July 1, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part V: Unconvinced by Prooftexts

Here I intend to go through certain Scriptural arguments that I have heard from Calvinists, as well as providing links to more extensive examination of them. In the post after this, I'll look at the Scriptural arguments for Arminianism which I think are quite solid:
Romans 9
Romans 9:8-24: This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls-- 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-- 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
First, may I offer the traditional Calvinist interpretation. In the interpretation, the offspring of God are God's elect. Isaac and Jacob are examples of God's unconditional election and Ishmael, Esau and Pharaoh are examples of God's unconditional reprobation, as made evident by the fact that Jacob was chosen before Jacob and Esau were born, and the quote from Exodus. The potter metaphor is then employed to show that reprobation and election are God's creative purposes for individual people. Therefore, this is a glorious example of the might of God's sovereignty.

In all of this, I have to agree with one thing: this passage is about God's sovereignty. Paul's argument indeed is that God has the right and the power to do what He will, and to elect as He will. However, the problem with the above interpretation is that it does not properly engage with the OT references being made, and it does not properly appreciate the passage within its greater context in Romans.

First of all, Paul's thesis in all of Romans is to be found in Chapter 1, verse 16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. " Paul's thesis is concerning what the gospel is: the means of God's saving grace. This thesis contains two parts. First, this grace is dispensed by faith, or belief. The second is that this grace is extended to everyone, both Jew in Gentile. Though he treats both sides of this thesis throughout the book, in Chapters 1-8, Paul is focusing on his first point. This is where you get the comparison's between faith and works.

But in chapter 9, and extending through chapter 11, Paul shifts topics and begins to focus on his second point: the inclusion of the Gentiles in salvation. If this is the case, why does Paul start with a discussion of God's sovereignty?

Well, he doesn't. Paul starts his argument back in verse 1, and it is verses 1-7 that provide the necessary context for understanding what Paul is saying. He starts with a beautiful description of Israel's elective status (verse 1-5) and then shifts gears, arguing that the present inclusion of the Gentiles by faith (his point from chapters 1-8) does not mean that God failed by choosing Israel. He is talking about what it means to be the elect people of God.

It is important here that we understand that by election, the Scripture is talking about the election of nations. This is evident if we assume that Paul is not taking these verses out of context. The first verse referring to Jacob and Esau reads: "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger." It is important to note that Esau never served Jacob, but Edom did serve Israel and it is only if we take this to be nations that we recognize that it was fulfilled. Additionally, the second quote from Malachi 1 is directly talking about God's historical commitment to Israel over Edom, not about the two individuals.

Thus it is important to note that the text is not trying to describe unconditional election, but is in fact denying election by lineage. The Jews thought that they were elect by birth and justified by works. In other words, the entered the covenant by birth, and maintained it by works. Paul's original thesis makes this clear. These examples are not examples of God choosing Isaac and Jacob, but examples of God not choosing Ishmael and Esau (as well as their descendants), even though they were sons of Abraham.

Thus, when we come to verse 14, this protest is not spoken by an Arminian or a Pelagian. These are not categories that Paul was familiar with (nor was Calvinism). Instead, this protest comes from the incensed Jew who was discovering that his lineage wasn't providing him with an in.

For more on Romans 9, view my thoughts and some links here and thoughts from Arminius here. Also, I found that one of the most fantastic and in-depth works I've seen on the subject is Brian Abasciano's doctoral thesis.

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Ephesians 1
Ephesians 1:3-12: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for we are blessed in all spiritual blessings, in the heavenly things, in Christ, seeing that He chose us in Him before the inception of the world to be holy and unblemished within His presence in love, thus predestining us into adoption to Him through Jesus Christ, according to the good judgment of His will in praise of His glory and His grace by which He favoured us in the Loved One.

In Him, we have redemption through His blood: the excusing of sins according to the abundance of His grace which He teemed into us in all wisdom and understanding having revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good judgment, which, through Christ, was preplanned for managing the fulfillment of times in order to coalesce all things in Christ throughout the heavens and the earth.

Furthermore, in Him we have been chosen by lot (being predetermined according to the plan by which all things are worked out and according to the purpose of His will) to be who we are, for the praising of His glory; we who first hoped in Christ.
This is my own translation.

To be perfectly fair, I totally get why Calvinists find this passage so convincing. In fact, I will say that this is the strongest passage the Calvinists have. However, I remain unconvinced. Why? Because nothing uniquely Calvinist is actually stated here.

