Saturday, April 27, 2019

Blank canvas

1. I've discussed this before. It's a perennial issue in apologetics. I'm going to use a different example to illustrate a point I've made before.

To my knowledge, there's overwhelming scientific evidence for the antiquity of the universe, from multiple interlocking data points. 

From what I've read, the most impressive scientific objection to conventional dating is the preservation of soft tissue in dinosaurs. I'm not qualified to assess that, but it's intriguing. 

That generates a paradox: due to the interlocking nature of the scientific evidence for the antiquity of the universe, if it turns out that there's no scientific explanation for the preservation of soft tissue in dinosaurs, over tens of millions of years, then that invalidates the entire dating scheme. 

If, however, YEC chronology is correct, it's odd that nearly all of the scientific evidence points to the antiquity of the universe while precious little points in the opposite direction. You'd expect the evidence to be more consistent one way or the other.

In general then, I think the effort to defend YEC chronology on scientific grounds is probably a losing argument. That doesn't mean it's necessarily a lost cause–just that if you try to make the argument from scientific evidence, I expect that's doomed to fail. Nevertheless, the anomaly of soft tissue in dinosaurs is fascinating. 

2. A limitation on appeals to scientific evidence is that science operates within a particular framework. But the act of creation lies outside that framework. The scientific framework is the result of creation. So beyond a certain point, you can't extrapolate from the framework to the set up. 

To take a comparison, a painter begins with a blank canvas. There are almost no limitations on what he can put on the canvas. There's no natural starting-point. Rather, he's working from scratch. 

Likewise, a filmmaker begins with a roll of blank film. There's nothing on the frames. He can film whatever he wants. 

The medium imposes almost no restrictions on his range of options. The medium offers no direction. What the artist paints or films is wide open. There's nothing in the medium to indicate where to begin. 

Different painters with a blank canvas paint different scenes. Indeed, the same painter paints different scenes. Give him 50 blank canvases, and he'll paint 50 different scenes. 

Hand different filmmakers a roll of blank film, and they will make different films using the same roll of blank film. Indeed, the same filmmaker will make different films using  rolls of blank film. Nothing in the medium constrains the choice of plot, setting, characters, or dialogue. And in the digital age, it's even mere flexible.  

What's put on film or put on the canvas doesn't derive from the medium but from the mind of the artist. It comes from outside the medium. In that regard, the choice is arbitrary.

That doesn't make it absolutely arbitrary. In a movie with a good plot, there's dramatic logic to where the story begins and where it ends. However, that's internal to the narrative. The medium itself doesn't point in any particular direction. 

Mature creation has antecedent appeal because it parallels the nature of human creativity. And the comparison is even stronger in reference to the divine creator, because God is freer than human agents. He creates the medium. Not only is this an argument by analogy, but an argument from the lesser to the greater. So I find the idea of mature creation powerfully appealing. 

