August 20, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


I’ve been going through Bob’s voluminous collection of anti-Christian posts for the purpose of this series, and there is nothing that he mentions more than slavery: as a supposed obvious disproof of the goodness of biblical teaching (and its inspiration) and of God Himself. Here is just a small (but altogether typical) sampling:

[W]e looked at the popular Christian notion that biblical slavery was a benign form of servitude, quite unlike American slavery. In fact, it turns out that they were almost identical. (5-4-18)

The Bible gives full support for the kind of slavery we had in the United States, but Christians had at least been hypocritical enough to pretend it didn’t. But not always. (3-16-16)

How can Christians satisfy themselves that the Ten Commandments have “Don’t covet” but not “Don’t enslave anyone”? The Bible is obviously the work of Man, not that of God. The Bible is simply a reflection of their society. Christians who justify slavery in the Bible are determined to shoehorn an ancient religion into modern society, but the result is as out of place as a Neanderthal in a tuxedo. My advice: they should stop embarrassing themselves. (1-15-16)

Slavery is a bad thing, and the Bible condones slavery. (6-11-12)

You’re seriously going to handwave away God’s being okay with slavery . . .? If it’s wrong now, it was wrong then. How do you get past the fact that the Old Testament reads just like the blog of an early Iron Age tribe rather than the wisdom of the omniscient creator of the universe? And if you dismiss slavery as not that big a deal, would you accept Old Testament slavery in our own society? (9-29-14)

Slavery is first on the bonus list of God’s immorality. . . . Old Testament slavery of foreigners was just like American slavery of Africans . . . (8-20-14)

In what follows I will be referring to many resources (by number) listed at the end in the Bibliography. I won’t bother to indent citations or put them in quotation marks. Everything will be quotes from other materials, except for my own comments here and there, which will be in green color. General observations on the entire Bible will be included here. All bolding or italics or capitalizing, and abbreviations (and in some cases, different colors) are in the originals (or in secondary sources that cite the original: such as, e.g., notably sources #1 and #2). Treatments of the New Testament only will be confined to a second companion-post devoted to that.


I. Definitions

The specific case of slavery is more complex than first appears…there is no monolithic ‘institution’ of slavery in the bible–e.g. the OT has SEVERAL models of what might be called ‘slavery’ and much of what passed as slavery in the ANE [Ancient Near East] is no longer considered such in socio-economic understandings of the period and area. (1)

[E]ven in wars on foreign soil (e.g., Deut 20.10,10), if a city surrendered, it became a vassal state to Israel, with the population becoming serfs (mas), not slaves (ebedamah). They would have performed what is called ‘corvee’ (draft-type, special labor projects, and often on a rotation basis–as Israelites later did as masim under Solomon, 1 Kings 5.27). This was analogous to ANE praxis, in which war captives were not enslaved, but converted into vassal groups. (1)

Scholars do not agree on a definition of “slavery.” The term has been used at various times for a wide range of institutions, including plantation slavery, forced labor, the drudgery of factories and sweatshops, child labor, semivoluntary prostitution, bride-price marriage, child adoption for payment, and paid-for surrogate motherhood. (11; vol. 4, 1190f.)

Freedom in the ancient Near East was a relative, not an absolute state, as the ambiguity of the term for “slave” in all the region’s languages illustrates“Slave” could be used to refer to a subordinate in the social ladder. Thus the subjects of a king were called his “slaves,” even though they were free citizens. The king himself, if a vassal, was the “slave” of his emperor; kings, emperors, and commoners alike were “slaves” of the gods. Even a social inferior, when addressing a social superior, referred to himself out of politeness as “your slave.” There were, moreover, a plethora of servile conditions that were not regarded as slavery, such as son, daughter, wife, serf, or human pledge. (12; vol. 1, 40)

The nations subjected by the Israelites were considered slaves. They were, however, not slaves in the proper meaning of the term, although they were obliged to pay royal taxes and perform public works. (13)

The word >ebed, however, denoted not only actual slaves occupied in production or in the household but also persons in subordinate positions (mainly subordinate with regard to the king and his higher officials). Thus the term >ebed is sometimes translated as “servant.” Besides, the term was used as a sign of servility in reference to oneself when addressing persons of higher rank. Finally, the same term was also used in the figurative meaning “the slave (or servant) of God.” Thus, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prophets, David, Solomon and other kings are regularly called slaves of Yahweh (Exod 32:13; Lev 25:55; 1 Sam 3:9; Ezra 9:11, etc.). Similarly, all the subjects of Israel and Judah are called slaves of their kings, including even wives, sons, and brothers of the latter (1 Sam 17:8; 29:3; 2 Sam 19:5, etc.; cf. also Gen 27:37; 32:4). Addressing Moses and prophets, the Israelites called themselves their slaves (Num 32:25; 1 Sam 12:19, etc.). Ruth refers to herself as a slave girl of her relative Boaz (Ruth 3:9). Being a vassal of the Philistine king Achish, David called himself his slave (1 Sam 28:2). (13)

In the OT, the ‘status’ associated with the role of servant was directly proportional to the status of the “master” (as it is today, in more traditional cultures). For example, the highest title of importance that could be given to a human by God was that of ‘my servant’. It is given to Abraham (Gen 26.24), Moses (Num 12.7), Caleb (Num 14.24), David (2 Sam 3.18), Eliakim (Is 22.20), the Messiah (Is 42.1,, Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 25.9!), Zerubbabel (Hag 2.23), and the prophets (2 Kings 9.7; 17.13, et. al). And, ‘servant’ could be used of virtually ANY subordinate (in the sense of authority) or anyone seeking something from a more powerful figure, . . . The point of these examples is to show that the term ‘servant’ could refer to kings, military leaders, patriarchs, priests, servants, and the general populace. In general parlance, it merely reflected a relative (and sometimes temporary) position of authority or influence. (1)

II. Summaries and Overviews

Rights of Slaves:

As noted in the beginning of this article, the Hebrew slaves fared far better than the Grecian, Roman and other slaves of later years. In general, the treatment they received and the rights they could claim made their lot reasonably good. Of course a slave was a slave, and there were masters who disobeyed God and even abused their “brothers in bonds.” As usual the unfortunate female slave got the full measure of inhuman cruelty. Certain rights were discretionary, it is true, but many Hebrew slaves enjoyed valuable individual and social privileges. As far as Scripture statements throw light on this subject, the slaves of Old Testament times might claim the following rights, namely:

(1) Freedom.

