Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Postmortem on Holding-4

iii) The only proper way in which to exegete the concept of divine mercy and compassion in Rom 9 is not to import and intrude some free-floating, reductionistic definition supplied by anthropology or sociology, but to retrace the redemptive-historical trajectory, of which Rom 9 is the apex. Paul himself directs the reader to the relevant background material: Exod 33:11. And how does the concept function in the original? Listen to what a number of "credentialed scholars have to say:

"While mercy can be expected because of God's nature and historical actions, it can never be demanded or earned; God freely bestows it. As God said to Moses, 'I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy' (Exod 33:19)," D. Garland, ISBE 3:322-23.

"The reference here is to the Israelites, those on whom the Lord has had mercy and compassion. It is a summary of what God has done for Israel in bringing them out of Egypt, an act of pure mercy," P. Enns, Exodus (Zondervan 2000), 583.

"Yahweh follows this promise with a statement of his sovereignty. His favor and his compassion are given only on his own terms," J. Durham, Exodus (Word 1987), 452.

"Rom 9:15 quotes this verse and applies it to the sovereignty of God," W. Kaiser, The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Zondervan 1990), 483.

"Yahweh uses an idem per idem formula to express other important aspects of his nature. This formula, 'favor…favor' and 'compassion…compassion,' signifies that God is autonomous, free to bestow his grace and compassion on whomever he pleases. It underscores the doctrine of the sovereignty of God," J. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus (Evangelical Press 2001), 2:305.

"The name of God, which like his glory and his face are vehicles of his essential nature, is defined in terms of his compassionate acts of mercy. The circular idem per idem formula of the name--I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious--is closely akin to the name in Exod 3:14--I am who I am--and testifies by its tautology to the freedom of God in making known his self-contained being," B. Childs The Book of Exodus (Westminster Press 1974), 596.

"The proclamation will not be just generally speaking before you but literally so; it will announce the name of the Lord [YHWH] and the significance implicit therein, to wit, the attributes to which it alludes--'and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show compassion to whim I will show compassion'--the meaning being; but the exercise of these qualities depends entirely on My will; you may know that I am compassionate and gracious, and that I love to go beyond the strict letter of the law, but the decision to act according to these virtues is at all times in My discretion, and it is impossible for you to know when, or if, I shall act thus. If I were constantly to let the quality of mercy prevail over that of justice, and were to forgive every sinner, I should not be a righteous judge, and every man would permit himself all kinds of wickedness in the assurance that he would be forgiven. I shall be gracious and compassionate if it pleases Me, when it pleases Me, and for the reasons that please Me," U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Magnes Press 1997), 436).

The common thread here is the unfettered freedom of God. God can, of course, bind himself in covenant. But God is utterly free to choose if, or with whom, he enters into covenant relations. In Rom 9 and Exod 33:19, the compassion in view is not a "contractual obligation of ongoing reciprocity, "much less "back-pay for previously earned favor."

It has, rather, reference to God free and sovereign decision to adopt Israel in the first place, and, deeper still, to elect a remnant within the chosen people of God.

"All of this blather is just another round of verbal diarrhea, saying nothing and addressing nothing I have said. I do agree that bare meaning is not good enough"

i) Ah, yet another delightful instance of Holding's argumentum ad excrementum. When reason fails him, vulgar invective takes up the rear. I think Holding should consider seeking out the services of a Christian counselor.

ii) When Holding claims that "'Compassion' DOES 'select for' kin in the ancient world -- there is always a kinship relationship of some sort," he is guilty of implicitly saying that "compassion" selects for its own referent. And this commits the Fregean intension=extension fallacy.

" It has been over forty years now since James Barr published his seminal work on The Semantics of Biblical Language, yet Holding continues to repristinate the old word=concept fallacy.

It's too bad Hays can't explain how specifically. By the way, that's just Barr's opinion. That's an argument from authority."

i) I guess I must also explain to Holding what an ad hominem argument is. In an ad hominem argument, you stipulate to the opponent's premise or presupposition for the sake of argument.

I am not the one who said that an argument from authority is fallacious. Holding did. There is no inconsistency in my making use of an argument from authority. Indeed, I expressly argued for that in Rom 9.

Holding has since amended his position. In Holding's home-cooked logic, an argument from authority is sound if and only if the authority source is fallible. If, however, the authority source is inspired, then it is not truly authoritative, and therefore fallacious.

ii) By way of specific answer, take the following statement:
"'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."

This is a textbook example of what Barr dubs illegitimate totality transfer, where a general semantic construct, abstracted from a multiplicity of individual occurrences in a variety of conceptual contexts, is read back into any given occurrence of the word.