Michael Heiser on the flood

Everyday miracle

It was May, 1988. The semester had just ended and the choir from North American Baptist College was looking forward to an exciting three weeks touring Cameroon, a country nestled on the steaming tropical coast of West Africa.
The team was led by Dr. Bill Muller, a professor of the college for the previous twenty-four years. They had just arrived at Douala International Airport, exhausted after an arduous journey from Edmonton en route through Toronto and London.
After two solid days of flying and lingering in airports, Bill wanted nothing more than to reach their lodgings so the choir could prepare for their busy schedule in the weeks ahead.
But the anticipation of rest would have to be put on hold. Before they would be going anywhere Bill would have to get through customs. He looked up at the ragged line forming at one end of the terminal and took a breath. Navigating customs in western nations could be stressful enough, but in a developing nation like Cameroon it was a different affair entirely. While a customs inspection could go smoothly, more often it was a tense encounter in which the traveler was subjected to the agent’s whims. Would the agents decide to confiscate items? Charge duties? Refuse entry? The process was inherently unpredictable, and Bill was not looking forward to it.
While customs in Douala was unnerving under the best of circumstances, on this day Bill sensed his vulnerability all the more. As he entered the customs line toting a massive suitcase, he was feeling a bit like a deer in a forest full of wolves. This luggage was sure to garner the attention of the agents, crammed as it was with items requested by local missionaries: fluorescent light bulbs, anti-histamines, shoes, copier machine parts and ink refills. A zealous agent could choose to charge all sorts of arbitrary import duties for these items. And who could know what they might decide to confiscate. Since there was not much he could do but wait and hope for the best, Bill offered a simple prayer for safe and quick passage through customs.
Under the circumstances it was no surprise when, moments later, Bill found himself being directed by a female customs officer into a side room for inspection. Following her clipped request to open his luggage, Bill obligingly unzipped the cover and watched the official scan the contents. On the best case scenario the agent would draw up a quick list of duties to be paid, and send the traveler on his way. But instead she looked at Bill intently and made a request that he had not anticipated: “Receipts,” she said as she waved her hand over the open suitcase. “I need to see receipts for all these things.”
In a moment Bill felt his heart tumble into his stomach. He didn’t have receipts to demonstrate the cost of all these items. In a stomach-churning moment he realized his precarious position. Without receipts he was at the mercy of the customs agent who was free to charge whatever duties she deemed appropriate. As Bill explained his dilemma, the agent’s expression darkened. Then she crisply told him to wait as she spun on her heels and strode off, presumably to notify a senior administrator. And there Bill stood under the buzzing fluorescent lights, shoulders slumped, wondering how he would get the desperately needed items into the country without paying a crippling amount of duty. Again he offered up a quick prayer and waited.
As Bill stood there, he hardly noticed a young male agent walking by the inspection room. But for some reason the young agent noticed him. Suddenly he walked over to Bill and asked amiably, “Is there a problem?” It seemed a strange question. Of course there was a problem. Why else would Bill be left standing in a dingy customs inspection room with an open suitcase?
Bill nodded, and explained that the agent had left to fetch a supervisor. As he spoke, the young man’s eyes scanned the items in the suitcase. Then his attention shifted to Bill with a curiosity perhaps prompted by the unusual contents of the luggage. “Who are all these things for?” he asked. Bill explained that the eclectic collection had been requested by several Baptist missionaries who were working in Cameroon.
With that the man’s visage brightened. “Oh, have you been to Cameroon before?” Bill nodded and then went on to explain that he had been in the country for an extended trip the previous year during which he had visited over forty different towns. “Really?” the man exclaimed. “What sort of towns did you visit?” Immediately a dozen different names popped into Bill’s mind, but for no particular reason he blurted out: “I visited Fonfuka.”
“Fonfuka?” the man exclaimed with clear surprise. “And where did you stay when you were in Fonfuka?”
“I stayed with a man named Pa Simon.” Bill replied.
The officer’s eyes widened. “Oh? What kind of house did Pa Simon live in?”
“It was a nice home,” Bill recalled. “His children had built him the house for his retirement.”
Bill was puzzled, for the officer’s apparent amazement seemed out of proportion to the mundane information Bill was sharing. “And was Pa Simon married?” he asked.
What was the point of this line of questioning? Was the agent just curious or did he have another motive? More ominously, was he trying to lay some sort of trap? Bill had no idea, but he figured the wisest course would be to answer the questions honestly without trying to figure out where they might be leading. So he nodded obligingly. “Yes,” he said, “Pa Simon was married. I remember that his wife was suffering with boils on her shins at the time.”
With that the officer rolled back on his heels and looked at Bill stunned. Then he spoke. “That was my mother,” he said in a whisper. With that startling revelation his face took on a warm countenance and he placed a hand on Bill’s shoulder. “God bless you, my brother. Close your suitcase. You may go.”
Bill stood there for a moment, stunned. What had just happened? While still dumbfounded he closed the zipper, still anxious that the agent might change his mind. But when he glanced back he could see the agent, smiling and giving him a friendly wave. And that was it: he was through customs.
Bill was amazed. Cameroon was not a small country. At the time that he visited in 1988 it had a population of fourteen million people while the capital of Douala had more than one million. What were the chances that this particular agent would walk by at the precise moment of Bill’s inspection? And what prompted him to stop and inquire about Bill’s case? And why had he asked which towns Bill visited? And why, of the dozens of towns Bill had traveled to, did he mention Fonfuka?
Even as all those questions popped into his mind, Bill mused that he really knew the answers. As the students gathered around him and they moved out of the airport terminal and into the humid tropical air, he quietly offered up a heartfelt prayer of thanks.

Debating a tape recorder

Had a marathon impromptu debate with someone who denies the Resurrection on Facebook. Because Facebook exchanges are choppy, I did some reformatting to tighten the flow. 

It supposedly was being applied to other apocalyptic prophets like Jesus i.e. John the Baptist according to Mark 6:14-16.
This is interesting because both figures were contemporary, had disciples, preached a similar message, shared the same socio-cultural background, and people were claiming they had both risen from the dead after their unjust executions. Is this just a coincidence or does it show that the idea was being applied to other prophet type figures during the time of Jesus?

Returning from the grave (i.e. ghost) is a different concept from a resurrection, in the technical sense.

The claim about John is "raised from the dead" - γγερται κ νεκρν which is the same claim in verbatim Greek used about Jesus. Are you saying that Greek phrase can just mean "a ghost returning from a grave"? If so, then how do you know that wasn't the original belief about Jesus' resurrection?

i) The doctrine of the physical resurrection of Christ isn't merely based on a particular phrase, but entire episodes in Luke and John (as well as 1 Cor 15) which accentuate the physicality of the resurrection in the case of Jesus. And I don't grant your dichotomy between original belief about his resurrection and the NT record.

ii) Moreover, in reading historical narratives, it's important to distinguish between statements by the narrator that express the editorial viewpoint of the narrator and the narrator quoting what other people say (in this case, Herod the tetrarch), which the narrator may or may not endorse.

