Tuesday, December 06, 2022

A thought on Acts 4

Acts 4:23-20 

And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.  And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, 

    Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, 

Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. (Psalm 2:1-2)

    For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

    And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.


Notice here that "For of a truth ..." (γὰρ ἐπ᾽ ἀληθείας) explains the fulfillment of the second Psalm (also cited in Acts 13:33) by Jesus Christ.

"the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers" | " Herod, and Pontius Pilate,"

"why did the heathen rage" | "with the Gentiles"

"and the people imagine vain things" | "and the people of Israel"

"were gathered together" | "were gathered together"

"against the Lord, and against his Christ" | "against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed"

Friday, December 02, 2022

Index Page for Responses to Ken Wilson's "Augustine's Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to 'Non-Free Free Will'"

Dr. Kenneth M. Wilson wrote a book (2018), which is apparently an edition of a doctoral thesis he defended at Oxford (2012).  The book, published by the respected publisher Mohr Siebeck as part of the reputable series, Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum (vol. 111), has a number of issues.  Among the issues are the title: Augustine's Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to "Non-Free Free Will," which has been abbreviated to "Augustine's Conversion" for the spine of the book.

Others have been responding for longer than I have.  My own responses so far have focused on Section A of Chapter 3 of the book, in a section on Origen.  The format of the following index is to link the Youtube version of the review episode, together with a brief description of the discussed matter.  After that I have identified the Origen source material discussed in the episode, for those interested in Origen studies.

Episode 1 - First Three Paragraphs (p. 65)

Princ., Pref. 5; cf. 1.6.2

Episode 2 - Next Few Paragraphs (pp. 65-66)

P. Arch. 3.1.6

P. Arch. 3.1.7; cf. 3.1.10

Philoc. 27.10-12

Episode 3 - Philocalia Discussion (p. 66)

Somewhat tangential to the discussion, this is an episode just discussing the work, Philocalia, which was composed by others repurposing Origen's work.

Episode 4 - "Saturates His Writings"? (p. 66)

Hom. Jer.20.2

Philoc. 27.2

De Princ.2.9.6-7

Episode 5 - "Grace as Merit"? (p. 66)

Comm. Rom. 3.9

P. Arch. 3.1.12; Cels. 6.68

Episode 6 - "Grace vs. Rewards" (p. 66)

Comm. Rom. 4.4-5

Episode 7 - "Higher Honor and Rewards" (p. 66)

Comm. Rom. 8.7.4; 8.7.7

Exhort. 14

Episode 8 - "Unilateral Divine Infusion" (p. 66)

P. Arch. 3.1.5 

Episode 9 - "Scheck concludes without warrant ... Quite to the Contrary" (pp. 66-67)

Scheck (2001), 31 (we considered 30-32)

Comm. Rom. 4.5.3

Comm. Rom. 4.5.1

von Harnack (1886; repr., 1990), 551, fnt. 2

Harnack Material, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, Bd.1, Die Zeit der Alten Kirche (English version) (1886 German version)

Planned Material

Episode 10 - " Contra heretics claiming God directly influences minds or 'wills,' Origen ..."

First Principles, Book Three, Chapter 1 (From Latin) (From Greek)

P. Arch. 3.1.16; cf. 3.1.21 on 2 Tim 2.20

P. Arch 3.1.17

P. Arch 3.1.21 

Episode X - Tangent Episode for Discussion of Material Relied upon by Harnack (discussed in Episode 9) in the section relied on by Wilson

In Ezech. hom. I., c. II

Orig. in Matth. series 69, Lomm. IV

in Rom. IV. 5, Lomm. VI 

in Rom. IX. 3, Lomm. VII

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Origen on the Gift of Faith

Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Books 13-32, Book 13 (at John 4:42), section 354  trans. Ronald E. Heine, p. 144, Catholic University of America Press (1993) (Based on Greek)

For this reason, those who walk by sight, as it were, would be said to be engaged in those gifts which come first, "the word of wisdom" given by the Spirit of God, and the "word of knowledge according to the same Spirit." Those who walk by faith, on the other hand, are inferior to the former in rank, although faith is a gift according to the saying, "And to another, faith in the same Spirit."

Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Books 13-32, Book 20 (at John 8:46), section 285 trans. Ronald E. Heine, p. 264, Catholic University of America Press (1993) (Based on Greek)

But when we contemplate what believing is in the proper sense, insofar as "everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God," and when we perceive how far short we fall of believing in this manner, let us respond as follows, exhorting the Physician of the eyes of soul by his wisdom and beneficence to do everything to uncover our eyes, which are still covered by the shame we feel because of evil, according to what is said somewhere, "Our shame has covered us." For he will listen to us when we confess the reasons we do not yet believe, and help us as those who are sick and in need of a physician, and work with us that we receive the gift of believing, which is placed third in Paul's catalogue of gifts, after the word of wisdom and word of understanding, to which he adds, "To another, faith in the same Spirit." He says of this gift also in other passages, "For it has been given to you by God not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him." 

Origen, Homilies on Luke, Fragments on Luke, Fragment 232 (on Luke 19:26), trans. Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., p. 220, Catholic University of America Press (1996) (N.B. "the Greek fragments are not always trustworthy.  Most of them come from catenae ... The editors of the catenae often shortened, condensed, or rearranged the passages from the Fathers that they used." p. xxxvi) 

The Savior says, "He who has a virtue as the fruit of his labors and sweat also receives something more from God, just as the one who has the faith that we can muster will be given the gift of faith. And simply, if someone has one of those things that come to be by effort, and that are bettered by attention and care, God will give what is lacking. But, the one who is useless and does not pass the Word on to many will be deprived of what he had, and punished.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Hebraism in Ephesians 1:11?

