Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dialogue on Mortality and Immortality (Prima Pars)

The apostle Paul suggests that his earthly tent will undergo dissolution and it will then be replaced by a sturdy house, "eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

Nope. His mortal will be swallowed up by life.

You talk about an explicit assertion hermeneutic, when you are in fact reading ideas into the apostle's language. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul does not say that his "mortal body" will be swallowed up by life. To the contrary, he writes that if his mortal body is "torn down," then he and other Christians will receive a "building from God" not made by human hands: a figurative structure that is eternal in the heavens. He says nothing about his mortal "body" being swallowed up by life. His exact words are: "In fact, we who are in this tent groan, being weighed down; because we want, not to put it off, but to put on the other, that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life" (2 Cor 5:4).

Notice that he says nothing about his body being swallowed up by life: only what is mortal is "swallowed up" with life. And lest you construe Paul's paradoxical language in 2 Cor. 5:4 as proof that he desired to have his fleshly body clothed in immortality, see Philippians 1:21-26. We could read his words at 2 Cor. 5:1ff this way: "I want my mortal condition to be replaced with an immortal one." The context supports just such a reading.

To substantiate this point, check out what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8: "But we are of good courage and are well
pleased rather to become absent from the body and to make our home with the Lord."

Here it seems that Paul is referring to being absent from the mortal body (our current body of flesh); however, the apostle likely does not mean that he would be bodiless or incorporeal in toto. See 1 Corinthians 15:42ff. Paul would assume a spiritual body as opposed to a body of flesh (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).

1 Cor 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be **raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed**.
53 For **this corruptible** must put on incorruption, and **this mortal** must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy
victory? {grave: or, hell}

Read the passage in context. Notice that Paul says nothing in the verses you cite about bodily alterations. Instead, he writes πάντες οὐ κοιμηθησόμεθα πάντες δὲ ἀλλαγησόμεθα (1 Cor 15:51). Where is there any mention of a body being changed in this verse? It simply is not there. Moreover, your interpretation of this Pauline unit ignores the entire context of 1 Cor 15:35ff where Paul assuredly makes it plain that "What you sow is not made alive unless first it dies; and as for what you sow, you sow, not the body that will develop, but a bare grain, it may be, of wheat or any one of the rest; but God gives it a body just as it has pleased him, and to each of the seeds its own body" (1 Cor. 15:35-38).

In other words, the body that is sown is not the identical body that will be raised. One is rooted in the other, but they are different bodies.

If the mortal body is not raised, but dissolved in death and corruption, then the saying does not come to pass, and the Adamic fall is not undone.

What saying does not come to pass? Surely you don't mean "the saying" in 1 Cor. 15:50-55 since the apostle plainly shows that the body that is raised is not the same as the body that was sown. Additionally, 2 Cor. 5:1-2 could not be clearer in what it has to say about the earthly tent being dissolved (καταλυθῇ) to make way for the building from God.

There is no "replacement" in view. It is not "my immortal soul must put on a different body" but rather "this mortal body, this corruptible must be changed..."

Monday, October 26, 2015

Stichworten (Haraz)--Rabbinic Interpretation

George Guthrie (The Structure of Hebrews, page 61) discusses the literary device Stichworten (haraz). The device refers to a practice whereby ancient rabbis or Qumran sectaries would "chain" a number of biblical texts together (in particular, from the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Writings) via multiple quotations from scripture. Guthrie says that Paul does not follow this exact pattern of haraz in Romans and neither does Heb. 1:5-14 although a different approach to Stichworten (haraz) is evidently utilized in both places.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

De Trinitate 1.8.15-16 and 1.11.22 (Augustine on 1 Corinthians 15:28)

