Monday, April 07, 2014

A Dialogue about God's Foreknowledge and Our Free Will

Here is part of an extended dialogue I had years ago (in 2002) which provides insight on why some people have difficulty accepting a modified view of God's omniscience. My comment initiates the discussion. The subject is Paul's shipwreck at Malta--an event that was foretold before it happened.

>Sure, Paul and his buddies were free to swim or free
>to not swim. Nevertheless, God could know what these
>human souls would do without "peeking" into the future
>or knowing their actions eternally.

Okay, we have to distinguish our points of view
here, since you're viewing God as temporal (not having
to "peek" into the future). But assuming your view, how
could God's "knowledge" of what these passengers
would do once their ship wrecked and they sunk into
the water be called anything more than a supremely
"well-educated guess"? How could he have "known"
(without "peeking") that this or that passenger wouldn't
panic and freak out, or that those who couldn't swim
would encounter a piece of floating timber at just the
opportune moment, or that a freak wave wouldn't smash
the mast down upon the heads of two swimmers and
instantly kill them? I just don't see how this could be
called "knowlege" at all, even in what Hume would call
the relatively "weak" epistemic sense with which we
declare ourselves to "know" that the sun will rise tomor-

>God knew what the
>sons of Israel would do [in the wilderness] by reading their collective
>hearts. He infallibly knew what Esau would do before
>birth, probably based on His knowledge of the human

Say WHAT? This sounds something like reading
tea leaves! How could knowledge of Esau's embryo
in the present furnish God with all the variables (of time,
place, relation, quality, and circumstance) necessary for
Him to know that Jacob would happen to be making an
appealing "mess of pottage" at the precise moment when
Esau would come in starving hungry from an unsuccessful
hunting trip?

>My point is that God is capable of knowing the
>future without necessarily "foreknowing" the future. That is, God
>can predict [or foretell] with certainty what will happen based on
>one's track record or one's present desires and thoughts, etc.

I don't think this can work, because even
omniscient knowledge of a "track record" doesn't
account for the infinite number of variables involving
conditions of chance (future contingencies of weather,
earthquakes, famine, circumstance, and human choices)
that, on your view, God can't know before they are actual-ized.

>And, FWIW, I do not deny God's foreknowledge or foreordination.

Except when you do.

>Only timeless theists say that God does not literally foresee or foreordain events.

Not necessarily: we speak of God "foreknowing"
events just as the Bible does and as you and I, long
after the Copernican Revolution, continue to reasonably
speak of "sunrises." We just don't take such language
without due philosophical qualification when theorizing.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 (Robertson and Milligan)

Λοιπόν, ἀδελφοί, ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ, ἵνα καθὼς παρελάβετε παρ' ἡμῶν τὸ πῶς δεῖ ὑμᾶς περιπατεῖν καὶ ἀρέσκειν θεῷ, καθὼς καὶ περιπατεῖτε, ἵνα περισσεύητε μᾶλλον (1 Thessalonians 4:1 W-H Text of 1881).

From Robertson's Word Pictures: Finally (loipon). Accusative of general reference of loipo, as for the rest. It does not mean actual conclusion, but merely a colloquial expression pointing towards the end (Milligan) as in 2 Corinthians 13:11 ; 2 Timothy 4:8 . So to loipon in 2 Thessalonians 3:1 ; Philippians 3:1 ; Philippians 4:8 . We beseech (erwtwmen). Not "question" as in ancient Greek, but as often in N.T. ( 1 Thessalonians 5:12 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:1 ; Philippians 4:3 ) and also in papyri to make urgent request of one. How ye ought (to pw dei uma). Literally, explanatory articular indirect question (to pw) after parelabhte according to common classic idiom in Luke ( Luke 1:62 ; Luke 22:2 Luke 22:4 Luke 22:23 Luke 22:24 ) and Paul ( Romans 8:26 ). That ye abound (ina perisseuhte). Loose construction of the ina clause with present subjunctive after two subordinate clauses with kaqw (as, even as) to be connected with "beseech and exhort." More and more (mallon). Simply more, but added to same idea in perisseuhte.

