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Old 08-20-2001, 01:51 PM   #71
Apikorus
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Nomad, if you wish to be taken seriously, I suggest you refrain from attempts to associate James Still and me with silly arguments of the "but Adam didn't die" variety. I think I am a fairly sensitive reader of the Hebrew Bible. I read in the original Hebrew, I have a fairly broad familiarity with the apocryphal and pseudepigraphal literature, as well as some experience with the vast rabbinic literature (not to mention history and archaeology).

You were caught with your fingers in the cookie jar making a statement about the accuracy of the English translation of Ezek 20:25, even though you don't read Hebrew. When I corrected you, providing a literal translation of the Hebrew which refuted your position, your first line of defense was to claim that I had somehow ripped the verse out of context. But indeed as I argued the notion that YHWH intentionally misleads the sinful simply adds power to the denoument of the historical summary in Ezek 20. Furthermore, I adduced several other passages in the Hebrew Bible, such as Ezek 14:9, which convey the same disturbing idea. I appropriately remarked how the "softer" view also is articulated in the Hebrew Bible and how this is the reading the turgeman of T. Yonatan imposed on Ezek 20:25. You then hastily and erroneously implied that the Targumim might provide more authentic readings than the Masoretic Text on the basis that the earliest complete MT codex we have is from the 11th century, while the date I offered for the creation of the Targumim was older. (This argument inappropriately compares the date of the composition of one text with the earliest extant witness of another.) Admonished, you then tried to deflect my criticism by focusing instead on the possibility that the MT might nonetheless present a theological point of view - a possibility you claimed I was naively ignoring. However, this argument seems spurious since there's no identifiable theology which would support such a contention. My interpretation is then further supported as a theological lector dificilior. Furthermore, it is supported by the LXX and Vulgate.

Denied again, you have adopted a variant approach. This time it is to argue that the plain sense of the text is in fact not reflected by its literal translation. As I said above, this is sometimes indeed the case. One must allow for the possibility of idiomatic constructions. (E.g. a hendiadys such as "I am good and angry" would not be rendered in biblical Hebrew as "ani tov vekoeis".) But this is simply a shot in the dark for you, since you don't know the language and you haven't cited any scholarly analyses which would support your argument. On the other hand, Moshe Greenberg, author of the Anchor Bible commentaries on Ezekiel, is fully aware of such linguistic subtleties, and he does not support your view. (Indeed, he is emphatically opposed to it on textual grounds.)

You've also introduced another complicating issue into the discussion, which is the canard of "naturalistic presuppositionalism". Again, I am but a simple pashtan. My interest lies in the plain sense of the text, though I am of course sympathetic to the idea that the Bible means different things to different people. I will admit to presupposing that there is no magic in the Bible, even though I acknowledge that many of its readers and writers believed otherwise. On the other hand, I am not singling out the Bible for this treatment. I also deny any divine character to the Iliad, the Mahabharata, the New Testament, the Qur'an, the Bundahisn, and even to Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities.

[ August 20, 2001: Message edited by: Apikorus ]
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Old 08-20-2001, 03:05 PM   #72
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Originally posted by Apikorus:

Nomad, if you wish to be taken seriously, I suggest you refrain from attempts to associate James Still and me with silly arguments of the "but Adam didn't die" variety.
I did not connect you with such thinking, but rather, was making a point through an illustration, and you have taken issue with that illustration, rather than addressing the point itself. More on this below.

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You were caught with your fingers in the cookie jar making a statement about the accuracy of the English translation of Ezek 20:25, even though you don't read Hebrew.
This is red herring number one. Most of us here do not read Hebrew, so to simply accept your interpretation is a non-starter. This was why I asked for the opinion of the rabbis, and you have confirmed that their understanding is very close to my own. In my view this is where we can then agree to disagree, as there is no real escape from our underlying assumptions. As we can see from your post, you believe you have given us a plain text reading of the Bible. Yet, the simple student that looks at Genesis 3 could make the same statement. Your interpretation rests on the assumption that what we know of God's character means nothing here, and we can make a determination merely based on one or two passages treated in isolation. This is a game I often see played, and it is one that does not interest me.

What does interst me is why you believe as you do, and in order to prove that the Hebrew Scriptures are problematic for the Christians (that is, after all, the original subject of the thread), then it would be a big step to show how Christian exegesis of the text differs from Jewish understandings. As of right now, it appears that you cannot do that.

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Your first line of defense was to claim that I had somehow ripped the verse out of context, but indeed as I argued the notion that YHWH intentionally misleads the sinful simply adds power to the denoument of the historical summary in Ezek 20.
You have ripped the text from its wider context, and I have shown this a number of times. If you had asked if God sometimes hides Himself from the non-believer, then I would have agreed that yes He does. If you had asked if He allows people to continue in their evil, eventhough He has the power to stop them, again I would have agreed. But you have been tryiing to make the much wider claim that God deliberately misleads the wicked to their own destruction, and this is simply incorrect. Ezekiel could have believed this only if he rejected the rest of the Hebrew Bible's portrayal of God, and thus far you have not established that he did this.

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...You then hastily and erroneously implied that the Targumim might provide more authentic readings than the Masoretic Text on the basis that the earliest complete MT codex we have is from the 11th century, while the date I offered for the creation of the Targumim was older. (This argument inappropriately compares the date of the composition of one text with the earliest extant witness of another.)
This is red herring number 2 as I made no such argument, nor did I imply such a thing. If you go back and read my posts you will see that I have stated from the beginning that I am willing to accept any translation you choose, including the English RSV Bible. I merely wondered at your dismissal of one text on the grounds that it has a theological bias, while you did not also point out the equally obvious fact that all texts have a theological bias. Such is the nature of human authorship and interpretation.

