Monday, November 23, 2009

Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis and Sanctification Linked to Justification

By Dave Armstrong (11-23-09)

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle.

(Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Q. 112: The Cause of Grace, Art. 1: Whether God Alone is the Cause of Grace)

See also my related paper: "Martin Luther on Sanctification and the Absolute Necessity of Good Works as the Proof of Authentic Faith."

The following information was obtained from the fascinating article, "Luther and Theosis," by Kurt E. Marquart, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), and was published in Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 64:3, July 200, pp. 182-205.

Many back issues of that excellent scholarly magazine are available online on a great site that I happily ran across. All subsequent words below are from the article, with Luther's own words in blue. Footnotes appear in brackets immediately after the section that utilizes the sources therein.

* * * * *

The chief New Testament reference to theosis or deification is 2 Peter 1:4: . . . (AV : "partakers of the divine nature"; NEB: "come to share in the very being of God). Certainly John 17:23 is to the point: "The glory which Thou gavest Me I have given to them, that they may be one, as We are one; I in them and Thou in Me, may they be perfectly one" (NEB, upper case added). This at once suggests the divine nuptial mystery (Ephesians 5:25-32; one may compare 2:19-22 and Colossians 1:26-27), with its implied "wondrous exchange." That the final "transfiguration" of believers into "conformity" . . . with Christ's glorious body (Philippians 3:21; one may compare 1 Corinthians 15:49) has begun already in the spiritual-sacramental life of faith, is clear from "icon" texts like Romans 8:29, Colossians 3:10, and especially 2 Corinthians 3:18: "thus we are transfigured into His likeness, from splendor to splendor" . . . One may also wish to compare 2 Corinthians 4:16 and Ephesians 3:14-19.

The most celebrated patristic statement on the subject is no doubt that of Athanasius: "For He was made man that we might be made God." To avoid any pantheistic misunderstandings, it is necessary to see that "deification" applies first of all to the flesh of the incarnate Son of God Himself. It is simply a traditional way of putting what Lutherans now call the second genus, or the genus maiestaticum, of the communication of attributes.

[ . . . ]

In a 1526 sermon Luther said: "God pours out Christ His dear Son over us and pours Himself into us and draws us into Himself, so that He becomes completely humanified (vermzenschet) and we become completely deified (gantz und gar vergottet, "Godded-through") and everything is altogether one thing, God, Christ, and you."'

[Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 58 volumes (Weimar, 1883- ), 20:229,30 and following, cited in Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, volume 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962),175-176. The present author has altered the translation given there in order to make it more literal. All subsequent references to the Weimar edition of Luther's works will be abbreviated WA.]

[ . . . ]

Sadly, this we] is now unknown in the whole world, and is neither preached nor pursued; indeed, we are even quite ignorant of our own name, why we are Christians and are so-called. Surely we are so-called not from Christ absent, but from Christ dwelling [inhabitante] in us, that is, inasmuch as we believe in Him and are mutually one another's Christ, doing for neighbors just as Christ does for us.

We conclude therefore that the Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor, or he is no Christian; in Christ through faith, in the neighbor through love. Through faith he is rapt above himself into God, and by love he in turn flows beneath himself into the neighbor, remaining always in God and in His love.

[The Freedom of the Christian, Latin: WA 7:66,69; German: WA 7:35-36,38; English: Luther's Works, American Edition, 55 volumes, edited by J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia and Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986), 31:368, 371. In "Theosis as a Subject," the end of the first paragraph has been rendered "mutually in one another, another and different Christ. . ." Subsequent references to the American edition of Luther's works will be abbreviated LW.]

In an early (1515) Christmas sermon, Luther notes:

As the Word became flesh, so it is certainly necessary that the flesh should also become Word. For just for this reason does the Word become flesh, in order that the flesh might become Word. In other words: God becomes man, in order that man should become God. Thus strength becomes weak in order that weakness might become strong. The Logos puts on our form and figure and image and likeness, in order that He might clothe us with His image, form, likeness. Thus wisdom becomes foolish, in order that foolishness might become wisdom, and so in all other things which are in God and us, in all of which He assumes ours in order to confer upon us
His [things].

We who are flesh are made Word not by being substantially changed into the Word, but by taking it on [assumimus] and uniting it to ourselves by faith, on account of which union we are said not only to have but even to be the Word."

[WA 1 2825-3239-41. Cited in "Grundlagenforschun," 192; "Zwei Arten," 163.]

[ . . . ]

The one who has faith is a completely divine man [plane est divinus homo], a son of God, the inheritor of the universe. . . . Therefore the Abraham who has faith fills heaven and earth; thus every Christian fills heaven and earth by his faith. . .

[WA 40 I:182,390; LW 26:1001 247,248.]

Obviously there are many implications here as well for love, good works, and other important topics . . .

[ . . . ]

. . . Luther . . . knows a God who is not gingerly beaming thoughts and effects at us from afar while taking care to keep His real being (if He has any!) well away from us. With Luther biblical realism is in full cry:

The fanatical spirits today speak about faith in Christ in the manner of the sophists. They imagine that faith is a quality that clings to the heart apart from Christ [excluso Christo]. This is a dangerous error. Christ should be set forth in such a way that apart from Him you see nothing at all and that you believe that nothing is nearer and closer to you than He. For He is not sitting idle in heaven but is completely present [praesentissimus] with us, active and living in us as chapter two says (2:20): "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me," and here: "You have put on Christ. . . ."

Hence the speculation of the sectarians is vain when they imagine that Christ is present in us "spiritually," that is, speculatively, but is present really in heaven. Christ and faith must be completely joined. We must simply take our place in heaven; and Christ must be, live, and work in us. But He lives and works in us, not speculatively but really, with presence and with power [realiter, praesentissime et eficacissim].

[WA 40 1:545-546; LW 26:356-357; "In ipsa," 39-40.]

By faith, finally,

you are so cemented [conglutineris] to Christ that He and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached [perpetuo adhaerescat] to Him forever and declares: "I am as Christ." And Christ, in turn, says: "I am as that sinner who is attached to Me, and I to him. For by faith we are joined together into one flesh and one bone." Thus Ephesians 5:30 says: "We are members of the body of Christ, of His flesh and of His bones," in such a way that this faith couples Christ and me more intimately than a husband is coupled to his wife.

[WA 40 1:285-286; LW 26:l68; "In ipsa," 51.]

[ . . . ]

And that we are so filled with "all the fulness of God," that is said in the Hebrew manner, meaning that we are filled in every way in which He fills, and become full of God, showered with all gifts and grace and filled with His Spirit, Who is to make us bold, and enlighten us with His light, and live His life in us, that His bliss make us blest, His love awaken love in us. In short, that everything that He is and can do, be fully in us and mightily work, that we be completely deified [vergottet], not that we have a particle or only some pieces of God, but all fulness. Much has been written about how man should be deified; there they made ladders, on which one should climb into heaven, and much of that sort of thing. Yet it is sheer piecemeal effort; but here [in faith] the right and closest way to get there is indicated, that you become full of God, that you lack in no thing, but have everything in one heap, that everything that you speak, think, walk, in sum, your whole life be completely divine [Gottisch].

[Sermon of 1525, WA 17 1:438; "In ipsa," 54.]

When one ponders the lively, full-blooded realism of Luther's theology, one can only wonder how such a legacy could have been so tragically squandered in world "Lutheranism" over the centuries. Chesterton complained about the Church of England's tendency to tolerate "underbelievers" but to persecute "overbelievers." Why this preference for ever less, for the minimal? Reductionist philosophy alone is hardly the whole story. Sin has a way of defending itself against God's saving incursions on a broad front.

[ . . . ]

If there is such a thing as a characteristic "structure of Lutheranism" which distinguishes it from other confessions, then it must lie surely in a relentless realism of faith that will not let any of God's life-bearing gifts be spirited away into significances and abstractions.

