Brueggemann on Moses Subverting God’s Plan to Restart Israel

In Numbers 14, Yahweh is completely provoked by Israel, who endlessly complains about its treatment by Yahweh. Yahweh’s patience with Israel is exhausted. In weariness, Yahweh confides in Moses that Yahweh would like simply to destroy Israel and to start over with only Moses (v. 12). Moses seeks to talk Yahweh out of this declared destructive intention. Moses employs two strategies in seeking to persuade Yahweh not to act in rage. First, Moses appeals to Yahweh’s pride, shaming Yahweh in the eyes of the Egyptians and in the eyes of the inhabitants of the land (vv. 13– 16). Second, Moses makes an alternative suggestion to Yahweh, proposing that instead of destroying recalcitrant Israel, Yahweh forgive (vv. 17– 19). The basis of this daring appeal is a direct and complete quotation of Exod 34: 6– 7, which Moses now quotes as a prayer, concerning Yahweh’s self-commitment to Israel made at Sinai, which Yahweh proposes to disregard.

Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (p. 219). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

Worship Sunday – I’ll Fly Away

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on Gods celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away

Luke 1:3 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Luk 1:3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus,

In the first chapter of Luke, Luke claims that he has had “perfect understanding of all things” and this is “from the very first”. Luke is not claiming to have omniscience of all things to have ever happened. Instead, the “perfect understanding” means an accurate memory, although imperfect. “From the very first” is limited by context to Jesus’ ministry.

This is a hyperbolic figure of speech.

Omniscience in the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach

The book of Sirach was written somewhere in the second century BC. This book was written during the height of Hellenization of Israel. The author of the book Yeshua Ben Sira writes that he traveled from Israel to Egypt and translated the Hebrew original work into Greek, stating:

You are urged therefore to read with good will and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite out diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language. Not only this work, but even the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books differ not a little as originally expressed.

He urges caution in reading his work. This work incorporates various sayings found in Israel. It makes at least two allusions to outside works, Aesop’s Fables (Sir 13:2–3) and The Egyptian Satire of the Trades (Sir 38:24-39:11). The work seems to show familiarity with outside literature.

Within Sirach, there are various omniscience claims about God.

Sir 15:18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything;
Sir 15:19 his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man.…

In Sirach 15:18 God is said to see everything. The picture is a common one in Jewish writings in which God is watching everything as it occurs. God’s “eyes” are said to be on those who fear Him, signaling God’s protection of his own people. The statement appears to clarify that God knows all deeds of man, even though that man might not be God’s.

Sir 17:19 All their works are as the sun before him, and his eyes are continually upon their ways.
Sir 17:20 Their iniquities are not hidden from him, and all their sins are before the Lord.

Sir 17:23 Afterward he will arise and requite them, and he will bring their recompense on their heads.
Sir 17:24 Yet to those who repent he grants a return, and he encourages those whose endurance is failing.

In Sirach 17:19-20 God is said to see the works of man as the sun lights up the day. Whereas the Sun gives vision to people, God is able to see as if the Sun is always lighting everything. God records man’s sins. The context is God’s judgment. If man does not repent of his sins then God will punish them in measure.

Sir 23:18 A man who breaks his marriage vows says to himself, “Who sees me? Darkness surrounds me, and the walls hide me, and no one sees me. Why should I fear? The Most High will not take notice of my sins.”
Sir 23:19 His fear is confined to the eyes of men, and he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun; they look upon all the ways of men, and perceive even the hidden places.
Sir 23:20 Before the universe was created, it was known to him; so it was also after it was finished.

Sirach 23:18-20 concerns itself with the impious man. A common claim in Israel was that God does not see man’s sin. In verse 18, the reason the impious man believes God cannot see what he does is that he does it in the dark. God’s omniscience, to the impious, was thought to be a function of God’s visibility during the daylight. The author counters this by ascribing a light to God’s eyes.

In these verses, God’s eyes are said to burn 10,000 time brighter than the Sun. The Sun is not the source of God’s knowledge. God’s eyes generate their own light, which sees all things.

The number 10,000 is very interesting and has pagan counterparts. Pettazzoni writes:

The vain fancy of the impious man that he can escape the all-seeing vision of Deity is to be found also in the Avesta, with reference to Mithra, who is a sky- and sun god… Also the “ten thousand eyes” of the Iranian Mithra (Yasht x. 7, 24, 82, I4I) and the thousand eyes of Varuna (Atharva-Veda iv, I6, 4) recall the pronouncement of ben Sirach that “the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun”…

Zeus also is ascribed three times ten thousand spies on Earth who spy on his behalf. Of course, in Israel, Yahweh is not ascribed monstrous eyes. He is not given a multiplicity of eyes, and when the Bible does talk about his eyes (i.e. his seven eyes in Zec 4:10) it is more likely referring to angels of God who act as spies.

Instead of having ten thousand eyes, Yahweh’s eyes burn 10,000 times brighter than the Sun, suggesting a visual omniscience or a figurative claim that nothing in secret will be hidden from God.

Sir 34:16 The eyes of the Lord are upon those who love him, a mighty protection and strong support, a shelter from the hot wind and a shade from noonday sun, a guard against stumbling and a defense against falling.

Verse 34:16 describes the particular focus of God’s omniscience as being towards the fate of those who follow him. God watches His people and protects them and provides them comfort. This mirrors Sirach 15:19, in which God pays particular focus on those who fear Him.

Sir 39:19 The works of all flesh are before him, and nothing can be hid from his eyes.
Sir 39:20 From everlasting to everlasting he beholds them, and nothing is marvelous to him.
Sir 39:21 No one can say, “What is this?” “Why is that?” for everything has been created for its use.
Sir 39:22 His blessing covers the dry land like a river, and drenches it like a flood.
Sir 39:23 The nations will incur his wrath, just as he turns fresh water into salt.
Sir 39:24 To the holy his ways are straight, just as they are obstacles to the wicked.

Sirach 39 might contain a claim of exhaustive divine foreknowledge. God is said to see everything. He sees everything “from everlasting to everlasting”, which could be a claim that He sees the entire future or it is a claim that God watches everything always. God is said in Sirach 42:21 to be from “everlasting to everlasting”, a common claim in the Hebrew Bible. The phrase possibly could mean that while God is living everlasting to everlasting that He sees all.

There is also a hint that nothing takes God by surprise. Verse 20 says “nothing is marvelous to him”. This could be another indication that the author has exhaustive divine foreknowledge in mind. Alternatively, it could be due to mankind not being able to build novelty (as Ecclesiastes 1:9 claims, “Nothing is new under the Sun”).

This passage goes on to affirm some sort of divine determinism. God makes everything for a reason (could this be why God is not taken by surprise?). The same resources God uses for good for those who love him, God uses for evil for those who reject Him. Nothing happens outside God’s providence. This is not to be confused with individuals not having free will, as the idea seems to be that people can repent of their evil and be forgiven (Sir 17:24).

Sir 42:16 The sun looks down on everything with its light, and the work of the Lord is full of his glory.

In Sirach 42:16, omniscience is ascribed to the Sun in a figurative sense. The Sun illuminates all God’s great works. This phrase “looks down on everything” is a type of light-based omniscience that the impious would ascribe to God. Yes, God knows everything, but because He sees everything in the light. The phrase was limited to this understanding. The author of Sirach rejects this. The Sun might be omniscient in a sense, but God is much more so.

Sir 42:18 He searches out the abyss, and the hearts of men, and considers their crafty devices.
For the Most High knows all that may be known, and he looks into the signs of the age.
Sir 42:19 He declares what has been and what is to be, and he reveals the tracks of hidden things.
Sir 42:20 No thought escapes him, and not one word is hidden from him.
Sir 42:21 He has ordained the splendors of his wisdom, and he is from everlasting and to everlasting. Nothing can be added or taken away, and he needs no one to be his counselor.

In Sirach 42:18, God is said to “known all that may be known”. This seems to mirror a common Open Theist claim about God’s omniscience. God’s knowledge is limited to actual facts. God is said to search people and figure out the “signs of the age”. These statements do not appear to affirm exhaustive divine foreknowledge.

God is then said to declare “what has been and what is to be”, signifying, in context, God’s wisdom (verse 21). This also could be a function of divine determinism spoke about in Sirach 39:21. If this is a statement about exhaustive divine foreknowledge the surrounding phrases sound awkward. God “looks into signs” and “searches out the abyss and the hearts of man”. God is said to “consider their ways”. The concept of divine timelessness is definitely not in the mind of this author.

The last statement that God “nothing can be added or taken away” appears in context of “no one to be his counselor”. Is this a claim of Platonistic perfection? It likely is rather a claim of divine wisdom, claiming that God is the wisest of all creatures. God does not need counsel.

Sir 48:22 For Hezekiah did what was pleasing to the Lord, and he held strongly to the ways of David his father, which Isaiah the prophet commanded, who was great and faithful in his vision.
Sir 48:23 In his days the sun went backward, and he lengthened the life of the king.
Sir 48:24 By the spirit of might he saw the last things, and comforted those who mourned in Zion.
Sir 48:25 He revealed what was to occur to the end of time, and the hidden things before they came to pass.

In Sirach 48, Hezekiah is said to be a prophet of God. He is said to have revealed “what was to occur to the end of time.” Could this mean he revealed what was to occur “at” the end of time? This is more likely the case, as with the other prophets (specifically of the exilic timeframe). There is not word in this passage what type of knowledge Hezekiah is imparting. Is this foreseeing the future in a clairvoyant way? Are these loose prophecies which God has plans to fulfill although it is not a literal representation of the future? The context is not clear.

