Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Heremenuetics 101 - Part 4: Letting Scripture Interpret Scripture



This is part 4 of a series on biblical hermenuetics. Hermenuetics is the art and science of biblical intepretation. It is a set of rules that you should apply when reading The Bible in order to come to correct conclusions about what it says. It is similar to the scientific method. Just as the scientific method is a set of rules to apply in order to come to correct scientific conclusions, heremenuetics is a set of rules to apply in order to come to correct theological conclusions. In the previous blog post, we looked at the principle of interpreting scripture in light of its historical context, which is reading scripture the way the original author and audience would have understood it. We saw various examples of how knowing the culture of the time the text was written illuminated our understanding of it. In this chapter, we will be looking at the principle of:

Letting Scripture Interpret Scripture

We know that The Bible is divinely inspired based on its own testimony (1 Timothy 3:16) and various arguments as well (see my blog post "5 Reasons To Believe The Bible Is Divinely Inspired"). Given that that is the case, it would be impossible for scripture to make an error. The Bible is inerrant because it is divinely inspired. God cannot make mistakes because He is a Maximally Great Being (see "The Ontological Argument For God's Existence"), and a Maximally Great Being would not be capable of making mistakes because a being who always does things right is greater than one who commits blunders. If God cannot err, and The Bible comes from God, it follows logically that The Bible cannot err. Therefore, if we find a verse in The Bible that seems to contradict the rest of scripture's teaching on the subject matter, we should interpret this anomalous verse in light of the numerous clear passages.

Examples Of Scripture Interpreting Scripture

Example 1: James 2 and Works Based Theology

The book of James has always been a favorite of those who advocate for salvation by works, because what he says in chapter 2 seems to support salvation by works. For example, in verse 14, he says "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?"  and in verse 26, he says "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." And throughout the entire chapter, he talks about the importance of good works. How Abraham was considered righteous by what he did by obeying God to sacrifice Isaac on the alter (verses 21-23), and he rhetorically asks what good it would be if someone came to your door being in need of clothes and food, but you simply send him away saying "Be warm and well fed." He says "Faith without works is dead". Doesn't this teach works based salvation?

Well, there's actually more than one hermenuetical principle that shows us that this is not what James is talking about. The first one is the principle this blog post is about; namely to let scripture interpret itself. Various passages of scripture explicitly state that a man is saved by faith alone and that works plays no part.

First, we have Ephesians 2:8-9 which says “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear cut; we are saved by God’s grace. God’s grace regenerated us or made us born again (John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17) when we placed our faith in Him. Once we placed our faith in Jesus, God’s grace regenerated us, and God forgave us and adopted us as His children (John 1:12). Ephesians says that we weren’t saved because we did any good works. The passage implies that if we could be saved by good works, we’d have something to boast about. We could go on and on in the afterlife about how much better we were than other saints that were there. “Yeah, you did some nice things Bob. But you should take a look at my spiritual resume." However, we have nothing to post over because we're not saved by our good works. I honestly don't know how anyone can read Ephesians 2:8-9 and not come to the conclusion that Paul is teaching justification by faith alone. “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It doesn't get any clearer than that.

Secondly, in Paul's epistle to the Romans, he says you have Paul saying “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin’.” – Romans 4:1-8

In this passage, Paul basically says that salvation is a gift from God, and we don't work for it, for if we did, then it would no longer be a gift. It would no longer be grace. He uses the comparison of an employer and an employee. When an employer gives an employee his wages, he isn't giving him a gift. He's giving his employer his due. He worked hard for that money, so the employer is obligated to pay up. But we know salvation is a gift, not a wage. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23). Death is the wage for sin. We do get into Hell because of our works (our bad works), but we don't get into Heaven because of works. We get into Heaven because of God's grace which he bestows upon us through faith in Him.

Isaiah 64:6 says “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Our righteous acts are like filthy rags to God. Have you ever tried to clean something with a dirty rag? I have. All it does it move the dirt around. It doesn’t get anything clean. In order to clean the thing that needs to be clean, you need a clean rag. If the rag is filthy, all you’ll be doing is moving the dirt around. In the same way, we’ve been made dirty by the stains of our sins.

So, Ephesians 2, Romans 4, and Isaiah 64 all teach that salvation cannot be obtained through good works. There are actually a lot of other passages which say the same thing, but I won't cite them for the sake of brevity. But then, what about James 2? It seems to contradict all of these passages? If we let scripture interpret itself, we won't let the seemingly works based language allow us to conclude that James is teaching works based theology. The Holy Spirit would not say one thing on one book and then contradict Himself in another book.

The principle of taking scripture in its immediate context is relevant here as well. Who is James speaking to? At the very start of this epistle, we find that James is writing to Jewish people who were scattered abroad (1:1), which were people who lived their lives in legalism. They were taught by their religious leaders that they had to earn God's favor by keeping the law of Moses. Then they received the gospel; the good news that God loves them even though they're sinners and that He sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to absorb the penalty for their sins so that they wouldn't have to. The price was paid by His shed blood. All they had to do was place their faith in Him. Unfortunately, these new Christian Jews had gone from one extreme to the other. Now instead of straining themselves to live morally perfect lives so that they can gain the favor of God, they've gone to the other extreme of moral lazyness. They've reduced Christianity to a mere creed. As long as you believe God exists, Jesus died on the cross, and rose from the dead, etc. etc, you'll be saved. It doesn't really matter how you live. That is what James was dealing with here. He compared their faith to the person who promises to help, but then does not fulfill that promise (verses 15-16).

They are somebody who just give intellectual assent to Christ and His words, but they don't keep His commandments. James tells us that this is a worthless faith. It's dead. James says in verse 19 that even the demons believe God exists, but they're under His judgment. The implication is that James' readers have a belief that doesn't differ from that of the demons; they accept the truths of Christianity, but live lives of immorality.

So is James teaching works based theology? He's definitely putting a heavy emphasis on good works, but not for salvific reasons. James is teaching that a true faith, a true, genuine saving faith, will produce good works in time. A tree is supposed to produce fruit. If it doesn't produce fruit, we conclude that the tree is dead. Likewise, a regenerated person is supposed to produce the fruits of The Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If he doesn't, the reason must be because he doesn't have genuine saving faith. Fruit doesn't produce trees, but trees are supposed to produce fruit. Good works don't produce salvation, but salvation produces good works. Even Paul agrees that we should do good works. Immediately after saying that we're saved by grace alone through faith alone, he says "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Good deeds don't save people; saved people do good deeds. It's interesting to note that both Paul and James draw on Abraham's obedience to God to make their point. Abraham believed God, and was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham's faith is what made him righteous, but then after having faith, Abraham acted on it by performing a work. A good work flowed from Abraham's faith, and good works should flow from our faith as well. This is what James is saying.

Example 2: Hate your family if you want to be my follower?

Luke 14:26 is a verse non-Christians love to poke at. It says "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple."  

Wait, what? We can't be followers of Jesus unless we hate our family? "Like, OMG! Jesus is literally preaching hate! This proves that Jesus is immoral and The Bible is immoral!" says the non-Christian. Not so fast! Let's let scripture interpret itself. Everywhere else The Bible, and Jesus Himself places a strong emphasis on love. In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus said "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." In Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, and Luke 10:27, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18, which tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. What's more, 1 John 4:20 says that if we say that we love God while harboring hatred in our hearts towards someone, we are liars and the truth isn't in us. 1 John 3:14-15 says that if you hate someone, you're a murderer at heart and therefore have no eternal life in you.