[ . . . ]

Very God of very God, a real incarnation, genuine, full, and free forgiveness, life, salvation and communion with the Holy Trinity, imparted in the divinely powerful gospel and sacraments - including the evangelic doctrine as revealed, heavenly truth, not academic guesswork, and the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar - all these mysteries to be cherished and handled for the common good by responsible householders in the God-given office, rightly dividing law and gospel (sola fide!): do not these constitute the "structure of Lutheranism"?

[ . . . ]

Luther insists just as rigidly, as does the Formula, on a radical differentiation between imputed and inchoate righteousness, only his terms for this are "passive" and "active" righteousness. Luther devotes a whole introductory section to this topic, under the title, "The Argument of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians." The distinctively "Christian righteousness," by which alone we are justified and saved, "is heavenly and passive," that is, Christ's. All the various forms of earthly, active righteousness are excluded from this.

[ . . . ]

Luther's sublime comment on Psalm 5:2-3 provides a suitable conclusion:

By the reign of His humanity or (as the Apostle says) His flesh, which takes place in faith, He conforms us to Himself and crucibles us, making genuine men, that is wretches and sinners, out of unhappy and haughty gods. For because we rose in Adam towards the likeness of God, He came down into our likeness, in order to lead us back to a knowledge of ourselves. And this takes place in the mystery [sacramentum] of the Incarnation. This is the reign of faith, in which the Cross of Christ holds sway, throwing down a divinity perversely sought and calling back a humanity [with its] despised weakness of the flesh, which had been perversely abandoned. But by the reign of [His] divinity and glory He will conform [configurabit] us to the body of His glory, that we might be like Him, now neither sinners nor weak, neither led nor ruled, but ourselves kings and sons of God like the angels. Then will be said in fact "my God," which is now said in hope. For it is not unfitting that he says first "my King" and then "my God," just as Thomas the Apostle, in the last chapter of Saint John, says, "My Lord and my God." For Christ must be grasped first as Man and then as God, and the Cross of His humanity must be sought before the glory of His divinity. Once we have got Christ the Man, He will bring along Christ the God of His Own accord.

[0perationes in Psalmos (1519-1521), WA 5128-129. I am indebted for this reference to Walter Mostert, "Martin Luther- Wirkung und Deutung," in Luther im Widerstreit der Geschichte, Veroffentlichungen der Luther-Akademie Ratzeburg, Band 20 (Erlangen: Martin-Luther Verlag, 1993), 78.]


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dave and Judy Armstrong's 25th Anniversary Dream Getaway to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island
Dave & Judy Armstrong: medieval wedding at a Protestant church: 6 October 1984

By Dave Armstrong (11-21-09)

Our 25th wedding came around on October 6th. A few days later we were privileged to be able to stay at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island (in the straits between the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan). It's a very famous hotel, and often listed as one of the top 25 in the world and top ten in the United States. From the Wikipedia article:

The hotel is also on the Conde Nast Traveler "Gold List" of the "Best Places to Stay in the Whole World" and Travel + Leisure magazine's list of "Top 100 Hotels in the World." The Wine Spectator has provided the Grand Hotel its "Award of Excellence" and Gourmet Magazine's "Top 25 Hotels in the World" list. The American Automobile Association (AAA) has provided the facilities with a four-diamond rating[16] and in 2009 named the Grand Hotel one of the top 10 U.S. historic hotels.[17]

Readers may be familiar with the science fiction romance movie, Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer. It was filmed at the Grand Hotel.

Best of all, we got to stay there for absolutely free, including supper and breakfast! This was a great blessing for an apologist like me, with a very modest income and four children to provide for. Our room, at the weekday rates, would have cost $650. It was one of the few lakeview rooms with a balcony as well. It all came about when Judy's mother, Joan Kozora, wrote to the hotel, thanking them for the royal treatment she and her late husband Ray received when they visited for their 50th anniversary in 2004 (a gift courtesy of their six children). She also sent an old photograph from one of her sisters.

The owner then wrote back and invited her as a dinner guest, and a night's stay. By mere coincidence, our family was planning to visit her for our fall trip at her home in Ossineke, Michigan, in the northeast Lower Peninsula, ten miles south of Alpena, at the time. My mother-in-law asked if we could also come, in order to drive her there (about 100 miles from Ossineke), and mentioned that it was our 25th anniversary.

She was told that we were invited, too, courtesy of the hotel, for supper and overnight. We didn't know when we arrived if we would have separate rooms, but the hotel was gracious and generous enough to provide those, too. We didn't pay one red cent. All we paid was the fee for the ferry there and back, and for the horse-drawn carriages to the hotel from the ferry dock and back. We even received a professional photograph (seen below) for free, that would have been $20.

Here is a travelogue account, by photographs and brief commentary. You can click on photographs (where indicated) for a much larger version. Many can be clicked on twice, for two larger sizes (indicated).

[all photographs below taken by my wife, Judy Armstrong]

Near the main entrance. We rode in this kind of "old-fashioned"
carriage when we left

The red carpet treatment!

Another close-up shot of the front of the hotel. Judy's mother's room
is seen on the upper far left, by the downspout.

The historical background detailed . . .

The lovely green in front of the hotel

Here you can see our room. It's on the bottom row, on the overhang, just to the
left of the central tower, with balconies: two separate ones!

Out by the romantic fountain. This was a washed-out photo, so I had to play
with it, and opted for the artsy "dreamlike" look

On the famous porch

One of the main lobbies

In the fabulous dining room, dressed up for the evening
(required in the hotel!)

Judy's mother

Calling the old-fashioned way (two hands)

Elegant and quaint winter travel accommodations

Back to the porch in the moonlight after dinner. Great view
of the dining area through the window

Romantic atmosphere to spare out there! A lovely Michigan autumn 
evening on the world's longest porch. . .

The grand staircase; on the way to the dance floor
I proposed on a dance floor: at Judy's twin sister's wedding

The author finds a cozy little "book nook"

Typical 19th-century shops of the island

No cars or even roller skates allowed!

The old fort was actually Michigan's first state park

Back to the ferry, before the coach turns into a pumpkin

Good views of the famous Mackinac Bridge can be
seen on the crossing
[not our photo]

Some beautiful mid-Michigan fall colors on the Au Sable River
on the way back home.

We're both fall fanatics. Can you blame us? Met in the fall; married
in the fall . . . I even showed Judy my recent fall color photos when
we first met in October 1982

Our professional, "official" anniversary photo

Thanks so much for viewing our photos with us, and sharing our anniversary celebration. Hope you enjoyed 'em. Here's to the best wife in the whole world. I still literally believe that after 25 years. Thank you, Lord, for bringing her into my life and (crucially) giving me enough sense to know that she was the right one for me!

Premarital Sex: Does St. Paul Permit and Sanction It in 1 Corinthians 7:36? (vs. Scott Nemeth)

By Dave Armstrong (11-21-09)

Scott Nemeth is a person who seems to want to be identified online as one who has "proven" that premarital sex, or fornication, is permitted by the Bible. Hence he states in his profile:

I'm someone who has studied the topic of premarital sex in the New Testament in great detail. Over the years I've known that this whole topic was weaker in the original Greek writings of the New Testament than we are traditionally taught. This fact has given me enough doubt to feel OK about sexual activity I've had outside of marriage. More recently I decided I was done feeling just “OK” about this issue though and I was determined to know the absolute truth about premarital sex in the original writings of the New Testament with 100% certainty. The results of this study were surprising. Not only is the topic of premarital sex weaker in the Greek; there is hardly any puritanical standard described within the original writings of the New Testament. In fact the original writings tell us outright that premarital sex is NOT a sin. Check 1 Cor 7:36 in the KJV. I created this blog to discuss and provide news and information regarding the can of worms I'm opening.