Concerning 1 Cor. 15:28, here are some quotes from Augustine's De Trinitate:

but if some affirm even further, that the man Christ
Jesus has already been changed into the substance of
God, at least they cannot deny that the human nature
still remained, when He said before His passion, "For
my Father is greater than I;" whence there is no
question that it was said in this sense, that the
Father is greater than the form of a servant, to whom
in the form of God the Son is equal. Nor let any one,
hearing what the apostle says, "But when He saith all
things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is
excepted which did put all things under Him," think
the words, that He hath put all things under the Son,
to be so understood of the Father, as that He should
not think that the Son Himself put all things under
Himself. For this the apostle plainly declares, when
he says to the Philippians, "For our conversation is
in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour,
the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body,
that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body,
according to the working whereby He is able even to
subdue all things unto Himself." For the working of
the Father and of the Son is indivisible. Otherwise,
neither hath the Father Himself put all things under
Himself, but the Son hath put all things under Him,
who delivers the kingdom to Him, and puts down all
rule and all authority and power. For these words are
spoken of the Son: "When He shall have delivered up,"
says the apostle, "the kingdom to God, even the
Father; when He shall have put down all rule, and all
authority, and all power." For the same that puts
down, also makes subject (De Trinitate 1.8.15).

neither may we think that Christ shall so give up
the kingdom to God, even the Father, as that He shall
take it away from Himself. For some vain talkers have
thought even this. For when it is said, "He shall have
delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father," He
Himself is not excluded; cause He is one God together
with the Father (Ibid. 1.8.16).

Wherefore, having mastered this rule for
interpreting the Scriptures concerning the Son of God,
that we are to distinguish in them what relates to the
form of God, in which He is equal to the Father, and
what to the form of a servant which He took, in which
He is less than the Father; we shall not be disquieted
by apparently contrary and mutually repugnant sayings
of the sacred books. For both the Son and the Holy
Spirit, according to the form of God, are equal to the
Father, because neither of them is a creature, as we
have already shown: but according to the form of a
servant He is less than the Father, because He Himself
has said, "My Father is greater than I;" and He is
less than Himself, because it is said of Him, He
emptied Himself;" and He is less than the Holy Spirit,
because He Himself says, "Whosoever speaketh a word
against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but
whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall
not be forgiven Him (Ibid. 1.11.22).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

1 Corinthians 7:36

Louw-Nida's lexicon has the following for hUPERAKMOS:

"pertaining to being of an age beyond the prime of life (in 1 Cor 7:36 a reference to a woman beyond the normal marriageable age) 'past one's prime, past marriageable age'" (Semantic Domain 67.158).

While Louw-Nida's definition of hUPERAKMOS is quite plausible, it is good to keep in mind that the prefix hUPER can refer to "intensity" which means that it's possible to understand Paul's language as a reference to intense sexual desires. See the New Jerusalem Bible.

I also found a substantial and relatively long discussion in Anthony C. Thiselton's commentary on the Greek text of The First Epistle to the Corinthians: he provides both pertinent diachronic and synchronic details concerning hYPERAKMOS. See Thiselton, 593-598.

Finally, Will Deming has produced a very detailed study of 1 Corinthians 7 entitled Paul on Marriage and Celibacy: The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Matthew 16:19 and Greek Aspect

On p. 162 of his exegetical and linguistic Greek grammar, Richard A. Young discusses the future perfect periphrastic (which is constructed with a future form of εἰμί and a perfect participle), and how it relates to the exegesis of Matt. 16:19. This Matthean passage reads:

δώσω σοι τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν δήσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν λύσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς. (WH)

One question that arises in connection with this passage might be whether Matthew is saying that Peter is to proclaim what has previously been decreed in heaven or does he decree first, thereby binding "heaven" to his judicial "enactments"? Young points out that if the English future perfect is pressed, then Peter does not "dictate heavenly ordinances."

But Stanley Porter asserts that the perfect formation only conveys the state without telling us about the verbal action's inception or permanence.

On the other hand, Spiros Zodhiates writes that in Matt. 16:18, 19: "The two verbs DEDEMENON (from DEW [1210] ) and LELUMENON (from LUW [3089] ), are both perfect passive participles which should have been translated respectively 'having been bound' and 'having been loosed' already in the heavens." (The Complete Word Study: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishing, 1992.)

Matt. 18:18 and Heb. 2:13 are other examples of this construction. There are certainly some profound biblical and grammatical issues at play here.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


One thing that we do know from the historical and
linguistic data--the term "bishop" was not used in the
early Christian community. Yes, EPISKOPOS and
PRESBUTEROS were employed, but these terms did not (at
that time) mean "bishop."