I mean, sure, Paul talks about election, but he never defines it as being unconditional. He talks about predestination, but he never claims that God predestined everything that ever came to pass. Most Calvinists I have interacted with seem to believe that the mere mentioning of either election or predestination is enough to prove Calvinism. However, Arminianism confirms both of these concepts, and thus has no problem with the text at all.

However, there are a couple of other factors why I believe that this doesn't, in the end, serve as a Calvinist prooftext. First, the context is not doctrinal but liturgical. Paul isn't trying to lay down a foundation on the doctrines of predestination and election. Instead, he is using the concepts of predestination and election to praise God for the inclusion (or predestining) of the Gentiles in election.

Second, this text does not apply directly to all Christians (though indirectly it does). The text above is directly talking about the election of the Jews. God predestined the Jews to be the sons of God on this earth, and to establish them to be who the are. This is evident in verse 13 where Paul directly contrasts the "we" in the above verses with the Ephesians themselves. The text only applies to us in the sense that we are now given something that we didn't have before: inclusion in the promises of the Jews.

Third, the central themes here are also not election and predestination. Instead, they are revelation, redemption, and the dominion of Christ. When you begin to try and make this text to be a proof-text for Calvinism, you lose sight of Paul's heart.

Finally, to believe in unconditional election undermines Paul's whole point in the book of Ephesians. Paul makes his point most clearly in 3:5-6: In former generation this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Remember the paragraph in chapter 1. Paul was talking directly about the promises and the inheritance. This is because this was something that belonged only to the Jews, and now such divisions have been cast down. That wall of separation between the elect and the reprobate has been torn down and the two peoples have been made one by faith. However, in the Calvinist system, the wall isn't brought down, but merely moved. There isn't now one people, but two simply defined differently. This is simply not what Paul was talking about.

I have more thoughts on Ephesians here, and I highly recommend this articles as well: The New Perspective and Ephesians and Divine Election and Predestination in Ephesians 1.

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Romans 8:28
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
OK, this is one of the silliest proof-texts that Calvinists use. First question, what does this text teach? It teaches that when bad things happen to God's people, God will take that bad thing, and turn it into something good. And an Arminian and a Calvinist both believe in this concept so this isn't a point of contention at all.

The difference is how we understand how God does this. For the Calvinist, they believe that when a bad thing happens to the elect, God caused it to happen in order to accomplish something good later on. In other words, all bad things have a good reason. This interpretation isn't in the text, but it doesn't contradict it either.

For the Arminian, we believe that though God punishes and chastises His people to correct them, no truly bad thing has an origin within Him. However, due to human sinfulness in the world, bad things do happen, but He is here with you through it, and ultimately He is in control and everything will turn out alright. It is also important to note that this interpretation also doesn't contradict the text. Thus the text cannot be considered a Calvinist proof-text at all.

I would also argue that the Arminian view is the plain sense interpretation of the text. If you look at the context, it is eschatological in view. The next couple of verses list all of the blessings that Christians receive from God (listed with a crescendo order, not a chronological order), ending in glorification which is the greatest in the list. Thus the basic sense of the text is that though bad things happen, we are going to be glorified, and that far exceeds any present pain or trouble. Any interpretation that doesn't have this sense as its base is taking the verse out of context.

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Ephesians 2:8
Ephesians 2:8 For you see it is from grace that you have been saved through faith; not from yourself. This is a gift of God, not from works so that none may boast.
Ah yes, we are all familiar with this verse. I think it is important to understand what Paul's theology is here really. It is important to note that the basic clause of the first sentence is "you have been saved through faith". Everything else in that first sentence, and even the entire above passage, relies on us understanding that this is the basic view that Paul has about the salvation process. Indeed, the fact of salvation by faith isn't even Paul's point; it is Paul's assumption.

Paul's point is that the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works is something worth celebrating. It is the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works that is a gift from God, and the cause of any boasting being void. When we remember that God has the sovereign right to decide upon what terms He is going to base salvation, and then realize that humans would expect it to be based upon works (hence every man-made religion doing so), we can then recognize how gracious it is for God to base it upon something as simplistic as faith!

And faith here doesn't simply mean mentally believing something. It is talking about utter reliance and trust on Christ. This is why it is impossible to boast about faith, because the very nature of faith is relenting our own power and abilities. It is saying, "I give up. Christ, You do it." Who can boast in that?

For more, please see this article on "the gift of God", and And I casually treat it in this article

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John 6:25-71
John 6:36-40 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:44-45 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.
I used an excerpt here because, although all passage is in purview here, these are the texts that Calvinists focus upon, and I am trying to be brief (though I know I am failing :)).

