James White vs Social Science Scholarship

The following is an archive of a response made in 2005 to James White in his response to our material on unconditional election (link 1 below). As of this editing date in 2009 I see little reason to change my assessment of White in terms of his academic ability to address these matters. White is simply not "tuned in" to the relevant anthropological scholarship that affects these issues.

I will address these matters in more depth in a future book in the Tekton Building Blocks series.

Please note as well that I felt it proper to engage White on his own terms. I hold no personal animosity towards him. However, I do feel that White's profound errors in scholarship speak for themselves.


We were recently alerted, thanks to several readers, to a reply (of sorts) by James White, premier name of apologetics, to my item on unconditional election here. White's reply (of sorts) may be found at link 2 below.

I say "of sorts" for particular reasons. What we respond to below was posted on aomin.org February 1, 2005, and it ended with a promise to "continue" which, as of this writing (February 4) remains a non-link and a non-continuation. (2/22/05: This appears to simply be White's standard format for "blogging," and I daresay it evinces some poor webmastering organizational skills.) Whether this is due to technical error, or because White has not gotten around to further reply, one obviously cannot say outside the hallowed halls of aomin.org headquarters. Nevertheless because of upcoming travel, and for no other reason than that I Just Feel Like It and Have Time, we would like to respond now to what has so far been offered - though as one has noted in a forum thread we link to below, in what is presented so far, White has not really answered anything we have written; and we agree - the one effort at reply stops in midstream.

Hereafter White's comments are in italics.

I have found the various attempts to respond to the exegetically-based defense of Calvinism I offered in The Potter's Freedom both educational and at times troubling. Most responses are tradition driven, but then there are the philosophical ones. These are the ones that only touch on exegesis long enough to find some way of introducing some novelty or some question as to whether a word really means that or if there is some other way of seeing it. The philosophically-driven replies disdain the hard work of actually working through a text from start to finish and applying their often unique claims about a particular verse to all such verses.

The risk of comment here lies in that White offers no specific application of certain comments above to any particular point in my essay. Perhaps this is merely rhetoric in action, a little arsenic in the well as it were, with no specific assassin's target in mind. Perhaps he really does mean me. Let's assume the latter for safety and completeness.

Is my response philosophical? Yes, but only partly so. In the main my response is indeed exegetical, despite the implications; but it approaches exegesis from a very serious contextualizing point of view, making particular use of the social sciences, which may readily explain why White failed to recognize it as exegesis - because it did not take the form favored of an atomized, line-by-line pounding of the hammer with its associated technicalities. (2/23/05: For that now, just to keep the barn burning, see link 3 below.) Not that this was not done for my work; it lies in the background, as surely as the sun lies behind dazzling clouds at sunset.

Of more disturbing quality is White's attendant descriptor of novelty introduced, with such inflection as to insinuate that I belched at a fine dinner (hosted, we assume, by strait-laced Calvinists in tails and tuxedoes). Let me say at once that I do believe that much of what I write is indeed "novel" - to such as James White. I do not mean this insultingly, for it is a given that social-science perspectives have been a sorely-neglected aspect of Biblical studies for decades. The great crime of Biblical studies, so to speak, has been its tendentious presumption that people of the Biblical world were Just Like Us.

It would indeed be "novel" (dare I say, fearful?) to some, perhaps even a popular apologist, to be told such things as that people of the Biblical world did not possesses "consciences" as we understand them; that the people of the Biblical world were agonistic and dyadic; that telling a lie (heaven forbid) was tolerable and even morally the right thing to do, not just when you had Jews in your cellar, but at times that a modern Westerner would find intolerable. That, moreover, alleged contradictions among the Gospels really are solved quite differently; such that no, Matthew and Luke together do not really tell us that Jesus did say both "Blessed are the poor" and "Blessed are the poor in spirit" on the same occasion, or that for another parallel statement he used the third person once and the second person another time, referring to the Kingdom of God by different titles.

I know well that such views are intolerable and yes, novel, to those who have fashioned inerrancy and the Biblical world after their own image and likeness. But for those disciplined by the text and its contexts, as opposed to what was said by an earnest but somewhat misinformed churchman of the 1500s or 1600s, this is not in the least intolerable or novel. In fact, it respects the text to a far greater extent, letting it speak for itself. It is not enough to hoist the red herring of "novelty" upon the pulpit and scream red-faced until the congregation begins to be repulsed by the odor, to the point where they will no longer approach any fish closely enough to see whether it be herring or fine Nova Scotia salmon. White's initial paragraph, I daresay, amounts to little more than this.

It wasn't long after The Potter's Freedom came out that I ran into an early response from James Patrick Holding of tektonics.org. Ever since then I have seen references to various files at tektonics, most especially one titled "Un Conditioning." Recently some folks posted some segments of it in channel, and so I took a look at it. I was taken aback by much of it, to be honest, and especially the odd, sweeping claims made about "Hebrew thought" and the like. There is probably nothing more common on the Internet these days than people making claims about "the Hebrew would indicate this," and yet most of those making those claims could not translate their way out of a paper bag, and if you were to collect all of their conclusions based upon these alleged "Hebraisms," the resultant mish-mash would implode from utter inconsistency and self-contradiction.

We will get to a particular shortly, but once again, I am compelled to apply some antidote to this episode of well-poisoning. It is with some gratitude and humility that I receive the compliment that some thought enough (apparently) of my material to make use of it. But as for "odd, sweeping claims" I remain bewildered. My claims are again neither odd (to those, at least, with a thorough or sufficient background education in the relevant topic); nor are they sweeping in the least, and White (as yet) does not give an example of such which shows how this is so. His two examples are of particularly no merit. No such quote as "the Hebrew would indicate this" appears in my article. "Hebrew thought" does, but that phrase is used with particular reference to Hebrew social proclivity (e.g., the particular habit of polarized thought, well known and well documented by scholars, found in Hebrew culture), not at all to Hebrew language other than as an accessory. Furthermore the phrase is followed upon by a detailed exposition on Jer. 7:22 which makes heavy use of credentialed, peer-reviewed scholarship.

Finally none of my uses of the word "Hebrew" as much as has to do with Hebrew language; I refer to "Hebrew high-context" (again, a social matter), the "thinking of ancient Hebrew" (followed by quotes from Marvin Wilson, referring to Hebrew language, but tied in with Hebrew culture); Hebrew "block logic", and so on. In fact, all of my references to "Hebrew" other than a couple of quotes from credentialed authorities are "social" (or if you will, "racial") in nature. None are purely or even mainly linguistic.

Which leads me to ask, What exactly was White trying to do here? Did he even read and understand what I wrote? Or is the point here to associate my work with the venomous diatribes of the wild parties who insist we will burn in damnation if we do not address our Savior as YahShua?

In any event, we remain waiting for some specific showing that this "mish-mash" will actually "implode" upon some demonstrated "inconsistency" or "self-contradiction." As of this writing, again, there is none. From here White does start on a particular point, which he introduces thus:

The original question asked in channel was about the "negation idiom" being applied to Romans 9:16, and then about "Hebrew block thought," and finally I ran into the quote that convinced me to at least invest a tiny portion of my non-existant [sic] time to this response:

We wonder of how White managed his "non-existant" time such that he was able to at least take time to produce the earlier bombast, but perhaps later he will offer us some tips on time management to that effect. For the present I will remind readers that all of my material about "negation idiom" and "block thought" come from credentialed scholars - not that this by itself implies immediate surrender is required (as White and I both well know, via Robert Funk and his ilk), but it does mean that one is required to provide a serious response rooted in scholarship as equitable, which suggests that if one's time is "non-existant" it is better to wait until Kronos chooses to grant more of his gift, or else not speak at all.

I will say at once that if White does choose to merely deal with what I say of Rom. 9:16, he will be committing a serious error. As of one my Calvinist correspondents has rightly recognized, my explanation of Rom. 9:16 does not exist in a vacuum; it is intimately tied together with the understanding of our relationship with Father and Savior in terms of Greco-Roman patronage. Without this understanding, any "answer" will be no answer. It will miss the point utterly and completely, leaving me to say such things as this:

I have found the various attempts to respond to the exegetically/socially-based reply to Calvinism I offered in Un Conditioning both educational and at times troubling. Most responses are Reformed-tradition driven, but then there are the indignant ones. These are the ones that only touch on social science long enough to find some way of denigrating some idea as "novelty" or positing some question as to whether a word really means that or that some other way of seeing it must automatically be wrong. The indignation-driven replies disdain the hard work of actually working through a text from start to finish with a holistic perspective and applying their often indignant claims about a particular commentary to all such parts of the commentary.

Will we see Mr. White descend long enough from the throne of the Son of Man to make such an effort? I personally doubt it; with his time "non-existant" I suspect we will remain content to have His Grace's consent to analyze what I say of Rom. 9:16 and be done with it. Mr. White has cults to refute and other persons to be Hunted; that we certainly understand. Though the burden of dipping one's fingers in too many bowls is one I, personally, believe I have been judicious enough to avoid.

We will close with what is left, which is the beginnings, we suppose, of what Mr. White will say, and will hopefully be at some future date finished. It begins with a quote from my work:

The proper social definition of "mercy" brings an interesting twist to, for example, the great Calvinist keystone in Romans 9: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." Understood as the NT writers wrote it, this means: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that pays His debt of personal obligation to us as our patron."

My understanding of mercy here, I should stress, is not merely my own; it is derived from Pilch and Malina's Handbook of Biblical Social Values, a work with considerable documentation that is not to be taken lightly. And I hope it will not be. But thus far, White's response is as follows:

When I saw this claim, I decided to squeeze just one more item onto the plate, because that is simply ridiculous. But first things first. The text (Rom. 9:15-16) reads: For he says to Moses [Exo. 33:19], "I will mercy [this is a verb] whoever I mercy, and I will compassion [this is a verb] whoever I compassion." So then, it is not of the one willing, nor of the one exerting himself, but of the mercying [present active participle] God.

We will wait to see how in particular the understanding of these credentialed scholars is "ridiculous", and we may even presently be told. In any event no one disputes that the word is a verb, and that it is a present active participle is just as amenable to my understanding. One wonders as yet why White seeks to make a point of this, unless it is to wave around expertise on a side matter for rhetorical purposes.

It goes this way for us: "I will fulfill covenant obligation upon whoever I fulfill it upon, and I will satisfy kinship obligation upon whoever I satisfy it upon." I should note here that my same source defines compassion likewise in terms of the social state of the Biblical world; "compassion" means "caring concern that ought to be felt and acted upon between real and fictive kin." [30] "So then, it is not of the one willing, nor of the one exerting himself, but of the covenant-fulfilling God."

In other words, if you're not in God's fictive kin group, tough. You can't will it so that He will do differently, and you can't twist His arm. So far we have much wind but little in the way of fire. Continuing:

The passage cited in v. 15 is from Exodus 33:19. John Piper wrote an article found in the September, 1979 issue of JETS (22/3), "Prolegomena To Understanding Romans 9:14-15: An Interpretation Of Exodus 33:19" wherein he provides the following translation of the verse: 19a And he [Yahweh] said, "I will cause to pass before your face all my goodness (MT ybiWj; LXX do,xh| mou ). 19b And I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you. 19c And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious (MT !xoêa' rv<åa]-ta, 'ytiNOx;w> ; LXX kai. evleh,sw o]n a'n evlew/), 19d and I will be merciful to whom I will be merciful" (MT ~xe(r:a] rv<ïa]-ta, yTiÞm.x;rIw> ; LXX kai. oivktirh,sw o]n a'n oivkti,rw).

One will notice that Paul quotes the LXX of Exodus 33:19 directly and without alteration in Romans 9:15. We are then offered what might be called an "apostolic interpretation" of this text in v. 16, which continues the thought that began all the way back in the "theme verse" of the section, Romans 9:6, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are from Israel." [continued]

And that is it. (I apologize for not being able to relate the Hebrew characters above properly.) The "[continued]" has rested there like a dulled sword of Damocles suspended, for the past three days, and what White will say further, I can perhaps anticipate but will not commit to. We remain awaiting some explanation of how and why any of this rebuts or affects my point. I have a good guess in mind, but we will wait for thunder to descend from on high rather than speculate. I find it is always better to know and understand what others say before descending to criticize them.

