Saturday, March 21, 2015

Availing prayer

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. [Or The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power] 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (ESV). 
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (NIV). 
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (NASB).
i) Jas 5:15 is a familiar crux. On the face of it, this seems to promise too much. What about sick Christians who die in spite of intercessory prayer?
ii) One solution is the cessationist move. Claim that this only applied to 1C Christians. This command and promise died with the apostles and/or their handpicked disciples.
But in context that won't work. James doesn't say a sick Christian should call for the apostles and prophets to pray for him. Rather, it's simply elders. 
Moreover, he extends the principle in the succeeding verses to the church in general, to Christians generally.
iii) Although commentators routinely refer back to v15 when they interpret v16, they don't routinely refer to v16 when interpreting v15. I find that odd. Contextually, these are mutually interpretive. So we should use 16ff. to gloss v15. 
We should take 16ff. into account when we interpret v15. The "prayer of faith" in v15 is equivalent to the prayer of a "righteous" man in v16, which is–in turn–illustrated by Elijah. 
Although Elijah was a famous prophet and miracle-worker, he was not a plaster saint. Moreover, James accentuates what he has in common with ordinary Christians. Elijah doesn't represent some daunting standard of comparison.  
According to James, God didn't answer his prayers because Elijah was a prophet or because Elijah has a special kind of faith, but because Elijah was "righteous." And not because he was especially righteous, for Elijah was "like us."
iv) The grammar of v16b is ambiguous. What's the object of the verb? Is the verb active, passive, or middle? 
Given the grammatical ambiguity, it would be imprudent to tie our interpretation too tightly to a specific construction. James doesn't give us sufficient clues to be that definite.
v) Before we consider what James says, we should note what he doesn't say. He doesn't say a righteous man gets whatever he prays for. Indeed, Elijah was sometimes frustrated. Complained to God. 
vi) One grammatical possibility is to take the verb as passive. On that rendering, the efficacy of prayer depends on God working in and through our prayers. That's the construction favored by Blomberg. Davids agrees: God is "the active agent" (197). 
But Moo thinks that reads too much into the text. McCartney agrees. Moo favors the middle voice: "as it powerfully works."
But given the fact that divine passives are a common convention in Biblical usage, combined with James's Jewish orientation, I think the passive sense is very plausible. 
Another possibility is to render the phrase: "effective prayer is powerful." But Blomberg and McCartney object that that's tautologous. 
However, I see no reason why James can't be tautologous. Biblical discourse is often redundant. Indeed, the spoken word is typically more redundant that the written word because it's easier to miss words when you hear something than when you read something. And public letters were composed to be read aloud. So I don't think there's any a priori objection to a tautologous construction–which doesn't mean that's the preferred rendering. 
For his part, Johnson translates the phrase "is able to have a strong effect." That's probably a safe, neutral rendering. 
vii) Given the context of miraculous healing, why does James select this example of answered prayer (i.e. drought) rather than Elijah restoring the child to life, which presents a closer parallel to the case at hand? 
Perhaps James is striking a balance between encouragement and presumption. Christian prayer should be hopeful, but not too hopeful! Raising the dead would be an unrealistic example, not because that can't happen in answer to prayer, but because that's not something Christians should expect to happen. 
Prayer can accomplish things that nothing else can, but it's not a failsafe formula. We have much to gain by answered prayer, and nothing to lose by unanswered prayer.
viii) McCartney makes a good observation:
Elijah's prayer for returning rains after the prophets of Baal were cut down receives no immediate answer. His servant must go and return from looking out to the sea seven times before he finally sees the little cloud that becomes a great downpour. Likewise, the believer in times of trouble may need to wait and pray patiently for some time… (259).

Friday, March 20, 2015

Where God Loves Abortion and Hates Israel

"By the Spirit" or "in the spirit"?

Here's how four standard contemporary versions render 1 Pet 3:18:
being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (ESV). 
having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (NASB). 
He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (NRSV). 
He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit (NIV).
Here's a notable exception:
being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit (NKJV).
Of course, that's a revision of the classic 17C version. 
Since I don't sit on translation committees, I don't know why they generally render the phrase that way, but here's what two commentators say, which may reflect the thinking of translation committees:
Jobes says that given the parallel syntax, the two datives should be rendered the same way (240). Fobes agrees. 
Since the instrumental construction ("by") is not consistent for both, that, in turn, selects for a locative construction ("in"). Hence, as Forbes goes on to say:
Christ was put to death in the realm of the flesh but made alive in the realm of the Spirit (123).
By further implication:
It is unclear whether "Spirit" should be capitalized or not. Having rejected the instrumental sense for pneumati and opted for a locative of sphere (i.e., mode/realm of existence), the parallel with sarki probably favors a lower case "spirit" (123).
Jobes is a fine Greek scholar. An expert on the LXX. Likewise, the EGGNT series (to which Forbes contributes) is specifically designed to interact with the finer points of the Greek text. But it seems to me that there are two basic problems with their analysis:
i) Both Jobes and Forbes agree that "made alive" alludes to the Resurrection. However, to say that Christ was raised in the "realm" or "mode" of the Spirit is an obscure and frankly misleading way to describe a physical resurrection.
ii) There's also an issue regarding translation theory. The fact that the Greek construction is parallel doesn't mean the English construction should be parallel–for the obvious reason that Greek and English aren't the same.
One Greek dative can have two different senses (locative, instrumental), where as it takes two different English prepositions to express each sense. Therefore, a Greek writer can use the same word to express two different relations. He doesn't have to sacrifice verbal symmetry to differentiate the sense. 
But verbal symmetry doesn't require semantic symmetry, precisely because the Greek is already flexible in that regard. A Greek writer could intend a locative sense in the first clause, but an instrumental sense in the second clause. He can do that without resorting to two different constructions–and for stylistic reasons, he might prefer the elegance of using the same construction in both instances, even though each carries a different nuance. 
To take a comparison: English translators are confronted with a tough choice in Jn 3:3. For John, this is likely a double entendre. The same word can both mean "again" (or "anew") and "above." Both senses fit the context. Both senses are probably intended. 
But we lack an English synonym with the same semantic range. Therefore, a translator must make an arbitrary judgment call. At best, he can give the alternate rendering in a footnote. By contrast, John wasn't confronted with that false dichotomy. 
iii) For theological reasons, I think we should render the phrase "made alive by the Spirit." Christ was raised from the dead by divine agency. That's widely attested in NT theology. 

