Tough Questions Answered

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    September 2014
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  • What Was Dividing the Corinthian Church?

    Posted By on September 22, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    51K6jzBQyUL. SY344 BO1,204,203,200  What Was Dividing the Corinthian Church?We’re all familiar with the verses in 1 Cor 1:10-12:

    I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

    Most of us assume that the Corinthians were following particular personalities or dividing over a theological issue. The authors of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible What Was Dividing the Corinthian Church? suggest another possibility.

    Paul begins his first letter to the Corinthians with a plea for unity. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, . . .” he writes, “that all of you agree with one another . . . and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor 1:10). We might ask ourselves what caused the divisions in Corinth.

    All we know is what Paul tells us: “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Cor 1:12).

    What likely goes without being said for us is that the church was divided either theologically or over devotion to different personalities. These are two common causes of church divisions in the West. We tend to fall out along doctrinal lines or because we are drawn to one charismatic pastor over another. It is possible, though, that the divisions among the churches in Corinth were not theological.

    If not theological, then what?

    We may be failing to note ethnic markers that Paul sprinkled all over the text. Apollos was noted as an Alexandrian (Egyptian) Jew (Acts 18:24). They had their own reputation. Paul notes that Peter is called by his Aramaic name, Cephas, suggesting the group that followed him spoke Aramaic and were thus Palestinian Jews. Paul’s church had Diaspora Jews but also many ethnic Corinthians, who were quite proud of their status as residents of a Roman colony and who enjoyed using Latin. This may explain why Paul doesn’t address any theological differences. There weren’t any. The problem was ethnic division: Aramaic-speaking Jews, Greek-speaking Jews, Romans and Alexandrians.

    To me, this is a fascinating and quite plausible take on 1 Cor 1. Something for the church to consider.

    What Doctrines Are We Asking Mormons to Reconsider?

    Posted By on September 19, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    potw mormons1 What Doctrines Are We Asking Mormons to Reconsider?The editors of the excellent book, New Mormon Challenge, provide a nice summary of what doctrines Christians are asking Mormons to reconsider. There are many areas of commonality between Mormons and Christians, but there are also numerous, important areas of difference. Francis Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen ask for Mormons to focus on some key issues that divide them from Christians at the end of the New Mormon Challenge.

    What, precisely, are we asking the LDS community to consider afresh? Here we can only sketch some of the areas where we believe traditional Mormon theology needs to change in order to better conform to Scripture and reason:

    (1) We believe the doctrine of the eternality of matter is fundamentally incompatible with biblical religion. Ideally, we would like to see the LDS Church embrace the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo. At the very least, we would encourage the LDS Church to consider the possibility that the world was created out of preexisting but not eternal matter.

    (2) We believe that the doctrine of monotheism is essential for any true and religiously valid knowledge of God. We would encourage the LDS Church to reject the notion of an infinite regress of gods as it has been traditionally articulated and to reconsider doctrines that necessitate a form of theological finitism. The monarchotheistic Mormon view is a step in the right direction, but it must be combined with the belief in the contingent nature of the universe. God must be recognized as ontologically unique, not merely as superior in status over all other reality.

    (3) We believe that the doctrine of the literal eternality of human persons is inimical to Christian faith, for central to a biblical worldview is the idea that we are created beings whose existence is contingent on the creative and loving will of our God. If the preexistence of spirits cannot be given up entirely, then we would encourage the LDS Church to consider a weakened form of this notion, in which the human spirit is viewed as preexistent but not as ontologically eternal (except perhaps in the ideal sense of eternal existence in God’s mind).

    Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen continue:

    There are other areas where we would like to see Mormon theology change: the doctrine of the materiality of spirit, the doctrine of divine embodiment, and the LDS form of the doctrine of the Trinity. But the three issues outlined above are absolutely fundamental and nonnegotiable.

