Saturday, August 12, 2017

Doing well and doing good

Peter Abelard draws some distinctions that are germane to theodicy in general and Calvinism in particular:

When the Father handed over the Son and the Son handed himself over, as the Apostle mentions, and Judas handed over his master, certainly the handing over of the Son was done by God the Father; it was also done by the Son, and it was done by the traitor. Therefore, the traitor did what God did too. But did he do well to do it? For even if it was good, it was not at any rate done well, for something that ought to have been beneficial to him. For God doesn't think about the things that are done but rather in what mind they are done. The merit or praiseworthiness of the doer doesn't consist in the deed but in the intention. 

Often in fact the same thing is done by different people, through the justice of one and the viciousness of the other. For example, if two people hang a criminal, one out of a zeal for justice and the other out of hatred springing from an old feud, then although the hanging is the same action, and although they certainly do what is good to be done and what justice demands, nevertheless through the difference in their intention the same thing is done by different people, one badly and the other well. Peter Abelard, Ethical Writings (Hackett 1995), 12-13.

Indeed it often happens that the same thing is done by different people in such a way that the one does it well and the other evilly, according to their intention. For instance, if two people hang some criminal, the one solely because he hates him but the other because he has to carry out this justice, this hanging is accordingly done justly by the latter, because it was done with the right intention, but unjustly by the former, because it was done not out of love of justice but out of fervor for hatred or wrath.

Sometimes too, evil men, or even the Devil himself, are said to work together with God in doing the same deed, in such a way that the same thing is asserted to be done both by God and by them. For look, we see the things Job possessed taken away from him by Satan, and nevertheless Job himself professes they are taken away from  him by God. He says "The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away".

The Lord Jesus Christ's being handed over into the Jews' hands is mentioned as being done by Jesus himself, by God the Father, and by the traitor Judas…Yet although in such doings either the Devil or Judas did the very same thing God did, nevertheless they shouldn't be said to have done well, even if perhaps they seem to have done something good. Even if they did or wanted to be done what God wants to be done, or have the same will as God has in doing something, should they for that reason be said to do well because they do what God wants to be done? Or do they have a good will because they want what God wants? Of course not! For even if they do or want to be done what God wants to be done, nevertheless they don't do or want to do it because they believe God wants it to be done. Their intention isn't the same as God's in the same deed. And although they want what God wants, and God's will and theirs can be called the same because they want the same thing, nevertheless their will is evil and God's is good since they want it to be done for different causes. So too, although different people's action may be the same because they do the same thing, nevertheless according to the difference in intention this one's action is good and that one's evil. For although they accomplish the same result, nevertheless this one does the selfsame thing well, and that one evilly. Ibid. 143-44.

Kafkaesque feminism

According to Princeton philosophy prof. Elizabeth Harman:

But, what I think is actually among early fetuses there are two very different kinds of beings. So, James, when you were an early fetus, and Eliot, when you were an early fetus, all of us I think we already did have moral status then. But we had moral status in virtue of our futures. And future of fact that we were beginnings stages of persons. But some early fetuses will die in early pregnancy due to abortion or miscarriage. And in my view that is a very different kind of entity. That's something that doesn't have a future as a person and it doesn't have moral status.

There's nothing about its current state that would make it a member of the moral community. It's derivative of its future that it gets to have moral status. So it's really the future and endows moral status on it and if we allow it to have this future and then we're allowing it to be the kind of thing that now would have moral status so in aborting it I don't think you're depriving it of something that it independently has.

http://freebeacon.com/issues/princeton-professor-confusing-answer-abortion-question-james-franco/amp/


This is getting some buzz because a movie star was part of the video. Before commenting, a definition is in order:

"Moral community": Those within the scope of moral consideration. In traditional ethics, only human beings were held to have membership of the moral community. They are the only objects of moral concern because only human beings have reason and hence know what they are doing. Furthermore, only human beings can be in reciprocal relationships involving the recognition of oneself and others as being in a moral relationship. This implies that the moral community consists exclusively of moral agents. The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy.

I think normal folks say one thing that makes murder wrong is that it robs the victim of their future. By the same token, people usually regard dying young as tragic because the decedent had their whole life ahead of them. They had so much to live for, but their death was cut short. As a result, they miss out on all those opportunities. Lost opportunities they can never make up for. That's the presupposition which underlies phrases like "untimely death" and "premature death". From that perspective, Harman has it backwards.

