Archive for the ‘Answer’ Category

More (or More Complete) Answers for Godismyjudge

July 10, 2008

Godismyjudge (Dan) has provided an audio response (link) to my post here (link) (see post for prior chronology).

Dan seems to complain that I haven’t given a “yes or no” answer to the question that he posed. I think it would be foolish to answer a confusing (at best) or perhaps unexplainable question with a “yes or no”-type answer.

Dan argues that he could answer the question by saying “Yes God could have created a world in which it didn’t rain on May 31st – God is allpowerful.” In the sense of it being a trivial thing for God’s power, I’ve already answered the question in the affirmative – but Dan did not ask (at least not clearly) a question about whether God had sufficient power to do so. If Dan’s just asking about God’s power, clearly God has the power to make it rain or not, according to the good pleasure of his will. God’s power, however, is subservient to God’s will.

Dan’s argument that the question is easy for him to answer but “going to stretch [TurretinFan] a bit to answer,” is a bit silly, because Dan doesn’t actually answer the question as stated, but answers a question about God’s power (as noted above). Furthermore, Dan has the inherent advantage of knowing (let’s hope!) what he means by his question, whereas when he asks ambiguous and/or equivocal questions, I have to seek clarification from him. That’s not so much me stretching, as me stretching him – trying to pull out the meaning of the question from him, so that it can be answered.

Dan seems still to misunderstand my comment about God’s actions in eternity: confusing atemporal actions of that sort (within the council of the trinity) for something having to do with “logical order” (which is really irrelevant).

Dan argues, based on his seeming misunderstanding that the idea of an infinite series of causes and a first cause are contradictory. Since “series” is essentially temporal terminology, calling God’s actions (whatever those may be) prior to time “an infinite series of causes” makes little or no sense.

God is the first cause of everything that comes to be. There is not an infinite series of causes with no starting point. God himself is the starting point. Let’s be clear about that.

Given Dan’s confusion, he wages war against the idea of a combination first and infinite regression of causes. I’m mostly in agreement with his critique – it’s just inapplicable to my position, because of the flawed starting point to the analysis.

Dan is correct in several points, however, so let me identify those, as perhaps they will be helpful to the dialog, assuming Dan is willing to clarify his question (and assuming he wants an answer … the audio suggests he did not ask the question to get an answer but in essence to challenge me to consider the consequences of my system of thought).

Dan is correct that from a temporal standpoint Creation is the first event. Creation is not the first cause, Creation is the first effect. God is the first cause.

Dan is also correct in that, when considering what within God caused God to create what he did, logical priority is given to God’s nature/attributes. Thus, we can view the actions/decisions of God as flowing out of the nature of God, although there is no sequence within God (though yet, as part of the Trinitarian marvel, there is communion within the Godhead).

Dan is right that there is no room for infinite regression on either a temporal or logical order. That’s why I didn’t mean to suggest that there was such a regression.

Dan seems to be confused about the following flow:

1. God’s nature
2. Flowing from God’s nature, God’s actions.
3A) God’s actions in eternity.
3B) God’s actions in time.

That is to say, as a logical consequent of self-love, the Only-Begotten Son was loved by the Father from all eternity, and so also the Spirit proceeded from the Father from all eternity. God is a living God. His life is not something that came to be. It existed before time, and it does not change (though yet it may properly be described as active). I realize that this may be a lofty subject, but I hope this explanation clears it up for Dan, so that he can move past whatever “infinite regression of causes” barrier he has created for himself.

I’m concerned that perhaps Dan wants to suggest that there was a time when God was inactive, and then afterwards a time when God became active. I’m not sure that Dan really needs to get to “first cause” versus infinite regression here. There was a time before God was saying “This is my beloved Son,” but that does not mean God was inactive before then. Also, it does not mean that something external to God moved God to say that.

Nothing external to God ever moves God to do anything. That’s part of the impassivity of God, a logical consequence of omnipotence.

Dan then goes on to say that his answer is that “the agent is the source of the action” is the answer to the question of explanation of the actions of man. Dan apparently wants to suggest that each man is an uncaused first cause.

Dan actually goes so far as to claim, “There is no way to explain the source of actions.” This is simply unbiblical. The Bible gives explanations for the sources of actions frequently.

Genesis 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

Revelation 16:21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Dan’s statement, in fact, is contradicted not only by special revelation, but by general revelation as well. In nature, we may be able to track down the source of an action so far, but we can track it down somewhat. We understand that an apple moves down, as opposed to up, because of the attractive force of the Earth’s mass. We can explain action, and we can assign causes to actions in the physical world.

Thus, on its face, Dan’s claim that “There is no way to explain the source of actions,” is both unbiblical and absurd. There is a way to explain the source of actions, it just would require Dan to give up his view of Libertarian Free Will (LFW).

Ultimately, Dan’s description of so-called “agent causation” is problematic not only because it is special pleading, but more particularly because it ascribes to man what is only properly to be ascribed to God. That is to say, by suggesting that God is not the first cause of all things, Dan’s view of agent causation removes some of that from God and gives it to man.

Eventually, in the audio segment, Dan goes back to the issue of Creation and the cause of Creation.

Dan seems to recognize (or if he doesn’t, he should recognize) that the logical order I have presented is as follow:

1. God exists;
2. God has a nature/attributes;
3. God acts based on his nature/attributes;
4. Among God’s timeless acts, God decrees to create;
5. God, logically subsequent to the decree to act, knows that (and what) he will create; and
6. Among God’s acts, and as the first temporal act, and logically subsequent to the decree and knowledge, God creates.

That’s the general flow. Dan seems to have tried to ask whether between 5 and 6 (or between 4 and 6), God “could have” created something different than what he did. If the question is as to God’s power alone, the answer – of course – is yes. If the question takes into consideration God’s decree, the answer is “no,” because God cannot act contrary to his own decree – he cannot contradict himself. Likewise, if the question takes into consider God’s knowledge of what God will do, the answer is “no,” because God cannot render his knowledge invalid.

I suppose Dan may have wanted to ask whether God could have decreed differently. Again, the question comes down to whether we include everything that went into God’s decision to decree as he did, or not.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Working backwards, it is impossible for God not to exist. It is impossible for God to have a different nature or different attributes from what he has. Since God’s actions flow from his nature/attributes (and not from any external source), God himself determines his own decisions.

God’s decisions don’t pop, without reason, from nowhere – they are wise decisions, as Scripture teaches. Wise decisions have a reason, they are not arbitrary. Furthermore, it is in God’s nature to glorify himself. This nature guides and shapes the way that God exercises His power. None of this should really be surprising to Dan, so I’m not sure why there is a impasse of understanding.

Toward the end of the audio segment, Dan gets to the topic of “absolute impossibility,” the ambiguous and potentially equivocal problem with Dan’s original question (bypassed by Dan, in his own answer, by addressing God’s power alone).

I had criticized the alternative question in which a “yes” would have said “God had to do it that way,” by pointing out that the term “had” suggests to our mind external constraint. Dan agrees with me that there was no external restraint before Creation, but seems to want to insist that he can use such a word, despite its connotations, of God before creation. I don’t agree. I think it is misleading to use words in a way that is so contrary to their ordinary meaning. Indeed, that’s been one of my criticisms of the LFW movement, from the start: namely that it applies unnatural meanings to words to arrive at a superficially satisfactory result, that erodes once we realize what the words are intended to mean. I’m not the first person to note this. Hundreds of years ago, Jonathan Edwards noted the same thing.

Dan states that the question really is, “What were God’s intrinsic abilities? Was it possible for God to create a world that didn’t include rain [on May 31, 2008, at Dan’s location]?” The answer to that question, as noted above, if one is speaking of God’s power in isolation from the other attributes of God (the remainder of his nature), is yes. That would seem like the most natural way to answer the question, but I don’t think it would be a satisfying way (to Dan’s liking to answer the question).

In order for their to be “possibility” as contrasted from “actuality,” we have to take something out of the picture. That’s just the nature of the “possible” as opposed to the “actual.” If we include the entirety of God, from whom the decrees come, we haven’t taken anything out, and it makes no sense to speak of possibility, but only of actuality.

In fact, we can dig a bit deeper. The usual way to phrase the question would be: “If God had wanted to, could God have (would it have been possible for God to) make it stay from raining on May 31, 2008, at Dan’s location?” The answer, of course, is a simple yes.

I guess Dan could then try to ask, “Could God have wanted something different from what God wanted?” The answer to that question is, if God were different from who he is, he could. In other words, since the source of God’s wants/desires/etc. are purely internal, their content depends on who God is. If God were different, they would be different. If God were an arbitrary and foolish being, on May 31, 2008, water could simply have disappeared from the planet for a few hours, then popped back, then turned to gold, without any particular reason.

Now, I hope that the above will serve to answer thoroughly every variant of Dan’s question that Dan may or may not have intended to ask. Let me provide a brief preemptive critique of the direction Dan seems to be headed.

Dan’s seeming argument is this:

1. God’s act of Creation is an example of “agent causation.”
2. If an explanation for God’s act is adequate, then the same explanation for man’s act is adequate.
3. Therefore, “agent causation” is an adequate explanation of man’s act.

