Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Oracles of God

The evidence from times before the canon was explicitly defined as a list of books is relevant. When this evidence is properly examined, we can draw conclusions from it that leave no reasonable doubt about the existence of a canon and little doubt about its contents.

This leads to the second problem with nearly all current theories. They attempt to use a later definition of canon as a list of accepted authoritative books as a part of their investigation of the canon. However, the concept of the canon as a list may be only a later development due to historical circumstances. Given the evidence, I would propose that the canon came to be a list as a result of one extremely important event: the fall of Jerusalem and its Temple to the Romans in AD 70. Before this time there was little need for lists to define the canon. The canon was the collection of holy, inspired, authoritative books in the Temple. The canon would be assumed to be known and acknowledged by most Jews because of this normative archive. (This explains the references in the NT which assume the existence of a commonly agreed upon Scripture.) Only with the destruction of the Temple did there arise a need to define the canon as a list that could gain common acceptance.

What has not been noted heretofore is the significance of the Temple archives in shaping how explicitly the canon was defined. As long as the Temple archives existed, phrases such as “the Law and the Prophets” or “the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms” were adequate. It is likely that no one felt a pressing need for further definition. Only after the fall of the Temple, when an official archive could no longer be maintained, was the need for such a definition pressed upon Jews and Christians.

From this perspective, it makes little sense to argue about which way of listing and organizing the books is older–the Christian twenty-two books in four divisions or the Jewish twenty-two books in three divisions. While the roots of the Christian twenty-book book enumeration appears to be slightly older (Josephus and Palestinian Jews), so do the roots of the three-division scheme followed by Jews. However, the final products of the differing Christian and Jewish organization of canon appear to be the results of parallel developments. In fact, from the common groupings of books in each, it would appear that they are both children of a common heritage of canonical organization that may be much older.
A. Steinmann, The Oracles of God: The Old Testament Canon (Concordia 1999), 185, 193-194.

Correction Concerning The Shroud Of Turin

TurretinFan recently wrote a post about the Shroud of Turin. In that post, he cites a comment I made about an interview with Gary Habermas on the subject. I had said that Habermas addresses whether the Shroud is consistent with John 20:7. However, TurretinFan notes that Habermas doesn't discuss John 20:7 during that interview.

Friday, April 06, 2012

It is Finished - A Throwback to my Petra Days

Make their heart dull

I’m going to comment on this post:

i) Dan tries to domesticate the text. However, you don’t have to be a Calvinist to appreciate the predestinarian force of the text. For instance, this is some of what the late Brevard Childs had to say:
He [Isaiah] is to dull their minds, stop their ears, and plaster over their eyes, unless by seeing, hearing, and comprehending, they might actually repent and be saved. The prophet is to be the executor of death, the guarantor of complete hardening. His very proclamation is to ensure that Israel will not turn and repent.

The mystery of divine hardening cannot be explained by shifting the initiative to Israel as if hardening were only an idiom describing how Israel hardened its own heart by disobedience. It is constitutive of biblical hardening that the initiative is placed securely with God in the mystery of his inscrutable will. Of course, it is equally clear that Israel’s sinfulness formed the grounds for the judgment. The philosophical objection to a logical inconsistency that has been continually raised since the Enlightenment plays no role whatsoever in the Old Testament. The hard juxtaposition of divine initiative and Israel’s guilt remains unmoved. Isaiah (WJK 2001), 56.
The prophet’s role is instrument: to seal their doom.

ii) Dan says “hardening is typically the exception rather than the rule.” I don’t know how he’d be in a position to know that. For instance, the hardening of Israel in Rom 9-11 involves an entire people-group, and it’s gone on for 2000 years, with no end in sight. Yes, some Jews believe in Jesus, but they are the exception to the rule.

Apart from where Scripture reveals it, all we can observe is the effect of divine hardening, and not the ulterior cause. For all we know, large pockets of unbelief around the world may be the result of divine hardening.

iii) Dan says “Isaiah never actually commands the people “don’t understand”. He never delivered this message as such.”

That’s a non sequitur. Divine hardening is not the message. Rather, that’s the divinely-intended effect of Isaiah’s message.

This is one of those situations, like Moses, where the prophet is brought into God’s confidence. It’s not for Isaiah’s immediate contemporaries, but for posterity–as we read the record of Isaiah’s commission.

iv) Dan says “ The foreseeable result of this message was that it would be rejected and Israel would not be healed.”

Not just the foreseeable result, but the intended result. Dan is making Isa 6:9-10 say less than it actually says.

v) Dan then quotes a version of Isa 6 in Matthew and Acts which doesn’t have the same predestinarian edge. That’s because Matthew and Luke are quoting from the LXX. The LXX rendering is a theological modification of the Hebrew text, designed to tame the text. To blunt the uncompromising force of the original, by making it merely predictive rather than causative.

Since Matthew and Luke generally quote the LXX when they quote the OT, that rendering is simply an incidental consequence of the preexisting translation they generally use. A natural choice when writing for Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles.

vi) By contrast, the rendering in Mark and John sticks closer to the Hebrew original.

vii) The fact that the Matthean and Lukan versions are neutral on predestination doesn’t obviate the predestinarian force of the Markan and Johannine versions. It’s not as if Matthew and Luke are trying to counter or correct Mark, John, or the Hebrew original. If we were harmonizing these passages, we’d do so in the direction of the original, and the NT renderings which are more faithful to the original.

viii) We must also respect the contextual and theological function of the Isaian passage John’s narrative.

