Why Wearing Clothes of Mixed Fabrics (Lev. 19:19) Was Wrong

Unbelievers love to bring forth unreasonable commands from the Bible to prove that it’s wrong. Leviticus 19:19 is one of their favorites:

“You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.

Now, that certainly seems odd, doesn’t it? But Jonathan Morrow explains it all clearly enough in Think Christianly. On page 166 he quotes Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart:

These and other prohibitions were designed to forbid the Israelites to engage in fertility cult practices of the Canaanites. The Canaanites believed in sympathetic magic, the idea that symbolic actions can influence the gods and nature…. Mixing animal breeds, seeds, or materials was thought to “marry” them” so as magically to produce “offspring,” that is, agricultural bounty in the future.

I had never heard that before. Had you? Naturally I wondered whether it was something I could count on. Are Fee and Stuart right? Is this true?

I didn’t know. That makes rather a weak position to hold then, doesn’t it?

Maybe not. Let’s think about this. Do you know whether Fee and Stuart are right? Answer quick now, and do it on your own — no googling allowed!

You wanted to look it up, didn’t you? That means you didn’t know it was wrong. You didn’t know it was right, either, but that’s surprisingly irrelevant.

Suppose you did look it up and found it false. The very fact that you had to look it up shows that the “unreasonable command” objection fails. In order for the objection to stand, we have to know with pretty firm confidence that the command is unreasonable. If you wanted to look it up on Google, that means you don’t have the firm confidence you need to have, in order to raise the objection.

Now, there are some biblical commands that aren’t so culture- and context-dependent. We can recognize them by how frequently and in how many different contexts they are presented, and by the strength of their connection to identifiable culture-transcending principles. By those tests, Leviticus 19:19 is clearly tied to one time and one place, unlike commands relating to (for example) love for God and neighbor, honesty, integrity, and sexual behavior.

As far as I’ve been able to determine from my studies, Gordon and Fee’s answer is reliable. It’s a good answer. The point I hope you’ll catch here, though, is that it almost doesn’t matter if it’s the right answer, because it’s a good enough answer to illustrate the fact that when atheists and SSM advocates laugh at Lev. 19:19 and other culture-dependent commands, they’re laughing in ignorance. They don’t know what they’re laughing over. Thy don’t know the culture they’re denigrating; and either they don’t know that they don’t know, or else they don’t care that they don’t know.

And this also means that when someone says Christian belief is irrational because it includes commands like this one, they’re showing how little they know, too.

See more on this from Tim McGrew here and following.

Want more context? Here’s the rest of the story in the form of ten crucial turning points that make all the difference; and more on new atheists’ reasoning.

Tom Gilson

Vice President for Strategic Services, Ratio Christi Lead Blogger at Thinking Christian Editor, True Reason BreakPoint Columnist

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73 Responses

  1. Ray Ingles says:

    Does “was wrong” then imply it still is wrong now? (Is my personal ‘favorite’, Deuteronomy 25:11-12, still in effect?)

    One of the points that non-Christians make is that there are a lot of rules in the Bible, and it’s not clear that anybody – beyond, possibly some very Orthodox Jews – tries to follow them all.

    The idea is that the selection process of which rules to follow often seems somewhat… arbitrary.

  2. Is it arbitrary to distance oneself from pagan practices that surround you but not to distance yourself from pagan practices that are already distant from you in time and space? It’s common not just from unbelievers but from those outside the evangelical tradition, or on its fringes, to make this sort of arbitrariness claim. But it just doesn’t hold up. There are reasons the NT authors reaffirm certain commands from the OT as transcending the cultural barriers or as being more fundamental than just being part of the particularly Mosaic covenant, while others are superseded, fulfilled, replaced, etc. in Christ, and they provide specific reasons why that is so. These critics usually never address those reasons.

  3. Victoria says:

    No, the process is not arbitrary.
    A careful study of the Law of Moses shows that it can be divided into three broad categories: Ceremonial laws governing worship and sacrifice, civil laws governing Israel’s society and its structures (so, things like criminal and civil issues, property issues,regulating various practices, etc), and the moral / ethical laws (eg, the Ten Commandments and the two greatest Laws (You shall love the LORD your God…, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself, which are at the heart of all the other ones). Within each category, Moses gives specific examples of how to apply the more general principles, especially in the civil law, so what we would call ‘case law’.
    That book by Fee and Stuart has (How to Study the Bible for all its Worth) has an excellent discussion of this, and of the principles one should use when reading the Law books.

    here for a short introduction. (you can also search in http://www.bible.org for more articles there)

    An important principle for understanding how the OT Law applies to Christians in the New Covenant, inaugurated by Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection, is that we are now under grace. Only those aspects of the Old Covenant Laws that are reaffirmed in the New Covenant are binding on Christians – basically this comes down to the moral and ethical issues derived from the Ten Commandments and the two greatest laws I mentioned above. NT books like Romans and Hebrews spell this out in more detail.

    You are still missing the point of this post, though. You have to understand the OT in its own historical and cultural contexts – the Law was given to Israel within the context of a society in the Ancient Near East, surrounded by pagan people (Canaanites, for example) whose practices had come under God’s judgement (Leviticus 20:22-26) and Israel was not to do what the surrounding nations did.

  4. Victoria says:

    So Morrow refers to Fee and Stuart 🙂
    Ah, I was hoping he would have gone back to the original historical data, such as the Ugarit tablets, because Fee and Stuart don’t provide a reference at that point in the book either. I don’t have the time right now to dig deeper, so I’ll have to come back to it on the weekend

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    I hope you can find it, Victoria, since it would be helpful to have this confirmed.

    Regardless of that, though, it remains true that the “ridiculous commands” objection fails just by lack of knowledge of the culture.

    Ray, the arbitrariness charge doesn’t hold up either. I gave the very short version of the answer in the OP–did you see it? It was the paragraph beginning, “Some biblical commands … ”

    And Victoria and Jeremy gave you further answers.

    If Deut. 25:11-12 bothers you, maybe you could explain to us either (a) why that command made sense in the first place, or (b) why that command made no sense in the first place. If you can do (a) or (b), then you can feel free to proceed to an explanation of how we should regard it today.

    In the meantime, however, the quick answer to your question is no, it’s no longer in effect, for the reasons already stated. Not arbitrary reasons, I remind you.

  6. The place to look for stuff like this is in the commentaries. I recommend Gordon Wenham more than anyone else on on Leviticus. Fee and Stuart wrote a popular-level introduction to some basic hermeneutical principles. They weren’t making scholarly arguments designed to convince skeptics. Each has a more scholarly textbook on hermeneutics (OT and NT, according to each’s specialty), and both have written a number of commentaries (Stuart on Exodus, Hosea-Micah, Malachi, and at a more popular level Ezekiel; Fee on I Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I-II Thessalonians, I-II Timothy & Titus, and Revelation).

