Monday, July 19, 2004

The gospel of grace-2

12.Contrastive over neutral statements. Calvinists argue for special redemption by appealing to verses in which Christ is said to have died for a subset of humanity. Arminians counter this appeal by pointing out that if Christ died for everyone, then this breaks down into various subsets of humanity. Likewise, Classical Christian theists argue for the immutability of God by appeal to verses that represent God in immutable terms. Contrariwise, process theologians counter this appeal by quoting verses that represent God in mutable terms. As long as the debate remains at this level, it results in an impasse. However, this way of casting the alternatives is misleading:
i) Calvinists don’t simply quote verses in which Christ is said to have died for a subset of humanity. They also quote from verses in which Christ is said to have died for group A as over against group B: Christ lays down his life for the sheep to the exclusion of the goats (Jn 10:11, 26); Christ dies for those who have been called or consecrated (Heb 9:15; 10:14), in implicit contrast to those who were never called or consecrated; Christ dies for his own people who are in the world (Jn 13:1), which distances oi idioi from kosmoß—especially when compared with the antithetical parallel in 15:19 ("the world loves its own"); Christ dies for a divine Diaspora (Jn 11:52)—which sets up a part/whole contrast.
ii) This contrast is accentuated by the causal order in Jn 11:26. Christ does not say, as we might have expected, that the Jews are not his sheep because they don’t believe, but the reverse: they don’t believe because they are not his sheep—meaning that they were never given to Jesus by the Father (cf. Jn 6:37a; 17:2ff.). Christ lays down his life for the flock (=the elect); his death does not constitute the flock but presupposes it. Faith is not a precondition of membership; rather, membership is a precondition of faith. Belonging to the flock is the prerequisite for faith and redemption alike. Put another way, the Father’s work in election is the foundation for the Son’s work in redemption and the Spirit’s work in regeneration.
iii) Scripture does not present us with two formally parallel sets of passages where one set affirms divine immutability and the other divine mutability. Rather, those that represent God in mutable terms offer no further frame of reference, whereas those that represent God as immutable set that attribute in antithetical contrast to mundane and human affairs as a defining trait of divinity (e.g. Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Ps 102: 24-27; Jas 1:17). So this automatically supplies a harmonistic point of reference by making the mutable predications relative to the immutable predications, and not vice versa. Furthermore, it is easy to see why a timeless God would express himself in dynamic terms when addressing temporal creatures, whereas it is difficult to see why a temporal God would express himself in static terms when addressing temporal creatures. So there is a logical asymmetry between these two proposed lines of harmonization.

13.Usage over etymology. Quite a number of writers, both Arminian and Reformed, operate from the assumption that the verbs yada and proegnv have a primary or basic meaning (e.g. Gen 18:19; Num 16:5; Amos 3:2; Acts 2:23; Rom 8:29; 11:2 1 Pet 1:20). Arminians leave it at that while some Calvinists treat the elective sense as a secondary sense. When I read the literature, there is a good deal of confusion over the semantic criteria for fixing the primary import. The proposed criteria run as follows:
a) common meaning: the most commonly attested sense.
b) common canonical meaning: the most commonly attested sense in the canon.
c) literal meaning: the concrete or representational sense.
d) compound meaning: adding the sense of the prefix to the sense of the root word.
e) native meaning: what native Greeks meant by the word.
f) etymological meaning: what the word meant in its earliest attested usage.
g) basal meaning: a semantic substratum that carries through all secondary connotations.
(h) extensional meaning: locating the sense in its referent(s).

