Monday, June 01, 2009

The anatomy of a sideways waffle

Have you ever seen a sideways waffle? It’s not a pretty sight. And not only is it painful to watch, but it’s even more wince-inducing to hear the snapping tendons and popping joints as a desperate opponent tries, at one and the same time, to backpeddle without retracting his original claim.

This got started when, in response to an Arminian marsupial, I pointed out that 1 Cor 10:13 has contextual reference to idolatrous apostasy, along with God’s corresponding promise of protection.

Our marsupial denied this interpretation. He went so far as to say that I “had taken what was at best a minority view.”

At this point, an unwary Arminian commenter, in what he took to be the privacy of the combox, made a damning admission:

“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.”

That obviously support’s my interpretation rather than Ben’s.

But, at the time he made this damning admission, it didn’t occur to Witzki that the enemy was monitoring the chatter in the combox. When the enemy intercepted this unguarded statement, that put Witzki in a bind. How could he repair the damage without losing face?

He then posted a follow-up comment. He begins by saying: “It has come to my attention that Hays has used my brief comment about 1 Cor. 10:12 being a reference to apostasy for supporting his belief that the ‘temptation’ in v. 13 is the specific temptation to commit apostasy. I am in agreement with you that that is not what Paul intended to mean.”

Really? So what’s the relation of v12 to v13? Indeed, notice that, in his original comment, he seemed to apply this interpretation (i.e. idolatrous apostasy) to 1 Cor 8:1-11:1. So that would also apply to 10:13, yes? A unified interpretation involving a common motif (i.e. idolatrous apostasy)?

And near the end of his subsequent comment he says, “Whether the ‘fall’ in v. 12 is a warning about apostasy, or that it refers to a warning about some form of divine punishment that will occur, is a debatable issue.”

Debatable? But in his original comment he said “I’m convinced that the ‘fall’ mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:12 is referring to apostasy…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.”

How did he suddenly go from being “convinced” that v12 refers to idolatry, and supporting his conviction by alluding to “several commentators and academic works,” to treating the referent as a “debatable issue”?

In his subsequent comment, he also says “We, and the Corinthian believers, are faced with a variety of temptations that Paul says are ‘common’ to humankind.”

But in his original comment, he appeared to gloss the commonality as having a historical reference to the fact that this temptation was “commonplace at these social events/banquets.”

That’s quite different than claiming that these temptations “are ‘common’ to humankind.” Indeed, he’s offered a culturebound interpretation of the commonality in question. Far from being a cultural universal, this was only a “common” temptation in a specific historical setting. The 1C “social events/banquets” that Paul was alluding to.

So how is that inconsistent with my interpretation of v13? Christians who attended these “social events/banquets” were exposed to a type of temptation distinctive to that particular setting, at that time and place.

“While it is true that the temptation that the Corinthians were faced with in this context was both idolatry and immorality, all temptations to sin can lead to apostasy if persisted in.”

Notice that he’s reaffirming a restricted contextual interpretation. In context, it has reference to idolatry and immorality.

And, of course, as I documented–in the material which I cited from Fitzmyer and Garland–idolatry and immorality are both sins of apostasy–in the OT passages to which Paul is alluding. So that confirms my own interpretation.

And his additional statement that “all temptations to sin can lead to apostasy if persisted in,” is a red herring.

i) To begin with, that truism is irrelevant to the specific meaning of 1 Cor 10:13.

ii) In addition, Calvinism doesn’t deny that persistent sin of various kinds can lead to apostasy.

So this is just a decoy to take our eyes off the implications of his original statement.

Finally, he says: “As you have so ably demonstrated in your post, ‘The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture,’ 1 Cor. 10:13 is one of the many passages where ‘the Calvinistic doctrine of determinism is simply incompatible with Biblical language concerning choice and responsibility’.”

“We are in agreement that ‘the Calvinistic doctrine of determinism is simply incompatible with Biblical language concerning choice and responsibility.’ Hays has not presented anything in his discussion on 1 Cor. 10:13 that demonstrates otherwise.”

Several problems:

i) The onus is not on me to demonstrate that Reformed determinism is compatible with Biblical language concerning choice and responsibility. All I have to demonstrate is the fact that Ben misinterpreted his prooftext (1 Cor 10:13). And Witzki essentially agrees with me, although he tries, after the fact, to camouflage his agreement.

In addition, if Witzki thinks that Biblical language concerning choice and responsibility supports libertarian freewill, then the Arminian doctrine of divine foreknowledge, as well as the Arminian doctrine of conditional election, are equally incompatible with Biblical usage as well:
ii) If election is based on foreseen faith, then how can the elect choose to commit apostasy? How can the elect lose their faith if God chose them on the basis of their faith? What faith did God foresee if some of them lose their faith? How are the elect free to either be believers or unbelievers if their election is contingent on their status as believers?

Can they lose their election? If they can lose their election, then what does their temporary election do for them? Why did God temporarily elect them in the first place? What is God electing them to or for?

After all, conditional election is not election to service. Even on Arminian grounds, conditional election is soteriological.

iii) Libertarian freewill is also at odds with divine foreknowledge. If God knows what someone will do, then that individual is not at liberty to do other than what God knows he will do. For the ability to do otherwise would also entail the ability to falsify God’s belief. The ability to bring it about that God’s belief is mistaken.

There are ways to back out of this, but at a cost. You can deny that future propositions are truth-valued. The price for that move is to deny that Biblical prophecies and promises are truth-valued.

Or you can bite the bullet by outright denying that God knows the future–a la open theism. Neither of these moves is available to the classic Arminian.


  1. This post would be funny if it wasn't so sad. It looks like you made a blunder by trying to sieze upon a comment in Ben's combox that you mistakenly thought agreed with you. Come to find out, the comment did not agree with you, if authorial intention means anything (since the author has stated his comment did not agree with you). That's quite a problem for your argument since so much of it against Ben originally was citation of two sources. But Ben showed that one of them actually disagreed with you (Fitzmyer; something you bafflingly deny as if you were denying 2 + 2 = 4)! Now you misread a comment in a combox as agreeing with you when it didn't. It calls into question your exegetical skills. You appear to assume others agree with you when they don't, and then claim victory on this basis. And to top it off, your comments come off as practically questioning Witzki's integrity in relation to his clarification. It is bold to try and take your own blunder and try to make it work for you by attacking the clarification of the comment by the author you misread. But it doesn't change the fact that you claimed he agreed with you when he didn't. You misread him just as you seem to be misreading the commentators, upon which you have based so much of your case. It's probably time to concede that you are arguing for what Ben rightfully called a minority position *at best*, one that is in such a minority because it is rather implausible.

  2. What you've done here is to make a series of groundless assertions while studiously avoiding any attempt to actually deal with my arguments. Your comment would be funny if it wasn't so sad.


    "Come to find out, the comment did not agree with you, if authorial intention means anything (since the author has stated his comment did not agree with you)."

    Do you apply that standard to broken campaign promises? Or is it possible for a politician to backpeddle, make inconsistent statements, reinterpret early claims, &c.?