Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Unity Before The Reformation

Then the Protestants came along and ruined it.

"But when the attitude of our foes against us was changed from one of long standing and bitter strife to one of open warfare, then, as is well known, the war was split up in more ways than I can tell into many subdivisions, so that all men were stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common party spirit and individual suspicion. But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches? In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of opinion has been shaken: everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about and shaken down. We attack one another. We are overthrown by one another. If our enemy is not the first to strike us, we are wounded by the comrade at our side. If a foeman is stricken and falls, his fellow soldier tramples him down. There is at least this bond of union between us that we hate our common foes, but no sooner have the enemy gone by than we find enemies in one another. And who could make a complete list of all the wrecks? Some have gone to the bottom on the attack of the enemy, some through the unsuspected treachery of their allies, some from the blundering of their own officers. We see, as it were, whole churches, crews and all, dashed and shattered upon the sunken reefs of disingenuous heresy, while others of the enemies of the Spirit of Salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of the faith. And then the disturbances wrought by the princes of the world have caused the downfall of the people with a violence unmatched by that of hurricane or whirlwind. The luminaries of the world, which God set to give light to the souls of the people, have been driven from their homes, and a darkness verily gloomy and disheartening has settled on the Churches. The terror of universal ruin is already imminent, and yet their mutual rivalry is so unbounded as to blunt all sense of danger. Individual hatred is of more importance than the general and common warfare, for men by whom the immediate gratification of ambition is esteemed more highly than the rewards that await us in a time to come, prefer the glory of getting the better of their opponents to securing the common welfare of mankind. So all men alike, each as best he can, lift the hand of murder against one another. Harsh rises the cry of the combatants encountering one another in dispute; already all the Church is almost full of the inarticulate screams, the unintelligible noises, rising from the ceaseless agitations that divert the right rule of the doctrine of true religion, now in the direction of excess, now in that of defect. On the one hand are they who confound the Persons and are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand are they that, through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism. Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration. Plain speaking is fatal to friendship, and disagreement in opinion all the ground that is wanted for a quarrel. No oaths of confederacy are so efficacious in keeping men true to sedition as their likeness in error. Every one is a theologue though he have his soul branded with more spots than can be counted. The result is that innovators find a plentiful supply of men ripe for faction, while self-appointed scions of the house of place-hunters reject the government of the Holy Spirit and divide the chief dignities of the Churches. The institutions of the Gospel have now everywhere been thrown into confusion by want of discipline; there is an indescribable pushing for the chief places while every self-advertiser tries to force himself into high office. The result of this lust for ordering is that our people are in a state of wild confusion for lack of being ordered; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered wholly purposeless and void, because there is not a man but, out of his ignorant impudence, thinks that it is just as much his duty to give orders to other people, as it is to obey any one else. So, since no human voice is strong enough to be heard in such a disturbance, I reckon silence more profitable than speech, for if there is any truth in the words of the Preacher, 'The words of wise men are heard in quiet,' in the present condition of things any discussion of them must be anything but becoming. I am moreover restrained by the Prophet’s saying, 'Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time, for it is an evil time,' a time when some trip up their neighbours’ heels, some stamp on a man when he is down, and others clap their hands with joy, but there is not one to feel for the fallen and hold out a helping hand, although according to the ancient law he is not uncondemned, who passes by even his enemy’s beast of burden fallen under his load. This is not the state of things now. Why not? The love of many has waxed cold; brotherly concord is destroyed, the very name of unity is ignored, brotherly admonitions are heard no more, nowhere is there Christian pity, nowhere falls the tear of sympathy. Now there is no one to receive 'the weak in faith,' but mutual hatred has blazed so high among fellow clansmen that they are more delighted at a neighbour’s fall than at their own success. Just as in a plague, men of the most regular lives suffer from the same sickness as the rest, because they catch the disease by communication with the infected, so nowadays by the evil rivalry which possesses our souls we are carried away to an emulation in wickedness, and are all of us each as bad as the others. Hence merciless and sour sit the judges of the erring; unfeeling and hostile are the critics of the well disposed. And to such a depth is this evil rooted among us that we have become more brutish than the brutes; they do at least herd with their fellows, but our most savage warfare is with our own people." (Basil of Caesarea, On The Holy Spirit, 30:77-8)

