Feedback: Jeremiah 13:23 Revisited

This week’s feedback is in response to the post Jeremiah 13:23 – Proof of Man’s Inability?, wherein I argued that Jeremiah 13:23 is not universally applicable as proof of mankind’s total depravity, despite it typically being used as a ‘golden bullet’ proof-text by most Calvinists.

This week’s respondent asserts that Jeremiah 13:23 is universally applicable, and that by disagreeing with him, I am denying the Lord.

Question: “You said: “The context of the passage as a whole makes it clear that only Israel and Judah are in view.”  How does it make it clear that ONLY israel is in view?What about the pagan nations convinces you that they could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good?  When did they do so?  On human terms, in human wisdom, by human reasoning it is completely impossible for even the best human being on the planet to be saved.  God has to act to change you.  That is your only hope.  Yet to combat “calvinism,” you flatly deny the Lord.  Amazing…  

But Hebrews 11:6 would tell you that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” These verses don’t leave much room for behavior that qualifies as “good” in the eyes of God either:

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though EVERY INCLINATION OF HIS HEART IS EVIL FROM CHILDHOOD.”

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to respond, but I can’t help but think that it is you who has failed to grasp the context and scope of Jeremiah 13.  You said:

“How does it make it clear that ONLY israel [sic] is in view?”

Like this:

“Thus says the LORD to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the LORD, and put it around my waist.  And the word of the LORD came to me a second time, “Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.”  So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me.  And after many days the LORD said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.”  Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it.  And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.  Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Thus says the LORD: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.  This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.  For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.  “You shall speak to them this word: ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Every jar shall be filled with wine.”’  And they will say to you, ‘Do we not indeed know that every jar will be filled with wine?’ Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will fill with drunkenness all the inhabitants of this land: the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And I will dash them one against another, fathers and sons together, declares the LORD.  I will not pity or spare or have compassion, that I should not destroy them.’” (Jeremiah 13:1-14, ESV; emphasis added)

As I said in the original post, Israel and Judah hadn’t simply “fallen” into sin.  They were reveling in sin, continuing in steadfast rebellion to God, continuing in a steadfast refusal to hear God’s words, and continuing in steadfast idolatry.  And then comes the question regarding the Ethiopian and the leopard.  What is being illustrated is just how far Israel and Judah had departed from God.  Considering how far they’ve gone, and how unwilling they are to repent and turn back to God, it would be just as easy for an Ethiopian to change his skin colour, or a leopard to change its spots, than it would be for the houses of Israel and Judah to turn from their wickedness and do well.  God (through Jeremiah) was illustrating what continued wilful rebellion and apostasy will do to a man’s heart.

The burden of proof is on you to show where, in the context of the threat in Jeremiah 13, anyone but Israel and Judah are included.

“What about the pagan nations convinces you that they could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good?  When did they do so?”

Where in the original post did I say, or even imply, that pagan nations “could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good”?

It does not follow that since Jeremiah 13 has specific reference to Israel and Judah, that pagan nations have more moral ability to do good.  That’s a massive leap of logic.

What you don’t seem to grasp is that I have no argument with the doctrine of ‘Total Depravity’, per se.  In fact, no informed Arminian has a problem with the doctrine.  See for instance, Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity? and A Puritan’s (Deluded) Mind

The essence of the original post was not about ‘Total Depravity’, per se, but about whether or not Jeremiah 13:23 is a legitimate proof-text for the doctrine.  The question of whether pagan nations “could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good” is totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.

“On human terms, in human wisdom, by human reasoning it is completely impossible for even the best human being on the planet to be saved.  God has to act to change you.  That is your only hope.”

You won’t get any argument from Arminians on this point.  No Arminian denies that salvation is of the Lord, nor that the decisive factor in salvation is the grace of God.

“Yet to combat “calvinism,” [sic] you flatly deny the Lord.  Amazing…”

And yet to combat an Arminian, you flatly ignore the context of Scripture, you flatly ignore the context of my original post, and now you make a wild assertion without the slightest bit of evidence to back it up. Amazing…

“But Hebrews 11:6 would tell you that “without faith it is impossible to please God.””

Yes, but how exactly is this relevant to the context of Jeremiah 13?

“These verses don’t leave much room for behavior that qualifies as “good” in the eyes of God either:

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though EVERY INCLINATION OF HIS HEART IS EVIL FROM CHILDHOOD.””

Again, as an Arminian, I have no issue with the doctrine of Total Depravity, nor do these verses have any relevance to the question of whether Jeremiah 13:23 is a legitimate proof-text for the doctrine.

Thanks again for the reply, but nothing you’ve said has caused me to reconsider the conclusion of my original post – Jeremiah 13:23 is specifically referring to Israel and Judah, and should not be used as a proof-text for Total Depravity.  Also, and I mentioned this in the original post, I find it ironic that Calvinists take a text that is quite obviously speaking of a particular group of people (Israel and Judah) and give it a universal application, given their usual tendency to restrict and limit the meaning of passages that use universal language, such as John 3:16, 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2, and Heb. 2:9.

