April 2010 Archives

Note: Some of these thought experiments are my own, and a number of them appear throughout the philosophical literature on race. Charles Mills was a source for some of them, I think. Sveral of them have come from Jonathan Glasgow, and a few are unique to him, so I should at least give some credit here for that. I've never seen this one in particular anywhere else. Given that I'm giving him credit in this post, I'll just quote his own description of the case:

Everyone above the age of ten months is being killed by a virus that itself will expire as soon as it kills the last person who is more than ten months old. In a furious effort as they await their doom, the remaining scientists devote themselves to finding a way to finding a device that can keep the infants alive until they are old enough to survive on their own. [Jonathan Glasgow, A Theory of Race, p.121]
Do races cease to exist upon such a disaster?

The 326th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

After finding three separate occurrences in my students' papers of the claim that Augustine changed his mind from view A to view B, I decided to try to track down where this was coming from:

View A: Death is punishment for original sin.
View B: Death is natural, so it is good.

One of them cited this entry on Augustine in the Encyclopedia of Death and Dying in his bibliography. It says the following:

Augustine's evaluation of death undergoes a profound change after he encounters the theology of Pelagius. In his earlier writings, such as On the Nature of the Good, Augustine regards death as good because it is natural: Death is the ordered succession of living entities, each coming and going the way the sound of a word comes and goes; if the sound remained forever, nothing could be said. But in Pelagius's theology, Augustine encounters a radical statement of the "naturalness" of death: Even if there had never been any sin, Pelagius says, there would still be death. Such an understanding of death is very rare in early Christianity, and Augustine eventually stands with the mass of early Christian tradition by insisting upon the exegetically derived (from the Pentateuch) judgment that death is a punishment that diminishes the original "all life" condition of human nature. It is a distinctive and consistent feature of Augustine's theology of death that it is developed and articulated almost exclusively through the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis.

Now I've never read that earlier work, so I have no idea if this is even true (and I don't have it, so I can't even check), but it's the only thing I can find that remotely deals with such a view from Augustine, and I checked several pages deeper in Google after I found this. So I'm guessing this is the source for all of them and not just the one, and the rest all failed to include it.

The problem is all five students (I went looking through the stack to see if any others did this, and I found another two) got the order backwards. They all said that Augustine originally held view A and then held view B. The website says he first held view B and then changed to view A. One of them did mention Pelagius, but the others left that out. None of them mentioned the use of actual biblical arguments for changing his mind, but then they didn't think he was changing it to the biblical view but from it, not that they probably even knew which view was biblical.

Unless all these students have the same exact problem in gleaning information about the order of these views from this same text, there must have been either another source common to all of them besides this site, or one of them was the source for the others, perhaps the one who actually cited it. I'm not finding any other site that even mentions a change in his views on this. Some of them mentioned other internet sources, so why would they leave this out? Redaction criticism is hard.

None of this fits well with the assignment anyway, since what I was looking for was Augustine's view of the afterlife as a comparison with Socrates and Epicurus' arguments for not fearing death. But, as the title of this post suggests, those are the hazards of using Google for sources instead of paying attention in class or actually looking to the primary sources that I assigned.

Christian Carnival CCCXXIV


The 324th Christian Carnival is up at Other Food.

I was reading Isaiah 11 recently, and in the second half especially something occurred to me. There's a picture of Ephraim (i.e. the northern kingdom of Israel) and Judah (i.e. the southern kingdom) working together against Edom, Moab, and the Philistines. The northern kingdom had already fallen by the time Isaiah would have first delivered this oracle. There's no sense anywhere in the rest of scripture that any unification or restoration of Israel would involve two separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah, such that there would be two nations working together, and the nations of Edom, Moab, and Philistia were pretty much non-existent by the time of Christ, even if there are people nowadays who do associate themselves ethnically with them (and I don't even know if that's true).

