Remembering Steve Hays

Posted by David Gadbois

The prolific Christian apologist and blogger Steve Hays died earlier this month. While most people probably knew him from his usual beat at Triablogue, he had a presence in the combox of this blog in earlier years, and often took the fight against unbelief to the “streets” of Facebook.

I always assumed I would meet Steve Hays in person, at some point. And sadly, I was wrong. Though he had been generous with his time in corresponding with me, as was the case with many other saints he corresponded with, he remained a faceless, online friend until the end. I literally did not even know what he looked like, although I imagine he must have seen pictures of me and my family on my Facebook profile. In any case, it was easy to recognize the intellectual firepower he had on deck, all guns blazing in defense of the Gospel. Tirelessly, ceaselessly. And for many years I had tried to take advantage and pick his brain on the tough subjects I was wrestling with, although there was no shortage of chat about lighter issues that we mutually found compelling.

He was certainly a strange duck. While he had a rare intellect, he never parlayed this into either a flashy or lucrative career. He was never a keynote speaker at whatever Reformed conference du jour. No public, oral debates. No Youtube clips of him lecturing. Apparently he wasn’t interested in any academic credentials beyond his M.A. He was never a professor. He was never even an elder or deacon at a church, at least the last time I asked him about it. And very little of his work was ever published in academic journals or dead-tree books, although he self-published e-books for free distribution. Non-stop blogging on Triablogue was his primary outlet, with a healthy smattering of Facebook debates on the side. And this was all semi-anonymous, he never used a picture of himself in his avatars. His posts were just marked with “Posted by steve”. Lower case “s”!

I can’t remember exactly when I started following Steve at Triablogue. From 1997-2002 I was earning my engineering degree, and providence led me to the Reformed faith, by means of multiple and sometimes unexpected channels, during these college years. Besides Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, I’d have to credit John Frame’s “Doctrine of the Knowledge of God” as one of the pivotal books that set my course from that point forward. Whenever I found Steve’s writings, it must have been a few years later, I realized I had found a kindred spirit whose theological and apologetic orientation dovetailed with my trajectory. As Steve was something of a Frame protege, he served as a helpful bridge out of the surreal Toon Town of pop-presuppositionalism and introduced me to thinkers like Greg Welty, James Anderson, and Paul Manata. There are many other fellow-travelers that I could mention that Steve introduced me to (or, for some, re-introduced me to), from many different fields and orientations: the whole staff of T-Blog, Jonathan McLatchie, the McGrews, Vern Poythress, Michael Kruger, C. John Collins, Richard Hess, and on and on.

As an engineer I really connected with the way Steve thought and wrote. The way he organized his thoughts and broke things down in a bullet point-like format. Exhaustive, yet clear and orderly. And this certainly influenced and improved my own writing. Again, I think we have John Frame to thank for this feature in his writings. His manner, at least in the printed word, was often rather curt, or abrupt. Again, as an engineer I sort of appreciated this, although it no doubt rubbed many others the wrong way. Part of this is that he didn’t believe in wasting time with verbal kid gloves for those whom he saw as culpable proponents of destructive falsehoods. There would be no quarter for those targets, rhetorically speaking.

Steve was like a nuclear reactor, pumping out daily content that was amazing, both in its quality and quantity. In contrast I felt more like the Drinking Bird toy that Homer Simpson employed, that nearly melted down the nuclear power plant. Comparatively, I’m just a “weekend warrior” apologist, but his tireless effort encouraged me to always stay in the fray, in whatever capacity I could.

He was wildly eclectic, in practice, in defending the Christian faith. While he was at his core, still some species of presuppositionalist, one would almost never know it from the diversity of approaches and tactics he employed. He borrowed freely from thinkers of any and all backgrounds; if it was a good argument, he wanted it in his arsenal.

His areas of apologetic interest were also also immensely diverse (he once mentioned that this was why he didn’t care to advance into a more specialized, advanced degree). Of course he covered the usual topics one would expect: defending the reliability of the Bible, the historicity of the resurrection, the deity of Christ, Calvinist soteriology, predestination, dealt with both proofs and objections to the existence of God (including many valuable points on the Problem of Evil), evolution/Intelligent Design, along with no small amount of ink tackling Roman Catholicism and various cults. My guess would be that atheism and Roman Catholicism were his biggest targets, if one were to go by cumulative word-count over the years. But he also addressed topics that were off the well-beaten path: modern miracles, philosophy of time, and paranormal phenomena. He was also interested in current events and the culture wars. And he always stayed abreast of the latest biblical commentaries.

