Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Fullness of Time: The Jews (prelude)

Now we come to it - the main reason I started this series.

Two years ago I picked up a book called Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. It is a well written book composed in the aftermath of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Over the course of three days I read the entire thing in the Barnes and Noble coffee shop. It was an interesting read and I would recommend it to anyone. This is the quote that spurred on this series:

"...if Christians are right about Jesus, then many generations of Jews and other peoples have missed out on the very climax of history, the ministry and death of Jesus Christ. It happened, but we weren't paying attention."

I want to be very careful at this point, for I have some beliefs about the Jews and the book of Romans that quite possibly many of my evangelical brothers and sisters do not and will not share. (As always, I welcome discussion on this and sharpening.)

It's all about that verse, "All Israel will be saved." Yep. It is a tough one (for many) to say the least. I'm still not 100% on where I stand on the mysterious matter but here's what I'm pretty sure of: I think that the reality of Jesus as Messiah was hidden from most of Israel so that we, the Gentiles, could be grafted in. This puts the "Vessels of mercy/vessels of wrath" statement of Paul in its proper perspective, as Paul was addressing Israel being made a "vessel of wrath" for our sake. So, will all Israel be saved? I don't know. What about a murderous, unrepentant Jew? Again, judgment isn't mine to dole out, that's God's business. There have been volumes of apologetics written on (arguing about) the matter. On the protestant side we have the reaction - "Nope, gotta have faith. We are all in the same boat." Then you have the Catholic side: (from the Catechism)

"840 And when one considers the future, God's People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus."

I tend to lead towards the latter, as it essentially postulates that God knows the outcome and we do not. Above all things I am called to Love. And Love and friendship are the purest channels for which the Good News flows, in my mind.

And so here we are. The quote from "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus" poses an interesting question or two.

This doesn't mean that Jews now cannot believe in Jesus. It simply means that the reason for their turning away - since the coming of Christ - has been purposed, and the fullness of that purpose is pretty mysterious business.

I do believe that His coming was the climax of history. I do believe that all thought - religious and philosophical - at that time (those two weren't as nearly separated back then) was primed and ready for the coming of the Messiah, the revealing of God's Son, the Logos, the Word, the firstborn of all creation. And if you think that no Jewish philosopher could relate to God having a Son, or conceive of three persons, then you haven't met Philo. Let me be clear here: I'm not trying to state that the Jews believed in a tri-part God. I am saying that this notion was not very far from the thought at the time and that God came at the climax of our collective understanding - understanding without direct divine revelation that is, and that includes the Jews. And it would also make sense that a Jewish philosopher named Philo would come the closest to that revelation, or in some ways, "prepare the way."

(to be continued.)

38 comments:

The Cachinnator said...

Romans 11:26 has no meaning apart from the rest of the letter or apart from its original audience for that matter. We cannot continue to conceive of Israel in either coherent modern terms or in political terms if we are to read Romans as Paul intended. Who were the Romans, after all, and why did Paul feel the need to say what he did to them?

nancy said...

When I think about being a Christian I think about living in The Kingdom now and the fullness that brings to my life. As a Christian, called to love, my desire is to share the ability to have that fullness now on earth with everyone. Which, going along with what you said, includes those of the Jewish faith.

Tully said...

Seth, you are touching on the very core of my thoughts regarding, and issues with, organized religion (and reminded me again why I love your writing as much as I do). It is the absolute certainty with which most believers of faith (whatever faith that may be) go into the world and profess to have all the answers. I think that is why I’ve chosen to stand in the center and just listen and ask a lot of questions (which some see as a cop-out, but it’s truly because I simply don’t have the answers I would like to commit to one faith or the other).

I love this line, “And Love and friendship are the purest channels for which the Good News flows, in my mind” – indeed, that is the bottom line, no? And if all faiths could come together and agree on this, and share in a common goal of finding truth, peace, and balance – perhaps there would be no need for one faith to trump another, we could all just work together toward finding that.

We still come at this from a different angle, but I do like where you are going with it. ;)

Bill Hensley said...

And if all faiths could come together and agree on this, and share in a common goal of finding truth, peace, and balance – perhaps there would be no need for one faith to trump another, we could all just work together toward finding that.

Tully, I appreciate your sentiments and your open-mindedness. However, from a Christian perspective the problem with what you've said here can be stated in one word: sin. Laying aside our differences between each other as human beings does not solve the problem of our eternal relationship with God. As Paul said in his letter to the Romans, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." (Rom 5:1-2) It is Jesus Christ alone who has made a way for us to be reconciled to God by paying the price for our sins.

Tully said...

Bill, I can appreciate how you feel coming from a Christian perspective, however, there are many paths to God, not all having to do with the same faith. Your belief system is right for you, but we have no way of knowing if it’s truly the ONLY way for everyone.

Bill Hensley said...

Thank you, Tully. I would like to understand your perspective better as well. Tell me, how can we know for sure that "there are many paths to God, not all having to do with the same faith"? If Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," how can we know for sure that he was wrong?