Given all of these biblical passages condoning love and condemning hate, it is extremely unlikely that Jesus is commanding us to literally hate our family members. Moreover, we know that Jesus often spoke metaphorically. When he told us to pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands if these body parts offend us (Matthew 5:29-30), I don't know anyone who thinks Jesus was really saying we should maim ourselves.

It is most likely the case that Jesus is speaking either metaphorically or hyperbolically. Perhaps Jesus is simply saying that we should love Him so much that it seems like we hate everyone else by comparison. Of course, we don't need to guess, the parallel passage in Matthew's gospel makes it clear this is indeed what Jesus means. "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:37).

Example 3: Giving Birth Earns You Salvation? 

Once while I was reading through The New Testament, I came across a very bizarre verse. "But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." (1 Timothy 2:15). What? Women are saved through child bearing? What is that supposed to mean? Is Paul saying that for a woman, giving birth is her ticket into Heaven? Well, whatever it means, it probably doesn't mean that. After all, The Bible says in numerous places how we're saved. We're saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 4) in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-18, John 3:36). If we confess with our mouths "Jesus is Lord" and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9). Having Jesus or not having Jesus is what determines whether we have life (1 John 5:12). Given that this is the case, it cannot be the case that a woman earns salvation through giving birth. We already know what The Bible does not say based on what it does say everywhere else! That's what it means to let scripture interpret scripture. This is an unclear passage. We know what it does not say based clear passages.

John Piper wrote an article giving an explanation of what this verse means. You can read it by clicking here. John Piper sums up his interpretation as follows:


"Even though many women today and in history may feel the ongoing effects of the curse in the pains of childbirth and the lifelong wounds that it may leave, I urge all of our Christian sisters not to despair. God’s word to you is hope, not curse. God’s plan for you is salvation not destruction. Yes, just as the man must work out his salvation through the cursed futilities and miseries of his labor (Genesis 3:18–19), millions of women must find her salvation through the pains and miseries of childbearing. The path of salvation is the same for her as for all the saints: 'continuing in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.' Jesus Christ is the Savior who became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). The sting of the curse has been removed. ....At the last day every vestige of the curse will be undone and every wound will be healed. That is part of what it means to be saved through faith in Christ."
 Again, this is just a summary Piper's exegesis. For a fuller explanation, read Piper's article "How Are Women Saved Through Childbearing?" 

If we hadn't let scripture interpret itself, we might have built a heretical works based doctrine from 1 Timothy 2:15. However, we knew what scripture clearly teaches about salvation, and this prompted us to take another look at the text.

Conclusion

When you come across difficult passages, turn to the rest of scripture and see what it has to say. Does 1 Timothy 2:15 teach that women will get into Heaven by having babies, well, the rest of scripture says no, so it very likely doesn't. Is Jesus endorsing hatred in Luke 14:6, well, He emphasizes love everywhere else, so very likely no. Interpret unclear passages of scripture in light of the clear.

By the way, often times even terminology can be learned from scripture. As Mel Lawrenz of Bible Gateway said "When you read a passage and wonder what 'resurrection' really means or 'the kingdom of God' or 'sexual immorality' or 'Passover' or 'antichrist' or 'marriage,' there is one place to turn: the rest of the Scriptures." (quote from here)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hermenuetics 101 - Part 3: Understanding The Cultural Context



This blog post is one part in a series on biblical hermenuetics. In the introduction to this series, I explained what biblical hermenuetics is and why it's so important. In the previous blog post, I talked about the principle of reading Bible verses in context. In this blog post, I'm going to look at another hermenuetical principle which is:

Understanding The Cultural Context

We are very far removed in time from the times and places that The Bible talks about. As such, it can be easy to read a statement in light of how we would understand it in modern times. But we need to try our best to avoid doing that. As John Walton has said "The Bible was written for us, but it wasn't written to us." After all, "The book of Romans isn't called The book of Romans for no reason."  The content of the book of Romans was intended for all people of all ages, but nevertheless, Paul was writing specifically to the church in Rome. The various books that make up The Bible were written to various different groups of people in various different periods of time. In order to get the best understanding of what scripture is saying, we need to try to step into the shoes of an ancient Israelite or a first century Jew. This is also known as "The Cultural Context Principle" of hermenuetics (here on out, CCP). We need to interpret scripture the way the original author would have understood it, and how the original audience would have understood it.

How Do You Know What The Cultural Context Is? 

Sometimes it isn't possible to have a thorough view of the culture from The Bible alone. You can certainly get ideas of the culture from The Bible, but looking at extra-biblical documents from the time period of the biblical event can give you a much broader view of what life was like at the time. For example, we know various things about how the government worked in first century palestine from the writings of people like Josephus and Tacitus. Archeological finds can also inform us of what the culture was like at the time. For the non-scholar, it's usually best to have a concordance on hand as it will generally inform you about things like this. Looking into material from biblical scholars can also be informative. Get yourself Bible dictionary, Bible encyclopedia, and perhaps some good commentaries that provide reliable historical background of people and places. I found that Craig Evans' book "Jesus And His World: The Archeological Evidence" was very informative. I learned things about the society Jesus grew up and lived in that I didn't know before, and it really helped me see some of the passages of scripture in a way that I hadn't before.

Examples Of Historical Context Illuminating The Meaning Of Scripture

Example 1: Abraham's Hospitality in Genesis 18 

In Genesis 18, Three Strangers come to see Abraham. We later find out that these three strangers were God appearing in human form (a theophany) and two angels appearing in human form. Abraham rushes out to greet these travelers and invites them back to his tent for a place to rest. He goes to Sarah and tells her to make a meal for them, and she does so. Afterwards, they reveal to Abraham who they are and tell him that Sarah will give birth to a child. Now, from our modern perspective, this seems really odd. Three people you don't even know come walking by and you just invite them over for dinner? Who does that? "Hey there, whoever you are, come to my house to rest and get some free food!" A nice gesture, but it seems out of the ordinary to our modern sensibilities. However, Abraham's behavior makes perfect sense when we have a historical understanding of how strangers were treated in the society and time period in which Abraham lived.

Lyndon Shook, of Grace Biblical Counseling Ministries writes "What we can learn from historical custom is that Abraham was acting according to accepted practices when he greeted strangers by running out and bowing before them, feeding and protecting them. His hospitality was consistent with honorable character in his day. Without historical context we are left thinking that Abraham is rather strange and obsessive in his behavior." (quote from here).

It was common in that day to welcome travelers into your home for rest. An article from Theology Of Work project says "Seminomadic life in the country would often bring people from different families into contact with one another, and the character of Canaan as a natural land bridge between Asia and Africa made it a popular trade route. In the absence of a formal industry of hospitality, people living in cities and encampments had a social obligation to welcome strangers." We know these things from evidence both from inside and from outside The Bible.

Example 2: Head Coverings 

"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head." - 1 Corinthians 11:4-6

This verse is used often by Pentecostals to keep womens' hair long, and to keep their heads covered during services. A woman who doesn't wear something over her head in church or who has short hair is considered by Pentecostals to be sinning. Pentecostals misinterpret this passage because they fail to understand the cultural context. What Paul is talking about in this biblical passage is a thing in the culture of Corinth that Paul was permitting in order to prevent disruption in the Corinthian church. If a woman shaved her hair, her shaved head was considered disgraceful. A woman's hair was her "glory" (1 Corinthians 11:15). In the culture of Corinth, women had a covering for their heads to symbolize submission to their spouses. What Paul does here is merely affirm the correctness of that. To get rid of the head coverings wouldn't send the right message to that culture. In fact, in verse 6, Paul says that if a woman refuses to wear a covering, she might as well shave all of her hair off! A woman who refused to wear a head covering in that time and place was essentially saying, by her action, that she wasn't going to submit herself to the order of God.