Family resemblance

i) Some monkeys have humanoid faces. Round flat faces. I'm sure the family resemblance contributes to the persuasiveness of human evolution. Seems like a distant relative is looking back at you. So what are we to make of that?

ii) To begin with, although some monkeys, like the lesula, have humanoid faces, other monkeys, like the (male) white-faced saki, do not have humanoid faces. So it's arbitrary to pick out the monkeys with humanoid faces which disregarding the others. That's a circular procedure. 

Because the lesula has a humanoid face, we are conditioned to project human pensiveness onto that expression. But there's no objective reason to think what lies behind the eyes of a lesula compares with what a human is thinking.

iii) This goes to the question of how we classify things. Do we classify items based on natural relations, or is our taxonomy an artifact of our selection-critera?

For instance, suppose I were to dump a set of Tiffany Provence silverware into a box, then dump a set of Tiffany Hampton silverware into the same box, shake it up, then ask someone to sort the silverware. There are two logical ways he could sort it:

a) He could group the knives together, forks together, spoons together.

b) He could group it according to style. The Provence knives would go with Provence forks, the Hampton knives would go with Hampton forks, and so on.

These would both be logical ways to sort the silverware. It would be arbitrary to say one is more correct or natural than another. For there's more than one way the silverware is naturally interrelated.

a) It can be related by style, viz. Provence, Hampton.

b) It can be related by function, viz. knives, forks, spoons.

c) It can be related by appearance: forks resemble forks.

Even though a Hampton fork is in the same style as a Hampton knife, a Hampton fork more closely resembles a Provence fork.

By the same token, two forks are more alike in terms of function, even if they are dissimilar in terms of style. 

When a Darwinian classifies fauna, how much of that is given in nature, and how much of that is imposed on nature by the Darwinian's preferred selection criteria? 

iv) For instance, we group baboons with monkeys rather than Cape Hunting dogs, yet in significant ways, baboons seem more canine than simian. For instance:

a) Front-facing eyes.

b) Snouts.

c) Fangs (or canines).

d) Travel in packs.

e) Spend most of their time on the ground, walking on all fours.

f) Are carnivorous when they have an opportunity capture fresh meat. 

In principle, why not group baboons with dogs rather than monkeys? Or view them as something in-between? Are they doglike monkeys or monkeylike dogs? 

Are they derived from simian ancestors? Possibly. According to creationism, God make natural kinds–which are subject to microevolution. 

But maybe their not derived from anything. Maybe that's how God made them–as is. Perhaps they were created separately. Perhaps their origin is independent of monkeys. 

Conventional taxonomies condition us to think that certain animals are related to other animals. But is that a sound assumption?

When you stare at the dogfaced visage of a baboon, does it seem like a distant relative is staring back at you? Not unless you're a werewolf. 

Snow leopard

When you read articles about the snow leopard, they typically describe how the snow leopard is adapted to its environment. The leopard's thick fur, big furry padded paws, long tail, and long strong hindlegs are said to be adaptations to its habitat.

The fur keeps it warm. The paws grip icy hillsides. The paws make it easier to walk on snow. The tail and hindlegs by it easier to leap across rough terrain and maintain balance. And so on and so forth.

The implication is that snow leopards are descended from leopards that didn't have these adaptations. Now, I have no a priori objection to that theory. Adaptation is consistent with creationism. 

But in principle, I don't see how you could determine which leopard was derived from which. On the one hand you could hypothesize that as some African leopards migrated north, their descendants became snow leopards. Their descendants acquired these adaptations. On that view, the African leopard is the original, the template–of which the snow leopard is a variation.

On the other hand, you could hypothesize that as some snow leopards migrated south, their descendants became African leopards. Their descendants became adapted to hot, dry, flat savannas and steamy tropical rain forests. On that view, the snow leopard is the original, the template–of which the African leopard is a variation. 

What kind of evidence would it take to establish the direction of derivation? Which comes from which?

The ability to do this is crucial in establishing evolutionary phylogenies. In determining the relationship between snow leopards and African leopards, how do Darwinians know where to start? 

Let's take another example. According to evolution, humans are descended from furry animals. Yet humans are practically hairless. Why did we lose our fur?

If our prehuman ancestors originated in Northern Europe, and migrated south, a Darwinian could hypothesize that human fur loss was an adaptation to the African climate. But that makes no sense on the Out-of-Africa model. 

One hypothesis is that our big brains would overheat if we were furry. But one problem with that hypothesis is that Cromagnons, which had a bigger brains than contemporary humans, could have used a thick coat of fur for some of the temperate zones where they resided.

Why do human origins matter?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The harrowing of hell

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared (1 Pet 3:18-20).
This is an obscure passage that's generated several competing interpretations. 

1. In the person of Noah, the preexistent Son commanded Noah's contemporaries to repent.

i) A basic deficiency of that interpretation is that the passage doesn't say or imply that Jesus spoke through Noah. 

ii) This interpretation depends on rendering the dative pneumati in locative terms ("in the spirit") rather than instrumental terms ("by the Spirit"). Hence, Christ spoke through Noah via the intermediate agency of the Spirit. 

