Saturday, April 26, 2008

Decisions on Earth Ratified in Heaven- the Opposite of Predestination


One of the more interesting sayings of Jesus with equally interesting theological implications is found in Mt. 18.18--" I tell you whatever you (i.e. Peter and the gang) bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." The Greek here is straight forward, and the contrast between the present and future tenses have clear enough implications. One can point out of course the use of ean plus the subjunctive form of verbs, which with the future of the verb 'to be' in this case refers to a 'future more probable' condition, but the point remains the same. If the Evangelist, and/or Jesus before him had wanted to say "whatever is bound on earth, was already bound and determined in heaven" he could certainly have done so, first in Aramaic and then in a Greek rendering of the same. The fact is that Jesus here says the opposite. This saying, which is actually quite typical of early Jewish ways of thinking about such matters, and may reflect an inter-textual echo as well, is of momentous import for understanding Jesus' view of things.

Firstly, Jesus believes that decisions taken on earth, have eternal consequences. We of course can understand this in a discussion about soteriology-- see for example Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus, where earthly behavior by humans determines afterlife outcome. Heaven is not seen as the place where all things have been pre-determined, rather there is an inter-active relationship between events on earth and things in heaven. The influence can go in either direction.

Secondly, human decisions matter tremendously, and in this particular text Jesus is telling his close disciples that their leadership decisions are of such incredible importance and moment, that they had best be very careful what they 'bind and loose'. Now we could debate endlessly about what this refers to. In my view it has to do with decisions about community matters such as are described in vss. 16-17. The point is that there is a heavenly ratification of such a spiritual decision on earth.

Thirdly, we may compare the immediately following say in Mt. 18.19-- which tells us that if believers on earth come together and 2-3 agree on something (which assumes that Christ is there with them, and they are thinking within the parameters of God's revealed will) then "it will be done for you by my Father in heaven". God is said to respond to the human decision making process.

Of course there are numerous Biblical texts where God takes the initiative and humans respond. I am not for a minute disputing that. But a view of God's sovereignty that does not take into account viable human choice, and the fact that those choices can have heavenly and indeed eternal consequences, has not reckoned with the full scope of what the Bible says about the relationship between God's power and will, and the human response to the same.

Whilst, God could have done otherwise, he has chosen to allow us to be viable partners with God in ministry and the working out of his will and Kingdom on earth, beings capable of making un-predetermined choices that have incredible consequences. The issue is not the sovereignty of God-- the issue is how God has chosen to exercise his power and will. And what the Bible says about this is that he has not pre-determined all things from before the foundations of the world.

Human history is not merely a preordained play, played out perfectly to a pre-ordained script. On the contrary while there is a blue-print, or a general script, God has allowed, indeed invited us to make the drama like a night at the Improv, improvising our roles as we go, and making viable choices of moment and consequence along the way. Are we supposed to follow the general instructions in the script? Well yes, as they provide the boundaries beyond which we ought not to go and show us what character and kind of roles we should play. But of course we may fail to play our parts well, or indeed at all.

God's desires and will are not the same thing as what always or inevitably happens. But lest we think it is only about us just acting out are parts well or poorly, this is forgetting that God, the script writer has written himself into the play over and over again, and God comes again and again to correct, guide, goad, redeem, restore and so on, as the drama goes on. And since God is the lead actor and the star of the play, we are tasked with taking our lead from, and following the example of the lead actor and star, falling in line behind Him-- and that is the very nature of discipleship. Walking in the paths trod by Christ, for his namesake.


Think on these things.

72 comments:

Jim said...

Thanks for this Ben, it's a good reminder.

Dizma said...

##Decisions on eEarth ratified in Heaven##
Yes but they are inspired by God. ;)

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Dizma, inspired is one thing, pre-determined is another.

BW3

e-Mom said...

An excellent argument, thanks.

Ben Stevenson said...

"But a view of God's sovereignty that does not take into account viable human choice, and the fact that those choices can have heavenly and indeed eternal consequences, has not reckoned with the full scope of what the Bible says about the relationship between God's power and will, and the human response to the same."

Does any Calvinist, who believes in predestination, dispute this?

The Westminster Confession says:

"God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[3]" -- 3:1

Predestination does not mean that humans don't make viable choices.

Brigitte said...

In our denomination this text is taken in context of forgiveness of sins. Where there is an oral confession of sins the pastor can proclaim forgiveness in the stead of Christ.

This is to serve to console troubled consciences and bring home the gospel in one more concrete way, instituted by Christ himself.

Where there is no pastor, but two Christians, say abandoned on ship, or whatever (some early church example, I once read about), one will be able to hear confession of the other and pronounce the comfort of Christ orally and it ought be believed joyfully as God's honest gospel truth.

Wagner said...

Ben, in a few words what do you think about open theism? And what about molinism?

Thanks, Wagner

Ben Witherington said...

Actually Ben yes, they do. Most Calvinists do indeed believe all things have been predetermined by God from before the foundation of the world, including the predetermining of things that God merely allows. Read John Piper sometime.

BW3

Ben Witherington said...

P.S. The issue is not viable choices, but free ones, ones that are not pre-determined by God.

BW3

Ben Witherington said...

Yes Brigitte this text has often been taken that way, but probably wrongly. Binding and loosing in early Judaism referred to requiring something to be obeyed or freeing a person from having to obey something (hence loosing). It is easy to understand why such an interpretation should arise-- the later verses in Mt. 18 which are indeed about forgiveness are used as the hermeneutical lens through which the earlier verses are read.

Blessings,
BW3

Ben Witherington said...

I do not think Open Theism is a viable theology. God does not need to learn things, nor is God developing like humans do. God has always known all things and is an eternal being in the divine nature, with a character that always remains the same yesterday, today and forever--- thank goodness.

BW3

Ben Stevenson said...

Ben Witherington: "P.S. The issue is not viable choices, but free ones, ones that are not pre-determined by God."



"Viable human choice" was the words you used in the original blog post, not "free choices".

Most Calvinists are compatibilists, and therefore think that something being predestined by God does not mean prevent genuine choices being made by people. This is the point my quote from the Westminster Confession makes - Calvinists believe in BOTH God's absolute sovereignty over all events, and human freedom to make choices.

Wayne Bowerman said...

Dr. Witherington,

Thank you for your blog and for this thought provoking post This is exactly what I needed to read today. I am a recovering five point Calvinist and I spent the morning in a fairly heated conversation with a friend who is not very pleased that I no longer see things that way. I was pretty tired out and discouraged after that and this was helpful.

Just a couple of quick question for you regarding your response to the open theism question and your analogy of a a preordained play. You say that "God has always known all things and is an eternal being." If God knows things ahead of time and allows things to take place as they do, how is that really different from God predetermining all things? And is there really any true "improv" if God knows all of the Drama ahead of time? I would appreciate any input that you have to either question.

Blessings,
Wayne W. Bowerman

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ben S. Viable human choice means having the power of contrary choice. There is no such thing as human freedom, if all freedom means is one doesn't feel coerced, but in fact one could not have done otherwise. Compatabilism doesn't allow for human freedom in any viable or real sense. If one could not have chosen otherwise, since God predetermined it, then one was not free in the first place.
---

Wayne: The answer to your question is complex but here's a starting summary: 1) notice that God's foreknowledge is strongly distinguished from his destining something in advance in various places such as Rom. 8.29, and also in Rom. 11; 2) God foreknows that his people at various points will forsake him, and he neither wills this nor is surprised by this. God, put simply does not will sin, either actively or passively. And as James says, God tempts no one.
3) Why should it be the case that a prophet can foreknow something, and yet it has nothing to do with his willing, where as with God, when he foreknows something it must have something to do with his willing? Is God somehow less free to know and to will than the prophet--- I think not. 4) God foreknows both all possibilities and all actualities, thus God is not surprised by anything. If indeed God has programmed into the system various viable actors with freedom, then there is from the human viewpoint and in reality some indeterminancy in the system. There are some nice analogies with this at the level of sub-atomic particles, which behave erratically and unpredictably, and yet the overall functioning of the atom remains stable unless an outside force destablizes it.