In light of the cultural context, we can see that a woman who has short hair or doesn't wear a hat in church isn't doing anything wrong. Unlike most commands in scripture, this is a cultural mandate, not a universal moral demand. While the moral principle behind the cultural mandate is true at all times and all places (i.e that a woman should submit herself to her husband and God), the precise manner in which this is expressed (i.e having long hair and a head covering) is restricted to the Corinthian culture of the first century.

Example 3: I Go To Prepare A Place For You 

"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." - John 14:2 (KJV)

In this passage, Jesus is giving a discourse at the last supper. In John 14:2, he tells the disciples that He's going to prepare a place for them in His Father's house. He's obviously talking about Heaven. And while you can get a basic understanding of what Jesus is talking about here even without knowing the cultural context, the cultural context actually shows that there's deeper meaning to what Jesus is saying. Yes, He's saying He's going to Heaven to get things ready for us, but it goes beyond that.

In the ancient Jewish culture, a man would go to his family home and "prepare a place" for his bride before they were married so he had somewhere to take her once they were married. It's that language that Jesus used to the Jewish people of "I'm going to prepare a place for you". This corresponds nicely to those biblical passages affirming that we are the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 19:7-9).

That cultural marriage picture is also seen in this: the groom would offer his intended bride (afterpaying the brideprice), a cup of wind. He was saying, "I offer you this cup, I love you, I offer my life". The bride could take the cup and drink it, signifying that she accepted his offer, accepted his life and his love. By drinking it, she was saying that she accepts his gift, and she gives him her life in return. Wow! There was a whole layer of meaning under Jesus' words that we didn't even know about sans knowledge of the cultural context!

Example 4: Hot Coals, Yo!

Proverbs 25:22 says "For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee." (KJV)

At first, this looks like a really mean way to punish someone. However, back in those days in that place, a young man in town would go around early in the morning from house to house passing out hot coals (i.e embers) to allow the wives to start their morning fires. The pot containing the coals would warm him up, and he would consider this a blessing if the morning was cold. The verse that comes right before verse 22 speaks of doing kindnesses to enemies, so in light of both the immediate context and the cultural context, this verse of The Bible makes a lot more sense.

Example 5: Accomadationism 

As some of you know, I've recently moved away from Concordism to Accomadationism. What is accomadationism? As I addressed in a previous post, Accomadationism teaches that God did not intend to teach us science, and instead spoke His theological truths using the false cosmology of the Israelite's day. He did this because if He gave scientifically accurate pictures of the world, He would have just simply confused the Israelites and they would have been so hung up on -- what would be to them -- bizarre views of the cosmos, like a spherical Earth, a sky with nothing solid to hold the clouds and stars up, and other scientific truths we take for granted today. Let's say that God used evolution to bring about life ((we'll leave it an open question whether or not He did)). If He did, and He put that in Genesis 1 or some of the other creation passages, the Israelites would have puzzled, and puzzled, and puzzled over how an ape could eventually give rise to a man, or a how birds could eventually become Dinosaurs. They would have seen these things as absurd and bizarre, and they would have totally missed the point of the creation narrative: That God is the Creator of all things, that He is sovereign, that the sun, moon, and stars are not gods in themselves, but mere creations of God, that mankind was created in His image, etc. etc. These are the theological truths God wanted to convey in Genesis 1.

Accomadationism posits that God was not concerned to correct the faulty science of the ancients during the time scripture was written. The ancient Israelites, as well as their neighbors, held to a sort of flat earth, dome cosmology, and you find this sort of cosmology in scripture (see the graphic below). On Accomadationism, God allowed these scientific misconceptions to get into scripture because correcting them wasn't relevant to the points God was trying to make, and moreover, if He made these corrections, the people of that time would have quibbled amongst themselves about how these things could possibly be true, and they would have missed the whole point that the scriptural passages like Genesis 1 and Psalm 104 were trying to convey.

An artistic depiction of how ancient Hebrews saw the world and The Biblical passages describing aspects of it
God's point in Genesis 1 is that He is the Creator of everything that exists. Nothing came into being except through God's creative power. If God had described the natural world correctly, contradicting the common wisdom of the day, then the people of that day and age would have been distracted, arguing and wondering how the sky could hold water if there's no vault up there, or how people don't fall off the Earth if it's a sphere. God, in His wisdom, accommodated their scientific misunderstandings so that they would not miss the forest for the trees, and instead focus on the essential truths God was trying to convey.

This means that, for example, when we read passages like God "stretches out the heavens like a tent" (Psalm 104:2), it would be eisegesis to read Big Bang cosmology into that and say that it's referring to the expansion of the universe. While I've made this argument in earlier blog posts, I no longer believe that it's sound.

When I was a concordist, I held that the ancients would interpret scripture passages about nature in scientifically inaccurate ways, but that the texts are really saying something else, something we wouldn't discover until thousands of years later. This is also what Hugh Ross told Kent Hovind in their debate back in 2,000. But the problem I now find with that approach is that it seems to make parts of scripture totally inaccessible to most of church history! This logically entails that only 20th century theologians would actually be able to get at what these passages are saying, and even Hugh Ross emphasizes that God intended The Bible for all generations. It's sort of parallel to futurists asserting that only people approaching the end times would be able to get a grasp on what all the bizarre imagery in the book of Revelations is about; that things like moving statues are a prediction that there will be an animatronic of the anti-Christ! Of course, you might say "That's true, but the science The Bible talks about isn't that important anyway. They could get the theological truth God was trying to convey even if they didn't get the scientific truth." But, if you say that, then why not just become an accomadationist? If teaching accurate science in scripture wasn't important to God in 500 B.C why would it be important in 2016 A.D?

I became an accomadationist precisely because the rules of proper hermenuetics compelled me to it. It would be utterly inconsistent of me to use the principle everywhere else in scripture, but abandon it whenever reading Bible passages about the natural world. To adhere to the cultural context principle everywhere else but exempt it when The Bible speaks of nature would actually be a logical fallacy called special pleading, which I talked about during my logical fallacy series. If we're to be consistent exegetes, then we should read Bible passages in their historical context and not arbitrarily exempt passages.

Objection: Isn't This Just A Modern Idea Influenced By Secularistic Thinking? Now, some might object that accomadationism is just a cave in to the modern scientific world, that it's a liberal idea pressured by the skeptics who say that The Bible is scientifically innacurate or a liberal idea sculpted by pressure from evolutionary theory. But this is simply false. Accomadationism is at least as old as the protestant reformation itself!

John Calvin appealed to accommodation quite often. Below is a passage from his commentary on Genesis, in which he talks about the relative sizes of the Sun, Moon, and Saturn, in connection with Gen 1:16, which speaks of the “greater light” and the “lesser light”:

“[Moses] assigns a place in the expanse of heaven to the planets and stars; but astronomers make a distinction of spheres, and, at the same time, teach that the fixed stars have their proper place in the firmament. Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. … If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage." 

When I was a concordist, I thought Moses called the "Greater Light" and "Lesser Night" by those names due to differing luminosity, rather than sizes, but ancients held that the moon really was bigger.

It's a relief to know that theologians hundreds of years ago like John Calvin held to accomadationism. This shows that this isn't some liberal idea conjured up in the 21st century to harmonize science and scripture, but can be a theologically valid idea. After all, neither John Calvin nor his contemporaries knew anything about the age of the Earth or evolution.

Objection: Doesn't This View Forfeit Inerrancy? 

