Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Potentially justified? Paul, Wolter, universalism and Romans 5:18

Romans 5:18 Ἄρα οὖν ὡς δι᾽ ἑνὸς παραπτώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς κατάκριμα, οὕτως καὶ δι᾽ ἑνὸς δικαιώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς·
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (NRSV)
Michael Wolter, in commenting on this verse in Der Brief an die Römer (Teilband 1), 356, notes the universal perspective of Paul’s language, and speaks of how it characterises God’s justifying activity. What precisely is that characterisation?

„Sie enthält das Potential zur Rechtfertigung aller Menschen“ (356)


The logic clearly wants to take seriously i) the need for human faith (see Wolter, 357-58). But presumably lurking behind is also a concern to honour ii) other Pauline texts such as Galatians 5:21 (certain actors “will not inherit the kingdom of God”), and iii) the “receiving” spoken of in 5:17 (λαμβάνοντες).

I nevertheless see some problems with this reading.


It follows from his claim that there are two groups which are necessarily ordered according to size, or rather population: All are under condemnation (Group A), but God graciously justifies those who actualise the potential, by having faith in Jesus Christ (Group B). In other words, Group A is larger than Group B.

To rehearse a well-known point, however, from 5:15 onwards, the good stuff (gift, Christ, grace etc.) is contrasted with the bad stuff (Adam, condemnation, trespass etc.). And as Karl Barth noted: this contrast involves “no equilibrium … one may not say: as the trespass, so also is the free gift”. To use contemporary idiom, the gift is way more awesome than the trespass! (Or, to use German contemporary idiom: “Der gute Stoff ist sowas von übelst viel geiler als das abgewrackte Zeug”. If Barth were alive today, friends, just maybe that’s what he would say.)

But if the condemnation is certain, not potential, how can one speak of that which is only potential in terms of “grace abounding all the more” (Rom 5:20)? If it isn’t about the size of the groups, then one will be forced to emphasise another distinguishing aspect of Group B, in order to make it clear that grace super abounds.

Is that distinguishing aspect--necessary in order to make the contrast Paul generates in 5:15ff sensible--forthcoming? Of course, one may offer philosophical justifications (so Anselm, for example), but is it exegetically obvious? Perhaps one could focus on the nature of the act, or the identity of the actor? But does Paul’s argument do this?


And of course, as it often pointed out, the Wolter-style treatment of this verse at the very least disrupts (even if, given contextual matters, does not negate) the parallels in 5:18. After all, Paul doesn’t say that one man’s trespass “potentially” lead to condemnation for all, which would better maintain the balance. And of course, the πάντας … πάντας (“all … all”) parallel really becomes, in this reading, “all … somewhat less than all”. Bearing in mind (A), this is surely not a reading without problems.


What is more, should human faith be understood in the terms Wolter imagines, in this Pauline argument, especially given its absence from the discussion. This, indeed, leads to another are of hot debate in Pauline studies, but some will argue that it places faith into a theological argument that effectively displaces the revelation of God in Christ and by the Spirit, subordinating such Christian rhetoric under another (idolatrous) theological system.


Let us not forget that a straightforward reading of this verse is not to isolate it from the rest of a clearly eschatologically dualist Paul. After all, Paul writes in this letter:

  • “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; the are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:22-24 NRSV – see Jens Adam on this verse, and how “all” functions); 
  • “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32 NRSV).
And there are plenty of other passages besides which point in a similar direction.

Whether this means that a) Paul was a universalist, b) Paul’s theology is compatible with (Christian) universalism or c) what Paul writes here is compatible with universalism are key questions, and they need to be brought into discussion with exegesis of 2 Thess 1 and so on.

The only point I want to make here is that Paul does not write here that “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness potentially leads to justification and life for all”

Michael Wolter and ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ

ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ (Rom 5:5)

Subjective or objective genitive? is a common question. Is, say, Augustine right (human love to God)? Or, say, Cranfield, who argues that a “statement of the fact of God’s love for us is a more cogent proof of the security of our hope than a statement of the fact of our love for Him would be”.

Michael Wolter, when commenting on this verse in Der Brief an die Römer (Teilband 1), 328, makes the following point:
Die Liebe Gottes ist nicht bei Gott geblieben, sondern sie ist zu einem Teil der von ihm Geliebten geworden
In other words, Paul is speaking about God's love, but precisely because it is God's love, it also becomes our love.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I am of the opinion that the theme "repentance" is not given enough space in works on systematic theology.

