Saturday, June 24, 2006

Exodus redux

A while back, Dagood attempted a ham-handed attack on the historicity of the Exodus. I offered a number of replies.

Just recently, Douglas Stuart published a major new commentary on Exodus. Stuart has a doctorate from Harvard, along with a working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Egyptian, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Syriac, and Arabic, among other ancient languages.

Here is some of what he has to say about the Exodus:

“’Blood’ is a color in Hebrew as well as a substance, just as in English, and no firm data exists for the interpreter to differentiate in this story between the possibility that the Nile and other surface water turn to actual blood from the possibility that the waters turned—for whatever reason—‘blood’ in color [n.38],” D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman & Holman 2006), 199.

“It has often been suggested that the Hb. Word for ‘blood,’ ‘dam,’ is actually a biform of the Hb. word for red/be red, ‘adam’…The word’s use in connoting the color (dark) red is found in Joel 2:30-31 [Hb. 3:3-4]…and 2 Kgs 3:22-23,” ibid. 199, n.38.

As the following verse (7:25) indicates, the plague of blood lasted only seven days. Virtually all commentators have observed that the plagues appear to have increased in intensity from first to last. How, then, could this plague be regarded as the least threatening of the ten? The answer is that this plague involved not the changing of water into real blood…but the temporary reddening and contamination of the Nile and other surface water in a way that made the Nile undrinkable and killed its fish. This plague functioned more as a severe frustration for Egyptians than as a threat to life. Fish died from this plague, but humans and other animals did not,” ibid. 200-01.

“The Egyptian people, however, had to scramble to get water, which was available only from new wells. Subsurface water had not been affected; the miracle of the first plague was limited in its lethality to fish—people were merely greatly inconvenienced,” ibid. 202.

The first plague produced great inconvenience, requiring the digging of (shallow) wells along the Nile as opposed to the easy access to drinking water that the Nile usually afforded, and it also produced the death of large quantities of fish. Spatially, it was limited to places where water was visible on the surface of the ground,” ibid. 204.

“This implicit connection of the wording of the fifth plague to that of the second is yet further evidence that the plague stories are highly integrated, composed as a unit, and therefore expect the reader to be thinking of the elements of all of them as he or she reads any particular one. Specifically, the cyclic nature of the composition of the first nine plague accounts means that the reader is presumed to have especially in mind what happened in the second plague, the initial plague of the ‘second cycle’ when reading the account of the fifth plague, the next account in that cycle,” ibid. 222-23.

“The verse [9:6] also contains a translation choice in the NIV that creates a possible misimpression for the reader. The NIV translation ‘all the livestock of the Egyptians died’ would seem to suggest that no Egyptian livestock survived the plague, especially when this statement is followed by the (correctly translated) statement ‘but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died.’ Yet when one reads on to the account of the seventh plague, it is clear that there were plenty of Egyptian livestock still alive, since they are mentioned as being in danger of being killed by the next plague, that of ferocious hail (9:19-21). Moreover, Egyptian livestock are described as alive at the advent of the account of the final plague, that of the death of the firstborn (122:29). This apparent contradiction is not due to inconsistency among the plague accounts, multiple contradictory sources for them, or any similar cause. It is due simply to the fact that the Hebrew word ‘kol,’ usually translated ‘all,” can mean ‘all sorts of’ [n.88] or ‘from all over’ or ‘all over the place’ [n.89]. In this verse, the better translation of the full expression would be ‘all sorts of Egyptian livestock died’ or “Egyptian livestock died all over the place,” ibid. 223-24.

“That ‘kol’ can mean ‘all sorts of’ or the like is well known. E.g. it is usually translated either ‘all sorts of” or ‘all kinds of’ in modern Eng. translations in the following sampling of contexts from early and late biblical Hebrew: Gen 4:22; 24:10; 40:17; Exod 35:22; Lev 19:23; Deut 6:11; 2 Kgs 8:9; 1 Chr 18:10; 22:15; 29:2; 2 Chr 2:14; 32:27-28; Neh 9:25; 13:15; 13:20; Ps 45:13; Prov 1:13; Eccl 2:5; Ezek 8:10; 27:22; 39:20; 47:12,” ibid. 223, n.88.

“So commonly in the Hb. expression ‘all Israel,’ which in many contexts refers only to representatives (e.g. 1 Sam 12:1; 1 Kgs 18:19; 1 Chr 11:1; 15:3) or soldiers (Josh 8:24) or leaders from all segments of the nation (2 Chr 1:2) or the like, not literally to every single Israelite’,” ibid. 224, n.89.

“Barns were for storing grain, not animals. There is evidence of stabling war horses in Egypt and Israel, but not with certainty cattle…Animals were often kept in courtyards at night…Some of those courtyards had pillar and root shelters…the only way most Egyptians could have put their cattle under cover would have been to bring them right into their living spaces or into grain storage barns, where there may have been some empty space in light of the time of year (just before the first spring harvests were to be collected). Cf. J. S. Holladay, “The Stables of Ancient Israel,” in The Archaeology of Jordan and Other studies (Andrews University Press, 1986), 103-65; L. E. Stager, “The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel,” BASOR 260 (1985): 1-35; P. J. King & L. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Westminster John Knox 2001),” ibid. 235, n116.

“In Egypt flax and barley were harvested in February-March…Wheat and spelt, however, were harvested in March-April, a full month later, that is, at the time of the tenth plague and the exodus itself; they were too small this time to be permanently damaged by the hailstorm. Though the wheat and sepal shoots were up and growing, surely were smashed down by the hail, they were able to recover and continue to grow fairly normally,” ibid. 241.

Was The Papacy Established By Christ? (Part 2)

Because neither the apostolic nor the earliest post-apostolic Christians refer to a jurisdictional primacy of the bishop of Rome, Catholics often cite references to any type of primacy of the Roman church. But a non-jurisdictional primacy of the Roman church doesn't prove a jurisdictional primacy of the Roman bishop.

Even Peter himself isn't referred to as having papal authority among the early post-apostolic sources. Terence Smith explains:

"there is an astonishing lack of reference to Peter among ecclesiastical authors of the first half of the second century. He is barely mentioned in the Apostolic Fathers, nor by Justin and the other Apologists" (cited in Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 15)

Concepts of Petrine supremacy (as well as a primacy of Paul or James in some places, for example) did develop over time. Cyprian, for example, a bishop who lived in the third century, believed in a primacy of Peter, but it was a non-jurisdictional primacy (On the Unity of the Church, 4), and Cyprian repeatedly denied, in multiple contexts, that the bishop of Rome or any other bishop has universal jurisdiction (Letter 51:21, Letter 54:14, Letter 67:5, Letter 71:3, Letter 72:26). The Roman Catholic scholar Robert Eno wrote:

"it is clear that he [Cyprian] did not see the bishop of Rome as his superior, except by way of honor...it is clear that in Cyprian's mind, one theological conclusion he does not draw is that the bishop of Rome has authority which is superior to that of the African bishops" (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], pp. 59-60)

Roman Catholic scholar William La Due:

"In the context of his life and his convictions reflected in his actions and his writings, Cyprian's position can be paraphrased as follows: Peter received the power of the keys, the power to bind and loose, before the other apostles received the same powers. This priority - in time - symbolizes the unity of episcopal power which is held by all in the same way. The only difference is that Peter was granted the power a short time before the others. It must be said that the impact of Cyprian's symbolism is not entirely clear. He was not a speculative theologian but a preacher, trained more as a lawyer than as a rhetorician. His meaning, from the context of his conduct as a bishop, seems quite unambiguous. And those who see in The Unity of the Catholic Church, in the light of his entire episcopal life, an articulation of the Roman primacy - as we have come to know it, or even as it has evolved especially from the latter fourth century on - are reading a meaning into Cyprian which is not there." (The Chair of Saint Peter [Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999], p. 39)

Catholic scholar Klaus Schatz:

"He [Cyprian] does not rely on any specific responsibility of Stephen [bishop of Rome] as primate....Cyprian regarded every bishop as the successor of Peter, holder of the keys to the kingdom of heaven and possessor of the power to bind and loose. For him, Peter embodied the original unity of the Church and the episcopal office, but in principle these were also present in every bishop. For Cyprian, responsibility for the whole Church and the solidarity of all bishops could also, if necessary, be turned against Rome." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], p. 20)

Even the conservative Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott acknowledged:

"St. Cyprian of Carthage attests the pre-eminence of the Roman Church...However, his attitude in the controversy regarding the re-baptism of heretics shows that he had not yet achieved a clear conception of the scope of the Primacy." (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma [Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974], p. 284)

Eastern Orthodox scholar Veselin Kesich:

"In his controversy with Bishop Stephen (254-257), Cyprian expressed the view that any bishop, whether in Rome or elsewhere, was included in Jesus' message to Peter. Like Tertullian, Cyprian is unwilling to accept the claim of exclusive authority for the Bishop of Rome on the basis of Mt 16:18-19....Peter is not superior in power to the other apostles, for according to Cyprian all of them are equal." (The Primacy of Peter, John Meyendorff, editor [Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1992], p. 63)

Anglican scholar J.N.D. Kelly:

"Cyprian made plain, that each bishop is entitled to hold his own views and to administer his own diocese accordingly...[In Cyprian's view] There is no suggestion that he [Peter] possessed any superiority to, much less jurisdiction over, the other apostles...While he [Cyprian] is prepared, in a well-known passage, to speak of Rome as 'the leading church', the primacy he has in mind seems to be one of honour." (Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], pp. 205-206)

In Cyprian we see an example of a father who thinks highly of Peter and the bishops of Rome without believing in a papacy. In fact, he contradicted the concept. With Cyprian in mind as an example of how Catholics often misrepresent the fathers to make them appear to have supported the papacy when they actually didn’t, let’s consider the earliest evidence cited by Catholic apologists.

Clement of Rome, the earliest church father and a Roman bishop, sent a letter to the Corinthian church to counsel them about a dispute involving the leadership of their church. Such letters were common in early Christianity (Ignatius' letter to Polycarp, Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church, etc.), and no jurisdictional superiority, much less papal authority, is implied by the sending of such a letter. To the contrary, the letter is written in the name of the church of Rome, not the bishop of Rome, and the letter makes many appeals to various authorities (scripture, Jesus, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, etc.), but never to any papal authority. Thomas Halton comments:

"Some scholars anachronistically saw in the epistle an assertion of Roman primacy, but nowadays a hermeneutic of collegiality is more widely accepted." (Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Everett Ferguson, editor [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], p. 253)

Other early sources, such as Ignatius and Dionysius of Corinth, commend the Roman church for virtues such as love and generosity, but say nothing of any jurisdictional primacy of the Roman bishop. Irenaeus speaks highly of the Roman church, but gives non-papal reasons for doing so. Roman Catholic scholar William La Due comments:

"It is indeed understandable how this passage [in Irenaeus] has baffled scholars for centuries! Those who were wont to find in it a verification of the Roman primacy were able to interpret it in that fashion. However, there is so much ambiguity here that one has to be careful of over-reading the evidence....Karl Baus' interpretation [that Irenaeus was not referring to a papacy] seems to be the one that is more faithful to the text and does not presume to read into it a meaning which might not be there. Hence, it neither overstates nor understates Irenaeus' position. For him [Irenaeus], it is those churches of apostolic foundation that have the greater claim to authentic teaching and doctrine. Among those, Rome, with its two apostolic founders, certainly holds an important place. However, all of the apostolic churches enjoy what he terms 'preeminent authority' in doctrinal matters." (The Chair of Saint Peter [Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999], p. 28)

Similarly, Tertullian gives non-papal reasons for the importance of the Roman church (The Prescription Against Heretics, 36). Regarding Origen, the Catholic scholar Robert Eno explains that "a plain recognition of Roman primacy or of a connection between Peter and the contemporary bishop of Rome seems remote from Origen’s thoughts" (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 43).

The first reference to a papacy or something similar to it is found in the Roman bishop Stephen, acting in his own interests, around the middle of the third century. Peter had been dead for nearly two centuries before the doctrine first appears. When Stephen asserted it, he was opposed by bishops in the West and East, such as Cyprian and Firmilian. Thus, the papacy was absent, including in contexts where we would expect it to be mentioned, for about the first two centuries of church history, then arose in Rome and gradually became more widely accepted in the West and sometimes to some extent in the East. But even in the West, the papacy was accepted only gradually and inconsistently. Some of the earliest ecumenical councils would either imply or explicitly state a rejection of the doctrine. The Catholic scholar Klaus Schatz summarizes:

"Rome did not succeed in maintaining its position against the contrary opinion and praxis of a significant portion of the Church. The two most important controversies of this type were the disputes over the feast of Easter [in the second century] and heretical baptism [in the third century]. Each marks a stage in Rome's sense of authority and at the same time reveals the initial resistance of other churches to the Roman claim." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], p. 11)

It’s important to recognize that the early sources had many opportunities to mention a papacy if they believed in such a concept. When men like Clement of Rome and Tertullian comment on issues of authority and the status of the Roman church without mentioning a papacy, the absence of the concept is significant. When men like Ignatius and Irenaeus write at length on issues of authority and Christian unity, without even once mentioning a papacy, that absence is significant. They explicitly and frequently mention offices such as bishop and deacon. They explicitly and frequently make appeals to Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the apostles, prominent churches, and other authorities. They explicitly and frequently discuss the Messiahship of Jesus, the virgin birth, the resurrection, the unique authority of the apostles, and other basic Christian doctrines, so it can’t be argued that they didn’t mention a papacy only because it was already known to and assumed by everybody. The fact that other concepts were known and assumed didn’t keep the early sources from explicitly and frequently mentioning those concepts. Why didn’t they mention a papacy?