There are several obvious problems with this seeming argument. Even granting the idea that “agent causation” is an “explanation” for God’s Creation, because man is fundamentally different from God (and, in particular, man is neither omnipotent nor impassive), there is no good reason to suggest that an explanation that works for God would also be adequate for man.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that “agent causation” (if that is even a proper label for the idea that God’s nature – who God is – fully determines his actions and that consequently God himself is the cause) makes sense (with all those qualifications) for God, but is plainly contradicted for man, who is not impassive and who is not eternal or immutable. Man came to be: God did not. Thus, even Man’s nature: who man is, itself has a cause. God’s nature, who God is, is simply self-existent. To assert that man is similarly self-existent is to describe a divine attribute to man, and to deny the plain teaching of Scripture. Furthermore, such a claim is simply absurd: children come from their parents – they are obviously not self-existent.

Likewise, not only special revelation but general revelation informs us of the fact that children are (at least to a very significant extent) the product of nature and nurture. In short, the idea that children’s acts (or adults’ acts for that matter) are simply uncaused causes, is contradicted by both special and general revelation.

Anyhow, Dan indicates that he wants to get to the core of “What are God’s abilities?” The answer is: God is perfectly free: God can do whatever God wants to do, and what God wants to do is not externally influenced at all.


P.S. Dan graciously provides a postscript of thanks in his audio clip for the style of the discussion. I too am thankful to Dan for his kind treatment, which is not necessarily a given in Internet discussions.

Responses to Atheist Objections

April 16, 2008

I received the following comments on my earlier post, “Away with the Atheists!” I assume that the person commenting is an atheist, and I am going to use “A” to designate his comments below, but whether he is an atheist or not is not central to the matter:

Objection 1 – Atheism Misclassified as Faith
A: “Um… atheism isn’t a faith, it isn’t focused on death and damnation.”

Answer: Of course atheism is a faith. It is a humanist faith. It may not be a well-organized or systematized faith, but it is a faith. Everyone believes something and trusts in something – even atheists who believe in and trust in themselves.

Objection 2- God Misclassified as “True”
A: “Also God isn’t “true and living”. This isn’t “God doesn’t exist” but more “if he did that wouldn’t be a good description”. If there is only one God, than by definition there can’t be false gods; the only way to get a true version is to have fakes. You might say the ones belonging to other religions are false gods, but to be false, you’d also have to admit they exist.”


(1) If a deity has to exist to be worshipped, then this objection is the shortest, clearest proof of the existence of God. Since I doubt the objector would grant such a proof, then the objection is itself absurd.

(2) Saying that God is not the True God because he is the only God is a bit like saying that real dollar bills are not real dollar bills unless someone has actually made counterfeits.

(3) Connected with (2), saying that God is not the True God because by definition he is the only God, is a bit like saying that the currency of the land is not true currency, because it is by definition the only currency, and counterfeit money is not currency at all. It doesn’t follow. The fact that God is the only God, does not mean that there are not counterfeits, things/people passed off as though they were God or “a god.”

Objection 3: God Misclassified as “Living”
A: “As for living… God isn’t a living thing. He is immortal, remember? He fails the criteria to be qualified as a living thing because of that and several other factors. You can’t be considered alive if you can never truly die. “


I reject the objector’s criterion of mortality. Things can be alive without being able to die. Where the objector got this idea from is a mystery. Perhaps he simply imagined it. I don’t assign any particular weight to this objection. It’s important to note that God is a spirit – I’m not sure whether the objector has taken that into account or not.


More of Trey Austin

April 14, 2008

Well, it seems that Mr. Austin does not like the correction he has received by those he considers his Christian brethren, so much that he has fired off a massive, multi-post response. I have addressed his multiple posts as a group.

1. Opening Post
In which Trey uses a colorful analogy involving dung, while falsely claiming, “Notice that Dr. White never refers to any other Christian with whom he has major disagrement as “brother.”” I seem to pretty clearly recall Dr. White calling Pastor Shishko a brother in Christ, even though Dr. White disagrees majorly with Pastor Shishko on the issue of Baptism.

2. Not the Reformed View (Round II)
In which Trey complains that he has been misunderstood, and claims that he was not saying that “my point was not that my own view is only Reformed view and Jame’s White’s isn’t.” He seems to be saying that he was complaining that there is a multiplicity of Reformed views on the subject – particularly on the subject of the doctrine of the Atonement. On the other hand, Trey actually wrote in his first article, “No more than you should have some Protestant Reformed theologian, who denies the free offer of the Gospel, and who denies common grace, to be the poster-child for being a Calvinist should you have James White out in the public eye representing himself and his lop-sided Calvinism as true and proper Calvinism.” Actually, though, the problem is that it is Trey’s contra-confessional view of the atonement (or at least the view that he seems to adopt vy his support of Ponter and company) that is “lop-sided Calvinism” if it can really be called Calvinism at all, rather than thinly-masked Amyraldianism. Again, lest Trey’s new intra-Reformed ecumenicism seem sincere, recall his claim: “So, if you want Puritanism of the modern variety, James White is your man; he tows the line to a tee. But if you want real, historical Calvinism, he’s not any kind of reliable source.” Now he claims, “So, understand, i’m arguing not that White’s view is not Reformed, nor am i arguing that it’s biblically wrong (though, i think it is), i am arguing that it’s only one among many Reformed views on the issue of God’s will concerning the salvation of the non-elect.” (all typos in original) Judge for yourself whether that’s the same argument or not.

3. Obligation to Critique Someone Else
In which Trey complains of having to deal with other subjects than the promotion of the distorted and logically incoherent view of the atonement advocated by Ponter and company. He complains that “In fact, having taken part in several forums devoted to internet apologetics, i have been increasingly convinced that it is a useless exercise that simply blakanizes positions rather than leading to understanding and mutual love.” (all typos original, I think “blakanizes” is supposed to be “Balkanizes”) Is it just my imagination or has the kettle of Internet apologetics been called black?

And he does so again in the same post, where he writes, “So, yes, it *IS* my business, and the business of every other Calvinist, how James White acts and how he displays a less than charitable attitude or a theological eccintricity that he presents as *THE* Reformed view, because, for good or for bad, many people will see that, recognize it as someone negative, as i do, and judge all Calvinists on that basis.” (again, all typos in original) Trey’s assisting those who advocate Amyraldianism-lite as though it were Calvinism, and then claims that conventional, confessional, middle-of-the-road Calvinism is not *THE* Reformed view. But if we are going to include Amyraldianism within the “Reformed View” broadly defined, then there is no strong reason to except Arminianism from the “Reformed View,” in which case the Reformed label is just something we should throw away, because it has lost its meaning.

Of course, the solution is to define Reformed theology by the major standards: the WCF, the LBCF, and even the canons of Dordt. The quasi-Amyraldianism of Ponter and company is not within the boundaries of any of those.

4. I Don’t Know Debate
In which Trey claims that he knows plenty about debate, and offers (based on his grade-school experience) some pointers to Dr. White. One hardly needs to provide commentary.

Trey seems to insist that he knows how better to answer questions. Thus, for example, he claims: “Hence, we can and should affirm that God desires the salvation of all the non-elect, insofar as he has commanded them to repent and believe and be saved, and insofar as he has told us plainly that it is his desire to see all men to be saved. God desires his commandments to be kept: That’s the heart of the assumption behind the preceptive will of God, and so we can rightly say that, anything God commands he desires to take place.”

Of course, Dr. White fully agrees with that statement, but such a statement would only confuse the issue, which was God’s sovereign desire, not his revealed will. In fact, all of those that Trey disparagingly refers to as “high Calvinists” (i.e. confessional Reformed folks) would agree that God desires (in one sense) that his commands be obeyed, and that one of his commands is that people repent and believe. But that sense is really not relevant to the debate that Dr. White was having with Mr. Gregg – a point that Trey seems willing to overlook in order to make a string of ad hominem attacks.

5. Personal Contact Needed?
In which Trey indicates that he feels justified in making his complaints public, apparently based in part (how, Trey doesn’t explain) on the subsequent public response by Dr. White. While I would agree that Trey might have been wiser to have complained to Dr. White privately first, before making himself appear absurd in a public forum, I also think that if Trey is responding to a public debate, he should feel free to do so publicly. Likewise, Trey should not complain that he is being responded to publicly, since he has made his amazing accusations a public matter (and I don’t think that Trey is necessarily complaining about that).

6. When Ad Hominem Arguments Go Wild
In which Trey complains that he has not seen substantiation for the claims that his initial post was ad hominem. Trey then complains that the present author’s introduction to my response to Tony Byrne’s post was ad hominem because I identified Tony’s connection to him and to their mutual friend (and theological ally), David Ponter. This truly is laughable.

Why so? It is laughable because (1) Trey imputes motives for the identification that are both unnecessary and inaccurate, and because (2) Trey does the very same thing. As to (1), the reason for providing identification is to help the readers make the connection to the pair of attacks recently launched on Dr. White. As to (2), Trey’s own self-label of “Reformed” and “Calvinist” are aimed to prejudice the reader in his favor. But I must qualify (2) a bit. It’s not quite the same thing, because I’ve actually demonstrated the non-Reformed nature of Tony’s and David’s (and, it appears, Trey’s) position, whereas Trey simply claims a label that doesn’t belong to him.

