Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Does Jas 1:13 contradict Calvinism?

Victor Reppert has cited Jas 1:13 as a problem passage for Calvinism. In this post, I’ll quote Reppert’s objection; then I’ll quote the response of four NT scholars (Beale, Hamilton, Poythress, Schreiner) whom I emailed; then I’ll quote three commentators (Davids, Green, Pratt) on this verse or related verses of Scripture.

I’m not offering a philosophical response to Reppert. Rather, since he raised an exegetical objection, I’m responding to him on his own terms. An exegetical response to an exegetical objection.

Victor Reppert

If you take the Calvinist position and reject libertarian free will, it seems that what we find in James 1:13 comes out false. Not only must we say that we were tempted by God, God guaranteed before the foundation of the world that we would succumb to the temptation.

Jim Hamilton

I think that the text is simply saying that God is not tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone to it.

This fits easily, I think, with texts like Rev 6 (which has all these divine passives, the evil agents "were given" their power and authority, etc.) and Rev 17:17, where God puts it into the hearts of the evil to do their purpose. God equips the wicked and allows them to do their worst, then they go out to kill and conquer and tempt and lead astray.

God is not doing the tempting, the evil agents are. The only reason the evil agents get any traction when they tempt humans is that humans desire evil, which gives birth to sin, which brings forth death. So James is exonerating God from being evil or from doing evil, but he isn't denying God's sovereignty.

Vern Poythress

Various verses do indicate that God "tests" people (e.g. Gen 22:1). The word "tempt" indicates an inciting to do evil which is inconsistent with God's moral character. The issue then has to do with the relation of the moral (preceptive) will of God to his decretive will. Everyone, including Arminians, has to recognize a distinction in order to deal with God's decreeing of the crucifixion (Acts 2:23; 4:25-28).

Gregory Beale

There is not enough time for me to comment on this topic to the degree that it deserves, since it is a very big issue. I am afraid that I will merely have to say that the point of this verse is, at least partly, to affirm that God does not directly "tempt any one." People can directly tempt themselves, the ungodly world can tempt people directly, and Satan and demonic powers can tempt people directly.

Nevertheless, on the other hand, God is ultimately sovereign over all of these. Good examples of this are Job 1-2: God does not directly tempt Job but Satan does, nevertheless all of Job's evil is said to come from God ultimately (see, e.g., Job 1:16, 21 and 2:10). In such matters, God is not accountable but the intermediate agents of tempting are accountable, as is also the human who commits sin, after succumbing to temptation.

Tom Schreiner

I would simply say that I don't think Jas 1:13 poses a great problem. We have always believed that God is sovereign over all things (Judas' betrayal, etc.--Acts 2:23; 4:27-28) w/o being guilty of tempting people to sin. Calvin always argued that the ultimate resolution to the problem is a mystery, and that we hold to all that scripture says. God hardens the hearts of sinners, but he doesn't tempt people to sin. That's what scripture says.

Peter Davids

It would be wrong to consider this a theodicy; James is not explaining how a good God can permit evil…His focus is practical rather than theoretical.

Commentary on James (Eerdmans 1983), 81

Richard Pratt

As the story of Job illustrates so clearly, one of his [Satan’s] duties as “accuser” is to tempt and test human beings…Although God himself tempts no one (see Jas 1:13), God gives Satan permission to test believers (see Mt 4:1-10; Lk 22:31-32; Rev 2:10).

1 and 2 Chronicles (Mentor 1998), 170

Gene Green

What God sends them in this judicial act is, first, “powerful,” a term that describes some kind of supernatural and powerful action (2:9 and the verb in 2:7; 1 Thes 2:13). This “power” produces in them a great “delusion.” Since they did not receive the truth of the gospel, God sends them confusion so that they cannot distinguish between truth and “the lie” and, in the end, they believe “the lie” as if it were the truth.

As strange as this kind of judgment may seem to us, it is in harmony with the biblical witness, which shows the way God gives sinners over to the very sin and error they have embraced (Ps 80:12-13 [81:12-13]; Rom 1:24,26,28; 11:8; 2 Tim 4:4). The thought is similar to that in those texts in the OT that describe how God uses malignant spirits to execute his judgments and will even employ the inspiration of false prophets (2 Sam 24:1/1 Chr 21:1; 1 Kgs 22:19-23; Ezk 14:9.

The Letters to the Thessalonians, (Eerdmans 2002), 323-24.

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