  7. Victoria says:

    Thanks for the suggestions 🙂
    Yeah, I thought I would start with the commentaries – I have Logos 4 software Scholar’s Edition that will probably have something in the thousands of books it comes with :). I’d still like to backtrack to the cuneiform tablet and historical sources if I can, though

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    I’d like to do the same but my computer has forgotten who it is. It has all the documents in it but none of the settings. I think I can get it fixed from backup later today–but please pray for me on that, okay? Thanks!

    In the meantime I have an iPad to get through the day.

  9. BillT says:

    I don’t want to make the following a personal indictment of any of the distinguished skeptics that frequent these pages. However, I think it worth mentioning that for any critic/skeptic of the Bible to raise questions about things like Lev. 19:19 or Deut 25: 11-12 without addressing the explanations that are part of the current lexicon is a bit questionable.

    For example (and I honestly don’t want to tie this to anyone here) take Richard Dawkins. His postulation of the “ultimate 747 argument” or “if God made everything who made God” is tremendously dishonest piece of rhetoric. That question has been addressed by Christian theologians going back at least to Thomas Aquinas some 800 years ago. Yet, Dawkins presents his argument as if he was the first person to ever think of it and without a nod to the current thinking on the subject.

    I personally can’t imagine going to any website for any subject an offering a critique without understanding what the basic current thinking was on the subject. In fact, I did this recently with a 9/11 truth proponent. Ok, that kind of “fish in a barrel” is quite a bit less sophisticated than the current state of Biblical exegesis but you get the point I’m sure. Showing up here with arguments straight from Pharyngula or Jesus Seminar textual critics is really frustrating given the answers to those kinds of critiques are readily available.

    Just as a rule of thumb, the Bible is undoubtedly the most heavily studied, extensively written about and analyzed book in human history and by multiple orders of magnitude. If you have a question you can bet it’s already been answered. Now, that doesn’t mean that anyone has to accept those answers. However, it would seem reasonable to question whatever passage you do in light of available explanations or even in light of the knowledge that one must exist. The same for hermeneutical frameworks as Victoria has offered.

  10. Holopupenko says:

    Let’s check up on a little wisdom from G.K. Chesterton to understand why atheists are deformers rather than reformers; why they react based on ignorance (sometime willful ignorance) rather than thinkers to try to understand; destroyers rather than producers; dabblers in the culture of death rather than celebrators of life:

         In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
         This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

    Only an ignorant chowder-head thinks Christianity is some warped Kantian deontological set of rules. To demons and weak minds, Christianity sounds FAR worse because it goes through the Cross. Christianity isn’t about rules: it’s about the Cross, what the Cross means, and emerging on the other side of that free, undeserved gift called the Cross. Those who want to remove prohibitions against the wearing of clothing of mixed fabric (without understanding the reason behind the prohibition) are usually the same people who want to remove the Cross from Christianity (again, without understanding the reason). “Crossless-Christ” or “Christless-Cross”? Sorry, those are both horrific oxymorons.

  11. Tom, and others here – what in your opinion are the major and pressing moral issues of today? Perhaps the things it might be worth having an onine discussion about.

    Because I can tell you one thing from my perspective, I truly couldn’t care less about mixing fabrics.

  12. SteveK says:


    I thought I was the only one that used that term…chuckle-head too. I guess too many Three Stooges shorts will do that to you 🙂

  13. BillT says:


    That’s Tom’s prerogative though a lively discussion on poly/cotten blends is always a winner in my book. Here is an article that sets out some moral issues. (Not that I’m suggesting it as a topic, mind you.)

  14. Victoria says:

    Technically, the raison d’etre for this particular thread is all about how to understand the Bible in its proper context – how to read it as good Bible students (and by implication, how not to read and interpret it).

    We already have other threads for those significant issues.

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    Frank, that’s not what this post was about. It was about defending Christianity from a certain particularly annoying charge made by some of its opponents.

    I don’t think I was unclear about that.

  16. No, not unclear. My reaction is as expressed. That’s all.

  17. Ray Ingles says:

    As an example of arbitrariness, I submit ‘divorce’. It seems the vast majority of Christians today have no problem with it – and even the ones that don’t allow it for their church members have no apparent problem with it being legal. In light of Matthew 19:9 and Matthew 19:18, it seems… hard to justify.

    BillT –

    to raise questions about things like Lev. 19:19 or Deut 25: 11-12 without addressing the explanations that are part of the current lexicon is a bit questionable.

    In the context of (at least apparently) unreasonable laws, though, the latter is awfully hard to beat. It strikes most readers in my experience – Christian and otherwise – as not merely arbitrary but actively cruel and disproportionate. One could argue that Tom was doing what you accuse Dawkins of – not addressing the best arguments of his opponents.

    I’ve read that cultures of the time took ‘carrying on the family line’ very seriously. I still can’t see how that’s justified.

    (I personally have found that Dawkins’ main ‘sin’ is not using the vocabulary of theology. He addresses things like ontological simplicity (e.g. on page 149 of TGD, where he discusses Swinburne), or eternity (implicitly) in the section on multiverses.)

  18. Tom Gilson says:


    What’s the full reason for this instruction in Deuteronomy, please? Can you explain it in terms of the cultural implications?

  19. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    Only those aspects of the Old Covenant Laws that are reaffirmed in the New Covenant are binding on Christians – basically this comes down to the moral and ethical issues derived from the Ten Commandments and the two greatest laws I mentioned above.

    So… the many Christians who cite the death penalty for homosexuality in Leviticus are wrong to do so?

  20. John Hanna says:

    Ray Ingles, given your active and respectful participation in these types of discussions (we frequent the same websites!), I think your question about OT laws ought to be taken seriously. The writing linked below attempts to address the relationship and thinking overall:


  21. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    What’s the full reason for this instruction in Deuteronomy, please? Can you explain it in terms of the cultural implications?

    Sure. I don’t claim to be a historian, but I think I have the broad outlines. There are several interlocking factors.

    For example, the Hebrews were obsessed with purity. (As nomads, menstruating women were put in a separate tent.) Physical contact between men and women was strictly controlled, even more so than most cultures, because of this. (Needless to say, I don’t agree with the impurity – ritual or otherwise – of women in general or menstruation in particular, nor does my experience indicate that males and females can’t get along in a casual environment.)

    Because of the extreme family-and-clan-centeredness of the culture, protecting the ‘family line’ was considered critical. (Brothers were to marry their brother’s widows for this very reason.) Threats to reproductive capacity were taken very seriously. Though, of course, even causing a miscarriage was subject to a fine rather than amputation. But even in that context, this law makes no distinction on damage done the way the miscarriage-fine law does.

    Without the purity considerations, ‘protecting the family line’ is not sufficient to justify such a law. I really wonder if this law is the result of a single, specific, (in?)famous case or instance.

