Archive for September, 2009

Barker/White Mythology Debate – Parts 1 and 2

September 30, 2009

I understand that Alpha and Omega Ministries will be offering a higher-quality DVD at a later date. In the meantime, here is the Barker/White mythology debate (which is the second debate between Dr. White and Dan Barker this year).


Sin of Onan

September 29, 2009

*** Caveat ***

Onan’s sin was something disgusting, something that displeased God, and for which Onan was slain. The reason I’m spending a whole post on this topic is that recently some Roman Catholics have been trying to use the issue of Onan’s sin as some sort of argument that “Protestant” folks are unwilling to consider Scripture.

I realize, as well, that there are some Roman Catholics for whom this is not a matter of serious consideration. They have a theology that their church has given them (or so they think) and they are going to stick with that, regardless of what Scripture says or doesn’t say.

I also realize that some of them think that it is a notable matter that many of the Reformers held over some traditional ideas that influenced their view of what Onan’s sin was. Apparently, for them, it is a significant issue if our understanding of the text is different than the majority view of the text from relatively early in the patristic period through at least the first two centuries of the Reformation era.

Finally, of course, I’ve tried to use euphemism in the following discussion, for reasons that should be apparent to any adult. If you decide to comment on this post, keep in mind that if your comments are explicit, I will censor them.

*** End of Caveat ***

What is the sin of Onan? Many Roman Catholics today argue against certain contraceptive activities on, among other things, the idea that this is condemned as the sin of Onan in Genesis 38:9. The following is a response to that idea.

First, the text:

Genesis 38:9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

Next, the text in context:

Genesis 38:6-11
And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also. Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.

i) Genesis 38:9 does not provide any universal moral commandment.

The wording of the verse itself should be a clue to that. Also, of course, the context of the verse should be a clue. The verse is worded in that God was displeased by what Onan did and slew Onan. Furthermore, this discussion is not given in the context of a set of laws, but rather in the context of an historical account.

ii) Genesis 38:9 is susceptible to several possible interpretations, because it merely states that the thing that Onan did displeased God and that consequently God slew him.

There are several possible things that displeased God about what Onan did. The thing that displeased God could be:

1) Because Onan slept with his brother’s widow.

2) Because Onan spilled his seed on the ground.

3) Because Onan refused to raise up seed to his brother.

4) Because Onan disobeyed his father.

We can rule out (1), because Judah had commanded Onan to do this, and Judah’s command is supported by the later Mosaic codification of the levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

If (2) is correct (and, in a sense, it is correct), the question is why? The only clear answer is …

That (3) is correct. The reason that spilling the seed on the ground was wrong was because it was a refusal to perform the duty required by Judah and later codified by Moses. Onan failed to honor his father, and God slew him.

We might add (4) as well, but (4) is correct inasmuch as (3) is correct.

iii) Several less general principles can be drawn from this passage.

It is dangerous to rush to generalizations from a single passage. There are several generalizations that could be made from this text, in view of the meaning of the text.

1) That disobedience to parents is wrong.

2) That failure to obey the levirate law is wrong.

3) That levirate relations should be procreative only.

4) That marital relations should be procreative only.

Given the level of detail provided in the text, (1) seems to be unsatisfying. It does not seem that God was simply displeased because Onan disobeyed his father, but over the manner in which he did so.

The fourth option (4) is much too general. The fact that this was a levirate relationship is significant to the flow of the text, and a generalization that fails to account for this seems to fail to identify the true issue.

The remaining options are (2) and (3). These are not far apart. Nevertheless, we can distinguish between the two. The issue is not one in which Onan obeyed the levirate law and then did something else in addition, instead it is one in which he refused to obey the levirate law. Thus, (2) is the better answer than (3).

iv) The fact that Calvin (and Luther?) viewed Onan’s activity to be inherently displeasing to God does not make it so.

A surprising number of people think that it is significant that Luther (?) and Calvin generalized Onan’s sin rather differently than we do. Nevertheless, Luther and Calvin agreed with us that their views ought to be held up to the light of Scripture. Since their views of this particular text do not seem to be sustainable exegetically, we are justified in departing from their position on this issue.

Some have even gone so far as to suggest that if we say Luther/Calvin/whoever misunderstood this text, we’re saying they were unsaved. Certainly that is not what we are saying. The fact that people disagree with the best exegesis of the text does not mean that those people are not Christians.

v) Does Onan’s intent matter?

In seeking to generalize the teaching of the verse differently, some have asserted that Onan’s intent in doing what he did was unimportant. It didn’t really matter (say they) that he was seeking to avoiding raising up children to his brother. I find this idea strange. Intent is normally highly significant. Furthermore, the text makes a point of telling us Onan’s intent.

If we ignore Onan’s intent, we would be in the position of saying that even if Onan simply spilled it accidentally, God would still have slain him and that Scripture uselessly provided us with this information about what was going on inside Onan’s mind. Can any reasonable person think that is the case?

vi) What about Er?

