Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Paul Owen Capitulates
01/25/2007 - James White
v.v. verb cease to resist an opponent or an unwelcome demand; surrender. Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
When you are challenged on a theological and biblical claim you have made in public, it is expected that you can respond to said challenge with serious and sober argumentation, exegesis, and contextual argumentation. If you cannot do so, you can either ignore the challenge, or, as is so often the case, you can attempt to obfuscate. This is done by grossly misrepresenting the substance of the challenge and then by attacking, often with extreme prejudice and emotion, the straw man you have erected. The hope is that the wild display will be sufficient to dissuade anyone from pursuing the topic.
The utilization of these forms of invalid argumentation is, to the serious observer, nothing more than surrender. Capitulation. And that is what we see when we evaluate the responses posted by Paul Owen of my critique of his assertion that John 6 is normally mishandled and misread by "Calvinists."
I would encourage the reader who is interested in how various groups in today's world handle the text of the inspired Word of God to spend a few moments doing a comparison. I am posting, here, the text of a fairly brief exegesis of John 6:35-45 I wrote a few years ago. I would probably expand upon my comments on v. 45 today, but I will allow it to stand as is for the moment. The file is in pdf format.
Then look again at Paul Owen's original comments on John 6, found here. Try to avoid the vein-popping, red-faced diatribe connected in the update section, for that came after the original was published. Remember the statement he originally made, and is now doing his best to have everyone forget: "Calvinists take a clearly Eucharistic passage and turn it into a treatise on predestination. It is not." Remember that Owen is the one "locking" the passage into being "clearly Eucharistic" and is denying that it is a "treatise on predestination." Those are his own words. If he wants to retract them, we will all gladly allow him to do so publicly. But that was the assertion to which I was responding. In any case, read his handling of the text of John 6. Compare and contrast it with the file linked above and my own comments. Which, if either, follows the flow of the dialogue in the synagogue? Who jumps from text to text, back and forth, and who follows in the natural order of the conversation, allowing terms to be defined, and then meanings built up? Determine for yourself. I don't have to browbeat you into taking my side. I think the facts speak for themselves.
Now, there is so much venom in Owen's response that it would not be edifying to most to invest a lot of time in it. So I will summarize some of the main obvious errors and let the reader decide who is blustering and who is not. A few things:
First, I did not realize how many different religious movements Owen had passed through. I am glad to have a more complete list. Yes, I think a man's inability to put down roots and be stable is relevant. When you can't stay in a single position long enough to actually profess it meaningfully, that might well speak to your over-all stability. And I think being a part of a Presbyterian Church without even accepting the ecclesiology of said denomination is just a bit disingenuous. When Owen was taken to task for his lopsided handling of Calvin about two years ago, he protested greatly when his standing as a real Presbyterian was challenged. Shortly thereafter, he left the Presbyterian church (though he continues, as far as I know, to teach at a PCUSA school). In any case, yes, I think it is relevant to point out that someone is a former
The number of glowing straw-men thrown out by Dr. Owen in his emotional explosion is hard to count. Let's note a few. We were told I don't read outside of my "comfort zone." Think about that one for a moment. Then we were told there was not "concrete argument of any substance" in my response. Just where did that 800 lb. gorilla go, anyway? I pointed out Owen's assertion that all human beings, not just those in relationship with Christ, are the "children of God" sounds like it comes from his LDS background. He misreads even this simple response and writes, "Sometimes his inability to follow a simple train of thought left me speechless. For example, because I say that 6:37-39 speaks of God’s children, and I include among that number some who will eventually be lost, he replies: 'This is how Mormonism speaks.'" Notice the common and fallacious form of argumentation: instead of responding to the criticism of his expansion of God's children to all of mankind, he replaces substantive response with ad-hominem insult, hoping to raise sufficient emotional energy to gloss over his failure to respond. Clearly, Owen did not even follow the criticism of his assertions, leaving them unrefuted and unanswered (as is the case, for the reader who refuses to be dazzled by flying insults and condescending remarks, for the rest of my presentation).
One of the most glowing straw men comes up early: "Regarding the details of the text, in a manner which is typical of him, he simply cannot imagine that the words of John 6 are capable of any other meaning than the one taught every week at his Reformed Baptist church." In case you wonder at the venom, the unvarnished hatred, that Owen and others express toward RB's, please realize that this is nothing new. Owen likened Baptist ecclesiology, as I recall, to an "outhouse" a few years ago. He and his compatriots do not have the first desire to accurately represent what we say or why we say it. Anyone who reads my response knows that I did not ever say, or intimate, or suggest, that my reading is simply derived from some RB tradition. The issue is whether Owen can substantiate his assertion that the text of Scripture is normatively polyvalent in its meaning and orientation or not. Ironically, it is Owen who is actually demanding that one stream of interpretation, which he originally simply identified as that taken by "Calvinists," is incorrect. So which is it?
