Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 6

Continuing in this series, we look at a few more of the issues raised by J.H. McKenna.

It took only six days for God to make the universe, but God could not save humanity all at once in an instant in one day? Thousands of years preceded Jesus and thousands of years have followed Jesus—and still most people have not been saved.

This objection assumes two things: 1) that God was not saving people before Jesus came and 2)how many God intends to save. The reality is that God was saving people before Christ came and has been saving people ever since Christ came, and they were all saved by the same manner at the same time: through Christ’s self-giving at Calvary. This seems like a broken record to me to say this again, but it was not about “saving humanity” but about saving a people dedicated to Christ. The time that it took was simply irrelevant to how God desired to accomplish it.

If Jesus had intended to start a new religious system he would have written it down himself during his lifetime, like dozens of previous Jewish prophets.

Jesus never intended to “start a new religious system“. Reading the gospels, one cannot help but note that Jesus was working inside a system that had developed hundreds of years before his birth, in the synagogue system, and the early church was modeled after it, using its liturgical materials and offices. It was one reason why it was the confession of Christ as Lord over and against Caesar became the defining means during the periods of persecution because, from the outside, there was no real way to tell Christians from Jews. The division only became more apparent as Jews differentiated themselves from Christians.

Why would anyone assume that Jesus would have “written it down during his lifetime“? Jesus was busy, constantly moving, a wanted man, he barely had time to eat. Further more…well, let’s just take a look at this excerpt from the Lexham Bible Dictionary,

[The] designation “writing prophets” does not mean that the prophets themselves were literate (though they may have been), only that their sayings have been preserved in volumes attributed to them. Jeremiah 51:60 does record that the prophet Jeremiah “wrote on a scroll all the disasters that would befall Babylon,” but this may mean that he instructed a scribe to write the sayings (see Jer 51:59). Aside from the book of Jeremiah, little is known about the writing process of the prophetic books.

Redditt, Paul. “Prophets, the.” Ed. John D. Barry et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016 : n. pag. Print. (emphasis added)

In fact there’s arguments as to whether or not there was a formal training school in ancient Israel for training young men to serve in such a capacity. Needless to say, it simply doesn’t follow that Jesus, since he did not intend to start a “new religion” but pointed to what he considered and insisted to be authoritative (the Law and the Prophets).

Jesus is depicted in the gospels as disrespecting his mother when he was twelve years old and when he was a grown man.

Actually, no, Jesus was not “disrespectful“, but was perfectly respectful in accordance to the time and culture in which he lived.

Jesus did not practice his own rule: he did not love his enemies but berated them with unwarranted bitterness.

He called them to repentance, which is the highest form of love as a Torah observant Jew.

Okay, so those last two, weren’t arguments as much as accusations, but they’re common and based upon ignorance. So until next time.

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Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 5

Continuing in our series of responses to the arguments/questions presented by J.H. McKenna in his post over at Humanist Plus. This post will deal with two arguments that he gives that are rather similar in the argument that they present. He presents them thusly,

  • If Jesus came to earth in order ‘to suffer’ for our sins, then he should have lived a very long life: he should have endured a crippling decades-long disease; he should have seen his own children predecease him and his wife; he should have contracted dementia to debilitate and hobble his old age; he should have died in mental and physical anguish at age 93 not age 33. As it was, Jesus died in his prime after suffering for three hours on a Friday afternoon and then he hurried back to the paradise from which he came. Many millions of people have suffered more than Jesus did. And many millions would undertake to die in their prime if they knew they could come back to life three days later to report on the afterlife.

  • If Jesus’s purpose was ‘to die’ for humanity, it would have made no difference how he died. He could have died of smallpox or a fever or from slipping on ice.

Both objections put forward the same premise: if Christ had to die for sins, it doesn’t matter how Christ died be it by accident or incident. Both, however, misunderstand the necessity of Christ to die judicially, as a man condemned, in order for his life to have atoning value for those that he intends to save.

Christ was sinless. Human death, whatever its cause whether by disease or accident, is a result of human sin. In Genesis 2, God linked disobedience to his command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil with the punishment of death, that is that man would be cut off from the ultimate source of life, and his existence would be limited in scope. If God had not extended such mercy, the effect of sin would never cease. Indeed, for some, namely the unrepentant rebels who are under God’s just wrath for sin, will always and forevermore experience the effect of sin and the wrath of God against sin. Christ being supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary, though fully human, was unaffected and uncontaminated by human sin, namely the high-handed sin of Adam in eating the fruit. It could be argued that, for all intents and purposes, Jesus was immune to the condemnation of a natural death, but this is highly speculative and otherwise unaddressed  in Scripture. It is for that reason that Paul could argue that Christ was the New Adam and so, unlike the First Adam who failed, could stand before God as our federal head and live a life truly pleasing to God. If Christ had died naturally, by disease or accident, then his death would have had no effect on the state of man before God. Christ’s death, therefore, had to be one of a judicial nature.

