Blog Exchange 2 with Blake Ostler

Blake commented over at the New Cool Thang:

Todd: I have read your post — all of it. Frankly, it is so far ranging with so little contact with responsible issues that I choose to not respond on your blog. I invite you to raise issues in smaller bites here so that we can deal with them. So come back here and let us engage in the context of this discussion. It would be irresponsible to allow such a thread-jack.

However, I will observe that your very world-view of scripture is upset by this issue because you deal with these scriptural passages by rejecting premise (4) and asserting that they just don’t mean what they say. Yet how can a fundamentalist Baptist say that? The biggest problem is that you read the Old Testament through the lens of baptist theology as if the Hebrews were just fundamentalist Baptists. (BTW many Mormons make the same mistake of assuming that the writers of the Old Testament were just Mormon but a long time ago). So engage in this discussion responsibly and in a way that allows us to respond to your objections. Your post is just not focused enough to allow any coherent response that would be a meaningful dialogue as I see it.

I appreciate Blake reading my post.  And I acknowledge the “far ranging” aspects.  On this thread, let me try again by narrowing my comments in the discussion to premise 4 or what Blake chooses.  And on this particular post, I desire to exclusively limit the commenting only between Blake and myself, not to alienate anyone else, but for the sake of focus and my sanity if he is willing.  But before I share a blurb on premise 4, can Blake share with me his sources by John Piper?  I have a voracious appetite for reading and would like to gain possession of the book Blake consulted.

11 comments

  1. Todd: Thanks for the invitation. I still have misgivings about excluding others from the dialogue. So I will post here and then I will also post on New Cool Thang. Here you can respond if you choose; but I will post your responses for comment by others also at New Cool Thang.

    Here is what I mean by my statement that you reject premise (4) — which seems to me a strange premise for a fundamentalist baptist to reject. I cite numerous scriptures that say that God changes his mind, relents or repents. However, your response is that these scriptures don’t mean what they say. However, I am convinced that the Hebrews who penned these writings believed that God did exactly what they reported and they had no problem with such a view. Let’s look again:

    Ex. 32:14 Yahweh repented of the evil which he said he would do to his people. (World English Bible)
    Jonah 3:10 God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them, and he didn’t do it. (3 WEB)
    “It repented the Lord that he made man on the earth; and it grieved him at his heart.” (KJV Gen. 6:6) “For it repented the Lord because of their groanings … (Judges 2:18 KJV); “and the Lord repented that he made Saul king over Israel” (1 Sam 15:5); “And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand.” (2 Sam 24:16; 1 Chron. 21:15); “The Lord repented for this…” (Amos 7:3; 6): “And God saw their works; that they turned from their evil ways: and God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them.” (Johah 3:10) God stated that he intended to destroy the idolaters and asked Moses to step aside to let him alone to accomplish it. Destroying the people of Israel was something that “he declared” or “thought to do” (rbd) to his people. The verb declaring God’s intention is derived from dabar and means to speak or declare a divine word of intention to accomplish a purpose. (See Dt. 9:8-10) Yahweh “sorrowfully relented” from his stated and intended purpose. The same verb nacham is used to describe human acts of repentance denoting precisely the same semantic field of change of conduct and remorse that accompanies repentance. (Ex. 13:7; 1 Kings 8:47; Judges. 21: 6, 15; Ez. 14:30; Jer. 20:6).

    So the notion that Yahweh changes his mind or repents of what he had decided to do is not an anomolgy, it is the established view that appears in writings in virtually every strata of writing in the OT. Let me point out something more important — these scriptures don’t merely say that God changes his mind; they also demonstrate it. That is, they show that God declares one thing will occur and then another thing occurs. So it isn’t merely the pronouncement that God changed his mind that hazs force, it is the entire narrative that is built around the fact that God had planned to do one thing and then changed his plan in response to the free actions of his people.

    How do you respond? Well, you reject the view that what these scriptures say is true — you reject premise (4) of my argument. Scriptures that say that God changed is mind must be taken “with a grain of salt” as one commenter on your blog noted. Why? Because there is a control belief that these passages cannot mean what they say.