They did sometimes mention a prominence of the Roman church. And, thus, Catholic apologists have attempted to transform the prominence of the Roman church into a jurisdictional primacy of the Roman bishop. But if the papacy is an oak tree, the prominence of the early Roman church is more like an apple seed than an acorn. It has to be manipulated if we want to transform it into an oak tree. If the seed is being manipulated so as to arrive at a desired unnatural conclusion, then it’s not comparable to an acorn naturally growing into an oak.

The early prominence of the Roman church doesn’t logically lead to a papacy. The churches in Jerusalem, Rome, Alexandria, and other cities have been prominent at different times in church history for different reasons, and none of them can claim an apostolic jurisdictional primacy for their bishop as a result. It would be sort of like arguing that since the city of Philadelphia was prominent during the time of the founders of America, then the founders must have intended whatever authority claims the mayor of Philadelphia makes hundreds of years after the founders have died. If Ignatius thinks highly of the virtues of the Roman church or Tertullian commends the Roman church because some of the apostles labored and suffered in Rome, it doesn’t logically follow that these church fathers would agree with a later claim of universal jurisdiction by the bishop of Rome.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Muhammad's clouded crystal ball

Since Rambo referred to the argument from prophecy to vindicate the inspiration of Muhammad, it is worth noting that Koranic prophecies have not gone unchallenged.

http://answering-islam.org/Shamoun/false_prophecies.htm

By the same author is a discussion of Koranic textual criticism:

http://answering-islam.org/Shamoun/quran_variants.htm

A parallel ivory tower

Of the various contributors to the Secular Outpost, Taner Edis is the most prolific. He’s an intellectual, and his stuff is normally characterized by a sober tone of emotional detachment.

Here’s an excerpt of something he posted a couple of days ago:

“Being an academic, the most direct way the parallel Christian reality bothers me are its alternative intellectual structures. Many [correction due to a comment by Humes's Ghost] right-wing Christians live in a world where global warming is a myth promoted by pagan environmentalists, where Iraq was responsible for 9/11, and where evolution is a mere materialist pseudoscience. And since no institution upholding any critical scholarly standards would accept such nonsense, they just do their usual thing: create parallel institutions. Since Christian rightists consider mainstream universities to be fatally compromised by liberal secularist ideology, they set up their own sources of "scholarship" that are guaranteed to confirm their alternative vision of reality. For "education," you have conservative Christian pseudo-universities such as Liberty, Regent, and Patrick Henry, and a boatload of bible colleges and so forth. For "research," you have think tanks, which have the extra advantage of direct political influence. For a Religious Right flavor of biology and physics, you have the Discovery Institute. For pseudo-social science, you have the Heritage Foundation.”

There are several problems with this paragraph:

1.Does he have any firm polling data to show that right-wing Christians believe Iraq was responsible for 9/11?

Remember, Edis claims to live by a fact-based rather than faith-based worldview. So he shouldn’t have any difficulty backing up his allegation with solid statistical data. Is there, say, a peer-reviewed study by a reputable sociologist to bear out his claim?

2.Why would it be irrational to question global warming? After all, science has been politicized, just like every other field of knowledge.

This is not to say that global warming is a myth. Rather, it’s to say that science is a human discipline consisting of human beings who happen to be scientists. As such, they are not ideologically neutral, or immune to peer pressure or academic fads.

So why would it be irrational to reserve judgment on the current hype over global warming?

3.Then there is his general-purpose smear about Christian institutions of higher learning, as well as conservative think-tanks. Here again we encounter several problems.

i) Why does he associate the Heritage Foundation with the religious right? Here is a list of the policy wonks working at the Heritage Foundation:
http://www.heritage.org/about/staff/experts.cfm

Perhaps Mr. Edis would like to tell us what the religious affiliation is for each of these individuals, and whether their religious affiliation represents the right-wing of the theological spectrum.

After all, Edis is drawing an invidious contrast between the “critical scholarly standards” of the academic establishment, to which he belongs, and the fantasy world of the religious right. So I’m sure that he’d be happy to substantiate his identification with rigorous evidence.

ii) In addition, in what sense do the fellows of the Discovery Institute represent the religious right?

Here’s a list: http://www.discovery.org/csc/fellows.php

Is David Berlinski a card-carrying member of the religious right? Is he a right-wing Christian?

Is Nancy Pearcy an avid fan of the Left Behind series? Is Michael Behe a Bible-thumping Southern Baptist? Is Pattle Pun an ardent young-earth creationist? Is Paul Chien a member of Opus Dei?

Do any of the fellows at the Discovery Institute believe in stoning adulterers?

I look forward to Taner’s informative discussion of what denomination each of them belongs to, where that ranges along the theological spectrum, and what their personal views are on theonomy or flood geology or the inerrancy of Scripture or the age of the earth, and so on and so forth.

iii) Finally, Edis classifies the biology and physics of the Discovery Institute as pseudoscience while he says the same thing about the social science of the Heritage Foundation.

Very well, then, why doesn’t he strike up an email correspondence with some of the folks at the Discovery Institute or the Heritage Foundation and post both sides of the exchange. Then we’ll be able to see for ourselves the superior rationality of his secular worldview. I’m sure than Taner will not disappoint us.

Poor John Loftus

Having done a post in which he complains about how Christians are poisoning the pristine well of atheism, Loftus tries to poison the well of Christianity:

“In every case the Christian would have to say that God solves all of these problems. God solves every problem for which Christians have no answer. How convenient for them!”

This is a comment he posted in response to Paladin’s attack on the creation account and the flood account. Paladin had issued a series of “damning” questions on both topics.

But even before a Christian might have a chance to answer the questions, Loftus attempts to discredit any answers in advance of the fact.

He tries to define any and all possible answers, then dismisses them on the basis of his preemptory characterization.

So an unbeliever is at liberty to pose any accusatorial question he likes. That’s fair game.

But a believer is not at liberty to field his questions. The accusatorial questions should be taken seriously, but not the answers.

In my reply I did not invoke divine agency to solve every alleged objection.

At the same time, the creation of the world and the flood of Noah are explicitly supernatural events. So to insist that the only “sufficient” answer is a naturalistic answer assumes at the outset that the record is false.

“But in order to defend their belief in God, they have to use God to defend their belief here! Isn't that interesting...and circular?”

Not all circular reasoning is viciously circular. A homicide detective will use the suspect to prove that the suspect committed the crime. It’s because the evidence is pointing in the direction ofo the suspect that the suspect supplies the best explanation for the state of the evidence.

He has no alibi. Circumstantial evidence places him at the scene of the crime. And he had the means, motive, and opportunity.

So the homicide detective is using the suspect to finger him as the killer. Is that procedure viciously circular? No.

“My challenge to them is to come down out of their delusions and see the problems for what they really are. If no objection here can get past the ‘God did it’ answer, then Christians have insulated themselves from actually questioning their faith.”

Every answer does not involve a direct appeal to God. Even so, if God does, indeed, exist, then the truth of his existence is the foundation for all other truths of reason or truths of fact.

In addition, Loftus is trying to make unbelief the paradigm of belief. Here he’s invoking his own experience, as if apostasy were the template of faith.

But why should a Christian be a sceptic? If a Christian happens to suffer from religious doubts of one kind or another, that’s one thing.

But why should a Christian artificially question everything he believes if, in fact, he is not in a state of doubt about everything he believes—whether religious or otherwise?

Why cultivate a state of scepticism? That is not the same thing as entertaining genuine uncertainties. Rather, these are make-believe uncertainties. Pretending to doubt something simply because you have an imaginative faculty for posing dubious hypotheticals.

In fact, the whole exercise is self-refuting. We can’t very well question everything we believe, for the only reason we find something doubtful is if it comes into conflict with something else we already believe in. Belief is the measure of unbelief, not vice versa.

Loftus’ underlying assumption is that Christian faith is a matter of opinion. A state of believing rather than knowing.

Hence, it is never a sure thing. Christian faith is a probationary status. And we never outgrow our probation. Every day our faith hangs in the balance. No matter how often we past the test, we only have to flunk it once to be out of the running.

As a militant atheist and bitter apostate, one can understand why Loftus would try to frame the Christian faith in such disadvantageous terms.

But it’s a completely synthetic model of a Christian’s mental state. Indeed, it’s a synthetic model of almost any mental state.

It is psychologically accurate only in the “coincidental” case of an unstable faith which is transitional to outright unbelief. Sound familiar?

“So I say, tell me what objection can get past the ‘God did it’ objection. Failing to provide a sufficient answer is indicative of blind faith. Admit it.”

Loftus is like a loner who chooses to live alone, and then complains about how lonely he is. He suffers from this desperate need to have the Christian community affirm and validate his choice.

He wants us to admit that we are all closet unbelievers. That we secretly think the same way he does, but refuse to drop the pose.

It can’t be that there is something wrong with him. No. So if he can make us fess up to our costume drama, then he’ll feel relieved and vindicated to know that he isn't all alone—that the problem is not with him, but with the faith.

Isn’t this perfectly pitiful? Loftus can’t go back and he can’t go forward. He’s unhappy with where he was, and he’s unhappy with where he is. He’s especially unhappy that anyone else would dare to be happy with what he left behind. The contentment of others leaves him discontented.

"Damning" questions!

Paladin has a number of “damning” questions for Christians.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/06/damning-questions-about-creationism.html

Before delving into the details, I’d just note that Paladin is posing a number of speculative questions. The Bible is not a how-to manual, and so it doesn’t supply detailed information to answer all these curious questions. Hence, the answers will also be speculative. But speculative questions deserve speculative answers. If Paladin doesn’t like speculative answers, then he shouldn’t pose speculative questions.

I’d also add that we can have a perfectly good reason for believing that something happened even if we don’t know the process.

For example, an anthropologist assumes that people migrated to the new world at some time in the distant past. They were not indigenous to the new world.

So he begins with the fact that they are here. He then speculates on how they made it over here. Did they cross the Bearing Straights during the ice age? Did they travel by boat?

He doesn’t reason in reverse. He doesn’t begin with the process. He doesn’t say that unless he can determine the process, he can’t believe that people migrated to the new world in the distant past.

“1) What did predatory animals i.e. lions and tigers, eat prior to the ‘Fall’? plants? if so, why do they have teeth and claws designed for tearing meat. Did God ‘attach’ those after the ‘Fall’"?

i) Different Christians give different answers. A creationist like Henry Morris or Kurt Wise will attribute the predation to the Fall. Certain predatory features would be a mutation, due to the curse.

ii) On the other hand, there are Bible scholars like Meredith Kline, who believe, on the basis of Ps 104 and other passages, that predation antedates the Fall.

For them, the distinction is spatial rather than temporal: not before and after the fall, but inside and outside the garden.

The expulsion from Eden was punitive in part because conditions outside the garden were less hospitable. Although I disagree with Kline on various issues (e.g. the framework hypothesis), I agree with him on this score.

“2)Did poisonous snakes have venom and fangs prior to the ‘Fall’?If so, why?and if not, why did God give it to them after the ‘”Fall"?”

i) The second question is similar to the first. So I’d give the same answer. As for the purpose:

ii) Predation is a natural part of a balanced ecosystem.

iii) A wilderness also supplies a theater of operation for the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28). Man’s original mandate was, and will be in the future, to extend the garden to the globe. To tend and tame the wilderness.

“3)Where did ‘Mrs Cain’ come from? Cain's sister? Does God sanction incest?”

i) There is a moral difference between intergenerational incest (e.g. between parent/aunt/uncle and child) and intragenerational incest (e.g. between siblings, cousins).

Intergenerational incest is intrinsically evil. Intragenerational incest is not.

ii) Some things are licit or illicit depending on the circumstances. For example, the state of the gene pool was quite different for the first few human generations than afterwards.

iii) There’s also a moral difference between incest (e.g. between adult siblings/cousins) and pedophilia (between adult and child).

Pedophilia is intrinsically evil. However, intragenerational incest between consenting adults is not intrinsically evil, although it may be, and generally is, evil under the circumstances.

iv) Does Paladin believe it’s intrinsically immoral for a brother to marry his sister? What is his secular basis for sexual ethics?

“4)Didn't Eve find it unusual that a serpent could speak?”

