Monday, September 12, 2016

Papal Priorities: Biblical Study or Saint Veneration?

Roman Catholics often raise the topic of authority and claim that we need an infallible interpreter to interpret Scripture.  This, they say, means we need the papacy.  But what does the papacy actually do or care about?

When pressed, however, Roman Catholic apologists typically acknowledge that an allegedly infallible interpretation has been provided for fewer than 20 verses (see this document from Roman Catholic apologist and pilgrimage promoter Steve Ray).  Moreover, when you dig into the claims about those verses, most of the interpretations are actually the alleged interpretations of ecumenical councils, rather than popes.

On the other hand, the Roman Catholic church also teaches that infallibility is exercised in the designation of a deceased person as a "saint."  How often is this alleged gift of infallibility exercised? John Paul II canonized 482 saints in 26 years (apparently a record number).  Benedict XVI canonized 45 saints in 7 years.  Francis has canonized 29 saints plus 812 companions of one of those, in his three years so far as pope.

I think it's fair to say that papal priorities are revealed by papal actions. In this case, the priority of the papacy is clearly on the veneration of the deceased, rather than on the study and interpretation of Scripture.  In the lifetime of most of my readers, the popes have never once infallibly interpreted Scripture but have allegedly infallibly canonized saints literally hundreds of times.

Roman Catholic apologists may say we need the popes to understand the Scriptures, but Roman Catholic practice demonstrates that announcing saints for veneration is far more central to the actual papal role.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Responding to Steve Tassi on Romans 9

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

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

The audience, however, are gentile Roman believers.  We see this in the first chapter:
Romans 1:7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
So, the audience is not the nation of Israel, but rather is believing Gentiles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This conclusion is unjustified.  To the extent it is premised on the arguments presented in its support, those arguments have been shown above to be incorrect.  Moreover, it is a conclusion that runs directly contrary to the text of Romans 9.  For example:
Romans 9:23-24 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
How can that be mercy on the nation of Israel if it includes not only Jews but also Gentiles?  It cannot.  Which is one of numerous reasons that Tassi's presentation on Romans 9 should be rejected.

-TurretinFan

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pope Francis on Luther on June 26, 2016

Pope Francis was interviewed aboard an airplane on June 26, 2016. In that interview he expressed the position that Luther was right about justification. Before we get too excited, though, please consider the statement in its full context:
Kleinjung: Holy Father, I wanted to ask you a question. Today you spoke of the gifts of the shared Churches, of the gifts shared by the Churches together. Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you.

Pope Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other...even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try...but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. - “when?” - “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know...the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things...against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together.
Some thoughts:
1) Notice that Francis doesn't make any promises regarding revitalizing Luther, even though that was what was asked.
2) Instead, Francis focuses primarily on ecuminism.
3) Although Francis appears to believe that Lutherans, Protestants, and Roman Catholics all agree on justification ("all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err.") his apparent basis for believing this is is the joint statement on justification, one which he acknowledges expresses divisions as well as agreement: "today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, ... ."
4) Moreover, neither that document nor this statement repudiates Trent's denial of justification by faith alone.

So, what the Pope means by agreement with Luther on justification is not something Luther would count as agreement. It is a very high level agreement, such as is found in the "joint statement on justification," and not one that addresses what Luther saw as the central point of the Reformation.

-TurretinFan

Friday, May 27, 2016

Westminster Confession: Cessationist as to Revelatory Gifts

The Westminster Confession of Faith is explicitly cessationist, at least with respect to the revelatory gifts. It states:
I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable;[1] yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.[2] Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church;[3] and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing;[4] which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;[5] those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.[6]

[1] ROM 2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another; 1:19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. PSA 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. 2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. 3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. ROM 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. 2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

[2] 1CO 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

[3] HEB 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.

[4] PRO 22:19 That thy trust may be in the Lord, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee. 20 Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, 21 That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee? LUK 1:3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. ROM 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. MAT 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. ISA 8:19 And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? 20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

[5] 2TI 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 2PE 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.

