Saturday, October 23, 2004

Giving Kristof the kiss-off

Mr. Kristof,

Your article on "God & Sex" calls for quite a number of comments. You begin with a leading question: "So when God made homosexuals who fall deeply, achingly in love with each other, did he goof?"

How does this fit into your general argument? Are you using this as a reason to support same-sex marriage? If so, how does it follow?

To begin with, what’s the connection between homosexual boyfriends and marriage? If it’s all about falling in love, then if they fall out of love, that will end the relationship. Ditto: lesbians.

So marriage would be a ball-and-chain to following their heart's desire--if "heart" is the operative organ in question. And, indeed, most homosexuals have open relationships with a variety of promiscuous or serial love-affairs or one-night stands.

Why cling to the hoary convention of marriage? Doesn’t that represent a throwback to those old Victorian hang-ups over sexual liberation? Surely your average catamite is more emancipated than that!

Your question also tries to set up a dilemma: How can Christians condemn homosexuals if God made homosexuals without condemning God in the process?

This bit of sophistry may trip up the unwary, but it’s a false dilemma. Why does a playwright invent the character of the villain or fall-guy? To serve as a dramatic foil or catalyst. Likewise, God raises up evil men like Pharaoh, Herod, Nero, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Caiaphas, Pilate, and others, to serve as so many pieces on his chessboard. They further his overarching designs.

Incidentally, your example conjures up the image of consenting adults. But to judge by the Catholic sex scandal, isn’t the pattern more commonly an older man and an underage boy?

Indeed, this isn’t limited to the Catholic sex scandal. There’s the Platonic school of pedophilia, as well as the cult of pederasty among the Pashtun of Afghanistan--not to mention NAMBLA. Examples, past and present, could easily be multiplied.

You then inform the reader that you’ve been researching the Biblical view of sodomy for the past couple of months. I’m always impressed by the infallible correspondence between your leftwing politics and your leftwing scholarship. It’s almost enough to make me suspect that something above the law of averages must account for so striking a coincidence.

Continuing with the opening moves, you say you "think it’s presumptuous of conservatives to assume that God is on their side."

Speaking for myself, I think it’s more presumptuous to assume that conservatives assume that God is on their side. In apologetics generally, as well as sexual ethics in particular, conservatives do not assume, they argue. They make a reasoned case for their position.

Of course, if your research were ever to stumble upon the opposing side of the argument, you would know this.

Incidentally, why do you bring up evolution in the context of same-sex marriage? What is the evolutionary rationale for homosexual rights? Does it confer a survival advantage on the species? Seems more like a survival disadvantage, wouldn’t you say? Homosexual "unions" don’t make babies, but they do make STDs.

Okay, this is all a warming-up exercise before you get to the point. You accuse Christians of cherry-picking their favorite verses when it comes to the Bible and sex.

And, suppose, for the sake of argument, that your allegation were true. What does that prove? If Christians are inconsistent, then what should they do about it? Inconsistency is a two-way street. You can relieve the inconsistency in a more liberal direction or a more conservative direction. You can deny the Bible outright or you can affirm the Bible throughout.

Parroting one of the popular strategies of the queer lobby, you say that the story of Sodom is about hospitality rather than homosexuality.

Now, even before we get into the details, this is, on the face of it, a false antithesis. Hospitality, or the lack thereof, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You can only be inhospitable by doing or not doing something in particular. What concrete form does hospitality or its opposite take?

Suppose we were to say that Hansel & Gretel is about hospitality rather than cannibalism. Well, if you push it into a high enough orbit of abstraction, that is true. But I daresay most readers would feel that cooking little children alive is not the most hospitable way to treat a houseguest. If, for example, Nicholas Kristof woke up in a hot oven, smothered in blueberries and pie-dough, I rather doubt that he would be as patient of these fine Scholastic distinctions.