The question is unanswerable.

It also depends on the identity of the serpent. It may be a case of possession.

Or it might be a pun. As one commentator explains, the noun (nahas) may well be related to the verbal form (nahas), as well as a cognate noun, which is used in divination and the casting of spells. Cf. V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Eerdmans 1991), 187).

In that event, the name may be a play on words. It doesn’t tell us what the “serpent” was (e.g. a snake), but what he was like, what he did: one who places a curse or hex on another.

So it depends on how we render the Hebrew word.

“5) If there was no death in the Garden of Eden, what would keep the Earth from becoming over-populated if the ‘Fall’ had never occurred?”

i) I, for one, believe that animal mortality did, at least in principle, antedate the fall.

ii) But even if I didn’t, animals have breeding cycles, and God can vary the breeding cycles.

“6)If God is the creator of life, why and when did he create viruses and bacteria which cause sickness and disease?”

i) Where human illness is concerned, this is due to the Fall.

ii) But disease, like parasitism and predation, is also a natural part of a balanced ecosystem. It's one way of curbing overpopulation.

So #6 answers #5.

Paladin is so intent on attacking the Bible that he’s blind to the internal logic of his own accusatorial questions.

“7)Why do people born thousands of years after the ‘Fall’ have to pay the price for someone else's crime? Is that justice?”

i) This is an old objection. We need to avoid the extremes of radical individualism and blanket solidarity. We are not automatically complicit in the actions of a second party. That would overgeneralize the principle of collective guilt. But there is also a transitive principle in human relations.

For example, favoritism is an element in friendship. And that may extend to a third-party. I will do something for a friend of a friend as a favor to my friend.

All other things being equal, I might not do that for a stranger. But if the stranger is a friend of my friend, and my friend is asking me to do something for his friend, then I’ll do it.

I’m treating the third-party stranger as if he were a personal friend of mine. I’m extending to him the good credit of my relationship with our mutual friend.

ii) Paladin has his own burden of proof. He talks about justice. What is his secular theory of ethics?

“In order to believe the story of Noah's Ark , you are expected to believe that a 500+ year old man, working with only 3 carpenter helper's(his son's) built a boat the size of a small aircraft carrier completely out of wood.”

Genesis doesn’t say how long it took. And Genesis doesn’t say the work force was limited to four men. For all we know, Noah hired a number of workmen or contracted out various aspects of the job, as we see in the construction of the tabernacle or Solomon’s building projects.

“I'm sorry, but that seems like a stretch of reality. Building a boat this size, especially out of wood, would require an almost ingenious understanding of nautical structural engineering. You don't throw together a boat the size of a small aircraft carrier like some huge wooden box and expect it to maintain structural integrity on the high seas.”

Noah did this at God’s behest. If he needed special expertise, then God could have granted him the wisdom to carry out his task, just as God inspired Bezalel and Solomon.

“1) Where did Noah obtain the precision tools necessary to build this thing, and get replacements when they wore out?”

Metallurgy antedated the flood (Gen 4:22).

“2) How did Noah and his son's mill the timber in order to make them fit precisely?”

Woodcutters and carpentry are an ancient trade.

“3) How did Noah lift logs weighing hundreds of pounds, especially to the upper decks?”

You can ask the same question about ancient shipbuilding and monumental architecture generally. It’s a combination of ingenuity and manpower, given a sufficient labor force.

Ancient peoples were problem-solvers. Look at the irrigation-systems of ancient Mesopotamian.

“4) Where did Noah obtain the hundreds of gallons of pitch necessary to hold the wood together?”

How do people make maple syrup?

“5) How did animals traveling hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles away from their natural habitat, survive along the way without food?”

This question conceals a number of extraneous assumptions not present in the narrative:

i) Genesis doesn’t pinpoint the state of prediluvian biodiversity, ecological zonation, or biogeographical distribution.

ii) Animals often migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles. They eat along the way.

ii) Paladin is also making extraneous assumptions about the degree of dietary specialization before the flood.

“6) What did predatory animals who require fresh meat to survive eat on the ark? It is probably a safe bet that Noah did NOT have refrigerators on the ark, and a predatory animals(lion or tiger) will NOT eat salted or preserved meat.”

Most so-called carnivores do not require a meat diet. They simply prefer a meat diet.

Due to food rationing during WWII, British zookeepers put the lions and tigers on a vegetarian diet.

Dogs and cats are carnivores, but if Paladin had ever been inside a pet store he'd notice that dog food and cat food often take the form of something other than red meat.

“7)How did Noah dispose of the hundreds of pounds of manure and hundreds of gallons of urine that surely accumulated on ther ark?”

i) How does a rancher muck out a stable?

ii) Also, it wouldn’t necessarily rely on manpower alone. Not only do animals generate manure, but they can also be put to work, viz. draft animals.

Apparently, Paladin has never seen a farm or a ranch.

“8) If the entire world was deluged with water, where did it run off to?”

That depends on the flood mechanism. For example, coastal flooding depends on the mean sea level in relation to the altitude of the dry land. And if, for instance, God were to reverse the orogenic process of Gen 1:9, lowering the natural barriers (e.g. mountain passes), that would flood the earth. And if God were to restore the orogenic process of Gen 1:9, that would redistribute the water. It’s just a question of where you place the natural damns, viz. hills and mountains.

“9) If the entire world was deluged with water, all vegetation on Earth would have died. The surface of the Earth , at least dry land, would look like the surface of Mars. How did God ‘restore’ vegetation?”

Even if the flood killed all the trees, it wouldn’t kill all the seeds. Indeed, many otherwise arid regions would benefit from a thorough soaking, followed by the recession of the floodwaters.

“10)How did amphibious animals(crocodiles and alligators) , who require both water and land to survive, survive on the ark? Did Noah build a small lagoon in the ark?”

Do crocodilians require land to survive? They need air to breath, but they could surface on an open body of water.

They lay eggs on land, but the flood only lasted a year.

Let’s not forget that there would be plenty of flotsam and jetsam floating on the surface of the floodwaters. So “amphibious” animals, if they needed to, could crawl onto tree trunks and other suchlike.

Hasn’t Paladin ever seen footage of a flood?

11) After exiting the ark, what did Noah, his family, and the animals eat? Obviously, not plants, as I refer back to question #9

Whatever they were eating on the ark, in addition to new growth and animal breeding.

Remember that the recession of the floodwaters was a gradual process, allowing plants to gradually spring up (Gen 8:11ff.).

“The entire premise of the story of Noah's ark lends aspersions to the character of God and his concept of justice. God destroyed all mankind becuse he ‘repented’ of making him.”

This is hermeneutically naïve.

“In essence, God admitted to making a mistake, and in order to correct that mistake, he plays judge, jury, and executioner, and annihilates all mankind without a trial, thus committing genocide. I have no doubt that there was evil, but how evil is a one year old child?”

A one-year-old wouldn’t stand a chance in a pervasively depraved society (Gen 6:5).

The fact that children may be victims of divine judgment does not, of itself, imply that God is taking punitive measures against the children. Actually, it can be an act of mercy for God to remove a child from a pagan environment like Sodom and Gomorrah.

Dumping on Debunker Week (6/23/06)

Commenters over at DC are getting under the thin skin of John Loftus and his fellow Debunkers. Since he can't stand the heat, he's evidently taken to moderating the combox and threatening certain persistent commetators with excommunication. So much for free thought!

So I'll inaugurate a Dumping on Debunker Week every Friday for commenters who were shown the door or otherwise censored to post their critical feedback over there.

This feature will last as long as there is public interest in such a forum.

Was The Papacy Established By Christ? (Part 1)

For those who don't have much familiarity with the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over the doctrine of the papacy, I want to post two introductory articles on the subject today and tomorrow. The first article, this one, will be about the Biblical evidence, and tomorrow's article will be about the early post-Biblical evidence.

Roman Catholicism claims the papacy as its foundation. According to the Catholic Church, the doctrine of the papacy was understood and universally accepted as early as the time of Peter:

"At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church, deny that Peter in his single person, preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister....For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and blessed Peter, the Prince and Chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives presides and judges, to this day and always, in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome" (First Vatican Council, session 4, chapters 1-2)

Different Catholics interpret these claims of the First Vatican Council in different ways. Some Catholics will argue that the concept of the papacy that was understood and accepted in the earliest generations involved universal jurisdiction, so that the differences between how modern Catholics and the most ancient Catholics viewed Peter and the bishops of Rome would be minor. Other Catholics claim, instead, that the earliest Christians wouldn't have associated a concept like universal jurisdiction with Peter and the earliest Roman bishops, and they maintain that the modern view of the papacy developed more gradually. Some Catholics even go as far as to claim that there's no need to show that a concept like universal jurisdiction was intended by Jesus and the apostles. They may argue for the papacy on the basis of philosophical speculation or personal preference, or they may claim that no argument is needed for the doctrine.

Catholics who take that last sort of approach are abandoning the battlefield without admitting defeat. Any belief could be maintained on such a basis. If we're going to accept the papacy just because it seems to produce more denominational unity than other systems of church government, because our parents were Catholic, or for some other such inconclusive reason, then we have no publicly verifiable case to make for the doctrine. My intention in these posts is to address some of the popular arguments of those who attempt to make a more objective case for the papacy.

Those who argue that a seed form of the papacy existed early on, one that wasn't initially associated with universal jurisdiction, would need to demonstrate that such a seed form of the doctrine did exist. And they would need to demonstrate that the concept of universal jurisdiction would eventually develop from that seed. It wouldn't be enough to show that the development of universal jurisdiction is possible. We don't believe that something is true just because it's possible. If we're supposed to accept a papacy with universal jurisdiction on some other basis, such as the alleged authority of the Catholic hierarchy that teaches the concept, then an objective case will have to be made for the supposed authority of that hierarchy.

If there had been a papacy in the first century that was recognized as a distinct office, we would expect it to be mentioned in much the same way that offices such as bishop and deacon are mentioned. We wouldn't expect Roman Catholics to have to go to passages like Matthew 16 and John 21 to find alleged references to a papacy if such an office of universal jurisdiction existed and was recognized during the New Testament era. Instead, we would expect explicit and frequent references to the office, such as in the pastoral epistles and other passages on church government.

That's what we see with the offices of bishop and deacon. Not only are the offices mentioned (Acts 20:17, Philippians 1:1), but we also see repeated references to their appointment (Acts 14:23, Ephesians 4:11, Titus 1:5), their qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9), their discipline (1 Timothy 5:19-20), their responsibilities (Ephesians 4:12-13, Titus 1:10-11, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1-3), their reward (1 Timothy 5:17-18, 1 Peter 5:4), their rank (1 Corinthians 12:28), the submission due them (1 Timothy 2:11-12), etc. If there was an office that was to have jurisdictional primacy and infallibility throughout church history, an office that could be called the foundation of the church, wouldn't we expect it to be mentioned explicitly and often? But it isn't mentioned at all, even when the early sources are discussing Peter or the Roman church. In the New Testament, which covers about the first 60 years of church history (the prophecies in Revelation and elsewhere cover much more), there isn't a single Roman bishop mentioned or named, nor are there any admonitions to submit to the papacy or any references to appointing Popes, determining whether he's exercising his infallibility, appealing to him to settle disputes, etc. When speaking about the post-apostolic future, the apostles are concerned with bishops and teachers in general (Acts 20:28-31, 2 Timothy 2:2) and submission to scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17, 2 Peter 3:1-2, Revelation 22:18-19), but don't say a word about any papacy.

Craig Keener, citing Jaroslav Pelikan, comments that "most scholars, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, concur that Peter died in Rome but doubt that Mt 16:18 intended the authority later claimed by the papacy (Pelikan 1980: 60)" (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], n. 74 on p. 425). The Roman Catholic scholar Klaus Schatz comments:

"There appears at the present time to be increasing consensus among Catholic and non-Catholic exegetes regarding the Petrine office in the New Testament….The further question whether there was any notion of an enduring office beyond Peter’s lifetime, if posed in purely historical terms, should probably be answered in the negative. That is, if we ask whether the historical Jesus, in commissioning Peter, expected him to have successors, or whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew, writing after Peter’s death, was aware that Peter and his commission survived in the leaders of the Roman community who succeeded him, the answer in both cases is probably 'no.'…If we ask in addition whether the primitive Church was aware, after Peter’s death, that his authority had passed to the next bishop of Rome, or in other words that the head of the community at Rome was now the successor of Peter, the Church’s rock and hence the subject of the promise in Matthew 16:18-19, the question, put in those terms, must certainly be given a negative answer." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], pp. 1-2)

What's said of Peter in Matthew 16 and John 21 is said of other people in other passages. Other people are rocks upon whom the church is built (Ephesians 2:20), other people have the keys of the kingdom that let them bind and loose and open and shut (Matthew 18:18, 23:13), and other people are shepherds of the church (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2). Just as Peter is given a second name, so are other people (Mark 3:17). Peter is called "Peter" prior to the events of Matthew 16 (John 1:42), and we can't know whether he was given the name as a result of Matthew 16 or, instead, Jesus' choice of imagery in Matthew 16 was shaped by a name Peter was already given for another reason.

