Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Is Calvinism tautologous?

I'd like to make a few brief comments on Brian Abasciano's post:

1. My own position, which is documented by Greek lexicographers, is that, especially in Johannine usage, kosmos has an ethical connotation, denoting the hostile world-order, alienated from God. So it doesn't necessarily mean "everybody", and there are many verses where it can't mean "everybody". 

2. By the same token, kosmos doesn't have a default meaning of "everybody". Rather, the word means more than one thing, and the sense is context-dependent.

3. There's a lot more to the argument of Anderson, Bignon, and Gibson than how to render pas ho pisteuon. Is Abascino trying to misleading Arminians by banking on the fact that most of them will blindly accept his summary of the argument rather than consulting the original presentations by Bignon, Gibson, and Anderson?

4. One issue is a stock distinction between sense and reference. For instance, "Peter" 

i) means rocky 

ii) refers to Simon bar-Jonah

Sense and reference are separable, for even if "Peter" always has one and the same meaning, it doesn't always have one and the same referent. Millions of men have the name Peter–not to mention fictional characters by that name. That doesn't make them reincarnations of Simon bar-Jonah. The same word can have a single intension but multiple extensions. 

5. Hence, it's quite possible for komos to refer to the elect even though it doesn't mean the elect. That's not some ad hoc Calvinistic distinction, but an elementary distinction in lexical semantics. 

6. To my knowledge, Mounce and Wallace aren't considered cutting edge. There are more up-to-date Greek grammars (e.g. Stanley Porter). 


  1. Abasciano is failing to recognize the Greek argument, at least the ones that I have actually read. The point (I have not read Gibson and Bignon) in the argument against the indefinite translation is making sure that people don't read something that is not there because of an indefinite English construction. Arminians are just as guilty of reading senses into John 3:16 that are not really there. The Greek simply says nothing about, nor puts any emphasis on, some sort of universal ability. The point of the argument that those like White make is that the statement is in no way is an Arminian prooftext. To illustrate, consider 2 English statements:

    1. Whoever does a backflip on a motorcycle will earn a $100; or

    2. Everyone who does a backflip on a motorcycle will earn $100.

    One uses an indefinite pronoun, the other does not. However, the statements can be synonymous in many contexts, they are often totally interchangeable (although statement 1 in English can also be used when the reward is limited to only the first backflipper). NEITHER statement says anything about the total ability of everyone on the planet to satisfy the reward conditions. The presence or absence of the indefinite pronoun changes nothing in that regard.

    Arminians like Abasciano seem to read John 3:16 like: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes (and everyone has the ability to believe) shall not perish, but will have everlasting life.

    The parenthesis above are reading in, nothing in the indefinite "whosoever" implies what I have inserted in the parenthesis. The use of the indefinite construction puts emphasis on the result (obtaining everlasting life). The point is that the statement does not focus on the number or the identity of who obtains everlasting life, but on the true fact that everyone who believes will in fact obtain everlasting life. The indefinite construction says absolutely nothing about who can or cannot satisfy the conditions of everlasting life. Its point is that those who satisfy the conditions will have the reward.

    To read John 3:16 as teaching some sort of libertarian freedom or human ability to believe on their own is just about as much reading into the text as you can do.

    Pointing out that the pas ho pisteuon can be translated without the pronoun that Arminians use to hang their own reading into the text is simply to point out that such reading into is invalid.

    The sense of pas ho pisteuon is both definite and indefinite, depending on where your semantic emphasis is. It is definite in that it concretely portrays a whole group receiving a particular reward (the believing). It is indefinite in the sense that it says nothing about the number or identity of those who are believing. The indefiniteness cannot be used to build a philosophical argument for libertarian freedom. The indefiniteness says nothing about the ability of all people everywhere.

    1. "Arminians like Abasciano seem to read John 3:16 like: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes (and everyone has the ability to believe) shall not perish, but will have everlasting life."

      Respectfully, you must be reading, if you read his position on the subject, way beyond what Abasciano is saying and it seem you're making a totally unwarranted assumption purely on the basis of your bias towards Arminians and what you think is Arminian theology. Not only was that not at all subject of the interchanges in this discussion, but Abasciano, Arminius, and classical Arminian Theology holds to the doctrine of "total depravity." The Statement of Faith on their SEA website reads: "In and of themselves and apart from the grace of God human beings can neither think, will, nor do anything good, including believe."

