2007March12, Monday

High Calvinist Interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9: Creflo Dollar Would Be Proud

Posted in Theology at 17:45 by Trey Austin

I have had some positive and some negative comments about my assessment of the High Calvinist (what has become the mainstream) interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9. Believe me: i understand what it’s like to come out of Arminianism and think i have arrived at the proper theological views. I know how easy it is, though, when that happens, to allow the system (which is “so good”) to drive the exegetical work instead of having the exegetical work to drive the exegesis. In fact, there is a way to do it that makes it seem so pious and biblical. One can come to the text, think he’s getting what he believes out of the text, and convince himself that there is no other way for the passage to be interpreted. That’s really what we see going on in that video. Let’s look at what went on, hermeneutically, for the narrator of that video to reach the conclusion he did. How exactly did this guy come to believe that 2 Peter 3:9 is saying that God is merciful only to “certain ones”?

Well, basically, what we have on the video is the kind of exegesis where a person takes some Bible software (and/or a Strong’s lexicon) and thinks he can interpret any and everything in the Greek and Hebrew Bible. Those tools are deceptive, in a way, because they make the person who uses them think that they–with the use of a reference number, but without the knowledge and years of experience it takes to become even partially familiar with the Scripture in the original language–can interpret anything that they want to from Scripture. A person with this shallow knowledge of the syntax and grammar of Koine Greek, as my college and seminary language professors used to say, has just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

To use an illustration, it’s like a well-intentioned mother with three little boys, who finds it hard to make ends meet financially in her home, so she takes it upon herself to traipse herself down to Wally-World and buy a set of clippers so that she won’t be spending $50 a month on haircuts at the local “Sail-Boat Salon” (those of you who frequent low-end, chain salons know which one i’m i’m talking about). She thinks that giving her kids a good haircut should be simple: there are different attachments to put on there; the longer i want the hair, the bigger the attachment should be; that nineteen-year-old down at the Sail-Boat place doesn’t seem all that bright and even she can do it; i’ve read the directions, so what more is there to it? “Oh, Billy! Come sit down in the chair for mommy.” And then, after about 45 excruciating minutes of sitting still, little Billy goes into the bathroom, looks in the mirror and realizes that his mother has absolutely noidea about haircutting. That’s because even that fresh and cocky little nineteen-year-old with the bright red hair and a blond streak in the front, and who plays with the neon green barbell stuck through her tongue while she’s talking to you, she has something that that mommy, as well-intentioned as she is, doesn’t have: training. And that girl might not give the best haircuts in the world (as “super” as those “cuts” might be!), they’re still better than the one mommy gave Billy, which ends up at the lowest common denominator: the buzz cut to remove all signs of the botching she gave to her poor son’s little prepubescent head.

That’s the same kind of thing that can happen when tools of Greek and Hebrew exegesis are used by people without any training. They may not intend to do so, but they are liable to botching the writing of the Holy Apostles. Really, if you were to look at it, what the man did on the video is no different, fundamentally, from what Joyce Meyer or Creflo Dollar do when they start to break out the Amplified Bible. Now, granted, the Amplified Bible is different from Strong’s Concordance, but really, what is the difference between an Amplified Bible and a Bible with Strong’s numbers when a person uses those numbers to find all the different definitions of that Greek word in his handy-dandy, nifty-difty Strong’s Greek Lexicon? Well, the main difference is that, with the Strong’s numbers, you have to find the lexicon and actually look up the definitions, whereas, the Amplified Bible collates those definitions into the text itself. So, when Creflo Dollar busts out with the Amplified, all he’s doing different from what we saw on the video is making use of the work someone else did to type in all those definitions in the line of the text (in a self-styled “translation”) rather than referencing a number. In fact, we might say that the only difference is that the brother in the video in question just cuts out the “middle man” and uses Strong’s lexicon directly.

