Matthew Anderson signaled this to us, and I want to be sure we all have opportunity to look at it: a continuing discussion on the question of God and his alleged acts of genocide in Philosophia Christi.
Two of the papers are available online, both by Paul Copan:
Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics
Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites: Divinely-Mandated Genocide or Corporate Capital Punishment?
For those who want the quick version, Jason at Thinking Matters has summarized the second of these, and fleance7 at Cloud Of Witnesses has provided abstracts to other papers in this issue of the journal.
The first of these papers, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster” places the question where it belongs, in the context of the ancient Near East (ANE). Copan points out that while God’s actions are shocking to 21st-century Westerners, they were surprising in a completely different way in the ANE. He cautions us that “We must allow the OT ethical discussion to begin within an ANE setting, not a post-Enlightenment one.” It ought to be obvious but still it needs to be said (as Copan does), that “the ANE world is ‘totally alien’ and ‘utterly unlike’ our own social setting.”
Now, does this make a difference in an ethical discussion? Relativists certainly ought to be saying Yes! to that question. But we are not talking about relativism in the case of God. We are instead talking about God’s leading his people through (in Copan’s words) “Incremental ‘humanizing’ steps rather than a total overhaul of ANE culture.” Israel was surrounded by slavery, monarchy, patriarchy, war, and more. I will quote at length here:
Rather than attempt to morally justify all aspects of the Sinaitic legal code, we can affirm that God begins with an ancient people who have imbibed dehumanizing customs and social structures from their ANE context. Yet this God desires to draw them in and show them a better way:
if human beings are to be treated as real human beings who possess the power of choice, then the “better way” must come gradually. Otherwise, they will exercise their freedom of choice and turn away from what they do not understand.
To completely overthrow these imbedded ANE attitudes, replacing them with some post-Enlightenment ideal, utopian ethic would simply be overwhelming and in many ways difficult to grasp. We can imagine a strong resistance to a complete societal overhaul. Think of the difficulty of the West’s pressing for democracy in nations whose tribal/social and religious structures do not readily assimilate such ideals.
(The second paragraph there is a quote from Alden Thompson.) Copan recognizes that some of the OT “reflects a less morally-refined condition;” yet he also notes that every questionable practice in the OT has “contrary witness” elsewhere, and that Scripture itself can guide us to discerning what was local/contextual, and what is universal.
The surprise that God’s law must have presented in the ANE was its humaneness. Copan compares the OT to other ANE codes, showing its marked superiority over the others in areas including slavery, punishment for crimes, warfare, and the sexes. Yet in keeping with the earlier point of “incremental humanizing,” there is a progression of moral expectation over the years throughout the OT period (culminating in Jesus Christ).
Copan speaks to warfare as well, and on this topic I am hesitant to summarize. It is the most involved and difficult question he tackles, and to shorten it would be to distort it, so I encourage you to read at least that much of it directly from the source. His perspective on God’s prerogatives over human life, and on the fact of the afterlife, are particularly important. They figure crucially in my own answer to the question we’ve been discussing, as is also “the seriousness of sin and the sovereign prerogatives of Yahweh.”
Copan closes the paper with three comments directed toward objections raised by “New Atheists:”
A. Naturalism’s foundations cannot account for ethical normativity; theism is better positioned to do so.
B. The new atheists ignore the sui generis [one-time only] status of Israel’s theocracy.
C. The new atheists wrongly assume that the OT presents an ideal ethic, while ignoring the OT’s redemptive spirit and creational ideals.
I like the view you outline. It has the ring of plausibility.
But notice an upshot. It makes Scriptural interpretation a difficult matter, more difficult that many suppose. We cannot simply read a passage, note that God commanded a thing, and then conclude that it is right simpliciter to do that thing. One can at best conclude that its a bit better than the then prevalent alternatives.
This might just lead one to revise one’s view of God. Many assume that the God of the Old Testament is a God of jealously and of retribution, a partial God who tolerates no deviation from his commands. But perhaps this is not the real God of the Old Testament, for his acts there reflect more the necessity of an incremental reformation of human nature than any absolute standard of right and wrong.
The real God is the God of mercy and of love.
I think we have to walk a real fine line, as Franklin pointed out because we don’t want to push people into heretical views (in this case Marcionism: that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament).
Note: I am not saying anyone here is putting forth heretical views. I’m just pointing out that we don’t want these views to develop because of the way we talk about God.
No good Bible reader just reads a passage and concludes a command as an eternal command for all people at all times everywhere. Greg Koukl’s mantra is “never read a Bible verse”. You have to know to whom God was speaking and to which questions He was addressing Himself.
The best way to rid oneself of the false view of “the God of the OT” is to first read about the God of the NT and then to actually read the OT in light of Him. One finds that Jesus quotes the OT extensively. In other words, He is quoting Himself. And in the OT He told us to love one another as ourselves, to provide for the poor and the widowed, to forgive and not to take revenge, etc.
He also forgave and forgave and forgave in the OT and gave second chance upon second chance.
Thanks for this review and for hosting the discussion amidst such loud choruses, Tom
Perhaps in the context of New Testament thinking the apparent genocidal tendencies of Old Testament aren’t so surprising. I’ve recently learned that some Christians believe, on the basis of NT teachings, that toddlers, infants and even unborn babies are under the wrath of God and deserve eternal suffering.
Now if unborn babies deserve eternal suffering, why is it difficult to believe that Canaanites deserve execution?
Oh ye of little faith: with God all things are possible!
Exactly. It’s a matter of understanding the whole context of the progression of revelation.