    Not only that, but this law mirrors the laws of other cultures in the region (Martha T. Roth, ed., Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, 2d ed., Society of Biblical Literature Writings from the Ancient World Series pp156-157), so it doesn’t even serve the purpose of separating the Jews from the pagans.

    So, in Chesterton’s terms, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on why that fence is there, and I still think it’s a stupid fence.

  22. Victoria says:

    That’s a really good question, Ray.
    It occurred to me as well after I had written that post, but I haven’t had a lot of time to dig deeper yet.

    My initial thoughts:
    1. That law has both a moral component (sexual immorality, in particular a departure from God’s design ideal for human sexuality (male + female) as well as a societal component (how Israel was supposed to deal with the transgression). The moral component is still in force in the New Covenant. Christians are not be immoral persons in general, including the area of sexual immorality. That is made very clear by the New Testament writers and by Jesus Himself. You can do the heavy lifting yourself, since you seem to spend so much time reading a Book that you so despise and mock.
    2. One of the roles of the Law is to teach us just how seriously God regards sin – He is deadly serious about it! Your question seems to ignore that.
    3. In the New Covenant, we are under Grace – God wants to give all a chance to repent and accept His grace (cf 1 Corinthians 6:1-12, for example, where Paul lists a whole plethora of sins, and remarks to the Corinthian Christians ‘and such were some of you’).

    I haven’t had a chance to look at the link you provided, so I can’t comment on it yet. My opinion on the question is that Christians are not required to apply and enforce all of Israel’s societal laws; we are required to understand and apply the principles behind them in a manner consistent with the Grace of the New Covenant. I won’t say they (the people you refer to in the link) are wrong (or right) in their position until I’ve had a chance to look at it and do some more research, although I’m inclined to say ‘wrong’ at this point. Fair enough?

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    You italicized “extreme” (“extreme family- and clan-centeredness”). That’s appropriate, for the matter hinges on that: what does this family- and clan-centeredness mean? And was it really extreme?

    You recognize accurately that family- and clan-centeredness was very important in that culture. Now, if it is really, really important, then it is appropriate to treat it as really, really important.

    In simplified form it goes like this:

    1) If family- and clan-centeredness is extremely important, then Deut. 25:11-12 might be an appropriate injunction on the nation.
    2) Family- and clan-centeredness is extremely important.
    3) Therefore the Deut. 25:11-12 injunction might be appropriate.

    That’s valid, so the question is whether (1) and (2) are true.

    The best evaluation I know of for (1) is in the Apologetics Study Bible:

    The woman’s harsh punishment is due to the fact that her impetuous act might result in the man’s emasculation, depriving him of the ability to procreate. The result would be the same as that envisioned in vv. 5-10 — he would die without progeny, and his name would forever be lost in Israel. As is often the case in OT law, the instruction’s ramifications extend beyond the surface reading of the text.

    So in light of that, we have a new look at what this family- and clan-centeredness really is: it’s a matter of preserving a name and a line. That’s extremely important to that culture at that time.

    Now, is that extreme importance extreme, as in, extreme to the point of being objectively wrong, worthy of being judged as inappropriate by future generations? I don’t know. Do you? How would you decide that?

    Let’s compare something more familiar. Is American individualism extreme? Probably, compared to every other culture in the world; but is it extreme to the point of being objectively wrong? I’m not sure how to decide that. Is our insistence on privacy, even to the point of making it a justification for abortion, extreme? Definitely. In this case it’s wrong.

    But it’s not privacy that’s wrong: it’s killing babies. If you disagree with me on that, you can at least agree that if our value placed on privacy is our justification for abortion, and if abortion is wrong, then it’s not privacy that’s wrong, it’s (a) killing babies and (b) inappropriately using “privacy” as justification. That’s different from the desire for privacy itself being wrong.

    The point is, these questions aren’t as simple as they seem, are they? On what basis do you judge another culture? Can you judge either (1) or (2) wrong? Again, on what basis?

  24. Matt Burris says:

    I’m neither Ray, nor an expert on Deuteronomic law, but I did consult Christopher Wright’s commentary on Deuteronomy. (He isn’t Ray either, though he is a leading OT ethicist!)

    Anyhoo, the gist of Wright’s analysis is that this law is about preservation of lineage. To damage a man’s ability to have an error was a grave matter – note the importance of leverite marriage in the immediately preceeding verses.

    Wright also notes the possibility that the prescribed punishment (cutting her “hand” off) could be construed as a cutting off of her having children. This second seems a bit of a stretch to me, but is within the realm of possibility.

    The significance for us…I would start by thinking about the importance of children and a believing heritage. Children are massively undervalued and seen all too often as a hinderance to what we would rather do with our lives. The whole thrust of Biblical thinking on children and family really does stand in stark contrast to contemporary western culture.


  25. Matt Burris says:

    Oops…I mention “heir” not “error”! Can I blame autocorrect for that one?

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, your link on the “death penalty for homosexuality” isn’t working for me. Could you re-try, please? Thanks.

  27. Victoria says:

    Ray’s link takes me to a Google search results page.
    I picked one at random
    This particular person concludes

    God’s word clearly states that homosexuality is wrong and it will be judged, but there is hope. The church at Corinth was made up of past homosexuals who had changed and were washed, sanctified and justified by the blood of Christ.

    No mention of enforcing the death penalty here!

    The first result http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/article/20130118/OPINION03/301180022/Contradictions-arise-when-Man-involved?nclick_check=1
    is written by someone whose thinking is muddled.

    Ray, perhaps you can point to the specific link where someone actually promotes the death penalty – so far I haven’t found any.

    Ah, perhaps you are referring to this link

    Well, I think my original opinion stands.

  28. Victoria says:

    Typo in my #22 – that should read “Christians are not to be immoral persons in general”

  29. Holopupenko says:

    Wright’s analysis is that this law is about preservation of lineage

    Are you kidding? Wright’s analysis concludes this is a primary reason… as opposed to an admittedly good proximate/ancillary benefit or “value-added”?

    With that kind of reasoning morphing into a convenient presuppositional notion, he’ll never see the possibility that such a law could have arisen from or be based in potential violations to human nature as created by God.

    Memo: Wright got the reason for the fence wrong.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Memo: it’s controversial. What we know for sure, and what we should all be able agree on, including skeptics who may or may not share Holopupenko’s AT perspective, is that we don’t know enough to judge the instruction wrong.

    This is a time for appropriate humility concerning what we can or cannot judge.

  31. BillT says:


    You’re simply wrong about divorce. My denomination follows the Biblical prescription of no divorce except for adultery and abandonment. I think you’ll find that pretty common in the evangelical community as well as the Roman Catholic. As far as its legal status, the easing of divorce thresholds has been show to have created far more harm than good.