Seth Ward said...

Cach, I got a little lazy with the one verse out of context thing... However (and you can teach me something here) about the eternal destiny of Israelites and so forth, it seems to me that in reading Romans, on the whole, we are presented with a similar mystery as we are with predestination vs. free will. Paul states clearly at one point that the Gentiles and Jews are in the same boat as far as faith, but then seems to turn around and state that ALL Israel will be saved. "

25I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
"The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27And this is[a] my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.

It seems to me that it is a mystery and we cannot know. I would appreciate your (and others) input on this, as I'm sure would many others reading.

Tully, while I do believe that religions are man's reaching towards God, I do believe that there is one ultimate truth. Truth is a funny word and the search for it has pushed the meaning through several veins of philosophy throughout time in that search. What is unique about Christianity is that we believe that truth is a person, a person who was and is God, the Messiah, and the Redeemer of mankind. This does not mean that I belittle other religions or beliefs, it is just that I do believe that if there is a God, then he would make his fullness known to us and the truth of His character. And as I am demonstrating here in this series, that He did this in the fullness of time, right at the right time.

About other religions and "Myths"... There is an interesting discourse between Lewis and Tolkien that happened at a time when Lewis was an Atheist. It turned out to be the turning point for Lewis in his journey towards Christianity.

"After dinner Lewis and Tolkien began discussing the nature of myth. Lewis explained that he felt the power of myths, but that they were ultimately untrue. As he expressed it to Tolkien, myths were 'lies, even though lies breathed through silver.'

"No," Tolkien replied emphatically. "They are not."

Tolkien resumed, arguing that myths, far from being lies, were the best way of conveying truths, which would otherwise be inexpressible. He said, "We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Since we are made in the image of God, and since God is the Creator, part of the imageness of God in us is the gift of creativity. The creation- or more correctly, the sub-creation- of stories or myths is merely a reflection of the image of the Creator in us. The story of Christ was the True Myth, a myth that works in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened- a myth that existed in the realm of fact as well as in the realm of truth. In the same way that men unraveled the truth through the weaving of story, God revealed the Truth through the weaving of history."

I think the real tough question here isn't so much about paths to God but about salvation and our eternal destiny. After all, we can all agree that we do NOT believe that God would require small virgin girls to be mutilated at the altar to appease him, as the Aztecs did, even though this was their path to God.

In this way, there are many religions that come very close, and they are not "evil" and have come very close to the true nature of God but fall short in expressing it fully. In Judaism and Christianity God makes himself known, and the truth about himself known in such a way that could not be known through pure reason and meditation.

In this way, as Chesterton puts it, "I did not make it, rather it is making me" So, knowing that, and believing that, It is my position to tell any and everyone what I believe is the truth, or rather whom I believe is the truth.

This is done on my part, not necessarily to keep the person's soul from going to hell, (however important that is) but so that they might know the Lord, fully and experience the freedom that that brings, now.

God is Just. And God is the Judge, and I am not. Nor was I meant to be. We will all stand before Him someday and we will all be judged by what we have done, and said, and yes, even Christians, even though that makes us feel uncomfortable because of justification. However, being justified does not mean that what we do now does not mean anything in eternity.

So as for many religions being true, it makes sense that this relativism would not apply to God as it rarely applies to any other real and tangible law in the universe.

Take math... when learning math, one can do math a myriad of different ways. However, to fully know the language of math and the endless complexities therein, there are certain laws and truths that are not relative and that are simply true.

Some answers are close, but there is only one correct answer to 4+4. Now, when the test is over, the teacher makes the final decision on whether the student passed or not, not the students. This is where I stand on the issue. What about those students who never learned the correct equations? Will they be accountable for that? What about those students who the truth was kept a mystery so that many other students could pass? (The Jews) How will they be judged?

So where does that leave me? Well, if I know the correct answer, (or believe that I know) then I feel like I would be very selfish to keep that answer to myself and not help those who struggle. In fact, the teacher has commissioned me to do so.

All analogies break down at one point, but this is just one to help better understand what I'm talking about here. I will make no judgment on someone's eternal destination. However, that does not mean that I will not communicate the truth in Love and hope that that would help the soul to know God fully, or as full as we can know Him now. "Now we see in part... then face to face."

It also does not mean that I believe that some people will turn away from God and spend eternity without him. It just means that as far as their salvation is concerned, that I AM NOT THEIR JUDGE.

I can communicate what the bible says, and what Jesus says, I am supposed to, but Jesus is clear about judging others.

I'm sure this will raise an eyebrow or two, but that's just where I am. In the end, I don't believe that God is Love, and that Love is both all consuming and altogether true. Therefore, when we judge someone's soul to hell, we present the Gospel in the state of contradiction, because if we COULD judge, would we be so harsh on our fellow man? (Incidentally, this was one of Luther's thesis to the Pope about purgatory. If he (the Pope) truly held the keys, would he not release those tortured souls out of pure Love, Mercy, and Grace?) Has God been so harsh with us? Therefore, there is only one worthy to pronounce that judgment: An altogether Holy God. And that is not I.

