Friday, May 29, 2009

"Faith, hop and charity, and the greatest of these is hop."

An Arminian marsupial has responded to something I wrote.

“I was going to respond to Steve’s second response point by point and exchange rhetorical blows with him along the way, but I think such a response would only serve to distract us from the main contentions at issue here.”

An alternative explanation is that Ben found the exegetical material which I quoted from Garland and Fitzmyer to be unanswerable, so he’s trying to deflect the reader’s attention away from his inability to deal with it by taking a detour around the unanswerable material.

“Steve also cited a commentary by Fitzmyer, which I pointed out actually agreed with my view against his own.”

Ben falsely alleged that Fitzmyer actually agreed with his view.

“In my response, I pointed out that Steve had really painted himself into a tight spot.”

In his response, Ben made a feeble and failed attempt to paint me into a tight spot.

“I countered by showing that Paul references numerous sins in the surrounding context and that Steve’s narrow view seems obviously forced in light of Paul’s specific use of language in 1 Cor. 10:13.”

Ben countered by adding his misinterpretation of OT texts to his misinterpretation of NT texts.

“Since Steve seemed to suggest that my interpretation was so obviously wrong, and since Steve seemed to build his entire case on two sources (one which ultimately did not even agree with him).”

Both of which completely agree with me. I corrected Ben on that contention–among others.

“I concluded my response by citing numerous commentators that agreed with my interpretation against Steve’s.”

He cited a number of popular and/or dated commentaries, along with one or two scholarly commentaries. Of these, Thiselton is the most significant, and even Thiselton doesn’t actually support his contention.

“(Several of them written by Calvinists, including John Calvin himself).”

Really? How many of the commentators he cited believe in limited atonement or double predestination or irresistible grace or unconditional election or the perseverance of the saints? Let’s see the documentation.

By definition, a Calvinist doesn’t think that you can lose your salvation. Therefore, no Calvinist would construe 1 Cor 10:13 as a prooftext to disprove the perseverance of the saints.

“Steve has raised the bar very high in suggesting the passages can only be understood to be addressing the ‘temptation’ of finally denying the faith, and for that reason needs to produce a tremendous amount of compelling evidence in order to lend any credibility to that claim.”

I don’t need to produce a “tremendous about of compelling evidence” to support my interpretation. I only have to show that my interpretation is the best interpretation of the verse.

“After reading his last post, I can’t imagine how Steve would think he has offered sufficient evidence to prove my view untenable while establishing his own view as the only plausible interpretation.”

That’s rhetorical posturing.

“Rather, he has only succeeded in clouding the issue and diverting attention away from his monumental task of proving, from the text, that Paul is speaking solely of the temptation to deny the faith in 1 Cor. 10:13, while actually guaranteeing that no believer ever will fall to that specific temptation.”

i) If my task is “monumental,” then Ben’s contrary task is equally monumental.

ii) I “clouded” the issue by quoting two leading commentators (neither of whom is a Calvinist) who document that Paul’s statement in v13 is framed within the context of idolatrous apostasy. That material is directly on point.

“Steve spends a significant portion of his post complaining that I have dismissed the only book that gave him any support for his unusual interpretation of the passage.”

i) I measured Ben’s sources by his own yardstick. By that yardstick, most of them came up short.

ii) Nothing unusual about my interpretation–as I’ve documented. And a commenter in Ben’s meta agrees with me:’

“I’m convinced that the ‘fall’ mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:12 is referring to apostasy from Christ and the Christian faith that can occur if the believers in Corinth persist in idolatry and the attending immorality that is common place at these social events/banquets. In my research I have found several commentators and academic works on 1 Cor 8:1-11:1 that hold to this view as well. The work that I have found the most impressive is . . .
Paul and Apostasy: Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation (Paperback)_by B. J. Oropeza”

Continuing with our marsupial:

“When I said that Schreiner’s work was ‘popular’ I did not mean to suggest that it was worthless or should be discounted.”

