Saturday, November 08, 2008

Zach Needs 'Moore' Clothes: The Tale of a Pro-Abortionist in His Birthday Suit



Zach Moore offered another response to my argument(s) against his case for a woman's right to abort her baby. Since he refuses to deal with my actual argument, and I've done all the preparatory work, that will make this response easier. On the bright side, Moore dusts off some old pro-choice arguments (allegedly) based on Scripture, so I'll have the opportunity to help Moore understand the Bible he hates even better. At this point, due to my background work, all I need to do is sit back and point out that the good doctor has no clothes.

ZM: "So if I may be indulged to take Paul's words out of my mouth: the conclusion "it is morally acceptable for women to have abortions at any time up to and until the unborn human fetus emerges from the woman's vagina" is not mine. I do so hate to be pedantic, but if Paul can't even get my argument’s conclusion right in the first 500 words of his post, what's the point in following along for the next 2500?"

PM: Why is this conclusion wrong? Let's see:

ZM: But I like Paul, and I have great hopes for him someday, so I'll try yet again to correct him. IF all human beings are sovereign over their bodies, and IF sovereignty entails the ability to remove anything one wants from one's body, THEN any human being may remove anything one wants from one's body. I do so hope that Paul can confine his further criticisms to these words alone.

PM: Okay, let's also note something else Moore has claimed:

"Once removed from its uterine environ, the fetus is free to exercise that sovereignty in whichever direction it likes."

So, may I ask, what is the relevant difference between what Moore has claimed and what I said his conclusion was? Moore simply commits that age old error of confusing words and propositions.

Let's note another thing, I offered numerous reasons to suppose this sovereignty thesis false, Moore has yet to respond to, count 'em, one of them. Here's another one to pile on to that list:

Say that an alien super scientist implants a bomb into a human, Jones, so powerful that it would destroy half the universe if detonated. Now, assume that this bomb is about the size of a flea. Suppose it is harmless to Jones and all so long as it stays in the body it was implanted in. Assume that the bomb has a device built in to it so that the death of Jones diffuses the bomb. So, so long as Jones doesn't take the bomb out before he dies, nothing will happen. Does Moore's view allow Jones to kill every man, woman, child, and wookie this side of the universe! It would have to. Notice his conditional IF/THEN premise. If the antecedent could be true while the consequent false, then we'd have to assign a false truth value to the premise. Hence Moore's argument would be unsound. Therefore, for Moore to maintain the soundness of his argument, his must admit that his position allows someone to take the life of every single person and thing this side of the universe! To claim that Jones could not because sovereignty doesn't entail that we can do something which would kill billions of innocent people is about as clear as one can get to seeing one's argument crumble right in front of him.

QED

So, either Moore's argument is false or is patently absurd.

Moore is too smart to admit absurdity (he is an atheist, after all).

Therefore, Moore must admit it is false (I won't hold my breath).

QED

(I offer more of these kinds of arguments here.)

I'd also like to see Moore's argument that "sovereignty entails the right to remove anything one wants from one's body." That's not obviously true. All dogs are 4 legged entails that some dogs are. That’s self-evident. Moore’s claim isn’t.

Moore's prior reasoning went something like this: "Well, any human can remove any organ or non-human stuff they want from their own body." Okay, say that I grant this for now, it doesn't follow from that that: "One can remove a human being from one's body."

Moore claims that the humanity of the fetus is irrelevant to his argument. But it is clear this is not so as the above shows.

Moore thinks it's special pleading to allow that a woman can remove any organ yet stop at the human baby. Why's that? That's not clear to me.

Let's remind Moore of one of the claims he made which demonstrates the fundamental tension in his thinking:

"I am not talking about things people do to each other with their bodies; I am talking specifically about the right to decide what things stay in one's body and what things stay out."

Now, what did he say his conclusion was:

"IF sovereignty entails the ability to remove anything one wants from one's body, THEN any human being may remove anything one wants from one's body."

So we see that Moore is indeed talking about things people do to each other with their bodies! Well, if the fetus is human, that is. But he says that's "irrelevant" to his argument. I'm not sure I've ever been able to demonstrate such a clear case of special pleading and question begging and down-right absurdity in one's reasoning as in this debate.

It's more like a gimme (and Christmas is still a month away!), not because I'm so smart. I'm not.

ZM: I want to work extra hard now to help Paul understand what I'm saying. Let's analogize from sovereignty over one's body to sovereignty over one's habitat. Paul and his wife just bought a lovely new house- they have sovereignty over it, and can decide who stays in the house, and who does not. Let's imagine that their friend Craig comes to stay with them, and they give him a room, over which he has sovereignty (ability to decide who comes in the room, and who does not). Although in real life, Paul and Craig are great friends, let's say that he and Craig have a falling-out, and Paul wants him to leave. Craig, although enjoying sovereignty over his room, does not have the right to force Paul to allow him to stay in the house against his will. Paul's sovereignty is complete throughout the house, including Craig's room, and therefore Craig must vacate. Whatever challenges and threats Craig may face outside of Paul's house may be something for Paul to consider, but they do not infringe Paul's sovereignty or remove his right to kick Craig out the door.

PM: Apparently Moore thinks I can go into my guest bedroom and suck Craig out with a vacuum strong enough to rip his arms and legs off his, or burn him alive with chemicals, or perhaps pull just his legs and torso out of the house with a giant forcept and then shove a spike into the back of his head.

I suppose Moore doesn't think that, though one can never be too sure with him. Assuming he doesn't, how is this argument supposed to work:

[1] A home owner may remove guests from house without killing them.

GIANT HOLE WHERE REST OF ARGUMENT GOES!!!

Therefore,

[2] A mother may remove fetus from womb by killing it.

?

Moore's heavy on the rhetoric, light on the argument.

This kind of argument also supports the old institution of Antebellum slavery. I take it that one has a right to do with one's property what one sees fit, *regardless if it is human or not*, that's "irrelevant" see. So, when slavery was legal, what argument could Moore have given in opposition to it, or would he have opposed it?

This kind of “reasoning” simply remind the intellectually honest why he can’t be an atheist.

ZM: Desperate to shore up support for his sloppy reformulation of my arguments, he introduces the so-called "Preservation Principle." That is, "Generally, any living human that is not insane or suffering some other mental disorder would not want to end their life by means of saline solution and, if they could tell us, they would tell us that they do not want their life to end that way."

And yet in Paul’s own Good Book we find the character of Job, who, (presumably not insane) following a long string of torments commissioned by the omnibenevolent Yahweh, asks for just that:

Job 3: Why was I not still-born, or why did I not perish as I left the womb? ... or, put away like an abortive child, I should not have existed, like little ones that never see the light.

It would seem that even a "blameless" "God-fearer" like Job would rather have been snuffed out in the womb (by saline or otherwise) than have to experience profoundly adverse circumstances later in life.

PM: Apparently Moore is too lazy to consult the standard commentaries. As most admit (liberal or conservative), contrary to Moore's reverting back to his naive and fundamentalist reading of Scripture, these statements are not meant to be taken as expressing normative propositional truths but are the laments of a man who has gone through some of the most traumatic psychological experiences a human could go through. Moore happens to think the emotional laments of a man who is going through an extraordinary situation somehow counts against the "general" rule I offered. This is like juding the ordinary vocabulary of a man to be that of a "sewer mouth" all because you hear him swear right after he cuts three fingers off with a power saw!

ZM: "And it should be pointed out that Yahweh is all too eager to put children to death after being born- for no other crime than being a member of the wrong ethnic group and religion. In Numbers 31, in fact, we find a particulary [sic] pernicious passage (on which I've commented previously) – Yahweh commands Moses to order the Israelites to kill all the baby boys belonging to the Midianite tribe… and leave their virgin sisters alive to be divided among the population and the priests as part of the “war booty.”"

PM: Clearly this doesn't count against my claim that, "Generally, any living human that is not insane or suffering some other mental disorder would not want to end their life by means of saline solution and, if they could tell us, they would tell us that they do not want their life to end that way."

ZM: "And while we’re perusing the Christian Scriptures for any information regarding abortion, it might be of interest to point out the passage where it is said that causing a woman to miscarry carries no more penalty than a few shekels:

Exodus 21: If people, while brawling, hurt a pregnant woman and she suffers a miscarriage but no further harm is done, the person responsible will pay compensation as fixed by the woman's master, paying as much as the judges decide.
While this is not abortion per se, nowhere else in the Bible gets closer to illustrating the true value of a fetus in Yahweh's law – a few coins, at most. Certainly not the death penalty, as advocated by good modern-day Christians like Craig Sowder. That horrific fate is quite explicitly spelled out elsewhere in Exodus, and clearly does not refer to anyone causing the termination of a pregnancy. So much for biblically-minded theology."

PM: Again, Moore just offers us his benighted, nullifidian reading of Scripture. No attempt at *exegesis*.