However, I would never belittle the possible horror of spending eternity cut-off from God. And I would urge anyone to consider, anyone who has heard the Gospel, to consider the possibility; to consider if they are willing to take the chance of making it upon their own merits. Upon this, the Gospel is pretty clear - we cannot. And again, how God will Judge us all, and how that will work for all mankind, is His to decide.

Seth Ward said...

Wow, that was terribly long... I think Nancy better expressed the sentiment that I was shooting for...

Oh well, this comment section has always been a safe haven for the long-winded and short of breath alike.

Seth Ward said...

SORRY! Meant to say "...I DO believe that God is Love..." not "I don't believe God is Love..."

Tully said...

Yes, indeed…I cannot argue that many have (and still do) committed crimes in the name of God…in the name of their “religion” (FLDS comes to mind as one currently going on). The bastardization of religion has happened for centuries, and I suspect, will continue long after our time has gone.

“Take math…there are certain laws and truths that are not relative and that are simply true” – I totally agree that there are certain laws and truths that are inherently needed and necessary for a healthy spiritual life. I merely question if only one faith has a monopoly on those tenets (and perhaps we will also have to agree to disagree on what those tenets are).

Bill – I’m certainly not saying that Jesus or the Bible is wrong…I merely am saying “I don’t know” – I’m not so sure that there is only ONE way to God. I get challenged a lot when I say this, but I have had a stronger relationship with God once I started to pull away from religion…and perhaps that is why it’s personal…we all need something different to find the ultimate truth.

Here is just one example of where I have a hard time with religion/Christianity and the absolutes of it all. If we go with the notion of there being only one path, what fate might individuals such as the Dalai Lama face? Surely the he has done much to promote many of the core tenets of Christianity (with that minor detail that he subscribes to Buddhism). I simply can’t get behind the notion that someone who is a mass murdering, born again Christian (while he was in jail, conveniently) finding eternal salvation and peace, but someone like the Dalai Lama who has done more for humanity than nearly 80% of the Christian on the planet, he will damned. It doesn’t square with what I believe to be true about God and salvation. We will have to agree to disagree, my friends. I simply can’t subscribe to that notion.

I respectfully appreciate this discussion. I just simply feel differently. I don’t believe that “"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” – is meant to be taken literally. Seth, you and I’ve talked about much of the Bible being written in allegories. If I invert your logic that truth is a person, then could a person not mean “the truth” as well. That said, no one comes to the Father except through truth, no? It just comes down to different belief systems that all will lead to the same truth and divine peace. I just have a hard time believing that our Father, our God, would condemn or damn any of his children merely because their path to Him (and truth) was not through Christianity.

PS: Here is a great link on why religious diversity is a good thing: http://www.dalailama.com/page.62.htm#World_religion_world_peace

majorsteve said...

Tully, don't let anyone make you feel guilty for saying: I DON'T KNOW. Some people apparently have the ability to "believe" voluntarily, to have control over belief. For others, "belief" in something is an involuntary response, much like an involuntary physical function or reaction, and yet also occurs in degrees. For example, imagine a multiple choice question on a Belief survey:

Do you believe that X___ is true?

A) No, definitely not.
B) Totally. I'd stake my Mom's life on it.
C) I'm not sure, inconclusive, need more proof.
D) Not sure but I want it to be true. I hope it's true. I wish it.
E) Not totally sure, but pretty darned sure. I think so.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is important to realize that our answers to questions like this can often change, depending on mood, setting or circumstance.

Bill Hensley said...

Tully said:
I’m certainly not saying that Jesus or the Bible is wrong…I merely am saying “I don’t know” – I’m not so sure that there is only ONE way to God.

I fully respect that, Tully. I think agnosticism is an intellectually defensible position, and one that I held for many years. It is, however, a very unsatisfactory destination. I hope that in your case it is only a waypoint in your journey to know the Truth.

Seth Ward said...

First off, I'd like to thank everyone for the kind tone here. Bill, I wouldn't say that Tully is an agnostic, for an agnostic isn't sure if there is a God. From what I've read, I'm not seeing that. Second, get ready for a long comment. This is an important topic and one that is impossible to speak in brevity about.

Tully, let me be clear on one theme that seems to be reoccurring. I am NOT judging ANYONE'S soul to heaven or hell. THAT IS GOD'S BUSINESS. What's funny is that I feel that I said that so many times that when I was writing it, I thought I was being annoyingly redundant.

Here's the deal with that: Whenever a Christian says, "Jesus meant what he said when he said, no man cometh unto the father but by me” they mean that they believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. Period. Now, how that all works out in the end is out of our hands and what we are debating here, and to me, that is out of our jurisdiction. To use my math analogy, some believe that they are getting the right answer to 4+4, they are just writing the numeral not in aramaic.

As far as Christian (protestant) doctrine goes, there are a few camps that have been made in Christianity on the issue, here are the biggies. (I'll get to the metaphor bit in a second.)

