Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ecclesiastes 9:5 Comments--Death Is A Deep Sleep

One young Catholic gentleman with whom I had extended discussions on many issues posted this remark to another forum about Eccl 9:5:

"But in [Ecclesiastes] IX., 5, we read, 'The dead know not anything, neither have they any more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.' [Answer:] Those last words obviously show that it is useless to depend upon a reward as far as recognition by fellow men is concerned. The writer is speaking from the point of view of people still living in this world. To all practical purposes as far as this world is concerned the dead are removed from this world and know not anything as far as the evidence of our own senses goes."

My Response:

In context, Qoheleth (Solomon) recounts that all men, regardless of their station in life, in time die (Eccl 9:3). He then proceeds to inform his readers that "to him that is joined with all the living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion" (Eccl 9:4).

Is Qoheleth exclaiming that hope only exists for the living from the standpoint of other humans dwelling "under the sun"? Or is such an observation made by the ancient writer supposed to be epistemologically objective (mind-independent)? The context indicates that Qoheleth's words are objective in the eyes of God and not simply an exclamation of how humans "under the sun" view matters. The son of David goes on to make a stark contrast between the living and the dead in Ecclesiastes 9:5, even adding these telling words in 9:10: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might: for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, whither thou goest" (ASV).

So the context refutes the view that Qoheleth thinks the dead are only conscious of nothing from the standpoint of earthly observers. Moreover, the OT consistently teaches that the dead know nothing simpliciter et simpliciter:

"For in death there is no remembrance of thee: In Sheol who shall give thee thanks?" (Ps 6:5).

"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. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust" (Eccl 3:19-20).

Cf Job 3:11-19.

The young man who posted this reply also expressed the view that John 11:11-14 uses "phenomenological language" concerning Lazarus:

"As far as the reference to Lazarus' "sleep" is concerned, this is what is known as phenomenological language. Jesus was doing nothing more than making a reference to death based on the phenomenon or *appearance* of sleep. We cannot isolate this passage from the rest of the Bible. Numerous other passages clearly attest to death being something other than sleep."

But I wonder how we are supposed to know that Jesus was employing "phenomenological language" in Jn 11:11-14? The metaphor of "sleep" for death was a common one that the ancient Greeks also utilized. We even find David using this figure of speech in Psalm 13:3: "Consider and answer me, O Jehovah my God: Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death" (ASV). Daniel 12:2 also enunciates the Hebrew understanding of death that is manifestly consonant with such verses as Ps 146:3-4. This passage foretells that "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." This passage does not indicate that the writer is speaking phenomenologically. Compare Jeremiah 51:39.

In the NT, Jesus himself "awakened" Jairus' daughter in the presence of a crowd filled with cynical observers who "knew she was dead," though Jesus said she slept. The context of Luke 8:49-56 shows that the girl did not simply "appear" to be sleeping; she was sleeping "the sleep of death." Her spirit (life force) had gone out of her: she was dead. The young girl was conscious of nothing at all (Job 3:11-19), but Lazarus and the young maiden were also resurrected by the Messiah of God. They did not simply appear to be sleeping, for they were sleeping the "sleep of death."

"For Sheol cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth" (Isa 38:18).

"O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?" (Ps 88:1-12)

"And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59 ASV).

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Donald E. Hartley's Remarks on Pancausality

I don't have a lot of time today, my friends, but just wanted to say that divine pancausality (the doctrine that teaches God is the ultimate cause of everything) has some untoward and possibly even bizarre implications. For example, Donald E. Hartley relates that the sexual violation of a child, while morally repugnant is nonetheless good in a "decretal" sense. That is to say, it's bad morally but good insofar as God brings all things to pass (including the violation of a young child). That view seems to denigrate the divine glory and detracts from God's goodness.

Stephen T. Davis on the Incarnation's Logic

While I'm on the subject of the Incarnation (the doctrine that God became human), I would like to post a few points once gleaned from Stephen T. Davis' wonderful book _Logic and the Nature of God_.

Davis initiates his discussion by citing John Hick, who avers that the claim "Jesus is fully God and fully man" (VERE DEUS, VERE HOMO) is in effect saying that a circle is fully square and fully circular. Hick argues that the claim is "devoid of meaning" and logically impossible. If an object is fully square, then it cannot be fully circular (it cannot be P and ~ P at the same time and in the same sense). Therefore, the proposition "Jesus is truly God and truly man" is deemed to be incoherent.