The Bible’s teaching is that all persons, including unborn babies, are under the wrath of God and deserve eternal suffering. You are correct in that. Lacking context, however, that statement is quite misleading. First, it fails to take into account the reason for its being true, which has to do with the human race’s general rebellion against God. (Yes, that applies to the unborn; how it does so is a long story I do not care to take time for now.) Second, it also fails to take into account God’s mercy. Most Christians believe that God extends his mercy in Christ to unborn babies, infants, and toddlers, up to the point at which the child has sufficient mental and moral resources to be personally accountable for its own actions.
Here’s a post from The Piety that Lies Between about this very interpretative scheme. I know you won’t agree, Tom, but if one begins to interpret Scripture in this way, it seems that a rejection of inerrantism cannot be far behind.
There are more things we can say about God’s punishment of unborn babies with eternal suffering. It is doubtful, however, that these other things are relevant to the topic at hand.
The essential fact is that, according to the NT, it is just for God to severely punish people (unborn babies) with eternal suffering for things that they have neither done nor could have avoided.
Now, if you concede that, then why is it difficult to believe that it is just for God to punish whole peoples/nations with genocide? Why is it difficult to accept that whole peoples deserve to be executed?
I have to agree with Janice on this. And would add that if you believe that then all of these long posts and discussions about the POE and whether God ordered a morally unjustified genocide seem a waste of time. You could have simply said what you say above from the start. There really isn’t much to discuss if you think that—other than to discuss WHY you think it. Everything else we’ve talked about pales into insignificance in comparision.
I don’t think that’s necessarily the case at all.
The Pentateuch is certainly not the full revelation of God. In it you will find things like these, which constitute something like an increasing scale of universal approval and applicability. These are examples of each level of this informal scale; other examples could also be adduced, but this gives you the picture.
* Polygamy, which was practiced universally in the ANE, including among the Biblical patriarchs, but is not affirmed as a practice at all. It’s acknowledged as that which was practiced, but it’s never depicted as having much of a positive outcome. So there is no contradiction at all in its being later declared a wrong practice.
* Very specific instructions which were given by God for one time only. Abraham’s travel from Ur to Canaan would be an example. There is nothing normative about that for any other circumstance.
* More general commands given for just a season, like the clearing of the nations from Canaan. These too are not normative for all time.
* Commands given by God for a temporary period. Much of the Hebrew law fits into this category. The NT books of Colossians, Galatians, and especially Hebrews show how that has now been superseded.
* Moral commands like the Ten Commandments, which were intended for all persons at all times. Even in that group, the Sabbath command was greatly reinterpreted by Jesus Christ, but the other nine were strongly reaffirmed in the NT.
* Descriptions of the character and nature of God, which remain constant.
All but the last two of these were tied to their times and their circumstances. Now, if at a later time and in a later circumstance, we get different instructions, why would that present any problem for inerrancy?
Think of it this way: the Pentateuch constituted a kind of Constitution, with the capacity to be amended. Somehow very long ago, near the dawn of recorded history and with no developed philosophical tradition, this primitive group of Hebrews got it right. They put together a document with both timeless and time-bound instructions and depictions of reality. They didn’t know which was which at the time, what was timeless and what was timebound. But somehow they produced a document that was able to be amended without contradiction where it needed to be amended, and that has remained solid and foundational on the timeless truths it presented. It was flexible without contradiction (i.e. without the necessity of correcting “errors”) where it needed to be able to flex, but not elsewhere.
It’s interesting with respect to polygamy, for example, how little it receives God’s approval.
How did they do that all those thousands of years ago? How did they know not to write polygamy more positively into the moral code? How did they keep the cultural/timebound free enough that it could be amended later?
Nobody has done such a thing since. The closest to it in my opinion was the U.S. Constitution, but after only 215 years, its solidity is creaking badly. Will it still be working for us 2,000 years from now?
Certainly the hand of God was in this.
(I hope I’m being clear enough here: this is a new line of thinking for me and I may not have it worked out well enough yet.)
First: I urge all to read the second Copan article linked in the original post here. There is reason to doubt that what happened in the OT was actually genocide.
Second, you wrote,
I’m not sure what you’re saying here, but I actually agree, subject to the same condition I stated last time. It’s true as far as it goes, but taken out of context it is also seriously misleading. God’s justice, his mercy, and his plan for humans beyond this life must also be taken into account.
Once I told my son that he was grounded for the rest of the school year, because he stayed in bed a minute too long. Now, what kind of ogre-of-a-father am I? Context, context. It was the last day of school, and it was all a joke.
What God does is no joke, but in a similar sense it is completely impossible to assess what he does without understanding what he does. What you presented here is a very incomplete partial understanding, not ready for any assessment in that form.
I plan to present a statement that integrates several aspects of these things, to begin to allow such an assessment. I haven’t gotten to it yet, obviously. If I’m taking longer to get there than you all expected, I apologize, but this is proving to be a busier month than I thought it would be, and besides, we’ve had a whole lot going on in these comments to keep me going here.
You can’t possibly be saying that in our discussions on the POE we haven’t talked about humanity’s sinfulness and the position that plays in the discussion! I’m not going to go back and find it for you, but I assure you it’s there.
Yes, I do recall it coming up before—though that conversation was so long and had so many participants I wasn’t sure it was you who’d taken that position (otherwise I’d have probably brought it up already in this discussion).
Mark Levene has a section in his book Genocide in the Age of the Nation State: Volume 1: The Meaning of Genocide discussing the OT and the conquest account. I’d have to go back and look at what he said. If I rememeber correctly, he did stop short of calling it genocide, but I’d have to double check that.
Mr. Gilson, what exactly is it that you think I’m not understanding? I’ll happily concede that God does many merciful things. Christ’s death gives Him the license to pardon. That said (as I’ve said, these aren’t really the relevant bits), the main point is that, according to the NT, unborn babies deserve eternal suffering, but not for anything that they’ve done or even could have avoided.
