Sunday, August 31, 2014

Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ (Philippians 1:19)

οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν δεήσεως καὶ ἐπιχορηγίας τοῦ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Philippians 1:19)

I would submit that Philippians 2:1 and 3:3 are helpful in understanding Philippians 1:19. In 2:1, it's possible to understand πνεύματος as referring to a "spirit" other than God's holy spirit--but its interesting to note that C.B. Williams translates 2:1 as follows: "any common share in the Spirit." Cf. Weymouth's "any common sharing of the Spirit" and Ralph Earle's Word Meanings in the NT (page 335). Additionally, Philippians 2:1 reminds me of a similar Pauline expression in 2 Corinthians 13:14: ἡ κοινωνία τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος μετὰ πάντων ὑμῶν.

2 Corinthians 13:14 contains an articular use of πνεύματος whereas Philippians 2:1 is anarthrous. However, the omission of the article in 2:1 does not mean that πνεύματος there lacks definiteness. Cf. the anarthrous use of πνεύματος in Hebrew 9:14 which could be translated: "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God" (ESV) Moreover, Philippians 3:3 seems to be a clear reference to the spirit of God(πνεύματι θεοῦ) although the construction there is similarly anarthrous.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Geza Vermes Discusses the Ancient Use of Abba

The following post is based on Jesus in His Jewish Context written by Geza Vermes. Here is what he has to say about Jesus' use of the Aramaic word Abba:

"Much has been written about the significance of the
use by Jesus of the title abba, especially by Jeremias
and his followers. In the opinion of the late
professor from Gottingen, this ipsissima vox Jesu is
unparalleled in Jewish prayer. Compared with that of the
ancient Jews, who, as one of Jeremias' pupils
explains, 'maintained the dignity of God, in so far as
they addressed him as Father at all, by scrupulously
avoiding the particular form of the word used by
children', it is the 'chatter of a small child'.
Jeremias, that is to say, understood Jesus to have
addressed God as 'Dad' or 'Daddy', but apart from the
A PRIORI improbability and incongruousness of the
theory, there seems to be no linguistic support for
it. Young children speaking Aramaic addressed their
parents as abba or imma but it was not the only
context in which abba would be employed. By the time
of Jesus, the determined form of the noun, abba ([=]
'the father'), signified also 'my father'; 'MY
father', though still attested in Qumran and biblical
Aramaic, had largely disappeared as an idiom from the
Galilean dialect. Again, abba could be used in solemn,
far from childish, situations such as the fictional
altercation between the patriarchs Judah and Joseph
reported in the Palestinian Targum, when the furious
Judah threatens the governor of Egypt (his
unrecognized brother) saying: 'I swear by the life of
the head of abba ([=] my father) as you swear by the
life of the head of Pharaoh, your master, that if I
draw my sword from the scabbard, I will not return it
there until the land of Egypt is filled with the
slain'" (pages 37-38).

Vermes also notes that Jeremias' thesis that no Jew
ever called God abba in prayer is "also open to
question" (page 38). No evidence seems to buttress the notion that
individual prayers in Aramaic failed to contain the
vocative abba. Furthermore, Vermes points out that
there may be "at least one indirect attestation" to
abba used in Jewish prayer with the so-called
rain-maker Hanan (first century B.C.E.). See bTann.

Vermes' conclusion is that the portrait of the Father
communicated in the Gospels satisfies the
form-critical criteria of multiple attestation and
consistence since Jesus' teaching concerning God the
Father is echoed in other sources, whether they
explicitly mention the word Father or not (ibid).

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Grammar of Hebrews 11:11

W-H has: Πίστει καὶ αὐτὴ Σάρρα δύναμιν εἰς καταβολὴν σπέρματος ἔλαβεν καὶ παρὰ καιρὸν ἡλικίας, ἐπεὶ πιστὸν ἡγήσατο τὸν ἐπαγγειλάμενον· for Hebrews 11:11.

