Some New Must Read Articles at SEA (Abasciano and McCall)

SEA has been diligently providing its readers with excellent Arminian resources.  Recently Dr. Brian Abasciano’s newest theological article on corporate election was made available.  Here is the write-up from SEA [Introducing Dr. Brian Abasciano's "Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election"]:

SEA is excited to announce the addition to our site of Dr. Brian Abasciano’s recently published article Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election which argues forcefully and compellingly for the corporate view of election. The theological concept of corporate election has been gaining force in modern scholarship for quite some time. It is widely held among scholars that a primarily corporate election is the election described in the OT. It is on this basis that Dr. Abasciano and others argue that this corporate view of election is the view that Paul and the other apostles would naturally carry over into the NT. This is not just speculation but is strongly supported by the language of election used especially by Paul, not least in Romans and Ephesians.

But there are critics from the Reformed view who naturally recognize acceptance of the corporate view of election as a threat to the traditional Calvinist interpretation of key Scriptures and the nature of salvation since corporate election holds to a conditional rather than unconditional view of election. Foremost among these critics of the corporate view is Dr. Thomas Schreiner who criticized corporate election in an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election Unto Salvation?: Some Exegetical and Theological Reflections” JETS 36/1 [March 1993] 25-40. Abasciano later responded, pointing out that the criticisms Schreiner leveled against the corporate view not only lacked cogency but were primarily based on fundamental misunderstandings of the concept (Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner, JETS 49/2 [June 2006], 351-71). Schreiner then wrote a reply in the same theological journal issue criticizing corporate election once again, even going so far as to make the unguarded and surprising claim that the corporate view is incoherent (Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano).

Abasciano sought to write a response to Schreiner’s follow-up article but the policy of the theological journal did not allow for further rebuttals. For this reason he decided to write a more general theological article on corporate election specifically addressing the many misconceptions held by those who have criticized the concept. In this present article Abasciano interacts with Schreiner and other scholars convincingly demonstrating that the corporate view of election is indeed the Biblical view. He draws on the Old and New Testament witness in order to make his case while showing that the attacks leveled against the corporate view by Calvinists are based on individualistic biases in handling the primary texts or misconceptions of what the corporate view entails.

He argues for a view of corporate election that has its ultimate basis in the divine election of Christ as God’s covenant Head through whom the covenant people of God will be named and identified as God’s children. Election is therefore primarily of a people and those people draw their identity as God’s chosen people through faith union with the chosen corporate representative, Christ Jesus. In other words, as the Scriptures testify, we are elect “in Him” (Eph. 1:4). Since one comes to be in union with Christ and His people through faith, it follows that election is conditional rather than unconditional.

It is my opinion that this article goes further than any previous work in making a clear and compelling case for the corporate view of election. No doubt Calvinists will continue to resist the mounting weight of scholarship in support of corporate election, but they will need to seriously contend with Abasciano’s work in order to gain any real ground. It will be extremely difficult from this point forward for any Calvinist scholar to be able to dismiss the corporate view by suggesting it is incoherent or does not fully deal with all of the Biblical data. It is my opinion that Abasciano’s work will stand the test of time and help to finally advance our understanding of such an important Biblical concept beyond the narrow and individualistic views of Calvinistic interpreters which have unfortunately led to so much unnecessary theological confusion and tension in the church today.

Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election

In addition to Abasciano’s important and compelling new article, SEA has also made available Dr. Thomas McCall’s theological articles addressing the serious problems inherent in the Calvinistic accounting of sovereignty.  In these articles, McCall interacts with John Piper and demonstrates that his accounting of God’s primary objection in reprobation is seriously flawed and leads to terrible theological implications and absurdities.  Here is the write-up from SEA [Dr. Thomas McCall takes on John Piper and the Calvinistic View of God's Sovereignty]:

We are excited to have added two articles by Thomas McCall, assistant professor of Biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which critique John Piper’s theology of God’s sovereignty. They appeared in an issue of Trinity Journal that features an exchange between Piper and McCall, with McCall firing the first volley (Thomas McCall, “I Believe in Divine Sovereignty”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 205-226), followed by Piper’s response (John Piper, “I Believe in God’s Self-Sufficiency: A Response to Thomas McCall”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 227-234), and then McCall offering a final rejoinder (Thomas McCall, “We Believe in God’s Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 235-246). McCall makes a compelling case against the typical Calvinist view of divine sovereignty (which amounts to exhaustive divine determinism), represented by Piper,[1] and for a more Arminian view of God’s sovereignty, which does justice to his power, love, and goodness. I appreciated Piper’s humble, pastoral response to such a strong critique of his theology when he said, “I do not rush to press people to believe all the hard things I believe without regard to their own conscience. I do not want someone to believe that God is evil, or that God ever sinned. So if my affirmation that God wills sin to come to pass . . . requires of someone that they believe in their hearts that God sins or that God is evil, then I say to them, ‘Do not yet believe what I say. Your conscience forbids it. You dare not believe statements about God which, according to your own conscience, can only mean that God is what he is not. Continue to pray and study. Either you or I (or both of us) will be changed in due time’ ” (p. 234).

This is wise counsel that we should take to heart, especially as McCall eventually lands a real knock-out blow (or close to it), by drawing attention to the fact that Piper admits that his view logically implies that we might as well sin that grace may abound, and resorts to pleading that we not follow where the logic of his position leads, since it directly contradicts God’s word (pp. 243-44). Calvinism as it is typically held is logically incoherent. That is one reason why I am an Arminian. It is a theology that is logically coherent, biblically faithful, and can actually be lived by the grace of God. Praise God for his sovereingty, love, and goodness! And praise God for this irenic exchange between Piper and McCall, which, in my view, has the effect of refuting the standard Calvinistic position on God’s sovereignty and providence and commending the Arminian one.

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[1] McCall does make clear that Piper’s is not the only Calvinist view, and that he focuses on the popular Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty, represented by Piper, that offers a theodicy for God ordaining sin and evil to the effect that it is necessary for God’s glory, and ultimately, for God to be God. But his essays still show up the deficiency of the more general and standard Calvinistic view (i.e., exhaustive determinism). Citing the judgment of Reformed historical theologian, Richard A. Muller, McCall also cautions that determinism is not the standard position of the broad Reformed tradition (p. 246 n. 34). Be that as it may, it is certainly the position of Calvin and standard Calvinism (see e.g., these quotes of Calvin; the Westminister Confession of Faith, 3.1-2; 5.1-4).

1 Cor. 10:13 Re-revisted: Substance Vs. Sophistry

Update: Regarding Steve Hays’ embarrassing blunder documented below concerning Ardel Caneday, it seems that Hays is still unwilling to admit error as documented in the combox of a later post here.  This, coupled with the fact that he later went back and deleted his reference to Caneday being a fictional candy man in his initial post, raises serious questions concerning his methodology and trustworthiness as a debater and teacher.  As it stands, it seems that he is happy to re-write history for the sake of saving face in order to perpetuate the facade that he is incapable of error and to disagree with Steve Hays is simply to be wrong.  To view a saved copy of his original post in which the Caneday reference still appears, see here.

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Hays responded to my latest post and made several assertions that deserve investigation.  He also engaged in quite a bit of rhetorical bluster which, again, served only to divert attention away from the issue at hand.  I will be careful to address everything that pertains to the exegesis of the text in question, and point out where Steve has either misunderstood or misrepresented my view.  Steve has introduced a lot of material that does not bear directly on an exegesis of the text, but is concerned with Calvinistic criticisms of Arminianism based on issues of foreknowledge, and how foreknowledge might impact free will or perseverance.  Those are important matters, but I will not be addressing them in this post for the sake of keeping focus and keeping this post as short as possible (as it is ridiculously long anyway).  I will make some brief comments concerning those other issues at the end of the post.

In Steve’s response, he quotes me and then interacts with my comments.  Those quotes and interactions will be in yellow block quotes with my responses in between.  Any time I quote myself, or other references, that will also be in yellow block quotes. This will be my final post on the matter and the reasons for that will be expressed throughout this response.

“I was going to respond to Steve’s second response point by point and exchange rhetorical blows with him along the way, but I think such a response would only serve to distract us from the main contentions at issue here.”

Steve: An alternative explanation is that Ben found the exegetical material which I quoted from Garland and Fitzmyer to be unanswerable, so he’s trying to deflect the reader’s attention away from his inability to deal with it by taking a detour around the unanswerable material.

There was nothing to answer beyond what I wrote.  Neither of them concluded with Steve that 1 Cor. 10:13 was a specific and exclusive reference to the “temptation” to “deny the faith”;  neither do they suggest that the believer cannot fail but to take the “way of escape” provided by God.  I already explained how the material concerning idolatry and apostasy does nothing to falsify my position, but rather complements my interpretation.

I am troubled, however, by Steve’s suggestion that I was being dishonest in my stated reasons for avoiding a point by point exchange.  I would hope that such attempts to read my motives and question my honesty would be a level of rhetorical device that Steve would not find necessary to employ.  Honestly, I find the manner in which Steve responds to be, on the whole, extremely immature and unhelpful for advancing the discussion.  Many of his responses seem to amount to little more than “nuh uh” answers, inflated with rhetorical bluster and even blatant insults.  As a result, I have to waste a lot of valuable time just dealing with such unnecessary and unhelpful language, time that should have been spent on more substantial matters.

“Steve also cited a commentary by Fitzmyer, which I pointed out actually agreed with my view against his own.”

Steve: Ben falsely alleged that Fitzmyer actually agreed with his view.

Well, let’s allow Fitzmyer to speak for himself in the quote that Steve initially provided concerning 1 Cor. 10:13 (emphasis mine),

“It is not clear whether this verse is to be understood generically of every trial that a Christian may face, or the eschatological trial involving one’s salvation? The noun ekbasis, ‘way out,’ certainly could mean the latter, the eschatological trial, but Christians may also rely on God for the ekbasis of lesser struggles throughout the course of life. In this context, Paul seems to be thinking primarily of trials involving idol meat or seduction to idolatry,” J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians (Yale 2008), 389.

Fitzmyer first offers what he considers two possible interpretations.  One interpretation would look at this verse as specific reference to an eschatological trial (probably based on an erroneous understanding of what Paul intended by the phrase “end of the ages” in verse 11,)  Fitzmyer rightly rejects the “eschatological” interpretation and concludes that “Christians may also rely on God for the ekbasis of lesser struggles throughout the course of life.” (Fitzmyer deals directly with the meaning of “end of the ages” on page 388 and opts for an interpretation that does not see it as referring specifically to end times, but to the separation of “ages” between the Old and New Covenants [following J. Weiss]).

This supports my understanding that “No temptation” has reference to “No temptation” (i.e., no [not any] temptation to sin that a Christian may face in life), rather than to the sole temptation to deny the faith in apostasy.  Fitzmyer’s further comments concerning the specific context having to do with idol meat and seduction to idolatry does nothing to contradict my view.  Such trials would certainly be included among any and every temptation that a believer may face in life.  This is probably the reason that Fitzmyer does not draw the same conclusions as Steve and thereby try to limit “No temptation” in 10:13 exclusively to the specific temptation to finally deny the faith.

If  Fitzmyer sees “No temptation” in 1 Cor. 10:13 as a reference to the specific and exclusive temptation to finally deny the faith, then all Steve has to do is quote where Fitzmyer draws that conclusion.  Steve has yet to produce that quote (maybe he is still saving it in his “reserve”), and so his claims that Fitzmyer agrees with him are empty, while the quote above certainly does support my interpretation.  So I haven’t “falsely alleged” anything.  In fact, we can find further support for my position on page 388 where Fitzmyer concludes his discussion on what “ends” means in verse 11,

“No matter which interpretation of “ends” is preferred, Paul’s implication is that such events about our “ancestors” have been recorded in the OT for the instruction of Christians, to admonish them in every age about God’s reaction to human complaints, rebellion, testing, and probing.” (388 emphasis mine)

We see here that Fitzmyer understands that Paul is addressing each of these specific sins to the Corinthians (just as I argued in my last post), rather than applying a general principle of apostasy.  If Steve’s understanding of Fitzmyer is correct, then he is essentially saying that every instance of “human” complaining, rebellion, testing, and probing, constitutes a final denial of the Christian faith.

“In my response, I pointed out that Steve had really painted himself into a tight spot.”

Steve: In his response, Ben made a feeble and failed attempt to paint me into a tight spot.

Not at all.  I simply pointed out the size of the task Steve had created for himself in stating that my interpretation was false (with some very bold rhetoric), and asserting that his interpretation was so obviously correct.  The “tight spot” is the burden of proof that rests on him to show that 1 Cor. 10:13 cannot possibly have reference to every temptation a believer may face in life (my interp.), while proving that “No temptation” must have specific and exclusive reference to the temptation to finally deny the faith (his interp.).  Steve put himself in that position and put the burden of proof upon himself with his arguments and his use of rhetoric in his initial response (he actually needs to show that my interpretation is impossible, considering his claim that my “warehouse” was entirely “empty”).  So it is false to say that I tried to paint him into a tight spot (and it is certainly false to say I made a “feeble and failed attempt” to paint him into that spot).

Notice again that in both of his replies above, his arguments are devoid of substance, but merely reflect more “nuh uh” type responses.

“I countered by showing that Paul references numerous sins in the surrounding context and that Steve’s narrow view seems obviously forced in light of Paul’s specific use of language in 1 Cor. 10:13.”

Steve: Ben countered by adding his misinterpretation of OT texts to his misinterpretation of NT texts.

And Steve accuses me of avoidance?  You will search in vain for any specific interaction, on Steve’s part, with any of the exegetical points I made in both my posts.  All you will find is Steve quoting commentaries that he imagines agree with him, and making passing remarks on those quotes.

“Since Steve seemed to suggest that my interpretation was so obviously wrong, and since Steve seemed to build his entire case on two sources (one which ultimately did not even agree with him).”

Steve: Both of which completely agree with me. I corrected Ben on that contention–among others.

See above on Fitzmyer, who in no way agrees with Steve that “No temptation” in 1 Cor. 10:13 has exclusive reference to the specific temptation to finally deny the faith, nor does Fitzmyer suggest that the believer will inevitably take the way of escape provided by God (the two main points that Steve needs to exegetically establish).

“I concluded my response by citing numerous commentators that agreed with my interpretation against Steve’s.”

Steve: He cited a number of popular and/or dated commentaries, along with one or two scholarly commentaries. Of these, Thiselton is the most significant, and even Thiselton doesn’t actually support his contention.

And so we can add all of these commentators, both “popular” and “scholarly”, to the list of “gesticulating” fools that agree with me concerning the proper understanding of 1 Cor. 10:13.  That list could surely be multiplied.  We can add to Steve’s list ….no one, not a single commentator who takes 1 Cor. 10:13 to be a specific and exclusive reference to the temptation to finally deny the faith.  Perhaps Steve will still find that elusive commentator or two, but even then, the fact that so many are against him, even Calvinist ones, serves to underscore how strained and marginal Steve’s interpretation is (especially against the backdrop of Steve’s very bold and confident claim that any interpretation besides his own was completely baseless and empty).  The simple fact alone that I have so easily found a great deal of support for my interpretation, completely falsifies Steve’s bold claims and outlandish rhetoric.  Notice also that Steve does not show that Thiselton doesn’t agree with me, he only asserts it.  Anyone can read my first post to see if Steve’s claim is accurate.

“(Several of them written by Calvinists, including John Calvin himself).”

Steve: Really? How many of the commentators he cited believe in limited atonement or double predestination or irresistible grace or unconditional election or the perseverance of the saints? Let’s see the documentation.

None needed.  All that is needed is the documentation concerning their interpretation of I Cor. 10:13 which agrees with me against Steve (we are not talking about the five points of TULIP, but about a proper understanding of 1 Cor. 10:13).  That documentation has already been provided.  If he means to insist that these commentaries were not written by Calvinists, then he can take that up with Calvinists Leon Morris and FF Bruce, for starters (and I am pretty sure John Calvin was a Calvinist).

Steve: By definition, a Calvinist doesn’t think that you can lose your salvation. Therefore, no Calvinist would construe 1 Cor 10:13 as a prooftext to disprove the perseverance of the saints.