Peter is singled out in Matthew 16 and John 21, but his being singled out doesn't suggest jurisdictional primacy. We could speculate that Peter is singled out in these passages because he's supposed to fulfill the roles in these passages in a greater way than other people, but such a speculation can't be proven. Other people are singled out in other passages, but we don't conclude that those people were Popes. Even if Peter was singled out because he was to fulfill these roles (rock and shepherd) in a greater way than anybody else, he wouldn't need to be a Pope in order to fulfill these roles in a greater way than other people. And he wouldn't need to have successors in that role.

So, if Peter isn't singled out in Matthew 16 and John 21 because he was being made a Pope, then why was he singled out?

In Matthew 16, he's probably singled out because he singles himself out. He's the one who answered Jesus' question. Similarly, John and James are singled out in Mark 10:35-40 because they were the ones who initiated the discussion with Jesus, not because they were being given some sort of primacy.

In John 21, Peter probably is singled out because he was the one in need of restoration. Peter was the one who denied Jesus three times and thus needed to reaffirm his love for Jesus three times. Since the other apostles didn't deny Jesus as Peter did, it would make no sense for Jesus to approach them the way He approached Peter. Similarly, Jesus treats Thomas (John 20:26-29), John (John 21:20-23), and Paul (Acts 9:1-15) differently than He treats the other apostles. But nobody would assume that Thomas, John, or Paul therefore has jurisdictional primacy or that such a primacy was passed on to a succession of bishops.

Catholics sometimes argue for a papacy by interpreting Matthew 16 in light of Isaiah 22:20-22. But whatever relevance Isaiah 22 would have to Matthew 16, it would have relevance for Matthew 23, Luke 11, and other passages that use such imagery as well. And any Catholic appeal to Isaiah 22 would have to be a partial appeal, not a complete parallel, since a complete parallel wouldn't favor the claims of Roman Catholicism. God is the one who gives the key in Isaiah 22, so an exact parallel would put Jesus in the place of God, not in the place of the king. So, if Jesus is God and Peter is the prime minister, then who is the king? Some church official with more authority than Peter? What about Isaiah 22:25? Should we assume that Popes can "break off and fall", and that the keys of Matthew 16 can eventually pass to God Himself (Revelation 3:7) rather than to a human successor? If Catholics only want to make a general appeal to Isaiah 22, without making an exact parallel, then how can they claim that papal authority is implied by the parallel? Why can't the Isaiah 22 background convey a general theme of authority without that authority being of a papal nature?

Paul refers to "apostles" (plural) as the highest rank in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 2:20), and he names Peter second among three reputed pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9). The most natural reading of the Biblical evidence is to see Peter as a highly reputed pillar of the church who had equal rank, equal jurisdiction, with the other apostles. He could be said to have had some types of primacy in some contexts, and the same could be said of other apostles and early church leaders, but there's no reason to think that papal authority was one of those types of primacy or that such authority was passed on exclusively to a succession of Roman bishops.

There is no papacy in the New Testament. It's not there explicitly or implicitly. This "clear doctrine of Holy Scripture" that the First Vatican Council refers to isn't even Biblical, much less clearly Biblical. Roman Catholics assume that a papacy is implied in some New Testament passages, but that assumption can't be proven and is unlikely.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Seventh-Day Advent Hoppism

“Steve Hays of Triablogue is still trying to wrest himself free of the cartoonish implications of the Christian worldview. Unfortunately for him, he has chosen to put before himself a hopless task. The only escape is to abandon Christianity and similar mystical nonsense altogether.”

For some odd reason, Bethrick has me confused with Arnold Rimmer: the lapsed Seventh-Day Advent Hoppist.

Since, however, I do not own a KJB which contains the offending misprint, or a pair of asbestos underpants, I have by no means chosen to put before me a hopless task.

But I suppose such confusion is inevitable when an unbeliever like Dawson inhabits a cartoon universe where the distinction between real people and fictitious characters loses its tenacity. And this will not be the last time in the cource of his reply that his bazookoid misfires.

“Nice try, but no cigar. Steve finds that he needs to caricaturize my position in order to wriggle out of the cartoonish implications of his professed worldview, and in so doing he not only misses the essence of the analogy (not only of the cartoon analogy, but also Paul's own potter-clay analogy), he also misses the nature of Christianity's metaphysical position. In order to do this, Steve has to ignore the fact that, on my worldview, man is an integrated being of matter and consciousness. Had he more familiarity with my position, he'd know that his rebuttal only makes him look ignorant rather than successfully discrediting my position.”

Once again, Dawson has to run away from his own words and come stumbling back with an armload of caveats which were distinctly absent from his original reply. I respond to what people say when the say it.

It’s true, though, that I’ve not chosen to immerse myself in all things Bethrickian—just as I don’t own The Essential Barry Manilow album, or a velvet painting of Elvis. Due to the brevity of life, we have to make many tragic choices with our limited time and resources.

“On my view, the frustration he projects does not exist; at least, not for me. I can, for instance, direct my own movements; my metaphysical viewpoint in no way contends against this fact. And through my physical movements, I can move other physical things. Steve cited the example of typing words out on a computer keyboard. I can direct my fingers to depress the buttons on my keyboard. If the keyboard and the computer to which it is connected are functioning properly, it is possible for me to type the words that I want to type by using the hardware to transmit my intentions.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is exactly how a cartoonist operates. He expresses his intentions through a physical medium, such as computer animation.

So all that Bethrick has succeeded in doing is to illustrate his ontological commitment to a cartoonish worldview.

“This, however, is not the same thing as conforming reality directly to my intentions in the manner that the cartoon universe of theism models. For instance, while I can wish that the buttons on my keyboard turn into hundred dollar bills all I want, no amount of wishing on my part will turn the buttons on my keyboards into something they are not. If I were the omnipotent deity that Christians imagine, then I could turn the buttons on my keyboard into anything I wanted them to be. After all, were I the Christian god, they would be buttons only because I intended them to be such in the first place.”

Notice how his cartoon analogy instantly breaks down. A cartoonist does not conform reality “directly” to his intentions. A cartoonist doesn’t merely wish cartoon characters into existence.

Yes, an omnipotent God can wish things into existence by sheer willpower, but this distinguishes God from a cartoonist.

“No, the objects of awareness do not obey wishes. I can wish that pizza, potato chips and apple fritters are not fattening when consumed in mass quantities. But the objects of the universe will not obey my wishes; pizza, potato chips and apple fritters will remain as fattening as they are no matter what I wish, no matter how hard I wish it. Because I am an integrated being of both matter and consciousness, I am able to direct my own movements. But even this has its limitations. No matter how much I wish, I cannot fly like a bird does, nor will I ever be able to run a mile in 60 seconds. If reality conformed to my intentions, however, there would be no such obstacles to such endeavors. In the non-cartoon universe of atheism, I must govern my actions according to nature's constraints. My wishing will not override them.”

Once again, a cartoonist cannot make things happen by a sheer act of the will. So Dawson’s precious analogy is a systematic failure.

“Now, notice that the cartoon universe analogy does not rely on a caricature of Christianity. After all, Christianity asserts the existence of a creator-god whose intentions directly control the objects which make up the universe. According to this view, nature's constraints do not impede the ruling consciousness' ability to control the objects of the universe, just as in a cartoon the images we see act according to the intentions of the cartoon's illustrator.”

A cartoonist does not exercise direct control over the animated images. A cartoonist is constrained by the limits of the physical medium.

“According to Christianity, if a man has two arms, it is only because the Christian god wanted it that way. If a slice of pizza has 600 calories, it is only because the Christian god wanted it that way. Nothing in the universe is the way it is without the Christian god's consent and decree. The Christian worldview is emphatic about the ‘all-controlling sovereignty’ it claims on behalf of its god.”

Bethrick, in his gimboid confusion, is repeatedly conflating two quite distinct propositions:

(i) Correspondence between object and intent

(ii) Causal immediacy

These are not interchangeable or mutually inclusive propositions.

“Similarly, in the context of a cartoon, the cartoonist controls whatsoever comes to pass. Nothing in the cartoon will appear unless the cartoonist willingly permits it to be there. The cartoon universe premise is particularly evident in the biblical notion of miracles. Take for example the miracle that the gospel of John has Jesus perform at the wedding of Cana. When it is discovered that there is no wine for the wedding guests, Jesus wishes the water in the six waterpots to turn into wine, something we would only see in cartoons. What the cartoon universe analogy serves to illustrate to a far greater degree than Paul's potter-clay analogy can hope to show, is the pervasive will-based sovereignty that Christians imagine their god has over the contents of the universe. Just as the universe is said to be dependent on the Christian god's intended designs for its origin and existence, the cartoon is dependent on the cartoonist's intended designs for its origin and existence. The contents of the universe, on Christianity's own premises, are what they are because the Christian god wants them that way. Similarly with the contents of a cartoon: they are what the cartoonist wants them to be.”

Observe the shifting definition. What is metaphysical subjectivism? Does it not ascribe a constitutive power to consciousness? That reality is subjective because existence is instantiated by mental acts alone?

But Bethrick has now downshifted to the banal equation of correspondence between intent and its intended object.

Yet as Bethrick admits, that relation obtains in his own creative activity, such as blogging.

“Of course not, because I do not believe that the universe is analogous to a cartoon. A cartoon can portray a talking computer keyboard, one which dialogues with its user. And according to Christianity and the powers it attributes to its god, this is in the realm of possibility, for it endorses the view that reality is dependent on its god's conscious intentions. The serpent in the garden, for instance, holds a conversation with Eve, the woman that was produced when the Christian god commanded Adam's rib to become "an help meet for him" (Gen. 2:18).”

Bethrick is now committing a level-confusion. This is no longer a relation of causal immediacy between a cartoonist and the cartoon, but a relation between animated objects within the cartoon.

Yes, all sorts of things can happen “in” a cartoon. But that is not analogous to the ontological relationship between a cartoonist and a cartoon. The cartoonist is not, himself, a cartoon character who directly interacts with other cartoon characters or animated scenery.

A cartoonist exists outside the cartoon, and creates the cartoon through the manipulation of a physical medium.

“I can only ‘impose my will’ on my own being, which is an integration of both matter and consciousness. My will does not directly manipulate the keys on my keyboard. If it did, I would not need to use my fingers to type them. Even in the case of volitionally directing the movements of my fingers, this only occurs within certain constraints within which I must work if I am to achieve my aims. I cannot, for instance, type 5,000 words per minute, or make the words flash in five different colors when they are read by someone named Hank or Judy. If all my fingers are broken or my hands are cut off, I'm not going to be able to type in the first place.”

Exactly the same thing applies to a cartoonist or computer animator.

“Non sequitur. The keystrokes conform to the physical interaction of my fingers. If I did not have fingers, or if I forewent their use, the keys on my keyboard would not type out my thoughts as I think them. And in using my fingers to type, they do not conform exactly to what I wish, as I pointed out above. Nature requires me to practice my typing to develop my ability, and check my accuracy as I go. That's the non-cartoon universe of atheism in which I live.”

And in a non-cartoon universe, a cartoonist must also use his fingers to depress the buttons on his computer keyboard.

By contrast, God is fundamentally disanalogous to a cartoonist inasmuch as God does not require a physical medium to make things happen. Indeed, he creates the physical medium itself.

“Steve views my analogy as an argument proving that Christianity is false.”

No, it doesn’t prove anything since the analogy is systematically bungled.

“The analogy simply brings out the absurdity of Christianity.”

No, what it brings out is the inability of Bethrick to think straight.

“Again, characteristic of Christians, Steve seeks to put a burden on my shoulders, albeit rather clumsily, even though he's made absolutely no progress in dispelling the cartoon universe analogy. Christianity's analogues to a cartoonist and the cartoons he creates are the Christian god and the universe as Christians imagine it. They imagine that the universe was created by an act of consciousness (according to their mythology, the Christian god willed the universe into being), and that the objects populating it conform to the creator's wishing.”

Observe, once more, how he merges two distinct propositions: (i) created by an act of consciousness; (ii) corresponding to the creator’s intentions.

A cartoonist does not create a cartoon by a sheer act of consciousness.

A cartoon may well conform to his intentions, but if what is what Bethrick means by a cartoonish worldview, then this is descriptive of his own worldview—in which agents, through the use of a physical medium, regularly make objects conforming to their designs.

So this is the problem with Dawson’s precious analogy:

i) It is disanalogous with the Christian worldview vis-à-vis creation ex nihilo

ii) It is analogous to his secular worldview vis-à-vis the relation between intent and its extramental objects.

iii) With respect to (ii), this is also analogous with the Christian worldview, vis-à-vis the creature/Creator relation.