Christ had to die on the cross, which was the means of judicial punishment for the Roman empire, a kingdom which stretched over the limits of the known world at the time. It was a death reserved for a common criminals. Jesus was declared innocent by the legal authority, thus had done nothing criminal, and so was unworthy of the death of a criminal. To demonstrate this, the legal authority presented one truly worthy of death, a hardened criminal, and the crowds demanded the life of a murder in place of the life of an innocent man. Jesus went without complaint, willingly, knowing that he would face a greater judge, a judge who had already settled his case, the judge of all men. However, his willingly taking the place of one rightfully condemned under a judicial punishment would allow his death to act in a substitutionary manner for all he intended to save, allowing the Apostle Peter to say in his epistle,

 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,… and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22, ESV)

Christ had to die a judicial punishment because it was the only means by which his innocent blood could pay for the sins of those who are rightfully condemned.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 4

Continuing in the series of responses to J.H. McKenna, which begins here,

No system of jurisprudence can accept the innocent for the guilty, and so the substitutionary death of Jesus is not a moral idea. It is an idea based on pecuniary justice, of paying off a monetary fine for another person, which is permissible; but going to the gallows for another person is nowhere accepted.

This objection misses the point. It is not that we punished the innocent, it is that the innocent One took the punishment of the guilty of his own accord. The assertion that “the substitutionary death of Jesus is not a moral idea” is dependent upon moral qualifications that the person making the argument has yet to make.

The Apostle Paul makes a similar argument in his epistle to the Romans,

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die… (Romans 5:7, ESV)

Paul’s point is that a righteous person has no fear of judgment, and a good person someone would be willing to lay down their lives for because of the potential that is seen. However, the problem is that

[.…] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…(Romans 3:23, ESV)

What did the thief who was crucified next to Jesus say?

“[We] are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. (Luke 23:41, ESV)”

This man recognized the injustice, the immoral act being perpetrated in the murder of an innocent man and, if he were not being crucified himself, might have even stepped in to take his place. It is immoral for us to punish the innocent in place of the guilty, but it is not unjust for God to accept the self-giving sacrifice of a righteous man, especially if that man is God himself, in their place. The inherent problem is that there is a confusion here and it’s evident in the argument: there is a category distinction between what is done in a state of sin and what put you in that state of sin, which is something that Paul picks up on in his Roman epistle where he writes,

“[…]you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience…(Romans 6:16, ESV)”

Paul’s point is this: we are going to be a slave to something, and as slaves we are bound to obey our master.

Slavery is often used metaphorically in the Bible to describe the spiritual condition of man. In man’s primeval rebellion, God “sold” mankind into a state of spiritual slavery to sin as an act of mercy (see this post) rather than simply, and justly I might add, taking his life for his rebellion, in hopes of man coming to his senses and returning to him. Rather than coming to his senses, man embraced his rebellion and his slavery to sin and God came to buy them back, to redeem those whom he desires to save from their sin.

God is the moral one in this story in sending his Son to pay the price necessary for total redemption: death. God can be perfectly just, condemning sin and accepting righteousness because the only righteous one, our kinsman redeemer, Jesus Christ, took the place of one rightfully condemned, shedding his blood, and giving his life as truly, “a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, ESV).”

The “jurisprudence” here is the law that Christ came to fulfill, a law that clearly defined sin and rebellion against a holy and just God, what is found in the Torah, therefore this argument is refuted.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 3

Continuing to look at J.H. McKenna’s post in this series, which begins here, we look at this argument,

  • It slanders God to say God could think of no other way to satisfy his irritated sense of justice than to execute his own son. Any human father would be hanged for such a scheme.

Notice how the presentation of the argument denigrates the justice of God. It is not that God’s justice was “irritated”, as if it is simply a mosquito bite. It also denigrates the self-giving of Jesus in the place of sinners who are rightfully condemned for their sin. It wasn’t that God couldn’t think of another way, it was that there was no other way. How is one to satiate the demand for justice of an eternal being? Not just for one sin, but for all the sins that a person might commit in his/her life? There is no other way than for an eternal being to step in and take the punishment. He who was God himself, stepped into history, as a man and lived a life that was honoring to God and took the place of one man, a man rightfully condemned, taking that man’s rightfully deserved punishment though he had been declared himself as, “innocent.” God didn’t “execute” his own Son, as Isaiah 53 says,

[He] was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, ESV).

Here’s the thing: God didn’t do that. We did it in our rebellion and hatred of our Creator. We assented to his death because we hate God. We took a rebel and killed a righteous man. But there’s something else: what we thought was our victory blow was an infliction upon ourself, and the one that we afflicted wants to give us life, not because we deserve it but because he is kind and generous, and wants to return us to a place where we can have a right relationship and be free from our sin. All that we have to do is trust him and live in light of it.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 2

Continuing in this new series, that I have titled “Hard Questions or Bad Arguments?“, part 1 is found here, we will continue our look at the “arguments” that J.H. McKenna has assembled in his post at Humanist Plus titled, “Little Things Can Make an Atheist”.

Looking at his third argument in his compendium, McKenna writes,

  • If God really spoke to the world, wouldn’t the world would be in convinced agreement about it? But what we see is a cacophony of discordant voices from innumerable religious sects. The very disagreements discredit them all.

