Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Zetetic astronomy

I got into an impromptu debate with a flat-earther. Yes, they really exist. 

A lot of Drake's biblical prooftexts conflate the issue of geocentrism with a flat earth. Those are separate issues. He seriously needs to upgrade his exegetical resources. For instance:

A few questions for Drake:

i) If the earth is flat, how is it possible, if I board a plane in San Diego and fly continuously in the same direction (east) to arrive back at San Diego? How can east turn into west on a flat earth?

ii) If the earth is flat, and I travel far enough in the same direction, can I fall off the edge of the earth? Is that like a waterfall where the oceans empty into outer space? If I scale a mountain at the end of the earth, will I fall off the edge of the earth into outer space? 

iii) What shape does Drake think the flat earth is? A square? Rectangle? Disk? Cylinder?

iv) What does Drake make of satellite photography of the spherical earth?

v) What does Drake make of the earth viewed from outer space (e.g. Apollo 11)? 

vi) If Drake thinks the earth is square (e.g. "corners" of the earth), why is the shadow of the earth circular during a lunar eclipse?

vii) If the earth is flat, why is it day at some longitudes while it's night at other longitudes? 

Shrinking Sun proves Sun is moving away during a sunset not the Alleged spin of the Earth.

Excuse me, but as any observer can see, the sun appears to be larger, not smaller, on the horizon (at sunrise and sunset). Same thing with the moon.

Polaris and the Constellations have never changed their position.

Depends on your latitude. Also, they could change their positions, but if everything in the Milky Way is moving in the same direction, that wouldn't be noticeable. 

If the Heliocentric explanation of the sphericity of the planets be correct, namely Gravity, the Earth should be a perfectly smooth sphere as should the moon, yet we have massive topographical variation including massive mountains and there are massive craters on the moon.

Gravity is not the only force, Take covalent bonds.

Scripture denotes our location as being under the Sun not orbiting around the Sun. (The Entire book of Ecclesiastes)

If the earth is always under the sun (and the sun is never under the earth), then sunrise and sunset should alternate every other day from east to west to west to east.

Solar eclipses display the sun and moon as the exact same size.

As if there's no relation between distance and apparent size. Does Drake think mountains are actually smaller at a distance? Do they grow as we approach them? 

I have taken numerous flights from Kentucky to California and back and both trips took the same time. If the earth was spinning hundreds of miles an hour Eastward it should have taken much less time to fly from Kentucky to California and how the California to Kentucky flight happened remains a mystery.

Drake acts as though gravity ceases the moment you get off the ground. By that logic, passengers should be floating inside the cabin. Why does he think people fall when they jump from skyscrapers if there is no gravitational pull in the air?

It's like saying if I walk along the deck of a passenger ship, it should take me less time to go in the direction the ship is headed (stem to bow) than in reverse (bow to stern).  

Here's a scientific explanation:

The chariot of the sun

The question, however, arises in the modern mind, schooled as it is in the almost infinite nature of sky and space: Did scientifically naive peoples really believe in a solid sky, or were they just employing a mythological or poetic concept? Or were they, perhaps, just using phenomenal language with no attending belief that the sky actually was a solid object? That is, were they referring to the mere appearance of the sky as a solid dome but able to distinguish between that appearance and the reality?
The answer to these questions, as we shall see more clearly below, is that scientifically naive peoples employed their concept of a solid sky in their mythology, but that they nevertheless thought of the solid sky as an integral part of their physical universe. And it is precisely because ancient peoples were scientifically naive that they did not distinguish between the appearance of the sky and their scientific concept of the sky. They had no reason to doubt what their eyes told them was true, namely, that the stars above them were fixed in a solid dome and that the sky literally touched the earth at the horizon. So, they equated appearance with reality and concluded that the sky must be a solid physical part of the universe just as much as the earth itself. 

There are several problems with Seely's argument, but I'll focus on two:

i) One obvious problem with his argument is that many ancient people had occasion to travel to, and past, the horizon. Suppose there are hills in the distance where you live. That's your horizon. That appears to be where the sky meets the earth. But of course, many people traveled over the hills or through a slope between two hills. So they knew, as a matter of common experience, that there was no solid dome which literally touched the earth at the horizon.

ii) As a boy I engaged in a certain amount of stargazing. You can see the moon and stars travel across the night sky. However, you can't tell by sight whether the stars are moving with the sky or through the sky.  

On one model, the stars are embedded in a solid, rotating dome. On another model, the stars move through empty space. 

Consider the Greek myth about the horse-drawn chariot of the sun. On that view, the sun is not embedded in a solid firmament. It's not the firmament that moves. Rather, the sun moves through the air. 

iii) However, one observation that's inconsistent with the firmament model is retrograde motion. If the celestial luminaries are embedded in a solid dome, they must move in the same speed in the same direction. It's the rotating dome that moves them. They must move in tandem with the rotating dome.

If, however, stars move through empty space, then they are free to reverse course. Keep in mind, too, that according to some ancient mythologies, the celestial luminaries were gods or living beings. On that assumption, there's no reason they couldn't change course of their own accord. 

Naked-eye astronomy doesn't select for a solid dome. Even if you go by appearances, mere appearances don't distinguish the stars moving with the sky from the stars moving through the sky. 

