Archive for the ‘Exegesis’ Category

Responding to Steve Tassi on Romans 9

September 8, 2016

In his recent live interaction with Dr. James White, Steve Tassi argued that while Romans 9 is referring to election, it is not discussing salvation when it refers to mercy.

Audience
First, he argues that we must consider the audiences spoken to.  He does not clearly elaborate on this point, but his implication seems to be that the audience spoken to is Jewish readers.

The audience, however, are gentile Roman believers.  We see this in the first chapter:

Romans 1:7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

So, the audience is not the nation of Israel, but rather is believing Gentiles.

Glorious Salvation Terms
Second, he argues that we must consider the references made are to Pharaoh, Moses, Isaac, and Rebekah, rather than to the typical terms that Paul uses when referencing salvation, such as “the blood of Jesus,” “the cross,” and other references to blood sacrifice and grace.

Dr. White countered this point by observing that the chapter and verse divisions are somewhat artificial, and that he demonstrated a continual flow from Romans 8.

To elaborate on that point more fully, Christ’s death is explicitly mentioned in Romans 8:34.  Moreover, Romans 9:32-33 specifically mention faith in Christ.  Tassi surely cannot deny that both Romans 8 and Romans 10 are about salvation, so his assertion that Romans 9 is not about salvation because of the usage of terms, seems weak.

Context of Cited Texts
Third, he argues the Old Testament material cited or referred to by Paul never refers to salvation in its original context.

Dr. White countered this by pointing out that it’s more important to note how Paul uses them, then how they were originally used.

To provide an example, in Galatians 4, Paul points to Hagar and Ishmael in contrast to Sarah and Isaac. Moreover, Paul explicitly interprets those figures as an allegory, rather than relying on their original context.

Furthermore, it is Pauline to shift between Old Testament images and analogous New Testament ideas.  For example, 1 Corinthians 10 is full of this kind of transition.

Conclusion
Tassi essentially concludes that the references in Romans 9 are references to election and mercy with respect to national Israel vis-a-vis the destruction of the nation, rather than to the church and salvation from hell.

This conclusion is unjustified.  To the extent it is premised on the arguments presented in its support, those arguments have been shown above to be incorrect.  Moreover, it is a conclusion that runs directly contrary to the text of Romans 9.  For example:

Romans 9:23-24 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

How can that be mercy on the nation of Israel if it includes not only Jews but also Gentiles?  It cannot.  Which is one of numerous reasons that Tassi’s presentation on Romans 9 should be rejected.

-TurretinFan

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Further Evidence of Jesus’ Divinity from the Modern Versions

March 7, 2016

Jude 5 provides another evidence of Jesus’ divinity in the modern versions. In the KJV, Jude includes the following pair of pericopes:

Jude 3-7
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

In this version, Jude is stating the “the Lord” saved the people out of Egypt.

Moreover, the KJV leaves some ambiguity as to what “Lord” refers to there, because of some ambiguity in the expression “only Lord God, our Lord Jesus Christ.” While that expression is itself an affirmation of Jesus’ divinity, a reader might mistakenly view the “and” as suggesting that “only Lord God” refers to the Father, while “Lord Jesus Christ” refers to the son, instead of recognizing that both refer to the son.

By contrast, in the ESV, the pericopes are as follows:

Jude 3-7
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

In the second pericope, it becomes unequivocal that Jesus is the one who saved the people out of Egypt and keeps the fallen angels in the place of darkness, things that require Jesus’ pre-incarnate personal existence.

It’s not just his pre-incarnate personal existence, though. The redemption from Egypt is the key identifier of YHWH as the God of Israel in the Old Testament:

Exodus 20:2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Exodus 29:46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God.
Leviticus 11:45 For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Numbers 15:41 I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 5:6 I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Joshua 24:17 For the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:
Psalm 81:10 I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Daniel 9:15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.

This is why it is no small thing for Jude to identify Jesus as the one who brought up Israel out of Egypt.

The interesting thing about this example is that while the ESV strengthens the identification of Jesus as God in the second pericope, the ESV arguably weakens the identification of Jesus as God in the first pericope. After all, the word “God” is no longer used in the expression, even though it is more clear that both references to “Lord” are to Jesus.

