Monday, September 30, 2002

New Blog

Joel Fuhrmann, a longtime friend of this blog, has started a new blog named Religious Left Watch. I recommend you take a look.

Name Those Animals

I have many questions about a literal six twenty-four-hour-day young-earth view of creation. Most of them are technical in nature, having to deal with difficulties in reconciling fossil, geological, and cosmological evidence, each of which independently points to an earth and a universe that is much older than young-earthers believe.

However, today I want to discuss what I see as another problem with a literal interpretation of the timelines in the creation account of Genesis, a non-scientific issue that is related to man’s finite capabilities.

In Genesis 1, on the sixth day, God created man and woman:
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26-27)
In the more detailed account of Genesis 2, we read
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:15-22, NIV)

There are several interesting aspects of this passage. One is that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Surely God already knew this to be the case; it didn’t just suddenly occur to God that man should not be alone. God would have known this before he created Adam. A possible scenario is that God is responding to a weariness that had befallen Adam, one that He knew would eventually arise, and one that we would expect to take a while (days, week’s, months, years?) to develop.

Given that Adam had not experienced human contact, and especially given that he had a relationship with God more intimate that any other man would enjoy, it is unlikely that Adam would immediately experience loneliness.

This is, of course, all speculation. In verse 18, it may very well be that what God is saying is that He will make Eve because he knows that Adam needs a helper and that eventually Adam would become lonely.

The real question, in my mind, is the naming of the animals, which is done between God’s statement that man should not be alone, and the creation of Eve. (Returning to the speculation for a moment, could God have been using this activity to teach Adam why he was lonely? That in this vast array of life, presumably both male and female, there was nothing of his kind?) It states that God brought all the live stock and all the beasts of the fields and all the birds of the air for Adam to name. How long do you suppose that would take? Granted God could instantly transport an animal to the garden for Adam to view. However, is it not reasonable that Adam pondered, in human time intervals, the characteristics of each animal before naming it?

There are over 10,000 known species of bird. If Adam took just 10 seconds to ponder each species it would take more than a day (86,400 seconds) to name just the birds. And that is without mentioning all the livestock and all the beasts of the field.

It seems unlikely that Adam could have done this in twenty four hours. And that is a maximum of twenty four: since all this happened on the sixth day he has twenty-four hours if God made Adam at the very beginning of the sixth day (although it states He created animals before Adam on the sixth day), and immediately gave Adam this job (although it appears that He first gave Adam the job of tending the Garden) and made Eve at the last instant of the sixth day. Any other scenario gives Adam even less time to name the animals.

In addition, Adam hat to eat. He had to go to the bathroom. He may even have gotten tired and needed breaks.

How long would it take to name the animals? Not very long—it does not imply that Adam pondered such questions as whether rabbits were in the rodent family. Still, it seems like a job that would take weeks if not months. And after he was done, we are told that for Adam, no suitable helper was found. This is again a hint of God’s motive, to teach Adam why he was lonely.

This question differs from all the others in the old-earth/young-earth debate. All others are questions of (roughly) millions of years (fossils) or billions of years (geology/cosmology) versus six to ten thousand years (the young-earther’s presumed age of the earth). Questions also (falsely, in my opinion) involve God’s creative power, with assertions that old-earthers have a weak god that takes billions of years to do what the true God can do in six days. (The old-earth Christians, like me, do not affirm evolution, only that the scientific evidence points to an old earth and that the days in Genesis are not literal. We affirm creation was of God and the historic reality of Adam and Eve.)

The question of Adam’s classification of the animals is different. It does not pit science versus Genesis, for we are talking about modest time differences-- not millions or billions of years but weeks or months compared to a fraction of a day. More importantly, we are not talking about anything that can be (unfairly) cast as a challenge to God’s power, because the problem presented is based purely on Adam’s human limitations.

Friday, September 27, 2002

Our Dismal Condition before Rebirth

As described here, this post is part of my notes for my Sunday School.

We have talked about original sin, and how it has left us in a totally corrupted state.

The table below looks at some of the details of our condition prior to regeneration.

The intent of our heart is "only evil continuously". Gen. 6:5
Our "righteous" deeds are filthy garments. Isa. 64.6
Nobody is good. Luke 18:19
We cannot see the Kingdom of God .John 3:3
We are not righteous. Rom. 3:10
We do not understand; we do not seek God. Rom. 3:11
We have turned aside; we are useless. Rom. 3:12
None of us does good. Rom. 3:12
We do not fear God.Rom. 3:18
We are hostile to God. Rom 8:7
We are unable (not just unwilling) to submit to the law of God.Rom 8:7
We cannot please God.Rom 8:8
We were dead (not just gravely ill) in our sins.Eph 2:1
We walked according to Satan.Eph 2:2
We lived in the lusts of our flesh.Eph 2:3
We were children of wrath.Eph 2:3

For your convenience I have included the referenced verses (all from the NASB):
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa. 64:6)

And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. (Luke 18:19)

Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

10 as it is written,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." (Rom. 3:10-12)


7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8)

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3)
Prior to rebirth, we are in a state where nothing we do is good, nothing we do pleases God, nothing we do is aimed at finding God.

But don’t we see unsaved people doing good deeds all the time? Sometimes their efforts to help the needy put Christians to shame. Are these deeds truly like filthy garments?

Although their efforts provide comfort to the afflicted, as far as being meritorious to a perfectly Holy God, their deeds are tainted by the condition of their hearts. God looks not only at the outward conformity a deed with respect to His law, but also the motivation:

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. (1 Cor 4:5)
The inevitable conclusion, given the state of fallen man, is that every noble deed done by an unregenerate person will result from, at some level, selfish motivations. Such deeds may represent enlightened self-interest, but any interest placed on the self, even enlightened and/or minimal, impugns the motives.

Common Grace

Left on our own we cannot do anything good; anything that is pleasing to God. We Calvinists take this to its logical (at least for us) conclusion: we cannot turn to God on our own, even just to accept his offer, for surely such an acceptance would be good and would please God. You don’t have to go this far to acknowledge that, apart from God, man is morally bankrupt.

On the other hand, man is not as bad as he could be. Even the worst monsters: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, hard as it may seem, could have murdered more. As the humanists like to point out, most people appear, in terms of their outwardly day-to-day behavior, to be good. Indeed, the world around us abounds in Good Samaritans. In terms of “doing nice things”, it is hard to see any substantive difference between believers and the world. What is shameful is the flip side: that the statistics for some “bad” behavior, especially divorce, are not very different between those who profess Christ and those who do not.

The answer to this is what is described in the concept of Common Grace. God gives to all men a measure of restraint. I don’t know all the reasons, but presumably one of them is to prevent us from self-destructing as a species. Here is where we disagree with the humanists: man is not intrinsically good, forced into evil by genetics or the environment. Man is intrinsically bad with wholesale degradation avoided only by God's grace.

God’s removal of this restraint, either gradually or dramatically, is the frightening process of having one’s heart hardened, the most famous biblical example being that of Pharaoh. However, anyone holding onto a particular sin, refusing to repent and seek divine assistance in combating it, also runs the terrible risk of having his heart hardened:
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. (Rom 1:14, NASB)

God is not the author of sin. For his divine purposes he does at times withdraw his restraining influence in a person, revealing more of man’s truly fallen state. The dire consequences are entirely man’s fault, not God’s.

Lest we get too depressed, we should recall the continuation of the Ephesians passage:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (Eph. 2:4-5)

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Arminians: Why did you choose God?

