Faith and Reason

FAITH AND REASON[1]

The discussion of faith and reason within the disciplined study of theology necessarily presupposes numerous truths. The first is God himself. The second is creation, specifically the creation of man, and man as made in God’s own image. Thirdly, man’s sinfulness and fall from divine favor. And lastly, but not nearly least in importance, God’s revelation of himself to man.

The anthropological constitution of created man is unitary. His will, intellect, and emotions are one, and should not be seen as distinct faculties within him. They are rather indivisible parts of his whole person. As a unitary individual, man’s giftedness to trust and reason cannot be neatly separated. When created man does one, he does so with all that it means for him to be a divinely created man, i.e., with his whole being inclusive of the will, the intellect, and the emotions, all together. This does not mean that trusting and knowing are the same acts, only that, within his unitary constitution, man cannot do one without necessarily involving the other. Already on the grounds of anthropology it becomes apparent that a contrast or antithesis between faith and reason will certainly lead to conflict, since a man may not trust in something he thinks not true.

Faith and Reason

Within evangelical theology, the approach to understanding truth has always been one of faith seeking understanding, which necessarily observes a complimentary view of faith and reason. Faith seeking understanding was how Anselm began his Proslogion, forming a significant doxological context for his famous ontological argument, a point that natural theologies often neglect in their hurried treatment of the work’s treasured proof. Augustine, Calvin, and Luther also upheld the evangelical view of faith and reason together. Calvin held to a natural sense of the divine within every man, i.e., his sensus divinitatis, and saw no need to separate faith and reason in order to discover the truths of God as his scholastic predecessors had done. God implants the truth of himself within the conscience of every man.

The New Testament teaches that faith is the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Faith is trusting in God’s promises. A person can be cognitively assured of God’s dependability to make good on his promises (i.e., reason) but this is not the same as having faith until the volition or will of the person is exercised by placing faith in God. That man can in fact place faith in God would obviously require knowledge of Him. So there is no dichotomy between faith and reason in the evangelical view.

While faith and reason are complementary, they are not entirely identical, and the question of how much of reason overlaps with faith is a difficult one to answer. Faith should always welcome the use of reason, since this is none other than being a good person by functioning according to God’s design and purpose.

Reason without Faith

Natural theology, as presented by Descartes and Locke, would be a form of (a) reason without faith. The problem with natural theology is it’s grounding of reason’s foundations in man’s own independent cognitive faculties. This exchange in foundations, however, fails to account for the truth that man is already made in God’s image, and while the image has been marred as a result of sin, it has not been lost, since the very essence of what it means to be made in God’s image includes both reason and volition. During the modern era, the rationalism of Descartes and Locke[2] became paradigmatic for thinkers championing reason over faith and dispensing with divine revelation. Descartes and Locke both, though in different ways, established a method of rationalism entirely dependent upon man’s own innate ability to think, and from this innatist position proceeded to ground faith upon the natural arguments of their predecessors, the famed proofs of the medieval ages. This displaced theology entirely from the realm of divine revelation and made it answerable to the innatist rationalism of man’s own mind. The Enlightenment was largely an anthropocentric turn as the realities of God and revelation were jettisoned. Alexander Pope crystallized man’s coming of age during the Enlightenment quite well with his words “Know then thyself, presume God not to scan The proper study of Mankind is man.” Much of the purpose for establishing this rationalistic foundation, at least for Locke was the desire to arbitrate between competing truth claims, specifically religious opinions, as Locke referred to them. Kant (who forms the subjective pivot in the history of philosophy), Hegel, and others could also be placed within the reason without faith category.

Faith without Reason

Tertullian (“what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”), Lessing’s ditch, as well as much of Protestant Liberalism (e.g., the religious feeling/consciousness of Schleiermacher; the existentialism of Bultmann, who followed Kierkegaard’s incipient existentialism in the form of his great leap of faith theology; and, to a degree, neoorthdox theologians such as Barth, though Barth surprisingly speaks of rationalism often in his Church Dogmatics), these would each be good examples of faith without reason. Among these thinkers, except for Tertullian and Lessing, theology becomes a kind of existential encounter, though not one deserving of the pejorative label of mysticism. Their work at a holistic level clearly betrays a faith without reason approach. God is not to be known cognitively but encountered. God is known only in faith, and faith must be expressed in the form of a leap across a big ditch or comparable means exclusive of reason.

