September 7, 2019

. . . and Ignoring of 35 of My Critiques of His Anti-Christian Polemics

Here’s how he does it (posted on 9-6-19):
This is a time of distress for Christian apologists. These are the die-hards who brag that they are devotees—in a professional capacity, no less—of the ancient Jesus mystery cult. They feel compelled to defend it at whatever cost. But times are changing, and they face challenges unknown to earlier apologists. . . .
So the burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked.
The five stages of Bible grief provide opportunities to initiate dialogue. I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.
It’s a foolproof method: simply ignore any critic of your criticism on the grounds that they are panicked, hysterical ranters who merely throw temper tantrums, and are on the level of flat-earthers and fake moon landing kooks.
 
Poisoning the well and ad hominem at its finest . . .
 
It rather spectacularly confirms a point that I’ve made for a long time, about actively polemical, “preachy,” anti-theist atheists. I wrote, for example, in July 2017:
Many online atheists are extremely insulting towards Christians. Atheists love to interact with dumb Christians: it confirms to them that they were right in rejecting Christianity (baby-bathwater stuff, but still . . .). Atheists have a vested interest in thinking that Christianity is stupid and that Christians are imbeciles.
This refers, I should say, to the large strain of anti-theist atheists. Not all atheists are anti-theists: those who spend their days and nights gloating about how supposedly stupid and gullible all of us Christians are. But many, many are of this mindset, and they are clearly predominant in online atheist venues.
 
So Dr. Madison’s game is very apparent and transparent: he’s out to propagandize and brainwash Christians to forsake their faith, just as he did. He has no interest whatever in intelligent, respectful discussion with any Christian who actually can put up a fight and offer substantive criticism of his arguments. It doesn’t further his purposes (to put it mildly) if his readers ever see that he is wrong in an argument, or that a lowly, idiotic, fairy-tale believing Christian presents a much more plausible case. It can’t possibly happen (atheists being so intellectually superior to us), so he makes sure that it never happens by excluding and refusing to enter into all such dialogue (including replying to my 35 critiques) from the outset.
 
That ain’t part of the agenda. So what does a guy like him do? He does exactly what we see above: lie about the critic and paint him in the worst possible light, so as to dismiss him and act as if his challenge is nonexistent. Apologists for Christianity like myself are panicked, hysterical ranters who merely throw temper tantrums, and are on the level of flat-earthers and fake moon landing kooks. That’s me, down to a tee, isn’t it? 
 
John Loftus, who runs the Debunking Christianity site where Madison posts, used the same unethical tactic in the last few weeks: for him (i.e., how he deludes himself and pretends, to maintain his game) I am a relentlessly “angry” person who “hates” anyone I disagree with. If you dare to disagree with anyone today, you get immediately pegged as a hater. What they call “hatred” and “anger,” I simply call honest intellectual differences and constructive dialogue.
 
These guys have no interest in actual dialogue, and so they have to smear those who advocate it and who threaten to overturn their nice little anti-theist atheist apple cart: who dare to pull back the curtain and expose what the Great Oz really is like.
 
I’m critiquing John Loftus’ book, Why I Became an Atheist now. There is no sign that he will be any more willing to interact than Dr. Madison, or Bob Seidensticker, who has also ignored 35 critiques of his stuff that he himself challenged me to write.
 
The game is up with all these clowns. Whatever one thinks of their atheism, wholly apart from that, they demonstrate over and over again that they are intellectual cowards, unable to defend their own positions, and lacking the courage of their convictions.
 
Small fry like me should be the easiest thing in the world for Madison, Loftus, and Seidensticker to dispose of: if indeed they believed their own triumphalistic, flatulent rhetoric and hideously inflated and exaggerated claims to supreme confidence in their own opinions. But they don’t. They name-call, lie, and flee for the hills. It’s obvious why they do it. They’re not fooling anyone who isn’t already a blind faith true believer in their pitiful cause of “proving” to the world that God doesn’t exist.
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Photo credit: No Swimming (1921), by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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August 30, 2019

“Scary” & “Vindictive” Yahweh? / Endless Stupefied Insults of God / Judgment Explained Yet Again  

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Thus far, I have counter-replied to 35 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (30 days’ total time, starting on 8-1-19). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period (example one / two / three).

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 11, “The Nasty, Get-Even God of the New Testament: A few items that the cherry-pickers don’t pick” (9-22-17).

On a recent post here I asked how the apostle Paul could possibly have known that there are “spiritual” bodies; this claim, of course, is yet another clue that his grip on reality was shaky at best (and I do exclude his hallucinations of the risen Jesus as a source of data). But a Christian apologist had a simple answer: that God had told him. Silly me, why didn’t I think of that? 

Yes, if there is a God, then there can clearly be revelation from that God (no problem for an all-powerful Being). As always, Dr. Madison never disproves the possibility of revelation; he simply mocks it as self-evidently ludicrous. 

It is a major misfortune when seer and theologian are combined in the same person, especially when that person is unhinged.

I think this is actually a new gratuitous insult of the Apostle Paul. I thought Dr. Madison had made every imaginable one, but alas . . . and I suppose he’ll come up with even more, before this sordid series is over.

And a few of Paul’s sentences here drive home the point that his theology was pretty grim. This charter document of the faith does not move Christianity beyond the vindictive God of the Old Testament—despite all of the hype to the contrary. Paul was sure that God’s default emotion was wrath.

To the contrary, Paul taught that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), that — right in this same chapter — He has “mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32), and that “he died for all” (2 Cor 5:15). That is “default” wrath? All we have to do is accept His free offer of grace and salvation. But many persons reject that, and then turn around and absurdly blame God as a Big Meanie. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it (like blaming a Governor when a life sentence prisoner rejects his pardon)?

In other words, he belonged to the ancient Yahweh cult, which was devoted to a scary, vindictive god. Moreover, he saw the cosmos as the plaything of that deity, . . . 

Truly, there is a nasty, get-even god prowling the New Testament as well as the Old. And Paul’s biggest fans, mean-spirited evangelicals today, who can’t wait for God to get even with sinners, . . . 

Paul’s god fails the decency test.

Right; what a horrific, spooky God, Who said stuff like (or was described as) the following evil, wicked things (as recorded in the Old Testament):

Deuteronomy 23:5 (RSV) the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loved you.

Deuteronomy 32:9-12 For the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. [10] “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. [11] Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, [12] the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no foreign god with him.

Psalm 103:3-5 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, [4] who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, [5] who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Isaiah 43:4 . . . you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, . . .

Isaiah 49:15-16 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. [16] Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; . . .

Isaiah 51:16 . . . I have put my words in your mouth, and hid you in the shadow of my hand, . . .

Isaiah 54:10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 62:4-5 . . . the LORD delights in you . . . [5] . . . as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Isaiah 63:7, 9 I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel which he has granted them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. . . . [9] . . . in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;

Isaiah 66:13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 31:3 I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Jeremiah 32:38-41 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. [39] I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. [40] I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. [41] I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

Hosea 2:19 And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.

who had chosen one specific tribe—the descendants of Abraham—as his favorite.

I guess that’s why He judged them over and over for disobedience in the Old Testament (one highlight being the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple in 586 BC and all the Jews being taken captive to Babylon), because He was playing favorites. As Tevye, the Jewish milkman in the wonderful film, Fiddler on the Roof, said, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

Dr. Madison goes on to catalogue a dirty laundry list of God’s supposed iniquities and sins: “It seems that God plays a role in leading people to sin”. I’ve covered this gross misunderstanding many times now and will not waste time doing it yet again. “this short-tempered god has little patience:”. I’ve dealt with God’s fair and just justice already too: most notably in part one and part two of this series, and my arfticle, Madison vs. Jesus #9: Clueless Re Rebellion & Judgment. “God is The Supreme Manipulator.” I guess that is how an atheist who thoroughly misunderstands God and distorts His revelation at every turn sees Him. How sad and pathetic.

They want The Man Upstairs to be a benevolent figure, their Cosmic Buddy—a great and wonderful wizard.

God is indeed loving and merciful and forgiving, as I demonstrated above that the Old Testament (believe it or not) teaches.

They don’t read the tedious theological tomes that I referenced earlier. Neither do they read Paul’s letters—other than to slog through the New Testament on the chapter-a-day plan.

That’s right. Christians (especially Catholics) are woefully deficient in Bible-reading, and in fully learning and grasping theology and why Christians believe what they do (which is where I can be of some aid, as an apologist). But we digress . . . 

Paul’s god will preserve the remnant, those who confess that Christ was raised from the dead, and everyone else in the world be damned—literally. . . . those who don’t accept Christ are just outta luck.

I’ve answered this over and over, but it’s really too stupid and empty-headed to deserve the dignity of any reply.

When the Son of Man comes—so says Matthew’s Jesus (24:37-38)—the suffering will be worse than at the time of Noah…when everyone on earth—except a very tiny remnant—died.

