Saturday, August 02, 2008

Why Bart Ehrman Keeps Losing Debates

I recently listened to a debate held earlier this year, between Michael Licona and Bart Ehrman, on the subject of Jesus' resurrection. Much of what I said in a previous post about the 2006 debate between William Craig and Bart Ehrman is applicable to this more recent debate. Ehrman repeats a lot of what he argued in the 2006 debate, even on issues where Craig had corrected him.

Ehrman ignores Craig's refutation of his assertion that miracles are the "least likely occurrence" in any historical context. Not only did Craig correct Ehrman on this issue in 2006, but so did Licona in this 2008 debate, yet Ehrman kept repeating the argument even after Licona had refuted it as well. For an example of Ehrman's repetition of the argument after it was refuted, see the eleventh minute of the second hour.

Ehrman repeats a lot of claims of liberal scholarship that were answered long ago. He doesn't make much of an effort to interact with more recent and more conservative scholarship. Many of his claims have been refuted by the likes of Richard Bauckham's Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006) and Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd's The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007).

Early in the debate, Ehrman claims that the records we have of Peter's death are "legends that were written hundreds of years later" (thirty-second minute of the first hour). Yet, around the fifty-fourth minute of the second hour, he tells us that Peter and Paul are the only apostles for whom we have first-century records of their death. Even that second claim is wrong, as Licona notes. For more on this subject, see here.

He makes the dubious claim that none of the gospels claim to have been written by eyewitnesses (thirty-fourth minute of the first hour).

He comments that the titles of the gospels aren't found until the second century (thirty-fifth minute of the first hour), which doesn't have much significance if he's limiting his claim to gospel manuscripts. We don't have any gospel manuscripts prior to the second century.

He asserts that the gospel authors relied on oral tradition, as if there were no previous written records (thirty-fifth minute of the first hour).

He makes the ridiculous comparison between the early transmission of oral tradition and the telephone game played by children (thirty-sixth minute of the first hour).

He criticizes attempts to harmonize the gospels, as if such a procedure is equivalent to writing our own fifth gospel (fortieth minute of the first hour), even though historians regularly practice harmonization of sources.

He makes the absurd claim that Jesus' resurrection is a matter of theology, but not history (forty-second minute of the first hour).

He makes comparisons between the reports of Jesus' resurrection and allegedly similar reports in other sources, such as Apollonius of Tyana, but repeatedly fails to take note of the differences among these accounts. (For some discussions of such alleged parallels to the accounts about Jesus, see Steve Hays' e-book on the resurrection, This Joyful Eastertide, and here.) Ehrman doesn't seem to have much familiarity with the Christian response to his argument. Michael Licona's mentor, Gary Habermas, has frequently addressed this issue, for example.

Ehrman apparently didn't even know that Licona believes in Biblical inerrancy (fourth minute of the second hour).

He makes a ridiculous comparison between Sabbati Sevi's conversion to Islam and Paul's conversion to Christianity (twenty-fifth minute of the second hour).

He repeatedly ignores the evidence we have from Paul when discussing the nature of the evidence we have for the resurrection. In response to Licona's refutation of his comparison between Jesus and Apollonius of Tyana, Ehrman refers to the lateness of the gospels and their alleged anonymity, for example, without mentioning the earliness and non-anonymous nature of Paul and other sources Paul refers to (the creed of 1 Corinthians 15, for example). See, for example, minutes twenty-seven and forty-one of the second hour.

Ehrman's attempts to undermine the historicity of the empty tomb are weak, and he doesn't even address some of the most significant evidence supporting the historicity of the empty tomb. He claims that Mark's report of the discovery of the empty tomb by women is suspicious, because having women discover it would be consistent with one of the motifs of Mark's gospel. Supposedly, Mark wanted "outsiders" to discover the empty tomb, and the women qualified as such. But if the unbelief of other people, such as the apostles, disqualified them from being the discoverers of the empty tomb in Mark's eyes, then why wouldn't the unbelief of the women do the same for them? They didn't go to the tomb expecting it to be empty. And it's not as though Mark couldn't have had a male outsider discover the tomb. For some examples of the evidence for the empty tomb that Ehrman didn't address, see here.

Ehrman repeatedly assumes that ancient non-Christian or modern accounts of the miraculous are unhistorical, then parallels those accounts with what the early Christians reported and suggests that we shouldn't accept the Christian accounts either. But a Christian worldview allows for miracles outside of Biblical history, both Divine and demonic supernatural activity. He doesn't justify his assumption that these extra-Biblical reports are false, and he often ignores significant differences between those accounts and the Biblical accounts. For a discussion of one of the extra-Biblical categories he mentioned, Marian apparitions, see here. And see here.

Ehrman lost this debate, just as he lost his debate with William Craig in 2006. (Licona had a bad voice during the debate, and he didn't use a lot of good arguments he could have used, yet he did better than Ehrman.) He lost both debates for similar reasons. He keeps repeating bad arguments that have long been refuted by Christians, including Christians who have explained the erroneous nature of those arguments in his presence. He doesn't seem to make much of an effort to research the arguments of his opponents, and he hasn't kept up much with scholarship that's more conservative than his own.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Calvinism, Attacked from Without and Within... et tu Brutas?

Victor Reppert's been blogging on Calvinism again. He said he was done for a while. Me thinks many Arminian philosophers and apologists have an axe to grind against Calvinism because if the Calvinists are right, those apologosophers lose out on one of their favorite arguments against physicalism, naturalism, and the atheism that uses those philosophical systems. Re-reading Reppert's DI book last week, I saw his use of libertarian free will play a somewhat key role in his AFR against naturalism. Same can be said of Moreland, Craig, and the rest of the usual suspects.

I guess on one hand I can understand, if I felt one of my best arguments for theism and against the best philosophies of atheism were undermined by a particular theological viewpoint, then I'd probably feel a bit nervous. But of course I hope I'd look at the theological merits of the case, bending the knee to Scripture. If that is what the Bible taught, so much for my precious argument. And of course Calvinists feel that the very best exegesis and systematic theology is borne out and expressed by the Reformed faith.

So I wonder why Victor posts on Calvinism. Is it to rally the Arminian troops? To reaffirm Arminian thought. Help Arminians sleep well at night? It certainly can't be to persuade Calvinists. Us Calvinists believe that the Bible teaches Calvinism. Victor never presents and defends any exegetical interpretation of key passages. Simply refuses to debate the exegetical case. That's fine. He's a philosopher and not a theologian, he says. Okay, we understand. But he must understand that he's simply not going to get anywhere with the Calvinists...if he's even trying to, that is.

I mean, we're certainly not going to drop what we take to be the best exegesis and systematic theology, the theological system which gives most glory to God and presents the most robust worldview that can meet unregenerate man head on, for some philosophical position that is mired in controversy and has been going on for thousands of years. And despite what some may believe, it's not even clear that libertarianism is the shining light on the hill leading men to theism and away from naturalism and physicalism. Van Inwagen is a physicalist about man, yet for a large portion of his career he was also libertarian about free will. Kane, one of the foremost defenders of libertarian free will today presents a fully naturalistic account of LFW in his books on free will. So though Victor may say that theologians debate the text and so Calvinism isn't "clear," it is also true that philosophers debate issues of moral responsibility and free will and so his philosophical arguments hardly can play the trump here. Not only that, it seems to me that it is the Calvinist in the debate who plays both games the best. Victor uses the debates among theologians as his excuse for not having to deal with the exegetical arguments. But I could play the same game with the philosophers. When I appeal to Frankfurt, Fisher, semi-compatibilism, etc., I do so only as a way to (a) meet the philosophical objections on their own ground and (b) as a handmaiden to the Queen of the sciences. Victor must understand that, for the Calvinist (or at least for me), I don't care if FCEs are problematic or if compatibilism is (on strictly philosophical grounds, that is). To me all that means is that I had better find another way to express what is in the Bible. I could simply say, "Well this is what the Bible teaches, so either (a) reject it or (b) drop your arguments against it." One must understand that when dealing with someone who has what would be, if true, the most unimproved justification or warrant one could have for believing something (God said so), then you need to deal with the justification itself. Take the case of the purloined letter. Memory was enough to function as a defeater-defeater in that case. The analogy fails because a video recording of the theft would defeat the defeater-defeater where a philosophical speculation (on that is hotly debated at that) isn't going to serve as a defeater against what God says. So Victor (or any Arminian, or even an atheist for that matter) had better engage the text itself. Perhaps there may be some areas where a philosophical argument could lead us to change our understanding of Scripture. I grant that. I grant that the situation can serve to make us aware that the norm isn't what we had thought. But one is going to be hard pressed to make that case in a highly debatable field of philosophical inquiry. One that has been going on for thousands of years, with no end in site! Victor may think indeterminism and libertarianism are just "obvious," but it is obviously (!) not that "obvious." All one needs to do is look on Amazon. Even my own library would show that "it's a jungle out there."