1. Universalism. If you hold the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, (not metaphorical) then this is where I think you are, Tully. If you don't believe Jesus is God's son, begotten of the Father, not made, then, respectfully, this would make you not a "believer" by Orthodox standards. (That wasn't meant to be rude or mean, simply stating that for 2000 years the belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, Son of God, has been the prerequisite for calling yourself a believer, and/or a Christian) Maybe a Unitarian, but not an Orthodox Christian.

But if you do believe that Jesus was the incarnation of the God, then a universalism you are. Universalism believes that "Christ reconciled all things under heaven and earth unto himself." That means that through Jesus, everyone was saved. Period. Nothing we could do would change that. Everyone is covered, from the worst sinner to Momma Teresa. This, they would argue, is the fullest demonstration of God's unending and amazing grace... There was a time when I was a Universalist. But again, for me, Universalism puts me in the judgment seat. However, it is a viable way of looking at things and I totally respect this standpoint.

2. The Calvinist. This is the standpoint that says God made some for Heaven and Some for Hell. Unfortunately, though they might disagree, these are the people you will hear saying others are going to Hell the most. For, it is a part of the very core and foundation of their theological system. To the Calvinist, this is the only way to make sense of those who die in disbelief. Of all the belief systems in Christianity, this is the one that I am the furthest from. It is with twitching fingers that I type, "I do respect this belief system as well." The truth of the matter is... that many things about it make me want to punch things, though I do appreciate the passion. I DO NOT despise, nor want to punch those that adhere to Calvinism. In fact, I have some great Calvinist friends and I love them all and they love me, though I don't deserve it. But Lord help the man in the path of a Calvinist on the rampage after they've discovered that they are the "elect" and that others aren't. (Josh, that one was for you!)

3. Arminianism. According to Arminianism, salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) - man's response being the determining factor. God wishes everyone to be saved but the ultimate choice is Man's to make whether he will or won't. (I'd say that I'm closer to this than the first two, but I've still got probs with it. In my opinion, it is some combination of all three, but I don’t know how it all works.)

Those are the three more prominent belief systems about eternal salivation in Christianity. I'd like to add one more:

4. The "I'mnotthejudgians." These people will not and cannot see that they have any right whatsoever in pronouncing eternal death and judgment upon someone's soul. We hope that all people come to know God through Christ and are forgiven of their sins, and know the freedom, peace, joy, hope, and abundant life that all that means, but we realize that we are only man, and that the saving Grace of God is something beyond our control. It is all consuming. We can only provide what we know and believe and pronounce the Good News as we believe that it is the very truth of God, given to mankind – it is the greatest of Gifts; it is the greatest of Hopes.

We do believe that Jesus is the only way to the father, but we do not know the full plan of his salvation for man, or do we know the fullness of God's mysterious and awesome mercy. I'm going to quote a friend of mine to further give an example of the I'mnotthejudgian's doctrine of sending someone to hell. I would give his name but I'm not sure he would want me to post it since his quote was probably typed in 30 seconds or so. I'll let him own up to it if he reads:

"There is nowhere, and I mean NO.WHERE. In scripture that we are commanded to discern peoples' eternal fate. We're not even given an example that would lead us to understand that it is our duty to speculate on the matter. So Christians having a discussion about who's going to heaven and who's going to hell is pointless to the point of offense. Beyond that, heaven is not our eternal reward. It is part of our eternal reward that begins here on Earth. It is merely the continuation of our life with Christ. It is the byproduct of the Christian life; not the goal of it. Therefore any discussion that creates a dividing line at the point of death is not a Christian discussion. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity. There is no death for us. It is pointless and powerless. It is merely a transition. It is not a dividing line. What God may or may not do with us on either side of that transition is his business alone."

So, we believe that God is just. I am not, and I'm unworthy of to make any of those judgments.

So there it is.

What might make you smile, and others here cringe, Tully, is that Billy Graham shares the same belief that you do! (That is, if you do indeed believe in the Man who was and is God.)

About metaphor... well, this is a LOOOOONG discussion and one we've had here on this blog a few times. There are things that can be taken very "literally" (knowing that words like "literal" have meant different things throughout the ages) and then there are some that are more gray. It all has to do with context. I will tell you this: You read a lot in the New Testament of Jesus saying "I tell you the truth,” before his statements.

When someone said that back in the 1st century around Jews, that meant that what they were saying was as good as law. It was not joke. People stopped what they were doing to listen. It was prophetic. It could get you stoned. This is one of the reasons why Jesus got into so much trouble. If they all just took it as metaphor, then he would have never been crucified. Again, it is a leap of faith to take Jesus at his word, but it isn't a blind one. If you are comparing the Gospels to Genesis it is like comparing a biography Lewis to a Chapter out of The Last Battle in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Genesis and the Gospels are totally different types of writing, written thousands of years apart. The Gospels are "Bios", and written biographically. Jesus was a Jew and saying the things he said was RADICAL talk. It almost got him stoned, on the spot, a few times and no one back then thought it as allegory, nor should we. He knew very well what he was saying it and how he was saying it, and so did the disciples who heard it. Jesus did speak in parables - a common rabbinical teaching tool - but this is not a parable, or a story, this is Jesus saying "I AM", putting himself, the use of these words, on an equal level with God. He also said the he is “The Door,” a metaphor, but the key is the definite article, “THE,” not “A”, or “one of many doors.” No, “I AM, THE” is about as final as you could get to the Jews when speaking truth.