Freedom might be gained in any one of the above-mentioned ways or at the master’s will. The non-Hebrew could be held as a slave in perpetuity (Leviticus 25:44-46 ).

(2) Good Treatment.

“Thou shalt not rule over him (Hebrew slave) with rigor, but shalt fear thy God… Ye shall not rule, one over another, with rigor” (Leviticus 25:43 , Leviticus 25:46 ). The non-Hebrew seemed to be left unprotected.

(3) Justice.

An ancient writer raises the query of fairness to slaves. “If I have despised the cause of my man-servant or of my maid-servant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up?” (Job 31:13 f). No doubt the true Hebrew master was considerate of the rights of his slaves. The very fact, however, that the Hebrew master could punish a Hebrew slave, “to within an inch of his life,” gave ready opportunity for sham justice. “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid (“bondman or bondwoman”), with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his money” (Exodus 21:20 f).

(4) Family.

The slave before his release might have his wife and children (Exodus 21:5 ).

(5) Voluntary Slavery.

Even when the seventh year came, the slave had a right to pledge himself, with awl-pierced ear, to perpetual service for his master (Exodus 21:5 f; Deuteronomy 15:16 ). The traditional interpretation of “forever” in these passages is “until the next Jubilee year” (compare Ḳiddūshı̄n 21).

(6) Money or Property.

Some cases at least indicate that slaves could have money of their own. Thus, if a poor slave “waxed rich” he could redeem himself (Leviticus 25:49 ). Compare 1 Samuel 9:5-10 , where, however, the Hebrew throughout calls the “servant” na‛ar , “a youth,” never ‛ebhedh .

(7) Children.

If married when free, the slave could take wife and children with him when freedom came, but if he was married after becoming a slave, his wife and children must remain in possession of his master. This law led him often into perpetual slavery (Exodus 21:3 f).

(8) Elevation.

A chance to rise was allowable in some instances, e.g. Eliezer, a foreign slave in a Hebrew household, and Joseph, a Hebrew slave in a foreign household. Each rose to a place of honor and usefulness (Genesis 15:2 ; Genesis 39:4 ).

(9) Religious Worship.

After being circumcised, slaves were allowed to participate in the paschal sacrifice (Exodus 12:44 ) and other religious occasions (Deuteronomy 12:12 ).

(10) Gifts.

Upon obtaining freedom, slaves, at the discretion of masters, were given supplies of cattle, grain and wine (Deuteronomy 15:13 f). (3)

In the ANE (and OT), . . . [t]he dominant (statistically) motivation was economic relief of poverty (i.e., ‘slavery’ was initiated by the slave–NOT by the owner–and the primary uses were purely domestic (except in cases of State slavery, where individuals were used for building projects). (1)

[S]ince most slavery was done through self-sale or family-sale, it was likewise voluntary (at least as voluntary as poverty allows), cf. Lev 25.44 in which the verbs are of ‘acquisition’ and not ‘take’ or ‘conquer’ etc. (1)

A person would either enter into slavery or be sold by a parent or relative. Persons sold their wives, grandchildren, brother (with his wife and child), sister, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, nephews and niece…Many of the documents emphasize that the transaction is voluntary. This applies not only to self-sale but also to those who are the object of sale, although their consent must sometimes have been fictional, as in the case of a nursing infant. (12; vol. 1, 665)

Many of God’s commands to Israel about treatment of ‘slaves’ are cast in light of Israel’s experience of harsh slavery in Egypt (which generally DID conform to the “western” paradigm described above). She is told to remember her slavery and to not oppress the slave or the alien in the Land. There are many, many verses relative to this (e.g. Deut 5.6; 6.12, 21; 7.8; 15.15; 16.12; 24.18, 19). (1)

The vast majority of cases would have been voluntary, with the person himself initiating the transaction–it is ALWAYS couched in the terms of ‘selling oneself’ [cites Lev 25:39, 47; Deut 15:12]. Although most of these arrangements were limited to six years in length . . . continuation of this relationship was possible, but ONLY AS a strictly voluntary act of the ‘slave’ [cites Ex 21:5; Deut 15:16-17]. (1)

The Law forbade harsh treatment, set stipulations for positive treatment, and set tight boundaries around punishment/abuse of servants. There are several general admonitions in the Law against harsh/abusive/oppressive behavior toward Hebrew servants [cites Lev 25:43, 46, 53; Deut 15:18]. In fact, the Law assumes that the situation may be lucrative enough for some servants to decide to stay with their masters for their lifetime [cites Ex 21:5; Deut 15:16]

[D]omestic slavery was in all likelihood usually fairly tolerable. Slaves formed part of the family and males, if circumcised, could take part in the family Passover and other religious functions. Moreover, in general there were probably only a few in each household–there is no indication, for example, that large gangs of them were toiling in deplorable conditions to cultivate big estates, as in the later Roman world. (14; vol. 1, 101)

Slave labor was used in domestic service and thus made for a close relationship between master and servant in everyday life. In spite of the legal status, the slave’ position was in practice closer to that of a filius-familias than to that of a mere chattel. (15; 114ff.)

The slave’s personal dignity is also evident in the prescriptions concerning personal injury (Ex 21.20-27), since the punishments for mistreatment are meant to restrain the abuse of slaves…Clearly, the personal rights of slaves override their master’s property rights over them. (16)

ALL servants were required to take the Sabbath day off–just like the masters [cites Ex 20:9; 23:12; Deut 5:13-15]. In fact, the servants were supposed to take part in the rejoicing of the cultic “parties” and trips to Jerusalem (including the big Feasts–Deut 12.11,14) [cites Deut 12:11-12, 18]. Not only was abusive treatment of servants strictly forbidden, but the Law held masters very accountable!  If a master beat a slave and the slave died, the master was held accountable under the ‘life for life’ clause [cites Ex 21:20].  If a master caused any type of permanent damage to a servant, the servant was given immediate freedom [cites Ex 21: 26-27]. (1)

The law allowed disciplinary rod-beating for a servant (Ex 21.20f), apparently under the same conditions as that for free men. Free men could likewise be punished by the legal system by rod-beating (Deut 25.1-3; Prov 10.13; 26.3), as could rebellious older sons (Prov 13.24; 22.15; 23.13). Beating by rod (shevet) is the same act/instrument ( flogging (2 Sam 7.14; Ps 89.32). (1)

