Monday, June 30, 2014

Arminian prooftexts

The argument for Arminianism used to be a whole lot simpler for Arminians. It was a two-sided debate between Calvinists and Arminians. Now, however, Arminians have far more competition. 

They must vie with universalists for the "all/world" passages. 

Likewise, they must vie with open theists for the anthropopathic passages (e.g. Ezk 18:23,33; Mt 23:37; Lk 19:41).

To further complicate matters, many or most contemporary Arminians espouse eternal security. When "4-point Arminians" debate Wesleyan Arminians, they default to Reformed exegesis. 

Finally, even though Arminians champion unlimited atonement, that's masks a fatal equivocation inasmuch as Arminians can't agree what the atonement is or does. Many contemporary Arminians espouse penal substitution, but many traditional Arminians reject penal substitution. Moreover, you have prominent contemporary Arminians who reject penal substitution (e.g. Joel Green, Randal Rauser). Even if you think Christ died for everyone, what does that mean? 

In this post I'm going to quote the major Arminian prooftexts. A partial exception is that I won't quote their prooftexts against the perseverance of the saints, both because I've discussed that at length elsewhere, and because Arminians are divided on the subject.

After quoting their prooftexts, I will quote from a variety of scholars. These include Calvinists, Arminians, universalists, open theists, and non-Calvinists. By non-Calvinists I mean scholars who, to my knowledge, aren't Calvinists, but beyond that I don't know how to classify them. They don't self-identify their overall position, if they have one. 

Obviously, I won't agree with everyone I quote. My point is to illustrate the complexity of the Arminian burden of proof. Nowadays, Arminians are having to fight on several fronts at once, both in terms of intramural debates as well as non-Arminian opponents. It's not a straightforward appeal to their prooftexts.  

In some cases, after quoting a scholar or scholars, I'll include an editorial aside.

1) Isa 5:1-7

What more was there to do for my vineyard,    that I have not done in it?When I looked for it to yield grapes,    why did it yield wild grapes? (v4).

God is sometimes surprised by the way things unfold.  For example, he expected Israel to be fruitful, but they were not (Isa 5:1-5). 
At other times he tells us that he is surprised at how things turned out because he expected a different outcome (Isa. 5:3–7; Jer. 3:67; 19–20).

Both traditional Arminians and open theists claim this passage. But as Boyd points out, this isn't just an Arminian/Calvinist dispute, but a classical theist/open theist dispute. 

2) Ezk 18:23

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
An even more problematic question that burdens those who view the future as eternally settled and thus known by God as such is why God would give certain agents the free will to damn themselves, especially when he tells us he desires all to be saved and is grieved by very person who is lost (e.g. Ezk 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tim 2:4; 4:10; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 Jn 2:2). 
G. Boyd, "God Limits His Control," Four Views on Divine Providence, 202. 
3) Mt 23:37

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
The heart of God, clearly, is a heart which grants freedom, and which sometimes suffers profoundly because of it. In the case of Matthew 23:37, what the Son of God longed for the Son of God didn’t get! The fact that most theologians in the classical tradition found it necessary to attribute this lament not to the heart of the eternal God but only to the humanity of Christ simply testifies to the strength with which a non-biblical philosophical concept of God (viz. God’s impassability) has held biblical exegesis hostage.

Boyd has a more consistent hermeneutical approach than traditional Arminians. He rejects the Reformed appeal to anthropomorphic or anthropopathetic depictions. Traditional Arminians must straddle the fence without falling over on the Calvinist side or the open theist side. It's quite a balancing act. In addition:

4) Jn 1:12-13

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Some interpreters forcefully reject any idea that the relative clause with which v13 begins ("who were born…") is a comment on the preceding clause ("who believed in his name") since then faith would proceed from regeneration whereas, according to their view, a person must opt for rebirth as a possibility opened up for him or her in the call that comes from the Revealer. In the choice that faith makes a person can be "born again" and so change and come to his or her real being. However, against this it has to be asserted that the concluding statement in v13 traces the entire gift of being a child of God, including the manner in which it is effected, to its deepest ground: "procreation" by God. The idea that faith as a human choice should precede that birth and therefore that in some sense a person should have this rebirth of God at his or her disposal not only seems absurd but is also at variance with statements like this in 1 Jn 5:1," H. Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, 47.
No evangelical would say that before we are born again we must practice righteousness, for such a view would teach works-righteousness. Nor would we say that first we avoid sinning, and then are born of God, for such a view would suggest that human works cause us to be born of God. Nor would we say that first we show great love for God, and then he causes us to be born again. No, it is clear that practicing righteousness, avoiding sin, and loving are all the consequences or results of the new birth. But if this is the case, then we must interpret 1 John 5:1 in the same way, for the structure of the verse is the same as we find in the texts about practicing righteousness (1 John 2:29), avoiding sin (1 John 3:9), and loving God (1 John 4:7). It follows, then, that 1 John 5:1 teaches that first God grants us new life and then we believe Jesus is the Christ.
5) Jn 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Some argue that the term "world" here simply has negative connotations–the created human world. But the characteristic use of "the world" (ho cosmos) elsewhere in the narrative is with negative overtones–the world in its alienation from and hostility to its Creator's purposes. It  makes better sense in the soteriological context to see the latter notion as in view. God loves that which has become hostile to God. The force is not, then, that the world is so vast that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it, but rather that the world has become so alienated from God that it takes an exceedingly great love to love it at all. A. Lincoln, The Gospel According to St. John, 154.
6) Acts 7:51
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.
More puzzling still is why God sincerely tries to get individuals and groups to turn from their wicked ways and surrender to him if he is eternally certain his efforts will fail (e.g. Acts 7:51…). 
G. Boyd, "God Limits His Control," Four Views on Divine Providence, 202.  
7) Rom 5:18; 11:32

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 
For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
So when he uses "all men" here [5:18], he does not mean every human being but rather is saying "that Christ effects those who are his just as certainly as Adam does those who are his." While all are in Adam, it is clear in Romans that only those who are believers are in Christ.  
While some have taken this [11:32] to mean universal salvation, this is impossible in light of the constant emphasis on final punishment at the eschaton (1:18; 2:5-11; 6:21,23; 9:22,29). Therefore, it is likely that the "all" here is corporate, meaning that God's mercy will be shown to Jew and Gentile alike. G. Osborne, Romans, 144, 312.
Notice how Arminian Grant Osborne defaults to Calvinist exegesis to deflect universalism.
Observe first the parallel structure of [Rom] 5:18…The whole point of such a parallel structure, so typical of Paul, is to identify a single group of individuals and to make two parallel statements about that single group of individuals, and the effect therefore is to eliminate any possibility of ambiguity. The very ones who came under condemnation, as a result of the first Adam's act of disobedience, will eventually be brought to justification and life, as a result of the second Adam's act of obedience…Again, I do not know how Paul could have expressed himself any more clearly than that. 
Paul's teaching here is so explicit, and so clear, that even the opponents of absolute universalism have sometimes conceded, as Neil Punt does, that 'Romans 5:18 and its immediate context place no limitations on the universalistic thrust of the second "all men".'  
…Paul's explicit teaching that God, being merciful to all (Rom 11:32), shows no partiality to anyone. So how, then, do the Arminians explain the supposedly final division within the human race? Presumably by an appael to human freedom: We ultimately determine our own destiny in heaven or hell. But if that is true, then the redeemed are also in a position to boast, it seems, along the following lines: 'At the very least, some of my own free choices–my decision to accept Christ, for example–were a lot better than those of the lost, and these choices also explain, at least partially, why my character ended up to be a lot more virtuous than theirs.' Thomas Talbot, Universal Salvation: The Current Debate, 19-20, 260.
Notice how a universalist easily co-opts Arminian prooftexts, hermeneutics, and applies them more consistently. 
8) Rom 8:29

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
proginosko (2) "choose beforehand" tina [someone] Ro 8:29. ton laon autou 11:2. BDAG 866b.
While agreeing that God knows the future, including who will believe, the corporate election perspective would tend to understand the references to foreknowledge in Rom 8:29 and 1 Pet 1:1-2 as referring to a relational prior knowing that amounts to previously acknowledging or recognizing or embracing or choosing people as belonging to God (i.e., in covenant relationship/partnership). The Bible sometimes mentions this type of knowledge, such as when Jesus speaks of those who never truly submit to his lordship: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt 7:23; cf. Gen 18:19; Jer 1:5; Hos 13:4-5; Amos 3:2; 1 Cor 8:3). On this view, to be chosen according to foreknowledge would mean to be chosen because of the prior election of Christ and the corporate people of God in him.
Notice Arminian Abasciano's oblique concession that the traditional Reformed understanding of proginosko was right all along. 
9) Rom 14:15

