Scripture & Logic (Rom 3:3-7) Category Mistake 

Romans 3:3-7

Affirming the Antecedent (Modus Ponens)

Romans 3:3–7 (LEB)

3 ⌊What is the result⌋ if some refused to believe? Their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! But let God be true but every human being a liar, just as it is written,

In order that you may be justified in your words,
and may prevail when you are* judged.”

5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? God, who inflicts wrath, is not unjust, is he? (I am speaking according to a human perspective.)

6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?7 But if by my lying, the truth of God abounded to his glory, why am I also still condemned as a sinner?

 

Paul is logically doing two things here.

First, he is dealing with an informal fallacy called a category fallacy.  Second, is to state truths concerning cause and effects (or basic Modus Ponens) arguments).  These two problems go together. That is, because the opponent is illogically mixing categories together, they then apply these confused categories in false cause and effect statements.

The categorical error is common one even today. This is an issue Martin Luther brought up in his book, Bondage of the Will.  Martin used the words, “The indicative (ontology) vs the imperative (ethic).”[1]  He explains that what God commands (ethics), is not at the same category of a human having the causality (ontology) in himself to obey the command. That is, a command from God to his people (ethics) is not the same thing as humans having causality (ontology) to do it. I feel ridiculous just saying this, because it is so obvious. Why practice advanced rhetoric technics if the theologian is not practiced in the basics of avoiding simple categorical fallacies? And to this Martin Luther mocks his opponent.

“Wherefore, my good Erasmus…. Even grammarians and schoolboys at street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by verbs in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done?

But there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip! – and things that you commanded and that were possible enough may yet not be done, so great a gulf is there between imperative and indicative statements in the simplest everyday matters! Yet in this business of keeping the law, which is as far out of our reach as heaven is from the earth and just as impossible of attainment, you make indicatives out of imperatives with such alacrity that the moment you hear the word of command: “do,” “keep,” “choose,” you will straightway have it that it has been kept, done, chosen, or fulfilled, or that these things can be done by our own strength!

…The passages of Scripture you cite are imperative; and they prove and establish nothing about the ability of man, but only lay down what is and what not to be done.”[2]

What we are dealing with here is like Luther’s point. We are in the same basic philosophy categories of, Christian ontology vs Christian ethics. Luther was directly talking about ontology on a relative level to man. However, here we are dealing with mixing up GOD’s causality with GOD’s command. Or, saying that “What God causes,” is the same thing as “What God commands.”  Or saying what God commands is not the same as God’s decrees (what God determines). Causality and Ethics are very different categories, and so this is not just mixing up apples with oranges as the same thing; it is like saying that an apple and clouds are the same thing.

“In Romans 9, Paul will say that God chooses to save some and to damn others. Contrary to the theologians, he does not merely pass over the reprobates so as to leave them in damnation, as if the reprobates created themselves and made themselves evil. Rather, God is the one who directly creates both the saved and the damned “out of the same lump of clay”; moreover, “he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

Again, Paul’s opponent surfaces and asks, “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” A typical response is that God is not unjust in saving some and leaving others in their sinful condition, but apostolic authority destroys this traditional answer, since Paul asserts that it is God who creates the reprobates as sinners and as those foreordained for damnation. The objection again ignores the distinction between causation and definition. What God causes to happen and what he defines as right or wrong are two different matters. “Why does God still blame us?” Because you transgressed his law! The metaphysical cause for the transgression is irrelevant, and is not factored into the verdict. Regardless of the cause, the issue is whether there is a violation of God’s command.”[3]

Vincent Cheung gives some good examples of Scripture on this ontology vs ethic distinction.

1 Samuel 2:25

His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, [precept]
for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death. [decree]

Mark 3:35, For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother. [precept]

1 Peter 3:17, For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. [decree][4]

More Examples.

Ezekiel 14:9 (LEB)
“And the prophet, if he is deceived (Ethics/Command -unlawful to speak a false prophecy) and he speaks a [false] word, I Yahweh, I have (Causes/Ontology) deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him, and I will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.”