Well, according to the account "other people" were making the claim. It says Herod and "some others" which would most likely be people who knew or followed John the Baptist. Unless of course, the New Testament is just wrong about that? So it just seems interesting that we have a similar prophet type figure being claimed to have "risen from the dead" after his execution (just like the claim we have for Jesus). This seems to demonstrate that the concept of a single dying and rising prophet figure was around at the exact same time and in the same cultural background as Jesus' ministry. 
Luke and John were the last gospels to be written and yes they do "accentuate" the physical resurrection of Jesus. However, it doesn't follow that was the original view nor does it follow that the authors were narrating actual history. 
Paul only gives evidence for visions of Jesus or "spiritually experiencing" Christ. The physical resurrection involving touching a resurrected corpse develops later.

i) You have yet to absorb the significance of the distinction between a narrator and people he quotes. That hardly means "the NT is just wrong about that". It does means the narrator doesn't necessarily endorse everything he quotes or how it's worded. 

That's a pretty elementary distinction, you know. Take a journalist who quotes a statement by a politician. It can be a verbatim quote. That doesn't mean the journalist necessary shares the viewpoint of the politician. 

ii) There's no reason to think Luke was written later than Matthew. I think both were written in the 60s. For that matter, I think John was probably written in the 60s. In any event, it's arguable that Luke's account is based on eyewitnesses he interviewed while the Johannine narrator is an eyewitness in his own right.

iii) You seem to be channeling Richard Carrier. The word for "vision" doesn't imply a psychological phenomenon rather than a physical phenomenon. That owes more to the connotations of the English synonym. It's just a word for appearance. Jesus appeared to Paul. The fact that it was luminous no more makes it psychological than the Transfiguration.

iv) And in any event, my reference was to 1 Cor 15, not Acts 9. I wasn't referring to Paul's experience, but Paul's appeal to eyewitnesses as well as his discussion of the glorified body.

Are we living in a computer simulation?

Locking horns

Apologetics is normally a guy thing. Same with philosophy, theology, science, &c. There are exceptions, of course.

A feature of male psychology is that men have a natural aversion to backing down in the face of another guy. That dynamic often impacts debates over Christianity and atheism, &c. Sometimes a guy will be on the wrong side of an argument, but he digs in. He continues to defend his position even though he keeps losing the argument, because at that point it's about male competitiveness and saving face. The topic could be anything. It's not about the merits of the issue. It's about who blinks first. It becomes a challenge to masculine self-perception. To concede defeat drops you down a peg in the male dominance hierarchy. Just like sports. Something Norman Podhoretz recently said illustrates the mindset:

I'm “blue collar” myself, I suppose. I'm from the working class—my father was a milk man...when I was a kid, you would rather be beaten up than back away from a fight. The worst thing in the world you could be called was a sissy. And I was beaten up many times.

When guys debate issues, it can be like a drag race to see who swerves first to avoid a head-on collision or who brakes first as they hurtle towards the cliff. And, figuratively speaking, some guys would rather go over the cliff than blink. Sometimes that's why your opponent is so pigheaded, arguing for the sake of argument. 

I don't have any general solution except to say that it's possible to change your mind without conceding defeat. You can quietly reconsider your original position. You don't have to admit you were mistaken. You can let the matter drop in public. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

The creation of Eve

As I often say, I think a useful interpretive step when we read historical narratives of Scripture is to imagine what the scene looks like. What did the narrator intend the reader to see in his mind's eye? If we can't visualize it, we don't really understand it. We lack a clear idea of what was happening. That's an element often missing in commentaries.

Take the creation of Eve. When he wrote that description, what images did the narrator have?

Scholars dispute how to render a key word. Is it an anatomical term or an architectural metaphor? Traditionally, God is said to make Eve from one of Adam's "ribs". In support of the traditional rendering, Adam says Eve is "bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh" (Gen 2:23; cf. Gen 29:14; 37:27).

However, scholars point out that almost uniformly, the word is an architectural term-especially in reference to the construction of the tabernacle furniture and Solomon's temple. For instance:

The word designates a side or the shell of the ark of the covenant...the side of a building...or even a whole room ("side chamber, arcade, cell"). Hamilton 1:178.

It is typically an architectural or structural term referring to a single object that has two matching sides (e.g. a pair of doors). John Walton in J. Daryl Charles ed. Reading Genesis 1-2, 166.

