Archive for the ‘old testament’ tag
This post stems from a conversation over at Bunch about biblical contradictions, particularly related to the creation story and man’s fall from grace in Genesis.
For simplicity’s sake, I am mostly going to be speaking here of the Judeo-Christian conception of God, known as Yahweh in the Old Testament and God the Father in the New Testament, but a good portion of this will apply to the God of Islam or any other deity that man has created with certain transcendent, otherworldy characteristics, such as omniscience.
The following is the first definition of “god” from the Merriam Webster:
capitalized: the supreme or ultimate reality: as
the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.
I would wager that because of our general acceptance of religion in society, “goodness” continues to be part of our working definition of what we mean when we say God. But does this necessarily have to be the case? The ancient Greeks completely understood that although humans might label a being as a god does not mean that this being is actually good just because he commands powers that might appear mystical to us. Indeed, the Greek gods were in some cases capricious, childish and downright vile in some of their dealings with humans and each other. Take the rape of Europa, for instance (see illustration).
Yahweh, likewise, is certainly capricious, jealous — by his own admission — and overbearing, and thus, not much different than his Greek counterparts in being wholly a human creation.
In any case, let’s briefly take the Bible’s word for it and assume for argument’s sake that the Judeo-Christian god is basically good. The Bible directly tells us in many places that God is good, not the least of which are Psalm 100:5, “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” and Psalm 107:1, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His loving kindness is everlasting” and Matthew 19:17, “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? (there is) none good but one, (that is), God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
But it seems these passages belie God’s actual actions if we look at the Jewish and Christian narratives in totality, which in turn, make the strong case, once again, that the Bible is wrought with inconsistencies. First, let’s take the Jewish tradition from the Old Testament. Since there doesn’t seem to be a coherent consensus in Judaism about the afterlife, and particularly, heaven and hell, we can just look at the behavior of Yahweh toward his “chosen” people. Although the argument that God is good may be up for debate, as I argue here, the notion that he is omniscient and all-powerful are not, otherwise, we must change what we mean when we utter this three-letter construction.
If God is omniscient, he would have known there in the black chaos before speaking anything into existence that man would be seduced by the serpent and ultimately fall from grace. He would also know, in his omniscience, the precise time and place that Satan would tempt Eve to eat the fruit. He knew there in the black chaos that man would be exiled from the Garden as a result of the fall (and his seeming lack of concern that Satan infiltrated Eden) and would be relegated to a life of toil and birth pains. He knew there in the black chaos that man would soon after the fall become wicked in his sight. He knew he would have to flood the entire earth, kill untold numbers and preserve only one pious man and his family. He knew there in the black chaos that his “chosen” people, Israel, would betray him time and time again by falling into idol worship. He knew his beloved Israel would become slaves in Egypt. He knew of the wandering, the despair and the bloodlust on display against rival tribes in his name. He knew there in the black chaos that someone claiming proprietary knowledge would advocate the burning of random women believed to be witches and of stoning gay people. He knew of the impending Inquisitions; he knew there in the black chaos that Hitler, wanting to purge the world of his own “chosen” people, would maim, starve and slaughter 6 million Jews.
Moving beyond the Old Testament into Christianity, God knew that he would one day send his son for the atonement of man. He knew of the intense suffering that Jesus would endure. He knew of the intense suffering and persecution that early Christians would endure. He knew that one day, he would have to watch as millions, exercising their “god-given” reasoning capabilities, would not be able to believe in the historicity of Jesus or accept his gift of salvation and thus be cast down to perdition to burn forever and ever.
Regardless of whether any of this is true in reality and if we take these stories at face value, God saw the misery, the suffering, the despair, the waste of life and loss that would ensue once he spoke creation into being. He saw it all in the beginning. His mind’s eye envisioned this vale of woe in the chaos, and with a poker player’s blank stare, he went about the business of creation anyway. This alone, notwithstanding any arguments we might make about unnecessary suffering and an all-loving deity, renders God evil at best and sadistic at worst.