    And to your other point. It seems more than a little cheeky for you to claim Tom isn’t giving credit to “the best arguments of his opponents” when the classic Biblical explanations predate the “textual critics” by decades if not centuries. Not only that, but Tom on this very thread provided a classic Biblical understanding of a difficult to understand passage. What now? “Ok you got me on the mixed fabrics how about…” Are you going to go verse by verse ad infinitum? (Well Ray, there are, it seems, those here more patient than I!)

    As to your belief that that “Dawkins’ main ‘sin’ is not using the vocabulary of theology” I would offer an alternative explanation. Dawkins’ ”main sin” is that in the fields of theology and philosophy he is an absolute (to borrow a phrase) chowder-head. He quite simply isn’t qualified to be writing on those subjects at all much less is he capable of “using the vocabulary”. I don’t think he is capable of holding his own in a discussion on this website. A read through of his TGD Biblical Christianity chapter alone exposes someone who has certainly never read the Bible much less had an original thought about it. It’s simply a bunch of warmed over nonsense.

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    In light of Bill’s last comment: which “best arguments of our opponents” am I not addressing?

    Note that the reason I didn’t bring up Deut. 25 in this OP is because I had just read something interesting about Lev. 19:19 instead. That’s all there was to it.

    But since then I’ve addressed Deut. 25. Are we tracking on that now?

    I think you’re a fair interlocutor, by the way: you don’t expect every blog post here to address every “best argument.” That would be more than burdensome, not only on me as the writer, but on every reader!

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    I second BillT’s “chowder-head” line. Dawkins doesn’t just miss the verbiage, he misses almost everything there is to Christian thinking.

  34. If we should be taking on the best arguments of our opponents, then it doesn’t do to appeal to the non-best opponents who happen not to be consistent with biblical teachings on divorce but claim to be following scripture. Most evangelicals who have carefully studied the relevant texts do not hold such views, and certainly the most careful among them do not do so (and really cannot be accused of being arbitrary in their interpretation of those texts). So why aren’t they the best arguments of opponents to be dealt with rather than the people who are soft on divorce?

  35. Marie says:

    Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Law. It was “nailed to the torture stake” Christ was impaled on. This restriction served its purse in OT times but not today.

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    Sara, I can’t find what there is on that page that connects to the discussion.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    A Facebook friend led me to this extended explanation by Peter Leithart: Peter Leithart fleshes the thesis out a bit more theologically.

    Sacrifice: Seed vs. Land

    The connection between land and seed in the ancient world was very close, not only judicially but also ritually. When the Israelites came into the land of Canaan, they were told by God that they must not sacrifice their children to the gods of the land. They were not permitted to pass their children through any ritual fire. “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through [the fire] to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I [am] the LORD” (Lev. 18:21). Molech was the god of the Ammonites; it was identified as an abomination (I Kings 11:7). Notice that God called such a practice a profanation of His name (Lev. 20:3). The nation’s name, the family’s name, and God’s name were all interlinked ritually.

    Why would anyone have done such a thing? In a civilization such as the West’s, which was originally built on judicial theology rather than magic, such a ritual act seems irrational. But sacrifices must be made in this life. Men understand this principle, which is why they speak of sacrificing the present for the future. The ancient Canaanites sent their children through the ritual fires in order to identify the survivors as the heirs. Also, by placating Molech, they hoped to gain external blessings, which meant primarily agricultural blessings. By literally sacrificing their children, they hoped for increased agricultural fertility. This is why we refer to Canaanitic religions as fertility cults.

    Only specialists in ancient religion and mythology are aware of origins of the this theology of child sacrifice. Children were regarded as innocent and therefore suitable to placate Molech, identified as Kronos,(56) and therefore Saturn, the god of the original golden age and regenerative chaos, cannibal of his own children and father of Jupiter/Zeus.(57) The Phoenicians carried this fiery worship throughout the Mediterranean coasts. It became institutionalized in Carthage.(58) Acton wrote that such worship flourished where astrology was supreme, “and where the sun was worshipped as the life-giver and the life-destroyer — the god who renewed the earth in spring, burnt it up in summer, and himself suffered in winter, to be restored and to restore the world in spring. These two powers of production and destruction were gathered up in Astarte, the goddess of fertility, and Kronos, the devourer of his own offspring.”(59)

    What was the origin of this theology of human sacrifice? Acton knew what only a handful of academic specialists today have ever heard of: the magical link between bloody ritual and cosmic regeneration. Acton wrote: “The union of bloodshed and licentiousness had one of its roots in the physical philosophy of the old world, which considered generation and destruction, like night and day, to be necessary and mutually-produced successions of being, caused by the eccentric motion of the primum mobile in the ecliptic.”(60) The slow “wobble” of the axis of the rotating earth is the reason why the pole stars change every few thousand years during the what the ancients called the Great Year: about 26,000 solar years. This wobbling axis is the source of the legend of Hamlet’s cosmic mill: the wobbling universe of stars and constellations, i.e., the precession of the equinoxes.(61) This cosmology explained the fall of man and the loss of Eden as the result of the disruption of the heavens. It made personal and social regeneration the effects of ritual rather than ethical transformation. Fertility, sexual license, and human sacrifice were linked together cosmically. The religious practices of classical and Hellenic Greece, as well as Rome’s Republic and Empire, relied on human sacrifice.(62) The origin of Rome’s gladiatorial battles to the death lay in this theology of sacrifice.(63)

    The religion of Israel was in open conflict with all fertility cult religion. God warned Israelites against putting their hope in the land or the gods of the land. The seed laws of Leviticus 19:19 were an aspect of this prohibition. These laws restricted genetic experimentation in Israel. There would be no specialized animal breeding; there would be no mixing of seeds in any field. Why not? For the sake of the inheritance, i.e., for the promise. This promise was more important than any hoped-for productivity gained through genetic experiments. Families were required to forfeit some degree of potential wealth for the sake of faithfulness to the promise. The preservation of each family’s seed (i.e., name) was more important than increased agricultural output. The religion of Israel was thus in complete opposition to the fertility cults of Canaan. This opposition imposed economic costs on the Israelites.

    Leviticus 19:19’s prohibition of genetic experimentation was an aspect of the preservation of the national covenant, which included the tribal boundaries. In the economic trade-off between the land’s seed (increased wealth from genetic experimentation) and the promised Seed (which required the maintenance of tribal boundaries), the promised Seed had priority. Jacob’s prophecy was more important than agricultural production. We must interpret the seed laws as ritual laws. Israel had to sacrifice some degree of wealth in order to honor ritually the principle of the promised Seed. Far better this sacrifice than passing one’s children through the fire: ritually honoring the family’s land more than the family’s seed.(64)

    In one particular, there was still the sacrifice of a son. Levi served as the firstborn son in Israel (Num. 3:12). This means that Israelite families were not required to set apart (sanctify) their firstborn sons for service to God at that first numbering of the nation, as would otherwise have been required (Ex. 13:2). The other tribes did not have to make a payment to the priests except for money in place of the 273 firstborn in excess of the Levites’ 22,000 members (Num. 3:39, 46-47). The tribe of Levi became a lawful substitute. God claimed the Levites as His special possession (Num. 3:45). They could not usually inherit rural land in the Promised Land. They were disinherited because they were like dead men (sacrifices). They were judicially holy (set apart). A boundary was placed around them in the Levitical cities, where the jubilee laws did not apply (Lev. 25:32-34). Levi was separated until Shiloh came.