1 Clement is dated circa 96 C.E. So, it does not tell us much about the authority structure of the church discussed in the NT. One thing that we do know from the historical and linguistic data is that "bishop" was not used in the early Christian community. Granted, EPISKOPOS and PRESBUTEROS were employed; but these terms did not, at that time, mean "bishop."

After providing classical, septuagintal and NT
denotations for EPISKOPOS, Ralph Earle observes:

"When we come to Ignatius early in the second century
(about A.D. 115), we find a very different picture.
Now there is one bishop over each local church,
together with several elders and several deacons. The
bishop is supreme in authority . . . Here we see the
beginnings of the episcopal hierarchy that flowered
during the second century. But 'in the beginning it
was not so'" (Word Meanings in the NT, page 389).

"For the distinctive NT use of EPISKOPOS it must be
sufficient to refer to Hort's Christian Ecclesia,
where it is shown that the word is descriptive of
function, not of office, thus Phil 1:1 SUN EPISKOPOIS
KAI DIAKONOIS, 'with them that have oversight, and
them that do service [minister]'" (Moulton-Millgan
Vocabulary of the Greek NT
, page 245).

"The ecclesiastical loanword 'bishop' is too technical
and loaded with late historical baggage for precise
signification of usage of EPISKOPOS and cognates in
our lit., esp. the NT" (BDAG, page 379).

This reference work (BDAG) does nevertheless say that EPISKOPOS
"In the Gr-Rom world" frequently "refers to one who
has a definite function or fixed office of guardianship
and related activity within a group . . ." (ibid).

"The monarchical bishop appears first in Ignatius. It is not certain, however, whether Ignatius describes existing conditions or sets up ideal requirements that do not correspond to reality" (J. Rohde, Exegetical Dictionary of the NT, Vol. 2:36).

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Karl Rahner on the Trinity Qua Relations (Weedhacker)

I've posted this materal before as part of a larger project. This time, I'm just submitting a portion of the larger research project:

From Rahner's frame of reference, to think of the Trinity numerically (one nature, etc.) is ipso facto not to think of God's triunity at all! Rahner further insists that "the three persons are not three distinct things per se but are three distinct things only in and through their relations with each other" (Davis 139). He frequently employs such terms as "relative realities" or "mere and opposed relations" to describe the tres personae of the Godhead, all the while insisting that the Trinity is a "unity of three divine persons" exemplified in "three distinct manners of subsisting" (qt. in Davis 139). The tres personae "are identical to the Godhead but only virtually distinct from each other" (Davis 139). In this regard, Stephen Davis comments:

Rahner calls relations "the most unreal of realities" but insists that they are absolutely real as other determinations. But I do not see how this helps. There is nothing in my experience that helps me understand the concepts Rahner is working with; thus they do not help me understand the doctrine of the Trinity (140).

After this observation, Davis tries to illustrate what he thinks Rahner is attempting to say, but the problems apparently remain. Davis asks us to suppose that there are two persons--call them A and B--who are qualitatively identical (there are no substantial differences between them), but who differ vis-a'-vis their spatial relations (A B). In such a case, we would normally conclude that A and B are qualitatively or substantially identical beings yet numerically distinct non-identical beings. But what if A and B are immaterial beings? They would therefore have no spatial location. How then, would we distinguish A from B? Using Rahner's approach, we might say that A and B are possibly distinguished by their relations to and through each other. What though is their relation to one another? Is it
not one of "non-numerical identity," based on Rahner's thesis? Since
this is the case, Davis concludes that "obviously we cannot use this
relationship to distinguish A and B; it is the very relationship we are
trying to find grounds for" (Davis 140). Davis therefore concludes that
Rahner's attempt to elucidate the mystery of the Trinity fails to
render the doctrine coherent. While Davis feels that it is possible
for a philosopher or theologian to achieve a coherent treatment of the
Trinity, he admits that he presently does not know of any such

Episkopos and Presbuteros

Ralph Earle's discussion of the words EPISKOPOS and PRESBUTEROS is linked to the passage in 1 Timothy 3:1. The operative word there is EPISKOPHS, which is commonly translated "the office of a bishop" or overseer. In 1 Tim. 3:2, Paul employs TON EPISKOPON as he delineates the qualifications of "the overseer" who is appointed to humbly and lovingly shepherd God's congregation.

