Dec 21, 2010

Lumpkins I Cor. 4: 7

Peter Lumpkins has written an entire diatribe against my use of I Cor. 4:7 in the context of salvation. See here

Peter and I have had a couple battles over the Calvinist/Arminian debate. The first concerned whether Baptists of Southern Baptist heritage believed in "original sin," that all are born into the world in a condemned state because of the sin of Adam. Peter claimed that a denial of original sin was characteristic of that heritage. He cited John Smyth, a leader of the General Baptists, as proof. But, this was no proof at all, for the General Baptists were a separate group from those Baptists who founded the SBC. Those Baptists endorsed the London and Philadelphia confessions and these confessions uphold the doctrine of original sin, and affirm that all men are born slaves to sin. I was surprised to see a SBC pastor deny such fundamental Bible and Baptist beliefs.

The latest controversy came as a result of my comments on Peter's post regarding Billy Birch's Arminian apologetic regarding whether Arminianism takes away from God all the glory and credit for salvation. Peter and Billy say that they give all the glory and credit to God for their salvation and that their Arminian soteriology does the same. I was glad for their confession and do not affirm that they claim credit for their salvation, but that their doctrine, when fairly analyzed, does in fact deny to God all the credit and gives some of it to the creature.

Billy gave the illustration of people who are trapped in a burning house and who are offered the opportunity of being saved by fire rescue personel. Billy claimed that those who responded to the offer of salvation could claim no credit for being saved, even though they were saved, in part at least, because they responded to the offer of rescue, while others were lost in the fire because they refused the offer. Billy and Peter claimed that the one rescued could not, would not, claim any credit for their being rescued. Those who responded to the offer of salvation could not thank anyone for their salvation but would give all thanks to the one who offered to, and who did in fact, rescue them. Yet, whether any in such a situation do or don't accept any praise or thanks, is besides the point. The question is - can they legitimately take any credit to themselves for the rescue? I affirm that they can, and sometimes do.

If the two classes of persons address each other about why they were saved or lost, can the persons rescued not say to those burned - "it is to your fault that you were not saved and it is to our credit that we are saved"? How can all the credit be given to the rescuer if the ultimate outcome depends upon the choice of those in danger? Indeed, the one choosing to be rescued must, to some degree, thank himself for having enough sense to make the right decision. In the end, what made the ultimate "difference" between those who perished and those who were rescued? It can't be the rescuer, for he offered the same salvation to both classes. Can the ones who chose to be rescued give thanks to the rescuer for their good sense and right decision? No. The decision itself was not due to the efforts of the rescuer but to the good sense of those rescued.

Peter and I exchanged comments on I Cor. 4: 7 until Peter cut off our discussion by saying he was done with commenting further. But, he chose instead to write a separate posting on the passage with the idea of demonstrating a classic case of Calvinistic "eisegeses." It is that posting that I want to reply to in this writing.

Peter wrote:

"On my last piece, one commenter quoted Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:7 as indicative of the Apostle arguing that this gracious “system or paradigm of conversion” eliminates all boasting or crediting oneself with being saved. He further noted that Paul says that those who reject the idea that they are different because of God's gift to them are ones who have grounds for boasting."

I stand by those statements. Anyone who reads the passage honestly will see that Paul says that "boasting" (bragging) is impossible to one who is superior due to the gift and work of God alone. Paul implies that boasting is possible in cases where one is superior because of his own abilities, in those areas where God did not make the difference by his gift. In other words, if God gave you what you have, you are different because of that gift, and you can only thank God for that difference. For Peter to limit this paradigm about boasting to those who are saved, is an error. For Peter to limit this paradigm to only the supernatural gifts of the Spirit is also an error. Peter seems to think that this verse has no bearing upon the boasting that Christians may do relative to any special gifts or abilities they have naturally, or apart from the supernatural ones mentioned in the epistle. Is this correct? Is Paul only condemning boasting of Christians in relation to other Christians, or all boasting, of any man?

Peter then wrote:

"I offered some contextual matters necessary to understand Paul’s rhetorical questions he asked the Corinthians.

In the end, however, context was ignored. Instead I was perceived as an “Arminian” who was “fighting” the proper application of 1 Corinthians 4:7 to salvation and “limiting” Paul’s “universalistic language” by demonstrating a “reluctance to apply the verse to all men as respecting all the gifts they receive in life.”

The contextual observations by Peter are not denied by me, as Peter insinuates. But, I believe Peter fails to see the larger context, leaving out other contextual considerations. He implies that Paul is not at all concerned about any boasting that pertains to salvation, but this is clearly false. Notice these words of Paul from the first chapter.