There are two defects in this analysis:
i) There is potential conflict between the proposed criteria. For example, what is to prevent the most common meaning (a) from being abstract rather than concrete (c)?
ii) More serious is that all of the proposed criteria are semantic fallacies:
a) Frequency of usage does not prejudice the sense in any particular occurrence. The verb yada normally means "to know," but in 10-15 cases it denotes sexual relations. According to (a), we could never establish a rare or specialized meaning for a word. Moreover, we’re in no position to know what was the most common meaning of a Greek word, for the most common meaning of a given word was probably represented by the spoken rather than written word, which is largely lost to us.
b) The frequency of usage outside the Bible, especially in the case of religious nomenclature, is not a reliable predictor of its import in Scriptural parlance. A number of Pauline words are verging on technical terms (e.g. eklektoß, eyanggelion, kalev, kerygma, kosmoß, mysterion, nomoß, pneymatikoß, sarj, sozv, xariß, typoß).
c-d) These criteria are related. It is the stereotypical blunder of the foreign speaker to take expressions at face-value because he is unacquainted with the idioms of the second language. Take an expression like "shootin’ the bull." Again, are we to suppose that Aristotle couldn’t tell the difference between an African pachyderm (=ippoß o potamioß) and an Arabian stallion (HA 502a.9)?
e-f) These criteria are also related. The meaning of a word is a matter of social convention. Words have no intrinsic meaning. The relation between word and object is conventional. Latin derivatives have acquired a different meaning in English usage than in the original. It is the usage contemporaneous with the writer that is usually operative and not archaic usage, unless an author is being self-consciously literary.
g) The idea that a word has a basal sense that is always operative, so that any semantic variation must build on that basal sense, strikes me wooden conception of how a natural language works—as if we were grafting on successive semantic layers. Words can have secondary connotations inasmuch as they may carry emotive overtones or possess allusive power, but a word does not have a primary and a secondary sense; if a word has more than one sense, then when one meaning is in play the other meaning(s) is dormant (except in the case of a deliberate double entendre). The elective sense of yada no more means "to know-cum-favor" than the sexual sense of yada means "to know-cum-copulation." The elective sense simply means "to choose," just as the sexual sense simply means "to have intimate relations with." In neither case is the special sense of the word an intensification of the noetic sense. Let’s take an example from English. In the sentence, "there was a run on the bank," the meaning of the verb is not a semantic construct of "rapid bipedal motion-cum-mass financial withdrawals." In elective settings, yada or proegnv doesn’t have a pregnant sense; it has a possessive sense, plain and simple.
h) Although "to know," "to choose," or "to copulate" imply a relation, that relation is not built into the meaning of the word in the sense of what concrete referent it takes in any given sentence. In the nature of the case, transitive verbs take an object, but a verb is not defined by its object. This should be obvious since a given verb can take a variety of objects. So we must preserve the distinction between intension and extension, denotation and denota.

14. Authorial over comparative usage. Arminians appeal to Heb 6:4-6 and 10:26-29 to overthrow the doctrine of perseverance. This appeal is conditioned by Johannine or Pauline usage. But that is a methodological error. Interpreting an author of Scripture is a concentric process—working our way outward from the immediate writing under consideration to other writings by the same author, and then to other writings by other authors. Especially in the case of deep thinkers like Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews, each has a distinctive way of conceptualizing his belief-system. It is illicit to automatically bring Johannine or Pauline categories to bear on the interpretation of Hebrews:
i) The first step taken by Arminians is already a misstep. And that is because they jump into the middle of the letter (6:4-6). But in order to understand this passage we must go back to where the author introduces the apostasy motif. Because the author is addressing Messianic Jews who are tempted to revert to Judaism, he draws a parallel between NT apostasy and OT apostasy. This comparison is introduced in the first of five apostasy passages (2:1-4). Then in 3:6-4:13 he elaborates on the character of the OT apostates. By the way in which our author structures his own argument, therefore, this precedent is paradigmatic for the case of NT apostasy. And his remarks in 6:4-6 will allude to this passage. If there were a radical discontinuity of religious experience between Old and NT apostates, our author’s analogy would break down at the critical point of comparison.