I'm struck by how often "scholars" like Seely, Enns, and Walton presume to speak for how the ancients viewed the natural world, when it's evident that "scholars" like Seely, Enns, and Walton are utterly out of touch with nature. Clearly they don't spend much time out of doors. They don't observe the workings of the natural world. 

iv) As I understand it, the scientific explanation for retrograde motion is that the solar system is like a race track. Planets on inner lanes have less distance to cover, so they can overtake planets on outer lanes. In the time it takes a planet on an outer lane to make it around the track just once, a planet on an inner lane can do it twice. Like passing a car: It's ahead of you until you pass it, after which it's behind you. But on a circular path, you may once again catch up to it. 

The extreme improbability of one's own life


Monday, June 27, 2016

Carthago delendum est

Baptist Press

After an impassioned speech by Russell Moore, by turns tearful and fiery, the SBC passed a resolution exhorting corporate repentance for the Punic Wars, summoning Italian-Americans to do penance for the Third Punic War, and banning the use of salt in cafeterias at SBC seminaries and colleges. 

(Michael L. Brown pleaded with the convention to make an exception for kosher salt.) 

WHEREAS, In 146 BC, the Romans, led by Scipio the Younger, besieged Carthage

WHEREAS, They turned North Africa into a Roman colony 

WHEREAS, They plowed the city under with salt 

RESOLVED, That we repent in sackcloth and ashes for the imperial aggressions of our palefaced forebears

RESOLVED, That we call on all Italian-Americans to bewail the imperial aggressions of their Roman ancestors

RESOLVED, That we forbid the use of salt in cafeterias at SBC seminaries and colleges, to bring forth fruits meet for repentance 

Nominal Protestants

i) The present controversy over the Nicene creed, eternal generation, and eternal submission of the Son, reminds me of how the Anglican Communion began to break up after the ECUSA ordained a sodomite priest to the episcopate. The Anglican Communion has roughly three factions: liberals, evangelicals, and Anglo-Catholics. When the ECUSA made Vicky Gene Robinson a bishop, that exposed the fault lines. The direction in which members of the ECUSA broke over this issue depended on which side of the fault lines they occupied. Liberals stayed in the ECUSA because they felt right at home with the ordination of homosexuals. 

But the evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics had to make a choice. Some of them realigned with "flying" bishops or primates outside their normal geographical jurisdiction. Some Anglo-Catholics became Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox. 

ii) The current Trinitarian controversy has exposed similar fault lines. You have nominal Protestants who were never at ease with Protestant identity. Their gravitational center is catholic Christianity. That's the direction they break in. 

iii) One symptom of this outlook is the charge of "biblicism". Although they often act as though that has an assumed meaning which everyone grants, they seem to use it in the sense of Protestants who interpret the Bible without recourse to the hermeneutical filter of the catholic tradition, or traditional creeds and confessions. 

They accuse "biblicists" of succumbing to the illusion that you can interpret the Bible without presuppositions. They compare "biblicists" to Arians and Socinians. Heretics take refuge in sola Scriptura. 

They say the Bible is the church's book. It must be interpreted within the community of faith, and not individualistically. 

In response, several things need to be said:

iv) This is exactly the argument that Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists use in objection to the Protestant faith. We have Protestants who try to ride two different horses. Pick one or the other. When you try to straddle two horses, you fall in between. 

v) The critics are committed to the primacy of historical theology. But that's ironic because there's an obvious sense in which you must study Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, the Westminster Confession, &c. in the same way you study St. Paul or the Gospels. Take Richard Muller's The Unaccommodated Calvin, or God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius.

Church historians employ the same basic methodology as Bible scholars. Men like Richard Muller, Mark Jones, Scott Clark, and Carl Trueman strive to interpret Luther, Calvin et al. in relation to their intellectual background and sociopolitical context. Parallel questions that Bible scholars consider regarding the provenance of a Biblical book. What occasioned the book. Its purpose. Genre. Target audience. Original intent. Literary conventions. The locus of meaning.  

These men are "biblicists" when it comes to their own field of study. The only difference is the period. 

vi) The main difference is that when Bible scholars exegete an author of Scripture, for them the relevant frame of reference concerns hermeneutical factors that are past and present in relation to the author, whereas the critics of "biblicism" wish to make the reception history of the Bible their interpretive frame of reference. Rather than endeavoring to recover the original meaning of biblical texts, reception history is about the history of interpretation. How readers responded to the Bible. The subsequent influence of the Bible on theology. New meanings that readers confer on the ancient text, as the text interacts with their own situation, their own priorities. 

By contrast, a Bible scholar typically tries to bracket his personal beliefs and consider the text of Scripture on its own terms.  

vii) Moreover, appeal to tradition repeats the same ambiguities and competing interpretations with regard to the meaning of tradition, whether that's patristic theology, the canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession, &c. 

"Pervasive interpretive pluralism"


Alexander the Great in Bible prophecy

This is a continuation of my post on examples of fulfilled non-Messianic prophecies.

In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first. And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the citadel, which is in the province of Elam. And I saw in the vision, and I was at the Ulai canal. I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came to the ram with the two horns, which I had seen standing on the bank of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful wrath. I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power. Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven (Dan 8:1-8). 
“And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these (Dan 11:2-4).