He goes about his task on his blog, Not Another Generation. Near the top of the sidebar, he makes the following claim, complete with the obligatory reference to the dreaded "Christian Right":

The 3 Quick and Dirty Facts that the 'Christian' Right will never tell you about premarital sex in the Bible.

[ . . . ]

#2 The literal order of words of 1 Cor 7:36 put sex before marriage and it is declared to NOT be a sin. This is true in the Greek as well as the KJV, but it gets 'censored' in the modern translations.

He seems to regard this passage (if any one is to be chosen) as the "clincher" or knockout punch for his position of biblically condoned sexual activity outside of marriage. In a post devoted to it, he states:

The literal order of words in this verse, both in the original Greek and also in the King James Version put sexual activity before marriage and it is declared to not be a sin. When you realize the implications of the literal order of words of 1 Corinthians 7:36 it is hilarious to see how various modern translators attempt to deal with it. . . .

Bible translations do seem to be getting increasingly puritanical, at least depending on who the intended marketplace is. . . . Just remember, the Greek word for marriage is only used once, and it is the LAST word of this verse.

I first learned of Scott when he stopped by my blog (anyone is welcome to, including those holding any and all opposing views) and wrote (appropriately, under one of my main dialogues about premarital sex):

According to your views I'm supposed to be a 40 year-old virgin because I've never been married. Get real. The Scriptures do not condemn premarital sex, in fact it appears to be a blessing. Check out my blog or website and I'll show you the 3 Quick & Dirty facts that the 'Christian' Right will never tell you about premarital sex in the Bible.

I replied:

If you want to experience sex in the way that God intended, get married. What is so difficult about that? If you want to become that close to another person, then you should go the whole way and become united in soul and spirit, and make a commitment. This is not rocket science. It's basic common sense, confirmed by experience. Even your average love song "gets" it. There is a reason why a prostitute is a despised person; even despises herself.

The sexual revolution did not make this country a paradise and everyone astonishingly happy. That was all a big lie. I bought it for many years too. But now the results are in and we don't have the luxury of delusion, wishful thinking, and of selfish hedonism.

The Bible doesn't sanction sex outside of marriage. It's plain as day. But people manage to rationalize almost anything out of Scripture. I think you should be honest about it and just admit that you don't care about what Scripture teaches if you want to go this route.

I doubt that your arguments are even serious, given the frivolous title, but I'll check it out, out of curiosity. It might be fun to offer some sort of refutation.

After scanning his website, I reiterated:

Yeah; it looks interesting. I'll try to make some time for this in the near future, especially if you're willing to engage in a serious debate about what we each think the Bible actually teaches.

* * * * *

So here I am again writing about the Bible's view on sexuality: always a controversial endeavor in this day and age. Let's look very closely at 1 Corinthians 7:36, in context, and with consideration of the original Greek and many translations of it, and see if the Apostle Paul explicitly sanctions premarital sexuality, as Scott claims. I think many readers will be in for a big surprise at what can be discovered therein. In some ways, I was myself (I never fail to learn a lot whenever I delve into the Bible).

You'll note above that Scott considers the passage especially compelling for his position in the KJV. He alludes to that more than once. He thinks there is some sort of conspiracy among Bible translators, to become "increasingly puritanical." So let's examine the KJV rendering: not just the single verse, but the surrounding context and the complete scenario that Paul is dealing with:

1 Corinthians 7:36-38 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. [37] Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. [38] So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

Did you notice something unusual in there, particularly in 7:38 (I helped a bit with my bolding)? I didn't realize this, either, until I studied it more closely today (it was one of those marvelous "biblical discoveries" I love to find). The passage is not even talking about a man and his future bride (betrothed, engaged, or at the least, seriously in love). Paul is referring, rather, to a father and his daughter, in the context of a culture where marriages were usually either arranged by the parents, or at least took place only with their permission and consent.

The key is the phrase "giveth her in marriage" -- which makes no sense in terms of the relation of a man and future wife. It is the father who "gives in marriage." We use this terminology even today in the wedding ceremony. So something is awry here, at least in some translations. Scott is correct about that, but he is wrong as to the motivation behind the differences, and the meaning of the passage itself.

If indeed the passage is about a father and daughter, rather than an engaged couple, everything changes. For Scott's argument to have force, he now must believe that the Bible sanctions incest between a father and a daughter, before they get married to each other (huh??!!). I believe he wouldn't try to defend such an ethically atrocious position, so his argument proves too much and must be discarded.

One must understand what refers to what in the passage. Paul is saying that a father who gives his daughter in marriage does well; if he does not, it is even better. It is a "good and better" contrast, such as he does earlier in the chapter regarding the higher path of remaining celibate and single (7:1, 7-8, 25-27, 32-35, 38) vs. getting married (also a very good thing: 7:2, 9, 28, 38). Paul's main point in all cases, is that everyone should live as they are called by God to do: whether married or single (7:7, 17, 20, 24). But the single state is to be celibate, not involving the sin of fornication (7:2, 9; cf. 6:9, 15-20).

So why the confusion in some translations as to whether this "virgin" is a betrothed future wife of a man or his daughter? The original Greek may explain some of that. The literal phrase in 1 Corinthians 7:37 is terein ten heautou parthenon: translated by A. T. Robertson in his Word Pictures in the New Testament as To keep his own virgin daughter. In Jay P. Green's Pocket Interlinear New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979, p. 398), the hyper-literal rendering of the Greek is "to keep the of himself virgin[ity]."

That this verse refers to a virgin daughter of a man is verified by Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine (listed under Virgin / Parthenos):

(d) those concerning whom the Apostle Paul gives instructions regarding marriage, 1 Cor 7:25,28,34; in 1 Cor 7:36-38, the subject passes to that of "virgin daughters" (RV), which almost certainly formed one of the subjects upon which the church at Corinth sent for instructions from the Apostle; one difficulty was relative to the discredit which might be brought upon a father (or guardian), if he allowed his daughter or ward to grow old unmarried. The interpretation that this passage refers to a man and woman already in some kind of relation by way of a spiritual marriage and living together in a vow of virginity and celibacy, is untenable if only in view of the phraseology of the passage;

Joseph H. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (reprinted by Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977, from the 1901 edition, p. 489, Strong's word #3933) concurs:

one's marriageable daughter, 1 Co. vii. 36 sqq.

What about the business of "giving the daughter"? According to Robertson:

Paul commends the father who gives his daughter in marriage (gamizei). This verb gamizw has not been found outside the N.T. see on Matthew 22:30.

Matthew 22:30 reads (RSV):

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (cf. Mk 12:25; Lk 20:34-35)

Note also the related passages:

Luke 17:27 (RSV) They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. (cf. Matt 24:38)

This is the same notion as in 1 Corinthians 7:38. Note the contrast between "marry" and "given in marriage." It is two different concepts. The first refers to the man and wife, as subject; the second to the father "giving" his daughter (away) in marriage.

The Greek word in Matthew 22:30, Luke 17:27, and 1 Corinthians 7:38 alike is ekgamizo (Strong's word #1547), from the root gamos [marry] (Strong's word #1062). Likewise, in Mark 12:25 it is gamisko (Strong's word #1061); literally, given in marriage. And Luke 20:34-35 uses the cognate ekgamisto (Strong's word #1548). Thayer's lexicon confirms the meanings of all these:

to give a daughter in marriage: 1 Co. vii. 38 . . . Mt. xxii. 30 . . . Mk. xii. 25; Lk. xvii. 27; xx. 35 . . .

(p. 109, under #1060a)

to give away . . . in marriage: a daughter, 1 Co. vii. 38 . . . ; Mt. xxiv. 38 . . . Pass. to marry, to be given in marriage, Mt. xxii. 30 . . . ; Lk. xvii. 27 . . .

(p. 193, under #1547)

So we know what the basic meaning of the passage is now, and it has nothing even to do with Scott's scenario of sanctioned sexual intercourse of betrothed couples (sorry to disappoint you, Scott, or take away your fun!). It has to do, in point of fact, with parental permission or arrangement of marriage: father to daughter.