Given her Kafkaesque logic, how does killing ever constitute murder? According to her circular reasoning, you can't wrong an individual by depriving them of their future, because their moral status or membership in the moral community is contingent on their having a future in the first place. So how does she distinguish murder from killing in general?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Easter Enigma

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2017/08/review_of_easter_enigma_by_joh.html

Sonny Corleone

Recently, Timothy McGrew produced a recommended reading list on Christian apologetics:


Atheist Jeff Lowder objected: 

I want to make a distinction between genuine inquiry, on the one hand, and partisan advocacy, on the other. Consider a central (but far from the only) topic in the philosophy of religion: the existence or nonexistence of God. Consider, for a moment, what it would mean to engage in genuine inquiry regarding God’s existence. If the word “inquiry” means anything at all, surely it means more than “read stuff which confirms the point of view you already hold.” It should include, at a minimum, reading opposing viewpoints, not with the goal of preparing pithy one-liners for debates, but with the goal of actually trying to learn something or consider new ways of looking at old topics. For professional philosophers, I would imagine that inquiry would also include trying to “steel man” your opposition, i.e., trying to strengthen the arguments for your opponent’s position. It might even include publishing arguments for a position you do not hold and even reject.

In contrast, partisan advocacy is, well, exactly what it sounds like it is. Much like an attorney hired to vigorously defend her client in court, a partisan advocate isn’t interested in genuine inquiry. To the extent a partisan advocate reads the “other side” at all, she does so in the same way presidential candidates try to find out the “truth” about their opponent under the guise of “opposition research.” So, for example, if a partisan advocate were to create a reading list about God’s existence, they would compile a list of recommended resources which either exclusively or overwhelmingly promoted a certain point of view and without even a hint that a balanced inquiry should be taken.

As suggested by the subtitle of this post, if we apply the genuine inquiry vs. partisan advocacy distinction to religion, I think we get the distinction between (an ideal) philosophy of religion vs. apologetics.


Several issues:

i) Jeff seems to think any such list ought to give both sides of the argument. Certainly there are situations in which that's advisable. No doubt if Dr. McGrew were teaching a college course on philosophy of religion, he'd give both sides of the argument. Have required reading from both sides. 

However, it's unreasonable to think that's a general epistemic obligation. The point of reading both sides of an argument is to take sides. To render an informed judgment. Having arrived at a particular conclusion, it's perfectly appropriate to take your conclusion for granted when making recommendations. Indeed, the point of asking someone like Dr. McGrew for advice is that he can be trusted to do the initial sifting and sorting. 

ii) McGrew's list is obviously for popular consumption. The books are pitched at the level of the layman rather than the professional philosopher. Yes, it's ideal to read the best proponents and opponents of a given position, but you need to take the aptitude of the target audience into account. 

iii) Good books on Christian apologetics do give both sides of the argument. They present the opposing position in order to critique it. It's not as if the treatment is one-sided.

Perhaps Jeff would object that the treatment is biased. It's true that it's often preferable to learn the opposing position direct from the source, rather than filtered through a hostile source. But my immediate point is that it's someone misleading for Jeff to insinuate that if you only read Christian apologetics, you're only exposed to arguments for Christianity and arguments against atheism. A good book on Christian apologetics will also interact with arguments for atheism and arguments against Christianity. 

iv) There is, though, a deeper issue. In terms of inquiry, given limited resources and time-management constraints, where should we invest our time? How do we prioritize? How do we narrow the search parameters? 

One approach is risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis. Take vaccination. That's a precautionary measure. Should I be vaccinated just in case there's an epidemic? The answer depends on counterbalancing the potential harm, benefit, severity, and probability. How dangerous is the pathogen? How likely is an outbreak? Am I in the high risk group for anaphylaxis? Sometimes we do something hazardous because the alternative is even more hazardous. Sometimes what is reckless in one situation is prudent in another. 

Now, the crucial point is that we engage in this deliberation when we don't know the specifics. I don't know if there will be an outbreak. I don't know if I'm in the high risk group for anaphylaxis. But if I wait to find out, it may be too late. I can't afford to learn the hard way. There's too much to lose. If, on the other hand, I have a genetic marker that puts me in the high-risk group for anaphylaxis, then it's more prudent to take my chances with an epidemic.