However, the distinction between "put to death" and "made alive" alludes to the crucifixion and Resurrection respectively. Jesus was raised by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Given the conceptual contrast between physical death and physical resurrection, it makes more contextual sense to render pneumati in instrumental terms ("by the Spirit"). Otherwise, we have a Docetic/Gnostic Resurrection. 

iii) In defense of (1), it dovetails with 1 Pet 1:11, with its reference to the prophetic "Spirit of Christ." However:

a) That's not what 3:18-20 say. Even if it's consistent with 3:18-20, nothing in vv18-20 which indicates that referent.

b) 1:11 has its own interpretive issues. What exactly is mean by the "Spirit of Christ"? Is Christ the subject? Did he take possession of OT prophets?

Or is Christ the object? Is he the topic of OT prophecy? In context, it refers to prophecies about Christ rather than prophecies by Christ. It is not through the agency or instrumentality of Christ, but the Spirit of God.

iii) The sequence of the passage suggests this took place after the Resurrection, and not in prediluvian times:

death>Resurrection>Ascension (v22).

2. During Holy Saturday (between Good Friday and Easter Sunday), Christ went to the limbus patrum to release the OT saints from Purgatory. This is the traditional "descent into hell" or "harrowing of hell."

i) Aside from the anachronism (see above), this assumes the dogma of Purgatory. But that's hardly something an exegete can take for granted. 

ii) Likewise, "spirit" is not a synonym for the discarnate soul of Christ. How could that be "made alive" at the moment of death?  

3. After the Resurrection, Christ proclaimed final condemnation to imprisoned angels who fell in the days of Noah. A variation on this view refers it to the souls of their offspring (Nephilim), whom they begat with women. 

The subjection of angels to Christ in v22 supports this interpretation. The "spirits" in v19 are the same as the beings in v22.

i) This typically assumes that Peter is alluding to 1 Enoch's interpretation of Gen 6:1-4. The imprisoned "spirits" are the fallen angels. 

One contextual problem with this identification is that the fall of angels isn't synchronized with the construction of the ark in either Scripture or 1 Enoch.

ii) Likewise, God's "patience" is in reference to Noah's disobedient neighbors. The ark was, itself, a sign of impending judgment. God gave human sinners time and opportunity to repent. 

iii) Angels are mentioned in v22, not because that ties into the netherworld setting of v19, but because that ties into the heavenly setting of the Ascension–and Session–of Christ. The Ascension not only represents the Son's "return" to heaven, but the Messiah's enthronement and coregency with the Father. All angels are subject to the Risen Lord. 

iii) But even if the passage refers to angels, that doesn't require an Enochic background. There's a similar motif in Isa 24:21-22:

21 On that day the Lord will punish    the host of heaven, in heaven,    and the kings of the earth, on the earth.22 They will be gathered together    as prisoners in a pit;they will be shut up in a prison,    and after many days they will be punished.

The "host of heaven" suggests angels. In context, fallen angels. They are "imprisoned," to await sentencing and final judgment. Cf. G. Smith, Isaiah 1-39 (B&H 2007), 424-25. 

4. After the Resurrection, Christ extended the opportunity of postmortem salvation to Noah's deceased contemporaries.

i) The passage doesn't actually say that. Rather than an offer of postmortem salvation, there's precedent for postmortem taunt-songs (e.g. Isa 14).

ii) Peter is exhorting his readers to remain steadfast in the faith despite persecution. It would subvert his message to hold out hope of a postmortem second chance. 

5. After the Resurrection, Christ proclaimed final condemnation to the damned.

That fits the context of Noah's disobedient neighbors, who spurned God's forbearance. That ill-fated generation constitutes a paradigmatic sample-group of the damned. 

Is Gen 1 a lost world?

I'm going to repost some comments I left at Lydia McGrew's blog:
Since, in the running commentary, a fair amount of ink has now been spilt on the argument from miracles, perhaps this should be recast in a more systematic context. What is the evidentiary function of miracles? Are miracles just an accommodation to inveterate skeptics who demand a sign?
i) The Bible itself warns about the proliferation of false prophets. People who come speaking in the name of the Lord. They say God spoke to them and told them to tell you what you should do or not do, believe or disbelieve. Some of them are deceivers. Liars. Conmen. They themselves don't believe their own claims. They simply pose as religious figures.
Others are self-deluded. They really think God is sending them messages, even though that's not the case.
So one practical question is how to winow the wheat from the chaff.
ii) Apropos (i), how did ancient Israelites know that God spoke to Abraham? How did they know that God called Abraham out of Ur and made a covenant with Abraham? What's the evidence?
iii) One line of evidence would be indirect. They knew that God spoke to Abraham because they knew that God spoke to Moses. If Moses wrote the account of Abraham's life, then it comes down to his credibility rather than the credibility of Abraham, per se.
iv) And how did they know God spoke to Moses? Because God vouches for Moses by empowering him to perform miracles which mirror divine agency. God's word is attested by God's deeds. That's how the evidential value of miracles functions in the early chapters of Exodus.
v) Likewise, how did 1C Christians know that Jesus was the divine messiah? Same argument.
How did they know that Peter was divinely commissioned apostle?
a) There's a direct line of evidence: if Peter was a miracle-worker.
b) There's an indirect line of evidence: if Peter was chosen by a miracle-worker (i.e. Christ).
Even if, say, Matthew was not a miracle-worker, if he was chosen by Christ, then he is attested by Christ.
vi) One potential objection is that even if contemporaries of Moses or Christ were in a position to witness their miracles, later readers are not.
That, however, involves a chain-of-custody. Historical knowledge is generally based on testimonial evidence. I don't have to personally witness the gunfight at O.K. Corral to know that it happened. That event was vouched for by contemporaries. And we have contemporary records. Living memory of that event lingered for many years. Oral history was committed to writing.
vii) Complementing the argument from miracles is the argument from prophecy, which is a kind of miracle. Moreover, long-range prophecy can be a direct evidence for later readers who live to see the fulfillment. It was future to the original audience, but past to a later audience.
viii) In addition, it's not just a question of believing reports of miracles, or believing reported miracles from the distant past. Miracles aren't just a thing of the past. There's credible evidence for the intermittent occurrence of Christian miracles throughout the course of church history right up to the present.
ix) Another potential objection is that miracles and prophecies are not a sufficient proof of divine authorization inasmuch as evil spirits can empower humans to perform miracles or possess paranormal insight and foresight.
That, however, significantly narrows the range of explanatory options. It eliminates the status of the claimant as a mere charlatan. He's not just a garden-variety liar.
Rather, we've entered the realm of superhuman ability. So that's something to be taken more seriously.
x) Apropos (ix), it then becomes a question of how to distinguish messages from God from messages from evil spirits.
Evil spirits have a very different character than God. By the same token, messages from evil spirits have a very different character than messages from God.
xi) A final objection is that my argument makes assumptions about dating and authorship. That's true, and there's an abundant literature defending those assumptions.
All I'm doing is to sketch the outline of the general argument. The details can and have been penciled in elsewhere.
Luke Breuer:
"We are told in Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13:11–15 that "mighty works" will be fraudulently produced."
That's a valid consideration in the abstract. But a basic problem with that objection is that few false prophets, cult-leaders, New Age gurus et al. (e.g. Buddha, Muhammad Joseph Smith, Bhagwan Rajneesh, Ron Hubbard, Benny Hinn, Jeane Dixon) even make it to Round 2. Precious few even pass that initial test. Either they don't perform miracles and don't make daring predictions which come true, or they make daring predictions which turn out to be false.
If a claimant can actually avoid being disqualified in the first round, then additional considerations come into play.