It seems to me, therefore, that on this teaching alone the NT gives us all the resource we need to understand the brutal mandates of the OT—even if they did amount to genocide. Believers simply need to accept that the God of the NT is a God who regards even the unborn babies as deserving eternal punishment. If they can accept that, then they have accepted a God who regards it as just to punish people with far worse than death for things that these people have neither done, nor could have possibly avoided. And, if you can accept that, then divinely ordered genocide, infanticide—you name it—is all quite easy to accept. The real beauty is that we need look no further than the New Testament.
I would like some clarification here because my brain is on summer vacation mode. I would like to know where in the NT it says “unborn babies deserve eternal punishment.” Please provide appropriate scripture references referring specifically to unborn babies/infants.
Let me make sure that I have this straight: your view is that, though much in the OT that is commanded is provisional or temporary (or some such thing) and later expired or was supplanted or amended, nothing commanded in the NT contradicts anything commanded in the OT?
The one OT command that comes to mind is the command to kill a disrespectful child. How can we think that the preeminence of the law of love (love God with all of heart and mind, and neighbor as self) does not contradict this? It surely looks like it does. (And it’s a moral absurdity too. It’s to morality a bit like 2+2=5 is to mathematics.) It’s examples like this that seem to me to make errantism inescapable. The new does not merely supplant or amend the old; it plainly contradicts it. But the new is authoritative. Thus the old must be rejected; it was, is now, and ever will be, false; and thus we land in errantism.
As a Christian I expect your goal is to understand God and His word and that you are not merely trying to poke at it like a garden-variety critic.
So why do you think this command is in error?
What work have you done to examine the case law it describes and the grammar used?
Are you seeking or are you just trying to destroy?
By the way, Franklin, since you are basically quoting Jesus on the first and greatest command there, do you know where He first said it?
A the little note I jotted down some years ago for myself gives these passages:
Are there others I’ve missed? Perhaps . . .
What’s the significance of temporal order here? Perhaps I’m a bit dense, but I miss the point of your question.
Have I examined the OT law to kill a disrespectful child in any detail? I have not. Do you have in mind an interpretation on which it does not really mean what it seems to mean?
From a purely intellectual point of view, I do intend to undermine inerrantism. I think it a deep and sometimes (though no always) pernicious error. From the point of view of faith, I think it likely of little importance. It won’t get anyone into heaven; it won’t keep anyone out (not by itself anyway).
But I think that this is neither here nor there. I would suggest that to seek motives distracts from the matter at hand, viz. the truth of a certain interpretative scheme.
The point of temporal order is that Jesus is actually quoting Moses in the Law, which was, of course, communicated to him by Jesus (The Son) Himself. The first commandment and the Roayl command both appear many times, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy at least.
The point is, Jesus was not overhauling the message of God and if these commands are in contradiction to the laws as Moses discerned them then they were when Moses wrote both down. Since I don’t think he was contradicting himself that blatantly it is apparent that the one was always to be interpreted in light of the other.
Yes I have. First, I recommend you read the OT, and then read it again, and not just the “I don’t like it” passages. And when you do you ought to read it in light of the revelation of God through the Incarnation and, as above, in light of the fact that in that revelation He is merely repeating the same moral law that He gave from the beginning.
Then, as a Christian who seeks not to avoid but to know God, you can check with your Bible commentaries and study Bible to see what they have to say. If you are unsatisfied you can Google the subject, find out that the “child” is a disrespectful adult who is habitually breaking the commandments (the moral law is explicated in the decalogue), is harmful to the neighbors and the unity of his nation, can represent his case before the magistrate and then, if they agree with his parents (the last people who would want him dead, perhaps?) that capital punishment is warranted, then he is executed.
I think motives are all important. I am not casting pearls before swine here but a Christian brother who appears to be wasting his time in odd and wasteful pursuits rather than approaching his God with humility. You have cited the greatest commandment but are flirting with the idol of your own intellect and ethic.
You certainly aren’t doing your brothers any good by throwing aspersions around which you have not investigated.
Charlie, were you educated in some sort of Taliban institution? Is this heavy-handed suspicion about motives an attempt at piety? If we want to start looking into motives, we might start questioning your faith and motives as well. A faith that will not tolerate scrutiny and questioning is a weak faith indeed. Mellow out bro.
Note added by siteowner: see comment #23 below
My statement was not about you, Janice. It was about (and I quote) “what you presented here.” I didn’t say you were failing to understand anything, just that what you wrote here was incomplete. I can illustrate this with what you went on to say:
I think you probably understand, based on what you wrote this time, that the NT explains a lot about this question and many others. But if you are a real student of the NT, then your understanding includes considerably more context of knowledge about God’s purposes, his character, his grace, the meaning of sin (including original sin), and much more. That’s good. Many of the readers here come without that context, however, and to read what you wrote apart from that full and rich background understanding is to read it as something very different from what the NT says and from what you probably intended.
Craig, where does the NT say that unborn babies deserve eternal punishment? Look at Romans 3 for a start, and Romans 6:23. But this also illustrates the point I was making with Janice, because it requires looking back into the OT, to Genesis 3 and Psalm 51. It also requires reference to the results of a lot of work done in this issue down through the years. The most prominently accepted understanding of original sin among Protestants is Federal Headship, which also brings in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, and systematizes it all into an understanding of how even infants (or younger) are caught under the curse of sin, even before actually committing any themselves.
Janice, your accusation toward Charlie a few minutes ago was really out of line. Taliban?! Check out the Discussion Policies.
No one gets banned here without a warning unless they are severely abusive. Your Taliban accusation was very, very close to that. Not to mention your own prickliness with, “Mr. Gilson, what exactly is it that you think I’m not understanding?” when what you were understanding hadn’t even been brought up (see my prior comment).
Your future comments will go into moderation rather than being immediately published.
Now that you’ve had some time to think about it, wasn’t your last comment a bit of an over-reaction?
