Tuesday, October 17, 2017

CrossExamined.org: Why did a "Good" God Create Hell? (and other loaded questions)

This is my reply to an article at CrossExamined.org by Al Serrato entitled

Many people today accuse God of unfairness.
Like me.  It is unfair for God to cause a man to rape a woman.  Deuteronomy 28:15, 30.  It's even more unfair for God to take "delight" in causing a man to rape a woman.  See v. 63.
 Since God can foresee the future, they ask, why didn’t He simply never create all those he knows to be destined to spend eternity in Hell?
If his foreknowledge of our future acts was infallible, then those acts were logically incapable of failing, so anything in God's infallible foreknowledge must come to pass.  But this is all esoteric crystal ball bullshit.
  One skeptic I know put the question like this:
God supposedly knows everything that will happen before you are ever born, so if all your choices are set beforehand, how can they possibly matter? Furthermore, if God knows you will “choose” Hell before he creates you, why does he simply not create you? Personally, I would much prefer nonexistence to eternal torment. Is God deliberately creating people knowing they will end up in Hell? Then I would call him evil. Is he compelled to create people regardless of what he sees in their future? Then he doesn’t have free will, which would certainly be an interesting interpretation, but one I doubt many people share. Is there some other explanation? If so, I can’t think of it. 
This challenge has a bit of intuitive appeal.  It seems to put God in a box, as it were, trapped between being “evil” for choosing to create rebellious creatures or lacking free will, by being unable to do otherwise.  Let’s take a closer look at the two horns of this apparent dilemma.
Good God Hell
To the Christian, “evil” is the label we give to words, thoughts or actions that deviate from God’s perfect will.
First, many bible passages forbid the distinction between the perfect/permissive will of God, which appears to be a distinction that was conjured up by Christian philosophers for no other reason than enable them to believe the bible statements on God's will are all in harmony.

Second, if there is nothing evil in God, there's no reason to create the perfect/permission distinction in god's will in the first place, all of God's acts would be good regardless of how they are categorized.  God allowing child-rape would be no less good than god positively decreeing that some atheist should be given a free bible.
 If we were created robots, there would be no evil in the world; we would operate exactly in accordance with God’s desires.
That's exactly what is taught by the metaphor of God putting a hook into your jaws and forcing you to sin, then punishing you for doing what he forced you to do, as seen in Ezekiel 38-39:
Ezekiel 38:1 And the word of the LORD came to me saying,
 2 "Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him
 3 and say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.
 4 "I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them splendidly attired, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them wielding swords;
 5 Persia, Ethiopia and Put with them, all of them with shield and helmet;
... 16 and you will come up against My people Israel like a cloud to cover the land. It shall come about in the last days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me when I am sanctified through you before their eyes, O Gog."
 17 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Are you the one of whom I spoke in former days through My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days for many years that I would bring you against them?
 18 "It will come about on that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel," declares the Lord GOD, "that My fury will mount up in My anger.
 ...21 "I will call for a sword against him on all My mountains," declares the Lord GOD. "Every man's sword will be against his brother. 
Ezekiel 39:1 "And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog and say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal;
 2 and I will turn you around, drive you on, take you up from the remotest parts of the north and bring you against the mountains of Israel.
 3 "I will strike your bow from your left hand and dash down your arrows from your right hand.
Serrato continues:

 But in creating man, God did something quite different. He gave us “free will,” the capacity to rebel against him in our thoughts, words and actions.
In other words, you think the atheist reading this has a moral obligation to spend the next 25 years investigating Christian theology to see whether your statement on freewill is actually "biblical" and why plenty of other Christian advocates of bible inerrancy disagree with you.  No thanks.  But Ezekiel 38-39, supra, justify viewing God as evil for forcing people to sin, even if your view of freewill were the "biblical" one.
And rebel we did.  God “foresaw” this development, but only in a manner of speaking – a manner focused upon the way we think.  This is because God is not bound by time.
Not being bound by time constitutes an incoherent notion, as do other words preferred by apologists like god living "outside of nature" or "above nature".  Worse, every one of the bible's descriptions of activity in heaven, describe the acts as occurring in temporal progression no less than do events down here on earth:
19 Micaiah said, "Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left.
 20 "The LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said this while another said that.
 21 "Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.'
 22 "The LORD said to him, 'How?' And he said, 'I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then He said, 'You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.'
 23 "Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you." (1 Ki. 22:19-23 NAU)
Job 1 contains the famous dialogue of God and Satan up in heaven.  Read any description of heaven in Revelation, the same applies.  Sorry, but your premise that God isn't bound by time, is biblically false.
For him, there is no future to “foresee.”  There is only an eternal present.
You haven't the slightest fucking clue whether god experiences reality like that or not.
 All times – whether past, present or future – are accessible to him in this eternal present. Thus, at the moment of creation, God was aware that man would rebel, that he was rebelling, and that he had rebelled. He was aware of the acts and the consequences, the motivations and the ultimate end, of everyone.  
Wrong, Jeremiah says the idolatry of the Jews was a sin that had never entered God's mind:
Jer. 7:31  "They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.
 Jer. 19:5  and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind;

Serrato continues:
Consistent with his nature for perfect fairness,
What fool thinks it fair for God to cause a woman to be raped (Deuteronomy 28:15, 30, 63)?  Christian apologists who think intellectual sophistry is more important that spiritual maturity, that's who.
he created a means by which man – though in rebellion and deserving punishment – could nonetheless find reunification with him.

