weight with Harold Camping's listeners.

The term "episynagogen" is a word that combines "epi" (a primary preposition that has, in this case, a directional sense) and "sunagoge" (the word from which we derive "synagogue" meaning the meeting or meeting place). To "episunagoge" means to get to synagogue, or to use modern terminology "go to church."

Someone may point out that the term might have a broader sense of simply coming together as an assembly in Greek. While that is true, the context cannot be ignored. This is an epistle to the Hebrews, and must be understood within that context: as being written to Hebrews.

The attempted imposition of the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:1 is also wrong. Even if we understand 2 Thessalonians 2:1 to refer to the gathering unto Christ at the second coming (something of which the church is a foreshadow), that is certainly not the sense that is being used in Hebrews 10:23-25.

We know that it is not the sense of Hebrews 10:23-25, because Hebrews tells us two things:

(1) "as the manner of some is"

While the verb "is" is implied (not stated) in the Greek, the point of the phrase is to compare what the Hebrews should not do with what others have or are doing. But the coming of Christ is not something that has already come, and consequently there would be nothing to which to compare if the sense of "assembling of ourselves together" is a reference to the gathering at the second coming rather than the weekly gathering.

(2) "and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching"

Again, this provides a comparison. The comparison is between the present and the future. This serves to demonstrate that the verse is talking about something that the Hebrew believers were already doing.

It is not just a comparison, but a comparison of enhancement. They are not to get to church less and less as they see the day of the Lord approaching. Instead, they are to assemble more and more. This practice of fellowship is to increase until Jesus' return.

Finally, the argument is absurd because the idea that "ourselves" should be contrasted to "church" is itself absurd. The focus is on the activity of the individuals in going to the assembly. That individual action is contrasted with the action of some people who don't go to church. The usual sense of the text is not that the individuals are supposed to get others to go to church, but that they themselves should go to church.

But I have left out the most obvious argument in the discussion above. The text says:

Not Forsaking

That means "don't stop." The Greek is "μὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες," which means to leave something behind. We see it used in several places in Scripture:

Acts 2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Romans 9:29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.

2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.

2 Timothy 4:16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.

Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

As you can see, in every instance it refers to a pre-existing condition that is then either (positively) maintained by the thing remaining, or (negatively) altered by the thing being discontinued. In this case, the pre-existing condition is that the Hebrew believers are going to "synagogue" (first to the synagogue of the Jews and later to the Christian church which corresponds thereto).

The undeniable conclusion is that the author of Hebrews, God himself who inspired it, is telling the Hebrews to continue doing what they were already doing, namely assembling together to worship God. Moreover, God is telling them not to stop doing this but to continue this more and more as the day of judgment approaches. The end of the church age, if we wish to call the New Testament period by that name, is Judgment Day. That day has not yet come, and consequently we are called to continue to assemble together.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Have I Offended You, Dear Reader?

I appreciate the many folks who read this blog. Some of them I necessarily offend, because I affirm that men are sinners and that the gospel is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. That message in itself is bound to offend sinners who don't wish to be identified as such and those who preach other gospels. That offense is simply inevitable. Nevertheless, I may also inadvertently offend others. This blog post is designed to serve as a clearinghouse for your complaints that I've offended you. You can submit a comment here, and I'll read it. If I can, I'll try to remedy the offense.

By the way, don't assume that I know I offended you. At the present, I'm blissfully unaware of any such cases. Nevertheless, I realize that they may exist despite my best efforts not to give unnecessary offense. So please - if I have offended you, please let me know.

Arminius' Impact on Calvinism

Dan ("GodIsMyJudge") has an interesting post in honor of the 400th anniversary of Arminius' death (link). One criticism I have, is that I think he overstates the significance of the infralapsarian wording of Dordt's discussion of election. In fact, one could walk away from GodIsMyJudge's post thinking that Arminius was an infralapsarian Calvinist who prevailed at Dordt against the supralapsarians, rather than having his errant views condemned by that synod. In context, the point of Dordt is to deny foreseen merit, something upon which both supralapsarians and infralapsarians agree.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Die Like Men? A Response to Dr. Michael Heiser

We are all going to die. I don't mean that in an imminent way, though perhaps some of us will pass shortly, but instead in a general sense. It is the condition of humanity that all men die. You and I will both die one day. If you are not righteous in God's eyes when you come before His holy judgment, you will be sentenced to hell. Now, while there is time, repent of your sins. Ask God for mercy, and seize hold of Christ as your mediator. But that's not the primary reason I wrote this post. After all, many of the readers of this blog already believe.