In keeping with the ‘variableness’ of notions of property in the ANE (as noted by historians and anthropologists), Israel’s notion of ‘property’ was a severely restricted one, and one that did NOT preclude the humanity of the servant nor absolve the master from legal accountability. Although Hebrew servants are mis-called ‘property’ in one verse (Ex 21.21), Israel’s notion of ‘property’ in the law was severely restricted to economic output only–NOT ‘ownership of a disposable good’.  Both the land and Hebrew servants belonged to God–always! [cites Lev 25:23, 39-42] . . . ‘Property’ is therefore seen not as ‘owned disposable goods’ but as economic output (including labor) [cites Ex 21:18; Lev 25:14-16, 49-53]. (1)

One of the more amazing things about Hebrew servant-status was how ‘easy’ it was to get free! . . . Freedom could be bought by relatives [and] [t]he servant could buy his own freedom, whether the master WANTED to let him go or not (Lev 25.49). Every 7th year (the Sabbath year), all servants were to automatically go free–without ANY payment of money to the master [cites Ex 21:2; Deut 15:12]. (1)

Although slaves were viewed as the property of heads of households, the latter were not free to brutalize or abuse even non-Israelite members of the household. On the contrary, explicit prohibitions of the oppression/exploitation of slaves appear repeatedly in the Mosaic legislation.  In two most remarkable texts, Leviticus 19:34 and Deuteronomy 10:19, Yahweh charges all Israelites to love (‘aheb) aliens (gerim) who reside in their midst, that is, the foreign members of their households, like they do themselves and to treat these outsiders with the same respect they show their ethnic countrymen. Like Exodus 22:20 (Eng. 21), in both texts Israel’s memory of her own experience as slaves in Egypt should have provided motivation for compassionate treatment of her slaves. But Deuteronomy 10:18 adds that the Israelites were to look to Yahweh himself as the paradigm for treating the economically and socially vulnerable persons in their communities. (19; 60)

Chattel slavery did not exist under the Law of Moses. There was no form of servitude under the Law of Moses which placed them in the legal position of chattel slaves. Legislation maintained kinship rights (Exodus 21:3, 9, Leviticus 25:41, 47-49, 54, providing for Hebrew indentured servants), marriage rights (Exodus 21:4, 10-11, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage), personal legal rights relating to physical protection and protection from breach of contract (Exodus 21:8, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage, Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27, providing for Hebrew or foreign servants of any kind, and Leviticus 25:39-41, providing for Hebrew indentured servants), freedom of movement, and access to liberty (Exodus 21:8, 11, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage, Leviticus 25:40-45, 48, 54, providing for Hebrew indentured servants, and Deuteronomy 15:1, 12; 23:15, providing for Hebrew or foreign servants of any kind). Though several forms of servitude existed under the Law of Moses, in every case all rights were maintained unless voluntarily relinquished (Exodus 21:5-6, Deuteronomy 15:16-17). (4)

[C]ertain types of slavery are not morally wrong. For instance, when a man is convicted of murder, he often is sentenced to life in prison. During his life sentence, he is forced by the State to do (or not do) certain things. He is justly confined to a small living space, and his freedoms are revoked. Sometimes, he is compelled by the State to work long hours, for which he does not receive even minimum wage. Would it be justifiable to label such a loss of freedom as a type of slavery? Yes, it would. However, is his loss of freedom a morally permissible situation? Certainly. He has become a slave of the State because he violated certain laws that were designed to ensure the liberty of his fellow citizen, whom he murdered. Therefore, one fact that must be conceded by anyone dealing with the Bible and its position on slavery is the fact that, under some conditions, slavery is not necessarily a morally deplorable institution. (5)

In an ideal world, slavery would neither be an option nor a necessity. Because of the socioeconomic situation of Old Testament Israel, God did allow slavery, but He allowed it for a simple purpose: to help the poor survive. A person could sell himself into slavery (akin to indentured servitude) in order to pay off debt or provide a basic subsistence. God did not intend for Israel to have poverty (Deuteronomy 15:4), but sin made it inevitable (Deuteronomy 15:5), and God allowed slavery to deal with that reality. (7)

[S]lavery in Israel resulted from poverty or theft, two phenomena which are still with us. Consider our society’s response to these. For poverty, we have social security (and, where applicable, bankruptcy laws). For theft (of a serious kind), we have imprisonment. All these measures involve lowering a person’s status (if not formally then at least socially) when compared with an ordinary ‘free’ person. Imprisonment, in particular, has in common with slavery that the person is deprived of their liberty—the main difference being that the master is the state rather than an individual. Long-term welfare dependency, although preserving a person’s formal freedom, is arguably a less satisfactory solution to poverty than being placed, for a limited time, in the household of a kind master and given meaningful work to do. . . . Israelite ‘slavery’ was not grinding misery. It was really bonded service, with a lower status, but for a limited time and with certain protections. . . . Slavery of Israelites was not the sort of dehumanizing experience which we normally imagine. In fact, it was designed to help the person who had fallen into poverty or crime back into society. (9)

Servants were placed upon a level with their masters in all civil and religious rights. Num. xv. 15, 16, 29; ix. 14. Deut. i. 16, 17. Lev. xxiv. 22. (10)

We should compare Hebrew debt-servanthood (many translations render this “slavery”) more fairly to apprentice-like positions to pay off debts — much like the indentured servitude during America’s founding when people worked for approximately 7 years to pay off the debt for their passage to the New World. Then they became free. In most cases, servanthood was more like a live-in employee, temporarily embedded within the employer’s household. Even today, teams trade sports players to another team that has an owner, and these players belong to a franchise. This language hardly suggests slavery, but rather a formal contractual agreement to be fulfilled — like in the Old Testament. (20)

III. Comparisons with Slavery in Other Cultures

[T]he Hebrew word עבר , ‛ebhedh , in the Old Testament and the Greek word δοῦλος , doúlos , in the New Testament more properly might have been translated “slave” instead of “servant” or “bondservant,” understanding though that the slavery of Judaism was not the cruel system of Greece, Rome, and later nations. The prime thought is service ; the servant may render free service , the slave, obligatory , restricted service. (3)

The present Western image of slavery has been haphazardly constructed out of the representations of that experience in nineteenth-century abolitionist literature, and later novels, textbooks, and films…From a global cross-cultural and historical perspective, however, New World slavery was a unique conjunction of features…In brief, most varieties of slavery did not exhibit the three elements that were dominant in the New World: slaves as property and commodities; their use exclusively as labor; and their lack of freedom… (11; vol. 4, 1190f.)