At this stage of the inquiry, I do the risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis to preemptively eliminate certain options. I don't give those options any further consideration. I don't suspend judgment until I get to the bottom of things, because the whole point is to take precautionary measures in the event of a worse-case scenario. 

v) Apply that to atheism. It isn't necessary for the inquiry to determine whether atheism is true or false. Rather, inquiry would rationally terminate at a preliminary stage. Suppose, if atheism is true, you have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Conversely, if Christianity is true, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The purpose of the inquiry is to determine if that's the case. At this stage of the inquiry, the objective is not to determine which position is true or false, but to access the respective consequences of their hypothetical truth or falsity. Moral and existential consequences. Depending on the results, there may be no obligation to pursue our inquiry any further. We stop at the preliminary stage because we ruled out that hypothetical option for reasons that don't even impinge on the truth or falsity of the alternatives. And that can be justifiable. It isn't always essential or obligatory to take intellectual inquiry beyond that preliminary elimination stage. 

vi) Take Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. That's controversial. The purpose of the inquiry is to determine whether his argument is a success or failure. If his argue fails, then we expand the inquiry to investigate other arguments for or against naturalism. But if his argument succeeds, then that's a logical place to end the inquiry. If naturalism subverts the reliability of reason, isn't that a sufficient defeater? There are many different ways to kill somebody, but once he's dead, it's redundant to employ additional methods. That's literally overkill. How much lead do you need to pump into Sonny Corleone to get the job done? 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel

Many Christians interpret Gen 3 as follows:

They think the Tempter was originally a bipedal reptile which underwent metamorphosis when God cursed it. They attribute the snake's intelligence, malevolence, and speaking ability to Satanic possession. 

In addition, they think Gen 3:15 is the first messianic prophecy. 

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise his heel.

There is, however, a problem with combining all these identifications. In the narrative, they think the Tempter is a literal snake or physical reptile. But in the prophecy, they think the adversary is not a literal snake; rather, the adversary is the devil–nothing more and nothing less. 

In other words, they don't think a snake bit Jesus. They don't think Jesus crushed the head of a snake by stomping on it.

So there's a lack of consistency in how they identify the referents. 

A solution is to drop the literal reptilian or serpentine identification and consistently interpret the Tempter in angelic/diabolical terms. On that view, both the narrative and the oracle use serpentine imagery and symbolism. 

Although I often disagree with him, I think Walton is on the right track in this regard:

Serpents are often the object of curses in the ancient world, and the curse in v14 follows somewhat predictable patterns. The Egyptian Pyramid texts (2nd half of the 3rd millennium BC) contain a number of spells against serpents, but they also include spells against other creatures considered dangerous or pests. The serpent enjoys some prominence, however, since it is represented on the crown of the pharaoh. Some spells enjoin the serpent to crawl on  its belly (keep its face on the path). This is in contrast to raising its head up to strike. The serpent on its belly is nonthreatening while the one reared up is protecting or attacking. Treading on a serpent is used in these texts as a means of overcoming or defeating it. This suggests we should not think of the serpent as having previously walked on legs. Instead, the curse combats its aggressive nature.

Likewise, we should not think of the curse of eating dust as a description of the diet of snakes. The depiction of dust or dirt for food is typical of descriptions of the netherworld in ancient literature...These are most likely considered characteristics of the netherworld because they describe the grave. Dust fills the mouth of the corpse...Given this background information, the curse on the serpent can be understood as wishing upon it a status associated with docility (crawling on belly) and death (eating dust). John Walton, Genesis (Zondervan, 2001), 224-25.

This could be deployed to defend a symbolic interpretation, just as the uraeus represented the corbra god of Egypt. 

Put out the light

I'd like to briefly discuss a potential confusion in debates over the real presence. Opponents of the real presence sometimes say that "This [bread] is my body" means "This [bread] represents my body". 

In a sense I think that's an unobjectionable interpretation. However, it can be misunderstood. The argument is not that "This is my body" is symbolic because the copulative verb means "represent" in that statement. At least, that's not what the argument ought to be. Rather, to interpret "This is my body" to mean "this represents my body" is simply a way of characterizing the entire statement as figurative. It's not the meaning of the verb that makes the statement figurative. We're not translating "is" into "represents". Instead, that's just a way of saying the statement as a whole is metaphorical.

