Jeremy Pierce: August 2009 Archives


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The 292nd Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus.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:

I've found the same gross misrepresentation of the pro-life position on stem cell research in several different places over the last few weeks. The most surprising place to find it is in a philosophical work in a chapter on the moral status of the fetus. Referring to the position that moral status begins at conception, Anne Fagot-Largeault says:

Since the 1980s, however, there have been extraordinary advances in scientific technology, and these have brought into sharp relief some of the drawbacks of the preceding position. In fact, the position leads to some unconscionable outcomes. On the one hand, it implies that an embryo that is, for example, the carrier of the genetic defect that results in Down syndrome has the same right to live as a non-carrier. On the other, the view entails that we must not use embryonic research in order to strive to eliminate such maladies as Thalassemia -- to do so, according to this view, would entail choosing between the lesser of two evils. In general, this implies a very tragic conception of the moral life, namely that whenever humans substitute their choices for those of God, they can only make matters worse.

Nowadays, this position has lost much of its force. With the explosion of stem cell research, there are so very many cells that have embryonic potential that the supposed natural organic distinction that was once relied upon has crumbled under its own weight. The claim that stem cells have an enigmatic ontological status itself now seems enigmatic. [Fagot-Largeault, "The Fetus in Perspective: The Moral and the Legal" in Laurence Thomas, ed., Contemporary Debates in Social Philosophy, p.117.]

What seems enigmatic to me is why anyone would think the pro-life view on stem cells is that stem cells themselves have any moral status. If you stuck a stem cell in a woman's uterus, I wouldn't be holding my breath waiting for it to implant itself and begin developing. You have to alter a stem cell to make it an embryo for that capability to develop, just as you have to alter an egg by fertilizing it or turning it into a clone to give it that potential. No one thinks stem cells themselves have any special status. The only opposition to embryonic stem cell research is that acquiring the stem cells involves killing an embryo. It's not that there's anything special about the stem cells that should lead us to protect them. It's that the embryos should have protection as human beings. Stem cells can be acquired in other ways, and no one objects to those ways. It's hard to exaggerate how unfair it is to the pro-life view on stem cells to claim that anyone assigns some enigmatic status to stem cells themselves or that the embryonic potential of stem cells somehow undermines the distinction between what counts as an organism and what doesn't. There's no scientific reason to support the confusion of (a) stem cells that have potential to become embryos and (b) embryos themselves.

This isn't the first time I've seen this ridiculous portrayal of the pro-life position. I've seen it several times now, but it's pretty disturbing to find it in an academic paper in a philosophy textbook. The author isn't actually a trained philosopher. She's a biologist. But that's no excuse. biologists should be aware of the positions they're writing in response to if they're going to publish essays in philosophy textbooks arguing philosophically against those positions. That I've seen the very same argument in unrelated places suggests to me that perhaps there's a more widespread misconception going around among those who favor killing embryos for the greater good of people who weren't killed at the embryonic stage.

It's hard for me to resist commenting, while I've got the above quote in front of me, on her line about an embryo with the genetic defect leading to Down syndrome and an embryo without such a defect. It's hard to see how it's unconscionable to think those two embryos have the same moral status. It's hard even to see how it's conscionable to think the two embryos have a different moral status. Even those who immorally think it's perfectly all right to abort a fetus purely because it has Down syndrome (a view that a lot of pro-choicers think is horrific, I should add) do not justify such an argument on the view that such a fetus has less moral status than any other fetus. They justify it based on compassion for the fetus that, if they abort it, will never have the supposedly-awful life that they project Down syndrome people to have. There's never any suggestion of the fetus itself having less right to life. It's that view that I find unconscionable, and my reasons for finding it unconscionable make as much sense even on pro-choice premises.