The deeper you dig scholarly, the more you find that you CANNOT separate the words of Jesus from these claims. It makes no historical sense. The people in the Jesus seminar saw the problem with this (as most scholars throughout history have seen as well) and tried to remedy it by eliminating the miracles and the things that Jesus said where he claimed he was equal with the Father. And historians, Christian, Atheist, Agnostic know this. So, either the Gospel writers were lying, or they weren’t about Jesus’ claims. There is no between, Jesus didn’t leave that option.



Majorsteve, the only thing I would say is that you could pretty well lump a,c,d,and e together. They all contain negatives and therefore, they are not in the realm of faith, even though some are closer. Faith has no negative. However, there are some things that we CANNOT know, and won't know till the end of time. Those are the things that give the legalists the willies.

Bill Hensley said...

Seth, as far as your comments on Romans are concerned, I'd like to take a closer look at Rom 11:26, where we read, "And so all Israel will be saved." Since this verse seems to say something that contradicts other verses, we must be very careful in our exegesis. There are several good hermeneutical principles to remember in this task:

1. Interpret every verse in context.
2. Interpret each individual passage in light of the full message of scripture.
3. Interpret a verse whose meaning is uncertain in light of verses whose meaning is clear.

Principle #1
You and Cach have already considered the context of this verse in light of the overall purpose of Paul's letter to the Romans. The major purpose of Paul's letter was to give the Roman Christians some benefit of his teaching in lieu of his being able to visit them personally. In this light I think chapters 1-8 cover his basic theology. Chapters 12-16 are his pastoral encouragement and exhortation regarding how to live out the Christian life. In between are chapters 9-11 which we are looking at. Here Paul addresses how Jews and Gentiles fit into God's plan. This is a matter of great personal interest to Paul and one he frequently addresses in his letters. No doubt this is because he, although a Jew, felt himself called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. In addressing the Roman Christians, who were largely Gentiles, he tries to explain the role of the Jews in God's redemptive history. It is clear at many points in chapters 9-11 that Paul realizes many Jews are not saved. In the first place, the very point of the whole argument is to explain the observation that many Jews rejected Christ. More specifically, verses 9:30-31, 10:3, 10:16, 11:5 and 11:7 all make clear that not all Jews are saved.

Principle #2
The weight of Scripture clearly teaches that salvation is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the very message Paul is at pains to explain and justify in chapters 1-8. He can hardly have lost sight of it now. Indeed, he repeats that message in 10:9-10.

Principle #3
Finally we come to 11:26, "And so all Israel will be saved..." What does this mean? Who is Israel in this context, and what does "all" mean? There are several possible readings I can think of:

1. Every Jew ever born (or alive in Paul's day) will be saved.
2. The elect of Israel will be saved, just as the elect of the Gentiles will be saved.
3. Every Jew in the last days (at the coming of Christ) will be saved.

In choosing an interpretation, we have to remember that Scripture clearly teaches salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. As Paul himself said in 10:9, "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." It seems clear that not every Jew who ever lived, or who was alive in Paul's day, confessed Jesus as their Lord and Savior. So interpretation #1 is ruled out. That leaves #2 and #3. Let's look at the immediate context:

25I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins."

In favor of interpretation #2 is the verse immediately preceding. It refers to the full number of Gentiles (the elect) and then says "and so", which may mean "in the same way." In favor of interpretation #3 is the OT scripture Paul quotes, which places his statement firmly in an apocalyptic context.

Since there is an argument to make in favor of both #2 and #3, I'm not sure exactly which is the best interpretation. I lean toward some combination of #2 and #3, which is to say that in the last days a great number of Jews will profess faith in Christ and be saved, thus completing the full number of the elect. What do you think?

Bill Hensley said...

Haha! We were both working on a magnum opus comment at the same time. Now I must go read yours and find out if I was constructing a straw man or not.

Seth Ward said...

Ha! So true. Bigtime magnum opus.

Oh well. Hey, it's my blog and if we want to write our magnum opus, or anyone else, then go right ahead! (Short comments and questions are also welcome and much needed.)

Thanks for bringing it back to topic here, Bill.

Tully said...

You guys are awesome…I thank you as well for the open mindedness of this thread.

Seth – by no means would I ever accuse you of judging anyone, quite the opposite. You are one of the few who can speak to religion in an intellectual way that actually makes me want to listen (and feel safe responding). What you might be picking up on is how we tend to prepare to defend ourselves when discussing sensitive topics such as these (which is quite a shame because I think much can be learned all around if people could learn to share what the believe, think, or feel without major disagreement and fallout).