    First of all, you note that there is a conflict with other passages that appear to assert that God has absolute foreknowledge. Now from my perspective, let’s assume for a moment that your scriptures do in fact say or imply that God has absolute foreknowledge. From my view what that entails is that the scriptures are not consistent. Some writers believed it; some didn’t. You’re the one who insists on scriptural uniformity (all scriptures are consistent) so that is a problem for your view and not mine.

    However, I doubt that the scriptures are that clear. Let’s take the strongest one you cite: Isaiah 46:9-10: “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purposes.”

    Does this scripture assert that God has foreknowledge? It can be read that way if one throws in the Calvinist assumption that God brings about everything that occurs. Without that assumption, however, all that it says is that God will bring about his purposes. In fact, to me it supports the view that what God knows about the future is a function of what he has planned to bring about himself to accomplish his purposes. However, God does not bring about the acts of free persons; otherwise, they aren’t free. Thus, God knows what he needs to in order to accomplish his plan; but it doesn’t say or entail that God foreknows or brings about everything. Virtually every other scripture you cite can be explained in the same way.

    I should also add that I don’t believe that Isaiah penned this scripture. I believe that second Isaiah is responsible – and it is just possible that the writer in the exile had very different views than pre-exilic Hebrews. So I leave that as a possibility.

    You also raise the issue as to whether we must take these passages as literal or whether we should see them as metaphors for something else. I ask: what suggests to you that these sriptures are asserting that God changes his mind is merely metaphorical? Moreover, could you give me some coherent way or rule of deciding when passages are metaphorical? It is at this point that making the Bible a guide-book for theology breaks down. Any passages at can be taken as metaphorical. If we are free to pick and choose, then we have no basis for taking anything in the Bible literally, including that God acts at all in any way. I’m sure that you don’t want to go there. So I suggest that we take passages as metaphorical if we have textual indications of metaphor — one thing is compared to another. That doesn’t happen in these passages.

    However, if you truly accept that God changes his mind in response to human choices, then my argument follows. Which will it be?

  2. Just real quick before I respond more completely tomorrow . . .

    (1) Thanks Geoff for the correction. I was wondering earlier and going to ask. Sometime I will have to read this. Ironically, I have never read anything by Gregory Boyd, except what has been discussed in F.A.R.M.S. Is this where Mark B. and others get the idea of an “absolute Platonic reality”? Btw, where is Mark B.? I miss the guy. He was courteous to me.

    (2) Blake wrote: “Yahweh “sorrowfully relented” from this stated and intended purpose. The same verb nacham is used to describe human acts of repentance denoting precisely the same semantic field of change of conduct and remorse that accompanies repentance. (Ex. 13:7; I Kings 8:47; Judges 21:6, 15; Ez. 14:30; Jer. 20:6).” Are you sure about wishing to use all these verses as proof-text? Maybe I need to pull out my Biblia Stuttgartensia to search for something beyond the KJV.

    (3) Blake wrote: ”Let’s take the strongest one you cite: Isaiah 46:9-10:
    Did I cite this verse somewhere?

  3. Todd: I’m positive about the semantic range of the Hebrew nacham and that it is used with the same semantic range to refer to human actions.

    I provided for you what I considered to be the strongest statement. You didn’t cite it; but it was cited by one of your fan-club in response to your post.

  4. Blake I will then try to interact with the verses you have in paranthesis for (2). But what is Ez. 14:30? I am not trying to be a nitpicker, but sincerely seeking to give respect to each of the Scriptures that you will post.

  5. Blake, I am driving my family to the Green Canyon Hot Springs above BYU-Idaho, today. A fun LDS family runs this great mom and pop place.

    But I will get back with you. And I couldn’t resist telling my wife you think I have some kind of fan-club. 🙂

  6. Yesterday, on a spontaneous impulse, our family did some swimming in a hot springs. Tons of BYU students were there. Same idea. Interesting, I learned from the Summit alumni magazine on one of the indoor picnic tables that 4, 912 entering this past fall at BYU-Idaho were returned missionaries. I just wish I could get into some deep Scripture discussions with them. Many are not “scriptorians” and definitely have no desire to be.

