Good question...if Christianity is true, why does it need so much defending? And why doesn't God make it clearer?



Draft: Sept 24/2000




Section 1: If Christianity is true, why does it need so much 'defense' and 'apologetics'?

Section 2: The question of responsibility: is God supposed to 'prove stuff' to us, or are we supposed to 'seek God'?

Section 3: Interacting with the "possibly revelatory" data: Lessons from the Text on Encounter, Response, Results

Section 4: Two Pushbacks, on "would more hurt"? and "why seek a hidden God anyway?"

Section 5: Practice and Problems in "Seeking"


This is Section Three.





Interacting with the Data: Encounter, Response, Results


In trying to understand some of the dynamics of how this 'seeking' works, we need to see some in action. For this we can look at some of the interactions between the Jewish people of the 1st century and Jesus, in his public proclamation.


These are cases of interacting with 'high-level' phenomena (e.g., explicit claims to Otherness, extraordinary evidence), all of which presume a very theistic and supernaturalistic worldview to begin with. But what is instructive here, is that the types of responses (i.e., acceptance, confusion, resistance, rejection) and the results of those responses (i.e., personal transformation and further insights, hardening of heart and further rejection/error) will be operative (and paralleled) at whatever level of explicitness the seeker/recipient is working on.


In other words, the dynamics of encounter/response/results (see, learn or reject, grow more open or grow more closed) will be the same whether one is encountering high-subjectivity elements of possible divine disclosure/data (e.g., odd configurations of experience, mystical 'feelings', the beauty of a sunset) or high-objectivity elements of possible divine disclosure/data (e.g., Jesus speaking face to face with you(!), didactic passages in the biblical record) or elements in between (e.g., a friend sharing his/her story with us about the events leading up to their acceptance of Jesus and the subsequent 25 years of confirmation of this decision; strong moral convictions not derivable from one's subculture; positive intuitions and 'feelings' attached to a limited range of religious images, ideas, ethical goals, etc.).


The mission of Jesus to the Jew had very many specialized elements, which would not be as relevant to gentiles in later NT settings, but certain aspects of His teaching and actions may give us insight into how people responded to various levels of truth. We need first to surface some of the basic forces and movements in these interactions, and then we can try to synthesize these into a working model.



1. Background--the Jew had the explicit, linguistic revelation of God. They were supposed to have already responded to it, and were supposed to be ready for the appearance of the Son of Man/Son of God. This nation was supposed to already have a full-blown, vibrant, and working relationship with the Father, so that when the Son--His exact image-duplicate, character-wise--appeared, the recognition would be instantaneous. This would have been the ultimate goal of a process of seeking: the creation of character, openness, cognitive content of the expectation, and joyous anticipation of the very Presence of the Gracious King and Lord.


This is emphasized consistently by Jesus, in his confrontation over his heavenly identity:







In other words, the real seekers (not the side-show curious--like Herod, nor the arrogant know-it-all-already types) would have recognized Jesus.





2. The miracles of Jesus and the Father (and also of the apostolic age) are often responded to in confusion or in outright hostility by those either at a different place in their journey, or governed by their presuppositions/positions...






As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.  6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. (Acts 9)


I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?’ 8I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He said to me, ‘I am Jesus from Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9The men who were with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. (Acts 22)






Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I know this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”,  19The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. But because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at the proper time, you will become silent and unable to speak until the day this happens.” (Luk 1.18ff)


Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not had relations with a man?” 35The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. Therefore, the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God. 36And listen! Elizabeth, your relative, has herself conceived a son in her old age. This is the sixth month for the woman who was said to be barren. 37For nothing is impossible for God.” (Luk 1.34ff)


Notice that Mary's question was a question of method (e.g., "I believe you, but how is the difficulty going to be overcome?"), while Z's was a question of acceptance of the extraordinary evidence (e.g.. "why should I believe you, in spite of your supernatural appearance, in light of my conceptions of what is possible or not?"). Zech--even though a devout Jew and blameless priest, would have likely been skeptical even if God had written it in the sky every morning for all people to see...(still the "why should I believe even EXTRAORDINARY evidence?" possibility). A personal, linguistic communication, in a terror-creating appearance of Gabriel is about as 'extraordinary' as you can get.


And also notice, though, that even though Mary did NOT ask for evidence, she was given some anyway! The angel pointed out that a miraculous situation had occurred 'close to home' with Elizabeth, and this would encourage Mary in her confidence (plus it was a tender gift to her from God, since she needed to go 'think through this' with someone close and dear--the gift of a sweet and understanding friend).






3. And in some cases, without the proper background of experience and pre-conditioning by faith, Jesus was not allowed (by the Father? By the circumstances/possible consequences? By His conscience?) to even do many miracles. When we compare these two accounts of one of His trips, we can see that the lack of preparedness of the people (via 'faith'--learning of the reality of God and His promised Plan) created a condition in which a large-scale manifestation of Jesus' 'Otherness' [which was a promise of the Kingdom, had the people been ready/receptive] would have been inappropriate:









4. Although signs were given by Jesus often,  requests for signs and the need for signs were the subject of His disapproval.


