Robert Chisholm on Divine Hardening

The following blurb comes from the SEA site,

We do not always announce in the blog the addition of specific articles to the site’s article database. (We regularly add articles to the site, and upon being added they appear in the “Recent Articles” box on the right side of our home page. After an article is pushed off the recent articles list by newer articles, it can only be found through the topical index or through the site’s search function.) But we wanted to draw your attention to a particularly excellent article that we are adding today by Robert Chisholm Jr. on hardening in the Old Testament. I think it includes the best overall single treatment of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart available, though it covers more than just the case of Pharaoh. We want to thank the journal that published the article, Bibliotheca Sacra, for granting us permission to make the article available, as well as a few other articles that have appeared in the journal and are relevant to the Arminian/Calvinist debate.

You can find Chisholm’s article on hardening here.

8 thoughts on “Robert Chisholm on Divine Hardening

  1. As sometimes happens with articles I read, I personally found this one more revealing for what it omitted than what it included. For while I agree with some of Chisholm’s statements, especially his criticism of the Calvinistic approach of G.K. Beale, and also his own view that Is. 6:9-10 is sarcastic (at least in parts), I was disappointed to see almost no mention by Chisholm about the significance of the three words in the Hebrew which have all been reduced to mean the same thing, i.e., “harden” (or “hard,” etc.) by translators. The lexical use of these three words are NOT the same, and they do not come from the same Hebrew root, etc. Only one of the three actually means “to harden,” and of the three it is used only twice in 13 appearances of “harden.” The most common word used for “harden” as it refers to the Lord’s activity upon Pharaoh comes from a root that means “to seize” hence the idea of strength. There are (if I recall correctly) about 300 occurrences of this particular Hebrew word in the O.T. It is used when God tells Joshua to be STRONG and of a good courage, when Samson asks God to STRENGTHEN him once more to avenge himself of his eyes, when the man “lay hold” of his concubine and cut her in pieces, when Absalom’s head was “caught” in an oak, when it is prophesied that seven women would “lay hold” of a man in order to be taken, when the Lord is said to have delivered Israel out of Egypt with a STRONG arm, when God sent a STRONG east wind all night to divide the Red Sea, etc. It is also used 30+ times in Nehemiah for “repair” in regard to the strengthening of the wall of Jerusalem. I suppose with imagination one could think of “hardening” the wall, a “hard” east wind, being “hard” and of good courage, etc. (though “hard” works less well, if at all, in some of the other above cases), but I think that is stretching the lexical evidence to fit one’s theology rather than let the lexical evidence speak for itself.

    The second most common word used in the exodus narrative actually means “to honor” and is the same word used in the commandment to “HONOR” thy father and mother, and the lexical use of this word consistently means “to honor” or something in that vein. The root comes from a word for “liver” as the liver was held to be the heaviest organ in the body, hence, “to give weight to.”

    Now, admittedly, Paul in Romans uses a Greek equivalent for the 3rd Hebrew word used for “harden,” which actually does mean “to harden” (i.e., when Paul speaks of Pharaoh being hardened by the Lord). But I think there is a specific reason Paul does this, though it is probably a bit involved to explain it here in detail. I do speak of it in my chapter 14 on my site, but the gist of my argument is that Paul uses Gr. skleruno for the same reason Moses used the Hebrew word for “harden” in the exodus narrative—as a synopsistic device bookending the narrative of Pharaoh’s hardening. But when I consider that most of the time the exodus narrative is telling me that “The Lord strengthened Pharaoh’s heart,” or that “The Lord honored his heart” or that “Pharaoh strengthened his heart,” or that Pharaoh’s heart was strong,” etc., I personally feel led to a different conclusion than Chislom’s. Namely, I believe the statements “The Lord strengthened his heart,” “the Lord honored his heart,” and even “The Lord hardened his heart” are all idiomatic of how the Lord sometimes describes Himself as the agent cause in certain circumstances, when, in fact, He is acting in deference to His wishes. Here in the exodus narrative, specifically, I think he is giving the Enemy permission for a round of DIRECT intense thought suggestion, but again, the various circumstantial evidences that have led me to this conclusion, while stated in my chapter, would probably too involved to mention here.