This is another ridiculous and asinine — and repeated — charge, that I disposed of in my article, Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #3: Nature & Time of 2nd Coming.

It didn’t seem possible that Dr. Madison could get any nastier and vituperative against [a nonexistent] God the Father, Paul, God the Son, Jesus, and the Bible and Christianity than he already has, but he managed to accomplish that infamous feat in this article. God help him. 

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Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 12, “A Mash-Up of Cult Babble and Hallmark Moments: Neatly packaged in one Bible chapter” (10-13-17). It’s mostly mockery with little or nothing else of any consequence, let alone exegetical substance, and so I will pass over it.

Likewise, Chapter 13, called, “Nope, the Word Of God Doesn’t Endure Forever: How to be a patriot when the world is about to end” (11-3-17), is a rant about Paul’s statements on obeying governmental leaders and another about Paul not knowing anything at all about Jesus: an argument beloved of the Jesus mythicists that Dr. Madison kowtows to (while — covering all bases — not quite agreeing totally with them). I’m here to debate theology and do comparative exegesis on that, not government. So again, I will pass.

His hit-piece on chapter 14 is entitled, “That Age-Old Story: Trying to Get Christians to Get Along: “Belonging to Jesus” doesn’t seem to help” (11-24-17). Sadly, it, too, is a combination of boring, boorish, and enthusiastic devotion to irrelevant minutiae, with a dose of good ol’ semi-mythicism again thrown in. No thanks. Almost exactly as in his series on Mark, where I decided not to deal with his last four chapter-installments, he seems to be petering out and descending into mere repetitions (always a weak point in his polemics as it is).  Maybe he is as tired of warring against the truth as I am in pointing out how he relentlessly fails in that effort. Who knows? Let’s see if there is anything of note or substance to grapple with in his next piece.

Dr. Madison’s treatment of chapter 15 of Romans is charmingly called, “A Gift of Crackpottery for the Gentiles: The apostle Paul shoulda stayed at home” (12-8-17). Unfortunately, it is a mere idiotic and ridiculous rant: filled with the repeated errors that I have been detailing all along. It’s almost as if a man in a debate has exhausted his brain of all fresh and compelling counter-arguments and has decided to simply toss manure out of a bucket onto his opponent and the audience.

This gives me little hope for chapter 16. Can it possibly be any better? Nope, it’s more of the same. Here we are blessed with yet more of the countless epithets and insults directed towards Paul throughout his ludicrous series: “obsessive-compulsive piety,” “rabbit hole of Christ fanaticism,” “paranoia,” “custodian of the cult,” “a fraud.”

Thus my series of counter-replies has come to an end after eleven installments. As I said in the introduction, which was present from the start: “Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all.” That was my plan and I stuck to it. Well, folks, he repeated and descended, and so I declined to wallow in the mud with him (at least at a certain point after having now replied eleven times).

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Photo credit: Saints Peter and Paul (c. 1620), anonymous (Roman school) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 30, 2019

“Circumcision of the Heart” & the Law / “Being Saved” in Ancient Jewish Scripture

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Thus far, I have counter-replied to 34 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (29 days’ total time, starting on 8-1-19). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period (example one / two / three).

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 10, “Making Deals with God…: So how’s that working out for you?” (8-25-17). 

And, clever fellow, Paul pulls a fast one to make a point. He quotes Moses . . . to back up his advocacy of faith in Christ. We find this in verse 8:

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)…” This is based on Deuteronomy 30:14: “…the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” We might give first prize for quoting scripture out of context to the writer of Matthew’s gospel, but Paul is no slouch either. (Can we cut them some slack because they believed the Old Testament was a coded text—and they knew the code—to be mined for information about Christ? NO.)

The whole thrust of Deuteronomy 29-30 is Yahweh’s deal (covenant) with Israel: he will be their god if they will be his people—and the key to that deal is their observance of the law. Here are representative texts:

30:9-10: “…and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

30:11: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God[a] that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.”

But all of this had become irrelevant to Paul: righteousness could never be achieved by following the law. Paul tells his readers that the “word” mentioned in Deuteronomy is “the word of faith that WE proclaim”—“we” meaning himself—i.e., Christ provided the magic formula for getting around the law as a measure of righteousness: Paul distorts the text in Deuteronomy. The author of Deuteronomy did not feel that following the law was impossible: “ Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.” It’s no surprise that Paul neglects to quote this verse.

There is no contradiction here at all, as much as Dr. Madison desperately strains to try to create one. Paul has no trouble at all with good works. He encourages them as absolutely necessary, just as Jesus did, as I proved in installment #3. His primary point (often made in his epistles) is that faith and God’s grace are the key things that bring about both the ability to follow God’s moral law and also ultimate salvation.

We have to cooperate with those in order to do any good thing. These elements are present also in the larger passage in Deuteronomy from which Paul draws. It is no surprise that Dr. Madison ignores these particular passages, which provide the key connection. How does a man follow the law, according to Moses? Does he do it on his own power, or by cooperating with God’s?:

Deuteronomy 30:6, 10 (RSV) And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. . . . [10] if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

God provides the necessary power to follow His laws, but man still has the freedom to either walk in that power or spurn it and rebel. Both these strains are present in Moses and the Torah and in Paul. Paul expands upon and develops these motifs in Romans 10:

Romans 10:3, 9-10 For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. . . . [9] because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved

What Paul is saying, then, is that this righteousness can’t be obtained merely by trying to follow the law on our own power. It requires God’s grace and “God’s righteousness” (basically the same as grace: which word isn’t used theologically in the Old Testament) or else it is impossible.

It’s made possible by God granting this power, received in and by faith: “God will circumcise your heart.” For more on this broad soteriological theme, see the section, “Eternal Salvation & Damnation in the Old Testament” in installment #4 of this series.

Lucky Paul: he’s the guy that Yahweh chose to update the world on his salvation scheme (God changed his mind?)

No; God didn’t change His mind. He had the “plan” of salvation all “worked out” from “Day One” (being omniscient and outside of time). It merely developed, just like all other Big Ideas (secular or religious) do. The two testaments are perfectly consistent, as I think I have shown. The New is simply more developed.

In Deuteronomy the deal was pretty straightforward: God will treat Israel as his chosen people if they follow his laws and commandments. There is no focus here, by the way, on “being saved”—earning eternal life. That concept did not creep into Judaism until well after the time of the Deuteronomist. What was the reward for keeping God’s commandments? Well, Yahweh would refrain from reigning terror on them (graphically depicted), and would be nice instead, Deut. 30:19-20:

“Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors…”

Presented as the words of Moses delivered before the conquest of Canaan, virtually all modern scholars reject its attribution to Moses and date the book much later, between the 7th and 5th centuries BC. Furthermore, scholars have identified multiple literary strata in Deuteronomy, written by different authors at different times. Chapters 12-26, containing the Deuteronomic Code, are the earliest, followed by the second prologue (Ch. 5-11), and then the first prologue (Ch. 1-4); the chapters following 26 are similarly layered. Most scholars believe that the Deuteronomic Code was composed during the late monarchic period, around the time of King Josiah (late 7th century BC), although some scholars have argued for a later date, either during the Babylonian captivity (597-539 BC) or during the Persian period (539-332 BC). (Wikipedia, “Book of Deuteronomy”)

If we accept this schema for the sake of argument, then, also according to Wikipedia (“Book of Job”), “scholars generally agree that it was written between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE, with the 6th century BCE as the most likely period for various reasons.” If we accept this “most likely” 6th century BC date, then it was contemporaneous with Deuteronomy, rather than “well after” its time. And it clearly teaches both afterlife (possibly implied eternal life, too) and bodily resurrection:

Job 19:25-27 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; [26] and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, [27] whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (cf. 14:12-15)

Moreover, if Psalms (notwithstanding the infinite, infallible wisdom of “modern scholars”) can be traced to King David (1000 BC) and his son Solomon, then there is explicit mention of salvation (34:4-8; 49:7-8, 15; 51:1-17; 73:23-25) and eternal life (16:10-11; 21:4, 6; 23:6; 49:9; 73:26) long before “modern scholars” date Deuteronomy. See all these passages in installment #4. Ah, the sublime wonders of atheist biblical “exegesis.”

And even today most of the people on the planet don’t “confess with their lips and believe in their hearts” that Jesus rose from the dead. Thus they are ineligible for salvation according to Paul’s playbook.

No they are not, as I already explained in installment #2. Dr. Madison is again contradicting himself, and one of his own rare concessions to what the Bible and Paul actually teach, just as I showed that he did in my installment #8.

Dr. Madison ends with juvenile, self-refuting insults of St. Paul: “delusional . . . hallucinations. . . wacky cult preachers . . . crank.”