Conclusion

From this brief taxonomy it can be seen that not only is reason without faith capable of placing the truths of Christian faith within an escapist realm which is secure from the canons of modern, anti-supernatural criticisms (e.g., the religious moralism of Kant), but faith without reason can do the same as well (e.g., the religious consciousness of Schleiermacher). Only the evangelical view of faith and reason together accounts for a faith that is at once trusting but also capable of expressing itself rationally in the form of creeds, such as the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed. Christianity is an intellectual faith. Its beauty is unparalleled as captured by its teachings on atonement and faith, and its reason outmatched, as demonstrated by a rich, evangelical tradition of creeds.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clark, Gordon Haddon. The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark. Edited by John W. Robbins. Volume 4 of Christian Philosophy. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004.

ENDNOTES

[1]The reader will recognize the author’s indebtedness to the philosophy of Gordon Haddon Clark concerning the relationship between faith and reason. See Clark, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, ed. by John W. Robbins, vol. 4 of Christian Philosophy (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004), see esp. the section on “Faith and Reason,” pp. 126-81. This collection of Clark’s work includes the book by Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961; reprint 1995).

[2]Though Locke is primarily an empiricist, he is also a rationalist.

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Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 3

INTRODUCTION

On my last post, I made a note about method in approaching Paul’s relation to Judaism. I suggested that we are mistaken if we assume that the diverse literature of the Second Temple period is monolithic on any single topic, and election and predestination are no exceptions. Moreover, even if we were to identify absolute unity of expression in the relevant Jewish materials, it would not follow that Paul is incapable of arriving at a fresh evaluation of the topic in question, as he does on the role of the law in salvation-history. I then tried to show how Josephus’ classification of the major Jewish groups of his day according to their diverse opinions about the relationship between divine providence and human freedom makes statements to the effect that no Jewish sources affirmed divine predestination to covenant membership and ultimate salvation, like Thornhill’s, very dubious.

Building on these observations, I want to begin in this post to review some of the relevant Jewish materials for plotting Paul’s theology of election. I will make clear that we cannot affirm the equation “election = predestination to salvation” that some in my own theological tradition tend to make. Election is a complex topic and election language is used to express several ideas, making predestination one among many, which are not mutually exclusive.

JEWISH CONCEPTS OF ELECTION

Because of space limitations and because other scholars (including Thornhill) had already done a good job of cataloging the evidence, I did not review the following Jewish data in my actual thesis (it was among the painful cuts I had to make). However, in order to set the stage for our discussion of predestination in Judaism and Paul, I think it is important to review some important material that I could not cover in my thesis. Two important studies on which I am dependent should be mentioned here. The first is a revision of D. A. Carson’s Cambridge doctoral thesis, entitled Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension (Wipf and Stock, 2002). The other is a doctoral dissertation by Sigurd Grindheim, that Carson supervised at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, entitled The Crux of Election: Paul’s Critique of the Jewish Confidence in the Election of Israel (WUNT II/202; Mohr Siebeck, 2005). I highly recommend both works for anyone interested in the topic at hand. Both studies begin by treating the very complex topic of election in Jewish context, both in the Hebrew Bible and the Second Temple literature. Carson’s study goes on to focus on the relevance of this material to the Johannine literature, while Grindheim’s study turns to focus on Paul. I think it’s important to list some of the important categories these two scholars identify in the OT and Second Temple materials, along with some references, in order to illustrate how complex a topic election really is. The references I provide are by no means exhaustive and the scholars I have just mentioned provide many more. In order to keep this post short, I have chosen examples that are especially illustrative of the categories under which they fall.

Gift of Wisdom and Torah

In wisdom literature, like Sirach, election language can refer to the possession of the divinely dispensed Wisdom. Thus, Jacob (Israel) is elect because God commanded Wisdom to take up residence there uniquely (24.8–12). This notion has its roots in the first chapter of Sirach, where we are told that at creation God created Wisdom and determined to dispense her in general to all, but in special abundance to “those who love him” (1.4–10). There is a connection made in between the reception of Wisdom and the reception of the Torah in 2.16, where we are told that those who love the Lord are “filled with his law” (cf., 15.1; 17.11; 19.20; 21.11; et al.). Thus, this special measure of Wisdom that Israel receives in 1.9 should probably be equated with the special revelation that the covenant nation received when Yahweh gave her the Torah. Therefore, we see an intimate relationship here between election and the establishment of the Law-covenant. However, as we will see in a later post, this idea is complemented in Sirach by the presence of some key material advocating divine predestination (e.g., 33.7–15).

