Thursday, May 20, 2010

Protestants going beyond what is written.

A popular (but by no means universal) proof-text Protestants use for alleged support of Sola Scriptura (SS) is 1 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV), "I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another." The phrase "do not go beyond what is written" is taken by some Protestants to mean don't look outside the boundaries of Scripture for Christian doctrines. While this claim might seem plausible upon a surface level reflection, I suggest that such a claim is going beyond what is written in terms of reading too much into that phrase, ignoring the context and other key information.
The following are some important factors to take into consideration regarding this passage:
  • The context is speaking on the issue of pride and other sinful attitudes plaguing the Corinthians, and not focused on laying out a rule of faith. The problem Paul is talking about is not one regarding "scripture alone" versus "scripture plus." 
  • 1 Corinthians 11:2 explicitly tells them to hold onto the traditions Paul handed onto them, thus 4:6 could not be teaching SS.  
  • Given that various NT Scriptures (e.g. 2nd Corinthians) weren't written yet means practicing SS was (functionally) impossible at that point in time.
  • When one looks at how Protestants have historically read 1 Corinthians 4:6, it was not really appealed to as a SS proof text. For example, here is John Calvin's Corinthians Commentary on this verse
"The clause above what is written may be explained in two ways — either as referring to Paul’s writings, or to the proofs from Scripture which he has brought forward. As this, however, is a matter of small moment, my readers may be left at liberty to take whichever they may prefer." 
Those are hardly the comments we would expect for a SS proof text - Calvin says the meaning of the phrase isn't that big of a deal! Taking the first option, Paul was speaking of heeding his warnings in his own epistles. Taking Calvin's second option, Paul simply was telling them to heed the warnings of the OT citations in the previous 3 chapters. Neither option comes anywhere close to suggesting a SS proof.
  • The term "written" can mean a whole range of things: (a) the whole Bible, (b) the whole OT, (c) the whole NT, (d) the whole OT plus partially completed NT, (e) Paul's Epistles, (f) Paul's lesson on humility given in 1 Corinthians Chapters 1-3, (g) the OT passages Paul quotes in his lesson on humility, (h) something else.

    Evaluating these options, (a) is the only option that satisfies SS, but it is not the only option or even most likely, given options like (b) and (e)-(h) are far more exegetically fitting.

Really, taking these factors into consideration, for a Protestant to suggest 1 Corinthians 4:6 is a proof text for Sola Scriptura is engaging in a blatant fallacy of begging the question. Simply examining the context, the point of the verse is Paul is saying he inserted his name and Appolos' into the lesson on humility he gave in chapters 1-3 so as not to point any fingers at the true culprits and to curb the Corinthian pride (4:6a). For the Corinthians to exalt themselves beyond what Paul wrote in chapters 1-3, especially the OT texts against pride and worldly wisdom (4:6b), is to act outside of the acceptable boundaries of Christian humility (4:6c).

End Note: Much of this was taken from a conversation I had with a Protestant in another comment box on my blog (see comments by Nathanael Taylor, starting March 10).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Is Job the "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah 53? - More Problems with Penal Substitution

Though Isaiah 53 is one of the primary OT proof-texts for the Protestant understanding of the Atonement, popularly termed "Penal Substitution," in this post I will briefly look at various verses in the chapter and show why projecting that erroneous doctrine onto this prophecy doesn't work.
As I go through Isaiah 53, I will highlight various words that appear elsewhere in the OT:
(53:4a)  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows  
(11c) he shall bear their iniquities
(12c) yet he bore the sin of many
St Matthew (8:16-17) directly quotes verse 4a and applies it to Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons; it has nothing to do with Penal Substitution. The term "bore" (H5375) here also appears in verse 12c, and the term "carried" (H5445) also appears in verse 11c. What the parallel usage in 4a (and Mat 8:16f) shows is that the notion of 'bearing' need not be literal nor so called "imputation", but rather a way of simply saying 'takes away'.
(4b) yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
(7a) He was oppressed, and he was afflicted
Job 2:5 But stretch out your hand and touch his [Job's] bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.

