WILLIAM WATSON BIRCH SAID:
“By you? Are you God's corrective voice in the earth. That's comical.”
What is Birch’s problem, exactly? Is he just a little funny in the head?
Whether or not Calvinism has an official position on what percentage of the human race is elect or reprobate is a factual, historical question. Does Birch think you have to be God to correct misstatements about historical theology?
If so, then Birch should disband his blog, since he constantly accuses Calvinists of misrepresenting Arminian theology. What is that if not an attempt on his part to set the record straight?
Or does Birch think he’s God? Is that it?
“It is Jesus Himself who corrects you. In Matthew 7:13-14, as has been offered several times, Jesus notes the quantity of people who enter the way to everlasting life and to everlasting death. Do the words ‘few’ or ‘many’ mean anything? They certainly do when Calvinists point to ‘many’ are called but ‘few’ are chosen! You're not wrestling with me, you're wrestling with God's Word.”
Once again, what is Birch’s problem, exactly? Is he simply ignorant? Willfully ignorant? Too dense to grasp the issues? Or just plain dishonest?
i) Historical theology and exegetical theology are two different things. The correct interpretation of a Bible verse is utterly irrelevant to what any given theological tradition may happen to affirm or deny.
Is Birch simply too obtuse to grasp that rudimentary distinction? It isn’t all that difficult.
For example, Birch is a Baptist. That means, presumably, that Birch interprets various Bible verses on sacramental and ecclesiological topics according to Baptist sacramentology and ecclesiology. He thinks that’s the correct interpretation.
But suppose Birch were writing a term paper in which he offers an exposition of Roman Catholic sacramentology and ecclesiology. Would Birch impute his Baptist interpretation of Catholic prooftexts to Catholic authorities, then derive a conclusion regarding Catholic theology based on his aptist interpretation of Catholic prooftexts?
Or would he, in his exposition of Catholic theology, present the Catholic interpretation of Catholic prooftexts?
What is there that Birch can’t figure out about this procedure?
ii) By the same token, what I (Steve Hays) personally think is the correct interpretation of Mt 7:13-14 is completely irrelevant to the historical question of whether Calvinism has an official position on the percentage of the reprobate in relation to the elect.
Why is Birch so intellectually challenged that this distinction continues to elude him?
iii) Likewise, can he cite any historical evidence that Calvinism has an official interpretation of Mt 7:13-14? Remember, Birch has pretensions to becoming a church historian when he grows up. So when he makes a claim about historical theology, is it asking too much that he document his claim by reference to some representative statements of the theological tradition in question? Aren’t church historians supposed to engage in a little thing known as historical research?
iv) Unfortunately, Birch’s incorrigible ineptitude doesn’t begin and end there. Not only has he failed to research the historical question, but he’s also failed to research the exegetical question.
Since he brings it up, what about Mt 7:13-14? Keep in mind that this is irrelevant to the historical question. But inasmuch as he continues to introduce this irrelevancy into the debate, let’s discuss it.
a) Donald Hagner has written one of the standard commentaries on Matthew. Here is what Hagner has to say:
“’There are few who find it,’ is primarily descriptive of the situation confronted by Jesus and his disciples during his ministry (so too, 22:14). Although the ‘few’ is clearly hyperbolic, it remains true that the majority of the people (polloi, v13) do not receive Jesus’ message (cf. 11:20-24; 12:41-42)…It is not the point of the passage to speculate over the number who are saved or lost,” Matthew 1-13, 179-180.
Notice that Hagner regards the scope of the passage as delimited by the immediate historical setting. The 1C Jewish Palestinian setting, during the public ministry of Christ. Not about Jews in general, much less gentiles in general. Not about all times and places.
Of course, we’re at liberty to take issue with Hagner’s interpretation. But it’s sufficient to show that Birch’s facile prooftexting is far from being and open-and-shut case.
b) In addition, if you consult standard commentaries on the Matthean, they will also note a Synoptic parallel in Lk 13:23. Indeed, they will sometimes interpret the two passages in concert.
So what about that Synoptic parallel? C. F. Evans has written one of major commentaries on Luke. Here is what he has to say: “For Luke this is no longer such a problem for in Acts, while entry into the kingdom is difficult (14:22), and Israel as a nation is excluded, a great number will belong to the true Israel of the patriarchs (cf. the discussion of the same issue in Rom 9:11),” Saint Luke, 555.
Notice that according to Evans, the Lukan passage needs to be considered in relation to the redemptive sweep of Acts.
c) In addition, Joel Green has written another major commentary on Luke. Keep in mind that Joel Greek is a NT prof. at Asbury seminary, that infamous hotbed of supralapsarian Calvinism. Here is what he has to say:
“On the one hand, Jesus’ answer may seem ambiguous; after all, his first image, the narrow door (v24), gives way to the door slammed shut (v25), and, in the end, he acts as though there are infinite doors allowing entry to just about anyone v29)! His answer may seem ambiguous in another sense, too, insofar as it appears to avoid the question about how few people might be saved only to focus on the many who will be lost (v24),” The Gospel of Luke, 528.
“On the other, Jesus’ answer is quite intelligible when read against the horizons of the eschatological banquet scene in Isa 25:6-9, whose images and vocabulary are mirrored in the Lukan scene. Isaiah had described the end as a lavish banquet, a feast fit for royalty, yet prepared for all peoples; on that day it will be said by all the nations, including Gentiles, ‘Let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation’ (v9, LXX)…Taking into account this trajectory of interpretation, the query, ‘Are only a few people being saved?’ may well be understood with reference to who among the Jews are to be regarded as the saved remnant. Jesus’ response signals a profound departure from the thought of many of his contemporaries at the same time that it recalls the vision of Isaiah. Heredity, ancestral lineage as a Jew, does not figure into his reply; moreover, just as the kingdom parables of vv18-21 had foreseen, so here his image of the kingdom banquet is marked by its explicit embrace of the Gentile world,” ibid. 528-29.
“Here, that saving dominion appears on a grand scale…is projected into the future, and is represented as a great feast. The last emphasis, envisioning the eschaton as an appropriation and celebration of divine blessing in the form of a feast, is well rooted in the literature of the OT and Second Temple Judaism. Most resonate in its reverberations, though, is the Isaianic vision, with its capacity to embrace both the notion of the eschatological banquet and the universal embrace of God’s salvation (esp. Is 25:6-8). Luke’s earlier emphasis on salvation to the Gentiles (2:30-32; cf. 12:18-21) appears again on the horizon, with the four winds representing the four corners of the earth, including the scattered remnant of faithful Israel wherever they may be found and, with them, the faithful of the world (Isa 11:11-16; 43:5-6; 60),” ibid. 532.
“As will become clear, those embraced in the kingdom feat will include even those Jews thought by many to be excluded from the family of God–cf. 14:21-23,” 532n61.
So Green takes a very expansive view of salvation in Luke-which forms the Synoptic parallel to the passage cited by Birch.
Ironically, Birch isn’t even conversant with Arminian Bible scholarship. It would behoove him to spend less time pounding his fist and more time cracking the books.