No, Janice. Irony has now doubled, sadly. Your question to Charlie was incredibly ironic to start with: “Is this heavy-handed suspicion about motives an attempt at piety?” That’s a pretty heavy-handed impugning of his motives. And now, having called him Taliban-educated, as if that were not itself a severe over-reaction, you ask me if I have over-reacted.
If you had read the discussion policies in the past day, my statistics log (Statcounter) would indicate you had done so. It can identify visitors’ page visits by the IP address they are visiting from, and it shows you did not take my suggestion. Every blog has its own set of comment standards, and on this blog, they are clearly linked and easy to find, just above the comment box, waiting for you to look at them.
Your comments will continue to be sent to moderation before posting.
Thank you for pointing out those verses, the ones from Romans were the ones that came to mind, although I think it is implied in the passages.
One thing that I came across in my research of the catechumenate during the first 4 centuries was infant baptisms were almost unheard of during the first 2 and that would seem to go against the belief that unborn babies/infants deserved eternal punishment because the issue wasn’t brought up concerning infant baptism until mid/late 2nd century. In the late second century, there was a shift in cultural opinion from viewing children as innocents to viewing them as sinful creatures. It wasn’t until the 6th century that baptisms were almost exclusively infants.
Since the issue didn’t come up until the 2nd century, I don’t think that it was necessarily the view of the early church that unborn babies/infants deserved eternal punishment, although that’s my guess since we have nothing explicit until the 2nd century, Augustine being the best known (we are wicked from the womb and a mass of purdition).
(See Searle, Mark. Christening: The Making of Christians. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1980. Also Ferguson, Everett Ferguson. “Inscriptions and the origin of Infant Baptism” in Everett Ferguson, ed. Studies in Early Christianity vol. XI. Conversion, Catechumenate, and Baptism in the Early Church. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993.)
I think that’s consistent with the way other doctrines developed. There’s nothing explicit about the Trinity or the hypostatic union that early either.
Augustine’s view of original sin places unbiblical blame on the act of conception, though, and the federal headship view is better than his on this issue.
I have to admit, I’ve never heard of the federal headship view of original sin before. I’ll have to read up on it. And, after having read that link you provided, it sounds very much like the Lutheran understanding of original sin in the Augsburg Confessions.
I had in mind passages like this:
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of the town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death…” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
You seem to whitewash. Let us consider only the manner of execution. It would seem that to be stoned to death is a horrible way to die. It would amount to a period of torture followed by death. I cannot square this with the law of love. How can one love neighbor as self and at the same time stone them? How can treat others as you wish to be treated and at the same time torture and kill them? We quite rightly condemn stoning today (and there are still places where it is done). How then can we fail to condemn it when it occurred in the past?
People often don’t recognize the implications of the principles to which they’re committed. This was true, for instance, in the case of womens’ rights. Principles of equality enshrined in our constitution did really apply to them all along, but that was not recognized for a very long time. The law of love is inconsistent with torture, but this fact has not always been in view. There can be contradiction without recognition of this fact . . .
(I hope that we can continue to engage without the little guesses about motive . . .)
Of course that’s the passage in question.
Now you have said it shows the Bible to be in error.
You have not shown this.
You say it is contradicted by Jesus’ command to love God and to love your neighbor, but that command goes further back in the Bible than this case law and by which the ancient Israelites would have been interpreting this law and carrying out its madates.
You otherwise ignore the distinctions I have made (ie., it is not a toddler or “child” in question, it is a serious malefactor of habitual sin) and call this a “whitewash” (this is a character charge, by the way).
Now your problem lies with the method of execution.
As the Israelites were real people and were operating under what Jesus called the greatest command, as well as under the Royal command it turns out that they executed people in the quickest and most humane way possible.
I doubt that you’ve looked into whether or not this was a particularly horrible way to be killed and whether we can condemn its use in the past; the position by which you are forming your conclusion of Biblical error.
People fail to realize a lot of things.
Are you sufficiently well-read and knowledgeable about the Israelite tribe 3,500 years ago to keep making this charge?
Charlie, I’m confused. I gave a quick read of the relevant passages in the link, and it seems that the intent of the author (one Carol Valentine) is to refute the claim that stonings were always quick and painless. She quotes the passages you give, and then goes on to attempt to undermine them; as she says at one point, “Could Elon, Lewin, et al. [the ones she attacks] be attempting to make Talmud doctrine more acceptable to other death penalty reformers . . .?” As I read it then, the contention of the author is that when some argue that stoning was a humane manner of execution, they downplay what the Talmud really has to say about the matter. (And we should be clear: your link seems to be about Talmud interpretation. But of course the Christian tradition pays little or no attention to that. It isn’t part of their Scripture and is not claimed to be inerrant. It looks to me as if the subject has been changed. I’m curious about another matter too. There’s descriptions of execution by burning in your link. Leviticus 20:14 and Leviticus 21:9 are the relevant texts. Again, sounds like torture to me. Molten lead poured directly into the mouth . . . how can such a thing be of God, if God is love?)
Yes, I think the subject is being changed – repeatedly.
You offered, as a change of subject, that the OT is in error because it says that a disobedient child ought to be stoned.
I asked if you had looked into this passage in any detail to see if you ought to be drawing your conclusion about the OT’s errors from it.
You have not addressed the several facts about it that you missed and do not show why this edict is in error.
You did not address the age of the son, the fact of his habitual and continuing malfeasance, the fact that both his parents have to agree to submit the case, the fact that he would get to defend himself before the court, the fact that the court would have to side with the parents with regard to his behaviour and that it warranted death, etc .
Not investigating the issue you have also not located the point about this being a limitation on the powers of the patriarch in the ANE whereby the father under other codes had the unilateral power of life and death over his family. In this case the restrictions upon him are so severe that the chance of such a son being executed are virtually nil.