Note also a number of older Bible commentaries, that unanimously hold to the same interpretation.

I suppose Scott could posit a conspiracy among Bible lexicons, too (as well as among translations). Weirder things have been believed. In my opinion, several translations have missed the proper meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, according to what we have learned above, using the appropriate Greek language aids. But several others have not. It's a mixed bag, and so one has to go back and study the words and phrases involved, as we have indeed done, in order to draw any sort of solid, rationally-based conclusion.

I have some thirty or so Bible translations in my library (and found others online as well). Here are the ones that translate 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 according to what I have presented and argued above:

NASB But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

God's Word translation No father would want to do the wrong thing when his virgin daughter is old enough to get married. If she wants to get married, he isn't sinning by letting her get married. 37 However, a father may have come to a decision about his daughter. If his decision is to keep her [at home] because she doesn't want to get married, that's fine. 38 So it's fine for a father to give his daughter in marriage, but the father who doesn't give his daughter in marriage does even better.

ASV But if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemly toward his virgin daughter, if she be past the flower of her age, and if need so requireth, let him do what he will; he sinneth not; let them marry. 37 But he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power as touching in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, shall do well. 38 So then both he that giveth his own virgin daughter in marriage doeth well; and he that giveth her not in marriage shall do better.

ERV But if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemly toward his virgin daughter, if she be past the flower of her age, and if need so requireth, let him do what he will; he sinneth not; let them marry. 37 But he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power as touching his own will, and hath determined this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, shall do well. 38 So then both he that giveth his own virgin daughter in marriage doeth well; and he that giveth her not in marriage shall do better.

Weymouth If, however, a father thinks he is acting unbecomingly towards his still unmarried daughter if she be past the bloom of her youth, and so the matter is urgent, let him do what she desires; he commits no sin; she and her suitor should be allowed to marry. 37 But if a father stands firm in his resolve, being free from all external constraint and having a legal right to act as he pleases, and in his own mind has come to the decision to keep his daughter unmarried, he will do well. 38 So that he who gives his daughter in marriage does well, and yet he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

World English Bible But if any man thinks that he is behaving inappropriately toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of her age, and if need so requires, let him do what he desires. He doesn't sin. Let them marry. 37 But he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own heart, to keep his own virgin, does well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin in marriage does well, and he who doesn't give her in marriage does better.

Webster's Bible Translation But if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself uncomely towards his virgin, if she hath passed the flower of her age, and need so requireth, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37 Nevertheless, he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

Douay-Rheims But if any man think that he seemeth dishonoured, with regard to his virgin, for that she is above the age, and it must so be: let him do what he will; he sinneth not, if she marry. 37 For he that hath determined being steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but having power of his own will; and hath judged this in his heart, to keep his virgin, doth well. 38 Therefore, both he that giveth his virgin in marriage, doth well; and he that giveth her not, doth better.

NKJV But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well. 38 So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.

Third Millennium Bible But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age and need so require, let him do what he will--he sinneth not: let them marry. 37 Nevertheless, he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well, but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

Wuest's Expanded Translation . . . in the case of his virgin daughter . . . his own daughter . . . he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage is doing well, and he who does not do so will do better.

Amplified 38 So also then, he [the father] who gives [his daughter, virgin] in marriage does well . . .

Williams Now if a father thinks that he is not doing the proper thing regarding his single daughter . . . Let the daughter and her suitor marry . . . he has made the decision in his own heart to keep her single . . . the man who gives his daughter in marriage does what is right . . .

Jerusalem Bible Still, if there is anyone who feels that it would not be fair to his daughter to let her grow too old for marriage . . . the man who sees that his daughter is married has done a good thing . . .

Confraternity Therefore both he who gives his virgin in marriage does well, and he who does not give her does better.

Knox Thus, a man is well advised to give his ward in marriage, and still better advised not to give her in marriage.

[footnote: But there seems to be no authority for translating the verb in verse 38 'to marry'; it always means 'to give in marriage'; cf. Like xvii. 27, a context which St. Paul may ave in mind.]

Moreover, the NIV footnotes give an alternate version that coincides with the above (oops! that wrecks the "Puritan" conspiracy of the NIV, to even mention this):

NIV (alternate suggested reading) If anyone thinks he is not treating his daughter properly, and if she is getting along in years, and he feels she ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. He should let her get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind to keep the virgin unmarried-this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who gives his virgin in marriage does right, but he who does not give her in marriage does even better.

The NEB does the same:

NEB (variant reading) Or a virgin daughter (or ward). . . . Or, let the girl and her lover marry . . . Or his daughter . . . Or gives his daughter in marriage.

As does the CEV:

CEV (variant reading) If you feel that you are not treating your grown daughter right by keeping her from getting married, then let her marry. You won't be doing anything wrong.

The following translations have the competing interpretation (in my opinion, much less plausible, based on the Greek and cross-referencing), of a man and his future wife, irregardless of parents:

RSV If any one thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry--it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancee, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. 37 But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancee, he will do well. 38 So then, he who marries his fiancee does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.

TNIV If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting beyond the usual age for marrying and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin--this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
ISV If a man thinks he is not behaving properly toward his virgin, and if his passion is so strong that he feels he ought to marry her, let him do what he wants; he isn't sinning. Let them get married. 37 However, if a man stands firm in his resolve, feels no necessity, and has made up his mind to keep her a virgin, he will be acting appropriately. 38 So then the man who marries the virgin acts appropriately, but the man who refrains from marriage does even better.
Darby But if any one think that he behaves unseemly to his virginity, if he be beyond the flower of his age, and so it must be, let him do what he will, he does not sin: let them marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, having no need, but has authority over his own will, and has judged this in his heart to keep his own virginity, he does well. 38 So that he that marries himself does well; and he that does not marry does better.
Bible in Basic English But if, in any man's opinion, he is not doing what is right for his virgin, if she is past her best years, and there is need for it, let him do what seems right to him; it is no sin; let them be married. 37 But the man who is strong in mind and purpose, who is not forced but has control over his desires, does well if he comes to the decision to keep her a virgin. 38 So then, he who gets married to his virgin does well, and he who keeps her unmarried does better.
Good News Translation (Today's English Version)In the case of an engaged couple who have decided not to marry: if the man feels that he is not acting properly toward the young woman and if his passions are too strong and he feels that they ought to marry, then they should get married, as he wants to. There is no sin in this. 37 But if a man, without being forced to do so, has firmly made up his mind not to marry, and if he has his will under complete control and has already decided in his own mind what to do - then he does well not to marry the young woman. 38 So the man who marries does well, but the one who doesn't marry does even better.
New Century Version If a man thinks he is not doing the right thing with the girl he is engaged to, if she is almost past the best age to marry and he feels he should marry her, he should do what he wants. They should get married. It is no sin. 37 But if a man is sure in his mind that there is no need for marriage, and has his own desires under control, and has decided not to marry the one to whom he is engaged, he is doing the right thing. 38 So the man who marries his girl does right, but the man who does not marry will do better.

Living Bible But if anyone feels he ought to marry because he has trouble controlling his passions, it is all right, it is not a sin; let him marry.
New Living Translation But if a man thinks he ought to marry his fiance because he has trouble controlling his passions and time is passing, it is all right; it is not a sin. Let them marry. 37 But if he has decided firmly not to marry and there is no urgency and he can control his passion, he does well not to marry. 38 So the person who marries does well, and the person who doesn't marry does even better.

Beck If a man thinks he's not acting properly toward his girl . . . If, then, he marries his girl . . .

Phillips Modern English But if any man feels he is not behaving honourably towards the woman he loves . . . if he decides not to marry the young woman, he too will be doing the right thing.

NEB Thus, he who marries his partner does well, and he who does not will do better.

REB Thus he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who does not marry does better.