The Texas takeover

Tremper Longman has an update on the Machiavellian machinations at Westminster:
But why is Bruce getting this unprecedented honor at Westminster? There are many others from Westminster’s past who deserve acclamation. I would suggest two reasons. First, it is part of an attempt to distract us from what appears to be a strategy of narrowing the theology of the Seminary.
I appreciate his insight. I look forward to subsequent posts in which he gets to the bottom of Area 51, the Apollo moon "landings," and the International Jewish Conspiracy.
But this also tells us something about why Westminster is changing in the direction it is hermeneutically. Bruce, Peter and Greg and others (notice that this celebration is being co-sponsored by others from Dallas) are all part of a group that were associated with Dallas seminary forty or so years ago (Dave Garner also has a DTS background).
Their spiritual leader was S. Lewis Johnson of Believers Chapel. This group departed from their DTS background by rejecting dispensationalism, but they maintained a more literalist understanding of interpretation which includes a commitment to meaning found in the conscious intention of the human author.
Without question, this theology stands behind their rejection of Christotelic and affirmation of something that they call a Christomorphic reading of the New Testament use of the Old Testament.
That's very perceptive. However, his theory suffers from a prima facie inconcinnity‎ After all, aren't Carl Trueman, Iain Duguid, and Vern Poythress key players in this crypto-Dispensational takeover? In the interests of consistency, Tremper needs to rope them into the Texas cabal. Permit me to supplement Tremper's narrative. 
This all got started in the kitchen of W. A. Criswell. His mansion had a farmhouse kitchen with a big round table where he and his drinking buddies (Paul Pressler, Paige Patterson, John Walvoord, S. Lewis Johnson) used to play poker into the wee hours of the morning. That's where the plot was hatched to infiltrate the flagship of Reformed seminaries. They knew that dispensationalism wouldn't triumph unless they could sabotage Calvinism from within. A decapitation strike. The plan was to infiltrate Westminster with dispensational plants. 
So they needed recruits. Tremper has already done us a service by outing some of the spies. But what about the Texas connection vis-a-vis Trueman, Duguid, and Poythress?
To begin with, those are not their real names. Trueman is a pun for "man of truth", while Duguid is a pun for "do-gooder". So these are pseudonyms. Isn't it obvious? Like, duh!
Then there's Poythress. Honestly, does that sound like a real name to you? How many of your high school classmates had that surname? Think about it?
Here's a clue: is it just coincidental that Poythress is an anagram for "others spy"? I think not! He's a spy for Criswell and his cohorts. I mean, what could be more obvious?
Don't let that hokey English accent fool you: Trueman was born and bred in Amarillo. Trueman's real name is Boobie Miles. When he thinks nobody is listening, he sounds just like Rick Perry. He learned to fake that English accent by imitating Michael Caine in Alfie. 
Trueman's original ambition was to play for the Dallas Cowboys. That's before he blew out his kneecap at a homecoming game.
That's why he's always making fun of football. It's part of his cover. He bashes football to deflect attention away from the fact that he played football in high school. 
Then there's Poythress. He's actually from Paris, Texas. His real name is Sonny Crawford. His boyhood dream was to be a rodeo star. That's before he tore his rotator cuff from bronc riding. 
Then there's Duguid. He's from Archer City. His real name is Duane Jackson. He picked up his fake accent by imitating Christopher Timothy in All Creatures Great and Small. He was a teenage gas station attendant until the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a beer bottle and commanded him to make a pilgrimage to First Baptist in Dallas. That's where he met up with his coconspirators. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The moral right to bear arms

HT: Paul Manata

Who am I in Rom 7?

i) Rom 7 is a well-known crux. What is Paul talking about? Is this autobiographical? If so, is Paul referring to his pre-Christian situation or his Christian situation? If the former, is he considering that from his pre-Christian viewpoint or his Christian viewpoint? 

Some think it's about Paul coming-of-age. Conversely, some scholars think it's not about Paul. Some think it's about Gen 3. Before and after the Fall. Some think it's about Israel. Before and after she received the law. Some think it's about humanity in general. Some combine two or more perspectives, viz. Israel recapitulates Adam. 

ii) One consideration is the question of how this section functions in Paul's overall argument. In Romans, Paul discusses the law in relation to Jews and Gentiles alike. So which group does he have in view here? Jews, gentiles, or both? And that can be broken down further. Christian gentiles or pagan gentiles? Jewish Christians or non-Jewish Christians? 

iii) This is further complicated by how we think Paul understands the relationship between the old covenant and the new covenant. Is there still a sense in which Christian are "under the law," or is that defunct? 

iv) Apropos (iii), there's the additional question of how sinfulness relates to lawlessness. Even if you say Christians are no longer under the law, Christians remain sinful. Even if we don't define sinners as lawbreakers, there's still a tension between sin and sanctification. Paul makes that abundantly clear in his letters. 