Just look in the index for a paucity of references in a random modern systematics on your shelf, I challenge you.

Perhaps because it is associated with "pastoral theology", not systematics proper? Perhaps because it is seen as rather old-fashioned religious language? Perhaps because it has negative connotations associated with conditionality and contractual theological schemes? Perhaps because it seems too moralising?

All involve misunderstandings.

And it remains true that it was a central theme in the ministry of Jesus. A thesis: it is the misappropriation of the language of "repentance" that has lead to its neglect.

In the above picture, Thomas Söding (in Die Verkündigung Jesu) writes about the nature of repentance in Jesus' proclamation. The coming of the kingdom doesn't depend on repentance. It's the other way around: The necessity and possibility of the repentance and faith depends on the nearness of the kingdom.

This resonates somewhat with Calvin's distinction (in the Institutes) between "evangelical" and "legal" repentance.
"Others seeing that the term is used in Scripture in different senses, have set down two forms of repentance, and, in order to distinguish them, have called the one Legal repentance; or that by which the sinner, stung with a sense of his sin, and overwhelmed with fear of the divine anger, remains in that state of perturbation, unable to escape from it. The other they term Evangelical repentance; or that by which the sinner, though grievously downcast in himself, yet looks up and sees in Christ the cure of his wound, the solace of his terror; the haven of rest from his misery"

Sunday, June 05, 2016

When the Son of Man Didn't Come

“So Christians must choose. Either the NT isn't even somewhat reliable, or Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet. In either case this falsifies Christianity ”. So says John Loftus in his conclusion to his essay “At Best Jesus Was a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet”, in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. 

Got your attention?

June 1st, Fortress released When the Son of Man Didn't Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia, by Christopher M. Hays, in collaboration with Brandon Gallaher, Julia S. Konstantinovsky, Richard J. Ounsworth OP, and Casey A. Strine.

Picture from the Fortress webpage
Unsatisfied by Wright's take on "the coming of the Son of Man", perhaps because of Dale Allison's well-known criticisms? Not sure Eddie Adams' work solves all the issues? Wary of Dunn, Allison and others who are quick to say "Jesus got it wrong"? Even more suspicious of those with an ideological chip on their shoulder who want to prohibit any further consideration as mere apologetics? Well, here is a different way forward worth your time and analysis. The argument is one I've summarised for undergraduates for years, so I'm delighted it is finally hitting the printing press.

Chris Hays explains the gist of the volume as follows:
"Jesus did prophesy his return in the first century, and that didn't happen. And that is okay because prophecy is, by its nature, conditional, contingent upon the responses of humans. We argue that is how prophecy works in the OT, that multiple NT authors understood the eschatological consummation in the same way, and that many church fathers thought the same thing. Then we run the argument out in theological terms, showing that this fits with accounts of eschatology in Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. As a consequence, we argue that the timing of the eschaton should be thought of as tied up with Christian mission and ethics. We also include some very nice footnotes"
When I first heard the argument at King's, the brilliant duo, Casey and Chris, made a very thought-provoking case. I am very much looking forward to exploring the details more closely.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wolter's Der Brief an die Römer

I am very excited by the arrival of the EKK commentary on Romans, penned by Michael Wolter of the University of Bonn.

The Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, published by Neukirchener, is arguably the most important NT commentary series in any language, so this is a publishing event whatever you look at it.*

And I have enjoyed Wolter's scholarship for a while now; his Romans commentary nicely compliments his Paulus, as well as the essays written in dialogue with his theology of Paul (all pictured below). I'll post a few highlights over the coming weeks.

*Schrage's huge and important EKK commentary on 1 Corinthians was essential reading for my own work on Paul. For German speakers I should also mention that the more conservative HTA (Historisch Theologische Auslegung) is mounting a very decent series of its own, and Schnabel's recent commentary on Romans only covers Romans 1-5 in 700 pages!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Quick book notice: Martin Ebner's Jesus von Nazaret


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Single Blogpost New Testament Commentary

Is this the Fundamentalist NT Commentary Edition? Or is it closer to home? Is it The Not Far Beneath the Surface of Many in Our Churches Edition? Or is it perhaps the Functional Theology of Many Preachers Edition?

I'll let you decide. Either way, if this doesn't make your skin crawl, we should have a chat.


The exact presentation of all Jesus said and did. Word for word cos inerrancy. Very Jewish take, though, cos it’s all about the law, saying "it is fulfilled" (which proves stuff), and so on. 

