William Klein on David Peterson on Acts

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I was reading William Klein's review of David Peterson's Acts commentary. It included this strange argument:

In a startling example of eisegesis Peterson states, "... we may assume that wherever resistance to the message is recorded, Luke believed the Lord had not yet acted in grace and power to enable belief" (p. 404). May we? In fact Luke explains that the Jews rejected the word of God and judged themselves unfit for eternal life (13:46). I guess this shows how we all see what we want to see in texts and may wish to ignore other ways of seeing things.

The following two claims are at issue, and Klein seems to think the second claim is supposed to undermine the first. I'm not sure how.

1. Resistance to the gospel only occurs when God hasn't led someone to believe.
2. Jews rejected God and thus became unfit for eternal life.

Earlier in the review, Klein makes it clear that Peterson accepts a standard compatibilist Calvinism, whereby "God determined the players' roles in Jesus' crucifixion (2:23) without diminishing those players' responsibility for their actions". So it isn't as if he thinks Peterson denies human responsibility. But it seems the second claim is merely an affirmation of human responsibility, and somehow that's supposed to undermine the view that resistance occurs only in the absence of saving grace. Only if you took the hyper-Calvinist view that we aren't responsible for our actions would you end up thinking your belief in 1 was incompatible with 2. So I'm completely at a loss as to why Klein thinks this criticism applies to Peterson's view, because he knows that Peterson isn't such a hyper-Calvinist and even said so earlier in this review.

Am I just missing something here?

7 Comments

I don't think you're missing anything, except the fact that no one likes a commentary to reject their view without what they consider to be a good argument. Reading his review, I think his main complaint was that Arminian counter-arguments were not acknowledged in the footnotes.

I agree with Klein on that. If Peterson doesn't even acknowledge how Arminians/Wesleyans see the same passages, especially when he's pretty good at acknowledging alternative views on other matters, then there's a problem. It would be one thing not to be convinced by his arguments, but it's worse if he doesn't fully argue for them to begin with by ignoring other ways of taking the passages in question rather than trying to explain why those aren't the best ways to take them.

But it seems to me that what he says here is something else entirely. He's claiming that Peterson doesn't fully argue for his view, because there's another view that Peterson doesn't rule out. That's a fine point to make, but his criticism goes further. He points to something else Luke says that he seems to think undermines Peterson's actual view. So it's a charge not just that Peterson doesn't rule out an alternative explanation but that he doesn't fully deal with what the text actually says, which means the alternative explanation is more likely to be true. That's the part of Klein's argument that I don't follow. What he quotes Peterson as saying seems to me to be the most natural way to take the text, and what Klein points out to undermine it doesn't seem to me to undermine it at all. It's that second element that I don't understand, unless he's taking Peterson to be holding a different view from what he previously admitted Peterson to be holding.

I've seen this kind of argument in Wesleyan/Arminian arguments against Calvinism before. John Oswalt does exactly the same thing in his Isaiah 1-39 commentary (see here and here), except that Oswalt's acknowledgement of the more accurate Calvinist view comes in the second volume of his commentary (which was published something like 12 years later). So in that case it's more reasonable to think Oswalt later came to understand Calvinism better but couldn't go back and change his earlier statement because it was in the previously-published volume. There's no such excuse here.

I do think it's better than a different way of arguing against Calvinism, though, which is to give very good arguments against hyper-Calvinism and then to assert an Arminian/Wesleyan view without even acknowledging that Calvinists hold a different view entirely. This is usually Ben Witherington's tactic, and it seems to me that that's as bad as what Klein is complaining about but in the other direction. Klein is fair half the time at least.

you're definitely right in saying that statement 2 (from your post) is not a contradiction of statement 1.

having said that ... statement 2 doesn't imply statement 1. (and I think Peterson would acknowledge that)

Klein's accusation of eisegesis would only stand if Peterson's quote ("... we may assume that wherever resistance to the message is recorded, Luke believed the Lord had not yet acted in grace and power to enable belief") was a comment on Acts 13:46. In that case, Peterson would be arriving at statement 1, from a starting point of statement 2 - reading more into the text than is there.

but clearly Peterson was commenting on Acts 13:48. In fact, from the page numbers it looks like Peterson has devoted five pages to this discussion, presumably outlining some form of compatibilism

Anyway, makes me want to get hold of this commentary, although I bought Bock's BEC Acts recently and haven't got round to consulting it yet.

I agree Klein isn't clear at all here, but I'll take a stab at explaining it.

You say, "So it isn't as if he thinks Peterson denies human responsibility." I'm not sure this is true. Klein says Peterson doesn't think he denies human responsibility, but this isn't saying the same thing that Klein doesn't think he is. I think Klein would say statements 1 & 2 are incompatible because, in his mind, either God leads someone to believe or they lead themselves to believe. In other words, compatiblism is wrong. Does that make sense?

I think that's where Klein is coming from, but I'm not entirely sure.

Danny, I'm not sure that reading is any more charitable, as much as it sounds that way, because if that's what he wants to say, then I think he's committing exactly the same exegetical fallacy he's accusing Peterson of. He's saying Peterson reads Calvinism into a text when it's not clearly in the text itself (because there's another way to read it), and the only way you could get it is by approaching the text with a philosophical presupposition. But on your reading he himself is assuming that compatibilism can't be the proper interpretation because he arrives at the text with his own presupposition that compatibilism is false. He ends that paragraph with the observation, "we all see what we want to see in texts and may wish to ignore other ways of seeing things". I didn't think he meant to apply that to what he'd just done, but on your reading of him it is what he's just done.

Wouldn't be the first time. Nor the last.

Mark, the comment on p.404 is actually in the section discussing Acts 14:3-4. But it's very clear in the context that he doesn't think he's deriving this conclusion from those verses (nor just from the section Klein gives, which is 13:48-52). Here is the larger context:

Luke has previously asserted in the face of unbelief and opposition that 'all who were appointed for eternal life believed' (13:48). He will soon make it clear that God must work in the heart to enable a saving response to the gospel (16:14). Although the theme is only occasionally expressed (cf. 15:17 note; 18:10 note), we may assume that wherever resistance to the message is recorded, Luke believed the Lord had not yet acted in grace and power to enable belief. Neither miracles nor persuasive argument can effect conversion without that secret work of God's Spirit which is called regeneration (Jn. 3:3-8; Tit. 3:5-6).

So it's clear that Peterson thinks this bit that we can assume actually comes from a much broader reading of the book of Acts and scripture as a whole. It's thus not eisegesis of this text, because it's not pretending to be exegesis of this text. At worst it's bad biblical theology or bad systematic theology. But eisegesis is the wrong term, even if his reasoning is poor. (I happen to think his conclusion is right, but I don't think he has argued as carefully as he could for it.)

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