Now I'll quote two liberal commentators on these Danielic passages:

[Dan 8:5-8] The imperial leadership more powerful than that of Persia will be Alexander's…The description of Alexander's flying advance recalls that of Cyrus in Isa 41:3 and the winged leopard in Dan 7:6 (cf. 1 Macc 1:1-4). Over a period of four years between 344 and 331 BC, Alexander quite demolished the Persian empire and established an empire of his own extending from Europe to India. On the breakup of his empire, see 11:4. J. Goldingay, Daniel (Word, 1989), 209.  
[Dan 11:3-4] "Then a warrior king…will rule a great realm." Alexander the Great came to the throne of Macedon in 336 BC; he invaded and conquered the territory from Turkey to India and thus came to rule the largest empire the world had yet known. "But as soon as he arises, his empire will break up…": Alexander reigned over this empire for less than a decade. He died of fever in 332 BC and his empire shattered. Ibid. 295. 
[Dan 8:5] a he-goat came from the west: Jerome and the Peshitta take the goat as Alexander, but it is clear from vv 8 and 21 that he is not the goat but the great horn. 
a conspicuous horn: The singularity of the horn [i.e. unicorn] reflects the singular importance of Alexander the Great. 
[Dan 8:8] The great horn was broken: The transparent reference to the death of Alexander has been recognized from Josephus on.
Four grew in its place: These are Alexander's generals who succeeded him, the Diadochi,: Ptolemy Lagus, Philip Aridaeus, Antigonus, and Seleucus Nicanor. J. Collins, Daniel (Fortress, 1993), 331. 
[Dan 11:2b] The "stirring up" refers rather to the campaign of Alexander. 
[Dan 11:3] A warrior king will arise: This figure represents Alexander.  
[Dan 11:4] his kingdom will be broken: Alexander's sudden death is also recorded in Dan 8:8. Ibid. 377. 

These are from the two standard commentaries on Daniel by liberal scholars. Both commentators identify Alexander the Great as a figure alluded to in Daniel's oracles. Conservative commentators share that identification. My preliminary point is that you don't have to be a conservative Christian to think Daniel is talking about Alexander the Great in these passages. 

If the oracles of Daniel were written down before the rise of Alexander, that would mean Daniel accurately forecast his career and demise. But that's naturally impossible. Alexander was an exceptional figure. And the geographical pattern of his conquests was fortuitous. Such historical contingencies are naturally unpredictable. 

Ironically, liberals scholars take the very accuracy of the descriptions to mean they were written subsequent to the events in question. "Prophecy" after the fact. History written in the guise of prophecy.

However, that explanation runs into obstacles with the history of reception. Let's quote a few scholars who illustrate the problem of a Maccabean date given the reception history of Daniel:

The book of Daniel was accepted as canonical by the community of Qumran (who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls). This is telling because this group emerged as a separate party in Judaism between 171 and 167 BC, before the proposed late date. They would not have accepted the book if it had appeared after the split. I. Duguid, “Daniel”, ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1581-1582. 
Daniel is not an apocalypse of Essene origin. How, then, can its enormous influence on the Essenes be explained, and their acceptance of it as canonical, unless it had been known before Maccabean times? The Essenes seem to have dated their own definite emergence as a party between 171 and 167 BC, and any apocalypse produced from then on, if it had not come from the Essenes, would have come from their rivals, and would therefore not have secured Essene acceptance. R. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans, 1986), 415n75. 
One of the eight manuscripts of Daniel from Qumran, 4QDan, is among the oldest biblical manuscripts discovered there, and is commonly dated to 120-115 BC. Cross who assumes the standard critical dating for Daniel, states that this copy of Daniel is "no more than about a half century younger than the autograph. This would mean that this manuscript is a copy of Daniel produced no later than about 115 BC.  
There can be no doubt that Daniel was considered a genuine prophetic book by the Qumran sectarians…To account for the widespread evidence for the acceptance of Daniel as canonical, the supposition that Daniel was only composed in about 165 BC would require it to have gained very rapid acceptance as a genuine prophecy by virtually all known Jewish sects in the late Hellenistic and early Herodian periods. The probability of this rapid and widespread acceptance of a recent composition is extremely remote. It is made even more remote by the fact that critical scholars often claim that the end of Dan 11 and the end of Dan 12 were attempts at genuine prophecy by the author of Daniel, but they proved to be inaccurate. If they were recent and inaccurate (false) prophecies, it is almost impossible to imagine that there has survived no record of controversy among Jewish sects about the prophets status of Daniel. Surely some would have objected that Daniel was a false prophet (cf. Deut 18:20-22 and that the book was only a recent work and a forgery attributed to a much earlier figure from the Babylonian and Persian periods. A. Steinmann, Daniel (Concordia, 2008 ), 17-18.
Finally, we may look at that section of the book which more than all others raises the question of its dating. It is the majority view that the long, detailed prophecy of chapters 10-12 must be, and is, largely a vaticinium ex eventu. By creating the impression that all these historical events, which his readers would know had actually taken place, had in fact been predicted in detail and fulfilled inexorably to the letter, the author aimed, on this view, to produce in his readers overwhelming confidence in his few, but major, real predictions. These were that Antiochus would make a third invasion of Egypt, this time very successfully, but that on his return journey he would suddenly meet his end, when encamped between Jerusalem and the sea; that there would then follow a time of unprecedented trouble for Israel, out of which nonetheless they would be delivered; that then the resurrection of the dead would take place, and thus the End would have arrived; and that all this would take place within a period of about 3 1⁄2 years measured from Antiochus' setting up of the abomination of desolation. But this last event, according to the majority view, must have already taken place before the book was written and published (for had the book been published before that event, the prediction of it would have been a genuine predictive prophecy). How long after the setting up of the abomination of desolation it took our author to compile this book with its remarkably complex structure the majority view does not tell us; nor how long it took to get it published and into circulation. Practical sense suggests that by the time it was written and published, a considerable part of the 3 1⁄2 years must have gone by. The book would now be promising that the End would occur within an even shorter time than 3 1⁄2 years. Fortunately, when the book was published, Daniel's reading public, close-knit though they must have been, never realized who the author was - the publisher never spilt the beans - and took the book for an ancient book without wondering why they had never heard of it before. They believed its vaticinium ex eventu to have been a genuine prophecy, and put their faith in the author's prediction, were very encouraged by it, and prepared to meet the End. Unfortunately, of course, nothing happened. Antiochus did not invade Egypt again. He did not encamp between Jerusalem and the sea. He died, but not there: he died in fact far away out east. There was trouble for Israel as always, but nothing unprecedented. And the resurrection of the dead did not take place. The other things which other chapters in Daniel had promised would happen at the End, did not take place either: all Gentile imperial power was not everywhere removed, and universal dominion was not given to Israel.26 The only thing that took place within the time was the deliverance and cleansing of the sanctuary. Nevertheless the faithful having discovered the predictions to be false were not discouraged. They still accepted the predictions as genuine predictions and the whole book as authoritative; and they carefully preserved it and quoted it (e.g. 1 Macc. 2:60). Later they canonized it. At this point the majority view, based as it is on the alleged incredibility of predictive prophecy, becomes itself so incredible… B. Gooding, "The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel and Its Implications," TynBul 32 (1981), 73-74.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Deceiving the nations