Election and Choice Quality

In 1 Enoch we find some examples of the use of election language to describe the quality of the elect one as choice. In 93.2 we see “the elect of the world” in synonymous parallel to “the children of righteousness.” It is “the elect ones of righteousness” whom God will choose (93.10). In 1 Enoch 38.1–4 “elect ones” is used to mean those who are righteous and holy, in contrast to the wicked and sinners. As Grindheim summarizes: “That which is ‘elect’ is now a quality… The connotations of the term are that which is ethically and religiously good, and that which is worthy of being elected…” (The Crux of Election, 42).

Call to Vocation

We also find that election carries with it the obligation of a special duty of manifesting God’s glory to the nations. Therefore, in some sources, being chosen is about being given a special task by God. Israel, for example, is to keep the Law as the terms of the covenant in order to display their God’s uniquely righteous character to the surrounding peoples:

Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I have set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:6–8, ESV; cf. 28:9–10)

In Isaiah 14:1, when God restores Israel it will result in others being joined to the covenant. Moreover, Israel is Yahweh’s chosen servant who will receive his spirit and “bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).

This way of discussing election extends into the Second Temple literature as well. In Sirach 45.4–5 we read that God chose Moses in order to “teach Jacob the covenant, and Israel his decrees.” In Psalms of Solomon 17.4 David’s chosenness speaks of his appointment to the office of king. Peter repeats this idea when he applies this language of Israel’s election to the church, saying that they have been chosen “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The concept of vocation has featured significantly in N. T. Wright’s biblical-theological work, regarding both election and Christology.

Reversal of Values

Another interesting aspect of election that shows up in the OT and especially in Paul (which is the focus of Grindheim’s study) is the way God’s choice of Israel, or his new covenant people, serves to illustrate a divine reversal of human systems of value. “That which has no outstanding inherent value becomes precious by divine election and that which is not choice in itself becomes the object of God’s choice” (Grindheim, The Crux of Election, 9). This is apparent in Israel’s patriarchal narratives, wherein Isaac is chosen over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, showing God’s disregard for primogeniture. Then, quite explicitly, in Deuteronomy 7:6–7, regarding Israel’s choice, we read:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples… (ESV)

Paul picks up this idea in 1 Corinthians 1:26 when he invites his audience to recognize that they were called by God, even though, according to worldly standards, they should not have been valued. This concept is illustrated most vividly in Ezekiel 16, where God describes his unconditional electing love for Israel as his having compassion on a new-born child who was not even loved or properly cared for by her parents, and later, in spite of her “whoring” and adultery (i.e., idolatry), he will again restore her—thus, again choosing her—through an everlasting covenant. There is no reason Israel should have been chosen, and every reason for God to have rejected her. According to Paul, the church is in the same boat. Nevertheless, God has set his covenantal affection upon his people, thus, reversing normal measures of value.

Corporate Election

Thornhill and others have focused much on the importance of corporate election in the OT and Second Temple literature as relevant background to Paul’s (and the rest of the NT’s) thought. When the corporate element of election is in focus, the texts speak of one receiving elect status and benefits by joining the elect community. Individuals are not the focus of election, but God has chosen the group, so that individuals become elect only by joining the community. The clearest examples in this category are found in the sectarian literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially the Community Rule (1QS). Those who repent and undergo the lengthy and demanding process of joining the Yahad (“community”) become members of God’s new covenant people. This community believed that the temple cult was defective, so that forgiveness was available only for their members. If one left the community, his fate was destruction along with all outsiders, since salvation was only for their community, the true Israel.  As we will see in later posts, this corporate element of election that we observe here did not preclude predestination (as Thornhill and others seem to assume). In fact, divine predestination was used in this very document (in the form we have it) as the crucial theological undergirding that explains why only a relatively small number of Israelites joined the community and remained there, but the vast majority did not.

 

The Remnant

When discussing election in the OT, it is important to make note of the “remnant” motif. Especially prominent in the prophetic books, and a theme that features heavily in Second Temple literature, and in the Gospels and Romans 9–11, is the idea of an elect people within the elect nation—a true Israel within Israel. That is, not all of Israel is truly elect in the fullest and most ultimate sense, despite being in the covenant. According to Jeremiah 31:31–34, this problem will not exist in the “new covenant.” There is great diversity in just how this concept works out in the variegated literature in question. This notion comes into special focus when the nation is divided by those who follow Solomon. Amos gives testimony that Judah thought of themselves as a faithful remnant when the northern tribes had apostatized.

