Monday, May 30, 2005

Pedantic Protestant World Tour 2005

There will not likely be any more posts until Thursday or Friday of this week.

The PP is giving a technical talk in the field associated with his day job, and will be near the Bay Area. I'm earning the first P in my name. The Bay Area will of course be deluged with Pedantic Protestant tee-shirts and coffee mugs in the process.

I dread airports. They're boring, the seating is not particularly comfortable, and one has to get there so early [for security reasons] that one has a large amount of waiting time just while waiting to board the plane, let alone the flight.

And, on top of that, when I'm actually on the plane, the guy in front of me invariably decides to lean back and crush me so that HE can stretch out. At this stage, the PP begins to visualize vats of boiling oil and torture racks.

There are also the really big people whose bodies spill out onto your seat, meaning that everything you do has to account for a wall of flab that is blocking a good portion of your range of motion! I mean, you try to get up so you can go to the bathroom, sabotage the smoke detector, and light up, and there is Jumbo in your way!

I liked the idea of the sci-movie The Fifth Element, where among other things, people lay down in a bunk-like device for the flight. That would make the flight enjoyable, since a good long nap could knock off most of the flight time.
Ah, but the world does not listen to the PP.

In brief, today is a travel day, and we're not at all amused. =(

Scared of Hell? Part Two

Part One dealt with a brief look at some atheist comments regarding Hell. This second part will deal with some general relevant comments concerning Hell.

(1) Whether or not Hell offends or delights, this has nothing to do in any logical sense with whether historic Christianity is actually true.

(a) Historic Christianity already has more than enough doctrines to offend the modern freethinker or skeptic, such as original sin, the distinction between men and women, the sexual mores, supernaturalism, etc. Adding one more doctrine such as Hell to the mix isn't going to "de-convert" a Christian, and, on the other hand, subtracting this doctrine isn't going to remove the offense that Christianity causes.

(b) As a de facto objection, pointing out that Hell causes one all sorts of problems [see Smith's emotive comments below] fails. As a de jure objection, Hell has the possibility of being a promising tool to undercut the claim that historic Christianity is rational, but, I'll try to give some talking points below as to why, even though Hell has the potential to be a winning de jure argument, it runs ashore.

(2) Let's deal with the fear aspect first.

Am I somehow disreputable or cognitively deficient because part of the impetus for my coming to faith was based on a fear of Hell? The answer is in the negative.

(a) If Hell is final separation from God, regardless of the other frightening imageries that are [metaphorically?] employed to describe it, then why would anybody not have trepidation at being severed in an immutable sense from God? It seems eminently rational to want to avoid this.

Growing up, I remember various rock and country songs where the Devil or Hell were described in positive terms. The renegade man looks forward to Hell; he can congregate with other sinners and continue what he likes, etc etc etc. [Insert your own "cool" image here.] However, this strikes me as the height of irrationality, to want Hell. First off, there is no justification for viewing Hell in that light --- it suspiciously corresponds with the songwriter's view about what Hell is. [Yet atheists are the ones accusing Christians of promulgating a mental projection!!] Secondly, it doesn't take into account God's immutability and characteristics. If God is perfectly just and perfectly good, then God is limited by His own nature. God and evil cannot commune. While Hell isn't necessarily the only solution to God's justice and God's goodness, it is a solution to the problem of how to rectify these attributes of God with each other. The point of this long paragraph is that the romantic renegade view of Hell is nothing but a wish-fulfillment complex put into action by the atheist.

(b) It seems axiomatic that Heaven is preferable to Hell. Why settle for the worse of two states, especially when God does the heavy lifting to make the preferable state available to us? In general, given two decisions, a certain fear of making the wrong decision seems completely natural, and to attack a decision or course of action on the basis that a fear of making the poorer decision is silly doesn't seem justified.

(c) For the Christian, communion with God in this lifetime takes the form of worship, prayer, meditation, the pondering of scripture, etc. Yet all of these things are shadows of the concrete reality that is to come. The small tastes that arise of communion with God in this life are to whet our appetities and make us desire all the more the real deal in the life to come. And the God of the Bible who did what He did for our salvation is worthy of this sort of desire. Losing communion with this Being is certainly something worth fearing, and Hell, if anything, is the final and irrevocable loss of any possibility of communion with this Being.

(3) Is Hell inconsistent with the Christian belief system?

Obviously one could write a book on this entire topic and go into the various apologetics. The most promising sort of argument for Hell's consistenty [but not its necessity] relative to Christianity seems like it could be fleshed out along these lines.

(a) God is perfectly good.

(b) God is perfectly just.

(c) God is merciful.

(d) God's attributes are immutable.

Assertions (a)-(d) are nothing but summaries of the Biblical data concerning God. Now God is subject to His own nature --- He can't violate it, for no being can violate its own nature. In particular, (a) means that God cannot tolerate aberrations to what is good, and sin is certainly not a good thing. Part (b) would seem to imply that God, being perfectly just and and executor of justice, would have to do something about transgressions of His nature.

Now with (a) and (b) alone, the situation looks bleak, for Hell seems to satisfy these two requirements. But, of course, there is the pleasant fact of (c), where God doesn't want men to face the working out of (b). Yet according to revelation, no man, no matter how good, can avoid (b) due to original sin. So, God finds a way [somehow] around this with the substitutionary atonement, whereby people are righteous by virtue of Christ's righteousness [somehow]. So one door at least is open to escape Hell [though Christians will say one and only one if they're faithful to scripture!]. Due to (d), none of this is going to change, for to do so would impinge on the attributes of God.

Now people might have a quite different reaction, but Hell seems like a logical outworking of (a)-(d). After all, God has done something whereby we can avoid Hell at great cost to Himself, and we're all adults here and responsible for our actions. At the same time, none of God's clear attributes are vitiated by the reality. I'm not saying that Hell is the only solution, but that it seems to work.

It would take far more than a blog to fully flesh out these ideas in complete rigor, and, once again, I remind the reader that I'm merely trying to flesh out an argument structure that seems promising.

(4) What about my situation with respect to fearing Hell? Here is a situation on which I can speak definitively.

(a) Yes, I think about Hell. But these thoughts take one of two general paths:

(i) Hell is a state to be avoided. In fact, I agree with my dogmatics that the nature of Hell [what it is like "inside"] really is of minor significance relative to the goal of merely avoiding it! I've had my share of nightmares about Hell and such, both as a child, as an atheist, and still as a believer. I don't put any stock in these, but, if my own meager imaginations of Hell can trouble me, it would not be surprising to see that the reality is far far worse, and hence is worth avoiding!

(ii) So Hell is terrible [to say the least], but, if I take scripture seriously [and I do], I'm thankfully avoiding that due to God's mercy on sinners. In this sense, Hell reinforces my idea that God is merciful. This doesn't mean that I like Hell or am glad that it exists --- nobody I know is glad about Hell --- but a side benefit to this most unpleasant reality is that it highlights God's grace which did not come cheaply.

(b) As an atheist I used to wonder why God just couldn't "wave away" my sins or those of men. After all, God can do anything can't he?

It took an embarrassingly long time to realize that the statement God can do anything really isn't accurate. More accurate is that God can do anything that is logically possible. Sentences of the form God can [insert nonsensical thing here] are still nonsense, and, as Lewis states, appending the words God can at the beginning don't make the sentence sensical.

So why couldn't God just wave away my sins right before I die and thus save me from Hell?

(i) For God to merely wave away my sins would seem to be in violation of His justice and immutability. If my sins were able to be merely dismissed by fiat, then this would seem to impugn the idea of Goodness or of God's character.

(ii) My own conscience accused me of taking this option in a sense of wish-fulfillment. It is too good to be true. If I levelled this claim at Christians during my atheist days, then I certainly wasn't immune to it myself, and still am not.

(iii) If God had to become incarnate and suffer a grisly death on a cross [no docetism here!] to somehow take up the collective sin of the world, then sin appears to be pretty serious business. It seems more natural to be informed by actual historical data than to let my speculations about what God can and can't do rule the day. If God had to do this as a response to sin, or if this was one of several options that God chose, it seems plausible at the very least to say that the option of merely waving off sin [Think of a Brooklyn-styled God saying "Fuhgeddabout it!"] may very well not be within the realm of logical possibility. The point of all this is that my atheist expectation of God really wasn't founded on anything objective --- I was merely projecting on to God ideas as to what He should do and be like in the absence of careful thought and the evidence of what He already has done.

This entire post has been rather stream-of-consciousness and doubtless could be immensely improved. However, I just wanted to post some thoughts about Hell. I'd be surprised if anything above is profound or not completely derivative.

[Yet to edit]

Friday, May 27, 2005

St Paul: Social Klutz

To all wannabe apostles, this is not the slickest way to make somebody look good, courtesy of......St Paul!!

I'm using the NET Translation here, quoting Philippians 2:19-30.

2:19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 2:20 For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 2:21 Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ. 2:22 But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. 2:23 So I hope to send him as soon as I know more about my situation, 2:24 though I am confident in the Lord that I too will be coming to see you soon.


Well that Timothy fellow must be hot stuff since Paul really lays on the praise concerning. Nobody with Paul is like him with respect to demonstrating his deep concern to the Philippians. Timothy, unlike others, is concerned with Christ, and not his own concerns.

This ever-so-wonderful Timothy will be coming to see you soon, Philippians.

Oh wait.....scratch that, never mind, my bad.

2:25 But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you.


