Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dan Wallace on "all"

Daniel B. Wallace says:
October 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Second, it is true that ‘all’ can often mean something broader than what is indicated in the immediate context. The problem is the ‘but’ in [1 Thes 5:]v 21: it is immediately connected with the preceding two verses. Verses 16-18 comprise one unit of thought, one sentence, finished off with “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Verses 20-22 comprise the next unit of thought, five staccato-like commands in a row. The most natural way to read the text is thus as a unit with every command in vv 20-22 relating to the same subject. If you take the ‘all’ in v 21 as referring to vv 12-19 you miss the pointed warning that Paul gives to these believers in vv 20-22. Further, ‘all’ in Paul must be contextualized. The ‘all in v 15 (“be patient toward all”) is referring to those in the church, as John implied when he spoke of this whole section as dealing with intra-ecclesial relationships. But couldn’t we say that Paul believed that we should be patient toward all people? I suspect we could, but it would be illegitimate to use v 15 to make that case. Grammatically, it could even expand to cover all sentient creatures–including the devil and demons–but I really don’t think you want to go there! No, we must ask what is the context in which Paul’s ‘all’ is found? Does he make a coherent, self-contained argument? Vv 20-22 present just that, suggesting that it’s probably reading too much into the text to say that the ‘all’ means more than false teaching.

Where does bacon come from?

steve hays November 18, 2011 at 8:05 am
Actually, “author of sin” is generally bandied about without any attempt at a historical definition of the phrase.

steve hays November 18, 2011 at 8:07 am

“My problem with this ‘purpose’ defence of God permitting evil is that it appears to make God guilty of using people for some other (presumably greater) end. Isn’t this the same justification advanced by advocates of embryo selection on tissue type to aid an older sick sibling? And indeed, of abortion in itself, where the (presumably greater) importance of the mother’s health/family welfare/ …etc is sufficient justification for ending an infants life?”

That overlooks the elementary distinction between guilt and innocence. Moreover, God was certainly using Pharaoh (to take one paradigm example) to prove a point.

steve hays November 18, 2011 at 8:09 am

“I thought that Calvinism teaches more than God permitting evil but that He decrees evil and everything else, meticulous providence.”

How is that relevant to Horton’s statement?

steve hays November 18, 2011 at 9:23 am
Actually, the question at issue is whether the Arminian concept of divine permission automatically exonerates God from complicity in evil. Is that a solution to the problem which Arminians pose in reference to Calvinism? That’s the issue at hand.

steve hays November 18, 2011 at 11:05 am
Clarification Dave

“I suggest that I would be more persuaded toward accepting Calvinism if I got a good reply to my questions about how God is both in meticulous- decreeing all things -control and at the same time not responsible for the specifics of evil that do occur by persons who are meticulously controlled by God.”

i) Actually, God is responsible, although he’s not solely responsible. What’s more, an agent can be responsible without being culpable. Responsibility is simply a necessary condition of culpability, not a sufficient condition. Indeed, God would be blameworthy if he *didn’t* assume responsibility for whatever happens on his watch.

ii) In addition, you haven’t formulated an actual argument. All you’ve done is to posit a tension.

“If an Arminian cannot solve the problem issues, that is their problem. If a Calvinist cannot provide a persuasive answer, how is that not a difficulty against their system? If the mystery trump card is pulled by the Calvinist, why can’t the Arminian pull one too?”

Because some commenters are acting as if only the Calvinist shoulders the burden of proof.

steve hays November 18, 2011 at 11:08 am

“There’s two distinct questions. There’s a question as to why sin is about to happen (such that God is deciding to permit or prevent it). Then there is the question as to why God permits sin. With respect to the first question, we Arminians have God on one side and sin on the other and LFW in-between. Calvinists don’t believe in LFW, so it can’t be in-between God and sin.”

How is having a buffer between God and sin exculpatory? Clever criminals often have buffers. That’s the role of the fallguy. To take the blame for what the Don ordered.

steve hays November 18, 2011 at 11:26 am

“But the real problem is that Calvinism cannot logically account for the concept of permitting or allowing evil, since it holds that he unconditionally decreed all sin and evil.”

i) Paul Helm has argued that Calvinism does make room for divine permission. I don’t see you addressing his argument.

ii) More to the point, even if Calvinism can’t make room for divine permission, so what? You need to explain how that’s germane to theodicy.

