Friday, July 17, 2015

Paul Manata and the Exclusion Principle (Part III)

In my last post, which I kept very simple, because I believe that the covenant arrangement is basic Christian doctrine, I said that the existence of a religious community was not required for the Exclusion Principle. All that is required is that a group exist that shares common values and beliefs and that those values and beliefs must be a requirement for fellowship in that group. This was precisely the way of the Mediterranean world during the time of the New Testament and even to a great degree, it remains to be the way of that world, at least much more than is the case in the West. Today, I continue my interaction with Manata’s notes and thoughts on why he is not a Baptist by reviewing a very small component his actual argument.

Manata says, “The EP in Deuteronomy, involving the Hebrew verb translated “utterly remove,” is “consistently associated with the covenant motif” (Rosner: 65). Paul uses the LXX translation of that verb in I Corinthians 5:13. According to Deuteronomy, people are “utterly removed … because of breach of covenant” (Rosner: 65).” All Israelites were born into the covenant. They were, by right of birth, members in the covenant. The New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace is fundamentally different in that regard. Manata assumes a continuity here that he has not proven. He merely takes it for granted, spilling a lot of ink here and there attempting to connect one irrelevant fact with another in my opinion. Second, the word that Paul used in 1 Corinthians 5:13 is exairo and it is under the semantic domain of either belonging to or included in the membership or to be excluded from. Throughout the semantic domain to which this word belongs, the sense is that the group which this man is to be excluded from is the Corinthian community and any and all fellowship with that community. Jesus used a similar word to inform us that the world would exclude us as well. Does this mean we would be removed from some covenantal arrangement? Manata’s problem is that he insists on only looking at 1 Corinthians 5 through a very narrow lens. There is no hint here of the legal workings of removing someone from a covenant. There is no covenant motif in the Corinthian pericope and to read one into it on the basis of how Paul uses Deuteronomy 17 to accomplish the excommunication is weak in my view. Should we examine how the NT writers, to include Paul use the OT Scripture to make their points and employ the same principles everywhere in the NT that Manata employs here? Space prohibits such an analysis but it is safe to say that one could never employ Manata’s principles here consistently in their interpretation of the NT Scripture without doing significant damage. In Deuteronomy 17:7, the purging was by way of stoning. If we are going to claim Manata’s level of continuity between the two covenants, why didn’t Paul have the man stoned? Why only select the last half of the text? Could it be that Paul had adopted the same holiness expressions from Deuteronomy, having been trained to think this way about those who rejected God’s moral law? Could it be that this was Paul's way of appropriating an enduring principle that reflects both continuity and discontinuity? The principle of godly standards exist in both covenants and the obligation to obedience exists in both covenants while the presence of conditionality is ended with the Old. Why take it so far as to say that Paul is removing a man from the covenant? The fact here is that in reality, for practical purposes, credobaptists do exactly the same thing the paedobaptists do when they are confronted by these situations. It seems that Manata’s distinction is little more than an abstraction. His removal has no more bite than the Baptists. We both recognize that a person’s obstinacy in such cases leads us to the same conclusions and same sort of relationship with them.

There can be little doubt that Manata is correct on the Exclusion Principle where Israel was concerned. I agree that there was a covenant motif, a holiness motif, and a corporate responsibility motif present. But Manata is only begging the question in this argument. He assumes that the Corinthian man is actually “in” the New Covenant like the Jew was in the Old Covenant. The fact that similar language is used has little to do with the covenant status of the Corinthian man and everything to do with the fact that Paul wanted the Church there to disassociate from him. We must remember that this is a predominantly Gentile community. There is no evidence anywhere in the two letters to suggest that Paul had brought the Corinthians to a full-orbed Jewish understanding of the Old Covenant. The language he uses reflects his own training and no doubt his thinking in terms of the sort of people who should be in community with the Church and those that should not be. But there is nothing to suggest that Paul pushes this so far as to believe he was removing a covenant member from the covenant itself. We will see other incidents of the Exclusion Principle elsewhere in the NT and I am convinced one you weigh these against Manata’s argument, you will see the inconsistency in how he argues his points.

I must confess that Manata has managed to spill much ink about the Exclusion Principle through the grid of a distinctly paedobaptists covenant theology lens. The argument and notes are littered with numerous references and supposed connections between how Moses used a word, and how Paul used a word and the connection between the two. But at the end of it all, one is left wondering if it is even possible to make more irrelevant connections between two passages than Manata has.

Now, to really subject Manata’s notes to some critical reflection, we must turn to a text that Manata has ignored, and he has done so to the demise of his own argument. After all, it was Manata himself that said we must allow the whole Bible to inform our view on this subject and on that point, he is not mistaken. This being the case, I think the best place for us to turn is John. John has a problem with a group of rogue “members” troubling the Christian community. It is his reason for penning his largest epistle. And in that epistle, he reveals a principle that is utterly destructive of Manata’s entire argument. John writes about this group that had left the community, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 Jn. 2:19) This one verse points out that anyone who apparently belonged to the community but eventually left the community were never really members of the community despite appearances to the contrary. John never launched into some elaborate external/internal concept of the New Covenant to explain what was going on in this case. He simply said that these individuals were never of us. John is basically saying that if someone is a member in the New Covenant, they will remain with us. The Hebrew writer said the same thing in Hebrews 10:39, “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” This contradicts Manata’s claim that the Corinthian man must have been a legitimate member in the community if he was now being excluded from it. Of such people John tells his community that such people were never of us. They were never in the group.

From this point, I will begin to make a case for why paedobaptists covenant theology fails. Future posts will deal with the simple language in Jeremiah 31 and how those in Manata’s camp play hard and fast with rules. The argument will be very, very simple. I will leave you with the basic construction of the argument that will ultimately frame out a more thorough refutation of Manata’s argument.

(1)  All subjects for Christian baptism are members in the Church.
      (2)  Only regenerated individuals are members in the Church.
      (3)  Therefore, only regenerated individuals are proper subjects for Christian baptism.

As anyone who has studied logic can see, the argument is a standard-form categorical syllogism and since the conclusion follows from the premises, the argument is logically valid. The major term is “subjects for Christian baptism,” the middle term is “members in the Church,” and the minor term is regenerated individuals. I will have to demonstrate that all subjects for Christian baptism are members in the Church. To do this, I will have to provide a true definition and defense of “members in the Church.” If I can provide a biblically strong case for (1), then (2) will follow quite logically from (1). Once this is done, the conclusion will prove logically irresistible. In my opinion, not only is this a less complex argument than that constructed by Manata, it is much stronger, easier to demonstrate, and as a result, requires fewer digital symbols to communicate. The only solution I can see is for Manata to go the route of baptismal regeneration and to accept the stronger claims of those paedobaptists that make that argument. If infants are not regenerated, not elect, not called out by God, they have no right to be baptized, not being baptized into the body of Christ, the Church, by the Holy Spirit. But if they do have a right to be baptized, then they must be regenerated or in the process of being regenerated, called by God, elect, baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit.

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