If however you wish to discuss this matter, I have started a thread on TWeb here.


And now an update (already). White posted part 2 of his response on 2/5/05, but as yet, we are still waiting for some actual response to what I have written. Part 2 appears to be merely more setup with a whiff of indignance. Indeed the entire first paragraph reads to me like little but -- dare I say -- flag-waving:

It is necessary for those who wish to find a way out of the "strong doctrine" of Romans 9 to establish some kind of "new idea" as to what Paul is really up to in this passage that distances the text from personal salvation. Make it about nations. Make it about the Old Testament only. Say it has to do with anything but the salvation of God's people and the freedom God has always expressed in bringing that about. But given the flow of the text, its internal consistency, and the boldness of the language, it is a hard thing for those seeking to find a way around the text's conclusions. Just as in the Golden Chain of Redemption (Romans 8:28-30) or in Jesus' Capernaum discourse (John 6), the strength of Reformed exegesis is seen in its ability to consistently read through an entire passage and follow the thought without appeal to all sorts of odd concepts that result in an utter disruption of the text. This has been my advantage, repeatedly, in discussion with those who oppose the utter freedom of God and the perfection of Christ as Savior: if we actually can get someone to allow a conversation to take place that seriously engages the text in a meaningful fashion, the Reformed position is clearly substantiated and supported.

Whatever else may be said, I will maintain again that there is nothing "odd" about what I offer, other than perhaps to those lacking any familiarity with the controlling concepts of patronage which govern my understanding of this passage. While I expect Calvinists will disagree with my take on it via this lens even so (as has another correspondent), to call it "odd" or "new" or to pretend that novelty is somehow at the root of the analysis merely reflects a lack of familiarity with the Bible's defining contexts and the world within which it emerged.

Socio-contextual exegesis by its very nature "consistently reads through an entire passage and follows the thought without appeal to all sorts of odd concepts that result in an utter disruption of the text," because obviously, there is nothing "odd" or "disruptive" about concepts like patronage in a world where patronage was the chief form of relational intercourse between persons. Oddity and disruption occurs only where ideas foreign to the world of the NT are imported into the text -- something I find "Reformed" sorts guilty of myself, as they view the text through the apparent lens of the 16th and 17th century. But more:

When we look at Romans 9, we find the text is just as consistent as the rest of Paul's argument in Romans. He is explaining how it is that not all who are from Israel are Israel. God has been free to apply His promises throughout the history of Israel, seen in His choice of Jacob over Esau. This freedom results in numerous objections on the part of Paul's imagined objector (objections that Calvinists hear constantly), all of which militate against the various non-Reformed attempts to remove Romans 9 from the realm of personal salvation. The Reformed reading can consistently read from 9:6 through 9:24 without changing contexts, topics, or anything else. I honestly submit that no one else can.

While White's candor is appreciated, a socio-contextual reading is more than capable of "consistently reading from 9:6 through 9:24 without changing contexts, topics, or anything else." Since White has been honest, I will be as well: I believe that Reformed exegesis of this passage manages what it does because, quite simply, working within its own defined parameters -- not the original context -- it is free to make its own rules, so to speak, so that any problem can be easily eliminated. I do not say White has done this particularly, though he may have (I have no recollection just now), or may have relied on those who have.

Furthermore, I honestly believe that Reformed exegetes ultimately deal with any stumbling blocks with the essential reply, "Just shut up and give glory to God, you heathen." Certainly not all do this; it is most evident in the likes of Palmer (who couples his indignance with the aura of mystery).

And now the last paragraph of Part 2:

After introducing the freedom of God to act outside of man's merits or deserts in regard to Jacob and Esau (9:10-13), Paul allows the "imaginary objector," who sounds oh so much like your average "free will is the answer to all things" evangelical, to speak: "What then shall we say? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!" Whenever God's freedom is asserted men cry out "Unjust! Unfair!" Paul's response must be understood within the context of the passage itself. 9:15 is explaining why there is no unrighteousness in God when He exercises the kind of sovereign freedom He did in the case of Jacob and Esau. He draws from Exodus 33:19 as a second example of His freedom drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. It should be remembered that 9:16 provides us with the apostolic interpretation of 9:15; interpretations ignoring this will, by so doing, convict themselves of their eisegetical nature. [continued]

And that, once again, is it. We are left again with a dangling participle, as it were; and on this point, we do agree and I said much the same in my own article: Paul is answering objections; Paul is indeed saying God is not unrighteous. And after that -- what? As of this moment, we are still waiting for White to finish his speech. I will keep up with matters as I can; I have some travel upcoming next week.


Mr. White has apparently been made aware of my response, and has said:

Just a note in reference to the series I have just begun regarding Romans 9, "Hebraisms," and J.P. Holding's take on election. I was told, and just confirmed, that Mr. Holding has already begun a response to me. At first I couldn't believe it, and indicated, "that would be very disappointing," for the simple reason that I haven't said anything yet. Evidently Mr. Holding is quite impatient. In case he has not noted, I have been doing a response on Islam and Bible transmission for two months now (13 parts thus far). Blogs are meant to be taken in bits, or, at least, this one is. I will be getting to the issue as soon as I get back from this trip. Till then, all offered "replies" are vaporous. Theology is often done quickly today. But quick theology is not always solid theology.

I think it is enough to comment upon the implicit irony here that White admits he has "not said anything yet" and thus (unwittingly) admits that his own material so far has been "vaporous" and not worthy of a reply. Quick theology is not solid theology, indeed. So why post it at all, if White has indeed "not said anything yet"?

In fairness I must admit that this is related to a difference in methodology we have as apologists. While I respect White for his past work, I must admit that I find the entire idea of doing work via "blogs" (as well as the process of deciding issues by means of oral debates, havens for "sound bites") to be an entirely unworthy enterprise. This is why I never do oral debates and never will.

Impatience, however, is hardly the issue. I have time and I have ability to answer when I am inclined. I also have the discipline to wait until I am finished with all my research before I post my findings (where indeed research is required; which so far, as White as much admits, it is not). Hence blogs are also, in my view, entirely unsuitable venues for discourse.

Well, we'll just keep up the pace as we wish, I suppose. Shrug.


Part 3 is now up, and we'll get right to it.

J.P. Holding's article on unconditional election is, at the very least, an interesting read. But for one who finds exegetical clarity and consistency the greatest driving factor in evaluating someone's position, the article falls far short.

As one who does look for exegetical clarity and consistency, and has yet to see White (even now) show a lack of clarity or consistency in my article; as one who also values those things as provided from sound contextual research, including from the social sciences that I made use of, I do appreciate the compliment but still wait for some sign of falling short.

Now let me say immediately that I know very little of Mr. Holding, and this article is intended to be completely non-personal. The gentleman may well be a wonderfully nice Christian man who offers good insights on various apologetics issues. I am responding to a single article because I have seen it cited often as evidence of "another way" of looking at things, as if there can be multiple, equally valid interpretations of the words of Scripture. And I am responding to it also because on any exegetical level it is, in my opinion, inaccurate and flawed in numerous important ways.

I'll return the favor of the complimentary words. But I've been waiting for some days not for some indication of actual inaccuracy and flaw.

But let us begin by letting Mr. Holding speak for himself. I wish to examine in particular two portions of this article, both dealing with his attempt to deal with Romans 9, "the Calvinist's bubba club" as he puts it. First is the over-arching use of a single source, Marvin Wilson's Our Father Abraham, and the concept of "block logic," to substantiate utterly eisegetical conclusions. Holding fails completely to make the necessary connections between even the most wide and optimistic reading of Wilson and the conclusion he draws from the text.

There is nothing "eisegetical" about using solidly confirmed aspects of ancient though to read an ancient text. Let me state further that Wilson's "block logic" comment is further substantiated by points made in Pilch and Malina's Handbook of Biblical Social Values, which describes the ancient mind as one practiced in dualistic thought. Put another way, there is no "middle ground" where neutral value is assigned, and expressions are made in terms of "black and white". I would add that Wilson is far from my only source; nor are Pilch and Malina, as indeed in the same article I go on to relate the matter to Ecclesiastes, based on solid OT scholarship.

Second is the even less exegetically accurate or relevant discussion of the meaning of mercy in Romans 9:16 and the following "negation idiom" discussion.

Fair as a summation, perhaps, but we are waiting for specifics. But we are put off for yet more paragraphs of summation:

Now surely, one could simply go and read the original article, but for those without that amount of time, I will seek to summarize as best I can. The first point is briefly expressed enough to quote in its entirety:

I will simply interject at this point that it is again a grievous error to "summarize" any such complex issue as this one and decontextualize my material from the broader contexts within which I explain it. But such it will be, evidently. I am quoted extensively:

Hebrew "block logic" operated on similar principles. "...[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.

Wilson continues: "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.

What this boils down to is that Paul presents us with a paradox in Romans 9, one which he, as a Hebrew, saw no need to explain. "..[T]he Hebrew mind could handle this dynamic tension of the language of paradox" and saw no need to unravel it as we do. And that means that we are not obliged to simply accept Romans 9 at "face value" as it were, because it is a problem offered with a solution that we are left to think out for ourselves. There will be nothing illicit about inserting concepts like primary causality, otherwise unknown in the text.

The rabbis after the NT explicated the paradox a bit further. They did not conclude, however -- as is the inclination in the Calvinist camp -- that "a totally unalterable future lay ahead, for such a view contradicted God's omnipotence and mercy." They also argued that "unless God's proposed destiny for man is subject to alteration, prayer to God to institute such alteration" is nonsensical. Of course the rabbis were not inspired in their teachings. Yet their views cannot be simply discarded with a grain of salt, as they are much closer to the vein than either Calvin or Arminius, by over a millennium and by an ocean of thought.

And it is said:

One can immediately see the issues raised by such claims: does "Hebrew block logic" actually provide a sufficient textual basis for such claims as, And that means that we are not obliged to simply accept Romans 9 at "face value" as it were, because it is a problem offered with a solution that we are left to think out for ourselves. There will be nothing illicit about inserting concepts like primary causality, otherwise unknown in the text. Or, Of course the rabbis were not inspired in their teachings. Yet their views cannot be simply discarded with a grain of salt, as they are much closer to the vein than either Calvin or Arminius, by over a millennium and by an ocean of thought.

The answer of course is that it most certainly does, and we're still waiting for a reason why it does not. To defeat it, White must show one of any of these things: Paul was not Hebrew or subject to Hebrew thought patterns; he was one or both, but these passages are to be taken as exceptions for X reason (and not merely the reason, "because we like the Calvinist reading better and it gives more glory to God") and so forth. The closeness to the vein puts a significant burden on the disclaimant; as yet we have:

In regards to the second point, Holding assumes (but does not even attempt to prove) that "mercy" in "an ancient context"... is better rendered as "gratitude" or "steadfast love" -- as in, "the debt of interpersonal obligations for unrepayable favors received." Mercy is not involved with feelings of compassion, as today, but the "paying of one's debt of interpersonal obligation by forgiving a trivial debt." To say, "Lord, have mercy!" (Matt. 20:31) means, "Lord, pay up your debt of interpersonal obligation to us!" Far from being a plea of the hapless, it is a request to pay back previously earned favor from our client (God) whose patron we are.

I do beg pardon. I "assume" no such thing; I gave a link directly to an item which gives the proof of what "mercy" meant in context, via the credentialed, peer-reviewed scholarship of Pilch and Malina. White is doing here (so far!) exactly what he said should not be done, taking the view with a grain of salt and merely disdaining it without serious consideration.

One would hope for more depth, but not this time. The rest is said:

This then leads, we are told, to the conclusion,

Understood as the NT writers wrote it, this means: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that pays His debt of personal obligation to us as our patron."

This claim is followed with another equally troubling, "Faith, as we have noted elsewhere, contextually means loyalty within the client-patron relationship" which leads to "Romans 9:16 becomes a statement that God will fulfill His obligations (decided of His own sovereign accord) to those with whom He has a relationship, and verse 18 adds that God will harden those with whom He has no relationship, who are not His clients."