This needs to be enough for now.

Blessings to one and all,

Ben W.

yuckabuck said...

Ben,
It has been hammered home in various places that the Greek in Matthew is in a perfect tense and should read, "having been bound in Heaven." with even the TNIV (like the NIV) putting this as an alternate translation in its footnotes. This shows, we are told, that the prior decision is still God's. Can you comment on how the tense affects the theology of the passage?

Also, I thought this was a home run:
"Why should it be the case that a prophet can foreknow something, and yet it has nothing to do with his willing, where as with God, when he foreknows something it must have something to do with his willing? Is God somehow less free to know and to will than the prophet--- I think not."
I looked for a way to say it better, and couldn't easily come up with one.
God bless you,
Chuck

Luke said...

Dr. Witherington,

Why do you think that our reformed brothers overlook passages such as this and easily explain them away as "anthropomorphisms," and yet trump these passages (which are very numerous) with their favorite 3 or 4 proof-texts? Should those proof-texts trump the whole lot? Why is this so difficult to figure out is what I'm wondering. Do you think maybe it's slippery slope thinking...that we're meant to hold these beliefs in tension and yet they go all the way to one side b/c evidently it gives more "glory" to God (as if it can be increased) and is more "God-centered"? This puzzles me and I would like to here your thoughts on it

Of course, Piper is the worst at this line of thinking (claiming himself to be a 7-point Calvinist). He's heavily ingrained in evangelicalism (through his books and the Passion movement) and nearly all take his word as authoritative. Actually, Dr. Witherington, I'd love to see someone critically interact with his "Desiring God" or something much like he did with N.T. Wright. I think it would benefit Christianity enormously, and maybe you can do it?

Ben Witherington said...

Firstly, the future tenses in the second clauses in this verse are just that future tenses, they are not perfect tenses. And the early Jewish parallels are the same way. Secondly, I think for Calvinists, since I have put in many years working with them and studying with them, there are several things that worry them: 1) anything that sounds like it is subtracting from God's glory, or from God's control over everything definitely looks suspicious to them. They seldom really have a concept of how God would be better glorified if in fact his creatures truly and freely loved him back without pre-determination. 2)more recently, as our own times and country has become more and more unsettled there is the fear factor. Without a doctrine of absolute and total divine control, things seem out of control, and the notion of complete divine control is seen as the security blanket that calms all fears. Yes, this is a form of slippery slope thinking. "If God didn't ordain this, then what else didn't he desire and ordain...." 3) then there is the problem of logic. If you start with a Reformed a priori then it is logical to treat texts like this one just as Yuckabuck suggests. But in fact God has made the world so we have to trust him, and the Bible reveals just enough about all these things including the future to give us strong hope and reasons for faith, but not so much that we think we've got it all logically figured out, and God painted into a corner. The compelling desire to be able to make sense of EVERYTHING is often driving this sort of thinking.

Blessings,

BW3

Ken Temple said...

I was surprised you wrote this:
Firstly, the future tenses in the second clauses in this verse are just that future tenses, they are not perfect tenses.


Actually, the Greek of the second clauses are periphrastic construction, using the Future Indicative of “eimi” (to be) with a perfect passive participle “have been bound” and “have been loosed”. This makes it “Future Perfect”. (See William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, p. 276-277; Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 233 (called the Periphrastic Future Perfect)

Also, the preceding context is church discipline and forgiveness is a big part of that, so this passage is teaching right in the middle of church discipline issues and leads into the parables on forgiveness; so Brigette’s comments are certainly the way most people have historically understood the church’s authority to proclaim forgiveness of sins, based on the gospel, not on human action; along with John 20:23; other than the Roman Catholic understanding.

This is why the Roman Catholic use of this passage to support “ex opera operato” is wrong.

Ben Witherington said...

Sorry but this is not the way such conditional statements in Greek work at all. You cannot judge these things on the basis of verb tenses and participles by themselves, but in context. When a future tense is in the apodosis of a future more probably conditional statement, it always implies a future condition, NOT a perfect one. Mounce is simply wrong about this if he was referring to conditional clauses.

Secondly, John 20 is not the same as Mt. 18.18. I have no problems with the idea of the church offering forgiveness of sins, but that is probably not the issue here. The context of the previous verses is key.

Blessings,

BW3

Stephen Garrett said...

Hello:

I am a first timer here. James White listed your link in his blog and I wanted to visit.

I have a question.

How does your belief in free will, as defined as the "power of contrary choice" make heaven or eternal security possible?

If we can fall from grace by choice, one we get to heaven and are glorified, are our wills not fully determined, at least at that time in eternity?

In Christ,

Stephen

Paul said...

Dr. Witherington,

My question is when you say that God knows all possibilities and all actualities when would you say he knows them? Meaning if God KNOWS what will actually happen in ALL things then what need is there for knowing “possibilities”. It seems that would only come into play if there would be some uncertainty and God did not *know* what choice you will make since you have the power of “contrary choice”. Yet it seems you are against Open Theism, although you do seem to be favoring Molinism by taking that stance and you did not answer the previous questioner on that part of his question, but perhaps you do favor molinism at this time.

Also most of the time the prophet only spoke what the Spirit guided him to say, it seems that in some cases the prophets themselves did not understand their prophecies they just related what the Spirit wanted them too. If God knows *everything* that you will do before you even take your first breath how can you say that you are free to do otherwise, that seems odd to me.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Stephen:

In the first place you are not eternally secure, until you are securely in eternity, but once you get there, there is no change in status.

When we get to the eschatological state with the resurrection body, then we are in an unfallen state, and will have no desire to do otherwise than what God wills. We will be perfectly free, but removed from any sources of temptation, either internal or external. So we will freely, without determination, choose the good.

Blessings,

Ben

P.S. To Paul I would suggest you do some reading on middle knowledge, which my friend William Lane Craig has spoken a great deal about. God's knowledge can be grounded in either his own will, or in knowing about the willing and choosing of others. Some knowledge is contingent in character, some is not. One example will have to suffice. I could say "if the weather conditions (then list them) are right, I know it will rain." That is a form of knowledge based on understanding atmospheric conditions, but it is a contingent or conditional knowledge, and in any case, my knowing or even desiring it it had nothing to do with it coming true. Ah, but what if I pray for it? Could my praying affect whether it happens or not? The Bible says that God indeed does respond to prayer, or uses prayer to accomplish various purposes, and thus I have the blessing of being allowed to participate in the working out of God's will on earth.

Paul said...

Dr. Witherington,

I assume then that you are advocating a Molinist view, given that it seems that what the theory says is that God “knows” all possibilities that a person can make and then decrees one & only one world into existence. How exactly does that prove the ability of contrary choice, since God decreed only this world into existence? Seems that your choice was limited the minute God chose to instantiate this world and no other. Of course there are other problems with the theory of “middle knowledge”, but it would not be fruitful to discuss in comboxes of a blog.

Thanks

Adam said...

Dr. Witherington,

I'm glad you introduced prayer into the mix, for - in reading your thoughts - C. S. Lewis's essay "Work and Prayer" came to my mind. I appreciate both his thoughts and yours, especially in affirming the dignity of real freedom and volition. Blessings!


Adam

Ben Witherington said...

Nope I'm not a Molinist. And why would we assume an infinitely creative God would decree only one world into existence? Why would we assume that he wouldn't make those created in his image, on a lesser scale also capable of creativity. And if he did that, it was not about predetermining a particular world, now was it? It was more like loving something and because he loved it, he set it free.

Blessings,

BW3

Paul said...

I assumed by you not answering that you were a Molinist and when you brought up Craig it only re-enforced my assumption. You have me thoroughly confused now. lol

Why would God only decree one world into existence, are you implying there are other worlds that God has decreed into existence? Granted I should have used universe instead of world, but are you saying that there are other worlds/universes in existence and perhaps in one of them Dr. Witherington is an Open Theist???


And when you say "set it free" would that be saying that God now lets the world/universe function, kind of like set it all up and put it into motion and watch the thing go?

Oh well, like I said these types of conversations are not practical to have in a combox, so in this world I will move on, but I should warn you that maybe in the other worlds I will try to hash this out some more:)

Ben Witherington said...

