Thursday, December 29, 2011

John Sanders Remarks Upon the Putative Divine Use of Evil

This excerpt is taken from John Sanders' book, The God Who Risks:

"After my conversion some Christians informed me that
my brother's death was ordained for the purpose of
bringing me to faith in Christ. What? God killed my
non-Christian brother so that I would become a
Christian? But without middle knowledge God could not
have known that this would happen. This would mean
that God kills people and causes disasters in the hope
that some may repent and confess Christ. However, the
model of general sovereignty does not allow for each
and every such evil to be explained this way, since
God is only responsible for the structures within
which we operate and for those specific acts in
history God elects to do" (page 262).

Sanders explains "middle knowledge" on pp. 196-198 of his study. In short, middle knowledge (in this context) has reference to the divine awareness of all "counterfactuals of creaturely freedom" which means that, according to this theory, God knows what would happen in the world He chose to create if X, Y, or Z respectively obtained (let X, Y, and Z = possible worlds or counterfactual situations). Sanders illustrates this somewhat abstruse notion with a fitting concrete example about asking a child to do some necessary chore around the house.

If anyone here has ever asked a son or daughter to take out the trash or wash the car, he/she can pretty much understand how different conditions (X, Y, Z)
influence a child's willingness to do A (i.e. a certain specified action). Furthermore, most of us are aware of the fact that if S (a particular rational
subject or moral agent) had been raised in a developed country instead of a developing land, then he/she might have performed A instead of ~A. But we could not
infallibly guarantee that A would be performed instead of ~A. Nonetheless, the "counterfactuals of creaturely freedom" notion indicates that if S were in possible world (counterfactual situation) X, then God would know what S would do.

Hope that helps you understand what Sanders means by "middle knowledge."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lactantius on the Worship of God (DI 5.8)

"But if God only were worshipped, there would not be
dissensions and wars, since men would know that they
are the sons of one God; and, therefore, among those
who were connected by the sacred and inviolable bond
of divine relationship, there would be no plottings,
inasmuch as they would know what kind of punishments
God prepared for the destroyers of souls, who sees
through secret crimes, and even the very thoughts
themselves. There would be no frauds or plunderings if
they had learned, through the instruction of God, to
be content with that which was their own, though
little, so that they might prefer solid and eternal
things to those which are frail and perishable. There
would be no adulteries, and debaucheries, and
prostitution of women, if it were known to all, that
whatever is sought beyond the desire of procreation is
condemned by God" (Divinae institutiones 5.8).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Must Evil Exist In Order That We Might Experience The Good?

I once wrote the following to a colleague and friend:

Undergrads often claim that evil must obtain in order
for good to exist. However, I'd like to run this less than
wholly ruminated thought by you to get some feedback:

Let us imagine that there is a possible world in which
the only existent is God. God, according to the
Judeo-Christian tradition, is wholly good: evil is
neither coextensive nor coterminous with God (please
overlook the issue of temporality vis-a-vis God for
now). In this possible world, it seems that one could
say good exists in this case. But would evil obtain in a
possible world wherein God is the only (possible)
existent? In what way could evil exist (i.e. obtain)
in such a possible world? If only good obtained in
this world and evil did not obtain, would it not be
true to say that good could exist without the
concomitant existence of evil? If what I am proposing
is logically possible, then it is not necessarily true
(maybe even untrue) that one needs evil in order for
good to exist.

Edgar Foster

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Justin Martyr on the Causative Force behind the Virgin Birth


What caused the Virgin to conceive and give birth to Jesus of Nazareth? How was a woman "not knowing any man" able to have a child? Here is Justin Martyr's reasoning on the matter:

"But lest some, not understanding the prophecy now
cited [Isa 7:14], should charge us with the very
things we have been laying to the charge of the poets
who say that Jupiter went in to women through lust,
let us try to explain the words. This, then, 'Behold,
a virgin shall conceive,' signifies that a virgin
should conceive without intercourse. For if she had
had intercourse with any one whatever, she was no
longer a virgin; but the power of God having come upon
the virgin, overshadowed her, and caused her while yet
a virgin to conceive. And the angel of God who was
sent to the same virgin at that time brought her good
news, saying, 'Behold, thou shalt conceive of the Holy
Ghost, and shalt bear a Son, and He shall be called
the Son of the Highest, and thou shalt call His name
Jesus; for He shall save His people from their
sins,'--as they who have recorded all that concerns
our Saviour Jesus Christ have taught, whom we
believed, since by Isaiah also, whom we have now
adduced, the Spirit of prophecy declared that He
should be born as we intimated before. It is wrong,
therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of
God as anything else than the Word, who is also the
first-born of God, as the foresaid prophet Moses
declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the
virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive,
not by intercourse, but by power" (1 Apology 33).

"But who, through the power of the Word, according to
the will of God the Father and Lord of all, He was
born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and
was crucified, and died, and rose again, and ascended
into heaven, an intelligent man will be able to
comprehend from what has been already so largely said"
(1 Apology 46).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Interesting Throught From Aquinas (Summa Contra Gentiles 1.8)

I don't necessarily agree with Aquinas here, but I find his remarks noteworthy:

Of the Relation of Human Reason to the first Truth of Faith

"THE things of sense, from whence human reason takes its beginning of knowledge, retain in themselves some trace of imitation of God, inasmuch as they are, and are good; yet so imperfect is this trace that it proves wholly insufficient to declare the substance of God Himself. Since every agent acts to the producing of its own likeness, effects in their several ways bear some likeness to their causes: nevertheless the effect does not always attain to the perfect likeness of the agent that produces it. In regard then to knowledge of the truth of faith, which can only be thoroughly known to those who behold the substance of God, human reason stands so conditioned as to be able to argue some true likenesses to it: which likenesses however are not sufficient for any sort of demonstrative or intuitive comprehension of the aforesaid truth. Still it is useful for the human mind to exercise itself in such reasonings, however feeble, provided there be no presumptuous hope of perfect comprehension or demonstration. With this view the authority of Hilary agrees, who says (De Trinitate, ii, 10), speaking of such truth : 'In this belief start, run, persist; and though I know that you will not reach the goal, still I shall congratulate you as I see you making progress. But intrude not into that sanctuary, and plunge not into the mystery of infinite truth; entertain no presumptuous hope of comprehending the height of intelligence, but understand that it is incomprehensible.'"


Monday, December 19, 2011

Granville Sharp Rule and Maximus of Tyre's Dissertatio 2.10

I once posted this question to an electronic Greek forum with little response. If anyone has some input on this question, I'd love to hear it:

Speaking of Granville Sharp's Rule, I came across a passage in

Maximus of Tyre (Dissertatio 2.10) and I wonder whether it has any relevance to the issues involving the rule:


Of course, Maximus is extracting concepts from Timaeus


Plato seems to have one entity in mind, although Numenius of Apamea interprets Timaeus 28C as a reference to a transcendent Father along with a separate Demiurge. But it seems more likely that one entity is meant in the passage written by Maximus and the one composed by Plato. What do you think?

Best regards,

Edgar Foster

Monday, December 12, 2011

Early Remarks on the "Last Days" (Patristics)

"Accordingly, therefore, prophesying concerning the
temple, He said: 'See ye these buildings? Verily I say
to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon
another which shall not be taken away; and this
generation shall not pass until the destruction begin.
For they shall come, and shall sit here, and shall
besiege it, and shall slay your children here.' And in
like manner He spoke in plain words the things that
were straightway to happen, which we can now see with
our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be
among those to whom the word was spoken. For the
Prophet of truth utters the word of proof in order to
the faith of His hearers" (Clementine Homily 3.15).

"'But immediately after the affliction of those days
the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give
her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and
the powers of heaven shall be moved: and then shall
appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and all
the tribes of the earth shall lament, and shall see
the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with
great power and glory. And He shall send His angels
with a great trumpet, and they shall gather together
His elect from the four winds, from the heights of
heaven, even into the farthest bounds thereof.' And
these are not new or sudden things which are now
happening to Christians; since the good and righteous,
and those who are devoted to God in the law of
innocence and the fear of true religion, advance
always through afflictions, and wrongs, and the severe
and manifold penalties of troubles, in the hardship of
a narrow path" (Cyprian, Treatise 11.11).

"For in the last days false prophets and corrupters
shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned
into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for
when lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate and
persecute and betray one another, and then shall
appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do
signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered
into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things
which have never yet come to pass since the beginning.
Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of
trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall
perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be
saved from under the curse itself. And then shall
appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an
out-spreading in heaven; then the sign of the sound of
the trumpet; and the third, the resurrection of the
dead; yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord
shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the
world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven"
(Didache 16).

"But as the conquering power of things evil is on the
increase-which is the characteristic of the last times
-things good are now not allowed either to be born, so
corrupted are the seminal principles; or to be
trained, so deserted are studies; nor to be enforced,
so dined are the laws" (Tertullian, On Modesty 1).

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Paulo F. M. Goncalves Critique of Thomas V. Morris' "Logic of God Incarnate"

Paulo F. M. Goncalves is lecturer in religious studies
at the University of Derby. His online essay is
entitled "A Critique of Thomas V. Morris's Use of
Natural Kind Terms in The Logic of God Incarnate."
This critique is nine pages long, including
endnotes. I'll try to state the gist of Goncalves'
analysis in a few pages.