Note that Er was also wicked and was slain by God. We’re not told what Er did, and yet we know Er didn’t have children. Some have interpolated this to mean that Er was doing the same basic act as what Onan was doing, and have attempted to use this to justify generalizing beyond the levirate situation.

The problem with such a claim is that the extent of our knowledge is that Onan’s older brother Er was wicked and was slain by God. We’re not told why or what he did. We are not told that he did anything remotely similar to what Onan did. Furthermore, Judah’s concern regarding Shelah does not seem to be motivated by a fear that he will do the same thing as Onan, but more of essentially a fear that Tamar was “bad luck.”

Likewise, the larger context (which I have omitted for brevity) adds that Judah ultimately blocked Onan’s younger brother from marrying Tamar (Er/Onan’s widow). Subsequently, Judah himself did (unintentionally) raise up seed to his son, by sleeping with his son’s widow (whom he thought at the time was a prostitute). It should be noted, however, that the children of that union are never attributed to Er, but always to Judah.

vii) But is the death penalty the appropriate punishment for violation of the levirate law?

While Moses did not appoint death for violation of the levirate law, God is free to sentence to death everyone who violates His law in any degree (James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.) And, in any event, dishonoring one’s parents was a capital crime under Mosaic system, and the command here was a command of Onan’s father.


Aquinas’ Affirmation of the Primacy of Scripture

September 29, 2009

A few folks have thought that the following quotation is significant with respect to the issue of Aquinas’ view of Scripture’s primacy.

I answer that, Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith.

The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.

– Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Treatise on the Theological Virtues, Question 5, Article 3

The first key thing to see from this text is the following:

1) Aquinas views the Scriptures as the Primary Truth and the teachings of the Church as derivative truth

“Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth.”

The key phrase is “the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth.” If the phrase were “which proceed” then it would mean that the “holy writ” also proceeds from the First Truth. Instead, the use of the singular verb “proceeds” shows us that the sense is that Holy Writ is the manifestation of the First Truth and that the teaching of the Church is a derivative manifestation of that first truth. In other words, the Church derives her teachings from Scripture.

2) Confirmation of (1)

We see confirmation of (1) almost immediately: “… the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ … .” This statement confirms that, to Aquinas, the Church’s teaching is from Scripture. Consequently it is manifest that Aquinas viewed Scripture’s authority as primary and the Church’s authority as derivative.

3) Yes … but

Aquinas nevertheless includes a comment suggesting that people should treat the teachings of the church as an infallible rule. Of course, Aquinas does not mean every teaching of the church, but rather teachings of the Church as to the articles of the faith. Aquinas also does not mean teachings of every individual church, but of “the Church,” that is to say, the universal church.

4) What are we believing per Aquinas?

Aquinas views one’s belief as being in the teachings of Scripture. In response to the second objection in the same question quoted above, Aquinas states: “On the other hand faith adheres to all the articles of faith by reason of one mean, viz. on account of the First Truth proposed to us in Scriptures, according to the teaching of the Church who has the right understanding of them. Hence whoever abandons this mean is altogether lacking in faith.”

The rule of faith, for Aquinas is Scripture, as interpreted by the Church. But this interpretation is not arbitrary per Aquinas. It is a matter of objective reality. That is why, in the first article of the first question of this treatise, Aquinas stated: “Accordingly if we consider, in faith, the formal aspect of the object, it is nothing else than the First Truth.”

Likewise, in the seventh article of that question, Aquinas does not teach that there has been any increase in the substance of the articles of faith over time but only in making explicit what was implicit: “Accordingly we must conclude that, as regards the substance of the articles of faith, they have not received any increase as time went on: since whatever those who lived later have believed, was contained, albeit implicitly, in the faith of those Fathers who preceded them. But there was an increase in the number of articles believed explicitly, since to those who lived in later times some were known explicitly which were not known explicitly by those who lived before them.”

Finally, in the 10th article of that question, Aquinas makes it clear that he’s specifically referring to the creed, as such. He poses the hypothetical objection that some of the church councils had forbidden under anathema for anyone to alter the creed and that consequently there could be no new edition of the symbol of faith. Aquinas dismisses this by arguing that the councils implicitly meant this simply for private individuals, and left open the possibility of future councils elaborating further: “This prohibition and sentence of the council was intended for private individuals, who have no business to decide matters of faith: for this decision of the general council did not take away from a subsequent council the power of drawing up a new edition of the symbol, containing not indeed a new faith, but the same faith with greater explicitness.”


Barker Mythology Debate

September 28, 2009

Last weekend, Dr. White debated Dan Barker on whether the Biblical account is derived from prior mythology (Topic, with Dan Barker Affirmative: “The Jesus Story is Cut from the Same Story as Other Ancient Mythologies”). I understand that eventually Alpha and Omega Ministries will make a DVD of the debate available. In the meantime, here’s my take on the debate (having listened to it live).