Instead, you changed the subject to that of stoning itself.
I asked if you’d looked into stoning as the Israelites viewed it.
I provided links from the Jewish interpretations of the texts and you say these mean little to the Christian as he doesn’t pay much attention to the Talmud. That doesn’t address the point whatsoever. Clearly, the interpreters of the law felt it to be providing as humane an execution as possible, and, knowing what the OT says about loving your neighbor, they felt that it was right that they interpret the law in such a way.
What does it matter if the author who cites the Jewish belief on this doesn’t agree with the Jewish interpreters of the Law. The mishna, as reflected in the Talmud, and as the Jews believe, coexists with the Torah and was always in effect.
So, providing no evidence that the OT is in error on this point, offering only your emotional reaction, and demonstrating no history of having given the text the benefit of the doubt, you are changing the subject again to find yet another atrocity that offends your sensibilities.
Would it help if I told you that they offend mine as well? I have long since learned, however, that my sensibilities are not to be the judge of the veracity of God’s word. Time and again I have found that when I can solve a problem which had offended me it was my own ignorance that caused my offence. Knowing this I have learned that with my limited human intellect, lack of omniscience and moral failings I can afford to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt when I don’t understand and allow God to be a little mysterious and beyond my full comprehension.
As you point Tom to the slippery slope of his view of progressive revelation and how it might lead to the abandonment of inerrantism I will point you to the application of that same slope to your position. How far are we from relativism and the complete dismissal of the veracity of any of God’s word given your belief that you can judge, strictly by feeling and no research, whether or not, and when and how, God has spoken?
How can you expect God to speak to you through His word if He didn’t author it?
By what other source are you to know Him?
Just a little note before I go to bed. I’ll reply in more detail later after a night’s rest (and time to digest what you’ve said).
You say I changed the subject. I did not. Instead I decided to narrow the scope of my point to concern only the means of death; I wished to make the strongest case I could and simultaneously to simplify the discussion. That the disobedient child be stoned is part of the command (even if the actual penalty is rare – a claim you make but for which I’ve come across no evidence). The fact that I consider only part of the command does not mean that I’ve changed the topic of our discussion; it means only that I’ve asked us to focus on one part of that discussion. To focus upon a part of the topic we’ve discussed is not to change to a new topic. It might well be that I should dispute other parts of the command as well; but I chose to focus upon that one part – the part in which the penalty of being stone is commanded – and it seems to me that, if even that one part if morally reprehensible, the whole must be too. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link; a command is only as legitimate as its least legitimate part.
Oh, and I didn’t only say that Talmudic interpretations were beside the point. (I did say that, but I didn’t say that only.) I said also that your very link gives arguments to the effect that the Talmud construes the command to stone a disobedient child in a way that makes it quite cruel. The passage you give is quoted by Ms. Valentine only so that she might refute it. (I still find it a bit strange that you direct me to an essay that argues extensively that your view is in fact false. Ms. Valentine seems to be on my side in this.)
More tomorrow on how I think Scripture should be interpreted, and why the hermeneutic you seem to suggest is indefensible. (Just a promissory note, I know, but I’ll make good tomorrow.)
I wish you a good sleep and reflection on this matter.
First, you have not merely focused your gaze, but changed the object of your gaze.
1) The topic of this post was not about killing of rebellious children.
2) Your complaint, twice iterated, was about the killing of rebellious children.
3) When this was challenged your complaint became the manner of execution – stoning – which was unmentioned in your initial complaints. Had that been the focus of your concern why did you mention the rebellious child at all?
4) When stoning was defended you threw in yet another complaint, that of burning.
With each rebuttal is this going to keep expanding until your evidence of error is merely that the OT sanctions capital punishment itself?
To that, and on the real subject – you have not said anything in defence of your claim that the OT is in error except to appeal to emotion.
I know you to be intelligent and a good thinker, but this kind of hit-and-miss critique is exactly what I asked about in the first place.
Not having made this claim your first sentence here is odd. I also addressed the second point here – the author’s disagreement is irrelevant – she is not the Talmud, the Mishna, the Sanhedrin or the ancient Israelites. If you Google you will find many experts on Judaism who will say the same thing about the executions being a) very, very rare b) as humane, quick and painless as possible.
Yes, she quotes it to rebut it. Those she is rebutting would not agree with her.
She is not the authority.
Indefensible? Strong prediction, but we’ll see.
I hope that we can continue to have productive conversations. I have spoken my mind and plan to do so in the future. But I’ll be frank – I grow weary of the moral and intellectual attacks that seem primarily personal. If you wish to correct the views I present, I’ll happily listen (and perhaps even change or temper them, as I’m about to do). But I think it inappropriate to continue with the personal criticisms.
But enough of that. I poked around a bit on Google Books and Google Scholar about the death penalty in Jewish societies of antiquity. There does seem to be a body of literature there (much of which is by Jewish scholars, I take it) that argues that the Jewish death-penalty was more humane than that of other societies. My impression as well is that many scholars argue that there was a move from less to more humane executions. What once had been crucifixion as we know it (and crucifixion is a form of penalty demanded for certain crimes in the Talmud) became a form of strangulation. Stoning became somewhat as you describe – a person is thrown from a height sufficient to injure of perhaps kill. But it is specified that if death does not result from the fall, the person is to be killed by casting of stones; and this new practice seems to be a modification of an earlier, more brutal form of execution that conforms to my initial view of what stoning was (casting of stones until dead).
This progressive humanization of the death penalty (if indeed this is true) does seem to me to suggest a certain interpretative scheme with which one should come at the OT, and it is the one that Tom describes. Over time, Jewish law came to better and better approximate the law of love. One should not, then, expect the law or its implementation in the OT to be without fault. Was it more humane than that of contemporary societies? Yes, and this was the work of God. Did it become more humane with the passage of time? Yes, and this too was the work of God. Was it always perfect? No, and this is a reflection not of God’s imperfection but of the imperfection of the peoples bound to the law.
