Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ronald Nash on Omniscience and Divine Foreknowledge

Here's a piece I'm always working on, and I've now decided to post this version on the blog.

This study will focus on Ronald Nash's analysis of future-tensed propositions within the context of divine omniscience. At stake is the issue of whether future-tensed propositions have any truth value and, if not, how does the lack of truth value for future-tensed propositions affect our understanding of divine omniscience?

Ronald Nash discusses future-tensed propositions in his work The Concept of God (55). [See also Rosenkrantz and Ockham.] The important question is whether propositions about the future have truth values (whether they are true or false). In order to address this question, Nash uses the familiar Aristotelian example concerning a sea-battle: "There will be a sea fight tomorrow." Is this proposition about the future true or false? [See Gerard Hughes]

If the proposition is now true (presently) then it would seem that there must be a sea-battle tomorrow which would entail that fatalism is true. [explain the difference between fatalism and determinism] Conversely, it is possible to read Aristotle's argument as an example of argumentum reductio ad absurdum (Nash, 56). add note. Nash quotes Anthony Kenny to this effect. Kenny maintains that if "future-tensed propositions about singulars" [qualification] are now true, then fatalism logically follows from the statement about the sea-battle. Yet fatalism is evidently absurd, so it is false. On the other hand, "since many future events are not yet determined" (Kenny) it seems that propositions or claims regarding future-tensed propositions that reference singulars have no truth-value (they are neither true nor false). See Nash, 56. Granting the truth of what Kenny has written without necessarily accepting it, Nash then applies Aristotle's argument to the case of future (free) human actions. He insists that if these acts have no truth-value, if they are neither yet true nor false, then not even an omniscient God has the power to know future human actions.

Nash contends that the Aristotelian view greatly hampers God's scientia to the extent that God cannot predict what Peter or Abraham will do in the future because if Peter or Abraham act freely (evidently defined in a libertarian sense), their actions putatively cannot be known. Foretelling the future becomes logically impossible for God (Nash 56). At best, it appears that God is an excellent guesser based on probable outcomes about the future. But if the future (free) actions of humans are unknowable, then God is not omniscient in the classical sense of the word. Nash therefore suggests that it is difficult to harmonize Aristotle's view of truth-values with the "scriptural" articulation of divine omniscience. [See Joel Green, et. al.]

Nash then posits that one model of divine omniscience which might result in a harmonization between divine omniscience and human freedom is what he labels "book of the future." The book of the future model is analogical language that sets forth three scenarios which account theoretically for God's knowing what S will freely do.

1) The first scenario depicts God opening the figurative "book of the future," wherein he finds every "true proposition about the future" (57). God's knowledge of all true propositions that concern the future (particularly those propositions about singulars) betokens (according to this model of divine omniscience and human free will) that God exhaustively knows all things (i.e. events) that "will" happen in the future (57).

2) According to the second possible scenario of this model, God figuratively opens the book of the future but finds that each page is blank. What is being described by Nash in this instance is the view of Aristotle that there are no truth-values concerning future propositions that reference singulars. If Aristotle is correct, Nash contends, then God (the deity of Scripture) cannot infallibly know future events nor can any other being know what will occur in the future. But maybe those who affirm God's omniscience do not have reason to be troubled since all that may follow logically from Aristotle's view is that God knows all that it is possible to know. [Swinburne and Thomas] It may not be possible to know with infallible certainty events that have not yet occurred.

3) The third possible scenario discussed by Nash is that the book of the future is just not complete: "some pages contain propositions, there are gaps, sometimes very large gaps. Many pages may be completely blank" (Nash, 57). Nash argues that this scenario indicates that God may have only "partial knowledge" concerning future events in view of the fact that God possibly elects to restrict what he knows about the future so that human free will may be safeguarded. This view appears to make the claim that God knows that what he has willed must occur but God does not know or elects not to know those future events which have not been willed in accordance with his sovereign purpose (57). The view that Nash identifies as the third scenario is reminiscent of what Jehovah's Witnesses say about divine omniscience and human freedom.

"The Things Written" in 1 Corinthians 4:6

2 Pet. 1:20, 21 indicates that Scripture is Re Vera Vox Dei. The apostle proclaims that men "spoke from God" as they were carried along by holy spirit. This passage appears to uphold and articulate the unparalleled supremacy of Scripture.