    Ok, as I zero in on a question about a particular attribute of God . . . Is He all-wise or not? I am reminded in reverent observation of the fact that it is really impossible for us to comprehensively dissect and analyze a particular attribute of God like a scientific botanist would a flower. How can I sunder apart God as Spirit from His eternality? His eternality from His transcendence? His transcendence from His power? His power from His unchangeableness? His unchangeableness from His all-wisdom? And so forth. One commenter in the first “Blog Exchange” thread accused me of “cherry-picking”. In thinking of this certain context, it makes me wonder, how can there be the “cherry-picking” of one attribute of God without the humble acknowledgment of the other interlocking, non-communicable features unique only to Adonai Jehovah? I am often found utterly lacking and completely helpless in describing the fullness of God. The conclusion of Paul’s theodicy (Romans 9-11) comes to mind, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”

    In Blake’s original post: (4) prescient in the sense that God has infallible foreknowledge.

    Yes, though I don’t understand it all (for I can’t even trace human footprints fully from the sand into the beautiful turquoise of Bear Lake, Idaho/Utah), I alongside the apostle Paul embrace God with “infallible foreknowledge” wholeheartedly. I am glorified, based on being justified. My justification is based on God calling me. The calling is grounded in His predestination. And the marking out of my life’s boundaries beforehand was based on His foreknowledge of me. Blake, it is a marvelous, golden chain in Romans 8:29-30. I don’t understand how LXXLuthor is stripping individual predestination from Romans 9 in soteriological doctrine. And for me, the topic of “foreknowledge” is much more than just that God knows the future, it carries the thought that God of His own accord before the foundation of the world decreed to enter into loving relationship with the elect people He would create. If you sought the answer to a why behind all this, I would just stammer tongued-tied over the mental perplexity, quickly lowering my head in awe of Deity’s directives.

    In Todd’s original follow-up post in seeking to restate Blake’s position: (4) that God is limited in His foreknowledge.

    No. This proposal, I flat out reject, whereas I am not quite for sure why in puzzlement you would write, ”which seems to me a strange premise for a fundamentalist Baptist to reject.” What is your perception of fundamental Baptists—Arminian or Calvinistic, General or Particular, Dispensational or Reformed, etc.? It becomes a trite more complex than the Baptists at Our Barbecue scenario. (I will confess to this. You had me chuckling in your opening post on this thread. As a kid, I really thought, though not pigeonholing any in the O.T., but that indeed John the Baptist was the first fundamental Baptist. My later maturing in appreciation and understanding of the Scriptures squashed my childish preconceptions.)

    Blake’s Scriptural Data

    God repenting – Exo. 32:14, Jonah 3:10, Judges 2:18, I Sam. 15:5, 2 Sam. 24:16; I Chron. 21:15; Amos 7:3,6

    Man repenting – Exo. 13:7, I Kings 8:47; Judges 21:6, 15; Ez. 14:30, Jer. 20:6

    Here are my initial questions as we engage the text. When I see the word dabar in Jonah 3:10, will Blake be requiring a strict, uniformitarian sense every time he sees this Hebrew word, or will he allow for translation of other senses of the word when seen in broader context of biblical narratives. The noun is translated over 85 different ways in the KJV (Harris, Archer, Waltke). Promptly, I think of the response in reference to Sarah’s disbelief over giving birth to a child. “Is any thing [dabar] too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). Whether laughing Sarah believed or not, God knew the future and would perform His miraculous word regardless, as He fulfills His unconditional covenant with Abraham. But Jonah 3 is different as God changes His word even as the king is asking a heart question, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” In the passages where God relents from His spoken word over punishments or blessings, wouldn’t it be prudent to distinguish between God’s conditional and unconditional dabar?

    In Judges, I find the connection interesting between “repent[ing]” (Judges 2:18) and “prov[ing]” in Judges 2:22. And I Samuel 15 is a perfect case study, because of the linking of I Sam. 15:11, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king,” with I Sam. 15:29 where Samuel the prophet defines the unique, absolute character of God, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.” II Sam. 24:16 shows God’s compassion – no wonder David picked the punishment of falling into “the hand of the LORD.” And by the way, isn’t “the hand of the LORD” an anthropomorphic expression? Or did the “angel of the LORD” (II Sam. 24:16 actually smite people with his bare, physical hand? Blake wrote: So I suggest that we take passages as metaphorical if we have textual indications of metaphor – one thing is compared to another. That doesn’t happen in these passages. I disagree.