EPISKOPOS apparently occurs five times in the NT (1 Tim. 3:1, 2; Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:25), and its "basic meaning" is "overseer." Earle states: "The ancient Greeks thought of their gods as EPISKOPOI. This usage is found in Homer's Iliad and many later writings."

BAGD also notes that EPISKOPOS in Pre-Christian usage denoted an overseer. The word is used of a transcendent being in Iliad 22:255; in Aeschylus, Sept. 272; Sophocles, Antigone 1148; Plato, Leg. 4, 717D. BAGD also cites 1 Pet. 2:25 and says the following: "guardian of the souls 1 Pt 2:25. The passages IMg [Ignatius to the Magnesians] 3:1 QEWi TWi PANTWN E.; Cf. 6:1 show the transition to the next mng" (299).

Concerning the word PRESBUTEROI, Earle uses Tit. 1:5-7 to show that an EPISKOPOS and a PRESBUTEROS are the same. True, PRESBUTEROS evidently has a Jewish background--although this point does not mean that the elder arrangement (the "presbytery") was confined to early Jewish congregations: "The name 'elders' emphasizes the fact that the leaders of the church were to be older men, as was the case with the elders of Israel" (Earle 412). It was "older men" whom Paul told Titus to appoint on the isle of Crete, so that they might correct the things that were defective (Tit. 1:5-7).

To prove that the "elders" and the overseers are identical, however, Earle cites Lightfoot--who gives six proofs showing us that PRESBUTEROI and EPISKOPOI are applied to the same referents in the NT. Not only Lightfoot, but Jerome and John Chrysostom can also be invoked to demonstrate the truthfulness of Lightfoot's claims. EPISKOPOS did not originally mean "bishop": it did not denote a hierachy, nor was there simply one ANHR in the early ecclesiae who served as a "bishop." All congregations evidently submitted to the "older men and apostles" in Jerusalem who faithfully communicated apostolic teaching to every congregation in the Mediterranean world (Acts 15:1, 2).

Friday, October 16, 2015

Etymology: An Overview and Caveat

Etymology: An Overview

The term "etymology" may refer to the branch of
grammar that deals with word formations (origins).
Etymologists trace a signifier's development through
time. These grammarians are especially interested in
the diachrony of a word as opposed to the synchronic
aspects of morpho-phonic substances under examination.
This does not mean that linguists do not devote
themselves to both types of word studies.
Nevertheless, in etymological studies, diachrony takes

Linguists generally recognize that language is not
static: it changes over time and morphic substances
(words) thus acquire new meanings as they signify
different concepts or stand for various referents.
For instance, the English word "salary" derives from
the Latin SALARIUM.

The Latin term once referred to "money allowed to
Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt" (The Concise
Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology
). Today, the
word signifies a form of pay (a stipend) without
connoting or denoting what the Latin SALARIUM
signified at one time.

We can say the same for the Greek word MUQOS. At
one time in history, MUQOS simply denoted a "word,"
"speech," "tale," "story" without any necessary
connotations of falsehood (cf. Classical Mythology by
Mark P.O. Morford and Robert J. Lenardon). In Homer,
MUQOS clearly has reference to a truthful account (a
trustworthy report) of eagerly anticipated details. By
the first century BCE-CE, however, MUQOS started to be employed
pejoratively by both Philo and the GNT writers. We
also note a semantic shift vis-a-vis other Greek words
such as hAMARTIA and MORFH. It should not surprise us,
therefore, if hARPAGMOS has undergone change per
its lexical content.

At this point, we would encourage the reader not to
conclude that etymology (the study of primary word
forms) can never be helpful. Such a suggestion is far
from accurate. Understanding how compounds work
can be helpful when learning Greek vocabulary.
It also comes in handy when one is trying
to decipher an unfamiliar English word. One
who knows the etymology of words like
"doxastic," "alethic," "logocentric" and
"heliocentric" can easily decode such esoteric speech.
This essay is thus not meant to downgrade all types of
etymologizing. But one must use caution when
undertaking word studies. Etymology can be a blessing
if used aright; it can also be a maleficent tool

D.A. Carson gives some pertinent examples of what he
calls "the root fallacy" on pp. 28-33 of his
Exegetical Fallacies (Second Edition). Some common
instances of the root fallacy are explanations that we find for

One often hears that EKKLHSIA means "called out ones."
That is the word's etymology, but it's not what
EKKLHSIA signifies in the GNT, however. The word
denotes an "assembly" or "congregation." It does not
refer to those called out per se, nor does
the word refer to a building. Etymology
and/or semantic anachronism can deceive us
in this case, if we rely on them too much.