“He logically first had the idea for each evil act, conceived it in his own heart, and logically then decreed for it to take place without any influence from anything outside of himself.”

And how does that contrast with Arminianism? Does Arminian theism deny that God “logically first had the idea of each evil act…”? Does Arminianism deny divine omniscience? Did God have no preconception of how the world would turn out?

“That indeed makes God the author of all sin and evil logically, even though Calvinists incoherently deny that idea.”

Why should we accept your stipulative definition? Is that how “author of evil” is used in historical theology? Or is that just your made-up definition?

“Calvinists have to talk like Arminians to try and claim their theology does not make God the author of evil. But since Arminianism allows for genuine free will on the part of human beings and denies determinism, it has a concept of genuine divine permission, with God’s permitting evil for a purpose.”

How does God giving a rapist the “genuine freedom” to rape and murder a defenseless 5-year-old girl (and thereby violating her “genuine freedom”) let God off the hook? How is that an adequate theodicy, even at a prima facie level?

60-Second Adventures in Thought

Friday, November 25, 2011

The heretic of our heretic is our friend

Here's another gem from our dear friends at SEA:

Greg Boyd - Boyd is the pastor of Woodland Hills church in Minneapolis, MN. He is an open theist (a position which SEA does not affirm), however, his argumentation against Calvinism is solid nonetheless. Be sure to check out his sermon about predestination preached on 6/24/94, and his Q&A on 8/22/2009.

Is his “solid” argumentation against Calvinism really separable from his open theism? 

For Those Recovering From Calvinism

Arminians pride themselves on how civil they are, in contrast to those mean old Calvinists, with their mean old God.

Go to this page:

Scroll down to:

Want to Challenge Calvinists? - Some of the books are not purely Arminian, but they provide strong challenges to Calvinists.

And click.

It will take you to:

For Those Recovering From Calvinism
A Listmania! list by ArmyMan "jwagner4" (California, USA) Share with friends
The list author says: "Calvinism is an obsession that is not easy to leave behind. There are many excellent works out, with more being published all the time, to challenge this false system. All of these are highly recommended."

I see. So leaving Calvinism is like heroin withdrawal. Yes, that’s such a charitable comparison.

Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.1–9

Since SEA is plugging Abasciano's Arminian interpretation of Rom 9, here are two reviews which discuss problems with his methodology:


The end result is a lot of confusion, misdirection, and sometimes outright lies (though I will clarify the lie point at the end). What you usually have is what is known as poisoning the well. Poisoning the well is essentially creating a bias before any real conversation has taken place. For instance, the term "Doctrines of Grace" implies that other theologies don't really promote grace. While most Calvinists do believe this, by renaming Calvinism, one is now forcing the other side to argue against the "Doctrines of Grace" and making it sound as if the person is arguing against grace itself.
This isn't to say that Calvinists are being dishonest (though it has happened). What I am saying is that Arminians should be aware that when we allow this sort of language to happen, we are allowing them to choose the battleground, so to speak. We need to break much of this language apart, and not allow one side of the argument to own biblical words like "sovereignty," "grace," and even "predestination." We need to understand how these terms relate to Arminianism itself, and keep hammering that home.
About what I said about lying above. There is nothing inherently deceitful about euphemism or dysphemism. Indeed, with the exception of the rampant dysphemistic use of "Pelagianism" or "semi-Pelagianism," I cannot think of a single example that is universally deceitful. However, it can be easily abused by those who do lie. There is a great article on SEA about Calvinism on the Sly, regarding how many Calvinist pastors like to hide their theology until they gain a base, and then subvert the original leadership. This is not something I want to accuse all Calvinists of doing, or even most Calvinists, but it is interesting that it seems to be principally happening from the Calvinist camp right now. I think it is because the rampant use of euphemism and dysphemism by well meaning Calvinists give such power-mongers tools.
To Calvinists out there, I do ask you to be blatant about your speech. Some euphestic terms are, of course, very legitimate, but you should never use a term for your own belief which is implying something about the other side's belief. That is when you cross the line from honest discourse into something else.