      You may want to read up on what is classical Arminian theology.

  2. The point about sense and reference is a cornerstone in our response to Davis. We spend a lot of time on that, and from different positions in the philosophy of language. A lot of Arminians think Calvinists have one interpretation of John 3:16, which is that "world" *means* "elect". (Maybe Pink held that view; I heard that attribution to him but I haven't confirmed it.) Bignon and I are clear in rejecting that view. That is part of what is so disappointing about the response we received from Abasciano. He is condescending to us about the Greek (not knowing we can play with the Greek too, in my case because I had a AOC in ancient philosophy and had to learn Attic, and I have plenty of books on Koine, including ones he cites). But of course, we are employing philosophical tools that are outside the area of expertise from Abasciano's training. And that is probably why he says nothing about our central arguments. And as we say in our response to him, we don't go into the Greek because given what we do say, it is irrelevant.

    I am currently working on another project (and I do have a job), but I am deliberating about writing something about how John Owen anticipates the view Bignon and I defend; see Owen's discussion of John 3:16 here: https://www.the-highway.com/Jh3.16_Owen.html

    Owen is writing before the time Frege, but I think we can see he is reaching for something like the distinction between sense and reference.

    1. Yes, Pink did hold the view that "world" refers to the elect. I note, that while "kosmos" does not *mean* "elect," some Calvinists argue that is to whom it is referencing. And I posted an article refuting someone who asserted that all the Greek scholars agree that "world" either means or references the elect.

      When it comes down to it, that is the only interpretation Calvinists I have spoken to gave me. Of course, I know there are scholars like D.A. Carson and John Calvin who give "kosmos" in John 3:16 a universal application.

      In any case, it seems to me that most Calvinists (if not all) argue John 3:16 from the unwarranted presupposition that "world" ("kosmos") means or refers to the "elect," and that is where, in my unscholarly opinion, they are grossly erred.

    2. There is a huge difference between reference and meaning. Who cares what most Calvinists think when it comes to the original article Bignon and I respond to? The Calvinist who is front and center is Sproul. And it is his interpretation that we defend, which is not PInk's.

    3. Nelson

      "Of course, I know there are scholars like D.A. Carson and John Calvin who give 'kosmos' in John 3:16 a universal application."

      I believe Steve has dealt with that in the past (e.g. here, here).

    4. Gibson, yes, I agree "There is a huge difference between reference and meaning." I did not intend to say they were synonymous. My point was that Calvinists with whom I have discussed Jn 3:16 with, suggest that "kosmos" either means *or* references "the elect." And, as for Pink, I only wanted to confirm to you that Pink did define "world" as "elect," or, more precisely, as "believers only." It's on many Calvinist websites.

      As far as what others think, for me, it is a good practice to get the opinions of authoritative scholars and language resources in order too measure the strength and weaknesses of my theological position, even to evaluate whether they should be held or discarded.

      I've never really read Sproul but I did find where he, after listing about three or four approaches to understanding Jn 3:16, says, "The world represents sinful humanity and is not worthy of God’s saving love. Apart from the love of God, the world stands under God’s condemnation. But in Christ, believers experience God’s surprising, redeeming, and never-ending love. John 3:16 is not about the greatness of the world but about the greatness of God."

      I could agree with this. However, I would add that, in a sense, the "world" as "sinful humanity not worthy of God's love, is not really "apart from the love of God." For we read in the Bible that Christ loved all men, not as elect, but as sinners and His enemies, "not worthy of God’s saving love" and "under God’s condemnation" (if it is true all men are sinners, enemies, unworthy, and under damnation, which would include, at least, at one time, the elect; Rom 5:8-10).

      Just because Christ is the propitiation for us who are now saved (i.e. the elect), does in no way necessarily mean that He is not the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

    5. "Yes, Pink did hold the view that 'world' refers to the elect." -- Hey, if Nelson says it, it must be so, because why would anyone want to provide sources?

