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 reads (2 Thessalonians 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 Thessalonians 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 31:5)?

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.

The Body of God, Tertullian of Carthage and Jehovah's Witnesses

What influenced Tertullian's view of God's corpus? Why did he believe that God (although he is spirit) has a body? Firstly, Tertullian's belief is basically informed by Stoicism but I don't think that it is only Greek philosophy which shapes his view of universal corporeity (i.e. the doctrine which asserts that every existent thing has a body). His view may have been influenced by the notion that existing things must have some kind of tangible substance in order to exist.

It is also true that Tertullian is possibly the only early theologian to argue that God has a body of any kind. I've read that Melito of Sardis affirmed the same doctrine. However, I have yet to come across an explicit mention of this doctrine in the writings of Melito. The early writers of the church tended to view God as incorporeal or bodiless: Origen is explicit on this matter in De Principiis. However, Lactantius and Novatian imply that God is corporeal. But they also were influenced by Stocism.

The Witness position on God's spiritual body is basically inferential. The Bible never explicitly says that God has a body. It does talk about a "spiritual body" in 1 Cor 15:42ff and what the expression in that chapter possibly signifies is a matter of debate.

Witnesses basically reason that in order to see God (1 John 3:1-3) or behold his presence (i.e. face), a divine spiritual body must exist (Hebrews 9:24; Rev 22:5). God must be corporeal in some sense. I guess that one could also reason that since Christ has a body and he is the image of God, then the Father likely has a body too (1 Cor 15:45-49) I ultimately believe the best that one can do is to make a circumstantial case for God's spiritual body since the Bible is silent on the matter. It does not discuss God's body or state that he has one which is not to say that I'm denying God's actual or possible corporeality. I'm just contending that we might have to accept the limits of what can be known about this subject and be content therewith.

Louw and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon says the following about the term PNEUMATIKOS in 1 Cor 15:44:

"pertaining to not being physical-'not physical, not material, spiritual.'" This resource adds the following observation: "In some languages the concept of 'spiritual body' can only be expressed negatively as 'the body will not have flesh and bones' or 'the body will not be a regular body'" (semantic domain 79.3).