TGGD

In the comments on a recent posting of mine, there are several discussions on the subjects of consciousness, Hell, whether a choice is free if the chooser is subject to threats, and a whole bunch of other stuff. robhu is speaking for the “we sinners all deserve to burn, but God is so super that he saves some people” side, gjm11 for the opposition. I’ve been busy all day so haven’t had much chance to contribute. I think it’s shaping up to be the post of mine with the most comments. Have fun.

66 thoughts on “TGGD”

  1. whether a choice is free if the chooser is subject to threats So you consider a potential criminal to not have a free choice because he is aware of the ‘threat’ of punishment for his crime?

    1. Yup.

      It’s not _free_ choice unless there are no external influences.

      Of course, you can still consider it partially free will, depending on how large the threats are.

      If I asked you to bark like a dog, you’d say no. This would be a free choice. If I told you to bark like a dog, or I’d punch you in the face, that would be a less free choice. If I told you to bark like a dog, or I’d torture you to death, that’s an even less free choice.

      Not that I believe in free will as a basic thing, but it’s a handy referent on the human social level.

      1. These distinctions seem really odd to me. Criminals that steal do it because they choose to. The fact that they know there is a consequence for stealing doesn’t mean they are not choosing to steal, of course they are.

        I also know that I choose to do bad things. I choose to do them, I’m not obligated to do them. The impression I’m getting (perhaps wrongly) is that people don’t think they choose to do bad things, and I just find this totally bizarre as it is so incredibly out of kilter with my own experience.

    2. Well, that’s what we would *like* to happen now, isn’t it? However the ‘threat’ of punishment is clearly too waffly and uncertain in this case.

      If I held a knife to your throat and said “say ‘dog’ or I will kill you” you’d probably say ‘dog’… I read somewhere that the CIA thinks no-one can hold out indefinitely under torture. What pain you are willing to go through to avoid doing something is clearly a personal boundary – contingent on how much you want to avoid doing the thing and how much paid you can take.

      1. I think the action (in this case torture) is distinct from the threat of an action, they’re related but they’re not the same.

        I also think that “God will judge people for their actions” is more like the actions of a judge in the legal system than it is the act of a torturer trying to make people say dog. If you look at stuff like the ten commandments most of it is stuff we’d more or less agree with today (don’t murder, steal, honour your parents, don’t commit adultery, etc) – God was telling them that they ought to be nice to each other, and that if they do stuff like murder then that is bad.

        I find these ‘You don’t have a choice if you’re told there are consequences’ arguments a bit crazy – we live in a world where there are consequences for our actions that we’re aware of and yet we (the human race) do bad stuff anyway. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I do bad things it is very definitely because I choose to. Perhaps I’m really unusual in that – no one AFAICT has said that they actually choose to do bad things, everyone is busy saying it’s all God’s fault (assuming God exists and created us ‘in this way’ etc).

        1. Actually I disagree with most of the 10 commandments.

          Certainly the stuff about not blaspheming and not working on Sundays. Honouring your parents is OK, but in real life sometimes parents turn out to be evil shits and you need to not get stuck into obeying them all the time. Adultery is bad, but I don’t define it the way the bible does – so I don’t think I agree with that bit either. I dislike thought-crimes like “coveting”. I do agree on “don’t steal” and “don’t kill” but that’s hardly original; and besides God (if you believe the bible) kills lots of people and steals lots of land for the Israelites… so I’m not sure quite what that commandment is meant to mean.

          We do have choices – but the choice in the face of consequences is “Do X and risk the consequences of X or not-X and risk the consequences of not-X”. We factor into our decision the likely outcomes of our choice (if there is no difference in outcome then there’s not really a choice to make), and part of that is taking into account possible punishment meted out by our society, our friends and possibly our God also. If I do a “bad” thing then I’ve probably chosen to do it – presumably because I think that that thing will give me a better outcome than the alternative “good” thing.

          However *I* don’t believe in your God – and your God is supposed to be omni-everything… which leads to some well known sources of confusion.

            1. If a parent had two kids and bought them some presents, and he gave Amy a doll and Betty a teddybear, and then he thought, actually, Amy ought to have that teddybear, because Amy’s really nice and my favourite, and he told Amy to kill Betty and take her teddybear, how can that be stealing? He paid for the teddybear in the first place.

              1. So where does it say that Betty (who I suppose is anyone other than the Jews) have been given this land by God? If God said “You [non Jews] are to have this land, I give it you you, it’s yours forever” then later says “I love this other group of people more, so please go and steal this land which I previously gave to someone else” then I’d agree we’d have a problem, but I don’t see that he gave any land to anyone other than his chosen people. I suspect that a close examination of the passages (not that anyone has mentioned any) will show that there is more to it than just giving land to one group of people than another – a lot of the stuff that happens in the OT seems to be about God’s judgement being acted out on earth through his Holy nation.

              2. This would be more accurate if Betty had not only been ignoring her own parent, but actively seeking other parents to look after her because they promised her more stuff, and killing lots of other little girls. Oh and were of a more responsible age, and had been doing said bad things for centuries. It’s still fairly odd, but then anthropomorphising God is kind of meant to be odd, that’s why we tend to call it idolatry.

  2. Has anyone made a post making the distinction between moral freedom and physical freedom? That’s how most coherent model (used by the likes of Jonathan Edwards and John Piper) I’ve come across to work through free will discussions. If no one else has made comments along those lines I’ll try to post something.