In all, Sirach shows some signs of Hellenization, as one might expect with a text translated to Greek in Egypt. Do Hebrew concepts of omniscience and everlastingness translate well to a Greek speaker? Is the author adopting Hellenistic terms to help give the text a wider audience? Is there leeway in the text to allow traditional Hebrew theology to retain acceptability? It is hard to know the answers.

The Sirach seems to affirm a visual omniscience of all things, in the context of God continued effort to watch the actions of man in order to dispense justice. God is given control over the happenings of the world, creating everything for a divine purpose, but giving individuals the opportunity to choose their own outcome in the divine play.

Goldingay on Quasi-predictions

From the Word Biblical Commentary on Daniel:

The quasi-predictions begin this process by interpreting recent history in the light of Scripture. They are not indulging in mere theological apologetic, but in a radical theological necessity (Fishbane, Interpretation, 510–11 [and see 509–22 generally], against Hartman, ―The Functions of Some So-called Apocalyptic Timetables NTS 22 [1976] 1–14). Nor is it the case that the mere—pretended!—ability to predict the future in 11:2–39 gives grounds for believing the actual prophecy in 11:40–12:3. It is rather the quasi-predictions’ ability to make sense of the past by relating it in the light of Scripture that implies grounds for trusting the actual prophecy’s portrait of what the future will bring, painted in the light of the same Scripture. When they speak about the past, they do so on the basis of having historical data, and scriptural text as a means of interpretation. When they speak about the future, they have only scriptural text, and are providing an imaginary scenario, a possible embodiment of that text, which is not to be pressed to provide (or be judged by) historical data. Its object is not to provide historical data but to provide scriptural interpretation of what the events to come will mean. The seer implicitly wishes to commend a certain form of behavior, namely, resistance to Seleucid/reformist pressures. His explicit focus, however, is a cognitive one. He aims to provide a way for conservative Jews to understand their present experience, looking at it in the light of various scriptural texts. The supernatural being provides this for the seer (10:1, 14); the ―discerning‖ provide it for the multitude (11:33).

Worship Sunday – Lord I Need You

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

You’re my one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

2 Samuel 14:20 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

2Sa 14:20 In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.”

An often ignored verse, 2 Samuel 14:20. In context, Joab wants to convince King David to forgive Absalom. He sends a woman to David in order to do the convincing. She begins her speech with flattery. King David, she says, knows “all things that are on earth”. Naturally, this should be taken in a hyperbolic sense.

But the phrase is interesting. Elsewhere, other kings are said to know everything. The idea likely being forwarded is that the king has wide-ranging power. Their access to information is above virtually anyone else.

The same phrase, if applied to God, would be taken as Platonic Omniscience by Negative Theologians. God knows all that can be known, instantly and inherently. But the phrase is instead applied to two creatures, David and the angel of God.

The angel of God could be Yahweh (there is precedence in the Bible for this), but this seems to be applied to creatures as well. King David, himself, is said to be an “angel of God” five chapters later:

2Sa 19:27 And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king; but my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes.

That this type of omniscience, a knowledge of all things on Earth, would be applied to angels and man, shows the extent of hyperbolic phrases of this type in the Bible. It also is a clear example of this type of speech not being meant in a Platonic sense.

Short on God’s Role in Joseph’s Life

Gen 50:20  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 

This passage is used to claim God is responsible for all that happened to Joseph. Neil Short writes:

These passage seem to clearly teach that God orchestrated the sin of Joseph’s brothers in order to bring about a greater good. The plain sense of a passage is not always the correct sense. Consider evangelist Stephen’s explanation in his swan-song sermon in Acts.

Acts 7:9-10
9 “The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, 10 and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.
According to Stephen, God’s action began after the sin of Joseph’s brothers. God worked through various people to bring Joseph into a better situation in which the work of God would be evident. He granted that Joseph would have favor in the eyes of his master Potiphar (Genesis 39:4, which did not work out all that well), his jailer (Genesis 39:21) and Pharaoh (Genesis 41:44, Acts 7:10).

Thus, God did indeed mean it for good but only after the fact of the brothers’ sin. God did not need the sin of these brothers to accomplish his plan. God took a negative intention and worked out a positive result.

This interpretation was understood by Stephen in Acts.

Worship Sunday – Register

Find it funny when the punch-line was You. And You don’t like my punk boy attitude. You didn’t smile when I checked out that girl, or when my sin kept me in the world. And then I claim all I wanna do is praise Your name. I hate my sin, destroy it and mold in me from within. And then I claim all I wanna do is praise Your name. I hate my sin, destroy it and mold in me from within. And now I’m trying to keep the bad stuff away, but if I forget to keep Your word and pray. I love You Jesus, I need Your love in my life. I love You Jesus, I want to be like You Christ. And now I’m trying to keep the bad stuff away, but if I forget to keep Your word and pray. I love You Jesus, I need Your love in my life. I love You Jesus, I want to be like You Christ.

Ezekiel 33:8-9 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Eze 33:8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
Eze 33:9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

In Ezekiel 33, God explains to Ezekiel the concept of a watchman. The illustration is that of someone watching for approaching enemies. If this watchman notifies the people of approaching enemies, anyone who dies does so at their own fault. After all, they were warned. But if the watchman does not warn the people, then the people’s blood is on the hands of the watchman.

God then uses this principle to apply to Ezekiel. Ezekiel is appointed a watchman. He can no longer stay silent, because if he does then he will receive greater condemnation. Ezekiel’s special tasking, above and beyond the normal duties of individuals, is to proclaim God’s warnings to the people. If he does not then he will not “deliver his soul” (possibly spiritual or physical death).

God’s warnings also increase culpability of the people. If the people are warned and do not repent, their blood is on their own heads. This suggests both that Ezekiel’s message were conditional warnings and that the people had the ability to respond. The fact that the people do not respond increases their guilt.

Apologetics Thursday – Inwards and Outwards Callings

A Calvinists attempts to settle the “contradiction” between Matthew 22:14 and Romans 8:29-30:

That is a very good question. I would like to call your attention to a text in 1 Corinthians which, I think, clears up any misunderstandings of this issue.

“Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Cor 1:22-24

As this passage demonstrates, there are two types of calls: 1) the OUTWARD call of the gospel and 2) in INWARD call of the Spirit. We preach the gospel indiscriminately to all persons but, if you notice the above verse, the outward call is UNIVERSALLY rejected by both Jews and Gentiles because it is a stumbling block or folly to them … But “to those who are called” (through the gospel) by God’s Spirit, “the power and wisdom of God” i.e. there is salvation. The gospel must not only come in word, but in Spirit (1 Thess 1:4, 5). We can call people to faith in Christ till we are blue in the face, as we should, but outward persuasion is not sufficient to change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh by itself. Only God can do that (Ezek 36:26, John 6:63, 65) and He has chosen to do so through the proclamation of the gospel by the church.

This type of theology distracts from the context of all three passages. The context of Matthew 22 is God explaining the mechanics of what makes someone chosen. God tries and fails to entice followers from one group, and has to turn to another. Within that new group, those who are unwilling to conform to God’s standards are cast out. People are elect by their response.

The context of Romans 8 is that Paul is proclaiming the ultimate victory is God’s and God’s faithful will be rewarded. He states that believers will be killed, but they have the ultimate victory. Paul is not referring to people being unable to reject God. Paul is not even talking about people who were once Christians who recant their beliefs. The idea is the opposite, Paul is encouraging Christians such that they do not recant the faith.

The third text, 1 Corinthians, in context is about the different cultural mindset of Paul’s audience. The Jews are looking for a Messiah to bring about the Day of the Lord. The Hebrew mindset is relational and focused on world shaping events. The Greeks want to talk about metaphysics. Jesus is a stumbling-block to the Jews because he does not fit the Messiah for which they seek. Jesus is folly to the Gentiles because he does not fit their philosophy (the Platonism espoused by this Calvinist author, who quotes Paul without a hint of irony). This verse in NO way proves what this Calvinist would have it mean: that there are two types of calls (Outwards and Inward). It is not about that and the author fails to show his work.

In short, none of these verses contradict when read in context. They are not even about the same subjects in order to contradict.

Kurtk Johnson Simplifies Open Theism

From Open Theism Simplified:

First off, as the name suggests, “Open Theism” is for “theists” …those who believe in a God. Secondly, “Open” describes possibilities. Put them together and you have possibilities (Open) and a God (Theism), therefore, “Open Theism.”

Ok, let’s go a little deeper into what is meant by “Open.” Possibilities are about what might and might not come to pass. If God is all-knowing, then it must also be the fact that God knows all of the future. Open Theists agree that God is all-knowing and that God knows all of the future, and like others, they think that some of that future is possibilities, but what sets Open Theism apart is the belief that God knows possibilities as possibilities. So, Open Theism then denies that God faces a future of only settled facts about what will or will not be, and insists that God knows the future as partly settled (or ‘closed’) and partly unsettled (or ‘open’). Only God knows all that is ‘closed’ or ‘open’ about the future.