When I look at the totality of everything involved, whether there are problems with Frankfurt counter examples or not, that just trails in the dust in relation to the big picture. And Calvinists are "big picture" Christians. Besides all of this, us Calvinists can't understand why Arminians just can't see how what they think is problematic on Calvinism is just as problematic on Arminianism, perhaps with some minor tweaking. Not only that, it's not enough to (try to) show that someone is not morally responsible if their action was determined. The Arminian needs to do the dual job of (trying to) showing that Scripture doesn't teach that God determines whatsoever comes to pass according to the council of his will. That's because if Scripture teaches what the Calvinist claims, and teaches that men are responsible, then all the Arminian has done by his argument is to show that Christianity is in error. So if the best exegesis is on the side of the Calvinist, the Arminian had better look for ways to show that moral praise and blame is compatible with determinism. Certainly the Calvinist, since he believes his exegesis and systematic theology the best there is on offer, is under no rational obligation to capitulate to Arminian philosophical objections. The Calvinist, hopefully, doesn't let his apologetic concerns drive his theology. For him it's the other way around.

But besides all of this, if Arminian objections fair no better than how they claim the Calvinist system fairs, the Calvinist has even more reason to simply shrug off Arminian philosophical objections, especially when they come minus any theological ones. One example of this is found in one of Reppert's posts:

Calvinists maintain the following:

1) God's decrees set in motion causal chains that guarantee the
occurrence of all that happens in the world.

2) Persons are morally responsible for those actions, even though they
are the inevitable result of a divine decree.

3) These actions deserve retributive punishment, which in those who do
not receive the saving grace of Christ, is meted out to sinners in

4) God is not blameworthy for decreeing those actions that He himself
judges as evil. (It is either good because God decreed it, or it is
good because of an unknown and unknowable reason God might have

Of course much of this is vague and ambiguous, if not misleading. (1) can be read fatalistically. Do the events occur regardless of secondary causes or means? (2) has that implication as well. (3) is vague. Which "actions" deserve retributive punishment? The baby's cooing? That was an action, and it was determined. (1) began with "all events" and (3) just speaks of sins. (4) leaves out that we in fact do know the God-justifying reason for his decrees sometimes. (1) - (4) are also imprecise in that they do not distinguish between the decree and providence.

Now, the above four points (taking into consideration my comments) can be found in Scripture. Reppert takes (1) - (4) to constitute problems for Calvinists, so I would maintain that he must find a problem with Scripture itself. This can be seen, in one instance, by tracing the plan of redemption (in its most broad way). I will list four points below that correspond with the four points above. The advantage of this is that no orthodox Christian can deny any of the four points I list. My list is not uncontroversial, that is. Beginning with Genesis we have:

1*) Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel."

2*) Acts 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross ... Acts 4:27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

3*) Acts 17:31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed ... Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

4*) Romans 8: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Basically, the Arminian is in a bind. If the argument is that: "If God decrees a person to commit an immoral act, then God is also blameworthy," the Arminian must either drop his argument or admit that God is worthy of blame since in decreeing the death of Jesus he decreed his murder, murder is evil, therefore God decreed evil. Stated another way, the Bible tells us that each man's death is appointed by God, since some men die at the hands of a murderer, God must have decreed murder, since murder is evil, God must have decreed evil. So I don't see what the big deal is. It certainly can't be that in some instances since we don't know what the God-justifying reason is (which we do in the case of Jesus, salvation for his people), there can't be a God-justifying reason. That would be an argument from silence. If it is not an argument from silence then, following Douglas Walton, the objection is in the form of a conditional: If x were the case, then we would expect to know the God justifying reason for x. But I flat out deny that conditional. I especially deny it since an all knowing being told us that he has a good reason for all he does. So the Arminian argument from evil against the Calvinist is shown to backfire since they also believe God decreed what he calls evil. And since they don't believe it was immoral to do that, they can't hold to the general premise that if God decrees an evil, God is to blame.

Not only that, the Arminian has much the same problem as (1) - (4) above, just with some tweaking. For example:

1**) God's creation set in motion the events he knew would unfold if he actually instantiated the creation. (Some get around this by denying God his exhaustive foreknowledge (in the traditional sense)).

2**) Person's are morally responsible for doing what God knew they would do and they would not have done had he not created them.

3**) These actions deserve retributive punishment. (Some avoid this by postulating problematic notions of the atonement and hell. Some simply eliminate the problematic entities from their theology, viz., universalists).

4**) God is not morally blameworthy for intervening to stop an evil whereas a created person would be. (It is either good because God decreed it (c f. various libertarian/Arminian DCTists), or it is good because of an unknown and unknowable reason God might have had (cf. the various skeptical theism arguments from popular Arminian/libertarian philosophers and apologists)).

To close it off, Reppert wonders what secular compatibilists would disagree with in his (1) - (4):

"1) She could say that while natural determinism is compatible with moral responsibility, control by an agent is not, especially an omnipotent one. The problem would then be to account in some principed way for the difference in the way these two cases are adjudicated."

She could say that, sure, but where's the argument? This is simply an assertion. She obviously doesn't believe that in any case whatever where one agent has the power to stop some evil, he should. Certainly she thinks that a father allowing a doctor to stitch up his son, causing his son pain, is not evil, for there's a good reason. So they'd need to do some work here, and I've seen nothing promising coming down the pike. Oh, and of course she would need to present and defend a secular theory of ethic in terms of which she can judge Calvinism by.

"2) She could argue that the attribution of moral responsibility should never be retributive. If that is the case, then the kind of responsiblity-attribution they are engaged in is markedly different from that of the Calvinist, and perhaps different standards apply. If I am asking "Who is responsible" because I want to know whose behavior I need to modify, as opposed to who deserves punishment, this is a very different enterprise, and one that is actually easier to reconcile with determinism."

And all the Calvinist need do is point out the massive problems with this remedial theory. I can use the pagans do beat down the pagans. Not only that, we still need a secular justification of ethics. Oh, and I'll be sure to line up the victims of child molestation and rape and let them know that their attacker is not getting punished. If this is the secular "problem" with Calvinism, then we're fairly free from critical inquiry.

"3) She could argue that there is no "conservation of responsibility," that just because O. J. Simpson is responsible for committing two murders (assuming the prosecution was right) does not mean that an "accessory before the foundation of the world (not just before the fact)" is not also responsible."

Again, yeah, she could try to make this argument. But not only does she need to present and defend her secular ethic, she needs to show how S murdering S* is the same as when S** decrees the murder of S*. One commits the murder, and does so with evil intentions, the other does neither. And, if (3) is a good argument, then as we've seen above, Victor himself has problems since God decreed the murder of Jesus... and he did so "from the foundation of the world."

Now, I understand the purpose of Reppert's post wasn't meant to be an argument against Calvinists, but I don't mean this to be a response to Reppert's post. I simply mean if for T-blog readers. His post also exhibits (sub consciously or consciously) his common misunderstandings and unfamiliarity with Calvinism. So they were corrected. And since he offers possible secular challenges to Calvinism, I took the liberty (!) to point out what the secularist would need to do if he even wanted to get his attack of the ground. Besides that, I think it telling that the secularists strongest argument against Christianity is the argument from evil and the Arminian Christian's strongest argument against Calvinism is the problem of evil. Just as unregenerate hate Christianity, it seems the Arminian hates the Calvinist system with the same passion. I find all of this very telling and think there's more going on behind the scenes. If God really came into the world, revealed his holy character, and set forth the antithesis between him and us, would more people find it comforting than not?

"Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either. "

— C.S. Lewis

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Orthodox Bans

What is it about the Orthodox? Is their lack of integrity native to their religion?

Within the past year, two Orthodox participants in discussions here have earned a ban. In both instances warnings were issued almost from the time they first began posting here - not due to the content of their writing and argumentation, repetitive though it was, but due to their demagoguery in the comboxes.

Not only that, they both proceeded to defy their bans from the time they were issued. One would think that they would be at least somewhat concerned about maintaining some sort of testimony both personally and for their denomination. It doesn't look good for Orthodoxy to have representatives of their group who behave in such a manner.

What's more the second of these, Lvka, not only violated his ban, but he can't even keep his own word. In a comment since removed, Lvka actually agreed with my vote to permaban him, because without it, he wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to misbehave.

So much for Orthodox integrity. Currently, Lvka and Orthodox are not welcome here, not now, not ever. When Turretinfan urged clemency, I told him that I'm always open to the lifting of a ban. However, I'm not the only contributor to this blog. Unless the others here are open to lifting it, I will not lift it. I've tried that with Orthodox himself too, and he demonstrated he could not be trusted. Indeed, he took to posting pseudonymously for a time too, as if we couldn't figure out it was him.