    We do not feel that the status of Mormonism in relation to Christianity can ever change unless there is a willingness within the structures of the LDS Church to reconsider those issues. In short, we want our Mormon friends to reconsider the nonnegotiable beliefs of historic Christianity.

    Christians in general—not just evangelicals—confess that there is but one eternal God, who created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. This One God is revealed in the One Lord Jesus Christ, who became incarnate for our salvation and whose presence is shed abroad among the people of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. It is this Triune God who is the only fitting object of religious devotion. He alone is the Living God, and it is to the praise of his glorious grace that the humble efforts of this book are adoringly offered.

    One could argue whether additional areas should be added to the list, but there is no doubt that the 3 doctrines listed by the editors are certainly bedrock. For Mormons to move in the direction of the historic Christian faith, those 3 areas must be dealt with. I, personally, hope to see this happen.

    Did Paul Think Jesus Is God?

    Posted By on September 17, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    st paul apostle Did Paul Think Jesus Is God?There are many indications in Paul’s writings compiled in the New Testament that Paul thought Jesus was God. Perhaps one of the most famous texts would be Philippians 2:6-11. Referring to Jesus, Paul writes:

    Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    Paul Owen, in the New Mormon Challenge, provides a very helpful commentary on these passages below.

    Perhaps the most striking example of [Paul indicating Jesus' divinity] comes from Philippians 2:6-11, which is widely acknowledged as a Pauline citation of an early Christian hymn. This passage contains some striking statements regarding the divine status of Jesus: he possessed God’s nature (2:6a), and he was equal with God (2:6b) prior to his incarnation (2:7-8). The divine one who became enfleshed was subsequently exalted by God to the highest possible heavenly status (2:9a). God made the name of Jesus equivalent to the divine name YHWH (2:9b).

    What is perhaps most striking, however, is what is found in 2:10-11: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    This is an astonishing adaptation of one of the clearest monotheistic texts in all the Old Testament—Isaiah 45:22-24: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.”

    In an astonishing exegetical move, Isaiah 45:22-24 has been read to refer to the eschatological vindication of Jesus Christ, when God the Father compels all creation to acknowledge the lordship of the Son. Whereas Isaiah depicted every knee as bowing to Yahweh and every tongue confessing him as LORD, Paul understands this prophecy in terms of the confession and acknowledgment of Jesus’ universal lordship.

    Every earthly and heavenly power will one day acknowledge that Jesus has been exalted to the highest place—which can only mean God’s own heavenly throne—and that the divine name YHWH and Jesus’ name are to be revered as one and the same (Phil 2:9). As Richard Bauckham writes: “The Philippians passage is therefore no unconsidered echo of an Old Testament text, but a claim that it is in the exaltation of Jesus, his identification as YHWH in YHWH’s universal sovereignty, that the unique deity of the God of Israel comes to be acknowledged as such by all creation.

    What we have in Phil 2:6-11 is an early Christian hymn that was being repeated within a short time after Jesus’s death and that was clearly equating Jesus with the God of the Old Testament. Did Paul and the early church think Jesus was God? It seems so.

    Do Biblical Texts Leave Room for the Mormon View of God?

    Posted By on September 15, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    book of mormon Do Biblical Texts Leave Room for the Mormon View of God?Mormon scholars and apologists argue that there is significant ambiguity in the biblical texts when it comes to the nature of God. Because of this ambiguity, Mormon views on the nature of God are at least as likely to be true as non-Mormon views. After all, the Bible, according to Mormon scholars, leaves room for many interpretations of God’s nature.

    Is this true? Is there a lot of confusion among biblical scholars about what the Bible says about God? After a detailed analysis of the Mormon interpretation of numerous biblical texts that touch on the nature of God, Jim W. Adams, in the New Mormon Challenge Do Biblical Texts Leave Room for the Mormon View of God?, draws some interesting conclusions:

    At the beginning of this chapter it was observed that Jews, Christians, and Latter-day Saints claim that their most basic understandings of God, creation, and humanity are rooted in the texts of the Old Testament. Yet curiously, the traditional LDS view is radically different than the view held in common by Jews and Christians. What is to explain this discrepancy?