But basically you are totally not Sermon on the Mount material, are you? 

You’re filth. 

Nevertheless, there are SO many moral lessons here which will be the basis for most of my sermons. 

Oh yes, Jesus died and rose again.

Don’t understand all this? Read Romans.


The exact presentation of all Jesus said and did. Word for word cos inerrancy. But a bit shorter this time though. BUT THIS TOTALLY RECONCILES WITH MATTHEW.

SO many moral lessons here which will be the basis for most of my sermons. Oh yes, Jesus died and rose again.

Don’t understand all this? Read Romans.


The exact presentation of all Jesus said and did. Word for word cos inerrancy. Slightly different emphasis on social justice. BUT THIS TOTALLY RECONCILES WITH MATTHEW AND MARK.

SO many moral lessons here which will be the basis for most of my sermons. Oh yes, Jesus died and rose again.

Don’t understand all this? Read Romans.


The exact presentation of all Jesus said and did. Word for word cos inerrancy. Very spiritual this one. High. No, not that sort of high, you scumbag. And THIS ONE TOTALLY, TOTALLY RECONCILES PERFECTLY WITH THE OTHER GOSPELS. DENY IT AND YOU ARE FILTH. YOU WANT TO BE FILTH? WELL MOVE ON THEN. 

John 3:16 fist pump.

You still need to read Romans, though.

Postscript to the Gospels

The real take-home point in all this, by the way, is that God’s standard for you is impossibly high, which further means you are in a lot of trouble because of all your filthy shenanigans. 

Denying this only makes you a Catholic. 

Plus Jesus died and rose again which is central to the criterion which Paul will make clear (see below)


This is what the church should really look like. REVIVAL! We need to pray more. Repent more. Look at Paul going all over the place! Maps! Here are some maps! AND THIS TOTALLY RECONCILES WITH GALATIANS CHRONOLOGY.


Okay, now we’re getting to the important stuff. Down to theological business. In sum, here it is:

Dear Romans,
Yes, hello and all that, but let me get to my favourite bit. Namely, a can of cosmic whoop ass is coming your way cos you deserve Chinese burns of biblical proportions.

Three chapters saying: You’re. Filthy. Scum.

And it’s the same whether you’re Jew or Gentile, so don’t get cocky. All have failed to meet the necessary (but, ok, also impossible) standards. Especially Catholics.

But hang on there, another bloke is taking that divine hostility instead – Yes, God is hostile folks, get used to it. God gets nicer a few chapters later.

Now, and this is absolutely key, so long as you choose this unchoosable criterion you'll be able to join those people over there who have satisfied this criterion by choosing it. Make sense? (It would do if you were one of us)

And then you'll get all the good stuff and be able to sing 3 cord songs with guitars and rejoice in the eschatological waterboarding of those who didn't choose it.

Oh, yes, I suppose there is some stuff here, too, about how Jew and Gentile should get on and be nice to each other. Whatever.

Oh, in case you were confused about the “standards” thing above, there is also some stuff here about now living up to that impossible standard after all.

Love and hugs unless Satan gets you, Paul

Rest of the New Testament 

It totally says what Romans says, too. At least it should do if you're reading it right.

Which leads us to…


That’s the can of whoop ass I was telling you about, in IMAX 3D.

Read Romans again.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A short list of must-own books on Paul?

Ronaldo Ghenov asked a question on Twitter today:
I’ve pondered his question and realised that I would struggle to answer it. My own favourites are very personal affairs, those that address questions I have wrestled with in light of my own particular concerns. However, if I would like to suggest a well-rounded education in Paul which emphasises all of the best interpretive angels, it is difficult to point to one or two individual books. My own education was formed over many years, reading multiple articles and monographs, many of which I have forgotten. And there have been books not directly or exclusively on Paul that have influenced my reading of Paul rather profoundly. And my recommendations would be different for 1st year undergrads than for Masters level students, or even 3rd year undergrads, for that matter.