    So then, the thing most puzzling to me in Chisholm’s article was his near total omission of the lexical history of these three words. While I didn’t comb over every word (though I did spend about 20 minutes reading/ perusing his article) the only mention I found even remotely close to these three Hebrew words was at the beginning of his footnote 40, where he mentions briefly that a different word is used for harden. But even there Chishom doesn’t say that the word means anything different than “harden.” In fact, unless I missed it somewhere, I didn’t see any mention at all about these three words having vastly different lexical histories, or that chawzak is only (or basically) translated “harden” by the KJV translators themselves in this particular passage, or that two of the Hebrew words do not, so far as I recall, show a lexical use of “harden” apart from the Exodus narrative. Nor does he suggest that the words mean anything BUT “harden.” The one example I do remember cited as a proof of his view is Chisholm’s quote about people’s faces being stronger (or harder) than rock cliffs, but even here one may understand the word as meaning “stronger” in the sense of “stronger than steel,” since the overwhelming use of Heb. chawzak shows this meaning of “strong” or “strengthen.” At any rate the ‘exception’ proves the rule. Consequently, I don’t agree when Chisholm’s conclusion toward the end of his article, when, after repeatedly taking all three words to mean “harden” he talks of God in relation to Pharaoh as the “Puppeteer”and puts the word PUPPETEER in double quotes. To me this is an obvious attempt to state that, as far as one can understand the matter of God’s nature in such dealings as the “hardening” of Pharaoh, God IS a Puppeteer, yet NOT a Puppeteer. Otherwise, why the double quotes here?

    This leads me to wonder whether Chisholm is not being affected by traditional interpretation more than he realizes. I’m not saying Chisholm doesn’t realize three different Hebrew words are being used. I’m just saying it appears to me, and I trust it will appear to anyone who takes the time to go to a resource like and look up all the references to get the real gist of these three words, that Chisholm alters the lexical use of two of these words because of assuming that when God is the subject, and “hardening’ is in view, then the text intends that exceptions be made. I don’t think that’s a sound hermeneutic. As Thomas Edgar states in his article on foreknowledge, verbs don’t change meaning depending on the subject. I also think Ben’s comment to Bethyada in a recent post about Romans 9 and its possible interpretations is relevant here, if I can borrow Ben’s comment for my own ends. Any view, says Ben, can be made consistent. I agree. Whether one is a Pelagian, Arminian, Calvinist, or something in-between any two of these, one can assimilate the meaning of “strong,” “honor,” and “harden” into their particular theological paradigm. So, what I’m chiefly asking here—that is, what I’m wondering (and I ask the question rhetorically), is whether we would have such a view as Chisholm’s represented to the extent that we do, had the translation been more honestly rendered to begin with?

  2. My friend:

    Your criticism seems unfair. Did you really read the article, or just peruse it? Check out the following: pp. 411-12; 415 (note 18); 418 (note 22); 419 (note 26); 421-22; 423 (note 35); 424, 425 (note 40). I’m curious–please tell me what kind of training you have had in Biblical Hebrew semantics? What is your notion of synonymity? What do you mean by “lexical history”? What is the relationship between etymology and usage in determining meaning?

    Bob Chisholm

  3. Hi Bob,
    Your five questions in seven sentences reminds me of an observation a friend once related to me: “The one who asks the questions is in control.”


    I did try to go back to look at your article through Ben’s site, but it says “Server not found.” I also attempted to Google it and saw that it was listed on the evangelicalarminians website, but again, I got a “Server not found.” I know EA has had some trouble with their site, so I can’t be sure If the problem is on their end or on mine. Anyway, as I stated in my post, I did not comb every word. But let me add here that I certainly did try to look for any detailed discussion on the three Hebrew words in your article, but saw only the passing remark in footnote 40. I really do regret if I missed something in your article that dealt with these three Hebrew words in detail; that was certainly not my intent. But just now I cannot doublecheck myself due to the internet difficulties.

    But moving on, I find it interesting that the first question you asked me is about my background, or lack of it, in Hebrew semantics. To me this question implies your feeling that one cannot really speak authoritatively on the subject unless that were the case. Otherwise, why would you ask it? But if that is the case—that is, if one cannot speak authoritatively about this passage unless one has such a background as yours, am I to suppose that all persons equal to your own education in Hebrew semantics have all come to the same conclusion as you regarding this passage, and, further, the same conclusions regarding all other passages involving Hebrew semantics? If not, then what use is it to ask after credentialism? In fact, a difference of opinion here—and assuredly there is a difference of opinion here in Exodus between your position and that of Calvinists who do (presumably) have such a background in Hebrew semantics as you, argues not that credentialism leads to uniformity of opinion, but much the opposite, and that presuppositions drive exegesis which drives both lectionaries and conclusions about the extent, applicability, occurrences, AND MEANING of Hebrew semantics. So, I’m having trouble seeing the relevance of your question about credentialism. But if it satisfies you on the point, let me say that ,no, I have no background in Hebrew semantics. I am tempted to ask in return if you a background in logic. And no, I don’t have a background in that, either, though I hope this paragraph would suggest otherwise.