Open theism dilemma

Open theism suffers from a major dilemma. On the one hand, in fielding the problem of evil, open theists appeal to divine ignorance as a mitigating or exculpatory factor. For instance:
According to open theism, God has sovereignly decided to create a world with libertarianly free creatures and, since there are no true (would-) counterfactuals of creaturely freedom for God to know and since, according to open theists, libertarian freedom is incompatible with meticulous foreknowledge, God could not know for sure ahead of time what kinds of choices his free creatures will make. God would seem to be less blameworthy for not preventing evils that he didn’t know in advance would happen.
On the other hand, open theists contend that God can anticipate the future with a high degree of probability. For instance:
…we would affirm God's comprehensive and exact knowledge of the possibilities of the future–and, as has already been said, of the gradually changed likelihood of each of those possibilities' being realized. And as the probably of a choice's being made in a certain way gradually increases toward certainty, God knows that also, often, no doubt, before the finite agent herself is aware of it. W. Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (Cornell, 1998), 189.
Many prophecies, in fact, have a conditional character, such as “If a nation does not do such and such, then it will be destroyed” (see Jeremiah 18:7–10, for example). Second, many prophetic predictions are based upon existing trends and tendencies, which provide God with enough evidence to foresee the future (Hasker 1989, 195). (Hasker places Jesus' prediction about Peter in this category, by the way.) Finally, some prophecies simply reveal what God has already decided to bring about in the future (Hasker 1989, 195). Since God's own actions in the future are up to God, it is possible for God to know about them even though they are contingent, so it is possible for prophecies to reveal them.
Indeed, it's an essential component of religious devotion to say that God can be trusted to keep his promises.
To the extent that proponents accentuate divine ignorance as a distinctive element and advantage of an open theist theodicy, they undercut the claim that God can accurately anticipate the future and thereby be trusted to keep his promises.
Conversely, to the extent that proponents accentuate God's high probabilistic knowledge of the future, they undercut the appeal to divine ignorance to exonerate God in relation to evil.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Close Gitmo!

Human rights and civil liberties groups have long lobbied for the closure of Gitmo. I share their concern.
I think the next president should enter into negotiations with the government of Brazil to lease or buy Ilha da Queimada Grande. Another possibility is to swap Gitmo for Queimada Grande. With a bit of remodeling, I'm sure Brazil could turn Gitmo into really nice tourist resort.
Queimada Grande is a far more fitting domicile for captured terrorists like members of ISIS. And it has the added advantage of preparing them for what to expect in the afterlife:

[Last link contains some bad language]

Journey to the center of darkness

Here's an article by a disenchanted "queer" activist. She hasn't changed her ideology. But it is a revealing insider account of how activists think–or don't think:

Did The Apostle John Die As A Martyr?

It's common to refer to John as the only apostle who didn't die as a martyr. He probably was a martyr, though. See here. His martyrdom is affirmed by Matthew, Mark, and Papias, and it's referred to indirectly by The Martyrdom Of Polycarp and the second-century heretic Heracleon. Concerning Heracleon, see here.

I've written a series of posts on the death of the apostles.

Why I became a conservative

I don't assume the DOJ report is reliable. That said, this is still a useful article:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Slight Overreaction

Redeeming Mathematics interview

"Redeeming Mathematics: Finding the Glory of God in 2 + 2" with Vern Poythress.

Nazi heaven

Universalism enjoys a certain general emotional appeal. But its emotional appeal depends on the examples used to illustrate universalism. If it's the fate of your loved ones, then it's very attractive. 

Suppose Anne Frank wound up in the laboratory of Josef Mengele. Suppose she was subjected to the infamous Nazi "medical" experimentation. You can Google the subject.

If universalism is true, let's say both Josef and Anne go to temporary hell when they die. In universalism, hell is really Purgatory.

If, after however much remedial punishment, Josef says uncle before Anne, he beats her to heaven.

Anne will not be allowed into heaven until she forgives Josef. Anne will not be allowed into heaven until she loves Josef. Anne will continue to be punished until she is bullied or terrorized into submission. 

Seems to me that whatever abstract or general appeal universalism may have, it lacks universal appeal. Once you begin to cite hard cases, which can be vastly multiplied, it instantly loses its facile emotional appeal.

At this point a universalist might counter that according to the Gospel, God can forgive very evil people. And we should forgive whoever God has forgiven.