Quick run-down of the Calvinist interpretation (this is an oversimplification): The text is distinguishing between those that follow Jesus and those that do not. To be given to the Son implies that the Father unconditionally elected them and then gave them to the Son. Indeed this is emphasized with the word 'draw' in verse 44 which implies being dragged against your will and is thus a picture of irresistible grace. Therefore the point of the passage is the futility of these Jews trying to come to Jesus on their own, and Christ is telling them that they can't because the Father isn't drawing them.

The good thing about this interpretation: John 6 is one of the most enigmatic speeches that Christ ever gave, and most of us need some kind of model in order to even begin to understand what Jesus is saying here. The Calvinism interpretation, for all intents and purposes, works. It explains the oddities in the text while being consistent with itself.

The problem: While Calvinism easily answers many of our questions about John 6, it is purely eisogetical, not exegetical. In other words, Calvinism can be offered as a comprehensible explanation for the text, but one cannot claim that one can derive Calvinism from the text. The two terms in discussion here are never defined within the context, and are not even at the heart of what Jesus is saying. Therefore, it can't be a proof-text for Calvinism at all. There is a basic apologetic confusion here. Just because your position has an answer, it doesn't guarantee that your position is the answer.

Here's what the Calvinists get right. John six is absolutely differentiating between those that come to Jesus and those that don't. But the distinction being made is not one of unconditional election, but previous devotion. The disciples and others that are coming to Jesus during Jesus' ministry are doing so because they already are devoted to the Father and because of this recognize the Father in Christ. Those that don't come were never really committed to the Father to begin. Thus the call to them is repent.

If you think about it, it is kind of odd that Christ would waste this much time to convince the crowd that they didn't have a chance of coming to salvation. Saying that He said it so that it would be written and we could understand doesn't answer this either. He could have easily have explained things (clearer I might add) to the disciples when they were alone to accomplish that. Additionally, why did He say it so bizarrely?

This makes more sense if we see that Christ is trying to convince these people to look beyond their physical wants and needs and to focus on heavenly things. The entire rhetoric of the passage is Christ pushing them to go beyond their understanding, and to truly commit to God. Why would Jesus do this if they could not be saved?

Therefore, we understand the terms "be given to" to refer to the Father already having them in possession, and giving them over to Jesus. Indeed, "be given to" can only refer to this point in Jesus' ministry because of how Christ uses the term in John 17 (note the transition in verse 20). The term "to draw" doesn't refer to irresistible grace, but to the Father having taken possession of them. In other words, the Father must have them first. The resistibly is just never discussed.

For more details on John 6, I have a fuller breakdown of my thoughts here, Richard Coords has a good break down of the Calvinist argument, Daniel Whedon's commentary is a good read, and Eric Landrstrom's work.

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Acts 13:48
Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
Here I used the KJV because the source of this being a prooftext for Calvinism has to do with the KJV translating tasso as 'ordained'. This is also what makes this verse easy to counter. The word tasso doesn't mean 'ordain'. It means 'to set' or 'to position'.

That's not the only problem. It also completely betrays the construction of the Greek text. The Greek runs as follows:
kai (and) episteusan (believed[aorist {or past} tense]) hosoi (as many as[nominative {subject}]) esan (were [verb]) tetagmenoi (positioned [nominative particple]) eis (into) zoen (life[direct object]) aionion (eternal[adjective])
The word order doesn't work in English, so there's nothing wrong with it being rearranged, but when you are interpreting a sentence, you first look for the verb, and then the subject. This sentence has two verbs ('believed' and 'were'), and two subjects('as many as' and 'positioned').

Let's talk a little about the participle. In English the participle (-ing) usually is used as an adjective: "This is a boring book", though occasionally it can be used as a noun (such as "human being") or present tense verb ("I am going to the store"). In Greek, it is usually used as a noun, usually meaning a thing which is defined by the action ("For the asking will receive, the seeking will find, and the knocking will have the door open for them"- Matthew 7:8). It is important that the past tense participle form of tasso is being used here as a noun (tetagmenoi), meaning "those who are positioned".

Given all of this, the common sense reading will assign the first subject with the first verb, and the second subject with the second verb. Therefore we would get this: "And as many who believed; the positioned in eternal life were." Well, that doesn't really make sense. However, with the verb 'to be' in the Greek, if the verb is being used to equate two things as the same, both words can be in the nominative form (i.e. the subject). Therefore it would read: "And as many who believed were those positioned in eternal life" or "And ones who believed were the ones that were set in eternal life". This is really the best rendering.

