The God That Blinds The Unbelievers Is Yahweh: An Analysis of 2 Corinthians 4:4

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” ( 2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV) 

As a fairly new Christian, I was taught that the little ‘g’ was supposed to indicate a false god, while an uppercase ‘G’ indicated that the text was talking about the God of the Bible. While this is an easy way to tell the difference in most cases, it isn’t always the case. There is a majority consensus among scholars and laymen alike that the “god of this world/age” must refer to Satan. But there wasn’t a consensus in early church history, which is where we will turn first.

Patristic Understanding of 2 Corinthians 4:4 

There were several prominent views regarding this passage, but we will focus on four of them.

View 1: Yahweh is that one that blinds but is not the “god of this age” that the passage refers to.

View 2: It can apply to either Yahweh or the Devil.

View 3: “the god of this age” is the devil.

View 4: “the god of this age” is Yahweh.

All four of these views can find refuge in the early Church.

View 1

View 1 has the support of Irenaeus, who in his work Against Heresies[i] argues that the Apostle Paul occasionally would arrange words against the natural grammatical sequence, it is believed he argued this way to offset any Marcionite interpretation of such passages.

John Chrysostom also held this view. He argues in his 8th Homily[ii] that Yahweh does blind people, but only after he has permitted a certain amount of suffering. The historical context to consider regarding his response is that Chrysostom was responding to both Maricionism and Manicheanism.

Augustine was another proponent of view 1. He starts off by charging the Manicheans with dualism, Augustine’s response to Faustus[iii] was that Yahweh is the one who blinds, as Faustus insisted that 2 Corinthians 4:4 referred to the devil.

View 2

Pelagius[iv] is the only big name that is clearly advocating for View 2. He states that in one sense, it can be the devil because the devil rules over unbelievers. On the other hand, It can refer to Yahweh because he is reacting to the unbelief of the people (punishing them for not believing.)

View 3

Origen argues[v] that the “the god of this world” blinds the minds of unbelievers for retribution. Essentially, Satan is doing God’s dirty work. He identifies clearly that the “prince of this world” referred to in John 16:11 is the same being referred to in 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Tertullian also held this view, his argument was in response to Maricon[vi] and he found the idea that 2 Corinthians 4:4 referred to Yahweh as not fit for the creator but rather identified him with the being of Ephesians 2:2.

View 4

The fourth view finds support in several figures in church history, such as Hippolytus, Ambrosiaster, Didymus The Blind, etc. but the person I want to focus on is Cyril of Jerusalem.

Cyril sees no issue with 2 Corinthians 4:4 being applied to Yaweh and insists contra the gnostics that the God of the OT and the God of the NT are the same and they both blind people in the way the scripture describes. He even goes so far as to attribute the actions to Jesus.[vii]

Now that we have covered a little bit of how this passage has been interpreted in church history, let’s move on to more modern interpretations of 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Modern Arguments for and against Yahweh as “the god of this age”

Against

It seems to be the plain reading that the “god of this age” is referring to Satan.[viii] Shillington, dripping with sarcasm states “Imagine Paul as a missionary preaching that the God of his gospel blinds the minds of those for whom that gospel is intended.”[ix]

It should be noted before we continue that Shillington’s comment is a strawman argument. Typically, when someone believes that the “god of this age” is Yahweh, they’re saying that God blinds the unbelievers minds who were never intended to get the gospel, not that God is having this internal struggle of begging to save and blinding to damn.

There is an interesting discussion regarding the use of Beliai, the apocalyptic god. This in my opinion is the strongest argument against the position that 2 Corinthians 4:4 is referring to Yahweh. You can read more about this argument here. [x]

 

For

Three points are brought up in favor of this interpretation by Dr. Donald E. Hartley, who states:

“If 2 Cor 4:4 refers to the devil/Satan, it would be the only place in Scripture

where he is referred to as ‘the god.’ In contrast, Satan, the Serpent, and even Belial seem

to be Paul’s preference in 2 Corinthians.72 This view also requires that Yahweh use this

‘god’ as an instrumental agent of blinding. But this interpretation introduces an

unnecessary intermediary as well as assumes that blindness is transformative and judicial

(retribution) rather than deprivational and non-judicial. If congenital hard-heartedness is

held and divine hardening is construed as a circumlocution for withholding

regeneration, then it would be difficult to sustain this view. It appears unlikely that Paul

would use oJ qeo/ß in this sense without a great deal of confusion.

THE JOHANNINE EXPRESSION IS NOT EQUIVALENT WITH PAUL

The Johannine expression should be treated differently for five reasons: (1) John

uses a‡rcwn not qeo/ß. (2) John uses ko/smoß rather than ai˙w¿n. (3) There is no mention of

blinding in John as it relates to the “ruler/prince of this world.” On the contrary, John

depicts blindness as both congenital and an effect of a divine act (John 9:35-41; 12:38-

41).73 (4) It requires one to define Paul by John rather than Paul by Paul. (5) Paul

elsewhere refers to the devil/Satan using the same term a‡rcwn as John (Eph 2:2b) and

this strongly argues against taking 2 Cor 4:4 as referring to the devil/Satan or at least

shifts the burden of proof significantly. Paul may very well use oJ qeo/ß because he is

referring to Yahweh not the devil/Satan. Although the references to Belial and his

domain are indeed parallel with the Johannine expression and some of Paul’s too, it

may not be legitimate to equate these with the phrase in question.

THE ALLUSION IS TO ISAIAH 6:9-10

Isaiah 6:9-10 is the backdrop for 2 Cor 4:4 and here Yahweh is the actor. He

hardens (‘fattens’), blinds, and deafens, not the devil/Satan (not even instrumentally).

Paul states in verse 3 that the Gospel is hid to those who are lost (state) and then

develops this in terms of the divine intent in verse 4 (purpose). This is very similar to the modus operandi of Isa 6:9-10 and its traditional trajectories.”

Hartley offers many more arguments for the position, I encourage you to read the entirety of his work.[xi] (For my Calvinist audience, Hartley is Dr. James White approved.


Conclusion and Implication

In this overview, I sought to present the historical background and the modern views on how to interpret 2 Corinthians 4:4. Though I do hold to a view, I have sought to represent each position with honesty and sought for the best arguments I could find. The implication if 2 Corinthians 4:4 is talking about Yahweh is that Calvinists may have a stronger argument for unconditional election. More importantly, we ought to seek what Paul actually means and what scripture actually says.

 

 

 

[i] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.7 1-2 (Can be read for free here)

[ii] Chrysostom, Homily 8 on 2 Corinthians (Can be read for free here)

[iii] Augustine, Contra Faustus 21.1-2 (Can be read for free here)

[iv] Pelagius, Commentary on 2 Corinthians cited in Gerald Bray, ed., 1–2 Corinthians, ACCS, ed. Thomas C. Oden, vol. 7 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999) pg. 228.

[v] Origen, Commentary on John 11.14 (Can be read for free here)

[vi] Tertullian, Against Maricon 5.11 (Can be read for free here)

[vii] Cyril of Jerusalem First Catechetical Lecture 6.28-29 (Can be read for free here)

[viii] Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 126.

[ix] V. George Shillington, 2 Corinthians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, ed. Williard M. Swartley (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1998), 92

[x] 2 Corinthians 4:4: A Case for Yahweh as the ‘God of this Age.’ Donald E. Hartley, Ph.D. The 57th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society Valley Forge, PA 16–18 November 2005

[xi] Ibid.

The Verse of God’s Sword: TLRJ And Jim Boucher Respond To CerebralFaith

This is a cooperative response to Cerebral Faith thanks to Jim Boucher of ThereforeGodExists.com

Romans 9 has become the cornerstone for internet debates between Calvinists and Arminians. Oftentimes, neither the Calvinist nor the Arminian will properly understand the text because they’re looking at it the wrong way. The goal is not to think “How does Romans 9 fit in my theological box” but rather “What was cultural context, textual context, and audience?” these questions stem from the historical-grammatical method and they usually provide better and more probable answers to these questions than hack wannabe apologists do on social media websites.

Contrived Cerebral Discourse

This misuse of hermeneutics was exemplified when Mr. Minton of Cerebral Faith teamed up with another Apologist named Colin to talk about this important chapter. There was no indication on who wrote what part, so I will not refer to a specific writer, Instead I will refer to them in the plural.

