Saturday, July 16, 2011

Patristics and family planning

In light of the current kerfuffle over birth control, I'd just draw attention to a post I did last year:

A tale of two Tuggies

One of the ways that Dale Tuggy tries to salvage unitarianism is by appealing to exalted intermediaries in 2nd Temple Judaism. But there are several problems with this move:

i) He’s classified agential/instrumental categories under subordinationist unitarianism, which he distinguishes from his own position (i.e. humanitarian unitarianism). So why is he appealing to harmonistic devices which he himself rejects?

ii) Before he can invoke sectarian Intertestamental literature, he’d need to show that the NT writers who use deific ascriptions for Jesus thought that sectarian literature was sufficiently authoritative to supply a precedent for Christology.

iii) Darrell Bock has written a standard monograph on the subject: Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism (Baker 2000). Even the most exalted creatures in 2nd Temple Judaism fall far short of what’s said about Jesus. And even these lesser ascriptions provoked a pushback. As Bock says, summarizing his documentation and analysis:

The image of an exalted Enoch appears to have been countered by other Enoch traditions arguing that he only observed and recorded the judgment, was punished as Metatron-Enoch, or even failed to be among the righteous (Tps-Jon to Gen 5:25; 3 En 16:4-5; TOnq to Gen 5:24; Gen R 25:1). The exalted Moses imagery also seems to have received attention as needing clarification that prevented a misunderstanding (Philo, Questions on Exodus 2:29). These counter traditions indicate that some had a degree of discomfort with placing someone so close to God (162).
Enoch-Metatron is given great authority over heavenly affairs, but he also is disciplined when that authority is misused in a way that might confuse him with God (3 En 3–16)…[This] also indicates the intense fear and reaction such exaltation texts produced when they were seen as giving too exalted a position to someone other than God.
As noted, these final two portraits of Enoch-Metatron and Enoch-Son of Man produced controversy. These figures appear in other passages in ways that show great nervousness about the extent of exaltation attributed to them (Tabr 11:3-8[B]- for Enoch; 3 En 16; b Hag 15a; b Sanh 38b; and b AZ 3b- for Metatron). God’s honor is unique and is not to be confused with anyone else’s status. To equate anyone else with God is to risk thinking blasphemously…The highest forms of exaltation apparently also met with some strong opposition or clear qualification of such claims (182-83).

Catholicism, Onanism, and contraception

According to Anthony Kenny, an expert on Medieval theology,
Aquinas, in the Summa contra Gentiles, in a chapter on “the disordered emission of semen” treats both masturbation and contraception as a crime against humanity, second only to homicide. Such a view is natural in the context of a biological belief that only the male gamete provides the active element in conception, so that the sperm is an early stage of the very same individual as eventually comes to birth. A. Kenny, What I Believe (Continuum 2006), 92-93.
According to the standard Jewish commentary,
The death of Er without a son made Onan subject to the levirate law. Marriage between a man and his brother’s wife is strictly forbidden in the Pentateuchal legislation of Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21. The only exception to the prohibition occurs when the brother dies without a son. According to Deuteronomy 25:5, a man has an obligation to his widowed sister-in-law. This institution is known in Hebrew as yibbum, or “levirate marriage.”
The levirate institution long antedated the Pentateuchal legislation. In fact, it is widely documented in one form or another in several extrabiblical sources. The compendium of laws from the Middle Assyrian Empire (15-14C BCE)…The Hittite laws (14th-13C BCE)…A contract from the town of Nuzi from the middle centuries of the second millennium BCE…[Thus], she would be assured of livelihood and protection. The surviving brother became a surrogate for the deceased husband who posthumously gained a child, socially acknowledged to be his progeny and heir.
The callous refusal of Onan to perpetuate the line of his brother may have been due to a lack of sense of duty to the dead. An even more powerful motivation would have been the fact that with the death of the first-born, Onan inherits one-half of his father’s estate. However, should he provide an heir to his brother, his portion would be diminished.
The text does not make clear specifically why Onan incurs divine wrath. The development of the narrative favors the explanation that it is due to the evasion of his obligation to his dead brother rather than because of the manner in which he acts. By frustrating the purpose of the levirate institution, Onan has placed his sexual relationship with his sister-in-law in the category of incest—a capital offense. The unusual emphasis given to the particular socio-legal background of the story clearly shows that the point at issue is the levirate obligation and not the general topic of birth control. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (JPS 1989), 266-67.
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia,
In common usage often taken to mean improperly completed intercourse or even masturbation. The word is taken from the story of Onan in the Book of Genesis…This was in accordance with the custom of Levirate marriage…Popular usage of the term onanism is based on the assumption that the evil for which the Lord took Onan’s life was his unchastity. This, however, is by no means clear from the text, in which his refusal to conform to the prescribed marriage custom can be seen as the wickedness that brought vengeance upon him. Consequently, no certain argument can be based upon this text to prove the sinful character of either improperly completed intercourse or masturbation. Evidence for this must be sought elsewhere. New Catholic Encyclopedia (CUA, 2nd ed., 2003), 10:600a.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Consensus Patrum

Warren said:

The bible arguments - it has already been demonstrated that those will be rejected regardless.