Furthermore, returning to (1), Trey goes even further off the deep end with his false claim that “[TurretinFan]’s trying to prejudice his audience against anything we say with regard to the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement by labeling us as “Quasi-Amyraldians.” This complaint is off the deep end for at least two reasons. One: as Trey himself admits, he hasn’t made a positive case at all – in fact – while he’s endorsed (one way or another) Ponter’s position, he hasn’t even made a negative position against the Reformed view of the limited atonement (as Tony and David have attempted). So, apparently (to Trey) I feel the need to rebut his position with an ad hominem, even though his position has not actually been presented. Two: it is the extent, not sufficiency, of the atonement that is at stake. If Tony, David, and company merely taught the unlimited sufficiency of Christ’s death, they would be within bounds of the Calvinistic view.

Moreover, returning again to (2), Trey himself uses labels on Dr. White to discredit Dr. White’s view as being the Reformed position. If it were ad hominem for me to use the label “Quasi-Amyraldian” (although I did not use it in the context of discrediting someone’s argument) all the more so it must be ad hominem for Trey to use a label in the context of discrediting Dr. White’s statements regarding the Reformed position.

Finally, the nail in the coffin was Trey claim that, “he also is engaging in guilt-by-association fallacy, by saying that Tony’s views are less than reliable because he is friends and in agreement with David Ponter.” (a) Actually, of course, I never make such a claim. Trey’s uncharitable assumption regarding the purpose for the association doesn’t convert a simple making of an association with an improper use of such an association. (b) Associating people by shared beliefs for the purpose of highlighting that shared belief is not the fallacy of guilt by association: it’s association by guilt. Trey would do well to get it straight. (c) Trey himself in post (1) above employed similar grouping (“his internet broadcast certainly was nothing more than an invitation to his sycophants to flood the blogosphere with responses”). (d) In Trey’s grouping, the inference was much harsher and prejudicial than in mine (comrades [mine] vs. sycophants [his]).

I hope Trey will see the error of his position, both with respect to Dr. White, but more importantly with respect to the Ponter position on the atonement.

If we believe in a Vicarious Atonement (and the Reformed church does) then those for whom Christ died – the elect nation for whom our High Priest offered His once-for-all sacrifice – will be saved. We should still affirm that Christ’s death is, as to its intrinsic worth, sufficient for all. But Christ is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

But here’s my challenge to Trey Austin, who hands out debating tips to Dr. White. I have a debate blog all set up, and I’ve debated folks there before. If you’d like, we can debate (in writing) from Scripture the doctrine of the Atonement. I will take the view expressed in the Westminster Standards (WLC):

Question 59: Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

Answer: Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ has purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.

If Trey believes that redemption was purchased for others to whom it will never be applied or effectually communicated, or who will never in time be enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel, then I hope he’ll take up the challenge. I’m 100% ready to defend the true doctrine expressed in WLC 59 against any taker – whether it be Trey, Tony, David, or anyone else.


Responses to Three Common Objections to Calvinism

April 13, 2008

The following is a response to three common objections to Calvinism that are made by non-Calvinists. As mentioned below, these are not objections that everyone could make (for example, one calls into question the doctrine of original sin), but they are objections that frequently are made, and to which an answer should be ready. There are, of course, other objections. Those too, by God’s grace, we hope to answer in due course.

Objection 1: Calls to Repentance Invalidate Calvinism

“To me, the most convincing point that God has not predestined all events is His constant plea for man to change. If passages were taken out of context, then one would expect to find only one or two references to man’s need to change. However, repentance is the underlying theme of all prophetic and gospel messages, which by definition implies man can change. These messages are not addressed to the Holy Spirit but to people, from whom action is demanded.” (source)

Response to Objection 1

Calvinism, of course, agrees that man is commanded to repent, and that some men do repent. It’s not the Calvinist’s claim that the calls to repentance are taken out of context. Instead, we simply believe that at an improper inference is being drawn from them.

This objection does not take the form of a rigorous argument. The underlying problem with the argument is the statement, “which by definition implies man can change.” Calvinism does not deny the statement that men can change. In fact, since Calvinism claims that God changes men, how could Calvinism possibly deny that men can change?

What the objector seems to want to say is that man can change on his own, i.e. of his own power. Scripture, however, nowhere teaches such a doctrine, and actually denies it. For example, the prophet Jeremiah explains:

Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.

And Jesus himself explains:

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Some non-Calvinists (such as historical Arminians as well as Molinist Catholics) assert a doctrine of pre-venient grace. If one holds to such a doctrine, one cannot make objection 1, because it applies equally to one’s own position.

Objection 2: God’s Justice Invalidates Calvinism

“Calvinism teaches that God unfairly condemned the human race for sins that He prearranged and predetermined. Can God fairly condemn man for sins that He made Him do? Calvinism blames God for man’s mistakes. It teaches that the guilt for the original sin was unfairly passed down through all generations, condemning children for sins they did not commit. This is also unfair. How can we use the words “equity”, “fair”, “right”, and “just” to describe God’s judgment according to Calvin? Compare Calvin’s vision of God’s judgment with the Bible’s description:

“For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity.” Psalm 98:9

The Lord despises injustice and unfairness. How can He arbitrarily choose who will go to heaven or hell regardless of their actions? Punishment becomes cruelty if it is inflicted independent of a person’s actions.” (source)

Response to Objection 2

This first two lines of this objection are the classic objection of Romans 9: if God predetermined that we sinned, how can he hold us guilty, for who has resisted his will? Paul’s answer is that the question itself is impudent. It assumes that God lacks the freedom to create certain people for purposes that include their destruction. The number of times I have seen this objection defies counting, and it is already clearly and emphatically answered in Scripture. In short we learn from Scripture that God creating men unto destruction is not “unfair”: it is the Potter’s freedom.

The second objection regarding original sin is a bit more odd. Of course, many non-Calvinists cannot make this objection, because they acknowledge that the guilt of original sin passed upon all men. Scripture also speaks clearly to this matter:

Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Furthermore, the underlying premise that it is not fair for God to punish people who did not sin personally is not Scriptural either. In fact, it conflicts directly with the words of God written in stone by the finger of God:

Exodus 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

Deuteronomy 5:9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,

And repeated again and again:

Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

Numbers 14:18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

The moral law is the very definition of justice: if a man will claim that it is not fair or just for God to punish the children for the sins of the parents, then one has to reject or to come up with ad hoc interpretations of the very Decalogue.

This complaint, though, is not a new one. It is recorded by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both of whom reject it. If anyone does what God commands, he will live. Even if the wicked man himself repents, and turns from his wickedness, he will live. Ezekiel in Ezekiel provides an extended discussion of the Jewish proverb (not inspired): ” The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?”

In the end, both prophets are making the same point: how can you possibly complain about the guilt of your fathers. God can judge you for your own guilt, and you’ll still die. First live perfectly in God’s sight and then see whether you are judged for someone else’s guilt.

Ezekiel 18:25-32
25Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? 26When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. 27Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. 28Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

29Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? 30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

Some actually go so far as to imagine that Ezekiel should be read as though God never brings about harm to children because of their fathers, but just read on to the sobering words of the twentieth chapter:

Ezekiel 20:25-26
25Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; 26And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.

See how God takes responsibility for the child sacrifices of these wicked men? He even gives his reason: to make the men desolate. That is a punishment on the firstborn children for the sins of their fathers. What else does that remind one of? Why of Egypt on the day of Passover, of course. The Angel killed all the firstborn of Egypt in a single night: as many as did not have the blood of the Paschal lamb on their door-posts.

The ultimate absurdity, of course, is that it is only sinful men who make the objection that God is unequal because he punishes the children for the sins of the fathers. But those who make the objection overlook God’s mercy: if they will repent and turn to God they will not be punished, but if they simply continue their father’s sins, they can expect the same condemnation.

There is a third part to the objection here, expressed as: “How can He arbitrarily choose who will go to heaven or hell regardless of their actions? Punishment becomes cruelty if it is inflicted independent of a person’s actions.” This part is wrong for several reasons.

1) Election is not arbitrary, it is wise and based on God’s special love, which is called foreknowledge. The fact that the choice is not based on consideration of things we have done does not make the choice arbitrary, because God is the creator.

2) Making election dependent on man’s actions is clearly contrary to Scripture, especially to Romans 9.

3) Punishment is not inflicted independent of a person’s actions: God decrees both a man’s actions (such as Pharaoh hardening his heart) and the consequences (punishment). God raised up Pharaoh to demonstrate God’s power in the destruction of Egypt, but God did not do so independent of Pharaoh’s actions. Pharaoh refused to obey God, and God punished Pharaoh for that, even though God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and even though God interacted with Pharaoh specifically for the purpose to perform that punishment. In short God ordains not only the ends (punishment) but the means (sin), the two are not independent.

Objection 3: God’s Love invalidates Calvinism

“Although these words may seem shocking, please consider the following implication. Not only does Calvinism make God to be an arbitrary Savior, but it necessarily implies that God was motivated by glory rather than love. According to Calvin, God never sought man’s best interest, else He would have extended salvation to the entire race. Instead, He arbitrarily selected some, condemning others. Why did God do this? According to Calvinism, it was performed for God’s glory.” (source)

Response to Objection 2

The “arbitrary Savior” (instead, apparently, of a merits-based Savior) objection is already addressed above. Furthermore, the objection raises a false dichotomy.

God was motivated by love for the elect, as noted above. Nevertheless, God had his own glory in mind, as Scripture says.

John 13:31-32
31Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.