    Am reading (and criting) the Karen Armstrong book. Her use of footnotes greatly irritates me: so she’ll use them profusely, till she makes her most bizarre claims (e.g. 1,2 Timothy + Titus weren’t written by Paul, but where written as posthumously fan fic) for which she offers no justification or reference at all, she’ll just state it. This is strange as she footnotes other things so well, so I can only suspect that is because such claims have a less sound basis than her statement would suggest.

    nlj21

    PS. Welcome back Rob! I would post to your blog, but anonymous comments are denied

    1. PS. Welcome back Rob! I would post to your blog, but anonymous comments are denied Are you sure? I thought I had anonymous comments allowed. (why not create a LJ account?)

        1. Have LJ finally separated out OpenID from anonymous comments? It used to treat the as the same, so if you barred anonymous comments you couldn’t get OpenID comments either.

          1. The code is inconsistent it seems. It treats openid as anonymous (I had to allow anonymous comments so pizza.maircrowsoft.com (aka flurble) could post on my journal. She is on my friends list, but before she commented it told her her comment would be screened, which it wasn’t, because she is on my flist.

      1. Oops. Yes, looks like they are just screened not blocked.

        I’m avoiding recreating my LJ account to avoid getting drawn into long on-line debates as my experience is they tend not to actually go anywhere, much better do thrash such things out in real life IMHO.

    2. Armstrong is right to say that a majority of NT scholars think that Paul didn’t write the pastoral epistles. I’d heard about that when I was an evangelical. I thought it was wrong, obviously, but not bizarre.

      Wikipedia’s article on the subject has plenty of footnotes, although I agree that some reference in Armstrong’s work would be nice. My own is Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus, where he argues that the Pauline letters differ from the Pastorals in their teaching on the role of women. He writes that “Scholars today are by and large convinced that 1 Timothy was not written by Paul but by one of his later, second-generation followers” (Chapter 7, p. 182).

  3. To be honest, the idea of free will doesn’t interest me that much any more, once I realised there was no real definition for it.

    The argument at the top about consciousness was interesting to watch, especially as it seemed to boil down to “I feel like there is an X, therefore there is an X, therefore any explanation that doesn’t involve X must be untrue.”

    Of course, that used to be my opinion too, back in ye olden days :->

    1. Is X consciousness / qualia?

      When I was studying the philosophy of the mind at university (I did some wacky AI stuff at uni) there was a mood in philosophy influenced by science that argued that the experience of consciousness (i.e. the internal stuff about us, where we introspect) couldn’t be fitted in to the scientific / physicalist model of the world, so the neatest thing to do was to say that it wasn’t there at all. I find that deeply unsatisfactory.

      1. Oh, I believe in the experience of consciousness. And I believe in qualia/feeling.

        But there doesn’t seem to be anything magical about them that they couldn’t be recreated by any neural network that was complex enough to contain models of itself.

  4. whether a choice is free if the chooser is subject to threats

    In all the discussion so far, I’ve had the strong suspicion that people are simply talking past each other on the matter of what exactly they mean by “free will” / “free choice”. The concepts of “choice uncoerced by threats” and “choice unconstrained by determinism” are distinct, and it looks to me as if there has been a certain amount of confusion between the one and the other. (From some posters, at least; others seem to understand the distinction and are merely disagreeing about which is more important and relevant.)

    “Choice uncoerced by threats” is a useful concept for determining questions of moral or legal responsibility between peers. If I commit a criminal act, it makes a difference to my liability whether I was being held at gunpoint, because if I was then the real responsibility for the crime having been committed lies with the person who coerced me into doing it, since we don’t generally condemn people for obeying their survival instinct. (To some extent this is culturally determined: one can imagine a hyper-dutiful bushido-crazed samurai culture expecting me to die rather than betray my master, and holding me culpable if I don’t.)

    But it stops being the whole story when one of the moral agents in question created the other and had input into its moral nature. If I write an AI program whose nature is such that it commits a criminal act because it feels like it, then the fact that it was uncoerced by threats (and hence, one argues, morally to blame) isn’t sufficient to absolve me of blame for its actions. In fact for practical purposes I’d say that both it and I are to blame: certainly punishing it might persuade it to modify its behaviour, and punishing me might persuade me to write more conscientious AIs in future.

    And if I write a program whose nature is to want to choose one way, and then attempt to coerce it by threats into choosing the other way? Well, that’s anyone’s guess 🙂

    1. when one of the moral agents in question created the other and had input into its moral nature. If I write an AI program whose nature is such that it commits a criminal act because it feels like it, then the fact that it was uncoerced by threats (and hence, one argues, morally to blame) isn’t sufficient to absolve me of blame for its actions. In fact for practical purposes I’d say that both it and I are to blame: certainly punishing it might persuade it to modify its behaviour, and punishing me might persuade me to write more conscientious AIs in future.
      The creation account in the Bible (the relevant bit of which continues up to the end of chapter 3) portrays the Adam and Eve as having a choice as to whether to obey God or not, in fact only one thing is specifically forbidden. Then the snake comes along (as Ricky Gervais says the snake looks like a bit of a mistake) in chapter 3, questions God’s word (v 1) and feeds them misinformation (v 4). Eve listens to this and decides it’s better to do what the snake is saying than what God is saying, and so they eat of the fruit. The way it is portrayed is that man was created with enormous freedom of stuff that he was allowed to do, and a tiny bit that he wasn’t allowed to do – yet he chose to do the bad thing anyway (and, interestingly, Adam’s reaction to God is to blame God for making Eve (v 12), while Eve blames the serpent (v 13)).