Accordingly, I think–to avoid the inflammatory associations that naturally occur for Westerners when something is referred to as ‘slavery’–it wise to carefully set out the structure of what we consider ‘slavery’ today, and compare that to the OT institution of ‘Hebrew slavery’. New World slavery differs substantially from most ANE institutions labeled ‘slavery’, which themselves differed at significant points from OT slavery. (1)

The images we have of the Old American South are filled with mistreatments, and we need no documentation of that here. The ANE, on the other hand, was much less severe, due largely to the differences in the attitudes of the ‘master’ to the ‘slave’. Slavery in the ANE was much more an ‘in-house’ and ‘in-family’ thing, with closer emotional attachment. However, there were still some extreme punishments in the ANE, but the biblical witness is of a decidedly better environment for slaves than even the ANE.  (1)

[I]n New World slavery at least two-thirds of plantation slaves would have lived in barracks (field-slaves), and not in intimacy with owners (domestics), whereas in the ANE/OT, the vast majority of the slaves were domestics under the same roof. In the ANE/OT, we don’t have the ‘gangs’ of agricultural workers we will see later in Republican Rome and in the New World. (1)

It should be QUITE CLEAR . . . that the institution in the Mosaic law involving voluntary, fixed-term, flexible, and protected servant-laborer roles was unlike “western“, chattel labor in almost ALL RESPECTS. To label it as ‘slavery’, except in the most general/metaphorical sense of the word, is significantly inappropriate. God’s intent in Leviticus 25.39f of protecting their status and self-image was VERY clear: “”`If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you.”  (1)

Translating ‘ebed as ‘slave’ is problematic because of its negative connotations, which were not originally there but we associate from other historical contexts. This generally leads to inconsistency in translation and it becomes hard for readers not to read into the word ideas from subsequent, very different systems of slavery (eg. in Greece, Rome and North America). (2)

Conditions of slaves in different systems (2)
Old Testament Roman
New World
Holiday Yes No Yes
Enough food Yes No No
Legal redress Yes No No
Sexual protection Yes No No
Kidnapped No Yes Yes
Chains No Yes Yes
Torture No Yes Yes
Physical abuse No Yes Yes

Israel did not make chattel slaves of defeated nations, and the Law of Moses made no provision for any kind of mass service aside from vassalage. Plantation style slavery was impossible for the Israelite in any case, as family groups did not have the capacity to house, secure, and provide for large groups of chattel slaves. Chattel slaves were expensive because they had no capacity to sustain themselves, and had to be fed and clothed at the expense of their master. (4)

The Law of Moses commanded that servants, of whatever origin (Gentile or Hebrew), were to be treated as human beings who were part of the family and community. Unlike any other ANE society, the Law of Moses commanded that servants enjoy at least one day a week free from every kind of labour, participating in the Sabbath day of rest together with the free members of the community: [cites Ex 20:10; Deut 5:14]. The commandment in Deuteronomy 5:14 specifies that one reason for this injunction is that male and female servants may enjoy the same privilege of leisure as their free masters. This commandment was unique to the Law of Moses. No other ANE society provided its slaves, servants, or even hired workers, with a legally protected day of rest every 6 days. In addition, the Law of Moses required that servants be incorporated into the community festive activities. One was the thanksgiving feast in memorial of God’s deliverance: [cites Deut 12:12; 16:10-14]. . . . The inclusion in these feasts of servants and socially disadvantaged groups such as the resident foreigners, orphans, and widows demonstrates that these individuals were not to be marginalised by the community, but included with the free community, and provided with the same benefits as equal citizens. This explicit emphasis on the humanity of servants encouraged strong personal and emotional bonds between servants and the households they served, and prevented them from being viewed as mere chattels or being dehumanized, as they frequently were in other ANE societies. (4)

[T]he Law of Moses placed an equal value on the life of the slave as on the life of a free born man, which the Code of Hammurabi did not do:

* The Code of Hammurabi exacted no penalty for the murder of a slave, but the Law of Moses proscribed the death penalty for the murder of any man (Exodus 21:12)

* The Code of Hammurabi exacted no penalty for injuring a slave, but the Law of Moses required a master to set his slave free if he inflicted permanent injury (Exodus 21:26-27)

* The Code of Hammurabi held the life of a slave to be of less value than the life of a free born man, but the Law of Moses valued them equally (Exodus 21:12, 19)  . . .

Several laws in the Law of Moses which applied to servitude are unique, having no counterpart in any other ANE society.  (4)

It is a simple fact that obedience to two of the commandments regulating servitude within the Law of Moses would have prevented every form of slave trade in which Western civilization became involved. The South American, East and West Indian, and African slave trades would have been totally prevented if Western societies had passed laws expressly forbidding involuntary slavery and sale on the one hand (such as Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7), and granting an escaped slave their full liberty and freedom of movement whilst forbidding the community to return them to their master or take advantage of their marginalized position (such as Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Although many Christians campaigned against slavery for centuries, laws in Western society unfortunately did not become as civilized as the Law of Moses in this regard until around the 19th century. (4)

[T]he slavery regulated in the Bible had absolutely nothing to do with race, color, or ethnic background. While it is true that certain nations, as a whole, were captured and enslaved because of their wicked, idolatrous practices, it is not true that they were enslaved due to their allegedly inferior nationality. Leviticus 19:34 states: “But the stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 24:14 reads: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren, or one of the aliens who is in your land within thy gates.” And, although certain regulations applied only to Hebrews who found themselves enslaved (Deuteronomy 15:12-14; Exodus 21:2), it was not because they were a “superior” race or nationality, but simply because they were citizens of the nation of Israel . . . (5)

The Roman writer Pliny tells of a case where a slave accidentally dropped and broke a crystal goblet. His owner immediately threw him into a courtyard fishpond where he was torn apart by savage lampreys. Under the law of Moses, to kill a slave was a crime that carried punishment (Ex. 21:20). While the law allowed the physical punishment of one’s slave, the Jew was not permitted to kill his servant. This protection was unprecedented in the ancient world. One scholar has noted that the Jews’ treatment of Gentile slaves was “a great deal more humane than elsewhere in the ancient world” (Jeremias 1969 [Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. London: SCM Press], 348). (8)