In either case, though, a person is just looking at the original word, with its various different definitions, and deciding (based purely upon his own systematic or pretextual emphases, ideas, or preconceptions) which definition he likes better and thinks he’ll use. But a real Greek student knows that, just because a definition is within the semantic domain of a certain word doesn’t mean that (to quote the video) “it would be just as accurate to translate the verse” in that different way. No, it would not be just as accurate to translate the sentence that way, because that particular meaning doesn’t fit with this text, even though that can be one of the ways that word in this text is translated in other cases. A skilled Greek (or Hebrew) translator knows that there are nuances that certain words and usages give in the text, and one must understand those nuances and do his or her best to bring those nuances to bear in the receptor language. Just looking up a Strong’s number doesn’t do that. In the case of the word tis (tines and tinas in 2 Peter 3:9, respectively) in Greek, it is a generic word that simply refers to a person in general unless it is directly referencing a particular person or persons; it’s really the Greek equivalent of the way more refined English-speakers once used the term “one”–as in, “One could attend the ball if one wished.”

Bringing that kind of nuance to bear upon the translation of 2 Peter 3:9, it makes perfect sense to say (not just because it could be translated that way, and i’m picking just one option that best fits my own view, but because that’s the tenor of the passage itself), “God is not slow concerning his promise as a ‘person-in-general’ thinks about slowness, but he is longsuffering to you, not desiring any ‘person-in-general’ to be destroyed, but that all should come to repentance.” In other words, this text isn’t saying that God is longsuffering only toward “certain ones” (as the guy in the video wanted us to believe). On the contrary, God is longsuffering toward all men generally (which is a perfectly biblical concept). In fact, what we see here is an inconsistency in the way that the narrator uses the word tis. Whereas, the narrator wanted to word tis to mean “certain ones” (i.e., the particularity associated with election) in the one reference, but when it comes to the other use of the word in the text, as a reference to those who might consider God slack in his delayed coming, it is obvious from the context itself that Peter didn’t have any particular people in mind. Rather, he’s just speaking of naysayers in general when he speaks of those people who may count God slack. The proper reading sees them both as general statements about people in general as explicitly qualified. It is highly improper, in the very same sentence, to make the very same word mean two completely different things. It is just an obvious sign that what we have here is a theologically-driven interpretation–and all translation, as they say, is interpretation.

It’s about God’s general desire to see people repent. Indeed, one thing about the word that is translated “come” (as in “come to repentance”) is that it also speaks of God’s longsuffering and his general desire to see people repent. The definition of the word, choreo, is, “to leave space (which may be filled or occupied by another), to make room, give place, yield” or “to have space or room for receiving or holding something.” In other words, God, by his longsuffering, is, as the older theologians used to say, “giving room” for sinners in general to repent; he’s giving them the opportunity, whether they take it or not. Now, all of the elect will indeed repent, by God’s grace, but that doesn’t mean that, in an outward sense, God hasn’t given all men the opportunity to repent. He leaves room for their repentance, because in the end, the reason they perished will not be because God didn’t bear with them with much patience or give them an opportunity to repent, but it will be because men’s hard and stubborn hearts refused to take God up on his offer of mercy and the opportunity he gave them to repent and trust Christ.

Just one other little thing that irks me about what the video maker does (but isn’t very honest about it): he quotes from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on Particular Redemption on the meaning and usage of pas or panta in the Greek, but then he says that it is Strong’s lexicon. Strong’s lexicon includes that notation, but it was added later, once again, by those with a theological bent and an axe to grind against Arminianism. It is very disingenuous to say while reading that comment, as the man on the video, “says Strong,” as if Strong’s lexicon were actually putting that forward, when it was Spurgeon who made that statement in a sermon unrelated to Strong’s lexicon until it was added later. What makes that little thing most laughable is that it is plainly visible and evident on the video itself that Charles Spurgeon is the one who made the statement. The guy in the video ignores the difference, and he fully expects his viewer either not to notice, or to be willing to ignore it for the sake of theological expediency just like he did.

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