We're told this is "troubling" (with ominous reverb attached) but as yet not told how, nor why it is wrong, much less why I can't dispense with Calvinism by calling it "troubling" and then sitting back and watching the results. Then:

Immediately upon making these claims Holding goes into another "Hebraism," this time the "negation idiom." Holding, evidently in seeking to defend the Bible against an alleged contradiction at Jeremiah 7:22, adopts the idea that the term "not" used therein is hyperbolic and rhetorical, and then makes the amazing statement,

And thus we now pose the Calvinists another question: Is there any reason why the "not" in Romans 9:16 (as well as in a similar passage, John 1:12-13) should not be read in the same sense as the "not" in Jer. 7:22 -- as a negation idiom, not excluding the thing denied, but rather, stressing the prior importance of God's sovereignty in contrast? Given the Hebraic background, I think the burden is upon those who would read "not" absolutely rather than otherwise.

It's "amazing" and "troubling" and for all we know "astounding" and also cures rickets. But as yet, we're still waiting for an actual argument. But no, this is the close for today:

The final point could be dispatched in a matter of a few sentences, but I shall follow the presentation in the order in which it is found. [continued]

And so Damocles blunts his sword again with the proxy of delay. We'll keep up on updates.


At last it seems we will get to something approaching actual answers, but they amount in essence to what I more or less predicted: White is unfamiliar with the concepts in question, and because he can't find them in certain sources, he implies that they are bogus, thus:

Let's begin with the concept of "Hebrew block logic." A scan of the standard Hebrew grammars and works on syntax reveals no emphasis upon such an concept in the regularly used scholarly sources. A scan of my entire Libronics library (a rather large collection, for which I'm thankful), brought up only one reference: that in the book cited by Holding. Evidently, scholarship has managed to handle Romans 9 without reference to "Hebrew block logic" all along (unless this is a never before heard of "insight" that the entirety of the church has missed over the years). In any case, there is nothing overly new to the idea that the Hebrew mindset can differ from the Western mindset in any number of ways. That much is true. However, a few observations are in order.

It is absurd, to begin, to expect "grammars and works on syntax" to discuss matters that are related to anthropology and sociology. White may as well have objected that he could find no reference to atomic fission in a database of Cajun recipes. That said, there are no bones to be made about this being a new insight, for as had already been noted, lack of application of the social sciences is a notable deficiency in NT scholarship, and merely scratching one's head over the lack of notice is not in the least an adequate reply. What reply White does offer is rather lost, to wit:

First, Romans 9 is written in Greek, not Hebrew. The sources Paul quotes from were written in Hebrew, and Paul is a Hebrew, but he is communicating in Greek, and, rather importantly, providing an inspired interpretation as he goes along. Simply referring to some concept that might appear in some forms of Hebrew literature (and in this case, especially and primarily in Hebrew poetry) is utterly insufficient basis for making a connection to Paul's citation of the texts from the Greek LXX. Surely it is not being suggested that this vague, general concept is applicable to all passages of Hebrew writing, let alone that this then transfers over to the Pauline usage. Serious exegesis requires providing substantially more foundation for making such connections, and Holding offers none.

I frankly find this reply evasive and unsatisfactory, for two reasons.

First, as we have noted, expression in extremes is not a characteristic of Hebrew thought alone.

Second and more importantly, Paul was a Hebrew; he quotes from sources in Hebrew as White admits, and communicating in Greek changes neither of these points. Indeed, lingusitic studies by such as Casey indicate (as I have told another Calvinist -- White would have saved himself some effort, had be taken the time to read ALL of my material on this subject, as noted) that bilingual interference points to Paul preserving his Hebrew linguistic and thought-forms, even as he communicates in Greek. Merely waving this off as something that "might appear" and calling it "vague" or "general" (it is not in the least, to those who bother to study the literature), is a sign of one who is not able to deal with the argument.

To suggest further that we could argue that Paul was some kind of exception ("transfers over to Pauline usage") is itself a counsel of despair, ad hoc special pleading at its worst. The "foundation" is the credentialed scholarship of the sources I have cited. It is clear from these past few lines that White is ill-prepared to deal with this sort of scholarship; thus he is left to provide no other reply than such as, "how do we know" and "why can't this be an exception." I find this immensely disappointing.

Secondly, we are informed that "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." What evidence is offered that this is the intention of the original author (who is not writing poetry but history), let alone that of Paul in citing the passage in Romans 9? Does Holding recognize the incongruety [sic] of citing this in a text where Paul is, clearly, making a logical argument that is apologetic in nature? If he does, he makes no mention of it.

This is yet another disappointing answer, amounting to the braying of "how do we know" with as yet no actual answer to the concept in question. A proper answer to these points would be, such as, "Hebrew block logic does not exist in reality, because..." or, "Hebrew block logic does not apply to these particular passages, because..." That it is poetry frankly makes not an ounce of difference, unless White wishes to produce some argument from credentialed social-science sources showing that expressions of mind shifted in poetic format.

It remains that Paul is not making a logical argument, any more than God made one (or had to) before Job. Indeed, the example of Job points to what I am talking about, and what Wilson otherwise relates: The Hebrews had experienced God personally at Sinai; it would be absurd to come to such people and say (for example), "You need the logic of the kalam cosmological argument to prove that God exists." White's own classification of Romans 9 as "logical" is similarly obtuse. Indeed, logicians would call what Paul does in Romans 9 a fallacious "argument from authority".

Thirdly, Wilson is obviously wandering into interpretation (and Holding follows) when he begins speculating about how ancient Hebrews "felt" or "sensed" things. The only way to know such things is from the written text itself, and that brings us full circle. How Holding can know Palmer was "proud" in his declaration I truly do not know, but in any case, stating that everyone on the "other side" of an interpretive situation are simply wrongly reading the text through the wrong "lens" is quite common: it just requires a lot more substantiation than Holding offers.

I do beg White's pardon, but neither Wilson nor any of my soruces has "wandered" or "speculated" or done any such thing, and come to that, one may as well say that White does the same in making ancient Hebrews into 16th-century Protestants. Nevertheless, scholars like Wilson, Pilch and Malina know these sort of things (broadly) not just from the single written text, but also from other written texts of the period, far more explicit; as well as from the present-day "living laboratories" of modern agonistic cultures. They have their substantiation in years of experience, research, and use of credentialed, peer-reviewed sources. It is very much an insult for White to simply palm off their work with what amounts to a "how do you know". As for Palmer being "proud," if White wants to play at literary analyst, I will re-read Palmer and produce quotes demonstrating his noxious arrogance.

Finally, it is a tremendous leap from this very lightly argued assertion to the conclusion that is offered, specifically, that Paul was presenting a "paradox" that he "saw no need to explain." This simply does not make any sense in Romans 9, for Paul is not only arguing his case and answering the objection raised at the beginning of the chapter, but he takes the time to answer repeated objections against his case, something someone presenting a paradox isn't going to be doing. To overthrow the direct meaning of the Greek text of Romans 9 by a vague, unargued, unsubstantiated reference to a concept in the Hebrew language, without even proving that the Hebrew source quotations contain such a concept, is eisegesis at its height.

Indignation as response paradigm will serve well and good for those wedded to their views and unwilling to see past them; nevertheless it remains that Romans 9 is no "answer" at all in the Western sense; like the book of Job, it is God from the whirlwind saying, "That's none of your concern." White has simply found himself lost in the hurricane of social concepts offensive to his Western sentiments; there is, again, not a thing "vague" or "unargued" or "unsubstantiated" about any of this (as my material on Ecclesiates, inserted into the text of the article, indicates) and it remains a non-answer that fails to in any sense show that the analysis is in error, and one should like to hear White himself say such things to a credentialed scholar like Wilson, whose publication credits include A Workbook for New Testament Greek: Grammar and Exegesis in First John (hence, he of all people should know that White's "it's in Greek" argument is worthless) and Dictionary of Bible Manners and Customs (with highly respected Evangelical scholars Yamauchi and Harrison).

Indeed, all that is offered by White is essentially a strict warning as the pulpit is pounded for effect and the red herring is waved about the head in self-righteous indignation:

We should be very, very wary of this kind of argumentation, since it then leads to this:

And that means that we are not obliged to simply accept Romans 9 at "face value" as it were, because it is a problem offered with a solution that we are left to think out for ourselves. There will be nothing illicit about inserting concepts like primary causality, otherwise unknown in the text.

Why we "ought to be wary" is not explained; though the intimation seems to be that it will lead us to abandon Calvinism, and that would be a horrible tragedy, though why this is so is not explained. Or perhaps it is because it will lead us to think for ourselves, rather than blindly accept authority, which I was under the impression was a value cherished by the Reformation. In any event, we are told:

This is nothing more than the abandonment of exegesis.

Far from it; exegesis -- true, contextual exegesis, not reading of the texts in isolation from their thoughtworld -- brought us to the conclusion; one may as well call it "abandoment of exegesis" to read Ecclesiastes in terms of similar wisdom literature of the period, such as The Man Who Was Tired of Life. It is at this point, however, that White retreats into full indignation mode; once again parroting his "unsubstantiated, unproven" lines and then going on to say:

We might well ponder why someone would have to seek to avoid taking Romans 9 at face value, i.e., in a direct fashion. The answer is known to all who have sought to present the great truths of this passage to those insistent upon maintaining their "rights" as "pots": man's imagination works overtime to find any way to get around God's truth at this point. Men who would otherwise chuckle in derision at such attempts when used by false teachers on other subjects (can you imagine anyone buying this kind of thing to get around John 1:1, for example?) will swallow them whole if it allows them to avoid seeing the Potter and His right over them, the pots.

It is here that White has become most offensive and insulting to date with his well-poisoning tactics; as predicted, this has now become a matter of shouting, "Give glory to God, you heathenous wretch" as the alpha male beats his chest to claim his territory. Of course that would be fair if it had been preceded by something of susbtance; as it is, we have been treated with 3 parts hemming and hawing, and now part of one part braying "how do you know, how do you know" into the ears of the public. One can verily hear the angelic choirs behind the throne of the Son of Man as White, seated there, demands that we give glory to the god made in Calvin's image.

The implied threat of getting around John 1:1, White can speak through the lather all he wishes: As a matter of fact, scholarship has affirmed even more greatly the orthodox nature of that passage, and since it involves no issues of block logic, the implication that we will all soon become JWs or what have you once context is allowed in the door is a shameless banging of the panic button until it breaks off of its spring. Such shenanigans I expect from the likes of Farrell Till (purveyor, as it happens, of the "how do you know" argument extraordinare); such I would expect from apostates with ants in their pants -- not from one professing to defend the faith, and doing it by stripping it of its armor.

Oddly, Holding goes on, seemingly, to speak of rabbinic interpretation in the Christian period and the alleged paradox that he has already read into Paul. No references are given, no connection made to Paul, and we are left only with the vague assertion that post-Christian rabbinic thought is "much closer to the vein than either Calvin or Arminius, by over a millennium and by an ocean of thought." How does one respond to such vague, unsubstantiated, disconnected argumentation? How is it that a post-Christian rabbi is "closer" than Calvin, who bowed the knee to Christ and taught from the pages of the same Scriptures the post-Christian rabbi rejected? We are not told. [continued]

And that ends it, but the question left is indeed ironic. How does one respond? One cannot, if one is so unfamiliar with the sources and scholarship that they are unable to see the points as anything but "vague," etc. I leave otherwise behind the almost racist comment that denigrates the ethnic and social heritage of a "post-Christian rabbi" whose life and thought was indeed more like Paul than Calvin, Christian faith notwithstanding. Next we will be told that "bowing the knee" to Christ turns one into a modern American and relieves ancient persons of their agonistic outlook, turning them into good little Calvinist clones. Such offensive, ethnocentric statements deserve little credence and even less comment; leading especially as they do to the appalling yet inescapable conclusion that Peter Ruckman would have been proved right merely by debating Farrell Till instead of James White. As one observer on TWeb -- a seminary student, as it happens -- puts it:

How is it that we appeal to Calvin over against the ECFs, who unambiguously took this to refer to man's ability to go against God's will? How about Origen (a native Greek speaker) who understood 20ff as being the part of an interlocuter and not being Paul's argument since it seemingly contradicts chapter 8?
Why would we care what Calvin says when his OT exegesis was based on rabbinic teachings which were intentionally anti-Christian?
Sorry, but White clearly does not have his exegetical ducks in a row. I recommend he read Kasemann, Fitzmyer, Esler, and Witherington. That should run the gauntlet for him, and maybe throw in a healthy dose of Cranfield for the grammar.