This argument for Jesus’ divinity works in either version, and does not depend on the text one chooses. If one chooses the Textus Receptus, keep in mind that the Greek is this:

… καὶ τὸν μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν, καὶ Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἀρνούμενοι ὑπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας ὑμᾶς ἅπαξ τοῦτο, ὅτι ὁ Κύριος λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας, …

First, the construction “τὸν μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν, καὶ Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν” is an example of the Granville Sharp construction, and consequently both “μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν” (only master God) and “Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν” (our Lord Jesus Christ) refer to the same person.

Even setting aside Granville Sharp’s Rule, and assuming for the sake of argument that δεσπότην Θεὸν referred to the Father as distinct from Christ, the term used in verse five is Κύριος, the term used of Jesus in the immediately prior pericope. In other words, while the KJV obscures the fact that there are two different words for Lord used in verse 4, there are two different words for Lord used there, and it is the latter one – the one used for Jesus – that is then used again in verse 5. Thus, even if verse 4 itself does not provide that Jesus is God, verse 5 provides that Jesus is God, even in the KJV (assuming one is willing to refer back to the Greek).

The NA28 Greek text (the current “critical text”) reads: “… καὶ τὸν μόνον δεσπότην καὶ κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἀρνούμενοι. Ὑπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας ὑμᾶς ἅπαξ πάντα ὅτι Ἰησοῦς λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας … ” Those seem to be the readings followed by the ESV translators, although actually in this case I think that the ESV translators adopted the “Jesus” reading before the Nestle-Aland editors adopted it.

In case you were wondering, the New World Translation does its best to further obscure this testimony to Jesus’ divinity. The translation the NWT provides is: “… who prove false to our only owner and Lord, Jesus Christ. Although you are fully aware of all of this, I want to remind you that Jehovah, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, … ”

Nevertheless, the 1969 Kingdom Interlinear provides evidence of the selective translation going on:

Notice that on the interlinear side the word for “Lord” in “Lord Jesus Christ” is the same word as is used in the very next verse as being the “Lord” who brought the people out of Egypt.  The NWT translators selectively translated the latter one as “Jehovah,” because they recognized that it was a reference to YHWH.  However, in the original Greek it becomes clear that this is referring to the person of Jesus Christ mentioned in the immediately previous verse.

-TurretinFan

You can find the two previous articles in this series here: (John 14:14)(Mark 9:29)

Another Evidence of Jesus’ Divinity from the Modern Versions

February 19, 2016

John 14:14 provides another evidence of Jesus’ divinity that is not found in the King James Version. Now, even the KJV at John 14:14 includes an evidence to Jesus’ divinity, as can be seen in the following, Jesus’ teaches us to pray in Jesus’ name, something that would be inappropriate if Jesus were not divine:

John 14:13-14 (KJV)
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

The modern versions maintain this, but go one step further:

John 14:13-14 (ESV)
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Notice that the ESV specifies that Jesus is the recipient of the prayer. Thus, not only is the prayer through Jesus, but also to Jesus in the modern versions. This is even more evidence that Jesus is divine, since it would be inappropriate to pray to a mere creature.

Is this a lock-tight argument in every aspect? Obviously not. The argument relies on a question of a textual variant. Nevertheless, as past of a cumulative case of evidence of Jesus’ divinity, it is useful to know.

-TurretinFan

(Part 1 of this series)

Critical Text: Extra Evidence of Jesus’ Divinity

February 10, 2016

Listening to someone preaching from the gospels, I noticed an interesting evidence of Jesus’ divinity I had previously overlooked. I generally use the King James Version, but this pastor was using the ESV or some other modern translation based on the critical text. In this particular passage, the critical text underlying the ESV is different in a small but important way from the text underlying the KJV.