Maybe you can and maybe you can't

I’m commenting on this post:
I was just quoting the passage, so I find it odd to be accused of over interpretation. Perhaps Steve’s comment is better addressed to the ESV translators (and others who translate similarly) than to me. But the ESV translators were aware of the Hebrew and the context.
This is Dan is cute mode. But as I pointed out, he's guilty of overinterpretation when he lays so much weight on the meaning of a single multivalent Hebrew verb.
Other translations render it “so that you may do it”. While may sometimes means permission as in “mother may I” or uncertainty, as in “it may rain”, neither of these senses make sense of the verse. It’s not as if God is now removing sanctions against morality, or guessing if they will obey or not. Rather, may is equivalent to “can” and expresses ability or capacity.
"May" doesn't have the same nuance as "can." Maybe you can do it, and maybe you can't. In addition, as I mentioned before, the tense of the Hebrew verb has a wider semantic range than Dan's two renderings.
No doubt accessibility and intelligibility are part of why the Jews are able to obey, but they are not the only factors. In particular, when the passage says the word is in their heart, it teaches the enablement runs deeper than having the written law. Men love darkness rather than light; so the issue isn’t just in our understanding, it’s in our desire or heart. So when God enables His chosen and redeemed people to obey, the enablement is internal rather than just external.
That it's in their "heart" is just a picturesque way of saying they know it. Bible writers often favor concrete images over abstract nouns. The "heart" stands for man's mental life. So that's still about accessibility and intelligibility rather than enablement.
Many people believe when such alternatives are presented to a person with responsibility for the outcome, the implication is that it’s up to him.
Of course, if predestination is true, then what many people (allegedly) believe about such alternatives is also predestined. Predestined beliefs about hypothetical consequences. Hence, Dan's reply does nothing to refute my analysis.
However, my primary argument was with relation to the word choose rather then the hypothetical outcomes.
As my analysis pointed out, Dan has grossly oversimplified what his own prooftext actually says. Once again, Dan isn't refuting my analysis.

He can't legitimately detach or compartmentalize the word "choose" from the overall structure of the text.
There is some truth to this though it doesn't seem to damage my point. Sometimes in this life God even allows the wicked to prosper (Psalm 73) though we know that each person will have to answer for himself on judgment day.
That's not responsive to my argument. As I demonstrated, the text isn't about individual choices, but the aggregate choices of a corporate body (Israel), where the majority effectively chooses for the minority, in spite of the minority. The minority lacks freedom of choice inasmuch as it can't choose the desired consequences. For the majority robs the minority of that opportunity. If the majority is disobedient, then both groups suffer the same dire consequences, despite what the minority preferred.
The passage says "so that you can do it". That's a statement of ability. It does not say they thought they could but they really couldn't nor does it say they hypothetically could obey but in reality they could not.
Dan is just rehashing his original argument while failing to engage the counterargument. He hasn't made any progress. He shot his wad on the first round and has nothing in reserve.

A leaky bucket to bail water

I’m responding to this post:
First, it's one thing to say the passage has idolatry in view, but another to say it only has idolatry in view. The passage does not say the temptation of idolatry but rather "no temptation". Paul is applying a general principle to a specific situation, so even though idolatry is in view, that does not limit this wonderful promise that God, in His faithfulness, will not allow irresistible temptations.
i) No, that’s not what Paul is doing. Paul isn’t talking about temptation in general. Rather, he’s making the point that Jews, Christians, and pagans alike are susceptible. As Rosner/Ciampa explain:
In case they had not picked up on the implications of vv1-12, Paul reminds the Corinthians that their situation is not new or unique. No temptation has overtaken you, he says, except what is common to us all. In other words, “the temptation you struggle with is common to all humanity.”

That the Old Testament and ancient Judaism considered idolatry the most common and fundamental temptation (with sexual immortality as a related sign of human corruption and greed a particular manifestation of idolatry), along with the context of Paul’s statement (in 1 Corinthians 8-10 in general and immediately before the exhortation to flee idolatry in particular) suggests that he has the common human pull toward idolatry in mind. The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2010), 466-67.
ii) In Arminianism, sufficient grace is resistible grace. So the “wonderful promise” is that God will give Christians (including born-again Christians) resistible grace to resist temptation. Like using a leaky bucket to bail water from a leaky boat.
Second, the context speaks of lusting after evil things, idolatry, sexual immorality, tempting Christ, and complaining. This seems broader than just idolatrous apostasy. Note the progression from lusting after evil things and idolatry in verses 6 & 7: "to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them." Lusting after evil things and idolatry are distinct, even if one is a slippery slope into the next.
Of course, progression from lesser to graver sins, or the “slippery slope,” dovetails with my point. Idolatrous apostasy or sins leading to idolatrous apostasy. I’ve been over this ground before with Ben Henshaw.
Third, most, but not all Israelites fell into the temptation and Paul's concern is that the Corinthians don't do likewise. But this means falling into the temptation discussed in the context is not impossible. Yet Steve thinks the apostasy of true believers is impossible.
i) Which means that those who slide down the slope into apostasy weren’t true believers. How’s that inconsistent with my position?

ii) As I’ve often pointed out on many occasions, we must make allowance for the nature of mass communication. Public letters make general statements that apply to some, but not all, members of the audience.

iii) Dan himself holds to eternal security.
Fourth, the commentaries Steve cites do not support his case. He cites Fitzmyer, Garland, Ciampa/Rosner. But Fitzmyer says "Christians may also rely on God for the ekbasis of lesser struggles throughout the course of life", so idolatry is in view, but the passage is not only about idolatry (see my points 1 & 2).
Dan gives us a mangled quote from Fitzmyer. Fitzmyer is weighing different exegetical options before stating his own interpretation. But his conclusion is that “in this context, Paul seems to be thinking primarily of trials involving idol meat or seduction to idolatry” (389).

Likewise, Garland (and Ciampa/Rosner who follow Garland) says "He is not addressing the question of the security of the believer but calling attention to the pitfall of being careless because of overconfidence (Robertson and Plummer 1914:208). " But Steve's case hinges on this passage only being about the security of the believer (see my point 3). So Steve's own sources move against him.