[6] HEB 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.
Yet there is apparently doubt in the minds of some that this confession is explicitly cessationist with respect to the revelatory gifts. While the text itself is rather clear on its face, it may be worth considering what Reformed commentators have said in their commentaries on the Confession or related catechisms.

It will be noted that the Confession sharply contradicts the view popularized today by the neo-Pentecostal movement. In essence this view would have us believe that we can have the same charismatic gifts today-- such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing -- that we read occurred in the age of the apostles. This is a very serious error. In essence it is a result of a failure to grasp the biblical teaching concerning the history of salvation. The Bible itself makes it clear that there are many things in the history of redemption that cannot, and will not, be repeated. There will never again by a universal flood, or a crossing of the Red Sea, or a virgin birth. Never again will there be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit such as took place on the day of Pentecost. The sending of the Holy Spirit is just as much an unrepeatable event as the birth of Christ was. It is for this reason that the miracles -- the signs and wonders -- that we read of in the Bible were not constantly occurring but, rather, centered on the major events in the process of revelation. Note, for instance, how few the miracles are in the Bible until we come to the time of Moses (the author of the first part of the Bible). Note also how the signs and wonders that we read of in the book of Acts are always associated with the presence of the apostles. For these, and similar facts, there is a reason. The reason is that these signs and wonders were given by God to attest and confirm that these men were his spokesmen. And since this process came to completion in the finished work of Christ, and the testimony of these men is now deposited in the Scriptures, the Bible alone is God's present revelation.
G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith: For Study Classes, pp. 4-5 (link)

Quest. III. "Are these former Ways of God's revealing his Will unto his People now ceased?"
Yes.
Well then, do not the Enthusiasts and Quakers err, who maintain, That the Lord hath not ceased yet to reveal his Will as he did of old?
Yes.
By what Reasons are they confuted?
1st, Because God who at sundry Times, and in divers Manners, spake in Times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, hat in these last Days spoken unto us by his Son. Heb. 1:1-2. The Apostle calls the Time of the New Testament the last Days, because under the same, there is no more Alteration to be expected, but all Things are to abide without adding, or taking away, as was taught and ordained by Christ, until the last Day; See also Joel 2:18, Acts 2:17. The Ways and Manners of old were first by Inspiration, 1 Chron. 15:1, Isai. 49:21, 2 Pet. 1:21. Secondly, By Visions, Num. 12:6,8. Thirdly, By Dreams, Job 33:14,15, Gen. 40:8. Fourthly, By Urim and Thummim, Num. 27:21, 1 Sam. 30:7,8. Fifthly, By Signs, Gen. 32:24, Exod. 13:21. Sixthly, By Audible Voice, Exod. 20:1, Gen. 22:15. All which do end in Writing, Exod. 17:17, 14 which is a most sure and infallible Way of the Lord's revealing his Will unto his People.

David Dickinson, Truth's Victory over Error (a commentary on the WCF), pp. 31-32 (link)

Q. 26. Why are the scriptures from Matthew to the end of the Revelation, called the New Testament?

A. Because they contain the most clear and full revelation, and actual ratification of the covenant of promise, by the death of Christ the Testator, who is also the living Executor of his own testament, Rev. 1:18 -- "I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore." John 14:19 -- "Because I live, ye shall live also."

Q. 27. Will this New Testament dispensation of the grace of God ever undergo any other alteration?

A. No; it will remain new and unalterable, till the second coming of the Lord Jesus, Mat. 26:29.

...

Q. 46. Is the light within men, or the Spirit without the word, which is pretended to by the Quakers, and other enthusiasts, to be used as any rule for our direction?