This point can also be illustrated by juxtaposing the properties of God and the properties of man. God is omniscient, but man is not omniscient; God is omnipotent, but man is not omnipotent; God is A SE ESSE, but man derives his existence from God.

God is immortal; man, however, is not. It seems that divine properties rule out finite properties subsisting in the same entity simultaneously? The predicates essential to God appear to be incommensurable with the predicates proper (essential) to man. Davis realizes this point and concludes that in order to coherently formulate the Incarnation doctrine--one must deny the essential nature of God's omniscience and furthermore, one must also state the Incarnation teaching in a way that does not imply Jesus has all of the essential properties of God or all of the essential properties of man SIMPLICITER. But surely this view is not in harmony with Chalcedonian orthodoxy. It reflects the kenoticist views of the 19th century.

In conclusion, I think that Davis' treatment of this issue shows the ineluctable conundrums that result when one tries to make the Jesus of the New Testament fit one's preconceived theological and philosophical notions of our Lord. He is an ardent defender of the Incarnation, but he has realized the logical difficulties associated with believing that God became man.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Brief Followup to the Westminster Confession Subject and Predestination

Firstly, I want to thank Mike Felker for discussing the issue of foreordination (predestination) with me. His comments were quite helpful and I hope his understanding of Witness beliefs also has been advanced.

Looking at the Westminster Confession a little more closely, it seems that the "God brings whatsoever comes to pass" language should be interpreted as "God foreordains" (predestines) or God wills all events. That is to say, God foreordained the suffering and death of Jesus, he willed the rape of Tamar, the adulterous affair between David and Bathsheba and the Holocaust along with chattel slavery which wreaked such havoc on many Africans who were brought to America. Yet it is odd that God has condemned many of the acts he supposedly foreordained (willed) and even punished humans for committing them. That still makes little sense to me along with other implications of the Confession.

Am I being uncharitable in my interpretation of the Westminster Confession? I don't think that is the case, and here is why I make this claim.

John Hendryx, when composing a reply to Roger Olson (who is critical of Calvinism) writes:

We acknowledge that we cannot explain all of God's secret acts since God has chosen not to reveal many things about Himself. But one very prominent feature of the Bible is that it frequently declares that God meticulously ordains all that comes to pass (Eph 1:11) AND that men are responsible for their actions. One major example sticks out: the greatest sin ever committed by men in history -- the crucifixion of Jesus ---when the Apostle Peter, preaching at Pentecost declares:

"...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23)

[END QUOTE]

So Hendryx declares that God "meticulously ordains" all things eternally and immutably--even wicked actions that include the execution of Christ and genocide, cruel slavery, homicides, rape, child sacrifice, abortions, terrorism and a host of other evils that are manifestly ungodly. But yet humans are still fully responsible for all of the previously mentioned actions that God has putatively foreordained.

Or take the much stronger assertion made by Donald E. Hartley:

"No sin imaginable is more horrific than the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Yet, Scripture indicates that this was done by God the Father to God the Son (mediately) through the immediate agency of sinful human beings in the crucifixion (Isa 52:13-53:12; Acts 2:23; 4:28). If this is the worst possible evil that can be imagined, and God is clearly the ultimate cause behind it, then why be repulsed by divine causality when it comes to the rape of a child as if this is a greater evil?"

Hartley insists that God is the agent (doer) of all things (even sins performed by human agents), but God himself is not the author of sin. How this all works is said to be a mystery.

But there are further comments made by Hartley that bear on how one understands the Westminster Confession. He points to Aquinas who apparently thinks that every act undertaken (whether morally good or evil) is good insofar as God has willed all that comes to pass. Hartley therefore raises the possibility that while the rape of a child is evil in one sense, it's potentially good in a "decretal sense." Yet even Hartley admits that hardly anyone wants to hear this view espoused. See http://books.google.com/books?id=nnUrwTkP4iwC&pg=PA80&lpg=PA80&dq=god+foreordained+rape&source=bl&ots=5BGOa1yoRj&sig=Xhhg-VeAQgOBQ-jw_gC6K4SGvWs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fA_UU4maLIrs8QGtqICgAQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=god%20foreordained%20rape&f=false

So the "come to pass" language of the Westminster Confession should be understood to mean that God wills or foreordains all that happens. And we have not even touched on double predestination which is likewise addressed in the Confession. I'm still left with many questions that have not been satisfactorily answered. Hendryx, whom I quoted earlier, says:

"Likewise, nowhere in the Bible did God call us to work out the details of this doctrine by philosophical means, or pry into the secret things of God. Rather He calls us to be faithful to the Text that says God ordains all things, even evil, and that, at the same time, God is blameless in doing so. That He ordains sin sinlessly. I do not have to hold these truths together rationally (according to human knowledge) or philosophically but because they are axiomatic in the Bible. My understanding the intricacies of how this comes about is secondary. God is God. DO our finite minds have to understand HOW He does this in order for it to be true?"