Now, for a few questions of a more philosophical character. You ask: “How far are we from relativism and the complete dismissal of the veracity of any of God’s word given your belief that you can judge, strictly by feeling and no research, whether or not, and when and how, God has spoken?
How can you expect God to speak to you through His word if He didn’t author it? By what other source are you to know Him?”
I don’t think that I ever relied merely on how I felt. I relied instead upon a literal (and perhaps uniformed) read of certain OT passages. As I’ve said, I’ve seen the need to temper my views to a degree. But of course, no matter how much research one does, there will come a time when one must judge truth or falsity. My contention is that one cannot simply surrender one’s judgment to what Scripture seems to say. My reasons are two-fold: (i) Interpretation and judgment are not distinct acts. Rather the first involves the second. When one interprets, one should do so charitably; that is, one should find as much truth as one can. But to do this, one must come to the text with a view of what is true (and what false). (ii) God did not give us only the Bible. He gave us the heart and the mind, too; and we are to test what is offered up for belief by them. (Indeed, I think that this is the point of I John 4:1 and Matthew 7:16. Test for truth, we are told, for there are false prophets; test by considering fruits, we are told.) Thus when I say that a certain act seems evil to me (and when I say this, I mean to say that after long reflection I find myself with the deep conviction that it is evil) I believe that I have prima facie reason to hold that this is the deliverance of a God-given conscience; and if this seems to conflict with a Scriptural command, so much the worse for (that portion of) Scripture.
Yes, I agree about moralizing and personal criticisms; it just seems we all look differently at the glass in our own favour, don’t we?
Thanks for looking into this matter. It is very true that the Talmud observes different, theoretical methods (this exact edict, some Talmudic scholars say, never was and never would be carried out precisely because of the restrictions God was putting on it, and all of witness bearing and all of the trying of capital cases) of carrying out executions. But I don’t see any evidence that stoning was ever the casting of small rocks at people until they succumbed as we see in movies. As you no doubt read, if the person survived the fall the first stone was a huge rock dropped onto the chest in an effort to kill instantaneously. There is no reason to think that the Pentateuch was demanding the procedure to be more cruel than less.
This is a very good point with which I am almost in agreement. We cannot surrender our judgment to what we think the OT seems to say.
There is always more context to be investigated, more undiscovered information about a civilization over three thousand years past and more linguistic nuance than we can possibly know.
But we do know that God is all good, all loving and just. We know that the Creator of the universe does what is right and we know that He is unchanging and does not lie. We also know that He selected to Himself a people to whom He revealed Himself through the Law and the Prophets and we know that when He revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ He quoted from every section of the OT, sanctioned it, endorsed and fulfilled it. Nowhere did He say “you guys wrote it down wrong”. He did say “you’ve interpreted it wrong, twisted it and added your own traditions”, however. Man is good at misinterpretation and adding on to even the jots and tittles.
So when we arrogate to judge Him we are mistaken. When we think something in His commands is wrong we are mistaken. As I said, when I look into things that bother me deeply enough I find that it is my ignorance, not God’s lack of Goodness, that causes the supposed concern. With this track record behind me I can look at other passages that don’t seem, to my fallible, lower ways and thoughts to be in keeping with God’s Goodness (and yes, there remain plenty – so mucht he worse for me) and realize that I am mistaken. I may not know how or in what way I am mistaken, but I know that I am, and that my feelings about the issue are not the determiners of right and wrong.
After being onside with you for most of your last paragraph I could not disagree with you more on this point.
Yes, you are given a conscience, which must be trained, and an intellect, which too must be trained. But you are also dealing at all times with partial information. This is like saying “so much the worse for the laws of nature” when you find a a seeming contradiction. As fallen men our intellects and our consciences are not perfect. If they were, we would be gods. If we think we are we are idolaters – even if our idols are God-given gifts which are, in their own right, very good (like intellect, conscience, discernment, even codes of ethics) nothing is to be put before God (no, not even the Scripture). Jesus was the only perfect Man, and He didn’t seem to have any problems with Scripture. Nor did Paul who told us it is all inspired.
Now I am sorry that you find my points attacking, but like you, I am speaking my mind forthrightly and honestly. What’s more, I believe I have been answering you in kind.
When charges are made I will answer and return them – and I may not always hide them in the language they were hidden in when sent my way.
You say: “So when we arrogate to judge Him we are mistaken. When we think something in His commands is wrong we are mistaken. As I said, when I look into things that bother me deeply enough I find that it is my ignorance, not God’s lack of Goodness, that causes the supposed concern. With this track record behind me I can look at other passages that don’t seem, to my fallible, lower ways and thoughts to be in keeping with God’s Goodness (and yes, there remain plenty – so much he worse for me) and realize that I am mistaken. I may not know how or in what way I am mistaken, but I know that I am, and that my feelings about the issue are not the determiners of right and wrong.”
There seems to be an argument implicit in what you say(not exactly your language, but the essential idea I hope):
God is perfect.
God inspired Scripture in such a way that, if it were anywhere in error, that error would imply imperfection in God. (I take this as one way in which to put he inerrantist doctrine.)
Thus Scripture is nowhere in error.
Thus if Scripture ever seems to be in error, we can be certain that on its correct interpretation (an interpretation that for present might be unknown), it in fact is not in error.
The inferences seem unimpeachable. But I don’t accept the second premise. Now, from my point of view, it might well be that, at a certain point in Scripture where I seem to find error, in fact I’ve interpreted it incorrectly and there is none. But I do not believe that I should expect this always to be true, for unlike you I do not come at the text as an inerrantist would.
