Monday, April 29, 2013

Time and Calvinism

I don’t usually sit on the fence about an topic I’ve spent a significant amount of time studying, but the philosophy of time still has me somewhat stumped. Still, it seems to me there are some relevant points that can be made regardless, such as that how a Calvinist could deal with a temporal God would significantly differ from how an Arminian and Molinist could. I read a recent challenge to this, which prompted the following [edited] response.

Whether the A-series or B-series theorists have it right - that is, whether or not tensed utterances can be reduced to tenseless propositions without a loss of meaning - for every tensed utterance, there is a corresponding tenseless proposition. For example, on the assumption that the tensed utterance “I am presently typing [now]” is true, the corresponding tenseless utterance “I type on 4/29/2013” would also be true because either 4/29/2013 is the ever-flowing “now” or “the present” (A-series) or because the utterance of the tensed expression is simultaneous in the causal chain with the change in date to 4/29/2013 (B-series).

If we assume God is in time, as some Arminians but especially most Molinists are wont to argue, then the A-series theory is correct. But in that case, on Calvinism, God would know this and every other tenseless truth which corresponds to a tensed truth because He has predetermined all things. That is, even if God is in time, “the future” is not open to Him. God may “take on new knowledge” in the sense that His affirmation of tensed propositions would vary according to their change in truth-value, but God would know beforehand what that He will take on “new knowledge” as well as what the content of this “new knowledge” is.

On the other hand, for the Arminian or Molinist, God’s knowledge of tenseless truths relating to His creatures who act “freely” is contingent on their fulfillment in time. So the future is open to God, at least in this respect. Molinists will debate this, but I think the grounding objection is sound (link). When we say God “takes on new knowledge” in this case, then, we mean something more than “God believes to be true what He knew He would believe to be true.” For on Arminianism and Molinism, God didn’t know what He would believe with respect to our allegedly free choices before we made them. He couldn’t have, or else they weren't really “free” in the sense both Arminians and Molinists want to preserve. That is, if God knew beforehand what they would choose, then men couldn’t have exercised their wills according to two or more courses of action. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

God, Language, and Scripturalism Revisited

In the spirit of revisiting posts, the research I've recently been doing has been coming along quite nicely, leading me to retract a criticism of Clark's philosophy of language provided here and here. The retraction doesn't have to do with a problem in the argument per se, rather in the assumption that Clark held to the contrary position. That said, this retraction brings with it some problems with Clark's other views, such as his rejection of the correspondence theory of truth (link):
Everything in the Bible seems to me to imply that God’s mind is an orderly, completely integrated system. The integration may depend on teleological relationships rather than on formal deduction, and in this sense the word implies may convey a wrong meaning; but in popular terms every item of God’s knowledge must surely fit in with every other item.
This also seems to me to solve the philosophic problem of truth. The three chief contenders in this field are the correspondence theory, the coherence theory, and the pragmatic theory. For reasons too numerous to include here, I believe pragmatism leads to complete skepticism. The correspondence theory would require us to compare an idea we have in consciousness with some utterly unknown object. This is impossible. The coherence theory remains.
While it isn't the purpose of this post, a brief reply to the objection Clark raises is that he mistakenly thinks the coherence theory of truth - i.e. a theory which is about the meaning of truth - entails a particular theory of epistemology or justification of knowledge-claims. This isn't the case. 

What is more interesting, though, is that after further evaluation, Clark's own theory of language seems to depend on the correspondence theory of truth. Consider the following two quotes from Christian Philosophy, from an essay on Inspiration and Language:
In one sense of the term, a photo corresponds to or looks like its object, but no one supposes that a word corresponds to a thing in this way. Language is not a picture of reality. The letters c-a-t do not look like the purring animal. It is all the more true that words cannot possibly look like spiritual realities, if such there be, for these are not visible entities. But in a non-photographic sense a mathematical formula may be said to correspond to the motion of a freely falling body. Could not this be an absolute correspondence? Or, if the term absolute causes hesitation, could not such a formula be or be understood as a literal assertion? Further, if the sound cat is essentially an arbitrary sign of the animal, what more correspondence could be desired? (pgs. 194-195)

