Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, New Testament

Abusing Cornelius

Members of the Lord’s church have in Bible class abused Cornelius time and time again. And, too, he undergoes false accusation as well in sermons. How many times have you listened to someone trying to explain (1) how Cornelius received the Holy Spirit while (2) being a sinner? Imagine, the Holy Spirit entering the heart of someone presently practicing sin and thus bound for hell!

It is absurd. Cornelius was no sinner. How many times does Luke have to describe Cornelius for us until we finally admit his righteousness? See Acts 10: 2, 4, 15, 22, 28, 31, 35. Luke made seven attempts to describe Cornelius for us so that we would see that he was a righteous Gentile when the gospel reached him. How could he be? He was answerable to God through “Gentile-ism” or “Patriarchy” or “moral law-ism” (Romans 2:14-15). Remember the then Bible (law of Moses) had been given to Jews only (Psalm 147:19-20). The Gentiles up into the first century were answerable to God through moral law only. Had Cornelius died the day before Peter came to his house, he would have been bound for glory. Cornelius was a righteous Gentile just as much as Abraham in his own day had been.

Yes, but an objector replies that I am forgetting that Peter preached to him words whereby he would be saved (Acts 11:14). Indeed, but the salvation he received is not what most of us have taken it to be. He was saved in that he was delivered from “Patriarchy” which no longer for him would be operative as the divinely arranged system of religion for his people. Brother A. J. Freed, like most of us in the past, did not understand Holy Spirit baptism, but he did understand Cornelius’ condition. He correctly denied that Cornelius was an alien sinner, and he wrote, “He is told words by which he is saved from the sinking ship of patriarchy” (Sermons, Chapel Talks, and Debates). Amen! When the apostles, following Peter’s explanation of what happened at the house of Cornelius, concluded, “Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18), that was a summation statement regarding the general condition of the Gentile camp which was usually one of sin (cf. Acts 17:30-31). It was not a description of Cornelius, his household, nor his friends. This is proved by Luke’s description of Cornelius and by the fact that Cornelius and the other Gentiles with him were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15; 15:8). The first Gentiles to enter the kingdom were already living up to their spiritual obligations before the gospel reached them. Therefore, they were in a clean spiritual condition which allowed the Holy Spirit to enter them. After that they submitted to water baptism (Acts 10:47-48), but it was not for remission of sins in their case. It was, however, as per the words of Jesus in John 3:3-5, an absolute requirement (as was Holy Spirit baptism) to kingdom entry!

If, dear reader, you think I am abusing the word “saved” as applied to Cornelius (Acts 11:14), remember that we have to consider biblical words in their contextual use. Noah’s family was also “saved,” and it was even a salvation through water, but it was not salvation from sin (1 Peter 3:20). According to Paul, the unbelieving mate is “sanctified” in the believing mate, but the sanctification has nothing to do with the unbeliever’s salvation (1 Corinthians 7:15). We cannot impose a presupposed definition gleaned from other contexts onto a word in its own context that forbids the application of the presupposed definition. We have sadly done this in Acts 11:14, and abused Cornelius unmercifully!

Posted in Christianity and Culture, Church and State

What are we to do?

Several months ago I wrote an article entitled “Can A Church Cancel Services During A National Emergency?” (available here). I discussed at that time ten points:

  • Each of us is under obligation to preserve his own life.
  • While a person’s own self-preservation is inherent in nature and obligated in Scripture, it has never been the ultimate obligation.
  • God has established the implementation of authority within three realms of responsibility: the home, the state, and the church.
  • If government requires what God disallows, or if government prohibits what God demands, all men should obey God rather than man.
  • Human government is to be viewed as a minister of God.
  • Just as personal and domestic conditions may vary, just so in the state conditions may vary, too.
  • God does not view all situations in the same way.
  • God treats disruption differently than He treats routine.
  • God manages His world including the use of disease that has entered it.
  • The nature of emergency may obscure the clarity of one’s obligation.

I supported my conclusion by two arguments that I won’t repeat here. What I want to do here is to respond to two points that some writers have made in their criticism that religious services ought to be closed for a while. Remember that my article was written to establish the point that in an emergency such as we have found ourselves in with the Coronavirus, that government has a right and obligation to protect its citizens, and that Christians have the obligation to submit to civil authority.

Objection One:

It has been suggested that we should just go ahead with our services as usual and let the sick stay at home from services as has been our normal policy. Furthermore, the idea has been presented that we should not cancel services because spiritual welfare is more important than physical welfare. But I suggest that to argue in such fashion is self-contradictory. Why? It is because the spiritual welfare of any sick person who stays home from services with our approval is also equally more important than is his own physical welfare. In other words, the truth that one’s spiritual welfare is more important than is his physical welfare applies with equal application to the sick who already stays at home as normal policy. So, (1) to approve one sick person’s staying at home (as normal policy would dictate) with the approval of the rest of the congregation, and (2) to disapprove the rest of us staying at home (closing the services) for health purposes on the basis that the spiritual is more important than the physical makes no sense. The principle that the spiritual is more important than the physical applies equally to a sick person staying home already with approval or the rest of us staying home with disapproval. If there is legitimate criticism of the right of an eldership to suspend services temporarily for health reasons, it has to be based on some other route of argumentation.

Objection Two:

It has been stated that religious services should not be closed because the government does not run the church. Yes, it is true that the government does not run the church, but we Christians do submit to it in other ways anyway! The government does not run marriage. God does. And yet we must go to the government to get a marriage license. We do submit to government requirement regarding marriage because the New Testament obligates us to do so. And yet, as we do this, we still clearly understand that God rules marriage—not the state. So, to argue against service closure on the basis that the state does not rule the church is a misguided effort.

Remember that our former article and this one have to do with a temporary and emergency situation. It is not a discussion of submission to governmental decree to close services either as (1) a permanently required condition or as (2) a punitive measure. If the government requires permanent closure of public religious services and enforces such, then we will all of necessity become worshipers “underground” (or prisoners who will be unable to congregate as usual in governmental custody) or in private. If government forces the shutdown of public religious services as punishment, we will be forced to congregate in private so as to continue our services. I know that we have brethren right now in a Muslim controlled area of the world who have to worship in secret. May God help them, and may God help Christians everywhere to be faithful in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Posted in Church History, Doctrine, Instrumental Music, Worship

Three New Arguments (on the Instrumental Music Question)

The churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have been formally recognized as two groups of people at least since 1906. The division occurred over the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music into public worship. D. S. Burnett played a prominent role in the establishment of the society, and L. L. Pinkerton of Midway, Kentucky was involved in the innovation regarding music. Pinkerton, in a letter to Ben Franklin, said, “So far as known to me, or, I presume to you, I am the only ‘preacher’ in Kentucky of our brotherhood who has publicly advocated the propriety of employing instrumental music in some churches, and that the church of God in Midway is the only church that has yet made a decided effort to introduce it” (Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 311).

In passing years as more and more brethren demanded the change in worship, much discussion, disagreement, aggravation, tension, and separation followed. It was a sad time for the church.

Over the years many debates have been held on the music question. One of the greatest debates on the issue of scriptural music in worship was between N. B. Hardeman and Ira M. Boswell held in 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee. Boswell contended that the Greek word, “psallo,” used by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and translated in our ASV as “making melody,” permitted the use of a mechanical instrument in worship. In his first affirmative speech he declared that he was attempting to prove that “To sing with or without instrumental music is scriptural” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 29). Neither Boswell nor any other disputant of whom I am aware ever committed himself to the position that the New Testament obligates worshipers to worship with a mechanical instrument of music in the song service.

Hardeman admitted that some instrument inhered in the word “psallo.” He took the tack that “psallo” did demand some kind of instrument. But in the passage, the particular instrument that Paul named is “the heart.” Boswell resorted to much lexical evidence for the Greek word which indicated that some instrument of some kind inhered in the word, but then he would not draw the conclusion that Christians today must use that instrument, whatever it was. In his second speech, Hardeman said, “It seems to me that Brother Boswell is in this kind of a predicament: First, God demands it. The word means it, and you cannot do what ‘psallo’ means without the use of the musical instrument. That is Brother Boswell’s contention, as from the lexicons to which he has referred; and then the next part is, notwithstanding the word means that and notwithstanding that idea inheres in it, yet I can leave it out” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 56). This was a fantastic moment in the history of the discussion!

In the debate Boswell’s weak position was completely routed, and Hardeman took the correct position on the music issue including proper handling of the word “psallo.” Hardeman’s effort was masterful. And when he took the position that the Greek word, “psallo,” did, in fact, demand an instrument, his approach was a complete surprise to Boswell. Boswell did not expect it!