    As for what I mean by “synonymity,” I mean, or at least I intended to mean, what the word generally means according to standard usage in normal language. “To harden” and “to stiffen” is one example of what I think constitutes synonymity.

    Bob, since I’m being frank here, I wish to further say that I’m just amazed at what scholars sometimes conclude despite their education. I give one such example (at the beginning of chapter 16 of my book) of a scholar in The Pulpit Commentary coming to a dubious conclusion regarding “heir” in the contiguous passage running from Galatians 3 and 4, and how this commentators opinion is widely shared by other commentators. Another example is one by the NAS translators, when they translated a Hebrew word meaning physiological parts to mean “days” in Psalm 139. But why wouldn’t the Psalmist have simply used the word “yome”, since it is used that way about 2,000 times in the Old Testament, and when the word yatsur in Psalm 139 appears only one other time (in Job, also a poetic book) and is understood by both the KJV and NAS in Job as physiological members? To borrow a thought from Thomas Edgar (in effect) about those who wish to interpret “foreknew” as “elected in love” or “determinedly elected in love,” why wouldn’t the writer have just chosen that word or phrase that normally describes that concept, to begin with? Otherwise, argues Edgar, how do we know what any word really means when God is the subject? So, similarly here in Psalm 139. Why the use of yatsur instead of yome? Does one really need a background in Hebrew semantics to ‘justify’ such a translation?

    Please do not misunderstand my feeling about original languages. I think it CAN be helpful, but of course, since any argument can be made consistent, it will only be helpful to the one who is being led by the Spirit. I would grant that probably most of the time you are led by the Spirit in your study. But I would also suppose that all of us (at least I certainly include myself) sometimes get it wrong. So, I have generally found it healthy to take the Socratic attitude of testing statements to see if they are true, and not bow down to credentialism for its own sake. For regardless of the academic discipline, or whether that discipline is being studied at a Christian seminary or a secular university, credentialism has nearly always manifested itself in non-uniformity of opinion.

  4. Bob,
    p.s. One only has to look at how persons of scientific credentialism have fallen on both sides of the Intelligent Design issue to see the gross non-conformity within credentialism. What else can explain this except the pressuppositions each scientist makes before examining the data? This leads to a further observation. A layman who understands the basic concept of the 2nd LAW (not theory) of thermodynamics can grasp how that Law deals a death blow to atheistic evolution, even while the great majority of degreed scientists simply refuse that Law’s import upon their thinking. I remember years ago–as an adjunct faculty member teaching art history at a Christian College–trying to explain to the Eng. Lit professor (an alumnus of Harvard) the academic bias against Christianity I had faced at a State University. He replied that he found it doubtful that if a paper were well researched and written, that it wouldn’t be accepted by the academic community. I replied that, according to Romans 1, creation is undeniable evidence of the power and nature of God, but I doubt that many academicians would grant that.

  5. Bob (to begin with),

    Yesterday morning I was able to access your article on evangelicalarminians, and by evening I had spent about 4 hours or so examining it. You can imagine (as C.S. Lewis once observed) how difficult it is to spend significant time in a work which is so antipathetic to one’s own view. Nevertheless, I decided to go beyond your suggestion that I read certain sections, and so I read the entire article, making marginal notes, etc., so that I might discuss the matter more thoroughly. But even now I despair to think (judging from your first in a series of consecutive questions to me) why you would bother to read, let alone respond, to the opinion of a layman who disagrees with you, and presumably about whom you judge is untrained to think upon the matter of Pharaoh’s hardening. Yes, I still marvel at your innuendo. For one can hardly imagine (but correct me if otherwise) that, had I written approvingly to you of your article and expressed deep appreciation to you for straightening me out on the subject of Pharaoh’s hardening, that you would have asked any abrupt question about my training in Hebrew semantics. I believe this points out a hypocrisy of judgment on your part, for Ben’s site is obviously not pandering to persons with your specialized kind of education, yet you are content to allow laymen to read it. But then I cannot imagine that you ask after the training in Hebrew semantics of those who agree with you. So, am I really to assume you were “just curious,” not interrogative, when asking me especially that first in your series of questions, or that anyone who has ever heartily agreed with any of your articles has received the same questions with the same intent as were directed at me? For example, did you ask Ben about his training in Hebrew semantics, when you first saw his laudatory praise of your article? But surely my point is made.