1. The plot of Revelation 16-20 is straightforward. After devastating aerial bombardment (16), Babylon is reduced to smoldering rubble (17-18). 

Incidentally, if you wish to understand the fulfillment in futuristic terms, you could view it in terms of orbital weapons.

After heaven rejoices over the downfall of Babylon (19:1-10), Jesus returns. He defeats the armies of Satan on the battle field (19:11-21).

Satan is taken into custody, as a war captive. The abyss is a subterranean POW camp (20:1-3). 

You have the "Millennium" (20:4-6). 

Satan is then paroled. He raises another army, is defeated, and cast into the lake of fire (20:7-10).

BTW, what does it mean to say he's "released"? Did he escape? Was that an inside job? 

2. In traditional, Augustinian amillennialism, the Millennium represents the church age. However, that doesn't fit the plotline. In the plot, the Millennium is just one phase in the history of the church. It hardly covers the entire period.

More recently, some amils construe the Millennium as the Intermediate state for Christians. That has more going for it than the traditional, Augustinian interpretation.

To some degree, the premil reading is more straightforward insofar as it tracks the actual sequence of the plot. However, that simplicity is deceptive. Premils add a lot of subplots to 20:4-6 by using that as a framework to place the fulfillment of various OT and NT endtime prophecies. They attempt to correlate Revelation with other prophetic notices in the Bible, but that clutters the plot.

In addition, Revelation isn't a historical narrative like the Gospels or Acts. Rather, it's more like historical fiction. Although it refers to some real people, places, and events, it also contains a lot of imaginary material. So we can't just assume the storyline mirrors a historical sequence. In another respect, Revelation is the ancient equivalent of superhero comic book flicks, with their surreal cityscapes, their heroes and villains with paranormal powers. 

Furthermore, there's the problem of where Satan finds a recruiting pool to raise another army, of hyperbolic size, after his army was annihilated the first time around. That's because Revelation rhetorically bifurcates the battle of Gog and Magog into two stages, separated by the millennial interval. 

3. Then there's the question of what the binding/loosing of Satan signifies. What's the real-world analogue? The binding/loosing of Satan and the deception of the nations are corollary. There's some conceptual relationship. So what does it mean for Satan to deceive the nations? How does Satan deceive the nations? And how is he bound? 

i) In Rev 12, we have a studied anachronism. Satan's power is broken by the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. That's depicted in terms of  civil war in heaven, where Satan and his cohorts are expelled. That uses imagery from the prehistoric fall of Lucifer to represent a historic event. That should warn is to be careful about the "timing" of the imagery in Rev 20:1-10. We need to guard against synchronizing what might be an intentionally anachronistic description. 

ii) With that in mind, the binding/loosing of Satan isn't necessarily a one-time event. It might be something that happens intermittently at different times and places during the course of church history.

ii) In Revelation, one way Satan deceives people is through heathen witchcraft. Paganism and witchcraft go together. Not only does Revelation use that terminology (9:21; 18:23; 21:8; 22:15), but the False Prophet is a sorcerer (13:13-15) who uses witchcraft to delude unbelievers (19:20).  

On this view, one way Satan might be bound is when heathen witchcraft is banished. Or when Christian prayer trumps sorcery.

iii) Apropos (ii), Dan 10 might supply some conceptual background material for Rev 20. Daniel's prayer is impeded by a territorial spirit until the Archangel Michael intervenes. Not coincidentally, the Archangel Michael is Satan's nemesis in Rev 12. And not coincidentally, it's another angel (possibly Michael) who is Satan's nemesis in 20:2. 

