Saturday, January 03, 2015

Loving masochism

Daphne Maddox  
You say you’re offering the love you wish to offer, and doing it in the name of Christianity, but to not accept someone’s gender identity is to persecute their soul. There is nothing loving about torturing transgender people until they throw themselves in front of a truck! 
Stop loving people as you wish to love them. Just don’t do it. Love them as they ask, or if you can’t find it in your heart to do that, please just walk away and mind your own business. Lives are at stake here. I’d say you are playing with fire, but really your pouring gasoline on it. Just stop.
What if somebody’s a masochist. What if they suffer from deep self-loathing, and feel they deserve to be hurt. Would Daphne “love” them as they ask (by whipping them)? Or would she treat they as they ought to be loved, despite their request to be brutalized?

Iconic deaths

Historically, a culturally-iconic death is the death of a soldier on a foreign battlefield, dying to defend the folks back home. But the liberal opinion-makers have replaced that with iconic deaths that are politically useful to further their social agenda, viz. Matthew Shepard, Bobby Griffith ("gay rights") Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown (black civil rights), Brittany Maynard ("right to die"), and now Josh "Leelah" Alcorn ("transgender rights").

However, I didn't elect the liberal opinion-makers to decide for me which deaths are important to me. There are about 7 billion people on the planet. About a quarter million people die every day. 

Speaking for myself, the deaths that are defining events for me are the death of Christ as well as the death of some close relatives. And that's it. 

You, the liberal opinion-makers, don't get to dictate to me what deaths I deem to be defining deaths for me. I will make that value judgment for myself, thank you very much.  

I had a younger cousin (second cousin, to be precise) who was diagnosed with bone cancer in junior high. He died in high school. He didn't die from cancer, but from complications due to cancer therapy. Radiation did so much damage to his lungs that he died of respiratory failure. 

The last specialist his desperate parents took him to see told him he had about a year to live. That's quite something for a teenager to have to hear. Imagine being told that if you were a teenager. To be given that death sentence. No hope. No reprieve. Prepare to die. And, in fact, he succumbed less than a year later. 

My cousin never had the chance that Josh Alcorn threw away. 

There are teenagers who die waiting for an organ transplant. They ran out of time. They never had the chance that Josh Alcorn threw away.

Or take the 2012 Aurora shooting. Three young men died shielding their girlfriends from the shooter. They never had the chance that Josh Alcorn threw away.

Some kids are born with degenerative conditions, like cystic fibrosis. They never had the chance that Josh Alcorn threw away. 

It's a pity that Josh Alcorn killed himself. I'm sorry that he did that to himself, his parents, and his siblings. 

But don't turn him into a martyr for social justice. Don't make him a hero. And don't presume to tell me whose death should be significant to me. Like most folks, I have very short, very personal list. 


I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children (Gen 3:16).

This post is primarily about the cursing of Eve, but I will make some preliminary observations before getting to the main point:

i) Unbelievers think this reflects the mythological character of Genesis. Just as 3:14-15 is an etiological fable about how snakes lost their legs, 3:16 is an etiological fable about the historical source of birth-pangs. 

ii) There's a grain of truth to that allegation insofar as Genesis is certainly a book of origins. It explains, in part, how events in the past gave rise to the present status quo. Of course, saying that doesn't mean I agree with how unbelievers construe the text.

iii) In addition, some interpreters think that all three curses involve a physical transformation. Because the cursing of Adam and the "snake" are physically transformative, the cursing of Eve is physically transformative. I'd just point out that there's no antecedent reason why if one or two are physical, all three must be physical. There's no moral or logical principle that demands physical punishment in all three cases. Punishment needn't be symmetrical in that respect.

iv) Moreover, I disagree with their interpretation. Cursing Adam didn't transform conditions in the Garden. To the contrary, it's because the Garden remained unchanged that Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, so that they could no longer benefit from that idyllic setting. Likewise, they were banished to the wilderness precisely because conditions outside the garden were naturally less hospitable. 

Likewise, Walton has argued that cursing the "snake" trades on familiar imprecations. Due to the prevalence of venomous snakes in the ancient Near East, there were customary imprecations to render them harmless or docile. A cobra raises itself to strike. By contrast, a cobra that's flat on the ground is not in a hostile posture. So he thinks 3:14 plays on that symbolism. And it's plausible that that's how ancient readers, accustomed to such formulas, would understand it. 

v) Strictly speaking, it's not men, women, and "snakes" generally that are cursed in Gen 3, but Adam, Eve, and the Tempter. We move too quickly if we simply assume that this refers to men, women, and "snakes" in general. The curses are specific to Adam, Eve, and the Tempter. 

Now, one might argue that since Adam and Eve are prototypical, what happens to them happens to their male and female counterparts down the line. That's worth considering in terms of the continuing narrative. My point that we shouldn't jump to that conclusion. Tradition has conditioned us to automatically universalize the curses in Gen 3, but you don't get that from Gen 3 itself.

vi) It's often say that Christians opposed sedating women in labor because that subverted the divine punishment. But from what I've read, that's a malicious urban legend:

vii) Apropos (vi), many readers assume the cursing of Eve refers to the origin of birth-pangs. Apart from the Fall, childbirth would have been painless. Unbelievers then attack this  as prescientific nonsense. Childbirth is inherently painful. Unless the heads of babies were smaller, or the cervix was larger, before the fall, that's bound to be a tight squeeze. 

Now, I'm going to question that interpretation, but even on its own terms it's theoretically possible for the body to secrete a natural sedative that anesthetizes pain. In principle, there wouldn't need to be morphological changes for childbirth to be fairly painless. 

viii) Like the English word, the Hebrew word can denote either physical or psychological pain. The word itself doesn't select for labor pains.

