Saturday, October 06, 2007

Coming Soon to 60 Minutes

HT: Justin Taylor

White Horse Inn: "Currently scheduled for Sunday, Oct 14th, the interview will focus on the teaching and ministry of popular televangelist Joel Osteen, author of Your Best Life Now. 60 Minutes airs on CBS Sundays at 7 p.m. ET/PT (check your local listings)."

The Fleecing of the SBC

If you are in the SBC and have not read Timmy Brister's post, you should - period.

State conventions are soon to meet. Ask questions; do some research...

Darrell Bock's Commentary On Acts

I recently got Darrell Bock’s commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007). I haven’t read much of it yet, so these are only my initial impressions.

The obvious comparison is to Bock’s commentary on Luke. The Acts commentary is about 800 pages long, which is a significant length, but it’s shorter than his two-volume commentary on Luke’s gospel. It’s disappointing in that sense, but I still highly recommend it. It carries endorsements from Ben Witherington, Steve Walton, Robert Wall, and W. Ward Gasque.

Bock interacts with a lot of recent sources, including some from 2006. I was pleased to see that he even includes a few references to Richard Bauckham’s book on eyewitness testimony, which didn’t come out until late last year. He often cites previous conservative commentaries on Acts, such as F.F. Bruce’s and Ben Witherington’s, but he also frequently interacts with less conservative sources, like C.K. Barrett and Joseph Fitzmyer.

Unlike many other commentators (R.T. France, in light of his 2007 commentary on Matthew, comes to mind), Bock places a lot of emphasis on harmonization. His material on the death of Judas and how the different accounts of Paul’s conversion relate to each other, for example, is handled well. Bock’s high view of scripture and his willingness to give so much time, effort, and space to issues of harmonization are commendable.

For those not familiar with the Baker series of commentaries, the format is easy to follow, with the commentary marked off by chapter and verse numbers in large, bold print at the side of each page. There’s a subject index, an author index, and an index for scripture references and other ancient sources. These commentaries are meant to be a middle ground between more popular level works aimed at laymen and “encyclopedic commentaries that seek to cover every conceivable issue that may arise” (p. ix).

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Left-Handed Salute

A Left-Handed Salute: A review of The Intellectuals and the Flag by Todd Gitlin

Between the she-devil and the deep blue sea

At the moment, conservatives find themselves in a typical quandary as we contemplate the next presidential election. I say this is typical because it’s almost the norm for us to be presented with a choice between a more electable, but less conservative candidate, and a more conservative, but less electable candidate. So this is a seasonal debate which we rehearse almost every election cycle.

And it isn’t always limited to presidential candidates. Back when I was living in California, there was the same debate over voting for Ah-nuld or McClintock to unseat Davis.

At present, the two candidates who are the principle objects of controversy are Rudy and Romney.

There are different ways of framing this issue. One question is whether it’s wrong to vote for a compromise candidate. Up to a point, I’m prepared to vote for a compromise candidate. The question is when and where to draw the line. How much compromise is too much compromise?

I don’t get to choose my choices. I only get to choose from among a set of choices which I didn’t choose.

Some people run for office, while others don’t. I have no control over that. So I can only choose from among those who choose to run in the first place.

For that reason, my personal responsibility is pretty limited. It’s a forced option.

BTW, Calvinism doesn’t deny that certain forms of inability are attenuating or exculpatory circumstances.

If I had an opportunity to actually elect the best candidate, then it would be wrong of me to vote for the second-best candidate. But the only reason we have these debates is when we’re not in a clearly defined position to elect the best candidate. Perhaps, if we vote our heart, our favorite candidate will win, but that’s in doubt. The second-best candidate may have, or appear to have, a better shot at winning.

There is also a difference between voting for a candidate you know is going to lose, and voting for a candidate who may have a fighting chance. One of the complications in these calculations is the danger of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t vote for my favorite candidate because he can’t win. Why can’t he win? Because not enough folks will vote for him. And you don’t vote for him for the same reason. And so on. Of course, if enough folks don’t vote for him because not enough folks will vote for him, then we are the cause of the reason we don’t vote for him. We are effecting, or at least affecting, the very outcome we cite as our reason to do otherwise. Circular counterfactual causation.

Mind you, in some cases the margin is so great that even if everyone had voted for his favorite candidate, that would be insufficient to put him over the top. But I suspect a lot of conservatives suffer from the nagging doubt that if only they had voted their conscience, their first-pick might have been elected.

Are we spiting ourselves? Are we allowing the opposition party to pick our candidates for us?

But if we knew the answer to this question, there would be no debate. There are so many free variables and mutually adjustable variables that it’s a matter of guesswork, and too much second-guessing may influence the outcome.

This is part of the human condition in a fallen world. We must often make momentous decisions with inadequate information. And when the choices are this ambiguous, it is less than clear which choice is the “right” choice—or the “wrong” choice. So, in situations like this, I think we’re in a condition of diminished responsibility.

It’s because there are so many imponderables to calculate and so many variables beyond our control that I don’t generally think we’re morally obligated to either vote for the more conservative, but less electable candidate, or the more electable, but less conservative candidate. If we really knew who was electable or not, we wouldn’t have this debate in the first place.

There are cases when conservatives voted their conscience, only to see their candidate go down in flames and take the entire party right down with him. The effect was self-exile from power.

But there are also cases in which choosing the “electable” candidate backfired. In some instances, he got elected and then proceeded to govern like a Democrat. If you run as a RINO, and you get elected as a RINO, why not govern as a RINO? What’s to lose? In other instances, the “electable” candidate imploded before the election, or there was so little difference between him and a Democrat that he wasn’t a serious alternative.

However, some pundits have inverted the argument. Whereas, for some conservatives, it’s morally compromising to vote for a more electable, but less conservative candidate—some pundits say it’s morally compromising to vote for the more conservative, but less electable candidate.

And I suppose that’s a niffty tactical maneuver. They are trying to put the conservative diehards on the defensive—which gives the pundits a psychological advantage. If Hillary wins, the diehards are to blame. Shame on you for putting her in office!

But this argument is rather unscrupulous. We didn’t choose the circumstances. Rather, the circumstances are forcing us—one way or the other—to make an inferior choice. In a world of bad options, it’s hardly fair to fault someone for choosing one bad option over another.