This sort of infantile behavior will not be tolerated. As a reminder, this blog is also a ministry. We provide this service free of charge to the community, but that doesn't mean that the community gets to set their own terms when participating here. If people who are banned have something to say, then they can use their own blogs to say it - not this one. They wouldn't appreciate it if we showed up at an Orthodox church service and started behaving in this manner. We'd be ejected quickly. The same rules apply to them when they come here, as it would apply to us in such a situation.

So, let the record publicly show the entire blogging community that Lvka and Orthodox are not to be trusted to behave. If they are participating on your blogs, you might want to keep that in mind. I would urge other Orthodox bloggers, like Perry Robinson and JNorm -both of whom do a pretty good job and for whom, while I personally disagree with you both I have some respect for the way you comport yourselves - to have a word with their two peers about such childish behavior.

Get it together, Lvka, and you might just have your ban lifted later on, but it does not help you to act the way you are currently. Any continued posts from you in any thread will tell us that you don't believe that what you say here is worth the bandwidth, and we can do with you what we did with Orthodox - hunt down your posts in every thread, and delete them on the premise that you agree that your posts are without value and should be deleted.

The Early Post-Apostolic Christians Were Roman Catholic And Not Anything Like Evangelicalism?

Harvardman has posted some comments in another thread that reflect a common Roman Catholic sentiment:

"While it is possible to find fathers who seemed to believe in justification by faith, and while various interpretations of particular early patristic sources can be advanced to support some aspects of modern evangelical Christianity, the preponderance of the evidence DOES NOT look anything like modern evangelical Christianity. Rather, it appears that Christians who knew the apostles (or who knew men who knew them) and who were obviously neither Gnostics nor Arians, and who served as living examples of apostolic Christianity for the next generation, lived a Christianity centered around: obedience to their Bishop, rejection of the many rival claimants to the chair of their Bishop, and celebration of the Eucharist."

Different Catholics will cite different areas of agreement with the early church, and the argument can vary in other ways, but the general thrust of Harvardman's comments is commonly expressed by Catholics. The amount of truth in the argument depends on how some of the terms are being defined. Harvardman refers to "Christians who knew the apostles (or who knew men who knew them)", but often the length of time involved isn't defined so specifically. Some doctrines and practices, such as the perpetual virginity of Mary and the veneration of images, were widely rejected in earlier generations, but were widely accepted later. A lot depends on what timeframe is in view and how other terms are being defined.

What should we expect to see in early church history in light of the claims of Roman Catholicism and its advocates? Should we just see the sort of vague similarity with Roman Catholicism that Harvardman refers to at the close of his comments above? Think of the claims made by the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council, for example. Think of the claims made by Popes and Roman Catholic theologians and apologists over the centuries. The Roman Catholic denomination claims to be the one true church, founded by Christ, infallible and maintaining all apostolic teaching in unbroken succession throughout church history. Catholics often state or suggest that all or most of the church fathers were Roman Catholic, that there were few or no rival orthodox groups in early church history, etc. Given such claims, should we expect Catholics like Harvardman to be appealing to such vague similarities with the early church, such as that they were "centered around: obedience to their Bishop, rejection of the many rival claimants to the chair of their Bishop, and celebration of the Eucharist"?

And what about the claim that the early church, as Harvardman defines it, "DOES NOT look anything like modern evangelical Christianity"? It doesn't look anything like Evangelicalism?

In the thread linked above, part of my response to Harvardman consisted of a series of links to articles in this blog's archives relevant to Roman Catholicism and the history of the patristic era. I believe that the following conclusions can be reached about the earliest post-apostolic generations of Christianity in light of the sort of evidence discussed in those linked articles:

- There was no papacy.
- There were multiple forms of church government, including forms not involving a monarchical episcopate.
- Church leaders were required to meet moral and doctrinal standards, and it was considered acceptable to disobey or separate from a leader who violated such standards.
- When apostolic succession was discussed, it was defined in different ways by different sources, and the concepts discussed involved reasoning and qualifications that we don't find in modern Roman Catholic arguments for apostolic succession.
- Infants weren't baptized initially, and the later practice of infant baptism was largely done for a different reason and at a different time than we see in modern Catholicism.
- There were multiple views of the eucharist on issues such as a eucharistic presence of Christ, and John 6 was sometimes interpreted metaphorically, for example.
- Though most of the early post-apostolic sources advocated some form of justification through works, some advocated justification through faith alone, and those who advocated justification through works disagreed with each other about the nature of the works, sometimes contradicting Roman Catholicism on the issue.
- Mary was believed to have sinned.
- They often discussed subjects such as bodily assumptions and what happened to men like Enoch and Elijah without mentioning a bodily assumption of Mary. The concept of an assumption of Mary is absent, including in contexts where it would be appropriate to mention the concept.
- Whether Mary was a perpetual virgin isn't discussed much, though the earliest view seems to be that she wasn't.
- Passages of scripture often cited in support of Roman Catholic Marian doctrines, such as Revelation 12, were interpreted differently than Catholics interpret those passages.
- The concept of Purgatory was initially absent and widely contradicted, and some of the later ante-Nicene fathers who are sometimes cited in support of the doctrine can only be cited for partial support, along with partial contradiction.
- There was widespread opposition to the veneration of images.
- There was widespread belief that prayer is to be offered only to God, not to angels or deceased humans.
- Despite much acceptance of one or more Apocryphal books as scripture, some of the Apocryphal books accepted aren't accepted by Roman Catholicism, and some sources rejected the Apocryphal books.
- Premillennialism seems to have been the most popular eschatology.

Other examples could be cited, such as a comparison between the ecumenism of modern Roman Catholicism and how the early patristic Christians viewed other religions and their adherents. But I think the examples above are sufficient to make the point. Why should we think that the early post-apostolic Christians were Roman Catholic? And why should we think they weren't anything like Evangelicalism?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Did The First Council Of Constantinople Condemn Premillennialism?

The subject of the condemnation of premillennialism by an ecumenical council has been prominent in some recent discussions here, so I thought I'd repost some of my comments on the subject from another thread. Jnorm888, an Eastern Orthodox, originally claimed that premillennialism was condemned as a heresy by an ecumenical council in the sixth century. He later retracted that claim and replaced it with the claim that the doctrine was condemned by the First Council of Constantinople in the fourth century. NPMcCallum, another Eastern Orthodox, also argued for a condemnation by First Constantinople. Here, below, is my latest response to NPMcCallum on the subject, from the thread here.

NPMcCallum said:

"Jason, I would agree with you 100% if it were not for 'whose kingdom shall have no end.' 'Whose kingdom shall have no end' is the ONLY phrase added to the Christological portion of the creed at Constantinople, the same council which condemns a known chilliast (and I think two known chilliasts, if I can find the source). Why add this phrase to the Creed? There is no other context for this phrase other than chilliasm. I'll happily accept correction if you can show otherwise."

As I explained earlier, I don't know much about the history of the creed in question. I don't know the timing of the addition you're referring to or much else about its background. I know there's been disagreement among scholars regarding where different portions of the creed came from. I haven't followed those disputes in detail.

You've made a lot of assertions, but the only source you've cited so far has been a letter of Gregory Nazianzen, which mentions premillennialism, briefly, as one of the beliefs of some of the heretics in question. It wasn't the central belief of those heretics, and the council itself condemns multiple groups of heretics without any reference to premillennialism. If the phrase in question in the creed came from the council, and the council meant to condemn premillennialism of some type, I would want more evidence before concluding that a condemnation of premillennialism in general was in view. As I said before, an allusion to Luke 1:33 doesn't contradict premillennialism as it's commonly perceived, so the phrase itself shouldn't be seen as a condemnation of premillennialism. You would need to combine the phrase with something else indicating that a condemnation of premillennialism was in mind.

Philip Schaff writes, concerning this addition to the creed:

"This addition likewise is found substantially in the Antiochian creeds of 341, and is directed against Marcellus of Ancyra, Sabellius, and Paul of Samosata, who taught that the union of the power of God (ἐνέργεια δραστική) with the man Jesus will cease at the end of the world, so that the Son and His kingdom are not eternal Comp. Hefele, i. 438 and 507 sq." (source, note 1441)

That heresy isn't part of premillennialism in general. As I said earlier, a condemnation of a heretical form of premillennialism wouldn't qualify as a condemnation of premillennialism in general. You have to attach a heresy to premillennialism that isn't part of premillennialism itself in order to place some form of premillennialism under this condemnation.

You say that "there is no other context for this phrase other than chilliasm", but Schaff's comments above provide another context. The eternality of Christ's reign is relevant to heretics who denied that Christ and His reign are eternal. No condemnation of premillennialism in general is needed to make sense of the creed.