Keep in mind, too, that some things which were unlawful in the Mosaic code would still be sinful for Christians. They aren't sinful because they're unlawful; rather, they're unlawful because they're sinful. It's still sinful for Christians to commit theft, adultery, or murder (to name a few). Swapping categories doesn't affect the underlying issue, for the inability to keep the law goes back to our fallen condition.

v) We also have "confessional" literature in the OT, viz. Ezra 9, Neh 9, Dan 9, Ps 32, Ps 51. The tension or struggle we see in Rom 7 has OT counterparts. That's not confined to the Mosaic law. That's due to our fallen condition. That's something the regenerate experience, whether Christians or OT saints. 

vi) There are some problems with the Adamic interpretation:

a) If Paul is referring to the Fall, why doesn't he just say so–like did in Rom 5? Why be so oblique? Likewise, why does he quote from the Decalogue rather than Gen 2:17 if the latter is really in view? 

b) Gen 3 isn't about the temptation and deception of Adam, but Eve. By contrast, Rom 5 is about Adam rather than Eve. Moreover, Paul elsewhere denies that Adam was deceived (1 Tim 2:14). 

That doesn't necessarily rule out an allusion to Gen 3. But it can't be the exclusive or primary referent.

I don't think the coming-of-age interpretation has much going for it. To begin with, we have no evidence that bar Mitzvah was a 1C rite of passage. More to the point, kids hit the age of reason (or discretion) well before they hit adolescence. And Jewish kids were always obliged to honor their parents. 

Casting the issue in terms of law, which–in context–has reference to the Mosaic law, renders it unlikely that Paul is talking about humanity in general. 

vii) My own best guess is that Paul is using the rhetorical "I" to personify different ways of experiencing the law. I don't think he singles out a particular experience. Rather, he's using that literary device to generalized about different groups in relation to the law.

I also think there's probably an autobiographical element to his personification. He's a representative of Judaism and Christianity alike. He's been on both sides of the law–as a Pharisee, and then a Christian. I expect his personal experience had a suggestive influence in how he cast Rom 7. But I don't think it's reducible to his personal experience. The comparison is more generic. A mirror. How it looks reflects the looker. But there are commonalities. 

Prophetic events

One of the issues in the current debate over "Christotelism" is whether grammatico-historical exegesis rules out typology. Many scholars claim that apostolic exegesis violates grammatico-historical exegesis inasmuch as NT authors don't understand OT texts or events in the same way OT authors understood them. They are superimposing a different meaning onto the original. Supplanting the original sense. 

There is, however, considerable evidence that OT writers understood some OT persons, places, and events typologically. This isn't just a matter of how NT authors understand the OT, but how OT authors understand the OT. A typological interpretation of the OT is not unique to NT writers. In the OT itself, we already have typological motifs, viz. new Eden, new Exile, new Exodus, new David. This views certain events as paradigmatic events with subsequent counterparts. 

Far from violating grammatico-historical exegesis, it is consistent with the grammatico-historical method to make allowance for how OT authors understood OT history. Indeed, it would contradict the grammatico-historical method if NT commentators failed to take their cue from how OT authors understood OT history. 

Of course, one reason many scholars reject typology is because they operate with a secular outlook. They don't believe in a God who prearranges history so that OT persons, places, and events have this symbolic, forward-leaning significance. That's why they regard typological interpretation as fanciful. Their underlying objection is metaphysical rather than hermeneutical. They deny the teleological nature of OT history. They don't think persons, places, or events can be prophetic. 

Messianic psalms

i) The current kerfuffle regarding the reorganization of the OT dept. at WTS has reignited debate over the sense in which the OT "points" to Jesus. Take the so-called messianic psalms. Ps 22 is traditionally classified as a messianic psalm, but Ps 23 is not. Is just a subset of the 150 psalms messianic. If so, what criterion distinguishes messianic psalms from non-messianic psalms? Or is there a sense in which the whole Psalter is messianic? 

