Monday, January 21, 2013

The Englishing of 1 Peter 3:21

In 1981 Michael Totten wrote an article on Reformed and Neo-Evangelical Theology in English Translations of the Bible. In the article he examines how various translations have dealt with passages that deal with the sacraments and eschatology. The RSV received the best score and in all the passages he analyzed the ESV has followed the RSV. One of the passages he deals with is 1 Peter 3:21. He lists the RSV and NASB, and Beck's translation as containing acceptable translations of this verse while the KJV, NKJV, NIV, and a host of others do not. The Living Bible presents an absolutely ridiculous translation. I checked the NLT and it is not as ridiculous as the Living Bible but makes the same errors as the KJV, NKJV, and NIV.

Much of the confusion is the result of confusion over the meaning of the word eperotema.  The NIV translates this word as "pledge." The KJV and NKJV translate this word as "answer." The word eperotema took on the meaning of "pledge" or "answer" in the second century in legal documents such as the Justinian code but there is no evidence that it had this meaning at the time of the writing of the New Testament.  As Totten points out the most common translation error is to see the parallel between "flesh" and "good conscience." Eperotema comes from the verb eperotao which means "to ask" or "request." So it is rightly translated by the RSV and NASB as "appeal." Baptism is an appeal or request to God for a good conscience. The translation of "pledge" seems to be driven more by theological presuppositions than by solid lexical evidence and context. Baptism now saves you because it is an appeal to God for a good conscience and God grants that request. Peter is not saying that baptism now saves you because baptism is a promise you made to God that you have a good conscience.

Translations that substitute "answer/pledge" for "request/appeal" also tend to confuse the Greek grammar just to make sense of it all. They make the good conscience the source or agent of the pledge. But this completely misses the parallel between "flesh" and "good conscience" found in the Greek. If the good conscience is the source or agent of the pledge then it would seem that "flesh" would have to be the source or agent of the removal of dirt which wouldn't make any sense at all and which no translation to my knowledge does.

Baptism is not the removal of dirt from the flesh.
Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience.

1 Peter 3:21 comes immediately after a passage which speaks of how God saved Noah through the water. This seems unusual in some ways. Ordinarily we would think of God saving Noah through the ark and some commentators have tried to go this route but the passage is pretty clear. God saved Noah through the water. God saved him from the unbelieving world. God destroyed the unbelieving world through the waters of the flood but saved and Noah and his family by using the water to lift him into safety while in the ark. Peter literally says that baptism is the antitype of the flood which would make the flood the prototype. Baptism is the greater fulfillment of what happened in the flood.

I came across the following rather unfortunate poor translation in the EOB:

This is an antitype of baptism, which now saves you. Baptism is not the putting away of the impurity of the flesh but the appeal of a good conscience {in your relationship} toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As a whole I really like the EOB. It's translated by Eastern Orthodox Christians and based on the New Testament text used in the liturgy. Unfortunately, most modern translations are based on a text created in the academy and then translated by Bible societies. Other sections of the EOB are actually translated very well especially those passages dealing with the sacraments. But this one is not. It confuses the antitype with the prototype and says that the flood is the antitype of baptism. It also says that baptism is "the appeal of a good conscience toward God." I've unsuccessfully tried to contact those responsible for the translation and I'm sure they would be willing to correct it if I could find the right person to tell. They also depart from their own Greek text by having "saves you" instead of "saves us."

The ESV, RSV, and NASB already do a fine job but this is my own proposed translation:
The antitype baptism now also saves us, it does not remove dirt from the body but asks God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ezekiel and the Omnipotence of God

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezekiel 37:1-10 ESV)
At the time of creation, God spoke all things into existence. He did not work through any human agent. But after the creation God often chooses to work incarnationally through sinful man. However, we are often told that to believe that God works in this manner is superstitious by both "liberals" and "conservatives" in the church. After all, the pastor is just a man and we know from observing him that he is a sinful man. But we see from this passage in Ezekiel that when God commands man to speak as his mouthpiece, what the man says actually comes to pass. When man invents his own words to speak on behalf of God they are powerless and idolatrous but when man speaks what he is commanded to speak by God they are powerful, effectual, and performative.