Which was a waste of his time and makes him rather forgetful of his own abilities.  God doesn't need to create a means, he can get rid of your sin with a wave of his magic wand, not Yom Kippur or altar in sight:
 11 "Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.
 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.'"
 13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.
 14 "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die."   (2 Sam. 12:11-14 NAU) 
The highlighted part doesn't stop saying what it says merely because you point out that God caused David's baby to die.
 But in implementing this scheme, he did not force this choice upon us.
Then he was stupid and mean, because true love sometimes forces the loved one to prevent them from suffering the consequences of their own stupidity.  Mother doesn't just stand there presenting choices to her child in the street as the drunk driver speeds toward him.  And yet when compared with God, we are like "children".
He gives us the means to salvation, but remains content in allowing us to choose which path we will follow.
Like the father who remains content that his son has disobeyed the rule about playing with chainsaws.  When the parent is brought up on charges of criminal neglect after the boy cuts his hand off, perhaps the man will have a Christian apologist as a lawyer, who will thus argue that because the man made clear his prohibition on playing with chainsaws, nobody else is responsible for the calamity except the child.
Those who use their free will to turn toward him – more precisely, to accept his free gift of salvation – will find a welcoming father, ready to do the work needed to restore us.
No they will find a lying asshole who tells them the more they sin, the less reason they have to believe they are saved.  We call it legalistic grace.  
Those who use their free will to turn away from God – to reject his gift – will find that this choice too is honored.
Some would argue that true love will put forth serious effort to convince the rebellious loved one to obey.  Creating thousands of conflicting Christian denominations for the atheist to choose from in the gamble to pick the one that just happens to be the right religion, does not constitute "serious effort" by God.
 Expecting God not to create those in this latter category would have two significant effects: it would show that God’s provision of free will is really a fiction, since only those who choose to do his will are actually created,
You cannot reconcile freewill of man with God forcing people to sin in Ezekiel 38-39, so there's not much harm in saying freewill is a fiction.
and two, it would mean that Hell is a place of evil.  But Hell is a place – or perhaps more precisely a condition – which was created by God to serve a purpose.
An atheist would have to decide how much time to spend researching Christian fundies and liberals on the nature of hell, and since there are fatal problems with God's existence and the bible being the word of God, it is rational to turn away from this tempting opportunity to impress my girlfriend.
Since God does not create evil – i.e. he does not act against his own nature
Fuck you, God not only causes women to be raped (Deut. 28:15, 30), but will take "delight" to cause that curse no less than he takes delight in prospering those who obey (v. 63).  Gee, you never knew that rape was morally good until just now, eh?
– then Hell cannot be a place of evil. Like a human prison, it may be inhabited by those bent on doing evil, but the place itself – and the confinement it effectuates – is actually a good, just as separating hardened criminals from society is a net positive for both the evil-doer and the society that is victimized.
Sorry, but it does not seem the least bit feasible that the horrific realities of hell would fail to convince those there to repent in sincereity.  And if there comes a time when God no longer responds to sincere repentance, then you just found a limitation in one of God's "eternal" attributes.  And if God hardens those who are in hell so they don't wish to repent, he is not too different from the parent who withholds the Ritlan from the disobedient child, knowing the child will just rebel more and more as a result.
Some will be tempted to argue that God should have forced this choice upon us anyway. Isn’t it better to be forced to love God then to spend eternity in Hell? Only, I suppose, if one believes it is better to be a robot than a thinking, self-aware and self-directed being.
Ask the people now in hell, they'll kindly disagree and tell you being a robot forced to love god would have been better.  Your opinion is nowhere near controlling or persuasive.
 There is no middle ground. Either free will is something real – with consequences attendant to the choices we make – or it’s a fiction.  One cannot have it both ways.
It's a fiction, Ezekiel 38:4.
To recap: God is not trapped in an either/or dilemma. God is not “evil” for having created, because in the end he treats his creation fairly, giving each what he or she deserves.
Then you must agree with Deut. 28:15, 30 that circumstances can arise which would make a woman "deserving" of being raped.  You must also agree that when God causes pagans to beat Hebrew children to death (Hosea 13:15-16), those children "deserved" it.  Is this the part where we email Dr. Copan and ask him if its possible that God had morally sufficient reasons for causing pagan armies to beat children to death?
 Since he values free will enough to have given it to us, he apparently intends to make that gift real by allowing some to reject him.
Like the mother who allows her three year old to stay in the street according to his will, despite her knowledge that if not forced out of the street, he will be run over.  Apparently any who would call that woman unloving, never took Apologetics 101.
Likewise, God is not lacking in free will, because he is not “compelled” to create against his will.
That's also bullshit.  If God infallibly knows that he will cause a hurricane tomorrow, well, "infallible" means "incapable of failing", in which case God would not have the ability to deviate from this infallibly predicted event.  But again, infallible foreknowledge, living outside of time, maybe it can be loving to beat a child to death, etc, etc. is nothing but sophistry and illusion.
Since Hell is not a place for eternal torture,
Then apparently you don't know your bible well enough to justify your commentary on it:

 23 "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment (Greek: basanos, torture), and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (Lk. 16:23 NAU).

 46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matt. 25:46 NAU)

 11 "And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." (Rev. 14:11 NAU)

Some would argue that being on fire and yet unable to extinguish it, is "torture".
but an appropriate destination for all rebellious human beings, God does not violate his own nature – does not engage in “evil” – when he separates himself from some of his creation.
You have already settled in your mind that God is synonymous with good.  That's precisely why you'd never call God evil no matter what horrific atrocity you believed God caused.  Your assurances that God doesn't do evil are about as stupid and ill-informed as any Nazi who says Hitler wasn't able to do evil, who then proceeds to hem and haw and "explain" that massacring the Jews in WW2 was actually a "good" thing in the long term.  Fuck you.
What this challenge brings into focus is not some internal inconsistency in our conception of God. No, what it highlights is just how different our thinking is as compared to God’s.
Giving us justification to wonder whether you got jack shit right anywhere in this article.
For like the skeptic, many would view the decision to create nothing all – neither good nor bad people – to be a better – a more noble – alternative.  Yet God sees things quite a bit differently, it seems.
Not according to the Christian liberal theologians who deny all of your bullshit and assert everybody will be saved.  How long do you recommend atheists spend invenstigating why Christian fundies disagree with Christian liberals?  And why should we feel the least bit compelled to do so?  My atheism justifies me to not worry about the truth of Christian hell, just like your Christianity justifies you to not worry about Muslim hell.
In the end, that he views things differently should not really surprise us. Our judgment as to right and wrong, good and evil, has been corrupted by our rebellion.
Yeah, if only we'd become spiritually alive and born again by accepting Jesus into our hearts, we'd then recognize that sometimes women "deserve" to be raped (Deut. 28:15, 30) and that children "deserve" to be beaten to death (Hosea 13:15-16, Isaiah 13:15-16.
Since we all share this fallen nature,  we should realize that we are not in the best position to render judgment as to the way eternal things “ought to be.”
A criticism that applies with equal force to the theology written down by the sinful imperfect biblical authors.
We wouldn’t ask a group of incarcerated rapists for guidance on issues of sexual mores;
But you'd certainly ask your raping-god for guidance on issues of sexual mores!
nor would we consult death row inmates for advice on how best to treat one another.
But you certainly consult a god who allows non-fatal beatings (Exodus 21:20-21), on how best to treat one another.
Perhaps, in the same way, God has little need to consult with us to determine what ultimate “fairness” demands.
That's a possibility, but not likely, since even God has to sometimes accept correction from his creatures.  Exodus 32:9-14, a story that you always thought was literally true history until you discovered that taking it as literally true history would produce a conflict in biblical theology.  Anthropomorphisms, to the rescue!
No, the Creator of the universe may occupy a slightly better position to judge matters eternal. We might be wise to heed him, rather than try to ensnare him in a “logical” trap.
We also might be wise to do whatever we're asked by powerful space aliens, but that hardly argues that they are good.

Answering Dan Wallace's question on historical reliability of the New Testament

Daniel Wallace allows customer to purchase a "course" that will help them answer certain questions:

Perhaps my input will help Dr. Wallace ensure his paying customers obtain more bang for their buck:

Can we trust the NT documents?

Can we "trust" the Apocrypha?  Depends on what you mean.  Yes, they are generally historically reliable, but that's a far cry from saying every last little detail they mention is historical truth.