And while there may be some meaning embedded in the language of a man whose ideas are not clear and distinct, the meaning would surely prove to be an hallucination if it could be shown that the words could not be made to correspond to some clear or distinct ideas. Furthermore, how can one construct a parable that relates a known object to something of which we have no concept at all? Meaningful analogies and honest comparisons can be made only if we know something about both terms. Unless a better defense of religious language and thought can be devised, the Logical Positivists, will not be greatly embarrassed. (pg. 203)
My mistake in the aforementioned posts was to think that by "words" Clark meant the concepts which make up or constitute a proposition. Having now read through Clark's works fully, this doesn't seem to be the case. In what also functions as a refutation of the idea Clark was an idealist - at least in the usual sense, for on pg. 209 of Clark and His Critics, he does allow the ascription to stand on the basis of his "emphases rest on spirit, will, intellect, and mind" while also qualifying that "the term Realism, if taken in its ancient sense, is more appropriate" - Clark distinguishes between words and concepts. Basically, words are physical or sensible, concepts are spiritual or intellectual. The primary evidence for this, however, is not so much to be found in Clark's Language and Theology, the book on which my original criticisms were based. It is with this in mind I plead mercy for my mistake. Now, for the evidence:
…words are instruments or symbols for expressing thoughts. The letters t, w, o or the Arabic numeral 2, are not the number itself, they are the visual or audible symbols used to refer to the intellectual concept. (A Christian View of Men and Things, pg. 211)
We shall suppose that God Omnipotent has created rational beings who are not merely physical but who are essentially spiritual and intellectual; beings, therefore, who have the innate ability to think and speak. What then will be the implications relative to the problems of linguistics that can be drawn from this theistic presupposition?
For one thing, this view places thought behind language and so contributes to the explanation of communication. Previous mention was made of Augustine’s De Magistro. Christ is the Logos or Reason who endows every mind with intellectual light. Christian theologians, even the poorer ones, have usually realized that in the moral sphere man is not born neutral. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Men are not born morally good or morally neutral, but they are born depraved. Intellectually, also, men do not come into the world with blank minds. Inherited depravity only emphasized the presence of innate moral ideas. Those wicked Gentiles who did not want to retain God in their knowledge nonetheless failed to banish him, for they continued to know the judgment of God that those who commit such things are worthy of death. In addition to moral ideas, Augustine teaches that the presence of Christ the Logos endows all men with certain speculative or philosophic ideas as well. Communication, therefore, becomes possible because all men have these same ideas. The situation is somewhat like that of a cryptographer who can break any cipher. The symbols are at first unknown; but because the ideas expressed are common, the message can be understood. If language had no thought behind it, as the behaviorists claim, and if the symbols were just a random aggregate of marks, there would be no cipher to break.
It follows next that language cannot be assigned a solely sensory origin and a primitively physical reference. Theism, of course, need not deny that the names of animals and things refer to spatially perceived physical objects; it need not deny that spatial relationships are well represented in language; it need not deny or distort any of our common gross experience. But it must assert that man’s endowment with rationality, is innate ideas and a priori categories, his ability to think and speak were given to him by God for the essential purpose of receiving a verbal revelation, of approaching God in prayer, and of conversing with other men about God and spiritual realities. As a hymn says, “Thou didst ears and hands and voices, For thy praise design.” For this reason a theistic theory of language would not labor under the burden of giving a precarious derivation or development of spiritual meaning from primitive physical reference. The spiritual meaning would be original A dubious appeal to metaphor, symbolism, or analogy to explain this transition would be unnecessary. (Christian Philosophy, pg. 198-199)
The Logos is the rational light that lights every man. Since man was created in the image of God, he has an innate idea of God. It is not necessary, indeed it is not possible, for a blank mind to abstract a concept of God from sensory experience or to lift sensory language by its bootstraps to a spiritual level. The theories of Empiricism, of Aristotle, of Aquinas, of Locke, are to be rejected.
The positing of innate ideas or a priori equipment does not entail the absurdity of infants’ discoursing learnedly on God and logic. To all appearances their minds are blank, but the blankness is similar to that of a paper with a message written in invisible ink. When the heat of experience is applied, the message becomes visible. Whatever else be added, the important words refer to non-sensuous realities. (Christian Philosophy, pg. 203)
The Lamb is a symbol. A symbol is a sign, but not all signs are symbols. The plus and minus signs of arithmetic, even though they may sometimes be called mathematical symbols, are just arbitrary conventional signs. Marks of other shapes could have served as well. Crombie above, it will be remembered, tried to maintain that his words, names, and metaphors were not arbitrary; and in this example obviously and elephant as a symbol of Christ could not have served as well; and a fish was later used only because of an acrostic. John the Baptist’s choice of a Lamb was not arbitrary; it was rooted in the Mosaic ritual. An arbitrary sign, whether a word or mathematical figure, merely designates the concept. When we are studying mathematics or reading a newspaper, we do not normally think of the shape of the sign, but rather give exclusive attention to the thing signified. In the case of the symbol, however, some of our attention is fixed on the symbol. If the Baptists had said, Jesus is Lord, no one would have given thought to the sound as such; and there is nothing in the situation except the sound and the meaning. But when he said, “Behold! The Lamb,” the situation included not only Jesus and the sound of the words, but also the lambs that the word Lamb summarized. To understand the Baptist’s message about Christ, therefore, it was necessary to think how literal lambs could symbolize Christ. This is not the case with a designatory sign. (Christian Philosophy, pg. pgs. 204-205)
In conclusion, I wish to affirm that a satisfactory theory of revelation must involve a realistic epistemology. By realism in this connection, I mean a theory that the human mind possesses some truth – not an analogy of the truth, not a representation of or correspondence to the truth, not a mere hint of the truth, not a meaningless verbalism about a new species of truth, but the truth itself. God has spoken his Word in words, and these words are adequate symbols of the conceptual content. The conceptual content is literally true, and it is the univocal, identical point of coincidence in the knowledge of God and man. (God's Hammer, pg. 38)
Scripture says, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). This verse is all the more conclusive because John’s or Jesus’ word for words is rhemata, not logous. The latter could have been interpreted in some metaphysical sense, such as is found in Philo or Heraclitus; whereas rhemata carries the more literal connotation of words, exemplified by two, cat, or star – that is, as sounds in the air or ink spots on paper. Not that Jesus actually meant ink marks on paper, but that Daane’s insistence on literalism is more embarrassed by rhemata than it would have been by logous. Obviously, Henry and Clark do not “reduce” truth to language, especially not to sounds in the air and ink marks on paper. (See Clark’s quotation from Abraham Kuyper in Language and Theology.) Before truths or thoughts can be “written,” that is, symbolized on paper, the thoughts must be thought. Different literal words can express the same thought. For example, “Das Mädchen ist schön,” “La jeune fille est belle,” and “The girl is beautiful,” are three different sentences with all different words, but they are the same, single, identical proposition. Daane’s argument seems to be based on inattention to the distinction between thoughts and their symbolic surrogates. (God's Hammer, pgs. 181-182)
Now, no doubt the name of a constellation is quite arbitrary; and in a purely semantic sense triangle and circle are arbitrary, for the word three might have meant four and the word straight might have been applied to curves. But we cannot arbitrarily carve a circle out of the lines of intertwined equilateral triangles. Straight lines are not quite that malleable. They are somewhat fixed in a rationalistic sort of way. (Modern Philosophy, pg. 305)
Clearly, all of this makes Clark's definition of words as "arbitrary signs the mind uses to tag thoughts" (Modern Philosophy, pg. 275) much more intelligible than my former interpretation, which inferred Clark meant the meaning of a concept had to be found in another concept [or something else] ad infinitum.

