Sunday, July 01, 2007

Samuel the Prophet Appearing to Saul as an Argument for the Communion of Saints: Clarification For Protestant Critic Douglas Mabry

It just goes on and on: the discussion about my initial response to James White's critique of my arguments for the communion of saints gets more and more convoluted every day. More often than not, the Protestant critics have not even properly presented what my arguments were. They have too often misunderstood them at a fundamental level. I've already taken great pains to illustrate exactly how they have done this, but apparently to no avail.

It is still occurring on Douglas Mabry's blog. I decided to try one more time to clarify and correct these critics, because they have not yet grasped my argument, and so think they have found a weak spot that doesn't exist, because they have assumed things that I did not and which were no part of my argument.

Now, note that I do not say that this is done deliberately. My general approach to such things is to note that we are all prone to be so biased towards our own position that this often brings about the strong tendency to not properly or fully understand opposing positions. That in turn leads to construction of straw men, frustration and unfruitful stalemates of discussions (because constructive, forward-moving discussion absolutely requires both sides understanding their opponents' arguments in order to progress and achieve anything: however little or minor.

So Doug is (I would assume in charity, as I habitually try to do) simply a victim of his own presuppositions and assumptions about Catholicism and Catholic apologetics. I will explain once more how my argument works. After that, there is nothing else I can do.

Mabry takes another shot at what he thinks is my argument with regard to the prophet Samuel. His words will be in blue:

[I]n scripture we see many times where angels (consider Gabriel being sent to Mary, the angel being sent to John in the Revelation) contact humans. I don’t think Mr. Armstrong would go there, since that would have zero support in advancing his “argument,” as there was no intercession or invocation sought by any of the visited humans. But still, one wishes that Mr. Armstrong were just a little more tidy in his presentation.

As in my previous treatment of Mabry's critiques, somehow he has again managed to miss my answer to one of his complaints within the very paper he is critiquing (and having to repeat the argument one just made gets tedious and old right quick). It occurred in these words:

About all that White and these anti-Catholic cronies of his might be able to do with this is sophistically argue that God doesn't want us to seek contact with dead saints, but does, however, initiate such contact Himself in extraordinary instances and situations (i.e., to somehow distinguish the two as completely different in essence, with one being "bad" and the other "good").

But that breaks down, too, because Peter deliberately initiated contact with the dead Tabitha, when he talked to her and told her to rise from the dead. That is not rebuked anywhere in the Bible (where, alas, was James White to rebuke Pope Peter when he needed to be rebuked and upbraided for his "unbiblical" practices?).

And it is implausible anyway to say that, on the one hand, God doesn't want us to contact the dead, when it is a plain fact that He Himself caused it to happen on at least four occasions, exactly the sort of "contact" that is (morally) indistinguishable from instances of our initiating contact. [I then re-present four biblical instances of this]

. . . To illustrate by analogy, it would be like saying, as a parent, "children shouldn't seek to have ice cream, because that is an altogether evil thing, and therefore forbidden by parents." But then the same parent gives the children ice cream twice a week. Would it really make sense to claim that it was evil for the children to seek an "evil" thing, while the parents themselves provide the "evil" thing themselves, that they told the children never to seek, on grounds that it was wicked to do so? Is that not a radically mixed message, and a bit incoherent?

Likewise, in the present case. Therefore, there is an indirect relation between these events and invocation of saints. But I only claim as much as I originally did: this biblical evidence unarguably, indisputably disproves the claim that God wants no such contact or communication at all.
To read Mr. Armstrong’s disclaimer [against all occult arts, necromancy, etc.] , and yet see him attempt a passage that does not support his thesis still leaves me wondering if Mr. Armstrong is actually aware of how badly the scriptures condemn the practice that he actually wrote in favor of, or if he does, then he must disregard it to use a passage that he is question begging to begin with.

Again, Mabry doesn't grasp the nature of my argument regarding Samuel and how it works, and so he falsely perceives a contradiction that is not there at all. As I stated, I oppose everything that is opposed in Old Testament injunctions against the occult arts, such as seances, mediums: the whole nine yards. Having been involved myself in some occultic nonsense in my secularist / semi-pagan days in the 70s, I am particularly aware of the wickedness and non-biblical nature of such things, and have denounced them at every turn.

I used to have, for example, many links of material refuting these things on my Heresies web page, until I redesigned my web pages for this blog and cut out many links that I used to have (see, for example, the archived page from May 2006: the final section: Occult / Reincarnation / Wicca / New Age Movement) . So not only am I quite aware of biblical prohibitions of these things, but I have been so my entire time of doing serious apologetics (26 years, or maybe longer than Douglas Mabry has been alive). Yet he continues to make out that I am not aware of this stuff, or the extent of it in the Bible. What does it take?
Mr. Armstrong states that he has condemned the practice of consulting the dead, and that this is not an issue.

Correct. Give the man a cigar and a free trip to Cheboygan, Michigan (as one of my history professors at Wayne State in Detroit used to say).