Immediately after recounting the mount of transfiguration, Mark provides the following account:

Mark 9:14-29 (KJV)
And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. And he asked the scribes, “What question ye with them?”
And one of the multitude answered and said, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.”
He answereth him, and saith, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.” And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?”
And he said, “Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”
Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.”
And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, “He is dead.”
But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could not we cast him out?”
And he said unto them, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”

Mark 9:14-29 (ESV)
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”
And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”
And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”
And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.”
But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”
And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

My initial thought was that possibly this was just a case of so-called parallel corruption, where the “and fasting” was probably borrowed from the account in another Gospel. And indeed, in Matthew 17:21 the KJV has “prayer and fasting.” The full account there is as follows:

Matthew 17:14-21 (KJV)
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”
Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.” And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, “Why could not we cast him out?”
And Jesus said unto them, “Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”

However, it turns out that the final verse of this passage is entirely omitted in the ESV:

Matthew 17:14-20 (there is no 21) (ESV)
And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”
And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

This account is also in Luke’s gospel, but lacks any comment about prayer and/or fasting, in both the KJV and the ESV.

The significance of all this is that in the ESV, the “fasting” reference is entirely gone. With the “fasting” reference gone, Jesus’ comments at Mark 9:29 become more clear.

Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” But where is prayer in this passage? Jesus simply rebukes the spirit and the spirit comes out. Jesus does not pray to the Father. Nor in the immediate context had Jesus been involved in prayer. Who then had prayed? The answer becomes clear in the context. The person praying is the father of the demoniac, and he was praying to Jesus.

Notice the indicia of prayer: the expression of faith and the entreaty in Mark’s immediate context. Moreover, we find further confirmation of this from the kneeling posture and the reference to Jesus as “Lord,” in Matthew’s account (neither of which are mentioned in Mark’s account).

Thus, not only does Jesus receive prayer (which is something that God alone should receive), he attributes the success of this miracle to the prayer offered to him by the demoniac’s father!

Is this a lock-tight argument in every aspect? Obviously not. The argument relies in part on a question of a textual variant. Moreover, while the most apparent reference to prayer in the context is the father’s prayer to Jesus, one could interpret this text as suggesting that Jesus had a life of prayer that the nine disciples did not. Indeed, if the text “and fasting,” is not original, it would certainly seem as though the scribe who inserted it had that kind of understanding of the text.

Nevertheless, despite not being a fully lock-tight argument as to the variant verse, it still remains the case that Jesus received prayer, that Jesus accepted that prayer without rebuking the man who prayed to him, and that God’s response to the prayer was to answer it with healing. That part of the argument stands in both the KJV and the ESV. So, the only difference between the two is that the ESV provides a little extra evidence for the divinity of Christ – something we hardly need (given the superabundance of such evidence in the Bible) but something we can still treasure.

-TurretinFan

James 2:24 Debate with William Albrecht

December 21, 2015

Roman Catholics shouldn’t cite James 2:24, because it doesn’t mean what they think it means. Last Saturday I conducted a debate with William Albrecht (Roman Catholic) on the topic of the meaning of James 2:24. (link to mp3) I hope you enjoy it, particularly the cross-examination section. With all due respect to Mr. Albrecht, I think you will share my lack of satisfaction with the answers he provided. I even had the opportunity to ask him an additional (related) question during the “audience question” portion of the debate, so hopefully you will find the entire recording useful!

The following are some of my notes for the debate, much of which you will hear me present during my affirmative presentation:

James 2:24 is often referenced by Roman Catholic apologists whenever the topic of Sola Fide or Justification by Faith Alone comes up. They keep on citing this verse, but it does not mean what they think it means. Thus, they shouldn’t cite it for at least the following reasons:
1. Context of Book
2. Immediate Context
3. Distinction between James and RC Justification

1) Context of Book

The book of James is primarily wisdom literature. It’s not exactly the same as Proverbs, but like Proverbs it has a focus on the same kind of practical wisdom: how to live a godly life. The opening passage (James 1:2-8) lays out the major themes of the book:

a) Trials when applied to faith produce patience.
b) If you lack wisdom ask in faith
c) Contrasted presented to a wavering, double-minded man

None of these themes bring up the kind of theological discussions we see in Romans or Galatians, where Paul provides the theological framework for Sola Fide.

2) Immediate Context

James 2:24 is part of a longer passage that stretches from verse 14 to verse 26. The opening line of the passage is this “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?”