Why would we assume that there would be agreement in a world of rebels? The very question that is asked assumes something that Scripture fundamentally denies: that man is neutral, which is simply a myth, as this video explains. Man, in his very heart of hearts, is a rebel against his Creator and God. Disagreement, therefore, is the result of those who hate God and his Truth aligning themselves against him. But just to demonstrate the fallaciousness of the argument, given the fact that there are scientists who disagree on “evolution” and what the term means and how it applies across a multitude of fields of study, does that mean that it is not true? Most certainly, McKenna would say, “No.” Therefore the assertion that, “The very disagreements discredit them all,” is not only a non sequitur, it is also self-refuting, because the person making the argument is disagreeing with everyone else, discrediting the argument.

In point four, McKenna writes,

  • To say that God has ‘mercy’ on humanity can only mean that God’s laws are either defectively harsh to begin with and required mercy to moderate them, or that God is defectively lenient in not applying his original punishments for infractions to his just laws. Either way  ‘mercy’ indicates defect.

This argument demonstrates that the person does not understand what “mercy” is or why it was needed. Mercy is not a moderation of the law, rather it is something extended in an unearned way. Sinners deserve to be punished for their sin, but God extends mercy out of his generosity. It is a withholding of what is deserved in man’s sin. God doesn’t need to give us mercy, but he does so because of who he is. It’s like this, God could rightly give justice the very moment that we commit that first act of willful disobedience but he holds back because he is the one who has been wronged. What does King David plead before his Maker and Judge in the aftermath of his affair with Bathsheba

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:3-4, ESV, emphasis added)

That is why the Hebrew title of the psalm, captured in the first verse is,

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1, ESV, emphasis added)

Mercy isn’t a “defect” in regards to God’s law, it’s an entirely other category. God shows mercy to sinful creatures and they throw it back in his face.

One last point from McKenna for this post,

  • The divine sonship of Jesus is just as suspect as all other ancient ‘sons of God’ whose mothers were impregnated by a God. This was common in the era Christianity emerged in, and Christianity simply adopted the god-man motif.

Notice that he uses a capital-g, maybe it’s just how his computer is set up, but this is a common assertion, however there’s a problem here: the argument is assuming that naturalism is true. Anyone who has conducted a meaningful survey of ancient mythology–I’m using the term here to describe stories of human interactions with divine beings–can see a significant difference between the biblical accounts and hose of say Greece, Rome, and even Mesopotamia. The biblical title “sons of God” refers to a group of divine beings that are often so called because they were part of the divine bureaucracy.

These other gods, which Deuteronomy 32:8 refers to as “the sons of God,” were members of Yahweh’s heavenly host. Scripture elsewhere condemns both the members of the nations and their gods for disloyalty and corruption, showing that these foreign gods are fallen members of the heavenly host (Psa 82).

Heiser, Michael S. “Deuteronomy 32:8–9 and the Old Testament Worldview.” Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016. Print.  More can be found here.

Further, the title “Son of God” finds special and unique significance in the person of Jesus Christ. The assertion that this was “common in the era” is simply absurd, unless he’s referring to the habit of ancient kings to make the claim that they were the “son” of a specific god, then he’s simply conflating claims. Either way this argument, when considered within the historical context, simply falls apart.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments?

 

I have often accused atheists of not thinking, but such an accusation is not that they don’t think, but that they are muddled, confused, or just plain ignorant. This especially seems prevalent in nonbelievers who were raised in some kind of fundamentalist background, where they were not taught about the Bible and were never taken through the text itself. They were loaded up with terms like “inspired” and “inerrant” and were never given any meaningful explanation of what those terms mean. So I fault the pastors, teachers, and parents who did not do their job. But sometimes, just sometimes atheists can actually pose good questions that need to be answered. So, over the next several posts I’m going to work through a post at the Humanist Plus blog titled, “Little Things Can Make an Atheist,” written by J.H. McKenna, that has about 20 questions and try to answer them.

Maybe you’re an atheist and are wondering about some of these same things. Maybe you’ve been asking questions and have met with the ole, “you just gotta believe,” or some similar lines and that makes you think either that there aren’t answers or that the answers that you’re getting simply are ridiculous. So let’s get started.

McKenna begins by saying,

As I read deeper in a trove of literature on unbelief and freethought from the past several centuries, it is interesting to see little things given as reasons for rejecting Christianity and God.

Okay. He then proceeds to presents summaries of these questions, the first of which,

If God ‘reveals’ vital information to only a few people and keeps that information concealed from the wide world, this shows an unjust partiality in God. If God had a saving message for humanity, why didn’t God make the message accessible to all at the same moment?

First, upon what basis can he call God’s decision to do things the way he wants to do them “unjust”? It seems to just completely ignore the fact that, according to Scripture, man is in rebellion, along with some of the heavenly host. Now, any military leader will be apt to tell you that you don’t give your enemies your battle plans. God, of necessity, plays things very close to the vest and he reveals what he wants to whom he wants when he wants because he is God, and we are not. This argument is simply an assault on God’s sovereignty and that he is somehow obligated to us, rather than it being the other way around.

And just what do the Scriptures say about this? I’m so glad you asked,

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3, ESV)

and

For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 135:5-6, ESV)

also, there’s this confession from the lips of the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar,

[The] Most High (aka, Yahweh), and praised and honored him who lives forever,for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34b-35, ESV, emphasis added)

The second,

No information can be called ‘revealed’ that was not formerly ‘concealed.’ But purportedly revealed information was already extant in the world for hundreds or thousands of years and found all over the globe. Moses’ moral commands were in no way a ‘revelation’ inasmuch as every tribe on the planet had arrived at the same moral rules millennia earlier.