Good thing Arminians are too high-minded to indulge in dysphemisms like...oh..."fatalism," "monstrous," "puppet," "robot," "worse than the devil"...

Abasciano on Rom 9

I’m going to comment on some sections from Brian Abasciano’s online dissertation regarding Paul’s Use of the OT in Rom 9:1-9. I take it that this is now the major Arminian alternative to the Reformed interpretation of Rom 9.

His dissertation has since been published, along with a sequel. The dissertation is focused on Rom 9:1-9, whereas the sequel takes it up through v18.

I haven’t read the sequel. (I wonder how many Arminians have.) However, his dissertation is the programmatic work which lays out his basic interpretive strategies, so I wouldn’t expect the sequel to mark a signal advance over the original argument, but simply extend the original argument. As he himself says:

The insights we have gained through the present study carry implications for virtually every verse in the rest of Romans 9-11. As the introductory and early stages of Paul’s argument, Romans 9:1-9 set an orientation with which to approach the larger passage (357).

I’ll be quoting and commenting what I take to be his major arguments. I won’t bother to transliterate the Greek phrases. You can look that up for yourself.

Who says you cannot get published?

"Who says you cannot get published?" (pdf)

Sokal affair (original paper)

"When Zombies Attack!"

BTW, secularists often claim Christians can't get published in peer-reviewed journals as if it were a damning indictment.

Not so mighty pen

Most people are aware of debilitating if not life-threatening diseases such as cancer and influenza. But one disease which is often overlooked by both the public as well as medical science is writer's block. As such, I'd like to bring to people's attention the following seminal studies on writer's block published in these reputable scientific journals:

Evidence based medicine

The following is from "Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials":
As with many interventions intended to prevent ill health, the effectiveness of parachutes has not been subjected to rigorous evaluation by using randomised controlled trials. Advocates of evidence based medicine have criticised the adoption of interventions evaluated by using only observational data. We think that everyone might benefit if the most radical protagonists of evidence based medicine organised and participated in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial of the parachute.

Apologetics And Christmas

Over the last few years, I've put together some posts linking to our material on Christmas issues:


The 2008 post has the most material and is foundational to the other two. You'll find a scripture index, book reviews, commentary recommendations, recommended resources on the web, and more. If you can't find something you're looking for, you can ask me about it in this thread or email me (my address is in my Blogger profile).

We've written a lot about Christmas issues since the 2010 post. Steve Hays addressed the origins of the Christmas holiday. And here's a post I wrote about recent and upcoming commentaries on Matthew and Luke and which ones I'd recommend. Here's a thread on the secularization of the holiday and how concerned Christians should be about it. Steve Hays wrote a lot about Christian objections to the celebration of Christmas. See here, here, here, here, here, and here. He wrote about objections to Santa Claus here, here, here, and here. Patrick Chan wrote about it here. Patrick also linked to a resource on the date of Jesus' birth. I recommended a resource concerning early Christian use of the December 25 date and its alleged pagan origins. I also wrote about Christmas and prophecy fulfillment.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Calvin: Predestination

For Dave Armstrong’s Readers

A couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of mentioning Dave Armstrong’s name, in the context of the Joe Paterno / Cardinal Bernard Law situation – I said that Dave, among others, ought to reconsider his defense of the Roman Catholic Church, “ought to stop now what you’re doing and demand, that Rome itself repent for the sins it has committed, and to make restitution – real restitution – for the evil that its own laws and policies have perpetuated for centuries.”

Dave went apoplectic over this and in the two weeks since, he has written four or five (or more?) blog posts about me and my hatefulness etc. etc. The interested reader can probably start from this point and, knowing of Dave’s characteristic thoroughness, be able to follow his links to the posts about me all the way back to the beginning.

I made the mistake of mentioning to Dave that I found this sort of “interaction” with him to be about as pleasant as stepping in dog poop, and he, of course, went apoplectic over that. (He strikes me as an individual who has too much time on his hands).

Over the course of the discussion, I posted several links to my real work, and he removed them, suggesting that they were off topic. Now that the topic is “How Anti-Catholics ‘Argue’”, I felt that I could legitimately post some of my actual thoughts on the topics (and not the made-up ones that Dave attributes to me), and have them stand as on topic. We shall see.