Kaminsky on Personal Omniscience

Nor is the dynamic of divine interpersonal relations in the primeval history restricted to reward and punishment. Rather, we encounter here a number of intriguing and suggestive instances of rapport between the deity and humankind. Thus, in the garden, the interplay goes far beyond a simple case of human action and divine response. Consider the dramatically calculated questions posed to the man and woman: “Where are you?… Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:9, 11). Of the same kind are YHWH’s leading questions to Cain: “Why are you so irritated and dejected?” and “Where is Abel, your brother?” (Gen 4:6, 9). These questions are intentionally designed to elicit a particular anticipated response, which in turn will be addressed by appropriate instruction or rebuke, as warranted. To me, at least, these stylized verbal interactions speak less of divine omniscience, as a theological tenet, than they do of parental or pedagogical ploys. That is, the questions reveal an intimate rapport with the subjects, and a finely tuned familiarity with their customary thought patterns, evasions, and defenses. Once again, the primeval history serves as prologue to subsequent narratives, especially in terms of similarly rhetorical questions posed, for example, to Elijah (“What prompts your coming here?” 1 Kgs 18:9, 13) and Jonah (“Are you really so very distraught?” 4:4, 9). There is a depth of divine concern in these pointed interrogations, as well as a personal stake and involvement on the part of the deity, that far transcends abstract philosophical categories such as “omniscience.”

Joel Kaminsky, Jews, Christians, and the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures

Worship Sunday – Come Alive

Through the eyes of man it seems there’s so much we have lost
As we look down the road where all the prodigals have walked
And one by one the enemy has whispered lies and led them off as slaves

But I know that You are God, Yours is the victory
We know there is more to come that we may not yet see
So with the faith You’ve given us we step into the valley unafraid

We call out to dry bones, come alive, come alive
We call out to dead hearts, come alive, come alive
Up out of the ashes, let us see an army rise
We call out to dry bones come alive

God of endless mercy, God of unrelenting love
Rescue every daughter bring us back the wayward sons
And by Your spirit breathe upon them show the world that You alone can save
You alone can save

So breathe, oh breath of God
Now breathe, oh breath of God
Breathe, oh breath of God
Now breathe

Job 11:7 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Job 11:7 “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?

Job 11:7 is sometimes used to prooftext ideas of God’s infinite nature. Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology writes:

1. HIS ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. This is the infinity of the Divine Being considered in itself. It should not be understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God… In this sense of the word the infinity of God is simply identical with the perfection of His Divine Being. Scripture proof for it is found in Job 11: 7-10; Ps. 145: 3; Matt. 5: 48.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 1207-1214). . Kindle Edition.

When quoting Job, the context is of vital concern. The story of Job is one in which three (or four) friends of Job confront Job and tell him their individual misconceptions about how the world operates. At the end of the book of Job, God condemns these friends (three explicitly, and one, perhaps, by implication) and commends Job:

Job 42:7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

If Job is being quoted, Job is likely (but not necessarily) correct. If any of Job’s friends are being quoted, those ideas need to be treated with skepticism. Surely, the quotes should not find their way into a Systematic Theology textbook as evidence for a particular theology. To find it as evidence of a theology is to find evidence that the author does not understand the context of his evidence. It is poor theology.

This particular comment is a comment by Zophar the Naamathite. This is someone God specifically condemns for wrong speech about Him. The prooftext is suspect, and is not to be used for theology (other than understanding what wrong theology might look like).

Complicating the issue, this verse is striking similar to other comments in the Bible by true believers of God. But it is doubtful that this verse is being used as defending concepts of Platonic infinite, boundless and incomprehensible perfection. Rather, these sorts of comments are usually contextual to the mindset of early peoples: that God is on another level than human beings. A high school soccer player might be said to not be able to even compete with a professional soccer player. The question is one of scope of power. One agent lacks the power and ability to compare to the other. This is evident by the immediate context which questions Job’s ability to understand the limits of the Earth, much less God. Job is a weak creature. God is too complex.

In any case, Zophar is not speaking about qualifying “all the communicable attributes of God”. This is a wild stretch. Using this fleeting phrase as a prooftext for concepts not defined until centuries later is not valid theology.

Gary Yamasaki on Reading Biblical Stories

From Insights from Filmmaking for Analyzing Biblical Narrative:

A more prominent issue in the scholarly debate on this verse relates to the words of the angel of the Lord, “now I know …. ” On this phraseology, john Walton summarizes the key issue in the debate when he writes, “interpreters … object that God, in his omniscience, must have known that Abraham would do what he did. God, by his nature and affirmed attributes, cannot add to his cognitive knowledge.” On this issue, Walton himself suggests, “We must differentiate between knowledge as cognition and knowledge as experience. We can agree that God knew ahead of time what Abraham was going to do. But there is ample evidence throughout Scripture that God desires us to act out our faith and worship regardless of the fact that he knows our hearts.”36 Gunkel, on the other hand, addresses the apparent challenge to God’s omniscience in this verse by explaining, “The use of this concept in reference to God implies an anthropomorphism because, strictly taken, it excludes omniscience,” suggesting that this attribution of a lack of omniscience to God was simply due to inadvertence on the part of the author ofE in his crafting37 of this account.

Note how both these authors work to explain how this text could possibly suggest that God is here coming to know something new, a dynamic not in keeping with the idea that God is omniscient. In other words, both authors take God’s omniscience as a given. In the world of systematic theology, this is certainly a trait that has been attributed to God. It must be noted, however, that this attribution has emerged out of theological study of the Bible as a whole, and not from this narrative itself. Once again, this is at odds with a cinematic-story paradigm in which any given text is part of a self-contained storyworld (seep. 40, above). Therefore, analysis of the omniscience of God in Gen 22:12 ought to consider evidence only from the story-world of the Pentateuch on this issue. Further, the sequentiality of all stories (seep. 53, above) means that only evidence found in the text preceding Gen 22:12 should be considered, as subsequent evidence is not yet within the purview of a reader coming upon this verse.

Ibn Ezra on Genesis 22:1

Ibn Ezra is often claimed as an example of an early Jewish Open Theist. John Sanders points to his commentary on Genesis 22:1 for evidence of this. Evidently, Sanders is referring to the following commentary:

Some say we need to read with different spelling: נשא instead of נסה ‘Uplifted’ instead of ‘Test’. And I say, the content of the Parashah (the story) proves that נסה is a ‘Test’. And experts explain that נסה (Test) means – to know what exists in the present. And the Gaon (a Babylonian Jewish leader) explained that the purpose of the test was to show His righteousness to the people. But the Gaon surely knew that when Avraham bound his son, no one else was there. And others say “go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights” meant to be “make a sacrifice upon the mountain.” And not him for sacrifice. And Abraham did not know the secret of the prophecy, and he hurried to slaughter him, and God said to him, “I did not ask for this.” All these wise leaders needed their interpretations because they couldn’t believe that God would command a Mitzvah and then change it. But all those leaders did not notice that there is a precedent for a change like that. In the case of commanding a role for the first born male child (Bamidbar ג – Nombers 3) He replaces them with the Levites one year later. (And my understanding is) that the text of the Torah uses “נסה” Test, and that is why we don’t need to think that anything changed. God tested Avraham for the purpose of giving him a reward (and not for the purpose of commanding sacrifices or showing his righteousness).

Source

Worship Sunday – In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Job 2:10 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Job 2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 2:10 is often used to claim that God controls all things. Calvinist John Piper writes:

From the smallest thing to the greatest, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure—God governs all for his wise, just, and good purposes… After losing his ten children, Job says, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Covered with boils, he says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
Piper, John; Taylor, Justin; Helseth, Paul Kjoss. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (p. 381). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

There are a few issues with this type of prooftexting. First, the Fallacy of Composition is at play. Piper is going from one statement about Job, the most righteous person on Earth whom God was showing special attention, and then exporting that statement to all things that ever happen. If I had a child, I might give him ice cream one day and revoke his video games the next. The child might rightly claim that “my father gives and my father takes away.” This is not meant to be exportable to all of humanity. A child who I do not show attention would be amiss to say the same thing.

Secondly, standalone phrases have various possible meanings. When modern insurance claims say that houses are destroyed due to “acts of God”, this is not a theological statement nor is anyone trying to attribute that event to God’s express will (although it could have meant that at some remote time in the past). The idiom could be one that because God is in charge of the universe and this event happened, then God is responsible by the nature of His position. It could also mean that God was being blamed for not intervening. There are many alternatives to making this text some sort of prooftext about God controlling all things, even within the life of Job. More context is needed to understand what this means.

The actual context is a gentleman’s wager between God and “the adversary” on if Job would follow God. God does not know if Job’s righteousness is due to his rewards or due to faith for its’ own sake. God sits on his throne and receives reports from angels. All this does not suggest the extreme control that a prooftext on micromanagement sovereignty would have us believe.

Berkhof Prooftexts Infinity

1. HIS ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. This is the infinity of the Divine Being considered in itself. It should not be understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God. Infinite power is not an absolute quantum, but an exhaustless potency of power; and infinite holiness is not a boundless quantum of holiness, but a holiness which is, qualitatively free from all limitation or defect. The same may be said of infinite knowledge and wisdom, and of infinite love and righteousness. Says Dr. Orr: “Perhaps we can say that infinity in God is ultimately: (a) internally and qualitatively, absence of all limitation and defect; (b) boundless potentiality.”[Side-Lights on Christian Doctrine, p. 26.] In this sense of the word the infinity of God is simply identical with the perfection of His Divine Being. Scripture proof for it is found in Job 11: 7-10; Ps. 145: 3; Matt. 5: 48.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 1207-1214). . Kindle Edition.

Systematic Theologian, Louis Berkhof describes God’s infinite nature as “free from all limitation” and he says this “qualifies all the communicable attributes of God”. This is an interesting claim, as “limitation” is usually used in a subjective manner. Some individuals say the inability to “choose to know” is a limitation. Some say that “not knowing something” is a limitation. Some say that exterminating the inhabitants of the Promise Land was righteous. Some say that exterminating the inhabitants of the Promise Land would have been unrighteous (and is wrongly ascribed to God). Berkhof’s unqualified unlimited attributes do not exist.