How would we know that they are going to be rejected if no Biblical arguments have been put forth?

While Onan sinned by breaking the Levetical law he also sinned by spilling his seed. This interpretation carries the weight of virtual any father who wrote about it.

What's missing from this is an exegetical argument. The appeal to consensus as binding and obligatory was already addressed, both in terms of being a fallacy and in terms of violating a commitment to sola Scriptura.

Of course, the universal consensus (if true) would carry some measure of weight, just not the level of weight you and Urbani seem to want it to carry.

I wonder how the consensus of the forbearers of the faith can so cavalierly be dismissed.

I explicitly said that a consensus might very well be taken into account and serve as grounds for caution. That is not "cavalier" in any sense of the word.

However, perhaps it is sufficient to note that Catholics regularly dismiss the "consensus" of generations of the church fathers on various issues, appealing to later fathers when the consensus of earlier ones does not support their position. That is routinely called an appeal to "development," but it is functionally the same behavior you are criticizing here.

You also need to demonstrate that the consensus is really addressing the same bioethical issues we have today. A critical concern with discussion of contraception in the ancient world is whether those church fathers who spoke to the subject thought all forms of contraception ended in an abortion due to what they thought was contained in sperm--a fully formed man. We need to take into account their understanding of biology; we cannot automatically assume their condemnations are directly and strictly applicable to how contraception is practiced in light of the discoveries of modern science.

(If I have the time, I might do a more detailed post looking at the early church's understanding of contraception.)

By the way, I am not so sure the consensus of the fathers is in support of NFP either. My understanding is that even NFP was discouraged as "contraceptive."

There is contention from Matthew that Urbani's claim about church history is unfounded

No, my issue with Urbani's claim is that he merely asserted it. The burden of proof is quite clear here.

Can Matthew or anybody else cite any church father or council document in support of purposefully spilling seed or contraception? If you can't, and he can quote fathers to the contrary, I think his point stands.

You are shifting the burden of proof. Not all that "charitable," I might observe.

There is an elementary distinction between citing fathers that approve of contraception and demonstrating that, as Urbani claimed, we are "expressly going against the teaching of every church father and even Reformed fathers and the christian faith for about 2,000 years."

If you want to temper and qualify Urbani's claim, do so. (I certainly would.) But a qualified claim still requires its own set of supporting evidence, such as citing relevant patristic scholarship. And the more you qualify the claim, the less force it has.

That prior to the 19th century the Catholic Church did not have many statements against birth control only highlights that prior to the 19th century most Christians understood this in good faith. There was no need for proclamations.

That imputes to many church fathers a stance for which you have not provided evidence. If a father did not speak to the issue, then he did not speak to the issue.

I don't think Urbani needs to prove that EVERY church father wrote against it. That would be ludicrous yet it seems to be the standard against which he is held.

If Urbani makes a ludicrous claim, he must defend a ludicrous claim. That, I might add, is hardly our fault. Or does your concept of "charity" require that we be responsible for the errors of our opponents?

Lastly, this is my first time to the blog but if name calling and simple lack of charity is the way visitors with differing viewpoints are treated here than no wonder people ‘bow out.’

It was fairly obvious that there was a "bowing out" due to a lack of substantive argumentation in support of the assertions made against contraception.

As for "name calling," that turns on your conception of "charity" and the norms of discourse--norms we need to have informed by Scripture, rather than our culture of non-offense and affirmation. There are plenty of examples of harsh language, even what would be called "name calling," employed throughout the Scriptures. Obviously there are important nuances that play out in practical ways, such as a distinction between how we address a defiant teacher of a false Gospel in public and an earnest, non-Christian seeker in private, and certainly "name calling" can be used out of an attempt to destroy another person, rather than an attempt to lovingly issue a strong rebuke. But just as there are potential dangers in utilizing the harsh rebuke, there are potential dangers in trying to be too kind and gentle. The emphasis on "charity" can become a pretext for excusing gross errors or the promotion of sanctimonious piety. It also serves as an escape hatch, where the moment someone engages in less than "nice" behavior they are no longer a credible opponent and all of their arguments can be summarily dismissed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Seen and unseen

Paul Helm writes on the problem of evil for a popular audience.

