Let My People Think

hand-of-god

The passages below are but one example where God actively doing something (causative sense) and God withholding something (allowing / permitting sense) are often times used in our translations of Old Covenant (or passages referring to OC ideas) grammatically interchangeably to indicate the same thing. There are some (somewhat hard-to-find online) preface notes to Young’s Literal and Rotherham translations that do go into detail on what Hebrew tenses should be translated as allowing vs. causative, but the religious establishment wasn’t too excited about those insights, so as far as I know you can find them only in the prefaces to the early editions (not in the translations themselves), and on the Internet, if you look hard enough. If you have access to Hebrew texts with parsings (anyone knows of an online resource with those? Please let me know if you do), studying out that angle could be a potential goldmine.

Acts 28:26-27
‘Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

2 Corinthians 4:3-4
3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

Romans 11:7-8
7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8 Just as it is written:
“God has given them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”

So it’s difficult to establish the truth on a purely grammatical analysis of those passages given the existing translations we have to work with. So, lets’s resort to rhetorical analysis here.

Here a cross-reference map of Rom 11:8 :

http://www.openbible.info/labs/cross-references/search?q=Romans+11%3A8-10

Regarding the eyes/ears/hearts closing/getting dull, you see that in some passages it would appear that God is doing the action, some other passages indicate that God is allowing this to happen, and in yet other passages it seems like people chose to do it. The later passages, like the Gospels and especially the Epistles passages place the responsibility on people (with the exception of when they quote from the OT). OT quotations, the way they are phrased, seem to indicate that God is somehow doing it. We’ve already established that in their way of thinking and phrasing things, they didn’t seem to draw a clear grammatical line between God actively doing it and permitting something to happen, as we would today.

Add to that 2 Cor 4:4, and now we also have satan thrown into the overall mix.

First thing to note is that Rom 11:8 is not an exact quotation from OT, but it appears to be a conflation of the Greek Septuagint translation of the following 2 verses:

Isaiah 29:10
10 For the Lord has poured out on you
The spirit of deep sleep,
And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.

Deuteronomy 29:4
4 Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.

Cf.

Romans 11:8
8 Just as it is written:
“God has given them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”

Also, see how Paul conflates the negative (“the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive ” in Deut. 29:4) with the positive in his paraphrase “God has given them a spirit of stupor” (which now applies to the 2nd part of what he says, as well). Apparently, in his way of thinking (that was a product of the era he lived in), the two ways of expressing the underlying idea meant more or less the same thing. However, to our 21st century linearly logical minds that are very sensitive to establishing cause-and-effect relationships, the two seem very different. For instance, one would be “I didn’t give Billy the antidote for poison”, and the other is “I poisoned Billy”. In both cases Billy got poisoned, but my role now is perceived as being very different between the two cases, don’t you think?

I don’t think that means that God has changed (the covenants have changed, but we are discussing an issue that more or less transcends covenants). I do believe, however, that they way people processed and verbalized information of this sort has changed, for the following reasons.

In the OT, God-card is played a lot more than in the NT, in general. In the OT, satan is almost never mentioned (except the book of Job, 1 Chronicles 21:1, and prophetic passages in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). God is the only variable that people were certain about concerning the spiritual dimension world, and they processed the information by building equations that predominantly used that one variable.

Now, fast-forward to the time of Jesus. Starting with the Gospels, Jesus just couldn’t stop talking about the satan and his modus operandi. The very first clause of the so-called “Lord’s prayer” is “holy be your name”, or “let your name be separate”. Heavenly Father’s name is to be separate from what? From everything non-heavenly and non-Father. So instead of just the God variable in the universal equation, it’s now a human (or, collectively, humankind) with more personal responsibility that ever before thought possible, and then there’s this satan guy who is – hold your breath – “the god of this age”. Wow. That must have been a pretty big pill to swallow for religious Hebrews of the day. Now instead of 1, we have 3 actors on the scene. Now with this new information becoming available, you can build much better equations that reflect the reality much more accurately.

So, here’s the problem. Reading those accounts from where we are now theologically, one would mistakenly think that God was somehow behind it all, good or bad. Why? Because if you read the OT passages understanding that the OT theological mindset featured a revelation of God (positive force) and very little revelation of counter-force, or negative force (satan), you would realize the necessity of filtering the conceptual payload of those passages through the NC revelation. Now, NC revelation introduces satan into the mix, and it lays a much more pointed emphasis on a personal responsibility of a human being, individually, and humankind, collectively. When you apply the NC filter to those OT passages, you would of necessity phrase things quite differently – instead of using God variable almost exclusively to explain agency and causation, you would use 3 variables (God, satan, and humans) to build much more accurate models of reality.

Without that filter in place, you will make God responsible for everything, satan responsible for nothing, and you will be playing God card instead of acknowledging human responsibility, which will makes you inert and passive in just about all of the areas of your Christian walk. After all, it’s all on God. Another consequence of holding that viewpoint is that the Bible will be seen as full of contradictions that cannot be reconciled, which will then force you to pick the passages out of their context, while simply ignoring the rest.

So, to sum things up: Old Covenant era believers, lacking meaningful information on satan that they could work with in framing their mental models, they constructed their worldview based on 2 variables they knew – themselves and God. Since God was a super-variable, they expressed their thoughts using that variable more than we now would. In other words, they played the God-card more than we should be used to. And being where they were, it was not incorrect, theologically. Even with that, just about all the OC prophetic passages point the finger straight back at Israel, and lecture them about the personal and corporate responsibility.

Now, if today we frame our worldview in the OC terms, knowing what we do (or should) know, we would be amiss to do so – since we would fail to incorporate:

  1. what Jesus clearly taught about – namely, personal responsibility of humans, and also satan and his role, and
  2. what Jesus has accomplished on the cross, including nailing the handwriting that stood against us to the cross and thus triumphing over the accuser / adversary, etc.

When Paul was quoting OT passages, I believe he did that with the implied understanding of what I’ve explained in this post above. In a few places in his writings, he elaborates and explains the difference between OC and NC, but it’s not always the case.

This concept of Bible study stating that the portions of the Bible that were written in later dispensations contain a fuller revelation of God compared to the earlier ones is usually referred to as “progressive revelation”. It takes a little time to get used to, but it really gives shape and texture to what we study, as it helps us get locked onto the proper context.

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