In fact, yet another strategy of the queer lobby is to admit that the story of Sodom is about homosexuality, but to draw the distinction, not between hospitality and homosexuality, but between consensual sodomy and homosexual gang-rape. Indeed, I know of no standard commentary on Genesis, be it liberal, moderate, or conservative, which interprets the episode as Platonic. Just consult Aalders, Baldwin, Brueggemann, Cassuto, Currid, Hamilton, Hartley, Kidner, Ross, Sailhammer, Sarna, Skinner, Speiser, Waltke, Wenham, Westermann.

You then introduce in Ezk 16:49-50 to bolster your case. But, among other things, the prophet condemns the citizens of Sodom for committing an "abomination." This is, of course, the very same word used to characterize sodomy in Lev 18:22 & 22:13. Now no Jew, conversant with Gen 19--which is about sodomy (even if you limit it to gang-rape)--as well as the Holiness Code--on the subject of sodomy--could miss the implication. Ezekiel is condemning the Sodomites in the very terms of the Holiness Code. The sin in question is the sin of sodomy.

What is more, rape and sodomy are separate sins in the Mosaic Law (Deut 22:25-27). Homosexual gang-rape would be an aggravated sin, a combination and intensification of two distinct sins.

Indeed, sins exert a mutual attraction. One sin draws another sin into its gravity well.

You claim that the classification of this sin is a theological innovation--dating to AD 11C. Actually, this interpretation can be documented in Philo, Josephus, and the OT Pseudepigrapha (e.g., Jubilees; Testament of Naphtali).

You then bring up the matter of Lot’s daughters. But this calls for a number of comments:

i) At most, Lot is placing the code of hospitality above the well-being of his own daughters. This doesn’t reflect Biblical ethics, but it does reflect the social mores of the time.

A Bronze Age Israelite would read this action at two levels. On the one hand, it is consistent with the honor-code of the ANE. On the other hand, it is inconsistent with the Mosaic code.

From the standpoint of a Bronze Age pagan, there is nothing morally shocking, either in the conduct of Lot or the conduct of the Sodomites.

Liberals like you can only take offense at this passage because you have been conditioned by the very value-system of Scripture which you now spurn and scorn.

It is easy for a modern-day reader to condemn Lot for the company he kept. And he is not above criticism by any means. But we must remember that in the Bronze Age, every city was a pagan city. Every city was a cesspool of pagan idolatry and immorality (e.g., Judg 19).

That is why God called Abraham out of Ur. That is why Abraham lived in tents.

ii) Lot may also be bluffing the Sodomites. His daughters were not merely virginal, but betrothed (19:14). So he is daring the mob to violate women who were engaged to two of their own citizens. Would their fiancées go along with that? This is a pressure tactic.

iii) You also miss the moral irony and symmetry of the narrative. In the beginning, Lot offers up his daughters to be gang-raped. In the end, Lot is gang-raped by his daughters (19:30-38). Poetic justice.

You then belittle the Mosaic ban on sodomy by linking it with other items in the Holiness Code, such as the dress code (Lev 19:19). You do the same thing with St. Paul (1 Cor 11). This is a popular tactic, but in several respects misguided:

i) You end your message on the "central message of love," but neighbor-love goes back to the Holiness Code (Lev 19:18), which you demean.

ii) In trivializing the dress code, you betray a shallow grasp of sociology. Fashion is all about making a statement, sending a message. People dress in a certain way to broadcast their social class, or their social alienation, or their occupation. They dress in a certain way to flaunt their sexuality, or muffle their sexuality, or blur their sexuality, or reverse their sexuality.

Dress codes can tell us quite a lot about cultural values. To be sure, some fashion statements are purely conventional. But others are more value-laden. One must judge on a case-by-case basis. Headgear is culture-bound, but hair is a cultural universal. Paul offers a number of reasons for his positions--some customary, others natural.

Incidentally, many women do look more winsome with long flowing hair. Why do you think Botticelli is so popular?

