Thursday, March 31, 2022

Is the Universe Possible or Necessary? (In Process)

One student asked me if the universe is necessary, and I think it's a good question. There are numerous ways to approach the issue, but let's think about it logically, with the help of ancient and medieval writers.

At the outset, I would define "necessary" in this context as "must exist/cannot not exist/not dependent upon anything or anyone" and "possible" as "contingent/could be otherwise." This means that if the universe is possible, although it exists, it might not have existed and the universe might fail to exist one day; furthermore, contingency implies dependence and a possible universe would not be dependent on itself but would be dependent on something outside itself.

So, to answer my student's question, it seems possible to formulate a disjunctive syllogism which might strike at the heart of the issue. By the way, the student is a theist but wants to build stronger arguments in order to support his case for God's existence.

The disjunctive syllogism I have in mind is the following:

1) Either the universe depends on itself or the universe depends on something else. (p v q)
2) The universe does not depend on itself. (~p)
3) Therefore, the universe depends on something else. (q)

This argument is a disjunctive syllogism, so it's deductively valid. And there seems to be good reasons for believing that the universe does not depend on itself to continue existing; nor did the universe cause itself to begin existing. Theoretically, without God, it's possible that the universe could stop existing. Either way, the universe appears to be possible rather than necessary.

Anselm of Canterbury contributes to this discussion by distinguishing between kinds of entities that might exist ab alio (through another) versus a being that possibly exists a se (through itself). When we reflect upon objects in the universe, it seems that they exist ab alio, not a se: that includes we ourselves, trees, animals, grass, and stars. Each of these things appear to be possible/contingent, but what about the universe as a whole?

When these kinds of discussions arise, scholars often point to Thomas Aquinas' five ways for the existence of God: the third way proceeds "from possibility and necessity." Edward Feser argues that by "possibility," Aquinas means the inherently transitory or

"inherent metaphysical instability
" of hylemorphic objects, that is, objects composed of matter and form (e.g., trees, rocks, humans, dogs, cats, tables, etc.). The third way seems to teach (among other things) that objects which come into being and go out of being (hylemorphic objects which have potential and actuality, form and matter) are possible (contingent), not necessary insofar as they depend on something else for their existence.

Aquinas' argument is a posteriori or rooted in experience since we commonly see things come into existence, then pass out of existence. Because his argument is a posteriori, it's probable but not certain, given the premises--Aquinas is aware of how much his argument can accomplish. At this point, theists don't have to prove in an apodictic sense that God is a necessary being while the universe is not; again, Aquinas is only trying to demonstrate the probability that the universe is possible/contingent but God is not.

[To be continued]

Monday, March 28, 2022

An Old Testament Exam That I Used to Give


1. Which Old Testament books are included in the Deuteronomic History? (be specific)




2. Which material is included in the Priestly Source? (be specific)



3. The name “Deuteronomy” means _______________  ______________.


4. The kings who sat upon the throne of David in Jerusalem were not supposed to have multiple wives. T or F


6. Which books comprise the Chronicler’s History? (be specific)




7. What is the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41)?



8. The primary theme of Joshua is _________ ____________________ ______ _____________________ under Joshua (four words).



9. According to Laurin, the book of Joshua is an unhistorical theological document. T or F


10. Define the word “Torah.”


11. Define the term “judge” as it is used in the Old Testament (three possible meanings).



12. An Israelite judge could function in two capacities. What were these functions or capacities? (this is not the same question as number 12)



13. Name some of the judges mentioned in the Old Testament (besides Samuel).



14. Briefly discuss the life of Judge Samuel.



15. Explain how the ruach (spirit) of YHWH is depicted by the writer of 1 Samuel in relation to King Saul.




16. Discuss the life and reign of King David. Write about the gradual development of his rulership, and then discuss the low points of his kingly reign (essay question).




17. Discuss how the ancient Jews ritually observed Atonement Day. Explain the procedures in detail (essay question).





Friday, March 25, 2022

James 1:16-17 (God is the Generous Father, Not the Source of Temptation)

I will continue discussing the first chapter of James: this series of posts will not cover the entire chapter, but I want to dwell on certain verses. This post will deal with James 1:16-17.

Greek (THGNT):
Μὴ πλανᾶσθε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοί· πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον ἄνωθέν ἐστιν καταβαῖνον ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων παρ᾽ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα.

Lauri Thurén insists: "From a rhetorical perspective the letter is a well-organized text, where the author takes high risks in order to reinforce the addressees' rather Pauline pattern of religion." See Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period (330 B.C.- A.D. 400), page 592.