    Jews and Christians debate among themselves and with each other about many doctrines and over the proper interpretation of many biblical passages, yet there is little dissent when it comes to most of the fundamental issues about the nature of God and the created status of the cosmos and humanity. The great majority of Jews and Christians find themselves in basic agreement about what the Hebrew Bible says on these issues. It would be absurd, then, to attribute the discrepancy to ambiguity in the biblical texts.

    Adams makes an important point. For thousand of years, there was great unanimity on the doctrine of God among Jews and Christians. Then, in the early 1800’s, Mormons turned much of this biblical interpretation upside-down. What happened?

    Stephen E. Robinson states, on behalf of the Latter-day Saints: “We accept the Bible (the LDS use the King James Version) as the inspired word of God—every book, every chapter, every verse of it—as revealed to the apostles and prophets who wrote it.” So far so good.

    But then Robinson adds: “We also hold the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price to be the word of God.” Therein, I believe, lies the source of the discrepancy.

    These other books that the LDS consider as the word of God, along with their interpretations and midrashic expansions of the biblical texts, at many points contradict the view of God, creation, and humanity found in the Old Testament. Even more contradictory are the later teachings of Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith.

    Adams concludes:

    In some significant ways the traditional LDS positions hark back to the pagan views of ancient Israel’s Near Eastern neighbors—views that the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists intentionally rejected in light of the revelation they received from the one true and living God. This is an unfortunate conclusion to reach, and one that Latter-day Saints will surely be uncomfortable with. However, it seems unavoidable in light of the evidence. It is hoped that LDS theology will develop further in the direction of the biblical revelation and that one day such a conclusion will not have to be drawn.

    Why Must You Read the Other Side’s Arguments?

    Posted By on September 10, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

     Why Must You Read the Other Sides Arguments?Recently I had some dialogue with a person on the blog, and it became obvious quickly that this person had almost exclusively read material written by one side of a debate. Not only was he not aware of arguments and evidence on the other side, but he was way overconfident in the conclusions he had drawn from his reading.

    While I was attending seminary, the idea that we must read the other side in an argument was drummed into us constantly. One of my seminary professors even told us that he would read atheist writers as devotional material in order to constantly remind himself what atheists think.

    It turns out that there is a good psychological reason to do this as well. Our minds have a strong tendency to jump to conclusions with little evidence. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes this tendency in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow Why Must You Read the Other Sides Arguments?. The first problem is that our minds tend to only offer up ideas that are fresh in our memory.

    An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas. Information that is not retrieved (even unconsciously) from memory might as well not exist. System 1 excels at constructing the best possible story that incorporates ideas currently activated, but it does not (cannot) allow for information it does not have.

    Recall from earlier blog posts that System 1 is the part of the human mind that is automatic and unconscious. It is constantly working behind the scenes to support System 2, which is the part of our mind that actually does intense thinking and analysis. Kahneman continues:

    The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. When information is scarce, which is a common occurrence, System 1 operates as a machine for jumping to conclusions.

    Without reading the other side in a debate, System 1 will simply serve up coherent stories from the data it has from one side and jump to conclusions.

    And there also remains a bias favoring the first impression. The combination of a coherence-seeking System 1 with a lazy System 2 implies that System 2 will endorse many intuitive beliefs, which closely reflect the impressions generated by System 1. Of course, System 2 also is capable of a more systematic and careful approach to evidence, and of following a list of boxes that must be checked before making a decision— think of buying a home, when you deliberately seek information that you don’t have. However, System 1 is expected to influence even the more careful decisions. Its input never ceases.

    Because System 2 is lazy (we don’t want to think if we don’t have to), System 1 just keeps on serving up conclusions based on the one-sided evidence it has received. Kahneman offers up an abbreviation for this phenomenon:

    Jumping to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence is so important to an understanding of intuitive thinking , and comes up so often in this book, that I will use a cumbersome abbreviation for it: WYSIATI, which stands for what you see is all there is. System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of the information that gives rise to impressions and intuitions.