Calvinists and Arminians, on paper, almost agree. One group says that regeneration is entirely by grace, the other that it is mostly by grace, 99.9% by grace, but at least a teeny bit is man choosing God.

Both are adamant that we are justified by faith alone. Again, Calvinists say that regeneration completely precedes faith, while Arminians have to allow for at least a small amount of faith to be present prior to regeneration in order that we may choose God.

Both are adamant that salvation is not of works. Calvinists say that even the little bit of responsibility that Arminians place on man's shoulders constitutes a work. Arminians argue that it is not a work in the usual sense; it is merely the desperate act of a person that has come to recognize his need for God.

Both agree that man has no inherit righteousness of which he can boast.

Calvinist’s argue that God offers grace to the elect, and while they may struggle against it, ultimately and inevitably their will is broken. In the Calvinist view, there is no such thing as a seeker. Someone may appear to be a seeker, but what they are really seeking is the peace that they desire and see in Christians; they are not seeking God but the gifts of God.
there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (Rom. 3:11)
Arminians argue that there is Prevenient Grace. This is grace available to all men and is sufficient to make any man recognize his sinful nature and seek God. Arminians do believe that man, utilizing Prevenient Grace, can seek God and of their own free will can choose to answer the knock:
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20)
Calvinists say that God chooses some and not others. The distinction is at God’s pleasure.

Arminians say that some choose God while others don’t. The choice is ours.

At this point, the two sides usually unleash the scriptural support for their respective position, and then demonstrate how the other side is using verses that are out of context or verses that mean something else entirely.

I am not in the mood for that methodology.

I would, however, like to ask what I think is one of the more difficult questions for the Arminian view: Why do some people, of their own free will, choose God while others reject him? We all agree that there can be two people with similar backgrounds, both can hear the same gospel message, and yet only one of the two responds positively. The one who chooses God does so because at that instant he wants God more than he doesn’t want God. Why?

Is it because God has given more grace to one than to the other? No, that would be no different from the Calvinist doctrine of divine election.

Is it because one person just happened to have the right combination of personality, experiences and education-- that one has gifts the other does not possess? Is that not some form of natural election? Or divine election through secondary causes?

Is it because one person recognizes his need for God, while the other doesn't? Is that not a humble, righteous act? Is he not then dependent on his own righteousness? Does he not then have something, namely his righteous humility, of which he can boast?

I don’t know the answer, but as a Calvinist I am not overly concerned. But I am interested. So if you have an explanation I would love to hear it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

The Jesus Seminar

[Jesus was] "a secular sage who satirized the pious and championed the poor. . . . Jesus was perhaps the first stand-up Jewish comic. Starting a new religion would have been the farthest thing from his mind" (Robert Funk, convener of the Jesus Seminar).
It is not my wont to engage in ad hominem attacks on those with whom I disagree.

Ayn Rand was not only a flaming atheist, but a bona fide religio-phobe. She didn’t just deny God; she despised all viewpoints save her own extreme form of humanism. Yet I would not call her “stupid” or “idiot” for it is clear she possessed a superior intellect.

Likewise for Bertrand Russell, Stephen J. Gould, Richard Dawkins, etc. Regardless of vast differences of opinion, I can restrain myself from labeling these men, as much as I would like, with terms that simply don’t apply.

It is just too easy and too unproductive to call someone with whom you disagree an “idiot”. I won’t do it.

With one exception: the self-selected "scholars" of the Jesus Seminar. Their work is beyond the pale. For them I make an exception.1

For those who do not know, the Jesus Seminar was convened in 1985 by "recognized biblical scholar", Robert Funk. It is a group of left-wing lunatic-fringe New Testament (mostly) academics (bear in mind an advanced degree does not make one a scholar) that set out to discover the real, historic Jesus.

The best that can be said regarding the talents of the Jesus Seminar Fellows is that they were geniuses at self-promotion. The obtained enviable media coverage of their sloppy work by cleverly marketing their academic credentials, misrepresenting themselves, not only as the crème-de-la-crème of New Testament scholarship but, more insidiously although just as inaccurately, as a representative cross section of biblical ideology. Their strategy was to bypass the inconvenience of normal, independent peer review and go straight to the masses with, for example, a cover story in Time magazine.

The signature product of the Seminar is the color coded The Five Gospels : The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. That’s right, five. They include the gnostic-laden, thoroughly discredited Gospel of Thomas as canonical. Although dated by most scholars at no earlier than the mid second century, The Seminar divined that some of the writings from the Thomas, those that most support their predetermined conclusions about Jesus, were actually written earlier than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Jesus Seminar used colored beads to vote on the authenticity of Jesus’ sayings. (As I said: marketing genius). The Five Gospels was color coded based on the results of the voting. The colors and their meanings were:
  • red: Jesus definitely said it
  • pink: Jesus probably said something like it
  • gray: Jesus did not say it, but the ideas expressed are close to his own
  • black: Jesus did not say it, it represents the perspective or content of a later tradition
The conclusions:
  • Jesus did not say 82% of what is attributed to Him.
  • Only 2% of the sayings attributed to Jesus were deemed worthy of "red"
In one of the more notorious examples, only two words (Our Father) from the Lord’s prayer were voted "red". (They must have slipped up on the word "Father"-- surely Jesus would have opened his prayer with "Our Parent".)

The Jesus Seminar blatantly and unashamedly set out to prove their own presupposition, that Jesus was just a really good man (and stand-up comic). They masqueraded as scholars, misrepresented their work as serious scholarship, and sold a bill of goods to the media. Brilliant it was—brilliant and insidious.

Consider the question of Jesus’ miracles. The logic of the Jesus seminar regarding miracles is:
  • Jesus was a man
  • No Fellow of the Jesus Seminar ever witnessed a miracle
  • Science cannot explain miracles, therefore they cannot happen
  • Therefore Jesus could not have performed miracles
  • Since he performed no miracles, we can conclude he was just a man (and stand-up comic)
Consequently, any reference to miracles was summarily dismissed as inauthentic because miracles don’t happen.

The Jesus Seminar used some interesting and novel criteria for determining the authenticity of Jesus’ sayings. One beauty is double dissimilarity, which states that any Gospel saying of Jesus that looks like something either a Rabbi or 1st century Christian leader would say must be rejected as inauthentic. The "logic" being that if someone else could have said it, they did-- and then it was edited into the alleged sayings of Jesus.

This is in spite of the fact that Jesus was a Rabbi and a 1st Century Christian leader. It is as if a historian claimed Abraham Lincoln might have said some things attributed to him, but certainly not those that sound as if they were made by a mid nineteenth century American politician.

Another criterion is the somewhat reasonable sounding double attestation, which means that there must be more than one source recording the alleged quote. Even on the surface, this is only “somewhat” reasonable because it is a stronger restriction that is used by other (respected) scholars of (nonbiblical) ancient history. The Jesus Seminar used this criterion as a bludgeon because they combined it with their (baseless) presupposition that Matthew and Luke copied Mark, so the three synoptic gospels are really only one source. Thus, according to the Jesus Seminar, the synoptic gospels cannot corroborate one another for that would be circular-- a logical flaw of which they are quite knowledgeable.

So even before any "serious, deliberate, and thoughtful" consideration, the Jesus Seminar rejected any saying that referred to a miracle, sounded like something a Rabbi or early Christian leader would say, and did not appear in both John and a synoptic gospel.