How “Natural Family Planning” (NFP) fails in real life

I didn’t get invited to the Triablogue Triakit+ tournament, and I was surprised to see Andronikos and Junia still up when I got home from work, so I thought I’d post something controversial about sex to try to boil someone’s blood.

Christianity Today’s her*meneutics blog has an article on natural family planning that’s not very flattering toward that practice at all:
Bethany and Sam Torode divorced in 2009 after nine years of marriage, during which they had four children. Early in their marriage, the couple wrote a book called Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception, in which they argued that natural family planning (NFP) is the healthiest, most spiritually enriching contraceptive approach for Christians. …

The Torodes, as other NFP supporters do, argued in their book and here at Christianity Today that not only is NFP as effective as medical forms of birth control when done correctly (which admittedly requires knowledge and practice), but also makes for healthier marriages that more closely align with God’s purposes for husbands and wives. They believe NFP honors our God-given bodies and fertility cycles rather than manipulating them to suit our preferences. It makes each act of intercourse truly open to God’s procreative purpose for marriage. ...

The Torodes’ marriage did not last. But even before they divorced, they renounced NFP in a 2006 statement. They said that NFP can lead to guilt and frustration when the couple desires sex, but has to abstain, particularly given that many women are particularly interested in sex during ovulation. They argued that, rather than embracing God’s gift of the body, NFP can lead couples to reject physical intimacy, either because they don’t want to conceive, or because they are exhausted by raising children whose births may have been unplanned. (The statement is no longer easily accessible on the Internet, so I am paraphrasing based on a variety of sources that quote from it.)
Oh well. One can be assured that Andronikos and Junia didn’t practice NFP.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Andronikos and Junia, Part 2

… and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, (Acts 2:10).

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:7, NIV).

ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου, οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ (Romans 16:7, NA27).

Jewett continues in his description of Andronikos and Junia:
Given the pairing with the male name first, it is likely that Andronikos and Junia are a married couple. Paul refers to them as τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου (“my kinsmen”) which probably indicates Jewish origins for both, as the parallel in Rom 9:3 suggests. That “kinsmen” in this instance refers to fellow Benjamites or “close companions,” swings from over to underinterpreting this straightforward reference, in order to explain the oddity of identifying some of the names in this chapter as Jewish. My audience theory explains such details as Paul’s effort to affirm the legitimacy of some of the Jewish Christians currently being discriminated against by the Gentile Christian majority in the Roman house and tenement churches. By placing himself in solidarity with Andronikos and Junia, Paul counters the prejudicial treatment about which he apparently was well informed.

Andronikos and Junia are not only compatriots, but also “my fellow prisoners,” probably indicating that they had shared a particular prison experience with Paul Since the possessive pronoun “my” along with the prefix συν- (“with, fellow”) indicate shared experience, and since the parallels to the use of συναιχμάλωτός (“fellow prisoner/prisoner of war”) in Phlm 23 and Col 4:10 refer to persons who were evidently sharing Paul’s imprisonments at the times of writing, it seems gratuitous to suggest … that Andronikos and Junia simply “had like him been imprisoned for Christ’s sake, but not necessarily at the same time. That “fellow prisoner” was merely a metaphor I reference to militant struggle … seems most unlikely because it would then remain unclear why all the other early Christian evangelists mentioned in this chapter were not also so designated.

Studies of the Roman prison system indicate that incarceration was ordinarily not used as punishment as in modern jurisprudence but was designed to secure arrested persons until they could be tried, to coerce confessions and other forms of cooperation with magistrates, or to confine condemned persons until they could be punished. Prisoners were typically kept together in confined spaces where the conditions of crowding, inadequate ventilation and sanitation, deprivation of nourishment and sleep, as well as violence among inmates were frequent causes of complaints. The use of iron chains and stocks typically added a significant measure of torturous punishment to Roman imprisonment. Since the prison system was administered largely by military authorities, it was natural for Paul to refer to himself and his colleagues as συναιχμαλώτοι (“fellow prisoners of war”), which was probably understood within the context of the conflict between Christ and the principalities and powers alluded to in Rom 8:38-39 and 2 Cor 10:3-5). Since most of the Jewish community had been brought to Rome as prisoners of war to be purchased as slaves, the choice of this expression would have had an evocative connotation for some of Paul’s audience.