Earlier today, I was considering Ephesians 1:11 and my friend, Dan, pointed out that the word for "obtained an inheritance" is derived from a word that means to select by lot.  This came up because we had been discussing Ezekiel 24 and the non-choice there:

Ezekiel 24:6 Wherefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe to the bloody city, to the pot whose scum is therein, and whose scum is not gone out of it! bring it out piece by piece; let no lot fall upon it.

In the English Standard Version, the translation for "let no lot fall upon it" was something like "without making any choice."  

In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul uses a Greek word that has a "lot" connotation to it:

Ephesians 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance (ἐκληρώθημεν), being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

The verb ἐκληρώθημεν (eklerothemen) comes from the verb, κληρόω (klero'o), which is thought to come from κλῆρος (kleros) which in its most literal sense refers to lot.  

However, κλῆρος (kleros) is translated as heritage or inheritance in a few places:

Acts 26:18

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Colossians 1:12

Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

1 Peter 5:3

Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

The same Greek word has similar usage in the Septuagint:

Genesis 48:6

And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.

Exodus 6:8

And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.

In reading the various translations of Ephesians 1:11, one caught my eye.  It was an "Orthodox Jewish Bible" translation, but what was interesting was that it cross-referenced Psalm 16.

Psalm 16:5-6 

The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.

I don't know how a word about casting lots became linked with the concept of inheritance.  The most obvious connection to me in light of Psalm 16 was the division of Canaan.

Numbers 26:55 Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.

However, when I checked the LSJ lexicon, I found that apparently Greek already had a similar usage, even outside Septuagint usage (link to entry).

So, in the end, while I thought this might be an example of a Hebraism, now I'm thinking it is interesting parallel in linguistic development, but not necessarily a Hebraism.

Interesting food for thought.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Are Conditional Abilities "Real"?

In a recent video, my friend Dan Chapa and I, discussed a Conditional Analysis argument from Guillaume Bignon's book Excusing Sinners and Blaming God (link to video).  During our discussion, one of the disconnects seemed to center on whether conditional abilities are something real or not.  

We speak of conditional abilities all the time.  When someone asks a teenager, "can you drive," they typically mean something like, "have you learned to drive," "do you have a license," or "do you have a car at your disposal."  An affirmative answer describes a real ability of the teenager, even if that ability isn't presently being actualized.

It's not an ability off in some hypothetical world, it's an ability in the real world.

Likewise, we can speak of conditional disabilities.  These are also real absences of ability.  For example, if the teen responds, "I can't drive, I'm grounded," we understand the implication that the teen knows how to drive, has a license, but is currently under a parental restriction that prevents the teen from driving.  The way that the teen has expressed this disability has also informed us about an underlying ability.

Such a response is different from, "I can't, I haven't learned yet," or "I can't, I failed the driver's license exam."  These statements of disability express the absence of different kinds of abilities.  "I haven't learned yet," may express something about the cognitive and motor skills aspects, whereas "I failed the driver's license exam" may express (at least) a legal obstacle.  

If that's too abstract, consider the adjective, "flammable" (or "inflammable," which means the same thing).  A pool of gasoline is "flammable" even if there is no match nearby.  We say the same about lots of abilities of physical things.  Copper is ductile, even if no one draws it out into wire.  Granola is crunchy, even before you place it into your mouth.

Let's bring this back to the subject of the discussion.

When we say, "He could if he wanted to," we are describing a conditional ability.  When we say, "He couldn't, even if he wanted to," we are describing a conditional disability. These are real abilities, even though they are conditional abilities.  

In our discussion, we mentioned the case of a daughter whose father orders her to carry an item upstairs and she fails to do so.  We care about the answer to the question, "Could she have done what he asked, if she wanted to?" or more broadly to the question of "What stopped her from doing what he asked?"  In other words, we want to know the answer to the question, "What's the condition that would have to be removed such that on a conditional analysis, she could have done what he asked?"

If the answer is, "well if she didn't hate her dad so much, she could have," or "well if she weren't so stubborn, she could have," we have one evaluation of the situation, but if the answer is, "if the item weighed less, she could have," or "if she had heard his request, she could have," or "if the item actually existed, she could have," we have different analysis.

In the discussion, there was also a misunderstanding of the conditional analysis as suggesting that the conditional analysis implies that the past is not fixed or implying that a person has the ability to change the past.  That's not the implication of a conditional analysis that evaluates a different past.  

In fact, God himself provided a conditional analysis that involved a different past:

Numbers 12:14  And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.

God's conditional analysis, "If X had occurred, then Y would have followed," is true, even though it would involve a different past.  This is not so much about an ability, per se, but it is nevertheless about a causal chain that proceeds from a different past than the actual past.

Likewise, in Scripture, humans likewise use a conditional analysis involving a different past, to describe human ability/inability:

Judges 14:18  And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.

Here, Samson's conditional analysis is "If X had not occurred, then Y would not have occurred."  He's accusing them of cheating, saying that without cheating they did not have the ability to guess his riddle.

Jonathan has a similar conditional analysis of Saul's requirement for fasting during battle:

1 Samuel 14:30 How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely to day of the spoil of their enemies which they found? for had there not been now a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?

In Jonathan's analysis, "if the people had done X, then they could have done Y."  He's explaining that the decisive factor for the people failing to more thoroughly exterminate the Philistines was not the people's lack of resolve or strength, but a lack of food. 