Several problems:

i) Dan is doing a bait-n-switch. In my response to Dan I didn’t mention eternal security. All I said was: “In context, the passage isn’t dealing with temptation in general, but idolatrous apostasy in particular. That’s been documented by standard commentators, viz. Fitzmyer, Garland, Ciampa/Rosner.”

ii) Garland says “I conclude with Findlay (1910: 862) that the ‘testing’ involves ‘both the allurements of idolatry and the persecution which its abandonment entailed’” (467). And Garland continues in that vein on the next page.

iii) In addition to what I’ve already quoted from Ciampa/Rosner, they also say that Fee’s interpretation “seems to miss the mark, as though Paul had digressed from his discussion of idolatry to talk instead about “ordinary human trials” or temptations, as though idolatry was not such an ordinary temptation” (467).
Fifth, generally commentaries agree that the temptations in view are broader than apostasy as Ben has documented here.
Dan refers the reader to Ben’s treatment, but fails to register my response to Ben:

“Probably everyone involved knew what they were doing”

... how does such a nice guy as this sort of Jesus manage to get himself crucified?
It’s important to note that Jesus didn’t simply die, he was killed, and not simply killed but executed, and not simply executed, he was crucified (despite the assurances of our Muslim friends to the contrary). We know from other incidents (as, e.g., reported by Josephus) how the Temple authorities and Roman administration treated people who simply caused a disturbance in the Temple, and it wasn’t crucifixion. Flogging, maybe but not crucifixion.
The point of crucifixion wasn’t simply to end a person’s life but, much more, to humiliate and degrade to the extreme, to say “See what this guy got? This is what anyone gets who raises his hand against Rome!”
Pilate was a figure of uncertain character ... , probably not your favorite-uncle type, but he probably knew his job, which was primarily to keep order, keep the Jews in their place, and oversee tax-collection and Roman administration more generally. A hard guy, probably, but not likely someone who crucified people on a whim. He likely took stock of the situation and judged that Jesus had (whatever his intentions) generated what might be an incipient movement that could lead to greater trouble if not nipped in the bud forcefully.
As I’ve put it (in Lord Jesus Christ (esp. 54-56), Jesus rather clearly polarized people over what to make of him. He “quickly became a figure of some notoriety and controversy” (LJC, 55). Though his preaching seems to have focused on “the kingdom of God,” the issue quickly became whether he was or wasn’t the authentic spokesman of that kingdom. And talk of “kingdom” could make ruling authorities worried.
Granted, it also seems likely that the Temple authorities colluded in some way in Jesus’ arrest and execution. After all, the High Priest was appointed by Rome and served as Rome’s pleasure. It would not go well for the Temple authorities if they were seen to ignore someone who seemed to challenge their authority and, by extension, that of Rome.
As I’ve argued (LJC, 54-55), the issue isn’t really what Jesus thought he was or what he intended. The key thing, instead, is what effects and results his activities had on his contemporaries. Some became his followers, willing to abandon their livelihoods to do so. Others (including some powerful people) judged him dangerous, and eventually decided to move against him with mortal intent. That’s what I’d call polarization!
So, however attractive to our own gentle instincts may be the sort of Jesus touted often, a guy who wouldn’t hurt a fly and just wanted everyone to be friends, we have to posit a Jesus who could get himself crucified. And we should do so without caricatured Jewish leaders and Roman governor, and without invoking some legal goof-up. Instead, probably everyone involved knew what they were doing.

No Scripture, No Christ

Was "God with us"?

peteenns says:
April 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm
Robert, I am saying that the incarnation has serious implications for how we address a lot of issues of biblical interpretation, Adam being one of them. When people affirm the necessity of a historical Adam for the existence of the Gospel by asserting that God would not mislead us by allowing ANE conventions to shape that story, I think they are selling the Gospel short. You can certainly believe in a historical Adam if you want to, but I would still challenge you to think why that might be the case, what is motivating you theologically to come to that conclusion. The rhetoric “without a historical Adam we lose the Gospel” is something I hearing far too much of these days, and my view is that behind it is a discomfort with “God with us.”

peteenns says:
April 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm
Alan, I agree with you. My point is actually much more modest, despite the intentional rhetoric I used: a view of the Christian God that has trouble with him allowing culturally conditioned ways of thinking to shape Scripture is not the God of that we read about in the Bible.

Once again, this illustrates a fundamental tension in Enns’ argument. He appeals to the incarnation as a paradigm-case of God accommodating himself to our cultural limitations. But that’s self-defeating. For if the message of Scripture is filtered through obsolete cultural conventions, then the Incarnation itself may just as well be a culturebound convention. Why does he think God really became Incarnate? Why not assume Bible stories about “God with us” are mythical reflections of the ancient narrator’s primitive, prescientific outlook? Why does Enns continue to think there’s a real God behind the story? Why not treat the Bible just like the Enuma Elish or the Epic of Gilgamesh? 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Lost in space

That God does not hesitate to participate in the human drama, to encounter humanity within the limits of the human experience. That means that biblical writers wrote about the God they encountered as they understood him within their cultural limitations.

There’s a fundamental tension in Peter Enns’ argument. Up-to-a-point there’s nothing wrong with a doctrine of divine accommodation. When orthodox theologians identify anthroporphisms in Scripture, that’s an instance of divine accommodation.

However, divine accommodation presumes a distinction between what God is like in himself, and how God reveals himself to us. Between what God is really like, and his self-accommodation.

But if the God of Scripture is completely filtered through the cultural limitations of Bible writers, then Enns has no standard of comparison. Why does he still think God’s self-revelation in Scripture is accommodated to human understanding? Why not think God really is limited? Indeed, why continue to think what we have in Scripture is the record of God’s self-accommodation, rather than a record of man’s primitive religious projection? Why does Enns think Yahweh is different than Marduk or Dagon or Baal? Why think Yahweh is real while they are mythical? Would it not be more consistent to treat the entire package as imaginary? 