When I read the works of accomadationists, I got very uncomfortable. I thought to myself "Well, great. Now I'm caught between sound heremenuetics and my commitment to biblical inerrancy. What'll I do?" I thought admitting that The Bible contained outdated cosmology was to concede the inerrancy debate to the skeptics. The thing is, we need to understand what we mean by inerrancy. What is inerrancy? According to the previous version I held, The Bible was inerrant in everything it said. However, some define it as "The Bible is inerrant in everything that it intends to teach." On that definition then, we'd also have to ask the question "What does The Bible intend to teach?" It certainly intends to teach us theological truths; truths about God. It also intends to accurately record historical events. After all, many theological truths are grounded in historical events. The theological doctrine of the atonement is grounded in Jesus' death and resurrection, for example. It intends to teach us moral truths as well (e.g The Ten Commandments). But does it intend to teach us science? I don't think so. Only if it intended to teach us science, would it be in error when it talks about things like the solid dome sky. If God didn't intend to be a science teacher, there's no problem.

God knew that we would find out the truth about the universe through scientific investigation eventually. Therefore, He didn't need to tell us these things in His word. He gave us two books; the book of scripture and the book of nature. What we don't learn from one, we can learn from the other.

For More Information On Accomadationism

A lot more could be said on the subject of concordism and accomadationism. For those interested, check out the following articles, mostly by the bloggers at BioLogos.

"From The Mailbag: Why Would God Allow Scientific Errors In The Bible?" -- Various Authors.

"The Ancient Science In The Bible" - by Denis Lamoureux

"The Firmament Of Genesis 1 Is Solid, But That's Not The Point." - by Peter Enns

"A Critique Of Hugh Ross' Interpretation Of Genesis 1" - by Richard Bushey

Conclusion 

We've seen 4 good examples of how knowing the cultural context can enhance our understanding of The Biblical text.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hermenuetics 101 - Part 2: Reading A Text In Its Context



This is part 2 of a series on biblical hermenuetics. In the previous post, I explained what biblical hermeneutics is and why it's important. Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible. The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible. If one doesn't apply the principles of hermenuetics, one will come to incorrect conclusions when reading the text. There are about 6 principles of hermenuetics that I'm familiar with. In this blog post, the principle I plan to be looking at is:

Reading A Text In Its Context

There is a very good reason why this principle in the first one we'll be looking at, and that's because it is probably THE number one hermenuetical principle that is ignored when reading The Bible. I don't know how many theological arguments I've been in where the person I was talking to quoted a Bible verse to prove his point, and I was sitting there astounded thinking "That's not what that verse means. The context makes that clear". Context is so important as it can mean a huge difference in how you see a biblical passage.

Context can make the difference to whether you see a person as a hero or a villain. Imagine that I told you that "A man recently cut off the breast of a woman". What are your thoughts on this man? Do you think he's a psychopath? You'd be justified in thinking that if that's all the information you gathered. However, suppose I told you "A man recently cut off the breast of a woman because she had a 90% chance of developing breast cancer and had the man -- who is a doctor -- remove it as a preventative." If you only stopped reading my sentence after the first 10 words, you would have come to an incorrect conclusion about this man. Interpreting my words in context determined whether you considered this man as good or evil.

I think one of the reasons taking scripture out of context comes so easily for people is that The Bible is divided not merely into chapters, but into individual verses as well. This was done so that things could be found more easily in The Bible. If you know the chapter and verse of a phrase you're looking for, it's much easier to find. If they weren't divided by chapter and verse, we'd all be scanning the words going "Let's see, where is that sentence about gaining the whole world yet losing your soul?" Given how thick The Bible is, to try to find any verse would be like looking for a needle in a haystack unless they were marked. It's a good think that scripture is set up as chapters and verses, but one negative side effect of this is that it's easier to read a statement in isolation from its surrounding context, and that's where people run into interpretive problems.

Immediate Context and Whole Context

There's a difference between the immediate context and the whole context. The immediate context is speaking of the surrounding verses and chapters of the verse in question within a single book. Whole Context is when you interpret a verse in the context of The Bible as a whole. If The Bible as a whole affirms X, then if you find a verse that appears to assert Not-X, then you should try to find a way to interpret that verse in light of doctrine X.

Examples Of Scripture Taken Out Of Context

There are many verses which are ripped out of context to support various false teachings. Below is a look at just a few of them.

Example 1: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." - Philippians 4:13

This is a beloved verse by many. It's a favorite verse of the prosperity preachers. Unfortunately, the way many people interpret this verse is wrong because they read it out of context. They interpret Philippians 4:13 to mean that you can do anything you set your mind to because Christ loves you and will give you the ability to achieve your goals. If you're trying to lose weight and get fit, have no fear! Christ is here! He'll give you the strength to lose weight! Want to get rich and famous? Don't worry, Christ has it covered! He'll help you get rich and famous if you just pray to Him. Is this really what Paul is saying in this passage? Well, if all you read was verse 13, it would be easy to come to that conclusion. In fact, it'd be hard to come to anything but that conclusion. But what would we think if we read Paul's words in context?

"I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:10-13

What do you think Paul is talking about now? He's talking about Christ giving him the ability to be content in any situation that he finds himself in. Paul said that he knows what's it's like to have plenty and to be in need, to be well fed or hungry, and he says that he's able to be content regardless of whether his circumstances are good or bad because Christ has given him the strength to be content. The version I quoted from above is the New International Version. I like how both it and the English Standard Version render verse 13. Instead of saying "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." The NIV and ESV say "I can do all this through him who gives me strength." If you quote the NIV or ESV in isolation, no one's going to know what Paul is talking about. What is "this"? What does "this" mean? What is the "this" that Christ is giving him the strength to do? The wording of the NIV and ESV prompts the reader to read the verses that preceded verse 13 to know what "this" is. When you do that, you find that the "this" Paul is talking about is being content no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.

In my opinion, Philippians 4:13 is no less uplifting or inspiring knowing what it actually means than what one thought it meant before reading it in context. In fact, I have Philippians 4:13 framed and hanging on my bedroom wall above my bed. When I see that verse on my wall, I'm reminded of all the hardships Paul endured during his ministry, and yet in spite of that he found that because of Jesus' power, he was able to stay content. This means a lot to me given all the issues I've had over the past year and a half, some of which I've mentioned here. I hope to some day be sanctified enough to where I can take Paul's words in Philippians 4 and make them my own. I want to be able to say "I can be content no matter what circumstance God places me in. I can do this because Christ strengthens me."

Example 2: "Do not judge or you too will be judged." - Matthew 7:1

How many times have we heard this quoted right after we expressed the truth that some activity or behavior was morally wrong. "You shouldn't X. It says right here in The Bible not to do X", "Who are you to judge me? Jesus said not to judge! Only God can judge me! It says right here in Matthew 7:1 'Do not judge or you too will be judged'! Stop judging you hypocrite!" Does Matthew 7:1 really mean we shouldn't judge? Well, I mean, Jesus said "Do not judge". How much clearer could He possibly be? It'd be pretty hard to interpret "Do not judge" as anything other than a command not to judge, right? Well, it's only impossible to come to a different interpretation if you don't read the rest of what Jesus said. Let's look at this verse in context, shall we?

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” - Matthew 7:1-5

Here, Jesus says that we shouldn’t judge hypocritically. If we struggle with a certain sin in our life, we cannot even give helpful council to that person who is struggling with that same sin. Alcoholics cannot help out alcoholics, adulterers cannot help other adulterers, and so forth. Once we get that problem out of our lives then we can go on to help our brother. Once we remove the plank from our own eye, then it will be appropriate to help our brother get the speck out of his eye. So Jesus is not saying not to make moral discernment. He isn't even telling us not to preach against sin. He’s making a prohibition against judging hypocritically. If you watch pornography every night, don't be wagging your finger at someone for watching pornography. Take the speck out of your own eye first, and then you can help your brother.

