Sunday, April 1, 2012

Deuteronomy 30:14 - So that you can do it

Deuteronomy 30:14 says “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” ESV.  I said this passage“talks about our ability – verse 14 says so that you can do it”  I was quoting the verse.  Here’s Steve Hays response:

i) He’s overinterpreting the Hebrew verb in v14. To my knowledge, the imperfect verb has many shades of meaning, viz. may, might, should, could, would. (link)

I was just quoting the passage, so I find it odd to be accused of over interpretation.  Perhaps Steve’s comment is better addressed to the ESV translators (and others who translate similarly) than to me.  But the ESV translators were aware of the Hebrew and the context. 

Other translations render it “so that you may do it”.  While may sometimes means permission as in “mother may I” or uncertainty, as in “it may rain”, neither of these senses make sense of the verse.  It’s not as if God is now removing sanctions against morality, or guessing if they will obey or not.  Rather, may is equivalent to “can” and expresses ability or capacity.

ii) In context, the passage is stating the accessibility and intelligibility of God’s law.

No doubt accessibility and intelligibility are part of why the Jews are able to obey, but they are not the only factors.  In particular, when the passage says the word is in their heart, it teaches the enablement runs deeper than having the written law.  Men love darkness rather than light; so the issue isn’t just in our understanding, it’s in our desire or heart.  So when God enables His chosen and redeemed people to obey, the enablement is internal rather than just external.

iii) The passage isn’t just about “choosing.” Rather, the passage contains hypothetical syllogisms. If you do x, then y will result–but if you don’t do x, then z will result.

But this is perfectly compatible with predestination. If a predestined agent obeys the law, then he will be blessed–but if he disobeys the law, then he will be cursed.

The passage isn’t merely about choice, but about the hypothetical consequences of hypothetical choices. It concerns the link between the protasis or antecedent (“if”) and the apodosis or consequent (“then”).

That linkage is entirely consistent with predestination. God predestines the choice as well as the end-result.

Many people believe when such alternatives are presented to a person with responsibility for the outcome, the implication is that it’s up to him.  However, my primary argument was with relation to the word choose rather then the hypothetical outcomes.  

iv) The passage isn’t confined to individual blessing and bane, but primarily concerned with collective blessing and bane. If Israel obeys, she will be blessed. If Israel disobeys, she will be cursed.

You choose the respective consequences by choosing to obey or disobey. Yet individual Jews don’t control the outcome, for even if a righteous remnant is faithful, the infidelity of the majority will trigger the curse sanctions. Individual Jews lack freedom of opportunity, for even if they choose with a view to be blessed, that can be overridden by the apostate majority. At the corporate level, individuals can’t do otherwise than suffer the consequences. You may choose life, but if the apostate majority chooses death, you will die with your compatriots.

There is some truth to this though it doesn't seem to damage my point.  Sometimes in this life God even allows the wicked to prosper (Psalm 73) though we know that each person will have to answer for himself on judgment day.  

The passage says "so that you can do it".  That's a statement of ability.  It does not say they thought they could but they really couldn't nor does it say they hypothetically could obey but in reality they could not.

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