James then compares such a statement to another statement: the statement to a hungry and naked person “be warmed and filled.” It sounds like a nice blessing, but it’s obviously insincere if it’s not accompanied by you actually helping them out, assuming you can.

James says that such an insincere profession of faith is “dead” because it is alone, like the dead blessing he just provided.

James then compares the profession of faith to the demonstration of faith. “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works”

James then notes that it’s good to believe that God exists – but insists that even this level of true belief can be the wrong kind if it leads merely to trembling, like the devils, not to right action.

James then provides two examples of works demonstrating faith:

1) James argues that Abraham’s faith was justified by works, when he offered up Isaac.
2) James argues that Rahab’s faith was justified when she aided the spies.

James then concludes by again reiterating that faith without works is dead.

The part I’ve skipped over (vs. 24) falls right between those two illustrations. In that context, James’ point should be clear – man is not justified by a faith that doesn’t bear fruit in works but by one that does.

3) Conflict with RC Dogma on Justification

Although sometimes Roman Catholics say they believe in Justification by Faith and Works, their system doesn’t provide a good match for what James is saying, at all. Even if James were speaking theologically and not practically, the examples James provides do not provide examples either of RC initial justification or RC subsequent justification.

Keep in mind that in RC theology initial justification is by infusion of faith, hope, and charity in baptism. Subsequent justification is work-based in a sense, but it is by simply avoiding mortal sin.

Immediate Context of James’ Faith/Works Pericope

December 14, 2015

James discusses the relationship of faith and works in a pericope with well-defined boundaries: the passage starts at James 2:14 and ends at James 2:26.

We can see this from the signal, “my brethren,” which James uses repeatedly throughout the book in various forms to set off various pericopes. James uses it once in verse 14 and then again at verse 1 of chapter 3 (the verse after James 2:26).

We can also see this from the subject matter of the pericope. Within the pericope, James mentions faith or believe (or some form thereof) about a dozen times, whereas James’ only mentions faith a few times outside the pericope.

Nevertheless, while the pericope is an entity to itself, it also has a context within James as a whole (Wisdom literature with a central theme of demonstrated faith) and an immediate context.

The immediate context of Faith/Works pericope is the preceding respect-of-persons pericope (James 2:1-13) and the following tongue-bridling pericope (James 3:1-10). The respect-of-persons pericope generally deals with the importance of not discriminating against poor people in favor of rich people. By contrast, the tongue-bridling pericope deals with the importance of controlling one’s tongue, as being the most difficult to control and dangerous part of the body. Nevertheless, they both have some common threads.

The respect-of-persons argument argues for the seriousness of the sin of discriminating against the poor by arguing that a violation of any aspect of the law is a violation of the law as a whole: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10) Accordingly, James counsels that we should speak and act as those who will be judged by what James calls “the law of liberty,” (James 2:12) warning that “he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” James 2:13). Similarly, the tongue-bridling pericope begins by confessing that we have many offenses (“in many things we offend all” James 3:2), focusing on offenses of the tongue, which James says no man can tame (James 3:8).

Thus, both passages deal with the sinfulness of men and the inadequacy of men to keep the law. The references to tongue-bridling and the law of liberty actually hearken back to James 2:22-27, which states:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

In other words, the bridling of the tongue is part of the obedience to the law of liberty, as is care for the needy.

When it comes to the Faith/Works pericope, we will see care of the poor as an example, which tends to tie that pericope together with the pericopes before and after it, since care of the poor is part of obedience to that law of liberty.

James as Wisdom Literature

December 1, 2015

It’s important to recognize that James is unlike most of Paul’s epistles. James, while a letter (James 1:1), is a book of wisdom in the category of the books of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes.

The prologue (James 1:2-8) introduces wisdom in exactly the way wisdom literature would: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Notice the characteristics of identifying the practical need and the practical mechanism to resolve the need. Notice as well the method of argumentation supporting the practical instruction. It can be illustrated in this form (James 1:5):

Need | If any of you lack wisdom,
Technique | let him ask of God,
Argument 1 | [God] giveth to all men liberally, and
Argument 2 | [God] upbraideth not; and
Solution | it shall be given him.