This one simply misses what is being revealed or, more precisely, who. The argument of Scripture, when it come to basic morals, not the laws that spring from them, is that humans have similar moral understandings because they all are image bearers of God. What Scripture dictates is how God, Yahweh, will be worshipped by those to whom he has made himself known and how they are to live before him. Now, this argument glosses over key differences between the Mosaic law code and other law codes that this article demonstrates several key differences, such as

a. There is no control of lust.

b. There is no limitation on selfishness.

c. There is nowhere to be found the postulate of charity.

d. There is nowhere to be found the religious motif which recognizes sin as the destruction of the people because it is in opposition to the fear of God. In the Hammurappi Code every trace of religious thought is absent; behind the Iraelite law stands everywhere the ruling will of God; the Mosaic legislation bears a religious character.

In fact, this last point differentiates everything in the OT from the rest of ANE literature and society: the monotheism and the stress on love for God and love for neighbors. This is absolutely unique in world history. (There is nothing outside the Bible like Deuteronomy 6:4-9, for instance). (emphasis added)

It even gives an example of the laws,

21 If a man made a breach in a house, they shall put him to death in front of that breach and wall him in.

25 If afire (sic) broke out in a man’s house and a man, who went to extinguish it, cast his eye on the goods of the owner of the house and has appropriated the goods of the owner of the house, that man shall be thrown into the fire.

110 If a hierodule, a “lady of a god”, who is not living in a temple, has opened the door of a wineshop or has entered a wineshop for a drink, they shall burn that woman.

127 If a man pointed the finger at a “lady of a god” or the wife of another man, but has proved nothing, they shall drag that man into the presence of the judges and also cut off half his hair.

129 If the wife of a man has been caught while lying with another man, they hsall bind them and throw them into the water. If the husband of the woman wishes to spare his wife, then the kig in turn may spare his subject. (Sic)

Such arguments as these try to gloss over the differences rather than meaningfully demonstrate the similarities.

For this post, I believe that’s enough. So, until next time.

The Problem of Evil and Good

If we’re going to meaningfully discuss the problem of evil, such a discussion requires establishing categories and grounds to be able to define what is or is not evil.

Bob Seidensticker, an atheist, writes in a blog post titled, “Is God the Good Guy or the Bad Guy?” and tries to answer the question that he’s posing.

His post begins with a very valid question,

When the Christians think that they’re talking to God, how do they know?

As I said, a very valid question. But it assumes a lot of things as his next remark demonstrates,

If there is a supernatural world populated with lots of beings, maybe one of Satan’s little helpers is answering your prayer instead of God, Jesus, or a saint.

As a Sola Scriptura practicing Christian I would like to say that I know how since I have this thing called “the Bible”. If anything this gives you a flavor for how this particular response is going to go.

He asks a few more, somewhat reasonable questions,

Now consider the bigger question: who’s in charge? Is this a good world governed by an all-good god (the Christian view), or is a bad god in charge?

That depends upon how one defines terms. I think that the term “all-good“, much like “all-powerful“, is often either misunderstood or misapplied. As I wrote in this post, the character of God defines how he acts in relation to his rebellious creatures in a fallen world, something atheists often ignore in such discussions.

He begins in the heart of his argument,

Think about the Problem of Evil, why a supposedly good god allows so much evil—tsunamis, childhood diseases and birth defects, millions of people living in abysmal conditions, and so on. Is this really the best that he can do? But drop the assumption that the guy in charge must be good, and things make more sense.

As I said, atheists begin with a false assumption: that they have meaningful grounds to call anything “evil”. Atheistic presuppositions, such as those espoused in Alex Rosenberg’s book, which I outline here, are stuck in a position where there is only what is. Tsunamis happen. Children get sick and die. There’s no such thing as “abysmal conditionsonly different conditions. To borrow a line from Douglas Wilson in his discussion with Christopher Hitchens, “There is no God. Shit happens.” Or as Richard Dawkins has said, “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice (River Out of Eden).”

He continues,

You now have the Problem of Good—why the evil god in charge wouldn’t make things much worse. This question has potential answers: maybe having things bad but not too bad allows hope to flourish and then be dashed.

That would make sense if that were the case, but then he would have a problem of why would such a being decide to create? Misery loves company?

He gives us a third option,

Or maybe the guy in charge is just a well-meaning but imperfect craftsman—a celestial Homer Simpson or an extraterrestrial middle schooler who got a C+ on the simulation that we call our universe, which he created for a homework assignment.

Yeah, that’s question begging too.

He sets up a little dialogue with an imaginary Christian. Brace yourself.

So is God good?

Of course God is good! The Bible says so.

His “Christian” gives two proof-texts that have nothing to do with God himself (Genesis 1:31 and 1 Timothy 4:4) but deal with the nature of creation, and is engaging in equivocation. Where would I go?

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:11)

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)

But that’s just me. He continues,

But the Bible is a sock puppet that can be made to say almost anything.

Yes, if one ignores things like context and rules of exegesis, which is what he’s about to do.

God not only created good, but he created evil:

I just have to interject here before I allow him to shove any more of his foot into his mouth: God didn’t “create good“; he created things that he called “good”, but not in a moral sense, rather in the sense of completeness or function, or pleasing. Like I said, equivocation.