The Trinity Is Not a Triplicity (John Burnaby)

Trinitarians normally do not say that the Father, Son, or the Holy Spirit are "parts" of the God since the Almighty is supposed to be non-complex or absolutely simple. Describing the Augustinian conception of the Trinity, John Burnaby writes: "The Trinity is not a 'triplicity,' an organism of parts: the equality of the 'Persons' means that each possesses the whole substance of Godhead" (Burnaby 22).

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Porneia (A Brief Diachronic and Synchronic Exercise)

LSJ Greek-English Lexicon provides the definitions "fornication" or "prostitution" for the Greek noun PORNEIA. While I do not take exception to LSJ's treatment of PORNEIA in toto, one problem is the issue of synchronicity over against diachronicity. In other words, we need to focus on how the word(s) in question were used in the first century and honestly examine such usages in the NT and in secular first-century writings to ascertain their possible meanings in a determinate usus loquendi. For instance, Timothy George observes that PORNEIA originally denoted "prostitution" (cf. the terms PORNH and PERNHMI), but by the mid-first century CE, PORNEIA came to mean (potentially and generally) "sexual immorality or irregularity" (George, Galatians, 392). I think that Matt. 5:32 and Jude 7 demonstrate the accuracy of George's construal.

Louw-Nida makes this comment on PORNEIA: "To engage in sexual immorality of any kind, often with the implication of prostitution-'to engage in illicit sex, to commit fornication, sexual immorality, fornication, prostitution" (88.71). Though no examples are given of this usage, L-N also says that PORNEIA may refer to incest in the NT. (Sed vide 1 Cor. 5:1ff.)

While I would not restrict PORNEIA to homosexual activity, it seems that that the term encompasses such activity (based on Jude 7). For ARSENOKOITHS, the new BDAG gives the following information: "a male who engages in sexual activity w. a pers. of his own sex, pederast 1 Cor 6:9." Cf. Soph. Lex.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Philippians 2:7-8 and LABWN

There are four instances of the aorist participle that appear in Phil. 2:7-8, namely, λαβών, γενόμενος, εὑρεθεὶς, and a second occurrence of γενόμενος. Donald Mastronarde points out that the aorist participle "conveys the aspect of the aorist stem, that is, simple occurrence or completion of an action" and "most often refers to an action antecedent to that of the main verb of the sentence and is usually translated in English by a past participle." So in the case of the four aorist participles presently under discussion, they would literally be rendered in English: 'having taken,' 'having become,' having been found,' and 'having become.' λαβών would thus possibly refer to an action antecedent to the main verb ἐκένωσεν--hence, it would not describe the instrumentality of the "emptying" delineated in Phil. 2:7.

Moises Silva also makes the same observation in his commentary on Philippians, when he writes: "If we were to press this rule [for aorist participles], we would need to translate each clause [in Phil. 2:7-8] somewhat woodenly: for example, 'having taken (or, after he had taken) the form of a servant' " (Silva 120). But Silva then goes to say that this rule has many exceptions and he is right (see Mastronarde 199ff). But I think that he is possibly wrong when he goes on to insist that the best way to handle the aorist participles λαβών and γενόμενος in Phil. 2:7 is to treat them as participles of means. It seems that both Silva and Daniel B. Wallace primarily favor the participle of means in Phil. 2:7 (outside of theological considerations) because of the supposed "poetic quality" of Philippians. Yet this "quality" is questionable since this verse might not be derived from an older hymn as commonly supposed.

Furthermore, construing λαβών as a participle of means does not do justice to ἐκένωσεν, which normally denotes an act of negation (subtraction), not the act of addition (as even Wallace admits). So the NWT rendering seems to make the most sense out of the context and it is well within the parameters of Greek grammar when it translates Phil. 2:7: "No, but he emptied himself and took a slave's form and came to be in the likeness of men."