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Photo credit: Saint Peter and Saint Paul (c. 1616), by Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 30, 2019

“Hardening Hearts” and Hebrew “Block Logic”

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Thus far, I have counter-replied to 33 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (29 days’ total time, starting on 8-1-19). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period (example one / two / three).

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 9, “How Did the Great Christian Swindle Begin?: It followed an old script…and added its own spin” (8-4-17).

Paul hits some familiar sour notes. Nothing can be allowed to minimize God—especially not anything a person could do; God calls all the shots, vv. 16-18:

“So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.” So God has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.

Say what? God gets the credit for making people hard-hearted? Kinda puts at least one hole in the free will argument. This reminds us of Paul’s bludgeon theology found in Romans 1; three times there he says that God “gave people up” to their lusts, degraded passions and debased minds (vv. 24, 26 & 28). Also check out his chilling list of people “who deserve to die” in vv. 29-31.

I’ve dealt with this “hardening” motif many times. It’s far more complex than Dr. Madison makes out. In a nutshell, it means (all relevant passages examined together) that people choose in their free will to rebel against God and to sin, and God allows it. It’s one of innumerable examples of biblical non-literal expression:

God “Hardening Hearts”: How Do We Interpret That?

Reply to a Calvinist: Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

Madison vs. Jesus #7: God Prohibits Some Folks’ Repentance?

Paul anticipates that people might object to this view of God, but he offers a typical putdown, v. 20: “But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” Moreover, he is convinced that God has made some people for destruction as a way to show off his wrath, v. 22: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction.”

But wait, it gets worse, v. 23: “…and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—“ God shows wrath is order to make a nice contrast with his mercy! Then Paul boasts that he and his followers are “the objects of mercy,” part of the in-crowd, v. 24: “ …including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” And he quotes Hosea to drive home the point that his crowd “shall be called the children of the living God.”

It’s a difficult chapter to understand, and Calvinists have famously and wrongly used it to bolster their false theology of double predestination, but there is a perfectly acceptable and plausible non-Calvinist interpretation of it, as I have written about: Romans 9: Plausible Non-Calvinist Interpretation. Here’s an excerpt, from Marvin Wilson’s Our Father Abraham:

[C]oncepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine. This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antimony, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension — and often illogical relation — to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic.” Examples of this in practice are the alternate hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God, or by Pharaoh himself; and the reference to loving Jacob while hating Esau — both of which, significantly, are referred to often by Calvinist writers.

Consideration of certain forms of block logic may give one the impression that divine sovereignty and human responsibility were incompatible. The Hebrews, however, sense no violation of their freedom as they accomplish God’s purposes.” The back and forth between human freedom and divine sovereignty is a function of block logic and the Hebrew mindset. Writers like Palmer who proudly declare that they believe what they read in spite of what they see as an apparent absurdity are ultimately viewing the Scriptures, wrongly, through their own Western lens in which they assume that all that they read is all that there is.

Most of the rest of this critique is repetition of Dr. Madison’s tired, oh-so-familiar-by-now themes that I have already dealt with, so I’ll pass.

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Photo credit: Trial of the Apostle Paul (1875), by Nikolai Bodarevsky (1850-1921). It shows Paul before Herod Agrippa II flanked by his sister Berenice and Roman procurator Porcius Festus [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 29, 2019

Meaning of “Flesh” / Original Sin & Man’s Rebellion / Paul’s Triumphant Solution / Paul & Greek Culture

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Thus far, I have counter-replied to 32 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (28 days’ total time, starting on 8-1-19). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period (example one / two / three).

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 8, “The Force Field that Protects REAL Christians: Forget the Merit Badge. Go for the Spirit Shield” (7-7-17).

It would not be hard to come up with a list of the Top Ten Worst books or chapters of the Bible, and I suggest that one of the chapters that would get mixed reviews at best is Romans 8. Many Christians would give it thumbs-up because one of the apostle Paul’s famous “Hallmark moments” is found at the end of Romans 8 (vv. 37-39):

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

But the 30-some verses that lead up to this eloquent assurance don’t get as much traffic, and, I suspect, would get substantial push-back from most of the folks who fill the pews on Sunday morning. These people live in the real 21st century world—which wasn’t even supposed to happen, according to Paul—and would not be able to identify with his despondent outlook.

Yeah, the above passage sounds downright “despondent” doesn’t it? Like virtually all atheist apostates, Dr. Madison is determined to see only what he wants to see, and little or nothing else. We continue examining his “caricature-tour” of the epistle of Romans: truly an Alice-in-Wonderland world that is shaped according to Dr. Madison’s whim and fancies and wild imaginings.

Paul is not good news. And the Book of Romans is chock full of bad theology.

Thanks for that information. Whew! That was a close one. What would we do without David Madison advising us that the Apostle Paul is an idiot and raving lunatic? We’d all be lost at sea without a life jacket.

I’m pretty sure that most Christian sensibilities about living a good life would collide head on with Paul’s view of the world, 8:5-8:

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Where does this hostility to the flesh come from? At the end of chapter 7 (vv.18-24), Paul demonstrates what an anguished soul he was, grievously wounded by low self-esteem:

As I alluded to last time, Paul’s use of the word flesh here and elsewhere is in a very specific, non-literal sense. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Flesh”) explains:

Frequently the distinction is made to emphasize the weakness or inferiority of the flesh, as opposed to the superiority of the spirit (Isaiah 31:3Matthew 26:41Mark 14:38Romans 6:19). . . . ]

6. Applied to the Carnal Nature:

Flesh in the sense of carnal nature (sarkikos, “carnal”; the King James Version uses sarkinos in Romans 7:14). Human nature, being inferior to the spiritual, is to be in subjection to it. If man refuses to be under this higher law, and as a free agent permits the lower nature to gain an ascendancy over the spirit, the “flesh” becomes a revolting force (Genesis 6:3,12John 1:13Romans 7:141 Corinthians 3:1,3Colossians 2:181 John 2:16). Thus, the fleshly or carnal mind, i.e. a mind in subjection to carnal nature, is opposed to the Divine spirit, who alone is a sufficient corrective, Christ having secured for us the power of overcoming (Romans 8:3), if we manifest a deep desire and an earnest endeavor to overcome (Galatians 5:17,18).

Dr. Madison shows that he understands this, later on in his article: “Please note, by the way, that Paul’s focus with the word “flesh” probably wasn’t even sex. By this he means the whole range of corporeal/material reality—as opposed to the spiritual.”

“…the law of sin that dwells in my members”? “…this body of death”? Poor Paul was obsessed about death—and finding a way to get out of it. According to Paul, all of creation was under a death sentence—not because the universe is expanding and will dissipate into nothingness—but because sin, a power that pervades everything, corrupts everything. As his tortured mind hammered out his dismal theology, Paul was sure that God’s optimism in Genesis 1:31 had been cancelled: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Maybe once upon a time, but no longer. In Romans 5:12 he explains that sin and death came into the world through Adam, and creation has been ‘groaning’ ever since.

It’s called original sin. It doesn’t follow that Paul is in despair. This very chapter provides the remedy, and it is a completely triumphant, positive, sunny outlook indeed. Dr. Madison must know this (he couldn’t possibly be so ignorant as to not know), so what he does is very clever: that is, from the cynical, sophistical viewpoint that he has adopted.

He quickly dismisses the glowing ending as a “Hallmark moment” (which he appears to think is an exception to Paul’s usual “dark / black” outlook) and then immediately goes back to Romans 7: the passages that led up to Romans 8, which gives the solution to the age-old miseries and problems of human sin described in the previous chapter. Dr. Madison wants no part of the answer and solution (having rejected God, and in bondage to sin as a result). So he regurgitates his silly and fallacious arguments about Romans 7.

If Paul has a “tortured mind” and “dismal theology” then so do all Christians, who believe in original sin or some type of fall from the original blissful Edenic state of mankind. We’re all in that same boat; thus, Dr. Madison is revealing his bigotry, not just towards Paul, but towards all of us who follow historic orthodox Christian teaching.

Yes, of course, God’s original creation was good. We’re the ones who rebelled and brought in sin. Dr. Madison cites Genesis 1:31 (which no one disagrees with). But he purposely omits other passages shortly afterwards in Genesis:

Genesis 6:5 (RSV) The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:11-12 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. [12] And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 

Genesis 18:32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 

Genesis 19:13 “for we [God’s two angels: v. 1] are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” 

Genesis 19:24-25 Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; [25] and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 

Dr. Madison acts as if St. Paul were the first or the only person to note the sad, sordid history of man’s sin, wickedness, and rebellion. It’s ludicrous. It’s no different than it ever was. Has he never heard of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao?

Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t think most Christians are in tune with such gloom. This is not the heartwarming faith they bargained for.

True, the wide extent of ignorance of theology can never be underestimated. Christians are generally as poorly educated as they ever were. But Christian theology holds to original sin. This is what Christianity teaches. It’s only “gloom” in terms of the continuing dominance of sin in actuality. But Paul (like all good Christian evangelists) provides the solution to the gloom.

