Archive for the ‘Prophecy’ Category

Jesus – The Prophet Like Moses – Response to Zakir Hussain

September 26, 2012

The third prophecy that Zakir Hussain used in his recent debate with Dr. White is the fact (in the linked mp3, see 13:19 – 24:40) that God promised to give another prophet like Moses. This was indeed a prophecy given first to Moses:

Deuteronomy 18:15 
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
Deuteronomy 18:18
I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

However, the Scriptures confirm that this prophecy was fulfilled by Christ:

Acts 3:19-24
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.

And again:

Acts 7:37 & 52This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. … Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

Thus, twice the New Testament confirms that Jesus is the one who was prophesied in this prophecy. Moreover, Acts is recording the words of the Apostle Peter and Proto-Deacon Stephen, the first martyr.

Moreover, “from the midst of thee, of thy brethren” and “from among their brethren” in context clearly means that the prophet will be an Israelite. Mohammed was not Jewish, therefore, the prophet like Moses could not possibly be Mohammed.

That meaning is confirmed by the usage in Deuteronomy 17:

Deuteronomy 17:15
Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

Furthermore, contrary to Mr. Hussain’s suggestion that “put my words in his mouth” could not refer to the Son of God, Jesus himself claimed to speak what he received:

John 8:26
I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.
John 8:28
Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
John 8:38
I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
John 12:50
And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
John 14:10
Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

Moreover, this casts no doubt on Jesus’ divinity, for the Spirit likewise is described as follows:

John 16:13
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

Zakir specifically argued that Deuteronomy 34:10 states that there can be no prophet amongst the Israelites like Moses. In context, that passage states:

Deuteronomy 34:9-12
And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses. And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel.

First, my inclination is to agree with the traditional view that these are the words of Moses, prophesying about what would come after him. Alternatively, these may be the words of a completer (such as Joshua), who completed the second giving of the law after Moses’ death. I would not ascribe the extremely late date that some modern scholarship has ascribed to the book.

Second, I would see the “arose not” as a use of the prophetic past tense. Namely, it is describing something future as past, because it is certain to occur.

Third, I would note that there is a question of the time frame involved. In context, the discussion is about conquest of Canaan under Joshua. In that time, there was no prophet in Israel comparable to Moses, in the various ways that are mentioned. No one whose face glowed with the visible presence of God, or who brought plagues like the plagues of Egypt.

Fourth, indeed, while there were mighty prophets before the coming of Jesus, none had that face-to-face experience or brought plagues like those brought in Egypt.

Fifth, we could grant that Jesus also did not bring plagues like Moses and did not visibly glow with the presence of God [Fn1]. Yet, in other ways, he could still be like Moses. In other words, a prophet can be like Moses, as to Deuteronomy 18 and yet be unlike Moses as to Deuteronomy 34.

Sixth, Mohammed was not like Moses in terms of speaking to God face to face or in terms of working signs like the ten plagues. We all know that Mohammed claimed to receive revelation from Allah through an angel named Gabriel, not face-to-face.

The alleged miracles of Mohammed include Koran-attested things like splitting and repairing the moon (Surah 54:1-3) and flying by night to Jerusalem (Surah 17:1). Other Hadith-attested things include the weeping stump and endless water from an ablution vessel. But none (to my knowledge) of the alleged miracles of Mohammed, whether attested by the Koran or Ahadith, include any nation-destroying miracles like those wrote by Moses in Egypt.

Thus, even if Deuteronomy 34 could be used to prove that the Deuteronomy 18 prophet had to be a non-Israelite, it would still not prove that the prophet was Mohammed. On the contrary, it would contradict such a view.

Zakir also argued that in John 16, Jesus denied teaching his apostles everything he had received, but left that for someone else. The passage states:

John 16:12-15
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.

Does Zakir think that all the things that belong to God belong to Jesus and that Mohammed received Jesus’ things to shew people? Specifically, does Zakir think that God is Jesus’ Father? That would seem to contradict one of the fundamental tenets of Islam, that God does not beget.