While I'll concede that many aspects of God's purposes are not immediately understandable and rightly can be described as "incomprehensible," to retreat into the "mystery corner" is a hackneyed and unsatisfying way to evade the tough questions.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Reliability of the Bible and the DSS

We've had recent comments about the reliability of biblical translations in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) or Septuagint Version (LXX). I guess that some perceive a possible conflict between the Masoretic Text, the LXX and the DSS.

I consulted Geza Vermes translation of the DSS (introductory notes) and he appears to downplay any potential difficulty that might exist for how we read Scripture juxtaposed with the DSS or LXX. Another article that touches upon this issue is found at http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/bible-versions-and-translations/the-original-bible-and-the-dead-sea-scrolls/

The example adduced by Tov from 1 Samuel 1:24 provides an interesting case study.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saint Jerome on the Bible Canon

"Therefore as the church indeed reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these two volumes [Sirach and Parables] for the edification of the people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogma" (Prologue to the books of Wisdom).


Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Review of Peter van Inwagen's Book "The Problem of Evil"

The so-called logical problem of evil suggests that there's a marked inconsistency between the statement "Almighty God exists" and the utterance "evil exists." For if God is almighty and omnibenevolent, then why does evil obtain? This problem was raised long ago by the Greek philosopher Epicurus and the ancient Gnostics.

Notre Dame University Professor, Peter van Inwagen, offers a useful contribution to the growing literature about the logical problem of evil. His book is a solid collection of eight Gifford lectures delivered at the University of St Andrews in May 2003. The prose contained in the work is often impressive, the reasoning is starkly lucid and van Inwagen's philosophical arguments generally are compelling. Hence, these lectures carefully analyze "evil" in order to remove manifold confusions that surround the concept. There are contexts in which "evil" denotes "moral depravity" but other contexts where the denotation is possibly "the absence of good." Defining evil is an arduous task, but the clarification of ideas should precede genuine philosophical analysis.

Before showing the deficiencies evidently associated with the logical problem of evil, van Inwagen posits his idea of God. He reasons that there are certain attributes which God should possess in order to be the maximally excellent entity, that than which a greater cannot be conceived (according to Anselm of Canterbury). These divine qualities include omniscience, moral perfection and omnipotence. The reader is subsequently treated to a definition and insightful analysis of the expression "philosophical failure." What is philosophical failure? How does this notion affect the argument from evil? Those perusing the book have such questions answered. Additionally, they find new distinctions regarding evil (for example, local versus global evil).

In the final analysis, I believe that van Inwagen demonstrates how the argument from evil fails. He establishes (with a certain degree of plausibility) that one cannot rightly argue from evil to the non-existence of God. There are other ways to account for the permission of divinely-preventable evil. To this end, the book addresses animal suffering, predatory activities among beasts and the so-called hiddenness of God. The author wisely frames a number of his arguments in dialogical form by creating two characters known as Theist and Atheist, who argue about the logical problem of evil in front of an imaginary neutral crowd. The dialogue is interesting, to a point, although I believe that van Inwagen tries to be too clever at times.

This philosophical treatise is written for those who have some familiarity with the common vocabulary of metaphysics, the philosophy of religion, and systematic theology. Moreover, I would not call the arguments here conclusive, in any sense of the word, but the read is generally enjoyable and illuminating.

Commentator Joseph Alexander on Acts 2:23

See http://archive.org/stream/actsapostles00alexgoog#page/n102/mode/1up

Very incisive remarks.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Is It Reasonable to Believe That God Brings All Things to Pass?

If God has foreordained every event or action, then he not only causes evil through evil men like Hitler or Judas--but he also causes "evil" (along with good) through every human who has ever lived. According to this line of reasoning, God evidently brings it to pass that fetuses are aborted through humans. It also seems that God caused evil through humans when the ancient Israelites offered their innocent babies in the fire to the false god Molech. Yet, YHWH explicitly stated that he never commanded such actions, nor did these kinds of sacrifices ever come up into his heart (Jer 7:31; 32:35). In fact, God called such sacrifices an "abomination." I also judge (condemn) similar actions and I would never think that God moved someone to offer his/her child in sacrifice, nor would a righteous and good deity move one man to rape another man's wife. "There is no darkness" in God (1 John 1:5).