That's an interesting statement because scholars tend to juxtapose James and Paul when it comes to their respective theologies, and even
Thurén mentions "structural and theological problems" associated with James' letter.

On the other hand,
Thurén has many good things to say about the rhetorical elements in James (i.e., the book's rhetorical features). For example, the epistle's Greek is considered to be written at a high-level though many Semitisms appear; there are numerous stylistic devices, skillful uses of antitheses, and I would add that James employs various and interesting metaphors (Ibid.). Readers of James also find many imperatives (commands) and "appellatives," says Thurén--James is aware of his audience and he throws in some diatribe although it's not the kind learned from a rhetoric handbook; still, overall, the letter seems rhetorically impressive.

Looking at the Greek, what do we find? Verse 16 begin with
Μὴ πλανᾶσθε (present passive imperative + Μὴ): this formula appears in 1 Corinthians 6:9; 15:33; Galatians 6:7; To the Magnesians 8.1 (Ignatius of Antioch); Diatr. 4.6.23 (Epictetus): "Do not be deceived," "Do not be misled," or "Do not be led astray." James' employment of the present suggests the action is progressively imperative but negative/prohibitive (Dan McCartney, James, BECNT).

Rogers and Rogers: "
16 πλανᾶσθε pres. imp. mid./pass. πλανάω to lead astray, to deceive. Mid. or pass. could be permissive: 'Don’t allow yourselves to be deceived. ἀγαπητοί beloved, a term of endearment."

Peter Davids:

The admonition μὴ πλανᾶσθε refers neither to some simple intellectual non sequitur nor to a moral failure, but to a serious error which strikes at the heart of faith itself (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 6:7; 1 Jn. 1:8; Epict. 4.6.23; cf. Windisch, 9; H. Braun, TDNT VI, 242–251 [although Braun accepts the form μὴ πλανᾶσθε as a borrowing from the Stoic diatribe, he still holds that it refers to serious moral error]; Brown, 27, and Wibbing). James may not feel that the person is about to fall from faith (yet cf. 5:20), but at the least a serious failure is in view with a background in Jewish apocalyptic warnings (cf. the use of πλανάω in Revelation or πλάνη in 2 Pet. 2:18; 3:17; 1 Jn. 4:6; Rom. 1:27; etc.). The address is an amplification of the form in 1:2, a characteristic of the homiletic style of the work. It shows that the author still considers himself addressing Christians; they have not yet left the faith.
The fact that James uses ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοί would indicate that his readers have not departed from the faith, but simply need corrective discipline: James is addressing his spiritual family composed of fellow brothers and sisters (compare 1:19; 2:5). They are members of the Christian faith and beloved ones, so while it's possible that some might have been tempted to believe God is the author of temptations, the context of James 1:16 shows that anyone who attributes temptation or evil to God would be in danger of falling for a great deception. Therefore, James wants to disabuse his audience of this misconception. He thus writes:

πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον ἄνωθέν ἐστιν καταβαῖνον

James begins verse 17 with a noun that is nominative singular feminine modified by an adjective that agrees with the nominal word (i.e., the adjectival
πᾶσα is nominative singular feminine of πᾶς). ἀγαθὴ likewise modifies δόσις (it's an adjective that is nominative singular feminine). There is some question as to whether δόσις refers to a gift or to the act of giving: commentators normally see πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον as synonymous with πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ (Craig Blomberg calls the construction "redundant"). Scholars of the New Testament tend to render the construction altogether as "Every good and perfect gift . . ."

For a contrary view of the syntax in James 1:17, see F.J.A. Hort (The Epistle of St. James). Chris A. Vlachos and J.H. Ropes maintain that
πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον forms an "imperfect hexameter" (the syllables possibly comprise six rhythmical sections); A.T. Robertson and Adam Clarke think the words constitute a "perfect hexameter." Additionally, ἀγαθὴ and τέλειον most likely are attributive adjectives, not predicative (so Vlachos). Compare how James uses ἄνωθέν as he continues, which would suggest the adjectives preceding this adverbial word are attributives.

ἄνωθέν ἐστιν καταβαῖνον-in this portion of the verse, we find an adverb with a finite verb + the present active participle nominative singular neuter of καταβαίνω (to come down, go down, descend). See Blomberg (James) for possibilities about rendering this portion of James 1:17 (compare James 3:17). He favors the periphrastic use of the participle, thus treating καταβαῖνον as though it functions predicatively. This usage explains the translation, "every gift is coming down from above." Moreover, I believe this employment of ἄνωθέν is circumlocutional and ἄνωθέν ἐστιν καταβαῖνον reminds us that God is generous. Cf. James 1:5.

ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων-Max Zerwick indicates that τοῦ πατρὸς identifies or names God as the Creator (see James 1:27; 3:9); the genitive phrase is likewise plural ("of lights"). Both Vlachos and Ben Witherington III appear to see Genesis allusions in this verse (see Genesis 1:3, 14-18). τῶν φώτων probably refers to the Sun, moon, and stars: that is the consensus view anyway. Within the greater literary context, these words form part of James' argument against imputing temptation to God.

παρ᾽ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα-here, James employs a preposition coupled with a datival relative pronoun and ἔνι (present active indicative third singular verb); then οὐκ apparently negates παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα.

πατρὸς is the antecedent of ᾧ and the relative pronoun is in the dative case because it's the object of παρ᾽ (David L. Mathewson, Elodie Ballantine Emig, Intermediate Greek Grammar: Syntax for Students of the New Testament).

Friday, March 18, 2022

Places in the Bible Where a Person's Appearance Is Described (1 Samuel 16:7)

Over the years, I've noticed that relatively few places in the Bible describe someone's physical appearance in either a positive or negative way. For instance, we have no inkling of what Adam and Eve or Jesus looked like. What about Cain, Noah or Abel? I believe there is a reason why the Bible does not dwell on the personal appearance of many people. See 1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 11:22; 31:30; 1 Peter 3:3-4. But what are examples where the Bible does comment on someone's looks? I have included a few symbolic references below but most names are those of individual Bible characters.

Secondly, I was looking for places where the Bible either describes people as being beautiful, handsome, ugly or close to either description (i.e., as beautiful or ugly).

1. Joseph (Genesis 39:4, 6)
2. Moses (Exodus 2:2, 10; Acts 7:20; Hebrews 11:23)
3. Eglon (Judges 3:17)
4. King Saul (1 Samuel 9:2)
5. David (1 Samuel 16:12, 18; 17:42)
6. Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2)
7. Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1) Cf. 2 Samuel 14:27 for another Tamar.
8. Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25-26)
9. Abigail (1 Samuel 25:3)
10. The Shulamite Maiden (
Song of Solomon 1:5-6; 4:1)
11. Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29:17)
12. Esther (
Esther 2:7)
13. Sarai/Sarah (Genesis 12:10-16)
14. Daniel and the Three Hebrews (Daniel 1:3-4, 8, 15)
15. The Suffering Servant of YHWH (Isaiah 52:14)-likely figurative
16. Job's Daughters (Job 42:15)
17. The King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:12)
18. Eliab (1 Samuel 16:6, 7)
19. Abijah (2 Samuel 3:4; 1 Kings 1: 5, 6)
Abishag (1 Kings 1:3-4)
Rebekah (Genesis 24:16; 26:7-11)
Vashti (Esther 1:10-12)
Jerusalem Personified (Ezekiel 16:12-15)-a figurative usage
Jehovah God (Psalm 96:6; Zechariah 9:17)
The Messianic King (Isaiah 33:17)

Compare Genesis 6:2; Deuteronomy 21:11-13; 2 Samuel 23:21; 1 Chronicles 11:23; Psalm 45:2; Song of Solomon 1:16; 5:10; Amos 8:13.


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

What Does Matthew 5:28 Teach? (Part II)

These are my concluding thoughts on Jason Staples' approach to Matthew 5:28. Please see to read the points I addressed in part I of my reply to his blog entry. There are points at which I agree with Staples but I don't share his overall view of the text.

Greek (Matthew 5:27-28 WH): Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη Οὐ μοιχεύσεις. Ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

While trying to explain Matthew 5:28, Staples gets into an interesting discussion about Plato's view of "lust." I concur with Staples that lust is not just about sexual desire, whether we're referring to the English use of the term or to Plato's understanding of "desire." For example, one can lust for power or for riches.

Plato uses
ἐπιθυμία in the Phaedrus and in the Republic. There is more written about ἐπιθυμία than I have time to recount, so let's just review some of the material pertinent to this term. In the Republic, Socrates (possibly acting as Plato's mouthpiece) argues that humans possess tripartite souls; that is, we're supposed to have souls with three parts-- appetitive, spirited and rational. We can think of these parts hierarchically with the appetites constituting the lower level for Plato and the rational part being the highest level since ideally, it's supposed to control both the appetitive and spirited parts.