Of the scholars I've read on the history of premillennialism so far, none have argued that the doctrine was condemned by the First Council of Constantinople. And as I noted earlier, the doctrine continued among mainstream Christians after First Constantinople. Furthermore, whoever composed the portion of the creed you're referencing probably realized that premillennialism had been a widespread belief, accepted by the likes of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. In light of such factors, a condemnation of premillennialism in general seems unlikely. The evidence I've seen so far is against your conclusion.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Romans 8:11 And Physical Resurrection

Chris Price has posted another article in his "Is Richard Carrier Wrong About..." series. The latest article addresses Carrier's view of Romans 8:11 as it relates to whether Paul believed in a physical resurrection.

In the comments section, Steven Carr posts some of his typical erroneous objections. (For those who don't know, Carr is a critic of Christianity who visits a lot of web sites and frequently posts on the subject of the resurrection. He doesn't make much of an effort to interact with or learn from the people who respond to him. He's posted here on occasion, and you can find our responses to him if you search the archives.) He objects that a resurrection isn't "EXPLICIT" in the passage, as if it needs to be. If the concept isn't "EXPLICIT" as he defines that term, then Price is "lying" and Price's interpretation must be "all in his mind". Then Carr objects that some passages Price cited from elsewhere in Paul's writings don't mention "our mortal bodies". But Price didn't cite the passages for that purpose. He cited them as more relevant than Carrier's passages, not as complete parallels to Romans 8:11. And Carr's citation of 2 Corinthians 5 only proves his view if we assume his reading rather than a Christian alternative, and he gives us no reason to prefer his.

For more on the subject of Paul's view of the resurrection, see here. Paul's Jewish context, the beliefs of his Christian contemporaries, and the beliefs of his churches shortly after his lifetime suggest that he believed in a bodily resurrection. Yet, Carr "wonders why Carrier can concede that some passages are problematic, yet true scholars like Layman cannot". Given that the sources surrounding Paul (those that influenced him, those influenced with him, and those influenced by him) affirmed a bodily resurrection, why should we think it would be unexpected if no passages in Paul are problematic for the position of bodily resurrection? The reason why Carrier acknowledges that some passages are problematic for his view is because his view is so wrong that he realizes that it's problematic and expects his readers to notice the same thing.

McCain/Obama on the issues

Barack Obama

John McCain

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Evangelicals for Obama"

Before I launch into some Obama bashing, I should, to be “fair and balanced,” say a thing or two about McCain.

McCain wasn’t my first pick. Or my second. Or my third, or fourth, or...

McCain rarely misses an opportunity remind conservatives of why we dislike him so. He goes out of his way to skewer conservatives.

The best argument for voting for McCain is that while Obama is bad on all the issues that McCain is bad on, McCain is better on a few other issues. Obama is uniformly bad. And I think that’s an adequate reason to vote for McCain.

That doesn’t mean it’s an adequate reason for me. McCain is daring conservatives to vote for him because the alternative is even worse. It’s a game of chicken.

I don’t know that I’m prepared to vote for a candidate under such coercive terms. Don’t count on me to blink first. I’m not responsible for this dilemma.

It’s kind of like one of those movie scenarios in which your captors force you to choose which captive will die to spare the lives of your fellow captives: “Either shoot him or we’ll shoot you!” In that situation, kill us all and let God sort it out.

I think one can justify voting for McCain, and I also think one can justify sitting out this election.

I’m also curious to see who he will pick for Veep. If it’s Romney, count me out.

I’d add that even if McCain is elected, there’s not much he can do should the Democrats pick up a veto-proof majority in Congress. Let’s not be so focused in the presidential election that we overlook the Congressional election. That’s equally important.

Now let’s shift to Obama. And let’s begin with white “evangelicals” who plan to vote for Obama.

“Green said young evangelicals are ‘tired of the confrontational politics we've had over the last couple of decades’."

Fine. Let’s elect conservatives. That would put an end to confrontational politics.

Barring that, I prefer gridlock to smooth traffic flow over a cliff.

“And want ‘a broader agenda’.”

I don’t want a broader agenda. I want a narrower agenda. Less government, not more.

“And a much more inclusive approach’."

There’s nothing “inclusive” about liberal social policies. It’s all about groupthink.

“According to the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 35 percent of young white evangelicals said society should accept homosexuality, compared to 22 percent of older evangelicals.”

“Accept” in what sense? To have all the same rights as normal people?

“While a commitment to poverty-fighting is nothing new for Christians, 58 percent of young white evangelicals would choose ‘bigger government providing more services’ over ‘smaller government providing fewer services’."

Of course, gov’t doesn’t fight poverty. It promotes poverty. It promotes a culture of dependency. In the welfare state, where you penalize productive citizens and subsidize unproductive citizens, there’s no incentive to work.

“Smith said her top priorities are the environment, poverty, and health care.”

Of course, this is code language for global warming, welfare, and universal health insurance. From what I can tell, anthropogenic global warming is a hoax.

Welfare doesn’t solve poverty. It creates and perpetuates poverty.

Universal heath insurance is a pyramid scam. Who’s going to pay? Not the poor. The rich? No. The rich shelter their income. Look at Ted Kennedy. He’s living off of his old man’s fortune.

Here’s a little history lesson for the younger generation. I grew up in a one-income, middle class family during the 60s and 70s. We didn’t have health insurance back them. No one did. It was a fee-for-service system. And it was affordable. We didn’t need heath insurance.

Insurance isn’t cost effective. If insurance were cost-effective, insurance companies would go out of business. They turn a profit on insurance because you pay in more than they pay out. It’s really pretty obvious.

In fact, government sponsored health insurance drives up the cost of health care. If gov’t is footing the bill, then the companies don’t have to be competitive. Just look at the post office.

BTW, I’m not knocking insurance, per se. But insurance is no solution to health care costs that annually rise higher than the rate of inflation. You end of with rationed health care. Just look at the UK.

“They're the issues that affect her most—more than abortion or gay marriage—and she thinks they're the issues Jesus prioritized, too: ‘I know that Jesus said visit the sick, feed the hungry,’ she said. ‘I feel like I'm not going against my faith by putting those issues at the forefront’."

First of all, she mentioned three issues, not just one. Was Jesus a member of the Green Party?

He also didn’t talk about the sick in general or the poor in general. That has reference to sick or hungry Christians.

BTW, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be charitable. But the Bible distinguishes between people who are poor through no fault of their own (e.g. widows and orphans) and people who are poor due to their lifestyle choices (e.g. sluggards).

In addition, the Bible proposes various forms of workfare (e.g. indentured service, gleaning the fields) rather than welfare. It proposes interest free loans rather than food stamps. You have to repay a loan.

"The whole gay thing?’ she says. ‘Jesus never mentioned homosexuals at all’."

Let’s see—he condemned fornication (Mt 5:19), defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman (Mt 19:4-6), and mentioned God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Mt 10:15). Just what Bible is she reading?

Anyway, it wouldn’t matter if Jesus was silent on the subject. Christian theology isn’t limited to a red-letter edition of the Gospels. Jesus upheld OT ethics, and he also appointed men to speak on his behalf.

Now let’s transition to black “evangelicals” who plan to vote for Obama.

“I started by explaining that for African Americans, there is a sense of hope no longer being deferred. Instead, hope is at the front door knocking furiously, waiting to see if African Americans will answer. If we open the door, forty million African Americans are going to witness a fellow African American getting the largest slice of the American Dream Pie—a dessert many had hoped to see people of color eat in their lifetime, but the many fell asleep having embraced such promises from afar.”

In other words, vote for him for the empty symbolism. That’s racist. It’s racial tokenism. Vote for a black—any black. Would Redmond vote for Idi Amin or Robert Mugabe?

Black “evangelicals” would be selling themselves cheap if they cast their vote for empty symbolism.

“As the struggle for social and economic equality has been a struggle for all African Americans, regardless of belief system(s), we all share in the joy when one of our own achieves the (presumptive) nomination for the highest office in the land.”

In other words, if you neighbor wins the lottery, then you win the lottery. Except that you don’t. If you neighbor wins the lottery, he gets the big fat check, not you. You’re exactly where you were before he won.

So this is more empty symbolism.

“An office that has been reserved for white males only until now.”

I wouldn’t say the presidency is been “reserved” for white males only until now. Running Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton for president isn’t much of a test.

“Obama’s candidacy would allow all African Americans to say to our forefathers, “we finally did it!’…”

More empty symbolism. Your forefathers can’t hear you. They’re dead and buried.

“Hope, yea victory, is finally here! We are equal at the highest level!”

That’s an illusion. If Obama is elected, it will be white votes that put him over the top. His success or failure still depends on white power.