1) Barker’s Opening Speech

Mr. Barker gave a reasonably interesting opening speech in which he attempted to claim that much of the New Testament account was simply derived from various pagan mythologies. If one took his speech alone, it might actually sound as though he had an arguable case for his contentions.

2) Dr. White’s Opening Speech

Before Dr. White could even get started, Barker committed what can be considered at best to be an enormous faux pas. He interrupted Dr. White’s speech to object to Dr. White responding to Barker’s own book. It was a boneheaded move, since it made Barker appear to be attempting to disrupt his opponent’s speech. Furthermore, the rationale for the objection tended to undermine Barker’s credibility, since normally scholars are willing to stand behind their books, especially when they are still selling that particular book.

3) The Remainder

Dr. White recovered well from the interruption and went on to demolish (quite thoroughly) the argumentation used by Barker against the New Testament. The cross-examination section was especially good, in that during Dr. White’s time to ask questions he was able to demonstrate the weakness of Barker’s position, while Barker had to resort to trying to argue and grand-stand during the cross-examination section.

What made things worse for Barker was the fact that such argumentation in the cross-examination is not just against the general rules of debate, but against the specific rules that Barker had agreed to just before the debate. Barker acknowledged this but then indicated that he was “proud” to violate the very rules to which he had agreed. At that point, I think that most of any remaining credibility he had was shot.

Other Views on the Debate

Barker made reference during his opening speech to the fact that there were a significant number of unbelievers present. I have looked for any atheist commentary on the debate and have found none. I have found a couple of Christian comments regarding the debate, which seem to confirm that the impression I got, of how the debate went, was accurate (first post, second post). (UPDATE: Here is one atheist view of the debate. (link))


Overall, I felt that the debate was a clear victory for Dr. White. Obviously, I am biased. Dr. White is a friend and I’m on his blogging team. I’m not sure, but I think that Barker realized that the debate was going against him. Barker is obviously a bright guy with good rhetorical skills, but his case was demonstrated to be weak. In my view, one of those weaknesses was that one of Barker’s techniques seemed to be:

1) Assert that similarities between a myth and the Scripture show derivation; and

2) Assert that differences between the myth and the Scripture show “improvement” over the myth.

It should be apparent that if one uses that technique, one will be able to show derivation for any two stories that have any kind of superficial similarity.

Consider the example of the Iroquois (one of the North American aboriginal tribes) tale of the salvation of the human race. There are some similarities to the Scriptural account of the flood. Practically all the people of earth are wiped out. Their mode of salvation had to do with water, and the way in which their salvation was obtained was via divine revelation. In both cases, the hero’s name begins with an “N”, as an “o” in the middle of the name, and ends with an “a” sound. Notice how I’ve emphasized the similarities. But when you read the actual account (link for the skeptical), it’s practically nothing like the history of the Great Flood. In fact, there’s not even a flood in that story (instead, the calamity is a plague). The point, however, is that one can do the same kind of thing with virtually any two stories, especially those that go for any significant length.

I will not spoil the debate further by getting into the detailed arguments that were presented. After all, if you have to deal with typical atheist arguments against Christianity, this is a debate you will want to watch.


UPDATE: You can watch the first hour of the debate here:

Jerome Regarding the Septuagint

September 26, 2009

I recently happened to stumble across this interesting translation of Jerome’s Prologue to Chronicles (link). Jerome makes a number of interesting comments about the Septuagint:

1) Jerome begins by noting that the Septuagint is not a pure translation:

If the version of the Seventy translators is pure and has remained as it was rendered by them into Greek … Now, in fact, when different versions are held by a variety of regions, and this genuine and ancient translation is corrupted and violated, you have considered our opinion, either to judge which of the many is the true one, or to put together new work with old work, and shutting off to the Jews, as it is said, “a horn to pierce the eyes.”

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

2) Jerome continues by noting that in his day it was famous that there were three regional varieties of the Septuagint:

The region of Alexandria and Egypt praises in their Seventy the authority of Hesychius; the region from Constantinople to Antioch approves the version of Lucian the Martyr; in the middle, between these provinces, the people of Palestine read the books which, having been labored over by Origen, Eusebius and Pamphilius published.

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

3) Jerome argues that although Jesus knew the Septuagint translation, he used the Hebrew, arguing from various passages:

I have recently written a book, “On the best kind of translating,” showing these things in the Gospel, and others similar to these, to be found in the books of the Hebrews: “Out of Egypt I called my son,” and “For he will be called a Nazarene,” and “They will look on him whom they have pierced,” and that of the Apostle, “Things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and had not arisen in the heart of man, which God has prepared for those loving Him.” The Apostles and Evangelists were certainly acquainted with (the version of) the Seventy interpreters, but from where (were) they (supposed) to say these things which are not in the Seventy?

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

4) Jerome notes that the church of his day did not accept the apocrypha, but only the Hebrew books, as can be seen from the middle of Jerome’s punchline for his argument about the Septuagint:

Certainly, whatever is witnessed by the Savior to be written, is written. Where is it written? The Seventy don’t have it; the Church ignores the apocrypha; thus the turning back to the Hebrew (books), from which the Lord spoke and and the disciples took forth texts.