And, of course, this question extends to the OT generally. Does the OT contain messianic types and prophecies? Or is the entire OT messianic? If so, how so?

ii) From a Christian standpoint, we can mount a pretty simple and direct argument that Ps 23 is about Jesus. If Jesus is God, and God is a shepherd, then Jesus is David's divine shepherd. 

iii) The sense in which the whole OT is messianic is not that every sentence, person, place, or event is a cipher for Jesus. Rather, it turns on the overall function or purpose of the OT. If the primary purpose of the OT is to document man's hopeless condition, and his desperate need for salvation, then that necessity points to a Savior. In that functional or teleological sense, the whole OT is messianic. That's how the OT is fulfilled

iv) You also have scholars like Alec Motyer, Desi Alexander, and John Sailhamer who mount the argument from prophecy, not based so much on individual oracles, but messianic motifs. An evolving expectation. Or certain categories, viz. the new Adam, new David, divine warrior, promised seed, suffering servant. 

v) Now let's revisit (i). I suspect the reason that only some of the psalms are traditionally classified as messianic presumes the relation between the messianic prophecy and the argument from prophecy. The argument from prophecy is predicated on the premise that "the prophets foretold events whose occurrence could not have been humanly foreseen" (C. S. Evans).

Therein lies its evidential value. A prediction whose fulfillment could not be humanly foreseen or humanly arranged. This supplies independent evidence for the claim. Separable from prior belief in Jesus. 

Ps 22 is traditionally classified as messianic because it seems to be predictive. It's hard to read without seeing how uncannily it corresponds to the Crucifixion. The specificity is arresting. Of course, some people challenge that, but my immediate point is not to defend it but to state the rationale.

By contrast, Ps 23 doesn't seem to be predictive or evidential. If you already believe that Jesus is Yahweh, then you can infer that this is about Jesus. But by itself, the Ps 23 doesn't give you any independent reason to believe it points to Jesus. It's not a messianic in that sense. It might be messianic, but not predictive–as defined by the argument from prophecy. 

Should we classify messianic psalms as messianic prophecies? If so, then it's harder to classify the entire Psalter as messianic. Perhaps, though, that classification system is unduly influenced by the argument from prophecy–where the fulfillment has autonomous evidentiary value. Something you can appreciate apart from what you already believe about Jesus. 

The argument from prophecy is biblical, and important to Christian apologetics. But should it control how we classify OT messianism? 

An OT and NT bibliography

Check out Steve's OT and NT bibliography.

Is Christotelism code language for secularism?

Peter Enns has a new book out. Here's a review that's all the more damning because it's a sympathetic review from a fellow liberal:

However, critics will likely remain dissatisfied with the radical nature of Enns’ proposal. And in key respects it is radical. While Enns is certainly committed to the historical nature of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, he sets aside the question of history for vast tracts of Israel’s story, including the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), Moses, the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the occupation of Canaan, and so on. 
What is more, while Enns spends more than two hundred pages discussing scripture, one is hard pressed to find a clear statement of Enns’ own doctrine of inspiration. Instead, one finds statements that will strike many critics as vague and understated. For example, he observes that the Bible is “the main way for Christians today to learn about God, the go-to sourcebook for spiritual comfort, guidance, and insight.” (3) This certainly is true. The question is why. What is it about this text that makes it unique? Later in the book Enns states: “The Bible carries the thoughts and meditations of ancient pilgrims and, I believe, according to God’s purpose, has guided, comforted, and informed Christians for as long as there have been Christians.” (234, emphasis added) This is a good statement and it is surely correct. But it is also inadequate for a doctrine of inspiration since Augustine’s Confessions would fit this description equally well. Once again we’re left wondering, what is it about the Bible that makes it unique? Just how does this incarnation metaphor function vis-à-vis scriptural inspiration and authority? 
I also see Enns being vulnerable to the consistency charge. Enns lays out his operative principle when discussing the extraordinary nature of the stories of Genesis and Exodus:
“If we read these sorts of episodes outside of the Bible, from another ancient culture, we wouldn’t blink an eye. We’d know right away we were dealing with the kinds of stories people wrote long ago and far away, not things that happened, and certainly nothing to invest too much of ourselves in.” (4)
Based on that observation, Enns thinks we ought to be consistent and conclude that these biblical stories of deep history are best understood as a type of myth that helped form an ancient culture. Fair enough, but then one might reply that the ancient world also has many miracle claims, healers, teachers and messianic pretenders. So why accept the Jesus claims whilst discounting all the others? 
The third and final concern comes not from the conservatives who fear Enns is on a slippery slope to heresy, but rather from those who might wonder why he hasn’t gone further yet. This brings me back to his claim that the tribal warrior conception of God was an “adequate understanding of God for [the Israelites] in their time, but not for all time”. As I noted above, one might legitimately wonder in what sense it could ever be adequate to understand God as a bloody and capricious “Megatron”. And if it can’t, then why not just toss the texts rather than attempt to retain them with a vague incarnational metaphor?