As, moreover, one scholar points out:

The Hebrew that stands behind the NIV's "pains" ('tsp) is never used in the OT to refer to pain experienced during the process of giving birth. Birth pangs are referred to using quite different terms. Moreover, the Hebrew word translated in the NIV as "childbearing" (herayon) clearly refers elsewhere in the OT to conception or pregnancy, not birth. I. Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion (Baylor U Press 2014), 117. 

ix) The original audience for Gen 3 had extensive, personal experience with infant mortality. Mothers expected some or many of their children to die before adulthood. When pregnant, there was always the apprehension that the baby you bore might be the baby you bury. This could happen in many ways. Miscarriage. Accident. Disease. Malnutrition. An infected wound. Pregnancy was full of foreboding. Mothers were used to outliving their children. 

Likewise, it was not uncommon for women to die in childbirth, leaving their children motherless. That's another maternal apprehension. And unless wet-nurse was available, a motherless newborn would quickly die of malnutrition. 

Dread of watching your children die. Dread of leaving your children orphaned. Dread of dying in childbirth. 

x) In addition, Eve did, in fact, experience the grief of outliving Abel. And he died under the worst imaginable circumstances. One son murdering another son. In a sense, she lost both sons. One was murdered, while the murderer was banished. Even if Cain hadn't been banished, there'd be the alienation of affections. She could never look at him the same way again.  

xi) Because many modern readers benefit from modern medical science, I think we overlook the possibility or probability that the curse in 3:16 concerns psychological pain rather than physical pain. There are, of course, many Third World mothers who experience all the forbidding that original audience knew all too well. 

Furthermore, in cultures where girls are married off before they are physically mature, childbirth can be physically destructive. 

Suicide blackmail

In the wake of Josh Alcorn's suicide, it's important for parents to keep in mind that sometimes doing everything you can is not enough. There's nothing more you could have done. 

That's true of life in general. We can do everything within our power, but sometimes that's just not enough. We can do all the right things, and it will still turn out badly. We don't have the power to prevent some things from ending badly. We have very limited influence over the conduct of others. Try as we might, there's only so much we can do. We're not in control. 

Of course, even the best parents make mistakes. But kids should realize that even well-meaning parents are fallible and shortsighted, and cut them some slack. After all, parents generally cut their kids a lot of slack. 

We can't afford to create a culture in which kids can blackmail their parents with threats of suicide. That's the abdication of parenting. Kids need boundaries. Tragically, some kids will carry through with the threat, but the parents didn't wrong them–they wronged the parents. A revenge suicide. 

Responsible parents must be able to say "no." That's an essential word in the parental vocabulary. 

A tale of two suicides

Josh Alcorn and Brittany Maynard both committed suicide for the same stated reason: they had nothing to live for, nothing to look forward to. Look at Alcorn's suicide note:

I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out.

Notice, he doesn't think "transitioning" (e.g. undergoing a sex-change operation, hormone therapy, cosmetic therapy) will make him happy. 

Many unbelievers defended Maynard's right to commit suicide. They were mad a Christians for attempting to dissuade her from ending her life.

Now many unbelievers are mad at Christians because Alcorn did commit suicide. But why don't they apply the same logic to both cases? Isn't that an informed decision? A consensual exercise in personal autonomy? Your life is your own, to do with as you see fit–including suicide?

Yes, you may say Alcorn committed a rash act. I agree. But isn't that imposing your own standards on his action? How's that different from attempting to dissuade Maynard? If we're supposed to respect Maynard's decision, why not Alcorn's? Is it their outlook that ought to be decisive, or our outlook on their life? 

You can't just blame it on the parents, even if you're so inclined. For in his suicide note he admitted that even if he got what he wanted ("transitioning"), it wouldn't be enough. Even if he got what he wanted, he'd still be miserable. 

How Did The Earliest Christians Interpret John 3:5?

The subject recently came up on Paul Manata's Facebook page. Here's a discussion of the issue that took place several years ago. The principles addressed there are applicable to scripture interpretation in general, including other cases in which people often appeal to how scripture was interpreted in antiquity (John 6:53, Titus 3:5, etc.).

You can find an archive of many of our posts on baptismal issues here. On eucharistic issues, see here.

Trouble In Transtopia: Murmurs Of Sex Change Regret

Die Juden sind unser Unglück!

This post is about Josh Alcorn. But before I get to that I have a general observation:

I) Never before have unbelievers been so culturally dominant. Yet despite the enormous strides they've made under Obama, they are in a state of chronic rage. And the target of their rage is Christians. They exhibit this pathological antipathy towards Christians, as if all social ills are traceable to Christians. Frankly, it's the mirror image of how Germans blamed all their problems on the Jews: "Die Juden sind unser Unglück!" Some of these folks will find out the hard way what it's like to live under a secular regime. 

ii) Obvious, Alcorn struggled with being a normal boy. However, Alcorn would never have been a successful girl or successful woman. "Accepting" him "just as he was" would not have given him a happy life. Hard as it was for him to be a boy, he was never cut out to be a woman. 

Biology matters. Male body. Male brain. Male hormones. Male DNA. That's not imaginary. 

iii) I suspect our urban, hitech culture makes it harder for some, maybe many, boys to get in touch with their manhood. I'm not suggesting that you should put a boy like Alcorn on the hockey team or football team. He's too psychologically fragile for that. 

But imagine a century or so ago a boy like Josh hunting, chopping wood, riding horses. I expect that would be good for boys like him. Indeed, good for boys in general. 

iv) We can't let the suicide threat keep parents from parenting. Imagine a drug-addicted son or daughter who threatens suicide unless their parents allow them to shoot up at home or even demand that their parents subside their habit. 