Goncalves notes that his analysis of Morris' book is
not concerned with the "historical and theological
propriety" of the attempt to demonstrate the logical
coherence of the Incarnation. Instead of focusing on
such matters, he primarily concentrates on
critiquing Morris' use of natural kind terminology and
theory. In particular, he observes that Morris makes a
theoretical distinction between individual natures and
kind natures as well as a distinction between "common"
and "essential" properties found within a natural

The mention of natural kinds or "predicative
universals" calls to mind the debates on natural terms
contained in studies produced by Saul Kripke, Hilary
Putnam and W. V. O. Quine. Of course, Goncalves points
out that these thinkers all elaborate, "with extensive
qualification," what might be called a certain type of
nominalism. Conversely, Morris' view seems to be a
form of "conceptual realism." Goncalves thus provides
an overview of Morris' argument, distills the
aforesaid contentions and putatively clarifies Morris'
use of natural kind terms. He subsequently picks apart
Morris' view, concluding that Morris "does not
adequately deal with his relation to such recent
studies [those of Kripke and Putnam] and assumes a
conceptual realism on a fragile theoretical basis."
Goncalves ultimately charges Morris with incoherence
at crucial points and suggests that his methodology is
also "vulnerable." At this point, we will now review
one serious criticism that the lecturer in religious
studies makes concerning Morris' employment of natural
kind terms and theory. It involves Morris' theory of
human properties.

Detractors of the Incarnation doctrine contend that
the proposition:

(A) Jesus is God the Son

is incoherent and false a priori since this assertion
endeavors to unite two entities that are
seemingly, by definition, complementary
which can be defined as "mutually
exclusive." Morris criticizes this view, arguing that
while terms such as "bachelor," "doctor" or "lawyer"
are nominal kinds, "gold," "tiger," and "humanity" are
not. Instead, Morris thinks that the latter kinds are
natural terms. In other words, he seems to be
maintaining that the properties of
tigers or humans are necessary, but they are known a
posteriori. However, once the necessary properties of
a particular kind are known a posteriori, then certain
notional positions can be discounted a priori. But how does this
theoretical approach taken by Morris affect his construal of (A)?

Goncalves observes that Morris does not seem to be
that forthcoming vis-a-vis necessary a posteriori
properties of humanity. The latter does include "being conscious
at some time or another" as an indispensable property
of humanity. Nevertheless, Goncalves argues, it
quickly becomes clear that Morris is not willing to
let any properties that might possibly be "logical
complements of essential divine properties"
constitute his definition of what it means to be
human. Aside from this putative approach manifested in
Morris' book, Goncalves has another criticism that
pretty much sums up his objection to Morris' overall methodology.

How does one go about determining what is essential
with relation to human nature? What are the necessary
properties an entity must instantiate to be considered
essentially human? Goncalves argues that Morris
wrongly excludes certain properties that are commonly
associated with being human, to wit, properties that
serve as complements to the divine nature or qualities
that logically disallow a divine incarnation.

Morris avers that contingency, being created, being
non-eternal and finite with regard to knowledge and
power as well as being non-ubiquitous are not
complementary with respect to human nature. He claims that a
all such properties may characterize those entities that are
"merely human" but they are not necessary properties
that belong to one who is "fully human." Being "fully
human," according to Morris, involves assuming "a
human body and a human mind, no more and no less."
Jesus Christ, even though he subsists as God, can
simultaneously be fully human since human properties
that one would normally regard as complementary in
relation to divine properties are excluded based on
Morris' view of kind terms as they apply to humanity.

In conclusion, Goncalves finds Morris' use of natural
kind term theory problematic. Since the task of
relating individual objects to other members in a set
is fraught with seemingly insurmountable difficulties,
Goncalves wonders how Morris can develop a coherent
notion of the Incarnation. Goncalves indicates that
other strategies for rendering the doctrine of the
Incarnation coherent may possibly work. But Morris' use of
natural kind terms seems to miss the theoretical mark.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Hebrews 1:1 (Brief Remarks)

Greek text (Hebrews 1:1): πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις.

The passage has been rendered: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets" (KJV). The nominal phrase ὁ θεὸς is the grammatical subject. The alliterative construction πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως is "a familiar literary figure" whose matter-of-fact sense could be understood as "in many parts and in many ways" (F. F. Bruce, Hebrews, 44). Bruce also opts for the translation, "at various days and in many ways" which preserves the alliteration found in the original text. The fivefold use of the phoneme π principally accentuates the rhetorical nature of Hebrews 1:1. The overall effect of the construction found in the opening verse of the Epistle is to emphasize how ὁ θεὸς speaks to the forefathers of Israel: it is by means of or through the prophets (ἐν τοῖς προφήταις).

See Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1993), 91.

Friday, November 11, 2011

More on the Logical/Moral Consequences of Atheism

While introducing Dostoevsky's classic work Brothers Karamazov, Charles Guignon reasons that "if God does not exist [as Ivan Karamazov believes], then the picture of the universe formulated by mechanistic materialism must be true. But, in this case, given the point of view of modern science (what Ivan calls 'Euclidean reason'), the universe consists of nothing but meaningless material objects in causal interaction, effects follows cause according to the laws of physics, people are determined to do what they do, no one is guilty of anything, and so there are no such things as right or wrong, good or bad. Or, more precisely, the ideals of justice, goodness, benevolence, dignity, and so on turn out to be purely human inventions, the results of projecting our needs and wishes onto brute, meaningless matter, and so they are illusions lacking any basis in the order of things" (Dostoevsky: The Grand Inquisitor with Related Chapters from The Brothers Karamazov, page xxx).

Monday, November 07, 2011

Tertullian's Attitude Toward the Shepherd of Hermas

It seems that Tertullian (after he became a Montanist) did not like the work known as the Shepherd of Hermas because of his stance on repentance and adultery. Tertullian neither regarded the Shepherd as Scripture nor as law (LEX). He wrote:

"It [the Shepherd of Hermas] is a story, not a law" (De Orat XVI, 2). This comment shows that Tertullian did not view the Shepherd in the same light that he viewed Scripture, and his view of this work appears to have been correct in certain respects. (See Jean Danielou 3:153.)

I say, in certain respects, since the Shepherd is not a part of inspired Scripture and never was--yet Tertullian apparently had an unbalanced view of godly repentance. Moreover, I am not so sure he was right to believe that the Shepherd condones adultery. See Mandate 4 of the Shepherd.

Tertullian also writes in De Pudicitia X,12:

"These (pleas) you (will urge) to me, most benignant
interpreter of God. But I would yield my ground to
you, if the scripture of 'the Shepherd,' which is the
only one which favours adulterers, had deserved to
find a place in the Divine canon; if it had not been
habitually judged by every council of Churches (even
of your own) among apocryphal and false (writings);
itself adulterous, and hence a patroness of its
comrades; from which in other respects, too, you
derive initiation; to which, perchance, that Shepherd
will play the patron whom you depict upon your
(sacramental) chalice, (depict, I say, as) himself
withal a prostitutor of the Christian sacrament, (and
hence) worthily both the idol of drunkenness, and the
brize of adultery by which the chalice will quickly be
followed, (a chalice) from which you sip nothing more
readily than (the flavour of) the 'ewe' of (your)
second repentance!"

What makes this text so intriguing is that Tertullian writes about the "Divine canon" which implies that he already knew about some type of canon generally
accepted by most Christians in his day. Additionally, he indicates that "every council of Churches" decided not to view the Shepherd as canonical. While Danielou suggests that Tertullian's language is a wee bit strong, since not every church council (or early church) thought the Shepherd was false, they did not usually view it as Scripture either. Tertullian's words may indicate that claims about the biblical canon being formed in the forth century or later are a little exaggerated, to say the least. One also needs to distinguish between the word "canon" referring to a list of authoritative books and that same term which references the inspired books themselves.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Margaret Davies and the EGW EIMI Sayings in John's Gospel

Dear blog readers,

I would like to draw your attention to a scholarly
work produced by Margaret Davies entitled Rhetoric
and Reference in the Fourth Gospel
Sheffield Academic Press, 1992) which contains a
discussion INTER ALIA concerning the Johannine EGW
EIMI sayings. The section I have in mind runs from pp.
82-87. In this section, Davies shows how the Wisdom
writings have undoubtedly influenced the EGW EIMI
pronouncements in John's gospel, and she thinks the
sayings should be read in the light of such texts as
Prov 8:12-21 and Sirach 24:3-31. She also critiques
R.E. Brown's treatment of the sayings and concludes
that EGW EIMI (in Jn 8:58 and elsewhere) serves as a
marker of self-identification. She takes this position
for a few reasons that I will now briefly delineate.

(1) Davies argues that EGW EIMI in Jn 13:19 identifies
Jesus as the Messiah since it evidently refers back to
Jn 13:14 and 18, and I might add Jn 13:13 where we
read: "You address me, 'Teacher,' and, 'Lord,' and you
speak rightly, for I am such."


"I am not talking about all of you; I know the one I
have chosen. But it is in order that the Scripture
might be fulfilled, 'He that used to feed on my bread
has lifted up his heel against me.'" (Jn 13:18)

The context of Jn 13:19 thus suggests that Jesus is
identifying himself as Lord, teacher, and Messiah--the
one who was foretold in Ps 41:9 among other places.