ii) What does the author mean by having a share in the Holy Spirit (6:4)? Before we can attempt a specific answer we must first ask about the general contours of our author’s pneumatology. He doesn’t have much to say on this subject, but what he does tell us is confined to the external rather than internal work of the Spirit (2:4; 3:7; 9:8; 10:15). There is a possible reference to his agency in the Resurrection (9:14). So this does not equate with regeneration—which is a Johannine category, although the Pauline category of calling covers some of the same ground as the Johannine. The point, rather, is that both the Old and NT apostates had a share in the ministry of the Spirit by virtue of his agency in the inspiration of Scripture. More precisely, both groups had been evangelized (4:2,6).
iii) The author takes the rebellion at Kadesh as his test case (Num 14 via Ps 95). Having tasted the "goodness of God’s word" (6:5) echoes the experience of the OT apostates (4,2,6,12; cf. Num 14:43). Tasting the "powers of the coming age" has immediate reference to the sign-gifts (2:4), but this experience also has its OT analogue (Num 14:11,22). I.H. Marshall claims that "when Christ is said to have tasted death (Heb 2:9), there is no suggestion that he got off lightly with a mere taste and nothing more; rather, he experience this bitter taste to the full," Kept By the Power of God (Bethany, 1969), 142.
This statement is true but misleading inasmuch as it implies that the meaning of a verb varies with its object. It is a semantic fallacy to argue that the import of a verb is defined by the object it takes. Does geyomai have a humble human import in Jn 2:9, but take on a divine import in Mt 27:33? This confuses intension with extension (see under point #11). Along similar lines, W. Lane claims that the verb "is appropriate to an experience that is real and personal," WBC 47A (Word, 1991), 141.
This statement suffers from a couple of flaws:
a) What is an "appropriate" object of the verb is not a way of defining the verb. Judas Iscariot is an appropriate object of the verb "to betray," but the verb "to betray" doesn’t mean "Judas Iscariot."
b) In the nature of the case, any kind of experience will be real and personal. Dreams and delusions are real, personal experiences. So this proves everything and nothing.
iv) Arminian authors invest a lot of capital in the use of the verb fvtizv (6:4). Drawing on the parallel passage in 10:32, Scot McNight argues that this verb denotes conversion, "The Warning Passages in Hebrews," TrinJ 13 (1992), 45-56. Lane is guilty of the same circular reasoning when he defines the verb in terms of "saving illumination" of heart and mind by appeal to 10:32 (ibid.,141).

This is a valid inference, but does not advance his case against Calvinism, for if 6:4 is ambiguous, taken by itself, that same ambiguity will attach to the parallel. The question is whether the verb denotes conversion in the dogmatic sense. William Lane goes so far as to claim that,
"In the NT the term is used metaphorically to refer to a spiritual or intellectual illumination that removes ignorance through the action of God or the preaching of the gospel (cf. John 1:9; Col 4:6; Eph 1:18; 2 Tim 1:10; Rev 18:1). What is signified is not simply instruction for salvation but renewal of the mind and of life," ibid., 141.
There are two problems with this analysis:
a) evangelization and the action of God are two distinct concepts. While the action of God implies spiritual renewal, evangelization does not. So finding verses that connect illumination and kerygma do not support the stronger thesis.
b) When we run through his citations, they fail to bear out his contention. The interpretation of Jn 1:9 is contested. In context, though, it has reference, not to inner illumination, but the revelation of Christ via his advent. The two Pauline passages (Col 4:6 is a misprint for 1 Cor 4:5) may well have reference to spiritual renewal. However, we must register a couple of caveats: (a) even in Pauline usage, it doesn’t follow that the verb is a technical term for conversion. Lane is confusing intension with extension by illicitly deriving this concept from the larger context, and not from the word itself; (b) there is no reason to assume that Paul’s usage is normative for the author of Hebrews. Lane himself admits a discontinuity between their respective conceptual schemes, viz., The author of Hebrews "moves confidently within the conceptual world of cultic concerns centering in the priesthood and sacrifice. Many of the emphases of Hebrews are alien to those of Paul," ibid., xiix.
The appeal to 2 Tim 1:12 suffers from two problems:
(a) The fact that evangelization is in view doesn’t mean that the verb signifies evangelization. Once again, Lane is confusing sense and reference by importing the context back into the word. The time is past due for NT scholars to master this elementary distinction. It goes back to Frege and was popularized by Barr.