So it seems as if someone today interpreting this passage (while holding it to be true) cannot take it to refer to a literal teaming up of the nations of Judah and Israel against the nations of Edom, Moab, and Philistia.

Then there's a bit about God striking a river and turning it into seven channels, followed by a highway from Assyria for the return of God's people from exile. Israel had been taken to Assyria and scattered throughout the ancient near east, and other peoples had been resettled in the northern land. What was to come for Judah was exile to Babylon and then return after Persia conquered Babylon. Then you get all the stuff about various animals hanging out with each other and all eating plants.

So how much of this is literal? I've seen dispensationalists explain one of their chief interpretive principles as follows. We should try to find literal interpretations for prophecies about Israel if we can possibly do so. The goal is maximize the number of literal prophecies.

Most other interpreters with a high view of scripture will not try to maximize the number of literal prophecies but will look for evenness of interpretation. The result is that, when you have this sort of thing that seems implausible to take literally, you might also have other prophecies of the same sort about a future Israel that we shouldn't take literally, even if you can (and dispensationalists do). If prophecies about Judah and Israel as physical nations aren't necessarily about literal nations, then why should we expect other prophecies about a future Israel to be about the literal nation of Israel?

So it seems to be a dispute between (a) those whose principle is to see everything as literal unless you can't avoid the alternative and (b) those who let scripture interpret scripture by seeing kinds of prophecies and looking for evenhandedness in letting prophecies about the same subject with the same style generally be interpreted in the same way.

A friend of mine just brought this story to my attention. There are lots of interesting questions to ask about how the census keeps track of race, and this article brings out several of them.

There's no bi-racial or multi-racial category. There used to be no option at all for those who didn't identify as just one race. You had to pick one or leave it blank. In 2000 they added the option to check more than one box. You still can't say that you're bi-racial or multi-racial, though, meaning that you don't consider yourself fully any of the races you check. You have to be fully each of them or not at all.

Given that, we might expect what this article brings out. Some children of a black parent and a white parent end up checking just "black". Others end up checking both "black" and "white". I'm sure some just leave it blank. What interests me is the percentages who think the second option is legitimate. According to the numbers given in the article, 53% of white people say President Obama is mixed race, and only 24% say he's black. But the numbers go in the opposite direction from black respondents. 55% say he's black, and 34% say he's mixed.

One reason more black people say he's black and not mixed is that they see how others identify you as definitive of what race you are. Hence the quote from the woman who said that if you put a hoodie on Obama and had him walk down a dark street you'd get everyone saying he's black. It's been my experience that the one-drop rule, which classified someone as black just for having one relatively recent black ancestor, is far more strongly operative among black Americans than it is among white Americans, especially of my generation and younger. Sam once told me that she thinks this is because a lot of black Americans have more invested in the one-drop rule. If that's true, there's a real irony there, because the one-drop rule was developed in order to serve the interests of white segregationists.

I think part of what's going on here is that a lot of black Americans (and mixed-race Americans who, by their looks, will be classified as black) experience a reality of being treated a certain way, and this applies more because of how they look than because of what racial group their parents belong to. That leads them to conclude that the one-drop rule is still operating as strongly as it ever did. One very interesting item in this article is the guy who claims to be both black and white. He did check both boxes, and it's because he really does think of himself as fully both. Check out the responses in the comments on the BET reprinting of this article to see how strong the resistance among a lot of black people will be to such a claim.

Then a lot of white Americans do something very different. They want racial problems to be over. They want to be post-racial. So they're happy to mess with traditional ways of classifying people, especially if they see those as immoral. Those who are young enough and in certain parts of the country have been in more racially-enlightened spheres of influence where they've been taught to see race as less important, and thus care a lot less what race someone is, and that's led many of them not to have ever heard of the one-drop rule or seen anyone assuming such a thing. Their natural inclination is to see mixed-race people as mixed. They'd call Obama half-black, perhaps.