You say that 1 Samuel "can" be read to present David and Jonathan as boyfriends. Based on what? We need to keep several things in mind when we read this account:

i) Mediterranean men, as well as women, are very demonstrative. Have you never noticed this? You seem pretty provincial for a New Yorker.

ii) David and Jonathan were comrades-in-arms. This is where we get the word camaraderie. A military culture is characterized by machismo and male-bonding. This has nothing to do with sodomy. To the contrary, macho men are classic womanizers. The French Foreign Legion had its own traveling harem to service the men.

iii) You are ignorant of idiomatic usage, such as the political import of "love" (Heb.=aheb) in covenantal settings (e.g., 1 Kg 5:1).

You say that "Jesus never said a word about gays." By way of reply:

i) Even if this were true, it’s a red herring. On the one hand, Jesus reaffirmed the abiding authority of the Mosaic law (Mt 5:17-18). Yes, there are stated exceptions, but sex isn’t one of them.

On the other hand, he chose some of his disciples to speak on his behalf (Mt 10:40; Jn 13:20; 15:20). They speak with the same authority as the Master.

ii) Jesus reaffirmed the heterosexual archetype and prototype of marriage (Mt 19:4-6).

iii) Jesus cited, with evident approval, God’s judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah as a type of the final judgment to come (Mt 10:15; 11:23-24).

You say that the relation between the centurion and his sickly servant implies that they were lovers. Again, name me one standard commentary on either Matthew (e.g., Blomberg, Carson, Davies, France, Garland, Gundry, Hagner, Hill, Keener, Morris, Mounce), or Luke (e.g., Bock, Caird, Ellis, Evans, Fizmyer, Green, Johnson, Liefeld, Marshall, Nolland, Stein) which supports this contention.

You mention his statement about eunuchs. This is more cute than acute. Either you can't tell a hyperbolic figure of speech when you see it, or else you resort to ridicule when reason fails you.

You mention a couple of his statements about poverty and riches. Yes, riches can be a spiritual snare. This not a blanket prohibition against private property, per se, as is clear from the Biblical laws governing ownership and inheritance.

Anyway, how does this prove that Christians are guilty of cherry-picking Scripture? Are Christians disproportionately wealthy?

In fact, the usual smear from people like you is that "fundamentalists" are unlettered rednecks from Hicksville.

You also say that Rom 1 does not necessarily condemn lesbianism, for "it’s also possible that Paul was referring to sex during menstruation or to women who are aggressive during sex." By way of reply:

i) Name me one serious commentary on Romans that offers this interpretation (e.g., Barrett, Bruce, Cranfield, Dunn, Moo, Morris, Mounce, Murray, Sanday, Schlatter, Schreiner, Ziesler).

ii) Even if these interpretations were vaguely possible, sound exegesis is not about bare possibilities, but about what is probable.

iii) No, it can’t be about menstruation, for that could also happen in heterosexual activity, whereas the text is talking about homosexual activity--women with women.

As to who takes the lead, both lesbians and sodomites often impersonate the stereotypical interaction of straight couples, with one homosexual man or woman playing the part of the husband, and the other acting out the role of wife. This is reflected in a lot of sexual slang, viz., auntie, queen, bull-dyke, diesel-dyke, butchfemme. And these are just the printable usages.

iv) The parallel wording between Rom 1:26-27 leaves no room for doubt that homosexual activity is in view with reference to both genders.

Since you don’t believe in the authority of Scripture, why play these amateurish games? If you weren’t such a dilettante, and if you weren’t straining to prove a foregone conclusion, you could at least let the Bible speak for itself.

To say that "Paul disapproves of marriage except for the sex-obsessed" is a clownish caricature of his position. Paul points out that there are trade-offs between the single state and the married state. He also notes that marriage is less expedient at some times than others.

This is just sanctified common sense. But to judge by your article, sanctified common sense is the only kind of common sense left to us since liberal common sense is in such short supply.