As an aside, a bias does not make one wrong, but when it is denied, or not laid out in the open, it can present a misleading picture of what one is saying. Personally, I have no problem stating my prejudices up front. My hope is that you will do the same.

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Admonished, you then tried to deflect my criticism by focusing instead on the possibility that the MT might nonetheless present a theological point of view - a possibility you claimed I was naively ignoring. However, this argument seems spurious since there's no identifiable theology which would support such a contention. My reading is then further supported on the grounds of lector dificilior. Furthermore, it is supported by the LXX and Vulgate.
Once again you have missed my point here Apikorus. I already told you several posts ago that I am willing to accept any one of these texts for the sake of this discussion. What I have also said is that you have yet to acknowledge that your own interpretation and conclusions based on that interpretation are ideologically derived. You wish to claim that you are reading the text plainly, yet barely wishing to acknowledge that the religions founded on thes same texts as you have read, and interpretted by men that could read Hebrew at least as well as you do, differ in their understanding from what you have told us. Hand waving on your part to tell us that the difference is rooted in the fact that these men were believers and you are not, and therefore your interpretation is better is hardly convincing.

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Denied again, you have adopted a variant approach. This time it is to argue that the plain sense of the text is in fact not reflected by its literal translation. As I said above, this is sometimes indeed the case. One must allow for the possibility of idiomatic constructions. (E.g. a hendiadys such as "I am good and angry" would not be rendered in biblical Hebrew as "ani tov vekoeis".) But this is simply a shot in the dark for you, since you don't know the language and you haven't cited any scholarly analyses which would support your argument.
This was where I asked sincerely for your help. Since it is a fact that I do not read Hebrew, I wanted to know what other readers of Hebrew believe. You have told me that they accept that a part of God's nature is to accept repentance at any time. As this is also the Christian understanding of God's nature, then I believe that you have answered your own question. Does God deliberately lead the wicked to their own destruction? No. Does He permit it? Yes. Now do you see why it is important to understand the theological roots of a text, rather than merely stripping this passage or that one out of the Bible, and claiming that you now have the truth?

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On the other hand, Moshe Greenberg, author of the Anchor Bible commentaries on Ezekiel, is fully aware of such linguistic subtleties, and he does not support your view. (Indeed, he is emphatically opposed to it on textual grounds.)
I am unsure that you actually understand my views here, as you have misrepresented me twice already in this post alone. Perhaps you could summarize for me what you think I believe, and this would establish that you do, actually understand my argument.

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...I will admit to presupposing that there is no magic in the Bible, even though I acknowledge that many of its readers and writers believed otherwise. On the other hand, I am not singling out the Bible for this treatment. I also deny any divine character to the Iliad, the Mahabharata, the New Testament, the Qur'an, the Bundahisn, and even to Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities.
Yes, I already knew this about your beliefs. You are, after all, an atheist. At the same time, if you could actually prove that the God of the Bible did not exist, then you would go a long ways towards justifying your assumption about the Bible (Hebrew or Christian) not being inspired.

Now, if I may make a request, you were insulted by the implication that I was equating your beliefs with that of the simpleton sceptic. I was not, and I apologize for the misunderstanding. By the same token, I would appreciate it if you did not place the Bible on the same level as a work of popular fiction like "The Bonfire of the Vanities". Such simple minded tactics may play well, but hardly do justice to the historical, theological and ideological power and force of a book like the Bible. One does not have to treat the Bible as a Holy Book in order to appreciate this fact, and attempts to trivialize it in this manner are not helpful in a discussion with either Christians or Jews.

Nomad

[ August 20, 2001: Message edited by: Nomad ]
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Old 08-20-2001, 03:08 PM   #73
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Actually, I am well aware of what Apikorus is saying here, and what I am doing is pointing out the naive assumption built into his (and your) belief that we can best understand Scripture by seperating it from its religious roots. Thus, we see nearly endless examples of (sometimes nonsensical) understandings of the Bible, where the reader is insisting that even the author himself must not have understood what he was writing. Probably my favorite example of this is when fundamentalist sceptics try to show that Genesis is in error when it tells us how God warns Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because if they do, they will surely die. This idiosyncratic individual then points out that Adam and Eve did not actually die right away (as the plain reading of the text said), but rather, that Adam goes on to live a good while longer!

Quite simply, the problem for the interpreter of the Bible is that we very often want to make simple assumptions, and believe that there is only one logical reading of the Scriptures, when there is nothing in any tradition that shows that this is, in fact, the case. Even if we accept the idea that the human mind can reason on its own, and determine what is contained within Scripture, anyone that states that they have the plain text understanding of what is contained in the Bible should be treated with caution. And when this person presents a novel understanding of the text, and does so by divorcing it from the wider context, then we should be even more cautious.
I have obviously failed to explain myself sufficiently because you are struggling with a strawman rather than my actual views. I do not believe (and I seriously doubt that Apikorus believes) that the best way to understand these texts is to separate them from their religious roots. On the contrary, the only way to understand them is to take seriously their theological underpinnings. The problem here is not a naive assumption on the part of Apikorus, but rather that he has developed a sound argument concerning God's intentionality which seems to be in tension with the orthodox view of God. What we have here is a situation in which you wish to pronounce his exegesis incorrect solely because it conflicts with your exegesis. Only you've dressed it up in terms of "human reason" versus "God's reason," thus co-opting God in defense of your interpretation. If it is true, as you suggest, that human reason leads to the risk of "novel understandings" then you ought to be worried that your own interpretations are flawed as well.