In Frege’s classic illustration, "the Morning Star" and "the Evening Star" share the same referent (the planet Venus), but they don’t share the same sense inasmuch as they denote different phases of the planet. Barr generalized this distinction in terms of his "illegitimate totality transfer" fallacy. Cf. The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford, 1961). While I’m sure that Arminian scholars have read the book, they have failed to absorb its bearing on traditional Arminian arguments.
(b) The preaching of the gospel is not the same thing as inner illumination. Finally, Rev 1:18 refers to the radiance of an angel, and as such, does not denote either subjective renewal or objective revelation.
v) It is lopsided to center our analysis of Hebrews on the apostasy motif when, in fact, the letter pivots on the dual theme of threat and assurance. Moreover, the author rounds out his dire warnings on an optimistic note (cf. 6:9ff.; 10:30,39). Furthermore, the author accentuates the efficacy of Christ’s atonement and intercession (4:14; 7:16,24-28; 8:6; 9:12,14-15,26-28; 10:12-18,22) in express contrast to the inadequacies and insecurities of the OT system (5:2-3; 7:18-29,27-28; 9:9-10,13; 10:1-4,11). The reason that a member of the Old Covenant community could apostatize was due to the liability of an evil heart (3:8,12; 7:18), whereas the New Covenant rests on the better promise of a new heart (8:10,12; 10:16).
15. Original over dogmatic usage. Arminians appeal to certain expressions in Scripture to challenge Reformed theology: grace is resistible (Mt 23:37; Lk 7:31; Acts 7:51; 2 Cor 6:1; Gal 2:21; 5:4; Heb 12:15; cf. Heb 6:2,6; Rev 2:21); apostates are "sanctified" (Heb 10:29); false prophets are "bought" (2 Pet 2:1). This calls for a couple of lines of response:
i) By way of general reply, it rests on a semantic fallacy by reading dogmatic usage back into the original. When Reformed theology uses terms like "grace," "repentance," "sanctification," and "redemption," each of these is a technical term that designates a theological construct. Since such a construct is not based on a particular word-group in Scripture, dogmatic usage does not coincide with Biblical usage. Dogmatic usage aims at semantic fixity and pregnancy. Except in the case of specialized usage, such as stereotypical cultic nomenclature, Biblical usage isn’t uniform and doesn’t signify a theological construct.
A word is like a chess piece. Its value is relative to its position on the board and relation to the remaining pieces. Likewise, the semantic contribution made by a given word to the overall import of the passage is relative to its verbal companions as they jointly generate the larger sense of the passage. We can’t extract an entire doctrine from an isolate word, unless it has acquired the status of a technical term—and even then we would need a prior knowledge of the doctrine.
William Klein is as good an example as any. He has no feel for the flow of an argument. Instead he simply yanks out bleeding verses based on the presence of a key word and then drops them in separate slots: Rom 8:28 (foreknowledge); 8:29-30 (predestination); 8:30 (vocation); 8:33 (election); 9:11-13 (appointment); 9:15,18-19 (purpose); 9:17,21 (appointment); 9:23 (predestination); 9:24 (purpose); 9:28 (vocation); 11:2 (foreknowledge); 11:6-7 (election); 11:29 (vocation). Now if you smash an argumentative block into a pile of rubble and grind the rubble into granular phonemes, you can quickly dismantle a theological construct. If we were to pound, pulverize and pan Klein’s book in the same way, his own thesis would dissolve into nothingness—though in that case the loss would not be inconsolable.
ii) On Heb 6:2,6, it is a mistake to read into the word "repentance" the full payload of later dogmatic reflection. (e.g., The Westminster Confession 15:1-2). To begin with, the author of Hebrews doesn’t care to delve into the psychological dynamics of conversion. Moreover, it is evident from his usage elsewhere (12:17) that he doesn’t use the word as a technical term for Christian conversion. The Reformed doctrine of repentance as an evangelical grace is influenced by those occurrences where the word is used in an evangelical context, with God as the efficient agent (e.g. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25).