"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth (boasts or brags), let him glory in the Lord." (I Cor. 1: 26-31)

Notice how "boasting" is here connected with the subject of salvation. Yet, Peter claims that Paul is not talking about salvation boasting in I Cor. 4: 7, claiming that it is all out of context! Clearly, context is not ignored, as Peter falsely claimed. Further, if one looks at the context of I Cor. chapter one, he will see what kinds of things the Corinthians were boasting in. They boasted of their superior wisdom and power, of their superior birth status as Corinthian Greeks. This was part of their Greek heritage. The Greeks were a proud boastful people. They had Sophists in Corinth, people who boasted of their rhetorical and oratorical abilities, things that did not relate to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit or to the saints of God alone. Peter wants to exclude the words of Paul, in I Cor. 4: 7, as having anything to do with boasting about natural abilites or gifts, as though the boasting of the Corinthians did not include these things.

Elsewhere in Paul's epistles, we see him repeat his comments about boasting as it pertains to salvation. In Ephesians 2: 9 Paul says - "Not of works, lest any man should boast." Why could they not boast? Because salvation is "the gift of God." They could not boast in anything in which God is the giver or reason for the saving difference.

Also the passage above, in talking about boasting, says God acts a certain way in order thatn "no flesh should glory in his presence." "No flesh" takes in more than just Christian boasting.

When Paul asks - "what do you have (possess) that you did not receive (as a gift from God)? - he is not limiting the question to things they possess in the area of spiritual gifts, nor is he limiting his antidote against boasting to only Christians. The words of Paul may aptly be addressed to any creature who is boasting. If Paul wanted to limit the context of his censure of boasting to only that boasting about spiritual gifts which only Christians possess, then he would have limited his language, saying - "what do you have as Christians." Is Paul excluding boasting that Christians do regarding their natural gifts and abilities? Peter would have to say yes, that Paul is saying nothing about such boasting in I Cor. 4: 7. It is universalistic language. "What you have" does not exclude anything they have, either as mere men or as Christians. He reminds the Corinthians about his theology which affirms that no human being can boast about anything for God is the one who distinguishes men by the gifts he gives to them. Paul taught the same as others in this regard.

John the Baptist said - "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven." (John 3: 27) I even cited this verse to Peter to demonstrate that Paul was affirming the same principle in I Cor. 4: 7. Peter did not see the relationship between the Baptist's and Paul's statements. However, in his diatribe, he does acknowledge the truth that all the good things a man possesses are his by God's sovereign gift and cites another verse to prove it (James 1: 17). He is willing to admit that John 3: 27 and James 1: 17 affirm that people are different because of God's gifts to them, but simply refuses to allow that Paul is saying the same thing in I Cor. 4: 7. Paul said, in Acts 17: 25 - "he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things."

Peter then wrote:

"I want to make two observations of unequal length. First, the short one. I do not think a better example exists than the exchange I had on 1 Corinthians 4:7 which visibly illustrates how strict Calvinism too often allows theology to drive the exegesis of Scripture. Indeed it’s troubling when someone can take a verse like 1 Corinthians 4:7 and conclude, as did the commenter, God’s sovereign will makes the difference between two people who hear the gospel when no such thing is so much as implied in the words of the Apostle."

In response I say, in similar language to that used by Peter, that "I do not think a better example exists which illustrates how strict Arminians refuse to see the broad implications of Paul's questions." Why is Peter even denying the proposition, that in salvation, God is the one who ultimately "makes the difference"? Only a strict Arminian would find fault with someone who avers that God makes the difference in salvation. Clearly, by his diatribe, Peter does not want to affirm that God is the one who makes the difference in why one is saved and another is not. He wants to avow that God gets all the credit for him being different, for him being a believer, but then argues against that doctrine which gives him all the credit. "The legs of the lame are not equal."

I Cor. 4: 7 is also similar to these words of God.

"But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." (Exo. 11: 7)

This "difference" that God made between the Israelites and the Egyptians does not concern salvation? Could the Israelites boast for being Israelites and not being Egyptians?

Peter then wrote:

"Second, I want to offer a brief exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:7 and in doing so demonstrate how some strict Calvinists do not deal with the text of Scripture at key junctures in their theology. Rather they bring unwarranted baggage to the text and read the text in light of their a priori notions about what must be."

But, as has been seen thus far, Peter has not shown how I Cor. 4: 7 is limited to a particular kind of boasting which only Christians, with supernatural gifts, may be guilty of. Peter charges me with some harsh things, in these words, but they are unfounded and I appeal to the Lord and his people to judge between us.