You also labor under the mistaken impression that Paul is the only NT writer who condemns sodomy. Your ignorance is understandable. If you read only one side of the debate, and the very side which happens to have a vested interest in minimizing the Biblical evidence, you will only know what they want you to know, which isn't much. Yet it is highly likely that 2 Pet 2:7-8,10 & Jude 7-8 identify the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah as the sin of homosexuality.

Gen 2 doesn’t express the sentiment that it’s not good for the "human" to be alone. Yes, "adama" can either be a proper name ("Adam") or a generic designation ("mankind"), but in Gen 2 it is clearly a proper name, denoting a male human being.

What is more, the entire account is centered on the creation of a woman for the man.

However, in the interests of magnanimity, I wish to end my comments on a more generous note. To be an op-ed columnist for the NYT is was a shrew career move, for there are few fields which yield such princely dividends on such a miserly investment of fact. If you can't be a scholar, at least you can be P. T. Barnum.

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.

Holding the line on Holding-1

James Holding, who runs Tektonics Apologetics Ministry, has posted a rather lengthy critique of Calvinism.

I'll just content myself with commenting on what strike me as his major arguments. This will be a bit stream-of-consciousness because his own style is so free associative.

1. Quote: 'It is our contention that Romans 9 may be better understood in terms of the rubric of primary causality. But we anticipate the objection that we would be thereby reading into the text a concept not found therein. Our answer is that we would not expect it to be found within Romans 9 or any explanation offered by Paul -- because such an "explanation expectation" would be the product of a Western low-context mind rather than a Hebrew high-context one, like Paul's.'

Even if we were to accept this description of the Hebrew mind, this amounts to a preemptive admission that he's not doing exegesis on Rom 9. Instead, he's using the Aristotelian category of primary causality as an interpretive grid through which to filter Rom 9. But, in that event, this has nothing to do with what Paul meant. It doesn't even attempt to construe the text in light of original intent.

At this point there's nothing for the Calvinist to rebut. The Calvinist has exegeted Rom 9 (e.g., Murray, Piper, Schreiner). Holding has offered no contrary interpretation, based on text and context.

2. Quote: 'The thinking of the ancient Hebrew is not, as ours, concerned with precision. As Marvin Wilson points out in Our Father Abraham, "The nature of Hebrew [the language] is to paint verbal pictures with broad strokes of the brush. The Hebrew authors of Scripture were not so much interested in the fine details and harmonious pattern of what is painted as they were in the picture as a whole. Theirs was primarily a description of what the eye sees rather than what the mind speculates."'

This strikes me an obvious exaggeration. It depends on the subject-matter. It depends on what they're interested in. When it came to personal and social ethics, Jewish thinkers could get very detailed and draw very precise distinctions indeed.

As long as we're going to indulge in breezy generalities about the Hebrew mind, here's one from a more qualified source than Wilson:

'I once asked Prof. Harry Wolfson of Harvard U, a savant in ancient and medieval Greek as well as Jewish philosophy, how he evaluated the Greek mind, as exemplified by Aristotle, vis-a-vis the Talmudic mind. He replied, "if you compare a Greek philosophic treatise with a Talmudic tractate, obviously the Greek is orderly and easy to follow, whereas the rabbinic is disorderly and circuitous. But if you compare the mental horsepower of the Greek philosopher and the rabbinic sage, the latter is superior." That was not the answer I expected, but eventually I realized that Wolfson was right,' C. Gordon, A Scholar's Odyssey (Society of Biblical Literature 2000), 5-6.

3. Quote: 'In terms of theology, this means that God's existence is never argued, but assumed; "God is not understood philosophically, but functionally." God is thought of in terms of what He does.'

This is another exaggeration. Because the Bible is ordinarily addressed to the community of faith, it ordinarily takes the existence of God for granted; but when addressing outsiders, such as Isaiah's indictment of idolaters (Isa 40-48), the Bible does launch into an apologetic for the existence of the true God.