He quotes 3 passages to demonstrate this, Isaiah 45:7; Lamentations 3:38, and Amos 3:6, then writes,

The Bible isn’t much help to the Christian when it documents what God does when he’s off his meds.

Remember that statement about the Bible being a “sock puppet” that people can manipulate and twist? Yeah, that’s him doing it. I’m just going to guess that if he takes away his kids toys when they misbehave, that he’s “off his meds“. Can we just call it a “bigoted non sequitur” and see what else is said?

He demands human sacrifice and genocide. He supports slavery and polygamy. He drowns the world. These would universally be condemned as evil by anyone who didn’t have an agenda to defend God.

I’d love to hear what grounds he has to say that any of those things are wrong given the necessary presuppositions of his worldview. The only reason that he’s complaining is because those things are recorded in Scripture. People have been dying in floods, wars, and other things for millennia. Unless he can provide some justification to say that there’s something wrong with them he’s just making noise.

The Bible is also full of errors and contradictions, just the kind of clue to suggest that an inept or even evil guy was behind it.

Oh, this assertion deserves its own series of responses. I’ll put it on the list, but here’s a post on contradictions and errors that demonstrates that false nature of the assertion.

His “Christian” says,

God is good by definition. If God did it, that’s “good.” He’s the Creator of Everything! How could it be any other way?

To which he responds,

In the first place, this isn’t how the dictionary defines “good.” There’s no mention of God in the definition of the word.

Typical category error. When the Christian asserts that “God is good, by definition“, what is meant is that God, by his nature, provides the extent by which one can point to call something “good” because he defines the nature of all things that he has created. For example: if I were to make a table, then say that the table could only support 35 pounds (the extent of its nature as to what is “good” in regard to it) you could not be angry if you put a 50 pound weight on it and the table collapsed. Now God does more than that, but that is what is meant.

Bob continues,

But see where this takes Christians if the guy in charge is good by definition. There’s no amount of carnage he can do for these Christians to change their evaluation. Natural disasters, disease, individual calamities—it’s all good. If you can’t understand, then you’ll just have to content yourself with God working in mysterious ways.

Working towards what? If God is working, which is the Christian presupposition, then he’s working towards a goal. Romans 1:18 says,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….

The means by which God unleashes his wrath, among other things, via natural disasters, disease, and calamity. These are passive actions. God is not obligated to do good to anyone who

…by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

The Christian recognizes that this world is a world in rebellion, actively hostile against its creator. Any good allowed by a holy and righteous “guy in charge” is because he is good and merciful and he wants his people to know him.

This “God” could just as easily be objectively bad. Tricking us into believing that this very imperfect world is actually the best of all possible worlds is just the kind of monkey business that the Dark Lord would do, isn’t it?

Oh man, it’s an argument against Molinism. I’m going to call this a straw man objection against a biblical argument. But let’s run with it: this is not “the best of all possible worlds” rather this world is the world that God created in order to demonstrate the totality of his character, his mercy, his justice, his love, and his wrath. It’s also worth asking the question of what objective standard is he going to appeal to in order to judge the actions of God? Last time I read my Bible, there is nothing higher than God Almighty. There is nothing to point to and say, “God, this is how you ought to act.” However, the God of gods, can and has, just check out Psalm 82.

Imagine Satan in charge. He might do something abominable like convince Christians that the death of an innocent child is an unavoidable part of his greater plan, if you can believe such a thing. And yet grieving Christian parents are told exactly that!

How would he know that? I mean, in his worldview, that dead child is a worthless accident, a cog on the wheel of natural selection, part of the detritus of an undersigned and uncaring universe. That was not, in fact, a child, it was a meaningless speck of protoplasm. He has to use emotional language, make an emotional argument that has no grounds in his worldview. That’s the very definition of hypocrisy. Further, it’s self-refuting because, if God were evil–literally playing the devil’s advocate here–he would be telling them the truth, namely that he does have a plan, it’s just that he’s hiding the end result of the plan from his creatures. The great thing here is that the Christian knows what the plan is: for Christ to present a people to his Father, rescued from their sin and rebellion in holiness and righteousness.

Christians have ceded their ability to distinguish the two. Good or bad, this guy has convinced Christians that we must label every act of his “good.” Christians don’t say that he’s good by evaluating his actions; they say he’s good by default.

Actually, we haven’t “ceded” anything, we can do so only because an all-good God exists. This is the typical, atheist fallacious argument. We say, “God punishes evil.” We point to the men of Noah’s day who had,

[…]filled [the earth] with violence. (Genesis 6:11)

God acted by sending a flood to stop their evil and start something new. He didn’t have to bargain or plead, he doesn’t have to, he just said, “Enough!” And like a potter dissatisfied with how a pot was turning out, he mashed it down and started it over. When you’re God, you get to do things like that, and it’s not because someone tells you that you can. We look at the Garden, where there was one single, simple rule and a clear proclamation of what would happen if it was broken. We see that God is just and merciful, and can conclude, based upon the evidence, that God is good.

Bob’s Christian replies,

But God has his own morality.

Bob then replies,

What’s wrong with him following the same morality as he demands of humans? We were created in his image, after all. But if he has his own moral rules, what are they and how do you know? What rules can we be confident God will follow, or are you determined to apologize for him no matter what rules he breaks?

