Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Land and Its Possibilities, Part II: Middle Knowledge, Molinism, and Hebrews 6:7-8

In my last post, I looked at the text of Hebrews 6:7-8 to discuss the land (representing the Christian) receiving the rain (the blessings of God, Heb. 6:4-5), and the possibilities of bearing fruit or bearing thorns and thistles. In the last post, I stated that, contra Wayne Grudem, the text is not discussing two types of lands but one land with two possibilities of land growth---whether it be to bear fruit and receiving God’s blessing, or to bear thorns and thistles and be eternally cursed by God. I also stated that Grudem’s commitment to Calvinism is problematic in that the verse doesn’t give just one option for the land (to bear fruit), but also that the land can be cursed. And when one considers that this “land” (person) receives rain (blessings) from God, we see that the land, although given everything to make it thrive, can bear thorns and thistles and come to nothing.

Let’s look at the text of Hebrews 6:7-8 once more:

“For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8, NKJV).

Verse 7 refers to the land that bears fruit: it “receives” a blessing. The Greek word for “receives” is “metalambano,” which means “to receive, to partake, to be made a partner.” Notice that verses 7-8 flow with verses 4-6, since the land that “partakes of the blessing from God” (v.7) represents those who “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” (v.4).

But what about verse 8? “but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” Peter O’Brien states that this verse has something to say about human responsibility:

“The second half of the illustration also portrays soil that has been well-watered and nurtured, but by contrast it produces ‘thorns and thistles’ (v.8)...THE RESPONSIBILITY FALLS ON THE LAND AND THUS WITH THE PERSONS, NOT WITH GOD. Those who commit apostasy, in spite of the many blessings that have been showered on them by God, are like a well-watered land that produces thorns and thistles” (Peter O’Brien, “The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010, pp. 228).

Who is responsible for falling away? The persons themselves. This is demonstrated by the fact that the subject of the “falling away” of Heb. 6:6 is “those who were once enlightened...have tasted the heavenly gift...become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” For those who doubt that these verses refer to believers, look at the words of the writer later in the epistle:

“But recall the former days in which, AFTER YOU WERE ILLUMINATED, you endured a great struggle with sufferings” (Heb. 10:32, NKJV).

The Greek word for “were illuminated” is “photisthentes,” which is translated as “being enlightened” or “being illuminated.” The verb itself is a participle, which means that the helping verb, “were,” is really translated as “having been enlightened.” According to Thayer’s Dictionary of the New Testament, the word “photisthentes” means “to enlighten spiritually, to imbue with saving knowledge.” So those who were enlightened were those who came to saving knowledge. And this is connected with salvation in 1 Timothy 2:4 (“to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”).

Back to Hebrews 6:8. The word for “rejected” (regarding the land that drinks the rains but bears thorns and thistles) is “adokimos,” which is translated as “rejected, not standing the test, not approved, unfit, unproved, REPROBATE” (Thayer’s Dictionary). Paul Ellingworth, author of the “New International Greek Testament Commentary: Hebrews,” translates the word “adokimos” as “worthless” (328). The word “adokimos” also appears in 1 Cor. 9:27; Romans 1:28; 2 Cor. 13:5, 6, 7; 2 Tim. 3:8; and Titus 1:16.

The description of the land that bears thorns and thistles is that it is “to be burned.” This burning, according to O’Brien, “does not suggest a restorative or disciplinary process. Rather, it describes THE PUNISHMENT THAT AWAITS THOSE CONDEMNED BY GOD. THE TEXT IS SPEAKING OF A FIERY JUDGMENT ON APOSTATES” (O’Brien, “PNTC: Hebrews,” page 229). Paul Ellingworth states that burning is the theme of divine judgment and is found in Heb. 10:27; Ps. 18:8 (LXX 17:9); Is. 30:27; Jer. 4:4; Jer. 21:12; Mt. 13:30, 42; Mt. 25:41; Jn. 15:6 (Ellingworth, “NIGTC: Hebrews,” page 328).

I’ve covered verses 7 and 8 of Hebrews 6 so as to give the reader some insight into what the passage is presenting to the reader (and the intended audience of scattered believers in the Dispersion).

Now, the next question would be, “Well, how does this tie in to the issue of middle knowledge?” To answer this question, we must first understand what middle knowledge is. The site “Monergism.com” provides answers to this (for those who want to read the whole of information on middle knowledge, click on the middle knowledge link to the right of the main page) from John Frame:

“This knowledge (a) is a knowledge of what would happen under such-and-such conditions, and (b) is based, neither upon God's nature nor upon his decree, but upon the free decisions of created beings. Thus God knows what will happen if David re-mains in Keilah, and what will happen if he does not (I Sam. 23:1-13); and he knows it, not because he controls the course of history, but because he knows what free decisions people will make in¬dependently of his controlling decree. This con-cept found favor with Lutherans (e.g., Quenstedt) and with Arminius and some of his followers. The Reformed agree that God knows what would happen under all conditions, but they reject the notion that this knowledge is ever ultimately based on man's autonomous decisions. Human decisions, they argue, are themselves the effects of God's eternal decrees (see Acts 2:23, Rom. 9:10-18, Eph. 1:11, Phil. 2:12-13).
John M. Frame "Scientia Media" from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.”

As is evident from the definition, middle knowledge is a third type of knowledge that indicates what human creatures “would” do. There are two other types of God’s knowledge in this system: natural knowledge (what God knows about Himself as well as all possibilities of worlds He could create), and free knowledge (what God knows human creatures “will” do). The difference between God’s middle and free knowledge is that, in middle knowledge, God’s knows the possibility of human choices, whereas in free knowledge, He knows what a person will actually choose.