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All human languages are extremely complex things, and when that language is attached to metaphysical, moral and theological principles, the level of complexity only increases. What I see happening when I am given interpretations like the above from Apikorus is that he operates from an underlying premise that I doubt he has even considered. I call this premise (for lack of a better term) "naturalistic presuppositionalism".

The best way to explore this concept is by way of analogy. Let us assume that I wish to set down some rules and consequences for my young son (he is seven). I give them to him, and tell him that if he needs any clarification on what I mean, that he should ask me and I will help him. Now, let's suppose that he comes up with an interpretation that makes sense to him. He even checks with his other 7 year old friends to see if they think he is right. But he does not check with me. Will his understanding be correct? Personally, given his history, I somehow doubt it.
If I grant you that Apikorus is corrupted by naturalistic presuppositionalism then to be consistent I must also conclude that you suffer from "supernaturalistic" presuppositionalism. Any other conclusion would beg the question. You want us to check in with you as the father figure, the keeper of the interpretive keys, but why should we do that and what if you're wrong? To be honest with ourselves we should seek neutral ground rather than to hold up normative (and arbitrary) hoops through which we demand others to jump. (That Archimedian point below you is a rug that can be pulled right out...) Critical scholarship is the only vehicle we have for creating such neutral ground. It ensures that every view is heard and that no idea is too controversial or unwarranted for scrutiny. The days when interpretations are handed down by the Church and consumed by all are long gone and I wouldn't get too nostalgic if I were you.

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So how does this relate here? In order to make Apikorus' understanding of Scripture work, it must be divorced from the doctrines and teachings of Judaism and Christianity.
This is just wrong but Apikorus has already addressed the issue so I see no need to beat a dead horse.

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But why do you accept that post-modernism is true? Such a belief, is, in fact, self contradictory.
First, I did say that "post-modernism is true" and I'm not even sure what that sentence means. Second, I said that it was a postmodern problem that the texts are the products of interpretation. It's a postmodern problem because we have moved beyond modernity's assumption that the text is normative and reports actual historical or theological facts. We now realize that scriptures are the product of subjective experience and theological invention that are theologically true only in the context of their particular readers. If there's something self contradictory in that realization then I would love to know what it is.

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Does your belief in your own personal understanding of the Bible hold up if the God of the Bible is real? IOW, can you understand the Bible through your own reasoning powers working alone? And if you can, how do you demonstrate this from the Bible itself (Remember, once the God of the Bible becomes real, then we would logically expect to follow the rules He has laid out for understanding His word)?

As Isaiah told us:

Isaiah 1:18a "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:

The notion of trying to understand God's Word without asking Him directly does seem rather odd, don't you think, especially from God's point of view?
Regardless of whether the God of the Bible exists, my interpretations hold up because they are my own views discerned as best as I can with the realization that the texts were written by men just like me. They too wondered about the meaning of life, why bad things happen to good people, and where God hides when he is needed by his people. I'm suspicious of your Calvinistic notion that we must first leap into faith and meet God halfway before we can arrive at "correct" understanding. If it were as simple as that there would be no controversies, doctrinal disputes, arguments, wars, car bombs over the correct interpretation of Scripture and who is right. If God exists and he is just, then he would want us to understand his word and so see to it that honest seekers understood him and each other in relation to his truth. But no one understands him and everyone fights, not for the truth, but for the Archimedean point on which they can demand that their interpretation is the truth. These struggles for normativity have nothing to do with truth and everything to do with power. In my opinion your son's interpretations are just as valid as any papal bull.
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Old 08-20-2001, 04:06 PM   #74
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Nomad, my arguments for why the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are not divine are likely to be received by you as my arguments against the divine perfection of the Qur'an are by my very clever Muslim friend Ahmad. There are some rather educated faculty at BYU who will tenaciously defend the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as well. Arguments for and against divine inspiration of the Bible are medieval and don't interest me terribly.

I am interested, on the other hand, in the plain sense of the Hebrew Bible, which I assert is best approached critically, with an eye toward philological, historical, literary, and, yes, theological issues.