On the other hand, given Clark's assertion of the adequacy of words to correspond to ideas - which presupposes a distinction between the two seemingly explained by the fact words are sensible whereas concepts are suprasensible - the question is raised as to the compatibility of Clark's theory of language with his rejection of the correspondence theory of truth, of which I have elsewhere provided several other reasons for accepting (see here and here, for example). In addition to my brief reply to his remarks above, perhaps Clark did not consider that the correspondence and coherence theory are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

At any rate, anyone who reads my posts "Signs and Symbols" or "God, Language, and Scripturalism" can understand the points I was trying to make if they simply substitute "concept" for "word" in the appropriate places and just ignores any mention of Clark. Better, Clark seems to have the same point in mind when he wrote God's Hammer (cf. pg. 82ff.), which makes my criticisms of Clark ironically awful.

As a bonus thought to this post, I have also considered how Clark's theory that words are "arbitrary" signs could be compatible with his necessitarianism (cf. Clark's chapter on Eternal Generation in his book The Trinity). But I suppose the easiest answer is that if words are considered as sensible, their arbitrarity could purely be with reference to those who use them the most often: men. That is, words are arbitrary insofar as men have no real reason for using some visual or auditory sign to designate a particular concept (their belief that certain words are ordinarily used may influence them, however; cf. Modern Philosophy, pg. 272), though their use of such may be ultimately necessitated by God. As a last resort, "arbitrary" could just be scrapped from Clark's definition of words without doing real damage to his theory of language.

As another bonus, here are a few quotes I think show that Clark rejected idealistic propositional monism:

It is more likely, though that is not saying much, that Paul is opposing the Stoics and Epicureans. At least he acknowledges their existence in Acts 17:18; but this was in Athens and not Colosse. However, even if he did not have these two schools in mind, since they both restricted reality to “matter,” that is, something that occupies space, Paul’s words apply to them because he insists that spiritual entities are as real as physical objects, and indeed superior to them, for like God they are invisible. (Commentaries on Paul’s Epistles, pg. 173)
However, in Ladd’s attempt to defend eschatology - the distinction between olam hazeh and olam haba - his view of a present Heaven becomes clouded. It almost seems as if he denies that anything is eternal, or at least it is hard to believe that he allows for a World of Ideas after which this ephemeral world is patterned. True, amid his numerous references (574) he allows that “Hebrews conceives of an invisible Kingdom already existing in Heaven.” But this admission is modified toward the bottom of the page by the paragraph beginning “Furthermore, it is not accurate to say that Hebrews, like Philo, contrasts the phenomenal world with the noumenal, regarding the former as unreal and ephemeral.” If the sentence, with the words “like Philo,” means only that some points in Philo are not found in Hebrews, we can grant it: Philo wrote many volumes; Hebrews is scarcely twenty-five pages long. But if Ladd means that “it is not accurate to say that Hebrews contrasts the phenomenal world with the noumenal, regarding the former as unreal and ephemeral,” some questions must be asked. First, must the ephemeral be “unreal”? It is really ephemeral, is it not? Ephemeral means “lasting but for a day.” If refers to something passing away; and such is this visible olam hazeh. In any case, Ladd’s own references show that in Hebrews “This age will end with a cosmic catastrophe by which the present world order will be shaken (1:11-12; 12:26) and the true eternal kingdom of God, now invisible, will become visible.” Is it not clear that there could be no temporal, eschatological dualism without a “Philonic,” “Platonic,” thoroughly Christian dualism between the eternal non-ephemeral God and the world that is passing away?
If the reader is getting bogged down in too much detail and wonders where the logical flaw is in all this, the answer or a part of the answer is that Ladd either has not defined his essential terms or has changed some of their meanings from page to page.
It makes no difference that “Hebrews applies the idea of two worlds primarily to the Old Testament cult” (574). The point is that the Old Testament teaches a “Platonic-Philonic” view of a supersensible world as well as an eschatological olam haba. Both the Old Testament and Hebrews indicate that the earthly tabernacle was the physical copy of a heavenly form. Note that the “true tabernacle” was pitched by the Lord and not by man (8:2). The earthly tabernacle was a shadow of heavenly things, for God had said to Moses, “See that thou make all things according to the pattern in the mount” (8:6; compare 9:9). Keep in mind too that this Platonic or Philonic “spatial” dualism comes from Moses, not from pagan Greek philosophy. Indeed, if we accept the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28 and his wrestling with the angel in 32:24ff. exhibit this dualism of the above and below. That Hebrews is “primarily” concerned with sacrifices and the tabernacle does not preclude an underlying and more inclusive dualism, even of a Philonic type. Logically, it is a case of “both-and,” not “either-or.”
A sentence only five lines below elicits the same comment; “There is nothing ephemeral or transitory about Jesus’ life and work.” There certainly is! His birth was ephemeral - it occurred on one particular day; his death on the cross was transitory - it was completed in six hours. That such events are transitory does not detract from their “eternal significance;” but if there were nothing ephemeral or transitory about Jesus’ life, as Ladd indicates, Jesus could not have lived an earthly life at all. Strangely in this paragraph Ladd says, “What Jesus did, he did once for all,” without realizing the meaning of his words. Hapax is an important word in Christian theology.
Along with the several very true and very important points Ladd makes, one may surmise that he has not sufficiently fixed the definition of some terms such as ephemeral; also that he substitutes an either-or for a both-and; and third, that his shaky logic is the result of an inability to conceive of a non-spatial, non-visible reality as a pattern of something physical. A blueprint is the physical pattern of something to be constructed in three dimensions. A Tinkertoy, itself in three dimensions, can be a pattern of a larger physical body. But can a spiritual, intellectual, invisible, incorporeal Philonic Idea be a pattern of a three dimensional tabernacle? Can the things that are seen (phenomena) have been made of things which do not appear (noumenal)? Read 11:3.