Now Ben is dissembling. The only reason, in this context, to mention that Schreiner’s monograph was allegedly “popular” was to prejudice his readers against this source.

Ben is now upset because I applied his yardstick to his own commentaries.

“If Steve sees that as a negative, then that would seem to be his problem, not mine.”

Aside from Ben’s dissembling, his hasty retreat from his original insinuation is counterproductive. If he doesn’t have a problem with popular works, then he should have no problem with Schreiner’s “popular” monograph–as he chose to classify it.

“However, I do not think it is irrelevant to mention that Schreiner’s work is not a commentary, since commentaries are typically less biased and are more concerned with exegesis than upholding or dismantling a particular theological systematic. Schreiner’s work, on the other hand, is specifically focused on defending the Calvinistic view of inevitable perseverance.”

i) Really? And are we to suppose that Ben Witherington’s commentary on Romans–to take one example–doesn’t have a theological agenda?

ii) It’s also a false dichotomy to drive a wedge between exegesis and defending a particular position. For example, monographs are also written to uphold the deity of Christ against unitarian cults. Does Ben think their exegesis is inferior to the exegesis of a Jehovah’s Witness?

“My point was simply to identify these works and their purposes along with the fact that Steve’s post was totally dependent on quotes from these two works.”

His point was simply to marginalize the material I cited. It’s a standard tactic: if you can’t address the material on its merits, you try to marginalize the material.

“One essentially agreed with my exegesis against Steve, and the other did not.”

Ben keeps reiterating his misrepresentation of Fitzmyer–even after he’s been corrected–in the hopes that a repeated falsehood will efface the truth.

“Based on these two sources (one, really), Steve concluded that my exegesis was out of harmony with the context.”

No, I merely cited two standard works to illustrate my point.

“Yet, Steve did not spend any time interacting with the context himself. He just quoted two sources and assumed that everyone would see these sources as conclusive on the matter.”

The level of my response was calibrated to the level of his original argument–such as it was. If he gives more detail, I can give more detail.

“My response was an attempt to actually do some detail work.”

Yes, he offered a detailed fallacious argument in follow-up to his simple fallacious argument.

“I further pointed out Steve’s double standard in not abiding by the rules of ‘detail work’ that he imposed on me (i.e. reading things into the passage that are not there, etc.).”

In Ben’s odd little mind, he imagines that if a person quote a sentence or two from a one or two sources, then that’s all he has at his disposal. Needless to say, both Schreiner and Fitzmyer say much more on the subject than what I quoted for illustrative purposes.

“If my ‘evidence box’ and ‘warehouse’ were ‘empty’, then the same must be said of Calvin, Morris, Bruce, Thiselton, Blomberg, Barrett, and others.”

Ben is standing in front door of an empty warehouse, shouting into a microphone to stall for time while he gets someone to go around to the service entrance in the rear and hustle a few empty packages in the warehouse so that when the inspectors come back, he can then exclaim that the warehouse always had a few packages in storage.

“I wasn’t trying to create a battle of commentaries or pit scholars against one another. Nor was I rating some scholars (like Schreiner) as less important than others.”

I’m sure he wasn’t–since Ben is too shortsighted to anticipate the countermoves. Some commentaries are obviously more important than others for ascertaining the sense of a particular verse or passage.. That’s because some commentaries are more detailed or up-to-date than others. If you’re serious about the exegetical literature, you turn to the best available commentaries and monographs–and not just whatever you can lay your hands on, regardless of how dated or skimpy the coverage is. Ben is trying to make up for in quantity what he lacks in quality.

Does he seriously think a Puritan commentary is the best resource to ascertain the meaning of 1 Cor 10:13?

“I never would have mentioned a single commentary if Steve hadn’t first criticized my post based solely on two quotes. He can go on and on about what he had in ‘reserve’, but the fact remains that his post was all about those two quotes, and lacked any effort on Steve’s part in supporting his argument, or showing mine untenable, through a careful examination of the text.”