They start off the article  by saying “Romans 9, a passage I once avoided reading as a new Christian…”


This is characteristic of many Christians of today, who have an image of God in their head distorted by emotion or empathy. Reading further, we get to the most important point, they ask “What does Paul say here?” That is the important question. We must as much as possible push away our biases towards the text and find what Paul really says. To be able to push away your biases, you must affirm that they exist. I (Tony) am a Calvinist, I’ve read commentaries, listened to sermons and have read books that involved Romans 9 in a Calvinist way. So, I acknowledge that reading Romans 9 in a Calvinist way would come naturally to me at this point. However, I do not seek to hide from the true meaning of the text, whether or not it would contradict Calvinism or cause interpretive difficulties for me on other passages. I want to know what Paul wrote in Romans 9.

They state later on

What Paul seems to be proposing is that the scope of election is narrow and that God has, by some unknown measure, decided to shut some up in ignorance and unbelief, while allowing others to somehow believe, and “who are you, oh man, to answer back?” Has God determined that some are meant to be the proverbial fuel for the fire, this is just their eternal lot and they are the thing made and just have to suck it up? Read in this context, it seems Paul is rebuking those who seem to be asking God hard questions, which does not seem to square with a God presented in Isaiah 1:19 who invites us to come reason with Him. Why does God now silence sincere questioning of His plan to damn some, when His prior offer to reason with Him was once on the table? “

This is a remarkably shallow take on what Calvinists are saying. They paint a picture of a grotesque election that is exceedingly narrow and set it up for failure when they assume it contradicts other passages, needless to say, this wasn’t a fair representation.

I will let Jim take on the scholarly discussions on Romans 9, however, internet wannabe apologist to another, setting up your argument with words like “narrow” and “suck it up” show an emotional distaste for the belief or the persons involved, rather than a level-headed analysis.  

The fact of the matter is that “narrow” is not true. Not only are there eschatological differences between Calvinists (I’m a Postmillennialist, that means I believe there will be more in heaven than hell at the end.) but classifications such as “narrow” assume Arminianism, or at the very least, unlimited atonement.

The little rant on Paul’s statement of “Who are you, O Man” might be coming from the annoyance of Calvinists over-using this phrase as a non-answer in petty internet debates. However, they do not seek to explain the statement anywhere in their post. Paul isn’t saying “don’t ask God questions” but rather “remember who you’re talking too.”

He then misrepresents Luis De Molina’s intentions on Unconditional election but to avoid taking this off topic, check out this post on why Luis De Molina was not an Arminian.

In their summary, they say Calvinists have this “eeny-meeny-miny-moe approach in saving people; that is, he picks and chooses who to save and who to burn” referring to the Calvinist idea of God’s election as a kids game. However, this comparison is unwarranted, for eeny-meeny-miny-moe is a game that is supposed to represent chance decisions (Though, it is not, you can determine the results by which person you start with). God doesn’t elect by chance, but his good pleasure. What we do see in scripture is that God doesn’t choose people based on merit. Esau was better than Jacob, Aaron was better suited for the job than Moses, why did Judas betray Jesus and not the hot-head Peter?

The alternative is that God does choose on merit, whether that is foreseen faith after looking down the corridors of time depends on the Arminian. There is a shockingly low amount of argumentation in a post about what Romans 9 actually teaches. It’s more of a “we’re right and you know it.” type of post, I don’t think it would convince anyone who wasn’t already convinced of Evan and Colin’s position.

He didn’t cite John Wesley, or even his own society’s scholar Dr. Abasciano. (Society of Evangelical Arminians) It reads like an introduction to a study bible on Romans, giving as much theologically neutral information as you can and then makes a huge logical leap that would get good reviews at an NFL combine.

The structure of the article was confusing to say the least. It was 1.) What does Romans 9 teach? Mock and Misrepresent Calvinism. 2.) Give introductory notes on Romans, Mock and Misrepresent Calvinism. 3.) Mention Molinism, admit Molina agreed with Calvin and not yourself, wrongly characterize Molina’s position on the atonement, then mock and misrepresent Calvinism.

There was no discussion of the distinctions between corporate and individual election, the intention and consistent themes of Paul through Romans 9-11 or the story of Jacob and Esau that Paul references. We also don’t see any attempt to engage in the original languages or Paul’s point in 1 Timothy 2. Needless to say, I found this as a red meat post for their non-calvinist fan base without much substance or anything interesting to bring this debate that has been going on for hundreds of years. 

Jim Boucher’s Contribution

 

I (Jim Boucher) am not prone to blog wars. But TLRJ needed my assistance, and I thought it would be an interesting exercise. We are together responding to a blogpost published by the CerebralFaith blog about Romans 9.

What Romans Is Really About? And Self-Congratulatory Language

The first point worth picking at is the triumphant and revolutionary language CerebralFaith uses, describing what “Romans is really about,” as he goes on to describe the standard way of interpreting the book of Romans. When he writes, “the issue Paul is tackling is how God’s chosen people (i.e the Jews) could fail to obtain salvation while Gentiles succeeded!” The only response that comes forth is, “Well, yes. Of course.”

There is very little reason to call this,  “What Romans is Really About.” It is sort of like if I titled a paper, “What Genesis 1 Is Really About,” and I proceeded to outline a young earth creationist model.

In fact, in Essence of the New Testament by Elmer Towns and Ben Gutierrez, they provide a general overview of the New Testament. They write, “Now, Paul returns to the question of Israel in order to vindicate God’s righteousness in his dealings with the Jews. He shows that God’s present rejection of Israel for their unbelief is not inconsistent with God’s promises to them.” [i] Again, this is just a general overview. There is nothing revolutionary about this, and to say “What Romans is Really About” is just incomprehensible.

 

As Robert Johnson pointed out in his paper Paul’s Theology of Israel: An Exegesis of Romans 9-11, there are broadly three ways interpreters have understood Israel in Romans 9. [iii] First, Israel could refer to the church. Second, it could refer to the elect remnant of the believing Jews, and third, it could refer to the ethnic nation of Israel. As far as I can tell, while Johnson respects the scholarship of these three answers, he believes they are asking the wrong questions. Romans 1:16-17 is the thesis statement for the book of Romans, and the first eight chapters outline what it means to be justified. The ninth chapter “lays out a proper understanding of salvation by faith as it has played out through history.”

Of course, Johnson does not believe in unconditional election.[iv] But his assessment of Romans can function as a model for how to produce real scholarship. A scholar will outline different perspectives, ensuring that she knows what they are and is representing them fairly and invests themselves in the data. They do not write, “What Romans 9 Is Really About” then go on to outline the standard interpretation of Romans, found in most general overview books, while ignoring or being unaware of rival interpretations. Romans 9-11 is not debated as “Conditional Vs Unconditional.” It is debated as “How is Israel saved? How does their justification tie into the larger corpus of salvation history?” That is the larger scale question.

But the smaller scale question is, “Are there any implications for the election of individuals found in the text?” Evan seems to think that answering the larger scale question also provides an answer to the smaller scale question.

Understanding The Romans 9 Debate Conceptually

I hope it has been clarified by now that the competing interpretive frameworks for Romans 9 is not Israel Vs Unconditional Election. The initial question is, “Who is Israel? The church? A remnant within Israel? All of Israel?” The following question will be about how Israel will be saved, and finally we will begin to tread upon whether Paul speaks of unconditional election. CerebralFaith skipped these steps and seemed to frame the competing frameworks as Israel or Unconditional Election. Thomas Schreiner would even go so far as to say that corporate and individual election should not be pitted against one another.[v] (His peer-reviewed work as cited should be considered necessary to framing this discussion. If the writers at CerebralFaith feel the gumption to respond, they should review the discussion between Thomas Schreiner and Brian Abasciano.)

Schreiner argues that there is nothing strictly incompatible about corporate and individual election. He wrote, Instead what we have in Romans 9-11 is both corporate and individual election, for we cannot have the one without the other… It follows, then, that Paul may focus on corporate election without in the least suggesting that individual election is excluded… You can’t have one without the other.” Abasciano challenged this, arguing that Schreiner was giving individual election primacy whereas corporate election ought to have it. [vi]

Schreiner made that the point that strictly speaking, Abasciano’s model without an individual element would not be an election of God. God would not be “electing” anybody. He writes, If the individual dimension of corporate election simply means that human beings believe in order to be saved, then there is no “election” in corporate election. Or, to put it another way, there is no election by God. All the electing is done by the individual when he or she chooses to be saved.” As a concept, corporate election needs an element of individual election as proposed by the Calvinists. Schreiner went on to anticipate several objects Abasciano or other Arminian theologians might raise, but I shall not rehash them here. I expect that before anybody assesses Schreiner’s argument, they will review his work to see if their objections have been covered.