Your claim, as I understand it, is that the notion that God would intentionally mislead anyone runs contrary to the most fundamental theological tenets of the Hebrew Bible. Furthermore, you seem to say, that the earliest recorded interpretations (as opposed to static translations) from Jewish and Christian sources deny that God could mislead casts doubt on the literal translation of Ezek 20:25. (Please correct me if I have misstated your position. Also, as I have not yet researched the rabbinic literature, I am not prepared to concede the claim that Jewish sources unanimously reject the notion of God misleading the sinful.) I find this argument quite uncompelling for the following reasons:
  • First and foremost, the literal translation of the Hebrew text of Ezek 20:25 plainly has YHWH admitting that he gave the Israelites bad statutes. Similarly, YHWH admits in Ezek 14:9 that he himself "misled that prophet". Related examples are found in Exodus, Isaiah, and 1 Kings.
  • While it is true that the plain sense of the text can be misleading, especially when idiomatic constructions are used, the texts from Ezekiel show no evidence of this. Indeed, the construction natati lahem/lakhem X is used several times throughout the Hebrew Bible and it always means "I gave/will give to them/you X" (cf. Jer 24:7, 32:39; Isa 56:5, etc.) Thus, there is nothing linguistically problematic to Ezek 20:25 (though "chukim lo tovim" is a circumlocution). When Amos writes in 4:6 "vegam ani natati lakhem nikyon shinayim..." it is better translated as "And also I gave you clean teeth..." rather than "And also I gave you over to clean teeth..." YHWH is actively causing the famine here; this is paralleled by corresponding active constructions in the following verses (manati mikkem, hikketi 'etkem, sillaHti bakem, hapakti bakem).
  • The literal Hebrew translation is supported by the LXX and the Vulgate. It is transformed in the Aramaic Targum Yonatan but the Targumim are generally expansive, paraphrastic, and tendentious, and are universally recognized to be of relatively minor value in textual criticism.
  • Far from being problematic, my reading of Ezek 20:25 adds great power to the denoument of the historical summary at the beginning of chapter 20. The Israelites were disobedient and repeatedly inflamed Yahweh's anger, until finally he himself hastened their demise by giving them no-good statutes "to desolate them". To misread this as a passive judgement is to miss the point entirely.
  • Regarding the reliability of early traditions, one must recognize their limitations. Again, Jewish tradition holds that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (as well as the Book of Job!). Furthermore, religious tradition is tendentiously harmonizing. For example, in Genesis when Reuben lays with Bilhah and accordingly incur's Jacob's wrath, the plain sense of the text clearly is that Reuben arrogated his father's position and had sex with his concubine Bilhah. Yet the medieval Jewish exegete Rashi, whose opinions are slavishly revered by Orthodox Jews to this very day, insisted that Reuben did not sleep with Bilhah, but that he merely rearranged the beds. This whitewashing, in order to render the Patriarchs pristine, is manifestly tendentious and indeed ludicrous. Christological approaches generally allegorize the Hebrew Bible, in contrast to the "reading in" approach of Jewish midrash, but Christian exegesis is full of similar absurdities.
  • However, traditional exegesis is not utterly worthless. Indeed, clever and sensitive traditionalists have had two millenia to identify interesting problems with the biblical text. Their precritical solutions are often problematic, but not always so. It is quite clearly the case, though, that traditional exegesis is subordinate to theology. Thus it simply would be unthinkable for e.g. Nachmanides to consider that the Torah is a redacted composite document.
  • It is rather problematic to assume that a collection as diverse and temporally extended as the Hebrew Bible would present a single coherent theology. Indeed, in the Torah and the Early Prophets, one often encounters examples of severe divine justice in which YHWH punishes children for the sins of their fathers. (I already adduced several examples: Dathan and Abiram, Achan, David.) Yet the doctrine of personal responsibility in Ezekiel 18 completely repudiates this notion. Thus, "OT Theology" is not static. A diachronic approach allows for a more nuanced understanding, and one which makes more sense from both the plain sense of the text as well as its sociohistorical context.
  • The tendentious methodology of the traditionalists is often exposed by theodical issues such as the one we are discussing here. In some of the other examples I cited, such as the destruction of Dathan and Abiram's entire households, children and infants included, or in the case of the herem which led to a divinely sanctioned genocide at Jericho and Ai, the traditional response generally is that God's justice is simply not to be questioned, or, worse, that "God knew those people (i.e. even the babies) would turn out to be evil and so he destroyed them". Such rationalization does not inspire my confidence!

[ August 21, 2001: Message edited by: Apikorus ]
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Old 08-20-2001, 04:13 PM   #75
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Quote:
Originally posted by James Still:

… What we have here is a situation in which you wish to pronounce his exegesis incorrect solely because it conflicts with your exegesis. Only you've dressed it up in terms of "human reason" versus "God's reason," thus co-opting God in defense of your interpretation. If it is true, as you suggest, that human reason leads to the risk of "novel understandings" then you ought to be worried that your own interpretations are flawed as well.
This is not a “dressed up” issue, but, rather, one that is central to the question. Your working assumption is that the infinite can be grasped by the finite, purely on the basis of the efforts of the finite alone, and this is clearly irrational. The only way your working assumption can be correct is if you can prove that it is based on truth. This is why I said it would be better to first demonstrate that the God of the Bible does not exist, then impose your reading on the text.

The alternative, that God does, in fact, exist, and that He will play an active, rather than passive role in revealing Himself to us, makes such a view nonsensical.
Quote:

If I grant you that Apikorus is corrupted by naturalistic presuppositionalism then to be consistent I must also conclude that you suffer from "supernaturalistic" presuppositionalism. Any other conclusion would beg the question.
Agreed. And based on Apikorus’ last post to me, it would appear that he is agreeing to his natualistic bias. By the same token, it is a given that I begin from my own supernatural bias. But the reasons as to which world view is better is a separate debate from this one. I merely wanted to establish our foundational prejudices here.

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You want us to check in with you as the father figure, the keeper of the interpretive keys, but why should we do that and what if you're wrong?
It is always possible that I am wrong. This is a large part of why I am so careful to defend only orthodox beliefs. After all, if I can show that my beliefs are not merely my own, but that they are the same as those held by all believers through thousands of years, then I would hope that it would be reasonable to assume that my belief most closely reflects those of the Biblical authors themselves. Remember again, based on the assumption that God does exist, it is reasonable to assume that He has a means of communicating with us the truth about His nature. On that basis, the truth that He conveys would not change. Thus, what orthodox Christians believe today would be consistent, and this is what we see handed down to us by the Church.

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To be honest with ourselves we should seek neutral ground rather than to hold up normative (and arbitrary) hoops through which we demand others to jump. (That Archimedian point below you is a rug that can be pulled right out...) Critical scholarship is the only vehicle we have for creating such neutral ground.
But “neutral” is a chimera, and given the question (we are talking about the relationship of the infinite Creator with His finite creation), we should not even be trying to pretend we can be neutral here. It is better to admit our prejudices, then seek the truth. That truth will stand regardless of our beliefs, of course, but we get no where by beginning the discussion in saying that the only “neutral” means to uncover truth is to deny the existence of God, then try and figure out if He exists, and what He is telling us about Himself.

