A Biblical Critique of Craig’s Accessibilism
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury (Rom. 2:6-8).” This is the passage Craig appeals to in order to make his point. And while we are cherry-picking texts, he could also appeal to Romans 8:13, James 1:12; 2:24, etc.
But, again, Craig has a lopsided view of theological method, and this article proves it. “What seems reasonable?” is the question he’s asking when he should be asking, “What seems reasonable in light of God’s objective revelation?” We could spend another article discussing Craig’s method (there are many flaws), but here, my purpose is to show how his appeal to Romans 2:7 is a fundamentally inaccurate use of the text.
Romans 2:7 is seated within a linear, rational argument from the apostle Paul. In other words, Paul is going somewhere with all this. Craig’s use of Romans 2:7 would be like if he used 1 Corinthians 15:13b to prove there was no resurrection of Christ. We have to see the particular words in context of the whole. And in this case, Paul is driving toward a particular point. Indeed, if we read on, Paul says this:
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (Rom. 2:12, 13).
Does this mean that there are doers of the law and thus those who are justified on the basis of their response to the law (i.e. Natural law or otherwise)? If we continue to flow Paul’s argument, we see that this is simply not the case. In conclusion to his point in ch. 2, in ch. 3 he writes:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
No one is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Rom. 3:9-12)
Paul makes the bold claim, in v. 9b that both Jews and Greeks, the summation of all humanity, are under sin. He then goes on to increase his boldness in his reference to Ps. 14:1-3; 53:1-3. But he applies this the population of the world. Universally, the world is condemned under sin and no one does good in the sight of the Lord. Before we conclude that Paul, here, excludes Craig’s position from reality, let’s continue to trace his argument through ch. 3.
Paul goes on to write:
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (vv. 19, 20).
The rendering “no human being will be justified in his sight,” is even stronger in the Greek. It would more woodenly translate, “No flesh will be justified in his sight.” “No flesh” (Gk. οὐ [δικαιωθήσεται] πᾶσα σὰρξ) means quite literally that not one individual, nor can one individual, be justified before God by their works. I can’t help but think that Paul had Isaiah 64:6 in mind when he wrote this. The old prophet writes, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (KJV).”
So, Paul’s follow up to Romans 2:7 is contrastive. “But,” Paul says, “no one is righteous, no one seeks for God. No one does good.” This is simply rhetorical artwork from the apostle. He’s making his point in a masterful way, and because of this, we have to interpret his words here as such, taking into consideration the complexity of his argument. Dr. Craig, of all people, should know how to flow a complex argument! Later, in Romans 3:23-25 Paul bolsters his point when He writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
There is more that could be said in reference to the book of Romans alone. But what about the broader redemptive narrative? What about Paul’s theology of federal headship? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” All men died in Adam, yet all men, in Christ, will be made alive. As a quick note, a universalist may try to use this, saying, “If Paul is referring to the whole world in Adam, then Paul must be referring to the whole world in Christ! Therefore, all people, without exception, are saved in Christ!” But, again, this is not Paul’s line of reasoning. The word “all” is simply being used differently (cf. 1 Cor. 15:13-18, for context).
Again, in Romans, Paul writes, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ (5:17).” There is, then, this Adam/New Adam motif in Paul’s theology, which is completely undermined by Craig’s assertion that it’s theoretically possible for a person to respond sufficiently to general revelation so as to gain eternal life. Are not all people condemned irrespective of their personal response? Craig’s view, as it sits, simply has no category for original sin and the condemnation it requires in light of a just and holy God.
In the following, and final, post I will look at Craig’s view in light of classical Christian theology. When we say “God” Who are we talking about? This is an important question. It must be answered that we are not talking about something, or someone, in whom there is potentiality. Things which are a mixture of potentiality and actuality are contingent. Something must be behind them in order for their potential to be actualized be it an antecedent part more basic than the whole, or an antecedent person. I will discuss this in more length in the upcoming third and final article.