First, the term "miscarriage" isn't in the original. The Hebrew word simply means, "Her fruit comes out." It is impossible, by that word alone, to determine the state this child comes out in - dead or alive. The same Hebrew words are used in various other places to indicate live births. Moore depends on the notion that the child comes out dead for his argument, yet this view cannot be demonstrated from the text.

Second, had the author wanted to indicate a stillborn birth, he could have used the word used in the very text from Job that Moore himself referenced earlier (in Job)! The Psalmist also talks about children born dead. The word is nephel. Nephal is defined by Gesenius as “a premature birth, which falls from the womb, an abortion” (p. 558; cf. Brown, et al., p. 658). Another word could have been used too. Shachol and its variations were used in places like Gen. 31:38; Hosea 9:14; Ex. 23:26. Shachol means “to cause abortion (in women, flocks, etc.)” or “to make abortion, i.e., to suffer it” (Gesenius, p. 822; cf. Brown, et al., p. 1013). But Moses didn't use these words. He used words that were used over and over again to refer to live births. But besides that, the term is not indexed to either life or death.

Third, when the text says "no lasting harm" or "no harm" is done, the text leaves it open, grammatically, that this refer to either the woman or the child. Moore cannot show that the object of the "harm" is the woman. To claim it means only the woman is an unjustified reading. The best interpretation is that the author meant for the ambiguity to be able to be indexed to woman and/or child. This is most economical as well rather than the author writing out the various permutations, viz. death to both child and mother, death to child but not to mother, death to mother but not to child, injury to child but not mother, etc., etc., etc.

As Archer states, "What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant. If it involves the life (ne-pes’) of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life. There is no second-class status attached to the fetus under this rule (Encyclopedia, 1982, p. 248)."

Fourth, in the text we're dealing with an unintended injury or death to mother or child (or both), this is clearly disanalogous.

Moore can consult these articles if he wants:

http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2598

http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5700

http://realchoice.0catch.com/library/weekly/aa010101a.htm

http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/786-does-exodus-21-sanction-abortion

http://www.abort73.com/HTML/I-J-2-exodus.html

Or consult some standard commentaries, Stewart, Enns, Currid, etc.

ZM: And I'll note that Triablogue commenter Marshall has pointed out what I've repeatedly argued is the gaping hole in Paul's argument - if we're to take his position seriously at all, he needs to deal with the science of reproduction and development.

PM: Here Moore again shows his inability to grasp his own position and "my position." Again, "my position," in this debate, is: "Moore claims his argument works EVEN IF the fetus is fully human. I claim it does not work if the fetus is fully human." Therefore, as is obvious, I don't have to show "the fetus is human," I have to show, "Moore's argument doesn't work if the fetus is human." Most pro-choicer grant this, and so ask you to show the human. Moore doesn't, so he doesn't need the human shown. We can assume it. So, that's "my position."

So, as long as Moore continues to claim his conclusion goes through even given THE TRUTH of the premise: Fetuses are humans, then I will continue to take him at his word and ASSUME that they are.

Apparently, then, Moore doesn't "get" either his postion or mine.

ZM: I’m really starting to feel sorry for Paul Manata at this point; like the Rain Man, he has a single-minded fixation on revisiting the contrary paths his assertions have trodden. "Fetus is human. Definitely, definitely. Yeah. I'm an excellent apologist."

PM: Perhaps if Moore devoted Moore time to good reasoning than to bad jokes, he'd save himself the monumental errors he commits every single time he posts. Rather than answering questions and resolving problems, Moore just gives us reason to find more problems and ask more questions that arise due to the more queer his position gets as he continues to defend his absurd position. Pride is a nasty animal...

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a nail.

The Foundation of Conservative Thought

Since we just got through an election and most are still somewhat in a political mindset, I’ve wanted to write a little something clarifying just what the Conservative position is. Of course, immediately we have to acknowledge that there are many different people with many different political philosophies who all try to take the mantle of “Conservative” upon themselves. That is because, as polls during the latest election bear out, “Conservativism” is a “winning” label whereas “Liberalism” is a “losing” label. Indeed, more people claimed to be Conservative than claimed to be Republican in this election; however, far more people claimed to be Democrat than claimed to be Liberal. In other words, in terms of self-identification, Conservative and Democrat are both viewed favorably but Republican and Liberal are both viewed unfavorably.

While anyone can claim to be anything they want to be, I am not interested in those who claim to be something just because it is a winning label. So this post will examine the foundation of Conservative thought. It should be noted that it is certainly possible for someone to inconsistently hold to the major tenets of Conservative philosophy without agreeing to the foundational presuppositions that support it (e.g. many Libertarians on fiscal issues).

What is that foundation then? At first glance, we might be tempted to say it is human rights. That is, Conservativism is born out of a desire to be consistent with our Founding Father’s concepts of the rights of man. Why do Conservatives believe that lower taxes are better? It is not a pragmatic reason, such as how beneficial it is to our economy—even though it is indeed true that lower taxes are beneficial to the economy! It is because Conservatives believe that all human beings have the right to their own property. What I own is fully under my control to do with as I see fit, and no one—no government, no other individual—has the right to force me to do something with my property that I do not wish to do.

Furthermore, we can look at the Second Amendment. Why is it that Conservatives argue that the right to bear arms is something that cannot be taken away by the government? It is not simply because that’s what the Constitution says (although that is indeed what the Constitution says). It is because we have the right to life and liberty, and that means we have the right to protect our life and liberty.

But human rights need to be justified too. We cannot simply assert that they exist; we must argue for why they exist. And that means that, at its root, Conservativism is based not in human rights but upon theistic principals. And lest someone quibble, this is the actual reason given by the Fathers themselves. Before the Constitution was formed, the Colonists had to provide justification for why they threw off the yolk of England. If their rebellion was illegitimate, their Constitution was illegitimate too. That’s why they took such care to write the Declaration of Independence, to provide their reasoned argument as to why they were justified in breaking from England. The Declaration begins:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation.
The Declaration begins, in other words, by asserting that there are “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” that entitle us to certain rights. Without Natural Law given by Nature’s God, there are no rights. And what are those rights?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principals and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
So we see that our rights come, not from the whim of any man, but because we are endowed with them by our Creator. Furthermore, we see that Government is established “to secure these rights.” That is its primary purpose.

It should be noted that thus far we are not concerning ourselves with what aspect of theism fits. After all, while most of the Founding Fathers were Christians and the culture was definitely shaped by Christianity, there were also many Fathers who were only deists, and there were even some atheists who signed on. It is beyond the scope of this post for me to go into the reasons why Christianity provides the strongest rationale for these rights in comparison to other religions. Instead, I will focus briefly on why atheism cannot give us these same human rights.

If we take away rights endowed by our Creator, how do we establish those rights as actual rights? We cannot do so in any manner that escapes arbitrary decrees. For example, it might be argued that our intellect is what gives us those rights; that because man is the rational animal, he has human rights. But if we say that, then those who are more intelligent must have more human rights than those who are less intelligent. If the foundation of our rights is based on intellect, then this is inescapable: the geniuses have more rights than the imbeciles.

Yet we instinctively know that it is not the case that smarter people have more rights. We know that intellect is not a philosophically meaningful distinction when determining rights. We cannot keep someone enslaved, away from education, and claim that we have not violated his rights because we are smarter than he is.

If we instead argue that just as the Fathers said that Government derives its power “from the consent of the governed” our rights come from the consent of humanity as a whole then we still have not escaped the problem. After all, not all humans give the same consent. To cite the overly-used, yet crystal clear analogy: Nazis did not consider Jews to have human rights. We did not consider the Nazis to have the right to act consistently with those principals. Which view is right?

Under the position that the consent of the people determines human rights, neither position is right or wrong. We have two groups of people who disagree; there is no consent as to whether Jews have rights. Therefore, what prevails is nothing but might makes right. Nazis were wrong not because they were philosophically wrong but only because they lost World War II. If the Allies had been weaker, the consent of the world would have been that Jews are not human.

Once again, that concept is alien to us. Philosophically, our rights do not change simply because the whims of a group of individuals have changed. This is not a meaningful reason for our rights to change. Or rather, if it is a meaningful reason then our rights are worthless.

Human rights require a transcendent truth. They require objective truth that all men are, as part of their very being, deserving of specific rights. These rights cannot arise from nature alone. Evolution cannot explain how these rights got there, for man is but one evolutionary branch of billions. There is nothing that distinguishes man amongst the animals other than intellect, and as we’ve seen that would result in the smarter people having more human rights than the unintelligent. The only possible way we can have unalienable rights is if something higher than ourselves has given them to us.

Human rights come about because of the ontology of the human. We recognize them because of our being, not because of anything granted by any government or any group of people. It is precisely because these things do not depend on our size, location, level of development, sex, race, or beliefs that “all men are created equal” is true. That equality is found in our human ontology, and that comes about because man is created in the image of God.