I regret to report that at this point, White's foot is entering his mouth and there is little hope for having it even surgically removed. (No surprise; White responds by appealing to Hays -- see [my tektoonics.com site] -- who merely resorts to namecalling against these credible scholars.)


And now, having thus inserted foot in mouth with some comments about rabbis and Calvin; and having associated me gratuitously and slanderously with "false teachers" and such, and now suggesting that what I say "makes the NTW look orthrodox"; White pretends that he had "no idea" I would respond as I did above.

Really now. Not after being associated with "false teachers"? Not after three days of hemming and hawing and saying nothing at all, as he himself admits? Ignoring entirely what I say about the works of credentialed scholars in the subject area, White merely brays forth yet again with the claim of "circularity" in those who read the texts in terms of "block logic"; not a whit of answer to the work of scholars I make use of, merely a sloughing off of his burden, as one not informed in the subject area of social sciences and anthropology, to show where those whose lives and works are intimately and with great depth tied into the subject matter, are actually and truly wrong. If such throwing off of responsibility is what White thinks is "how sound theology is done" then there is apparently some new usage of the phrase "sound theology" out there of which I and these credentialed scholars are unaware.

White's cognitive dissonance is such that he actually believes it is proven that Paul is using a logical argument because he uses "therefore" throughout his arguments as he leads from one point to the next and because he raises and then answers objections.

Oh, really? No; White has confused the form of logical argumentation with content. By his absurd reasoning, I can make a "logical" argument proving that the sun is made of American cheese, thusly:

  • American cheese is yellow.
  • The sun is yellow.
  • Therefore, the sun is made of American cheese.
  • But you object, "It is too hot to be cheese!"
  • But that therefore means it is melted cheese.

    And it is said, Even "Who are you, oh man, who answers back to God?" in 9:20 is a valid, and logical, response. The distinction of man from the Creator God is the answer.

    It is? No, it is not, not to the question asked, "Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?" The answer does not say why God still finds fault, and the man-God distinction is no answer to that either. It merely asserts God's right to do as He does, which is the expected Jewish answer, from those who had experienced God and for whom the endless "whys" are merely distractions. No more so is this "logical":

  • "Why is the sun not made of hydrogen, helium, etc.?"
  • "Who are you to question me, when I know so much about cheese?"

    I leave it that White excessive pressing of the panic button ("To do what Holding does here consistently throughout the text would result in the utter destruction of all exegesis and the end of any knowledge of the message of Scripture.") comes from one, as I said from the very beginning, unequipped to deal with the full range of scholarship and frightened by what may be found. This is not merely "I assert it, therefore it is true, unless you can disprove it" kind of reasoning -- not with the credits of scholars like Wilson, Malina, and Pilch at the helm. If White is sorry for exploding a nuclear bomb, I can only say that it was White who pressed the button that set his own bomb off.

    And now back to the main issues.

    J.P. Holding spent some time in his essay arguing that God's choice of Jacob over Esau can be seen as a cost/benefit analysis on God's part; that is, he invests a large amount of space discussing hypotheticals (infused with a little Molinism just for the fun of it--no, of course there is no effort to ground Molinism, or any of this, in the text itself) concerning alien planets and different races and the like, all the assert that it seems God chose Jacob because there would be more people "saved" if Jacob was chosen than if Esau was chosen (and I guess God, having that magical "middle knowledge," could "foresee" this). So he writes,

    A good chunk of what follows is quoted from me; but let me add here that I had no idea, when I started that essay, what Molinism was or how it was defined. Let the complaint of not grounding things in the text speak for itself; I was under the impression that White had ought against the likes of Peter Ruckman, who never give consideration to any defining contexts not found in the text itself. In this respect -- shall we make sauce for the goose? -- White continues to sound like Farrell Till, and like certain cultists I have dealt with in the past who insist that you can't go outside the Bible to understand the Bible. If it's not in the text, it's forbidden. Case closed. These are the sort of people who make errors like thinking Kings and Chronicles had "facing pages" when written. Other than that, I wonder (tongue in cheek), is White endorsing open theism, since he seems to denigrate ("magical") the idea that God could forsee all possible options?

    Is there unrighteousness with God? Hardly. "Why not choose me?" -- Esau. At the very least it may be said in reply, "Because look what happens if you do!" Now obviously we are using mere number of saved here as an exemplary hypothesis -- the multiplicity of possibilities and events is much, much more involved, to a degree that blows Job out of the water and into the orbit of Pluto and beyond. Only God can manage the multiplicity! That's why Paul's final answer is the same as it was to Job: "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" In other words, what do you know?
    But we have not covered every aspect as yet. The crux of election is Romans 9:16 --
    So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.
    It is our contention that Romans 9 may be better understood in terms of the rubric of primary causality. But we anticipate the objection that we would be thereby reading into the text a concept not found therein. Our answer is that we would not expect it to be found within Romans 9 or any explanation offered by Paul -- because such an "explanation expectation" would be the product of a Western low-context mind rather than a Hebrew high-context one, like Paul's.

    White now responds, and I should make a note first that I see no sign that he has any idea what I mean by low and high context either. But:

    This then is what led to the "Hebrew block logic" discussion in the previous installment. I review it here because that was a bit of an "excursus," and you need the previous section to follow what comes next. When Holding comes back to Romans 9:16, the key text he is seeking to answer from a non-Reformed perspective, he writes: "Then we have the matter of Jacob and Esau. Why one over the other? As we have suggested, one might theorize that under Esau, fewer would be saved than Jacob; or otherwise, God's purpose was not served by Esau as it was by Jacob. Simple enough." Of course, the person seeking to hear Paul in his own context, and finding the preceding arguments to be both disconnected from the text, and involving a great deal of eisegesis, has already had to get off Holding' train, so to speak. But leaving that aside, he goes on:

    Not much said here just yet; I would just note the irony of one who continues to speak of "Paul in his own context" while denying that he needs to deal with "Paul in his own context" as established by one of the most critical contexts of all, the anthropological context. If knowing of such things and using them to read an author is "eisegesis" then once again we seem to have a previously unknown definition of a word at hand. I am next quoted:

    Yet this has not been suggested, as yet, by any Calvinist commentary that I have seen on Romans 9. Rather it seems that there is a stumbling block to this interpretation involving 9:16 -- "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." The conclusion reached from this is that, as White puts it, "There was nothing in the twins that determined the choice." [208, emphasis added] That is why Paul makes it clear that the matter was decided before the twins were born; thus the source of election is solely in God.


    There is a reason why no Calvinist takes Holding's position: we tend to be folks driven by exegesis. Creating extensive external "systems" based upon speculations involving other planets, Hebraisms disconnected from the text under consideration, and the like, is not the hallmark of Reformed exegesis. Of course, there are many who call themselves "Reformed" today who are embracing stranger and stranger things, so maybe someday someone will come up with something like Holdings [sic] view while calling themselves Reformed, but I wouldn't hold my breath. But we continue with Holding:

    Anything here? No, just more alpha-male chest-beating, as one of my readers has noted. Given the choice between those who tout "Reformed exegesis" and those who actually have relevant credentials to interpret the text, however -- based on what was known and thought by people in the day the text was written, not by people living 1500 years later in a culture widely separated from the original -- I will take the latter. But me again:

    I am not sure whether White would disagree with what follows, but as the matter is stated by both he and Piper ("not merely prior to their good or evil deeds, but...also completely independently of them") there seems to be a certain dissonance with a later portion of Romans 9. Paul goes on to analogically compare men to vessels made by the Potter. Doesn't this indicate that vessels are made for certain purposes? (Of course it does.) And does this not suggest that to fulfill their purpose the vessels are made a certain way, and that there is something about them which fulfills the purpose? The point I see missed here is that the indication is not so much "completely independent" of what was in the twins, as what was in them that God as the Potter (and Prime Mover) created in them to enact His sovereign will. And it is not as though Esau could "compete" for Jacob's place, or as though Jacob could boast because God made him more in line with the purpose He had established. We cannot boast of being a better runner if our legs are equipped with booster rockets. (We could boast, actually, but to do so would be profoundly silly!)


    Allow me to answer the question included in the citation, "Yes, White would disagree with what follows." The reason is rather simple: though it is hard to follow the reasoning, it seems Holding is arguing that if God makes vessels of mercy or vessels of wrath for a particular purpose, then there must be something "about them" which fulfills God's purpose. But Holding has missed the point of both myself and John Piper: the choice by God is independent of what the twins did, good or evil: the point of the text is the freedom of God to accomplish His will independently of human interference or assistance. The emphasis is the freedom of God, not the freedom of creatures. Holding continues:

    Hard to follow? As yet no one else has had this problem, and White seemed to have figured it out just fine. But I have not missed the point made by he and Piper at all. I saw quite clearly what it was and proposed my alternative, because what Piper and White say does clearly not consider the option I gave. Pounding the drum of piety again is no answer, and no answer to what I say even appears in the above. I do agree that "the freedom of God" is part of the package here, though -- I merely place it at a much earlier stage than White, one with far less complications: At the point of primary causality. Me again:

    Consider this now as well with reference to Pilch and Malina's observation that in an ancient context, "mercy" is better rendered as "gratitude" or "steadfast love" -- as in, "the debt of interpersonal obligations for unrepayable favors received." Mercy is not involved with feelings of compassion, as today, but the "paying of one's debt of interpersonal obligation by forgiving a trivial debt." To say, "Lord, have mercy!" (Matt. 20:31) means, "Lord, pay up your debt of interpersonal obligation to us!" Far from being a plea of the hapless, it is a request to pay back previously earned favor from our client (God) whose patron we are.

    And the retort, with head in sand but not tongue in cheek:

    One should always take note when someone begins to define well-known, often used terms differently than they have been understood by the entire breadth of scholarship for a very long time, especially when they use non-standard sources to do so (remember the lesson of Dave Hunt). Here, Holding uses a single reference to a single source to overthrow the entirety of the body of Hebrew lexical study, and that without once making reference to the original languages or the issues involved in the translation thereof! The pattern is becoming familiar: single references expanded to general principles that are applied to specific texts without any concern for the actual language or context. Holding is not the first to do so, of course: he just does so with such confidence that those without the ability to evaluate the claims find him more compelling than someone like Dave Hunt. There is a reason why no modern translation done by committee renders the text the way Holding suggests: that's not what "mercy" means, either in the OT as a whole, or in the NT, and surely not in Romans 9:16. Holding is simply beyond the left field bleacher on this one. In our next installment we shall list the problems with this "translation" and provide a response thereto. [continued]

    In all of this blather there is not one actual answer to the point made; not one answer to the credentialed scholars used; merely a fear-inspiring pounding of the pulpit about use of "non-standard sources" (sorry, Pilch, Malina, et al are NOT "non-standard" sources to anyone familiar with the broad range of scholarship available, and their works are published by mainstream, credible publishers), reference to "the lesson of Dave Hunt" (oh? did he use Biblical scholars as his source?), and -- this is perhaps the most frighteneing -- White virtually mirrors Farrell Till's sort of response: "If it's what the translators say, it's good enough for me." Not one bit of effort at actual answer. And despite the promise, we expect none.

    And as more is added, Mr. White continues to sound even more like Farrell Till -- perhaps the most head-in-sand apologist for Biblical errancy -- in his reputed responses. Comments such as these are virtual mirror images of sayings that came from the mouth of Till so few years ago:

    I get the odd feeling that it really would not have mattered what I had to say in response to Mr. Holding: like those who have gone before him, he is infallible in his traditions, beyond the need to do exegesis, and hence quite confident in his denial of God's final freedom in the salvation of His people. I really wonder how many who have followed his writings were aware that the exegesis of the Word of God was to be determined on the basis of "Social Science Scholarship," and that of ancient cultures no less. Think about it: until Mr. Holding discovered the opinions of social scientists who speculate about how ancient cultures "thought," no one had a clue what Romans 9 was all about.