To my knowledge Steve never married. As his parents both died before him, I dearly hope he had some extended family and church brethren to give him comfort and company in his final days. Apparently his fire never dimmed until the very end, I see that his final post was June 3rd, 2020, only 3 days before his death (a critique of various Roman Catholic apologists, it happens). I suppose for selfish reasons, I sure wish he had sought treatment for his maladies. Of course I was not privy to the trade-offs and probable outcomes of such treatment, so one can’t judge about those hard decisions. While it is hard to say that anyone who lives to 60 has been robbed of a full life, in our modern era it is still on the young side to die at this age. Sad, especially since he retained all his faculties and mental acuity, as evidenced in his final writings.

He never told me, nor most others, of his terminally failing health. I suspect there was, perhaps, an impish impulse on his part to just “ghost” all of us, in the urban dictionary sense. That is, to disappear without warning or salutation, so as to go unnoticed. I don’t think he wanted the sentimental attention, no matter how sincere and understandable. No, as long as he could still pound out a blog post on a keyboard, he was going to load up the big guns and send out a final volley or two. Like the gigantic, WW2-era battleships firing their 16″ cannons one last time on their way to mothball. It is quite clear that he wanted to make the most of the precious few, final days at his disposal. And my best guess is that he saw grief and pity from others, no matter how understandable and legitimate, as an inordinate tax on this quickly-diminishing share of time. That’s my best guess, anyway, knowing him in the limited capacity that I did.

I could say much more, especially concerning our e-mail correspondence. He provided personal encouragement and guidance at important junctures. Very recently, we talked about our mutual love of the use of boys choirs in sacred music. A few months back we had an interesting exchange on the recent UFO phenomena with Jason Engwer. His last direct e-mail to me was on April 19th, although he jumped into some Facebook conversations over the subsequent month. I’m actually not sure why he was so open and seemingly eager to correspond with me. I could only take, and had little to give in return to someone like him. I think he was more than a little curious about the aerospace biz…but other than that I can’t say.

Lord, this is a tough one. By your mercy, dress us all in the White Robes of Jesus Christ, that we will all be re-united one day in glory. Amen.

A Jeremiad

The America I knew and loved growing up is almost completely gone. The name, at least, remains. Some call it progress. I call it destruction. The people in charge are those who yell and scream, not those who debate with reason and analysis. The political world consists of those who have become so practiced in screaming that I wonder they have any vocal cords left. All political orthodoxy is assumed, not proven, not debated. It is shouted. The power of the shout, and the accompanying shatter of glass, is the only power that means anything today.

This same hatred has poured forth into the Christian world, the theological world, even the “academic” world. Freedom of opinion is not allowed any more. Only certain voices can be heard, because they shout the loudest.

For what then can we weep? Must we not weep for the wrath of God that is coming even through these glass-shattering shouts? Must we not weep for the silenced voices (which are not the voices the world thinks are silenced)? Must we not weep that we will shortly be joining our martyr brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as of a piece with the persecuted church? Must we not weep for the veil Satan has drawn over so many people’s eyes so they cannot see the spiritual warfare?

What hope have we? We have the hope God gives us. God gives us hope that silenced voices are only silent on earth. They are not silent to God. Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground, though his voice on earth was silent. We have the hope of resurrection. Like Abel, Jesus’ blood also cried out, but in a far higher key, to God for our forgiveness. It thunders in heaven. And because of that thundering, God raised Him from the dead. We have the hope that God’s shout of wrath is not the only loud voice He has, though even there, that voice is far louder than the world’s voice. His voice of many waters thunders forth judgment on the enemies of God, but also grace for God’s people.

It is right to weep for the loss of peace and tranquility for the Christian, though not right to cling to the idol of comfort. It is right to weep for the lost, who seem to be growing more and more blind. It is right to weep for the saved, who must now find a backbone where little was required before.

On the other hand, it is right to rejoice in trials of various kinds, counting them pure joy. The church will be a lot smaller five or ten years from now. All the fair-weather friends of Christianity will be gone. The fear of man will have scared them spineless (not that they ever had a spine!). The only people left will constitute a much more pure church. And a much more pure church can have a much more positive effect on the world. All of this is happening to purify the church. Remember that world history exists for the sake of church history, not the other way around. God is heading up all things in Christ the Head. His providence is still at work, even when around us all we seem to see is evil. Evil will not have the last word. God will.