Notice how this great scholar is incapable of mustering any kind of substantive argumentation. I pointed out that the meaning of the text existed when the Lord Jesus spoke these words in Capernaum, and that long before the establishment of any kind of "eucharistic celebration." Remember, Owen is the one claiming the normative interpretation is in error, and his is "clear." I demonstrated that his meaning requires us to by-pass the very context in which John records the encounter. It is inherently foreign to the immediate context, and it ignores the substance of the dispute between the Lord and the seeking, yet unbelieving, Jews. This compelling argument is by-passed by Owen: "Apparently, words that are spoken prior to certain events cannot allude to those events. I guess John 12:32 cannot refer to the crucifixion either, because Jesus had not been crucified yet. That’s just a wonderful hermeneutic." Now, did I ever say anything that would substantiate such a statement? Surely not. I said when we exegete the text its immediate context, especially in gospel narratives, is primary, nay, foundational to all else. Owen knows this is true. But he ignores it because exegesis of the text is not his primary concern any longer. His original article ignored such basic issues, and now he is left using this kind of obviously invalid argumentation to defend an impossible position. If I had said "Jesus could not allude to future events in His teaching" Owen would be right. Instead, I said, "The immediate content of Jesus' words in a fully discernible context takes priority over interpretation in light of later, extra-biblical theological developments." We can see why Owen so rarely quotes me. He can't. His temper-tantrum retort would be seen for what it really is. But I can quote him fully, and then prove he is guilty of twisting the inspired text. Let's look at another dishonest misrepresentation from the scholar of Montreat:
Another hermeneutical principle which my critic insists upon is that the language of John 6 must not take into consideration the totality of the teaching of the gospel of John, or the whole range of his use of vocabulary within the book, let alone the entirety of the Johannine corpus. No, a proper reading of John 6 must proceed to determine what it means apart from an informed reading of the whole gospel text.A sure sign that someone is incapable of putting up a scholarly fight is their insistence upon this kind of misrepresentation. Remember, Owen is the one saying my interpretation is in error. See how he is dodging the responsibility of substantiating his own claims? All I needed to do was demonstrate the contextual validity of the very viewpoint he himself said was in error. I did even more than that, of course. But no semi-honest person could possibly read what I wrote and come to these conclusions. Paul Owen is a smart guy, so, he knows better. This is purposeful on his part. How, exactly, does one determine the "totality of the teaching of the gospel of John" without doing what I did in interpreting this text? There is nothing in the "totality" that overthrows the flow and immediate context and meaning of words and transports John 6 into a eucharistic celebration far removed. Where did I violate the range of vocabulary within the book itself? Would it not be necessary for Owen to quote, and document, such allegations? Yet, he does not. Why? Because, as he well knows, he cannot do so. Smoke and mirrors defy footnoting. Straw men don't work when you let the reality speak. Owen wishes to make the claim, without proving it, that his is the "informed" reading of the text. And how would one prove this? By doing what I have done: demonstrating that my exegesis follows the natural contours of the text itself. Does he do so? Surely not. Instead, we have more straw men given as an illustration. Owen says,
Therefore, John 17:9, 12 cannot be used to qualify the scope of John 6:37, because it does not appear until eleven chapters later. By that same logic, we must determine in John 7:37-38 whether Jesus is speaking of the Spirit/water which will flow from within him, or from his disciples, without looking for a clue in 19:34, which depicts a stream of water flowing from Jesus’ side.Now note how often Owen connects things that have no business being connected. I argued that one cannot look at John 17 (at times it is almost as if he did not even read what I said) before first determining immediate context in John 6; then I argued that it is an inappropriate reading of John 17 to confuse the role of Judas with what is said about him in John 6. Owen cannot refute this, so, he has to make up something else to refute. Evidently, "how to misrepresent others when you have backed yourself into a corner" was not a class the renowned Dr. Owen took, because he is not very good at it. And notice again the lack of citation? It is telling.