    6. Well, Guillaume and I defend the position that there is nothing absurd about 'world' *referring* to the elect in John 3:16. What we rejected is the idea that 'world' *means* 'elect'. That's why all the hoopla about whether 'world' has an indefinite meaning or not, or whether White, Anderson, allegedly myself and Guillaume, misunderstood there "really is the word 'whoever' in the text" are total distractions from the real issue. Der ain't nobody in der world who get gone said one word to refute dat.

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    8. Peter Pike, Peter: Pink stated, "Kosmos is used of believers only" (believers only = elect). Please see about the 10th or 11th paragraph under the section, "THE MEANING OF 'KOSMOS' IN JOHN 3:16."

      See: https://mikejeshurun.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/a-w-pink-on-the-world-of-john-316/

      I didn't think of providing the source as I thought this was common knowledge.

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    10. I just read that link from Pink. Pink uses a number of different expressions, "refers to", "signifies", "is used of", and each of these are most plausibly understood as being about the objects to which to the word refers. Then he speaks about the "meaning" of the word, or the meaning of the text. And here, it doesn't seem that Pink is making any careful distinction between meaning and reference like Bignon and I make. So when you say that pink thinks he *meaning* of kosmos is believers, well, in one sense he does, and in another sense he doesn't. Who knows what he would say about the distinction we make? If you want to describe his view based on a confusion he apparently adopts, then fine. If the failure to make that distinction is central to Arminian critiques of Calvinism, then we hereby reject your objections as confused. If you want to describe his view with the distinction in mind, then it seems that the most charitable interpretation is to say he might have been willing to side with Bignon and I. But then your complaint about what Pink said is misguided. Hey, if you want to pick talking about all these other Calvinists you talked to and keep bringing up the weakest representatives of Calvinism, then go ahead and continue in that circus.

    11. To Gibson - PART 1:

      As I read Pink, regardless of the other expressions, as you suggest he used, his main emphasis was that kosmos means, and that "precisely," "of believers only." He uses the words "meaning" and "definition" throughout:
      – "inasmuch as our definition of the term 'world'..."
      – "the meaning and scope of this word"
      – "as a definition of 'world'..."
      – “Surely, ‘world’ means world"
      – "the simple meaning of John 3:16"
      – "take a Concordance...which the term world' (...kosmos)...the precise meaning of...'world'...”
      – "Below we will refer...where this term occurs, suggesting a tentative definition in each case"

      And the list above is all before he lists definitions of "kosmos."

      What Pink would think now is merely speculation. I don't know, you don't know (charitable or not), unless you had a personal conversation with him on this subject. I will just go by what he has written, if I am permitted to do so.

      In any case, the bottom line to me is that, at least, some Calvinist, despite their denials, interpret Jn 3:16 as supporting the notion of "limited atonement" merely, at least in one way, by trying to, without warrant and against the assertions of authoritative scholars and language resources, contend that "whoever" is a misleading or incorrect translation or, perhaps more accurately, interpretative translation of the verse that does not justify its proper and intended (i.e. Calvinist) understanding of the verse.

    12. To Gibson - PART 2:

      Mounce (whom is a Calvinist as far as I know) although he does not wish to enter into the debate, nevertheless, asserts, "I have been in many conversations where this word is, in essence, being debated. Some of the debate is theological, and I have no desire to enter that particular debate other than to emphasize this fact (and it is a fact). Jesus says “whoever.” Any theology that denies that word of God is simply wrong." It seems he would agree with Abasciano and Clean L. Rogers. Jr.; see: https://www.billmounce.com/the-path/does-whoever-mean-whoever.

      Concerning "whoever," Allen writes, "The addition of 'pas' before the participle generalizes it to every single person" in the world" (quoted on p.24 in "Whosoever Will, ed. David L. Allen & Steve W. Lemke).

      Jerry Vines notes where "pas" is used:
      – Hb2:9 - "death for every (pas) man"
      – 2 Pe 3:9 - "all (pas) come to repentance"
      – 1 Tm 2:4 - "will have all (pas) men to be saved"
      – 1 Tm 4:10 - "the Savior of all (pas) men"

      Rogers Jr., regarding "whoever," writes, "πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων this construction has a generalizing tendency; perhaps a gnomic present. (GGBB, 620-27)" (Linguistic & Exegetical Key to the Greek NT), which informs me that there is no intention to limit the God's love or atonement to a few certain numbers of particular persons from the "kosmos" who believe whether it is translated as "whoever," "any one," or "every one", as Calvinism seeks to limit it. It is not certain person who believes that are saved, but whoever, anyone and everyone, believes is saved and does not perish.

