Saturday, June 28, 2014

Albert Barnes on Acts 19:9

Acts 19:9 casts doubt on the notion that all first century congregations/churches were house ecclesiae. Here is Barnes' remarks on this verse:

"In the school of one Tyrannus. Who this Tyrannus was, is not known. It is probable that he was a Jew, who was engaged in this employment, and who might not be unfavourable to Christians. In his school, or in the room which he occupied for teaching, Paul instructed the people when he was driven from the synagogue. Christians at that time had no churches, and they were obliged to assemble in any place where it might be convenient to conduct public worship" (Barnes NT Notes).

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Theologian Kevin J. Vanhoozer Explains How Mental States Possibly Arise

From the book Is There a Meaning in This Text?, page 249):

"A cell is a complex phenomenon that emerges out of small infrastructures (molecules and atoms) and demands its own science (biochemistry). Similarly, mental properties depend on a biological infrastructure, yet they are irreducible to that substratum. Mental states, that is, 'supervene' on physical states. This way of conceiving mind has the advantage of being the most adequate scientific explanation of consciousness and of conforming to a Christian understanding of human beings as created in the divine image. Both mind and meaning, the self and the sentence, are higher level phenomena--new beings, as it were--that are discontinuous, at least in some respects, with the lower forms from which they emerge."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Do Jehovah's Witnesses Claim To Be Inspired?

Some critics of Jehovah's Witnesses claim that our organization thinks of itself as "inspired by God." However, the truth is that while we consider ourselves to be guided, led or directed by the holy spirit--no claim to inspiration has been made. In fact, the very opposite is true. We know that the Bible provides no warrant for calling spirit-anointed Christians QEOPNEUSTOS.

I am not denying that God has appointed men to take the lead in the Christian congregation or that Jehovah ministers in different ways via His spirit. But such operations of the spirit are not examples of inspiration (in the biblical sense of that word).

Charles Ryrie talks about the doctrine of illumination in his work on theology. He observes:

"The illumination theory of inspiration regards inspiration as an intensifying and elevating of the perceptions of the biblical writers. But generally the concept of illumination relates to the ministry of the Holy Spirit helping the believer to understand the truth of the Bible" (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 116).

Ryrie, therefore, makes a distinction between illumination of the believer and inspiration of the Bible writers. We're making a similar distinction when WT literature says that the "faithful and discreet slave" is guided by God's spirit--illuminated if you will--but that class is not and does not claim to be QEOPNEUSTOS (1 Cor 2:9-10).

Questions for Thomists Regarding Immaterial Intellects

I wrote the following to a colleague who teaches in my university's psychology department. I have retained the substance of my written correspondence to him:

Thomists argue that we need immaterial intellects to apprehend abstract universals. But how do we know that physical organs are only capable of apprehending concrete particulars? What incontrovertible proof do we have that intellects (of the Thomistic caliber) even exist? I admit that an intellect qua a power of the soul is logically possible (i.e. not self-contradictory). However, I am not convinced that such a faculty is factually possible (i.e. that it actually exists). So I guess my first line of attack would be to question the existence of the non-material intellect. Secondly, I would argue that what has been called "intellect" is really nothing more than a higher-order process of the brain: intellection is a biological phenomenon (see the work done by John Searle). The brain consequently makes it possible for us to have the facility for grasping what appear to be universals. So-called universals may be nothing more than generalizations of concrete experience or linguistic constructs of the mind.

I would add that the word "soul" in Aristotle's writings (upon which Thomistic hylomorphic thought is built) is amenable to a physicalist interpretation.


Addendum: I want to make it clear that my comments pertain to human intellection, not divine (God or angels). It is my belief that human intellection only exists because of brain activity--not due to some immaterial intellect. We may not understand how the brain produces intellection, but evidence continues to lean in that direction.

I also have no problem using the term "mind." Mind would not exist if there were not physical (neurobiological) processes that obtained.