George Milligan says the following about 1 Thess 4:1:

λοιπόν] a colloquial expression frequently used to point forward to a coming conclusion (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:11, 2 Timothy 4:8; τὸ λοιπ. 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Philippians 4:8), but in itself doing little more than mark the transition to a new subject as in late Gk. where it is practically equivalent to an emphatic οὖν: cf. Polyb. 1:15. 11 λοιπὸν ἀνάγκη συγχωρεῖν, τὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ τὰς ὑποθέσεις εἶναι φευδεῖς, Epict. Diss. 1:22. 15 ἄρχομαι λοιπὸν μισεῖν αὐτόν, and the other passages cited by Jannaris Exp. 5. 8. p. 429 f.: see also Schmid Attic. 3. p. 135. As showing its frequency as a connecting particle in the κοινή (cf. B.G.U. 1039, 8 (Byz.)), Wilcken remarks that it has passed over into Coptic in this sense (Archiv 3. p. 507). In mod. Gk. λοιπόν has displaced οὖν altogether.

In the present passage οὖν is retained in the text by WH. mg., Tischdf., Zimmer, Nestle. It might easily have dropped out after the -ον of λοιπόν: on the other hand the combination λοιπὸν οὖν is found nowhere else in the N.T., cf. however B.G.U. 1079, 6 ff. (a private letter—1./a.d.) λοιπὸν οὖν ἔλαβον παρὰ το(ῦ) ἄραβος τὴν ἐπιστολὴν καὶ ἀνέγνων καὶ ἐλυπήθην.


Jason Beduhn on Hebrews 1:8 (Originally Posted on BGreek)

In fact, I say in my book, "Both translations [the conventional and the one found in the NWT, as well as in notes to the NRSV and TEV] are possible, so none of the translations we are comnparing [SIC] can be rejected inaccurate. We cannot settle the debate with certainty" (99) and "Let me repeat that both ways of translating Hebrews 1.8 are legitimate readings of the original Greek of the verse. There is no basis
for proponents of either translation to claim that the other translation is certainly wrong. All that can be discussed is which translation is more probable" (101). I hope that is clear. I argue in the book that "God is your throne" is more probable based on the following points:

1. preponderance of use of hO QEOS as a nominative, rather than as a vocative;
2. lack of parallel to using EIS TON AIWNA as an absolute predicate phrase;
preponderance of its use as modifier of other elements within the predicate;
3. the existence of an alternative way to convey the vocative if it is

1. literary context in Hebrews fails to supply another reference to Jesus as
"God"; functionality of the verse in its context without taking hO QEOS as a
2. literary context of original passage in Psalm 45 shows that God is not
being addressed; rather a king is being praised by cataloguing the attributes
of his life in the palace.

Let me add that this argument in presented in just two pages written at a
popular level.

Dr. Conrad has gone to the trouble of carefully investigating my statement
that "There is no other example in the Bible where the expression 'forever'
stands alone as a predicate phrase with the verb 'to be' . . . 'Forever'
always functions as a phrase complementing either an action verb, or a
predicate noun or pronoun" (99, part of Linguistic argument 2 above). He cites
what he considers contrary examples, and this leads to his conclusion that my
statement is in error. It is in error only in the way I sometimes let the
popular level at which I am writing in the book oversimplify, namely, (a) I
use "Bible" and "New Testament" interchangeably in the book, and (b) once I
have given an English rendering for a Greek phrase, I use the English to stand
for the referenced Greek wording. I can see now that his needs to be handled
more carefully in future editions of the book. My statement, within the
context of how the book is written (with the two practices of simplification I
just mentioned) is correct. None of Dr. Conrad's examples refute it, and I am
surprised no one else on this list has noted that fact. In none of Dr.
Conrad's examples does the phrase EIS TON AIWNA stand alone with an explicit
or implicit EINAI in the predicate. Instead, his exampled involve either the
dative of possessor which the phrase complements (in the doxological formulae)
or the adverbial phrase MEQ' hUMWN, which again the phrase complements. Now
we all know how easy it is to quibble about what is or is not a true parallel.
But all I wish to assert here is that Dr. Conrad's argument falls short of
demonstrating a failing in mine.