A metaphor is an implied comparison, where one thing stands for another. Take this statement from Othello's soliloquy:

Put out the light, and then put out the light.
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore
Should I repent me. But once put out thy light,
Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume.

"Put out the light" occurs twice in first sentence. The same phrase is repeated, but it doesn't have the same sense. In the first occurrence, it denotes literal candlelight, but in the second sentence, candlelight is an emblem of human life. 

The same verb ("put out") is used in each occurrence. What makes the statement figurative in the second occurrence is not that the verb has a different meaning, but the sentence has a different referent. In the second occurrence, the sentence refers to Desdemona. But she's not a literal candle. She's not composed of beeswax. She doesn't have a burning wick. Yet the candle represents Desdemona. 

The audience is expected to discern an analogy between Desdemona and a burning candle. In fact, in everyday speech, "extinguish" or "snuff out" are synonyms for killing. Dead metaphors. 

The prayer of faith will save the sick

6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (Jas 1:6-8).

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (Jas 5:13-18).

1. These two passages are similar. The difference is that Jas 1:6-8 enunciates a general principle, whereas Jas 5:13-18 represents a special application of that principle. There is, though, a prima facie problem inasmuch as both passages seem to promise too much and deliver too little. 

2. One commentator offers this explanation:

This could be understood to mean that it is up to believers to convince themselves that God will give them what they ask for and somehow to expunge all traces of uncertainty from their minds. But this kind of self-hypnosis is not what James is getting at here. The "faith" required for asking is trust in the character and promises of God" D. McCartney, James (Baker 2009), 90.

Perhaps James has in mind something like the Exodus-generation, which witnessed many unmistakable signs, but was chronically skeptical about God's provision for the future despite overwhelming divine precedent. 

That, however, doesn't entirely relieve the tension, for 1:6-7 takes the form of a divine promise. That's what believers are supposed to put their faith in. Yet the language is unqualified. And 5:15 presents a more specific case of the same tension. 

3. James appears to be the kind of writer who doesn't say everything at once. (I say "appears" to be because we only have one writing by him, so it's hard to generalize.) Instead, his letter contains other statements, separated from these two promises, which contain provisos that implicitly moderate them. For instance: 

You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (Jas 4:2-3).

Here he says one impediment to answered prayer is ill-motivated prayer. In that case, lack of faith is not the only reason for unanswered prayer. 

4. Here's another example:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jas 4:13-15).

i) "If the Lord wills" is called the Jacobean condition. The thrust of this passage is that it's impious to be presumptuous about the future, because we don't know or control the future. Our plans may conflict with God's plan, and when that happens, God's plan prevails. 

But that has implications for what James says about faith and prayer. Presumably, James doesn't think faith and prayer function like a blank check, since that's inconsistent with his admonition in 4:13-15. 

ii) Most commentators think the Jacobean condition denotes God's decretive or providential will. An exception is McCartney, who thinks it denotes God's preceptive will. He gives two or three reasons:

Rarely, however, does James show any interest in God's decretive will, his primary interest is on obedience to God's revealed ethical will (e.g. 1:25; 2:8). D. McCartney, ibid., 227. 

I think that's a very weak argument. We have a single, brief, occasional writing from James. That's a completely inadequate sample to generalize about the writer's theological interests.

And if James were advocating nothing more than a passive acceptance of whatever God sends, it would be out of character with the rest of the letter (227).

That's an odd objection coming from a commentator who's presumably a Calvinist. He makes it sound as if belief in predestination fosters fatalistic resignation. 

Belief in predestination is not a logical disincentive to plan ahead. For one thing, we don't know ahead of time what God has foreordained. That's something we discover through experience, as the future eventuates. In addition, our activities, including our plans, contribute to the future, as predestined causes. Even plans that fall through contribute to the future. It's a false dichotomy to oppose human agency to divine agency. Strictly speaking, God's plan doesn't override human plans. Rather, our plans, including our failed plans, are predestined means by which God providentially realizes his own plan. 