Harmonizing Gen 1-2

To some extent it seems to me that Currid's explanation is an answer to a pseudoproblem:

I appreciate Currid outflanking Halton on Hebrew grammar. That said, I think Currid should challenge Halton's tacit assumptions. 

i) To begin with, Gen 1-2 could only be dischronologous assuming they both cover the same ground. Yet near the end of his reply, Currid notes, in one fleeting sentence, that

It is true that the two chapters of Genesis view the creation event from two different angles or perspectives. Genesis 1 paints the creation of the cosmos in a sequential, broad stroke, whereas Genesis 2:4-25 presents an elaboration of the sixth day and focuses primarily on the creation of mankind. 

But if, unlike Gen 1, Gen 2 isn't narrating the creation of fauna and flora in general, but only fauna and flora specific to the garden, then I fail to see how there's even a prima facie dischronology between the two accounts. Only if they cover the same ground would a different sequence generate a chronological discrepancy.

ii) Moreover, suppose, for the sake of argument, that they are dischronologous? So what? How does that falsify inerrancy? It would only falsify inerrancy on the assumption that the narrator meant to report events in chronological sequence or else that he was supposed to report events in chronological sequence. 

Take the Synoptic Gospels. Inerrantists grant that the Gospel writers sometimes rearrange the original order of events. They may group some sayings or events logically rather than chronologically. But that isn't false. Rather, they can be true in different respects. A sequence can be true with respect to time or true with respect to topic. A thematic arrangement relates material thematically rather than chronologically. But that's true, too, as long as they do, indeed, share a common theme.

So we need to distinguish between chronological time and narrative time. Inerrancy allows for both. 

Halton operates with a simplistic criterion of inerrancy. The way he frames the issue is flawed from the outset. 

Is this a warning signal to inerrantists?

The fundamental problem with books like this is that they fly in the face of what seems obvious to everyone else who doesn’t already hold the a priori belief that everything the Bible says must be true, just because the Bible says it. To paraphrase something Nick Trakakis wrote in another context, “Defenses of genocidal behavior by the OT god turn a blind eye to what seem clear and obvious to everyone else — that such behavior makes a mockery out of what any person would consider morally justifiable behavior.”[1]

i) I'm happy to concede that we defend things we think are true which we wouldn't defend if we didn't think they were true. I don't regard that as a damning admission.

ii) Since Bible writers clearly viewed this behavior as morally justifiable, to say it "makes a mockery out of what any person would consider morally justifiable behavior" preemptively excludes anyone who disagrees with Jeff. Nice circular logic. "Obvious to everyone else" is code language for "anyone who happens to share Jeff's sentiments." 

iii) As I've explained elsewhere, the commands aren't "genocidal." Jeff is simply parroting what others say rather than thinking for himself.

iv) Then there's the standing irony of atheists who ride around on their moral high horse. But Jeff doesn't attempt to show how atheism can justify moral realism. 

And even if atheism could justify moral realism, that falls went short of showing how ephemeral, fortuitous organizations of matter (i.e. humans) have rights. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lex Rex

This spring, Peter Enns labored to use Rom 13 as a wedge tactic in the inerrancy debate:

I'd like to make a few brief observations:

i) Inerrancy makes allowance for the fact that Paul is describing an ideal. This is the proper role of gov't. This is how gov't ought to function. 

It would, however, be naive to assume that Paul was describing reality, without further ado. After all, Caligula desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. So did Pompey, before him. And a Roman magistrate authorized the execution of the Messiah.