A. No; because whatever light or spirit is pretended to, without the word, it is but darkness, delusion, and a spirit of error, 1 John 4:1, 6.
Fisher's Catechism (The Shorter Catechism Explained) at Question 2 (link)

Q. Why doth not God still work miracles for the confirmation of the scriptures? A. Because they were only necessary to establish truth at first, and to awaken the world to consider and receiver it; and if always wrought, be esteemed common things, and make no impression on the minds of men, Exod. iv.--xiv. &c.
John Brown, "An Essay Towards and Easy, Plain, Practical, and Extensive Explication of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism" (link)

The idea of the completeness of Scripture also implies that nothing is to be added to or taken from them at any time. The canon of Scripture is complete and closed, and all that men need for faith and life is therein contained. Hence no supposed new revelations of the Spirit are to be added, and the opinions and traditions of men are to be excluded.
Francis Robert Beattie, The Presbyterian Standards, p. 49 (link)

These are "the ONLY rule to direct us." We have seen that they are a rule, but now we see there is none other.
William Paton Mackay, Notes on the Shorter Catechism, pp. 5-6 (link)

The fourth proposition asserts, that this revelation has been committed to writing until the time of Moses, or for a period of two thousand five hundred years, no part of the sacred books was written. God then communicated his will to the Church by immediate revelation; and the long lives of the patriarchs enabled them to preserve uncorrupted what was so revealed, and to transmit it from generation to generation. Two persons might have conveyed it down from Adam to Abraham; for Methuselah lived above three hundred years while Adam was yet alive, and Shem lived almost a hundred years with Methuselah, and above a hundred years with Abraham. But after the lives of men severe shortened, and revelation was greatly enlarged, it pleased God that the whole of his revealed will should be committed to writing, that the Church might have a standing rule of faith and practice, by which all doctrines might be examined, and all actions regulated,–that sacred truth might be preserved uncorrupted and entire,–that it might be propagated throughout the several nations of the earth, and might be conveyed down to all succeeding generation. Though, in the infancy of the Church, God taught his people without the written Word, yet now that he former ways of revealing his will to his people have ceased, the Holy Scripture, or written Word, is most necessary. Without this the Church would be left to the uncertainty of tradition and oral teaching; but the written Word is a sure test of doctrines, and a light in a dark place, both of which are most necessary.–Isa viii. 20; 2 Pet. i. 19.
Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith

Hence, the Confession teaches in this section --
3. That consequently it has pleased God, of his sovereign grace, to make, in various ways and at different times, a super natural revelation of himself and of his purposes to a chosen portion of the human family. And that --
4. God has been pleased subsequently to commit that revelation to writing, and it is now exclusively embraced in the Sacred Scriptures.
Since, as above shown, the light of nature is insufficient to enable men to attain such a knowledge of God and his will as is necessary for salvation, it follows -- (1.) That a supernatural revelation is absolutely necessary for man; and, (2.) From what natural religion alone teaches us of the character of God, it follows that the giving of such a revelation is in the highest degree antecedently probable on his part. Man is essentially a moral agent, and needs a clearly revealed rule of duty; and a religious being, craving communion with God. In his natural state these are both unsatisfied. But God is the author of human nature. His intelligence leads us to believe that he will complete all his works and crown a religious nature with the gift of a religion practically adequate to its wants. The benevolence of God leads us to anticipate that he will not leave his creatures in bewilderment and ruin for the want of light as to their condition and duties. And his righteousness occasions the presumption that he will at some time speak in definite and authoritative tones to the conscience of his subjects. (3.) As a matter of fact, God has given such a revelation. Indeed he has in no period of human history left himself without a witness. His communications to mankind through the first three thousand years were made in very "diverse manners"-- by theophanies and audible voices, dreams, visions, the Urim and Thummim, and prophetic inspiration; and the results of these communications were diffused and perpetuated by means of tradition.
A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary

As miracles are now ceased, so such a method of confirming divine revelation is not necessary in all succeeding ages: God did not design to make that dispensation too common, nor to continue the evidence it affords, when there was no necessity thereof.
Thomas Ridgeley, A Body of Divinity, p. 115