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

5) In the conclusion of the prologue, Jerome explains the fact that he was coming under a lot of fire for his new translation, since popular opinion was fond of (their own version of) the Septuagint:

In peace I will say these things of the ancients, and I respond only to my detractors, who bite me with dogs’ teeth, slandering me in public, speaking at corners, the same (being) both accusers and defenders, when approving for others what they reprove me for, as though virtue and error were not in conflict, but change with the author. I have recalled another edition of the Seventy translators corrected from the Greek to have been distributed by us, and me not to need to be considered their enemy, which things I always explain in the gatherings of the brothers.

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

Thanks very much to Kevin P. Edgecomb who provided this translation and released it into the public domain.



One Roman Catholic reader (I’m not sure whether he’d want attribution or not, so I’ve not given it to him for now. If he wants it, he knows how to let me know) pointed me to the fact that one can find translations of many of the prologues to the Vulgate books (link). Some have suggested that the later prologues show Jerome softening in his opposition to the apocrypha, though you will note:

Also included is the book of the model of virtue Jesus son of Sirach, and another falsely ascribed work which is titled Wisdom of Solomon. The former of these I have also found in Hebrew, titled not Ecclesiasticus as among the Latins, but Parables, to which were joined Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, as though it made of equal worth the likeness not only of the number of the books of Solomon, but also the kind of subjects. The second was never among the Hebrews, the very style of which 18is redolent of Greek speech. And several of the ancient scribes affirm this one is of Philo Judaeus. Therefore, just as the Church also reads the books of Judith, Tobias, and the Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical Scriptures, so also one may read these two scrolls for the strengthening of the people, (but) not for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.

– Jerome, Prologue to the books of Solomon


This prologue to the Scriptures may be appropriate as a helmeted introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so we may be able to know whatever is outside of these is to be set apart among the apocrypha. Therefore, Wisdom, which is commonly ascribed to Solomon, and the book of Jesus son of Sirach, and Judith and Tobias, and The Shepherd are not in the canon. I have found the First Book of the Maccabees is Hebrew, the Second is Greek, which may also be proven by their styles.

– Jerome, Prologue to the Book of Kings

Yet it was demanded of Jerome that he translate the Apocrypha, to which command he grudgingly complied:

I do not cease to wonder at the constancy of your demanding. For you demand that I bring a book written in the Chaldean language into Latin writing, indeed the book of Tobias, which the Hebrews exclude from the catalogue of Divine Scriptures, being mindful of those things which they have titled Hagiographa. I have done enough for your desire, yet not by my study. For the studies of the Hebrews rebuke us and find fault with us, to translate this for the ears of Latins contrary to their canon. But it is better to be judging the opinion of the Pharisees to displease and to be subject to the commands of bishops. I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words.

– Jerome, Prologue to Tobias


Among the Hebrews the Book of Judith is found among the Hagiographa, the authority of which toward confirming those which have come into contention is judged less appropriate. Yet having been written in Chaldean words, it is counted among the histories. But because this book is found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request, indeed a demand, and works having been set aside from which I was forcibly curtailed, I have given to this (book) one short night’s work translating more sense from sense than word from word. I have removed the extremely faulty variety of the many books; only those which I was able to find in the Chaldean words with understanding intact did I express in Latin ones.

– Jerome, Prologue to Judith (It’s not clear to me whether Jerome was being confused or sarcastic. Nicaea did not decide the canon, and had they done so, one would hardly expect the later councils of Hippo and Carthage to omit reference to this fact.)

A Word of Thanks

September 25, 2009

This post is simply a quick word of thanks to those who read this blog. I am very thankful that you stop by and read what I post. I am also thankful when you post comments, even comments that challenge what I wrote. If you’d like to see certain topics discussed, remember that you can easily obtain my e-mail address through my blogger profile. Thanks again for reading this blog. May God use it to your edification (if you are a believer) and to your conversion (if you are not).

Only to the Glory of God,


David’s Son – an Unworkable Argument

September 24, 2009

One of David’s sons died in infancy. David mourned him before he died, but stopped grieving when the child died. This puzzled the servants of David. When asked about his odd behavior:

2 Samuel 12:22-23
And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

A large number of people use this as a prooftext for the idea either that infants of believers (or all infants) who die in infancy will be saved. There are three main problems with that argument:

1) Go to him in Heaven?

The verse just says “go to him.” It doesn’t say “go to him, in heaven.” It does not indicate that David thinks he will join his son in Paradise. Furthermore, David’s calm is not produced by joy. David does not rejoice that his son is in heaven. He just submitted to the providence of God and went about his business:

2 Samuel 12:19-20
But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, “Is the child dead?”
And they said, “He is dead.”
Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.