Imagine a budding psychopath who likes to torture small animals in the basement. He threatens suicide if his parents take him to a psychologist. What about a teenage daughter who threatens suicide unless her parents allow her boyfriend to move into her bedroom. 

v) In a fallen world, there are just some things we can't fix. For some people, life will always been more of a struggle. 

vi) By the way, he was not a "transgender teen." He was a teenage boy–really a young man. He was clearly disturbed, but let's not dehumanize him by calling him a "transgender teen." 

There are people who suffer from boanthropy. That doesn't make them bovines. And treating them like bovines doesn't help. They merit our sympathy, but not our endorsement. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

Vos on the descent into hell

Personally speaking, I agree with Grudem on this issue. However, here's a useful comparison and contrast for those who care:

All the gnus that's fit to print

I'm going to post some comments I left at Michael Kruger's blog in response to Eichenwald and other gnu atheist commenters:

I think some commenters miss the point of Kruger’s critical review when they dismiss it as a “waste of time.” I doubt that Dr. Kruger is attempting to persuade Eichenwald or the Newsweek editors that they are mistaken. That’s not his objective or target audience.

Rather, he’s writing this for the benefit of fellow Christians–as well as non-Christian lurkers who may be unaware of the other side of the argument.

Likewise, the point is at issue is not how many people happen to read Newsweek. Rather, this Newsweek article is representative of stock objections to the historical Jesus. So Kruger’s rebuttal is generally relevant to those kinds of objections, which unbelievers recycle ad nauseum.

Christian parents are naive if they think these sort of objections can be safely ignored. Many kids raised in evangelical churches lose their faith when they go to college or read a book by an atheist because they were not forearmed to deal with these objections.

Doggy couples

Increasingly, there are couples who have cats and dogs instead of kids. That's not because one partner is infertile, or because they are postponing kids until they achieve financial security. Instead, they never intend to have kids, even though they are physically and financially able to start a family. 

I can't help thinking to myself that this is a way of never having to grow up emotionally or psychologically. Raising kids is a maturing experience in a way that having dogs is not. Kids are demanding and challenging in a way that dogs are not. 

But beyond that, I wonder if what motivates some of them is the subliminal or in some case conscious denial of their mortality. Having kids reminds you of your own mortality. To some extent, having kids is a way of reliving your childhood. You do with them or for them what your parents did with you or for you. You see them doing what you used to do at that age. They get into the same arguments with you that you had with your own parents. 

Due to family resemblance, you can literally see a part of yourself in your kids. A reminder of what you looked like at that age. If fact, they reach the age you were when you had them.

Take a father who played football in junior high or high school. Now he's in the bleachers, watching his son. He swells with pride. Yet there's a twinge of wistful recollection. Time is passing him by. That was you, just twenty years ago. That's now forever behind you.

It's like training your replacement. You must move out before they can move up. 

You see the lifecycle repeating itself. You're just one car-length of ahead of your kids, and your parents (if they're still alive) are just one car-length ahead of you–approaching the dark tunnel of death.  

From a secular standpoint, that's unnerving. Having dogs and cats doesn't remind you of your long-lost youth the way raising kids does. You were never a puppy or a kitten. So you don't see the grim reaper gaining on you in the rearview mirror by having pets. 

It's understandable if godless couples avoid that depressing, fearful prospect by substituting pets for kids. 

G.K. Beale Lectures on iTunes

I’ve been listening to Dr. Greg Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology lecture series on iTunes, which seems to be the lecture series upon which his New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament In the New was based. (It seems to me that the lectures occurred prior to the release of the book, but it’s the same subject matter).

It’s a strongly exegetical treatment, and he emphasizes the “inaugurated” components of the Old Testament’s “last days” all throughout the New Testament. Beale stresses that Christ has a “back story” that extends all through the entire sweep of the Old Testament back to Adam, what he calls “the Old Testament background”.

The book may be found here: G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic ©2011).

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Do we have a duty to protect terrorists?

Critics of "torture" typically alleged that supporters of "torture" defend "torture" on utilitarian or consequentialist grounds. Let's briefly consider this argument for "torture":

In this case study there is also a substantial moral justification for torture, albeit one that many moral absolutists do not find compelling. Consider the following points: (1) The police reasonably believe that torturing the terrorist will probably save thousands of innocent lives; (2) the police know that there is no other way to save those lives; (3) the threat to life is more or less imminent; (4) the thousands about to be murdered are innocent—the terrorist has no good, let alone decisive, justificatory moral reason for murdering them; (5) the terrorist is known to be (jointly with the other terrorists) morally responsible for planning, transporting, and arming the nuclear device and, if it explodes, he will be (jointly with the other terrorists) morally responsible for the murder of thousands. 
In addition to the above set of moral considerations, consider the following points. The terrorist is culpable on two counts. Firstly, the terrorist is forcing the police to choose between two evils, namely, torturing the terrorist or allowing thousands of lives to be lost. Were the terrorist to do what he ought to do, namely, disclose the location of the ticking bomb, the police could refrain from torturing him. This would be true of the terrorist, even if he were not actively participating in the bombing project. Secondly, the terrorist is in the process of completing his (jointly undertaken) action of murdering thousands of innocent people. He has already undertaken his individual actions of, say, transporting and arming the nuclear device; he has performed these individual actions (in the context of other individual actions performed by the other members of the terrorist cell) in order to realise the end (shared by the other members of the cell) of murdering thousands of Londoners. In refusing to disclose the location of the device the terrorist is preventing the police from preventing him from completing his (joint) action of murdering thousands of innocent people.[14] To this extent the terrorist is in a different situation from a bystander who happens to know where the bomb is planted but will not reveal its whereabouts, and in a different situation from someone who might have inadvertently put life at risk (Miller (2005); Hill (2007)). 
In particular, it is difficult to see how torturing (but not killing) the guilty terrorist and saving the lives of thousands could be morally worse than refraining from torturing him and allowing him to murder thousands—torturing the terrorist is a temporary infringement of his autonomy, whereas his detonating of the nuclear device is a permanent violation of the autonomy of thousands.
Seems to me that this is not an essentially utilitarian or consequentialist argument. The argument isn't based primarily on results or the end justifying the means. Rather, it draws two key distinctions:
i) It distinguishes between guilt and innocence. By his murderous intent, the terrorist has forfeited the prima facie right not to be harmed. Conversely, his targets are innocent civilians.
ii) It distinguishes between lesser and greater harm. Temporary harm and permanent harm. The degree of unjust harm inflicted on the innocent. 
In sum, it frames the issue as a choice between temporarily harming a culpable party and permanently harming an innocent party–by failure to take the necessary means to protect the innocent party. 
Now, a critic could still object to the argument on other grounds, but I don't see that the argument is reducible to consequentialism, utilitarianism, or the end-justifies-the-means. The innocent party has a right not to suffer harm at the hands of the guilty party. It's morally relevant who suffers the consequences. Moreover, the innocent party has the right not to suffer greater harm to protect the guilty party from suffering lesser harm. These distinctions respect intrinsic justice.