I reproduce those general ideas here for Triablogue readers who may be interested. As well, I have made the very kind offer to anyone from over there who has honest questions for me, I’d put up a post over here, and answer any of those honest questions that they might have. This is that post, and what follows are my comments to Dave about how I really have come to focus on the things I focus on.

In my own life, the most important question became, “Is the Roman Catholic Church what it says it is?” It was a pure up-and-down decision. Yes or no? Because if it is, then we ought to obey it, but if not, then it might freely be rejected.

After a lengthy, prayerful, soul-searching study, I concluded that the answer was “no”. In that case, I rejected it, although, another question presented itself: “what is it?” And that’s the subject of my apologetic blogging these days. How did Rome get to be what it is today, if it is not what it says it is.

The short answer is that its longevity really is a testament to the durability of a large bureaucracy, especially one that has the tools of persecution and even war at its disposal. Of course, it has neither of those things at its disposal now; its ideas must compete in the marketplace of ideas; its doctrines must stand under the scrutiny of the light that the information age is shedding on everything.

In an era in which liberal Protestantism, “higher” criticism, and even atheism have not been able to destroy, but have only shown the strength of the foundations of Christianity and the truth-claims of Christ to be who he says he is, it hasn’t taken much scrutiny at all to see Roman Catholicism’s “pillars” be knocked out from under it.

The biggest pillar, I suppose, is the papacy. Have you noticed that “the papacy” is now referred to as “the Petrine ministry”? There really was no “early papacy”. All of the “history” behind the papacy has pretty much been, well, not really there. It’s been a reliance on myth and fiction.

This state of affairs has been described by John P. Meier, a leading Catholic Biblical scholar: “A papacy that cannot give a credible historical account of its own origins can hardly hope to be a catalyst for unity among divided Christians.” So his implication is that, until this point, the papacy has not given a “credible historical account of its own origins.”

And that’s largely true. In “high level” ecumenical discussions, John Reumann, the late Lutheran biblical scholar who collaborated with Raymond Brown in the seminal exegetical work on Peter in the New Testament, also said this:

Biblical and patristic studies make clear that historically a gap occurs at the point where it has been claimed “the apostles were careful to appoint successors in” what is called “this hierarchically constituted society,” specifically “those who were made bishops by the apostles . . .,” an episcopate with an “unbroken succession going back to the beginning.”  For that, evidence is lacking, …. It has been noted above how recent treatments conclude that in the New Testament no successor for Peter is indicated.

So what Reumann says is that there is a gap, precisely at the point where “unbroken succession” has been claimed. That goes for “bishops” as well as for popes. Reumann is citing an infallible Vatican II document as he makes this statement. And Meier calls Rome’s reliance on “development” “not credible”.

Speaking to the lack of credibility, Archbishop Roland Minnerath, who was a contributor to the Vatican’s 1989 Historical and Theological Symposium, which was directed by the Vatican’s Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, at the request of the then Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the theme: “The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the First Millennium: Research and Evidence,” has made the admission that the Eastern Orthodox churches “never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West.”

Dave tried to laugh this off, as if he had addressed Orthodoxy in detail, but really, this is a Roman Catholic Archbishop, at the heart of Vatican studies, who says, the East never shared the western conception of the papacy. The further implication of that is that, in the east-west split, it is clear that Rome tried to impose Rome’s understanding on the east. The East did not budge. Hence the split. The 1054 split is the result of Rome trying to impose its theology of the papacy on an Eastern church that would not accept it. And it is a Roman Archbishop who is saying this. This is the thing you Roman Catholics, if you are serious, cannot laugh off.

So this is what my own “apologetic” is about. One of the things I do is merely to report on the state of the historical research into the early papacy. That kind of thing is very helpful in coming to the understanding that “the Roman Catholic Church is not what it says it is.”