IV. Verse-by-Verse Analysis

Exodus 21:7-11 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. [8] If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt faithlessly with her.  [9] If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.  [10] If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.  [11] And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Female slaves needed special protection, which is spelled out [above]. The basic thrust of these verses is that a man purchasing a female slave must marry her, or give her to his son to marry. Even though she is sold as a slave, she is treated virtually as a free woman given for a bride price. She could not be sold into prostitution. Thus, just in case anyone should wonder, the Bible is clearly opposed to sexual slavery. (9)

Exodus 21:16 Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death. (cf. Deut 24:7)

Forced enslavement of Hebrews was punishable by death. (1)

Certainly, any parallel to slavery in early America can be easily refuted [in light of the above verse]. (5)

Exodus 21:18-21 If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed,  19 the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed. 20 If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished,  21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

ksph–“silver”; not the normal word(s) for property, . . . This Exodus  passage is very instructive, because it places slaves (both Hebrew and foreign, apparently) on a legal-protection par with full, free citizens. It no more ‘authorizes’ a master to abuse a slave, than it ‘authorizes’ a Hebrew to bash his fellow’s head with a rock, knocking him unconscious for a day or so! (1)

This law-the protection of slaves from maltreatment by their masters-is found nowhere else in the entire existing corpus of ancient Near Eastern legislation. It represents a qualitative transformation in social and human values and expresses itself once again in the provisions of verses 26-27. The underlying issue, as before, is the determination of intent on the part of the assailant at the time the act was committed.

his slave The final clause of verse 21 seems to indicate that the slave in question is a foreigner. Otherwise the terminology would be inappropriate, given the conditions under which an Israelite might become enslaved.

a rod Hebrew shevet, the customary instrument of discipline [2 Sam 7.14 (to the sons of David!); Is 10.5,24; Prov 10.13; 13.24; 23.13-14; 26.3]. The right of a master to discipline his slave within reason is recognized. But according to rabbinic exegesis, it is restricted to the use of an implement that does not normally have lethal potentiality, and it may not be applied to a part of the body considered to be particularly vulnerable.

There and then Literally, “under his hand,” in contrast to “a day or two” in verse 21. The direct, immediate, causal relationship between the master’s act and the death of the slave is undisputed. The master has unlawfully used deadly force, and homicidal intent is assumed.

He must be avenged The master is criminally liable and faces execution, in keeping with the law of verse…The verb n-k-m is popularly taken to signify “revenge.” Actually, it means “to avenge,” that is, to vindicate, or redress, the imbalance of justice. Its use in the Bible is overwhelmingly with God as the subject, and in such cases it always serves the ends of justice. It is employed in particular in situations in which normal judicial procedures are not effective or cannot be implemented. It does not focus on the desire to get even or to retaliate; indeed, Leviticus 19:18 forbids private vengeance. (18)

1. This passage is unparalleled in its humanitarian considerations. 2. This passage is absolutely anti-abuse, in the strongest sense of the term. 3. This passage is completely parallel to the case of the freeman, under discipline by the community. 4. This passage is completely parallel to the case of a brawl between Hebrews: 5. It applies primarily to the foreigner. 6. The “because he is his property” is NOT about ‘property’, but about how the punitive payment was made (economic ‘silver’–lost output, increased medical expense) 7. It is a remarkable assertion of human rights over property rights. (1)

This was a protective right granted to slaves that they should not be beaten to death! If that seems like a small blessing to us, let it be remembered that under the system in vogue all over the pagan world of that era, and extending down even till apostolical times, the Roman Law, in force all over the world, provided as a penalty against slaves, even for trivial and unintentional violations, that shame of the whole pagan world “flagellis ad mortem” (beaten to death), a penalty usually inflicted in the presence of all the other slaves of a master. God here provided that punishment should be meted out to a slave-owner for following that pagan custom (6; 309-310)

Exodus 21:26-27 If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.

In the case of bodily injury to slaves, whose status does not qualify them for equal compensation, the owner whose abuse results in the loss of an eye or a tooth is to free that slave, a remarkably humanitarian provision directed at cruelty and sadism in a slave-owner. (17)

Again, let it be noted that physical punishment might be the only solution to an unruly, rebellious slave who should have received the death penalty. However, something else of interest emerges from this verse that, rather than expressing the cruelty of Old Testament laws regulating slavery, shows instead God’s care for those enslaved. The text states that the eyes and teeth of slaves should not be knocked out or destroyed. However, the nations around the Israelites did not adhere to any such standards. When the Philistines captured Samson, they “took him and put out his eyes; and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters; and he became a grinder in the prison” (Judges 16:21). Also, when the Babylonian soldiers raided Israel, capturing King Zedekiah, “they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7). God’s regulations for the treatment of slaves provided the slaves with many more rights than they had in the nations surrounding Israel. (5)

Leviticus 22:11 but if a priest buys a person with his own money, that person may eat the holy offerings, and those born in the priest’s own house may eat his food.

Priests under the Law of Moses had no income other than that which they received from the community tithe (a tax of ten percent of the community’s produce), and from certain of the offerings made under the sacrificial code. Ordinarily, the food of the offerings was permitted to be eaten only by the priests. Since it had been ritually sanctified, it could not be eaten by a non-priest. A priest could not offer it to his guest, his lodger, or his hired worker: [cites Lev 22:10]. However, both an indentured servant owned by the priest, or a servant who was born in his own house, were permitted to eat of the food which was ordinarily reserved only for the priest. This remarkable law provided uniquely for the servant of the priest, treating their welfare as equally important as that of the priest himself. The servant had the right to share the ritually sanctified food which was otherwise reserved only for the priest, who belonged to the most privileged class in the community. (4)

Leviticus 25:35-43 “`If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. 39 “`If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. 40 He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

The ‘slavery’ of the OT was essentially designed to serve the poor! Indeed, . . . the proceeds of the transaction went to the servant only–each ‘sold himself’ to someone. Notice that the sole motive–in the primary text before us– for allowing ‘slavery’ is so the poor can continue in the land, and that it is NEVER ‘forever’ (indeed, other passages indicate that it was 6 years at the most!). This is radically different than an elitest-motive. (1)

This protected the Hebrew debtor from being sold into slavery or indentured service against his will, an act which his debtor had no right to do. The only way for the Hebrew debtor to enter indentured service to pay his debts was by his own choice. Even when this occurred his fellow Hebrews were to treat him as an employee, and were forbidden to treat him as a chattel slave (‘you must not subject him to slave service’, verse 39, a term different from that used of the hired employee or the indentured servant). Both he and his family would be released in the Jubilee year. . . . This was in direct contrast to the Law of Hammurabi, which permitted a master to give away his servants for forced labour or lease them out to another master, who could sublease them or even sell them. (4)

Deuteronomy 5:13-15 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

Slaves / servants rested on the Sabbath also.