"People tell me 'Judge not lest ye be judged'. I tell them 'Twist not scripture lest ye be like Satan." - Paul Washer

By the way, it's logically self refuting to say "You shouldn't judge me" because if you say that to me, you're doing the very thing you said you shouldn't do: you're judging me for judging! You're essentially telling me that it's wrong to tell people that what they're doing is wrong. If you said "You shouldn't judge me", I could appropriately respond "Who are you to judge me for judging others? Only God can judge me! Get off my case!"

Example 3: "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'" - Luke 23:34

People often refer to it to emphasize forgiving others, which is a good thing to emphasize, but those who appeal to this verse to emphasize forgiveness often proclaim that those who do you wrong aren’t really fully aware of the wrong they’re doing to you. The problem is that most people know exactly what they are doing when they are doing it, so it makes no sense to say in every context "forgive them, for they know not what they do." Does a thief not know that he’s stealing? Does an adulterer not know that he’s cheating on his wife? Does a murderer not know that he’s killing an innocent human being? Of course they do! It makes no sense to say that they don’t. Granted, there are times when people don’t know fully what they’re doing (e.g a woman getting an abortion when she’s been deceived into thinking the fetus is just a blob of cells) but most people know exactly what they're doing.

The context of this verse as well as another verse in a different book of scripture make it clear what Jesus' statement actually means. Jesus is being crucified in this passage, and Jesus is crying out to The Father not to hold it against them because they know not what they do. What is it that they don't know? Do they not know that they're crucifying Him? That'd be a pretty silly thing to say. Of course they know that. Well, 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 sheds some light on this. It says “No, we declare God's wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” In other words, what they didn't know was that they were crucifying God incarnate, and that God incarnate was submitting Himself to them so that He could suffer His own wrath so we wouldn't have to. That's what they didn't know.

Example 4: "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'" - Matthew 16:24

This verse is frequently interpreted to mean that we've got to put up with difficult circumstances if we want to be followers of Jesus. While that's certainly true, that's not what Jesus is talking about here. "We all have our crosses to bear" has become a common cultural idiom, frequently used when we have to do things we don't want to do, like work for a nasty boss, or fight cancer, or something. However, Jesus didn't just simply say we would have to do things we didn't want to do. What's he's talking about here is martyrdom.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.'" - Matthew 16:24-27

Here, we can see that Jesus is talking about martyrdom. Jesus was going to die on the cross for our sins, and Jesus said that if we want to be His followers, we should be willing to die as well. If we try to wiggle our way out of martyrdom by denying that we are Christians, Jesus will deny us before God The Father (cf. Matthew 10:33), ergo if we try to save our lives, we will lose them (i.e if we try to save our lives by denying Christ, we will end up in Hell). Jesus goes on to ask rhetorically what it would profit a man if he gained the whole world but lost his soul? What good is it to survive physically if you end up gaining eternal damnation as a result? What could possibly be more valuable than going to Heaven and not going to Hell? Dying for Jesus is well worth it. It is eternally worth it.

Conclusion

Many more examples of Bible verses taken out of context could be given. But I think enough has been said to demonstrate why this hermenuetical principle is so vitally important. If you read Bible verses out of context, you will come to incorrect interpretations. This is why Greg Koukl says "Never read a Bible verse". What he means is never just read a Bible verse. Read the whole passage.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Hermenuetics 101 - Part 1: Introduction


The word "hermenuetics" is, for some reason, a foreign term for a lot of Christians. Even though they grew up in the church or, even if they didn't grow up in the church, have been attending the church for many years, this word is a new one to them. They don't know what it means. I know this first hand. Even though I was raised in a Christian home and my parents took me to church every Sunday, it wasn't until I was fully grown that I first heard this word. It's bad enough that the church has failed its members regarding the teaching of Apologetics, it's even worse that it has failed in teaching its members biblical hermenuetics. A man should not have been a church goer since childhood and just learns about apologetics or hermenuetics for the first time in his early 20s. That's one reason I've taken it upon myself to start a new series of blog posts about the various different principles of biblical hermenuetics. However, before I get into that, I think it's important that we first know hermenuetics is.

What Is Hermenuetics?

Hermenuetics is a set of principles for coming to correct interpretations of passages in The Bible. I think a fair analogy would be to compare hermenuetics to the scientific principle. Just as there are certain steps a scientist needs to go through before coming to scientific conclusions, a theologian needs to go through certain steps before reaching theological conclusions. If the scientist ignores the scientific method, he'll come to inaccurate conclusions. If the theologian ignores the principles of hermenuetics, he'll come to inaccurate theological conclusions. The legitimacy of both the scientific method and the principles of hermenuetics have been validated time and time again through their success in guiding scientists and theologians towards the truth. Generally, when one follows the scientific method or the hermenuetic method, one is lead towards truth. However, given that we're fallible human beings, we still make mistakes, and not all of our scientific conclusions or theological conclusions will be correct. But, generally, we know we've made a mistake because of the repeated use of these principles in our study of nature or our reading of The Bible.

Sometimes biases can skew our interpretation of either of God's books, but fortunately it's much harder for falsehood to thrive when you're using the right detective procedures on an ongoing basis. Eventually, bad science and bad theology will be found out, and we can then do further reading or further testing to find out what is really the case. I think the scientific method and hermenuetic method are very similar to one another. It's just that one is applicable to God's world and the other, to God's word.

If more Christians knew hermenuetics and applied them like they should, I think a lot of the false teachings going around would greatly diminish. They wouldn't disappear. Even bad scientific beliefs still survive in a minority of peoples' minds (e.g the flat earth theory). But I think they would at least not be as widespread. What if everyone who attended a church where the health and wealth gospel is preached went home, opened their Bibles, and applied the hermenuetical principles in their own private study? I'd be willing to bet that Joel Osteen and many others would be out of a job! He'd have to trade in his big house for a mobile home because he wouldn't be able to get away with the theological garbage he spouts. Though again, he would probably still have at least a small following. The prosperity gospel would become to theology what the flat Earth is to science; an utterly ridiculous belief held by a minority of people.

The List Of Hermenuetical Principles

Throughout this series, we'll be looking at each of the different principles to apply when studying God's word. These principles are:

1: Reading A Text In Its Context

2: Interpreting Scripture In Light Of How Its Original Audience Would Have Understood It

3: Letting Scripture Interpret Scripture.

4: Knowing The Genre

5: Examining The Grammar Of The Passages

6: Interpreting Scripture As Literal Unless Any Of The Aforementioned Principles Suggest A Non-Literal Interpretation is correct.

7: The Progressive Revelation Principle

Conclusion

Sola Scriptura is a great principle to go by. The Bible is the highest authority we Christians should have on all matters of faith and practice. We don't hold any authority equal to The Bible, like The Pope or church tradition. However, letting scripture dictate your theological beliefs is moot if you don't even know how to read scripture correctly. If you cannot read The Bible correctly, you're going to come to a lot of false conclusions about what it teaches.

Sadly, there are brothers and sisters in Christ out there who disavow the study of hermenuetics. Why? Because they erroneously think that it will hinder their capability to learn new things from The Bible through The Holy Spirit's illumination of it. However, these Christians are worrying over nothing. Biblical hermeneutics is all about finding the correct interpretation of the inspired text. The whole reason one does hermeneutics is to prevent oneself from misapplying Scripture or allowing their bias to muddle their comprehension of scripture's contents. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). If we care about truth, we will learn how to practice proper exegesis.

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." - 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Q and A: Is Molinism Monergistic?