However, to directly answer the point, the Deuteronomy text says that Jesus will say what God commands, not absolutely everything he knows. Moreover, it does not say how Jesus will reveal all in Deuteronomy, and Deuteronomy does not rule out the use of the Spirit. Furthermore, Jesus’ revelation continued after his ascent in the work of Paul (who saw Jesus after his ascent) and through John (as recorded at great length in the book of Revelation).

Mr. Hussain argued that 1 Maccabees reflects an expectation of a prophet that would solve legal problems. It is not clear whether Mr. Hussain realizes that the book 1 Maccabees is not a book within the Hebrew or Christian canon, nor whether he realizes that it comes from the inter-testamental period – the time prior to Jesus.

In any event, it seems that the passage he must be thinking of is this one:

1 Maccabees 4:38-48
And when they saw the sanctuary desolate, and the altar profaned, and the gates burned up, and shrubs growing in the courts as in a forest, or in one of the mountains, yea, and the priests’ chambers pulled down; they rent their clothes, and made great lamentation, and cast ashes upon their heads, and fell down flat to the ground upon their faces, and blew an alarm with the trumpets, and cried toward heaven.
Then Judas appointed certain men to fight against those that were in the fortress, until he had cleansed the sanctuary. So he chose priests of blameless conversation, such as had pleasure in the law: who cleansed the sanctuary, and bare out the defiled stones into an unclean place.
And when as they consulted what to do with the altar of burnt offerings, which was profaned; they thought it best to pull it down, lest it should be a reproach to them, because the heathen had defiled it: wherefore they pulled it down, and laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them.
Then they took whole stones according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former; and made up the sanctuary, and the things that were within the temple, and hallowed the courts.

It is also not clear whether Mr. Hussain is aware that this passage is not necessarily reflecting an expectation of any particular prophet, but of a prophet in general. At that time, during the intertestamental period, the people of Israel lacked any prophet (which is one reason that the book of Maccabees cannot be Scripture). 1 Maccabees itself records their plight:

1 Maccabees 9:25-31
Then Bacchides chose the wicked men, and made them lords of the country. And they made enquiry and search for Judas’ friends, and brought them unto Bacchides, who took vengeance of them, and used them despitefully.
So was there a great affliction in Israel, the like whereof was not since the time that a prophet was not seen among them.
For this cause all Judas’ friends came together, and said unto Jonathan, “Since thy brother Judas died, we have no man like him to go forth against our enemies, and Bacchides, and against them of our nation that are adversaries to us. Now therefore we have chosen thee this day to be our prince and captain in his stead, that thou mayest fight our battles.” Upon this Jonathan took the governance upon him at that time, and rose up instead of his brother Judas.

A similar comment on the absence of any prophet is found later in the book:

1 Maccabees 14:35-47
The people therefore sang the acts of Simon, and unto what glory he thought to bring his nation, made him their governor and chief priest, because he had done all these things, and for the justice and faith which he kept to his nation, and for that he sought by all means to exalt his people. For in his time things prospered in his hands, so that the heathen were taken out of their country, and they also that were in the city of David in Jerusalem, who had made themselves a tower, out of which they issued, and polluted all about the sanctuary, and did much hurt in the holy place: but he placed Jews therein. and fortified it for the safety of the country and the city, and raised up the walls of Jerusalem.
King Demetrius also confirmed him in the high priesthood according to those things, and made him one of his friends, and honoured him with great honour. For he had heard say, that the Romans had called the Jews their friends and confederates and brethren; and that they had entertained the ambassadors of Simon honourably; also that the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their governor and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet; moreover that he should be their captain, and should take charge of the sanctuary, to set them over their works, and over the country, and over the armour, and over the fortresses, that, I say, he should take charge of the sanctuary; beside this, that he should be obeyed of every man, and that all the writings in the country should be made in his name, and that he should be clothed in purple, and wear gold: also that it should be lawful for none of the people or priests to break any of these things, or to gainsay his words, or to gather an assembly in the country without him, or to be clothed in purple, or wear a buckle of gold; and whosoever should do otherwise, or break any of these things, he should be punished. Thus it liked all the people to deal with Simon, and to do as hath been said.
Then Simon accepted hereof, and was well pleased to be high priest, and captain and governor of the Jews and priests, and to defend them all.