As I said before, I answered Ben on his own level. That’s how it works. You say something, I respond in kind. You say something, I respond in kind. My response is calibrated to the level of your statement.

“ In short, it would be an understatement to say that Steve had taken what was at best a minority view, and then painted me the fool for not agreeing with it.”

In short, it would be an understatement to say that Ben is doing a patch-up job to salvage the inadequacy of his initial foray.

“ All of this about different commentaries and reading more into ‘popular’ than was intended, amounts to little more than a red-herring that diverts attention away from the fact that he has still not managed to conjure up any substantial support for his strained interpretation.”

All of this is about Ben’s attempt to win in the post-game recap what he lost on the field. So, before he ever gets around to his reply to my latest post, he treats the reader to his slanted, self-serving version of previous exchanges.

“The bulk of Steve’s response is concerned with finally emptying the great ‘reserve’ of information that supposedly supports his initial claims; but all Steve can produce are several comments by various commentators which mention the background of idolatry and apostasy in several of Paul’s OT allusions in verses 5-12.”

Which is the necessary lead up to what Paul is referring to in v13. Idolatry, apostasy, and the connection between the two–over against which is God’s promise to the believer.

“This is apparently true of the sources Steve now makes use of, since he did not produce a single quote that agreed with him on 1 Cor. 10:13.”

Ben can’t follow his own argument. I already quoted two scholars on v13. But he accused me of taking the verse out of context. Therefore, what I did in response was to cite some of the supporting material. Putting the verse in context.

“Steve would have saved himself considerable time and effort by just reading what I had written in my last post. Nothing he has produced is contrary to what I have said above. In fact, it seems that all of his sources would be in basic agreement with me.”

What they agree with is the context of v13, which has reference to idolatrous apostasy–and that, in turn, supplies the background for God’s promise to the believer.

“These are specific sins and none of them necessarily constitutes apostasy. If Paul was speaking only of apostasy here, then he sure went about it in a strange way. We would have to conclude that whenever we ‘grumble’ or ‘complain’ or ‘try the Lord’ or ‘crave evil things’, that we have denied the faith to the point of final apostasy.”

I quoted from the expositions of Fitzmyer and Garland to document what these sins had reference to in their OT historical setting. Ben blows right past the contextual definitions and redefines them to suits his purposes. That isn’t exegesis. That is acting in defiance of exegesis.

“Paul does not give general references to apostasy on a whole and then apply that principle to the Corinthians. Rather, he takes pain to apply each sin directly to their present situation and the various like sins (those common to man) they might be tempted to commit.”

He cites specific historical precedents to illustrate a common motif.

“It is likely, though, that Paul intends for them to keep in the back of their minds that continually giving in to such temptations can eventually lead to the terrible consequence of drifting from God to the point of final apostasy.”

That’s a conclusion without a supporting argument.

“Notice Paul doesn’t say that this person commits apostasy. Rather, Paul says that in such an act the weak believer’s conscience is ‘defiled’. A defiled conscience is a far cry from a final and deliberate act of apostasy.”

In this verse, the weaker brother isn’t committing idolatry. (See below.)

“Notice Paul doesn’t say that this person commits apostasy.”

Notice Paul doesn’t say this person commits idolatry.

“Rather, Paul says that in such an act the weak believer’s conscience is ‘defiled’. A defiled conscience is a far cry from a final and deliberate act of apostasy.”

Irrelevant. Paul is dealing with a variety of scenarios. One scenario isn’t interchangeable with another. In chap. 8, he’s not dealing with actual idolatry, but imagined idolatry.