For all of you other Roman Catholics who think that the Roman Catholic Church is “the Church that Christ founded” or that “the Church that Christ founded” somehow “subsists” in the Roman Catholic Church, here is a bit more light reading for you:

Not a hateful word in the whole bunch. Hope you all have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

S. Lewis Johnson

Sheep and sheepdogs

We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are dozens of times more likely to be killed, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than by school fires, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their children is just too hard, so they choose the path of denial.
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.”
Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog. – Lt. Col. Grossman

Distinguishing determinism from fatalism

According to this view, then, determinism is the thesis that everything that occurs, including our deliberations and decisions, are causally necessitated by antecedent conditions. Fatalism, by contrast, is the doctrine that our deliberations and decisions are causally ineffective and make no difference to the course of events. In circumstances of fatalism what happens does not depend on how the agent deliberates. The relevant outcome will occur no matter what the agent decides.
Clearly, however, determinism does not imply fatalism. While there are some circumstances in which deliberation is futile (i.e. 'local fatalism'), deliberation is nevertheless generally effective in a deterministic world.

It is sometimes supposed that the doctrine of Determinism--in the form of a belief in the causal interconnectedness of all events, from past to present and thence to the future--also has fatalistic implications. But this has got to be wrong. A determinist can well believe that just as our present actions are the effects of past events, so our present actions have their own effects and so can play a role in determining future events. That is to say, a causal determinist can consistently say that our wills are causally efficacious, at least some of the time. Since fatalism denies that our choices can have any effect on what the future is to be, a fatalist cannot consistently say this. Hence determinism does not imply fatalism.

HT: Paul Manata

Does Rome teach a correct understanding of 1 Timothy 3:15, Part 2

What is Paul actually saying here? What is Paul’s purpose for writing?

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies [“succession lists”?], which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions ( 1 Tim 1:3-7).

Paul’s whole goal in his instruction to Timothy is to clarify the distinction between those teachers who teach what is true, and those teachers who teach what is false.

What’s false?

·         That which is different from what Paul teaches is false
·         That which is based on myths is false
·         That which is based on “endless genealogies” is false
·         That which promotes speculations is false.

What’s true?  “[T]he stewardship from God that is by faith”. The goal of this instruction is to produce love that:

·         Issues from a pure heart
·         Issues from a good conscience
·         Issues from a sincere faith

All of this is the background for what Paul is talking about when he talks about “how one ought to behave in the household of God”.

The phrase that the ESV translates as “the stewardship from God”, Towner translates as “God’s work”. This is the Greek phrase οἰκονομίαν θεοῦ (oikonomia theou). Philip Towner relies on the work of both I Howard Marshall (with whom he co-authored the standard ICC commentary on the Pastoral Epistles), and L.T. Johnson, whom we’ve discussed in the last post.  Towner continues:

Johnson and Marshall have suggested that the key to interpreting oikonomia here is in the household terminology, which Paul employed elsewhere and which is thematic in 1 Timothy. To begin with, oikonomia refers to the organization and ordering of a household or the responsibility of management that maintains the order. This is how Paul describes his mission to the Gentiles in 1 Cor 9:17; that is, he understands himself to have been entrusted with the management of a household (presumably God’s ; see 1 Cor 4:1). The description of his ministry in Col 1:25 follows the same line: “I have become a minister according to the responsibility to manage God’s house [oikonomia tou theou] that was given to me.” Within 1 Timothy household language links several things together into a complete pattern. Leaving 1:4 aside for the moment, in 3:15 the church is depicted as “God’s house” (oikos theou; cf. 2 Tim 20-21), and by derivation overseers are to understand their task in terms of stewardship (see 3:4-5; in Titus 1:7 the term oikonomos theou [“God’s steward”] is used).

This brings us back to the phrase oikonomia theou in 1:4. Surely it is correct to define the concept within the sphere of household management and duties from which the language emerged (Towner 112-113).

Towner here discusses slight differences in approach between Marshall and Johnson and continues, “it seems best in this case to increase the emphasis on the pattern and order that is to be implemented”

That is, the first thought is not of administration as ministry and responsibility, but of the shape of things and the ordering of life to be achieved to be achieved through the various activities of ministry and service.