With this in mind, we can sum up the basic Conservative ideology. Man has been endowed with the rights of Life, Liberty, and property (understood as the pursuit of happiness). These rights are God-given rights, not Government-granted rights. As such, any Government that would deprive anyone of those rights without proper justification is an unjust Government. The role of Government is to secure those rights for those who are governed. This means that the Government does have the right to tax its citizens consistent with securing those rights; but any taxes that are not consistent with securing those rights are unjustly depriving citizens of property. This means that Government has the right to defend our country from enemies, both domestic and foreign, by creating a police force and army; but it also means that Government cannot interfere with our own actions to secure our freedoms too (such as our right to bear arms).

Unfortunately, life is never as cut and dried as bare-bones philosophy will make it. To use an easy example, was the War in Iraq based on Conservative principals? It depends to a large extent on whether you believe the War is an attempt to secure our right to Life that terrorists seek to deprive of us. Insofar as we have not had another terrorist attack on America since 9/11, it is quite possibly due to the fact that we are engaging the enemy overseas. This would be consistent with the Government defending us from attack. On the other hand, it is also possible that the terrorists would not have been capable of another attack even had we left Iraq alone. That would make the War in Iraq unnecessary to secure out freedoms in America.

The net result is that it is quite possible for Conservatives to support or not support the War in Iraq and still remain Conservative.

On the other hand, consider abortion on demand (as opposed to abortion to save the life of the mother). Since human rights are based on our humanity, not any concept of “personhood” or the location of the human being or the developmental status, then the Conservative position must always be against abortion on demand. The unborn is a human being; that is the only thing that human beings can create via reproduction. The unborn therefore has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

On the other hand, abortion to save the life of the mother is not against Conservative principals because in that case the objective is not to deprive the life of the unborn, but to save the life of the mother. The unintended consequence is the unborn child also dies. We ought to do whatever we can to minimize the possibility of the death of the unborn, but when it is inevitable it is not against Conservative ideals to support abortion in those cases.

One final word should be noted. It is certainly possible for someone to be Conservative on some issues and not on others. People are, by and large, inconsistent. They tend to have a hodge-podge of beliefs, many of them contradictory, that they subscribe to. So it is possible that someone can be a fiscal Conservative while not being a social Conservative. But the logic of Conservative thought does boil down to our God-given rights, and therefore one is justified in weighing whether any particular issue coheres to those presuppositions. Since people can be (and often are) inconsistent, it should be no surprise at all that there is a wide range of belief amongst those who would call themselves Conservative; but that is no grounds to say that we should accept all those positions as being equally Conservative. Nor is the existence of those contradictory people evidence that Conservativism itself is incoherent or lacks a real presupposition.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fear Not!

In perusing moonbat blogs recently, I have discovered some of them are a little frightened. While most are busy recovering from their hangovers and thus the frightened moonbats are a minority, it is a minority that can only grow as realization dawns upon them all. These moonbats are frightened that Conservatives will act toward The Fresh Prince of Bill Ayres like the moonbats have been acting toward Bush!

Indeed, Coulter’s latest column has provided them with some justification for their current fear, for she states explicitly: “In the spirit of reaching across the aisle, we owe it to the Democrats to show their president the exact same kind of respect and loyalty that they have shown our recent Republican president.” This has caused fear.

(Translation for moonbats: ph34r!!!!11!1!)

But I say unto you, fear not, ye moonbats. For while I, as a Conservative, understand logic and therefore find it deeply ironic that you unwittingly have acknowledged your treatment of Bush for the last eight years has been immoral, I bear glad news for you.

Conservatives are not Liberals.

Yes, there is a difference between Conservatives and Liberals. In the zoo of politics, Conservatives are tigers, standing with stoic pride on our principals and character (we only occasionally gnaw on dope-smoking San Franciscoites). Liberals are monkeys, content merely with flinging their own excrement at (and fornicating in full view of) innocent school children. But tigers do not become monkeys simply because monkeys deserve it; and Conservatives will not behave like Liberals even though Liberals deserve it.

So fear not the response of the Conservatives.

Now God’s response, on the other hand…

The genre of the Mosaic law

Looks like a commenter over at Green Baggins is going to wimp out of a challenge he initiated. So I'll post my response over here:

steve hays said,
October 30, 2008 at 8:06 am

I agree with Michael L. that there’s a difference between the Mosaic law code and modern law codes. But I disagree with him on the nature of the difference. Douglas Stuart, in his magisterial commentary on Exodus, has delineated the real difference:

“What the chapter [Exod 20] contains—in particular, the Ten “words” (debarim)—is more like the content of a national constitution than merely the content of one section of codified law or another. If the American legal corpus is used as an analogy, it could be said that the ten ‘words’ of Exod 20 are somewhat like the Constitution of the United States (legally binding in a most basic, foundational way but more than a mere set of individual laws) and the laws that follow (cf. 21:1, ‘These are the laws you are two set before them’) somewhat analogous to the various sections of federal law dealing with all sorts of particular matters that have been enacted legislatively over time. The one group is absolutely ‘constitutional’ or ‘foundational;’ the other is specifically regulatory, following from the principles articulated in the more basic ‘constitution’,” Exodus (B&H 2006), 440-41.

“The biblical commandments occur in three levels of specificity. At the most comprehensive level are the ‘two great commandments’ of Deut 6:5 (‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart…’) and Lev 19:18b (‘love your neighbor as yourself’). The first of these commands requires in broad terms a loyal, covenantal obedience to God, who is put first above all other relationships. The second requires loving (loyal) treatment of other human beings,” ibid. 441.

“The first four of the Ten Commandments hang on the command to love God since they describe ways to show covenant loyalty directly to him. The final six hang on the command to love neighbor as self…Thus the first four ‘vertical’ commandments are balanced by the final six ‘horizontal commandments.’ Then, in order of hierarchy, follow all the others. The order is, then, the two, the ten, and the six hundred and one,” ibid. 442.

“Modern societies generally have opted for exhaustive law codes. That is, every action modern society wishes to regular or prohibit must be specifically mentioned in a separate law. Under the expectations of this exhaustive law system, state and/or federal law codes run to thousands of pages and address thousands of individual actions by way of a requirement or restriction or control or outright banning of those actions. By this approach, all actions are permitted that are not expressly forbidden or regulated. Thus it is not uncommon that criminals in modern Western societies evade prosecution because of a ‘technicality’ or a ‘loophole’ in the law—their undesirable actions are not *exactly* prohibited or regulated by a written law, so they cannot be convicted even though an objective observer may be convinced that what they did surely deserved punishment,” ibid. 442.

“Ancient laws did not work this way. They were paradigmatic, giving models of behaviors and models of prohibitions/punishments relative to those behaviors, but they made no attempt to be exhaustive. Ancient laws gave guiding principles, or samples, rather than complete descriptions of all things regulated. Ancient people were expected to be able to extrapolate from what the sampling of laws did say to the *general* behavior the laws in their totality pointed toward. Ancient judges were expected to extrapolate from the wording provided in the laws that did exist to *all other* circumstances and not to be foiled in their jurisprudence by any such concepts as ‘technicalities’ or ‘loopholes.’ When common sense told judges that a crime had been committed, they reasoned their way from whatever the most nearly applicable law specified to a decision as to how to administer proper justice in the case before them,” 442-43.

“The way paradigmatic law works: through a somewhat randomly presented admixture of rather specific examples of more general behaviors and very general regulations of broad categories of behavior, the reader/listener comes to understand that all sorts of situations not exactly specified (either because a law is to broad or so narrow) are also implicitly covered,” 444.

steve hays said,
October 30, 2008 at 10:55 am

Michael,

Since Stuart is writing for a popular commentary series, you wouldn’t expect him to give the kind of documentation he’d give in an article for a peer-reviewed journal. But why don’t you contact him?

steve hays said,
October 30, 2008 at 11:05 am

Michael,

You’ve told us what you don’t think was the function of the Mosaic Law. But, on your view, what was the function of the Mosaic Law? Specifically, what was the practical purpose of all those civil and criminal injunctions and penalties?

steve hays said,
October 31, 2008 at 11:04 am

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately, I don’t see how your explanation is all that responsive to my original question: “on your view, what was the function of the Mosaic Law? Specifically, what was the practical purpose of all those civil and criminal injunctions and penalties?”

Let’s run through your examples and arguments:

“(1) as a monument to God’s rule (e.g., the Mount Ebal inscription, in Josh 8:32).”

How would inscribing some portion of the law be, in and of itself, a monument to God’s rule unless the Mosaic law code was, as a matter of fact, the rule of law in ancient Israel?

A legal inscription is not, all by itself, a substitute for the practical function of a law code. Rather, it presupposes the functionality of the law. You have a public inscription of the law so that people will know their legal rights and responsibilities.