“This is very problematic for Steve’s position, but fully supports my own. Paul says that the weak believer, who eats as a result of the stronger believer’s example, is ‘ruined’. The KJV says that the weak brother will ‘perish’, and the NIV says that the weak brother will be ‘destroyed’. All of these sound pretty serious. Perhaps Steve would jump on this as supporting his case that such an act constitutes apostasy. But if this is apostasy being described, then Paul plainly tells us that a true believer ‘for whose sake Christ died’ can be ‘destroyed’ by an act of idolatry spurred on by the actions of a stronger believer. Steve, of course, denies that any believer for whom Christ died can ever be destroyed, and so would think twice in seeing this as an act of final apostasy. But if he does not see it as apostasy, then his position crumbles, for here would be an example of a believer committing idolatry in a similar manner as Paul describes in chapter 10 (even in the same context of food sacrificed to idols), and yet that idolatry not constituting apostasy.”

Multiple problems with this claim:

i) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this refers to eschatological judgment, the damnatory deed is not idolatry, but acting in violation of one’s conscience.

ii) One needn’t to be a Calvinist to reject the eschatological interpretation. For example, in commenting on the parallel passage in Rom 14:15, one scholar says:

“Paul uses the powerful verb apollumi in the present imperative, which implies an ongoing process rather than once and for all ‘being lost before God.’…Horst Baltz is therefore closer to the nuances required by this context in suggesting the translation of lupeo in this verse as ‘injured/deeply troubled,’ which implies an ongoing state…That ‘that’ person is ‘being destroyed ’is clearly a ‘metaphorical’ use of the word, but it does not imply the temptation to apostasy except in a secondary sense…References in the commentaries to ‘eschatological ruin’ or ‘spiritual ruin’ not only overlook the tense of the verb but also provide scant explanation of the effects of conscience violation,” R. Jewett, Romans, 861-62.

Likewise, Thiselton apparently agrees with Gundry-Volf that the reference in 1 Cor 8:11 is existential rather than eschatological (653f.).

iii) Even if we accept the eschatological interpretation, a warning merely states the ultimate consequences of an action; it says nothing about the probability that such a warning will be violated. Indeed, a basic function of a warning is to serve as a disincentive to all such actions.

iv) The Reformed doctrine of the atonement isn’t based on verses which simply state that Christ died for X. Rather, it involves verses which describe penal substitution.

“Truly, he is on the horns of a dilemma here. Either deny that such a case of idolatry necessarily constitutes apostasy (contrary to his prior claims), or affirm that one for whom Christ died can be ‘destroyed’ (contrary to his Calvinistic belief in limited atonement and inevitable perseverance).”

False dilemma. Idolatry involves idolatrous intent. Not simply eating meat which happens to be dedicated to an idol–by someone else. But eating such meat with the express intention of honoring the deity to whom it was dedicated.

Paul, himself, goes out of his way to accentuate the importance of intent to distinguish true idolatry from incidental appearances.

“Maybe Steve will just say that Paul is speaking of impossibilities, since no true believer could ever eat food sacrificed to idols to his own destruction. But then Paul’s dire warning to the stronger believer loses all force.”

i) Maybe Steve will just say that Ben is ignoring the psychological distinctions which Paul has drawn between actual idolatry, imagined idolatry, and the innocent consumption of food dedicated to a god.

ii) Moreover, this is an issue of nested possibilities:

a) If it is possible for a true believer to flagrantly and persistently disregard Biblical admonitions,

b) Then it’s possible for a true believer to lose his salvation.

However, the possibility of (b) is contingent on the possibility of (a). If (a) is impossible, then (b) is impossible.

The question is whether God preserves the elect from (b) by preserving the elect from (a).

iii) Furthermore, classic Arminians subscribe to conditional election. So in what sense can a Christian, whom God elected on the basis of foreseen faith, lose his faith, and thereby his salvation? Is conditional election a revolving door?

Even on Arminian grounds, Ben’s position is illogical.

“Another solution would be…”

A solution to a pseudoproblem of Ben’s own making.

