Opinions on faith and life

Pretext and Proof-text

2010-11-29

As you may know, I look for logical fallacies in other people’s writings-- even writings or writers I generally agree with. So it’s just a statistical inevitability that those writers I read the most are going to be the most frequent targets of my logic probe.* ;-) This is not a personal issue but simply an observation, as well as a plea for Christians to be more careful in what they teach.

Today’s example is found at the blog of the prophecy teacher I respect most, Jack Kelley. In an article entitled Coming Full Circle he endeavors to more completely answer questions about “coming of age” and responsibility for personal sin. But there are several problems with logic and prior assumptions that take him to the right destination (“age of accountability”) but by the wrong route.

Jack begins by citing a Jewish tradition (bat/bar mitzvah), though he admits several paragraphs later that no evidence for this practice exists for the first century. He ignores the fact that the bat mitzvah (for girls) was unknown in any form in Paul’s day, such that his whole argument for all human beings will be based upon a practice that only applied Jews, and only to half of them. That is, if Paul used whatever Jewish rite of passage existed in his time as the theological basis for responsibility for sin, then it necessarily follows that this whole discussion only applies to males.

Now we might then ask why Paul’s frequent mention of circumcision doesn’t suffer from the same flaw, but the primary question is whether Paul is talking about legalism in Rom. 7:9 as he does when he mentions circumcision. While circumcision and rites of passage were exclusively male issues, Paul did not cite them as examples for the same purposes. And we see in this case that the purpose is not why Christians are not under Jewish law, but the effect comprehension has on personal responsibility.

Then Jack says, “Judaism teaches that fathers are responsible for the sins of their children until they come of age”, as if this traditional teaching is to be held up to the level of divine mandate. But not even Judaism would say that a father is literally responsible for his children’s sins against God (see Ezekiel 18), but only for breaking Jewish law. Even today in our culture we recognize that parents must be responsible for their children’s crimes, until such time when the children can comprehend what they’ve done and recognize it as an infraction. Again, the crucial point is comprehension, and no one can ever be held responsible by God for the sins of others unless they deliberately caused the person to sin (Mt. 18:6), and of course this is not limited to fathers (what about mothers?) and their children.

So Jack comes to Rom. 7:9 with the assumption that Paul taught that fathers (not mothers) were literally responsible for sins against God committed by their children, and that sons (not daughters) would take this responsibility upon themselves at a certain age. Without explanation this is then transferred to the belief in universal (male and female) “sin nature” that I have written many articles against. He is arguing that at the moment someone is old enough to comprehend sin, they are immediately condemned by their “sin nature”:

Reaching the age of accountability transformed children into adults but also robbed them of eternal life. Since there was no longer someone else upon whom to place the burden for their sins, they became responsible themselves and an execution order was immediately entered against them from Heaven.
But what about John 3:18? Condemnation is not based upon nature but upon disbelief; we are not condemned just by growing up! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of separating condemnation to hell from losing rewards due to our committed sins. It is never inheritance, the flesh, parents, or the Jewish law that sends a person to hell, but their own conscious rejection of the gospel.

In a case of the tautology fallacy (circular reasoning), Jack goes on to lift verses like Mt. 18:3 from context to turn “have the simple faith of a child” into “become un-responsible for sin by returning to spiritual childhood”. Yet as I’ve said before, the whole purpose of believer’s judgment will not be to see if we’re believers, but to be rewarded or penalized for our actions in this life. Ergo, we are responsible for what we do, good or bad (Rev. 11:18). The same proof-texting is done to John 1:12-13; John isn’t saying that we lose responsibility for our sins but that we are heirs of promise. It appears that any verse mentioning “children” in a figurative way was made to be about responsibility to law.

Another proof-text is Gal. 4:4-7. While Jack admits is about inheritance he nonetheless asserts that salvation means the responsibility for our sins is “transferred” instead of it being the payment for sins. What Jesus’ sacrifice did, among other things, is to make forgiveness possible simply by asking for it with the realization that we have offended the One we claim to have been reconciled with, because we already have a Sacrifice. Just as a sacrifice was needed along with the sinner’s renunciation of their sin, so also we who “have died to sin” need not only to apologize to God but to have brought the only valid Sacrifice. (see my book Reconciled for more detail) As shown in the previous paragraph, we certainly are held responsible for our sins, but reconciliation is only an “I’m sorry” away; the sins we hate are the ones God wipes away.

1 John 2:2 says that Jesus is the “atoning sacrifice” for the whole world, so obviously the sacrifice is not the act of salvation but its enabler; individual faith in that sacrifice is what actually saves. But beyond that is personal accountability for sinning, and the guilt for that cannot be inherited. So rather than “full circle”, the article is “fully circular” and fails to distinguish between condemnation for rejecting Jesus and personal responsibility for gained or lost rewards.


* “Logic probe” has a double-meaning for those with an electonics background. It’s a device for testing a point in a digital circuit for its logic level, i.e. whether the voltage is high or low (on/off). But of course in this context I’m referring to “probing” the logic of a written article.

4 Comments

SaberTruth

Next thing I know, you’ll be telling me people don’t know what antidisestablishmentarianism is. ;-)

SaberTruth

Yes, I’m pretty sure I’ve always seen that attributed to him, thanks.

my preferred expression is, "take the text out of its context and you end up with a con", it works better because most people I meet (outside of academia) don’t know what a pretext is. :-)

EricW

According to Evangelical Scholar D. A. Carson, it was his dad (a pastor) who coined the phrase: "A text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text."