In Hardeman’s biography we learn that Hardeman viewed his debate with Boswell as his best (James Marvin Powell and Mary Nelle Hardeman Powers, N. B. H., p. 195). We also learn the following:

Some twenty years after the debate, Hardeman met Boswell in Louisville, Kentucky. He told Boswell that he had heard that Dr. Carey Morgan, who at the time of the debate was pastor of Nashville’s Vine Street Christian Church, and J. J. Walker had stayed up nearly all night after the first session of the debate, trying to answer Hardeman’s argument, and revamp their own arguments. Boswell said that was true. Hardeman and Boswell remained friends through the years, though their paths did not often meet. There was mutual respect though their views were poles apart” (N. B. H., pp. 195, 196).

The issue has been debated much, and the history of the debates has revealed that on the polemic platform, mechanical instrumental music in worship has never been proved to be authorized by the New Testament, while singing without the accompaniment of any mechanical instrument of music in worship has been conclusively proved to be authorized.

Our preachers have defended the truth on the issue for years. Sadly, too many brethren now alive have become ignorant of history and are completely out of touch with Bible authority and, therefore, find mechanical instruments in worship harmless, appealing, and acceptable. How tragic!

Finally, let me by way of three new arguments, add to the history of the defense of the truth regarding scriptural music in worship. Consider the following:

First Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorized both singing and playing, then the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.
  2. The Old Testament authorized both singing and playing (Psalm 149:1; Psalm 87:7).
  3. Then, the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.

Second Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing, then the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.
  2. The Old Testament distinguished singing from playing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150).
  3. Then, the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.

Third Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing, then the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
  2. The Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150; Ezekiel 33:32).
  3. Then, the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, New Testament, Salvation

How could we miss it so badly?

What we in the churches of Christ have done to Acts 1:5-8 is almost unbelievable. Of course, we simply accepted what was handed down from a generation of brethren who had been taught wrongly on the passage as well. And we thought the way we handled the passage was true to Bible teaching on the Holy Spirit in other passages, and our inherited view kept us from endorsing modern day miracles. It is hard to imagine now in the year 2020 that we could miss the correct interpretation of that passage so terribly.

How did we miss it so horrendously? (1) We took the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be miraculous and temporary, and (2) we took the “great commission” to be permanent and obligatory! And each interpretation is wrong.

Since the words of Jesus to Nicodemus were spoken in John 3:3-5, there has been only one way into the kingdom. I have had debate opponents admit this. Well, how did the first entrants enter the kingdom? If you look at Acts 1 and 2, you will find that the first disciples including the apostles entered the kingdom having already been baptized with John’s water only baptism for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 7:29-30) when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). How did the apostles enter the kingdom in Acts 2? They had already been baptized in water for the remission of their sins which is baptism into the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12, 16; Acts 19:15). But they did not enter the kingdom until they were baptized in the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4), which is baptism into the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). Their kingdom entry entailed baptism in both water and Holy Spirit which is the one baptism of John 3:3-5 and Ephesians 4:5. If you and I entered the kingdom, we came in just as the apostles did. There has never been any other way into it. Their water only baptism was not enough to propel them into the church. When we concluded that Holy Spirit immersion was a miracle, we made a horrible mistake! The Greek grammar of Acts 1:8 shows that the power came “after” the coming of the Spirit, so that it did not come (1) before the Spirit came, and neither did it come (2) at the same time that the Spirit came.

Too, in our wrong handling of Acts 1:5-8, we concluded that the so-called “great commission” (to distinguish it from the “limited commission” of Matthew 10) was permanent and obligatory. Our false conception of the passage has over many years created (1) imbalanced preaching, (2) a great sense of spiritual insecurity, and (3) guilt-evangelism! Elsewhere on this site is an article, “The Great Commission Has Been Fulfilled,” that provides in-depth analysis of this point. The “great commission” was an assignment given to the apostles only (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47), divinely managed to its completion (Acts 16:6-10; Colossians 1:6, 23), and entailed inspired preaching and miraculous signs (Mark 16:19-20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13). This was God’s way of changing human amenability once and for all. The Gentiles were brought out from under their obligation to moral law only (cf. Romans 2:14-15; Acts 10), and the Jews were brought out from under their obligation to the Mosaic law which legally had died at the cross (Colossians 2:14). The announcement of (1) the passing of past obligation and (1) the creation of new obligation to Christ was made over a period of thirty years. The apostles and other brethren were involved, but only the apostles were given the specific assignment to see that the gospel went throughout the world. No other Christian ever evangelized because an apostle told him that he, too, was under the assignment of the “great commission”. While many helped in the work, only the apostles would stand before God as responsible to see that that assignment was carried out. The apostles alone were Christ’s ambassadors, a select group, who had been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20; 12:12; Acts 10:40-43; 22:15; 26:16).

If we today were successful in carrying the gospel to every creature in the world, we still would not be “fulfilling” the “great commission” because we cannot now accomplish what its completion in the first century did. All men by it were made answerable to Christ (Acts 17:30-31). All men still are, whether we preach or not. Today our evangelism in based on the “great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-40) rather than the “great commission.”

Posted in Church and State

Can a Church Cancel Services During a National Emergency?

By Mac Deaver

We live in a unique moment in history. We have not seen anything like this in our country or world before. The world has experienced and/ or witnessed many calamities before our time, and we see some of these recorded in Scripture. But personally, none of us has ever been alive during a Pandemic, and it behooves us all to look at the universal event through the lens of Scripture to find our way.

Let me make several fundamental points that we learn in Scripture that help us to clarify how we are to look at our current responsibilities. How are we Christians supposed to act with regard to government decree in this crisis moment? Let me identify a few very fundamental truths relevant to our understanding of our duty during this crisis.

First, each of us is under obligation to preserve his own life. No one else could possibly be under obligation to help save my life if I am not first of all under obligation to save it myself. Personal survival is revealed as an obligation both in nature and in Scripture. We do not breathe as a choice. We breathe naturally, and we do what is necessary to get oxygen into our lungs. We may have to struggle, but struggle we will for life-sustaining air. From the moment of the first intake of air after coming forth from the womb, we strive for that air until the moment of death. We do so as a matter of inherent self-preservation. Hence, the Bible will base our attitude toward our neighbor on our attitude toward our self (Matt. 22:37-40; Eph. 5:29). No one can carry out his other duties on earth without first seeking his own survival.

Second, while a person’s own self-preservation is inherent in nature and obligated in Scripture, it has never been the ultimate obligation. The Bible teaches that all men have always been under obligation to be faithful to God regardless of consequences (Eccl. 12:13-14; Rom. 2:14-16; Rev. 2:10). This is each person’s ultimate priority.

Third, God has established the implementation of authority within three realms of responsibility: the home, the state, and the church. The home is the oldest, historically (Gen. 2:18-25). Next came the state (Gen. 10:8-10). And while the church was eternally in the mind of God (Eph. 3:8-11), it was the last of the three divinely appointed institutions to be established on earth (Mark 9:1; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:1-8; Acts 2:1-4). Parents are over the home (Eph. 6:1-4), government is over the state (Rom. 7:1-13; 1 Pet. 2:13-17), and elders are over the local church (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17).

Fourth, if government requires what God disallows, or if government prohibits what God demands, all men should obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). All Christians should defy any demand (from government or any other source) if the demand requires disobedience to God. This demands conviction and courage, and we appreciate and admire the willingness of anyone to die for right conviction. The Bible records the death of some of these heroes. We should strive to have and pray for faith and courage necessary to ultimate sacrifice if the situation requires (Rev. 2:10; 2 Tim. 4:6-8, 18).

Fifth, human government is to be viewed as a minister of God. Paul informs us that all authorized power comes from God (Rom. 13:1). Too, to resist government is to withstand the ordinance of God Himself (v. 2). Further, such resistance will eventuate in condemnation (v. 2). Rulers are designed by God to be a terror to the evil only (v. 3). The principle of submission tends toward government approval (v. 3) like the principle of obedience to parents tends toward a long life (Eph. 6:1-4). A principle as such is not the equivalent of a law. While childhood obedience tends toward longevity, developing cancer or being seriously injured does not. The principle may not always find application due to other matters that are involved in any given situation. Some governments have persecuted good, and some good children have died young. Yet, the principle in its application in human life tends toward a desired result (cf. 1 Pet. 3:13-14). Preachers are not the only ministers. Rulers of the state are God’s ministers, too.

Sixth, just as personal and domestic conditions may vary, just so in the state conditions may vary, too. For example, personally a person may move from immaturity to maturity, from ignorance to knowledge, from poverty to wealth or from wealth to poverty, from health to sickness or from sickness to health, from not being employed to finding employment, etc. Domestically, he may change by leaving home, having lived with parents, from being unmarried to being married, from not having children to having children, etc. So, clearly, personal adjustments are necessarily required as one’s circumstances are altered. State conditions may move from many people to few or from few to many, from wealth to poverty or from poverty to wealth, from peace to war or from war to peace, from expansion of territory to loss of territory or from loss to expansion, from general well-being to non-well-being, etc.