We see James use this form or similar forms throughout the book. For example, in the very next maxim, James writes (James 1:6-8):
Technique | But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
Argument 3 | For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Result | For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
Argument 4 | A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

The remainder of the book tends to address the same issues at the prologue, though in greater depth, with the same wisdom-genre emphasis on holy living.

James 1:9-15 is a discourse on the temptation issue mentioned in James 1:2-3.
James 1:16-18 is a discourse on the God’s gift issue mentioned in James 1:5.

James 1:19-4:12 are discourses on holy living with frequent returns to the issue of double-mindededness. James 2:14-26 provides a special case with respect to faith, that we will discuss in more detail in another post, Lord Willing.

James 4:13-17 and 5:1-6 are two calls of condemnation on the presumptuous rich.

James 5:7-8 and 9 are two encouragements to the brethren to holy living in view of the Lord’s imminent return.

James 5:10-11 is an exhortation to endure trials/temptations harkening back to the James 1:2-3 and James 1:9-15 points.

James 5:12-18 are more encouragements to holy living.

Finally, James 5:19-20 is particularly an encouragement to assist other brethren in holy living.

Faith Demonstrated – a Central Jacobian Theme

November 30, 2015

After a brief greeting, James immediately begins his first of several brotherly admonitions.

James 1:2-3 calls believers to be thankful for trials because the testing of faith works patience.  
James 1:12 promises the crown of life to those who endures temptations.
James then approaches the same point another way.  He points out that the engrafted word is able to save our souls, but immediately distinguishes between a (mere) hearer and a doer. (James 1:21 and following)
James 1:26 proposes a specific test – the use of the tongue.  A person who seems religious but fails to bridle his tongue is self-deceived and his religion is “vain.”
This vain religion is then contrasted with a pure religion that results in care for those who have lost fathers and husbands.  
This second test becomes more central in the second chapter.  Here James suggests that care of these poor people is a part of obeying the law of God.  
He even explains (vs 18) that faith is shown by works in the form of a challenge to a “vain man” (vs 20) who claims to have faith but lacks works.
James then illustrates the principle by providing two examples of people performing works that demonstrated their faith:
1). Abraham offering his son
2). Rahab sending out the spies another way
James then compares faith without works to a corpse.
James then returns to his previous example about the tongue (ch 3).  He argues that wisdom is demonstrated by – you guessed it – works (vs 13).
James contrasts such works with sinful envy and the like.  James concludes that the good works are the fruit sown by the peaceable wisdom from above (vss 17-18).
Chapter 4 is an extended call to holiness. James begins by identifying an internal source of sin (vss 1 and 5).  James contrasts that with the grace that God gives (vs 6).  
Chapter 5 begins with a condemnation of rich oppressors before turning back to exhort the brethren to patience.  The letter then ends with a variety of practical guides for such endurance, including the prescription to sing Psalms when we are merry and to pray when we are not.
James is a sort of anti-Joel-Osteen – eager to exhort his listeners to go beyond surface level professions of faith and especially to beware of rich hypocrites, rather than favoring people who are rich.

On Founders and Fathers

September 30, 2015

People like me appeal to the Founders of the American republic as authorities on what the Constitution meant when it was written. We do that because we believe in a grammatical-historical method of interpretation of any written document. In a similar way, many people like to appeal to the Church Fathers to understand the Scriptures. There are some similarities and some differences in these approaches.

Some Differences:

Unlike the Founders, the Church Fathers did not themselves write the Scriptures. The Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by those with a prophetic gift. Even the earliest of the Early Church Fathers we have were probably pretty young when the Scriptures were written. Furthermore, the writings of the earliest of the Early Church Fathers never explicitly purport to provide any insight into what was meant by the text as written. There is not a body of literature contemporary to the writing of the New Testament, parallel to the Federalist Papers (for example), to which we can appeal for documentation regarding why things in Scripture were probably written the way they were written.