These facts make one wonder if his prooftexts actually show what he is trying to claim. Job 11:7-10 reads:

Job 11:7 “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?
Job 11:8 They are higher than heaven— what can you do? Deeper than Sheol— what can you know?
Job 11:9 Their measure is longer than the earth And broader than the sea.
Job 11:10 “If He passes by, imprisons, and gathers to judgment, Then who can hinder Him?

This is a comment by Zophar the Naamathite, of whom God says “you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7). It is interesting that a prooftext is being quoted by someone God specifically condemns for wrong speech about God.

But, true, this verse reference is striking similar to other comments. Is the idea that is being peddled one of boundless infinite of the Platonic fashion, or is it one of God’s incomparable status (God is on a higher level than us). Notice the comparison language: Job cannot comprehend the boundaries of heaven and earth and the sea, how much more can not Job comprehend God?
Futhermore, is this about the infinite nature of all God’s “communicable attributes”? Did Zophar even comprehend the categories of “communicable” and “incommunicable” attributes to reference passively? Does the Bible ever speak in such abstract categories or define these concepts? Or, more likely, is Berkhof abusing text in order to prooftext his theology?

Pettazzoni on Assumptions Imported on Omniscience

There is a divergence, a difference of less and more, between what is postulated and what the data furnish, and all the efforts of the anthropological arguments to explain this difference as the result of a secondary degeneration or obscuration of the ideal presuppose the existence from the beginning of what does not take shape till later times and under particular historical circumstances. The whole theory springs from a compromise between historical investigation and theology. (Pettazzoni, The All Knowing God, p. 3)

Bluemel on Omniscience

Craig Bluemel’s thoughts on God’s knowledge of the future:

Many Unanswered Questions In Light of Definite Facts

This short study cannot address all the scriptural apologetics and arguments regarding the topic of future knowledge. It is not my intention to do so. This treatise is for those who have ears to hear, and eyes to see. It is a revelation from God to those who are willing to break with tradition, and assume the awesome responsibility of saying, “Here am I Lord, send me.”

It is my hope that those who have suffered extreme hardship and personal loss will now view the Creator as both loving, and as a God who works within the parameters of what He does know, NOT what he doesn’t. When God opened my eyes to this truth, I began to take more responsibility for my own actions. I stopped blaming God for my suffering and pain.

By knowing that God cannot possibly know what we will do or say, we have demonstrated how compulsory it is for His people to work with His plan, as it unfolds. The following are facts that will help you interpret the hard-to-understand verses of scripture that may seem to contradict this understanding:

1. God does not know what our future choices will be, but he works to influence us in every way possible to be one with Him and His plan for our lives.

2. Prophecy of scripture regarding future events should be viewed as God’s PLAN; it is NOT His foreknowledge of future events as they unfold. It is His blueprint; similar to the plans an engineer would design for a building. In this divine scheme, God does not know all of the names and individual events and choices leading to the completion of His plan, but He is certain there will be men and women of faith that will cooperate with Him in it. His incomprehensible knowledge of the past historical record of those who walked in faith, from the beginning of His creation until now, provide an accurate mathematical probability there will be others in the future whom He can rely upon with certainty to say “Yes” to Him, and bring about a successful completion of His design (or prophecy). History and human behavior repeat themselves; God uses this knowledge to His advantage.

3. While God does not know future events (i.e. the specifics of each individual life before they happen), He works with what He has, and intervenes for our ultimate good. It is difficult to perceive this at times, especially when tragedy strikes and when we are subject to the extremes of human suffering. Knowing that He is working within the parameters of the ‘now’ as opposed to knowing the future, we are motivated to pray fervently, and seek Him for direction. He truly works all things together for good:

· Rom 8:26-28 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

4. Certain verses of scripture may, in isolation, appear to support the doctrine that God does indeed know the future before it happens. These particular verses are limited in number, and must be interpreted in their full context. That is, you must read the entire passage, including numerous verses that precede and follow each verse. If the context conflicts with our interpretation of one verse we think supports the idea of divine foreknowledge, we should then consult the original Hebrew and Greek languages in their entirety. Translators universally accepted the doctrine of divine foreknowledge, and were thus biased when translating. They translated many verse unintentionally to support their skewed view of God. Thus many Bible translations contain numerous verses and passages that lend themselves to this view.

5. God loves you, and He gave His only begotten son as a ransom for you. He never mentions the name of “Jesus” in the entire Old Testament, and this omission is indicative of the position taken by this author. God mentions Jesus’ birthplace, his various titles, and his role as Messiah, but most of the particulars are left to time and the willingness of those who will obey His voice. Neither Joseph or Mary, nor any of Jesus disciples who were to become apostles are mentioned by name. The apostle Paul, who scribed nearly ¾ of the New Testament, is not even alluded to in the Old Testament. Thus we conclude God has His future plans for man, and does not know the exact players and events. This prompts us to seek Him, and know the One that made us in His likeness and image. SELAH

Worship Sunday – How Great Thou Art

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

And when I think of God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow with humble adoration,
And then proclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

2 Timothy 1:9 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

2Ti 1:9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,

The NKJ translation states that grace was given to us “before time began”. The KJV lists this phrase as “before the world began”. The ESV states “before the ages began”. The Greek phrase is “χρονων αιωνιων” (time eternal). The Word English Bible possibly has the best translation “before times eternal”. The word for “time” is used consistently in the Bible for a passing of time. The word for “eternal” is used consistently to denote a large amount of time, or an unceasing time.

Second Timothy 1:9 is used to claim that individuals were chosen before time began, before any fall of man. Jesus, it is said, was an eternal plan in the mind of God. John Piper writes:

In other words, God not only foreknew in eternity the sinful choice that Adam (and Lucifer before him) would make, but he also planned to give us grace through Jesus Christ in response to the misery and destruction and condemnation resulting from the fall that he foreknew.
Piper, John; Taylor, Justin; Helseth, Paul Kjoss. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (p. 375). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Piper makes a good point. And the verse could be read in that fashion. This is particularly true if the word for “eternal” is being used as Plato uses it in Timeaus:

… Accordingly, seeing that that Model is an eternal Living Creature, He set about making this Universe, so far as He could, of a like kind. But inasmuch as the nature of the Living Creature was eternal, this quality it was impossible to attach in its entirety to what is generated; wherefore He planned to make a movable image of Eternity, and, as He set in order the Heaven, of that Eternity which abides in unity He made an eternal image, moving according to number, even that which we have named Time…

But the verse does not have to be read in the fashion of eternity. Instead, it could be used in more of a hyperbolic sense. In Polybius’ Histories, he uses the word to mean “a very large number” of writings:

Nor is it necessary to mention any names: but after Alexander’s death, in their mutual rivalries for the possession of various parts of nearly all the world, they filled a very large number of histories with the record of their glorious deeds.

Strabo in Geography uses “eternal” for natural phenomenon of tides, a twice daily event:

For instance, one could not accept such a reason for their having become a wandering and piratical folk as this—that while they were dwelling on a Peninsula they were driven out of their habitations by a great flood-tide; for in fact they still hold the country which they held in earlier times; and they sent as a present to Augustus the most sacred kettle1 in their country, with a plea for his friendship and for an amnesty of their earlier offences, and when their petition was granted they set sail for home; and it is ridiculous to suppose that they departed from their homes because they were incensed on account of a phenomenon that is natural and eternal, occurring twice every day.

In these uses, “eternal” just means “happens all the time” or “a very large amount”. Paul, in this fashion, could be using “time eternal” to mean “since always”, an English expression meaning that something has been in place for a long time, but not necessarily eternal in essence.

The idea of a Messiah is definitely not “eternal” in the Bible. One does not see talk of this Messiah until after the Babylon and Assyrian exiles. This is after the line of David is cut off (David was a Messiah, an anointed). Paul could be referring to expectations that have been in existence since the exilic period.

Alternatively, he may be referencing God’s enduring plan to have a people with whom to commune, a plan first implemented in the creation of man, and then time and time subverted throughout the Bible. The Bible tells a story of God attempting to reconcile man to Himself.
While Piper’s reading is acceptable, there are alternatives which are also likely.

aionion-plato

aionion-hyperbole

Apologetics Thursday – Ware Arguing from Adverse Consequences

Consider also some implications of the open view of God for living the Christian life. While open theists claim that their view enhances the reality and genuineness of relationship with God, the truth is that the gains they propose are not real, while the losses incurred are tragically great. In a word, what is lost in open theism is the Christian’s confidence in God. Think about it. When we are told that God: can only guess what much of the future will bring; is relatively reliable only when predicting things close at hand; cannot be trusted to give accurate guidance on matters that are far into the future; constantly sees many of his beliefs about the future proved wrong by what in fact transpires; reevaluates the rightness or wrongness ness of his own past conduct based on what he learns moment by moment; even regrets at times that his own decisions or his counsel to those who have trusted him have actually resulted in harm instead of the good he intended-given this portrayal of God (and more- read on!), what happens to the believer’s sense of confidence before God? Can God be trusted to give accurate guidance or to lead us in a direction truly best in light of future developments? Can hope in God to fulfill his promises be founded without mental reservation or qualification? Can a believer know that God will triumph in the future just as he has promised he will? All this and more is greatly harmed and ultimately undermined by the open theism proposal.

Bruce A. Ware. God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Kindle Locations 143-150). Kindle Edition.

Notice the phrasing of this argument. Ware is concerned that belief in a God without omniscience of future events will give up emotional security to the believers. He sizes up positive and negative consequences of a belief, and then he makes some type of weighted evaluation of which is the nicer belief.

