Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Response to Steve Hays on 1 Corinthians 10:13

Steve Hays and I had a previous exchange on if 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches libertarian free will or not.  (link) Regarding the question of if “no temptation has overtaken you then that which is common to man” is a general principle Paul is applying to a specific situation as I think or if as Steve thinks, Paul has only the temptation of idolatrous apostasy in mind, I doubt I can provide an answer that is beyond a reasonable doubt.  Still I think the language itself makes it more likely than not, that Paul is applying  a general rule.  After all, Paul says “no temptation” rather than the temptation of idolatrous apostasy. 

I had said: Paul is applying a general principle to a specific situation, so even though idolatry is in view, that does not limit this wonderful promise that God, in His faithfulness, will not allow irresistible temptations.

Steve Responded: In Arminianism, sufficient grace is resistible grace. So the “wonderful promise” is that God will give Christians (including born-again Christians) resistible grace to resist temptation. Like using a leaky bucket to bail water from a leaky boat.

I struggled with what to say about this comment, but there’s not much benefit of the doubt I can give Steve here.  Steve seems (at least to me) to be saying if Arminianism were true, he would be ungrateful to God for giving him libertarian free will and resistible grace.  This is sort of the mirror image of Rodger Olson’s comments that if Calvinism were true, he doesn’t know if he could worship such a God.  I don’t feel that way about Calvinism; if somehow (in this life or the next) I discovered Calvinism is true, I would praise God.    

I had said:  Second, the context speaks of lusting after evil things, idolatry, sexual immorality, tempting Christ, and complaining. This seems broader than just idolatrous apostasy. Note the progression from lusting after evil things and idolatry in verses 6 & 7: "to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them." Lusting after evil things and idolatry are distinct, even if one is a slippery slope into the next.

Steve Responded: Of course, progression from lesser to graver sins, or the “slippery slope,” dovetails with my point. Idolatrous apostasy or sins leading to idolatrous apostasy.

No it does not, because 1) Paul’s inbound context is broader than just idolatrous apostasy and because 2) Christians sometimes fall into lesser sins and sometimes they don’t.  Without God’s enabling grace, we cannot but fall and lesser sins cannot but lead to ultimate apostasy.  But with God’s grace, no lessor sin can ever necessitate ultimate apostasy and God can always step in in stop the progression into ultimate apostasy. If Paul has in view God enabling us to overcome temptations for sins lesser than idolatrous apostasy, Steve’s view is undone. 

I had said: Third, most, but not all Israelites fell into the temptation and Paul's concern is that the Corinthians don't do likewise. But this means falling into the temptation discussed in the context is not impossible. Yet Steve thinks the apostasy of true believers is impossible.

Steve responded: i) Which means that those who slide down the slope into apostasy weren’t true believers. How’s that inconsistent with my position?  ii) As I’ve often pointed out on many occasions, we must make allowance for the nature of mass communication. Public letters make general statements that apply to some, but not all, members of the audience. iii) Dan himself holds to eternal security.

The inconsistencies in Steve’s position are that the historic examples Paul cites in the inbound context are and are not examples of ultimate apostasy and the God’s promise of enabling is and is not restricted to the elect.  This is like a see saw, the more you push down on the inbound context by saying the examples are not examples of true believers falling away, the less the inbound context supports Steve’s position that the passage is only about true believers falling away.

Point 2 is true, but after all due concessions can be made for a mixed audience, the inconsistency above remains because point 2 cannot be pressed to the point of God making untrue promises.

Yes, I hold to eternal security, but I think the most relevant difference between our views here, is that I see the examples and temptations as broader than Steve does.

I had said: Fourth, the commentaries Steve cites do not support his case. He cites Fitzmyer, Garland, Ciampa/Rosner. But Fitzmyer says "Christians may also rely on God for the ekbasis of lesser struggles throughout the course of life", so idolatry is in view, but the passage is not only about idolatry (see my points 1 & 2).

Steve responded: Dan gives us a mangled quote from Fitzmyer. Fitzmyer is weighing different exegetical options before stating his own interpretation. But his conclusion is that “in this context, Paul seems to be thinking primarily of trials involving idol meat or seduction to idolatry” (389).
This is misleading.  I quoted from Fitzmyer’s conclusion, not his lead in analysis where he weighed different options.  Also, note that Fitzmyer says “primary”, but Steve requires “only”.  Unlike Fitzmyer, Steve cannot allow a single case of God enabling a believer to avoid any temptation that the believe ends up falling into.  Fitzmyer, Steve’s own source, is plainly against Steve.

I had said: Likewise, Garland (and Ciampa/Rosner who follow Garland) says "He is not addressing the question of the security of the believer but calling attention to the pitfall of being careless because of overconfidence (Robertson and Plummer 1914:208). " But Steve's case hinges on this passage only being about the security of the believer (see my point 3). So Steve's own sources move against him.

Steve Responded: Dan is doing a bait-n-switch. In my response to Dan I didn’t mention eternal security. All I said was: “In context, the passage isn’t dealing with temptation in general, but idolatrous apostasy in particular. That’s been documented by standard commentators, viz. Fitzmyer, Garland, Ciampa/Rosner.”

My point is that the overall interpretations of the commentaries Steve cites are against his view.  Now if Steve’s only point was that one and only one aspect of Garland & Ciampa/Rosner agree with him, OK.  But let’s be clear on what that point of agreement is.  It’s not the nature of the sin or temptation Paul has in mind. Steve and Garland disagree on that and that’s an important point; enough to overthrow Steve’s overall theological point that the passage does not teach libertarian freedom.  The explanations of Fitzmyer, Garland and Ciampa/Rosner (Steve’s own sources), lead to the unavoidable conclusion that 1 Corintians 10:13 teaches libertarian free will. 

Steve’s agreement with Garland is the tangential point that Paul has some specific temptations in mind (even though Garland and Steve disagree on the exact temptations in view).

My primary point in linking to Ben was the number of commentators that agree with me and Steve didn't really contest that.  But the exchange between Ben and Steve is helpful (I thought Ben did a great job) and I hope people review it. (link)

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