Ralph Earle's Word Meanings in the NT contains a fine discussion on this verse. Earle informs us that most translations consider Sarah to be the subject of Heb 11:11, but the NIV regards Abraham as the subject: "And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise" (NIV).

Earle refers to F.F. Bruce's commentary on Hebrews (NICNT) which suggests that αὐτὴ Σάρρα be construed as a dative of accompaniment rather than a subject nominative. That is, instead of αὐτὴ Σάρρα, we should read αὐτῇ Σάρρᾳ (Nestle GNT).

Bruce Metzger lists two possibilities for this portion of Heb 11:11. Either Abraham can be taken as the subject of the passage or αὐτὴ Σάρρα στεῖρα should be understood as a dative of accompaniment (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 602).

If we do, in fact, have a dative of accompaniment in Heb 11:11, it would then read:

"By faith he also, together with Sarah, received power to beget a child when he was past age, since he counted him faithful who promised."

According to BDAG, the dative of accompaniment is found in Thucydides X and Diod S. 20, 76, 1. See BDF 194.1.

Interestingly, John Chrysostom seems to have understood the text as a reference to Sarah being granted the power to conceive seed: he thus appears to construe Sarah as the subject like most modern translations do:

"By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised" (ESV).

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Updated Book Review of Michael W. Palmer's "Levels of Constituent Structure"

Those who have studied an ancient biblical language like Greek or Latin (or Hebrew) know that genuine advancement in language learning is truly attained when one understands Greek (Latin) beyond the word or sentence level. Michael W. Palmer's Levels of Constituent Structure in New Testament Greek (New York: Peter Lang, 1995) emphasizes this point through the analysis of verb and noun phrases contained in New Testament Greek. Levels is part of a series called "Studies in Biblical Greek" edited by Donald A. Carson (the notable author of Exegetical Fallacies). The book is approximately 145 pp. in length and fairly technical: I would recommend this work for advanced students only. In the following paragraphs, the strong aspects and unique contents of Palmer's study will be noted.

Levels provides a succinct and clear review of modern linguistic approaches like rationalism and structuralism along with transformational-generative grammar (associated with Noam Chomsky); then a discussion on general linguistic methodology and syntactic structures in particular ensues. Accordingly, the main part of Palmer's analysis revolves around noun and verb phrases, but he manifests penetrating insight when calling for a reconsideration of attributive and predicative adjectival distinctions along with constituent structural levels as they pertain to noun and verb phrases.

Palmer's monograph is well-written. Its approach seems to be governed by transformational-generative grammar, but the work certainly goes beyond similar presentations offered up in the past. Levels includes a number of tree diagrams. Nonetheless, it helpfully provides a multitude of examples illustrating constituent structure within the NT. He also works with clause-level, phrase-level and word-level constituents. However, Palmer thinks that these kinds of constituents are not sufficient to account for other New Testament Greek structures: therefore he suggests an intermediate-level constituent between the familiar clause and phrase-level structures.

This intermediate-level constituent is discussed on page 72 of Levels where Luke 2:13 is invoked as an example of the need to use innovative distinctions that Palmer respectively calls N-bar and V-bar. That is, Palmer believes it is possible (even preferable) to designate some constituents as reduced noun and reduced verb phrases (N-bar and V-bar). He appeals to other constructions in Luke such as Luke 14:12 and 20:37 to substantiate this general point.

Palmer's work is valuable for those who want to move beyond studying Greek at the level of words or mere sentences. Consequently, it benefits students who desire to analyze Greek structures at the clause or phrase-level. This work will have little bearing on biblical interpretation; however, it just might change how scholars and students approach New Testament Greek grammar. The effects of Palmer's study will undoubtedly be indirect. He believes that syntactical studies will probably benefit the most from his work, although pragmatics (as a branch of linguistics) will assuredly contribute to an understanding of biblical Greek, ancient rhetoric and deixis (Palmer, page 82).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ἐκ + the Genitive

Here is an edited piece that I wrote years ago; consequently, Thayer rather than BAGD or BDAG is mentioned.