Nice beliefs do not create reality. It would be nice to pretend child bone cancer does not exist, but any such person who believed such nonsense would rightly be dismissed as Pollyannaish. They would be seen as out-of-touch with reality, allowing their feelings to override their objective evaluations of truth. Feelings do not trump facts.

Ware wants an emotional argument. He knows these types of arguments are fairly effective, especially to those prone to believe his position already. These people will tend to feel emboldened without realizing that the other side has equally legitimate and pressing emotional concerns. When arguments are based on feelings, there are plenty to go around.

Ware’s evaluation is noticeably one-sided as he does not address counter-arguments or phrasing that will point the reader to a more representative evaluation of those he criticizes. Emotional arguments tend to work in this fashion, trying to minimize the emotional phrasing of opponents, while maximizing the emotional phrasing of one’s own argument.

Bruce Ware gives an excellent case study of emotional appeals.

Critical scholar finds Open Theism in Genesis 22

From Jews, Christians, and the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures by Joel S. Kaminsky:

So what might we learn about God from this story? I remember the moment when that dimension of the text opened up for me. My homiletics colleague, Richard Ward, and I were doing a teaching session together, and he recited Gen 22 from memory. In the freshness of that new medium, I heard a verse I had always passed over before, although I do not recall his giving it any special emphasis. Again, the angel of the LORD is speaking: “Do not stretch out your hand to the lad and do not do a single thing to him, for now I know that you are a God-fearer, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from me” (v. 12). If we take those words seriously—and in this narrative not a word is wasted—then we have to believe that there is something God now knows for the first time. (For all its theocentricity, the book of Genesis gives little comfort to the doctrine of divine omniscience.) What God knows now is so crucial that this most terrible “test” (v. 1) was devised, in order to show whether in fact Abraham cares for God above everything and everyone else—even above Isaac, his son and his own slender hope for fulfillment of God’s promise.

I spoke earlier of cultivating generosity toward the text, if we are indeed to befriend it. Generosity toward the Old Testament must mean this at least: accepting the text on its own terms, literally, working seriously with the language it offers us. The advantage of this present reading is that it is directed by the words of the passage rather than by an extraneous idea—the immorality of child sacrifice, the omniscience of God—however valid that idea might be in another interpretive situation.

This reading also coheres with the larger narrative context, to which the very first words of the chapter point us: “After these things, God tested Abraham.” After what things? Where are we in the history of salvation? At this point, all God’s eggs are in Abraham’s basket, almost literally. Recall that after the tower of Babel, God gave up on working a blessing directly upon all humankind and adopted a new strategy: channeling the blessing through Abraham’s line (Gen 12:3). Our story takes account of that new divine strategy: “And all the nations of the earth will find blessing through your seed, because you heeded my voice” (22:18). God, having been badly and repeatedly burned by human sin throughout the first chapters of Genesis, yet still passionately desirous of working blessing in the world, now consents to become totally vulnerable on the point of this one man’s faithfulness. But the narrative has just cast a shadow of doubt over Abraham’s total faith in God. Remember those two episodes in which Abraham has Sarah pass herself off as his sister? In Egypt and again in Canaan he lets his beautiful wife go into a king’s harem, rather than trusting God to protect them on their sojourn (Gen 12:10-17 and 20:1-18). “After these things, God tested Abraham.” After all that, we can begin to understand why God must know for sure whether the single human thread upon which the blessing hangs will hold firm.

Worship Sunday – How Can It Be

I am guilty
Ashamed of what I’ve done, what I’ve become
These hands are dirty
I dare not lift them up to the Holy One

You plead my cause, you right my wrongs
You break my chains, you overcome
You gave your life, to give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be? Yeah
How can it be? Yeah

I’ve been hiding
Afraid I’ve let you down
Inside I doubt, that you could love me
But in your eyes, there’s only grace now

You plead my cause, you right my wrongs
You break my chains, you overcome
You gave your life, to give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be? Yeah
How can it be? Yeah

Though I fall, you can make me new
From this death, I will rise with you
Oh, the grace reaching out for me, yeah
How can it be, how can it be?

You plead my cause, you right my wrongs
You break my chains, you overcome
You gave your life, to give me mine
You say that I am free, yeah

You plead my cause, you right my wrongs
You break my chains, you overcome
You gave your life, to give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be? Yeah
How can it be? Yeah

Isaiah 40:29 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Isa 40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

Isaiah 40:28 is used in several ways by proponents of Classical Theism. The phrase “[God’s] understanding is unsearchable” is often used as a prooftext for omniscience. The phrase “[God] does not faint or grow weary” is used to trump other verses which describe God’s mental exhaustion at dealing with unrepentant Israel (e.g. Jer 15:6). This is not a prooftext for either use.

The context of Isaiah 40:28 has God imparting His regenerating power to those who follow Him. Those who reject God grow weary. Those who accept God never grow weary.

Isa 40:29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Isa 40:30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
Isa 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

The idea is about being tired from fatigue. This is about power and strength. This is not about mental stress due to trying interpersonal relationships with loved ones, as in Jeremiah 15:6. Isaiah 40:28 is a claim that no one person can overpower God. The verse it is used to counter is about God’s frustration with dealing with people. Both verses (Jer 15:6 and Isa 40:28) can be true in their contexts without one overriding another.

Likewise, “understanding is unsearchable” is not quite a prooftext for total omniscience of all future events. The words being used don’t even necessarily have anything to do with knowledge, but with ability. “Understanding” is contrasted to “knowledge” in various verses and tends to have more in common with “craftiness”, “cleverness”, and even “skillfulness”. Take Psalms 78:72, for example:

Psa 78:72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.

The same word is translated “skillful”. A translation dealing with “knowledge” might work in this verse, but might not communicate the full intent. In any case, one would be hard pressed to equate “unsearchable understanding” to with modern concepts of omniscience. Nothing in the context suggests that this is what the author intended. Absolutely nothing in the context suggest this needs to extended to complete omniscience of all future events.

Worship Sunday – Trust In You

*disclaimer: this song has some exhaustive foreknowledge language in it (“There’s not a day ahead you have not seen”):

Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what you see
I try to win this war
I confess, my hands are weary, I need your rest
Mighty warrior, king of the fight
No matter what I face you’re by my side

When you don’t move the mountains
I’m needing you to move
When you don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When you don’t give the answers
As I cry out to you
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you

Truth is you know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead you have not seen
So let all things be my life and breath
I want what you want Lord and nothing less

When you don’t move the mountains
I’m needing you to move
When you don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When you don’t give the answers
As I cry out to you
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you
I will trust in you

You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foudation
The rock on which I stand
Your ways are always higher
You plans are always good
There’s not a place where I’ll go
You’ve not already stood

When you don’t move the mountains
I’m needing you to move
When you don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When you don’t give the answers
As I cry out to you
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you
I will trust in you
I will trust in you
I will trust in you

Mark 13:32 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Mar 13:32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

In Mark 13:32, there is an unequivocal statement by Jesus about lacking some information about the future. Jesus states the “Son” does not know the day and hour of the Day of the Lord. What this verse shows is that Jesus was not omniscient of future events.

What this primarily shows is that omniscience of future events is not a requirement for divinity. This is in opposition to many classical claims about the attribute of God.

What this also shows is how generalizations and contextual understandings work within the bounds of language. Jesus is said elsewhere to “know all things” (Joh 21:17) and be the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). The knowing all things is likely only a claim that Jesus has a lot of knowledge. The being the same “yesterday, today and forever” is likely about Jesus’ moral character, in context, Jesus’ steadfast presence.

Additionally, when people point to prophecies of Jesus which did come true, they then are saying a non-omniscient being can make correct predictions of future events. This undermines any case that one has to be omniscient to accurately predict the future. Of course, in these incidents, a critic can claim that Jesus gained his information from the father, but this is assumed onto the text.

Apologetics Thursday – Roy’s Prooftexts

Steven Roy wrote a book How Much Does God Foreknow. He provides an online list of verse references. He explains what this is and what it proves:

In a comprehensive survey, I have identified a total of 4,017 predictive prophecies in canonical Scripture. Of these, 2,323 are predictive prophecies concerning future free human decisions or events that involve in one way or another such free decisions. In what follows, I will list these 2,323 predictive prophecies by reference only. Following this list, I will quote 300 representative prophecies, 157 from the Old Testament and 143 from the New Testament, to illustrate the number and variety and precision of such biblical predictions. Taken together, they form a strong quantitative argument for God’s foreknowledge of free human decisions.

Here is the problem. Yes, Roy lists out predictive prophesies, but he skips a step of logic. He assumes that by just listing out prophecies, that this proves his case. No, that does nothing of the sort. With this sort of logic, Nostradamus’ hundreds(?) of predictions are evidence that Nostradamus.

Roy forgets many things in his analysis. He doesn’t account for the specificity of the prophesy, or the optionality. But the main step of logic that he misses is verifying that the prophecy actually came true.

His very first prooftext is this:

Three Hundred Representative Examples of Biblical Predictive Prophecies Relating to Human Free Actions

1. Gen 15:13-14—The LORD to Abram: “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”

This decidedly never happened. Israel was never enslaved for 400 years. They were actually enslaved for more like 80 years, from the birth of Moses to their liberation. The text of Exodus is also very specific that the total time in Egypt was 430 years, not 400 years.

Exo 12:40 Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.

In Genesis 15 is a prophecy of the future, it is a failed prophecy. Roy has not used basic competency in evaluating his prooftexts, and his steps of logic.