As one of my friends who uses the handle “Hobster,” recently pointed out. David may simply have meant that he was going to be joining his son in the grave. In the Hebrew mind, we see this kind of thought. For example:

1 Kings 2:10 So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.

In case you think this is a good thing, note that it is also said of wicked king Ahab:

1 Kings 22:40 So Ahab slept with his fathers; and Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead.

2) Go to him in Hell?

As noted above, David doesn’t say where he thinks the child is going. He also doesn’t say where he thinks he himself is going. He has just sinned grievously, and we are not specifically told whether David has assurance of salvation at this time. I suppose he ought to, but we are not told that he does have such assurance. If David does not have assurance of salvation, then this verse would seem to have either same general “go to the grave” concept, or perhaps a more sinister concept of going to the place of the damned.

3) Is David Inspired?

The text of Scripture is inspired, but the text is an historical narrative. It tells us what David said, but it does not specifically endorse what David said. Even if David meant he would see his child in heaven, we could not necessarily conclude that David was right as opposed simply to David being optimistic.


We don’t know for sure where David’s son went. It would not be wise, therefore, to build a doctrine regarding the salvation of infants on this verse alone. David’s resignation and lack of joy (ending his weeping and fasting, not putting on a celebration) suggest that he had simply accepted the punishment of God, rather than having any particular hope as to the salvation of his son.

That is not, of course, to say that I think I’ve proved that David definitely didn’t mean what so many softhearted folks would like to think he means. David thinking that his son was in heaven hasn’t been proved wrong, and perhaps the comments by David were put there for us to adopt.

Regardless of whether one adopts the highly optimistic view that David thought his son was saved, one should heed David’s argument. While a child is alive, pray for its health and welfare. Once it is dead, it is too late. Accept the chastisement of God (if it is that, as it was in David’s case) and resist the temptation placed before you to be angry with God. Go, wash up, clean your face, worship God and go about your business. That’s easy for me to say, but it is also the right thing to do.


Does God Blind the Blind?

September 22, 2009

The title of this post is the title of a post by William Watson (“Billy”) Birch who thinks that he has found a weakness in Calvinism (though, as he admits, he’s not actually responding to a Calvinist)(link to his post).

His essential argument is this (I am paraphrasing): “Reformed theology says God blinds the reprobate. But Reformed theology says that everyone is totally depraved. Therefore, God is placed in the odd position of blinding the blind.”

But Mr. Birch cannot deny that God does harden the heart of some men. God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, for example. Furthermore, virtually every time we mention this to any Arminian who is opposed to Calvinism (there are Arminians who are simply ignorant of Reformed theology) they invariably insist that the man has to harden his own heart first. How exactly is this supposed to be different? God hardens the hard? God blinds the blind?

The argument may have a superficial appeal to Mr. Birch’s fan base, but it lacks substance as evidenced by how easily it is turned on his own argument.

The problem, of course, is that Mr. Birch fails to appreciate the way in which God blinds the blind. God refuses to open their eyes – refuses to provide them with a cause that would lead to the effect of their seeing.

Jesus explained:

Matthew 13:13-15
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

Mark 4:11-12
And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

Furthermore, contrary to the theology of Mr. Birch, God is quite willing to take credit for concluding all in unbelief:

Romans 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

How does one conclude (i.e. enclose or shut) in unbelief an unbeliever? The same way one blinds the blind. Without God’s grace we can do nothing:

John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.


ISI Discussion Regarding Harold Camping

September 22, 2009

I was recently on the “Iron Sharpens Iron” (ISI) radio program. Here’s a link to the ISI page about the call (link) and here is direct link to the mp3 (link).

The following is an outline of some of the topics discussed. This is not a transcript, but more or less notes for the discussion.

I. In General – Regarding Harold Camping

a) False Teacher

He has been seen to be a false teacher at least since his date setting book “1994?” (which was demonstrated by history to be false).

Now, he teaches annihilationism and some form of Modalism.

Perhaps, worst of all, he severs himself and his followers from communion, declaring the church age to be over and discouraging his followers from gathering together.

1 Corinthians 11:25-26
After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

Jesus has not come, and consequently we continue to show (symbolically) the Lord’s death in the Lord’s Supper, whereas Mr. Camping and his followers have excommunicated themselves.

b) Familiar with the Bible

Mr. Camping is obviously quite familiar with the text of the Bible. He’s been studying it for many years. Unfortunately, his studies are misdirected in that he applies Scripture for purposes for which it was not intended.

II. Regarding Amram and Moses

During the call-in segment of Mr. Camping’s debate with Dr. White, I had an opportunity to ask one question of Mr. Camping. My question was:”What was the name of Moses’ father?”

Why did I ask the question?

I knew that his answer would demonstrate that he was unwilling to submit to Scripture.

What does Scripture tell us is the name of Moses father?

Scripture tells us:

Exodus 6:20 And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years.

Numbers 26:59 And the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, whom her mother bare to Levi in Egypt: and she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister.