The honorific expression ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις should be translated “outstanding among the apostles” rather than “remarkable in the judgment of the apostles, because the adjective ἐπίσημος lifts up a person or thing as distinguished or marked in comparison with other representatives of the same class, in this instance with other apostles.
Schreiner agrees with this assessment, with some qualification:
How should we understand the words ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις (episemoi en tois apostolois)? Murray (1965:230) is virtually alone among modern commentators in understanding it as “outstanding in the eyes of the apostles.” The consensus view is that the phrase means “distinguished among the apostles.” The latter is almost surely right, for this is a more natural way of understanding the prepositional phrase. In saying that they are apostles , however, Paul is certainly not placing them in the ranks of the Twelve. In 1 Cor 15 (vv. 5, 7) Paul distinguished between the Twelve and the apostles, and so it would be a mistake to think that the latter are coterminous with the former. Other members of the early church had apostolic authority in addition to the Twelve: Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:1-4, 14), and James the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19). It is improbable, however, that Andronicus and Junia had the same level of authority as Paul, Barnabas, and James. The term ἀποστόλος is not a technical term (cf. 2 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25; see Ollrog 1979:9-84), and in the case of Andronicus and Junia the likely idea is that they were itinerant evangelists or missionaries. The term ἀποστόλος is used of itinerant evangelists in the Apostolic Fathers (cf. Did. 11.3-6; Herm. Vis 13.1; Sim 92.4; 93.5; 102.2). They did not exercise the same kind of authority as Paul, Barnabas, or James the brother of Jesus (Schreiner 796-797).
Jewett picks up other ancient uses of the phrase τὸ ἐπίσημον as “used to refer to the badge distinguishing one shield from another,” or “the flag or figurehead that identifies one ship in comparison with an otherwise identical class in the same class.” He cites Chrysostom about Junia: “Even to be an apostle is great, but also to be prominent among them—consider how wonderful a song of honor that is!”

A more debatable question is whether Andronikos and Junia functioned as evangelists or emissaries of a particular congregation, or as witnesses to the resurrection. Since Paul gives no evidence that they had been associated with a particular congregation, in contrast to Phoebe in [Romans 16:1-2], and since his usage of “apostle” is oriented to resurrection witness unless otherwise indicated, it seems likely that he ranked them among “all the apostles” who laid claim to being witnesses of the resurrection. With regard to the locations where Andronikos and Junia served as evangelists, all we can say with certainty is that they had functioned somewhere in the eastern mission during the time of shared imprisonment with Paul, and that they are now in Rome…. Lampe discovered some twenty-nine references to persons with the name of Andronikos in Rome, so there is no reason to suspect he was not a resident there. It seems quite likely that they had missionized in Rome prior to the banishment under Claudius [in 49 A.D.], and had returned to their earlier residence there after the lapse of the Edict. That they were καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ (“also in Christ before me”) means that they were converted prior to 34 C.E., which correlates well with the earlier reference to their apostolic status, because Paul thought of himself as the last in the series of witnesses to the resurrection (1 Cor 15:8). This means that Andronikos and Junia could easily have been among the “visitors from Rome” identified in Acts 2:10 as part of the Pentecost crowd. They could well have been among the Hellenists in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1), who were later scattered to various locations outside of Jerusalem, according to Acts 11:19. The supposition that they were part of the Antioch church seems less plausible in view of their very early origin as Christian missionaries. All we can say with certainty is that this couple had function as Christian apostles for more than two decades before Paul wrote this letter to Rome requesting that they be greeted y other believers in Rome who evidently were not inclined to acknowledge their accomplishments and status (Jewett 964-965).


Without disclosing Tria state secrets overmuch, but to give net denizens a taste of our firepower (as it were), here's one tool in our battle armory which we sometimes use to consolidate our apologetical warcraft across multiple fronts with varied enemies in order to unleash overwhelming force upon recalcitrant foes:

More info here.

Another Revision To John Loftus' Argument

Last year, John Loftus wrote:

Hays (and later Jason Engwer) takes issue with my saying they evaluate other religious faiths using just David Hume‘s evidentiary standards along with a methodological naturalist viewpoint. Any reading of Christian literature on the so-called “cults” will show this statistically. They [Hays and Engwer] claim to evaluate these other religious faiths and miracles as if they are demon produced. Really? How is that anything by way of an objective standard? Yep, demons can account for these other faiths and their miracles. Demons are everywhere. Hays and Engwer can even demonize their opponents, even most other Christians. Such a view is scary to me for certainly they think I am possessed of demons. Yeah, that solves everything when you cannot answer a man’s arguments. Demonize him. Demonize them all. This is such a barbaric view to me. Nonetheless, my OTF eliminates this as any kind of objective standard for evaluating other viewpoints. Muslims claim the same exact thing. They say the reason Christians believe is because demons are deceiving them. Where does that get anyone? I’ll tell you where—nowhere as in NO WHERE.