NAB (revised, 1986) So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better.

CEV But suppose you are engaged to someone old enough to be married, and you want her so much that all you can think about is getting married. Then go ahead and marry.

Moffatt . . . if any man considers that he is not behaving properly to the maid who is his spiritual bride, if his passions are strong and it must be so, then let him do what he wants -- let them be married; it is no sin for him.

Goodspeed But if a man thinks he is not acting properly toward the girl to whom he is engaged . . .

William Barclay's translation is unique in that he decided to incorporate both interpretations together, in verse 38 (rather than footnote one):

. . . if a man gives his virgin daughter in marriage (or, marries his fianceee, or marries the girl he had decided to live with and to remain unmarried), he does well; but if he does not, he will do still better.

In conclusion, I submit that the lexicons are very clear that an unmarried daughter is being referred to here, and that the phrase "given in marriage" (ekgamizo [Strong's word #1547] in 1 Corinthians 7:38; cf. gamisko [Strong's word #1061] and ekgamisto [Strong's word #1548] ) is particularly decisive for this position. I also suspect (though I don't assert) that the more modern translations are unduly biased against the ancient concept of arranged marriages; hence the bias shows up in how they handle and interpret and translate these Greek texts, whose literal meaning is not a mystery at all.

Lastly, in Scott's campaign to legitimize unmarried sexuality and give it the NT stamp of approval, he neglects other indications in the same general context, that this is not what Paul has in mind at all. For example:

1 Corinthians 7:1-2 (RSV) Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. [2] But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

Paul here clearly, I think, recommends marriage as the resolution of the problem of sexual temptation. Marriage is the place wherein sexuality is morally consummated and the natural desires channeled properly, in the overall safety of a commitment. This is the complete opposite of Scott's contention, which would have Paul argue that there is no temptation; there is simply desire (and desire that cannot possibly be controlled: so he thinks), and this ought to be consummated regardless of whether one is married or not. We must re-write the Bible, then, so it fits into Scott's wishful thinking schema:

1 Corinthians 7:1-2 (SNV) Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man to touch a woman, whether he is married to her or not. [2] And because of natural desires, each man should have sex with his own girlfriend and each woman have sex with her own boyfriend.

The same dynamic occurs seven verses later:

1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

Paul presupposes that (sexual) self-control is the norm and the goal. Failing that, the solution is to marry, not to indulge anyway, regardless of marriage, as if there is nothing wrong with that. Marriage and "aflame with passion" (i.e., in an unmarried state) are antithetical to each other. Scott would have it be just the opposite, and so we clearly need a new Bible rendering to reflect his arbitrary opinions:

1 Corinthians 7:9 (SNV) But if unmarried couples cannot exercise self-control, they should have sex. For it is better to be aflame with passion and engage in sexual intercourse unmarried, than not to (which is impossible to do, anyway). It is better to do this than wait till one is married.

If we want to change the Bible at will, of course anything is possible. Most people who disbelieve its contents are not that brazen, however, so they take the more subtle route of misinterpreting the Bible and neglecting the meanings of words therein (a shortcoming that can easily be rectified with the aid of language aids).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Glorying in Uncertainty: a Peculiar Post-Enlightenment Protestant Phenomenon (Dialogue with a Calvinist)

By Dave Armstrong (11-11-09)

This is from a combox at the Protestant blog, Growing Grace-full, under a post called "Epistemological Modesty."

* * * * *

Protestantism tends towards what I have called the "cult of uncertainty." It is by no means clear to me at all that making uncertainty a benchmark of exceptional humility is a successful or even sensible endeavor. Nor is it, I think, a biblical outlook (to put it very mildly).

It seems that whenever I get a Protestant to a place where fundamental starting premises are / need to be examined, they have better things to do and the relevant questions continue to be unanswered. 'Tis a pity.

Lastly; for the life of me I swear that I fail to comprehend why simply believing in faith (with reasons and plenty of scriptural back-up) in an authoritative Church and a particular set of Christian doctrines, is outrageous hubris.

Can someone explain this to me? Thanks!

* * *

[Steve Z.: a Reformed Protestant who is a deacon at the Christian Reformed Church] Scott Clark speaks of the “quest of absolute certainty,” and it always seems to me to be the affliction of the Catholic apologists.

Are you saying that it is impossible to achieve the certainty of faith, or certitude, in theological / spiritual matters? Are we not certain, e.g., that God exists, or that the Holy Trinity is true, or that we are saved by God's grace alone, or that Jesus died on the cross for our sins?

Well, I think to say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth” is quite different from, “I know for a fact, beyond any doubt whatsoever that God exists and ain’t nobody gonna tell no different!” True, the fool says in his heart there is no God, but the fanatic says I see something nobody else does.

If you draw an extreme contrast for rhetorical purposes, that will impress some folks, but it is not fair argumentation. I still don't see how simply adopting the beliefs of Catholicism amounts to arrogance and hubris.

There are many complexities here. It is not a simple discussion, either epistemologically or in a broader philosophic sense or biblically.

But how is it epistemologically different for the Catholic to say, "I believe in faith in an infallible Church that God set up and that He specially guides and protects." There is such a thing as "the Church" that is presupposed in the NT. It's not just a community club or the Elks or suchlike. It is a thing ordained by God, that has authority.

Now, we understand that Catholics and Protestants look at ecclesiology and authority differently, but what bothers me about this whole discussion, is how Catholics are accused of arrogance, for simply taking the principle of faith further than the Protestant does. You say we are arrogant and triumphalistic. But from our perspective it looks to us that Protestants lack faith in God's promises and provisions for His people. You provide Scripture for all your distinctives; so do we for ours. They all have to be dealt with in some fashion.

“I know for a fact, beyond any doubt whatsoever that God exists and ain’t nobody gonna tell no different!”

Belief in God is a pretty established, solid position for all Christians. It is as close to certain as we get, I think. It depends on how one decides "doubt." Is His existence exceedingly certain? Yes. The Bible teaches us that all know that He exists. It presupposes this. It's most clearly expressed in Romans 1:19-21. Is it arrogant to take that passage at face value, too, and assert that atheists know that God exists? I think not.

Does it mean that a Catholic or any Christian must take a view where there is no conceivable instance where we might be convinced otherwise? No. I have written many times that I can conceive such a scenario, but I have never come remotely close to changing my mind, as a result of many of my own debates with atheists. I'm just not convinced. But that is different from saying that I could never possibly be convinced otherwise. What can we know with absolute certainty? Again, it depends on how the terms are defined. I'm pretty certain that I exist and that the universe exists, and that my computer and my fingers exist as I type this, and that I am having these thoughts (Descartes). Knowing that God exists is a bit less certain than that, but not by much. The certainty comes about by many converging, accumulated evidences.

True, the fool says in his heart there is no God, but the fanatic says I see something nobody else does.

And that is how you view the Catholic position? We're not saying that. We're saying that there is an issue of authority to be reckoned with, and that Scripture, history and reason all have to be taken into account. Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism believe in an authoritative (infallible) Church, but Protestantism doesn't. You guys brought in the new view. The fathers certainly didn't think as you do. I have tons of quotes from Protestant patristics scholars that back me up on that. So the burden of proof is on you to show us all otherwise. And I think it has not been shown and that sola Scriptura is a desperately illogical and unbiblical position.

* * *

No one has taken a crack at answering the sincere questions I asked in my first comment above. If it is not hubris and arrogant and triumphalistic, etc., etc. to believe firmly in these things and not doubt them, why does it automatically become so when a Catholic dares to have faith enough to believe that God guides what we believe to be His established Church, protecting her from error?

Fair question. I think the difference may be that the Protestant speaks in short hand when he says “I have infallible assurance”; he doesn’t mean he has absolute certainty. he means he has unshakeable faith (which includes doubt).