There's one other argument in the quoted passage that makes no sense to me. A lot of people think there are some things that are wrong enough that it requires a huge amount of good being at stake to overcome the moral resistance to doing it so that it would be potentially all right. Killing a human being is one of these. On pro-life principles, it's not going to be easy to get around this problem for policies that lead to killing a lot of human beings whose existence only occurred in order to kill then, in order generate lines of stem cells that have some undefined possibility of leading to some good medical treatments if they can get around the tumor problem and if the more promising stem cell methods without the moral problems doesn't get there soon. That's a pretty clear moral argument, one that I admit involves controversial premises, but none of those premises involves a distinction between (a) making choices and (b) refraining from making choices so that God's can occur instead. The important distinction in the pro-life argument about embryos is that the moral prohibition on killing human life doesn't get easily overcome even if there's a great potential for good that comes from it, as anyone outraged at Joseph Mengele's research could attest to. It's not that making any old choice between two evils should lead to inaction, as if inaction means we don't interfere with God but action means we do. It's that doing some things would be so bad that even good consequences wouldn't be enough to overcome the moral wrongness of the action. You can only conclude that it's opposed to what God wants once you establish its moral wrongness. That's not part of the argument at all. It's the implication of the conclusion of the argument.

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The 291st Christian Carnival is up at Who Am I?.

In Matthew 22:41-46, Jesus raises a question to the Pharisees who were doubting his identity as sent from God. He cites Psalm 110:44, which has the psalmist saying:

The LORD said to my Lord, sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies beneath your feet. [Matthew 22:44, NLT]

Jesus asks them how David could call the Messiah "My Lord" if the Messiah is David's son, and they have no answer.

There are plenty of interpretive issues going on here, but it strikes me that Jesus' argument relies on Davidic authorship of the psalm. Most scholars today deny the authenticity of the psalm headings as later additions. I have a couple contemporary commentaries on the Psalms that do take these headings seriously (I think the arguments in the introduction to Geoffrey Grogan's Two Horizons commentary are excellent, and if I remember correctly Derek Kidner's Tyndale volume takes this approach), but a lot of pretty conservative evangelicals, even inerrantists, don't consider the psalm headings to be a genuine part of the canonical scriptures. The problem with this is that anyone who takes Jesus' teaching as authoritative has strong reasons to accept Davidic authorship of Psalm 110, because Jesus' argument relies on that. So there's a choice between (1) accepting Jesus' teaching as true and accepting this psalm's heading as reliably reporting the truth about David's authorship of the psalm or (2) allowing Jesus to have taught something false if David didn't actually write this psalm.

The only way I can think of to get out of this argument is to consider Psalm 110 to have been written by someone other than David but to express something that, if David had said it, would be true. Then Jesus could give an argument that relies on David having fictionally said something that would be true if he'd said it, and it would therefore have to make sense with David saying it, so his conclusion would follow. But this isn't how those who reject Davidic authorship generally take Psalm 110. They generally take it to refer to God speaking to a Davidic king and a human but not Davidic Israelite (not a king) referring to God speaking to that king as "my Lord". So it seems as if the usual non-Davidic-authorship interpretation still doesn't work if Jesus' teaching is accurate. So even though there does seem to be a third option available, I don't think it reconciles how most who reject Davidic authorship actually take the psalm with how Jesus takes it.



The 291st Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Who Am I?. 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.

 
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The 290th Christian Carnival is up at Fish and Cans.

A little while ago, this discussion led me to looking around to answer a question I've had for a while. There's a famous passage in John Owen on limited atonement that presents what I take to be a good argument for limited atonement but is often taken to imply something well beyond what Owen intended. I hold to limited atonement, but I think the view is often misrepresented even by its own proponents to be claiming something far beyond what the doctrine as defended by Calvin amounts to. You can see my careful statement of the issue and my reasoning here. The short of it is that I think limited atonement is the view that most Christians, Calvinist or not, have historically held and that contemporary Calvinists have co-opted the name for a further doctrine that seems to me to be neither biblical nor genuinely Calvinist.