(2) Davies thinks that Jn 8:58 refers back to Jn 8:12
and that Jesus is ultimately identifying himself as
the light of the world, that is, the promised seed of
Abraham by means of whom all nations of the earth will
be blessed (Gn 12:3; 22:18). However she notes that
other scholars (Lindars 1972) think that Jn 8:58
actually points back to 1:5, which deals with the
light that apparently was shining prior to Abraham, the
father of all those having faith. But at this point, Davies asks:

"Is Jesus' remark, 'Before Abraham was, I am he' a
reminder that he is the eternal LOGOS?" (Davies 86).
She thinks that this reading of Jn 8:58 "is neither an
obvious nor a necessary reading." (86). The scholar
accordingly rejects the Jn 8:58/1:5 connexion since if John
wanted to highlight a thematic nexus
between the two texts, he would have used the
imperfect tense of the verb 'to be' at Jn 8:58 and not
the present. Since John does employ the present in
8:58, however, "The use of the present tense, 'I am',
connects with its use in Jn 8:12" (86).


Davies contends that Jesus (in Jn 8:58) is
answering a question about time, but does so by
identifying himself as the seed of Abraham (the light
of the world). She writes: "We should conclude,
therefore, that the Johannine Jesus' use of the 'I am'
form draws on Wisdom declarations from its Scripture,
and does not assert Jesus' divinity" (Davies 87).

Monday, October 31, 2011

C.A. Wannamaker's Remarks Concerning Philippians 2:6ff

Hi everyone,

Just a short quote from C.A. Wannamaker's article on Phil. 2:6ff.

"In this passage Paul maintains that Christ's universal sovereignty derives
from the Father and that ultimately the Son shall be subject to the Father
when he returns his present sovereignty to God. The subordinationist
character of 1 Cor. 15:24-28 demonstrates quite clearly that Paul did not
believe in Christ's absolute equality with God" (Wannamaker 187-188).

Observations from Wannamaker's article are found in my Christology and Trinity book, which can be purchased on See the links on this blog to obtain further details.

Cf. C.A. Wannamaker (NT Stud. Vol. 33, 1987, pp. 179-193).

Take care,

Edgar Foster

Friday, October 28, 2011

Samuelsson's Description of Jesus' "Crucifixion"


Just click on the title of this blog post.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Copy of My CV (October 2011)


Curriculum Vitae


Ph.D. University of Glasgow (2003-2008) in Theology and Religious Studies.

Area of Specialization: Ecclesiastical History

Dissertation: Metaphor and Divine Paternity: The Concept of God's Fatherhood in the Divinae institutiones of Lactantius (250-325 CE).

Supervisor: Dr. Ian Hazlett

M.Th. University of Glasgow (2001-2002) in Theology and Religious Studies.

B.A. Lenoir-Rhyne College (1998 – 2001) in Classical Languages and Philosophy, graduated cum laude.

Awards Received:

Voigt Cromer Award for outstanding work in Classical Languages (2001).

Lenoir-Rhyne College President's Award for promoting intercultural understanding on campus (2001).

Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar to the University of Glasgow (2001-2002).

One of only ten students nationally who attended the Summer Institute of Philosophy at Rutgers University (2000).

Claudia Kincaid Academic Achievement Award (1998).

Teaching Experience and Positions Held:

Catawba Valley Community College (2008-Present):

Adjunct Instructor

Courses taught: Old Testament and New Testament

Lenoir-Rhyne College (2006-Present)

Visiting Assistant Professor

Adjunct Assistant Professor

Courses Taught: Ethics, Philosophy of Human Nature, Medieval Philosophy, African-American Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind.

University of Glasgow/GOALS Program (2001-2003)

Worked as a Tutor (Teacher)

Taught critical thinking and essay writing skills to incoming university students. Presented historical surveys on influential ethical theories (existentialism, deontology and utilitarianism).

Conducted university seminars on ethics.

Delivered lectures on ethics to groups of more than 200 students.

Languages: Latin, Greek, and German (reading proficiency).

Publications: Introduction to Ethics. A packet used by the University of Glasgow's GOALS Program (2003).

Angelomorphic Christology and the Exegesis of Psalm 8:5 in Tertullian's Adversus Praxean. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.

Metaphor and Divine Paternity: The Concept of God's Fatherhood in the Divinae institutiones of Lactantius (250-325 CE). Edwin Mellen Press (Forthcoming).

Book Review of Tom Christenson's book Questioning Assumptions (Forthcoming in Dialog Journal).

Conference Presentations

"Setting the Stage: Daniélou and Angelomorphic Christology," presented at the Burn in Edzell, Scotland on March 15-17, 2002.

"The Doctrine of God the Father in the Thought of Lactantius" (250-325 CE). University of Edinburgh ecclesiastical history conference in Perth, Scotland on February 22, 2003.

"Metaphors, Symbols, Analogies and God the Father," presented at Lenoir-Rhyne College, Center for Theology Colloquium, March 10, 2005.


Dr. Larry Yoder
Lenoir-Rhyne University
School of History, Philosophy and Religion
P.O. Box 7349
Hickory, N. C. 28601

Dr. David Ratke
Lenoir-Rhyne University
School of History, Philosophy and Religion
P.O. Box 7210
Hickory, N. C. 28601

Dr. Ian Hazlett
Professor of Ecclesiastical History
School of Divinity
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ
Scotland U.K.
Tel. 44-141-330-4223

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Is the Moral Law Evidence for A Creator?

One line of evidence for a reality that transcends

human existence and grounds morality is the moral law

itself. Relativists deny the existence of moral

absolutes. "There is no moral black and white," they say,

"only shades of gray." However, the apostle Paul

speaks of an inward law that governs Christians, Jews

and pagans--believers and non-believers alike (Romans

2:14-16). This law is capable of accusing or excusing

humans since it bears witness between their motives

and thoughts. Frank Turek and Norman L. Geisler

discuss this moral principle and make an observation

that has not gone unnoticed by others:

"So the Moral Law is not always apparent from our

actions, as evidenced by the terrible things human

beings do to one another. But it is brightly revealed

in our reactions--what we do when we personally are

treated unfairly" (I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an

Atheist, page 175).

When someone steals from us or does not

exercise justice in our case, it often shows that even

moral relativists believe at least some absolutes

exist. Assuming that some human acts either are

objectively wrong or right, good or bad, evil or

virtuous, it seems that the only way to ground

absolute morals is to posit a supreme being who is a

transcendent statute-giver.

Immanuel Kant argued that one must believe in God to

ground morality; even Nietzsche conceded that if

God is dead, there are no absolutes. It does, in fact,

seem that morals cannot obtain without the existence

of a divine being. The apostle Paul argues that even those

who do not have law, do by nature the things of the

law. What or who is responsible for the strong feelings of

justice that humans time and again express? Has

evolution brought it about that righteous indignation

or grief are commonly displayed over agreed upon injustices or

atrocities? Has the "blind watchmaker" of evolution caused humans

to conduct themselves altruistically (i.e. selflessly,

with no regard for one's own benefit) toward others or

to universally oppose the heinous act of murder?

Maybe some individuals can bring themselves to accept

such naturalistic explanations of morality. However,

it seems that no natural immanent force could ever "cause"

morals to obtain, much less bring it about that unselfishness

or altruistic behavior exist. It certainly appears that no

blind natural force caused life to obtain in the material order since life usually begets


Friday, October 21, 2011

From Ockham to Wyclif Link


Was John Wycliffe A Heretic?

I think it could safely be said that Wycliffe played
a major role in making the Bible available to
the common person. He also raised a number of
important theological issues that provoked
the ire of some of those among his contemporaries. I simply do
not think that one can easily dismiss Wycliffe as a
heretic, although I know there are aspects of his system
that many would no doubt criticize. The
foregoing having been stated, I want to cite
information from a study that takes an extensive look
at Wycliffe's accomplishments. For the sake of time, I'm going to summarize some points made in this work.

The book I am quoting from is entitled
"From Ockham to Wyclif," edited by Anne Hudson and
Michael Wilks (it's an anthology).

The points I want to make are as follows:

(1) Wycliffe thought that popes function as the CAPUT
PARTICULARIS ECCLESIAE: I.e. a pope is head of the
Roman Catholic Church, and this church is one among
many. Wycliffe therefore maintained that a Christian
should obey the Pope as long he submitted to
God and faithfully expounded God's Law (LEX). In this
way, Wycliffe was militating against the notion that
the Pope is appointed head of both Church and
state as well as of the Church Universal. He
instead proposed a notion of ECCLESIA REGIS, which
has its own set of problems (pp. 154-158).

(2) Wycliffe also insisted that the Church is comprised of
the "body of the saved." He denied that the Church is
an institution or that the Pope and his curia are
the EKKLHSIA TOU QEOU. This view undoubtedly angered
those who viewed the Pope as the Universal Church's head (CAPUT).

(3) While Wycliffe did not deny the "real presence"
in the Eucharist, he did reject the belief that
the elements of the Eucharist change per their
substance but not per accidens. He reasoned that
accidents must have a subject. For otherwise,
how could the bread change as to its substance and still maintain the
appearance (i.e. accidents) of bread without a subject?
Wycliffe thus delineated what would later become known as
consubstantiation(pp. 218-219, 292).