    But as for your article itself and my earlier estimation of it, I do not feel, apart from a few corrections more technical than material to my argument, there is much to amend. Yes, I see now you are very aware in one sense that different Hebrew words are used. Yet it is exactly here, in the details of this, that I have a main issue with your approach. For while I also see now that you make some relatively infrequent mention of other English meanings, such as “unyielding” [for Strong’s 3515] in 7:14 (p. 412), and “unyielding, resolute, stubborn” [for Strong’s 2388] in 4:21 (p.415, footnote 18), these definitions seem to ultimately follow the KJV and NAS ENGLISH assumptions of the three Hebrew words used for “harden,” “hard,” etc., so that “harden,” “hard,” etc. result. That is, throughout your article you repeatedly give the meaning of “harden,” hard,” etc. to these words, which is to say that (in my opinion) you show no real APPRECIABLE distinction between the three Hebrew words used in the exodus narrative. By “appreciable” I mean the kind of appreciable distinctions we see in the lexical histories of these words over the course of much of the Old Testament, Exodus included. This is why I stated in my previous post that if one looks up the lexical use of these words in a source like, much different lexical histories for these three words are demonstrated than what a reader would gather from your article. Again, like (or from) the NAS, or KJV, etc., you seem to have taken the ENGLISH translations of Strong’s 2388 and 3515 and accepted its reduction in meaning, rather than to allow these words’ lexical histories to speak for themselves. So, when you state that the Piel stem [involving Strong’s 2388] in 4:21 “is here used with a factitive nuance,” and cite Jeremiah 5:3 as a “particularly illustrative text” in this regard, I must ask: But what of the GENERAL lexical use of the word as observed in the Hebrew Scriptures over the course of hundreds of years? Some years ago I went through most or all of the 290 (or so) occurrences of Strong’s 2388 in, and so I had to smile a bit when I saw you cite Jeremiah 5:3, since it is a rare exception in which the ‘exception’ proves the rule. I put ‘exception’ in single quotes to say that Jeremiah 5:3 is not really an exception at all, and that if that ‘exception’ can be understood (and it CAN be understood) in the same sense as it is overwhelmingly represented to mean elsewhere, there is no reason to seek another meaning. So I must also ask: Do you really mean to set aside the lexical histories (my words, not yours) in favor of what you call “literary features” and “genre considerations”? Perhaps, like your criticism of Beale, you will be wont to call my lexical appeal an “overly atomistic syntactical approach.” Well, I can only say that I prefer the lexical route to that of private interpretation and special pleading.