The statement, “God never sought man’s best interest, else He would have extended salvation to the entire race,” is of course not Calvin’s own statement. God did not, of course, intend the best interest of each and every individual person. Instead, God intended each and every person for His (God’s) best interest.

The objector seems to think that God needs to have the same humility as a man. This is just so odd. God is God. He destroys the glory of man, so that He will receive glory. Remember the tower of Babel? Remember Tarshish?

Isaiah 23:6-10
6Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle. 7Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn. 8Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth? 9The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth. 10Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.

But God loves his elect. Indeed, it is written:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Therefore, God – in his love – does save some men. God is not helpless to save those he loves. He is not some modern Casanova attempting to woo as many as possible, but reliant only on external means. No, he is a powerful and gracious king who will take the bride of his choice. He does so, not according to our desert, but according to his grace, as it is written:

2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,


The foregoing objections were all drawn from the same web site, but are all objections that I’ve heard before. There are certainly other objections that have been made, and responses that have been given to those other objections. (Consider this excellent response to this other objection.) I’d never suggest that anyone should accept the doctrines of grace simply because the three objections above had been defeated: instead one should accept those doctrines because they are the consistent teaching of Scripture: God saves.

Therefore, we need to preach the gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone, not according to him who wills or runs, but of God who shows mercy.

Let us do so!


2 Thessalonians 2:15 – Responding to "Orthodox"’s Counter-Objections

April 8, 2008

One reader of the blog, “Orthodox,” has provided some counter-objections to the rebuttals I’ve presented so far on the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

I think “Orthodox” is a bit confused, as some of his objections have already been answered in earlier posts. For example, “Orthodox” seems to think that he can use a verse any way he pleases, and it is up to the rest of the world to prove that the verse cannot mean what he says it means.

Thus, his counter-objections turn the matter on his head, as he complains first that:

1) You haven’t established that it is only about “the gospel”, since the immediate context is about things of a wide range of concerns.

a) The short response is that the burden is on those who attempt to use this verse to support their position to show that it does. They cannot, which demonstrates that their reference to this verse is pretextual.

b) The long response is that, not only is the burden not on me (since I’m objecting to an abuse, not trying to make a positive case), but I can actually demonstrate that “the traditions” refers to the gospel, by reference to the immediately preceding verse.

But “Orthodox”‘s confusion about the burden that the abuser faces doesn’t stop there, for his second objection is similar:

2) Even if it did thus limit it, you cannot claim victory without proving the EXACT boundaries of “the gospel”.

a) This counter-objection clearly misses the point that the burden of establishing that usefulness of the verse to the abuser’s position is the abuser, not the objector.

b) This counter-objection is also odd, because – of course – one doesn’t have to know the EXACT boundaries to have useful knowledge. For example, one may not know the EXACT boundaries of Russia, while still recognizing that London, England is not in Russia. If someone was arguing that we have to accept London, England as part of Russia because we don’t know the EXACT boundaries of Russia, we’d laugh.

c) Finally, of course, Orthodox doesn’t explain why I’d have to know the boundaries at all. It should be noted that much of the objection to the abuse of this passage would remain, even if it were stripped from its context, and we had only the word “traditions” and nothing to help us understand what it meant. It would still be the burden on the person who sought to use this text to justify his view of “tradition” to establish that what Paul was referring to was the same thing that the person is referring to. In other words, if someone, let’s call him “O” wants to claim that he is entitled to hold fast to icons because Paul said to hold fast to “traditions” then it is up to O to demonstrate that icons are within the boundaries of “traditions” as the term is used by Paul. If O cannot, then O has used the text in a pretextual manner.

“Orthodox” continues, by demonstrating that his passion for the matter has overwhelmed his reason, for he states:

3) Asking if you can “demonstrate” that an oral tradition was taught to the Thessalonians is the equivilent [sic] of asking to “demonstrate” that Peter wrote 2 Peter. You can’t really do it, and thus you are hypocritical.

a) The demonstration is simple:

2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:


2Pe 3:1 This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:

That’s one of the easiest challenges of Scriptural demonstration that I’ve ever been presented with. Does anyone think we can expect a sincere and heartfelt apology for “Orthodox”‘s false accusation of hypocrisy?

b) Those challenges are not the equivalent of one another, unless I was asserting as either my argument, or a premise to my argument, that 2 Peter was written by Peter. If I were to assert such a thing, though, the demonstration above would be provided to support it.

“Orthodox” false accusations continue with his next assertion:

4) The question of “can you prove they weren’t the same as what was written down” is classic sophistry. It’s like saying “can you prove you haven’t been beating your wife”. You can’t? Ok, well we’ll leave that question open and assume you may or may not have been beating your wife.

a) Calling it sophistry (whether or not one qualifies it as a “classic” sophistry) doesn’t make it so. Let’s see whether “Orthodox” can substantiate his accusation, or whether this is simply another false accusation.

b) “Orthodox” compares the question to the question “can you prove you haven’t been beating your wife.” This is improper for several reasons:
(i) First of all, of course, the classic sophistry is to ask, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” That’s a sophistry, because the question is loaded: if you answer “yes,” it will be understood that you were beating her before. If you answer, “no,” it will be understood (via a denial of the antecedent fallacy) that you continue to beat her. It’s a sophistry because it is a rhetorical trick to make someone say something they don’t mean. It’s a trick question.
(ii) The present question is neither complex, nor trick. It is simple and straightforward. Can you demonstrate [x]? If you can, you can, and if you cannot, you cannot.
(iii) The comparison question asked by “Orthodox” is also simply and straightforward, though it is on a somewhat inflammatory subject. Detectives ask this question of suspected criminals all the time. “Do you have an alibi?” they may inquire, or perhaps they may phrase it as, “Can you prove you weren’t downtown during the shooting?” If a suspect cannot, a good detective certainly would, as “Orthodox” indicates, “leave that question open and assume you may or may not have been [doing whatever you are suspected of doing].” Indeed, only Clousseau (the detective from the “Pink Panther” movies) or some equally buffoonish detective could be pictured simply taking a suspect’s word for it, that the suspect is innocent.
(iv) Furthermore, the inflammatory nature of the question confuses the issues a bit further. After all, we generally (i.e. when we are not acting as detectives) prefer to assume that someone is innocent until they are proven guilty. Thus, we would expect that the accuser needs to prove that the man WAS beating his wife, and not that the man prove that he wasn’t beating his wife. In other words, the nature of that question carries with it an underlying burden of proof, if it is placed in a criminal context. This confuses the issue, because there is a very different burden of proof here. Recall how the verse gets abused: someone (let’s call him “O”) claims we have to accept “oral tradition,” because this verse says so. We respond by challenging “O” to demonstrate that the verse says so, and if he cannot we don’t accept his supposed proof. The analogy to the wife beating scenario would if “O” were to claim that the bruises on his neighbor’s wife were proof that his wife had been beaten by her husband. We’d ask “O” to demonstrate that the bruises weren’t caused by the wife being in a car crash, particularly if we saw a highly damaged car sitting in her driveway. If “O” couldn’t demonstrate that the husband was the cause of the bruises, we wouldn’t call the neighbor a wife-beater, because “O” couldn’t meet his burden of proof, just as “O” cannot meet his burden of proof with this verse.

“Orthodox” continued by making an interesting comment:

If you make the positive assertion that they may have been identical, it is up to you to establish that assertion, otherwise the assertion fails and there is no need to consider such an unfounded contention.

a) Does “Orthodox” read what “Orthodox” writes? “Positive assertion that they may …”? That something may be is rarely a positive assertion, and it’s not a positive assertion here.

b) Does “Orthodox” remember the context of the discussion? It is the abuser of the text that has made a positive assertion, namely that the text teaches “traditionism” (for lack of a more succinct word). It’s up to the abuser of the text to demonstrate such support. If they cannot, then, as Orthodox puts it: “the assertion fails and there is no need to consider such an unfounded contention.

Next, “Orthodox” shifts gears, and makes a new category of error, this time the error is an allegation of misrepresentation:

5) Discussing a “class of knowledge called Sacred Tradition which is separate from scripture” is a misrepresentation of the opposing view. The claim is that there is one class of knowledge called sacred tradition, of which the written record is a part. This, coincidently, is the exact way that Paul categorises things in 2 Th 2:15. Hold to the “traditions” whether written or oral. Not “hold to the oral traditions and s acred [sic] writings”.

a) It’s not a misrepresentation. Catholics sometimes talk about “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture” as though they were two parallel bodies of knowledge. If “Sacred Tradition” can only mean (to Catholics) a genus that includes Scripture, then the statement would be a bit like “Fruits and Apples.” See, for example, CCC 84 and CCC 97 (in which the genus is “Word of God” and the species are “Sacred Tradition” and “Sacred Scripture”). Furthermore, I’ve personally heard Catholics discuss the matter that way, specifically excluding Scripture from Tradition as being in different categories.

b) The fact that “Orthodox” wants to use different nomenclature,
(i) doesn’t make the Catholics disappear as one category of folks who use the text; and
(ii) doesn’t really make much substantive difference: whether one wants to call the genus classification using the word “traditions” or “word of God” or whatever, the underlying issues are the same. While “Orthodox” is welcome to have the debate over whether the Catholics should lump “Sacred Scripture” in with “Sacred Tradition” in their theology, I leave to “Orthodox.”

c) Ironically, Orthodox himself provides an example of the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 with his comment: “This, coincidently, is the exact way that Paul categorises things in 2 Th 2:15. Hold to the “traditions” whether written or oral. Not “hold to the oral traditions and s acred [sic] writings”.” There a couple of errors here:

(i) The major abuse here is due to the underlying assumption that by “traditions” Paul means what “Orthodox” means by “traditions.” There’s no reason at all to suppose that. “Orthodox” assumes it, but we have no reason to accept his claim.
(ii) A minor abuse here is due to “Orthodox” misreading “our epistle” as though it were a reference to “written traditions” in general (again, basically assuming “Orthodox”‘s definition of “traditions”).
(iii) Another (and still more minor) abuse here is due to “Orthodox” misreading “taught … by word” as thought it were a reference to the class of “oral traditions” rather than to specific things that had been taught by Paul to the Thessalonians (again, underlying that misreading is “Orthodox”‘s assumption that Paul means what “Orthodox” means by “traditions”).