As such, we can see that the text doesn't blatantly say whether the positioning or the believing came first. It merely equates the two things: if you believe, then you are positioned in eternal life. Additionally, belief being mentioned first makes it the primary point of the text. Considering all of this, I find it very difficult to believe that Luke was trying to argue that "everyone there who God had predestined to have eternal life began to believe that day". That is really not doing the text justice. The text is clearly arguing that "everyone who believed that day was set to live eternally". If anything, the text simply implies that eternal life comes by faith.

For more on this text see Joseph Benson's commentary (highlight here), Dr. Whitby's Discourses on the 5 Points (highlight here), and this nice commentary on Wesley's thoughts.

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Stephen said...

I am a Presbyterian pastor who has become convinced that Calvinism is misguided. I was elated to read your post on Acts 13:48 -- one of the texts I've struggled with. But when I looked at the Greek I realized that it fails to take the perfect participle of TASSO into account (with the imperfect of EIMI); it effectively puts the action of being ordered/positioned in the past, relative to the verb PISTEUO. Am I missing something in your argument?

Thanks for your post.

Jc_Freak: said...

Well, the verb 'pisteuo' is in the aorist which is also a past tense. The perfect isn't technically a past tense, though it strongly implies a past since it means that the act is completed, which is the opposite of the imperfect which implies an act is on-going. My point is that I see 'tetagmenoi' as a noun or adjective, rather than a verb. We are the positioned ones, or the set ones. But it is what we 'are', imperfect, meaning it is what we currently are.

Meanwhile the aorist on the 'episteusan' when mean that it is referring the what happened on the day in the narrative.

So if we think of 'believe' as an act and 'position' as an act, only believe is given temporal grounding. The belief started in time. The positioning though is refers to ones standing in eternity, so doesn't really happen before or after the believing. The two things aren't really related to each other temporally. The verb 'eimi' merely equates the two sets (the set of believers and the set of the eternally positioned) as being one and the same. Thus, those who believed that day are set for eternal life.

The real question is what does this mean in terms of an ordo salutis. Do we believe because we are positioned, or are we positioned because we believe. I would say the context and the word order imply the second. Those who are positioned in eternal life are so positioned because they believed.

Taylor Craig said...

Ephesians 1:
OK sure its liturgical, but sound liturgy, like sound hymns, are based on sound theology, so I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Sorry if Im just being thick here.
Target audience: I think the we that is contrasted with the you is the “we who first hoped in Christ,” v12. If its just the Jews for the whole 10 verses, then it seems like bragging, not good liturgy.
Those things you listed as central themes are certainly important as well, but for the Calvinist, sola gratia involves election, and election is tied in to all those other things. And I have a hard time believing that God's sovereign bestowal of effectual grace is not the main point in all of this, seeing as he mentions destiny twice, choice once, purpose once, and uses numerous other textbook calvinist formulae, such as “who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will,” and “freely bestowed grace,” etc. You might say that the strong connections drawn here between election and adoption and the work of Christ and God's sovereign plan for history and the free application of grace makes this the archetypal Calvinist text—Calvinism is ultimately about the Gospel and God's grace to undeserving sinners.
Finally, about moving the wall: anyone who believes in election (which is everybody) does not believe in universal election. There is still a wall even for Arminians—a wall of unbelief. It's the same wall for the Calvinists. For both of them, though, the ethnic barriers are cast down, which is the important thing for Paul in 3:5-6. He's not talking about universalism; he's removing restrictions on nationalities.

Romans 8:28:
I think you are oversimplifying our argument here. Let's take the example of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt, or maybe of Job being afflicted by Satan. God clearly worked these things to the good of those who loved Him—Romans 8:28 says so, and we see that Joseph's trials allowed Israel to survive and that Job was blessed and spiritually strengthened because of his afflictions. Now, the question is, were they now better off than if the trials had never come? An Arminian might answer no, whereas any determinist would answer yes. So, which one does Romans 8:28 teach?
Clearly the point is not that some good can be derived even in hardship, but that troubles themselves contribute something positive that is better than the alternative without that hardship. Suppose we have two possible courses of events: event Y leading to good Z, or event A leading to good B. Assume event Y happens. Now, in order for God to work event Y to our good, then good Z has to be better than good B. Otherwise, there is nothing good about the fact that Y happened instead of A, and the occurrence of Y instead of A should be something that God works to our good.
Suppose I have a chance to win $1 or $5, but I'm gonna win at least one of the two. I win the $1. It is trite and unhelpful to say that God works what was, in effect, a loss to my good by giving me that $1. yes, I win money either way, but that's not the point. If God truly works all things to my good, then coming out with 4 fewer dollars should give me something good in exchange, indeed, something better that those 4 dollars. Otherwise I suffer a net loss. Rom 8:28 should guard me against net loss—everything works to my good. That is quite a promise, and I think Arminianism reduces it significantly.