But if you are a pastor, as I believe Ronaldo is, who knew about some contemporary debates in Paul and wanted books on his or her shelf for growing in ability to preach Paul with clarity, I would suggest those that, to a greater or lesser extent of success, do two things:

  1. Give an account of the historical particularity of Paul’s letters and are, in this task, fluent with the methods and tools of (not necessarily only modern) historical criticism. This would also mean being aware of some, if not all, of the key interpretative debates, such as those relating to justification, chronology and such like.
  2. Give an account of the theological dynamic in reading Paul, to be clear that to read these texts aright in the church is to be encountered by the Word of God. That is to acknowledge i) that the proper way of reading this text is fashioned by the “object” of this knowledge, namely God. ii) That this knowledge of God is the result of gracious self-giving in the person of Jesus Christ and by the Spirit and so clarifies the importance of the living, Trinitarian God, and that iii) this implies a negative corollary, that any theological knowledge that proceeds in a way that undermines this gracious self-giving is to be repudiated as idolatry.

For sure, to see how this pans out in different readings of Paul needs skills and examples. So, to my recommendations which, to be honest, could all have been exchanged with others not listed:

  • Some of the chapters on Paul’s letters, plus the introductory chapters, in David A. deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (Leicester: Apollos, 2004). This would give a good foundation in issues relating to social-science (honour-shame and limited good in particular) and broader historical-critical issues.
  • David G. Horrell, An Introduction to the Study of Paul (London: T & T Clark, 2015) is probably the best overview of contemporary scholarly debates.
  • J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB (London: Doubleday, 1997), which majors on the historical particularity of the text (at least as it relates to Paul’s opponents even if it ignores other issues) as well as brings to bear key theological concerns for careful reading.
  • Chapters 2 (“The Current Crisis: The Capture of Paul’s Gospel by Methodological Arianism”), 6 (“Connecting the Dots: One Problem, One Text, and the Way Ahead”) and 12 (“Rereading Paul’s ΔΙΚΑΙΟ-Language”) in Chris Tilling, ed., Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul: Reflections on the Work of Douglas Campbell (Eugene, Or.: Cascade, 2014)
  • Read something that annoys you. If you are more conservative, read something by a more liberal scholar and likewise, if you are more liberal, read something by a conservative. I learn so much from books that annoy me, even if it isn’t always what the author would have hoped.
  • Read and reread Ephesians!
Now if I were addressing a PhD student, I would mention many other names, such as Watson, Barclay, Wright, Campbell, Gaventa, Gorman, Sanders ... to mention just a few. 

Answering your question, Ronaldo, has not been easy!

Oh, and Paul's Divine Christology, go on then! 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Laidlaw College on Youtube

Have kindly published a number of lectures. Very grateful to them for this, do check them out. For example, see:

"Why the Narrative Shape of the Gospels Really Matter" - Public Lecture with Rikk Watts

The Acts of the Apostles as the Mission of God - Public Lecture by Professor Steve Walton

Mark's Geography and the origin of Mark's Gospel with Professor Richard Bauckham

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Matthew Conflator Hypothesis update

Really glad to say that Alan Garrow's paper, "Streeter's 'Other' Synoptic Solution: The Matthew Conflator Hypothesis", has now been published by NTS, and you can access it here.

I believe it was also one of my questions when I first encountered Alan's thesis at King's, namely "what would Mark Goodacre make of this?" Alan's written a helpful post in response, here.

I am no expert on these matters but Alan's work seems rather compelling to my mind and has, at the very least, given me much to ponder. With people like Mark and Alan to fuel these debates, the Synoptic problem has a bright future.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 6

This post continues my summary of Gabriel's first chapter. His introduction is summarised in four parts, all of which can be read here.

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

Chapter I. What is this Actually: the World?

You and the Universe


Gabriel defines physicalism as the claim that all existing things are located in the universe and can, for that reason, be investigated physically. Materialism states that all existing things are made up of matter (28). Of course, materialism is variously understood, but here he employs it simply to state: 1) “everything is found in the universe” and 2) “everything that is found in the universe is material or has material foundations” (29). So the idea that my thoughts about unicorns are ontological in a way that is not material, is refuted on the basis that the thoughts are themselves merely the product of physical states. This entire set of claims, Gabriel argues, is problematized by two reasons and – even more importantly – flatly falsified by a further two.

First, Gabriel asks:

“How can one explain, for example, that, although brain states are material, they are able to refer to non-material objects in the form of images? How can material objects, in any way, be about anything that is not material? When the materialist admits that brain states are about something that is not material, he has already admitted that there is something that is not material, namely all of the non-material objects brain states can be about” (29).

Quite simply: “Even if all our thoughts put be understood as brain states and, therefore, as material, it would still be about all sorts of things that we do not believe to be material” (29, italics mine).