The remnant motif comes into special focus following the division of the kingdom after Solomon, when sharp distinctions began to be pronounced between those descendants of Abraham were seeking to be faithful to the covenant with Yahweh (primarily in Judah) and those who were engaging in open and gross idolatry (primarily Israel). Amos gives testimony that Judah thought of themselves as a faithful remnant when the northern tribes had apostatized. The prophet seeks to dispel the notion that God will not also bring severe judgment against Judah if she continues to transgress the covenant, leaving only an even smaller remnant within Judah. Isaiah 1 provides some important evidence of the remnant concept. Judah comprises “children” who have rebelled against their father, Yahweh (v. 2). This evokes God’s judgment against “the daughter of Zion” (v. 8). However, Yahweh has spared “a few survivors” lest Judah be completely eradicated like Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 9). In Isaiah 10:20–22, inclusion in the remnant is shown to be on an individual basis according to Yahweh’s powerful eschatological act of deliverance:

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. (ESV)

A kind of remnant ideology contributed to the events that transpired during the Maccabean revolt (see especially the apocalyptic vision of Daniel 11 and 1 Maccabees, though those faithful to the covenant do not participate in violence in the former reference). In response to what was viewed as apostasy, violent actions were considered justified by the more zealous among conservative Jews. This seems only justifiable if those Jews who had compromised and engaged in what they view as idolatry were thought to be outside of the sphere of election in a very real sense. The community of the Dead Sea Scrolls held similar views, but instead of using violence to eradicate the problem and restore the nation, they withdrew into an exclusive community as the faithful remnant of the true Israel. In some ways similar (though with important differences as well), Jesus and the early Christian movement saw themselves as the faithful remnant of Israel, comprised literally of a small number of Jews who had heeded the eschatological call to repent and believe the Gospel along those Gentiles who were added to the covenant through union with the Messiah Jesus, the true Israel (e.g., Romans 9:6–29; 11:1–32; 1 Peter 2:4–10), and excluding those Israelites who did not believe (Romans 9:30–10:21). Thus, election, in some contexts, meant more than being part of Israel in general—it meant being within that part of Israel who would experience eschatological deliverance, which was not universally promised.

CONCLUSION

This all illustrates that election was a complex and pervasive concept in Second Temple Judaism (as E. P. Sanders showed so conclusively four decades ago). However, recognizing that election is ubiquitous does not answer many of the theological questions that naturally follow. The theological questions that are cause for debate and division in Christian circles are not new. There were Jews in the Second Temple period who speculated about why God had chosen Israel at all. If it was not because of some special quality in those chosen, then God seems to be capricious—which most Jews could not accept. There has always been the question of whether Israel’s election precludes her finally being rejected (or having been finally rejected) for persistently violating the covenant (e.g., Rom 9–11). Or, why were some Israelites faithful, thus comprising a remnant, while others were not? Does election effect the elect one’s faithfulness, or does God chose those whom he foresees will be faithful to the terms of the covenant? This all naturally leads to questions about human volition, divine sovereignty, and predestination? Some Jews (strangely, in my view) believed that God chose Israel because he foresaw that they alone would keep the covenant. Others said that he chose the Patriarchs for that reason (again, strangely), thus assuring Israel’s elect status. And some, even if a minority, believed that God chose Israel as his free prerogative from creation, based on nothing but his desire to display his power in the world by so doing. This act of election, prior to creation, assures the certain result of God’s purpose of choosing his people, the creation of a faithful covenant community who will reflect his glory to the nations. Over the next couple of posts, we will see some sources that saw election in terms of God’s predestination at creation, before moving into Paul’s view on the matter.

Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 2

INTRODUCTION

In this post, I want to continue my series about my ThM thesis, which was written largely in response to A. Chadwick Thornhill’s 2015 book, The Chosen People. In Part 2 I will begin reviewing what I regard as the most important Jewish materials for establishing the spectrum of belief regarding election and predestination in Paul’s context.