Now, Mr. Armstrong uses this passage [1 Samuel 28] in a positive manner to build his “argument.” Yet Mr. Armstrong also says that he condemns the occult practices mentioned in the passage. Let’s see how this works out in regards to his premise.

Because God desires contact between those in heaven and those on earth, He did or did not consider it sin for Saul to ask his servants to “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.”

Of course God considered it a sin for Saul to seek the assistance of a medium, as I have repeatedly stated. It was expressly condemned in the Mosaic Law. Here we go having to repeat ourselves again. I already dealt with this, more or less, in my last reply:
1 Samuel 28:12,14-15 (Samuel): the prophet Samuel appeared to King Saul to prophesy his death. The current consensus among biblical commentators (e.g., The New Bible Commentary, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary) is that it was indeed Samuel the prophet, not an impersonating demon (since it happened during a sort of seance with the so-called "witch or medium of Endor"). This was the view of, e.g., St. Justin Martyr, Origen, and St. Augustine, among others. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 6:19-20 reinforces the latter interpretation: "Samuel . . . after he had fallen asleep he prophesied and revealed to the king his death, and lifted up his voice out of the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people."
This is an abridged version of the same argument made in A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (pp. 106-107), and that book was completed in 1996.

For Saul to actually converse with Samuel this is the route that he had to take.

Here is where Mabry's misunderstandings really start to affect his argument for the worse, so that it digresses into straw-men bashing. I was not arguing for the entire process of the medium as the way to get to Samuel at all. No one can find any such argument in any of my papers or books -- and this was made very clear in my sweeping condemnations of occultic practices, in the same section of my book, The One-Minute Apologist, that James White critiqued (cited again in my blog reply).

What I was arguing for was simply one aspect of this event: the fact (held by many commentators -- hence my mention of two) that the real prophet Samuel seems to have appeared to Saul, to prophesy to him and tell him the truth, as no demon would have done. Now, if true (and many Protestant commentators think this is what happened), it would be an evidence in favor (as I have stated) of the proposition that "God (at least at times) wants contact to occur between departed saints and people on earth."

We know absolutely that this was the case at the Transfiguration and those who rose from their graves after the crucifixion and (most probably) the Two Witnesses in Revelation, so if this case holds also, then it would merely be one of four such instances in Scripture. This premise of God desiring such contact is only a precursor for the communion of saints: not the entirety of the communion of saints.

Hence when Mabry and others think I am trying to prove the whole ball of wax from this passage, they are all wet, because I never intended to do any such thing, and I think I made this quite clear. If not before, then certainly now, beyond all doubt, since this is my third crack at it, and third reiteration and clarification of the same argument. Therefore, it's not my exegetical deficiency or lack of comprehension of biblical prohibitions against occultism, but rather, Mabry's logical shortcomings and difficulty in comprehending opposing positions (not helped at all by the strongest bias against them, coming from a hostile anti-Catholic outlook in the first place).
As one may recall, Mr. Armstrong would most naturally say that he condemns to the practice that Saul set out to do. Yet on the other hand, since Mr. Armstrong used the example of Saul and Samuel in a positive manner, the events leading up to their interaction would be necessary for that interaction to take place.

Not at all. God simply chose to intervene in the midst of a forbidden practice by allowing Samuel to appear to Saul and rebuke him. God can do whatever He wants. He made a donkey talk once, didn't He? Does Doug Mabry think that God can't cause a departed saint who is more alive than all of us are, to come back to earth to rebuke a king for his own good? How is it necessary for me to accept a seance in order for me to accept the fact that Samuel really appeared? It's not at all.

So does Mr. Armstrong condemn this or not?

I condemn (for the umpteenth time) the wicked occultic practice.

To remain consistent in his positive use of this passage, he would have to either disregard what is condemned in this passage, or he must be very much unaware of the sin taking place.

Absolutely not. I don't have to do, either. It's a logical fallacy. I condemn what was wrong and should be condemned, but that plays no part in my argument, because my argument was only that the real Samuel appeared, and that this is one proof that God desires a contact between those in heaven and those on earth. Period. End of sentence.

Again, Mr. Armstrong has stated that the interaction between Saul and Samuel is a positive in establishing the likelihood of prayer to the (departed, dead from our point of view) saints for intercession.

Nope. I argued that Samuel's appearance (not the means to supposedly "contact" him) establishes a necessary premise for same (desired contact between heaven and earth). Once again, Mabry has not grasped the nature of my argument. And this is the last time I will explain it. If he doesn't get it now, he never will.

Yet the apparent contradiction remains for Mr. Armstrong to unravel.

I just did, for the second time. There ain't no contradiction at all.

Just how does he condemn as sin the actions leading up to the interaction Saul sought, and his use of that interaction as part of a positive establishment of his argument and thesis?

Simple: by denying that I used the means "Saul sought" as any part of my argument in the first place. This is a red herring; a straw man.