Likewise, Paul was a student of the OT. He believed the OT. Yet the OT views some gov't officials as so corrupt that they must be deposed. You even have a pious high priest engineer a coup d'etat (2 Kgs 11). 

ii) As Samuel Rutherford pointed out, in Lex Rex:

2. The powers (Rom. xiii. 1) that be, are ordained of God, as their author and efficient; but kings commanding unjust things, and killing the innocent, in these acts, are but men, and sinful men; and the power by which they do these acts, a sinful and an usurped power, and so far they are not powers ordained of God, according to his revealed will, which must rule us. Now the authority and official power, in abstracto, is ordained of God, as the text saith, and other Scriptures do evidence. And this politicians do clear, while they distinguish betwixt jus personæ, and jus coronæ, the power of the person, and the power of the crown and royal office. They must then be two different things.
iii) Surely it's not a coincidence that Paul is writing to Christians who live in the capital of the Roman Empire. They must be model citizens. They must set an example. For Roman officials are watching them. Roman authorities will judge the Christian movement in general by the conduct of Roman Christians. 

iv) Even if there was another side to Paul's view of the Roman state, we'd hardly expect him to disclose that in a letter to Christians in Rome. What if the letter was intercepted? What if Roman officials got their hands on a copy of the letter? If it contained seditious material, consider the political repercussions, both for Paul and his recipients?

This doesn't mean Paul is dissembling in Rom 13. There is, however, a difference between saying what you don't believe and saying less than you believe. A difference between saying what you don't believe and not saying what you do believe. Rom 13 is true as far as it goes. An ideal. But this is not the occasion for Paul to spell out caveats which Roman authorities might view as treasonous or revolutionary.  

v) Finally, it's not as if mid-1C Christians were in a position to overthrow the Roman state even if that was desirable. So you learn to adapt. God, in his providential wisdom, had put Christians in that situation for the time being. 

The restrainer

I'm this post I'm going to discuss the identity of the restrainer in 2 Thes 2:6-7. At the bottom of the post I will handicap a number of interpretations I reject. But I don't want to wade through all the competing interpretations before discussing my own proposal
1) There are two extremes we need to avoid when considering endtime prophecy. One is to become too confident and committed to a very specific identification. Endtime prophecy is a snare for cocksure Christians. Don't quit your job or sell your house. Don't pour your life savings into an underground, survivalist bunker in the backwoods to hunker down for the reign of the Antichrist. 
But the opposite danger, which is sometimes an overreaction to millenarian speculation, is to avoid speculation altogether. Many amils accept a degree of futurism. They aren't preterists. Yet their futurism tends to be vague and hypothetical.
For instance, I think Beale wrote a magnificent commentary on Revelation, and I also like his commentary on Thessalonians. Beale is masterful at tracing literary allusions. Documenting subtextual allusions. Sleuthing background material.

But when it comes to the follow-up question–what is this future oracle about? What type of future scenario does it correspond to?–he doesn't take the next step. 

Even though he believes some of these prophecies await a future fulfillment, he confines himself to the text. He has an exclusively textual focus. He never gets outside of the text to ask what the future referent will resemble. 

Obviously we should begin with the text. But if the text refers to something outside itself, then we should make a conscientious effort to correlate endtime prophecies with real-world referents.

I'm not suggesting we can pinpoint the fulfillment. But it's good to explore what kinds of ways it might play out. Complement intertextuality with extratextual events. 

Otherwise, it's an awful lot like treating future prophecy as if it was self-referential fiction, viz. Perelandra. It begins and ends within the world of the text. That self-enclosed story. 

2) The identity of the restrainer in 2 Thes isn't something we can construe in isolation. How we answer that question is bound up with how we construe the identity of the Antichrist, or the time and place of fulfillment. These are interlocking answers, for the restrainer and the Antichrist are roughly synchronized. Likewise, their respective careers must be coordinated with a particular place and period. So we must have consistent interpretations of the players and the stage. 

This isn't necessarily an attempt to pinpoint their identity. Indeed, I think that can be a fool's errand. Instead, I'm considering plausible profiles for the restrainer and the Antichrist. Not singling out a particular individual or timeframe, but the kind of individual who fits the profile. 

Likewise, if this prophecy lies in the future, then we should take into account what the future might look like. Had the Antichrist come in the 5C AD, or the 13C AD, the background details would be different. But that's no longer a live option.

