Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Holding the line on Holding-2

11. Quote: 'The negation idiom emerges from the Hebrew word lo, which transliterates as "not." On this matter, the principal study has been done by Whitney [Whit. Jer 7:22, 152], who describes the usage of lo in Jer. 7:22 as "a form hyperbolic verbal irony intended to intensify the contrast between what is present in the mind of the audience and what ought to be present." Whitney shows this idiomatic usage of lo elsewhere in the OT: Gen. 45:7-8, Ex. 16:8, 1 Sam. 8:7, 1 Sam. 20:14-15, Job 2:10, Jer. 16:14-15, Ezk 16:47 and Hos 6:6. His conclusion agrees with that of Feinberg [Fein. CommJer, 75]:

...The negative in Hebrew often supplies the lack of the comparative -- i.e., without excluding the thing denied, the statement implies only the prior importance of the things set in contrast to it.

Likewise, Laymon [Laym. IntB, 380]:

Hebrew idiom allows the denial of one thing in order to assert another, and the intention here is not wholly to deny but only to relegate to second place.

We therefore conclude with these scholars that Jer. 7:22 is in no way at odds with the Pentateuch. [X]'s case for disharmony is based upon his inability and/or refusal to grasp the passage in its socio-linguistic context, and it therefore fails to hold up under scrutiny.

And thus we now pose the Calvinists another question: Is there any reason why the "not" in Romans 9:16 (as well as in a similar passage, John 1:12-13) should not be read in the same sense as the "not" in Jer. 7:22 -- as a negation idiom, not excluding the thing denied, but rather, stressing the prior importance of God's sovereignty in contrast? Given the Hebraic background, I think the burden is upon those who would read "not" absolutely rather than otherwise.'

i) John and Romans were not written in Hebrew to Hebrew-speaking Jews. The linguistic culture of 1C Jews is not all of a piece. According to Angel Saenz-Badillos, in A History of the Hebrew Language (Cambridge 1996), Greek was the lingua franca, while Hebrews was spoken by Judean Jews and Aramaic by Galilean Jews.

And what does Holding identify as the linguistic community of Hellenistic Jews like St. Stephen or the author of Hebrews?

ii) In this general connection, many of the ancients were multi-lingual. Are we to suppose that everyone whom Abraham came into contact with, in his far-flung travels, spoke the mother-tongue of Ur. Moses was at least bilingual (Hebrew, Egyptian), and his royal education may well have trained him in languages of the Levant and Mesopotamia. Did Solomon, the most cosmopolitan of kings, speak only one language? Paul was at least trilingual (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic).

You cannot acquire any conversational fluency if you are consciously translating from your mother-tongue to a second-language. There comes a point when you are no longer thinking in your native language. Kids from one linguistic community who play with kids from another linguistic community quickly pick up an idiomatic command of the second language.

For that matter, why assume that Jewish kids only heard one language at home? Because of interracial marriage, or polygamy, or because one or both parents were educated, or because of house-servants and house-guests, tutors, nurse-maids and field hands, kids could be exposed to more than one tongue from the cradle.

iii) Holding's thesis is self-refuting. If it's impossible for one linguistic community to get inside the mind of another linguistic community, then it is impossible for Holding to get inside the 'block-logic' of a 1C Jew.

iv) To invoke a Hebrew idiom does not discharge Holding of responsibility for showing if and how that idiom figures in any particular passage of Scripture. I'm sure, for example, that an antinomian would love to convert all the negations in the Decalogue to affirmations (you shall lie, you shall steal, you shall murder, you shall philander...).

Suppose we converted all the negations in Rom 1-3 into affirmations: no one is sinless=everyone is sinless.

12. Quote: 'In that light I am waiting for an explanation of how receiving grace somehow equates with "deserving" it. '

This varies with the theological system. In Roman Catholicism you have the category of congruent merit. In fact, this comes close to Holding's stated position: 'Sproul's observation that "if grace is obligated it no longer becomes grace" becomes essentially of no relevance once we are beyond the first round of "gracing."'

13. Quote: 'And a point I have yet to see explained as well is how making a decision qualifies as a "work." The Jews were forbidden to work on the Sabbath; did this prohibit them from thinking or making a decision? Is there any evidence that the Greek word behind "works" (ergon) ever refers to a thought or a decision? It is my earnest wish that an enterprising Calvinist will step to the plate and answer this question, for it seems to me that this is a flawed premise upon which the Calvinistic case rests.'

For starters, try Gal 5:19-21, where works of the flesh include a variety of iniquitous mental acts.