Turning from abuse of the text and false accusations of misrepresentation, “Orthodox” reverts to his previous false accusation of hypocrisy, this time with a different basis. I was hesitant even to include this item, because it has nothing to do with 2 Thessalonians 2:15, but I ask the reader to be patient with me. “Orthodox” contends:

6) Saying you don’t know if Chrysostom wrote this thing is another case of “have you stopped beating your wife”. You have zero reason to think Chrysostom didn’t write it, but you think maybe if some doubt is cast on it, we can devalue the whole thing. Again hypocrisy. What if this reasoning was applied to the scriptures?

a) The historical question of whether Chrysostom wrote the homilies cited is not comparable to the loaded question (at least this time “Orthodox” correctly relates the question) of whether someone has stopped beating his wife. There’s nothing complex or loaded about an historical inquiry as to authorship.

b) And of course, I didn’t even ask that question, I just indicated that I didn’t know.

c) Despite “Orthodox” claim to the contrary, I do have reason to think Chrysostom might not have written it. As I previously told “Orthodox” (link – does he read carefully?), “John Chrysostom’s legacy is muddied by time and various strains of thought all attributed to him, but not necessarily all his own.” (or, for another example, in the post itself to which “Orthodox” was responding, I wrote: “John Chrysostom wrote a a large amount, and even more that he did not write has been attributed to him over the years. “) Even the Catholic Encyclopedia at “New Advent” admits that “numerous” apocryphal writings are attributed to him (link), and additionally mentions the role of editors in the release of at least some of his homilies. So, authorship of these particular homilies, and – more particularly – these specific words is certainly open to reasonable doubt.

d) “Orthodox”‘s guess as to my reason for mentioning it is mistaken. I mentioned the open question of authorship to avoid dogmatically asserting that it was Chrysostom, and not one of his editors or a pseudo-Chrysostom that abused 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Furthermore, it was important to point out that the second homily from which I quoted was not the same homily, since one wouldn’t necessarily interpret Chysostom in view of what pseudo-Chrysostom wrote, or vice versa. Thus, I cautioned the reader, to soften the force of my own argument.

e) “Orthodox”‘s final comments, “Again hypocrisy. What if this reasoning was applied to the scriptures?” are likewise off the mark. In this case, the charges are more absurd than usual. Far from hypocrisy, the matter was a simply clarification of the record, so that Chyrsostom’s name might be somewhat removed from the stain of the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15, just as one might say that one’s neighbor’s wife’s face was bruised, without dogmatically asserting that it must be the husband that did it. As for the application to Scripture, I simply believe what Scripture says. I don’t treat Scripture like I treat the writings attributed to the church fathers. If 2 Peter says it was written by Peter (and it does), then I believe it. If Scripture says nothing about the authorship of a particular book, I refuse to be dogmatic about that matter myself.

As his next-to-last point, Orthodox makes another faulty comparison on the tangential issue of what the passage attributed to Chrysostom is alleged to teach:

7) You say that what Chrysostom means by tradition is ambiguous, but the issue is that it goes beyond what scripture is, and that is not ambiguous in the context. Your argument is equivalent to saying that scripture lists no canon, therefore we can safely ignore scripture. i.e. hypocrisy.

a) Is it really clear that Chrysostom means something beyond Scripture? I’m not sure. The “in context” comment is bogus, because the alleged statement by Chrysostom is practically devoid of context.

b) Furthermore, if someone is going to cite Chrysostom as supporting their position, it is important to establish what Chrysostom was referring to. Otherwise, the same pretextual quotation abuse that we’ve documented with respect to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 can be made with respect to Chrysostom.

c) Since “Orthodox” pretends to hold to that which was received by all the fathers, it should matter a lot to “Orthodox” what Chrysostom himself meant by what he wrote. It’s much less important for me, though, because I am willing to admit that all the church fathers were men, and consequently fallible and errant.

Finally, Orthodox provides a last argument, finally apparently attempting to return to the text.

8) You say that 2 Th 3:6 is about discipline and not about doctrine, so tradition=discipline. Then you claim that 2 Th 3:15 is about the gospel, and not about discipline, therefore tradition=gospel. So you contradict your own restrictive agenda by which you desperately try and shrink the categories out of existence.

a) Actually, my comment about 2 Thessalonians 3:6 was to relate to the reader Chrysostom’s comments on the verse, not my own. Chrysostom, when considering 2 Thessalonians 3:6, clearly did not have in mind either the Catholic category of “Sacred Tradition” or the category “Orthodox” prefers of something akin to “everything the church uses to convey information.”

b) The verse that we have been discussing, which is about holding fast to the gospel is 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (not 3:15).

c) My only agenda here is to stop the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that I’ve seen way too often, as well as to expose the fact that it is used as a pretext.


Hopefully, by now it has been demonstrated that there is no rational way to justify the use of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as though it were evidence of the Bible teaching the “traditionist” position with respect to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition.


2 Thessalonians 2:15 – Additional Clarification

April 5, 2008

This is the third post in a series on 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (main post) (comment answered – additional examples).

Reginald has provided some additional comments in a new post (link).

Preliminary Clarifications

Before going through Reginald’s comments in detail, I think it would be worthwhile to address a couple matters briefly and generally.

1. I think Reginald may think that I have identified 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as a sort of proof text against Roman Catholicism. That was not my intent, or at least not as such. There are ways in which 2 Thessalonians 2:15 comes into conflict with Roman Catholic dogma, but the point is not to quote 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to criticize tradition, for example. For that I’d turn to other Scriptures. Instead, I’ve brought of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to rebut the use I’ve seen it put to again and again in Catholic apologetics, to suggest that it is a sort of proof text for Catholic positions on tradition.

2. I think Reginald may have taken the position that the “Reasons” and “Impacts” I presented are themselves an attempt to refute the “Catholic position.” Not so. In fact, I’m glad that Reginald can so freely agree with at least some of them. They are the facts that we draw from the text that are then used in the antidotes to the various specific abuses of the text.

With such antidotal use in mind, the focus of the discussion is a little different than the focus would be if I were trying to positively some doctrine from the text. It is important to realize that there is a difference between trying to positively establish a doctrine from a text, and trying to demonstrate that a doctrine cannot be established from a particular text.

To put it another way, just because (as I demonstrate) the verse does not say what fans of “tradition” need or want it to say, does not mean that it is a clear enunciation of the opposing reformation doctrine. Perhaps this is hard to see, so I’ll use an example.

Suppose that someone took the account of Judas’ suicide to be a teaching that one can redeem themselves from serious sins via suicide. There are several doctrines that oppose such a teaching, such as that only Christ’s sacrifice can redeem us from sin and that suicide is itself a sin. Nevertheless, an exposition of the “proof texts” for such a teaching would not necessarily find either of those doctrines in the text. A verse that says Judas hanged himself may not actually say that suicide is wrong, nor may they necessarily explain the unique role of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. We’d be surprised if they did.

Hopefully such an example demonstrates why we’d be surprised if the supposed proof texts for the “traditionist” point of view positively demonstrated Sola Scriptura. It would be lovely if they did – and sometimes one may find that happening. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t expect such a thing as a matter of course.

Rebuttal as to Reginald’s Comments on the Specific Examples

1. The First Specific Example

The first specific example was a situation in which someone is trying to say that we need to permit some “tradition,” because this verse says so. I think Reginald may have misunderstood this situation. Frankly, as I went through my concrete examples, I found this kind of abuse with lower frequency than the other two. That is not to say it does not happen.

Searching quickly, one might pick on Sungenis’ argument in a Catholic Answers article (link) in which he argues, defending the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, “… in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul told these same Thessalonians to preserve the oral instruction, along with the written.” Let me be clear: I think Sungenis is really trying to go after the broader issue of Sola Scriptura, even though the argument is part of a defense of the bodily assumption of Mary. Nevertheless, the point is that on this particular debate, Sungenis has brought in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

We can ask ourselves the three questions I posed, and discover that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn’t help Sungenis establish the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption.

Now, Reginald seems to think that the first question (“Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?”)is vague, because (apparently) the term “gospel” is vague. I’ll leave that softball aside for a while. The point of the question was intentionally not to be more specific than the text. Tying back to the “Reasons” and “Impacts” section of the original post, though, I think we had basically agreed that the answer is “the gospel.”