    And so on, as well as a repeat of the claim that "modern social scientists" are dependent on written texts, and engage in circular reasoning; so as well might have said the ill-equipped Till, with no conception of the sort of scholarship and peer review that goes on inside the professions of others. There is no pickle to speak of here, though we are indeed of the presence of sour grapes: Mr. White's last two entries (as of 2/13) are nothing but this sort of thing, and the same old head-in-sand approach that we have found, over the years, to be the charateristic of two parties in particular: "fundamentalists" and "fundamentalist atheists", each of whom (for different reasons) sees the admission of defining contexts as a threat to the well-being of their contrived version of Christianity.

    And rightly so. If it is admitted that indeed, it is not true that Paul was not an apple-pie American; that Jesus did indeed interact with the people of his time, not in terms of guilt and conscience, but in terms of honor and shame, then the whole Calvinist house of cards -- rooted as it is in a theology of guilt -- comes crashing down; and those with no other refuge fall with it.

    I cannot but be amused by White's commentary about those whose "faith is determined by externals" -- I ask the same question I have asked of others with the same naivete: Did the New Testament teach you the Greek language? Are not lexicons and linguistic tutorials "externals"? Did you rip the maps out of your KJV yet, Mr. White?

    No: What White means, is that he does not want any "externals" that don't back up the view he prefers. To such as these it would be mortal sin to suggest that 1 Corinthians might be better understood in terms of Greco-Roman rhetoric, and thus the works of Quintilian are to be shoved to the side as irrelevant.

    The sad news for the Whiteosauruses out there is that a quick trip to the seminary library will show that Evangelicalism and its scholarship has no truck for such idiocies. Nor do they pretend that there is some dichotomy between saying that the Word is God-breated, and using "externals", as White so derisively puts it, to understand what that text actually says. Nor does it find "clarity" in reading the text in isolation from the world it was written in; it finds rather that clarity is added when this is done. "Clarity" we may note is also found by the likes of KJV Onlyists, whose company I daresay White may soon find he enjoys better -- though at the expense of further cognitive dissonance.

    I leave behind as further evidence of White's inability to come to grips that he once again resorts to the red-faced pulpit pounding; his vague appeal to "inconsistencies" yet shown (after 8 editions, no less, which have still yet to say anything of substance or reply); the claims of newness in what I write (yet again, only to those disturbingly out of touch with the relevant scholarly literature), and a vague promise that he will soon "invest a little time in documenting the truth about these words" in Romans (as opposed, we'd guess, to investing time in more pulpit-pounding), though he "refuse[s] to be rushed by impatient readers."

    At this point I care little whether White stands on his head as he writes. I have had, and still have, a far more engaging and serious Calvinist correspondent I have exchanged dialogue with, and he deserves the respect White has not earned with his polemical circus performance thus far.

    In recent days a helpful reader of studious inclination has offered some comment on one of White's paragraphs:

    For those whose faith is determined by externals (various forms of tradition, ecclesiastical, historical, philosophical, etc.), the text of Scripture is more a field of prooftexts that are malleable in nature: they can be formed to "fit" into the mold provided by one's highest authority (tradition in all its forms). Faithful and obedient exegesis is not overly important in that context, for the actual meaning of the text as it was written is not the source of one's faith or belief. But for those who believe the Word to be God-breathed, exegesis is, in fact, the means by which one honors God by allowing Him to speak with clarity. Anything less than the most disciplined approach to the text will inevitably confuse the voice of men with the voice of God.

    Our reader makes some valuable points which we believe deserve attention. Here they are:

    This is grossly inconsistent on White's part, and is further testimony to the spinning-black-hole nature of his thought. Reformed commentators mold the meaning of Scripture according to the 'traditions' of philosophy and the historical sciences. Of course, any claim that the 'molding' on his part is causal (i.e., "I read it this way [in spite of better evidence to the contrary] SO THAT . . .") is simply a groundless accusation. He is blind to the real impetus of his exegesis.

    At any rate, he maintains that we (caucasian, middle- to upper-middle class males who all OF COURSE agree that Reo Speedwagon was the greatest band of the past century, and all OF COURSE realize that the most significant theological happening since the Reformation was a recent debate held between White himself and an Open Theist) ought to bust out the lamp (preferably candle lit, as was the custom of Luther et al), the lexicon, a grammar, and the (leather-bound) Scripture (absent the deuterocanonicals), and then, to focus upon and study intensively the literal significations of the words found in Scripture--literal significations which are themselves given by the trusty lexicon.

    The problem here is obvious. Unless White is assuming some sort of immutable ontological status to language-symbols (i.e., written and spoken words), alongside a one-one correspondence between a particular string of letters and a reality or concept, then it necessarily follows that his above described 'god-honoring' modus interpretationis is determined by an un-biblical 'tradition' of cultural concepts and language use. In other words, the only thing that such an exegetical method has going for it is the fact that it allows the man who insists on staying within the brickhouse that he has built around himself to move in circles within it. While I reject the notion of a purely exegetical theology, at least I recognize that if one is to ground oneself in the literal, then the only way to do so properly is via a thorough investigation of those disciplines which enable one to discover the connotations of words when they were employed during the period in question. Of course, J. P. has already pointed these things out in his own way. But that White is content simply to be a lexical-fundamentalist indicates not only that he isn't worthy of J. P.'s time, but also, that he is most likely incapable of seeing the necessity of questioning the principles underlying his own exegetical method.

    His waving off the necessity of engaging further historical disciplines on the ground that they themselves are based on nothing more than texts is, as you pointed out, ridiculous; such disciplines arrive at their results via the undertakings of persons who have devoted their expertise to examining a far greater number of texts than simply the 27 books of the NT (and if he can, with no justification whatever, wave away the results of experts in such disciplines, he can have no justification for taking issue with one who waves away what lexicons or grammars say--both get their results in precisely the same way, and if there is any major difference between the two approaches, it is that the lexical approach is grounded more heavily in a more visible human 'tradition' of concept use that has been passed down, ever-changing, through times and places). The historical method is valuable for precisely the same reason that having all of Paul's letters allows one to be better able to understand Romans, than if one had simply Romans and 1 Timothy alone.

    At any rate, given that he at least grants that Scripture requires a proper exegetical method in order to unearth true theology, it would be worth asking him--in light of the fact that all proper theology itself comes from Scripture--to point to that place in Scripture which provides the outline for proper exegesis. Though I've read such from, e.g., Augustine in his On Christian Doctrine, I have yet to read that book in Scripture which prefaces Genesis and is entitled, "Readeth Me Thus." Second, given the exclusively literal sense which he allows to the interpretation of Scripture, and that he will not allow a theological interpretation nor the influence of such as can be gleaned from the social and historical sciences, one would like to see him justify the Apostolic appropriation of the OT in light of Christ.

    And now for a new party. Lately White has pointed his readers to an earlier response, of which I was not aware, written by one Steve Hays, which White says "already said everything I have said in reference to J.P. Holding's manifold errors, exaggerations, and assorted mis-cues in his article on election." Considering that White himself has already admitted to saying nothing at all, this promise to duplicate the zero isn't very promising. But while he continues his fishing expedition in the face of the hurricane, he links readers to Hays' response, which we will now reply to [on tektoonics.com]. When and if White ever responds further, it shall be contained here, on this page.


    If patience is what we are supposed to have, James White sure won't loan us any. He did have some brief comments on our Romans 9 exegesis, but nothing more really than the usual pulpit-pounding we have seen so far. It should be pointed out that White has made a caricature of Molinism -- or at least, what view I hold -- in saying it is "the preferred route of intellectual Protestants seeking a way out of actually believing in the freedom of God and the enslavement of men to sin."

    Well, no; I believe completely in the freedom of God, I just don't see God exercising His freedom to the illoigcal extent that White does; and I believe in the enslavement of men to sin, I just see God infusing us with grace to the point where we are free to decide for Him. And if White thinks it some fault to have "not heard of the theory of middle knowledge before" even as I came up with it objectively and without bias, then it seems any rate of spin is one he will apply to make himself look better...which reminds me yet again of Farrell Till. How strange.

    But at any rate, the only complaint of my article some far is more vague blatter, of making "the same errors as the preceding material" (though we are still waiting, weeks later, for White to even give us one example); "depend[ing] on the same miscroscopic range of scholarship" (as I told Hays, it matters not how large the cup is, but how potent the brew is); and a complaint that it includes "venom."

    Oh dear. You mean like saying someone is a "false teacher"? It is said, "when pressed [Holding] turns to the weapon of choice of such folks: ad-hominem. This is not how you do exegesis." It isn't? OK. Then I have a question. Why is it that statements like these, from a review on Amazon.com of White's exchange with Hunt, turn up again and again and again in my mailbox and online?

    James White writes a concise, clear summarization of Calvinism, with very little of his usual condescension or sarcasm.

    I see. So if one is James White, then one is free to "do exegesis" with condescension and sarcasm. One is also free to use ad hominem, if one is James White. James White must have been "defend[ing] [his] tradition to the death," but not actually listening to text and determining his conclusions from the start. And I suppose that was what Tertullian was doing when he said Marcion had a pumpkin for a brain, and what Paul was doing when he called the Galatians foolish, and (goodness me) what Jesus was doing when he called the Pharisees vipers and whitewashed tombs. That wasn't condescending at all, was it? I suppose not. But Hays has room on his petard for White to join him if he so pleases. As he himself says, I do not have to respond to "evangelicals" who act in the exact same manner. Hmmm.

    White also wants to know, "what is the logical difference between posting on a blog over time, and posting an article and saying, 'I will be adding to this as I dig up more resources' ? Further, if he is still digging up resources, why the dogmatic stance, to the point of acting in such a manner as these words indicate?"

    The logical difference is that this project is one in which I am doing more petard-hoisting for its own sake. I will dig out the sources like Piper that White thinks to be so rock-solid and deal with them, just to shut the mouths of the obstreperous who hide behind them like a security blanket. More goes on here than simply White vs. Holding. It's also a battle of method and of a certain method of "doing" apologetics that I have quite consistently decried (whether from McDowell or anyone else) as doing more harm than good. The Christianity offered by a White is certainly a genuine faith but it is a badly equipped faith as well. It is time for the dinosaurs to be put out to pasture, and while I had hoped that I could permit them to simply go extinct on their own, since one has deigned to nip my heels, it seems I will have to call in the meteor ahead of time. Ciao, all.


    The latest response from White is all about the negation idiom issue, and over half of White's space is devoted to quotes of my material on that subject and my reply to a Skeptic on Jer. 7:22. Fair enough. Then we finally get to White's "reply" which amounts to yet more pulpit-pounding still and no real answer:

    This was the citation which pushed me over the edge into responding to Mr. Holding's assertions. All of the issues relating to whether this "negation idiom" is even valid at Jeremiah 7:22, let alone whether it is at all relevant to a completely unrelated text written in a different language aside for the moment, Holding's assertion is simply beyond belief.

    Leave it for itself that White simply dismisses the consensus of dozens of credentialed scholars (cited in my article, as well as in a followup article) about the negation idiom and its validity; this is the frustrated rant of one dealing in scholarship beyond his ken. I have also already extensively addressed the issue of the "different language" with another Calvinist correspondent (and as of this date, another reply is in process) but since White presents no real argument other than posturing in amazement and calling the argument names, not much can be said.

    What about that Paul himself would have spoken Hebrew, written it, and been thinking in Hebrew when doing exegetical work? What about bilingual interference? White doesn't even come close to addressing the issue with this posturing.

    It is amazing to see someone utilize this kind of argumentation who claims standing as a Christian apologist. He is presenting an odd, unusual, vastly minority understanding of a Greek text based upon a controversial interpretation of a completely unrelated Old Testament text written half a millennium earlier, and yet can seriously suggest that the burden lies with the majority who see no connection whatsoever?

    Anyone who thinks this view of Jer. 7:22 is "controversial" has obviously had his head in the sand for far too long. There is nothing in the least controversial about it; it is the solution for the problem of Jer. 7:22 held by a wide variety of scholars from across the ideological board; it is backed up by evidence of parallel phraseology from the OT and from culturally similar documents. The time makes not an iota of difference; it certainly doesn't for White when he uses Exodus 33 to interpret the text, so why should it be an issue when using Jer. 7:22?