Here comes the chopped liver, the proverbial hot dog filler material. No Timothy for you! Here instead is Epaphroditus.

Now imagine that you're Epaphroditus. Some introduction, eh? You're already second-rate behind Timothy. What an endorsement!

St Paul now engages in damage control:

2:25 For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. 2:26 Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. 2:27 In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him--and not to him only, but also to me--so that I would not have grief on top of grief. 2:28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. 2:29 So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 2:30 since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.


Wow! That's "laying it on thick." Epaphroditus is no Timothy, but let me list his many good points and perhaps save a bit of face in the process. It strikes the PP as being told, upon being fixed up in a blind date [don't ask], that "she's got a GREAT personality." What a compliment to her!

According to early tradition, Epaphroditus nursed a pretty heavy grudge against St Paul for the remainder of his days. The Apocryphal Epistle of Epaphroditus to the Philippians reeks of the bitter pathos of a man dissed by no less than St Paul himself:
....Yea, I know that I am named by our Lord Jesus Christ, notwithstanding the fact that I am but nothing in the eyes of the blessed apostle...

[Source: D.T. Vestrovitch, The Apocryphal Writings of Epaphroditus, 3rd edition [1876], Hendrickson]

Moral of the story: Be very careful when acquiring a letter of introduction from an apostle!

Moral of the story II: Don't even think that you're as good as Timothy!

Scared of Hell? Part One

Is it wrong to have a portion of one's belief be based on fear of damnation? We'll eventually get to answering this from a sound Christian perspective, but let's look at one notable point of view first which comes from an atheist.

From the point of view of one well-known atheist, George Smith, author of the classic Atheism: The Case Against God, we have the following from page 300:
Hell stands as a constant reminder of the essence of Christianity: God is to be obeyed because, in the final analysis, he is bigger and stronger than we are; and, in addition, he is incomparably more vicious. With the warning, "Obey God or burn in hell," we have a straightforward illustration of a physical sanction, as well as a revealing gimpse into the core of Christianity.

Today many moderate and liberal denominations play down the concept of hell or deny it altogether; nevertheless, their moral codes remained drenched in rules. But without the benefit of hell, what is used as a rule sanction?

The answer lies within the realm of psychological sanctions. Recall that a sanction may be physical or psychological. Physical sanctions are usually uncomplicated and easy to detect, whereas psychological snactions are often complpex and subtle, which explains why they are rarely identified.



Now Smith quite often lets his rhetoric and forceful tone do the work of an actual argument in this classic book. Stripping away the fluff, let's go through the essential propositions in turn:

(1) Hell is a constant reminder of the essence of Christianity. God is to be obeyed because he is bigger and stronger than we are.

It would be more accurate to say that Hell is a constant reminder of the militant atheist's conception of Christianity, and not necessarily that of Christians in general. There are some Christians who have a real fear of Hell, and there are some who think about it now and then, and there are some who don't really let it occupy too much of the grey matter, and the matter is hardly brokered by a sweeping claim such as given by Smith.

Hell is one of the pinnacles of the faulty atheist argument-by-outrage. The syllogism, when stripped of its flowery humanistic rhetoric, generally takes on the form

X makes me angry or seems unjust to me
Christianity [or insert whatever religion you'd like here] instantiates X

THEREFORE

Christianity [or whatever was in the minor premise above] is false. [Make this claim while tearing your garment and beating your breast for full effect.]

Smith takes this rhetoric and mentions that in the end God is obeyed because, basically, he's bigger, stronger, and "incomparably more vicious."

It is certainly true that God is bigger and stronger, as omnipotence is not a quality one associates with humanity. However, is God "incomparably more vicious"? More vicious than what? Context seems to indicate that Smith is asserting that God is incomparably more vicious than we are. When one thinks of human depravity exhibited both by so-called defenders of the Christian Church as well as those who set up the atheist-totalitarian state, one sees quite a bit of viciousness. As human viciousness can reach unthought-of levels with respect to decent folks, the claim about God's viciousness is a solitary assertion bereft of any sort of argumentation that anybody who hasn't bought into Smith's premise should be able to see as mere question-begging rhetoric.

But is God vicious at all?

If "vicious" is defined as "acting of behaving in a way that offends George Smith's sensibilities, then the question is settled in favor of Smith's claim. But the dictionary's definition gives

1. Having the nature of vice; evil, immoral, or depraved.
2. Given to vice, immorality, or depravity.
3. Spiteful; malicious: vicious gossip.
4. Disposed to or characterized by violent or destructive behavior. See Synonyms at cruel.
5. Marked by an aggressive disposition; savage. Used chiefly of animals.
6. Severe or intense; fierce: a vicious storm.
7. Faulty, imperfect, or otherwise impaired by defects or a defect: a forced, vicious style of prose.
8. Impure; foul.

Nowhere in Smith's book on pages 1-299 does he give a successful argument that any of 1-8 apply to God. [Actually, let me take this opportunity to recommend Smith's book. It is the Summa of all of the popular atheist objections to the classical concept fo God, in particular, to Christianity. It is generally easy reading for anybody with any philosophical training, and one can make a parlor game out of fitting every objection to God that one comes across in real life to the appropriate section of Smith's book.] The labelling of God as "vicious" with the comparative adverb is Smith letting his forceful personality do the work of an argument here. [By page 300, one is used to this.]

(2) Hell is "a revealing glimpse into the core of Christianity."

By way of comment, Smith is correct here in a certain sense. Hell is a non-negotiable doctrine if one takes the pages of scripture with seriousness. But
to say that Hell is the core of Christianity requires a special dispensation in the ability to overstate one's case.

It is more the case that, contrary to Smith, conservative Christians would make the person and work of Christ the core of Christianity. For example, in Pieper's Christian Dogmatics, the volumes of which were [and I believe still are] used in the LCMS dogmatics training for ministers, 300 pages of the second volume of the three-volume set is dedicated to Christology. The doctrine of Hell, by comparison, takes up only a few pages. For a more modern Evangelical dogmatics, Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology dedicates one out of the fifty-seven chapters to the topic. Simply put, if Smith wants to call Hell the core of Christianity, he is welcome to do so, but he does so by ignoring contrary evidence that isn't hard to find.

(3) Many moderate and liberal denominations "play down the concept of hell or deny it altogether."

This is true; see any liberal Roman Catholic parish, or, for an example close to the PP, see the local ELCA or Methodist parish and ask the pastor there what she thinks!

At the same time, we need to understand what "play down" means. It appears that Smith, who earlier above made the claim that Hell is the core of Christianity, would have to call anything that doesn't make Hell the end-all and be-all doctrine "played down." In particular, Pieper and Grudem may very well be accused of playing down the doctrine. Smith wants to build up a straw man whereby Christians obsess about hell, so when an actual living and breathing Christian doesn't, Smith might very well want to call them liberal or moderate, as they don't fit his incorrect conception of a conservative Christian.

(4) Nevertheless, the moral codes of these liberal denominations remain drenched in rules.

Wow! That's news to me. When I see liberal denominations ordaining a homosexual archbishop who abandoned his wife and children to pursue a sodomic relationship, I don't see any moral codes, nor a drenching in rules. When I see a culture of pederasty in the Roman Catholic Church that gets shuffled around for many years and not sanctioned until the you-know-what hits the fan and the public is outraged, I don't see any moral codes, nor a drenching in rules. Ah, but in the world of the village atheist, assertion equals argument.

(5) Smith then asks basically what "sanctions" one can have without, as he calls it, "the benefit of hell."

Let's now requote Smith's third paragraph from above:

The answer lies within the realm of psychological sanctions. Recall that a sanction may be physical or psychological. Physical sanctions are usually uncomplicated and easy to detect, whereas psychological snactions are often complpex and subtle, which explains why they are rarely identified.


And how does Smith define a psychological sanction?

A psychological sanction is a moral term that is used for the purpose of psychological intimidation, which is intended to motivate compliance with rules. Moral terms, when used in this fashion, function as psychological cue-words --- words used to trigger emotions, rather than convey information.


The next paragraph, now on p. 301, contains the following:

A psychological sanction, if successful, causes the emotion of guilt. A man motivated by fear may still retain an element of rebelliousness, of determination to strike back given the opportunity. A man motivated by guilt, however, is a man with a broken spirit; he will obey the rules without question. A guilt-ridden man is the perfect subject for religious morality, and this is why psychological sanctions have been extremely effective in accomplishing their purpose.


Smith continually views religion as an excuse for an authoritarian power-game whereby a priestly class controls the people. And, in many instances, this view is justified. [Think Rome and indulgences.] In many instances, the view is not justified. I'm on friendly terms with various conservative pastors, and they'd serve as instantiations of the claim that religion is not necessarily an authoritarian power-game.

Smith has a strange understanding of human nature when he says that a guilt-ridden man is a perfect subject for religious morality, for there are at least two obvious replies to this.

(a) One reply is that a guilt-ridden man may attempt to rid his guilt by denying the existence of the rules that cause him the guilt in the first place. For example, the appropriate passages in Romans and Corinthians [not to mention the Torah!] are conspicuously absent for the militant homosexuals, or, they're explained away with various sorts of linguistic evasions. Just as one is tempted upon blowing one's diet to give up completely and go hog-wild, a man can be tempted to greater sin because of his guilt, feeling that since he's blown it he may as well go all the way.