Examining The Scholarship Surrounding Key Texts

I hope that was not too much information. Evan basically mounted two arguments regarding Romans 9. 1 – Romans 9 is about Israel. 2 – Romans 9 provides a model of corporate election. So, what I have strived to do here is to show that these two arguments are neither here nor there. Both of them are granted happily. We need to discuss the few passages that Evan touched on and those that he skipped. These passages form the basis for the doctrine of unconditional election. There are a few places that the scholarship will direct us. Since it is chronologically first and it would be odd to switch back and forth between scholars, we will stick with Schreiner’s argument from Romans 8:30.[vii]

Romans 8:30

Romans 8:30 reads, “And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called, he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified.” Schreiner reminds us that in Pauline theology, justification comes by faith. It does not come by ethnicity. If we call attention to justification in this pattern, it becomes evident that Paul is referring to individuals rather than corporate bodies. The next step in Schreiner’s argument is to call the reader’s attention to “called.” If all are called, then all are justified. Since all are not justified, it follows that all are not called. Only some are called. I am not inclined to give Evan a pass for skipping this verse, even if it is outside of Romans 9, for two reasons. First, he jumped outside of Romans 9 to form another argument. Second, this comes directly before Romans 9. Paul did not know that we would divide his letter into chapters. It is just a continuous stream of thought.

Romans 9:13

Paul cited the minor prophets in Romans 9-11 more than anywhere else.[viii] This reminds us that the story of salvation is part of a larger narrative. In Romans 9:13, Paul specifically cites Malachi. The text reads, “As it is written, Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Evan boasts of this that Paul is clearly talking about nations, and he discerns from this fact that it cannot be talking about individual election. This harks us back to the conceptual issues that Evan was having. Corporate and individual election are not mutually exclusive. There could be a nationalistic element and an individualistic element. Schreiner tells us:

“Mere physical descent from Abraham or Isaac does not prove that an individual is elect, for God never promised that the whole nation of Israel corporately without exception would receive the blessing of salvation. There has always been a winnowing process. The corporate group has always been composed of individuals whom God has chosen. The flow of the argument clarifies that Paul thinks of individual election, not just corporate election. He chose Isaac as an individual instead of Ishmael. Both were descendants from Abraham, but the Lord did not choose the descendants of Abraham as a group. Instead he chose Isaac rather than Ishmael, and he chose Jacob rather than Esau. And Paul applies this principle to all of history, even to his own day.” [ix]

There are a few other points about Jacob and Esau to keep in mind. When God refers to his election, he says that it was not based on anything that they had done at all. It was simply based on him who “calls.” This usage of “calls” should hark us back to what Paul said just a few verses earlier in 8:30. All those who are called are also justified. Since that calling is individualistic, we would not be unreasonable to suppose that the calling of Jacob was literally a calling of Jacob.

I might also remind you that the only-corporate election model does not dull the sword here. It is still a verse of God’s sword. Even if an only-corporate model were possible, we would still have God excluding an entire nation from his covenant and choosing another nation. The only reason he gave for that was “his calling,” his pleasure and his good will. We would be naive to think that this did not lead to the condemnation of thousands of individuals, simply because God chose national Jacob over national Esau, unconditionaly. This truly is a verse of God’s sword.

Romans 9:15-16

9:15-16 is another citation of the Old Testament. It reads, “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” The first thing you might notice is the singular nouns. Paul understands Exodus 33:19 to be saying that it does not depend on the “man” who runs, but on God. If the reader subscribes to an only-corporate model, they might make sense of this by saying that Paul is simply continuing his metaphor, and the “man” is Jacob the nation. Dr. Douglas Moo does not think that is a tenable way to understand this passage because it does not comport with Pauline theology.

First, verse 16 is referring to the reception of the mercy spoken of in verse 15. Mercy does not come from national identity. It comes through faith. It is therefore more plausible to interpret this as referring to individuals. Second, Moo writes, “Receiving mercy from God does not depend on anything a person can will or do, but only on God’s own will to show mercy. Note that Paul’s inclusion of “willing” and “doing” supports our conclusion that he excludes faith as well as works as sources of election.” [x] Notice that Moo is not saying that faith is a work. Faith is an act of the will. Reception of God’s mercy does not come as a result of anything in human will. Election is not a result of anything in human will, including faith.

Who Are You, O Man?

While the CerebralFaith blog did briefly pontificate on Jacob and Esau and a couple of following verses, it did not confront what I think are key texts in understanding the debate between only-corporate election and corporate-individual election: Romans 9:19-20. The text reads, “You will say to me, then ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ On the contrary, who are you, o man, who answers back to God?”

I think it might be beneficial to take a look at the Arminian scholarship behind this verse, and then move on to what Evan and Colin had to say about it. Robert Johnson (previously cited) had a few interesting remarks. He views election in only-corporate terms. The hypothetical objector would be a Jew, complaining about the scope of corporate election. Then God turns to him and says, “Who are you, o man, who answers back to God?”

Johnson writes, “If God wants to choose the Gentiles to be saved, that is his right. Thus, the ultimate point Paul is making is that salvation comes to anyone who believes by faith. God will show mercy on anybody who believes.” [xi] But the problem is that Paul’s hypothetical objector did not ask about salvation. He asked about condemnation. I am a little confused about what would motivate Paul to ask that question. Further, why would he appeal to God’s sovereignty in answering it? Paul was a learned man; he could certainly give the objector something more satisfying. He could remind them that Abraham would be the father of many nations, that God’s covenant will last forever, that the Messiah will reign over all people. This diatribe is likely best explained within the context of unconditional election.

This brings us next to Evan and Colin’s assessment of this verse. Colin introduced the controversy in the first paragraph, but the only time it appears in Evan’s writing was in a sarcastic, sneering tone as he mocked the declarations of God’s apostle. It was almost as if he doesn’t know that Paul said it. We should really emphasize this. The very answer that Evan hates so much is exactly what Paul said, and his only explanation is to sneer and ask how anybody could say that.

This brings us to Colin’s argument in the first paragraph. He repeated a point much like what I found in Bart Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How The Bible Fail’s To Answer Life’s Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. Ehrman writes, “God appears at the end of the poetic exchanges and refuses to give an answer. He does not explain why Job suffers. He simply asserts that he is Almighty, and as such cannot be questioned.” This seems to pretty well summarize Evan and Colin’s argument, so I will respond to it here exactly as I have before in other contexts. Asking questions is fine. But when we say that God must answer our questions, and that we will refuse to obey him if he does not, then that borders on impiety. Another consideration is that God does literally refuse to answer questions. “Who are you, o man, who answers back to God?” is a real quote. Even if you take the only-corporate perspective, it is still part of the character of God to refuse to answer and demand obedience despite that as he sees fit. Again, we may still seek answers, but when we start to condemn God is when it becomes impiety.

Romans 11:11-12

This is an argument unique to Evan, as he responds to an objector that he probably met in an online chatroom, because what he describes in this section as “The Calvinist View” is alien to me. He seems to equate Calvinism with kinism or white nationalism, with an irrational hatred of the Jews. Romans 11:11-12 reads, “So, I ask, did they stumble, in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass, salvation has come to the Gentiles.” Evan comments, “If the Calvinist view were correct, the Jews would be beyond recovery… unable to repent… unable to be saved.” This is not the Calvinist view at all.

It seems sufficient to cite the Westminster Confession of Faith. “Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”

What if a blogger refutes me?

The final point that I want to address is what is found in his section titled “What if the Calvinist interpretation were correct?” He writes, “Let’s say a Calvinist blogger writes up a solid refutation of this blog post and shows that this passage is teaching unconditional election after all…” We shouldn’t live in a world where bloggers are the intellectual heavyweights who provide ‘solid refutation.’ The debate about the relationship between free will and sovereignty has been going on for thousands of years. Scholars provide solid refutations. Bloggers do not. If anybody is interested in a ‘solid refutation,’ they should look for peer-reviewed journals or commentaries written by scholars.

Overall, age-old debates are not something we can resolve by just thinking hard in front of a computer screen. It needs to be researched, not an exercise in common sense; humble, not self-congratulatory; nuanced, not absolute. Anybody can write a blogpost pontificating about the general themes of Romans 9.