Seventh, God does not view all circumstances in the same way. For example, there are many purposes served in this life by the way that God has arranged reality. Solomon long ago affirmed that there is a season, and there is a time to every purpose under heaven (Eccl. 3:1-8). There are various purposes in the mind of God (cf. why God provides various kinds of weather [Job 37]). Job also told us that because of this circumstance, human misery is great (Job 14:1 cf. Eccl. 8:6). God sanctions some things in war that he does not sanction in time of peace (Eccl. 3:8; cf. 2 Sam. 22:35; 1 Kings 2:5).

Eighth, God treats disruption of routine differently than he treats routine. That is, at times people simply cannot do what they in normal times can and must do. We all know this, but at times we may forget the principle. Who among us rightly criticizes someone for staying home from church services because of his illness? Who among us rightly criticizes his fellow Christian for missing the morning service on Sunday because he stopped to help someone injured in a car accident? Imagine a Christian hurrying past the injured with the thought in mind that “I’ve got to get to the service! I hope a non-Christian comes by shortly who will help the victim!” Whoever thinks this is Christianity is devoid of reason and Scripture (Luke 10:25-37; Matt. 22:37-40).

Furthermore, even in regard to matters of routine, who among us rightly criticizes someone who misses the assembly on Sunday because he had to work? Imagine doctors and nurses refusing to work on Sunday because of criticism from one of our preachers. In such an event, we should see that the Lord’s lesson against such reasoning has been lost on the critic (cf. Matt. 15:1-9). The sick must have care even on Sunday! And since all men now live under the authority of the Lord’s new law, if non-Christians can serve the sick on Sunday, then Christians can, too! The Lord taught the necessity of some activity even on the Sabbath (Luke 13:15; Matt. 12:1-8). We must not become critics of good by reclassifying the good as “evil.” There are some things that must be done on Sunday. No one has a right to force a Christian to give up his work because he can’t be at all the services. All of us should work (2 Thess. 3:10), and the time for it is not in all cases an option available to us. Each of us will give account for our own decisions regarding how often we had to miss services. And we should not be unwisely critical of any brother (cf. Rom. 14:1-12). Remember, we will be judged as we have judged others (Matt. 7:1-5).

After God moved Israel into Canaan and placed his name in Jerusalem, He required that the men go to Jerusalem three times a year to worship (Deut. 16:16). During their deportations, Israel and Judah could not comply for they had lost access to freedom and thus to Jerusalem. Such men as Daniel and his friends were still faithful during the time when this requirement could not be met (Heb. 11:33). During the wilderness wandering, the divine requirement for circumcision was neglected. But before God allowed the next generation of Jews to enter Canaan, he “rolled away the reproach” of the nation by requiring all the uncircumcized to receive it (Josh. 5:2-9). God could have reemphasized the requirement to Moses during the wandering period. But He did not. He waited until the new generation was ready to cross the Jordan. But notice that God’s law that governed the routine did not cease to exist simply by disruption. The two deportations of the Jews show us that even though their law remained in place, since they were not and could not be in the place where it could be obeyed, their faithfulness (cf. Daniel) was not measured by their failure to show up in Jerusalem. We can learn God’s attitude toward His people during this time when they could not get to Jerusalem (cf. Rom. 15:4).

Ninth, God manages His world including the use of disease that has entered it. God early on promised Israel that if she would be faithful, she would not have disease (Exod. 15:15; Deut. 7:15). But, as we know, she was not faithful, and the diseases moved into her national body. By the time the Lord came to the earth, he found much sickness and disease (Matt. 9:35-36). Just how much sickness and disease is attributable to natural law only and how much is attributable to God’s providential use of it, no one can comprehend (cf. Elihu’s remark in Job 37:5 regarding the weather). But God still determines whether or not sickness is unto death (2 Kings 20:1-7; Eccl. 8:8; Heb.9:27).

Tenth, the nature of an emergency may obscure the clarity of one’s obligation. If we all clearly perceived that a thief was going to break into our house, we would watch for it (Matt. 24:42-44). The emergency would be clear. And perhaps our own desperation would become clear. However, in some circumstances, the emergency or the desperation is not perceived. A man may not perceive his own desperation in spiritual matters while at the same time he is well aware of his current physical well being (Luke 12:20).

We are now in a national emergency situation. While God is in control, our government is the one in authority, and our government has the right and obligation to seek the good of this country. We are to submit to that authority for the Lord’s sake (1 Pet. 2:13). Here in Texas, when our governor decreed that citizens of our state should no longer gather in groups of more than ten, in order to help prevent the spread of a deadly and fast moving virus (in order to save lives!), we had no choice but to submit.

As I get closer to the end of this article, let me ask a few questions for your humble consideration:

  1. If someone is a carrier of a deadly disease (and he knows it), does he have the obligation to avoid contact with other people?
  2. If a person suspects that he is a carrier of a deadly disease, does he have the obligation to avoid contact with other people?
  3. Do Christians have any obligation to help prevent the spread of a deadly disease?
  4. Since all men now live under the law of Christ, isn’t it true that if Christians do not have an obligation to prevent the spread of a deadly disease, then no one has the obligation to prevent the spread of a deadly disease?
  5. Is a civil decree required before the church is obligated to help prevent the spread of a deadly disease?
  6. Shouldn’t the church desire to help prevent the spread of a deadly disease even in the absence of any civil decree?
  7. If a medical doctor were to tell me to stay home from church services until the threat of a deadly disease is past, should I heed his counsel?
  8. If a medical doctor advises a young mother to stay at home with her newborn infant for two months before going out into society, should she heed his words?
  9. If the government advises any and/or all of us to stay at home to help prevent the spread of a deadly disease, should we all comply?
  10. If a Christian stays at home to help prevent the spread of a deadly disease and he does so under either medical counsel or legal decree, does he thereby forsake the assembly?

Finally, let me put my conclusion into a series of syllogisms that will provide the thought process whereby we know that we are doing right to comply with governmental decree to stay at home or to refuse to gather in large groups or to comply with “social distancing.”

Argument #1

  1. If the government has divine authority to take life, then the government has divine authority to save life (which is the opposite of taking life).
  2. The government has the authority to take life (John 19:10-11; Rom. 13:1-7).
  3. Then, the government has divine authority to save life.

Argument #2

  1. If the government has divine authority to save life, and if its current temporary prohibition against public gatherings is in order to save life, then its current temporary prohibition against public gatherings is within the purview of that divine authority.
  2. Government has divine authority to save life, and its current temporary prohibition against public gatherings is in order to save life (see Argument #1 and the above discussion concerning the routine and the disruption of the routine; also, note that the spread of the disease causes sickness and death).
  3. Then, its current temporary prohibition against public gatherings is within the purview of that divine authority.

The question has been asked, “Who has the right to cancel the services?” Well, while it is clear to me (though this is not discussed in this article) that elders have the right in given situations to cancel services, in the situation addressed in this article, the government does!

Posted in Epistemology

Is It Epistemological Agnosticism Or Not?

By Mac Deaver

Recently, in response to my criticism of Derek Estes’ Master’s Thesis conclusion that certainty must be rejected from the concept of “knowledge” as an essential trait (which criticism I presented in my article, “I Am Probably Writing This Article”), I received a very cordial email from Derek. I do indeed appreciate the tone of the response.

Just here I will respond to that email.

Derek wanted “to provide just a couple of points of clarification” regarding the issue between us. I had claimed that to reject certainty as a characteristic of knowledge amounted to giving up knowledge itself. Derek had claimed that “certainty” was not an essential part of the definition of “knowledge.”

Now in response to my response, Derek in offering his clarification makes two points. His first point is to suggest that it is not the case that the only alternative to certainty is epistemological agnosticism. And his second point is to say that while he had affirmed that subjective certainty is not essential to knowledge definition, he had also claimed that knowledge was still possible if objective certainty exists.

Regarding the first point, Derek says that it is not true that the only alternative to certainty is agnosticism (and by this, he and I both are referring to epistemological agnosticism). I hasten to affirm that just here Derek is absolutely wrong. We either can know (and by this I mean know with assurance that the conviction held is correct) or we cannot know. Does Derek know that he holds the view on his concept of knowledge that he does? If he does, then I claim that he must be certain that he knows that he holds that view. How can he possibly know that he holds the view without being certain that he holds the view?

Regarding communication, let me offer just a few truths. (1) Communication (oral or written) is possible only if words have meaning. Sentences are intelligible if words or connected in such a way as to present the expression of a thought. (2) Words have meaning as we use them, thus defining them or inserting rational content into them. (3) In matters of great significance, precision of meaning or definition is necessary. (4) In everyday discourse the definition of words may be altered or refined or even changed. But with regard to the Bible, we must, in order to know what God teaches, reach the definition of the words that he used when the Holy Spirit wrote Scripture. We have to know what God originally intended. (5) So, any modification of definition today is useless if it cancels or contradicts the intended meaning of the original term in Scripture. If there were never an intended meaning of the original term, then whatever that term was, it was not a discernible word with meaning. (6) The modification of the original definition by redefinition is not mere refinement, but constitutes rather a cancellation of original meaning if in the “refinement” the originally intended meaning is denied.