That is not the issue.  The issue is whether or not this passage is a prooftext for perseverance of the saints, as Hays insists.  If it is not, and if “No temptation” is being used in a general sense to describe any and every temptation a Christian might face, then Steve’s interpretation is proven false, and my use of the passage to establish the presence of free will whenever we are tempted, is firmly established.  The best Steve can say is that these Calvinist commentators believe Paul is speaking of every temptation a Christian might face except for the specific temptation to deny the faith.  That would be essentially opposite of Steve’s suggested interpretation (but there is no indication in those commentaries even of that).  Perhaps these Calvinist commentators were just allowing the text to speak for itself, and being as honest with the verse as possible, without trying to defend any particular theological view point in the process.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that their comments support my view against Steve, and that has been documented.

By the way, below Steve quotes a Wesleyan Arminian (a contributor to The Arminian magazine) who left a comment in my combox, imagining that this person agreed with Steve’s interpretation (when he doesn’t).  According to Steve’s above logic, this Arminian would never construe the passage as Steve suggests, since no Wesleyan Arminian would ever construe this passage as a proof text for inevitable perseverance.  Yet, Steve tries to use his quote as support for his view.

But perhaps we should excuse Steve since he couldn’t have known that this person was a Wesleyan Arminian (which should have given him some caution before jumping all over his comments as support for his position).  However, Steve should have known that this commenter based his comment on a reference to another non-Calvinist (whose book argues strongly against the Calvinist view or perseverance).  Therefore, according to Steve’s logic, it is impossible that this could serve as support for Steve’s view since a person who plainly rejects inevitable perseverance would never construe 1 Cor. 10:13 as support for inevitable perseverance.  Once again, Steve can’t seem to play by his own rules.

“Steve has raised the bar very high in suggesting the passages can only be understood to be addressing the ‘temptation’ of finally denying the faith, and for that reason needs to produce a tremendous amount of compelling evidence in order to lend any credibility to that claim.”

Steve: I don’t need to produce a “tremendous about of compelling evidence” to support my interpretation. I only have to show that my interpretation is the best interpretation of the verse.

And Steve has still not even come close to showing that his interpretation is the “best interpretation of the verse.”  Don’t be fooled here by Steve’s attempt to soften his task.  Of course he needs to show that his interpretation is best, but in doing that he needs to deal with the specific language of 1 Cor. 10:13 and explain how that language supports his view of a specific and exclusive temptation to deny the faith, while showing how the language excludes my own view.  He needs to explain why Paul applies each specific temptation to sin (including such sins as complaining and craving evil things) to the Corinthians, if he were really just trying to apply a principle of apostasy by using those OT references. He needs to show that my view is totally unreasonable, based on his claims that my interpretation amounts to “empty…gesticulating”, etc.  He needs to show that the context completely excludes my view (rather than just showing ways in which he imagines it might support his own).  He also needs to show that the passage teaches that the believer will always take the way of escape, (assuming the correctness of his interpretation).  It would also be nice if he could find more than one person, throughout the ages, that agrees with his assertion that “No temptation” in 1 Cor. 10:13 refers exclusively to the specific “temptation” to deny the faith (though even this would not make his case), or as Steve put it in his first post,

“In sum, this verse is not talking about temptation in general. Rather, it’s talking about the specific temptation to deny one’s faith–of which idolatry was a paradigm-case throughout Scripture. And it says that, due to God’s fidelity, a Christian can never give in to that particular temptation.”

That’s a lot to produce as far as I am concerned, and it seems to me that he hasn’t even gotten started yet

“After reading his last post, I can’t imagine how Steve would think he has offered sufficient evidence to prove my view untenable while establishing his own view as the only plausible interpretation.”

Steve: That’s rhetorical posturing.

Actually, it was just stating my honest opinion (assuming Steve isn’t trying to question my honesty again).  However, if this is Steve’s idea of “rhetorical posturing”, then I wonder what he considers comments like,

What’s so odd about this claim is the way in which kangaroodort infers something from the text that simply isn’t there…

Despite his hyperbolic verbiage and sanctimonious tone, kangaroodort is making totemic use of Scripture. He pays lip-service to the words of Scripture in swelling, self-congratulatory rhetoric, but his interpretation doesn’t begin to represent a close reading of the text or context...

He’s like a man standing in the doorway of an empty warehouse, gesticulating about his discovery of contraband merchandise within. Well, I’ve examined every square inch of the warehouse with a flashlight, and the evidence is entirely wanting.”

…and those are just a few examples from Steve’s first post!

“Rather, he has only succeeded in clouding the issue and diverting attention away from his monumental task of proving, from the text, that Paul is speaking solely of the temptation to deny the faith in 1 Cor. 10:13, while actually guaranteeing that no believer ever will fall to that specific temptation.”

Steve: i) If my task is “monumental,” then Ben’s contrary task is equally monumental.

Not at all, since my interpretation represents a more natural reading of the text, an interpretation that has been well supported by scholars of all stripes throughout church history, and cannot be dismissed based solely on the context (without importing Calvinist presuppositions into the text, while ignoring specific use of language).

Steve: ii) I “clouded” the issue by quoting two leading commentators (neither of whom is a Calvinist) who document that Paul’s statement in v13 is framed within the context of idolatrous apostasy. That material is directly on point.

Steve clouded the issue by refusing to personally interact with the text (and my specific comments about the text), and by presenting these quotes as amounting to necessary proof of the correctness of his interpretation.  Neither of his two commentators drew the conclusion from the “context” that “No temptation” in 1 Cor. 10:13 had exclusive reference to the specific temptation to deny the faith (as I pointed out in my last post, and several other times as well).  This is so because there is nothing in the context to force such an unnatural limitation to the promise of 1 Cor. 10:13.

“Steve spends a significant portion of his post complaining that I have dismissed the only book that gave him any support for his unusual interpretation of the passage.”

Steve: i) I measured Ben’s sources by his own yardstick. By that yardstick, most of them came up short.

Except that I never “measured” his sources by any “yardstick” at all.  I neither dismissed them nor criticized them.  All I did was identify them and point out that one agreed with me against Steve.

Steve: ii) Nothing unusual about my interpretation–as I’ve documented. And a commenter in Ben’s meta agrees with me:’

“I’m convinced that the ‘fall’ mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:12 is referring to apostasy from Christ and the Christian faith that can occur if the believers in Corinth persist in idolatry and the attending immorality that is common place at these social events/banquets. In my research I have found several commentators and academic works on 1 Cor 8:1-11:1 that hold to this view as well. The work that I have found the most impressive is . . .
Paul and Apostasy: Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation (Paperback)_by B. J. Oropeza”

http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/revisting-1-cor-1013/#comment-2676

Steve just isn’t getting it.  First, the idea that “fall” can have reference to apostasy does not establish his interpretation.  This has been explained very clearly in my first two posts (especially my last post which looks at the broader context of chapter 8 and Paul’s view on the danger of apostasy resulting from continued sin).  Second, as mentioned above, the commenter in my meta does not agree with Steve, and has since left a comment verifying that Steve was wrong to draw those implications from his comments (just as Steve was wrong to draw similar implications from the two commentators who supposedly agreed with him).

Perhaps this demonstrates a pattern of Steve jumping to unwarranted conclusions from what other’s write.   Steve jumped to conclusions concerning Fitzmyer, wrongly concluding that he supported Steve’s interpretation based on a quote that actually worked against him, and now Steve has wrongly concluded that the commenter in my meta agreed with him on 1 Cor. 10:13, simply because he sees “fall” in verse 12 as a reference to apostasy.  This is one of the reasons that I will not be having further dialogue with Steve (as well as his tendency to be insulting and question the intentions and honesty of those he disagrees with, as he has done again in a post ridiculing the above commenter’s clarifications in which he pointed out that he did not actually agree with Steve at all).

Perhaps this also reveals a level of desperation on Steve’s part.  He can’t find any sources, other than Schreiner, that agree with his interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:13, so he is forced to lift comments from a combox in order to try to bolster his position (comments that were misread in a similar way as he misread Fitzmyer).  Steve appears so desperate that, upon recognizing his mistake, he wrote a post trying to do damage control in which he basically questioned the integrity of the Arminian commenter whose comment Steve tried to make use of as support for his position.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, the work by B. J. Oropeza is what the commenter says was “most impressive” in helping formulate his views (a work that argues against the Calvinist view of inevitable perseverance).  According to Steve’s logic (see above), such a work would never construe 1 Cor. 10:13 in a way that supports his position.

“When I said that Schreiner’s work was ‘popular’ I did not mean to suggest that it was worthless or should be discounted.”

Steve: Now Ben is dissembling. The only reason, in this context, to mention that Schreiner’s monograph was allegedly “popular” was to prejudice his readers against this source.

It must be nice to be able to read the thoughts and intentions of fellow believers (something Calvinists typically assert no one has the power to judge, since no one can “know the heart”).  I wasn’t trying to prejudice readers against Schreiner’s book (and I would ask Steve to produce anything to that effect in the post where I called Schreiner’s work “popular”).  The idea that “popular” could be understood as second rate, or less than scholarly, didn’t even enter my mind when I wrote the word.   I only meant that it is well known and well read among Calvinists, and that it represents a popular Calvinist view on inevitable perseverance.  That’s it.  If Steve refuses to believe this then he has essentially called me a liar, and that is as unnecessary as it is false.

I suppose I could counter with the way that Steve keeps referring to Schreiner’s book as a “monograph”.  It is a monograph in the sense that it is focused on a single topic (though it is written by two authors, unlike most “monographs”), but many people see the use of “monograph” as an indication of especially scholarly material.  Perhaps Steve is trying to exalt his single source as especially scholarly and credible by continually referring to it as a monograph.  In his last post he mentioned that Schreiner’s monograph had 377 pages (plus index), as if this is a true mark of scholarship (lots of pages and an index- by the way, the Book of Mormon has 531 pages, plus index!).  Again, this is in no way intended to be a slight on Schreiner’s book, but only to demonstrate how easily reversible Steve’s argument is (and just notice what a waste of time this whole issue of what I meant by “popular” has been in this discussion, serving only to divert the discussion away from the important matter of a proper exegesis of the text).

Steve: Ben is now upset because I applied his yardstick to his own commentaries.

Not at all, as explained above.

“If Steve sees that as a negative, then that would seem to be his problem, not mine.”

Steve: Aside from Ben’s dissembling, his hasty retreat from his original insinuation is counterproductive. If he doesn’t have a problem with popular works, then he should have no problem with Schreiner’s “popular” monograph–as he chose to classify it.

I never said I had a problem with it (as mentioned above).  I only mentioned that it was the only support he could find for his view (a view which Steve may have adopted exclusively from reading that single work).

“However, I do not think it is irrelevant to mention that Schreiner’s work is not a commentary, since commentaries are typically less biased and are more concerned with exegesis than upholding or dismantling a particular theological systematic. Schreiner’s work, on the other hand, is specifically focused on defending the Calvinistic view of inevitable perseverance.”

Steve: i) Really? And are we to suppose that Ben Witherington’s commentary on Romans–to take one example–doesn’t have a theological agenda?

It may.  But it is not a work specifically focused on promoting a certain soteriological position.  And if we want to say that Witherington’s work has a theological agenda, then we should assume the same of the Calvinist commentaries I quoted (despite the fact that I said commentaries are usually less biased and not as concerned with defending certain theological systematics), yet none of them agreed with Steve concerning 1 Cor. 10:13!  It is also fair to conclude that commentaries focused on a specific book of the Bible and its entire context from beginning to end, might serve as a better guide than a book (or “monograph”) drawing on various verses from Scripture in order to support a particular controversial doctrine.

Steve: ii) It’s also a false dichotomy to drive a wedge between exegesis and defending a particular position. For example, monographs are also written to uphold the deity of Christ against unitarian cults. Does Ben think their exegesis is inferior to the exegesis of a Jehovah’s Witness?

I never tried to drive any such “wedge”.  Monographs can have both solid and strained exegesis.  They can contain unbiased exegesis as well as biased.  They can allow the text to dictate their theology, and they can allow their theology to wrongly dictate their exegesis (just as Steve is doing with 1 Cor. 10:13).  By the way, you won’t find any extensive “exegesis” of 1 Cor. 10:13 in Schreiner’s work.  You will only find some assertions and a footnote referencing someone else’s work that they found “helpful”.  You will not find any detailed analysis of the text or Paul’s specific use of language (just as you won’t find any of that in Steve’s posts to date).

“My point was simply to identify these works and their purposes along with the fact that Steve’s post was totally dependent on quotes from these two works.”

Steve: His point was simply to marginalize the material I cited. It’s a standard tactic: if you can’t address the material on its merits, you try to marginalize the material.

Well, Steve is simply wrong about this and should apologize for trying to paint me as deceptive (just as he tried to paint me a fool in his initial response).  I addressed both of his sources.  I addressed Schreiner and Caneday with my own exegesis of the passage, and I addressed Fitzmyer by pointing out the fact that he agreed with me against Steve.

“One essentially agreed with my exegesis against Steve, and the other did not.”

Steve: Ben keeps reiterating his misrepresentation of Fitzmyer–even after he’s been corrected–in the hopes that a repeated falsehood will efface the truth.

I repeat it because it is true (as shown above), and I will continue to point it out if necessary.  Steve hasn’t “corrected” me on anything since he has merely asserted that Fitzmyer agrees with him, without showing how the comments I highlighted can possibly comport with his claim (and of course there is that thorny issue again of Fitzmyer not concluding with Steve that “no temptation” in 1 Cor. 10:13 has specific reference to the exclusive temptation to deny the faith, nor does he suggest [in any way] that the believer cannot fail to take the “way of escape” provided by God).

“Based on these two sources (one, really), Steve concluded that my exegesis was out of harmony with the context.”

Steve: No, I merely cited two standard works to illustrate my point.

Actually, those works (“work”, really) amounted to his point.

“Yet, Steve did not spend any time interacting with the context himself. He just quoted two sources and assumed that everyone would see these sources as conclusive on the matter.”

Steve: The level of my response was calibrated to the level of his original argument–such as it was. If he gives more detail, I can give more detail.

My initial post didn’t quote a single commentary.  It didn’t quote anybody at all.  It contained some personal exegesis, but did not draw on any other sources.  How then did Steve reply in kind by arguing from two quotes, and not spending any time interacting with the passage itself?  Maybe he needs to re-check his calibrations?  I later gave more detail and it was met with more quotes and just as little actual interaction with the text on Steve’s part as in his first response.

“My response was an attempt to actually do some detail work.”

Steve: Yes, he offered a detailed fallacious argument in follow-up to his simple fallacious argument.

What did Steve call this earlier?  Rhetorical posturing?  Perhaps we should just call this more “nuh uh” rhetoric.

“I further pointed out Steve’s double standard in not abiding by the rules of ‘detail work’ that he imposed on me (i.e. reading things into the passage that are not there, etc.).”

Steve: In Ben’s odd little mind, he imagines that if a person quote a sentence or two from a one or two sources, then that’s all he has at his disposal. Needless to say, both Schreiner and Fitzmyer say much more on the subject than what I quoted for illustrative purposes.

In order for those quotes to be for “illustrative purposes” they would need to illustrate a contextual or exegetical argument that Steve was already making.  Since Steve spent no time personally interacting with the passage or context, his sources were his argument, rather than illustrating his argument.  You can’t support your case with other sources if you haven’t built any case to support.

If Steve has more at his disposal, he is sure taking his time revealing it.  As far as Fitzmyer and Schreiner having much more to say, I have read both sources, and have found nothing more substantive than what Steve has already cited as supposed support for his strained interpretation.

Furthermore, the above quote had reference to the fact that Steve read the concept of inevitable perseverance into 1 Cor. 10:13, by asserting that the believer will always take the way of escape provided by God (which is nowhere to be found in the text).

By the way, should we categorize Steve’s reference to my “odd little mind” as more “rhetorical posturing” or a calculated insult?

“If my ‘evidence box’ and ‘warehouse’ were ‘empty’, then the same must be said of Calvin, Morris, Bruce, Thiselton, Blomberg, Barrett, and others.”

Steve: Ben is standing in front door of an empty warehouse, shouting into a microphone to stall for time while he gets someone to go around to the service entrance in the rear and hustle a few empty packages in the warehouse so that when the inspectors come back, he can then exclaim that the warehouse always had a few packages in storage.