Even though God causes (ontology) a prophet to give a false prophecy or that is a lie, God’s command (ethics) is for man not lie/false witness. Such a person, as Yahweh says, will be destroyed by Him even though God is the cause behind it. The reason is because our judgment from God is based on “God’s command” and not God’s secret decree(ontology); they broke the command, they will be judged.

NLT 1 Kings 22:19-23, “I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead (ETHICS – Ahab was warned not to) so that he can be killed there?’ There were many suggestions, until finally a spirit approached the LORD and said, ‘I can do it!’ ” ‘How will you do this?’ the LORD asked. “And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.'” ‘You will succeed,’ said the LORD. ‘Go ahead and do it.’ “So you see, the LORD has put (ONTOLOGY) a lying spirit in the mouths of your prophets. For the LORD has determined disaster for you.”

Ahab was warned not to go to war (Ethics/command). God put a lying Spirit (i.e. God Causes) in the mouth of the prophets. Ahab through much pleading by the King of Judah, initially chose to obey God. He decided not to go to war! Many miss this. Ahab made the right choice. However, God reached a boiling point with Ahab and wanted to kill him. And so, God decreed and caused Ahab to sin by going to war. This was done so that God could kill him in battle.

Why did God still find fault with Ahab, when Ahab did not resist God’s causality?

Why does God still find fault with Ahab when Ahab’s punishment displays God’s righteous perfection?

The answer is simple. You transgressed God’s commandment. Our judgement and rewards are based on God’s command and not His causality.

Christian ethics is defined by God’s command. Christian ethics is not based on witchcraft. That is, it is not based upon human speculation by your divinations from your experience or from what God does. God does vengeance, but that does not logically infer into Christian ethics for man to do vengeance.  Those are two separate categories of reality: Clouds and apples are not the same thing.

James says that if one lacks wisdom they are to ask. He tells us that they will absolutely receive wisdom from God. “It will be given to them.”  Not maybe, but that “wisdom will be given to them.” James proceeds and says if they doubt they will not receive wisdom from God.  If they do not receive wisdom, is it God’s will? “God’s will,” can mean two things based upon the context; either God’s casualty or command.[see footnote][5] Because God sovereignly and directly causes all things (that is, in the realm of ontology everything can be explained by this appeal), then a mere appealing to this is not very informative, for all it does is provide an explanation about causality. Such an appeal gives no ethics or conclusions, or reasons. It says, God as caused me to be unbelieving as a description of Christian ontology. It has not revealed to me what I “ought,” to do. It is invalid to go from what something ‘is’ in premise, to ‘ethics’ in conclusion. It does not tell us God’s commandment. If “God’s Will,” means God’s command(ethics), God’s will is for all to have wisdom. It is not a suggestion. God tells us to ask for wisdom when we lack it. It is not a suggestion to receive it. It is a command to actually receive wisdom in faith.  It is God’s will for us to ask when we lack wisdom, and then actually receive wisdom from Him by our faith.

Back to Romans 3. Verse 3 says in the LEB “What is the result of… X..?” This is a classic antecedent and consequent logic. If (P) is true, then (Q) will result. The antecedent here is, “ (P) if some refused to believe.”  The consequence or necessary result is stated as a question. “Their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” The term “nullify” and “refuse,” in logic form means a “not.” With this in mind the first premise of the argument is:

(P) If some(Jews) do not believe, (Q) then this results in showing God is not faithful.

Paul rejects the consequent by saying, “certainly not”! That is, Paul is not directly denying the consequent; He is attacking the “necessary connection” to begin with. He is saying premise 1 is false, and so the argument is not sound. There is no necessary connection of the antecedent to the consequent. That is, as an “if…then” that is based on the (not sufficient) but necessary connection, the whole statement is false. Paul in Romans chapter 9-11 reveals that God only promised to save the Elect or remnant and not all persons physically blood-related to Abraham and Sarah.  God has been completely faithful to this, even when God said, “Jacob I have Loved and Esau I hated”, even “before they were born or had done any good or evil.”