But earlier this week, he wrote:

Christians claim that any prayer request granted for other believers in different religions is done by their God out of compassion, because only one God exists, theirs. The reason Christians think this, despite the fact that only prayers offered in Jesus' name are to be prayed, is because their own answered prayers have no more evidence for them as the others. So their God becomes the explanation for the answered prayers of a Muslim, or an Orthodox Jew, or a Fred Phelps, or a Roman Catholic, or a liberal Christian, or a Jehovah's Witness, or a Mormon, or a Satanist, or a Hindu.

First he claims that Christians "just" take a naturalistic approach toward non-Christian miracle accounts. Then he acknowledges that Christians like Steve and I attribute non-Christian miracles to demons. (For a response to Loftus' distortion of our view of demonic activity, see my reply to him here.) Then he tells us that Christians attribute some non-Christian miracles to God. But if we just take a naturalistic approach toward non-Christian miracle accounts, then why are demons and God entering the picture? They're not part of naturalism. If our view is nuanced enough to include both demonic and Divine explanations, then why did his initial revision of his argument only mention demons? And where does he get the idea that we "certainly think" he's "possessed of demons"?

The problem here isn't just that John keeps changing his argument. It's also problematic that he would have such misconceptions of Christianity to begin with or would knowingly distort Christian beliefs to such an extent. It's not difficult to discern that Christians have a highly nuanced view of non-Christian miracle accounts. As I've documented in previous responses to John on this subject, the Bible itself takes such a nuanced approach. Given his age, theological education, background as a pastor, many years of experience critiquing Christianity, etc., why does John keep misrepresenting the beliefs of Christians on issues that are so easy to understand?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Imaginary friends

Infidels sometimes ridicule faith in God as analogous to imaginary friends. Imaginary friends are make-believe friends which some young children invent, but later outgrow.

Imaginary friends are also a literary theme. And in fiction, imaginary friends aren’t always so imaginary. Sometimes they’re ghosts, poltergeists, or wee folk.

I haven’t investigated the issue, but I expect that in parapsychology, some “imaginary friends” are, indeed, thought to be ghosts, poltergeists, and so on.

But fiction sometimes turns this around. One SF theme is the use of VR in espionage. A soldier or government official is kidnapped. He is hooked up to a neural interface.

When he regains consciousness, he imagines that he woke up. He finds himself in a world which is indistinguishable from the real world.

Sometimes the virtual world is set in captivity. He’s given a fortuitous opportunity to escape. Or he’s rescued.

When he’s debriefed, he unwittingly divulges classified information to his captors, who appear to be on his side.

Another variant on this general theme are shy or lonely people who create holographic worlds with interactive characters they relate to more easily than their real life colleagues.

To take this one step further, you could have an individual who’s unconsciously immersed in a virtual world. This inverts the relation between real friends and imaginary friends. All of the people he meets in the virtual world seem to be real people. Visible. Tangible. Interactive.

Yet they’re equivalent to imaginary friends, whereas the real real people outside the program are, from his simulated viewpoint, equivalent to imaginary friends.

Maybe he becomes semi-lucid. He remembers people who don’t exist in the virtual world. People from another life.

And here’s the final twist. Suppose he’s a Christian. Within his simulated experience he continues to pray to God. God continues to be invisible, intangible.

Yet the visible, tangible people who populate his virtual world are imaginary, while God is the only real person he can still relate to within his simulated experience. The only person who transcends the simulation. The only person with whom he enjoys direct contact.

At present, VR technology is still quite primitive. But as time goes on, this may cease to be a purely fictitious exercise.

Byl on mature creation

Riffing off the Gospel

I got an email question from a reader of the Abolitionist Society of Oklahoma blog and decided to answer it with an avalanche of Bible.

Hi ____,

It's my pleasure to read your email. Thanks for writing.
Yes, I am a Calvinist, and a recent one, actually. It was only just over 2 years ago that the implications and meaning of John 6:44-45 reached up from the page of the Bible and smacked me right between the eyes.

Your questions raise a lot of common questions, and I encourage you to open your Bible and keep it open as you're working through them. God took the trouble to reveal Himself to us poor rebels, and so let's be sure to follow Him wherever He leads. The questions you're raising have a great deal to do with the relationship of election/predestination and assurance.  How do we know that we belong to Jesus and are not self-deceived?

Let me start off with a biblical foundation and then we can go from there.

Eph 1:3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Note here the intersection of the glory of God and the pleasure He takes in choosing some rebel sinners to whom to show kindness in saving them.  He really likes showing mercy to sinners, even to the point of dying on the cross!  He loved us so much to do that for us.
Note how it's "in love He predestined us" - it's not "in cold logic He predestined us" or "just because He felt like it He predestined us".  His actions toward us are motivated by love and kindness, just as it says in Romans 5:6For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

God demonstrated His LOVE for us in sending Jesus to die on the cross!