Talk about rhetorical posturing!  Also, notice how his rhetoric here completely avoids dealing with the substance of my point in the above quote.

“I wasn’t trying to create a battle of commentaries or pit scholars against one another. Nor was I rating some scholars (like Schreiner) as less important than others.”

Steve: I’m sure he wasn’t–since Ben is too shortsighted to anticipate the countermoves. Some commentaries are obviously more important than others for ascertaining the sense of a particular verse or passage.. That’s because some commentaries are more detailed or up-to-date than others. If you’re serious about the exegetical literature, you turn to the best available commentaries and monographs–and not just whatever you can lay your hands on, regardless of how dated or skimpy the coverage is. Ben is trying to make up for in quantity what he lacks in quality.

It can actually be quite helpful to cite dated material for the purpose of demonstrating that a certain interpretation has strong historical precedent.  Is Steve trying to “prejudice” my readers by calling several of the commentaries I cited “dated or skimpy”.  Perhaps Steve is just trying to say that the only sources worth anything are those that agree with him (in this case the single source of Schreiner’s “monograph”).  Notice again that Steve just can’t help throwing in another insult in order to make his point sound more impressive (calling me “too shortsighted to anticipate the countermoves”).  Notice also that Steve seems to see this as some sort of chess match, the aim of which is simply to come out the “winner” rather than discovering divine truth by giving an honest and detailed treatment of the text in question.

Steve: Does he seriously think a Puritan commentary is the best resource to ascertain the meaning of 1 Cor 10:13?

Not at all.  I think anything written by Puritans is nothing but poorly argued garbage.  This would, of course, include anything by Owen or Edwards.  And I wonder if Steve would ask the same question if this old, worthless Puritan work had happened to agree with his extremely marginal interpretation? [for the sake of those who may get the wrong impression here, the second sentence was tongue in cheek- mostly anyway]

“I never would have mentioned a single commentary if Steve hadn’t first criticized my post based solely on two quotes. He can go on and on about what he had in ‘reserve’, but the fact remains that his post was all about those two quotes, and lacked any effort on Steve’s part in supporting his argument, or showing mine untenable, through a careful examination of the text.”

Steve:  As I said before, I answered Ben on his own level. That’s how it works. You say something, I respond in kind. You say something, I respond in kind. My response is calibrated to the level of your statement.

And I already showed that he didn’t “respond in kind” since I never quoted a single source in the post he initially criticized.

“In short, it would be an understatement to say that Steve had taken what was at best a minority view, and then painted me the fool for not agreeing with it.”

Steve: In short, it would be an understatement to say that Ben is doing a patch-up job to salvage the inadequacy of his initial foray.

More rhetorical posturing.  It never seems to get old.  It is a real challenge to respond seriously to responses of such caliber.

“All of this about different commentaries and reading more into ‘popular’ than was intended, amounts to little more than a red-herring that diverts attention away from the fact that he has still not managed to conjure up any substantial support for his strained interpretation.”

Steve:  All of this is about Ben’s attempt to win in the post-game recap what he lost on the field. So, before he ever gets around to his reply to my latest post, he treats the reader to his slanted, self-serving version of previous exchanges.

And still more rhetorical posturing.  Rather than address my point, Steve seems to try to claim victory with a colorful and inaccurate analogy.  Anyone could follow the hyper-links I provided for every single post between us, to see if I was slanting things.  On the other hand, Steve provides no hyper links in his posts.  He provides a link that must be cut and pasted into a search engine.  I mentioned to him in the meta of one of his responses that I thought this tended to discourage people from following the provided link to the primary source, and asked him if he could include hyper-links in future posts (especially since it is so easy to do).  That comment was completely ignored.

“The bulk of Steve’s response is concerned with finally emptying the great ‘reserve’ of information that supposedly supports his initial claims; but all Steve can produce are several comments by various commentators which mention the background of idolatry and apostasy in several of Paul’s OT allusions in verses 5-12.”

Steve: Which is the necessary lead up to what Paul is referring to in v13. Idolatry, apostasy, and the connection between the two–over against which is God’s promise to the believer.

Steve needs to provide more than just a “lead up”, and I have already demonstrated why such a lead up does nothing to secure his interpretation or refute my own.   I can’t help but wonder if Steve’s “lead up” will actually ever lead to anything.

“This is apparently true of the sources Steve now makes use of, since he did not produce a single quote that agreed with him on 1 Cor. 10:13.”

Steve: Ben can’t follow his own argument. I already quoted two scholars on v13. But he accused me of taking the verse out of context. Therefore, what I did in response was to cite some of the supporting material. Putting the verse in context.

Correction: one scholar (two if you count coauthor, Caneday).  The context doesn’t argue against my interpretation as I pointed out in my other posts, but rather supports it, nor does the context lead to the conclusions Steve wants us to accept concerning 1 Cor. 10:13, even if Steve’s narrow view of the surrounding context were completely granted.

“Steve would have saved himself considerable time and effort by just reading what I had written in my last post. Nothing he has produced is contrary to what I have said above. In fact, it seems that all of his sources would be in basic agreement with me.”

Steve: What they agree with is the context of v13, which has reference to idolatrous apostasy–and that, in turn, supplies the background for God’s promise to the believer.

Idolatry and apostasy provides some of the background, but certainly not all of it, since the context does not have sole reference to either (nor do Steve’s sources take such a narrow view of the context, and they certainly don’t agree with any of Steve’s conclusions concerning 1 Cor. 10:13).   In fact, any mention of apostasy is mostly indirect even in his quoted sources (and only one quote directly mentions “apostasy” at all).  For example, Garland references Ps. 106 as the best place to gain background on the “litany of Israel’s sins”.  If one reads Psalm 106, he will discover that far more is mentioned besides idolatry or apostasy.  For example, they “craved intensely” in the wilderness (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6 which sets up the entire discussion of Israel’s sins and resultant judgment in 1 Cor. 10: 6-12).  This “craving”, in Psalm 106, is the result of “forgetting [God’s] works” and not waiting for God’s counsel (hardly what we would call acts of apostasy).

He later quotes Fitzmyer in support of his “idolatry must equal apostasy” interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:6-12 (emphasis mine),

Paul warns the Corinthians about the danger of idol worship…Paul now alludes to Exod 32:1-6…Aaron consented and took their gold rings to fashion them into a molten calf…This was the classic incident in the Exodus from Egypt when the grumbling Israelites became idolaters. Their grumbling and craving had led even to such idolatry. To emphasize the seriousness of such craving Paul quotes the OT verse about idolatry, which is the only explicit OT quotation in this passage, J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians, 385.

Notice how Fitzmyer does not equate grumbling and craving with idolatry, but instead said such grumbling and craving “led” to “such idolatry” (notice also that he refers to them as “grumbling Israelites” prior to their initial act of idolatry, i.e. “the grumbling Israelites became idolaters”).  Furthermore, Fitzmyer tells us that Paul’s OT quotes are meant to underscore “the seriousness of such craving”.  So instead of supporting Steve’s claim that the passage is only concerned with idolatrous apostasy, Fitzmyer sees Paul’s allusions as going beyond just idolatry, but including those sinful things that may simply lead to idolatry (even such grave idolatry as that committed by Israel in the golden calf episode).   This is far more in line with my interpretation than Steve’s (see below), and again, one cannot overlook the fact that despite Steve’s claims that the views expressed by Fitzmyer and Garland must lead to Steve’s conclusions concerning 1 Cor. 10:13., neither Fitzmyer or Garland agree with Steve’s conclusions concerning 1 Cor. 10:13! (By the way, I would counsel anyone who finds Steve’s quotes convincing to read them in their full context).

Garland also speaks of “grumbling” in a similar way, a way that does not necessarily constitute idolatry or apostasy,

The image of grumbling characterizes the whole wilderness experience of Israel (Num. 14:36; 16:41, 49; 17:5, 10) but is particularly associated with putting God to the test (Exod. 17:2-3). Their grumbling about food kindled God’s anger against them (Num. 11:1; 14:2-4). (463).

“Paul perhaps singles out ‘grumbling’ because the Corinthians have been guilty of murmuring against him (so Robertson and Plummer 1914: 206; Moffatt 1938: 132; Oster 1995: 235), particularly because of his hard-line stance against their participation in idol feasts (Fee 1987: 457). As Moses protested the people’s idolatry, so Paul has protested the Corinthians’ participation in sacrificial meals. As the people of Israel grumbled against the leader appointed by God, so also Paul insinuates that the Corinthians are no less guilty of rebelliously grumbling against him and refusing to listen to his counsel.” (464).

Notice that, just like Fitzmyer, Garland sees the “grumbling” as starting prior to any acts of idolatry on Israel’s part.

It is important to remember that Steve made the claim that the idolatry in the context of 1 Cor. 10 must be understood as limited to that idolatry which constitutes apostasy (final denial of the faith).  His quotes and sources certainly do not establish that claim.  It is also very important to ask why Paul is writing this to the Corinthians.  Was he just trying to safeguard them from getting involved with idolatry, or was he addressing a problem that was already present (there involvement in idolatrous practices, cf. verses 14-29)?  I mentioned this in my first post, and Steve ignored it (perhaps I should claim victory based on his avoidance here?),

As noted above, Paul’s admonition to flee idolatry leads him into the next section where he again focuses on specific temptations facing the Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. In these verses we see Paul speaking of idolatry in such a way that it does not have reference to repudiation of faith or out-right apostasy.  Paul is both warning the Corinthians to avoid idolatry as well as calling on those who may already be involved in such idolatry to repent, take the way of escape provided by God, and flee from idolatry in the future.

If he was addressing their present involvement in idolatry at all (and surely he was), then are we to conclude that Paul saw them as a bunch of apostates without hope?  Not at all.  Paul is steering them towards repentance.  But if Paul saw them as involved in idolatry as typified by some of his examples in verses 5-12, and yet did not consider them apostates, then Steve’s interpretation is proven entirely false.

There simply is no necessary correlation between idolatry and apostasy in the context of 1 Cor. 10:13, despite Steve’s claims.  The context has to do with various degrees of rebellion against God which can take many forms (and one could consider just about any sin as a type of rebellion).  It can be the rebellion of craving things beyond what God has provided. It can be the rebellion of complaining about present situations, or grumbling against God in doubts or frustration (or against those God has called us to serve and obey).  It can also be the rebellion of idolatrous acts of various degrees, even to the degree of apostasy.  But nothing in the context forces us to limit any and all of these types of rebellion to the exclusive rebellion of finally denying the faith.

“Steve seemed to primarily rely on Schreiner and Caneday as a credible source…since he was not able to produce a single source (outside of Schreiner and Caneday).”

Steve: “Caneday”? Apparently the only way that Ben can document his claims is to invent fictitious scholars like “Caneday.” Is Caneday related to the Gingerbread Man? Do they live in a Sugarcane mansion?

This response, even if accurate, would alone be extremely childish.  When we add to this the fact that the only source Steve can so far find that agrees with him on 1 Cor. 10:13, The Race Set Before Us, was coauthored by Ardel B. Caneday, Professor of New Testament Studies & Biblical Theology, Northwestern College, Saint Paul, Minnesota, it should be down right embarrassing for him.

Maybe Steve just thought I had misspelled his name and jumped on that as another opportunity to engage in rhetorical posturing and paint me as an idiot, but sure enough, it is spelled C-a-n-e-d-a-y, just as I spelled it above.  I think this serves to further illustrate Steve’s apparent lack of focus in reading other people’s material, as well as the lengths he will go to in order to ridicule and mock those who disagree with him.  Maybe Steve should write an apology to Ardel B. Caneday for calling him fictitious, suggesting he is related to the Gingerbread man, and giving him zero credit for coauthoring the only source he can find to support his position.  Steve’s comments here further highlight the reasons why I will be halting any further interactions with him.

“These are specific sins and none of them necessarily constitutes apostasy. If Paul was speaking only of apostasy here, then he sure went about it in a strange way. We would have to conclude that whenever we ‘grumble’ or ‘complain’ or ‘try the Lord’ or ‘crave evil things’, that we have denied the faith to the point of final apostasy.”

Steve: I quoted from the expositions of Fitzmyer and Garland to document what these sins had reference to in their OT historical setting. Ben blows right past the contextual definitions and redefines them to suits his purposes. That isn’t exegesis. That is acting in defiance of exegesis.

It may be acting in defiance of Steve’s sources (or at least how he wrongly interprets those sources, as we already showed above), but that is a far cry from “acting in defiance of exegesis.”  Maybe Steve correlates exegesis with reading commentaries.  That would mean that no one can exegete a passage without reading a commentary (especially those commentaries that Steve thinks are particularly important)!  If I never read a commentary, does that mean I can’t draw intended meaning from a particular text?  I did exegesis based on the context and specific language being used.  Here is the context of the above quote that Steve decided to “blow past”,

The problem for Steve is that Paul is quite obviously doing more than just painting a broad picture of apostasy with several specific allusions, for the sake of warning the Corinthians against the danger of apostasy alone.  This is clear because Paul addresses each specific OT allusion to the Corinthians’ present situation as individual temptations that they might face and must overcome.  For example,

Do not be idolaters, as some of them were…nor…act immorally, as some of them did…nor…try the Lord [e.g. by complaining, cf. Numb. 21:4-7], as some of them did…Nor, grumble, as some of them did…

What is especially interesting is that Fitzmyer says essentially the same thing in his commentary,

No matter which interpretation of “ends” is preferred, Paul’s implication is that such events about our “ancestors” have been recorded in the OT for the instruction of Christians, to admonish them in every age about God’s reaction to human complaints, rebellion, testing, and probing. (388 emphasis mine)

[Notice he doesn’t say “God’s reaction to apostasy”]

“Paul does not give general references to apostasy on a whole and then apply that principle to the Corinthians. Rather, he takes pain to apply each sin directly to their present situation and the various like sins (those common to man) they might be tempted to commit.”

Steve: He cites specific historical precedents to illustrate a common motif.

Wrong, as shown above (unless the motif Steve refers to is a motif of various forms of rebellion and sinning against God).

“It is likely, though, that Paul intends for them to keep in the back of their minds that continually giving in to such temptations can eventually lead to the terrible consequence of drifting from God to the point of final apostasy.”

That’s a conclusion without a supporting argument.

The argument is in the context as I have explained it in my posts.  And if you really want to see a conclusion without a supporting argument, just read Schreiner’s section on 1 Cor.10:13 (as mentioned earlier).

“Notice Paul doesn’t say that this person commits apostasy. Rather, Paul says that in such an act the weak believer’s conscience is ‘defiled’. A defiled conscience is a far cry from a final and deliberate act of apostasy.”

Steve: In this verse, the weaker brother isn’t committing idolatry. (See below.)

Wrong (see below).

“Notice Paul doesn’t say that this person commits apostasy.”

Steve: Notice Paul doesn’t say this person commits idolatry.

A simple quote should be sufficient to refute that claim,

“Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as being sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak [i.e. they cannot help but to view this as an act of honoring a deity other than Yahweh], it is defiled.” (1 Cor. 8:7)

“Rather, Paul says that in such an act the weak believer’s conscience is ‘defiled’. A defiled conscience is a far cry from a final and deliberate act of apostasy.”

Steve: Irrelevant. Paul is dealing with a variety of scenarios. One scenario isn’t interchangeable with another. In chap. 8, he’s not dealing with actual idolatry, but imagined idolatry.

Where is the “supporting argument”?  Where does the text say it is “imagined” idolatry?  If a person views the act as idolatry, then for him it is certainly idolatry.  Does Steve mean that it is not real idolatry because Paul says that an idol is really nothing, since there is only one true God?  That would mean that God condemned Israel (and Judah) and judged them severely by the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions for “imagined” idolatry, since those idols weren’t real gods after all.  The point is that the weaker believer doesn’t yet have this knowledge that the idols represent nothing at all (cf. verse 7, “not everyone has this knowledge”), and therefore defiles his conscience by eating meat sacrificed to these idols.   If Steve is trying to suggest that the weak believer doesn’t realize it is idolatry, then there is no reason for such an act to defile his conscience or “ruin” him in anyway (see below).