This includes me, and by "me" I mean my unreflective intuitions on these matters based purely on how I was raised and the environment I grew up in, i.e. how people around me classified people according to race. I grew up thinking the child of a black parent and a white parent would be half-black and half-white, just as Elrond in The Lord of the Rings is half-elf and half-human, his daughter Arwen is 3/4 elf and 1/4 human, and her son with Aragorn is 3/8 elf and 5/8 human. (That's actually ignoring Aragorn's way-back elvish ancestry through Elrond's half-elf brother, but that's so far back that it's negligible in comparison, and, for the record, shouldn't really count as incest either.)

I'd never heard of the one-drop rule or even seen any signs of anyone assuming it until I was in graduate school, and I was taught that this was the law in the South during segregation and is still how everyone thinks about race. (It's always interesting to be told how you think about race when it's obvious to you that the way of thinking is completely new to you.)

I've long known that I have heterodox views on race. People on both the left and the right have strongly disagreed with almost every substantive view I've ever taken on race. But here I'm not just talking about my own views. If the statistics given in the article are reliable at predicting what the views of Americans in general think (and you can see the Pew source here, which seems to me to say they are), then a majority of white people in this country and a strong enough minority of black people think that President Obama is not black but mixed race. That means the one-drop rule is at best not completely operative. This is with someone whose skin is dark enough that a lot of people still do just call him black, including himself. What would people say about a child of a black and a white parent whose skin is much lighter? I'd expect the numbers to be even more strongly in favor of "mixed" rather than "black".

But then the very same survey turned up only 1% of respondents choosing more than one race for themselves, while 16% of them indicated that they're of mixed race. Does that mean they're applying the one-drop rule to themselves but not to Obama? That would be weird. But all this really shows is that there seems to be a much higher chance of getting someone to self-identify as mixed than there is to get them to identify as a member of two different races.

Perhaps that's because, as I suggested at the beginning of this post, they tend to think checking off both boxes mean they're fully both, and they don't think of themselves as fully both but only part each. Perhaps it's not because they're inconsistently applying the one-drop rule to themselves but not to others. Perhaps it's just a function of the unavailability of a mixed category. But either way, I think it's pretty obvious that contextual factors, even slight differences in wording, can have a huge impact on how we think about racial classification. Most academics who discuss racial classification seem to me to underestimate how strong such effects are.

As to the question in the post title, the answer is "yes".

The 324th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Other Food. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Suppose we finally reach a point where we don't treat races differently in any sense that matters. There's no more even unconscious discrimination. The structural barriers that in most contexts favor whites more than other races and some non-whites over other non-whites are gone, even those instances when no one intends to do harm. There are no more people who have negative attitudes toward people because of race. (So far this is all the same as #9.) Suppose further we have abandoned the use of racial terms, not just terms like 'race' but even terms like 'black', 'white', 'Asian', and so on.

If you don't think races exist now, you'll obviously not think they exist in such a circumstance. But if you think races exist now, will they still exist under such circumstances?

Christian Carnival CCCXXIII



The 323rd Christian Carnival is up at You Can't Mean That!
The word 'creationism' has become a bait-and-switch term in the mouths of certain people. It first gets used to mean some very general thing when you figure out who counts (i.e. someone who believes God created or someone who believes God fashioned the universe via some means that wouldn't be likely if naturalism would be true). But then it gets applied as if it means a much more specific view, one seen as implausible by many who hold to creationism in the broader sense. When you want to say bad things about all the people who count in the more general sense, you call them creationists, and thus you associate them with those who hold to the more specific view that's much less tolerated.

For the sake of this post, I'm reclaiming its meaning in the general sense as perfectly legitimate for all who believe God created the universe. It therefore applies as much to those who accept a divine explanation behind the standard scientific account of the natural causes of human origins as much as it does to those who accept a supernatural method to begin with.

Now here are some possible views:

Naturalism: God doesn't exist, and so God had no role in human origins.