Taylor Craig said...

Ephesians 2:8:
The translation you use here is unfamiliar to me—I think our argument is clearer in other translations. In the NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, and HCSB it seems clear to me that the antecedent of “this,” as in “this is not of yourselves,” is faith, not the basis of salvation on faith rather than works. Indeed, works have not even been mentioned yet. You seem to be saying that “it is the gift of God” and “so that no one may boast” mean the same thing—that we ought to praise God that faith is the basis of salvation, rather than works. This seems a very strange way to read it, especially with a “not from yourself” thrown in there. I don’t think Paul's saying that salvation by faith is not of ourselves but of grace, that would be a very roundabout way of putting what hardly seems like a point of contention. Romans and Galatians are spent arguing that salvation is by faith not works. In those books he takes this to be a gracious act of God as a premise (eg Rom 4:16, Gal 3:18), so it would be very awkward for him to be saying that in such a strange way here.

I've addressed Jn 6 on the post dedicated specifically to it. However, I do want to make not of exegetical vs eisogetical: that is a legitimate distinction, and it would be eisegesis to read all 5 points into John 6. However, it is hardly eisogetical to get total depravity from 6:44, or irresistible grace from 6:37 and 6:44. It is simply the most natural way to read them. If no one can come to Jesus except the Father draw Him, then Man without God is unable to come to Jesus, a phrase obviously synonymous with faith. Therefore no one can believe on their own—total depravity. Then, there are some—not all—who will come to Jesus, and they come because God gave them to Jesus. God's action, His grace, leads inevitably to their belief—irresistible grace. The same goes for 6:44 and God's dragging men to Christ, a term which nowhere in the Scriptures connotes a resistible action, and the result of their being raised up on the last day. Obviously every Calvinist tenet is not exegeted from John 6, but points of contention between Calvinism and Arminianism should be able to be solved by mere exegesis.

Taylor Craig said...

Acts 13:48
I think your two subject-two verb model oversimplifies a lot. Unfortunately I know exactly zero Greek, but I did take Latin for 8 years and so know a little about weird word orders in translations. It seems like the real question comes from the nature of hosoi as a noun that derives its meaning with respect to another noun. There doesn't seem to be another subject (since tetagmenoi is going to be the predicate of esan), and so the question is which clause includes which, as this would make one causally prior to the other. Did they believe if they were positioned to eternal life, or were they positioned for eternal life because they believed? Hosoi is relative, and so makes the one action relative to and dependent on the other.
So the question is: Is it as many as believed were positioned to eternal life, or as many as were positioned to eternal life believed? Unfortunately I am not in the best position to answer this, but maybe you can help me understand. In Latin, I don’t think we ever just assigned the first noun to the first verb and the second noun to the second verb. I think we thought in terms of clauses, and anyway the subject of one of the verbs will be the whole clause defined by hosoi. In Latin, a word that defines a clause almost always starts that clause, so the clause defined by hosoi would have to be “were positioned to eternal life,” not “believed.” So by my Latin reasoning, it should read the other way: As many as were positioned to eternal life believed, thus making it, by the reasoning above, a very strong Calvinist proof text. Of course, Latin and Greek are very different in some ways—is clausal construction one of them?

Taylor Craig said...

Romans 9:
Saving the big boy for last.
I think I might agree with everything you say here! But the chapter keeps going. I think I agree that v14 is spoken by a mad Jew, and the answer in v15 goes back to v6—Israel was never the end goal! God's grace is the end goal, and He will choose who receives them. V15 and 16 then establish who receives mercy: whomever God wants, without respect to man's will or effort. 16 would be irrelevant if he were merely denying election by lineage, but will or exertion have nothing to do with lineage. In fact, he is doing more than denying election by works, as “effort” or “exertion” might imply—He's denying election with respect to human choice! Unconditional election!
I then have a hard time seeing a Jew still concerned with lineage asking the questions of v19 and 20. And if the fact that pharaoh was already partially in sin was important to Paul, then the answer to v19 would be “well he was already sinning, God just used it differently for His own purposes.” Instead, the answer is “God is just in doing whatever He wants!” Unconditionally making some clay into vessels prepared for dishonor and some into vessels prepared for glory.

Jc_Freak: said...

I had a fear when I posted this that I would have someone intelligently reply to each one of my points that I would then have to discuss in length individually. Thank you for justifying that fear :-).