      Anyway – my point being that the account seems to say that (at least for Adam and Eve) their nature was not to incline them to choose to do bad things, although that was an option that they had.

      The snake obviously complicates things – why was there a snake there at all? Also wouldn’t it be better if there was no forbidden tree at all? (so I guess – if there were no choices possible for us to make that would be sinful) I don’t know the answers to those questions – the garden of Eden account is so abstract and short that I just don’t know. I wonder though if the capability of free will to not do what someone wants you to do is required for you doing stuff for them (or loving them or whatever) to be meaningful. I suspect it is.

      1. I’m not sure where Adam and Eve came into this; I was thinking of the predispositions of the current human race in general, not the single misdeed of their alleged ultimate ancestors. Did I miss an entire branch of the thread somewhere?

        Though, that said, the way you tell it here is a nice microcosm of what actually (allegedly) happens in modern life: Eve is faced with conflicting statements of the situation from God and the snake and doesn’t find God’s claims obviously more convincing, so she makes her best judgment on the information she has and is comprehensively zotted when it turns out she guessed wrong. Now as then, God’s pronouncements are not obviously more convincing than the other mutually contradictory worldviews available to us, and yet we are told there is an unimaginably large penalty waiting for us if we back the wrong horse.

        If you create a race of sentient beings because you want to play hide and seek with them, you shouldn’t blame them for losing a lot of the time if you’ve also arranged that they’re nowhere near as good at it as you are!

        1. Adam and Eve come in to it in that the general discussion is about whether the claims Christianity make about people’s intent / freewill / etc are true or not, so it seemed prudent to bring in an actual example of what Christianity says. How much the Adam and Eve are meant to represent us today is open to debate of course.

          I agree that the account of Adam and Eve mirrors what happens in modern life, but I don’t think she finds the claims of the snake more convincing (it’s hard to see it that could be given that she knew God who had created everything was less likely to be telling the truth than one of the created beings) – she finds it more enticing – the desire (in verse 5 in particular) was to be like God rather than being subservient to God.

          It’s also fair to say that the snake (who is considered to be Satan) was working to corrupt what God had said to them (note the corruption of what God said in 2:16-17 compared with the snake’s version in 3:3) was there tempting them, but having someone around tempting you to do something even if they’re trying to mislead you means you’re no longer responsible for your actions.

          I think the response of Adam and Eve is interesting. Rather than owning up to what they had done and asking for forgiveness they blamed everyone else they could. There is no hint in what they say that they are responsible for their own actions. That bit matches up quite closely with what people think today.

          In terms of God’s pronouncements today not being more convincing than the other worldviews around us I’d say that the vast majority of people have not properly investigated the claims of Christianity, so I don’t think most people really know that to be the case. Clearly some have and have reached different conclusions (like pw201 and gjm11, I’m not ignoring that.

          Now as then, God’s pronouncements are not obviously more convincing than the other mutually contradictory worldviews available to us, and yet we are told there is an unimaginably large penalty waiting for us if we back the wrong horse.
          The Christian account is not that if you back the wrong religion you’re doomed. It’s that everyone ought to be held accountable for their actions (which is justice), but that God has provided an escape route for you (which is love). The results may be the same as what you’ve said (if you don’t choose Christianity the you’re doomed), but the reason why that is the case is different which (well, I think so anyway) to put the whole thing in a different light.

          If you create a race of sentient beings because you want to play hide and seek with them, you shouldn’t blame them for losing a lot of the time if you’ve also arranged that they’re nowhere near as good at it as you are!
          I’m a bit confused by this, how does it fit in to everything else you’ve said? In the account of the garden of Eden God wasn’t hidden at all. Arguably now God is hard to find – but there is no moral obligation on him to be easy to find. The only moral obligation is on us not to do bad things.

          The discussion about trumpets in the other post was interesting. No one can claim that God makes no effort to be known – I think all that can be said is that he doesn’t make enough effort. I’d argue he doesn’t have to make any effort so we shouldn’t be pointing the finger at him, but it does fairly raise the question of why a God who claims to love us and want us to find him does not use supernatural trumpets.

          One classic Christian response is to say that God doesn’t make it as easy as it could possibly be because he wants to test whether people really want to find him (so you have to put some effort in to looking) which kinda works in a ‘Christian’ country like ours where there are churches everywhere, but is harder to reconcile with countries which have no Christians there to tell people about God. The other response is to point out that God is not obligated to save everyone. If he didn’t save anyone he would be perfectly good and just, that if he saves any we should be ecstatically happy, and then go on to say that God is glorified when he punishes some, as he is fulfilling the justice part of his character. Obviously the second response is out of vogue in today’s fluffy society / church.

          1. I don’t think she finds the claims of the snake more convincing (it’s hard to see it that could be given that she knew God who had created everything was less likely to be telling the truth than one of the created beings

            (I assume this is a simple editing error and you mean she knew God was more likely to be telling the truth.)

            It doesn’t seem unthinkable to me that she might have found the snake at least as convincing. Even if she knew that God had definitely created everything (as opposed to, say, just claiming to have done so), that doesn’t a priori mean he has your best interests at heart or is telling you the truth; it’s only after millennia of Christian tradition telling us so repeatedly that people are prone to conflate those properties. Given the options “God told you to lay off the tree for your own good” and “God told you for his own good”, the latter has a certain cynical plausibility about it on the general principle that people tend to look out for number one!