Yes, Hebrews 11:3 is an interesting verse. First, it must be translated. The King James, the New American Standard, Rienecker in his Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, and a similar work by Hughes, all agree on essentially the same translation: “so that what is seen has not come into being from things which appear.” The Roman Catholic New American Bible has the more positive rendering, “what is visible came into being through the invisible.” The Jerusalem Bible has a looser insipid translation: “so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.” Owen in his immense commentary remarks that “these words...have much of obscurity and difficulty in them.” The King James and the New American Standard are grammatically correct. I might put it a little more crudely, ‘What is seen is that which has not come from phenomena.” The New American Bible is not an accurate translation, but it seems to be an excellent interpretation. And the interpretation is not so difficult as Owen leads us to believe. Especially when compared with verses in the Pentateuch the words strongly suggest that the visible world came from a suprasensible, ideal world. The term noumena is not in the text; but what else could to me ek phainomenon mean? Phenomena come from noumena. Certainly the verse in Hebrews does not forbid this interpretation.
Now note the confusion of the true and the false on page 575. Referring to 9:24 Ladd acknowledges that the true sanctuary is in Heaven and that Christ did not enter into the earthly copy of the true one. He then immediately adds, “However, it is difficult to think that the author of Hebrews conceived of Jesus after his ascension realistically entering a literal Holy Place in Heaven.... One commentator says, ‘We cannot explain verse 23 in a satisfactory manner.’ “ Ladd’s trouble seems to be that “realistically” means physical, so that spiritual things are not real. The Tinkertoy is real, but the suprasensible Ideas of God’s mind, so he suggests, are not. As if to explain the inexplicable Ladd uses the neo-orthodox phrase, “Eternity at this point intersects time” (575). Since a point has no dimensions, no historical event can occur in it. Yet the last sentence of the paragraph is, “Here in history on Earth is no shadow, but the very reality itself.” This type of neo-orthodoxy contradicts Scripture, contradicts Hebrews itself, for it implies that God and angels are unreal. Fortunately its defense is illogical.
Of course “The heavenly tabernacle in Hebrews is not the product of Platonic idealism” (576), as the liberal C. K. Barrett insists. Plato’s “trinity” had one person who was not omnipotent, one person who did not fashion the visible world, and a third everlasting principle that was not a person; but this in no way eliminates the eternal ideas which are God’s mind. Hebrews has both worlds, and their relationship is not inexplicable, as Hering suggested. Ladd attempts to solve the original problem by obscuring or even denying the noumenal world; but this is not a solution - it simply discards half of the Biblical material. He lamely concludes, “If Hebrews makes use of Philonic dualistic language [Does this imply that references to the Divine Mind are mere metaphors and symbolism?] it is thoroughly assimilated to a Christian worldview of redemptive history with an eschatological consummation.” Emphatically true: but why did not Ladd show the assimilation instead of casting doubt on the reality of the suprasensible world of which the visible world of sense is an ephemeral, transient copy? My aim, here, as said before, is not to pillory Ladd, but to defend the supersensible. Perhaps I have been too harsh on Ladd by using him for two extended examples. He is free to publicize more than two of my own numerous mistakes. But let us now choose another victim, this time nameless. This will enable the champions of Ladd to complain that I do not identify my sources. O tempora, O mori. (Against the Churches, pgs. 135-136)
 "Physical objects" are "real." The Old Testament teaches a “Platonic-Philonic” dualism: suprasensible ideas or propositions vs. physical or spatial copies, patterns, or blueprints. Both are real. Clearly, neither Plato nor Philo were propositional monists. So too, at least at the time of his writing these statements, Clark wasn't either.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Canon of Scripture Revisited

From time to time, I like to revisit and try to clarify previous posts with updated information or terminology I've learned. And I never mind sincere questions from someone who wants to better understand my philosophy. With that in mind, recent question as to the canonicity of James (link) brought with it some questions as to how Clarkians or Scripturalists think men can know Scripture is God's word. It has been a long time since my initial post on the canon of Scripture (link), but I consider the short summary I provide there is as true then as it is now. The answer is the same as many if not most other Protestants would give: God's word is self-authenticating. 