First, I should note a key difference in the approach I took in my thesis over against the approach of Thornhill. One of the weaknesses of his study (as I judge it) is that it lacks sustained treatment of the relevant Jewish materials in their literary contexts, due to the scope of materials he included. This had the effect, in my estimation, of minimizing the rhetorical thrust of some of the more overtly predestinarian passages, which I believe skewed evidence that should have proven problematic to his thesis. Proving one’s thesis problematic is not a bad thing for an objective historian (as far as this is possible). Good historical investigation should be scientific. It requires us to begin with a working hypothesis to test against the evidence. When the evidence suggests that the thesis lacks explanatory value, the historian then must nuance or modify the hypothesis in order to accommodate. Failing to do so will necessitate strained readings of this recalcitrant evidence, leading to a greatly weakened case for the critical reader. I believe Thornhill’s study failed in this matter, partly because the volume of materials precluded detailed exegetical treatments of some of the most relevant sources, which I judge very problematic for his thesis.

In the early process of my study, I had similar aspirations of providing a wholesale treatment of the topic of election in Second Temple Judaism. I presented this idea when I submitted the syllabus for my project, which is something of an annotated outline. In response, one of my thesis supervisors, Darrell Bock, said, “This seems pretty ambitious.” As I began research for the project, I realized that he was correct and that there was no way I could stay within the page limits with such a broad-brush approach if I was going to do proper justice to each passage I used. To narrow the scope of my study I had to focus more specifically on predestination, instead of more generally on election. This allowed me to limit myself to the three key passages I will discuss over the next few blog entries. The benefit to this is that my case is grounded in sustained and detailed studies of a small number of texts which are best read as predestinarian, rather than the citation of verses as proof-texts from all over the literature with little appreciation of their literary and rhetorical contexts. This removed the temptation to read disparate material as though it all says essentially the same thing about election and predestination. I came to realize that I could best make my case by showing that some of the texts that Thornhill treated, when carefully considered within their unique literary contexts, show his reading of key evidence to be problematic.

JOSEPHUS AS THE CRUCIAL STARTING POINT

As I began reading the secondary literature, much of which is cited by Thornhill himself, I was floored by the realization that he makes no mention (to my recollection and according to another glance at his index in the process of writing this post) to Josephus’ classification of the Jewish sects of his day. The reason why this is so surprising is that of all topics this important ancient Jewish historian might have chosen to categorize differences in theological perspective among his contemporaries, in Antiquities 13.171-173 he chose the subject of predestination and human freedom. The passage reads:

At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essenes. Now for the Pharisees, they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate. But the sect of the Essenes affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination. And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the cause of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly.

Scholars have noted that Josephus uses characteristically Greek language appropriate for his audience to describe differences of opinion among Jewish groups regarding the nature of God’s providence and how human volition relates. He tells us that the Sadducees regarded human freedom as paramount, leaving little room for direct divine intervention in human affairs. The Pharisees took a moderate and paradoxical view, allowing what they regarded as parallel truths to exist without prioritizing one to the detriment of the other. The Essenes, Josephus tells us, say “fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination.” According to the Essenes, Josephus seems to mean that all that happens in human experience owes ultimately to the divine governance of the creator. This seems to be precisely the view that Thornhill says is completely absent in the Jewish sources available to us.

The reason this passage merits discussion in a book that claims that no Jewish sources present election in predestinarian terms should be obvious. If we assume that Josephus had a handle on the religious environment in which he lived (which seems to be a safe assumption), then we should expect the sources available to us to bear out this diversity of opinion. Specifically, we should expect to find libertarian expressions of election, sources which provide seemingly inconsistent statements about the subject, and others that couch election in terms of divine determinism. I believe this evidence in Josephus alone is enough to make any study on election which declares that no Jewish texts “negate human freedom” (The Chosen People, 256) problematic. Such claims by an author make me suspicious of whether the investigation undertaken is genuinely one of historiography or dogmatics. Of course, there is certainly a place for the latter. However, it should not be primary in a study that promises to place a particular author (Paul) in his historical context.

Genuine historical investigation, it seems to me, rarely yields such absolute results, and Josephus should incline us from the get go not to expect the question of Jewish views of predestination to be an exception (as the sources will bear out). Judaism of the Second Temple period was not monolithic on any other topic. Therefore, we ought to expect diverse expressions when we investigate the theology of election preserved in these variegated sources. If we approach the evidence looking for “a common denominator,” we will inevitably find ourselves guilty of reductionism through strained readings in the primary sources. In order to avoid these pitfalls, I think it is better to identify diversity in the relevant Jewish materials in order to create a spectrum of beliefs. Only then can we compare Paul’s language to see where he ought to be plotted. As I will try to argue in the posts that follow, when we do so we will find that Paul most closely aligns with the strongly predestinarian Essene materials we will survey.

Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election—Part 1

INTRODUCTION

Since Michael mentioned my ThM thesis and my reformed theological stance, I thought it would be good to discuss the thesis for my first series of blog posts here. First, a little of my background.

I became a Christian when I was 15. It was the typical youth summer camp conversion, but it was my first very real experience of God’s presence and the first time I believed the gospel. At that time, my family and I attended a small SBC church on Sundays and I attended an Evangelical Bible church on Wednesdays for youth group. This continued through high school. After my experience at camp, I became somewhat interested in the Bible as it pertained to debates with other religions and pseudo-Christian cults. Our youth group did a series on world religions that I found fascinating and I had a friend whose family were Jehovah’s Witnesses, which made me interested in defending the deity of Jesus. Also, in school one of the only classes I paid attention to was our discussion of Greek mythology in my classes on literature. I was not a driven student at that time, but I was interested in religion.

Since I was such a poor student, I had no intention of going to college after high school. Eventually, I came to believe that God wanted me to join the Marine Corps. Unlike most Marines, not long after my initial training courses for my specialty, I found myself working under a Christian who invited me to church. I was stationed at Camp Pendleton and began attending Calvary Chapel in Vista, Ca. I was hooked from my first visit because this was the first church that I attended where there was a concerted effort to ground all we believed and did in the Bible. At that time, I began reading the Bible on my own for the first time and not long after believed that I had a gift for comprehension and theological inquiry. Wanting something deeper, I found myself attracted to the Reformed tradition (of the Baptist variety), since I found them to take a more scholarly approach to the Bible than I had experienced to that point, and I had become convinced of that tradition’s approach to God’s sovereignty in human redemption. I wanted to study the Bible in the original languages, so after completing my 4-year obligation in the Marine Corps, I enrolled in Dallas Christian College (an institution in the Restoration Movement tradition) to earn a degree in Biblical Studies and Biblical Languages. During this time I excelled in my studies and believed that I should pursue more advanced training focusing in New Testament, so I attended Dallas Theological Seminary because of their rigorous ThM program that focuses heavily on biblical languages (despite my rejection of dispensationalism). I have now completed my coursework there and will receive my diploma this December. I plan to begin PhD work in New Testament studies in the near future as well.

CHOSEN FROM THE BEGINNING—WHY THIS TOPIC?

I mentioned above that during my journey I became convinced that the Reformed tradition has broadly understood the biblical material about God’s sovereignty in relation to salvation better than alternatives. Today I would describe myself as lowercase “r” reformed since I do not subscribe to the traditional confessions. I’m a member of a Southern Baptist Convention church with a Calvinistic persuasion. I don’t want my scholarship to be focused on this topic as a hobby horse. In fact, my main area of interest is the Jewish background to the New Testament. It was this topic, not primarily my Calvinistic convictions, that led me to write my thesis on predestination in Pauline literature.

My academic work led me naturally to consider the history of Pauline scholarship. Paul’s writings have always been a place emphasis in my study. You don’t have to do too much reading in Paul before you come across the debates about his historical context that arose during the 1970s with the publication of E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Sanders took on what had come to be scholarly truisms regarding Jewish religion in Paul’s day, demonstrating that they were, in fact, misrepresentative caricatures. Sanders demonstrated that Judaism was very much a religion founded upon the belief in a gracious God who had initiated the salvation of Israel and provided for its maintenance through his covenant. His extensive treatment of the Jewish materials created a wake in Pauline scholarship that continues to ripple today. All subsequent studies on Paul would have to grapple with Sanders’ work.

Like most Evangelicals, I was introduced to this world of scholarship through N. T. Wright and the debates over the new perspective. Wright and others took Sanders’ findings in the Jewish materials (rejecting much of what he had to say about Paul), and used them to create new paradigms of exegesis in Paul’s letters. This had its most significant impact on the topic of justification in Paul. I came to believe that much of what this new school had to say was insightful and helpful, but that it lacked explanatory value for understanding some key issues in Paul. Regardless of my disagreement on some issues, the appeal to the Jewish background to Paul led me into those primary sources and to read the best works that engaged in the debates about Paul’s relationship to 1st century Judaism. Again, I found Sanders’ work in the Jewish material to be extremely valuable, but reductionistic, since it did not engage in a discussion of what “grace” meant to different Jews and it did not deal adequately with the possibility that Paul evaluated his contemporaries in ways different from their own self-expressions.