Second, if my non- material mental imaginations are based on material conditions, then it follows that the thought “there are only material conditions” is itself determined by material conditions. So the question becomes, “how does the materialist know that his thought ‘Only material conditions exist’ is not a fantasy?” (30). Of course, the materialist could imagine that he could proceed experimentally, to demonstrate that all objects and all thoughts are material, or based on material conditions. But the amount of material needed to substantiate this claim is too much. One cannot experimentally verify the materialist claim that “Only material conditions exist”. This is to say that the materialist claim is a metaphysical assumption.

More significantly, materialism is simply false for the following two reasons. First, materialism struggles with the problem of identification. Gabriel illustrates this issue in the following way:

“Materialism teaches that, in the end, my representation of the coffee table with coffee stains is reducible to the fact that coffee table with coffee stains consists of physical objects such as subatomic particles. Yet, in order to pick correctly out of all subatomic particles the relevant subatomic particles for the coffee table with coffee stains – that is, to identify the right cluster of particles – it is taken for granted that we are searching for the particles of the coffee table (and not, for instance, the particles of the remote control that is lying on the coffee table). In order to do that we must recognise the existence of the coffee table, for only the coffee table leads us to its particles” (31, italics mine).

The point of this is to transfer the need to identify something before its material constitution is established, to fantasies: “we must recognise the existence of fantasies, and there with non-material representational contents, in order to be able to identify the group particles that are responsible for it” (31). This is to say that materialism needs to recognise “the existence of representations in order for it to be able to deny them that the next step”, which is simply a contradiction. Therefore, materialism is false.

Second, materialism is false because the idea of materialism is not material. Materialism is a theory, and the truth of that theory cannot be established on the basis of materialism’s commitments.

All of this is to say that not all things exist in the domain of the physical universe, a claim that would only work if physicalism or materialism were endorsed. And this we cannot do for materialism is false.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 5

This post begins my summary of Gabriel's first chapter. His introduction is summarised in four parts, all of which can be read here.

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

Chapter I. What is this Actually: the World?

You and the Universe

In this chapter, Gabriel philosophically investigates the question “where does everything actually take place?” He illustrates his argument by pointing out the difference between planets and galaxies on the one hand, and living rooms on the other. Because physics “concerns itself not with living rooms but, at best, with physical objects in living rooms”, it is fair to say that living rooms “are simply not found in physics, though planets are” (22-23). This leads to the conclusion that “living rooms and planets do not belong to the same domain of objects at all” (23).

It is important to understand that a domain of objects is a domain which contains particular kinds of objects “in which rules obtain that link these objects with one another” (23). Gabriel offers the following examples of object domains: politics (which includes voters, community festivals, tax dollars et cetera) and whole numbers (which includes the numbers seven and five). This is to say that object domains are not necessarily spatially defined.

But the most important thing to come from all of this, first, is that all objects are found in object domains, and that there are many different object domains. If, for example, I want to visit an office, it would be confusing object domains to suggest that the domain of the office concerns electrons and chemical bonds. Indeed, the “physical or chemical analysis of a particular point in space-time taken from the office is no longer an analysis of the office” (24). So, to say that my office is located in the universe is not quite correct. The universe is merely the domain of objects of natural sciences, especially physics. The office may include some of this, but also other domains.

All of this allows Gabriel to address a common claim that humans, because they are small specks in a massive universe, cannot be meaningful, significant or important. For genuinely, it does not matter to the dead galaxy, whose light is only just reaching us, whether or not I ate breakfast this morning (26). A best case scenario is that we are “one biological species among others in the universe” (26), moving around simply to increase our own chances of survival. But the real reason for a sense of insignificance that the size of the universe and its indifference to humanity might lend us …

“…depends much more on the fact that we mix up completely different object domains. The universe signifies not merely a thing but also particular kind of perspective… The universe, as large as it is, is only a part of the whole, part to which we have access by the specific methods linked with modern science” (26).

And this move is a mistake. “It would be exactly as if one were to think that there are only plants because one studied botany” (27).

All of this means that there are “many objects which do not exist in the universe” (27). The universe is merely one ontological province among others. But this does not mean “that the other object domains exist entirely outside of the universe, which would be a completely different (and false) theory” (27). Indeed, this leads into a more extensive argument which I will detail in the next post. It tackles the obvious materialist objection, that all the object domains Gabriel sites (offices, living rooms et cetera) belong very well in the universe because they consist of matter (which is studied by physics). 