But even in everyday language as well as in Sacred literature, the words “I know” and “I do not know” are used in a way that clearly distinguishes the ideas entailed in the propositions that they compose. Furthermore, the distinction that obtains between the two propositions is logically one of contradiction. And since contradictory statements cannot both be true and cannot both be false, then if one by an attempted redefinition of the word “know” attempts to deny the obvious meaning of the two contradictory statements, he is denying the contradictory nature of the concepts that the propositions express.

Now, consider the following True-False statements or propositions, remembering that every precisely stated proposition is either true or it is false per the “law of excluded middle.”

  1. T/F I know.
  2. T/F I do not know.
  3. T/F I know, and I am certain that I know.
  4. T/F I know, but I am not certain that I know (that is, I claim to know while at the same time asserting that I may not know at all).
  5. T/F I know, and I do not know.
  6. T/F I do not know, and I am certain (that I do not know).
  7. T/F I do not know, but I am not certain (that I do not know—I may, after all, know).

Now, think about these True-False statements as related to the alleged question of the existence of God. Apply these propositions to that issue. So, regarding God’s existence:

  1. T/F I know that God exists.
  2. T/F I do not know that God exists.
  3. T/F I know that God exists, and I am certain that I know that God exists.
  4. T/F I know that God exists, but I am not certain that I know that God exists (that is, I claim to know while asserting that I may not know at all).
  5. T/F I know that God exists, and I do not know that God exists.
  6. T/F I do not know that God exists, and I am certain (that I do not know that God exists).
  7. T/F I do not know that God exists, but I am not certain (that I do not know that God exists; after all, I may know that God exists).

Now, keeping in mind that whatever the definition of “knowledge” is, it remains the same throughout its use in the above propositions. Let us look then at what we face.

Statements #1 and #2 cannot both be true, and they cannot both be false. One of them must be true, and one of them must be false. If one knows that God exists, it is not possible for him not to know that God exists. If he does not know that God exists, it is not possible for him (at the same time in the same way in the same sense) to know that God exists.

With regard to statements #3 and #4, whatever the legitimate definition of “knowledge” is, the word “certain” explicitly adds assurance to the claim so that the claimant is saying that he cannot be wrong about his statement: God exists, and the claimant knows it for sure. Statements #3 and #4 are also contradictory in their relationship. Both cannot be true and both cannot be false, and one of them must be true, and one of them must be false.

Now, statements #6 and #7 are both denials of the “knowledge” of God, whatever “knowledge” is. #6 is the claim that I do not have knowledge that God exists, and that I am certain that I do not have knowledge that God exits. #7 is the claim that I do not have knowledge that God exists, but that I am not certain that I do not have knowledge that God exists (after all is said and done, I may know that God exists).

The relationship between #6 and #7 is somewhat curious. #6 is the claim of the non-knowledge of God with the additional claim that the non-knowledge claim cannot be wrong. In one sense, this is a strong epistemological denial. The claimant is saying that he does not know that God exists, and he is certain of his claim that he does not know. He is not certain of God’s non-existence, but he is certain of his non-knowledge of that existence even if God’s existence is ontologically actual. He knows that he does not know that God exists.

And #7 is again the denial of the knowledge of God but with the additional explicit claim that the first claim of non-knowledge could, after all, be a false claim. He is not sure whether he does or does not know that God exists while claiming that he knows. #7 entails two claims, but both claims cannot be true and both cannot be false. #7 is irrational because it is self-contradictory. #6 is an admission that he really or assuredly or certainly knows that he does not know that God exists. Whether God exists or not, the claimant is affirming that he is not aware of conclusive proof of that existence, but he is aware of his own lack of knowledge as to the proof of that existence.

The relationship between statements #6 and #7 is also contradictory, but the contradiction appears in the last part of the compound statements. In #6, the claimant is saying that he is certain that he does not know that God exists, and in #7, the claimant is saying that he is not certain that he does not know that God exists (the implication is that he may, after all, be certain). The contradiction here appears in the claim regarding certainty. Again, #6 and #7 are contradictory in their relationship. The claimant cannot be both certain and non-certain as to his knowledge of the existence of God. Oddly, in #7, the claimant declares that since he is not certain that he knows that God does not exist, he is implying that he may “know” (whatever that word means) that God exists without at the same time realizing that he does. He knows but he does not know that he knows! This is the implication that knowledge, at least in some cases, can be a non-recognizable intellectual and psychological condition. The implication is that one can know without knowing that he knows. But this is not true. One can know something without remembering that he does, but it is impossible to know something without at the same time realizing that he does. It is impossible and thus irrational to say that I know that I am writing this article, but at the same time to say that I am not aware or do not realize with certainty that I know that I am writing this article.

Now, after all of the above analysis, look back at statements #2 (I know, but I am not certain) and #5 (I do not know, but I am not certain). By comparing these two propositions, we see the error involved in the claim that one can have knowledge without having certainty. Again, now, apply the statements to the issue of God’s existence.

  1. T/F I know that God exists, but I am not certain that I know that God exists.
  2. T/F I do not know that God exists, but I am not certain that I do not know that God exists.

What do we have? We have two compound propositions. In #1, while affirming that I know that God exists, I am also denying that I am certain of the accuracy of that knowledge claim. In #2, while declaring that I do not know that God exists, I am admitting that I may be wrong with regard to my own certainty. In #1, an affirmation of knowledge is made regarding the existence of God, but the certainty regarding that knowledge of his non-existence is denied. In #2, a denial of the knowledge of God’s existence is asserted, but the certainty of the initial assertion is also denied.

Now, the question at this point is: what is the difference between the two statements regarding the definition of the word “knowledge?” If one can correctly say with regard to himself that “I know that God exists, but I am not certain that I know that God exists,” and another man can just as legitimately state, “I do not know that God exists, but I am not certain that I do not know that God exists,” then where is the distinction to be made between “knowledge” and “non-knowledge”? I affirm that the rejection of “certainty” as an essential component element of knowledge is a cancellation of any meaningful distinction between “knowledge” and “non-knowledge.”

Derek says that he isn’t an epistemological agnostic because in order to be such a person, he would have to “(1) have a definition of knowledge, and (2) believe there are no beliefs that satisfy that definition,” while he on the other hand claims to have a definition of knowledge and that there are many beliefs to satisfy that definition. My response is, as argued above, that any definition of “knowledge” which so redefines that word as to obliterate the difference between “knowledge” and “non-knowledge” is not a legitimate definition of “knowledge” at all, but is rather a denial of the possibly of knowledge itself. So, to say “I know” which amounts to the linguistic equivalent of “I do not know,” is no mere redefinition of the word “knowledge.” And one gets to that point by the cancellation of “certainty” as an essential trait of knowledge itself.

Derek reminds me that he never referred to brother Warren as an agnostic, and he would rather that I not refer to him (Derek) as such. But, first of all, brother Warren was never an agnostic regarding the existence of God, and he was never an agnostic epistemologically. Derek may claim that God exists, and he can try to claim that in some sense he knows that God exists, but in his thesis he denied that the knowledge of God is possible by rejecting “certainty” as a necessary component part of its meaning. He does not realize this yet, but in rejecting “certainty,” that is what he has done. Second, Derek may never have explicitly called brother Warren an epistemological agnostic, but on page 44 of his thesis he wrote,

“…if a person is both an internalist and a foundationalist, by his own definition, he cannot actually know anything and is doomed to radical skepticism; internalist foundationalism is self-defeating with regard to the belief that a person can have knowledge of at least some of his beliefs. If one believes that knowledge is possible, internalist foundationalism cannot be the answer. Thomas B. Warren’s epistemology, as I have argued, is a version of internalist foundationalism, and as such, it is subject to the infinite regress problem. Consequently, Warren’s epistemology is doomed to radical skepticism and, by extension, agnosticism as well…”

That is certainly, by implication, a claim that Warren was, without realizing it, an epistemological agnostic! I deny the claim, but that is the very claim that I make with regard to Derek: without realizing it, he is the one who is the epistemological agnostic. Derek attempts in his thesis to show high regard for much of Warren’s work in spite of his conclusion regarding Warren’s epistemology! Something is very wrong here. I appreciate Derek’s intended declaration of admiration for brother Warren’s work, but why should Derek respect the work of Warren given the fact that one of Warren’s major efforts in life was to prove that we could know with certainty that God exists? I do not understand this. And I submit that if Derek thinks that his use of “internalism” and “foundationalism” imply that Warren was an epistemological agnostic, then the terms, as Derek conceives of them, are either (1) inaccurately or inadequately described and/or (2) wrongly applied to brother Warren.