This reading fits much better with the summary apophthegm in 4:17 ("Therefore, if someone knows a good thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin"), to which otherwise it is hard to see the connection (228).

That's McCartney's strongest argument, based on what follows v15. However, we also need to consider what precedes v15. James derives that conclusion from vv13-14, where he's describing the contrast between false expectations and how things actually turn out. The context unavoidable implies a reference to God's decretive will. 

Moreover, ethical deliberations are still a necessary part of responsible decision-making and planning for the future. So, pace McCartney, I agree with most commentators (e.g. Allison, Blomberg, Davids, Johnson, Moo) that James is referring to God's decretive or providential will. And that, in turn, qualifies the force of 1:6 and 5:15. 

5. One possible interpretation of 1:6 and 5:15 is that James is using hyperbolic language. Scripture often speaks in generalities. But that's understood to allow for exceptions. The bold invitation is an encouragement to take advantage of the opportunity. You have nothing to lose and something to gain.

6. But another possibility is that James isn't referring to garden-variety faith. Rather, there may be occasions when God gives a Christian a sense of certitude regarding his will in that particular situation. I think of that when I read this account:


7. Another interpretation is that James includes spiritual healing, so even if the rite has no curative effect, it is still efficacious. However, that's a face-saving interpretation. The text is about physical illness. And even though the text refers to confession, forgiveness is categorically distinct from physical healing. One is not a substitute for the other. 

7. In 5:14, what does James mean by "elders of the church"? Does "elder" denote church office, or an honorific title for seasoned, saintly believers? Hard to say. Certainly the letter doesn't furnish enough information to tell us anything about his ecclesiology. If, however, the author was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, then Acts gives us some general background. Even so, we don't know if the 1C church of Jerusalem had a developed polity, or whether James even cared about those distinctions. 

Moreover, this may be irrelevant inasmuch as vv14-15 transition to corporate intercessory prayer in v16. At that level, the entire congregation is involved. Can't say for sure how James envisions the interrelationship, but perhaps while only elders performed the rite, the congregation was aware of ailing members, and prayer requests were general.

8. He cites the example of Elijah to illustrate the principle. According to James, what made the prayer of Elijah efficacious wasn't his official capacity, but his "righteous" character. The implication is that God is more likely to heed the prayers of a devout supplicant. 

9. In terms of historical theology, Jas 5:14-16 was a flashpoint of controversy. Trent made this a prooftext for extreme unction. But there are many problems with that interpretation:

i) The rationale for extreme unction is the need for Christians to die in a state of grace. If they die in mortal sin, they are doomed. On their deathbed they need to receive absolution. 

Of course, the timing is tricky. If you wait too long, you may die before receiving last rites, in which case it's too late for you to benefit from that sacrament.

In any event, that interpretation involves many theological assumptions that can't be derived from the text. An extraneous theological framework which imposes that meaning on the text. 

ii) Another problem is how the Catholic interpretation makes absolution primary, and healing secondary–but subordinating the healing dimension runs counter to the text. 

iii) Furthermore, there's nothing about "holy oil". No indication that the oil is consecrated. 

The Protestant Reformers were right to reject the Catholic interpretation and application of that text.

10. Due, however, to their cessationist outlook, Jas 5:14-16 fell into disuse. If God no longer performs healing miracles through human instrumentality, then this text is defunct. And this was exacerbated by the fact that Catholic misuse made the text radioactive. Cf. D. Allision, James (Bloomsbury 2013), 741-45.

It's interesting that James doesn't discuss the evidential value of miraculous healing. He doesn't make that the reason for the rite. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Greek as a second language


A standard objection to the traditional authorship of some NT books is that 1C Palestinian Jews would be unable to write "literary" Greek. One of the ironies of that objection is that NT scholars who raise that objection learned Greek as a second language. They're assessing the literary quality of NT Greek, yet they themselves only learned to read Greek as adults, in college or seminary. They are very late-bloomers in that regard. They didn't even have the benefit of picking up conversational Greek in a bilingual environment when they were young. 

Floating axeheads

My final exchange with the sacramentalist on Facebook: 

when is the last time you met a human body that…appeared at will in locked doors? Oh, I forgot, you think Jesus must have had a key.