Paul:
I think this is fruitful conversation, and to add a couple of more final things for you to think about: 1) no I don't think the universe is like Paley's watchmaker image of God, one who wound it up and left it to run on its own. I think God is constantly involved in the world and tinkering with it, as the major actor in the historical drama; 2) I do indeed think there are at least two parallel universes-- the material created one, and the spiritual universe which includes heaven and hell and spiritual entities. I also think there is lots of traffic between the two with regularity.

3) I think humans are fallen creatures now, but if enabled by grace they can make viable unpredetermined choices for good or ill. Only God is truly free by the state of his nature. Of course that statement then raises nice brain-teasing questions like-- is God capable of sinning? If not, in what sense is God almighty and free?

Blessings,

BW3

Stephen Hand said...

A Catholic perspective on predestination:

http://tcrnews.blogspot.com/2007/09/ruminating-on-laughter-predestination.html

Will U. said...

Dr. Witherington said:

In the first place you are not eternally secure, until you are securely in eternity, but once you get there, there is no change in status.

When we get to the eschatological state with the resurrection body, then we are in an unfallen state, and will have no desire to do otherwise than what God wills. We will be perfectly free, but removed from any sources of temptation, either internal or external. So we will freely, without determination, choose the good.

Blessings,

This, ironicly, is a compatabilistic view of the will that he doesn't allow the Reformed to have prior to glorification...but must allow for after glorification? Freedom of the will was previously described as the ability to do the contrary, and if thats the case, our glorification equals the stripping of our "free wills." Thus, libertarianism continues to reside in the ever constant state of contradiction. Strangely his view allows our "desires" to determine our wills in glorification (and Edwardian view of the will) yet doesn't allow our desires to determine them before, im puzzled?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Will:

Not exactly. In the eschatological state we will have the freedom to choose between lots of good, fun, godly, loving, joyful things to do-- none of the them pre-determined.

BW3

Paul said...

Hi Ben (different paul here),

I suppose I'm a calvinist, but I'm not here to argue about that especially. My concern with what you wrote is that it strikes me that you argue that the grammar of the verse under consideration is straightforward (and I'm happy to take you word for that since my Greek is not very good), but you don't seem to spend much time talking about the semantics involved.

How do we know exactly what Jesus meant here by "bind" and "loose". And what does he mean here by "in heaven". And what sort of circumstances is Jesus referring to here?

I'm not trying to argue for any particular interpretation here, but I guess I don't see how the meaning of this verse is obvious. FWIW, my favorite writing on this passage is J H Yoder's article "Practicing the Rule of Christ" which I commend to you if you haven't read it. Yoder has many good things to say about forgiveness.

Peace to you

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Paul II: Firstly, the phrase in heaven occurs in various other places in this Gospel, and always refers to the dwelling place of God (see the Lord's prayer). Secondly, there was no NT, nor chapter 18 of Matthew, when Jesus said what he said here. It needs to be interpreted in the light of Jesus' immediate Jewish context, where binding and loosing had a particular legal meaning in relationship to Torah. Is it possible that it means something else here? Yes, but the burden of proof must be on those who want to take it in some sense that Jesus and his original audience would not have understood it to mean. Thirdly the issue here is authority, the same as in the previous story about Peter in particular being given some particular authority. Whatever we take bind and loose to mean, the saying has to do with a ratification in heaven of a decision of importance on earth taken by one or more of Jesus' disciples. And it most certainly is a saying which calls into question the notion that things work the other way around--- that decisions taken in heaven caused all the outcomes or decisions on earth.

Blessings,

BW3

Ken Temple said...

Dr. Witherington,
First, I have appreciated your contribution in NT studies and apologetics against the Jesus Seminar and Divinci Code type of attacks on the gospels.

But, I think that I was trying to keep the Greek structure with the perfect participles in context -- the context is church discipline, and church authority to bind and loose; and that only after the facts are investigated, steps are taken for forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration; and there are 2 or 3 witnesses.

It seems that you are taking the simple future and ignoring completely the Perfect Participles and the periphrastic construction; and extracting a larger principle on the issues of free will and predestination; when the main point is about church discipline and forgiveness and restoration.

You seemed to downplay the immediate literary context, the Greek grammar issues, in order to make a case that human decisions affect God's decisions, etc.

If the writer -- Matthew wanted it is to be a simple future, why did he use the Perfect Participle? He could have used a present participle to communicate more clearly what you are trying to make the text say.

Even the NASB updated version reflects this in the translation:

"shall have been bound in heaven"
"shall have been loosed in heaven"

Your view gives more credibility to the ex opere operato view of the Roman Catholic Church, it seems to me.

I only added John 20:23 because of its relation to the RCC issue of ex opere operato; that is a classic text the RCC apologists use for their position; I was not trying to say the Greek is the same in every way or the context is the same, etc. But I would need to look at that one more closely also.

In all respect and Christian love,
Ken Temple

Ken Temple said...

The issue is not the sovereignty of God-- the issue is how God has chosen to exercise his power and will. And what the Bible says about this is that he has not pre-determined all things from before the foundations of the world.

Seems the opposite of what Ephesians 1:4 and 1:11 say and mean.

Also Proverbs 16:1 and 16:33

Respectfully,
Ken Temple

Mike Mitchell said...

In response to Ben Stevenson:

What this quote from the WM Confession says to me is that the WM Confession is, in part, hopelessly contradictory. Saying that God ordained everything that comes to pass, and yet did not ordain evil (which is part of everything that comes to pass) is like saying God can make square circles or that he is both against us and for us.

To answer your question, I think most Calvinists do admit the importance of our capacity for choice (they have to to remain sane), but in doing so, they deny genuine determinism.

The really consistent Calvinists are very few.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Brother Ben:

Thank you for your prompt answer to my previous question. I don't accept it but I thank you for giving it.

I have one additional question to ask you if you would be so kind to answer it.

Does God the Holy Spirit convict men of sin apart from their free choice? In other words, does he ask the sinner for his permission to convict him?

Yours in Christ,

Stephen

Ben Witherington said...

Ken: Perfect participles indicate an action which is completed and has ongoing effects. In this case, the participle does not in any way determine the main stative verb and what it will or should do, and more to the point as I said, this is a conditional statement, and neither of the NASB renderings are helpful. Even more to the point, Jesus was making a conditional statement in ARAMAIC, not in Greek. In Aramaic it would have been even more clear that he was talking about something that happens subsequent to the human decision on earth.

Now I am not saying this is the only point, or even the main point of this saying. But I AM saying it is part of the assumed logic of the saying, and what actually gives the saying force. God will back up such ecclesial decisions is the point whether you think it is about forgiveness or something else.

Hi Stephen, the work of the Holy Spirit in convincing and convicting a person of sin, is not unlike the work of a lover seeking to woo the beloved. There is an influence and a leading and a directing, but what there is not in a proper relationship is the manipulation of the beloved without their consent or free response. Love must be freely given and freely received, and the same applies to the whole issue of being saved. Now I quite agree that the Holy Spirit or Christ can at times overwhelm a person (e.g. Saul on Damascus Road). But thereafter Saul or any other such person had a choice about how they would respond to the crisis experience. Jesus didn't say to the Laodiceans "behold I am breaking down the door and forcing you to comply." He said "Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone would open....."

Blessings,

Ben W.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

I really don't know where you are getting your understanding of the periphrastic participle vis-a-vis a conditional statement, but it's wrong nonetheless: http://ntrminblog.blogspot.com/2008/04/whatever-you-bind-or-loose.html

Ben Witherington said...

Sorry but your wrong. The participle is irrelevant to my case. The issue is the stative verb. And one more time with feeling, this is a Greek translation of the Aramaic original. If you don't know Aramaic and how the Greek would have had to be rendered, then you are in no position to evaluate the force of the Greek, as it does not stand alone.

BW3

New Covenant Bible Church said...

“Sorry but your wrong. The participle is irrelevant to my case.”

The participle cannot be irrelevent to your case since the participle, in fact, overturns your case.