God’s morality is to be good and just. He made man to be his imagers. Our first duty as such is to image him in justice and mercy towards one another. Bob misses this: God is jealous for his reputation, which is made real and present in those he created to image it, and he is harsh towards those who degrade and despise it in the vessels he created for it to be accomplished. God’s rules are justice, which is why he pours out his wrath so severely. God is so good that he cannot allow evil to go unanswered, and the wonderful thing of it is that he doesn’t have to hurl down lightening bolts to do it because evil will eventually consume itself. If he wants to know God’s rules, maybe he should open God’s word.

I’ve got to start winding this up, so I want to skip down to this weak response made by Bob’s Christian,

Don’t blame God for poor conditions here on Earth, blame Satan.

facepalm1

I feel sickened by this. So, how does Bob respond to this weak-as-water argument?

Here again, the Bible isn’t the Christian’s friend. Satan is said to have killed Job’s servants and his ten children, but that was with God’s approval. And that’s about it.

Actually, the evil committed against Job is presented on two fronts: moral and natural. The fact that we are given a peak behind the curtain, namely an aspersion on the character of Job, that he’s an opportunist, that God defends by allowing the man to be tested. Job’s servants are not killed by Satan, they are killed by thieves, though some are killed in a disaster, and his children die when the house that they’re in collapses in a wind storm. Bob clearly misses the assurance that Job’s story gives: nothing happens without God’s sovereign decree, which includes the end that he intends, which is to demonstrate that he is both just and in control. Job never gets to peak behind the curtain, but we do, and we get to see what Job saw in the end: restoration and reward for believing in his God. Also there is something else missed in Bob’s assertion: God did not cause the evil that Job experienced, but he did respond to Job and would only forgive the men who accused Job of wrongdoing if Job intermediated for them. God used Job’s experience to demonstrate the necessity of a mediator, eventually seen in Christ.

Bob tries to further his case by writing,

Now consider God’s killings, also documented in the Bible. The Dwindling in Unbelief blog estimates five million people dead in 157 incidents plus another twenty million for the global flood.

If you go to the post linked in the article, you will notice something, especially if you go to the larger context of the accounts from which the numbers are drawn (the flood estimate should be immediately dismissed because it’s simply an unjustified and arbitrary assumption and not something confirmable). But let’s say, once we winnow out actual numbers where God acts directly, since many are wars or police actions within the community itself , you notice a common theme: direct, willful, insolent disobedience being punished or God acting to save his people, as any good king would, and completely devastating his enemies. It’s very easy to talk about numbers without establishing a coherent context in which matters are to be understood. 

Bob closes his post, saying,

The problem is the Christian refusal to admit that what God does is sometimes evil by any reasonable standard. I can see how this might’ve developed. Imagine a skeptic pressuring a Christian about slavery or genocide in the Bible, with the Christian responding, “Well, uh . . . whatever God does must be good. Yeah, that’s it—God’s actions are always good by definition!” But this unevidenced Band-Aid has consequences.

In closing, Bob has yet to meet his own standard: a coherent grounds by which to judge God’s actions. If he appeals to Scripture as those means then he cuts his own throat because they establish God as a just but harsh king, who does not err in his judgment, is fair in his dealings. He always extends mercy before bringing judgment and his decisions are based upon his unwavering character. If Bob appeals to another standard, he is hung on the horns of being able to demonstrate how it would apply and it would have to be critiqued on its own grounds. Bob simply has no where to stand in order to judge God.

Now, Bob earlier in the blog in a section I didn’t quote, had said that God had changed in the Bible, he confuses “change” with fuller revelation, which is a category error. It would be like the difference between knowing someone at work who acted very stiff and stodgy, but if you met them outside of work they were easygoing and flexible. Has that person actually changed or has the context changed so that you can see another facet of their personality? Obviously the latter.

He says, “Imagine a skeptic pressuring a Christian about slavery or genocide in the Bible…” Well, let him. The consistent, thoughtful, contextually-aware, Bible-believing Christian could equally apply pressure to get him to demonstrate what he means by the terms and provide an internally consistent worldview that could rightfully condemn them apart from the revelation of God in Scripture, then walk through the text of the Bible and demonstrate the fallacious arguments that are being used.

Atheists like Bob want to assume that they have grounds to accuse God of wrongdoing when they need God to provide the necessary preconditions of intelligibility just to have the conversation, proving what Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans,

For although they [know]God, they [do] not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they [become] futile in their thinking…[and], claiming to be wise, they [become] fools…

Bob’s argument is ultimately based upon unjustified assumptions, as well as emotional and straw man argumentation.

Answers in Exegesis: Can a Father Sell His Daughter into Slavery?