Non-creationist theism: God exists, but God didn't guide the origins of human life in any significant way, certainly not with any intention that we or any beings like us would come along.

Barely-creationist theism: God did guide along the causal processes that led to human life to some degree, but God had no concern for that aspect of the process. We're just a side-effect.

Creationist evolution: God fully guided the process of human origins by means of the standard scientific model (or something close enough to it), including natural selection and common descent of humans from animals, with the goal of producing the life forms that resulted, including human beings. Random chance, as usually thought of in evolutionary theory, is really just statistical frequency, with God guiding the process. This view is sometimes called theistic evolution, but that name technically applies to the above two views as well.

Old-Earth, non-evolutionary creationism: The Earth is as old as the standard scientific account takes it to be, and the universe is as old as the standard scientific account takes it to be. But the standard scientific account is wrong about human origins. The mechanism usually described as natural selection and random chance (which is really divine guidance) are real and observable on the small scale, but inter-species evolution did not occur (or, on a variation, it occurred for other animals but not for humans). This view is sometimes just called Old-Earth creationism, but that view technically could apply to the above view (or even the above two).

Young-Earth creationism: The Earth is about 6000 years old, and the creation framework of Genesis 1:1-2:3 describes God's creation process chronologically and with the creation days of the poetic narrative corresponding exactly to 24-hour periods in real time. Sometimes this view is simply called creationism, but that name could apply to all the views in this list except the first one.

Those who hold to the young-Earth model criticize all of the other above views. Here I'm interested only in biblical arguments. Naturalism is easily ruled out biblically, since it denies the very existence of God, and non-creationist theism and barely-creationist theism also seem a little hard to fit with the biblical view of God creating human beings with particular intent. So among those who accept the Bible as authoritative, you're not going to find very many people who accept any of those views, even if conceptual space allows for them.

I'm interested in the arguments Young-Earth creationists use to argue against the other two remaining views. They argue that those two views cannot be held consistent with a high enough view of the Bible as authoritative and infallible scripture, and I can think of three arguments along those lines.

One argument targets common descent, because they think "created according to their kinds" cannot mean that animals were created according to their kinds by means of creating other species first and then slowly evolving them to new kinds. The above sentence would be meaningless if it couldn't mean that, and it's not, so I think that debate is easy to resolve. It can indeed mean that.

The second argument is directed against all old-Earth views, namely the less-than-convincing argument that Genesis 1:1-2:3 has to be taken so that the days within that account must refer to periods of time rather than an organization according to theological purposes. You first have to assume that it means 24-hour periods within the text's framework, which I think is indeed plausible, indeed almost certain, but then you also have to go beyond that to assume that the text's framework corresponds to an actual chronology rather than a theological organization according to the themes the author intended to bring out in contrast with similar creation myths from the time. It's the second assumption that I don't see a strong enough warrant for to counteract the overwhelming scientific evidence for a contrary view.

But there's another biblical argument against old-Earth views that I think has more punch to it. Old-Earth views require animals to have been around for much longer than human existence, killing and eating each other. I suppose there's no absolute requirement for that. Maybe they just had the teeth for carnivorous lifestyles long before they needed them or something, because God foresaw what they would need for after the fall. But such a view seems unlikely to be true. So it seems the fossil record as it stands does require believing that animals killed and ate each other before the first human sin, and animals would have been as much as a threat to the first humans, it seems, whether humans were created wholesale out of dust or out of dust by means of a long chain of natural selection and random chance moving through different species until you got the level of complexity of a human being.

The problem is that the biblical narrative does seem to assume that death came as a result of the fall. So it seems there's a conflict between the biblical narrative and the old-Earth view, even the old-Earth view denying common descent. This isn't just from Genesis 3 saying that death is a result of the fall. Isaiah 11 has the wolf, lamb, and leapard lying down with a young goat in the restored creation undoing the fall, and children play with snakes, with lions eating straw. It's as if the fall is undone, and part of that is undoing carnivorous animals' diets.