The scholarship of the Jesus Seminar has been rebuked by many serious bible scholars, both Catholic and Protestant. For example, Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, a Roman Catholic professor and bona fide New Testament scholar at Emory, in his book The Real Jesus, wrote about the Jesus Seminar: "This is not responsible, or even critical, scholarship. It is a self-indulgent charade."

1 Truth be told, I'd also make an exception for Bishop Spong. But that's it, really it is. Just don't get me started on Jesse Jackson.

UPDATE: Alert reader Joel pointed out that Bishop Spong IS an Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. He also corrected my labeling of Ayn Rand as a Humanist. The preferred label is Objectivist.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Capital Punishment

What does the New Testament teach about capital punishment? Opponents of the death penalty will point to Jesus' treatment the woman caught in what was a capital offense under the Mosaic law: adultery (Deut. 22:22-24, John 8:1:11) as proof that He opposed the death penalty. However, Christ’s mercy toward this woman is just that: mercy. After all, he imposed no punishment whatsoever on the woman, telling her that he did not condemn her (and that she should go and sin no more). Clearly this was not intended to be normative for all capital crime.

There is also the legal aspect. Christ was not on earth to serve as a judge in criminal or civil matters, which he stated clearly in Luke:
13 Someone in the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But He said to him, "Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?" (Luke 12:13-14, NASB)
Jesus knew that in bringing the woman to him (without her male partner, as required by law), his adversaries were not interested in justice for this woman’s husband, but rather in ensnaring Jesus in a dilemma. Jesus first dealt with the accusers (by his mysterious writing in the sand) and then closed the story on the legal farce by sending the woman away—with the admonition to cease her sinful ways.

Adultery may no longer be a crime punishable by death, except for women living under the Religion of Peace, but what about other heinous crimes, such as murder?

Paul makes what I consider a straightforward statement that God has given the right to civil authorities to administer capital punishment:
3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Rom. 13:1-4, NASB)
It seems to me that bearing the sword as a minister of God in order to bring wrath to one who practices evil is a clear description of the legality of capital punishment.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Jesus' Siblings

It is interesting to look at the question of whether Jesus had any actual (i.e., blood) half-siblings. Catholicism holds that Mary remained a virgin, and those references to Jesus' brothers and sisters were actually speaking of his cousins, as was customary in that day.

Indeed, cousins were sometimes referred to as brothers and sisters, although usually not in conjunction with a reference to a parent. In other words, it was common to introduce your cousin as your brother, but not to refer simultaneously to your mother and cousin as mother and brother. So when we read in Matthew:
55 "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 "And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" (Matt. 13:55-56, NASB)
we find no reason to believe that brothers and sisters means cousins. This is similar to this verse:
"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
in which, once again due to the simultaneous references to parents, it is quite dubious to hold that brothers and sisters are actually cousins.

In addition to parallel accounts, scripture refers to Jesus' brothers in other passages:
Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. (Mark 3:31, NASB)

But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Gal. 1:19, NASB)

After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days. (John 2:12, NASB)

These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:14, NASB)
These references, taken together with the fact that the Bible never teaches of Mary’s perpetual virginity, paint a clear picture that those spoken of are Jesus' actual half brothers and sisters. The only contrary scriptural argument is weak, namely that it is never stated explicitly that "brother means brother, not cousin or close relative."

The fact that Jesus asked John to care for his mother is a reasonable counterpoint. If Mary had other sons, wouldn’t they be responsible for her care? Legally, yes. But it must be remembered that at the time He spoke these words (John 19:26-27) it is very likely that none of Jesus' brothers were believers.
For not even His brothers were believing in Him. (John 7:5, NASB)
(Given that they were dishonoring Jesus, it seems even more unlikely that John would refer to Jesus' cousins as brothers. Also, Jesus' half-brother James was converted either as an eyewitness to the crucifixion or after the resurrection (1Cor 15:7).)

We have no details regarding the condition of His brothers' households at the time of His death. However it is easy for us to imagine a situation wherein we would prefer that a beloved fellow believer care for our mother rather than a sibling.

To all of this one must add the clear implication of:
But he [Joseph] had no union with her [Mary] until she gave birth to a son. (Matt. 1:25, NASB)

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Sovereignty of God

As described here, this post is part of my notes for my Sunday School.

In the Westminster Confession we read:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;
For scriptural support of this statement, we turn to passages such as this well-know verse from the book of Ephesians:
also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, (Eph. 1:11, NASB)
Note that the line from the Westminster confession does not say anything specific about Christianity. Jews and Moslems would agree with this definition of God’s Sovereignty. It is essentially a definition of Theism, and those who affirm it (apart from minor quibbles) are Theists. That makes those who reject it, atheists.

God is absolutely sovereign. He is in control of things large and small. Nothing happens apart from His eternal purpose.

That is worth repeating: Nothing happens apart from His eternal purpose. If He purposes Osama Bin Laden to convert to Christianity and enter a Presbyterian seminary and start radio ministry, it shall happen, and neither OBL nor all the mullahs in Arabia could thwart His will. The Apostle Paul, once the murderous Christian hater Saul, became the greatest preacher in history.

If it weren't so, then He is not God. If He wants something to happen, and it doesn't, then something or someone else is stronger than God.

This does not mean He is spending his time saying "Okay, now I am going to move that electron a few Angstroms to the left." But it does mean that that particular electron has ended up just were God intended when he set the foundations of the universe.
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?' (Dan. 4:35, NASB)

Sovereignty and Science

What does the Sovereignty of God imply about the study of science? Is it pointless? Not at all-- consider one example: gravity. God willed into existence the matter of the universe. He willed into existence the laws of gravity to move it around. He does not maintain the universe like a chessboard, but nevertheless it is doing precisely as he willed. It is perfectly legitimate for science to explore these secondary causes, such as Newton’s law of gravity.

Although God does not move the planets around "manually" like game pieces, He certainly can, at times, if he wants to:
Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel:

"Sun, stand still over Gibeon;
And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon."
So the sun stood still,
And the moon stopped,
Till the people had revenge
Upon their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. (Joshua 10:12-13, NKJV)
Now that must have been impressive.

No Maverick Molecules

In his book Chosen By God, R. C. Sproul puts it this way1:
If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s Sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.
In essence Sproul’s argument is that a single maverick molecule outside of God’s control, could interact with God’s domain in an unforeseen and unpredictable manner that ultimately thwarts God’s plan. A cosmic cataclysm not unlike the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger, the mighty vehicle that tragically exploded because of a problem with lowly rubber O ring.

Now, in my opinion, some aspects of science do conflict with God's sovereignty. One is the role that chance plays in quantum mechanics. When we look at two identical radioactive nuclei, all we can say for certain is the probability that either will decay. We can't say which nucleus will decay first. This is precisely Einstein's "God does not play dice with the universe" complaint. The probabilistic view of nature allows us to be very accurate in predictions concerning macroscopic quantities of nuclei, but quite ignorant about the fate of any individual nucleus. And if a nucleus can decay out of God's control then we are back to the maverick molecule problem.

Two Big Problems with God’s Sovereignty

There are two big problems we encounter when trying to understand God’s Sovereignty. The first is: How does His Sovereignty coexist with our free will? The Westminster Confession follows its clear statement of God’s Sovereignty with a proviso about man’s will:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
Clear references to man’s will abound in Scripture:
but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. (Matt. 17:12, NASB)
The problem of reconciling a God who controls everything with man’s free will is not easy, but we will take a stab at it. For now, we stick to the subject of His Sovereignty; later we will discuss how our free will fits within.