It’s right in front of Dr. Madison, but he wants to ignore it; obviously because he doesn’t believe it. But whether he believes it or not, intellectual honesty would or should compel him to at least accurately interpret Paul’s message. He picks and chooses what he will deal with, which is a silly and dishonest method, unworthy of any serious thinker, whether atheist, Christian, or of any other belief-system.

They show up at church to worship and enjoy community, to affirm that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, and that believing in his resurrection is key to their salvation: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” But they are also interested in enjoying life as much as possible; they are fully engaged in jobs, hobbies, sports, vacations, charities—achieving as much contentment and as many happy outcomes as possible. Paul’s advice to his contemporaries was, “Put all such things aside. Focus instead on dwelling in the spirit, to be ready for the coming of Jesus, any day now.”

This is an absurd caricature of Paul’s teaching, as I demonstrated in installment #6.

Unless I’m much mistake[n], Christians rejoice in marriage and enjoyment of the flesh. They would balk at Paul’s dark thoughts: “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God”… “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” It would be a mistake to think that Paul is just making a slam against sex here, although he viewed sex with distaste. In I Corinthians 7 he says it is best for a man not to touch a woman, and only begrudgingly does he say it’s okay for couples to have sex: . . . So, away with sex! …if he had his way.

Paul is not against sex or marriage, as I covered in installment #1.

It’s no surprise that Paul shows no interest whatever in art, literature, theatre and amusements.

Really? Funny, then, that he is aware of Greek figures in literature and art (poetry), theatre, and philosophy, as shown in his discourse on Mars Hill with the philosophers in Athens and other passages in 1 Corinthians and his letter to Titus. In Acts 17:28, he cited Cretica, by Epimenides (7th or 6th century BC), a Greek philosopher-poet (whom he also cites in Titus 1:12) and the Greek poet Aratus of Cilicia (d. 240 BC); expanding upon their understanding as well (17:29):

Acts 17:28-29 for `In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.’ [29] Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man.

Titus 1:12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 

Since he cited both of them by memory (quoting the first half of the fifth line, word for word, of Aratus’ astronomical poem Hymn to Zeus), this certainly indicates a knowledge of secular art and literature. Paul also cited the Greek comic dramatist Menander (d. c. 290 BC): “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor 15:33), from his play, Thais. So much for having “no interest whatever in . . . amusements.”

Thus, it is no surprise that Dr. Madison shows no interest in accurately portraying what Paul was interested in, being dead wrong once again, and all because he made a rather stupid universal negative assertion that has now been refuted. Paul was from Tarsus. A Christian article provides a background on this city:

Tarsus was a prime city of the fertile plain of East Cilicia, in Southeast Asia Minor. It was an important and culturally rich city. The Roman Empire favored the city of Tarsus. It became the capital of the province of Cilicia, following Pompey’s victories (67 B.C.). Notable Roman leaders visited the city. The orator Cicero took up residence in the city (51-50 B.C.) and Julius Caesar visited it in 47 B.C. Strabo, the Greek geographer and historian who wrote in the early part of the first century, tells of the enthusiasm of its inhabitants for learning, and especially for philosophy. In this respect, he says, Tarsus surpasses Athens and Alexandria and every other university town (Geographica 14.5.13). Tarsus was also famous for noted Sophists such as Archademus and Antipar, and it was known for well-known philosophers like Plutiades and Diogenes (Geographica 14.5.14). While Paul received his education in Jerusalem, the place of his birth undoubtedly exerted influence.

His only obsession—and it’s a massive one—is to make sure that he has achieved the status of being “in Christ,” because that’s the only way he can get out of dying. Romans 8:11: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

Sounds to me like that is the best possible obsession that anyone could have. May it mightily consume all of us!

Now let’s take a look again at Paul’s famous Hallmark Moment at the end of Romans 8, i.e., “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, etc. etc. will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These words of assurance are NOT addressed to the world at large; he says this to the select few in the congregation at Rome who have achieved the status of dwelling in Christ. . . . This text is so commonly read at funerals as if Paul had issued a come-one, come-all Jesus-loves-you statement to the world at large. Not at all. 

This is beyond ludicrous. Obviously, it’s written to Christians, but equally obvious is the fact that anyone who decides to become a Christian (the offer is open to all) can also partake of these blessings. Much ado about nothing . . . 

So anyone who doesn’t dwell in the spirit of Christ is out of luck: this assurance is not meant for those outside the cult. 

Here Dr. Madison contradicts himself. He already conceded (in an ultra-rare moment of actually being charitable and fair to St. Paul), that Paul didn’t teach such exclusivism. He did this in his commentary on Romans chapter 2: which I cited in my counter-reply:

Again, to his credit, Paul saw that being in God’s favor didn’t depend on being Jewish, i.e., in the company of those who had heard God’s law for centuries. “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (v. 13). No matter who you are, you can qualify, and I find vv. 14-15 startling; did Paul really realize what he was saying: “When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness…”

It follows that if one need not necessarily be Jewish to be saved, that they need not necessarily be Christian, either: if they have never been exposed to — or properly educated about — the gospel and Christianity. Once they hear and learn, they are responsible for that knowledge. But if they have not heard, then the criteria of salvation are a bit different, as Paul plainly taught in Romans 2:13-15.

[passing over repetitions, sheer tomfoolery, and rabbit trails]

I think I’ll take a pass on this huge helping of magical thinking. A few years ago, when I mentioned the Book of Romans to a church-going Christian friend, she said, “I don’t know it”—which I thought was pretty cool. Par for the course in terms of Christian ignorance of the Bible, but she was lucky to have escaped Paul’s creepy ramblings. “Delusional cult fanatic” is no exaggeration: Paul gives theism a bad name.

As  meme I put up yesterday states: “For people wanting to remove God from everything, good news! He won’t be in hell, either.”

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Photo credit: St Paul before the Proconsul (1515), by Raphael (1483-1520) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 29, 2019

Stock Atheist Insults / Flesh vs. Spirit / Did Paul Wallow in “Personal Torment”?

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Thus far, I have counter-replied to 31 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, from three different series, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (28 days’ total time, starting on 8-1-19). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period (example one / two / three).

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 7, “Gosh, Why Is THAT in the Bible?: One big chunk of the New Testament can go in the trash” (4-21-17).

No, there is no such thing as a Holy Man who is privy to God’s thoughts . . . 

Really? No saints, no prophets, no apostles, and no Jesus Who is God, no fathers and doctors of the Church? What a despairing view.

As any layperson who has plowed through the whole Bible will testify, there seems to be a lot that doesn’t need to be there, that shouldn’t be there. The common sense reaction, “How in the world is this the Word of God?” applies to literally thousands of texts—although many folks wouldn’t say so out loud.

So I guess we need a wise guy like Dr. Madison to decide what makes the cut in the Bible, rather than holy people (whose existence he has just denied) and the Church of God deciding such mundane things for us.

Just how bad can some scripture be? . . . in terms of pathetic human babbling—resulting in pathetic theobabble—it would be pretty hard to beat Romans 7. In fact my distaste for Paul goes back to my teenage years; Bible geek though I was, I dreaded reading his clunky letters. Then in 1992 I came across British scholar A.N. Wilson’s perfect description of Paul: “To say that he was self-contradictory is an understatement. He was a man who was fighting himself and quarreling with himself all the time; and he managed to project the warfare in his own breast on to the Cosmos itself” (Jesus, p. 23).

That explains quite a bit. Dr. Madison ran across this slop in 1992: as arrogant and assuming as his own endless trashings of the Bible, and it apparently set him on the course that ended in atheistic despair. We are what we eat. As Paul wisely stated:

2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. 

Dr. Madison found Wilson, Carrier, and others to satisfy his itching ears, and he has regurgitated their irrational pablum ever since (looks like).

So would this be your first choice for a guy to write scripture? No. His personal torment did not result in insights about God.

Yes (were it for me to select). I absolutely love St. Paul and his personality and style. He’s on my short list (with Jesus, Mary, St. Augustine, St. Therese, St. Teresa of Avila, and Cardinal Newman) of people to go talk to, when I (Lord willing) get to heaven. I guess that makes me a nutty fanatic, too, huh? So be it. The so-called “smart people” insulted Paul from the beginning. In Athens, this is what some of the pointy-heads said about him: “Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, ‘What would this babbler say?'” (Acts 17:18a). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Writing Theology from the Therapist Couch

Paul felt that sin was a cosmic force, and—much like an aggressive cancer—invades people to their very core:

Exactly right. It’s called original sin and concupiscence (propensity to sin). It’s the easiest Christian and biblical doctrine to defend, as it is self-evident by observing any and all people.

“For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (7:14-20)

He had super-sized internalized low self-esteem. Today we would advise therapy and even meds is some cases.