There are a number of things old-Earth views have had to say about this problem. One that I think makes some sense is that the Garden of Eden might have been a special place protecting humans from this, where the animals present were different miraculously. It's only human death that the fall brought on, not all death. But that doesn't solve the problem of how restoration undoes carnivorism, when carnivorism was never part of the fall.

It occurred to me when reading Isaiah 11 recently that this assumes something that most Christians don't actually believe. Hardly anyone who holds the Bible in high regard takes the human fall to be the first fall. How did the snake get to be tempting Eve to begin with if there was no sin in the world (and thus no death in the world)? We have to infer an angelic fall from elsewhere in scripture (although I don't think Isaiah 13-14 is a legitimate place to find direct support for that). I wonder if the use of the snake image for the tempter indicates that this angelic fall did affect non-human animals, and God generated human beings (whether by direct creation out of dust or by means of descent from animals affected by the fall) in such a way that human beings were not fallen (after all, animals here aren't fallen, just affected by the angelic fall).

Putting that together with some special provision in the Garden for removing the affects of the angelic fall from animals, I think the problem is pretty much resolved. I'd grant that it's a bit complex to be the most natural thing you'd think from reading the text. However, the issue here is never just the most natural reading of the text vs. a less-plausible reading of the text. It's a whole set of issues that complicate each other. You have the most natural reading of the text on one side with a completely impossible reading of the scientific evidence, and then you have a less-natural but certainly-possible reading of the text with a rather straightforward reading of the scientific evidence on the other side. Unless you want to make our interpretation of the Bible infallible rather than just restricting that infallibility to the Bible itself, it seems the less-plausible but possible reading of scripture with the possible interpretation of the scientific evidence is much more likely than the more-natural reading of scripture with its impossible reading of the scientific evidence.

So, although I said this objection has more force, I think there's enough to say about it that I don't think it's decisive or even worth all that much time worrying about. Those who hold to a high view of scripture can without too much effort accept either of the old-Earth views without this objection really being a problem.

The 323rd Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at You Can't Mean That! The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

When the one store in our area that sold Lactaid Cheese stopped carrying it, I asked a dairy section worker there about it, and he told me Cabot cheeses are lactose-free. This was a big surprise to me, because it seems like normal cheese. The only lactose-free stuff I was familiar with seemed modified in significant ways (e.g. Lactaid cheese is that individually-wrapped stuff, but it's better than most of those cheeses, and Lactaid milk tastes sweeter than most milks, too sweet for me to tolerate and for my blood sugar issues to be able to handle). But Cabot markets their cheeses as naturally lactose-free.

So I did some Googling, and it turns out many cheeses are naturally-lactose-free but just aren't advertised that way. Sharper cheeses (which Isaiah won't eat, because he rightly thinks they taste funny) tend to have less lactose, because bacteria from the aging process eats up the sugar, which is what lactose is. Harder, more-aged cheeses are thus more safe for the kid who won't touch them. But then some of these sites also including Colby cheese, which seems to me to be less sharp than the average cheddar, and mozzarella, which seems to me to be at the opposite end of the spectrum. They also said cottage cheese should be lactose-free for the same reason yogurt with active cultures should be. The bacteria, if left in long enough, will eat all the sugar. With active cultures, the bacteria get into your stomach and aid in digestion even if the sugar remains. Isaiah has definitely gotten sick from cheese, though, but it seems every cheese he might eat is supposed to be naturally lactose-free, according to some of these sources.

But then people who are lactose-intolerant still get sick from some of the above, and there seems to be no way to know if it's really lactose-free. Even if it lists the sugar contents as zero, Sam says that just means it's below the legal threshold in each serving to count it. Kraft cheeses are like that, for instance. That means I probably still shouldn't be sure of any given cheese that it's ok unless it says it's lactose-free, but many cheeses might have low enough lactose levels to be fine in moderation. if that's right, then is any of this of any help?