On the other hand, Dr. Conrad's instincts were right, even if he did not
succeed in supporting them sufficiently. That is the case because if we take
the Septuagint into account, then my statement would need to be qualified.
Because there, in that part of the Bible that I did not take into
consideration in my analysis, we do find the phrase EIS TON AIWNA used
absolutely with either explicit or implicit EINAI, namely, in Psalm 80.16
(81.15), 103.31 (104.31), 134.13 (135.13), and repeatedly in the expression
"his mercy (is) forever" in Psalms 99, 105, 106, 117, 135, and 137). So this
information would require me to speak here, as I do in connection with hO
QEOS, of preponderance of usage rather than claiming that there are no other
examples. EIS TON AIWNA usually and regularly modifies some other element of
a predicate, but it can stand alone, and so this part of my argument looses
much of its force. A survey of the Psalms does show, however, that the
preferred way to make an existential statement about the subject with EIS TON
AIWNA is with MENW (e.g., Psalms 9.8, 32.11, 88.37, 101.13, 102.9, 110.3,
110.10, 111.3, 111.9, 116.2).

With that, let me just repeat that there is no objective, linguistic way to
determine which of the two possible translations of Heb. 1.8 is the correct
one, and one's choice must always be qualified by this fact. I have made an
argument for preferring one translation as more probable, and even with a
retraction of one part of it as too sweeping an assertion, that argument is
still stronger than any with which I am familiar on behalf of the other
possible translation. I would be interested to hear any argument that could
be made on linguistic and literary grounds for preferring the "conventional
translation" to the other.

best wishes,
Jason BeDuhn

Jason BeDuhn
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Chair
Department of Humanities, Arts, and Religion
Northern Arizona University

Saturday, April 05, 2014

More on Luke 17:21

Concerning Luke 17:21 and its syntax (word order):


The NIV reads: "nor will people say, 'Here it is, ' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

The margin says: "Or among."

Ralph Earle writes: "Some commentators and translators prefer 'in your midst' (NASB). But the Greek preposition here is not EN, 'in'; it is ENTOS (only here and Matt. 23:26), which means 'within.' Alfred Plummer discusses both translations. His conclusion is that if 'within you' is adopted, the meaning will be, 'Instead of being
something externally visible, the Kingdom is essentially spiritual; it is in your hearts, if you possess it at all' (p. 406). It would seem that this is what Jesus meant" (Earle, Word Meanings, page 72).

Louw-Nida, however, lists the semantic domains of ENTOS as follows:

(a) among
(b) what is inside

This reference work then notes:

83.9 "ENTOS: hH BASILEIA TOU QEOU ENTOS hUMWN ESTIN 'the kingdom of God is among you' or ' . . . in your midst' Lk 17:21. For another interpretation of ENTOS in Lk 17:21, see discussion at 26.1."

83.17 "ENTOS: pertaining to being within an area - 'the contents of, that which is inside.' KAQARISON PRWTON TO ENTOS TOU POTHRIOU 'clean what is inside the cup first' Mt 23:26. It is also possible, though not probable, to understand ENTOS in Mt 23:26 as the inside surface itself rather than the contents."

26.1 "In Lk 17:21 the phrase ENTOS hUMWN in the statement IDOU GAR hH BASILEIA TOU QEOU ENTOS hUMWN ESTIN 'look, God's reign is within you' may constitute a reference to the same inner being designated by the phrases hO ESW and hO EN TW XRUPTWi. On this basis some scholars have suggested that the phrase ENTOS hUMWN can be interpreted as a potentiality for participation and hence be translated 'within your grasp,' but it is more likely that one should understand the phrase ENTOS hUMWN in Lk 17:21 as a spacial relationship, for example, 'in your midst' or 'among you' (see 83.9)."

See the full discussion of ENTOS in BDAG, which says in part: "Lk generally avoids ref. to God's reign as a psychological reality. The passage has invited much debate" (BDAG 340-341).

Does God Know the Future Contingently?

I want to share a dialogue that I had with a colleague and friend some years ago. I've slightly altered part of my response because I believe a reformulated answer makes more sense.