If, on the other hand, you deny that the Mosaic law code was actually the rule of law in ancient Israel, then what’s the point of a public inscription?

“(2) for deposit in the sanctuary (e.g., the law-book kept with Aaron’s staff, etc., in the tabernacle; Deut 31:26).”

Same problem as (1). This action is not an alternative explanation for the practical function of the law. Rather, it presupposes the functionality of the law. Unless the Mosaic law code was actually implemented, there would be no particular value in preserving it for posterity.

“(3) for reading in worship assemblies (e.g., Deut 31:9-13; Exod 24:3-8; Josh 8:34; 2Kgs 23:1-3; Neh 8).”

Same problem as before: why bother reading the law aloud in public settings unless the life of the audience was actually regulated by this law code?

“(4) for use in education (e.g., 2Chr 17:7-9; Deut 17:18-20; Josh 1:8).”

Same problem as before: why educate the general public in the content of the law unless their lives were actually regulated by this law code?

“(5) religious reform…Josiah and Ezra-Nehemiah as prime examples of major religious reforms taking place using the Mosaic law-writings.”

What does that mean unless Josiah and Ezra-Nehemiah were now enforcing a hitherto neglected law code?

So, unless I’m missing your point, I fail to see how these 5 explanations supply an alternative interpretation regarding the practical purpose of the law. To the contrary, it seems to me that all 5 actually presume and confirm the common sense interpretation, according to which the Mosaic law code, including the case laws, were actually in use.

“We might say that (and this is a bit simplistic, but perhaps it gets at the point) the uses of the law-writings in ancient Israel were not that different from the uses which the church has learned from Jesus and the Apostle Paul (surprise, surprise!). The laws are divinely given paradigms of holiness that teach us (the people of God are its audience, not lawyers and judicial specialists) what it looks like, through use of practical, concrete examples, to love God and to love our neighbor. So we study (or should study!) the laws in worship, and in private and public education.”

I still don’t follow your intended contrast between a functional law code and your own position. So these inspired paradigms teach us how to love God and our fellow man.

Then what? What do we do with that teaching? Do we live by that teaching? Isn’t the function of NT household codes to govern the individual and corporate life of Christians, in church and society at large?

If we accept your analogy, how does that prove that the Mosaic law code wasn’t actually applied to real life cases? Wouldn’t it underscore the opposite interpretation?

“In regard to the latter, Jackson (whom I earlier referenced) has even gone so far as to suggest that the law-writings were used in Israel to help train the people to resolve their conflicts without going to court…”

Isn’t that a trite way of saying that laws have a deterrent value? The liable party has an incentive to settle out of court, since he would likely lose if his case comes before a judge? So how does this explanation evidence your apparent claim (unless I’ve misunderstood you) that OT judges didn’t use the OT case laws?

“The cases which went to court would be the ones for which there was no clear custom (known to a law-educated public) by which the parties could handle matters themselves. So, Jackson suggests that the courtroom is the one place where the law-book would not be in typical use (the exact opposite of modern legislation, which is not reading material at home but used in the courtroom)!”

i) I’m sorry, but isn’t that explanation pretty silly on the face of it? To begin with, isn’t the primary incentive for an out-of-court settlement the fear of legal repercussions if the case ever comes before a judge? The leverage for an out-of-court settlement is the implicit or explicit threat of ratcheting up a private dispute to the next level if the liable party refuses to settle out of court. So this explanation actually presupposes the very thing it denies.

ii) On a related note, if the parties are unable or unwilling to settle out of court, then judicial proceedings would be the only legal enforcement mechanism. It’s a necessary back up system.

iii) And the grounds for judicial action would be the law. The judiciary is established by law. The rules of evidence are established by law. The actionable offenses are established by law. And the penalties are established by law.

iv) If a plaintiff went to court, his only argument would be to accuse the defendant of breaking the law. And the judge would try the defendant for violation of the law. What law, if not the law of Moses?

So I don’t see how Jackson’s scenario avoids the functionality of the Mosaic law as the rule of law for ancient Israel. To the contrary, it seems to me that his scenario logically assumes the functionality of the Mosaic law every step of the way. Am I missing something?

“In fact, even the Deut 17:18-20 passage, where the king is called on to read from the law-book, gives that charge as part of a list of charges designed to humble the king and make him ‘like his brethren.’ He is not being charged to read the law-book as a kingly activity (i.e., as a ‘constitutional monarch’); rather, it is one of the charges which makes him ‘like his brethren.’ In other words, law-book reading was something done for the edification and instruction of the people; and, unlike in neighboring kingdoms, Israel’s king must be ‘like his brethren’ and he also reads and studies the law-writings (with Levite assistance, the passage implies) like the public.”

I don’t see how your conclusion follows from your example. Just the opposite: this is a paradigm case of constitutional monarchy. The Israelite king is to study the law, in part, because the law applies to him as well as to a private citizen. He is not above the law. Rather, he himself is subject to the law. In that respect, he’s on the same footing as every other member of the covenant community. His authority derives from the law and, by implication, he can be deposed in case he’s a covenant-breaker.

“Certainly, all this would mean that kings and judges are also educated in the righteousness of God through the paradigms collected by Moses, and this, we might expect, would have important authority in their judicial thinking. But to be educated by the law-book (as a law-collection/didactic text) is quite different from the modern notion of judges implementing pre-defined penalties for pre-defined categories of cases (as a law-code/legislative text).”

But the Mosaic paradigms are paradigms of predefined penalties for predefined offenses. If kings and judges are educated in the law, that’s the content of the law they studied. So how do you drive a wedge between the content of the law they studied and their legal duties?

“While such analogies and comparisons might all be helpful heuristics, we ultimately have to draw our conclusions from what Scripture itself portrays. And the Scriptures show us, on the one hand, that the law-writings were used to educate God’s people in loving him and loving one another; and, on the other hand, Scripture shows us judges and kings handling cases out of a love for God and his ways, but never through application of a ‘here’s what the regulations say’ method. Indeed, over and over in biblical court examples (like that of David and the Woman of Tekoa, and numerous others), we often find biblical judges coming to rulings that are at variance with the specific provisions described in the law-book (though, I would argue, always within ‘the general equity thereof’ — if I can use that phrase, anachronistically). But that kind of detail I’ll leave to those who want to do more reading on the subject…”

i) This claim is too vague to respond to. We’d have to work through a specific list of examples to evaluate your argument.

ii) Also, you seem to be assuming that if OT judges actually made use of Mosaic case laws, they would have no judicial discretion in how they applied the case laws to real life situations. I don’t know the basis of your assumption.

There is always an element of judicial discretion since a judge must analogize from a case law to a real life situation.

iii) Moreover, you also seem to be assuming that the penalty structure would be rigid (if OT judges were using Mosaic case laws). Once again, I don’t know the basis of your assumption. Depending on the offense, the sentence could be commuted.

Going back to your initial comment (#57):

“For one example, #51 above quoted Exod 21:12-14 and offered an elaborate system of thought to try to distill how to apply it. But look at the court example in 2Sam 14, where David hears a murder case (the case of the Woman of Tekoa) and does NOT apply the death penalty like we might assume he should based on Exod 21 (and Num 35:30-34; Lev 24:17; Deut 19:13; 21:9). Yet David is called ‘like the angel of the LORD’ in the judgment he renders. Actually, the case is one which is conjured up by Joab, so that it is a sham case in the end. But it is a carefully crafted case, cooked up by Joab, to deliberately put David in a hard spot, because the case sets a number of principles of justice in conflict: (1) Israelite inheritance laws (e.g., Num 27.8–11); (2) Israelite bloodguilt laws (already noted, above); (3) Israelite kinsman-redeemer laws (e.g., Num 35.27); and, (4) the right of widows to call down divine vengeance (e.g., Ex 22.22–24). But this is the way in which ancient Near Eastern courts understood law to function in the real world: cases are never simple and it would never be imagined that a written-prescription of legal formulas could ever dictate how a judge should rule in cases.”

How do you think that stands in contrast to either theonomy or general equity?

In real world situations, an OT judge might have to balance or counterbalance different legal obligations. Take mitigating circumstances into account. So what? How is that in tension with the idea that OT jurisprudence was guided by the Mosaic case laws? What, exactly, is your position opposed to? What’s your target?

“Jesus promoted a kingdom where the King is truly sovereign, and who rules according to righteousness idealized in the law-writings (but does not suppose that those law-writings were ever intended to be implemented in a mechanistic, legislative manner).”

You like to use the word “mechanistic,” as if the position you oppose is guilty of applying OT ethics or NT ethics “mechanistically.” What do you mean by that, exactly?

For example, what do you think we should do with Jesus’ statements about fornication, adultery, divorce, and remarriage? How should they function in the church or society at large? Should the church discipline adulterers, or would that be too “mechanistic”?

