Sunday, February 15, 2015

Against a Pauline Hebrews

The HCSB Study Bible articulates some standard arguments against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews.
“The text of Hebrews does not identify its author. What we do know is that the author was a second-generation Christian, for he said he received the confirmed message of Christ from ‘those who heard’ Jesus Himself (2:3). Because Paul claimed his gospel was revealed directly by the Lord (1Co 15:8; Gl 1:12), it is doubtful that he was the author of Hebrews.”
That’s a worthwhile argument, but I think it’s far from decisive. Hebrews 2:3 reads, “It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard.” The first clause refers to Jesus’s preaching of the gospel during his earthly ministry with the original twelve disciples (i.e. “those who heard”). The word translated “attested” is actually rendered as “confirmed” in most English translations. The idea is that “those who heard” had “confirmed” this writer’s message – which sounds a whole lot like Paul’s interaction with Peter, James, and John as described in Galatians:
“And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Gal. 2:9).
And again, the HCSB Study Bible:
“The author was familiar with Timothy, but he referred to him as ‘our brother’ (13:23), rather than as ‘my true son in the faith,’ as Paul did (1Tm 1:2).”
This, on the other hand, is a terrible argument. You would expect Paul to use more affectionate language when writing directly to Timothy than when writing to others about Timothy. Besides, Paul refers to Timothy as “our brother” in multiple other letters (2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 3:2; Philem. 1:1). Consider also Romans 16:21, where Paul refers to Timothy simply as “my fellow worker.” Does all this count as evidence that Paul wasn’t the author of these letters, since he didn’t use a more affectionate designation for Timothy? Of course not.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Augustine on 1 Timothy 2:4

A brief postscript to my previous post on 1 Timothy 2:4. There I said that Augustine held to the third view, which is true. But it turns out that he actually articulated both the third view and the second view.

Here’s Augustine articulating the third view:
“Accordingly, when we hear and read in Scripture that He ‘will have all men to be saved,’ although we know well that all men are not saved, we are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the Scripture, ‘Who will have all men to be saved,’ as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation: not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will, but that no man is saved apart from His will. . . . And on the same principle we interpret the expression in the Gospel: ‘The true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world:’ not that there is no man who is not enlightened, but that no man is enlightened except by Him.”
But right after this, Augustine goes on to articulate the second view:
“Or, it is said, ‘Who will have all men to be saved;’ not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will . . ., but that we are to understand by ‘all men,’ the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances,—kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor, and those of middling circumstances; males, females, infants, boys, youths; young, middle-aged, and old men; of every tongue, of every fashion, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and conscience, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men.”
So Augustine seems to have held that both these interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:4 were reasonable options. The quotes are from The Enchiridion, ch. 103.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

All People

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
This passage is often wielded against a Calvinistic understanding of election and regeneration. So I figured it would be good to write out some thoughts on it. To my knowledge, this passage, and specifically God’s desire for “all people to be saved” has historically been understood in basically three ways.
1. “All people” refers to every individual human being. 
2. “All people” refers to all kinds of human beings. 
3. “God desires all people to be saved” means that everyone who is saved, is saved because God desires them to be so.
Which of these three views do I hold personally? For a long time now, I’ve vacillated between the first and second. I think the first view has the appeal of being the most natural reading. The second view, while not quite as natural, is still entirely reasonable, and makes for less theological tension. The third view is interesting (and Augustine held to it, just saying), but it’s contextually cumbersome.

Let’s start with the third view and work backwards. When Jesus healed a deaf man in Mark 7, the crowd responded by saying, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). They did not mean that Jesus had actually done all things, period. The point was that everything Jesus did do, he did well. Consider a further example of another Greek writer, Clement of Rome, using a similar way of speaking:
“And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men.”
Clement does not intend to say that God has actually justified every human being. In context, what he’s saying is that everyone who has ever been justified was justified in the same way, namely by faith. So even though Clement says that “God has justified all men,” he’s actually only talking about the people that God has, in fact, justified.

A similar thing could be going on in 1 Timothy 2:4. It might be that the point is not to say that God desires the salvation of every human being in some potential sense, but rather that everyone who is actually saved is only saved because God desired it to be so. No one has ever been saved without God desiring them to be saved. He desires the salvation of all people – that is, all people who are actually saved.

Now, I don’t anticipate that this interpretation will gain much of a following. And while I do think it’s at least linguistically feasible, and thus not as absurd as some people might immediately think, I don’t think it fits well with the point Paul is making in the passage. But since this was the way Augustine interpreted the verse, I figured it was at least worth an honorable mention.

Let me now try and defend the reasonableness of the second view, that “all people” refers not to every single human being, but to all kinds of people. The Greek word for “all” is pas. Consider a few examples of this word being used in Scripture.

Jesus says to the apostles, “You will be hated by all [pas] for my name’s sake” (Matt. 10:22). Now, since Jesus used the word all, does that mean we’re supposed to think that every human being would hate the apostles? Of course not. There were thousands of people who did not hate the apostles and their message. The most sensible way to understand Jesus here is that he’s referring to all kinds of people. Whatever tribe, tongue, or nation that the apostles would come in contact with, they could count on facing opposition. They would be hated by all – which is to say, all kinds. And Jesus doesn’t have to specify the word “kinds” because it’s simply inherent to one of the ways pas can be used.

In Acts 22:15, Ananias says to Paul, “You will be God’s witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.” I don’t think Ananias was trying to say that Paul would be a witness to every human being. Here it’s far more natural to understand the word “all” in a general sense. Paul would be a witness to all kinds of people. He would be the apostle to all Gentile nations.

Consider also that in 1 Timothy 6:10 (“The love of money is the root of all [pas] evil”), many English translations render pas as “all kinds.” This is simply a reasonable way that the word pas can be faithfully translated.

So given these things, it’s very possible that this is the sense in which “all” should be understood in 1 Timothy 2:1-4. In which case, Paul is calling Timothy, in verse 1, to pray for all kinds of people. This would fit naturally with verse 2, where Paul goes on to specify particular classifications: “for kings and all who are in high positions.” And I see no reason not to assume that the “all people” of verse 1 is the same “all people” of verse 4. So likewise, the point of verse 4 would be that God desires the salvation of all kinds of people. People from every walk of life, every social class. Every tribe, tongue, and nation. God does not discriminate between Jew and Gentile, or between kings and commoners.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the first view is actually correct, that God desires the salvation of every individual human being. Would this undermine a strong Calvinistic understanding of election and regeneration? I don’t think so. John Piper has written a pretty careful article in which he argues that God’s choice of only some people for salvation is not inconsistent with his desire for all human beings to be saved. And he backs up his case with numerous lines of biblical evidence. I commend that article to you.

Moreover, consider a statement that Paul himself makes in his next letter to Timothy:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
Here we see that the way in which people come to a knowledge of the truth is by God’s granting them repentance, which is being clearly presented as something that God may or may not choose to do. So even if we affirm that God desires every human being to come to a knowledge of the truth (as in 1 Tim. 2:4), we’ve still got to reckon with the fact that God does not always grant what is necessary in order for people to come to that knowledge. No one’s escaping this mystery.