            Then again, perhaps that’s only what we think today after millennia of accumulated history of corrupt politicians, and perhaps Eve without all that history to influence her could reasonably have been expected to repose complete and innocent trust in the entity with absolute power over her. Not convinced, though.

            The Christian account is not that if you back the wrong religion you’re doomed. It’s that everyone ought to be held accountable for their actions (which is justice), but that God has provided an escape route for you (which is love). The results may be the same as what you’ve said (if you don’t choose Christianity then you’re doomed), but the reason why that is the case is different which (well, I think so anyway) to put the whole thing in a different light.

            I think that if you design a system based on the principles of justice and love and then examine it afterwards and find it has this horrifying a consequence in practice, you are failing in both justice and love if you don’t go back to the drawing board!

            Arguably now God is hard to find – but there is no moral obligation on him to be easy to find.

            My hide-and-seek paragraph was precisely arguing that there is a moral obligation on God, if he exists, to either be easy to find (and to know you can trust once you’ve found him) or not punish people excessively for not doing so. If you disagree, at least try to produce an argument rather than a bald counterstatement!

            1. (I assume this is a simple editing error and you mean she knew God was more likely to be telling the truth.)
              Yes it was!

              Even if she knew that God had definitely created everything (as opposed to, say, just claiming to have done so), that doesn’t a priori mean he has your best interests at heart or is telling you the truth;
              It’s hard to make a definite case either way from looking at the short account. Hopefully some knowledgeable theologian will drop by on this thread and point out that it is if I’ve missed anything… The snake just turned up and contradicted what God had said. God claimed to have created everything, clearly had mastery over it (for example bringing the animals to Adam), and so on. It’s a lot easier to make the case that God looked more likely to be a good guy looking out for your interests than it is for the random snake that suddenly appeared (and started to misquote things) I think.

              Then again, perhaps that’s only what we think today after millennia of accumulated history of corrupt politicians, and perhaps Eve without all that history to influence her could reasonably have been expected to repose complete and innocent trust in the entity with absolute power over her.
              Possibly. In the account Adam and Eve had not encountered deception before, so I’m not sure how they would react or view entities that told them certain things. I’m tempted to think they could consider it a possibility (given that they could presumably imagine doing it themselves), but I don’t know.

              I think that if you design a system based on the principles of justice and love and then examine it afterwards and find it has this horrifying a consequence in practice, you are failing in both justice and love if you don’t go back to the drawing board!
              I think it would be much better if God had come up with a system where no one went to hell. I don’t know if that’s possible though, as has been discussed elsewhere it may be the case that you can’t have free will without the risk that someone will do bad things, and perhaps it is better for God to punish bad things than ignore them, and maybe it’s better to have people who can love and do bad things than not have people at all. Personally I’d rather exist than not exist.

              My hide-and-seek paragraph was precisely arguing that there is a moral obligation on God, if he exists, to either be easy to find (and to know you can trust once you’ve found him) or not punish people excessively for not doing so. If you disagree, at least try to produce an argument rather than a bald counterstatement!
              I don’t think I did just give a bold counterstatement, I thought I explained this. Perhaps I’m not doing it very well. Let me try to break down what you’ve said a bit and respond to the individual pieces (in a different order…):

              and to know you can trust once you’ve found him
              I do have that kind of trust. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do.

              or not punish people excessively for not doing so
              I would agree this is the weakest part of the gospel message from an external perspective. I think it’s much easier to argue that we should be held responsible for our actions than it is to claim that it’s reasonable that that punishment should be eternal conscious torment. Not all Christians think it is eternal conscious torment, some think it is annihilation, some think you can go somewhere called purgatory where you are temporarily punished, some would say everyone will be saved, others would argue that the degree of punishment varies depending on what you’ve done. I would probably agree with the last point (because I think it’s the only one that has reasonable support from the Bible) but not the others.

              there is a moral obligation on God, if he exists, to either be easy to find
              I think there can only be a moral obligation (perhaps) if God it is wrong entirely for God to judge people for their actions, or if God has to provide an escape route because he is being too harsh with the punishment (so in some sense the escape route balances things out). I don’t see that it is entirely wrong for God to judge our actions, so I definitely don’t agree with that bit. The idea that the punishment is too harsh is a stronger argument from an external perspective.

              1. I’ll pretend to be a knowledgeable theologian (I do know lots of them, so maybe that’s fair)

                You are quite correct that just because you have been made by God (if we are being really literal about this Adam knew God had made Eve because it happened in front of him) we don’t necessarily know it is true, and that our best interests are at heart. Which is why she ate of the apple. Everything God had said been true so far, (like all the stuff she could eat) and the only reason she had to doubt him was the snake. She didn’t disbelieve in God when she was convinced, she just denyed that he had told her the truth. I would argue that until she ate of the apple she couldn’t disbelieve in God. The apple wasn’t just a little naughtiness, it was a grasping to be like God. It was a failure to trust God to be God, and a desire to be God. The same is true of the tower of babel, the fall of Satan, etc etc. It’s about wanting to put ourselves on a par with God. When we say God doesn’t exist, we do that. When we say there is little objective evidence for God, we aren’t doing that, unless our aim is to say that God doesn’t exist.