Now, to the second point of clarification that Derek made in response to my article, Derek states,

“I should perhaps clarify what I mean when I say that certainty is not a criterion of knowledge. As I say in my thesis, my claim is that we should reject the idea that certainty, as a subjective state, is a criterion of knowledge. That is, we should reject that in order for my belief to count as knowledge, I must have subjective, internal access to reasons such that my beliefs cannot possibly be wrong. This is different, however, from saying that my belief must not be objectively certain. This is a critical distinction. Obviously for a belief to count as knowledge, it must be objectively certain; a false belief cannot count as knowledge.”

Here, of course, the difference being asserted by Derek is that between “subjective” and “objective certainty.

First of all, I’m not sure what Derek means by “objective certainty.” It seems to me that what he means is “objectively true,” but that is not what he says. “Certainty” can exist only in a mind. Technically or logically speaking, “truth” is a trait of propositions. We distinguish between “truth” and “fact.” Truth applies to things said or written (language). Facts have to do with conditions, events, states of affair, situations, etc. That is, facts are not statements as such. It is a fact that I am writing this material. It is true for me to claim in statement that I am doing so.

Now, taking Derek at his own words, I ask, where does “objective certainty” exist? Since it can only exist in a mind, and if it cannot exist in my mind (since Derek denies subjective certainty), it must exist in someone else’s mind, if, as he claims, it does actually exist. But if humans need not have subjective certainty in order to have knowledge, and if objective certainty must exist (for human knowledge to be possible, per Derek), then it must exist in God’s mind. (This would imply, by the way, that per Derek’s argumentation, if humans can have knowledge without having certainty, then such “knowledge” still could only imply God’s existence).

So, we come to the realization that for us to have the right to make a “knowledge” claim, even though we may never be certain subjectively in our own minds as to the accuracy of the claim, God alone can, given the way that Derek argues. The objective certainty exists only in the mind of God. God has certain knowledge; we have only subjective knowledge (which may or may not be accurate) but it can be accurate only if it corresponds to the objective knowledge in the mind of God. This means, of course, that there is no human knowledge at all. God is the only one who knows anything (and, of course, he does know everything). Humans know nothing. The whole enterprise of research into the area of epistemology becomes both irrational and impossible. If we cannot be certain of anything because it is merely “subjective” certainty (it is my own personal, individual confidence), then certainty is not a trait of human knowledge, but I have already exposed this conclusion as false.

Furthermore, when Derek says that “certainty” can be a trait of human knowledge but not a necessary one, he is admitting that “subjective certainty” can be accurate and justifiable in some situations so that one can rightly claim to be certain of some things. This, would, of course, apply to atheists as well as theists. If certainty can exist in some human minds in spite of the fact that the knowledge claim is only a subjective one, then atheists have as much right to claim certainty (without admitting God who has objective certainty) as theists do. Notice what Derek wrote:

“Obviously for a belief to count as knowledge, it must be objectively certain; a false belief cannot count as knowledge. (Here Derek shows that he is using “objectively certain” as a reference to “objective truth” or “objective fact,” and these do not have the same meaning as “objective certainty” MD). But as any epistemological externalist would say that does not mean I must have subjective certainty. So if an externalist claims to know God exists (as many do, by the way), this is not a claim that God probably exists. To say I know that God exists, for an externalist, is to say that God objectively exists. And likewise, if I say I know I am writing this email, it is not to say that I am probably writing this email. I am either writing this email or I am not; there is no middle ground about that proposition. It is only to say that in order for me to have knowledge that I am writing this email, it is not required that I am certain I am writing this email. Maybe I am certain I’m writing this email (for the record, I am certain I am writing this email). That’s great! But it’s not required for me to know I am actually writing this email. It is, if you will, the epistemological cherry on top, but it’s not required. Likewise, maybe a person is certain God exists. If so, that’s also great! But it is not necessary for the belief to count as knowledge; there are other, less philosophically problematic criteria for what belief counts as knowledge.”

The just quoted reference conceptionally collapses of its own accord. A belief may “count” as knowledge without its actually constituting knowledge. Derek admits that he is either writing his email or that he is not. This is correct. However, when it comes to locating his intellectual relationship to that email (that is, coming to terms with whether he actually knows that he is or is not doing so), he claims on the one hand (1) that he not only knows that he is writing it, but that he is certain that he writing it, while on the other hand claiming (2) he could claim to know that he is writing his email without being certain that he is. I deny it, and as already by means of the true-false questions/statements above discussed, I have shown that he is actually in self-contradiction with himself by denying a conceptual (substantive/content) distinction between knowing and not knowing.

Furthermore, when he says that he knew that he was writing the email and was certain of it, but that he could have known that he was writing the email without being certain of it, I would submit that an atheist could just as correctly use the concepts of “knowledge” and “certainty” to declare that (1) he knows that God does not exist and that he is certain of it, but that he just as correctly could claim that (2) he knows that God does not exist but that he could make that claim without his being certain of it. Thus, Derek’s dismissal of “certainty” as an essential trait of knowledge eliminates the distinction between a theistic atheist (a man who says that he does know that God does not exist), and a theistic agnostic (a man who says that he does not know whether God exists or not because such knowledge is impossible). So, regarding the “law of excluded middle” consider:

  1. T/F Derek knows that he was writing the email or he did not know that he was writing the email.
  2. T/F If he knew that he was writing the email, he was certain that he was writing the email (Derek claimed this).
  3. T/F If he did not know that he was writing the email, he could not be certain that he was writing the email.
  4. T/F If he was not certain that he was writing the email, he did not know that he was writing the email.

How would it be conceivable (though he claimed such could be accurate) that Derek could know that he was writing the email without being certain that he was? Such a contention, I submit, is an unintended but actual assault on the concept of human reason. Words (and thus their meanings) are being abused in order for such a position to be advocated. Language is being turned against itself; irrationality is the result.

Now, let us consider a few more True-False statements/questions that help to pinpoint the relationship between faith (belief), knowledge, and certainty as to their conceptual connection in Scripture. Consider the following:

  1. T/F Faith with certainty is or can be knowledge (Derek admits this).
  2. T/F Faith without certainty is or can be knowledge (Derek claims this).
  3. T/F With faith one can please God (Heb. 11:6).
  4. T/F Without faith one can please God.
  5. T/F Knowledge is essential to salvation (1 Tim. 2:4; John 8:32).
  6. T/F Knowledge is not essential to salvation.
  7. T/F If knowledge is not essential to salvation, then certainty is not essential to salvation.
  8. T/F If knowledge is essential to salvation, then certainty is essential to salvation.
  9. T/F If certainty is essential to salvation, then faith (belief) entails knowledge.
  10. T/F If faith without certainty is knowledge, and if faith is essential to salvation, then knowledge is not essential to salvation though faith is (that is, faith without knowledge pleases God). [But John 8:32 and 1 Tim. 2:4 show that knowledge is a requirement for salvation! See the relationship of faith (belief) and knowledge in John 6:69].
  11. T/F If knowledge is essential to salvation, and if faith is essential to salvation, then certainty is essential to salvation (cf. Acts 2:36; 13:34; 17:31; 2 Tim. 3:14; Col. 2:2; Rom. 4:16; 2 Pet. 1:10, 19).

Now, according to Heb. 6:11, Col. 2:2, and 2 Pet. 1:19, for example, we have justification for speaking of “degrees” of certainty. We do, after all, at times have the right and, perhaps, the need to ask someone, “Just how certain are you?” But we do not find in Scripture justification for non-knowledge of the saving gospel of Christ. When Derek claims that knowledge does not require certainty as an essential component part of its definition, then he eliminates any degree of it at all, and this is clearly wrong. This is where a breakdown between knowledge and non-knowledge occurs.

Finally, I would like to make an observation regarding the significance of the history of the denial of knowledge and, thus, the denial of certainty. It is interesting to me to observe the fact that by way of Abilene Christian University through the efforts of the late J. D. Thomas, longtime head of the Bible Department and much respected professor, the view was advocated that while we must have faith, we cannot have knowledge. Now more recently, by way of Abilene Christian University again and through a Master’s Thesis, the view is advocated that while we can have knowledge, that knowledge does not essentially or necessarily entail certainty. The first view (that of J. D. Thomas) states explicitly that we cannot know truth. The second view (that of Derek Estes) states implicitly that we cannot know truth by its rejection of certainty as an essential characteristic of knowledge itself. Both views were staunchly confronted and passionately refuted by Thomas B. Warren whose epistemology Estes was considering.

Posted in Epistemology

I Probably Wrote This Article (An Exposure of Epistemological Agnosticism)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a digital copy of a Master’s Thesis written for Abilene Christian University by Derek Estes. It was published in 2016. The thesis is entitled, “Epistemology in the Churches of Christ: An Analysis and Critique of Thomas B. Warren.” I was very interested in the thesis since I have long been interested in epistemology, and since brother Thomas B. Warren was a great friend of my family and a dear friend of my father, and one of my teachers. As I have stated before, other than my father, no one has influenced me more as to the work that I now try to do.