Instead, Genesis 15 is estimation. Prophecy works by being flexible. Things happen and prophecy changes. The authors of the Bible do not have an intellectual meltdown, but record events accurately. To them, it does not matter if the details are off. The details were never important in the first place. Instead, what is at issue is the general idea of a prophecy.

If God had omniscience of the future, there should be no failed details. Timeframes should be exact. Prophecy should not be so vague as to be able to be fulfilled through multiple means. But even the prophet John declares that God’s promised to Israel can be fulfilled, even if all of Israel rejects God, because God can rise up new children of Israel from the rocks. This is how prophecy is fulfilled: innovation and power. Not crystal ball fortunetelling.

Without further work, in showing how all these “prophecies” came true as well as explaining why clear fortunetelling of the future do not come true, Roy’s list is just a fanciful conjecture.

Olson on Ephesians 1:3-14

From Revival Theology Resources:

The Father is to be blessed SECONDLY because “He did appoint us beforehand unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, . . . which He did freely bestow on us in Him who had become beloved, in whom we are having the redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of trespasses, . . . to bring together again for Himself the whole in the Christ.” In this series of apparently related expressions, there appears 5 aorist tenses, as follows: “did appoint beforehand,” “did freely bestow,” “did make to abound,” “having made (or, did make) known,” and “did purpose.” A perfect tense is very suggestively applied to Christ and His work. An aorist infinitive, “to bring together again,” is used to describe the instantaneous future culmination of the saved (tense basically having no time element in an infinitive, but relating to kind of action). But in speaking of the application of the plan of salvation, the all important present tense, “we are having the redemption,” signifying present continuous action, is used. This redemption consists in “the forgiveness of trespasses,” which of course could only occur in time after they had been committed.

The 5 aorist tenses and particularly the expression, “He who did appoint us beforehand unto adoption as sons,” may in all fairness to the text be interpreted to relate to God’s general plan of redemption wherein He appointed beforehand to adopt sinners back into sonship by means of the sacrificial death of Christ. That the method of salvation is what is appointed, rather than individuals being appointed, is further supported by the statement, “we are having redemption,” which appears to be an inserted thought in the series of expressions on the plan and mercy of salvation.

Worship Sunday – Christ In Me

In this obsession with the things this world says make us happy
Can’t see the slaves we are in all the searching all the grasping
Like we deserve much more than all these blessing we’re holding
So now I’m running free into an ocean of mercy unending

So come and empty me
So that it’s you I breathe
I want my life to be
Only Christ in me
So I will fix my eyes
‘Cause you’re my source of life
I need the world to see
That it’s Christ in me
That it’s Christ in me

Done with what holds me down the things I once was chasing after
Throw off these heavy chains that I have let become my master
So now I’m running free into an ocean of mercy unending

So come and empty me
So that it’s you I breathe
I want my life to be
Only Christ in me
So I will fix my eyes
‘Cause you’re my source of life
I need the world to see
That it’s Christ in me
That it’s Christ in me

In this obsession with the things this world says make us happy
Can’t see the slaves we are in all the searching all the grasping

So come and empty me
So that it’s you I breathe
I want my life to be
Only Christ in me
So I will fix my eyes
‘Cause you’re my source of life
I need the world to see
Only Christ in me
Only Christ in me
Only Christ in me
Christ in me

Genisis 6:5-7 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Gen 6:6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Gen 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them”.

Genesis 6 follows the pattern of repentance found elsewhere in the Bible. Something is done by God, there is a change in disposition by God, and then that original thing is undone by God. In Genesis 6, this is God’s own past acts (God is not so much undoing man’s wickedness as he is undoing his past creation). The text, on face value, has God repenting of His own actions. God’s creation has failed and God blames His own actions. The text reads as if God is taking responsibility for the actions of His creation. God is blaming Himself.

The chapter depicts God as seeing that mankind has become evil. New information is flowing to God which prompts God to regret (repent) in making man. This regret is reinforced though a reiteration and use of a synonym (“grieved him to his heart”). The focus of the text changes from the narrator to God’s own words about Himself. God repeats what the narrator has already said. God declares His own regret in making mankind.

God’s solution is to undo all of creation. Although the narrator declares God’s regret in making man, God resolves to destroy everything on Earth including animals and birds. God is utterly undoing all that He has created. This helps the reader understand that God’s regret is really about undoing creation. If this were just about the guilty, then the entire world would not need to be punished.

The situation is unequivocal. God’s learning about mankind drives the plot. God’s repentance adds motivation for the resulting actions. God’s actions are geared toward the object of His regret (His own past acts). Not only the narrator, but God describes the repentance. If there was ever a passage of the Bible describing God changing His mind, it is this passage.

Sanders Responds to Oord Again

From Sander’s second follow-up article to Oord (both who are Open Theists):

When most open theists speak of God acting “unilaterally” or “controlling” something do they believe they are affirming metaphysical coercion? Do they believe that God is “controlling entirely,” and that an entity has lost “all capacity for causation, self-organization, agency, or free will?” Oord says we do and we say we do not. We could refrain from using the words unilateral and control and say instead that God was the one responsible for the event but I don’t think this solves the problem. It seems to me that just as when we say “Greg unilaterally controlled the hammer” this does not imply that there was no self-organization for the hammer. Of course, the hammer exists and is necessary for the act of hammering. If God resurrects the dead body of Jesus there had to be a dead body. Oord says that a mother placing a toddler in a crib is a case of bodily impact, not metaphysical control, since the toddler retains its self-organization and agency. If an open theist says God miraculously brings it about that the toddler floats from the floor into the crib is this an act of metaphysical coercion? Oord says it is but why should we think that if God does this then the toddler has lost all self-organization and agency? (see my article p.180).

Rushdoony on Platonic Impassibility

Stoicism followed the neoplatonic depreciation of passion or feeling. Reason, the faculty of mind or spirit, had to be the mainspring of action and life; the act of virtue must come from the knowledge of reason; reason being naturally good, the more nearly a man became pure reason, the more he approximated ideal reason and good. The “summum bonum” or highest good of man is the regulation of passion and the total ordering of life by passionless reason. The law of nature is virtue, a rational or passionless good; “nature” definitely did not mean the material world but the world of Ideas or Forms. The irrational nature of man must be suppressed and subjugated by his rational and true nature. The world of reason or nature is a passionless, determined, impersonal world, and as a result Stoicism was fatalistic. The world of necessity is the world of reason, whereas the world of freedom is the anarchistic world of personality, feeling, and imperfection.

Rushdoony, R. J.. The Flight From Humanity: A Study of the Effect of Neoplatonism on Christianity (Kindle Locations 350-356). Chalcedon/Ross House Books. Kindle Edition.

Charles Fisher Covers Uses of the Word Proginosko

From Proginosko – A Word Study:

First off, in two of the five times that it is used, it is not used of God, but of men, and surely men do not have an omniscience that requires foreknowledge. In fact, in those two instances, the word _proginosko_ is used to say that men knew something before, in times past.

Instance #1

One occurrence of the word, when used in reference to men is:

Acts 26:5 They have known me for a long time (_proginosko_) and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. (NIV) Acts 26:5 Which knew me from the beginning (_proginosko_), if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. (KJV)

Who had _proginosko, in Acts 26:5? Who had “foreknowledge?’ The answer is in v.4: Acts 26:4 The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem.

Paul is presenting his defense to Agrippa, and says that the Jews KNEW HIM BEFORE (proginosko). The use of the word, _proginosko_, does not, in this instance, require, divine foreknowledge or omniscience. Paul is merely saying that his accusers KNEW BEFORE what his life had been like.

Instance #2

The second occurrence of the word _proginosko_, when used in reference to men occurs in:

2 Pet. 3:17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know (_proginosko_) this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. (NIV) 2 Pet. 3:17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, (_proginosko_) beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. (KJV)

Who had _proginosko_, “foreknowledge,” in 2 Pet 3:17? The answer is found in the opening salutation of the book. Peter addresses his letter: 2 Pet. 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

The Christians who received Peter’s letter are the one who KNEW these things BEFORE. Again, no divine foreknowledge of events beforehand is required. Men are not omniscient, so this usage of the word _proginosko_ cannot mean “foreknowledge” in the sense that most people mean when they use it. They just KNEW the things that Peter is writing about BEFORE, and he is just reminding them of these things.

No “foreknowledge” is required here.

Worship Sunday – As the Deer

As The Deer
As the deer panteth for the water,
So my soul longeth after Thee.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee.

You alone are my strength,
My shield;
To You alone may my spirit yeild.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee.

You’re my friend
And You are my brother
Even though You are a King.
I love You more than any other,
So much more than anything.

You alone are my strength,
My shield;
To You alone may my spirit yeild.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee.

I want you more than
gold or silver,
Only You can satisfy.
You alone are the real joy-giver
And the apple of my eye.

You alone are my strength,
My shield;
To You alone may my spirit yeild.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
And I long to worship Thee.

Jewish Scholar calls out the Christian Use of Anthropomorphism

From Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking by Michael Fishbane

Equally tendentious is the presumptive dismissal of certain apparently mythic features of biblical language (its unabashed and pervasive depictions of God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic terms) that blatantly occur in the monotheistic canon of Scripture—as if these were merely due to ‘the inadequacy of human language’ and ‘limitation of human thought’, or to some sort of necessarily ‘indirect grasp’ of ‘spiritual concepts’ by ‘images … that emphasize the sensual’.25 But on what grounds are such assertions made? Surely there is nothing in Scripture itself that would point in this direction, or suggest that the representations of divine form and feeling in human terms are anything other than the preferred and characteristic mode of depiction.26 Moreover, on what basis should one assume that the plain sense of Scripture is some (quasi-allegorical) approximation of a more spiritual or purely metaphorical content? And what would that content be, we may well ask, and is it even possible to get past the thick immediacy of biblical language and its concrete and sensible accounts of God?27 One can only conclude that the evasions of the direct sense of Scripture that such attitudes represent are attempts to save Scripture from itself—for oneself, and must thus be considered a species of modern apologetics.