i) Does a terrorist have a right to commit mass murder against Americans?

ii) Assuming that it’s immoral to murder Americans, does a terrorist have a moral right to withhold information (e.g. time, place, operatives) about a plot to murder Americans?

If it’s wrong to murder Americans, then it’s wrong to conspire to murder Americans. And it’s wrong to withhold information regarding the murderous conspiracy. Wrong to withhold information which would help authorities thwart the plot.

iii) Do the authorities have a duty to protect Americans against mass murder?

iv) Do the authorities have right (and duty) to obtain information about an impending terrorist attack from a captured terrorist?

Assuming they have a duty to protect Americans, then isn’t (iv) part of their duty?

v) If it’s a choice between hurting (i.e. coercing) the terrorist to obtain actionable intel, or allowing the terrorist to hurt (i.e. murder) innocent Americans, where does our duty lie? Should we protect the terrorist or protect the innocent targets of the plot?

One the one hand you “traumatize” the terrorist. So maybe he has nightmares for the rest of his life. Big deal. Why should terrorism be a risk-free occupation?

On the other hand, you save the lives of, let’s say, dozens of innocent men, women, and children. Is the priority to protect the terrorist from harm or the innocent from harm?

vi) A captured terrorist is always at liberty to volunteer what he knows. Coercion is only applied if he refuses to divulge what he knows. Absent an adequate motivation, he may have no incentive to say anything at all.

A terrorist informant has information which we have a right to know. Since he won’t volunteer that information, we have a right to squeeze it out of him.

We shouldn’t employ gratuitously harsh methods to obtain the information. If we can coax the information out of him by kinder, gentler methods, fine. But if he will only divulge what he knows under duress, then we have a right to put him under duress.

It’s no different, in principle, than interrogating a murder suspect. Yes, he may lie to the homicide detectives. But if he gives them a false lead, and they follow up on the lead, they will find out that it’s a false lead. That he lied. They can then go back and question him again.

If, on the other hand, it’s true, then they will have ways of corroborating its veracity. In which case they will know something they didn’t otherwise know.

If a terrorist says something, there are ways to either verify or falsify his statement. But if he’s allowed to keep mum, you can never test it one way or the other.

The Geneva accords are predicated on reciprocity. The Geneva accords distinguish between lawful and unlawful combatants in order to reward those who abide by the laws of warfare while penalizing those who flout the laws of warfare. If such protections are extended to unlawful combatants, then that removes any incentive to ever abide by the laws of warfare.

Molinism and 1 Cor 10:13

Freewill theists quote 1 Cor 10:13 as a prooftext for libertarian freedom (i.e. freedom to do otherwise). Cashing this out in PAP terms, there are possible worlds in which Christians resist said temptations and possible worlds in which Christians succumb to said temptations. And Christians have the metaphysical ability to access either alternative. 

Moreover, in my experience, freewill theists say this refers, not to especially grievous sins, like apostasy or transgressions conducive to apostasy, but sinning in general.

Assuming that's an accurate exposition of their position, here's the rub: 

According to Molinism, not all possible worlds are feasible worlds. Feasible worlds are a subset of possible worlds. God can only instantiate feasible worlds. And which possible worlds are feasible is beyond his control. 

In that event, how can God make good on the universal promise to Christians in 1 Cor 10:13 to always provide an alternative to sinning? How can God ensure that for every temptation, a feasible world is always available where a Christian resists that particular temptation?  

We're talking about all the daily temptations that every Christian past and future faces. There has to be a supply of feasible worlds to match that situation in each and every case, where the Christian does not give in to temptation.  

Also, isn't this a general problem for the Molinist take on conditional and counterfactual statements in Scripture? 

Perhaps a Molinist would stipulate that God got very lucky. But isn't that ad hoc?

When defending God's omnibenevolence, they say feasible worlds constrain what God is able to do.

When defending 1 Cor 10:13, are they allowed to make a U-turn?

Does the supply of feasible worlds expand or contract depending on the exigent needs of the Molinist theory at any given time? 

The importance of the historical Adam

Harmonizing the Gospels

Ex nihilo nihil fit

One presupposition of cosmological arguments for God's existence is the axiom that nothing comes from nothing. 

Unsurprisingly, in order to attack cosmological arguments, some atheists deny the axiom. 

However, to deny the axiom is to deny causality. If something can come from nothing, then you have uncaused effects. 

But that instantly dissolves many things that atheists typically hold dear, like induction, the uniformity of nature, and scientific explanation.

Hypothetical universalism

"Hypothetical Universalism" by Paul Helm.

