Thursday, July 31, 2014

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Mt 23:29-37).
i) Mt 23:37 is an Arminian prooftext. There's the contrast between "I would" but "you wouldn't."
ii) One question is the sense in which God/Jesus "would have" gathered them. What's the nature of this divine action? How is that expressed? Likewise, in what sense is this rebuffed?  
One problem is that editions of the Bible typically separate v37 from the preceding verses. That formatting breaks up the flow of argument. But in context, v37 continues the theme of God sending prophets to Israel. So the way in which God "would have" is by sending prophets. And the way in which "you wouldn't" is by rejecting God's prophets. 
However, rejecting the prophetic word is perfectly consistent with predestination. Indeed, we have explicit Biblical examples of God hardening the audience to ensure their lack of receptivity.
iii) There's also a striking parallel between Mt 11 & and Mt 23. In both cases, Christ reprimands cities for their refusal to accept prophetic correction:
20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (11:20-24).
Yet their refusal is ultimately attributed to divine agency:
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (11:25-27).
There's a distinction between seeing and perceiving. They all saw his miracles, yet not all responded accordingly. Human perceiving is a result of divine revealing, whereas human seeing without perceiving is a result of divine concealing. Absent inner illumination, external evidence doesn't yield belief. The favorable or unfavorable response is traceable to divine action. 
The complement to Mt 23:37 is Lk 19:41. 
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes (Lk 19:41-42).
As I've already pointed out, v41 is problematic for Arminians:
But the difficulty (for Arminians) is intensified by v42. The use of the divine passive and the motif of divine hardening. As one commentator explains:
(The meaning is probably "God has hidden") from Jerusalem's (spiritual) sight; and this will be made evident by her destruction (for, v43, is hoti = "because"). In a typical biblical combination of thought the Jews are held responsible for the city's fall (they could have known), while at the same time it is the result of divine decree. C. F. Evans, St. Luke (Trinity Press 1990), 684. 


  1. I remember the first time this passage was brought to my attention. It was James White in an episode of "The Dividing Line" where he pointed out how often Matthew 23:37 is misquoted. I never really listened before, but after he pointed it out, I heard it misquoted more than a few times as:

    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered YOU together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

    I even told my wife to listen for it at her bible study - and guess how it was read? :)

    The subtlety is that it seems that Jesus is talking to the leaders about their failure to gather the children of Israel (i.e. to properly teach them, and show them their Messiah), not the children's refusal to believe in Him. The leaders have been opposing Him His entire ministry, and they haven't stopped yet.

    Jesus does desire to gather the children (lost sheep) of Israel, in fact, He WILL gather them...every last one. But the leaders were opposing Him. "They" would not gather the children, so Jesus showed them their failure and gathered their children. Jesus will build His church.

    But perhaps the most chilling aspect of this passage for the leaders is verse 38 - "See, your house is left to you desolate." Could Jesus really be saying "I have taken your children, your house is now desolate. They are no longer yours to watch over, they are mine now." It seems so.

    This passage can be used as an Arminian prooftext, but only by misreading it and misapplying it's truth.

    Thanks for this post!

  2. "But now they are hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:42)

    What is the significance of "now"? Doesn't that suggest there was a time when the things that make for peace were not hidden from their eyes, a previous opportunity that is now gone? If their blindness was always predestined, in what sense was there a time when they weren't blind?

    1. The fact that something was always predestined doesn't mean it was always the case. You're confusing what was always predestined with predestinating something to always be the case.

      If God predestines Judas to betray Christ, that doesn't mean Judas betrayed Christ every day. Rather, Judas was predestined to betray Christ at a particular time. It was always the case that Judas was going to betray Christ at the appointed hour.

  3. If a person is predestined to be spiritually blind at t+1, weren’t they also necessarily spiritually blind at t. Doesn’t the text suggest there was a time when they weren’t blind? When they had an opportunity that is no longer there?

    1. Your inference is illogical. To say they were always predestined to be spiritually blind doesn't entail that they are predestined to always be spiritually blind.

      If the text suggests there was a time before God spiritually blinded them, that's a separate issue. Divine hardening can be temporary. But that's up to God.

  4. @beller

    1) Wouldn't there be different degrees of hardness? Surely it takes a special kind (or greater degree) of hardness for Pharaoh to not let the people to after so many plagues. Of course none of that precludes him having a hard, unbelieving heart prior to Moses' return or for Pharaoh's whole life up to that point.

    2) Just because there's no mention of the exact actions of God upon certain peoples' hearts at all moments of time, doesn't entail the absence of God's actions upon said hearts. If there is in fact no neutral position with respect to man's relation to God, then wouldn't unbelievers have a hard, unbelieving heart at both t and t+1? It would appear to be an argument from silence to say that because scriptures (e.g. Luke 19:42, Matthew 11:25f, John 12:39ff, etc.) mention or imply God's hardening of hearts at certain times t and *not* mention God's hardening activity at certain other times <t, then therefore God was not hardening certain hearts at such a time <t. Again, I think degrees of hardening and/or certain moments of hardening for particular purposes would avoid the issue you're getting at.

    3) From a mundane perspective, our actions flow from our hearts (Luke 6:45). From a heavenly perspective, God works all things after the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) including the heart (Psalm 33:15, Proverbs 21:1) and the actions flowing from the heart (Proverbs 16:9). So at any moment of time there would be two levels, if you will, of activity and causation: a divine and an earthly. And scripture need not give exhaustive details of each "level" at all moments of time, though the curtain be peeled back from time to time.

  5. "If the text suggests there was a time before God spiritually blinded them, that's a separate issue."

    What's the difference between the spiritual blindness that is by virtue of being unregenerate and the spiritual blinding you are referring to?

    1. i) To begin with, we're dealing with theological metaphors ("blindness," "hardening."). It's a question of what they stand for, as well as whether they always stand for the same thing.

      ii) What's the difference between spiritual blindness due to unregeneracy and God hardening the Canaanites (Josh 11:20) or Pharaoh (Exod 4:21)? Presumably, Pharaoh and the Canaanites were already unregenerate, so hardening was something over and above that. Both are types of blindness or hard-heartedness (pick your metaphor), but they can serve different purposes.

      iii) There's only so much information we can extract from the brief passage in Luke. It's not a systematic theology.

      iv) Likewise, to be "blind" or "hardened" isn't necessarily soteriological. That depends on the context. When God hardens the Canaanites in Josh 11:20, that's not soteriological. Rather, that's to embolden them to engage in a suicidal attack.

      Of course, sometimes blinding/hardening *is* soteriological (e.g. Isa 6:10; Jn 12:40; Rom 9-11). It's a question of how it functions in any particular context.