“This is very problematic for Steve’s position, but fully supports my own. Paul says that the weak believer, who eats as a result of the stronger believer’s example, is ‘ruined’. The KJV says that the weak brother will ‘perish’, and the NIV says that the weak brother will be ‘destroyed’. All of these sound pretty serious. Perhaps Steve would jump on this as supporting his case that such an act constitutes apostasy. But if this is apostasy being described, then Paul plainly tells us that a true believer ‘for whose sake Christ died’ can be ‘destroyed’ by an act of idolatry spurred on by the actions of a stronger believer. Steve, of course, denies that any believer for whom Christ died can ever be destroyed, and so would think twice in seeing this as an act of final apostasy. But if he does not see it as apostasy, then his position crumbles, for here would be an example of a believer committing idolatry in a similar manner as Paul describes in chapter 10 (even in the same context of food sacrificed to idols), and yet that idolatry not constituting apostasy.”

Steve: Multiple problems with this claim:

i) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this refers to eschatological judgment, the damnatory deed is not idolatry, but acting in violation of one’s conscience.

So if a believer ever violates his conscience he is damned as a result?  There’s Steve’s insecurity again!

Steve: ii) One needn’t to be a Calvinist to reject the eschatological interpretation. For example, in commenting on the parallel passage in Rom 14:15, one scholar says:

“Paul uses the powerful verb apollumi in the present imperative, which implies an ongoing process rather than once and for all ‘being lost before God.’…Horst Baltz is therefore closer to the nuances required by this context in suggesting the translation of lupeo in this verse as ‘injured/deeply troubled,’ which implies an ongoing state…That ‘that’ person is ‘being destroyed ’is clearly a ‘metaphorical’ use of the word, but it does not imply the temptation to apostasy except in a secondary sense…References in the commentaries to ‘eschatological ruin’ or ‘spiritual ruin’ not only overlook the tense of the verb but also provide scant explanation of the effects of conscience violation,” R. Jewett, Romans, 861-62.

The use of the verb tense by Paul does not negate my interpretation.  The idea of progressive ruin or destruction supports my view quite nicely.  Even eschatological ruin can be seen as an ongoing state, or this could be seen as progressive “ruin” that culminates in eschatological ruin.  As they continue to defile their conscience, they are in the process of perishing (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18).  This is basically what I said in my last post,

Another solution would be to see the passage in a similar way as I suggested we see the passages in 1 Cor. 10.  We could see Paul warning first of a resultant sin that does not constitute apostasy, while bringing to the forefront the possibility that such a sin, as a result of the weak believer being emboldened to continue in it, may indeed eventually lead to the final destruction of the believer in question.  As the emboldened “weak” believer re-engages those idolatrous practices that he had once been accustomed to, he will likely be led further and further away from God (his conscience being more and more defiled, hence becoming less and less sensitive to the Spirit’s conviction).  The end result may very well be apostasy.  So Paul warns of the immediate consequences of such sin (a defiled conscience), and looks ahead to the possible future consequences of such sins if continually practiced to the point of falling away (“destruction”).

Since Steve sees Garland as a credible source, it might serve us well to see what he has to say on the matter,

The verb apollytai (apollytai, led to ruin, perish [middle voice]) is placed first in the clause for emphasis. It connotes utter ruin, destruction, and annihilation; but some interpreters reject this extreme meaning and soften it to mean moral ruin from a lapse into paganism (D. Black 1984: 122). They interpret it to mean that the person is led to sin (Grosheide 1953: 197) or is stunted in the Christian life (Bruce 1971: 82). But Paul always uses the verb apollysthai (apollysthai) to refer to eternal, final destruction (Barrett 1968: 196; Conzelmann 1975: 149 n. 38; Fee 1987: 387-88; Schrage 1995: 265; Cheung 1999: 129). If salvation means that God has ‘rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Col. 1:13), then returning to idolatry and the regime of darkness means eternal ruin. He fears that the individual will rejoin the ranks of the perishing (1 Cor 1:18; 10:9-10; 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3). [some actual Greek font replaced by transliteration] (389)

A few important things to notice here: First, the significant point of the uniform Pauline usage of apollysthai as a reference to “eternal final destruction”.  That presents a considerable challenge to any interpreter who wants to try to soften the use of the word here.  Generally, the only ones who are willing to soften the word here do so in an effort to uphold their Calvinist doctrine (i.e. the argument for suggesting the word is being used in a way that is contrary to uniform Pauline usage, is based not on context, but on the belief in inevitable perseverance).  Second, Garland clearly sees this as a genuine act of idolatry (rather than an imagined or unintentional act as Steve is trying to argue for), which can culminate in “rejoin[ing] the ranks of the perishing”. 

Steve: iii) Even if we accept the eschatological interpretation, a warning merely states the ultimate consequences of an action; it says nothing about the probability that such a warning will be violated. Indeed, a basic function of a warning is to serve as a disincentive to all such actions.

Unless the probability of violating the warning is zero (i.e. impossible).  In that case there is no reason to give the warning in the first place since the consequences cannot possibly be realized.  For more on this see here.

To suggest that the warnings are a means by which God guarantees the perseverance of the saints (i.e. God makes sure that the “elect” will always heed the warnings), is not a conclusion based on exegesis (since the Bible nowhere makes such a claim), but an assumption that is read into such warnings for the sake of preserving the P in TULIP.

Steve: iv) The Reformed doctrine of the atonement isn’t based on verses which simply state that Christ died for X. Rather, it involves verses which describe penal substitution.

Which, if true, only serves to further illustrate how problematic Reformed doctrine is, since one is then forced to see Christ dying for the non-elect for a purpose other than their salvation (something the Bible nowhere suggests).  Furthermore, this illustrates that Calvinists, unlike Arminians, do not formulate their views on the extent of the atonement based on those passages which speak directly to the scope of atonement (e.g. the universal language of John 3:16-18, 36; 1 Tim. 2:1-6; 4:10; Hebrews 2:9, etc.).

“Truly, he is on the horns of a dilemma here. Either deny that such a case of idolatry necessarily constitutes apostasy (contrary to his prior claims), or affirm that one for whom Christ died can be ‘destroyed’ (contrary to his Calvinistic belief in limited atonement and inevitable perseverance).”

Steve: False dilemma. Idolatry involves idolatrous intent. Not simply eating meat which happens to be dedicated to an idol–by someone else. But eating such meat with the express intention of honoring the deity to whom it was dedicated.

Paul, himself, goes out of his way to accentuate the importance of intent to distinguish true idolatry from incidental appearances.

This is an interesting claim, but without any “supporting argument”.  Nowhere in the passage does Paul say the weak believer’s actions are unintentional.  The only actions that might be classified as unintentional are the actions of the strong believer, whose conscience, as a result, remains clear (with respect to idolatry), rather than being “defiled” as is the case with the weak believer.  The weak believer is defiled because he sees the act as honoring another god, and is emboldened to participate in what he perceives to be the honoring of that false god by the actions of the stronger believer (again, because he does not share the knowledge that the idols are really nothing, but sees them as real and therefore willingly engages in honoring a god other than the true God by eating the meat).  Therefore, any distinction between intentional or unintentional acts of idolatry that might be drawn from the text work against Steve’s claim, rather than support it.  So, despite his best effort, Steve has still not managed to wriggle free from the horns of the dilemma his position has created for him.

I am going to cut it short here since this post is already ridiculously long, and the exegetical material has been dealt with.  All that follows in Steve’s post is re-assertions of claims what have already been refuted, more unnecessary instances of “rhetorical posturing”, and widening of the discussion into areas of perseverance and foreknowledge that go beyond the strict exegesis of the text in question.   My original aim was to address every single comment made by Steve in his post (since he claimed I was guilty of purposeful avoidance in my last post and tried to claim victory as a result).  This post, however, is already around 20 pages long, and if it grows any longer it may discourage anyone from reading it at all.  I would rather leave some issues unaddressed in this post (though all of the issue Steve raises have already been addressed in other posts I have written, or by other Arminians whose material has been linked to in the side bars of my site), than to risk the possibility that some people won’t bother to read it at all based on its sheer volume.

I am confident that any unbiased reader will readily see that further correspondence with Steve is unlikely to bear useful fruit.  After all of these exchanges Steve has still not met the burden of proof he imposed on himself in his initial critique, nor has he even demonstrated that his position is very reasonable at all.  He has also proved that he has difficulty reading and understanding the material of others (Fitzmyer, the commenter in my meta, etc.), and tends to jump to unwarranted conclusions concerning such writings in order to muster some semblance of support for his extremely marginal interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:13.  Apparently, he has even mocked me for “inventing a fictitious scholar” who is actually the coauthor of the single source he can find that agrees with him on 1 Cor. 10:13.   That doesn’t speak well for Steve’s focus, attention to detail, or basic reading skills.  Steve has also engaged in what can only be classified as intentional mockery and ridicule, unbefitting of a man of God who desires to be the teacher of others (e.g. such references to my “odd little mind” and “silly little mind”, etc. [the latter insult is found in the last portion of Steve's response that I do not address in this post]).

It needs to be mentioned that if Steve’s claims are accepted, then he has essentially robbed us of one of the most precious promises that Scripture offers.  His claims concerning 1 Cor. 10:13 would lead to the conclusion that no Christian can rely on God’s faithfulness in providing a way of escape whenever they are tempted to sin.  Rather, the believer can only rest in the reality that temptation may often overcome us in such a way that we were entirely powerless to resist.  If we fall to any temptation to sin (except of course the particular final sin of apostasy), we can truly say that we couldn’t help ourselves, and sinned of divine necessity based on the irresistible and irrevocable eternal decree of God.  This is a terrible price to pay, in revoking such an important promise of God to believers, for the sake of preserving exhaustive determinism.  But thanks be to God, contrary to Steve’s claims and Calvinistic presuppositions, no temptation we face is irresistible, according to the promise of 1 Cor. 10:13.

If anyone thinks that there is a specific claim that Steve makes in his post that needs to be addressed, feel free to let me know in the combox (I mention this in anticipation that Steve might try to make another empty claim of victory, based on the fact that I didn’t address the last few pages of his response).  I will address it there (when I get the chance), address it in a later post, or refer you to resources that address it from an Arminian perspective (though I will not be engaging in any more back and forth discussions with Steve for the reasons already mentioned).   I want to sincerely thank anyone who has taken the time to follow this exchange and carefully consider our respective arguments.  I am content, at this point, to leave the matter up to the reader  in deciding who has been more honest with the text in interpreting 1 Cor. 10:13.

Revisting 1 Cor. 10:13

Reviewing the Disagreement

I was going to respond to Steve’s second response point by point and exchange rhetorical blows with him along the way, but I think such a response would only serve to distract us from the main contentions at issue here.  For that reason, it is important to review what this discussion is all about.  I initially cited 1 Cor. 10:13 as a text which is incompatible with determinism.  Some Calvinist was apparently troubled by the passage and the implications I drew from it, and asked prominent internet Calvinist Steve Hays to address it.  Steve was happy to oblige and wrote his first post criticizing my use of the passage.

In this post Steve charged that I was very wrong to conclude that Paul was speaking about the God given ability to escape sin whenever we are tempted.  Instead, Steve forcefully asserted that the temptation in view was only the specific temptation to deny the faith (commit apostasy).  Further, he asserted that Paul was actually making a guarantee that believers will never commit apostasy.  Steve seemed to primarily rely on Schreiner and Caneday as a credible source, apparently taking the verse in the same way as Steve.  Steve also cited a commentary by Fitzmyer, which I pointed out actually agreed with my view against his own.

In my response, I pointed out that Steve had really painted himself into a tight spot in insisting (with some very strong rhetoric) that his interpretation was obviously correct, and that I had essentially embarrassed myself by suggesting that Paul intended to include any and all temptations that the believer might face when he relayed the divine promise that,

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:13)

Remember, according to Steve, Paul is speaking only of the single temptation to deny the faith, and actually guaranteeing that no believer will ever fall to such a temptation.  It is actually a proof text for the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable (guaranteed) perseverance of all believers.  This, he claimed, is the only possible way this passage can be understood.

I countered by showing that Paul references numerous sins in the surrounding context and that Steve’s narrow view seems obviously forced in light of Paul’s specific use of language in 1 Cor. 10:13.  Since Steve seemed to suggest that my interpretation was so obviously wrong, and since Steve seemed to build his entire case on two sources (one which ultimately did not even agree with him), I concluded my response by citing numerous commentators that agreed with my interpretation against Steve’s (several of them written by Calvinists, including John Calvin himself).

Steve has raised the bar very high in suggesting the passages can only be understood to be addressing the “temptation” of finally denying the faith, and for that reason needs to produce a tremendous amount of compelling evidence in order to lend any credibility to that claim.  After reading his last post, I can’t imagine how Steve would think he has offered sufficient evidence to prove my view untenable while establishing his own view as the only plausible interpretation.  Rather, he has only succeeded in clouding the issue and diverting attention away from his monumental task of proving, from the text, that Paul is speaking solely of the temptation to deny the faith in 1 Cor. 10:13, while actually guaranteeing that no believer ever will fall to that specific temptation.

Dismissing Schreiner and Caneday?

Steve spends a significant portion of his post complaining that I have dismissed the only book that gave him any support for his unusual interpretation of the passage.  He writes,

iii) It’s very ironic to see Ben dismiss one of my sources on the grounds that this is a “popular” work which doesn’t qualify as a detailed analysis.

a) On the one hand, Schreiner’s book is a 337-page monograph (plus index) on the specific issue of apostasy and perseverance.

b) On the other hand, Ben feels free to quote from a number of popular-level commentaries on 1 Corinthians, e.g. Blomberg, Bruce, Calvin, Henry, Mare, Morris, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown.

He only quotes from two scholarly commentaries on 1 Cor (Barrett, Thiselton). Witherington’s commentary is a mid-level commentary.

c) And since he brings it up, how should we rank commentaries on 1 Corinthians? At present, the major commentaries on 1 Cor are by Fitzmyer, Garland, and Thiselton. Fee’s commentary is still an important commentary, but it’s been overtaken by later commentaries.

This is all very interesting, but completely misguided.  I never dismissed Steve’s quotes.  I mentioned that one agreed with me and one did not.  I clarified that one was a commentary, and one was not.  That’s it.  When I said that Schreiner’s work was “popular” I did not mean to suggest that it was worthless or should be discounted.  I only meant that it is popular.  If Steve sees that as a negative, then that would seem to be his problem, not mine.  Maybe he thinks “popular” necessarily means “less than scholarly”.   That is not entirely unreasonable, but it is hardly a necessary implication from simply calling a work “popular”. I never intended to convey that it was less than scholarly, nor did I say anything that should have lead Hays to that conclusion.

However, I do not think it is irrelevant to mention that Schreiner’s work is not a commentary, since commentaries are typically less biased and are more concerned with exegesis than upholding or dismantling a particular theological systematic.  Schreiner’s work, on the other hand, is specifically focused on defending the Calvinistic view of inevitable perseverance.  That doesn’t mean it is worthless, poorly argued, or irrelevant, and I never suggested it should be considered as such.

My point was simply to identify these works and their purposes along with the fact that Steve’s post was totally dependent on quotes from these two works.  One essentially agreed with my exegesis against Steve, and the other did not.  Based on these two sources (one, really), Steve concluded that my exegesis was out of harmony with the context.  Yet, Steve did not spend any time interacting with the context himself.  He just quoted two sources and assumed that everyone would see these sources as conclusive on the matter.  This was so to such an extent that Steve was emboldened to say my conclusions regarding the passage amounted to “empty…gesticulating”.  He insisted that I had things completely backwards.   Based on what?  Two quoted sources (and only one that actually supported him).  And this he called doing the “detail work”.

My response was an attempt to actually do some detail work.   I spent time with the entire chapter and explained why I thought my conclusions were in harmony with solid exegesis, while Steve’s were not.  I further pointed out Steve’s double standard in not abiding by the rules of “detail work” that he imposed on me (i.e. reading things into the passage that are not there, etc.).   The quotes on commentaries at the end were simply to show that, despite Steve’s bold assertions concerning the meaning of the text, there were plenty of commentators and scholars that agreed with my basic understanding of the purpose of the passage, and the meaning of “temptation.”