 

[i] Elmer Towns And Ben Gutierrez, The Essence of The New  Testament: A Survey, Nashville, TN B&H Academics, 2012, page 137

[ii] Moo, Douglas, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan: 2000, page 291

[iii] Johnson, Robert, Paul’s Theology of Israel: An Exegesis of Romans 9-11, Virginia Beach, VA, Regent University: 2008, page 9

[iv] Johnson, Exegesis of Romans 9-11, Regent, page 17

[v] Schreiner, Thomas R. “CORPORATE AND INDIVIDUAL ELECTION IN ROMANS 9: A RESPONSE TO BRIAN ABASCIANO.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 2 (06, 2006): 373-86

[vi] Abasciano, Brian J. “CORPORATE ELECTION IN ROMANS 9: A REPLY TO THOMAS SCHREINER.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 2 (06, 2006): 351-71

[vii] Schreiner, Corporate And Individual Election, Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, 2006

[viii] Steyn, Gert Jacobus. 2015. “Observations on the text form of the Minor Prophets quotations in Romans 9-11.” Journal For The Study Of The New Testament 38, no. 1: 49-67

[ix] Schreiner, Corporate And Individual Election, Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, 2006

[x] Moo, NIV Commentary, Zondervan, 2000, page 310

[xi] Johnson, Exegesis of Romans 9-11, Regent, page 20

Sexism In the Reformed Community

Sexism, that word has almost lost its meaning with the rise of third-wave feminism. However, this in no way suggests that it doesn’t exist. I don’t identify as a feminist, however they do have a point that sexism is a problem in 21st-century society. This issue isn’t contained to one particular group, I’m only focusing on the Reformed community because it’s the community I’m a part of and heavily identify with.

I will stay clear from generalizations because I don’t want the first thing someone to say is “Well, I don’t do that.” This isn’t meant to apply to every single person, though there is an application that I think everyone should think about.

When I go through Facebook and see phrases like “I allow my wife” or even “I allow my husband” said in complete seriousness, I wonder where we are in terms of gender equality in Christianity. A common emotional tactic is to treat your spouse like a child and you as a parent and I think this type of language personifies that.

I’m tired of seeing women being shut down by men on theology forums with an out-of-context citation of Paul that would have made the apostle build you a tent so you had somewhere to go when your wife kicks you out of the house for the night.

I’m not interested in naming names, but there are even instances that are even more blatant than what I described. Like the time a popular reformed figure told my female friend to go make a sandwich when he was called out for dishonesty.

Like Adam we men are playing the blame game on women for our own insecurities. Sliding into your sister in Christ’s DM’s like an unbeliever asking for nudes or to go on a road trip when they don’t even know you, what are you thinking?

This is more than just lust, this is degrading. Please don’t misunderstand me, I do not tell you this propped up on my high horse, I’ve made my fair share sinful mistakes, I’ve mistreated people in my life. But the problem I seem to be having is people who don’t even acknowledge what they’re doing is wrong. They don’t seek solutions, they aren’t trying to be better, they’re content in their emotional abuse.

That girl on the internet who you think is cute is not responsible to please you. Messaging women telling them they’re vain because they get a lot of likes on their selfies are ridiculous. Facebook stalking a woman and then complaining about some aspect of a photo she posted years ago is creepy.

Sexism is alive and well, it needs to be addressed in our community. I understand that third wave feminism has trivialized such a term, but I do not use this term lightly.

I’m not even talking about doctrines like Male only pastors. I’m talking more about the idea to expand this principle to where women are to be pretty things to look at but not heard. If you think this is ridiculous that’s because it is, I can only hope and pray that the behavior of the internet of some reformed folk is different than the behavior they treat women in their life.

The doctrines of grace do not support this type of behavior, more importantly, the Bible doesn’t support this behavior. Let’s encourage each other in the Lord and seek his wisdom and guidance in changing our hearts to really love our sisters in Christ without wanting their bodies or any other subtle motive you may be trying to get across. Platonic relationships are possible, not every single woman you meet is your potential wife. Let women speak too.

Recommended Resources
Sheologians
Aimee Byrd
Emily Thomes

The Jeb Bush of Blog Wars: A Response to Evan Minton

Evan has written a response to my response to his response of my response, this will now be my response to that. Evan starts off by accusing me of misrepresentation. Evan asks how he is presupposing a universal salvific will an then answers his own question when he says he assumes the text is universal unless proven otherwise. That’s called a priori reasoning, Evan.

Evan goes on to cite some examples where universal language is used but he rightly sees the limitations based on the surrounding context. However, his use of Romans 3:23 is yet another example of a limiting universal text. When it says that everyone has sinned, many Pelagians will point out that Jesus, truly man, did not sin. So, how could it be everyone? In this case, we argue that even though Jesus is truly man, He is also truly God and therefore “all have fallen short of the glory of God” Jesus falls into the “God” part of the verse and not the “fallen” part. This is just an example of how to deal with a text that uses universal language without indiscriminately applying it to everyone, I’m sure Evan would agree with my interpretation of Romans 3:23.

Evan then cites several verses such as Philippians 2:10 and John 3:16 and says that they’re “absolutely universal”. You’re making it very hard for me to believe that my assertion that you’re assuming universal application to universal language was a misrepresentation.

Evan then grossly misinterprets John 3:18 to mean that simply if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will be condemned. He changes this statement to a future tense statement when it is in fact a present tense to past tense statement. Ellicott’s commentary for English Readers mentions this important change of tense that Evan seemed to miss.

Evan conveniently leaves out my response to 2 Peter 2:1 and just re-asserts the “natural reading” ambiguous as it is, since anyone can claim the natural reading. Just like plain, natural can easily mean “first glance” or “makes the most sense in the chapter” but it still doesn’t account for exegesis, cultural context and the development of ANE studies. If Evan were to read just a little bit further, his whole “burden of proof” paragraph would have never materialized. He left out the majority of my answer.  I answered you, Evan.  Here it is.

If the Master bought them in 2 Peter 2:1, they would be his. If you followed my argument that “bought” always refers to a saved group of people to which you conceded, these false prophets aren’t bought people who are going to hell, they’re false prophets who are going to be saved by Jesus Christ. In fact, this is a plausible interpretation and much stronger than what you presented. Either that, or as I mentioned in the previous post, Peter could be referring to the fact that they’re claiming to be saved by Christ but are damning themselves by lying about the effacious work of Christ. Either way, this verse doesn’t help Arminianism, it doesn’t help Calvinism either except that it doesn’t support the unlimited atonement notion exegetically.”

He accuses me of special pleading but never seeks to prove that it was. Evan still has a problem with understanding the historical context tabula rasa was used and shows no understanding the Lockean approach to the subject. He merely restates his position that isn’t tabula rasa and calls it tabula rasa.

Evan then doesn’t respond to my Romans 5:15, 18 argument that I made here, for two blog posts in a row, that must be a new record. He then says I didn’t attempt to prove that his trilemma is false. To falsify your trilemma, I’d only need to provide another interpretation than the ones you presented. Hodge provided that for you but you’re convinced he doesn’t apply to you.

Evan states that regarding 1 Timothy 4:10, Jesus is the savior of all people because he died to save everyone. Well, back to the fireman analogy, if the fireman fails to save the person, can he be called the savior of that person? In the popular show 9-1-1. One of main characters “Buck” seeks to save some people who are stuck on a roller coaster that is upside down. Buck reaches out with his equipment and even resorts to reaching out with his hand, in other words, he did everything he could but the man refuses to take his hand because he was embarrassed that everyone around was recording and *spoiler alert* it was revealed he suffered from depression as his sister later told Buck.

In this analogy, you have the Arminian God portrayed as Buck and the free will agent as the man who just wouldn’t take the hand. In the show, Buck is not viewed as the savior of that man. How can Arminianism account for someone who tries his hardest to save someone but doesn’t do so because of the free will of the agent to be seemed the savior of the agent he didn’t save?

Evan was disappointed I didn’t react to his rebuttal, I was hoping he’d know why, when he asserted that God has mixed feelings on punishing people. Perhaps I will make a separate post on why God having mixed feelings is problematic theologically, for omniscience among other things. Also, the idea that God is conflicted in his thoughts is to use Evan’s terminology “plain and natural” to me that it is wrong. A God conflicted with his moral judgments isn’t the God I see in the Bible.

Evan disregards the context of 1 John 2:2 (Judaist heresy) and restates his universal presupposition. He asks “Why can’t it be the whole world?” I’m not saying it can’t be, I’m saying it’s improbable because I take into account context and the let the Bible define its own terms (Revelation 7:9) instead of proof-texting verses into my model of theology.

It seems Evan will be done responding to me, so I will summarize what has happened as follows.

