Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Updated Book Review of Michael W. Palmer's "Levels of Constituent Structure"

Those who have studied an ancient biblical language like Greek or Latin (or Hebrew) know that genuine advancement in language learning is truly attained when one understands Greek (Latin) beyond the word or sentence level. Michael W. Palmer's Levels of Constituent Structure in New Testament Greek (New York: Peter Lang, 1995) emphasizes this point through the analysis of verb and noun phrases contained in New Testament Greek. Levels is part of a series called "Studies in Biblical Greek" edited by Donald A. Carson (the notable author of Exegetical Fallacies). The book is approximately 145 pp. in length and fairly technical: I would recommend this work for advanced students only. In the following paragraphs, the strong aspects and unique contents of Palmer's study will be noted.

Levels provides a succinct and clear review of modern linguistic approaches like rationalism and structuralism along with transformational-generative grammar (associated with Noam Chomsky); then a discussion on general linguistic methodology and syntactic structures in particular ensues. Accordingly, the main part of Palmer's analysis revolves around noun and verb phrases, but he manifests penetrating insight when calling for a reconsideration of attributive and predicative adjectival distinctions along with constituent structural levels as they pertain to noun and verb phrases.

Palmer's monograph is well-written. Its approach seems to be governed by transformational-generative grammar, but the work certainly goes beyond similar presentations offered up in the past. Levels includes a number of tree diagrams. Nonetheless, it helpfully provides a multitude of examples illustrating constituent structure within the NT. He also works with clause-level, phrase-level and word-level constituents. However, Palmer thinks that these kinds of constituents are not sufficient to account for other New Testament Greek structures. Therefore he suggests an intermediate-level constituent between the familiar clause and phrase-level structures.

This intermediate-level constituent is discussed on page 72 of Levels where Luke 2:13 is invoked as an example of the need to use innovative distinctions that Palmer respectively calls N-bar and V-bar. That is, Palmer believes it is possible (even preferable) to designate some constituents as reduced noun and reduced verb phrases (N-bar and V-bar). He appeals to other constructions in Luke such as Luke 14:12 and 20:37 to substantiate this general point.

Palmer's work is valuable for those who want to move beyond studying Greek at the level of words or mere sentences. Consequently, it benefits students who desire to analyze Greek structures at the clause or phrase-level. This work will have little bearing on biblical interpretation; however, it just might change how scholars and students approach New Testament Greek grammar. The effects of Palmer's study will undoubtedly be indirect. He believes that syntactical studies will probably benefit the most from his work, although pragmatics (as a branch of linguistics) will assuredly contribute to an understanding of biblical Greek, ancient rhetoric and deixis (Palmer, page 82).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ἐκ + the Genitive

Here is an edited piece that I wrote years ago; consequently, Thayer rather than BAGD or BDAG is mentioned.

According to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, ἐκ (ἐξ) can denote the "origin, source" or "cause" of "generation, birth, race, lineage, [and] nativity" as well as any other type of beginning.

This Greek preposition may also speak of "the efficient cause, or agent from which any action or thing proceeds, is produced, or effected from, or by" (Spiros Zodhiates).

These remarks would indicate that when ἐκ is applied to the Father's activities at 1 Cor. 8:6, it is describing His creative function or his unique act of efficient causation with respect to all things.

It would probably be worth the time to reference the introduction of David Aune's three volume commentary on Revelation. On p. CLXXIX-CLXXX of his introduction to volume I, Aune details the many uses of ἐκ in Revelation. The examples he gives of ἐκ signifying the action of a personal or impersonal agent are: Rev. 2:9; 3:18; 8:11; 9:18. In my humble assessment, 2 Cor. 5:1 is also an example in which ἐκ describes a creation of God--a spiritual building which has a heavenly source.

As for διά, it seems difficult to associate it with the concept of maker or efficient cause in 1 Cor. 8:6 and Heb. 1:2. It is more appropriate to construe its significance as that of intermediate agency:

"Intermediate agency is normally conveyed by διά with the genitive. For example, God delivered the law to Moses by angels (Gal. 3:19) and John sent a message to Christ through his disciples (Matt. 11:2; cf. John 1:3; 3:17)" (Richard A. Young's Grammar, 91-92).

