Friday, April 02, 2010

Augustine Against Idolatry

Augustine, commenting on Psalm 75, wrote:
"For the cup in the hand of the Lord of pure wine is full of mixed" (ver. 8). Justly so. "And He hath poured out of this upon this man; nevertheless, the dreg thereof hath not been emptied; there shall drink all the sinners of earth." Let us be somewhat recruited; there is here some obscurity....The first question that meeteth us is this, "of pure wine it is full of mixed." How "of pure," if "of mixed"? But when he saith, "the cup in the hand of the Lord" (to men instructed in the Church of Christ I am speaking), ye ought not indeed to paint in your heart God as it were circumscribed with a human form, lest, though the temples are shut up, ye forge images in your hearts. This cup therefore doth signify something. We will find out this. But "in the hand of the Lord," is, in the power of the Lord. For the hand of God is spoken of for the power of God. For even in reference to men ofttimes is said, in hand he hath it: that is, in his power he hath it, when he chooseth he doth it. "Of pure wine it is full of mixed." In continuation he hath himself explained: "He hath inclined," he saith, "from this unto this man; nevertheless the dreg thereof hath not been emptied." Behold how it was full of mixed wine. Let it not therefore terrify you that it is both pure and mixed: pure because of the genuineness thereof, mixed because of the dreg. What then in that place is the wine, and what the dreg? And what is, "He hath inclined from this unto this man," in such sort that the dreg thereof was not emptied?
- Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, at Psalm 75:8 (Psalm 75, Section 10)

I'd like to draw the reader's attention to Augustine's particular expression, "ye ought not indeed to paint in your heart God as it were circumscribed with a human form, lest, though the temples are shut up, ye forge images in your hearts."

And again Augustine wrote:
"Their idols," he saith, "are silver and gold, even the work of men's hands" (ver. 4). That is, although we cannot display our God to your carnal eyes, whom ye ought to recognise through his works; yet be not seduced by your vain pretences, because ye can point with the finger to, the objects of your worship. For it were much worthier for you not to have what to point to, than that your hearts' blindness should be displayed in what is exhibited to these eyes by you: for what do ye exhibit, save gold and silver? They have indeed both bronze, and wood, and earthenware idols, and of different materials of this description; but the Holy Spirit preferred mentioning the more precious material, because when every man hath blushed for that which he sets more by, he is much more easily turned away from the worship of meaner objects. For it is said in another passage of Scripture concerning the worshippers of images, "Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth." But lest that man who speaketh thus not to a stone or stock, but to gold and silver, seem wiser to himself; let him look this way, let him turn hitherwards the ear of his heart: "The idols of the Gentiles are gold and silver." Nothing mean and contemptible is here mentioned: and indeed to that mind which is not earth, both gold and silver is earth, but more beautiful and brilliant, more solid and firm. Employ not then the hands of men, to create a false Deity out of that metal which a true God hath created; nay, a false man, whom thou mayest worship for a true God; one whom any man who should receive into his friendship as a true man, would be insane. For resemblance of figure, and the imitation of the limbs, hurrieth away the weak hearts of mortals with its degrading affection: but as thou shewest each member as it is constructed, so also shew the duties of each of those members, whose figure, O human vanity, doth attract thee.
- Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, Exposition 2 on Psalm 115, Section 1, at Psalm 115:4

While I encourage you to read the entire exposition (link to the entire exposition - please note that version of this particular Psalm has been subjected to significant redaction, which has been noted with elipses (...) but nevertheless omits much helpful content), notice here Augustine's arguments against images. In particular, note his argument "Employ not then the hands of men, to create a false Deity out of that metal which a true God hath created; nay, a false man, whom thou mayest worship for a true God; one whom any man who should receive into his friendship as a true man, would be insane." I am sure that those who wish to excuse their own idols will be quick to point out that Augustine's comments are directed against the pagan idols. That's very true. He is speaking about pagan idols. Yet you will read carefully and not find him defending images of Jesus as being different from these pagan idols.

Quite to the contrary, Augustine states, "That is, although we cannot display our God to your carnal eyes, whom ye ought to recognise through his works ... ." Augustine does not say, "we can display Jesus, who was God and man," but rather simply "we cannot display our God to your carnal eyes."