Likewise, Reginald seems to think that the second question (“Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?”) is irrelevant. In the example of Sungenis’ use to support the Bodily Assumption of Mary, the question is plainly not irrelevant. If Sungenis cannot demonstrate that Paul taught the Thessalonians the Bodily Assumption of Mary, then we don’t have any particular reason to think that Paul telling the Thessalonians to hold fast to the things that they were taught has any significance to the particular doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

Finally, Reginald seems to think that the third question (“Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?”) is also irrelevant. However, for much the same reasons, it is relevant when the verse is brought to bear for support of a particular doctrine, such as the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

Reginald’s comment, “There is no documentary evidence showing the full content of St. Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica, so he cannot demonstrate that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught there,” seems misplaced. I would not suggest that we could demonstrate (at least not simply from this verse) the negative proposition that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught in Thessalonica. Instead, my point is a rebuttal point, as noted above.

My point is that one cannot point to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to support the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, because no one could demonstrate that Paul was referring to a body of doctrine that included such a doctrine. Even if Paul had simply said, “Hold fast everything you’ve ever been taught,” that wouldn’t establish the Bodily Assumption of Mary unless we could discover somehow that the Bodily Assumption of Mary had been taught to the Thessalonians.

That’s not the same as demonstration from 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that the Bodily Assumption of Mary was NOT taught to the Thessalonians. That’s not what the argument aims to demonstrate and it is critical that Reginald grasp this point. I’m not suggesting that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 disproves the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

2. The Second Specific Example

The second specific example seems to be the most frequent abuse that I’ve seen in a quick informal survey. The second specific example posits the following situation: “someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture.”

We can ask ourselves the three questions I posed, and discover that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn’t help “traditionists” establish their thesis that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture.

Reginald thinks that the first question (“Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or “our epistle” and other “things preached”?”) is irrelevant, but Reginald is mistaken. Reginald’s comment: “nothing in the passage proscribes Sacred Tradition as being the content of the traditions that were preached – traditions whose referents we do not know.” Something in the passage may well proscribe “Sacred Tradition” (indeed, we do know the referents in general terms, even if the precise specifics are not stated), but that is not the point here. The point here is somewhat the opposite: that is it say the point is that nothing in the passage prescribes “Sacred Tradition” as being the content of the traditions that were preached.

Or to put it more generally, nothing in the verse provides a dichotomy between Scripture as a category and non-Scripture as another category. That’s one reason the concrete examples of this specific abuse fail.

Reginald also thinks the second question (“Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?”) is irrelevant. But again, Reginald seems to have misplaced the argument. His comment confirms this fact. Reginald states, “the verse also doesn’t say that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture,” but – of course – that wasn’t the claim. Perhaps it is the case that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture, and perhaps we could even establish that. But that’s not why we asked the second question, just as we did not ask the first question to prove that “Sacred Tradition” is not the content of the traditions that were preached. Instead, the question is raised to demonstrate the the verse does not support the Catholic thesis.

The same goes for the third question (“Does the verse explain anything about the “things preached” beyond that they were the “truth” and “the gospel”?”). Reginald comments, “Question 3 doesn’t exclude Sacred Tradition, which is certainly true and transmits the gospel, so the fact that the verse doesn’t spell things out is irrelevant.” The point, though, is not that “Sacred Tradition” is excluded. The point is to highlight what we know about the content of the “traditions” mentioned by Paul. The content is the “truth” and more specifically “the gospel.” Neither of those categories requires the inclusion of something beyond Scripture. Since that it so, the verse does not support the Catholic thesis.

3. The Third Specific Example

The third specific example is a case in which the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public.

Reginald thinks that the first question (“Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?”) presupposes a mistaken view of Catholic theology. Reginald points out, “Sacred Tradition … isn’t “hidden” from anyone.” I understand his concern.

The problem is that if one makes an investigation of the doctrine of, say, Papal Infallibility, one doesn’t find any positive evidence that anyone believed in the doctrine more than say 150 (or even 50) years before it was enunciated by Vatican I. Some Catholic commentators adopt a theory that essentially the magesterium reveals knowledge about doctrine (such as the doctrine of papal infallibility) progressively – and thus the doctrine of papal infallibility could be said to be – in effect – “hidden” for hundreds and and hundreds of years.

Furthermore, one does find those in the early church (such as Clement of Alexandria) adopting a view of alleged secret traditions (see this letter of Clement’s for example). Undoubtedly this was due to the influence of Gnosticism, but then that’s why Reformed Christians sometimes level charges of tendency towards Gnosticism on Roman Catholicism. After all, if all that the apostles taught is in the public knowledge, then it shouldn’t take a magisterium to provide its contents, just as no magesterium is necessary to provide us with Homer’s Odyssey or Aristotle’s Physics.

But there is no need to be contentious about the question of secrets. Let us suppose that for the particular Roman Catholic in question, we are talking about a supposedly well-known tradition, or about a tradition that has allegedly been held by all Christians everywhere always. Then, perhaps, it would possible to suppose that the first question might be moot.

Proceeding to Question 2 (“Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?”), Reginald claims that this question misleads. Reginald argues that “the fact that the bishop or presbyter(s) of the Thessalonian church taught them oral traditions doesn’t change the fact that oral traditions were taught.” While I agree with Reginald’s flow of thought (who taught the traditions wouldn’t matter to the fact that the traditions were taught), the point was a bit different. The point was that these were not traditions that had been passed down among the religious elite and were finally being revealed to the people, but were traditions that had been given directly to the brethren. Thus, these traditions are not analogous to modern Catholic traditions that are missing from any written record for much of history.

Finally, the most significant question (whether or not questions 1 and 2 were relevant) is the third question (“Does the verse specify that the “things taught” were not things that were committed to writing?”). Reginald – again misplacing the issue – argued irrelevance of the question, “since the verse also does not say that they were written down.” (emphasis in original). The problem, of course, is that the verse does not support the Catholic thesis, not that the verse necessarily refutes the Catholic thesis.

Objection Anticipated

The anticipated objection is that while the verse does not support the Catholic position, it doesn’t refute it either. In fact, while I call this an anticipated objection, one almost sees it expressed in Reginald’s concluding remark

I think that he and I might be able to agree on one thing: 2Th 2:15 is not by itself a foundation for the entire Catholic understanding of what Sacred Tradition is. It doesn’t have to be. But it most certainly does not contradict the fact that God’s revelation has been preserved in Sacred Tradition.

The supposed “fact,” is the thing to be proved. Thus, this sort of objection is an argument that we would typically call “begging the question.” That is to say, it hasn’t been established that there is a class of knowledge called “Sacred Tradition” that is a part of God’s revelation separate from Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 is sometimes quoted as though it did establish such categories, but we have discovered that it does not. We can understand and appreciate how one would apply the modern Catholic categories onto the verse, but when we read the verse itself in context, we have no reason to suppose that it is suggesting the Catholic (or “Orthodox,” for that matter) categories.

Indeed, when we look at the verse itself, we discover that the point of the verse is that the Thessalonians are to hold fast to the gospel. Reginald thinks that the term “gospel” is vague, and like many things its precise boundaries may not be clear. No matter. We can perhaps look to other places where Paul or other Scripture writers explain what the gospel is to get a better sense and clear up the matter. But that can wait for another time – for now it should suffice to have been demonstrated that the verse doesn’t support the Catholic theses for which it is so often quoted, even if it is only neutral with respect to them.

To go back and remind ourselves of the previous analogy, the statement “Judas went and hanged himself,” is not a proof text for a Mormon doctrine of “individual blood atonement” even though it (itself) is not inconsistent with such a doctrine.

A Patristic Example

John Chrysostom wrote a a large amount, and even more that he did not write has been attributed to him over the years. Among the things attributed to him (whether he wrote it or not, I haven’t seen any compelling case made) is a statement that is frequently used by advocates of the “traditionist” position. Commenting on 2 Thess. 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours,” the person writing under the name Chrysostom states, “Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.”

That’s the entire commentary on the verse. There’s certainly some ambiguity as to what the writer means by “tradition.” Does he mean “Sacred Tradition” or something else?

When we look ahead to the next homily in the collection, we can see attributed to Chrysostom, the following commentary on 2 Thess. 3:6:

Ver. 6. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly and not after the tradition which they received of us.”

That is, it is not we that say these things, but Christ, for that is the meaning of “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”; equivalent to “through Christ.” Showing the fearfulness of the message, he says, through Christ. Christ therefore commanded us in no case to be idle. “That ye withdraw yourselves,” he says, “from every brother.” Tell me not of the rich, tell me not of the poor, tell me not of the holy. This is disorder. “That walks,” he says, that is, lives. “And not after the tradition which they received from me.” Tradition, he says, which is through works. And this he always calls properly tradition.”

If both of those homilies are by the same person, we would tend to view Chrysostom considers “tradition” to refer to how one lives one’s life – to discipline, but not doctrine.

Regardless, however, of what Chrysostom meant (and regardless of whether he actually wrote either or both of the comments), if Chrysostom meant what he is so often quoted for, then Chrysostom is wrong. We have demonstrated that from the text.

The point for which Chrysostom is quoted is normally Specific Abuse 2 from my original article, in which it is argued that something in addition to Scripture is binding on believers today. Since it has already been demonstrated in the original article and again by response to objection above, that the verse does not teach such a thing, it is not necessary for us to resolve the other historical issues, which might bore the reader of this already-long post.