My interlocutor believes that God must fully (exhaustively?) know the future or else, God is less than omniscient. I obviously disagree; so my comments below are designed to address this particular objection. It is my belief that there are at least some things about the future that God knows contingently. Comments are appreciated.

In brief, knowing a proposition contingently (future or otherwise) is not the same thing as saying that one does not know a certain proposition at all. If God contingently knows that Abraham will offer up Isaac, how can it be said (legitimately) that He has no knowledge of the fact that Abraham will offer up Isaac?

(1) Whether Abraham will offer up Isaac or not is contingent.
(1) Necessarily, a contingent event can only be known contingently.
(2) Therefore, necessarily, God contingently knows that Abraham will offer up Isaac.

How is it possible for a contingent future event or proposition to be known in any other way except contingently? It is by its very nature contingent.

In answer to your second question about omniscience, I point to the old atheological question, "Can God make a rock so big that He can't lift it?" One problem with this query is the definition of omnipotence that it assumes. My point is that there is a similar problem that has plagued the traditional definition of "omniscience." As S.T. Davis says, divine omniscience does not mean that "God knows all facts." Rather, IMO, it refers to God's (exhaustive) knowledge of all epistemic possibilia.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Three Persons or Three Gods?

The Trinity doctrine claims that God is three persons, but not three gods (tritheism). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are supposed to constitute three divine persons, who do not compromise biblical monotheism. For instance, the Athanasian Creed states:

"And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty. Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God: And yet there are not three gods, but one God"

In the same creed, we're also told: "And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons. Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity."

So there are Three Persons rather than three deities, we are assured. Yet the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:

"By the latter part [of the Athanasian Creed], it follows by the indiscernibility of identicals that no person of the Trinity is identical with any other. And by the earlier part, it seems to follow that there are thus at least three eternal (etc.) things. But it asserts there's only one eternal thing. Hence, the creed seems contradictory, and has been attacked as such (Biddle 1691, i; Nye 1691a, 11; Priestley 1871, 321). Showing where the above argument for inconsistency goes wrong is a major motivation of recent Trinity theories (see sections 1 and 2 of the main entry). In contrast, mysterians hold that it somehow goes wrong, though no one can say quite where.(See section 3 of the main entry.) Finally, some simply reject the creed."

Trinitarians are likely to say that the Trinity doctrine teaches that there are Three divine Persons (three eternal things), but one God (one eternal thing); so it's not contradictory (they might aver) because this claim does not violate the law of non-contradiction. What's under consideration here is that God is claimed to be three in one sense, but one in another sense. Hence, there's supposedly no inconsistency in the claim.

On the other hand, Joseph Priestley and Dr. Magee have viewed the triune God in a different light:

"It must be universally true, that three things to
which the same definition applies can never make only
one thing to which the same definition applies . . .
If, therefore, the three persons agree in this same
circumstance, that they are each of them perfect God,
though they may differ in other respects, and have
peculiar relations to each other and to us, they must
still be three Gods; and to say that they are only one
God is as much a contradiction, as to say that three
men, though they differ from one another as much as
three men do, are not three men, but only one man"
(Joseph Priestley).

"If ideas are attached to the words employed,
Trinitarianism is, in reality, either Tritheism or
Sabellianism" (The Right Reverend Dr. Magee, Bishop of

Defenders of the Trinity have sometimes tried to refute Priestley's criticism by appealing to three men (distinct from one another and three things in that sense) who have one thing in common: human nature. But just as Peter, James, and John are three men, it would seem that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would be three gods--even if each Person is divine. But as we've mentioned on this blog before, the Trinitarian response to Priestley's criticism is usually the divine simplicity doctrine.

Without going down that road now, one point I want to make with this post is that Trinitarians and Non-Trinitarians sometimes talk past one another. A Trinitarian could possibly be uncharitable and refer to Non-Trinitarians as "deceptive" or intellectually dishonest." The truth of the matter, however, is that both groups approach the Trinity doctrine from two different perspectives. I would suggest that one try to understand someone's position before critiquing it; moreover, even where there's disagreement, name-calling does not have to occur.