Ephesians 1:
Genre: My point about genre is merely that, a point about genre. Genre is important when interpretting things. It doesn't speak against the Calvinist interpretation, but it is simply a good thing to have in mind when interpretting something. That is why I stated it first, and why I didn't include any actual criticisms along with it.
'We' to 'You': The target audience is Ephesus which was a very rich Gentile city. It is likely that the church was made up primarily of Gentiles. By 'Jews' I mean the Jewish Christians. All the first Christians were Jews, up until Cornelius. I also don't think it is bragging either. Consider Romans 3:1-2 or Romans 9:3-5. Is Paul there boasting, or is he stating the fact that the promises were first given to the Jews and then extended to the Gentiles through the Jews? I think he is making the same point here.
My main point: My main point here is that there is nothing uniquely Calvinist. Most of what you pull out from the passage I would simply say, "Hallelujah" to. They are all things that I affirm. Arminians also believe in "God's sovereign bestowal of effectual grace" and "God's sovereign plan for history and the free application of grace" and Arminianism "is ultimately about the Gospel and God's grace to undeserving sinners". I would agree that this text disproves Semipelagianism and Pelagianism. Amen and Hallelujah. And there is nothing in this text that runs against Calvinism, just like there is nothing that runs against Arminianism.
Now I admit that Paul is expressing them in a way that sounds a bit more like a Calvinst. But then there are numerous other texts where Paul sounds like an Arminian that Calvinsts interpret in other ways. Indeed, this is precisely why I said that this is the strongest passage for the Calvinist. It is the only text in the whole Bible that does speak the way a Calvinist uniquely speaks. But there is nothing said that I couldn't say, so it proves nothing.
Wall: My point about the wall I think is still valid. A wall is something that one cannot cross. This doesn't apply with faith. It does apply in the notion of decrees and in the notion of nationality. Now you can simply say, as you did, that the wall broken down is simply the wall of nationalities, and you would be right in doing so. Me insisting that this contradicts Calvinism is reading our debate back into Paul which is anachronistic. But I do think that Calvinist election goes against the spirit of the concept, and thus Arminianism should be prefered all else being equal.

Jc_Freak: said...

Romans 8:28
I believe it is important for me to discuss what criteria I am using when saying that something fails as a proof-text. First, if the text cannot support the Calvinists' interpretation, then it fails. Second, if the text does not require the Calvinist interpretation but could support it, then it also fails. Ultimately , I am saying that Romans 8:28 fails in the second sense.

Now, my argument for the superiority of the Arminian interpretation here is simply the common sense of the language. If I were to say something like this in a different context such as, "science brings all of society to a greater good", I think you would understand me in the same way that I understand Romans 8:28, and you would be right in doing so.

However, i want to take issue with your defense. You say, "That is quite a promise, and I think Arminianism reduces it significantly." To which I must respond, "so what?" My concern is not which interpretation results in a stronger promise, but which interpretation is more acurate. After all, this is also why I reject transsubstantiation. It is not the boldness of the theology that is relavant, but the accuracy.

To that, I admit that in my desire for brevity, i may have undertreated the passage, and for that I am sorry. The context is of course eschatological. The fundamental point of the greater passage is that ultimate glory eclipses current problems and concerns. Therefore, we should not be worried about God's faithfulness because of immediate circumstances. The specific verse however points out that God is always at work, and everything which God does is for our good. This doesn't entail that everything that happens is for our good, but everything which God does.

Now I certainly understand your point about greater goods and subjective evils. Certainly our frustrations are often more connected with our interpretation of the scenario than with the scenario itself. There are some things which God does that seem evil to us, but aren't because it is needed to achieve something even greater, or because what we wanted wasn't really something that was good. But this doesn't account for all situations, like starvation, rape, mutilation, etc... I think it is naive to think that all bad things can be explained by the acquisition of some greater good. But what the verse promises us is that God is always with us and acting on our behalf, and that ultimately He wins and grants us eternal glory.

Jc_Freak: said...

Ephesians 2:8-9
I don't remember which translation I used, but the 'this' doesn't really help your case. I'm sure you've heard this point, but in the Greek the word 'pistis' is feminine, but 'touto' is in the neuter. So it doesn't refer back to 'faith'. And since none of the nouns in the first clause are neuter, then 'touto' would refer back to the whole clause, which is the interpretation I gave.

John 6
Well, I believe in Total Depravity, as all Arminians do, so I have no real contention with you there. I deal with the term 'to drag' over in the article, so I will talk about that over there. So eisogesis. In this context I am not using the term pejoratively. Indeed, I was making the point that we need an interpretative frame in order to understand the passage do to how enigmatic it is. Indeed, I thought I was actually giving a lot over to the Calvinist position there, saying that the interpretation succeeds in making sense of the passage. I just think that my interpretation makes better sense, but we can hash that out elsewhere. But I am sorry if that's not how the comment was taken.