So another way in which Satan is bound may be when Christians pray (cf. Rev 5:8; 8:3-4), and God answers their prayers. 

iv) Apropos (ii), the binding and loosing of Satan might correspond to possession and exorcism. Possession, paganism, and witchcraft go hand-in-hand. Demonic spirits delude unbelievers through signs and wonders (e.g. 16:14). Presumably, that involves possession. Sorcerers are demoniacs–demonically empowered. The notion that exorcism binds the Devil goes back to the Gospels. 

I surmise that the binding and loosing of Satan picturesquely depicts in one big climatic battle what is more often many spiritual squirmishes in the course of church history, as Christian pray, perform exorcisms, and banish pagan witchcraft. But until the final battle, there's ebb and flow. 

Trinitarian designations

1. Part of the recent controversy over the (alleged) eternal submission of the Son concerns the significance of Trinitarian designations. To what extent should we draw metaphysical inferences from Trinitarian designations? Consider some typical characteristics of fathers:

i) Fathers are physical

ii) Fathers used to be babies

iii) Fathers come into being

iv) Fathers die

v) Fathers have fathers

vi) Fathers have mothers

This should serve to illustrate the hazards of unbridled extrapolations from theological metaphors. Up to a point it's proper to draw inferences from theological metaphors, but there needs to be controls on the exercise. Consider two checks:

i) Study the usage of fatherhood and sonship as theological metaphors in Scripture 

ii) Consider how God's transcendent attributes delimit the scope of the metaphor

2. Why does Scripture use "father", "son", and "spirit" to designate the persons of the Trinity? 

i) Father and son are interrelated metaphors. Familial metaphors. 

I've suggested that Scripture uses sonship to signify representation, which–in turn–involves two related concepts:

a) Resemblance

b) Agency

This has the added advantage that it dovetails with another theological metaphor: royal succession. 

ii) Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that the first two persons of the Trinity both had fatherly characteristics. Even if that were the case, it's antecedently unlikely that Scripture would employ paternal designations for two persons of the Trinity. In a book that combats polytheism, to speak of two fathers in the Godhead would be very confusing. So even if (ex hypothesi), the first two persons of the Trinity were fatherly, we'd expect Scripture to use two different designations. 

iii) Nicene Christology tries to draw a parallel between the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit. Although that creates a nice symmetry, fatherhood and spiration are not cognate metaphors, unlike fatherhood and generation. The symmetry involves an illicit extension of the familial metaphor to something in a different domain. 

iv) Having used familial designations for the first two persons of the Trinity, we might expect Scripture to make consistent use of familial designations for all three persons of the Trinity. Presumably the reason it doesn't is because fatherhood and sonship exhaust the theologically suitable metaphors for the Godhead. Once again, in a book that combats paganism and polytheism, Scripture could hardly designate the third person of the Trinity as "wife" or "mother" or "daughter". That would evoke all the wrong associations.

So, when it comes to the third person of the Trinity, Scripture uses a metaphorical designation that belongs to a different category than the family. Why does Scripture designate the third person of the Trinity as the "Spirit"? 

Like fatherhood and sonship, this is a flexible metaphor. The designation signifies at least three things:

i) A spirit is an incorporeal person 

ii) The Spirit is the agent of inspiration 

As such, "breath" is a natural metaphor for the spoken word. Scripture as divine speech. 

iii) Breathing is a vital sign. Expiration is a synonym for death

As such, "breath" is a natural metaphor for the agent of spiritual rebirth or spiritual renewal. 

The fact that Scripture employs a theological metaphor to designate the third person of the Trinity that's categorically different from the interrelated theological metaphors employed to designate the first two persons of the Trinity should warn us to be wary about the metaphysical inferences we draw from Trinitarian designations. After all, surely this doesn't mean the third person of the Trinity is a different kind of being than the first two persons of the Trinity. 

Peter HItchens on Brexit


Friday, June 24, 2016

Richard Carrier's exit


Tyre and Babylon in Bible prophecy

I. I was asked to give some examples of fulfilled non-Messianic prophecies. 

1. Before discussing examples, we need to back up. For the argument from prophecy to work, the oracle must take place before the event. And there must be something uncanny about the fulfillment. Something that can't reasonably be chalked up to a coincidence or lucky guess.

These conditions can pose a dilemma of sorts inasmuch as unbelievers who think the description is too accurate to be lucky or coincidental will use the correspondence to date the oracle. They will say that just goes to show it must be after the fact! Of course, that becomes a circular, unfalsifiable posture. 

2. As I've remarked before, predicting the future can present something of a paradox. If the terms of fulfillment are too recognizable in advance, that can tip people off, which enables them to thwart the prediction. So the description must be puzzling to readers ahead of time. It is necessary to make the terms of fulfillment recognizable after the fact, but not beforehand. 

It's kind of like a spy who knows his communications may be monitored, so he must speak in coded terms that are recognizable to his case officer, but not to eavesdroppers. 

3. We must rule out self-fulfilling prophecy, where an agent reads the oracle and sets about to make it happen. That's where knowledge of the oracle influences the outcome. That's not be a case of foresight, but imitation. 

II. The fall of Babylon 

27 who says to the deep, ‘Be dry; I will dry up your rivers’; 28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’ (Isa 44:27-28).