Another verse which undoubtedly harmonizes with the passage in 2 Peter is 1 Cor. 4:6:

Ταῦτα δέ, ἀδελφοί, μετεσχημάτισα εἰς ἐμαυτὸν καὶ Ἀπολλὼν δι' ὑμᾶς, ἵνα ἐν ἡμῖν μάθητε τό Μὴ ὑπὲρ ἃ γέγραπται, ἵνα μὴ εἷς ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἑνὸς φυσιοῦσθε κατὰ τοῦ ἑτέρου (W-H of 1881)

In this portion of Paul's exhortatio, we find a ἵνα (purpose) clause followed by the prepositional phrase ἐν ἡμῖν. The author then employs the aorist subjunctive active (μάθητε) followed by a particle of negation (Μὴ).

γέγραπται is the perfect indicative middle/passive form of γράφω. It would therefore seem that we could render part of the apostle's words as follows:

"that by our example you might learn the rule: "Do not go beyond the things that are written."

"in order to teach you by our example what those words mean, which say, 'Nothing beyond what is written!'" (Weymouth NT)

At issue, in this case, is what γέγραπται references. Does it mean, 'the things that Paul has written to the Corinthians in his first letter'? Or does it refer to something else?

Based on the context and the lexical significance of 1 Cor. 4:6, I would suggest that γέγραπται points to the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures that Paul quoted profusely in his letter to the Corinthians. These sacred writings are not to be transgressed (the aorist verb μάθητε indicates a totality/wholeness of action): their summative counsel is to be implicitly obeyed.

From Vincent's Word Studies:

Not to go beyond the things which are written (τὸ μὴ ὑπὲρ ἃ γέγραπται)

Lit. (that ye might learn) the not beyond what stands written. The article the introduces a proverbial expression. The impersonal it is written is commonly used of Old-Testament references.

Now if the Bible tells us not to go beyond what the OT prescribes for us, how much more should we not go beyond the written instructions contained in the NT. It therefore seems that the Bible--God's written Word as a whole--is the final court of appeal and the Norma Normans of the Christian ecclesia.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Human Freedom and God's Foreknowledge (Determinism)

I had a discussion with one of my students this semester on free will, since I was teaching a class that explored the subject from many different perspectives. I wrote:

If we say,"I wore a blue shirt today, and God knew I would wear a blue shirt today," the problem is that God's knowledge becomes located in the past by means of the perfect tense "knew" and the subjunctive verb "would" (within this context) indicates that an event might potentially happen. So Boethius and Aquinas completely remove time from the equation which is admittedly difficult when all we have is human language, yet some languages may be tenseless or express concepts tenselessly with relative ease. Putting those issues aside for a moment, here's another problem.

1) God cannot hold a mistaken belief (premise based on divine omniscience)
2) At T1 (some point in the past), God believes that I will wear a blue shirt at T2.
3) Therefore, I will wear a blue shirt at T2.

The implication from this argument is that I cannot do otherwise than wear a blue shirt at T2. Now you may counter by arguing that God's knowledge at T1 did not cause me to wear a blue shirt at T2. Let's say that I grant your point; still, it's hard for me to see how I can do otherwise at T2 if God knows what I'm going to do at T1. If I do other than what God believes I would do at T2, then I thereby falsify God's belief at T1. And I don't think either one of us want to accept that idea.

Friday, May 16, 2014

David J. Williams and the Man of Sin (Lawlessness)

David J. Williams thinks that we cannot say "who" or "what" the man of lawlessness is. He writes that the "man" might be "an individual or a group, a government or an institution" (David J. Williams, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 124). Yet Williams goes on to identify the man of lawlessness with the Beast in Rev. 13 and thinks that the man-beast is the Antichrist.

However, other commentators believe that the man of lawlessness represents a part of the Church: the part that apostatizes from God. Ralph Earle seems to take this stance, though his treatment of the issue is somewhat ambiguous to me. He suggests that the man is linked with apostasy in the Church and lawlessness in the land. He even contends that there was once a time "when the Bob Ingersolls railed and ranted against Christianity." But now "this opposition comes from within the Church" (Ralph Earle, Word Meanings, 375).

It's probably no secret that I would say 2 Thessalonians indicates that the man is a group of persons inside the realm of professed Christianity who apostatize from God; for it's in the Temple of God [the Christian congregation] that the "man" takes his seat (2 Thess. 2:4). He evidently declares himself to be "a god" and he is an apostate, suggesting that the man must be a professed worshiper of God who draws away from the living Deity. But another reason we might contend that the man is not an individual is mentioned in 2 Thess. 2:7, 8.

In these fateful passages, Paul writes that the mystery of lawlessness was already at work in the first century. And yet, the mystery (i.e. the man and his activities) is still present when the Lord Jesus Christ executes his righteous judgment upon this wicked age.