So, Seth, where can I find my local chapter of the "I'mnotthejudgians?" :)

Seth Ward said...

Bill, great exposition there. However, I would add a number 4, and Paul gives a little preamble using a very important word.

4. It is a "mystery" and therefore we cannot know the fullness of that meaning. When Paul said "behold I tell you a Mystery," he meant it. It is a truth that cannot be mathematically proved in this here dimension. It is a truth that has seeming contradictions to the finite and meaning of which can only be known fully by God.

Seth Ward said...

Tully, thanks for your honesty. I totally understand the defensiveness.

As far as the chapter, pretty much any church with "St." in their name. :-) And believe it or not... some Southern Baptist churches as well!

majorsteve said...

"...[there are]things that we CANNOT know, and won't know till the end of time."


Like whether X___ is true or not.

Tully said...

OK, now you guys are just making me giggle...I'm now having visions that the "transition" is going to be a math test - I'm thinking I may want to brush up on my Algebra instead of reading the Bible! ;)

Susanne said...

Wow. You could publish this post/comments!
I wish I had a better memory than I do...isn't there a passage in Ezekiel that says that the eyes of the Jews will be opened in the end times? I'll look it up in a bit. Interesting discussion. Anything about Judaism really interests me since it is the very roots of the Christian faith. Even though the Hebrews/Jews have at times turned their backs on God, they are still His chosen people. Whether or not they will automatically go to heaven is none of my concern, only God's.

Seth Ward said...

Major, pretty much. Faith, brother, belief. That's part of the deal. In this way, God does not rob us of our free will and real love can exist between creator and creation. And though it is faith, it is not a blind faith and you can present enough "evidence that demands a verdict."

The most frustrating thing for an atheist is the fact that they can no more prove that God does NOT exist than a Christian can prove that he does. Though this statement pisses atheists off, I think it is true nonetheless: It takes faith to be an atheist.


Susanne, the verse that comes to mind is:

"And the Lord, their God, shall save them on that day, his people, like a flock. For they are the jewels in a crown raised aloft over his land. For what wealth is theirs, and what beauty! " -ZEC 9:16

Susanne said...

I found the passage I was thinking about:
Ezekiel 38-39

Ezekiel 38:23b - "Then they will know that I am the Lord."
Ezekiel 39:28-29 - "Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel declares the Sovereign Lord."

I didn't count for myself, but I heard that the phrase "then they will know" is mentioned 62 times in the book of Ezekiel. Interesting.

Bill Hensley said...

Seth wrote:
4. It is a "mystery" and therefore we cannot know the fullness of that meaning. When Paul said "behold I tell you a Mystery," he meant it. It is a truth that cannot be mathematically proved in this here dimension. It is a truth that has seeming contradictions to the finite and meaning of which can only be known fully by God.

Seth, I think when Paul used the word "mystery" he meant "something which has been hidden in ages past which is now revealed." I don't think he meant to suggest that we couldn't understand what he was about to say.

majorsteve said...

Seth, for me it is a source of never ending frustration that no one seems to understand that belief is not voluntary. It has nothing to do with free will. I can't choose to believe something anymore than I can choose what my core body temperature is. Perhaps we should continue this line via email.

Super Churchlady said...

Majorsteve - Calvinism runs in the family, I guess.

Seth Ward said...

Ha! I suppose it does superchurch. But hey, nobody's perfect. :-)

Major, I'd be happy to discuss. However, you are one sharp cookie, and it would be a shame to deprive people reading of your thoughts... I'm sure you've go plenty of perspectives that I haven't thought of and I'm in for a fun discussion.

However, let's fire up the emails if you want!

sethward@mac.com

Bill, I'm not sure I agree with your definition of "mystery." I think that the Trinity, though something that wasn't known until it was revealed, is still a mystery. But like this statement of Paul, it still poses some sort of "contradiction" in it that cannot be "known" until the end of time. In other words, I don't think it ceased to be a mystery when after Paul states the fact.

Sorry if this is not making much sense... I'm pretty hard core on cold medicine right now...

Seth Ward said...

Btw, Superchurch and Major, I'm not meaning to be nasty about Calvinism. A little bit of playful ribbing on my part... The truth is, that there are many different variants of Calvinism today and most are not full five-pointers and in the end both modern Arminians and Calvinists believe certain aspects of both. (There are even "HyperCalvinists" for those Calvinists that don't feel that they are legalist enough. They give themselves a "Hyper.") The main thing that most Calvinists won't give up is the fact that they have no choice in the matter. They do not believe that "God so loves the world," but rather "God so loves the elect of the world." Of all the verses, John 3:16 will forever be the bane of the Calvinist and render all perfectly explained predestination arguments moot.

However, there have always been those who believe both at once and those have usually found their homes in the Southern Baptist churches. The Presb church is traditionally a Calvinist Church are many Episcopal and Church of Christ Churches, though the Episcopals believe that the real John Calvin was NEAR as Calvinist as Calvin's followers made him out to be. (John didn't come up with the five points, btw.) Spurgeon, THE greatest preacher of the last 200 years was a proponent of "both are right," describing them as two trains on parallel tracks heading to the same destination.