4. Quote: 'Wilson concludes, therefore, that the Hebrews would have had "little or no interest" in many issues we consider important, including the debate over free will and predestination.'

On the face of it, this claim is palpable false. For starters, just read Warfield's article on 'Predestination' (Works 2:3-67), in which he lays out quite a lot of the Biblical data on this topic.

5. Quote: 'Second, Jewish thinking, unlike our own, involved the use of what Wilson calls "block logic." In this item we explained some points about ancient Jewish and Near Eastern wisdom literature which has applicability here:

The paradoxical nature of Ecclesiastes -- a book filled with statements regarded as being in tension (for example, on one hand mulling over the despair of life, then shortly thereafter encouraging the enjoyment of life) -- has been variously identified as being because Ecclesiastes is either a dialogue of a man debating with himself, "torn between what he cannot help seeing and what he still cannot help believing," [Kidner, Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, 91], or else as the author's "challenge to the man of the world to think his own position through to its bitter end, with a view to seeking something less futile." I prefer the second interpretation, but in either case, the compositional principle is the same, and derives from the ancient Near Eastern methodology, which we might loosely compare to a Hegelian case of combining thesis and antithesis, to arrive at a synthesis; or else for sports fanatics to a game of tennis in which the ball is batted back and forth between opposing points to arrive at a consensus.

In this regard Ecclesiastes is related to other ANE literature with the same, or similar, content and methodology. Works like A Dialogue About Human Misery and Pessimistic Dialogue Between Master and Servant (on which, Murphy comments, the "dexterity the slave displays in affirming both the positive and negative aspects of a situation is reminiscent of [Ecclesiastes'] own style" -- Murphy commentary on Eccl, xliii] from Babylon; The Man Who Was Tired of Life from Egypt; and the book of Job from the OT, are all examples of this genre in which problems were discussed and resolved via dialogue. The modern Western mind has little patience with this sort of logical construction, and it is no surprise to see that critics have no appreciation for the implied intent of such literature: "Work out the problem yourselves," vs. "Give me an answer in a can, to go."'

i) Holding is extrapolating from one particular literary genre (wisdom literature) to Hebrew psychology. This is a huge leap of logic. It extrapolates from one genre to all genres, and then extrapolates from a literary genre to national character. Indeed, the fact that Bible writers alternate between different genres goes to show that they are not intellectually straight-jacketed.

ii) There is nothing Hegelian about Job or Ecclesiastes. In both cases, the existential problem lies with God's inscrutable providence. I have offered my own interpretation of both books in my essay on 'Vanity of vanities.'

iii) It should be needless to say that the dialogical genre is a staple of Western philosophy, viz., Socrates, Plato, Berkeley, Hume.

6. Quote: 'Hebrew "block logic" operated on similar principles. "...[C]oncepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine. This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antimony, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension -- and often illogical relation -- to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic." Examples of this in practice are the alternate hardening of Pharaoh's heart by God, or by Pharaoh himself; and the reference to loving Jacob while hating Esau -- both of which, significantly, are referred to often by Calvinist writers.'

i) There is nothing paradoxical about the hardening of Pharaoh The Bible cues the reader with a couple of programmatic statements (Exod 4:21-22; 7:2-3), the function of which is to supply a hermeneutical framework for what follows in the subsequent narrative. The text is flawlessly logical. The problem lies with careless readers like Wilson and Holding.

ii) The second illustration is even worse that the first. We would only have an antinomy of God was said to both love and loathe Jacob, both love and loathe Esau. Holding's illustration is simply incompetent.