Mind you, the disjunction between anatomical and architectural terminology may be a false dichotomy inasmuch as some architectural terms are anatomical metaphors, viz. "rib" vaulting in Gothic architecture, or "ribs" in the hull of a wooden ship.

So the word may be a pun. If so, what's the intended symbolism?

In context, the passage has to have an anatomical emphasis, even if the term is figurative, because it describes Adam's body as the source or raw material for Eve's body.

Another issue is that if we think this was meant to be a historical account, then we need to offer a realistic interpretation-albeit supernatural. Some scholars don't take the account seriously, which allows them to propose impossible scenarios, viz. Adam was originally androgynous. God created male and female by bisecting Adam. That's the stuff of pagan mythology.

It's possible that the imagery prefigures or trades on the tabernacle. On the other hand, that could be the incidental consequence of the fact that most construction descriptions in the Pentateuch and OT generally concern details of the temple and tabernacle. So the clustering of terminology may be sample bias.

If it means "rib", should we visualize the Angel of the Lord extracting a rib from Adam, then replicating the rib to produce a rib cage for Eve, then extending the body from the torso, upwards and downwards?

If it's an architectural term, that presents more than one option. If it's like French doors, the symbolism evokes bilateral symmetry and chirality. And that would suit the identity of Eve as a counterpart to Adam. Moreover, Scripture often uses left-handed/right-handed imagery.

However, human bodies are wholes, not halves. So it's unclear how to convert that symbolism into a creative action the reader can picture.

"Side" is ambiguous inasmuch as human bodies are four-sided objects. So which side? Front? Back? Sideways?

Then there's the holistic meaning of the term: cell, shell, chamber, room. If we play along with that imagery, it might conjure up a casting process using Adam's body as a mold. When the mold is removed, it reveals the inner object, shaped by the mold into a negative 3D image. From what I've read, that technology existed in ancient Near Eastern metallurgy, at the time Genesis was written. So the original audience would have that frame of reference.

Of course, that presses the imagery in a way that's unrealistic. Adam's body isn't a hollow shell. And his body would be destroyed by the casting process. If, however, the creation of Eve is meant to be analogous to a casting process, it's useful to press the imagery in order to make the necessary adjustments.

Perhaps, then, the reader is supposed to visualize Eve emerging or rising out of of Adam's body. Think of movies in which someone dies, then you see a translucent astral body float out of the corpse. The Angel of the Lord would summon her forth from Adam's body. Out steps Eve, like she was in a case.

Holy moly Molinism

But now you raise a quite different objection aimed specifically at (3). “Before God sticks Fred in second century Tibet wouldn't He have to ascertain that Fred would freely reject the Gospel in all circumstances, not just some of them?” Well, He wouldn’t have to, but that’s my hypothesis. Clearly, God could place a person anywhere He wants in human history, regardless of how that person might freely behave in different circumstances. But my suggestion is that God, being so merciful and not wanting anyone to be damned, so providentially orders the world that anyone who would embrace the Gospel if he were to hear it will not be placed in circumstances in which he fails to hear it and is lost. Only in the case of someone who would be saved through his response to general revelation would a person who would freely respond to special revelation, if he heard it, find himself in circumstances where he doesn’t hear it.

This is Craig's general solution to the problem of the unreached. But it has a strange implication. Historically, most Christians have been Caucasian (along with Middle-Eastern Christians). Craig's explanation is that God left Africans and Asians largely unevangelized because Africans and Asians are generally far less receptive to the Gospel than Caucasians. Is that a plausible explanation? I think Craig might be ill at ease defending that proposition, yet that's a necessary implication of his position.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Balaam the seer

In the past I've explored the possibility that the talking donkey episode (Num12) is a vision:

That interpretation goes back to Maimonides. As I think about it, there's an additional argument for that interpretation. The reason Balak hires Balaam to hex Israel is due to Balaam's reputation as a seer. It would therefore make ironic sense for Yahweh to give Balaam a humiliating satirical vision. Here's a renown heathen diviner, but in the vision he's outwitted by a talking mule! Reputed to be a seer and visionary, but the only vision he's granted is a scene that casts him in the role of a blind blithering fool. That's poetic justice. Turning Balaam's "gift" against him.  

The fall of Lucifer

Two traditional prooftexts for the fall of Lucifer are Isa 14 and Ezk 28. Although Isa 14 isn't directly about the fall of Lucifer, it employs civil war in heaven imagery. The losers are expelled. The interpretation of Ezk 28 is complicated by ambiguous syntax. A neglected passage is Isa 24:21-22, which suggests disobedient angels. 

The clearest OT passage might be Dan 10. It has four figures, three of whom seem to be angelic. There's Daniel. Then there's a good angel, who might be Gabriel or a cherub (see Iain Duguid's commentary, 180-81). The good angel is blocked by "the Prince of Persia," who appears to be an evil territorial spirit. The Prince of Persia is then overpowered by the Archangel Michael. The fact that the Prince of Persia has the ability to obstruct the good angel suggests that some fallen angels are more powerful than some heavenly angels. 