Monday, August 18, 2014

John Sanders Discusses the No-Risk Model of Divine Providence

An excerpt from the older edition of "The God Who Risks" by John Sanders:

"According to the no-risk model of providence there is
a specific divine reason for ordaining each and every
particular occurrence of evil and suffering. According
to [Paul] Helm, since 'God works everything for good' (Rom
8:28), there are no such things as accidents and there
are no real tragedies in life. If Jones is afflicted
with a debilitating mental illness in which he loses
touch with reality, or if a three-year-old child
contracts an incurable and intractably painful bone
cancer, or if a number of kindergartners are murdered
in a school gymnasium in Scotland, or if Christian
woman [sic] and children are raped and sold into
slavery in Sudan, such experiences were specifically
selected by God to happen to these individuals. In the
no-risk view all the poverty, genocide, ethnic
conflicts, debilitating illnesses, rapes, birth
defects, blindness, destructive government policies
and so on are all specifically ordained by God, who
applies them to the particular individuals involved.
We may not know the divine reasons, but, we are told,
we can be sure they are good ones because God is good.
Jerry Bridges writes that 'God's sovereignty over
people . . . means that God is in control of our pain
and suffering, and that he has in mind a beneficial
purpose for it. There is no such thing as pain without
a purpose'" (Sanders, page 253).

Sanders obviously takes exception with the views expressed by Paul Helm and Jerry Bridges. As a matter of fact, Sanders' description of Helm's position seems so extreme that I wondered if he did not misinterpret Helm. But apparently, he has not misconstrued Helm's view of divine providence after all.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Joel 3:3 and Predestination

"And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink" (Joel 3:3).

"They have cast lots for my people — It was customary with conquerors, in those days, to divide the captives, taken in war, among themselves by lot, and so did these enemies of the Jews. And have given a boy for a harlot — By this is meant, that they exchanged, or gave away, Jewish boys, instead of money, for harlots. And sold a girl for wine, that they might drink — For a draught of wine, as it were; that is, at a very vile and low rate. These instances are mentioned, to signify the contempt in which these enemies of the Jews held the worshippers of the true God; they parted with them, when they had taken them captives, upon the vilest terms, as setting little or no value upon them. In Mingrelia, according to Sir John Chardin, they sell captive children for provisions and for wine: see Harmer vol. 2. p. 374" (Benson Commentary).

Think of how often the practice of trafficking children for dishonest gain has occurred throughout history and the practice is still happening. I guess the Calvinists might say that God wills/ordains selling children for sexual favors or wine, and some good is supposed to come out of it. But such a view is hard to square with the Bible and reason. Why would God condemn an action that he ordained/willed if it has some type of ultimate worth? Secondly, why ordain such actions in the first place (whatever Calvinists mean by ordain/will)? Thirdly, couldn't salvation be accomplished without willing an act that wreaks emotional and psychological damage on children--maybe even irreparable damage?

(I am not talking about the logical problem of evil per se, since that is a related but separate question for me.)

The felix culpa view of divine providence strikes me as taking the long way (the scenic route) to get from North Carolina to Florida. Far be it from me to judge the workings of Almighty God; however, Jehovah has given us reason whereby we might judge whether something makes sense or not. Granted, God could have willed that the cosmos would reach eternal blessedness one day by means of turmoil, confusion, harlotry, child abuse, wars, genocide, child sacrifices to false gods and all other forms of evil. Yet that is taking the long way around when one could simply take the shortest route to Florida from North Carolina.

So God could bring eternal happiness (blessedness) without using evil to accomplish his purpose since he is omnipotent. If he could do it, then why would God intentionally decide to use evil as opposed to just taking the most efficient route to get where he's going (metaphorically speaking). Now there is a material difference between permitting evil and actively willing/ordaining it. I have no problem with God permitting evil: I do question a view which argues for more than divine permission where evil is concerned.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Did the Logos Change When He Became Flesh (John 1:14)

Here is something I posted elsewhere about the Incarnation:

Let "S" represent a human person:

1) S became a doctor
2) S became a Christian
3) S became a ruffian

In each of the cases listed above, it would be safe to conclude that some type of actual change or process has occurred to/regarding S. But if we now consider another proposition:

4) The Logos became flesh

We are asked to believe (by the majority of Incarnation advocates) that change neither occurred to the nature of the Logos nor to the divine person who was supposed to be the subject of the Incarnation: no real alteration took place. Yet if the Logos became (was made) flesh, it is still hard to comprehend how he (the person) became flesh without undergoing some kind of change. To just argue that God cannot experience actual change, the Logos is God, therefore, the Logos did not experience actual change seems like petitio principii to me.