In fact, most of the church fathers were separated as far as we are (or farther than we are) from the Founders. Thus, their value in a grammatical-historical model of interpretation is quite dilute. They may be useful in helping us confirm that we’re still reading Greek in about the same way as they did, but folks like Augustine and his contemporaries didn’t have any first hand, or even second or third hand knowledge of the apostles and evangelists, much less of Moses, David, and the prophets.

Additionally, the Bible is perfect. It is a complete document that will accomplish exactly what God intended it to do. Those tasks include communicating the way of salvation and thoroughly furnishing the man of God for every good work. The US Constitution is an impressive document, but it is far from perfect. We don’t even have a reason to think it would be perfect. It’s a merely human work, and humans make mistakes. There is no guarantee that it will accomplish all its authors intended.

Similarly, the Bible is perspicuous. By contrast, there is no doctrine of the perspicuity of the US Constitution. Even on important points, it is possible for the US Constitution to be vague. Just as their is not guarantee that the Constitution will work as intended, there is no guarantee that a fair-minded reader trying his best will correctly understand even the most important points.

Thus, the need to rely on external authorities becomes important when dealing with the Constitution in ways that it is not when dealing with the Bible.

Some Similarities:

Like the Fathers, the Founders were not always of one mind. In one interaction I had with a Roman Catholic, I recall the following interchange (I’m paraphrasing):

RC: Are you saying that church went off the rails from the very beginning? Because we know what Clement of Rome taught about ecclesiology.
TF: You’re referring to the book of 1 Clement, which is usually attributed to Clement of Rome. But note that the author of that work was arguing with the Corinthians. He was saying that they went off the rails. So, did someone go off the rails right at the beginning? Apparently so – the very evidence you cite is proof of that, whether Clement was right or wrong.

A similar issue was recently raised by my brother, Jordan Hall, in a post about the Constitution. There he raised a comment by Thomas Jefferson in a letter written around 1819. My brother wanted to argue that Jefferson’s position reflected what “the Founders” thought about the Constitution. The problem is this – Jefferson’s letter is one that is arguing against his contemporaries (link to letter). In other words, while my brother may want to side with Jefferson, Jefferson is arguing with another of his contemporaries. “The Founders” were not of one mind on the subject, but of two (or more) competing minds.

That leads us to another similarity. It’s not always easy to identify a “Founder” just as it is sometimes difficult to identify a “Father.” Should we count Origen and Tertullian as Fathers? They are certainly highly influential early Christian authors, but their full orthodoxy is sometimes questioned. Similarly, who do we count as a Founder? One Constitution-focused website explains the problem:

Other U.S. Founding Fathers were not there [TF insertion: at the Constitutional Convention], but made significant contributions in other ways. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, was serving as ambassador to France at the time of the Convention. He kept abreast of the proceedings in Philadelphia by carrying on correspondence with James Madison. John Adams, as ambassador to Great Britain, wrote “Defense of the Constitution of the Government of the United States of America.” Thomas Paine wrote the influential pamphlet “Common Sense,” which immeasurably influenced the philosophy reflected in the Declaration of Independence. One of the U.S. Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry, was initially opposed to the very idea of the Constitution! He wanted to keep the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution. However, when an agreement was made to add a “bill of rights” to the Constitution, Henry fought hard for its ratification.

(link to site)

We see similar divisions amongst the fathers. There were various theological battles over which those in the early church fought – sometimes on central issues (like Jesus’ divinity) and sometimes over relatively trivial issues (like when Easter should be celebrated). While I certainly wouldn’t treat an Arian as a “father of the church,” it’s important to realize that this identification involves me using the Scripture as my standard for deciding who to label a “father.” Thus, my list of “fathers” is going to include generally orthodox men. I can’t then turn around and say that their opinion proves that my doctrine is orthodox, as Roman Catholics sometimes erroneously attempt to do.

People who are trying to round up opinions of the Founders to support their views need to be similarly careful. Jefferson’s view on the judiciary (as interpreted by my brother) would seem to place him at odds with John Marshall’s views on the judiciary. Nevertheless John Marshall, like Thomas Jefferson, was a founding father (link to relevant information on Marshall). Although Jefferson is more famous, both men were founders and arguably represent (on some issues) competing views found amongst the Founders even in the early days of the republic. If you only count the Founders who agree with you as being Founders, your appeal to them is no longer grammatical-historical analysis but simply partisan politics or propaganda.