As I was nearing the completion of the required course work at DTS, I still had to write a thesis, and I was having trouble coming up with a topic. Then I came across two newly published books that shaped my project. The first was John Barclay’s 2015 work, Paul and the Gift. This work has had a huge impact in Pauline studies, with some saying (and I agree) that this may be the most important book on Paul written in over 100 years. In my opinion, Barclay’s study is the single most important book on Paul’s theology of grace. Whereas Sanders showed that grace is pervasive in 1st century Judaism, Barclay has provided much-needed nuance, demonstrating that “grace is not everywhere the same.” Different Jewish authors understood grace differently, and the task is to locate Paul’s discourse about grace within this complex spectrum. Barclay’s approach to the question of grace in Second Temple Judaism was to treat the topic in five sources—The Wisdom of Solomon, Philo, the Qumran Hodayot, Pseudo-Philo (Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum), and 4Ezra. Barclay detects six “perfections of grace” in the material he surveys (which also includes some Greco-Roman material and major interpreters of Paul in history). These are superabundance, singularity, priority, incongruity, efficacy, and non-circularity (pp. 70-5). Although I didn’t agree with Barclay’s reading of Paul in every respect (only about 98%), his work confirmed and solidified much of what I was finding in my own study. Most notably for me was his treatment of the Hodayot (“Thanksgiving Hymns”) discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QHa), which contain some overtly predestinarian language and emphasize the efficacy of God’s grace, as I believe Paul does, though Barclay disagrees somewhat at this point. This I thought, in agreement with Barclay, is markedly different from what we read in some texts that emphasize human volition in opposition to divine determinism, such as Jubilees and The Wisdom of Solomon. From this, it seemed abundantly clear to me that Judaism’s grace and election theology cannot be reduced to a single monolithic concept so that every author is thought to reject predestinarian election.

Barclay’s monograph had really reconfirmed some convictions I had arrived at after reading John Piper’s work some time before. Today, Piper is known for his prolific authorship and speaking as a pastor. However, he began his career as a New Testament scholar. While teaching in Bethel University, he published his monograph on Romans 9, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1–23 in 1983. This was a masterful and robust exegetical study of this passage that is so remarkably different from the kind of writings Piper has produced since, such as Desiring God, that it’s hard to image the same man producing both. One aspect of Piper’s argument that I remember being very impressed with was his appeal to Sirach 33:7–15 (with some appeal to the Dead Sea Scrolls), following Gaird Maier’s study (Mensch und freir Wille nach den juedischen Religionsparteien zwischen Ben Sira und Paulus) as crucial background for understanding Paul’s potter/clay imagery in Rom 9 in a predestinarian sense. The combination of these studies by Barclay and Piper had me convinced that a compelling case for understanding Paul’s election theology in predestinarian terms in the context of Second Temple Judaism was not only possible, but could be made compellingly.

As much praise as I have for Barclay’s study, another study impacted me as profoundly, but in the opposite direction. Also in 2015, A. Chadwick Thornhill published a version of his dissertation completed at Liberty University, called The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism. With both my theological background and academic interests, this title obviously called out to me. I have always tried to remain intentional about laying my own presuppositions and cherished views on the table for scholarly scrutiny. If what I believe does not hold up to the evidence, then it is not worth clinging to. So, as best I could, I read Thornhill’s study with an open mind. He essentially makes the case that elsewhere in the Jewish sources we find no evidence of belief that election was understood in terms of predestination unto salvation. Therefore, Paul should not be read as affirming any such thing. Instead, the careful reader of Paul should see his election discourse as it relates to salvation in terms of corporate theories rather and individual predestination.

I immediately saw three problems with this study: (1) Having just completed Barclay’s study (which was not available to Thornhill at the time of his research), and through my own reading of the primary Jewish sources, I knew that it simply is not true that the notion of election in terms of predestination to salvation is absent in Second Temple Judaism. Reading Thornhill’s study after Barclay’s made me wonder if the former would have said all that he did if he had the opportunity to read Barclay’s work before publishing The Chosen People. (2) Even if we were to grant Thornhill’s reading of the Jewish literature, it would not of necessity follow that Paul must have agreed with his fellow Jews regarding election and predestination. Paul is quite unique among Jewish authors of his day, for example, in his understanding of the role of the law in God’s economy of salvation. Paul tells us in several places that the law was given to reveal and increase transgressions, leading to death, whereas, his Jewish contemporaries would have said that it was given to curb sin and provide a means of obtaining life. (3) In the most detailed treatments of the topic of election in Paul’s letters, he seems (on my reading) to say some things that sound very much like what Thornhill says Paul could not have believed. So, I found Thornhill’s study to be lacking on historical grounds in these three ways, making a critical evaluation of his study a helpful avenue to consider afresh Paul’s relation to Second Temple Judaism with regard to election and predestination.