Although this doesn't narrate the fall of angels, it seems to presume their downfall. There are only two logical options: either they were originally evil or else they became evil. 

This also raises the intriguing question of where the Prince of Persian ranks in the infernal chain-of-command. As a territorial spirit, we might consider him to be a Satanic subordinate–if we think Satan has a wider sphere of influence than a territorial spirit. 

On the other hand, Satan is a finite agent. He must concentrate his efforts. At the time, Israel was in exile. And ancient Israel was the locus of God's earthly kingdom. So perhaps the Prince of Persia is Satan himself. At that time and place, Israel was the primary thing for Satan to oppose. And the base of operations temporarily shifted to the exilic community. In terms of diabolical strategy and allocation of resources, it makes sense for Satan to direct his efforts at the exilic community. 

Admittedly, this is somewhat speculative. There's not a lot to go on. At a minimum, the passage is an indirect witness to the angelic fall. But the angelic villain in this passage may well be Satan himself. That would dovetail with other altercations between Satan and the Archangel Michael (Jude 9; Rev 12:7-9).

Kuyper Lectures on Calvinism

With the next presidential election breathing down our necks, I thought some of you might find these lectures by Abraham Kuyper on Calvinism helpful.

1. On Calvinism as a Life-system
2. On Calvinism and Religion
3. On Calvinism and Politics
4. On Calvinism and Science
5. On Calvinism and Art
6. On Calvinism and the Future

A note on biblical inerrancy

I'd like to float a suggestion regarded a neglected, potential solution to some apparent biblical discrepancies or contradictions. The Bible is bilingual (with some Aramaic thrown in for good measure). In the NT, speakers like Paul alternate between Greek and Aramaic, depending on the audience. Although Jesus probably did most of his public teaching in Aramaic, he may have switched to Greek on some occasions. But the NT itself is written in Greek.

Take a sample sentence like:

Jeremy gave a spirited speech

Suppose we paraphrase that using different synonyms for "spirit":

Jeremy a vigorous speech

Jeremy gave a tipsy speech

Jeremy was possessed when he spoke

The ghost of Jeremy spoke

Now these four different renderings are discrepant. They don't mean the same thing. Yet all of them are true to the meaning of the original wording. Put another way, the synonyms are inconsistent with each other, but consistent with "spirit".

Although that's a paraphrase rather a translation in the strict sense, a paraphrase is a kind of translation, not into a different language, but rendering the original in different words. So it illustrates the basic principle.

In theory, Bible writings could quote the same underlying statement in different translations. The translations might be discrepant, yet each would accurately render the original statement. So the "contradiction" would be superficial. Each would be correct renderings. 

I haven't bothered to run through a series of examples. At the moment I'm just offering this suggestion for consideration, where applicable. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


1. This raises a potential challenge to biblical creation:

As we discover more fossils, there may be further challenges in kind. One issue this raises is whether Christians should just admit that human evolution is true. Is the time past due to throw in the towel? Sure, we can contrive ingenuous explanations to reconcile this with biblical creation, but isn't that special pleading? It's only because Genesis is part of the sacred canon of Christianity rather than The Argonautica that we make an effort to defend the historicity of Genesis when we'd never make a comparable effort to defend the historicity of The Argonautica. So goes the argument. 

It would, indeed be special pleading to defend the historicity of The Argonautica, but the comparison is inapt. If there's abundant evidence that Christianity is true, then it's not special pleading to treat the Bible differently than we treat The Argonautica

Not to mention that there are scientific objections to the theory of evolution. The evidence isn't one-sided. 

2. Another issue is how we tell that something has humanoid intelligence. For instance, there are animals that use things designed by humans. It would be invalid to infer that animals invent what they use. For that matter, lots of humans are smart enough to use a cellphone who aren't smart enough to design a cellphone. So there's a distinction between inventing tools and using tools. Suppose you had jungle inhabited by humans and apes. Apes might steal human tools and toy with them. Discovering apes with tools wouldn't ipso facto prove the apes had humanoid intelligence. 

3. There's also the question of how we identify humanoid intelligence. This goes to the larger issue of what makes humans human or unique compared to animals. A common criterion is a certain level of intelligence. A capacity for abstract thought. Imagination. Deliberation. Thinking about the past and future. Is it possible for a creature to have humanoid intelligence, yet be inhuman?

In Christian theology, angels have humanoid intelligence, yet angels are unrelated to humans. To take another example, there's a sense in which psychopaths are both human and inhuman. On the one hand they have human intelligence. Indeed, above-average intelligence. Yet a psychopath lacks normal human psychology. Psychos are expert at mimicking human emotions, but they lack human emotions. In particular, they lack empathy. They have no conscience. 