Obviously, the historical evidence for Jesus passing down parables and performing the many miracles attributed to him is slim to nil, so much less is the possibility that Jesus suffered a physical death and then on the third day ascended to the heavens to take his place (again) at the right hand of the father, thus becoming one of numerous figures in the Bible to break the laws of nature. This is, nonetheless, what believers claim, and they rationalize that Jesus’ ascension is theoretically possible, as Bowen points out, because God, after all, is all-powerful and can break the laws of physics if he chooses since he, believers so confidently argue, stands outside of time and space.
Bowen essentially argues that if we make two generous concessions, that an all-loving and omnipotent God exists and that Jesus was an unethical figure who did not eschew slavery, taught prayer healing, advocated sexism, supported faith-based decision making over reason and logic, among other questionable moral stances, that God, being perfectly good, would be opposed to Jesus’ resurrection and thus, Jesus did not ascend on the third day.
This is his main argument, which was preceded by some other points about Jesus as an unethical character:
Jesus was a false prophet because he taught his followers to pray to and worship a false god (i.e. Jehovah).
This one reason, it seems to me, is sufficient to show that the existence of God would be a strong reason for believing that Jesus did NOT rise from the dead.
And he concludes:
… an omniscient and perfectly good being would be opposed to the resurrection of Jesus, because the resurrection of Jesus would provide a divine stamp of approval upon: the worship of a false god, mass murder, slavery, sexism, cruelty, injustice, irrationality, superstition, sociocenrism (sic), pacifism (i.e. tolerance of oppression) and other evils.
Christian believers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If there is no God, then the resurrection of Jesus would be unlikely because true resurrections are contrary to the laws of nature and thus require a supernatural intervention by God or a god-like being. If there is a God, then the resurrection of Jesus would be unlikely because God, an omniscient and perfectly good person, would be opposed to the resurrection of Jesus. Either way, the case for the resurrection fails.
This a peculiar argument, and one that is actually a novel one for me. Let me see if I can explain it more thoroughly and then supply some additional thoughts. First, Bowen seems to have made a correlation, implicitly or otherwise, between the hypothetical God to which he refers throughout the post and Jehovah, the Old Testament god and the father of Jesus. Yet, he uses Jehovah, or Yahweh, as an example of why his hypothetical God would not support Jesus’ resurrection. Because Jesus obviously teaches that believers should pray to Yahweh, this hypothetical God would conclude that Jesus was practicing idol worship.
But here’s the hang of it, and why this argument as a consequence seems to double back on itself. If this hypothetical God is not Yahweh but some other god, let’s call him Wutu the Almighty, it seems obvious that Wutu wouldn’t care two farthings about another supposed god named Jesus, just like Yahweh so readily dismissed Baal in the Old Testament. Gods tend to not like competition, after all. So, sure, Wutu would be opposed to the resurrected Christ on the grounds of worshiping a false god, Jehovah. But the entire notion of a resurrected Jesus relies on maintaining a link between Jesus and Jehovah, for without Jehovah’s story, we would have no resurrection story. This is why I said that Bowen must be referring to Jehovah when he mentions God. Otherwise, where is the point of reference?
Now, if Bowen actually is referring to the God of the Old Testament, the argument is dead on arrival since Jehovah would obviously not condemn Jesus as a false prophet for telling people to pray to himself, Jehovah. Having said all that, this does not take address the claims — for another day — that Jesus was a bad person or that God must necessarily fit into our idea of “good,” since Yahweh had no problem with slavery, stoning gay people and burning random women who might have been witches. For all the reasons not to believe in the resurrection — and there are many — this particular argument seems to suffer severely.
A 28-year-old Upper Darby man has been charged with murder after telling police that he stoned a 70-year-old man to death when the man made sexual advances toward him, authorities say.
John Joe Thomas, 28, of Sunshine Road in Upper Darby, spent almost every day with 70-year-old Murray Seidman at Seidman’sLansdowne home, police say. Days before Seidman’s body was found on Jan. 12, Thomas allegedly beat Seidman to death with a sock full of rocks.