                In terms of disproportionate punishment, I think that Rob’s point that it isn’t clear what hell will be is a good one. There is nothing that suggests that the punishment will be disprortionate, or even that it is punishment in the sense we understand it. I think it is fair to say that the consequence is ultimately equal, if you are in heaven, it’s no better for one person than the other, if you aren’t, no one is worse off than you either, (although a case could be made from scripture against this idea, but that’s a long story). What people dislike is the equality of it. I go to hell just because I reject forgiveness with this person and that person and that person, whereas that guy gets a get out of jail free card because he accepted forgiveness, despite his doing much worse stuff than me! (assuming God agrees about what is worse than what) And of course you could argue that it isn’t just because this person didn’t accept forgiveness, but because they were brought up a muslim/weren’t given the gospel message. But that argument is mainly made by people who have been given the gospel message – the argument remains valid, but it doesn’t actually make it any more or less true, and more or less important for you.

                In fact, if it concerns you, tell the whole world about the good news of Jesus Christ just to take away this objection to Christianity!

                1. There is nothing that suggests that the punishment will be disprortionate, or even that it is punishment in the sense we understand it.

                  So what do you think the meaning of “eternal punishment” is in Matthew 25? Does this not refer to Hell?

                  1. Of course it does. I said punishment as we understand it. As in, deterrent and redemptive punisment; teaching someone a lesson. Clearly the latter is not hell because it is eternal. And as I have said before the former is not hell because hell is a consequence not a deterrent.

        2. Adam and Eve aren’t theologically speaking just some ancestors who did one thing wrong, they are the prototype for all humanity (theologically speaking). Their single misdeed is synonymous with all our misdeeds, so if you think it holds water it can be a good model for understanding our misdeeds. The idea is if we were in their shoes we’d have done exactly the same thing. I think Rob has used the model quite helpfully in this context.

          Youre point about God making us sentient is a good one, but it assumes that God is playing rather than creating something wonderful, but ultimataly something that is wonderful for him and for us. If it were just for us, we would have no ‘free will’ and would simply do what God wanted all the time, but we are also here for God, which is where the whole free choice, sin, and redemption comes in. Where there is no sacrifice there can be no love (IMHO) and likewise I want my wife to love me for who I am not because I hide her food if she doesn’t.

          1. and likewise I want my wife to love me for who I am not because I hide her food if she doesn’t

            Hang on, how does this example work in favour of God making sense? You want your wife to love you of her own free will and not because you threaten her, and therefore you don’t threaten her, which eliminates the possibility that she might be doing anything because you did. Surely, therefore, if God wanted us to love him out of free will it would make sense for him not to send us to hell if we didn’t, for precisely the same reason!

            1. You still seem to be assuming that Christianity says that God will send us to hell unless we love him. Christianity says we choose not to love God, we choose to rebel against him, and so we deserve punishment. Full stop, that’s the first key point here.

              The next key point is because God loves us so much even though we have made ourselves his enemies he provided a way at great cost to himself where we could still be saved from the punishment we deserve due to point 1 (Romans 5:6-11).

              Jesus did not come in to the world to meet with His friends, He came to die for His enemies, you, me, tifferrobinson, and everyone else here.

              If you look at what we’re saying and see God trying to make us love him by the threat of hell then you’re proposing something that no Christian believes.

              1. You still seem to be assuming that Christianity says that God will send us to hell unless we love him.

                That is, as I understand it, the effect. (At least, in versions of Christianity which deal in a literal hell, which are the only ones I’m currently considering because that’s what this particular argument is about.) You have several times stressed that punishment isn’t the motivation and that’s what’s important, but it is nonetheless the effect and I say that’s what’s important.

                Could he have set things up so that there wasn’t this astonishingly disproportionate effective penalty attached to making a wrong guess out of the basically equally reasonable-looking options? (Either by equalising the outcomes or by making the options less equal-looking, as you choose.) If so, and he chose not to, then my case is made, whatever his intentions were. Humans can claim they did their best with good intentions and it didn’t work out as they’d hoped; God has gone to some effort to rule out that possibility for himself and so he has to be assumed to have fully foreseen and approved the consequences of everything he did. That includes the hell penalty, even if it wasn’t the key motivation for his plan.

                1. Nevertheless, the case is still that Hell is a consequence, not a deterrent. Often that is how it looks, and people will use hell in evangelism. Also there has been a debate about whether or not a deterrent in a given situation would alter free choice. That also implies this. But Hell is not scripturally a deterrent to unbelief, it is simply a consequence of it. You might think that is the same thing, but if I tell my child not to play near cliffedges because they might fall that is different (IMHO) to spanking them for playing there.

                  Not that I’m completely behind spanking. Or in front of it. Spade down now.

                  1. Hell is a consequence, not a deterrent … Hell is not scripturally a deterrent to unbelief, it is simply a consequence of it: it seems to me that Matthew 10:28 (and its parallel in Luke) is a counterexample, at least to the first of those claims. (Not exactly to the second, because it doesn’t seem to be *unbelief* that Jesus is saying should be deterred by fear of hell.)

                    That saying (1) presents hell as a deterrent and not only as a consequence and (2) presents it as something that is *done to you* (like getting spanked) rather than something that *impersonally happens* (like falling off a cliff). It also happens to be strongly suggestive of annihilation rather than Eternal Torment.

                    (It’s not entirely clear to me whether it’s God or the Other Guy who’s being described as worth fearing there, but God seems much the more likely bet; I think the idea of the devil as In Charge Of Hell is post-NT.)