Liberalism In Eastern Orthodoxy

Eric Todd wrote:

The is no liberal, post modern movement in Orthodoxy, unlike in Protestantism or Roman Catholicism and there is no room in Orthodoxy for innovators like Rob Bell, Bishop Spong or Hans Kung.

One more thing you and Orthodox Christianity agree about: Scripture is God’s holy and infallible word and Christians should do nothing contrary to Scripture.

For some examples of liberalism in Eastern Orthodoxy, see here, here, and here.

Why global warmists are a threat to public health and safety

Can Congress Mandate the Japanese to Buy Detroit Cars?

If Christ Has Not Been Raised

Kingdom through Covenant

From the Lips of Jesus or a Scribal Hand?

The mark of the Beast

I. The Fall of Babylon

Debates between amils and dispensationalists generally center on Rev 20. However, a neglected passage is Rev 18 (and related verses). The fall of Babylon poses a prima facie problem for dispensationalism. Let’s begin with a brief statement of the problem, then delve into the details.

In the literary sequence of Revelation, the fall of Babylon abuts the return of Christ. And dispensationalists believe the literary sequence of Rev 5-22 generally tracks a chronological sequence. That distinguishes dispensationalism from the recapitulatory scheme favored by amil interpreters like Beale.

So on that view, the fall of Babylon ushers in the premillennial return of Christ. That’s the next event in the queue.

But what does “Babylon” stand for? Most scholars regard “Babylon” as a cipher for Rome. Assuming that identification is correct (see below), when would the predicted downfall of “Babylon” (aka Rome) take place? Wouldn’t that select for the fall of Rome in 5C AD or thereabouts? But if the return of Christ is the next event in the queue, how do we account for the tremendous ellipsis between the past fall of Rome and the future return of Christ? 

II. Classical Dispensationalism

Lets first consider how a classical dispensationalist deals with this issue.

Robert Thomas says use of “Babylon” as code language for Rome comes from 2C AD sources. Cf. Revelation 8-22, 289; Four Views on the Book of Revelation, 201.

That’s true as far as it goes, but it seriously understates the evidence for the Roman identification:

i) To begin with, if John were referring to Rome, we wouldn’t expect him to name Rome in this pejorative context, for that would be seditious. If Christians in Asia Minor were already liable to persecution from the Roman authorities, naming Rome as the culprit would either provoke the authorities or exacerbate the situation. So if John were referring to Rome, we’d expect him to disguise the reference. I’m reminded of Dryden’s political allegories (Absalom and Achitophel; The Hind and the Panther).

ii) In addition, the argument for the Roman identification is hardly confined to the use of the word “Babylon” as a cipher for Rome. Rather, there’s a general argument for the Roman setting of Revelation, with special reference to the imperial cult. Cf. D. Aune, “The Influence of Roman Imperial Court Ceremonial on the Apocalypse of John,” Apocalypticism, Prophecy, and Magic in Early Christianity (Baker 2008), chap. 6; Revelation 6-16  (Thomas Nelson 1998); Revelation 17-22 (Thomas Nelson 1998); R. Bauckham, “Nero and the Beast,” The Climax of Prophecy (T&T Clark 2000), chap. 11; C. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches (Eerdmans 2000), Introduction; C. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation (Zondervan 2000); “Revelation,” The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (IVP 1994); L. Thompson, “Historical Setting and Genre,” “Christians in the Province of Asia,” The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire (Oxford 1990), chapters 2 & 7.

These aren’t just run-of-the-mill Bible commentators, but scholars who conduct independent research into the primary sources. Of course, scholarly opinion is not the final word. We have to assess the evidence they adduce. But that’s what Thomas fails to do.

Thomas says the location of Babylon on the banks of the Euphrates favors a literal identification. E.g. Four Views, 202. But that’s problematic on several grounds:

i) The Euphrates is part of the Babylonian imagery. If John were using “Babylon” metaphorically, we’d expect him to include that familiar landmark. That’s not independent corroboration for the literal identification; rather, that’s part of the picturesque package.

ii) Rome is also located on the banks of a river–the Tiber.

iii) When John refers to a city on “seven hills” (17:9), Thomas says that “probably does have a nonliteral meaning,” Revelation 8-22, 289. So he’s arbitrary in his handling of topographical references. He takes the Babylonian landmark literally, but the Roman landmark figuratively.

Commenting on Rev 17:18, he says, “the historical dissolution of the Roman Empire does not match the description of the city’s destruction just given in vv16-17” (306).

But this disregards the fact that John is using staple poetic imagery.

Commenting on 18:11, Thomas says “John drew the list from items know in his day, not from the future time depicted in the prophecy” (330).

But that departs from the literal fulfillment of prophecy. That vacates the “plain sense” or “face value” meaning of the passage. If a dispensationalist (indeed, a classical dispensationalist) can take that approach to John’s language, why can’t an amillennialist do the same thing?

Commenting on 18:11, Thomas says, “It is a matter of disagreement as to whether the list better suits the city of Rome or Asia Minor where John wrote the Apocalypse” (30-31).

That’s a false dichotomy inasmuch as John is dealing with the Roman Empire, and not any particular municipality or province thereof. 

Commenting on 18:11, Thomas says: “This recalls the situation with ancient Tyre (Ezk 27:25-31)…Yet this list also has a timeless quality as evidenced by the large number of the items in this list that also appear in OT descriptions, particularly of Tyre” (331).