The historical Adam passages

Evangelical attitudes towards Israel

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Godawa reviews Unbroken

Rome, authority and argumentum ad infinitum

"Genocide" in the OT

Backgrounds to the current Israeli conflict

Dispatches from the other One True Church®

The other One True Church® is having a hard time making up its mind:

I'm waiting for the Mormon hierarchy to break new ground by advocating polygamous same-sex marriage

Synoptic sources

An oft-made claim is that Matthew and Luke got much of their information from Mark. And it's certainly possible that Luke got some of his information from Mark. 

But I'd simply point out that the inference is fallacious. The fact that Matthew and Luke copy (and edit) Mark doesn't imply that Mark was their source of information.

A historian may copy a source, not become that's where he got his information, but because that's a respected source. 

Likewise, if Mark already covered many key events in the life and ministry of Christ, If Matthew and Luke agree with his reportage, then it's convenient to pick up where he left off rather than starting from scratch. If, in the nature of the case, they'd be recounting many of the same events, why not incorporate this preexisting material into their own biographies, which they proceed to supplement with additional, distinctive material?

If Mark was well-received by the NT church, why not build on that foundation? This doesn't imply that they got their information from Mark.

For instance, a Civil War historian may have multiple sources of information for the same event, yet he may only quote from one primary source to make his point. He might quote an eyewitness like Lee, Sherman, or Grant, because that's a credible source. That doesn't mean the Civil War historian is dependent on that particular source–as if that's his only source of information concerning that particular incident. 

The Synoptic Resurrection accounts

i) Because Mark, which is commonly thought to be the earliest canonical Gospel, doesn't have an account of the risen Christ, some unbelievers think the Resurrection narratives in Matthew and Luke represent a legendary embellishment of Mark. 

ii) A few scholars surmise that the original ending of Mark was lost. If so, then the original ending presumably reported the Resurrection. Of course, that theory can't be proven or disproven. 

iii) Textual criticism aside, Mark contains predictions of the Resurrection (Mk 8:31; 9:9,31; 10:34). He records the empty tomb, along with the angelic confirmation of the Resurrection, and prediction of a post-resurrection appearance in Galilee (16:4-7). Therefore, the Resurrection narratives in Matthew and Luke aren't simply tacked onto Mark, in spite of Mark. Mark itself had that expectation, as well as a terse fulfillment. 

iv) If our extant MSS of Mark did contain a Resurrection appearances (or appearances), then unbelievers would discount the Synoptical parallels in Matthew and Luke. They'd say Matthew and Luke simply copied their Resurrection narratives from Mark. They'd say Matthew and Luke simply got their information from Mark. 

As it stands, the absence of a Resurrection appearance in Mark means that Matthew and Luke provide independent, multiple-attestation. Absent a Markan precedent, that's what we're left with. They didn't get it from Mark, and they didn't get it from each other. So Matthew and Luke each had his own, separate sources of information on that score. 

v) And, of course, the Resurrection of Jesus is one of the most widely-attested events in the NT. It isn't confined to the Gospels. 

The graves were opened

52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many (Mt 27:52-53).
Many otherwise conservative (or fairly conservative) scholars are skittish when they come to this incident. 
i) This incident is anomalous in the sense that this is the only place where it's recorded. However, in terms of biblical theology, it's not anomalous. 
This is a microcosm of the resurrection of the just. That's a fundamental hope and expectation in biblical eschatology. 
ii) I don't think it's coincidental that this takes place right after the death of Christ. This is God's way of showing that the death of the Redeemer made atonement for the sins of his people. Here's some graphic evidence. Ever since Adam and Eve were banished from access to the tree of life, death has been the fate of all mankind, including God's people. Here we have a token reversal, keyed to the vicarious atonement of Christ. 
iii) The incident in Mt 27:52-53 is a foretaste and pledge for what the future holds. 
iv) Although this passage has no direct parallel in other Gospels, the raising of Lazarus is roughly analogous (Jn 11).
v) If the Bible is to be trusted, then this incident is exactly what will happen on a massive, worldwide scale when Jesus returns. 
If you happen to be walking through a cemetery at the time Jesus returns, that's what you will see. Graves will open and the dead in Christ will rise. This is a picture we need to take seriously, for this is what the resurrection of the just entails. If Christian scholars balk at that, they have failed to take to heart and think through the implications of biblical eschatology in this respect. That's how it cashes out in concrete terms. It will be a very physical, dramatic, hair-raising event.
(Some premil positions view the effects of the Parousia as multistaged rather than simultaneous. But even if it's a delayed effect, that's still the effect when it happens.)
vi) Admittedly, the object of glorification ranges along on continuum. At one end are Christians alive at the time Jesus returns. They will be instantly transformed.
At the other end are Christians whose bodies have disintegrated. God will reconstitute the unique molecular pattern of their bodies, and reunite their souls to their bodies. But where the body is intact, this is what will happen.
vii) Some readers have been conditioned by horror flicks about the zombie apocalypse to superimpose a false image on the text. But this doesn't describe rotting corpses which lumber around. To the contrary, they will be restored to life, youth, and health. Healthier than they were in the mortal prime of life.
viii) Mt 27:52-53 raises more questions than it answers, but that's a mark of historicity. If this was fiction, it would be easy for Matthew to tie up the loose ends. Fiction is tidy, reality is messy. 
ix) Some critics think it's legendary because, if it really happened, it would be a famous event. However:
a) The only people in a position to recognize that these were former decedents would be contemporary friends and relatives living in Jerusalem. And that might come down to just a handful of witnesses.
b) Jerusalem suffered two devastating attacks by the Romans, resulting in massive casualties, massive dislocation of survivors, as well as massive destruction of written records. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gary Shogren on 1 Corinthians

Here's a popular commentary by a noted charismatic NT scholar on 1 Corinthians:

The Numbers Don't Lie

In 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention conducted a survey of 7,000 evangelicals and found that 41 percent of evangelicals had attempted suicide at some point in their life. While the CDC does not keep track of suicide attempts (largely due to the fact that it is often impossible to differentiate between an accident and an intentional suicide attempt), this is clearly the group of individuals most at risk for suicide.