Whether a historical source can be "trusted" often cannot be answered simply "yes" or "no", because all sources are imperfect.  Here are some justifications for remaining skeptical of the accuracy or honesty of some of the NT writers:

1 - Apostle Paul admitted his willingness to give his audience a false impression of his true beliefs, if he thought doing so would increase the number of his followers:
 18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
 19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.
 20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law;
 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law.
 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.
 23 And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
 (1 Cor. 9:18-23 NAS)
I've been asking fundies for years how Paul could believe himself free from the law, yet present himself to orthodox Jews as if he believed himself under the law, and do all this without giving a false impression of his true theological convictions.  Apparently, if Paul was honest, he would have made sure when he took a Jewish vow with others in Acts 21:18-26, that Jews who took the vow with him correctly understood that he believed these laws were waxing old, and ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:13).  What are the odds, though, that Paul clearly specified this particular nuanced form of his beliefs to them?  One has to wonder: when Paul had Timothy circumcised "because of the Jews" (Acts 16:3), was he telling those Jews, during the surgery, that Paul regards everything distinctly Jewish in his pre-Christian life as feces (Philippians 3:4-8, v. 8 "rubbish", Greek: skubalon, feces, waste)?

Sort of makes you wonder whether the "all things to all men" hypocrisy also affected his epistles.  Does Paul tell Christians to obey secular authorities (Romans 13:1-3) because he seriously believes this, or solely because he happens to be imprisoned at Rome, and recognizes that telling his followers to obey secular authority will make Rome look a bit more favorably on him?

2 - Clement of Alexandria's beliefs about gospel origins justify suspicion toward gospel accuracy:

Quoted by Eusebius in Church History, Book 6, ch. 14
Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Marks had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly for- bade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel. This is the account of Clement.
Schaff, P. (2000). The Post-Nicene Fathers (electronic ed.). electronic ed. Garland, TX: Galaxie Software
Clement's statement that the gospels with the genealogies were written first, (Matthew and Luke) is held false by the majority of Christian bible scholars, who hold that Mark was the first gospel written.

Clement's statement that Peter didn't discourage Mark's gospel writing but also didn't encourage it, raises an eyebrow or three:  If Peter believed, like modern-day conservative Evangelicals do, that Mark's literary effort was the inerrant word of God, would Peter have been so apathetic toward the inerrant word of God?
(Peter's apathy itself raises problematic questions itself:  How could Peter possibly refuse to encourage the writing down of his preaching?  Was there an early apostolic belief that Jesus would come back within the lifetimes of the apostles, no need to publish written works?   Did Peter believe written gospels lacked the presence of the Holy Spirit that presumably was present in oral preaching?  If Clement is wrong in this information, doesn't Eusebius' uncritical quotation indicate that incorrect views about the apostles were capable of successfully duping even the earliest church fathers?)

Clement's statement that John wrote his gospel in a "spiritual" way that was distinct from the "external facts" type reporting done by the Synoptic authors, necessarily requires that in this context, "spiritual" meant some type of literary endeavor that had John doing more in his gospel than reporting the "external facts".  If Clement is telling the truth, then it is a strong argument that the reason most of the high Christological sayings of Jesus in John's gospel aren't paralleled in the Synoptics, is because John's materials are the "spiritual" parts John was adding to his gospel, which were different in nature than the "external facts" (i.e., different than sayings the historical/biological human Jesus actually mouthed).

Indeed, if Matthew had heard Jesus utter the high-Chistological sayings now confined to John's gospel, is it likely Matthew would have knowingly "chose to exclude" such strong supporting material?  If you can believe that, maybe you can believe the author of a book entitled "Sexual Scandals of the Bill Clinton Presidency" would knowingly "choose to exclude" all mention of the Monica Lewinsky affair (!?).  Yes, anything is always possible, but the person who wins the history debate is the person who shows her view to have more probability of being true than the other theories.

3 - If the Christian scholarly consensus be true that Mark was the earliest published gospel, well, Mark doesn't mention the virgin birth story.  You will say Mark didn't think it necessary to repeat what his intended audience already believed, but that obviously speculative answer has the following faults

   a) that assumes without evidence that Mark's intended audience surely did believe Jesus was born of a virgin, something you cannot establish,
   b) saying Mark didn't wish to repeat, contradicts the testimony of Clement, supra, which is generally the same from other church fathers, namely, that Mark's specific purpose in writing down the preaching of Peter, was to exactly "repeat" for the requesting church the gospel material Peter had previously preached to them...gee, maybe Peter didn't preach the virgin birth?  A doctrine that would support Mark's theme "Jesus is Son of God" more powerfully than most of Mark's currently canonical material?
   c) your motive for trivializing Mark's silence on the virgin birth is nothing other than your presupposition that bible inerrancy (and thus agreement of bible-authors on all doctrines) is an untouchable icon of cherished truth.

4 - Luke, by saying in his preface that he obtained his info from eyewitnesses, leaves the false impression that eyewitnesses were his primary source material. But if the consensus of Christian scholarship is correct in saying Luke borrowed much text from Mark's earlier gospel, then Luke's primary source was not eyewitnesses, but only hearsay, because Mark is not an eyewitness (and it is  rather convoluted and trifling to say Mark's dependence on Peter means Mark's account should be viewed as the record of an eyewitness).  That is a justifiable reason to be suspicious that Luke was willing to give a false impression, and like any good historian, he would know a lie would have better chance of being successfully deceptive if he spins it in just the right subtle way and cloaks it with other historically valid references.

5 - Another blow to Luke's general credibility is his account of the debate between Judaizers and Apostles in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).  How does Luke represent the apostles?  99% of the chapter is devoted to the arguments of the apostles and their actions afterward.  How does Luke represent the Judaizers?  He quotes a short summary sentence of their basic position (15:1), then repeats it once (v. 5), that's it.  Suppose you surfed to an atheist blog where the atheist author described a debate between a Christian and some other atheist, not otherwise recorded.  The atheist blogger only quotes two sentences from the Christian in that debate, but devotes about 40 paragraphs exclusively to what his fellow atheist said in the debate, and what that man did after leaving.  If you would accuse this atheist-blogger of a level of bias that rises above what objectivity would allow, you must say the same about Luke, because he did the same thing.

6 - Peter makes clear in Acts chapter 1 that only those who were direct disciples of Jesus before he died, could possibly qualify as apostles, and further asserts that because Judas fell, there is a "need" to increase the number of apostles back to 12:
 21 "It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us--
 22 beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us-- one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection."
 23 And they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.
 24 And they prayed, and said, "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two Thou hast chosen
 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place."
 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:21-26 NAS)
Several problems:  Peter appears to believe the number of legitimate apostles cannot be more or less than 12, which means Paul, the 13th apostle, is false.  The author of Revelation specifies "12 names" of the "12 apostles" in the "12 foundation stones" of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14), which mathematically excludes Apostle # 13, Paul.  Sure, the language is figurative, but the constant repetition of 12 likely draws from the Revelator's belief that those who set the foundation for the new city do not number more than 12. (Some apologists trifle and say Peter was wrong to replace Matthias, but the praying and casting of lots and other things, including no sign of divine disapproval, make clear that the allegedly inspired author of Acts 1 didn't think replacing Judas with Matthias was error).

7 - Many of Paul's initial followers eventually stopped thinking he was a true apostle.  Paul started the Galatian churches, yet remarks with cursing that they apostatized from the true gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).  Despite the fact that Barnabas was personally chosen by the Holy Spirit to be Paul's ministry helper (Acts 13:2), "even Barnabas" was persuaded by the Judaizers that Paul's views about table fellowship were incorrect (Gal. 2:13).  Paul says nobody stood with him at his first defense but that he was delivered from the lion's mouth anyway (2 Tim. 4:16-17), meaning the defense in question was one he made before secular authorities who had authority to execute him, which thus must have occurred well into his Christian career.  How's that for proving that the 1st century Christians were mightily transformed by the resurrection of Jesus into fearless preachers who would stand by each other to the death?  