“If we take DuBois’ musings as an accurate analysis of African American existence, we can see another factor involved in Christian African Americans’ support of Obama: identity.”

Which has nothing to do with Christian identity.

“We now have a candidate who we think identifies with the experience of African Americans.”

No, he identifies with his white Ivy League professors.

“He has experienced the struggle of the great-great-great-grandchildren of slaves (even though he is not one).”

No, he experienced affirmative action.

“So surely, it is supposed, he will fight for policies and programs that will be sensitive to the plight of his people and that work toward uplifting the entire race of people.”

Social programs don’t uplift black Americans. They hold them down.

“To the place where the playing field is level.”

In what sense is the playing field tilted?

“Surely, as one of us, he will sign into law measures that will protect the gains made during the Civil Rights and post-Civil Rights Eras.”

If Obama loses, will the South reinstate Jim Crow? I don’t think so.

“Because he is one of us, we have hope that we will no longer have to look at ourselves through the contemptuous eyes of others—i.e., white Americans.”

Do white Americans look with contempt on black Americans? That’s a pretty sweeping statement.

“We now can look at ourselves through the eyes of the man who could hold the most well-known office in the free-world, and he can look at the world through our eyes.”

This, too, is racist. It reflects a racial inferiority complex. A need for symbolic affirmation.

I’ve never voted for president to validate my personal identity. I’ve never seen myself through the eyes of my president. I never saw myself through the eyes of Bill Clinton.

The implication of Redmond’s statement is that black Americans need to prove themselves to themselves, prove themselves to white Americans, and prove themselves to the world.

Once again, that’s a racist sentiment. It reflects a racial inferiority complex.

If you really think you’re equal, then you have nothing to prove. No one to impress. You’re secure in your own identity.

“For African Americans, to deny Obama would then be, in some sense, to deny one’s own identity.”

In other words, any black American who doesn’t vote for Obama is a traitor. What does this say about Redmond’s priorities?

And how does his attitude differ from the attitude of a Klansman? What’s the difference between white identity politics and black identity politics?

For example, Bobby Jindal is a rising star in the GOP. Would it be a denial of my white identity to vote for an East Indian American? Why should racial identity—whether mine or his—even be a consideration?

“Being able to see the potential for mutual embracing of identities in a candidate further means that African Americans will not feel the need to settle on the candidate who represents the lesser of two evils.”

Only if racial identity trumps Christian identity or moral identity.

“By common consent, many African Americans feel that their votes are taken for granted by one major political party, and only courted as tokenism by the other major party.”

There’s some truth to that. It’s a vicious cycle. Republicans ignore most black candidates because most black candidates are liberal. Most black candidates ignore the GOP in return.

We need movement in both directions. The GOP should seek out talented conservative “minorities” while talented conservative “minorities” should seek out the GOP.

“The votes do not result in policy changes that benefit African Americans as a whole no matter which party’s candidate wins office.”

Conservative policies benefit every race.

“An Obama candidacy immediately changes the hopeless feelings of resignation as the fall approaches.”


“Higher than average African American attendance at the polls in November could be a reflection of the joy brought on by the ability to pick a candidate without mental or emotional reservation and resignation.”

But they should have mental reservations about Obama. Indeed, that’s an understatement.

“An Obama nomination looks like a nomination for social justice – far more than does a nomination for someone from the other party.”

What social injustice does Redmond think black Americans are still enduring?

“If the Illinois senator will carry both white and Black voters in November, unlike Democratic candidates from other ethnicities, he will not be able to make promises to African Americans without accountability to keep his promises.”

My that’s credulous. White politicians lie to white voters all the time. Why would a black candidate be any different?

“Instead, he will be under pressure not to let his people down judicially. He will have to reject policies that stand against the Democratic version of racial progress, and he will have to sign into law policies that stand for such progress.”

What current policies stand in the way of blacks?

“They expect social and economic justice policies to find favor with this candidate, for Affirmative Action to be strengthened, for racial profiling and racial inequities in the legal systems to be brought into account and see diminishing statistics, and for ‘equal justice for all’ to be more than words on the halls of justice.”

You know, this way of casting the issue makes it sound as if we have an all-black underclass under the heel of an all-white government.

Last time I checked, there were black judges, black big-city majors, black big-city councilmen, black big-city police chiefs in charge of an integrated police force, &c. Who's oppressing whom?

“An Obama presidency would portray justice in another odd sort of way. Akin to the issue of hope above, his election would be seen as vindication. It would have a self-correcting effect on the errors of America’s history, with its sins of chattel slavery, Jim Crow laws.”

We’ve already corrected those errors.

“And ongoing civil injustices.”

Such as?

“What greater way is there for African Americans in turn to say, ‘We have overcome!”

I can think of a greater way. What about raising your kids in two-parents homes. Helping them with their homework so that they graduate from high school. Things like that.

“What an Obama in the White House would do for African Americans is allow us to feel.”

To “feel.”

“We can say, ‘Now this country is going to treat us equally, fairly, justly’.”

“Now”? Redmond is a pretty successful man in his own right to feel so victimized.

Does Barack Obama look like a victim of social injustice to you? Does his wife look like a victim of social injustice to you? If that’s the face of social injustice, it’s pretty lucrative.

“The above thoughts do not make a judgment on whether Christian African Americans should or should not vote for Obama.”

Of course it’s a judgment on Christian black Americans who don’t vote for him. Redmond just implied that any black American who doesn’t vote for Obama is a traitor to the black race.

“The intention of this work is only to offer some reasons that explain why Christian African Americans might vote for Obama in the fall.”

But notice that he didn’t give any Christian reasons. Not a single one.

“It does not address the suggested contradiction between voting for a pro-choice candidate and claiming to be a voter who holds a pro-life position. Personally, I think that sanctity of life issues only deal with one of ten areas of sin in the Decalogue, so they are not to be elevated above all of the other prohibitions and commandments.”

To begin with, he keeps harping on slavery. But weren’t the abolitionists single-issue politicians? Slavery was just one issue.

And what about the 10 Commandments? Is Obama any better on the other 9 commandments?

By belonging to one of the most liberal Christian denominations, Obama violated the 1st commandment.

By belonging to a church that advocated black liberation theology, Obama violated the 2nd commandment. He idolizes racial identity.

So does Redmond. Redmond idolizes Obama. He talks about Obama the way followers of Father Divine used to take about their leader.

Violation of the 3rd commandment was a crime in the Mosaic law. Does Obama intend to criminalize blasphemy? No.

Does Obama intend to restore the blue laws? No. So much for the 4th commandment.

BTW, I’m not saying if the 10 commandments should be enacted into law. I’m just measuring Obama by the yardstick which Redmond handed me.

Does Obama support the 5th commandment? No. He supports the welfare state. The welfare state doesn’t honor parents. To the contrary, the welfare state denies parental authority. It supplants parental authority. It usurps the role of the parent.

What about the 6th commandment? Redmond already concedes that Obama’s policies violate this command.

And that’s especially ironic. Redmond harps on racial identity, yet abortion is a form of racial genocide. Redmond harps on racial identity as long as we exclude black babies from life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

What about the 7th commandment? Adultery was a capital offense in the Mosaic law. Does Obama intend to execute adulterers? I don’t think so.

Again, I’m not saying if he should or shouldn’t. Just seeing if he measures up to Redmond’s yardstick.

What about the 8th commandment? The welfare state is a form of theft. Coercive income redistribution.

What about the 9th commandment? Our current judicial system isn’t designed to acquit the innocent and convict the guilty. It’s only concerned with the rights of the accused, even when that involves the suppression of probative evidence.

Does Obama plan to rectify that situation? Not that I heard.

What about the 10th commandment? But the welfare state is predicated on envy. Class warfare. It institutionalizes the sin of covetousness—unless, of course, you’re a rich liberal politician, in which case you shelter your major assets and overtax the middle class.

So Obama flunks every one of the Ten Commandments.

Eric Redmond is a black man first and a Christian second—which is no kind of Christian at all.

Girly-girl universalism

I’ve been allowing the comments to pile up over at Gregory MacDonald’s before I respond. Let’s look at what his commenters have to say:

Bobby said...

“The way Steve treats Rachel...he'd better be glad Christian Universalism is true!”

Actually, I treat Rachel the same way I treat Jason Pratt or some of the other commenters. So why does Bobby single out Rachel? Because she’s a woman?

In other words, he’s a sexist. He thinks that women are the weaker sex. Need to be handled like a fragile piece of porcelain. Women break so easily, ya know! Does Bobby belong to one of those polygamist Mormon cults where women know their place?

This also illustrates the chasm between universalist rhetoric and universalist practice. Why would Bobby be posting supportive comments on a universalist blog unless he’s a universalist? If so, what does that thesis entail?