Mr. Hussain goes on to argue that the Jews had an expectation of “that prophet” as distinct from the Messiah. That may well be the case. Surely you remember the dialog at the beginning of John’s gospel between the John the Baptist and the Jewish leaders:

John 1:19-27
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who art thou?”
And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
And they asked him, “What then? Art thou Elias?”
And he saith, “I am not.”
“Art thou that prophet?”
And he answered, “No.”
Then said they unto him, “Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?”
He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as said the prophet Esaias.”
And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, “Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?”
John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”

So, we can readily concede that the Jewish leaders may well have been imagining three different men to fulfill the prophecies, rather than a single man. But their expectations are not our guide. Our guide is the self-revelation of Jesus Christ.

Recall that the passage that prophesied the coming of Elijah the prophet was this:

Micah 4:4-6
Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Whether known to John the Baptist or not, an angel had prophesied regarding his ministry, as follows:

Luke 1:17
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

So, while John the Baptist was not Elias, he was like Elias.  He was (at least) a preliminary fulfillment of the prophecy.  And indeed Elias himself came to testify of Jesus:

Luke 9:28-36
And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.
And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.
And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.

It is easy to forget that testimony of Moses and Elias to Jesus, because the very voice of God from heaven calling Jesus his beloved Son is so much more important. Nevertheless, Elias did come at that time.  Some have suggested that Elias may be one of the two witnesses prophesied in the Revelation of Jesus Christ:

Revelation 11:3-12
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.

– TurretinFan

[Fn1] Jesus’ face did not glow with the reflected presence of God’s glory. That said, in the mount of transfiguration, Jesus’ countenance was changed and as explained in the Matthew account of the transfiguration:

Matthew 17:1-2
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

But that shining was a demonstration of Jesus’ own divinity.  It was not merely a reflected shining.  Moses’ face shone with the reflected glory, but Jesus shown with the glory that he had with the Father.

John 17:5
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

Notice also that unlike Moses, whose face shone, in the case of Jesus, his clothes were also shining white.  This is not the kind of glory that could be hidden by a veil, like Moses’ reflected glory.

2 Corinthians 3:13-16
And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
Exodus 34:28-35
And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.
And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.
But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Hopefully this clarifies what I meant above.

N.B. It should go without saying, but this post should not be taken as in any way a criticism of Dr. White’s response during the debate. I was able to spend an unlimited amount of time preparing my response, and I am not required to fit my responses to each of Mr. Hussain’s arguments into a fixed amount of time or space. In a real debate, the debaters have to prioritize based on limited preparation time and limited response time.


Mahershalalhashbaz and Immanuel

December 20, 2009

Mahershalalhashbaz has a name that is quite a handful. Recently, my attention was brought to a claim that Mahershalalhashbaz was the one and only fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “… a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel … .” The claim that Mahershalalhashbaz is the one and only fulfillment is plainly mistaken, since Matthew’s gospel connects the prophecy to Jesus:

Matthew 1:22-23
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

One might ask why Mahershalalhashbaz is even brought into the matter. The reason is the following flow of the passage (keep in mind that the chapter divisions are not original):

Isaiah 7:10-8:4
(10) Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, (11) “Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.”

(12) But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.”

(13) And he said, “Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? (14) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (15) Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. (16) For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. (17) The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria. (18) And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. (19) And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes. (20) In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard. (21) And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep; (22) And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land. (23) And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briers and thorns. (24) With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; because all the land shall become briers and thorns. (25) And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thorns: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle.”

(8:1) Moreover the LORD said unto me, “Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.”

(2) And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. (3) And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son.

Then said the LORD to me, “Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. (4) For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.

