Useful List of Texts

Many think Calvinism is only justified from scripture because of passages like Romans 9-11, that is false. The passage isn’t even needed to justify Calvinism. 

Contemplating Our Duration and Our Moral Lives

"Now Since our eternal state is as certainly ours as our present state, since we are as certainly to live forever as we now live at all, it is plain that we cannot judge of the value of any particular time as to us, but by comparing it to that eternal duration for which we are created." -William Law "A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life"

William Law is alway thought provoking. His writings are on practical matters, and he has a way of reminding me of the urgency of existence. As a Christian, I often do not live with the urgency that is required of me. We are to live our lives with one glorious end, and all of our practical affairs ought to shake out from that one overarching end but, alas, we often become distracted and forgetful.

Law provides us with a thought experiment a little further on from this quote he asks us to imagine a person who had a million years to live and a man who had one month to live. Law asks us how differently the concept of a half hour would be for either of these gentleman. Well, obviously these two men will view their lives as very different. We often live our lives as if we are the man with a lot of time left, but in reality we are closer to the man with a month to live. This doesn't become of obvious to most of us until we are at the end of our lives, or get very ill. But it should be constantly before our minds. We do not have till tomorrow to live holy lives. Tomorrow may not be here. We don't have tomorrow to do good, we need to do it now.

It is often asserted, that contrary to the above, Christians will neglect this life because we have an eternity of existence with God, but this could not in fact be further from the truth. Christian existence is determined by our radical contingency (God doesn't owe you existence, and your occupation of this piece of real estate may end at any moment) and looming judgment. If we are serious about our profession of allegiance to Jesus we will seek to live Holy lives in the world, because Jesus was concerned about the world. Christian life isn't a "get out of hell free card", because there is a qualification to our being saved by faith, and that is, that one of the signs of faith is loving our neighbors as ourselves. This love isn't feelings, it is seen in actions. What do we do for those in our sphere of influence? Do we bend all of our resources to being people of our Heavenly Father? Do we seek to call people to Him, and relieve as much suffering as we can? We should never get comfortable in this life.

Practically, I am afraid that I have become too comfortable with my lot in life, that I have become occupied with being busy. The first question of the Christians day should be, "How can I live this day better for God's glory today?" This is a lot more difficult than pastors and pop authors let on. There is a an element of discipline to all of this, and we are not a disciplined people.

YHWH's Punishment of the First Pair for Disobedience (Part A)

I apologize I have not been able to make additions to this series, but I committed to it, and here I am finishing it up after a hiatus. Peter claims that the disobedience of the first pair in partaking of the TKGE could not have lead to sin, since they did not have the relevant concepts of good and evil (or of right and wrong), but I think this is too hasty.

It seems to me that the first pair were justly punished for their disobedience because they had a knowledge of what they should and should not do. In effect they were commanded by God to not partake of that specific tree. Per my last post we can assume that Adam was a fully functional adult, and would have known that God's commands set the guidelines for his existence in the garden. The reason for this assumption is Adam's stewardship. Peter claims that Adam would have had no concept of good and evil. If this is the case then Adam couldn't know what it meant to keep the garden, and that is what God wanted. God wanted Adam to keep the Garden a good place. So Adam would have had to known what a good place would be. Which would have included obeying God's commands. Not only this, God tells the pair that they will die. Death is almost universally viewed as a bad state of affairs, so we can see that in some sense the pair did have a knowledge of goodness and evil mediated by the divine will. Peter's sketch of Adam would make him borderline mentally handicapped, but that isn't evident from the text.

Now, in to the text, the serpent is portrayed as very crafty, and based on some of the arguments of Michael Heiser, there may be more to the serpent than meets the eye. The Hebrew word for serpent also has connotations of "shining", and the word for snake here can be understood as "the shining one" (see the extensive discussion here). The Serpent comes to Eve and begins to ask her questions.