“We don’t yet know whether evangelicalism attracts people with depression or other mental health issues, or if evangelicalism may in fact cause this behavior,” SBC spokesman Walter Montgomery said. “Clearly, these numbers show beyond doubt there is an underlying disorder, and society does a disservice when we look the other way.”

Many mental health advisors suggest that medication and therapy are needed to help evangelicals, but the most effective method is for evangelicals to convert to other religions. “We don’t see any of these types of numbers in Jewish, Mormon, Catholic, or even Islamic groups,” Montgomery said. “Literally any other belief system is better for the mental health of the adherent. To pretend otherwise is not only ignorant, but willfully harmful.”

Clearly, religion, but especially evangelicalism, is harmful to society.

Wait a minute. It appears I was looking at this incorrectly…

In 2010, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conducted a survey of 7,000 transgender people and found that 41 percent of transgenders had attempted suicide at some point in their life. While the CDC does not keep track of suicide attempts (largely due to the fact that it is often impossible to differentiate between an accident and an intentional suicide attempt), this is clearly the group of individuals most at risk for suicide.

Transgenders who experienced rejection by evangelical family and friends have a higher risk of attempting suicide, the ACLU reported. Spokesman Montgomery Walters said, “Clearly, these numbers show that evangelicals do a disservice when we they not accept transgenders as they are.”

Many mental health advisors suggest that acceptance, especially of religion people, is needed for transgenders to live a normal life. “The bullying of transgenders needs to stop,” Walter said. “If we do not accept a person’s idea of their sex, then the suicides will continue. We cannot pretend that the problem is theirs to bear. And the unfortunate reality is that evangelicals are the most likely to bully transgenders.”

Clearly, religion, but especially evangelicalism, is harmful to society.

Note: the quotes above are fictional, as are the people quoted. However, the 2010 study of transgender people really was conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force with the results listed: 41 percent of the 7,000 transgender people surveyed reported they had attempted suicide. Any other group of people that had nearly half of its members attempting suicide would be considered an abnormal, unhealthy group. Thank goodness we have political correctness to save us from that here.

Taking out the trash

I'm going to make a few comments on this:
I've already left a number of comments on Mike Kruger's initial takedown (part 1). In addition, Eichenwald rehashes many stock "contradictions" which I've often dealt with elsewhere. So I'll just confine myself to a few:
To illustrate how even seemingly trivial contradictions can have profound consequences, let’s recount the story of Christmas.Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem. His father, Joseph, had been planning to divorce Mary until he dreamed that she’d conceived a child through the Holy Spirit. No wise men showed up for the birth, and no brilliant star shone overhead. Joseph and his family then fled to Egypt, where they remained for years. Later, they returned to Israel, hoping to live in Judea, but that proved problematic, so they settled in a small town called Nazareth.Not the version you are familiar with? No angel appearing to Mary? Not born in a manger? No one saying there was no room at the inn? No gold, frankincense or myrrh? Fleeing to Egypt? First living in Nazareth when Jesus was a child, not before he was born?You may not recognize this version, but it is a story of Jesus’s birth found in the Gospels. Two Gospels—Matthew and Luke—tell the story of when Jesus was born, but in quite different ways. Contradictions abound. In creating the familiar Christmas tale, Christians took a little bit of one story, mixed it with a little bit of the other and ignored all of the contradictions in the two.
It's true that popular Christmas traditions combine Matthew and Luke. However, Eichenwald commits a very elementary blunder. The nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke only contradict each other on the assumption that they are reporting events which happened at the very same time and place. It's trivially easy to create a bogus contradiction by acting as though two accounts have the identical timeframe.
Indeed, a difference of just one day can dissolve a chronological contradiction. What can't happen in one day can happen in two days, or spread over weeks or months. 
If, moreover, you read Matthew carefully, it's clear that the Magi arrived on the scene about six months to a year after the birth of Christ. Just by spacing things out over the course of a few weeks or months, the contradictions disappear. 
We may still scratch our heads about how to coordinate these two accounts in a relative chronology, but that's because we lack the intervening details. 
Paul in 1 Corinthians is even clearer; he states, “The time is short.” He then instructs other Christians, given that the end is coming, to live as if they had no wives, and, if they buy things, to treat them as if they were not their own.
Here Eichenwald is alluding to Paul's cryptic statement in 1 Cor 7:29:
i) Paul doesn't say in reference to what the time is short. 
ii) This comes on the heels of his reference to "the present crisis"–which is probably topical. Some scholars think that alludes to famine conditions in the Roman Empire at the time.
iii) Paul uses the word kairos rather than chronos. Chronos denotes quantitative time, linear time, an interval of time. By contrast, kairos denotes qualitative time, epochal time, eschatological time. 
Because of where Christians stand in redemptive history, they should assume a Christian perspective on life. They live after the cross, after the Resurrection, but before the world to come. An in-between time. As Paul says in his follow-up letter: "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:18). 
iv) Notice that in v31, Paul doesn't say the world itself is passing away, but the world in its "present form" is passing away. Once again, that's a matter of viewing the significance of life from a Christian perspective. Our relative position in redemptive history. 
We need to distinguish between appearance and reality. Life is short. The world carries on without us. What's ultimately significant is what is taking place behind-the-scenes. Where we are headed. Where the world is headed.
In fact, the Bible has three creation models, and some experts maintain there are four. In addition to the two in Genesis, there is one referenced in the Books of Isaiah, Psalms and Job. In this version, the world is created in the aftermath of a great battle between God and what theologians say is a dragon in the waters called Rahab. And Rahab is not the only mythical creature that either coexisted with God or was created by him. God plays with a sea monster named Leviathan. 
That's deeply confused:
i) In Isaiah and the Psalms, it's using new creation imagery as a metaphor for the Exodus. Using chaos monsters as a political metaphor for Egypt. These are not alternative creation accounts. Rather, these have reference to the history of the Exodus. 
Likewise, Job 41 is not an alternative creation account. Leviathan is a creature. God made him. That's the point. Leviathan is not a preexistent, rival power who coexisted with God before God made the present world.  
ii) We also need to differentiate the speakers in Job. When God speaks, that's ipso facto normative in a way that statements by the human characters are not. 
Unicorns appear in the King James Bible (although that wasn’t the correct translation of the mythical creature’s Hebrew name).
Notice what he asserts in the first clause he retracts in the parenthetical. 
There are fiery serpents and flying serpents and cockatrices—a two-legged dragon with a rooster’s head (that word was later changed to “viper” in some English-language Bibles).
i) To begin with, he offers no evidence to justify his identification.
ii) More to the point, this is poetry. Figurative imagery. A political allegory. 
And in Exodus, magicians who work for the Pharaoh of Egypt are able to change staffs into snakes and water into blood.  
Yes, witchcraft is real. 