And again, we recognize that some will say that when they portray Jesus, they only portray his humanity, not his divinity. Yet will anyone think that Jesus' image is made on account of his humanity rather than on account of his divinity? Is not the very reason and purpose for the creation of the image and its use because it is acknowledged that Christ is the God-man and not a mere man?

Yet even if we were somehow persuaded that those who create such imagines really mean only to portray Jesus' humanity (somehow separated from his divinity without destroying the unity of his person), how shall we come to accept their practice of representing the Trinity itself in human form (by three-faced or three-headed grotesqueries), or even the Father alone in human form (as so famously found centrally within the Sistine chapel)?

Surely Augustine was glad not to see the day of such widespread idolatry. Had he seen it, we may rightly suppose he would have condemned it as he did the pagan idolatry, and for many of the same reasons.

For indeed Augustine condemned not only the pagans but in the Jews condemned the idolatry of the golden calf:
"And they made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the graven image" (ver. 19). "Thus they changed their glory, in the similitude of a calf that eateth hay" (ver. 20). He saith not "into" the likeness, but "in" the likeness. It is such a form of speech as where he said "and they believed in His words." With great effect in truth he saith not, they changed the glory of God when they did this; as the Apostle also saith, "They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man:" [Romans 1:23] but "their glory." For God was their glory, if they would abide His counsel, and hasten not; unto Whom is said, "Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of my head." [Psalm 3:3] That "their glory," that is, God, "they changed in the similitude of a calf that eateth hay," that they might be devoured by him, by whom those who are wise according to the flesh are devoured: for "all flesh is grass." [Isaiah 40:6]
- Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, Psalm 106, Section 19 (at vss. 19-20)

Let us, therefore, learn from their error and turn our eyes from idols to worship the true and living God in Spirit and in Truth.

As Augustine explained:
"Confounded be all they that worship carved images" (ver. 7). Hath not this come to pass? Have they not been confounded? Are they not daily confounded? For carved images are images wrought by the hand. Why are all who worship carved images confounded? Because all people have seen His glory. All nations now confess the glory of Christ: let those who worship stones be ashamed. Because those stones were dead, we have found a living Stone; indeed those stones never lived, so that they cannot be called even dead; but our Stone is living, and hath ever lived with the Father, and though He died for us, He revived, and liveth now, and death shall no more have dominion over Him. [Romans 6:9] This glory of His the nations have acknowledged; they leave the temples, they run to the Churches. "Confounded be all they that worship carved images." Do they still seek to worship carved images? Have they not chosen to forsake their idols? They have been forsaken by their idols. "Confounded be all they that worship carved images, who glory in their idols."
- Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, Psalm 97, Section 11, at Psalm 97:7 (read the whole exposition here)

- TurretinFan

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ergun Caner - Son of a Devout Muslim Father

Some new evidence regarding Ergun Caner's background has come to light (link to evidence). The evidence appears to confirm the central point of my previous discussion (here) namely that Ergun Caner is a real ex-Muslim, the son of a devout Muslim father. While I do invite folks to compare the new evidence above with Caner's own words (link to resources for this), the evidence points specifically to Ergun Caner's father being a sufficiently devout Muslim to fight in court to have his sons raised in the "Islamic faith."

While issues still remain regarding Ergun Caner's apparently embellished autobiography (as variously presented), I trust that this latest evidence will help serious Muslim opponents of Caner to drop their unwarranted allegations that Ergun Caner is a "fake ex-muslim."


Doug Wilson on Sola Fide

"I hold that a man is justified by the sole instrument of God-given faith, as that faith is placed by the grace of God in the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ alone, He who lived and died in our stead. I maintain that the only legitimate response that a creature may have toward His God, or any words that his God speaks, whether those words are promises, laws, threats, or comforting words, is a response of sheer, unadulterated faith — faith plus nothing else. I also hold that when the response to any of the words of God is something other than this kind of faith, then that response is legal, autonomous, prideful, and damnable." (source)

What is remarkably absent from this definition is any specific denial of justification by works.