Therefore, if there is to be shown a true cause and effect, or a true necessary result from antecedent to consequent, it would be,

K.1. (~P) If God decrees some Jews not to believe, (~Q) these Jews will not believe.

K.2. (~P) God has decreed some Jews not to believe.

K.3. Thus, (~Q) some Jews will not believe.

And,

D.1. (~P) If some(Jews) do not believe, (Q) then this results in showing God is faithful.

D.2. (~P) Some Jews do not believe.

D.3. Therefore, (Q) God is shown to be a faithful God.

The next argument (if this, then this results) that Paul deals with comes in verse 5 and then a similar argument is restated in verse 7 in the rhetoric of a question.  “If our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” (or, what is the result?)

Paul’ says, God is displayed as a “truthful” and “righteous” God when He punishes man’s lawlessness. He quotes the Psalms to prove this.  Then verse 7 askes this question, “If God’s punishment of me makes God look good and truthful, then why am I punished?”  This question answers itself: because your punishment displays God’s truthfulness. Paul repeats this teaching in chapter 9 by saying the punishment of the reprobate is for the glory and benefit of the Elect, and the Elect is for His glory.

Verse 5 asks a question that is like Romans 9:14 and verse 15. Is God unjust if he punishes me for my unbelief that He ultimately causes, which results in His glory? Paul says asking this question is from a “human perspective.”  This is where the fallacy of mixing God’s causality and God’s commandments come into play.

This “human perspective,” is asking about what is Just or Unjust for God, based upon illogically mixing God’s command for man and His causality together.

Gordon Clark is helpful here.

God is neither responsible nor sinful, even though he is the only ultimate cause of everything. He is not sinful because in the first place whatever god does is just and right. It is just and right simply in virtue of the fact that he does it. Justice or righteousness is not a standard external to God to which God is obligated to submit. Righteousness is what God does. Since God caused Judas to betray Christ, this causal act is righteous and not sinful. By definition God cannot sin. At this point it must be particularly pointed out that God’s causing a man to sin is not sin. There is no law, superior to God, which forbids him to decree sinful acts. Sin presupposes a law, for sin is lawlessness. Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God. But God is “Ex-lex.”

True it is that if a man, a created being, should cause or try to cause another man to sin, this attempt would be sinful. The reason is plain. The relation of one man to another is entirely different from the relation of God to any man. God is the creator; man is a creature. And the relation of a man to the law is equally different from the relation of God to the law. What holds in the one situation does not hold in the other. God has absolute and unlimited rights over all created things. Of the same lump he can make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor. The clay has no claims on the potter. Among men, on the contrary, rights are limited.

The idea that God is above law can be explained in another particular. The laws that God imposes on men do not apply to the divine nature. They are applicable only to human conditions. For example, God cannot steal, not only because whatever he does is right, but also because he owns everything: There is no one to steal from. Thus the law that defines sin envisages human conditions and has no relevance to a sovereign creator.[6]

And so, guilt (unjust), lawlessness, responsibility and such are not compatible with God. It is not intellectually plausible to put these terms with God. God’s commandments/laws apply to man and not God. God is under no authority.  Responsibility assumes an authority over you. Accountability needs no freedom; rather, it presupposes you are under an authority and not freedom. God is under no authority; and so, God and responsibly are unintelligible together: square circle?  And so, asking if God is “unjust” or morally bad is a human category (human perspective); therefore, it is not applicable to God.   It is inductively applying human categories to God in an irrational manner.

Also, in Romans 9 God punishes the Pharaoh after saying He first hardened the Pharaoh’s heart. To this Paul’s opponent says, “if Pharaoh went along with God’s causality to resist God’s command, then why is Pharaoh punished?” Again, this is a saying mountains and cats are the same, therefore, why don’t’ mountains walk?  Christian ethics is God’s command. The Pharaoh was a lawbreaker by not obeying God’s command to let His people go.