1. Liberals don't think this oracle issued from the preexilic prophet Isaiah. Rather, they think Isa 40-55 is exilic. However, even on a liberal timeframe, the reference to Cyrus (v28) is anachronistic since he's a borderline postexilic figure. So even on a liberal dating scheme, this would still involve a genuine prediction about someone who'd be unknown to the original audience. Therefore, liberals salvage their position by stipulating that "Cyrus" must be a subsequent scribal interpolation. There is, of course, no textual evidence for that hypothesis. It's a necessary postulate to shore up the liberal position. 

2. Another complication is the meaning of v27, and its relation to v28. Here's what one liberal commentator proposes:

As a whole, vv26b-28a work in the reverse of historical order, from Yhwh's ultimate intention (v26b) via the event that will make it possible (v27) to the means of that event's taking place and the intention's being fulfilled (v28a). In that context, v27 can hardly be simply a reference back to creation or Red Sea…nor is it merely a general statement. While it no doubt indicates that Babylon can be overcome, it would be prosaic to refer it simply to Cyrus' famous alleged diverting of the Euphrates to facilitate his capture of Babylon, referred to by Herodotus (I, 191) and Xenophon (Cyropedia 7). J. Goldingay, The Message of Isaiah 40-55 (T&T Clark, 2005), 258-259. 

i) He concedes that this is a prediction about the fall of Babylon.

ii) He concedes that v27 can't simply be stock imagery about the creation or Red Sea crossing.

iii) Although he discounts a reference to Cyrus diverting the Euphrates, he cites two ancient historians who say that's what Cyrus did. Should he be so dismissive of multiple, independent attestation? 

iv) Given that the reference to Cyrus occurs right on the heels of Yahweh's threat to "dry up the rivers" of Babylon, in the context of an oracle about the impending downfall of Babylon, surely the inference is irresistible that it does, indeed, refer to Cyrus diverting the Euphrates upstream so that his troops could use the dry river bed (or drained canals) to walk right under the defensive walls of Babylon. 

v) He says a reference to Cyrus diverting the Euphrates would be "prosaic". Well, if you think the viewpoint of the passage is retrospective, then that might be prosaic. If, however, you think the viewpoint of the passage is prospective, then it would be astounding that a prophet could not only anticipate (and name!) the rise of Cyrus, but anticipate the ingenious tactic he used to sidestep Babylon's reputedly impregnable defensive system.   

There is, moreover, corroborative evidence to support the accounts of Herodotus and Xenophon:

As part of the rebuilding of the new palace area on the citadel Nebuchadrezzar cleared and rebuilt the main canal…The location of more than twenty named canals in and around the city is currently a subject being studied…This site [Opis] for the northernmost defense wall for the Babylonian area suits the operation by Cyrus when he diverted the River Euphrates at such a distance as not to arouse immediate suspicion. This allowed the element of surprise for the attack on the city along the dried-up river and canal beds which gave access under and through the walls into the citadel itself. D. J. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon (Oxford, 1991), 61-62.  
Herodotus (1. 191) indicates that the Persians gained entrance into Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River. Some scholars find this difficult to accept. But as Herodotus accurately described it, and as the excavations of Robert Koldewey confirmed, the city of Babylon was not only bisected by the Euphrates but was also penetrated by many canals. The height of the Euphrates would have been at its lowest level at this time of year, normally about twelve feet deep. If the famine (mentioned in more than one text) was caused by a dry year, the level would have been even lower. E. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Baker, 1990), 86. 

Not only is the rise of Cyrus naturally unforeseeable, but the stratagem he used to circumvant Babylon's defense system is naturally unforeseeable. 

IV. The fall of Tyre

26 In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, because Tyre said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gate of the peoples is broken; it has swung open to me. I shall be replenished, now that she is laid waste,’ therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar[ king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. He will kill with the sword your daughters on the mainland. He will set up a siege wall against you and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you. He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10 His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters your gates as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will kill your people with the sword, and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters (Ezk 26:1-12). 

i) Even a liberal commentator like Allen defends the basic accuracy of Ezekiel's prediction. Nebuchadnezzar's campaign against Tyre was successful:

The siege was successful and Tyre did pass into Babylonian control. In a list of royal hostages at Nebuchadnezzar's court, to be dated about 570 BC, the king of Tyre has the initial place…About 564 BC, Baal, Ethbaal's successor as king of Tyre, was replaced by a Babylonian High Commissioner. L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word, 1990), 109. 

ii) However, that's not the most impressive feature of the oracle. The oracle would be baffling to the original readers due to its detailed description of siege warfare. Because Tyre was an island fortress, it would normally be impervious to the techniques of siege warfare. That's a land-based operation. 

Moreover, it's not as though Ezekiel was ignorant of Tyre's geography. He repeatedly mentions its marine setting. Hence, we'd expect Ezekiel to describe a naval bombardment rather than siege warfare. On the face of it, then, his description is nonsensical and technically infeasible. 

Yet natural expectations to the contrary notwithstanding, it turns out that Ezekiel was prescient. At a later date, Alexander the Great built a causeway from the mainland to the island. That enabled him to bring siege works to bear on fortified city. 