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 4

This post completes my summary of Gabriel's introduction. Pt 1 is here, which sums up his discussion of metaphysics and constructivism. This set the stage for his own proposal, which is discussed in Pt 2, here, where I summarised his introduction of "new realism". Pt 3, here, introduces the notion of a plurality of worlds, different domains of existence. Today we canvas Gabriel's insistence that to ask about existence is to ask where something exists, which builds on Pt 3.

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

Less than Nothing

Metaphysics claims that there is an all-encompassing rule, world formula (seen in the history of metaphysics from Thales of Miletus through Karl Marx to Stephen Hawking). Constructivism, claims that we cannot know the rule. New realism, “attempts consistently and seriously to answer the question whether, in principle, such a rule could exist” (11-12).

To answer this question, and develop his wider argument, it is necessary to understand what it means for something to exist at all. The key, here, is to ask where something exists. So the apparently obvious question is that for something to exist, it should exist only when found in the world. But the world is not found in the world. Gabriel asserts that “the world cannot in principle exist because it is not found in the world” (12). It cannot be sensed, tasted or touched. Nor is our thinking about it identical to the object of its thought. This is to say that we “can never grasp the whole. It is in principle too big for any thought” (12). This leads Gabriel to suggest that all worldviews are equally misguided (13).

The upshot is that Gabriel can assert a lot more exists than would be expected. If I can imagine unicorns on the other side of the moon, then they exist. But obviously these things do not exist in the object domain of the physical sciences. The key question is where these things exist, “[f]or everything that exists, exists somewhere – even if it is only in our imagination. Again, the one exception is the world… What we imagine when we believe in the world is, as in the apt title of a recent book by the star philosopher Slavoj Žižek, so to speak, ‘less than nothing’” (14, italics mine).

Next, we turn to his first chapter, What is this Actually: the World?

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 3

Please see Pt 1, which sums up the beginning of Gabriel's introduction, particularly his discussion of metaphysics and constructivism. This set the stage for his own proposal, which is discussed in Pt 2, where I summarised his introduction of "new realism".

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

The Plurality of Worlds

Gabriel argues that the world is much bigger than the universe (which is the object domain the natural sciences). For the world includes things like dreams, unrealised possibilities, thoughts about the world and so on. This leads to what he calls “a first step in the right direction” in his definition of “the world”. It is the:

“…domain of all the domains mentioned above [governments, dreams, object domain etc.]. Consequently, the world would be the domain in which there exist not only all things and facts [a word he will define and deploy later in his argument] which occur without us, but also all the things and facts which occur only with us. For ultimately it should be the domain that comprises everything – life, the universe, and everything else” (9).

But, and this is the main thesis of the book, the world, so understood, does not and cannot exist. Further, and lest he be misunderstood, “I claim not only that the world does not exist but also that everything exists except the world” (9).

He offers a preliminary illustration to make his claim understandable:

“Let us imagine that we meet friends for dinner at a restaurant. Is there a domain here that encompasses all other domains? Can we, so to speak, draw a circle around everything that belongs to our visit to the restaurant?” (9)

Gabriel elaborates the very different domains involved at this point. There are different customers, invisible bacteria, hormonal fluctuations, moods, and events at the subatomic level to name just a few. Importantly, he makes a claim about things being disconnected. These worlds are not necessarily influencing one another, but are independent (“It is simply false that everything is connected” [10]). Thus, and this is the key argument, “there are many small worlds, but not the one world to which they all belong. This does not mean that the many small worlds are only perspectives on one world, but that only the many small worlds exist” (10). The world as a whole cannot exist as little as there is a connection which encompasses all connections. There is, Gabriel claims, “simply no rule or world formula that describes everything. This is not contingent on the fact that we have not yet found it, but on the fact they cannot exist at all” (11).

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 2

Please click here for Pt 1, which sums up the beginning of Gabriel's introduction, particularly his discussion of metaphysics and constructivism. This is to set the stage for his own proposal, which is discussed in what follows.

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

New Realism

The position Gabriel presents, however, rejects what he dubs as metaphysics and constructivism. New realism, over against both of these, asserts that knowledge is not a collective hallucination. New realism “assumes that we recognise the world as it is in itself. Of course we can be mistaken, for in some situations we indeed find ourselves in an illusion. But it is simply not the case that we are always or almost always mistaken” (5).