(b) The NT is quite clear about the person who is not ridden with guilt about their sins. These people are in a rather perilous state because they don't recognize their own deficiencies and sinfulness. One can point to the Pharisees, who according to the NT data were not prone to fits of guilt, as those who would partake and promulgate the authoritarian structure that Smith so despises. So, even if Smith's claim that a guilt-ridden man is a good subject for "religious morality," he can't state anything about perfection, for he has missed at least one possible type of competitor.

Have psychological sanctions been effective at times? Sure. But this has nothing to do with religion per se. Think of re-education camps, indoctrination techniques, and the other totalitarian goodies detailed in, say, The Black Book of Communism to see that sanctions and such are not a religion-only enterprise.

Conclusion

Smith states on p. 299 that
The belief in eternal torment, still subscribed to by fundamentalist Christian denominations, undoubtedly ranks as the most vicious and reprehensible doctrine of classical Christianity

It is therefore clear where Smith stands, especially given the superlative employed in the above quote. Based on this quote and the material above, Smith is making an argument against Christianity based on the facts that Hell offends him and the straw-man authoritarianism that he universally applies to all Christians offends him as well.

Basically, then, somebody like Smith would view as defective any person who worries about Hell and credits any part of their coming to faith to a worry about Hell. [Smith would view them as defective anyway, since those who have not reached his enlightened plane of atheism are worthy of scorn.]

But is such a person defective in some monstrous way? That shall be answered in the next part, coming this weekend in the Pedantic Protestant!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Refuting Sola Scriptura In Under 20 Seconds

The shocking truth about Sola Scriptura, all in a brief video clip.

What shocking truths are in this clip?

(1) SS defender White admits that people in Jesus' day did not practice sola scriptura.

(2) White admits that the apostles did not practice sola scriptura.

Now the attitude with which this clip is presented is that this truth about SS is somehow a falsifier of SS. But do these objections by themselves kill the witch?

Before turning to the answer, what is the proper definition of SS?

Sola Scriptura --- scripture is the only infallible rule of faith for the Christian.


Let's add some comments, which will be obvious in nature, though it appears that certain zealous Romanist apologists can still benefit from obvious statements.

(a) What the people did in Jesus' day, by itself, has no logical bearing on the question, for the simple reasoning that the premise Person X did Y by itself does not imply Person Z should do Y. [Y denotes SS, Z stands for you or me.]

Therefore, White's admission of (1) and (2) doesn't have logical bearing on the question. This is a basic category mistake: how people thought in the old days is compared or viewed as normative to some degree with regards to how people today should think. If White's admission of (1) and (2) allows one to deduce that SS is false, it certainly isn't an obvious deduction, let alone one that can be disposed of in a little video snippet.

Now perhaps there exists an argument for linking the behavior of those in the past with those of us today, which argument makes White's admission of (1) and (2) damaging or inconsistent with SS. But such an argument is lacking in the video clip. By putting forth this little snippet in a triumphalistic tone, the Roman apologist acts as if an argument making this connection doesn't matter. This lack of an argument certainly won't bother one who is looking for Roman cheerleading, but it will bother anybody who is worried about the logical import of the question.

(b) Let us assume the negations of (1) and (2), supposing instead that the people in Jesus' day as well as the apostles followed SS. Would these two statements, by themselves, be positive evidence for the position that SS is true?

Not really, for the solvent in (a) can equally be applied here. Just as I mentioned that one can't argue that the apostles did X implies that believers today should do X without an argument specific to the situation, the acid burns both ways. Even if we accept the negations of (1) and (2) for the sake of argument, this neither bolsters the case, for then we're again lacking an argument that the behavior of the apostles and people in Jesus' day is somehow by itself normative for us today.

We conclude that even if White were to deny (1) and (2) in the snippet, he wouldn't make the case for SS any stronger than what it is, whether already weak or already strong.

(c) Let us note too that SS is a statement about what Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, the mystery author of Hebrews, Jude, and Peter wrote, namely, that what they wrote is the sole infallible rule of faith. Whether or not Paul followed SS is logically immaterial to the question as strictly worded. The question isn't a sociological one or a question about [say] Peter's behavior. The question is simply about the status of their writings. If there is an argument that logically links their actions to how we view their writings, then by all means let the Roman apologists present it.

Conclusion

The admission of (1) and (2) by White have no negative evidentiary value against SS without some sort of linking argument that deals specifically with the situation. And, even if White denied (1) and (2), his case for SS would not be bolstered, for then he would need some linking argument. Therefore, (1) and (2), by themselves, have no logical bearing on the question of whether SS is true.

Questions (1) and (2) when presented by themselves are therefore juicy little red herrings that can be filed in the "Inane Objections to SS" file next to other like herrings such as "SS isn't found in the Bible" and "30,000 Protestant denominations shows that SS is false." And, once again, we note that the clip is presented in a triumphalistic tone, as if, by golly, the Romanists really have the goods on SS and have the shocking video proof of it!

So the clip is much ado about nothing. But, in the end, the questions sound good, and that is warrant enough for certain Roman Catholics and their paint-by-numbers apologetics.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Jedi Wisdom [?] and Secular Inanity

Today was a friend's birthday and she had the day off [just as did the PP], and so we took advantage of this by seeing a matinee showing of the latest Star Wars film.

Despite the hoopla and the huge fan base for this film, a Tuesday matinee is still a good deal: tickets were $5.75 and there were only about 20 or so people in attendance, which is good in that the number of interruptions due to clueless clods failing to turn off their cell phones was greatly diminished. [Another good feature was that one gets to put his feet up on the seats in front of him.]

The film was pretty entertaining, and, if the goal was to tie Episode III into the beginning of the original Episode IV from 1977, the film succeeded quite well. There was one notable plot hole where it was hard to suspend disbelief, but, all in all, the movie was well done, happily focusing on plot development instead of mindless diplays of computer-graphical special effects prowess that by now are a cliche.

To get to the point, there was one scene that made me chuckle. Near the end of the film, when Obi-Wan confronts Anakin on some volcano planet whose name has since escaped from my memory, a classic lightsaber battle ensues with Obi-Wan, representative of the [Jedi] Light Side doing battle with his former disciple Anakin, who has since turned to the [Sith] Dark Side.

At one lull in the fight, the combatants have a brief dialogue where Anakin attempts to justify his changing sides. Obi-Wan states something to the effect that "Only a Sith believes in absolutes." [These may not be the very words, but they convey the gist of what Obi-Wan stated to Anakin.]

This is a precarious example of Jedi wisdom, for we have a Jedi making an absolute statement about his ideological foe --- a foe he considers evil and worthy of destruction. What is the absolute statement of the Jedi? That a property of the Sith [or Siths, not sure of the plural form here], a property that makes them the bad guys, is absoluteness. An absolute statement about how those supposedly evil Sith are absolute! The PP was lucky that he remembered to turn off his self-stultification detector off before entering the theater, as the loud and furious beeps that would emanate from that device would doubtless draw hisses and "Sssshhh!" catcalls from the few other people in the theater. O Wise Jedi! Still, it was rather humorous.

When the PP decided to indefatigably fight the inanities posing as modern and progressive thought, both inside and outside the Christian Church, little did he know that his divine calling would lead him "long ago in a galaxy far far away." Yet, Obi-Wan is immortalized here in the annals of PP-dom for his self-refuting error. [But we come to ultimately praise Obi-Wan, and not to bury him, as he does believe in good versus evil, and he does wield a mean lightsaber.]

The above is all said with a grin and a wink, but what follows has the doubly-depressing status of being both sad and true, dealing instead with real people and not merely the words of characters of a well-loved film franchise.

The sad and true fact is that in today's modern stream of thinking, having absolutes is a sign of an anachronistic mind that has refused to ante up in the modern poker game. Thinking that there is an immutable God whose attributes can not [and must not] change --- lest God be something other than what He must be --- is an action that if advertised will earn one all sorts of negative titles: logocentrist, religious nut, too-sure-of-himself, intolerant, etc etc etc.

A studied and practiced reticence towards absolutes is one of the marks of modern sophistication. Let a man do has he pleases, just so long as he does not think that the justification for his actions is grounded in timeless truth. In respect to the Christian faith, my experience has been that people are not opposed to it [but neither do they support it] as long as they can view the faith and my selection of it as essentially the same as deciding to get the shrimp egg rolls over the szechuan chicken from the Chinese buffet nearby. The moment I assert that the faith is true, or at least has enough supporting reason and evidence to demand a response, the seculars don the wisdom of Obi-Wan: We don't think in terms of black and white, but in terms of shades of grey. Tolerance trumps truth! Only benighted Bible-thumpers and people who don't support X make such audacious claims, where X stands for any item the secularist supports.

Upon making the triumphalistic claim for a certain degree of relativism and epistemological tolerance, the enlightened modern man feels proud of himself --- he has defended the secular faith with a broadside polemic that is guaranteed to work at the latest faculty tea or upscale cocktail party.

However, a teenage medieval can see the fatal flaw at once: the secularist has made a rather absolute statement and assumed an absolute standard of comparison. It is objectively better to be nonjudgemental. It is objectively good to pour invective on the man who asserts a worldview and attempts to live consistently by it. It is better to be broad-minded and tolerant than it is to be like those people in that absolute-thinking group. In the end, therefore, the secularist has acted just as dogmatically as those whose dogmatism he excoriates.