The attached comment about faith [stewardship that is τὴν ἐν πίστει, “by faith”] adds a crucial condition to the understanding of the divine pattern. … it says something more about “the way God has organized life.” To be “in faith” is to be in the sphere of authentic faith …, and its attachment to the preceding phrase here will encompass the apprehension of God’s ways and patterns as well as actions taken to implement them. The point Paul makes, however, is polemical. It is genuine faith, namely that faith associated with his gospel, which has access to correct understanding of the will of God. The fundamental condition for understanding the way God has organized life (his oikonomia), and for carrying out the activities in the community and world that bring them into alignment, is adherence to genuine faith. As he is about to say, it is Timothy’s task of teaching what is true and correcting that is false that will give insight into the oikonomia of God.

Myths, “endless genealogies”, and speculations
“To teach what is false” is a very bad thing, according to Paul. Paul’s main concern at this point is “less with the teaching style of methods of the opponents (i.e., “some sort of speculation” and perhaps “argumentation” are not horribly bad). Here Paul is “mainly” concerned with “the substandard content that is being taught” (108-109). Paul deprecates the message of the opponents as “a counterfeit”.

The term “myth” has a long history of use prior to the NT, through which it comes to mean a fable or far-fetched story, often about the gods; most importantly, it can stand as a category meaning essentially falsehood. Here the term is in the plural, as throughout the NT, which contains a negative evaluative assessment in itself (namely, spurious, contradictory, human) in contrast to the divinely imbued singularity and unity of the gospel. Paul employs the plural term to label the teaching emphatically as falsehood. But the history of the term’s use goes another step: Plato, for one, used the term to denounce certain stories not simply as false but as deceptive, in that they are told so as to lend credence to immoral behavior or practices by linking them to ancient stories about the gods. The apparent link between certain extreme ascetic aspects of behavior and the false doctrines in Ephesus (1 Tim 4:1-3; …) suggests that Paul drew on this nuance of the term’s polemical use. Thus rather than identifying the content of the teaching, the term “myths” evaluates it as false and pernicious.

So false teachings are not just neutral, as in the category of “fables or far-fetched” stories, but they are also “pernicious” – false teachings do actual harm.

“Genealogies,” however, with the help of other contextual clues, takes us in the direction of actual content. This term also has a long history of use, describing lists of family names (family trees), and the process of constructing them, that served various purposes. Within Judaism, genealogies played the key role of establishing a person’s bloodline and link to a particular family and tribe: rights by birth determined in this way allowed, for example, entrance into the priesthood. As its use in Philo demonstrates, the term could refer to the accounts of people in the early parts of Genesis. This usage especially opens up the possibility that Paul is identifying the practice among the false teachers of speculating on stories about the early biblical characters as well as actual genealogical lists such as occur there or in other more speculative noncanonical  Jewish writings (e.g., Jubilees). Speculation fitting roughly into this category was known to have been practiced in Jewish communities, and the reference in 1:7 to the opponents aspirations to be “teachers of the law” helps to locate the sources of this practice within the repository of Jewish literature (cf. Titus 1:14 and the reference to “Jewish myths”).

The adjective “endless” attached to “genealogies” might have been a literal reference to long-drawn-out speculations, or may be meant in the sense of “pointless,” “contradictory,” or “inconclusive.” Its force is clearly polemical, meant to discredit the protracted arguments that go nowhere.

While we can’t know the actual content of these false teachings,

… it is clear Paul regarded this teaching as deceptive and dangerous. Quite possibly the extreme practices alluded to in 4:1-3 [through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods…] were grounded in this speculative interpretation of Israel’s early history, all of which was being served up in the guise of authoritative doctrine (1:7).

In the next phrase, Paul supplies an important reason why Timothy is to prohibit this false teaching. It consists of a contrast between the wheel-spinning futility of the deceptive speculation and the direction of God’s mission. The first half of this reason is clear: the obsession with myths and genealogies “promotes controversial speculations.” The verb is neutral and also governs the positive side of the contrast to come. But the term that follows, “controversial [or useless] speculations,” is one of several that belongs to Paul’s polemical repertoire in these three letters to coworkers drawn on to discredit the opposing doctrines and behavior as being everything from foolish nonsense to disputatious and pernicious. It is clearly these latter characteristics and their danger to the church that most concern Paul as he writes (6:3-4, Towner pgs 111-112).