Still, some do not find this answer plausible. In light of what the Bible says about the spiritual condition of most men, this is not unexpected. But in any case, what would be another way we could know that God has revealed Himself? Maybe the reply will be that God hasn't revealed Himself - or if He has, we couldn't know it anyway. Or perhaps there is no God. When these sorts of replies are made, though, I find that the person in question has inevitably not thought through how partial knowledge could be possible apart from revelation of such from one who is omniscient (link). And all other answers suppose that it is more legitimate to evaluate a creator by His creation than creation by a creator. Are any of these options really more plausible than a self-authenticating revelation? Do any of these alternatives have something more substantial than a superficially intuitive appeal? Well, I must leave that to the reader to decide. I would obviously answer in the negative.

Of course, there are perspectives which I would allege attempt to copy the method of knowing God's word, distorting it by substituting in place of Scripture something not of divine origin. And this troubles people, because if revelation is supposed to be self-authenticating, then how is it possible to sift through all these varying claims? Is playing a back-and-forth game of "my source is true and yours is not because my source says so" really the best that a Christian apologist has to offer? Still more troubling, how can our answer to such questions be made without presupposing revelation? After all, if some sort of revelation is necessary, then we wouldn't be able to answer any question without first specifying said revelation.

Well, actually all of this doesn't turn out to be so problematic. For the reply to this last question just is that we can't answer any question without first presupposing a specific, concrete revelation. So what? The reason why some accept and others reject one proposal over against another should depend on what one's revelation has to say about such. In the case of Scripture, while God's word may be self-evident, the only means by or reason for which any sinner would acknowledge it as such is grace.

Even so, we may further note that we are not left without means of distinguishing false claims to divine revelation. Keeping in mind that no necessary condition for knowledge can ground or function to demonstrate a sufficient condition for knowledge (link), there are nonetheless tests we can perform which serve as confirmatory evidences.

Now, necessary truths obviously cannot be falsified. So given that the idea of God, that His revelation is self-authenticating, and that what He speaks cannot be a lie are all necessary truths, the Bible, God's self-attesting word, cannot be falsified. That some do not take these divinely revealed truths as constituting a or the sufficient condition for knowledge does not imply we shouldn't.

Then again, this doesn't imply our belief is arbitrary. In addition to the possibility (indeed, the necessity - link) of self-authenticity, the Bible itself prescribes criteria against which we can test its claims. Prophecy is one example. Internal consistency is another necessary condition for some communication to have been revealed by God. Etc. I have outlined and dealt with numerous such conditions elsewhere on this blog. Once again, no matter how many of these subsidiary conditions we show the Bible must and does satisfy, our trust in it must ultimately be based on its own, self-authenticating claim to be God's word. But by applying these subsidiary conditions to other worldviews, we can falsify them and thereby lend credibility to our own. While this is not demonstration - no first principle can be demonstrated anyway - it is a technique which is seemingly the most plausible means of persuasion available. The rest is left to God.

So, to summarize, Scripturalism - the axiom that the canon of divine revelation in general and the Bible in particular comprises the extant extent of that which men can know - is clearly not the conclusion of a set of theorems, no matter how necessary those theorems may be in order for a system to be true. Axioms must be self-authenticating or self-evident.

But the acceptance of an axiom is not arbitrary. If it were arbitrary, then it would be unnecessary. One of the necessary conditions, however, is that partial knowledge requires self-authenticating communication from one who is omniscient. We may not be able to demonstrate or prove the Bible in particular is said revelation, but this isn't relevant. For the Bible is taken to be the sufficient condition, not a mere necessary condition, and no axiom can be demonstrated, proved, or externally justified. The fact it just is self-authenticating is enough. People may not accept this, but then again, people may not accept that I know myself. I can't demonstrate that either, but is that any reason to think I can't know myself? No. So, to conclude this post on how we can recognize the canon, I cite for consideration the following statement by Gordon Clark from Today's Evangelism, Counterfeit or Genuine? (pg. 113):
But if there is a revelation, there can be no criterion for it. God cannot swear by a greater; therefore he has sworn by himself. One cannot ask one’s own experience to judge God and determine whether God tells the truth or not. Consider Abraham. How could Abraham be sure that God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac? Maybe this suggestion was of the devil; maybe it was a queer auto-suggestion. There is no higher answer to this question than God himself. The final criterion is merely God’s statement. It cannot be tested by any superior truth.