When the minister speaks the words of absolution they actually forgive sins because God has commanded Him to speak those words. After the minister consecrates the elements the body and blood of Christ are received. To say that this is impossible because a human body cannot be in more than one place at any given time is to deny God's omnipotence. Despite the pious language that might surround such a denial, the denial is the result of unbelief and a mind plagued by doubt sown by Satan.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Calvinists and the Trinity

In Geneva there was a man by the name of Caroli who became part of the Calvinist Reformation but eventually went back to Rome and started accusing Calvin of being an Arian. Caroli demanded that Calvin sign in agreement to the Apostle's, Nicene, and Athanasian Creed. Calvin refused on the grounds that he was bound to the Scriptures alone. Calvin spoke highly of the Apostles' Creed, objected to the condemnatory language in the Athanasian Creed, and mocked the form and language of the Nicene Creed. Calvin wrote:

And as for the Nicene Creed - is it so very certain it was composed by that Council? One would surely suppose those holy Fathers would study conciseness in so serious a matter as a creed. But see the battology here: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." Why this repetition - which adds neither to the emphasis nor to the expressiveness of the document? Don't you see that this is a song, more suitable for singing than to serve as a formula of confession?
Calvin may think the Nicene Creed is just a bunch of stammering speech but I strongly disagree. The Nicene Creed faithfully confesses what the Scriptures have to say about the Trinity. The Trinity is a profound mystery. We cannot fully comprehend it and we are completely dependent upon God's revelation to know anything about the Trinity. The fathers at Nicea and were very careful in their language not to go beyond God's revelation and thereby deny the threeness or the oneness of God as it has been revealed to us. To be fair to Calvin, he also teaches the threeness and oneness of God in his writings. But in his attempt to defend himself against the charge of Arianism, he also taught the aseity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Calvin taught that the Son and the Holy Spirit have their being from themselves. Warfield believed that this teaching of the aseity of the Son made Calvin one of the greatest Trinitarian theologians of the Western Church by eliminating all subordinationism and many Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the Western Church have adopted Calvin's language.

But this is a substantial departure from Nicene Trinitarian language. In the Nicene Creed the Father is unbegotten and possesses asiety, the Son is begotten, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (and the Son in the Western form of the Creed. I will refrain at this time from commenting on the filioque). The majority of Calvinists have adopted Calvin's language but as at least one Calvinist theologian by the name of David Engelsma has pointed out:

The Father begets the Son.This begetting is an eternal activity of bringing forth another who is different from the Father as the second person but also like the Father as His "express image."Contrary to Calvin, the begetting of the Son is the Father's bringing forth of the Son, not only as regards the Son's person but also as regards the Son's being. In the interests of defending the oneness of God and of guarding against any subordination of the Son, Calvin restricted the Father's begetting of the Son to the generation of the Son's person. The Son, Calvin contended, has His being from Himself. Calvin's doctrine of the generation of the Son, however, does not do justice to the begetting of the Son that is implied by the names Father and Son and that is expressed by John in the word monogenees. Calvin's doctrine of aseity jeopardizes the essential oneness of the Father and the Son and weakens both the relation and the personal difference between the two. The idea of begetting, both biblically and in human experience, is that of bringing forth a being from one's own being....There is in John's description of the Son as the "only begotten" no limitation of that which the Father has begotten to the person of the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father in His entirety, person and being. It is exactly the generation of the being of the Son out of the being of the Father that is the reason why the being of Jesus the Son of God is the being itself of God. The generation of the being of Jesus Christ was of critical importance at Nicea. Jesus Christ was confessed to be of "one substance (essence) with the Father" inasmuch as He is "very God of very God," that is, "out of very God." But the Son is out of God by virtue of being "begotten of the Father before all worlds." Nicea understood the begetting of the Son to be a begetting of essence, or substance.
There is no subordinationism within the Nicene formula when properly understood and there is a real confession of Threeness in Nicea that is diminished in Calvin. As Roger Beckwith points out there is also a difference in Calvin in the way that he explains this Threeness. Calvin does not explain the Threeness in relational terms as the church fathers did.

Instead, he directs attention to their distinctive roles in the activities of God, the Father as originator, the Son as wise director and the Spirit as powerful executor, which could be regarded as just other sorts of relationships, not characteristics of the Persons themselves.
Calvin also denies many of the Trintiarian interpretations of Old Testament texts and the traditional interpretations used to support the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Although Calvin himself teaches the eternal generation of the Son, it's easy to see how later Calvinists like Robert Reymond and Lorraine Boettner would end up denying it. With the doctrine of the aseity of the Son it's difficult to maintain the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. It's also easy to see how the idea of God as one person could develop in the theology Cornelius Van Til. Calvin himself doesn't make it into the "heretic" catagory when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity but he certainly lays the groundwork for others to become outright heretics. Calvin does not give us further insight into the doctrine of the Trinity but rather introduces obstacles to a true understanding of the Trinity. In some ways I think this is comparable to Augustine's doctrine of the sacraments. Augustine himself did not separate the sign from the thing signified but the introduction of this Platonic language laid the groundwork for others such as Calvin to do so.