According to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, ἐκ (ἐξ) can denote the "origin, source" or "cause" of "generation, birth, race, lineage, [and] nativity" as well as any other type of beginning.

This Greek preposition may also speak of "the efficient cause, or agent from which any action or thing proceeds, is produced, or effected from, or by" (Spiros Zodhiates).

These remarks would indicate that when ἐκ is applied to the Father's activities at 1 Cor. 8:6, it is describing His creative function or his unique act of efficient causation with respect to all things.

It would probably be worth the time to reference the introduction of David Aune's three volume commentary on Revelation. On p. CLXXIX-CLXXX of his introduction to volume I, Aune details the many uses of ἐκ in Revelation. The examples he gives of ἐκ signifying the action of a personal or impersonal agent are: Rev. 2:9; 3:18; 8:11; 9:18. In my humble assessment, 2 Cor. 5:1 is also an example in which ἐκ describes a creation of God--a spiritual building which has a heavenly source.

As for διά, it seems difficult to associate it with the concept of maker or efficient cause in 1 Cor. 8:6 and Heb. 1:2. It is more appropriate to construe its significance as that of intermediate agency:

"Intermediate agency is normally conveyed by διά with the genitive. For example, God delivered the law to Moses by angels (Gal. 3:19) and John sent a message to Christ through his disciples (Matt. 11:2; cf. John 1:3; 3:17)" (Richard A. Young's Grammar, 91-92).

Monday, August 18, 2014

John Sanders Discusses the No-Risk Model of Divine Providence

An excerpt from the older edition of "The God Who Risks" by John Sanders:

"According to the no-risk model of providence there is
a specific divine reason for ordaining each and every
particular occurrence of evil and suffering. According
to [Paul] Helm, since 'God works everything for good' (Rom
8:28), there are no such things as accidents and there
are no real tragedies in life. If Jones is afflicted
with a debilitating mental illness in which he loses
touch with reality, or if a three-year-old child
contracts an incurable and intractably painful bone
cancer, or if a number of kindergartners are murdered
in a school gymnasium in Scotland, or if Christian
woman [sic] and children are raped and sold into
slavery in Sudan, such experiences were specifically
selected by God to happen to these individuals. In the
no-risk view all the poverty, genocide, ethnic
conflicts, debilitating illnesses, rapes, birth
defects, blindness, destructive government policies
and so on are all specifically ordained by God, who
applies them to the particular individuals involved.
We may not know the divine reasons, but, we are told,
we can be sure they are good ones because God is good.
Jerry Bridges writes that 'God's sovereignty over
people . . . means that God is in control of our pain
and suffering, and that he has in mind a beneficial
purpose for it. There is no such thing as pain without
a purpose'" (Sanders, page 253).

Sanders obviously takes exception with the views expressed by Paul Helm and Jerry Bridges. As a matter of fact, Sanders' description of Helm's position seems so extreme that I wondered if he did not misinterpret Helm. But apparently, he has not misconstrued Helm's view of divine providence after all.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Joel 3:3 and Predestination

"And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink" (Joel 3:3).

"They have cast lots for my people — It was customary with conquerors, in those days, to divide the captives, taken in war, among themselves by lot, and so did these enemies of the Jews. And have given a boy for a harlot — By this is meant, that they exchanged, or gave away, Jewish boys, instead of money, for harlots. And sold a girl for wine, that they might drink — For a draught of wine, as it were; that is, at a very vile and low rate. These instances are mentioned, to signify the contempt in which these enemies of the Jews held the worshippers of the true God; they parted with them, when they had taken them captives, upon the vilest terms, as setting little or no value upon them. In Mingrelia, according to Sir John Chardin, they sell captive children for provisions and for wine: see Harmer vol. 2. p. 374" (Benson Commentary).