    The "connection" is clearly established by linguistics and linguistic method: Whitney's article finds similar uses of negational use of lo throughout the OT. It would have been very familiar to Paul; furthermore, the use of extreme language clearly continued into Jesus' day (cf. Luke 14:26). White has no excuse for these worthless brushoffs.

    Surely we must see that the person suggesting the odd, the unusual, the strained, bears the burden of proof, not those who read the text in its own context without bringing in an odd view of a completely unrelated text! When you see someone suggesting an understanding that requires the acceptance of a far-fetched explanation without even offering a single reference to confirm it, but instead says the burden lies with everyone else, suspicion would be a good attitude to adopt.

    That burden has been satisified, White's chest-beating notiwthstanding. It is "odd, unusual" or "far-fetched" only to those who don't do their homework and I provided more than a "single reference": I provided a half dozen in the article cited, and many more in a followup article. Panic button pressing like this is not sufficient:

    Sometimes it is next to impossible to refute such unfounded assertions as this one by Holding. I mean, seriously, are we to look at every negative particle in the New Testament and go, "Oh, well, given the Hebraic background, it doesn't really mean 'not' but it actually means 'sort of'?" What kind of utter nonsense would result from such a practice? If you are going to assert that "not" does not really mean not, you need something more than one particular reading of Jeremiah 7:22 to support your assertion.

    I actually believe that White does think refutation is impossible, because he is unfamiliar with the critical literature on the subject of idioms in Hebrew and Hebrew thought. Such literature is no doubt banned by the Inquisition in his sector as threatening to fundamentalism.

    But as for the panic button of "every negative particle" the answer is no, we need not get that paranoid. Every passage may be subject to critical examination. In this case, taking the negatives in Rom. 9:16 creates a clear contradiction between 9:16 and later passages in Rom. 9, as I show. Calvinists of course solve this dilemma by calling anyone who asks the question heathens and saying they need to give glory to God. As yet that is about all White's responses have amounted to. And of course it is a falsehood to say we have only Jer. 7:22: We have the entire background of negation idioms and polarized forms of expression to appeal to, documented by the scholastics we cited.

    In the case of Romans 9, however, we can, in fact, refute the assertion in two ways: 1) immediate context, and 2) demonstrating a far better reading of Jeremiah 7:22 itself. The second portion of this response will provide that interpretation as found in Keil and Delitzsch's older, but still excellent, commentary on the Old Testament. So in support of the first point, consider well the context once again. Romans 9:11 states, "for though [the twins] were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to [His] choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, 'The older will server the younger.'" Are we to (consistently) apply this "negation idiom" to this passage as well? Note the parallel in the last phrase: "not because of works" is played off against "God's purpose according to His choice" and "but because of Him who calls." Can we make heads or tails of this passage by applying Holding's concept? No, Paul is drawing a contrast that is stark and strong. It is not because of works, not "well, it is mainly because of God's choice, but a little about works.

    At last we finally get to some real argument, but there is not much to it. The answer is the same: Rom. 9:11 is just yet another example of the negative used to express what is subordinate. Indeed that the very same passage contains another such example ("Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated") puts a substantial burden on those who would claim that characteristics are here eliminated fully, as supposed to subordinated.

    So the answer is yes: We apply idiomatic practice here as well. Indeed I have said as much in my commentary that White claimed to have read but obviously did not. It remains that "stark and strong" is merely literalism in the service of Calvinism, not a true reading of the text in its context.

    Again I remind the reader of the patent absurdity that the Calvinist of White's caliber puts us into:

  • "God calls, but not based on works or characteristics."
  • "So, uh, what does He call based on then?"
  • "The searching human mind finds no answer! All we can say is that it is NOT characteristics or works or anything about the person."
  • "Well, if it isn't any of that God calls people because of, what is there left?"
  • "God's will and freedom, of course!"
  • "OK, but WHY does God will to call certain people, and why does He freely choose X over Y?"
  • "Shut up and give glory to God, you heathen!"

    One wonders why White fears and resists so much the idea of using contextual and linguistic contexts to cut this Gordian knot. The only answer -- since he wishes to play the game of polemic, let it be as it will -- is that he is threatened by the unknown, and/or else subsumed by the pride that accompanies his Calvinist position, his perception of having a superior theology that allegedly gives the most glory to God and thus makes him superior to the poor, befuddled average believer who is still learning how to put a bone in their nose. And if that seems unfair, let the next lines speak for themselves:

    Next, if we follow this, Paul's imaginary objector repeatedly affirms the reading Holding is so desperate to avoid. If, in fact, all Paul is saying is that it is mainly God's sovereign choice, but that man's works, actions, etc., do, in fact, play a minor part, but a part nonetheless, why would Paul has his objector say, "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!" And how does Paul prove there is no injustice? By appealing to man's role? Just the opposite: "For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

    The caricature of desperation bespeaks its own frustration. Obviously it is hardly possible, in White's bigoted conception, that what is presented by his ideological opponents is an honest and spiritually-sensitive attempt to understand the texts; rather, it must be the ravings of a sin-deluded mind. May we remind the reader that such machinations are the province of cults and their various mind-control practices. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the initials of our opponent today are "JW".

    Beyond this, White is aware of what I say about mercy and compassion, and says so in a moment, but it is amazing that White is so insensate that he cannot see that Paul's objector (who is clearly making an irrational, emotional appeal anyway) would in any sense be satisfied by the idea that works or characteristics are still part of the mix of God's choice (for the issue at hand -- recalling from our commentary that this passage is NOT about salvation) in a highly subordinate role. The same question would still arise: "Who resists God's will?" It doesn't matter if we have the characteristics of Clark Kent; the question would still be the same, if God is supreme. The question portrays God as a cosmic bully imposing His will ruthlessly, and it would not change the question one iota under the view we offer here.

    In any event, this is indeed also answered by my point about the meaning of mercy and compassion in this setting, and White is aware of this, and says:

    Now, Holding's odd take on the meaning of mercy aside (I will address that as well), Paul's point is clear. Why is there no injustice with God? Because God's mercy and compassion are, by nature, and by necessity, free. There can be no controlling factor outside of God's own will. And this consistent theme continues past 9:16. Romans 9:18 says, "Therefore, He mercies whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." Is there not a stark contrast intended between the action of mercying and that of hardening? Is the one not the opposite of the other in this context? And is not the deciding factor the will of God? The consistency of the text is compelling and overwhelming. There is simply no basis for seeing a "negation idiom" in this text.

    White obviously has not grasped a thing I have said. I agree that mercy and compassion -- the offering of covenant kinship and consideration -- are free. It is once we are within that relationship that rewards and punishments begin to come into play (or does White deny that we have rewards in heaven?).

    Nevertheless this does not prove in any sense that God did not create people with certain characteristics that suited His purposes. What does White wish to deny? That God foreknew the characteristics of His creation? Is he now an open theist in the defense of Calvinism? This is the critical contradiction that Calvinism cannot account for, as noted above. It makes God dumb when convenient, just like open theism; or else tries to palm off answering. And yes, there does remain a contrast, in my view, between mercy and hardening: It is the stark contrast between covenant concern and non-covenant disregard. And yes, the will of God is to decide who He enters into kinship relationships with. But no, this still doesn't eliminate characteristics as a factor in God choosing people for specific assignments; and it does not eliminate free choice of humans as a factor in salvation (since we are still waiting for proof that making a decision is a "work", which Hays couldn't provide either). White offers a backwards all-or-nothing opposition grounded in a grossly literalistic reading of the text in Western terms.

    This has not been an answer by White, but merely a simple re-assertion of the view he prefers. That he is overwhelmed by the text is very nice, but it doesn't answer the argument about negation idioms. We still await that, as may be seen:

    In our next installment we will examine the relevance of this "negation idiom" in Jeremiah 7:22.

    And so it ends for this round, and we expect once again 80% pulpit pounding, 15% "Glory to God!" shouting, and 5% actual attempt at answer.


    For this round almost the entirely to White's case is composed of a direct quote from the commentary on Keil and Delitzch on the text of Jer. 7:22. K and D offer a view that is not my own, and White apparently is so insensate that he believes that simple assertion of another view amounts to a refutation. It does not, of course: and it remains that the majority outnumber vastly K and D is their view of what is in Jer. 7:22. White performs absolutely no critical evaluation of views and thus his offer of K and D on this point is essentially useless.

    Unlike White, we will critically analyze the position for validity and compare its virtues to those of our view. K and D begin with a critique of those who use the passage for a late date to the Pentateuch; we'll skip that and get to the matters of relevance:

    In the two verses as they stand there is the antithesis: Not xb;z")w" hl'ÞA[ yrEîb.DI-l[; did God speak and give command to the fathers, when He led them out of Egypt, but commanded the word: Hearken to my voice, etc. The last word immediately suggests Ex. 19:5: If ye will hearken to my voice, then shall ye be my peculiar treasure out of all peoples; and it points to the beginning of the law-giving, the decalogue, and the fundamental principles of the law of Israel, in Ex. 20–23, made known in order to the conclusion of the covenant in 24, after the arrival at Sinai of the people marching from Egypt. The promise: Then will I be your God, etc., is not given in these precise terms in Ex. 19:5ff.; but it is found in the account of Moses’ call to be the leader of the people in their exodus, Ex. 6:7; and then repeatedly in the promises of covenant blessings, if Israel keep all the commandments of God, Lev. 26:12, Deut. 26:18. Hence it is clear that Jeremiah had before his mind the taking of the covenant, but did not bind himself closely to the words of Ex. 19:5, adopting his expression from the passages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy which refer to and reaffirm that transaction.

    Already we can see the weakness in the position held by K and D. They admit the connection to Ex. 19:5 is tenuous, for the terms do not match; and indeed, they admit the words are found in passages given AFTER the detailed passages about burnt offerings and sacrifices, as well as before Israel leaves Egypt. But they create an excuse to beg the question: "Yes, well, Jeremiah had Ex. 19:5 in mind; but he didn't bind himself closely to them!" This kind of excuse is also used by atheists trying to force the texts to say what they do not; it most closely resembles the attempts of Randel Helms to create parallels between the OT and NT, and thus make the NT ahistorical.

    The answer to this is that Jeremiah probably has promises all thorugh the Pentateuch in mind when he writes 7:22, and not just Ex. 19:5.

    If there be still any doubt on this head, it will be removed by the clause: and walk in all the way which I command you this day (~T,ªk.l;h]w: is a continuation of the imper. W[åm.vi). The expression: to walk in all the way God has commanded, is so unusual, that it occurs only once besides in the whole Old Testament, viz., Deut. 5:30, after the renewed inculcation of the ten commandments. And they then occur with the addition font ~k,(l' bj;îyyI ![;m;Þl., in which we cannot fail to recognise the ~k,(l' bj;îyyI ![;m;Þl. of our verse. Hence we assume, without fear of contradiction, that Jeremiah was keeping the giving of the law in view, and specially the promulgation of the fundamental law of the book, namely of the decalogue, which was spoken by God from out of the fire on Sinai, as Moses in Deut. 5:23 repeats with marked emphasis. In this fundamental law we find no prescriptions as to burnt or slain offerings.

    While this is interesting, a connection to Deut. 5:30 makes hash of what Jeremiah says in his temporal marker, "in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt..." Do K and D and White think that 40 years later is the same "day"? If it does, then how can they limit the matter to Exodus 19:5 and the time around it? How can it be, since all the people who came out of Egypt, but a tiny handful, were dead by the time of Deut. 5:30? The attempt to make a connection back to Sinai is a leap; K and D want to have their cake and eat it too, leaping from Deut. based on a linguistic connection to Exodus based on a similarity-of-action connection. The better answer is again that Jeremiah has a broad swath of the Pentateuch in mind.