Changing One’s Mind

Bart Ehrman wrote a thoughtful piece recently on how and why some people change their minds and others do not. I would like to interact with this and hopefully show some alternatives that he appears not to have considered. Firstly, I will trace the flow of his argument, and then afterwards interact with it.

Ehrman starts out by relating his own story. He was a fresh-faced evangelical at age 20. Looking back on his then career path from a vastly more wise and mature vantage point, he now describes his previous mindset as “extremely weird.” Don’t miss the statement, “and to outsiders looks more than a little bizarre.” The desire for respect from the world plays a large part in his post. More on that later.

Ehrman describes two events in recent history that made him think of his earlier history. First, his conversation/debate with Peter Williams (an inerrantist), and a FB post from a former friend lambasting him for being an enemy of the truth. One presumes that Ehrman is trying to be funny with the crack about basketball. One would also presume that Ehrman does not seriously believe that his former friend is lambasting him because of basketball.

These two events prompted Ehrman to think about the question: why is it that some people change their minds about what they were taught when they were young, whereas other people hold on to their beliefs tenaciously? He puts himself firmly in the former category, and regrets the animosity he feels from his former friends. Again, the issue of respect from people comes into play.

The next few paragraphs are where the judgment starts to show. He finds it incredible that scholars should hold on to the views they held before (presumably meaning conservative views). If they do hold on to those views, the only reason they do is that they never did deepen their understanding of the issues and nuance their opinions.

On being accused of being an enemy of the truth, Ehrman believes his entire career has been one of seeking the truth, while those whose views remain what they were have not been seeking after the truth. The “nutshell” paragraph then follows:

I’ll try to put it in the most direct terms here: how is it at all plausible, or humanly possible, that someone can question, explore, look into, consider the beliefs they were taught as a young child (in the home, in church, in … whatever context) and after 40 years of thinking about it decide that everything they were taught is absolutely right? The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right? The problem with these particular views (of evangelical Christianity) is that if they are indeed right, everyone else in the known universe is wrong and going to be tormented forever because of it.

Then follows a qualification: “I know most Christians don’t think this: I’m just talking about this particular type of Christian. And they don’t seem to see how strange it is that they are right because they agree with what they were taught as young children.”

He ends his reflections with what he believes is a sort of reductio ad absurdam: “I realize these are very old questions. When we were evangelicals we puzzled over the question of how God could punish people for eternity for not “accepting Christ” when they had never even heard of him. Unfortunately, we concluded that we weren’t sure how he would do that, but we were pretty sure he would. Most of the human race, of course, thinks the very idea is ludicrous.” Again the respect of people, for the third time.

Thus the flow of the post. Now for the interaction. The first thing I would say in response is that Ehrman seems to me to be committing one large fallacy of the poisoned well argument: “Your views are wrong because of where they came from (namely, parents).” If one’s main worldview issues arose out of what they were taught as youngsters, then they can’t possibly be correct, if Ehrman is right. But if Ehrman is right, then our parents were also wrong when they told us, “Don’t cross the street without looking both ways;” “Don’t go with strangers;” “Be polite and say ‘thank you’ and ‘please'”; and many other things we learned when we were young. Were many of those things simplistic in order to line up with our need for simple and sometimes simplistic understandings? Of course. However, the point I wish to make here is simple: just because our parents said it doesn’t make it wrong, any more than interaction with scholarship makes a particular viewpoint correct. After all, aren’t older, seasoned scholars our “intellectual” parents of sorts? Why should we reject or believe anything simply on the basis of what some scholar says? Ehrman doesn’t do this. He rejects lots of viewpoints that scholars propound.

Secondly, what if he teaches his views to his children in the future. What is to prevent them from saying the same thing about what they were taught by Ehrman later in life? Thus, Ehrman lops off the branch on which he himself is sitting. One suspects that the real problem here is that Ehrman found out that the people of the world do not approve of what he learned in childhood. Therefore he is seeking to distance himself as much as possible from it in order to be respectable. Yet, what about the reverse possibility? I know of many scholars who grew up in households completely antithetical to Christianity, atheistic households, in fact. Yet God’s grace changed them, and they became Christians and became devoted to furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ehrman doesn’t address this possibility, probably because there isn’t any way he can account for it on his paradigm. The distinct impression given by Ehrman’s post is that the only way anyone could possibly believe those benighted conservative viewpoints is if they have their head in the sand, with regard to scholarship. Since he has admitted to not wanting to run in those conservative circles anymore, he can be forgiven for getting the wrong end of the stick entirely on this one. Since he doesn’t run in those circles, he doesn’t know or acknowledge the many conservative biblical scholars that go out of their way to read viewpoints that differ from their own (and not just for the purposes of debate!). The seminary professors I know and love, and have learned so much from, ALWAYS assign liberal scholars to read alongside the conservative ones. In actuality, it is the liberal scholars who move in confined circles. They almost never quote or read conservatives. No doubt they will respond that this is because there are so few conservative scholars. This would be a good example of the fallacy of ad populum. Truth is not achieved by counting noses, something Ehrman doesn’t seem to have learned yet. Let God be true, though every man be a liar.