    Leviticus 19:19 is part of the Mosaic Covenant’s laws governing the preservation of the family’s seed (name) during a particular period of history. It was an aspect of the necessary preservation of genetic Israel. The preservation of the separate seeds of Israel’s families was basic to the preservation of the nation’s legal status as a set-apart, separated, holy covenantal entity. This principle of separation applied to domesticated animals, crops, and clothing.

    — excerpted from http://freebooks.entrewave.com/freebooks/docs/html/gnbd/Chapter17.htm

  38. Matt says:

    so could someone please clarify for me, is Fee and Stuart correct in their response, while not having any citations to the information? I’m a bit confused if the info is to be trusted by reading the rest of the post and some of the comments.

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    Good question, Matt. One of my points, of course, is that if we don’t know the answer it’s okay anyway, at least in the sense that we don’t have to conclude that God made ridiculous commands.

    This is one of those matters on which there are multiple opinions. The long passage I quoted a few comments ago, from Peter Leithart, might help.

  40. Anna says:

    Referring to “Torture Stake”

    In view of the basic meaning of the Greek words stauros′ and xy′lon, the Critical Lexicon and Concordance observes: “Both words disagree with the modern idea of a cross, with which we have become familiarised by pictures.” In other words, what the Gospel writers described using the word stauros′ was nothing like what people today call a cross.

    the Complete Jewish Bible uses the expression “execution stake.”

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    “Impaled” was the term that really caught me off guard. That’s inaccurate.

  42. Victoria says:

    And other Greek lexicons (like Louw Nida, and Strong`s Greek) tell us that the Greek stauros can be a vertical pointed stake OR an upright post with a cross-beam attached to it, giving it either a T (tau) cross shape (crux commissa) or as two intersecting beams of equal length (crux immissa).

    It goes on to discuss the method of crucifixion: The condemned person carried the cross-beam to the place of execution, where the vertical stake was already in place. The victim was then attached to the cross-beam with outstretched arms (either bound or nailed), and the cross-beam was raised up and fastened to the upright post. It seems that nailing the legs or feet was optional, but in the case of Jesus, it was done. We know about crucifixion from other sources, you do realize that.

    Why are we discussing the shape of the cross anyway?

  43. Victoria says:

    Regarding Deuteronomy 25:11
    There are also references in Law, which state that a man with damaged genitals cannot serve as a priest (Leviticus 21:20), and that such a person could not enter into the assembly (Deuteronomy 23:1). The Apologetics Study Bible suggests

    This apparent discrimination is based on the principle that a physical defect is analogous to spiritual imperfection (cp. Lv 21:16–23). The defect, in this instance, has to do with reproductive capacity, the lack of which was considered to be a curse. Jesus spoke of “eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12), removing the traditional religious stigma from those who lack reproductive capability or who refrain from utilizing it (depending on whether or not one takes His expression in the literal sense). Christianity’s first recorded non-Jewish convert was such a person (Ac 8:26–38).

    Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (299–300). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

    Again, in the light of progressive revelation, and 30 centuries later in a culture influenced by Christianity, this seems harsh and unreasonable to us, but that is not the point here. Was it appropriate for Israel at that time is the more important question.

    The Law of Moses was not God’s final word on the matter, either (the Law was never intended to be that anyway), for in Isaiah 56:1-8 God tells eunuchs (and foreigners) that those who keep His covenant, His Sabbaths and choose what He delights in will be welcomed into His presence. Acts 8:26-38, as mentioned above, records one such convert to the New Covenant.

  44. Larry Tanner says:

    I am going to risk taking flak, but I have a serious question and I wish to receive a teacher’s response.

    Is it a form of moral relativism to suggest that the Torah instructions of Lev. 9:19 and similar passages identify a moral wrong (God Himself prohibited it) in one context that is not a moral wrong in another context, namely our own modern cultural context?

    Or is the argument that this specific prohibition is not itself and absolute moral truth but only a representation of another universal and absolute moral standard? Or, in another interpretation, is the idea that by not following God’s prohibition, we do indeed sin; yet, we try to compensate in other ways?

    I’m hearing some comments in this thread suggesting that what was wrong for them–in their culture, in their context–is not necessarily wrong for us here today in our culture. This is very much a relativistic argument.

    It seems like one could say that God laid down a specific moral dress code injunction, and that the Torah is still in effect–not one thing has changed. It was wrong then, God instructed so, and it is wrong in all times and places. Therefore, not to follow this instruction, which many of us do not, is to act immorally.

    So, I’m not sure I am articulating what I mean to say, but I think the main thing is that I am hearing a tolerance for relativism here and now, whereas I have also heard in other contexts a sharp intolerance and distrust of relativism.

  45. Moral relativism, as it’s usually thought of, considers what makes something right and wrong to be up to the individual or culture. So if one culture says abortion is fine, and another says it’s ok, there’s nothing more deeply right or wrong about it. If I think stealing is ok, and you think it’s not, whatever floats your boat.

    It’s another matter entirely to say that the same action can be right or wrong in different circumstances, with some objective ground for why it’s different in each case. It’s wrong to drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. but perfectly fine to do so in the U.K. Why? Because we should follow the law, wherever we are. We should drive safely, wherever we are. But that looks different in different contexts. Similarly, we should hold to God’s expectations of us, wherever we are. If that means following the Torah as God’s people in the context of the Mosaic covenant but not doing so as God’s people in the new covenant, then that’s not relativism. It’s just applying the same basic moral truths in different contexts where their application really does differ for objectively-true reasons.

  46. philwynk says:

    Something not usually mentioned in these discussions is how clearly it illustrates that when reading religious, Hebrew documents, one cannot take the text to be precise in the manner that Westerners, and particularly Americans, expect precision.

    The author(s) of Leviticus did not say “Do not mix fabrics for the purpose of worship or divination,” the way a Westerner might. The text says “Don’t mix-breed cattle, don’t cross-sow fields, don’t blend fabrics.” The author(s) presumes that the reader understands the context.

    Modern, English writers also make the reader supply their assumptions about the context, but they are not nearly as broad about it as the ancient Hebrew writers. As a modern, English writer myself, I know how careful I have to be to avoid ambiguity. I have noticed that Hebrew writers and speakers even as late as the 1st century AD make the context to be the responsibility of the hearer a lot more than modern English-speakers would. It seems to be characteristic of the Hebrews, whose language is remarkably sparse and general.