    Why are we humans programmed with WYSIATI?

    WYSIATI facilitates the achievement of coherence and of the cognitive ease that causes us to accept a statement as true. It explains why we can think fast, and how we are able to make sense of partial information in a complex world. Much of the time, the coherent story we put together is close enough to reality to support reasonable action.

    However, one of the problems WYSIATI causes is overconfidence.

    As the WYSIATI rule implies, neither the quantity nor the quality of the evidence counts for much in subjective confidence. The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little. We often fail to allow for the possibility that evidence that should be critical to our judgment is missing— what we see is all there is. Furthermore, our associative system tends to settle on a coherent pattern of activation and suppresses doubt and ambiguity.

    This is why we must read the other side. Without doing so, we become overconfident in our views and we actively suppress doubt and ambiguity. One of the great lessons to be learned in life is that we have to learn to be more humble in our viewpoints, and we have to live with less confidence and more ambiguity.  Otherwise, we are simply jumping to conclusions.

    Why Did Paul Tell Women to Cover Their Heads?

    Posted By on September 8, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    headcovering1 Why Did Paul Tell Women to Cover Their Heads?In 1 Cor 11:5-6, the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that a woman should cover her head when praying or prophesying at church assemblies. Some churches today still adhere to this command, but should they? What was the context of Paul’s statement?

    Authors E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien provide a possible answer to this question in their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible Why Did Paul Tell Women to Cover Their Heads?.  They write:

    Paul tells women in Corinth that they must have their head covered when they worship (1 Cor 11:5-6). It is not immediately clear to us what the problem is, so we may assume something went without being said, which is a good instinct.

    So perhaps we assume that a woman’s hair was somehow sexually alluring to ancient people and that therefore a Christian woman needed to cover hers. We may then reason that since hair today is not a sexual turn-on, it is okay for a Christian woman to wear her hair down.

    We are correct that something went without being said, but we are wrong about what that was.

    If Paul was not talking about sexual modesty, what was he talking about?

    Paul is indeed talking about modesty. In our culture, if male ministers are talking about what a Christian woman should be wearing, we are almost always discussing sexual modesty or the lack thereof, so we typically assume that’s what Paul is doing here. We feel affirmed when Paul mentions that it is disgraceful if a woman doesn’t cover her head (1 Cor 11:6).

    Likely, however, Paul was admonishing the hostess of a house church to wear her marriage veil (“cover her head”) because “church” was a public event and because respectable Roman women covered their heads in public. These Corinthian women were treating church like their private dinner parties. These dinners (convivia, or “wine parties”) were known for other immoral activities including dinner “escorts” (1 Cor 6), idol meat (1 Cor 8–10), adultery (1 Cor 10) and drunkenness (1 Cor 11).

    The issue was modesty, but not sexual modesty. These women were co-opting an activity about God for personal benefit. They were treating church as a social club.

    Thus Paul was interested in a broader kind of modesty than sexual modesty. He didn’t want the Corinthian women treating the worship assembly like their private dinner parties, dinner parties that typically went along with being wealthy. Economic modesty at church gatherings was also an important issue for Paul.

    Since covering a woman’s head is no longer a cultural indicator of economic or class status, this command by Paul no longer applies to us (in the 21st century America). However, there are certainly other ways that Christians signal their economic and class status that Paul would equally frown upon today.

    Church is not a place to emphasize class and economic status. It’s not a country club. It’s a place to worship God.

    What Did Jesus Mean by Hot, Cold, and Lukewarm?

    Posted By on September 5, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    Pamukkale Hierapolis 4 What Did Jesus Mean by Hot, Cold, and Lukewarm?One of the most familiar passages in Scripture is Rev 3:15-16, where Jesus addresses the Laodicean church:

    “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

    Many Christians interpret Jesus to be saying something like, “I wish you were passionate for me (hot) or spiritually dead (cold), but instead you are somewhere in the middle. Because you are neither on fire for me or spiritually dead, I am very displeased with you.”