Thirdly, he seems to leave out or discount the possibility that a conservative scholar could have grown up believing what his parents told him, grown up to achieve greater nuance and clarity regarding those views, deliberately test them by comparing them to as many worldviews out there as possible, and still believe that the basic points of worldview he grew up with are correct. In fact, I know many such scholars. If you read any of his commenters, they tend to be even less generous than Ehrman on this point. They commit the poisoned well argument with a vengeance!

Lastly, I will argue that the real reason conservative evangelical scholars hold on their viewpoints is that they believe it is what the Bible teaches. Ehrman disagrees, and thinks he has pre-empted this argument by stating that it was really just what we were taught when we were young. I answered this in the “secondly” paragraph above. Ehrman clearly buys into the postmodern viewpoint that the multiplicity of viewpoints negates the truth of any conservative viewpoint. He says, “The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right?” In ascribing arrogance to conservatives for holding on to viewpoints they were taught, he is engaging in arrogance himself, since he clearly believes that his pluralistic viewpoint is THE correct approach to the multiplicity of views. What gives him the right to say that? And what gives him the right to say that the only viewpoint that is automatically wrong, out of the 60 trillion viewpoints out there, is the conservative one, simply because he doesn’t like where he learned it from, and thinks that people are naive for believing what their parents tell them? Does he not know that most Muslims learn their Islam from their parents? Would he dare to say the same about Muslim beliefs, simply because the vast majority of Muslims believe what they were told by their parents? Muslims (especially those in the Middle East!) are every bit as exclusivistic as conservative Christians when it comes to believing in only one worldview. Somehow, I don’t think he would say that Muslims are wrong simply because it is what they grew up with, probably because he fears what other people in the world think about him, and he wouldn’t want to offend Muslims. I think Muslims are wrong in what they think, but not because it is what they grew up with and were taught. It is because the life they attempt to build on top of their beliefs does not match their beliefs. But to prove that would go far afield from this post.

As to his last point, very few people I know believe that God will punish people for rejecting Christ if they have not heard of Jesus Christ. However, not having heard of Jesus Christ is hardly an excuse that gets one out of condemnation. No one has an excuse, according to Paul in Romans 1. The invisible attributes of God have been clearly seen in creation. If people do not give glory to God, then it is for that they will be judged. Ehrman might possibly object and say, “But you can’t believe in a God who would send anyone to Hell just because they were unlucky enough not to have heard about Jesus Christ.” This objection presumes that God owes everyone a chance at salvation. God owes nothing to anyone on earth. This fact should not, of course, make us complacent about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for the salvation of sinners. Our love of neighbors should impel us to tell them about Jesus precisely so that they won’t be condemned, but be saved. Nevertheless, God owes nothing to any created being.

New Book on Paul’s Speech at Mars Hill

My friend Flavien Pardigon’s book is now finally in print! I helped edit the thesis form of this book (which was done for a WTS Ph.D.: Flavien and I overlapped at WTS). A more careful study of Paul’s speech at Mars Hill you will not find. Highly recommended!

Knowledge of God Impossible to Eradicate

Stephen Charnock says it well:

The fears and anxieties in the consciences of men have given men sufficient occasion to root it (the knowledge of God, LK) out, had it been possible for them to do it. If the notion of the existence of God had been possible to have been dashed out of the minds of men, they would have done it rather than have suffered so many troubles in their souls upon the commission of sin; since they did not want wickedness and wit in so many corrupt ages to have attempted it and prospered in it, had it been possible…It seems to be so perpetually fixed, that the devil did not think fit to tempt man to the denial of the existence of a deity, but persuaded him to believe, he might ascend to that dignity, and become a god himself…He (Satan, LK) wanted not malice to raze out all the notions of God, but power; he knew it was impossible to effect it, and therefore in vain to attempt it…The impressions of a deity were so strong as not to be struck out by the malice and power of hell. (Works of Stephen Charnock, volume 1, pp. 136-7).