Instead, I wanted to focus on responding to something Dr. Michael Heiser has written. I hope to add a few points to the excellent points already presented by Dr. White in his earlier post (link). You may recall that Dr. Heiser wrote: "If these elohim are humans, why are they sentenced to die “like humans”? A clear contrast is intended by both the grammar and structure of the Hebrew text (Prinsloo; Handy, “Sounds”)."

Dr. Heiser is referring to Psalm 82.


Psalm 82 is a warning to unjust judges. God is the judge of judges, just as he is elsewhere described as the King of kings and Lord of lords. (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; and Revelation 19:16)

God accuses these judges of judging unjustly, and particularly accepting the bribes of the wicked. He tells them to defend the poor and fatherless, the afflicted and needy. Specifically he urges them to defend the weak from the powerful wicked.

Then, God changes voices and talks about these unjust judges, saying that they do not understand. God says that he has called them gods, and that they are children of God. Nevertheless, he warns them that they will die like men and princes die. The Psalm ends with the singer calling forth God's judgment on all nations.

These judges are referred to as "elohim" (as Dr. Heiser notes), but there are a few significant problems in Dr. Heiser's analysis.

I. Meaning of "Like Humans"
Dr. Heiser seems to insist that "like humans" must be translated in a way that distinguishes these unjust judges from humans. He's a credentialed professor in the area of Semitics, and I don't provide any credentials. Nevertheless, I'd like to encourage the reader to consider the evidence.

a) The other usages of the expression
The expression translated "like men" in the KJV is "כְּאָדָ֣ם". The precise form of this word is unique to Psalm 82:7, but very similar forms may be found in Job 31:33 ("כְאָדָ֣ם") and Hosea 6:7 ("כְּאָדָ֖ם").

i) Job 31:33

Job 31:33 If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom:

Notice that in this instance, the speaker is Job. There is really no denying that Job is human. In this instance, while Job is not admitting to being like Adam, he is discussing the matter hypothetically. Thus, the expression is not only not a denial of Job's humanity, but also not a way of distinguishing (at least not directly) Job from Adam. Of course, Job is not Adam, though Job is human.

ii) Hosea 6:7

Hosea 6:7 But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.

God here is speaking about people. There's really no serious question that the context is God talking about the wickedness of his chosen nation. I do wonder whether the better translation here might be (as in Job) "like Adam." Namely, they are transgressing the Covenant of Moses, just as Adam transgressed the Covenant of the Garden. Regardless, essentially the same analysis as in Job follows. They are not Adam, but they are men.

b) The immediate context
The immediate context of the expression "die like men" is a Hebrew parallelism to the expression "fall like one of the princes." The term "fall" here is a synonym for "die." Which princes are in mind here is somewhat of a difficult question.

Hosea 7:6 refers to the princes of Israel falling by the sword and 2 Samuel 3:38 refers to Abner's death as the falling of prince. While some have suggested that Satan's fall from heaven (Luke 10:18) is in mind, this seems somewhat strained, particularly given the parallel in play here. The "princes" (we must note) among the Israelites were the elders of the people, not the sons of the king (as in western monarchies). Thus, we see references to the princes of Israel both before (Numbers 21:18 and Judges 10:18) and after (Ezra 9:1-2 and Nehemiah 9:32) the monarchy, as well as during it (Jeremiah 26:16).

Notice as well that is not "like the princes" but "like one of the princes." This usage weighs in favor of translating "die like men" as "die like a man" or "die like Adam" (Adam means man, in Hebrew, so it is sometimes hard to distinguish the two). In any event, the Hebrew expression translated "like men" is a singular expression, and so is the expression "one of the princes."