But if (ii) picks out the Christian worldview as cartoonish, then by the same token it also picks out the secular worldview as cartoonish. So the analogy either proves too much or too little.

“For instance, man has two legs and two arms, not because of biological causes, but because the creator-god wanted him to have two arms and two legs. The Christian god could just as easily have created man with 22 arms and 14 legs. Since Christians believe that their god created the universe, they claim that their god is ‘bigger’ than the universe, and that nothing in the universe is exempt from its ‘all-controlling sovereignty.’ Similarly, a cartoonist can choose to draw images with two arms and two legs, and he can also choose to draw them with 22 arms and 14 legs if he so pleases. The cartoonist is ‘bigger’ than his cartoons in the sense that he calls the shots in dictating what takes place in them. To the extent that Christians claim that the universe was created by the Christian god and possesses the nature that it allegedly gave to it, Christians are affirming the cartoon universe premise that is integral to its form of theism.”

As we’ve seen several times now, this comparison falls far short of metaphysical subjectivism. For the ontology of creation ex nihilo is essentially disanalogous to the causal process of cartooning.

“That having been said, however, it is unlikely that someone who wants to believe in a cartoon universe is going to accept any demonstration of the inherent falsehood of such a model.”

It is especially unlikely that someone will accept Dawson’s demonstration when his demonstration is so thoroughly inept.

“Steve is a prime example of such stubbornness and futility.”

Yes, I’m stubborn in the face of philosophical incompetence. A terrible character flaw of mine.

“ It is, however, self-apparent to me that the cartoon universe premise of theism completely misconstrues the nature of the universe, since I have found no evidence of a consciousness which can manipulate its objects by means of mere wishing, as the Christian god is said to be able to do. In fact, all evidence that I have reviewed demonstrates precisely the opposite case: that consciousness must conform to its objects rather than having the power to conform its objects to its intentions, as I have explained numerous times in my writings. In fact, the very concept of truth itself assumes that the task of consciousness is not to create its objects and assign their identities at whim (cf. metaphysical subjectivism), but to perceive and identify them by means of proper names and concepts. The very concept of truth, then, necessarily assumes the non-cartoon universe of atheism.”

i) Since creation ex nihil is sui generis, it would fall outside secondary causality.

ii) The absence of evidence has no demonstrative power.

iii) You can also have indirect evidence via the effect.

iv) Actually, there is evidence in the parapsychological literature of telekinesis.

“I have yet to find a Christian who gets into an automobile and expects its engine to turn on by wishing rather than by inserting the key into the ignition and giving it a good twist with a couple light pumps on the accelerator.”

That’s because, unlike Bethrick, the Christians he has met are not dull enough to equate the divine mode of agency (e.g. creation ex nihilo) with a human mode of agency.

“Like the atheists they resent so much, Christians act as if the objects of their consciousness will not simply conform to their wishing. And in so doing, they performatively acknowledge the falsehood of their professed worldview. Indeed, they are in essence borrowing from a non-Christian orientation between subject and object.”

Perhaps Dawson likes to burn a straw man argument in hopes that all the smoke will conceal with fundamental failure of his precious analogy.

“Not at all. Both cartoonists and the cartoons they create are very real, just as a potter and the clay he works with are real. If cartoons were not real, how would people watch them on their TV screens? The validity of the analogy does not in any way depend on its Christian analogues being actual.”

Now he’s equivocating. Cartoons are entities. So they are ontologically real. But the world they depict is fictitious.

And Bethrick trades on that connotation when he says that Christianity has a cartoonish worldview. And in so doing he commits a level-confusion. Once again, his analogy falls apart.

“Wrong again. If Paul's potter and clay are analogous to his deity and its creations, then so are a cartoonist and the cartoons he creates, for the same essential reasons. In fact, as I have shown, the cartoon universe analogy is even stronger than Paul's analogy of the potter and clay. In the case of Paul's analogy in Romans, the potter is working with a pre-existing substance - namely the clay he uses to mold artifacts. Here's a point of disanalogy with what Christianity claims about its deity and its creation which the cartoon universe analogy symbolically overcomes: the universe, claims Christianity, was created ex nihilo. In other words, the deity did not take some pre-existing material and then reshape it, as a potter does with clay. In the case of a cartoon, however, the cartoonist approximates the ex nihilo creation of the universe claimed by Christianity by starting with a blank slate and drawing whatever he wants, where he wants and when he wants, just as the Christian god is alleged to have started with no pre-existing materials and proceeded to create what it wanted, where it wanted and when it wanted by wishing them into existence. For instance, cartoonist can give his cartoon a horizon with 27 moons instead of our one moon. Similarly, the Christian god can create a planet with 27 moons (Christians think that their god created Uranus too, don't they?). The cartoonist could decide to give his cartoon horizon 27 moons "just because," as he faces no constraints on his blank slate that will limit his creativity to a number less than this. Similarly, the Christian god, when creating a planet, can give it 27 moons "just because," since no constraints will limit its creative abilities. It just wishes, and the planet and its moons will magically appear.”

No, the cartoon analogy does not “approximate” creation ex nihilo. That confuses the fictitious world of the cartoon with the real world of the cartoonist. The difference could not be more elementary or elemental. And it thereby fails to distinguish the Christian worldview from his own worldview.

You can say that a bachelor approximates a husband, which is true is most respects, but if the analogy breaks on the very point of disanalogy, then approximation is worthless.

***QUOTE***

What the bible explicitly teaches and what a particular theology teaches are often quite different. Rival Christian groups are always pointing this out to each other. But here the bible is explicit in its promise that its god will deliver when asked. Observe:

Mt. 7:7-8 states: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."

Mt. 18:19 states: "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven."

Mt. 21:22 states: "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."

Jn. 14:13-14 states: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it."

Jn. 15:7 states: "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."

Jn. 16:23-24 states: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."

I welcome Steve's and any other Christian's efforts to downplay promises such as these, for I do not believe them either. They are, however, just a few of the verses that one can find in the New Testament which explicitly promise wish fulfillment. In terms of Christianity's cartoon universe, the believer is like Bugs Bunny having acquired self-awareness and being told by his illustrator (in whose "image" he was illustrated) that he can have whatever he wants just by asking for it. "Ask, and ye shall receive," says the promise of the divine cartoonist. The promise does not say, "Ask, and I might grant it." It clearly states "ye shall receive." But it is interesting to see Christians backpedaling from the bible's explicit promises, giving us the image of Bugs Bunny asking his cartoonist to give him a parka when he's drawn in an arctic setting, the cartoonist saying, "No, not just yet... You're going to have to freeze your little tail off first." All too often the bible models the divine cartoonist playing with its creations.

***END-QUOTE***

We don’t downplay these promises. We also don’t quote them out of context, detaching them from a theology of prayer.

“The obviousness of a cartoon's fictitiousness is due to its overt modeling of metaphysical subjectivism. This of course varies from genre to genre, but is most explicit in children's programs, and also in worldviews like Christianity. Once one realizes this, he will see that Christianity is clearly false, because it assumes a false metaphysical basis. Reason and rationality assume the non-cartoon universe of the atheist, for the universe we live in operates according to Bacon's famous dictim: ‘Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.’ We saw this above in the example of typing on a computer keyboard. To transmit my intentions, I have to work with reality, because the objects with which I work do not obey my intentions. On the contrary, they obey natural law, and I have no choice but to work with natural law if I want to achieve anything.”

This is a sustained straw man argument since the Christian worldview does not equate the mode of divine agency with the mode of human agency. To the contrary, it distinguishes between primary and secondary causality.

“But the universe as Christianity essentially conceives of it operates according to the cartoon dictim: ‘Nature, to be commanded, must be willed.’ According to the myth, what the Christian god wills, immediately becomes reality. The Christian god wills the universe to be, and it is. No fussing with natural laws here. What Christian would say that the objects of the universe do not directly obey his god's will? The Christian god will say to this rib, ‘Become thou Eve!’ magically the rib turns into Eve upon command. The Christian god will say to the rain clouds, ‘Flood ye the earth!’ and the rain clouds will obey, letting loose their waters to flood the earth, just as the divine cartoonist has commanded. The Christian god says to the flora and fauna of the earth, ‘Go now to Noah and get your sorry butts into his waiting barge!’ and in the cartoon universe of theism, they obey as commanded. We are not told how koalas and kangaroos find their way to Noah's ark from the Australian landmass, but according to the myth they did so, just as they were commanded. For in the cartoon universe of theism, there is no exception to the primacy of divine wishing, no exception to the obedience that this wishing brings about in the objects which populate the universe. The ‘how’ does not matter, for the lessons that the bible is intended to impart are not meant to have practical applicability in the non-cartoon universe of atheism where questions like ‘How did that happen?’ make sense. What's important here is obedience to the ruling will, the all-controlling subject, on the part of any object. This will has the power to command any object in the cartooniverse, and any object so commanded shall obey without exception, just as the actions of Bugs Bunny obey the wishes of an illustrator.”

i) Bethrick never advances the argument. To the contrary, he merely deepens the rut. Like a blinkered ox that keeps plodding round and round in a circle, tethered to the millstone, Bethrick continually confounds two distinct propositions: (i) the constitutive act of willing something into existence and (ii) the correspondence between the created object and the creative intent.

ii) And if that were not bad enough, he is also confusing creation, providence, and miracle. The flood is not the effect of creation ex nihilo. Gathering the animals into the ark is not the effect of creation ex nihilo.

There is no “how” to creation ex nihilo. There may or may not be a “how” to a miracle. It depends on the miracle. There is always a “how” to ordinary providence.

BTW, Genesis doesn’t say that there were koalas and kangaroos in Australia before the flood. It doesn’t say Australia was there before the flood. It doesn’t say the current species or subspecies of koalas or kangaroos existed before the flood, or—if they did exist—where they were.

Unbelievers try to make the flood account looks artificially problematic by interpolating a number of extra-narrative assumptions into the narrative.

“Now, I certainly do not think the universe is analogous to a cartoon. Either Steve agrees with me that the universe is not analogous to a cartoon (and thus implicitly agrees that a worldview which likens the universe to a cartoon misconstrues the nature of the universe), or he disagrees with me, thus affirming that the universe is analogous to a cartoon.”

What I don’t agree with is a maladroit confusion between two distinct modes of subsistence. What would be mean to say that the universe is analogous to a cartoon? Does that mean that the cartoonist is a part of the cartoon? That he’s a cartoon character? Or that he is apart from the cartoon?

“Steve has not made his position on this clear. I think that part of Steve's problem is that he's been working himself too hard, nervously posting hasty reactions to criticisms of his cartoon universe worldview without giving his own position the critical consideration it so sorely needs.”

Yes, my computer keyboard is slippery from the blood-bespattered buttons due to all my nail biting as I hastily react to Dawson’s devastating criticisms. I have to have a blood transfusion every time I type a reply.

“Child psychology is effective on the mind of a child who doesn't want to grow up.”

Actually, a sure mark of arrested development is the spectacle of a grown man who feels the incessant need to remind the world of how grown up he is. Only someone who is very insecure feels the constant need to convince us of his maturity.

Who’s he trying to impress, anyway? Mother Rand? Father Thorn? How many times must they pat him on the head before Bethrick is ready to go outside and play with the big boys?

Joshua's Long Day

“Conclusive proof that the Bible is NOT inerrant! The question is, do the erroneous statements in Joshua 10:12- 13 conclusively prove the Bible is not inerrant?”

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/06/conclusive-proof-bible-is-not-inerrant.html

Wow! Joshua’s Long Day. Is that in the Bible? Or is it one of those ticking time bombs which the Vatican kept under wraps for all these year? I guess that this is something Westcott and Hort snuck into the Bible when no one was looking as part of their master plan to destroy the Christian faith.

Brace yourself for Ron Howard’s movie version of Joshua’s Long Day, starring Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie.

Honestly, you have to wonder where John Loftus finds these guys. Did Paladin join the Debunkers after he flunked his audition for American Idol?

It’s funny how apostates suddenly “discover” these “shocking” revelations about the Bible. Things which Jews and Christians have known about for millennia. Our apostates then rush their discoveries to press as if no one had ever hear of them before.

"The errors in these verses would be obvious to a 6th grade science student. The error is the claim that God held the Sun still to extend the day so that Joshua could have daylight to continue his battle. The Sun is ALREADY a stationary celestial object. The Sun does not orbit the Earth, the Earth orbits the Sun, and rotates on an axis, giving the illusion that the Sun moves. If God wanted to extend the day, he would have to hold the Earth, not the Sun, stationary.”

The “error” of geocentrism is only obvious if, like Paladin, you operate at the mental level of a sixth-grader.

Actually, that’s not fair to sixth-graders. Many 10-year-old homeschoolers are far more sophisticated than he is.