Best regards,

Arminian

Adam Clarke on Acts 13:48

Notes from Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible on Acts 13:48:

“As many as were ordained to eternal life believed—This text has been most pitifully misunderstood. Many suppose that it simply means that those in that assembly who were fore-ordained; or predestinated by God’s decree, to eternal life, believed under the influence of that decree. Now, we should be careful to examine what a word means, before we attempt to fix its meaning. Whatever τεταγμενοι may mean, which is the word we translate ordained, it is neither προτεταγμενοι nor προορισμενοι which the apostle uses, but simply τεταγμενοι, which includes no idea of pre-ordination or pre-destination of any kind. And if it even did, it would be rather hazardous to say that all those who believed at this time were such as actually persevered unto the end, and were saved unto eternal life.

But, leaving all these precarious matters, what does the word τεταγμενος mean? The verb ταττω or τασσω signifies to place, set, order, appoint, dispose; hence it has been considered here as implying the disposition or readiness of mind of several persons in the congregation, such as the religious proselytes mentioned Acts 13:43, who possessed the reverse of the disposition of those Jews who spake against those things, contradicting and blaspheming, Acts 13:45.

Though the word in this place has been variously translated, yet, of all the meanings ever put on it, none agrees worse with its nature and known signification than that which represents it as intending those who were predestinated to eternal life: this is no meaning of the term, and should never be applied to it.

Let us, without prejudice, consider the scope of the place: the Jews contradicted and blasphemed; the religious proselytes heard attentively, and received the word of life: the one party were utterly indisposed, through their own stubbornness, to receive the Gospel; the others, destitute of prejudice and prepossession, were glad to hear that, in the order of God, the Gentiles were included in the covenant of salvation through Christ Jesus; they, therefore, in this good state and order of mind, believed.

Those who seek for the plain meaning of the word will find it here: those who wish to make out a sense, not from the Greek word, its use among the best Greek writers, and the obvious sense of the evangelist, but from their own creed, may continue to puzzle themselves and others; kindle their own fire, compass themselves with sparks, and walk in the light of their own fire, and of the sparks which they have kindled; and, in consequence, lie down in sorrow, having bidden adieu to the true meaning of a passage so very simple, taken in its connection, that one must wonder how it ever came to be misunderstood and misapplied.”

The Asbury Bible Commentary on Acts 13:48

Notes from the Asbury Bible Commentary (available online here) on Acts 13:48:

“Galatian Mission to Gentiles (13:13–14:28)

A number of significant features cluster around Paul’s ministry in Pisidian Antioch. First, Pisidian Antioch was a Roman colony, the highest political status in the Roman world. Second, this is the longest account of Paul’s work in any place he visited. Third, up to now, Luke’s order of names has been Barnabas and Saul (see 9:27; 11:25, 30; 12:25; 13:1, 2, 7); now it becomes Paul and Barnabas (see 13:13, 43, 46, 50; 14:19-20; 15:2, 22, 35-36), except when Jerusalem is the focus (14:12, 14, where “apostle” is applied to Paul for the only time, a term elsewhere associated only with Jerusalem; 15:12, 25, in Jerusalem). Fourth, the term God-fearers (10:2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26, a Jewish reference) is replaced by the secular term devout (13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7) to describe the Gentiles who worship with the Jewish community. This signals a shift from a Jewish to a gentile perspective. Fifth, “the word of God” (4:31; 6:2, 7; 8:14; 11:1; 12:24; 13:5, 7, 44, 46) becomes the word of the Lord (13:44 [variant], 48, 49; 15:35, 36; 19:10). By all these activities, Luke is indicating the profound nature of what takes place in Pisidian Antioch. This is the radical shift of the Christian outreach from a Jewish to a gentile frame of reference.

The shift becomes reality because the Jews rejected the proclamation of God’s fulfillment of the old covenant in the new (13:16-45). Jewish Christians in Jerusalem had experienced the same rejection, but Paul has an option not available to them: outreach to the gentile world (13:46-49). God often has to leave behind a community of “faithful” who have become closed to the possibility that God might do something new. The response is great because God had already prepared the way. All who were appointed for eternal life believed (v. 48), rather than some kind of deterministic predestination that would leave some doomed, more likely represents the awareness that God had already been at work preparing the way for this response by Gentiles; in Wesleyan terms, they were the recipients of prevenient grace.

A typical pattern now emerges. The old covenant community allies itself with the political power structure to act against the new work of God (13:50). A community of faith that takes refuge in the secular power structure to maintain its status quo reflects the institutionalization of belief.