There are three bad options:

a) Vote for a more conservative, but less electable candidate

b) Vote for a less conservative, but more electable candidate

c) Sit out the election

The reason many conservatives feel conflicted in this situation is that they are, in fact, confronted with conflicting moral intuitions—for each option has potential upsides and downsides, while no option has upsides without significant (potential or actual) downsides.

Therefore, it’s inappropriate to excoriate conservatives who choose to vote their conscience. Fingerwaging would only be appropriate if there were a clearcut moral alternative. But in that event, we wouldn’t be having this debate in the first place.

Moreover, the question is not that abstract. Yes, we can all agree that Hillary would be bad. But politics is very unpredictable.

Suppose that Hillary wins. She might be so bad in the short-term that she would be good in the long-term—because she wouldn’t have a second-term, and she would discredit her party in the process. Between Hillary and a Democrat Congress, it’s not hard to imagine such a disastrous term of office that the Democrats would be radioactive for years to come.

It’s possible to lose by winning. This is also true for the GOP. A victory can cost you too much depending on how much you you’re prepared to shell out.

If Rudy can win as a social liberal, why wouldn’t he govern as a social liberal? A candidate has no incentive to govern any further to the right or the left than it takes him to get elected or reelected.

And in the process, he might also redefine his party. If a GOP candidate can win without the social conservatives, then it ceases to be a party in which the social conservatives have any clout. The wrong kind of success will get you evicted from your own party.

As long as they need your vote, it doesn’t matter whether they like you or want you. But if you’re both unwanted and unnecessary, then you’ll find your luggage on the front porch when you return home.

Of course, the argument is that Rudy can’t win without the religious right. But why should social conservatives vote for a social liberal? So do they win if he wins? Don’t they lose either way?

For purposes of this post, I’m not taking a position on Rudy. (I’ve done that elsewhere). I’m simply raising some issues which conservative proponents of Rudy are overlooking or ignoring.

What about Romney? Well, for one thing, he’s a Mormon. For now, I’m not saying if that should be a deal-breaker. However, there are (conservative?) pundits who act as if his Mormonism shouldn’t even be a liability to evangelical voters.

Well, I disagree. Personal beliefs invariably affect one’s policy judgments. So it does make a difference. We can debate how much of a difference, and we can debate whether his brand of Mormonism is better or worse than Hillary’s brand of Methodism—but it’s a valid issue, and a serious issue at that.

Some pundits are trying to take this issue off the table—indeed, force this issue off the table, as if it’s out-of-bounds even to discuss it. Well, they don’t get to dictate my priorities.

However, we don’t even have to decide whether his Mormonism is a make-or-break issue, since that is not Romney’s only liability. There’s also the question of whether he governed as a liberal when he had the top job in Massachusetts.

Let’s remember that Romney’s a very bright, well-educated guy who’s 60 years old. It’s very unlikely that a man with his backgrond is going to undergo an intellectual revolution. It’s far more likely that he’s had plenty of time to think through his positions and solidify his positions.

If he ran to the left, and governed to the left in Massachusetts, and if he’s suddenly running to the right in his presidential bid, then by far the most plausible explanation is that he’s a naked political opportunist.

Now it’s possible that he’d still be better than Hillary. It would be easy to improve on Hillary.

However, the notion that we have some moral imperative to vote for Romney is, itself, morally clouded. You could make a pragmatic argument for either Rudy or Romney, but let’s not pretend that we are duty-bound to vote for a liberal Mormon. We wouldn’t be duty-bound to vote for a conservative Mormon, much less a liberal Mormon.

I’ve read pundits who make a reasonable case for electing Rudy, Romney, or McCain. That’s not how I’ll cast my vote, but I think this is an issue over which reasonable men can disagree.

Yet some pundits are getting to be overbearing on the subject. They’re so desperately afraid of Hillary that they are beginning to lash out at conservatives who can’t bring themselves to vote for Rudy or Romney.

But, speaking for myself, if providence doesn’t offer me an acceptable candidate, then I take that as a providential permission-slip to either vote my conscience or sit out the election. This is not a problem of my own making. And it’s not a problem that I can fix.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dawkins and Lennox debate the existence of God

-----Original Message-----
From: DAVID WOOD [deleted]
To: [deleted]
Sent: Wed, Oct 3 2:28 PM
Subject: FW: The God Delusion Debate


This is only a few hours away. You might want to put a note about this on your blogs, so that readers will know it's coming.


I just got this e-mail from a friend...

Most of you may already know that there will be a debate tomorrow evening, Wednesday, October 3rd from 7-9 p.m. between fundamentalist atheist, Richard Dawkins and Christian apologist, John Lennox, both professors at Oxford University. This debate will take place in (of all places!) Birmingham, AL. The link below will send you to a radio station in our area which will carry the debate LIVE. It will be heard live all over the world via NPR and the BBC.

[Check it out here.]

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Postcards From the Edge

I see Uncle Dave has been perusing the combox.

He writes:

Nana, Nana, Boo Boo!

Note how I wrote above:

"What the anti-Catholics don't comprehend is that they do not represent all Protestants in my mind. To the contrary, I think they are an extreme fringe element. Protestants who aren't anti-Catholic do not approach me at all like these guys do (and vice versa)."
Lo and behold I am a prophet today, as anti-Catholic Peter Pike idiotically stated at Triablogue:

I see Armstrong is continuing his defining of "anti-Catholic" as "whoever disagrees with Dave Armstrong."

Welcome to the club, Saint & Sinner, from your fellow "anti-Catholic" 2...776049876026031

Either these guys must be brain dead or they are so incredibly hostile that their minds literally cannot comprehend things that they disagree with. How could one misunderstand such a simple and patently obvious thing? It's a marvel to observe . . .
1. Notice that interlaced in his own article are accusations railing against James White for things like engaging in a "mudfest" and "personal insult," yet Dave feels free to call Pete "brain dead."

2. Here are some reasons, perhaps, that folks "don't get it."

a. Apropos 1, it's hard to "get it," Dave, when you commit the very sorts of actions of which you accuse your readers.

b. Add to that your rambling and mostly incoherent prose style.

c. Also, we're also pondering exactly what the connection is to what Saint and Sinner is posting in his exegesis and James White's alleged behavior.