Thomas told authorities that he read in the Old Testament that gays should be stoned to death. When Seidman allegedly made sexual advances toward him over a period of time, Thomas said he received a message in his prayers that he must end Seidman’s life, according to court documents.
Read more: Man, 70, Stoned to Death for Being Gay.
So, I listened to a little bit of Dave Ramsey today on talk radio because, well, conservative talk is about the only option in East Tennessee, and I usually prefer talk with which I disagree compared with bad pop and worse rock. If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, he’s basically a right wing pro-investment guy who, while mostly giving callers advice on money matters, periodically ventures into politics and religion. As you might imagine, Ramsey fits right in with a local radio station that gets most of its content from FOX News Radio.
Ramsey veered a bit off topic today during a segment in which he took some online comments from listeners. One person said that they did not see anything in the Bible about investing, saving money and amassing wealth, as Ramsey is well known to support. Ramsey then pointed to one of at least three passages in Proverbs that mentions storing up wealth. Some of the verses that at least implicitly reference this are Proverbs 13:11, 16:8 and 28:20.
Ramsey’s basic argument was that God actually wants believers to prosper financially and that all the arguments about the Bible contradicting itself (For instance, Jesus telling the disciples to sell everything they own and follow him) are bogus because of people take the passages out of context. Ramsey said God supports people investing and accumulating wealth because by doing so, believers are then better equipped to help others, and further, believers would be ill-equipped to serve and give back to the community if they were broke.
At least his spiel is consistent. Here’s what he had to say as quoted in an article from 2007:
Ramsey gets irritated when he gets emails and letters directing him to the scripture, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Ramsey believes in the inerrancy of the Bible but says such calls for poverty are “doctrinal nitpicking.” Ramsey contends that the Bible says the love of money (as opposed to money itself) is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10), and that God asked rich men (Moses, Solomon) to work on his behalf. “The Bible does not say that you’re supposed to be poor,” he says. “Most of the patriarchs in the Bible were wealthy. You’re managing money for God.”
Yes, Ramsey read a Tweet from a listener that again mentioned the “eye of the needle” passage in the New Testament. I’m not sure where Ramsey gets the logic that people are taking Jesus’ words out of context. Jesus tells his followers to take no thought for tomorrow (i.e. don’t plan or the future) at least twice, once in Matthew 6 and again in Luke 12. Jesus tells people to sell all of their possession and explicitly says not to store up treasures on earth. He tells them without compunction to give up everything they have and follow him (Matthew 19:21).
Here is Matthew 6:19-21
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Here is Luke 12:27-34
27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alivetoday and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!29 And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For [n]all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.
33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Here is the entire “rich young ruler” passage from 19:16-30:
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Ramsey in his rant mentioned this passage directly and told people they should read all the way through rather than stopping at the “sell what you possess” part and read until the end. Well, OK, there it is. Jesus tells them that after they have given up everything, only then will they receive a “hundredfold” and will get to live forever. Ramsey is being intellectually dishonest, and as nearly all believers do, cherry picking parts of the Bible to assert his claim, while ignoring the totality of the book.
Also during this particular show (I don’t know how much of it was original and how much was just a piped in rant from years ago), but Ramsey also made this bizarre claim that since the Old Testament was supposedly written by Yahweh, that is, God the Father, and since the Old Testament predominantly mentions saving money and storing up treasure, then we should follow the OT on this particular issue and not what Jesus had to say. This is peculiar indeed because Jesus, of course, was claiming to be God himself and even said I and my father are one. So, presumably on this logic, anything that Jesus says in the New Testament gets the stamp of approval from the father.
But here is the crux of it and where it gets weirder: Jesus also said that he did not come to the destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. And this is why when people like myself say that the Bible contradicts itself, we mean that it is a serious and irreparable fallacy that simply cannot be reconciled. Yahweh presumably said one thing in the Old Testament, Jesus said something quite different in the New Testament, and Jesus, by claiming that he is fulfilling the law, leads us to believe that he is suffering from some kind of personality crisis because he, also as God, was present when the father said those things in Proverbs, and as God, he knew that he was going to utter something that directly contradicts it thousands of years later when he gets incarnated on earth. Such are problems that surface when one adds a dose of logic to a paradoxical and fallacious concoction like the Trinity.