14. Quote: 'Our conclusion, such as can be reached prior to any possible answer to questions offered above, is that the U in TULIP is not grounded as much in Scripture as it is in Western philosophical assumptions and thought-forms being applied to Scripture.'

Isn't that exactly what Holding does when he glosses election in terms of Molinism and Rom 9 in terms of Aristotelian primary causality?

15. Quote: 'To speak of God doing A "because" of B implies a chain of causality that would be impossible for a being who transcends time ... indeed such would again be impossible for a timeless being, since a linear or logical order requires the passage of time to exist and be enacted.'

i) A logical order is an abstract object, not a concrete, spatiotemporal object.

ii) When God decrees the configuration of the world, he decrees ends-means relations, for causal-chains do exist in the natural world.

16. Quote: 'My question for Calvinists in this context would be, does it deny the sovereignty of God, His freedom to do as He pleases, to say that at times He may accomplish what He pleases through the most minimal of actions, and then allows what follows to take its natural course, because it likewise suits His purpose and will to do so? If so, how does this denigrate Him?'

This is a trick question. If God could accomplish his purpose by merely setting up the initial conditions, then that would not detract from his sovereignty. But this assumes the very answer at issue. You might as well ask if a painter can paint part of the canvass, then let the canvass fill in the gaps. A painting doesn't paint itself. Holding has no doctrine of creation. If a painter leaves the canvass half-finished, it stays half-finished.

17. Quote: 'Our commentary on irresistible grace is derived from what you might suppose to be an unlikely source -- David deSilva's Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity. deSilva shows quite clearly that the relationship between God and men is described in the NT in terms of an ancient client-patron relationship. What this means simply is that rich people give gifts and favor to the poor. God is the rich one (hence phrases referring to the "riches of his glory" [Rom. 9:23] have more meaning than we realize) and we are the poor folk.

Readers may find more details on this social system in deSilva's book, but for us the key is that the specific term at issue, grace, carried within the context of the client-patron relationship a certain meaning that is antithetical to Calvinist doctrine.

Consider these points [deSilva, 104ff]. The word grace was used "to refer to the willingness of a patron to grant some benefit to another person or group." Aristotle defined grace as "helpfulness toward someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped." So far, nothing unusual. Grace, all agree, is God's free gift. But there is more. "Grace" can also be used "of the response to a benefactor and his or her gifts, namely, 'gratitude'..." And this reveals a key point: one of the chief morals of this day was that "grace must be met with grace; favor must always give birth to favor; gift must always be met with gratitude." What this shows us is that, first of all and on a different topic, that of the relation of faith and works, our good behavior is an expected result of grace and not required for it. Second, related to our topic at hand, "there is no such thing as an isolated act of grace. An act of favor and its manifestation (the gift) initiate a circle dance in which the recipients of favor and its manifestations must 'return the favor,' that is, give again to the giver...To fail to return favor for favor is, in effect, to break off the dance and destroy the beauty of the gracious act." [106] Finally: "Neglecting to return a kindness, forgetfulness of kindnesses already received in the past, and, most horrendous of all, repaying favor with insult or injury -- these were courses of action to be avoided by an honorable person at all costs." [111]

From these insights it seems more likely that the paradigm of prevenient grace fits much better what the ancients would have understood to be the nature of the relationship between God and man. God gives grace; man responds -- if favorably, more grace is bestowed; if unfavorably, less is received. And therefore, Sproul's observation that "if grace is obligated it no longer becomes grace" becomes essentially of no relevance once we are beyond the first round of "gracing". The question of whether regeneration precedes faith would be answered, "Yes, it does, and faith is followed by more regeneration if accepted; then by more faith, and on it goes." And oddly enough, this is the picture we have always been given of sanctification in the life of the believer.

And there is more yet. The word "faith" in client-patron contexts [115] referred both to the dependability of the patron to do what he was entrusted to do, and the trust placed by the client in the patron. In this light, the familiar passage in Eph. 2:8-9 -- "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." -- takes on a meaning that is not very amenable to Calvinism. A key question is what "that" refers to -- what is the gift of God? Just grace? Or grace and faith? Calvinists conclude that "that" refers to both items, grace and faith, and there is nothing wrong with that grammatically (it is one option, not the only one), but in terms of the client-patron relationship, it simply doesn't wash. A patron gave a client grace; the patron did not give the client faith. Faith was the client's response to the patron's grace -- or, it referred to the "fidelity" and trust held by the client in his patrons. Thus Eph. 2:8-9 contextually cannot support the Calvinist position, unless we assume that Paul used these words in a way that would not have made sense to his readers. The "faith" is either our response, or else, if it is a gift of God, it means it is His "faith" in us -- or rather, using the word as the ancients would use it, it is the gift of fidelity God has given, His own fidelity in saving us as He has promised. The problem is that commentators on both sides view "faith" in terms of the modern definition which includes cognitive assent. But that is not what is in view in the client-patron template.