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.
Paul uses the powerful verb apollumi ("annihilate, destroy, ruin") in the present imperative, which implies an ongoing process rather than once and for all "being lost before God."…Horst Baltz is therefore closer to the nuance required by this context in suggesting the translation of lupeo in this verse as "injured/deeply troubled," which implies an ongoing state.
References in the commentaries to "eschatological ruin" or "spiritual ruin" not only overlook the tense of the verb but also provide scant explanation of the effects of conscience violation. R. Jewett, Romans, 861-861.
10) 2 Cor 5:14-15,19

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
19 That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
This probably means that one has died as the representative of all his people, and therefore all of them are deemed to have dead in the person of their representative. F. F. Bruce, I & II Corinthians, 207.
Most commentators admit that the most sensible reading is to take pantes in all three occurrences as being coextensive…In many ways the meaning of the verse turns on this one word [ara]: Christ died for all, therefore all died. The point that Paul wishes to make, inter alia, is that Christ's death effects the spiritual death of others, such that (kai) he died for all so that (hina) those who live (having died in Christ) should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again (v55). In other words, Christ's death is both effective and purposive and reveals there is an implicit union between Christ and those for whom he died, something that Paul makes more explicit in Rom 6:1-11. J. Gibson, "For Whom Did Christ Die?," From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, 303.
11) 1 Tim 2:4-6; 4:10; Tit 2:11

4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.
The purpose of the reference to "all people," which continues the them of universality in this passage, is sometimes misconstrued. The reference is made mainly with the Pauline mission to the Gentiles in mind (v7). But the reason behind Paul's justification of this universal mission is almost certainly the false teaching, with its Torah-centered approach to life that included either an exclusivist bent or a downplaying of the Gentile mission…Paul's focus is on building a people of God who incorporate all people regardless of ethnic, social, or economic backgrounds… P. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 177-178.
It may be that they [false teachers] were consumed with genealogies because they restricted salvation along certain ethnic lines (1 Tim 1:4)…When Paul says that God desires all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and that Christ was the random for all (1 Tim 2:6), he may be responding to some who excluded Gentiles from salvation for genealogical reasons…Paul counters Jewish teachers (Tit 10:10,14-15; 3:9) who construct genealogies to exclude some from salvation. T. Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God's Glory in Christ, 184-85.
These problems disappear if we accept the other possible translation, "to be precise, namely, I mean." "All" is thus limited here to believers," I. H. Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 556. 
12) Heb 2:9

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
When we place this description of Abraham's offspring with the emphasis on the children God gave to Jesus and the use of the word "brothers," we have significant evidence that Jesus's death "for everyone" (v9) is particular rather than general. All of this fits with v17, which speaks of Jesus's High Priestly ministry "to make propitiation for the sins of the people"… Given the focus on God's elect and Jesus's family in the context, it seems fair to conclude that here the emphasis is on the actual satisfaction accomplished in Jesus's death for those who would be part of his family. T. Schreiner, "Problematic Texts" for Definite Atonement in the Pastoral and General Epistles," From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, 396. Cf. P. T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, 101-124.
13) Heb 10:29

How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
The apostate treats as profane that which is in fact not only holy in itself, but the source of cleansing holiness for the believer. The language is cultic, not ethical. P. Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 540. 
In other words, "sanctification," in the usage of Hebrews, refers not to inner renewal by the Holy Spirit, but a kind of ceremonial consecration, like ritual purity or cultic holiness. 
14) 2 Pet 2:1

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
The most immediate [image] is borrowed from the Roman slave trade, where a ransom might serve as the price of emancipation, after which the one freed belong to the one who paid the price.  
First Peter 1:18-19 affirms that believers were "ransomed" from the futile ways of their ancestors "with the precious blood of Christ" (cf. Eph 1:7; 2 Pet 2:1). In these and related passages, NT writers are drawing on a wealth of what would have been shared experience in the larger Greco-Roman world. Those familiar with the history of Israel, of course, would have heard reverberations of the story of the exodus in the background of such references (e.g., Ex 6:6; cf. Is 51:11). Others, however, might have been led to conjer up images of the "redemption" of slaves or of prisoners of war. 
This raises the question, If Jesus' death "purchased" believers, to whom was the purchase price paid? The devil? The demonic world? It is here, at this juncture, that we encounter the limits of the metaphor of redemption. J. Green & M. Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross (IVP 2000), 41-42, 102.
A spillover from Calvinism into Arminianism has occurred in recent decades. Thus many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism…Arminians teach that what Christ did he did for every person; therefore what he did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition…[Arminians] also feel that God the Father would not be forgiving us at all if his justice was satisfied by the real thing that justice needs: punishment. J. Grider, "Arminianism," Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 80.
Joel Green is a premier Arminian NT scholar. The monograph he coauthored with Baker is a frontal assault on penal substitution. But that obscures the Arminian appeal to 2 Pet 2:1 as a prooftext for unlimited atonement. If it's not redemptive in the penal substitutionary sense, then in what sense, if at all, did Christ atone for the sins of the false teachers? Grider's clarification raises the same issue. 
I'd add that even if you think the Bible teaches penal substitution (which it undoubtedly does), you can't superimpose that on every generically redemptive passage. 2 Pet 2:1 lacks vicarious or sacrificial language. It doesn't say the false teachers were redeemed by the blood of Christ. It doesn't say Christ died in their stead. 
15) 2 Pet 3:9