Evan wrote a post saying we can’t wiggle out of 5 passages. Kevin Courter and I, who are Calvinists, offered counter interpertations to the passage, Evan responds by saying “That doesn’t actually address my argument”. He says he doesn’t presuppose then admits to presupposing. He says I’m out of “wiggle energy” but I’m not the low-energy one here. I’ll let the reader decide. He says I’ll have the last word, I will let Jim Boucher have the last word.

More Amygdala Than Cerebral: A Response to Evan Minton

A few days ago, I responded to an article written on Cerebral Faith by Evan Minton. He has now responded to my response, so I will now respond to his response of my response. Under the subheading of “preliminary issues” Evan merely restates some basic Arminian presuppositions on John 3:16 but concedes that “All I’ll say is that “world” and “all people” or “everyone” can indeed mean less than all humanity when the context warrants or indicates it.” (bold his.)  He then goes on to presuppose a universal salvific will, a one will view and the intentions of God into atonement, admits to doing so and then says the verse fits in this pre-made theological box and therefore sees no reason why John 3:16 would fit in with a limited atonement scheme. (Hint: How about those folks who are already condemned in John 3:18?)

Evan starts with 2 Peter 2:1, quotes me then goes on to admit he comes to the text with an Arminian bias. That’s fine, I’m not saying I’m not biased, being aware of our biases is the first step to avoid clouding our conclusions based on them. Evan responds to my assertion that every mention of “bought” is referring to a saved group of people with “So what if every reference of “bought” passages are referring to saved people? I believe Jesus died on the cross for those who actually get saved and those who never do? This isn’t a problem for Arminian soteriology.” That’s the problem, Evan. I don’t care if it fits neatly into your atonement model, because it doesn’t’ fit entirely with your theology to interpret it in this way. If the Master bought them in 2 Peter 2:1, they would be his. If you followed my argument that “bought” always refers to a saved group of people to which you conceded, these false prophets aren’t bought people who are going to hell, they’re false prophets who are going to be saved by Jesus Christ. In fact, this is a plausible interpretation and much stronger than what you presented. Either that, or as I mentioned in the previous post, Peter could be referring to the fact that they’re claiming to be saved by Christ but are damning themselves by lying about the effacious work of Christ. Either way, this verse doesn’t help Arminianism, it doesn’t help Calvinism either except that it doesn’t support the unlimited atonement notion exegetically.

Evan then accuses me of misrepresenting him because in Chapter 4 of his book, A Hellacious doctrine, he states he believes in tabula rasa. He then redefines tabula rasa to a non-lockean formulation and ends up just saying it’s a denial of inherited guilt. Locke’s Tabula Rasa was the idea of the human mind being a blank slate, interpolated into theology, it’s mainly a pelagian formulation that states that the human doesn’t inherit the guilt or the sin of Adam. If I misrepresented you it’s because you misrepresented your own views by redefining terms and not clarifying in your book.

Regarding Romans 5:15, 18 Evan merely restates his original argument as if It wasn’t dealt with and presents a false trilemma. (is that a thing? It is now.) I see no reason to address this point again until he responds to the original line of argumentation. Let’s move on.

On 1 Timothy 4:10 Evan quotes me as saying (quoteception)

Tony Lee Ross Jr. wrote “The next passage he goes too is 1 Timothy 4:10. Another great Universalist proof-text! Wait…that’s not what he’s arguing for. Again, Evan shows no familiarity with the Calvinist literature on this passage. There is nuance to be sure, but the most common response you will see to this verse being used against us is that there are two senses of savior being used here. What does “especially” mean? I think me and Evan would agree that especially has to indicate that those in the “especially” category or the ones actually saved by Christ. Where we would disagree is the people before that, Evan says these are the people Christ died for. I say rather, that this is a statement of authority rather than of scope of atonement. Is there any other savior of the world than Jesus? Jesus clothes, feeds and provides sunlight and other common graces to everyone, so in one sense, he saves people like a fireman saves someone, in another sense he gives people eternal life. If the Arminian hypothetical salvation was true, Jesus couldn’t be deemed the savior of someone he didn’t save. Authority and Common grace, in my opinion, make much more sense of this passage than what Evan has provided. Again, I don’t think assuming your theology into 1 Timothy 4:10 is enough to prove unlimited atonement.”

 

“The Problem with Tony’s proposal is that it’s just prima facie implausible. This verse says that God is the Savior of all men. How does The Bible understand what it means for God to be Savior? God the savior because He saves us from our sins!”

So, Evan’s response is that my idea is implausible and then responds that God is the savior because he saves us from our sins. Does he realize THAT WAS THE POINT OF MY OBJECTION? How can God be deemed savior to someone he didn’t save? To return to the fireman analogy, can the fireman who didn’t save the person who freely choose to push away the perfectly capable fireman from saving them rightly be called a savior of that person?

Now we move on to Ezekiel 18:32. He essentially says what I provided in my first post was possible but he thinks his view provides more explanatory power. Here’s a summary from his keyboard.

“It’s possible that God could have mixed feelings about punishing people.” The idea that God could have mixed feelings is an issue that would bring this topic off post but I’ll leave it at that.

Evan rightly questions the narrative that John’s context is the Judaist heresy, but misses the point overall. Like Peter, 1 John 2:2 doesn’t support Arminianism or Calvinism. The Calvinist insistence on this verse is that Arminians are trying to proof-text it into their atonement model when contextually it’s referring to the major event of salvation to the gentiles against the Judaist heresy.

Evan has provided arguments but his lack of interaction with Calvinist literature is going to limit the effectiveness of his arguments. I appreciate that Evan has overall been very cordial with me, though he seems to have a problem with our fellow brother Jim Boucher of thereforegodexists.com.

Wiggling Out of An Arminian Trap: A Response to Cerebral Faith

Evan Minton, of cerebral faith has a great zeal for the Lord, he is a studious man and I believe he really thinks what he writes on his blog. Evan and I go way back, when I use to blog on a blogspot platform too! Evan had mentioned a few times personally that he didn’t want to bother with Calvinism much anymore, giving me the impression he was ready to agree to disagree, which would be fine with me. However, to my dismay, he came out with an article that sounded more like a diss track than an engagement over theological disagreement.

5 texts Calvinists can’t wiggle out of.” So, absolute statements like this along with countdowns are clickbait. (I know, I can’t judge I do the count thing too.)  The point is as a Calvinist, I’m immediately going to think that you’re going to provide some hard facts and some exegesis to back up your bold claim that there are passages that not only the Calvinists of today can’t deal with it, but Calvinists in general. I was interested in seeing what Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, etc. missed and what Evan found.

He starts off his blog by talking about scholarly debate at the canon of dort… wait no, he talks about Calvinists and Arminian debates on Facebook. Facebook debates are low-energy and usually low-quality, so I was not too thrilled with these being the introduction, because it indicates the low-caliber interaction this post was going to have.

Evan starts his piece on Calvinism with the standard rejection of Limited Atonement with John 3:16. There are many responses to the Arminian understanding with John 3:16, by Calvin, A.W. Pink, and even Calvinists today. This idea that John 3:16 is just this verse that we skip over when we read our bibles or that we just chock it up to mystery (Who do you think we are, Lutherans?) is really unfounded. Evan’s exegesis (If we can call it that) is simply him pointing out that John 3:16 says “the world” and that must mean everyone. Apparently, you’ve never told a girl she was your world! You better let Jasmine know that when Aladdin was showing her the world, he was supposed to visit every single person. Jokes aside, all doesn’t mean all, all the time. If you were to go to a movie with a bunch of your friends and your mom asks you about it, you would probably say “Everybody was there” but in that statement you weren’t referring to the entire human race but everybody in the scope of your contextual use of the word. Also, if you apply that same logic to 2 Corinthians 5:19, you get universalism.

There is not one Calvinist argument for this, there are many. So, besides the lack of nuance a Facebook reference might bring, simply saying “look there is  kosmos, that must mean my atonement theory is justified” is wishful thinking at best, shallow thinking at worst. Some Calvinists accept that it does mean world but don’t follow it with an atonement that doesn’t actually save anyone. So, even if John 3:16 meant the entire world, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that therefore unlimited atonement was true, you could add it to your cumulative argument but the Arminian insistence on world meaning every single person who has ever lived is not explicitly in the text, and even if it was would not automatically follow with the rest the Arminian says about the atonement.

Evan goes on to describe the Calvinist position on John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4-6. The problem with the John 3:16 one is that is too simplistic and doesn’t allow the nuance of different views among Calvinists. Secondly, the argument for 1 Timothy 2:4-6 isn’t “calvinistic presupposition” it’s letting the Bible define it’s own terms. Revelation 7:9 describes a scene that involves people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping God and says that they couldn’t be “numbered”. This is the Bible’s way of saying “a lot.” Calvinists insist this was the point that 1 Timothy 2:4-6, which on a side note should get rid of the misrepresentation that Calvinists only believe a “select few” get into heaven.