Do you believe that?  Cling to the cross; tell Jesus that you're His. Ask Him to save you, every day. Don't walk in discouragement or fear, though. Rather, pray through the Gospel every day, along the lines of 1 Tim 1:15It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

Now, what does the Bible say about those who are not saved?

Jeremiah 17:9“The heart is more deceitful than all else
         And is desperately sick;
         Who can understand it?

10“I, the LORD, search the heart,
         I test the mind,
         Even to give to each man according to his ways,
         According to the results of his deeds.

Romans 3:9...we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;

10as it is written,









Romans 8: 5For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

The mind and heart that is lost and who is still in rebellion against God doesn't care about Jesus.  Lost people love their sin, just as Jesus said in John 3: 19“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."

So do you care whether you have life? Do you recognise your hopelessness apart from Jesus?  Rejoice! He is a perfect Savior. Though you (and I) are a great sinner, He is a far stronger and greater Savior than you are a sinner. Rejoice because if it depends on you in any way, you are hopeless, but since it depends totally on Jesus, we have a great and joyful future. Remember how it says that He predestined us for "adoption as sons"?  We were once enemies of God, but now we are adopted children. We are heirs of eternal life. We have been given the seal, the down payment, of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to 1 John 5: 12He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

Do you believe in the name of the Son of God? Then you have eternal life, and you can know it.

Now, a few other questions you asked.
Arrogant?  Far from it. Rather, biblically speaking, we were rebels and dead in sin.
Ephesians 2:  1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Boasting? Continue with Ephesians 2: 8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 3:23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
 27Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Notice v27 - by what kind of law? Of works? No, a law of faith.
The point is that if it were by law, by works that we did, then we might have some temptation to boast. But we didn't do anything to earn our salvation from sin.  Rather, we contributed sin! Jesus contributed the righteousness.
That is why we boast in the cross.
Galatians 6:14But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

We talk big about Jesus because He is that awesome. We talk ourselves down because we are sinfully prideful and because we are in fact nothing, while Jesus is everything.

Anyway, you said "How do I know I'm in the lucky few that made it?"
It has nothing at all to do with luck. Rather, it has to do with God's purpose. Look at Romans 9:10And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

Now, that's not to say that I know the entire purpose or even very much about it. I know that it's God's purpose to save people for His glory, but there is a lot I don't know.  And that's OK! That's God's business; He's smart enough to take care of that, and because He has transformed me, I trust Him.

Why evangelise? Simply put - God told us to. That is sufficient by itself.
But other reasons - we don't know who the elect are. As far as you know, everyone around you is elect, but only God knows that and He's not telling. He told you to tell people about Jesus and make disciples, so let's go for it and obey Him.
God uses the means to accomplish His will.  He doesn't zap people into the kingdom. He uses the proclamation of the Gospel.
1 Corinthians 1:18For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19For it is written,

20Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

      26For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29so that no man may boast before God.

You said, "I also know that Moses was able to change God's mind"

Was he?  Maybe read the passage again, and ask yourself whether God was receiving new knowledge at that time, or if He was leading Moses along, provoking Moses to intercede for Israel, and then engaging Moses at Moses' level of knowledge.  God doesn't learn. He doesn't change His plan.  If He did, the original plan wouldn't be perfect, would it?  And God would have been corrected, would have improved.  The implications are staggering, but if we realise that God talks in baby-speak to us tiny humans, we can realise that He is instead just sharpening and sanctifying us.
Plus, in leading Moses to intercede, God was showing a foreshadow of the Messiah, who would be the one advocate, the intercessor between God and man (1 Tim 2:4-6).

As for the purpose of the lost, the non-elect, remember that they hate God. They want to destroy and supplant Him despite all His kindness to them in giving a wonderful world in which to live, and breath and food and water and love.
Read Romans 9's discussion of pots and the potter.  We won't fully understand God's purposes about that but we can know that one of the reasons God creates them is to display His sovereignty and the difference between mercy and justice.  Fundamentally, though, we have to ask ourselves to what extent we get to doubt, question, or judge God.  The answer: to no extent.  Let us humbly ask forgiveness and mercy for questioning Him, gratefully accept His forgiveness provided through the cross of Christ, and pray for grace to believe Him more fully.

I hope that helps. Let me know if I can be of any more help.
Romans 11: 33Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Grace and peace,

Andronikos and Junia, Part 1

… and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, (Acts 2:10).

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was (Romans 16:7, NIV).

I’ve spent a lot of time working through the research that describes the households of Rome as one of the basic building blocks of Roman society. How commerce in the city led to movements in and out of the city at the time Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, in the middle of the first century. How wealth and patronage, even as evidenced in the New Testament, naturally led to “leadership positions” that existed in the house churches in Rome, prior to the arrival of the Apostles.