But historians were still perplexed at how Alexander could build a causeway across a kilometer of ocean. Only in the late 20C, after scientific investigation, was it discovered that a submerged sandbar connected Tyre to the mainland. Alexander was able to construct his causeway on that natural platform:

Although Nebuchandezzar initiated the fulfillment of the oracle, Alexander completed the fulfillment of the oracle. Yet it would be naturally impossible to foresee Alexander's engineering feat. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Midcourse correction

And just to return to where I started. Let us all reflect for a moment on the dramatic significance of Grudem’s claim about eternal generation.  What he is saying is that the church catholic has for over 1600 years been affirming theologically and liturgically, as the key ecumenical summary of its faith, a document – the Nicene Creed – which in one of its core and defining assertions is superfluous or virtually meaningless or confused (or a wax nose which means whatever any Christian chooses).   

Keep in mind that I don't subscribe to the eternal subordination of the Son. That said, Trueman is using exactly, and I do mean exactly–the same objection that Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists use in reference to the Protestant faith, viz.

"Consider for a moment the dramatic significance of your claims. What you are saying is that for 1600 years, God allowed the Church to go astray until Luther and Calvin popped in out of the blue!" 

How can Trueman be so blind? 

Confessional fideism

I'll comment on a post by Tom Chantry:

Most of the post is padded with a metaphor about roots. The basic metaphor is that trees with deep roots stay green because they are well watered. Trees with deep roots don't blow over in a storm. By contrast, trees with shallow roots are endangered by drought and wind storms. 

You can state that in two or three sentences. In fact, I just did. 

Chantry tries to stretch that metaphor into a entire, lengthy post because there's so little substance to what he says. Because his post is so deficient in rational argument. So the overextended metaphor does all the work.

No, my question is instead this, by what means can a theologian protect himself against improper interpretation? 
I would suggest that the answer is for theologians to be planted firmly within the soil of the creedal and confessional history of the church.  By this I do not mean that we make history a superior authority to Scripture, nor even that we make it an authority per se.  

There's always that throwaway disclaimer, yet in reality that's exactly what Chantry is guilty of doing. 

Rather, we ought to recognize certain facts:
           1. Oftentimes seemingly small errors have vast consequences.

           2. Most of these errors have been made in the past.

Which is why we had to have a Protestant Reformation. Which is why you can't just default to the church fathers or early church councils. So Chantry's appeal is tugging in opposite directions.

Advocates of eternal functional subordination have demonstrated a failure to grasp concepts such as simplicity, eternity, the communication of properties, and even the eternal generation of the Son. 

One wonders how clearly Chantry has grasped the implications of divine simplicity for divine freedom, distinct Persons, &c. 

Confessionally rooted Christians will have zero sympathy for the Trinitarian revisions of both the egalitarians and the complementarians.  This is not to say that only confessionalists understand the creeds of orthodoxy, but rather to recognize that true confessionalists must stand with the creeds. 

i) By definition, if you classify yourself as a "confessionalists," then you must stand with the creeds. 

ii) Problem is, Chantry's confessionalism is arbitrarily selective. Which creeds he happens to absolutize becomes reducible to an accident of birth or coin flip. 
Chantry is a confessional fideist. If you can defend a creed, independent of the creed, then you don't need confessionalism. Rather, you evaluate creeds based on whether or not they are true, in part or in whole.

By contrast, Chantry doesn't believe the creed because it's true; rather, he believes it's true because it's in the creed. If he could defend it directly, his confessionalism would be superfluous. 

So his position becomes an exercise in pious playacting. He acts as though everything some 4C bishops said at a particular church council is automatically right, which becomes the unquestionable standard of comparison. 

But that makes what we profess random. Unless you have an independent standard to evaluate a particular creed, affirming the London Baptist Confession of Faith while repudiating the Racovian Catechism is just the luck of the draw. Reshuffle the deck and you end up affirming the Racovian Catechism instead of the London Baptist Confession of Faith. 

That's his dilemma: if he can mount a rational argument for his beliefs, then confessionalism is superfluous. If, on the other hand, he refuses to subject creeds and confessions to scrutiny, then what theological tradition he happens to espouse is just a flip of the coin. 

This becomes a pastoral issue. How does Chantry's fideism, how does Chantry's anti-intellectualism, equip members of his congregation to resist, say, conversion to Rome? If he can give good reasons, then he needn't default to tradition. But if he can't, then what makes his chosen tradition special? 

Reunion with Rome

Ecumenists pine for reunion. I notice that Catholic convert Bryan Cross has a "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" over at Called to Confusion. Evidently, he has a deep emotional investment in this issue. Does he lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, as he contemplates the plight of his "separated brethren"? Is that a cause for insomnia?

Now, an interesting but unexplored question that ecumenism raises is what reunion with Rome actually requires. Before Vatican II, the answer was clearcut. To join the Roman Church, you had to renounce your Protestant theology and adopt Catholic theology. You had to submit to the Roman Magisterium. 

But let's consider two examples. Archbishop Lefebvre was finally excommunicated. But to my knowledge, he was excommunicated, not because of what he believed, and not because of what he said, but because of what he did. He wasn't excommunicated for denying the authority of Vatican II. Rather, he was excommunicated because his actions were deemed to be schismatic, by consecrating breakaway bishops.

Then there's the case of Hans Küng. Although he's a notorious gadfly, he hasn't been formally excommunicated. He hasn't even been defrocked. Although it's possible for a Catholic to incur automatic excommunication, to my knowledge there's no indication that Rome thinks Küng ever crossed that line. Indeed, he's on friendly terms with Pope Francis. In fact, he even remains on amicable terms with archrival Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI). 

That raises some interesting questions about Catholic identity in relation to Protestant identity. Suppose I'm born into a pious Catholic family. I'm diligently catechized. My family takes me to Mass every Sunday.