Notice that the child of the prophetess (or wife of the prophet) is described as being young at the critical point (“For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother”) and there are also two kingdoms (Damascus and Samaria) who are being conquered by Assyria.

This link suggests that Mahershalalhashbaz is a primary fulfillment of the prophecy, though not the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy. What’s interesting though, is that in being the primary fulfillment, Mahershalalhashbaz also serves as a type (i.e. foreshadow) of Christ.

I noticed this in a particularly striking way when reading Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on Isaiah. In that commentary he practically ignores the historical person Mahershalalhashbaz. One reason is that apparently his version of the Old Testament in Greek did not transliterate the Hebrew name, Mahershalalhashbaz, but rather translated it. The English translation of the Greek translation that Cyril had was “Quickly plunder, rapidly pillage” which is similar to Strong’s proposed translation of “hasting (as he (the enemy) to the) booty, swift (to the) prey.”

It may be that Cyril was way off, and he himself views the passage as difficult, but he makes an interesting observation. The wise men from the east who came to Jesus brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Jesus received this booty, prey, or plunder at time when he was quite young, before he could speak.

I’m not totally convinced by Cyril’s explanation, as you can probably tell. Yet, it is an interesting idea. Those who are fond of the redemptive-historical hermeneutic should especially enjoy it.


30 Seconds on God’s Knowledge of the Future

December 22, 2008

Team Pyro has a post that takes 30 seconds to read but concisely states one of the arguments against the Arminian world-view (link).

I’ve expanded on this same theme in a previous post, entitled, “The Diary” (link).


Responses to Response to Twilight/Molinism Post

December 15, 2008

Both Steve Hayes and TheoJunkie (TJ) have responded to my previous post (link) on the movie Twilight and Molinism.

TJ wrote:

But what would Joe the Plumber think?

You gave a basic premise statement regarding Molinism… can you provide a corresponding direct basic premise statement regarding Calvinism? Your post hints at it, but does not come out and say it.

You said that the basic premise of middle knowledge is that God knows what a particular person would do in a particular situation, prior to God’s decision as to what the future will be…

It seems clear that you would not state the Calvinistic premise in exact opposite terms from the Molinist premise, i.e.: that God knows what a particular person would do in a particular situation, AFTER God’s decision as to what the future will be. For this statement falls somewhere between nonsense and the fatalistic “floppy string” idea.

Your post suggests that the basic premise of Calvinism is that God knows what a particular person will do in a particular situation, because God decided that is what the person will do in that particular situation (which of course is informed by God’s decision as to what will occur in the future).

However, this statement– without elaboration– appears to affirm the accusations of “puppetry” that some levy against Calvinism.

We know the bible says God directs a man’s steps. Yet we observe that those steps are the steps we choose to take.

Do you consider that God directs the will in each decision, or is it possible that God directs circumstances (the particulars of a particular situation) in order to bring about the steps he has chosen for the man in advance? Or would you agree it is a little of both (or either/or depending on what needs to be done in the moment)?

Is it even possible to incorporate that into a basic premise statement?

I answer:

Calvinism teaches that God’s knowledge, which is truly simple, is viewed for analytical purposes under two aspects. First, there is natural knowledge. Second, there is free knowledge. Natural knowledge is the knowledge of all possible things – all things that are logically possible. Free knowledge is the knowledge of all things that arise from God’s exercise of his will.

One might argue (and probably a Molinist would argue) that hypothetical questions (for example: “If I stay in the city, will the men of the city deliver me into the hands of my enemy?”) raise a third category of knowledge. This apparent third category, however, disappears upon further examination.

A hypothetical question, properly framed, hypothecates something (the hypothecand) and asks for a consequence of that hpyothecand. There are a number of possible forms of hypothetical questions.

1) Questions as to abstract ideas.
Example 1: If the conclusion does not follow from the premises, is the syllogism valid?
Example 2: If three is divided by pi, is the quotient less than one?