I certainly do agree that conscience and intellect can and often do go wrong (we are after all fallen creatures). But they are never wholly corrupted, for if they were, we would not even be able to recognize God’s revelation when we encountered it. There then must be correctives to them, and Scripture plays this role (as do exhortations of and conversations with others, non-Biblical texts, life experience, etc.) But I hold that Scripture cannot be treated as an absolutely certain check on all we think and feel, for I am not an inerrantist. Sometimes, it seems to me, our considered judgment will be that Scripture is in error. Scripture is like a flawed but quite extraordinarily wise conversation partner that one must take with great seriousness (or so say I).
A last, little point. Of course, as your say, it would be silly to say “so much the worse for the laws of nature”. They are what they are, and we’ll not find them contradicted. However, we do sometimes say “so much the worse for the laws of nature we have posited”. We do so when experiment repeatedly contradicts our posits and forces us to abandon old theory. Now, I think Scripture is like laws of nature as posited by us, that is like current theory. There’s much truth in it, much that must be respected. But there too is the possibility of error.
I doubt that we’ll come to agree on these matters, but perhaps if we come to understand one another clearly, that will be victory enough.
Thanks for this comment.
I have a few problems dealing with it and I think it is mostly due to your use of labels.
You seem to imply that I find no errors in Scripture because I am an inerrantist (you also provide a working definition that I have not seen anyone who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture use). You also state that you can expect errors because you are not an inerrantist. This claim comes at me as being somewhat backward. I happen to argue against claimed errors because I can demonstrate that they are not errors, and my confidence that the Bible is correct is bolstered by such demonstrations. You ought to be an errantist because you have explored the Word to the fullest of your ability and find it to be in error. My position, at least, was certainly not my default. I always presumed the Bible to be full of myths and superstitious attempts to explain the ups and downs of a nation after-the-fact, with reference to a God that they were attempting to come to grips with.
On the term “inerrancy” itself, most often when I read modern apologetics the statement of inerrancy means something more along the lines of “whatever the Bible affirms in the original monographs is without error”. Certainly, for an obvious example, figures in the Bible can be quoted making errors – which the Scripture writers have captured for us. And the writer himself can be speaking errors, as in Ecclesiastes, as part of the form of the argument. As well, due to changes in numbering systems and word use we can have errors in accounting or translation which have nothing to do with what was originally affirmed.
But rather than affix your labels first and then attempt to adhere to them, I’d prefer to look at what can be adduced through scholarship.
You seem to have settled on the position (some would think it more “sophisticated”) that the Bible can contain errors and still be worthwhile and not undermine Christian belief.
This is fine as far as it goes. But what is happening in practice here is that you are then using this working position to conclude errors where the evidence does not demand you do so. When so-called errors are presented they can be dealt with and, as I’ve said, they usually evaporate.
As I’ve said also many times, you have not done anything to demonstrate that the Bible is in error in the case we’ve discussed. In fact, “error” does not even apply to the law at hand. Therefore, it would appear to me, that to claim the position that the Bible contains errors offers an easy and damaging enticement to dismiss the Word which will ultimately cost the errantist the opportunity to fully know, trust and love God. When passages can be shrugged off whenever they are uncomfortable with the excuse “I am not an inerrantist, I don;t need to explain it” then what motivation is there to delve into the Word? Indeed, if the Bible is chock-full of errors (unproven but merely charged) why would a person devote any of his love and energy to reading, exploring and understanding it?
Again, this is why I prefaced my remarks to you by saying that I was presuming that you, as a Christian, would want to know the truth and were not merely flinging complaints at the Bible regardless of their relevance or truth (we’ve all seen the countless arguments – “there was never a King David”, “oh, there was? Well there was never a Jericho.”… “oh, well Rome never demanded that people return to their home towns for a census”.. “oh” …).
Wouldn’t you prefer that the Bible be demonstrated to be right on matters – even if those matters make you uncomfortable – rather than just presume that, because you aren’t an inerrantist, it is wrong? Wouldn’t this be better for your faith than worse? And even if those truths make you uncomfortable, isn’t that what growing in your faith is about – learning God’s will, humbling yourself before Him, and getting to know Him?
Somewhere in there it seems to me is the work of a Christian.
By the way, here are some resources on inerrancy and inspiration from WillIam Lane Craig.
We should perhaps wind this down, so I’ll try to keep my responses terse.
1.You seem to say that you think the Bible inerrant because up to this point in time, all apparent errors have shown themselves not to be so upon further examination. This at best yields a low-level certainty of the inerrancy of the Bible. (How do we know this will keep up? Perhaps we haven’t hit the real error yet. Perhaps one of our attempts to explain away an error was itself in error. These seem to be quite real possibilities.) How could we reach the high level of certainty the inerrantist seems to wish unless we argue that Scripture was inspired in such a way that it is error-free? (Gloss “error-free” however you think it best to do so.) I had thought that the typical inerratist thinks that God would allow no error to creep in and thus does not think that she must await the outcome of her historical/hermenuetical researches to conclude that it is inerrant.
2. You ask whether I would like the Bible to turn out right on this or that matter where I’ve thought it false. Well, that all depends upon the passage. It makes no difference at all to me whether the Genesis creation story can be harmonized with contemporary science, for instance. But it does make a great deal of difference to me whether Christ rose from the dead. The former is neither here nor there (apart from the details that God created the world and it was good). The latter, should it turn out to be false, would be a deal-breaker.
Thanks for following this through as long as you have.
May God bless you in your walk.
1. Perhaps I am not a typical inerrantist. Or maybe I’m not an inerrantist. This is the problem with thinking from labels – for others and for yourself. My point was to show that you had not found an error and that the presumption of error was, well, presumptuous and in error.
You don’t need to be committed to inerrantism to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt and to test hard passages.
