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Biblical Figures of Speech and Theology

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Nuremberg chronicles - Augustine
Nuremberg chronicles - Augustine
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I feel bittersweet about Augustine. He lived from 354 to 430 in Romanized North Africa and became a Western Christian bishop, theologian, and philosopher. His legacy dominated Western Christian theology and philosophy for over one thousand years. I appreciate his intellect and devotion while I sometimes strongly disagree with him.

Augustine developed classical theism and combined it with Christian theology. For example, classical theism says that God has always been perfect and beyond improvement while God cannot possibly change. Also, Augustine based classical theism on Platonism. That is, Platonism is the philosophy of Plato and any of his followers throughout history, while Plato lived in Greece during the fifth-to-fourth century B.C. and founded the first institution of higher education in Western civilization.

Consider Augustine, "City of God," book 15, chapter 25. He said that God never experiences any disturbance of mind such as anger, despite numerous Bible passages describing God's anger or "wrath" which is extreme anger.

For example, Exodus 32:9-10: "The Lord said to Moses, 'I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.'"

The passage says that God wanted to burn in wrath toward the Israelites and kill all of them except for Moses. However, Augustine implied that every reference to God's anger or wrath in the Bible is a figure of speech referring strictly to judicial punishment while divine anger is unreal. Also, Augustine said that all biblical references to unreal divine anger were necessary for the Bible to reach all people with the importance of avoiding divine punishment.

I agree with Augustine that nothing unsettles God's divine nature. However, I strongly disagree with Augustine on some points of divine punishment. For example, Augustine taught that everybody who dies unreconciled with God will suffer never ending torment in hell with no chance of liberation, while my 2012 Resource Publications book "Conditional Futurism: New Perspective of End-Time Prophecy" describes the realistic possibility of postmortem salvation for people who die without salvation.

For the rest of this blog post, I focus not on my theological differences with Augustine but on the process of developing biblical theology. For example, Augustine diligently studied the Christian Bible, Christian theology, and Platonism before he developed his world-renowned theology and philosophy. In this context, he boldly developed and taught his merger of Platonism and Christian theology. He noticed that some Bible passages would contradict each other when literally interpreted and he developed a system of biblical interpretation that implied consistent doctrine throughout the Bible. For instance, any Bible passage that at first glance implies that God felt anger was a figurative biblical accommodation. Likewise, the literal meaning of a Bible passage is not always the objective meaning of the passage.

Serious biblical theologies focus on consistent theology. The consistency requires principles of biblical interpretation which are also called "biblical hermeneutics." For example, Augustine outlined his hermeneutics in "On Christian Doctrine." From those principles, he concluded that God has always been perfect and beyond improvement while God cannot possibly change. This implies that every Bible passage that literally describes that God has changed is figurative. Also, every Bible passage that describes divine revelation or divine intervention never implies that God has ever changed.

Biblical hermeneutics are both necessary and problematic for biblical theology. For example, let me explain the primary dispute between Reformed theology and Arminian theology. John Calvin and other leaders in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation developed Reformed theology based on Augustine's theology. One of their theological points is called "unconditional election" which says that God before creation chose those who eventually enjoy salvation while the basis of the choice is God's mysterious purposes apart from any conditions or qualities of those persons. However, the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius in the early 17th century began to challenge the doctrine of unconditional election based on biblical theology. Arminius's followers called "Arminians" formally developed the doctrine of "conditional election" which says that God chooses those who enjoy salvation based on who responds to God's grace with faith.

Ironically, both unconditional and conditional election are supported by various seminaries and biblical scholars. Also, both sides of the election doctrine diligently study the same ancient manuscripts of the Bible and agree on most principles of Protestant hermeneutics, but they derive major difference in how they define the biblical Greek word translated to "predestined."

This blog post summarizes some important concepts of biblical interpretation. My next post will describe why I believe that the Bible teaches "supreme providence" which I described in my last post titled "God's Love and Limits."

Augustine, "City of God," book 15, chapter 25: Of the Anger of God, Which Does Not Inflame His Mind, Nor Disturb His Unchangeable Tranquillity,
Augustine, "On Christian Doctrine,"
James Goetz, "Conditional Futurism: New Perspective of End-Time Prophecy," Resource Publications, 2012, h ttps://
James Goetz, "God's Love and Limits,"
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright  1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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James Goetz is a philosopher, theologian, and member of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars. His published conjectures include the universal wormhole, semiclassical theism, semiclassical Christianity, Relative-Social Trinitarianism, (more...)

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