These questions would be answered from natural knowledge. Both relate to matters of definition and/or logic. These are not the sorts of hypothetical questions that Molinists are interested in.

2) Questions as to Factual Things
Example 1: If Christ is raised, will we also be raised?
Example 2: If I am a man, do I have authority over all women?

In both of these example, the hypothecand is factual. Christ is raised, and I am a man. These questions would normally be answered from free knowledge. God has decreed that we will be raised with Christ – and God has not given me authority over all women.

3) Questions as to Logically Impossible Things
Example 1: If up is down, …
Example 2: If nothing truly exists, …

In these cases, the hypothecand is logically impossible. The rest of the question does not really matter, because the question is predicated on something incoherent. This category of hypothetical questions is also not interesting to the Molinist.

4) Questions as to Factually Untrue Things
Example 1: If Abraham Lincoln had not been shot, would Reconstruction of the South progressed differently?
Example 2: If I die tomorrow, will I go to heaven?

I don’t really know whether the hypothecand in Example 2 is factually untrue yet. Let’s just assume it is not true for the sake of the argument. These are the sorts of questions to which Molinists typically appeal, referring to them as “counterfactual” statements.

These questions raise some interesting epistemological issues. Is any answer to these questions totally speculative, are there “true” and “false” answers to these questions, or is there some other available category? I believe the best answer is to specify a third category.

The third category is that the question should not be interpreted as looking for a “true” or “false” answer with respect to history. After all, in the first example, one recognizes that historical hypothecand did not take place, in the latter example, one has no way of knowing whether the future hypothecand will take place.

Accordingly, the question is looking for an answer that has a speculative component, but not simply a speculative component. If we provide a third example, we can see how this might be:

Example 3: In a game of War, Mike played a Queen. If I had played a King, would I have beaten Mike? (Or, “Mike has played a Queen. If my next card is a King, will I beat Mike?”)

Those people who know the rules of the card game, War, can readily answer the question in the affirmative. After all, that’s what the question is really getting after: what are the rules? (You could also phrase the question such that you are saying, “Mike has played a King, will my next card beat Mike’s?” which is really asking about what card is next in your stack of cards.)

Example 2, above, has a similar object. It is asking less about the existence of a situation in which the hypothecand is true, and more about the rules of salvation, as it were. When a preacher asks you, “If you died right this minute, would you go to heaven?” he is asking about whether you are justified – right with God. If you are right with God, then the answer would be in the affirmative. If you are not justified, then the answer would be in the negative.

Example 1, above, is a bit more complex. Ultimately, though, what it looks like is that the questioner is asking about is a cause/effect relation. Obviously, there is some speculation, but the answer will typically revolve around the differing attitudes of Lincoln vs. Johnson towards the South, as well as the psychological impact of the assassination.

The underlying presupposition to such a question is that humans behave an orderly, generally predictable way. If we say that Reconstruction would have been kinder and gentler, then we are really saying something about the softer character of Lincoln. Alternatively, if we say that it would have been more severe, we may be saying something about the terror that the assassination had on Johnson.

To take a Biblical example:

1 Samuel 23:12 Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.

The LORD here is saying something about the character of the men of Keilah: their fear of Saul was greater than their loyalty to David. Had David stayed, this aspect of their nature would have resulted in their handing David over to Saul. God doesn’t answer David either, “They might or might not – depends what I decree,” or “They might or might not – depends what they choose.” Instead, God reveals something to David about the hearts of men of Keilah, something that God could see, though David could not see.

So, to answer, your question: no, there’s not a corresponding statement in Calvinism, because Calvinism rejects a third category of knowledge called “middle knowledge.” Instead, Calvinism addresses hypothetical questions asked now, in time, as relating either to natural or free knowledge, depending on the situation, as illustrated above.