-TurretinFan

BONUS (on the topic, but not directly addressing what the standards say):
2. After the faith of Christ was sufficiently confirmed, miracles ceased; and it was fit they should cease, for God doth nothing unnecessarily. The Christian doctrine is the same that it was, and is to be the same till the end of the world; we have a sure and authentic record of it, which is the holy scriptures. The truth of Christ's office and doctrine is fully proved, and cometh transmitted to us by the consent of many successions of ages, in whose experience God hath blessed it to the converting, comforting, and saving of many a soul. Look, as the Jews, every time the law was brought forth, were not to expect the thunderings and lightnings, and the voice of the terrible trumpet, with which it was given at first on Mount Sinai (one solemn confirmation served for after ages); they knew it was a law given by the ministry of angels, and so entertained it with veneration and respect; so Christianity needed to be once solemnly confirmed (after ages have the use of the first miracles); for the apostle compareth these two things, the giving of the law and the gospel: Heb. 2:2-4, 'For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward: how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him?' we must be contented with God's owning it now only in the way of his Spirit and providence.
Thomas Manton, Seventh Sermon on 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2, (link)

Monday, May 02, 2016

Veneration of Images - Affirmative Constructive

The question today is whether image veneration is Biblical and Historical. Well, of course, in a sense it is. In Genesis 31 we have the first reference to people having “gods” when Rachel stole them from her father’s house. Then, in Genesis 35 we have the first purge of them. Jacob hid them under the oak in Shechem.

They were again forbidden during the Exodus, but when Moses delayed coming down from the mount, the people demanded an image, and Aaron complied by making one (Exodus 32). And the Old Testament law is very explicit in forbidding these objects of veneration – not just in the second commandment, but also in Exodus 34:17, Leviticus 19:4, 26:1, and so on.

The Old Testament contains numerous warnings against idolatry, both explicit and implicit. Jeroboam, the first king of the ten tribes, was a mighty man of valour and was ordained by God himself to be their king. But as soon as Jeroboam put up idols for the worship of God, God turned against him (1 Kings 14) and he became known as Jeroboam who made Israel to sin because he set up the veneration of the golden calves.

There were, of course, images in a religious setting in the Old Testament. There were angels above the ark of the covenant, for example. But these images were not venerated. Another example would be the brass serpent. Looking at the brass serpent miraculously cured those bitten by the firey serpents. However, when the people started venerating that serpent (by burning incense to it), Hezekiah was praised for destroying it (2 Kings 18).

Indeed, Hezekiah was praised in the same place for removing all the unauthorized worship, including the high places, the groves, and the images. And that’s the constant theme in the Old Testament.

Even the Apocrypha or “Deuterocanonical” books and parts are not an exception. The story of Bel in Daniel 14 makes a mockery of the veneration of idols in a way that is roughly consistent with the canonical view of idol worship as improper and ridiculous – and reflects the views of Jews in the intertestamental period.

We see the same thing in Tobit, which predicts: “And all nations shall turn, and fear the Lord God truly, and shall bury their idols.” (Tobit 14:6)

We see the same thing in the added part of Esther, which associates idols with heathen worship (Esther 14:8-10).

We see the same thing in Wisdom 14:11-30 and 15:15, which includes a long explanation of the foolishness of venerating images.

We see the same thing in Ecclesiasticus 30:19
We see the same thing in the Letter of Jeremiah 1:73 “Better therefore is the just man that hath none idols: for he shall be far from reproach.”

Both first and second Maccabees contain only negative references to idols as well.

But what about the New Testament. Well, no surprise, the New Testament continues to be anti-idol. The dozens of references to images for veneration in the New Testament all depict the use of such images negatively.

Paul repeatedly distinguishes Christian worship from that of the pagans by comparison to worship via images. For example:

1 Corinthians 12:2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

And let’s be clear the idols and icons you see in churches today are just as unable to speak as those that Paul confronted.

Thus, when preaching to the idolaters on Mars Hill, Paul said:

Acts 17:24-31
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

The point of Paul’s diatribe is not that the Athenians should start worshiping crucifixes instead of statues of Jupiter. Instead, the point is that idol worship should altogether shunned and the living God should be worshiped.

Do you remember the opposition that Paul got in Ephesus? It was because Demetrius, the silversmith, realized that Paul’s message was iconoclastic. He wasn’t going to have to melt down the silver shrines for Diana, if Paul’s religion was right there would be no more demand for his work.