This is not an exhaustive look at the Scriptural use of conditional analysis, but I thought I would add a few from the New Testament as well:

Matthew 24:43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.

This conditional analysis example is interesting because Jesus is not speaking about a different actual past, but a different past in the world of parables.  That said, the same conditional analysis applies.  "If the man knew X, he would have done Y." 

This example is also interesting because Jesus is not saying that it was possible for the man to know X.  How could he know when the thief would come?!  Rather, Jesus is explaining what the result would have been had the man known.  He's saying (among other things) something about the character of the man, that he's not apathetic about burglary nor powerless to stop a burglary that he's aware of.

An example that should spring to mind is this one, as it was recently discussed in another episode:

Luke 10:13 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Once again, Jesus is providing a conditional analysis, even if it is hyperbole.  The conditional analysis is not suggesting that it is possible for the past to change, such that the same works could now have been done, but rather it is describing the relative character of the hearts of the men of Chorazin and Bethsaida, that it is even harder than the hearts of those of Tyre and Sidon.

Finally, we have a conditional analysis from Martha: 

John 11:21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

Martha is not saying that Jesus has the ability to change the past.  She is saying that Jesus has the ability to heal.  Thus, she believes that the decisive factor in her brother's death was not a lack of healing power in Jesus but instead was Jesus' personal absence. 

Conditional abilities are real abilities.  They are real abilities when it comes to healing the sick, they are real abilities when it comes to being able to be wowed by miracles, they are real abilities when it comes to the ability to resist burglars, they are real abilities when it comes to warfare, they are real abilities when it comes to solving puzzles, or even to suffer shame.  Conditional analysis is valid, even when it implies a different past than the actual past. The necessity of the past is not violated by the use of conditional analysis, but it's simply set aside for the purpose of conditional analysis.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Does Pro Pastor Answer Objections?

Jordan Steffaniak tweeted (link to thread) the following, which I've taken the liberty of reformatting for space here.  Go to the link for the original formatting: 

JS (October 18): PSA: If you’re curious about the value of medieval sources, the nature of sola scriptura, etc. Don’t waste your time reading this. They don’t interact with their opponents. They ask questions no one is asking. They refute views no one is espousing. YW. https://gbtseminary.org/gbts-journal/
JS (October 19): I've been informed that I'm a biased, bigoted, scholastic snob that lied in my statement that GBTS failed to w/ their opponents on medieval theology, sola scriptura etc. I'm more than willing to retract my claims if proven wrong. But I'm unable to see where my claim is false.
TF (October 19): Are you willing to be shown?
JS (October 19): Yep. But no one is willing to provide any evidence besides snarky replies, apparently. 🤷🏼‍♂️

Since Jordan says he is willing to be shown, here is the evidence that his claims are wrong.

First, how can it really be both ways?  Either they don't have opponents because they answer(?  -- I suppose "ask" was just a twitter-o) questions no one is asking and refute views no one is espousing, or they "don't interact with their opponents."   If they are really just off discussing questions no one cares about, so be it.  There are a vast array of journals I have never read, and will never read.  

Of course, no one has to warn me off.  No one has to tell me to actively ignore such uninteresting journals (to me).  Instead, I just naturally gravitate away from such topics.

On the other hand, Jordan seems to recognize that the issue presents itself as being related to the value of medieval sources.  Jeff Moore, the editor, characterizes the issue this way: "Our inaugural issue addresses a contemporary question that is raging, regrettably, among evangelicals: Is Thomas Aquinas a helpful guide for Protestants?"  We will come back in a moment to the question of whether this is a question people are asking.  Suffice to say that this question is provided right on the cover of the issue, surrounded by images of Calvin and other early Reformers.

It's unclear from Jordan's tweet whether he read beyond that title page.  Maybe he read the whole issue thoroughly, maybe not.  There is only so much one can discern from 140 characters or whatever the current limit is. 

Second, Jordan linked to a page that provides only the first volume, first issue of "Pro Pastor:  A Journal of Grace Bible Theological Seminary."  The print release date for this issue is October 31, 2022, which is still future as of the writing of this post.  To say, "they don't interact with their opponents," is a strange claim to put it mildly.  Shouldn't there minimally be an opportunity for opponents to the journal to arise?  How much opposition can a journal expect before its very first issue of its first volume?

Nevertheless, of course, the journal didn't spring up in a vacuum.  It's the publication of a seminary, and the publication of the individual authors.  I note that the fourth page of the digital edition has the caveat: "The views expressed in the following articles and reviews are not necessarily those of the faculty, the administration, or the trustees of Grace Bible Theological Seminary."  That said, though, perhaps Jordan means that the seminary, as such, doesn't interact with "their" opponents.  A better interpretation, though, is that Jordan meant to refer to the authors of the articles.

This issue has articles from: James R. White (two articles), Jeff Moore (an introduction and one article), Jeffrey D. Johnson (one article), and Owen Strachan (one article).  There is also an uncredited "Summary Chart," but presumably the chart's author is not on the hook.

Do the authors interact with their opponents?  James White has conducted numerous debates (over 150 at last count), many of which are online.  To suggest that White doesn't interact with his opponents must, at best, come with some heavy qualification.  I'm less familiar with Owen Strachan and Jeffrey Johnson.  I found what appears to be an interaction between Owen Strachan and Jermaine Marshall (link to video).  Jeffrey Johnson is an incredibly common name, but I believe I found an interaction between Jeffrey Johnson and Michael Horton (link to video).  I didn't find anything debate-related with Jeff Moore, so I don't know whether he does debates or not.  Perhaps he does not.