Attesting the virgin birth

Unbelievers sometimes say they reject the virgin birth because it's only attested in two Gospels. 

i) Since unbelievers typically reject miracles a priori–since, indeed, unbelievers regard an account containing miracles as automatically discrediting the historical reliability of the account–this objection is duplicitous.

ii) We wouldn't expect the virgin birth to be attested outside the Gospels. The NT letters aren't histories or biographies. They contain only occasional references to the life of Christ. Same thing with Revelation. Acts is a history of the establishment of the NT church. 

iii) Because John's Gospel is generally considered to be the latest Gospel and the most theologically "advanced," unbelievers regard it as the least historical. If, therefore, it reported the virgin birth, they'd discount that in the same way they discount John's high Christology, the miracles of Christ in his Gospel, as well as the speeches and dialogues of Christ in his Gospel.

Indeed, Andrew Lincoln, who's penned a critique of the virgin birth, also penned a commentary on John's Gospel, and he doesn't put much stock in the historicity of John's Gospel. So, for critics like him, it wouldn't matter if John recorded the virgin birth.

iv) Finally, if all three Synoptic gospels attested the virgin birth, unbelievers would regard that as even less impressive than if only Matthew and Luke attest the virgin birth.

Assuming Markan priority, if all three Synoptic Gospels attested the virgin birth, unbelievers would discount the testimony of Matthew and Luke because they'd say Matthew and Luke simply copied that from Mark. Rather than multiple-attestation, they'd say that boils down to just one Gospel. 

Conversely, since Mark doesn't record the virgin birth, that means the witness of Matthew and Luke does constitute independent corroboration. Since, in this case, Mark is not the lynchpin connecting Matthew and Luke (vis-à-vis the virgin birth), they didn't get that information from Mark, or from each other. 

So we have two Gospel authors, writing independently of each other, bearing historical witness to the virgin birth.

Kruger on Newsweek hit-piece

Patristic exegesis

Monday, December 29, 2014


Taking the Lord's name in vain

The issue of the 3rd commandment cropped up on David Wood's Facebook wall. Wood recommend the new movie Unbroken.
A commenter asked if characters in the film took the Lord's name in vain. He said he'd walk out on a movie where that happened. 
This raises several issues. What does the 3rd commandment actually prohibit?
i) One popular interpretation considers this a taboo against using "God," "Christ," or "Jesus" as an expletive, or using the Lord's name flippantly (e.g. "OMG). 
No doubt that's a misuse of God's name. An irreverent use of God's name. 
However, it trivializes the prohibition to think that's the only thing or primary thing it forbids. 
ii) Even if the 3rd commandment is a prohibition against profanity, it would be a prohibition against speaking profanity, not hearing profanity. 
iii) Another traditional interpretation, both in Jewish circles and Reformed circles, is to construe it as a prohibition against breaking a religious oath. There are, however, two possible problems with that interpretation:
a) We already have a prohibition against perjury in the 9th commandment. If the 3rd commandment is similar, that's redundant. Likewise, why would two related prohibitions be separated by several other prohibitions? Why not combine them? 
b) Coming in the heels of the first two commands, which concern with false worship, it would be logical if the 3rd commandment is conceptually related to false worship.
iv) Apropos (iii-b), the prohibition may well have specific reference to the occultic use of God's name. In the ancient world it was customary to invoke the name of a deity in witchcraft and divination, as a way of summoning the deity's power and authority. 
That's not an interpretation which occurs to most modern western readers, because that's not a feature of our common experience. However, in parts of Africa and Brazil (to name two examples), where black magic is prevalent, that's very much a live issue.
Apropos (iv), the incident in Acts 19:13 is a good illustration of what the 3rd commandment prohibits: 
Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (Acts 19:13).
There a Jewish exorcist invokes the name of Jesus to conjure his authority. That's a misuse of the name, because the exorcist is not a Christian. 

A neglected prooftext for the deity of Christ

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (Acts 19:13).
There are many stock prooftexts for the deity of Christ. However, here's a neglected prooftext. 
In the ancient world it was commonplace to invoke the name of a deity in oaths, incantations, imprecations, and so forth. 
This passage follows that pattern. What's interesting is that it hails from a hostile source. This appropriation assumes that Jesus was reputedly a divine figure even in Jewish circles, so that invoking his name would summon his power and authority to expel demons. 
At one level it's clearly inconsistent or syncretistic for a Jewish exorcist to use the name of Jesus this fashion. But by the same token, it bears witness, from a hostile source, to Christ's reputation as a divine figure.