A psychopath is like a vampire. A vampire retains human intelligence and memories. But its psychological makeup is inhuman. When it looks at a human being, it views the human as food. By the same token, psychos are predators who hunt human prey. So there's something fundamentally inhuman about psychopaths (and sociopaths). 

Or take someone like Bobby Fischer who's a genius, but devoid of social intelligence. He can relate to the game of chess, but he can't relate to human beings. 

Or, to consider this from the other end of the telescope, consider people with Down syndrome who, in a sense, have subhuman intelligence, yet they have a human emotional makeup. In a sense, someone with Down syndrome has greater humanity than Bobby Fischer. 

Another example, albeit fictional, is rational aliens. Suppose you had a conversation with an E.T. Initially, you might find that you have a lot in common with the E.T. But as the conversation progresses, you come to the terrifying realization that there's something fundamentally foreign about its outlook. Suppose what humans find beautiful, our hypothetical aliens don't find beautiful. What we find emotionally compelling, they don't. They don't respond to music. They don't gaze in awe at sunsets. They have no instinct to comfort a crying child. 

4. Apropos (3), imagine if God created some animals with humanoid intelligence that are, nevertheless, unrelated to humans. Imagine if you had a conversation with one of them. At first you seem to share a lot in common. But as the conversation deepens, it becomes increasingly apparent that they operate on a different wavelength. Humanoid intelligence is, at best, a necessary but insufficient condition to make one human. And even that may be overstated (e.g. Down syndrome). 

5. Scripture doesn't detail the animals God created. It classifies them by ecological zone. Land animals, aquatic animals, and volant animals. Even if God created (now extinct) animals with humanoid intelligence, there's no presumption that Scripture would mention that fact. Just as there's no expectation that the Genesis narrator would list the Tasmanian devil. For one thing, the original audience would have no idea what the narrator was referring to. Indeed, the narrator wouldn't have the vocabulary. And even if the Bible did use the word "Tasmanian devil", that term would be co-opted by Bible readers to refer to something other than the marsupial. By the time the Tasmania devil was discovered, it would be called something else.

6. Inspiration doesn't make a Bible writer omniscient. The Genesis narrator was ignorant about the existence of most species. But ignorance is not the same thing as error. And even if he knew about Australian/Tasmanian fauna, there'd be no occasion to mention that in the creation account. By the same token, even if God created (now extinct) animals with humanoid intelligence, there'd be no reason for Genesis to mention that. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Debating cessationism

Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning

Finessing Independent Attestation: A Study in Interdisciplinary Biblical Criticism

Mutiny at SBTS?

An OT prof. at SBTS has signed the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel:

That's significant because it's been reported that Al Mohler privately threatened to fire faculty who signed the statement (a report Mohler denies). So this will be a test. 

The Statement on Social Justice is a poorly-formulated manifesto, although it says mostly good things. Is there a duty to sign it?

Insofar as the evangelical ruling class has drawn a line in the sand over this document, there's something to be said for signing it, even though it's a flawed document, as a statement of protest and defiance. The hostile reaction to the document lends it a significance above and beyond the document itself. It has become a symbol. 

An analogy would be saying and doing things that Muslims find provocative or offensive just to prove that you still have the freedom to do so (e.g. satirical cartoons of Muhammad). Occasionally, if someone dares you not to do something, that's a reason to do it. Sometimes you need to put it to the test. If you're afraid to exercise your rights, for fear of reprisal, then you already lost your rights. Likewise, the only way to keep your rights or reclaim your rights is to stand up to bullies.

I've been told that Mohler can fire faculty without due cause because SBTS uses at-will employment. At-will employment should be abolished at SBC seminaries. It subverts doctrinal standards. Termination of employment should be based on violating the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message and/or ethical misconduct. In effect, at-will employment replaces the statement of faith with the seminary prez. The seminary prez. becomes the operating creed. It reminds me of something Roger Olson said about ORU. ORU had no formal creed because Oral Roberts was the creed. Whatever he taught from one day to the next was the de facto statement of faith.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Mueller Report recap

A few observations on the Mueller report:

It's amusing to see critics instantly pivot from collusion to obstruction. Moreover, Mueller didn't charge Trump with obstruction. He punted to DOJ. 

David French used the occasion to burnish his indelible NeverTrump credentials:

I find French painfully naive on this point: naturally subordinates will lie about their conduct if they think a prosecutor is going to indict them for what he deems to be criminal conduct. Does French really think they'd volunteer self-incriminating information? Why would any rational person cooperate with an investigation if they rightly fear that they will be targeted, that their cooperation will be used against them? What universe is French living in? 