    Now, this interpretation never really made much sense to me. I could see why Jesus wanted people to be passionate for him (hot), but I could never understand why Jesus would prefer a person be lost or spiritually dead (cold) instead of somewhere in the middle between the two.

    Authors E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien provide a possible answer to this question in their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible What Did Jesus Mean by Hot, Cold, and Lukewarm?. Richards and O’Brien explain:

    In the summer of 2002, however, standing there among the then-unexcavated ruins of Laodicea, another interpretation of that famous passage presented itself. Several miles northwest of Laodicea, perched atop a small mountain, is a city called Hierapolis. At the base of Hierapolis is an extraordinary geological formation produced by the natural hot springs that surface around the city. Even today, the city is known for its steaming mineral baths.

    Over the centuries, the subterranean springs have created a snow-white calcium deposit known in Turkish as Pamukkale, or “cotton castle,” that cascades down the slopes like ice. From our vantage point in Laodicea, Hierapolis gleamed white like a freshly powdered ski slope.

    About the same distance from Laodicea in the opposite direction is Colossae. The city was not yet excavated in 2002, so we couldn’t see it; but it is almost certain that in the first century, you could have seen Colossae from Laodicea. Paul’s colleague Epaphras worked in Colossae, as well as in Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col 4:13). It was a less notable city than Laodicea, but it had one thing Laodicea didn’t: a cold, freshwater spring. In fact, it was water—or the lack thereof—that set Laodicea apart.

    Unlike its neighbors, Laodicea had no springs at all. It had to import its water via aqueduct from elsewhere: hot mineral water from Hierapolis or fresh cold water from Colossae. The trouble was, by the time the water from either city made it to Laodicea, it had lost the qualities that made it remarkable. The hot water was no longer hot; the cold water was no longer cold.

    The Laodiceans were left with all the lukewarm water they could drink. Surely they wished their water was one or the other—either hot or cold. There isn’t much use for lukewarm water. I suspect that the meaning of the Lord’s warning was clear to the Laodiceans. He wished his people were hot (like the salubrious waters of Hierapolis) or cold (like the refreshing waters of Colossae). Instead, their discipleship was unremarkable.

    So, for Jesus, hot and cold were both genuinely good conditions, and only lukewarm was a bad condition. In other words, in these verses hot and cold are used as synonyms to refer to strong, passionate, remarkable faith. Lukewarm refers to unremarkable faith.

    Lukewarm is not some spiritual condition in between hot and cold at all. Lukewarm stands in opposition to both hot and cold, and that is most likely how the Laodiceans would have heard Jesus’s message to them.

    To me, this interpretation of the verses makes a lot more sense. It’s amazing how a little geography and historical context can clear things up!

    Where Is Suicide the Most Common?

    Posted By on September 3, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

     Where Is Suicide the Most Common? Where Is Suicide the Most Common?
    Most people get this wrong, really wrong. Malcolm Gladwell, in his latest book called David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, shares a bit of knowledge that is well worth pondering. Speaking of human feelings of sadness, happiness, and deprivation, Gladwell writes the following:

    Our sense of how deprived we are is relative. This is one of those observations that is both obvious and (upon exploration) deeply profound, and it explains all kinds of otherwise puzzling observations.

    Which do you think, for example, has a higher suicide rate: countries whose citizens declare themselves to be very happy, such as Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Canada? or countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, whose citizens describe themselves as not very happy at all?

    Answer: the so-called happy countries. . . . If you are depressed in a place where most people are pretty unhappy, you compare yourself to those around you and you don’t feel all that bad. But can you imagine how difficult it must be to be depressed in a country where everyone else has a big smile on their face?