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It ensures that every view is heard and that no idea is too controversial or unwarranted for scrutiny. The days when interpretations are handed down by the Church and consumed by all are long gone and I wouldn't get too nostalgic if I were you.
I wonder if you recognized your own statement of faith here James. After all, if the truth is out there, it does not matter where it comes from, nor even how much time has passed. It will remain the truth.
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Nomad: But why do you accept that post-modernism is true? Such a belief, is, in fact, self contradictory.

James: First, I did say that "post-modernism is true" and I'm not even sure what that sentence means. Second, I said that it was a postmodern problem that the texts are the products of interpretation.
One cannot assume a post modern problem exists at all if one does not accept the premise that post modernism is true. What I was pointing out here is that given the relativistic nature of post modern thought, I found the linking of post modern and problem to be interesting. After all, if the truth is only true for us here and now, why should we accept that it will be true later?

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It's a postmodern problem because we have moved beyond modernity's assumption that the text is normative and reports actual historical or theological facts.
No, you have moved beyond such beliefs, but you cannot, from your metaphysical framework, prove that your assumptions are, themselves, true. Again, this is moving to a very different question. Perhaps for another thread when I have more time.

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We now realize that scriptures are the product of subjective experience and theological invention that are theologically true only in the context of their particular readers. If there's something self contradictory in that realization then I would love to know what it is.
Are you saying that you did not actually catch it? The Scriptures were true for readers at one time, but they are not true now because we live in a different time? Sorry James. Truth is truth, and it was either true then, or it was not. God exists, or He does not. These are not relativistic questions, but objective ones, and it is a sad commentary on our times that so many people have forgotten this.
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Nomad: Does your belief in your own personal understanding of the Bible hold up if the God of the Bible is real? IOW, can you understand the Bible through your own reasoning powers working alone? And if you can, how do you demonstrate this from the Bible itself (Remember, once the God of the Bible becomes real, then we would logically expect to follow the rules He has laid out for understanding His word)?
As Isaiah told us:
Isaiah 1:18a "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
The notion of trying to understand God's Word without asking Him directly does seem rather odd, don't you think, especially from God's point of view?

James: Regardless of whether the God of the Bible exists, my interpretations hold up because they are my own views discerned as best as I can with the realization that the texts were written by men just like me. They too wondered about the meaning of life, why bad things happen to good people, and where God hides when he is needed by his people.
And yet again I do not think that we are connecting here. IF God exists, then He will not be passive in revealing Himself to you or anyone else. Understanding Him will require His help. This is simply axiomatic.

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I'm suspicious of your Calvinistic notion that we must first leap into faith and meet God halfway before we can arrive at "correct" understanding.
This is not Calvinistic by any stretch James. The Calvinists deny that we can make any kind of leap at all. My beliefs are orthodox, and given my belief that God exists, perfectly rational. See again my illustration of my son understanding my rules.

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If it were as simple as that there would be no controversies, doctrinal disputes, arguments, wars, car bombs over the correct interpretation of Scripture and who is right. If God exists and he is just, then he would want us to understand his word and so see to it that honest seekers understood him and each other in relation to his truth.
One of my favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton once wrote that saying that the fallen nature of man disproves Christianity is like saying that the Flood disproves the Ark. The fact that man is fallen, and does not listen to God is central to Christian doctrine. This is why we do not listen to God, and it is why we do not obey Him when we should. His revelation is available to all, but as we can see from human history, we are not prone to wanting to see Him, nor to listen to Him. Fortunately, He doesn’t give up on us easily.

I understand your rejection of Christian teachings James. At the same time, it is my hope that you will understand why we believe that if He exists, He will be the one contacting us, not the other way around. He is not found so much as He reveals Himself to us. It is at that point that we begin our real journey of understanding. But to believe that we can achieve that on our own is like the blind man that leads another blind man into the ditch. Depending on one another without turning first to God is a dead end street. Given His existence, this is (and should be) self evidentially true.

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Old 08-20-2001, 04:17 PM   #76
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If one accepts the argument that God's very existence mitigates against his remaining a dispassionate observer, then it seems one should be open to the possibility that God revealed himself to the Sumerians and the Hittites and the Egyptians and the Chinese and the aboriginal Australians long before he started dictating Hebrew prose.
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Old 08-20-2001, 05:25 PM   #77
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Nomad: By the same token, it is a given that I begin from my own supernatural bias. But the reasons as to which world view is better is a separate debate from this one. I merely wanted to establish our foundational prejudices here.
By now everyone knows our leanings and is aware of the fact that they influence our worldview. But my point is that we can find consensus in scholarship. Just as biologists do good science by bracketing out their personal faith, so too can good scholars arrive at scholarly consensus without regard to the philosophical question of God's existence.

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This is not a “dressed up” issue, but, rather, one that is central to the question. Your working assumption is that the infinite can be grasped by the finite, purely on the basis of the efforts of the finite alone, and this is clearly irrational. The only way your working assumption can be correct is if you can prove that it is based on truth. This is why I said it would be better to first demonstrate that the God of the Bible does not exist, then impose your reading on the text.

The alternative, that God does, in fact, exist, and that He will play an active, rather than passive role in revealing Himself to us, makes such a view nonsensical.
You misunderstand me I'm afraid but I'm happy to clear up the matter. I do not assume that the infinite can be grasped by the finite. If God exists, then the being (by definition) is beyond understanding. My assumption in general terms is that the texts are human products. They are expressions of faith and record our hopes and aspirations as well as our opinions and interpretations of how we ought to stand in relation to God. It is this conclusion, which I have stated many times before, that you resist addressing. I think you want to say that the ontological question of God must be settled first before we can address interpretive questions. But that is just not so. Jews, Christians, secularists, and others can come together and agree with Apikorus' interpretation of Ezekiel 20:25 while bracketing God out of the question. This is done all the time. Are you assuming a priori that the text is inspired? If not, where is this mysterious aether in which one must be steeped before he or she can read a passage and understand it correctly? I just can't see how to connect your dots.