He offers a helpful illustration: Imagine Mount Vesuvius is looked at from Sorrento, by Astrid, and Naples, by us. Metaphysics says there is only one real object, namely Vesuvius. Constructivism claims that there are two objects, Astrid’s Vesuvius and our Vesuvius. “Beyond that there is absolutely no object or thing in itself – at least, no object which we could ever hope to know” (6). New realism, however, claims that there are three objects: 1. Vesuvius, 2. Vesuvius viewed from Sorrento by Astrid and 3. Vesuvius viewed from Naples by us (actually, Gabriel points out that this is two views, me and you).

This is the key: “New realism assumes that thoughts about facts exist with the same right as the facts at which our thoughts are directed” (6). Ultimately, metaphysics and constructivism fail …

“…because of an unjustified simplification of reality, in which they understand reality unilaterally either as the world without spectators or, equally one-sided, as the world of spectators … The world is neither exclusively the world without spectators nor the world of spectators. This is new realism. Old realism – that is metaphysics – was only interested in the world without spectators, while constructivism quite narcissistically grounded the world and everything that is the case and our fantasies. Both theories lead to nothing” (7).

This is to say that both metaphysics and constructivism cannot explain how there can be spectators in a world in which spectators do not exist at all times and in all places (see page 7). Gabriel claims that this problem is solved by the introduction of a new ontology, which he will go on to explain in what follows (Gabriel also uses this opportunity to wax against materialism, and explain that if all that exists is that which can be investigated by natural science, the federal state of Germany would not exist, nor would the future etc). 

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Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 1

Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)

The Preamble: Thinking Philosophy Anew

Gabriel, as his “first principle”, attempts to outline a new philosophy in this book, “which follows from a simple, basic thought”: “the idea that the world does not exist” (1). This is not to say that nothing exists at all, but rather to claim that everything exists except one thing: the world.
Second, this book presents new realism, which is the name Gabriel gives for the age after postmodernity. This leads into an explanatory digression about the difference between metaphysics, constructivism, and new realism.

Appearance and Being

Metaphysics is defined as the attempt to develop “a theory of the world as such. Its aim is to describe how the world really is, not how the world seems to be or how it appears to us. In this way, metaphysics, to a certain extent, invented the world in the first place. When we speak about ‘the world’, we mean everything that actually is the case, or, put differently: actuality” (2). Metaphysics claims that there is a world behind the one that appears to us, and that in order to find out the way the world really is, we need to subtract the interpreter.
However, postmodernity responds by claiming that “things exist only insofar as they appear to us”, so there is no way of getting behind the interpreter (3). Gabriel notes that some, like Richard Rorty, might leave open the possibility that there might be something “behind the world as it appears to us” (3), but this would play no role for human beings. Rather, we increase solidarity amongst humans by giving up the search for Truth or Reality.

But this postmodernity is actually a single variation of a much more general approach, namely constructivism. We construct all facts, including scientific ones, by means of language games. “There is no reality beyond our language games or discourses; they somehow do not really talk about anything, but only about themselves” (3). Gabriel speaks of Immanuel Kant in this regard, and offers the example of colours. Though elementary particles, they appear to us as colours. This is to say that the world is completely different from the way it appears to us. Kant was even more radical for he claimed “that even this assumption… – about particles in space-time – is only a way in which the world, as it is in itself, appears to us. How it actually is, that is something we could absolutely never discover” (4).

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Link to Word 2016 problems

Can anyone tell me why Word 2016 can't link to my blogger account? Is this a known problem?

Ontology isn't just about what is "material"

"Ontology ultimately concerns the meaning of existence. What are we actually claiming when we say, for example, that there are meerkats? Many people believe that this question is addressed to physicists or, more generally, to natural scientists. In the end, everything that exists could just be material. After all, we don’t seriously believe in ghosts, which can arbitrarily violate natural laws and unrecognisably whirl around us. (Well, most of us don’t believe this.) However, if for this reason we claim that only that which can be investigated by natural science exists and can be dissected, or pictured, by means of the scalpel, microscope, or brain scanner, we would have missed the mark by a long shot. For in this case the federal state of Germany would not exist, nor would the future, numbers, or my dreams. But, because they do, we justifiably hesitate to entrust the question of Being to physicists"
Markus Gabriel, Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015) pp. 7-8 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Brief response to Scot McKnight's latest

I’m a big fan of Tom Wright even if I’m largely convinced by certain apocalyptic readings of Paul. So I am invested in these conversations at numerous levels. Here’s a few thoughts, then, in response to Scot McKnight’s most recent review post of Sam Adams’ The Reality of God and Historical Method. I’ve grow a little frustrated with Scot’s reading of Adams, you see, but I don’t have time to read and comment on them all. I’m sure Sam is honoured that Scot is spending so much time on his book, though. I would have been blown away if Scot had done the same for my published PhD!