Think of how often the practice of trafficking children for dishonest gain has occurred throughout history and the practice is still happening. I guess the Calvinists might say that God wills/ordains selling children for sexual favors or wine, and some good is supposed to come out of it. But such a view is hard to square with the Bible and reason. Why would God condemn an action that he ordained/willed, especially if it has some type of ultimate worth? Secondly, why ordain such actions in the first place (whatever Calvinists mean by ordain/will)? Thirdly, couldn't salvation be accomplished without willing an act that wreaks emotional and psychological damage on children--maybe even irreparable damage?

(I am not talking about the logical problem of evil per se, since that is a related but separate question for me.)

The felix culpa view of divine providence strikes me as taking the long way (the scenic route) to get from North Carolina to Florida. Far be it from me to judge the workings of Almighty God; however, Jehovah has given us reason whereby we might judge whether something makes sense or not. Granted, God could have willed that the cosmos would reach eternal blessedness one day by means of turmoil, confusion, harlotry, child abuse, wars, genocide, child sacrifices to false gods and all other forms of evil. Yet that is taking the long way around when one could simply take the shortest route to Florida from North Carolina.

So God could bring eternal happiness (blessedness) without using evil to accomplish his purpose since he is omnipotent. If he could do it, then why would God intentionally decide to use evil as opposed to just taking the most efficient route to get where he's going (metaphorically speaking). Now there is a material difference between permitting evil and actively willing/ordaining it. I have no problem with God permitting evil: I do question a view which argues for more than divine permission where evil is concerned.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Did the Logos Change When He Became Flesh (John 1:14)

Here is something I posted elsewhere about the Incarnation:

Let "S" represent a human person:

1) S became a doctor
2) S became a Christian
3) S became a ruffian

In each of the cases listed above, it would be safe to conclude that some type of actual change or process has occurred to/regarding S. But if we now consider another proposition:

4) The Logos became flesh

We are asked to believe (by the majority of Incarnation advocates) that change neither occurred to the nature of the Logos nor to the divine person who was supposed to be the subject of the Incarnation: no real alteration took place. Yet if the Logos became (was made) flesh, it is still hard to comprehend how he (the person) became flesh without undergoing some kind of change. To just argue that God cannot experience actual change, the Logos is God, therefore, the Logos did not experience actual change seems like petitio principii to me.

Using the language of assumption doesn't make the problem go away either. If by assume, we mean "take to oneself" (Aquinas in the Summa Theologica), then to say that the Logos assumed human nature (flesh) could possibly be akin to assuming another identity or assuming a posture that one did not previously had. No, I'm not saying that Christ just assumed a new identity; my point is that the word "assumption" could also indicate change/alteration.

Before: The Logos is strictly spirit
Post-Incarnation: The Logos is flesh

However, most say that no actual change occurred to the nature or person of the Logos (Word).

Saturday, August 02, 2014

More from Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology (Foreordination)

"The Bible clearly teaches that God judicially abandons men to their sins, giving them up to a reprobate mind, and He therein is most just and holy. It is not true, therefore, that an agent is responsible for all the certain consequences of his acts. It may be, and doubtless is, infinitely wise and just in God to permit the occurrence of sin, and to adopt a plan of which sin is a certain consequence or element; yet as he neither causes sin, nor tempts men to its commission, He is neither its author nor approver. He sees and knows that higher ends will be accomplished by its admission than by its exclusion, that a perfect exhibition of his infinite perfections will be thereby effected and therefore for the highest reason decrees that it shall occur through the free choice of responsible agents. Our great ground of confidence, however, is the assurance that the judge of all the earth must do right. Sin is, and God is; therefore the occurrence of sin must be consistent with his nature; and as its occurrence cannot have been unforeseen or undesigned, God's purpose or decree that it should occur must be consistent with his holiness" (Systematic Theology, 1:548).

Calvin and Human Depravity

Regarding the beliefs of John Calvin, Stanley M. Burgess informs us:

"At the fall, however, the natural gifts present in humans were corrupted, and the supernatural gifts were removed. Because humans are now despoiled of the Spirit's gifts, and of the 'light of reason, justice and rectitude,' they are prone to every evil. No longer considered worthy to be guided by the Holy Spirit, humans are abandoned to Satan's actions" (Burgess 3:164).