Peter wrote:

"Before we actually look at Paul’s words, I want to be clear about the issue with which I am concerned. I am not denying all good things come from God. James is clear about this: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). Nor am I denying, as the commenter put it, “all men as respecting all the gifts they receive in life” should give all glory to God. Indeed whether or not they acknowledge it, all persons—including the unbelieving world---are blessed alike with heaven’s rain (Matt 5:45). Nor is the issue whether people may boast in their salvation."

Then what is the issue? He is agreeing with all I said but simply believes I used the wrong text? Is that what is irritating him so much? I think his loud rejection of the implications of I Cor. 4: 7 is very revealing. If Paul believes that all gifts come from God, and that men cannot therefore boast in anything, then why would he not remind the Corinthians of this general principle and then apply it to their particular case? Peter would have to deny that Paul is applying a general principle to the case at hand.

Peter wrote:

"Nor is it necessarily of concern to me—at this juncture--if the Bible teaches God’s sovereign election as the distinguishing mark which separates believer and reprobate."

It was of concern, however, to the apostle Paul, who addressed sovereign election in I Cor. chapter one. Peter, being the Arminian that he is, would of course deny that God's sovereign election is "the distinguishing mark which separates believer and reprobate." He believes that sinners distinguish themselves by their election of God. Here we have the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinists owe their faith to God's election and Arminians owe their election by God to their faith.

Peter wrote:

"As one may easily see, the various translations bring out the fact that Paul had in mind to squelch the Corinthians’ nasty habit of making distinctions between one man and another—in this case between Paul and Apollos—thus establishing a party spirit, the very issue the Apostle insisted was a problem (1:10-12)."

Peter's failure here is in not seeing that Paul is condemning any and all kinds of boasting, and not just a limited kind of boasting. As I have already shown, the Corinthians, being Greeks, were in the habit of boasting, even before they became Christians. They did not boast simply about their spiritual gifts, but also about their natural abilities.

Peter wrote;

"What must be clear at this point in the context is, the very notion for which some strict Calvinists contend—i.e, that Paul was arguing for a salvific distinction between elect and reprobate persons in 1 Cor. 4:7—is not only absent in the context leading up to verse 7, but the Calvinistic notion seems to be explicitly contradicted by the Apostle!"

What is clear about the context is that Paul is contending against any and all boasting that Christians, or any man, may do. If Peter wanted to use a word from scripture against the boasting of non-Christians, what word and argumentation would he use? Would he not ask the unsaved man - "what do you have that you did not receive as a gift from God? So, why do you boast?" As I have shown, Paul included salvation in regards to boasting, as I have shown, from chapter one.

How is the "Calvinistic notion" "explicitly contradicted by the Apostle"? Peter never showed us this! Is Paul denying that saving differences are also due to the gifting of God?

Peter wrote:

"This leads to suggesting two possible interpretations of the rhetorical questions. David Garland explains:

The first question lends itself to two possible answers. It may be interpreted negatively as referring to their presumption: “Who in the world sees anything special in you?” (Moffatt 1938: 48); “Who concedes you any superiority?” (P. Marshall 1987: 205); “Who made you so special?” (Kuck 1992a: 215). The question can also be interpreted positively. They are special, but they forget that it was God who makes them special: Who differentiates you? Who defines you?” (David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament, 136)"

I do not believe the translation of Paul's words can be interpreted as sarcasm. I believe rather that he is asking them questions that he knows they have acknowledged the answers to. God made them different, God made them special, God defined them. But, defined them, in what respect? Not in the sense of salvation? Not as Christians? If faith is what defines them, then God must have been the one who gave them faith. If God did not give them faith, then he did not define them, but they defined themselves!

Peter wrote:

"Commentators are divided over precisely what Paul may have meant.

Craig Blomberg opts for the “negative” view taking the sense that Paul was questioning them concerning their arrogant belief in superiority over other believers (Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, p.90)."

Whether or not commentators are divided over the precise meaning of Paul is immaterial. We do not need the commentators or scholarly opinion to know what Paul is saying. Why would anyone want to limit Paul's injunction against boasting to only Christians against other Christians? Does Peter believe that the boasting of the Greek Christians in Corinth had no relation to pagan Greeks? In I Cor. 8 Paul deals with the superiority of "strong" brethren in Corinth against the "weak." In this chapter the "strong" are the Christians and the "weak" are pagans. Paul attacks the boasting of the strong (Christians) against the weak (pagans).