    We compare ourselves to the people who immediately surround us. Our feelings of sadness and happiness are relative to our locale.

    This is why we should believe people who are desperately poor compared to modern, western standards, but who claim to be happy. They aren’t lying; they really are happy. Likewise, we should believe people who are fabulously wealthy, but who say they are miserable. They aren’t lying; they really are miserable.

    This observation proves that there is no magical standard of living or standard of material wealth that guarantees happiness. Once a person has basic food and shelter, his feelings of happiness are more dominated by the people around him than the absolute value of his biweekly paycheck.

    How Do Theology and Philosophy Interact?

    Posted By on September 1, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    St+Thomas+Aquinas How Do Theology and Philosophy Interact?In my opinion, the greatest Christian thinker of all time, after the apostles died, was Thomas Aquinas. Etienne Gilson, in his work The Christian Philosophy Of St Thomas Aquinas How Do Theology and Philosophy Interact?, takes on the task of defining what distinguished theology from philosophy for Aquinas.

    This issue comes up again and again when I hear cultists and even Christians claim that Christian teaching was hijacked by philosophy during the Middle Ages. We’re told that Plato and Aristotle took center stage and that biblical revelation was shoved aside.

    Is it true that men like Aquinas did not take the Bible seriously, that they placed the philosophies of Plato and Arsitotle in judgment over revealed theological truths?

    Gilson explains that in the case of Aquinas, nothing could be further from the truth. So how did Aquinas distinguish between theology and philosophy?

    It has become customary to label “theological” any conclusion whose premises presuppose faith in a divinely revealed truth, and to label “philosophical” any conclusion whose premises are purely rational , that is, known by the light of natural reason alone. This is not the point of view stated by St. Thomas himself at the beginning of his Prologue to the Second Book of his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. According to him, the philosopher considers the nature of things as they are in themselves, whereas the theologian considers them in their relation to God conceived as being both their origin and their end.

    From this point of view, every conclusion concerning God himself, or the relations of being to God, is theological in its own right. Some of these conclusions presuppose an act of faith in the divine revelation, but some of them do not. All of them are theological; those, among them, which are purely rational, belong to theology no less than the others. The only difference is that, since these do not presuppose faith , they can be extracted from their theological context and judged, from the point of view of natural reason, as purely philosophical conclusions.

    To repeat, philosophy considers the “nature of things as they are in themselves” whereas theology considers the nature of things “in their relation to God conceived as being both their origin and their end.” Thus every conclusion about God or about the world in relation to God is theological first and foremost. Any theological conclusion which does not presuppose faith (is purely rational) is also a philosophical conclusion.

    Gilson explains why this distinction is important:

    This is an extremely important point in that it enables us to understand how strictly metaphysical knowledge can be included within a theological structure without losing its purely philosophical nature. Everything in the Summa [Theologiae, Aquinas's most famous work,] is theological, yet, elements of genuinely philosophical nature are part and parcel of Thomistic theology precisely because, according to St. Thomas himself, the distinction between theology and philosophy does not adequately answer the distinction between faith and reason.

    Now we come to Aquinas’s concerns with mixing philosophy and theology. Gilson writes that critics of Aquinas often misunderstand what Aquinas was trying to do.

    According to some of his modern interpreters, St. Thomas thought of himself as a philosopher who was not anxious to compromise the purity of his philosophy by admitting into it the slightest mixture of theology. But as a matter of fact , the real St. Thomas was afraid of doing just the reverse. In the Summa Theologiae, his problem was not how to introduce philosophy into theology without corrupting the essence of philosophy; it was rather how to introduce philosophy into theology without corrupting the essence of theology (emphasis added).

    Not only the hostility of the “Biblicists” of his time warned him of the problem , but he was himself quite as much aware of it as they were. And the more freely he made use of philosophy, the more was he aware of the problem. As he himself understands it, theology must be conceived as a science of Revelation. Its source is the word of God. Its basis is faith in the truth of this word. . . . For theologians who were not in the least worried about philosophy, no problem actually arose. Persuaded that they should add nothing human to the bare deposit of revelation, they could rest assured that they were respecting the integrity and the unity of the Sacred Science. They proceeded from faith to faith, by faith.