Friday, June 13, 2014

John Gill's Remarks on Ecclesiastes 9:5

"but the dead know not anything; this is not to be understood of their separate spirits, and of the things of the other world; for the righteous dead know much, their knowledge is greatly increased; they know, as they are known; they know much of God in Christ, of his perfections, purposes, covenant, grace, and love; they know much of Christ, of his person, offices, and glory, and see him as he is; they know much of the Gospel, and the mysteries of it; and of angels, and the spirits of just men, they now converse with; and of the glories and happiness of the heavenly state; even they know abundantly more than they did in this life: and the wicked dead, in their separate spirits, know there is a God that judgeth; that their souls are immortal; that there is a future state; indeed they know and feel the torments of hell, the worm that never dies, and the fire that is not quenched: but this is to be interpreted of their bodily senses now extinct, and of worldly things they have now nothing to do with; they know not any thing that is done in this world, nor how it fares with their children and friends they have left behind them; see Job 14:21; nor therefore are they to be prayed unto, and used as mediators with God."

I want to make a reply that addresses some of Gill's comments, in another post.

Colossians 1:22-23: A Discussion on Eternal Security

Colossians 1:22 discusses how God (see Col 1:19-20) has (already) effected reconciliation (νυνὶ δὲ ἀποκατήλλαξεν) for those who were once His enemies, through the precious blood that Jesus shed on his stauros. This act of love is why the apostle writes that God the Father has reconciled His former adversaries ἐν τῷ σώματι τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ διὰ τοῦ θανάτου; that is, through the death of Jesus Christ. Such a sin-offering has been provided lovingly in order that God's people might come before the Divine One without any blemishes, spots or accusations that would lamentably besmirch the beauteous name of Almighty God Jehovah (παραστῆσαι ὑμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους καὶ ἀνεγκλήτους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ).

Paul then writes, more controversially, that enjoying an unblemished state through Christ's shed blood (i.e. his death) is only possible εἴ γε ἐπιμένετε τῇ πίστει τεθεμελιωμένοι καὶ ἑδραῖοι καὶ μὴ μετακινούμενοι ἀπὸ τῆς ἐλπίδος τοῦ εὐαγγελίου οὗ ἠκούσατε (Colossians 1:23).

Prima facie this passage appears to teach us that "eternal security" could be a fictive theological construct that is not to be found in Scripture. Paul's inspired words seem to imply that a Christian must remain in the faith while adhering to the hope of the Gospel that was preached ἐν πάσῃ κτίσει τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν so that he/she might be saved in a definitive sense. This verse thus appears to militate against any notion of eternal security; hence, at this point, it would be beneficial to see what some first-rate commentaries have observed about the conditional structure of this textual unit.

Peter O'Brien observes that Colossians 1:23 is a lengthy conditional sentence containing both positive and negative elements (O'Brien, Colossians, Philemon 69). He maintains that εἴ γε "does not express doubt" (Ibid); rather, he believes that the apostle is really saying, in so many words, "At any rate if you stand firm in the faith--and I am sure you will . . . " He takes this position in view of Colossians 2:5 (Ibid).

O'Brien however goes on to write that "If it is true that the saints will persevere to the end, then it is equally true that the saints must persevere to the end' (Ibid). He then attempts to show how Colossians constitutes an exhortatory message, which strengthens the "saints" to avoid lapsing into a state of smug complacency. O'Brien therefore does not believe that Colossians 1:22-23 fazes the doctrine of eternal security at all. When interviewed about this subject, he provided this response:

"The warnings of Hebrews [6:4-8; 10:26-39, etc.] have presented many challenges to believers throughout Christian history. And the misapplication of them has caused pastoral problems for Christians of all traditions, including the Reformed. These warnings have troubled earnest Christians by raising doubts about their assurance of salvation, an assurance that is so clearly affirmed, for example, in Romans 5:1-11 and Romans 8:18-39, and in Jesus's promises for his disciples in John 6:39-40, 44 and John 10:25-30."


James Dunn, on the other hand, provides this commentary:

"εἴ γε may denote confidence more than doubt (cf. its use in 2 Cor. 5:3; Eph. 3:2; 4:21), but final acceptance is nevertheless dependent on remaining in the faith. The parenetic and pastoral point is that however such persistence must be and is enabled by God through the Spirit (1:11), there must be such persistence (cf. O'Brien, Colossians, Philemon 69)' (Dunn, Colossians, Philemon 110).

Dunn (in ftn 8, page 110) then quotes R.W. Wall as follows:

"Paul does not teach a 'once saved, always saved' kind of religion; nor does he understand faith as a 'once for all decision for Christ.'"