If my “evidence box” and “warehouse” were “empty”, then the same must be said of Calvin, Morris, Bruce, Thiselton, Blomberg, Barrett, and others.   I wasn’t trying to create a battle of commentaries or pit scholars against one another.  Nor was I rating some scholars (like Schreiner) as less important than others.  I never would have mentioned a single commentary if Steve hadn’t first criticized my post based solely on two quotes.  He can go on and on about what he had in “reserve”, but the fact remains that his post was all about those two quotes, and lacked any effort on Steve’s part in supporting his argument, or showing mine untenable, through a careful examination of the text.  In short, it would be an understatement to say that Steve had taken what was at best a minority view, and then painted me the fool for not agreeing with it.  All of this about different commentaries and reading more into “popular” than was intended, amounts to little more than a red-herring that diverts attention away from the fact that he has still not managed to conjure up any substantial support for his strained interpretation.

An Exercise in Missing the Point

The bulk of Steve’s response is concerned with finally emptying the great “reserve” of information that supposedly supports his initial claims; but all Steve can produce are several comments by various commentators which mention the background of idolatry and apostasy in several of Paul’s OT allusions in verses 5-12.  This is very strange considering the fact that I never denied this was the case.  Probably all of the commentaries I cited in my response to him made similar points.  Despite this, none of them concluded that “No temptation” of 1 Cor. 10:13 had specific reference to the single temptation to deny the faith.  This is apparently true of the sources Steve now makes use of, since he did not produce a single quote that agreed with him on 1 Cor. 10:13, despite all the quotes from various commentaries regarding the background of idolatry and apostasy in verses 5-12.   Perhaps this is for the same reasons I explained in my last post,

[verse 7] plainly speaks of idolatry, but it seems to be speaking of many acts of idolatry and not a single soul destroying act of apostasy.  The OT quote has specific reference to the golden calf episode.  That instance can appropriately be characterized as apostasy on the part of Israel, but Paul seems to be using this verse and verses 5 and 6 in a more general sense.  He is both concerned with idolatry and craving evil things in general, as well as the possibility of apostasy resulting from continually yielding to such temptations.  That is why Paul gives several examples from the Israelites’ desert experience in this section without focusing on one decisive act of rebellion or apostasy. Even so, there is no explicit mention of apostasy in Paul’s reference here (though my view does not need to rule out apostasy altogether, only show that apostasy is not the sole subject being addressed here).

And here,

Verse 9, “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.”

Here we are warned not to “try the Lord”.  Does Steve think that Paul is talking about absolute apostasy and repudiation of faith here?  This is a reference to Numbers 21.  There was no apostasy, only complaining.  Does complaining constitute apostasy now?  Again, Paul is warning the Corinthians of the dangers and consequences of sin in general, and holding the Israelites up as an example to learn from.  Such sin can eventually lead to apostasy, but Paul is addressing more than just the possible end results of habitual sinning in these passages.

And here,

The idea here is that the Corinthians should not think it strange that they are being tempted in various ways.  The Israelites of old were also tempted in various ways.  For this reason, Paul tells them that their temptations are “common to man”.  Those who are living at the present time (cf. verse 11) can expect to face similar testing and temptations as the Israelites in the desert.  They can also expect to receive the same terrible consequences of sin, if they should yield to those various temptations and not heed Paul’s warning to “flee” (literally, “run from”) such potentially dangerous sins as idolatry (verse 14), which Paul will discuss again in verses 16-33.  Paul is also reminding them that the Israelite’s covenant position with God did not afford them protection in disobedience and rebellion (see verses 1-5).  In the same way, the Corinthians should not look on their position in the new covenant as an excuse to take sin lightly and think they will get away with it.  Their present standing with God does not exempt them from judgment or the damaging effects of sin.

And here,

Well, what does “fall” mean?  Does it mean “fall away in irrevocable apostasy”?  The context would suggest otherwise.  Most likely, “fall” has some reference to falling to temptation in general (which can include and lead to apostasy), but primary reference to the severe judgment that results from yielding to temptation  (cf. 10:5, the Israelites being “laid low” in the desert as a result of displeasing God in their sinful behavior).

Steve would have saved himself considerable time and effort by just reading what I had written in my last post.  Nothing he has produced is contrary to what I have said above.  In fact, it seems that all of his sources would be in basic agreement with me, since he was not able to produce a single source (outside of Schreiner and Caneday) that concluded that the “temptation” of 10:13 must be limited to the specific temptation to finally deny the faith.

Re-revisiting Contextual Considerations

The problem for Steve is that Paul is quite obviously doing more than just painting a broad picture of apostasy with several specific allusions, for the sake of warning the Corinthians against the danger of apostasy alone.  This is clear because Paul addresses each specific OT allusion to the Corinthians’ present situation as individual temptations that they might face and must overcome.  For example,

Do not be idolaters, as some of them were…nor…act immorally, as some of them did…nor…try the Lord [e.g. by complaining, cf. Numb. 21:4-7], as some of them did…Nor, grumble, as some of them did…

These are specific sins and none of them necessarily constitutes apostasy.  If Paul was speaking only of apostasy here, then he sure went about it in a strange way.  We would have to conclude that whenever we “grumble” or “complain” or “try the Lord” or “crave evil things”, that we have denied the faith to the point of final apostasy.  Talk about living in insecurity!  Yet, that is exactly what Steve’s interpretation forces on us.  Again, Paul does not give general references to apostasy on a whole and then apply that principle to the Corinthians.  Rather, he takes pain to apply each sin directly to their present situation and the various like sins (those common to man) they might be tempted to commit.

It is likely, though, that Paul intends for them to keep in the back of their minds that continually giving in to such temptations can eventually lead to the terrible consequence of drifting from God to the point of final apostasy.  This is the possible end result that should fill them with fear whenever they are tempted. This is part of the reason why Paul comforts them in 1 Cor. 10:13 concerning the fact that whenever they are tempted, God provides the way of escape, that they might bear it and not move closer to a heart that no longer responds to God in faith.

Broader Contextual Considerations

We can see this same principle in an earlier chapter where Paul first addressed the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols.  In chapter 8, Paul discusses the fact that idols aren’t anything to those believers who recognize that there is but one true God in the world.  He even suggests that, with this knowledge, a believer could eat food sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience and not sin.  However, Paul is quick to warn that such activity could have dire consequences for those who are weaker in the faith,

However not all men have this knowledge; but some being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. (verse 7)

Notice Paul doesn’t say that this person commits apostasy.  Rather, Paul says that in such an act the weak believer’s conscience is “defiled”.  A defiled conscience is a far cry from a final and deliberate act of apostasy.  Paul then goes on to say,

But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.  But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak  For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idols temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?  For by your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. (verses 8-11)

This is very problematic for Steve’s position, but fully supports my own.  Paul says that the weak believer, who eats as a result of the stronger believer’s example, is “ruined”.  The KJV says that the weak brother will “perish”, and the NIV says that the weak brother will be “destroyed”.  All of these sound pretty serious.  Perhaps Steve would jump on this as supporting his case that such an act constitutes apostasy.  But if this is apostasy being described, then Paul plainly tells us that a true believer “for whose sake Christ died” can be “destroyed” by an act of idolatry spurred on by the actions of a stronger believer.  Steve, of course, denies that any believer for whom Christ died can ever be destroyed, and so would think twice in seeing this as an act of final apostasy.  But if he does not see it as apostasy, then his position crumbles, for here would be an example of a believer committing idolatry in a similar manner as Paul describes in chapter 10 (even in the same context of food sacrificed to idols), and yet that idolatry not constituting  apostasy.

Truly, he is on the horns of a dilemma here.  Either deny that such a case of idolatry necessarily constitutes apostasy (contrary to his prior claims), or affirm that one for whom Christ died can be “destroyed” (contrary to his Calvinistic belief in limited atonement and inevitable perseverance).  Maybe Steve will just say that Paul is speaking of impossibilities, since no true believer could ever eat food sacrificed to idols to his own destruction. But then Paul’s dire warning to the stronger believer loses all force.

Another solution would be to see the passage in a similar way as I suggested we see the passages in 1 Cor. 10.  We could see Paul warning first of a resultant sin that does not constitute apostasy, while bringing to the forefront the possibility that such a sin, as a result of the weak believer being emboldened to continue in it, may indeed eventually lead to the final destruction of the believer in question.  As the emboldened “weak” believer re-engages those idolatrous practices that he had once been accustomed to, he will likely be led further and further away from God (his conscience being more and more defiled, hence becoming less and less sensitive to the Spirit’s conviction).  The end result may very well be apostasy.  So Paul warns of the immediate consequences of such sin (a defiled conscience), and looks ahead to the possible future consequences of such sins if continually practiced to the point of falling away (“destruction”).  Paul brings the possible future destruction of the weaker brother to the forefront in order to underscore the seriousness of becoming a “stumbling block” to another believer.

So, quite simply, as I have said before, my view does not have to eliminate apostasy as one of those things that is included in “No temptation”.  Rather, Steve needs to prove that “No temptation” amounts solely to “No temptation to finally deny the faith.”  This, Steve has failed to do. Again, the context of chapter 10 bears out that Paul is making reference to the damaging affects of sin in general (with special attention given to those sins which fall under the category of “idolatry”), and the potential for such sins to damage (even destroy) relationship with God and bring severe judgment.  It is important to notice, though, that in 1 Cor. 10, apostasy is kept more in the background and is not Paul’s immediate concern.  His immediate concern is the various temptations to sin that believers face every day.  Sin is dangerous specifically because it corrodes faith and harms our relationship with God.  Sin can also bring severe judgment from God.  For these reasons we need to take each temptation we face very seriously and remember that whenever we are tempted, God makes it possible for us to avoid falling into sin.

Some Concluding Remarks

Steve hasn’t really added anything new to the conversation.  He has done nothing to substantiate the assertion that “No temptation” in 1 Cor. 10:13 means “No temptation to finally deny the faith”.  He has also done nothing to explain how, according to his interpretation, he came to the conclusion that God irresistibly causes the believer to take the “way of escape” (since he sees the passage as a proof text for inevitable perseverance and a guarantee that no believer will ever commit apostasy).  Neither has Steve demonstrated that the context excludes my interpretation.  Steve concludes his “cross- examination” with the following remarks,

This is what Paul says:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

And this is what Paul would say if he were Arminian:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. Unfortunately, God can’t intervene to stop you from falling. Divine interference would violate the Libertarian Prime Directive. Whether you resist temptation or succumb to temptation depends on your willpower. Good luck!”

First, we need to address Steve’s horrible straw man understanding of the Arminian position regarding the context and limits of human freedom.  The issue has nothing to do with what God “can” and “cannot” do.  It is a matter of what God “will” and “will not” do according to His own sovereign freedom.  God is free to create free agents and hold them accountable for the decisions they make.

Arminians simply maintain that God has endowed His creatures with a measure of free will.   God certainly does “interfere” (or “intervene”), by fully equipping and empowering the believer (in this case) to resist temptation and take the way of escape provided by God. This has nothing to do with a “Libertarian Prime Directive”, but with God’s sovereign right to interact with his creatures within the context of the God given ability to make genuine choices in certain situations.  Secondly, we might respond to Steve’s straw man in a similar manner (minus the straw man),

This is what Paul says,

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)

And this is what Paul would say if he were a Calvinist who meant the passage as Steve Hays suggests,

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as God has unconditionally and irresistibly caused you to be tempted with, despite James 1:13’s insistence that God does not tempt anyone [and believe me, though it appears utterly nonsensical, God unconditionally and irresistibly causing us to be tempted is quite different from him tempting us], and such as is common to man; and even though I speak of no temptation but such as is common to man, and it would sound like I am talking about any and every temptation you might experience, I really only mean the one specific temptation to apostasy; and hey, don’t worry, though every sin you commit was unconditionally decreed  by God, and you have no choice but to commit every sin that you do because God has unconditionally predestined you to do it, God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able only in the case of apostasy, because after all, he is the one unconditionally and irresistibly causing you to be tempted, but with the temptation will also irresistibly cause you to take the way of escape provided for you, but only when it concerns apostasy; other than that one specific temptation to sin, you’re on your own, but at least in that one type of temptation, it is so that you cannot possibly fail to endure it [but this is only the case for the elect, and, of course, you can’t know that you are elect until you endure to the end, so you can’t even really be sure this promise has any meaning for you at all].” (1 Cor. 10:13)

Lastly, Steve tells me that I am wrong about Thiselton drawing similar free will conclusions from the passage.  Steve quotes me,

“[Thiselton] Hence Paul rebukes the notion that those who are accustomed to taking part in cultic meals are victimized. They see themselves as those who . . . ‘have no choice but to . . .’ (748)

“[Thiselton] Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so seized by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice: the situation brings a temptation; but alongside the temptation God will also provide an exit path . . . they can be assured that they will be provided with an exit path, which will both provide a positive (and better) alternative and take away their alibi” (748).

[Ben] *These comments by Thistleton are especially significant in that he essentially draws the same conclusions concerning the reality of choice in this passage as I did in the initial post that Steve criticized.

And then Steve retorts,

i) That’s hardly the point Paul is making. And it doesn’t even follow from Thiselton’s own comments.

Paul isn’t saying that God has given the Corinthians a choice to either commit idolatry or avoid idolatry. Paul’s point is about freedom from something, not freedom to do one thing or another. Despite social pressure, the Corinthians Christians will not be forced to commit idolatry. Idolatry is not one of their God-given choices. To the contrary, freedom from idolatry is their God-given choice.

Idolatry is not necessarily a “God-given choice”, but it is certainly a “choice” based on the pull of the still remaining sinful nature and the influence of the fallen world.  Yes, because of God’s gracious intervention they are free to resist temptation, but that doesn’t mean that they are not still free to resist God’s gracious intervention and fail to take the way of escape He provides.  The fact that many of them have already fallen to such temptations is likely the main reason Paul is addressing the matter.  And since Steve has yet to establish that Paul is speaking solely of the temptation to finally deny the faith, his comments here would force us to conclude that believers never fall to temptation of any sort.

Truly, Paul tells us in Romans 8:2 that believers have been “set free from the law of sin and death” (“freedom” from something [sin], just as Steve describes above). Yet, who would conclude from such a passage that believers are now incapable of sinning?  And if they have the freedom not to sin, and not to fall into temptation, then whenever they do sin they have made a real choice between legitimate alternative possibilities (which reflects one fine definition of LFW, the ability to make a real choice between legitimate alternative possibilities).  Steve’s comments have only further established the reality of libertarian freedom in these passages.  Maybe he is finally starting to get it.

We conclude in noting that, contrary to Steve’s claims, Thiselton’s comments do indeed affirm the reality of alternative choice,

“Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so seized by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice: the situation brings a temptation; but alongside the temptation God will also provide an exit path . . . they can be assured that they will be provided with an exit path, which will both provide a positive (and better) alternative and take away their alibi” (748- emphasis mine).

What do you suppose the “alibi” would be?  The alibi would be that when they eat cultic meals they “had no choice” (i.e. no accessible alternative).   Paul makes it clear that they do have a choice, so that whenever they fall to such temptation they cannot make use of such a “we had no choice” alibi.  They cannot claim that it was beyond their power to resist.  If it was within their power to resist, and yet they did not, then they truly could have done otherwise than they did in fact do.  The alibi is removed and alternative power in choosing is plainly established.

Go to Part 3 of This Debate

A Contextual Examination of 1 Cor. 10:13

Calvinist Steve Hays has weighed in on my use of 1 Cor. 10:13 in my post on The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture.  He quotes a section from my post where I make the case that the passage cannot comport with determinism, and then complains,

What’s so odd about this claim is the way in which kangaroodort infers something from the text that simply isn’t there. The text says nothing about Christians succumbing to temptation. And what it does say moves in the opposite direction.

The prospect of Christians succumbing to temptation is not something that kangaroodort got from his prooftext. So what does his prooftext prove? It can hardly prove that Christians succumb to temptation, since that is absent from the text. And, what is more, that cuts against the grain of the text.

Now perhaps kangaroodort would salvage his assertion by claiming that other verses of Scripture speak to the issue of Christian sin.