It is interesting to note the evolution of Calvinism and to see the 5 point "cherry picking" that goes on today. What is ironic, is that during the dissection of the the two veins and the mixing and remixing and various resulting hybrids, there seems to be a movement arising out of it that resembles something else... some other doctrine that came before both... hmmmm...

I guess that's not Ironic, that's the Holy Spirt. The Holy Spirit does after all, bring unity if we are seeking it.

All that being said, free will is an ever-fascinating discussion and very fun. As Descartes said,

"There are three great miracles.

1. Man who was God
2. Things from nothing
3. Free will

Super Churchlady said...

I'm really a quasi-Calvinist - believing that one of the greatest spiritual mysteries is the interplay of free will and predestination.

Bill Hensley said...

Seth, I agree with you that there are doctrines like the Trinity which we can't encompass with our finite minds. In fact, in this life there are many things we don't fully understand. ("Then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.") However, I am basing my earlier statement on many Bible study resources I have read, which say that the word translated "mystery" in the NT doesn't mean quite what we normally mean by the word in everyday conversation. For instance, here is an excerpt from the entry for "mystery" in Vine's Expository Dictionary:

In the NT it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the Eng. word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit.

You can read the rest here.

Bill Hensley said...

For some reason I screwed up the link. Here's the entry from Vine's:

http://www2.mf.no/bibelprog/vines?word=¯t0001884

Bill Hensley said...

Majorsteve said:
Seth, for me it is a source of never ending frustration that no one seems to understand that belief is not voluntary. It has nothing to do with free will. I can't choose to believe something anymore than I can choose what my core body temperature is.

Major, when you say this are you speaking doctrinally or experientially? Nonbelievers often express a similar frustration when someone is trying to use an argument like Pascal's wager to persuade them. And I would agree that, experientially, we find it impossible to will ourselves to arbitrarily believe statements that appear to be against all the evidence. But I don't think that's the whole story. For one thing, often we find ourselves in a situation where there is a preponderence of evidence and yet the matter is not beyond all doubt. In these situations we can choose to set aside our doubts and act on what we believe is likeliest to be true. Juries do this every day. And sometimes people even come to faith that way. Indeed, beyond mere factuality, belief ultimately involves a decision about who or what to trust. In this respect faith is definitely a matter of the will.

Doctrinally, however, the Calvinist holds that it is impossible for a person to come to this point of belief without the prior active intervention of God. The obvious corollary is that God alone determines who will be saved. Apart from whether we find that to be true in our experience is whether this doctrine is taught in Scripture. On that point I am still unsure. It seems to me that both the Calvinist and the Arminian have many proof texts they can point to in the Bible. So whichever position you choose you have a lot of verses to explain away. Many people decide just to call it a mystery and decline to rule in favor of either side. In the postmodern era I think we are more willing intellectually to entertain paradoxes like that so this position seems to be popular in many circles today. I lean that direction myself, although I don't discount the possibility that I might firmly gravitate to one camp or the other in the future.

Seth Ward said...

Bill, I'm afraid you are half right about the Calvinist POV. The Calvinist also purposes that God also determines who will NOT be saved as well, therefore, God causes people to be saved and causes people to go to Hell by depriving them of the Grace needed.

Before you jump in either camps, let me offer another viewpoint, one that makes the most sense to me.

The Catholic standpoint is the POV that makes the most sense as it holds what they call the Golden Means of the views: While God knows and knew who would and who wouldn't choose his saving grace before time, He also desires that none should perish and does not cause a man to sin by depriving him of Love, as this would is contrary to his Holiness and John 3:16. God initiates Grace and it is still left to the man to choose Him or not.

So where the Calvinists and the Armenians both get it wrong is here: One places the reason for predestination in God alone and the other in man alone. Calvinism abolishes the free co-operation of the will in obtaining eternal life, while the other abolishes God's part by attributing the beginning of faith to man's natural powers and not the initiative preventing Grace of God. The Catholic view of predestination is found in the three steps outlined by Paul in Ephesians 1:4-11, "vocation", "justification", and "glorificaion" In other words, "God foresees the free activity of man precisely as that individual is willing to shape it." Therefore, God knows, and knew but did not force beyond the breaking of man's will.

Strict Calvinism denies "the universality of God's salvific will as well as of redemption through Christ ( 1 Timothy 2:1 ), nullified God's mercy towards the hardened sinner ( Ezekiel 33:11 ; Romans 2:4 ; 2 Peter 3:9 ), did away with the freedom of the will to do good or evil, and hence with the merit of good actions and the guilt of the bad, and finally destroyed the Divine attributes of wisdom, justice, veracity, goodness, and sanctity."