So, at least most of these authors may have some experience with actual debate, and James White, the biggest contributor to this issue, has an overwhelming abundance of experience with debate.  That said, none of James White's debates have been specifically on Thomas Aquinas.  James White has had an informal dialog with William Lane Craig on Calvinism vs. Molinism and a formal debate with Tim Stratton on "Is Molinism Biblical," which have some connection to Thomas, but no debates specifically on the topic of "Is Thomas Aquinas a helpful guide for Protestants?"

Nevertheless, White has responded to opponents on Thomas Aquinas on his program, The Dividing Line (here is an example), numerous times.   Again, I'm less familiar with the others, and I don't know whether they have similarly responded or not.

Giving Jordan the benefit of the doubt, though, perhaps Jordan just meant that this issue itself, in the issue, doesn't respond to opponents.

On page 1, Jeff Moore identifies John Gerstner's article, "Aquinas was a Protestant," and Matthew Barrett's article, "What is Eternal Generation? (and Interview)," and asks whether the claims of those articles are true.

White's first article, in fairness to Jordan, simply sets up a definition of Sola Scriptura.  White's second article then aims to answer the question of whether Thomas held to Sola Scriptura.  I suppose that for a lot of advocates of Thomism, this question is not one they are asking.  It is a question seemingly raised by Tabletalk Magazine, May 1994: Should Old Aquinas Be Forgot? (and similarly posed by Travis James Campbell in the Aquila Report).

However, again, the focus even of White's second article is on analyzing Thomas' writings, not responding to a particular competing interpretation of Thomas.

Like White's two articles, Moore's article is similarly mostly a positive presentation on whether pagan philosophy should be understood as being in collaboration or conflict with Christianity, with the underlying argument being that Thomas was wrong to try to supplement Aristotle, rather than discarding Aristotle in favor of Scripture.  While this is not a direct response to opponents, one can surely see the relevance to the question of the usefulness of Thomas to Protestants today.

Jeffrey Johnson's article, "Is Platonism a Part of the Great Tradition," is clearly a shot across the bow of Craig Carter, and Craig Carter is identified in the first footnote of the article.  It's hard not to see the article as a challenge to Craig Carter's concept of Christian Platonism.  For example, Carter writes:

Now, if Jordan were simply saying that Johnson did not quote Carter and interact with those quotations, ok.  But it is hard to see Johnson's conclusion as not being in conflict with Carter's position:

Owen Strachan tackled the topic of whether Thomas taught monergism, and concluded that Thomas did not.  While Strachan's article does not directly interact with John Gerstner's article arguing that Thomas taught Sola Fide, it is once again hard to see this as anything other than a correction to it.

I suppose that what Jordan may have meant to say, instead of what he actually said, was that this issue does not address questions of the doctrine of divine simplicity, eternal functional subordination, or theology proper.  The first two topics are not mentioned at all in the issue.

The phrase, "theology proper," appears twice each at pp. 34 and 40, all of which are in Owen Strachan's article.  For those interested, I provide the relevant paragraphs:

Broadly speaking, the “great tradition” movement downplays soteriological differences and focuses attention on supposed ecumenical agreement over the doctrine of God (theology proper). It finds this common ground in the Nicene tradition, as it is often called, which took shape in the four ecumenical creeds, continued to be developed in the medieval period, and came to full flower under Thomas Aquinas.
In the present hour, Aquinas is supposedly the theological hero who can rescue us from theological drift. The neo-Reformed project, it is alleged, platformed soteriology, but divested itself of sound classical theology proper. Now, by a return to a certain version of Reformed scholasticism, we can right the ship. If we will embrace Doctor Angelicus (Aquinas, per the Catholics); if we will learn extensively from Catholic theologians and philosophers; if we will root out the biblicists with their supposedly “solo scriptura” method; if we will exchange the Reformational paradigm carved loosely by diverse voices and works like old Princeton, Spurgeon, early Westminster, Lloyd-Jones, and the neo-Reformed movement for a “great tradition” paradigm knit together by an ecumenical band of thinkers, we will save the church from its fundamentalist capsizing.
Some tell us in our time that we can chart a middle way here. We can love Thomas but avoid his errors. We can avoid his doctrine of salvation, even while we embrace his doctrine of God. We may share many commitments with some who make these claims. We desire no doctrinal war with them, and we pray for peace in the body. But we cannot constrain ourselves from warning the church today: Thomas was not a proto-Reformer. Considered in widescope view, with his body of teaching taken into account, Thomas is not a sound guide. 
But perhaps, even after this treatment of Thomas, someone will say in response to me, “But Thomas has all this rich theology proper that you’re ignoring! He’s orthodox as I read him. How can you charge him with not knowing the true God, even if he does get some things wrong on soteriology?” My reply is simple. Just as Thomas might have seemingly orthodox theology proper, so too may a prosperity gospel preacher have a seemingly correct Trinitarianism. Let’s say that on paper, he holds to Nicene theology, and even honors the “great tradition.” But what if that preacher proclaims a false gospel, one in which sin has no place, and the gospel as he presents it is actually about God making all your biggest dreams come true? Clearly, even technical orthodoxy on the Trinity does not change the fact that such a preacher does not honor or know the true God.

So, perhaps Jordan's underlying disappointment was that Strachan and the rest don't debate Thomas' theology proper.  

If one wanted to debate the soundness of Thomas' theology proper, this issue would look like a gigantic ad hominem argument.  Such an analysis misses the point of the issue.  The point of the issue, aptly summarized by the title of the issue, was this: "Is Thomas Aquinas a helpful guide for Protestants?" The answer provided is that Thomas is not, because of positions the authors say he held, including on important issues like Sola Scriptura, the relevance of Aristotle, the relevance of Denys and other Platonists, and Monergism.  