Now I want to spend a bit of time culling other evidence from some of these historical and detail-oriented texts that describe church life in first century Rome.

Lampe notes that “the earliest Christianity spread along the routes that Judaism had already followed: the synagogues were the setting for the first Christian mission. (b) The Jewish as well as the Christian “axis” Puteoli-Rome has a particular economic-historical background. The stretch Puteoli-Rome was the main trade route between the East and the city of Rome in the first half of the first century.”

Robert Jewett, in his Romans commentary, describes Andronikos and Junia, and in doing so, gives another picture of the earliest Christians in Rome:
The names are revealing: Andronikos is a prestigious Greek name frequently given to slaves or freedmen during the Greco-Roman period. Junia is a Latin feminine name, ordinarily given to slaves or freedwoman of the Junia family, of which some 250 examples have been found in Roman evidence. The modern scholarly controversy over this name rests on the presumption that no woman could rank as an apostle, and thus that the accusative form must refer to a male by the name of Junias or Junianus. However, evidence in favor of the feminine name “Junia” is overwhelming. Not a single example of a masculine name “Junias” has been found. The patristic evidence investigated by Fabrega and Fitzmyer indicates that commentators down through the twelfth century refer to Junia as a woman, often commenting on the extraordinary gifts that ranked her among the apostles. The traditional feast of Saints Andronikos and Junia celebrates admirabilem feminam Juniam (“the admirable woman Junia”), which suggests that while some medieval copyists of Romans assumed a male name, the church as a whole had no difficulty on this point until later, particularly after Luther popularized the masculine option. Despite its impact on modern translations based on Nestle-Aland and the UBS [Greek texts], it appears that the name “Junias” is a figment of chauvinistic imagination (961-962).
Schreiner says a very similar thing, in a much more genteel way:
What is of prime interest to modern scholars is the identity of Junia(s). Is the person in question a man or a woman? If the Greek is accented as it is in UBS4/NA27 (Ἰουνίᾶν), then the name is masculine, stemming from the nominative Ἰουνίᾶς (so BAGD 380; RSV, NEB, NASB, NIV, NJB). In these circumstances the name is a contraction of Junianus. Such a contraction is certainly possible, since contractions were quite common generally, and the names Prisca, Patrobas, Hermas, and Olympas are contracted in this list. Some early evidence also supports Junias [the male name]. Most commentaries on Romans, however, favor the feminine Ἰουνίαν (Junia) since the contracted form of Junianus is nowhere found in Greek literature (see NRSV). Moreover, the majority opinion by far until at least the thirteenth century was that the person in question was a woman—Junia. Since the contracted masculine name is lacking in Greek literature and since early tradition identifies Junia as a woman, the likely conclusion is that Junia is a woman, though certainty is impossible. The judgment of many that Andronicus and Junia were husband and wife is also probable (795-796).
This touches on the question of how to reconcile the roles of women in Romans (Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’s mother, and Julia) with what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2, for example (“likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet”). Schreiner goes on to note:
It is clear from this list that women were actively involved in ministry. The verb “to labor” (κοπιᾶν, kopian) is used of four women: Mary (v. 6), Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (v. 12). The word κοπιᾶν is used to describe Paul’s ministry (1 Cor 15:10; Gal 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10) and others who are involved in ministry (1 Cor 16:16; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17). Here it probably denotes missionary work (cf. Cranfield 1979: 785; Kasemann 1980: 412; Wilckens 1982: 135; Dunn 1988b: 892; P. Lampe 1991: 223). What these women did specifically is not delineated, but we cannot doubt that they were vitally involved in ministry. Dunn (1988b: 894) rightly cautions, however, that κοπιᾶν is a general term and does not denote leadership per se.

As a female missionary Junia may have directed her energies especially to other women. As Kasemann (1980:413) remarks, “The wife can have access to the women’s areas, which would not be generally accessible to the husband.” One should scarcely conclude from the reference to Junia and the other women coworkers named here that women exercised authority over men contrary to the Pauline admonition in 1 Tim 2:12. We see evidence that women functioned as early Christian missionaries, and it may have been the case that they concentrated especially on other women, given the patriarchal nature of the Greco-Roman world. The Pauline pattern prescribed in 1 Tim 2:11-15 was the apostolic pattern in the early Christian mission, and the vibrant ministry of Christian women did not contradict the admonitions delivered in 1 Tim 2 (rightly Murray 1965:228; Moo 1996:927; Schreiner 793-4, 797).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Paul Copan replies to Hector Avalos

On Bauckham’s Argument Concerning Divine Identity

The Arminian capers


Josh Thibodaux: Billy, we have to done something about Roger Olson. Can’t the Society of Evangelical Arminians publicly disown him.