From Paul’s point of view, the difference between teaching that fosters οἰκονομίαν θεοῦ [God’s work, the stewardship from God] and false teaching which is pernicious and damaging couldn’t be more clear. And this difference that Paul sees does not have anything to do with “who” is doing the teaching. It is the content of the teaching itself that makes it true or false, right or wrong. Timothy can and should recognize it.

The goals of this stewardship are to produce love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. That is, the stewards are supposed to foster these characteristics in believers. I’ll get into this next time. 

Does Rome teach a correct understanding of 1 Timothy 3:15, Part 1

What is Paul trying to say in 1 Timothy 3:15? And what is Rome trying to tell you with its use of this verse? Are they the same thing?

Look at the sentence, “Walking down the hall, I saw a statue”. Now, if I were the one walking down the hall, and saw a statue, that would be one thing. But if it were the case, “I saw a statue walking down the hall,” that would be a different thing!

In understanding this verse, the grammatical concept of an “appositive” needs to be introduced. An “appositive” is a noun or nominative phrase that is “placed next to” another phrase or concept, “usually occurring directly after” the earlier noun or phrase, “and standing for the same thing”. Here are some examples, with the appositive phrase in italics:
At camp we met Mr. Willett, the scoutmaster.

Our first dog, a spaniel, was very fond of the baby.

The two senior members, James and I, are in charge of public relations.

The guide, a man of great courage and skill, was mainly responsible for our rescue.

His trouble was money, the notorious root of all evil.
(Source, Gucker’s “Essential English Grammar”)

“Appositives” come into play, because this verse from Paul seems to have several of them. And the topic comes up in one or more of the commentaries that deal with the verse.

Pete Holter and I have been having a discussion that began in the comments of this thread, and it continued here and in some private emails.

My topic, at any rate, was the question of either “teaching correctly about the word of God” [Martin Luther’s words] or, as I later pointed out, doing what Rome does, rather than trying to understand the text and then allowing it to speak its word, the Roman Catholic starts with modern Roman doctrine, and then uses Biblical texts in such a way that they can seemingly provide support for those [Roman] doctrines. In that regard, I provided a link to a blog post I had written about Rome’s use of 1 Timothy 3:15, where I said:
My contention in this posting is that Rome’s official usage of this verse is wrong at best. But what’s worse is that in popular apologetics, Roman apologists are going far beyond what even Rome says in this verse.

One popular Catholic writer said this: “As Saint Paul taught, the church is ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ – she does not err. (1 Tim 3:15)” [This was a Taylor Marshall-ism.]
Rome’s misuse of the verse is bad enough [especially from an “infallible church” in an official, conciliar document]. But what’s worse is that Rome’s usage fosters a “scattering” of what this verse really says among know-nothing Roman Apologists (and others) who continue to spread these false meanings far beyond Rome’s already-bad usage of it. Here is another example from a popular Roman Catholic website:
1 Tim. 3:15 - Paul says the apostolic Church (not Scripture) is the pillar and foundation of the truth. But for the Church to be the pinnacle and foundation of truth, she must be protected from teaching error, or infallible. She also must be the Catholic Church, whose teachings on faith and morals have not changed for 2,000 years. God loves us so much that He gave us a Church that infallibly teaches the truth so that we have the fullness of the means of salvation in His only begotten Son.
To be sure, this has nothing to do with what Paul was saying to Timothy in 1 Tim 3:15. And keep in mind, again, the topic was Martin Luther’s comment about “teaching correctly about the word of God”. Rome wasn’t doing this at the time of the Reformation, and it’s not doing it now.


In order to “teach correctly” this verse, we first need to understand what Paul is actually saying.

For background purposes, here is the passage in Greek: Ταῦτά σοι γράφω ἐλπίζων ἐλθεῖν πρὸς σὲ ἐν τάχει ἐὰν δὲ βραδύνω, ἵνα εἰδῇς πῶς δεῖ ἐν οἴκῳ θεοῦ ἀναστρέφεσθαι, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἐκκλησία θεοῦ ζῶντος, στῦλος καὶ ἑδραίωμα τῆς ἀληθείας.

Here it is in the ESV: I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

NIV: Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

In my original post, I provided extensive selections from three commentators, and each of those is reproduced here for anyone who wants to look at them:

The Text of 1 Tim 3:15, including the entire chapter for context.