Iconium (14:1-7) was an instant replay of Pisidian Antioch. First Jews and Greeks (i.e., God-fearers) in the synagogue believe; then unbelieving Jews drive the Christians out and enlist the support of secular authorities to persecute them.

Lystra (14:8-20), however, is different. For the first time, Luke portrays the Christian outreach to a purely gentile community. The synagogue, with its God-fearers who form the usual bridge to the gentile world, is absent. Paul clothes the Gospel in the worldview of his audience who clearly perceive Paul (Hermes) and Barnabas (Zeus) from their own pagan outlook. This is always a difficult enterprise. The Gospel must be presented in a frame of reference capable of being received by the hearers, yet it must not be confined to that frame of reference. When God’s work begins to become indiginized in such a way, institutionalized belief tends to become most violent in its reactions.

The one who had stoned Stephen at the point where Christian outreach was pressing against the limits of purely Jewish involvement, now himself is stoned for crossing the boundary to the gentile world. Paul’s restoration and return to Lystra, however, was a witness to the Resurrection and to the reality of the new order being proclaimed. This kind of witness should be a characteristic of Christian life. Whenever we are left for dead by those who attack us, we should, in God’s grace, rise up and return to them as a witness to the reality of God’s presence and power.

Luke notes the ministry in Derbe (14:20-21), which prepares the way for Paul’s second mission (16:1).

It is significant to note that an essential part of Paul’s mission was the establishment of structure for the communities of faith (14:22-23), a structure that would enable the believers to continue in the faith and to endure the tribulation that accompanied faith.

The return to Syrian Antioch highlights the radical nature of what had happened: God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (14:27)!

The Asbury Bible Commentary on Romans 9

Notes from the Asbury Bible Commentary (available online here) on Romans 9:

“The Israelites have not yet received the salvation God promised Abraham and his descendants. It seems that God’s promise has failed. But this is not the case. Not all of Abraham’s descendants are the heirs of promise. His heirs do receive salvation (11:1-10). How do we, then, determine who are his heirs? God is sovereign. He decides what kind of people are Abraham’s heirs. Paul appeals to the OT to demonstrate this. This section has been misinterpreted to mean that God arbitrarily determines the destiny of people, regardless of their action and behavior (Murray, 2:20, 24). Paul’s thought development and the context of the OT quotations and allusions demonstrate the opposite.

The sovereignty of God, emphasized in this section, can be understood in two different ways. (1) God arbitrarily decides who are and who are not Abraham’s heirs. The unsaved Jews are not saved because God arbitrarily decides that they are not Abraham’s heirs. In this case, they are not responsible since they cannot do anything about it. (2) God is free to lay down the condition of heirship and thus determine what kind of people will be Abraham’s heirs (Wesley, Notes, 388). The Jews are not saved because they do not comply with God’s condition. Therefore they are responsible for their condition and are guilty.

If the first interpretation were true, the quotations from Hosea and Isaiah in 9:25-29 are meaningless. Why would God first arbitrarily reject them and later change his mind to accept them? The entire section following 9:30 indicates and 11:20-23 explicitly states that these Jews are unsaved precisely because of their unbelief, not because of God’s arbitrary decision to count them out. If they do not persist in their unbelief, they also will be saved. This surely contradicts the first and supports the second interpretation. The statement in 10:21 that God has held out his hands to a disobedient people (Israel) has the same effect. So does Paul’s anguish for the Israelites (9:1-5). All these lead to this conclusion: God’s sovereignty consists in his freedom to lay down the condition of salvation, not in his arbitrary consignment of some to salvation, others to damnation.

In the OT not all the descendants of Isaac are Abraham’s heirs. Even before Jacob and Esau were born, God had already laid down the condition of heirship. God did not wait until after they were born and then pick a condition favorable to jacob (vv. 10-13). God proclaimed before Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (cf. Ex 33:19). The meaning, again, is that I decide what kind of people I will show mercy to (cf. Ex 32:33). God showed mercy to Moses because, while the Israelites worshiped idols, Moses did not (Ex 32:1-33:23). God shows mercy to those who are faithful (vv. 14-15) and hardens the heart of those who oppose him. In Ex 5:1-12:51 Pharaoh first hardened his own heart. Only after that did God harden his heart (vv. 16-18).

The potter has the right to make out of the same lump of clay, some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use (v. 21). This is an allusion to Jer 18:5-12. The true meaning is clearly spelled out in Jer 18:6-10:

“Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or a kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended for it.”

The sovereignty of the potter over the clay means that the Lord is completely free to lay down the conditions under which he will bless or punish. It is not his arbitrary decision to consign some to salvation and others to damnation (vv. 19-21).

This truth is illustrated in vv. 22-29. Originally Gentiles were not God’s people, but God will accept them as his own because of their faith. The Israelites were God’s people, but because of their unbelief, they will be judged.” (Emphasis in original)