He says,

"You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.  
Here the serpent tells Eve that her eyes will be open and that she will be like God. I would like to note that knowing good and evil is not necessarily knowing right and wrong. My son may know that some action I forbid is wrong and will lead to punishment, but he may not know that it is evil. I still hold him responsible for his actions, so Peter's push to exculpate Adam and Eve from responsibility seems to fail. That is a side issue in the current text though. First, we need to note that "God" here can be translated as "gods". We are probably dealing in this text with the Divine Council that is seen throughout the Ancient Near East in this time period. This would make sense of the passages in which YHWH says things like, "let us make man in our own image" etc. Also, in the ancient world the God's met in a Garden temple usually on a mountain of some sort.  This may sound weird to many readers, but remember Christianity has always had Archangels and angels within its theology, and Satan was an archangel before he fell. So the divine council are the "archangels" of later theology. They were also in some ways created in God's image having various creaturely attributes that reflected God's nature. Here we have the serpent attempting to subvert YHWH's plan of revealing knowledge of Good and Evil. I think Peter is partially correct. The pair were to mature, but only in God's time according to the way of life (as Proverbs makes clear), but the serpent seeks to get the pair to take the left handed path (to use a term plucked from non-christian religion) of personal autonomy and moral experiential exploration. The serpent pushes them to such knowledge before they are actually ready for it.

This interpretation goes well with my view that the Garden narrative is a wisdom tale about two sorts of wisdom. One is gained by following the Lord's commands and him giving us knowledge when we should have it, and the other is the Promethean or Satanic attempt to gain knowledge divorced from God and his law. In Proverbs we see King Solomon say:

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge
   fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)

Through out the book Solomon (and other wisdom material) tells the reader the things they should not do. In other words, do not strike out on your own, do not go out on a path of moral exploration of "knowing good and evil" the divine wisdom tells us what is right and wrong, good and evil in His word. Stick to the paths of life.

This is the true meaning of the story. It is about human beings not listening to the divine word, and trying to grasp what isn't theirs. In their hubris they thought they, and the serpent, knew better than God himself. This is the reason for the curse. They are cast out of the Garden because God is showing them mercy. For if they would have stayed in their wretched state there could have been no divine rescue.

Imago Dei, Stewardship, and Man's Pre-Sin Moral Nature

To see the first post of this series go here.

26Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Making Sense of Man's First Disobedience

I have been involved in an extensive back and forth with a friend of mine, Peter Lupu, on Facebook. The discussion centers around whether the concept of Original Sin (OS) is coherent. Peter's objection was one that I, honestly, had not heard. Usually, criticisms concerning original sin involve the question of how the punishment for the first sin can be transmitted to Adam's descendants. This usually gets confused with the closely tied concept of Original Guilt (OG), something we will not be examining in this post. To be clear, Peter is not arguing that Genesis is contradictory (though I think his position ends up there), but that Christian Theology's notion of OS is inconsistent with the text of Genesis. Peter's critique is as follows:

If 'sin' is a moral wrongdoing, then committing a sin presupposes possessing the concepts of *right* and *wrong* (in the moral sense) and being able to apply them (at least in a general way). Since prior to eating from the TKGE they failed to possess the relevant concepts, they failed to satisfy the relevant presupposition. There is absolutely no evidence within the narrative that shows otherwise. Any attempt to do so is sliding from "disobedience" to "moral wrongdoing" and from that to "sin". But such sliding is fudging. Therefore, they cannot be held responsible for disobeying God's command. And since God knows all of this and presumably is just, God cannot hold them accountable for eating from the TKGE.

 Previously, Peter put the objection like this,  

 First, disobedience does not sin (=moral wrongdoing) make. Some instances of disobedience are mandated by morality. Second, while A&E did recognize disobedience, prior to eating from the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil", they lacked the concepts of good and evil and, therefore, could not have known that disobeying God is morally wrong. So, therefore, prior to eating from the tree, A&E could not have sinned, if by 'sin' we mean moral wrongdoing and moral wrongdoing presupposes comprehension of the concepts of right and wrong. And interestingly, Adam did not die. The events that are narrated post-eating also provide fairly conclusive evidence that the event of eating has absolutely nothing to do with "sin", original or otherwise.