You also asked: “Do you consider that God directs the will in each decision, or is it possible that God directs circumstances (the particulars of a particular situation) in order to bring about the steps he has chosen for the man in advance? Or would you agree it is a little of both (or either/or depending on what needs to be done in the moment)?” God works all things together – so that the operate according to his infinitely perfect plan. How God does this is not always clear. God seems to have set in place “laws of nature” (for example) that dictate how matter moves and acts, and God also seems to have set in place certain sociological or psychological laws that dictate how human beings move and act. The study of economics, for example, is possible because of the general predictability of humans, which suggests underlying laws of behavior. Nevertheless, it is not always clear in any given case how God directs such-and-such a person to decide on such-and-such a course of action. One thing we deny: that God does violence to man’s will in the ordinary course of life.

Steve Hays of Triablogue also has provided some comments (here). His thoughts are mostly not directly directed as critique on what I wrote but as relating to science fiction stories regarding time travel. I have enjoyed at least one of Steve’s short stories on time travel (I have this one in mind), and obviously my post shouldn’t be interpreted as any sort of condemnation of those stories.

Steve mentions, “5. Finally, I’m not entirely sure if I agree with Turretin Fan on the coherence of prophecy. The potential problem is this: if a prophecy is too detailed, it generates a dilemma. For it thereby invites its own failure.” Steve mentions that a very detailed prophecy could still be fulfilled even if it were communicated in great detail to a person, but he states that “However, Calvinism traditionally rejects such a coercive model of fulfillment.” I think it is fair to say that Calvinism generally does reject the idea that God normally operates coercively with respect to man’s will. Of course, though, God is not limited to using coercive means to bring about his end. On the other hand, the story of Jonah provides something of a counter-example. Ultimately, though, I agree that God does not bring about the fulfillment of prophecy in a fatalistic way. Thus, if the prophecy about Cyrus’ name was communicated to Cyrus’ mother, God also arranged that this woman would enjoy fulfilling the prophecy.

Ultimately, any thought there is need for fatalistic measures lies in a limited view of the extent of God’s arrangement of things. In other words, God could arrange it so that He would not be revealing the future to uncooperative people (I think this corresponds – at least roughly – to the restrictions that Steve places on prophecy in his article). If God communicates the future, he does so for a reason – perhaps even the reason of bringing about the future. I found it interesting to observe in the recent Disney film, “Kung Fu Panda,” that the Kung Fu master is depicted as a type 2 seer, seeing the unavoidable future. In an interesting plot device (*spoiler alert*), the fact that the prophecy cannot be avoided is foreshadowed by a cryptic comment by the senior master. The prophecy relates to the escape of a particular prisoner. The junior master, not realizing that the escape is inevitable, sends his messenger to warn the prison. While at the prison, the messenger drops an item (a feather) that enables the prisoner to escape, thereby leading to the fulfillment of the prophecy.


As Wise as Sheep

February 17, 2008

Sheep are not wise. It is no great compliment to be called a sheep. Nevertheless, in Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, Christ proclaimed the parable of the Shepherd and the sheepfold, in which he compared us to sheep, and Himself to the Shepherd.

John 9:35-10:29
35Jesus heard that they had cast him [the man who was born blind, whom Jesus miraculously healed] out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
36He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
37And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
38And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
39And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
40And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
41Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. 1Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
19There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. 20And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?
21Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?
22And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. 23And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. 24Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
25Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. 26But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

There are many things that can be gleaned from the passage. One is the fact that Jesus is divine. If we were going to emphasize that, we’d continue down the passage, for Jesus is shortly afterward explicitly accused of blasphemy.

In this post, though, we are going to focus on the soteriological aspects of the passage. The sheep are the elect, those who will be saved from judgment on judgment day. We know this because Christ says “I give unto them eternal life.”

1. Once a Sheep, Always a Sheep

This would seem to be an obvious fact from the nature of things. Sheep do not change their species. Sheep do not become goats, they do not become wolves, they do not become dogs. A wolf may slip in disguised as a sheep or a goat may get caught up in a sheep stampede. But a sheep is a sheep, and a non-sheep is not a sheep. There is no more saddening condemnation to hear than to hear: “ye are not of my sheep” from the mouth of God. On the other hand, to know that one is a sheep is the most encouraging thing we can know. We know that the sheep will never stop being a sheep, because Christ says: “they shall never perish.”