Once in a while Owen slipped and gave us something we can actually refute directly and prove to be in error. He writes,
Likewise, we are to believe that the word “disciples” in 6:66 really means “false disciples who are just pretending,” despite the usage of this language throughout the preceding context to refer to those who are followers of Jesus in contrast with the Jewish multitude (6:22, 24 cf. 6:8, 16).Evidently, Owen has found a lexicon that demands that "disciple" always have the same meaning, so that when someone who is a disciple is given by the Father to the Son, that means that everyone who is ever called a disciple must likewise have been thusly given, and therefore, true disciples given by the Father to the Son can be lost! This kind of upside-down reasoning not only turns the text on its head, but it is illustrative of the kind of perverted thinking that can allow Owen to move from pillar to post, not only in his own religious beliefs, but in so publicly misrepresenting my words. (I note he may be safe, since it is painfully obvious the majority of the commentators at the oxymoronic blog do not, in fact, read what is being said here). Those who stopped following Jesus in John 6:66 did so because they would not come to Him for their spiritual nourishment. They found His words too hard. They were offended at His teaching that one must be enabled by the Father to come to Christ. They were seeking the physical, they were not seeking the spiritual. But to say that any of these had been given by the Father to the Son for salvation is to turn the text inside out: the very means the Lord used to explain their unbelief is in the giving and drawing of the Father. Owen's traditionalism negates the very words of the text! Having made such an obvious error, it is ironic for Owen to follow up with:
And that is not taught in the Reformed Baptist church which my critic attends. In any event, the idea that “exegesis” involves reading texts in isolation from the totality of the teaching and vocabulary of the documents in which they are found is truly a curious sight to behold from one who fancies himself as “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10).Someone is far better at penning insults than rightly handling the text.
The rest of Owen's embarrassing post partakes of the same kind of basic, simplistic errors. He accuses me of the same. One of us quotes the other and documents, one of us does not. The truth is quite easy to see.
Now, after a few more paragraphs of ad-hominem, Owen writes,
And as far as the details of John 6 go, I would challenge my critic to point to a single verse or clause or word in John 6 that I cannot account for within my understanding of the passage. How does “reading the passage from the beginning to the end” demand the typical Calvinist predestinarian reading that I am suggesting to be misguided? Where are the eternal, unconditional, immutable decrees of God mentioned in this text? They are not; rather they are brought to the passage by exegetes who want to use this text to defeat the Arminians.I am once again left wondering if this man even reads what he is ostensibly replying to (that would also explain the lack of citations). Was it not my repeated assertion that Owen's reading does not come from the natural contours and flow of the text itself? Let's look at two of Owen's glaring errors.
The first is simple omission. Let's read:
John 6:35-37: Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."See how the text holds together? Jesus is the source of all spiritual nourishment as the bread who has come down out of heaven. Context? Manna, Moses, loaves, fishes, God, right (not second century eucharistic theology and development)? Jesus is the full source of spiritual sustenance so that the one coming and believing will never hunger nor thirst. But (see that term there?), that is the exact thing these men, who have been said to be "seeking Jesus" (24, 26), are not doing. Though they have listened to the words, they have partaken of the physical food, Jesus plainly identifies them as unbelievers in v. 36. This identification of those who certainly look like believers as unbelivers is what prompts the key text in verse 37. Now, my exegesis of this text pointed this out, and followed the concept throughout. Where is the unbelief of these men, and the fact that what follows is said in explanation thereof ever mentioned by Owen? Read his comments again. It isn't there. It is completely missing. Owen might find that kind of hop-skip-jump interpretation worthy of a good grade in his classes, but that speaks more to what he finds to be compelling scholarship than it does anything else.
But let me provide a second glaring example of Owen's failure as an exegete. Once again I do what Owen cannot, I quote him:
It is probable that this number is not identical to those who are eternally decreed to glory, for we read of some of Jesus’ “disciples” who fall away shortly after this (6:66). The disciples are sharply contrasted in this narrative with the multitude of “the Jews” who rejected Jesus’ lofty claims (6:22-24, 36, 41, 52). The disciples (6:3, 16, 22) are distinctly the number of those who (unlike the unbelieving multitude) have “come” to Jesus (6:35, 37). It is clear that this is no guarantee of a permanent enjoyment of eternal life.Now follow the claims made about "disciples" here. We are told some of Jesus disciples fall away. Then Owen makes one of his key assertions. We are told that the disciples are "sharply contrasted" with the multitude of "the Jews" in this text. OK, let's look at the texts he cites. He says the disciples, unlike the believing multitude, have "come" to Jesus. But, look at his citation. He cites verses 35 and 37. Verse 37 definitely speaks of coming to Jesus in true and saving faith, no question. But, look at verse 35. What comes after verse 35? Evidently, in high scholarship, that is not a valid question. Nothing comes after 35. But for us normal folks, verse 36 normally comes after verse 35. In fact, verse 36 begins with avllV. Now, I have looked at all uses of avllV in John, and especially in Jesus' public pronouncements, and I know that they do not as a body provide any basis for saying that there is a huge break in flow and audience at this point (that's called letting the Johannine corpus speak for itself). In fact, they substantiate my assertion that there is no break in the flow here. Jesus is speaking to the same audience in verse 35 as He was in verse 36, yet, Owen claims, at least by his citations, the exact opposite. Did he simply type the wrong number? Perhaps, but I sort of doubt it. In any case, it is a gratuitous and false assumption to assume that any of those disciples who stopped following Jesus had been given by the Father to the Son when the Son specifically said that He would lose none of them, that all who are drawn by the Father are raised up on the last day, that all who are taught by the Father come to Christ, etc. and etc. Owen is guilty of subverting the text and making it say the opposite of what it actually says.