"No, but he emptied himself and took a slave's form and became human" (2013 Revision).

"But himself emptied, taking a servant's form" (Rotherham).

At one time, I favored the antecedent view for the participle λαβών in Phil 2:7. After talking with a friend and studying Stanley Porter's Idioms, however, I must concede that λαβών may be referring to consequent action or, more likely, subsequent action. At any rate, it is by no means certain that the aorist verbal adjective here is a participle of means. While categorizing Phil 2:7 as an instance of the instrumental participle (i.e., participle of means), Brooks and Winbery admit that λαβών and γενόμενος "may indicate manner rather than means" (Syntax of NT Greek, 150). To be fair, they also say that there's little difference between a participle of manner and one of means.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Meaning of "Spirit" in 1 Corinthians 2:11 (David Hill)

"At 1 Cor. 2:11 'spirit' connotes something like 'human consciousness,' the organ of self-knowledge. A similar use is evidenced at Rom. 8:16--'The Spirit of God beareth witness to (or, with) our spirit that we are the children of God'--where the human spirit is considered as that part of man which receives spiritual knowledge" (Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms, page 284).

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Is There A Possible Connection Between Daniel 8:10 (LXX) and Revelation 12:4?

Henry Alford makes a comparison between Daniel 8:10 and Revelation 12:4:

καὶ ἐμεγαλύνθη ἕως τῆς δυνάμεως τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἀπὸ τῆς δυνάμεως τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἄστρων, καὶ συνεπάτησαν αὐτά (Daniel 8:10 LXX)

καὶ ἡ οὐρὰ αὐτοῦ σύρει τὸ τρίτον τῶν ἀστέρων τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ ἔβαλεν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν γῆν. καὶ ὁ δράκων ἕστηκεν ἐνώπιον τῆς γυναικὸς τῆς μελλούσης τεκεῖν, ἵνα ὅταν τέκῃ τὸ τέκνον αὐτῆς καταφάγῃ. (Revelation 12:4 Nestle)

Monday, October 05, 2015

Irenaeus and John 14:28

"For if any one should inquire the reason why the
Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things,
has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour
and the day [of judgment], he will find at present no
more suitable, or becoming, or safe reason than this
(since, indeed, the Lord is the only true Master),
that we may learn through Him that the Father is above
all things. For 'the Father,' says He, 'is greater
than I.' The Father, therefore, has been declared by
our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge; for this
reason, that we, too, as long as we are connected with
the scheme of things in this world, should leave
perfect knowledge, and such questions [as have been
mentioned], to God, and should not by any chance,
while we seek to investigate the sublime nature of the
Father, fall into the danger of starting the question
whether there is another God above God" (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer.

Saturday, October 03, 2015


I think the question of God's apathy or lack thereof
is highly significant. The holy writings of ancient
Judaism and Christianity do not seem to describe a God
who is utterly unchangeable or unmoved by events in
the world. To the contrary, the God of the Bible is
distressed when His people are distressed (Isa 63:9)
and hurt when He beholds humans engaging in courses of
action that are self-destructive (2 Pet 2:12-13). The
God of the Bible (as the apostle John tells his first
century readers) is love (1 Jn 4:8). A loving
individual is usually internally moved by the plight
of the other.

One objection that has been submitted against the
doctrine of divine passibility is the notion that God
is A SE ESSE and therefore does not depend on anyone.
As Karl Barth worded matters, God is absolute freedom
(Cf Ps 36:9; Dan 4:35; Jn 5:26ff; 2 Cor 3:17-18).

The present writer thinks that the doctrine of aseity
can be formulated in a way that does not render the
divine One impassible. God's aseity does not mean that
He cannot be moved by distressing or heartening
terrestrial events. For if I am moved by the sight of
a child, who has been struck by a car and who now lies
in the street helplessly waiting for an ambulance as
he or she vigorously fights for his/her precious life, in what
way am I dependent on the child who is almost
devoid of life? Similarly, I fail to see how God becomes
dependent on His creatures simply because He is moved
by our individual plights.