What if something really bad happened to Rachel? What if Rachel were gang-raped? Then left in a dumpster for dead? According to universalism, God would be unjust or unloving or both if he didn’t save each and every one of her assailants.

If Bobby is this hypersensitive to mere words, what does this say about his universalism if it ever made contact with real evil? Personal, palpable evil?

The average universalist is about as convincing as Angelina Jolie as a kickboxing superheroine.

The Christian Heretic said...

“I went to read his response to your response but his attitude and name calling turned me right off.”

Here’s another case in point. Christian Heretic is put off by my tone and attitude. He wants to have a nice, dainty, lady-like dialogue about universalism.

Yet he thinks that God is going to save everyone. God is going to save all the serial killers.

If he’s put off by my tone and attitude, don’t you think he’d find the tone and attitude of the average serial killer a tad off-putting?

The universalist professes to be infinitely tolerant and loving in theory, but the very same universalist is remarkably intolerant in practice. He talks in loving abstractions about loving everyone, but his threshold for actually dealing with all the people he talks about so lovingly is amazingly low when he actually has to talk with them.

Imagine if the Christian Heretic were a POW in the Bataan Death March. If he’s put off by my tone and attitude, how would he ever cope with his captors? You know, Japanese soldiers who sodomized, bayoneted, beheaded, or disemboweled their prisoners?

If you’re going to be a universalist, then you’re not entitled to be such a sissy about how people address you. You don’t get to pick and choose. You have to love everyone, remember? You have to forgive everyone, remember? No exceptions!

The universalist extends a plenary pardon to everyone who—conveniently enough—never harmed him, but bursts into tears at a verbal pinprick. It would be instructive to see our yuppie universalists leave their gated communities and spend some quality time with Vlad the Impaler.

If they react this way to merely verbal abuse (as they deem it), how would they ever apply their touchy-feely rhetoric to a real world situation should they ever found themselves strapped to a table surrounded by sharp implements?

Oliver Harrison said...

“Well I always thought the OT had a patchy and/or developing theology of the afterlife, let alone of an eschataological soteriology. Therefore for the OT not to contain an explicit account of the final revelation of universalism is surely to be expected?”

It’s not a question of what we’d expect. In making his case for universalism, MacDonald has a chapter on the OT. He brought it up, not me. And his chapter ends with the admission that the OT doesn’t teach universalism. I’m merely drawing attention to his own admission at this point. It’s relevant because he made it relevant by including a chapter on the OT in a book designed to prove universalism.

Incidentally, I don’t agree with Harrison or MacDonald. I don’t think the OT is silent on the question of universalism. Rather, it’s negative on the question of universalism. But I was accepting MacDonald’s admission for the sake of argument.

Harrison’s comment is also deceptive. In my review, I did more than merely point out MacDonald’s concession. Rather, I also noted examples in which the OT uses universalistic language even though, in other places, the scope of salvation is clearly limited to a subset of humanity. Therefore, you can’t infer universalism from universalistic language. The language is hyperbolic.

“Anyway, I savaged ‘Pierced For Our Transgressions’ (a massive pro-penal substitution magnum opus peddling the li(n)e: ‘Jesus was punished for our sins and bore the wrath of God on the cross’ ), and only got good mail from that review (which was also in Anvil, so also read by evangelicals).”

That’s a very revealing window into universalism, don’t you think? Harrison boasts about “savaging” the belief that “Jesus was punished for our sins and bore the wrath of God on the cross.”

I mean, what more do we really need to say?

gene said...

“Concerning the response that the worst thing you can do is make soemone think they can be saved when they can't seems to me a bit problematic. I never devoloped from the EU (througout the book), the idea that you can do whatever you like and God is ok with it… So his premise to me seems to be a bit off target.”

Gene’s response is so illiterate that it’s hard to tell what he’s trying to say, but his reading level seems to be on par with his writing level. Did I impute to universalism the position that “you can do whatever you like and God is ok with it”? No.

This is what I actually said: “Convince him that no matter what he thinks or does in this life, God will save him in the world to come.”


“In other words Mcdonald said this w/o scoping that God would torture your children in front of you. Scripture simply states nothing of the sort.”

Did I ever say God would torture your children in front of you? No.

This is what I actually said: “Here’s a question: what’s the worst thing you could possibly do to a person? Torture one family member in front of another family member? That’s one of the worst things you can do to a person. But not the worst thing.”

Nothing here about “God” torturing anyone.

“So when scripture reads God deals with the individual then yes mcdonald is right, the worst thing he could do is totrue you.”

I wasn’t discussing the worst thing that “God” can to you. I was discussing the worst thing that you can do to your fellow man.

And the worst thing you can do to your fellow man is to nurse in him the false hope that no matter what he thinks or does in this life, God will save him in the next.

For sheer cruelty, nothing matches that damnable illusion. Instead of warning your fellow man of the worst possible fate, you encourage him to pursue a hellbound path until it’s too late to reverse course. No earthly atrocity comes close to such a vicious and malicious lie.

“Classic tranditionalism.”

I didn’t appeal to “tradition” in my review of MacDonald’s book. And it also depends on how you define “traditionalism.” Dante has a “traditional” view of hell, but that’s not the view that I’m defending.

“In steves response questioning ‘divine justice’ it seems to me to be very problematic on how God punished an innocent man. The classic view on the atonement plays a role in that most christians (that I know of) hold the view that God took his wrath out on Jesus so we (who approach by faith) might not receive his punishement of sin. So on divine justice I feel steve owes a clearer definition on ‘divine justice’. If God's divine justice means it's perfect and always right then when does divine justice act in a way that a just person gets punished, namely Jesus on the cross. Seems to me that ‘divine’ needs to be defined and defended in order to accuse one of not holding to divine views. If you are guilty of not embracing divine justice and divine mercy (not embracing law of gospel) then how does it fit his paradigm of justice.”

Several issues:

i) Both Gene and Harrison are right about one thing: There’s more to univeralism than merely extending penal substitution to everyone. Rather, universalism presents a very different theory of the atonement. It commits you to making many fundamental readjustments in your theological system.

ii) I was responding to MacDonald. MacDonald professes to be a Christian. And he tries to defend his position from Scripture (as well as reason).

When I’m responding to a professing believer who claims to honor the authority of Scripture, it shouldn’t be necessary for me to defend a Biblical doctrine like penal substitution. It should be sufficient that Scripture teaches penal substitution.

Now, if you want to challenge the exegetical basis for penal substitution, that’s a different issue. But Gene isn’t raising an exegetical objection. He’s raising a moralistic objection.

iii) Of course, Jesus is more that just an innocent man. Jesus is also the divine judge and lawgiver. It’s remarkable when the judge and lawgiver assumes the role of the defendant.

iv) Even on intuitive grounds, I don’t find anything objectionable about the vicarious principle. That’s the fundamental element of human friendship.

A friend does something for a friend of a friend as a favor to his friend. The friend of the friend is not his friend. But he does it for the sake of his friend, as if the friend of his friend were his friend.

v) How can a universalist be so squeamish about penal substitution? Here’s a guy who tells us that God is duty bound to save every psychopath who ever skinned his fellow man alive. Why is he offended by penal substitution when he’s not offended by universal salvation?

vi) Finally, I’ve always thought there was something uniquely ungrateful about sinners who impugn penal substitution. It’s like a gunshot victim who challenges the paramedic to explain what right he has to treat the victim. Why should a paramedic feel that he’s under some obligation to justify his treatment of the victim to the victim? If the victim doesn’t feel that the paramedic is entitled to treat him, then let him bleed to death.

When sinners presume to impugn penal substitution, they aggravate their guilt. Ingrates like Gene and Harrison richly deserve the worst. Nothing could be more damnable than to impugn vicarious atonement. You might as well shoot the paramedic.

LVKA Has Been Banned

For some examples of the behavior that resulted in his banning, see here and here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Early Prominence Of Revelation And Premillennialism

Jnorm888 has written another article at his blog in response to my comments on the history of premillennialism. Much of the background of this discussion can be found in the threads here, here, and here. Jnorm writes:

"The Epistle [of Barnabas] doesn't put a limit on it [the seventh day of world history that corresponds to the seventh day of creation]. So if you are going to put a limit on something that doesn't have a limit then you mind as well put a limit on the eigth day as well."

The Epistle Of Barnabas refers to eight days. The implication is that the seventh day lasts for a limited period of time. If the seventh day never ends, why would he refer to an eighth day that he distinguishes from the seventh?

You write:

"When one looks at the book of Genesis, one will see that every day except for the seventh has a morning and an evening."

Where does Pseudo-Barnabas cite that fact or assign the significance to it that you're assigning to it?

You write:

"The evening and morning are missing on day seven. We can also see God's rest in Hebrews chapter 4. To put a time limit on God's rest is to say that our resting in Him is not eternal."