    Biblical interpreters need to be consciously aware of this when interpreting any and all religious, Hebrew documents — particularly both the Old and New Testaments. Anybody who rests an interpretation on something like “‘All’ means ‘all'” needs to beware.

    And I hope I’m not being controversial when I call the New Testament a Hebrew, religious document; it’s written in Greek, but it was written by religious Jews, and the thoughts and arguments have the character of Hebrew, religious documents in most cases.

  47. philwynk says:

    Larry Tanner wrote:

    I’m hearing some comments in this thread suggesting that what was wrong for them–in their culture, in their context–is not necessarily wrong for us here today in our culture. This is very much a relativistic argument.

    Not at all, Larry. The specific act being prohibited means something different in their culture than it means in ours. What’s prohibited is a culture-specific instance of something that violates a larger, wider moral rule. Changing the cultural context does not change the rule, it changes the meanings of our actions.

    In Bronze Age Canaan, people mixing breeds were attempting to enlist the help of local, fertility gods. In modern America, farmers mixing breeds are manipulating genes, not asking for outside help. God opposes the worship of false gods, but has no objection to engineering.

    The rule in question is the first of the Ten Commandments: “Do not seek the assistance of any gods other than the one, true God.” The rule is still in force, but in the modern world, mixing breeds does not seek the assistance of gods, so it is not a violation of the rule. Changing the cultural context changes the meaning of the acts.

    In the modern West it is unusual for anybody to engage in overt animism. Some Wiccans and satanists do it, drawing pentagrams and dancing naked under the moon, but that’s about it.

    The modern violations of this rule are a lot more subtle. Modern Westerners violate that same moral rule when they declare, “Science is the only way to obtain truth.” This makes a god of a human activity, and confers on that activity powers that belong to God. What is being deified, in this case, is not airish cattle spirits, but the human intellect. I think perhaps that there was little danger of Bronze Age farmers deifying their intellects, so they were not violating the first commandment when they made declarations about their powers of observation.

  48. Victoria says:

    So far, I’ve only been able to confirm that the Canaanites did practice forms of sympathetic magic in relation to fertility/sexual and agricultural rites, but not those specific practices (just do a Google search on ‘Canaanite sympathetic magic’, lots of hits, even Wikipedia has some useful information). One such result is here. Even secular sources affirm that this was their practice. I haven’t found any references thus far that specifically mention the practices in Leviticus 19:19; however, it seems that they could be considered examples of applied sympathetic magic (see here for example, from Frazier’s The Golden Bough, or Google search ‘sympathetic magic examples’).

    We also have to take into account the fact that the priestly garments and the curtains of the tabernacle were to be made of woven linen and wool(? the Hebrew word is a bit uncertain here), see Exodus 28:6 (and context) and Exodus 26:1. Thus, I would surmise that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the practices listed there, but they were forbidden because of their ceremonial significance and/or the connotations of pagan sympathetic magic, which is at its heart, worshipping false gods.
    Thus, in the New Covenant, the Jewish ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Jesus Christ (as the perfect sacrifice and our great High Priest) and are no longer necessary for Christians, and as Phil said so nicely (where have you been Phil? 🙂 ), the specific cultural idolatry is no longer an issue (the magic part). I like what you said, Phil, about the modern counterpart.

  49. philwynk says:

    For the record, I’m just finishing CS Lewis’ novel, “That Hideous Strength,” for the 8th or 9th time. If anyone wants to understand better the connection between modern science-worshipers and Bronze-age animists, Lewis’ novel is an entertaining way to explore it.

    If you’re less interested in stories but more in facts (an indication that some parts of you still need redeeming,) he covers the same argument in his lectures published under the title, “The Abolition of Man.”

  50. Victoria says:

    If you have not done so, I would suggest you have a look at the link I provided in my #3 post. It has a pretty detailed discussion of how Christians (the people of the New Covenant) regard the OT Law of Moses (applicable to the people of the Old Covenant).
    This Old Covenant/New Covenant distinction is an important one – I think the skeptics don’t understand its significance and its meaning, resulting in all sorts of misunderstandings.

    Following up on philwynk’s very sensible comments, I think we can say:
    1. Whatever the specific cultural/historical/religious context(s) of the OT laws are (contexts that we don’t always know with certainty, and have to surmise to probable ones, as this discussion thread shows), the laws made sense in those particular contexts to those people.
    2. Laws that were absolutely necessary in those contexts may not be necessary or applicable in a subsequent set of contexts.
    3. The Old Covenant/New Covenant distinction means that some Old Covenant Laws are no longer applicable or required in the New Covenant.
    Specifically, it was decided in the early Christian community that Gentile converts to Christianity (or ‘The Way’ as it was called) did not have to observe the whole Law of Moses ( see Acts 15:1-29 (the Jerusalem council on this issue). Paul’s letters go on to answer specific questions about what this means and how to apply the principles that the Gentile Christians should observe (Acts 15:2-29). This is not the whole story, of course, as the NT writers do expand on this in greater detail: the implications of the Moral Laws and living under grace (see my #3 again)

  51. Ray Ingles says:

    Been busy with family stuff – it’s sad when you have to cancel your kid’s birthday party ’cause he’s sick. Anyway…

    Tom Gilson –

    Now, is that extreme importance extreme, as in, extreme to the point of being objectively wrong, worthy of being judged as inappropriate by future generations? I don’t know. Do you? How would you decide that?

    The point of a culture, of social organization in general, is people getting together to provide for their needs like food and shelter and security better than they can by themselves. We can judge cultures based on that criterion – how well do they actually meet the needs of the people in them?

    Fairness is a consideration. Take, say, ancient Sparta. The movie “300” is almost entirely wrong; it ignores the vast majority of helots who were essentially slaves. Sparta had to have a strong military to keep the slaves in line. (We’ve seen that in our own history, too.) And it ignores how the much more free Athenians actually succeeded in their defense where the Spartans failed. Free societies do better than slave ones. C.f. the Soviet Union. And China today, which has had to liberalize in order to survive the modern world.

    Holding down half your population – though of equal intellectual talents – is a waste and a tragedy. And counterproductive.

    Valuing a family line isn’t the problem per se. If nothing else, it does help foster community feeling by holding together people with a genetic interest. It runs the risks of tribalism and nepotism, though. It hasn’t proved necessary, long-term.

    But combining that concern with the ritual impurity of women leads to injustice. Compare Exodus 21:22 to Dueteronomy 25:11-12. In the former, the level of actual harm to the family line is taken into consideration, and the punishment is a fine. In the latter, consideration of harm is explicitly forbidden (“show her no pity”) and the punishment is amputation.

  52. Andrew W says:

    Tangent: several writers contest translating Ex 21:22-25 as “miscarriage”, as we understand it.

    Eg: (all making essentially the same point)

  53. Andrew W says:

    Holding down half your population – though of equal intellectual talents – is a waste and a tragedy. And counterproductive.