NT Wright on Paul’s use of “flesh”

NT Wright on Paul’s use of “flesh”:

But what do “fleshly”…mean? ….[“Flesh”] is so problematic that it would be nice (as I have tried to do with some other technical language) to avoid it altogether, but I have found that doing so produces even worse tangles. Better to learn, once and for all, that when Paul uses the word “flesh” and other similar words he does not intend us simply to think of the “physical” world, in our normal sense, as opposed to the “non-physical.” He has other language for that. The word we translate, here and elsewhere, as “flesh” refers to people or things who share the corruptibility and mortality of the world, and, often enough and certainly here, the rebellion of the world. “Flesh” is a negative term. For Paul as a Jew the created order, the physical world, was good in itself. Only its wrong use, and its corruption and defacing, are bad. “Flesh” highlights that wrong use, that corruption and decay.

Reposted from New Leaven. pp. 140-41, Romans 1-8, Paul for Everyone.

Origin of the Term Anthropomorphism

First known use (1728):

anthropomorphism

And the 1753 supplement to the same work:

anthropomorphism-1
anthropomorphism-2

From 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anthropomorphism:

ANTHROPOMORPHISM (Gr. ἄνθρωπος, man, μορφή, form), the attribution (a) of a human body, or (b) of human qualities generally, to God or the gods. The word anthropomorphism is a modern coinage (possibly from 18th century French). The New English Dictionary is misled by the 1866 reprint of Paul Bayne on Ephesians when it quotes “anthropomorphist” as 17th century English. Seventeenth century editions print “anthropomorphits,” i.e. anthropomorphites, in sense (a). The older abstract term is “anthropopathy,” literally “attributing human feelings,” in sense (b).

From Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Anthropomorphism:

ANTHROPOMORPHISM is a term used in theological writings to denote the figure by which words expressing human organs and activities are applied to the divine Being ; in short, it is the conception and representation of God as possessed of corporeal and human properties. Originally and literally the word implied only the ascrib ing to God a physical form resembling the human body, and consequently included under it all forms of expression which attribute to Him the exercise of physical organs and senses. But its meaning was soon extended so as to comprehend all representations of God which require Him either to be in himself corporeally extended, or to possess a corporeal body as the necessary condition of His activity. In this wider sense all theories were designated anthro pomorphic, which identified God with light or the physical universe, or which placed alongside of Him a primeval, uncreated matter.

Primitive ideas of God are necessarily framed by man from the analogy of his own nature. He is, however, able to represent God to himself under the analogy of his mental or spiritual, as well as under that of his material nature. This more refined form was called anthropo- pathism, and is that mode of contemplating the divine attributes founded on the analogy of God to the human spirit All forms of expression which ascribe to God passions, intelligence, or volition, rest ultimately upon this supposed analogy. In modern theology and philosophy, it is this mode of thought that usually receives the name of anthropomorphism.

Amos 7:1-9 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Amo 7:1 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings.
Amo 7:2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord GOD, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!”
Amo 7:3 The LORD relented concerning this: “It shall not be,” said the LORD.
Amo 7:4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land.
Amo 7:5 Then I said, “O Lord GOD, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!”
Amo 7:6 The LORD relented concerning this: “This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
Amo 7:7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.
Amo 7:8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them;
Amo 7:9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

In Amos 7:3, the context is that God wants to judge Israel for wickedness. God first begins forming locusts, but Amos intercedes (“please forgive!”), and God repents. Then God begins calling fire on Israel. Amos again intercedes (“please forgive!”), and God repents again. Then God shows Amos a plumb line (used for demolishing buildings), and declares against Israel. The first part might have a period of time implied between pronouncements. It seems to be implied that Amos is recounting a history of his intercessions for Israel.

God is described as having begun to build a judgment by locusts. This is an action that God never finishes. Amos intercedes and God repents. The same series of events occur again after God begins preparing fire as judgement of Israel. Again, God never finishes what He began. Again the prophet intercedes and God repents. This passage would be odd in light of total omniscience of future events. Why would God begin activities He knows He will never complete? Why even delay punishment knowing that He would eventually punish anyways. The delayed punishment seems not to have borne any fruit.

This series of events is reminiscent of the potter and the clay parable found in Jeremiah 18. God begins shaping a pot, the pot is marred, and God makes the vessel into another object. In the Jeremiah passage as well as the Amos passage, God is not completing His original intentions. In contrast, the Jeremiah repentance is in respond to repentance in the people (either repentance to or from evil). In Amos, the repentance is due to the intercession by a valued individual apart from any repentance of the people.

This passage is not about Negative Theology, but God’s long-suffering and people exhausting His patience. This passage is written to communicate God’s excessive steps to reach Israel, steps which bare no fruit.

Sander’s Bibliography on Open Theism

Sander gives a fairly complete bibliography on Open Theism. An excerpt:

Sanders, John.

“God, Evil, and Relational Risk” in Michael Peterson ed., The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings, second edition (University of Notre Dame Press, 2017). Pp. 327-343
“Why Oord’s Essential Kenosis Model Fails to Solve the Problem of Evil While Retaining Miracles.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 51 no. 2 (Fall, 2016): 174-187.
with J. Aaron Simmons. “A Goldilocks God: Open Theism as a Feuerbachian Alternative?” Element 6, no. 2 (fall 2015): 35-55.
“Open Theism.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, 2013.
“Divine Reciprocity and Epistemic Openness in Clark Pinnock’s Theology,” The Other Journal: the Church and Postmodernity (January 2012).
“Open Theistic Perspectives—The Freedom of Creation” in Ernst Conradie ed., Creation and Salvation: Essays on Recent Theological Movements. LIT Verlag, Berlin, 2012.
“Open Creation and the Redemption of the Environment,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, Spring 2012.
“The Eternal Now and Theological Suicide: A Reply to Laurence Wood,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 2 (Fall, 2010): 67-81.
“Theological Muscle-Flexing: How Human Embodiment Shapes Discourse About God,” in Thomas Jay Oord ed., Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science (Pickwick Publications, 2009).
“Divine Providence and the Openness of God” in Bruce Ware ed., Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views. Broadman & Holman. Nashville, 2008.
“Divine Suffering in Open Theism” in D. Steven Long ed., The Sovereignty of God Debate (Wipf and Stock Publishing, 2008).
The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence. Revised edition, IVP, 2007.
“An Introduction to Open Theism,” Reformed Review, 60, no. 2 (Spring 2007). The issue includes three articles responding to my article. http://www.westernsem.edu/files/westernsem/john%20sanders%20article.pdf
“How Do We Decide What God is Like?” in And God saw that it was good: Essays on Creation and God in Honor of Terence E. Fretheim, ed. Fred Gaiser, (Word and World supplement, series 5, January 2006), 154-162.
“Response to the Stone Campbell Movement and Open Theism,” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement, Vol. 2, ed. William Baker (Abilene Christian University Press, 2006).
With Chris Hall, Does God have a Future? A Debate on Divine Providence. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.
“On Heffalumps and Heresies: Responses to Accusations Against Open Theism” Journal of Biblical Studies 2, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 1-44.
“Historical Considerations” and “Introduction” in The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. IVP, 1994.
“On Reducing God to Human Proportions” in Semper Reformandum: Studies in Honour of Clark Pinnock, eds. Anthony Cross and Stanley Porter (Paternoster, U.K. and Eerdmans, U.S. 2003).
“Why Simple Foreknowledge Offers No More Providential Control than the Openness of God,” Faith and Philosophy 14, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 26-40.
“Is Open Theism a Radical Revision or Miniscule Modification of Arminianism?” Wesleyan Theological Journal (Fall 2003).
“The Assurance of Things to Come” in Looking to the Future, ed. David Baker, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2001.
“Be Wary of Ware: A Reply to Bruce Ware” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (June 2002): 221-231.
“A Tale of Two Providences.” Ashland Theological Journal 33 (2001): 41-55.
With Chris Hall, “Does God know your Next Move?” Christianity Today, May 21, 2001, pp. 38-45 and June 7, 2001, pp. 50-56.
“Truth at Risk,” Christianity Today, April 23, 2001, p. 103.
“Theological Lawbreaker?” Books and Culture (January, 2000) pp.10-11. Reprinted in Daniel Judd, ed. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Religion. McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Apologetics Thursday – Amos 3

Calvin writes on Amos 3:

Now as to the word repent, as applied to God, let us know, as it has been elsewhere stated, that God changes not his purpose so as to retract what he has once determined. He indeed knew what he would do before he showed the vision to his Prophet Amos: but he accommodates himself to the measure of men’s understanding, when he mentions such changes. It was then the eternal purpose of God, to threaten the people, to show tokens of his displeasure, and yet to suspend for a time his vengeance, that their perverseness might be the more inexcusable. But in the meantime, as this was without advantage, he sets forth another thing — that he was already armed to execute his vengeance. God then does not relate what he had decreed, but what the Israelites deserved, and what punishment or reward was due to them. When, therefore, God begins to inflict punishment on sinners, it is as though he intended to execute fully his vengeance; he however forms a purpose in himself, but that is hid from us. As soon then as he lifts up his finger, we ought to regard it as owing to his mercy, that we are not instantly reduced to nothing; when it so happens, it is as though he changed his purpose, or as though he withheld his hand. This then ought to be borne in mind, when the prophet says, that God created locusts to devour all the grass, but that he suppliantly entreated God to put an end to this calamity. He then adds, that it repented God, not that there was any change of mind in God, but because God suddenly and beyond hope suspended the vengeance which was near at hand. It shall not then be

In Amos 7:3, the context is that God wants to judge Israel for wickedness. God first begins forming locusts, but Amos intercedes (“please forgive!”), and God repents. Then God begins calling fire on Israel. Amos again intercedes (“please forgive!”), and God repents again. Then God shows Amos a plumb line (used for demolishing buildings), and declares against Israel. The chapter ends reading:

Amo 7:17 Therefore thus says the LORD: “‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”

The first part might have a period of time implied between pronouncements. It seems to be implied that Amos is recounting a history of his intercessions for Israel. God is described as having begun to build a judgment by locusts. God has started doing something, that according to Calvin, God knew would never happen. God then calls on fire, another judgment, according to Calvin, God knew would never happen. This is all to inspire repentance, again according to Calvin, that never occurs. God ends up judging Israel very harshly.