(4) Wycliffe was also surely condemned for preaching
in the vernacular, especially since he spoke about the
Eucharist in the vulgar tongue. The putative heretical nature of
this act is clearly observed when one reads a 15th century work by a
certain Dominican who is thought to be Thomas Palmer.
Whoever the Dominican is or was, he writes that the
"holy mysteries" should not be exposed to the
"unsophisticated language of the laity." In other
words, the writer of the document urges that the
English language is incapable of communicating the
"opacity of the eucharistic doctrine." Some examples
and a few others. At any rate, the point is that a
common attitude among clerics of the time was that any
discussion about the Eucharist had to be done in Latin
in order to keep the common folk from discussing such
holy mysteries. But Margaret Aston writes: "It is
surely one of the most remarkable achievements of the
Wycliffites that in the course of a generation they
changed all this." Yes, Wycliffe pointed to
Acts 4:13 as a model for all Christians (pp. 303-314).
Thus, he paved the way for other vernacular
translations of the entire Bible. A heretic? Probably

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Seven Reasons for Excluding the Deuterocanonicals from the Biblical Canon

I have found Neil R. Lightfoot's work about the Bible canon to be a helpful resource. (But for a more detailed account, see Bruce Metzger's work on the NT canon.) Lightfoot outlines seven reasons to "reject" the Deuterocanonicals (also known as the Apocrypha):

1. The books "were never" included in the OT canon.
2. Lightfoot also writes: "These books, as far as the evidence goes, were
never accepted as canonical by Jesus and his apostles." Neither the apostles
nor Jesus quoted from the Apocrypha.
3. No Jewish writer of the first century (such as Philo or Josephus) accepted these books as genuine. Jerome (translator of the Latin Vulgate) likewise believed that these books were "apocryphal."
4. The apocryphal writings contain historical, chronological, and geographical
errors. See Judith 1:1.
5. "There is no evidence that the [LXX] ever had a fixed or closed canon of
6. The books cannot be maintained "on a compromise basis." I.e. The Deuterocanonicals may possibly supplement (at times) or conversely be at odds with Scripture. Therefore, these works must not be accepted at all.
7. The "Roman Catholic Church" pronounced the OT Apocrypha (except 2 Esdras
and the Prayer of Manasseh) as "authoritative and canonical Scripture" at the Council of Trent. Yet conciliar authority is not a sufficient condition for determining a work to be canonical. Prior to Trent, Lightfoot states, there were officials of the "Roman Church" who spoke out against the canonicity of apocryphal works.

These points can be found on pp. 121-122 of Lightfoot's book, the Second edition which was published by the Baker Pub Group in August 1988. The work has since been updated.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Origen of Alexandria Interpreting Ecclesiastes 12:12

For, to judge by the words of the phrase, 'My son, beware of making many books,' two things appear to be indicated by it: first, that we ought not to possess many books, and then that we ought not to compose many books. If the first is not the meaning the second must be, and if the second is the meaning the first does not necessarily follow. In either case we appear to be told that we ought not to make many books. I might take my stand on this dictum which now confronts us, and send you the text as an excuse, and I might appeal in support of this position to the fact that not even the saints found leisure to compose many books; and thus I might cry off from the bargain we made with each other, and give up writing what I was to send to you. You, on your side, would no doubt feel the force of the text I have cited, and might, for the future, excuse me. But we must treat Scripture conscientiously, and must not congratulate ourselves because we see the primary meaning of a text, that we understand it altogether. I do not, therefore, shrink from bringing forward what excuse I think I am able to offer for myself, and to point out the arguments, which you would certainly use against me, if I acted contrary to our agreement. And in the first place, the Sacred History seems to agree with the text in question, inasmuch as none of the saints composed several works, or set forth his views in a number of books. I will take up this point: when I proceed to write a number of books, the critic will remind me that even such a one as Moses left behind him only five books.

Quote taken from Commentary on the Gospel of John V.2

The Semantics of the Greek Term LOGOS

Many of you are probably quite familiar with the listings and examples in BAGD Greek-English Lexicon [now BDAG] for the word LOGOS. But for the benefit of others, here is what this lexicon has to say:

1a. Speaking (generally, a word). See Matt. 22:46; 1 Pet. 3:1.

1B. Statement, question, pastoral counseling, preaching, prophecy, command,

report, story, proclamation, instruction (1 Tim. 5:17; Tit. 1:9; James 3:2).

1g. A statement of definite content (Matt. 12:32).

1d. "The [plural] (oi) LOGOI is used (1) either of words uttered on various

occasions, of speeches made here and there (Matt. 12:37a).

1e. The subject under discussion (Acts 8:21).

1z. Of written words and speeches and of the separate books of a particular

work (Acts 1:1).

1b. Of revelation by God (and of the divine disclosure through Christ).

Cf. Heb. 13:7.

2. Computation or reckoning (1 Pet. 3:15).

2b. Settlement of an account (Matt. 18:23; 25:19).

2c. Respect, regard (1 Samuel 10:1 LXX).

2d. Reason, motive (Matt. 5:32).

2e. "With whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13).

2f. Have a concern for wisdom (possible meaning). Cf. Col. 2:23.

3. The Logos. This sense needs to be quoted directly from BAGD: "Our lit. shows traces of a way of thinking that was widespread in contemporary syncretism, as well as in Jewish wisdom lit. and Philo, the most prominent feature of which is the concept of the Logos, the independent, personified 'Word' (of God): J 1:1a, b, c, 14. It is the distinctive teaching that this divine 'Word' took on human form in a historical person, that is, in Jesus."

On this last point, John Burnet cites the famous Heraclitean fragment that he lists as R.P. 32, in which Heraclitus of Ephesus uses the term LOGOS in this way:

"Though the Word [LOGOS] is true evermore, ye men are as unable to understand it when they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word [LOGOS], men seem as if they had no experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how it truly is. But other men know not what they're doing when awake, even as they forget what they do in sleep."

Burnet then makes the following remarks:

"The LOGOS is primarily the discourse of Heraclitus himself; though, as he is a prophet, we may call it his 'word.' It can neither mean a discourse addressed to Heraclitus nor yet 'reason'" (_Early Greek Philosophy_. P. 133).

Burnet adds: "In any case, the Johannine doctrine of the LOGOS has nothing to do with Heraclitus or with anything at all in Greek philosophy, but comes from the Hebrew Wisdom literature."

See Rendel Harris, "The Origin of the Prologue to St. John's Gospel," in _The Expositor_, 1916, pp. 147 sqq.

Hopefully these comments will shed light on the LOGOS definition.

Friday, September 23, 2011

APANTHSIS as a TERMINUS TECHNICUS (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

The Greek term APANTHSIS is used in the ancient Hellenistic world as a technical term (TERMINUS TECHNICUS) to describe citizens who would go out to meet a visiting dignitary and escort him back to the city from which the citizens emanated. See The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament by Rogers and Rogers (page 479); Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (J.H. Moulton and G. Milligan), page 53; Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 1:380-381.

I think we should not read too much into the
metaphorical language found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
The imagery used regarding APANTHSIS must be
correlated with John 14:2-3, which suggests that the
bridegroom goes away to prepare a place for his bride
(the EKKLHSIA), then returns to carry her home. A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures) thus states that there is not enough
evidence (based on APANTHSIS alone) to tell us whether
the risen holy ones continue heavenward with the Lord
or continue descending to the earth. F.F. Bruce
argues similarly and R.L. Thomas unequivocally argues
that one should not infer too much from Paul's use of
a word that functioned as a technical term in other

In conclusion, I would submit that it is ill-advised
to construe every little element of a metaphor. As Max
Black contends, metaphors both emphasize and suppress
meaning. They also create new meaning through an
interaction of what Black calls the "frame" and
"focus." For Black, a metaphor constitutes a sentence (the
frame) in which primary and secondary subjects (i.e.
concepts) appear. One example of a metaphor that might
illustrate Black's distinction is "Man is a wolf." The
sentence is the frame, "man" is the primary subject
and "wolf" is the secondary subject. The term "wolf"
emphasizes and suppresses meaning about wolves and
man. Most people interpret the turn of phrase to mean
that man is ferocious or ravenous. However, wolves
have a number of positive traits (e.g. altrusism,
social traits) that we frequently overlook due to what
Black calls "associated commonplaces" (ENDOXA) about

Monday, September 19, 2011

Interesting Blog Post About Pietersma's View of the Tetra




Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Metaphorical Use of "Father" for God

One friend once asked me: "Why the reticence about its [the term "Father"] applying to God's being? Why think that it couldn't?"

I replied:

First, let us prescind from the matter of God being
"Father" with respect to the eternal generation of the
Son or the Son's creation, as I believe. In whatever
sense God is Father, and we both agree that He is
"Father" in some sense, let's agree to bracket such
notions and consider the concept of divine fatherhood

I hesitate to think of "Father" as an ontological
designation because I don't believe one can hold this
position consistently when it comes to theological
metaphors. Let's also be clear what I mean by saying
the title "Father" does not apply ontologically. I
mean to say that God is not masculine (which I
distinguish from maleness) ontologically nor has the
deity somehow brought forth (in a manner closely
resembling the human reproduction process) a Son.

When I state that it seems one cannot consistently
believe God is Father in that the divine one is
transcendently masculine, some examples may explain my
position better than propositions would detail it.
Consider that Ps 23:1 refers to YHWH as David's
Shepherd. If we think of God as a Shepherd in His very
being, what sense does that make? Are we to believe
that God exemplifies the properties of a shepherd,
whatever they are to some eminent and transcendent
degree? Moreover, the apostle John's Apocalypse speaks
of God and the Lamb as the temple of New Jerusalem. To
me, the description is a metaphor of God and the
Lamb's function in relation to the figurative
eschatological city. Do you believe that Revelation
21:23 refers to God ontologically as the temple of New
Jerusalem? That is, is God more of a temple than the
temple in Jerusalem was? Stated another way, does the
Christian deity instantiate the properties of a temple
more transcendently than Solomon's Temple did?
Finally, Paul refers to Jerusalem above [edited] as the "mother"
of Christians. Please explain to me how Galatians 4:26
applies to the Church's being [ontos], rather than to its
function. In what sense is the Church ontologically

[Note: My interlocutor believes that Jerusalem above is the ecclesia.-EF]

John Cooper writes:

"From the time of the Church Fathers, teachers of the
faith have used this doctrine [of divine genderlessness]
to explain that calling God Father does not imply that God is MASCULINE.
Thus the doctrine helps us rightly to interpret Scripture. It
prevents us from wrongly inferring from the gendered
language in Scripture that God is MASCULINE while we
work to understand what this language does mean . . ."
(_Our Father in Heaven_, page 188-189).