I'm actively learning about Molinism and when in a small debate with a calvinism they asked me if God or man is the terminus of Salvation? I thought it adequate to state that Molinism is Monergistic. They did not like that answer and even told me it was Synergistic.  I provided the Ambulatory Model bY Kenneth Keathely in Salvation & Sovereignty. They did not like that analogy since it wasn't an analogy from scripture.

In your words how would you explain or express how Molinism is Monergistic and if the Ambulatory Model isn't a good model what model would you give? Any scriptural support is welcome.

-- Phillip

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Whether a soteriological view is monergistic or synergistic really depends on how one defines those terms. Monergism comes from the two Greek words "mono" which means "one" and "erg" which means "work". Synergism, by contrast, comes from the two Greek words "syn" meaning "together" and "erg". So Monergism means that only one entity is at work while synergism means that two entities are at work. Now, it would seem to me that Keathley's Ambulatory Model of grace allows us to be monergists while at the same time agreeing with the Arminians that grace is resistible and that we have a choice in whether or not we want to enter into a relationship with God.

For readers of this blog post who may not be familiar with what we're talking about, let me explain: Keathley calls his view of grace "The Ambulatory Model" because it comes from the illustration he puts forth in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach which involves an ambulance.

Keathley writes "Imagine waking up to find that you are being transported by an ambulance to the emergency room. It is clearly evident that your condition requires serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express regret and give warnings, but he will still let you go. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you incur the blame for refusing the service of the ambulance." 

Keathley's point here is that in our salvation, The Holy Spirit is the only one at work, so grace is monergistic, but it isn't irresistible like the Calvinists argue. We can resist God's grace until the day we die, and therefore end up eternally damned. We have free will and can choose whether to resist or not resist. If we resist, we will remain unsaved. If we choose not to resist, we will be saved. God does everything in saving us. God The Father sent God The Son to die on the cross to suffer the penalty for sin on our behalf, God sent us prevenient grace to enable and persuade us to repent, and The Holy Spirit is the one who regenerates us. You don't do anything to get saved, but you can do something to keep yourself from being saved; namely resist The Holy Spirit. 

Keathley's point is that in the absence of resistance, salvation is inevitable. In this case then, while salvation isn't worked for, damnation is! You have to work hard at resisting The Holy Spirit! He won't let you go to Hell without a fight! If one defines monergism as salvation being solely the work of God, then Kenneth Keathley's ambulatory model fits that definition. 

To return to the ambulance analogy, the paramedics did all the work. The ambulance driver drove them to your location, the paramedics got out and put you on a stretcher, they then headed towards the hospital, and then they treated you until you healed. You didn't do anything in that whole process! Your trip to the hospital was monergistic! But, even though it was monergistic, it wasn't irresistible. you could have resisted treatment. You could have fought off the paramedics. You could have insistently demanded that they let you out of the ambulance, and if you did, they would have, and therefore you'd be responsible for not being healed. 

Any contribution you give is harmful. It's the lack of contribution that is required to receive the medical aid. This is the way it is with salvation; any contribution you give is harmful, it's the lack of contribution or works and submission or faith that is required. I agree wholeheartedly with Kenneth Keathley's Ambulatory Model of grace. The Ambulatory Model (a.k.a The Overcoming Grace Model) successfully harmonizes two things taught by scripture: monergism and resistible grace. 

Brenden Paul Burnett (not a Molinist, but an advocate of resistible grace nonetheless) has used a different analogy to make this point. He wrote "Imagine an unconscious person lying in a dry river bed. Now imagine that a river begins to flow down that dry river bed to the man. When the river flow hits him, it startles him awake, and begins to carry him right along constantly and powerfully towards salvation. How might the man not reach the destination to which the river is flowing? What might resistance look like? Well, perhaps resistance is like a positive action of swimming against the current. However, by simply not resisting, by allowing the current to take its course, he will inevitably be carried on by the flow to salvation. God grace is a bit like the river. Human condition is unconsciousness. When grace hits us it causes us to become conscious of it. We can then do two things: (1) cooperate by allowing grace to take its course and be saved, or (2) resist by swimming against the current and dying." 

On this analogy, if a person did absolutely nothing, he would eventually be washed downstream. His reaching the destination was monergistic. The river acted alone while the man did nothing at all. However, the current isn't irresistible. He can, if he chooses to, swim upstream and therefore does not go to that destination. 

So long as there's only one actor in our salvation, it can be considered a monergistic view of grace, regardless of whether or not people can resist grace. After all, that's what monergism means; one (mono) work (erg). There is one worker in our salvation! There was one worker in getting the man to the hospital (i.e the paramedics), there's one worker in getting that man downstream (i.e the river), and there is one worker in getting us saved (i.e The Holy Spirit). However, in all 3 cases, you could freely choose to resist. 

Now, you said that your Calvinist friend didn't like the analogy Keathley gave because it wasn't from scripture. I think an adequate response would be "So what?" Pastors use modern analogies to illustrate points in their sermons all the time! Even the Apostle Paul used the writings of Greek Philosophers (see Acts 17). In fact, I've even heard Calvinist writers use analogies not found in scripture to illustrate their points. What he should be concerned about isn't whether the analogy is found in scripture, but whether the teaching the analogy is supposed to describe is found in scripture. What's really important is whether (A) the teaching is found in scripture, and (B) the analogy is similar enough to help people get the point. 

It is beyond the scope of this blog post to get into whether or not scripture teaches resistible grace rather than irresistible grace, so I would recommend the interested reader in checking out the following blog posts I've written 




I defend the doctrine of resistible grace in the 3 above blog posts. Anyone wanting to know the biblical evidence for the doctrine should read those posts. Moreover, I also recommend checking out Kenneth Keathley's book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach

In conclusion; even though I'm an Arminian and a Molinist, I can agree with the following theological statements;

"You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary." - Jonathan Edwards

"Salvation is all of the grace of God. Damnation is all of the will of man." - Charles Spurgeon

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Is Molinism Eisegesis?




A while back, a fellow blogger and friend of mine unfortunately renounced Molinism and is now a full blown determinist. He adhered to Calvinist soteriology prior to this, but he had a middle knowledge view of divine providence and free will. But now he doesn't even hold to that. I don't care to address all of his arguments from his articles, but I would like to address one of them; which is that Molinist interpretations are read into the texts. His article in which he gives his reasons for recanting is here.

What should we think of Richard's criticism here? Is Molinism eisegesis? It would seem to me that Richard is concerned primarily about explanatory POWER of competing views to explain isolated texts rather than the explanatory SCOPE of views to explain the WHOLE of scripture.

Sure, many of the determinism proof texts could be explained by either determinism or by Molinism. But what about explanatory scope? Does it explain ALL of scripture? I don’t think it does. It doesn’t explain places in scripture where God appears to give us a genuine choice between alternatives (e.g Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15), where God gets angry at sin in the OT (("How dare you do what I predetermined you to do!")), where God begs and pleads with people to repent (Ezekiel 18, Ezekiel 33), it can’t explain passages like Isaiah 30:1 and James 1:13 which seem diametrically opposed to any sort of deterministic explanation. Determinism has equal explanatory power to Molinism in accounting for the passages Richard mentioned, but the problem is that it doesn’t succeed in explanatory scope. It doesn’t succeed in explaining all of the data. Likewise, a simple foreknowledge Arminian view can explain God’s anger at sin and lamenting over people not repenting (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11, Luke 19:41-44) and so on, but it can’t explain passages like Proverbs 21:1 where it says "In the LORD's hand the king's heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him." or Proverbs 16:9 "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." or Psalm 37:33 which says "The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way." These scriptures state that God has significant control over what humans do and ergo fit uncomfortably within a simple foreknowledge view of divine providence and free will.