1 Chronicles 6:3 And the children of Amram; Aaron, and Moses, and Miriam. The sons also of Aaron; Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.

1 Chronicles 23:13 The sons of Amram; Aaron and Moses: and Aaron was separated, that he should sanctify the most holy things, he and his sons for ever, to burn incense before the LORD, to minister unto him, and to bless in his name for ever.

Mr. Camping is fond of saying that things are doubled to emphasize their importance. This statement of paternity is not simply doubled but doubled twice – that is to say – it is quadrupled. There are four Scriptural testimonies all agreeing that Moses’ father was Amram, and no Scripture suggesting any other name for Moses’ father.

Why does Camping not follow this plain teaching of Scripture?

Camping needs to avoid following this plain teaching of Scripture, in order for his date-setting method to work. One of Mr. Camping’s methods of calculating the end times is to place it exactly 7000 years from the date of Noah’s flood. One sees this in his articles and books. For example he writes: “Because the year 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C. when the flood began, the Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgment, which will come on the last day of the Day of Judgment.” (source)

To give you a sense of contrast, Archbishop Ussher in his “Annals of the World” gives a date for the flood of about 2350 B.C. I’m aware that there is a lot modern scholarship that suggests that disputes Ussher’s date, but the point is simply to give you a sense of contrast between a more literal reading of the text and Mr. Camping’s view.

How does Camping date the flood so much earlier (about 2500 years earlier)?

As you can imagine, it is not easy to fit an additional 2500 years into the text, and there is no chance that Mr. Camping is going to date the end of the world to be about 2500 years from now. To accomplish his purposes, Mr. Camping has to rely on what he calls a “clue phrase” in the text.

What is this clue phrase?

The clue phrase is “called his name.” In some of the genealogical accounts there is a statement that father called the name of his son “Seth” (or whatever the child’s name is). Camping asserts that when such a phrase is used, the literal son is being mentioned. Otherwise, in Camping’s view, the father-son relationship should not be assumed, and consequently we should be free to view the genealogies another way, such that the “father” is simply an ancestor, and that the “son” is simply a descendant that happened to be born the year his father died.

What are the problems with this?

At first this may seem like a fairly reasonable system. After all, there sometimes some inconsistencies in the biblical genealogies (a matter we can perhaps address a little later). However, there are some real problems:

1) This idea of a “clue phrase” is wrong from a positive usage sense.

Camping writes: “A more careful examination of the Scriptures reveals why the phrase “called his name” which is the Hebrew qara, was used. In every place where this phrase is employed, there can be no doubt of the existing relationship; invariably it is indicative of parent and child.” (link)

Mr. Camping’s claim about this supposed clue phrase is wrong:

Genesis 3:20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

It should be plain that Eve is not Adam’s child.

1 Samuel 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.

Plainly, an inanimate object is not a child.

Ruth 4:17 And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Obed was the son of Boaz and Ruth not of Naomi’s female neighbors.

Exodus 2:10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.

Moses was not biologically the son of Pharaoh’s daughter: he held that relationship only by adoption.

2) This idea of a “clue phrase” is wrong from a negative usage sense.

Genesis 4:1-2
And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Both Cain and Abel were the direct children of Adam and Eve without any “clue phrase” being provided. In fact, Seth is the first one where it is said that someone “called his name” Seth.

Exodus 2:2 And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.

This is a report of Moses’ conception and birth. His mother (Jochebed) is not said to have “called his name” Moses, but she was nevertheless his biological mother.

Even if the “clue phrase” is off, isn’t it possible that the Hebrew genealogy works this way?

As far as I can recall, Mr. Camping is not the first to come up with this idea that Hebrew genealogies might sometimes be based on dating from the death of an ancestor to a descendant born about the same time. There are at least two serious problems applying such a principle to Amram and Moses though:

1) Aaron AND Moses

Amram is called the father both of Aaron and Moses. This might be fine if those were twins, but they were three years apart:

Exodus 7:7 And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.

2) And Miriam

Furthermore, they had an older sister, Miriam who (when Moses was three months old – Exodus 2:3) was resourceful enough to persuade the princess of Egypt to hire Moses’ mother as a nurse for him (Exodus 2:7). Amram can’t have died in three different years (one for Miriam, then again for Aaron, and finally for Moses).

What other reasons does Camping give?

There is one other main argument that Mr. Camping presents, namely that adding a speculative generation (or more than one) between Amram and Moses is necessary to make the stay in Egypt 430 years.

Camping provides the following breakdown:

Levi 77 years in Egypt
Kohath 133 years in Egypt
Amram 137 years in Egypt
Aaron 83 years in Egypt
430 years total time


This enumeration is alleged to correspond to the 430 years that Scripture says ended the day of the Exodus.

What are the problems with this analysis?

1) The 430 years should be measured from the Promise to Abraham

Galatians 3:16-17
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Notice that Paul is explicit that the giving of the law was 430 years from the promise to Abraham. Since Abraham died before the entry into Egypt, it is impossible that there could have been 430 years in Egypt.