I would probably need to take off my socks and shoes in order to be able to count the number of times that I have been in a discussion with an atheist (I loathe to call them “debates” as some do because there never was actually a case made) and the issue of God’s law comes up. And it almost seems to be a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the atheist to say something to the effect of, “I’m thinking of selling my daughter into slavery. How much should I ask?

facepalm1

Without a doubt, because many Christians have never actually read the New Testament in its entirety, much less the Old Testament, that they have never come across the Mosaic Law Code (MLC), or much less have studied it in any meaningful depth. Most Sunday School lessons, once Moses gets the Decalogue, jump to Joshua, or Ruth, or some other character because to work through the MLC, as moderns, requires learning how to understand terms that are translated as “slave” in a method that does not reference the African slave trade that flourished during the 16th to 19th centuries in Europe and the Americas. It’s difficult for moderns to put down our distractions and focus on pesky things like “historical” and “cultural” contexts. Apparently it’s too difficult for atheists because they, even though they claim to be rational and skeptical, will make dogmatic assumptions about terms without checking their understanding. So much for being rational and skeptical.

When we apply just a little skepticism, just a moment of questioning to an issue, such as the one found in Exodus 21:7-11, and define our terms, the question will be answered meaningfully and truly.

The passage begins with somewhat of a troubling statement*,

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.

This statement must be understood in the context of the larger passage that begins at 21:1, which establishes the primary means of securing labor, or protecting ones life from death.
I’ll allow the translators of the English Standard Version to make my case, as they write in the introduction to their translation,

[A] particular difficulty is presented when words in biblical Hebrew and Greek refer to ancient practices and institutions that do not correspond directly to those in the modern world. Such is the case in the translation of ‘ebed (Hebrew) doulos (Greek), terms which are often rendered “slave.” These terms, however, actually cover a range of relationships that requires a range of renderings—“slave,” “bondservant,” or “servant”—depending on the context. Further, the word “slave” currently carries associations with the often brutal and dehumanizing institution of slavery particularly in nineteenth-century America. For this reason, the ESV translation of the words ‘ebed and doulos has been undertaken with particular attention to their meaning in each specific context. Thus in Old Testament times, one might enter slavery either voluntarily (e.g., to escape poverty or to pay off a debt) or involuntarily (e.g., by birth, by being captured in battle, or by judicial sentence). (Emphasis added)

So, in deference to women (how women might have been seen or characterized in ancient times is irrelevant), the statement from v.7 is meant to differentiate the relationship that a woman might have in such a situation with her “owner” which is simply a legal term that is being employed, that would be different from that of a man. Such differences are illuminated in the following verses. But just spitballing, that would include doing the cooking and cleaning, as house staff, all the way to marriage.

Notice that the last phrase of v.7 says, “[…]she shall not go out as the men do.” Now this has to be understood in the context of a semi-nomadic life that Exodus is setting up for, since the overview of the law is centered around Hebrews (i.e. Israelite), that once a man, for whatever reason (poverty, debt, criminal) at the end of his service, he was free to go, unless circumstances caused him to change his mind. Also, the debt holder/owner could sell the debt to someone else if he saw that he would be unable to fully provide as was his duty in the culture. Women however, were to be immune to this practice, which seems to say something about the actual biblical view of women, namely that they weren’t simply property that could be bought and sold like cattle, the only way that they could be “resold” was either to her father or a similar kinsman redeemer, and no one else.

So upon what reason would a father “sell” his daughter?

  1. Human capital—rather literally, in that culture, the surest means of securing oneself was through being able to sell even oneself in order to gain capital. It was not just time or talent that was being sold, as today, but ones whole body. This gave security in a rather unstable society and time, especially if one were poor.
  2. Debt repayment—much like point 1, a person might have to sell themselves or a child, to pay a debt. We recoil away from such a concept because of a hamstrung view of the capacities of children, but in the ancient near east, in a context of human capital, everyone is worth something.
  3. Marriage—”Ew, it’s barbaric!” Yeah, yeah, whatever, it was simply the way it was. In ancient near eastern culture, if you wanted to get married you, or most likely your parents, would approach the family of the person you/they wanted to be married to, and you/they would negotiate a fair price. As Richards and O’Brien write in their insightful tome Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

Arranged marriages are much more common in collectivist cultures, because it goes without saying that, in this most important of decisions, the community should decide what’s best for the young people. Marriage is not simply between a man and a woman. One family marries another…This might sound restricting to you. It does to most Westerners. But many non-Westerners view this supervision as helping: How can you abandon a poor twenty-two-year-old to make such an incredibly important decision on his or her own? To do so would be calloused and uncaring. (p.98, LOGOS Bible Software Version) (Emphasis added)

The JPS Torah Commentary on Exodus adds here,

In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. The sale presupposes marriage to the master or his son. (LOGOS Bible Software) (Emphasis added)

The fact that women could not just be bought and sold, but had to be protected is, for lack of a better term, progressive. This even extends to the care of the woman in that position, namely as a woman secured for marriage, which is what the following verses seem to imply, such as v8,

If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. (Emphasis added)

Notice that v.8 seems to assume what the JPS commentators do, as does v.9,

If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.

Hmmm. It seems as though the woman is not merely property, but is to be considered as family. V.10, seems to throw a little bit of a curve ball,

If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.

I’ll let the JPS Commentators handle this one,

The Torah extends this protection to the slave girl and here specifies three basic necessities of life to which she is entitled. The formulation once again gives every appearance of being ancient technical legal language. It is generally agreed (1) that Hebrew sheʾer, literally “flesh,” is an ancient word for “meat,” perhaps, like leḥem, extended to cover food in general, and (2) that kesut is certainly “clothing.” It is the unique word ʿonah that has generated debate. The Septuagint, Peshitta, and Targums all understood it to refer to the woman’s conjugal rights. This interpretation, which has no philological support, is also found in rabbinic sources. If correct, it would reflect a singular recognition in the laws of the ancient Near East that a wife is legally entitled to sexual gratification. (Emphasis added)

Well, that certainly puts a different spin on things.