Alternatively, you can view this pdf here:


… but I’m hoping that the fancy pdf embedding method works!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Your guide for reading Paul aright in a single sentence (and a word about Barclay’s Paul and the Gift)

imageMy recent Twitter poll on Paul suggests that collectively we don't have a clue how to read Paul! At least there is little consensus from this representation. Naturally, some have given me grief for not adding more categories or for lack of nuance, so just a reminder: This is a Tweet which has a maximum of 140 characters, and I used over half to say “obviously, this oversimplifies” … which is to say that I agree that it is far from perfect or complete. Obviously.

Even so, I still find the mix rather interesting. So this leads me to …

*drum roll*

… my advice for students negotiating different views for reading Paul. How to know which is best? My principle is just a sentence and can be stated as follows:

“The extent to which your reading of Paul recognises* the unconditional** love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and the Spirit, is the extent to which you're more or less on target; hence conversely, the extent to which such a view of God is diminished or ‘qualified’ is the extent to which interpretative mischief is afoot”

Much more could be said, obviously, but not less than this.

*Perhaps I should use a poncier word here like “radiates”, to make it sound more poetic?

**Bear in mind John Barclay’s qualifications in using this term in his brilliant book, Paul and the Gift***. This important work may be one of those rare treats that actually changes the scholarly landscape. Time will tell.

***But as a footnote to a footnote, I would remark that I think Barclay nevertheless misses the mark in stating Campbell is guilty, when using the language of “unconditional”, of thinking grace is simply “no strings attached” and therefore his view of Paul/grace is to be repudiated (see 77 and 171). So Barclay speaks of “unconditioned” (cf. 562). Now my respect for John and his scholarship could not be higher. When he speaks, the wise thing to do is listen (and learn). Plus I enjoy Barclay’s generally conciliatory tone. But this is an atomistic and uncharitable reading of Campbell who speaks of “unconditional grace” in order to clarify that salvation is not contractual. Indeed, Campbell's whole project explains how this grace in the gospel is sanctification, is ethical efficacy. So Campbell summarises his understanding of Paul’s gospel as “intrinsically ethical” (on all this see numerous pages in Deliverance). Humans need to be set free in order to live ethical lives – by God from outside, as it were - and then ethics can be understood in conditioned (not conditional) and responsive terms. On all this, by the way, see Barth CD II.2. It’s what all that “being in action” business is about. More open discussion to clarify these weighty topics needs to take place, I think.

Barclay is more reckless, however, when he associates Campbell directly with Marcion who was, of course, a heretic (173 – claiming DC argues that “God is benevolent and not just”). It is better to be sure of the veracity of such accusations before meting them out in print (or in front of hundreds at SBL by name, which left a sour taste in my mouth having enjoyed the panellist papers and Barclay’s response). Of course, it could be said that Campbell is just getting what he dishes out (“methodological Arianism”, etc.), but veracious Barclay’s charge ain’t! When Campbell speaks against retributive justice as the key framework for understanding Paul’s δικ- terminology, this does not entail that Campbell opposes divine benevolence on the one hand and justice, in toto, on the other. This is quite simply misguided (though Barclay isn’t the first to misunderstand Deliverance in this way) as Campbell regularly speaks of δικ- terminology as forensic. His preliminary definition of the verb, δικαιόω, speaks of its judicial nature. The book Deliverance is a translation of δικαιοσύνη for goodness sake! What matters – and it really does – is how “justice” is understood (which is to say that the term is not unequivocal – an important point Barclay, like so many NT scholars, seems to miss). This is why Campbell spends dozens of pages distinguishing forensic-liberative justice from forensic-retributive, etc. To speak out against one notion of justice is not to wipe them all away (just look at how many definitions of “justice” Sandel explores in his Reader). Rather, God’s δικαιοσύνη is something revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:17), and so conditioned by his Christology. We need, therefore, to be clear what is entailed by δικ- terms. Campbell would of course be glad to pray Psalm 89 and indeed he draws on it in his exegesis at various points (“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” v.14). Clearly this doesn’t make Campbell a Marcionite any more than seeking precision about the nature of “grace” and “gift” makes Barclay a Pelagian (even if both hail from the UK …).