·         When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him repeatedly to come down and heal his son, for he was about to die. 48Jesus told him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (John 4.47; notice that this remark is cast as a remark of disapproval, BKC: "A faith built only on miraculous signs is not a complete faith".)


·         When the Pharisees and Sadducees arrived, as a test they asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven. 2He replied to them, “You say,


‘Red sky at night, what a delight. Red sky in the morning, cloudy and storming.’


You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, yet you can’t interpret the signs of the times? 4An evil and adulterous generation craves a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matt 16.1ff; notice the sharpness of this rebuke, and that He pointed them to the historical context for information. They were expected to be sensitive enough to what God was doing in Jewish/messianic history at the time)


·         Thomas, one of the twelve, who was called the Twin, wasn’t with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he told them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger into them, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe!” 26A week later his disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Take your hand, and put it into my side. Stop doubting, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, saying “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Is it because you have seen me that you have believed? How blessed are those who have never seen me and yet have believed! (John 20.24; note that believing without 'seeing' is better than 'with seeing'...perhaps the former adds to the spiritual development process, and the later doesn't)



Or think about how open-minded  the "request for evidence" was at the Cross:


In the same way the high priests, along with the scribes and elders, were also making fun of him. They kept saying, 42“He saved others but can’t save himself! He is the king of Israel. Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he cares for him. After all, he said, ‘I am the Son of God,’ ” 44Even the bandits who were crucified with him kept insulting him in the same way. (Mt 27.41)


In the same way the high priests, along with the scribes, were also making fun of him among themselves. They kept saying, “He saved others but can’t save himself! 32Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now so that we may see it and believe.” Even the men who were crucified with him kept insulting him. (Mr 15.31ff)


Does anyone really believe that these officials (who condemned Jesus to 'preserve their temple and nation'--cf. John 11.45ff, and were also motivated by envy) would have all of a sudden reversed that position, and instantaneously become non-envious?! Extraordinary evidence from Jesus--without a commitment from Him to establish Jewish supremacy over Rome at the same time(!)--would have been 'inadequate' or 'inconclusive' data for them...'Their "offer" was a taunt, not a request for additional revelation.


Notice though, that when John the Baptist asked an honest question of His identity, he was referred to the same phenomena that was available to the elite, to the crowds, and to the disciples:


John’s disciples told him about all these things. So John called two of his disciples 19and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the Coming One, or should we wait for someone else?” 20When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the Coming One, or should we wait for someone else?’ ” 21At that time Jesus had healed many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits and had given sight to many who were blind. 22So he answered them, Go and tell John what you have observed and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear again, the dead are raised, and the destitute hear the good news. (Luke 7.18ff: notice how J-the-B already had a relationship with Jesus, and what is at issue here is only a 'precision' issue)




5. But the responses to the public signs were all over the map--just like it had been in Israel's history up to that time. The Jewish leadership in the OT (mostly during the Prophets' ministry) was most-of-the-time corrupt, spiritually insensitive, and constantly 'closing their minds' to Yahweh's appeals and warnings. And, in that great 'tradition', their responses to the Son was little different (John 12.37ff):


Although he had performed numerous signs in their presence, they did not believe in him, so that the word that the prophet Isaiah spoke might be fulfilled when he said:


“Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”


 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah also said,


 He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not perceive with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”


 Isaiah said this when he saw his glory and spoke about him. Yet many people, even some of the authorities, believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not admit it for fear that they would be thrown out of the synagogue.


Note that in this passage, the Jewish elite is not 'hardened' as a group, nor as a nation, since the text explicitly refers to believers in that group (one easily recalls Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea).






6. The 'seeking' model--in conjunction with the 'reversal of fortune' motif of the New Future--explains the puzzling 'hardening motifs' that occur in some miracle/parable contexts.


The John 12.37 passage cited above shows that (many/some of) the leaders were somehow 'not able to believe' in Jesus--in spite of the presence of extraordinary evidence (the signs), and that it was somehow a prophesied act of judgment on God's part. How are we to understand this?