      Maybe Mounce, Allen, Vines, and Rogers, Jr. (Calvinist or not) is the "circus" you advise I "go ahead and continue in"?

    13. To Gibson - PART 3:

      In any case, God's loving intention in the giving of His Son as an atonement was for the "kosmos," "humanity, the inhabitants of the earth" (Thayer), which comprises all men without exception (unless there are persons who are not included in humankind), as these verses clearly suggest, even contextually. I'll just cite two:
      – John 3:17 - "For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
      – John 4:42 - "This is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."

      Also, note that the atonement of Christ is not seen in the Bible as for particular individuals of a certain number, as Calvinism contends, but the door – Jesus said, "I am the door" – is left open for whoever, anyone, and everyone who chooses to enter through it by faith:
      – Acts 2:21 - "Whosoever shall call...shall be saved" (cp. Rom 10:13)
      – Rev 22:27 - "whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."

      "Chafer observes that 'the word "whosoever" is used at least 110 times in the New Testament, and always with the unrestricted meaning'." ("Death of Christ," by Robert P. Lightner).

      One last note: I'm sure you know I am not at all a scholar by any means and, therefore, I rely on Greek language scholars and their resources, whether Calvinists or Arminian, to confirm that I have correctly understood my reading of the Bible. And, I am sure that you would agree no amount of credentials in Biblical education (although it is an advantage) guarantees the certainty of arriving at a correct, godly understanding of Scripture, otherwise all scholars would agree on both the larger and finer points of theology. And, also, I am sure you would agree (although it may be a disadvantage) that no lack of education would necessarily result in one's misunderstanding of Scripture, of what God seeks to reveal to us.

      That said, I am always open to change if otherwise convinced. Yet, note, and perhaps you missed reading my previous requests, but you still have not provided any names, citations, and/or quotes of any scholars or resources of NT Greek that supports your understanding of whosoever/pas in John 3:16.

      I look forward to receiving some scholars authority that confirms your opinion. Thanks!

    14. Gibson, thought I'd mention one last thing regarding "kosmos" in Jn 3:16

      Numerous Calvinists have posted Pink's teaching or something very muck like it on their website or blogs and have attributed it to him. Even studybible.org & blueletterbible.org have posted an abbreviated form both exactly the same information. However, blueletterbible removed the definition "of believers only" when I brought it to their attention that it was incorrect. They consulted and confirmed it with their's and an outside Greek scholar (actually, Abasciano) and, having rightly come to the conclusion that it was incorrect, removed it. However, unfortunately, having also informed studylight of the error, they refused to even consider anything to the contrary, although I tried my best to convince them.

      See, Study Light. Note, under the section Definition [ Thayer's | Strong's ], with a misleading attribution to Thayers, definition #8; it includes "(b) of believers only" is still listed: https://www.studylight.org/desk/interlinear.cgi?ref=42003016

      However, see, Blue Letter Bible. Note list is exactly the same as that in Studylight, but see definition #8 where "(b) of believers only" is omitted: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2889&t=NASB

      Just though you would find that interesting.