Okay, so what’s the takeaway here?

A couple of things:
1. Words like “slave” and “owner” are translations of words that actually reflect something more nuanced than our simplistic thinking about the terms.
2. Women had a protected status that did not apply to men. Once “bought” a woman, under the MLC was not merely a piece of property she had the protection of the social status of “wife” or “daughter” and could not be gotten rid of easily.
3. The woman could leave if she was neglected and would not suffer recourse.

All of that to say, if an atheist drops the question that he’s wanting to sell his daughter into slavery, and wants to know how much he should ask, remind him that the MLC sets the standard at a month and a half wages of the average wage. Last time I checked, the average hourly wage was something like $10.85(USD), multiply that by an 8-hour work day at 50 days wages, that works out to about $4300. But he can always ask for more. In case you were wondering: that’s called “a joke”. And it should only be taken that way because the atheist that asks such questions is making a straw man argument: he thinks that what we mean by morals is what the MLC says outright rather than what Christians mean that we seek to understand and apply the principles that underlie the law and apply them, he however is obligated to follow the laws of the nation in which he lives.

Also, this video by Paul Copan covers much more of what terms meant in the ancient context.

 

For more on issues related to the Mosaic law see here, here, and here.

 

*All Bible quotations taken from the English Standard Version.

 

The Problem with Definitions

There’s an inherent problem in communication between beings that are both sentient and sapient and that problem is the problem of definition.

Defining terms, more importantly, defining terms in their use in particular contexts is a huge problem in engaging in meaningful, thoughtful, and, hopefully, productive conversation. This is something that, as a writer and a researcher, I have discovered is often overlooked in interacting with audiences.

As a writer I, depending upon the context in which I am writing, I will often take time to define the terms that I am using, trying to stay as close to standard definitions as possible, depending upon their usage in specific contexts. However, given the things that I have exposed myself to, I realize that sometimes the standard definition may not be adequate for the task at hand and I recognize that I may have to give a specialized, non-standard definition so that I can meaningfully articulate my intentions. All writers do this.

In research for a book that I am writing (that seems to be all the rage) I have been reading several atheists on the matter of morality, and have found that they will either use a word in a manner that violates its standard, i.e. dictionary meaning, or will give it a specialized definition and then proceed to use it in line with its dictionary meaning. What do I mean by this?

Well, let’s take two words, ethics and morals. Ethics, in its standard usage, refers to the rules derived from morals. Morals, however, refers to the interactions between humans in regards to behaviors. That is to say that morals are what we do and ethics are how we do it in a systematized form. The problem is that we use them interchangeably when they are not necessarily synonymous. Maybe this is just unnecessarily splitting hairs on my part, but I think that this is worth considering.

Let’s think about something that an atheist like Alex Rosenberg puts forward in his book An Atheist’s Guide to Reality, when he makes two statements that contrast one another, in chapter 5 (page 53 of the pdf version) where he says,

There is good news and bad news. The bad news first: we need to face the fact that nihilism is true….The good news is that almost all of us…are committed to the same basic morality and values.

Now, anyone who has a passing familiarity with nihilism recognizes that it has a few disconcerting qualities: it denies grounding for morality and is dedicated to repudiating any imposed values and meanings. Theres a number of different forms outlined in this article, but Rosenberg seems to confirm this saying,

Nihilism rejects the distinction between acts that are morally permitted, morally forbidden, and morally required. Nihilism tells us not that we can’t know which moral judgments are right, but that they are all wrong. More exactly, it claims, they are all based on false, groundless presuppositions. (p.54, pdf)

Now, he doesn’t prove that “[…]nihilism is true…,” he just leaves it hanging as a bare assertion, but he gives a sigh of relief that almost everyone is “[…]committed to the same basic morality and values…,” but there’s something in his statement that, “[…]we can’t know which moral judgments are right…,” which seems to beg the question, how does he know that?

He appeals to common moral principles that seem to be shared across cultures, however while we can point to shared moral principles, they aren’t applied equally across all cultures or even within cultures, because there are built into most moral principles what can only be called “othering” principles that distinguish moral principles that do not apply to that one that is other.

For example, the statement, “It is wrong to cause gratuitous pain to a baby,” is dependent upon several necessary presuppositions that provide the preconditions to understand every element of that statement in order for the statement to be true. The statement is and ethical rule that is built upon a moral value that is not imposed subjectively, but are built into the object under consideration by something that unifies them transcendentally. If this were not the case, we could logically say, not “It is wrong,” rather “wrong, what’s wrong,” specifically, “what is wrong with causing gratuitous pain to anyone?” The nihilist necessarily has to answer, “nothing,” which should promptly illicit a sharp rap upside the head, because clearly they have not had the experience of gratuitous pain. If the nihilist complains and says “that’s wrong,” promptly remind him that he has no grounds to say that statement is either true or meaningful. The nihilist has to abandon his worldview to complain about any element of reality.

The problem with definitions, in the final analysis, is that they eventually come back to bite us on the butt.