“So, quite simply, as I have said before, my view does not have to eliminate apostasy as one of those things that is included in ‘No temptation’. Rather, Steve needs to prove that “No temptation” amounts solely to ‘No temptation to finally deny the faith.’ This, Steve has failed to do.”

To the contrary, Ben has failed to interact with the exegetical material I cited to substantiate my interpretation of 10:13.

“Again, the context of chapter 10 bears out that Paul is making reference to the damaging affects of sin in general (with special attention given to those sins which fall under the category of “idolatry”), and the potential for such sins to damage (even destroy) relationship with God and bring severe judgment.”

As I’ve just shown, Ben is building on a false premise. He’s using his misinterpretation of 1 Cor 8 to prop up his misinterpretation of 1 Cor 10. One thing you can say about Ben: when he’s wrong, he’s consistently wrong!

“It is important to notice, though, that in 1 Cor. 10, apostasy is kept more in the background and is not Paul’s immediate concern. His immediate concern is the various temptations to sin that believers face every day.”

i) This simply disregards the background material I cited without offering a counterargument.

ii) Moreover, Ben has a problem on his hands. If every sin represents a falling away (as he loosely construes 10:13), and if he denies that 10:13 furnishes a promise of divine protection against spiritual defection, then every Christian is hellbound since every Christian sins.

“Steve hasn’t really added anything new to the conversation. He has done nothing to substantiate the assertion that ‘No temptation’ in 1 Cor. 10:13 means ‘No temptation to finally deny the faith’.”

To the contrary, Ben accused me of taking the passage out of context. I then quoted from Fitzmyer and Garland to support my contextual interpretation of the passage. Ben ignores what he can’t refute. Then pretends that nothing was said to corroborate the original interpretation.

“He has also done nothing to explain how, according to his interpretation, he came to the conclusion that God irresistibly causes the believer to take the ‘way of escape’ (since he sees the passage as a proof text for inevitable perseverance and a guarantee that no believer will ever commit apostasy).”

From the nature of the divine promise. And notice that the promise is not a conditional promise.

“First, we need to address Steve’s horrible straw man understanding of the Arminian position regarding the context and limits of human freedom. The issue has nothing to do with what God ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ do. It is a matter of what God ‘will’ and ‘will not’ do according to His own sovereign freedom. God is free to create free agents and hold them accountable for the decisions they make.”

Of course, Ben defines “free agent” in libertarian terms. That definition entails a self-limitation on what God can or cannot do with regard to Christians. Given those prior constraints, God can’t prevent a born-again Christian from losing his salvation.

“Arminians simply maintain that God has endowed His creatures with a measure of free will. God certainly does ‘interfere’ (or ‘intervene’), by fully equipping and empowering the believer (in this case) to resist temptation and take the way of escape provided by God. This has nothing to do with a ‘Libertarian Prime Directive’, but with God’s sovereign right to interact with his creatures within the context of the God given ability to make genuine choices in certain situations.”

This is the Orwellian way in which Arminians redefine standard terms. Ben throws in the word “sovereign,” as a pious, face-saving device to make it sound as though Arminians believe in divine sovereignty. But Ben has already circumscribed God’s field of action such that God can’t actually prevent any Christian from losing his salvation.

Rather, we have an Arminian form of deism in which God equips human beings in general, or Christians in particular, with certain abilities or potencies, then leaves them to sink or swim.

“And this is what Paul would say if he were a Calvinist who meant the passage as Steve Hays suggests,
‘No temptation has overtaken you but such as God has unconditionally and irresistibly caused you to be tempted with, despite James 1:13’s insistence that God does not tempt anyone’.”

Three basic problems:

i) Ben is filtering Paul through James. I guess that’s good Roman Catholic methodology, but it’s bad exegetical methodology. We should interpret Paul on his own terms, just as we should interpret James on his own terms.

ii) In addition, he doesn’t even bother to interpret his Jacobean prooftext. But as one scholar explains:

“No solid line should be drawn between v12 and v13, as if James drops the topic of testing to take up the issue of temptation. His concern, rather, is to help his readers resist the temptation that comes along with the trial. For every trial brings temptation…Thus testing almost always includes temptation, and temptation is itself a test…The OT often makes clear that God himself brings trials into the lives of his people…But while God may test or prove his servants in order to strengthen their faith, he never seeks to induce sin and destroy their faith,” D. Moo, The Letter of James, 72-73.