    I think the (perhaps we should grant, unintended) subtlety of your approach, augmented of course by your status as a professor at Evangelicalism’s most prestigious seminary, is what buffaloes so many readers. For one with such training and who speaks so eloquently about Piel and Hiphil and of atomistical syntactical approach and of the Hebrew construction WAW + subject (pronoun) + verb, and similar matters, will hardly by suspected by readers to have ignored basic, lexical evidence. Indeed, despite the verdict of history people still tend to yield to the person of superior qualifications upon that basis alone. Consequently, the thought that lingers in the reader’s mind is all too predictable: Credentialism speaks; what need we of further witnesses? And so, for example, when you proceed to define the Hebrew word chazak [Strong’s 2388] based more upon your suppositions about the natures of God and man than upon proper lexical considerations, I suspect that few readers will question it. This is not to say that your views are not in line with centuries of orthodoxy (nor maintain consistency within your own viewpoint), for in fact they are. But orthodoxy too forms part of the intimidating status that makes readers reluctant to open their Bibles as the first-century Bereans once did, to study these conundrums for themselves. My own study indicates that the meaning of Strong’s 2388 is “to seize,” and so also by implication, “to be strengthened.” And in fact the Bible’s use of this word in about 290 occurrences does show these two meanings to be overwhelmingly represented. Of course, Strong’s lists “harden” as part of 2388’s meaning, but that is presumably because Strong is following the translation rather than the autographa. At any rate, the definitions ‘to seize’ and “to strengthen” are neither equivalent to nor synonymous with “to harden.” But in your treatment of the exodus narrative, it seems you have allowed your presuppositions to override such lexical differences. Therefore, because on the one hand you do not agree with exhaustive determinism, but on the other hand do not accept appreciable distinctions among the three Hebrew words—[following (or confirming), as you do, the KJV reduction of definitions to “to harden,”]—it appears you have read God’s hardening of Pharaoh into all the instances involving Pharaoh and hardness, instead of accepting just the specific instances where the Lord is stated as the agent cause. This is what I meant in my earlier post about exegesis being driven by presuppositions (i.e., at the expense of proper lexical considerations). But if, conversely, one DOES make appreciable distinctions among these three words, which I think is proper, then one may take the Lord’s statement in 4:21, that is, “I will strengthen [Strong’s 2388] Pharaoh’s heart,” as NOT fulfilled until the Scripture actually states the Lord as the agent cause, which statement first appears in 9:12. Further, one may note that Strong’s 2388 in both 4:21 and 9:12 are Piel Imperfect, which arguably acts as a confirmation of the beginning of the fulfillment. Now, of course, when I say “[if] one DOES make appreciable distinctions,” I am also referring to my own view. So then, as for my treating the statement “The Lord strengthened Pharaoh’s heart” as idiomatic, that is, of God’s allowance of the Enemy to involve Himself more directly upon Pharaoh, now that the magicians (the Enemy’s courtiers, in effect) were no longer able to appear before Moses because of their boils (and presumably before Pharaoh also, as advisors who had lost face in their contest with Yahweh), I believe that Job 2 and 1 Kings 22, besides Exodus (where I believe it is implied) give examples when God relents to allow demonic activity to occur, though God speaks of His relenting as though He were the agent cause, when in fact the context shows that He is acting in deference to His wishes. I believe God uses this figure of speech to show His overall governing over His creation, which would not be so strongly conveyed if the more technical way of stating the matter (using “allowed”) were used. Such a conclusion about the idiomatic use of Strong’s 2388, that is, when the Lord is cited specifically as the agent cause in strengthening Pharaoh’s heart, while circumstantial, is, I think, much preferable to the your own kind of conclusion which ultimately defines God as a Puppeteer who conducts puppets, which you state on page 429:

    “In 4:21 and 7:3 God, the divine “Puppeteer,” announced the program; in the early stages of the narrative one barely sees the puppet’s strings, but by the end of the narrative the curtain covering the platform is pulled aside to reveal the Puppeteer in action.

    Third, divine hardening was a form of judgment, which on five occasions even went so far as to reverse a seemingly positive response by Pharaoh. An initial act of refusal precluded repentance later. Any move toward repentance was aborted by God.”

    Now, Bob, I must ask how it is that puppets are judged by God, since puppets are nothing but material creation, that is, if ‘human,’ then merely the biological equivalent of the cotton fabric and buttons and hay stuffing found in less ordered puppets? I mean, you are not asking us to accept a special pleading definition for “puppet,” are you? And why do you refer to what here is a puppet but elsewhere as of that class of entity which (if memory serves right) you first and afterward call “moral beings”? (Ben, do you happen to be listening in? For the record, such an approach is no longer panentheism from my point of view, as we judged a matter in an previous thread, but pantheism. For Bob is (from my viewpoint) not merely confounding the will of man with the will of God but also of the material with the immaterial.)

    So, Bob, if I may use an analogy here to describe your description of the nature of man, your depiction is of a man who, with a puppet on his hand, goes into a department store and shoplifts something with the puppet’s mouth, BUT THEN, after being jailed numerous times for stealing, has God come along to stick HIS hand into the same puppet overtop of his own weaker hand, and, with God’s hand overpowering his, makes sure to commit nothing but additional stealing, even to the point of preventing change which the man would do otherwise, so that God in his “justice” may judge the man whose hand was inside the puppet! But surely some 3rd party readers of this post must be screaming, “Dan, obviously Bob can be stating no such thing! Do you realize he’s a professor at Dallas??!!” But I urge these readers to consider that Bob’s statements about men being moral beings on the one hand, while calling them puppets on the other hand (no pun intended), are Bob’s, not my own, and I have not forcibly drawn my conclusions from Bob’s propositions to argue ad absurdum. They ARE his own statements.

    For me the most troubling aspect about Bob’s article, especially the end of it, is that Bob’s concluding tone of language suggests that he doesn’t feel that his conclusions are really absurd at all, nor does he convey that he thinks they give much appearance of it. Apparently, Bob has been submersed for so long in the Hegelian dialectic that he imagines he has provided us with an article that gives an explanation besides that of philosophical irrationalism dressed up in sophisticated Christianese. For there is almost a nonchalant attitude here at the close, as though he is saying, “Oh, yes, and by the way, remember that a man, though a puppet under divine hardening, is a moral being worthy of divine judgment.” Bob, that is no explanation. It explains nothing of the evil caused by divine hardening, much less provide God a righteous justification to judge. And by “righteous,” I do not mean “righteous” as you define it in your article, for, technically speaking, you have not defined it at all, except inconclusively.