Nonsense. Christians draw a stark distinction between the flesh (which means that part of fallen humanity that wars against God, and is separate from the Holy Spirit and grace; not literal flesh) and the spirit: a common rhetorical dichotomy in Paul: especially in Romans 8 and Galatians 5. Paul is highlighting the flesh and its fruits in this chapter, just as he will highlight (in deliberate contradistinction) the triumphant Spirit in chapter 8.

It’s a dramatic build-up, so to speak. He is saying here that we can’t win this battle with our flesh and sinful desires, by ourselves (the heresy of Pelagianism or works-salvation). We need God’s enabling grace and power (which he details in the next chapter).

This is not low self-esteem; this is the reality of very flawed and frail human beings. But those who deny sin have to redefine and rationalize this sort of statement away. The way Dr. Madison does it is to classify St. Paul as a mentally ill nut and fanatic, in need of medication for his malady, rather than admit that he himself ever suffers from what Paul describes here.

I think it is far more “mentally ill” and abnormal (not to mention prideful) to deny that we have any sin or struggles with sin, than to openly admit the obvious.

But he was sure that the Cosmos had provided a fix for his anguish. “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” This is personal theism with a vengeance; Paul had horrible forebodings about a wrathful God aware of his inability to defeat sin. However, he had discovered, through his hallucinations, the magical solution: believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Verse 7: “Brothers, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” But did this really work for Paul? He’s complaining a lot in these verses about the on-going battle: “Wretched man that I am!”

Yes, it did work, for him and for Christians generally. See Romans 8 and Paul’s entire corpus. We can be sure that if Paul didn’t write this chapter about human frailty, then atheists like Dr, Madison would be saying that he is merely “pie-in-the-sky” and a juvenile fantasist divorced from reality of human struggles and sufferings and existential angst. But if he does write it, we get this condescending, patronizing tripe. If he didn’t express this aspect of the Christian life, then the cry no doubt would be that all Christians are self-righteous and “holier-than-thou”: folks who deny that they have any problems, who live in self-delusion. We just can’t win.

Now it’ll be fun to see what Dr. Madison does with Romans 8. Perhaps he will say that is unreality and pie-in-the-sky “magic.” When Paul appears too “happy” then atheists will say he is nuts (excessive religious “enthusiasm” etc.), but if it looks like he is too sad, he is a nut. See how it works? It’s Jekyll and Hyde. Paul is two-faced. We Christians are madmen no matter what we believe or express. We can never be right.

Bear in mind that this outburst is made in a letter to a church he’s never visited. 

So what? We’re to believe that every pen pal relationship of people who never met is invalid?

From Galatians 2 we know that he didn’t get along with Peter . . . 

From Galatians 2 what we know is that he rebuked Peter one time for behavioral hypocrisy. Big deal. The Bible says that “faithful are the wounds of a friend” and “rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” That proves nothing about any supposed ongoing difficulty. I’ve rebuked my children scores of times. Does it follow that I don’t “get along” with them? No!: not logically, and not in actual fact.

For one who thinks himself so wise (able to judge, mock, and dismiss the Bible and holy persons at the drop of a hat), Dr. Madison seems exceedingly naive and unrealistic about human relationships (in drawing such a ridiculous conclusion).

His theology may have appealed to simple-minded converts, but how was he perceived personally? Who knows—when the scroll was received, some of them may have rolled their eyes: “Oh no, not another letter from that insufferable dingbat.”

This is what passes for “rational argument” in Dr. Madison’s eyes . . . 

Forgive me for resorting to a cliché, but the theology spun from Paul’s tortured brain reminds me of Macbeth’s bitter lament about life; the only words that don’t apply to Paul—darn it—are “then is heard no more.”

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

How melodramatic. This is self-refuting so I need not give it any further attention.

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Photo credit: Paul in Athens, on Mars Hill, Anonymous (19th century German) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 28, 2019

Baptismal Regeneration / Is Paul a Killjoy? / Paul & the Last Days

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Thus far, I have counter-replied to / answered 29 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, from three different series, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (26 days’ total time, starting on 8-1-19). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period (example one / two / three).

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 6, “The New Testament Peddles an Ancient Gimmick: An old tradition of selling a product you don’t have” (4-7-17).

In verse 15 we find that Paul makes the point again that being “under grace” grants no license to sin. Remember that Paul had advised converts to Christianity that, although they could use Old Testament law as a guide for behavior, they are free of it as a means to salvation: “Should we sin because we are no longer under the law? By no means!”

Of course it gives no such license. Refraining from sin is the most basic and obvious message of the entire Bible. To not do so, and to do so brazenly, is the serious error of antinomianism.

But the primary thrust of this chapter is Paul’s pursuit of the gimmick (“you won’t have to die”) that has always prompted priests to market a product they don’t have. His approach in this instance is convoluted; he garbles baptism with death, vv. 3-5: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” How many readers over the centuries have been baffled by this theobabble?

It’s not “babble” at all; it is the teaching of baptismal regeneration: held by the vast majority of Christians throughout history. Dr. Madison, as usual, is dumbfounded by any reference to the supernatural or sacramentalism. It’s what he does. But note again (as I point out every time) that he makes no rational argument against it.

He assumes it is absurd and ridiculous — knowing that his cheerleading fan club on his own website will agree — and merely mocks it (“gimmick” / “convoluted”“theobabble”), which is no rational argument. If it’s not a rational argument, then it proves exactly nothing. So don’t be fooled by this unworthy polemical and sophistical tactic. It’s Dr. Madison who is offering the con job, not the Apostle Paul, as he falsely claims.

Dr. Madison continues on for several paragraphs in the same vein, offering choice tidbits like this one: “According to one anonymous wit, ‘Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.'” Whatever. I will continue to operate in the sphere of rational and objective analysis. This kind of smart ass silliness is not that. But we’ll see if Dr. Madison offers us anything of substance in the rest of his critique. At least he offers the following charitable take (?) on St. Paul:

I really don’t think that Paul was a con man—there’s no hint that he didn’t believe what he peddled so relentlessly—but he certainly mastered the role.

So Paul was a sincere nut / fanatic. That’s the closest thing to a compliment that we will see here! He goes on to argue that Paul is a killjoy and opponent of happiness. Trying to conquer and avoid sin is, according to Dr. Madison, “obsessed.” He wrongly concludes:

How can you follow a guy who wants you to turn off happiness? He begrudgingly gave assent to couples having sex, but not quite: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (I Corinthians 7:1)

I dealt with this claim that Paul was “anti-sex” in my first installment of this series.

There are gazillions of Christians today who work hard at their jobs, are devoted to family and friends, enjoy passion and sex, pursue sports and hobbies and can’t wait for vacation. Turn off happiness? No thanks. And in this context they believe in Jesus and try to be good people. Which is to say that they are not Paul’s brand of Christian; they have no desire to be spooked by his holy rants into extreme piety.

“Happiness” is not the supreme goal of the Christian life. The word appears only once in the entire Bible (RSV): at Lamentations 3:17 (although “blessed” in biblical language is a synonym of “happy”). The Bible refers (in terms of what may be called “interior fulfillment”) to joy and peace and hope (in conjunction with grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit): which are much deeper and more fulfilling (less fleeting) things than happiness.

Paul in his epistles refers to joy 21 times, to peace 48 times, and hope 54 times. Here are some prime examples of his sunny, optimistic outlook:

Romans 5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

1 Corinthians 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Ephesians 1:18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, [17] comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with you all.

1 Timothy 6:17 . . . God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy.

This is hardly the stuff of long-faced, pessimistic, doom-and-gloom puritanical killjoys (quite the contrary!), but Dr. Madison will continue the propagandistic mythmaking and ignore passages like these as long as doing so furthers his cynical, unbelieving agenda.

Why have Christian theologians fawned endlessly over Paul and his strident theology? Isn’t his zealous confidence that Jesus would soon descend through the clouds a big tipoff that he was a crank? Remove that expectation, by the way, and his theology unravels. No, I guess Paul wasn’t the con man. He was the fool.

I dealt with this claim that Paul was “sure” that the end was coming very soon, in my previous reply: Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #3: Nature & Time of 2nd Coming. See also my related paper: “The Last Days”: Meaning in Hebrew, Biblical Thought.

Nice try, and e for effort, but no cigar . . . The only “fool” here is Dr. Madison.

***

Photo credit: St. Paul in Prison (1627), by Rembrandt (1606-1669) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

 

August 28, 2019

Conversion & Apostolic Credentials / Pre-Pauline Evangelism / “Rogue Apostle”? / Falsely Alleged Fears / Universal Atonement / Foolishness of the Cross / Unspiritual Persons

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Thus far, I have counter-replied to / answered 28 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, from three different series, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (25 days’ total time). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period.