The Pedantic Protestant works in the midst of the vortex of such inanity, and can assure all readers that these silly hare-brained sorts of self-refutational nuggets of wisdom that are offered by our academic elites are ubiquitous. Furthermore, this sort of inanity is what guides much of the ecumaniacal pursuits as well. If I'm not willing to compromise the deity of Christ, I'm intolerant. If I take my side with St John and say that Jesus is the way, truth, and life, I'm intolerant. If I point out that certain behaviors stand in clear defiance of scripture, I'm an absolutist. And so it goes with those in the liberal wings of the visible [and not necessarily the true] church.

But, in the end, Obi-Wan trumps the liberals and the spineless ecumenicals, for he does square off evil and call it as such [what an absolutist!], his above silly statement notwithstanding. On the other hand, the liberals and ecumenicals would merely pass some sort of statement about how the Jedi and Sith need to talk through their differences and embrace each other, equivocating between the Light Side an the Dark Side, and generally adding confusion to the whole matter, just as they do in the church today.

********************* [Total Change of Topic Now]

Turning back to the movie, I had heard that the movie contained several little jabs thrown at President Bush. Now the PP loathes big government, wealth redistribution, attacks on private property and individual responsibility, and the notion that the "Religious Right" somehow owes the Republican Party their votes, so that any jabs thrown at Bush by Lucas or the writers would have no emotional effect on the PP, but would merely be observed to be yet another little childish attempt by those in the Left to express their sour grapes. But, not being able to read the mind of those who made the film, there were but three references immediately recallable, all of them questionable relative to their Bush-bashing status due to this aforementioned inability to mind-read:

(1) Padme makes a reference to the Senate applauding "as they lose their liberty" [or something like that].
(2) Anakin states that who is not with him is an enemy.
(3) Reference is made to increasing the centralization under Palpatine for security and peace.

Now for (1), I suppose this could be a reference to Bush, but I don't specifically see how. (2) may be a jab at what is called the "Bush Doctrine," but again, this idea or statement did not originate with Bush, and is well-preceded by the megalomanical totalitarian tyrants of the 20th century and well before that.
The reference in (3) again is seen by the PP as a general phenomenon of governments. If (3) is a dig at Bush, the shoe fits, but this shoe fits many other governments as well. [I find it interesting that while leftists support every expansion of big government, they suddenly find a federalist instinct when they discuss Bush.]

Maybe these are digs at Bush, but they seem general enough, based on the lack of any other information beyond seeing the movie, to not necessarily be directed at Bush. If they are or if they're not, oh well. The PP is unmoved either way. But the film doesn't seem to be an anti-Bush piece of work as a small number of people have stated to me personally. If anything, I don't mind the surface level of the political thrust within the film --- centralization of power leads to evil and increases the potential evil that can be inflicted by ambitious [and evil] men. What a true concept both in theory and in actual human history!

Monday, May 23, 2005

PP Returns Wednesday

Monday and Tuesday are eaten up by work. A new Pedantic Protestant post shall come by Wednesday. Weep not.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Martyrdom of the Pedantic Protestant

Scripture is clear that suffering is not only to be expected by the Christian, but, our modern sensibilities are further offended at statements that clearly indicate that suffering is a gift from God. For example, St Paul tells the Christians at Phillipi that it was not granted to them not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for Him. Paul also clearly identifies this suffering as evidence of their salvation as well as evidence for the destruction of those who oppose them. [Phil 1:27-30.] As another example, St Peter tells "those who are chosen and residing in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" to not be surprised that they are undergoing a trial by fire, but rather to rejoice in the degree to which they share in the sufferings of Christ, and to view this as a blessing. [I Peter 4:12-17.]

The concept of suffering relative to a believer is quite general, but often in the early days of Christianity suffering meant death. The inspired authors of the NT writings were, among other things, telling the recipients of the epistles that death was a real option.

We live close to two millenia after the bulk of the New Testament writings were composed [going by conservative dating of the NT writings], and presumably readers of this post are living in conditions that are at least as safe as those of the original recipients of the NT epistles that deal with, among other things, suffering.

I live in the suburbs of a large city, have a fairly comfortable job, a few good friends, no worries about food or the next meal, and have a not-too-shabby roof over the head. As a middle-class American on the verge of upper-middle-classdom, I have the standard of living of which a king only a century ago would dare dream. My educated guess is that most other readers are more or less in the same boat.

But where is the suffering?

Since being brought back into the Christian fold about a decade ago, what is really the worst thing that has happened to me on account of "the Name that is above every other Name?"

I certainly haven't lost money or possessions over the faith. Nor have I even been placed in a situation where fidelity to truth would cause a loss of my middle class comfy existence. Perhaps I would've been wealthier today had I continued down my secular path, but there is no way of being decisive on the point; one could easily play "What if?" to the reverse situation and claim that I may have been poorer today had I stayed in the secular fold. So, there hasn't been any economic suffering of notice.

What about one's social life? Here I can say [proudly?] that yes, there has been some suffering. This has taken a few forms.

(a) One form is that a sort of wall comes up between the believer and his more secular friends, making formerly close relations now more distant and guarded, often with embarrassment between both parties. I had a friend who was a Scientologist, and the whole Christian thing pretty much frosted things. Other friends at graduate school were less close, especially in important matters [such as ladies, ladies, and ladies] that should be of interest to any twentysomething male, for their lifestyle and ambitions [lots of sex outside marriage!] were not fully consistent with the Christian ethos. We still would talk and stay on friendly terms, but the communal joy of rabblerousing, sharing details of one's rabblerousing, etc was no longer a licit fruit of such a friendship.

(b) The more serious form of suffering in the social sense is the general loss of friends. This hit me most acutely because it was at this time that I didn't have too many problems meeting women and perhaps winning or inducing their interest. [That was then...this, alas is now.] However, Christianity is not conducive to secular women, for it is not conducive to unregenerate Man. So, in this sense, the pool of eligible females was severely diminished if not completely obliterated. Going to a state graduate school and belonging to a conservative church body with no single females was a real problem.

But, one can look back at this and say Big deal! and be completely correct. Whether typical or not, I've often fully experienced both poles of a phenomenon. I was picked last for all of the PE games in grade school, yet I made a few all-star teams in baseball as I got older and even tried my hand at college basketball [NCAA DII level, and, no, I didn't succeed]. I've felt overwhelmed as a student, nearly failing out of college [thanks to basketball and Nintendo], but I'm now a professor in a hard scientific/deductive field with a few nice pieces of work to my name. I've been poor but now I'm comfortable. And, socially, I've more than once trod near the poles of popularity, being popular and quite unpopular at multiple stages of my life.

Because of being both popular and unpopular, losing friends over the faith, while not desirable, was not viewed by the PP as some sort of devastating loss. People have various strengths and resistances --- one man can successfully withstand sexual temptation, another man has no predisposition towards chemicals, and another man is comfortable enough in his own skin to where he does need validation through popularity. I enjoyed the latter resistance, and still do. So, while losing some friends long ago could count as suffering, it really wasn't the sort of suffering on the sort of scale that the NT writers seem to envisage. It wasn't pleasant, to be sure, but it would be silly to feel as if one has survived the worst that can happen.

Leaving the realm of the social life and turning to issues of health, what can be said here? Well, the PP is as healthy as a horse, so no suffering on this account.

Basically, the last ten years have been, to say it cheekily, a breeze.

But, if one takes Scripture seriously, suffering will come, and it is a frightening thought [at least for me] just how one will react when real suffering actualizes in one's life, especially if one has had a relatively easy and quiet life.
I suppose that in this case God would carry one through the suffering, and God would not give one more than one could bear. Actually, this needn't be a supposition, since the NT is clear about this.

The most frightening thing, as far as I can see, is the possibility of martyrdom. The history of the Christian Church is marked with the martyrdom of many people who were willing to die for the faith. Could you, the reader, state without reservation that you could die for the faith?

Speaking for myself, I'd very much like to say so, but I have no past data on which to base any confidence. My life has not been marked with the extremes of holiness that many martyrs have exhibited. There has been justification and a slow process of sanctification, but there is arguably nothing in me that would cause somebody to believe that I'd stand firm in the face of death.

The manner of death has something to do with it as well. Death by lethal injection, guillotine, firing squad, etc, don't really seem too bad as far as martyrdom goes. I could, at least while sitting in my comfy computer chair with a Diet Coke by my side, visualize going down for the count without recanting in such a situation. After all, as Paul says in Phillipians, it is far better to depart and be with Christ; he also mentions that to die is to gain [eternal life] in this setting.

But, alas, euthanization is often not part-and-parcel of martyrdom. Deaths are often protracted affairs, owing their impetus to the original protracted death --- that death being of Jesus.

Suppose a totalitarian regime takes over and threatens believers with not only death, but a protracted vicious death. Each reader will have his own particular nightmare death; the PP thinks of Room 101 from 1984 and shudders. Could you stay firm in a long protracted death? I have a strong reticence to even typing out some possible slow-and-painful death scenarios to list --- how then could I stand firm if I were the victim of such a deadly scenario?

St Polycarp, according to his Martyrdom while being prepared to be burnt alive, prayed

O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages, Amen.


Could you imitate Blessed Polycarp, disciple of St John bar-Zebedee? Could you imitate his bold spirit during the preparation of his funeral pile, where he told those who wanted to nail him to the pile to
Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.

or would you have a quite different reaction?

I don't think these are trivial questions, and would even be predisposed to bristle at the claims of a man who could confidently claim Polycarp-like resolve.