7. Quote: 'Wilson continues: "Consideration of certain forms of block logic may give one the impression that divine sovereignty and human responsibility were incompatible. The Hebrews, however, sense no violation of their freedom as they accomplish God's purposes." The back and forth between human freedom and divine sovereignty is a function of block logic and the Hebrew mindset.'

i) I've already shown that block-logic is a fiction foisted upon Scripture by Wilson and Holding.

ii) But, assuming for the sake of argument, that block-logic is a feature or even fixture of Scripture, then should that not be normative for Christians?

Wilson and Holding are treating the logic of Scripture as a culture-bound casket which they are at liberty to bury in an unmarked grave. But the Bible-believing Christian is honor-bound by the logic of Scripture.

8. Quote: 'What this boils down to is that Paul presents us with a paradox in Romans 9, one which he, as a Hebrew, saw no need to explain. "..[T]he Hebrew mind could handle this dynamic tension of the language of paradox" and saw no need to unravel it as we do. And that means that we are not obliged to simply accept Romans 9 at "face value" as it were, because it is a problem offered with a solution that we are left to think out for ourselves. There will be nothing illicit about inserting concepts like primary causality, otherwise unknown in the text.'

What paradox? Paul repeatedly explains the relation between divine and human agency in terms of divine priority and purpose (9:11-18,21-23).

Instead of reading what Rom 9 is actually saying, Holding is superimposing his own harmonistic device on the text.

If you really think that Rom 9 presents a paradox, a paradox which Paul saw no need to relieve, then it is illicit of Holding to relieve the paradox.

9. Quote: 'The rabbis after the NT explicated the paradox a bit further. They did not conclude, however -- as is the inclination in the Calvinist camp -- that "a totally unalterable future lay ahead, for such a view contradicted God's omnipotence and mercy." They also argued that "unless God's proposed destiny for man is subject to alteration, prayer to God to institute such alteration" is nonsensical. Of course the rabbis were not inspired in their teachings. Yet their views cannot be simply discarded with a grain of salt, as they are much closer to the vein than either Calvin or Arminius, by over a millennium and by an ocean of thought.'

Let us remember that Rabbinical Judaism codifies the Pharisaic school of thought. It is therefore rife with synergism and merit-mongering. Yes, I know, Sanders would demure, but I've addressed the new perspective in my essay on 'Reinventing Paul.'

10. Quote: 'Consider this now as well with reference to Pilch and Malina's observation that in an ancient context, "mercy" is better rendered as "gratitude" or "steadfast love" -- as in, "the debt of interpersonal obligations for unrepayable favors received." Mercy is not involved with feelings of compassion, as today, but the "paying of one's debt of interpersonal obligation by forgiving a trivial debt." To say, "Lord, have mercy!" (Matt. 20:31) means, "Lord, pay up your debt of interpersonal obligation to us!" Far from being a plea of the hapless, it is a request to pay back previously earned favor from our client (God) whose patron we are.'

i) Yet another exaggeration. There are basically two forms of petitionary prayer in Scripture. One is where the suppliant calls upon God to remember his covenantal promises. The other is a confession of sin, and plea that God not judge us according to our sins, but be merciful.

ii) Even in the former case, we did nothing to earn God's covenant promises. This isn't back-pay for services rendered. To cast the divine party in the role of the client, and the human party in the role of the patron, is such a grotesque inversion of Biblical priorities that we might as well class it with other heresies such as gnosticism.

iii) Whoever said that the Reformed definition of divine mercy must ascribe certain feelings to God?

10. Quote: 'Consider again our example of the three worlds. There is no possible world in which all are saved. God as Prime Mover, He who in sovereign freedom chose one world over all the others possible, in this manner thereby in essence decrees as well who the elect and non-elect will be, without in any way removing our ability to freely choose. Remember that just because God knows we will do X does not mean that we must do X, as if by force.'

i) This, of course, is classic Molinism. Holding offers no exegetical support for such a position.

ii) He also ignores philosophical criticisms of Molinism, such as the grounding objection. In addition, some libertarians (open theism) are critics of Molinism. So the attack is not limited to the Reformed front.