“The issue is the stative verb.”

Do you mean the eimi verb? Once again, the eimi verb cannot be taken in isolation and understood apart from the periphrasis. Or are you instead referring to some hypothetical “original Aramaic” mss underlying Matthew (as you hint at in your next statement)? If so, then your case rests on a hypothesis that is rejected by the majority of scholars today. There is just too much evidence that Matthew was originally written in Greek (for which see, e.g., Carson).

“And one more time with feeling, this is a Greek translation of the Aramaic original. If you don't know Aramaic and how the Greek would have had to be rendered, then you are in no position to evaluate the force of the Greek, as it does not stand alone.”

This is nonsense. There are just too many other instances in Matthew of the future “to be” verb that do combine with the participle to insist that it HAD to be stated in just this way to get across your point. In addition to what I’ve already stated above with regard to a non-extant “original” Hebrew/Aramaic Matthew, the Greek NT documents—which we hold to be the original autographs—are what matters. I know both Hebrew and Greek (six years of formal training in the latter), and I know what grammarians and NT scholars say about this passage since this is my field. I’ve cited Turner, Carson, Mantey, BDF, and major translations in my article. Are you saying the entire field of Greek grammar is inept apart from your understanding of a hypotheitical Aramaic original? And who is your authority on the use of the periphrasistic participle within a conditional statement? You stated more than once that the force of a periphrastic future perfect participle when used with a conditional statement has no perfect force; and you state this as though it is some rule of Greek grammar. Nigel Turner (for one), a recognized expert in the field, disagrees with you, and in fact argues the opposite; namely, that it is the perfect tense that has prominence in such cases and not the future. What I’m asking you to do is cite a Greek grammarian who defines your “rule.” If you don’t have support for it, plainly admit the error and go on.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

"The participle is irrelevant to my case. The issue is the stative verb."

This statement is particularly baffling. The fact that you would draw attention to the eimi verb in this passage and openly ignore the participle--as though the one can be translated apart from the other--now has me wondering whether you understand that there is a difference between a participle and an eimi verb occurring independently in a Greek sentence, and the two occurring together as a construction. Are you aware of periphrastic participles and how they function in the Greek language? I don't want to assume anything in this.

Ben Witherington said...

Of course I know about the construction with the participle you are talking about. The issue is not what Matthew is saying. I agree that Matthew's Gospel was written in Greek.

The issue is what Jesus was saying in Aramaic, of which this is, quite obviously a translation, probably before Matthew's Gospel was ever put together. Jesus certainly didn't go around speaking to his own disciples in Greek. We have clear evidence of his use of Aramaic. And the point is that in Aramaic there would be one verb--- not a verb plus a participle but one verb. Kapish?

And the verb would be conveying a concept of subsequence, as it does also in the Greek. The human action transpires before the divine ratification in heaven. The link between the two, and the concept of subsequent is evident in both languages.

Blessings,

Ben W.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

I wrote:

"There are just too many other instances in Matthew of the future “to be” verb that do combine with the participle . . . "

What I meant to say was, "that do NOT combine with the participle."

New Covenant Bible Church said...

"The issue is what Jesus was saying in Aramaic, of which this is, quite obviously a translation, probably before Matthew's Gospel was ever put together. Jesus certainly didn't go around speaking to his own disciples in Greek."

Thanks for the clarification. With this I can, of course, agree. But I'm not sure it can bear the weight you are placing on it. If we were addressing a Semitism in Matthew, your point would be valid. But, in fact, we are addressing a Greek idiom, common in the language, that occurs independent of a Hebrew background.

"And the point is that in Aramaic there would be one verb--- not a verb plus a participle but one verb. Kapish?"

Is that the underlying Aramaic of the word "capisce"? ;)

Seriously, I doubt the amount of stock you are putting into the notion that this is a (necessary) translation of the Aramaic. After all (as I've alluded to above) the periphrastic participle is common in the NT outside of the gospels, where there would be no translation from Aramaic. It is therefore a Greek idiom independent of translation from other languages. Indeed, as Turner plainly states, the periphrasis in the NT is inherited from Classical Greek (Syntax, 88). Hence, a Semitism here is unlikely. And, as I already mentioned, Turner has argued that the participle retains its perfect force in the construction under consideration.

I therefore do not think your solution fully grapples with the presence of the periphrastic participle in this passage.

ES

Ben Witherington said...

Eric:

One final thing. Since you have done all this language work you must surely realize that either your conclusion, based solely on the Greek text of Matthew or mine is certainly possible. The rules of Greek grammar were, and still are used flexibly in any case. They are general rules of most common usage, not ironclad laws. Especially when it comes to colloquial or common Greek this is the case. This is all the more the case when one is dealing with a conditional clause construction which can be construed in several ways.

I am not disputing that Turner is saying that regularly the Greek construction can, and should be taken the way you suggest. But this is not always the case with such a construction, and when we are dealing with a saying of Jesus, which was originally in Aramaic you have to deal with the original language and how it would be translated, not just the Greek.

To say otherwise then leaves you in odd position. Consider an analogy. You would be saying in effect: "we don't really need the Hebrew original of various parts of the OT to get at its original meaning, since Luke and other writers in the NT simply followed the LXX, a translation of the Hebrew. We can just go with the Greek translation as quoted in the NT."

Take for example the case of James' use of Amos in Acts 15, where he chooses the LXX version which refers to Adam not Edom, and has a different verb. Does this mean that, if I am dealing with Amos, and NOT Acts 15, I should ignore the Hebrew original and go with the Greek translation? I don't think so.

The finally authority when it comes to the meaning of teaching of Jesus does not lie with a Greek translation of his words. It lies with the Aramaic original, as Jeremias made so very clear a long time ago. The only way around this conclusion is to deny that Jesus spoke his sayings almost always in Aramaic.

Blessings,

Ben W,

New Covenant Bible Church said...

"And the verb would be conveying a concept of subsequence, as it does also in the Greek. The human action transpires before the divine ratification in heaven. The link between the two, and the concept of subsequent is evident in both languages."

Ok, then please indulge me for a moment, because I am still not understanding your point. You are saying that the Greek itself supports a "human decision-divinely ratified" sequence. You state that this concept is "evident" in the Greek. How--very specifically--does the Greek convey your notion that heaven ratifies the human decision. I have gone to great lengths to show that the periphrastic participle denies--more, precludes--that understanding. I have meticulously gone through your article, and nothing you have written demonstrates, from the Greek, the point you are advancing here. Can you clarify this?

ES

Ben Witherington said...

O.k. Eric Once more with feeling, and this is the last time.

The Greek construction cannot possibly preclude the translation I am referring to, because this construction in the Greek is not always an example of periphrasis. A participle is not always a periphrastic participle of course, not even in this construction is that always so.

So it is quite impossible to conclude that this Greek construction always and everywhere precludes the point I am making, quite apart from the Aramaic original.

As I said, the rule about this cited by Turner is just that--- a rule of thumb, not a ironclad law of usage. Period.

Now, as for the Aramaic, you are not grasping the nettle here Eric.

Do you believe Jesus said this--- yes or no? I am sure you do.

Do you believe he likely said it in Aramaic? Yes or NO? If yes then it is quite irrelevant whether the Greek looks like there has been Semitic interference or we have an example of a Semitism.

I'm not saying we necessarily would have a Semitism here if there was an Aramaic original. That depends on how literally the translator would be rendering the original of course.

Blessings,
Ben W.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

“The rules of Greek grammar were, and still are used flexibly in any case. They are general rules of most common usage, not ironclad laws. Especially when it comes to colloquial or common Greek this is the case. This is all the more the case when one is dealing with a conditional clause construction which can be construed in several ways.”

If you read my blog entry on this discussion, you’ll find this is just what I conclude at the end of the day. The problem I had with your article is the ironclad way you were stating your case about Jesus’ saying in Matt 18:18. I think the evidence is against that understanding, even if I concede it’s an exegetical option.

“I am not disputing that Turner is saying that regularly the Greek construction can, and should be taken the way you suggest. But this is not always the case with such a construction, and when we are dealing with a saying of Jesus, which was originally in Aramaic you have to deal with the original language and how it would be translated, not just the Greek.”