    Just to be clear – is this implicitly assuming that a person’s worth is in what they can do? (If this opens up too big a can of worms, we can pursue it another time).

  54. Andrew W says:

    Right back to Ray’s original question:

    Does “was wrong” then imply it still is wrong now?

    I think that many Gentile Christians – modern ones at least – get this quite wrong. The New Testament does not teach that Gentile Christians must put themselves under the Mosaic Law; in fact, in a few places it says the exact opposite. Trying to pick and choose which Laws apply “as-is” is futile, because none of them do.

    But it is also a grave follow to dismiss the Mosaic covenant. For the Jews were “entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:2). The Torah sets out for the Jews a standard of God’s holiness, and demonstrates how they fall short, despite being most blessed of all nations.

    Thus, the Mosaic Law cannot and does not hold legal authority over Gentile Christians, yet it can and must teach us who God is and what holiness looks like, and we are called to be holy. This requires effort and wisdom. “The Israelites were commanded to X, so we should …” search the whole Scriptures to see how that command reflects God’s holiness, and respond accordingly. Even for Jews, this may mean changes in how they follow the Law (eg Mark 7:19), or it may mean that direct application of the Law is reaffirmed for all.

    Pithy comment: where applicable, the Torah should get the first word, but usually not the last/only word. 😀

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, you speak of holding down half our population. I cannot believe so many people still believe that of the movement that has been the dominant force for women’s freedom down through the centuries. You’re looking at the cure for women’s oppression and calling it the disease! That’s natural if your historical view only covers the West, and only over the last several decades. Natural, but inaccurate. I wish I had time to explain further.

  56. philwynk says:

    Good point, Tom, and it’s not just on women’s issues that atheists make this mistake. Good grief, these folks would not even have a concept of human rights in their heads if it were not for Christianity. Christianity produced, among other things, the abolition of slavery, the abolition of child labor, the empowerment of women, universal literacy, universal suffrage, and the systematic examination of a rational universe that we call “science”… and atheists, who wouldn’t even know those things were good if they hadn’t learned it from Christians, chide Christians because we won’t willingly dance with them over the cliffs of excess, like lemmings, in those matters.

  57. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I cannot believe so many people still believe that of the movement that has been the dominant force for women’s freedom down through the centuries.

    You can make an argument for that for Christianity.

    Not for Orthodox Judaism, though. Especially not the culture that Deuternomy 25:11-12 came from. Which is what we were discussing.

    At least, I was discussing that, and explaining “How would you decide that” [a culture was objectively wrong on a point].

    If you want to start a new discussion about religion and the status of women, or Christianity specifically and the status of women, it’s certainly your blog and you can do that. I was responding to the current topic, though.

  58. Ray Ingles says:

    Andrew W –

    Just to be clear – is this implicitly assuming that a person’s worth is in what they can do?

    It’s an aspect thereof, not the full sum. Certainly preventing someone from achieving their potential is a harm.

    philwynk –

    Good grief, these folks would not even have a concept of human rights in their heads if it were not for Christianity.

    Yup, Greek philosophy had nothing to do with it.

    But even if you were correct… alchemy begat chemistry, and astrology begat astronomy. They were, in fact, probably necessary first steps to their modern descendants.

    Does that mean that alchemy and astrology should be deferred to today?

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    Perhaps then, Ray, you could explain to us exactly how the Hebrew treatment of women in that day compared with other cultures’ treatment; whether it was markedly better or worse; whether and in what sense full equality would have made sense at that time; whether intellectual equality was equally salient and important in that agrarian situation; and so on.

    Or maybe, if that is difficult to do, you could calm down a bit in your accusations concerning that of which you have little direct knowledge. I refer you again to the main point of my original post here.

    By the way, there is reason to doubt that intellectual vigor was as crucial for economic success even 75 years ago as it is now. That’s the good part of Herrnstein and Murray’s The Bell Curve, the book that was so incredibly controversial for reasons unrelated to that finding. And given that finding, it’s even more doubtful that intellectual vigor determined much else: relationships, happiness, etc.

    So your measuring stick of intellectual equality, while extremely valid, may be irrelevant in this context.

    Just a thought. But the most important question is whether you know what you’re talking about when you judge a culture as foreign as the ancient Hebrews’.

  60. Tom Gilson says:

    Yup. You’re right. Greek philosophy had nothing to do with it. Good grief, Ray, have you read The Republic? Have you read Aristotle on women or slaves?

    As for alchemy and astrology: be careful with your analogies. There were helpful principles in both: experimentation in alchemy (unguided by any good theory, but experimentation of sorts anyway), and careful observation in astrology.

  61. philwynk says:

    Yup, Greek philosophy had nothing to do with it.

    Tom beat me to it. Your glib sarcasm is accidentally correct: Greek philosophy really did have nothing to do with the development of human rights.

    alchemy begat chemistry, and astrology begat astronomy. They were, in fact, probably necessary first steps to their modern descendants.

    I’m sorry, but this is just abject ignorance, the street myths believed by folks who dropped out of college.

    Alchemy did not beget chemistry; they developed in tandem, and then alchemy died out. And astrology did not beget astronomy; while astrology is a very ancient practice, its use in the West, like that of alchemy, rose at the same time as astronomy, not prior to it.

    Ray, please read some real histories of the Middle Ages, and stop believing the nonsense that gets repeated so frequently on atheist web sites.

  62. Andrew W says:

    Possibly much like some of the OT quotes above, what is not said is far more important than what is said:

    Certainly preventing someone from achieving their potential is a harm.

    In the extreme example, a world war fought to prevent Nazi Germany from reaching its full potential. Was that “harm”?

    But it applies on a smaller scale. For example, we usually train small children so that they develop courtesy, respect, and patience, rather than fully expressing their self-interest.

    In other words, this pithy claim only works if you bring to the foreground a great lattice of hidden moral assumptions around “potential” and “harm”, some of which might actually argue against the claim itself.

  63. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Good grief, Ray, have you read The Republic? Have you read Aristotle on women or slaves?

    They also invented democracy. And sure, they didn’t extend it to everyone – but neither did the U.S. for the first century or so. Indeed, the concept of universal human rights owes a lot more to the Enlightenment than Christian thinking. No references to the Bible in the Federalist papers, for example.

    As for alchemy and astrology: be careful with your analogies. There were helpful principles in both

    As I said on this very site not that long ago: “I can see that religion often performs, and has performed in the past, a civilizing and reforming influence… I think a lot of faith traditions have a lot of practical moral experience, even if their theory about why the ‘tricks’ work can be flawed.”

    So, um, I don’t think I need to be that careful.

  64. Ray Ingles says:

    Andrew W –

    For example, we usually train small children so that they develop courtesy, respect, and patience, rather than fully expressing their self-interest.