“But are the Mosaic law-writings really adequate to provide righteousness for a society by themselves? Paul argues that the law-writings were never designed to accomplish righteousness, they always pointed to and expected a King to accomplish what they idealized. In making those arguments, I believe that Paul is reflecting good, ANE (aka, ‘barbarian’) thought, and the way Moses himself would have understood the law-writings to function…”

i) This is simplistic. A basic function of law is not to make people good, but to deter evil.

ii) Paul himself has a list of moral prohibitions which Christians are supposed to abide by.

steve hays said,
November 4, 2008 at 11:41 am

Michael L. said,

“Try not to throw my arguments away too hastily, and certainly do not suppose that granting serious thought to my arguments in any way undermines the authority of the Mosaic law-writings.”

You’ve given us no sustained argument for your position. So there’s nothing to throw away, whether hastily or with all due deliberation. For the most part, all you’ve done in this reply is to repetitiously assert some programmatic claims about the true genre of the Mosaic law code. You keep assuming what you need to prove.

The only thing I can identify by way of argument are two very rudimentary arguments: one argument from analogy, along with a vague appeal to discrepancies between the Mosaic law and Ezra-Nehemiah. Let’s take your argument from analogy:

“By way of analogy: when Jesus came, he came as a king. He came as the promised Messiah whom the prophets announced would bring victory and justice to his people. But how would he do so? What kind of king was he and how does he function in that office? Sadly, period Judaism — influenced by the Greco-Roman examples of kingship set by Alexander and Caesar, and already adapted in Judaism by the Hasmoneans — anticipated a king who would save after the manner of those militant rulers. But Paul labored, with detailed exegesis from the OT law and prophets, to explain to his fellow Hebrews that the Scriptures called for a king who would conquer, not by shedding the blood of others, but by shedding his own blood. It was a different model of kingship, though every bit as much a true king and exactly what the OT texts actually described (though read through period presuppositions, many Jews missed it).”

This strikes me as simplistic. Doesn’t it amount to a half-truth?

The obvious response is to distinguish between the first advent of Christ and the second advent. In the first advent, he comes as a Savior—but in the second, he comes as a judge.

So political messianism is half right and half wrong. It’s wrong on the timing, but it’s correct insofar as the Messiah is, indeed, a warrior-king who will conquer his remaining foes by force. But this occurs on the Day of Judgment.

If you disagree with that explanation, why?

“I hope all that is some help.”

How would that be of any help? I asked you a number of questions to clarify the implications of your position. You duck my questions and simply reiterate what you said all along. That does nothing whatsoever to advance the argument.

Let’s take a concrete example at random. The Mosaic law has a provision for war brides. In your opinion, what is the purpose of that provision?

What would be the function of a provision for war brides unless that was addressing a real world situation, viz. Israel wins a battle, captures some eligible women. What’s to be done with them?

If you reject that common sense interpretation, then what is your alternative explanation for the existence of this provision?

“In the meantime, don’t dismiss my position too quickly, but keep trying to make sense of it as you study the biblical examples themselves…”

What Biblical examples? The only example you gave in your latest reply was a vague appeal to the alleged discrepancy between the Mosaic code and the jurisprudence of Ezra-Nehemiah. But you furnish no specifics.

What, exactly, are the discrepancies between the Mosaic law and Ezra/Nehemiah? And why do you think evangelical commentaries fail to adequately explain these (alleged) discrepancies?

I’m left to suspect that you play your cards close to your vest because your position entails a lenient view of personal social ethics, and you wont lay your cards on the table because, as soon as we see where your position leads to, we will pounce.

Maybe I’m mistaken about that. Can you prove me wrong? What’s the cash-value of your position? How would you apply your position to a church discipline, viz. divorce and remarriage?

Eye has not seen

Christians used to write and preach on heaven and hell far more than is the case today. One might ask why that’s so.

I suppose the major reason for this contemporary neglect is that in the past, life was so often poor, nasty, brutish, and short. With advances in modern science and technology, life is longer and better for many of us than it was for our forebears. As a result, the afterlife doesn’t seem to be as urgent.

Still, for Christians, this is what we’re ultimately looking forward to. What gives meaning to life in a fallen world. So the subject is worth exploring.

Let’s distinguish between facts and possibilities. There are certain things which, as a matter of revelation, we know about the afterlife.

Revealed truths preclude certain possibilities, but allow for other possibilities. Christian speculation about the afterlife should confine itself to what is possible.

There are three or four sources we can use to speculate about the afterlife:

i) Extrapolation from divine revelation.

ii) Extrapolation from earthly experience.

iii) Sheer imagination.

iv) Deathbed visions, NDEs, &c.

The last category gets us into some tricky issues which require separate treatment, so I’ll ignore it for purposes of this post.

I. Facts

1.The afterlife is a two-stage process: an intermediate state followed by a final state.

The intermediate state is disembodied while the final state is reembodied.

2.The afterlife is a two-track affair. The damned have one destiny while the redeemed have another.

3. Heaven is the intermediate state of the saints, while the new earth is the final state of the saints.

Hades is the intermediate state of the damned, while hell is the final state of the damned.

4.The final state is just that—final. It doesn’t come to an end, and there’s no migration from heaven to hell or vice versa.

5.There will be a general resurrection. Believers and unbelievers will both be reembodied.

6.There is no Purgatory.

7. The saints will be in the immediate presence of God.

8. There will be no sorrow in heaven (Rev 21:4).

9. The redeemed will be sinless and impeccable, while the damned will be more sinful than they were before.

10. For the saints, the world to come is unimaginably greater and better than we can even conceive or hope for (1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 12:1-4).

II. Possibilities

God has endowed human beings with a lively imagination. And our finite imagination is an infinitesimal subset of God’s infinite imagination. Compared to God, Ray Bradbury suffers from a stunted imagination.

Many things which are impossible in a secular worldview are possible in a Christian worldview. So the sky is the limit. Our speculations will fall far short of reality.

At the same time, the good doesn’t have to be something spectacular. Remember the old adage that a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

1. Both the saints and the damned will be reembodied. Will there be a difference between the two?

I assume the saints will be youthful, ageless, and healthy. They will remain at an optimal age.

The damned will also be immortal, but I wouldn’t assume they will be healthy or even youthful.

2. There’s no particular reason to assume that hell is a torture chamber. You can be miserable in paradise. Consider the lives of the idle rich. They have the best of everything, yet they are bored to death.

3. What will the new earth be like? Will all the cities be gone? Will it revert to a virgin wilderness?

The earth isn’t static. Landmarks change over time. Will the new earth revert to a particular time in earth history?

4. The saints of different ages will remember the best and worst of what life was like when and where they used to live. Will they build new cities based on the architecture of the period they lived in?

Let’s also keep in mind that heaven is full of talented saints. Saints who have resided in heaven for centuries or even millennia. Let’s say that Bach made it to heaven. He’s had a lot of time to write new music. Time to write even better music. Time to hone his craft.

When the saints return to earth, they will be bringing their heavenly culture along with them. A culture with remnants of the earthly culture they left behind, but purified and refined. A culture more advanced than anything here-below.

Culture in a fallen world is not an unmitigated evil. Due to common grace, natural revelation, and Christian influence, there’s much that’s good. Much that’s worth preserving. Which we can build upon.

5. Will we be confined to a particular time? Is time travel possible? Will the saints be able to travel back in time?

i) Of course, there’s the question of whether time travel is coherent. One possible solution is that restricted time travel is possible. That it’s possible to travel back into the past, but you can’t alter the past in a way that would withdraw the future conditions which made possible your excursion into the past. Whether that’s a logical restriction or an ad hoc restriction is another question.

ii) What about virtual time travel? Even if actual time travel were physically or metaphysically impossible, would it be possible to simulate time travel based on our individual or collective memories of the past?

Wilder Penfield, the renowned neurosurgeon, used to stimulate the cortical region of his patients, which would trigger memories. And these weren’t the fuzzy, faded memories we can all conjure up. Rather, these were so vivid and detailed that it was like being there. Reliving the original experience. Total recall.

Moreover, even if our own memories are fragmentary, God knows the past (as well as the future) down to the very last detail.

Under this scenario, it would be possible to occupy the same space, but experience different times.

I'd add that this is more than sheer speculation. Even in this life there are reported cases of retrocognition or timeslips. If that's already possible in the here and now, what about the hereafter?

iii) A Christian might object that this would be a throwback to life in a fallen world. But that’s not quite what I have in mind.

I sure all of us have fond memories of a particular day in our past. It would be fun to go back in time and see it again. That doesn’t mean we want to live in the past. Just have a chance to savor a particular moment. A few hours from the past. Refresh our recollection.

Maybe God will allow us to do that in the world to come.

Moreover, there is nothing inherently wrong about sinless agents observing or interacting with sinful agents. Jesus did that when he was here. Heavenly angels do that when they’re sent on a mission to earth. The shade of Samuel did that when he spoke to Saul.

