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.