Very briefly, in conclusion, please remember to consider that if someone is citing Scripture as allegedly teaching their doctrine (whether my doctrine or Reginald’s doctrine or Chrysostom’s doctrine) we need to look to Scripture to see if it is so. We need to examine what the Scriptures say, if we are interested in what their author intended for us to know.

As a practical matter, we must hold fast to the gospel, living a life of repentance and faith manifesting itself by love: love for God, love for the brethren, and even love for our enemies.

Thanks be to God who has provided the gospel in Scripture,


Tradition Distinguished – Abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Thwarted

April 1, 2008

Those who wish to oppose the doctrine of Sola Scriptura typically run to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as one of the first passages to discuss. As will be demonstrated below, this verse does not support such abuse, and – in fact – demonstrates the eisegetical mindset of those who seek to use it to oppose a doctrine that our only infallible rule of faith is Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

The usual way this verse is abused is to make a loose claim, such as:

a) See, tradition according to Scripture includes both written and oral components; and

b) See, oral tradition is also as binding as written tradition.

There are several reasons why these are abuses, and there are several reasons why even these abuses are not particularly helpful to those who usually attempt them.

Reasons why such loose statements are abuses of the text or unhelpful to those trying to use them.

1(a). We do not know precisely the content of the traditions mentioned is. The significance of this fact will become apparent shortly.

1(b). We know from the context that the general content of these traditions is the gospel:

2Th 2:13-15
13But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

2. The “brethren” (not simply the bishops/elders) are those who received the “traditions” mentioned.

3. The “traditions” mentioned are a combination of the things preached to those brethren and “our epistle” and not between the things preached and Scripture generally.

Impacts of the facts above.

Why are these three/four facts significant to stop abuse of the verse?

A) The verse is not saying to hold anything taught outside of Scripture, as such.
B) The verse is not saying to hold fast to something other than the gospel.
C) The verse is not saying making a general statement about all teachings by every apostle.
D) The verse is not saying that Scripture generally fails to contain the gospel to which Paul required the Thessalonians to hold fast.

Specific Abuse 1
If someone is trying to say that we need to permit some “tradition,” because this verse says so, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if they’ll answer) three questions:

1) Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?

2) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?

3) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?

If the answers are “something else,” “no,” and “no” (as is usally the case) then it should be apparent that their reliance on this verse is completely in appropriate.

Specific Abuse 2
Likewise, if someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if possible) three questions:

1) Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or “our epistle” and other “things preached”?

2) Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?

3) Does the verse explain anything about the “things preached” beyond that they were the “truth” and “the gospel”?

If the answers are “the latter,” “no,” and “no” then it should be apparent that the verse cannot stand for the proposition for which they are attempting to use it.

Specific Abuse 3
Finally, if the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public, we must ask the following questions:

1) Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?

2) Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?

3) Does the verse specify that the “things taught” were not things that were committed to writing?

If the answer is “no,” “brethren,” and “no,” then it should be apparent that the verse is being abused by the person citing it.


As demonstrated above, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 does not defeat Sola Scriptura, nor does it establish the “traditionist” positions. It’s important, of course, to recall that those two things are separate issues. The “traditionist” position that we have to have an infallible magesterium in addition to Scripture is not proved simply by attacking Sola Scriptura. For example, the “traditionist” claims for their tradition are not simply that there is a body of inspired knowledge that is additional to Scripture that was taught by the apostles. Instead, the claim is usually a claim to be able to – in essence – add to the base of inspired knowledge additional infallible teaching that was not the teaching (by word or letter) of Paul to the Thessalonians. In short, to make assertions that 2 Thessalonians 2:15, because it uses the words “traditions” is supportive of a “traditionist” position such as Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, is simply to demonstrate one’s unfamiliarity with the text, and one’s inability to consider what the text itself has to say.

May God give us wisdom to hold fast to the gospel that Paul preached to the Thessalonians,


Love God – Don’t Sin – and Don’t Make Excuses

March 28, 2008

I read some rather feeble responses in letters to the editor at PSU today, on the topic of the Bible’s testimony against homosexuality. (link)

Let me summarize the flaws in the letters.

1. Misuse of “Love one another.”

Apparently the author of the first letter thinks that convicting others of sin is unloving.

But Scripture says:

Revelation 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

We can show our love for one another by correcting one another’s faults. Of course, we must do so in a loving manner, but the command to love one another is qualified this way:

John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Jesus called people to repentance, and we can show love by humbly following in his footsteps.

2. Failure to Distinguish Between Moral and Ceremonial Old Testament Law

Oddly, the author of the first letter groups homosexuality (which he apparently recognizes is condemned in the Old Testament) together with “eating pork or shrimp, wearing linen and wool at the same time, commingling crops and premarital sex.”

Except for the “premarital sex” item, all those items are ceremonial law restrictions. In contrast, the prohibition on extramarital sex (including both premarital sex generally, and homosexual sex in particular) is a feature of the moral law, summarized in the Decalogue under the heading, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

The ceremonial law has passed away, having been fulfilled in Christ.

3. Argument from Silence / Argument from Failure to Appreciate Christ as Logos

The author of the first letter argues, “Jesus never spoke of homosexuality.”

Presumably the person meant that none of Jesus’ recorded speeches in the gospels deal with homosexuality. But Scripture notes, first of all, that not everything Jesus said is recorded:

John 21:25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

But, Jesus did speak against sexual lust:

Matthew 5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

It would seem odd to imagine someone so presumptuous as to argue that Jesus meant only that heterosexual lust was inappropriate.

4. Argument from Human Weakness

The author of the first letter concludes: “Humans are incapable of being perfect. That goes same for those who are in the Bible — both teaching and being taught. Those who taught also failed in some parts of their biblical life.”

This is mostly true (the perfect teacher, Christ, excepted). It’s quite irrelevant to the issue, though. We ought to be careful not to be puffed up with pride because the sin of homosexuality is not alluring to us, because we should be aware of our own failures in other areas. Nevertheless, homosexual desires and behaviors are sinful. Nobody’s perfect – true; which proves the high standard of the moral law.

5. Argument from “Some/Many Scholars Say”

The author of the second letter promotes a tenuous theory that the Old Testament prohibition on homosexuality (as well as many of the ceremonial laws) were added around 7 B.C. He claims that “many religious scholars” accept this theory. I would be mildly surprised if the number of such scholars couldn’t fit in a phone booth. There are some “scholars” who will write anything in order to get published. If such scholars (who make the 7 B.C. claim) even exist, their scholarship is laughable in the extreme. The ancient origin of the Old Testament is well and abundantly established.

6. Argument from “You believe the wrong parts of the Bible”

The author of the second letter shows his true colors pretty quickly when he says: “I do not have a problem with Christians who preach the major themes of love and the golden rule, but when a person rashly adopts every thought presented in the Bible without any questioning, they will face judgment from me.”

The problem is, Scripture as the rule of faith is a central tenet of Christianity. If the Bible says it, then we believe it, and that ends the matter. That doesn’t mean that we don’t search thoroughly to determine what the Bible says. We do search. But, when we follow what Scripture says, as best we understand it.

That’s how we submit ourselves to God’s revelation in Scripture. That’s how we love God. After all, as Scripture says:

Exodus 20:6 (and Deuteronomy 5:10) And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

Deuteronomy 11:1 Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.

Deuteronomy 11:22 For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him;

Deuteronomy 19:9 If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:

Deuteronomy 30:16 In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

Joshua 22:5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Daniel 9:4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;

John 14:23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

Or, most simply of all:

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

May God give us grace to keep his commandments,


Objections Regarding Original Sin Answered

March 18, 2008

An anonymous poster provided some comments regarding this earlier post on the natural depravity of children (link). The comments by the anonymous commenter are in italics, with all the typos being as submitted.

I think some thoughts are being omitted from your interpretation of Psalms 58. First off, they go astray after they are born. They were not born lost.

No. They are already estranged in the womb, and they stray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.

Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.

Secondly the whole point of the Psalm, describing the eickedness of certain people, is to contrast them with the righteous, those that did not stray but remained faithful. They will be avenged when God judges men according to their deeds (Matt 12:36-37, Rom 2:6, 2 Cor 5:10, Rev 20:12, 1 Peter 1:17).

The whole point of the of the Psalm is actually to call for judgment on the wicked. The “righteous” (as such) is not even mentioned until the next-to-last verse. There’s nothing about a comparison between the righteous and wicked. In short, your claim about the verse is plainly incorrect. The righteous (singular) may even here be a reference to Christ. Regardless of whether it is Christ himself, or someone to whom Christ’s rigteousness has been imputed, the string citation of other passages doesn’t solve the anonymous commenter’s problem.

Ezek 18:1-4 The word of the LORD came to me again, saying, “What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. “Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die.

Ez 18:14-17 “If, however, he begets a son who sees all the sins which his father has done, and considers but does not do likewise … but has executed My judgments and walked in My statutes— He shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live!”

This appears as if no matter how evil the father is, the son does not bear the iniquity of the father. Adam’s sons would not bear the quilt of their fathers.

They would not bear the guilt of their fathers IF they repent of their fathers’ sins. The error that the prophet is correcting is the sense of hopelessness. There is hope for those who repent, regardless both of their own prior sins and the sins of their fathers. That is the gospel message: Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. It was the same message preached by Ezekiel, and it is the same message we preach.

Ezek 18:19-20 “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?’ Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Presumably this is intended to be grouped with the Ezekiel passages above. It is already answered.