These singular expressions do, in fact, contrast with "ye" (the plural pronoun in English - expressed in the Hebrew by the conjugation of the two verbs in the sentence). Thus, if Dr. Heiser is simply noting that there is a comparison being made, he's right. Yet it is an equivalent comparison to those in Job and Hosea mentioned above.

c) best sense
The best sense of the text is that God is warning these judges of their impending doom. We might paraphrase God's comment as: "Everyone dies (both ordinary men and princes), and you won't be an exception." Dr. Heiser views the comment from God as a sentence imposed on the judges, and - of course - death is a sentence for sin. It is sufficient, however, to simply view this as a proclamation of the doom that awaits unjust judges. They must die and come before the Judge of judges to answer for their injustice.

II. Backward Reference to the Pentateuch
In addition to the local context of the expression and the other uses of the expression, there is also the question of the relationship of meaning of this text with other texts. Dr. White has already addressed more than sufficiently the relationship of this text with the New Testament. That by itself should be a sufficient basis for rejecting Dr. Heiser's position. Nevertheless, the Old Testament also provides additional light.

Specifically, verse 6 does not simply refer to the judges as "gods" (elohim) but states that God has said this:

Psalm 82:6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

The question is, where did God describe these unjust judges as "gods" (elohim)? It seems unlikely that this is simply a reference back to verse 1 of the psalm, though we cannot completely eliminate the possibility.

There are several places where judges are referred to as "elohim" in the Pentateuch:

Exodus 21:6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges (elohim); he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

Exodus 22:8-9

If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges (elohim), to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour's goods. For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges (elohim); and whom the judges (elohim) shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.

Exodus 22:28 Thou shalt not revile the gods (elohim), nor curse the ruler of thy people.

And beyond the Pentateuch:

1 Samuel 2:25 If one man sin against another, the judge (elohim) shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.

It should be noted, of course, that although that is the KJV's translation of the verses, as is so often the case, many of the modern translations disagree, using "God" instead of judges. Probably the strongest of these verses is Exodus 22:28, in that it provides a parallel between "reviling the gods" and "cursing the ruler of thy people," which serves to demonstrate that the two concepts are analogous. Furthermore Paul, in Acts 23:5, makes application of this verse (at least the second half of it) to the human rulers of Israel.

It is interesting to observe that while Dr. Heiser has attempted to dismiss Exodus 21:6 and Exodus 22:8-9, he has not provided a similar response to Exodus 22:28 (link).

Much of Dr. Heiser's argument with respect to the text relies on a higher critical framework that is repulsive to the traditional evangelical scholar. This makes interacting with Dr. Heiser difficult from the standpoint of finding any common ground upon which to premise discussions. I am not sure, for example whether the second part of this post (the other Old Testament references to human rulers as elohim) would have any particular significance for Dr. Heiser, because I'm not sure that Dr. Heiser would necessarily hold that the Scriptures have been providentially preserved for us, such that we might look for this prior statement of God in Scripture.

On the other hand, Dr. Heiser should be willing to accept the lexical grounds on which the first of the two points (i.e. the grammatical question of the expression "die like a man") is premised. I do not know whether Dr. Heiser will read this discussion, but - if he does - I would be very curious as to how he would seek to continue his argument that "die as humans do" (translation used by Heiser) is something that clearly distinguishes these elohim from humans.

Dr. Heiser's comment that "This sounds as awkward as sentencing a child to grow up or a dog to bark," seems to fail to appreciate the very different negative consequences of dying as opposed to growing up (unless one is Peter Pan) or barking. A better comparison would be the comparison in the Proverbs:

Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

Cautioning the fool that he will return to his folly or a dog to his vomit is not an empty statement devoid of negative connotation. Indeed, the apostle Peter refers us to this very proverb:

2 Peter 2:22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

Even so, contrary to Dr. Heiser's suggestion that "The point of verse 6 is that, in response to their corruption, the [elohim] will be stripped of their immortality at God's discretion and die as humans die," the point is that these judges should be aware of their mortality and the impending judgment of God. They should repent of their ways in order, at a minimum, to seek to avoid the punishment they deserve for their injustice. Dr. Heiser's attempted explanation might seem to work if the text only mentioned dying like a man, but it also mentions falling (a synonym for dying) like one of the princes. The concept emphasized by the parallel is not a stripping of immortality, but a reminder of existing mortality: every man and every prince will die and face judgment, these unjust judges being no exception.