As the argument is often used, Owen is trying to establish that the atonement covers only those who actually achieve salvation. Those who receive grace are saved, and no one else is covered by the atonement. My insistence is that limited atonement doesn't imply that there's no sense in which the atonement doesn't extend to those who do not attain salvation. The atonement covers all in the sense of being an offer available to all. It just actually covers only those who avail themselves of it. This view isn't just a Calvinist view, either. Most non-Calvinists, in my experience, accept limited atonement understood this way, and this was Calvin's own view. Some contemporary Calvinists interpret limited atonement as the first part (the atonement actually covers only the elect) and the denial of the second part (there's no sense in which it covers anyone else), but this was not Calvin's view.

What I've recently discovered is that it wasn't even John Owen's view, so the people who use his argument to establish that view are misunderstanding his argument. Owen, like Calvin, held that the atonement is effective for the elect but available to all if they were to repent. Theopedia's article on definite atonement (the term some Calvinists now prefer to refer to what is more usually called limited atonement) attributes this view to Owen and Hodge as well as Calvin, with a paragraph explaining that the view doesn't imply that God intended but somehow failed to save those for whom the atonement is sufficient but not effective.

So I think it's not just a fallacious logical inference to take the more extreme view (that there's no sense in which Christ died for those who wouldn't be saved) from Owen's argument. It's a historically inaccurate portrayal of Owen to use his argument as if he supported such a view. I consider such a view to be one kind of hyper-Calvinism (among many, some more seriously wrong than others). A friend of mine once told me that Owen must have written that passage on a bad day, but it seems on reflection that he just didn't intend it the way it's often taken.

By the way, if anyone reading this has an account at Theopedia, could you please fix the link on that entry to my Limited Atonement post? I'd do it myself, but they canceled my account a while back without ever notifying me, and I can't get reinstated without writing an essay application to satisfy their test of orthodoxy (which I'm sure I'd pass, but every time it occurs to me I'm not interested in taking the time).


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The 290th 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.

 
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I'm always trying to keep my students' textbook prices down. Here are some of the lower-priced books I've found. I'd be glad to hear any other suggestions any other philosophy instructors have found helpful.

For the ancient and medieval historical intro class that I've taught a number of times, there have been two books that I've liked. I had settled into Julia Annas' Voices of Ancient
Philosophy
at one point, since it organized the material by topics (which is arguably better suited for an intro class in some ways than working through the material chronologically, which admittedly does have other advantages), and I love a number of her more idiosyncratic choices of texts. Amazon sells it for $52, though, and I still had to provide some medieval sources. The college bookstore always jacks the price up noticeably above list price, too. I've used Penguin's edition of Augustine's City of God, and I've tried a few different Aquinas anthologies, one from Oxford World Classics and the other from Hackett (Aquinas: A Summary of Philosophy). Along the way, I discovered Nicholas Smith's (et.al.) Ancient Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary, which contains a pretty large amount of material for only $35.

I should say that the best inexpensive texts for historical sources are from Hackett, Penguin, and Oxford World Classics. The two things I look for are readability (at least in intro courses) and whether they include marginal page numbers and such markers, since some of the texts for ancient and medieval sources don't, and it's much harder to find a passage if you don't have those. I've looked at Amazon's preview function to compare translations for a number of these books. Sometimes one translation is much harder to introductory students to grasp.

For early modern texts, I usually use Jonathan Bennett's online translations. Those are free, and they're much more readable than anything you can buy. For an advanced history of philosophy class, I might hesitate to use these, although I'd probably do it for a 300-level survey. I don't hesitate at all with intro courses.

Other books I've used include Greg Ganssle's Thinking About God, which is an excellent introduction to philosophy of religion. It's the most readable introductory book I've ever seen. It's fun and funny. But it seriously looks at the issues, and while I don't agree with Ganssle on every point I think he's especially fair on some pretty controversial questions.