Turretinfan, was quite right to point out that your entire post is constituted as follows (I'll break it down for you_:

[T]he bulk of Mr. Armstrong's post is in comparisons to other Reformed posters (first paragraph),

self-discussion and general criticism of Armstrong's critics (second paragraph),

complaints about Dr. White and supposed unkind treatment of Mr. Armstrong (third paragraph),

a one-paragraph summary of S&S post (fourth paragraph),

a one paragraph summary of the title criticism (fifth paragraph),

and an ad-hominem - suggesting that S&S is saying so because S&S is a "presuppositionalist" Calvinist and because he has read Dr. White's writings (sixth and seventh paragraphs).

After all that, a block quote summarizing S&S's list of the 9 fallacies identified in DA's writing so far is followed by a sarcastic-sounding best-wishes-hope-it-don't-blow-up-in-your-face paragraph.

After that, the remainder of the post is four paragraphs of criticizing Dr. White's rebuttal of DA's position with a lengthy block quote with color coded comments interspersed, and two paragraphs of conclusion in which DA points out that DA will ignore S&S if S&S refuses to accept DA's correction (no really: "I will tire of it if he doesn't accept correction" - with the shocking kicker "as in White's case" - as if DA had given any credible indication of being "tired" of interaction with Dr. White) and then paints S&S in colors aimed to make S&S's writings unpalatable to Dave's readers (such as Jonathan Prejean).
d. Further, one is hard pressed to find the logical connection between "anti-Catholicism" and something like young earth creationism - except as a substitute for any sort of reasoned argumentation and/or (e) below.

e. What we do get is that your entire post is nothing more than an exercise in well-poisoning.

Moving on...

What's difficult about talking with White is the same thing that makes talking to a lot of apologists difficult. Some apologists (especially James White and Steve Hays) have a staggering inability to empathize with their opponents. By that I mean that the attitude is never "Reasonable people differ over these matters, and I can see why someone wouldn't agree with my position." It's always "If you don't agree, you must be insane." And when White says that, he's not lying. He really thinks that if you disagree with him it can only be because of poor moral character, because no clearly thinking rational person would ever see things any other way than the way he sees them.

This is from Jon Curry, recently banned from Triablogue.

1. Of course, this raises yet another observation, one Steve has made before regarding Prejean. Catholicism, or at least certain versions of it, seem convertible with atheism. At the very least, I find it mildly entertaining that, when the cards are laid on the table, the atheist will run to the Catholic for "empathy." As they say, "Birds of a feather..."

2. I don't recall Jon saying to the folks here, "Reasonable people differ over these matters, and I can see why someone wouldn't agree with my position." Rather, he would go on and on about how unreasonable our position was on a regular basis, parroting the likes of Robert Price ad infinitum. Of course, he would also ignore a great deal of what was stated. One need only check the archives.

3. I don't recall Steve calling Jon "insane." We believe atheism is irrational however, and I would say that Scripture depicts sin itself as a form of "insanity," broadly speaking. Of course, I'm from the South, and, as somebody once said, in the South, we don't hide our crazy relatives, we ask who they are, so maybe I just don't notice it as much.

4. Has White ever called Svendsen, Shisko, etc. "insane?" Surely, this is Jon waxing hyperbolic. Surely, he would not mislead anybody.

5. And as far as not wanting to make anything into a prolonged personal dispute, one could list several threads here in which Mr. Curry persisted in doing just that. Again, one need only check the archives.

6. And isn't one of the stock objections of the Protestant rule of faith the allegedly diversity for which it allows? Of course, there are folks who view all who disagree as heretics, but as I recall, the persons named in this objection distinguish between levels and degrees of error. Of course, claiming to be a Christian does not obviate the use of harsh language when the occasion calls for it; and apostates like Curry are singled out in Scripture with harsh words indeed. Again, we've been over this many times. Check the archives.

The Neglect Of External Evidence

Several decades ago, in a landmark interdisciplinary symposium on the Gospels, noted classics scholar George Kennedy challenged New Testament scholars to take the report of Papias [concerning the origins of Mark's gospel] much more seriously. In his written response, Reginald Fuller initially expressed his "greatest surprise" over the weight Kennedy placed on external evidence regarding the authorship of the Gospels. However, in light of Kennedy's case, Fuller goes on to concede:

"New Testament scholars generally have not taken the external evidence (especially that of Papias) seriously enough....As a result of Kennedy's essay and the subsequent discussion, New Testament scholars have been challenged to take more seriously the external evidence regarding the origin of the gospels than they have been wont to do in the past....[T]hey must henceforth exercise great caution when they spin off theories about the internal evidence that flatly contradict the external evidence....This should be one item for the agenda of future studies of the relationships among the gospels." (Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007], pp. 392-393)

The Eisegeted Verses

For those who are as yet unaware, "Saint and Sinner" has begun a running commentary critiquing Dave Armstrong's Catholic Verses.

It's also worth noting that he's already received his first love letter from Uncle Dave here.

Neener! Neener!

It's worth noting that, as usual, it is utterly irrelevant to anything Saint and Sinner actually wrote. How, exactly, young earth creationism affects one's exegesis of the texts that Dave examined isn't at all clear - except as, perhaps, an exercise in poisoning the well. Then again, nothing much actually addresses what was stated in the introduction to the series. Rather, Dave focuses on James White, which is, of course, utterly irrelevant to what Saint and Sinner himself is writing at present.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Textual Variations and Inerrancy

(Original article available here.)

Dear Alumni,

I attended a professional society meeting recently and heard two or three speakers mention that when they had attended seminary they learned that the New Testament has quite a number of variant readings, and that this fact had seriously shaken their faith in an inerrant Bible. We affirm that the Scriptures are inerrant in the autographs, meaning the actual documents of the original writers. What we have are ancient copies, since none of the autographs have survived today. But this view is regarded by some critical authors today as a convenient dodge on our part. Since we don’t have the autographs, how can we trust that the Bibles we read today are without error? Indeed, some claim that they are filled with serious errors and contradictions, especially because there exist so many variant readings in the various ancient manuscripts.