On this issue, I must concur with Arnobius of Sicca (a
somewhat controversial early church figure) who
evidently is not being unorthodox when he queries:

"For who, however mean his capacity, does not know
that the sexes of different GENDER have been ordained
and formed by the Creator of the creatures of earth,
only that, by intercourse and union of bodies, that
which is fleeting and transient may endure being ever
renewed and maintained?" (Against the Nations 3.8)

IN NUCE, there is no need of gender where there is no
reproductive activity. God doesn't need to be
masculine or feminine QUOAD SE because God doesn't
literally produce little boys and girls, wee angels
and angelettes. :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Origen's Commentary on John (Regarding the Deity of Christ)

Taken from Commentary on John II.2:

We next notice John's use of the article in these sentences. He does not write without care in this respect, nor is he unfamiliar with the niceties of the Greek tongue. In some cases he uses the article, and in some he omits it. He adds the article to the Logos, but to the name of God he adds it sometimes only. He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God. Does the same difference which we observe between God with the article and God without it prevail also between the Logos with it and without it? We must enquire into this. As the God who is over all is God with the article not without it, so "the Logos" is the source of that reason (Logos) which dwells in every reasonable creature; the reason which is in each creature is not, like the former called par excellence The Logos. Now there are many who are sincerely concerned about religion, and who fall here into great perplexity. They are afraid that they may be proclaiming two Gods, and their fear drives them into doctrines which are false and wicked. Either they deny that the Son has a distinct nature of His own besides that of the Father, and make Him whom they call the Son to be God all but the name, or they deny the divinity of the Son, giving Him a separate existence of His own, and making His sphere of essence fall outside that of the Father, so that they are separable from each other. To such persons we have to say that God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God of Himself); and so the Saviour says in His prayer to the Father, [John 17:3] "That they may know You the only true God;" but that all beyond the Very God is made God by participation in His divinity, and is not to be called simply God (with the article), but rather God (without article). And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, "The God of gods, the Lord, has spoken and called the earth." It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is "The God," and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype. But the archetypal image, again, of all these images is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and who by being with God is at all times God, not possessing that of Himself, but by His being with the Father, and not continuing to be God, if we should think of this, except by remaining always in uninterrupted contemplation of the depths of the Father.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cotterell and Turner on KEFALH

While actually looking for something else,
I found some helpful information concerning
KEFALH in Peter Cotterell and Max
Turner's Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation(London: SPCK, 1989). See pp. 141-145.

Turner and Cotterell review GNT examples such as Col
2:19; 1 Cor 11:3 and Eph 5:23. They write:

"Now contextually it is by no means certain that Col
2:19 presents Christ as the origin, rather than as the
Lord of the Church, but clearly it would considerably
weaken the thesis if the sense 'source' was part of
the lexical meaning of the Greek word KEFALH ('head');
that is, if it were one of its established senses"
(page 141).

But is "source" one of the established senses of
KEFALH? After discussing LXX and Classical examples
where KEFALH is employed by ancient writers, these
scholars conclude:

"In other words, as far as we can tell, 'source' or
'origin' was NOT a conventional sense of the word
KEFALH in Paul's time. This does not preclude the
possibility that Paul himself began to use the word in
such a way, but we would need very strong evidence to
support such a view, and in our judgment nothing like
such strength of evidence is forthcoming" (145).

While, as Cotterell and Turner show, there does not
appear to be enough evidence in favor of
"source" being one of the lexical senses of KEFALH in
Paul's time, we do have attestation for the meaning
"ruler" or "authority over." Paul apparently used
KEFALH in this way, when he penned these inspired
words to the Ephesians:


Friday, September 09, 2011

Paradoxes of Jesus, Bowman and a Possible Sleight of Hand

On pp. 74-76 of Why You Should Believe in the
, Robert M. Bowman, Jr. includes a section dealing with so-called "paradoxes of Jesus." Bowman seemingly puts a nail in the coffin of non-Trinitarians
(particularly, Jehovah's Witnesses) who think that the Incarnation of Christ concept is notionally meaningless or incoherent (i.e contradictory). Bowman argues that since Christ was both 100% God and 100% man (fully God and fully human) while on earth, we should not be surprised to read Bible verses that picture the Son of God both professing ignorance of the "day and hour" in Mk 13:32 and knowing "all things" in Jn 16:30.

Bowman also contends that while it is true that God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) and Jesus could be (and was) tempted in the days of his flesh (Heb 4:15)--Jesus could not sin (Jn 5:19).

There are other texts that Bowman appeals to in order to support the Incarnation as a biblical concept. I pick these two arguments to focus on though because they seem blatantly problematic to me.

Firstly, Jesus' disciples did say that he knew "all things" (OIDAS PANTA) in the Johannine verse mentioned by Bowman (Jn 16:30). As with other biblical texts, however, we must not only note what the Bible says; we must also seek to ascertain what a given scriptural utterance means. Were Jesus' disciples actually saying that they believed he was omniscient? If so, this would be a remarkable confession from a group of first century monotheistic Jews. In fact, it is highly unlikely that Jesus' followers were attributing omniscience to him. Mr. Bowman seems to be engaging in what a friend of mine has called "prestidigitation." His handling of Jn 16:30 does not appear to be all that rigorous, and it is evidently driven by some type of personal ideology. Simply put,
Jn 16:30 does not teach that Christ was or is omniscient.

PANTA is apparently not employed in an absolute sense at Jn 16:30. John's use of the Greek word should be construed in a relative sense, meaning that Christ knew "all things" to a degree. To illustrate what I am saying about Jn 16:30, I appeal to 1 Jn 2:27:


In this passage, John informs his readers that God's "anointing" teaches spirit-begotten Christians about "all things." Yet, John is not employing PANTWN here in an absolute sense. The spirit of God does not teach those whom God anoints about physics, geometry, logic, foreign languages or marine biology. The children of God are taught subject matter that concerns everlasting life or salvation (1 Jn 2:25), not knowledge associated with the famed quadrivium or trivium (et al.).

Trinitarian commentator Gerald Borchert explains Jn 16:30 thus:

They [the disciples] were partly correct in their
assumption that Jesus had great knowledge . . . Their
generalization of how much knowledge Jesus had ('all
things,' PANTA) was, however, a typical human
overstatement that was far beyond their actual
capacity to comprehend. It was merely one of their
assumptions. Such an assumption has often become part
of our theological assumptions about the incarnate
Jesus' knowledge, even though elsewhere, for example,
he states that he did not know the time of the end
(cf. Mark 13:32). Moreover, Paul states that he
'emptied himself' ('made himself nothing,' NIV;
hEAUTON EKENWSEN, Phil 2:7), although we are not quite
sure of the full implications of that statement
(John 12-21, page 180).

In Alford's Greek testament, we read this paraphrase
of Jn 16:30:

Thou hast spoken so clearly of our feeling towards
Thee and of Thyself, that we have no occasion to ask
Thee anything;--and this was what Thou didst announce
would be;--we know therefore, by its being so, that
Thou knowest the secrets of our hearts (PANTA by
inference),--and hence believe that Thou camest forth
from God.'

Notice that Alford limits PANTA to the "secrets" of the disciples' hearts. Bowman may claim that only God can read hearts, but the disciples did not necessarily believe that only God could discern hearts. They affirmed that Christ was "from God" and it is conceivable that they believed Christ had knowledge of human thoughts based on the things he learned from his Father (Jn 7:16-18) In any event, it seems clear that the disciples were not imputing omniscience to Christ. A "great knowledge" of many things or an intimate acquaintance with a vast array of facts does not make one omniscient in the absolute sense of the term. Contra Borchert, I tend to believe that the words of Jn 16:30 simply constitute an idiomatic way to use a Greek term that can mean "all things." It is not necessarily an "overstatement," but Borchert nonetheless illustrates why one need not interpret the text as an apostolic declaration of Christ's omniscience.

As a closing note, has anyone else noticed how problematic it is to use Jn 5:19 as a proof that Christ was sinless or could not sin? The context of the passage is dealing with Christ observing and emulating the works of the Father toward the creation. The text has nothing to do with Christ's ability or inability to sin.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Thomas Aquinas "Take" On Divine Emotions in the Summa Contra Gentiles

What's written below is a preliminary sketch of what we find in the SCG regarding God's emotions or lack thereof. I've long been interested in this subject because it seems to me that whether God is moved by our human plight or not, makes a difference theologically and existentially. I hope to develop these basic ideas as time goes on. If not, maybe posterity will finish my work. :)

Best regards,


Summa Contra Gentiles I.LXXXIX.12

Differentiating emotions and passions

"No passion in intellective appetite" (Aquinas)

God does not acquire knowledge through the senses and thus has no sensitive appetite (could this be reversed?), there could be no need for sensitive appetite

Every passion is accompanied by somatic change (alteration) but God is not a body (ST I.3.1, maybe)

Emotions (passions) draw one outside the connatural disposition. But God cannot be withdrawn from outside of the connat. disposition since God is utterly immutable.

Passion has one object

Every passion is also in a subject "that is in potentiality." Yet God has no potential whatsoever.