What is far worse in this case is that the purported meaning isn't even derived from an inductive study of Biblical usage, but is, rather, a reductionistic, free-floating definition abstracted from the Greco-Roman patronage-system.

"Once again, there is no answer needed as Hays made no 'precise objection'' -- he erected a strawman ("only prism") and then cried foul when I pointed out his error and how idiotic it was, never admitting his error."

What I actually did was to pose question, followed by a statement: " Is sociorhetorical criticism the only prism through which we ought to read the Bible? He quotes sociorhetorical scholars to prove the primacy of sociorhetorical criticism. What a thoroughly vicious specimen of circular reasoning!"

Holding has yet to explain how the act of quoting sociorhetorical scholars proves the primacy or even the legitimacy of their assumptions and methods.

"So now the real question: How will Hays claim that Rom. 9:16 cannot be such an example, in a way that does not cut the rug out from under him with Jer. 7:22?"

Notice Holding's last-ditch burden of proof. It is no longer a case of having to provide positive evidence for his contention. Rather, it's up to me to show that his importation of Jer 7:22 "cannot" be such an example. However, sound exegesis is based on what is most probably, not what is barely possible.

I said: "If Holding is really that naïve, then it may go a long way in explaining why he's so star-struck by sociorhetorical criticism. All I did was make the elementary, but important observation, that sociology--inclusive of sociorhetorical criticism--is not a neutral discipline which follows the evidence wherever it leads, but rather, comes to the table with certain presuppositions regarding human nature. This carries with it the danger of skewing the evidence to support a foregone conclusion, or ignoring contrary evidence. You shoehorn the evidence to squeeze into your preconceived notions. Remember Margaret Mead?"

He said: "In other words, but much prettier ones, Hays admits that he is a perfect imitation of an atheist. To make matters worse, he commits the fallacy of guilt by assoication [sic], as though to tar Malina with Mead, without any effort to prove the errors of the former, much less than any error of the former (if any if made) is of relevance to any arguments made here. This is sheer laziness and incompetence, once again."

My point, which Holding continues to duck and dodge, is that sociology, like any "science" (if we choose to classify sociology as a true science), is theory-laden and value-laden. When it comes, therefore, to the task of evaluating the "findings" of sociology, or some subdivision thereof (e.g., sociorhetorical criticism), we need to consider the metascientific methods and assumptions of the sociologist, such as his prior commitment to psycholinguistic nominalism.

"But in fact neither view is of any impact to my case, so I skip Hays' further comments on the difference in approach."

Whether we take the essentialist view of Chomsky or the nominalist view of Holding has a crucial impact on Holding's case. For if we side with the essentialist view, then thought is prior to word, in which case it is illicit to compartmentalize an ethnic mindset.

"Hays purposely confuses the issue, which is not that an argument from authority is valid or invalid, but that it is not logical."

"Hays is once again playing semantic games. While validity and invalidity are indeed logical categories, this does not make all valid or invalid statements expressions of logical process. "The ball is red" may be arrived at by some logical process, but it cannot stand by itself and be called 'logical' or 'illogical'".

Holding is now attempting to administer triage on his hemorrhaging claim with an emergency infusion of face-saving distinctions.

"Fine. It remains that what Paul offers in Romans 9 is not a 'reason' for his assertions about election; any more than saying 'shut up' is a "reason" for 'why did you drop that plate'. It is not illogical either; it is non-logical. It puts the questioner off, and that is what Paul does in Romans (as he has a right to, since it is foolish to question God)."

It has already been pointed out to Holding that Paul does more than that. As I said before: "In addition, Paul's reply is not limited to an argument from authority. In addition to that, he also invokes a theodicean rationale for election and reprobation (9:17,22-23; 11:32)."

So Paul is, indeed, giving a reason--is, indeed, offering a supporting argument, for his assertions about election and reprobation.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Holding responds to my rejoinder with yet another potty-mouthed screed. Since, however, I'm not in the habit of hanging out at the local outhouse, I shall hereafter leave my interlocutor to his fecal fulminations.

10 comments:

  1. Mr Hays,

    Given that you're not answering Holding's key arguments (e.g. on Jer.7:22), deriding relevant scholarship, arguing in circles, misattributing citations and not admitting error when pulled over for it, the 'invective' is warranted.

    Amd your invective is not, sir. :-)
    Your approach does not help me appreciate that the Reformed view of things is actually correct.
    --Punkish, Tekton Research

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's either Mr. Holding himself or a Tekton fan (More likely).

    I'd like to say that Holding's approach has not helped me appreciate the Molinist view of things. :-)

    And of course, if you're gonna support
    J.P. Holding (a.k.a Robert "Ad-Hom" Turkel) go ahead ;-)

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