Friday, January 27, 2012

Does the NT teach panentheism?

Tony Flood says he used to be a process theist, but has since returned to Christian orthodoxy. Yet over at James Anderson's blog he's been prooftexting panentheism from the NT and citing "orthodox" process theologians–a lovely oxymoron. So the leopard hasn't changed his spots.

Tony cites the locus classicus for panentheism: Acts 17:28. But this is ill-conceived:

i) Paul is quoting a pagan source. So one must make allowance for audience adaptation. It's not like Paul is quoting the OT. Paul clearly has a different worldview than the pagan source he quotes. Therefore, there's a certain equivocation in the way he appropriates and applies this foreign text to the issue at hand. Filtered through his Judaism, it would refer to God's all-encompassing creative and providential activity.

ii) Tony's inference is overly dependent on connotations of the English preposition we use to translate the Greek preposition. Why assume the locative sense ("in") rather than the instrumental sense ("by")?

iii) Even if it were locative, Scripture typically uses spatial metaphors.

I'll finish by quoting two commentators:

In any case, this is not a pantheistic formula, or one that expresses the immanence of human beings in God; it merely formulates the dependence of all human life on God and its proximity  to him. J. Fitzmyer, Acts of the Apostles, 610.
The Stoics connected life with movement (the Prime Mover being God) and movement with being.
The en is an obvious example of the meaning "in the power of"; cf. Sophocles, Oedipus Coloneus 1443, tauta d'en to daimoni, and other examples given by Liddell and Scott. Begs. translates, "By him we live and move and are."
God is not remote but accessible, so near as to constitute the environment in which we live, but in a personal sense. In Greek philosophical background the words will have had a pantheistic meaning, God being hardly anything other than our environment. The change is likely to have been made already in Jewish-Hellenistic use. G. K. Barrett, Commentary on Acts, 2:847-48.


  1. This I like:

    "God is not remote but accessible, so near as to constitute the environment in which we live, but in a personal sense."

  2. Ah, you mean we cannot twist the bible to mean whatever we want? Shucks, I kind of liked panentheism. :(

  3. Typical philosopher. Can't exegete worth a damn, and probably wouldn't care what the text said if he could.