This apparently was only the introductory bible passages that aren’t even the five we can’t wiggle out of, so I guess my explanations aren’t surprising since Evan didn’t include them in the texts that I couldn’t wiggle out of.

Evan decides to bring up 2 Peter 2:1 and I’m glad he did. It’s a wonderful passage about the fate of the false prophets who “deny the Lord that bought them.” The problem with this is Evan assumes his interpretation of 2 Peter 2:1 i.e. that bought always means atonement because in other places in scripture, paying is a constant theme in Paul’s writing. I think that assumption is fair to make, however, instead of interacting with Calvinist literature, Evan comes up with a hypothetical Calvinist response that I’m pretty sure he just made up.

Evan’s use of 2 Peter 2:1 is an example of Proof-Texting. Evan is using deductive reasoning, which we can all fall victim too. Essentially, Evan is convinced of a certain doctrine, so when he sees verses that on “plain reading” (which usually means first reading without any knowledge of context, church history, or the original languages) he gets a confirmation bias. This isn’t a personal thing, everyone falls victim to it once in a while, I just believe that is what is happening here with Evan’s argument.

Here’s the problem with Evan’s “bought” argument. Every verse he brings up is a reference to a saved group of people. When Paul says you were bought at a price, he is talking to saved people. I would challenge Evan to present an example of Paul indicating that the Lord purchased everyone in the world. See Evan is taking two entirely different authors and implying that their use of the word bought must be consistent. This might be due to his understanding of inspiration, or maybe he just thinks Paul and Peter are consistent with their use of the phrase. Regardless, you can’t make that assumption without defending it. If Evan was to read even an online exegesis of 2 Peter 2:1 by a Calvinist, he’d at least run into Dr. Matthew McMahon’s exegesis in which he states

“The word avgora,santa is a masculine participle verb in the aorist tense. It is a derivative of avgorazw. Before I explain what the tense means, you should be aware that the verb itself is literally defined as “someone or something bought or purchased, as a slave would be bought or purchased in the marketplace.” That means the verb does not mean “hypothetically bought” but “actually bought.” Then, getting back to the tense which amplifies the meaning, the aorist tense means that it has been completed in the past. For example, I bought some groceries. That does not mean I am in the process of buying, or that I hope to buy, or that I possibly bought groceries depending on one or two other factors. It emphatically demonstrates that I bought them and they cannot be anything else other than bought. In the verse we are looking at, the verb tense and meaning refers to the buying a slave’s freedom for a price paid by a benefactor, or to “redeem.” Now the aorist tense makes this very plain. According to the verse these false teachers have actually been bought. There is no possibility of being possibly bought, or any dependence on other actions. The Lord literally buys these false teachers, and they are truly bought or, more theologically, they are redeemed. Hmmmm, now what do we do? We seem to be confused about the meaning. Either they are false teachers going to hell, or they are elect saints redeemed by the Lord. Which is it? It seems to say both, but that would be a contradiction. It cannot be both… Think for a moment, what half-sane Christian church would ever believe or follow after a false teacher who admits they are a false teacher, and admits they are unconverted? My heavens, they would be admitting the obvious and the church would never, ever be foolish enough to follow them! If the devil popped up in all his wickedness and announced he was the devil, the one who desired to drag all people to hell to be tormented, who would be so foolish as to listen? However, it makes perfect sense that these false teachers are not openly admitting that their heretical doctrines are in fact heretical. Rather, they are claiming to be saved with their mouth, though their doctrines are false. They are claiming to be servants and Disciples of Christ, but have really only obtained a nominal knowledge of the Savior. They claim to be bought as slaves, but their doctrine proves them to be hell deserving false teachers.”

This is just one example of a Calvinist response to this passage, there are more nuanced views. The interesting thing is, Evan covers none of them. Now, I don’t expect Evan to cover every nuance, but at least one instead of his hypothetical Calvinist would be nice.

It takes a strange turn because Evan now decides that Romans 5:15, 18, a commonly used verse that Calvinists point to and say “many not all” but Evan says “no, many is all.” Evan argues that because “the many” is used in reference to Adam’s sin and to Christ’s redemption, they most have the same scope. This sounds convincing, until it is taken to it’s logical conclusion. If they have the same scope, why is Adam’s part more efficacious than Christ’s redemption? These also brings to many side issues that I have with you taking this interpretation. Such as you arguing for a tabula rasa for babies (That would mean that Adam didn’t affect every single person) and how this scope argument would either imply Christ’s redemption doesn’t save as many as Adam infected, or would imply universalism. Since Evan is content with pointing to the word and declaring victory, I will say “many people” isn’t “all people” and leave it at that.

Just kidding, but this is another example of Evan not reading Calvinist authors. Now, he may read them, but he either doesn’t understand where they’re going or refuses to cite them and interact or even interact with their arguments and not cite them! I’ll give you one for free. Charles Hodge states:

“The second question of importance respecting this verse is, whether the all men of the second clause is co-extensive with the all men of the first. Are the all who are justified for the righteousness of Christ, the all who are condemned for the sin of Adam? In regard to this point, it may be remarked, in the first place, that no inference can be fairly drawn in favour of an affirmative answer to this question, from the mere universality of the expression. Nothing is more familiar to the readers of the Scriptures than that such universal terms are to be limited by the nature of the subject or the context. Thus, John 3:24, it is said of Christ, “all men come to him;” John 12:32, Christ says, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” Thus the expressions, “all the world should be taxed,” “all Judea,” “all Jerusalem,” must, from the nature of the case, be limited. In a multitude of cases, the words all, all things, mean the all spoken of in the context, and not all, without exception; see Eph. 1:10, Col. 1:20, 1 Cor. 15:22, 51, 2 Cor. 5:14, &c. This limitation is always implied when the Scriptures elsewhere speak of a necessary condition connected with the blessing to which all are said to attain. It is everywhere taught that faith is necessary to justification; and, therefore, when it is said “all are justified,” it must mean all believers.”

The next passage he goes too is 1 Timothy 4:10. Another great Universalist proof-text! Wait…that’s not what he’s arguing for. Again, Evan shows no familiarity with the Calvinist literature on this passage. There is nuance to be sure, but the most common response you will see to this verse being used against us is that there are two senses of savior being used here. What does “especially” mean? I think me and Evan would agree that especially has to indicate that those in the “especially” category or the ones actually saved by Christ. Where we would disagree is the people before that,  Evan says these are the people Christ died for. I say rather, that this is a statement of authority rather than of scope of atonement. Is there any other savior of the world than Jesus? Jesus clothes, feeds and provides sunlight and other common graces to everyone, so in one sense, he saves people like a fireman saves someone, in another sense he gives people eternal life. If the Arminian hypothetical salvation was true, Jesus couldn’t be deemed the savior of someone he didn’t save. Authority and Common grace, in my opinion, make much more sense of this passage than what Evan has provided. Again, I don’t think assuming your theology into 1 Timothy 4:10 is enough to prove unlimited atonement.

Ezekiel 18:32 is the next passage Evan says I can’t wiggle out of. I was actually surprised that this verse was included. So, Evan’s argument is that Calvinists say God does whatever he pleases and if he chooses to assign someone to eternal death and is pleased then this interpretation of God can’t be the same one who said this in Ezekiel 18:32.  There are several problems with this.

First, Evan brushes aside the two wills defense by our beloved Calvinist Jim Boucher then he implies that the two will defense is all we’ve got. This is where reading a popular commentary on the Bible by a Calvinist might have been useful. John Gill states:

“For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,…. Which is not to be interpreted simply and absolutely, and with respect to all persons afflicted and punished by him; for he does take delight in the exercise of “judgment” and “righteousness”, and “laughs” at the “calamity” of wicked men, Jeremiah 9:24; but comparatively, as in Hosea 5:6. The sense is, that he takes no pleasure in the afflictions, calamities, and captivity of men, which are meant by death here; but rather that they would repent and reform, and live in their own land, and enjoy the good things of it; which shows the mercy and compassion of God to sinners”

Evan assumes that Ezekiel 18:32 is universal, which is a consistent trend in his thought process on biblical passages. But if it is, we find ourselves in a bit of a contradiction, because in other passages we see that God is laughing at the wicked at their demise and is righteous and judge and enjoys being that way. Whether you think free will is involved or not, people are unrighteous and God is righteous and judges people who don’t have the imputed righteousness of Christ.