    For St. Thomas Aquinas the problem was rather different. It was a question of how to integrate philosophy into sacred science, not only without allowing either the one or the other to suffer essentially thereby, but to the greater benefit of both. In order to achieve this result, he had to integrate a science of reason with a science of revelation without corrupting at the same time both the purity of reason and the purity of revelation.

    Thus Aquinas was eminently aware of the dangers of mixing theology and philosophy. Rather than placing philosophy above theology, he did just the opposite.  One can argue about how successful he was, but there can be no argument that Aquinas allowed philosophical considerations to knowingly trump revealed biblical truth.

    What Did Ancient Israel’s Neighbors Think about the Origins of the World?

    Posted By on August 29, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    index egyptians large3 What Did Ancient Israels Neighbors Think about the Origins of the World?Ancient Israel was immersed in two dominant cultures, that of the Egyptians and that of the Mesopotamians. The Hebrew accounts of the origins of the universe stand in contrast to these ancient cultures, so it would be interesting to see a summary of what these other cultures believed.

    Jim Adams provides a helpful summary of their views on the cosmogony (origins of universe) and theogony (origins of gods) in the New Mormon Challenge What Did Ancient Israels Neighbors Think about the Origins of the World?

    First, the people of both Egypt and Mesopotamia were polytheistic (accepted many gods). Although at times each religion acknowledged a superior or high god such as Marduk or Amun-Rê, that did not constitute the dismissal of other gods from their respective pantheons.

    Second, each cosmogony contains a theogony that presents the origin and genealogy of the gods with the primary purpose of specifying the hierarchical role of each god in their respective pantheon. In fact, any god in the pantheon could be proclaimed supreme over the others when that god was addressed or called upon for help.

    Third, the gods are constituent with the matter of the universe, and in fact the gods are typically depicted as a personification of a particular natural phenomenon (e.g., sun, sky, water). Hence, the gods do not transcend the material world and are limited to the power of the phenomena they personify.

    Fourth, the gods are engendered beings and are often depicted as creating other gods by begetting them.

    Fifth, fundamental to each of the cosmogonies is a preexisting primordial realm represented by the primeval waters of chaos wherefrom the gods, humanity, and nature find their ultimate origin.

    Sixth, this primordial realm transcends the gods. It limits their power, and its fundamental laws of operation are laws to which the gods are subject.

    Adams cites the Jewish biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann who believes that the fifth and sixth features above are the fundamental marks of ancient paganism. Kaufmann describes it as

    the idea that there exists a realm of being prior to the gods and above them, upon which the gods depend, and whose decrees they must obey. Deity belongs to, and is derived from, a primordial realm. This realm is conceived of variously—as darkness, water, spirit, earth, sky, and so forth—but always as the womb in which the seeds of all being are contained.

    Alternatively, this idea appears as a belief in a primordial realm beside the gods, as independent and primary as the gods themselves. Not being subject to the gods, it necessarily limits them. The first conception, however, is the fundamental one. This is to say that in the pagan view, the gods are not the source of all that is, nor do they transcend the universe. They are, rather, part of a realm precedent to and independent of them. They are rooted in this realm, are bound by its nature, are subservient to its laws.

    To be sure, paganism has personal gods who create and govern the world of men. But a divine will, sovereign and absolute, which governs all and is the cause of all being—such a conception is unknown. There are heads of pantheons, there are creators and maintainers of the cosmos; but transcending them is the primordial realm, with its pre-existent, autonomous forces.

    It is against this pagan background that the Hebrews presented quite a different version of cosmogony and theogony. The Hebrew God had always existed, and was responsible for creating everything that exists in the universe. Therefore, the Hebrew God was not in any way limited by a pre-existing realm.

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