In the following posts, I’m going to rehearse some of the key findings in my study, beginning with what I regard as the most relevant materials in the Second Temple literature.

Some New Announcements

Hello readers of Jesus and Paul and the New Testament blog! I have three exciting updates.

(1) To begin with the most exciting news: A new author is joining the blog — Robert Wiesner! I have known Robert a long time, almost ten years. While our studies have taken us in different directions, we have maintained steady contact since first meeting in 2008. I still remember meeting him at my regular Starbucks, where I studied weekly throughout all of Bible college. I was with a friend discussing New Testament theology, specifically Pauline theology. Robert overheard and introduced himself as a Bible college student in the area with knowledge of Greek.

Robert completed his undergraduate degree at Dallas Christian College with a major in Biblical Studies and a minor in Biblical Languages. He has also completed a soon to be awarded Master of Theology in New Testament Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. The title of his thesis was: “Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election in the Context of Second Temple Judaism.”

Robert knows his way around the entire Greek New Testament, but is especially a student of Paul, which his thesis title reveals. And his doctoral research will take him even deeper into Pauline research and the world of Second Temple Judaism. He provides, therefore, an excellent balance to the aims of this blog. He also shares an appreciation for Reformed doctrine, but I’ve informed him that I lean more toward Lutheran theology than Reformed.

While I have steadily focused on Jesus studies since 2012, Robert has done the same for perhaps longer with Paul. His knowledge of Paul eclipses my own and he will be a valuable voice in the blogosphere.

(2) Secondly, I am beginning year two of doctoral studies at the University of Aberdeen. My focus is the historical Jesus and the Last Supper, with a dual emphasis on methodology and the Last Supper event. I had a very successful first year and look forward to all that year two will provide!

(3) Third and lastly: With the support of my doctoral supervisor and others, I have a forthcoming publication in the works. I am not going to reveal details here for several reasons, but mostly because it is my first publication and I do not know how much I can share without being frowned upon. I will say that it is a contributory essay in an important book on Jesus studies hopefully coming next year.

That is all that I have for now. I look forward to sharing more details with you on both (2) and (3) as they progress. I hope you enjoy Robert’s blogging as well.

-Michael

Codex Bezae

I have been studying Maurice Casey on the Last Supper in his books Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel and Jesus of Nazareth. His interest in the Semitisms (Aramaisms) of Codex Bezae prompted me to look further into this codex. Because of Casey’s many appeals to the witness of Codex Bezae, I searched online for the Greek text. I learned that Logos presently has the Greek transcription of the codex compiled by the International Greek New Testament Project and Cambridge University Press — for free! Logos has added many helpful aids for interested researchers as well. (Note also that Logos has Codex Sinaiticus for free download.)

https://www.logos.com/product/35581/codex-sinaiticus

Lessing’s Ditch versus the Questers (comical)

Historical Jesus studies in a nutshell, with Lessing’s famous ditch as a rubric: (1) First questers both realize and attempt to cross the ditch, but get hung-up on their reflections in the streams below, midway across the bridge. They like what they see more than getting across. (2) No questers looked across the ditch to the man Jesus and considered it unnecessary to cross, since they had the kerygmatic Gospels and could encounter Jesus… without Jesus…(?!) (3) New questers attempted to bridge the ditch through newer criteria. Initial analysis demonstrated significant advances, and all indications were positive. It was only a question of the right criteria. And still more criteria. Hundreds of criteria! Some even practiced the criteria! (4) Third questers contextualized the ditch, rather to the ditch’s confusion and bewilderment! But they were somehow able to rescue Jesus’ ministry from across the ditch. Just not Jesus’ passion. Efforts are still ongoing… (5) Post-modernist historians, despite regarding ditch-crossing as an impossibility, and though seemingly unaware of the discipline of history and its ability to bridge to something beyond epistemology, beyond itself — these questers, rather curiously, are most likely to succeed in crossing the ditch, since at the rate they write, the ditch may soon be filled!