                    1. I think they should make you burn all your scriptures when ypu go over to the dark side, like in Augustine’s time.

                      The verse you mention is not, as you point out ,saying; “believe or burn”

                      I would agree that hell is used as a warning to Christians (matt 25 eg) not to neglect social concerns. I would say warning because it isn’t a definite -you don’t do good works you burn, it is more general- some may burn because they didn’t associate following me with caring for my children.

                      However the verse u mention is saying something quite different-it’s saying don’t worry about wordly concerns, care about the concerns of God (if it is referring to God, which is likely). He’s not saying “if u worry about physical harm, u burn”, he’s saying “God has ultimate control, over what is more important.” If you read it in context it is clear this isn’t scare tactics. And I don’t need to remind you of the wider meaning of “fear”.

                    2. Actually, I think it’s more specific than that. He’s addressing his disciples as he sends them out “like sheep among wolves”. He’s been warning them that they’ll be persecuted and dragged before the authorities. So, he says, if you get pulled up before the governor and he threatens you with the Big Stick of prison or death, don’t take any notice, because God has the Even Bigger Stick of hell. (And has a carrot as well as a stick; Jesus follows this advice with the things about God caring for humans more than for many sparrows.)

                      Incidentally, the whole passage has a bit of a whiff of false prophecy about it: there’s no sign that Jesus’s disciples did get persecuted at this point, and “you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes” seems like it either belongs in something post-Resurrection or else looks (wrongly) for the appearance of some *other* “Son of man”. But that’s an entirely separate matter, and it’s clear enough how Christians can explain these things away :-).

                    3. I agree with your understanding of the context, but I disagree about the purpose of the second half of the verse. It is edtablishing God as higher than earthly authorities – if you give caesar foo because he has the power to harm you physically, God can do much more so more foo please.

                      I’m glad you agree that God’s love and care are the carrot, rather than heaven.

                      I think it’s fair to say the disciples/early church/contemporary persecuted church were/have been persecuted.

                      Explain away? Why not just explain?

                    4. I’m not sure in what way your description of the second half of the verse is supposed to disagree with mine.

                      The carrot cited in that verse is God’s love and care. I make no comment on the carrotishness of heaven in other Christian contexts.

                      You’re welcome to think it’s fair to say that the first-century church was persecuted, but that doesn’t actually constitute evidence.

                      “Explain away” rather than just “explain” because it seems to me that that’s what’s being done: I think the most natural reading of the passage *does* predict the coming of some “Son of man” other than Jesus, and I think it *does* predict persecution for which there’s no evidence. (Even if the passage is really meant to apply to a later date, which seems possible but again might make trouble for some evangelical Christians.)

                    5. I think you are correct, I’m not really disagreeing. But I prefer my emphasis.

                      I was fairly sure that the 1st century church being persecuted was not disputed. Are you dismissing the whole of Acts outright, as not reflecting the political climate of the time at all? Is this some big Christian conspiracy that I have bought into? I have never heard anyone ever question the persecution of the early church before. Is there evidence the disciples weren’t persecuted?

                      And do you not think that Christians have often been and are being persecuted, and Jesus could be speaking for them?

                      The most natural reading of the passage does not predict the coming of some other Son of man, because Jesus is the Son of man. Are you suggesting that each time Jesus uses the term “Son of man” he is referring to someone other than himself?

                      I agree that the saying is not simply explained, but just because there are some ways of interpretting it that don’t cause issues that doesn’t mean it is being “explained away”. It is more like trying to find the best hypothesis. I think there are plenty of other areas where doing the same thing would not be seen as “explaining away” (trying to work out why a test is unrepeatable, diagnostic medical care etc) A likely one in this example is that he does specifically mean these Christians, and they didn’t get through every city in Israel in their lifetime, indeed many went off to gentile areas. I have never heard an interpretation which says that Jesus means anything other than the second coming when he refers to his return or the return of the Son of man.

                      As this was being written 30-60 years after the events that were being recorded it is unlikely in my opinion that the writer would write something he knew to be false. I believe the writers of the scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I don’t believe they were just plain dumb.

                    6. Actually, rather little of Acts is about persecution of Christians. But it does seem entirely plausible to me that Acts overstates the persecution, just as I suspect it overstates the number of new converts at Pentecost. AIUI there’s no evidence outside the NT of large-scale persecution of Christians. (I’m not sure how much evidence one should expect, though; perhaps little or none in any case.)

                      Of course I agree that Jesus could be referring not to the likely experiences of the disciples but to those of other Christians in the (perhaps distant) future. But it would be pretty odd. (Alternatively: perhaps his whole speech here is addressed not specifically to the Twelve when being sent out on that occasion, but to Christians at a later date. Or perhaps Jesus never said those things but the author of Matthew, or someone else, thought they would be good words for the Christian community to read. But these are decidedly non-evangelical explanations…)

                      I am not suggesting that every time Jesus says “Son of man” he means someone other than himself. I am suggesting that *this passage* looks like he’s using the term to mean someone other than himself. Perhaps his ideas developed. Perhaps his sayings got reinterpreted by the authors of the gospels (or earlier people).

                      I think “they never finished all the cities of Israel”, while certainly OK formally, falls nicely into the category of explaining away. If I say “Go and do X; before you’ve finished Y will happen”, the obvious meaning — what anyone would understand by the claim — is that Y will in fact happen and interrupt the doing of X. (“Lie in bed and count sheep; before you reach 100 you’ll fall asleep.” “Tighten up those screws one by one; you probably won’t need to do them all before the machine stops rattling.” “Work through the chess problems in that book, solving all of them and checking your solutions against the ones in the back of the book; by the time you’re done you’ll be playing at master level.”)

