Friday, May 22, 2020

Frazer Responds to Hall's 5/20 Comment

Gregg Frazer has sent along the below note that responds to Mark David Hall's comment made on 5/20/20.


Who’s not reading carefully now?  I spent some time distinguishing between “obedience” and “subjection” and showing that Calvin made the same distinction. Now Mark suggests that I falsely insert “obey” in place of “subjection” into the biblical text.  As Mark insists on changing the text, I would appreciate it if he would not accuse me of doing so.

It seems more likely that Mark and Seidel went to the same school because both of them insist on substituting the word “obey” for “subjection.”  As applied to the American situation, Romans 13 says that English subjects – which the “patriots” claimed to be as late as after Bunker Hill – must be subject [hupotasso] to King George.  In Titus 3:1, Paul instructs believers to be obedient [peitharcheo] as well as subject.  Being in subjection is also a matter of conscience (Rom. 13:5) – is that not what the verse says?  I do not agree with Seidel on much, but he apparently knows how to read and assumes that an author means what he says.

Mark’s position is not one of exegesis, but of eisegesis.  His position reads 16th-century circumstances and preferences into the biblical text.  Mark complains about how I read the text of his book if he doesn’t think I do so accurately.   Doesn’t Paul deserve the same treatment – especially since Mark and I agree that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit?  Why can Paul’s text rightly be massaged and manipulated and its meaning changed by events 1500 years after it was written?  What about the many clear and direct passages from Calvin that Mark has not explained?  Why should we take Mark’s words literally and seriously, but not afford the same to Paul’s and Calvin’s words?

Mark thinks I unfairly treated his text, but he ascribes talk of armed rebellion to Calvin, who never used that language. He ascribes exceptions for “lesser magistrates” to Calvin, who never used those terms.  Mark says that I unfairly draw conclusions about his text because he states a counterclaim at one point.  But when Calvin many times explicitly condemns resistance to rulers and commands subjection and (with one exception) obedience to them, Mark ignores those statements in favor of his preferred conclusion drawn from other peoples’ comments on Calvin or by inserting words into Calvin’s text or substituting words that Calvin did not use.

Mark says “almost every Reformed writer … disagreed” with Seidel’s adaptation of Romans 13.  Since George did not require anyone to disobey God, Calvin did not disagree with Seidel’s statement.  Neither did Martin Luther.

Luther said:

“Here is what the law says, ‘No one shall fight or make war against his overlord; for a man owes his overlord obedience, honor, and fear’ (Romans 13 [1-7]).  … That is the law in a nutshell. God himself has instituted it and men have accepted it, for it is not possible both to obey and resist, to be subject and not put up with their lords.”

“subjects are to be obedient and are even to suffer wrong from their tyrants.  … (I)f the subjects rise up and rebel … then it is right and proper to fight against them. That, too, is what a prince should do to his nobles and an emperor to his princes if they are rebellious and start a war.”

As for “lesser magistrates”: “Compared to his overlord the emperor, a prince is not a prince, but an individual who owes obedience to the emperor, as do all others, each for himself.  ...  So the emperor, too, when compared with God, is not an emperor, but an individual person like all others; compared with his subjects, however, he is as many times emperor as he has people under him. The same can be said of all other rulers. When compared to their overlord, they are not rulers at all and are stripped of all authority. When compared with their subjects, they are adorned with all authority.”

Luther emphasizes the biblical principle that God may remove a ruler, but that role is not given to us: “Thus, in the end, all authority comes from God, whose alone it is; for he is emperor, prince, count, noble, judge, and all else, and he assigns these offices to his subjects as he wills, and takes them back again for himself” [emphasis mine].


Tom Van Dyke said...

As I often ask about Locke, the "real" Locke [say of the "Straussians"] or the Locke the Founders fashioned out of his writings for their own purposes?

Thus: Whose Luther? Whose Calvin?

John Milton's...?