Ted Sider and Earl Conner have put together an introductory-level metaphysics book called Riddles of Existence. I think Ted Sider's chapters are better-suited to an introductory class. Conee's are generally harder and often on more obscure topics. In a few places in Conee's God chapter, I found myself wondering if he'd even looked at the literature on these questions, since the objections he were presenting were not just easily handled but known to have been dealt with by those familiar with the philosophy of religion literature. (This is a disturbingly-common trend among specialists in other fields who throw philosophy of religion into their intro works on more general topics. James Rachels had the same problem with divine command theory and natural law theory in his intro to ethics, which I've nonetheless used a number of times. The new editions edited by Stuart Rachels have improved in some ways but not at all in that aspect.)

Speaking of ethics, I have trouble using the Rachels book that I previously liked to use. It's gotten too expensive without getting any longer. I remember when it was $35 for the same content, and I was shocked to discover a few years later (after ordering it for my class) that it had jumped to about $50. I don't think I've used it since then. Now it's more like $70. It's not much longer than the Sider/Conee book, but the price difference is huge. For ethical theory, my favorite book that costs very little is an anthology edited by Louis Pojman for Hackett. Last I knew, it was about $20 for a book most publishers would probably charge at least $50 for. The title is Moral Philosophy: A Reader.

I haven't had a chance to teach applied ethics inexpensively except when I've picked a couple topics and ordered books focusing on those. The typical anthologies are far too much money for me to want to have students use them, but sometimes I've decided that it's easier to use one huge textbook than to have them buy several smaller books on other topics, which could add up to too much if I want sufficient variety of topics.

Prometheus Books has a cheap but fairly comprehensive anthology on abortion edited by Baird and Rosenkrantz. It's not as good as the similar volume edited by Pojman and Francis Beckwith, but the price difference is large enough that I'd use the Prometheus. Prometheus also has a low-priced anthology of articles on the philosophy of sex and love. There are a few volumes you can get on that topic, but theirs costs the least. I've occasionally used other books that don't cost too much, but there aren't any that stand out in my mind as particularly compelling for repeated use. I did recently come across two low-priced anthologies that I haven't had a chance to look at, but I might consider them for future classes. One is Laurence Thomas' Contemporary Debates in Social Philosophy, and the other is Andrew Cohen and Christopher Wellman's Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. I'm curious if anyone has had a chance to look at these and offer advice about their suitability for an intro ethics class or a 300-level applied ethics class.

One other source that I like is Hackett's dialogues. They are especially helpful in an introductory class. My first philosophy class as an undergrad used the free will one by Clifford Williams, and I've used that in my own teaching. The two that I most use are Jay Rosenberg's Three Conversations on Knowing and John Perry's on personal identity and
immortality. I haven't spent any time in their others, but I know there's also one by Perry on the problem of evil (or maybe on theistic arguments for and against) and one by Rocco Gennaro on philosophy of mind.


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Welcome to the 289th Christian Carnival. 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. For more on Christian Carnival participation, see here.

Most recent discussions of the sin(s) of Sodom and Gomorrah focus on whether homosexuality is the sin that brought God's wrath down on them or whether it was instead lack of hospitality. It's as if the point of this passage is to score points in the debate over homosexuality, which misses the point entirely. I was therefore thoroughly impressed with the job David Wayne did at treating the question of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

David looks to the text and draws out its implications based on what it actually says and what the things it says assume. The picture of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah is much more comprehensive and shows elements of degredation along most axes. Progressives and conservativees alike should have serious moral difficulties with most of the items on the list, even if some aspects of a few of them might be controversial.

David's point is that Billy Graham was wrong to say that the U.S. is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. While I'm not going to weigh in on that debate, I do want to draw attention to Jesus' comment that the people who rejected him would wish they were in Sodom and Gomorrah because their punishment would be worse than Sodom and Gomorrah's. It certainly creates trouble for the picture of Jesus as the non-judgmental peacenik, but I think we miss the point again if we leave off at such observations. His claim is that those who reject him are worse than the significant picture of evil (in largely-unconstroversial terms) that David presents, not perhaps morally worse in their everyday lives but worse in the most important aspect of human life, which is our attitude toward God.