John’s first general epistle contains a blunt admonition:

1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

So then, the New Testament is fully consistent with the Old on this point. The incarnation did not change the rules – it didn’t suddenly make the veneration of images ok. Instead, they remain forbidden.

But what about the early church? Eventually, image worship crept into the church as well.

Augustine, in Sermon 198, explains:

Why have I said this? Please consider carefully the chief point I’m making. We had started to deal with the apparently better educated pagans — because the less educated are the ones who do the things about which these do not wish to be taken to task — so with the better educated ones, since they say to us, “You people also have your adorers of columns, and sometimes even of pictures.” And would to God that we didn’t have them, and may the Lord grant that we don’t go on having them! But all the same, this is not what the Church teaches you. I mean, which priest of theirs ever climbed into a pulpit and from there commanded the people not to adore idols, in the way that we, in Christ, publicly preach against the adoration of columns or of the stones of buildings in holy places, or even of pictures? On the contrary indeed, it was their very priests who used to turn to the idols and offer them victims for their congregations, and would still like to do so now.

So, by Augustine’s day such veneration of images had begun to creep in, but was being resisted. We have other examples from church history of some of the opposition to image worship as it crept in, but eventually it became quite widespread.

It’s not really until the end of the patristic period that we see John of Damascus (8th century) defend the veneration of images. And that’s not just based on my own reading – I checked the Jurgens quote book to see what Roman Catholic patristics folks could identify – there were only three quotations on the topic in the entire collection, none of those were from before Nicaea, one of them was an erroneous categorization, one was alleged to be from Basil (but is from a fragment found in an a later catena) and the one from John of Damascus.

What’s the exact day? It’s hard to be precise, but consider this – they found what appears to be some kind of ancient church at an excavation site called Dura Europos. Those excavating it concluded that it was destroyed around the middle of the third century. If that dating is correct, and if the building was really a church, it would be the earliest example we know of, of a church being decorated as it was.

We don’t seem to know anything about whatever group worshiped there. Thus, I think it would be optimism to suggest that anyone was venerating the murals in that building. Is it possible? Of course it’s possible – men have been inclined toward idolatry since at least the time of Jacob and probably earlier.

Is the veneration of such images Biblical and historical? It’s certainly been done a lot in history, and it’s mentioned in the Bible, but the Bible condemned it and our best historical reconstruction of the early church based on their writings suggest that they didn’t venerate images.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Theonomy vs. Contemporary Christian Legal Norms

Using the Bible to define what laws are just and unjust can lead to a number of conflicts with contemporary legal systems and even legal systems favored by Christians today.  This post will mention two that I think are more controversial but under mentioned:

1) No Inchoate Crimes

The general rule of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is a principle of retributive justice.  In a case where a person attempts to knock out your tooth but misses (and doesn't harm you), there is no punishment in this system.  The same goes for attempted murder.  The principle is "he who sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" rather than "he who tries to shed man's blood ... ."

2) No Conspiracy, Solicitation Crimes

Also, there is no provision in the Bible for punishment of people who merely plot a crime or pay someone else to commit a crime.  Asking someone to kill someone else for you was not itself a crime.

There was one exception.  It was a crime to solicit apostasy (see Deuteronomy 13).

In both of the above examples, contemporary Christians are comfortable with punishing people both for inchoate crimes, like "attempted murder," and for distant participation in crimes, like "soliciting murder."  There are at least two good explanations for this: both of those activities are sinful (and heinously so) and they grew up in a place where those sinful activities are criminal.

-TurretinFan

Monday, March 28, 2016

Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity - One Point of Contrast

Qin Shi Huang (260 - 210 BC) is the most prominent of the Chinese emperors. He united China through conquest, began the Great Wall of China, and had the Terra Cotta warriors built. He's significant to Confucianism - and especially the textual transmission of Confucius' works - because toward the end of his reign he engaged in a process of burning books and burying scholars. The scholars that were allegedly buried alive were apparently Confucian scholars, and Confucian works were apparently largely destroyed by the Emperor's decree.