Now before I address this objection and others to inerrancy based on textual criticism, let me define a few terms and describe the situation in general. I should also add that I will only be addressing the New Testament (NT) situation. Old Testament textual criticism is similar but involves a few specialized issues like the role of the old Greek translations which we will not cover.

First, a "variant reading," or simply "variant," refers to different readings in the ancient copies of any one NT passage where a word, phrase, or even larger units might be different or be missing in some manuscripts. For example, in Eph 1:7 most ancient and medieval Greek manuscripts read the phrase "according to the riches of his grace" but a small handful read "riches of his kindness." In this instance "grace" and "kindness" are spelled similarly in Greek, and the variant is thought to have arisen because of a similar phrase in Rom 2:4. Manuscripts were all tediously copied by hand back then, and the errors of a tired copyist like this are perfectly understandable and appear from time to time. Even still, there is certainly no heresy introduced into the Bible when certain copies of the letter to the Ephesians say that God has forgiven our transgressions out of kindness rather than by grace. God is both kind and gracious. The fact is that no NT variant reading introduces insoluble heresy.

Secondly, the "problem" of textual variants of the NT is caused by the wonderful wealth of extant ancient manuscripts. Let us imagine that only one ancient copy of Hebrews had survived into our time. There would obviously be no variants because we would have only the one manuscript. But the fact is, we have well over 5,000 ancient and Byzantine copies of the Greek NT, not to mention dozens of ancient translations into other languages like Latin, Syriac, Coptic, or Georgic which are used to deduce ancient readings. Furthermore, the writings of the early church fathers are often filled with verbatim quotations of NT passages which show us the early readings available to them. And early fathers like Clement or Ignatius were writing at around AD 95 and 115 respectively, so they represent very early testimony to the readings of the autographs.

The marvel of possessing such an incredible number of ancient copies of the NT is best appreciated when we compare this with the state of the ancient Greek, comic playwright, Menander (342–291 BC). Like Shakespeare, Menander became hugely popular only after his death. His plays enjoyed quite a long and widespread popularity well past the NT period as evidenced by a number of sources including the Menander House in Pompeii, a fresco from a scene in a Menander play found in a private villa at second century AD Ephesus, or a third century AD mosaic depicting Menander from a suburb of Antioch in Syria. Many of the pithy, moral sayings from his plays entered the popular culture and were often written up in collections of such things including one which Paul quotes in 1 Cor 15:33: "Bad company corrupts good morals."

Now we would expect to have a fair number of copies of the works of such a popular author, but the fact is that until the early 20th century, only fragments of his plays were known and even now we have only one complete play of Menander filled out from one papyrus manuscript copied roughly 500+ years after the playwright’s death, and that was not published until 1958. Granted, this may seem to be an extreme case, but the number of ancient copies of many other Greek authors may only be in the dozens at best. Clearly, the NT enjoys an embarrassment of riches in ancient Greek manuscripts and translations in comparison!

Along with such a high number of ancient manuscripts of the NT naturally come thousands of differences in these hand-written copies. Copyist errors account for a large number of these differences. Imagine if you were to sit down and copy the NT (over 405 single-column pages in one modern English version). How many errors do you think you would unwittingly make, especially writing hour after hour in a cold dark room? For example, one set of errors are known to occur as the copyist’s eye jumped from the exemplar to his copy and back hundreds of thousands of times. This is particularly exacerbated by the ancient practice of writing in letters of one size with no spacing between words and only minimal punctuation at best. Let us say you were to copy these opening lines from the Gospel of John:


One common copy error occurred when the scribe looked to his copy to write "and," but in putting his eye back to the exemplar he unwittingly jumped to a later occurrence of "and," skipping the material in between. These kinds of copy errors in the manuscripts are fairly easy to spot with a little imagination and experience.

Now when you hear about thousands of variants in the NT, it may seem plausible that more weighty variants would arise than these kind of copy errors, which is indeed the case. These more significant variants, however, never make our Bibles suspect of grave error. To show this, I would like to look fairly closely at a substantive sampling of variants rather than to discuss them in a general way. I’ve selected the variants in Eph 1:1—14, which typify the kind one finds in the NT manuscripts.

The variant readings discussed below are reported in the Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the Greek NT (NA27). There are other variants in the manuscripts, but these are mostly trivial differences of spellings, of word order, and the like; the NA27 gives all the variants of any real interest.

There are 14 variant readings given in the NA27 for Eph 1:1–14, averaging one per verse. Here is the breakdown:

Four verses with no variant readings (vv. 2, 5, 8, 12)
Four verses with one variant reading (vv. 3, 4, 10, 14)
Four verses with two variant readings (vv. 6, 7, 11, 13)
Two verses with three variant readings (vv. 1 and 9)

Ten of the 14 variants are trivial, meaning that the meaning of the text is not impacted in any significant way. For example, v. 1 has the variation in word order "of Jesus Christ" or "of Christ Jesus" divided among the ancient manuscripts. A few early and later manuscripts insert "all" in the phrase "to (all) the saints who are" in v. 1. Twice (vv. 4 and 9) there is a variation in the spelling of "in him" to "in himself" (with the addition of one Greek letter), but this simply makes the pronoun more explicitly reflexive—a meaning the personal pronoun may already carry in Greek. In v. 6 the phrase "in the Beloved" is filled out with the words "in his beloved Son," which simply makes the identity of the Son here more explicit. This last example illustrates the tendency in later scribes to clarify what the text they were copying already implied. In some cases these later copies act like ancient commentaries on the text and can be quite helpful for understanding the grammar and meaning of the Greek. Obviously, the meaning of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1 is not changed in any way by these variant readings.

In some cases, the trivial variant readings involve the change of one character in a word. In v. 13, for example, "we" and "our" is found in later manuscripts for "you" and "your" respectively through the change of one character in each word (an eta for an upsilon), which were pronounced the same in some locales and thereby prone to confusion. This is actually a variation found in a number of places in the NT manuscripts, and while the difference of meaning may be interesting, it in no way moves the text into erroneous teaching.