I hate having to put a caveat on an article like this, but I don't trust *some* of the readers' ability to understand negative implications.  I'm not saying I fully agree with any of the authors about anything they wrote.  I don't agree with Craig Carter's label of the historical Francis Turretin as a Christian Platonist.

Friday, October 14, 2022

It's all about the Exegesis - Matthew 24:36 (Mark 13:32)

Too much digital ink has been spilled over the recent call by my friend, James White, to people to learn and apply the skills of exegesis to the text of Scripture, instead of rushing to glib answers without carefully studying the text.  James is right - adherence to Scripture is of the first importance.  Our answers to the outsiders claiming that Christ is not fully divine must be answered from the text, not simply from the creeds.

This is not to say that the creeds are wrong.  This is not to say that the creeds are unhelpful.  This is not to say that we must sit under a tree with our Bible and wear noise-cancelling headphones to ignore the work of our fellow believers.

Rather, this is to say that our answer must be rooted in God's Word.  Look at the exegetical work of several Reformed exegetes on the challenging text of Matthew 24:36.

1. Calvin (link to commentary)

Calvin argues that the day referred to is the final judgment.  Amongst the lessons Calvin draws from the text, here is one that seems very fitting today: "We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word."  This is something that my friend, James, has been promoting for decades.

Calvin starts out rather provocatively: "Mark adds, nor the Son himself. And surely that man must be singularly mad, who would hesitate to submit to the ignorance which even the Son of God himself did not hesitate to endure on our account."  You can only imagine the flurry of tweets this line might cause today.

After addressing various objections, Calvin settles on this explanation with reference to the text of Matthew and Mark:

I have no doubt that he refers to the office appointed to him by the Father as in a former instance, when he said that it did not belong to him to place this or that person at his right or left hand, (Matthew 20:23; Mark 5:40.) For (as I explained under that passage (159)) he did not absolutely say that this was not in his power, but the meaning was, that he had not been sent by the Father with this commission, so long as he lived among mortals. So now I understand that, so far as he had come down to us to be Mediator, until he had fully discharged his office that information was not given to him which he received after his resurrection; for then he expressly declared that power over all things had been given to him, (Matthew 28:18.)

Calvin does make reference to Christ's human nature, and does so in a way that could probably be improved:

As to the first objection, that nothing is unknown to God, the answer is easy. For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, (158) whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. 

(158:  “La Divinité s’est tenue comme cachee; c’est à dire, n’a point demonstré sa vertu;” — “the Divine nature was kept, as it were, concealed; that is, did not display its power.”)

2. John Gill (link to commentary)

Gill argues that the day referred to is the destruction of Jerusalem. Gill makes an interesting connection to Isaiah 63:4, where it is written: "For the day of vengeance is in mine heart ... " which Gill explains means that God had kept this day to himself, not even revealing it to the angels.

Gill wraps up his explanation of the text this way:

The Ethiopic version adds here, "nor the son", and so the Cambridge copy of Beza's; which seems to be transcribed from Mark 13:32 where that phrase stands; and must be understood of Christ as the son of man, and not as the Son of God; for as such, he lay in the bosom of the Father, and knew all his purposes and designs; for these were purposed in him: he knew from the beginning who would betray him, and who would believe in him; he knew what would befall the rejecters of him, and when that would come to pass; as he must know also the day of the last judgment, since it is appointed by God, and he is ordained to execute it: but the sense is, that as he, as man and mediator, came not to destroy, but to save; so it was not any part of his work, as such, to know, nor had he it in commission to make known the time of Jerusalem's ruin:

but my Father only; to the exclusion of all creatures, angels and men; but not to the exclusion of Christ as God, who, as such, is omniscient; nor of the Holy Spirit, who is acquainted with the deep things of God, the secrets of his heart, and this among others,

Notice that Gill does not have to explicitly discuss the text in terms of the "two natures one person" distinction, but Gill instead relies on the Matthean category of "Son of Man."  Nevertheless, Gill ultimately, and correctly affirms that Christ as God and the Holy Spirit also know.  The "two natures in one person" understanding fits with and flows from this kind of exegesis, but an explanation of the text is more than just a glib appeal to the two natures.

3. Matthew Henry (link to commentary)(link to Mark commentary)

Henry, who also takes this as a reference to the final judgment, does not address the objection about "nor the Son" in the Matthew commentary, following the TR text.  However, in his commentary on the synoptic account in Mark (which has the phrase), Henry offers multiple explanations, without clearly settling on one:

II. "As to the end of the world, do not enquire when it will come, for it is not a question fit to be asked, for of that day, and that hour, knoweth no man; it is a thing at a great distance; the exact time is fixed in the counsel of God, but is not revealed by any word of God, either to men on earth, or to angels in heaven; the angels shall have timely notice to prepare to attend in that day, and it shall be published, when it comes to the children of men, with sound of trumpet; but, at present, men and angels are kept in the dark concerning the precise time of it, that they may both attend to their proper services in the present day." But it follows, neither the Son; but is there any thing which the Son is ignorant of? We read indeed of a book which was sealed, till the Lamb opened the seals; but did not he know what was in it, before the seals were opened? Was not he privy to the writing of it? There were those in the primitive times, who taught from this text, that there were some things that Christ, as man, was ignorant of; and from these were called Agnoetae; they said, "It was no more absurd to say so, than to say that his human soul suffered grief and fear;" and many of the orthodox fathers approved of this. Some would evade it, by saying that Christ spoke this in a way of prudential economy, to divert the disciples from further enquiry: but to this one of the ancients answers, It is not fit to speak too nicely in this matter—ou dei pany akribologein, so Leontius in Dr. Hammond, "It is certain (says Archbishop Tillotson) that Christ, as God, could not be ignorant of any thing; but the divine wisdom which dwelt in our Saviour, did communicate itself to his human soul, according to the divine pleasure, so that his human nature might sometimes not know some things; therefore Christ is said to grow in wisdom (Lu. 2:52), which he could not be said to do, if the human nature of Christ did necessarily know all things by virtue of its union with the divinity." Dr. Lightfoot explains it thus; Christ calls himself the Son, as Messiah. Now the Messiah, as such, was the father's servant (Isa. 42:1), sent and deputed by him, and as such a one he refers himself often to his Father's will and command, and owns he did nothing of himself (Jn. 5:19); in like manner he might be said to know nothing of himself. The revelation of Jesus Christ was what God gave unto him, Rev. 1:1. He thinks, therefore, that we are to distinguish between those excellencies and perfections of his, which resulted from the personal union between the divine and human nature, and those which flowed from the anointing of the Spirit; from the former flowed the infinite dignity of his perfect freedom from all sin; but from the latter flowed his power of working miracles, and his foreknowledge of things to come. What therefore (saith he) was to be revealed by him to his church, he was pleased to take, not from the union of the human nature with the divine, but from the revelation of the Spirit, by which he yet knew not this, but the Father only knows it; that is, God only, the Deity; for (as Archbishop Tillotson explains it) it is not used here personally, in distinction from the Son and the Holy Ghost, but as the Father is, Fons et Principium Deitatis—The Fountain of Deity.

While this is not the most satisfying example of exegesis, it certainly does illustrate something more than just offering a glib response.  Moreover, Henry's list of explanations show the diversity of explanations that have been offered.  Finally, the reference to Luke 2:52 helps point us to a more general explanation.

4. Matthew Poole (link to commentary)

Poole, in his concise commentary, offers this:

Mark addeth, Mark 13:32, neither the Son, but the Father. Of that day and hour, that is, the particular time when the heavens and the earth shall pass away, as he had before said, or when the end of the world shall be, which was one of the questions propounded to him by his disciples, Matthew 24:3.

Knoweth no man, no mere man, nor have men any reason to be troubled at it; for it is a piece of knowledge which the Father hath reserved in his own power, and his own pleasure, from the angels, who continually behold his face. Nay, I myself, as man, know it not. Nor is it more absurd, or derogating from the perfection of Christ, than for to say, that Christ, as man, was not omnipotent, or omniscient, &c. By the way, this gives a great check to the curiosity of men’s inquiries after the particular time or year when the world shall have an end, or the day of judgment begin, or be.

Unfortunately, I don't currently have access to Poole's more detailed work on this, but you can see that Poole concludes that Jesus is speaking "as man." 

Ultimately, the lesson we can learn from this exercise of reviewing some older commentaries on the text is that there are exegetical answers to the questions that people raise.  In this case, if one simply goes to the creedal formulations and applies them to the text, one will get the right result (of course), but without understanding how it is that the text teaches it, one is left without an answer to the next question.

Note how the different expositors bring out different facets of understanding.  Henry (following Tilllotson) mentions that the "Father" can be referenced not as the person of the Trinity distinct from the Son, but as the fountain of deity.  Recall the use in the Old Testament of Father in this way both about God as Creator and even about the person of Jesus Christ: 

Malachi 2:10 Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? 

Psalm 103:13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.

Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 

Isaiah 63:16 Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.

It is without doubt that Isaiah 9:6 refers to Jesus, not as the first person of the Trinity, but nevertheless as having that same title of deity.  Furthermore, it is right to speak of Christ as our redeemer.

So also we see the Jewish understanding God as father, presumably formed by Malachi 2 and Isaiah 63:

John 8:41 Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

Obviously, the Jews did not mean that as a reference to the person of the Father as distinct from the Son, since they did not have a proper understanding of the Trinity.  

Likewise, it is right to speak of Jesus in his economic relationship to the Father in the economy of redemption, because Matthew had previously quoted Jesus thus: 

Matthew 11:25-27

At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.

I don't want to belabor the point, but the bottom line is that Jesus, in Matthew (and Mark) is speaking of the Father in contradistinction to the created order.  So, whether Jesus means the person of the Father or the Triune Godhead (through something akin to federal headship or synecdoche or simply by reference to the relation of all three persons to us), the bottom line is that this statement is not a denial that Jesus according to his divine nature knew it nor is it a denial that the Holy Spirit knew it.

As to the latter point, the text is not speaking of the Holy Spirit, as a distinct person from the Father and the Son.  As to the former point, Jesus is speaking of himself as the Son of Man.  Jesus uses that description of himself numerous times in Matthew and most relevant to our consideration in the immediate context of the text:

Matthew 24:27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Matthew 24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

(our text)

Matthew 24:37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Matthew 24:39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Matthew 24:44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

Matthew 25:13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

The same is true, though to a lesser extent, in the context in Mark 13:

Mark 13:26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.

So, Jesus is not speaking of the Son as the Son of God, but as the Son of Man.  He is speaking of the Son in the role given to him by the Father, not in absolute terms.

Ultimately, I find Gill's explanation the best, but I will admit that I'm drawn to it because it seems to me to be the one that is most exegetically grounded in the text of Scripture.