    15. 1. The fact that someone uses the word "meaning" does not settle that he had in mind "meaning" as opposed to "reference". He is unclear on that as your own quote of him, "of believers only," shows. There is a whole field called "pragmatics", a branch of linguistics. Go learn about that.
      2. Some websites indicate that Mounce is not a five point Calvinist. But it does not matter, because unlike you, I don't think that the strength of an argument varies according to who gives it. It is laughable that you and Abasciano ( ! ) reference a *devotional* from Mounce that makes zero grammatical points in favor of understanding the greek grammar in a very specific way. The quote from Allen and Lemke, assuming you are even quoting them correctly, is not an *argument* that I am wrong. That is a quote that someone holds a different view. You are just putting some scholars up against another one. Big deal. There is not a single thing in the rest of this part that is *grammatically significant* which the Calvinist must disagree with. The fact that you can't see that shows you don't even understand the view you want to criticize.
      3. The fact that you are using Thayer ( ! ) as an authoritative source with me is outrageous. (https://sites.google.com/site/gcsnt502/resources/lexicons). But it doesn't matter, because what Thayer says is consistent with what Calvinists can say. You gave your own view about what "all men" means, and that is nice, but irrelevant, and not the only way to understand that expression. Don't you know that? The rest is about counting words and that's a young man's game, one that new seminary students are disabused of.
      4. I have no idea what the point you are trying to make is. That lots of Calvinists have cited Pink? So what. That lots of sites attribute to Pink a view about *meaning* as opposed to *reference*? You think studybible.org is good evidence for that?!? If not, then so what if they say what Pink says given that the significant issue is not "meaning" in the confused sense you keep using.
      5. This is the end of our date and it's time for me to go home. For whatever else you do, whatever else you believe, you can ignore everything I said above. The most important thing you need to do is try to empathize (not sympathize!) with the positions of people you plan on criticizing. You should have been able to at least imagine some of these responses before you wrote up a 4 part reply to me. If you can't get us to say, "YES, you finally got it, that's our view," then you will never be able to form well-justified beliefs on this topic. Stop relying on SEA. 80% of their material is trash. The other 20% is peer-review journal posting and historical work, which *are* interesting. If your standard for getting someone to say that you understand is some bro that once upon a time read R.C. Sproul and thinks he might have once read Romans 9, then the depth of your understanding will always be superficial. And if it isn't just some bro but another scholar, you need to hesitate in thinking both scholars believe the same thing. Really. Forget this topic altogether. Pick up an awesome book on critical thinking (Sinnott-Armstrong & Fogelin, for example). Spend some time reading some damn hard texts and struggling with them. Spinoza, Kant, Avicenna, etc. Any of them. *Slowly* read through Aquinas, or Anselm, or Descartes. I am serious. Start practicing developing objections to your own views. If you want to rock this topic, you'll need to put some serious hours into developing other skills and then come back to it. It will be the best thing you can possibly do for your beliefs about this topic and perhaps all of your other beliefs.

    16. Gibson,

      1. Well, as far as A.W. Pink, unless you can get him and ask him, we won’t know for sure, but you can speculate.

      2. Unlike you, I don’t take whatever “strength” you think you have for your argument on the basis that you give it.

      3. I only referenced Thayer to show that “believers only” is not listed one of Pink's definitions as the website misleads one to think.

      4. Actually, I don’t take any websites word for it. But, at times, they are useful.

      5. There was no attempt on my part to get you to say, “yes.”

      But, unfortunately, respectfully, you have demonstrated an arrogance by your remarks, perhaps, as a result an unawareness as to how one ought to carry their much learning. Rather than patiently teach one whom you feel has errored, you resort to condescending remarks and insults. It’s not one’s theological position that causes division, but one’s attitude and response towards those whom they perceive as the weaker brother.

      P.S. I can safely assume you could find no authorities to support your position.

      This will end my discussion. Back to reading my friends at SEA (Prov 13:20a)

    17. http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2018/04/more_on_engagement.html#comment-444384

    18. There is no question about it: on this topic, you are the weaker. The fact that you think the Bible requires each of us to regard each other as equally knowledgable on a subject is *precisely* the sort of evidence that should lead one to think you are the weaker. And the fact that you ended your refrain with a plan to read texts that merely confirm to you what you already believe suggests you will remain the weaker. This is tragic, and I am serious about that. The tragedy is that instead of taking the hard path to become better (and I gave serious advice in 5), you leave with sadness; when you are not honored as an intellectual, you boast of finding comfort in the words of friends who tell you that you do have knowledge. This is all very much like the end of a Platonic dialogue. Tragic. Seriously.

    19. Authorities to support Gibson's position? Authorities for what? A specific reading of Jn 3:16 or the general distinction between sense and reference? Gibson can certainly cite authorities for the latter, he doesn't need authorities for the former since that's a special application of the latter (general principle).

    20. Chan, thanks for the articles. Much appreciated. Will read then as I have time. Placed them on my 'bookmarks'.

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