The second problem in understanding God’s Sovereignty is the more severe problem of the existence of evil. This is a very difficult question that we will not take up in any serious manner. Indeed, this is a problem for which there is no known solution. For we know that if God is sovereign, then He could have prevented evil from entering the world. Yet He chose not to do so. Yet we also know that God did not create evil:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. (James 1:13, NASB)
So we have this dilemma:
  1. God is Sovereign.
  2. God allowed evil to enter the world, but he did not create the evil.
  3. Where did the evil come from?
I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to this question. Some people think it came from man’s free will. But there is a problem with that explanation. We know that before Adam sinned he had to have the desire to sin. Where did that desire come from? Again, I don’t know. Did evil come into the world as a result of Satan’s fall? Where did Satan, who is a creature, get the desire to sin? It is an imponderable for which there is no adequate explanation.

Original Sin

Original Sin does not mean that God charges us Adam's sin as if we had committed it. It is much worse than that. Original sin means that man’s very nature was radically altered by the fall.

A baby is not brought into the world in a state similar to Adam and Eve before the fall, only to begin some downward spiral as the sins start mounting. No, human beings are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are born sinners.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5, NIV)
Man’s relationship to sin is summarized as follows:
  • Pre-fall man (Adam and Eve before the fall)
    • Able to sin
    • Able not to sin

  • Post Fall Man (Any person before being saved)
    • Unable not to sin

  • Reborn Man (Any person who is saved)
    • Able to sin
    • Able to not sin

  • Glorified Man (Any person in heaven)
    • Unable to sin
The true meaning of Original sin is that we are born into the state that is similar to Adam and Eve after the fall. It is impossible for us not to sin.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9, NIV)

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. (Titus 1:15, NIV)

Not until conversion does God restore us to something similar to pre-fallen man. Of course, unlike Adam and Eve before the fall, we find ourselves in a totally corrupted world, and with corrupted bodies as our heritage, where temptation and examples of sin are everywhere. Although we have the ability “to not sin” (and to boldly split infinitives no man has split before) it usually doesn’t take us very long after conversion to commit our own original sin. By God’s Grace and Christ’s Sacrifice this doesn’t cause an entirely new fall from which we must time and time again be saved.

Sometimes people disagree that before being saved we are unable not to sin. But choosing not to sin means to exhibit righteousness. And the Bible tells us that we possess no legitimate self righteousness
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
(Isa. 64:6, NASB)

Are we, after conversion, exactly like pre-fall Adam and Eve? No. We are similar only in the fact that we can choose not to sin. The effects of our corruption are still with us.
but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (Rom. 7:23, NIV)
Fortunately, we look forward to a time when we be in an infinitely better state and place. A place where we will lose the ability to sin.

The question always arises as to whether God knew Adam and Eve would sin. The answer is, of course He did. God was not the author of their sin, but he knew they would fall. His redemptive plan was already in motion- believers were chosen before the foundations of the world.
For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Rom. 11:32, NIV)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph. 1:4, NIV)

Three Types of Will

Formal discussions of God’s Sovereignty introduce the concept of three distinct types of God’s will. I think it is important, so here goes:
  1. God's Decretive or Sovereign or Efficacious Will. (This is just one type with three different names.) These are things that God decrees; they most certainly will happen. The verse from Daniel (Dan. 4:31), above, reflects God’s decretive will. The most familiar expression of God’s Decretive Will occurs in the creation account:
    Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. (Gen 1:3)
  2. God's Preceptive Will. This involve things that God will not do Himself, but that He desires of man, such as to obey His commandments. Man can and does disobey. This does not thwart His will or violate His sovereignty. He has not decreed that we obey, but He does desire our obedience. And He knows what we will do.

    We find an example of God’s perceptive will in his desire for our salvation:
    The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9, NKJV)Read gingerly this intentional double negative: God does not decree that nobody should perish. (He could, but he doesn’t. Why? I don’t know) According to this verse, He desires that all should repent. But alas, we don’t.

  3. God's Permissive Will. This relates to the things that God does not decree or even desire, but He permits them to happen. Since He could prevent them, He is still in absolute control. These are not things that happen in spite of God, but because God allowed them to occur. In no way can one conclude that God endorses that which happens as a result of His permissive will.
    and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; (Jer. 19:5, NASB)
    When you pray for something and add “God willing” as in: “I will visit you in Buffalo and bring fresh kumquats, God willing” you are essentially appealing to His permissive will.

What about 9/11?

Many people have raised the question of whether we were punished as a nation on 9/11. After all, God is sovereign, so if not ordaining them outright he could surely have prevented the attacks. By divine edict he could have struck all the terrorists dead the night before the attacks. So the attacks proceeded, at the very least, with His permission. He wasn’t sleeping, and there is no uncontrollable evil running amok in the universe and outside of His province.

We can be sure that if God was punishing, He was punishing a nation, not specifically those who perished:
"Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:4, NASB)
That, in and of itself, does not prove God’s intent was to punish. All sorts of terrible things happen in people’s lives that are not (necessarily) punishment. All that we can be sure of is, like in the case of Joseph, what ever happens is ultimately for good:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Gen 50:20, NASB)

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28, NASB)
The terrorists attacks on New York and the Pentagon, however, were so huge – so national in scope – that to many of us it “smelled” like national punishment. The thinking was:
  1. This is a reprobate nation
  2. God, although longsuffering, has had enough
  3. He used his “servants”, the terrorists, to send a message.
That in no way diminished our support for the war on terrorism. God may use the wicked for His purposes but he still holds them accountable (which must really annoy them).

There is a semi-infinite amount of precedence for this in the Old Testament, including referring to the wicked as God’s servants. Consider the Babylonian exile:

behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,' declares the LORD, 'and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. (Jer 25:9, NASB).

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

In the early 1980’s, Rabbi Harold Kushner had a best selling book entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People . This book had the noble aim of trying to bring solace to those who suffered unspeakable personal tragedy. It could not have done a worse job. The premise of the book is that there is evil that exists outside of God’s domain. When bad things happen to good people, in Kushner’s view, God is weeping with us, powerless against the evil causing our grief.

Kushner’s god is not sovereign. Kushner’s god is not God. There is no comfort in a weak god. We may not understand God’s plan, and we may at times recoil at His methods. But we find great joy in the knowledge that He is in absolute control of all of His creation.

1 Chosen By God, R. C. Sproul, Tyndale House, 1986.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Live from San Diego

It is awesome to see the Joyful Christian back among the blogging.

I am on travel, all the way across the country in San Diego. This week, posting will be sparse if not non-existent.

I have not traveled much, since we moved to New Hampshire last February. That suits me just fine. Here in the hotel in San Diego, I found my old friend: The Gideon’s Bible. I was not confident it would be waiting for me, as I have been reading about how some chains are dropping the Bible, lest they offend their Wiccan and Moslem clientele.

What an amazing ministry, the Gideons. We’ll never know how many people, alone, anonymous, and desperate in some unfamiliar city or town has found solace in the Bible provided by the Gideons.

Friday, September 13, 2002

Will Catholics Please Respond?

In the comment section of my recent Scripture Alone post, several of us (non Roman Catholics) are debating what the Roman Catholic position on (sacred) tradition is. I am hoping Catholic readers will contribute to the discussion, which I will bring to the foreground below.

Keep in mind the question on the table is not What is wrong with the Catholic position? but rather What is the Catholic position?

In fact, I want to condense my question down to its essence:

Is there knowledge or doctrine that is revealed in sacred tradition but is not plainly found in, or derivable from, scripture?