2) Kohath wasn’t born in Egypt

Genesis 46:8-26, especially vs. 11 let us know that Kohath was one of the sons of Levi who came into Egypt with Levi and Jacob as one of the “seventy souls” mentioned in Genesis 46. It states:

Genesis 46:11 And the sons of Levi; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

So then how long was the stay in Egypt?

The stay in Egypt itself was 215 years. It was 215 years from the promise until the entry into Egypt, as we can determine from Genesis, and we know the total time was 430 years, so we can deduce that the time in Egypt was 215 years.

Does the 215 year view fit the genealogies?

Yes, the genealogies have Levi and Kohath coming into Egypt. Amram is the only one in the series who lives his entire life in Egypt and that was 137 years. Some of the time before his birth and after his death were also time in Egypt, of course.

Additionally, it should be noted that Jochebed is described as being the daughter of Levi.

Exodus 6:20 And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years.

Numbers 26:59 And the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, whom her mother bare to Levi in Egypt: and she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister.

This evidence again suggests that Levi was not dead over a century before Amram was born, but rather that there was some overlap between Amram and his grandfather Levi (though both Amram and Jochebed were born in Egypt and apparently died in Egypt).

Is Mr. Camping the only one who holds to the 430 year theory?

No. In fact, we find many modern scholars who have a similar view, and even many of the modern translations translate one of the key verses in such a way as to require the 430 year theory. For example, the King James Version states:

Exodus 12:40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.

Whereas the more modern English Standard Version states:

Exodus 12:40 The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years.

Are you a King James Version Only-ist?

No. I simply think that the KJV better preserves the ambiguity of the original text here.

What is the historical view of the text?

Both the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint provide an additional phrase “and in the land of Canaan” that clarify that the 430 years is not to be understood as simply the time in Egypt.

Eusebius of Caesarea, who got his information from the Jewish historian Alexander Polyhistor (who flourished in the first century before Christ) took the 215 year view. In at least one place Joseph adopted the 215 year view:

They left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt. It was the eightieth year of the age of Moses, and of that of Aaron three more. They also carried out the bones of Joseph with them, as he had charged his sons to do.

-Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 15, Section 2 (I am told that in another place Josephus disagrees with his opinion stated here, although I could not locate that other place.)

The Reformed commentators whom I checked on this matter (John Calvin, Matthew Henry, John Gill, and Matthew Poole) all likewise agreed with the 215 year view as well. Even Luther appears to agree.

More recently, however, there has been some debate over the topic.

Do you have any other significant issues with Camping’s Theology?

Yes, I think his view of the atonement is seriously flawed (see my post: link)


Don’t Be Surprised if You Make Some Mistakes

September 22, 2009

Jerome wrote:

And if the ingenuity of perverse men finds something which they may plausibly censure in the writings even of evangelists and prophets, are you amazed if, in your books, especially in your exposition of passages in Scripture which are exceedingly difficult of interpretation, some things be found which are not perfectly correct?

– Jerome, (to Augustine) Letter 72 in Augustine’s Letters, Chapter 3 (Section 5 in the Latin)

Jerome is being something of a grouchy old man in this letter, but his points are important.

1. Perspicuity is About the Necessary Things

Not every passage of Scripture is equally clear, and we should not be surprised if sometimes our understanding of the relatively difficult parts is sometimes mistaken. The necessary things, however, are clear, as the early church recognized:

What do I come in for, you say, if I do not hear some one discoursing? This is the ruin and destruction of all. For what need of a person to discourse? This necessity arises from our sloth. Wherefore any necessity for a homily? All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain. But because ye are hearers for pleasure’s sake, for that reason also you seek these things.

– Chrysostom, Homily 3 on 2 Thessalonians, at 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10

2. What’s more, each of us has sin.

Jerome’s argument seems to be that wicked men intentionally twist even the simplest Scriptures. Thus, if we have some degree of sin in us, we should not be surprised that we may sometimes err in our interpretation of a difficult passage. Jerome’s comment reminds one immediately reminded of Peter’s warning:

2 Peter 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

Incidentally, this verse explains the primary reason why we have so many varied interpretations of the Scriptures. Note that Peter does not simply say that the perverse men twist the difficult portions of Paul’s epistles, but “the other scriptures” as well. Yes, there are some difficult things in Paul’s epistles. And we should not be surprised if we sometimes ignorantly err with respect to their interpretation. Nevertheless, we ought to avoid the path of the unlearned and ungodly.

Athanasius provides us with an example of such men twisting the Scriptures:

But since those whose only pleasure is to gainsay what is said aright, or rather what is made by God, pervert even a saying in the Gospels, alleging that ‘not that which goes in defiles a man, but that which goes out [Matthew 15:11],’ we are obliged to make plain this unreasonableness,— for I cannot call it a question— of theirs. For firstly, like unstable persons, they wrest the Scriptures [2 Peter 3:16] to their own ignorance.