1. Actually, Jesus has a universal key (Rev 1:18) :-)

2. I happen to think Jn 20:19,26 indicates that Jesus had miraculous access to the upper room. As luck would have it, there's a NT example of how an embodied agent miraculously transgressed physical barriers (Acts 12). It wasn't because Peter had a mutant superhero body that slipped through chains and locked gates. Rather, the chains miraculously unlocked and fell off (v7) while the gate miraculously unlocked and opened (v10). 

3. You don't bother to even explain what you think actually happened in Jn 19,26 or how that's applicable to the Eucharist. Let's consider two possible explanations:

i) Jesus initially stood on one side of the door, temporarily dematerialized to pass through the door, then rematerialized on the other side.

One problem with that interpretation is the text doesn't say or imply that this is what happened. At best, that's a possible inference.

A more radical problem is that it subverts the integrity of the Resurrection. Both Luke and John are at pains to stress the physicality of the Resurrection. If, however, Jesus is alternately material and immaterial, physical and ghostly, embodied and disembodied, then physicality is expendable. 

ii) But perhaps you take the position that Jesus is ubiquitous. On that view, Jesus didn't enter the upper room because he never left the upper room. Jesus is everywhere. He wasn't outside the room at one point, then inside a moment later. Rather, he was both inside and outside the room simultaneously. If that's what Josh has in mind–assuming Josh has anything discernible in mind–there are two problems with that interpretation:

a) To begin with, the text indicates that Jesus wasn't always there. Rather, he can and went at will. 

b) Perhaps, though, you'd say that was psychological. He was there all along, only the disciples were enabled to perceive him at that point. 

On that view, Jesus fills all the space inside the upper room. But if Jesus has a physical body, with the density of a human body, it can't have the size and shape of the upper room. Rather, it must have the dimensions of a human body. The structure of a human body. Otherwise, that's, at best, an inhuman body (whatever that means).

Likewise, it would mean there's no space for anyone else in the upper room. For if Jesus is physical, and he occupies the entire upper room by virtue of his ubiquity, then two or more physical bodies can't occupy the same space at the same time.

In addition, the disciples didn't perceive a body that filled the entire room. Rather, they saw a body with normal human proportions. A body with empty space around it. Was that an optical illusion? A hallucination? Is that not the real body of Jesus?

The more radical problem with positing the ubiquity of Jesus is that it once again sabotages the integrity of the Resurrection. A "physical" body becomes indistinguishable from an astral body or ghost. Has no particular size, shape, structure, density, or locality. 

A Christian can't affirm the Resurrection unless he can say what a resurrected body is not. But the ubiquitous interpretation destroys the point of contrast.

the old, tired argument of 'muh human body' doesn't work, because human bodies don't walk on water.

Axeheads don't naturally float. So did the Son assume the nature of an axehead to communicate divine attributes to the axehead? 

or ascend, either.

So Elijah was God Incarnate? 

So this business about upholding the integrity of a human body doesn't cut it. Besides, Jesus' divinity communicates to His humanity.

That formulation violates Chalcedonian Christology. You're a monophysite. On your view, the two natures are blended. 

Oh wait, no it doesn't, that would violate muh logic, since , ya know, the finite cannot contain the infinite and all.

You keep dragging the extra Calvinisticum into the discussion even though I haven't used the finitum non capax infiniti paradigm in my analysis. Indeed, as I've explained, that way of framing the issue is confused. I don't oppose the real presence on the grounds that what's inside can't be bigger than what's outside. I reject the entire finite/infinite framework–since God is not a spatial being to begin with. 

BTW, why do you constantly drag Calvinism into the discussion? Are you so theologically uninformed that you imagine only Calvinists deny the real presence?

God tempts no one

 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (Jas 1:13-15).

Jas 1:13 is an Arminian prooftext. (I'm using "Arminian" as a loose synonym for freewill theism.) I've discussed this before. Now I'd like to approach it from a different angle.

1. Before exegeting the text, I wish to make some methodological observations. There are many scriptures which state or imply that in some sense, God tempts/tests people. And you don't have to be a Calvinist to see that. For instance, in his magisterial commentary on James, Dale Allison cites a long list of scriptures which state or imply the very thing that James seems to deny, viz. Gen 22:1; Exod 7:3; 11:10; 16:4; 20:20; Deut 2:30; 13:4; 2 Sam 24:1; 1 Kgs 22:19-23; 2 Chron 34:24; Job 2:10; 5:18; 9:17; 10:8; 12:14-16; 42:11; Isa 45:7; 63:17; Jer 6:21; Lam 3:38; Ezk 3:20; 14:9; 20:25-26; Amos 3:6 (237; 237-38n148; n246n192). And this list could easily be extended. 