No doubt that’s true. But that’s not the same thing as exegeting 1 Cor 10:13. You can’t find something is a verse which isn’t there-even if you can find it in some other verse.

And you can’t simply import what is said in one verse to what is not said in another verse as if both passages are addressing the same issue. Ironically, kangaroodort’s grand prooftext illustrates the polar opposite of what he labors to prove. Did someone sneak into the evidence room when his back was turned and empty the box?

We need to interpret 1 Cor 10:13 on its own terms, in light of its own wording and the surrounding context. And when we do the detail work, this is what we come up with:

“It is not clear whether this verse is to be understood generically of every trial that a Christian may face, or the eschatological trial involving one’s salvation? The noun ekbasis, ‘way out,’ certainly could mean the latter, the eschatological trial, but Christians may also rely on God for the ekbasis of lesser struggles throughout the course of life. In this context, Paul seems to be thinking primarily of trials involving idol meat or seduction to idolatry,” J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians (Yale 2008), 389.

“An examination of the context (1 Cor 10:1-12,14-22) indicates that the temptation specifically in Paul’s mind here is idolatry or apostasy. The Lord will not allow his people to fall prey to apostasy,” T. Schreiner, The Race Set Before Us (IVP 2001), 266.

In sum, this verse is not talking about temptation in general. Rather, it’s talking about the specific temptation to deny one’s faith-of which idolatry was a paradigm-case throughout Scripture. And it says that, due to God’s fidelity, a Christian can never give in to that particular temptation.

Far from being a prooftext for libertarian freewill, this is a prooftext for the perseverance of the saints.

Despite his hyperbolic verbiage and sanctimonious tone, kangaroodort is making totemic use of Scripture. He pays lip-service to the words of Scripture in swelling, self-congratulatory rhetoric, but his interpretation doesn’t begin to represent a close reading of the text or context.

He’s like a man standing in the doorway of an empty warehouse, gesticulating about his discovery of contraband merchandise within. Well, I’ve examined every square inch of the warehouse with a flashlight, and the evidence is entirely wanting.

Those last two paragraphs are puzzling to me.  Steve takes issue with my rhetoric while laying on some of the thickest rhetoric I have read in quite some time.  He calls my rhetoric “self-congratulatory” (where in the post did I congratulate myself?) while confidently asserting that my “interpretation doesn’t begin to represent a close reading of the text or context.”   Why can Steve make such bold assertions and it is all well and fine, but if I make bold assertions or draw strong conclusions, it is a case of “swelling, self-congratulatory rhetoric” and “hyperbolic verbiage and sanctimonious tone?” (and notice how Steve paints me as a dope who thinks he has a warehouse full of contraband, and himself as the person who carefully investigates the warehouse, finding it empty, despite my “gesticulating”). I should think we could disagree with each other’s conclusions without making comments such as these.

Anyway, let’s examine Steve’s assertion that I have turned the passage inside out in an attempt to prooftext libertarian free will, and that the passage actually undermines my conclusions.  He quotes a few people who say that the issue at hand is idolatry, and then draws the conclusion that this idolatry could only refer to absolute apostasy (finally denying the faith).  Well, where in the text did he come to that conclusion?  The passage never says anything about repudiating faith, nor does it mention apostasy.  We are not permitted to ignore context and draw ideas from other portions of Scripture and read them into this text, remember?

Steve has really painted himself into a tight spot.  He has not suggested that apostasy can merely be included among the temptations that Christians may face as described in this passage, but insisted that apostasy is the sole temptation being described here by Paul.  He has also suggested that idolatry, in this context, can only possibly equal a denial of faith.  If an examination of the context yields any other result than the conclusion that apostasy alone is being referenced here, then Steve’s dismissive assertions are shown to be completely invalid.

In verses 1-9, Paul speaks of numerous instances of sins that the Israelites committed during their desert wanderings.  Let’s examine some of these verses and see what we find.

Verse 6, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.”

This verse speaks of craving evil things.  Do Christians ever crave evil things?  Is apostasy evil things (plural), or is it an evil thing (singular)? Certainly, evil cravings can include far more than final repudiation of saving faith (and by the way, doesn’t this suggest that we can control our cravings [i.e. desires] to some extent, contrary to the Calvinist insistence that our desires control us?).

Verse 7, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and stood up to play.'”

This verse plainly speaks of idolatry, but it seems to be speaking of many acts of idolatry and not a single soul destroying act of apostasy.  The OT quote has specific reference to the golden calf episode.  That instance can appropriately be characterized as apostasy on the part of Israel, but Paul seems to be using this verse and verses 5 and 6 in a more general sense.  He is both concerned with idolatry and craving evil things in general, as well as the possibility of apostasy resulting from continually yielding to such temptations.  That is why Paul gives several examples from the Israelites’ desert experience in this section without focusing on one decisive act of rebellion or apostasy.   Even so, there is no explicit mention of apostasy in Paul’s reference here (though my view does not need to rule out apostasy altogether, only show that apostasy is not the sole subject being addressed here).

Verse 8, “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.”

This is a warning not to fall into immorality and does not specifically reference denying the faith.  Earlier in the epistle Paul rebuked the Corinthians for tolerating immorality among them and commanded them to remove the immoral person from the church (chapter 5, cf. 6:15-20, esp. note Paul’s use of “flee” in verse 18, cf. 10:14).  However, Paul held out hope for that person’s eventual restoration (5:5), and did not equate that immoral act with an outright denial of the faith.

So far we are told to avoid “evil things”, acts of idolatry, and acts of immorality.

Verse 9, “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.”

Here we are warned not to “try the Lord”.  Does Steve think that Paul is talking about absolute apostasy and repudiation of faith here?  This is a reference to Numbers 21.  There was no apostasy, only complaining.  Does complaining constitute apostasy now?  Again, Paul is warning the Corinthians of the dangers and consequences of sin in general, and holding the Israelites up as an example to learn from.  Such sin can eventually lead to apostasy, but Paul is addressing more than just the possible end results of habitual sinning in these passages.

Verse 10, “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”

Here we are warned not to “grumble”.  Surely grumbling does not constitute a final act of apostasy, does it?

Verse 11 reminds us again that these things were recorded for our benefit that we might see the just and terrible consequences of sinning (which includes yielding to evil cravings, various acts of idolatry and indulgences, immorality, trying the Lord, and complaining and grumbling, cf. verse 6).

Verse 12, “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Well, what does “fall” mean?  Does it mean “fall away in irrevocable apostasy”?  The context would suggest otherwise.  Most likely, “fall” has some reference to falling to temptation in general (which can include and lead to apostasy), but primary reference to the severe judgment that results from yielding to temptation  (cf. 10:5, the Israelites being “laid low” in the desert as a result of displeasing God in their sinful behavior).  To suggest that “fall” has exclusive reference to denying the faith is out of harmony with the context of the entire chapter.

Verse 13, “No temptation [no sort of temptation whatsoever] has overtaken you but such as common to man [e.g. temptations to grumble, complain, put things before God in idolatry, commit acts of immorality, try the Lord, crave evil things, etc.]; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

The idea here is that the Corinthians should not think it strange that they are being tempted in various ways.  The Israelites of old were also tempted in various ways.  For this reason, Paul tells them that their temptations are “common to man”.  Those who are living at the present time (cf. verse 11) can expect to face similar testing and temptations as the Israelites in the desert.  They can also expect to receive the same terrible consequences of sin, if they should yield to those various temptations and not heed Paul’s warning to “flee” (literally, “run from”) such potentially dangerous sins as idolatry (verse 14), which Paul will discuss again in verses 16-33.  Paul is also reminding them that the Israelite’s covenant position with God did not afford them protection in disobedience and rebellion (see verses 1-5).  In the same way, the Corinthians should not look on their position in the new covenant as an excuse to take sin lightly and think they will get away with it.  Their present standing with God does not exempt them from judgment or the damaging effects of sin.

As noted above, Paul’s admonition to flee idolatry leads him into the next section where he again focuses on specific temptations facing the Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. In these verses we see Paul speaking of idolatry in such a way that it does not have reference to repudiation of faith or out-right apostasy.  Paul is both warning the Corinthians to avoid idolatry as well as calling on those who may already be involved in such idolatry to repent, take the way of escape provided by God, and flee from idolatry in the future.

So we have heeded Steve’s plea to focus on context and found that the context offers nothing of a necessary correlation between idolatry and outright apostasy as Steve claims.  We have also found no reason to understand “temptation” in verse 13 as an exclusive reference to denying the faith.  Rather, the context covers a wide range of sinful behaviors that can be avoided through God’s faithfulness and power.  It seems then that 1 Cor. 10:13 means just what we said it meant to begin with (the “evidence box” is still full and accounted for), and the implications of free will from this passage still stand as stated in my initial post.

What is especially interesting is that one of the quotes Steve furnishes us with to support his conclusion that this verse is “talking about the specific temptation to deny one’s faith” actually undermines his conclusion and supports ours,

“The noun ekbasis, ‘way out,’ certainly could mean the latter, the eschatological trial, but Christians may also rely on God for the ekbasis of lesser struggles throughout the course of life. In this context, Paul seems to be thinking primarily of trials involving idol meat or seduction to idolatry,” J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians (Yale 2008), 389. (emphasis mine)

It also needs to be pointed out that Steve has not played by his own rules in this response.  Remember, he faulted me for reading the text with the Biblical truth in mind that Christians sin.   He admits that this is a basic truth found throughout Scripture; yet, I am not permitted to consider the relevance of that truth while reading 1 Cor. 10:13, since it “cuts against the grain” of the passage, according to him.   This is apparently because the verse in question does not speak of actual sinning (though the surrounding context certainly does), but of the ability to resist temptation.

But then Steve does a strange thing.  He tells us that the passage actually has to do with denying the faith and that it is actually an assurance that Christians will never deny the faith.  It is actually a prooftext for Calvinistic inevitable perseverance, according to him.  But where does the passage say that the Christian will certainly endure the temptation or take advantage of the way of escape provided by God?  It doesn’t.  Remember, Steve insisted in his response that, “You can’t find something is [sic.] a verse which isn’t there-even if you can find it in some other verse.”

The passage only tells us that God provides a way of escape and that we are able to resist the temptation.   Steve may be convinced (wrongly) that the Bible teaches inevitable perseverance in other passages, but if he is to play by his own rules, he has not the right to read that supposed truth into this passage when the passage says nothing of inevitable perseverance.

Nowhere does 1 Cor. 10:13 guarantee that the Christian will endure temptation or take the way of escape provided by God, whether this “temptation” is an exclusive reference to apostasy, as Steve believes, or to sin any number of ways (as the context bears out).  In short, Steve has inferred “something from the text that simply isn’t there”.   We might even venture to say that “his interpretation doesn’t begin to represent a close reading of the text or context.”

Since Steve based his entire argumentation on two quotes, (one from a commentary that actually supports our view and undermines his own, and one from a popular Calvinist book promoting inevitable perseverance), which apparently qualifies as the “detail work”; I thought it would be appropriate to close by citing several commentaries that plainly agree with our view that the “temptation” being referenced in 1 Cor. 10:13 is in no way limited to apostasy (many of which are commentaries written by Calvinists).  We will start with John Calvin (all emphases in bold are mine).

“He exhorts them, however, to look to the Lord, because a temptation, however slight it may be, will straightway overcome us, and all will be over with us, if we rely upon our own strength…Now God helps us in two ways, that we may not be overcome by the temptation; for he supplies us with strength, and he sets limits to the temptation. It is of the second of these ways that the Apostle here chiefly speaks. At the same time, he does not exclude the former – that God alleviates temptations, that they may not overpower us by their weight. For he knows the measure of our power, which he has himself conferred. According to that, he regulates our temptations. The term temptation I take here as denoting, in a general way, everything that allures us.”  (John Calvin’s Commentary)

“way to escape-(Jer 29:11; 2Pe 2:9). The Greek is, “the way of escape”; the appropriate way of escape in each particular temptation; not an immediate escape, but one in due time, after patience has had her perfect work (Jas 1:2-4, 12).” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary)

“Though we must fear and take heed lest we fall, yet should we not be terrified and amazed; for either our trials will be proportioned to our strength, or strength will be supplied in proportion to our temptations. We live indeed in a tempting world, where we are compassed about with snares. Every place, condition, relation, employment, and enjoyment, abounds with them; yet what comfort may we fetch from such a passage! For, 1. “No temptation,” says the apostle, “hath yet taken you, but such as is common to man, what is human; that is, such as you may expect from men of such principles as heathens, and such power; or else such as is common to mankind in the present state; or else such as the spirit and resolution of mere men may bear you through.” Note, The trials of common Christians are but common trials: others have the like burdens and the like temptations; what they bear up under, and break through, we may also.”  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary)

“Verse 13 is one of the most helpful verses in the NT and presents the great antidote to falling into sin through temptation.  Peirasmos, “trial” or “temptation” is not itself sinful.  God allows it as a way of purifying us (James 1:12), but the devil uses it to entice us into sin (cf. Matt. 4:1).  The temptations that come to the Christian are those all human beings face- they are unavoidable.  But, says Paul, God is right there with us to keep us from being overwhelmed by the temptation…[God] will provide a way out, not to avoid the temptation, but to meet it successfully and to stand firm under it.” (W. Harold Mare, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 250)

“Temptation (see note on v. 9) is sometimes understood simply as ‘test’ (GNB, Hering), a meaning it certainly has on occasion.  But here it is used in a broad sense which includes both ‘test’ and ‘temptation’.  Nothing exceptional in either way had happened to the Corinthians.  They had experienced only what is common to man.  And God is not simply a spectator of the affairs of life; he is concerned and active.  Believers can count on his help.  He always makes a way out.”  (Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 142)

Anthony Thiselton: “Paul here addresses the craving in terms of temptation which draws, seduces, beguiles, attracts, and corresponds to the deeper nature of sin . . . (747)

“Hence Paul rebukes the notion that those who are accustomed to taking part in cultic meals are victimized. They see themselves as those who . . . ‘have no choice but to . . .’ (748)

“Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so siezed by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice: the situation brings a temptation; but alongside the temptation God will also provide an exit path . . . they can be assured that they will be provided with an exit path, which will both provide a positive (and better) alternative and take away their alibi” (748).

*These comments by Thistleton are especially significant in that he essentially draws the same conclusions concerning the reality of choice in this passage as I did in the initial post that Steve criticized.

C.K. Barrett, 229: [this first quote is Barrett's own translation with comments in parentheses] “But God can be trusted not to allow you to be tempted beyond your power (yet if they do not exert all their power they may succumb); on the contrary, along with the trial he will provide (literally make) also the way out, so that you may be able to endure.”

“This does not mean that God will not permit him to be tested (by circumstances, or temptation, or the like), but that God will never allow it to become impossible for him to resist. He must resist, and he must not put his trust in false securities; this would be to court and ensure disaster. The way out is for those who seek it, not for those who (like the Corinthians) are, where idolatry is concerned, looking for the way in.”

“Paul is not saying that the supposedly “strong” Corinthians had not yet faced an extraordinary temptation.  What they were doing in the pagan temple was just that.  Thus, Paul’s point is that even in such cases God can provide a way out of their present situation.  It is a human, if not the ultimate human, temptation to put God to the test.  There is by God’s grace even a way out of this, or Paul would be wasting his breath warning them.  The Corinthians then are to endure and prevail over the temptation to go to idol feasts.  God will provide them with an out so they can escape their present malaise.   Paul believes that God never allows a Christian to be tempted to such a degree that by God’s grace one cannot resist or find a way of escape.  This does not mean one will necessarily resist.”  (Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 224)

“They might count on God, however, not to expose them to trials and temptations beyond human ability to resist and overcome: with each temptation he would also provide the way of escape, to enable them to endure it. But if they deliberately put themselves in the way of temptation to idolatry and its associated evils, they were ignoring the proffered way of escape and need not be surprised if they ‘fell’ ” (F.F. Bruce, NCBC, I and II Corinthians, 93-94).