Peter wrote:

"In Augustine's debates with Pelagius, he repeatedly cited 1 Cor. 4:7 as demonstrating nothing good existed in depraved man and hence, God distinguishes His sovereign elect through the good gifts He effacaciously bestowes. For Augustine, irresistible grace and sovereign election were the warp and woof of this passage."

Peter's statement about Augustine taking the same view of the passage as myself is very interesting in light of the fact that Peter at first insinuated that I was giving forth a novel interpretation of the passage, one that he says is rarely used in the debate between Calvinists and Arminians.

Peter wrote:

"However, for Barrett and Blomberg, the text only bears “broadly theological inferences,” hardly a hook upon which to hang one's theological cloak."

I also agree, as I said in my exchange with Peter, that I Cor. 4: 7 states a "broad" theological principle and that Paul applies it to a particular case. What I don't agree with, however, is the idea that we cannot "hang one's theological cloak" upon broad theological principles. Does Peter not hang things upon broad theological principles?

Peter wrote:

"From only a brief look at 1 Corinthians 4:7, it seems several conclusions are in order. First, to make this verse into a “paradigm” of conversion when the Apostle is not dealing with conversion is wrong-headed at best and irresponsible at worst."

The "broad principle" in the passage is what? That no one can boast in anything because God is the one who makes men different by the distribution of gifts. How can we divorce this broad principle from salvation? Why would Peter want to divorce this principle from salvation? The paradigm is applicable to conversion and the fact that Peter denies its applicability to salvation is very revealing about the nature and thinking of Arminianism. Why is Peter rejecting the idea of God making the difference being applicable to salvation?

Peter wrote:

"Second, the Apostle Paul is not promoting distinctions among persons but encouraging Christians to deny them since comparing one’s giftedness with another can only lead to jealousy."

This is false. The Greeks, as Paul knew, were a boastful people. Also, Paul was not only concerned about the Christian audience at Corinth, but of the pagan audience also. I have already shown how Paul cautioned them about boasting about things unrelated to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

Peter wrote:

"Third, Paul is dealing with a practical church matter not election, not predestination, not efficacious calling, and not irresistible grace. To bring these notions to the text mocks the author’s original intent making historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture into an unnecessary activity. In fact, it stands as the worst kind of “proof-texting” imaginable, the kind of “proof-texting” conservative Christians have deplored within sectarian “Christian” groups for centuries."

Did not Paul deal with election and salvation, in the context of boasting, in chapter one? One is not bringing election and efficacious calling into the passage, but is seeing them implied in the language, and if a person was not biased against God making the difference, in conversion, he would see it.

Peter wrote:

"Fifth, 1 Corinthians 4:7 doesn’t mention a single word which necessarily implies any notion particular to strict Calvinism. In fact, the entire verse is made up of questions, questions which no answer is explicitly given. One must supply the answers. Strict Calvinists maintain they have “the “biblical answer” when no answer is given by the Apostle."

Unbelievable! Peter is saying that there are no biblical answers to Paul's questions? He does not know that Paul expects specific answers? When Paul asks - "who made you different from another" - he expects them to not to know what to say? Does he not know that they will affirm, as he taught them, that God was the one who made them to differ? When Paul asks - "what do you have that you did not receive?" - he did not expect them to say "nothing"?

Peter wrote:

"Seventh, 1 Corinthians 4:7 says exactly nothing about faith being a specifically endowed gift from God."

Yes, and I could say that John 3: 27 or James 1: 17 says nothing specific about faith. But, who would exclude faith? No one but an Arminian! If all the good one has is the gift of God, how can faith be excluded?

Peter wrote:

"Faith is not mentioned in the verse nor implied in the questions. Yet some strict Calvinists insist since Paul employs “universalistic language” in this verse,

As we have seen, Paul is not concerned with arguing for common grace. Rather he specifically addresses believers in this verse. Nor does he mention faith. Yet strict Calvinists nonetheless say Paul implies it.

Put another way, if Paul meant to imply “all men as respecting all the gifts they receive in life,” and he specifically had faith in mind, is he not implying all men receive faith?"

Paul's language is just as universalistic as John 3: 27 and James 1: 17. Paul's principle applies to Christians and non-Christians. The same rhetoricals may be asked of both classes.


The Seeking Disciple said...

Just wanted you to know its Billy Birch not Burch. He goes either by William Birch or Billy Birch.

FolloweroftheLamb said...

Such ignorance does not surprise me when you read such revisionist histories such as by Vedder or Gould. If people would take the time and effort to research history themselves instead of relying on the so-called labors of others, they would be amazed at what they discovered. Modern "scholarship" relies on its mostly lazy audience.