You can find Wall's remarks in full by consulting his commentary, Colossians and Philemon (The IVP NT Commentary; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), page 81.

I believe that Wall's understanding of Colossians 1:23 is closer to what Paul wanted to say with his use of εἴ γε, KTL.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sheol and Hades

The Greek hADHS is synonymous with the Hebrew SHEOL. If we really want to understand what the NT says about hell, we must consider what the OT teaches about SHEOL. According to the holy writings that have been recorded primarily in Hebrew, SHEOL is a "place" of inactivity where all dead persons go; it is gravedom (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Job 3 indicates that SHEOL is a place for both the wicked and the righteous to "sleep." In the midst of bemoaning his pitiable earthly existence, Job lamented that he had not perished after coming forth from his mother's womb--saying: "For by now I should have lain down that I might be undisturbed; I should have slept then; I should be at rest . . . There the wicked themselves have ceased from agitation, and those weary in power are at rest" (Job 3:13-20). Additionally, Job also depicts SHEOL as "the land of darkness and deep shadow" and as "the land of obscurity like gloom, of deep shadow and disorder, where it beams no more than gloom does" (Job 10:21, 22).

It's of interest how the signifier hADHS is used in Revelation too. In Rev. 6:8, John sees a pale horse with a rider that has hADHS closely following him. Later in the same book, the sea, death and hADHS are said to give up the dead in them (KAI EDWKEN hH QALASSA TOUS NEKROUS TOUS EN AUTHi KAI QANATOS KAI hO hADHS EDWKAN TOUS NEKROUS TOUS EN AUTOIS); then the dead are judged according to their deeds and death along with hADHS is subsequently hurled into the lake of fire which signifies the "second death" (Rev. 20:13-15). John then reports that "death is no more" (since it was hurled into the lake of fire). See Rev. 21:3-4.

"there shall be no more death] More exactly, death shall be no more, having been destroyed in the Lake of Fire, Revelation 20:14 : not that the personification is put forward here" (W.H. Simcox, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).

Based on the aforesaid information, I conclude that hADHS is identical to the Hebrew SHEOL (Cf. Ps. 16:10 and Acts 2:27ff). hADHS being thrown into the lake of fire evidently means that it is no more just as death is no more after being cast in the famed "lake." The lake of fire appears to symbolize eternal destruction (annihilation) and not eternal torment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dialogue on Genesis 1:1ff

My interlocutor writes:
The figure of speech used in Gen. 1:1 in the phrase "the heavens and the earth" is called synecdoche, in which the whole is evoked by the naming of the part. "The earth" includes the earth itself, and all forms of life which live upon it. It includes the dry land and the sea, mankind plants and animals, etc. "The heavens" also encompasses all this domain contains. Since the Hebrew for "created" (BARA) is a verb in the qal form with perfective aspect, it seems unlikely that this statement refers only to the beginning of creation.


The figure of speech in Gen. 1:1 may indeed be an example of synecdoche since these two signifiers occur so often in tandem. This fact does not mean that the "heavens" of Gen. 1:1 have anything to do with the spirit realm. The heavens and the earth of Gen. 1:1 could just as well be a way of referring to the entire material order (the realm that is governed by space, time and causality). The term "heavens" is apparently used this way in Ex. 20:4 and the formula "heaven and earth" in Gen. 14:22 evidently has reference to the physical universe that Jehovah has produced.

As for BARA speaking about the beginning of creation, Gordon J. Wenham writes: "it looks as though [Gen. 1:2, 3] were composed by the writer responsible for v 1, and not simply borrowed from a pre-biblical source. This makes it most natural to interpret the text synchronically, i.e., v 1: first creative act; v 2: consequence of v 1; v 3: first creative word" (p. 13).

Later, he notes: "It is therefore quite feasible for a mention of an initial act of creation of the whole universe (v 1) to be followed by an account of the ordering of different parts of the universe" (Wenham 15).

With all of this in mind, I am not saying that Gen. 1:1 simply dwells on the "beginning" and does not teach us that God finished his creative work vis-a'-vis the heavens and the earth. As you mentioned, the Qal perfect verbal stem is employed and that indicates that the writer of Genesis is depicting simple, perfective action--which means that both the inception of the creative act and its TELOS (its end) is in view. That doesn't mean, however, that the earth did not need to be prepared for habitation as recorded in 1:2. ERES in Gen. 1:1 does not seem to mean the "productive land and all that dwells therein." If we construe the verse synchronically, as Wenham and most interpreters are wont to do, then Gen. 1:2 is manifestly relating God's preparation of the already created earth.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Quotes About Hell (Some Catholic Sources)

"The punishment of original sin is the deprivation of the sight of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torment of eternal hell" (Pope Innocent III).