Using the language of assumption doesn't make the problem go away either. If by assume, we mean "take to oneself" (Aquinas in the Summa Theologica), then to say that the Logos assumed human nature (flesh) could possibly be akin to assuming another identity or assuming a posture that one did not previously had. No, I'm not saying that Christ just assumed a new identity; my point is that the word "assumption" could also indicate change/alteration.

Before: The Logos is strictly spirit
Post-Incarnation: The Logos is flesh

However, most say that no actual change occurred to the nature or person of the Logos (Word).

Saturday, August 02, 2014

More from Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology (Foreordination)

"The Bible clearly teaches that God judicially abandons men to their sins, giving them up to a reprobate mind, and He therein is most just and holy. It is not true, therefore, that an agent is responsible for all the certain consequences of his acts. It may be, and doubtless is, infinitely wise and just in God to permit the occurrence of sin, and to adopt a plan of which sin is a certain consequence or element; yet as he neither causes sin, nor tempts men to its commission, He is neither its author nor approver. He sees and knows that higher ends will be accomplished by its admission than by its exclusion, that a perfect exhibition of his infinite perfections will be thereby effected and therefore for the highest reason decrees that it shall occur through the free choice of responsible agents. Our great ground of confidence, however, is the assurance that the judge of all the earth must do right. Sin is, and God is; therefore the occurrence of sin must be consistent with his nature; and as its occurrence cannot have been unforeseen or undesigned, God's purpose or decree that it should occur must be consistent with his holiness" (Systematic Theology, 1:548).

Calvin and Human Depravity

Regarding the beliefs of John Calvin, Stanley M. Burgess informs us:

"At the fall, however, the natural gifts present in humans were corrupted, and the supernatural gifts were removed. Because humans are now despoiled of the Spirit's gifts, and of the 'light of reason, justice and rectitude,' they are prone to every evil. No longer considered worthy to be guided by the Holy Spirit, humans are abandoned to Satan's actions" (Burgess 3:164).

Calvin himself asserted the following:

"we do not condemn those inclinations which God so engraved upon the character of man at his first creation, that they were eradicable only with humanity itself, but only those bold and unbridled impulses which contend against God's control" (Institutes 3.3.12).

Granted, I'm not sure that Calvin explicitly affirms that the IMAGO DEI in man was lost at the Fall. Nevertheless, he writes that the IMAGO DEI of infralapsarian humanity was so distorted at the Fall that the human mind "conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous. The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench. But if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity" (Institutes 2.5.19).

Based on these Calvinistic ideas, I would say that positing a nature/supernature dichotomy in this way does nothing to advance our understanding of human nature from a scriptural viewpoint. Calvin had a pretty dim view of fallen man qua fallen man. This is not to say that man is "basically good" as Enlightenment thinkers generally claim since we are sinners by nature (Romans 3:23). But I cannot concur with Calvin when he asserts that humanity only conceives what is vile and wicked. Nor can I agree when he claims that "some men occasionally make a show of good," but their hearts are still filled with malice and inner perversity; this evaluation goes wholly against the apostolic teaching of the "law within" (Romans 2:14-15). Some people without law do by nature the things of the law; yet there are also other consequences that are concomitant with his teaching.

(1) The teaching of total depravity indicates that man has absolutely nothing to do with his salvation: "Someone may say, 'Yes, the Holy Spirit must draw us to God, but we can use our freedom to resist or accept that drawing.' Our answer is: except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God. That is what it means to be 'unable to submit to God.' If a person becomes humble enough to submit to God it is because God has given that person a new, humble nature" (John Piper). See

Of course, we might all agree that God is the Savior--the initiator and sole Director of the marvelous soteriological process. Yet the part that a human plays in salvation is a point of separation for many theologians. Luther defined faith in terms of FIDUCIA ("absolute trust in God"). He believed that faith is a passive act of reception in which we only receive God's grace. But as Emil Brunner has aptly pointed out, the dynamics of salvation cannot be explained properly in terms of cause and effect (divine activity and human passivity): it is much better to view salvation as a process of action and reaction insofar as God acts while man reacts. If what Brunner says is true, then it seems that we too play a significant part in our salvation (Philippians 2:12). We evidently have the ability and intellectual power to act in response to God's invitation and make important changes that show our love for God and the good news about Christ. It is not just a matter of God giving and our passively receiving. None of what I say here, however, is designed to minimize the role that God's spirit plays in shaping or directing our wills. God does indeed empower us to make changes in our lives--to receive his Son as the pioneer and high priest of our salvation.