Well, That’s Your Interpretation…

Used to crush any attempt at the utmost hubris of audacity that someone might actually understand a text from the Bible, the real intent of this excuse is usually to evade the plain meaning of the text. I am reminded of a story that my father used to tell of Francis Schaeffer. He was having tea with a young man who kept on saying, “I do not think we are communicating.” Finally, Schaeffer, in some irritation, blasted out, “POUR ME SOME TEA!!” The young man, somewhat shell-shocked, said, “Okay, okay.” Thereupon Schaeffer said, “I think we are communicating.”

There is another, deeper problem with this excuse, however. In implying that the text of Scripture never has only one interpretation, the postmodern is actually imposing his own monolithic multi-valency on the text. To put it another way, is not the postmodern imposing just as much of a uniformity of interpretation on the text (by saying that every text is a wax nose) as the person who claims that there is only one correct interpretation? Furthermore, is not the postmodern claiming that there is only one correct interpretation of any biblical text (“the only correct interpretation of the biblical text is that there are always an almost infinite number of equally valid interpretations”) just as much as the person who does not claim multi-valency?

Fortunately, even most postmoderns have a bit more common sense than this, and do not try to argue for an infinite range of possible interpretations for every text. Even the postmodern does not usually try to interpret “You shall not murder” to mean “You shall murder.”

I have no wish to deny that there are difficult texts in Scripture that admit of more than one possible interpretation that fits the analogy of faith. The “spirits in prison” passage in 1 Peter 3 comes to mind. However, that is still a far cry from saying that all interpretations of the biblical text are equally valid. While there may be more than one possibility for interpreting 1 Peter 3, there is still only one correct interpretation, even if we may not be as certain as we would like which interpretation is the correct one.

Male and Female Souls?

Posted by Paige (Yes, I’m still around sometimes!)

Here is a set of crowdsourcing theological research questions for my scholarly minded brethren:

Are you familiar with the teaching that men and women have gendered souls? That is, the idea that the differences between us (and perhaps the roles we are to play) are so essential that they are located originally in our souls as well as in our biology?

Can anyone give me the historical pedigree of this idea? What religions or sects have emphasized this teaching since ancient times? (Googling it brought up kabbalist and New Age spiritism, but I’d like to go deeper than blog posts if anyone knows of a decent resource.)

How have Christians historically interacted with this teaching? How does it comport with generally orthodox Christian teaching on the imago Dei, gender, and gender roles? What Christian thinkers, if any, have engaged or taught this idea?

Finally, how do you personally react to the idea that men and women have distinctly gendered souls as well as bodies? Do you think this is compatible with an orthodox anthropology? Would you teach this to your congregation? What would be your biblical supports?

I have encountered this idea in Christian teaching only recently, so I am not familiar with how it fits into the historical context of biblical and Reformed thought. I’m presently doubtful that it does, and I wanted to see if I could locate the idea in the history of theology and other religions in order to understand it better. 

Thanks abundantly in advance for your thoughts and any resources you can point me toward.

The Judgment of the Canaanites

It is a fairly common objection to the Bible and to all forms of biblical faith that a God who would order the extermination of all the Canaanites by the Israelites cannot be a loving God, and therefore cannot be any kind of god that they would want to worship.

There are a number of answers that have been posed to this question that are inadequate for anyone wishing to take the Bible seriously. One answer is that God did not prescribe the war, He simply decreed it. This falls foul of the Scriptural injunction that God gives to wipe all the Canaanites out. He commanded them to do it (though with very important exceptions, as will be noted below. The exceptions, in fact, point us in the right direction, as I will argue). Another inadequate answer is that Israel falsely attributed the command to God, but actually conquered Canaan on their own steam. Nor is it adequate to say that all forms of warfare are evil, as if there were no such thing as a just war. Christian ethicists have argued from Scripture through all the centuries of church history that there is such a thing as a just war. The question is a formidable one, and it will not do to simply wish the problem away, or explain it in such a way as does not do justice to the biblical data.

The exceptions to the genocide are, as state above, quite important. Rahab and her family were spared. Why were they spared? Because of their faith. The Gibeonites were spared. Why were they spared? They believed that the land was going to Israel, and they feared the God of Israel. They used underhanded methods to gain their lives. And yet, while there is a reproach from Joshua directed towards the Gibeonites, there is no reproach from God, interestingly. In fact, in David’s time, the Gibeonites are allowed to exact justice on the seed of Saul’s line because Saul violated the treaty made with the Gibeonites. In both cases, there was a belief (on the part of the people spared) that God’s people Israel had the right to the promised land, and that Israel’s God was the true King of all named gods. There was a measure of faith, in other words. Whether we would call that saving faith is a question that would go beyond the evidence.