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It is always possible that I am wrong. This is a large part of why I am so careful to defend only orthodox beliefs. After all, if I can show that my beliefs are not merely my own, but that they are the same as those held by all believers through thousands of years, then I would hope that it would be reasonable to assume that my belief most closely reflects those of the Biblical authors themselves. Remember again, based on the assumption that God does exist, it is reasonable to assume that He has a means of communicating with us the truth about His nature. On that basis, the truth that He conveys would not change. Thus, what orthodox Christians believe today would be consistent, and this is what we see handed down to us by the Church.
You raise an excellent point. I believe that the main impetus for critical scholarship in the 18th century (as well as the Protestant Reformation before it) was a rejection of the normative power weilded by the Church. By passing the baton to them you're saying only that truth is defined by tradition and power. It is not at all clear to me (it does not logically follow) that God's desire to convey the truth would manifest itself in the teachings of orthodoxy as interpreted by Rome. This passage in Ezekiel teaches us not to trust authority for its own sake because the masses can be led astray. Further, allowing truth to be defined by the Church is akin to jumping on the bandwagon. I think that we learn a great deal more by reading these texts against the grain (against catholic assumptions) rather than acceding to the wishes of the hiearchy.

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But “neutral” is a chimera, and given the question (we are talking about the relationship of the infinite Creator with His finite creation), we should not even be trying to pretend we can be neutral here. It is better to admit our prejudices, then seek the truth. That truth will stand regardless of our beliefs, of course, but we get no where by beginning the discussion in saying that the only “neutral” means to uncover truth is to deny the existence of God, then try and figure out if He exists, and what He is telling us about Himself.
There's an awful lot of pious talk about the "truth" here but very little in the way of signposts to suggest that we're even heading in the right direction. Which brings us to the crux of the matter:

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The Scriptures were true for readers at one time, but they are not true now because we live in a different time? Sorry James. Truth is truth, and it was either true then, or it was not. God exists, or He does not. These are not relativistic questions, but objective ones, and it is a sad commentary on our times that so many people have forgotten this.
I disagree. You are conflating different uses of the word "truth" in this utterance. For something to be true for a reader 500 years ago says only that it had meaning to him at the time. It does not speak to objectivity or relativity (and if it did we would be talking about evidence rather than interpretation). Again, the existence of God has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Apikorus is correct in his exegesis on Ezekiel. If there is any objectivity here, and it is a question which we all seek to answer, it consists only in the original intent of the author of Ezekiel when he wrote his text. That is the only objective issue. His interpretation of the world around him and how one ought to live in relation to God led him to write his text. It does not become magically objective just because his interpretation is now codified on paper. Further, our reading of his text is necessarily a relative (interpretitive) endeavor. But as I said before, we can hope to achieve scholarly consensus that comes as close as possible to agreement. But we cannot achieve this agreement by violence or mandate (see below).

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And yet again I do not think that we are connecting here. IF God exists, then He will not be passive in revealing Himself to you or anyone else. Understanding Him will require His help. This is simply axiomatic.
Funny how axioms work out so well on paper but fail miserably in the real world. If I were you I'd bracket the existential question of God out of the equation of biblical scholarship because it's biting you in the ass. All over the world we have regional hot spots in which Catholics are killing Protestants, Christian Macedonians are killing Muslims, Palestinians are killing Jews, and so on and on, over issues of "truth" and who is correctly interpretating Scripture. But this has been going on for millenia so what else is new?

It seems absurd to me that God has reached out and provided a clear (or even semi-coherent) revelation of his wishes and desires. It is not an issue of sin or rebellion either. It is not as if God has been revealed through these texts but everyone chooses to do evil out of sin despite that clear revelation. The fact is no one can even agree on the basic interpretations of the texts. It does no good to say that one must first understand God and then correct understanding will follow -- the Southern ministers understood God perfectly well when they used his word to condone slavery. And this is just one example out of many. Do you want to say that they are like your seven year old and you know the correct interpretation? Or should we hand the matter over to Rome and cede to their interpretation? If so, on what basis? How do we know? I am not as confident as you that all of these questions can be so easily answered by an appeal to God.

[ August 20, 2001: Message edited by: James Still ]
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Old 08-20-2001, 10:31 PM   #78
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If I do not get out of this thread I will never have time to get to my promised response on the Luke/Josephus question, therefore it is my hope that this will be my last post on this particular topic, and with luck I will cover off each of the relevant issues satisfactorily, then, if Apikorus or James has any final comments to make, they can do so. Barring questions, I will be content to allow James and Apikorus to have the last word here.

First, James has made the valid point that scholarship can and does teach us much about what the Bible says, as well as what the people were probably like at the time that the Bible was written (among other things). What he has missed in this discussion is that some things in the Bible are, indeed, subject to historical critical methodology, for example, and textual criticism, archaeology, and possibly even anthropology and psychology and other sciences. At the same time, other questions are not subject to such neat categorization, and falls exclusively within the realm of metaphysics and theology. It is in these areas that I do not see any significant advantage for moderns over the ancients, and therefore reject any notion that post modernism can help us to better understand the nature of truth as it relates to God. Quite frankly, post modernism, taken to its logical conclusion literally saws off the branch it is sitting on, since the argument that something was only true for a certain time and place can just as easily be turned on its head, and we can say that this statement is also only potentially true in this time and place. Very quickly we end up in utter nonsense.