Therefore, even if Jas 1:13 were pertinent to 1 Cor 10:13, my interpretation of 1 Cor 10:13 is perfectly consonant with Jas 1:13.

iii) It’s not as if Arminian theology holds the copyright on Jas 1:13. According to Arminian theology, God created these tempting situations when he created the world. God knowingly places men and women in these tempting situations. If Jas 1:13 is a problem for Calvinism, then it’s equally problematic for Arminianism.

“[And believe me, though it appears utterly nonsensical, God unconditionally and irresistibly causing us to be tempted is quite different from him tempting us], and such as is common to man; and even though I speak of no temptation but such as is common to man, and it would sound like I am talking about any and every temptation you might experience, I really only mean the one specific temptation to apostasy.”

I see that Ben suffers from ADS. Despite the amount of exegesis I put on the table from scholars like Fitzmyer and Garland, Ben defaults to his acontextual reading of the passage.

“And hey, don’t worry, though every sin you commit was unconditionally decreed by God, and you have no choice but to commit every sin that you do because God has unconditionally predestined you to do it.”

i) And hey [according to Arminianism], don’t worry, though every sin you commit was foreseen by God, and you have no choice but to commit every sin that you do since the outcome cannot be otherwise than God’s foreknowledge of the outcome.

ii) In addition, God isn’t forcing the sinner to do something which he would otherwise refrain from doing. There’s nothing in particular which a merely possible agent was going to do. There are any number of things a possible agent could have done. A merely possible agent has no default setting. Nothing in particular he would choose to do.

Rather, a merely possible agent is like a character in a novel. There are any number of things which the novelist could make his characters do. The novelist chooses which one of these possibilities he will incorporate into his story. By choosing what the character will do, the novelist isn’t making the character do something contrary to what the character would otherwise do.

“God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able only in the case of apostasy, because after all, he is the one unconditionally and irresistibly causing you to be tempted.”

Because after all [according to Arminianism], God created these tempting situations and knowingly put you in these tempting situations.

“Because after all, he is the one unconditionally and irresistibly causing you to be tempted, but with the temptation will also irresistibly cause you to take the way of escape provided for you”

Ben thinks that this is a clever way to satirize predestination. But if Ben took his cue from Bible history rather than his silly little mind, he’d see that, as a matter of fact, God does put individuals or larger groups in tempting situations for the express purpose of subsequently delivering them from the ordeal which God himself set up. God did that with Abraham. God did that with Job. God did that with the Israelites in Egypt. This is a common biblical motif. Ben thinks he’s mocking Calvinism, but he’s mocking the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“But with the temptation will also irresistibly cause you to take the way of escape provided for you, but only when it concerns apostasy; other than that one specific temptation to sin, you’re on your own, but at least in that one type of temptation, it is so that you cannot possibly fail to endure it.”

Is Ben so ignorant of Reformed theology that he actually thinks this is an accurate statement of the opposing position?

Reformed theology doesn’t take the position that Christians are on their own except when tempted to commit apostasy. The issue, rather, is God’s decretive will in any particular case. On the one hand, God has reasons to prevent the elect from committing apostasy. On the other hand, God also has reasons not to prevent the elect from committing certain other sins which fall short of apostasy. In no case are Christians on their own. For that matter, the reprobate are never on their own. God has a purpose for unbelievers.

“[But this is only the case for the elect, and, of course, you can’t know that you are elect until you endure to the end, so you can’t even really be sure this promise has any meaning for you at all].’ (1 Cor. 10:13)”

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the elect can’t be certain of their own election, how does that distinguish Reformed unconditional election from Arminian conditional election–much less merely corporate election?