The Qin dynasty ended shortly after Qin's death, and was replaced by the Han dynasty. In A.D. 9, Wang Mang (45 BC - A.D. 23) usurped the throne from the ruling family and set up his own short-lived dynasty. During Wang Mang's reign, it was alleged that some of Confucius' writings had been rediscovered. Wang Mang apparently used these texts in an attempt to support his own reforms.

Robert Greene (in "The 48 Laws of Power," p. 397) explains it this way:
Reigning from A.D. 8 to A.D. 23, the Chinese emperor Wang Mang emerged from a period of great historical turbulence in which the people yearned for order, an order represented for them by Confucius. Some two hundred years earlier, however, Emperor Ch'in had ordered the writings of Confucius burned. A few years later, word had spread that certain texts had miraculously survived, hidden under the scholar's house. These texts may not have been genuine, but they gave Wang his opportunity: He first confiscated them, then had his scribes insert passages into them that seemed to support the changes he had been imposing on the country. When he released the texts, it seemed that Confucius sanctioned Wang's reforms, and the people felt comforted and accepted them more easily.

Burning Books, by Matthew Fishburn similarly reports:
The first recorded state-sponsored book burning is the destruction ordered by Grand Councillor Li Ssu in Ch’in China in 213 BC. The country had been newly unified under Ch’in Shih-huang-ti, and he signified his rule with the order to burn the books of any historian or partisan of the defeated Shih or Shu. The Emperor is also known for beginning construction of the Great Wall, and even forced people convicted of protecting books to work on its construction; condemning, as Borges incisively commented, ‘those who adored the past to a work as vast as the past, as stupid and as useless’. This was not, as Lois Mai Chan has emphasized, unmediated destruction. There were exemptions for all manner of practical or scientific works and, just as importantly, even the objectionable books were preserved in imperial archives and allowed to be kept by the official scholars. As is often the case with such suppression, it is difficult to assess the extent of the initial destruction, but it is certain that this centralization of the written record increased the devastation when the Imperial Archives were attacked and destroyed in 206 BC. The association between censorship and aridity has its symbol in the legend that grass never grew on the spot where the books of the scholars were burned.
(p. 2)

While there is controversy (apparently to this day) about the nature and extent of Qin's burning of books, and of Wang Mang's (or others') possible editing or forging of Confucian writings, these controversies were all made possible by the fact that Qin had control of the geographic area where Confucius' works circulated, and the means for effectively destroying those works.

This parallels the history of the transmission of the Qur'an. The first caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr, is said to have collected the Qur'an in A.D. 634. Nevertheless, various versions of the Qur'an were apparently circulating during reign of the third caliph, Uthman (reigned A.D. 644 - 656). Uthman created a standard text of the Qur'an and had the other copies burned. This was possible because Uthman had control of the geographic area where the Qur'an circulated and the means for effectively destroying competing copies.

There is, however, no close parallel in Christianity. Christianity rapidly spread copies of books of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) beyond the reach of the Roman Empire. Christianity had no centralized earthly ruler and by the time emperors like Constantine or Roman bishops tried to operate in such a capacity, the text of the New Testament was so well established and widespread that any attempt to edit or control the text would have been ineffective. While this uncontrolled transmission of the text may seem messy it is one of the means by which we can have confidence in the text today, without the need for a continued prophetic witness.

P.S. For your interest:
There is considerable debate about which, if any, of these books were directly written by Confucius himself. The main source of his quotations, the Analects, was not written by him. As with many other spiritual leaders such as Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus, or Socrates, our main source of Confucius' thought, the Analects, was written down by his disciples. Some of the core canon is argued to have been written by Confucius himself, such as the Spring and Autumn Annals. There is considerable debate about this, however.
This factor is further complicated by the "Burning of the Books and Burying of the Scholars", a massive suppression of dissenting thought during the Qin Dynasty, more than two centuries after Confucius' death. The emperor Qin Shi Huang destroyed a great number of books, possibly destroying other books written by Confucius or his disciples in the process.
The current canon of Four Books and Five Classics was formulated by Zhu Xi. Many versions contain his extensive commentaries on the books. The fact that his specific version of the Confucian canon became the core canon can be seen as an example of his influence in Confucianism.
Other books are not included in the current canon but once were. The major example is the Xun Zi.
(source)