This assumes a view of transmission that I do not accept. Your one-to-one, word-to-word correspondence view would require there be no citations of the LXX in Matthew (how could there be, given that the translation from the Aramaic would default to the Hebrew text?). But there are indeed citations from the LXX attributed to Jesus in Matthew, which is one of the reasons modern scholarship has rejected the notion that Matthew was originally written in a Semitic language. It is evident that Matthew did not merely translate the Aramaic words of Jesus as you suggest. If he did, he certainly would not have placed the words of the LXX on his lips. Rather, Matthew uses the Greek language to convey the sayings of Jesus. Yet in doing so, he is writing God-breathed Scripture. It is this finished product—and the way that finished product is understood in the common language in which it is written—that is relevant here; not a “best guess” as to what Jesus may have said in the Aramaic.

Again, we are not talking about an obvious Semitism, but a common idiom of Greek. Your best guess is that he used one word in the Aramaic. But you really have no way of knowing that he didn’t convey the thought using ten words instead—and perhaps even stated it on several occasions in different ways—perhaps even in Greek on occasion (he did speak with Greeks and other Gentiles, after all, who would not know Aramaic). That’s all speculation. And your theory on this is simply inference based upon inference. What’s not speculative is the finished product; the written text of Scripture.

“To say otherwise then leaves you in odd position. Consider an analogy. You would be saying in effect: "we don't really need the Hebrew original of various parts of the OT to get at its original meaning, since Luke and other writers in the NT simply followed the LXX, a translation of the Hebrew. We can just go with the Greek translation as quoted in the NT."

This is not at all analogous to my point about the grammar of Matt 18:18.

“Take for example the case of James' use of Amos in Acts 15, where he chooses the LXX version which refers to Adam not Edom, and has a different verb. Does this mean that, if I am dealing with Amos, and NOT Acts 15, I should ignore the Hebrew original and go with the Greek translation? I don't think so.”

This is going far afield of my point about the grammar of Matt 18:18.

“The finally authority when it comes to the meaning of teaching of Jesus does not lie with a Greek translation of his words. It lies with the Aramaic original, as Jeremias made so very clear a long time ago. The only way around this conclusion is to deny that Jesus spoke his sayings almost always in Aramaic.”

I don’t think it’s possible to disagree with you more than on this single statement. Our final authority does not lie with the text of the NT but rather with the unknown Aramaic statements of Jesus? Is this your position? Is that how the NT writers viewed authority? Is that how Jesus viewed authority? Do you think Jesus was more concerned about what Abraham may have said in the original Chaldee (or whatever language he spoke)—more importantly, what God’s words to Abraham may have been in the original (which clearly were not in Hebrew or Aramaic)—or rather what is written? Do we need to understand the underlying source language in these cases to know what God meant when he spoke to Abraham, or is the Hebrew text enough? I think the answer to that is self evident. I think understanding the underlying Aramaic may be helpful; but never to overturn the grammar that ends up as Scripture.

I'll respond to your other two posts a bit later. Right now I have to watch the Lakers crush the Nuggets.

ES

New Covenant Bible Church said...

“The Greek construction cannot possibly preclude the translation I am referring to, because this construction in the Greek is not always an example of periphrasis. A participle is not always a periphrastic participle of course, not even in this construction is that always so.”

I confess, I’m at a loss to know what you might mean here. Can you provide even one example of a periphrastic future-perfect participle that is not an example of periphrasis? The instance of this construction in Matt 18:18 is certainly not in dispute, at least not by grammarians.

“Now, as for the Aramaic, you are not grasping the nettle here Eric. Do you believe Jesus said this--- yes or no? I am sure you do. Do you believe he likely said it in Aramaic? Yes or NO? If yes then it is quite irrelevant whether the Greek looks like there has been Semitic interference or we have an example of a Semitism. I'm not saying we necessarily would have a Semitism here if there was an Aramaic original. That depends on how literally the translator would be rendering the original of course.”

And this is, of course, just the sort of approach I am disputing. The “did Jesus likely say this in Aramaic, yes OR no?” dichotomy you are presenting oversimplifies the matter. The answer, if I am forced to give one, is yes AND no. Yes, he likely said this in Aramaic; no, it is not likely he said it only once (we have proof of that in 16:19), on only one occasion, in only one way, or in only one language. The point is, you simply do not know—no one does or even CAN know—what preceded this written statement in terms of what the exact wording was, how many times and on how many different occasions it was stated, how many different ways it was stated, and in what languages it was spoken over a three-year period. Obviously, it would not take three years to recite all four Gospels combined. The issue you raise here is easily subsumed under the synoptic issue as a whole (viz., why do these accounts give us different wordings of the same sayings of Jesus, and place them in different settings?); and I would refer the reader to Carson’s NT Introduction which, I think, provides a much more tenable approach than to suggest that Jesus stated this on only one or two occasions and in only one way. The point is, once the saying is finally recorded as Scripture, two principles then apply: (1) the saying conforms to normal usage of the grammar in the receptor language, such that we cannot (without peril) interpret the passage in a way that overturns that normal usage; and (2) the saying in the form of God-breathed Scripture—and that alone—is what holds sway over the conscience of man; not a hypothetical statement that lies behind the written words. For these reasons, I do not think you have successfully sustained your point regarding Matt 18:18. But I appreciate the dialogue.

ES

Ken Temple said...

ES is making the points that I was trying to make earlier much better that I was or can.

I am amazed that you are giving the final authority to a hypothetical Aramaic translation or guessing at what Jesus spoke orally of Matthew rather than to what we have in the written Scriptures, the final product is the God-breathed doctrine of inspiration, infallibity, inerrancy.

Ben Witherington said...

Eric not all participles are periphrastic of course, and not all future ones are either. That's just a matter of fact. But one last thing should be said about authority. I certainly affirm a high view of the inspired and truth nature of God's written word, but frankly it is not the final authority--- GOd is of course, and that includes God in Christ! Think of the earliest Christians who had no NT. Where did there ultimate authority come for what they did and said? Not from the NT, but from God and the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ, and secondarily from the apostolic teaching. There was no NT in the NT era. And the OT did not authorize Christian preachers to do and say what they did about the Gospel in the first century.

Now of course you can argue that after the 4th century or so things were different for the church, but I would argue that the Bible is the main, but only one expression of the living Word of God. And interesting in the NT itself that phrase 'the Word of God' often refers to the oral proclamation, not a written text (see e.g. 1 Thess.2.13, from one of Paul's earliest letters.).

Blessings,

Ben W.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

BW3 wrote: “Eric not all participles are periphrastic of course, and not all future ones are either. That's just a matter of fact.”

True enough, but that, of course, is not what you stated in your last post. You wrote: “this construction in the Greek is not always an example of periphrasis.” That is simply not true. This construction is always periphrastic. That is not to say that all participles are periphrastic; only that the construction in question always is.

BW3 wrote: “But one last thing should be said about authority. I certainly affirm a high view of the inspired and truth nature of God's written word, but frankly it is not the final authority--- GOd is of course, and that includes God in Christ! Think of the earliest Christians who had no NT. Where did there ultimate authority come for what they did and said? Not from the NT, but from God and the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ, and secondarily from the apostolic teaching. There was no NT in the NT era. And the OT did not authorize Christian preachers to do and say what they did about the Gospel in the first century.”

The earliest Christians were the direct recipients of the apostles’ teaching; and the apostles were the direct recipients of the oral teaching of Jesus; neither you nor I are in that position. We are the recipients rather of their legacy--the God-breathed Scriptures. All else is mere hypothesis about transmission. It is neither a sound practice of exegesis nor a good theological position to base a doctrine (as you have done) on an mere inference and a best guess based upon that inference; namely, what Jesus may have said in Aramaic or some other language that resulted in the written word. As I said before, such a thing is helpful exegetically only if it does not end up overturning the grammar of the written word. You claim that Scripture is not the final authority, rather God is--as though the two authorities, for all intents and purposes, are not in our day one and the same. How can you possibly know God or his word with certainty apart from Scripture? Through a mere theory of transmission? Through a subtle source criticism? Sorry, but I’ll pass on those. And I would go so far as to say that your view on this not only transgresses the natural Christian instinct but is in fact a sub-Christian view of the authority of Scripture (this type of thing plagues the ivory tower, where there are little or no pastoral constraints when dealing with these things). We are not entreated by the apostles to figure out the source statements behind the sayings of God to Abraham. We are rather directed to “what is written” about that dialogue. And we are directed not only to believe it, but to hold fast to it. I do not think you share the same view of the authority of Scripture that the apostles most certainly held.

