Faith and Obedience, Again

Doug has responded here to my post, and I think we are getting at some extremely important issues here. The question is this: can justifying faith be described in any way as obedience to God’s command? The reason I believe that Doug has not engaged my exegesis is that he does not yet realize that I have actually addressed this question. What my exegesis is intended to show is that the obedience of faith is not in reference to justification, but in reference to sanctification in the passages indicated. This allows faith to have its full force as obedience in those passages, and yet preserves the complete absence of obedience as a category to describe justifying faith. Doug would like to describe this as simply a way for me to preserve my theological categories. But I believe that there is an exegetical reason for the distinction of categories here, and that is why I engaged in exegesis to prove it. Of course, Doug can seek to prove that my exegesis is wrong, which would require the handling of the Greek (I really would like to see some FV’ers actually engage the Greek New Testament). As of now, however, he has not tried to do that. Instead, he has claimed that I have not addressed the problem.

The problem with the semantic range of obedience is one that has been noted on the comments on Doug’s post, and is a crucial problem. I suspect that Doug and I will simply not agree on this issue, because my position is based on the law/gospel distinction, which I see as being present in the text, and which Doug sees not as part of the text, but as part of the application of the text. Here is what I mean: justifying faith has no relation to law, but to Gospel (this is referring to what happens in us: obviously, with reference to what Christ has done, it has a great deal to do with law). Therefore I can draw a distinction between the aspect of faith that justifies (and is part of Gospel, not of law) and the aspect of faith that sanctifies (which has relation to the third use of the law in particular, without leaving behind the first use). We are not talking about two faiths, but rather of one faith that has distinct but inseparable aspects related to different benefits that God graciously gives to us. The use of the term “obedience” with regard to justifying faith has to be qualified so carefully that it is practically qualified out of existence. I do believe that the passive aspects of faith (such as receiving and resting) are much more conducive to a proper understanding of the difference between justification and sanctification.  

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Response to Lee Irons

Lee Irons has already responded to my post (how did he do that so quickly?). He argues that Paul describes Phoebe as a woman holding the office of deaconess. He was convinced by Bob Strinple’s arguments, which are threefold. The first argument is that the grammatical construction of the participial phrase (involving the participle of the verb “to be”) points towards an official position. This argument is shot down by the counter example of Luke 13:16, which has the same participle, but certainly no mention of an office. There is no office of “daughter of Abraham.” This is a case of detecting an official sound in the participle because one wishes it to be so. Lee did not answer the contextual argument that was put forth in favor of service being the focus of Paul’s statement.

The second argument put forward is completely irrelevant to the meaning of διάκονον. The reason it is irrelevant is that, even granted that the καὶ is original, the idea of servanthood can just as easily be identified as an additional, complementary idea to sisterhood as “deacon” could be. The translation would then be “Phoebe our sister, being also a servant of the church at Cenchrea.” It simply does not settle the question. In fact, it does not even point in one direction or the other.

The third argument comes from the identification of the church at Cenchrea. The argument is that if Phoebe’s service were being mentioned rather than the office of a particular church, then the designation would have been simply “servant of God,” or “servant of Christ.” What this argument overlooks is that the designation can be equally easily explained by the idea that Phoebe was a member of a particular church and was dedicated to the service of that church. Maybe she wasn’t interested in serving the church at large. Maybe she was known so much for being a servant of that church that she was designated so. The point is that there are equally (I was would more) plausible explanations that do not read into the text something that simply is not there. Again, I refer to the contextual indications of verse 31 of the previous chapter, where service is most definitely the focus. The use of the word most likely triggered Paul’s mind in remembrance of others who also serve the church.  

A Short Precis of Jue and Tipton

I was given a short piece by Jeff Jue (a professor of church history at WTS) and Lane Tipton (a professor of systematic theology at WTS). I have their permission to write up a summary of their arguments.

Their thesis is that Enns’s doctrine of Scripture is out of accord with WCF 1:4-5 and 1:9.

Their first point is that extra-biblical evidence does not feed into what our doctrine of Scripture is. This is the point of WCF 1.4: “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.” Vitally important here (and often misunderstood in the blogosphere) is the distinction between the authority of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture. All sides agree that extra-biblical evidence can be helpful sometimes in the interpretation of Scripture. All sides should also agree that such extra-biblical evidence is not an infallible rule of interpretation, and should therefore always be subjected to Scripture itself as the final arbiter of truth. But such claims are completely distinct from saying that the authority of Scripture should be informed by extra-biblical sources, which is a claim that Enns makes (see pp. 14-15, where the evidence, defined as extra-biblical, leads us to our doctrine of what Scripture as a whole is). In what is something of a small coup, Jue/Tipton quote Dillard himself as saying that our doctrine of Scripture comes only from Scripture (see Inerrancy and Hermeneutic: A Tradition, A Challenge, A Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), p. 163).