See also:
In AD 9, Wang Mang usurped the throne and created the Xin Dynasty. The Western Han dynasty had ended after 198 years of consecutive rule.
Wang Mang hoped to gather support from the peasantry be introducing reforms. Wang Mang announced the discovery of books written by Confucius, which were supposedly discovered after Confucius’ house, was destroyed more than two hundred years ago. The discovered work supported the same kind of reform that Wang Mang sought.
Wang Mang defended his policies by quoting from the discovered books. Following what was portrayed as Confucian scripture; he decreed a return to the golden times when every man had his measure of land to till, land that in principle belonged to the state. He declared that a family of less than eight that had more than fifteen acres was obligated to distribute the excess amount of land to those who had none.
(source)

Monday, March 07, 2016

Further Evidence of Jesus' Divinity from the Modern Versions

Jude 5 provides another evidence of Jesus' divinity in the modern versions. In the KJV, Jude includes the following pair of pericopes:
Jude 3-7
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

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

It's not just his pre-incarnate personal existence, though. The redemption from Egypt is the key identifier of YHWH as the God of Israel in the Old Testament:
Exodus 20:2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Exodus 29:46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God.
Leviticus 11:45 For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Numbers 15:41 I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 5:6 I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Joshua 24:17 For the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:
Psalm 81:10 I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Daniel 9:15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
This is why it is no small thing for Jude to identify Jesus as the one who brought up Israel out of Egypt.

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

This argument for Jesus' divinity works in either version, and does not depend on the text one chooses. If one chooses the Textus Receptus, keep in mind that the Greek is this:
... καὶ τὸν μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν, καὶ Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἀρνούμενοι ὑπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας ὑμᾶς ἅπαξ τοῦτο, ὅτι ὁ Κύριος λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας, ...
First, the construction "τὸν μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν, καὶ Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν" is an example of the Granville Sharp construction, and consequently both "μόνον δεσπότην Θεὸν" (only master God) and "Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν" (our Lord Jesus Christ) refer to the same person.

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

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

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

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

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

-TurretinFan

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



Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dichotomies and Options

Apparently some atheists with whom Matt Slick deals have been accusing him of presenting a false dichotomy. He's not. Let me explain.

Matt has correctly identified the following as a dichotomy:

1) It is the case that God created the universe; or
2) It is not the case that God created the universe.

Matt has pointed out that if either of those statements is false, then the other is true.

The atheists have objected based on the fact that there are several possible ways by which (2) may be true, while (1) is false. For example:

(a) statement (1) is false if something other than God created the universe;
-- (a)(i) statement (1) is false if Odin created the universe;
-- (a)(ii) statement (1) is false if Zeus created the universe;
-- (a)(iii) statement (1) is false if Krishna created the universe;
-- (a)(iv) statement (1) is false if Allah created the universe;
(b) statement (1) is false if the universe is uncreated; and
(c) statement (1) is false if there is no universe.

While it's true that there are (logically speaking) these various options, it does not follow that the dichotomy is not a true dichotomy.

Where the atheists would have a point is against the case where Matt demonstrated that (c) is false, and consequently affirmed that (1) is true. That would be a fallacious way of arguing - but that's not what Matt does. Similarly, Matt doesn't simply demonstrate that (a)(ii) is false, and consequently affirm that (1) is true. Instead, Matt demonstrates that (2) is false and consequently affirms that (1) is true.

In other words, the dichotomy is:

1) It is true that all of A, B, and C are true; or
2) It is not true that all of A, B, and C are true.

But it is still a dichotomy, and Matt's argument is valid so long as he doesn't simply jump from A is true, therefore 1 is true.

-TurretinFan

Friday, February 19, 2016

Another Evidence of Jesus' Divinity from the Modern Versions

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

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

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

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

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

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

-TurretinFan

(Part 1 of this series)