I don't know what this means. Faith by definition means a thing that falls short of absolute proof. I don't see how Catholics and Protestants differ all that much in this respect. We have faith in things. I think it is a reasonable faith and not contrary to reason, but it is still faith, and faith is not identical to reason (which is the fallacy in much of the Protestant argumentation against Catholic infallibility: it reduces even faith to mere logical propositions, as if it is not distinct and something more, and supernatural, and a mystery of grace as well).

The Catholic means he has absolute certainty.

I don't think we believe it in the manner in which you are presenting it. We have the certitude of faith. As I stated above, it is an exceedingly complex discussion, and folks are at different levels of understanding. If you want to get all intellectual and philosophical to the max about it, then I would HIGHLY recommend that you read Cardinal Newman's An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. It's available online.

This will explain how a thinking Catholic regards theological truths, and their relation to faith, and help many Protestants to get past the caricature level in seeking to understand our positions.

If it helps, this Protestant finds the Catholic system quite attractive.

I find many elements of Protestantism quite attractive, too, which is why I was a fervent evangelical for 13 years, and retain many great aspects of that faith to this day, insofar as they are not contrary to Catholicism (which is a great deal of stuff).

It must be nice to not have any doubt in the here and now.

We have a reasonable assurance of faith and the certitude of faith. It doesn't follow that there is an utter absence of doubt at all times. People struggle with various truth claims, and in understanding things. That is the human condition: psychologically and subjectively and emotionally. But we all come to adopt one position over another. Hopefully, we have adequate reasons for doing so, and are always open to discussing those and overthrowing them where necessary.

I'm quite willing to become a Protestant again if I am persuaded to do so, just as I was persuaded to become a Catholic. It just has never happened in fact. I have found the arguments severely wanting in every head-to-head comparison I have done (and I have over 500 debates posted on my blog).

Just because one has not in fact been convinced of something, it doesn't follow that they believe they never possibly could be convinced in any possible world.

But the attraction is far outweighed by the fact that I find such hubris more disingenuous to the human condition as I know it.

I don't see the hubris. You obviously do, so I am trying to figure out why you and other Protestants do. What I do know for sure, as a result of my work as an apologist, is that Catholicism is often very poorly understood, and that frequently what is being critiqued is a straw man and a caricature. The same thing often happens to Calvinists as well, and evangelicals, from various quarters. All the more reason to talk things through and reach a greater mutual understanding, especially those of us who regard each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. It's imperative.

Those who think I am not even a Christian are not worth my time bothering with anymore. Been there done that.

* * *

Why is one thing intrinsically different from the other? I don't see it. We can have an honest disagreement, but why do value judgments as to supposed glaring subjective faults have to enter into it? What is possibly accomplished by adopting that opinion?

In effect, the argument is, "if one doesn't accept our own Protestant distinctives, and deny the infallibility of the Church and the pope, then by that very fact they must be arrogant and full of hubris. How dare someone assert Catholic truth claims!!"

Yet if the Protestant claims that uncertainty has to be espoused in order to save oneself from arrogance, then that itself is a claim of certainty: enough to condemn someone who differs with it. And that is self-defeating, as mentioned above. If uncertainty is such a supreme value, then to consistently hold to it would require one not to condemn another view, because to do so presupposes that there is a truth that can be known; therefore, the condemner is manifestly as arrogant as the one he condemns as arrogant (and arguably hypocritical too).

The modern mind seems to conceive of the opposite of faith as doubt, but it’s actually sight; doubt is a necessary and implicit aspect of faith.

That's the exact opposite of the truth, according to Jesus, Paul, James, and Jude: all of whom pit doubt against faith as antithetical or opposite things:

Matthew 14:31 (RSV) Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" (cf. 28:17)

Matthew 21:21 And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will be done. (cf. Mk 11:23)

Romans 14:23 But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Jude 1:20-22 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; [21] keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. [22] And convince some, who doubt;

You’re forgetting that Protestants read Scripture in relation to Scripture.

So do we. Everyone has to do that. That's why I produced so much Scripture above. God has spoken.

Yes, there is a sort of pitting of faith against doubt.

And this is your answer to all that (ostensibly perspicuous) Scripture?

But there is also the Pauline view that we live by faith and not by sight.

Yes, of course. Faith is not the equivalent of reason. But Paul (above all others in the NT) was very, very sure of what he believed. He didn't talk at all like Peter Berger and other Protestants today who glory in doubt and uncertainty and existential ambiguity.

I know you think we have a love affair with doubt,

It's more like an intellectual malady. Misguided; the wrong path . . .

but the posture on doubt is actually in a higher service to faith.

Please show that from Scripture. And if it isn't there, why should anyone believe it, from Protestant premises? You are providing subjective opinions out of your head. I have provided (along with my own subjective opinions) a lot of objective Scripture that has to be dealt with in some fashion.

Moreover, you realize, of course, that faith will disappear in the next age, to be replaced by sight (maranatha!).

Indeed. But then why would doubt be a foretaste of that, rather than a high degree of certitude of faith?

So it isn’t as if faith is so great anyway. Faith is a facet of this passing age.

Because it will pass does not mean it is not important now. We have God's revelation precisely so that we can know the truth, and in turn live the Christian life by God's grace with as much confidence as someone like the Apostle Paul exhibited.

* * *

The Protestant outlook is at ease with mystery,

No problem there.

discomfort, tension and the ability to simply say, “I believe, help me with my unbelief.”

The problem is that Protestants are also at ease with contradiction, division, and a sort of fetish for uncertainty, as if this is a glorious rather than scandalous thing. Contradiction means someone (by the laws of logic) is believing falsehood, and that is not a good thing. If you think it is, biblically speaking, then please show me where God ever desires that we doubt and believe in falsehood: as if the search for truth (ultimately unattainable, so it seems you are saying) is more important than the truth discovered with the eyes of faith, with the aid of God's grace.

The Protestant "cult of uncertainty" or "non-quest for certainty" is well illustrated by a citation from Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger, used in the post at Growing Grace-full:

Epistemological modesty, he suggests, is part and parcel of bearing the marks of Christ's kenosis. I'll conclude with a final thought from Berger in an interview published in The Christian Century (29 October 1997, pp. 972–78):
The basic fault lines today are not between people with different beliefs but between people who hold these beliefs with an element of uncertainty and people who hold these beliefs with a pretense of certitude. There is a middle ground between fanaticism and relativism. I can convey values to my children without pretending a fanatical certitude about them. And you can build a community with people who are neither fanatics nor relativists.

My colleague Adam Seligman uses the term "epistemological modesty." Epistemological modesty means that you believe certain things, but you're modest about these claims. You can be a believer and yet say, I'm not really sure. I think that is a fundamental fault line.

So for Berger (I know a little about him; I have six of his books in my library), certainty is the equivalent of "pretense" and "fanaticism." What a nice touch. But Protestants are not, alas, relativists, in attacking certitude. Rather, the more sophisticated among them are moderately uncertain: the golden mean between "fanaticism and relativism": the theological analogical equivalent of wishy-washy political moderates and swing voters, who never seem to be able to make up their mind (thus they were enamored of President Obama in 2008 and now -- jolted by economic reality -- are much less so). I submit that this folly is a very steep, greased, slippery slope.