Again, Secondly, it is mixing up categories of God’s commands and what God causes. We will leave out the unjust part and focus on the categorical mix-up. We will also leave out the “demonstrates God’s righteousness,” sense verse 7 deals with this specifically.

The part that says, “our unrighteousness,” is a focus of what God causes/ontology, which is their unbelief. God has caused them to be unbelieving (unrighteous).  The phrase, “who inflicts wrath,” is ethics. That is, God command X. If you do X you are rewarded. If you do not do X you are punished (i.e. God’s wrath).  Rewarding and wrath is included in His commands, at the very least, as a necessary connection to.

Now we will look at the combined categorical fallacy being put into a false cause and result.  God is under no law, and so there is no logical way to say (P) If God does X, (Q) then God is ethically accountable.  It is like saying green is fast.

(P) If our unbelieving ….[decree], (~Q) then God, who inflicts wrath is not just [ethics]……” ?

When the consequent is directly relating to God’s accountability the argument is completely off, because God is not accountable in any meaningful way. Now, if the consequent was relating to man’s accountability, it is slightly less nonsense: however, it is still a categorical error. The “consequent” of what God decrees(antecedent), is that, what God decrees “infallibly happens.” We do not get ethics that way. God might sometimes explain why He might command X or Y, but this explanation is not the ethic, nor a secret formula to inductively pop-out ethics for other things. “All sin is lawlessness.” Ethics is breaking or doing a revealed commandment.

Let us make two arguments, one staying in with causality and the other with ethics.

A.1. (~P) If God decrees person X to not believe, (~Q) then person X will not believe

B.1. (P) If person X breaks command Y, (Q) then person X will be punished for breaking command Y.

Let us try this with the verse quoted from Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 14:9 (LEB)
“And the prophet, if he is deceived (Ethics) and he speaks a [false] word, I Yahweh, I have (Causes) deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him, and I will destroy (Ethic) him from the midst of my people Israel.”

F.1. (P) If God decrees the prophet to give a false prophecy, (Q) then the prophet will give a false prophecy. (ontology to ontology)

G.1. (P) If a prophet breaks God’s command Y, (Q) then this prophet will be punished by God for breaking His command Y.  (ethic to ethic)

 

Endnotes-——————–

[1] Luther in the quote restates imperative and indicative as “command” verse “done.” That is, command versus causality. In philosophy verbiage, Axiology vs ontology.

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will; translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston; Fleming H. Revell, 1957. Pg.159, 161.

[3] Vincent Cheung. Sermonettes Vol. 5. Chapter. “Dead to Sin, Alive To God.”

[4] Vincent Cheung’s essay, “Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11.” (www.vincentcheung.com). It is also found in his book, Sermonettes Vol. 8, chapter 4. 2015. Pg, 22-32.

[5] Vincent Cheung’s essay, “Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11.” (www.vincentcheung.com). It is also found in his book, Sermonettes Vol. 8, chapter 4. 2015. Pg, 22-32.

I first learned the importance of command vs cause by Martin Luther, but Vincent was better and more precise at explaining this. He was helpful is pointing out how the phrase “will of God,” can hid this informal fallacy.

What this is, is being well practiced in critical thinking skills, particularly logic. One of the informal fallacy’s you learn at school is a categorical fallacy. See, “Come Let us Reason,” by Normal Geisler and Ronald Brooks, page 108, Category Mistake. It is one thing to read about this in a text book, and another to practice it so that you learn to avoid it.

The below is from Vincent’s essay mentioned. Vincent uses the word “precept,” but I prefer “command.”

Mark 3:35
For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother. [precept]1 Peter 3:17
for it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. [decree]

[6] Gordon Clark. God and Evil, Problem Solved. Pg 40-41

Also,
What God wills is not right because he ought, or was bound, so to will; on the contrary, what takes place must be right, because he so wills it” – Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will; translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston; Fleming H. Revell, 1957. 209.

[i.e. There is no law over God. God’s ethic is his ‘Choice or ‘Decree’ itself.]

 

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