Calvin himself asserted the following:

"we do not condemn those inclinations which God so engraved upon the character of man at his first creation, that they were eradicable only with humanity itself, but only those bold and unbridled impulses which contend against God's control" (Institutes 3.3.12).

Granted, I'm not sure that Calvin explicitly affirms that the IMAGO DEI in man was lost at the Fall. Nevertheless, he writes that the IMAGO DEI of infralapsarian humanity was so distorted at the Fall that the human mind "conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous. The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench. But if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity" (Institutes 2.5.19).

Based on these Calvinistic ideas, I would say that positing a nature/supernature dichotomy in this way does nothing to advance our understanding of human nature from a scriptural viewpoint. Calvin had a pretty dim view of fallen man qua fallen man. This is not to say that man is "basically good" as Enlightenment thinkers generally claim since we are sinners by nature (Romans 3:23). But I cannot concur with Calvin when he asserts that humanity only conceives what is vile and wicked. Nor can I agree when he claims that "some men occasionally make a show of good," but their hearts are still filled with malice and inner perversity; this evaluation goes wholly against the apostolic teaching of the "law within" (Romans 2:14-15). Some people without law do by nature the things of the law; yet there are also other consequences that are concomitant with his teaching.

(1) The teaching of total depravity indicates that man has absolutely nothing to do with his salvation: "Someone may say, 'Yes, the Holy Spirit must draw us to God, but we can use our freedom to resist or accept that drawing.' Our answer is: except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God. That is what it means to be 'unable to submit to God.' If a person becomes humble enough to submit to God it is because God has given that person a new, humble nature" (John Piper). See

Of course, we might all agree that God is the Savior--the initiator and sole Director of the marvelous soteriological process. Yet the part that a human plays in salvation is a point of separation for many theologians. Luther defined faith in terms of FIDUCIA ("absolute trust in God"). He believed that faith is a passive act of reception in which we only receive God's grace. But as Emil Brunner has aptly pointed out, the dynamics of salvation cannot be explained properly in terms of cause and effect (divine activity and human passivity): it is much better to view salvation as a process of action and reaction insofar as God acts while man reacts. If what Brunner says is true, then it seems that we too play a significant part in our salvation (Philippians 2:12). We evidently have the ability and intellectual power to act in response to God's invitation and make important changes that show our love for God and the good news about Christ. It is not just a matter of God giving and our passively receiving. None of what I say here, however, is designed to minimize the role that God's spirit plays in shaping or directing our wills. God does indeed empower us to make changes in our lives--to receive his Son as the pioneer and high priest of our salvation.

(2) Total depravity also clouds the truthfulness of passages like Mark 10:18. While it might be tempting to understand this verse as a claim to Deity by Jesus Christ, in actuality, the verse is simply declaring that God is the only one who is superlatively Good. I.e., Jehovah is the only One who measures up fully to the absolute standard of goodness. This truth can be easily demonstrated by cross-referencing Revelation 15:1-4 and 1 Samuel 2:2. The account in Revelation says that only God is holy. Yet 1 Samuel 2:2 says that no one can compare with God in holiness. The verses are not contradictory: Revelation 15:1-4 is simply demonstrating the superlative nature of God's holiness. This point is also illustrated by the many examples in both the OT and NT that declare men and angels to be holy.

Lastly, I would acquiesce with the claim that man can do nothing on his own regarding his salvation: we all need the holy spirit to turn from lives of sin to lives of righteousness (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). However, there is an interesting tension at work between God guiding us (not coercing us) to believe in him and our taking the initiative to form intentions to serve him. Again, I refer to the law within and Joshua 24:15 which indicates that we must make the choice to serve or reject Jehovah. Making that choice of our own volition would be impossible if Calvin's words were true.