But it is here that one must make another interesting observation. Notice that no actual intercession took place. There was only the repetition of what Samuel had already told Saul. There was no invocation on the part of Saul to Samuel that he go before God. Yet this would seem to go against the very grain of what Mr. Armstrong seeks to establish.

It's completely irrelevant, since the argument only sought to prove desired contact between heaven and earth. That can take place without one word being uttered by the people on earth. But in this instance, Saul did indeed talk to Samuel. It was a two-way conversation. Saul actually wanted to know what Samuel thought, even though he went about it in a forbidden way (1 Sam 28:15). It's not exactly like asking a saint to pray for one but I never stated that it was in the first place, so that's neither here nor there. Mabry has simply assumed that I have some such illogical notion in my head that is not there.

Once more, one wonders if Mr. Armstrong is aware, or if he just disregards, the prohibition and condemnation placed on the use of mediums and the consultation of the dead.

And once more I reiterate that I am fully aware of such things. Man, this is tedious. . . . Lord, grant me supreme patience . . .

In fact, Mr. Armstrong either ignored or overlooked this one passage of scripture given in my initial response:
13 So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. 14 He did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse. 1 Chronicles 10:13-14
Contrary to Mr. Armstrong attempting a positive case for the invocation or intercession of departed saints, we see how God saw this event. It is a true pity that Mr. Armstrong cannot.

I don't have to "ignore" something I already assume, and which has nothing directrly to do with my argument. Saul was wicked and died by God's will and hand. I'm supposedly ignorant of this?
How ridiculous is that? Any dolt or imbecile who read the Old Testament and had a fourth-grade reading comprehension would know this.

Commenter Carrie repeated the same fallacies noted above:
Using an act that is condemned by scripture, both directly and indirectly, to make an arguement [sic] looks really bad.

First, you have to prove that the spirit was truly Samuel.
Indeed, and I did that by citing two reputable Protestant commentaries. More on that below . . .
Second, any awareness by the spirit of the earthly happenings could have come entirely from God for that moment.
God makes all things possible. That forms no argument against what I am saying. It's simply a truism. I've noted again and again that it is because of God's power that the saints can be aware of the earth and our intercessory requests at all.
I don’t believe that the witch actually conjured up Samuel . . .
Neither do I.
. . . and that his message was his own based on his “awareness” of the situation.
He was certainly aware. If you say that is because God made him aware, I say "of course." But he was still aware, and that is what I am trying to establish, among other things in my overall apologetic for the communion of saints.
God was 100% behind that encounter.
Samuel being His prophet in the first place, of course He was, How could He not be? That's as silly as saying that "Dave Armstrong was 100% behind his daughter telling the truth to her brother when her brother was doing something wrong." Would anyone be foolish enough to think that a parent would not be "behind" such a thing? But in this case, God not only approved, but made the whole thing possible in the first place.

Since it has been made a sticking point as to whether this was really Samuel or not, I shall cite some Protestant scholars, starting with one of my original two sources (I don't have the other in my library any longer):
The narrative strongly suggests that this really was Samuel, and not a mere apparition or hallucination. The foreknowledge and uncompromising statements attributed to him in the verses that follow also stamp him as being genuinely Samuel.

(Eerdmans Bible Commentary [formerly New Bible Commentary], edited by D. Guthrie and J.A. Motyer, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, third revised edition, 1970, 301)

[M]any eminent writers (considering that the apparition came before her arts were put into practice; that she herself was surprised and alarmed; that the prediction of Saul's own death and the defeat of his forces was confidently made), are of the opinion that Samuel really appeared.

(Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,1961, from 1864 original, 227)

The whole shows that it was no human fraud or trick. Though the woman could not cause Samuel's being sent, yet Saul's inquiry might be the occasion of it. The woman's surprise and terror proved that it was an unusual and unexpected appearance. Saul had despised Samuel's solemn warnings in his lifetime, yet now that he hoped, as in defiance of God, to obtain some counsel and encouragement from him, might not God permit the soul of his departed prophet to appear to Saul, to confirm his former sentence, and denounce his doom? The expression, "Thou and thy sons shall be with me," means no more than that they shall be in the eternal world. There appears much solemnity in God's permitting the soul of a departed prophet to come as a witness from heaven, to confirm the word he had spoken on earth. (1Sa 28:20-25)

(Matthew Henry Commentary)

That Samuel did appear on this occasion, is most evident from the text; nor can this be denied from any legitimate mode of interpretation: and it is as evident that he was neither raised by the power of the devil nor the incantations of the witch, for the appearances which took place at this time were such as she was wholly unacquainted with. Her familiar did not appear; and from the confused description she gives, it is fully evident that she was both surprised and alarmed at what she saw, being so widely different from what she expected to see.

(Adam Clarke Commentary)

As will be seen, we regard the apparition of Samuel not as trickery by the woman, but as real - nor yet as caused by the devil, but as allowed and willed of God. A full discussion of our reasons for this view would be evidently out of place.

(Edersheim's Bible History)

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