iii) On Rev 2:21, it should be obvious that this doesn’t denote evangelical repentance, for that refers back to the grace of conversion, whereas Rev 2:21 isn’t addressing a new or prospective convert. The theme of God’s longsufferance towards stiff-necked Israel is a commonplace in the Prophets. This forbearance is double-edged inasmuch as it has a judicial as well as merciful aspect (blessing and bane), for failure to heed these forewarnings is an aggravating circumstance (Rev 6:10; cf. Rom 2:4-5).
iv) On 2 Pet 2:1, two points must be made:
a) When Calvinists speak of the redemptive death of Christ, they are defining this in terms of penal substitution. The Arminian, however, does not define the atonement in terms of a literal ransom price. As Grider notes,
"Many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism, which teaches instead that Christ suffered for us...God the Father would not be forgiving us at all if his justice was satisfied by the real thing that justice needs: punishment," "Arminianism," Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, W. Elwell, ed., (Baker, 1984), 80-81.

When, therefore, Arminians appeal to 2 Pet 2:1 and other such passages to prove an unlimited atonement as over against a limited atonement, they are talking at cross-purposes with the Calvinist. Arminians don’t believe that Christ redeemed anyone in terms of a ransom-price. So this appeal falters on a fallacious equivocation of terms.
(b) Peter compares NT false prophets with OT false prophets like Balaam (2:15; cf. Jude 11). And in 2:1, he employs a term evocative of OT usage (e.g. Deut 32:6; 2 Sam 7:23). This is not a stereotypical term for Christian redemption—note, moreover, the absence of any qualifier denoting a random-price, such as blood (cf. Rev 5:9)—and so we should not invest it with a distinctively Christian import. Peter may be drawing on these OT associations because the false teachers were Hellenistic Jews. Cf. R. Bauckham, WBC 50 (Word, 1983), 156.Regarding the depth of their religious experience, Peter does not go beyond stating that they had been evangelized (2:20-21).
v) On Heb 10:29, it is anachronistic to construe "sanctify" as it has come to be used in systematic theology. The author tells us that the apostate was sanctified by blood of Christ rather than action of the Spirit. That automatically removes it from the dogmatic category. His usage is figurative and consciously cultic (9:13,20; cf. Exod 29:21; Lev 16:19, LXX). It is concerned with a status rather than a process. By taking it to mean what it would normally mean in Pauline theology, the Arminian is confounding different universes of discourse. It is also possible that the verb takes the "covenant. Cf. P. Ellingworth, NIGTC (Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1993), 541. On this construction, the blood "sanctifies" the covenant, not the apostate.

16. Necessary over possible inference. Arminians appeal to passages like Mt 24:13 and Rev 3:5 to prove that election is conditional or reversible. It must be kept in mind that this is at most a possible rather than necessary inference— taking the verses in isolation. And this must be set over against other verses which imply that election is unconditional and irreversible (Mt 24:24; Rev 13:8; 17:8). Moreover, it is hard to see how the inference drawn from Mt 24:13 and Rev 3:5 is on an equal footing with the inference drawn from Mt 24:24 and Rev 13:8 & 17:8. Mt 24:24 expressly frames the apostasy of the elect as a counterfactual proposition rather than a live possibility, while Rev 13:8 and 17:8 can only be relativized on pain of denying divine omniscience. Furthermore, the doctrine of perseverance is heavily attested in Scripture, both by direct assertion and necessary inference (e.g. Mt 18:14; 24;24; Jn 6:35-37,39-40, 47,54; 10:28-29; 17:11-12,15; Rom 8:1,28-39; 11:29; 1 Cor 1:8-9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Eph 1:13-14; Phil 1:6; 1 Thes 5:23-24; 2 Thes 3:3-5; 1 Pet 1:3-5,23; 1 Jn 2:19; 3:9; 5:4,18).