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 5, “Theology Written Under the Influence of OCD: When you don’t bother to have your work checked…” (3-24-17).

When you don’t bother to have your work checked…

If you’re looking for Bible texts that are red-flag worthy (a good project, I might suggest, for Christian[s] who are wondering, Why am I taking this stuff seriously?) here’s one to put on your list: Galatians 1:11-12, in which the apostle Paul positions himself for maximum credibility: 

“For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

So picture this. Paul experienced his dramatic Damascus Road conversion to Christ—he never gives the exact details in his letters—those we find in three fictionalized versions in the Book of Acts.

Why would he have to, if the book of Acts contains two firsthand accounts from him (22:5-16; 26:12-21)? Of course it is completely arbitrary and speculative to say they arefictionalized versions”. This is more of the atheist silliness when it comes to any Bible text that they either dispute or don’t care for. But no one else is obligated to accept the “Gospel Truth” that some portion is merely a made-up story. I’ve been reading Paul and the rest of the Bible for 42 years now, and am very familiar with his style and personality. These two accounts in Acts sure sound like him to me.

Wouldn’t you think that, after bouncing back from the trauma of hearing Jesus from the sky (which included being struck blind), he would have rushed back to Galilee or Jerusalem to find the disciples? Surely there were apologies to be made for his persecution campaigns, and surely he would be desperate to learn as much as he could about Jesus, whom he had never met.

Yes, it seems like he would, but people don’t always do what we might expect them to do. We have no good reason to doubt the story as told.

But no, Paul bragged to the Galatian Christians about not getting his information from disciples and eyewitnesses. All he knows came from “revelations.”

How is this necessarily to be regarded as “bragging”? If revelations do indeed exist, it’s perfectly plausible. But of course, Dr. Madison denies that revelations exist, because he thinks there is no God to give them. So obviously for him it is all nonsense and fairy tales. He can believe whatever he likes, but the mere fact that he disbelieves something is no proof that it is nonexistent.

What? Let that sink in. Why aren’t Christians massively suspicious about this? Why would you pay any attention whatever to a man who hallucinated his way into this new Jewish cult?

Obviously because we believe in revelations and in the power of Jesus to transform lives. I’ve experienced it myself. A vision is not a hallucination. The first is a real thing; the second is not.

Paul is celebrated as the first great missionary hero, but somehow the faith had already spread to Damascus (Paul was headed there to try to put a stop to it). 

This is yet another non-issue.  “First great missionary hero” (which Paul was) is logically distinct from “first Christian missionary / missionaries”. Paul’s conversion “is normally dated to AD 33–36” (Wikipedia, “Conversion of Paul the Apostle”), whereas the death of Jesus occurred in about 30 AD. That allowed 3-6 years of missionary activity before Paul became a Christian or evangelist.

There was already outreach to Gentiles during Jesus’ ministry (as I detailed in another reply to Dr. Madison). Jesus gave His disciples the great commission, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), and we also had the seventy disciples (Lk 10:1-20) doing outreach: which plausibly and likely could and would have included Gentiles by this time.

Some early Christian figures, like Hippolytus (c. 170-235) believed that Ananias was one of the seventy. But whether he was or not, there was plenty of time for him to be in Damascus as a Christian, and for him and other Christians to be proclaiming the gospel there. It was only 136 miles from Jerusalem, as the crow flies. Antioch and Cyprus were further away (300 and 254 miles). But we know that missionaries arrived in both places after the scattering (Acts 8:1b, 4) as a result of the persecution of Stephen (which Paul witnessed and approved of: Acts 8:1a):

Acts 11:19-20 (RSV) Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoeni’cia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. [20] But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyre’ne, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, if they made it that far before Paul even converted, certainly some would have preached (and/or resided) in Damascus: less than half the distance from Jerusalem, compared to Antioch, and 118 miles closer than Cyprus: both of which were being evangelized before Paul became a Christian. 

Even more remarkably, early on there was a congregation in Rome—without Paul’s help. As the faith spread, we have to wonder just what, exactly, the earliest unlettered Christians believed and taught about Jesus. Actually, we have no idea.

All it would take was one zealous missionary Christian, on a boat from Israel to Rome, to start a church there.

It would seem there was no uniform message about Jesus. Paul himself complains about this, e.g., in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.”

That’s right. There are always heretics and false prophets. Jesus predicted it, and Paul expresses the same opinion in his letters. But the existence of counterfeits does not disprove that the authentic apostolic Christian teaching and Divine Person of Jesus exists.

When we read Paul’s self-designation as a rogue apostle, we can suspect that Paul himself was a culprit in spreading fake news about Jesus. His ‘truth’ about Jesus came out of his own head. No one seems to have asked, “Can you verify that?” or “Can you do some fact-checking with the original disciples to make sure you’ve got it right?” Paul didn’t have anyone check his work. 

It was later verified as authentic teaching and a legitimate calling from God, in consultation with other apostles (Gal 1:18-19; 2:1-9). This is certainly people “check[ing] his work,” isn’t it? Paul also participated in the Council of Jerusalem, presided over by James and Peter (Acts 15:1-29): which “official” teaching he then proclaimed on his missionary journeys (16:4).

This can hardly be construed as “rogue”: when he participated in the most important Christian council prior to Nicea in 325, and then announced its teachings as binding. It’s just one of the innumerable “Madison myths.” I’ve addressed this issue also with a Protestant: Dialogue with a Calvinist: Was Paul a “Lone Ranger”?

Nor did anyone really care: if he claimed a revelation, that was awesome enough.

This is untrue as well, as the account in Acts records with regard to his immediate post-conversion period:

Acts 9:26-27 And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. [27] But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 

His tortured theology, his personal terrors and OCD, shaped his hallucinated chats with the risen Jesus—and we see this full strength in Romans 5.

Quintessential example of the logical fallacy of “poisoning the well”. Nothing whatsoever in this laundry list is established beyond all reasonable doubt.

It is not hard to read between the lines that Paul was terrified of death, and he was distraught about his own unworthiness before God.

Yes, his abject fear of death is utterly apparent in these two passages (who could possibly doubt it?):

Philippians 1:21-24 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. [22] If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. [23] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [24] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 

2 Timothy 4:6-8 For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. [8] Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 

As to his supposedunworthiness before God”: that is, I submit, a projection of Luther’s continual unease onto Paul (Dr. Madison again bringing false Protestant baggage into his analyses). I cited my friend Al Kresta in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, along these lines:

Unlike the modern Evangelical-Protestant revivalistic preaching tradition, the Apostle Paul was not preoccupied with his acceptance as a sinner before a holy and righteous God. That was Luther’s crisis. Protestants have tended to read Paul through the lens of Luther’s experience.

1…. Luther said he feared God but clung to the Apostle Paul. All the constitutive elements of the classic Luther-type experience, however, are missing in both the experience and the thought of the Apostle.

Unlike Luther, Paul was not preoccupied with his guilt, seeking reassurance of a gracious God. He was rather robust of conscience, even given to boasting, untroubled about whether God was gracious or not [Phil. 3:4 ff.; 2 Cor. 10, 11]. He knew God was gracious. He never pleads either with Jews or Gentiles to feel an anguished conscience and then receive release from that anguish in a message of forgiveness. . . . Paul’s burden is not to “bring people under conviction of sin,” as in revival services. Forgiveness is simply a matter of fact.

When Paul speaks of himself as a serious sinner, it is . . . very specifically because . . . he had persecuted the Church and missed God’s new move — opening the covenant community to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 15:9-10; Eph. 3:8; Gal. 1:1316; 1 Tim. 1:13-15). (p. 41) 

The wretchedness of humanity was part of the very fabric of reality as Paul perceived it: introduced by Adam, sin was a disease that cursed every human. This was so dangerous because God’s default emotion is wrath; God regards us as his enemies (v. 10). But Paul was sure he knew how to get right with God.

There is original sin, of course, but Protestants distort its extent and nature, and Dr. Madison exaggerates God’s antipathy or hostility to mankind. This is the loving God of the Bible (expressed by Paul / universal atonement):

Romans 5:6 While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 5:15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass [original sin], much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. (cf. 5:17, 20-21)

Romans 11:32 For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 19 For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. [15] And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.. . .

1 Timothy 2:3-4 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

He had it all worked out that wrath flipped to love through the gimmick of Jesus dying (“we have been justified by his blood,” Romans 5:9): “…we will be saved through him from the wrath of God.” The essence of Paul’s theology is found in one of the most famous verses in the letter (v. 8): “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” This is so embedded in Christian piety that it’s hard to grasp that this is magical thinking; Romans 5:19 helps bring this to our attention: “For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

For Dr. Madison it is superstitious magic and a “gimmick”; for us Christians it is God’s love expressed in His merciful, gracious plan to save anyone who accepts His free offer of grace and an eternity in heaven in blissful union with Him. As always — when he comments on supernatural and purely spiritual things — , he makes no argument against God’s method of salvation and atonement. He simply assumes that his readers will agree with him that it is absurd; so all he does is mock.