The last verse Evan says we can’t wiggle out of is 1 John 2:2. He essentially just says we do gymnastics (Wait, if I do gymnastics, then i’m probably flexible enough to wiggle out.) and urges us on the “plain reading” of the text, again.

Again, a google search would have gave something for Evan to interact with instead of a made-up Calvinist.

“The heart of John’s Epistles concerns the Judaist heresy. Over and over again, he warns that “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:23). It also appears as if he was writing to Jewish Christians in particular, those who had been “anointed by the Holy One” (1 John 2:20) and knew the truth (1 John 2:21). John was writing to those who had the “old commandment … from the beginning” (1 John 2:7), most likely referring to Jewish converts (the Gentiles did not have the old commandment from the beginning).

So when John tells us that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only”, he is using the pronoun “ours” to refer to Jewish Christians. Those who push this passage to favor unlimited atonement must assume that “ours” and “the whole world” consists of a dividing line between Christians and non-Christians, and that is a huge assumption. John Gill comments:

1Jn 2:2 – And he is the propitiation for our sins,…. For the sins of us who now believe, and are Jews:

and not for ours only; but for the sins of Old Testament saints, and of those who shall hereafter believe in Christ, and of the Gentiles also, signified in the next clause:

but also for the sins of the whole world; the Syriac version renders it, “not for us only, but also for the whole world”; that is, not for the Jews only, for John was a Jew, and so were those he wrote unto, but for the Gentiles also. Nothing is more common in Jewish writings than to call the Gentiles עלמא, “the world”; and כל העולם, “the whole world”; and אומות העולם, “the nations of the world””.

Here is some advice for my good Arminian friend, interact with Calvinist material, not a single out-of-context quote from a popular preacher and some hypothetical Calvinist you may have found on the internet. Know the extent of your arguments, many of your arguments didn’t prove what they claimed nor did they just utterly 360 no scope Calvinism as you probably hoped they would.

Lastly, when evaluating biblical passages, consider what Dr. James White said

“Remember when you were in school and you had to take a test on a book you were assigned to read? You studied and invested time in learning the background of the author, the context in which he lived and wrote, his purposes in writing, his audience, and the specifics of the text. You did not simply come to class, pop open the book, read a few sentences, and say, “Well, I feel the author here means this.”

 

Do All Babies Go To Heaven?

If all infants are saved, why is abortion wrong? The objection may sound familiar to you but it can’t handle basic scrutiny. Even if all aborted babies go to heaven, this would not make the method morally right, just as we shouldn’t support the murder of adult Christians, we shouldn’t support the murder of babies who may all be elect. Are all babies who die in infancy elect? There is an argument about the distinction between children who are born to elect parents and those who are not, but being a child who is not a child of elect parents who is saved by Christ myself, I think the argument is more of a visible covenant distinction than an elect one. There are godly people on both sides of this issue but I tend to side with the “all infants are elect” side.To clarify, I don’t think that infants are saved and then become unsaved when they get older but that God in his sovereignty has elected all infants who die in infancy for his good pleasure. However, I acknowledge that this is not the only legitimate view, but merely the view I hold. This issue can obviously be emotional, but I want to be clear

One of these two things are certainly true, and self-evidently so: either that it is most just, exceeding just, that God should take the soul of a new-born infant and cast it into eternal torments, or else that those infants that are saved are not saved by the death of Christ. For none are saved by the death of Christ from damnation that have not deserved damnation. Wherefore, if it be very just, it is but a foolish piece of nonsense, to cry out of it as blasphemous to suppose that it ever is [just], because (they say) it is contrary to his mercy.
Now such I ask, whether it is contrary to his mercy to inflict punishment upon any according to their deserts, and whether it was contrary to God’s mercy to damn the fallen angels. There was no mercy showed to them at all. And why is it blasphemous to suppose that God should inflict upon infants so much as they have deserved, without mercy, as well as [upon] them?MS: “as they”; the reference is to the fallen angels, whereas the preceding “they” refers to infants.
If you say, they have not deserved it so much, I answer: they certainly have deserved what they have deserved, as much as the fallen angels; because their sin is not accompanied with such aggravating circumstances, so neither shall their punishment be so aggravated. So that the punishment of one is every whit as contrary to God’s mercy as [that of] the other. Who shall determine just now much sin is sufficient to make damnation agreeable to the divine perfections? And how can they determine that infants have not so much sin? For we know they have enough to make their damnation very just.[1],(Emphasis mine)

I agree with Edwards and It is clear he is responding to a tabula rasa defense.  God saving an infant for me is not because they aren’t guilty and somehow don’t need Christ’s atoning work on the Cross as if they have their own tabula rasa (clean slate, I don’t want to pull a Charles Hodge and use Latin terms without translating them!) or righteousness that matches Christ’s, but that God saves them by his grace. What God can do and what he does do can be different. I know I’m departing from Calvin here, but I think the evidence for this is enough for me to take this position, albeit not dogmatically. Spurgeon states

“Among the gross falsehoods which have been uttered against the Calvinists proper, is the wicked calumny that we hold the damnation of little infants. A baser lie was never uttered. There may have existed somewhere, in some corner of the earth, a miscreant who would dare to say that there were infants in hell, but I have never met with him nor have I met with a man who ever saw such a person”  [2]

Spurgeon wasn’t the only one who believed infants go to heaven, B.B. Warfield argued that it’s actually an argument against Arminianism.

If only a single infant dying in irresponsible infancy be saved, the whole Arminian principle is traversed. If all infants dying such are saved, not only the majority of the saved, but doubtless the majority of the human race hitherto, have entered into life by a non-Arminian pathway” [3]

B.B. Warfield continues

“Their destiny is determined irrespective of their choice, by an unconditional decree of God, suspended for its execution on no act of their own; and their salvation is wrought by an unconditional application of the grace of Christ to their souls, through the immediate and irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit prior to and apart from any action of their own proper wills . . . And if death in infancy does depend on God’s providence, it is assuredly God in His providence who selects this vast multitude to be made participants of His unconditional salvation . . . This is but to say that they are unconditionally predestinated to salvation from the foundation of the world”[4]

Lorraine Boettner argues for the logical validity of infant salvation

The doctrine of infant salvation finds a logical place in the Calvinistic system; for the redemption of the soul is thus infallibly determined irrespective of any faith, repentance, or good works, whether actual or foreseen. It does not, however, find a logical place in Arminianism or any other system. Furthermore, it would seem that a system such as Arminianism, which suspends salvation on a personal act of rational choice, would logically demand that those dying in infancy must either be given another period of probation after death, in order that their destiny may be fixed, or that they must be annihilated.” [5]

The interesting point made by both Boettner and Warfield is that Arminians who presumably held to this position and still do today, are holding to it inconsistently. Oftentimes, people hold this belief for merely emotional reasons, I don’t recommend that, because there is a convincing case to be made for the election of all infants, Charles Hodge summed it up nicely

“All who die in infancy are doubtless saved, but they are saved by grace”[6]

The Westminister Confession of Faith leaves it open for either side, since “elect infants” can either refer to one group as opposed to another or all infants. You can affirm this with either position.

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word [7]

THE BIBLE AND BABIES

And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.16 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.17 And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead? 19 But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. 20 Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. 21 Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. 22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? 23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.(2 Samuel 12:15-23 KJV)

King David seemed to have faith that his child would be in heaven. We read that a baby was saved in the case of the house of Jeroboam, the Bible uses very interesting wording here, it says “in him, there is something pleasing to the Lord”. God is showing grace to this child and is pleased to do so. (1 Kings 14:7-13) The ones who couldn’t tell their right from their left are most likely children (Jonah 4:11, Deu 1:39) and again God shows compassion and gives them grace, as well as giving the adults grace, through the calling of repentance by Jonah.

In our culture today, it’s practically a meme to want to die, whether it be a joke, nihilism, or serious mental illness, biblical figures also felt this way. Job asks why he didn’t die at birth (Job 3:11) and Ecclesiastes says that a stillborn child is better off than a man unsatisfied with life (Ecclesiastes 6:3)  Now, this makes sense to say as a nihilist, who believes death is to cease to exist, that there is no afterlife. However, for devoted believers of God such as Job, it doesn’t make sense. Why would Job want to go to be eternally separated from the Lord he loves instead of suffer here and get to spend eternity with God? Perhaps Job was assuming that infants go to heaven, this isn’t an exegetical certainty, however, it is a probability, and in my opinion, a convincing one. Since Scripture isn’t explicit, we should not be overly dogmatic on this issue, however, having been on both sides of this issue in my life, I think all infants are elect, but even if this is not so, we can rest in the fact revealed by the book of Genesis about the character of our God

“That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25 KJV)

Conclusion

Original Sin is enough for God to justly condemn anyone, God doesn’t have to save infants, and he can rightly and justly condemn them if he so pleased. However, the salvation of all infants has more explanatory power and seems to be more consistent with the scriptures. In summary, it seems to make the best sense of the various scriptural passages cited and It is consistent with the attribute of God’s mercy, It has a historical backing and as an added bonus it works as an argument against Arminianism. All of these considered, the salvation of all infants who die in infancy seems to be the more convincing scriptural answer to the aforementioned question.