Some of the definitions that appear in LSJ for ἐπιθυμία, especially when we consider the Platonic passages, include "desire, yearning, appetite, sexual desire, lust, [the act of] longing after a thing." At times, the word may even refer to an object of desire. In any event, it is clear that Plato privileges rationality above emotions and desire: we still witness this privileging in many forms of literature today.

Some have compared the appetitive part of the soul to Freud's id because it seems to specialize in the baser desires although our appetites putatively encompass our desire for food, drink, and sex. So the appetites in Plato are not just about sex, as Staples points out, and I like his example of a musical note being played in harmony, which illustrates how the tripartite soul is supposed to work as one unit with the parts performing their respective function for the overall good of the soul.

However, where I object to Staples is with his use of Plato as a potential tool for shedding light on the Matthean text. Firstly, the Platonic tripartite soul likely has very little (if any) semantic or conceptual impact on Matthew 5:28. Secondly, the Judaic and Christian traditions make a distinction between good and bad desires: desire is not bad in se, but there are bad desires according to the Judeo-Christian tradition. As the Bible writers portray matters, a desire does not simply become bad when someone acts on it; certain desires are bad/disordered in se and if one continues to dwell on the bad/disordered desire, then that mental act itself could become sinful. Nevertheless, as long as the desire is nascent or not fertilized and strongly entrenched, we have time to eradicate the bad desire from our minds.

But what if we continue to dwell upon wrong desire, possibly coveting someone's mate or property? If we continue to cultivate and "water" wrong desire, we've come one step further to sinning physically (James 1:13-15). If we don't deaden this wrong desire, we'll subsequently fall into sin with the use of our body members (Colossians 3:5). Therefore, I want to emphasize that while thinking hateful thoughts might not be equivalent to actually murdering someone, wrong or bad desire is still sinful if we let it fester, but we can be forgiven for our harmful thoughts (Isaiah 55:6-7). Hence, while Staples wants to argue that the problem arises when someone acts on a wrong desire, I'm suggesting that bad desires are sinful (sinful thoughts) in se at a certain point, and they could lead to sinful actions.

As Staples continues in his post, he lists examples of "lust" in the Bible that markedly are neither negative nor sinful (Matthew 13:17; Luke 22:15): I agree but this just illustrates the importance of reading a term in its literary context and doing so synchronically. It is important to differentiate good and bad desires, as I mentioned earlier. Staples distinguishes desire from coveting, but I don't see where he makes the distinction between good desire and bad desire. After all, not all bad desires involve coveting, which I didn't see him address either. In other words, to "desire" having relations with someone to whom one is not married is just as bad as coveting someone's wife. Granted, sexual desire is a God-given gift from above, but it can be distorted or become disordered, then the desire become sinful. Another example is when we bear a grudge against someone to such an extent that we want to harm them physically--that is not covetousness but it's still sinful.

Finally, two issues arise regarding Matthew 5:28: I've already discussed whether the verse deals with passionate looking or with coveting (compare Acts 20:33; Romans 7:7; 13:9; 1 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 6:11; 1 Peter 1:12). My conclusion was that while Matthew could have been referring to coveting, passion is still a viable candidate. However, if 5:28 has passionate gazing in mind, it's not talking about a momentary look; the words of Jesus probably condemn continuing to look at a woman passionately, thereby allowing the desire to become fertile and later give birth to sin. Whether the passionate looking is covetous or not might be inconsequential. On the other hand, "woman" in this verse likely refers to someone's wife (a point made by Staples).

The second issue is how we should understand the grammar of 5:28. Staples argues that the looking is not what's wrong but the intended reason for looking, namely, in order to covet the woman. I concede that the reading is a possible one though not the only viable way to read the text. Notice how the ESV handles Matthew 5:28, and Bill Mounce writes: "It is looking with intent that constitutes sin" (Greek for the Rest of Us). Compare the NRSV. Nevertheless, others like Staples treat πρὸς τὸ in 5:28 as a construction that expresses purpose. Maybe that is true. 