An astute geocentrist would have no difficulty fielding the “obvious” objections to his position. For example:

http://www.reformation.ws/RICDiscussions/Science-Scripture/X%20Geocentricity/another_look_at_galileo.htm

http://www.reformation.ws/RICDiscussions/Science-Scripture/X%20Geocentricity/rebuttal_of_north_and_nieto.htm

“I therefore maintain that if the Book of Joshua was "divinely inspired", and dictated verbatim by God, as fundamentalists and evangelicals claim, then God flat-out lied or made an error!”

Yet another no-knowing apostate. The dictation theory is not the standard theory of inspiration in fundamentalist and evangelical circles. Rather, the organic theory, advocated by Warfield, among others, is the standard theory. Here’s a well-known and representative statement (From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) of what the organic theory entails:

***QUOTE***

We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.

We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

***END-QUOTE***

As regards the passage in question, Paladin overlooks a couple of elementary considerations:

i) The narrative viewpoint is explicitly local rather than global. The sun appeared at Gibeon and the moon in the valley of Aijalon. So the description represents the perspective of an earth-bound observer.

ii) In addition, the author of Joshua is probably quoting verbatim from the book of Jashar. Scholars disagree on where the quotation begins and ends. For example, Woudstra, in a standard commentary on Joshua (p174), thinks that the quotation extends from v12 to v15.

The book of Jashar is generally thought to be a poetic and panegyric national epic.

The fact that the author of Joshua has lifted a direct quote this hortatory encomium in tribute to a military hero does not commit him to a cosmographical theory—any more than singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic commits the audience to a particular reconstruction of the Civil War, or singing Stan Roger’s Northwest Passage commits one to a particular map of the Yukon. This is martial poesy, like the Iliad or the Song of Roland.

“The God who created the Universe, stars, planets, and our own Sun, obviously wasn't aware of the very astronomical phenomena he created. If you think this is "nit-picking" what many have claimed is simply a figure of speech, then consider that when Copernicus postulated that the Earth orbited the Sun, and not vice-versa, he was branded a heretic because his claim contradicted the afore-mentioned verses, so obviously there was a time when the Church didn't consider this a "play on words" and took these verses literally.”

Yet another ignorant move on the part of Paladin. He’s reading the verse through the lens of the Copernican revolution and the Galileo affair, as if the author of Joshua were writing from the perspective of Ptolemy.

But this is grossly anachronistic. Ptolemaic astronomy was a Hellenistic synthesis of Babylonian astromancy and Greek mathematics.

The ancient Israelites took no theoretical interest in celestial mechanics.

“Another argument is that God understood that mankind didn't understand astronomical phenomanae at that time, so he used terminology people could understand. The flaws in this are that one, you are saying that God coddles ignorance, and two, by default, are admitting that God lied in the same way that a parent lies to a child by telling him/her that Santa Claus exists, and does so to 'coddle' their child like understanding of reality. Regardless, God still LIED, whatever his motivation, if he did, in fact, inspire the Book of Joshua.”

That is not my argument. However, even if it were my argument, to equate accommodation with deception is simple-minded.

For one thing, when a modern-day scientist tries to explain atomic theory or relativity or quantum mechanics or string theory to a popular audience, he will often resort to picturesque illustrations that are not literally accurate. Audience adaptation is not the same thing as a lie.

And for another thing, anyone who has a hang-up about indulging a child’s fantasy-life is seriously deficient in his parenting skills. Paladin is more uptight than a corseted, Victorian schoolmarm.

All Paladin has proven is that Loftus was able to scrounge up one more wormy, rotten apple from the bottom of the barrel.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Muslim mendacity

***QUOTE***

I think he should ask Metzger for “evidence” who, agreeing with Ehrman, writes:

“While no one would claim that theological controversies caused the majority of our hundreds of thousands of textual variants, they clearly engendered several hundred. Nor are these variant readings, taken as a whole, of little consequence. On the contrary, many prove to be critical for questions relating to the New Testament exegesis and theology.52”

[Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 284]

http://answeringmissionaries.wordpress.com/2006/06/09/part-ii-detailed-response-to-steve-hays/#more-31

***END-QUOTE***

I’ve already discussed Metzger’s own views, as well as his professional relationship with Ehrman. Now I’ll make a few more points:

1.Was this section written by Metzger? Or was it written by Ehrman?

The section begins on p280, under the heading of “The Use of Textual Data for the Social History of Early Christianity.”

The heading is footnoted as follows:

“Much of this discussion is drawn from Bart D. Ehrman, ‘The Text as Window: Manuscripts and the Social History of Early Christianity, in The New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, ed. By Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids, MI, 1995), pp.361-79; idem, “the Text of the Gospels at the End of the Second Century,” in Codes Bezae: Studies from the Lundel Colloquium, June 1994, ed. By Christian-Bernard Amphoux and David C. Parker (Leiden, 1996), pp.95-122,” n17.

On the next page we have the following:

“See, e.g., Bart D. Ehrman, “Heracleon, Origen, and the Text of the Fourth Gospel,” Vigilae Christianae, xlvii (1993), pp.105-18,” 280, n.19.

“See Bart D. Ehrman, “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Treatment (New York, 1993), pp28, 44,n112,” 281, n.20.

On the next page, under the subheading of “Doctrinal Disputes of Early Christianity,” we have:

“For additional bibliography, see the discussion in Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p33, n16,” 282, n.23.

On the next page we have:

“For an assessment, see Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p.43, n.100,” 283, n.26.

On the next page we have:

“Bart D. Ehrman and Mark. A Plunkett, ‘The Angel and the Agony: The Textual Problem of Luke 22:43-44,’ Catholic Biblical Quarterly, xlv (1983), pp.401-16,” 284, n.31.

On the next page we have:

“See Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp276-7,” 285, n.32.

“For further discussion of these variants and reflections on their uneven distribution among the surviving witnesses, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp54-9,” 285, n.33.

On the next page we have:

“For further discussion, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp62-7,” 286, n.34.

“For further discussion, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp-78-82,” 286, n.35.

“For further discussion, see Ehrman, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp187-94,” 286, n.36.

That completes the section from which Rambo lifted his isolated quote.

Rambo’s deceptive use of evidence nicely illustrates the Islamic tradition of dissimulation:

http://answering-islam.org.uk/Authors/JR/Future/ch16_understanding_dishonesty.htm

2.For more evidence that the collaboration between Metzger and Ehrman does not imply a blanket endorsement of everything Ehrman believes, consider the following:

In this same chapter (8), we read:

“For the role of magic in the life of Jesus, see especially the provocative studies of Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (San Francisco, 1978) and, more extensively, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge, MA, 1973),” 296, n.62.

But in his memoirs, Metzger has a section (128-32) on Morton Smith, in which he makes some of the following observations:

“During the months following his return to the US, Smith circulated copies of his transcription of the Greek text of Clement’s letter to a number of his colleagues, from whom he invited comments. I could never make up my mind whether the text was a forgery—ancient or modern. Several palaeographers to whom Smith had made photographs of the text available dated the handwriting between the late 17C and early 19C. It is striking that the text contains none of the errors typical in MS transmission,” Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (Hendricksen 1997), 129.

“Smith’s determination to see the secret gospel as primitive, and as telling him something he wished to know about Jesus, is extraordinary. More than once he indulges in conjectural emendation of the text of the secret gospel or the canonical Gospels in order to neutralize or to remove something that would interfere with his reconstruction,” ibid. 130.

Those who thought that the letter was not by Clement included A. D. Nock, Munck, Völker, Kümmel, Murgia, Musurillo, and Quesnell,” ibid. 130.

“The most serious challenged to Smith was Quintin Quesnell’s series of queries in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly that concluded with the simple colloquy: ‘Is there a reasonable possibility of forgery? The answer, working only with the evidence that Smith presents, seems to be clearly, yes’,” ibid. 130.

Although Quesnell never said directly that he thought it was Smith who had forged the Clement fragment, Jacob Neusner, a former student of Smith’s and editor of an earlier Festschrift honoring Smith, has had no such reluctance,” ibid. 130.
A few years later Eric Osborn published a comprehensive review of recent research on Clement, in which he concludes that the letter is a pious forgery by someone who successfully imitated Clement’s style but misunderstood Clement’s idea concerning secret tradition,” ibid. 131.

Still more recently, a. H. Criddle, making use of statistical analysis, has argued that “the letter proper…should be regarded as a deliberate imitation of Clement’s style,” ibid. 131.

“Other challenges to the authenticity of the secret gospel include discussions by J. A. Fitzmyer in ‘How to Exploit a Secret Gospel’,” ibid. 131, n.10.

“Murgia argues (pp. 35-40) that the letter is intended to prove a bogus seal of authenticity for the secret gospel, and that the absence of major textual errors implies that the MS edited by Smith is probably an original composition rather than the product of repeated copying,” ibid. 132, n.10.

“In view of such desiderata, as yet unfulfilled, as well as the implications of the statistical analyses made by Best and by Criddle, it is not surprising that legitimate doubts continue to persist concerning the authenticity of the document edited by Smith,” ibid. 132.

It’s clear from this and other evidence I’ve adduced elsewhere that Rambo’s technique of attributing to Metzger or Metzger’s approbation everything of Ehrman’s is a fallacious inference.

Incidentally, Morton Smith’s contentions also came in for scathing criticism from F. F. Bruce, Robert Gundry, and Edwin Yamauchi.

For the latest critique, cf. http://www.denverseminary.edu/dj/articles2006/0200/0202.php

Regarding the substance of the quote, a few more observations are in order:

3.How would Ehrman be in a position to identify spurious scribal interpolations?

He could only do this if it’s possible to distinguish interpolations from the Urtext.

So Ehrman’s very contention presupposes that it is possible to recover the Urtext. Otherwise, he would be in no position to isolate and identify spurious interpolations.

4.It’s hardly surprising that out of thousands of MSS you might have hundreds of variants of the kind he has flagged, although other textual critics like Gordon Fee and Moisés Silva believe that Ehrman has overstated the actual state of the evidence.

Cf. G. Fee, Critical Review of Books in Religion 8 (1995), 203-6; M. Silva, WTJ 57/1 (1995), 262-264.

5.Let us also remember that variants of this type are not randomly distributed throughout the MS record. Even Ehrman has to admit that his data comes from later readings unattested in the ante-Nicene sources.

So one would have to take into account the date and text-type of a MSS in which such a variant occurs.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Denominational Idolatry Reproved

I am taking some time off until the end of July. I'll be back on August 1. I contemplated using this as my opening post upon my return. However, in reading and writing about this past week's SBC and reading this sermon in the Winter 2006 Founders Journal, I thought it might be appropriate to post this in light of the current issues in the SBC. Needless to say, Mallary is writing in the 19th century, ergo he affirms Baptist successionism. I strongly differ with him on this, as do the majority of our Baptist historians today. However, what he says about denominational idolatry should resonate with us all, Baptist and non-Baptist alike, no matter what we call ourselves. Where it says, "Baptist," substitute the name of your own denomination if you are not Baptist. If you are an independent church or association, substitute the name of your local church. These are good words. For my brothers and sisters in the SBC, think on how very prophetic this sermon is, in light of our present situation...

_______________________

Denominational Idolatry Reproved

C.D. Mallary


The Introductory Sermon preached before the Georgia Baptist Convention at Columbus, Georgia

April 22, 1859

THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST
PUBLICATION SOCIETY

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen (1 John 5:21).

Our text consists of three parts—a precious epithet, an important command and an emphatic prayer. We have the precious epithet in two words, little children; the important command in four words, keep yourselves from idols; and what we may regard as substantially an emphatic prayer in one word, Amen. Let us dwell somewhat on these three particulars.

I. A precious epithet:

Little Children

This is a term which beautifully describes what Christians should be, and what indeed they really are, just as far as they deserve the name. Christ, in one of His last, tender, affectionate interviews with His disciples addresses them by this endearing term little children. “Little children,” said He, “yet a little while I am with you” (John 8:33). And John, the beloved disciple, who partook so abundantly of the tender spirit of his blessed Lord, found in this term something peculiarly congenial with his affectionate heart; hence, the aged disciple uses it no less than five times in the epistle from which our text is selected. Little children. How sweetly does the expression drop from the lips of the venerable apostle! The saints of God should ever be as little children; and as far as they are influenced by a right spirit, they are truly little children. The Savior enforces some of His most important instructions, by referring to the well-known peculiarities of children. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” was once the inquiry of His disciples. Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them; and said, “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And as He proceeds to designate the truly great in His spiritual kingdom, He adds, “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” At another time, when little children were brought to Him that he might bless them, He takes occasion to remind His complaining disciples that the kingdom of heaven is composed of childlike characters “for of such,” says He, “is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein.” The Savior would have us learn from these instructions, that the humble, teachable, guileless, confiding spirit, which we naturally expect to see in little children, should ever characterize His disciples. Pride, and arrogance, and vaulting ambition, may find favor with the foolish aspirants for earthly glory; but the special nobility of Christ’s kingdom are the meek and lowly in heart. As little children should we receive the doctrines and laws of Christ; as little children should we bow to the corrections of Divine Providence; as little children should we meekly seek the gracious guidance, and confide in the faithful promises, of our Heavenly Father. With a gentle, guileless spirit, should we reprove the errors of our brethren. Nothing would do more to heal our present disorders, as a denomination, than a deep, experimental appreciation of the doctrine couched in these two precious words little children.