Jc_Freak: said...

Acts 13:48
I must confess to your charge of oversimplication here. The nature of the project required much of it unfortunately.

My fundamental point, which looking back I agree wasn't clear enough, was that the text grammatically lacks a causual relationship between "believing" and "setting". It is better to understand the verse in terms of sets. You have the set A, those that believed that day, and set B, those who are positioned in eternal life. Consider the sentence, "All lions with manes are yellow." Now, this sentence isn't claiming that manes cause lions to be yellow, nor is it claiming being yellow gives the lions manes. It is merely claiming that the set of lions with manes is a subset of the set of lions who are yellow. Why this is the case must be discerned from elsewhere.

Which is exactly what I attempted to do. My last two sentences were intended to say that in the fuller context of the story, this verse serves as a climax, and would point to the veracity of Paul's claims both from verse 39 regarding faith and verse 47 concerning the Gentiles. I don't think it proves my case, but that it implies it.

That said, as I was considering my response to you, something came to my mind concerning this verse. The preposition before "eternal life" is 'eis' which generally means 'into', though it's semantic range is quite broad. Now unlike the word 'en' (which means 'in'), 'eis implies motion and dynamicacy. One could say that this implies a more Arminian view of election. Now, I haven't thought very indepthly on it, so please take it with a grain of salt, but I submit it to you that a position established before the foudation of the world being revealed in time would more likely have a preposition like 'in' than 'into' eternal life.

Taylor Craig said...

Im going to drop Ephesians 1 for now, seems like we agree enough at this point and we certainly don’t need to confuse the comments with extra stuff :)

Romans 8:28
Common sense of the language: im not convinced, when I hear God promise me that all things work together for my good, im expecting him to come through on that all. Im not sure why the common sense of the language is not the literal sense, especially when talking about God's promises to us. I'd be very disappointed if I found out that God has been using hyperbole when He told me that all my sins were forgiven!
Boldness of the theology: granted, boldness in and of itself does not make anything true of false. But in this context, I think we can say Paul was trying as hard as he could to be very very bold. Romans 8 is an absolutely glorious chapter in my opinion (and it is a pretty common opinion!). More than conquerors. What can separate us from the love of Christ. Who is it that condemns. All really bold statements. I have a hard time thinking that verse 28, in a way the climax of the groans to glory section, is not as bold a promise as it seems to be. In John 6, Jesus is being bold, not about the sacrament, but about the life given to us by His sacrifice. So I don’t derive the boldness of transubstantiation from it, but the boldness of His love. And we had better not try to reduce the boldness of those promises. I'd say the same principle applies here
You grant that God is always at work, but reject that everything that happens is for our good. I'm glad you accept the first part, but don't see how you can reject the second. Your NET Bible tagger has the verse: “all things work together for good...” All things. Thats pretty much the way every translation I've seen renders it. I honestly don't see how you can turn around and say that it doesn't mean all things.
Ephesians 2:8-9: I hadn't heard that before, but it seems to fit Calvinism still, perhaps even better. So Paul is saying that the fact that “by grace you have been saved through faith” is not of ourselves. The question is whether Paul means that God's choice of means is not of them, or whether the actuality of our salvation through those means is not of us. You would say that it means that it is not our doing that faith is the means of salvation. I would say that it is not our doing that we have been saved with faith as the means. In other words, you argue that “this” refers to the potentiality of salvation on the condition of faith, whereas I say it refers to the actuality of the believer's salvation, which came by faith. In other words, is this referring to God's choice to condition salvation on faith, or that the whole ordo salutis, from faith through glorification, is not of us? I think the latter is more coherent, for why would Paul bother saying that God's choice of the condition of salvation is not based on who we are? That seems intuitive and not worthy of an extra clause in an already long sentence. Also, that would not fit the parallel between “not of yourselves,” and “not of works.”

Taylor Craig said...