Suppose we finally reach a point where we don't treat races differently in any sense that matters. There's no more even unconscious discrimination. The structural barriers that favor whites more than other races and some non-whites over other non-whites, even when no one intends to do harm, are gone. There are no more people who have negative attitudes toward people because of race. Yet people continue to use racial terms the same way we continue to use ethnic terms (e.g. Italian) even when there's no prejudice or societal structures making things difficult for those ethnic groups.

If you don't think races exist now, you'll obviously not think they exist in such a circumstance. But if you think races exist now, will they still exist under such circumstances?

No Free Milk

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Our kids qualify for free lunch at school, and we submitted the city's form for that at the beginning of the year. They've all been receiving free lunches all year. But Sophia decided a couple weeks ago to start bringing her lunch most days, mostly out of peer pressure because most of her friends do that. (If you don't qualify for free lunch, then it's much less expensive to send one with your child than to pay what the school charges. Have they already established bringing a lunch as a status symbol by kindergarten?)

The first few days, we sent juice with her at her request, but then she decided she wanted to drink the school milk with her lunch brought from home. A couple days ago a note came home saying that the lunch room says she needs to pay for 40 cents for milk. I sent a note back saying the lunch room is wrong, because she qualifies for free lunch and has had no problem all year. The teacher sent another note home saying we need to take it up with the lunch room.

It turns out they won't give her the free milk unless she signs up for a free lunch. Kindergarteners don't go to the cafeteria like the older kids. They have to order a lunch, which gets brought to their room. This was never been an issue for Ethan, because he just eats whatever the school lunch is. It was never an issue for Isaiah, because they take him through the lunch line, and he selects which particular items he wants, which is usually not very much. Then they get out the lunch he brings, and he eats some of those items with whatever (if anything) he wanted from the school lunch. He just brought a lunch in kindergarten anyway, because we didn't want them to have to deal with his pickiness and lactose issues until he could actually go through the line to select items. So Sophia is the first to want to bring a lunch while just drinking the milk from the school in the kindergarten setting, and we're just discovering the policy that she has to waste a whole lunch that she won't eat if she wants to get the free milk that she qualifies for.

Now I know they can make room for kids to get free milk without the lunch, because there are some kids who qualify for free milk but not free lunch. Since she qualifies for free lunch, she apparently can't get the free milk without ordering the whole tray of lunch (and she can't select just the items she wants, because kindergarteners don't go through the lunch line). It turns out one of the staff at the school is happy to eat her lunch when she doesn't want it, so maybe it's not so bad in the end, but this is a truly crazy policy. Why would they insist on a policy that requires a free-lunch student to waste a whole lunch to get the free milk she qualifies for on the days when she's brought her own lunch?

Christian Carnival CCCXXII


The 322nd Christian Carnival is up at Fish and Cans.

Commentaries on Romans

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[Note: This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post. This is not an exhaustive list, just the commentaries that I think are most worth paying attention to.]

Douglas Moo's NICNT is always my first choice on Romans. He's more careful in my view than any other Romans commentator when it comes to exegesis. He's got a high view of scripture similar to my own, and yet he garners much more respect than others with similar convictions. I'm not entirely sure why, but N.T. Wright thinks that in his case it's because he sees Moo as (1) more willing to revise his opinions away from his Lutheran tradition than Wright thinks is true of other conservative evangelicals (e.g. D.A. Carson, a claim that I think is wildly unfair to Carson, who adopted Calvinism entirely from reading the Bible and not from reading the Reformed tradition) and (2) more able to read his opponents carefully and represent their views accurately before criticizing them. (I've seen people complain about this with Carson also, and it baffles me. He strikes me as especially careful most of the time, especially when he's doing his actual argumentation.) But whatever the reasons, Moo has this reputation among scholars who disagree with him of being balanced, careful, and friendly enough with those who disagree, and it means he has the respect of commentators across the theological spectrum.