Sorrow or pain [evils inherently by species] cannot be in God.

Repentance "denotes a change in the appetite." Repentance is a kind of sorrow: it thus implies a change of will.

God cannot be angry:

See SCG I.91.16-18 and II.2.5.9

Friday, August 26, 2011

Eusebius' Account of Irenaeus Addressing the Schismastics


Or just click on the title and you'll be taken to the Eusebius link.

Friday, August 19, 2011


This quote is taken from Lactantius' Divine Institutes IV.14. Lactantius was a 4th century apologist and historian who lived around the time of the First Nicene Council (325 CE). He writes:

"These are the ways of God, in which He enjoined Him
[Jesus] to walk. These are the precepts which He
ordered to be observed. But He exhibited faith towards
God. For He taught that there is but one God, and that
He alone ought to be worshipped. Nor did He at any
time say that He Himself was God; for He would not
have maintained His faithfulness, if, when sent to
abolish the false gods, and to assert the existence of
the one God, He had introduced another besides that
one. This would have been not to proclaim one God, nor
to do the work of Him who sent Him, but to discharge a
peculiar office for Himself, and to separate Himself
from Him whom He came to reveal. On which account,
because He was so faithful, because He arrogated
nothing at all to Himself, that He might fulfil the
commands of Him who sent Him, He received the dignity
of everlasting Priest, and the honour of supreme King,
and the authority of Judge, and the name of God."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bruce Malina's Take on New Jerusalem

Salvete omnes:

The books I'm referencing in this blog entry are Bruce Malina's Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation and The New Jerusalem in the Revelation of John.

I must initially place my biases on the table before presenting what Malina has to write about Rev. 21:16. Having read through his social-science commentary on Revelation and most of his book about the New Jerusalem, I must admit that I am not overly impressed with Malina's method of explaining Revelation's contents. John was more than some seer beholding "visions" as a result of some altered state of consciousness (ASC): it seems that he was divinely inspired by God to behold visions and record them for later generations. I just had to get that out of the way.

While I am not a big fan of Malina's approach to the GNT, his comments on Rev. 21:16 appear to be quite helpful. In The New Jerusalem, Malina notes that the "holy city" is "of astronomical proportions, since it measures 12,000 stadia in length, width, and height" (page 54).

After observing that the city is a cube, Malina cites Pliny's Natural History which reports that a Greek stadion is equivalent to 125 Roman paces or 625 feet. The city of New Jerusalem, if measured in accordance with Pliny's comments, would extend through half of the US and "reach the height of 260 Mount Everests (the top of Mount Everest stands 29,028 feet above sea level). Furthermore, the city was of transparent gold, 'gold like pure crystal'" (Ibid).

A simple point I want to make is that the city of New Jerusalem which John saw coming down out of heaven from God must be symbolic. That is, unless we are to believe that one day a grand polis which can extend through half of the United States and is simultaneously equal in height to 260 Mount Everests will somehow literally fit on the earth as the new city further shines in all its golden splendor.

I don't think so. :-)

Friday, August 05, 2011

My Amazon Review of Tim Weldon's Book "Subtle Wisdom"

Review of Subtle Wisdom: John Duns Scotus's Philosophy of the Human Person

The Franciscan friar John Duns Scotus is known as the "Subtle Doctor" (Doctor Subtilis). He earned this designation by showing evidence that his mind was acute or capable of making important distinctions. Whether one agrees with Scotus doctrinally or philosophically, his thoughts on metaphysics and the human person are worthy of consideration. The late Etienne Gilson appropriately said that Scotus was no "mean metaphysician." In this small but effective work on Scotus, Tim Weldon clearly and intriguingly brings out the significance of Scotus' thought on the human person.

In the work "Subtle Wisdom" we learn about the historical background of Duns Scotus. The Subtle Doctor was apparently born in Scotland, educated at Oxford, lectured and served as regent master of theology in France, then died at Cologne (Germany). The year 1992 was also important from a Scotist perspective in view of the fact that Pope John Paul II pronounced Scotus "Blessed," thereby paving the way to sainthood for the Medieval thinker. It's also interesting to discover that Scotus produced a number of complex philosophical-theological works in his short lifetime. Weldon provides an approximate chronological outline of Scotus' oeuvre on pages 11-12. Editions for these works and their Latin titles are supplied in this portion of Weldon's book.

What constitutes the human person for Scotus? What does it mean to be a person? Weldon insists that Scotus would summarize human personhood in terms of love (page 14). That is the Franciscan way. To demonstrate this point, Weldon quotes Augustine of Hippo ("My weight is my love"), The Seraphic Doctor (Bonaventure) and other Franciscans who bear witness to the idea that Franciscans tend to define the human person within the context of love while affirming a teleology that represents God as the final cause of all things (human beings included). All things have come from God; hence, all things return to Him.

For Scotus, not only are we knowers, we are principally and inherently lovers as well. The Bible commands that we love God first, then it enjoins us to love our neighbors. Love is that which defines human persons: other theologians have called love "the primal ethical." But just what does the term "love" mean? Plato visited this question in his famous work "Symposium." However, in everyday conversation, the word "love" is used somewhat ambiguously. Scotus nonetheless views the will as "the seat of love and ethical action in the human person" (51). He argues that the will is rational, it's the locus of choice that is capable of acting in harmony with reason. Since for Scotus, the will's object is the good (bonum), the will "is inclined to self-determine in accordance with the good" (53). He also believes that we have no greater obligation than to love God (Deus diligendus est). Yet love for neighbor and ourselves is presupposed in the command to love God. And how do we manifest love for God or neighbor unless such love is willed by us?

Weldon touches on an aspect of Scotus' thought that can be particularly difficult to understand, namely, the philosophical concept of haecceities. Scotus coined the Latin term "haecceitas." Although it may be to some extent opaque, the concept seems to reveal something profound about the human person. Human persons are unique: they are "unequivocally, irreducibly, and indivisibly unique" for Scotus (66). The teaching about haecceities thus emphasizes the metaphysical role of individuation or it seeks to clarify in what sense things are individuated. Haecceitas literally means "thisness" (68). It potentially signifies the personal and indistinguishable nature of humans:

"As a determining, individuating principle, the genius of the concept of haecceity and its sacred reality has to be understood within the Franciscan worldview, specifically the Scotistic framework of creation and the place of the human person within creation" (70).

Weldon has briefly provided readers with a preliminary education of the Subtle Doctor.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tertullian's Exegesis of Isaiah 44:24 (Adversus Praxean 19)

"By thus attaching the Son to Himself, He becomes His own interpreter in what sense He stretched out the heavens alone, meaning alone with His Son, even as He is one with His Son. The utterance, therefore, will be in like manner the Son's, 'I have stretched out the heavens alone,' because by the Word were the heavens established. Inasmuch, then, as the heaven was prepared when Wisdom was present in the Word, and since all things were made by the Word, it is quite correct to say that even the Son stretched out the heaven alone, because He alone ministered to the Father's work. It must also be He who says, 'I am the First, and to all futurity I AM.' The Word, no doubt, was before all things. 'In the beginning was the Word'; and in that beginning He was sent forth by the Father. The Father, however, has no beginning, as proceeding from none; nor can He be seen, since He was not begotten. He who has always been alone could never have had order or rank. Therefore, if they have determined that the Father and the Son must be regarded as one and the same, for the express purpose of vindicating the unity of God, that unity of His is preserved intact; for He is one, and yet He has a Son, who is equally with Himself comprehended in the same Scriptures."

Monday, July 04, 2011

Some Links About Tertullian On This Blog

I hope these might also be helpful.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Omniscience, God and Time

What does it mean for a rational subject to be omniscient (as that word is commonly applied to the divine)? Does it require that a rational subject know all states of affairs (past, present and future) as actual or only as possible? Certain theologians and philosophers have called the traditional view of omniscience into question. For example, Owen Thomas (a contemporary systematic theologian) suggests that God may know all that it is possible to know: not every actual state of affairs. We also have the open theists who believe (I'm generalizing here) that the future is partly open to God and partly closed. In other words, God does not exhaustively know the future.

Similarly with the issue of time. Nicholas Wolterstorff and William Hasker have both maintained that God possibly has his own time-strand. Maybe God is everlasting in the sense that he had no beginning and will have no end. That is to say, God is always temporal, but his temporality differs from ours (See Psalm 90:2).

To be honest, I cannot make sense of a timeless God. It seems to conflict with what we know about agency in general. What does it mean for an agent (a doer) to be timeless? How does thinking, knowing or awareness occur/exist in a timeless sphere of being? This is not to say that God must be temporal if he is agential. I just don't understand how we correlate agency with divine timelessness.

Finally, if God is the ultimate first cause, then how do we explain the concept of atemporal causation? This argument was raised by Stephen T. Davis in Logic and the Nature of God. It has since been discussed in subsequent works of philosophy, yet, I'm not sure that the question has been answered in a satisfactory manner.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Justin Martyr Questions And A Link

I've been using the resources on Google Books to peruse texts of Justin Martyr and sources regarding his thought. I'm still curious about why the Latin texts sometimes take precedence over the Greek texts of his work. Of course, we could suggest that bias is responsible for this phenomenon but I also wonder if there are not other mitigating factors involved. You might want to consult the link at

It's for the work by Carl Gottlob Semisch Justin Martyr: his life, writings and opinions, tr. by J.E. Ryland



Monday, May 02, 2011

Justin Martyr on the Anonymous God of Christianity and Judaism

The ancient writer Justin Martyr contends that
God does not have a personal name. He is not
alone in his belief that God is anonymous.