The main clue to understanding this judgment can be found in the words of Jesus:


Then Jesus said, “I have come into this world for judgment, so that those who are blind may see, and those who see may become blind. (John 9.39)


Notice that this is clearly a reversal of fortune motif, and that the negative side of the saying is aimed at those who 'see'. That these are only people who 'profess' (or 'brag/boast'--see the discussion about the problem of arrogance in seeking above) can be seen from a related passage on the parables (which we will discuss below):


For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing secret that will not become known and come to light. 18So pay attention to how you listen. For to the one who has something, more will be given. However, from the one who doesn’t have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him (Luke 8.17ff)



The parallel passage in Matthew is explained well in WBC:


"The problem of the apparent injustice of God giving to those who have and taking away from those who have not is alleviated when it is realized that Jesus refers simply to receptivity and unreceptivity. The one who “has” (e[cei) is the one who has welcomed the message of the kingdom and who has responded in the appropriate commitment, i.e., who has become a disciple of Jesus. It is this person who has the key to further understanding of the purpose and plan of God in the presently dawning kingdom. This one will thus be given more understanding, and that understanding will abound (perisseuqhvsetai) in fruitfulness. The one who “does not have” (oujk e[cei) is the person who has not received or responded in commitment to the proclamation of Jesus and the disciples. Of that person it is said that kai; o} e[cei ajrqhvsetai ajpĆ  aujtou`, “even what that person has will be taken away.” Having rejected the message of the kingdom from the start, that person is unable to penetrate to the truth of the parables of Jesus. But even what such a person is inclined to fall back on—say, trust in Jewishness and Judaism—that too will be taken away (cf. 8:12; 21:43).



The religious elite of the day looked down on others, believing (and boasting, as we have noted before) that only THEY had knowledge of God. John records a comment of the Pharisees about the common folks in 7.47:


Then the Pharisees replied to them, “You haven’t been deceived, too, have you? None of the authorities or Pharisees has believed in him, has he? But this mob that does not know the law—they are accursed!


BBC points out this disdain in more general terms:


"Trained rabbis often looked down on the 'Am ha'aretz , “the people of the land,” common people who did not even try to follow rabbinic interpretations of the law. Many texts indicate the animosity between Pharisaic rabbis and the 'Am ha'aretz (e.g., Akiba contended that before becoming a rabbi he was an ‘am ha’aretz and wanted to beat up rabbis).


And WBC gives a bit more detail:


"The dictum of v 49 has become a celebrated utterance, as perfectly expressing the attitude of the Pharisees to the common people. Str-B pointed out that the phrase “this crowd that doesn’t know the Law” paraphrases the rabbinic expression Ĺrah µ[  (>am h÷<aµres˜) “the people of the land.” It has an ancient history, denoting first the whole nation of Israel (e.g., Ezek 22:29), then the people in distinction from the rulers (Jer 1:18), and after the exile the mixed population that settled in the land as distinct from the returned Jewish exiles (Ezra 10:2, 11). Among the rabbis the expression signifies those who do not know the Law and therefore do not live according to it; since for them the Law signifies the Mosaic Law as interpreted in the developed oral tradition, this included the mass of ordinary people, who could not attain to it. Even the liberal-minded Hillel could say, “An uneducated man is not slow to sin, and no people of the land ('Am ha'aretz) is righteous” (<Abot 2.5). This classic saying was paraphrased by G. F. Moore as, “It takes education to make a saint,” which was true to Jewish thought when “education” was precisely instruction in the right understanding of the Law. Where compassion ruled the Pharisees, this could inspire a desire to instruct all and sundry, but unfortunately it led to an attitude of despising the ignorant, so that “the people of the land” became virtually a term of abuse, as in v 49, and as Billerbeck’s lengthy assembling of material from rabbinic literature illustrates (Str-B 2:494–519). Since those who did not know the Law were assumed not to fulfill the Law, the Pharisees doubtless classed them among the breakers of the Law on whom the curses of Deut 27:15–26 should fall. Hence the statement in v 49, and the attitude expressed in MidrSam 5.9: “It is forbidden to have mercy on one who has no knowledge.”...



This attitude finds expression also in John 9.30ff:


The man answered them, “This is an amazing thing! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he does listen to anyone who worships him and does his will. 32Never since creation has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man who was born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do anything like that.” 34They said to him, “You were born entirely in sins, and you are trying to instruct us?” And they threw him out.


The healed man gives a perfectly good Jewish argument, but the force of the argument is rejected by the know-better elite: "Later rabbis emphasized being humble and teachable; but despite the proper Jewish argument he gave in 9:31–33, the authorities expel this man on the premise that he was born in sin—which the reader knows to be false (9:2–3)" (BBC)


What this means for us is that the religious elite, which looked down on everyone else, and claimed to do so on the basis of their superior knowledge of the Law, was being judged (and the sentence was that their 'understanding would be darkened')...And what they thought was correct would be proven to have been wrong ("taken away from them"), and what little the common folk had would be supplemented with more and more...the haughty would be humbled, and the humble honored...


In the words of Mary (Luke 1.52f):


He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.  53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed.





7. But even the nature of this type of hardening (not all biblical cases are necessarily of this type--Pharaoh may be a different kind) shows some of the 'seeking' model dynamics.




Then he got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped blowing. The disciples were utterly astounded, 52for they didn’t understand the significance of the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6.51f)


Notice how the disciples' hearts were 'hardened' in the face of extraordinary evidence (i.e., walking on water!), but it was due to a failure to understand a previous experience! They had participated (as insiders) in a Multitude-Feeding miracle, but somehow 'missed the point of it'. So, when confronted with the "next batch" of revelatory data, they 'go dull'...