But while that's true, that's shifting ground from the the emotional appeal of universalism. To a great extent, that's the opposite. It's emotionally repellent to the victims. It cuts against the grain of human nature to overcome that moral and emotional aversion.

As such, a universalist can't consistently deploy both lines of appeal. He can't begin with an appeal to moral intuition, then when that backfires, switch to a counterintuitive appeal to the Gospel. Those are two opposing principles.

Was Job a real person?

1. Not surprisingly, recent commentaries on Job (e.g. Gerald Wilson, John Walton, Tremper Longman) question or deny the historicity of Job. Not just the protagonist, but the book as a whole. I say "not surprisingly," because evangelical scholarship has shifted to the left.  

i) One contention is that the historicity of Job has no bearing on the theological lessons in the book. But that's a somewhat circular claim to evaluate. If, in fact, Job is fictional, then it's theological value is independent of historicity. But, of course, its historicity is the very question at issue. So we can't just assume the conclusion.

ii) All things being equal, whether or not Job was a real person does seem to be quite germane to the theological value of the book. When pious Jews and Christians find themselves in the midst of a personal ordeal, they take encouragement from the fact that other believers have gone through the same kind of ordeal. They endured. God preserved them. They emerged intact on the other side of the ordeal. 

If, however, Job is a fictional character, then he wasn't really hurting. He couldn't be hurt. 

In that event, his survival doesn't give us any concrete encouragement. He didn't experience the doubts and emotions that real believers experience in that situation. He didn't actually work through that ordeal. 

I think Job loses most of its inspirational value if the historicity of the protagonist is denied. At that level it's about as edifying as movies about superheroes who overcome great adversity. 

iii) A stock objection to the historicity of Job is the speeches. Surely a grieving man (and his friends) didn't really talk in those long, highflown speeches. Likewise, the symmetry of the beginning and ending, where his restoration doubles what he had before. Isn't that unrealistic?

And there's undoubtedly a grain of truth to that objection. But it's a shallow objection. 

Poetry and historicity are not antithetical. Take the Psalter. Take historical Psalms like Pss 78, 105, 106, 136). These are historical overviews, historical narratives, of God's dealings with ancient Israel. The form is poetic, but the content is historical. 

Or take the Psalms of David and Asaph. These are autobiographical. When David and Asaph prayed in private, I don't think they used that elevated language. Yet these psalms are based on real prayers, real-life experience. Because they were written for public consumption, they are stylized. They tone up the original language. Use picturesque metaphors. 

But it's not fictional. David and Asaph were real people. They had to face real challenges. They prayed real prayers. These aren't just literary constructs. 

2. A related question is whether the antagonist in Job 1-2 is the devil. Once again, it's not surprising that the same commentators distance themselves from the traditional identification.

i) One objection is that the designation is a title, not a proper name. It has a definite article. Therefore, it should be rendered the Adversary or the Accuser rather than Satan. 

I think that's true as far as it goes. Of course, to call the antagonist the Adversary or the Accuser would be perfectly consistent with his diabolical identity. Indeed, Rev 12:10 refers to Satan as the "accuser of the brethren" (KJV). 

ii) Recent commentators identify the antagonist as a member of the divine council. But as I read it, he isn't included as a regular member of that body. Rather, he happens to present himself on that occasion. He might just as well be a former member. 

iii) Commentators also think it's unrealistic that Satan would retain that kind of access to God. Wasn't he expelled from heaven? Surely they deactivated his keycard. He can't swipe the lock and enter the throne room whenever he pleases. 

In a sense, I agree, but it's a shallow objection. The entire depiction is anthropomorphic. And that's true concerning Biblical scenes of heaven generally. 

I don't think God dwells in a celestial palace. I don't think he holds an audience with the angelic entourage in the throne room. That's picture language, borrowed from earthly examples.

If God and angels are supersensible beings, they don't have face-to-face meetings. They don't communicate with each other in Hebrew. 

So the question is how do angels relate to God? I assume it's mind-to-mind rather than face-to-face. They communicate telepathically. 

(BTW, it's interesting that even people born blind can dream. But they have auditory dreams.)

In that sense, Satan does have access to God. He can make his thoughts known to God. God knows what Satan is thinking. And Satan can direct his thoughts to God, just as Christians in silent prayer can direct their thoughts to God. 

Indeed, God knows what Satan is up to even when Satan would prefer to be incognito and incommunicado. God is a mind-reader. 

So the question is whether God would respond to Satan. The answer depends whether it serves his purpose to respond to Satan.  

And, in fact, Job is a case in point. The Adversary thinks he's using God, but in reality, God is using the Adversary. 

iv) This also goes to the question of the antagonist's character in Job 1-2. Suppose the antagonist in Gen 1-2 is morally ambiguous. We can't tell if he's good or evil.

Yet that, of itself, is suspicious. There are only two kinds of angels: fallen and unfallen. Good and evil. 

Humans are morally ambiguous, but angels are not. Fallen angels are evil. There's no residual good. 

At the same time, it often serves the purpose of evil agents to conceal their true character. To pretend to be well-meaning.  

Even if the antagonist in Job 1-2 comes across as morally neutral, that, itself, is morally dubious. 

I'd also add that he cuts a very different figure than Michael or Gabriel. They're ultimate loyalties are not ambiguous. 

v) However, I don't think the antagonist in Job 1-2 is morally ambiguous. As Hartley points out, he's a troublemaker. 

Moreover, the Adversary isn't really impugning Job's fidelity. Rather, he's using Job as a stalking horse to impugn God's wisdom. The insinuation is that observant Jews are playing God for a chump. They're like obsequious courtiers. A naive king is duped by their flatteries. But they don't revere the king. The simply pander to the king to get what they need. 