             


[1]Edward’s miscellanies at edwards.yale.edu

[2]The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Volume 7: p.156

[3] Two Studies on the History of Doctrine by B.B. Warfield p. 230

[4] ibid.

[5]The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner. p.62

[6] Charles Hodge’s Systematic theology ii. 11

[7] Westminister Confession of Faith Chapter X:III

 

Open Theism: The Consistent Arminianism

“The only consistent Arminian is an Open Theist” – Dr. James White[1]

While the quote above may sound like just a bit of Calvinist rhetoric, there is actually a lot of truth to that statement. Now, anyone can say X belief leads to Y belief, but I think there is a convincing case that the Arminian wants to have his cake and eat it too in his objections to Calvinism. My first observation is that they tend to be objections to Christianity in general. When they employ these types of objections, it’s like they forget that they believe that God is omniscient. A few examples should suffice.

An Arminian addressing Revelation 2:21 states:

Question: If, according to Calvinism, everything is predetermined, including every thought, word and deed, and their accompanying wants, desires and motivations, without which, God could not infallibly foreknow the future, then what does it mean that God “gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent”?  
Answer:  To the Calvinist, since we know that God causes whatsoever comes to pass, why do we even ask these questions? The reason, of course, is that not everyone accepts Calvinism as true, and hence, the questions matter, because they refute the underlying presumption of Calvinism, in that it is not an accurate portrayal of God. The idea that God has given time to repent” is made void if God determines all of their thoughts. Moreover, saying that she “does not want to repent” is similarly made void if God determines all wants, desires and motivations. If literally everything occurs as a result of a divine decree (which Calvinists cite as a comforting factor, in order to know that the world is not spinning off course, but is proceeding exactly according to divine design), then divine permission and human responsibility are nullified. [2]

Calvinism and Counterfactuals 

There are several problems with this objection. First, the Arminian is presumably assuming Calvinists don’t believe in free will when they say that God determines all “wants, desires and motivations.” Well, what do you mean by that? God doesn’t have to determine the truth value of the actual and counterfactual acts of creaturely freedom, the truth values are not outside of God’s control, but he doesn’t need to determine them, that’s nonsensical. When you start doing that, you run into several errant ideas.

For example, is the proposition “God exists” only true because God decrees that it is? This is merely the same old puppet misrepresentation in a strange directionless manner, like attacking the idea that we find comfort in it. So what?

I know it may shock some Arminians, but Calvinists believe in free will. Some strains believe in a more libertarian free will (Covenanters) while others like myself prefer Compatibilism. The second major problem is what the Arminian is proposing is an objection to his own system! Why is God giving time for people to repent whom he knows the eternal outcome beforehand?

If a human did such a thing it would be viewed as absurd. For example, If I invite someone out to dinner and they tell me they aren’t coming and there is zero possibility of them coming, why would I wait there longer in the hopes that they would? That makes me waste my time and at the mercy of them.

This objection only works for the Open Theist, for if God doesn’t know future tense statements because the future is unknowable, then it would make sense that God gives them more time to repent because he doesn’t know the outcome.

The Atonement 

If Jesus died for every single person in the hopes that none perish (2 Peter 3:9) he has wasted his blood. His death accomplishes the salvation of a few because he chooses to let many go to hell of their own free will. A sad theology that would be indeed.

However, if God wants none to perish, he surely isn’t getting what he wants. If we start getting into penal substitution (which some Arminians affirm) we have God punishing Christ and Person X for the same sin. However, the Calvinist view seems more faithful to the biblical text and holds more explanatory power and we don’t have an eternally frustrated God.

In Open Theism, however, it would make sense to say that Jesus dies for everyone because he doesn’t know the future, so he doesn’t know how many will come to him, which is a reason why he could say He’s giving them more time.

The Problem of Evil

Dr. James White states

If God’s decree does not include the evil of mankind, that evil has no purpose, and Hunt is left directing us to a God who creates the possibility of evil, starts this universe off on its course, and then tries His best to ‘fix things’ as they fall apart in a torrent of wickedness. This is supposed to comfort us? This is the God who says that He works all things after the counsel of His will? Hardly!”[3] (bold mine)

Dave Hunt responds 


 “White contends that if God doesn’t decree evil, ‘evil has no purpose.’ Evil must have a purpose?” [4] (bold mine)

The late Dave Hunt was very Arminian in his thinking, this line of reasoning astonishes me. How could you read the Bible and not see that evil always had a purpose in the scriptural events? The most obvious example is that Christ’s death on the cross was ordained by God (Acts 4:27-28) for the purpose of the salvation of his people (Matthew 1:21). How about Joseph being sold into slavery (Genesis 50:20), did not God use the evil circumstance for his own plan? These things do not blindside God.

That’s exactly how it would seem with this type of objection, however. You’re telling me that God foreknows every evil act but most of them are meaningless? The Atheist would then have a legitimate point against the Arminian idea of God i.e. the divine incompetence objection. If God knows evil acts will occur but won’t do anything about it has no purpose for it and it thwarts his desires, Is this the God that works everything in conformity to his will? (Ephesians 1:11)

Once again, this objection only works in the Open Theist system, where God doesn’t know what every evil action will be and though He can use them for his glory, He has no ultimate plan for every action because he doesn’t know all of them.

Conclusion

Time and time again, Arminians will use objections against Calvinism that also should be objections to their own system, instead, they use the same arguments the Open Theists use, but unlike the Arminians, the Open Theists are being consistent with what they believe. Since many of their arguments only logically work within a system in which God doesn’t know the future, it is accurate to say that if they wanted to be consistent, they’d become Open Theists.

[1] Open Theism and the Goodness of God (Youtube Video by Dr. White)
[2] ExaminingCalvinism.com on Revelation 2:21
[3]Debating Calvinism, p.319-320
[4] ibid. p. 327

“YoU’rE NoT eVeN rEfOrMeD”

If you’ve had the privilege of being in some Calvinist/Reformed groups, you might have noticed a odd fascination with being Reformed. Wanting to be Reformed is all fine and dandy but we run into a few problems when it becomes a trend instead of a deep commitment to the word of God. To be Reformed is to be confessional, a confession isn’t meant to tell you what to think, but rather how to think. Many people see confessions as limiting their free-thinking potential, but that’s like thinking that having a GPS would ruin your navigation ability.

Reformed Theology has gained popularity over the years and like everything that gets suddenly popular, there are many band-wagoners. People who jump on the Calvin train with a mason jar full of alcohol in one hand and a cigar in the other on their way to get ‘semper reformanda” tattooed on them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m cool with all of those things, but all of that is not what Reformed theology is about. The reason you might see Reformed Christians doing these types of things is because of our understanding of Christian liberty. Just like Reformed Christians tend to love books and read them more than your average Christian might (I’m speaking from experience), this doesn’t mean Reformed folk are better readers, but rather that Reformed theology requires study and a person to be dedicated enough to do the studying.

I’m not in the Reformed camp to be cool, If I wanted to be cool, I’d be some edgy nihilist who unironically likes Rob Bell, I’m sure every cafeteria christian would love me. No, I’m Reformed because I’m convinced by sacred scripture.

But we have brothers and sisters who take this Reformed label too far. You see, you aren’t really reformed unless you believe in exclusive psalmody or establishmentarism. The nuances and esoteric doctrines held by the Reformers themselves are not that big of a concern to me and I don’t think they should be made a litmus test for who is Reformed and who is not.

Time and time again, I will see posts “John Piper is not Reformed.” “Timothy Keller is not Reformed.” the question I have is, Does it really matter? Unless the question was “Is X Reformed?” Why does your 10 minute rant on a brother not agreeing with you about certain pet doctrines matter?

Being Reformed is not enough, being Reformed is not everything. The obsession over who is Reformed as if being Reformed was the prestigious plastic’s table in Mean girls is too much.