    K and D go on to critique another view held by Jerome, which is not anything like ours, so we skip it and wonder why White didn't do the same. Perhaps he hoped to impress readers with a long citation; more likely he was looking for a "quick and dirty" response to post, in line with his being accustomed to oral debates wherein the largest and loudest sound bite wins. Then we have the following -- in which ironically, K and D give the same answer in principle that we do about the purpose of the negation idiom:

    The purport of the two verses is accordingly as follows: When the Lord entered into covenant with Israel at Sinai, He insisted on their hearkening to His voice and walking in all His commandments, as the condition necessary for bringing about the covenant relationship, in which He was to be God to Israel, and Israel a people to Him; but He did not at that time give all the various commandments as to the presenting of sacrifices. Such an intimation neither denies the divine origin of the Torah of sacrifice in Leviticus, nor discredits its character as a part of the Sinaitic legislation. All it implies is, that the giving of sacrifices is not the thing of primary importance in the law, is not the central point of the covenant laws, and that so long as the cardinal precepts of the decalogue are freely transgressed, sacrifices neither are desired by God, nor secure covenant blessings for those who present them. That this is what is meant is shown by the connection in which our verse stands. The words: that God did not give command as to sacrifice, refer to the sacrifices brought by a people that recklessly broke all the commandments of the decalogue (v. 9f.), in the thought that by means of these sacrifices they were proving themselves to be the covenant people, and that to them as such God was bound to bestow the blessings of His covenant. It is therefore with justice that Oehler, in Herzog’s Realencykl. xii. S. 228, says: “In the sense that the righteousness of the people and the continuance of its covenant relationship were maintained by sacrifice as such—in this sense Jahveh did not ordain sacrifices in the Torah.” Such a soulless service of sacrifice is repudiated by Samuel in 1 Sam. 15:22, when he says to Saul: Hath Jahveh delight in burnt and slain offerings, as in hearkening to the voice of Jahveh? Behold, to hearken is better than sacrifice, etc. So in Ps. 40:7; 50:8ff., 51:18, and Isa. 1:11f., Jer. 6:20, Amos 5:22. What is here said differs from these passages only in this: Jeremiah does not simply say that God has no pleasure in such sacrifices, but adds the inference that the Lord does not desire the sacrifices of a people that have fallen away from Him. This Jeremiah gathers from the history of the giving of the law, and from the fact that, when God adopted Israel as His people, He demanded not sacrifices, but their obedience to His word and their walking in His ways. The design of Jeremiah’s addition was the more thoroughly to crush all such vain confidence in sacrifices.

    The emphasis we add to words which mirror the reasons why the "negation idiom" explanation is to be supported -- indeed, the passage in 1 Sam. 15:22 is used as a parallel in that very argument! So it is, ironically, that K and D end up offering the same explanation we do, though without the assistance of the negation idiom concept; and furthermore, they provide nothing at all that refutes or responds to our argument, which makes White's use of them even more irrelevant. And perhaps that is of little wonder, since their commentary was authored before much of the work we cited on this subject.

    Now for comparison, and to show the thorough inadequacy of White's reply (and the hypocrisy of it, given his earlier condemnations of our use of a small number of sources!) we bring in our own survey of the commentaries, from our prior study, performing the same analysis in terms of positives and negatives, with the reply of K and D instead considered:

    I'll begin with a comparison to another place where I have written of irony in a text, this time in 2 Corinthians. In this article I referred to Holland's paper, "Paul's Use of Irony as a Rhetorical Technique" in The Rhetorical Analysis of Scripture, 1997 (234ff). Holland discerned in 2 Corinthians "multiple layers of irony" which "involves a much more complicated mental transaction on the part of the audience" than a "normal" transaction -- and notes further the risk involved in such a technique, since it is widely open to misunderstanding (as indeed Jer. 7:22 is). Irony is the rhetorical art "of saying one thing while meaning another." This was a technique known and used by Greco-Roman writers. Among known ironic techniques are what Holland, citing Booth, calls the "open proclamation of pure error." An example of this in the NT is where Paul refers to God's "foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:25). It is a blatant error from Paul's perspective to speak of God as foolish; hence Paul must be speaking ironically.

    We argue that Jer. 7:22 fits the model of an "open proclamation of pure error" and is intended as an ironic statement. We will now survey the views found in available Jeremiah commentaries (and one other book) and compare arguments.

  • Nicholson (1973) offers two ways to read the verse. The first is the way that we agree with; the second is that Jer. 7:22 was written during the Babylonian Exile by persons for whom sacrifice had indeed become meaningless. Nicholson finds the first "more probable" and regards the second as a "possibility" that "should remain open." He offers no study of Semitic idiom but clearly has the knowledge to stand on the side of it. His second explanation is of course possible but reaches into recesses of unsubstantiated speculation (i.e., we have no copy of Jeremiah lacking 7:22 which would support such a textual difference; it does not suit the tenor of books like Ezekiel written in Exile that suggest a return to the sacrificial system, and thus posits an otherwise unknown party of Jews).
  • Brown (1907) is the only commentary of the set we consulted that tries to give reasons why the idiomatic reading is untenable. Brown offers no study of Semitic idiom and does not answer any arguments for the position based on linguistic data (which was indeed available to him; see below). We will look at his four reasons, and then answer them in light of the known ironic technique of "open proclamation of pure error" (OPPE).

    1. Brown says, "...in a matter of such importance the prophet would be likely to use a regular, not an unusual method of speech." The questions begged here are enormous! That there is a correlation between "importance" and use of figures of speech (which is based on nothing, apparently, other than Brown's cultural assumption that one would only say important things in a literal way!) and that one can define a method of speech as "regular" or "unusual" on one's own recognizance. Brown made no effort to show that such a form of speech would have been "unusual" or used only for "unimportant" matters in Jeremiah's time and culture. If anything, the data shows the opposite (see Whitney above, and Hommel below). Was the OPPE used only in "unimportant" matters by Greek and Roman rhetoriticians? And how does one define "important"?

    2. "...[T]he relative antithesis is assumed without satisfactory parallels." This is answered by Whitney's parallels above, and Hommel's below. (For Whitney's list and our analysis, see article link 4 below.)

    3. "The assumed insignificance of the offerings is not consistent with the solemn commands and sanctions of the Pentateuchal legislation." Brown has it wrong; it is not "insignificance" but "relative significance". Moreover he takes no consideration for the differing genre (legal code vs. prophetic oracle) and circumstances (administering of covenant initially vs. historical situation of abuses) of the two places he is comparing which explain the difference in "solemnity". One may as well also compare examples of the OPPE and find equally "solemn" counters.

    4. Brown ends, "an absolute antithesis is more in harmony with the previous verse." It is? "Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh." It's just as much in harmony with the idea that this is a relative antithesis telling the people to get off their rear ends and start practicing God's ways (v. 23).

    In short, Brown's objections do not deal with any linguistic data and are overwhelmingly anachronistic and subjective.

  • Laetsch (1965) opts for a view the same as ours, but provides no argumentation about idiomatic usage. He does note that Jeremiah was not nailed by the priests for opposing the temple apparatus, which he should have been had he actually opposed it literally. In context Laetsch for me would be a persuasive authority, but I could not cite him as a "B" to Skeptic X's A.
  • A. H. Herbert (1959), Worship in Ancient Israel, John Knox Press. Herbert takes the view that Jer. 7:22 is an example of hyperbole [48-9]. The passages like this one (and Mic. 6:6-8 and Hos. 6:6) are "not presenting the stark alternatives" but "insisting on the primary importance of righteousness without which ritual is useless or even dangerous." Herbert compares this to Luke 14:26 (see the same point as we make it here) and notes that this verse is an example of something that would mean hating family members in "English idiom" but in "Hebrew idiom it is a vigorous way of expressing a comparison or priority"....
  • Lange (n.d.) opts for our reasoning, but gives no accessory support.
  • Van Orelli (1889) agrees with our view, noting the "form, frequent in Semitic languages, of the absolute for the relative antithesis." He also notes elsewhere that Jeremiah seems to recognize the sacrificial system as valid (17:26, 33:11). No specifics are given of such Semitic idiom, but Van Orelli's knowledge makes him at least a persuasive authority.
  • Stearne (1952) makes no clear statement of interpretation, though he does apparently suggest something along the lines of a separate source, after the JEDP model.
  • Brack (2000) argues from the view that Exodus was written after Jer. 7:22, but adds that since sacrifices were conducted in Jeremiah's day, he also finds the answer the same way we do, in Semitic linguistics, by which this says that regulations about sacrifice do not occupy a central place, but that "God had not commanded sacrifices as the essential fature of covenantal obedience." He gives no specific examples of such idioms.
  • Driver (1906) solves the matter through a matter of differing documents being combined at a later date. He says nothing about linguistic features.
  • Freedman -- this commentary is by a Jewish rabbi who backs up Feinberg about the use of Jer. 7:22 in the synagogues after readings from Leviticus. He opts for the same explanation we have, but does not give examples.
  • Harrison (1973) agrees with our view, but offers no explanation.
  • Holladay -- rejects the idiomatic view, claiming it cannot be put on the text "without violence" and claims that a reading "certainly presses the hearer to the conclusion" that Jeremiah is rejecting the origins of the sacrifices. Holladay does not deal with any linguistic arguments.
  • Kommel (1900) in an article, "A Rhetorical Figure in the OT" (Expository Times, 11, 439), notes paralells in Arabic of a form of speech that involve "a denying of the original sense of a word". From an Arabic poem he offers an example, along with others: "Not he who has died and rests is dead; dead is rather the dead among the living." The meaning of the passage is: "Not (only) he who has died and rests (in the grave) is dead; dead is rather (or, much more, lit. only) the dead among the living." The "not" here is exactly as we figure it to be in Jer. 7:22. Another example: "The strong is not (only) he who strikes down his foe, but the strong is (rather also) he who rules himself."

    This ends the survey, and thus our conclusions, now modified for White. Our reasons for saying that Jer. 7:22 is a statement of verbal irony, rather than the explanation White offers, are as follows:

  • There are clear exact parallels in the Arabic language (Kommel) and the OT (Whitney).
  • There are clear general parallels to the use of such figures of speech and irony in other ancient languages (Caird, Holland).
  • Jer. 7:22 was paired with Leviticus in synagogue services. For our purposes this suggests that the Jews saw a direct connection between Jer. 7:22 and the Levitical laws, thus debunking the connection made by K and D to Ex. 19:5 exclusively.

    In reply, White thinks this is enough of a positive reason to read it as he does:

  • It bears some resemblance to Ex. 19:5.

    With not one whit of attempt to negate any of the above.

    And so, so much for White's chest-beating claim that Jer. 7:22 "can, and should...be read differently" (so might a Mormon say of Gen. 1:26, doing just as much critical analysis as White); and of course, even if he did eliminate Jer. 7:22, there would remain the further cites of Whitney wherein the same negation idiom was used. So also ends White's claim that there is no "meaningful connection to Romans 9 other than purely wishful thinking," for the connection is clear in the general nature of the language used by the Hebrews, and the specific examples of the idiom cited, not only in Jer. 7:22, but also in the other passages cited by Whitney. White stands convicted of scholastic incompetence, and his position stands not only refuted, but buried and dead.


    Things are now taking a desperate tack over at aomin.org, as White now proceeds to play the cards of the atheist (you can see it yourself); a claim of "[l]ong, rambling, insult-filled responses" (I suppose I should have just called White a false teacher, which would have been OK); a claim of "stringing together source after source without showing the slightest understanding of what those sources are actually saying, or even more to the point, how they are in contradiction with each other" (though after 4 weeks we still await an actual example of this happening; White seems more inclined to simply draw from his well of stock rejoinders, as opposed to actually proving their relevance); and in the end, quoting ONLY of the last paragraph in the entry above (which White apparently cannot recognize as a parody of his own prior conclusion) but not one word from the detailed refutation prior.

    Please note again the misrepresentation: What was said of the general nature of the language of the Hebrews was not "determined by a librarian" but by credentialed, scholarly sources used by that librarian (whose own degrees -- if we wish to play that game -- at least are from accredited universities, as is my own) whom White has done nothing but insult. The connection to Rom. 9:16 is clear to anyone not suited with Calvinist blinders.

    And is that the end? White says we may leave me alone now; I doubt if this means permanently.


    Ha. Do I know my man, or don't I? :-D

    Yes, it seems that White has let his JPHolding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder get the best of him; and he could not help but try one more reply, and this one is on the meaning of the word mercy. Now I suspect White has not seen my extensive discussion of this word with a far more forthright Calvinist opponent. But that can be forgiven. Let's get right to task.