How do you know that Pseudo-Barnabas had the themes of Hebrews 4 in mind when he wrote? You don't. Whether something meant to correspond to the seventh day of creation is intended to have a time limit associated with it depends on the context. For example, we don't assume that the seventh year of the seven-year cycle of Leviticus 25:1-7 was meant to be endless.

You write:

"Some later ante-Nicene christians, who were 'premillers' did put a limit on that day, but Barnabas didn't. Yes, I agree with you that it does make sense in a premillennial framework, but I don't think you can use Barnabas like you can the others. For unlike the others, Barnabas didn't do that."

Again, Pseudo-Barnabas' reference to an eighth day suggests a limit to the seventh day. And while a person could view the seven days of creation as a model for seven periods of world history without believing that the seventh day is as long as the previous days, it was more common in the ante-Nicene era to view the seventh day as of equal length. And the more natural reading of such a parallel with the creation week would be to expect each day to last the same amount of time, as they do in our calendars. If you want to argue for a change in the duration of the seventh day and argue that the seventh day never ends, despite a reference to an eighth day, then the ball is in your court. It's not my responsibility to prove that there isn't a discontinuity in the length of days or to prove that somebody would refer to an eighth day when he considers the seventh day endless. I'm taking the text in a more natural sense. You're arguing for a more unusual reading.

And your reference to "later ante-Nicene Christians" will need to be supported with an argument. Justin Martyr associates the millennial kingdom with the equivalence between a day and a thousand years in his debate with Trypho (Dialogue With Trypho, 81), which is set around the year 135. The concept I'm seeing in The Epistle Of Barnabas seems to have been circulating elsewhere in the Christian world around the same time.

You write:

"They came later in time...Commodianus about 250 A.D. I don't know where he is from, but according to Newadvent he imated ' Tertullian, Lactantius, and Papias.' The site also makes note that in one of his works he seems to of read of St. Cyprian's 'Testimonia'."

You keep resorting to that same bad argument, even after it's been refuted repeatedly. Again, the fact that one source is later than another doesn't suggest that the later source derived its beliefs from the earlier source. And the fact that Commodianus "seems to have read St. Cyprian's 'Testimonia'" doesn't suggest that Commodianus derived his premillennialism from that source.

By your own admission, your theory of how premillennialism spread is a "guess". You write:

"Now I could be wrong in all of this, but It seems like a decent guess."

You just assume, without evidence, that whatever would be needed to sustain your theory occurred. That's not convincing.

As I've said before, if we were to accept your theory about the origin and popularizing of premillennialism, you would still have to explain why so many people who allegedly had a contrary eschatology from other apostles and a larger number of apostles would give up their eschatology in order to adopt premillennialism. What does such a scenario, in which Christian leaders in so many locations keep abandoning their apostolic eschatology in favor of a false eschatology, suggest about the degree of credibility you've been assigning to the Christians of the patristic era?

You write:

"I disagree about the wieght of probability, especially when one wiegh in the Alexandrian hermeneutical method. Let's say for the sake of argument that the Epistle of Barnabas did come from Alexandria, which is what the majority view is. Their hermeneutical method was different than that of Modern day Turkey."

I haven't made any appeal to the "hermeneutical method...of modern-day Turkey". The premillennial parallel between the days of creation and world history wasn't confined to Asia Minor. And an appeal to an "Alexandrian hermeneutical method" isn't as relevant as the text that we find in The Epistle Of Barnabas. The author of that document wasn't obligated to follow a method of interpretation found in other Alexandrian sources, and even if he did so in general, we would still have to make case-by-case judgments. I've explained why my interpretation makes more sense than yours in the case of chapter 15 of The Epistle Of Barnabas.

You write:

"You are making a claim that the premill view was widespread by 130 A.D. I doubt that. Maybe around 200 A.D. but I doubt it was that popular around 130 A.D."

Papias was a premillennialist. And he claims to have gotten his premillennialism from an earlier source. Irenaeus refers to multiple elders who were disciples of the apostle John and premillennialists. Justin Martyr's references to the existence of "many" premillennialists (Dialogue With Trypho, 80) and non-Christian awareness of premillennialism (Trypho mentions it) come from a debate set around the year 135. It would have taken some time for premillennialism to have spread and to have been discussed as much as is suggested in Justin's debate with Trypho. And the popularity of the doctrine in the remainder of the second century and beyond makes more sense if it was popular earlier.

You write:

"Alot of churches didn't even have the book, so how would they know about a 1,000 year earthly reign?...And Saint John didn't really travel that much in order for the book to have multiple origins."

The fact that Revelation is the earliest extant source that premillennialists cite for an explicit reference to the millennial kingdom doesn't prove that the belief originated there or could only have spread early on by means of the book of Revelation. Even if the concept originated with the writing of Revelation, John could have communicated the concept orally as well. Papias and Irenaeus claim to have received information on the millennial kingdom through oral means or claim that one or more of their sources received it in that manner. And people who had read Revelation would communicate with other people and would travel. Papias tells us that he received some of his information about Christianity from people who traveled to his area. Revelation was initially sent to seven churches, which would multiply the opportunities for circulation of the document and for the furthering of the information contained in the document by various means.

You write:

"If one looks at both the times and place of those that supported 'pre-mill' in their writings then one can see land marks of how it spread from the east to the west to North western Africa."

The fact that a doctrine originates in a location, such as somewhere in Asia Minor, doesn't tell us whether it came from an apostle in that location or from somebody else in that location. Your theory that the doctrine originated in Asia Minor, then went West through sources like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus doesn't tell us whether the source of the doctrine in Asia Minor was apostolic. And an origin in Asia Minor wouldn't imply that the means by which the doctrine arrived in other regions must be traceable through the literature extant to us today. Justin Martyr refers to the doctrine as having been accepted by many Christians prior to the middle of the second century, the non-Christian Trypho had heard about it prior to the middle of the second century, and it's found in The Epistle Of Barnabas, outside of Asia Minor, prior to the middle of the century. The process of spreading the doctrine was already well underway before Justin and Irenaeus attained the height of their influence.

And the influence they had during their lifetimes can't be equated with their later influence through their being canonized as Saints, the spreading of their literature through the printing press, etc. Why would we expect somebody like Justin to convince Christian leaders to abandon their apostolic eschatology and adopt his false eschatology? Again, what does such a scenario, in which Christian leaders in so many locations keep abandoning their apostolic eschatology in favor of a false eschatology brought to them by travelers from other locations, suggest about the degree of credibility you've been assigning to the Christians of the patristic era?

You write:

"It doesn't 'infallibly' mean that, but if these people later in time were familier with the works of Irenaeus & Justin then I don't see a problem with assuming that."

I didn't suggest that infallibility is needed. You haven't even shown that your view is probable or preferable to mine.

Do you apply the same reasoning to other sources with regard to other beliefs and practices? What if I would argue that a doctrine appearing in Clement of Rome came from him, not from the apostles, and would claim that later sources who advocate the doctrine derived it from Clement? Would the fact that men like Dionysius of Corinth and Irenaeus refer to Clement's letter to the Corinthians be sufficient evidence that Dionysius and Irenaeus agree with Clement's doctrine only because of Clement's influence? What if I were to keep assuming that later sources advocating the doctrine derived it from Clement or from some other source influenced by Clement? And what if, when people pointed out to me that I'm speculating and can't demonstrate my conclusion to be probable or preferable to an alternative, I responded by saying that my theory is "a decent guess"?

You write:

"I use to believe in Premill and I switched/changed when I became Orthodox. It wasn't that hard for me. Unlike some forms of western amill or post mill. The christian East still believes in a future anti-christ. And maybe even a future tribulation."

You've claimed that premillennialism is a heresy, one significant enough that it would allegedly be condemned by an ecumenical council, and you've told us that Eastern Orthodox aren't allowed to try to spread the doctrine, if they hold it. You can mention some similarities between premillennialism and some other types of eschatology, but there are significant differences as well. And the early patristic Christians were in a significantly different historical context than yours. Even if it "wasn't that hard" to move from some other eschatology to premillennialism, you still ought to explain why so many of the ante-Nicene Christians supposedly would have made such a move after receiving a non-premillennial eschatology from one or more of the apostles.

You write:

"In your form of pre-mill, but you are trying to use the ancients to defend your form of pre-mill."

First of all, this discussion didn't begin as a means for me to defend my form of premillennialism. Rather, I was responding to some claims you made about church history.

And if Clement of Rome's comments don't contradict my form of premillennialism, why are we supposed to believe that they contradict ante-Nicene premillennialism? It's not as though my belief that Christ's rulership consists of more than the millennial kingdom is a concept that the ante-Nicene premillennialists would reject. If they did reject it, then that fact would make your view of church history even more implausible. If premillennialists like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus intended their premillennialism to involve a denial that Christ reigns from Heaven prior to the millennium, then they had some problems with their belief system significantly worse than the alleged error of premillennialism.