Moo writes very readable prose for an academic volume. He gives a thorough treatment of the Greek in the footnotes but keeps the main text readable for those who know little or no Greek.is strong on theological treatment. You won't find here the kind of focus on language issues that some commentators give. You'll also get some good history of interpretation in this volume, and Moo's understanding of the theological issues is excellent. When necessary, he launches into a valuable excursus on an issue that needs more depth than the verse-by-verse discussion would give. It isn't as strong as Cranfield (see below) on presenting all the options and giving an exhaustive treatment of the reasons people have given for different views, but it's much more complete than most commentaries on that sort of thing.

Thomas Schreiner's BECNT is also good in a number of ways. I like Schreiner a lot. His book on perseverance and assurance strikes me as being pretty much right in terms of his main points, and I've appreciated his work on I Timothy 2 and in his commentary on I and II Peter and Jude. Schreiner strikes me as being very similar to Moo in many ways. Both defend Calvinist soteriology, both operate from a high view of scripture, both criticize the New Perspective, and both are generally known for defending more conservative theological views against liberalizing tendencies. Schreiner has a little less detail despite being more encumbered by technical Greek in the main text, but both are good writers who can be followed relatively easily in comparison to some of the more obscure prose academics can sometimes produce.

Some differences have to do with the series. The BECNT format makes it more paragraph-based than NICNT's verse-by-verse format (which makes it easier to read but much harder to use as a reference work). You'll see Greek font in BECNT (followed by parenthetical transliterations for the first occurrence), but you'll only see it in the footnotes of NICNT volumes. BECNT has clunky parenthetical references as opposed to NICNT's footnotes, which makes reading harder, but it looks much nicer to the eye in most other ways. But a few have to do with approach. Moo is a Lutheran who has moved in some ways toward more traditional Calvinism. Schreiner is a Reformed Baptist in the mold of John Piper (in fact he originated from Piper's own church, I believe). Moo's work has been mainly exegetical, from what I've seen, whereas Schreiner's ranges more into systematic theology and apparently biblical theology (but see below).

I've seen a few criticisms of Schreiner, though. A friend of mine thinks he's too easily drawn into answering questions of systematic theology at the expense of biblical theology (which makes me wonder what his New Testament Theology is actually like). One thing he might mean is that he thought Schreiner was too willing to read his systematic theological convictions back into the text or too willing to try to make them mean what his system would favor them meaning. This comes from someone who agrees with Schreiner's general outlook, by the way, just someone who doesn't want to push a particular text beyond what it's really about. I saw a similar criticism in a review I've read online. I haven't read enough to endorse this criticism, but I thought I'd mention it, since it does have at least two witnesses!

My own biggest criticism of Schreiner is that he adopts John Piper's view that God's pursuit of his own glory is basic to all God's motivations, and God's love is reduced to that. There are more reasonable ways of holding such a view, and Schreiner's is one of the more reasonable, but I still think he's wrong, and that approach is important in this commentary, because Schreiner finds it at the heart of Romans' theology.

On the other hand, I thought Schreiner's approach to Romans 7 was both creative and far superior to the commentators who want to restrict the passage to cover only the life of the believer or those who want it to cover only the life of the unbeliever. Schreiner argues that it's about the law rather than a certain time period in the life of anyone and that it would apply in either stage of someone's life, and I think he's right. Schreiner is also a little more concerned to step back and dwell on the overall structure and argument than Moo is, although some of this is because the BECNT format requires it more. (And I have seen one reviewer compliment Moo for doing well at that.)

What I've seen makes me place this as high enough on my list that I want to retain it in my possession and look to it second, after Moo. I haven't read it enough to say a lot more, but I've read it enough to like a lot of what I see.