All of the questions asked here really aren't trivial, and, to be honest, are ones that I don't like thinking of too often. On the other hand, thinking about such horrible things makes financial loss, social loss, etc seem like trivial affairs in comparison!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Ruminations on Learning NT Greek --- Part 4

It was discovered [embarrassingly late enough, I might add] that arguments about theology and exegesis really weren't solved by appeals to the Greek text alone, but could be understood and evaluated with confidence without so much of a Greek mastery. This is due, as stated in the previous thread, to the fact that any of the exegetical questions really appealed in their most primal form to argument forms and basic principles of evidence.

For example, in settling the deity of Christ once and for all, it wasn't Greek by itself that did if for me, but the arguments involving usage and comparative studies. In questions involving, say, sprinkling versus immersion in baptism, one doesn't require a high level of Greek skill. One merely needs to do a word study and see how the various words and verbs used for baptism are used, not only in the sacred texts, but also in the surrounding literature of the time. Similarly, to understand the meaning of the verb dikaiow, "to justify," used heavily in Romans, one doesn't have to master Greek, but one can instead consult the various word-studies done in most excellent commentaries such as CEB Cranfield's ICC volume on Romans and Murray's NICNT volume on Romans. One doesn't need Greek to understand these.

As mentioned, 18 hard but pleasurable months were spent learning and applying Greek. [This was done as it could fit around "real life" --- don't think that this was all the PP did with his time.] But in the end, given a theological question, it would either be the case that (a) I could settle it without having appeal to my newly-found status with Greek, or (b) the question wasn't found to be definitively answered either way. I really didn't "need" Greek.

So what was the point? Other than learning something for its own sake, what actual good relative to the Christian faith was accomplished by such an undertaking?

No Christian Conspiracy

Most importantly, it made the claims of those who opposed the Christian faith on the basis of textual subjectivity utterly laughable. I had run into Watchtower people and Mormons who made very strong claims regarding how Christians had mangled the text and completely mistranslated large portions of text. Also, conversations with people in graduate school had often taken a turn whereby somebody would make some claim along the lines of "We don't know what the true text is" or "The text has been copied so many times, how do we know that fundamental mistakes haven't crept in." Basically, it was a militant agnosticism regarding the actual text of the New Testament. Furthermore, where there wasn't a militant agnosticism, there were assertions that the text was deliberately mistranslated to oppose whatever fashionable progressive views [usually involving sexual matters and homosexuality] happened to be the flavor of the month.

Now that I knew Greek, I could do my own translations of the text. In a sense not to be construed as triumphalistic, I could chuck my NIV, NASB, RSV, AV, etc if push came to shove, because I could read the original. In translating most of the New Testament, I came to the realization that if there are problems with Christianity, it isn't because the Greek text has been deliberately mistranslated or hijacked to conform to some reactionary agenda.

It was a powerful witness [so I hope!] to those Mormons and Watchtower folks to actually pull out a Greek text and read it to them, countering their nihilistic claims regarding the state of the NT text. I do not know if this planted a seed of doubt, though I sure hope the more intellectually honest Watchtower folks would've taken note.

Therefore, in a negative sense, there was nothing inherently invidious regarding the translation process for the orthodox versions. So on that account I could sleep well at night.

In a positive sense, the knowledge of Greek also serves as a nice defensive measure. For example, I can look at new translations such as the ONE translation and have full confidence that such a translation is not to be taken seriously. I know what the Greek says, or, at worst, I know the maximal semantic range of what the Greek can say, and in various places, that maximal range is definitely violated in the interest of a progressive agenda. Now this is hardly a feat of brilliant deductive thinking, since most orthodox Christians could see this. However, the PP is a Doubting Thomas at heart, so even though this fact is an obvious one, it was well worth learning Greek for just this fact.

The Text is Stable

Another positive thing that comes from a good working knowledge of NT Greek is seeing for one's self that the text of the NT is stable. In other words, we can have full confidence that what we have today isn't different in any substantial way than the autographa. For example, in my UBS 3 or UBS 4 Greek New Testament, I can see the major variants that might be of interest to translators of the Bible. Knowing Greek, I can read the variants and see how a passage is affected by choosing Variant A over Variant B. I can see for myself that no choice of variants will affect any doctrine that I hold, so the more wild-eyed claims regarding textual degeneracy are rendered laughable in as satisfying a way as possible, namely, by seeing it myself instead of having to trust scholarly opinion.

In discussions, I still run into textual agnosticism: "We can't really know what the originals said." [Combine this with interpretational subjectivity: "We don't know what the text means" and you have a real double whammy!] When confronted with such claims, it is comforting to actually [unlike the person advancing the claim] know that I know of what I speak. Again, other Christians may as well have the same degree of assurance without having picked up Greek, but, again, this was something that I had to see for myself, and the only way for me was to learn the language.

Conclusion

Learning Greek and the time spent on it paid off in the two ways mentioned above, but I'll readily admit that I can see somebody coming to the same conclusions above without learning Greek.

Also, looking back, the quest for an easy way out was part of the motivation in learning Greek. Even as recently as a decade ago, I thought that a knowledge of a language could settle theological questions and allow me to mechanically crank out objective truth. However, I found out over the next decade that issues of interpretation and such involved many facets, not just Greek. Again, I do not say this as a profundity, but as an admission that I observed an obvious fact rather late in the game!

If I could go back and do something else with all of that time spent on Greek, would I take advantage of that offer? It's really a moot question, since what is done is done, but, the mood for the day is such that I'd strongly answer in the negative. As mentioned, it was a stimulating undertaking, and I'm too used to being able to read high-level commentaries without having to skip through their Greek discussions. Also, it makes a pretty powerful witnessing tool to cultists, even though I haven't had any visible success. So, there is no wailing about what could've been the case in the alternative scenario.

Scary Thought

If the PP ever darkens a seminary doorstep [God help us] he'll have a good part of the curriculum already in the belt!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Deconstructing Postmodernism

The PP finds postmodernism to be on the same intellectual level as that of popping bubble wrap, though that may do an injustice to those who successfully pop bubble wrap.

Anyway, a philosophy professor reviews a book concerning postmodernism here.

At the very least, it is an interesting read.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Ruminations on Learning NT Greek --- Part 3

Summary So Far

Parts 1 and 2 in a nutshell: rattled by Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons who claimed that our Bibles were not translated correctly, especially in those passages where the question is whether Christ is being called God, our protagonist [or antagonist depending on your point of view!] set off to learn New Testament Greek. He made quick progress through it, found himself at a stage where he was semi-literate in Greek, relearned it again, and then found that he could read the NT in Greek, or at least translate it slowly and surely. Alas, learning Greek did not answer the big theological questions in an indisputable way as hoped! In particular, the deity of Christ was still something that could conceivably be sufficiently obscurantized.

Now for Part 3!

Were Christians wrong in proclaiming the full deity of Christ all of these centuries? Were the Mormons and Watchtower folks correct with their claims that the early church went astray as soon as Jesus left the scene?

Appeals to the Greek text were always parried with the flat denial that went of the form No, no, the Greek text really says this!

About late 1998 I made a rather profound discovery --- at least it was profound to me, but in retrospect it was painfully obvious and one wonders why I didn't see it before.

This discovery was that arguments pertaining to the deity of Christ [among other things] were not dependent so much on "the Greek text of the NT" as they were on mere general thinking skills and the ability to evaluate an argument and distinguish evidence from assumption.

The above sounds rather abstruse and general, so an example might be helpful.

Consider Titus 2:13 and II Peter 1:1. Both of these passages have a formally identical construction: article - substantive - conjunction - substantive
Titus 2:13 has, if we translate in a wooden interlinear fashion in word-for-word order: [using "h" for "eta," "w" for "omega," and "he" for "eta with a rough breathing mark]

The great God and Savior our Jesus Christ
tou megalou theou kai swthros hemwn Iesou Christou

The question is whether the construction above (a) is referring to two separate things, namely, the great God as distinct in some sense from our Savior Jesus Christ, or whether the construction above (b) is referring to Jesus Christ as both our great God and our Savior. Framing the question up to this point doesn't require any extensive knowledge of Greek.

So, which one is it? Some Bibles take (a) as the translation, others take (b). Why is it correct [if it is even correct at all] to go with (b)?

Basically, the answer is roughly as follows: every other such similar construction, where an article links two substantives connected by a conjunction, with other similar syntactical properties that are too detailed to discuss in a brief blog entry, has the property that the two substantives have the same referent. Daniel Wallace's oft-mentioned text Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics gives the full scoop on the issue in his chapter on the use of the article, and the reader who peruses this will be thankful that I didn't eat up the bandwidth repeating the arguments and distinctions here!

Now a seminary professor [such as Wallace!!] would wince with the above over-simplified formulation of the argument, but this is the gist of it. Let X = the construction mentioned above, and let Y = the property that there is a single referent.

(1) Titus 2:13 [and II Peter 1:1] have construction X
(2) Every instance of X that appears elsewhere in literature in roughly the same time period has Y

THEREFORE

(3) It seems exceedingly likely that Titus 2:13 [and II Peter 1:1] also have the same property.

The conclusion is not dogmatic, but it is quite strong. The burden of proof falls heavily on those who take interpretation (a) over (b).

Observe that the syllogism doesn't require any great knowledge of Greek, really. A knowledge of Greek helps a little bit, but it certainly doesn't make the argument more solid than what it is. The argument itself is free of considerations of Greek:

Every A that has been observed has property B.
Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that another A will most likely have property B as well.


So on the one hand, Greek by itself didn't solve anything, but we did move the argument back to an objective background. Again, Wallace provides the stimulating details.