It is a primitive term. Baptists profess to be a primitive people; and of all people on earth they should feel bound to cultivate and exhibit the meek and gentle spirit of children. And on occasions like the present, we should strive to think, and feel, and speak and act like little children, keeping in view the just limitation of an inspired apostle: “In malice, be ye children, but in understanding, be men.” Should we, through the operation of the Divine Spirit, be enabled to wait upon the Lord in our Conventional duties, with hearts deeply pervaded with the gentle, childlike spirit inculcated by the gospel of Jesus, what a sweetness would it give to our Christian intercourse; what a holy unction would it impart to our devotional exercises; what a conservative influence would it infuse into our discussions; what a protection would it afford against fatal mistakes; what a precious assurance would it give of the Savior’s presence and blessing! We now come to our second point:

II. We have before us an important command:

Keep yourselves from Idols

Alas, alas, for our fallen humanity! When our first parents violated the law of God in Eden, they became essentially idolaters, and entailed the spirit of idolatry upon all the millions of their race. That exercise of our affections, which displaces God from his proper place in our hearts, is idolatry. Any object, interest, or pursuit, however innocent or worthy in itself, which is unduly loved, or reverenced, becomes an idol to the soul. One great source of idolatry has been the perversion of the religious sentiments. Human nature has ever had an irresistible bent to worship its own imaginings to serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. How sadly were the chosen tribes contaminated with the idolatries of Egypt!

After their wonderful escape from bondage, as they were feeding upon the miraculous manna, and gazing upon the mystic cloud, that was guiding them through the wilderness, and standing before blazing, thundering Sinai, they made a golden calf and shouted, “These are thy gods, O Israel, that brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” When settled in Canaan by Jehovah’s strong hand and outstretched arm, at length the idolatries of the heathen poured in upon them like a flood, and it required ages of terrible chastisement to cure the guilty nation, even of the grosser forms of idolatrous worship. And under the light and glory of gospel truth, how hard was it for many of the early converts to renounce wholly and forever their idolatrous practices! They would sometimes eat and drink things offered to idols. It became necessary for Paul to say to some of his brethren, “Neither be ye idolaters, flee from idolatry;” and John, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was compelled to say, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” And this stands for our instruction today. We would not worship a beast, or a piece of wood, or an onion; but in the best instructed regions of Christendom, idolatry sits enthroned in the carnal heart; and even in the churches of Christ it is not wholly extinct. Sacred things may be so perverted, in our mistaken judgment, and affections, as to become idols to the soul, and thus trespass upon the just rights of God.

But idolatry is not alone the perversion of our religious sentiments; any affection or sentiment may be so perverted as to lead us into that which is idolatry in the sight of God. We may make an idol of almost anything. Covetousness is idolatry. We may make idols of our follies, our plans, our persons, our successes, our sons, and our daughters.

Our dearest joys, our nearest friends,
The partners of our blood,
How they divide our wavering minds
And leave but half for God!

In what further I have to say under this head, that I may the better adapt myself to the present occasion, I shall confine my remarks to what may be called Denominational Idolatry. Is there not evidently amongst men such a kind of idolatry as this? I think so; and Baptists, unfortunately, come in for their share. Through the influence of the remaining corruptions of our hearts, a kind of denominational pride and self-glorying often springs up, which is not right in the sight of God, and which involves in it the sin of idolatry. This I call denominational idolatry. And with reference to this kind of idolatry, as well as every other, the Saviour speaks to us through his servant John, Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

1. We must not make an idol of our denominational sentiments. All scriptural truth is of vast importance. Every single principle inculcated in the word of God has its own appropriate work to do in sanctifying the hearts of men, demolishing the strongholds of error, and laying the foundation, and carrying up the superstructure, of the Redeemer’s kingdom on earth. None but God himself can properly estimate the absolute value of any one single truth communicated in his blessed word. If, therefore, Baptists, in the providence of God, are put in charge of the advocacy and defense of certain truths which either are wholly rejected, or slightly held by other religious denominations, God has certainly put upon them peculiar honors, and invested them with the most mighty responsibilities.[1] They must be faithful to their trust. The pulpit and the press must speak out through them in intelligible, affectionate, and earnest accents. They must not be ashamed of their sentiments. Neither through sinful timidity, nor an equally sinful man-pleasing spirit, must they fail to set forth to all the world those peculiar, important views as to the ordinances of Christ, as to the order of God’s house, which the Lawgiver of Zion has committed to their keeping. But they must be careful that their sacred principles be not allowed, through the deceitfulness of sin, to minister to the idolatrous tendencies of the human heart. In an abstract absolute sense, we cannot value too highly our denominational principles: but, in the comparative view which we take of the various doctrines and duties of the Christian system, we may unconsciously give them a prominence unauthorized by the word of God. In our denominational zeal we may break the just proportion of things. We may so dwell on the peculiarities of our order, as to create an impression on our own minds that we are better Christians than we really are that so we are thoroughly, profoundly baptistic, we have attained to the main thing. We must never forget that there are other great and important truths which demand our reverence and our zeal; and in the general, aggregate instructions which we give, we must see to it that every one receive his portion of meat in due season. Whenever our denominational peculiarities so absorb our affections and our zeal as to crowd from their due position other portions of the divine testimony, they are made to assume in our hearts, as it were, the character of idols; and in this perverted shape, by being forced to break the due proportion and boundaries of divine truth, they invade unwittingly the just rights of God, and are the occasion of dishonor to his cause. All this is wrong. This is a service which God does not require at our hands. But, in making these remarks, I do not wish to be understood as forgetting, that there may be times when God providentially calls for the special and bold discussion of our denominational doctrines; and that God sometimes raises up men whose duty it seems to be to devote a large portion of their lives and labors to the defense of these peculiar views. But in such cases, that wisdom which is from above, will teach us to be careful not to lift the Baptist element out of its true scriptural position, and that the perversion of which I have been speaking be properly guarded against by a due recognition of the other teachings of God’s holy oracles.

There is another way in which our denominational sentiments may be made the occasion of nourishing the idolatrous tendency of our deceitful hearts. In contending for them, we may be, to a greater or less extent, sinfully forgetful that they are God’s truth. We may somewhat lose sight of the precious, golden link, which binds them to the throne of Jehovah. We may fight for them as our truth, our dogmas, rather than as the teachings of the Saviour. We may contend for personal victory. We may become, through the deceitfulness of the heart, intensely sectarian. We may so identify our own little mighty selves with the theme which we defend, that, to a greater or less extent, we fall to loving Baptist truth, and glorying in the Baptist cause, because these are such capital things with which to fight ourselves—Nebuchadnezzar-like—into a little notoriety in the religious world. Baptists must keep their hearts with all diligence as well as other people. The very best of them are sanctified but in part; they are still exposed to the assaults of pride and vainglory. In contending for our sacred principles, we must not unlink them from God’s theme, and make an idol of them; but, keeping them firmly bound to that throne, we must set them forth with the spirit of holy boldness, arid childlike humility, that Christ, our King, may be duly honored. As far as a mere partisan, sectarian glorying in our principles animates our zeal, and makes us forgetful of God’s glory, and the inherent majesty of truth, so far the very truth itself is crucified into an occasion for displeasing God, and ministering to the flesh; and thereby we fall into the error of a certain people of old, who paid a selfish and mistaken honor to their nets and their drags, that brought them advantage. “Therefore, they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag, because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.” Habakkuk 1:16. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

2. We must not make an idol of our denominational gifts. As we are not to burden and dishonor God’s precious truth with selfish glorying, so we must not vainly and selfishly glory in men, however wise and excellent they may be. The eminently wise and pious are to be highly esteemed for their goodness’ sake for their works’ sake; this is a Christian duty. A spirit of envy and detraction is opposed to the spirit of the gospel. Render to all their dues—honor to whom honor—tribute to whom tribute; thus speaks the word of God. Opposite to narrow-minded complaining jealousy, is another evil which the gospel equally condemns; a glorying in men—a disposition to call men our masters—a blind partisan zeal for bold-spirited leaders—a cringing subserviency to the authority of great names—an idolatrous reverence for those who, from whatever cause, may have risen to some peculiar denominational distinction. Man-worship has ever been a prominent sin amongst poor erring mortals. It was this which, amongst the heathen, lifted men to gods, and with such deities peopled the heavens. It was this spirit of heathenism that flowed over into the Christian churches when their piety became sickly, and tended to aggravate and complete their corruptions. Instead of a Juno, we soon find a deified Mary; instead of a Hercules, a feat-performing St. Patrick; instead of a Jupiter, the Thunderer, a more than Christian Jupiter, a piece of frail mortality lifted up to become Christ’s vicegerent on earth, exalting himself above all that is called God sitting in the temple of God—showing himself that he is God. All this we protest against with the deepest abhorrence. And yet a little sprinkling of this heathenish, popish spirit may possibly fall now and then upon the hearts of zealous immersionists. The Baptists of Corinth had more than a sprinkling; I am for Paul, I am for Apollo, I am for Cephas, was the loud cry; and it was this glorying in men that brought upon the church much sore distress. Baptists, by their principles, are sacredly bound to resist the intrusions of such a spirit: Christ is their Lawgiver, and all the saints are brethren. God has raised up amongst them many honored names: we thank God for this. We thank God for a Bunyan, and a Keach; a Gale, and a Gill; an Abram Booth, and an Andrew Fuller; a Carey, and a Carson; a Rice, and a Judson; a Baldwin, a Semple, a Furman, and a Mercer. These were burning and shining lights; and it is little better than sacrilege not to praise the King of Zion for such precious gifts. And, if we were permitted to speak of the living, we might point to a large number of eminent men whose names we delight to honor. But the departed great were but men; and the living great are but men. “We must faithfully test their instructions by the word of God, and follow them no farther than they follow Christ. A blind reverence for human authority, turns us aside from the proper study of the word of God; and the spirit that deifies mortals, deifies the errors and absurdities of mortals. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

3. We must not make an idol of our denominational successes. For the spreading triumphs of our principles, we have a right to bless God; nay, it is our duty to do so; yet, we must be careful that for these things we are not puffed up with a vain and fleshly mind. God has greatly blessed us as a people. Let us dwell for a moment on this topic. We claim the Apostolic churches as our denominational prototypes. Church history has made a pretty fair showing that in all ages, even the darkest, there has been a people holding substantially the faith and practice which we profess.[2] The progress of our sentiments in these latter days has been remarkable, especially in these United States. In the early settlement of the American colonies, there were but a few scattering Baptists. In 1644, two hundred and fifteen years ago, there were but two Baptist churches in America, viz., Providence and Newport. In 1750, more than a century later, Benedict informs us that there were some 58 churches. In 1764, there were about 60 churches, and 5000 members. Thus, before our Revolutionary struggle, when strong government patronage was extended to popular sects, the Baptists increased but slowly; since that auspicious period, their progress has been rapid. In 1790, the indefatigable John Aspland reports 872 churches, including 4 in Nova Scotia; 1171 ordained and licentiate preachers, and about 65,000 members. In 1812, probable estimates run up to 2433 churches, 1922 ministers, and about 190,000 members. In 1832, there are reported 5322 churches, 3647 ministers, and about 385,000 communicants. The regular, orthodox Baptists in the United States, now number about 12,000 churches, between 8000 and 9000 ministers, and 1,000,000 of communicants.[3] During the last ten years (from 1848 to 1858), the increase has been upwards of 255,000. What may be called the Baptist population of our country, may be put down, by a very moderate estimate, at 5,000,000. In the State of Georgia, the progress of Baptist principles has been not a little remarkable. The first Baptist church (Kiskee) was constituted in 1772, 87 years ago. In 1792 (twenty years later), there were in the state about 60 churches, 79 ministers, and something over 3000 members. In 1832, there were not far from 509 churches, say 255 ministers, and about 38,382 communicants. At the present time, the Baptists of Georgia have about 1300 churches, 900 ministers, and 90,000 communicants, about as many as the whole number of Baptists in the United States 60 years ago. But, in estimating the progress of Baptist strength, we must look beyond our mere numerical increase. In promoting the cause of general education, the Baptists are performing a noble work. They have, on the whole, a pious, able, and efficient ministry. They have a learned and vigorous denominational literature. They have reared up more than 30 colleges, 12 theological schools, and are publishing about 50 periodicals. They are taking a leading part in the benevolent operations of the day. “Their missions are planted in Canada, Oregon, California, New Mexico;” the Indian territory, “Hayti; in France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway; in Western and Central Africa; in Southern India, Assam, Burmah, Siam, and China. The number of conversions from their colportage and missions last year, exceeded 4000. Total number in the mission churches, over 25,000.” Income to the leading benevolent societies of the denomination in 1857, $300,000. But this is not the only evidence of the progress of our denominational influence in our country. There is a strong Baptistic under-current which, with a steady, progressive, resistless power, is moving on through other denominations, and sweeping away their paedo-baptist peculiarities. This they see, acknowledge, and bemoan. Large numbers of their ministry and private members are coming over to the Baptist standard. In many of their churches infant-baptism is dying out. Some time since a Boston writer speaks as follows through the columns of the New York Journal of Commerce: “In our congregational churches we fear that there is considerable indifference and neglect in reference to infant-baptism. In one of our oldest churches in this state there had not been, a few years since, an instance of infant-baptism for the seven preceding years. Last year there were seventy congregational churches in New Hampshire that reported no infant-baptism. This year ninety-six churches, or about one-half in the state, report none. If this indifference continues, the ordinance will become extinct in the congregational churches.”[4] To such facts as these, let it be added that the number who admit the correctness of our baptism as to the mode, or action, as well as the subjects, is constantly increasing, and what a common thing it is at the present day for persons to demand immersion as an essential condition of remaining quietly with their paedo-baptist friends.