But if a faith, a belief that Israel’s God was the real deal was sufficient to create an exception, then we may infer from this fact that the Canaanites, as a general rule, did not worship the one true God at all. This is well-documented in Scripture. The false gods of the Canaanites (Molech, Shamash, Baal, etc.) are mentioned over and over again. The sin of the Amorites is mentioned in a revealing way: it is something that is not yet full earlier in redemptive history (compare Genesis 15:16 with later mention of the Amorites), thus pointing to a long-suffering patience on God’s part (He could have judged them far earlier!). Sin and faith then can be seen as the central issues here. The majority of the Canaanites were unbelievers who lived extraordinarily sinful lives (Leviticus 18). The exceptions were spared!

This brings us to the question: what did the Canaanites deserve? Did they deserve life? Did they deserve heaven? No one deserves life, and no one deserves heaven. The evidence suggests that they were a very sinful people on whom God’s judgment is therefore entirely just.

The objection immediately comes to mind, however: what about the women and the children? What had they done? The evidence of Balaam and Balak in Numbers suggests that the Canaanite women actively tried to seduce the Israelite men in order to get them to worship false gods. Ok, then what about the children? Weren’t they innocent? Psalm 51 states that children are sinful from the time of conception. Not even children are innocent. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never had children. They are not the cute little innocents that we think they are, though they certainly have not had opportunity to become Jack the Ripper. The point is this: what does anyone deserve? The simple truth is this: none of us deserve a single day of life on this earth. We have no right to demand anything of God any more than the pot has the right to demand anything of the potter.

If one wants to talk about the most evil event that has ever happened in human history, we cannot look to the genocide of the Canaanites. That was God’s judgment on a wicked people. God used the judgment as simultaneously giving Canaan to His people to be the promised land. Later on, when the Israelites became terribly wicked, God did the same kind of thing: He used another nation to judge Israel. But the most evil event cannot be the genocide of Canaanites. It cannot even be the Holocaust, as horrific as that was. The most evil event in history is the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory.

God has infinite dignity. A sin against God is therefore a sin against an infinitely holy God with infinite dignity. Try this thought experiment: contemplate the differences of the consequences that a slap in the face has with regard to the following people: what would happen if you slapped a hobo on the street, a fellow citizen, a police officer, the President of the United States, and the God of the universe? The same action has drastically different consequences depending on the dignity of the person being offended. Imagine, then, the heinousness of putting to death a person who is both God and man in one person, and therefore has infinite dignity; but who is also absolutely innocent and perfect. Not only this, but the method of putting Christ to death was the most humiliating kind of death on offer in the Roman world (it was reserved for traitors to the Roman empire: Jesus Christ the most resolute non-traitor, died the traitor’s death in place of traitors). So, the most humiliating death a person could die being inflicted wrongfully on the God-Man, who was and is perfect in every way, is the most evil event in all of human history. This raises the question: why would the genocide of the Canaanites stick in our craw if the death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth does not? The truth is that God brought amazing and infinite good out of the infinite evil (the power of God is manifest in its most amazing form just here and at the resurrection of Christ from the dead) of the cross. As Joseph says of his brothers, they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. What is the good, then, that came out of the genocide (I prefer the term “judgment” for obvious reasons!) of the Canaanites? The Canaanites were judged for their sin, while the Israelites received the promised land from God. This event, in fact, is part of the stream of the story that culminates in the very death of Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, there seems little point in objecting to the judgment of the Canaanites, which seems just. The real question is the marvelous, amazing, and inexplicable mercy of God in sending His Son to die for us.

Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 Two Different Creation Accounts?

It is a commonplace in historical-critical scholarship to say that there are two creation accounts that contradict each other, and that therefore, the first two chapters of Genesis could not have been written by the same author. The first bit of evidence given is that, in Genesis 1, plants are created before humans, whereas in chapter 2, plants were created after humans. The second bit of evidence is the order of creation for animals vis-a-vis man: in Genesis 1, animals are created before man on the sixth day, whereas in Genesis 2, they are supposedly created after (depending on one’s translation of the verb “formed” in 2:19). What is more, historical-critical scholars tend to view any attempt to see the relationship of these chapters in a different way as a “harmonizing” attempt (as if harmonizing were some kind of dirty word). I will make the argument here, not even based on harmonizing with regard to the first bit, but based on exegesis, that the historical-critical understanding of the relationship of the chapters is in grave error.

