Thursday, April 09, 2015

Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?

In his recent interview with apostate Dale Tuggy, Oliver Crisp suggests that St. Paul ducks a tough question in Rom 9:19 with a rhetorical riposte in v20. But that's somewhat misleading:

i) To begin with, Paul's audience consists of Christians and Messianic Jews. So an argument from authority is not out of place in that context. 

ii) Paul doesn't merely leave it at that. He sketches an answer in vv21-22 which give an overarching reason. So it's not arbitrary.

iii) But ultimately a question like that is unanswerable within the confines of a pastoral letter. It gets into very intricate issues of morality, modality, and metaphysics. Any detailed answer would be much too technical and time-consuming. 

There's a difference between answers and explanations, in the sense that it's possible to give short answers, but not always possible to give short explanations–such as explaining your answer. It's hard to see how Paul could give a short explanation to that challenge. The issues are too involved. He couldn't give an adequate explanation even if he had one. That would be a treatise unto itself.

iv) Of course, if Paul was a freewill theist, he could easily parry the accusation by stating that we are able to resist God's will. 

v) Moreover, there's no presumption that Paul had even an adequate explanation up his sleeve. Like many other Bible writers, he can only share what's been revealed to him. 

vi) Finally, as a friend of mine commented: how one answers a question will depend in part on what one takes to be the motives behind the question . At a superficial level, Jesus himself 'ducks' some of the questions posed to him.

1 comment:

  1. This question is almost an aside in Paul's argument. Verse 30 is his thesis in the total argument to the Jews of Rome. The Jews of Rome at the time are like the Roman Catholics of 1500 years later and the message that the Gentiles are to be included as brothers of faith in Christ is that of the Reformers. So it's not an identical situation, but the competing ideologies are almost identical. Little did the Roman gentiles at the time realize that their descendents would become guilty of the same error that poisoned the Jews against them.

    So Paul's answer to this question asked almost in passing isn't philosophical as much as it is pastoral, as you point out in point iii. They didn't need a philosophical answer. They needed an answer that corrected their attitude toward God. Many today need that same correction.