Allison takes the position that "here one part of the canon is a odds with other parts" (246n192). I think that's the wrong solution, but it does illustrate the problem when freewill theists cherrypick prooftexts. 

If we affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, we can't use Jas 1:13 as a high card to trump other scriptures. Moreover, we can't simply use that as the filter to interpret other scriptures. Why not use the other scriptures as the filter to interpret Jas 1:13? It's not as if one particular scripture ipso facto functions as the hermeneutical standard of comparison, controlling our interpretation of other scriptures. If we affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, then we need an interpretation that's consistent with all related scriptures. 

2. It's understandable that freewill theists deem Jas 1:13 to be incompatible with Calvinism. But it's not as if James says predestination makes God a tempter. It's not as if James says meticulous providence makes God a tempter. That's something which freewill theists infer from Jas 1:13. 

Jas 1:13 isn't like the Five Articles of Remonstance, which specifically target Calvinism. James isn't opposing his position to predestination or meticulous providence or divine hardening. At least that's not the stated point of contrast. It's understandable from their viewpoint why freewill theists deem Jas 1:13 to be incompatible with Calvinism, but it's illicit to automatically impute their viewpoint to James. 

3. Moreover, even if we grant, for argument's sake, that the Calvinist God is a tempter, this doesn't imply that the Arminian God or Molinist God or open theist God is not a tempter. To say "God tempts no one" is ambiguous. Does putting someone in a tempting situation make you a tempter? For instance, Joseph found himself in a tempting situation with Potiphar's wife. Combine that with a classic Arminian model of providence:

God's concurrence is his consent to and cooperation with creaturely decisions and actions. No creature could decide or act without God's concurring power. For someone to lift his or her hand requires God's concurrence; God loans, as it were the power sufficient to lift a hand, and without God's cooperation even such a trivial act would be impossible. R. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP 2009), 117. 

[Arminius] even went so far as to say that every human act, including sin, is impossible without God's cooperation. This is simply part of divine concurrence, and Arminius was not willing to regard God as a spectator (121). 

For [Arminius] God is the first cause of whatever happens; even a sinful act cannot occur without God as its first cause, because creatures have no ability to act without their Creator, who is their supreme cause for existence (122). 

4. So what does Jas 1:13 mean? What does James deny when he denies that God tempts anyone? In theory, it could mean James rejects predestinarian theology because he thinks that makes God complicit in evil. However, James doesn't actually say that. And even if a freewill theist takes that to be a logical implication of Jas 1:13, it doesn't follow that James himself thought predestination, meticulous providence, or divine hardening had those entailments. Since he doesn't use those examples as his stated point of contrast, a freewill theist can't justifiably substitute those examples as the presumptive or implicit point of contrast. 

5. Some commentators try to relieve the difficulty by driving a wedge between "testing", which is more objective, and "tempting", which is more subjective. God is said to "test", but not to "tempt". Yet that won't work:

i) For one thing, it's a false dichotomy. On the one hand, a temptation is a test of faith. On the other hand, to be tested is to be tempted to do the wrong thing. 

ii) In addition, v14 clearly has a psychological thrust. 

6. Some commentators qualify the character of the ordeal by saying God won't tempt someone to commit evil. But while it's possible that James has that unstated distinction in mind, that's not what he says, and it's hard to deduce that from what he actually says. 

Moreover, that claim is overly broad, for there are prima facie examples in Scripture to the contrary. 

7. There may, however, be an element of truth to (6) if the principle is more narrowly drawn. The general teaching of Scripture is that God tests his children, not to bring about their destruction, but to refine them. 

8. The immediate and explicit point of contrast is supplied by the next verse. In theory, that could mean James thinks the temptation originates in the human agent. The psychology of the human agent is the ultimate source of what makes a situation tempting. 

However, nothing in the statement requires that interpretation. And that interpretation is difficult to harmonize with so many other scriptures to the contrary.