WBC points out this mixed-character of the disciples' experiences (which is true for ALL of us, IMO):


"This explanation accents the disciples’ failure to understand, a motif which first appeared in 4:13  and comes to a head in 8:17–21. At the same time, the disciples are depicted as “insiders” in 6:7–13, 30, who actively participate in Jesus’ ministry, and they play a key role in the very incident they fail to understand (6:32–44). This tension in the portrait corresponds with 4:11, 13 where as “insiders” to whom the “mystery of the Kingdom” has been given (4:11, 34) they fail to understand the “parable”


Notice that 'hardening' is NOT related to 'being chosen' or 'being rebellious' or the such like; but rather to a failure to assimilate (for whatever reason: intellectual, moral, theological, etc.) or respond properly to "previous data". And will they 'get over it'? Absolutely...'hardness' is something 'addressable'...


In fact, it is the subject of Jesus' rebuke to them in Mark 8:


So they were discussing with one another the fact that they didn’t have any bread. 17Knowing this, Jesus said to them, Why are you discussing the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you understand or perceive yet? Are your hearts hardened? 18Do you have eyes but fail to see? Do you have ears but fail to hear? Don’t you remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets did you fill with leftover pieces?” They told him, “Twelve.” 20“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many large baskets did you fill with the leftover pieces?” They told him, “Seven.” 21Then he said to them, “Don’t you perceive yet?” (Mark 8.16ff)


Notice how Jesus tries to 'un-harden' them, by challenging them to think through it. He confronts them with the data and logic about the bread. The answer to hardening is to "re-evaluate" or look at the issue afresh. Hardening is the opposite of this--to judge a matter on one's preconceptions without evaluating the data openly, carefully, and from a wide perspective, and then to 'lock that decision in' and surround it with volitional stances, emotional defense mechanisms, intellectual rationalizations and nit-picking, and analyses of potential 'political and status loss' consequences...and if you do this long enough--and do enough damage in the world through this--God may (judicially) let this become part of your deepest character.




In the passage itself, Isaiah is commissioned to confront the people overtly:


He said, “Go and tell this people:


“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’


Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”


What is important to note here is that this message is spoken to the 'dull', similar to the rebukes of Jesus to the disciples (above). It is not an "insider's" theological reflection on their nature/situation, nor is it some kind of curse/magic formula, uttered to 'sprinkling hardening powder on them'... Like the case of Jesus with the disciples, it was meant to provoke/incite to re-assessment (un-hardening), similar to the later passage in Jeremiah 5.20ff:


Declare this in the house of Jacob And proclaim it in Judah, saying,


Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes, but see not; Who have ears, but hear not. 22 ‘Do you not fear Me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do you not tremble in My presence?


Or Ezekiel 12, where God still creates an object lesson--just in case Israel will 'break tradition' and listen!


Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house. 3 “Therefore, son of man, prepare for yourself baggage for exile and go into exile by day in their sight; even go into exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand though they are a rebellious house.


Again, in Isaiah 29, God confronts Jerusalem with similar (if not stronger) "in your face" speech(!):


Be delayed and wait. Blind yourselves and be blind. They become drunk, but not with wine; They stagger, but not with strong drink. For the Lord has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep, He has shut your eyes, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, the seers. And the entire vision shall be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, “Please read this,” he will say, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, “Please read this.” And he will say, “I cannot read.”



Notice that the imperative form is used here ("blind YOURSELVES"), and that the result is attributed to YHWH's  judgment. This was directed at the people, intending to provoke awakening and alertness and responsiveness.


When confronted with God's assessment of their dangerous insensitivity and culpable/deliberate ignorance of righteousness, the people were supposed to re-evaluate "how well they are doing"(!) and respond like the disciples did, or David did when confronted by Nathan, or even Nicodemus when confronted by Jesus in John 3.9-12. These are rhetorical devices--not abstract theological statements--designed to provoke some kind of response. If the response is negative, then the situation gets worse (i.e., they get further entrenched in their positions); if the response is positive, then God is warranted (under covenant stipulations) to 'soften' their hearts even further--all the way to deliverance.


[This is something like the argument between friends, where one confronts the other with "You're not listening to me--your mind is made up and you haven't heard a word I have said"--the goal is to provoke the 'un-listening one' to START listening.]


This is almost a standard 'provocation' technique--it occurs often in biblical and extra-biblical lit. In addition to the examples above, we might note a couple of other "shaming" passages:


1.        Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  (Heb 5.11)


2.        Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.  17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?  18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’  19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’” (Matt 15.15; note--the Disciples again!)