While researching this topic I had discussions with several Calvinists. Some of them disagreed with Calvin and thought the Trinitarian language of Nicea was more accurate. Others adopted Warfield's approach of trying to harmonize Calvin and Nicea. Others denied the eternal generation of the Son. Some of these last group even claimed that they could still confess Nicea since the trajectory of Calvinist theology has developed in a different direction from other theologies. But this empties the language of the Nicene Creed of all meaning if it can be constantly reinterpreted. It's already problematic that Calvinists who deny baptismal regeneration also don't interpret "one baptism for the remission of sins" according to its original intent. According to the Scriptures we are baptized into the name of the Trinity, our sins are washed away, and we are regenerated. According to the Calvinist baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. There is a history in Calvinism of subscribing to creeds insofar as they agree with Scripture rather than because they are a faithful explanations of what the Scriptures teach. This is especially true in the Presbyterian tradition and that is where you find most of those who deny the eternal generation of the Son.

This is also the symptom of another problem in Calvinism and in other ways in Roman Catholicism. They do not view the faith as something to be handed down but as something that is under constant development. We have not become wiser than the fathers who received their doctrine of the Apostles. By thinking ourselves wiser we show ourselves to be fools. This can be seen in the many ways in which Calvinist Trinitarianism continues to traject in various directions. Especially among the disciples of Gordon Clark there seems to be no end to those who think they have figured out what nobody else has. The abandonment of the historic liturgy in much of Calvinism has resulted in non-Trinitarian forms of worship. Lip service is given to the Trinity but preaching is often just about an all powerful sovereign God. Pastors who deviate from Nicene Trinitarianism are often accepted as long as they confess the limited atonement and other unique Calvinistic doctrines.

But the doctrine of the Trinity was central to early Christian church as can be seen in the creeds and the liturgy. When the Trinity becomes secondary there is a lack of continuity with the church that Jesus built and continues to build. If we do not worship the Trinity we worship a different god. God is not just some uncreated creator who sovereignly acts. Glen Scriviner provides 13 disastrous implications of viewing God first as the uncreated Creator rather than as the Trinity. I disagree and omit one of them but the rest are spot on:

1.) You will never get to a Nicene trinity – you must deny ‘God from God’ – a begotten deity. (This was the danger Calvin courted (and those who have followed him.)) click here for more
2) You make God both dependent on creation and shut out from it
3) You will therefore never know God – that is, God in Himself.
4) Faith therefore becomes not a laying hold of God but of intermediary pledges from the unknown God.
5) Assurance becomes impossible – the hidden and unreachable God determines all
6) Salvation becomes not a participation in God but a status conferred external to Him.
8) Evangelism entails the impossible task of introducing Jesus into a pre-formed deistic doctrine of God. “I always believed in God, but the evangelist showed me how Jesus is also that god-I’d-always-believed-in.” Jesus gets squeazed and dissolved into the pagan’s god.
9) In your Christology you will uphold the fundamental incommensurability of ‘Unoriginate’ attributes and ‘originate’ attributes. Thus the Word cannot become flesh and the fulness of the divine nature cannot dwell bodily in Jesus. This is because Christ’s bodily form does not allow for your pre-supposed divine attributes (assumed according to the ‘Uncreated Creator’ definition of God). You will therefore ‘lock off’ certain divine attributes from the realm of Jesus’ flesh – i.e. you will become Nestorian.
10) You will define God’s Glory in terms of aseity – making Him the most selfish Being in the universe rather than the most giving.
11) Christ crucified then becomes a bridge to God’s glory rather than the very expression of it. (A theologia gloriae rather than theologia crucis).
12) You will consider “Glorifying God” to mean ‘what we give to Him’ – our worship etc (works!) – rather than ‘being swallowed up in His communion of other-centred love’ (faith!).
13) If God is fundamentally an individual, the Christian life becomes individualised. Instead it ought to be communal – a participation with and among persons.