BW3 wrote: “Now of course you can argue that after the 4th century or so things were different for the church, but I would argue that the Bible is the main, but only one expression of the living Word of God. And interesting in the NT itself that phrase 'the Word of God' often refers to the oral proclamation, not a written text (see e.g. 1 Thess.2.13, from one of Paul's earliest letters.).”

No one denies that during times of special revelation the oral proclamation of that revelation was called “the word of God.” That fact, I assure you, does not support your larger point. Do you hold to, or can you point to any oral tradition or statement of Jesus that does not appear in Scripture? If not, then your point falls to the ground. If so, then Roman Catholicism invites you to join its ranks. Scripture is our only certain word of God after revelation has ceased. That is the historic evangelical Protestant position. You might want to read a few Reformers on what sola scriptura is and is not. Or, watch my debate with Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., on this very issue, available here: http://www.sermon.net/sermons-New_Covenant_Bible_Church-11794.html

ES

Andrew said...

Ben W,

I agree with you in regards to the early church BUT we are not in the early church. Meaning, God does not speak to us how to do church, doesn't tell us much today because we have the Bible. It is the final authority for today. If you say it is God, sure! no one disagrees here. But, do you have God speaking down to you telling you how to run church?

Ben Witherington said...

Eric thanks for all these good posts. We do disagree on various things, and agree on others.

I certainly do not think that revelation from God ceased in the apostolic era. I do think that the inscripturated form of it is limited to that era, but that is another matter.

God, thank goodness, still speaks today, and not just by repeating himself verbatim in what he says in the canon. So I am not a cessationist when it comes to the gift of prophecy and other spiritual gifts.

As for the apostles and their views of what had authority and where to hear the prophetic voice, what do you make of Jude's use of both 1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses neither of which are in our canon? Should we expand our canon to include those books-- I don't think so.

I certainly do agree that the Bible should be the ultimate arbiter of whether something is of God or not, and final litmus test.

Another question your post raises--
When Peter says, so very clearly that the Spirit of God will be poured out on all flesh leading to prophecy (quoting Joel of course), surely he was not referring to just the materials than ended up in the NT, and notice that he says that the period of time to which this prophecy applies is 'in the last days', not 'in the apostolic era'.

In other words, the NT itself does not in the least suggest that revelation will be limited to the NT period. I would agree that all subsequent prophecy and revelation must be checked against and normed by the Scriptures, and if they are not in accord with Scripture, then they didn't come from God. But the attempt to put God or the Spirit into a Scriptural box will not work.

Consider the issue of agrapha, or sayings of Jesus outside the NT. Yes, I think there ARE probably one or two of them floating around. For example Jn. 7.53-8.11 is probably not an orignal part of the Gospel of John. It is found in four different places in John's Gospel, in one manuscript of Luke, and in some Johannine manuscripts, not at all. For example, Dan Wallace just photographed a manuscript he found in Albania, very ancient, of John's Gospel, and it does not include Jn. 7.53-8.11.

Since text determines canon, then if it was not part of the original inspired text of John, it shouldn't be in the canon.

This in no way means it is not a historical story with true sayings of Jesus in it.

So I think your attempt to limit revelation or even words of Jesus to what is in the NT is doomed to failure.

Most scholars, including many Evangelical ones also think there are one or two sayings in the Gospel of Thomas not found in the canon that may well be authentic.

Whether you think so or not, the church fathers certainly thought so. Clement of Alexandria believed he had access to other sayings of Jesus we do not find in the canon, and you know--- he was closer to the original than we are and for him the Greek of the period was a living language unlike our case.

One final point, with our without Mt. 18.18, the notion that human decisions effect eternal matters is woven through the fabric of the NT, and is especially clear in the teach of Jesus. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus comes to mind.
In other words, sheer divine determinism is not the teaching of the NT. But then I suspect, we would disagree on that point as well.

Blessings on your good ministry in any case,

Ben
--------------
To Andrew I would ask-- if God does not give you guidance as to how to do church today, not merely in the Bible but through prayer and other resources, then how in the world do you do church when you are dealing with a modern issue not at all addressed by the Bible? For example, what should we think about the use of nuclear weapons, or cigarettes, or a thousand other things?

I sure hope the Holy Spirit is still giving us guidance and discernment on subjects not covered in any way by the Bible.

Blessings,

Ben W.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

“As for the apostles and their views of what had authority and where to hear the prophetic voice, what do you make of Jude's use of both 1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses neither of which are in our canon? Should we expand our canon to include those books-- I don't think so.”

Ben, as you know Paul cites Greek poets on occasion as well (Acts 17:28; Tit 1:12), and I would place Jude’s use of the pseudepigraphical books in that category. The NT writers can use existing writings and sayings without considering them part of Scripture. Yet, the saying itself, once it makes its way into Scripture and is ratified approvingly by the biblical writer, becomes inspired truth. I have written a popular commentary on Jude (part of the BibleSoft package, but also available as a free e-book here, http://www.newcovenantbiblechurchonline.org/teaching.htm) where I deal with this issue extensively.

“When Peter says, so very clearly that the Spirit of God will be poured out on all flesh leading to prophecy (quoting Joel of course), surely he was not referring to just the materials than ended up in the NT, and notice that he says that the period of time to which this prophecy applies is 'in the last days', not 'in the apostolic era'. “

I do not equate this kind of revelation with a “thus saith the Lord” type of revelation. If you are familiar with Wayne Grudem’s work in this area, that is very close to my view.

“In other words, the NT itself does not in the least suggest that revelation will be limited to the NT period. I would agree that all subsequent prophecy and revelation must be checked against and normed by the Scriptures, and if they are not in accord with Scripture, then they didn't come from God. But the attempt to put God or the Spirit into a Scriptural box will not work.”

Let’s reel this in a bit and relate it back to my original point. Are you saying your understanding of what the underlying Aramaic might be behind Jesus words in the text of Scripture is somehow a prophetic revelation? If not, we are again going far afield.

“Consider the issue of agrapha, or sayings of Jesus outside the NT. Yes, I think there ARE probably one or two of them floating around. For example Jn. 7.53-8.11 is probably not an orignal part of the Gospel of John. It is found in four different places in John's Gospel, in one manuscript of Luke, and in some Johannine manuscripts, not at all. For example, Dan Wallace just photographed a manuscript he found in Albania, very ancient, of John's Gospel, and it does not include Jn. 7.53-8.11.”

The same point can be made about the textual question surrounding the ending of Mark 16. Yet, this is another category entirely. These are matters of text criticism, not independent sayings of Jesus. We know about these things (never with certainty, however) through their inclusion in some manuscripts of the text of Scripture. I do not think this is analogous to the point I was making. And I hope you’re not saying these things support your prior point about known sayings of Jesus outside of Scripture that also constitute a sure word of God.


“Since text determines canon, then if it was not part of the original inspired text of John, it shouldn't be in the canon. This in no way means it is not a historical story with true sayings of Jesus in it.”

The question I posed to you had to do with producing a saying of Jesus that we could positively identify as the word of God outside of the Scriptures. You still have not done that unless you are prepared to say that this story did in fact happen and it records the ipsissima verba of Jesus.

“So I think your attempt to limit revelation or even words of Jesus to what is in the NT is doomed to failure.”

I would not dream of limiting Jesus’ words to what we find in the NT. After all, John himself tells us that Jesus did (and likely said) many other things not written in this book (Jn 20:30-31). The qustion is not whether he said other things; the question is whether outside of Scripture we can verify with certainty anything he said or did. Sola scriptura claims no more or less than that. And if we cannot verify a saying with certainty, it cannot possibly act as a binding authority over the conscience of man. Only Scripture can do that.