Furthermore, when I talk about virtual time travel, this can be selective. It doesn’t have to reproduce all of the conditions of the past. You could have the places without the people. Or you could mix and match buildings from one place or period with buildings from another place or period.

The only people you’d speak with or live with would be upir fellow saints. The wicked would be confined to hell. There would be no contact with the damned.

iv) A Christian might also object that this is too materialistic. We won’t care about these things in the world to come.

Maybe not, but any conjectures about the world to come will have to use our earthly experience as a frame of reference since that’s all we know.

In addition, biblical depictions of the world to come are also “materialistic.” The visions in the Apocalypse are very well furnished. The New Jerusalem is a city, with a park. And some visions use the imagery of the Temple.

Of course, that involves a lot of symbolism. But the final state is a physical state. The symbolism is still emblematic of a tangible truth.

Then there’s the question of the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28). Let’s assume the new earth will be a virgin wilderness. What then?

Will we build huts? Plant gardens? Play instruments? If we do that much, we can do a much more.

6. Thus far I’ve been talking about time travel. What about the exploration of space? Will we be able to visit or colonize other planets?

Due to the seeming scale of the universe and the limit on superluminal speed, that’s currently impossible. Yet we have some apparent examples of teleportation in Scripture. If that’s possible, then there might be no insuperable barrier to the exploration of space.

7. Let’s move to a controversial issue. Will there be sex in the world to come?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the traditional interpretation of Mt 22:30 (and its synoptic parallels) is mistaken.

Glorified men will still have sex organs. They will still produce testosterone. If they didn’t continue to produce testosterone, they would cease to retain the characteristics of grown men. And we could make parallel statements about women (e.g. the production of estrogen).

This raises another possibility: will there be procreation in the world to come? Will there be sinless, impeccable children who mature in the unfallen culture of the new earth?

8. There is also the question of alternate possible worlds. Would we have access to any of these? What might have been, but never was?

Mr Matthews

The following has been excerpted from Bethan Lloyd-Jones' Memories of Sandfields, pp. 77-78:

...Mr Matthews deserves honourable mention. He was a farmer all his life, in the Vale of Glamorgan, starting as a farm hand in a tied cottage. Like many of his contemporaries in the same walk of life he had never been to school, and from a child knew nothing but hard work. He had grown up and married and brought up a large family of children on the princely sum of 9 shillings a week!

He had been gloriously converted in the 1904-5 revival, when, I think, he was nearer seventy than sixty. He had seen and felt the Holy Spirit working in great power and the wonder and the glory of that revival never left him. But he could not read and was conscious of a great deprivation in not being able to study the Bible. Now he had come to live, in retirement, with his married daughter in Harrow. She was a sincere Christian, as was her husband. They had three beautiful children and the family attended an English church. Mr Matthews had no English and he was a member of the Welsh church which we as a family attended.

One day my mother told us that Mr Matthews was going to learn to read, and would be coming every morning for lessons. We were greatly intrigued. Perhaps we found it hard to believe that anyone should want to have lessons! However the pupil came and, after all these years, I can see them now in my mind's eye.

In our old-fashioned house we had what we knew as 'the drawing room'. It opened into a glass house which we grandly called 'the Conservatory' and in one or other of these rooms they would sit. As our baby brother would say, 'When it's fine they sit in the "d'awin' moon" and if it's wet, in the "scuvetry"!' Of course, the large-print Bible, opened out on the table between them, was a Welsh one and Welsh is a phonetic language. In no time at all Mr Matthews was reading, slowly and haltingly at first with a finger picking out the words, but soon with ease and great delight. When he first picked out the word Iesu (Jesus) he broke down completely, and with the tears running down his cheeks, and crying, 'Oh, his name, his blessed name!', he picked up the book and kissed that name.

William Nobes

The following has been excerpted from Bethan Lloyd-Jones' Memories of Sandfields, pp. 63-67:

William Nobes, a lean, almost boyish, figure, was always meticulously clean and neat and had a beautiful face: regular features and clear blue eyes, clean-shaven with a pink and white complexion and white hair, and always a pleasant expression with a ready smile. He was quiet and unobtrusive and not given to public utterance. Only once do I remember hearing him speak and that was truly an occasion to be remembered. It was at the Fellowship Meeting.

The talk had been free and often moving, when something said, or some inner constraint, brought William Nobes to his feet, and he told us the story of his conversion. He did not speak glibly or even easily, but hesitantly. He was soft-voiced with a 'burr' that spoke of one of the Southern counties. Every eye was fixed upon him and we waited for what he had to say with something more than an expectant hush.

He said little about his early days, or whether he had Christian forbears. I do not know whether he had experienced previous pangs of conscience or agonies of conviction -- how I wish I had asked him more at the time! My impression is that he had never been a violent, aggressive sinner, but he was completely indifferent to God and had not the faintest interest in spiritual things. And then, with his youth behind him, when he was well on to middle age, he had a dream.

The horror of that dream was real to him yet, and he managed, in the hush of that meeting, to involve us, too, in the horror of it. In his dream he was hanging over a flaming inferno, helpless and frantic. Above him and almost obstructing the opening of the pit was an enormous ball, like a great globe, and he found himself trying to climb up the roundness of this ball to get away from the heat of the flames below, and out into the clean, cool air above. Sometimes he would make two or three feet, sometimes more, at times only two or three inches.

Once he thought he had really got over the widest part of the ball, but in spite of all his efforts and his mounting fear and agony, the result was always the same -- he would fail to keep his hold, fail to make another inch, fail to keep what ground he had gained, and in helpless weakness slide and slither back along that fearsome slope, to find himself back where he had started.

This seemed to go on for an eternity, and then at last, all hope gone, and hanging over the open jaws of hell, he looked up once more at the light above him and uttered one great despairing cry -- and there was a face in that light looking down at him, full of love and pity, and a hand reached down and grasped his, and drew him up out of all the horror below him and stood him on the firm sweet earth and in the pure clear air.

What did David say? '...he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit...and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God' (Psa. 40:1-3). All these words William Nobes could say too, and they were all true of him. From then on he walked before the Lord in love and thankfulness.

William Nobes was very poor in this world's goods. The meagre pension of the time kept body and soul together, and paid the rent of his little bachelor room. But no one ever heard him grumble or complain. 'There's just four of us now', was his contented answer to someone who asked him about family and relatives, 'my bed and my table, my Book and me'!

Someone might feel that, although his name is written in heaven, there is not much to write about his earthly life. Perhaps not, but apart from the sweetness of his nature William Nobes had one rare and precious gift, a surprising gift, one might think, in one of so shy and retiring a nature. He could talk about God and spiritual things to anybody and everybody at any time and in any place, without offence.

There was a window-sill in the open place outside the entrance to the market. It caught all the available sunshine and William Nobes could usually be found sitting there, chatting happily in his gentle, kindly manner to any and all who had time to stop and talk to him.

When sometimes we came across the havoc wrought by the blundering unwisdom of some of the most well-meaning Christians, we knew that the gift of this unobtrusive gentle disciple of the Lord, was of a very high order indeed, and always felt that he must have his place, if not among the three 'mighties', then surely among the thirty!

William Nobes died as he had lived, quietly and peacefully. He had no family, no living relations of any kind as far as anyone knew, but he was the son of the King, and on the day of his funeral there was no lack of 'family' to lay his earthly frame to rest, 'in sure and certain hope of the resurrection'. Even on this, his last journey, William Nobes was still bearing witness -- the sight of the large company of his fellow church members -- his family -- following the Minister behind the simple coffin, wending their way through the town, and up the long three miles to the cemetery on the mountain side, spoke to the hearts of many -- curious, interested, careless, thoughtful -- onlookers. It reminded them again, in the midst of the busy-ness of everyday life, of those 'unseen things' which the Word of God tells us 'are eternal'.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I will wait till my change comes

Estelle: You’re name is Vivian, isn’t it?

Vivian: That’s right. And you’re Estelle, aren’t you?

Estelle: That’s right. You’ve been here for two or three weeks now, haven’t you?

Vivian: More like five.

Estelle: So what brings you to us?

Vivian: After my husband died five months ago, I sold the house.

Estelle: I’m sorry for your loss. My husband died seven years ago last November.

Vivian: And I’m sorry for your loss.

Estelle: How do you like the retirement home?

Vivian: It has a lovely garden.

Estelle: Yes, I’ve seen you there. You walk and sit down, then get up and walk around some more, then sit down again.

Vivian: It’s a nice place to pray.

Estelle: I see. What do you pray about?

Vivian: I pray for my children and grandchildren. I pray about heaven. I thank God for the life he’s given me. What do you pray about?

Estelle: I don’t pray much any more. I guess I’m out of practice. I used to—in my younger days.

Vivian: What happened?