It turned out for the other disputed passages dealing with the deity of Christ, such as John 1:1c, Rom 9:5, Hebrew 1:8, the argument hinged not on Greek, but mostly on the study and cataloging of other places in appropriate literature where the construction under question was used.

The best book that I know of concerning passages that call Christ God [along with the arguments against claiming that they call Christ God] is Murray Harris' work Jesus as God which is a fine work of great detail that even Arians must admit is well-researched and careful. The big point I'd like to make here is that you can understand the arguments, technical as they are, without being a master of NT Greek.

For another example, I realized in reading CEB Cranfield's commentary on Romans that the evaluation of the arguments for or against Christ being called God in Romans 9:5 did not require Greek mastery, but a mere willingness to catalog and ponder the details of the argument. The argument for Christ's deity in Cranfield's book were just as strong before I felt like I had attained NT Greek utility as they were after I had attained utility.

By late 1998 I had convinced myself according to my own high standards of evidence that, yes, the NT calls Christ God in many places, and hence if the early church went astray soon after the Lord left the scene, it didn't go astray in this point!
To this day, the PP sees the deity of Christ ring out of scripture with mighty bell tones of saving grace.

But, I had spent a good 18 months at least being involved with NT Greek. This time was enjoyable, but what good in the end was it? After all, NT Greek was supposed to help me solve doctrinal problems objectively, in particular, appeal to the Greek text by itself was supposed to prove the deity of Christ convincingly. But the Greek text by itself didn't give an argument, for only sound argument forms and appeals to evidence [which things transcend whatever language one uses] were what did the trick. I had spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars filling my shelves with the standard big tomes on Greek grammar, and I had invested countless more dollars buying advanced commentary sets and volumes on the NT books. Yet if Greek couldn't by itself answer a big question such as Is Christ called God? then what good was it? The PP could've been lifting weights, playing Super Nintendo or Playstation, or goofing off with something lighter and fluffier.

So, by late 1998, the question then became this: What practical value was there in learning NT Greek?

Coming next: Part 4: What learning Greek did for the Pedantic Protestant.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Pedantic Protestant Solves Yet Another Pressing Problem

Why Strict Churches Are Strong is an article that asks why people join "strict churches."

Here is some of the wisdom disseminated in the article:

You wouldn't expect an economist to do a better job than the religious at explaining religion. But one has, using the amoral language of rational choice theory, which reduces people to "rational agents" who "maximize utility," that is, act out of self-interest. (Economists assume that people are rational for methodological reasons, not because they believe it.) In his 1994 essay "Why Strict Churches Are Strong," which has become quite influential in the sociology of religion, economist Laurence Iannaccone makes the counterintuitive case that people choose to be strictly religious because of the quantifiable benefits their piety affords them, not just in the afterlife but in the here and now.

Iannaccone starts by asking why people join strict churches, given that doing so exacts such a high price. Eccentric customs invite ridicule and persecution; membership in a marginal church may limit chances for social and economic advancement; rules of observance bar access to apparently innocent pleasures; the entire undertaking squanders time that could have been spent amusing or improving oneself.

According to Iannaccone, the devout person pays the high social price because it buys a better religious product. The rules discourage free riders, the people who undermine group efforts by taking more than they give back. The strict church is one in which members with weak commitments have been weeded out. Raising fees for membership doesn't work nearly as well as raising the opportunity cost of joining, because fees drive away the poor, who have the least to lose when they volunteer their time, and who also have the most incentive to pray. Fees also encourage the rich to substitute money for piety.


The Pedantic Protestant wishes to offer a radical and daring hypothesis that is sure to make him the darling of the sociology of religion community. Perhaps people join what the author calls a strict church because .....

[make sure you're firmly seated....]

[can you handle the upcoming profundity?]

[brace yourself!]

They think that what the church teaches is OBJECTIVELY TRUE.

I expect the honorary doctorates from the big-name universities to begin rolling in now that I've solved this pressing problem. [The PP will now work on a cure for cancer --- get back to him in a week.]

We live in an age where just about anything goes, provided that one doesn't attempt to justify one's position by appealing to objective and timeless truth. To do so is to invite ridicule and the negative branding by such descriptions as logocentrist, slave to the Enlightenment [or modernism], intolerant, judgmental, not in keeping with our enlightened modern times, sectarian, and so on. Popular discussions of religion frequently are held at the level of an Oprah show, and the quest for tolerance, multiculturalism, etc, has made the categories true and false , supported by good evidence and not supported by good evidence embarrassing anachronisms that should stay in their obscure darkened spot in the corner of the basement. As a result, the idea that somebody believes something because it has warrant, or strong evidence, or is simply true, is rarely broached, and only in the same hushed and gunshy tones that are on par with those of the blushing parents who are teaching Junior the birds and the bees.

In a similar vein, Screwtape tells young Wormwood:

...But are you not being a trifle naive? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons, we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous --- that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.


Screwtape Letter #1 by CS Lewis.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Ruminations on Learning NT Greek --- Part 2

Student Days

I threw myself into Wenham's book. If memory serves me correct, I was pretty much finished with the bulk of my dissertation, so I had the luxury of actually having enough time to learn something well. Following the classical approach to learning a new language, I spent many hours memorizing paradigms and such, often reciting them silently to myself in such silly places such as the waiting room at the dentist, the supermarket line, and during very dull sermons by the minister.

Wenham's book had not only the usual translate-Greek-to-English exercises, but it put a good deal of emphasis on translating English to Greek as well. Now from a practical standpoint, this sounds silly, as nobody speaks in NT Greek today, let alone write in it. But in reality, those English to Greek exercises probably accounted for the bulk and solidity of what I had learned. [I notice that many Greek books (most?) forsake English to Greek exercises. I wonder how much retention there is if the student isn't trained in two-way translation.]

In about three months, I had finished Wenham and every exercise therein. The progress was exceedingly quick, and it made me think that perhaps I had a calling in languages. Perhaps more of the credit goes to Wenham's style.

By the way, the bad thing about learning language in a memorize-the-paradigm way is that one has to frequently review the paradigms. I try to hit Wenham once per year just to review, but now and then I'll still forget the form for, say, an 2nd person plural aorist subjunctive. =D

The Rubber Meets The Road

I picked up my Greek New Testament full of optimism and a very healthy sense of naivete. At last, I could see for myself the answer to every doctrinal dispute, in particular, the question of the deity of Christ would finally be put to rest. Also, the plan was to see if the Lutherans were right, or perhaps the Arminians. I'd settle the whole dunk-or-sprinkle baptism question.

As the skater kids across the street would say: Yeah, right.

There was the issue of actually reading the text. The letters of John and the fourth gospel were not particularly trying, but, then again, they constitute the "novice" material for the Greek NT. However, reading an epistle such as Romans or Hebrews was quite a different affair. The hermetically-sealed atmosphere of the textbook exercises was now replaced by an atmosphere where the ease of the student and pedagogical development were not foremost on the author's mind! Throw in the fact that Paul is not particularly easy, even in one's own tongue, so imagine taking that and putting it in a new language.

Knowing that 80% of the word occurrences in the NT were under my belt really didn't ease what seemed like the feeling that I spent more time in the lexicon than the actual text itself, and often I still struggled with irregular verbs.

On top of that, there were lots of constructions and idioms with which I didn't feel comfortable.

So much for getting to the bottom of deep theological questions, such as the deity of Christ. I still was in literacy limbo!

Back in the Shop

Fast forward six months or so to late 1997 or early 1998. I had graduated, and was basically killing off time while looking for a university position somewhere. The question was whether to spend a few more hard months in the Greek shop getting to a functionally literate stage, or whether to give up the endeavor.

Staying with Greek was a pretty easy decision. I enjoyed it --- not in the sense that I enjoy playing basketball or something fun --- but in the sense of learning something intellectually stimulating.

The best thing to do seemed to be as follows: buy a second introductory book and then hit the text again. This time I bought William Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek. Now I prefer Wenham's book out of purely subjective preference, but the workbook that accompanied Mounce's book had its large selection of exercises taken straight from the Greek NT itself. This would, so it was hoped, lead to a smoother gradation from student-level exercises to the thoughts of the Apostle Paul himself.

The approach yielded an appreciable amount of fruit. Perhaps this is due to the sort of passive learning that takes place when something rattles around in the back recesses of one's mind, often while one is not even aware. But, it was more likely attributable to just having more practice.

The Greek Student Unleashed on the World

Go to around mid-1998 now. I was able to slowly get through the "tuff stuff" such as Hebrews, the Petrines, Jude, etc.

However, the deeper truths sought out were not obvious. The Greek, by itself did not solve exegetical questions. It could answer the more egregious and irresponsible appeals to the text, but it didn't settle anything.

(1) RCH Lenski, a conservative Lutheran commentator, found nothing indicating immersion in the text. AT Robertson, Baptist scholar [whose large grammar sits proudly on the PP's shelf], saw immersion in the Greek text.

(2) Orthodox Christians see the Greek text of John 1:1c as implying the full deity of the Word. Unitarians and Watchtower folks in particular see the construction in John 1:1c as implying a lesser deity for Christ.

(3) Dittos for Titus 2:13, II Peter 1:1, Rom 9:5, and 1 John 5:20. Even in orthodox translations, the Greek would be seen as not giving full deity to Christ.

(4) Is Peter the rock on which the Church is built? A solidly Lutheran pastor [a conservative, not one of those logically challenged liberal Lutherans!] of mine gave a Greek-based argument that Peter is not the referent. On the other hand, other commentators without a bone of sympathy for Romanism had no problem saying that the Greek text implies that Peter is most likely the rock on which the Church is built.