“Most scholars, including many Evangelical ones also think there are one or two sayings in the Gospel of Thomas not found in the canon that may well be authentic.”

The phrase “may well be,” last I checked, is still not equal to “is.” That’s a crucial difference.

“Whether you think so or not, the church fathers certainly thought so. Clement of Alexandria believed he had access to other sayings of Jesus we do not find in the canon, and you know--- he was closer to the original than we are and for him the Greek of the period was a living language unlike our case.”

Interesting, yes; binding on the conscience, no. There is also a purported letter from Jesus to another individual. Interesting, but not binding. And Irenaeus, who was even closer to the apostles than Clement, insisted that Jesus was more than 50 years old when he died, and that this is the teaching of Scripture, and of all the apostles and elders, and that this constitutes a sacred tradition passed down from them (Against Heresies, book II, chap 22)—even though that notion is completely contradicted by the gospels themselves. Irenaeus was the disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of John. That’s how quickly truth is traded in for error once one abandons the absolute authority of Scripture and turns to myths. The same thing happened to Israel immediately after Joshua died.

“One final point, with our without Mt. 18.18, the notion that human decisions effect eternal matters is woven through the fabric of the NT, and is especially clear in the teach of Jesus. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus comes to mind.
In other words, sheer divine determinism is not the teaching of the NT. But then I suspect, we would disagree on that point as well.”

I have avoided commenting on your Arminianism so as not to allow distractions to get in the way of discussing your exegesis (which I think constitutes the building blocks of any theology). However, since you raised the issue, here are my (extremely brief) thoughts. Having read your comments regarding choice, free will, absolute power to the contrary, etc., it strikes me that you are giving priority to the phenomenal-logical human act or decision and completely ignoring the question of how in fact they came to make that decision. To use a very popular illustration (I think it’s Sproul’s), if I offer my dog a steak in one hand and an onion in the other, which will he choose? Obviously he will choose the steak, and he will do so every time. Now, does he have a choice in the matter? Of course; I have offered him both the steak and the onion, and he is free to choose one or the other as he wishes.

Here is where the Arminian typically stops the process. The Calvinist continues the process and asks the question “why does the dog always choose the steak and never the onion?” The anser is, because he is following his strongest proclivity, which in this case is to choose the steak. It tastes better to him than the onion does. He chooses the thing he desires, but (note well) he will never desire the onion. Does the fact that he will never desire the onion imply he does not have a valid choice to make? Of course not. He has made his choice based on his strongest proclivity.

If a man who is lost walks down a road, and eventually comes to a fork in the road, he has four choices: (1) go right, (2) go left, (3) go back, (4) stay put. Which will he choose? More importantly, on what BASIS will he make his decision? The answer is, he will choose the direction in which his strongest proclivity steers him. In fact, he cannot do otherwise. So, to speak of free will as “absolute power to the contrary” is entirely nonsensical. There is never a situation in which a man makes a “free” decision apart from being influenced by surrounding factors. He chooses the right fork, because he is right-handed. He chooses the left fork because it is the direction of the setting sun. He chooses to go back because he is fearful to move ahead. The point is, he chooses BECAUSE . . . and the minute the word “because” is introduced, it is evident that his “free choice” has been manipulated by some other factor, and absolute power to the contrary is rendered null and void.

Hence, “free choice” or “fee will” is always constrained by competing factors that shape the proclivity of a man to act one way or the other.

Now, Paul presents to us the human condition in Romans 3:10 ff:

10 "There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one."

If, as Paul insists, there is none who seeks after God, that tells me that the strongest proclivity of all those who are in Adam is to turn away from God. Do I have a choice in the matter? Of course, since I am doing just what I want to do. How then do some end up as Christians. Jesus himself said it best in John 6:44 “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me adraws him; and I will braise him up on the last day.” To explain the continued unbelief of the Jews, he reiterates this in v. 65: "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father." The fact that not all are actually drawn in this way is evident from his earlier staement in v. 37-39, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. . . . And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

In other words, Jesus is saying, You cannot come to me unless the Father draws you (v. 44); and the fact that some of you remain in unbelief is evidence you have not been drawn (v. 65). However, all those who are drawn will come to me (v. 37); and of that category of people, I will lose none (v. 39).

Paul states the same process this way: “All those he foreknew, these he predestined; all those he predestined, these he called; all those he called, these he justified; all those he justified, these he glorified.” (Rom 8:29-30). Notice that all who are called (“drawn,” John 6) are also justified. If everyone is called, then it follows that everyone will be justified. If not everyone will be justified and glorified, then neither were they called.

The “drawing” (Jesus) and “calling” (Paul) are effectual. God must plant a new desire (proclivity) in his elect that proves stronger than the one the have naturally in order for the elect to come to Christ. Since that new proclivity (sometimes called in the Bible a heart of flesh) is indeed stronger than the old proclivity, and since a person will always follow his strongest proclivity, he is guaranteed to come to Christ—not kicking and screaming, as the Arminian mischaracterizes it, but willingly from a new desire.

So then, the elect exercise their “free choice,” but once again, never in violation of their strongest proclivity—which God has ensured is to come to Him. The non-elect exercise their “free choice,” but once again, never in violation of their strongest proclivity—which is to turn away from God and serve themselves. It is not necessary for God to ensure anything in this case since the power of sin over someone who is in Adam ensures that proclivity for them. They are, in Paul’s own words, “slaves to sin,” and “are not able to please God” (Romans 6—8).

You reject Open Theism (for which I am thankful), but Open Theism is really a more consistent form of Arminianism than yours. The minute you acknowledge that God foreknows the future of a man, then that future is no less determined than if God foreordained it to happen. No action that God foreknows a man will do can now fail to take place. It MUST happen. So, in what sense is it absolute power to the contrary? Clark Pinnock has at least recognized that determinism is no less binding on the Arminian position if one accepts the omniscience of God—which is why he no longer does.

ES

Brigitte said...

Dear Gentlemen: May I try to bring this to a conclusion for you?

Ben Witherington writes: "In other words, the NT itself does not in the least suggest that revelation will be limited to the NT period. I would agree that all subsequent prophecy and revelation must be checked against and normed by the Scriptures, and if they are not in accord with Scripture, then they didn't come from God. But the attempt to put God or the Spirit into a Scriptural box will not work."

1. The three great Sola's include Sola Scriptura, and I expect we all agree with that statement.

2. Luther had the first run with Sola Scriptura, but he also believed in the "living word", the oral word, such as in preaching, confession, teaching, consolation of brethren...

We have all head such a word from God from our brothers/sister/preachers (of course, it has to check with the rest of scripture, as Dr. W writes here).
So we agree on that.

In fact, the text under consideration deals with such circumstance.

Also, for further example, the Lutheran confessions are not scripture, but held to be "scriptural", which make them useful for teaching.

3. The test of orthodoxy is always under debate, and we are engaging in it and that's ok. (Personally I disagree with Dr. W on a few things. I think there was a real Adam, and I think he is wrong on Romans 6 and 7.)

4. I worry sometimes that Dr. W's method's might do violence to the text. I am sure he worries about that himself. He should and he does listen to criticism of his criticism.

5. As an origignal German speaker reading English translations of Luther, I understand what Dr. W is trying to do with guessing what the Aramaic might have been. This could be highly informative and is a good exercise, but since he is not a native Aramaic speaker of the first century, I have to take everything he says with a grain of salt and it is all open for debate. As such I would like to read less: "You are wrong about that..." and less assertive language.

6. All of which brings us back to what really matters: what is Jesus saying here? What is his purpose? I've already indicated my thoughts on that.

7. In terms of predestination, Lutherans believe that we should not go too far in our analysis and determination since we are not meant to understand everything (not being God (see Job)).

Luther: "We must know His Word, not investigate His will, which is often hidden (abscondita).
To search it out is to weigh wind and fire on a scale. Such is the labor with which the investigators of His majesty are toiling."

