Saturday, April 08, 2006

Exposing a Presupposition

While engaged in a discussion of middle-knowledge with a dear friend recently, I noticed a presupposition. The objection was something in the neighborhood of this: "Middle-knowledge sounds nice philosophically, and has great theological potential if true, but, there's something I can't picture: When Paul was writing on election and predestination in Romans (for example), was he thinking 'middle-knowledge is how God effected this'? I think it was not." Here's the objector's presupposition: Scriptural authors completely understood, philosophically, how the truth of what the Holy Spirit told them works. This is, I think, something Christian's should not feel compelled to hold. I totally affirm that Paul, for example, understood that God predestines us-- but I don't affirm that he necessarily understood just how that works. Similarly, I doubt any of the authors of Scripture could philosophically explain the Trinity, though at least most of them would explicitly affirm it. Now, I've written this in a hurry, so my explanation has not been polished, but the point is clear, I think. Any thoughts?


Blogger Russ Reaves said...

Hi Keith. I am the guy who posted the DaVinci Manure picture you commented on earlier. I checked out your blog and it looks like we have alot in common -- I also hold to Middle Knowledge. I appreciate the exposure of this presup. I have heard that too. Also, isn't it an argument from silence to say, "I don't think this is what Paul was thinking." Well, who is to say whether it is or isn't. Most of us have our hands full trying to figure out what he said, much less what he was thinking when he wrote it.

4/08/2006 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger Keith said...


Thanks for stopping by. As I scanned over your blog, it struck me that we have a good deal in common, as well. That picture was FUNNY!

Yes, I am a proponent of middle-knowledge. This is largely a result of reading and respecting William Lane Craig. Perhaps we could discuss that some time.

Yea, I think the presup in question often does come in the 'argument from silence' variety. I think a lot of Christians, especially those without formal training in philosophy, think this way about, say, middle knowledge. However, when suggesting such a doctrine as a possible explanation for, say, reconciling libertarianism and meticulous providence, I don't think we are obliged to demonstrate that this is what Paul (or whoever) was actually thinking when he wrote. You're right: "most of us have our hands full trying to figure out what he said..."

4/08/2006 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...


FWIW (golly, aren't these acronyms time-savers?), it seems to me like that is a presupposition -- and a very questionable one -- of the objection. It wouldn't be so objectionable if it were really clear (as if!) exactly what philosophical position Paul was espousing. But it's not.

Having been raised in a sub-culture that really valued proof-texts, and having gently stepped back from overdoses of that, I'm always wary when very metaphysical and epistemological issues are resolved on the basis of a reference. That's not to say it could never be done, just that it's a much trickier business than it is often taken to be.

4/10/2006 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

Hi Tim,

I, too, was reared in a such a background. Many of these texts are approached with existing philosophical presuppositions, though many readers don't realize they have them. Besides, for them to say "I think it was not (from orig. post)," seems to me to beg the question a bit. If I simply respond with "Well, I think it was," then we're going nowhere. Truthfully, we won't know what Paul's metaphysical or epistemological position was until we're all in Heaven (if we even care then). But, I care now. Moving away from the text, however, my main concern is to say that, while theologians and philosophers do have many burdens to bear in the course of their work, among them is not demonstrating that the author of some passage had in mind some philosophical explanation for the reality the is affirming.

I think you (and the rest of us) do well to be wary in such situations. We are now getting a bit into hermeneutics, though.

I know this response was all over the map, but I hope it makes sense. Thanks again for stopping by.

4/10/2006 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger philosapologist said...

Hey Keith,

I finally found a moment to venture onto your blog and look around a bit. Looks like some good info. Simon actually posed a similar question to me about whether the authors of Scripture would have understood the doctrine of middle knowledge or had it or something like it in mind when writing.

First, I think we want to be careful when we say the authors did not necessarily understand what the Spirit inspired them to write. This obviously hinges on one's understanding of how inspiration works, but nevertheless, it is the also the human authors' writing, not just that of God, so I think they would have understood what they intended to communicate, even if they took a certain amount of philosophical coherence in their writing for granted. They probably did; after all their intent was not to write philosophy papers.

The Hebrew people did have an extraordinarily high view of God's sovereignty, but they held it without obliterating human freedom. This is evidenced in a lot of OT literature; stories like that of Saul taking his life in Samuel, yet in Chronicles, it says "the Lord slew Saul." They also clearly had an understanding of counterfactual truths, which is really all middle knowledge is in essence.

Finally, with respect to Paul and Romans, I don't really think middle knowledge is necessary to explain predestination; although in a certain sense it seems obviously true. But I'm not convinced that was what Paul was talking about. I think what he had in mind with election and predestination was God's covenant people. In the Ot, Israel. In the NT, Paul expands and redefines God's elect people to include not just ethnic Jews, but Gentiles as well (that was his ministry after all). Paul explains that God's new covenant people, his elect, his Israel were those who were "in Christ." This is a consistent theme in Galatians, Romans, Ephesians. He redefines Israel, assures the Gentiles that their faith in Jesus was enough; no need to become Jews. All they needed to do to be God's people was be found in Christ. This is a brief summation of a large topic but it's my 3 cents.


4/22/2006 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger philosapologist said...

P.S. Lest I create any confusion, I am all for middle knowledge; I just prefer to apply it to omniscience and providence. I see better ways to explain election and predestination. And one thing I forgot to mention in my previous comment: predestination in that whole situation refers to God's deciding beforehand to save all people and include everyone in his electing plan. The mystery revealed (Eph 1 or 2?) is that God always intended to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews. "In Christ" (Gal 3, John 15) is the only condition for election.

Bless God,

4/22/2006 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger Keith said...


Thanks for stopping by! We try to keep some decent stuff up on here, but you know how it is at the end of the semester...

You're right: we should always exercise caution in such discussions, especially when when there's no way to know exactly the extent of a given Biblical author's comprehension. Of course, the point I'm driving at in my original post is not that the Scriptural authors failed to necessarily understand what they wrote, because I think they certainly did understand it. I don't think, however, that they understood it exhaustively in every case. Predestination and election were incidental to my point, and omniscience or providence can serve as fine examples instead. Creation seems to serve my point best: Moses (assumed author of Genesis here) understood that God created everything. He understood that, first there was nothing, then God created something. That is most basically at least what we mean by Creation: God brought something from nothing. Now, I believe Moses understood what I've just said of creation, but not much more. My point is that we should not feel compelled to demonstrate that Moses understood (metaphysically) how God made something from absolutely nothing.

Wow, you did summarize a LOT of (good) theology! You know, I've been getting more and more interested in exploring the philosophical foundation underlying hermeneutics. Know any good books on the subject, by chance?

4/22/2006 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger philosapologist said...

Ok. The Moses illustration clarified it. Cool.

4/23/2006 11:43:00 AM  

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