Estelle: Nothing really. I went to a revival when I was a girl. Got saved. I was very pious after that. Read my Bible every day. Went to church every week. Twice on Sundays. Passed around Bible tracts.

But after doing that year after year, I lost my zeal. You know how that goes.

Vivian: No, I don’t know how that goes. I know it happens. I’ve seen it happen. But I never understood it.

Estelle: Don’t you every get tired of hearing the preacher say the same thing week after week?

Vivian: Yes, that can be a bore. But I always have my Bible.

Estelle: But after you’ve read your Bible cover-to-cover, what else is new? You know how the story ends. How it began. Everything in-between. How many times would you read the same murder mystery?

Vivian: The story’s the same, but I’m not. Every time I read the Bible, I see something I didn’t notice before. It speaks to me in different ways at different times, not because the Bible changes, but because I change. It’s new to me because I’m new to it.

Estelle: To me, reading the Bible is like reading a novel. It talks about a lot of people I never knew. So they might as well be characters in a novel.

Vivian: When I was a girl, the Bible talked about a lot of things of which I had no experience. But over the years, I’ve been through many of the same things. Suddenly, it’s as if that part of Scripture was written just for me, with me in mind. With my name on the envelope. Like a letter to a friend.

Estelle: Such as?

When I read about Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, David, Elijah, Anna, Elizabeth, Esther, Mary and Martha, Ruth and Naomi, Sarah and Hagar, or the woman at the well, I enter into their lives, and they enter into mine. I’m following in their footsteps. Seeing the world through their eyes. We’re on the same journey. Headed in the same direction. They had a head start, that’s all.

Estelle: It isn’t real to me.

Vivian: It wasn’t real to me either. Not when I first set out.

Estelle: God doesn’t speak to me. No angels appear to me.

Vivian: Maybe you’re looking for God in the wrong place. Every day of my life is a story that God wrote for me to act out. Every morning I know that God wrote that day’s story. I read the story by living the story. When I go to bed at night, I close that chapter, and begin a new chapter the day after. So every day is an adventure. A chance for me to discover what God has planned for me from all eternity. Just for me. For my little life. For the life he gave me. Which is why I never get bored by life.

Estelle: No angels?

Vivian: No need. I sense his presence everywhere I look. He told my story. The story of my life. His story for my life. And he has added my story to the story of Adam and Eve. Moses and Noah. The Apostles and prophets. It’s all one continuous story. I’m just in a later chapter of the same book. And, at the end, there will be a family reunion.

Estelle: You mean, when you die?

Vivian: Yes.

Estelle: What do you think death is like?

Vivian: You said that, for you, reading the Bible is like reading the novel. For me, it was just the opposite.

Estelle: What’s that got to do with it?

Vivian: For me, death is like a storybook character coming to life. When I was a girl, I tried to be a good Christian. Like an actress. Learning my lines. Playing my part.

When I first read the Bible I felt as if I was peering through a window. Looking in from the outside.

But as time when on, I began to feel that I was on the other side of the window, looking out. I became more like the men and women I read about. More real, if you will.

Estelle: And when you die?

Vivian: When I die I’ll leave the old me behind. She used to be the real me. But she’s more like a fictional character now. The girl I used to be. When I look back on my life, it’s like reading a novel. About someone else. Was that me?

Estelle: And now?

Vivian: And now I no longer play a role. Because I am the role I used to play. The actress is dead. The character has come alive. I poured my life into my role, like hot wax in a mold. When I die, I’ll leave the old Adam behind, and step out into heaven as the new me, the true me. What I was meant to be.

Estelle: Well, it’s about time for dinner. Tuna casserole on Tuesdays.

Gen 1 & the Enuma elish

Peter Enns reignited a musty old debate over the relation, if any, between Gen 1 and the Enuma Elish. Paul Seely recycled the same stale arguments.

They act as if this is new evidence. That conservative scholars have never come to terms with this material. But that’s old news, and it’s been dealt with many times before. Here’s one example:

“Thus, the discourse structure of the initial section of this ‘creation’ epic [Enuma Elish] is similar to that of the Neo-Babylonian ‘creation’ story and Genesis 1. However, there is a difference in theme and purpose. While the latter two stories are concerned with the initial state of the earth or land, the initial section of the Enuma elish is concerned with the creation of gods and goddesses and no reference is made to the earth-water relationship, for the primeval waters, Apsu and Tiamat, in Enuma elish are understood as having existed without any relationship with the ‘earth.’

“In Gen 1 the earth in v2 is simply a part of the created cosmos (‘heaven and earth’ in v1) and refers to everything under the heaven, including the subterranean waters. However, the earth was totally covered by waters and the dry land was ‘not yet’ formed (or seen) until v9 where God said ‘Let the waters from under the heaven be gathered to one place and let the dry land appear.’ Unlike the cosmology in Enuma elish and other ancient myths, the land in Gen 1:9f. was not a product of the primeval water, hence a part of the water, but a product of the divine fiat by which God gathered the waters from under the heaven ‘to one place,’ i.e. as ‘seas,’ which is part of the earth,” D. Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation (JSOTS 1989), 82-83.

“This etymological investigation shows that the formal similarities are no proof of direct or indirect ‘borrowing.’ In other words, the fact that the Hebrew term tehom shares a common Proto-Semitic origin with the Akkadian divine name Tiamat and the Ugaritic Tahamu does not support the theory that the Hebrew term is a depersonification of an original divine name,” ibid. 159.

Pride and Prejudice

There’s no doubt that the election of a biracial man to the US presidency is a historic event. Insofar as it symbolises the success of the civil rights movement against racial injustice, it should be celebrated (and I join with my American friends on that count).

Still, I have to confess that I’m left somewhat confused by the countless expressions of pride I’ve witnessed over the last two days. “Today, I’m proud of America!” “Americans can take pride in this historic election result!” And so on.

But what exactly is there to be proud about, I ask?

Should Americans be proud that a biracial man has been elected US president? Surely that’s no reason to be proud. A man’s ethnicity or skin colour ought to be strictly irrelevant to whether he’s the right man to serve as president. Wasn’t that the point all along? So to take pride in his election on that basis is just another form of racism.

Should Americans be proud that a biracial man could be elected US president? Well, we all knew that months ago. How did the events of Tuesday add anything to that?

In any case, how would that give grounds for pride? Race should never have been an issue in the first place — not now, not in the 60s, not at any time. At best, the election result illustrates that a past injustice is no longer present. Suggesting that the election (or electability) of a non-white president is praiseworthy or prideworthy is to confuse the obligatory with the supererogatory. There should never have been any barrier in the first place. There’s no basis for pride in finally doing (or allowing) one what always ought to have done (or allowed).

Imagine if for 40 years my church had forced women to sit on the floor during its worship services. Should I feel pride on the day that the first woman is allowed to sit in a pew? Gladness, yes. Relief, yes. But pride?

America is a truly great country and Americans have much to feel justly proud about. Yet in all honesty, I fail to see that the election of a biracial president should be one of them. Gladness, yes. Relief, yes. But pride?

Perhaps I’m still bitter about the historic event of July 4th, 1776. :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pelagian Dualism

Beowulf2k writes:


I'm not an Arminian.

No, you're a Pelagian. The unborn and infants qua infants have no sin, so they are innocent. Ergo, universal infant salvation.

Tell us, when exactly do infants become sinners? What's the magic age? Where is the exegetical argument? If it varies from individual from individual, where's the exegetical argument for that?

I deny inheritance of Adam's sin for the soul outright, per Ezekiel 18:20.
One of the problems with this appeal is that the selected text doesn't deal with the imputation of Adam's sin to anybody. It addresses an altogether different situation. Like many anti-Calvinists, B2K doesn't exegete the Bible, he quotes selected verses as if they make his case for him.

More on this spooftexting later.

I might be willing to allow that the body does inherit Adam's sin and consequently physical death if you'd like me to, although I can conceive of physical death accruing to all men from Adam without any inheritance of his sin even by the flesh itself.

1. If the former, that's dualism and Gnosticism. The body is bad, it dies as a consequence of Adam's sin. The soul, however, is good. B2k likes to throw around the charge of heresy with respect to Augustine, but apparently he doesn't bother to consult the Bible or church history for other heresies - like Docetism and its children.

2. If the latter, then men were created in a perishable state.

But Ezekiel 18:20 specifically denies any possibility of the death of the soul (i.e. the second death) coming from inheritance.
Let's look at the context of Ezekiel 18. We have to ask ourselves what Ezekiel is discussing. What he's discussing the statements of his audience that they are being held responsible for the sins of their fathers. He tells them that they are responsible insofar as they agree with them.