Justin Martyr's comments are probably rhetorical or
somewhat hyperbolic. However, he still thought that
it was quite grave to name the (putatively) ineffable
and anonymous God. C. C. Richardson writes concerning
the Martyr's attitude toward the nameless God:

"Justin was aware that the Old Testament divine name
was used for magical purposes (as Iao and the like),
and hence his vigorous condemnation of a practice he
considers not only wrong (as all Jews would) but

See C. C. Richardson, Fathers, 283.

Justin himself writes: "And all the Jews even now
teach that the nameless
God spoke to Moses" (Apology 1.63).

For the Martyr, the only expression that fittingly
describes deity is hO WN:

"For God cannot be called by any proper name, for
names are given to mark out and distinguish their
subject-matters, because these are many and diverse;
but neither did any one exist before God who could
give Him a name, nor did He Himself think it right to
name himself, seeing that he is one and unique, as he
himself also by His own prophets testifies, when He
says, 'I God am the first,' and after this, 'And
beside me there is no other God.' On this account,
then, as I before said, God did not, when He sent
Moses to the Hebrews, mention any name, but by a
participle he mystically teaches them that he is the
one and only God. 'For,' says he; 'I am the Being,'
manifestly contrasting Himself, 'the Being,' with
those who are not, that those who had hitherto been
deceived might see that they were attaching
themselves, not to beings, but to those who had no
being" (Hortatory Address to the Greeks, 21).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Plan for 2011

Hi all,

I want to submit blog posts that will touch on my research projects. I have some book plans and ideas for journal articles. My plan is to submit research work to this blog in 2011.

All the best,


Origen of Alexandria on God's Hardening of Pharoah

"And now we must return an answer also to those who would have the God of the law to be just only, and not also good; and let us ask such in what manner they consider the heart of Pharaoh to have been hardened by God— by what acts or by what prospective arrangements. For we must observe the conception of a God who in our opinion is both just and good, but according to them only just. And let them show us how a God whom they also acknowledge to be just, can with justice cause the heart of a man to be hardened, that, in consequence of that very hardening, he may sin and be ruined. And how shall the justice of God be defended, if He Himself is the cause of the destruction of those whom, owing to their unbelief (through their being hardened), He has afterwards condemned by the authority of a judge? For why does He blame him, saying, 'But since you will not let My people go, lo, I will smite all the first-born in Egypt, even your first-born,' and whatever else was spoken through Moses by God to Pharaoh? For it behooves every one who maintains the truth of what is recorded in Scripture, and who desires to show that the God of the law and the prophets is just, to render a reason for all these things, and to show how there is in them nothing at all derogatory to the justice of God, since, although they deny His goodness, they admit that He is a just judge, and creator of the world. Different, however, is the method of our reply to those who assert that the creator of this world is a malignant being, i.e., a devil."

See Origen of Alexandria's De Principiis III.1.9

Saturday, March 26, 2011

God the Father and Genderlessness

John Cooper writes:

"From the time of the Church Fathers, teachers of the
faith have used this doctrine [of divine
genderlessness] to explain that calling God Father
does not imply that God is masculine. Thus the
doctrine helps us rightly to interpret Scripture. It
prevents us from wrongly inferring from the gendered
language in Scripture that God is masculine while we
work to understand what this language does mean . . ."
(Our Father in Heaven, pages 188-189).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Justin Martyr and the Eternal Generation

(1) I do not understand Justin to say that the LOGOS
or SOPHIA is eternally generated by the Father.
Granted, the LOGOS [in Justin] is begotten
prior to and for the purpose of creatures. However,
that does not mean that Justin professes or affirms
the eternal generation of the Son-Logos. Edmund Fortman,
a scholar who argues that Justin believes the LOGOS is divine,
nonetheless writes:

"It is not clear whether the eternal Logos is
eternally a distinct divine person [in Justin], as
some scholars think, or originally a power in God that
only becomes a divine person shortly before creation
of the world when He emanates to create the world, as
others believe. Nor is it clear that Justin held an
eternal generation of the Son, as some maintain, or
merely an 'economic' emission of the Son in order to
be creator, as others hold" (The Triune God, page 46).

(2) I find it highly unlikely that Justin posited
an/the eternal generation doctrine. He explicitly states that
the LOGOS is begotten by the Father's will. This information
suggests that the Son's generation is a contingent act.
In other words, it is logically possible that the
Father might not have generated the Son. The Son is
not SEMPER NATUS for Justin. The logical implications of God
generating the Son by means of the divine will
motivated Athanasius to maintain that God generates
the Son by nature, not will (See Contra Arianos

Monday, March 14, 2011

Irenaeus on Free Will

Irenaeus writes:

"This expression [of our Lord], 'How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not,' set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests (ad utendum sententia) of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves. On the other hand, they who have not obeyed shall, with justice, be not found in possession of the good, and shall receive condign punishment: for God did kindly bestow on them what was good; but they themselves did not diligently keep it, nor deem it something precious, but poured contempt upon His super-eminent goodness. Rejecting therefore the good, and as it were spuing [sic] it out, they shall all deservedly incur the just judgment of God, which also the Apostle Paul testifies in his Epistle to the Romans, where he says, 'But dost thou despise the riches of His goodness, and patience, and long-suffering, being ignorant that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest to thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.' 'But glory and honour,' he says, 'to every one that doeth good.' God therefore has given that which is good, as the apostle tells us in this Epistle, and they who work it shall receive glory and honour, because they have done that which is good when they had it in their power not to do it; but those who do it not shall receive the just judgment of God, because they did not work good when they had it in their power so to do."

See Adversus Haereses IV.37.1

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tertullian on God's Spirit Body

"For who will deny that God is a body, although 'God is a Spirit?' For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form" (Adversus Praxean 7, Dr. Peter Holmes English Translation from 1870).

"quis enim negabit deum corpus esse, etsi deus spiritus est? spiritus enim corpus sui generis in sua effigie" (Adversus Praxean 7.8, Ernest Evans' Latin text from 1948)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Answering Rob Bowman's "Explanation" of John 5:19ff

Rob Bowman writes:

"In context, Jesus has just been accused of the SIN of
violating the Sabbath (John 5:18). In response, Jesus
stoutly maintains that he would never act
independently of the Father (John v. 19a), but always
does what the Father does (v. 19b). To assert that the
text has nothing to do with Christ's sinlessness
reflects, well, a highly 'superficial' reading of the

My Reply:

Jn 5:19 is a response to two accusations: (1) Jesus
has broken the Sabbath; (2) the Son was calling God
his Father, seemingly making himself equal to God. In
reply, Jesus does not say that "he would never act
independently of the Father." Rather, he utters the

In _The Christology of the Fourth Gospel_, Paul N.
Anderson (pp. 3, 267) observes that Jesus is asserting
that he "can do nothing on his own authority" and is
"totally dependent" on his Father. For Anderson, Jn
5:19 is a Johannine "subordinationist" passage. In
other words, Christ is evidently stating that he does
not have the ability (OU DUNATAI) or authority to act
on his own initiative. He is not suggesting that he
would or could never act on his own. Such
sentiments are much too strong and misrepresent the
intentional (i.e. pragmatic) meaning of Jesus' words.
Moreover, when Jesus says that he does that which he
beholds the Father doing, the Greek hA is delimited by the
context. In particular, the things Jesus' Father does
have to do with sustaining the creation. Jn 5:17
supports this point by showing that God's ability to
split seas or know all things is not the issue.
Robertson also offers this comment:

"Can do nothing by himself (ou dunatai poiein aph'
heautou ouden). True in a sense of every man, but in a
much deeper sense of Christ because of the intimate
relation between him and the Father. See this same
point in Joh_5:30; Joh_7:28; Joh_8:28; Joh_14:10.
Jesus had already made it in Joh_5:17. Now he repeats
and defends it" (Word Pictures).

This certainly indicates that Robertson does not think
Christ's declaration means that he could not sin. In
conclusion, I agree with Charles Hodge (_Systematic
Theology_ 2:457) who argued that the temptations of
Christ were neither genuine nor effectual, if the Son
was impeccable or incapable of sinning. I also believe
that a free moral agent is one who always maintains the ability
to perform A (an action) or to refrain from performing A. Christ
was a free moral agent. He could thus choose to act
independently of the Father, if he so desired.
However, the Son would then have been impotent or incapable
of healing anyone or doing any good portentous works
(Acts 2:22 NWT).


Friday, February 25, 2011

John Goldingay on Isaiah 66:24

John Goldingay (New International Biblical Commentary)
makes this brief comment about the "burning" mentioned
in Isaiah 66:24:

"The book actually closes (v. 24) with an imaginary
picture of the contrast between the worship of the
temple mount and the nearby burning in the Valley of
Hinnom (see on 30:33; 50:11). While this burning may
go on continually, it is hardly equivalent to the
medieval notion of people suffering the pain of
burning in hell forever" (page 373).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tertullian of Carthage and Christological Subordination

Tertullian believes that the Son of God is PORTIO TOTIUS whereas the Father is TOTA SUBSTANTIA (Adversus Praxean 9). Later trinitarian formulae, however, saw no need to employ this specific kind of subordinationist nomenclature. On the other hand, Tertullian insisted that the important difference between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit pertained to the STATUS of the Father, not his GRADUS (Adversus Praxean 2). However, despite affirming that the Son is "from the substance of God"(DE SUBSTANTIA DEI), Tertullian nevertheless indicates that the Son lacks certain divine-constituting properties that the Father uniquely instantiates. For an excellent scholarly treatment on the difference between the Latin terms STATUS and GRADUS, see Grillmeier's famed work on Christology. Jean Danielou's history of doctrine in
the Latin church is also highly recommended.