John 6: looking forward to your response to my comment on the article, although I would like to discuss Total depravity and prevenient grace more. Perhaps on part 6.
Acts 13:48: to address your last point first: I don’t see the translation “into” to be anything problematic for calvinism—in fact, using your translation of tasso, it would make more sense—no one deserves eternal life, and originally no one was going to get it—then God set/positioned/placed some into eternal life. God is active in this decree, moving us from death to life.
It seems that we are going to be getting into the nitty-gritty of grammar, but here we go. The “setting” is part of a relative clause that describes “all,” the “all” who believed. The type of relative clause is very important. It could be restrictive or non-restrictive—does it change the referent of the indefinite “all?” Obviously it does—not everyone believed, but only those who met a certain condition, namely, the condition of having been “set.”
Here then is the next question—does a restrictive relative clause imply causation? As you pointed out, not every relative clause is causal. In your example sentence, the relative clause is not restrictive (the point that female lions do not have manes is irrelevant—all lions are yellow [at least all I can think of], and thus the relative clause is not significant to the rest of the sentence), and thus it makes sense that it is not causal. Another example might be, “My mom, who was an engineer, went to Bible Study this morning.” The relative clause and the predicate go in entirely unrelated directions, because the relative clause was not restrictive.
However, Acts 13:48 is a restrictive relative clause, and this makes it different. A better analogy might be, “Anyone who studies for a test will probably pass.” The restrictive clause establishes the condition, or the cause, for the truth of the predicate. This seems to be by far the most common use of restrictive clauses.
This is not conclusive of course—restrictive clauses may indicate simply correlation without causation (“All lions with manes are male.”) or even causation in the other order (a bit more of a stretch--“anyone who can run a marathon has trained for it.”). However, Acts 13:48 is more than correlative and I find the “reverse causation” to be quite a stretch for the language there (especially considering the tense—they were the positioned ones before they began to believe, not after), and so I would group this with your analysis of Ephesians 1—not conclusive, but Luke certainly is speaking much more like a Calvinist would than an Arminian would here, and it requires some gymnastics to avoid that conclusion.

Jc_Freak: said...

Romans 8:28 I've looked back and I don't see where I've claimed that the passage is hyperbolic. That isn't my claim. My claim is that it is eschatological, and is thus focused on the end result of all things, rather than on present affairs. I'm claiming that it is concerned with the big picture as opposed to the details.
In regards to boldness, I'm not saying that the Bible isn't bold. Nor am I saying that Paul isn't being bold here. I am saying that exegesis must come before theology, and that grand theology (which in of itself is a good thing) is no excuse for bad hermeneutics. Of this, I am sure you agree.
So while I grant that there are things that happen which happen due to the result of human sin and corruption, and that those things are not for our good, I do agree with the text: all that God does is ultimately for our good, including creating the context that allows for those evils, and that ultimately He will, literally, make all things good.

Ephesians 2:8-9 You may recall that I said that something fails as a "proof-text" if is equally compatible with both perspectives. That would apply here. I don't deny that Calvinism can make sense of the passage, but merely that it does not challenge the Arminian position.

I might also add here that your analysis seems to be more based off of misunderstanding Arminianism. From the Arminian perspective, salvation is all of grace, in the sense that it is unmerited or unearned. Grace doesn't imply inaction, but undeservedness. Merit obligates the giver, and God is not obligated to save me just because I have faith, anymore than I am obligated to give my son a cookie just because he says please. But as a sovereign parent, I can choose to honor that request if I want, even though he was involved in the process. But he didn't earn because I still had the right to say no, no matter how polite he was.

Likewise, God is not obligated to save me just because I have faith in Him. Faith does not force God's hand. But He has chosen to honor faith because He is gracious. This is why faith is consistantly compared to works instead of grace. If it was a matter of action verses inaction, given Calvinist definition of terms, then it would say salvation is by grace, not works. But instead it says that it is be faith and not works.

Now you can reject this entire way of thinking about grace and merit if you want, and it wouldn't surprise me if you do. But now it comes down to how we theologically understand Paul's words rather than direct exegesis of the passage. Therefore, the text doesn't, in of itself, work as a proof text. It needs Calvinist epistemology to get there.

Jc_Freak: said...


You said, "I would like to discuss Total depravity and prevenient grace more. Perhaps on part 6."

Oh Taylor, wouldn't we all :-). This comment made me reflect on the overall debate, both between you and me and between our two positions at large. I find fascinating that our differences can, in a sense, be summarized very briefly and succinctly and can be easily understood, but yet the ramifications of those differences are so vast that they touch every level of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. There never seems to be enough room or time to discuss any aspect with enough depth, or enough compartmentalization to discuss any aspect without the other parts coloring our perceptions of the matter at hand. It makes this conversations so difficult, but so rewarding when they are done with people like who who are more invested in the conversation and the truth then they are in being right. Its complexity requires such patience.

Acts 13:48 I agree with your grammatical analysis here. The two clauses are definately correlated. However, I appeal to the context of the overall passage for my argument that the causation is reversed, not the sentence by itself. I don't think the sentence by itself is conclusion, but merely demonstrates the correlation. I don't think it takes an "gymnastics", but rather I think it flows for the context of the story.