Gregg Allison on Roman Catholicism: Front Matter

I’m walking through various parts of Gregg Allison’s work on Roman Catholicism, “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment”. I’d like to take a look at the “front matter”.

What I’m calling the “front matter” encompasses what Allison calls the “Preface” (pgs 17-20) and the “Introduction” (pgs 23-30). It seems to me as if this work may have been rushed a bit, and that with a little bit of effort these could have been combined into one unit.

In the Preface, Allison is careful to thank a number of Roman Catholic contributors for “personal counsel, guidance, inspiration, suggestions, editorial help, corrections, and the like:

Specific contributions from Catholics came from Father James Keleher, my professor for “The Documents of Vatican II” course at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary; Don Pio Iorg, with whom I worked in Lugano, Switzerland; Father Slider Steurnol, who contributed to my Catholic theology classes at Western Seminary; and various priests, monks, and deacons who have contributed to my Catholic theology classes at Southern Seminary.

The semantics of "torture"

Here's a follow-up to an earlier post. I'm struck by how many critics of "torture," including some Christians, think they can win the argument by definition. 
i) There's nothing wrong with defining your terms. Indeed, some opponents of "torture" never define what they mean. 
ii) At the same time, we need to avoid the danger of tendentious definitions. Take Hume's definition of miracles. Or the claim that, "by definition," the scientific method must be atheistic. Or the claim that, "by definition," faith is belief without evidence. 
iii) Apropos (ii), definitions are typically descriptive, not prescriptive or proscriptive. They simply give the meaning of a word, based on popular or specialized usage. Definitions don't typically determine what ought to be the case. 
iv) The problem with asserting that some interrogative technique is immoral "by definition" is that your claim is purely semantic. The ethics of "torture" or coercive interrogation is a normative question, not a semantic question. 
Here's the fallacy:

a) Exploiting a terrorist's nyctophobia is torture

b) Electroshocking a terrorist is torture

c) Ergo, (a) is morally equivalent to (b)

But that's a semantic ruse. In reality, the two actions are hardly interchangeable. You may choose to condemn both, but if so, don't pretend that by subsuming them under a common definition you have made them equivalent actions. You may say they mean the same thing because you say both are cases of "torture," but that's a verbal gimmick. A horse and a dog are both quadrupeds, but that doesn't make a horse a dog. And that doesn't mean what's appropriate for a horse is appropriate for a dog. 
v) Another example of winning by definition is when opponents of "torture" say it's immoral because it violates human "dignity." Once again, this reduces a moral issue to a semantic debate. It detours us into a disquisition on what constitutes human dignity. 
vi) Incidentally, I notice that's how Catholic ethicists frame the issue. However, evangelicals shouldn't rubberstamp a Catholic framework, as if that's a given.
"Personal integrity" is another category that's used to leverage the answer. 
vi) Apropos (iv), you can't begin with a definition as a normative claim. Although it may be useful for you to define your terms at the outset, you're not entitled to preemptively classify a particular method as "torture." You need to take the preliminary step of justifying your classification. 
vii) Apropos (vi), since "torture" has invidious connotations, many proponents of coercive interrogation will reject your circular usage inasmuch as they don't think the techniques in question are invidious in this particular context. In other words, if you use "torture" as synonymous with something abhorrent, the opposing side will automatically reject your prejudicial definition.  
ix) If you're going to mount an intellectually serious argument against torture or coercive interrogation, you should discuss various techniques on a case-by-case basis. If you think waterboarding a high-value terrorist is immoral, give specific reasons for why that specific method is wrong. Don't take intellectual shortcuts. That's only persuasive for people who already agree with you. 
I don't necessarily object to saying that some things are wrong "by definition" (although I don't think that's the best way of putting it). Rather, I object to disputants who shirk their burden of proof. If they have already made an effort to establish their presuppositions, then they can reenter the discussion at a later stage in the argument. But they need to have the earlier stage of the argument to back up their starting point. 
x) And, of course, there are other considerations. For instance, does the moral status of a terrorist affect the treatment he's entitled to receive? 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible

"The Human Faces of God"

Prima facie rights

Critics of "torture" routinely complain that the popular warrant for "torture" is ends-justify-the-means reasoning. And they consider that morally indefensible. 
One problem with their complaint is that, on the face of it, some ends do justify some means. That's not equivalent to saying any end justifies any means. Critics of "torture" are very slopping in that regard. 
But now I'd like to make a different point. 
(2) the terrorist has forfeited his right to life and his dignity by his own evil actions; and (3) the innocent lives that can be saved are of higher value than any moral claims by the terrorist who has committed atrocities. 
While forgiveness and mercy are a matter for individuals, it is the role of the government to protect and punish. When it comes to protection, innocent lives that can be saved are of higher value than any moral claims by the terrorist who has and will commit atrocities. Guilt and innocence matters. If government officials have a known terrorist in custody, and it is certain that he has information needed to save lives, it is morally justified for them to use interrogative torture to get the information necessary to protect innocent life.
i) Notice that McAllister isn't using an end-justifies-the means argument here. Rather, she's distinguishing between lesser and greater values. In addition, she's distinguishing between prima facie rights and the forfeiture of prima facie rights. That's not equivalent to, or reducible to, an end-justifies-the means argument. Critics of "torture" will have to use attempt a different objection.
ii) It would be more accurate to speak of coercive interrogation rather than torture. Torture and coercion are not equivalent. "Torture" has connotations that have no relevance to interrogation. 

Atheism, oblivion, and torture

From a secular perspective, killing a terrorist is worse for the terrorist than temporarily torturing him to extract information. If you kill him, he ceases to exist. If you temporarily torture him, he recovers. He suffers far less harm from temporary torture than death–which is permanent and total harm.  Yet secularists don't generally think it's ipso facto wrong to kill a person.