Thursday, May 31, 2012

Did Anyone Enter Heaven Prior to Jesus' Death and Resurrection? (link for article)

Alvin Plantinga Meets the Logical Problem of Evil (Updated Version)

This paper will discuss logician Alvin Plantinga's approach to the logical problem of evil. My position is that Plantinga successfully rebuts the charges of this well-known challenge to theism (belief in God).

What the Logical Problem of Evil Tries to Accomplish

The logical problem of evil is a puzzle for both the theistic and non-theistic mind--a conundrum that has its roots in times of antiquity. The "problem" can be formulated thus:

(1) God is omnipotent.

(2) God is omnibenevolent.

(3) Evil exists.

The atheologian J.L. Mackie argues that 1-3 constitute an inconsistent set of (formally) contradictory propositions. Worded simply, Mackie contends that God cannot be omnipotent (almighty) or omnibenevolent (wholly good) if evil obtains. He insists that it is logically problematic for God and evil to exist or obtain simultaneously: Mackie believes that it is not a case of both-and, but either-or. Either God exists or evil exists and ne'er the twain shall meet:

In its simplest form the problem is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false. But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions: the theologian, it seems, at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three. (The problem does not arise only for theists, but I shall discuss it in the form in which it presents itself for ordinary theism.)

Quote is from J.L. Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence," Mind, New Series, 64.254. (April 1955): 200-212.

Plantinga's Reply to the Logical Problem of Evil

Conversely, Alvin Plantinga, taking a cue from Augustine of Hippo insists that it is logically possible for God to possess the objective properties of omnipotence and omnibenevolence although evil obtains. He systematically appeals to human free will and modal logic to rebut the atheistic charges of Mackie. Modal logic deals with possibility and necessity: it distinguishes between possible and necessary truths. In summary, Plantinga maintains that 1-3 above are not formally inconsistent propositions when we account for the appropriate modal distinctions. For example, he states that the following proposition is not necessarily true: "A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can."

The modal term "necessarily" is important in this argument since the next proposition also does not appear to be necessarily true: "There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do." Yet, in order for Mackie's contention to hold, Plantinga maintains that the aforesaid propositions must be not only true, but necessarily true (i.e., they cannot not be true). These claims must be true in every possible world if Mackie's argument is going to be sustained.

While S (a certain person or subject) might be a good doctor, it does not mean that S always eliminates evil (E) as far as S can. A proposition of this sort does not appear to be necessarily true since there might be substantive reasons why S (a good doctor, in this case) would not eliminate evil insofar as it's possible for S to eliminate E. For example, a doctor who has the power to remove cataracts might not immediately perform surgery on a needful patient until a later time. But this reticence would not mean that the medical professional lacks the ability or the desire to remove the cataracts.

Moreover, it seems that an all-powerful (omnipotent) being might have certain limits, believe it or not. Can an omnipotent entity bring about a contradictory state of affairs such that 2 + 2 = 5 and square circles as well as married bachelors begin to obtain? Not if the law of logical necessity holds. Nor does it seem that a maximally powerful being can change the past without violating the law of noncontradiction. So, while there might be some possible world in which an omnipotent being eliminates suffering or evil altogether, it's possible that there are other worlds in which an omnipotent being does not remove evil, even though such a being would have the requisite power to eradicate evil.

Logical Outcome of Plantinga's Argument in the Light of Scripture

There are evidently good reasons why God has permitted evil. He made rational creatures upright, but we choose our respective paths (Ecclesiastes 7:29). God evidently allows creation to exist in a state of futility until a Messianic figure should arrive to liberate creation from bondage to slavery and corruption (Romans 8:19-21). That is a plausible account of God's permission of evil based on the New Testament and logic. In any event, there are apparently good reasons why God has not eliminated evil at this time (2 Peter 3:9). Plantinga makes a similar case based on his use of modal logic.


God apparently vouchsafed free will to human beings. So does there exist a possible world (counterfactual situation) in which creatures always freely do what is right and never violate the beneficent laws of deity? In the future (based on my reading of Scripture), humans will freely do what is right for all eternity. However, at that time, there will be no devil, no Satanic world nor any sin (Revelation 20:1-10; 21:1-5).