Far from having my questions about the deity of Christ answered definitively, all that effort in learning Greek went towards pushing back the question one stage, but certainty and such was still lacking. The Watchtower folks would come over, and they would say that the Greek text means something other than what orthodoxy would state. Again, my quest was to get to the bottom of it, though there was a bit of frustration in not having a question related to a central doctrine answered to my satisfaction after all that work!

Next: Part 3 --- Jesus is God After All

Proof of the Nanny State #45,711

A public safety announcement regarding seat belt laws, just overheard on the TV set playing in the background: Click it or Ticket. We're Cops --- We write tickets to save lives.

The Pedantic Protestant is glad the all-compassionate One True State is a jealous State, lurking behind the billboard signs waiting to take my money because I didn't make the most optimal safety choice. If only those small-government freedom-loving Republicans had majorities so that they could make government smaller and restore individual liberty and responsibility. Oh, wait....

Ruminations on learning NT Greek --- Part 1

Introduction

About a decade or so ago, I was pulled out of my secular humanist mindset and brought back to the church in a very boring fashion, though there were of course the impulsive voices in my head that feverishly stated Religion is fine, but don't get too serious about it --- remember to focus on real life!

Skip forward about two years or so, and, foolishly enough, I remember that I started initiating conversations with the Mormon and Watchtower people who would set up booths in the main campus quadrangle. Anyway, they were generally unproductive, and, in fact, if seeds of doubt were planted, they were planted in my head, which was the complete opposite of the intended effect of my effort!

These seeds of doubt basically involved one thing: the full deity of Christ. Now, Christ's deity is positively asserted in scripture in at least three different types of passages:

(a) The passages that explicitly call Christ by the title God. Examples: John 1:1, 1:18, 20:28, Rom 9:5, Titus 2:13, II Peter 1:1, Hebrews 1:8 and most likely I John 5:20.

(b) Those passages in which properties that can only be predicated of full deity are predicated to Christ. Example: John 8:58, Col 1:15-20, and Phil 2:6-11, for example.

(c) Those passages in which Christ and God are used in an almost interchangeable fashion. Rev 1:8 comes to mind here, as well as Hebrews 1:8 mentioned earlier.

It turns out that the Mormons and the Watchtower people were able to wave off every passage mentioned above. On top of that, the Watchtower people had a particular Bible translation [the New World Translation] whereby the passages in (a) and (b) above were altered to fit into an Arian meaning.

(i) For example: The Word was God became The Word was a god ,
(ii) For another example: Before Abraham was, I am became Before Abraham was, I have been

It will be seen how the deity of Christ is affected here by the Watchtower translation.

On top of that, the Mormons and Watchtower people were able to make blanket claims about the Col and Phil reference, and to remove the force of the Hebrews passage as well. The claim was that our Bibles were not translated correctly.

Being a skeptic-at-heart, which is a characteristic that I'll have until my last breath, I found myself in the rather uncomfortable situation of having a Bible in my hand that explicitly proclaims the full deity of Christ, whereas others had a Bible in their hand that upheld an Arian or semi-Arian view that denied the full unequivocal deity of Christ. Who was right?

I began looking up the issue myself. Orthodox Christian scholars and writers of course would agree with my Bible translation, whereas the Watchtower folks could cite somebody somewhere who would vindicate their Arian translations. The typical dialogue would be quite predictable: I pull out a list of scholars who agree, they pull out a list of scholars who don't agree.

One thing I noticed was that the Watchtower was really prickly about giving exact citations and such, and this made me suspicious. However, there were plenty of mainstream Biblical scholars as well as the Jesus Seminar goofs who would deny the deity of Christ anyway, so I really didn't have much of an argument at this stage to defend my position.

For my peace of mind, I had to throw myself into learning NT Greek, if only so that I could read the grammars, commentaries, etc, and arrive at a reasonable independent judgement regarding an argument pertaining to a passage dealing with the deity of Christ.

Sometime in late 1996 [or 1997, I'm not sure], I bought John Wenham's The Elements of New Testament Greek and the answer key to his book, and began diligently working through the exercises.

Next thread: Part 2, dealing with my thoughts as I was learning NT Greek.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ssshhhh!! Our Intellectuals Are Speaking!!

Are you paying big bucks to send your kids to college and study under "the best and brightest?" Do you rationalize that tuition-paying second mortgage with the idea that your teenagers are becoming better rounded? Well, here are some gems of genius possibly awaiting them after you take that second job and dip into your retirement fund in order to send them to Ivy-Covered U.

Montreal hosted the fourteenth quadrennial World Congress of Sociology in the late northern summer of 1998. The conference marked the end of postmodernity--in a sense. A trope that had been ever present four years earlier was gone, erased (or at least rendered palimpsestic) by globalization: "and the postmodern/the postmodern and" saw their status as suffix and prefix written all over. So polysemous was globalization that it included sameness, difference, unity, and disunity--in short, globalization, like postmodernity before it, had come to stand for nothing less than life itself. As such, it was of dubious analytic utility.


[Taken from this link.]

If having your status as suffix and prefix written all over just isn't your cup of tea, and if the words sameness, difference, unity, and disunity don't quite float the boat due to their dubious analytic utility, we have another prize specimen from the collection:

This has been a culturally disruptive century. At the outset, Einstein's special theory of relativity overturned the canonical, Newtonian framework within which time and space were absolute, constant, and separate, rendering them relative, changeable, and imbricated. But although humankind had its fixed frames of reference in the discourses of science displaced by a strange and virtually unfigurable space-time topos, the impact of the Einsteinian revolution on the familiar discourses operating in diverse parts of the world was relatively minimal. More profoundly affecting social life was a subsequent revolution, the increasingly rapid change from commodity to representational money 1 and the further dematerialization of the bases of exchange, as various industrialized states removed the gold backing from their currencies. It affected not only financial policy but also people's ontological security, their understanding of the nature of their attachments and situatedness in relation to value.


[Taken from this link.]

Ain't that juicy how a theory in mathematical physics is linked to "familiar discourses operating in diverse parts of the world," and people's "understanding of the nature of their attachments and situatedness in relation to value" ?
The PP knows a thing or two about the mathematics of relativity, and can assuredly state that the dropping of Einstein's theory here is nothing but a liberal salting of something objective on a pile of nonsense.

The staff and writers here at the Pedantic Protestant say in unison: Welcome to the exciting world of modern critical theory!

For a laugh, compare the writing at the links above with the possibly now-famous Postmodern Generator. Make your own conclusions. =D

Summary of the Brilliant and Original Insights of Postmodernists and Those Really Intellectual Guys Like Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Etc.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Responding to Some Particular KJV-Only Claims

A link was recommended to me regarding questions (1) and (2) put forth in an earlier post regarding King James Version claims.

My claim is that somebody with a King James and somebody with, say, an NASB or NIV will have all of the major doctrines of Christianity firmly upheld. One commentator here at the blog has pretty much implied that the PP is out of his league here. The PP has a good command of NT Greek and has a working utility with the basics of textual criticism, though I pass myself off as an expert in neither. However, I can tell the difference between an argument and silliness, and that should help carry the day in the end.

The link contains four introductory paragraphs before proceeding to a list of individual verses and passages meant to establish the claim. I wish to make some special comments on the third and fourth paragraphs.

Here is that third paragraph. I'm going to number the sentences for clarity in referencing. I will number them as [1], [2], etc.

[1] Are we to believe the scholars when they tell us that no important doctrines are affected by the new Modern Versions? [2] It is obvious that they are not correct. [3] What they really mean to say is that when all the changes have been made the Bible Doctrines are still there somewhere else in the Bible. [4]If there are ten verses showing the Virgin Birth of Christ, and they have removed two, there are still eight remaining to prove the doctrine. [5] That may satisfy them, but the Fundamental believer sees that as a piece by piece destruction of the Word of God.


The Pedantic Protestant responds:

[1]: This is the crux of the dispute.

[2]: My experience contradicts the claim here, and Evangelical scholars such as Wallace and Carson have my same experience, so perhaps it isn't obvious after all.

[3]: This really doesn't cover the possibilities. For example, consider the famous textual variant in John 1:18. The KJV/TR has the reading "only-begotten Son" while the modern eclectic UBS4/NA27 text has "God-only-begotten" [or "only-begotten God"].
Regarding this passage, the author of the link states regarding this verse:

1:18 "the only begotten Son" is changed to "The only begotten God." Such a phrase is foreign to Scripture. It accommodates the Arian teaching that Christ was a lesser deity created by God. It agrees with the teaching of Origen that Christ was not equal with God in essence and nature. Sound Fundamental doctrine concerning Christ is that he is one person of the Triune God and that he proceeds from the Father by an eternal generation and reveals God to men as the Son of God.


Certainly, the "only-begotten God" reading can accommodate the Arian teaching that Christ is a lesser deity created by God. But this has no logical impact on the argument, for modern day Arians [most notably the Watchtower Society] have argued that the Greek in John 1:1 really implies lesser deity for Christ, and observe that John 1:1 is not a problematic passage with respect to variants between the Textus Receptus and the NA27 text. Arians have taken another Johannine passage, where Jesus states that the Father is greater than He is, another nonproblematic passage, and have argued against the full deity of Christ on the basis of this passage as well. So, the proper response to the claim that a reading can be used to accommodate Arianism is this: So what? The Arian exegesis was wrong in the early centuries, and it is still wrong today. Basing textual decisions regarding a passage on whether a cult or heresy might make fallacious appeal to that passage is lazy and ignores the actual internal and external evidence that must be considered.