I'll conclude with a similar warning from another Psalm:

Psalm 2:10-12
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.


Wayne Grudem on the Atonement

Wayne Grudem has provided his Systematic Theology: an enormous (1291 pages) and apparently popular (the cover of one recent printing claims sales of over 1/4 million) tome. Chapter 27 (pp. 568-607 in what appears to be the 2000 printing) addresses the topic of the atonement. Much of the material serves as a helpful general introduction to the atonement from a broadly Calvinistic perspective. There are a number of helpful explanations in the chapter that are geared toward frequently asked contemporary questions, such as the question "did Christ endure eternal suffering."

There were also, however, a few disappointments with the chapter. Pages 582-94 include a very lengthy discussion of the credal phrase "he descended into hell." While this may be an important discussion, it seemed out of place at least as to the proportion of emphasis in the chapter. Grudem's discussion is quite detailed and provides an uncharacteristically (for Grudem on the atonement) deep look into history. Although it was quite detailed, I think I still prefer the explanation provided by Danny Hyde, which I discussed previously (link).

The chapter was especially weak in its defense of particular redemption, also called "limited atonement." The exegetical analysis of the passages relied upon by Amyraldians and Arminians seemed cursory at best, and omitted some of the best explanations of the sense of those passages. Furthermore, while little space was devoted to establishing the doctrine from Scripture many times more space was devoted to accommodating those who disagree with this doctrine.

Especially disappointing was Grudem's naive assertion that "It seems to be a mistake to state the question [of the extent of the atonement] as Berkhof does and focus on the purpose of the Father and the Son, rather than on what actually happened in the atonement." What actually happened, after all, depends largely on the intent and purpose of the Father and the Son.

In his ecumenical efforts, Grudem ends up providing a number of confused statements regarding characterizations of the atonement, such as affirming that it is proper to say that "Christ died to bring the free offer of the gospel to all people" or "Christ died to make salvation available to all people." The problem with these statements becomes clear when we realize that Grudem's statements are statements about the purpose and intent of the atonement (and statements that get that purpose and intent wrong, at least formally), rather than about what the atonement actually did.

The above criticism should not be taken as suggesting that Grudem is an Amyraldian. He is insistent that the atonement only paid for the sins of the elect. Nevertheless, his chapter contains a number of significant weaknesses, which prevent it from receiving the highest praise. Lest we end on a sour note, it should be observed that Grudem provides an interesting (if somewhat incomplete) bibliography at the end of the chapter, as he does at the end of many (perhaps all) of the chapters of his Systematic Theology. All in all, it is a good introduction to the topic, but you can get a more accurate and more detailed explanation in a number of the books to which Grudem refers his readers.

Pope Michael

David Bawden (aka pope Michael) claims to be the successor to pope Pius XII (link to story). Like many folks, Mr. Bawden recognizes that modern Catholicism (post Vatican II) represents a break with more traditional Roman Catholic beliefs. In the quotations provided in the article, Mr. Bawden points to an alleged change in the view of the atonement from essentially a limited atonement view to a general atonement view. He apparently broke away from the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) back in the 70's and in 1990 was elected to the papacy (apparently by six of his followers). According to the article, he excommunicated pope John Paul II, though the article doesn't indicate what action (if any) he has taken toward Benedict XVI.

I wouldn't be surprised if Rome's devoted children soon tell us that this (like so many disputes over the papacy over the years - including the new splinter formed by pope Michael's former follower Teresa Stanfill Benns) is the result of Sola Scriptura. Don't ask me how that is supposed to be logical, since these groups probably think that Rome is to accommodating toward Sola Scriptura. But if Roman apologists can blame Sola Scriptura for Mormonism, (so-called) Jehovah's Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostalism, and so forth, they cannot reasonably draw the line at the variant versions of their own religion.