Some of the other trivial variants are merely stylistic. For example, in v. 10 some scribes used a more common, synonymous preposition for "in" in the phrase "things in heaven" while a few manuscripts further added a nice untranslated conjunction in keeping with a more literary convention in the Greek of their day. Furthermore, there are some variants in Eph 1:1–14 that appear in only a few manuscripts. For example, "and Father" in the phrase "the God and Father of our Lord" in v. 3 is missing in one manuscript according to the NA27. It is obvious one scribe simply made a mistake for some reason. If others had used this copy as an exemplar, the "error" would have been passed on down through more and more copies. But again, this may simply be a copy error; it introduces no doctrinal error into the Scriptures. The difference between a copy error and a doctrinal error here should be underlined.

So far, 10 of the 14 textual variations found in Eph 1:1–14 have been trivial. However, there are four that are worthy of more careful consideration. What should be emphasized at this point is one key observation. The opponents of inerrancy speak about an error-ridden Bible because of the variations in the copies. But the vast majority of these variants—as we have seen—make no difference whatsoever in the meaning of the biblical text, and those that may (like the omission of "and Father" in v. 3) do not impact our understanding of biblical truth. The relation of God as the Father of the incarnate Lord Jesus does not depend on Eph 1:3. Because of the complete clarity and widespread redundancy in Scripture, no essential doctrine of our faith is based on any doubtful text. Indeed, notice the teaching contained in Eph 1:2–6, 8–10, and 12–13 where there are either no textual variants at all or only trivial ones given in the NA27—there is no reason to question the reading of these verses in any way, even in their most subtle nuances, because of textual variants. So even if there are four significant variants, the general flow of the discourse in Eph 1:1–14 is perfectly clear and without serious doubt. It is the nature of human communication that we can leave out or change individual words in statements without changing the essential meaning. One has only to read Lewis Carroll’s "Jabberwocky" to find a delightful example of this phenomenon!

Now let’s look at the four weighty variants from Eph 1:1–14 and see what they look like. The first is the change of the word "riches of grace" (charitos) to "riches of kindness" (chrêstotêtos) in v. 7 found in a handful of Greek manuscripts—including the important Alexandrinus—and at least one ancient translation. The word kindness here is probably not the original reading, and even if it were, the text would not say anything substantively different as already noted. I call it a weighty variant only because it seems not to be a mechanical scribal mistake and it does appear in the important early witness Alexandrinus.

In the second variant the Greek verb eklêrôthêmen at the beginning of v. 11 is changed. This verb is rendered as "we have obtained an inheritance" in the KJV, NASB (with "we were made a heritage" in the margin) and ESV, but as "we were chosen" in NIV. The different renderings represents the difficulty of understanding the verb here, since it usually refers to appointing or receiving something by casting lots. When ancient scribes encountered a difficult reading like this, they sometimes substituted a clearer word either intentionally or not. In this case, eklêrôthêmen was replaced by eklêthêmen "we were called" (deleting the two letters "rô" in the middle) in a minority of manuscripts, including important Alexandrinus again, according to NA27. This smooths out the reading. Since scribes tended to make things easier to understand, text critics point out that the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior) is probably the original as is probably the case here.

The third variant is an interesting one theologically. In order to understand this variant you have to know that Greek nouns and pronouns have gender forms like some modern languages besides English. In Greek, the word for "spirit" (pneuma), used to refer to the Holy Spirit, is neuter in gender form. In v. 14, the opening relative pronoun "which" refers back to "the Holy Spirit of promise" in v. 13 and is properly neuter in gender form in the text of NA27. However, some early (and most later) manuscripts substitute the masculine gender form of the relative pronoun "who" here, acknowledging the personal character of the Holy Spirit. This is not the only place this occurs in the NT and it is even grammatically acceptable in Greek (and Latin) to substitute a natural gender form for a grammatical one. In either case, we hardly have to rely on this variant to prove the personal nature of the Holy Spirit. As an interesting study, look at what the Holy Spirit does in the NT: baptizes, leads, empowers, causes people to prophesy, bears witness, comforts, guides into truth, groans, intercedes, speaks, raises from the dead, etc.—these are not the actions of an impersonal force, so the gender form of the pronoun in Eph 1:14 is hardly needed to establish this.

The final variant in Eph 1:1–14 is the most interesting and the most difficult. In v. 1 the words "in Ephesus" are missing in several (though not all) early manuscripts. The implication of this is that the letter to the Ephesians may not have been sent originally to Ephesus after all but to some other unknown destination. Now the first thing to note is that this should come as no surprise to you if you read your Bible closely, since all major translations have a footnote mentioning this variant reading in the manuscripts. You don’t have to go to seminary to learn that there are variations in the manuscript tradition since our English versions report quite a few of them as well.

But what do we do with the missing reference to Ephesus in v. 1? In fact, this is one of the more difficult variants in Ephesians to untangle. The manuscripts that omit "in Ephesus" are among the earliest and best witnesses to the early reading of the text. This could mean that the omission occurred very early in the copying process, but it is usually taken to indicate the reading of the autograph manuscript. If "in Ephesus" is not original, the problem is twofold. First, Paul normally identifies the city of his recipients at this place in his epistles. Consider these three letter openings, for example:

Rom 1:7 "To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Phil 1:1–2 "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

2 Cor 1:1–2 "To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Now compare Ephesians:

Eph 1:1–2 "To the saints who are [in Ephesus], and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

There is certainly an expectation that "in Ephesus" or some other location would be expressed in Eph 1:1.

Secondly, when "in Ephesus" is omitted it is possible to still make sense of the phrase to mean something like: "to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus." However, this is very clumsy in Greek and seems to be unduly repetitious since the saints are faithful by definition. This is such a problem that many scholars including myself believe for these and other reasons that "in Ephesus" is the reading of the autograph and that it was omitted from early manuscripts for some unknown reason, though many plausible suggestions have been offered. We should also note that the traditional heading of the letter as "to the Ephesians" is found in the early manuscripts.

Let us say, though, that we are wrong here and "in Ephesus" is not the original reading. Then Paul would have written the unusual and awkward "to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus." The result would be that we would know with no certainty who the original recipients were beyond members of an early Christian congregation. In this case we would have to regard Ephesians to be like Hebrews, 1 John, or Jude, which are epistles sent to unknown destinations. I fail to see how our interpretation of Ephesians is impacted by this beyond a nuance or two here and there. No doctrine of our faith rests on the destination of this epistle!