That’s not how reasoned argumentation works, I’m afraid, but it sure is how echo chamber / groupthink clones and sheep atheist forums work. He does the same tired thing in his next paragraph (even bringing in the wonderful word, “Abracadabra” for effect), so I will pass over it.

This scheme should provoke a stunning this-does-not-make-sense moment. Guy P. Harrison has made one of those yes-of-course statements for which he is so well known: “No one seems to know why a god who makes all the rules and answers to no one couldn’t just pardon us and skip the barbaric crucifixion event entirely.” (Christianity in the Light of Science, Loftus, editor, 2016)

Yes, of course He could have done that, had He chosen to. God was under no obligation to be horribly tortured and die for us. He could have simply proclaimed as saved those who chose to obediently follow Him. Any educated Christian knows this, but Guy P. Harrison seems utterly unaware of it for some strange reason. But the passion and crucifixion was in fact how God set it up, in order to show the immensity of His love. We (including atheists) honor war heroes who willingly die for others, or police officers and firefighters (such as those at 9-11) who are willing to risk death for the sake of others, and sometimes actually do die.

Yet when it comes to God doing the same thing for all of us, we so often get mockery and stupefied noncomprehension and lack of gratefulness from atheists. It’s one thing to simply not believe in something; but to mock and lambast what one clearly doesn’t understand in the first place is a bit much to take. But we understand that it comes from people who are (by free choice) lacking in grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote about these things:

Romans 1:21-22 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 

1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-25 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. [22] For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 

1 Corinthians 2:11-14, 16 For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. [12] Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. [13] And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. [14] The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. . . . [16] . . . But we have the mind of Christ. 

Dr. Madison exhibits all this dumbfounded inability to understand Jesus and God’s glorious plan of salvation in spades, particularly in this ludicrous comment:

One of Richard Carrier’s more acerbic descriptions of Jesus pulls us back to the reality of how much we don’t know about the guy: “…an uneducated rural construction worker from some inglorious town in the middle of nowhere…” (The End of Christianity, Loftus editor, 2011) This was God’s instrument for diverting his wrath from the multitudes of his human enemies? 

He expresses these sad, pathetic, pitiful things because he is an apostate. St. Peter wrote about such men:

2 Peter 2:15, 20-21 Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam, . . . For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

So did St. Paul:

2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. 

May God have special mercy on Dr. Madison and open his eyes. We Christians know that God wants to do so, but it’s up to . . . Dr. Madison to accept His free offer of grace and salvation. Please Lord!

***

Photo credit: Apostle Saint Paul, by El Greco (1541-1614) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 27, 2019

Development: Law & Grace & Faith / Circumcision & Abortion / Eternal Salvation & Damnation in the Old Testament

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Thus far, I have counter-replied to / answered 27 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, from three different series, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (25 days’ total time). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period.

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 4, “The Delicate, Dicey Task of Revising Revelation: Theologians boldly rise to the occasion” (3-10-17).

What to do when God has favored you with new revelation? I don’t mean just a casual vision or two—but with a Cosmos-shattering revelation update: You have been given the word that God has revised a whole salvation scheme. How do you mesh this new scheme with the old system in place for centuries? We see the apostle Paul wrestling with this very task in chapter 4 of his Letter to the Romans.

No biggie; no “wrestling” or cognitive dissonance (except in the mind of confused folks like Dr. Madison). It’s simply the development of doctrine that had been going on since the beginning of salvation history and God’s dealing with His chosen people, the Jews. There was no essential change, but rather — as even Dr. Madison alludes to — an “update” or “revised” version of what was. Salvation was always by faith, enabled by God’s grace, from the beginning. The law was only a tutor or guide, as Paul often discuses in his epistles. The blood of lambs and goats in and of themselves never saved anyone, as Paul also states.

Welcome back to our journey through this book of the Bible. We’re treading through it chapter by chapter, one every other week.

Thanks for the welcome! And we’ve been refuting these critiques; usually at the rate of two per day (just like today). It’e never very difficult to do, because there are so many basic category or factual or logical errors, that are rather easily disposed of by anyone who has studied the Bible very much and knows how to interpret it (the basics of hermeneutics and exegesis).

Please don’t change channels just yet!

No worries. I’m having a great time, and am very thankful for the opportunity to refute so many errors about Christianity and the Bible; particularly Paul’s epistles. Hopefully, Dr. Madison will show up one of these months.

Isn’t it fun (well, so okay, I’m a nerd) to be well equipped to point out the glaring shortcomings of Christianity? Especially some of the sophomoric theology in the Bible? . . . if we can grasp Paul’s thought, we can how badly Christian thought went off the rails.

That may be, but I’m having at least as much fun, and I suspect, much more so, in refuting these atrociously argued pieces of propaganda, and showing how truly groundless and silly they are. Thank you, Dr. Madison!

But wait, was this something new that God had come up with? Had God changed his mind about how people can get saved? We read in Isaiah 40:8 that “the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” So why would it need to be changed? How could an amendment be needed? Paul had do deal with this, and he does get points for cleverness in Romans 4. . . . 

Paul has been followed by thousands of other theologians who scour through scripture looking for texts to back up their particular theological detours and blind alleys, no matter how far they may stray from the meaning of the original text. 

Rather, salvation theology has developed: which is a greater understanding of a thing that has remained essentially the same all along. 

So Abraham himself, so many centuries before, had set the example of believing a divine promise, or as Paul states it in Romans 4:11-12: “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

Exactly! As I noted last time, faith was always key, all along, and this demonstrates that principle and that fact. Noah had faith even before Abraham, etc. There was enough evidence of God, for Him to be believed in.

Of course, this was an improvement for theology, since genital mutilation was eliminated as a mark of virtue or belonging to the in-group.

Thanks for the compliment. I wish that secularist ideology had likewise progressed. It has”graduated” to butchering babies limb from limb in their mother’s wombs, or burning them with saline solution, or sucking them into a vacuum cleaner.

In partial-birth “abortion” (i.e., infanticide), babies who have developed for the full nine months, or close to it, are delivered backwards up to their necks, then the “doctor” extracts the baby’s brain and crushes his or her skull, because he or she doesn’t have the “right” to be delivered alive and to live the only life they will ever experience (under atheist assumptions of no afterlife).

So secular society has really improved, hasn’t it?: attaining the sublime moral heights of this wonderfully enlightened, tolerant, and loving practice: to the tune of hundreds of millions of murdered babies. And God is watching all of it and will judge the butchers who perform these abortions, if they never repent of their outrages.

The ultimate irony here, of course, is that “being saved” or winning “eternal life” were utterly foreign concepts to Old Testament theologians, including those who wrote the Abraham sagas. They had no belief in heaven or life everlasting. When you died, perhaps your soul lingered a while in the dark underworld of she’ol, then you faded away. Poof….gone.

Eventually a great kaleidoscope of pagan beliefs invaded Jewish thought—including depictions of afterlife, heaven, hell and the apocalypse to bring God’s justice to Earth. Sadly, Jesus and Paul were among those who fell hard for so much of the strange new revenge-reward theology.

It’s true that these elements did develop quite a bit in the intertestamental period (as Dr. Madison alludes to in his final paragraph, cited above), and then all the more so in the New Testament. But there were also many clear signs or precursors of it (some remarkably explicit) all along. The book of Job seems to allude to an eternal consciousness in a resurrected body in some sort of paradisal state with God:

Job 19:25-27 (RSV) For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; [26] and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, [27] whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (cf. 14:12-15)

The prophet Isaiah (8th c. BC) taught similarly:

Isaiah 26:19a Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! . . . 

This is hardly a shadowy temporary existence in Sheol and then annihilation. So Dr. Madison — foolish enough to assert universal negatives again — is already refuted. But I have much more, too:

Genesis 5:24  Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

2 Kings 2:11 And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Eli’jah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 

Psalms 16:10-11 For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit. [11] Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Psalms 21:4, 6  He asked life of thee; thou gavest it to him, length of days for ever and ever. . . . [6] Yea, thou dost make him most blessed for ever; thou dost make him glad with the joy of thy presence.

Psalms 23:6b . . . I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalms 49:7-9, 15 Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, [8] for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice, [9] that he should continue to live on for ever, and never see the Pit. . . . [15] But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. . . . 

Psalms 73:23-26 Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou dost hold my right hand. [24] Thou dost guide me with thy counsel, and afterward thou wilt receive me to glory. [25] Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee. [26] My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

Daniel 7:18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, for ever and ever.