2. Once a Sheep of Christ’s, Always a Sheep of Christ’s

Again, this would seem to be an obvious fact. Christ is God. He cannot be robbed by thieves. No one is stronger than God to be able wrestle sheep away from him. Furthermore, sheep are not self-determiners of their ownership. No one asks a sheep for his permission to own the sheep. A sheep cannot decide to become someone else’s sheep. A sheep can wander off from the flock, but the Shepherd will bring him back. Furthermore, Christ explains this in the passage above: “neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (and likewise, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all.”)

3. The Sheep Come Because they are Sheep

Some people have suggested that people become sheep because they come. This is absurd. Sheep are sheep before they come. A lost sheep is a sheep. A sheep cannot hear his master’s voice, unless he is a sheep. This also leads us to the second suggestion we sometimes hear: that a sheep become’s Christ’s by hearing his voice.

But that is not how ownership of sheep works. Furthermore, that’s not how the matter is described in the passage. Instead, the passage states: “the sheep follow him: for they know his voice, and a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” You see, there is a reason why the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger, it is because they know his voice. They follow the shepherd because they are his sheep, not the other way around.

4. The Sheep are Called Particularly

It is often overlooked that the sheep are not called en masse. One sees people discussing the passage as though the Shepherd is standing out in a huge field of sheep yelling, “Here Sheep!” That fits with the mistaken view above that sheep become sheep (or Christ’s sheep) by coming. That’s not the picture here. The picture here is Christ calling his sheep particularly, individually, by name: “he calleth his own sheep by name,” “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep.”

5. The Sheep will be Saved

There is no doubt, no uncertainty about sheep of Christ’s that are still outside the fold. Christ declares the certainty of their salvation. This conflicts both with an open theistic view of God, and with a universalistic intent theory of the atonement. Christ aim is to save the sheep (“My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all”) and he will save the sheep (“other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice”).

6. The Sheep are Given to the Shepherd and the Shepherd for the Sheep

The Shepherd’s duty is to save the sheep. Christ states: “Them also I must bring.” Likewise, He states “My Father, which gave them to me.” They are his sheep, with Him leading the way: “when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him.” And furthermore, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” We can also see the same thing negatively put here: “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not.”

7. The Sheep are the Blind that Now See, the Others Think they See, but do not

Recall how this passage begins. The man born blind is healed, so that he sees and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Pharisees do not see, and mockingly ask whether they are blind. Jesus tells them in essence that if they realized they were blind, they would be given sight, but since they think they see, they remain dead in sins.

8. What do the Sheep do right?

– the sheep hear his voice
– the sheep follow him: for they know his voice
– a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
– the sheep did not hear them.
– they shall hear my voice;
– My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me

9. Why don’t others do the same?

“But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.”

10. Conclusion

That’s the simple truth of monergistic salvation. The sheep do hear and follow, but they do so because they are the sheep. The others do not, because they are not Christ’s sheep. Christ is our Good Shepherd, who was prophesied by Jacob:

Genesis 49:24 “…from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:”

David also prophesied of Jesus in Psalm 23:

Psalm 23:1 (A Psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

(Its worth noting as an aside against the Ebionites that this is Jesus being referred to as Jehovah.)

Asaph likewise prophesied of Jesus in Psalm 80:

Psalm 80:1 (To the chief Musician upon Shoshannimeduth, A Psalm of Asaph.) Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.

Isaiah, that great prophet of God, likewise prophesied:

Isaiah 40:10-11
10Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. 11He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

(again, Jesus is identified with Jehovah)

The weeping prophet, Jeremiah prophesied the same thing:

Jeremiah 31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.

Ezekiel also:

Ezekiel 34:12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.

It is this Shepherd whom John and the other evangelists preach to you, and which confirmed by the other Scriptures:

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Let us give thanks unto the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the Sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant,


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