Friday, December 14, 2012

Divine temptation

The high Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty including evil as part of God’s plan, purpose, and determining power blatantly contradicts Scripture passages that reveal “God is love” (1 Jn 4:9), takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezk 18:32), wants everyone to be saved (Ezk 18:32; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9), and never tempts anyone (Jas 1:13). To be sure, Calvinists have clever but unconvincing explanations of these and numerous other passages of Scripture. R. Olson, Against Calvinism (Zondervan 2011), 99.

I myself have discussed all of his perfunctory prooftexts, so let’s do something different. Take the following passage:


If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (Deut 13:1-5).

i) Isn’t this a clearcut example of divine solicitation to sin? God, through the instrumentality of the false prophet, is “testing” the covenant community. Because, in this case, the false prophet is able to perform miracles or truly foretell the future, that tempts people to follow him. For his message is attested by the classic authenticating signs of a true prophet.

ii) And this isn’t just any old sin. This is the sin of apostasy. One of the gravest sins. There is no sin worse than apostasy.

iii) The function of this test is to sift the covenant community. Some members will succumb to the temptation while others will remain faithful.

iv) What’s the relationship between vv1-2 and v3? Well, one possible explanation is divine empowerment. The fact that a false prophet can work miracles or truly foretell the future goes beyond normal human ability. So this naturally raises the question, how did he acquire this superhuman ability? V3 may be attributing his ability to divine empowerment.

Of course, this attribution doesn’t exclude the possibility that he is possessed. God could dispatch an “evil spirit” to possess him (e.g. 1 Kgs 22:19-23).

v) In any event, the text tells us that God lies behind the false prophet. The false prophet is a tool. God is using the false prophet to test the allegiance of his people. Some will pass the test while others will fail the test.

Through the false prophet, God is tempting his people to commit apostasy. To abandon the true God for false gods. Due to its miraculous attestation, this is very seductive. A powerful and, for some, persuasive inducement to deny the faith.

To be sure, God isn’t tempting them to sin for the sake of sin. Rather, this is a refining process. It will purify Israel by burning off the dross.

Still, in the passage before us, it’s unmistakably the case that  false prophets are able to perform prodigies so that God may test the covenant community. That’s the divine purpose which underlies this ordeal. Through the medium of the false prophet, God is inciting people to defect from the true faith. That’s tempting them to commit evil. There’s no way around it. That’s right there in the text.

vi) Now at this point an Arminian like Olson might scream Jas 1:13 in my ear. Haven’t you read Jas 1:13? That’s what’s wrong with Calvinism. You blatantly contradict Scripture!

However, this is not in the first place a debate over the Calvinism. Rather, this is just a matter of what Scripture says. Deut 13:1-5 means whatever it means. You don’t have to be a Calvinist to interpret that passage the way I did. You only have to accept it on its own terms. Calvinism is not a necessary presupposition of my interpretation. Although I think this passage (and others like it) is broadly supportive of Calvinism, it doesn’t require a Calvinistic grid to understand the passage the way I do. Indeed, the passage doesn’t really require much exegesis. It pretty much speaks for itself. I’m just making a bit more explicit what is logically implicit in the passage.

vii) Moreover, there’s no reason we should have to filter this passage through Jas 1:13. We might just as well filter Jas 1:13 through Deut 13:1-5. It’s not as if Scripture tells us that Jas 1:13 supplies the interpretive grid through which other passages like Deut 13:1-5 must pass. Deut 13:1-5 is no less inspired than Jas 1:13.

viii) And it’s not as if Deut 13:1-5 is a merely incidental passage of Scripture. To the contrary, along with Deut 18:15-22, this is the paradigmatic passage concerning false prophecy. This is foundational for subsequent discussions of false prophecy in both the OT (e.g. Jer 14:14; 23:9ff.; 29:8; Ezk 13:6-9) and the NT (e.g. 2 Thes 2:9-11; 1 Jn 4:1-4; Rev 13:13-14; 16:14; 19:20).

The Olivet Discourse contains a perfect illustration of the principle given in Deut 13:1-5:


22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Mt 24:22-31).

Indeed, the very wording is probably modeled on Deut 13:


These false messiahs and false prophets will offer “signs and wonders,” a phrase that echoes OT tradition, especially Deut 13:1(2), which expressly warns of the false prophet who hopes to gain acceptance through signs. C. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Nelson 2001), 323.

Here we have false prophets and messianic pretenders who, through miraculous portents and prodigies, will lead astray a portion of the covenant community. In this case, the new covenant community. Yet God will preserve the elect.

Once again, God is winnowing the wheat from the chaff. An elect remnant will survive the ordeal.

4 comments:

  1. "Indeed, the very wording is probably modeled on Deut 13:




    These false messiahs and false prophets will offer “signs and wonders,” a phrase that echoes OT tradition, especially Deut 13:1(2), which expressly warns of the false prophet who hopes to gain acceptance through signs. C. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Nelson 2001), 323.


    Here we have false prophets and messianic pretenders who, through miraculous portents and prodigies, will lead astray a portion of the covenant community."


    It would seem that the ones more likely to be lead astray would be those who are favorably inclined towards charismaticism or pentecostalism or continuationism.

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    1. That's a good example of a hasty generalization.

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  2. Steve, from a mere chronological point of view I am having a bit of difficulty with this sentence: "...Although I think this passage (and others like it) is broadly supportive of Calvinism, it doesn’t require a Calvinistic grid to understand the passage the way I do. ..."

    I quite agree yet I would think broadly speaking those verses are supportive of God's view which in time was what the Calvinistic perspective came to be. By that I mean to say that Moses wrote those things well before John Calvin came along so unless Moses was given the ability to see down the corridors of time to the birth and development and systematic theology of John Calvin (Calvinism)to support his perspective there is no way Moses was supportive of Calvinism.

    That being said, I just want to touch on the work of being God hated Esau and love Jacob negating the Arminian belief that God loves and wants to save all humanity.

    Clearly there is a disconnect with these Scriptures for an Arminian to hold that belief:

    "...Exo 17:14 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."
    Exo 17:15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner,
    Exo 17:16 saying, "A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."


    Another of the difficult passages would be these:

    "... Exo 20:4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
    Exo 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
    Exo 20:6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. ..."
    .

    Clearly there are some assumptions here. There isn't any dispute that the Arminian believes they are inherently sinful in nature in need of salvation? Clearly God is making it clear what is prior to that decreed through Moses there. There are some who "hate" God and there are some who do not hate God, rather love Him.

    Using that as a foundation for these verses from John 17, one should easily be able to conclude that the sort of "love" God is addressing is His Love not man's?

    Here are the Words of Jesus there in John 17 I refer too:

    Joh 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
    Joh 17:25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
    Joh 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."
    .

    For me when you consider what God spoke to Moses there (Exo 20:6) and what Jesus reveals here in John 17 "...you loved me before the foundation of the world ..." you have to question just what is the real reason for this hate/love relationship God is teaching.

    Seems to me the Calvinist has the understanding while the Arminian does not.

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