Several problems:

i) Thomas suddenly abandons the “literal” interpretation for the idealist school of hermeneutics. As he himself said earlier: “The timeless-symbolic or idealist position has the Apocalypse representing the eternal conflict of good and evil in every age…The book does not refer to specific events, but expresses the basic principles according to which God acts throughout history,” Revelation 1-7, 31.

ii) The reason that John alludes to Tyre and Babylon is because he’s drawing type/token parallels. Both Babylon and Rome were pagan superpowers. Both Babylon and Rome subjugated Israel. Both Babylon and Rome razed the temple. Both Babylon and Rome exiled the Jews. Both Babylon and Rome fell, as divine punishment. The players change, but the play remains the same. You can substitute different adversaries, for they share a common target: the people of God.

That’s consistent with the modified idealism of amil interpreters like Poythress and Beale.

iii) Although John evokes the oracle of doom against Tyre, he updates the catalogue to correlate items with the Roman economic system. Cf. Aune, Revelation 17-22, 961-1012; Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, chap 10.

III. Progressive Dispensationalism

So how do progressives address the issue?

Should we simply substitute things like helicopters and modern weapons for the imagery of locusts, scorpions, and other such images in Revelation 9:3?…Should we assume the prophet saw something like a motion picture of the future in his vision and then attempted to explain it in terms of images he understood? Or did he see a picture precisely in the images he gives…? Which description of those options is “more literal”? Is it the one that focuses on how it might look to us, so we explain what he meant in words and images very different from the prophet’s terms and images? Or should one focus on how it looked to the prophet and how it appears in the ancient text?
Another example of this literal/symbolic difficult is the debate over the identity of Babylon in Revelation 17….Should one appeal to Jeremiah 51 and take it literally as Babylon rebuilt, so that the center of the world system in the end will be where Iraq is now? Or is it a cipher for a rebuilt Rome, as the reference to seven hills of Revelation 179 suggests. Which context helps us identify what is taking place, the Old or the New?…Even dispensationalists have not agreed here. Perhaps ultimately a choice between the two contexts is not necessary.
We would suggest that this image refers to the sweep of history. The beast depicts each worldwide dynasty of biblical times: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece are the five fallen kings. The sixth, Rome, is “the one that is,” thus honoring the allusion to the hills in Revelation 17:9.
Those who associate the image with Babylon are right in that it is the greatest OT picture of such a power. That is why the beast is called Babylon. Those who associate it with Rome are right because Rome was the current manifestation of that beast in the time of John the writer…Yet the beast is more than either national identification…given the shifting nature of the location of the eras represented by the beast. The text is both specific and indefinite at the same time.
D. Bock & C. Blaising, Progressive Dispensationalism (Baker 2000), 91, 93-95.

The essence of typology is that it creates a “representative” description of reality that may reappear in a fresh form at a later date. Such representation then gives the possibility that what is portrayed in one time period as taking place may “reappear” in the same general form in another time period, so that two events can share identification.
Could it be that the image of the beast is first-century Rome at one level or at least includes it in some way, since it was the evil world empire opposing the saints at the time of John’s writing, and yet it is also genealogically and typologically related to the world power of the end, which Jesus will ultimately judge one day in the future? Could not images like Babylon and the beast represent similar kinds of connections, so that the struggle of history current in John’s time is a type of cipher and precursor for the ultimate future struggle?
D. Bock, “Summary Essay,” Four Views, 294-95.

This approach avoids the erratic inconsistencies that beset Robert Thomas. But its flexibility comes at a cost for dispensationalism. For it’s hard to draw a clear line between the progressive dispensational interpretation of Revelation and the modified idealism of amillennial futurists like Poythress and Beale.

Although the approach taken by Bock and Blaising is consistent with a dispensational plotline, it falls short of selecting for or singling out that particular plotline. For on this view, both progressive dispensationalists and amillennial futurists believe the conflict depicted in Revelation is periodically exemplified throughout church history. Likewise, both groups believe there will be a climatic conflict and resolution at the end of the church age. That this will come to a head, and be conclusively resolved, with the return of Christ. 

Understanding Scripture – an Overview

Several weeks ago, I reviewed a new work published by Zondervan, How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens. It was touted as “A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture”. Because it was Zondervan, it garnered some very fine blurbs by some big names. For example, “This is the sort of book I’d love to have in the hands of every member of my church!” (Justin Taylor) and “Michael Williams has written a book that is badly needed: a survey of all the books of the Bible that shows how they work together to point toward Jesus Christ ... accessible to almost any reader.” (Douglas Moo). That was all marketing fluff. I didn’t like the format of that book.

But this is the book those things really need to be said about: “This is the sort of book I’d love to have in the hands of every member of my church!” and “This is a book that is badly needed: a survey of the history and reliability of all of Scripture …  ‘an Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability and Meaning’ … accessible to almost any reader.”

For an overview of the work, I’ll refer you to some of the glowing (and thorough!) reviews it has received at Meanwhile, a look at the Table of Contents will give you an idea of what the book is all about.

Part 1: Interpreting the Bible
                1. Interpreting the Bible: An Introduction, Daniel Doriani
                2. Interpreting the Bible: A Historical Overview, John Hannah

Part 2: Reading the Bible
                3. Reading the Bible Theologically, J. I. Packer
                4. Reading the Bible as Literature, Leland Ryken
                5. Reading the Bible in Prayer and Communion with God, John Piper
                6. Reading the Bible for Personal Application, David Powlison
                7. Reading the Bible for Preaching and Public Worship, R. Kent Hughes

Part 3: The Canon of Scripture
                8. The Canon of the Old Testament, Roger T. Beckwith
                9.The Canon of the New Testament, Charles E. Hill
                10. The Apocrypha, Roger T. Beckwith

Part 4: The Reliability of Bible Manuscripts
                11. The Reliability of the Old Testament Manuscripts, Paul D. Wegner
                12. The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts, Daniel B. Wallace

Part 5: Archaeology and the Bible
                13. Archaeology and the Reliability of the Old Testament, John Currid
                14. Archaeology and the Reliability of the New Testament, David W. Chapman

Part 6: The Original Languages of the Bible
                15. Hebrew and Aramaic, and How They Work, Peter J. Williams
                16. Greek, and How It Works, David Alan Black
                17. The Septuagint, Peter J. Gentry

Part 7: Old Testament and New
                18. A Survey of the History of Salvation, Vern S. Poythress
                19. How the New Testament Quotes and Interprets the Old Testament, C. John Collins

As a former Roman Catholic, I’ve worked hard to understand what Scriptures are all about. This is a work that I’d highly recommend as a very thorough introduction to the issues that are facing Biblical scholars today.  