So if we're going to weigh in on whether Billy Graham is right, we'd have to evaluate whether current American culture is more at odds with Jesus than those Jews of his day who rejected him. That would be more immediate to the question than trying to observe the inner attitudes behind the actions by comparing outward behavior with the outward behavior in Sodom and Gomorrah.



The 289th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday right here at Parableman. 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:

Sotomayor on Race

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I've been minimizing the discussion of race in my most recent posts about Judge Sotomayor's cases and statements about race, because I wanted to treat those issues together in one place, and it does involve both her speeches and her decisions, which would have required splitting up the discussion if I included it in those posts. So here are some thoughts on her speeches, judicial decisions, and recent statements about race and related issues.

As I've said before, I don't think there's any problem with thinking different people bring different things to interpretation of the law, and I don't think ethnic and racial differences are exempt from this. Someone who has been followed around in the store because of race understands discrimination and racism in different ways from how I do, since that hasn't happened to me that I'm aware of (and it hasn't happened to Sam when I've been around). But to assume that such a person will be a better judge goes too far, and that's exactly what the Sotomayor of the speeches claimed, even if she distanced herself from this in her testimony. What's odd about that is that she seems obviously right about some of the things she distanced herself from and yet wasn't willing to defend herself despite several senators attempting to do so.

There are ways she understands race and racism better than I do, because she's experienced it more from the perspective of someone being discriminated against or who has been followed around in a store. That might impact judging, because it allows someone to have a better understanding than someone who hasn't experienced such things. But what isn't often acknowledged by those making this point is that there are ways I understand racism and discrimination that someone who has more often been discriminated against might not understand. (I've made this kind of point before in a different context here.) For one thing, I've been around white people sometimes when no black people are around, and I know what white people talk about when only white people are around (it usually has nothing to do with race, but occasionally I have heard white people tell racist jokes and such things that they wouldn't say if they thought a black person might overhear). That's part of my experience, and it affects how I see racism and discrimination. Someone who is not white doesn't have that experience and has no first-hand knowledge of such facts.

I also have a third kind of experience from being in a mixed-race family, which includes experiences that most people of only one race don't have. For example, most same-race couples aren't going to have grocery store clerks assume they're not with each other. Most white people don't have family who aren't white, and thus they lack experiences of non-whites that I might have some understanding of. They don't have much experience attending black churches as family of one of the pastors, for instance. There are certain racial experiences that some white people can have that most white people don't have. That makes it hard to assume certain experiences just because of someone's race, which her statement does.

Which set of facts makes someone a better judge? The answer is neither. Both sets of facts could inform judges more about what our society is like, and a good, well-informed judge would welcome both sets of data. So I don't find her claim problematic when she says that a Latina judge's experience would provide experience relevant to judging and thus improve her judging in some ways from what it might otherwise be. I would also go as far as saying that, when a certain qualified judge comes from an underrepresented background, that background is likely to increase the quality of judging by adding the experiences of that underrepresented group to the data set the judges will consider. So having more Latina judges will make the judiciary better in one respect as compared with having one more white man on the judiciary, whose experiences may not (at least insofar as the person is a white man) add any further diversity to the pool of relevant experiences to inform interpretation of the facts that judges will hear.

But I don't think it follows that a Latina judge will be a better judge as an individual than a white man, merely because she is Latina, even holding all other things constant. That's what Sotomayor's statement actually says. I do find that inference troubling.

Sotomayor Decisions

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Since the Senate is going to be voting on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, I thought I might as well post my remaining thoughts on her. As I see it, there are three issues for senators to be considering in deciding how to vote in whether confirm her nomination. The first issue is to what extent they should consider ideology and to what extent they should defer to the president's choice. The second is the disconnect between some things she's said in the past and some things she's saying now and how we should think that will affect her decisions once she's on the Supreme Court. The one remaining kind of issue is simply what kinds of decisions she's made as a judge. [I should say that I left the race issue out of the last post, and I'm also not going to say much about it in this one, because I'm working on a separate post on that issue, covering both the speeches and decisions.]