Craig Blomberg: “Verse 12 summarizes the significance of these warnings [those in the previous verses 1-10] for the Cornithians–even those who think they stand securely should take care, like Paul in 9:27, lest they fall and be disqualified. After all, the pagan temple feasts in Corinth involved similar idolatry, sexual sin, and trying God’s patience. And the Corinthian quarrels could certainly qualify as grumbling against one another. Nevertheless, verses 1-12 are all balanced by the marvelous promise of verse 13. The circumstances that tempt us to sin are never qualitatively different from those which God’s people of every era have experienced, and we never have to give in to them. There is always an escape-hatch, which is defined as a way to persevere without sinning in whatever situation we find ourselves.” (p. 193)

“Though short compared to the more immediately needed warnings of verses 1-12, verse 13 provides a crucial balance to the previous verses, especially for those who fear they will be unfaithful during tough times. Given the severity and general nature of the preceding examples, this verse too should be applied universally. No matter how unique our temptations seem externally, we face the same spiritual struggles God’s people have endured throughout history. God won’t give us anything we can’t handle, so long as we rely on his strength, yielding ourselves to the power of his indwelling Holy Spirit, rather than trying to resist temptation on our own.” (196)

“We never have to give in to temptation; no one ‘makes’ us sin. Certain factors may generate greater temptations for some individuals than for others, as with the exponential increase in dysfunctional families in our day, but ultimately we are accountable for our own free choices. And for believers, one of those choices remains God’s escape-hatch from sin.” (199)

So it seems to me that from an exegetical stand point, my position concerning the meaning of 1 Cor. 10:13 is on rock solid ground.  This is true despite Steve’s creative “empty evidence box” and “empty warehouse” rhetoric.  Steve wrote a second post criticizing my understanding of 1 Cor. 10:13 on philosophical grounds, but considering the strong exegetical support for my position, it hardly seems necessary to reply; after all, Calvinists pride themselves on allowing exegesis to take precedence over philosophy. While I disagree with Steve’s philosophical argument, it seems best to just allow the text to speak for itself and conclude with Paul that whenever we are tempted, we can either resist that temptation or fall to it.  Either is a legitimate option, and on those grounds the reality of choice and libertarian free will is firmly established in Scripture.

Go to Part 2 of This Debate

Responding To Dominic’s Second Rebuttal on Regeneration Preceding Faith

Below is my response to Dominic’s follow-up rebuttal of my post concerning the purpose of regeneration in Calvinism.   You can read my response to his first reply here. It is quite lengthy because the discussion primarily turns on issues of exegesis, and exegesis requires careful attention to language and context.  If Dominic replies again I will just focus on a general reply to his main points without interacting with all that he says (though I felt such interaction was necessary in this response).  As in my last response, Dominic’s comments are blocked in yellow quotes while my responses appear in between.

Ben: I admit to being confused by this and I certainly disagree with his “definition” of faith (i.e. the simple faith that receives Christ) as requiring the indwelling Spirit. It seems that he is saying that God can turn the will to belief but that belief doesn’t constitute faith. And I am still left to wonder what these “propositions” entail.

Dominic: That is exactly what I’m saying; and I defended this claim quite adequately. I was also fairly clear that the propositions in question are the propositions of the Christian faith: namely, to start with, that Christ died for our sins; and all the truths which relate to this.

Well, I am confused again.  I guess Dominic is saying that God can turn ones will to believe certain facts about Christianity (the basic truths of the gospel) and yet that belief does not constitute saving faith.  So one can believe the gospel message but not have saving faith?  Is that correct?  Or is Dominic saying one can have knowledge of certain Christian teachings without believing them?  To have knowledge of something is not the same as believing it, so I am not sure how this can be what Dominic is saying.  And faith is just the noun form of believe (the verb form), so again, I am having trouble grasping the distinction here.

Ben: Faith, as pertains to receiving the truth of the gospel and the gift of salvation, is simple trust in the work of Christ, and does not require intimate knowledge of all of the “things of God” (Rom. 4:4, 5)

Dominic: This is true, but doesn’t speak to whether or not a person can have faith apart from the indwelling Spirit. Nothing in Romans 4 speaks to this question-what is under consideration there is the means of justification, namely through faith in God’s promise. Of course, I affirm that; but it doesn’t speak to the nature of faith (whether for or against my position). It’s hard to see why you would appeal to Romans 4 here; it doesn’t seem to be relevant at all.

It is relevant in that there is a distinction between receiving the simple gospel message (through trust in Christ) and having intimate knowledge of God’s thoughts, etc.  Dominic claims that Paul is describing saving faith in 1 Cor. 2 and that one can only attain to saving faith by having a deep and intimate knowledge of the things of God.  I deny that, and referenced Rom. 4 to show that the faith that saves is a simple trust in Christ, as opposed to the deep intimate knowledge of things of God described by Paul in 1 Cor. 2.  In other words, Paul is not describing simple saving faith in 1 Cor. 2, which undermines Dominic’s entire argument.

Ben: Oh! So God can turn the heart to a false faith but not a real faith.

Dominic: Again, I explained this in my original response. God can turn the heart to either; but man is not capable, in and of himself, of attaining a genuine apprehension of spiritual truths. Therefore, since faith is a genuine apprehension of spiritual truths, a man can only attain faith when indwelt by the Spirit, who communicates those truths to him. Subsequently, without giving his Spirit, God can only turn the heart of man to false faith. True faith necessitates being born again of the Spirit.

This gets back to the original question and I still don’t see that it has been answered.  Dominic holds to exhaustive determinism.  He believes that our every thought, desire, and action is caused by God.  Our wills are meticulously controlled by God.  So why can’t God, in accordance with Dominic’s concept of sovereignty = exhaustive determinism, simply create spiritual understanding in the mind of the sinner and turn his will towards faith in Christ?  It is not a matter of how God has determined to go about such things, but whether or not He needs to do it that way.

Calvinists typically speak of regeneration preceding faith in the language of necessity (e.g. Dominic’s statement, “True faith necessitates being born again of the Spirit.”).  God must regenerate a sinner in order for them to produce faith.  God can’t produce faith in the unregenerate.  But why?  So I understand that in Calvinism, God doesn’t turn the will apart from regeneration, but surely He can, can’t He?  Dominic writes, “a man can only attain faith when indwelt by the Spirit, who communicates those truths to him.”  But why can’t God just give that person such knowledge in accordance with His exhaustive control of the mind?  Why the need for the Spirit to dwell within and communicate these truths?  Why can’t God just implant these truths in the sinners mind and turn the will towards faith?  I still don’t see anything in Dominic’s reply that would answer this question.

Ben: If the unregenerate can muster it on their own, then why the need for God to turn the will towards this false faith? How is false faith any different than unbelief?

Dominic: Re the first question, this seems to be trading on a view of God’s sovereignty which is alien to Calvinism, wherein man’s actions are implicitly autonomous, and God merely directs them. Naturally, reading an Arminian view of action theory into a Calvinist exposition will result in the appearance of incongruity. I need merely point out that, under the Calvinist view, the fact of the unregenerate sinner mustering a false faith is not distinct from the fact of God turning the will of the unregenerate sinner to a false faith. Whatever occurs in reality is instantiated by God; refer to my recent post on this matter: ‘A simple argument for divine determinism’.

Here Dominic again espouses God’s exhaustive control over the mind, thoughts, and will of man.  So again, why cannot God control the mind, thoughts, and will of man towards the acceptance of spiritual truths and faith in Christ?  What prevents this sovereign God from doing so?  Even the “depraved” mind is controlled by God towards unbelief and depravity according to Dominic, so why can’t he just turn it from one direction (unbelief and sin) to another (faith and righteousness)?  In all situations God controls the mind and will and creates our every thought.  Dominic fully affirms this.  Yet God must regenerate the sinner and fill him with his Holy Spirit before He can turn the will towards faith and before He can create spiritual understanding in that person?

It is not a matter of the person learning from the Spirit and feely submitting to those truths.  That doesn’t comport with Dominic’s view (though it does comport with the Arminian view).  Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit communicating spiritual truth, the sinner (sinner who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit no less!) cannot turn his own will toward faith, and cannot create spiritual understanding in himself (i.e. cannot receive instruction on his own).  All this must still be done by God (God must still turn the will and create spiritual understanding in the person).  So what purpose does regeneration, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the communication of spiritual truths, serve in such a scenario?

Dominic: Re the second question, its answer should be readily apparent given a moment’s reflection. False faith is a kind of unbelief; but it is an unbelief disguised as belief. Presumably you accept that false faith does exist; it is certainly referred to many times in Scripture. Warnings against false teachers, who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (ie, unbelievers pretending to be believers) are common. And James refers to those who are “hearers only, deceiving themselves” (1:22). Plainly, it is possible to believe-not merely making the pretence of belief-and yet to not be saved.

Good.  So he admits that false faith is just unbelief.  So God is capable of turning the will from one sort of unbelief to another (and in the C scheme God would be cruelly creating the impression of saving faith in a person who is merely exercising false faith- a false faith that God Himself caused), but cannot turn the will towards true faith.  This he asserts, but has yet to prove.

Ben: And is he suggesting that one needs to be “good” before he can believe? So the message of salvation is not for sinners but for those that God has made good enough to receive it by faith? Only the good can receive Christ by faith?

Dominic: I’m having trouble seeing where I could be even remotely construed as saying this. You will need to explain your reasoning further; suffice to say this representation bears no resemblance to the position I explicated.

I construed it from the following comment you made in your last post, “It cannot be any more than what that unregenerate heart can muster from its own depths-and there is nothing good, nothing like the intimate knowledge of God required for salvation, down there.” (emphasis mine)

Now, apparently I was mistaken, but this seemed to imply that belief in God is contingent on something “good” in us (i.e. “down there”).  Since the unregenerate has nothing “good” in its depths to “muster from” then he cannot believe the gospel.  This led to my statements above.  I apologize if I misunderstood Dominic on this, but I hope he can see how I was able to construe those conclusions from what he wrote.

Ben: Paul is not speaking of understanding the gospel and accepting it (since they are infants in Christ), but the deeper revelations of the Spirit that can be received only by the mature (vss. 6, 7; cf. “solid food” of 3:2).

Dominic: This isn’t so; you’re relying on a simplistic bifurcation of the passage to come to this conclusion. 1 Corinthians 2 begins with Paul’s recollection of his evangelizing the Corinthian Christians: namely, that he “decided to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v 2).

I agree, and said as much in my initial response.  And may I suggest that I am not the one relying on a “simplistic bifurcation” of the passage, since Dominic is divorcing his proof text from context to make his point (it is not “bifurcation” to recognize, contextually, that Paul is not speaking of saving faith in these passages).

Dominic: The faith of the Corinthians rested not “in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (v 5).

I agree again.

Dominic: Now, Paul does go on to speak of wisdom imparted to the mature; but this does not exclude the previous comments regarding the cross itself; rather, it builds on them. Consider verse 12: “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” What is the foremost of the things freely given to us by God-indeed, the very foundation of those things? Surely it is “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8).

I agree again.  The message to the mature is a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the gospel, especially concerning the riches and inheritance we have in Christ, which can only be received by those who are already in a relationship with Christ (i.e. those who have already received the gospel by simple faith).  So the message to the mature is for those who are already believers.  This only serves to undermine his position and further support mine.

Dominic: Note also how that passage continues: “making known to us the mystery of his will”. In chapter 2 of Ephesians, during his reiteration of what God has done, Paul refers to this event as how God “made us alive together with Christ” (v 5). All of this describes quite plainly the action taken by God, and excludes human action as the cause of our apprehension of spiritual truth.

It excludes it in verse 5, but includes it in verse 8, where all of the salvation benefits (including regeneration- being “made alive” in Christ) described in verses 4-7 are said to be “through faith”.  This completely undermines Dominic’s understanding of this passage.

Dominic: In fact, as you yourself note, the structure of Ephesians 1 corresponds well to 1 Corinthians 2: Paul reminds his audience of how they received Christ by the power of the Spirit, and then goes on to speak of the greater wisdom imparted by the Spirit to those mature in the faith. But as you failed to note, in both cases this is not a separate gift to faith, which requires the Spirit where faith does not. It is the same gift, extended: a knowledge which builds upon the initial faith of the believer: the “wisdom of the cross” which can only be understood via the indwelling of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 1:18 intimates, and 2:14 explicitly says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Now, unless you are going to argue that the message of the cross is not a spiritual truth, a “thing of the Spirit of God”, your objection is baseless-relying as it does on an unnatural bifurcation of the first half of the chapter from the second.

Not at all.  No one is denying that these spiritual things described in 1 Cor. 2 are intended for believers who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit.  My entire point is that all of what Paul says in verses 6-14 is directed toward believers who have already received the gospel message (2:5).  It is even true of those who Paul describes as “worldly” and unable to receive these truths because they do not have the “Spirit”, which simply means that they are not yielding to that Spirit so as to attain to these deeper spiritual truths.  This is plainly the case based on how Paul concludes the discourse in 1 Cor. 3:1-4,

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14-15) but as worldly- mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men [without the Spirit]?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (emphasis mine)

These verses render Dominic’s interpretation impossible.  Paul is applying all that he just said directly to these believers and their behavior.  They are “infants in Christ” (and in Pauline usage no one is “in Christ” without being saved).  And yet Paul calls them “worldly” and “mere men” and says he cannot address them as “spiritual”.  All of this is in the context of Paul describing the man with and without the Spirit in 1 Cor. 2:13-15 (Dominic’s primary proof text).

So it becomes clear that in the context of this passage Paul is not saying that one cannot come to faith in Christ unto salvation without being first indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  He is saying that those believers who are “worldly” and “unspiritual” cannot move on to a fuller understanding of all that they have in Christ, “what God has prepared for those who love Him” (2:8), cf. “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18), due to their unwillingness to yield to the Spirit and their clinging to the things of the world (e.g. quarreling, favoritism, etc.). 

It is this obvious context which proves Dominic’s proof texting of this passage to be inappropriate misapplication (and notice how Paul moves from “acting like mere men” to the absolute, “are you not mere men?”  This is basic to a proper understanding of what Paul is saying here.  Those “without the Spirit” are those who are “acting” like they do not have the Spirit (i.e. are not yielding to the Spirit), when in fact they do have the Spirit). 

Dominic wants us to ignore the context so he can make these passages work in defending his view of saving faith being dependent on regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  This is obvious in his comment about “spiritual truths”.  Just look at how he focuses on verse 14 and divorces it from the context that defines its meaning.  Yes, the simple gospel constitutes a spiritual truth, but Paul is not using “spiritual truth” in this passage to describe the simple gospel message.  In this context “spiritual truths” as defined by Paul, have reference to the deeper things of God available only for mature and “spiritual” believers (in contrast to immature and “unspiritual” believers). This simple contextual consideration undermines Dominic’s entire argument from this passage.  Dominic is trying to get something out of this passage that it simply does not provide.

Dominic: Furthermore, I am of course not appealing solely to 1 Corinthians 2 to make my case. This is the passage I chose as best to make my point, because it is lengthy and clear; but as I noted, it’s merely a verbose explanation of John 3:3.

But Dominic has misunderstood John 3:3 as well.  In both cases Dominic has read his theology into the passage without allowing the inspired writers to finish their thoughts or define their terms (he does the same thing above with regards to Eph. 2:5, rather than understanding it according to how Paul concludes the matter in verse 8).  I made this same point in the post I wrote on John 3:3, 6 that I referred Dominic to in my last post,

“Rather than allowing Jesus to explain His own teaching, the Calvinist wants to “explain” what Jesus meant before He does. If we want to understand what Jesus meant by His comments in John 3:3, 6, we only need to keep reading. If we can resist the temptation to read our theology into his comments we will soon discover that one is born again by believing in Christ and thereby appropriating the benefits of His atonement. Only after the blood of the “lifted up” Messiah is applied through faith can one begin to experience the eternal life that begins at the new birth.” (taken from my post, Does Jesus Teach that Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?)

Dominic: Or of 1 Corinthians 12:3-“no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit“. What does faith entail if not the statement that Jesus is Lord? Yet no one can say this except in the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus himself said to Peter upon his profession of faith: “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17); and Peter himself acknowledged, saying “he has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3).