    Finally, because your statements about the hardening of Pharaoh essentially follow the usual ad hominem/ pro Deo apologetic found in Calvinist theologians like Arthur W. Pink, I will close with my criticism of Pink’s support of Calvin on the subject of Pharaoh’s hardening. I think it is fairly pertinent here. But I wish first to say this one thing. Bob, will you change your thinking on this matter? That is my prayer for you. The fact is, we need persons like yourself in Christian colleges and seminaries, because most of us DON’T have the kind of special training you have, which of course IS of value when wisely applied. The influence you exert is so considerable. Indeed, how many persons are likely to read this post of mine compared to the many persons who sit under your teaching in your classes, who in turn become teachers of others?

    But to the point of my criticism of Pink:

    Fifth, and finally, note the language Pink uses to support his argument for a Calvinistic interpretation:
    **…We must believe, therefore that the Judge of all the earth did right in creating and destroying this vessel of wrath, Pharaoh.**
    This is a lot of verbal nonsense, but for the sake of language itself we should observe Pink’s use of it. Note here that Pink is claiming 1) that God is **the Judge of all the earth, ** and 2) that God formed Pharaoh as a **moral agent, ** but in such a way (claims Pink) that it involved neither **justice nor injustice. ** Our question, then, is as elementary as it can be: How can God be called a **judge** if in regard to Pharaoh He is not declaring what is just and unjust? Isn’t that what any judge does, i.e., declares what is justice and injustice? Isn’t that, in fact, the **meaning** of the word **judge? ** As for Pharaoh, then, **someone** must be **justly** accused in Pharaoh’s sin, for otherwise Pharaoh would not be a vessel of wrath. Presumably, Pharaoh would naturally be responsible for his own sin. Yet this raises a dilemma for Pink (as it does for any Calvinist). For if **Pharaoh is justly** credited for his sin, then he is autonomous in deciding that moral content for himself, and that means God could not be truly sovereign nor **rule** (command into being) the activities of all men. On the other hand, had Pink said that **God** should be appropriately credited with Pharaoh’s sin (as the Creator and Destroyer of such reprobate vessels like Pharaoh, whose thoughts and intents He creates) that would mean the Almighty was responsible for the sinful content of Pharaoh’s heart. That, too, Pink cannot allow. Consequently, Pink is stuck with the old Calvinistic problem of wanting to say that God has ordained **all** that shall come to pass, yet not in a way where He has ordained sin. What is Pink’s ‘answer’? As a Calvinist Pink must keep man’s autonomy and God’s sovereignty in dialectical tension. This way it can be said that God chooses Pharaoh’s choices but not in a way where God chooses Pharaoh’s choices. This is why Pink’s conclusion (shown above) ignores the **either/or** biblical language which maintains God and man as distinctives, and uses instead the kind of **both/and** mystical gibberish which voids words of their meaning. Hence, Pink’s ‘Judge’ of all the earth is not judging at all (i.e., as Pink says of God in relation to Pharaoh, **neither displayed justice nor injustice), ** and a vessel’s **wrathful end** is not said to be a result of any process involving “justice” or “injustice.” So, the vessel’s sinful content which makes it deserving of God’s wrath is not said to be **caused** by the vessel itself, much less by the Potter. Simply put, Pink’s theology on this point is wholly indefinite in meaning. How indeed, then, can even the content of the vessel be called sinful if no one has caused the content of the vessel? Whenever Christian thinkers have employed such doublethinking, it has always led to this kind of indefinite and inconclusive theology. Thus, Pink’s reason (if **reason** it be called) for a vessel’s damnation is an appeal to God’s ‘bare sovereignty,’ i.e., which by default is defined as an apparent no-man’s land of ethical neutrality (as though such a land could exist) where justice and injustice are not operative. This is Pink’s additional **‘either’** which he brings into the discussion to solve the already present **either/or** logical problem that confronts him. In other words, it is his **either/or** OR **either** ‘solution’. And thus do we properly understand Pink’s ‘solution’ to be irrationalism. Pink’s wish for an ethical no-man’s land might indeed exist for **plants, ** which do no good or evil, but such a ‘land’ cannot exist for men said to be **moral agents. ** As Christ expressed it in an argument against even the **possibility** of neutrality, “He that is not against me is for me, and he that is for me is not against me.” There is no third possibility in a good God’s either/or universe, despite Pink’s Calvinistic longing for it. The only explanation Pink offers is a mystery involving God’s ‘bare sovereignty,’ as though somehow this phrase ([God’s] ‘bare sovereignty’) makes plain all the irrationality of his position which cannot allow justice on the one hand nor injustice on the other in any discussion about sin. As someone has said, “Calvinism sweeps all of its dirt under a rug called **‘God’s sovereignty.’ ”** Hence Pink leaves us in a paralysis of unknown definitions. What, then, is ‘God,’ or ‘man,’ or ‘justice,’ or ‘injustice,’ or ‘sovereignty,’ or ‘wrath,’ or even a ‘vessel’? None of Pink’s readers nor Pink himself seem to know. The strength of Pink’s argument lies in his reader’s association of these words with their real meanings, for such meanings cannot be derived from Pink’s own descriptive use of these words. In other words (and to briefly review an earlier point), if I said, “I ate the apple I didn’t eat,” it is impossible for a hearer not to picture an apple in his mind, even though the statement was non-sensical and therefore absent of meaning in all of its grammatical components. Thus there is only an illusion of meaning which Pink believes **is** meaning, but only such meaning which he claims God can understand. And thus Pink falls into that group observed by his contemporary, Sigmund Freud, i.e., that some men feel “obliged to speak of God’s **inscrutable decrees.”**
    **In short, whenever a Calvinist comes to expressing his conclusions, look for an increased ambiguity in language. ** Even though Calvinists will use religious and emotionally-charged terms, they have stepped away from a real discussion involving key definitions, such as that for sin. Sin is a problem for the Calvinist because it implies accountability and **cause. ** Hence, Pharaoh is called a ‘moral agent’ and a ‘vessel of wrath,’ but conversely also just a ‘form’ which God engages in his ‘bare sovereignty’ apart from any ‘justice or injustice’. I really don’t think Pink himself understands how he discusses Pharaoh as though the Egyptian king were anything more than a **plant. ** For it is with **plants** that one is neither just nor unjust. It is **plants** that are created and destroyed in their ‘forms.’ It is about plants that Pink’s supporters need not worry about giving a detailed explanation of what it means to be a ‘moral agent.’ Gone, in Pink’s summarizing but ambiguous fifth point, is the kind of dogmatic, B.B. Warfield type of statement about God “creating the very thoughts and intents” of men’s souls (such as Pharaoh’s). For Pink to invoke such forceful statements here would all but accuse God of sin, and now that a conclusion is being drawn, Pink, as a Calvinist, must back away from meaning-loaded language statements. We readers tend to miss this shift. The tendency for most of us is to read quickly, whether a light novel or a more serious work. Even in theological works readers often plunge forward when reading over a confusing statement, assuming the author will clarify his point in the next paragraph or two, or give other examples to show what he means. Consequently, little critical thought takes place when encountering the first conundrum. With Pink, as with any Calvinist author, readers progress from one irrationality to another and begin to assume, along with the Calvinist author himself, that consistency is proving the author’s point. As a result, Christians imagine that lofty things are being said about God, though they are not, and that responsibility is being laid at man’s feet for sin, though it also is not. What is offered instead is a confusing amalgam of statements: first, Pink justifies Pharaoh’s hardening on the basis that God is the ** ‘Judge** of all the earth’ (emphasis added). One sentence later he denies the role of any **justice and injustice** in the damnation of Pharaoh (i.e., principles whose absence would obviously not necessitate a **judge).** A bit later he attempts to buttress the same claim about the absence of **justice and injustice** by saying that Romans 9:18 (“…and whom He will He hardeneth”) “has no reference **whatever** to **judicial** ‘hardening.’ ” How anyone can read through the exodus narrative and come away with the feeling that Pharaoh was not at least **also** judged, is truly amazing. Pink tries to convince us with a delay of doublethink. Rather than state in one thought, “God is a judge who is not a judge,” he divides his doublethink into two thoughts and uses language coyly. Thus, God is a judge. God does not employ justice nor injustice.