Faith, as we have noted elsewhere, contextually means loyalty within the client-patron relationship.

Finally, Calvinist commentators who speak derisively of the suggestion that Arminian views permit a "grace that fails to do what it intended" are offering a misplaced sentiment. By design, grace in a client-patron relationship would never be subject to "pass or fail" because the success was in the very act of grace itself, regardless of who accepted or rejected it. Dishonor and shame was upon the one who rejected the favor, and not a whit was taken from the giver as a result of the rejection. Their very graciousness was what brought them honor and glory (that is, public acknowledgment of worth and social value) -- which was not lessened or compromised by the negative reaction of ungrateful potential clients.'

i) I've only read the first chapter of DeSilva's book. The experience did not inspire me to intensify my acquaintance. There is nothing revolutionary here. It's a rehash of commonplace sociological concepts like shame culture/guilt culture, ascribed/achieved status, &c. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's hardly breaking any new ground.

ii) He claims that the shame culture rubric represents the 'primary axis of value' among 1C Christians and Jews. He offers next to nothing to substantiate this claim. He cites all of three little verses from Proverbs, plus a lot of stuff from the OT Apocrypha. Most of his supporting data comes, not from Scripture, but Greco-Roman writers.

iii) There's no doubt that Greco-Roman society was a shame culture. This is hardly a revelation. You could get that much just from reading about the dutiful Aeneas and the vainglorious heroes of Homer.

And, for this reason, a number of NT passages address themselves to the pagan honor-code. However, they do so, not to endorse the honor-code, or supplant it with another honor-code, but to subvert the whole framework. Salvation is by grace, not by ascribed status or achieved status.

iv) Notice Holding's bait-and-switch. Calvinism is wrong because it fails to take into account Hebrew block-logic; no, Calvinism is wrong because it fails to take into account the Greco-Roman honor-code. Okay, which is it? A Hebrew mindset or a Greco-Roman mindset? To paraphrase his (Holding's) criticism of Calvinism, DeSilva's conceptual scheme is not grounded as much in Scripture as it is in ancient Western philosophical assumptions and thought-forms being applied to Scripture.' Reading St. Paul through the Aristotelian lens of the Nicomachean Ethics is far from Mosaic morality.

v) A client-patron paradigm is so generic that it would be an easy matter to formulate a Reformed client-patron model, or a Pelagian model, or Deist model, or Muslim model, or Hindu model, or Catholic model, or what have you. A patron can make a donation, demanding nothing in return--or a loan, demanding repayment with interest.

vi) Holding uses this rubric as an all-purpose short-cut to the spade-work of detailed exegesis.

vii) He fails to draw any distinction between man-to-man patron/client relations and God-to-man patron/client relations. He further fails to draw any distinction between guilty clients and innocent clients. What does it mean to suggest that if God does us a favor, we do him a favor in return? This is the theology of heathen witchcraft.

viii) To talk about degrees of regeneration evinces conceptual confusion.

ix) Yes, you can redefine faith as faithfulness. And if you say that, you then have to say that we are justified, not by faith, but by our faithfulness. And if you say that, then you're right back to justification by works. This is not Paul, but Pelagius.

x) Yes, you can redefine faith as infused grace ('the gift of fidelity'). This is Romanism. And it fails to do justice to the vicarious character of justification, as articulated by Paul.

xi) No, a human patron cannot engender faith. News flash--God can do things man cannot!

xii) Holding defines faith inclusive as of trust, but denies faith as inclusive of cognitive assent. How can the client exercise trust in the patron unless he assents to the proposition that his patron is trustworthy?

18. Quote: 'In conclusion, I think it is clear that we are doing the Scriptures a disservice when we allow writers of the 16th century, or even the 4th century, to determine for us what men of the first century were thinking or saying. Neither Calvin nor Arminius, as far as may be seen, knew anything of Hebrew block logic or of client-patron relationships, which look to be essential keys to understanding important texts in this debate. '

i) Augustine (4C) knew nothing of client-patron relations? Wasn't Ambrose, a Roman aristocrat, his patron? Calvin knew nothing of client-patron relations? Wasn't Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, his patroness? One could multiply examples.

ii) And what is socio-rhetorical criticism if not an extended exercise in block-logic? It treats people, not as individuals, but as social units.


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