The case of this last textual variation in Eph 1:1 brings out something that we should emphasize in conclusion. Paul addressed his epistle either "to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus" or "to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus." These are the two options witnessed in the manuscript tradition. What this means cannot be stressed enough: we know without any serious doubt that one of these two readings is what Paul wrote on the autograph document. Yes, it is true we do not have the papyrus (or parchment) scroll Paul wrote upon, but we do undoubtedly have the very inerrant words he wrote evidenced in the thousands of manuscript witnesses. All the autograph readings have indeed most assuredly survived, so that the task of text criticism is to discern through careful study what the original reading most likely may be. Generations of dedicated, immensely talented Christian scholars have devoted their lives to the study of textual variations in the NT at least since the days of Erasmus in the early 16th century, in order to discern the reading of the autographs. As fruit of their selfless labors, we undoubtedly do have the reading of the autographs either in the texts or the variants given in the footnotes of our Greek editions.

Yes, there are places where we have real doubts about what the original reading of the biblical text might be. Yet in no case can anyone responsibly assert that our Bible is full of errors which could undermine anyone’s faith in the inerrant Word of God. If they do have doubts, it is not because of the facts of the case, and so perhaps we should keep Menander’s Old Cantankerous in mind.

S. M. Baugh
Professor of New Testament

© 2006 Westminster Seminary California. All rights reserved.

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Oh the Formality!

Steve sent me this link:

He commented,

Yet another tell-tale sign that Western Civilization is on the brink of collapse :-(
There's something a tad hypocritical about this. Back when I was attending chapel at WSC, it's not as if they were conducting the service in the ye olde Puritan style.

If they really think contemporary worship is decadent, why don't they lead by example?

Speaking for myself, I prefer a pictorial response, but, to be honest, no one picture quite captures what I want to say. Ergo, when it doubt:


I. At one level, it’s irrelevant at this stage of the game what anyone thinks of Pres. Bush. He’s a politically enfeebled, lameduck president who, for better or worse, blew on his political capital on an unpopular war. On top of that he decided to burn his base on other issues like bloated budgets, open borders, and censorship of political speech.

He’ll be out of a job next year. So, at this point, both he and we are playing out the clock.

But the value of doing a postmortem on the Bush presidency is that how we measure Bush will carry over into the next election and the next administration. Many of the issues are the same issues, at least for the time being, and the yardstick is the same.

I happen to think that Bush was a pretty decent first-term president, and in many respects he might be better off had he remained a one-term president. On the one hand, he made some excellent judicial appointments, pushed through tax cuts, opposed abortion, same-sex marriage, and stem cell research, promoted school choice and faith-based programs, opposed the Kyoto and ABM treaties, and conducted a counterterrorist campaign that has, thus far, forestalled another 9/11.

For some reason, he seemed to lose his nerve after he failed to reform Social Security. It may also be that the war effort and relentless criticism have worn him down. He’s become risk-averse.

But it’s important to remember the good things he did because politicians don’t have much incentive to do right when their good deeds are so quickly forgotten.

II. It’s been fascinating to see the ease with which urban legends about the Bush administration have found fertile soil and become deeply rooted. This is all the stranger because we’re not talking about some poorly documented event from the distant past, but about recent events in our own lifetime, which we’re living through in real time, on live TV, at a time and place where the primary source documentation is only a mouse-click away.

Yet, despite all that, the legends abound. Bush stole the 2000 election. He stole the 2004 reelection. Bush is responsible for global warming. Bush is responsible for Hurricanes. Karl Rove outed a covert, undercover operative. We systematically torture detainees at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. Bush “lied” us into war by predicating an “imminent threat.” Bush “lied” us into war by predicating a direct, Iraq-9/11 connection. 9/11 was an inside job. The Neocons staged a coup d’etat. And so on and so forth.

So many of the attacks have been directed, not against Bush the man, but Bush the legend. And in many ways, the legend is far more impressive than the man. Unfortunately, this sort of thing makes it very difficult to sort out rational criticism from irrational criticism.

For example, Popular Mechanics has attempted to debunk some of the 9/11 conspiracy theories. Now, I don’t think Popular Mechanics has the same editorial bias as the Weekly Standard or the National Review, yet—to judge by reaction in the combox—you’d suppose its science writers were on the White House payroll.

One has to peel away so many layers of legendary embellishment that there’s not much time left over to level genuine criticisms against the Bush administration.

III. If the tinfoil punditry were confined to the leftwing spectrum, it would be easier to discount, but, unfortunately, some of this is also infecting segments of the rightwing spectrum.

Many conservatives act disillusioned. They act as if Bush betrayed the conservative cause.

But Bush didn’t run as a libertarian or Reaganite. Bush is not an ideologue in the sense that Newt Gingrich or William F. Buckley is an ideologue. He’s not enough of an intellectual to be an ideologue.

We need to hold our candidates to realistic expectations. Otherwise, we become bitter and demoralized when they don’t live up to our ideals.

Some of the attacks on the Bush administration have simply been petty. Bush originally advocated a “humble” foreign policy. He was originally opposed to “nation-building.”

And it’s true that his subsequent policy has been inconsistent with his original, campaign rhetoric. He changed his mind. Why? 9/11.

In light of 9/11, he decided that the status quo was a failure. That kind of reversal is not, of itself, something to attack.

A reasonable man should be free to change his mind in the light of new evidence. Change policy if the old policy failed.

Many policies are shortsighted. As long as the potential threat is only an abstraction, we don’t focus on the threat and consider every logical implication or unforeseen contingency.

This is not to say that the new policy is above criticism. Maybe the new policy is just as impractical, in its own way, as the old policy.

The point, though, is to distinguish rational criticisms from irrational criticism. To attack Bush simply because he changed course in response to an unprecedented national crisis is not, in and of itself, a rational criticism. Do we want a commander-and-chief to be consistent if the policy is unsuccessful?

Let’s take some other examples. We’re told the Iraq war was illegal. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that this charge is true.

What are laws for? Are laws a means to an end, or an end in themselves? Do laws exist to protect the innocent from the guilty, or to protect the guilty from the innocent?