3.        The countless "you blind guides!" passages

4.        The Hebrews 3.12 passage (relating to OT usage) is very explicit, in warning (implying some control by the recipients!) them to deal with the hardness issue:


See to it, my brothers, that no evil, unbelieving heart is found in any of you, as shown by your turning away from the living God. 13Instead, continue to encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we are Christ’s partners only if we hold on to our original confidence to the end.,  15As it is said,


“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as they did when they provoked me.”

5.        Paul uses the Isaiah passage in Acts 28.25 at a meeting with the Jewish leadership in Rome!


They disagreed with one another as they were leaving, and Paul added a statement: “How well did the Holy Spirit speak to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah! He said,


Go to this people and say,


You will listen and listen but never understand, and you will look and look but never see! 


For this people’s heart has become dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes so that they may never see with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn and let me heal them.” ’


 You must understand that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen.”,



"The points at which many of the Jewish leaders disagreed with Paul and left the session, Luke says, were two: (1) Paul's attempt to prove the obduracy of Israel from Scripture on the ground that Isaiah had foretold the Jews' rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and (2) his insistence that because of Israel's hardened attitude the message of "God's salvation" has been sent directly to Gentiles where it would find a positive response. He documented the first point by quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. The LXX had already turned the imperatives of vv. 9b-10a into finite verbs, with the result that the entire blame for Israel's estrangement from God is placed on the stubbornness of the people themselves. That is how Jesus also is reported as having used the passage in the "Logia" collection (cf. Matt 13:13-15; Luke 8:10; see also the use of the passage in Mark 4:12 and John 12:40, though not with quite the same thrust) and how Paul explained Israel's predicament in Romans 9-11. But Paul quotes prophecy here not just to explain Israel's stubbornness but to set the stage for his second point: In the providence of God, redemption was now being offered directly to Gentiles [tn: instead of through the mediation of the Jews] and they were responding. [EBCNT]



As the commentary points out (above), Paul quotes from the LXX version of Is 6.9-10 in the situation of Acts 25. But some commentators will contrast the MT use of the imperative form ("make their hearts dull") with the 'softer' LXX ("they made their own hearts dull"). Some will actually accuse Matthew of avoiding the implication of the passage--that God hardened the Jewish rulers--and instead used the LXX to lay all the blame at the feet of the rulers themselves. Pointing out that Mark's usage of the Isaiah passage preserves the MT imperatival force (i.e., Mark uses a hina clause ("in order that/to") to reflect the MT force), and that Matthew allegedly changes this (via the LXX exemplar) to a hoti clause ("because they..."), some argue either that (a) there's a major theological disagreement between the two; or (b) they are taking complementary views of some kind of  sovereignty/responsibility 'paradox'. 


But I personally cannot see the force of the problem here--both Matthew and Mark 'map' into Matthews/Paul-Luke/LXX understanding very easily. Consider:




Now, since "prophets are often said to do what they announce as about to happen" (KD), their 'imperative' in verse 10 could easily be taken as an 'announcement' of what is "about to happen"--the self-deadening practices of the Israelites will continue and continue, until they are no longer candidates for God's positive intervention. [Notice that this is some of the force of Rashi's comments--that the continuous action will continue.]


An example of this type of expression (in which the prophet is "said to do what is announced as about to happen") would be Jeremiah 1.9-10: Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.  10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” [We might also note Jeremiah 25.15ff--Jeremiah did not ruin Jerusalem himself...]


Where this nets out at is this: the divine message (e.g., in Isaiah and in the life/words of Jesus) encounters rejection by the hard-of-heart, and this rejection of God's overtures of goodness results in even further hardness-of-heart, as God judicially allows the natural consequences of destructive choices to negatively affect their decision making process itself.




What this means for the Isaiah passage (and its application in the NT) is that the role of the prophet--in confronting them with God's message--is one of causing provocation, and not of causing hardening per se. Isaiah, 'ordered' to 'make their hearts fat/heavy' only does so obliquely, tangentially, incidentally. The people are already 'heavy/fat' and their rejection of the message will only add more lethargy to their moral/religious life.


There is no question but that God does 'facilitate incremental obduracy' in people(smile), because it is obvious that His messages of warning, rebuke for treachery, and confrontation with the demands for authenticity/spirituality had such an effect on the ancient Israelites. His messages were supposed to be provocative, to cause change (for good or ill), and to be 'in their face':.


·         For the house of Israel and the house of Judah Have dealt very treacherously with Me,” declares the Lord. 12 They have lied about the Lord And said, “Not He;  Misfortune will not come on us; And we will not see sword or famine.  13 “And the prophets are as wind, And the word is not in them. Thus it will be done to them!” 14 Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, “Because you have spoken this word, Behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire And this people wood, and it will consume them. (Jer 5.11ff)


·         “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. 5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you. 6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. 7 Like Adam, they have broken the covenant— they were unfaithful to me there. 8 Gilead is a city of wicked men, stained with footprints of blood. 9 As marauders lie in ambush for a man, so do bands of priests;  they murder on the road to Shechem,  committing shameful crimes.  (Hos 6.4ff;



8. What must be remembered about 'hardening' language, though, is that it is intended to provoke to renewal and to get the people to "un-harden" their hearts. This is clearly seen in the contexts in which the language occurs.