Protestantism and James 2

I’ve had the same understanding of James 2 for half a dozen years, dating back to numerous discussions with Roman Catholics on facebook, long before I became interested in epistemology. I don’t usually write posts on specific passages (for a related but more general post, see here), but in the aftermath of a discussion in the comment section of a recent post by Drake Shelton (link), I think it will be useful to explain why I think James 2 is not as problematic for Protestants as its perpetual use by many Roman Catholics for that purpose might indicate. The emphasis, however, will be to examine James 2 in light of the system of Reformed theology. This includes, for example, that good works necessarily follow from saving faith, that saving faith is [efficiently] caused by grace alone, that justification before God is by [the instrument of] faith alone, and, perhaps more contentiously, that saving faith is understanding and assent to the divinely revealed propositions referred to as the gospel. That is, if James 2 can be shown to be compatible with these, the latter two of which are usually disputed – especially sola fide – then it cannot be rejected due to alleged inconsistency with Pauline or [other] canonical books.

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 
15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 
17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself. 

Obviously, a claim to faith does not necessarily mean one actually has faith. If, as Reformed theology states, saving faith necessarily yields good works, then a so-called faith which does not yield good works is a “faith” which does not save. As such, it is dead. This is not the faith of saints.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works. 
19 You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear.

These verses seem to set up an objection from an interlocutor, yet there is some question as to where James intends the quote to end, and this impacts the intended meaning. I think the following from the IVP New Testament Commentary Series succinctly summarizes the options and recommends the best interpretation (link):

An Anticipated Objection and Its Answer (2:18)

The objection that James anticipates presents a problem. We would expect him to propose the statements "You have deeds; I have faith" as a potential retort spoken to him; but what he writes is a reversal of these statements. Some have supposed a loss from the original text; but with no manuscript evidence to support it, this theory must remain a last resort. Others (e.g., Ropes 1916:208-14; Dibelius 1976:155-56; Laws 1980:123-24) have simply accepted James's reversal of these statements as a carelessness about how he formulates them; his primary point is to confront the false theology of separating faith and actions, regardless of which party holds which alternative. Such an explanation is possible but dangerous with any text; the first course must be to seek a reasonable explanation for a deliberately worded text. Laws, for example, admits the solution is not entirely satisfactory (1980:124). Mayor (1897:95-96) and Adamson (1976:124-25) try to solve the problem by extending the quotation through the end of 2:18 and rendering the whole verse not as an anticipated objection to 2:17 but as a further confirmation of it. This requires an understanding of will say in 2:18 as "someone may well say" and the rest of the verse as the person's argument, which James is commending to his readers.

A paraphrase of James's thought would then be: "Faith by itself is dead. In fact, someone could properly say, `You have faith, and I have deeds. Show me your faith apart from deeds, and I will show you my faith by deeds.' "This solution is possible grammatically and attractive because of the consistency it provides for James's use of the pronouns. However, it is too forced, not only because of the sense it requires of the verb will say but also because it attempts to reverse the whole first phrase (but someone will say), which in all other cases in Greek literature introduces a contrast or objection to what has preceded. Davids (1982:124) and Moo (1985:105-6) finally choose the solution accepted by Ropes, Dibelius and Laws as the most likely, acknowledging that all of the solutions to this passage have their difficulties. This does seem the best option.

In other words, James is not particular about whether any hypothetical questioner believes in faith alone or in deeds alone. Instead, James is repudiating any separation of faith and actions as if they were contradictory or even equal alternatives. He is insisting on the theological unity of the two. In 2:18 he challenges anyone to be able to claim genuine faith without the authenticating works, and he declares the only way to have genuine faith is to carry it out with deeds. He affirms the necessity of both faith and actions and says he will show the former by the latter.

In short, the following considerations outweigh the more abstract question of why the interlocutor says “You have faith and I have works” rather than “You have works and I have faith” – it is apparent in 2:20 that James does, in fact, have in mind someone who would object to 2:14-17. Given the connection between this objector in 2:18 and the remarks about a dead faith in the previous verses, it would be odd if it were the objector who challenged, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works.” Now, if James were to have said this in response to an objector who is illegitimately dichotomizing faith from works (or vice versa), however, the point is clear: one’s claim to faith must be shown by the works he does.