The exegetical flow of Genesis 2:5-9 has to do with the institution of agriculture. How did it get started? Well, before it got started, there were two “problems” or “things lacking” to rectify. The first was that there was no rain, and the second was that there were no farmers. Agriculture does rather depend on these two things even today! Going back all the way to Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary, the “bush of the field” and “the plant of the field” in verse 5a are not descriptive, then, of all kinds of plants. Rather, they are limited to cultivated crops (the designation “of the field” points this way). This is absolutely proven by the second of the two reasons given for why these plants were not present. The first reason, “no rain,” of course, would be a good reason for why any plant had not yet appeared. So, that reason for the lack of plants is inconclusive for our point. However, “no man to work the ground” in verse 5b cannot possibly be a reason for why wild plants were not present. Wild plants do not need humans to work the ground in order to thrive. Therefore, to interpret the “bush of the field” and “plant of the field” in verse 5a to refer to all plants of whatever kind is irresponsible exegesis.

Whatever one may think of Kline’s exegesis of these verses, I think his point about verse 6 is well worth considering. A two-fold “problem” needs a two-fold solution. Kline believes that verse 6 is a. speaking about a rain-cloud, and b. giving us the solution to the first problem (no rain). Verse 7 then describes the fix to the second problem (no farmer). This interpretation is confirmed, then, in verses 8-9, where a garden (cultivated plants!) is planted, and verse 9, where the emphasis is on the food quality of the plants. Verses 5-9 then tell us of the introduction of cultivation in history, which is a large part of the cultural mandate of 1:28-29. This points to continuity between the two chapters, not discontinuity. As many scholars have noticed, chapter 1 treats of the creation of all things with a sort of wide-angle lens, whereas chapter 2 turns on the telephoto lens in order to focus more specifically on the creation of man, and the covenant which God made with him.

One last comment on this first part of the issue: I have yet to see a single liberal treatment of Genesis 1-2 that even acknowledges these exegetical points. They simply assume, without any argument, that, “of course,” Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradict each other. One suspects that, even if a liberal were to read about these arguments for explaining the text, they would push such considerations under the rug, because they favor the idea of a contradiction, since it supports the JEDP source theory. Of course, a single author could not have had such things in mind as a more general account of the creation of all things in chapter 1, and the focus on the creation of humanity in chapter 2. Quite impossible! It seems to me that ancient authors might have been a bit more flexible than the modern historical critics give them credit for!

The second bit of evidence given is the order of creation with regard to animals and man. If 2:19 is translated, “Now out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heaven,” then yes, there is an issue there. But if, with the NIV and ESV, the verb “form” is translated as a pluperfect “had formed,” the entire question is resolved. The issue is whether the verb can be translated this way. The grammar of Gesenius/Kautzsch/Cowley seems to think this is a possibility. It cites Genesis 2:19 as an example of an imperfect being used “In dependent clauses to represent actions, &c., which from some point of time in the past are to be represented as future” (par. 107k). Waltke and O’Connor do not list Genesis 2:19 as an example of the wayyqtl representing a pluperfect sense, though they allow that this is a possible use of the wayyqtl, while admitting that it is controversial (see 33.2.3).

Joüon-Muraoka (in the second edition; the first edition does not discuss the issue) would call this use of the imperfect “very irregular.” J-M argues that the pluperfect can only be expressed by avoiding wayyqtl (166.j). Davidson allows for a third possibility for the imperfect: “to express actions which are contingent or depending on something preceding” 43(b). The upshot of the discussion is this, that we have four options. The first option is to translate “formed” as a simple past, interpret the form as a contradiction, and thus assume an absolutely idiotic redactor, who couldn’t spot the contradiction with chapter 1 if his life depended on it. Or, secondly, we could interpret the form as a pluperfect, which IS grammatically possible, at least according to GKC and W-O’C, and thereby alleviate the difficulty entirely, thus assuming a reasonably intelligent author. The third option is go with Davidson’s approach, and interpret the verb as expressive of an action which was dependent on some previous action, though I am not entirely sure how that would help us. The fourth option is maybe the simplest one: translate as a simple past, but then note that 2:19 does not have to express a time relation between the creation of the animals and the creation of man. I prefer option 2 or option 4.