Witnesses of Jehovah and other Non-Trinitarians do believe that the Trinity trangresses biblical monotheism. We are not necessarily saying that Trinitarians agree with us; in fact, we know they do not.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Adolf Harnack on Early Bible Reading

I will now sum up Adolf Harnack's arguments which are found in his work Bible Reading in the Early Church (New York: GP Putnam's Sons, 1912).

Harnack contends, as does yours truly, that private Bible reading (not private interpretation) was a common practice among ancient Jews. Therefore when the LOGOS became flesh and dwelt among us for a short time, dutifully selecting the Twelve along with other men and women who would constitute his spirit-begotten EKKLHSIA, "the private use of the Holy Scriptures simply continued" (Harnack 32) as suggested by Acts 17:10-11 and Eusebius' account of the layman who petitioned Bishop Melito of Sardis to make him a copy of the Law and Prophets (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. IV.26.12.) so that he could get to know the soteriological matters pertaining to the Christian faith.

Another insightful passage is likewise found in Ignatius of Antioch's letter to the Philadelphians VIII.1-2. There we read:

"I trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall loose
from you every chain; and I exhort you to do nothing
of contention, but according to the discipline of
Christ. Since I have heard certain men say, 'Unless I
find it in the ancients [the OT], I believe it not in
the Gospel.' And when I said unto them that 'It is
written,' they replied, 'That it is set forth
aforetime.' But my archives are Jesus Christ; his
cross and his death, his resurrection, and the faith
which is through him, are inviolable archives, through
which I desire to be justified by means of your

Here Ignatius evidently alludes to certain laymen who were well-versed with Holy Writ, especially the OT. While they seemed to be contending with Bishop Ignatius and he thus had to remind them of the significance the Christ Event holds for believers in Jesus, this Ignatian passage almost certainly indicates that private Bible reading was common among the laity in the second century CE. Adding to this testimony in a powerful manner, Polycarp writes to the Philippians (XII.1):

"For I am persuaded that ye are well trained in the sacred writings, and nothing is hidden from you."

Notice how Tatian also describes his conversion to Christianity. He claims that it was wrought by reading and studying the "barbaric" antiquitous writings of Judaism and Christianity:

"Wherefore, having seen these things, and moreover
also having been admitted to the mysteries, and having
everywhere examined the religious rites performed by
the effeminate and the pathic, and having found among
the Romans their Latiarian Jupiter delighting in human
gore and the blood of slaughtered men, and Artemis not
far from the great city sanctioning acts of the same
kind, and one demon here and another there instigating
to the perpetration of evil, retiring by myself, I
sought how I might be able to discover the truth. And,
while I was giving my most earnest attention to the
matter, I happened to meet with certain barbaric
writings, too old to be compared with the opinions of
the Greeks, and too divine to be compared with their
errors; and I was led to put faith in these by the
unpretending east of the language, the inartificial
character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed
of future events, the excellent quality of the
precepts, and the declaration of the government of the
universe as centred in one Being. And, my soul being
taught of God, I discern that the former class of
writings lead to condemnation, but that these put an
end to the slavery that is in the world, and rescue us
from a multiplicity of rulers and ten thousand
tyrants, while they give us, not indeed what we had
not before received, but what we had received but were
prevented by error from retaining" (Oratio ad Graecos

Lastly I will cite Justin's charitable exhortation
found in his 1 Apology XLIV:

"But by the agency of the devils, death has been
decreed against those who read the books of Hystaspes,
or of the Sibyl, or of the prophets, that through fear
they may prevent men who read them from receiving the
knowledge of the good, and may retain them in slavery
to themselves; which, however, they could not always
effect. For not only do we fearlessly read them, but,
as you see, bring them for your inspection, knowing
that their contents will be pleasing to all. And if we
persuade even a few, our gain will be very great; for,
as good husbandmen, we shall receive the reward from
the Master."