Your evidence that Clement of Rome was an amillennialist is insufficient. Instead of explaining how his comments supposedly would contradict premillennialism, you've just made a vague reference to how his comments don't contradict my premillennialism, but might contradict that of the ante-Nicene sources. If you want to argue that there is a contradiction between Clement's comments and the beliefs of the ante-Nicene premillennialists, then you'll need to explain why we're supposed to believe that there's a contradiction.

You write:

"But note 41 does condemn 'premillennialism'. You are correct in that it explicitly condemned a certain kind of pre-millennialism. However, it also gives an interpretation on how chapter should be interpreted."

You're referring to a note written by a later commentator. Who is the commentator, and why are we supposed to believe that his views represent what First Constantinople meant? I still haven't seen anything from the council itself that supports your conclusion.

You write:

"It took a while for the second council to be embraced as 'ecumenical'."

That's one possible explanation for why premillennialism continued to be accepted by mainstream Christians. It's also possible that part of the reason why premillennialism continued to be accepted was because people weren't interpreting First Constantinople the way you're interpreting it. You haven't given us any reason to prefer your explanation.

You write:

"But yes, it is true that everyone in the east didn't use it [the book of Revelation]. Or just didn't have it."

Your original claim was that most Christians rejected Revelation. You didn't include qualifiers like "in the East" or that some people "just didn't have it". Saying that some people in the East didn't have or didn't use Revelation isn't the same as saying that most Christians rejected it. As I've argued here, the evidence suggests that Revelation was widely accepted early on in the West and East.

You write:

"Only by putting words in my mouth. He [Gene Bridges] implied it from what I said in regards to the doctrine of the Trinity. But these are two different topics."

You made comments about apostolic teaching and the transmission of it in the ancient church. The fact that you were discussing Trinitarian doctrine doesn't lead to the conclusion that the principles you laid out are only applicable to Trinitarian doctrine. That's a qualification you didn't make in your original comments, and it's a qualification you haven't yet justified.

You write:

"The finger is pointed at Saint Papias"

You keep telling us that "the finger is pointed at" Papias with regard to the origin of premillennialism, but I've explained why that unsupported assertion is unconvincing. Again, Papias tells us that his premillennialism came from an earlier source, and that source isn't Revelation 20. Irenaeus refers to disciples of John who believed in premillennialism, and there’s no reason to think that they got the doctrine from Papias. Justin Martyr refers to premillennialism as already popular around the year 135, and I see no reason to think that those premillennialists Justin refers to, as well as Justin himself, derived the doctrine from Papias. And the doctrine is in The Epistle Of Barnabas around the same time, probably in Egypt.

You write:

"Saint John lived and died in that region, and that's why, I was very careful to say it, in the way I did."

The apostle Paul died in Rome. The papacy later became popular in that location, and the claim was made that it was an apostolic tradition. Would you therefore call the papacy an "apostolic tradition"?

Even if you would, that's not how the term is usually used. When people refer to something as an apostolic tradition, they usually mean that it's a tradition that actually came from the apostles, not that it's a post-apostolic tradition that arose in an area where an apostle had been.

As I said earlier, either your argument is wrong or you're a poor communicator. Why are we supposed to have known that you meant "apostolic tradition" in the highly unusual sense in which you now claim you meant it?

You write:

"However, in regards to premill, I didn't want to point the finger at Saint John himself. Eventhough the view was tought by one of his flock."

You initially said that Asia Minor in general was premillennial. You also said that if one person who heard an apostle misrepresented what the apostle said, then the majority would correct that one who was mistaken. How, then, did premillennialism become the view of Asia Minor in general, as you said it was? If you want to argue that most of those in Asia Minor rejected premillennialism initially, then why didn't you say so earlier, and where's your evidence?

You write:

"What I said in regards to the topic of the doctrine of the Trinity, should stay with that topic. What I said in regards to 'premill' shouldn't be interchanged with another conversation."

In other words, you don't want to be held accountable for an apparent inconsistency that you haven't explained. You don't want the standards you argued for in a discussion about a Trinitarian doctrine to be applied to a discussion about eschatology, even though you still haven't explained why such a distinction should be made. We should make the distinction because you tell us to.

You write:

"And remember, your view is that 'most pre-nicen christians' believed in pre-mill."

That's not what I said. Your use of quotation marks is misleading, since you aren't quoting or even paraphrasing something I said. I do believe that premillennialism was the majority view early on, but my argument with you hasn't depended upon that position.

You write:

"'Eusebius was certainly speaking for a large body of theological opinion in the East when he called Papias's millenarianism 'bizarre' and rather mythological.' [13] page 129 Around the sametime Lactantius and Victorinus lived. The Majority view in the east was non premill."

Your quote from Jaroslav Pelikan doesn't refer to a majority. Even if it did, your original claims involved more than the East and more than the timeframe of Lactantius and Victorinus.

You write:

"You had Caius from Rome, that argued against the view, and he lived around 215 A.D. You had Origen and Dionysius from Alexandria who both fought against the view. Origen lived from 185 A.D. to about 255 A.D. And Dionysius was ordained a Bishop around the 247 A.D. and he mentioned that there were people before his time, that rejected the book. The window for a premill majority is small."

I've already cited earlier sources, a larger number of sources, and sources from a wider variety of backgrounds, dispositions, and locations in support of premillennialism. And I can cite more. If "the window for a premillennial majority is small", then the window for a majority who rejected the position is much smaller.

You write:

"it wasn't in the Divine liturgy of Eastern christian churches"

You can't assume that later rejection of Revelation reflects an earlier rejection when we have so much evidence to the contrary. The evidence suggests that Revelation was widely accepted in the East early on, as I've argued in another thread.

You said:

"You can believe a book to be inspired without having it in your canon. And this is what you had back then."

You offer no documentation. Are you saying that Dionysius of Alexandria didn't view Revelation as scripture? That most Christians didn't? I see no reason to accept either position. See, for example, the relevant sources discussed in Bruce Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). Regarding Dionysius of Alexandria in particular, see his comments preserved in Eusebius' Church History 7:24-25. Dionysius cites Revelation 22:7-8 with approval and suggests his agreement with the entirety of the book, and he refers to his view of the book as a matter of "faith". He refers to the author of Revelation as a prophet, and he refers to how that author had received prophecies and revelation. We don't normally associate that sort of language with non-canonical literature. The possibility that a Christian would refer to non-canonical literature in such a way doesn't overturn the probability that he meant to refer to canonicity. And we know that Revelation was viewed as scripture in Alexandria shortly before his time, as reflected in Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Considering how high the authority claims are in Revelation (Jesus is portrayed as commanding the writing of the book, the author claims to be writing the words of God, those who add to it or take from it are condemned, etc.), the sort of middle position you're suggesting (inspired, but not scripture) is unlikely to have been held by many people.

You write:

"I disagree, the unverifiable speculation is assuming that the book as well as the interpretation of chapter 20 came from muliple origins. You probably assume that all the Apostle tought it."

No, I don't assume that all of the apostles taught premillennialism. The doctrine should be accepted even if it was taught by only one apostolic source. But we don't know how many apostolic sources taught it, nor do we know what the apostle John or his disciples in particular did to spread it. Your claim that we can "point the finger" at Papias is dubious, for reasons I've explained, and it's doubtful that the book of Revelation and premillennialism were disseminated as slowly as you've suggested.

You write:

"So you think that all the Apostles tought premill?"

No. When I said that the apostles were united in doctrine, I meant that they didn't contradict one another. That was the context I was addressing. I don't deny that some apostolic doctrines arose without the knowledge of one or more of the apostles. For example, John's brother James died early in church history (Acts 12:2), before some revelations were received by other apostles. I would deny that James contradicted premillennialism, but I wouldn't argue that he was aware of the doctrine.

You write:

"The fact that they had to prove where their view came from by pointing at tradition, only shows that their was opposition."

No, somebody can describe the origin of his beliefs without doing so in response to opposition to those beliefs. And even if we were to assume opposition, we would have to ask what the nature of that opposition was. Was it opposition from a minority of orthodox Christians? Opposition from a heretic or heretical group? The fact that Papias and Irenaeus appeal to extra-Biblical tradition in support of premillennialism doesn't, by itself, suggest that the doctrine was being opposed, much less opposed to the degree you've suggested.

I doubt that you're so dismissive of appeals to extra-Biblical tradition among the church fathers when those appeals are made in support of your beliefs. If you had evidence for prayers to the dead or the veneration of images comparable to the evidence for premillennialism, I doubt that you'd be so dismissive of it.