Deuteronomy 15:1-2 At the end of every seven years you must declare a cancellation of debts. 2 This is the nature of the cancellation: Every creditor must remit what he has loaned to another person; he must not force payment from his fellow Israelite, for it is to be recognized as “the Lord’s cancellation of debts.”

This legislation ensured that the impoverished Israelite would never have more than seven years to wait before his debts were cancelled, whether or not he could pay them. (4)

Deuteronomy 15:7-10 If a fellow Israelite from one of your villages in the land that the Lord your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive to his impoverished condition. 8 Instead, you must be sure to open your hand to him and generously lend him whatever he needs. 9 Be careful lest you entertain the wicked thought that the seventh year, the year of cancellation of debts, has almost arrived, and your attitude be wrong toward your impoverished fellow Israelite and you do not lend him anything; he will cry out to the Lord against you and you will be regarded as having sinned. 10 You must by all means lend to him and not be upset by doing it, for because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you attempt.

[T]he Law explicitly required the wealthy to lend to those in need, regardless of the close proximity of the year of debt cancellation. (4)

Deuteronomy 15:12-15  If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. 13 And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. 14 Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.

[T]his is a ‘standard’ case of debt-slavery, and is different from cases of ‘selling a daughter’ for a dowry-less marriage–a la Exodus 21 . . . (1)

Interestingly, when a servant was to be released at the Sabbath year (without payment of money!), the master was to send him out with gifts of material possessions! (1)

Not only did the Law of Moses protect the Hebrew indentured servant from exploitation and permanent debt, when the servant was released in the year of debt cancellation the master was required to present them with a substantial gift of property from his own belongings, in order to help him recover from his poverty. At the end of the seven years, therefore, the indentured servant not only had his debt cancelled (no matter how large it had been), but he actually made a substantial profit from his service. No other ANE law code required such extraordinary generosity from those who purchased an indentured servant. (4)

Deuteronomy 20:10-11 When you approach a city to wage war against it, offer it terms of peace. 11 If it accepts your terms and submits to you, all the people found in it will become your slaves.

The text here from the New English Translation does not adequately describe the situation, since the passage actually uses the Hebrew word ‘mas’, referring explicitly to vassals who are placed under tribute, and the Hebrew phrase here is actually ‘become as a vassal and will serve you’. This does not describe the personal enslavement of the individuals of the city, to be sold among the Hebrews as household slaves, but refers to the city being placed under vassalage to Israel. The citizens would retain their city and place of residence, continuing their lives as they had before, with the difference that now they were required to supply tribute (usually through a tax of money or goods), and service in the form of manual labour (it appears that the Hebrews did not require military service of their vassals). They retained their personal liberty and property, but were now subject to Hebrew law, tribute, and service.

This same term (‘mas’), is also used for the ‘taskmasters’ who were set over the Hebrew slaves by the Egyptians (Exodus 1:11), and also for the Israelites who were conscripted by the king of Israel into civil service for public works (2 Samuel 20:24, 1 Kings 4:6; 5:13-14; 9:15, 21; 12:18, 2 Chronicles 10:18), proving that it did not involve entire populations being broken up and sold as chattel slaves or even as indentured servants, nor did it involve a loss of personal liberty or property. The Hebrews are recorded as having subjected a number of cities and states to vassalage (Joshua 9:3-27; 16:10; 17:13, Judges 1:28, 30-35), and are also recorded as having fulfilled their obligations to the suzerainty treaty by protecting their vassals from military attack by hostile forces. In [Joshua 10:6-7], the Israelites come to the military aid of the Gibeonites, their vassals. . . .

Suzerainty treaties always included clauses invoking the vengeance of the gods on the vassals if they did not obey the terms of the treaty, but remarkably the Hebrew suzerainty treaty actually placed the burden of Divine punishment for breach of treaty on the Hebrews, not their vassals. When the Gibeonites were persecuted and murdered by one of the families of the tribe of Benjamin, God punished the Hebrew nation for their breach of the suzerainty treaty (2 Samuel 21:1), and the king of Israel was required to compensate the Gibeonites for their loss (2 Samuel 21:2-9). This demonstrates that the Hebrew suzerainty treaty placed a higher order of obligation on the suzerain (in this case Israel), than it did on the vassal (in this case the Gibeonites), a situation unique in the ANE. (4)

Deuteronomy 23:15-16 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master. 16 Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him.

This passage refers to slaves, without any mention of their origin. No matter what the cause of their servitude, nor the cause of their refuge, God still says that extradition is NOT to be done! (1)

Most commentators understand this to be a reference to non-extradition of a foreign, runaway slave. That is, a slave in another country runs away and flees to Israel. Israel, under this verse and under this understanding, has to allow the runaway to live freely in the land (as a sanctuary), and cannot extradite him/her to their former master. Commentators also note that this is in abject contradiction to ANE and international law of the time. (1)

This contrasts to former slavery laws in America or even in the ancient lawcode of the Babylonian king Hammurabi (law 17). (2)

The laws for servants who were non-Hebrews were slightly different. For them there was no automatic release, either in the Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:44-46), or the seventh year of debt cancellation (Deuteronomy 15:3). . . . However, the Law of Moses still maintained their personal legal rights relating to physical protection (Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27), freedom of movement, and access to liberty (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Any bondservant purchased from the Gentiles had the right to flee their master, and receive the protection of the Law of Moses if they did so. Thus even for bondservants purchased from the Gentiles, servititude was not a permanent institution. (4)

Deuteronomy 24:7 If a man is found stealing one of his brethren, the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.

Importantly, the Law of Moses made no provision for any slave trade. It was permissible to purchase men and women who voluntarily sold themselves into indentured service, but not to sell them (Exodus 21:2, Leviticus 25:39, 42, 45, Deuteronomy 15:12). Taking men and women and enslaving them against their will, or selling them into slavery, was expressly forbidden on pain of death (Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7). (4)

Deuteronomy 24:21-22 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

The Jews were to be mindful that they had once been slaves (in far worse Egyptian conditions), and so they were to be compassionate to those less fortunate.