Of course, if it isn't already obvious, Berger is a theological liberal. He makes this clear himself in the same interview cited above. Note again closely how he regards truth claims:

I haven't changed my theological position, really, since I wrote A Rumor of Angels. In my early youth I was sort of a neo-orthodox fanatic of a Lutheran variety. I don't think I was a fanatic in a personally disagreeable way, but intellectually I was. And then I got out of that. Since Rumor of Angels the only reasonable way I can describe myself theologically is as part of a liberal Protestant tradition.
My most recent book--Redeeming Laughter, about the comic in human life--takes up directly from where I ended in A Rumor of Angels, referring to humor as one of the signals of transcendence. I think it's a very important signal. To talk of signals of transcendence betrays a liberal position, for it excludes almost by definition any kind of orthodox certainty. If you are certain in terms of the object of your religious belief, you don't need any signals--you've already got the whole shebang. This is the only position I've found it possible to hold with intellectual honesty, and I doubt that is going to change.
. . . I don't think it follows that what is needed is a return to orthodoxy. . . . The history of Protestantism has shown . . . that you can have real faith without being in some sort of narrow orthodox mold. That is the challenge to liberal Protestantism.
. . . No tradition can be taken for granted any more. To pretend that it can is, in most cases, a self-delusion.
Schleiermacher was lucky in that he still had a church with a strong religious substance with which he could enter into dialogue. In liberal Protestantism in America we are not so lucky. There is nothing much there to enter into dialogue with.

I've been saying for years that this currently very fashionable fetish for uncertainty is a species of postmodernism or liberalism, and sure enough, here comes Berger to exactly confirm my analysis. The sad thing now is that many thinking evangelical or Calvinist Protestants are now adopting these liberal, skeptical modes of thought without being aware (or so it seems) of where they derive, or how contrary they are not only to Catholicism, but even to their own Protestant traditions (folks like Luther and Calvin).

The New Testament (which is, remember, a bit of an authority for the Christian) , on the other hand, doesn't offer the slightest hint of doctrinal relativism (to any degree), permitted differences on anything other than non-doctrinal matters such as what food to eat. It has not the remotest trace of the current (not historic) Protestant fascination with doctrinal diversity and subjective struggle, or the notion of "primary vs. secondary" doctrines; with the latter up for grabs and entirely optional.

Instead, what is found in the New Testament is a constant, unchanging casual assumption (above all in St. Paul) that there is but one truth, one faith, one commandment, one doctrine, one teaching, one message, one gospel, etc.

I have dozens of texts compiled that deal with these things, having included them in my last published book. Here are some more texts that I didn't collect in my book Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths, that teach assurance, being sure, assured, certain, confident, knowing, etc., in direct contradiction to this glorying over uncertainty as if that is required by a misguided notion of "humility" (epistemological or otherwise):

Genesis 15:13 Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years;

Job 8:6 if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and reward you with a rightful habitation.

Job 11:18 And you will have confidence, because there is hope; you will be protected and take your rest in safety.

Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalm 85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.

Psalm 119:86 All thy commandments are sure; . . .

Proverbs 11:18 A wicked man earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.

Proverbs 11:21 Be assured, an evil man will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will be delivered. (cf. 16:5)

Daniel 2:45 . . . A great God has made known to the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.

John 21:24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

Acts 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Acts 12:11 And Peter came to himself, and said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."

Romans 6:6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. (cf. 6:3)

Romans 6:9 For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

Romans 8:28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 14:14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean.

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

2 Corinthians 1:7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (cf. 4:14)

Ephesians 1:9 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ

Ephesians 1:18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, (cf. 3:3, 10)

Ephesians 5:5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:14 and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear. (cf. 1:19)

Colossians 1:9 asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

Colossians 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ,

Colossians 4:12 . . . that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you;

1 Timothy 1:15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . . .

1 Timothy 3:13 for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 1:12 . . . But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

2 Timothy 2:11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;

Titus 1:9 he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.

Hebrews 3:6 but Christ was faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope.

Hebrews 3:14 For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, (cf. 4:16)

Hebrews 6:9 . . . we feel sure of better things that belong to salvation.

Hebrews 10:22-23 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. [23] Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful;

Hebrews 10:35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (cf. 10:19)

Hebrews 13:18 . . . we are sure that we have a clear conscience . . . (cf. 13:6)

2 Peter 1:19 And we have the prophetic word made more sure. . . .

1 John 2:3, 5 And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.. . . but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him:

1 John 2:28-29 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. [29] If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him. (cf. 4:17)

1 John 3:2 . . . but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life . . .

1 John 3:18-19, 21 Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. [19] By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him. . . [21] Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God;

1 John 3:24 All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us. . . . (cf. 4:13, 16; 5:2)

1 John 4:6 . . . By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 5:14-15 And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. [15] And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. (cf. 5:19-20)

* * *

It's not arrogance and unmitigated gall to assert that a particular position is self-defeating or circular or profoundly self-contradictory.

It's just, well . . . logic. Logical critiques have to be overcome by logical argumentation from the advocate of the position being critiqued, that must attempt to demonstrate to the critic that his logic is somehow faulty.

You guys think various things about Catholicism (blind faith and so forth; oftentimes the idolatry or Pelagian or half-pagan charges, too). It is no more arrogant for us to critique your system than it is for you to critique ours.

But in any event, this whole uncertainty business is NOT historic Protestantism. THAT much is certain (pun half-intended). I contend that it is a product of post-Enlightenment theological liberalism. The case of Peter Berger, that was brought up in the original post, illustrates this perfectly.

If someone wants to go that route, that's up to them, but we mustn't pretend that such a view is in the heritage of historic Catholic orthodoxy or the "magisterial Reformation" tradition of Luther and Calvin, or "evangelical" by any reasonable definition of that term. It is not. Francis Schaeffer (a huge influence on me) wrote much about this.

Liberalism doesn't come from that. It comes from merging Enlightenment skepticism and later Higher Criticism with Christianity, to the great detriment of the latter.

It's the same mentality that has led to Episcopalianism accepting practicing homosexual bishops, and the ELCA recently adopting the same thing for clergy, and PCUSA voting to remove fornication from the roster of sins, and all the mainline denominations sanctioning childkilling.

That's NOT the way to go. I should think that serious, tradition-minded Catholics and Protestants alike could unite in opposition to destructive theological liberalism, just as C. S. Lewis said that those in the center of their own faith traditions are closer to each other than traditionalists and so-called "progressives" in any given communion are.

Thus I feel far closer in spirit (by far) to a Calvinist who actually believes in that system and rejects theological liberalism than I do to a Catholic "progressive" liberal dissident.

* * *

We clearly have different and important premises driving our conclusions. You juxtapose faith with doubt,

That wasn't me; I merely cited Jesus, Paul, James, and Jude. If you don't agree with their conclusions (that seem quite perspicuous to me), then you need to give us an interpretation of those passages that goes toward your direction. I've yet to see that, so I have no reason to not interpret the passages as I have been doing.

You brought up this point, remember, claiming that this perspective was strictly a modern one. I showed, I think, that it was quite ancient and quite biblical!

I juxtapose faith with sight.

Thus far, you have based that on one scriptural passage, as if it trumps all of the scores of passages I have brought to bear on this. It doesn't. They all have to be harmonized somehow, unless you deny that the Bible is inspired and infallible. I would say there is a sense in which you are right here, too, but it isn't the whole ball of wax.

(That’s as different as sola ecclesia and sola scriptura, the formal difference between Rome and Geneva.)

We don't believe in sola ecclesia. We believe in a "three-legged stool" of Bible-Church-Tradition. We think the Bible is infallible just as [some of] you do. So it ain't sola ecclesia. But Protestants do hold to sola scriptura by denying infallibility to the Church (and Tradition).

This may begin to explain why you don’t see the hubris I am contending is inherent in Catholicism.

I don't see it because it doesn't follow from mere belief in an infallible Church, that I must be arrogant and full of triumphalism and hubris.

I can understand why you perceive the Prot as “lacking in faith,” but instead of crying foul I think I’m more inclined to say that this is because you have resident within your formula the assumption that faith is the same as certainty.

It's not absolute certainty, as you are making it out to be, as if this is our position. It is a very high degree of certainty: reasonable enough to allow rational people to accept it in faith.

I have an infallible faith that a place called England exists. But I’ve never been there to actually see it, so I can’t say that I have certitude that it exists, only faith. I am certain that I have ten fingers and toes because I have seen them. Certainty requires sight, faith doesn’t. It requires doubt, else it wouldn’t be faith.