R.T. France proffers these comments on Matthew 5:28 (The Gospel of Matthew):

The commandment is again quoted verbatim from LXX Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18. It is concerned specifically with a man who has sexual relations with another man’s wife. The “woman” in Jesus’ declaration is thus to be understood also as another man’s wife (see p. 192, n. 46), and the looking “in order to desire her,” specifically of wanting (and planning?) sexual relations (hence my translation “wants to have sex with her” above). The focus is thus not (as some tender adolescent consciences have read it) on sexual attraction as such, but on the desire for (and perhaps the planning of) an illicit sexual liaison (cf. Exod 20:17, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s . . . wife,” where LXX uses the same verb, epithymeō).632 The famous sin of David (2 Sam 11:2-4), where such a desire led not only to adultery but also to murder, would naturally come to mind as a lurid scriptural example. The danger of looking lustfully at women is the subject of many Jewish sayings (e.g., Job 31:1, 9; Prov 6:25; Sir 9:5, 8; T. Benj. 8:2), and the idea that the desire is tantamount to the deed is hinted at in, for example, T. Reu. 5:6; T. Iss. 7:2 and explicit in the extracanonical tractate Kallah 7 (“whoever gazes intentionally at a woman is as though he had intercourse with her”); according to b. Yoma 29a it is even worse.

Book for Sale on Ebay (The Lamb of God)

Every once in a while, I like to let readers know that I have a book/books for sale. Here is a listing that some of you might find helpful: the only thing is that I only ship within the US due to increased costs by usps.

This book is in very good condition.



Friday, March 11, 2022

Hebrews 5:7--Analyzing the Greek Structure

Hebrews 5:7 (SBLGNT): ὃς ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ δεήσεις τε καὶ ἱκετηρίας πρὸς τὸν δυνάμενον σῴζειν αὐτὸν ἐκ θανάτου μετὰ κραυγῆς ἰσχυρᾶς καὶ δακρύων προσενέγκας καὶ εἰσακουσθεὶς ἀπὸ τῆς εὐλαβείας


ὃς-masculine relative pronoun nominative singular

ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις-prepositional phrase with ἐν + the dative plural. Translate "in the days."

τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ-"of his flesh" (genitive singular feminine)

David M. Moffitt (Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews, pages 208-209): "In Heb 5:7 the writer says the suffering that Jesus endured occurred 'in the days of his flesh' (ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ). As in 2:14 the term σάρξ here clearly points to the humanity of the Son.148 In the course of becoming the source of eternal salvation, the heavenly Son entered the world and took on a human body (cf. 2:14; 10:5). Thus the phrase is often understood to connote Jesus’ mortal or earthly existence as contrasted with his heavenly existence.149 For some, the language implies a sharp dualism between the Son’s temporary, mortal embodiment and the laying aside of his flesh at his death in order to release his spirit to ascend into heaven.150 Others, such as F. F. Bruce, suggest that the 'expression . . . emphasizes the conditions of human weakness of which [Jesus] partook during his earthly life' but 'does not imply that his human condition came to an end with his exaltation to the right hand of God.' ”151

Moffitt argues that the language of Hebrews 5:7 doesn't necessarily imply that Christ is no longer human although some commentators explain the text this way. I wonder if Hebrews 10:19-20 doesn't lend support to the idea that Christ is no longer human.

δεήσεις τε καὶ ἱκετηρίας-Westcott that the first word in this part of 5:7 refers to definite requests (i.e., petitions); ἱκετηρίας "describes the supplication of one in need of protection or help in some overwhelming capacity" (page 125). The latter term may also describe the posture or external form of the suppliant (Ibid.).

πρὸς τὸν δυνάμενον σῴζειν αὐτὸν ἐκ θανάτου-Westcott likewise explains that the Son's petitions and supplications were directed "Godward," to the only person who could save him from death (page 126). However, scholars debate exactly how Jesus' prayer was answered and what his exact requests were.

μετὰ κραυγῆς ἰσχυρᾶς καὶ δακρύων-"with strong outcries and tears";

προσενέγκας is an aorist active participle nominative singular masculine of προσφέρω.

"The participle translated 'offered up' may include the concept of sacrifice. Interestingly, all the major translations render it as the main verb, except the KJV/NKJV, which translates it temporally ('after he had offered up'). Miller interpreted the participle concessively ('although he offered up')."

Allen, David L.. Hebrews: 35 (New American Commentary) (Kindle Locations 10154-10156). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Harold W. Attridge (Hebrews: A Commentary, page 149 ) suggests that 5:7 employs
προσφέρω metaphorically. Compare Hebrews 5:1, 3; 8:3-4; 9:7, 9, 14, 25, 28.

καὶ εἰσακουσθεὶς ἀπὸ τῆς εὐλαβείας-"and he was heard because of his godly fear (reverence)"

See Hebrews 11:7; 12:28 for other uses of "godly fear." Cf. the discussion by Murray J. Harris in Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis.

εἰσακουσθεὶς is the aorist passive participle nominative singular masculine of
εἰσακούω: Jehovah God heard his prayers.

See also