Indeed, God specifically says He does hold other generations accountable for the sins of the fathers no less than 4 times within the Law itself:

(i) Exodus 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

(ii) Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

(iii) Numbers 14:18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

(iv) Deuteronomy 5:9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,


So, rather than saying that infants are innocent, we should be asking how God can say what He says in Ezekiel as well as what He says in the Law. Ezekiel 18 doesn't represent a change in the Law. Indeed, we should ask ourselves what the recipients of Genesis would have thought, knowing the Law, when reading the Law and seeing that the father of us all fell into sin, and not just in any way, for he plunged the whole race into sin in the process.

The sort of namby pamby spooftexting that B2K offers is what you get when you divorce a verse of the Bible from the context. Ezekiel 18 is not a get out of jail free clause for people who have allegedly committed no sins. It doesn't address the concept of original sin, infant mortality, or the imputation of Adam's sin. Moreover, the argument that this text addresses runs like this:

My father sins. His sins are imputed to me. This occurs from one generation to the next, eg. each male from one generation to the next has his sins imputed to me.

But that's not the argument for the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity.

That argument runs this way:

Adam sins. We are born in his likeness. His sin is imputed directly to us. Further, Adam was the best of us. The fact that we sin is proof that, if we were Adam, we would do no better. So, we approve of his sin when we sin, and we would , in any other world, do no better. Thereby the imputation of Adam's sin to us is proven.

The point of Ezekiel 18 is simply this, men are not held to account for the sins of their father if they repent of their sins. This text would only apply to the situation at hand if infants could repent of their fathers' sins, but that's not B2K's argument. No, his argument is that infants are born in a state of innocence.

And traducianism is just plain stupid. Each soul is clearly a new production of God not a combo of shards of the parents' souls.
So what, Calvinism doesn't select for traducianism. There are Calvinists who believe God creates each soul - in the image of fallen Adam, as a penalty of the Fall. Further Adam and Eve were not created innocent by nature. Rather, they were created in a state of righteousness, though mutable.

In short, infants haven't sinned so they can't go to hell. It's that simple.
1. The Bible says that the wicked go astray from the womb and speak lies from birth.
2. The Bible says that people are conceived in sin and there is no soul that does not commit sin.
3. In short, you've just stated there are two ways of salvation, one for infants and one for everybody else. Do you even bother to think about what you write, or are your fingers divorced from your cortical matter?
4. You've also turned innocence into a form of merit. Thereby we can conclude you have no room for salvation by grace. You believe in salvation by merit, yet you criticize Romanists too. How ironic.
5. Let's assume infants are born "innocent." In that case, "innocence" must also equate to "holiness." "Innocence" and "holiness" are not convertible.

So, why does a person sin if he is born "innocent?" If he's born innocent, he should remain innocent. Where's the exegetical argument for libertarian freedom?



Rom 13: then and now

Predictably enough, I see that Rom 13:1-7 is being quoted in connection with Obama’s election. I, of course, have no objection to relating Holy Writ to current events. However, it’s lazy to fall back on rote prooftexting. At the risk of stating the obvious (again!), to properly apply Scripture to our own situation, two elementary conditions need to be met:

i) You must first ascertain the meaning of the passage in its original setting.

ii) You must then isolate and identify the analogies and disanalogies between the original setting and our own circumstances.

Rom 13 tends to be silly putty in the hands of those who quote it. It magically shapes itself to fit the prefabricating contours of whatever statecraft the speaker happens to espouse. As on scholar notes, “the interpretation of this pericope has swung from abject subservience to political authorities as virtually divine to critical submission on the basis of their advancement of justice. The endless stream of studies has been marked by advocacy of various appraisals of the role of government shaped by denominational traditions and modern ethical considerations,” R. Jewett, Romans: A Commentary (Fortress Press 2007), 785.

Jewett goes on to register a key qualification in Paul’s argument:

“The form of the final lines in this pericope is compressed, succinct, and correlative. In each of four examples, governmental obligations are paid to those who qualify. Helmut Merklein aptly refers to the ‘conditionality’ of this formulation. Instead of absolute subservience, obligations are to be met if they prove legitimate. The formulation leaves space for assessments of appropriateness made by the community,” ibid. 802.

“’Respect’ in this sense is the acknowledgement of legitimate jurisdiction…In contrast, τιμη ('honor') is a matter not of acknowledging jurisdiction but of recognizing superior status and good performance…Honor was earned by ‘virtue, kingship, public service,’ according to Plutarch…” ibid. 802-03.

From the other side of the fence

[Alberto]: As a Hispanic that views himself outside of the black or white distinctions and lives in South L.A., I may have some insight as to how race is being viewed in this election.

I know that it was white Americans that voted Obama in, but I think such a thought is more prevalent in the mind of white Americans than it is in the mind of black Americans. White Americans may view this as a large step towards a less racist and more tolerant society, but I think in general black Americans think of this more as black victory and progress. I don't know the kind of neighborhoods the readers live in, but I live in a largely black neighborhood where people were screaming for joy last night when Obama was declared the winner; I think some people were even using fireworks.

In general, young blacks view this country as fundamentally racist where I have grown up. Some emphasize this so much, they have no time to reflect their own racism which is very much open for others to see and is many times the type of racism they denounce in others. It has been a mystery to me how people can proclaim black power or brown power and view white power as being uniquely wrong. Don't get too hopeful about the future of race relations.

Without being specific about anyone so I don't get a response, it is clear that you can be in the right camp theologically, and yet still hold to foolish or even destructive beliefs in the civil realm. I think everyone can agree with this.

http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2008/11/4/president-elect-obama.html?currentPage=2#comments

Rendering to Caesar

In the wake of Obama’s election, it’s predicable that some well-meaning bloggers are quoting the usual Pauline and Petrine prooftexts about a Christian’s duty to Caesar, and using that appeal to admonish Christian Americans to do the same in reference to Obama. A few caveats are in order:

1. I don’t deny that these passages are applicable to our own situation. But at the risk of stating the obvious, application involves recontextualization. This is not the Roman Empire. You can’t simply transfer statements about imperial Rome to a republican democracy without making the necessary adjustments. We have a system of popular sovereignty. Our elected leaders are public servants. They serve at the pleasure of the electorate.

Now, that’s not to deny that, having elected them, we have a duty to obey them (within the limits of their lawful authority).

2. It’s not at all clear to me that Obama won fair and square. He won in large part because he vastly outspent the McCain campaign on advertising, voter registration, and a get-out-the vote machine.

And it was possible for him to finance all that through record campaign contributions. Problem is: a high percentage of his war chest involved untraceable donations. Much of this may well have been illegal, whether involving foreign donations or contributions which exceeded the campaign finance limits:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/28/AR2008102803413_pf.html

And not only is there the problem of where he got his money, there’s the further problem of where it went. It went to fraudulent organizations like ACORN:

http://www.nypost.com/seven/10092008/postopinion/editorials/vote_fraud_a_go_go_132852.htm

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hSQRQM34d7S1eOAiEdP7GAxlwf_QD93RUCH80

Finally, there’s the nagging question of whether he even meets the Constitutional requirements for citizenship:

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/?pageId=78111

Therefore, I have reason to question the legitimacy of his election.

3. Now, that’s not a hill I’m going to die on. Even if he’s not the de jure president, he’s going to be the de facto president. Even if there were good grounds to void the election results, I can’t imagine the political establishment would allow that to happen. So the fix is in.

And, as far as historical analogies are concerned, many Roman emperors were illegitimate. They assumed office through bribery, treachery, or assassination. And they ruled over masses of people whom they conquered by brute force. So you can be a de facto ruler even if you’re not the de jure ruler.

But when bloggers assure me that Obama is my president, and dictate the attitude I’m supposed to adopt, the legitimacy of his claim to be the duly elected president is germane to my attitude.

4. Which brings me to the next point. We need to distinguish between actions and attitudes.

Even if you think that Obama is illegitimate, it would be futile to form the equivalent of the French Resistance. We have to make peace with providence. The world is full of injustices we can do nothing to change. So we need to pick our battles. No point beating our brains out against a brick wall.

5. There’s a one-sided quality to the prooftexting. What about the Johannine verses? Peter and Paul aren’t the only NT writers who discuss the relationship between church and state. We also have the Book of Revelation.

And there we find a scathing indictment of imperial Rome. What is John’s attitude to the imperial authority? It doesn’t strike me as respectful. He doesn’t honor the imperial cult. Quite the contrary.

At the same time, John is not fomenting a Christian insurrection. So this illustrates the difference between actions and attitudes.

6. How should we pray for our leaders? For example, the imprecatory Psalms are prayers.

For me, the answer is pretty straightforward. We can pray conditional, open-ended prayers. On the one hand, we can pray that God give our rulers wisdom. On the other hand, we can also pray that God dethrone unjust rulers.

These are not incompatible prayers. A Christian can pray for both If one outcome doesn’t eventuate, then the other.

"Stayin Alive: Pro-Life Advocacy in the Obama Era"

Scott Klusendorf gives a great overview of the pro-life position, and also offers some strategies we can adopt.