And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; 3 the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. 4 “Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.


Think about this for a second--what's the point of a teacher standing up in front of a class and saying "None of you are really passionate enough about this subject to master it" or a preacher telling his congregation "I appreciate you all coming today, but I don't think you are really ready to hear this message"? Is it to teach them about their irreversible hardness, or to make them even more dull/lethargic, or is it to motivate them to passion and openness? Are they supposed to say "okay, its God's will for me to be stupid. God be praised", or are they supposed to say "no way! I can learn, I WILL learn!"?



At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from wise and intelligent people and have revealed them to infants. 26Yes, Father, for this is what was pleasing to you.



I find it VERY instructive that when confronted with such hardness, Jesus once tried to reset their paradigm, by getting them to reflect upon and re-evaluate a core issue--"what is the heart of God all about"?


The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12When Jesus heard that, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a physician, but sick people do. 13Go and learn what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Matt 9.11f)


And many of His arguments with the Pharisees would always go back to God's heart--"is it lawful to do people good on the Sabbath?" or "the Sabbath was made for man's good"...He tried to un-harden them with images of God's love, mercy, and care--rather than ceaseless arguments about the Law...He pointed them to life-changing data, when seen carefully. And the experience with the scribe-who-learned is a case in point:


Then one of the scribes came near and heard them arguing with one another. He saw how well Jesus answered them, so he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of them all?” 29Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, 30and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “Well said, Teacher! You have told the truth that ‘God is one, and there is no other besides him.’,  33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw how wisely the man answered, he told him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mk 12.28ff)





9.  And the image/metaphor of 'hardening of heart' is a reversible one. Hardening can be reversed, and in some cases avoided, by opening back up to God...It is primarily a matter of personal choice and control (and over time, habit)...there seems to always/generally be room for change. Consider the various images of this:






















10. The various uses of 'hardening' images above focus mainly on personal choice, but there are clearly situations in which God judged people with hard-hearts, and as a punishment/disciple, made them even more unreasonable, off-track, self-deceived, and foolish. In the few cases in which we have detailed data (about antecedent conditions), the cause of this judgment was always the same--arrogance. The progression seems to move from arrogance (which involves self-deception over one's worth--relative to God and to others), to becoming hard-hearted (involving both insensitivity to morality and to compassion), and resulting finally in 'darkness' or ignorance (a worldview faulty at its base).



O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor.  19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled.  20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory.  21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.


The progression is clear: arrogance->hardness->ignorance (mind of an animal). And this is a great example of 'reversal of fortune' as well--what he 'thinks he has' is 'taken from him'. [But notice that he was restored as well...]




They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance. (Ps 17.10)



But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, (2 Chr 26.16)



Now I will make you small among the nations, despised among men. 16 The terror you inspire and the pride of your heart have deceived you,  (Jer 49.15f)



 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,  18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.  19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”  20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.  21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.



Therefore, I tell you and insist on in the Lord not to live any longer like the Gentiles live, thinking worthless thoughts.,  18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.







11. Parables, Hiddenness, and Seeking.


Jesus' use of parables fits rather neatly into the 'seeking' model, since even as public data, they require interpretation and engagement. Since they force engagement (always a personal investment of will and focus), they can provoke several different types of responses (e.g., superficial acceptance, outright hostility, casual rejection).



Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables. He did not tell them anything without using a parable. This was to fulfill what was declared by the prophet when he said,


“I will open my mouth to speak in parables. I will declare what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”



"Clearly the parables are to engage and instruct, but it is not fair to say that the parables are themselves the preaching. Parables demand interpretation; they point to something else. They are not merely stories to enjoy. They hold up one reality to serve as a mirror of another, the kingdom of God. They are avenues to understanding, handles by which one can grasp the kingdom. Jesus told parables to confront people with the character of God’s kingdom and to invite them to participate in it and to live in accordance with it. [NT:DictJG:s.v. "Parables"]




When he was alone with his followers and the twelve, they began to ask him about the parables. 11He said to them, “The secret about the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside, everything comes in parables 12so that ‘they may see clearly but not perceive, and they may hear clearly but not understand, otherwise they might turn around and be forgiven.’ ”  (The latter part of this saying is from Isaiah 6:9–10.)





·         With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.  (Mark 4.33; notice that the 'word' is imparted to them, but in a way that is dependent on their ability to understand--no "data dump" on them, in other words.)