Calvin’s reading is a very confused reading of this text. God delays knowing full well the reasons for His delays will never be realized. The people are never assumed to have repented, and never do repent. God’s repentance is attributed to Amos’ intercessions, and never hinted to be due to Calvin’s secret reasonings. The text just is not written with John Calvin’s theology in mind.

Instead, the text is written showing God’s mercy due to intercessory prayer, and how futile God’s mercy had been in inspiring repentance. God’s subsequent wrath is more defensible, as God had given every chance of repentance. In this version of events, God is not beginning tasks He will never fulfill. God is not having Amos write in a misleading manner. God is not taking actions for reasons that He knows will never materialize.

Open Theist Critic Asks that We Reimagine Freedom

From James K.A. Smith:

A second key theme here is human freedom. Open theism is the logical consequence of an Arminian understanding of human nature, free will and the effects of sin. Indeed, open theism assumes human freedom and seeks to extend the implications of this to our understanding of God.

But what exactly does it mean to be free? Open theism, reflecting a contemporary consensus, assumes a libertarian notion of human freedom. This is what Isaiah Berlin famously described as a “negative” understanding of freedom: one is free insofar as one is free from external constraints. To be free is to be autonomous and self-determining, free to do otherwise. Freedom is freedom of choice. It is this understanding of freedom that is enshrined in liberal democracy. This construal of freedom is so deeply ingrained in our culture, and even in contemporary theology and Christian philosophy, that it’s almost impossible to think of freedom in any other way.

Open theism, assuming that humans are free in this way, constructs an account of God’s foreknowledge that attempts to reconcile claims about God’s omniscience with human freedom — the sense that human choice creates the future as it goes. In this sense, open theism sees God as “making room” for human choice by granting space for human autonomy, even if that means that God takes the risk that we will choose badly, as we so often do.

However, there is another trajectory of thinking about freedom in the Christian tradition. Augustine emphasized a “positive” understanding of freedom as empowerment: I am free insofar as I am able to achieve the good. On this score, freedom isn’t just the ability to choose, but the ability to choose well, to choose rightly. What is valued is not autonomy, but a sense of dependence upon God — even a participation in God as that which properly orients us to the telos that constitutes human flourishing. In this telling of the story, sin and evil result from the very desire to be autonomous, to secure one’s independence from God.

Given the complexities of this problem and the inadequacy of language, we ought to be humble about which approach we take. And we might do well to hold both models in some kind of dialectical tension.

1 Kings 22:52 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

1Ki 22:52  He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. 

In 1 Kings 22:52, Jeroboam is said to “make Israel sin”. If there was a passage similarly worded about God, it would be claimed that God controlled those actors in a supernatural sense to force their actions. A common example of this are the passages that describe God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. The Calvinist understanding is that God controls all things and forced Pharaoh’s heart to become hard.

But communication standards allow a better understanding. “Making” someone do something doesn’t necessarily mean coercive force. “Making” someone do something, as used in many passages describing Kings who made Israel sin, is rather about leadership and persuasion. The mechanism is that people freely choose to follow the direction of the king. The king does not even necessarily have to issue decrees or even command the people to do evil. The people might just choose to mimic what they see. The king’s behavior might just a re-enforcing bad inclinations of the people.

1 Kings 22:52 and similar verses teach the reader to exercise caution in the assumptions brought to texts in which God “makes” people do things.

Apologetics Thursday – Luther on Free Will

From the article Luther on Free Will:

Commenting on Pharaoh’s heart being hardened by God, Luther wrote: “His [Pharaoh’s] evil will would not have been moved or hardened of itself, but as the omnipotent Agent makes it act (as he does the rest of his creation) by means of his own inescapable movement” (207). God did not merely “permit” Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened of itself. God “makes it act by means of his own inescapable will.” Furthermore, God did not simply look into the future and see what Pharaoh would do. God is the one who actually caused the hardening of his heart. On God’s foreknowledge, Luther wrote: “Had there been in Pharaoh any power to turn, or freedom of will that might have gone either way, God could not with such certainty have foretold his hardening” (211).

There are plenty of passages in the Bible were people make other people do things. In the example cited, Pharaoh’s heart is actually hardened in several passages by various actors:

God
Exo 7:3 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.

Autonomously
Exo 7:13 And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Pharaoh
Exo 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

The magicians
Exo 7:22 Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

The last passage is interesting. The wording suggests that God’s statement was predictive more than a statement that God was magically hardening Pharaoh’s heart. This understanding is well in line with normal modes of speech. Other people in the Bible are said to “make” third parties do things. For example, Jeroboam makes Israel sin:

1Ki 22:52  He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. 

The idea is not that Jeroboam is magic. Instead the idea is that the people willingly followed Jeroboam’s leadership. This was not a violation of free will, as much as a willing following of a leader. Much in the same way, the Exodus account reads as if God is predicting rather than overriding Pharaoh’s will:

Exo 3:19  But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 

The text shows God finding an opportunity to use Egypt as an object lesson. It is reading too far into the text to see this has God overriding someone’s free will. That is counter to specific wordings in the passage and discounts what we know about normal standards of communication.

Podcast Defending Immutability

From the reclaiming the mind podcast:

A rational person, from the comments:

I think the scriptures you quoted are saying that the very nature of God never changes, but there are instances in the Bible where God changes his mind, regrets or has a change of heart. Frequent scriptures seem to suggest that God alters his actions in response to man’s behavior.

http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/11/theology-unplugged-can-god-change/

Worship Sunday – Oh Come All Ye Faithful

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God’s holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Acts 26:19 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Act 26:19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
Act 26:20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Paul is often used as an example of an individual, chosen by God, who had no choice in his ministry. Earlier in Acts, Jesus appears to Paul during his persecution of Christians. Paul is recruited by Jesus to become a full time minister for the message of Christ.

But Paul had the ability to reject God’s calling. Much like the prophet Jonah, Paul could have chosen to flee God’s calling. But instead, Paul declares that he was obedient and that he decided to act on his calling by traveling to the areas of the Gentiles, to preach God’s word. Paul understands that he had every choice to reject his calling.

The context of Acts 26 is Paul explaining his ministry to his captor, King Agrippa. He relates how he saw the vision of Jesus, and the steps he took in order to fulfill his tasking. Paul is not fatalistic in his understanding of the situation.

Apologetics Thursday – Paul’s Audience

James White writes/says of Romans 9:

So there is the context. Here is the cathedral of Christian revelation in Romans chapter 8 and as soon as he says this it becomes very, very clear that the apostle Paul knows that as soon as he makes these over arching statements of God’s victory in Christ and the elect in Christ and the perfection of the salvation that immediately on of the first objections that’s going to be raised is “But Paul, don’t you realize that if what you’re saying is true and we look around us and we see the vast majority of the Jewish people reject your message, they reject Jesus is the Messiah, does that not mean that God’s Word has failed?” And so in Romans chapter 9 we begin “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with. me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, {separated} from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the {temple} service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” I prefer the NIV or New King James at that point. “Who is God over all blessed forever” I think it is in reference to the deity of Christ but we’re not going to spend our time on that.

Paul is writing to believers. Paul is not writing to atheists. In fact, Paul is writing to a hostile Christian audience. We see all sorts of accusations that Paul’s audience was making against him (e.g. Rom 3:8). White would have people believe that Paul’s audience’s primary question is about God’s word failing due to mass rejection by the Jews of Jesus. Paul was writing to Jews who accepted Jesus. Why on Earth would they think the promise had failed? Why would that be their starting assumption? They were living proof of God’s promise.

Instead, Paul has just detailed Gentile salvation! Paul’s Jewish audience would take that as rank heresy. Their primary thought at this point would be “Paul, you are saying that all God’s promises to Israel have failed. You are wrong.” Paul responds with Romans 9, describing why and how God can change His promises. Paul’s own conclusion of Romans 9 is a defense of his theme:

Rom 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;
Rom 9:31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
Rom 9:32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.

Monroe Questions God’s Control of Her Life

From Oord’s collection of essays on the Uncontrolling Love of God. Angela Monroe writes:

Sometimes it doesn’t feel as if this is true. It feels like the opposite. Sometimes I ask God to take control of my life, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t answer me one way or the other. He is silent. Sometimes, bad things happen. When there is seemingly endless pain and suffering around me, how I am supposed to believe that God is in control? It’s not the easiest thing to do, and it certainly doesn’t bring me comfort when I think about the purposeless pain that, if God were really in control, he could have prevented.