    Determining lexical meanings of terms used in Scripture is about as foundational a skill as one can have in handling the Word of God, and yet there are no end to the errors one will find in print and, even more so, on the Internet, relating to the subject. The "look at the first use of the term in the Bible and follow that meaning throughout" error is quite common; we have documented men like Dave Hunt doing the "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance Waltz" where it is assumed a particular English word, such as "whosoever," can be read backwards into both Hebrew and Greek. The range of such errors is wide indeed.

    As usual, White cannot resist a little well-poisoning; we can let the absurdity and fundamentalist mentality of comparing credentialed scholars with doctorates to Dave Hunt or with a "look at the first use of the term" method speak much for itself. The Context Group does no such thing; it looks at the meaning of the word within its cultural context, through the means of detailed sociological study by equitably (or more) credentialed scholars, and provides us with a more properly contextualized reading than one grounded in our own (where applicable) decontextualizations.

    Can White actually show us the error of their ways? Certainly not on their terms as sociological scholars (since White is not one); for I doubt if White even knows or understands the difference between an individualist and a collectivist society, which is indeed critical to understanding why "mercy" must be defined as they have done it.

    White then proceeds with a condescending account of "relevant issues to be considered" for understanding the meaning of the word. Extracting a bit more poison, he says that "almost none of [these] appear anywhere in Holding's original discussions" though why any of these are of any relevance at all is not explained; White merely hurls the elephant as though hoping to hit something. To wit:

  • First, Romans is written in Greek. The meaning of the terms in Greek must then be assumed to be primary. That meaning is to be derived from sound lexical sources that take into consideration both the use of the term in the secular culture, in the New Testament literature, and in the Greek Septuagint, the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The amusement I got from this was stellar, for two reasons. First, White must truly be "out of it" to suppose that credentialed Ph. D. scholars like Pilch and Malina were not somehow aware that "Romans is written in Greek". Did they not know that, now! I had no idea. And I suppose they must have never heard of the Septuagint. In his effort to be condescending and strike some chord of mystique, White has provided a point that in essence proves absolutely nothing. Allow me to point out that it is an aspect of Greek culture -- to say, Greco-Roman culture specifically, and collectivist culture in general -- that brings Pilch and Malina et al. to their conclusion. White may delude himself as much as he wishes by insulting credentialed scholars, intimating that they are unaware of the semantic domain of the words in their study. It is precisely that White's own "semantic domain" lacks an important aspect that is the problem.

    Of particular amusement as well is that White solemnly informs us that "context is king" -- though apparently, as has become clear, when that "context" involves sociological contexts, the king's throne turns out to be one with a flush handle as far as White is concerned.

    In any event, this brief lesson in semantics, which Pilch and Malina certainly did not need, rambles on to no relevance with points of no disagreement to a word we have said. Yes, we agree Paul is "presenting an argument, a reasoned defense of his assertions going back into chapter eight." Esler says the same in his review of Romans 9, and I say the same in my own commentary on the book. So likewise it is not news that Paul "is quoting from the Old Testament, and therefore we must look at the background" (as I did, and as the scholars did). "But, we must be careful immediately, for Paul is writing to the Romans, not the Jews in Jerusalem," White informs us. I wonder if White has forgotten that the Roman church is thought to have been a mix of Christian Jews and Roman Gentiles; his comment that Paul's "citations are from the LXX, not the Hebrew text" seem to miss an important point that the LXX was used just as authoritatively by Jerusalem Jews as the Hebrew text. But it's hard to say, because it is not clear what point White is trying to prove here, other than that "the text being read by the Apostle's audience would be the Greek LXX," which is an issue that is yet to be of any proven relevance in the first place. To say "arguments about nuances of Hebrew terms underlying the translation must establish their relevance from strong contextual argumentation" is true on the surface, but of no relevance since Hebrew and Greek culture alike were collectivist in orientation, and Pilch and Malina would assign no basic difference in value to the meaning of mercy on that basis.

  • There is one other factor to consider as well: the text cited, Exodus 33:19, contains a clear example of Hebrew parallelism; that is, God says to Moses, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." Note that the two terms are expressing a singular thought; that is, in the context, graciousness and compassion must be seen in light of each other. They are not being equated, but neither can they be defined separately from their usage in parallel in this particular text. To put it simply, that's no news either. We have already explained in other material (which White chooses to ignore) how the meaning of "mercy" and "compassion" in Ex. 33:19 reflects our views. I suppose White will prattle on about how Pilch and Malina are "ignorant of the languages" and "completely dropped the ball and made the most basic kind of error you can in argumentation" but for the nonce we are still waiting for an actual showing of error, and we will be waiting some more, as it happens. We are told that "standard lexical sources show no sign of being confused about the meaning of the terms in use in this passage" but this is no better than Farrell Till quoting English Bibles from 1611 and 1875 to prove that a lexical study by a Hebrew scholar done in 1997 is in error. As I told our more worthy Calvinist opponent, 1) lexical specialists are not specialists in sociology; and 2) there is no reason to think that any of the lexical specialists would disagree in principle with what we have written; it is not a case of, "it is not this, but rather is this" but, "it is not just this, but more". And unless White can show that the lexical authorities 1) know of the sociological aspect and 2) refute it, all of this lecturing is mere bravado to cover up an inadequacy.

    But the heart of White's rant here is that Ex. 33:19 proves his point and not mine, though no effort is made to interact with what I have said about Ex. 33:19, which means either White has chosen to ignore it, or has in fact not read an article which he earlier claimed he did. Nor is any effort made to approach the matter on the terms of the scholars who described it; White merely pulls an atheist stunt and pomps that lexical sources can't be trumped, so there too, nanny nanny boo boo. There's not one actual answer in any of this. Pointing out that "mercy" is "expressed in the singular present active masculine participle" is quite interesting but doesn't do much more than show that White is attempting to baffle us with baloney sandwiches. Maybe to impress the reader I ought to insert some comments about quantum physics. But then we are offered the extended quote of my article about how "mercy" is defined, and then these "answers":

  • Now, if you look to the source being cited, you immediately discover a few things. First, the discussion is about the term "gratitude," not "mercy."

    That said, if you really look at the source cited and take it seriously, you also "discover" that on page 132, there is an entry for "mercy" and it says, "See Grace/Favor; Gratitude; Steadfast Love." Not that White takes serious scholarship seriously enough when it contradicts his preferred point of view, but the bottom line is that this piece if trivial categorization is of no relevance; it happens this way only because G comes before M in the English alphabet.

    This does not give us much hope for real meat to be forthcoming, and we are right:

  • Secondly, the focus is upon the Hebrew term chesed, "covenant faithfulness" or "lovingkindness," and that term's wide semantic domain and range of usage (all of which is quite true). However, the point that seems to have utterly escaped Holding's attention, and which makes the entirety of his argument utterly without merit, is this: the term chesed does not appear in Exodus 33:19 nor does it lie behind the Greek terms used in Romans 9. You may wonder at this point why White does not tell us, in turn, what word does lie behind Ex. 33:19 (unless it is behind the mangled characters that are supposed to be Hebrew, leaving us to wonder anyway when White will care enough to provide real Hebrew characters rather than requiring us to install fonts or some such). True, it is not hesed; but that makes not a whit of difference in this context. The word used is racham, and while White is so eager to make an issue of the difference in the precise word, he is not particularly eager to show how racham functionally makes our explanations (and those of Pilch and Malina) void or of no relevance. Indeed he makes no effort to do so, and for good reason: The two words are virtual synonyms.

    Is there any difference at all? Yes, racham comes from the Hebrew word for "womb" and thus seems to have evolved from the sense that one's mercy or compassion comes from within one's bowels (an aspect of Semitic Totality, another concept White would not be familiar with). Indeed that it comes from "womb" attests to the familial connection that racham implies, just as we have said "mercy" would have, and that both words are often translated as "mercy" in English also speaks for itself.

    So would indeed this change anything? No, it does not: Indeed, given the familial implications of racham, it only makes our case stronger. I am sure White is hardly about to argue that interfamilial love is NOT expressed in terms of "gratitude" or "steadfast love" and that "ongoing reciprocity" does not exist within a sound family structure. This is precisely why White refrains so boldly from telling us what word is in Ex. 33:19, and what it means, and is even less outgoing in terms of explaing why it changes a word I have offered. No, instead White has only strengthened my case in spite of himself.

  • In the end, White is left with the strawman "argument" that Pilch and Malina never once cite Romans 9, and Holding's wonderfully unique rendering of 9:16 is nowhere suggested or promoted by Pilch & Malina. What of it? This is akin to Michael Jackson suggesting that he is not getting a fair trial because no one is calling Bruce Springsteen to the stand. White bleats of misapplication but has yet to show any; indeed his single effort has fallen flatly upon its royal face, and the stench of hypocrisy reeks from his addled diatribe charging abuse. (It would help as well if he got my argument right; I say nowhere that in Exodus 33:19 God was in fact saying that by showing mercy to Moses He was fulfilling His debt of personal obligation to Moses as his patron, and nothing even close to that, as White would know had he bothered to do more than scan my work and that of Pilch and Malina for sound bites he could twist to his advantage. White treats my material as he claims I treat the Bible: Like a JW or a cultist.)

    And so it is that White's stultified fundamentalism has once more betrayed him into making an error that only a Farrell Till could commit. It boils down to this: Racham and chesed are virtual synonyms. White failed to explain -- in fact, he deftly avoided explaining -- how the difference in word makes any difference to my argument. Is there indeed a difference? Yes, but they are differences of no difference to my points. A writer for Christianity Today defined the words differently thusly: The beautiful word hesed is the beautiful love: steadfast love. The gentle word racham is the gentle love: compassion. By this, racham is an expression of chesed; he who loves steadfastly, will naturally also love gently. Holman's tells us:

    Racham is related to the Hebrew word for “womb” and expresses a mother's (Isaiah 49:15) or father's (Psalms 103:13) love and compassion, a feeling of pity and devotion to a helpless child. It is a deep emotional feeling seeking a concrete expression of love (Genesis 43:14; Deuteronomy 13:17). This word always expresses the feeling of the superior or more powerful for the inferior or less powerful and thus never expresses human feeling for God. The word seeks to bring security to the life of the one for whom compassion is felt. The majority of Bible uses of racham have God as subject. Compare Hosea 2:4,Hosea 2:23; Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 10:6. God “has compassion on all he had made” (Psalms 145:9).

    That was for the entry on compassion; here, from the one for mercy:

    Like racham, chesed describes a variety of human relationships: husband and wife (Genesis 20:13), next-of-kin (Genesis 24:49), father and son (Genesis 47:29), host and guest (Rahab and the spies—Joshua 2:12-14), friends like David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:8,1 Samuel 20:14-17), king and subjects (2 Samuel 2:5). Also like racham, it expresses itself in action: Rahab delivered the spies; Jonathan protected David from Saul. The relationship is always reciprocal. One who experiences the chesed of another is to reciprocate when the opportunity presents itself. Thus, the spies promised protection for Rahab, and David pledged to protect the house of Jonathan. An element of covenantal fidelity was involved. An element of mercy was also involved. Each sought to meet the other's need. Since one can scarcely meet a need of God, this covenantal aspect of mercy was expressed in God's requirement to show mercy to others. This was often coupled with a command for justice (Micah 6:8; compare Hosea 12:6; Zechariah 7:9).

    Based on this, racham is different from chesed mainly in terms of direction; racham is chesed expressed by a superior for an inferior. Note as well that my entire point has been about "mercy" in terms of God meeting our needs, not vice versa, and that this Holman entry admits to the reciprocity aspect -- in a way I have clearly noted in other places: Our own obligations as slaves of Christ are to work on his behalf in the service of the body. The critical components are exactly the same: gratitude, steadfast love, and ongoing reciprocity. The only difference between the two words is the status of the parties involved! And thus my point remains standing: Ex. 33:19, and Romans 9, are about God's covenant faithfulness -- not some Calvinist meandering about God's mysterious designation of who is saved and who is not.

    The crux of the matter is that in a collectivist world, benevolence, kindness, and interpersonal obligation are all of one piece. White is trying to "pull a fast one" my making light of the difference in word use, and nothing else -- to the point of not even telling us what the other word is (unless in mangled Hebrew characters), or what it means! I believe that such patent dishonesty speaks for itself. White is clearly too devoted to his Calvinist rhetoric to be completely forthcoming in his answers.



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