So be careful when applying external sources. The Constitution may need them to be understood– Scripture doesn’t need them, even if they are helpful. Moreover, when you are looking at them, look more for the points on which those debating found common ground. In the case of the Fathers, that was that Scripture is the highest and most ultimate authority, aka Sola Scriptura. Look for the things that they took for granted that their opponents would agree with, not those points on which they wanted their opponents to submit. Those points provide much stronger evidence for “the opinion” of the Fathers or the Founders.

-TurretinFan

Evangelii Gaudium – the BBC Has Overstated the Pope’s Liberal Leanings

November 26, 2013

BBC News has the headline: “Pope Francis calls for power to move away from Vatican” and the opening line: “Pope Francis has called for power in the Catholic Church to be devolved away from the Vatican, in the first major work he has written in the role.”

The document in question, Evangelii Gaudium (“Gospel’s Joy”) purports to be an apostolic exhortation. The document does state, at section 32, “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” I cannot find anywhere in the document the idea of actually removing power from the Vatican. There are several favorably mentions of the Second Vatican Council, but nothing opposing ultramontanism even to the extent that the Second Vatican Council attempted.

There are some other interesting aspects to the document. For example, it was interesting to see Garry Wills’ point about the power of the ministerial priesthood arising from the Eucharist. Section 104 states: “Its [the ministerial priesthood’s] key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people.” Wills would, I think, respond that the power to administer the Eucharist naturally progresses into a power of domination, particularly when the power is discretionary.

Sections 147 and 148 are also interesting in terms of their relationship to exegesis:

147. First of all, we need to be sure that we understand the meaning of the words we read. I want to insist here on something which may seem obvious, but which is not always taken into account: the biblical text which we study is two or three thousand years old; its language is very different from that which we speak today. Even if we think we understand the words translated into our own language, this does not mean that we correctly understand what the sacred author wished to say. The different tools provided by literary analysis are well known: attention to words which are repeated or emphasized, recognition of the structure and specific movement of a text, consideration of the role played by the different characters, and so forth. But our own aim is not to understand every little detail of a text; our most important goal is to discover its principal message, the message which gives structure and unity to the text. If the preacher does not make this effort, his preaching will quite likely have neither unity nor order; what he has to say will be a mere accumulation of various disjointed ideas incapable of inspiring others. The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce. If a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors; if it was written as an exhortation, it should not be employed to teach doctrine; if it was written to teach something about God, it should not be used to expound various theological opinions; if it was written as a summons to praise or missionary outreach, let us not use it to talk about the latest news.

148. Certainly, to understand properly the meaning of the central message of a text we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church. This is an important principle of biblical interpretation which recognizes that the Holy Spirit has inspired not just a part of the Bible, but the Bible as a whole, and that in some areas people have grown in their understanding of God’s will on the basis of their personal experience. It also prevents erroneous or partial interpretations which would contradict other teachings of the same Scriptures. But it does not mean that we can weaken the distinct and specific emphasis of a text which we are called to preach. One of the defects of a tedious and ineffectual preaching is precisely its inability to transmit the intrinsic power of the text which has been proclaimed.

It is interesting to hear Francis’ comments. He seems to be acknowledging that literary analysis is legitimate for figuring out the meaning of the text in section 147. In section 148, Francis is careful to add the qualifier “as handed on by the Church” (presumably modifying “teaching” not “Bible”). Still, fundamentally Francis seems to be recognizing that while people can misunderstand the text, they can use literary analysis to figure out what it means. This means that even if a “church” is helpful in analyzing the text, it is not necessary — the text has intrinsic power and self-demonstrating meaning.

Section 22 similarly acknowledges the superior power of the word to the church:

22. God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.

It’s great for Francis to make these concessions, and it helps to undermine the traditional error of Roman Catholicism in treating “the Church” as a necessary gatekeeper and mouthpiece for the Word.

The RC pope may not be as liberal as the BBC portrays him, but he expresses a position a lot closer to “Protestantism” than some of his predecessors.

-TurretinFan


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