Job 19: 21 Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me! 

Job 30:11 God has loosed my cord and humbled me
Many Protestants read 4b as saying people thought ("esteemed" H2803) Jesus was being punished for His own sins rather than ours, but that's a serious distortion and quite unwarranted. In fact, it ties back to 53:2-3, where it says the Jews "esteemed" (same word) Jesus as a nobody, and at the Cross thought was under God's displeasure because God didn't come to His rescue (cf. Mat 27:40-43) - though these folks were obviously jumping to erroneous conclusions. The term "esteemed" in Hebrew is very frequently used in reference to people "reckoning" evil thoughts or plans against others, or even down right mistaken (Gen 38:15; 1 Sam 1:13). The term for "stricken" (H5060) is also applied to Job (where the Devil challenges God to touch/strike down Job), as is the term for "smitten" (H5221, where Job states he was 'smitten by God'), and finally, the term "afflicted" (H6031, where Job states he was afflicted/humbled by God). Keep in mind that though the English words might be slightly different at times (depending on Bible translation), the color-coded Hebrew words are the same, and the context clearly is using the words the same way as well.
(5) But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

(10) Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him
Job 6:9 that it would please God to crush me

Job 5:17 blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty
Prov 20:30 Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts.
As with the previous verse, a similar theme emerges: The Hebrew terms "crushed" (H1792) and "chastisement" (H4148) are applied to Job. One important note here, some translations render the term "chastise" as "punishment," but this is inaccurate since the term refers to fatherly correction and not a judicial punishment (note how frequently the book of Proverbs uses the term!). With that in mind, while the term "stripes" (H2250) doesn't appear in Job, the reference to Proverbs above shows it can fit the 'chastise' concept as well.
(6b) the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all

(12c) he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors
The term "laid" (H6293) in Hebrew means to "encounter, meet, make intercession," and this is how it's used in verse 53:12c. Taking into account the parallel in 12c, the notion that should be drawn from 6b is that the Servant took upon Himself the burden to correct the sins, and interceded (not substituted) to make atonement. Examples of intercession (again, not substitution) appear all over the OT, for example: Jer 15:1; 18:20; Num 25:10-13; Deut 9:16-20.

Conclusion:  The purpose of this brief exercise is to show that just because someone - in this case the Suffering Servant - is having pain inflicted upon them, even by God's decree, that this automatically entails God's Wrath must be upon the individual, for that is a serious logical fallacy. The prime example of this false assumption being soundly disproved is that Job is explicitly described as being "stricken," "smitten," "afflicted," etc, by God - yet the very lesson of the Book of Job is that God caused all this suffering to fall upon Job yet God's Wrath was never upon him. Why can it not be the same for the Only Begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ? This is not to put Jesus and Job on the same plane, God forbid, for their status and merits are without comparison. Rather, Job would be a foreshadowing of a more excellent Person, Jesus Himself, which is something the Early Church Fathers saw very clearly.

For more information on how Isaiah 53 is incompatible with Penal Substitution, see Section 3a of this Essay.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Eternally Forgiven? - More problems with Penal Substitution

There is a long standing debate within Protestantism (most especially Calvinism) on when the benefits of Christ's Life and Death are applied to the Elect. This is especially significant in light of the Protestant doctrine of Penal Substitution, which states Christ received the very punishment the elect deserved for their sins. The result of the Atonement, for Protestants, was actual (as opposed to potential) forgiveness. Because Penal Substitution is false and without Scriptural basis (e.g. see here and elsewhere on this blog), some might wonder why I'm talking about this. I think the main benefit of examining this issue is to highlight the fact Protestants can't agree on this key detail, and to suggest they can't agree because the real problem goes deeper, to their view of the Atonement (i.e. Penal Substitution) itself.