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).
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.
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.
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.