"according as their works were good or bad, either perpetual punishment with the devil or eternal glory with Christ" (The Fourth General Lateran Council 1215).

"But whoever dies in mortal sin without penance will without any doubt suffer for ever in the fires of eternal hell" (Pope Innocent IV's Letter to the Bishop of Tusculum 1254).

Quotes Taken from "The Teaching of the Catholic Church" (Edited by Karl Rahner, S.J.).

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Resurrection Beliefs in Second Temple Judaism

James Efird reports that a diversity of opinion concerning the resurrection existed within Second Temple Judaism. Some put credence in the notion that the resurrection from the dead would consist in the old body being conjoined with the human spirit; others believed in soul sleep, whereas yet others accepted Greek concepts of immortality. He maintains: "No one set of ideas really held the day, but most people seem to have believed in some form of resurrection. Whether it was physical or spiritual, future or present, to be accomplished in this historical continuum or in a supra-historical sphere--none of these was really the theory. Each theory has its own advocates and in some instances the ideas were rearranged in such ways as to present 'new' hypotheses" (The New Testament Writings: History, Literature, Interpretation, page 18. Emphasis in the text).

Moreover, Efird notes that some believed a new physical body would be raised whereas others contended that a non-material body would be resurrected from the dead. On a related note, John J. Collins cites 1 Enoch to support his position about "resurrection of the spirit." He argues that 1 Enoch 104ff uses astral imagery to describe the resurrection of the just: they will be like angels "and associates of the host of heaven." Based on such passages, Collins observes: "Here again, we are dealing with resurrection, not an unbroken state of immortality. But there is no mention of bodily resurrection or of return to life on earth. What is envisaged is the resurrection of the NEPES or spirit and its transformation to an angelic state" (Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls, page 113). Collins also invokes Jubilees 23 as part of the testimony concerning ancient resurrection beliefs in Judaism. From Jubilees 23:30ff, he makes this point clear: "Here again we have a notion of resurrection that is neither immortality of the soul, in the Greek sense, nor resurrection of the physical body" (ibid).

How much clearer could Collins be when he states, "But it is by no means the case that Jews always thought of resurrection in bodily terms" (ibid)? He insists that what Daniel and Enoch say about the resurrection could best be described as "resurrection of the spirit" as opposed to resurrection of the body.

Jeffrey Asher further makes a case for understanding Paul's language in 1 Corinthians 15 about a "spiritual body" as a corpus informed by pneumatic stuff, based on ancient denotations of the Greek term pneuma and notable philosophical concepts at the time. See Asher's published work Polarity and Change in 1 Corinthians 15: A Study of Metaphysics, Rhetoric, and Resurrection (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000).

Monday, June 02, 2014

1 Corinthians 15:36 and Resurrection from Death

Paul specifically writes ἄφρων, σὺ ὃ σπείρεις οὐ ζωοποιεῖται ἐὰν μὴ ἀποθάνῃ in 1 Cor 15:36, using language reminiscent of Jesus (John 12:24). He is particularly elucidating the concept of "the resurrection of the dead" in 1 Cor 15:42. So how fitting that Paul brings up the "death" of one seed which opens the way for a disparate "body" to materialize: one that is starkly different from the body which was initially planted (1 Cor 15:36-38).

Raymond B. Brown (Broadman Bible Commentary on Acts and 1 Corinthians) writes:

"The body that is buried is not the same body that is
raised because a transformation takes place. Paul sets
forth four antitheses to show the difference between
the body that dies and the body that is raised from
the dead" (page 391).

"So there is continuity between what dies and what is
raised because it is the same person who is buried and
raised. But there is discontinuity in the sense that
the same physical body will not be raised. The same
person will be raised in a new spiritual body [which
Brown evidently does not define as a 'soul']. Paul does not
describe the body but lives in faith that God will
give the body its appropriate form for life in his
presence" (page 392).

But consult the entirety of Brown's comments on 1 Cor 15:36ff.