Daniel 12:1-3 “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. [2] And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. [3] And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 

The notion of spiritual salvation is present in the Old Testament as well: quite contrary to Dr. Madison’s claim that it was not:

Psalms 34:4-8 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. [5] Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. [6] This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. [7] The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. [8] O taste and see that the LORD is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalms 51:1-14, 17 Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. [2] Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! [3] For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. [4] Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. [5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. [6] Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. [7] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. [8] Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice. [9] Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. [10] Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. [11] Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. [12] Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. [13] Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee. [14] Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance. . . . [17] The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Proverbs 15:24 The wise man’s path leads upward to life, that he may avoid Sheol beneath.

Isaiah 45:17, 21-22 But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. . . . [21] . . . And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. [22] “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

Jeremiah 17:14 Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for thou art my praise.

Jeremiah 31:33-34 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

[see also the many instances of “salvation” in the Old Testament. Most likely refer to “physical salvation” from enemies and death, but some may have a double application, and some may refer to spiritual salvation only] 

The idea of being abandoned to Sheol is similar to eternal hellfire (a developmental precursor or “kernel” of it). Thus, eternal life or eschatological salvation is described as “thou dost not give me up to Sheol” (Ps 16:10). God delivers or rescues the righteous from Sheol (“he brings down to Sheol and raises up”: 1 Sam 2:6; cf. Ps 30:3; 49:15; 86:13; 89:48):

Deuteronomy 32:22a  For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, . . . 

Psalms 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise?

Psalms 9:17 The wicked shall depart to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.

Psalms 31:17b . . . let the wicked be put to shame, let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.

Isaiah 14:11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are the bed beneath you, and worms are your covering. (cf. 14:15 and Jesus’ reference to worms in hell: “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”: Mk 9:48)

Isaiah 38:18b . . . those who go down to the pit cannot hope for thy faithfulness.

Isaiah 66:24 “And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Jeremiah 15:14b . . . in my anger a fire is kindled which shall burn for ever. (cf. 17:4)

Daniel 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

[see also many references to “the pit”: equivalent to Sheol]

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Photo credit: Apostle Paul (1633?), by Rembrandt (1606-1669) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 27, 2019

Pauline / Biblical Soteriology: Faith and Works, Grace and Merit / Hyperbole (“No one is good”)

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all. 

The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?

Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

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Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 3, “Paul the Apostle and the Hogwarts Factor: For Paul, sin was a disease of the soul…he was sure he knew the cure” (2-24-17) 

For Paul, sin was a disease of the soul…he was sure he knew the cure 

Thanks to countless cartoons, we all know the iconic image of St. Peter perched at a desk, with his big ledger book, surrounded by fluffy clouds, just outside the Pearly Gates: You get to enter heaven if you’ve got enough good deeds to your credit. While most Christians—I suspect, I hope—know this scene is comic book stuff, they do go along with the theology behind it. In fact, they know this in their guts. That is, God lets you in if you’ve been a good person. If you’ve been bad or nasty, then your odds go down. Isn’t that just fair play, common sense? After all, heaven is called your Eternal Reward.

Well, all Christians agree that salvation is by God’s grace. They differ on the relationship between faith and works, but not as much as many think. Protestants, of course, teach faith alone, but they do not deny the importance and necessity of (non-salvific, non-justifying) good works. Both Luther and Calvin taught that these works would necessarily flow from a true, genuine, authentic faith. And of course the book of James famously stated:

James 2:14 (RSV) What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?

James 2:17  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 

James 2:20-22 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works

James 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

James 2:26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead. 

Consistent with this biblical teaching, Scripture, in fifty passages about final judgment, mentions works every time, and never “faith alone.” And Jesus, asked by the rich young ruler how he could attain eternal life, asked if he kept the commandments (works), and then told him he had to sell all he had and give it to the poor (a good work). Faith was never mentioned.

No Matter How Good You Are

But the New Testament requirements for making the grade are not really that simple, thanks, in large part, to the theology of Paul. He didn’t see eye-to-eye with Peter anyway, so giving Peter a desk at the Pearly Gates wouldn’t have been his idea. That’s a story for another time, however.

Paul recoiled at the idea that anyone could deserve to be granted eternal life. There was no way to merit it. His Letter to the Romans stands in the way of this intuitive approach,i.e., adding up your good deeds to get into heaven. So now let’s open our Bibles to Romans, chapter 3. Atheists who want to make the case that the good book is not all that good should know how bad the Book of Romans is.

Yes; of course Paul teaches salvation by grace through faith. But he doesn’t exclude the necessity of works, or the notion of merit. In other words, he doesn’t teach Protestant soteriology, which Dr. Madison, as a good former Methodist, mistakenly thinks the Bible teaches. And he doesn’t disagree with Peter’s theology. When he rebuked him, it was for behavioral hypocrisy, not false doctrine. Here is what Paul taught:

Romans 2:5-13: “But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

To summarize: The concept of “demerits” is present (verse 5). Differential rewards for works (by implication, differential “merit”) exist (verse 6). Eternal life is correlated with well-doing (verses 7, 10). Divine wrath is due to disobedience (verses 8, 9). Obedient doers of the law shall be justified (verse 13; a striking similarity to James 1:22-23; 2:24).

The theme of obeying the gospel, or the obedience of faith, is also common in St. Paul’s writings (for example, Rom. 1:5, 6:17, 10:16, 15:18-19, 16:25-26; 2 Thess. 1:8; cf. Acts 6:7; Heb. 11:8).

Judgment, according to Paul in Romans, is also according to works, just as Christ also explicitly taught. This is a theme that runs through St. Paul’s writings (for example, 1 Cor. 3:13, 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7-9; Col. 3:23-25).

Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Romans 15:17-18 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed,

1 Corinthians 3:8-9: “Each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

1 Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me” (see also 1 Cor. 15:58; Gal. 5:6, 6:7-9).

Philippians 2:12-13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

St. Paul again regards faith and the human cooperation of works (labor) as two sides of the same coin, both proceeding from grace. Elsewhere, the apostle writes of the “works of faith” and related concepts (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11; Titus 1:15-16). Faith and works are not at all incompatible in all these Pauline passages. Salvation is described as a struggle, a process, a goal — not merely an abstract, past, instantaneous event.

In verse 9 he mentions “the power of sin”—it’s not that people just commit sins, rather sin is an indwelling force. To make the point, he culls a few of the gloomiest texts from the Old Testament to show how bad people are, functioning under this power. Paul can have his Hallmark moments, but these verses (vv.10-18) will never end up on sentimental Christian greeting cards. There isn’t enough space to quote them all here, but v. 12 and v. 13 are representative:

“All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one ” and “Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of vipers is under their lips.”

These passages are, of course, examples of typical Jewish hyperbole, or exaggeration: not to be taken absolutely literally. For example, Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone” (Lk 18:19; cf. Mt 19:17). Yet He also said: “The good person brings good things out of a good treasure.” (Mt 12:35; cf. 5:45; 7:17-20; 22:10). Is this a contradiction? No; Jesus is merely drawing a contrast between our righteousness and God’s, but He doesn’t deny that we can be “good” in a lesser sense. We observe the same dynamic in the Psalms:

Psalm 14:2-3 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. [3] They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, [Hebrew, tob] no not one. (cf. 53:1-3; Paul cites this in Rom 3:10-12)

Yet in the immediately preceding Psalm, David proclaims, “I have trusted in thy steadfast love” (13:5), which certainly is “seeking” after God! And in the very next he refers to “He who walk blamelessly, and does what is right” (15:2). Even two verses later (14:5) he writes that “God is with the generation of the righteous.” So obviously his lament in 14:2-3 is an indignant hyperbole and not intended as a literal utterance.

Such remarks are common to Hebrew poetic idiom. The anonymous psalmist in 112:5-6 refers to the “righteous” (Heb. tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly: using the words “righteous” or “good” (11:23; 12:2; 13:22; 14:14, 19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Psalm 14:2-3. References to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9; 22:19; Ps 5:12; 32:11; 34:15; 37:16, 32; Mt 9:13; 13:17; 25:37, 46; Rom 5:19; Heb 11:4; Jas 5:16; 1 Pet 3:12; 4:18, etc.).

St. Paul is not a “doom and gloom” / morose sort of guy at all (let alone a fanatic nut: as Dr. Madison futilely tries to paint him). One has to continue reading in Romans. He builds his case of God’s plan of salvation, explaining the relationship between the old and new covenants, and the primacy of faith and grace in both. The climax of this portion of his epistle is the magnificent, triumphant, bright and sunny chapter 8. In the meantime, it would be good for folks to understand how biblical hyperbole works. I’ve provided a quick summary aid above.

[passing over the generic, stock, anti-supernaturalist arguments (or rather, bald assertions) — inaccurately caricatured as “magic” and “hocus-pocus” –, as the goal of this series of counter-replies is to exegete Paul and Romans, as opposed to being an apologia for the supernatural and miracles, which is a completely separate and complex discussion.]

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Photo credit: The Apostle Paul (c. 1657), by Rembrandt (1606-1669); possibly also by his workshop [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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