Does this mean I am harmonizing where the text does not allow me? I would argue no. These are legitimate exegetical options. But if all it takes to “reconcile” these two passages is interpreting a verb form in a perfectly acceptable grammatical way, or suspending a time relation between two actions, recognizing along with many Hebrew scholars that narrative continuity is not the same as temporal continuity, then I would argue that the contradiction is the mind of the liberal critic, who forces it on the text. In literary terms, a contradiction should only exist if there is no other possible alternative, since we must assume that the author knew what he was doing, and was not an idiot. The problem that the liberal critic has is that he or she is so confident that there is a contradiction present that they are willing to build an entire theory of sources on this basis (along with the different names of God used in chapters 1 and 2, which would be subject matter for a different post). I hope I have shown that no contradiction is necessary from natural interpretations of the text. Where contradictions are not the only option, they should not be chosen. This is all the more true if we believe that God is the ultimate author of the Bible and that He cannot lie.

A Van Til-Clark Discussion on Archetypal-Ectypal Knowledge

I am not going to get into a discussion of the interpretation of the Van Til-Clark debate, and whether they were talking past each other or not. I am only going to address a small part of the discussion, namely, the difference between archetypal and ectypal knowledge, and whether this forms an area of common ground between God and man.

First, some definitions are in order. The archetypal/ectypal knowledge distinction is not by any means original with Van Til. It comes from Protestant Scholasticism. For instance, see the first few chapters of Markius’ Compendium Theologiae Christianae. Archetypal knowledge is the knowledge that God has. Ectypal knowledge is the knowledge that creatures have. The scholastics usually divided ectypal knowledge into the knowledge of angels and humans. Then human knowledge was further subdivided into the knowledge of man at creation, the knowledge of man as distorted by the Fall, the knowledge of the pilgrim, the knowledge of the blessed (glorified in heaven), and the knowledge of Christ as the God-man, Who had two knowledges, if you will, the archetypal knowledge of God according to the divine nature, and the knowledge of the hypostatic union as the God-man.

One of the points at issue, and the one most controverted, is whether God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge coincide at any point. Usually those of the Clarkian persuasion will say that of course it must coincide, or else we are doomed to complete skepticism and we cannot know anything correctly. Those who follow Van Til believe that such a coinciding would violate the Creator-creature distinction. Sometimes a quantitative/qualitative distinction is introduced here as well. Those of the Clarkian persuasion would say that God knows a greater number of thoughts than we do, but that there are at least some thoughts that God and man have in common. To put it in its most forceful way, wouldn’t God have to know all ectypal knowledge in order to be omniscient? If we look at a pencil, and can agree that a human knowledge of a pencil might extend to its molecular structure, wouldn’t God also have to know the way in which we know the pencil in order to be omniscient? Wouldn’t there be overlap precisely at that point between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge? Van Til and his followers would claim that there is a qualitative distinction between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge just as there is a qualitative difference between God’s being and our being.

So what am I adding to this conversation? I believe that there is a way beyond the forceful way of putting things that I mentioned. It has to do with the atomization of knowledge implied in Clark’s way of thinking. By putting the matter in quantitative terms, God’s thoughts, while infinite in number, are thought of as building blocks. They are discrete points in a matrix, if you will, that extend infinitely in all directions. But God’s knowledge cannot be atomized in this way. If Van Til is correct in his analysis of facts having both substance and context, then the holistic context of all things (and by this context I am NOT positing some sort of higher reality to which both God and creation belong), including Himself, is always the context for God knowing all things, including His knowledge of ectypal knowledge. We cannot atomize God’s knowledge of ectypal knowledge from the rest of God’s knowledge. That context is one that humans will never and can never share, since that context would include God Himself in all His fullness. God’s knowledge is whole, just like His being is a simple whole. The simplicity of God prevents our dividing God into pieces. Therefore, His knowledge must be likewise one whole.

So this formulation of things must also answer the objection: how can our knowledge be true at all? Are we doomed to skepticism? The answer is a simple no, because of God’s self-revelation to us in both nature and Scripture. We would be doomed to skepticism if God did not reveal Himself to us, because then we would have no test of knowledge given to us by God. This would also answer the possible charge that we have descended into Kantianism (the idea that we cannot know anything in the noumenal realm, but only believe). If God did not choose to reveal Himself to us, then we would indeed know nothing. However, revelation is God’s way of ensuring that we can know things rightly, even if in a limited creaturely way. God’s revelation is an anchor that tethers all human knowledge.

The other objection that must be answered is this: is God’s knowledge then the all-encompassing whole that everything belongs to? Do we lapse into a form of idealism by saying this? Again the answer is no, simply because God’s knowledge is distinct from creation itself, just as God’s being is distinct from creation. We cannot separate epistemology from ontology in our thinking.

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