Philip Towner on 1 Tim 3:15, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ©2006.

L.T. Johnson on 1 Tim 3:15, The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries, New York, NY: The Anchor Bible Doubleday, ©2001.

George Knight on 1 Tim 3:15, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) series, Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ©1992.

Note: Clicking on the “[Name] on 1 Tim 3:15” links will take you to a blog post at my own blog that shows the scanned pages from the commentary; the links behind the commas, showing the name of the work, takes you to the page for that work.


Now, here is Rome’s official use of this verse in Lumen Gentium 8:
Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him…

Taking the bold-face portions from Lumen Gentium, here is what Rome is saying without all the densely-packed modifiers:

Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, [the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ]. This is the one Church of Christ which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”.

Rome’s language is dense, which makes it difficult to follow the main thought that’s presented here. But taking out all the modifiers, this is what we are left with. This is what we are to understand what Rome, officially, is saying. This is how Rome understands, and teaches 1 Tim 3:15. In Rome’s usage, Rome does in fact appear to be saying that Christ’s whole purpose in founding the church in its current Roman manifestation, in fact, the whole purpose of the hierarchical structure of the church is to function as a “pillar and mainstay of the truth”. But is that what Paul means? Is this anything close to what Paul is saying?

Since this is already long, I’ll pause for now, and pick up the discussion in a future blog post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Arminian equivocations

Arminians like to brand Calvinism as fatalistic to play on the prejudice of the reader. However, the label is equivocal and double-edged.

1. Popular Fatalism

In popular usage, fatalism means that if something is fated to be, nothing you do or don’t do will make any difference.

Here’s an example:

Fatalism in this sense is compatible with libertarian freedom. The fated individual is free to do otherwise, free to take an alternate route, but all forking paths lead to the same destination. He is doomed one way or the other. Action, inaction–it all comes to the same thing.

When Arminians brand Calvinist as fatalistic, they are trading on the invidious connotations of fatalism in popular usage. The way fatalism is used in pulp horror films.

But the problem with this usage is that Calvinism is not fatalistic in that sense. Indeed, in this sense, Calvinism and fatalism are antonyms rather than synonyms. 

2. A Philosophical Definition

The popular definition also dovetails with one of the philosophical definitions of fatalism. Here are three examples:

Once again, Calvinism is not fatalistic according to this philosophical definition.

3. Another Philosophical Definition

Some philosophers (e.g. Fischer, van Inwagen) define fatalism to mean no one (or no “person”) is able to do otherwise than he in fact does.

Yet another variation takes fatalism to mean that whatever happens must happen, while nonevents are equally necessitated (Mark Bernstein).

Cf. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, pp65; 80n1.

Arminians like to apply this definition to Calvinism. There are, however, several problems with that move:

i) Calvinism doesn’t take the position that every event is necessary. Calvinism doesn’t take the position that “no one” (or no “person”) can do otherwise.

For Calvinism makes allowance for divine freedom. God was able to decree otherwise.

Likewise, Calvinism doesn’t take the position that whatever happens must happen, simpliciter. Rather, Calvinism takes the position that, given the decree, whatever happens must happen. But the decree is not a given from God’s standpoint. God was at liberty to decree otherwise.

Therefore, as applied to Calvinism, this definition is simplistic. It would, of course, be possible for Arminians to tweak the definition with ad hoc qualifications that exempt God. But that would be special pleading.

ii) Another problem is that Arminians are oscillating between two contrary definitions. They want to trade on the odium of the popular definition while they are actually operating with a contrary definition.

According to (1), an occurrence will happen no matter what else occurs (pace the grandfather paradox), whereas that’s not the case according to (3). Cf. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (67).

iii) Finally, definition (3) also implicates classical Arminianism in fatalism. And that's because foreknowledge arguably entails logical fatalism or theological fatalism. Many ingenious, but unsuccessful efforts, have been devoted to avoiding this implication:

The upshot is that Arminian apologists can’t be trusted to honestly represent Calvinism. Although they complain about how Calvinists allegedly misrepresent Arminianism, Arminians generally lack the critical detachment to lead by example.