                      I don’t think the authors of the gospels (or Acts, or anything else in the NT) were just plain dumb. I don’t think writing something untrue requires one to be just plain dumb. It *is* difficult to square with plenary inspiration, for sure, but that doesn’t bother me :-).

                    7. Yes, my point was that it was a while later, hence the author would have known if every Israeli city had been reached in his lifetime, and whether or not persecution had occured. Why did you point it out.

                    8. I’d misunderstood what point you were making by saying “30-60 years”; I thought you meant “recently enough that it wouldn’t have been forgotten” rather than “long enough ago to be generally known”.

                    9. I think that there is enough persecution in Acts to warrant the warning. If a good friend of mine (eg Peter in this case) was going to be beaten and jailed I would warn him about it even if many other Christians weren’t going to be persecuted.

                      Also, as it is clear that persecuation was widespread in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, why not before?

                      I think that you are being unfair to my formally ok suggestion. How is it explaining away if it works? It might not be the way you or I might understand it at first reading, but that doesn’t mean it is the same for all cultures and in particular 1st century Jewish culture. All the examples you gave for example are entirely pragmatic ones, it is fair to say that the sayings of Jesus are sometimes intentionally obtuse.

                      What I meant by the authors being dumb is that I don’t see why they would include something that clearly hadn’t happened if they understood it in that way.

                    10. Is it in fact clear that persecution was widespread in the 2nd and 3rd centuries? (I agree it’s clear that it did happen sometimes.) I don’t quite see how the “if in 2nd and 3rd, why not in 1st” argument works, though, since the alleged persecutions are by different people for different reasons.

                      My objection to your formally-OK suggestion is that it *doesn’t* work. That is: you’ve successfully shown that it’s *possible* but not that it’s *plausible*. If you have evidence that what Jesus is there reported as having said would have been understood your way in the 1st century, then I’d be interested to hear it.

                      The authors might be mistaken about what had happened — we are, after all, talking about several decades in the past. Or they might be deliberately misleading their readers. Or they might be writing with a contemporary (to them) audience in mind and making Jesus say something they thought would be useful for them. You don’t have to like those possibilities, of course, but none of them requires the authors to be dumb.

                    11. I guess I just don’t see what you have against the persecution of Christians in the early church. Why is it a)important to you that they weren’t persecuted and b)something you know so much about? I have literally never heard anyone question it, so I’m wondering why you are. Or is it just “this Christian doesn’t have objective empirical evidence of this generally accepted fact therefore I’ll just question it to stop him basing anything on it”. Do you know of anyone else who has ever questioned it?

                      If it is formally ok then it does work surely. Plausibility is surely based on truth – a lot of things are implausible which are perfectly true. I don’t even think it is implausible.

                      My point about the authors is that they wouldn’t have written (IMHO) something they knew could already be seen to be false in their gospels. It doesn’t matter how mistaken they are – if they know a prophecy attributed to Jesus had not come true before they had written their gospel, and therefore (because of a time limit) could not be true, they would have to be pretty thick to include it in the gospel. A bit like me writing a book about my time at school and claiming that back then I had predicted Diana’s death was going to happen in the year 2000. If I had predicted that – I would leave it out if it was clear by the time of writing it would have been false!

                    12. The only thing I have against the persecution of first-century Christians is that however much or little it happened it was a Bad Thing. It isn’t important to me whether they were persecuted or not, and I have no emotional involvement in the question.

                      I wasn’t trying to stop anyone basing anything on anything. I brought the matter up because Matthew 9 has Jesus telling the Twelve that they’re going to be subject to serious persecution on the mission they’re then embarking on, but there’s no sign at all (even in the NT) that they actually were, whatever may have happened later on. That’s all.

                      Our subsequent discussion has got sidetracked onto whether there was any first-century persecution of Christians by Jews. For that, at least, there’s (partisan) evidence in the NT. To the best of my knowledge there’s no corroboration outside the NT, so I’d be cautious about basing anything on it, but I agree that partisan evidence is better than no evidence and if I had to guess one way or another I’d guess that there was in fact such persecution.

                      If it is formally ok then it does work surely: depends on what you mean by “work”. If I’d been claiming to have a watertight proof that Jesus said something false then, sure, your argument would “work” just fine. I wasn’t claiming that. I think he said something that *unless you read it in what seems to me a very strained way* implies something false. I can’t quite tell whether our real disagreement is (1) over how strained your reading is, or (2) over whether it matters how strained it is. I suspect that we’re unlikely to make much progress arguing about either of those, especially in the confines of an LJ comments thread.

                      The authors of the gospels might (1) have been more concerned to record everything Jesus was said to have said than to expunge anything that looked false; or (2) have thought there was some other reasonable way of understanding what he said that made it not false; or (3) have thought that the time limit wasn’t quite up yet; or (4) have thought that there must surely be some good explanation even though they didn’t know what it was. (There are parallels for all four options in things said by modern Christians…)

                    13. Ohandanotherthing: sure, there’s persecution in Acts, but there’s a lot of water under the bridge between Matthew 10 and then. In the first 10 chapters of Matthew, Jesus is popular and (so far as one can tell) not worrying to the authorities. The trouble starts in chapter 12, and it’s at least a few chapters more before it shows any sign of being serious.