It isn't Job's worthiness, but God's worthiness, that the Adversary is angling at. Yet he's too stealthy to confront God directly. 

vi) In that regard, there's family resemblance between the antagonist in Gen 3, Job 1-2, and Mt 4. In each instance, the antagonist doesn't exude pure evil. Rather, he adopts a rational pose. He attempts to sow doubt by innuendo. By leading questions. They share a common modus operandi. And that reminds me of two comparisons:

vii) Ted Bundy was a notorious serial killer. Yet he hid in plain sight. He had a disarming personality:

He was a budding lawyer, handsome, charming and bright. With all that charisma, he attracted women as if they were flies and he were sugar. It didn't hurt that he had a good job -- assistant to the governor of Washington. 
So it is not unusual that Ann Rule and Ted Bundy would become friends. Each volunteered on a crisis hot line in Seattle. She had seen him talk somebody "down." They conversed often. 
What's not to like? 
It was the early 1970s. Rule was working on a book, her first, about a Seattle-area serial killer. Imagine her shock and surprise when evidence pointed to the killer being Bundy.
Meeting the serial rapist/murderer in prison "didn't bother me," Rule said. "For a long time I was holding out hope that he was innocent, that somehow this all was a terrible mistake. And it wasn't just me, it was all the people who worked with him. In order for us to work at the crisis center, we had to pass a psychiatric evaluation, and both of us did. Everybody was expected to be pretty well adjusted there so all of his friends were saying there was no way, it couldn't be."
viii) In addition, it reminds me of a certain type of villain. There's the kind of villain who doesn't commit crime. He doesn't take the risk. Rather, he entices others to commit crime. If caught, they take the rap.

For instance, take movies about a college student. He's an alpha male. Athletic, handsome, brilliant, dominant. A natural leader. But he's morally twisted. Cruel.

Weaker male students are drawn to him. He takes pleasure in enticing them to cross a moral or legal line of no return. A rite of passage. They are desperate to win his approval. 

But when they go through with it, they take the rap. It's their fingerprints on at the crime scene, not his.

He takes delight in ruining other people's lives at a safe distance, through entrapment. The catalyst in their downfall.

That's the attitude I see displayed by the antagonist in Gen 3, Job 1-3, and Mt 4. Satan is a trickster. He reveals his true character, less by what he says than what he beguiles others to do at his behest. His character is manifest in the disastrous outcome of taking his advice. In Job 1-2, his strategy backfires. That's because he's up against a superior opponent. God tricks the trickster. 

The line that we MUST hold

Is Obama Really a Christian?

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Eternity of Hell-Torments

By the late great evangelist:

The Song of Songs

I'll make a few brief observations about the Song of Solomon:

i) It seems to be attributed to Solomon, and the setting reflects the Solomonic court. Likewise, Solomon is repeatedly mentioned. And the plot only has two main characters.  

ii) An objection to Solomonic authorship is that given his notorious promiscuity, he's a poor candidate to celebrate devoted love. 

One counterargument is that this work celebrates the love of his life. His one true love. Or first love. Moreover, it may have been written early in life, before he become so degenerate. 

There are, however, two other problems with the objection:

a) A minor correction is that his promiscuous reputation is somewhat exaggerated. The fact that he had 700 queens and 300 concubines doesn't mean he was sexually active with all–or even most–of them. Many were political marriages to seal a military or economic alliance with a neighboring city-state or nation. Likewise, harems were inherited. But by them, some of the harem girls were getting up in years.

This is not to deny that Solomon was promiscuous–even exceptionally promiscuous. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for kings to exploit their position in that respect. Classic abuse of power.  

b) In addition, there's no reason to presume that this work is strictly or literally autobiographical. Love stories and love poems are often fictional. They celebrate a romantic ideal. Indeed, poets sometimes resort to fiction in this regard precisely because they yearn for something that real life disappoints. It's a fantasy of how they wish things were. And the advantage of fiction is that you can control the action. The disadvantage is that fiction lacks the vividness of genuine experience.

So it's possible that while the work is informed by Solomon's sexual experience, the work itself is fictional. If so, then it could well celebrate monogamous love. People can sincerely honor and desire something they personally fall short of attaining. Indeed, their very failure may heighten the contrast between the hoped-for ideal and the frustrating reality.

Even if it's "based on a true story," the poet may exercise great literary license. It's hard to say how much is imaginative. And I don't think that detracts from the value of the work. It's not a historical narrative like Genesis.  

iii) Another objection is that this work doesn't specify marital love. 

However, one problem with that objection is that the lyric poetic genre leaves the narrative sequence somewhat ambiguous. The plot may not be rigorously linear. Rather, it may circle around in flashbacks or erotic dreams.  

Scholars differ on whether or not there's chronological progression. Is it single to married? Sexual coming of age (e.g. Garrett)? Or is the couple married throughout (e.g. Hess)?

But the gist of the narrative seems to be courtship followed by marriage. A couple falls in love. They experience intense physical longing to consummate their love. They are tempted to prematurely gratify their passion. So the first part accentuates breathless anticipation. 

In the second part we have the honeymoon. This is initially rapturous, yet the bride experiences a sense of letdown. After the initial climax, the rest of the poem describes the development of a more stable, enduring love. It gives the reader the typical ups and downs of falling in love, the wedding night, and the adjustment to life together. Anticlimax follows climax. What do you do for an encore? 

Also, insofar as the predominate narrative outlook of the work is from the perspective of the heroine, the bride is more likely to feel a sense of letdown than the groom. 

That's perfectly consistent with a monogamous storyline. They keep their passions in check before the wedding. That's somewhat obscured by the impressionistic quality of the presentation. 

iv) Thus far I've been viewing the work as a tribute to romantic love. And as one commentator notes, the canon would be unbalanced if it only addressed sexuality in terms of prohibitions, rather than a positive treatment. 

v) There is, however, a long history of allegorical interpretations. One of the most ironic is the Marian interpretation, favored by some Catholic commentators. That evinces the desperation of Catholics to prooftext their Marian dogmas. In addition, this work furnishes singularly intractable material to illustrate the perpetual virginity of Mary! 

vi) It's sometimes said, even by otherwise reputable scholars (e.g. Clines), that the account was allegorized to make it into the canon–or keep it in the canon. But other scholars says there's precious little evidence that it's erotic content was an obstacle to canonization. 