According to Vatican II:
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down…

This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face.
And what seem to be the relevant paragraphs from the catechism:
78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it…

80 Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal…
As far as answering my question is concerned, I personally find these teachings to be ambiguous. It (almost) makes one long for the brutal but straightforward language of Trent!

Here are the positions from three contributors to the Scripture Alone comments:
  1. Joel Garver:
    Catholic theologians can maintain that there is nothing in tradition that is not also present in Scripture, at least implicitly

    Tradition is a distinct mode of transmission, not a distinct source or content. Try an analogy. Imagine that a church service is broadcast over the web through Real Audio and, at the same time, is broadcast on the AM radio dial. You have two forms of transmission--web and radio--but only one source--the event of the church service. And those modes of transmission are, of course, distinct as the Catechism maintains.

    Tradition is like the radio broadcast of the church service along with a commentator who is present at it, while in the Real Audion version, you can barely make out the commentator off in the background. The commentator, however, is only interpreting what's going on the service.

    Perhaps also the two microphones for the two broadcasts are situated somewhat differently, so different aspects of the one source event are clearer in different modes of transmission, e.g., the choir being heard more loudly over the congregation in the one.
  2. Christopher Jones agrees with Joel Garver:
    [D]istinct means distinct but it does not mean separable. It means "capable of being distinguished," or having qualities that may be perceived and contemplated on their own. Thus (by analogy) the divine and human natures of Christ are distinct (not fused together or blended, which would be Monophysitism) but, by virtue of the hypostatic union, not separated or separable (which would be Nestorianism). There is one deposit of faith, with two modes of transmission. The modes may be distinguished, but the content is one.
  3. David Heddle has (alas, as usual) the reactionary position:
    While there may be one package (a single deposit of faith) it has two constituents, scripture and tradition. Distinct means distinct. When thoroughly integrated, it is clear that only the Magisterium can interpret tradition so an individual’s interpretation of scripture is subordinate to the Church’s interpretation of tradition.

Keep in mind we are debating what the Catholic position is, not our response to the Catholic position.

Speaking for myself, the Catholic position would be clarified by an answer, with an unambiguous yes or no, to the question I posed.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

The Historical Jesus

Josephus was a first century Jewish historian who collaborated with the Romans during the Jewish rebellion of A.D. 66-74.

In his seminal work The Antiquities, Josephus writes about the execution of James, the brother of Jesus:
He [Ananias, a high priest] convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James. The brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned.
In another part of The Antiquities, Josephus also writes about Jesus:
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is lawful to call him a man, for he was a performer of wonderful deeds, a teacher of such men as are happy to accept the truth. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the leading men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as the prophets of God had foretold these and ten thousand other wonders about him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.

In Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ, Stroebel interviews Professor Edwin Yamauchi, noted historian from Miami (Ohio) University.

Yamauchi provides the current scholarly consensus on these passages: They are mostly authentic, but the passage on Jesus was probably embellished by early Christians. In the passage on James, he is dispassionately referred to as “the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ” whereas in the passage on Jesus, Josephus sounds a bit like an evangelical Christian. It is not thought that the entire passage about Jesus was added by Christians; rather it is suspected that what Josephus actually wrote was more like this:
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man for he was a performer of wonderful deeds, a teacher of such men as are happy to accept the truth. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the leading men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.
Even purged of its overt Christianity, Josephus’ writings provide compelling corroboration of the historic Jesus.

Yamauchi also lectures Strobel on two other historians, both Romans. One is Tacitus, and the other is Pliny the Younger, both of the late first century. Both talk about murdering Christians.

Tacitus describes Nero’s bloody persecution, and explicitly mentions Christians as followers of Christ, who suffered the ‘extreme penalty at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate’.

Pliny the Younger describes how, as governor of an area in Turkey, he would ask believers three times if the were Christians, carefully explaining the punishment that awaited them. If they persisted, he had them executed. Pliny stated that their crimes amounted to no more than chanting [praying] before dawn on a fixed day and binding themselves to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, etc. He also describes torturing two slave-women (who were Christians) to learn more about this ‘cult’.

Strobel asks Yamauchi an intriguing question, from all the non-biblical, non-Christian, historical accounts (including the Talmud, which mentions Jesus), how much of Jesus’ life can we piece together. Yamuchi’s answer (from Strobel’s The Case For Christ):
  1. Jesus was a Jewish teacher.
  2. Many believed he healed and cast out demons.
  3. Some believed he was the Messiah.
  4. He was rejected by Jewish leaders.
  5. He was crucified under Pilate.
  6. Despite his shameful death, his followers believe he was still alive. They spread so much that by A.D. 64 there were multitudes of them in Rome.
  7. All kinds of people, men, women, free, slave—worshipped him as God.

I would add another point, that many were willing to die rather than renounce him.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Scripture Alone

As described here, this post is part of my notes for my Sunday School.

Why was there a Reformation?

It was not because of the selling of indulgences. Certainly that sorry practice contributed, but the Catholic Church no longer sells indulgences.1 If commercialization of indulgences was the primary cause of the reformation, then it would be high time for Protestants to reunite with the Catholic Church.

There were many secondary causes of the Reformation. The selling of indulgences, in the final analysis, may not have even been one of the more important. The scandal involving indulgences pointed to corruption, which can be (and was) dealt with internally. The real issue was one of serious doctrinal error, which is the only justification for a schism.

The primary, or formal cause of the Protestant Reformation, was Sola Scriptura-- Scripture Alone. The reformers proclaimed it; the Catholic Church refuted it. Not much has changed in this regard in the past 500 years.

What Is Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)?

When the Church called for Luther to recant at Worms (1521), he famously dug in his heels and said he would not unless he "was convinced by sacred scripture."

Sola Scriptura means that everything necessary for our salvation is contained in the Scriptures. There is nothing that we have to know, in terms of spiritual matters, that is not contained in the Bible. Scripture and only scripture is our authority.

The Westminster Confession puts it this way:
"The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men."

Scriptural Support

There is, of course, scriptural support for Sola Scriptura, including this well-known passage from 2 Timothy:

15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:15-17, NIV)
Verse 15 tells us that scripture is what we need to be “wise for salvation”. Verse 16 tells us that Scripture is inspired (which implies inerrant). Verse 17 tells us that it renders us thoroughly (not partially) equipped.

In Jude it is written:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 3, NIV)
The saints do not have to wait for further revelation. All that we need has been entrusted once and for all.

In Revelation we read:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. (Rev. 22:18, NIV)
Scripture is sufficient. Woe to him that adds prophesy to it.2

Finally, one of the clearest admonitions against adding to the Word (which then necessarily supports Sola Scriptura) comes from the letter to the Galatians:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Gal. 1:8, NIV)
The same warning is repeated two verses later. Ironically, the fate Paul warns of (eternal condemnation, or anathema) is the same curse the Catholic Church placed on the Reformers (and by extension, us) at The Council of Trent (1545-1563).

Not everything is in the Bible

Sola Scriptura does not mean that everything is in the Bible. The solution to your calculus homework is not in the Bible. Less trivially, not everything about God is in the Bible:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25, NIV)
This verse is sometimes used to argue against Sola Scriptura. It is useless in that regard. I would love to know what Jesus did that was not recorded, but I don’t need to know it. And if I did need to know it, all would be lost; for no council, synod, or pope will ever be able to tell me what these unrevealed acts were.

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church.