Paul also complains of other Christians abandoning him with "You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. (2 Tim. 1:15 NAS).  So it is likely when Luke says Paul was forbbiden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6), what really happened is that Paul knew by naturalistic means he would never get any followers in Asia, others agreed, and blindly assumed this must surely mean the "Holy Spirit" is "forbidding" them to go there.  Sort of like the scared man who runs away from a fist fight, then later says he did so because God "forbade" him to fight.  Wrong.

8 - Conservative Christian commentators have stumbled long and hard over Galatians 2:2:
 1 Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.
 2 And it was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.
 (Gal. 2:1-2 NAS)
Why reason does Paul say he chose to speak only in private with those of repute?  "for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain."

What potential discovery of running in vain was Paul speaking about?  The answer is not difficult:  Paul was genuinely fearful, before arriving in Jerusalem on this trip, that the original apostles of Jesus might actually disagree in a public way with his version of the gospel.  If they did, that would effectively prove his gospel efforts (running) had been in vain.  So apparently Paul sought to guard against this real possible outcome by meeting with them only in private.  Then, if they disagreed with his version of the gospel, the private nature of the bad news would help mitigate it from spreading and discrediting his ministry.  Commentators say this interpretation is contrary to Paul's stark confidence in the truth of his own beliefs elsewhere, but Paul's desire to meet the higher apostles in private is a powerful textual clue that, at least at this point in time, Paul wasn't the loudmouth confident fire-preaching fanatic he was at other times.

However, the answer is difficult for those who espouse inerrancy, since they cannot plausibly argue for any interpretation of "fear" and "vain" that will harmonize with the context while also harmonizing with the rest of the bible.  Indeed, if we must presume Paul never doubted the truth of his version of the gospel, then why would he be motivated to speak only in private with the higher apostles when presenting his gospel to the Jerusalem church?

Finally, most Christian scholars admit that Matthew took Mark's "Jesus COULD not do many miracles because of their unbelief", and "tones it down" to say "Jesus DID not do many miracles..."

Mark 6:5-6
Matthew 13:58
 1 And He went out from there, and He came into His home town; and His disciples followed Him.

 2 And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, 

"Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands?

 3 "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?"
And they took offense at Him.
 4 And Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household."

 5 And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands upon a few sick people and healed them.
 6 And He wondered at their unbelief. And He was going around the villages teaching. (Mk. 6:1-6 NAS)
53 And it came about that when Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there.

 54 And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, 

"Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?

 55 "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
 56 "And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?"

57 And they took offense at Him.

But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and in his own household."

 58 And He did not do many miracles there 

because of their unbelief. (Matt. 13:53-58 NAS)

Two problems are created here: If most scholars are correct that Mark is the earliest gospel, and are also correct in their consensus that Matthew borrowed extensively from Mark, then apparently, Matthew did not believe Mark's text constituted the "inerrant" word of God, or he wouldn't have felt compelled to make this change any more than Daniel Wallace feels compelled to replace "word" with "Jesus" in John 1:1.  So the gospel authors changing and modifying the text they drew from allegedly "inerrant" sources is a kick to the inerrantist apologist's teeth.

Second, Matthew's motive for the change is a serious problem, since it is perfectly evident that by changing "could not" to "did not", Matthew hides the fact that the original form of this story spoke against Jesus' level of power.  If you have gospel authors who change each other's texts so as to erase evidence that they disagreed with each other on matters involving Jesus, let's just say you won't be bowling over atheists with the power of the gospel anytime soon...not even if you pray about it first.

How do we know that the NT we have now
is the one the apostles actually wrote down?

Matthew is a case of fatal problems of authorship and text:

1 - Papias said Matthew wrote down the oracles of the Lord in the Hebrew dialect or style, and all other early fathers commenting on the same issue are unanimous that Matthew wrote in Hebrew "letters".  The English translation of Matthew in your bible does not arise from any Hebrew manuscript, but from manuscripts written in Greek.  Despite the church fathers clearly being interested in which language Matthew wrote in, they never mention him writing a second original in Greek, despite the fact that they make their comments in the 2nd-4th centuries, when any alleged Greek edition by Matthew would have enjoyed no less circulation in the church than the Hebrew version did.  Jerome in "Lives of Ilustrious Men" says Matthew was written in Hebrew, and was translated into Greek in his day by an unknown person.  He would hardly talk like that had a Greek version of Matthew been circulating since the first century. Worse, Wallace himself doesn't think canonical Greek Matthew reads like "translation-Greek", so Wallace kills even the alternative option that canonical Greek Matthew might be a translation from Matthew's Hebrew.  Thus there is good historical reason to say an unknown person exercised a completely unknown degree of influence on the content of Matthew's gospel before you ever read a bible, and as such, Matthew is disqualfied as a resurrection eyewitness because we cannot decide with any reasonable degree of confidence to what extent the material in Matthew 28 goes back to Matthew himself.

2 - Read a book by Bart Ehrman called "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: the effect of early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament".

Have errors crept into the text over the centuries?

 Yes, as Wallace admits the "long ending" of Mark 16, present in many manuscripts, actually isn't original.  Wallace may say such textual variant is not historically or doctrinally significant, but it surely is:  Most Christian scholars, including Wallace, believe Mark was the earliest published gospel.  If that is correct, and if the majority + Wallace are also correct that the long ending of Mark was not written by Mark, then the earliest published gospel lacked stories of a resurrected Jesus appearing to others.

This creates reasonable justification to believe that the only reason the other three later gospels contain resurrection appearance stories is because of legendary embellishment.  If you feel your own theory to explain this data has greater explanatory scope and power than the embellishment theory, by all means, post a reply.

If most scholars are correct that Luke borrowed much text from Mark's gospel, then when Luke acknowledges the presence of other written gospels, and says he himself thus chose to write to ensure Theophilus would know the "exact truth" about the Jesus issues, Luke 1:1-3, one of the prior written accounts Luke is likely admitting to correcting, would be Mark's, and now we have not just Matthew but Luke correcting the inerrant word of God.

How do you answer someone who says there are 
thousands of textual variants, so the NT can't be trusted? 

By correctly informing them that Barry Jones's above-cited arguments, justifying skepticism of the NT, are a far bigger problem for apologists than noting the number of textual variations there are in the NT manuscripts :)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

My reply to Apologist Dr. Robert Bowman on Gospel of John's historical reliability

The following is the reply I made to Dr. Bowman over at his blog.  My comments did not immediately appear, so I presume Bowman wishes to review replies to him before allowing them to actually post.

Dr. Bowman,

I find that many conservative scholars have no difficulties with the Muratorian Fragment's listing of canonical NT books, and no problems with its testimony to the traditional authorship of the gospels, but when the MF specifies that John's first idea for gospel authorship was that the disciples first starve themselves for three days, then jot down what would be "revealed" to each disciples, then suddenly, conservatives are quite sure that this part of the MF is a later interpolation or an otherwise distorted view of how John reacted to the prospect of writing a gospel.  And suddenly, they aren't so sure that the MF really goes back to the 2nd century.