The maker of the video doesn’t mention it, but Exodus 21:20-21 makes a pretty strong case against anyone who claims that the slavery and/or indentured servitude found in the Bible were actually benevolent systems:
Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
In other words, flog or otherwise maim your slave all you want — male, female, it makes no difference — just be sure that you keep them alive so the abject misery can continue.
So, I spent, or rather wasted, a minute of my time following a link to a blog post provocatively titled, “Why Did God Make the Devil?” thinking to myself, “Hell, who wouldn’t want to read that?”
So I hopped on over to A Heart of God Ministries website to learn, or rather re-visited, the story about how Satan and his followers supposedly rebelled from God to establish their own kingdom. It’s right there in Isaiah 14:
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
The blogger says that God didn’t technically create Satan; he created the angel Lucifer, who then betrayed heaven and was subsequently cast down to perdition. Lucifer must have been an influential person — er, spirit — because, as the story goes, he took a third of God’s angels with him. Darn. God sure wasn’t winning the PR campaign, was he?
In any case, from the Christian perspective, this began an epic battle between light (God) and darkness (Satan), with each vying to win the hearts and minds of man. Huh. That’s a cause for pause in and of itself. The mighty forces of God and Satan vying to win man’s affection? That seems rather sophomoric and capricious from the perspective of divine, eternal, powerful beings.
Even on the details of the story Christians can’t agree. Here is a person named Jason A. who commented on the blog post:
Most OT scholars agree that Isaiah 14 is not about Satan. Many, though less than the last group dispute Ezekiel 28. Your interpretation of that in instrumental terms is pretty fanciful and refers better to the setting for jewels(it makes much more logical and exegetical sense). I believe in Satan because Jesus says explicit things about him. It’s dangerous to overhead these OT prophecies who were written about real people, Nebuchadnezzar(Isaiah 14) and the King of Tyre( Ezekiel28)
Whatever the interpretation, the problem with this tale is, as ever, God’s omniscience. Christians can claim that God did not and would not create an evil being like Satan in the beginning. For the story to make any sense whatsoever, Satan needed to rebel as an independent agent bent on wresting power away from the almighty. But here is the rub: if God is all-knowing, he would have known well before he created Lucifer or any of the minions which among them would eventually rebel. So, yes, Yahweh actually created Lucifer knowing in advance that he would try to usurp heaven, just as Yahweh created man with the full knowledge that he would succumb to temptation in the Garden, a temptation orchestrated by — who else? — Lucifer. And this unholy cycle is complete.
The killing of innocent children: Psalm 137:9. This sign is slightly misleading. The passage does say “your,” but this Psalm addresses Babylon. In any case, that doesn’t exactly make it any better. Any action, it seems, is permissible so long as the nation of Israel does the killing under Yahweh‘s direction. Is that about right? Just like the commandment against murder in the Ten Commandments only applies among fellow Israelites. Jews in the Bible, of course, can plunder, murder, rape and maim with impunity.
Next we move to the substantive “tests” to which Strobel subjects the gospel accounts. The first he calls the “intention” test to try to surmise whether the gospel writers actually intended to present an accurate account of the events. Blomberg mentions the passage in Luke in which the writer says his purpose was to “write an orderly account” of what he had heard from people who were eyewitnesses to the events portrayed in the book. Luke claims he has “carefully” investigated the stories.
Strobel then questions why Matthew and Mark don’t contain similar declarations. Blomberg makes this rather large assumption based on no evidence whatsoever:
They are close to Luke in terms if genre, and it seems reasonable that Luke’s historical intent would closely mirror theirs.