1 Cor. 12:3 can just as easily be translated “by the Holy Spirit”.  In fact, the vast majority of translations prefer “by” to “in” in this passage (translating en as instrumental).  This then would speak to the influence of the Holy Spirit rather than to the indwelling presence of the Spirit.  This fits the context well, since Paul was just speaking about their prior pagan state in which they were “influenced” to follow after false gods (NIV).  Other translations speak of going astray even as they were “led”.  So the passage has reference to the leading of the Spirit in confessing Christ as Lord.   No one can turn to Christ nor confess Him as Lord apart from the influence and leading of the Holy Spirit.  That is basic to prevenient grace, but does not speak to the need for the indwelling Spirit in order to put faith in Christ for salvation.

You are either led by the Spirit (even to faith in Christ), or you are led astray by ungodly influences, and those who are led astray cannot (and would not) say, “Jesus is Lord.”

As far as Peter, it is quite true that his confession resulted from a revelation from the Father, but there is no indication that this revelation came by way of direct communication of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This is especially true since Scripture is very clear that the disciples had not yet received the Holy Spirit at this point.  If anything, Peter’s confession argues strongly against Dominic’s position, and supports the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace (notice also that Jesus says “my Father who is in heaven” has revealed this to Peter, and not “the Holy Spirit that is within you” has revealed this…).

Ben: The interpretation Dominic suggests also runs contrary to what Paul says in Galatians 3:3, 5,

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? (emphasis mine)

Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?“(emphasis mine)

Dominic: You continue to appeal to verses which are not actually dealing with the issue at hand.

This is a remarkable statement.  The issue has to do with the need for regeneration prior to faith and Dominic answers the question by pointing us to a passage that has nothing to do with regeneration or saving faith, but the spiritual maturity of believers and their corresponding ability, or inability, to receive deeper spiritual truths.  Yet Dominic asserts that 1 Cor. 2 proves that one can only believe by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  But this is nothing more than mere assertion based on what he believes the passage implies (without regards to context).  Then, in the face of explicit statements by Paul that the Holy Spirit is received by faith, he complains that I am appealing to verses that are not actually dealing with the issue!

Dominic: I think this is telling.

Ditto.

Dominic: Just as with Romans 4, Galatians 3 is concerned with the means of justification-not with the nature of faith, or the ordo salutis. Nothing in Galatians 3 contradicts my position on the nature and prerequisites of faith; nothing in Galatians 3 speaks to the nature and prerequisites of faith. The same is true of your appeal to Ephesians 3:16 and 17.

Again, these assertions are hard to even take seriously.  I already explained above why I mentioned Rom. 4, and Galatians speaks directly to the issue of how we receive the Holy Spirit.  We receive the Spirit by faith.  That kills his argument completely.  Dominic asserts that initial saving faith is impossible prior to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and Paul flatly contradicts him by saying the Holy Spirit is received by faith!  Let me spell this out as clearly as possible so as to avoid any confusion,

Dominic (paraphrased): “The indwelling of the Holy Spirit must precede faith, and causes faith”

The apostle Paul (paraphrased): “We receive the Holy Spirit by faith (i.e. reception of the Holy Spirit results from faith and does not cause it).”

Yet, Dominic can somehow assert, in the face of such plain statements by Paul, that “nothing in Galatians 3 speaks to the nature and prerequisites of faith”.  Again, his whole argument is based on what he believes 1 Cor. 2 implies, yet the explicit statements of Paul on the subject are, for some reason, inadmissible! (?)

Ephesians 3:17, despite Dominic’s protest, is extremely relevant to his assertions concerning 1 Cor. 2.  Dominic insisted that one must possess the mind of Christ prior to being able to believe the simple gospel unto salvation.  Yet, Paul tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts “through faith”, and verses 14-19 correspond perfectly to the deeper knowledge and revelation of God (and His love), available to believers, but not necessarily received by them, as described in 1 Cor. 2. 

Dominic: To summarize, that spiritual rebirth must precede faith is amply evidenced in Scripture.

If it is, Dominic has yet to furnish us with any such evidence.  He has, however, treated us to numerous unfounded assertions.  Let’s focus briefly on his dismissal of Galatians as relevant to the discussion, and this statement here about the new birth preceding faith.  The new birth would certainly be the point at which we become a child of God, would it not?  Well, it just so happens that Paul has something to say about how we become children of God in Galatians,

“You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ…Because you are Sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father’. (Gal. 3:26, 4: 6)

We become children of God through faith, and becoming God’s child is directly linked to receiving the Holy Spirit.  For this reason we are “heirs according to the promise”, which Paul had previously described as “the promise of the Spirit” received “by faith”. (Gal. 3:14).  Now perhaps Dominic wants to claim that becoming “Sons of God” through faith is somehow only a reference to justification.  This would, however, only serve to further undermine his assertion as the indwelling of the Spirit in verse 6 would then be consequent to justification.  In that case, since justification is “by faith”, faith would still logically precede the reception of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, according to his claims on regeneration, faith would precede regeneration as well (and this just happens to be in perfect accord with the Arminian ordo).

Dominic: It has always been necessary for faith, as Jesus expected Nicodemus to know (John 3:10)-though under the Old Covenant the Spirit was not given in such measure. The opposite view, that regeneration is the consequence of faith, simply isn’t evidenced at all-you have had to appeal to passages which don’t pertain to regeneration in order to make your case, while ignoring the numerous passages which do. This seems quite decisive to me, and stands in isolation to the other biblical arguments against libertarian action theory-which are themselves equally decisive.

Dominic finishes his rebuttal with more assertions regarding the priority of regeneration and more dismissive statements regarding the explicit testimony of Paul that the Holy Spirit is received by faith.  Thankfully, such hand waving will not suffice to overturn the clear Scriptural testimony that the Holy Spirit is received by faith; and this testimony, while undermining Dominic’s argument, fully supports the Arminian ordo.

I would still welcome Dominic to address what I called “theological absurdities” with regards to the Calvinistic ordo salutis in my initial post.

Addressing Dominic’s Response to the Purpose of Regeneration in Calvinism

Below is an answer offered by “Dominic” to my post on the purpose of regeneration in the Calvinist scheme, with my response to his answer interspersed.  He also touches on my post concerning the Arminian ordo.  I was originally going to leave my response in his combox, but since it became very long, and since it deals with a primary Calvinist proof text for the priority of regeneration, I decided to make a post out of it instead.  You can read his response at his site here.  His post is blocked in yellow quotes and my response appears in between.

Ben at Arminian Perspectives has recently posted a brief article asking, ‘What Purpose Does Regeneration Serve in Calvinism?’ Briefly put, since “God can (and does) turn the will wherever he wants [...] why must God regenerate a sinner in order to create faith in him? Why can’t God just control the will from unbelief to belief without regard to regeneration?” I think that’s a fair, reasonable question on the surface of it, Ben, so let me respond as a Calvinist.

The answer to your question isn’t so difficult if you consider what faith is. Faith is not merely an abstract awareness of some or other facts about God and Christ. It is an intimate knowledge about these things, communicated directly by the Spirit. That is Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 2, where he ends with that remarkable statement, “But we have the mind of Christ” (v 16b).

Faith, as pertains to receiving the truth of the gospel and the gift of salvation, is simple trust in the work of Christ, and does not require intimate knowledge of all of the “things of God” (Rom. 4:4, 5)

What does that mean? Why is it that we have-that we need-the mind of Christ? Because “who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” (v 11) And what is it that we know? “A secret and hidden wisdom of God” (v 7) which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined” (v 9). If the heart of man has not imagined these things, then how can we know about them? Because “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (v 10). We have knowledge of them precisely because we have “the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”

Note “that we might understand…”  See below for more on that.

This is the mind of Christ; and this is why the natural person, the person who has not received the Spirit of God, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God”-why they are “folly” to him, and why “he is not able to understand them”: because “they are spiritually discerned” (v 14). If one does not have the Spirit, one cannot understand the things of God, because these things require direct communication by the Spirit to the believer. They are things of God’s own mind, which (whether by his decree or by their very nature) cannot be grasped by anyone not availed of that mind. Thus we must be indwelled by the Spirit, having “the mind of Christ”, in order to understand the spiritual truths which comprise Christianity. Without the mind of Christ, according to Paul, faith is impossible.

I will address Dominic’s understanding of 1 Cor. 2 below.

Now, certainly God may incline a spiritually dead person to believe certain Christian propositions for a time-but since faith entails a knowledge which can only be communicated by the indwelling Spirit, and can only be understood by someone with that Spirit, it remains that if a person believes Christian propositions like “Christ died for the sins of the world”, yet does not have the Spirit of Christ, then he does not have faith.

I believe this is false as explained below and according to the simple definition of faith as it pertains to receiving the gospel cited above in Rom. 4.  Paul makes this clear again in 1 Cor. 2:1-5, where he reminds them that the message he preached was the simple message of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.  He moves from this simple declaration received by faith (vs. 4) to speaking of “a message of wisdom among the mature”.  More on that below.  So Dominic admits that God could turn the will to believe “certain Christian propositions for a time” but does not include the simple gospel message in those “propositions”.

Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first giving him that Spirit. He can incline an unregenerate heart to believe the propositions which are also believed in faith, certainly-but that belief does not constitute faith.

I admit to being confused by this and I certainly disagree with his “definition” of faith (i.e. the simple faith that receives Christ) as requiring the indwelling Spirit.  It seems that he is saying that God can turn the will to belief but that belief doesn’t constitute faith.  And I am still left to wonder what these “propositions” entail.

It’s merely an imitation of faith, having no real substance; no real apprehension.

Oh!  So God can turn the heart to a false faith but not a real faith.

It cannot be any more than what that unregenerate heart can muster from its own depths-and there is nothing good, nothing like the intimate knowledge of God required for salvation, down there.

If the unregenerate can muster it on their own, then why the need for God to turn the will towards this false faith?  How is false faith any different than unbelief?  And is he suggesting that one needs to be “good” before he can believe?  So the message of salvation is not for sinners but for those that God has made good enough to receive it by faith?  Only the good can receive Christ by faith?

It really goes without saying that this renders Arminianism untenable. In your previous post, ‘The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study’, you listed prevenient grace as the only item prior to faith. In your view, prevenient grace is required for totally depraved man to be able to libertarianly choose to have faith-but onlyprevenient grace. Then, following logically on from that faith, you would say that the person is then joined with Christ, justified, and only then regenerated. But according to 1 Corinthians 2, prevenient grace would have to entail nothing less than the full indwelling of the Spirit of God in order to make faith possible. Nothing less than that suffices to convince the “natural man” of spiritual truths. Nothing less than the mind of Christ is needed for a person to understand Christianity so as to have faith at all.

This is simply false based on a misunderstanding of 1 Cor. 2 (which seems to be the source of all of Dominic’s confusion on the issue).  Paul is not speaking of understanding the gospel and accepting it (since they are infants in Christ), but the deeper revelations of the Spirit that can be received only by the mature (vss. 6, 7; cf. “solid food” of 3:2).  Paul is addressing the Corinthians as immature Christians who cannot receive the deep things of God because they are still infants in Christ.  They are not without the Spirit in that they do not have the Spirit dwelling in them.  Rather, they are not yielding to the Spirit.  They are letting their carnal passions get the best of them so that they cannot move forward to spiritual maturity.

He is comparing the world’s lack of understanding with their own lack of spiritual discernment (vs. 14) since they are acting “worldly”.  Basically, he is telling them that they are acting like those who do not have the Spirit since they refuse to yield to the Spirit in  moving on to maturity and a stronger knowledge of God, though they do in fact have the Spirit, being infants in Christ.  It is a “message of wisdom among the mature” that they cannot receive due to their spiritual immaturity.  Paul is not saying that those without the indwelling Spirit cannot receive the truth of the gospel (see my comments above concerning 1 Cor. 2:1-5).  If the truth of the gospel were the subject then Paul would be saying that only mature Christians could receive the truth of the gospel (vs. 6), which is plainly absurd.

Their jealousy and quarreling proves that they are not mature enough to receive “the message of wisdom among the mature” (2:6, cf. 3:3, 4).  It proves that they are not ready for solid food (“the message of wisdom” that Paul wants to share with them) since they are still “worldly”.  But Paul still acknowledges that they are babes in Christ, though worldly, which makes Dominic’s interpretation impossible.  It is the difference between spiritual (mature) Christians and unspiritual (immature) Christians (2:14, 15).  It is the difference between those with spiritual discernment (mature) and those without it (immature).

The spiritual man (in this context) is the believer who does not allow his fleshly passions to prevent him from maturing in Christ and gaining wisdom that is “spiritually discerned”.  The unspiritual man is the believer who has received the gospel but has allowed his fleshy passions (e.g. jealousy and quarreling) to prevent him from gaining wisdom that is “spiritually discerned”.  While he has the Spirit, he is not allowing the Spirit to control his mind that he “might understand the things freely given us by God.”

Compare what Paul says in 1 Cor. 2 with Eph. 1: 15-17,

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (emphasis mine)

So Paul envisions believers who can be without the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation.”  Does this mean that they do not have the Spirit dwelling within them?  Of course not.  Paul is speaking of a deeper level of spiritual wisdom.  This deeper level is what the Corinthians could not attain due to their yielding to worldly passions (see also Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 1:9).  Rather, they had allowed their favoritism, jealousy, and quarreling to render them “ineffective” and “unproductive” in the “knowledge of …Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)

The interpretation Dominic suggests also runs contrary to what Paul says in Galatians 3:3, 5,

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? (emphasis mine)

Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?“(emphasis mine)

Paul is plainly telling the Galatians that the Holy Spirit is received by faith (also see Gal. 3:14).  So it is really the Calvinist that must explain how one can be regenerated prior to receiving the Holy Spirit, and Dominic’s statement that, “Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first givinghim that Spirit” is seen to be at odds with Paul, who says that the Spirit is received by faith.  And regarding the supposed need for the indwelling mind of Christ to believe, I wonder what Dominic makes of the fact that Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ dwells in their hearts “through faith”? (Eph. 3:16, 17)

As John puts it, a man must be reborn of the Spirit before he can “see” the kingdom of God (John 3:3,8).

But this being the case, it is evident that once a man has the mind of Christ, he will be convinced of and understand the truths of Christianity (not in a flash, of course; not all at once-but inevitably). Once a man is reborn of the Spirit, he willsee the kingdom of God. So if the Arminian wishes to go so far as to say that prevenient grace does indeed entail the indwelling of the Spirit in some sense, then he goes too far because either prevenient grace is not given to everyone (in which case, it’s hard to see the distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism here); or everyone is a Christian and is saved (which is plainly false on both scriptural and merely empirical grounds).

For a treatment of John 3:3 and why I find that it actually supports the Arminian contention that faith precedes regeneration, see here.

Furthermore, the question remains: what, in your ordo salutus, is regeneration, if prevenient grace is a sufficient condition of saving faith?

Regeneration is the beginning of new life in Christ.  It is the commencement of eternal life.  It is the moment one becomes a child of God (born of God).

The only theological system which accommodates Paul’s teachings regarding the nature and requirements of spiritual belief is Calvinism. Those teachings are accurately reflected in the monogerstic view which Calvinism takes of regeneration, wherein God must sovereingly work by giving his Spirit to those whom he has elected to salvation. He knows who will believe because he knows to whom he will give his Spirit. By contrast, the Arminian scheme renders 1 Corinthians 2 incoherent, since God’s knowledge of whom he will save is based on those people’s own choosing-yet they cannot choose without God first having given them his Spirit.

Actually, the Arminian view understands 1 Cor. 2 in its proper context, dealing with spiritual discernment and maturity in believers, rather than the subject of receiving the gospel in simple faith.  And it needs to be noted again that Dominic’s view of 1 Cor. 2 would render Galatians 3:3, 5, and 14  incoherent.

While I disagree with Dominic, I appreciate his criticism of the Arminian ordo from his own perspective and the gracious tone by which he leveled that criticism.  I would be interested to hear his take on what I described in my post as theologically absurd features of the Calvinist ordo with regards to the priority of regeneration.

Go to the follow-up post: “Responding to Dominic’s Second Rebuttal on Regeneration Preceding Faith”

Setting Hendryx Straight

J.C. Thibodaux continues to expose John Hendryx’s many logical fallacies and blatant misrepresentation of synergism.   Be sure to check it out.

Reply to John Hendryx’s continued distortions

You can read J.C.’s initial reply to John’s “Challenge to all Synergists” here and his response to John’s first rebuttal (via e-mail) here.

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