TKGE is shorthand for "The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil". It is a lot better than trying to type that out every single time we use it in our discussion. My critique of Peter will be primarily exegetical. I responded to Peter the first time with some quick thoughts of my own assuming his understanding of what the TKGE means. I went and did some reading and it turns out this view is not held by many commentators. This doesn't prove Peter wrong, but it should give us pause when experts in Hebrew and Hebrew literature do not share Peter's understanding. Peter seems to think that we should take the TKGE absolutely, basically Adam and Eve had no moral knowledge at all before the partook of the TKGE. There are significant problems with this view, and the critique will make most of Peter's philosophical critique ineffectual.

As it is, I do not have to disagree with Peter that the interpretation of OS assumes Adam and Eve had some moral knowledge. It is arguable from the text itself that they did have moral knowledge. We know they had moral knowledge for four reasons: 1. The Imago Dei and Adam as a Steward 2. YHWH's punishment of the first pair for their disobedience. 3. The well known theme of the OT that there are two types of wisdom or knowledge: Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Man.

I am going to make this a series of posts. They will all be linked below as I move forward.

1. Imago Dei, Stewardship, and Man's Pre-Fall Moral Nature
2. YHWH's Punishment of the First Pair for Disobedience.

  1. Part A          

3. Knowledge of God or Knowledge of Man: Where does true knowledge come from?
4. Conclusion 
5. Appendix: The Consequences of Adam's Fall Throughout the Old Testament

This will be a blog series but the summary of my case is this: Peter's critique fails because he misconstrues the meaning of TKGE. TKGE is not about knowledge full stop, but about a certain type of knowledge. For the biblical writers there were two types of knowledge. Knowledge that comes from YHWH and autonomous knowledge that makes no reference to God but only to man in his autonomy. This tradition of two types of knowledge runs through out the Mosaic Pentateuch. We cannot read the book of Deuteronomy and see the blessing of covenant obedience and the punishments for covenant disobedience without understanding this. Proverbs is the same way,

"There is a way that seems right to a man,
    but its end is the way to death.[a] Proverbs 14.12

It is my argument that the TKGE represents knowledge apart from divine wisdom. This makes sense of why YHWH curses the couple and sends them out of the garden. The original audience that Moses (or the final editor, Ezra?) would have known what this was about. As the Lord had done so many times in Israel's history, he also did at the beginning of man's existence, he offered them two ways: Life or Death. Our first parents chose death.

If, per Peter, this was merely a stage on man growing up and it was a learning experience that they were not culpable for, then I doubt we would see the punishments laid out at their feet. As noted, this will be a series that goes over the next few days. Stay tuned.

Interesting Perspective on the Virgin Birth

Jason Engwer over at Triablogue has a very interesting understanding of the virgin conception of Jesus. Check it!

Lydia McGrew on Dyschronology and Achronology

Lydia McGrew makes a helpful distinction in thinking about the Gospel chronologies when she notes the difference between Dyschronology and Achronology. Dyschrolology would be a case of intentional chronological manipulation. For instance, John puts the (a) cleansing of the temple at the beginning of his gospel. Many New Testament scholars think that John is changing the chronology and that this change is not true to when the events actually happened. Achronology is when the gospel authors do not have time indicators in stories and simply recount them, or lump them together to make theological emphasis. This type of writing does not carry any chronological indicators and is not meant to be taken in a chronological fashion.

McGrew notes that there is no evidence, despite the often made claim by evangelical NT scholars, that ancient historians were okay with dyschronology. Every case that Lydia can find in the ancient literature is talking about Achronology. NT scholars simply assume without checking sources that these passages refer to dyschronology. They don't, and Lydia gives some interesting examples. Check out Lydia's article!