The second point I would like to quote directly from James:

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My assumption in general terms is that the texts are human products. They are expressions of faith and record our hopes and aspirations as well as our opinions and interpretations of how we ought to stand in relation to God. It is this conclusion, which I have stated many times before, that you resist addressing. I think you want to say that the ontological question of God must be settled first before we can address interpretive questions. But that is just not so. Jews, Christians, secularists, and others can come together and agree with Apikorus' interpretation of Ezekiel 20:25 while bracketing God out of the question. This is done all the time. Are you assuming a priori that the text is inspired? If not, where is this mysterious aether in which one must be steeped before he or she can read a passage and understand it correctly? I just can't see how to connect your dots.
Here I would agree that the texts are human documents, and that they were written by men who lived at a given period in time. They are also expressions of faith relaying their hopes, dreams and beliefs. Interestingly, I agree with virtually every point James makes above, but we see the question from such different angles, that it is difficult to know exactly where to begin a discussion.

For example, of course we can agree on what Ezekiel 20 says. But why must we bracket God out of the equation? We are talking about God’s word to us. To remove Him from the equation (working on the assumption that He exists) makes the entire exercise meaningless, regardless of what we come up with. Asking questions about God is to ask the central questions about our existence, and IF He exists, then as His creatures we have a responsibility to understand what He wants from us. But how can we do this if God is, as James believes, unfathomable? After all, how can the finite know the infinite?

This is where theology steps in. Can we know all about God in this life? No. I am not aware of a single religion that worships an infinite and omnipotent Creator God that believes that we can achieve this. At the same time, Christians in particular (and possibly Islam and Judaism as well) accept that God Himself will help us to understand Him each according to our ability and willingness to learn. For Christians, we call this being filled with the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we understand that God does not give each person the same gifts, so while one person can interpret, another may be able to prophecy, or to heal, or whatever. Through it all, the central command remains, to love God, and to love one another.

Now, James asks if I believe that the text is a priori inspired. The answer is, of course I do. But only in matters that relate to knowledge of God, His nature, and what He wants from us. Thus, it is not a history book, or a science text. It is about morality, and how we are to treat one another, and through that, to serve God. What it does not tell us, and I do not believe Ezekiel can be made out to say, is that God abandons anyone until they have first abandoned Him. And even then, He is patient, and He waits. Apikorus’ idea that God uses the unjust laws to punish the wicked is interesting, and to be honest, I think he is probably right. At the same time, we must remember the purpose of God’s punishment in this instance, and it is not just to punish, but more importantly, to produce repentance.

Ezekiel 20:25-26, 39-44 Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am the LORD.
"As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord GOD: Go serve every one of you his idols, now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols. "For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, says the Lord GOD, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land; there I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. As a pleasing odor I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country which I swore to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all the doings with which you have polluted yourselves; and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel, says the Lord GOD."


As we can see, God is telling the people that they are to serve their false gods and idols if (they) will not listen to (God). Then, after they repent for the horrors of what they have done, God will manifest His glory among them. Once again God brings good from evil, and glorifies Himself, in spite of the efforts of His own chosen people to defile Him and His name. There is no mystery to the interpretation, but to understand it, we must understand the nature of God, and why He acts as He does. His purposes remain unchanged, and He is not thwarted, even though we may do all that we can to thwart Him.

On the third point, I must divide the next part into two parts:

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You raise an excellent point. I believe that the main impetus for critical scholarship in the 18th century (as well as the Protestant Reformation before it) was a rejection of the normative power weilded by the Church. By passing the baton to them you're saying only that truth is defined by tradition and power.
Here you have misunderstood my point. I am not arguing that the Church, as a human institution is a better interpreter of Scriptures. If it were merely a human creation, then such a position would be irrational. But the Church enjoys a special status as the pillar and bulwark of the truth. (1 Timothy: 3:15). As a Lutheran I would agree that the Reformation served a useful purpose in helping to remove the corrupting influences of human beings on God’s Church. But the danger is when one throws out the baby with the bath water, and tries to remove any kind of higher understanding of Scripture than what can be derived from human reason alone. All we have done here is elevated the authority of individual interpretation and exegesis above that of God’s chosen instrument for such matters, His Church. Now, do I expect non-Christians to accept this view? Of course not. But for Christians themselves to reject the teaching authority of their own Church is to deny what the Bible itself tells them in matters of obedience.

Matthew 23:1-3 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

Jesus Himself understood human frailty and weakness and hypocrisy (He should, since who could know us better than God Himself?), yet He also understood that certain humans could have God’s authority to interpret the laws, and that the people should obey them. He also extended this teaching and instructional authority into the Church that He was forming out of Judaism:

Matthew 18:15-18 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

If the Bible is not directly sanctioning the teaching authority of the Church here, then I would like to know what others think it is doing (again, assuming that the God of the Bible exists). And if there is any doubt as to the extent of this authority still remaining:

John 20:22-23 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

One can hardly expect that Jesus or the authors of the Bible thought that this authority extended only to the Apostles. After all, almost everyone agrees that the Gospels were written after all of these men were dead. Clearly the teaching extends as far back as written records allow us to go. In a previous post I offered 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 and 1 Timothy 1:20 demonstrating this clerical power in action. For those that accept that the Bible is the Word of God, I would ask them to tell us what these passages mean, if not that God is telling us that the Church holds a special place in Biblical and moral understanding.