(Now--the German for that would have been... :)

We assert that God's will is always good and gracious. That his message to you is meant to save you and you should take him at his word. And that is what matters.

(Was that a "living word of God"?)

Love, all. I should go cook something.
Brigitte.

Ben Witherington said...

Eric this has been fun. I have no time to go further, as the exams and final grades are calling me, but I will say this.

When you reduce a human being to their 'strongest proclivities' (as if there might not be competing ones) and then draw an analogy with a dog, you have demeaned and belittle human beings, the only creatures created in God's image. The image of God was not erased by the fall, it was distorted, but can be and is re-enabled by God's grace to make free and fair, and godly decisions. There is nothing inevitable about a person doing so, since they are not slaves to their proclivities once God's pre-venient grace works on and in them.

Blessings,

Ben W.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

Thanks for the forum, Ben. Just a clarification:

"When you reduce a human being to their 'strongest proclivities' (as if there might not be competing ones) and then draw an analogy with a dog, you have demeaned and belittle human beings, the only creatures created in God's image."

The unfortunate perils of a brief analogy, nothing more; which is always a risk in a forum like this.

"The image of God was not erased by the fall, it was distorted, but can be and is re-enabled by God's grace to make free and fair, and godly decisions. There is nothing inevitable about a person doing so, since they are not slaves to their proclivities once God's pre-venient grace works on and in them."

I do not believe your view on this squares with Romans 6-7, not to mention Rom 1-3 and 9-11, John 6, and a host of other passages. But that will have to wait for another time. Thanks again.

ES

Shawn said...

Now that the debate seems to have ended, I have a personal question...

What was achieved through the discussion between ES and BW3? What was the goal? ES, did you accomplish what you set out to do by engaging Dr. Witherington through this medium (as opposed to email or phone call)? If so, what was it you set out to do?

I am assuming that typing lengthy responses, such as the responses given in this forum, take some time. Do you feel that the time you spent thinking through your responses and typing them was well spent?

I'm really just curious. I wonder sometimes why a person goes to such lengths to prove a point, and I hope you can help me understand. Thanks!

TBrookins said...

Wow, you really opened the floodgates on this one. I'm with you on the power of moral choice. Would you call yourself a proponent of libertarian freedom?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Shawn: Here is what I think is accomplished by this sort of lengthy and sometimes technical exchange. Firstly, it is an effort, at its best to exemplify the maxim "iron sharpens iron, and one brother sharpens another'. It is always a helpful thing to hear a different point of view on important matters (and of course the issue of determinism is a very important matter for Biblical theology). Eric realizes, as do I, that the truth is often in the details, even small points of grammar. So this was not "much ado about nothing". It was a useful exchange, and what it served to do is to show that more than one point of view is possibly right, or both could be wrong, but clearly there were weaknesses on both sides of the discussion.

I am thankful that Eric cares that deeply about God's Word and getting the interpretation of it right. I wish more pastors and teachers did. And not many pastors in my faith tradition have Eric's extensive training in Greek either.

What you need to realize Shawn is that of course like with email, in blogging it is hard to tell tone. So I always begin with the posture of assuming the best about someone and their intentions, and discuss on that basis. Strong arguments reveal passionate commitments, and need not reflect any lack of respect or love for one's fellow Christian.

Blessings,

Ben W.

New Covenant Bible Church said...

"ES, did you accomplish what you set out to do by engaging Dr. Witherington through this medium (as opposed to email or phone call)? If so, what was it you set out to do?"

Well, in my distorted sense of humor, I was going to respond that it's because I'm a hardened and cynical calvinistic curmudgeon who has an unhealthy interest in controvery, thrives on causing divisions, and likes to grind theological axes. But Ben's response sounds so much better; so I think I'll go with his ;)

ES

New Covenant Bible Church said...

Shawn,

I hit the Publish button before I actually finished my response. All humor aside, Ben is spot on in his answer to you. I think, biblically, we are charged with persuading our brother in the direction of scriptural truth. Here is our statement about this from our church website:

"Outside of the main tenets (listed below) we believe there is room for godly men to disagree on what the Scriptures teach. In such cases, we are obligated to persuade our brother with truth while we bear with him in patience and love."

Obviously, my take on what that truth is will be different from Ben's take--but that is just what prompts this sort of thing. And I would go farther and say that this kind of activity is a primary role of the pastor (Acts 20:28-31). You may not see it often enough, but that does not make it any less important. The fact is, too few men in the pulpit have a strong enough pastoral instinct to justify their presence there.

Hope that helps.

ES

Ben Witherington said...

Eric says-- "too few men in the pulpit have a strong enough pastoral instinct to justify their presence there."

And I would add---

And too few women in the pulpit as well have such acumen and instinct. So we need both more women and men in the pulpit with this sort of training and commitment :)

We need in short teaching pastors in a Biblically illiterate age, culture, and sadly church.

BW3

Shawn said...

So, just for clarification, both Ben and ES set out to persuade one another in the truth, because it is a pastoral role? Was that accomplished? It seems that both of you have been seriously persuaded... ;)

Also, I guess depending on whether or not you feel you accomplished persuading one another toward truth will determine whether or not your time was well spent, which was my other question.

I think tone is a huge issue in these sort of discussions. The tone of some of these types of discussions seems to take away from the credibility of "iron sharpens iron" at times. Everyone says that they are attempting to persuade one another in truth, but the tone of the discussion sounds nothing like brotherly love and building one another up. It sounds like competition and a desire to "win".

The reason I asked about the medium is because sometimes I feel that the blogsphere sounds more like theological spitting contests than iron sharpening iron.

But, after listening to ES give his take on the Scripture under consideration, I know that God pre-determined this discussion as well as my mixed feelings about said discussion! ;)

CT40207 said...

I rather enjoyed every word of this exchange even though I understood only the general ideas being volleyed back & forth. For me, that's why this type of debate is helpful. The general ideas demand further examination of the details, and I appreciate how this debate can provide some direction in examining them.

Ben Witherington said...

Brigitte: Just as a matter of historical correctness, the Book of Concord is not entirely in concord with Martin Luther's views on every point. It reflects later Lutheran developments as well. Martin Luther absolutely was a thorough-going Augustinian.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Brigitte said...

When you are a confessional "Lutheran" you subscribe to the confessional writings, not to every word attributed to Martin Luther. Luther is not Christ and his word is not gospel. Though he was marvelous and many enjoy his writing more than he would like. He wanted everyone to read the Bible) It is only called "Lutheran" because the RC church considered him a heretic and labeled the movement by his name. He had no interest in starting a new thing in his name.

So if you want to attribute a teaching to the church, you will need to quote its confession.

(I think your last post and this one belong to a different strand?)
Thanks.

Ben Witherington said...

When you are a confessional Lutheran, you do indeed affirm the Augsburg Confession not just the current Book of Concord, and you'll be hard pressed to deny that Augustinianism including predestination is in there.

BW3

Brigitte said...

(The Augsburg confession is in the Book of Concord. And there is nothing current about the Book of Concord. It was assembled a long time ago.)

The term "Augustinian" does not carry the negative connotations for me that people on this blog seem to have for it. I am having trouble sorting out who is all against what. Augustin is not at all ok with you?

I just read that Calvinists are not happy about the council of Orange's resolution of the predestination question (did not go all the way with Augustin). I am quite sure we agree with the council of Orange. In the conclusion (I just read it), it limits predestination to the positive sense.

With Luther the remainder is left to the hidden God's majesty (absconditus). -- a cop out? Luther calls it leaving room for faith (not seeing and understanding). I think it is a good and honest answer.

I think it is better than saying there is predetermination to hell, and having honest souls worry about this, when God says the contrary: that he wants all saved.

Celal Birader said...

Hello Professor Witherington,

Yesterday, I read your post and (most of) the comments. This morning in my Bible reading i came across 1 Samuel 2:25 and it got me wondering how you might harmonise this verse with your view about decisions being ratified.

Brigitte said...

Hello: Gradually, I am making my way through the famous (here "infamous"?) Bondage of the Will. The translation from the original (Latin?) is not very helpful. What fun for reading in the springtime (as we have here now).