This leads us to the second major claim of Jue/Tipton, which is that Enns’s position denies the divine authority of Scripture. Let’s be clear. Jue/Tipton are not saying that Enns explicitly denies the divine authorship of Scripture. Therefore, it is no answer to Jue/Tipton to mention that Enns claims that God wrote the Bible (as Enns does on p. 17). Jue/Tipton acknowledge the ambiguity in Enns’s position. The point that Jue/Tipton are making is more subtle than that. They are claiming that Enns’s position is not consistent with the divine authority of the Scripture. How does this argument work? The claim is that, in allowing extra-biblical sources to function in a normative way in our doctrine of Scripture, those very extra-biblical sources take on a “virtual surrogate role to Scripture in the construction of that doctrine” (p. 4). In other words, in saying that God and man determine the doctrine of Scripture, the divine authority of Scripture is diluted. Again, let’s be careful. Jue/Tipton are not saying that Scripture was dropped out of heaven without a human hand touching it. They are saying that the divine authority of Scripture comes from the fact that it is the Word of God, and not the word of man, even though God spoke through human mouths and human hands. The point is that human mouths and human hands said this: “Thus saith the Lord.”  

Romans 16:1 and Women Deacons

It seems to me that Romans 16:1 is one of a very few texts that are key in the issue of women deacons. The discussion over at the Puritan Board has gotten a bit heated. What I wish to do is to prove that the case for women deacons regarding this passage has not been proven. Here is the passage in Greek:

Συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν, οὖσαν [καὶ] διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς,

What is important here is the semantic range of διάκονον. The word can mean any of the following: agent, intermediary, courier, assistant, servant. The genitive “of the church” does not limit the meaning of διάκονον, since any of the above meanings (except perhaps “intermediary, which no one argues for anyway in this context) fits quite well into the genitive construction. The context of the previous chapter indicates that “servant” is probably the best translation, since we find  διακονία μου in verse 31, describing Paul’s service. Of course, the gender is feminine in that case. This helps my case enormously, since the word never refers to a diaconal ministry, but simply to “service.” Phoebe is then a servant. Phoebe is further described as a “patron” or “benefactress” in verse 2. The word προστάτις means this, although BDAG makes sure that we do not confuse this word with the Roman patron-client system. Phoebe was probably well off, and able to provide support for the apostles in their missionary journeys. There is nothing in the context that points in the direction of office. Since the semantic domain of the word clearly includes a vast deal more than the office of deacon, the burden of proof is actually on those who would argue such a delimitation of the meaning here. The context clearly points in the direction of servant. For this understanding of the word, see 1 Timothy 4:6 and Philippians 1:1. Therefore, the argument for Phoebe as a deaconess is not only ill-founded, but the understanding of the word as “servant” has strong support in the context.      

What Happened in CRPR

CRPR stands for “Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records.” Some people have been asking what exactly happened with the Northern California Presbytery. I gave a minority report on the floor of General Assembly on this particular Presbytery. The situation is this: a certain teaching elder was transferring from another Presbytery into the Northern California Presbytery. In his stated exceptions he took exception to the WLC 156, which states that not all are to be permitted to read the Scriptures in worship. In his exception he stated that women are permitted to do anything in worship that a non-ordained man may do. Now, there are quite a few PCA pastors who hold to this position, although it is not clear to me how thoroughly they have researched their views, nor is it clear to me that they have thought through the implications of their views. The Presbytery ruled that this was an exception, but that it was an exception that did not strike at the vitals of religion. The first and second readers of the minutes of this Presbytery listed this ruling as an exception of substance to the BCO (this kind of exception is not the same thing as the exception that the Teaching Elder took: an exception to the BCO may be an error of form in the minutes, or an error of substance, whereas the kind of exception the TE took was a doctrinal difference with the Standards). The majority of the CRPR committee voted to strike this exception (in other words, they agreed with the ruling of the Presbytery). A minority (the vote was about 18-15) decided to write a minority report dissenting from the decision of the majority, and desiring to list this as an exception of substance in CRPR’s reply to the minutes of the Northern California Presbytery. Now, I was the one who wrote the report. It was my first time doing so, and therefore the arguments were not crisp and clear enough to present the case adequately. Furthermore, the actual motion was not clear (and the minority report was not handed out to everyone, by some fluke of the floor clerks). The motion would have failed, had not TE David Coffin saved it by moving to refer this matter to next year’s CRPR. So, the issue is not over. The minority report did not fail or succeed. It was deferred. That is where matters now stand. What this has impressed upon me is the extreme importance of the CRPR. In fact, I will venture to state that the CRPR and the Standing Judicial Commission are the only two places left in the PCA where church discipline happens on the national level. Most of CRPR’s work is blessedly boring. However, there are matters such as this which can have enormous repercussions.