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It is not at all clear to me (it does not logically follow) that God's desire to convey the truth would manifest itself in the teachings of orthodoxy as interpreted by Rome. This passage in Ezekiel teaches us not to trust authority for its own sake because the masses can be led astray. Further, allowing truth to be defined by the Church is akin to jumping on the bandwagon. I think that we learn a great deal more by reading these texts against the grain (against catholic assumptions) rather than acceding to the wishes of the hiearchy.
Now we face the flip side of this coin. First, let me state that I am not arguing for the authority of the Church coming exclusively from Rome. Just as the Pharisees could be corrupted, and not practice what they preach, so too can bishops and cardinals. They can try and teach things that are not contained within or directly supported by Scripture itself. In these cases, we are to check what they tell us, and to reject false teachings. Thus, the laity participates in Biblical interpretation, not actively giving interpretation, but by checking and verifying the words taught to them are true and consistent with what has been taught before (Acts 17:11, 2 Timothy 3:16). In these passages we learn that ALL of Scripture is to be used in gaining proper understanding of what is being said to us. We cannot pick and choose selectively amongst the passages in an effort to make it fit our theology. Here too we are warned directly (2 Peter 3:16) against such dangers.

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Again, the existence of God has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Apikorus is correct in his exegesis on Ezekiel. If there is any objectivity here, and it is a question which we all seek to answer, it consists only in the original intent of the author of Ezekiel when he wrote his text. That is the only objective issue. His interpretation of the world around him and how one ought to live in relation to God led him to write his text. It does not become magically objective just because his interpretation is now codified on paper. Further, our reading of his text is necessarily a relative (interpretitive) endeavor. But as I said before, we can hope to achieve scholarly consensus that comes as close as possible to agreement. But we cannot achieve this agreement by violence or mandate (see below).
Well, since I have never argued for truth determined by violence, this is a red herring. On the other hand, if one accepts that the God of the Bible exists, we can see that He has given someone a mandate to interpret His word, and it does not belong to “neutral” scholars, but, rather, to the believing and teaching authority of the Church. To argue that God is not relevant to the interpretation of His Word is yet again to presuppose that He does not exist. Clearly we cannot begin our exegesis from such a starting point, unless, of course, God is already disproven.

So, where I will take issue with you here is in your characterization of the question of being what Ezekiel meant when He wrote his words. I would argue that we must try to discern what God meant when He inspired Ezekiel to write His words. And in this latter case, the question is very obviously an objective one.

As a final point, and to simply restate a point I made previously, the argument that human beings have an imperfect understanding of God’s will is not relevant here. Christians take our imperfection not only as a given, but as the starting point of understanding all of God’s actions towards this fallen earth. We do err, more often than not. And each time that we err, it is because we separate ourselves from Him and His will. Even the Church can do this from time to time, but He always corrects us, and in the central matters of our faith, He is unwavering. We are to love Him, and one another. We are to serve others. We do not belong to ourselves, but to God. And we are fallen and sinful beings, destined to fall short of the glory of God. Fortunately, He judges not only with perfect justice, but through His wisdom, mercy and love, He forgives us for His name’s sake, as He has told us in both the Old (Hebrew) Testament, and the New (Christian) one. All we need do is repent.

Peace,

Nomad

[ August 20, 2001: Message edited by: Nomad ]
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Old 08-21-2001, 10:21 AM   #79
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Let me go out on a limb here and call Paul to my aid in amplifying my point to Nomad. Romans 9:14-24 says:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, "I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills. You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me thus?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

I think Paul's view can be succinctly stated as follows: God is just, but not fair. Clearly Paul viewed the hardening of Pharaoh's heard as an action by God to hasten Pharaoh's demise. His response to this acute theodical problem is to say basically that God does whatever he wills, and who are we to question him? God has preordained that there be "vessels of wrath made for destruction" which are to serve as an object lesson for the "vessels of mercy". He then conveniently adduces this principle in proffering a divine purpose to the Jewish denial of Jesus. He asserts that the salvation of the gentiles lies in their faith - a faith which the Israelites lacked due to their divine programming. Israelite history was, to Paul, an exercise in proving the folly of works. But the Israelites did not merely stumble - they were pushed!

Finally, Nomad's analysis of the remaining verses in Ezekiel 20 suffers from the usual stultifying "OT Theology" hermeneutic. In fact, it is perhaps not his fault since most English translations are rather inadequate in the problematic critical verse 20:39:

v'atem beit-yisrael ko-amar adonai YHWH ish gillulav lekhu avodu v'aHar im-einkhem shomim eilai v'et-shem kadshi lo teHallelu-od bematnoteikhem uvegilluleikhem.

The English here is best rendered as:

And you, House of Israel, thus says YHWH your lord: every man go serve his idols. And afterward if you will not listen to me... And my holy name you will no more pollute with your gifts and idols.

The key phrase here, rendered in boldface, is a bare protasis; the apodosis is lacking. Moshe Greenberg trenchantly identifies this as a threat whose consequences are left unsaid. But the consequences are clear nonetheless, from the material in 20:1-26. There, Israel continued to sin until YHWH lost patience and finally hastened their demise by giving them bad laws and desolating them.

[ August 21, 2001: Message edited by: Apikorus ]
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Old 08-21-2001, 10:53 AM   #80
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It is common courtesy not to introduce new arguments after a discussion is finished Apikorus. If you wish to argue about predestination and the nature of free will, then please start a new thread. As for this one, I am only interested in covering off the original point, and this was whether or not Hebrew Scriptures prove problematic for Christians. Clearly they do not, for the reasons I have given in my posts above.

Interestingly, what you have started in your last post is a defense for a type of Christian theology called Calvinism. So even if you were correct in your post (and you are not, but the reasons are too complex to go into here), your point could still fail. The question would then become "Is Calvinism True?", and that is a separate topic to this thread.

Now, if you wish to start a debate on predestination and Calvinism, I would appreciate it if you familiarized yourself with my arguments from previous posts on this subject. If you do wish to "go there" as they say, then I will find the appropriate threads. If not, so be it. I leave the choice to you.

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