2. a) This also is neither here nor there, but Genesis merely has to be telling the story it intends to tell for it to do so without error. In other words, it could be Jewish poetry and be error free without being in accord with science has to say at this time in history.
b) As we often find, people tend to draw the same line; they just choose different places to draw it. I guess it might be fine to some that the Bible be right only in that God wishes none to perish but that Jesus is a legend needlessly tied to that truth.
When I pray to the Holy Spirit that He reveal God to me and find me teachable as I work through His revelation I am presuming that the Bible actually is His Book.
Let me reiterate a little of how I got here. If this doesn’t interest you at all I will understand – the Spirit moves differently for each of us.
(I’ve caught a few egregious typos on edit – but will run out of time before I get them all – I apologize ahead of time…)
I have always read my Bible in a half-hearted (to be very generous) manner because I knew I ought to. I more often than not would let my eyes skim just a single verse before I was done.
I would say that I knew God exists but believed Jesus did. Without the Bible, or a Bible believing church to guide me, I had gotten to the point where God might be a “force” or the “energy” of the universe, and our eternal lives might be our “becoming one” with this energy.
Then I read some apologetics and thought seriously on the matter of the Resurrection. I am not actually crediting the words of those apologists, or my thinking, but the Holy Spirit’s use of them to convict me. I suddenly realized that this was not a belief accepted by tradition and handed down, but knowledge. Of course there was a man named Jesus – thousands of people didn’t suddenly convert in worship of the name of nobody. Of course He lived and died in Bethlehem and Jerusalem – the people who could dispute this (not German scholars 1800 years after-the-fact) were actually there at the time and they didn’t. Of course He was Crucified and raised again – the people who saw this and said this were credible eye-witnesses. So yes, this man was the Son of the Living God.
Now these facts alone, as undeveloped as they are, are not enough to convince a person. You and i can tell that looking at them on the screen. But I was convinced. I didn’t say “yeah, good enough, I can accept it”. I was turned in a moment from someone who “accepted it” to a person who knew it. In retrospect, that can only have been the work of the Spirit. He told me that the accounts can be trusted.
Since then I have encountered many a claim against the veracity of the NT. I have read about scholars who set out to prove Luke to be a charlatan writing centuries after-the-fact and have come away calling him an historian among the greatest among the ancients and who have also become Christians through their attempts.
Knowing that this collection of writings, with healings, exorcisms (of all things), resuscitations, a virgin birth, prophecy and The Resurrection is true, and that in it God endorsed the OT and told us that all Scripture is inspired and useful for teaching, correction and training changed my view of the Bible. God inspired it for a reason, to teach us something about Him, to reveal Himself and foreshadow Christ.
This changed the way I read it. And reading books like The Bible As History and The Bible As History (no, that’s not an error) and The New Testament Times and Acts As Hellenic History, as well as countless websites dealing with the countless “errors” has only strengthened that belief.
This has not been an overnight process but I have been changed in real and observable ways over the past several years by the Spirit’s work in me. One of those changes has been a real desire to know the Bible (I am almost ready to enter Bible pre-school now) and a love for it as God’s Word. A month ago I completed a one-year systematic reading of it and I am now 14 books into it again. I’ve read it over several times in my life, but it is now that I am devouring it that it makes sense and that I understand the story – and yes, it makes some of the “problems” that much more apparent. But it solves a lot more of them as well, when you find yourself immersed in the culture that the accounts are portraying.
Knowing the way God is working in my life, conforming my will to His a bit at a time,making me love what He loves and hate what He hates, I can see Israel’s conformance in that light and I can better understand how God works incrementally (but not only so), but truly, to change hearts and convictions.
Having been brought from slavery to sin through the sea and the wilderness and into a promised land, where I still slip into disobedience and idolatry, where I am judged and rebuked and face many enemies, where I repent and am forgiven and forgiven and forgiven I have a new and much greater appreciation for the story of Israel. I have been redeemed by my Kinsman and, being redeemed, I will be led by the One who does not start a work that He does not finish.
Thanks for helping me on that journey.
Here are a few very quick responses:
1. Every text should be given the benefit of the doubt, and if I’ve mistaken your variety of inerrantism (or whatever we should call what you hold – perhaps \extreme Biblical hermenuetical charity\ or some such) for something it is not, I apologize.
2a. Agreed. Determination of literary species is essential to determination of truth or error.
2b. I do agree that the Bible is of God; it is of God in that it is the human record of God’s revelation. As to where I draw the line of what is essential from what is not: the Nicene Creed is my touchstone, and I think it does gives the real essentials of the Christian faith.
I do also agree that the Spirit must be at work today in the establishment of proper interpretation (as He was throughout all of the history of the Church). If not, the certainty we have about the message of the texts would be at most a human certainty, and we all know how fallible that is. But I would suggest that the Spirit does much more than this (as I suspect you would agree). What I called \conscience\ in a prior post is simply, I would guess, the promptings of the Spirit upon individual judgments of right and wrong. To abandon judgment for the text, then, would be to abandon God for a human-created simulacrum.
I do also agree that the Spirit must be at work today in the establishment of proper interpretation (as He was throughout all of the history of the Church). If not, the certainty we have about the message of the texts would be at most a human certainty, and we all know how fallible that is.
I’ve been reluctant to add anything to this topic of conversation since it’s largely an internal doctrinal matter within christianity—and as a complete nonbeliever in the religion it doesn’t much concern or interest me. But concerning the above comment I would ask:
Is not a merely human certainty the best you can hope for in any case? When one makes a judgment that the Spirit was at work in any given interpretation one is using one’s own human judgment to reach that conclusion, after all.
Yes and no. The majority of Christians believe that the work Holy Spirit is discerned by the community and not our own individual interpretation. Now, of course the community is made up of humans and human certainty does play into the discernment process.