How could one human's life or influence extend from the first century until now? This view seems untenable to me. And if my memory serves me correctly, even Augustine of Hippo (in the City of God) said that the man of lawlessness was composed of those who went out from the Church because they were not, in the final analysis, genuine Christians. While I'm not being dogmatic about the identity of the man of lawlessness, I do believe that 2 Thessalonians is not talking about one man when it mentions this lawless and ungodly figure.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Max Zerwick on Tense or Aspect

Stanley Porter and Buist Fanning as well as K. L. McKay have drawn our attention to aspect morphology and its relationship to ancient Greek. Maximilian Zerwick also has this to say about "tense" (TEMPUS) in Biblical Greek:

"The 'future' and the 'present' do connote time so far as the name is concerned, but not even the names of the other 'tenses' express the notion of time: the name 'imperfect' connotes incompleted action and 'perfect' completed, while 'aorist' (privative A and hORIZW 'define, determine') connotes simply the action without further determination. Hence the very names of the 'tenses' warn us to distinguish carefully between the notion of the time of an action and of the manner in which the action is regarded, its 'aspect'. In fact, 'aspect' is an essential element of the Greek 'tenses' (leaving out of account the future) and hence is always distinguished by the form, whereas the time of actions is expressed in the indicative only, and in the other moods is either lacking or secondary" (Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples, p. 77. Inverted commas in original).

Yet Richard Young states: "There is good support for the contention that the morphological features associated with Greek tense indicate only aspect, not time, and that time is established by the context rather than grammatical form (cf. Porter 1989:76-83; McKay 1981:290, 296). If this contention is correct, then it would be misleading to retain the term 'tense'" (Intermediate NT Greek, 105). The examples that he gives are John 1:29 (past reference time), Acts 16:18 (present reference time), Luke 19:8 (future reference time), and John 3:18 (timeless reference).

I'm not saying that time is not grammaticalized in Greek, but I do believe that Greek tenses and moods function much differently from English or Latin tenses/moods. So do the sequence of tenses/moods. At any rate, it appears that tensed Greek are not as rigid as those in Latin.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Comments on Ecclesiastes 3:19 (Edward Feser)

The question of whether man has a soul or not has captured my attention here recently since a Catholic philosopher named Edward Feser sets forth involved and logically developed arguments for the soul. In truth, I don't have time to address every argument made by Feser--I've had a private conversation with a Catholic colleague and friend, who posited similar arguments. That conversation got derailed because of my infirmities and time constraints. But I want to finish our discussion one day also. In any event, I'm trying to adduce biblical evidence to prove that the soul is not immortal. I'm going to offer rational evidence as well in the future. Feser is a nice guy: it just seems that he's wrong about the soul.

One text to consider is Eccl 3:19 which reads:

"For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity" (NASB).

Some commentators try to explain this verse by making a distinction between "soul" and "breath":

"For that which befalleth, &c. — They are subject to the same diseases, pains, and casualties. So dieth the other — As certainly, and no less painfully. They have all one breath — One breath of life, which is in their nostrils; by which the beasts perform the same animal functions. For he speaks not here of man's rational and immortal spirit, nor of the future life. So that a man hath no pre-eminence, &c. — In respect of the present life" (Benson Commentary).

See JFB Bible Commentary and Gill's Exposition of the Bible for similar attempts to exegete this passage. Matthew Poole's Commentary likewise claims that Eccl 3:19 means:

"one breath of life, which is in their nostrils; one and the same living soul, by which the beasts perform the same vital and animal operations. For he speaks not here of man's rational and immortal spirit, nor of the future life."

However, we have to ask what point Qoheleth is making here. Furthermore, does he suggest that man is composed of a soul/spirit that explains our "animal functions," and a rational spirit/soul that differentiates us from the (other) animals? Commentators apparently read that idea into Eccl 3:19. More recent scholars have pointed out that the verse is emphasizing our mortality or the sense in which we're just like earthly beasts. We must ask ourselves which interpretation of Eccl 3:19 harmonizes with other statements about death found in this Bible book (cf. 9:5, 10). We can account for Eccl 12:7 as well when we take into consideration how the writer is employing the word "breath" or "spirit."

Compare Duane Garrett's perceptive observations concerning this passage: http://books.google.com/books?id=p88xjLZQXP8C&pg=PA254&dq=ecclesiastes+3:19+commentary&hl=en&sa=X&ei=SxhkU43zI4OxyAS53oCgCQ&ved=0CFsQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q=ecclesiastes%203%3A19%20commentary&f=false