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
God's patience with his own people, delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay. 
The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish thought it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment. R. Bauckham,  Jude, 2 Peter, 312-13.
In other words, it's not referring to humans in general, but God's people (Jews, Christians) in particular. 
Why would God strive to the point of frustration to get people to do what he was certain they would never do before they were even born; namely, believe in him? Doesn't God's sincere effort to get all people to believe in him imply that it is not a foregone conclusion to God that certain people would not believe in him when he created them? Indeed, doesn't the fact that the Lord delays his return imply that neither the date of his return nor the identities of who will and will not believe are settled in God's mind ahead of time?…If this isn't what 2 Pet 3:9 explicitly teaches, what does it teach? 
If it is difficult for the classical view to explain why God strives with people he is certain will not be saved, it is evil more difficult to explain why God would create these people in the first place…why a God who loves all epode and who wants no one to perish would give freedom to people he is certain are going to use it to damn themselves to hell. G. Boyd, "The Open-Theist View," Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, 29.
16) 1 Jn 2:2; 4:14

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
If here it is a reference to the whole planet, consideration of the historical context in which John wrote makes a more likely interpretation to be the universal scope of Christ's sacrifice in the sense that no one's race, nationality, or any other trait will keep that person from receiving the full benefit of Christ's sacrifice if and when they come to faith.  
In the ancient world, the gods were parochial and had geographically limited jurisdictions. In the mountains, one sought the favor of the mountain gods; on the sea, of the sea gods. Ancient warfare was waged in the belief that the gods of the opposing nations were fighting as well, and the outcome would be determined by whose god was strongest. Against that kind of pagan mentality, John asserts the efficacy of Jesus Christ's sacrifice is valid everywhere, for people everywhere, that is "the whole world."  
But "world" in John's writings is often used to refer not to the planet or all its inhabitants, but to the system of fallen human culture, with its values, morals, and ethics as a whole. Lieu explains it as that which  is totally opposed to God and all the belongs to him. It is almost always associated with the side of darkness in the Johannine duality, and people are characterized in John's writings as being either "of God" or "of the world" (Jn 8:23; 15:19; 176,14,16; 18:36; 1 Jn 2:16; 4:5). Those who have been born of God are taken out of that spiritual sphere, though not out of the geographical place or physical population that is concurrent with it (Jn 13:1; 17:15: see "In Depth: The "world" in John's Letters" at 2:16).  
Rather than teaching universalism, John here instead announces the exclusivity of the Christian gospel. Since Christ's atonement is efficacious for the "whole world," there is no other form of atonement available to other peoples, cultures, and religions apart from Jesus Christ. K. Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Zondervan 2014), 80.
1 John is written to a Christian community…Its  concern, as we have seen, is with the sins of Christian believers after their conversion, emphasizing that "the blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin" (1 Jn 1:7), that "if anybody sins we have an Advocate with the Father" and that he is a propitiation "for our sins" (1 Jn 2:1-2, my italics). But having introduced an explicit theology of atonement to deal with the specific problem of "our" sins now, after conversion and baptism, the author adds, almost as an afterthought, that of course this is God's way of dealing with sin always and everywhere: "and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world". There is not one "propitiation" for us and another for the rest of the world, but Jesus (kai autos) is the only sacrifice, and the only way of salvation for all. The point is not that Jesus died for everyone indiscriminately so that everyone in the world is in principle forgiven, but that all those  forgiven are forgiven on the basis of Christ's sacrificed and in no other way. J. R. Michaels, "Atonement in John's Gospel and Epistles," C. Hill & F. James, eds. The Glory of the Atonement (IVP 2004), 116-17. 

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