If Scripture can be very explicit about sexual immorality, why can't it be fairly explicit about marital love? 

Moreover, the imagery isn't really explicit. Rather, the poet skillfully uses provocative comparisons. The detailed descriptions are not about erogenous anatomy, but figurative analogues (e.g. a cluster of grapes). So there's nothing "pornographic" about the imagery. It uses prosaic words for sexual anatomy. The elaboration shifts to figurative imagery.

vii) Certainly the Bible uses marriage as a theological metaphor. That's deployed by turns to illustrate fidelity and infidelity. The marital metaphor is an emotional resonant and powerful image to illustrate the possessive and protective nature of God's love for Israel and/or the Church. 

But any analogy includes disanalogies, and the allegorical interpretation of the work would accentuate the disanalogies to an incongruous degree. Lovesick men and women have limited control over their feelings. The beloved can elicit emotions from the lover. It's an involuntary response. 

Surely that's a very unsuitable illustration of how God and Christians interrelate. Do we tug his heartstrings the way the beloved in this poem affects her lover? Is God crazy in love with sinners? Must he keep his passions under tight rein? 

I think the poem is clearly describing human romance. That can become a basis for theological metaphors, not vice versa. Not in this instance.

"For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man"

A major divide exists among scholars on the precise understanding of idias epiluseos ["from an individual's own interpretation," or "by the will of man"]. Some, such as Kelly, assert that this verse forbids the private interpretation of Scripture by the reader (or hearer) outside of an authority such as the church. Thus, idias, "from an individual's own," would refer to any reader of Scripture, rather than to the prophet who authored Scripture. Along with epiluseos, "interpretation," these two words would pertain to any person's unauthorized, illegitimate interpretation of written Scripture. 
However, that understanding of idias epiluseos does not make sense in the present context. In 2 Pet 1:16-18, Peter addressed the divine origin of the apostolic message. 2 Pet 2:21 addresses the same issue of origin regarding Scripture in general. Moreover, 2 Pet 1:21 includes the explanatory gar, "for," which draws  close connection between 2 Pet 1:21 and 2 Pet 1:20, implying that Peter's further declarations about the inspiration of Scripture in 2 Pet 1:21 are intended to elaborate upon his statements in 2 Pet 1:20. Thus, 2 Pet 1:20 too must be about the origin and inspiration of Scripture, not about its later interpretation by readers. Since the context of 2 Pet 1:20 addresses Scripture's divine origin, and since idias epilueos ["by the will of man"] in 2 Pet 1:20 supports this topic if taken to refer to a prophetic author (rather than a later reader), the best conclusion is that 2 Pet 1:20 speaks of the divine origin of Scripture as well. C. Giese, 2 Peter and Jude (Concordia 2012), 93-94.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Augustine's friend

"Augustine's friend" by Paul Helm.

We're Marching to Zion

What's kind of funny about these anecdotes is that, to my knowledge, Southern Baptists are typically cessationists, but here's a classic example of–admittedly unsolicited–"charismatic" guidance:

3. In 1979 in Houston, messengers at the convention elected Adrian Rogers as the first conservative in a series of conservatives. Why did the organizers of the movement choose Rogers to nominate? 
We were ideologically bent, not candidate-bent. And so we went around and told people we could change by electing the right president. Then the night before the [1979 annual meeting in Houston] … we talked, we prayed, we fellowshipped and then we discussed for an hour or so who the best candidate would be. And three names came to the surface: Adrian Rogers, Bailey Smith and Jerry Vines. … Adrian was the overwhelming choice. When I told him, he said, “That’s good, but I’m not going to be nominated.” … So I went to bed Monday night thinking we didn’t have a candidate. What happened after that is that Adrian Rogers ran into Mrs. Bertha Smith. … She said, “Adrian, God’s changing my mind: he’s telling me you’re to be elected as president of the convention tomorrow.” Then Adrian went up to his hotel room and [his wife] Joyce was up there — and Joyce had been very opposed to his running. And she said, “Adrian, God’s changing my mind. I think you’re supposed to be nominated tomorrow.” Well, that really shook him, because the two women he was closest to in the world — and the two who had been telling him not to run — had changed their minds. So he took the elevator down to walk around, and when he got to the first floor, coming from one direction was Paige Patterson coming from the other direction was Jerry Vines. And he said, “Men, we gotta talk.” So they got back on the elevator and went in with Joyce. They prayed the matter through, and Adrian decided to run. So I found out who I was voting for when I came down the morning of the election.

4. Can you describe the 1979 election of Adrian Rogers? 
My son, when he was 10 years old, developed a seizure condition. And he was having a particularly hard time [the morning of the election]. …  So I was completely preoccupied during the vote. 
I need to tell you another story: about four times before the convention, I had this dream of God’s people marching along Main St. in Houston with that white line in the center. We were marching to the convention hall, and we’re singing “We’re Marching to Zion.” I told my wife Nancy about it; I had it at least four times. We had no idea it would have any significance. Then the day of the election, I heard the nominations. … And there was confusion on the stage [because the registration secretary could not be found]. And then [presiding president Jimmy Allen] said, “Well, we have to do something until we find [the recorder]. Song leader, come lead us in a song.” The song leader came and said, “Let’s all stand and sing, ‘We’re Marching to Zion.’” And I burst out crying and dropped into my seat. I told Paige Patterson, who was next to me, “Adrian’s won without a run-off. I’ve had a sign.” And in five minutes, Adrian had won without a run-off. 
It is unbelievable. … But, I think sometimes when you’re in a great deal of conflict, God gives you a sign that this is his and not yours.