If a law keeps us from defending ourselves, then isn’t that a bad law? Isn’t the problem with the law? Don’t we need to change the law?

What kind of counterterrorist legislation should we have? Laws that protect terrorists from us—or laws that protect us from terrorists?

Take the specific question of “torture.” Of course, this way of framing the debate is already prejudicial. Indeed, it’s means to be prejudicial.

But what are we supposed to do with a “high-value” terrorist suspect who may have actionable intel? He’s not going to volunteer the goods. He’s not going to voluntarily tell us about sleeper cells and budding plots.

Are we not allowed to use any methods at all that would force the information out of him? Why does he have the right to keep this information to himself? Why does he have the right to put us all in mortal danger?

Or take the controversy over warrantless wiretaps. What’s the real issue? To obtain a warrant, you have to satisfy a legal burden of proof—probable cause. Now the question is whether we should apply this legal standard to the interception of overseas, enemy communications in time of war? Shouldn’t the question answer itself? Should a foreign jihadist be accorded the rights of an American citizen?

Or take the status of the detainees. They pose a dilemma. On the one hand, we know they’re dangerous. On the other hand, we don’t have enough legal evidence to convict them.

Should we be releasing terrorists, whom we know to be dangerous, because our judicial system is not adapted to deal with unlawful combatants whom we pick up on the battlefield?

Once again, what’s the rule of law for? Do we have a rule of law for the sake of following the rules. Or is it supposed to serve a purpose? If laws are meant to be functional, shouldn’t we change bad laws? Or should we cite the rule of law as a mushroom cloud is forming in the background?

People turn to vigilantism when government doesn’t do its duty. They take the law into their own hand when the state either refuses to enforce good laws or chooses to enforce bad laws.

Or take the doctrine of preemption. There are folks, on both sides of the political spectrum, who oppose the very idea of preemption—under any circumstances.

If the police saw a sniper position himself across from a playground, the war protesters would tell the SWAT team to wait until the sniper got off the first few rounds—with a few dead women and children lying about—before the sharpshooter was allowed to pull the trigger.

Now, there’s no doubt that preemption is risky. Preemption can backfire. There are unforeseen consequences.

But both action and inaction entail unforeseen consequences. So it comes down to a question of risk assessment and risk management.

Some folks are more fearful of a potential evil than they are of an actual evil. They are so haunted by the prospect of a possible abuse that they would rather follow a set of rigid, man-made rules right over the cliff than allow for any element of human discretion.

It’s like those doomsday scenarios in which we design artificially intelligent military computers, and then turn our missiles over to the supercomputer—with no manual override.

Or, to take a final example, what about “racial” profiling? On the one hand, libertarians are concerned with the dragnet approach to counterterrorism, in which everyone is a suspect. And I happen to share that concern.

On the other hand, these are the same critics who take the position that no one has rights unless everyone has rights—the very same rights. Therefore, we should treat jihadis like POWs and American citizens.

But, if that’s your position, then it puts everyone under suspicion. After all, we mustn't “discriminate.”

Speaking for myself, we ought to profile Muslims. So here I happen to think the libertarians are half-right. Unfortunately, where they’re wrong directly negates where they’re right.

The Bush presidency has failed in many respects, but unless we ourselves bring some ideological clarity to the table, even a “dream” candidate like Huckabee would be doomed to fail.

History And Harmonization

A particularly fascinating illustration of the need to explore creative harmonization possibilities before concluding for irreconcilable differences comes from historians Barbara Allen and William Montell. In their book on methodology for conducting local historical research, Allen and Montell investigated two different accounts of the 1881 lynching of two young men - Frank and Jack McDonald ("the McDonald boys") - in Menominee, Michigan. One account claimed that the boys were hung from a railroad crossing, while the other claimed they were strung up on a pine tree. The accounts seemed hopelessly contradictory until Allen and Montell discovered old photographs that showed the bodies hanging at different times from both places. As macabre as it is, the McDonald boys apparently had first been hung from a railroad crossing, then taken down, dragged to a pine tree, and hoisted up again. Sometimes reality is stranger - and more gruesome - than fiction.

This particular episode is all the more interesting because it bears a certain resemblance to the apparently conflicting accounts of Judas's death. Matthew tells us Judas hung himself (Matt. 27:5), while Luke states he "fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out" (Acts 1:18 NIV). Skeptics have consistently belittled the harmonizing proposal that perhaps Judas hung himself from a tree, and either the limb or the rope he hung from broke, causing him to fall. Yet such a proposal seems less far-fetched than what in fact turned out to be true about the double hanging of the McDonalds. Were it not for the discovered photographs, historians who treated the differing traditions of the boys' tragic hanging as skeptically as many New Testament critics treat the Gospels would be insisting that at least one of the accounts must be wrong. In fact, however, both were accurate.

As a final illustration, the necessity of engaging in harmonization attempts was recognized by film writer and director John Cameron while working on the script for his blockbuster movie Titanic. In a documentary interview on the making of his film, Cameron explained that he discovered numerous conflicts in the available eyewitness reports about what happened on the Titanic's fateful voyage. Some of these reports were given in court under oath, and there was absolutely no reason to doubt their essential veracity. Yet, as is typical of multiple eyewitness accounts, these reports contained a variety of apparent contradictions. Despite these conflicts, however, Cameron reported that he found enough in common among the reports to start reconstructing the main lines of what actually happened.

This is how good, critical history should be done - whether we are talking about the sinking of the Titanic, the life of Alexander the Great, the hanging of the McDonald boys, or the life of Jesus Christ. In virtually all cases of independent reports of a single event, we should expect to find some apparent conflicts....

The bottom line, as Gilbert Garraghan explains in his Guide to Historical Method, is that "almost any critical history that discusses the evidence for important statements will furnish examples of discrepant or contradictory accounts and the attempts which are made to reconcile them."...