The bottom line: 1-3 do not constitute an inconsistent propositional set. It is logically possible that God would permit evil to obtain for reasons primarily known to God. But we have been given some plausible reasons why evil persists from the pages of Judeo-Christian Scripture.


Peterson, Michael L. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.

Is Time Grammaticalized in New Testament Greek?

A burning question in New Testament Greek studies revolves around the grammaticalization of time and Greek tenses. Scholars use the terms Aktionsart (a German word that can denote "kind of action") and "aspect" to discuss this issue. This paper will explore whether Greek grammaticalizes time in the light of analyses undertaken by David Black and Rolf Furuli.

David Black on Tense and Aktionsart

Black insists that lexemes (minimal units of language having semantic content) possess "inherent aspect": they are intrinsically "durative" or "punctiliar" with regard to their aspect (80). By his use of the word "punctiliar" Black evidently means that lexical units (in some cases) may be aspectually aoristic: "The most important element of tense in the Greek verb system is the kind of action being referred to. This is called aspect or Aktionsart, and it is where the major distinction between the different tenses lies" (84).

Elsewhere, he continues: "A special morpheme indicates that the action of a verb refers to past time. This is a past time morpheme or augment, which is found in Sanskrit, Iranian, Armenian, and Greek, and only in the past tenses of the indicative mood" (Ibid., 81).

However, it's possible to distinguish verbal aspect from verbal Aktionsart. This German term refers to the kind of action being delineated by a Greek verbal tense or relation without necessarily grammaticalizing time. But the indicative mood in Greek probably does grammaticalize time, although this view certainly lends itself to more linguistic abnormalities when actual Greek constructs are studied.

Black argues that the imperfect, the aorist, and pluperfect tense "all refer to the past; the only difference between them is the kind of action, or aspect, that they indicate" (84). Therefore, we see that not every Greek scholar believes the concept of time is wholly absent from the imperfect or aorist tense. Additionally, Black speaks of time and aspect, then links aspect with Aktionsart (kind of action). But other grammarians and linguists make a clear distinction between the two categories; they do not believe that either the aorist, imperfect or pluperfect tense inherently refer to past action. Nonetheless, if Black is correct, then his comments would illuminate some anomalies encountered when reading New Testament Greek.

Rolf Furuli and the Grammaticalization of Time

On the other hand, Furuli observes that the Aktionsart of a particular verb is associated with its meaning. He reasons that the verb's contents (in this case) are not capable of being canceled. He connects Aktionsart to a word's lexical properties. That is, the verb's "kind of action" refers to the objective features conveyed by a determinate action word. The term Aktionsart also signifies that features of a particular verb retain their meaning in almost every contextual situation with hardly any exceptions.

Furuli provides the example of the verb "sing" which he notes is inherently punctiliar regarding its Aktionsart. Whether one thus says "he sang" or "he was singing," how Aktionsart is emphasized remains the same. The word "singing" is no less durative than "he sang" because of each term's intrinsic properties. Furuli defines tense as "the grammaticalization of location in time" (a definition found in Comrie). He accordingly seems to contend that Greek (with the exception of the future tense) may not have "tense" in the relevant sense discussed here. Nonetheless, a question that deserves future exploration is, what does the New Testament evidence reveal about this issue?


I have read the studies on Greek aspect and Aktionsart published by Furuli, Buist Fanning, Kenneth McKay and Stanley Porter. Yet I have been hesitant to concur with the non-temporal view of Greek tenses as a whole. There does not appear to be a good reason for completely removing the notion of time from Greek tenses, even when the future tense is not under consideration. But I do believe that verbal aspect is more prominent than the concept of time when it comes to Greek tenses. Furthermore, Daniel B. Wallace seems to have a point when he contends that a number of factors (i.e. affected and non-affected meaning) provide temporal information where Greek verbal relations are concerned.


Black, David A. Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1988.

Furuli, Rolf. The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation: With a Special Look at the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Huntington Beach, Calif: Elihu Books, 1999.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Did John Calvin Oppose Michel Servetus Over 1 John 5:7?

I once had someone ask me whether Calvin decided to push for the death of Servetus based on 1 John 5:7. Here is my answer to that question.

Servetus was executed 1553 CE in Geneva. Harold O.J. Brown (in his book "Heresies") notes that the driving impetus behind Servetus' execution was actually the imperial decree known as the Justinian Code which made it clear that heresy was a crime against the state. Although Justinian I ruled from 527-65 CE, the code bearing his name was not promulgated until a millennium later. Nevertheless, this code allowed Servetus to be executed and burned at the prosecutorial hands of Calvin. See page 186 of Brown's study.