·         For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open..” (Mark 4.22; notice here that whatever is hidden is only hidden temporarily--it is hidden SO THAT it will somehow be learned and seen...the pedagogical purpose of enigma and ambiguity and even 'difficulty')


"The intent of Mark 4:10–12 is clear if one pays attention to the context. The kingdom is a kingdom of the word, and the issue is how people hear and respond to the word. The parable of the sower is a parable about hearing. In Mark 4:10–12 the Evangelist shows what typically happened in Jesus’ ministry. (Note the use of the Grk imperfect tenses in Mk 4:10–11 indicating what happened customarily.) Jesus taught the crowds, but his teaching called for response. Where people responded, additional teaching was given. The pattern of public teaching followed by further private teaching to a circle of disciples is used elsewhere by Mark (7:17; 10:10). The strong words in Isaiah 6:9–10 were not an indication that God did not want to forgive people. They were a blunt statement expressing the inevitable. People would hear, but not really understand...The hardness of heart and lack of receptivity that Isaiah encountered were mirrored in the ministry of Jesus. The issue is whether one’s heart will be hardened or whether one will hear and respond obediently. Even receiving the message with joy is not sufficient (4:16). What is required is hearing that leads to productive living. That this is Mark’s intent is clear from the summary in 4:33: “With many such parables he was expressing the word to them, even as they were able to hear.” The saying in 4:22 is also an important guide to understanding Mark’s intent: “Nothing is hidden except that it should be revealed.” This saying seems to be Mark’s understanding of the parables. Parables hide in order to reveal. Even though some would respond with hardness of heart and lack of hearing, Jesus taught in parables to elicit hearing and obedient response." [NT:DictJG:s.v. "Parables"]




When the high priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was talking about them (Mt 21.45, and parallels)




“I still have a lot to say to you, but you cannot bear it now. (John 16.12)






12. Jesus was clearly working on a 'seeker' model, as evidenced by His calls to "reflect  carefully on this"


Not only did the Parable of the Sower communicate to the listeners the fact that not all responses were equally valid, useful, or beneficial, but on a couple of occasions Jesus specifically told the listeners to 'watch how you respond to this', attempting to engage them at a holistic, reflective, and seeker level:


·         Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.  25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Mark 4.24f NIV, "Pay attention to what you’re listening to!" ISV)


·         But others fell on good soil, and when they came up, they produced a hundred times as much as was planted.” As he said this, he called out, “Let the person who has ears to hear, listen!” (Luke 8.8; There are several places where Jesus uttered this 'for the serious listener only' saying: Mt 11.15; Lk 14.35)


·         Therefore consider carefully how you listen.(Luke 8.18 NIV, So pay attention to how you listen ISV)

·         So all the people continued to be amazed at the greatness of God. Indeed, everyone was astonished at all the things Jesus was doing. So he said to his disciples,  44“Listen carefully to these words. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” 45But they didn’t know what this meant. Indeed, the meaning was hidden from them so that they didn’t understand it (Luke 9.43f, cf. 18.34 also--but notice it didn't work, they had a problem with understanding the resurrection until after it occurred!)





13. From the Jew to the Greek--the problem of the elite (again)


The logic of part of the above discussion dealt with the overturning of the religious power/arrogance of the Jewish elite, and the restoration of religious 'full family membership' to the non-elite. The arrogant were refused signs, but the common folk got plenty of them. Explicit information as to His identity was refused the elite (until the Trial of Judgment!), but given to the common folk (e.g. the Samaritan woman, the Twelve, the Born-blind man, the women). God turned the "wisdom" of the Elite into uselessness (since it was used to deny the Son), but took the simplest expressions of contrition and approach of the weak as 'excuses' to reveal His heart to them. Those that were 'far' He brought near, but the "sons of the kingdom" were barred from the great Feast.


When the message went beyond Israel to the Greco-Romans, the same pattern became obvious.


In the 1st century G-R world, the hope of eternal life was muted to a mere apotheosis of the soul (i.e., the soul became a god, but with any bodily resurrection or substance), and was the exclusive province of Roman Emperors and exceptionally virtuous philosophers (e.g., Pythagorean). Chances of you or me making it were slim:


"Apotheosis of the soul held promise only for the elite. Those who were not among the great ones in terms of their achievements or their morality had little hope." [NT:LFD:77-78]


And it was in this context that Paul echoed the words of Jesus (as to 'hiding the truth from the wise/intelligent) in  1 Cor 1.18:


For the message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written,


“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the intelligence of the intelligent I will reject.”


Where is the wise person? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? God has turned the wisdom of the world into nonsense, hasn’t he? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know God, God decided through the nonsense of our preaching to save those who believe. Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. He is a stumbling block to Jews and nonsense to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. For God’s nonsense is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength...Brothers, think about your own calling. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is nonsense in the world to make the wise feel ashamed. God chose what is weak in the world to make the strong feel ashamed. And God chose what is insignificant in the world, what is despised, what is nothing, in order to destroy what is something, so that no human being may boast in God’s presence.