It’s not just explanatory POWER of a view to explain isolated texts that the Molinist is concerned about, but the explanatory SCOPE. Does determinism explain all of scripture? No. It fails at many points. But the simple foreknowledge view also fails at many points. That’s why I can’t bring myself to accept either of them. But Molinism has no problem accounting for texts that appear to support determinism as well as texts that seem to be good evidence for free will. It’s explanatory SCOPE is truly remarkable. 

Determinism and Simple Foreknowledge fail, not only on exegetical grounds, but also on philosophical grounds. I’ve argued in plenty of places on my blog that divine determinism either impugns the goodness of God or at least renders sin non-existent. On the other hand, simple foreknowledge makes God lucky if history turns out the way that He wants it to. For example, God is lucky that Pontius Pilate chose to free Barabbas instead of Jesus. We wouldn't have an atonement if Pilate had exercised his will some other way. However, Molinism gives God a significant amount of control without making Him the author of evil. It avoids the pitfalls of both views. 
And all that I've said thus far is just speaking of the scriptural teachings on meticulous providence and free will, but it also reconciles soteriological teachings like predestination and resistible grace, and it reconciles eternal security with the various apostasy-warning texts as I've argued elsewhere on this blog.
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Now of course, Richard does not agree with any of the arguments given for free will or against determinism. He dismisses both the philosophical arguments as well as the biblical arguments. And he argues tenaciously that God does not want all people to be saved and that God's grace is irresistible. But my point is that if you agree with the essential premises that both divine determinism and simple foreknowledge-+-free will are untenable views, I don't think you'd be unjustified in becoming a Molinist. Also, if one is not completely satisfied with regular old Arminian or regular old Calvinist soteriology, why not fuse the apparently contradictory beliefs from the 2 camps in a coherent way? The only debate should lie in whether the reasons to reject all of the competing views are good reasons. I would say they are, but Richard would say no. For example, Richard might argue that the texts that appear to support free will don't really teach free will. Richard might argue that in that case, only the determinism scriptures need be considered. That's ok, but I would hope that Richard realizes that we're not trying to impose things onto the text, but that we're trying to harmonize apparently contradictory texts. Richard may, like a lot of Arminians and Calvinists, not think there's anything there to be harmonized. Again, that's fine, but the point is that no one is saying the scriptures teach Molinism, but that they teach things that can be best explained by Molinism. This is why I often tell people "The Bible doesn't teach Molinism, but The Bible is best explained by Molinism." 
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My main point in writing this post is to explain the logic behind the abductive argument for Molinism rather then defending the premises, so that to point out that I haven't proven the scriptures teach resistible grace or libertarian free will will be illegitimate criticisms. My point isn't to defend the reasons why we should reject divine determinism, open theism, and simple foreknowledge (leaving Molinism the only remaining option), but simply to explain the reasoning of the argument. I've given my defense of the premises in posts like "5 Reasons To Believe That Molinism Is True" and in "Is Molinism Biblical?" 
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Molinism is a case of systematic theology. Just like how we believe the Trinity is the best explanation of 5 biblical teachings, I believe in Molinism on the basis of the aforementioned biblical teachings. I believe the Trinity because The Bible teaches (1) There is only 1 God, (2) The Father is God, (3) the Son is God (4) The Holy Spirit is God, and (5) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons. The doctrine of the Trinity best explains these 5 different biblical facts, ergo, it doesn't matter if The Bible never explicitly says "God is 3 persons is 1 divine essence". We can infer that "God is 3 persons in 1 divine essence" on the basis of the 5 aforementioned teachings. Now of course, Jehova's Witness and Mormon theology can explain points 1, 2, and 5, but not points 3 and 4 which it rejects. Modalism can explain points 1, 2, 3, and 4, but not 5, and in fact modalists reject point 5. Jehova's Witness theology and modalism can explain some aspects of scripture, but not others, and the adherents in fact reject that there are any "others" to be explained.  A JW or Mormon would deny that The Bible even teaches points 3 and 4, and a modalist would deny that The Bible teaches point 5. Similarly, determinism, open theism, and simple foreknowledge can explain some aspects of scripture, but not others, and the adherents in fact reject that there are any "others" to be explained.  I think that in both cases there are "others" to be explained. A determinist would deny The Bible even teaches that humans have free will while an Arminian or Open Theist would deny that God meticulously controls what happens in the world. So a detractor of Molinism might say "What's there to reconcile?" and we (i.e Molinists and non-Molinists) can debate whether scripture really teaches the things we Molinists believe are otherwise in tension. So when Richard says "All of the premises of the trinity are exegeted from Scripture. The other passages are interpreted in light of that exegesis. But in the case of Molinism, there just are no passages upon which one can base their interpretation." he's really just denying that there's anything in tension to be explained and that ergo, there's no need to jump to Molinism to ease said tension, just like how Modalists, Jehova's Witnesses, Mormons, Arians etc. reject "the premises of the trinity [that] are exegeted from Scripture." and they therefore don't believe God is 3 persons in 1 divine essence. 
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I think Richard has a point that the authors of scripture didn't have Molinism in mind when they penned their texts, but one could just as well argue that the Old Testament authors didn't have the Trinity in mind when they penned texts like Psalm 10 or Psalm 45. Yet the NT authors tell us that The Holy Spirit had that view in mind. Now, of course, we have additional revelation to tell us that these Old Testament scriptures had a different meaning, and one may object that we have no additional revelation to shed light on the OT and NT scriptures to affirm a Molinistic interpretation (((i.e there's no New New Testament"))), but my point is that just because a biblical author didn't have something in mind when he wrote something down, that doesn't mean The Holy Spirit who inspired them didn't have that in mind. The psalmists likely didn't have a triune God in view when they penned Psalm 10 and Psalm 45, but The Holy Spirit did. Isn't it possible that God believed Molinism before it was cool? 
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IN CONCLUSION
I don't believe one is an eiesegete if they interpret predestination or seemingly deterministic texts in a Molinistic way. The Molinist is merely trying to hold a high view of sovereignty and libertarian free will in harmony. Most Molinists, myself included, would gladly adopt some other view if it better explained the data contained in scripture. As someone who wasn't completely satisfied with any non-Molinist view of divine providence or soteriology for a long time, I'm grateful that I discovered this gem of Luis Molina's. 

Molinism is not an exercise is eiesegesis. Molinism is a conclusion we come to after we've already exegeted the scriptures. It's a conclusion of how to coherently explain exegeted parts of scripture that, sans Molinism, appear to be at odds. 

William Hasker (an open theist, and no friend of Molinism) once wrote  

If you are committed to a strong' view of providence, according to which, down to the smallest detail, "things are as they are because God knowingly decided to create such a world,” and yet you also wish to maintain a libertarian conception of free will—if this is what you want, then Molinism is the only game in town.  

That is what I want because I think that's what scripture tells us. That's why I'm a Molinist. Scripture tells us that God meticulously orchestrates what goes on in the world, yet is also presupposes in many places and explicitly states in some that we are free and morally responsible agents. This is what scripture tells us. What scripture doesn't tell us is how both of these can be true at the same time. This is where I believe Molinism comes to the rescue.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Things Christians Should Think About During Hard Times


2016 has been a very difficult year for me. Me and my family has been struggling financially for the past year-and-a-half. It only gets worse as time goes on. My parents are in bad health, we can't afford to do anything, and just recently I thought that my dog might pass away as he was behaving like he was very sick. Fortunately his problem was only emotional not physical, and he's fine now, but I will went through a period of worry. I have constant anxiety over my parents health and our financial situation. As a result of my anxiety, my OCD is the worst that it has ever been in my entire life. The OCD website said that stress and anxiety can make the condition much worse and before I read that, I was perplexed at why the rituals I had to do were becoming so much more frequent and greater in number. But after reading that anxiety and stress can make it worse, it was no longer a mystery. I am emotionally bogged down.  I haven't even mentioned half of things I'm going through. At the time that I'm writing this (via speech to text on my phone), I am experiencing a bout of depression. I didn't even feel like getting on my computer to type this up. That's why I'm doing it on my phone's Blogger app while laying in bed.