The 322nd Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Fish and Cans. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

1. The trailer for Going Postal is online. It's one of Terry Pratchett's best Discworld novels, so I expect it to be good. The adaptations have so far been pretty good. I didn't like the Hogfather book as much as most of the series, but the adaptation was great, and The Colour of Magic adaptation (which included the stories from the book of that name and its followup, The Light Fantastic) was very well done. This is the third by the same people, and it's got an even better story to work with, although the downside of that is that it will be harder to measure up to the book.

2. Terry Pratchett has written a letter updating fans on how he's doing. There's no mention of how he's doing with his Alzheimer's in general (other than the clear implication that it's not easy for him right now), but it sounds as if he's done with the first draft of his next book, which awaits editing and revision, and there's a long diatribe against some of the people writing letters to him.

Some of them seem pretty evil, but it doesn't justify his lumping together those who oppose assisted suicide or abortion with those who wanted to outlaw painkillers during labor because it negates the curse of Genesis 3 or those who opposed letting women vote. I expect better of him than this. I feel sorry for him having to put up with some of the ridiculous mail he's been getting, some of it giving a bad name to things I happen to agree with, but it doesn't justify the association of all who disagree with him on a contentious moral issue with those who held positions in the past that we all disagree with now.

I'm curious about the reference to Chesterton's fame "fool the prophet". Google turns up exactly zero on that phrase with his name. Does anyone happen to know what he's referring to?

3/5 of a Person

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I recently encountered the claim (that I see often enough) that the U.S. Constitution defined slaves as 3/5 of a person. That claim is actually false. The Constitution did no such thing. What it did is count them as 3/5 toward representation, which was a compromise between those who didn't want them represented and those who thought they should count fully. Here is what the actual wording said:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

The wording actually assumes they are full persons. It distinguishes between the contribution to the census from free persons and the contribution from other persons. It's 3/5 of the number of other persons that gets added to the number of free persons. It's not that slaves are 3/5 of a person.

And for the record, it was those who opposed slavery who didn't want them counted and those who favored it who did, because counting them as full persons would mean more representation in Congress for their states (and yet the voting for those states wouldn't involve the slaves voting, of course, so it's even more influence for the slave-holders if they counted fully).

If we take the constitutional wording to imply that slaves were only viewed as 3/5 of a person, we should also conclude that abolitionists must not have thought slaves were real people, because they wanted them counted as zero, and slaveowners must have thought they were indeed real people, because they wanted them counted as full persons. It's not as if those who favored slavery were defining slaves as less than full persons. It was those who opposed slavery who didn't want their slaves counting toward representation when they didn't have representation who were behind this.

Interestingly, the roles had been reversed for the debate over an amendment on this for the Articles of Confederation, because that debate was over how much in taxes the states had to pay, where the non-slave states wanted slave states to pay more due to their higher population. You would have more success making that argument in this case, because at least the roles line up that way, but that would misunderstand what the issues were.

It had nothing to do with their actual view of the moral status or personhood status of slaves but was about how much political influence states would have, and the Articles of Confederation debate about the same exact issue had been about how much in taxes they would have to pay. Which issue it was about determined which stance each side took, and they completely reversed their positions when the issue changed to make the opposite view favor them. So there's simply no claiming that this was about defining the personhood of slaves or anything. It was simply about how to calculate populations for political results, and those who argued for each side compromised between counting them for certain purposes and not counting them for those purposes by proposing the 3/5 count.

There are plenty of things you might disagree with about how slaves were treated, and it is indeed unfair to be counted at all for representation but not being represented (but we do that with children still). Nevertheless, it's simply false that the Constitution defined them as 3/5 of a person, as if that judgment in particular reveals a view that slaves were viewed as not fully persons. It does no such thing, because it's not about that issue at all. To find evidence that people believed such a thing (and I'm not saying there is no such evidence), it doesn't do to cite what the Constitution says about this issue.


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