    Getting along with other people isn’t in their self-interest?

  65. toddes says:

    Courtesy, respect and patience goes beyond “getting along with other people.”

    As can be seen from myriad political leaders, one can be charismatic and manipulative (without being courteous, respectful and patient) and still “get along with other people”.

  66. philwynk says:

    They also invented democracy.

    Which has nothing to do with human rights. That’s just polling the aristocracy.

    …the concept of universal human rights owes a lot more to the Enlightenment than Christian thinking. No references to the Bible in the Federalist papers, for example.

    First off, the Reformation ideas supporting individual liberty predate the Federalist papers by 200 to 300 years. Liberty of conscience was an issue coined by the reformers in the 14th century. If you want to see the seeds of individual liberty, go read “Whether heretics should be persecuted” by Sebastian Castellio, written in rebuttal of Calvin’s persecution of Michael Servetus in 1554.

    Next, with regard to the Enlightenment, saying “this is the result of Enlightenment thinking” does not in the slightest dispute the influence of Christianity.

    I find it hard to believe you do not know that. Have you read any enlightenment documents NOT by French atheists? Perhaps Baron Montesquieu’s “The Spirit of the Laws?” Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England?” Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution?” Lots of Enlightenment thinkers were deeply — and explicitly! — Christian. And it was the Christian ones that most heavily influenced the American revolutionaries, as their writing shows; almost everything they said about Rousseau and Voltaire was negative.

    And finally, regarding your example:

    I wrote a proposal for enterprise-wide printer control software for a major chemical company a few years back. I did not include a single bible reference in the proposal. Does that mean I am not a Christian, or that none of my thoughts were influenced by Christianity?

    The absence of bible references from a document which was aimed at explaining the practical reasons behind particular clauses in a document defining a small, limited government, means Christianity had nothing to do with their thinking? Can you possibly be serious???

    I propose that you spend some time reading the sermons of the American revolutionary period. The American revolution was, quite literally, preached into existence from the pulpits of New England. If you have not read these works, you do not have even a small notion of the underpinnings of the American Revolution.

    Ray, I am not trying to be insulting or unfriendly, but you apparently think your education is a great deal better than it actually is. You genuinely need to broaden your sources. Significantly.

  67. The earliest advocates of complete moral equality among human beings in European thought are quite a long time before the Enlightenment. The Stoics were about as egalitarian as you can get, insisting that literally every human being has the ability to know what is right and is interconnected with all other rational beings by being part of the cosmic god-universe that we’re all part of in a way that we all ought to treat every human being as having the same level of moral worth as any other. You don’t see that level of egalitarianism anywhere else in the ancient world or in the Enlightenment.

    I happen to think they took it too far. There really are people who are less morally capable than others, and we shouldn’t expect them to understand right and wrong, and the Stoics have no room for that. Their view ignores children and the developmentally disabled, especially. There are morally relevant differences between people that the Stoics would ignore by seeing everyone as a pure agent with no room for letting circumstances affect what you’re morally responsible for. But it goes well beyond anything you see in the Enlightenment, where hardly anyone even held to their ideals. Just look at the clear racism in Hume, Kant, and Hegel and the inconsistent application of Thomas Jefferson’s ideals when it came to slavery.

    But you certainly see things pointing in the same direction in the Hebrew Bible. It isn’t presented systematically, the way Greek philosophers would frame it. But it’s pretty clear in the prophets that those Jesus later called “the least of these” are as important to God as anyone else. It’s pretty clear in the Torah that the rich and able have a deep moral obligation to care for those who are not well-resourced or able to care for themselves. This stands out among the law codes of the day. It’s expected that everyone participate in worship. It’s expected that everyone knows the Torah and everyone can fully learn how to serve God.

    And this is, if anything, advanced upon in the New Testament, with Paul saying there’s no Jew, Greek, male, female, etc. Even complementarian interpretations of that statement (which I happen to think are correct) are well beyond anything in Hume, Kant, or Hegel where you find defenses of the idea that blacks are inferior to all other races, some Enlightenment thinkers taking it to the point that they can’t even learn but have to be told what to do, and that’s why they’re natural slaves in the Aristotelian sense.

    [As an aside, I’m not sure Aristotle himself ever clearly applies the concept of natural slavery to any group of people. It was certainly later people who first applied it to black Africans. But the category is clearly not an empty one. Not many adults fit the category, but some developmentally-disabled people might. Many children certainly do. But I haven’t read further into Aristotle’s Politics than when he first discusses it, so I don’t know if he says more later. It doesn’t strike me as racial at all, though, and the race scholars who really know the historical sources all insist that the ancients had no concept of racially-tied inferiority or superiority, as the Enlightenment thinkers developed, for the first time in the history of the world.)

  68. Ray Ingles says:

    Toddes –

    Courtesy, respect and patience goes beyond “getting along with other people.”

    Sure, but… in what way is learning patience not in someone’s self-interest?

  69. Ray Ingles says:

    philwynk –

    That’s just polling the aristocracy.

    The circle of who’s ‘really counted’ as a full human has expanded slowly over time. The concept of universal human rights had to start with at least some humans having rights.

    Christianity is inherently hierarchical, though. God, then various divinely-appointed authorities, all the way down to the husband having authority over the wife and kids. The idea that, say, the government rules by the consent of the governed is rather hard to get out of the Bible.

    saying “this is the result of Enlightenment thinking” does not in the slightest dispute the influence of Christianity.

    Since I didn’t deny that Christianity had an influence, this is not a problem for me. Neither, however, does it mean that Christianity was the only influence. Or that Christianity is more likely to be true thereby.

    The absence of bible references from a document which was aimed at explaining the practical reasons behind particular clauses in a document defining a small, limited government, means Christianity had nothing to do with their thinking?

    The Federalist Papers (plural) were more than one document, with more than one author. And they were designed as much to persuade as to explain, and referring to the Bible would have been an excellent persuasive element.

    As you yourself point out, claiming that “The American revolution was, quite literally, preached into existence from the pulpits of New England.” But the revolution is not the constitution.

    you apparently think your education is a great deal better than it actually is

    That’s possible. I don’t claim to be immune to the Dunning-Kruger effect, and I will look over your reference. But I think also that you misunderstand my contentions a bit.

  70. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, you say,

    The idea that, say, the government rules by the consent of the governed is rather hard to get out of the Bible.

    Of course it is. No one said everything was on the surface ready to be printed out on your Inkjet in the first century.

    Tell us, please, though, which philosopher(s) developed the idea, and what his (their) major influences were.

  71. Tom Gilson says:

    Please tell us also what grounded those thinkers’ beliefs in the essential equality of human beings, and why they rejected the Aristotelian and Platonic views.

  72. Roy says:

    As a non-christian, now that I have a context it’s clear that that this was a social machination with a purpose rather than authority throwing it’s weight around for the sake of it. This is about power not spirituality.

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