Now let me state at the beginning that I am not opposed to anyone’s analyzing the epistemology of Thomas B. Warren. And I appreciate the courtesy extended to brother Warren by Derek Estes as he writes of him. But it is the crucial mistake that Estes makes that calls forth this short piece.

This is not a lengthy analysis of Estes’ thesis. It is but a brief effort at showing why it is that Estes is very wrong to find fault with Warren’s view that knowledge entails certainty. On page 41 of his thesis, Estes states the most crucial and objectionable part of his thesis. He reaches the conclusion that Warren was wrong in his epistemology in that his view of knowledge was that knowledge is characterized by certainty. And Estes declares that the idea that knowledge entails certainty must be rejected.

This position is old, false, dangerous, and irrational. It is old in that Estes’ paper is a mere modern expression of old epistemological agnosticism. It is false because epistemological agnosticism unintentionally presupposes the possibility of knowledge in order for it to even be expressed as a legitimate epistemological position to be considered. It is dangerous because to the degree that the agnosticism is absorbed by the church, our effort at the defense of the faith is ruined. There can be no justified defense of the gospel if the gospel cannot with certainty be known. It is irrational in that the very concept of epistemological agnosticism is an unintended attack on the laws of thought (the law of identity, the law of excluded middle, and the law of contradiction, as well as the law of rationality), the laws that intuitively govern human thinking and reason. (For a good treatment of these basic principles of rationality, see Lionel Ruby’s Logic—An Introduction, pp. 262-268).

No one can be an epistemological agnostic, as Estes would have us all to be, without being irrational. And what is it that Estes leaves us with? Probability. This is the same false position taken by others before him including J. D. Thomas at Abilene Christian University years ago. One can get Thomas’ book, Facts And Faith with a copyright of 1965 and read for himself the details involved in the attempt to justify epistemological agnosticism (though Thomas never called his view that) and mere “probability” knowledge, which Thomas argued is all that we can have. Thomas, among the various errors advocated, stated, “Never will Christian faith be dissolved into complete certainty, however, and we must expect that there will always be a degree of contingency” (p. 269). Also, “If Christianity and all its demands could be proved, there would be no need for faith” (p. 269). Thomas declares, “We must remember that no philosophical or reasoned argument can absolutely prove that God exists, neither can science ever speak significantly either for or against the existence of God” (p. 234). Thomas thinks that atheists have a “faith” and that Christians have a “faith” but that the Christians’ faith is more probably correct. The Christian “…falls short of absolute certainty, but he has more certainty than anyone else. The Christian faith is the most reasonable, the most rational of all. ‘It makes more sense’ than alternative faiths, even though its extra upreach be ‘irrational’” (p. 277).

Without exploring all the errors that Thomas promoted in the field of Christian Apologetics, let it be clear that at ACU there has been a history of epistemological agnosticism long before Estes wrote his paper in another defense of it.

But now, let me briefly show why it is false to contend that knowledge does not entail certainty. This is not to say that everything we claim to know is an actual justified claim, but I am saying that a justified claim to know must entail certainty. It cannot be any other way.

What would be the conceptual distinction between knowledge and non-knowledge (ignorance) if certainty is no trait of knowledge? In other words, exactly how would one describe the difference between knowing and not knowing if certainty is not an essential characteristic of knowing?

If Estes’ view is correct that knowledge does not entail certainty, then when someone says, “I know,” he is also saying, “I am not sure.” And “I am not sure” means “I am not certain.” What does it mean to claim both that “I know” and “I am not certain”? “I am not certain” means “I do not know for sure” or simply “I do not know.” Estes creates the confusion that one can “know” without at the same time being sure that he does. But how would this constitute knowledge? If “I am not sure” can mean “I know,” then what is meant by “I am sure” and its relationship to the claim that “I know”?

Or again, if knowing does not entail certainty, then how could we rightly identify not-knowing (ignorance) from non-certainty? Can one be ignorant of something and claim knowledge of that something at the same time? Of course, he can. But can he be ignorant and claim knowledge correctly at one and the same time? Of course, he cannot, if rationality exists (that is, if a man’s mind is in intellectual reach [contact] of reality).

If one could not be certain of a knowledge claim that is inaccurate (or false), and if he cannot be certain of a knowledge claim that is accurate (or true), then there is no knowledge at all (whatever you call it or how you describe it). Man’s mind is out of touch with reality. There is no sanity; there is no reason; there is no recognizable truth.

How does the statement, “I know but I’m not sure” differ from the statement, “I don’t know”? Estes’ view is that both can be rationally uttered and that a real conceptual distinction can be drawn between them. But can it? Consider the following true-false assertions:

  1. T/F Knowledge is not knowing. [If you answer “true,” you attack the law of identity.]
  2. T/F Non-knowledge (ignorance) is not knowing [True.]
  3. T/F Knowledge is knowing without knowing. [If you answer “true,” you attack the law of contradiction.]
  4. T/F Knowledge is knowing. [True.]
  5. T/F Knowledge is knowing without evidence to justify knowing. [False. To answer “true” would be saying that guessing is equivalent to knowing.]
  6. T/F Knowledge is knowing with evidence to justify knowing. [True. Warren taught us that knowledge is “justified, true belief”.]
  7. T/F To know means to be fully and justifiably sure. [True. When one is convinced by his intellectual contact with information and that reason has reasoned correctly about it, then certainty must follow. This is the way that rationality functions.]
  8. T/F One can claim to know without being fully and justifiably sure. [True, by drawing a premature conclusion or by lying.]
  9. T/F One can claim not to know when he really does know. [True, by telling a lie or by refusing to admit the force of the laws of thought.]
  10. T/F There is no conceptual distinction between one’s making a knowledge claim while being fully and justifiably sure and making a knowledge claim while not being fully and justifiably sure. [To answer “true” is to attack all the laws of thought, thereby denying the possibility of human rationality. That is to say, if one answers “true,” he is implying that the laws of thought either do not exist or that they are not applicable to human reason. That would mean then regarding “the law of identity” that something is not itself and a true proposition is not true, and it would mean then regarding “the law of excluded middle” that it is not the case that something is or is not itself or that a precisely stated proposition is either true or false, and it would mean then regarding “the law of contradiction” that something can be and not be in the same sense at the same time or that a precisely stated proposition can be both true and false in the same sense at the same time.]
  11. T/F There is an evidential difference between one who is fully and justifiably sure and one who is not fully and justifiable sure. [True.]
  12. T/F If there is no evidential difference between one who is fully and justifiably sure and one who is not fully and justifiably sure, then there is either no such thing as knowledge or whatever “knowledge” is, it cannot be conceptually distinguished from non-knowledge (ignorance). [True.]

In further exploration of the suggestion that “probability” is what we are stuck with, let us mention that probability actually presupposes certainty just as evil presupposes good and falsehood presupposes truth. There is no getting around this. The very idea that one cannot know (for sure) anything is preposterous because the claim being made, to be considered as a serious suggestion at all, first of all must be an actual and recognizable claim (or, a claim that is fully and justifiably recognized to be a claim being made). And, furthermore, the claim to be considered as a serious suggestion presupposes that the claim has been made. Claims do not make themselves! When someone says that he is probably correct (but that such a conclusion is the best that he or anyone else can do), he is also affirming that he, himself, has made the claim. If he is asked if he is certain that he has made the claim, he either answers in the affirmative or the negative. If he answers affirmatively, he is in self-contradiction to his claim. If he answers negatively, he admits that his claim is not merely a probability claim but that it is worthless for it cannot ever be known for sure to be true.

We all need to understand that the affirmation of a probability claim is at the same time an admission of the possibility of the accuracy of the contradictory. In other words, to claim that God probably exists is to admit at the same time that it is possibly true that God may not exist at all. So, to affirm that some proposition is probably true is to affirm at the same time that, after all, it may be false.

It is sometimes said that the “God Question” (Does God exist?) is the most important question that there is. But this is not true. It is true to say that God is the most important entity in ontology (reality), but the most important question is whether or not we can have knowledge (whether he exists or not). What would our position be if God exists, but we are incapable of knowing it? Our agnostic brethren think we are still all right. But they are wrong—seriously wrong!

If someone claims that all we have is “probability” truth and “probability” knowledge and that he can say such because he has only probability knowledge with regard to his own state, we reply that he is merely playing games with himself and is implicitly denying the very laws of thought by which he is able to make a recognizable claim in the first place.

Let us raise a few more questions for Derek Estes:

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, know (I am certain and cannot be wrong about it) that I wrote a paper on Thomas B. Warren’s epistemology to fulfill my requirements to receive the Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian University.
  2. T/F I, Derek Estes, do not know (I am not certain and may be wrong in my view) that I did write a paper on Thomas B. Warren’s epistemology to fulfill my requirements to receive the Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian University.