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Will this prompt Dr Oakley to change his name to “Dr Google”?

Talk about “the vision thing”. Now there are “Google Glasses”.
Google has unveiled its designs for "augmented reality glasses", which layer emails, video chat, Google searches and GPS directions over the wearer's eyes. The glasses, which are voice-controlled, are a product of the Google X blue-sky ideas lab.

Google put out a video of how the prototype works. In it the wearer gets directions, takes pictures and conducts video chats all through his glasses.

Google said: "We think technology should work for you - to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.

"We're sharing this information now because we want to start a conversation and learn from your valuable input. So we took a few design photos to show what this technology could look like and created a video to demonstrate what it might enable you to do."

Olson's forked tongue

At the end of the chapter Smith says of God’s promises of blessing “All this belongs to those who are in Jesus Christ. It can be yours.” (p. 113) Wait. How can he say that? How can a Calvinist or any monergist who is not a universalist say “It [salvation] can be yours” without qualification? IF Smith were writing only to believers he would says “It is yours.” Clearly by saying “It can be yours” (italics added) he is not just talking (in this instance) to believers. However, how can a non-universalist monergist say to an unknown audience that salvation can be theirs without qualification?
Therein lies a deep inconsistency and a conundrum in Calvinism (except hyper-Calvinism). It is simply dishonest to say indiscriminately to a group of people that salvation can be theirs. There is no way to know that. If Christ died only for some, then there is no way to know that salvation can be theirs—when “theirs” refers to a mixed group such as readers of this book. (Again, in this particular instance, anyway, Smith cannot be thinking only of believing readers or else he would say salvation is theirs, not can be theirs. So at least in this sentence he is talking to a wider audience including people he does not think are all saved already.)
Many evangelical Calvinists do evangelize indiscriminately. I agree with the hyper-Calvinists who reject that. The gospel cannot be a “well-meant offer” to an unknown group of people, an audience that may include the non-elect. To say to such a group “Salvation can be yours” is misleading. It wouldn’t be wrong to say “Salvation may be yours.” But this is a case where “can” and “may” do not mean the same thing. (In proper English, of course, they usually aren’t the same thing.)
I would challenge members of The Gospel Coalition and all monergists to be honest and refrain from indiscriminate evangelism which is logically inconsistent with non-universalist monergism and even dishonest.

Talk about dishonesty: Olson pounces on a single phrase ("It can be yours") by a pastor, then acts as if that choice of words discredits Reformed evangelism in toto. He completely disregards nuanced formulations of the well-meant offer by Reformed philosophers and theologians like William Young, Paul Helm, and Roger Nicole.   

Fidel Obama

According to our exalted leader:

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint -- that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.  Well, this is a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this Court will recognize that and not take that step.

Several issues:

i) If SCOTUS strikes down the law, I’ll be pleased with the result, but not with the process.

ii) It squeaked through the House by 5-vote margin. That’s hardly a “strong majority.”

iii) In one sense, I agree with Obama–although he only half believes what he’s saying. I’m not convinced that SCOTUS has the Constitutional authority to strike down acts of Congress.

iv) However, judicial review is essential to liberal strategy and tactics. Because so many liberal policies lack popular support, liberals game the court system to impose what they can’t achieve through the democratic process. Obama certainly has no objection to judicial review whenever that advances the liberal agenda.

v) But is this a tu quoque argument? Is he accusing conservatives of hypocrisy? I myself think it should be up to Congress to repeal bad acts of Congress.

vi) That said, many conservatives support judicial review in principle. They don’t object to the Federal judicial striking down acts of Congress that are truly unconstitutional. Rather, when they decry judicial activism, they are referring to Federal judges (or Supreme Court justices) who disregard the text as well as the original intent of the Constitutional framers.

vii) Moreover, as long as judicial review is the de facto (if not the de jure) system, then conservatives aren’t going to unilaterally disarm. The consistent conservative position isn’t that Federal courts have the right to strike down conservative laws while lacking the right to strike down liberal laws.

viii) But in another sense, Obama is sincere. For he’s quite the autocrat. He governs by executive fiat. He flouts laws that don’t meet with his approval. So, no doubt he takes personal affront at the specter of SCOTUS clipping his wings.

ix) There’s also the question of whether his statement will backfire. What if a swing voter on the bench was inclined to uphold Obamacare, but now that he’s recast the issue in terms of judicial authority, the swing voter is now inclined to strike down Obamacare just to show him that SCOTUS can’t be intimidated.   

Despairing grief

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thes 4:13).