Who was the first New Testament era proponent of Sola Scriptura? It was Jesus Himself. Nice to have Him on our side. Let’s read Christ’s dialogue with Satan during His temptation:

3The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"
7Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." 10Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Matt. 4:3-10, NIV)
When refuting Satan, Jesus didn’t appeal to tradition, or to the Pharisees, or even His own deity and infallible reason. Each and every time He quoted scripture. 3 Even when Satan also used scripture (verse 6), Christ trumped him with more relevant scripture.

Was Sola Scriptura was Invented by the Reformers?

Catholic apologists like to claim that Sola Scriptura was unheard of prior to the Reformation. It is a weak criticism on several fronts, not the least of which being that it is simply not true. However, even if it were true it would at most cast suspicion on the doctrine in the form of a “newness stigma”. In other words, it would simply be the argument that any doctrine that took 15 centuries to be discovered should be viewed critically. Fair enough, although that in and of itself would by no means disprove Sola Scriptura.

Anyway, it’s moot. For there is ample evidence that the doctrine existed in the early church.

Augustine (On Christian Doctrine) wrote:
In those teachings which are clearly based on scripture are found all that concerns faith and the conduct of life.
For another example, we turn to Cyril of Jerusalem, a teacher in the early church, who wrote in the 4th century: (lecture 4-17)
"Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures."
A rather nice ecapsulation of Sola Scriptura.

Catholic apologists tell us that we cannot use Cyril’s writing as early evidence of Sola Scriptura because Cyril also wrote extensively on sacred tradition and other "high Catholic" doctrines. In other words, because he is not totally consistent with the reformers, his clear exposition of Sola Scriptura is irrelevant. This is disingenuous—because I can just as easily turn it around and state that his writing on Sola Scriptura nullifies his alleged support of sacred tradition.

Besides, what does it matter what he wrote elsewhere? If Luther had written tomes on sacred tradition prior to his "conversion", we would still say Luther supported Sola Scriptura.

The point is not whether Cyril was an early Lutheran but whether the doctrine of Sola Scriptura existed in the early church, regardless of the degree of self-consistency in Cyil’s theology. His writing clearly demonstrates that it did. It is but one piece of evidence contradicting the absurd claim that Sola Scriptura wasn't even "invented" until the 16th century.

I would like to think that if I were still a Catholic (I once was, but didn't consider these things at that time) and rejected Sola Scriptura, I would nevertheless have the instincts to doubt the claim that it was unheard of prior to the Reformation. After all, right or wrong, it is a singularly simple doctrine. The possibility that for fifteen centuries nobody came up with the simple and straightforward notion that Scripture is sufficient taxes credulity. It would be much easier to believe that a complex doctrine such as the Trinity took a long time to develop.


Catholics, like (conservative) Protestants, believe the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant word of God. However, Catholics, unlike Protestants, acknowledge an additional source of divine knowledge: sacred tradition, which the teaching authority of the Church, the Magisterium may interpret and then bind the consciences of Catholic believers with its understanding.

Since the Catholic Church acknowledges this additional "delivery system" for revelation, Sola Scriptura has got to go.

At the Council of Trent (1545-1563, where the Reformed doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, Sola Fide, which we will talk about later in the semester, was condemned) the Roman Catholic Church also confirmed for herself the sole right to interpret Scripture and tradition authoritatively.

The Council of Trent was not for the feint-hearted, for it anathematized anyone who rejected sacred tradition. To be anathematized is to be accursed and cast out of the Church.4

What is Catholic Tradition?

This is a very difficult question. It is clear that sacred tradition is not always what it claims to be. If tradition meant, as the Catholic Church officially teaches, the oral tradition handed down in an unbroken succession from the apostles, then our division would not be as great as it is. We would still argue against such tradition binding the conscience because of the problems associated with proving a claim of a unbroken succession. Nevertheless, I believe our differences would be manageable.

In practice, however, sacred tradition is much more. It is whatever the Church says it is. How can one even claim that extra-scriptural Catholic doctrine such as purgatory, The Immaculate Conception, The Assumption, or papal infallibility (just to name a few) arrived as an oral tradition that can be traced back to the apostles?

And if not, how can there be binding revelation that was unknown to the apostles? Did they not need it for their own salvation?

Another problem is that sacred tradition is not always, well, traditional. For example, In 1559 Pius IV declared that widespread dissemination of the Scriptures is to be avoided in that it causes more harm than good. Vatican II changed this tradition, and now the Church (rightly) calls for free-access to the Scriptures for all.

We should understand that the Church’s position on infallibility is not as trivial as we Protestants like to poke fun at, and that they have explanations as to how sacred tradition can appear to change. Nevertheless it is undeniable that this is but one example where the Church sometimes teaches A, while at other times, not-A.

So do we. We call it a mistake.

In reality Catholic tradition actually means that the Church, after due consideration, can offer new binding revelation (not traceable to the apostles). This is stated nowhere as clearly as in the time of Vatican I (The “infallibility” council, 1870), where Pius IX boldly declared: "I am tradition".

Private Interpretation

Private Interpretation is a concept that is closely connected with Sola Scriptura. Private Interpretation means that as we all are priests (1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 5:9-10), so we all have the privilege of reading and discerning the Scriptures. In addition to this unfettered access being a privilege, it is a grave responsibility.

Catholics are not too keen on Private Interpretation. A common charge leveled against Protestants is that strict adherence to Sola Scriptura and affirmation of Private Interpretation results in a cacophony of opinions because some aspects of the scripture are simply not clear.

Indeed, at first glance this criticism has merit. We have Calvinists and Arminians. Infant Baptism and Adult (Believer’s) Baptism. Baptism by sprinkling, baptism by immersion. Some churches come to the Lord's Supper weekly, some monthly, some at other intervals. Not to mention at least four millennial views with sizable numbers of adherents.

This diversity, some would say, is the inevitable result of Sola Scriptura. On those issues in which scripture is not clear, people will interpret scripture differently.

Our Catholic critics are, of course, absolutely correct. When scripture is not completely clear, then a concept, no matter how important it may be to its champions, is downgraded from an essential to a liberty issue, or at least there is a implicit recognition that: I believe this but I might be wrong; I can have Christian fellowship with those of an opposing view.

The problem with this criticism is that it doesn’t criticize an actual fault. It is one group saying to another that "your house is not as tidy as my house, so you must be doing something wrong."

Protestants, of course, deny that either sacred tradition or church councils (or any church official) has any authority to bind the conscience. We would say that the uniformity enjoyed by the Roman Catholic Church is unlawfully imposed and, while it achieves uniformity, there is no guarantee that, on any given issue, it is not uniformly wrong.

We agree on the essentials, the essentials that we can discerned unambiguously from scripture. The essentials include things like the divinity of Christ, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Trinity. Disagree with an essential, and you have slid into apostasy.

The rest, we say, will be sorted out later.

The fact that we can agree to disagree (by no means always peacefully, but in theory anyway) on important concepts is utterly un-Catholic.

Protestant Tradition: Important but not Sacred

Some Catholics will also say "Protestants believe in Sacred Tradition, but don't know they do" and assert (incorrectly) that tradition is required to fully support complex "essentials" such as the Trinity.

This criticism is valid in some isolated cases. Some churches mistakenly elevate a non-essential doctrine into an essential one by teaching that its view is the one "true" understanding and any opposing view represents apostasy. There are churches, for example, that teach that you cannot be saved unless you affirm a particular end-times view, or that you are lost if you use something other than the King James Bible (since it was good enough for Jesus).