One thing to keep in mind is what President Obama has repeatedly said in his discussions of judicial nominations. He estimates the percentage of cases where judges just apply the law to be 95% and then speaks of the other 5% as the ones to pay attention to. I think he's got his numbers way off about which cases are easy and would be unanimous, but he's right that it's the most difficult cases, particularly those involving constitutional issues, where we'll get a better idea of what's distinctive about a judge, and we need to look at those cases to get a good sense of how a judge will be on issues of tremendous importance. A lot of people have emphasized that the bulk of Judge Sotomayor's decisions are pretty moderate, but they don't acknowledge that the same was true of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito when they were appellate judges, and senators in the Democratic Party didn't let that stop them from pointing to the few decisions they could find that they considered problematic. It's those controversial decisions that give some sense of how a judge might decide the controversial Supreme Court decisions that most people are most likely to care about.

I think her record does include some bothersome decisions about constitutional rights. For example, there's a worrisome opinion about free speech (see also the 1st update here). She ruled that a public school can punish a student for a blog post written off school grounds and not during school hours.

Her record also includes a number of cases where she has refused to consider constitutional objections against a law or government practice when a large number of people in looking at it have thought such an argument is at least worth discussing and many would argue is decisive. These involve (at least) the Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments with regard to gun rights (discussed below), property rights (i.e. search and seizure, also discussed below), and equal protection (which I'll discuss in more detail in a subsequent post). It's a serious worry that she thinks these issues are not worth an argument, as if there's no real issue to discuss, when a large majority of her critics, including several people on the Supreme Court in each case, would think there is indeed an issue. Her dissent in the voting rights case about felons (see below) is similarly brief and dismissive, but that's not a constitutional issue. I've heard people say that she's especially thorough in most of her opinions, so this does tell you something about her view on these issues. She doesn't think there's much room for debate on such straightforward issues that lots of people don't think are so straightforward or think are straightforward in the other direction.


The 288th Christian Carnival is up at Jevlir Caravansary.

The so-called New Perspective on Paul, spearheaded by E.P. Sanders and James D.G. Dunn, is
sometimes seen (and I think this is part of the motivation for some of its proponents) as a more Jewish-friendly view than the traditional understanding of Paul. On the traditional view, the prevailing mindset among the Jewish leaders, especially Pharisees of Paul's day was a theology of works-earned salvation. On the New Perspective, the Jews held a view more like the contemporary Roman Catholic view. People enter the covenant by God's grace but remain in it by works. I've wondered sometimes if some of the idea behind the NPP is to try to make the New Testament more friendly to Jews in this politically-correct age. If the view we attribute to the Jews of Paul's day (at least a notable portion of certain sorts of their leaders and those they
taught), then we don't seem as down on the Jews. Given the history of negative attitudes toward the Jews from the Christian-influenced world, anyone with a shred of respect for Judaism should at least like the idea of distancing Christianity from Anti-Semitism.

I don't happen to think the arguments for the NPP are remotely convincing, and for that reason I do wonder if some who want to be tolerant of Jews are engaging in wishful thinking in adopting the NPP. I don't see the need, because I don't think the traditional view is even close to anti-Semitic. Paul was in the tradition of the prophets, culminating in Jesus himself, in his self-criticism of his own Judaism. The internal critique found in Hosea or Jeremiah certainly wouldn't be seen by most Jews as anti-Semitic, and there's nothing that Paul does that's any different, even on the traditional view. But I'm not the only one who has wondered if some of the motivation for the NPP is a desire to abandon a view that's often been portrayed as anti-Jewish. Even if that's not true, there certainly are NPP proponents who offer that as a plus for their view.