Now, if Estes says that #1 is true, then he denies what he affirmed in his criticism of Thomas B. Warren (that is, instead of rejecting the idea of certainty as a characteristic or trait of knowledge, he now accepts it). But if he says that #2 is true, he is calling into question his own conscious awareness. He is consciously denying awareness of which he is aware. He is employing his own self-consciousness to deny itself. This is not only simply epistemological agnosticism regarding the existence of God, but with regard to everything including himself. This is an unintended attack on human sanity! Furthermore, he is caught in an ontological contradictory state. While being fully and justifiably aware that he wrote the paper (since he remembers doing it), he must now claim, to be consistent with his rejection of certainty as a characteristic of knowledge, that he is not sure that he wrote it.

But what if he tried to stay consistent and suggested that he is not really sure that he wrote his paper because, after all, memory can fail us? Well, let us see—

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, remember writing the paper.
  2. T/F I, Derek Estes, do not remember writing the paper.

Surely, he will claim #1 to be true or render himself ridiculous. But what if he says that the claim is still not certain because at times we think we remember what we only imagine, and sometimes we do not remember what, in fact, we have done. Well, we could then ask Derek if he is certain about this analysis. That is, we could ask him if he is sure or certain that at times we think we remember only what we imagine, and that at times we fail to remember what we have done. If he kept on claiming only “probability” knowledge, he would increasingly remove himself further and further from cognitive reality and from being taken seriously at all. He would be entrenching himself deeper and deeper in his unintended and confused attack on human rationality and the very concept of sanity itself. When one unintentionally attacks the “laws of thought” he is destroying the distinction between sanity and insanity! He is denying human rationality. He is attacking the relationship that exists between evidence and perception, conception, and reason. The reason that one cannot be aware of his own insanity (that is, to be actually insane is to be in a psychological condition that is not recognized for what it is) is that the laws of thought make sanity possible. One cannot “make sense” out of his insanity if he is really insane.

Now, what if Estes were to attempt to modify his view and dodge the force of the above true-false questions by saying that, in further consideration, we do have the right to claim absolute and infallibly correct knowledge (knowledge about which we cannot be wrong) about some conclusions empirically derived (that is, information that we receive through the five senses), but that we still cannot be sure about anything that is beyond the physical (which would entail any conclusion about God)? We would then affirm that this simply is not true, and its falsity is delivered via its own content.

Let us imagine that Derek were to modify his view and suggest that some things derivable from the five senses provide us with information so that we can make knowledge claims that are certain. (It might be good in passing to note that J. D. Thomas admitted, and rightly so, that science can provide us with no certain knowledge. Warren taught his students why this is so. The scientific method entails an invalid argument form. [See Ruby, pp. 274-276]).

But what if Estes were to change his mind and suggest that science can provide certain knowledge, but that since God is not the object of the scientific method, his existence (if he does exist) cannot with certainty be known? Consider the situation that he would then face:

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, now realize that we can have some knowledge about some things but that the knowledge claims that we can make with certainty have to do with the physical and not with the metaphysical.
  2. T/F Since, God, if he exists, would not be physical, then his existence or non-existence cannot be known.

But do you see, dear reader, the problem with such a scenario? If one were to attempt to claim that all knowledge claims that are certain are restricted to the empirically derivable, then we would have to reject this theory of restriction that says certainty is possible only with physically derivable information (information derived through one of the five senses), since the theory itself is not derivable from such a source. It is a theory not received through one of the five senses. In other words, it is a metaphysical theory that contradicts itself!

Finally, let us observe that the nature of “probability” is such that it does not and cannot exist in external ontology. It is an intellectual calculation and as such exists in the mind only. Nothing occurring in nature does so by probability. “Probability” is an intellectual conclusion reached and exists in the mind of man. To affirm as the Bible clearly does that some things happen by chance (Eccl. 9:11; Luke 10:31-32) is not at all the equivalent of claiming that things that happened by chance only probably happened. To say that some things in the future will happen by chance is not to say that they will probably happen.

Also, we must remember that when we are talking about the existence of God, we are not talking about Someone whose existence could be merely an ontological possibility or a declared probability. As Anselm rightly claimed, God is the One greater than whom cannot possibly be conceived. “The non-existence, then, of that than which a greater cannot be conceived is inconceivable” (The Ontological Argument, edited by Alvin Plantinga, p. 18). He also said,

If it should be said that a being than which a greater cannot be conceived has no real existence, or that it is possible that it does not exist, or even that it can be conceived not to exist, such an assertion can be easily refuted. For the non-existence of what does not exist is possible, and that whose non-existence is possible can be conceived not to exist. But whatever can be conceived not to exist, if it exists, is not a being than which a greater cannot be conceived; but if it does not exist, it would not, even if it existed, be a being than which a greater cannot be conceived” (Ibid., p. 20).

It is true that Thomas B. Warren never did, in his formal encounter with Antony Flew, invoke the ontological argument of Anselm. He knew of the controversial history of that argument, but he also believed that a correct formulation of that ontological argument could be made. I know this is so because some time later I asked him about it. And even though he used only the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument, and the moral argument for the existence of God in his debate with Flew, when he used the word “God,” he was employing a term that, to him, necessarily or essentially had certain characteristics and whose existence was absolutely necessary (ontologically essential).

It would be good for us all to remember that on Wednesday night of the Warren-Flew debate in Denton, Texas, that Warren’s first true-false question for Flew was: “It is possible for God to be infinite in some of his attributes and finite in others.” Flew inaccurately and irresponsibly answered “True” (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 149).

Warren in response to such an answer replied, “I suggested a moment ago that Dr. Flew and I then are talking about different Gods. The God I am defending in this debate is infinite in all of his attributes” (Ibid.).

Warren was defending the concept of an infinite God! Under tremendous pressure, however, Flew began to deny the existence of a mere finite god, just as under pressure he began to advocate epistemological agnosticism rather than atheism! Flew began in the debate to relinquish bold atheism for a weak agnosticism. Unfortunately, Estes in his rejection of “certainty” is attempting to get us all to reject Warren’s bold claim by which Warren moved Flew from atheism to agnosticism! Of course, if Warren had believed what Estes has now concluded, he would never have defended the existence of God in formal academic combat with such a world renowned atheist as at the time Antony Flew was. Warren would never have been able to rout Antony Flew with the seeming ease that he did. When Flew years later surrendered his atheism for some form of theism, he referred to his encounter with Warren, but I do not think that he gave enough credit to Warren for Flew’s later shift in thought from atheism to, at least, some kind of theism. (See There Is A God—How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind, pp. 67-69).

Warren believed and willingly affirmed in his 1976 debate with Antony Flew: “I Know That God Does Exist” (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 131), and by “know,” among other things, he meant that he was certain! And he proved in that extraordinary discussion that he had a right and an obligation to be.

Posted in New Testament

Other Tongues

By Mac Deaver

In John 8:43 the Lord once asked some of his contemporaries, “Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word” (ASV). The footnote shows that the Greek word translated “understand” is actually the word for “know.” The Lord was asking why it was that those who spoke the same language did not know what he was saying. His explanation was that they could not hear his word. That is, though they spoke the same language as he did, they could not grasp the meaning of what he was saying. It was one thing to know the meaning of isolated words; it was another to comprehend the connection of words in sentence construction. In verse 45 he declares why it was that they could not comprehend what he was saying. In their case, it was a perversity of character. Since Jesus was telling the truth and their hearts were not attuned to the reception of it, they were not getting it. And in verse 47, he ascribes their lack of understanding to the fact that they were not “of God.” Dishonesty stood between them and understanding of truth.

But there are other reasons why someone might not understand or comprehend a message, one of which is that the sound of the message may, in fact, be presented in a language that he does not know. That is, the message is completely unintelligible to him because he does not know the words of that language. Each word is merely a sound that signifies nothing to him.

The New Testament doctrine of “tongues” is historically rooted in an event that God had long ago caused. When men refused to scatter on the earth, God confused their language. At the time only one language was being spoken (Gen. 11:1), and the people were not scattering out over the earth. So, in order to motivate human scattering, God made it impossible for some of the people to understand others of them. The details are not provided, but somehow in the power of God, he changed the language comprehension of some of them so that a language barrier now existed. And since humans tend to associate mainly with those with whom they can by words communicate, some people then left the area. This change in language was preceded by changing the relationship between humans and snakes (Gen. 3:15), changing the male-female relationship (Gen. 3:16), and by changing the relationship between man and the sustenance of life (Gen. 3:19). These changes followed the commission of the first sin. Later following the flood, another change took place: the relationship between humans and animals (Gen. 9:1-4).

So, the change in the then immediate language capacity was the latest of the changes that God brought about to position man as he desired him now to be on this earth. This was God’s own way of separating people so that they would “replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28) and not simply stay in the vicinity where they had all been born. Evidently, there were none or few who would on their own at this time adventure out into the great unknown world. So, it was God himself who created the situation in which men could not understand other men. Because of human reluctance to venture out into the world, God created the language barrier between humans. We are not told how many languages were now being comprehended. We can only know that the number was sufficient in God’s eyes to cause the desired scattering.