The pattern for redemption

After the Resurrection

"Protective strategies"

I was asked to comment on this article:
By way of background, I believe the author was a student of Peter Enns. Not just a student, but–along with Art Boulet–a Peter Enns loyalist and committed apologist for Enns. In this article, Young isn't laying his own cards on the table. 
In addition, the presentation is phony because Young feigns the pose of a disinterested observer who is simply offering an ideologically neutral or merely descriptive sociological analysis of inerrantist "discourse." But that's just a ruse to attack inerrancy while concealing his own agenda and ideological commitments. 
Let's take a few representative statements: 
…a protective strategy that privileges claims about the Bible's divine nature in order to shield it from historical, social, and other kinds of standard explanatory-reductionist analyses that would approach biblical writings like other human writings (22). 
First, inerrantist theorizing vigorously represents its projects as historical/academic study, buttressed by specialized epistemology and theory-of-religion frameworks…These protective strategies serve to block analysis of the Bible through ordinary historical, social, anthropological, and scientific academic methods should they yield findings about the Bible that transgress how inerrantists understand the Bible's claims–especially that the Bible is inerrant (24).
i) At the risk of stating the obvious, Christian scholars are expected to act as Christian believers. Naturally a Christian scholar will treat the Bible differently than the Iliad. 
Naturally Christian Bible scholarship will operate within a "theory-of-religion framework." Christianity is a religion. Scripture is a religious document. As Christians, our theological viewpoint will inevitably inform our engagement of Scripture–just as Scripture will inform our theological viewpoint. That's integral to the specific belief-system. 
ii) Apropos (i), Christianity claims to be a revealed religion. Its veracity is grounded in the revelatory status of Scripture. To be a Christian is, among other things, to grant the revelatory identity of the Bible. If you're not a Christian, you won't. 
There is no middle ground or common ground between these two positions. Scripture either is or is not divine revelation. Of course we don't expect a secular scholar to operate with Christian presuppositions. But by the same token, we should not expect a Christian scholar to operate with secular presuppositions. In the nature of the case, Christian Bible scholarship is…Christian. An expression of Christian faith. Both the individual faith of a Christian scholar and the corporate faith of the religious community to which he belongs. It is, in the first instance, scholarship by Christians and for Christians. We don't impose our outlook on unbelievers and outsiders. By the same token, they are not entitled to impose their outlook on us. 
iii) This doesn't mean we merely stipulate our position. We can and should argue for why the Bible ought to be "privileged." Likewise, we can and should challenge secular historiography. 
iv) Defending the inspiration of Scripture against naturalistic reductive explanations is no different than defending religious experience from naturalistic reductive explanations, viz. Freud's projective theory of religious belief. Defending Scripture is not in a class apart from defending Christianity in general. It's no different than developing a theodicy in response to the problem of evil. That's a case of Christians behaving as…Christians. That's how we think. 
v) Sound scholarship will treat a document for whatever it really is. If the Bible is divine revelation, then scholarship ought to take that into account. If scholarship fails to make allowance for the nature of the document in question, then scholarship will mischaracterize the document. If Scripture is divine revelation, then sound scholarship will treat it for what it really is. To ignore that fact will derail the analysis.  
vi) I don't think that Christians should accept every religious document on its own terms. I don't accept the Koran on its own terms. Or the Book of Mormon. Or 1 Enoch. Or Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia.
But what's nonsenesical about Young's position is his objection to Christians accepting the Bible on its own terms. If Young was logical, what he'd say is not that Christians should stop accepting Scripture on its own terms, but that Christians should stop being Christian. That would at least be consistent–albeit malignly consistent. 
vii) The way Young frames the issue is deceptively one-sided. He acts as though there's a value-free way of approaching the Bible. "Standard" scholarship should treat the Bible just like any other human document. But that only follows if, in fact, the Bible really is just like any other human document. So that's prejudicial.
Methodological atheism or naturalistic historiography isn't a value-free exercise. The question of Scripture's revelatory identity is not a methodological issue, but a substantive issue. A method can't prejudge the answer to that question, for that determination requires a scholar to evaluate the claims of Scripture. 
viii) Conversely, secular scholars have their own "protective strategies." Secular scholars "privilege" their own operating assumptions, viz. philosophy of religion, methodological atheism, naturalistic historiography. They presume that Scripture can't be what it claims to be. They don't think the miraculous events in Scripture did happen or could happen. Secular scholars are "insiders" in relation to Christian "outsiders." You're an insider vis-a-vis whatever constitutes your frame of reference. That's not unique to Christians. That's ubiquitous. 
It's duplicitous for Young to act as though Christian scholars have a "specialized epistemology and theory-of-religion frameworks," but secular scholars don't. He knows better. That's just an affectation to foster the illusion that "standard" historical, social, anthropological, and scientific academic methods are unbiased and evenhanded–unlike those tendentious inerrantists who demand special treatment. 
Given his reactionary mindset, Young may well be too hidebound to appreciate that he's swirling around in the same cyclical process. But he mirrors his current social circle. And his article is playing to a sympathetic audience. His hostility towards inerrantist scholarship disarms his capacity for self-criticism. 
ix) If Scripture is divine revelation, then it's proper to disallow interpretations that are inconsistent with its revelatory nature. Given the inspiration of Scripture, certain constraints are bound to follow. And for Christians, the inspiration of Scripture is a given.
You can try to say that's mistaken. Yet in that case, it's not the logic that's mistaken, but the premise. If Christianity is false, then that's not a given. But that's a different argument. And it's incumbent on a critic to actually make that argument. 
If you're going to attack the inerrancy of Scripture–don't attack the conclusion, attack the premise. Young's article is reactionary and intellectually confused. Just admit that you no longer share a Christian outlook on Scripture. 

Evangelical atheism

Men can have abortions too!

Political correctness is now tripping over its own flat feet:

One of the problems with infidelity is that the more consistent you are, the less consistent you are. If you take a contradictory position to its logical extreme, it exposes the incoherence of the position.