Yet the Bible pits doubt against faith. I will go with Scripture, thank you, if it clashes with your view.

It is interesting that Paul, having actually seen the risen Lord, yet defined the Christian life as one of living by faith and not by sight.

He defined it in all kinds of ways. You have focused on 2 Corinthians 5:7, which in context refers specifically to seeing God in heaven. We don't see that now, and have to have faith that we will get there eventually. Paul expresses similar eschatological thoughts in Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 13:12; 2 Corinthians 4:18; and 1 Timothy 6:16.

That is but one specific application. It can't be expanded to encompass all shades of meaning of "faith" in every instance. There is more to it than that. So your use of this one passage does not wipe out all the passages I have submitted as also relevant to this discussion.

Pentecostals also tend to forget that on his deathbed he asked for books—this from a man who wrote inspired texts.

He liked to read and learn. So what? What does this have to do with Catholic epistemology?

Paul was assured in a way that neither you nor I are afforded, yet he told us we were to live by faith and not by sight. The taxonomy is faith/sight, not faith/doubt.

Dealt with already . . .

I’m not saying “faith isn’t important now,” and I’m not sure how an adherent of sola fide could be construed as being that cynical about faith. It’s the only invisible instrument we have to the Lord (visible being the church). That “it will pass” isn’t the same as “it isn’t important.” The former just means to put even faith, like our very natural lives themselves, into perspective. But I can see (pun intended) why one would think the two are the same if one also thinks faith is the same as sight and juxtaposes faith to doubt.

Whatever. I remain unpersuaded of this view. I don't think you have overcome what I have brought to the table. Nothing personal. I just think it is a woefully inadequate and incomplete viewpoint with lots of problems insofar as Scripture has something to teach us on the subject.

[Chris Donato, the Protestant blogmaster] . . . in short, to convey your decision on these matters as somehow wholly transcendent, somehow laden with 100% certainty seems kind of funny to me, at best unrealistic, at worst irrational (or maybe hyper-rational?).

As I mentioned in the post, if I were to become Catholic, it'd not be as a result of my coming to 100% certainty with respect to Catholic ecclesiology but because I'd think Catholic ecclesiology made the most sense, was the most plausible structure, in this world.

Exactly. That was how I looked at it: it made far more sense and was more plausible (once both sides were heard) than any other system I knew of, based on numerous cumulative evidences.

Bryan [Cross] and other Catholics may feel differently about that, but this is my own take. Faith is not a matter of absolute, 100% certainty anyway. It's not philosophy. That's why this whole discussion of epistemology might be fun and interesting, but again, it overlooks the fact that faith (including Catholic faith) is not philosophy (as I pointed out years ago in dealing with these same objections from folks like Eric Svendsen and Tim Enloe).

[Bryan Cross: whose paper Chris Donato originally replied to] Of course faith is not philosophy. But that does not mean that our discussion of epistemology in relation to this point is merely "fun and interesting." An error in philosophy leads to an error in faith, because grace builds on nature. The Church has said this numerous times. What is known by faith is known with more certainty than what is known by natural science, because of the authority of the divine source of that which is given to us by faith, even though the object of faith is not presently seen, which allows faith to be subject to doubt. The greater certainty of that which is known by faith is precisely why it is rational [and not irrational] to walk by faith and not by sight.

Hi Bryan,

I hold to the certitude of faith, of the sort advocated and explained by Cardinal Newman in his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, and his notion of the "Illative Sense."

I wouldn't say that this is "100%, absolute certainty" in a philosophically "airtight" sense, but it is exceedingly, exceptionally certain and excludes doubt of the sort that our Protestant friends seem to glorify and pride themselves (?) in possessing over against us arrogant Catholics. :-)

The certitude of faith is of a different nature than mere scientific or logical knowledge, which is one of the difficulties in this discussion, because the Protestants who argue in this fashion appear to be reducing the knowledge that comes by faith and the work of the Holy Spirit in us to mere philosophy.

With the eyes of faith, this is certain knowledge, as Cardinal Newman states, that Christianity must be:

. . . positively acknowledged, embraced, and maintained as true, on the ground of its being divine, not as true on intrinsic grounds, not as probably true, or partially true, but as absolutely certain knowledge, certain in a sense in which nothing else can be certain, because it comes from Him who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

(Ch. 10: "Inference and Assent in the Matter of Religion")

There is a large sense in which this thinking is similar to Calvinist presuppositionalism: knowledge of the things of God are innate and supra-rational. They transcend reason and are more worthy of assent than scientific knowledge, as you say.

In other words, when Chris refers to "100% certainty" I think he means it in a different sense than I mean by the certitude of faith and Cardinal Newman's take on the whole thing. He probably means it in a different sense than Bryan does, too, though I can't speak for him.

My position, in any event (that I have argued countless times now) is that Protestant ecclesiology and epistemology is always self-defeating in the end, when its premises are closely examined, and that the Catholic notions of authority and belief are not logically circular at all. They require faith -- much faith -- but they are not logically circular or practically impossible to implement and live out, as Protestant systems always are in the end.

This doesn't mean that a Protestant can't live out a profoundly Christian life in service to God: only that their system (especially the rule of faith: sola Scriptura) is ultimately incoherent and inconsistent.

Having once been a "Calvinist presuppositionalist," influenced by the works of Van Til, Bahnsen, Frame, etc., I can tell you that the Catholic position (and Newman's) is not at all like Calvinist presuppositionalism. Calvinist presuppositionalism is fideism based on philosophical skepticism, as I argued here. In matters of faith, the notion that knowledge of the things of God is innate would be both rationalistic (denying our animality) and reduce faith from a supernatural virtue to a natural virtue.

I don't want to sidetrack the discussion on Chris's blog of our CTC article, so I'll just leave it at that.

I said it was similar in a sense, not identical.

The Bible assumes that men know that God exists, which is why it never bothers to make theistic proofs. The closest it comes, I think, is Romans 1, which might be construed as a primitive teleological argument.

Moreover, when I say "innate" I am not saying it is merely natural. It is innate via God's supernatural power. God puts the knowledge of Himself in us.

I don't think we disagree all that much. I followed the link to your article on fideism. You stated the following in the combox:

The same power (i.e. intellect) by which we reason discursively from premises to a conclusion is the same power by which we apprehend or understand intelligible truths, including the truth of the first principles in the order of knowing. These first principles are not obtained by fideistic leaps in the dark; they are naturally known to be true by all humans (through the intellect), even when they can’t be consciously articulated.

This is what I believe is the case with regard to knowledge of God. Belief in God is what Alvin Plantinga calls a "properly basic" belief. I believe that knowledge of God is supernaturally infused in us even before we set out to do theistic proofs. And that is essentially consistent with Newman's argument in Grammar of Assent and (I believe) also with Pascal.

I agree again with what you say about Alvin Plantinga (I'm rather fond of him) in the same thread:

There are some important differences between Plantinga’s position and that of the Thomistic tradition, but there is plenty of common ground. Plantinga seems to use this term “deliverances of reason” for beliefs that are prior to experience or independent of experience (Cf. WCB, p. 146), or deduced from them. Aristotle and Aquinas argued that all our knowledge, including first principles, comes from experience, through our senses. But Plantinga does grant that “perception” (as another rational power) gives us knowledge, and that “perceptual beliefs” are “basic”. (See WPF, 5) That’s sufficiently close (for my purposes) to what I’m arguing in this post, concerning the falsity of fideism. In other words, with respect to the basicality of perceptual beliefs and “deliverances of reason”, Plantinga is on the side of Aristotle and Aquinas, and not on the side of fideism.

So see, we're not far apart at all. I just don't articulate these matters as well as you, since I am not studying for a doctorate in philosophy as you are. :-)

But I'm no fideist anymore than Plantinga or Cardinal Newman are. You said it, and I agree with you that there is much common ground between all these great thinkers.