Notice please that God divided the nations in the earth after the flood (Gen. 10:32). The division of the earth referred to in Genesis 10:25 is not geological; it is ethnological. God would later separate another group from all the rest of humanity, not by language but by a covenant. All of Abram’s descendants were to be distinguishable from the rest of the world. By means of the circumcision covenant that God made with Abram, God created the Hebrew nation (Gen. 17:1-14). Abram was “the Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13). His descendants became known as “Hebrews” (cf. Gen. 39:14).

But our point just here is that all of these changes were initiated by God himself. And the language barrier was only one of the changes he wrought in the earth. And as with all the changes just mentioned, it affected the course of human existence and history for all time. The issue of the language barrier did not need additional divine attention until it was necessary for all men to hear the gospel of Christ. As long as Jews were amenable to God through the law of Moses and as long as the Gentiles were amenable to God through moral law (Rom. 2:14-15), (that is, as long as there was divinely imposed ethnic segregation) there was no necessity of divine intervention regarding the language barrier in any way.

But when the universal religion of Jesus Christ became operative on Pentecost of Acts 2, the stage was now historically set so that eventually all men would become answerable to God through Christ (Acts 17:30-31). Several years passed before the gospel was preached to the first full-blood Gentile (Acts 10), but by the end of the first century, all accountable men then living were answerable to the gospel (Col. 1:23; Mark 14:9; 16:19-20).

But in order to fulfill the mission of taking the gospel to the whole world (Mark 16:15-16), the apostles made use of a gift in order to speak to men whose language they did not know (Acts 2:5-12). Later, when the Holy Spirit deemed it appropriate, other brethren were endowed with this gift as well (1 Cor. 12:4-11).

Since God had changed the structure of human accountability, it was up to God to make the announcement. Men could not be held accountable to a message that they never received since they were already living within the confines of divinely imposed religious responsibility. God had left Gentiles in Gentile-ism and the Jews in Judaism. But now that divinely imposed human amenability would no longer be sufficient in God’s mind to allow humans to any longer retain God’s favor. As the announcement of the change in amenability was made, human accountability changed. And since there were various languages spoken throughout the world, it was necessary (if God wanted the gospel carried throughout the world in a relatively short period of time) that men be able to speak languages that they had not studied and did not know in order to make the announcement known throughout the Roman empire.

Miraculous divine intervention was utilized in pointing out the places to go to for optimum success (Acts 16:6-10) and in providing the languages that must be utilized but were not by the teachers then known. It was God’s will that the change in amenability be announced within the historical context of divine miraculous involvement. He would not and did not leave matters simply to human decisions and human capacity. The work of taking the gospel to the world was finalized within the time of the miraculous workings of God. That is also the same time period in which he completed his divine book by inspiring the writing of the complete New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 2:12-13).

That book had to be completed before God could withdraw the miraculous element from the earth, just as the preaching of the gospel had to be completely taken into all the world before God could hold all men now answerable to the gospel and judge all men by Christ. Men became amenable to the gospel as the gospel became accessible. They were being called out of two divine systems already in place. Those alive in the first century were being “transitioned” from Gentile-ism and Judaism into a new divinely imposed accountability to the gospel of Christ. Nothing like that historic moment has ever existed again. That is, the time period in which God was relocating Jews and Gentiles under obligation to the gospel was a period of time and a religious situation that could never be duplicated since Gentile-ism and Judaism were divinely replaced by Christianity.

The “tongues” that the Spirit provided were the means of God’s addressing the language barrier that existed then (and which still exists now but without any need for miraculous intervention). God settled for all time the issue of human amenability within a thirty year period (from about 30 A.D. to about 63 A.D.). Everyone had access to God’s announcement of the change of amenability! There was no geographical area on earth inhabited by people that was not contacted.

Tongues” were for a sign to the unbelieving world (1 Cor. 14:22). The kind of question raised by the yet unbelievers on Pentecost was no doubt raised time and time again. How is it possible for someone who does not ordinarily speak my language to speak it now (Acts 2:7-8)? The event itself signified that something divine and miraculous was occurring!

Thus, it is clear that “tongues” were languages. The disciples of John on Pentecost of Acts 2 spoke “with other tongues” (v. 4). These tongues were real languages (v. 6). They did not simply utter unintelligible sounds, but languages that were known and spoken by others. Furthermore, by the fact that “tongues” were always subject to rational interpretation, we know that they were sounds that made sense (1 Cor. 14:13).

It should also be observed that in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul discusses the cessation of miraculous gifts (including miraculous tongues), he mentions three specific things that will cease as he compares the cessation of miracles to the permanence of faith, hope, and love. That is, in chapter 13 he is contrasting what is passing away and what remains. The miracles are coming to an end; faith, hope, and love are permanent features of the faithful church. So, in 1 Corinthians 13:8 he declares that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will all come to an end (v. 8), and the gift of prophecy was miraculous (1 Cor. 12:10). He states that tongues shall cease, and miraculous tongue-speaking was another miraculous gift (1 Cor. 12:10). Thirdly, he says that knowledge will cease. This, of course, is knowledge that is miraculous to which reference had already been made (1 Cor. 12:8). Thus interestingly, each of the three items that Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 13:8 has to do with information! Miraculous information will cease being provided, he is saying. In verse 10, when he refers to “when that which is perfect is come,” he is contrasting that perfect or completed information with the partially and miraculously supplied information. When the perfect thing is finally here in its completed form, Paul is saying, then no longer is there a partial thing here. And when the perfect thing is here, there is no longer any need for the miraculous process that had delivered information up to the time of the perfected or completed form. When the perfect thing is come, that which is in part (the partial product) ceases. That is, there is no longer a merely partial thing. It has eventuated into the perfect or the now completed thing.

Finally, let me say a word about the transmission of scripture. God removed the miraculous element from the earth. Scripture would remain as promised (1 Pet. 1:25), but its permanence would obtain through translation. God would not keep scripture here by miraculous intervention. His divine providence would suit the situation so that capable people would be available at the right place and the right time to transmit scripture into languages that were then, as seen by God, now ready for scripture dissemination through them. Today those who are capable of translating scripture and those who have an inherent interest in certain people and places are all entailed in the marvelous providence of God. And neither group, translator or missionary, has access to the first-century gift of tongues.

Posted in Christian Living

I have been young

By Mac Deaver

Our society places a lot of emphasis on the concept of “youth.” If one did not know better, he might by such a cultural stress get the idea that youth is what life is all about. He would, however, be wrong. While there is certainly a benefit to that time period in one’s life, it is not the focal point of living, according to the Scriptures. We must not lose our perspective as we go through or get beyond youth. Let us consider—

The foolishness of youth. Solomon wrote, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). Those of us who are no longer youthful can likely remember that our “bad ideas” didn’t go away once we got past elementary school. It took some time and experience, listening and learning for us to get a better comprehension of that around which our lives were to be revolving. As young people it was hard for us at the time to see how ignorant we really, really were.

The days of youth. Solomon long ago gave us warning, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl. 12:1). The path of life is to be planned early on. The direction in which one is to travel is to be located soon and followed thereafter. In our youth we are to determine to live for God and in light of the eternity that is fast approaching. Youth is not meant by God to be wasted and then regretted. Parents are to help their children to seek God early (Eph. 6:1-4; cf. Luke 2:40-52).

The vanity of youth. Solomon said, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity” (Eccl. 11:9-10). It is exciting to be a young person. There is so much to learn, so much to experience, so much to feel. Life is before us! And with so much energy we are willing to live it. But this period in one’s life is but for a brief moment. It indeed has its own value as a time in one’s life, but its worth should not be overestimated, given the way life becomes once one is past his young years.

The value of youth. Paul once said to a young preacher, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). With proper training, a Christian can become quite useful in the work of the Lord at an early age. While many youths may be correctly apprised as yet foolish, those properly directed can be seen by older people as using good judgment and showing sense in the way they are living.

The sins of youth. Following the flood God reflected on the nature of man. Moses recorded for us these words: “…I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” (Gen. 8:21). Indeed, all of us adults must admit that our first sin occurred in youth. David prayed, “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Psa. 25:7).

The memory of youth. Late in life David said, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psa. 37:25). Old age contains the memory of days long gone. The totality of life’s experiences can be contemplated almost fully as one approaches his last day on earth. The old person knows what youth is like. He knows how such a state compares with middle age. And he knows how middle age appears in the
light of the last days of his earthly pilgrimage. And the faithful old person sees the evidence of God’s love and God’s care and the necessity of human righteousness on the earth as he surveys the scene of his youth and all the days that followed that long ago time in his life.

I am glad that God somehow in his gracious providence kept me from making a fool of myself in youth. It was such a great time! It was such an exceedingly important formative period. It was wonderful to be a young person raised in a Christian home where the gospel and the church meant everything. The complete atmosphere of human living was spiritual. May God help our parents to help their young to grow up right, straight, and strong.