A major case is the Arminian assumption that a universal offer of the gospel is incompatible with Calvinism (e.g. Deut 30:19; Isa 45:21f. Ezk 18:23,32; 33:1; Mt 11:28; 28:19; Jn 6:51; 7:37; 12:32; Acts 17:30; Rev 22:27). But although this is a possible inference, it is hardly compelling:
i) The implied comparison rests on an equivocation, for there is an asymmetry between election/redemption/regeneration and the gospel invitation. The former represents the unilateral or unmediated work of God whereas the latter is mediated by the evangelist. Since God has not tagged the elect and reprobate for the benefit of the evangelist, the preaching of the gospel is addressed in general terms. So this comes down to the difference between an agent who is omnipotent and omniscient, and one who is not. There is no direct point of conflict.
ii) From what I can see, the only prerequisite for a good faith offer is that whoever complies with its terms should receive what was advertised. The gospel invitation is a conditional offer—contingent on the exercise of faith and repentance. Since when must an offer be judged genuine on condition that its conditions are not satisfied? Have you ever heard anything half as perverse?
It may be objected that when this condition cannot be met due to spiritual inability, the invitation is reduced to a cruel mockery. All I can say is that this represents a twisted sense of moral priorities. Suppose a florist advertises a Mother’s Day special or Valentine’s Day special. Is his offer disingenuous because a misogynist would be constitutionally incapable of taking him up on the offer? Couldn’t he foresee this eventuality? So who is to blame, the florist or the misogynist? I’ll leave it to the reader to judge.
iii) An offer is genuine as long as the provision is sufficient to meet the demand. A florist is not guilty of deceptive advertising because he doesn’t have enough roses in stock to supply every Valentine in the whole wide world.
iv) Even on its own grounds, which is more sincere? To present an offer without any assurance that anyone will benefit from the offer? Or to present an offer in the assurance that it is bound to benefit someone? In what sense is an aimless, ineffectual gesture of good will a bona fide offer?
v) Since the so-called universal offer of the gospel is obviously not universal in time and place, the Arminian has to be willfully obtuse to construe it without qualification. Billions of people have lived and died outside the pale of the gospel.
vi) Appeal to OT passages is inapposite since these were addressed to Israel, which typifies the church rather than the world.
vii)The context of Jn 12:32 has reference to the Gentiles (cf. v20f.).
viii) Arminians often charge that Calvinism is unpreachable. However, we have inspired examples of evangelistic preaching in Acts and elsewhere. Yet the Apostles never say, "Christ died for you," "God can’t make you believe against your will." Since the offer is conditional, the evangelist can spell out the conditions (faith and repentance). He can paint a picture of the human condition. He can stress the means of grace.
viii) Both Jesus and Paul inform us that the primary target of their preaching was the elect (Mt 11:25-25; 13:11-15; 2 Tim 2:10).
ix) At a deeper level we must ask, What does a well-meant offer mean? Is it only evangelistic in thrust? The atonement presents a double-edged aspect. It is not merely a means of salvation but also an instrument of condemnation by exposing the inexcusable character of unbelief and even aggravating the guilt of the unbeliever (Jn 9:39; 12:37-40; 15:22). The atonement is a polarizing event (Lk 12:51f. Jn 3:19-21; 6:60-71). Christ was destined for the downfall of many (Lk 2:34). The reprobate were set up for the fall (1 Pet 2:8), while Christ was set out to trip them up (2:6f.). God will display the folly of the proud through the stumbling block of Calvary (1 Cor 1:18-29; 2:6-8).
There is OT precedent for this as well insofar as the preaching of the Prophets was an appointed means of intensifying the guilt of stiff-necked Israel (e.g. Jer 7:16; 11:14; 18:11-12; Ezk 2:3-7; Isa 63:17). To the elect, then, the invitation is a well-meant offer, but to the reprobate it is an ill-meant offer. I’m sure that point #10 would rub some readers the wrong way, but its exegetical warrant is right there in black and white. In Scripture rubs me the wrong way, that must mean that I’m facing away from Scripture.

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