It is not that Protestants do not have church tradition—we surely do. The difference is that we hold that it cannot bind the conscience. Sola Scriptura and Private Interpretation do not mean that every Protestant must start with a clean page and write in his own theology by reading nothing but the Bible. That would be foolish. In addition to scripture, one’s theology is developed by parents, children, Sunday School, Sermons, peers, mentors, elders, other books, the world, nature, everything.

Tradition, meaning which of those "non-essential" doctrines a church will teach or profess (but not affirm as essential) is perfectly legitimate. In our church, we practice believer’s baptism by immersion. The church’s position is that there is a strong case for believer’s baptism in scripture and also for baptism by immersion. While I tend to agree with that position, I do not think Scripture teaches it irrefutably. Nevertheless, I think it is perfectly legitimate for a church to, as a tradition, require baptism by immersion.

If Faith Baptist taught that those rascally Presbyterians who practice infant baptism are all absolutely hell-bound, I would not have joined. Tradition is fine, but it is not sacred, and it is not binding.

The historic creeds are a perfectly acceptable example of tradition. They don't come from the Bible, but every attempt is made to demonstrate that they can be derived from Scripture. Some might disagree with their conclusions, as in the Apostle's Creed where the phrase "He descended into hell" is not without its critics. Yet even critics agree that adherents to the Apostle's creed can make a faithful and credible case for scriptural support.

A similar situation exists with the historic confessions, such as the Westminster confession. Baptist's will not agree with the conclusions in the Westminster Confession regarding infant baptism, but they will (most of them, anyway) agree that an honest attempt was made to garner scriptural support. They would also agree that the Westminster Confession has some "very good parts". It is church tradition at its finest, but it is not binding. We can believe the parts for which we see solid scriptural support while discarding those points where we do not find the proof to be convincing.

As we do, Catholics look to early church leaders to find support for their position. And they can unleash an impressive deluge of writings from early church fathers that seem to support tradition. Look at these carefully; many times the writer will be supporting the same type of tradition that we do-- things like the creeds and confessions. Although early church fathers might write "we believe in church tradition", they do not mean that the church can offer new, binding revelation under the rubric of tradition.

Sola Scriptura means that you put everything you can to the simple test: Is this based on scripture alone? In carrying out the test you might still use other resources, but only as they are helpful in addressing the question of scriptural support.

No matter how much I admire a pastor or writer, I test what they are telling me against scripture. That is Private Interpretation. It does not mean I develop all doctrine by myself, locked in a room with only the Bible. I do my homework. I try to start with an open mind. I read what others have written on the same subject—both those that agree with where I am heading and those that don’t. I talk to people. I pray. But when all is said and done, I accept not what I want to believe and not what others want me or tell me to believe, but what I honestly believe I have discerned from scripture.

What is unfathomable to Catholics is the nonchalant way in which we accept the inevitable: intelligent, well intentioned believers will reach different conclusions. Right from the start Luther and Calvin had disagreements. Across the spectrum of evangelical churches there are different views on baptism, the Lord ’s Supper, predestination, etc. It’s the old: In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity approach.

Now the things I mentioned are not non-essentials in all aspects. The Lord ’s Supper is mandated by Christ. A church that doesn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper is an apostate church. However, God has chosen not to make it absolutely clear to us precisely what happens during the sacrament/ordinance. So most Protestants (not all, one can never say all) are not overly ruffled by the fact that there are different views.

To be sure, even non-essential doctrine should be based on the concept of Sola Scriptura. If you are a Calvinist, you should be so only because you believe reformed doctrine is supported by scripture. If you are Arminian, you should be so because you believe that Arminianism represents the Biblical view

1 The Church does not sell indulgences, but they still exist. The Catholic Encyclopedia offers this definition: "An indulgence is the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due, in God's justice, to sin that has been forgiven, which remission is granted by the Church in the exercise of the power of the keys, through the application of the superabundant merits of Christ and of the saints, and for some just and reasonable motive." In other words, the excess merit accrued by Christ and the saints, and held in the Church's treasury of supererogatory merit, can be allotted, by the pope, in obtaining remission of temporal punishment. It is not official Catholic doctrine that one can obtain a departed soul's release from purgatory via indulgences, although exploitation of this belief was precisely the abuse that was occurring in Luther's time.

2 Some say this only applies to the book of Revelation, but that does not withstand logic. A warning that applies only to a particular book is pointless. Does is make sense that I am free, as that interpretation suggests, to add prophecy to any book other than Revelation?

3 In the parallel passage in Luke, when responding to Satan’s challenge to leap from the temple, it reads: Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Luke 4:12, NIV). It is not significant that the word “says” is used instead of written, because indeed, it is written: Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah. (Deut 6:16, NIV).

4 Modern liberal Catholics and Protestant colleagues tend to deemphasize the harsh pronouncements of Trent (where many things were anathematized, including having assurance of one’s salvation). It must be remembered that the Church itself has never revoked the anathemas of Trent. One approach to defuse Trent is to appeal to legalistic arguments such as the fact that the Church can only anathematize Catholics, so Trent’s condemnation does not apply to modern Protestants. I grant that we must first join the Church before being excommunicated. Legalistic arguments avoid the real issue: At Trent, Rome declared Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide to be heresies. You and I still stand condemned by The Catholic Church. Having said that, I must add how much I admire The Church: they dug in their heals on an important matter and said: there can be no compromise, the Reformers are preaching a different gospel. They, unlike liberal Protestants, affirm Absolute Truth.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Time is on Our Side

Evolutionists think that time is their friend. It is actually their biggest enemy.

Nobel Prize winning biologist and evolutionist George Wald certainly thought time was the most important parameter of the evolutionary model. He wrote:
"Time is, in fact, the hero of the plot [the chance creation of life]... given so much time the ‘impossible’ becomes possible, the possible probable and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs miracles."
Unwittingly, Wald has provided a compelling argument against evolution and the accidental creation of life.

It is important to remember Wald’s premise: given so much time. On the surface the argument is strong, and is still an important point in cosmology and the debate concerning the creation of the universe. You can argue that the unlikely event that caused the universe to be created ex nihilo, some sort of quantum fluctuation, can take as long as necessary—without a universe there is no ticking clock.

However, as far as the creation of life is concerned, the clock began ticking as soon as the earth was formed. As it turns out, there is not nearly enough time. Billions of years is not long enough (by orders of magnitude) for a single cell organism to develop from primordial soup. Then you have to squeeze into the equation the single cell evolving into complex life forms, and ultimately into modern humans. There isn’t time. And without the necessary time, Wald’s observation becomes a condemnation of the very theory he was attempting to support.

Why do I keep claiming there isn’t time?

There are many ways to answer this question. One is the approach often taken by creation scientists. It involves a simple chain of independent probabilities required for the formation of life. Suppose the formation of life required a thousand accidents, and each chance occurrence has a probability associated with it, then by multiplying the thousand probabilities together you get the over probability that life formed by chance. These calculations result in estimates of the probability of life emerging from non-life that are so vanishingly small as to be effectively zero.

Such calculations are rightly criticized as too simplistic. It does our cause no good to make trivial arguments that are easy to knock down.

More sophisticated and harder to discredit analyses involving Bayesian networks and other methods of dealing with conditional probabilities and other complications have been done. Although they give results that are not as infinitesimal as the simplistic calculations, they also conclude that per-chance creation of life, for the “impossible to become possible”, requires an earth that is orders of magnitude older.