Likewise, while I agree with Calvin that Jesus' deity was "covered" ("veiled" to use the term my friend James has used a few times recently), such that Jesus did not always exercise the powers that he has as God (particularly during his humiliation), such an explanation should not stand alone, but should be connected to the Scripture from which it is derived.

Thus, Paul writes:

Philippians  2:7-8

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

This was the condition of Jesus when he spoke the words of Matthew 24:36/Mark 13:32.  So, we should not come to any wrong conclusions regarding the Son, nor regarding the Holy Spirit from this text.  Furthermore, while the creeds and confessions are right, we do not have to appeal to their authority to establish the right understanding of this text.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

James White and Matthew 24:36

My friend, James White, has been consistently defending the Trinity for decades.  I'm truly mystified by the fact that some folks are seriously worried about his view of the two natures of Christ and of his interpretation of Matthew 24:36.  Here's an example of White's discussion from the Forgotten Trinity.

People respond that this seems at odds with his comments on Matthew 24:36.

He explained Matthew 24:36 on the DL in 2006, starting around 47 minutes in.  1st, James explicitly affirms that the text doesn't apply to the Holy Spirit. 2nd, James briefly mentions to two natures (not in detail, though):

(link to DL)

Again in 2012, James 1st) explains textual variant issues.  2nd) addresses inconsistent Muslim use 3rd) sets aside economic Trinity explanations as possible but weak 4th) explains that these limitations apply to Christ as incarnate using the same "veil" metaphor James is using now (link to video):

About one hour, five minutes into a recent presentation (Link) James again holds to his "veil" metaphor, which apparently is now so objectionable.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

What about tests in Scripture?

My friend, Dan, has a post that has remained unrebutted for the past 12 years (link), as far as I know.  Before we come to the arguments he makes, let's look at the Scriptural discussion of trying, testing, and temptation (in the older sense of the word).

1. Nāsâ (נָסָה) (pronounced naw-saw') Strong's H5254

Variously translated as to test, try, attempt, assay, prove, or tempt (though not in the modern sense of tempt).

It's found in a few dozen verses in the Old Testament.  For example, in Genesis 22:1 God tests Abraham.  Likewise, in Psalm 106:14, the people of Israel tested God.  

The Psalms provide examples of Hebrew synonyms of the word.  For example, Psalm 26:2 states: "Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart."  The word nasa is translated "prove" here.  The parallel Hebrew words are Bahan (H974) translated here "examine" and Sarap (H6884) translated "try".  

2. Bāḥan (בָּחַן) (pronounced baw-khan') Strong's H974

Variously translated as examine, prove, tempt (again, not in the modern sense), or try.

It's found in nearly as many verses as nasa in the Old Testament.  Like nasa it can be used of God testing man.  Thus, David says that God tries the heart in 1 Chronicles 29:17.  Similarly, the people of Israel are said to have tried God in Psalm 95:9.

As with nasa, there are parallels of bahan in the Psalms.  For example, Psalm 139:23 "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts."  In this case, "try" (bahan) is parallel to Haqar (H2713) translated "search" here.  The result of the searching and trying was knowing the hearts and thoughts of the person.

Bahan can also refer to testing in a different sense.  For example: Zechariah 13:9 And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried:  they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.

In this case, the idea is one of purification through heat.  The parallel word translated "refined" here is Sarap.

3. Sārap̄ (צָרַף) (pronounced tsaw-raf') H6884

Used about as often as each of nasa and bahan, sarap is usually translated in connection with the smelting process, but less often in the sense of testing.  Nevertheless, God speaks about trying the people Gideon has recruited in Judges 7:4 to reduce the number of people.  This is not a word that is typically used of men about God.  Rather the Word of God is "tried" (Psalm 18:30) in the sense of being pure (see Proverbs 30:5).  

4. Hāqar (חָקַר) (pronounced khaw-kar') H2713

With a similar usage rate to the others, haqar is often used about inanimate or abstract objects, such as the facts (Deuteronomy 13:14) or the land (Judges 18:2).  It is used of God searching out man, for example in Psalm 44:21.  I did not find it used of man trying to search out God.

5. Peirazo (πειράζω) G3984

The Septuagint translates the temptation of Abraham with a form of the word πειράζω, which is typically translated as "tempt" in the KJV, with the sense of a test or trial.  The word is used about equal times in the LXX and the NT, and can refer to Jesus being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1), or Jesus testing the disciples (John 6:6)

6. Ekpeirazo (ἐκπειράζω) G1598

This term seems to be essentially a strengthened form of πειράζω, and is found a small handful of times in the LXX and NT.

7. Dokimazo (δοκιμάζω) G1384

This term is most often translated as prove, try, approve, or discern.  It's used by the author of Hebrews in quoting from Psalm 95:9-10 (LXX Psalm 94:9-10) at Hebrew 3:9 in parallel to πειράζω.  

There may be words to consider, but these seem to be the biggest ones to think about.  With these in mind, let's consider Dan's argument:

The bible often speaks of God trying or testing us. For example, (Exodus 16:4) Such passages are strong evidence that God has given us the ability to choose between alternatives since the "or not" seems to be up to us. But such passages seem to imply something more than the ability to choose otherwise, they imply that at least in some circumstances we are able to choose good or evil. 

No one with any sense denies that we choose between alternatives.  The question is usually how we choose between alternatives. The use of testing implies some kind of determinism.  If human decisions were like the roll of the dice or the drawing of lots, what would be the value of the test be? Doctors test patients to find the cause of their symptoms. Professors test students to determine their level of knowledge or wisdom.  In general, while it is true that tests assume a range of possible outcomes, the point of tests assumes a causal link between the test and the outcome.  