My father was the philosopher and political polemicist David Stove. During his undergraduate years, he fell under the spell of the militantly atheistic guru John Anderson of the University of Sydney's philosophy department.
Shortly before Christmas 1993, my mother—who for decades had drunk heavily, smoked compulsively, and eaten hardly at all—suffered a massive stroke. At first she was not expected to live. Gradually, the truth emerged: the stroke, while not powerful enough to have killed her, had robbed her of all speech and nearly all movement.
To watch an adult abruptly transformed before one's eyes into a paralyzed, whimpering vegetable, all too conscious (at least in a general fashion) of what had befallen her, yet as powerless to rectify anything as if she had been six months old, is in a way worse than losing a loved one to Alzheimer's. There, at least, the decay is gradual. This was as abrupt an assault on life as if it had been a homicide. But a homicide can instill in you justified wrath; how can you feel wrath against as impersonal a cutting-down as befell my mother?
From the day of her stroke to the day of her death, almost eight years afterwards, she was in twenty-four-hour-a-day nursing care. By that time my father had long since left the scene. Diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and convinced beyond all reason that his announcement of this diagnosis to Mum had brought about her stroke, Dad simply unraveled. So, to a lesser extent, did those watching him.
All Dad's elaborate atheist religion, with its sacred texts, its martyrs, its church militant; all his ostentatious tough- mindedness; all his intellectual machinery; all these things turned to dust. Convinced for decades of his stoicism, he now unwittingly demonstrated the truth of Clive James's cruel remark: "we would like to think we are stoic...but would prefer a version that didn't hurt."
Already an alcoholic, he now made a regular practice of threatening violence to himself and others. In hospital he wept like a child (I had never before seen him weep). He denounced the nurses for their insufficient knowledge of Socrates and Descartes. From time to time he wandered around the ward naked, in the pit of confused despair. The last time I visited him I found him, to my complete amazement, reading a small bedside Gideon Bible. I voiced surprise at this. He fixed on me the largest, most protuberant, most frightened, and most frightening pair of eyes I have ever seen: "I'll try anything now."
(Years later, I discovered—and was absolutely pole-axed by —the following passage in Bernard Shaw's Too True To Be Good, in which an old pagan, very obviously speaking for Shaw himself, sums up what I am convinced was Dad's attitude near the end. The passage runs: "The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, led, instead, directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions of worshipers in the temples of a thousand creeds. And now look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.")
Eventually, through that gift for eloquence which seldom entirely deserted him, Dad convinced a psychiatrist that he should be released from the enforced hospital confinement which he had needed to endure ever since his threats had caused him to be scheduled. The psychiatrist defied the relevant magistrate's orders, and released my father.
Within twenty-four hours Dad had hanged himself in his own garden.

Plantinga on Plantinga

Some quick responses to some thoughtless questions

There is still some discussion going on at Dan Wallace’s blog. Eric Todd, who visited the comments here, has provided some staccato-form questions for Dr. Wallace, and I’m providing some staccato-form answers to match his questions. I’ve provided some links to support my short statements. But this, I thought, was instructive in showing the form that these types of discussions follow.

Eric Todd said: You said “Sola scriptura means that we measure all truth claims against the scriptures”. This is not how most Protestants define it, or how the Westminster Confession defines it.

This is a blog, and Dr Wallace has provided a good working definition. Only Scripture is “God-breathed”. No other “truth claims” bear this unchanging mark of truthfulness. Augustine says, “God alone swears securely, because He alone is infallible”. In this case, God is promising a covenant. Only God can promise a covenant, because only what He says will always come to pass. But indeed, only God can reveal Himself. He does this in the Old Testament and most perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).

No appeal to “apostolic succession” assures that the revelation of God that we have in Christ occurs anywhere else but in Scripture. As I noted in my previous response:

In other words, the fixing of the canon [of the New Testament] necessarily excludes from the “apostolic witness” what “the unbroken chain of bishops” proposes to bring to it. “The establishment of the Christian written canon indicates that the Church itself at a definite time drew a clear line of demarcation between the time of the apostles and the time of the church, between the time of the foundation and the time of the superstructure, between the apostolic church and the church of the bishops, between the short apostolic [tradition] and the ecclesiastical tradition. This occurrence would be meaningless if its significance were not the formation of the canon (citing Cullmann on Tradition).

No one of us, or no group of us, can claim to represent the “true revelation” of God in Christ that will never fail. Only the Scriptures never fail. Further, if you suggest that there is some source that we may trust with the same trust with which we trust the Scriptures, then it is incumbent upon you to say where and how this is so. You, or a pope, or your Metropolitian, or “the whole church together”, not only do fail, but they can be relied upon to fail more often than not. Only the Word, the promise of God, can be relied on never to fail, never to be untrue.

And so if you or I or a council makes a promise or definition, it may be true insofar as it is consistent with God’s word. However, we are always to “measure those truth claims against the Scriptures”.

Eric Todd said: All Protestants who embrace the authority of Scripture also rely however unwittingly on the authority of the Church.

Rather, we rely on God’s promise to guide the church.

(Citing Wallace): “And when there is a consensus among the fathers, we must have very, very good reasons to argue against that consensus, with plenty of scriptural support.”

Eric Todd: I really value your perspective here. If all Protestants adopted this epistemology, doctrinal differences amongst Protestants would all but disappear.

If all are “united to the vine”, and vines are seen to have many branches, what is so important about a “doctrinal difference”? Look at Luther and Zwingli and the Lord’s Supper? If the Lord enables Lutherans and the Reformed to have differences in “doctrines” over these things, then the differences cannot be critical differences. That is, the Scriptures say, “do this”, but they don’t precisely say *how* to “do this”, then whatever *how* is adopted by the church, absolutely does not “rise to the level” of one of those “truth claims” that we started talking about.

I say “all”, because you still leave open the door for the scenario when I, armed only with my Bible and sitting here in the 21st century, argue to overturn a doctrine or praxis that the Church has embraced for up to 2000 years.

We also need to leave open the door for a scenario in which the early church adopted doctrines and practices from, say, Pagan cultures, which have been embedded in, say, “orthodox” doctrines and practices for nearly 2000 years. We should feel free to jettison such things.

If the Church is the “pillar of truth” and the Body of Christ, why assume she became heretical?

You need to understand in what sense the church is “the pillar of truth”. What’s in view in 1 Tim 3:15 is “how you ought to behave”. It is the behavior of the church which supports its own claims to be “supporting the truth”. No church which is behaving badly cannot be said to be speaking the truth. Or, conversely, a church which is behaving badly cannot be seen to be “the pillar of truth”.