3) One of the best interpretations views the restrainer as the Archangel Michael (e.g. Beale, Marshall, Nicholl, Shogren).  This identification has a number of things in its favor. Paul's depiction of the Antichrist alludes to Daniel (as well as Ezekiel). Given that Danielic background, it makes sense if the restrainer has a Danielic counterpart as well (Dan 10:13,20-21). 

This identification has other advantages. An angel can restrain another angel. An angel can be God's agent. By the same token, God can remove the angel after he's served his purpose. Since both heavenly and fallen angels are immortal, this would explain the longevity of the restraint, reaching back to Paul's time, but still in force 2000 years later and counting. 

So the angelic interpretation may well be right. At the same time it has some limitations:

i) Dan 11:36 is prophetic in a way that Dan 10 is not. At best, Dan 10 would set a precedent. 

We need to guard against reducing prophecy to a literary construct. That runs the risk of making prophecy a fiction, modeled on literary allusions. Truth turns on whether the background material is prophetic (or typological) in its own right. 

ii) Dan 10 has a different dynamic. In Dan 10, Michael sidelines a fallen angel. But if the restrainer is Michael, then Michael is sidelined to make way for the Antichrist, who's the agent of a fallen angel. So the relation is nearly the opposite of Dan 10.

4) I'd like to consider one other interpretation. This is useful in part because it's good to be on the alert for different possibilities. If you expect the enemy to come in one direction, he may come from behind to catch you offguard. So look around. It's prudent to prepare for different eventualities.  

i) What are different ways in which evil men are temporarily restrained? At one level, there can be external impediments. But there can also be psychological impediments.

For instance, some professing Christians commit apostasy, yet they keep that to themselves, or lead a double life, because they have a devout wife or mother, and they wish to spare their loved one's feelings. Or because they don't wish to disappoint their pious loved one. They value their esteem. 

If, however, the wife or mother dies, then they are free to express themselves. They no longer feel the need to conceal their true identity. Their pious wife or mother was a restraining influence on them.

For that matter, some professing Christians become apostates because they lost a loved one. They blame God for failing to protect their loved one. So long as their pious loved one was alive, that restrained them from committing apostasy or coming out of the closet. 

ii) Let's take one or two illustrations, which don't necessarily involve apostasy, but do involve restraint. Henri de Navarre assumed the French throne. His mother (Jeanne d'Albret) was a pious Protestant, but as a condition of his ascension to the throne, he had to renounce the Protestant faith and convert to Catholicism. That was a crippling blow to the Protestant movement in France. Yet Henri had a very lenient policy towards French Protestants. He promulgated the Edict of Nantes. That was probably in deference to his mother. Had his mother been someone like Catherine de Medici, I doubt he'd show the same restraint.

Mikhail Gorbachev had a pious Russian Orthodox mother. Although he himself is an atheist, perhaps his mother had a moderating influence which made him less ruthless than Lenin, Stalin, Putin, or Brezhnev. 

iii) Apostates are some of the most virulent opponents of the Christian faith. They take Christianity very personally. Having lost their faith, they attack their former faith to rationalize their loss of faith. So it wouldn't be surprising if the Antichrist will be an apostate.

iv) In an earlier post I speculated that the Antichrist might be a sorcerer. In that connection, I'd note that some professing Christians lose their faith in connection with the occult. That can be a catalyst or hardening factor. Michael Sudduth seems to be one example. 

And Aleister Crowley is another. Crowley was raised in the Plymouth Brethren. At the time a very conservative Protestant denomination. But for whatever reason, he lost his faith. Homosexual inclination may have been a precipitating factor. He became steeped in the occult. And he actually viewed himself as the Antichrist. He saw himself as the Beast of Revelation. Ironically, his upbringing in a Millenarian denomination exposed him to endtime prophecy and seized his imagination. 

But he didn't make the cut. He wasn't Satan's anointed. Must have been a terribly letdown! 

iv) I'm just considering profiles for the restrainer and the Antichrist. These are correlative. 

Commentators typically assume that the restrainer is identifiable. After all, there's a sense in which you can't identify the restrainer with someone you've never heard of. So you sift through a list of the usual suspects. Pick a candidate from someone or something in the public domain.

But what if the restrainer is somebody few people have ever heard of in advance of the fact? Some individuals only become well-known in association with another well-known figures. If Bess Truman or Mamie Eisenhower hadn't married to famous men, no one would remember them. It's possible that the restrainer is a private individual who only becomes identifiable after the Antichrist rises to power. 