(2) Total depravity also clouds the truthfulness of passages like Mark 10:18. While it might be tempting to understand this verse as a claim to Deity by Jesus Christ, in actuality, the verse is simply declaring that God is the only one who is superlatively Good. I.e., Jehovah is the only One who measures up fully to the absolute standard of goodness. This truth can be easily demonstrated by cross-referencing Revelation 15:1-4 and 1 Samuel 2:2. The account in Revelation says that only God is holy. Yet 1 Samuel 2:2 says that no one can compare with God in holiness. The verses are not contradictory: Revelation 15:1-4 is simply demonstrating the superlative nature of God's holiness. This point is also illustrated by the many examples in both the OT and NT that declare men and angels to be holy.

Lastly, I would acquiesce with the claim that man can do nothing on his own regarding his salvation: we all need the holy spirit to turn from lives of sin to lives of righteousness (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). However, there is an interesting tension at work between God guiding us (not coercing us) to believe in him and our taking the initiative to form intentions to serve him. Again, I refer to the law within and Joshua 24:15 which indicates that we must make the choice to serve or reject Jehovah. Making that choice of our own volition would be impossible if Calvin's words were true.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ecclesiastes 9:5 Comments--Death Is A Deep Sleep

One young Catholic gentleman with whom I had extended discussions on many issues posted this remark to another forum about Eccl 9:5:

"But in [Ecclesiastes] IX., 5, we read, 'The dead know not anything, neither have they any more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.' [Answer:] Those last words obviously show that it is useless to depend upon a reward as far as recognition by fellow men is concerned. The writer is speaking from the point of view of people still living in this world. To all practical purposes as far as this world is concerned the dead are removed from this world and know not anything as far as the evidence of our own senses goes."

My Response:

In context, Qoheleth (Solomon) recounts that all men, regardless of their station in life, in time die (Eccl 9:3). He then proceeds to inform his readers that "to him that is joined with all the living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion" (Eccl 9:4).

Is Qoheleth exclaiming that hope only exists for the living from the standpoint of other humans dwelling "under the sun"? Or is such an observation made by the ancient writer supposed to be epistemologically objective (mind-independent)? The context indicates that Qoheleth's words are objective in the eyes of God and not simply an exclamation of how humans "under the sun" view matters. The son of David goes on to make a stark contrast between the living and the dead in Ecclesiastes 9:5, even adding these telling words in 9:10: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might: for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, whither thou goest" (ASV).

So the context refutes the view that Qoheleth thinks the dead are only conscious of nothing from the standpoint of earthly observers. Moreover, the OT consistently teaches that the dead know nothing simpliciter et simpliciter:

"For in death there is no remembrance of thee: In Sheol who shall give thee thanks?" (Ps 6:5).

"For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust" (Eccl 3:19-20).

Cf Job 3:11-19.

The young man who posted this reply also expressed the view that John 11:11-14 uses "phenomenological language" concerning Lazarus:

"As far as the reference to Lazarus' "sleep" is concerned, this is what is known as phenomenological language. Jesus was doing nothing more than making a reference to death based on the phenomenon or *appearance* of sleep. We cannot isolate this passage from the rest of the Bible. Numerous other passages clearly attest to death being something other than sleep."

But I wonder how we are supposed to know that Jesus was employing "phenomenological language" in Jn 11:11-14? The metaphor of "sleep" for death was a common one that the ancient Greeks also utilized. We even find David using this figure of speech in Psalm 13:3: "Consider and answer me, O Jehovah my God: Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death" (ASV). Daniel 12:2 also enunciates the Hebrew understanding of death that is manifestly consonant with such verses as Ps 146:3-4. This passage foretells that "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." This passage does not indicate that the writer is speaking phenomenologically. Compare Jeremiah 51:39.

In the NT, Jesus himself "awakened" Jairus' daughter in the presence of a crowd filled with cynical observers who "knew she was dead," though Jesus said she slept. The context of Luke 8:49-56 shows that the girl did not simply "appear" to be sleeping; she was sleeping "the sleep of death." Her spirit (life force) had gone out of her: she was dead. The young girl was conscious of nothing at all (Job 3:11-19), but Lazarus and the young maiden were also resurrected by the Messiah of God. They did not simply appear to be sleeping, for they were sleeping the "sleep of death."

"For Sheol cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth" (Isa 38:18).

"O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?" (Ps 88:1-12)

"And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59 ASV).