This would also be the first indication that one intention of the author is to explain how faith can be evidenced to others [i.e. people, not God] (cf. 2:22, 24). An omniscient God does not need to see the necessary subsequent (good works) in order to know the claim to the related antecedent (saving faith) is true. For God can know our thoughts, not to mention that He Himself would have caused saving faith in the first place. We, on the other hand, in general (excluding divine revelation about particular individuals) neither have the privilege of knowing who God has decided to regenerate nor the internal mental activities of any other person, so all we have to go on is what we think we see others do outwardly, i.e. their works. That is the only means by which we can “show” another that our claim to faith is more than nominal.

Briefly, the question of how demons can be monotheists yet unsaved is answered simply: monotheism is not a sufficient condition for salvation. Belief in Christ is necessary. Because 2:19 clearly does not imply the monotheists in question possess saving faith – and, therefore, much less that they do good works – it can’t be used to object to the definition of saving faith provided above.

20 But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless? 
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 
22 You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. 
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 

A few points: this last verse is usually what those who think James 2 contradicts Protestant theology hone in on. However, if the justification in question is the “vindication” (for parallel uses of justification as meaning vindication, see Matthew 11:19, Luke 10:29, Romans 3:4, etc.) of ones claim to saving faith before men rather than before God, as 2:18 first suggests and the repeated phrase “You see” reiterates, then the point of the passage is that both faith and [good] works are required, and this is not at all inconsistent with Protestantism. 

Faith alone is not useless per se; the question is in what context it would be useless. Without the accompanying good works which should and would follow, justification of a claim to faith just isnt possible. It is in this context that one“faith” without good works would be as useless as one“good works” without saving faith. 

The Abrahamic citations that James provides are instructive. Clearly, since the faith which produces good works is the faith which is instrumental to our salvation, reference to Genesis 15:6 and Abraham’s status in Gods sight is natural. Justification before men is related to justification before God, for the former presupposes the latter. But because what counts as evidence of belief differs between an omniscient God and men, in order for this previous Scripture to be “fulfilled,” the exemplification of his faith in Genesis 22 was necessary. Related to this point is the following quote I have produced before on this blog:
James 2:22, NT Context: The Nature of Abraham’s Faith 
“…The verb rendered by the NIV as “was made complete” (eteleiothe [from teleioo]) does not mean (despite Calvin’s support) that the actions revealed Abraham’s faith to be perfect (tetioo never has that sense); nor does it mean that works were somehow tacked onto a faith that otherwise would have been incomplete, for James’s point is that such faith does not really count at all, it is simply useless. Rather, to follow James’s argument we must recognize that although the expression teleioo linked with ek (i.e., Abraham’s faith “was made complete… [lit.] out of” works) is found nowhere else in the NT, parallels found elsewhere are illuminating. Philo tells us that Jacob “was made perfect as the result of [ek] discipline” (Agriculture 42); alternatively, he “was made perfect through [ek] practice” (Confusion 181). In other words, he grew in maturity as a result of the stresses laid on him. In Philo, however, the maturation take place in a human being. Jacob; here in James this “maturation” takes place in an inanimate object, faith. This prompts Moo (2000: 137) to suggest that the closest conceptual parallel is 1 John 4:12: “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete [teteleiomene estin] in us.” Transparently, God’s love is not somehow lacking something, intrinsically deficient, until we love one another; rather, “God’s love comes to expression, reaches its intended goal, when we respond to his grace with love toward others. So also, Abraham’s faith, James suggests, reaches its intended goal when the patriarch did what God was asking him to do” (Moo 2000: 137)…”
That is, the explanation of the phrase “faith was perfected by works” has to do with a teleological end of faith, not an alleged insufficiency of [saving] faith alone to function in any capacity whatsoever.

25 And similarly, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another way? 
26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Some attempt to push analogy between body:spirit and faith:works too far. Surely the idea that one is not spiritually alive until he does good works is going too far. Likewise, if spirits can be without bodies (2 Corinthians 12:2), does that also imply one can do good works apart from faith? Analogies have limits. James is simply reiterating his previous statements: saving faith and good works go together naturally. You will either find both or neither.