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Westminster Confession As It Pertains to Foreordination

Some people believe that God foreordains all that comes to pass--including the ungodly acts of those not serving him. The Westminster Confession of Faith (III.1) states:

"God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

So God evidently foreordained the Edenic Fall and he ordained (eternally) the violent death of his Son and so many other historical atrocities. Yet God is not the Author of sin. How does this kind of reasoning logically work? I also wonder how this view comports with scripture.

Two points for now:

1) Why foreordain the Fall, yet warn Adam and Eve what would happen if they disobeyed and took fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden? Why sentence them to death if they were simply doing what had been foreordained? What would you think about me giving an assignment to my students, and telling them there would be a penalty for failure to do it, but then make the assignment undoable by dint of its design? I would probably not win professor of the year for such a move. And I can't help but wonder how God's name would be magnified by the foreordination of evil.

2) James 1:13-17 seems to contradict the Westminster Confession. God does not tempt (try) us with evil. He is perfect, just and good in all his ways. God did not foreordain the treacherous act of Judas Iscariot; nor did he bring to pass chattel slavery or the Holocaust. Each one is tried or enticed by his own sinful desire. As for the Edenic Fall, it occurred because of two humans who chose to misuse the free will granted them by our God and sovereign. He did not bring that event to pass.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Why Are Some Utterances of Paul "Hard to Understand"?

Paul's letters can often be difficult to understand (in Greek or English). The apostle was a profound thinker, a point that I think is borne out by looking at the illustrations he uses (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). Granted, he was writing under inspiration and by means of the wisdom that God gave him (2 Peter 3:15); nevertheless, the Bible allows human personalities and abilities to shine through the text too (1 Corinthians 7:12, 39-40).

But it is not always easy to follow Paul's involved line of reasoning (Romans 9:15-33); Gal 3:1-20). Why is he hard to understand at times (2 Pet 3:15-16)?

A.T. Robertson makes this observation:

"The style of Paul, like his theology, has challenged the attention of the greatest minds. Farrar calls his language 'the style of genius, if not the genius of style.' There is no doubt about its individuality" (A Grammar of the Greek NT, p. 128).

Robertson also mentions K.L. Bauer, who compares Paul's writings to the treatises written by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. And here is what one scholar (John H. Finley, Jr.) has to say about the historiographical style of Thucydides:

"At farthest remove from the nascent [earliest Greek] prose is the co-called periodic style of Plato, Isocrates and the writers of the fourth century generally. By studious subordination of minor points to the major idea of a sentence, it achieves impressive organic unity but commonly at the cost of sapping the vitality of subordinate ideas. This is the style, which, adopted from Isocrates by Cicero, passed from him into the English cadences of Gibbon and Burke. Thucydides' prose stands somewhere between these two, the simple and periodic, styles. His chief devices are antithesis, comparison and contrast. Within any given sentence, clause will be paired with clause, subject with subject, verb with verb. This elaborately antithetical method is more characteristic, to be sure, of the speeches than of the common narrative" (The Peloponnesian War, page x in the introduction).

With the foregoing in mind, read (in Greek) Ephesians 1:3-14; Rom 1:24-28; 5:12-21; Galatians 5:19-21.

In addition these points, it is important to remember that Paul employs a number of literary or rhetorical devices. His letters have even been compared to rhetorical or apologetic treatises of antiquity, though there may be some legitimate
differences between the Pauline letters and epistles penned in the ancient world.

Timothy George (see his commentary concerning Galatians) makes an interesting point regarding the Pauline letters when he reminds us that H.D. Betz outlines Galatians as follows:

Exordium: Gal 1:6-11

Narratio: Gal 1:12-2:!4

Propositio: Gal 2:15-21

Probatio: Gal 3:1-4:31

Paraenesis: Gal 5:1-6:10

Postscript: Gal 6:11-18.

While George believes that this analysis has some advantageous features, he nonetheless provides good reasons why "Betz seems to have gone too far in pressing Galatians into the rhetorical structure of apologetic letters" (Galatians, page 64).

This caveat should be duly noted, but I can also agree with Betz in other respects. I have worked with a number of Latin and Greek apologetico-rhetorical treatises (Tertullian, Lactantius, Cyprian, Tatian, Quintillian) as well as literary devices in general. The Apostle Paul is a master rhetor, as far as I can
tell, even if he appears to speak of rhetoric in pejorative terms at times.