Ironically, a CNN journalist, of all people, pointed out that this reflects the failure of the Obama administration to protect the USA from hackers:

For his part, Andy McCarthy highlighted the way Mueller upended the burden of proof: 

On Twitter, Michael Medved noted that by crying wolf for 2 years on "collusion," Democrats have unwittingly inoculated Trump from other scandals. 

What's left? Stormy Daniels? That scandal certainly shows Trump at his worst. But it's not impeachable. Moreover, it hinges on the technicalities of campaign finance law. 

There is a problem when subordinates defy Trump's orders. It's striking, though, that Trump didn't follow up when they failed to carry out his orders. Is this just Trump's way of blowing off steam? The classic "take Trump seriously but not literally"? 

I've read about a potential conflict of interest regarding Trump's business interests abroad. However, the fanatical obsession with "collusion" deflected attention away from what might be a legitimate issue. 

Why Cosmic Skeptic is WRONG about the Bible and Slavery

Preaching Christ from history

1. A perennial issue in Christian theology is how to preach Christ from the OT. There's no consensus among evangelical scholars in that regard, viz.

One of the dangers, or perceived dangers, is that we're shoehorning OT passages into a preconceived grid that can't be justified by the passages themselves. This is germane to Jewish evangelism and apologetics, because many Jews don't recognize our interpretations as authentic reflections of original intent. And there's the attendant danger that a Christian pastor or scholar might lose his faith if he begins to suspect that Christian exegesis of the OT is a projection or artificial overlay. Are we fooling ourselves? 

2. I'd hasten to add that the objection cuts both ways. For one thing, the NT is just as Jewish as the OT. The NT is a continuation (and culmination) of the OT. You can't amputate the NT from the OT without killing the OT patient. 

Likewise, the OT, considered in isolation, loses plausibility. That's why many Jews have given up belief in a personal messiah. They lost hope. How long must you wait before it's impossible to distinguish a prophecy that's unfulfilled because it still lies in the future from one that will never be fulfilled? Don't many Jews suffer from nagging doubts in that regard?

Put another way, loss of faith in a personal messiah is a backdoor admission that the OT does prophesy a personal messiah, but because Jews don't think Jesus was the right candidate, and there's no other plausible candidate in sight, they are forced to either abandon Judaism altogether (secular Jews) or reinterpret the OT messianic expectation (e.g. Reform Judaism). 

So this isn't a challenge unique to Christianity. Ironically, Christians are picking up where many Jews gave up. 

It's important to work through these issues and come out the other end before undergoing a crisis of faith. It may prevent a crisis of faith or enable one to get through it with your faith intact and emerge stronger on the other side.

3. It might be objected that Christians are in the same boat regarding the Second Coming. How much time must pass before that becomes implausible? But there's a crucial difference. If the first advent is partial fulfillment, then it's evidence that we are on the right track. 

Moreover, God makes himself manifest in the lives of some Christians. So it's not just about ancient writings. 

4. In Christian theology, the traditional way of preaching Christ from the OT is to seize on certain messianic prooftexts. And that remains a legitimate approach.  There are passages very suited to that exegesis. However, a limitation to that approach is that it's very atomistic. On that approach, most of the OT isn't specifically messianic. 

5. A more recent way, inaugurated by Vos, is to trace out messianic motifs through a series of OT books. (I'm not saying Vos did that. I'm referring generally to the redemptive-historical hermeneutic.) That's a legitimate approach. An important supplement to the traditional approach. In some respects an improvement over the traditional approach. However, it's still rather limited. 

6. By contrast, it's easy to preach Christ from the NT, right? Yet there's a sense in which the OT has a counterpart in the inter-adventual age. Both the OT and NT contain as-yet outstanding prophecies about the future. The church age and the return of Christ. In reference to the second advent, Christians are in a position analogous to the position of OT/Intertestamental Jews in reference to the first advent. 

7. The first two approaches are text-based approaches. That's legitimate and necessary. But is there another way of broaching the issue? What about an event-based approach? 

Suppose you are God. In your master plan for human history, Jesus will be the messiah–with all that represents. It would make sense to arrange history to include emblematic events that signal the need for a messiah. Likewise, events that signal the nature of the messiah. That approach doesn't sidestep the Bible, but uses the sacred text as a window into events behind the text that point to the nature and necessity of messiah. Not only does God send prophets who predict messiah, but in addition, there's a world behind the text, a world which, by design, symbolizes the human plight and kind of messiah required to save us. That has affinities with typology, but is broader. Consider Bible history and church history:


If Messiah isn't merely an agent sent by God but God coming to his people in person, then the creation account is, among other things, a setup to identify messiah. 


The inaugural human pair are banished from the garden. Their exile forecloses immorality via the tree of life to their posterity. Is the prospect of (biological) immortality forever lost? Or will messiah restore that?