  6. Dan,

    I only read the first paragraph of your last response to Chisholm, and felt I needed to stop and clarify a few things. The article was first published in a theological journal. Chisholm was kind enough to allow The Society of Evangelical Arminians to publish the article. I simply linked to the article at SEA and included the blurb. The blurb was not written by me, but by a NT scholar who is a member of SEA (who has spent a lot of time researching the hardening passages), so the “laudatory praise” came from him and not me. I don’t have time to read the rest of what you wrote right now, but I might have more to say once I do. Just wanted to clear those things up. Also, I would personally have waited to see what Chisholm had to say concerning his asking you about your background in Hebrew, before making assumptions. I can think of other reasons besides what you have assumed here for him to ask that of you. You may be right, but you may be wrong; and if you are wrong, then much of what you have said would seem to be inappropriate (and you could have spared yourself the trouble of belaboring the point).

    God Bless,

  7. Ben,
    I realized earlier today that I had incorrectly identified the quote as yours. I think I understood that some days ago but had forgotten. Sorry about that. I do hope if Bob responds to tell me that my inference was incorrect, that he will be able to cite past public posts when he has initially responded to persons who have agreed with him by asking the same abrupt brand of questions he asked me. I will certainly apologize to him if that is the case. Ben, to the weak I will be weak, but to the aggressive I will be aggressive. I think that is a biblical principle, and I do not see how someone in my shoes could realistically have interpreted Bob’s questions any other way. I think you ought to imagine, for a moment, if those questions had been asked of you by a CALVINIST DTS faculty member such as G.K. Beale, after you had criticized his work. Do you honestly think you would feel benign about such questions?

    As regards the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart, if you’re going to respond to me in detail please read all of my posts above before doing so. Even that won’t give you a full view of why I have come to my particular conclusions, so if you really want to know what I think on the subject, my chapters 14 and 15 (both are long) are about that. Probably about 20% or more of my book is devoted to this one subject, and I don’t buy the kind of arguments Bob is advancing (God as Puppeteer, etc.) Frankly, I do not believe my position can be faulted without appealing to what Bob calls “literary features’ and “genre considerations.” One can certainly hang his hat on these if he wishes, but I think any position at all can easily be justified along such lines. To prioritize these over basic, lexical evidence in order to promote God-as-Puppeteer is just nonsense to me.

    Incidentally, I was warned long ago (when the first version of my book came out) that if my book was reviewed at BibSac I would be criticized for my lack of credentials. How ironic. After initially attempting to contact Howard Hendricks (but being told he was under cancer treatment) I decided (about 3 or 4 weeks ago) not to pursue a review through that Journal. I’m not sorry at all. DTS is putting out a lot of bad theology in my opinion.

    On the same night that I picked up your message about Bob responding, I received a reply from an old college roommate of mine who I had not spoken to in many, many years. He is now the head of the undergraduate Bible department at PBU. We grew up in South Jersey towns about 8 miles from each other. Anyway, it was a great grief of mind to me to hear that he had read my Intro and certain other things from my book but disagreed with my premises about Calvinism. So, when I read Bob’s comment and remembered that my old roomie had attended DTS, I was in no cheery mood. I just think this Shock and Awe response that Christians have about credentialism is getting us nowhere.

  8. Ben & Bob,

    By way of corrections; I realized later that I may have left the impression that Beale teaches at DTS. I don’t think he does. The last I knew he was connected with Wheaton. Also, in one of my posts I quote Bob as saying “just curious” when in fact he doesn’t use “just.” Any other corrections along these lines I also apologize for, if there are any. And if Bob can point to posts (I presume posts of some nature are out there?) where he responds to a person or persons agreeable to his views with the same sort of questions he put to me, consider my apology to Bob given. In fact, if no such posts exist and yet Bob states plainly that his intent was not to seek knowledge from me for the purpose of being dismissive, consider my apology given. As for the general criticism I have leveled against Bob’s view of what is called the hardening of Pharaoh, I cannot think that for this I have anything to apologize.

    As I consider the long posts I have given under this thread, and the 125 or so pages I have devoted in my book to the subject of Pharaoh’s hardening, along with the related subject of judgment (in Romans 9), I doubt that, even in the event that criticisms are given or returned here against my own view, I would likely have anything to add that would be appreciably different from what I have already stated. I think, then, I will most likely leave off responding further here. Indeed, if the arguments I have already laid out on this matter are not convincing to some reader, I doubt that anything I would add would in their view tilt the scales in my favor. One point does strike me, though. Someone may raise the issue of taking Strong’s 2388 to mean “to seize,” as in “The Lord seized Pharaoh’s heart.” But this approach is addressed in my book, in case any wish to explore it.

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