    And again Amos 7:3, 6 show God’s tender loving-kindness to Israel in conjunction with His absolute holiness as these visions are seen by the prophet Amos. Wonderful texts that cause me to worship.

    Coming back to the first scripture passage Blake referenced, Exodus 32:14, I contend that Blake, while hung up on the anthropopathisms (wonderful words that ascribe human emotion to God, clearly eradicating the idea that He is a “severe, distant, impersonal deity”) is missing the bigger picture . . . the utter contrast between God and man. God is unchanging in His covenants as He works His ultimate, unchanging purposes through His sinful, covenant-breaking people committing whoredoms at the mountain of God at Horeb. My convictions have little to do with an outside, superimposed “control belief.”

    Blake’s comments on Isaiah 46:9-10 are interesting. I admit to not being a fully satisfied, logically, fine tuned Reformed Presbyterian (I have great Christian brothers who are). But I think it is a fair question to ask, “Do some of God’s actual desires remain unfulfilled?” (I am one of those mild or inconsistent Calvinists who would be skittish with either overbearing Calvinist or Arminian positions.) But at the same time, Blake, God is not subject or thwarted by man’s free-will choices in their rebellious sin. And finally, your admission in believing a Deutero-Isaiah is astounding, thus revealing your leanings toward liberal rationalism.

    Blake writes: ”Moreover, could you give me some coherent way or rule of deciding when passages are metaphorical? Superb question. How much time do you have? Have you ever read Millard J. Erickson’s book, Evangelical Interpretation: Perspectives on Hermeneutical Issues (Baker Book, 1996)? It would be right up your alley. But just for a start, when it comes to deciding Scripture’s teaching on whether God specifically changes His mind or not, don’t the KJV translators themselves give great starting texts in the Cambridge margin? Num. 23:19, I Sam. 15:29, Mal. 3:6, Rom. 11:29, Tit. 1:2, and James 1:17.

  7. Todd: I have read your response. As is usual for evangelical exegesis, it is a semantic game of word-parsing (I would call it navel-gazing, but that would be uncharitable). Let me give the short response that was already stated above:

    So the notion that Yahweh changes his mind or repents of what he had decided to do is not an anomoly, it is the established view that appears in writings in virtually every strata of writing in the OT. Let me point out something more important — these scriptures don’t merely say that God changes his mind; they also demonstrate it. That is, they show that God declares one thing will occur and then another thing occurs. So it isn’t merely the pronouncement that God changed his mind that has force, it is the entire narrative that is built around the fact that God had planned to do one thing and then changed his plan in response to the free actions of his people.

    Looking at individual words won’t do — the entire pericope or textual narrative is based on the fact that God in fact changed his mind. Thus, looking at the meaning of the word dabar in Jonah misses the point. Jonah was beside himself because he prophecied one thing would occur and then it didn’t. In Ex. 32 Moses must challange God and persuade him to change — the entire narrative makes no sense on your view of anthropopathism. It isn’t just Moses attributing to God saying he will do one thing and then another occurs. That is the way the narrative proceeds and makes no sense on the view that it is just Moses’ attribtuion of human qualities to God.

    What I find ironic is that you are the bliblical literalist and yet you don’t accept it when it says it — instead you attempt to explain it away. I suspect the real problem is the doctrine of inerrance and the assumption of uniformitarian doctrinal stance of the writings in the biblical texts. Further, I agree that God’s utlimate plan is never thwarted, but the immediate means to accomplish that plan may change from plan A to plan B. If that isn’t the case, what the heck was the flood from your point of view?

  8. I think Exodus 32 is a perfect example text to the Hebrew about the changing fickleness of man in direct contrast to God who does not change in His covenantal relationship to the sinner. The chasm is huge. If you are looking for a larger periscope, God-centered Hebrew worship uses Exodus 32 as the springboard. Right? A much bigger picture is being presented. (And by the way, zeroing in on Israel, is literally “navel” gazing. I picked that up in Ezekiel 38 & 39.)

    Blake, anthropopathisms accentuate not mock this immutable truth.

  9. Todd W., I imagine I am the Mark B. you are referring to. There is another “Mark B.” around (who actually shares the same last name) so I now post as “Mark D.” Thanks for the kind words – I have enjoyed our discussion as well.

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