Once again, we brought face to face with God's anti-arrogance campaign...the Kingdom will be populated only with authentic, intimate, and accepting people--not elite, exclusive, and arrogant superiors. They stumble over the simplicity of the message, the free-gift character, the low-demands of the offer...But because they want to strut about ("Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up"--I Cor 13) and lord it over others, God says 'create your own universe in your mind, and go live there' the wasteland.




14. This nets out at a principle of "metered" progressive development--for good or ill.


Let me try to summarize our "interaction" explorations so far:


The arrogant/elite think they know ultimate truth, and their very arrogance over their peers (and use of their 'knowledge' for dominance and manipulation of the poor/weak) shows otherwise. When confronted with evidence of God and the values of the New Future, they respond with self-centered rejection of a worldview that would threaten their position, status, and ability to exploit others. The act of rejection of that message, however, further entrenches them in their false view of reality, creating more obstacles to change, renewal, and openness. This 'further entrenching' is called 'hardening' in the bible. But, when confronted with the wide range of witnesses to transcendence in life--most quiet, but some loud--some of these individuals wake up and begin to explore the other side, some eventually finding God and new hearts (e.g., Jairus, Nicodemus, Matthew, Saul/Paul)


The hostile has the basic intellectual capacity to understand adequately the disclosure data--otherwise they wouldn't know to reject it, for its status-threatening implications--but this faulty use of the capacity 'turns back upon themselves' and they weave ever more false webs of implications, conclusions, and perspectives until they can no longer distinguish between reality and their constructed view.


God generally supports 'open processes' in human, even allowing the arrogance to have 'mixed views' and 'inconsistencies' in their thinking for a while. But when the arrogance, abuse, and rejection of His message to 'flee arrogance and love your fellow' remains consistent and persistent over long periods of time (or exploitation), He judicially 'turns them over' to achieve their 'quest for consistency', and the dissenting voices of moderation, openness, and compassion go away...



The humble, on the other hand, start from a position of "I'll take help wherever I can find it" and "I don't have the core truths under my belt yet", and have fewer internal barriers to accepting incremental insights about God.  They respond to evidence with reflective learning (sometimes under a 'pay close attention' challenge) and with character incorporation, experiencing personal growth and development in the process. The process contains speed-bumps and confusions, but in patience and openness they continue to seek. This wider perspective widens further, with each new learning experience, and the co-exploring that often occurs broadens their healthy intimacy within their community.


Their ability to detect and interpret 'suggestive' data--both unmediated and mediated--develops into a predisposition of openness, fairness, wisdom, and a broadness/depth of perspective that is fruitful in navigating the ambiguities and difficulties of life. This process is sometimes called 'enlightenment' in the bible.


But these individuals can also develop into the arrogant, especially if God blesses them materially or status-wise. Israel after the Conquest, the early Corinthian church, and some of the false teachers in the NT would be examples of this.


In the case of the seeker, each new level of understanding is an incremental improvement over the previous level, and the data/insights can only be understood if based on previously assimilated experience/insight. In other words, the new data must be more-than, but not too-much-more-than their current understanding (a basic pedagogical rule, of course).


The overall result is a transformed character for both: for the arrogant--a colder heart, wider distance from others, and a more "methodologically consistent worldview"; and for the seeker--a warmer life, bigger heart, richer blood, and a wider world of wonders...



15. What this position DOESN'T mean:


This position sketches out basic structures and processes that might affect all of us. All people--believers or not, skeptics or not--will be living in these, in multiple 'instances', in multiple 'tracks'. We might be becoming more open in some areas, and more close-minded in others.


Some of the things this position is NOT saying are:


1.        This does not mean that all Christians are non-arrogant and humble because they believe in the supernatural (boy, is this a kind and understated way to put it!).

2.        This does not mean that all skeptics are hostile, arrogant, and hardened (but you know who you

3.        This does not mean that if you don't see something in the data, that it's not in there.

4.        This does not mean that if you DO see something in the data, that it IS there.

5.        This does not mean that if you DON'T see it today, that you won't see it tomorrow.

6.        This does not mean that if you DO see it today, that you will still see it tomorrow.

7.        This does not mean that all arguments over contradictions, historical minutia, and evidence are petty and "obfuscational".

8.        This does not mean that the data around us has no force, no clarity, or no evidential value.

9.        This does not mean that the data around us is forceful, perspicacious, and compelling.

10.     This does not mean that one can ignore the biblical witness while one is 'smelling the flowers' for traces of the supernatural.

11.     This does not mean that one should "project" supernatural elements onto everything.

12.     This does not mean that one should "obscure" the supernatural element of something.

13.     This does not mean that God made the seeking task so difficult that most of us won't make it.

14.     This does not mean that just because you can't see something there, that someone else cannot possibly see it either.

15.     This does not mean that just because you CAN see something, there, that everyone else should be able to see it too (regardless of where they are in their personal development).


But it DOES mean that the increasingly closed-heart will eventually not be able to see, accept, and be changed by what is really there...and that the increasingly opened-heart will eventually see God...



On to Section Four--Pushbacks

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