– Athanasius, Letter 48

Augustine provides us with another example:

“From Thy Temple in Jerusalem, to Thee kings shall offer presents” (ver. 29). Jerusalem, which is our free mother, [Gal. iv. 26.] because the same also is Thy holy Temple: from that Temple then, “to Thee kings shall offer presents.” Whatever kings be understood, whether kings of the earth, or whether those whom “He that is above the heavens distinguisheth over the dove silvered;” “to Thee kings shall offer presents.” And what presents are so acceptable [Oxf. mss. “more acceptable than.”] as the sacrifices of praise? But there is a noise against this praise, from men bearing the name of Christian, and having diverse opinions. Be there done that which followeth, “Rebuke Thou the beasts of the cane” [Or, “pen” (of cane), calami.] (ver. 30). For both beasts they are, since by not understanding they do hurt: and beasts of the cane they are, since the sense of the Scriptures they wrest according to their own misapprehension. For in the cane the Scriptures are as reasonably perceived, as language in tongue, according to the mode of expression whereby the Hebrew or the Greek or the Latin tongue is spoken of, or the like; that is to say, by the efficient cause the thing which is being effected is implied. Now it is usual in the Latin language for writing to be called style, because with the stilus it is done: so then cane also, because with a cane it is done. The Apostle Peter saith, that “men unlearned and unstable do wrest the Scriptures to their own proper destruction:” [2 Pet. iii. 16.] these are the beasts of the cane, whereof here is said, “Rebuke Thou the beasts of the cane.”

– Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 68 (Latin Psalm 67), at Psalm 68:29 (editor’s footnotes placed in brackets)

Clement of Alexandria too has some examples to provide. He states:

But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin. [A reference to the sickening and profane history of an apocryphal book, hereafter to be noted. But this language is most noteworthy as an absolute refutation of modern Mariolatry.]

Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth. “And she brought forth, and yet brought not forth,” [Tertullian, who treats of the above-mentioned topic, attributes these words to Ezekiel: but they are sought for in vain in Ezekiel, or in any other part of Scripture. [The words are not found in Ezekiel, but such was his understanding of Ezek. xliv. 2.]] says the Scripture; as having conceived of herself, and not from conjunction. Wherefore the Scriptures have conceived to Gnostics; but the heresies, not having learned them, dismissed them as not having conceived.

Now all men, having the same judgment, some, following the Word speaking, frame for themselves proofs; while others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts. [2 Pet. iii. 16.] And the lover of truth, as I think, needs force of soul. For those who make the greatest attempts must fail in things of the highest importance; unless, receiving from the truth itself the rule of the truth, they cleave to the truth. But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures. [Nothing is Catholic dogma, according to our author, that is not proved by the Scriptures.]

– Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 16 (Editors’ footnotes placed in brackets – note that the “sickening and profane history of an apocryphal book” is a reference to the Protoevangelium of James)

Finally, for I would not wish to burden you with too many examples, we see something similar in Tertullian’s writings. Note well how he recognizes that this twisting of Scripture is not simply an unintended consequence of Scripture but one of the purposes God has for His Holy Word:

These were the ingenious arts of “spiritual wickednesses,” [See Eph. vi. 12, and 1 Cor. xi. 18.] wherewith we also, my brethren, may fairly expect to have “to wrestle,” as necessary for faith, that the elect may be made manifest, (and) that the reprobate may be discovered. And therefore they possess influence, and a facility in thinking out and fabricating [Instruendis.] errors, which ought not to be wondered at as if it were a difficult and inexplicable process, seeing that in profane writings also an example comes ready to hand of a similar facility. You see in our own day, composed out of Virgil, [Oehler reads “ex Vergilio,” although the Codex Agobard has “ex Virgilio.”] a story of a wholly different character, the subject-matter being arranged according to the verse, and the verse according to the subject-matter. In short, [Denique. [“Getica lyra.”]] Hosidius Geta has most completely pilfered his tragedy of Medea from Virgil. A near relative of my own, among some leisure productions [Otis.] of his pen, has composed out of the same poet The Table of Cebes. On the same principle, those poetasters are commonly called Homerocentones, “collectors of Homeric odds and ends,” who stitch into one piece, patchwork fashion, works of their own from the lines of Homer, out of many scraps put together from this passage and from that (in miscellaneous confusion). Now, unquestionably, the Divine Scriptures are more fruitful in resources of all kinds for this sort of facility. Nor do I risk contradiction in saying [Nec periclitor dicere. [Truly, a Tertullianic paradox; but compare 2 Pet. iii. 16. N.B. Scripture the test of heresy.]] that the very Scriptures were even arranged by the will of God in such a manner as to furnish materials for heretics, inasmuch as I read that “there must be heresies,” [1 Cor. xi. 19.] which there cannot be without the Scriptures.

– Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 39 (editor’s footnotes placed in brackets)

To God then be the glory, for His Word that accomplishes exactly what He intended (Isaiah 55:11),


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