So once again we find the gospel in the synagogue at Capernaum vindicated and another attempt at masking this divine teaching is refuted.
Now, let me very briefly address Mr. Johnson's post, "The Internet Yosemite Sam." Sadly, Mr. Johnson does not seem to have grasped the essence of my objections to his original comment, or, if he has, he knows he cannot defend his assertion. In any case, while I have challenged Mr. Johnson to show us how the "mind of the Church" is to be taken as our interpretive matrix even above and beyond the key elements of grammatical-historical interpretive methodology, he makes no attempt to answer the challenge. So let me make it easier for him. Please explain, Mr. Johnson, without the ad-hominems, without dodging, what Romans 5:1 means, using the mind of the Church in direct contrast to the grammatical-historical hermeneutic. Do not address the language, or the context, since, obviously, you were not there when Paul wrote it, so, as you have said, you can't know what Paul meant. You can't ask him anymore. And, since context and flow and language and the like are secondary to your "mind of the Church" hermeneutic, please, do us all a favor and exegete the text in light of your original claim. Oh, and by the way, please address the textual variant in the verse by citing, please, the official decision of the "mind of the Church" as to which reading, e;comen or e;cwmen, is correct. Please do not refer to manuscripts or textual critical principles, just to the "mind of the Church" please. Thank you.
Mr. Johnson, without defining "the mind of the Church," asserts that I rely "on the mind of the Church in his own work in interpreting and using the Scriptures." Pray tell, in light of your original statement, how so? Please document. Provide argumentation, evidence. Something. Mere assertion means you don't have anything to back up your claims.
It seems clear that Mr. Johnson is back-pedaling quite quickly in his retort, though, attempting to hide that he is doing so. He writes,
Last, I’d like to just briefly comment that my emphasis on using the mind of the Church in interpreting Scripture over and above the idea that we must look to the original intent of the author is a pastoral emphasis and concern for today’s Church. Making this sort of interpretive lens available does not cancel out or keep us from using the grammatical/historical method. It only helps us to get away from our modern individualism in looking at the Scriptures and attach a bit of humility to our proceedings in interpreting the Scriptures recognizing that others in the Church have often looked at things differently than we have and that while our precise interpretations look good to us, there is a need to check and recheck them with the Fathers.So, is Johnson saying, "It is good to look at what others before us wrote about these texts? If so, he knows well that I do just that, and have done so for a long time (Mr. Johnson knows I was teaching church history sixteen years ago when he was a college student at the same school). But that is not, of course, what he said in his comment. Again, if he wishes to withdraw his original statement, or redefine it, he is surely free to do so. But until then, his original statement stands, which was,
My belief is that context ought to be centered more in the concerns of the mind of the Church rather than the mind of the writer in the first place especially as we look to passages like John 6 where it is quite clear to me anyway that what is being presented is a whole lot more than just the arcane details of the miracles of Christ.And he followed that up with the assertion that we cannot know what Jesus said or meant in Capernaum since we weren't there! One of the main problems with the folks at the oxymoronic blog is that trying to get them to take a specific, identifiable position is like trying to nail jello to a wall. The target keeps moving.
So, I close with my Romans 5:1 challenge to Mr. Johnson. Let's see how and where the rubber meets the road. Exegete the text "through the mind of the Church." Identify it. If you say it means looking at the early Fathers, tell us who. Tell us how you study patristic resources. Do you use English translations? TLG? PL? Does Mr. Johnson even have these resources? And, do we all have to use them to be able to read the Bible now? Which writers do you use? Why one over another? Is Augustine always best? Athanasius? Which portions of Tertullian shall we admit into the "mind of the Church"? How about Jerome? Who gets to choose? How about some Eastern writers? What happens when, as is so often the case, they disagree with each other? What happens when Augustine's ignorance of Hebrew gets in the way? And what about the fact that so many of these writings have never been subjected to rigorous textual critical examination, and hence show signs of later emendation to the ecclesiastical text? How about all these things, Mr. Johnson? I personally look forward to seeing how Mr. Johnson exegetes Romans 5:1 through "the mind of the Church" and how he provides us with clear, compelling, cogent responses to these issues.