Everybody is going through something. We've all got problems, we all have different kinds of problems but we all have problems nevertheless. As believers in Christ, there are things that we can remind ourselves to cope with the hard times that we go through in this life. It is these things that we can remind ourselves that I'm going to talk about in this blog post, and hopefully I can bring a little bit of comfort and peace to some of my readers who may be going through some stuff themselves. 

God Can Bring Good Out Of Suffering.

The Bible says that "God works all things for the good of those who love him, to those that are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28). What this means is that God, even though allows all sorts of bad things to happen to people, he will, and his Divine Providence, work these things out towards the ultimate good of those who love him. Romans 8:28 does not say that all things are good, but it does say that all things are worked for the good. I know that God has a plan for my life, and I have faith in him. I have faith that he will not permit anything to happen to me unless it is 4 my good or at least the good of someone I know. We cannot know the morally sufficient reasons for why God permits suffering. But as I pointed out in my blog post "The Problem Of Evil And Suffering" and in my blog post "5 Instances In The Bible Of God Having Good Reasons For Suffering", we can know at least how He can bring good out of evil even if we don't know what the specific good is that He'll bring out of this specific evil. Every event that occurs sends a ripple effect through history. God's reason for permitting some instance of suffering might not emerge until centuries later and perhaps even in another country. Any time travel enthusiast will tell you that every single event that happens in the world has a radical effect that will determine what the future will be like. If God did not allow evil X to occur at T-1 then that would determine whether or not good Y occurs at T-2. It may be that the only way to bring about the good that occurred at T-2 is if God allows the evil to occur at T-1.
Or perhaps good Y would only occur at T-10 and perhaps there's nothing but sorrow and heartache in between T-1 and T-10. God, being omniscient, knows that if the evil events occurring at T-1, T-2, T-3, etc. Then the good event at T-10 would not occur. Only if God did not intervene to stop the evils at T 1, T-2, and T-3, would the good at T-10 occur.

William Lane Craig uses a couple of illustrations in chapter 7 of his book "On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason And Precision". He uses the movie Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow as one of his illustrations. The movie starts out with Helen (Paltrow's character) rushing down the stairs to catch a train. As she nears the subway train, the movie branches off into two totally different paths that her life would take depending on whether or not she made it through the subway doors. On one branch, she enjoys a very happy and successful life. Everything is going right for her. However, on the other branch, she experiences a life of failure and unhappiness. Whether she experiences that happy life or the sad life all depends on whether or not she makes it through the subway doors. Just a single seemingly insignificant event had such a radical effect on her future. Even more interesting is the fact that whether or not she made it through the subway doors all depended on whether a little girl playing with a doll is snatched away by her father or momentarily blocks Helen's pass as she rushes towards the subway doors. And as Craig points out in his book, that difference might have been determined on whether or not they were delayed leaving the house because the little girl didn't like the cereal that her father gave her for breakfast or whether the man, while they were at the subway train, was distracted by something he read in the newspaper. The point that William Lane Craig was making in his book is that every event has a ripple effect on history. A seemingly insignificant event in a person's life can actually be very significant indeed. From our perspective, it may seem like God could have no good reason for allowing X to happen to us. But from God's perspective, things would look very differently. If Helen could see what the moviegoers saw about what her life would be like depending on whether or not she made it through the subway doors, she would be amazed. The most interesting part of this movie is its ending. In the happy, successful life, Helen is killed in an accident. In the life full of struggle and hardship, things start to look up and the life of hardship turned out to be the truly good life after all.

The fact that God is able to bring good out of suffering gives me some comfort. I have a promise from him in his holy word that he will work all things for my good. My suffering and my anxieties are not purposeless. They are all a part of a much bigger plan. A much grander scheme of things.

God Promised To Look After His Children

Jesus said "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the Lilies of the Field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'what shall we eat?' Or 'what shall we drink?' Or 'what shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 5:25-34

Jesus said that God would take care of his children. This brings me great comfort. It comforts me to know that God will always give me what I need even if he doesn't always give me what I want. Just as God feeds the birds of the air even though they do not read or store away and barns, I know that God will feed me as well. God will clothe me just as he clothes the Lilies of the Field even in the Lilies of the Field don't reap or spin. If I did not have faith in God's promises, I believe that my anxiety would be ten times worse than it is. I believe that my faith takes the edge off of my worry. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:26).

The verse I just quoted said that even though my heart and flesh may fail, God is the strength of my heart. My faith in God's promises keeps me going. Because I know that he will take care of all of my needs. However, that still does not remove my anxiety 100%, it only lessens the amount of anxiety I would have if I did not have faith in God. The reason I still have anxiety is because I know that even though God will always do what is best for me, I know that the best might involve terrible suffering. As C.S Lewis put it, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."  I worry not that God will let me down, or not take care of me, ; I worry that how He'll take care of me will be by allowing me to go through awful things. Yet, I still find comfort in the words of Christ as quoted above. I firmly believe that if it were not for my faith in Him, my anxiety would be so high that I would need to be on prescription meds to deal with it. I wish I had enough faith that I had no anxiety at all, but I am still being sanctified. I am still growing spiritually. Perhaps God will some day bring me to the point where I am at peace in all situations.

"God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" - Hebrews 13:5b

The Sorrows Of This Life Cannot Compare With The Glory That's In Store

The Christian music artist Jeremy Camp has a song called "There Will Be A Day" which I have grown to love even more in the past few weeks given all the stuff I've been going through. The song talks about that glorious day when the evil and suffering of this life will be done away with, and we'll no longer have any burdens or heartache, "There will be a day when the burdens of this place will be no more. We'll see Jesus face to face." 

Camp's song is based on and directly references the teachings of scripture. The Bible says "Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'" (Revelation 21:1-5)

The apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, lived a life of incredible suffering. Yet he wrote, “We do not lose heart. For this slight, momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The Christian philosopher William Lane Craig commented on this passage, saying "Paul imagines a scale, as it were, in which all the sufferings of this life are placed on one side, while on the other side is placed the glory that God will bestow on his children in heaven. The weight of glory is so great that it is literally beyond comparison with the suffering." 

Knowing that I have an eternity of unending joy awaiting me in the future has always given me hope. I know that the weight of glory and the sum total of the length of time I'll spend in Heaven will make the sum total of suffering I've endured in the light infinitesimally small by comparison. It will be like the pain of ripping a band-aid off compared with the rest of my life. For the Christian, the time spent in suffering and the time spent in bliss will be an infinitely disproportionate ratio. I have an eternity of uninterrupted happiness to look forward to. Moreover, I'll be reunited with friends and family members who have physically died, and I know I will be for all four of my grandparents and my parents know Christ. In fact, most of family knows the Lord. I can endure this life because I have the promise of a better one in the future, a perfect one. Until then, I'll hold onto Jesus always, and try to bring as many people with me through my ministry.

Conclusion

I hope what I've said in this blog post has encouraged you if you're going through a rough spot in your life as I am. Hopefully 2017 has better things in store for The Mintons. "Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning." - Psalm 30:5