Paradox of the Stone

The divine attribute of Omnipotence bedevils many modern philosophers of Religion. They seek to find necessary and sufficient conditions of God being Omnipotent. Some philosophers think it is a serious problem and others think it is much ado about nothing. Richard Swinburne, for example, is willing to give up God's essential omnipotence to resolve the Paradox of the Stone. So, what is such a paradox, and is there a resolution to it? These will be the subjects of the current post.

  1. What is the Paradox of the Stone?
      1. The Paradox of the Stone is a dilemma for the Traditional Theist. It states the following: (a) If God can create a stone so big he cannot lift it, then he is not omnipotent because there would be one thing He could not do (i.e. lift the stone). On the other hand if the opposite horn is true God isn't omnipotent either: (b) understood as "If God cannot create a stone he cannot lift, then he is not omnipotent because there is one thing he could not do (i.e. create the stone)."
      2. So, what is the theist to do with this dilemma? I think the most effective route is noting the nature of God and the nature of stones. This route shows that the main premise of the argument doesn't make sense. In other words it isn't even wrong.
  2. What goes wrong with the Paradox of the Stone?
      1. My main issue with the paradox of the stone is that it doesn't make sense. The sentence that makes up the hypothetical premises do not make sense. They are similar to the proposition: "If the color green counts the number of stars, then I eat prime numbers." I say this because God as understood in standard terms does not have a body, and is not the sort of being that "physically" lifts things. Of course there is the incarnation of Christ in which God took on a human body, but that did not change the essential non-embodiment of the Trinity.  Could God supernaturally levitate any stone? Yes, and it is hard to understand what it would mean for the weight to factor into Divine ability. This is what I mean, God's power is not limited to physical things.
      2. But what about the nature of stones? What kind of object would it be that an infinitely powerful being could not lift? Would this stone be infinite in size? But arguably an infinite body is an incoherent notion, so that wouldn't be the case. Stones are natural objects and exist in the actual world which has certain laws of physics that preclude rocks from being infinite. 
      3. But lets say that God in his incarnate form could not lift the stone, would that undermine Divine omnipotence? I do not see how, since in the incarnation God takes on a human form, and that human form is restrained by the laws of physics and chemistry, so if he was taking part in a real incarnation, then the divine being would want to partake of human frailty and weakness, but that doesn't undermine God's essential omnipotence. 
      4. Finally, the theist views God as essentially omnipotent. In other words there isn't a possible world in which God is not omnipotent, because God is the greatest conceivable being, and that entails that He is at least maximally powerful, being able to do everything that is metaphysically and logically possible for an essentially omnipotent being to do. So, it is not clear to me how God's omnipotence could undermine itself in the way needed for the Paradox of the Stone to work.
  3. Conclusion: It isn't clear to me that the Paradox of the Stone is even coherent, so I am not sure it is even wrong (or right). I do not know what it is supposed to mean.

Note on Zwingli

In Zwingli's "Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God" I came across this passage and it gave me pause. Here is the quote:
What it does say is this: "And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind: and it was so." And first, we see here that God commanded the earth to bring forth beasts. But in the creation of man he himself takes the earth and forms it into a man. Again, when he says "the living creature after his kind" he makes it clear that the soul of creature is its life, but only according to its kind or nature, which is transitory and perishable.
I found this to be suggestible and it has led me to speculate a little. The Genesis narrative teaches that human beings are unique, and since the text says that God commanded the earth to bring forth animals but teaches that God formed man directly it leaves open the possibility that all other creatures other than man may have their origin in nature. Given this, even if some hominids are similar to us, it may be the case that they were not human. Maybe they lacked some characteristic that made them less than imago dei. Anyway, just some speculations.