Owing to his disparagement of the patristic writers, he refers only to Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Basil in this treatise, but his list of Protestant authors is lengthy, including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Martyr, Paræus, Cochlæus, Cartwright, Fenner, Gilby, Goodman, Knox, and Whittingham. His use of the names of Luther and Calvin in support of his argument in favor of deposing tyrants is scarcely honest. His misuse of Luther’s words out of their connection is particularly open to criticism.

He also wrests Calvin to his purpose, for that stern theologian was far from being an upholder of popular government. On the contrary, he advocated submission to the worst tyrant. ‘Let no man here deceive himself,’ says he, ‘since he cannot resist the magistrate without resisting God. We must be subject not only to good princes, by whatever means they have so become, although there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes.’ Milton must have read these words, yet he was unscrupulous enough to try to induce his readers to believe that Calvin was on his side of the controversy.

In quoting other Protestant writers, Milton often suppresses a word or phrase, as will be seen by comparing the text with that given in the notes. In general, it may be said that while the early Protestant theologians uttered brave words in condemnation of wicked princes, their counsel was passive obedience; at a later period they stipulated that, if the people were to take action against the powers, they should act through the inferior magistrates, and avoid individual or disorderly uprisings.

Perhaps the dearth of Founding-era references to Luther and Calvin is that their authority was surpassed by later Reformers. Or hijacked. A Straussian "close" reading of their works shows little support for revolution but the Founders were not genuine scholars poring over every word and phrase. For all their early erudition John Adams and Jefferson were quite busy with their revolution.

And neither was a devout man. I cannot imagine either one spending excruciating hours poring over the Institutes with a biblical faithfulness and fortitude.

Milton's Luther and Milton's Calvin were quite sufficient to their project and I expect most others were satisfied with them too. This is why I have found the "Straussian" scholars like Michael Zuckert fairly useless to the actual historian.

What Luther and Calvin actually thought is a curiosity. How the Founders appropriated them is the historian's task at hand.

Mark David Hall said...

As Sarah and I explain in our article, it seems clear that Calvin embraced active resistance by at least inferior magistrates, but again it really doesn't matter. Luther's views are even less relevant to the Calvinist tradition.

The question is, where did America's founders get the idea that tyrants may biblically and justly be resisted? The answer is the Calvinist tradition of political reflection. Locke affirmed this tradition, but didn't invent it.

As a Christian, I care about interpreting Scripture correctly. But as a student of the history of ideas, it really doesn't matter. I teach with Quaker pacifists who believe Scripture requires them to forsake violence. I think they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but that doesn't mean that their views aren't informed by their understanding of Scripture. It would be silly to say that they are obviously influenced by Gandhi because Scripture doesn't require pacifism. Yet that is exactly what Gregg does with Locke and active resistance.

jimmiraybob said...

Thanks Mark.

Our Founding Truth said...

Mr. Hall, this last statement of yours tells a great many things about not only Calvin's view. You wrote "but again it really doesn't matter." From that statement, it tells me you either lost the argument by default or it was something else not directly pertaining to the argument. You wrote "[I]t seems clear that Calvin embraced active resistance by at least inferior magistrates" [bold face mine]. Let's see the quotes. I'll save you the trouble; there are none. To say it's clear is...

Dr. Frazer also clears up your mistaken understanding of biblical resistance. Calvin had the correct biblical understanding, Beza and the reformed tradition did not.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Our Founding Truth said...

Dr. Frazer also clears up your mistaken understanding of biblical resistance. Calvin had the correct biblical understanding, Beza and the reformed tradition did not.

Thank you for putting your finger on the problem here. That is a theological debate. This is a history blog.

To accept Dr. Frazer's argument, we must accept his theology. I for one have no dog in this fight, but the fact remains that historically speaking, Calvin lost and it was Beza and the rest who won, and defined the "Reformed tradition."

Mark David Hall said...

Mr. Truth: "Let's see the quotes..." The quotes, and analysis, are in the article I cited and provided a link to. I'm not going to reconstruct the argument here when it is readily available online.

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