9. Or it may simply mean that when a person gives in to temptation, he succumbs willingly rather than against his will. The experience wasn't coercive. He wasn't acting at gunpoint. Rather, he did it because he found it so appealing. 

Indeed, James employs the extended metaphor of sexual temptation and resultant consequences because that's such a natural and accessible illustration. If someone commits sexual immorality, that's because the desire to resist–assuming there even was a desire to resist–is overpowered the heat of the moment, viz. "All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life" (Prov 7:22-23).

That's entirely consonant with the wording of the passage. And that's entirely consonant with predestinarian theology. 

A freewill theist might find that morally objectionable, but the exegetical question at issue is what the sentence means, and not extraneous assumptions a reader may bring to the passage. Exegesis isn't contingent on the ethical or philosophical bias of the reader. 

The best interpretation is probably a combination of (7) and (9). 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Is Jesus a grape vine?

An impromptu debate I had on Facebook with a sacramentalist:

Josh
I guess the church had it wrong for 1,500 years.

Hays
i) Do you have polling data on what most Christians, especially the laity, believed from, say, the 2C-16C? 

Who all are the spokesmen for "the church"? Do you really mean some bishops, church fathers, scholastic theologians? 

How many laymen were in a position to form an independent opinion on the subject? Was freedom of dissent tolerated? 

ii) However you slice it, some Christians got it wrong. So where do you draw the line? Why do you think it's unacceptable for some Christians to have it wrong but not others? 

Josh
Not to mention Ignatius, disciple of John.

Hays
Why don't you quote a reliable source regarding the precise historical relationship between Ignatius and the Apostle John? 

Josh
And the Corinthians were guilty of the body and blood of the Lord only spiritually speaking or metaphorically speaking.

Hays
i) Unfortunately for you, I linked to a post which discusses that very passage:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2017/01/discerning-body.html

ii) Moreover, even if (ex hypothesi) we suppose the problem in 1 Cor 11 was about sacrilege, what makes you think that requires the real presence? For instance, mishandling the ark of the covenant was fatal, yet the ark of the covenant was just a wooden box. There was nothing about the composition of the ark that made it deadly to the touch. 

Josh
Oh, and when I have union with my wife, it's only a spiritual union.

Hays
How far do you wish to press that analogy?

Gnostic resurrection

A brief exchange I had on Facebook with a sacramentalist:

It's amusing to see someone who calls a wafer a man's body claim he's taking "body" at "face-value". Is a man's body the size and shape of a wafer? Is that what is meant by a human body? A quarter-sized wheat wafer?

To downgrade God's simple Word…All he has is human philosophy, according to the principles of this world.

Let's look at God's "simple" word, shall we? According to the Resurrection accounts, the Risen Jesus had a recognizably human body. The body of an adult male. He had a tangible body composed of flesh and bones (Lk 24:36). Have you ever met a communion wafer (or communion wine) that has that property? He consumed food (Lk 24:41-43). Have you ever met a communion wafer that's able to eat fried fish? He had visible, tangible scars on his hands and torso (Jn 20:20,27). Have you ever met a communion wafer with visible, tangible scars? Have you ever met a communion wafer (or communion wine) with human hands and torso? He cooked food (Jn 21:9). Have you ever met a communion wafer that's able to cook food? 

How does Josh's sacramentalism square with descriptions of the Risen Jesus? It contradicts descriptions of the Risen Jesus. Josh's sacramentalism is a direct attack on the integrity of the Resurrection. He redefines the body of Jesus into something with no empirical properties. Something invisible and intangible. A ghostly resurrection. A Gnostic resurrection.

To take a comparison, consider a sacramentalist reinterpretation of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus. When he comes to their house, she's lying in her bedroom, dead. Suppose he sends everyone out of her bedroom. For a few moments he's alone with her corpse. Then he opens the door. Her parents go inside. Her body is gone. On her bed lies a wafer in a miniature glass case. Jesus hands them the glass case with the wafer inside and exclaims: "Behold your daughter!"

He restored their daughter to life! She came back to life…as a wafer. But make no mistake, that's their daughter! She's all there–contained in the wafer. So they put their daughter on the mantlepiece. Everyday they talk to the wafer. Of course, it (she?) can't talk back.