There's a deep irony in all this, though, a double irony in fact. The very act of adopting the NPP, even if motivated by the a desire to think highly of the Jews of Paul's day, ends up leading to an unintended consequence while not really achieving the intended result to begin with. First, changing their view of the view Paul is condemning doesn't change the fact that he condemns it. It doesn't soften Paul's harsh language against the Galatians in calling them heretics and thinking it would be better to emasculate themselves than let circumcision do whatever it is (which is a matter of debate here) that they saw circumcision as doing. It doesn't make the Jews of Paul's day suddenly become orthodox Christian thinkers in Paul's mind. The Christians who were accepting the Jewish theses that the Galatians were playing around with would still be heretics in Paul's mind, no matter who wins the debate about what those theses happened to be. So the tolerance motivating the NPP doesn't lead to a tolerant conclusion on either the traditional view or the NPP. There's a theological view that gets rejected here, and revising our view of what that view is doesn't change the fact that Paul considers it s heresy.

Second, there's an unintended consequence. As I said at the beginning of this post, the view that the NPP attributes to the Galatians is pretty much the official Roman Catholic position. The view most people in the traditional approach attribute to the Roman Catholic position is actually a misrepresentation of official Catholic teaching but is common enough among Catholics who misunderstand the teaching of their church. I grew up in a very Catholic area, and it's obvious to me that many Catholics do hold the Galatian heresy to the extent that they have any beliefs on the matter at all (and many I knew didn't). But the official teaching of Roman Catholicism is not the Galatian heresy but rather a view very much like the view the NPP thinks Jews of Paul's day held.

The result is that, in extending so much tolerance toward the Jews of Paul's day, the NPP ends up closing the only door to separating Roman Catholicism from the Galatian heresy. Someone who holds the traditional view on what Paul was responding to can distinguish between that view (which Paul calls heresy) and the Roman Catholic view (even if many who hold the traditional view fail to do this). But someone holding the NPP seems to me to have to say that Roman Catholics are heretics. I wonder if the tolerance that NPP proponents are so motivated by can extend to Roman Catholicism. There's at least an internal tension within some who hold the NPP between one key motivation and one logical implication of the view.

Acts Commentary Bleg

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I'm expecting to begin reading a commentary on Acts in a few months or so. I suspect that it will be one of the following: Ben Witherington's Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Darrell Bock's BECNT, or David Peterson's brand-new Pillar volume. I expect that there might be several people reading this who have some experience with commentaries on Acts, and I'm interested in any information or evaluations anyone might have to offer about any of these three books, especially if you can detect specific reasons to prefer one to the others or over one of the others on a particular issue.

Some of the issues that come to my mind include:

1. I know that Bock had access to Witherington, and Peterson had access to both of the other two, and that gives the more recent ones priority in my mind over the earlier ones, all other things being equal (which is often not the case). So my presumption is to prefer Peterson to Bock and Bock to Witherington if no other factors influence my preferences. Bock had a chance to learn from Witherington, and Peterson had a chance to learn from Witherington and Bock. Of course, if they didn't fully avail themselves of those chances then it's still possible that they don't present the best of what came before them.

2. Witherington doesn't include the text of the book of Acts, which would mean having a copy of that in addition. That gets unwieldy the way I read books, because I carry them around with me and pull them out to read when I get a chance while waiting for something or while walking. Bock and Peterson, I believe, both include a translation of the text of each section before the discussion of that section.

3. Some reviews I've seen claim that Bock does a lot of commenting on other commentaries, which some people claimed meant that he didn't discuss the text as much for himself and often didn't indicate his own view on the issue he was discussing, but I don't know if this is true. The suggestion was that it's better to read Witherington than to read Bock's comments on Witherington and several others, which is true only if Witherington's discussion is better at sifting through the information than Bock's.

4. Bock had the advantage of writing a hefty commentary on Luke before writing his Acts commentary, and Luke-Acts is a two-volume work by the same author. The other two don't have that. (Witherington will eventually do every NT book, but his Acts commentary was one of his earliest, and he hadn't done Luke yet at that time.)

I'm currently leaning toward Peterson at the moment, but anything anyone might say to sway me in a different direction or to confirm that choice is welcome.


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