Friday, May 08, 2009

A cross-examination of a "contextual examination" of 1 Cor 10:13

An Arminian marsupial has responded to a previous post of mine:

Let’s address his major contentions:

Since Steve based his entire argumentation on two quotes, (one from a commentary that actually supports our view and undermines his own, and one from a popular Calvinist book promoting inevitable perseverance), which apparently qualifies as the “detail work.”

i) Needless to say, my entire argument isn’t based on two quotes. Indeed, it’s foolhardy for Ben to level that allegation since I can easily call his bluff.

ii) Apropos (i), the level of my argument was pitched at the level of Ben’s original post. That doesn’t mean I don’t have more in reserve.

iii) It’s very ironic to see Ben dismiss one of my sources on the grounds that this is a “popular” work which doesn’t qualify as a detailed analysis.

a) On the one hand, Schreiner’s book is a 337-page monograph (plus index) on the specific issue of apostasy and perseverance.

b) On the other hand, Ben feels free to quote from a number of popular-level commentaries on 1 Corinthians, e.g. Blomberg, Bruce, Calvin, Henry, Mare, Morris, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown.

He only quotes from two scholarly commentaries on 1 Cor (Barrett, Thiselton). Witherington’s commentary is a mid-level commentary.

c) And since he brings it up, how should we rank commentaries on 1 Corinthians? At present, the major commentaries on 1 Cor are by Fitzmyer, Garland, and Thiselton. Fee’s commentary is still an important commentary, but it’s been overtaken by later commentaries.

What is especially interesting is that one of the quotes Steve furnishes us with to support his conclusion that this verse is “talking about the specific temptation to deny one’s faith” actually undermines his conclusion and supports ours,

“The noun ekbasis, ‘way out,’ certainly could mean the latter, the eschatological trial, but Christians may also rely on God for the ekbasis of lesser struggles throughout the course of life. In this context, Paul seems to be thinking primarily of trials involving idol meat or seduction to idolatry,” J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians (Yale 2008), 389. (emphasis mine)

As I pointed out in my original post, idolatry is a paradigm-case of apostasy in Biblical theology.

Anyway, let’s examine Steve’s assertion that I have turned the passage inside out in an attempt to prooftext libertarian free will, and that the passage actually undermines my conclusions. He quotes a few people who say that the issue at hand is idolatry, and then draws the conclusion that this idolatry could only refer to absolute apostasy (finally denying the faith). Well, where in the text did he come to that conclusion? The passage never says anything about repudiating faith, nor does it mention apostasy. We are not permitted to ignore context and draw ideas from other portions of Scripture and read them into this text, remember?

I quoted Fitzmyer and Schreiner on the context. Ben is also driving an unscriptural wedge between apostasy and idolatry. But when OT Jews commit idolatry, that’s an act of apostasy. That makes them covenant-breakers. Likewise, if a new covenant believer is guilty of idolatry, that’s a breach of covenant.

It’s not an act of apostasy for a pagan to commit idolatry, since a pagan was never a member of the covenant community. But in the case of Jews and Christians, idolatry implies apostasy.

And I’m not the only one to make that linkage (as we shall see).

Steve has really painted himself into a tight spot. He has not suggested that apostasy can merely be included among the temptations that Christians may face as described in this passage, but insisted that apostasy is the sole temptation being described here by Paul. He has also suggested that idolatry, in this context, can only possibly equal a denial of faith.

In verses 1-9, Paul speaks of numerous instances of sins that the Israelites committed during their desert wanderings. Let’s examine some of these verses and see what we find…So we have heeded Steve’s plea to focus on context and found that the context offers nothing of a necessary correlation between idolatry and outright apostasy as Steve claims. We have also found no reason to understand “temptation” in verse 13 as an exclusive reference to denying the faith. Rather, the context covers a wide range of sinful behaviors that can be avoided through God’s faithfulness and power.

Two problems:

i) The question at issue is not whether Ben happens to see idolatrous apostasy in these passages. The real question is whether Paul is citing these passages to illustrate that particular sin. How does Paul understand these passages? How does Paul deploy these passages to support his conclusion?

ii) Apropos (i), let’s quote from two major commentators on the preceding verses (leading up to and including 10:13). Incidentally, I don’t think that either Fitzmyer or Garland is a card-carrying Calvinist. Fitzmyer is a liberal Jesuit, while I think Garland is Arminian.

“He [Paul] emphasizes God’s categorical intolerance of Israel’s idolatry and Israel’s worst sin in making the golden calf and offering sacrifice to the idol…He has in mind a metaphorical harlotry (Num 25:1-9; Rev 2:14,21)…He alludes to Num 25:1-9, which recounts the people having sexual relations with the women of Moab and then being invited to sacrifice to their gods,” D. Garland, 1 Corinthians, 460-62.