There are some modern Calvinists who concede the severity of strict calvinism and have this viewpoint: "There is no election to hell parallel to the election to grace: on the contrary, the judgment pronounced on the impenitent supposes human guilt .... It is only after Christ's salvation has been rejected that reprobation follows"

Here is some more on the Catholic, or early church viewpoint:

Now, before I state this, let me just say that if you are in line with this, this doesn't make you Catholic. Most protestants have an allergy for anything with "Catholic" on it even though sound doctrines such as the Trinity have come from the Catholic Church. If you believe this, then this means you are simply in line with Christian theology since the early church on predestination and not (what some believe as) Calvin's distortion of Augustine's teachings. The official Catholic doctrine on predestination is this: (my paraphrase, sorry for some redundancy...)

God's predestination, though a mystery, is in harmony with our reason as well as our moral sentiments. In that, God foresees and preordains from eternity all future events, all necessary bad things, however leaving man's free will intact. Consquently, man is free whether he accepts graces and does good, or whether he rejects it and does evil. God's true and sincere will is that all men, none excepted, should obtain eternal happiness, so, too, Christ has died for all, not only for the predestined, or for the faithful, though it is true that in reality not all will accept this redemption. God preordained both eternal life and good works for the elect, on the other hand, He predestined no one positively to hell, much less to sin. (However much better this might make us feel about we who believe, and the stubbornness of those who reject) Consequently, no one is saved against his will, so the reprobate perish solely on the account of their own wickedness. This ultimately makes man uncomfortable as this puts the ball in his court, as it was in the Garden. God gives each enough grace to choose Him, but not enough to break our will, though ultimately, he knows who will and who won't. We are after all, in time, and not yet in heaven and removed from the temptation of sin. God foresaw this too, and preordained everlasting punishment and separation for that on the account of their sins, though he does not fail therefore to hold out the grace of conversion of sinners, or pass over those who are predestined. A choice MUST be made, though God initiates: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock..."

For me, therein lies the true mystery of being able to choose evil or the possibility of choosing "not God", which is something beyond our scope of understanding. Afterall, God created everything, therefore choosing sin is choosing "no-thing" or total void. How we can do that, is the real mystery, not whether God causes us to do it or not. Since God desires none should perish, it is contrary to his character to cause anyone to sin.

Bill Hensley said...

Ah-choo!! (Sorry, my Catholic allergy is acting up again!)

Seth, I think we're fairly close in our thinking about free will and salvation. I strongly believe in the necessity of prevenient grace because it is directly taught by Christ ("No one can come to me unless the Father draws him."), but I think irresistible grace and limited atonement are unwarranted inferences. I believe that God is completely sovereign but he has chosen to "delegate" some decisions to us, whom he has made free moral agents as part of the imago Dei. I strongly disagree with the assertion that this somehow diminishes God's sovereignty.

The "mystery" (to use the term in the common sense rather than the NT sense :-) is how to reconcile the concept of election with the concept of free will. Scripture seems to teach that those who will be saved have in some way been predetermined and this seems in some passages to be stronger than simple foreknowledge. ("And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.") I am inclined with you to believe that this is one of those things like the Trinity that we are not quite going to be able to work out in our own limited understanding. But it seems to me that the reconciliation of the paradox is somehow bound up in the omnipotence of God, which we can't wrap our heads around either. I tend to think about it this way: God, looking ahead in his omniscience from before the beginning of time, was able to so order his creation and his acts within creation as to perfectly achieve his ends, regardless of the complete operation of our free will in the due course of time. And, no, I can't explain how that works. :-)

Seth Ward said...

"God, looking ahead in his omniscience from before the beginning of time, was able to so order his creation and his acts within creation as to perfectly achieve his ends, regardless of the complete operation of our free will in the due course of time. And, no, I can't explain how that works."

Well said!

For this demonstrates that God can, does and will ultimately work everything for his Glory, despite our failures, moreover, he uses our failures to bring even greater Glory to Himself and work towards our ultimate good! That is some awesome and mysterious stuff right there.

About my views on "mystery." I have always liked Frank Sheed's viewpoint. (Sheed is one of the most overlooked and greatest theologians of our century.)

"A mystery is not something we that we can know nothing about: it is only something that the mind cannot wholly know. It is to be thought of not as a high wall that we can neither see over nor get around: It is to be thought of rather as a gallery into which we can progress deeper and deeper, though we can never reach the end - yet every step of our progress is immeasurably satisfying. A Mystery, in short, is an invitation to the mind. For it means that there is an inexhaustible well of Truth from which the mind may drink and drink again in the certainty that the well will never run dry, that there will always be water for the mind's thirst."

Anonymous said...

I know this is a bit random and off topic but does anyone know the lyrics to nicene creed by five cent stand?
Thanks!

majorsteve said...

Bill I was speaking experientially. Please don't confuse me with a serious theologian or religious intellectual. I do not understand 90% of what is being discussed here with regards to Calvinism, Armenianism, Universalism, Election, Predestination, etc.. As tempting as these little slots and boxes are, I refuse to participate in the sorting and collation. There are very few things that I am sure of, yet I feel very strongly that if Salvation is real then it is available to the mentally retarded as well as to the spiritually retarded.