                    14. That’s not that much water under the bridge. It’s around 3 years at the outside. If someone told me I was going to be persecuted for my faith at some point and it didn’t happen for three years I wouldn’t decide the prophecy was defunct, would you? I would at worst say it was a lucky guess, but not an incorrect one.

                      You appear to slightly contradict yourself. First you are saying that Jesus’ prophecy that the disciples were going to be persecuted must only apply to those disciples he was talking to (and in the immediate future also), and cannot refer to future generations of Christians (or at least that would be “a bit odd”) but then you say that the prophecy about the gospel not reaching every Israeli city before the second coming is not directed only to the disciples to which he is speaking.

                    15. Jesus’s words, on the face of it, refer specifically to what the Twelve should expect on a particular mission they are being sent on at the time. If you are my employer, and you say “I’d like you to go and fix the equipment on site X. There’s been a terrible screwup and everything will be on fire by the time you get there, but if you follow the procedures in our handbook you’ll be able to get it under control”, and if I go to site X and find nothing on fire, you don’t get to claim that you were right just because three years later something new goes wrong on site X and there’s a fire.

                      I don’t understand your last paragraph, where you say I contradict myself. Where did I “say that the prophecy about the gospel not reaching every Israeli city before the second coming is not directed only to the disciples to which he is speaking”? I think the passage represents his words as being directed at those disciples; I think it’s possible to read them as actually referring to a whole bunch of later people, but only by adopting an approach to the text that’s likely to be problematic for evangelical Christians. (That is: either (a) supposing that the text misrepresents the context in which he said what he did, or (b) supposing that the text is best considered as the author putting words into Jesus’s mouth.) And when I’ve made that latter observation in this discussion, I’ve always been referring to the predictions of persecution rather than to the prophecy of the coming of the Son of Man.

            2. To continue the analogy, if my wife used her free will to have lots of sex with lots of men, but I offered her forgiveness and a fresh start (a surprisingly biblical analogy) but she refused it then I’d have little choice but to seperate from her. If that meant she was homeless and destitute then although (as is the case in many cultures) you could say I had caused her demise by giving her free will, but I think that would be an odd way of seeing it. I also think that making it clear this was an outcome of her sin, and in particular her refusal of my forgiveness doesn’t make it a deterrent. It’s a consequence. Just because she’s aware of the facts doesn’t change the situation to mean I’m trying to scare her into loving me. It might have that effect in some cases, but it isn’t the intention.

  5. Free will/free choice in the theological world is much misunderstood, as some have mentioned above. Just to add that the concept of free will is that we only have free choice as far as God allows. When Peter was asked who Jesus was by Jesus he replied with an answer given not by himself but from the Father (through the Holy Spirit). He still chose the answer, but it was only because the Spirit had given him the answer that he was free to choose it. A case can be made that since Pentecost (the Spirit being given to all) all people are open to the ‘inspiration’ of the Holy Spirit, and therefore can choose. I don’t know where I am on this, all I know is that seekers tend to get this inspiration at a higher rate than non seekers, although I know of seekers who don’t and non seekers who do, usually quite impressively.

    The original point I made stands, theologically speaking, if we choose to sin, we actually aren’t excercising free will, but we are doing the default. When we choose to do what is right, namely worship God, we are excercising free will by the Spirit.

  6. Subject: baileys and coffee
    you should have disabled comments on /this/ post so that people had to leave comments on that one. now you will have the comments split across two posts, diluting the statistics.

        1. Subject: Right then
          ZOMG YOU CHRISTIANS ARE PERSECUTING ME WITH YOUR REASONED ARGUMENTS AND FAILURE TO ACKNOWLEDGE MY GENIUS. DON’T YOU REALISE THAT, UNLIKE PRACTICALLY EVERYONE ELSE ROUND HERE, I HAVE AN OXBRIDGE DEGREE? I’LL SHOW YOU ALL. BWAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA!

          1. Subject: Re: Right then
            My wife has an Oxbridge degree. And i’m marginally better at theology than her. Also Woodpijn has one too. And Rob is just really really clever. I thinks its because of the science.

            But i’m sure you are a genius. Well done 🙂

            1. Subject: Re: Right then
              Rob is just really really clever. I thinks its because of the science.
              I definitely don’t think of myself as really really clever. I consider myself to be above average. I wouldn’t make a much bigger claim than that.

              Err… and my default assumption is to assume that Oxbridge people are likely to be more clever than me.

              1. Subject: Re: Right then
                Um. I’m pretty sure that Paul’s just parodying a certain person in the toothypocalypse (I find that my brain wants to parse that as toot-hypo-calypse: an insufficient revelation of brass instruments, I guess — must be something to do with those heavenly trumpets we were talking about. Oh, no, wait, it would be an insufficient *hiding* of brass instruments. Never mind.) Anyway, as I say, just parody, and I think tifferrobinson and robhu have entirely missed the point. Or maybe it’s some subtle postmodern pretending-not-to-get-the-joke meta-humour, in which case please ignore me.

                1. Subject: Re: Right then
                  I didn’t get the joke(i didn’t really follow toothypocalypse), but I did assume it was tongue in cheek, as was my reply. Rob has no excuse however…

                2. Subject: Re: Right then
                  I find that my brain wants to parse that as toot-hypo-calypse: an insufficient revelation of brass instruments, I guess — must be something to do with those heavenly trumpets we were talking about. Oh, no, wait, it would be an insufficient *hiding* of brass instruments. :)) Brilliant.

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