Billy Birch: Since he’s a member of SEA, I doubt that’s in the cards.

Josh: Well, what if you and I, Dan Chapa, Ben Henshaw, and some others issue a joint statement.

Billy: I think it’s too late for that. Remember that we used to tout Roger as the true voice of true Arminianism. We referred people to him to correct all the “lies” that lying Calvinists told about Arminianism. How can we disown him now without admitting the Calvinists were right all along?

Josh: It’s a dilemma, all right. But surely there’s something we can do to silence him.

Billy: He’s a tenured professor at Baylor U. So I think he’s untouchable.

Josh: But there’s got to be something we can do. I mean, every time I blast the wicked Calvinists for caricaturing Arminian theology, dog-gone-it if ol’ Roger doesn’t come along and confirm all their worst suspicions. It’s like trying to dig a hole in a rainstorm. It just keeps filling up.

Billy: If only we could have him institutionalized.

Josh: Let’s work on that.


Josh: I made some preliminary arrangements.

Billy: Count me in.

Josh: My third cousin is the son-in-law of the Director of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Billy: Isn’t that awfully far away?

Josh: That’s the point. We need to have Roger secreted away in a remote location.

Billy: That makes sense. What’s next?

Josh: Ben Henshaw will man the getaway car. He’s a delivery boy for Domino’s. We’ll stuff Roger in the back of the van.

Dan Chapa will bring supplies, while you and I will be the muscle.

Ben will ring Roger’s doorbell, holding a pizza box. You and I will stand on either side of the porch, out of sight. When Roger opens the door, you and I will subdue him and carry him to the van.

Then Ben and I will drive to Anchorage with the “package.” Let me dial up Dan and Ben so that we can synchronize our watches.


Josh: It’s dark now, let’s go to the door.

Ben: Dan, do you have the cloth and chloroform?

Dan: Right here.

Ben: Don’t moisten the cloth until the last minute. We don’t all want to pass out from the fumes. Just Roger!

Josh: Are we ready?

Ben: Ready!

Billy: Ready!

Dan: Ready!


Billy: Put him in the body bag.

Josh: No, not that way! Don’t zip it all the way up. Leave a little opening for him to breathe.


Josh: I hate cold pizza!

Ben: Best I could do. It’s a long drive north. Speaking of which, I’m about ready to pull over and let you take the wheel.

Josh: Anytime.

Ben: What are you listening to on your iPod?

Josh: Some sermons by Mark Discoll. Not half bad.


Josh: Ben, wake up! Something’s making a ruckus in the back of the van.

Ben: I guess Roger came to. What should we do?

Josh: Just whack him on the noggin with that tire iron to quiet him. We’re almost there.

Ben: Won’t that hurt him?

Josh: Naw. Roger’s a hardheaded old buzzard. A little bonk on the head won’t do ‘im no harm.


Kenneth Starr: After Prof. Olson’s baffling disappearance a year ago, the committee interviewed many applicants for his old job. Today I’m pleased to announce the appointment of Turretin Fan to be his successor.


Nurse Rached: Mr. Olson, time to take your sleeping pill.

Olson: But I’m a professor, I tell you. A famous professor!

Rached: Yes, I’m sure you are. And your bunkmate is Julius Caesar.

Olson: I don’t belong here!

Rached: That’s what they all say. Now take your pill like the doctor ordered.

Olson: I refuse!

Rached: Security to Room 23. The patient is being difficult again. 

"Now, to some critics, that will simply prove that Arminianism and theological liberalism are closely related"

At this point it's kind of redundant for me to continue rebutting Arminian theology when Roger Olson makes one fatal concession after another. Why lay siege to a fort when everyone is dead inside?

"Islamic Theologian's Theory: It's Likely the Prophet Muhammad Never Existed"

"The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed"
MÜNSTER, Germany -- Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn't like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.

So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.

Muslims, not surprisingly, are outraged....

When Prof. Kalisch took up his theology chair four years ago, he was seen as proof that modern Western scholarship and Islamic ways can mingle -- and counter the influence of radical preachers in Germany. He was put in charge of a new program at Münster, one of Germany's oldest and most respected universities, to train teachers in state schools to teach Muslim pupils about their faith....

Prof. Kalisch, who insists he's still a Muslim, says he knew he would get in trouble but wanted to subject Islam to the same scrutiny as Christianity and Judaism. German scholars of the 19th century, he notes, were among the first to raise questions about the historical accuracy of the Bible....

Stephen Braude On Some Modern Paranormal Phenomena

A couple of recent presentations by Stephen Braude are available on YouTube. Here's one about his initial investigations of the Felix Circle group in Germany, which I discussed in a post last year. And here's one on the thoughtography of Ted Serios.