Questions Addressed to Dualists

I once addressed these words to a friend and colleague who advocates hylomorphic (hylemorphic) dualism:

How do we know that physical organs are only capable of apprehending particulars? What incontrovertible proof do we have that intellects (of the Thomistic caliber) even obtain [exist]? I admit that an intellect qua a power of the soul is logically possible [there's no logical contradiction in the idea itself]. However, I am not convinced that such a faculty is factually possible. So I guess my first line of attack would be to question the existence of the intellect, in the relevant sense we're discussing. Secondly, I would argue that what has been called "intellect" is really nothing more than a higher-order process of the brain: intellection is a biological phenomenon. The brain consequently makes it possible for us to have the facility for grasping what appear to be [abstract] universals.

I have slightly edited some of this message to promote understanding of its contents.



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What Accounts for Mentality?

I've been studying neuroscience and mind theory for almost a decade. It's no secret that I don't believe the soul is immortal; however, when I read Antonio Damasio's work on Descartes, Francis Crick's "Astronishing Hypothesis" and Joseph Ledoux ("Synaptic Self"), I was convinced that mentality has to result from brain activity. In other words, while science cannot provide the knock out punch for the Witness understanding of the soul, the neuroscientific evidence overwhelmingly seems to be on our side. But scientific knowledge is provisional and limited. Therefore, it only takes us so far.

While I've been excited about the harmony between science and how Witnesses understand biblical anthropology, one Witness friend with whom I shared these findings said I should exercise caution: he feels that only Jehovah knows how mentality actually comes about. I respect this friend greatly, but I could not help but wonder what else accounts for mental states, if we're purely physical and don't have souls. In any event, two possibilities seem viable for me at this time:

1) Mental states could supervene on brain states

2) Mental states are identical with brain states

By supervenience, I simply mean a form of "dependence" such that M (mental states) depends on B(brain states), which is another way of saying that differences in B constitute differences in M (and vice versa). Another term for supervenience is property dualism (e.g. contrasting the physical properties of a painting over against its microphysical properties).

As support for the idea that minds could turn out to be continuous with matter, Anthony Appiah writes:

"We have learned about the properties of matter by seeing what can be made of it: we know that it is the kind of thing that magnets can be made out of, because we have found magnetic substances; we know that it is the kind of thing bacteria can be made out of, because we have found bacteria. Why is it especially hard to accept that it is the kind of thing minds can be made out of? Indeed, since the one thing of which each of us surely has the most extensive direct experience is our own mind, shouldn’t we be puzzled, if we are puzzled by anything, by the nature of matter? How can it be, one might want to ask, that a world made of the sorts of things and governed by the sorts of laws that physicists now believe in should give rise to the astonishing range of experiences that each of us has every day?" (Thinking It Through, page 52).

But Kevin Vanhoozer does not want to reduce mental properties to physical properties. He believes we should maintain some type of distinction between the two. Either way, I believe that physical factors completely explain mental states. Jehovah God created us as completely physical beings.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

ENTITAS and Barbarousness (Thought for Today)

One definition for the adjective "barbarous" is "characterized by the occurrence of barbarisms" (M-W).

Barbarisms have been defined as:

"the practice or display of barbarian acts, attitudes, or ideas"

"an idea, act, or expression that in form or use offends against contemporary standards of good taste or acceptability"

While I can readily understand what it means for a sentence or paragraph to be "barbarous," I often have trouble comprehending what it means for a word to be less than well-formed or barbarous. John Stuart Mill asserts that the Latin word ENTITAS (from ENS) is barbarous like its English counterpart "entity."

ENTITAS is a neologism based on the present participle of ESSE (the Latin form of the verb "to be"). I'm not sure what makes ENTITAS or "entity" barbarous, but maybe a classicist or linguist can help with this question.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Luke 17:21

Rogers and Rogers point out that ἐντὸς with the genitive can denote "within, in the midst of, among." A similar observation is made in BDAG Greek-English Lexicon; I looked at the entry for ἐντὸς in BDAG and it might pay to read the entire thing. This lexical source indicates that Luke's ἐντὸς ὑμῶν probably is patterned after Isaiah's ἐν σοὶ in 45:14 (LXX). BDAG also provides texts that correspond syntactically with Luke 17:21: the lexicon seems to argue that the verse in question should not be given a psychological interpretation. See pp. 340-341 and the relevant literature listed in BDAG.