Blomberg has no idea what Matthew and Mark’s “historical intent” was; he just takes it, as it were, on faith that Matthew and Mark are not propagandists pushing a certain agenda about the claims of Christ. Strobel also asks about the gospel of John, to which Blomberg points out verse 20:31. The passage states that John was writing “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
So, here is a clear declaration that John is writing with the purpose of advocating the authenticity of Christ as divine, or in other words, he has a clear motive and is far from unbiased. Strobel responded: “That sounds more like a theological statement than a historical one.” Blomberg concedes that point but notes that if a person is going to believe in Christ, the “theology has to flow from accurate history:”
… Consider the way the gospels are written — in a sober and responsible fashion, with accurate incidental details, with obvious care and exactitude. You don’t find the outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologies that you see in a lot of other ancient writings.”
If by “sober” he means drab, I’ll concede that point. Again, Blomberg would help his case by presenting some of the “incidental details” that apologists like to claim give the Bible validity. Of course, just the mere presence of incidental details in a text does not prove anything about the historicity of the stories themselves. Thomas Hardy’s novels include many “incidental” and real elements of what pastoral English life was like in the 19th century, but the characters and the plots were not real. Hell, even comic books and many video games often contain lots of authentic details about places like New York, Los Angeles or the Middle East. Just because a novel or other work has incidental details does not make its basic story true as far as history is considered.
As for his claim that readers don’t find “outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologies” in the gospels, I have to ask: are we reading the same books? Here I’ll argue not only with Blomberg’s claim but with this writer, who states outright that
… there are no “mythological elements.” Those who talk about mythological elements are clearly ignorant not only of the gospels themselves, but of what mythology actually consists of. What they usually mean by ‘mythological elements’ is the supernatural.
Well, no. That is not what is meant, and the writer seems to be putting words in the mouths of critics. What is meant by mythological is just that: elements in the New Testament accounts (not to mention the Old Testament) that appear eerily similar to other myths that were circulated throughout antiquity, namely and most prominently, redemption mythology, which forms the entire foundation of the biblical narrative.
Rudolf Bultmann in “The Mythological Element in the Message of the New Testament and the Problem of its Re-interpretation Part I” outlines this framework:
The mythology of the New Testament is in essence that of Jewish apocalyptic and the Gnostic redemption myths. A common feature of them both is their basic dualism, according to which the present world and its human inhabitants are under the control of demonic, satanic powers, and stand in need of redemption. Man cannot achieve this redemption by his own efforts; it must come as a gift through a divine intervention. Both types of mythology speak of such an intervention: Jewish apocalyptic of an imminent world crisis in which this present aeon will be brought to an end and the new aeon ushered in by the coming of the Messiah, and Gnosticism of a Son of God sent down from the realm of light, entering into this world in the guise of a man, and by his fate and teaching delivering the elect and opening up the way for their return to their heavenly home.
Indeed, elements of Gnosticism itself pre-date Christianity, and one could make the case that the basic premise of Gnosticism, attaining individual salvation of the soul from the carnal world through knowledge — replacing esoteric or intuitive knowledge with the knowledge of Christ — was borrowed by Christianity and adopted with its own twist centered on the divinity and saving power of Christ.
Of course, one needs only take a short trek through the “Dying god” entry on Wikipedia to research and identify the numerous life-death-rebirth myths that have inundated antiquity, Osiris in Egypt being one of the earliest and clearest examples to draw parallels. So much for the absence of “blatant mythologies.” As for the “outlandish flourishes” in the gospels, I won’t even get into the possessed pig, Christ’s temptation in the desert or the earthquake that supposed happened, depending on which account you read, when Christ died (with dead people springing up from the ground to boot) and again when an angel appeared at Christ’s tomb, which are “incidental details” that no historian outside of the Bible thought worthy to mention.
I am attempting to make this series more digestible by breaking it up into smaller parts. Since this section only covered one page of the book (p. 40), this may shape up to be a long series indeed (only 230 pages to go!). I’m sure there will be opportunities to move more quickly at the expense of repeating myself, and I will attempt to do so when it’s warranted. But given that the opening section of this book is so steeped in vague and unsupported claims, I feel it’s important to slow down and highlight as many of them as possible. I didn’t even know there would be a Part 3c, but that seems to be the case. Stay tuned as I plod through the rest of Chapter 2.