The gospel requires action a baby can’t do:
“Unless you repent you will perish”: Lk 13:3
“Repent and be baptized … for forgiveness of sins”: Acts 2:38
“Work out our own salvation”: Phil 2:12

The gospel requires repentance from sin and faith in Christ. That faith and repentance is evidenced in baptism, confession of the Lord (not listed above), and progressive sanctification. That a child can have faith in Christ seems to appear from John the Baptists miraculous reaction to the voice of Mary, the greatly blessed mother of our Lord.

Man is capable of making choices himself:
– Gentiles do by nature the good things of the law: Rom 2:14-16
– Cornelius was devout, feared God, righteous, Acts 10:1-4, 22 yet unsaved: 11:14
– Man has a freewill and can choose to do good or evil: Josh 24:15 “Choose this day…”

Doing those things “by nature” refers to the light of nature, not to the nature of the Gentiles. The obedience of the Gentiles is still not righteousness, because it is not motivated by love for God.

Cornelius was already a worshiper of Jehovah. He simply had not yet heard that the Messiah had come. Like others in a similar position, when he heard of Christ, he (and all his house) believed on him immediately. This is dramatically different from the Jews who had an outward show of worshiping God, but who did not believe on Christ.

Man certainly does have a “free will,” in the sense that he makes decisions and moral choices. The choice by Israel to serve God (mentioned in Joshua 24:15) was a moral choice. The fact that men do make choices, and that some of those decisions are free, does not mean that they are free in the sense required by Arminian, Molinist, or Open Theist interpreters.

God said that the king of Tyrus was “blameless in your ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you.” (Ezek 28:15) This would not be possible if he was born in sin.

One might think that. Nevertheless:

a) That verse is frequently referred to Satan, who was created innocent and fell.
b) If that verse refers to man who was the king of Tyrus, it also says (in the immediately preceding verse): “Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.” If that doesn’t clue you in to the fact that the verse is speaking poetically (assuming it is speaking of a mere man), then I’m not sure what would. The use of “blameless” or “perfect” as relative terms in the Old Testament is not rare.

Sin is committed by individually breaking God’s law. (1 Jn 3:4) Infants have done nothing. Isa 59:1-2, “Your sins have separated you from your God”, not Adams. In Exodus 32:31­33 this passage, Moses wanted to receive the punishment for someone else’s sin. In verse 33, the one who sinned is removed from the book, not the one whose parents have sinned.

a) All mankind (and the whole creation) is punished for Adam’s sin.
b) God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto multiple generations of those that hate Him.
c) Infants are themselves sometimes punished for the sins of their father, recall the death of David’s first son by Bathsheba.

Newborns do not know the difference between good and evil. God allowed the children to enter Canaan but not the parents: “your little ones who…have no knowledge of good and evil shall enter”. (Deut 1:34-39)

Newborns don’t have a developed understanding of the moral law. I don’t think many people would suggest otherwise.


Miscellaneous Responses to Orthodox

February 26, 2008

A while back (this post has been three months, thirteen days in the making), Orthodox offered a set of comments that I never fully responded to. I take this opportunity to do so.

Legend: MP (Me, i.e. TurretinFan, Previously); O (Orthodox); G (Gene Bridges) and TF (TurretinFan)
MP: A command is not an offer. The imperative command to repent and believe is consequently neither false, nor an offer.
O: Repent, believe and you will be saved is an offer by any reasonable definition thereof.
TF: It can be viewed as an offer, it can be viewed as a warning, and it can even be viewed as a threat. It can even be viewed as an opportunity. Just about any command can be viewed those various ways, especially commands with promise (compare, for example, the fifth commandment: Honor thy father … that thy days may be long …).

MP: Furthermore, no one is able to be sinless, and yet the law does command that. The law is not a “false offer” because it commands what man cannot do.
O: Where is the evidence that man cannot be sinless? Man chooses not to be sinless, I don’t see the evidence that man cannot be sinless. Christ commands “be perfect”. It remains the aim. That nobody has done it doesn’t prove that man cannot do it. Men would find it very difficult to do it, but not impossible.
TF: The fact that nobody has done it is strong evidence that man cannot do it. But the proof is in Scripture. Scripture explains that the natural man is at emnity with God.

MP: An affirmation of man’s ability to obey the commands is an affirmation of Pelagianism.
O: No, Pelagianism says that man can do it without the assistance of grace. Since God promises grace to those who ask, clearly this has nothing to do with Pelagianism.
TF: It is has “nothing to do with” Pelagianism in the same way that semi-Pelagianism has nothing to do with Pelagianism. But, of course, that’s not a defense of man’s ability. If you are saying that grace is required, you are affirming man’s natural inability.

MP:. If one recognizes that grace is necessary for man to obey, then one must realize that man’s ability to obey commands has nothing to do with whether the commands are fair, reasonable, or the like.
O: Not so, because God freely gives grace to those who ask. God is not asking for anything for which he doesn’t provide the means.
TF: That’s a bit different position. Nevertheless, if the question is whether God provides the means, then the question is whether God must provide such means, given the command. If so, then he does not provide the means freely, and consequently it is not properly called grace, since man would have a right to demand such means.

MP: a) Men are condemned for their sins. It would be no excuse if salvation were not offered, just as it is no excuse that not all have the gospel preached to them
O: Paul says that God’s qualities are made manifest so that men are without excuse. According to you it is unnecessary because men are without excuse anyway. Well, go argue with the apostle.
TF: God’s qualities are not the gospel. Thus, this is a fallacy of equivocation. It is also fallacy of denying the antecedent: as a logical matter, simply because they are without excuse because God has manifested Himself to them, does not imply (as a matter of logic) that they would have been with excuse if God had not revealed Himself to them.

MP: b) Men are condemned for their sins. Lack of atonement is simply the fact of the matter for those who are not “at one” with God.
O; Again, go argue with the apostle. Apparently he thinks that knowing the basics about God is a prerequisite to not having an excuse.
TF: Same fallacies here as in the previous paragraph: and perhaps even more aggravated. The apostle doesn’t address the issue of the atonement, and does not deny that men are condemned for their sins.

MP: I answer: That’s not an accurate picture of Reformed theology. If anyone truly repents and believes, they will be saved. End of story.
O: You have to [add] that “truly” [] in order to exclude a whole lot of people who sincerely believe that they repented and believe but later fall away. You are forced to make “truly” to have a special meaning []. Except that the bible never lists such a group.
TF: The apostle James in his catholic epistle discusses that group: the group with a “dead” faith.

MP: I answer: That’s a misrepresentation of the Reformed position as well as of Scripture.
a) The categories of hypocrites, self-deceived, and wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing are Biblical categories; and
O: Hypocrites are not the categories under discussion. Don’t distract from the topic by bringing in something else. What was under discussion was people who were sincere but then fell away.
TF: It seems O wants to discuss only the self-deceived.

O: As for “self-deceived”, since repentance and belief are something that the self does within oneself, it’s not a sensical object of self-deception. By putting that in there you open the floodgates to everything and everyone potentially being self-deceived.
TF: First of all, to deny self-deception generally would be foolish.

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Since sin is something that one does within oneself, any categorical barrier as proposed would necessarily conflict with the apostle’s teaching.

To argue that this is a slippery slope, one must establish not only that there is a slope, but that it is steep and slippery. This argument can be defeated if there are fences in places to prevent the slope from being considered steep and slippery. In this case there are several fences: one is the various testimonies adduced in John’s first catholic epistle, another related one is the discussion in James’ catholic epistle.

O: And again, you introduce this wholly unbiblical category of people who think they believe but don’t. A scary category to have in a theological system indeed.
TF: James addresses people in that category in his epistle. Those with “dead” faith. Also, we see that category in the parable of the sower.

MP: b) The parable of the sower provides a great lesson in the distinction between false and true faith.
O: In the parable of the sower, seeds grow up and then are choked and die. There’s no suggestion they weren’t valid seeds to begin with.
TF: You don’t seem very familiar with the parable. In the parable, the seed is the Word of God. The various hearts are the various grounds. The good ground is one, but there are several types of bad ground.

MP: I answer: It’s really not dependent on any Reformed order of salvation
O: Yes it is, because your claim is that since the ice-cream man controls who steps into his shop he can put out the sign offering to all. But if that ordering is challenged, your argument ceases.
TF: I honestly don’t understand this objection – perhaps it is because the context is missing.

MP: but even if it were, that would be fair game, given the nature of the counter-objection.
O: When you are trying to prove a doctrine not explicitely taught in scripture, it doesn’t look good when you use as justification another doctrine not explicitely taught in scripture. That’s why I say you’ve got so many precepts built upon precepts you can’t see the bottom any more.
TF: That remark is not accurate or handy. The hidden assumption that every doctrine has to be found explicitly in Scripture is not a tenant of either yours or mine. And – as well – it seems you are mistaking rebuttal for proof.

G: This is a classic case of Orthodox utterly ignoring what he has been told in the past
O: No, it’s a case of you having an incomprehensibly complicated system that isn’t taught in the bible.
TF: Sometimes incomprehensibility is in the mind of the beholder. I think this is such a case, because I know plenty of people who comprehend the system. As for it not being taught in Scripture, we both know that arguments have presented showing that it is taught in Scripture. Simply stating to the contrary is a dispute, but not argument.


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