That statement is based on exegesis. However, if you want an early church father, consider what Irenaeus said, which is very rarely repeated by Roman Catholics or Orthodox who want to talk about succession, For [the Apostles] wanted those whom they left as successors, and to whom they transmitted their own position of teaching, to be perfect and blameless (1 Tim 3:2) in every respect. If these men acted rightly it would be a great benefit, while if they failed it would be the greatest calamity (Robert Grant translation).

There is no promise of “infallible transmission of doctrine” there. Rather, Irenaeus supports the notion that the church is “the pillar of truth” by “being perfect and blameless”, by living according to the truth. If they do not do this, it is “the greatest calamity”. However, we can see, in every era of church history, how those claiming the highest leadership positions in the church have not done so.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Prayer & praise

I’m going to comment on Craig Blaising’s interpretation of Rev 20. To my knowledge, classical dispensationalism has a major commentary on Revelation (by Robert Thomas), but progressive dispensationalism does not. Buist Fanning is slated to write a commentary on Revelation, which may rectify that omission–although I don’t know if his editors will allow him the page count accorded Thomas. So, for now, Blaising will have to do:

Consistently through John’s visions, martyrs are those who lose their physical lives for Christ’s sake. They have a promise from the One who died and yet came to life in resurrection (ezesan in 2:8) that they will receive a crown of life (2:10) and that they will reign on the earth (5:10). These promises are fulfilled when at the end of the book they come to life (ezesan) and reign with Christ (20:4).
Nor can one establish the interpretation that the martyrs were simply alive spiritually in spite of being dead physically–an interpretation that eliminates the ingressive sense of ezesan (i.e., came to life, began to life [as would be the case in a resurrection])….The ingressive sense is the proper sense in the other uses of the word (2:8; 13:14), and they mean bodily resurrection. Even outside Revelation, ezesan or ezesan is never used to describe the life of a disembodied soul. On the contrary, it is used with an ingressive sense to denote resurrection ((cf. LXX of Ezk 37:10). John’s meaning is established by his use of the word “resurrection” (anastasis) to clarify “came to life” (ezesan). The word anastasis is never used in the Bible for the continuing existence of the physically dead…It always refers to the elimination of the condition of physical death through bodily resurrection.
The martyrs have been promised bodily resurrection (2:10) and a future reign with Christ (2:26-27; 3:21) on the earth. Their deaths by martyrdom, the spilling of their blood on the earth, has been a repeated theme up to this point. In their state of death they are never described as reigning or as seated on thrones, but as resting, waiting, and positioned under the altar until justice is done for them (6:9-10; 14:13). But in 20:4 their condition is changed. At the time that judgment comes on their enemies, they come to life and reign. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise and reward for which they have been waiting throughout the book.

D. Bock, ed. Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Zondervan 1999), 223-24.

i) I think Blaising is committing the totality transfer fallacy in his handling of ezesan. He treats the verb as if it were a technical term for bodily resurrection. But that imports a resurrection context into the meaning of a simple verb.

2:8 doubtless refers to the bodily resurrection of Christ. But that presupposes some background knowledge from the Gospels. If all we had to go by was Revelation, 2:8 wouldn’t be that specific.

ii) Apropos (i), his appeal to 13:14 undercuts his thesis. Since the Beast didn’t die, it wasn’t physically resurrected. The Beast was mortally wounded, but it didn’t succumb to its injuries due to miraculous healing.

iii) His appeal to Ezk 37:10 is treacherous, for that’s a highly imaginative depiction.

iv) Blaising is on slightly firmer ground with anastasis, which is a stock term for “resurrection.” Even so, it’s not clear to me that anastasis is a technical term for physical resurrection. In NT usage, it’s often qualified by an explanatory phrase, viz. “resurrection of/from the dead.” This suggests the word itself isn’t that specialized. Likewise, the Gospels of Luke and John to out of their way to emphasize the physicality of Christ’s resurrection. They don’t rely on the bare term “resurrection.”

v) In any case, we need to distinguish between resurrection imagery and a literal resurrection. This is not a historical narrative, like the Gospels or Acts. The Apocalypse is chockfull of picturesque metaphors. This is not descriptive, realistic language. And even dispensational scholars generally make allowance for figurative depictions in Revelation.

vi) Whether 5:10 is present or future is disputed due to variant readings.

vii) Amils get the “life of a disembodied soul,” not from the sense of isolated words like ezesan, but from the word-picture John draws of disembodied souls (6:9).

viii) 20:4 probably takes place in heaven rather than on earth. There the altar is the heavenly counterpart (6:9, 8:3,5; 9:13; 14:18; 16:7) to the earthly altar of burnt offerings, where the blood of the sacrificial animal drenched the foot of the altar (e.g. Exod 29:12; Lev 4:7; 17:11). By analogy, the blood of the martyrs is like a libation that’s poured out at the base of the heavenly altar. That’s the sense in which the martyrs are “under” the altar. 

ix) How do the saints reign on earth (5:10)? How to they rule the nations (2:26-27; cf. 3:21).

I’d suggest they do so through the power of prayer:

8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been (6:9-11)
2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake (8:3-4).
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (22:17,20).

For exposition, see: R. Bauckham, “Prayer in the Book of Revelation, R. Longenecker, ed. Into God’s Presence (Eerdmans 2001), chap. 12.

Christians begin to reign with Christ in the here and now, although that will be consummated at the Second Coming:

4 Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1:4-6).

Answered prayer is a major way Christians rule nations and exercise dominion on earth–beginning with first-generation Christians, to whom Revelation was initially directed. That’s especially apt in a persecution setting, as beleaguered Christians pray for divine intervention and preservation in a hostile world.