And it gets worse all the time for the evolutionists, because upon further study the simple cell becomes more and more amazing—with the uncovering of previously unknown biochemical complexity. More complexity means more time, just to get to the cell.

Time is not on the side of the evolutionist. It is his greatest detractor. Four billion years might as well be 10 seconds.

Without time making all things possible, hope rests in the ability of physical systems to create (as opposed to sit around and wait for) complexity from simplicity, and to self-organize.

That the physical world has such properties is beyond debate. Things as simple as sand dunes exhibit the principle of self-organization. From the air we see complex structure in the sands of the Sahara, where at first we might expect a featureless vista. The sand (with help from the winds and terrain) organizes itself into patterns. Striking as they are, they are only dunes.

Simple “cellular automata” rules and nonlinear chaotic models create complex and sometimes life-like (in appearance) patterns from random initial conditions. But they are only pictures.

Self organization and chaos are fascinating mathematical studies. And they may indeed play important roles in the physical world. But so far they only produce inanimate complexity.

Things get more amusing all the time. Wald thought he had billions of years for time to perform its miracle. We now know that he had almost no time. Liquid water, which is needed for all life, formed about 3.8 billion years ago. We now have fossilized bacteria that have been dated to about 3.5 billion years. So that’s 0.3 billion years to get from nothing to, not even viruses, but actual bacteria, which are vastly more complex. That’s an order of magnitude less time than Wald thought he had to get to much simpler forms. He didn’t have enough time then, and he has much less time than he thought. After liquid water was present, life formed very quickly, at least in geological time scales. First water, followed immediately by life. Sound familiar?

9 And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. (Gen 1:9-11, NIV)

Monday, September 09, 2002

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church

I had an interesting and timely (since I am working on this topic for Sunday School and will have a long post on it sometime this week) exchange over on Peter Bradley’s wonderful blog. Peter posted a small infoblog referring to Steve Ray’s rebuttal of Sola Scriptura. After reading Ray’s article, I posted a critical comment (on Peter's blog). An initialized rebuttal of my criticism arrived in the form of another comment from ELC. I have since responded. If you are interested in this subject go take a gander. The topic is not Sola Scriptura per se, but Sola Scriptura in the early church.

Some Interesting Reading

I’ve been reading Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ (Zondervan, 1998) and I must say it is very interesting. For those who are not familiar, Strobel uses his experience as an investigative journalist to research evidence supporting the historic Jesus and the trustworthiness of the Bible.

There is great deal of fascinating material contained in the 300 pages of this book. Strobel selects controversial topics, and then interviews experts as if they were witnesses in an investigation. Quite different from your garden-variety theology book. And yes, it must be added that journalists are better writers than theologians.

A couple of Strobel’s topics really got my attention. One is his look at the so called swoon theories which allege that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Through various methods of chicanery: collusion with Pilate, death simulating drugs, etc., He feigned death. No death means no resurrection. No resurrection means Christianity is a big hoax. Paul wrote:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV)
And in case you missed it, he repeats it three verses later in 1 Cor. 15:17.

Strobel interviews Alexander Metherell, M.D. and Ph.D. Dr. Metherell describes in medical terms the ordeal that Christ suffered. Based on what is known of Roman flogging, the type beating Christ received can be fatal in its own right, and certainly resulted in debilitating blood loss. Then he describes what it was really like to be crucified. The details are chilling and gruesome, all the more so because they are related in dispassionate scientific terms. He even provides a medical explanation for the appearance of both blood and water when Christ’s side is pierced (John 19:34).

The bottom line: there is absolutely no way Jesus could have survived the crucifixtion.

It affected me very deeply. I will tell you why, and it is something of a confession. I have often heard people say that Christ died the most horrible death possible. I always thought that claim to be unsupportable and something of an exaggeration. Clearly man in his depraved state has devised even more hideous and painful methods of torture and execution. I still believe that—our ingenuity in inflicting pain knows few bounds. It was not necessary for Christ to die the most horrible death possible. I don’t even think the physical pain He suffered compared with whatever punishment he endured under the weight of our sins. But I do have an new appreciation (is that the right word?) for just how brutal His death was.

Another interview in Strobel’s book that I found fascinating concerned a finding in the dead sea scrolls. To set the stage, recall Christ’s answer to the John the Baptist’s messengers, when John, already imprisoned, sent an inquiry regarding Christ’s messianic authenticity. We read in Matthew:
4 Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Matt. 11:4-5, NIV)
Jesus is proclaiming himself as the Messiah just as he did at the start of the ministry, by referring to messianic prophesy in Isaiah. The problem is if you read Isaiah it says nothing about the dead are raised. Jesus seems to be adding something to what was in Isaiah’s prophesy. Now Jesus had raised the dead, so he was truthful (obviously), but it would seem that if you wanted to refer to a specific prophesy, you would demonstrate how it was specifically fulfilled so as to be unambiguous.

Strobel interviewed archeologist John McRay, Ph.D. He described a manuscript from the dead sea scrolls (4Q521) that dates to thirty years before Jesus was born. It contains a version of Isaiah 61 that includes the phrase the dead are raised. Remarkable—archeology produces evidence that answers a biblical riddle.

Strobel’s book is probably worth its modest cost just for the interview with McRay, who discusses many fascinating reports of archeological findings supporting accounts given in the Bible. I read it completely spellbound.

Friday, September 06, 2002

The Missing Galilean Meeting

In a comment to yesterday’s post, R.W. recommends this site and in particular its Apologetics Encyclopedia, which has refutations for a large number of alleged biblical contradictions. I found many interesting articles there. Nice site!

Here is a summary of one article from that site, James Patrick Holding’s discussion of the post-resurrection Galilee/Jerusalem question.

Keep in mind the accepted major timeline puts the Ascension at 40 days after the resurrection, and Pentecost about 10 days later. (Acts 1:3-5, Acts 2:1-4)

Here is the problem. In his post resurrection account, Matthew writes that the disciples are to meet the resurrected Jesus in Galilee. (Matt. 28:7, 10). This they did, meeting with Jesus on a Galilean mountain (Matt. 28:16).

In Luke’s post resurrection account (Luke 24:36-53), it reads as if
  • On the night of the resurrection, Jesus met with his apostles.
  • Jesus instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until Pentecost.
  • Barring disobedience or Jesus changing his plans, there is no room for a meeting on a mountain in Galilee.
Let’s look closely at the verses in question:
42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. (Luke 24:43-51, NIV)
Holding agrees that this passage starts on the night of the resurrection, when Jesus is eating fried (broiled?) fish with the disciples. He then argues (as have others) for a 40-day gap in between verses 44 and 45 during which the events of Matthew 28 occurred.

Holding argues that if we allow, as critics suggest, that all verses (up to 49) refer to the same night (leaving us with no Galilean meeting) then why stop there? The same interpretation should be extended, which would seem to imply that the Ascension, beginning in verse 50, also happened on the same night. Since this would make their claim absurd, the crictics, accordind to Holding, stop at verse 49 for maximum effect.

On that last point, I disagree. Verse 45 starts (in some translations) with the word then, which indicates immediacy. Verse 50 starts (in some translations) with when which implies a gap, or the word and which is more or less neutral. Holding may be correct to place a 40-day gap in Luke’s account. However, I think he is wrong in claiming that the same logic used by critics (of the missing account of the Galilean meeting) implies that Luke’s account also teaches that the Ascension occurred on the same night—in which case he would be contradicting his own account in Acts.

I don’t know if I agree with Holding’s explanation (I have no better one to offer), but it is interesting. And an interesting site. Go take a look.