What would be wrong with an atheist saying the MF is truthful when it paints John as believing he should get his gospel material via more esoteric means than simply jotting down his eyewitness memories? 

Indeed, John 16:14 and the book of Revelation (if the author of those two books is the same guy), combined with Clement of Alexandria's explicit denial that John desired to write "external facts" about Jesus as the prior Synoptic authors had already done, would justify the historical conclusion that John was open to getting the truth about Jesus in more ways than just what he or others remembered Jesus saying, the method that most conservative Protestant scholars insist was the case.  Which then means that for any saying of Christ now exclusive to John's gospel, we cannot reach a reasonable degree of certainty on whether or to what extent these words of Jesus correctly represent in Greek the same information Jesus' hearers got when he spoke to them in Aramaic.

If such a case can be historically justified, then I don't see how the skeptic who makes such argument would be unreasonable to use it to further argue that the gospel of John contains an unknown mixture of historical truth and historical falsehood or theologizing which cannot be disentangled, and as such, he is disqualified from the list of independent witnesses of Jesus' resurrection.

So my questions to you would be:  If John is the only person saying Thomas' infamous doubting was cured by his touching of the risen Christ's crucifixion wounds (John 20), what makes you so sure this is based purely on eyewitness recall?  Shouldn't you remain open to what Clement said, and allow that John's unique material about the risen Christ was written for a "spiritual" reason that is not the same as writing out the "external facts"?

For what reason do you think skeptics are unreasonable to assert that the esoteric nature of the uniquely Johannine gospel material disqualifies it from the possibility of answering questions about literal history, such as whether Jesus rose from the dead?
Update: October 16, 2017

Dr. Bowman responded as follows:
robbowman says:
October 16, 2017 at 11:22 am
 WordPress mistakenly treated your comment as spam, but happily I found it and was able to approve it.
 I tend to privilege internal evidence from the text itself as well as evidence from roughly contemporaneous sources over evidence from much later secondary sources. Both the Muratorian Fragment and Clement of Alexandria are much later than John’s Gospel and so their statements need to be assessed in the light of the more directly relevant evidence. Where those later secondary sources appear to confirm conclusions based on the text itself or secondary sources closer to the time of the Gospel’s composition, naturally I will agree with them.
 I don’t see anything in John 16:14 or the Book of Revelation that would support the claim that the Gospel of John is not providing biographical material about Jesus.

I replied as follows:

Dr. Bowman, thanks for rescuing me from the spam heap. 

So I guess I got "saved"...?

If a case can be made that some sayings of Jesus in the canonical gospels did not exist until after Jesus died, then it would seem it is hopeless to try and disentangle these sayings of late esoteric origin from those which the historical/biological Jesus actually mouthed...which might provide rational academic justification to the unbeliever to simply throw up their hands and say the gospel of John is disqualified by reason of ambiguity from being viewed as the written recollections of eyewitnesses who heard the historical Jesus talk.

The reason I say John 16:14 indicates some of the Johannine material on Jesus isn't biographical or historical, is because the author makes it clear that Jesus would continue giving "sayings" to the church beyond the grave, by means of the Paraclete.

 12 "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
 13 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
 14 "He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.
 15 "All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you.   (Jn. 16:12-15 NAS)


a - The things the disciples cannot now (i.e., 30 a.d.) bear, are things Jesus has to "say".

b - So when v. 13 asserts the Spirit, who will be speaking later won't speak on his own but rather convey only what he "hears", the author clearly intends the reader to believe that the Spirit will, sometime after Jesus dies, continue to convey what Jesus has to literally "say" to the church, this cannot be watered down to mere "guidance".  Inerrantist scholars appear to agree:

"This spiritual guide’s task then is pointedly summarized as receiving that which comes directly from Jesus and passing it on or messaging it (cf. vv. 13–15 for a communication triad) directly to the disciples. This type of passing on of significant information reminds me of the rabbinic concept of the passing on of tradition and assuming that such tradition has been unaltered in the process."
Borchert, G. L. (2002). Vol. 25B: John 12-21. The new American commentary, New International Version (Page 170). Nashville: Broadman & Holman.
c - "things to come" (v. 13), ok, so when the gospels have Jesus describing future events or "things to come" (i.e., Matthew 24), this statement in John would justify the view that Jesus' eschatological statements were provided to the church by the Paraclete after he died, despite the fact that they present them in the gospels as if they were things he said before the crucifixion.  These sayings of Jesus conveyed by the Spirit are a case of him taking them FROM Jesus (v. 14-15), reinforcing the above-cited conclusion that the Spirit is not merely "guiding" the church but conveying what Jesus actually has to "say" beyond the grave (v. 12).

The point is that when you apologists assert the gospel of John constitutes eyewitness testimony obtained by typical memory or "recollection" of what the historically Jesus said and did before he died, you are giving the impression to the unbeliever that the person who wrote that gospel drew upon nothing other than his own and possibly other's eyewitness memories, the same way that anybody normally does when writing down a description of an event years after it took place.

That impression conflicts with John's own testimony that Jesus would continue giving his sayings to the church from beyond the grave, naturally raising the question as to whether some of the Christ-sayings in John were things the apostles never heard Jesus say until after he died.

This then raises the problem as to which Johannine sayings of Christ were those that the biological/historical Jesus actually mouthed, and which sayings of Christ were those that the church never knew until the Spirit conveyed them to the post-crucifixion church.

Without a convincing alternative interpretation of John 16, and without coming up with a miracle to help us disentangle in John the pre-crucifixion sayings of Christ from the sayings he gave from beyond the grave, it would seem unbelievers have here a reasonable academic justification to consider the question of JOhn's eyewitness nature to be hopelessly confused and to thus disqualify John's gospel from the list of resurrection witnesses apologists typically depend on.

And all this is to say nothing of the equally significant objection that if Matthew, Mark or Luke or their sources (Peter?) had remembered Jesus talking in the high-Christological way he does in John's gospel, they would not likely have "chosen to omit" such powerful theological teachings anymore than a modern day author of a book entitled "Sexual Scandals of the Clinton Presidency" would be likely to "chose to omit" all mention of the Monica Lewinsky affair.  So the Synoptic failure to echo Christ-sayings now exclusively limited to John's gospel, is a rational reason to suspect that John's Christ-sayings originated in circumstances far more complex/esoteric than simply what somebody remembered the biological/historical Jesus actually mouthing before he died.

my reply to 60 Second Bible Answers-Why does God command Genocide in the Bible?

Here are my replies to Pastor Paul Jennings of Stockport Evangelical Church, who tried, in a 60-second Youtube video, to defend the Copan/Flanagan thesis that the divine commands in the bible to slaughter women and children did not result in the killing of any women and children.

Jennings refused to answer my questions directly and simply contented himself largely with hiding behind a rather lengthy quote from William Lane Craig which raised the off-topic point that atheists have no justification for moral indignation toward other life forms.  Apparently exasperated, Jennings, indicated in his last comment that he felt whatever he had to say could always be responded to and thus lead to an endless discussion he didn't have time for. 