“The litany of Israel’s sins in Ps 105LXX (106 MT and Eng.) provides the best backdrop for understanding the reference to the grumbling…’grumbling’ (Ps 105:25/1 Cor 10:10), ‘committing fornication,’ as a figurative reference to idolatry (Ps 105:39/1 Cor 10:7)…The psalm also lists idolatry (Ps 105:19,28,36-39/1 Cor 10:7,14) and eating idol food (Ps 105:28) in its condemnation of Israel’s apostasy,” ibid. 464.

‘In Rom 11:11-12, however, ‘stumbling’ and ‘falling’ refer to ‘the loss of salvation, not just occasional slips,” ibid. 466.

“Avoiding all overt associations with idolatry would invite hostility, especially when one was a guest at the home of a religiously minded host who offered food that had been sanctified by an idol…The social problems created for Christians who abandoned idolatry are described in 1 Pet 4:3-4…Withdrawing from all idolatrous functions would scuttle any ambitions for social advancement, impair patron/client relations, fuel ostracism, and damage economic partnerships,” ibid. 468.

“Paul warns the Corinthians about the danger of idol worship…Paul now alludes to Exod 32:1-6…Aaron consented and took their gold rings to fashion them into a molten calf…This was the classic incident in the Exodus from Egypt when the grumbling Israelites became idolaters. Their grumbling and craving had led even to such idolatry. To emphasize the seriousness of such craving Paul quotes the OT verse about idolatry, which is the only explicit OT quotation in this passage,” J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians, 385.

“The idolatrous worship of the Israelites took the form not only of a banquet, in which Israel ate (probably quail and manna) and drank water (from the rock), but also of a sport or dance in which they reveled before the golden calf that they were worshipping,” ibid. 385-86.

“He [Paul’ alludes to another OT incident of idolatry, that at Shittim, where Israelites are said to have played the harlot with daughters of Moab, who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods,” ibid. 386.

Nowhere does 1 Cor. 10:13 guarantee that the Christian will endure temptation or take the way of escape provided by God, whether this “temptation” is an exclusive reference to apostasy, as Steve believes, or to sin any number of ways (as the context bears out). In short, Steve has inferred “something from the text that simply isn’t there”. We might even venture to say that “his interpretation doesn’t begin to represent a close reading of the text or context.”

This is what Paul says:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

And this is what Paul would say if he were Arminian:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. Unfortunately, God can’t intervene to stop you from falling. Divine interference would violate the Libertarian Prime Directive. Whether you resist temptation or succumb to temptation depends on your willpower. Good luck!”

“[Thiselton] Hence Paul rebukes the notion that those who are accustomed to taking part in cultic meals are victimized. They see themselves as those who . . . ‘have no choice but to . . .’ (748)

“[Thiselton] Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so siezed by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice: the situation brings a temptation; but alongside the temptation God will also provide an exit path . . . they can be assured that they will be provided with an exit path, which will both provide a positive (and better) alternative and take away their alibi” (748).

[Ben] *These comments by Thistleton are especially significant in that he essentially draws the same conclusions concerning the reality of choice in this passage as I did in the initial post that Steve criticized.

i) That’s hardly the point Paul is making. And it doesn’t even follow from Thiselton’s own comments.

Paul isn’t saying that God has given the Corinthians a choice to either commit idolatry or avoid idolatry. Paul’s point is about freedom from something, not freedom to do one thing or another. Despite social pressure, the Corinthians Christians will not be forced to commit idolatry. Idolatry is not one of their God-given choices. To the contrary, freedom from idolatry is their God-given choice.

ii) I’d add that classic Arminians are in no position to talk about the “reality of choice,” defined in libertarian terms. Given their theological precommitments to divine foreknowledge and conditional election, Arminians can’t logically subscribe to libertarian freedom.


  1. Steve,

    I have a favor to ask you. Could you please put live links into any posts that respond to or criticize one of my posts? If you would do that then I could see from my dashboard whenever you link to one of my posts, which would alert me to responses such as these. I don't check your blog very often and you guys post so often that it is easy to miss a response like this. I would hate to miss an opportunity to respond, just because I don't check your blog often enough.

    Also, it seems to me that people are more likely to click a link and read the original post if it is a live link, than if they have to cut and paste the link into a search engine. I know that is my tendency anyway.

    I'm not sure why you do it this way since it is so easy to create hyper links when making a post. You can, of course, do things however you like at your blog (and maybe you have a good reason for not making live links). Just asking a favor, that's all.

    Thanks for taking it into consideration. I will be looking to have a response up to this by some time next week, and I will link directly to this post when I do.

    God Bless,

  2. steve king solomon committed idolatry in the ot but he didnt apostasize right?