At any rate, in an online article, Dr. Kelly James
Clark (an advocate of divine impassibility) admits
that the ecclesiastical reasons for affirming an
impassible God have generally been Platonic or
neo-Platonic and, I might add, Aristotelian. The
Church (according to Clark) has basically determined
that Almighty God is impassible for the following five

(1) The absolute Cause of the transitory realm of
becoming must be a changeless Being.

(2) God does not depend on any external source AD
EXTRA; He only depends on Himself (A SE ESSE).

(3) God cannot change, since any change would be a
change for better or worse. Since God is perfect, He
cannot change for the better and He clearly cannot
change for the worst. Ergo, He does not change at all.

(4) God is DEUS SIMPLICITAS. That is, He is
un-compounded or non-composite. Since only composite
things change, God is incapable of change.

(5) God is ACTUS PURUS and thus has no potential for
change. Consequently He cannot change.

While Clark does evidently affirm a number of these
principles that early Church councils employed to
shape their notion of God, even he has to concede the
following: "Some conciliar pronouncements are based on
philosophical assumptions that are not binding on the
church." He subsequently goes on to note:

"Although the church has prima facie obligation to
treat seriously the philosophical presuppositions of
the councils, it has a right to reconsider such a
pronouncement if the philosophical commitment violates
their understanding of Scripture, religious experience
or intuitions."

While I cannot completely concur with Clark's
statement as it stands, I think he does show that a
Christian is not bound to accept the philosophical
presuppositions of any church council. One may even
ask if a Christian should cloud his or her theological
perspective with philosophical presuppositions at all
(Col 2:8).

But putting aside that issue for now, my point is that
church councils have often relied on philosophy when
making pronouncements instead of the Bible. When
councils have depended on Plato or Aristotle rather than
Holy Writ, is a Christian theologically bound to a
council's decision? Furthermore, if (as Kelly James
Clark writes) a council makes logical errors and thus
presents unsound or invalid arguments, it certainly
makes one wonder whether a Christian should place his
or her unqualified trust in such putative infallible
decisions. May the reader make an informed decision in
the light of Jehovah's wise and everlasting counsels.

Boethius on God, Time and Foreknowledge

According to Boethius (De Consolatio 5), there is no such thing as "divine forevision" or foreknowledge on the metaphysical level:

"If you will weigh the foresight with which God discerns all things, you will rightly esteem it to be the knowledge of a never fading instant rather than a foreknowledge of the 'future.' It should therefore rather be called provision than prevision because, placed high above all things, it looks out over all as from the loftiest mountain top."

While humans may rightly call God's knowledge of that which is future "foreknowledge," in reality (from the perspective of ultimate reality), it is not foreknowledge, but an intimate awareness of the present qua NUNC AETERNAE.

But why would a Catholic thinker be tempted to make this move? There are at least two reasons that readily spring to mind. Firstly, Boethius believes that if God actually foresees future events or states, then He might also cause them (i.e., foreknowledge stems from foreordination). Secondly, Boethius reasons: "Without doubt . . . all things which God foreknows do come to pass, but certain of them proceed from free will."

So libertarian free will only seems possible if God does not "foreknow" future free actions. The way out of this problem for Boethius is to posit an atemporal deity.

Nevertheless, De Consolatio 5 also maintains that something known "cannot be otherwise than it is known to be," such as God knowing a future free act. Free actions remain free IN SE even though God foreknows them--they "do not lose the perfect freedom of their nature" just because of divine foreknowledge (William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 7). That seems to be the position of Boethius.

Thomas Aquinas writes in support of what Boethius contends:

"Hence what is known by us must be necessary even as it is in itself; for what is future contingent in itself, cannot be known by us. Whereas what is known by God must be necessary according to the mode in which they are subject to the divine knowledge, as already stated, but not absolutely as considered in their own causes" (ST I.14.13, Reply to Obj. 3. See also Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 10).

Notice that Aquinas likewise escapes the possible dilemmas that may arise from positing divine foreknowledge by appealing to the notion of God's eternal present (NUNC AETERNAE). But if God subsists in timeless eternity (above and beyond time), which both Boethius and Aquinas believe, then He doesn't really see future events or behold future states before they occur, but rather as they occur.