Job 31:13-15 If I have despised the cause of my manservant (ebed) or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?

[T]he picture that we often see when the biblical words for “slave” are employed is a mutually beneficial arrangement similar to an employer/employee relationship. Job describes this relationship quite well. Obviously, Job’s dealings with his slaves provided a mutually acceptable situation for master as well as slave. (5)

Job states that master and slave alike come from the mother’s womb and are ultimately equals. (20)

V. Sources

1) Does God Condone Slavery in the Bible? [OT] (Glenn Miller, Christian Thinktank, 11-9-97; updated 3-18-04).
2) Does the Bible Support Slavery? (Peter J. Williams, BeThinking).
3) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (James Orr, gen. ed., 1915) (“Slave; Slavery”, by William Edward Raffety).
4) Slavery in the Bible (Bible Apologetics).
5) The Bible and Slavery (Kyle, Butt, Apologetics Press).
6) Commentary on Exodus (Burton Coffman, Abilene, TX: ACU Press: 1985).
7) Why was slavery allowed in the Old Testament? (Compelling Truth).
8) What About the Bible and Slavery? (Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier).
9) Slavery and the Old Testament Law (Andrew Schmidt, The Briefing)
10) The Bible Against Slavery (Theodore Dwight Weld, New York: The American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838).
11) Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (4 vols), David Levinson and Melvin Ember (eds), HenryHolt: 1996.
12) A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (2 vols). Raymond Westbrook (ed). Brill: 2003.
13) Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman (main ed.), DoubleDay: 1992 (s.v. “Slavery, Old Testament”).
14) The Israelites, B.S.J. Isserlin, Thames and Hudson: 1998.
15) Hebrew Law in Biblical Times, Ze’ev Falk, Eisenbrauns: 2001 (2nd ed).
16) Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (eds). IVP: 2003 (s.v. “Slavery”).
17) Word Biblical Commentary (multi-volume).
18) The JPS Torah Commentary (5 vols). Nahum Sarna (gen ed). JPS: 1989.
19) Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. Ken Campbell (ed). IVP: 2003.
20) Does the Old Testament Endorse Slavery? An Overview (Paul Copan, Enrichment Journal).


Photo credit: The Flight of the Prisoners, c. 1902, by James Tissot (1836-1902), depicting the Jews being taken into exile to Babylon, after ancient Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar [public domain / Wikipedia]

August 17, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “You Know the Photo that Came with Your New Wallet? God Is Like That.” (5-29-17), Bob — ever the inquisitive one — asked: “If the Trinity is so important, why aren’t the specifics made clear in the Bible?” He linked in the question to a paper devoted to the Trinity (dated 6-10-13; republished on 7-23-16),where he stated:

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity claims one God in three persons. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it this way: “In the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another.” . . .

Though the Trinity is one of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity, the Bible says nothing about it directly. Did Paul and the apostles define God in a trinitarian fashion? Nope.

As usual, Bob’s treatment is like a puddle that is a mile wide and a quarter-inch deep: lots of words but little substance (and even less reason). One would think he would at least examine a few Bible passages. Wouldn’t that be expected, since he has claimed that Paul and the apostles were not trinitarians?

Yes it would; but Bob’s anti-Christian posts are anything but reasonable or compelling (nor are they in the least bit fair to Christianity). Thus, he cites only 1 John 5:7 in its entirety and notes that it is a disputed passage. It is disputed (we agree), and so it’s a moot point as to this debate. Bob also mentions John 1:1 in passing, as an indication that Jesus is eternal. That’s it (believe it or not)!

There are literally hundreds of other relevant passages, that I myself have compiled with regard to the Holy Trinity and also the divinity of Christ. I’ve also written shorter, handier treatments of biblical evidences for both the Trinity and Godhood of Jesus. This was one of my earliest research projects, as a budding Christian apologist: way back in 1982, fresh out of college. I also have a very extensive web page devoted to the topic, as well as a book.

The New Testament refers to the Father, Who is God. This is basically the same concept as the God of the Old Testament, as understood by the Jews: an immaterial eternal spirit Who created the world, is all-good, is the Judge of the world, and is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. We need not spend any further time on that. I think even Bob would readily agree that this is what the Bible presents.

Many (including Bob) seem to think that the New Testament doesn’t state that Jesus is God, or that if it does, the passages are difficult to find and/or unclear and non-compelling. I’ve always marveled at this. There are a great many clear passages that could hardly be interpreted in any other way than that Jesus is God in the flesh. Here is a generous sampling:

John 1:1, 14 (RSV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . [14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.

Jesus’ hearers, unbelieving Jews, certainly understood His intent in saying this, because they tried to stone Him, as the next verse informs us, since they didn’t believe His claim, which, if indeed untrue, would be intolerable blasphemy. 10:33 informs us that they tried to stone Him because (in their words) “you, being a man, make yourself God.”

John 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

If it were untrue, Jesus would have corrected Thomas, but He didn’t.

Colossians 1:19 For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,

In context, it is the Son Who is being described (1:13); He is eternal (1:15, 17-18), the Creator (1:16), and the unifying principle of the universe (1:17; cf. Heb 1:3): all attributes true only of God. Paul makes the notion even more explicit in the next chapter:

Colossians 2:9 For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily,

2 Peter 1:1 . . . our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (cf. Titus 2:13)

Hebrews 1:8 But of the Son he says, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the righteous scepter is the scepter of thy kingdom.”

This is a remarkable passage, in which God the Father calls His Son “God.” It is a reference to the Old Testament passage, Psalms 45:6-7.

In Hebrews 1:6, God the Father also says that all the angels should worship God the Son. Worship can only be rightly applied to God, as we know from Exodus 34:14 and Deuteronomy 8:19. Yet Jesus accepted worship of Himself on many occasions (e.g., Mt 14:33; 28:9) and stated that He should be honored equally with the Father (Jn 5:23). In Revelation 5:8, 12-13 and Colossians 2:6-7, we find that Jesus is worshiped in every way that the Bible specifically describes worship of God the Father, with all the same words used (see: Rev 4:9-11, 5:13; 7:11-12, and Rom 11:33).