Evil is so pervasive by this point that God adopts a scorched-earth policy. God wipes out all evildoers as well as the younger generation. He makes a fresh start using Noah's nuclear family. Yet despite that, moral evil comes roaring back. What kind of messiah can save us from that?

That illustrates the depth as well as breadth of evil. Like eradicating tumors from a cancer patient. The cancer appears to be gone, but tumors resurface a few months later. Turns out the treatment didn't reach the cancer itself, but only effects of the cancer. It keeps coming back. The underlying cause is vigorous and virulent. 


Unlike the scorched-earth policy, this time around God adopts a containment policy. Quarantine a subset of humanity from humanity in general. Put them in a separate country with purity codes. Yet Israel repeatedly commits national apostasy. Israel repeatedly reverts to paganism. Once again, that illustrates the depth of evil. What kind of messiah can save us from that?

Egyptian bondage/Exodus/Wilderness 

God delivers Israel from Egyptian bondage. Yet the act of removing external oppression exposes the inner moral failure of the Israelites. Outwardly liberated, they suffer from inner bondage. Their fickle character was there all along, but easy to shift blame for their plight on oppression. The source of the problem is more fundamental. 

We might say these divine policies are calculated failures. Their purpose is not to solve the problem of human sin, but to show the radical nature of human sin. That, in turn, indicates the kind of messiah that will be required to save us. 

The Cultus

The tabernacle, priesthood, and offerings are enacted parables to graphically illustrate divine holiness and human guilt. Sin has a forensic dimension (culpability, blameworthiness) as well as a psychological dimension (propensity to evil). A relation between God and man as well as something wrong with man. What kind of messiah is needed?

The Monarchy

i) There's no political salvation. Even the best Jewish kings have moral blind spots.

ii) At the same time, this lays the groundwork for Messiah as king over all. Heir of David as well as God's coregent. The heavenly crown prince. 

Assyrian deportation/Babylonian Exile

Despite their spiritual advantages, the Jews repeatedly and defiantly break the covenant. What more must be done to save wayward humans from themselves?


Not only does Jesus face human opposition, but opposition from the Devil and demons. That peels back the curtain to reveal another layer of evil behind human evil. That was already touched on in Dan 11. In addition to human evil there's angelic evil, which animates idolatry and polytheism. 

Jewish opposition to Jesus

Ironically, many Jews, steeped in the OT scriptures resisted the prophesied messiah when he comes. Once more, that demonstrates the need to address sin root and branch. 

Church age

The church age is characterized by external persecution, ecclesiastical corruption, and manmade substitutes for the Gospel. On the other hand, it's also characterized by the tenacity of faith and the overcoming power of grace. 

The upshot is that we can preach Christ (or Trinitarian salvation) from history. OT history, NT history, and church history. That complements a text-based approach. The Bible provides a roadmap for preaching Christ from history. And I think this is a neglected approach. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Birth strikers

From antinatalism, through feminism and "white privilege"  to transgenderism, it's morbidly fascinating to see atheists adopt a suicidal, self-hating ideology:

Fallen angels

It's striking how little the Bible explicitly has to say about the fall of angels. Just a few scattered, sometimes ambiguous passages. 

Liberals say the theology of fallen angels is a Second Temple development (e.g. 1 Enoch). And because it's a later development, this is legendary embellishment or pious fiction. Tacked on at a later date. But there are basic problems with that characterization: 

i) Even in the NT, reference to the fall of angels is scant. Even in the Gospels, Satan isn't classified as a fallen angel. Yet the theological narrative of fallen angels was already in place by then.

ii) Even if we grant liberal dating for the sake of argument, they also tend to date the Pentateuch to the Exilic period, so on their own dating scheme, the fall of angels isn't an especially late development in relation to the OT narrative.

iii) Although Scripture doesn't say much about the fallen of angels, the OT has a lot to say about angels generally, as well as moral evil generally. This goes all the way back to the Pentateuch, including Genesis in particular. So angels and moral evil already figure in the earliest stages of the OT plot. 

It is, however, a short step from the existence of angels in general to evil angels in particular. Likewise, the origin of moral evil is a natural question to ask. Is that confined to the human realm? Or does it have a parallel in the angelic realm? And given the interaction between men and angels in Scripture, it's a short step to the idea that evil angels as well as good angels intersect with human history. So there's no overriding reason to assume this is a late theological development.

Things Into Which Angels Long To Look

Earlier in this Easter season, I posted an article about Jesus' fulfillment of Isaiah's first three Servant Songs. Elsewhere, I've posted a collection of articles on other Easter prophecies, and you can go here to find a collection of posts we've written on prophecy fulfillment more broadly. As we think about the resurrection, the gospel, and the fulfillment of these prophecies, we should consider how much God has given us that previous generations longed for.

"As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven - things into which angels long to look." (1 Peter 1:10-12)