Suppose, in my teens, after conducting my own studies, I change my theological beliefs. I adopt classic Protestant beliefs. 

Am I still Catholic? From a Protestant perspective, I'm not longer Catholic. But from an official Catholic perspective, am I still Catholic? Or have I incurred automatic excommunication?

Given the current state of Catholic theology, it's possible, from what I can tell, to be simultaneously Catholic and Protestant. I can be Catholic without sacrificing any of my Protestant beliefs. I didn't step on any tripwires by changing my beliefs. 

If so, then joining the church of Rome wouldn't require me to leave my Protestant faith behind. Traditionally, for a Protestant to become Catholic involves conversion from one to the other. By becoming Catholic, you cease to be Protestant. But is that still the case? Or can you now be both at the same time?

Suppose there hadn't been a Protestant Reformation. Suppose you didn't have that formal break. Suppose, instead, some cradle Catholics developed Protestant beliefs. They might be considered dissenters, like Küng. But given how tolerant Rome has become regarding theological dissenters within its ranks, even in the episcopate, it seems as though Protestants could just be another theological faction under the big tent to Roman Catholicism. Consider the two synods which took place under the auspices of Pope Francis. You had German bishops who publicly opposed the status quo. They weren't relieved of duty for insubordination. If anything, it was the old guard that was sidelined. 

Even Dominus Iesus referred to Protestant denominations as "ecclesial communities". And Pope Francis might well take a softer line than Ratzinger. 

The upshot is to explore the hollowness of what reunion with Rome amounts to these days. If my analysis is correct, Protestants could reunite with Rome without recanting or modifying any classic Protestant beliefs. They could return to Mother Church with their traditional theology entirely intact. 

There is, of course, something manifestly absurd about that hypothetical prospect, yet that's consistent with post-Vatican II trajectories. So ironically, if the dream of ecumenists like Bryan Cross came true, that change would be utterly superficial. There'd be no substantive change in Protestant theology. You needn't even meet Rome halfway. The theological boundaries of Rome have become so fuzzy that it's like Hinduism. 

Post-conversion letdown

It's a cliché that many Christian converts are initially zealous, but either become lukewarm or drift away from the faith. Why is that? What, if anything, can be done about it?

I'm sure that this is much more prevalent among men than women. Let's take a stereotypical case. A man converts to Christianity. He learns the basics of Christian theology. He may identify with a particular theological tradition. He learns the jargon. He proselytizes all his friends, relatives, and coworkers. He has debates over creation/evolution, Calvinism/Arminianism, cessationism/continuationism, millennialism/premillennialism, Catholicism/evangelicalism, credobaptism/paedobaptism, &c. He's drawn to controversial and intellectually challenging books like Romans and Revelation. 

But after a while, there's a sense in which he's just running in place. What does he do for an encore? Is this all there is to the Christian life? That's when the post-conversion letdown sets in. 

Some converts maintain momentum by becoming pastors, evangelists, missionaries, apologists, or seminary professors. However, even in that case, there's the danger of reading and writing, speaking or debating, as an intellectual diversion. A way to pass the time. A distraction to alleviate tedium. 

Men tend to be more interested in theological ideas than women. This is true of men generally. More male philosophers, theologians, bloggers, &c. Men like to debate ideas.

New ideas are apt to be more exciting than familiar ideas. So what happens when you feel that you've learned the ropes? Where do you go from there? 

One problem is that a lot of Christian laymen have a very superficial knowledge of Christian theology. They could dig a lot deeper. There's also some good Christian fiction. 

However, another problem is if we view the Christian life primarily in terms of head knowledge. Now, many Christians would benefit from expanding their head knowledge. They are woefully ignorant. 

Ultimately, though, the Christian faith isn't a quest to discover new theological ideas, but to internalize theology. Let it sink in. Become marinated in Christian theology. Live out your faith. Become what you believe. Fidelity. Sanctification. Putting your faith into practice. 

To take a comparison, I believe it was Leland Ryken, in Windows to the World, who said great literature is inexhaustible. If you come back to the same book years later, you notice things you missed before. You have a newfound appreciation for an old story.

The story hasn't changed–you have! Life changes us. Although the story is the same, the reader is not the same. Every time you return to the story, you see it through the lens of your own, layered experience. Even though you know the plot, there's something new to you each time you read it because different things resonate with you based on your evolving life experience. 

That isn't just true of literature. It can be true of movies and TV dramas. 

And that, in turn, has an analogy with the walk of faith. Some Christians stall. For some Christians, the road runs out before the destination because "they've heard it all" before. Now, as a matter of fact, most of them have a very shallow grasp of Scripture and Christian theology. They have lots more to learn. Even if they applied themselves, in the course of a lifetime they'd still be scratching the surface.

Even so, there are limitations to that orientation. The walk of faith is not primarily an intellectual adventure. It's not about discovering what lies over the next hill. If that's your approach, that's an invitation to boredom. 

Rather, the walk of faith is more about using "old" ideas, familiar theological truths, to understand the events in your life. To interpret your experience. Births and deaths. Marriage. Child-rearing. Friendship. Betrayal. Illness. Aging. Hope. Frustration. Disappointment.  

Use theology as the filter to make sense of these events. Try to find meaning in these events. 

Finally, this life is supposed to be disappointing. Supposed to be unsatisfying.