If the promised land was well watered with vegetation to accommodate these staples of ANE life, then wouldn't making the pagans flee to outside the promised land, constitute forcing them to resettle in parched arid desert of far less water and vegetation? MOving would mean losing everything they had and increasing the likelihood that they would starve or thirst to death, as the Israelites complained about during the exodus, would it not? In which case, your attempt to use the "give them a chance to flee" stuff actually makes God a greater moral monster than if he just required all Canaanites be killed. Really now, when you read the Pentateuch, do you ever get the idea that God would have the least bit of tolerance for the pagan acts which the bible characterizes as abominations? God would mercifully give the pagans a chance to perform their abominations outside the promised land?
Stockport Evangelical Church
Barry Jones Nice try! Geographically speaking, Israel is in an area known as the Fertile Crescent. So unless the canaanites fled to the desert that the Israelites had just come from, which would involve them fleeing through the Israelie army, rather than from them, thats not too likely. Secondly, God is going to punish people for their sin, because He is a holy God, whether they are canaanites, Jews, Christians...whatever! So it is not because they were either in that land or out of it, its the fact they are still sinning against Him.
Barry Jones
Mr. Jennings,
When Saul obeyed the divine order to slaughter Amalekites (1st Samuel 15:2-3 ff) he pursued the Amalekites as far as Shur, see v. 7. That means Saul pursued them to a place that was situated between Egypt's outer western territory and the promised land's western border.

Here's the problem: Shur was apparently a waterless desert that was part of Isreal's Exodus wilderness wanderings, such that thirst could only be remedied by divine miracle, Exodus 15:22. Every other time the bible mentions "Shur", it is a place that is not desired. Hagar was by a spring on water not in Shut but ON THE WAY to Shur (Gen. 16:7). Abraham settled BETWEEN Kadesh and Shur; (Gen. 20:1). Ishmael similarly settled in the same general area just before entering Shur (25:18). Shur is a desert wasteland with no water (Ex. 15:22, supra). The Amalekites who escaped Saul in 15:7, apparently regrouped, but when David meets them for battle, they are found not IN, but NEAR "Shur", 1st Sam. 27:8.

If the consistent biblical witness is historically and geographically accurate, this "Shur" was parched arid land utterly inhospitable to life. That is, Saul put Amalekites and their kids in the position of slowly starving/thirsting to death (or facilitating death by disease, since hunger and thirst would also inhibit the immune system), and Apologist Glenn Miller cites the inhospitable ANE as the reason why immediately slaughtering the Amalekite children was more humane.

Another possible definition of "Shur" in scholarship is the one that says this was a place of Egyptian fortresses, what Egypt would logically do with its military to protect its borders from invaders.

If that is the particular "Shur" to which Saul chased the Amalekites, then Saul was chasing them toward another enemy (If apologists are correct to say Amalekites were incorrigible brutes, Egypt would resist them with military force too, and not exactly bring camel loads of food and water), in which case Saul, a military leader, surely knew that chasing the Amalekites so close to Egyptian fortresses would subject Amalekites to further battle with Pharaoh, likely making the allegedly incorrigible Amalekites even more desperately barbaric to plunder any smaller bands or groups that might be found traveling along the way, so they could to avoid being wiped out by Egypt in that generally inhospitable region.

That is, the two most popular scholarly opinions about this "Shur" each does a fair job of justifying the theory that Saul intended for Amalekites to suffer a slow miserable death.

And apparently you didn't notice: the thesis of Copan and Flannagan, that pagans who chose to flee would not be wiped out, is disproved by Saul's chasing them such a great distance from Havilah to Shur, and one conservative Christian inerrantist commentator says Saul's "ambush" in 1 Sam. 15:5, 7 was intended to trap and kill any Amalekites who tried to flee the battle:

"His troops were now poised for a frontal attack on the major Amalekite settlement as well as an attack on the Amalekites attempting to escape the main Israelite force..." Bergen, R. D. (2001, c1996). Vol. 7: 1, 2 Samuel (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Page 169). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

For these reasons, I believe apologists are incorrect when they say the genocide-thesis is unreasonable and unscholarly. The more you have God intending only to "dispossess", the more this God appears willing to subject women and children to a method of dying involving far more misery and suffering than simple death-by-sword.
Stockport Evangelical Church
Wow! That's a lot of copying and pasting! So Shur is an inhospitable land where no one can live, or survive, apart from the Egyptians, apparently! The video and remember, these are '60 second' answers...not in depth apologetics, concerns the accused genocide of the Canaanites by Joshua, not warfare by King Saul. Try and stay on topic...
Barry Jones
If you believe you can defend the Copan/Flannagan thesis somewhat more in-depth than in a 60-second answer, contact me at my blog and we can discuss it there, or at any internet location of your choice. http://turchisrong.blogspot.com

First, the Egyptians did not live in "Shur", what they did was build military outposts between Egypt and Shur.

Second, it wouldn't matter if the Egyptians did live in Shur; they were a more advanced well-connected nation who could afford to take the supplies necessary to live there. This wouldn't change the fact that Shur was a waterless wasteland that would have caused the Israelites to die of thirst were it not for a miracle of God (Exodus 15:22). So if God intended for the Amalekites to be shooed into Shur, this would be a greater cruelty than death by sword.

Third, it doesn't matter if you are correct about Joshua never being commanded by God to commit genocide...the case of Saul and the Amalekites in 1st Samuel 15 shows God being sadistic toward Amalekite children nonetheless. If you think God didn't intend any cruelty to the Amalekites in 1st Samuel 15, maybe you'd like to do a 60-second video on that?

Fourth, there are absurdities and unlikelihoods in the book of Joshua. If the Canaanites were as evil as you say, how could Joshua's spies be so willing to spare Rahab and her house, when the only sign of her "faith" and turning from their allegedly evil ways was her willingness to save her own skin by helping the Hebrews successfully attack Jericho?

Fifth, my argument for divine genocide by citing the case of Saul is not off-topic. You were answering the question of whether God commanded genocide, and you chose to delimit your answer to the general question with the particular case of Joshua. The case of Joshua does not tell us what was true in the case of God, Saul and the Amalekites which occurred 400 years later. You cannot resolve the problem of biblical genocide by citing to the instance of Joshua

And I have to wonder why you have a problem with Canaanites burning their children to death anyway: Your God neither expresses nor implies any other method of executing a girl except by burning, should she lose her virginity while living in her father's house, Lev. 21:9. There's also no expression or implication of stoning to death first, in Genesis 38:24, where Judah's reaction to a girls' alleged sexual immorality is to demand that the girl be burned to death.

Some would argue that one's beliefs or motives don't matter; if you think it good to burn a child to death for any reason, you are just as sick in the head as any Canaanite who did this in effort to appease Molech. That would follow under Christian assumptions, so the problem remains for you even if you are correct that atheists cannot justify their own morality.