In many foreign lands the Baptist cause is steadily progressing. In translating the Scriptures into the languages of the East, the Baptists have accomplished more than any other denomination. Our American missionaries have given the Scriptures to the Burmans, the Karens, and the Siamese. In India, Carey, and Marshman, and Ward, and Yates, with their coadjutors, performed a work in the translation of the Scriptures, unequaled perhaps in the whole history of missions; and where the translations of our foreign missionaries go, the Bible speaks out in a clear voice the true meaning of the great baptismal word. In Europe, the Baptist cause is prosperous. Wales is a Baptist Beehive. Our brethren there are industrious, firm, fond of the honey of primitive truth, and have sent out many a precious swarm to other lands. In England, the Baptists are a strong, intelligent, pious, progressive band, though less strong than they might be, from the inter mixture of open communion clay with the iron of New Testament truth. Upon the accession of William and Mary to the British throne, there were about 100 Baptist churches in Great Britain and Ireland; now, after a lapse of something more than a century and a half, in spite of all the opposition with which they have been compelled to struggle, the Baptists have reached the number of 2000 churches, and over 100,000 communicants, and have accomplished a mighty work in the spread of the gospel amongst the heathen. It is said they are now growing faster than any other religious body in England. On the European continent, Baptist truth is going forth in strength to overhaul and finish out the work which Luther left so incomplete. Amongst the Protestants in France Anti-paedo-baptist sentiments are rapidly spreading. In 1834, Onkur, with six other pious Baptists, commenced their apostolic work at Hamburg, and in the short space of 25 years, the fruits of this little beginning have extended surprisingly through central and northern Europe. In Germany, the Baptists now have about 500 missionary stations, some 80 churches, and about 8000 communicants. Discussions have been aroused upon the principles of church government and religious liberty, which are shaking to their very foundations the structures of a carnal, secularized Christianity. And in Sweden, behold what the Lord is doing. In the face of bigoted, fierce intolerance, Baptist colporteurs are traversing the land, and in a few short years, great multitudes have been converted by their instrumentality, and some 3000 probably have openly embraced the sentiments that distinguish us as a people.[5]

In these things it is our privilege, our duty, to rejoice. But, beloved brethren, let our rejoicing be in the Lord. When we listen to the rehearsal of our denominational successes, our carnal pride is perhaps sometimes awakened, and we think to ourselves, what a great people we Baptists are getting to be! All this is wrong; it is grieving to the Spirit of God; it is making an idol of our denominational prosperity. And it may be that God allows many humiliating things to befall us as a people, that our pride may be humbled, and we may learn more profoundly the great lesson of inspiration “Not by might, nor by power; but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

4. We must not make an idol of our denominational anticipations. The Baptists, strong in their convictions as to the correctness of their sentiments, and the power of divine truth, thought and said, long before the sentiment was uttered by a celebrated German professor, that there was for them a future. It is true that other denominations naturally think the same for themselves, but not always probably with the same unshaken confidence, and certainly not, in our apprehension, with the same good reason. To us as Baptists, the language of prophecy holds forth the most delightful encouragement. It assures us that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” And have we so little confidence in the strength of Baptist truth as not strongly to believe that it shall everywhere mingle with that overflowing tide? We look for a time when the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold: in that day of sevenfold light and glory, will not our sacred sentiments be clearly recognized in every land? Prophecy assures us that when the Lord shall bring again Zion, her watchmen shall see eye to eye, and with the voice together shall they sing; in accordance with prophecy is the memorable intercession of Christ that his people may be one; and we verily believe that this harmony and oneness will be sufficiently extensive and complete as everywhere to embrace those sacred principles for which, as a people, we have so earnestly contended. And then we have confidence in the power and majesty of truth, and that the great, emphatic testimony borne to the Savior’s burial and resurrection in the baptismal rite, is finally to awe the nations.

And further, our peculiar denominational exposition of the word of God strikes the common mind. Can this be denied? Facts already stated, show that there is a deep, widening movement among the masses. The plain, unsophisticated mind, readily embraces our views as to the ordinance of baptism. They are simple and intelligible. Our unlettered servants comprehend readily the meaning of God’s word as to these things, from the simple perusal of the Scriptures in their hearing. I will mention one single case which, no doubt, represents thousands of other similar cases. A female servant of mine, now in Dougherty county, was once a member of a paedo-baptist church. On a certain occasion her pastor had occasion to sprinkle some individuals: he used water from a pitcher. In connection with the ceremony, he read the third chapter of Matthew, or some parallel passage containing an account of the Savior’s baptism in Jordan. She went home and said to her mistress, “I must be baptized; for if Christ was baptized in a river, we ought not to be baptized out of a pitcher.” She soon acted out the conviction impressed on her mind by the simple reading of the Scriptures, and was buried with Christ in baptism. More than thirty years ago an eminent paedo-baptist minister said to me in substance, that if he had been brought up in the woods, ignorant of the baptismal controversy, and a New Testament had been placed in his hands, he would naturally have understood its teachings as do the Baptists. “But,” added he, “these things are only the husks of religion.” Well, upon his own ground, he should have remembered that husks are very important in their place, to shield and cherish the growing, ripening corn. If, then, our teachings are true, and strike with such directness and force the common mind, when the Bible shall be universally circulated, and impartially read and studied, and that blessed Spirit which indited its heavenly truths shall everywhere be poured out abundantly from on high, we may expect our denominational views everywhere to triumph. We look for the time when all national churches, and lordly hierarchies, and organizations, that can review and overrule the decisions of individual churches, shall crumble to the dust; when plain, simple, independent, New Testament churches shall everywhere be reared up; when believers’ immersion shall in all lands proclaim in symbol a buried and risen Saviour; and in symbol proclaim the washing away of sin from the conscience by the meritorious and all-powerful blood of the Lamb.

But, O, the proud Baptist heart! How hard not to make an idol of all this! “Are we not a wonderful people? and are we not to be far more wonderfully great by and by?” Ten to one, if like little children we do not lie meekly at the foot of the cross, our poor hearts will steal away into future ages, and, surveying the nations as they will then walk in the order of the New Testament Jerusalem, will exclaim, with something of the spirit of an infatuated monarch of old, “Is not this great Babylon that we have built?” Down, down in the dust, my beloved brethren; that is the place for us unworthy, blood-ransomed sinners. We may hope with strong assurance for the future triumphs of truth; and we may bless God that this bright and holy day shall assuredly come. But it will be God’s work, and not ours. We should be humbled to the dust that God should condescend to use us as instruments for hasting on this glorious period. But for his sovereign, almighty grace, which will accomplish its purposes in spite of all our follies and sins, we might well despair. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. And now,

III. In the third place, we come to the short, emphatic prayer:

Amen

By this expression the Apostle would, I suppose, set his seal to the whole of the foregoing epistle. Be it all so; let everything said in this inspired communication have its due effect. Especially may we suppose that he wishes well to his last appeal Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Brethren, our hearts must yield a sincere amen to the teachings of the text. These things must not be held as matters of idle, superficial speculation; but our hearty amen must go with them. Is there any heavenly doctrine in the words little children? Amen to this. Be it so. Let us cultivate the spirit of little children. Is there divine force in the command, keep yourselves from idols? Amen, a loud, a heart-felt amen to this also. Let it be so. Let the divine injunction fall deep into our souls, into the hearts of all the people of God. Let us exalt God and truth; let us abase ourselves. Let us beware that we do not mount the stilts of denominational pride. A poor fool-hardy creature recently walked across the Niagara river, on slender iron stilts, a few hundred yards above the falls; he was successful, and got the proffered wager from the gazing crowd. We may mount our stilts, and try the flood; this we can do; but let us not, in our presumptuous vanity, look for success. The current will prove too strong for us; God’s displeasure will sweep us over the precipice; and in confusion and shame shall we bemoan the fleshly vaunting of our hearts. In contending for those sacred principles committed to our keeping, let us beware that we do not sacrifice to a mere denominational net; and burn incense to a mere denominational drag. Let us love and defend the truth for Christ’s sake, with an humble, self-forgetful spirit, merging all in the glory of God. If there is to be any strife, let it be that we may surpass others in the pure love of truth; in love for souls; in a gentle, child-like, holy walk. Holiness must be our great strength. If we have with us more truth than others, let our more consecrated lives, let our more free and abundant sacrifices for the spread of the truth amongst all nations, prove the sincerity of our professions, and the superior sanctifying power of a superior faith. This will excite the attention of all thoughtful people. They will respect and honor us. Respecting us for our zeal and piety, they will inquire into our principles. And as they inquire into these things, they will see more and more of their New Testament simplicity; they will join us in our struggles for Zion’s enlargement, and in our orderly gospel walk to heaven. It is in this way, more than in any other, that Baptists are to prosper. They must cast away all their idols. They must conquer themselves; their pride, their self-glorying, their passions, their covetousness; and by the example thus afforded of the power of truth, and the triumphs of grace, they will win and conquer the hearts of thousands all around them. Little children, keep yourselves from Idols. Amen.


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Notes:

1A believer, the only scriptural subject for baptism; immersion, a scriptural essential to the ordinance; and a regenerate church membership, a fundamental requirement of the New Testament, are principles for which Baptists have ever contended with uncompromising firmness. To this may be added, they have ever adhered, with unwavering zeal, to the great principle of church independency; and by American Baptists especially, restricted, or close communion, i e, that the privilege of partaking of the Lord’s Supper is restricted by the word of God to orderly, immersed believers, has ever been regarded as a matter of great importance to the protection and prosperity of the churches.

2As specimens of what Pseudo-baptist historians are pleased to say of us, one or two short extracts are here introduced. MOSHEIM, as translated by Maclain, says: “The true origin of that sect which acquired the name of Anabaptists, is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is consequently extremely difficult to be ascertained.” [A peep into the New Testament, however, removes this difficulty.]

A few years ago, Dr. Dermont, chaplain to the King of Holland, and Dr. Ypeij, theological professor at Groningen, received a royal commission to prepare a history of the Reformed Dutch Church. Listen to their testimony concerning the Baptists: “We have now seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists, and in later times Mennonites, were the original Waldenses, and have long, in the history of the church, received the honor of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered the only Christian community which has stood since the Apostles, and as a Christian society, which has preserved pure the doctrines of the gospel through all ages.”

3The above estimate, it will be noticed, has special reference to what we call regular, or orthodox Baptists. There are various sects who hold to believers’ immersion, that on some points differ among themselves, and from the regular Baptists. If the number of such be added, the whole number of immersionists in the United States at this time will be found to be not much less than a million and a half.

4Whoever wishes to pursue this topic more extensively would do well to consult Prof. Curtis’s invaluable work on “The Progress of Baptist Principles in the Last hundred years.” It is worthy of the careful perusal of every thoughtful Baptist and Paedo-baptist in the land. Prof. Curtis is of opinion that the decrease of paedo-baptism is greater amongst the Methodists than in any other denomination. It is evident to all who have given much thought to the subject, that a very large portion of their members refuse, or neglect, to have their children sprinkled. Prof. C. makes a pretty strong showing that amongst the Presbyterians of the United States, infant-baptism has decreased about one-half in twenty years. In our country infant-baptism is now the exception, where it used to be the rule. Out of twelve infants born in the United States, eleven probably go unbaptized. One hundred years ago the proportions were nearer the reverse. The Baptist element, with other causes, has then, as to infant-baptism, eaten up eleven parts out of twelve; in fifty years more, if things go on at this rate, this unauthorized practice will make but a poor showing. The truth is, it has not the least particle of Scripture for its support, and its grasp upon the consciences of men is getting more and more feeble.

5In making out the above sketch, the author has been much assisted by consulting the American Baptist Register for 1852; the American Baptist Almanac for 1859; and the Baptist Family Magazine.