Support for this idea comes from the work of philosophers such as Roger Scruton and Raymond Tallis. Neither author is an orthodox Christian, but they make interesting observations about how human beings are different than other beings. Tallis has an exceptionally interesting theory that our thumbs make us unique, and Scruton notes that our subjective first person experience creates a world that isn't available to other creatures.

Review: The Historical Christ, and the Jesus of Faith Part1

I need to start by saying that the preface and chapter one of this book are refreshing. Evans doesn't write the book to convince the skeptic, but to show that believers are not irrational in believing the "Incarnational Narrative". The incarnational narrative is essentially what the church has always bore witness to in its preaching, worship, and sacraments. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus couched in the narrative of salvation history is the Incarnational Narrative. Evans seeks to show that the Christ of faith and the Jesus of History overlap in significant enough ways to make Christianity reasonable. In the preface Evans tells us that his aim in writing the book is to show that the Christian believer is not irrational in believing, and that the skeptic who appeals to critical scholarship is wrong when he asserts that the Christian cannot be rational because he (or she) has faith in Christ. For Evans faith and reason are not necessary enemies.

In the first chapter Evans argues that history is significant for Christian belief. In fact Christianity is unique among world religions in that the truth of Christian faith is based on the historicity of a person. Christian belief is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evans doesn't lay out a rationalist program, but rather fully acknowledges that he is defending what the Church has taught down through the centuries. He doesn't get bogged down in defending the orthodox understanding of Christ, he simply lays it out, and tells the reader to deal with it:

"And in fact the history of New Testament interpretation strongly suggests that the New Testament under determines its own interpretation; it seems foolish even for the Christian believer to claim that an honest, reasonable interpreter of the New Testament would necessarily arrive at readings consistent with Christian orthodoxy, if the interpretive process proceeded independently of the guidance of the Church and the Holy Spirit."
 The interpretation that the Church has given to the historical events surrounding Christ are clearly described by Evans in the following:
The Church's story, the one I am calling the incarnational narrative, is an account of how the divine Word took on human flesh, was born as a baby, lived a life characterized by miraculous healing and authoritative teaching, died a cruel and voluntary death for the sake of redeeming sinful humans, was raised by God to life, and now abides with God, awaiting the time of his glorious return and ultimate triumph. So much at least seems common ground among orthodox Christians, be they Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant." (Pg. 5)
 So far so good, I completely agree. However, I am a little disappointed with how he positions the orthodox understanding. Orthodoxy isn't equal to other interpretive options, in fact I think there is a very good reason why orthodox theology won out and has been so prevalent in the history of the church.  It just is the case that if the interpreter assumes an ecclesiastical perspective on the Canon that its understanding of theology will be significantly similar to other ecclesiastical interpreters. There is a reason that interpretive history was unified on the main outlines of Christian doctrine before the era of modernity. The various branches of Christendom shared a 27 book New Testament and all branches agree on the 39 books that make up the Old Testament. Even in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches the 39 have more authority than apocryphal works. So, sure there was some interpretive plurality, but not anything could be claimed. This is different than modern NT studies where there is a plethora of theories about the OT and the NT because the authority of the documents isn't recognized. In other words, when what scripture says about itself is taken seriously, the theology flows from it. This doesn't show that there won't be disagreements, but the disagreements will be far fewer and large as we see with modernist interpreters.

A Few New Aquisitions and Good Blogs

A good library is the key to being educated, so I often work on stocking up my personal library with good books. I have bought a few recently. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. The Immaterial Self: A Defense of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind. John Foster (Routledge 1991).
  2.  Abstraction, Relation, Induction: Three Essays in the History of Thought by Julius R. Weinberg (University of Wisconsin Press 1965).

A blog you may be interested in is Beyond Necessity, an Ockhamist view is defended on this blog. It isn't one people deal with very often, but it is an interesting position on the question of Unviersals. The author of the blog also has an excellent website where he translates some classical logic texts. It is the the Logic Museum.