Let’s use Hebrews 6:7-8 (this is an ideal passage for our discussion of middle knowledge). These two verses present us with two options for the land (“One Land, Two Possibilities”): the land (the believer) can either bear fruit and receive eternal life from the Lord, or the land can bear thorns and thistles and be declared “adokimos” (reprobate) in the end. Now God knows what the land in question will do; however, the land itself is responsible for what will happen to it. As Peter O’Brien states in his Hebrews commentary (PNTC, see above), the person is responsible for their apostasy (should it happen), not God. God presents two options before the believer: to persevere and be saved, or to fall away and eternally perish. And God possesses middle knowledge because He knows that every believer “COULD” persevere, but He also knows that every believer “COULD” fall away. In the end, each believer will be judged for their works (2 Cor. 5:10) because they had two options, not just one. Each believer’s fate was not determined by God, but their own perseverance before God.

However, middle knowledge (as impressive as it sounds) is NOT Molinism. What is Molinism? Molinism involves the three logical moments of God’s knowledge (natural, middle, and free knowledge) as well as a little extra. What is this “little extra” in Molinism? It is the added tenet to middle knowledge of “God’s divine decree to create His SELECTED WORLD” (see theopedia.com/Molinism for more info on Middle Knowledge and Molinism). God doesn’t just have foreknowledge of creaturely actions, He also determines which choices will come to pass.

If we apply this to Hebrews 6:7-8, God not only knew that the believers could either receive eternal life or eternal punishment...He also determined a world where some would bear fruit and receive life while others would bear thorns and thistles and be cast into Hell. To put it briefly, God determined some to be elect and others to be reprobate.

I know this language sounds unbelievable (and dishonoring to the Almighty God) to say the least; but Molina himself, the founder of Molinism, did not back down from this statement:

“Without consideration of any particular individual’s salvation, damnation, or non-existence, God enters into an all-encompassing predestinary determination of what world to actualize, which arrives at completion through his sovereign creative decree. On Molina’s view, then, predestination, COMPRISING ELECTION AND REPROBATION, are logically simultaneous with the divine creative decree, as predestination, in the words of Craig, ‘involves God’s willing that aspect of the world comprising the natural circumstances and supernatural gifts of grace which form the milieu in which a person freely responds to God’s gracious initiatives.’ FOR BY CHOOSING WHICH FEASIBLE WORLD TO ACTUALIZE, GOD PREDESTINES TO SALVATION, OR ELECTS, EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN THAT WORLD WHO WOULD FREELY ACCEPT HIS PREVENIENT GRACE, AND HE PREDESTINES TO DAMNATION, OR REPROBATES, EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN THAT WORLD WHO WOULD FREELY REJECT HIS PREVENIENT GRACE” (Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.” Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007, page 77).

Here we can set up a syllogism to explain MacGregor’s quote:

I. God picks a world.
II. The selected world contains those who accept Christ and those who reject Christ.
III. God, therefore, picks those who accept Christ and those who reject Christ.

In case you think the syllogism is a bit harsh, read these words from Kirk MacGregor:


Simply put, God chose both the elect and reprobate in this world; however, in another life, the elect could have been reprobate and the reprobate could’ve been elect. God’s “arbitrary choice” explains why the elect and reprobate comprise the persons they do---not the condition of faith.

If we apply this to the text of Hebrews 6:7-8, Molinism teaches that God determined the world in which some would be saved, some would be damned, and others would fall away from the faith. In another life, however, God could’ve actualized a situation where the saved would be damned (through either apostasy or sheer unbelief), the damned would either fall away or been saved, and those who fell away would either never believe or been saved. But the current world consists of these three types of persons, with PARTICULAR PERSONS IN EACH GROUP, because God ordained it to be. God picked the apostates, unbelievers, and believers alike. To make it more personal, Joe is damned in this life because God picked this world; in another life, Joe could’ve been saved. Could Joe have fallen away? Yep. Even in another life, Joe could’ve been a Christian who hardened his heart and fell away from the Gospel---all because God decided to actualize that world instead of another one. The world selected is due to the arbitrary will of God---God’s mere whim. What does MacGregor say to defend his theological system from attack?

“At this juncture it must be emphasized that God is not guilty of foisting a ‘divine sting operation’ upon the reprobate, as the circumstances in the world he chooses to actualize (as well as every other feasible world) are freedom-preserving and do nothing to cause either the reprobate to spurn prevenient grace or the elect to embrace it” (“A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” page 78).

Contra MacGregor, does it really make sense to say that, despite God choosing a world in which some will believe and others disbelieve, those in either camp had a real choice? If God has selected the choice that will be actualized, how then is the choice genuinely a human choice (especially if the reprobate person could have been elect in another world, if God had so determined it)? I think that Molinists here attempt to substitute determinism for divine foreknowledge. It is God’s foreknowledge that leaves room for creaturely freedom. But to put divine determinism in the place of divine foreknowledge now makes God the author of sin and evil---since God is choosing a world where some will be damned. This goes against Matthew 25:41, where the Lord never mentions that Hell was prepared for one single human being! Now some Molinists would say that God’s determination does not take away from man’s choice; however, since it is God who decides which choice will be actualized, the human has “determined choice” (choices determined by God) and “virtual choice” in virtual worlds (that are never actualized and can never be proven as having existed). God, then, “chooses the choice,” determines human action. In the end, the Molinist system amounts to divine predeterminism (just as Calvinism does).

As we’ve seen, Hebrews 6:7-8 affirms middle knowledge (two or more possibilities of action), but does not affirm Molinism (since the person determines their actions, not God). In my next post, I will discuss the Doctrine of Apostasy and talk about why apostasy poses a threat to Calvinist and Molinist theology.

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