Unlike the claim of [3], if the proper reading is "only-begotten-God," a la the NIV, say, then while the passage isn't dealing directly with the doctrine of the Son of God, we have another passage here that identifies the Word as God. I have in my own experience used this in my interactions with Watchtower and Mormons. They'd sure like John 1:18 to read "Son" and not "God"! So, it is sort of a tradeoff here. We get something doctrinally relative to the Son in one reading, and the other reading gives us something relative to the Godhead. Actually, neither reading causes the slightest problem for the Christian.

The point of all this is to show that the claim in [3] isn't true, for it is too sweeping. The PP notes that these sorts of irresponsible sweeping statements that are easily disproven with easy-to-find specific counter-instantiations are rather par for the KJV-only golf course.

But, what would happen if [3] were true? Nothing on a logical level. If we have a clearly stated proposition X in, say, writings A, B, and C, but a textual variant calls X into question in writing A, then we still have the attestation of X in B and C. No problem here.

But the author of the provided link has a problem as stated in [4]-[5]. Let's take his example of 10 passages for the Virgin Birth [VB] in the KJV versus, say, his figure of 8 passagse for a modern version such as, say the NIV. I don't know about these numbers, but am merely dealing with the argument as it stands. Requoting [4]-[5], the author states:

If there are ten verses showing the Virgin Birth of Christ, and they have removed two, there are still eight remaining to prove the doctrine. [5] That may satisfy them, but the Fundamental believer sees that as a piece by piece destruction of the Word of God.


I suppose that this is really the problem of the person who needs 10 passages instead of 8 passages. To the best of my knowledge, nobody "removes" passages willy-nilly, but does so [or should do so] on objective external evidence of mss citations and such, while weighing that with the more subjective internal evidence of usage, idiom, flow of thought, etc. How we relate to the alleged "piece by piece destruction of the Word of God" beyond pointing out the emotive and question-begging wording depends on whether we accept the KJV-only claims.

The fourth paragraph is numbered as well for my referencing:

[1] We would accuse them of taking away from the Word of God. They would accuse us of using a Bible which has many additions inserted by overzealous Christian copyists. [2] The issue now becomes quite clear. We must either believe that overzealous heretics have corrupted the original Word of God or believe that overzealous believers have added to the original Word of God. I can understand why heretics would want to corrupt the original Word of God, but I cannot believe that Christians would add one word to the Word of God which they have been entrusted to copy and pass along. [3] The Spirit of God within Christians would put a holy awe and reverence around the sacred word and guided by that same Spirit they would copy what God had given them. [4] My conclusion is that the new Modern Versions are based on Greek manuscripts that have been corrupted by heretics who changed the Word of God to agree with their rejection of the Deity of Christ and their Humanism regarding salvation. [5] The Greek Text underlying the King James Version is not filled with additions made by overzealous Christians. It is the Word of God preserved by the Spirit of God and it exalts the Lord Jesus Christ, giving him his proper place and the glory due unto his name.


Commentary:

[1] Nothing really comment-worthy here.

[2] False dilemma here. Variants come in many other ways than (i) "overzealous heretics" corrupting --- note the active voice here!! --- the earlier mss and (ii) "overzealous believers" adding to the "original Word of God." A standard textbook, The Text of the New Testament by Aland and Aland gives a pretty thorough list of other unintentional ways variants can creep in:

(a) Dittography,
(b) Haplography,
(c) Homoioteleuton,
(d) Homoioarcton, and
(e) Itacisms, to name a few.

Whether an unintentional error makes a pet orthodox doctrine more clear or less clear, it is still an error. Doesn't the author have even the rudimentary basics of textual criticism? Based on the statement he made, it sure doesn't seem like it.

[3] No disagreement here, really, but this seems like a non sequitur .

[4] We get to the crux of the matter here. Somehow, in the author's mind [4] follows from all of this. Note that no actual internal/external textual considerations as of yet have been adduced in support of this claim .

[5] The claim here is that

[5] The Greek Text underlying the King James Version is not filled with additions made by overzealous Christians. It is the Word of God preserved by the Spirit of God and it exalts the Lord Jesus Christ, giving him his proper place and the glory due unto his name.


Wow! This is a strong conclusion, especially since no evidence is given. More importantly, the assertion is false. For example:

(1) The famous pericope concerning the adulteress, John 7:53-8:11, is found in the KJV, but is most certainly not authentic. Here, we in all likelihood have an addition to the original text.

[The heart and soul of this strong claim is the absence of this pericope from a very large collection of manuscripts, many of them quite early. One can consult Metzger, the Alands, or one can find a nice succinct-yet-detailed accounting of the internal/external evidence in something like this.]

This is what the author of the article states regarding this pericope:

7:53-8:11 The whole story of the woman taken in adultery is omitted. This is one of the most blessed portions of the Word of God. It is intended by God through the inspired writer to amplify what came before in 3:17. The law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (1:17).


There's really no argument given as to why the pericope should be included by the author. In fairness, here's a link to an argument that contends that the pericope is genuine. Readers can decide. The PP finds the argument given there not unreasonable, but not nearly as strong as those of Metzger or Harris referred to earlier. [This is a mere reporting of my thinking --- defending this would take a fair amount of time for another post!] The reader, as usual, can evaluate these for himself. I'd say that there are very good reasons why liberal and conservative scholarship are generally in firm agreement regarding the inauthenticity of the pericope.

(2) The [in]-famous Johannine Comma, I John 5:7-8.

Here the text underlying the KJV has the longer reading which can be taken to support orthodox Trinitarianism, while the eclectic critical texts do not have this longer reading. The author of the KJV link states

The whole verse bearing testimony to the Triune God is discarded. There are at least 20 Greek manuscripts which have this verse in. It is also seen in the writings of the church fathers and lectionaries. It directly affects the Bible doctrine of the Trinity.


The UBS 4 Textual Commentary by Metzger et al states contrary to the above that the longer reading is absent from all Greek mss save eight of them, and within these eight mss four of them have the longer reading as a variant reading written in the margin as a later addition to the manuscript . I refer the interested reader to Wallace's discussion at this link.

Whether the doctrine of the Trinity is affected here is secondary to the actual evidence produced, and the evidence appears overwhelmingly against the inclusion of the Comma.

I note that actual evidence for/against a series of variants with some KJV proponents doesn't seem to be based on empirical evidence so much as whatever a priori assumptions they bring to the text regarding what doctrine needs protection. It is true that the Trinity is under attack today, but what's new about that? There is plenty of attestation in the NT regarding the Father's being God, the Son's being God, the Holy Spirit's being God, the separate status each has in the economy of the Godhead, the unity of the Godhead, etc. Those who deny this on the basis of the large amount of scriptural texts that are indisputed really wouldn't bat an eyelash at the Comma were it authentic. [The Watchtower folks to whom I've tried to witness have their own interpretations of the Comma that support their Arianism, so the Comma there serves cultish purposes.]

Wallace captures my feelings on the issue:

Unfortunately, for many, the Comma and other similar passages have become such emotional baggage that is dragged around whenever the Bible is read that a knee-jerk reaction and ad hominem argumentation becomes the first and only way that they can process this issue. Sadly, neither empirical evidence nor reason can dissuade them from their views. The irony is that their very clinging to tradition at all costs (namely, of an outmoded translation which, though a literary monument in its day, is now like a Model T on the Autobahn) emulates Roman Catholicism in its regard for tradition. [5] If the King James translators knew that this would be the result nearly four hundred years after the completion of their work, they’d be writhing in their graves.


Footnote [5] referenced in the quote above reads:

5 Thus, TR-KJV advocates subconsciously embrace two diametrically opposed traditions: when it comes to the first 1500 years of church history, they hold to a Bultmannian kind of Christianity (viz., the basis for their belief in the superiority of the Byzantine manuscripts—and in particular, the half dozen that stand behind the TR—has very little empirical substance of historical worth). Once such readings became a part of tradition, however, by way of the TR, the argument shifts to one of tradition rather than non-empirical fideism. Neither basis, of course, resembles Protestantism.


Summary

A reader referred me to the original link given, as if it would make some sort of sense. I contend that the article is not particularly helpful, and is generally puerile. The sweeping claims made there are easily shown to be false, and the listing of individual passages where doctrines are allegedly changed fails in at least two major ways.

(1) For each passage, the only thing that is pointed out is just how the variant might possibly affect doctrine within that passage alone, [note that this is not the issue under discussion!] but no orthodox Christian doctrine that is in jeopardy when one leaves the TR for the NA27 [say] has yet been exhibited. This has been my question all along.

(2) The author has made his own subjective preferences for what doctrine needs protection or stating the guiding [and only?] criterion by which he defends the TR.

Now, the author wasn't writing a scholarly paper, so we can't fault him for not having a journal-worthy article. However, the courtesy extended to the author stops when completely irresponsible and silly claims regarding the Bible, history, motives, etc are made, all without any evidence adduced. Whether in a journal or on a website, this is just sloppy.

Basically, if the links referred to by the commentator were meant to persuade or make me revise my thinking or question it, they fail to do the trick. In fact, this given link isn't so much unconvincing as it is a giant non sequitur. Again, readers can make up their own minds and are welcome to disagree or point out whatever flaws they think I have in my brief-by-necessity presentation.