And wouldn’t that alleged uncertainty attach to every single promise in Scripture?

“Idolatry is not necessarily a “God-given choice”, but it is certainly a “choice” based on the pull of the still remaining sinful nature and the influence of the fallen world. Yes, because of God’s gracious intervention they are free to resist temptation, but that doesn’t mean that they are not still free to resist God’s gracious intervention and fail to take the way of escape He provides. The fact that many of them have already fallen to such temptations is likely the main reason Paul is addressing the matter. And since Steve has yet to establish that Paul is speaking solely of the temptation to finally deny the faith, his comments here would force us to conclude that believers never fall to temptation of any sort.”

Since I have, in fact, established that interpretation, and since Ben’s studied avoidance of the supporting material I presented is a tacit admission that I succeeded in establishing that interpretation, Ben’s argument backfires.

“Truly, Paul tells us in Romans 8:2 that believers have been ‘set free from the law of sin and death’ (‘freedom’ from something [sin], just as Steve describes above). Yet, who would conclude from such a passage that believers are now incapable of sinning?”

i) Wesleyan perfectionists, for one.

ii) On a related note, here is something a famous Arminian Bible scholar recently said:

“This is an excellent question, and it is quite impossible to answer on the basis of what little you have said about this person. But consider these two possibilities: 1) the first go around the person was not in fact a Christian, did not love the Lord with all their heart etc. They were in a state much like the demons described in the Gospels-- who knew very well who Jesus was and did not dispute it, but this truth had not transformed their lives and behavior, as evidence by this person going AWOL. Mental assent to the Gospel is not the same as being saved. The issue is had they trusted and adhered to, and been transformed by and lived on the basis of that truth? 2) the very fact that this person now has a heart for God, and the other things you mentioned, is evidence that they did not commit apostasy in the first place which is a soul destroying act.”

iii) Moreover, Ben is resorting to a diversionary tactic by discussing sin in general, whereas the question at issue is the specific sin of apostasy.

“And if they have the freedom not to sin, and not to fall into temptation, then whenever they do sin they have made a real choice between legitimate alternative possibilities (which reflects one fine definition of LFW, the ability to make a real choice between legitimate alternative possibilities). Steve’s comments have only further established the reality of libertarian freedom in these passages. Maybe he is finally starting to get it.”

i) That’s not a logical implication of what Paul said. Whether they sin or not means that God made a choice between alternate possibilities. God instantiated one possible course of action rather than another.

ii) Ben also overlooks the fact that, in God’s economy, God uses sin to further his appointed ends. Joseph’s brothers were not at liberty to either sell him into slavery or refrain from so doing. For selling him into slavery was instrumental in God’s long-range plan for the Israelites. Yet it was sinful for his brothers to sell him into slavery.

Pharaoh was not a liberty to either release the Israelites or refrain from so doing. For God used Pharaoh’s intransigence as a foil to manifest his supremacy over the gods of Egypt. Yet Pharaoh’s intransigence was sinful. King Saul was not at liberty to either be faithful or faithless. For God used Saul’s infidelity as a means to inaugurate the Davidic covenant, which was, in turn, a necessary installment in God’s messianic designs. Yet Saul’s infidelity was sinful. Pilate and the Sanhedrin were not at liberty to either condemn Christ or acquit him. For God was using their actions to advance his plan of redemption. Yet their actions were sinful.

“Paul makes it clear that they do have a choice.”

i) Yes, they do have a choice. Which doesn’t mean a choice between polar opposites. Rather, it means they aren’t condemned to commit idolatry. Why? Because God shut that door by opening another door.

ii) Moreover, Calvinism doesn’t deny that nominal believers can succumb to apostasy. 1 Corinthians is a public letter, addressed to a general audience. The Corinthian church was a mixed multitude of elect and reprobate members.

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