If you test an indeterminate process, you would expect an indeterminate response.  For example, if you roll a die, you don't think you have a numerically superior die if you get a six, nor a numerically inferior die if you get a one.  If you are going to test dice, you would only be testing them to make sure they appear to produce a truly random outcome.

Similarly, a test of human beings reveals their character, their nature, and the like.  The same is true of God.  When they Israelites tested God, they found out something about God.  It only makes sense that the learned something about God if there is a meaningful connection between God and God's acts.  God reveals Himself in his acts.  We reveal ourselves in ours.  When we have the opportunity to sin and we sin, we reveal the depravity of our heart.  When we have the opportunity to good and we don't do it, we reveal the same.

Dan continued:

God is only able to choose between good options; He cannot sin. Fallen man, without grace, can only choose between sinful options. Same for fallen angels. The blessed in heaven can no longer sin. But when God tests man, we are not limited to only good or only evil; we can choose good or evil.

In some sense, of course, that it is true.  However, that's not the point of a test.  A test can reveal that pure gold is pure, just as a test can reveal that a counterfeit bill is fake.  While both results are possible in some sense, that does not mean that both outcomes are possible in a given situation with a given bar of gold or three-dollar bill.

Dan continues:

The ability to choose otherwise seems sufficient for moral responsibly - you don't need to be able to choose good or evil to be responsible for your choices. On the other hand, more is at stake in divine testing than moral responsibility: the Father is seeking people to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).

This is an interesting take.  Dan seems to be suggesting that the Father's "seeking" in John 4:23 is connected with God testing people.  I would be interested to hear his explanation, as there does not seem to be much contextual basis for it.

As best understood, though, Dan seems to be suggesting that God is looking for people that will worship God spiritually and truthfully.  Thus, God is testing people in order to find such people.  However, such an interpretation again seems to assume a deterministic connection between the people and the test outcome, such that the test says something about the person more generally, and not simply about the result of the test.  As such, it would seem to backfire on Dan's more generally commitment to indeterminism.

Dan continues:

And this helps answer the question of why God didn't create a world in which we only do good, or even the question of why God didn't create a world in which everyone gets saved. God wants a relationship with people who can choose to have a relationship with Him or not.

I don't find this theodicy very compelling for several reasons:

1) It seems clear that God has a perfect intra-Trinitarian relationship, despite the inability of God to do otherwise.

2) God likewise has a great relationship with the elect angels, apparently without such choice.

3) God plans to have a great relationship with the elect in heaven forever, without any further choice.

4) Even on compatibilism, men choose God.  However, that choice is because God first chose them.  To suggest that the "or not" is important to God does not seem supportable.

Dan then lists various "passages speaking of God testing or trying us."

Dan adds the following (Scripture texts abbreviated to the citations): 

One final closing thought - God does not tempt us; He tests us. The Devil tempts us but God is Holy and does not tempt us. (James 1:12-15). When we are tempted, God does not want us to fail; He provides us a way out. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Satan, however, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) So Christ warns us to watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation (Mark 14:38). Yet circumstantially, trials and temptations may have a lot in common. The key difference between trials and temptations is that the Devil wants you to fall, but God wants you to be able to say (Psalm 17:3-4)

There are a range of meanings to tempt or test, to be sure.  Likewise, there can be different purposes for the same tests.  Take Job, for example. God was revealing Job's heart. Arguably, the devil was trying to do the same thing, but with an opposite intent.  God wanted to reveal that Job loved God, but the devil wanted to reveal that Job only had a mercenary connection to God.  The test was the same, even at a high level, but the intent of the test was different.  The devil wanted to accuse Job, but God had a higher purpose in the testing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Philippians - a Problem for “the Church has Always been Catholic” Roman Catholicism

There are two problems, one major and one minor, for a certain stream of Roman Catholicism, in the first verse of Philippians.  There are different streams of Roman Catholicism.  One popular stream of Roman Catholicism tries to assert that "the Church has always been Roman Catholic."  Typically, they would just use "Catholic" but their meaning is that they think their church represents an unchanged version of Christianity.  That's not the only stream of Roman Catholic thought.  There are other Roman Catholic views that would recognize the papacy as a development, as something that didn't exist in the earliest days, but eventually developed.

The two problems are for the first stream.  First, here is the verses.

Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Notice that Paul is writing to the Christians at Philippi, an important Roman colony city.  This city has not just a single bishop in a monoepiscopate.  Instead, the city has plurality of bishops.  The monoepiscopacy was a very natural development (and we see it happening even in some Protestant churches), but it is a merely human tradition, not an apostolic tradition.

Likewise, notice that Timothy is the natural successor of Paul.  Timothy is not one of the apostles, but he appears in Philippians as Paul's co-author (Philippians 1:1) and messenger (Philippians 1:1), and Timothy also appears as Paul's co-worker in Romans (Romans 16:21) as Paul's messenger to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17 and 16:10), as a fellow preacher with Paul and Silvanus in Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:19), as Paul's messenger to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2) and from Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:6), as the recipient of two personal epistles of Paul (1 & 2 Timothy), and as the companion of the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:23), which is often ascribed to Paul.  Moreover, Timothy is co-author of 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:1), Colossians (Colossians 1:1), 1 Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:1), 2 Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 1:1), and Philemon (Philemon 1).  Who among the second generation of the church is more noted than Timothy? Certainly not the alleged successor of Peter at Rome, Linus or his alleged successor Anacletus/Cletus.

This is a less direct problem for Roman Catholicism, but it should give pause to folks who think that the Bible reflects an early "Roman Catholic" church.