5) Finally, let's run through some alternative identifications:

i) Some scholars think the verb (katecho) doesn't mean "restrain" or "hold back," but "possess" or "hold sway." Up to a point, that's an appealing interpretation, although it's been challenged on linguistic grounds. That the Antichrist is a demoniac certainly fits the profile. That's the source of his power. 

But over and above the linguistic objections, even if that works for v6, it's hard to square that with v7. Why is the demotion of Satan a prerequisite for the promotion of the Antichrist? Why would Satan initially restrain his agent? Why must Satan be restrained for his agent to take power? Don't they rise and fall together? 

Likewise, vv6-7 involve a contrast, which makes more sense if the distinction is between the presence and absence of restraint, rather than the presence or absence of possession. If the Antichrist is only free to come into his own after the katecho is removed, then that suggests the katecho was holding him back. 

ii) Some scholars think it refers to the Roman state and Roman emperor. One advantage of that interpretation is that it accounts for Paul's distinction between neuter and masculine participles. But there are problems with that interpretation:

a) Perhaps Paul's grammatical distinction is merely a stylistic variation. Moreover, grammatical genre is an arbitrary convention, not to be confused with the actual gender (if any) of the referents. The neuter form may emphasize a particular quality of the restrainer. 

b) How can Rome be both the agent of restraint and the agent that removes the restraint? How does Rome remove itself? The emperor wasn't independent of the state or vice versa. 

c) Likewise, the Antichrist is an opponent of God, not an opponent of Rome. A religious rebel, not a political rebel. 

d) Given that a Roman emperor (Caligula) desecrated the temple in Jerusalem, thereby reprising the role of Antiochus, it's hard to believe Paul would view the Roman state as an obstacle to the Antichrist. Likewise, Pompey desecrated the temple. 

e) Finally, the fall of the Roman Empire didn't usher in the reign of the Antichrist. 

iii) Warfield thought it referred to the Jewish regime. As long as Judaism was a religio licita, Christianity could shield itself from official persecution by sheltering under Judaism, as just one more Jewish sect. Yet there are basic problems with that identification:

a) Jews instigated Roman authorities to persecute Christians.   

b) After the First Jewish Revolt (67-70), Christian association with Judaism would be politically hazardous to Christians. 

c) The Antichrist didn't rise to power after the destruction of the Jewish regime–whether we date that to the First Jewish Revolt or the Bar-Kokhba Revolt. 

iv) Some interpreters think it refers to God. 

a) But it's quite incongruous to suggest that God is sidelined. By whom? 

b) Moreover, as Paul goes onto to discuss, God continues to be very active in this situation (vv9-11).

John 20:29 And Michael Shermer

There's a small handful of Biblical passages that are often cited by those who want to portray Christianity as anti-intellectual. Even some professing Christians will cite a passage like John 20:29 as an apologetic against apologetics. I've often commented on how badly such passages have to be taken out of context in order to abuse them for anti-intellectual purposes.

What I want to do here is note how the recent Michael Shermer story illustrates what John 20:29 actually seems to be referring to. If somebody like Michael Shermer were to believe in the paranormal after having a paranormal experience, what would be wrong with that? Would I fault him for wanting evidence for the paranormal? For not taking a blind leap in the dark? For citing his experience as a justification for changing his view? For trying to persuade other people by citing reason and evidence in support of his position? No. It's good when somebody like Shermer wants evidence, doesn't just take a blind leap in the dark, tries to persuade other people by citing the evidence of his own experience with the paranormal, etc. I don't fault him for those things. I fault him for not accepting the existence of paranormal phenomena on the basis of the evidence he had access to prior to his own experience. The evidence he had previously was well beyond what was needed to justify a belief in paranormal phenomena. He didn't need to wait for a personal experience.

Similarly, it doesn't make sense to take John 20:29 as a rebuke of Thomas for being too intellectual, for wanting reason, evidence, and such. Rather, as far as Thomas is being rebuked on intellectual grounds in that passage, he's being rebuked for not following the evidence he already had to its logical conclusion. He already had Jesus' prophecy fulfillments, other pre-resurrection miracles performed by Jesus, his predictions of his resurrection, the empty tomb, and the testimony of other people who saw the risen Jesus, for example. Thomas was asking for more when he didn't need it, much like Shermer.