Someone named SovereignLogos responded: "Does this mean that good works are not a legitimate response to God’s laws? Or have you redefined faith in such a way that obedient works = faith? You say “faith plus nothing else.” What other “else” could you have in mind?" (source)

Doug Wilson responded: "SL, we are still talking about justification, right? And even after justification, faith is the sole legitimate response to God’s laws. And of course such faith necessarily results in obedient works — works that are not motivated and driven by faith are actually disobedient works." (source)

I'm not sure what to make of this. I can't follow whether Doug Wilson knows the Reformed Shibboleths and is deliberately avoiding pronouncing them to needle the "Truly Reformed" crowd - or whether Doug Wilson is deliberately avoiding the specific question of justification by works because of some other reason - or whether Doug Wilson thinks he has addressed the issue fully with the wording he has provided.

Perhaps I'm in an overly generous mood, but unless Doug Wilson is defining "faith" in two different ways in his two comments, I don't see how folks think he doesn't at least profess to hold to sola fide.

Now, whether the Federal Vision stuff that he has been involved with is consistent with sola fide is a separate and important question. Nevertheless, we need to leave open the possibiltiy that Doug Wilson is simply being inconsistent by accepting those Federal Vision tenets that would contradict sola fide, given his seemingly strongly worded commitment to the doctrine above.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

John 6:44-45 - A Grammatical Note

One of the key texts on which Arminians and Calvinists disagree is John 6:44-45. That passage states:

John 6:44-45
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, καὶ ἐγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. ἔστι γεγραμμένον ἐν τοῖς προφήταις· καὶ ἔσονται πάντες διδακτοὶ Θεοῦ· πᾶς ὁ ἀκούσας παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μαθὼν ἔρχεται πρὸς με.
Calvinists assert that the same group is discussed throughout. That group is the elect. The group is the group that comes, that is drawn, that will be raised up, that is taught of God, and that hears and learns. Some Arminians disagree.

For example, some Arminians try to say that one group is "taught" but only a sub-group of that "hears" and "learns." This position is not necessarily the position of all Arminians. When Arminians argue this, however, there a clear grammatical answer.

The expression "taught of God" is expressed using a predicate adjective that we translate "taught" (διδακτοὶ) with the genitive form of God (Θεοῦ). The adjective διδακτοὶ, when referring to people, conveys that the people have received the educational effect of the teaching, much like "engraved" means that something has received the effect of the engraving, or "shattered" means that something has received the effect of the shattering.

Various forms of the word διδακτός are found in Scripture. When that word refers to things, it refers to the objects of instruction (the lessons) and when it refers to people it refers to the subjects of instruction (the students).

In the latter sense it seems to be more rarely used. In addition to this one instance in the New Testament, we find it similarly in the Greek translation of Isaiah 54:13 (διδακτοὺς θεοῦ) but also in a related form in 1 Maccabees:

1 Maccabees 4:7 (Apocrypha) And they saw the camp of the heathen, that it was strong and well harnessed, and compassed round about with horsemen; and these were expert of war.

That expression "Expert of war" is διδακτοὶ πολέμου. In the context of 1 Maccabees 4:7, it should be clear that the focus of the word is on the result in the heathen. The point isn't that they all went to boot camp, but rather that they all were expert (as the KJV puts it). The use of "of war" πολέμου may specifically suggest that these were veterans. Their expertise was forged in the fires of armed conflict.

Another instance and even more similar reference can be found in the ancient pseudepigraphic literature called the "Psalms of Solomon":

Psalms of Solomon 17:32 (Pseudepigrapha) And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all will be holy, and their king will be the Lord Messiah. (translation by Robert B. Wright)[FN1]

Again it should be clear from the immediate context that the idea is not simply that the king was at a school, but that he was actually educated. There is no question about whether he heard and learned, but rather it is given as a result. He did not just sit under teaching, he is taught.

Finally, let's consider the context of the usage in Isaiah 54:13. Brenton's translation of the Septuagint provides the following context:

Isaiah 54:11-17
11 Afflicted and outcast thou has not been comforted: behold, I will prepare carbuncle for thy stones, and sapphire for thy foundations; 12 and I will make thy buttresses jasper, and thy gates crystal, and thy border precious stones. 13 And I will cause all thy sons to be taught of God, and thy children to be in great peace. 14 And thou shalt be built in righteousness: abstain from injustice, and thou shalt not fear; and trembling shall not come nigh thee. 15 Behold, strangers shall come to thee by me, and shall sojourn with thee, and shall run to thee for refuge. 16 Behold, I have created thee, not as the coppersmith blowing coals, and bringing out a vessel fit for work; but I have created thee, not for ruin, that I should destroy thee. 17 I will not suffer any weapon formed against thee to prosper; and every voice that shall rise up against tee for judgment, thou shalt vanquish them all; and thine adversaries shall be condemned thereby. There is an inheritance to them that serve the Lord, and ye shall be righteous before me, saith the Lord.
Notice that the discussion in Isaiah 54:11-17 with respect to the people of God is essentially monergistic. The point in the passage are the good things that God is going to do to his people. The KJV translation of the Hebrew text provides the same context:

Isaiah 54:11-17
11 O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. 12 And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. 13 And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children. 14 In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee. 15 Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake. 16 Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. 17 No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.
Notice that God is the one making the foundations from sapphires, the windows out of agates, the gates out of carbuncles (red stones), and their borders from other precious stones. The point is not just that the children will have access to a good education, but rather that they will get the education - they will be taught. We can tell this because it is nestled between the comments about building and the comment that these God-taught children will have great peace. God will establish them and give them freedom from oppression. The only human actions are the actions of their enemies, actions that God will render fruitless.

Applying this understanding of the infrequently used word διδακτός to John 6:44-45, we see that it is mistaken to act as though "taught of God" is a broad category of which "hear and learn" are subsets. It is wrong to try to suggest that there are some people who are taught of God but who do not hear and learn.

Instead, the correct way to understand "taught" as being in parallel to "heard and learn." They are two ways of talking about the same group. Those who are God-instructed are the same ones who hear and learn. Everyone who is taught by God (i.e. who hears and learns) comes to God (vs. 45), and only those come (vs. 44). This is similar to the discussion later in the chapter in which Jesus explains that everyone who eats of him will have eternal life (vs. 54) and only those (vs. 53).

This helps us to understand that Jesus' discussion is about the elect specifically. That is to say, Jesus is explaining that the elect and only the elect come to the Father because the elect and only the elect are drawn of the Father, that is they are taught of God. Consequently the elect and only the elect ultimately believe savingly on the Lord Jesus Christ.

This fits within the immediate context. Jesus is responding to their disbelief about his claim to have come down from heaven. Jesus is explaining the reason for their disbelief. The point of Jesus' response is that the Father hasn't drawn them, he hasn't taught them. They haven't heard and learned from him. This fits quite well within a Calvinistic soteriology.

It doesn't fit well within a view of Universal Prevenient Grace (UPG) and Libertarian Free Will (LFW). In such a view everyone absolutely (each and every person who has or will ever live) is given sufficient grace to believe. Then they exercise their free will either to believe or not believe. If that were the case, Jesus' words wouldn't make much sense. The reason wouldn't be that God hasn't drawn the people, or that they haven't been taught of God. Perhaps one could try to seize on the terms "heard" and "learned" (since in some cases those terms can have more proactive senses - though there is no reason to impose such a meaning here). Nevertheless, the rest of Jesus' explanation for why the people shouldn't murmur would not make sense.

Thus, while the passage may not specifically use words like "election" or "predestination" the passage is a very Calvinistic passage. It helps us see that what makes the difference between faith and unbelief is not human free will, but rather is the drawing and power of God.

- TurretinFan

FN1: Wright's is probably the leading translation of the text. However, there are a number of other translations available, which I've collected below. There is some question about when the text was originally written (the consensus seems to place it in the late intertestamental period). The original language of the text may have been Hebrew, but the text did not survive in Hebrew. The title of this work is found in what amounts to the table of contents of Codex Alexandrinus, although the text of the work is missing from the existing copy of the codex. Readers of this blog will be pleased to note, incidentally, that Athanasius' letter to Marcellinus (which we discussed earlier) was included as a preface to the books of Psalms in that codex.

Here are some alternative English translations of the verse in question:

NETS: And he shall be a righteous king, taught by God, over them, and there shall be no injustice in his days in their midst, for all shall be holy, and their king the anointed of the Lord.

G. Buchanan Gray: (32) And he (shall be) a righteous king, taught of God, over them, 36 And there shall be no unrighteousness in his days in their midst, For all shall be holy and their king the anointed of the Lord.

Heerak Christian Kim translates it: And this righteous king, taught by God, shall be over them. 36 And there is not injustice in his days in the midst of them, because all are holy, and their king is the annointed of the Lord.