Best regards,


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ranko Stefanovic on Rev 1:1 and SHMAINW

From _Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the
Book of Revelation_. Berrien Springs, Michigan:
Andrews University Press, 2002.

"The Greek word SHMAINW ('to signify,' 'to show by a
sign or symbol," 'to explain,' 'to convey in a sign or
symbol,' 'to make known') means specifically to convey
or make known by some sort of sign. In other places in
the New Testament, the word is used consistently for a
figurative presentation that pointed to a future
event. Jesus signified 'the kind of death by which he
was to die' (John 12:33; 18:32; cf. 21:19). The
prophet Agabus signified under the inspiration of the
Spirit a great famine during the reign of Claudius
(Acts 11:28). The word SHMAINW ('sign-i-fy') in
Revelation 1:1 indicates that the visions of
Revelation were communicated to John in figurative or
symbolic presentation" (page 54).

"John explains further that the revelation given to
him is signified by Jesus Christ. The contents of
Revelation are not photographic descriptions of the
heavenly realities or coming events to be understood
in a literal way; they are rather expressed in
figurative or symbolic language. The text seems to
indicate that it is not John but God who chose the
symbols of Revelation" (page 58).


Friday, February 11, 2011

MORPHE and OUSIA in Christological Context

Regarding the Greek words OUSIA and MORPHE

"If we stress the classical usage of this term [MORPHE], the technical sense of Aristotelian philosophy suggests itself: MORPHE, although not equivalent to OUSIA ('being, essence'), speaks of essential or characteristic attributes and thus is to be distinguished from SCHEMA(the changeable, external fashion). In a valuable essay on MORPHE and SCHEMA, [Lightfoot] argued along these lines and remarked that even in popular usage these respective meanings could be ascertained. The many references where MORPHE is used of physical appearance . . . make it difficult to maintain Lightfoot's precise distinction, though there is an important element of truth in his treatment" (Moises Silva, Philippians, 113-114).

According to F.E. Peters (Greek Philosophical Terms), OUSIA can mean "substance, existence" (page 149). Peters has more to say about OUSIA in Aristotle, but I will just quote this brief snippet:

"OUSIA [in Plato] even approaches the Aristotelian usage as 'essence' in Phaedo 65d, 92d, and Phaedrus 245e where it is equivalent to 'definition'" (Peters, pages 149-150).

MORPHE is possibly a cognate word of the Latin term FORMA.



Saturday, February 05, 2011

Does God Send Delusions? (2 Thess 2:11)

The KJV 2 reads (Thess 2:11-12):

"And for this cause God shall send them strong
delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they
all might be damned who believed not the truth, but
had pleasure in unrighteousness."

This verse and others like it contained in the Bible
can understandably result in some confusion if the biblical usage
of divine permission is not reckoned with properly.

The Greek of 2 Thess 2:11 is


The NWT renders the Greek of this passage thus:

"So that is why God lets an operation of error go to
them, that they may get to believing the lie . . ."

This translation seems adequate in light of the way
that God (YHWH) is often said to cause events which He
really permits to happen. Examples of this usage occur
in the OT (Gn 3:16; Jer 8:10) and even Paul employs
this type of language in his writings (Cf. Rom
11:7-8). The point of Thessalonians therefore seems to
be that God permits those following the man of sin to
experience Satanic error and delusion. But surely the
God of truth does not send forth error, does He (Ps

The apostle Paul writes that it is impossible for God to
lie (Tit 1:2). I consequently find it hard to accept C.W.
Wannamaker's suggestion in The Epistles to the
Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (pp.
261-262) that God wittingly sends forth delusion to
those who reject the Christian message of salvation in
order to ensure they will never accept the
Gospel of God's Kingdom and His dear Son (Compare 2
Cor 4:3-4). It seems more plausible to me (as
Rotherham notes in his Emphasized Bible) that God
allows those who reject the good news to be deceived.
God Himself, however, does not serve as the "deluding
influence" (contra Wannamaker). On the grammatical and exegetical level, this point also seems to be sustained.

George Milligan (St. Paul's Epistles to the
Thessalonians: The Greek Text with Introduction and
Notes) though disagreeing, cites the post-Nicene
Bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia who writes:
"Concessionem Dei quasi opus eius."

Greg Boyd (an open theist) also pens the following:

"This passage is sometimes cited as evidence that the
delusions that unbelievers embrace are as much a part
of God's sovereign will as believers' enlightenment.
Yet, compatiblists insist, this occurs in such a way
that unbelievers are responsible for their delusions
though believers have only God to thank for their
enlightenment. There is a less paradoxical
(contradictory?) interpretation of this passage
available to us.

First, we should note that the passage says that God
'sends...powerful that all who have not
believed...will be condemned' (emphasis added). The
delusions God sends doesn't explain why unbelievers
don't believe. It only explains how God responds to
their unbelief. He condemns it.

Second, it is not too difficult to surmise how God
might 'send powerful delusions' in response to
unbelief without directly attributing deception to
God. We saw earlier (Judg. 9:23; 2 Sam. 24:1, 1 Chron.
21:1) that sometimes the intentions of evil spirits
fit in with God's intention to judge people. There is
a certain poetic justice in letting deceiving spirits
delude people who have already demonstrated that they
want to believe lies. This conception may lie behind
Paul's word to the Thessalonians."

Oftentimes, God is said to cause things that He simply permits. It would not be just to harden someone's heart and then condemn them for remaining obstinate. Nor would God overstep His own laws. Deut 32:4 calls Him the "rock." He is the faithful and steadfast Creator of all things, who does not waver from His own standards of justice (1 Pet 4:19).

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Kevin Giles on the Catholic and Evangelical Espousal of Slavery


This post is taken from something I once submitted to a yahoogroup.
I reviewed Kevin Giles' work entitled Trinity and Subordinationism. In particular, it will focus on what he has to say about the "proslavery" tradition in Christianity and tie together some loose ends. I also encourage everyone here to read my review of Giles' book on amazon.

By the "proslavery tradition," Giles means the evangelical and Catholic line of thought that espoused slavery as a divine institution or (at least) as an institution that resulted from the Edenic Fall but which God used to ordain different roles in the fallen social order. As was pointed out last night, as late as 1957, one theologian was still touting slavery as a divine institution. The proslavery tradition only ended when evangelicals and other Christians began to read the Bible through a different set of cultural lenses, Giles contends. We will now consider quotes presented by Giles in The Trinity and Subordinationism:

I. Quotes from The Trinity and Subordinationism

"We are not mistaken in concluding that the Negro race, as a people, are judicially given over to a state of peculiar liability of being enslaved by other races" (Reverend Josiah Priest in Bible Defense of Slavery. See Giles, 223).

The one who allegedly gave the "Negro race" over to other races for the purpose of slavery was God, Priest insisted. His words were penned in 1855.

"God sanctions slavery in the first table of the Decalogue, and Moses treats it as an institution to be regulated, not abolished, legitimated and not condemned" (The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of America in Dec 1861).

"The fact that the Mosaic institutions recognized the lawfulness of slavery is a point too plain to need proof, and is almost universally admitted" (Charles Hodge).

Regarding the Pauline texts on slavery and how evangelicals once commonly read them, Brian Dodd writes:

"Thousands of expository sermons were preached on these texts, sending many of the half million Southern soldiers to their deaths confident that God was on their side" (See Giles, 227).

Characteristic of the evangelical attitude at that time is this comment made by Robert L. Dabney:

"The Negro . . . is a subservient race; he is made to follow, and not to lead."

We could provide more quotations, but the ones we have provided above are sufficient for now. They all make the same point, namely:

"The evidence is clear. For almost nineteen centuries, Christians believed that the Bible endorsed and legitimated both the institution and the practice of slavery. In the nineteenth century the best Reformed theologians developed this tradition into an impressive biblical theology of slavery" (Giles, 230).

To be fair, evangelical and Reformed theologians did not approve of many cruelties or sexual exploits that African slaves suffered. Nevertheless, they did approve of the institution that was responsible for such atrocities.

II. What Changed the Evangelical or Christian outlook?

Giles seems to think that God Himself acted in history so that the eyes of certain believers might be opened to the evils of slavery (Giles, p. 235). This is apparently supported by the simultaneous opposition to slavery that Quakers, latitudinarians and evangelicals showed in the second half of the 18th century. Around this time period, we read about men condemning slavery as "a hellish practice" or "the greatest sin in the world." John Wesley writes against slavery in 1774 and others followed in his wake. Some Enlightenment thinkers who railed against the institution of slavery were Voltaire, Charles-Louis Montesquieu (his view was actually confused since he did not view Negroes as being fully human), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Giles notes that it was the evangelicals who primarily devoted their efforts and resources to the abolition of slavery: men such as Charles J. Finney, Thomas Weld and John Newton. I might also add Granville Sharp to Giles' list.

A comparison with modern evangelical works shows that the evangelical view of slavery and the Catholic view has most surely changed. What, however, brought about the change in viewpoint? Giles thinks it was a shift in cultural presuppositions, possibly the result of divine intervention, that brought about the change. He also believes that culture determines how evangelicals (among others) interpret the Trinity doctrine and the place of women in society and the church. Whatever one may think of Giles' approach to the Trinity doctrine, I have found his book to be very important and of interest. I hope to one day critique it and more clearly show its strengths and weaknesses.