Why limit yourself to 60 seconds? Is that about all you can manage? Or are you just marketing your videos to the modern attention-deficit culture who cant' stay tuned to any subject longer than 60 seconds?
Stockport Evangelical Church

Not all our videos are 60 seconds, there are over 1,000 videos on this channel that cover a multitude of topics, from Bible translation, to healthy relationships. But the purpose of this playlist is, yes, primarily engage with "modern attention-deficit culture who cant' stay tuned to any subject longer than 60 seconds!" If you don't like that approach, I would suggest you don't watch this playlist! With regard to longer answers in which I can deal with your presuppositions, particularly with regard to the Copan/Flanagan thesis, I guess I would cite Dr William Lane Craig's response:

"I find it ironic that atheists should often express such indignation at God’s commands, since on naturalism there’s no basis for thinking that objective moral values and duties exist at all and so no basis for regarding the Canaanite slaughter as wrong. As Doug Wilson has aptly said of the Canaanite slaughter from a naturalistic point of view, “The universe doesn’t care.” So at most the non-theist can be alleging that biblical theists have a sort of inconsistency in affirming both the goodness of God and the historicity of the conquest of Canaan. It’s an internal problem for biblical theists, which is hardly grounds for moral outrage on the part of non-theists. If there is an inconsistency on our part, then we’ll just have to give up the historicity of the narratives, taking them as either legends or else misinterpretations by Israel of God’s will. The existence of God and the soundness of the moral argument for His existence don’t even come into play. The topic of God’s command to destroy the Canaanites was the subject of a very interesting exchange at the Evangelical Philosophical Society session last November at the Society of Biblical Literature Convention in Atlanta. Matt Flannagan defended the view put forward by Paul Copan in his Is God a Moral Monster? that such commands represent hyperbole typical of Ancient Near Eastern accounts of military conquests. Obviously, if Paul is right about this, then the whole problem just evaporates. But this answer doesn’t seem to me to do justice to the biblical text, which seems to say that if the Israeli soldiers were to encounter Canaanite women and children, they should kill them (cf. Samuel’s rebuke of Saul in I Sam. 15.10-16). Old Testament scholar Richard Hess took a different line in his paper: he construes the commands literally but thinks that no women and children were actually killed. All the battles were with military outposts and soldiers, where women and children would not have been present. It is, in fact, a striking feature of these narratives that there is no record whatsoever that women or children were actually killed by anyone. Still, even if Hess is right, the ethical question remains of how God could command such things, even if the commands weren’t actually carried out. Whether anyone was actually killed is irrelevant to the ethical question, as the story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates. So even if Copan is right, I’m still willing to bite the bullet and tackle the tougher question of how an all-good, all-loving God could issue such horrendous commands. My argument in Question of the Week #16 is that God has the moral right to issue such commands and that He wronged no one in doing so. I want to challenge those who decry my answer to explain whom God wronged and why we should think so. As I explained, the most plausible candidate is, ironically, the soldiers themselves, but I think that morally sufficient reasons can be provided for giving them so gruesome a task. There is one important aspect of my answer that I would change, however. I have come to appreciate as a result of a closer reading of the biblical text that God’s command to Israel was not primarily to exterminate the Canaanites but to drive them out of the land. It was the land that was (and remains today!) paramount in the minds of these Ancient Near Eastern peoples. The Canaanite tribal kingdoms which occupied the land were to be destroyed as nation states, not as individuals. The judgment of God upon these tribal groups, which had become so incredibly debauched by that time, is that they were being divested of their land. Canaan was being given over to Israel, whom God had now brought out of Egypt. If the Canaanite tribes, seeing the armies of Israel, had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all. There was no command to pursue and hunt down the Canaanite peoples. It is therefore completely misleading to characterize God’s command to Israel as a command to commit genocide. Rather it was first and foremost a command to drive the tribes out of the land and to occupy it. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated. There may have been no non-combatants killed at all. That makes sense of why there is no record of the killing of women and children, such as I had vividly imagined. Such scenes may have never taken place, since it was the soldiers who remained to fight. It is also why there were plenty of Canaanite people around after the conquest of the land, as the biblical record attests. No one had to die in this whole affair. Of course, that fact doesn’t affect the moral question concerning the command that God gave, as explained above. But I stand by my previous answer of how God could have commanded the killing of any Canaanites who attempted to remain behind in the land."

If you wish to understand what Theologians call the Civil Law and/or the Moral Law found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) I would recommend John Wesley's Notes on the Old Testament, which are available for free, online. Beyond entering into personal and frequent dialogue with you which (as a full-time Pastor and busy Father of five) I do not have the time to do, the only other option I can give, is that you visit our church and attend the meetings! I feel I have done justice to your questions with reasonable responses, but I cannot continue to endlessly answer specific (and sometimes off topic questions), when they are always going to be followed by another question. I also try not to let one person dominate the page...so, with all due respect, I thank you for your comments and hope my answers have been helpful.
Barry Jones
Thank you for honestly admitting that your purpose on this channel is to engage with modern attention-deficit culture who can’t stay turned to any subject longer than 60 seconds”.

Your citation to Craig’s observation that atheism cannot justify moral indignation, remains a fallacious red herring even if Craig's arguments are correct. Us atheists have common ground with most modern Christians, we both automatically abhor a culture who treats their people the way Moses and Joshua treated the Canaanites. When us atheists therefore point out that God ordered the slaughter of children, we are bringing up for Christians a matter in their own bible that they quite naturally find repulsive, and the goal is to get the Christian to admit some of God’s ethics in the OT are contradictory to some NT ethics.

Exactly whether and how an atheist could rationally justify expressing moral indignation toward another atheist’s actions in an atheist universe, might be an interesting topic, but is not the issue here... though I am willing to explain to you how an atheist universe allows rational justification for its life-forms to accuse each other of immorality. We can debate that elsewhere, the problems with your genocidal god are quite enough for this particular discussion.

No, the whole problem does not evaporate if Paul’s thesis about Israelites imitating pagan literary methods of exaggeration is correct. If there is any historicity to the narratives at all, Moses and Joshua slew plenty of women and children in their lifetimes, even if the absolute wording in their war-records is “exaggeration”. The boxer who says “I’m going to slaughter you” is exaggerating, but that doesn’t mean he plans to entirely refrain from inflicting serious injury nonetheless.

Craig trots out the old “God-has-the-right-to-take-life” argument, but in actual fact, my criticism of OT ethics draws the conclusion that there is no ‘god’ inspiring the OT prophets or military leaders, rather, these people simply knew what all ANE groups knew, to acquire land and resources was key to survival, and most of the “god-told-us-to-do-it” stuff is later interpolation by the editors who patched these various barbaric strands of Hebrew history together.

And if you'd suspect a man of insanity for intentionally burning down his house and destroying everything he and his family own once per year just because he has the "right", then the fact that God has the "right" to take life, does not mean all exercises of that right are legitimately free from criticism. I have the "right" to swat flies, but what would you think if I took a flyswatter and just walked through my neighborhood trying to swat every fly I could see? Does my "right" to do this, insulate my actions from moral criticism? No.

Craig says “Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated.” Well gee, given the harsh realities of the ANE and life within the allegedly “promised” land, we can expect that those most likely to stay behind would be those most unable to flee the battle…women and children, and further, that they would naturally move over to their cities’ military posts or other fortified places, using common sense to conclude they’d have a better chance there than in simply fleeing for parts unknown. So the more Copan and others argue that the Hebrews only attacked Canaanite military fortresses, the more likely the Hebrews intended to make sure the slaughter of women and children was as extensive as possible.