Interestingly enough, even those skeptical scholars who claim to reject a harmonizing method cannot, in fact, escape it. Often they engage in extraordinary attempts to harmonize conflicting data. For example, in one currently fashionable image of Jesus - that of a radically hellenized Cynic philosopher with little that is religiously Jewish about him - the evidence for the thoroughly "Jewish" nature of first-century Palestinian Judaism must be explained away (harmonized, if you will) to comport with the thesis of a largely non-Jewish Jesus. So too, the strained attempts to reconcile the New Testament data with the "radical early Christian diversity thesis," speculative efforts to redactionally stratify Q and reconstruct the "history" of its community, and attempts to prioritize (both chronologically and ideologically) the Gospel of Thomas over the canonical Gospels all in their own ways incorporate harmonizing strategies.

Indeed, we submit that these attempts to harmonize conflicting data often are as speculative and historically implausible as anything Harold Lindsell or any other fundamentalist ever proposed....

All of this means that if harmonization is appropriate - even necessary - as an aspect of good historical methodology in general, it is all the more so when we are dealing with texts written in orally dominant cultures such as that of the Synoptic Gospels. It means we have to understand that, unlike written accounts produced within a highly literate context, the various episodes recorded in the Gospels very likely were intentionally written and consciously received as what we would consider fragmentary in nature - as composed of "parts" of the Jesus tradition that were intended to signal the "wholes" that stood behind them. They were designed primarily to call to memory through narrative allusion and traditional referentiality a much broader, shared oral history, anchored by the testimony of trusted witnesses. While texts characterized by a literate conception are meant primarily to "convey information," texts such as the Gospels driven by an oral conception are intended to "activate" the shared, orally transmitted knowledge of the community - knowledge that was profoundly constitutive of the community's very identity.

These observations reveal that the basic assumption that fuels responsible harmonization attempts - the awareness that texts that offer apparently conflicting data may represent partial, fragmentary, allusive retellings of a richer, denser, well-known account - is precisely what is intentionally at work in orally oriented texts like the Synoptic Gospels. If ever we should be willing to entertain responsible attempts to harmonize conflicting data, therefore, it is with orally oriented texts such as these. (Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007], pp. 424-426, 428)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Prejean's Legoland theology

Prejean continues to regale us with his own homegrown brand of theology:

“Likewise, it [faith] faces inherent limitations, in that it must always return to these sensory concepts that are necessarily inadequate, which convey truth only analogically according to the creature/Creator distinction.”

i) This takes empiricism for granted, and uses that as a theological filter on God-talk.

ii) Even if we were to grant his theory of knowledge, it isn’t obvious why sensory concepts would be “inadequate.” We use analogical reasoning all the time.

iii) I don’t believe that Thomism restricts all God-talk to analogical predication. As I recall, the transcendentals are univocal.

iv) There are other problems with Prejean’s grasp of Thomism, but since he hasn’t bothered to defend Thomism in the first place, there’s no particular reason to discuss him many misunderstandings.

“Concepts are used only instrumentally in this sort of faith as a kind of means to sustain the principle of right action, so they do not convey knowlege in the scientific sense, but a sort of practical wisdom…This is also the Catholic view of Scripture. Inspiration is fundamentally a practical kind of knowledge, with the author (or angel) guided by a principle of right action, but not in the anthropomorphic sense of some conceptual content being communicated to him as in human speech. The inspired agent remains an agent, not a mouthpiece, guided by wisdom and faith. Thus, they are not communicating concepts delivered to them by God; rather, they are through their own proper action expressing this practical wisdom guiding them to act.”

i) Notice the false antithesis between “agent” and “mouthpiece,” as if the inspired writer cannot be an “agent” in case the Lord conveys certain concepts to his mind.

ii) Apparently, Prejean rejects propositional revelation. In that event, the Bible doesn’t convey factual information about the church or the papacy or the Virgin Mary or the sacraments or any of those other dogmas which Catholic theologians claim to find, at least implicitly, in the pages of Holy Writ.

iii) Observe that Prejean simply issues his armchair theory of inspiration without any reference to the self-understanding of Scripture.

Let’s take the category of visionary revelation. Not only does this include visions, but it often includes auditions as well. The seer will hear God or an angel or a heavenly saint speaking words to him.

This is far stronger than planting raw concepts in his mind. Rather, fully verbalized concepts are planted in his mind. He doesn’t even have to articulate the ideas, in his own words, but simply quote what he heard in his vision. Not all verbal revelation has to be that direct, but it illustrates the principle.

Yet Prejean’s arbitrary and a priori theory of inspiration has no room for this phenomenon, even though it’s a major category of divine revelation in Scripture. It would be beneath Prejean to consult revelation for a model of revelation. It would be beneath Prejean to consult the Bible for a theory of Biblical inspiration. Instead, he sits in his room with the shades drawn and intuits theology.

Tinkerbell Exists!

This is odd:

"Everything exists. Trees exist. Rocks exist. Unicorns exist. Minds exist. Dreams exist. Atheists exist. God exists. Hallucinations exist. A term that is predicable of everything, however means nothing. ...[E]xistence is indistinguishable from nothing." - John Robbins, Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System, 1997, p.87

"Being and reality are so universal as to be meaningless. A word that is applicable to everything is applicable to nothing. if trees exist and are real, so do dreams exist and are real. Hallucinations are real hallucinations" - G.H. Clark, The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark, 410

If you were to ask either of them, "How does a unicorn exist, I thought they didn't?", they would reply, "No, they do exist, they exist as concepts in your mind."

Well, not quite so fast.

Isn't there a distinction between a unicorn existing and a concept of a unicorn existing? Those are not the same claims, the same proposition.

In fact, a unicorn is a winged horse with a single horn protruding out of the head.

Now, to say that "A unicorn does not exist" is to say "there is no thing that is a horse and instantiates the property of being winged and horned.

My concept of a unicorn does not instantiate the properties wingedness and hornedness.

So, it seems plainly false to me that "unicorns exist." A concept, drawing, or image of a unicorn may certainly exist, but that is not the same thing as saying that a unicorn exists.

If they're right, the good news is that fairies, like Tink, will not have to worry about dropping dead. Fairies are "real," they "exist." Remember when Pan said,

"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead."?

And how did they bring Tink back?

"She's going to die unless we do something. Clap your hands! Clap your hands and say, 'I believe in fairies!'" [The children shout] "I do believe in fairies, I do! I do! I do believe in fairies, I do! I do!"

And so at best, Clark and Robbins have found a way to keep the fairy population from shrinking.