Brown writes: "As a young man, Servetus propounded the distinctive views that ultimately led him to the stake: his On the Errors of The Trinity appeared in 1531. He held God to be one Person only; this God was the literal, natural father of Jesus Christ, who was therefore God's natural Son . . . Although Servetus denied the deity and preexistence of Christ, he too was evidently trying to grapple with Christ's overwhelming majesty; he was unable to conceive of him as a mere man, even as one adopted by God, but had to postulate a direct, natural relationship with God. Servetus was condemned to death in Geneva for his denial of the Trinity" (Brown 330).

Servetus died with the words "O Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me," on his lips. Brown concludes that "his execution in Geneva represents a stain that Reformed Protestantism has never quite been able to efface" (330).

Now back to your original question--did 1 John 5:7 influence Calvin to have Servetus executed? I do not think that we can limit Calvin's resistance to Servetus' ideas and his subsequent prosecution of Servetus to one biblical verse. Now Erasmus' Greek New Testament (1516 CE) contained the Comma Johanneum and it may have played some part in Calvin's fury. I just do not think we can say that Calvin's actions were solely based on 1 John 5:7. I would suggest that you also read Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity. On pp. 289-290, he also discusses the Servetus case and provides some information regarding how Calvin reacted after the debacle of 1553 CE.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Biblical Languages and Grammatical Gender (Holy Spirit)

Just because a Hebrew or Greek noun/pronoun is grammatically neuter does not mean that the referent of the noun/pronoun is neuter. In other words, grammatical gender does not always correspond to the sex or gender of a person or thing being thus described. So, for instance, the holy spirit is delineated by a feminine term in the Hebrew-Aramaic scriptures (ruah). However, in the Christian-Greek Scriptures (the New Testament), the writers use masculine and neuter morphological forms when referring to the spirit of God. But this language is a result of linguistic accidents (morphology). It technically does not speak to the being or ontological constitution of an entity which, in this case, is the holy spirit. After all, Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes is a feminine term. Yet it evidently describes the son of David. So I would tend to believe that not much can be gained by arguing from grammatical gender to ontological gender, although Romans 8:16 (KJV) represents an interesting verse of comparison:

"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God"

Notice how the KJV uses "itself" (a neuter pronoun) rather than "himself" (masculine).

Revised Version of the Moral Argument for God's Existence

Greetings everyone,

I'm now posting some of my writings on yahoo voices or their contributor network. If you get a chance, please check out some of my pieces that are contained there. For example, I've revised my moral argument for God's existence. You can see that paper at this link:

Thanks for all your support!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Ontological Argument Roots Found in Cyprian of Carthage

The ontological argument for God's existence often is attributed to Anselm of Canterbury (circa 1033-1109 CE). If by "argument" we mean a systematic and developed case made for a belief or set of beliefs, then yes, Anselm might be credited with the first theistic argument based on the concept of perfect existence. However, I believe the roots for the ontological argument can be found in writers like Cyprian of Carthage. For instance, he writes:

"To God who alone is, belongs the whole name of God;
therefore He is one, and He in His entirety is
everywhere diffused. For even the common people in
many things naturally confess God, when their mind and
soul are admonished of their author and origin. We
frequently hear it said, 'O God,' and 'God sees,' and
'I commend to God,' and 'God give you,' and 'as God
will,' and 'if God should grant'; and this is the very
height of sinfulness, to refuse to acknowledge Him
whom you cannot but know" (On The Vanity of Idols 9).

I have yet to see an author make this connection although someone has possibly associated Cyprian with Anselm before. I'd like to advance this idea to see if it can float.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Frederic Louis Godet's Reading of John 14:14

Frederic Louis Godet argues that the "me" in John 14:14 seems to be an "absolutely impossible" reading since it makes little sense to ask Jesus something in his own name. Compare John 15:16; 16:23-24. This commentator also insists that Tischendorf, Weiss and Westcott defend the indefensible when they argue for the genuineness of the reading "me."

See Godet's Commentary on the Gospel of John, With an Historical and Critical Introduction (page 154). It is available on Google Books for free.