Craig says “There may have been no non-combatants killed at all.” That makes no sense; Moses’ command to slay the male babies in Numbers 31:17 indicates this wasn’t some traumatic decision he had to make for the first time in his life, slaying children was par for the course, and he clearly had expected his returning army to have done a complete slaughter anyway, that's why he was angry when they returned with POW's (v. 14).

Craig’s comment is also problematic under 1st Samuel 15:2-3, where God specifies that children and infants also be slaughtered. If we presume as Copan does that Samuel and Saul understood the divine order to be limited to a command to attack only military outposts were women and children likely wouldn't be (at least in Copan's view), then God’s specifying that even children and infants also be slaughtered (v. 3) makes no sense. Why mention children and infants, if in fact such human beings were not expected to be present? When pagans exaggerate their own war victories, do they always assert their massacring of women and children even when the battle involved no women and children?

You also fail to consider that there is no record of the Hebrews giving advance warning to the Canaanites (their assertion that God will send the hornet and his terror ahead to drive them out is absurdly ambiguous, and a failure anyway in most cases, apparently, when in fact God could have exercised the high level of power he wields in Ezekiel 38:4 ff and force the pagans to go wherever he wished them to). If in fact the Hebrews gave the Canaanites no advance warning, then if any Canaanites fled, they only did so when battle was imminent, which means they didn’t have time to pack, and thus they not only fled out of their settled areas, but did so with no supplies, which means “allowing them to flee” subjected the Canaanite children to additional unnecessary suffering of starvation and thirsting.

Maybe Copan and Flannagan's next book will be "Why God created food stamp and welfare offices outside the promised land, and why His people never knew this until just now" ?

Craig says “That makes sense of why there is no record of the killing of women and children, such as I had vividly imagined.” Apparently he never read Numbers 31:17 or Deuteronomy 2:34. While it is historically true that ANE people's exaggerated their war victories, it is equally true that children were killed in times of war.

Regardless, your god's desire to cause rape and parental cannibalism to those who disobey him, and his specifying that he would take "delight" to cause this no less than he delights to grant prosperity and peace to those who obey him (Deut. 28:30, 53-57, 63), limits your options:

1 - God's threats are real. He really does "delight" to cause rape.
2 – God's threats are empty. He wants you to believe he'll cause you to be raped if you disobey, but he actually won't make good on his word in this case.

If Copan/Flannagan are correct, we have to wonder how many other ways of the pagan history writers the Hebrews also imitated.

The pagans also lied about history...should we thus conclude that because they did this in the culture that the OT authors lived in, the OT authors thus likely imitated this pagan practice no less than they imitated the pagan practice of exaggeration?

If you ever wish to sustain your position on these matters in a more scholarly and comprehensive way, you can contact me. You have expressed desire to end the debate, so thanks for the discussion. Barry Jones

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

my challenge to Henry B. Smith Jr. of biblearchaeology.org

After perusing Henry B. Smith Jr's attempts to deny that the Pentateuch has God ordering the Hebrews to commit genocide, I emailed the following challenge to him:

This was Mr. Smith's reply:


First, my argument was simple:  How can the Copan/Flannagan thesis of "dispossession only" make God look morally superior to the popular "literal genocide" thesis adopted by so many conservative Christian scholars, when to flee the promised land was to end up arriving in inhospitable waterless land that would surely cause Amalekite children's deaths to be prolong with the suffering of hunger and thirst?  Wouldn't a war of absolute genocide have been the lesser of the two evils to inflict on Amalekite children?

Second, Mr. Smith says he suspects that his dialoging with me about this subject nwould result in endless back and forth, but why should this bother an apologist, who surely knows that Christianity itself is nothing but one big collection of ceaseless back and forth in-house debates about God's allegedly perspicuous word?  Why would Smith take the strong fundamentalist stance he does on his publicly accessible website?  Does he think his arguments are so conclusive that any back and forth arises solely from the willful ignorance of the atheist choosing to debate him?

Third, how else could I have worded my specific challenge so that Mr. Smith wouldn't think it likely to result in endless back and forth?  Should I have said the bible doesn't exist?  Would he have felt comfortable believing debating that proposition with me wouldn't result in too much back and forth?

Fourth, why did Mr. Smith bring up his belief that my denial of God's existence leaves me no justifiable grounds for my moral arguments?  What does an atheist's ability to ground their moral beliefs, have to do with the biblical data which indicate God's intent to dispossess the Canaanites would have caused more suffering to the Canaanites than a quick death on the battlefield?

Smith seems to be arguing that if I am an atheist, then I can have no reasonable or rationally justified moral objection to ancient tribes who force others to die slowly from starvation, thirst and exposure.

I think Smith has misunderstood the point of my argument:   When one takes the geographical realities into account (at least those involved in Saul dispossessing the Amalekites in the particular circumstances at play in 1st Samuel 15, God's "allowing" them to flee to outside the borders of the promised land would be to "allow" them to live in waterless desert regions already inhospitable to life, and to there endure threats from existing pagans who previously snapped up the few places that had water or vegetation.

So the apologists who think the Copan/Flannagan "dispossession only" thesis successfully defends God from the charge of being a moral monster, only think so because they never thought about what fleeing to outside the borders of the promised land would entail.

To dispossess the Canaanites in the circumstances described in the bible, is to send them running for their lives, leaving behind most of their food and water and farmland and cattle, and end up forcing them and their kids to live in territory that is far more inhospitable to life, whose few areas of vegetation/water would already be jealously claimed and guarded by other pagans who had previously been "dispossessed" by the Israelites.

Mr. Smith will have to excuse me if I believe I have good grounds for saying that his alleged fear that the conversation would result in endless "back and forth" was a bullshit excuse, and his real problem was a genuine fear that he cannot refute my argument that the "dispossession, kill only those who stay behind and fight" thesis makes God to be a more sadistic monster than the thesis that God ordered absolute genocide.

As far as my ability as an atheist to justify my moral belief that causing children to die slowly is a greater immorality than just killing them immediately, that is the belief held by Copan/Flannagan and their followers.  I'm merely pointing out that the Copan/Flannagan thesis ironically has God desiring the kind of result that these modern Christians themselves would have to agree involves more suffering of children than the quick death required under the absolute genocide thesis.

If Christians don't like the idea of their God commanding the immediate death of children, they likely think God would be more cruel if he wanted to force those pagan kids into circumstances that would prolong their suffering from starvation and thirst.

Since the moral problem detected by Copan and Flannagan is only exacerbated by their "dispossession" thesis, that is sufficient to critique them for it.  Exactly how an atheist could justify the moral belief that causing children to suffer is immoral, is utterly irrelevant.  I do nothing more than point out the irony that Copan and Flannagan's efforts to make god less brutish, ironically achieve the very opposite.   Such scholars would suffer defeat under that critique even if we assume atheism cannot allow rational justification for any moral viewpoint.

CrossExamined.org: Why did a "Good" God Create Hell? (and other loaded questions)

This is my reply to an article at CrossExamined.org by Al Serrato entitled Why did a "Good" God Create Hell? Tuesday, Octobe...