Jesus is omnipotent (Phil 3:20-21) and omniscient (Col 2:2-3). Many attributes that are said to belong only to “God” are applied to Jesus in Scripture. God the Father said, “besides me there is no savior” (Is 43:11; cf. 1 Tim 4:10). Yet Jesus is called the “savior” of mankind in passages like Luke 2:11 and many others.

God the Father stated, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Is 45:23). The same exact description is also applied to Jesus (Phil 2:10-11). The Bible teaches that “God” is judge (1 Sam 2:10; Ps 50:6; Ecc 12:14; many others). But so is Jesus (Jn 5:22, 27; 9:39; Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1). Therefore He is God. God the Father sits on His throne in heaven (1 Ki 22:19; Ps 11:4; 47:8). Jesus is on the same throne, too (Rev 7:17; 22:1, 3).

At every turn in the Bible, only one conclusion is possible, to make sense of all these statements, taken together as a whole: Jesus is God the Son. He is the eternal, all-powerful, all-loving, self-existent Creator God.

So that gives us two Persons in the Triune God: Father and Son; and as we can see, the data as to what the Bible teaches (agree with it or not)  is quite obvious and indisputable. So we are left with the deity of the Holy Spirit. Where is that in Scripture? Here is the best single passage along those lines:

Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, “Anani’as, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? [4] . . . You have not lied to men but to God.” . . .

Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit; at the same time he lied to God; therefore the Holy Spirit and God are synonymous: one and the same. I could produce several others (see my related paper for that), but this suffices to overthrow Bob’s ignorant claims above.

Next, we need to see some indication that the Bible has an awareness of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: mentioned together, implying that all are God and that there are three Persons Who are the one God (monotheism). No single passage states, “The one God exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Yet, for example, we see a verse that strongly suggests the same, with just a little deduction:

Matthew 28:19 (RSV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

“In the name of” is a common Old Testament phrase that was applied to God. The phrase, “in the name of the LORD” appears 29 times there. So to apply this sort of formulaic language also to the Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit was to assume that they were God. In my research, I have found 40 passages that mention all three Divine Persons. Here are eight of them (just one-fifth of all):

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, . . . (cf. 61:2; Jesus applies this to Himself in Lk 4:16-30)

Luke 3:21-22 . . . when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, [22] and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” (cf. Mt 3:13-17)

John 15:26 But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; (cf. 14:26)

Acts 2:33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. (cf. 7:55)

Acts 20:28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Romans 15:30 I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, (cf. Eph 2:18)

1 Corinthians 6:11 . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (cf. 1 Pet 1:2)

2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

If the Bible teaches that God (and only God) has certain characteristics, and proceeds to apply them to three Persons: called the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then they are all one God (since the Bible teaches there is but one: Dt 6:4; 32:39; Is 43:10; 44:8; 1 Cor 8:4-6). This sort of thing occurs over and over in the Bible: equivalent characteristics in many respects are applied to all three Divine Persons:

1. Who raised Jesus from the dead? Well, it was God the Father (Gal 1:1; 1 Thess 1:10); it was also Jesus Himself (Jn 2:19; 10:17-18); and it was the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11).

2. Who gave the new covenant? The Father (Jer 31:33-34); Jesus (Heb 8:1-13; 10:29; 12:24; 13:20); the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:15-17).

3. Who sanctifies believers? The Father (1 Thess 5:23); Jesus (Heb 13:12); the Holy Spirit (1 Pet 1:2).

4. Who is the creator? The Father (Gen 1:1; Is 44:24; Acts 17:24; Eph 3:9); Jesus (Jn 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:8, 10); the Holy Spirit (Job 33:4).

5. Who indwells believers? The Father (1 Cor 3:16a; 2 Cor 6:16; 1 Jn 3:24); Jesus (Jn 6:56; Rom 8:10; Eph 3:17); the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16-17; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16b). The Bible even describes this in terms of different combinations: Father and Son (Jn 14:23); Father and Holy Spirit (Eph 2:21-22; 1 Jn 3:24); Son and Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6).

What one Person does, the others also do in complete agreement and unity, and the Persons “interpenetrate” each other. Christian theology has 50 cent words for this: circumincession (Latin) or perichoresis (Greek).

Lots of things are very difficult to understand, yet firmly believed; for starters (speaking of scientific beliefs) : quantum mechanics, the physics of black holes, the nuclear fusion that occurs in the center of our sun, the “bending” of space and time (Einstein’s relativity), and dark matter (presently accepted by most physicists and other scientists and said to comprise 85% of all matter, but very mysterious indeed). Physical reality has turned out to be very “weird” and unpredictable. Theology is also sometimes striking, and seemingly “odd” and unfathomable. This should not surprise us at all (since God is an extraordinary Being).

Cumulative arguments based on scores of individual indications become very compelling: much as a large rope, consisting of many individual strands woven together is exceedingly strong. Such is the nature of biblical indications for the Holy Trinity. We find them at every turn. No one should be led astray to think that the Holy Trinity is not “biblical.” Having seen the many reasonable proofs, we believe in faith.

Once again, therefore (surprise!), Bob is dead wrong in his claims about the Bible.  He was correct (in the main) — credit where it is due — in observing that trinitarian doctrinal theology developed for four centuries. But this is no “problem” or disproof, since all Christian doctrines develop (just as science continually develops and builds upon what has been established). Development is my favorite topic in theology and I have a web page on that too.

Development doesn’t mean that the doctrines were not present in all essential aspects from the beginning of Christianity. I have just shown how there is abundant biblical evidence for trinitarian doctrine, which is precisely what Bob claimed was not the case. Sometimes it is deductive, but it’s still there, and all the evidences taken as a whole, are indisputable. If some people like Bob have a difficult time finding them in the Bible, well, then, it’s the job of apologists like myself (and other Christian teachers) to give him a little aid and advice on where to look. I’m more than happy to help.

But I won’t hold my breath for Bob to be persuaded of this and to retract his misguided, false statements above. This is now my ninth critique of his work in my ongoing series, and Bob hasn’t made a peep in reply yet. It’s crickets all around. I don’t expect this paper to bring forth his first attempt at a refutation of my material. His confident and grandiose claims that I cited at the top somehow don’t seem to apply to me. Bob avoids my counter-arguments like the plague. Instead, in his latest known comment about me, he opined: “If I follow him in his race to the bottom, he’d beat me on experience. He’s a much better schoolyard bully than I am, and I’ve lost interest in his whining.”


Here is the latest rhetoric (8-18-18) as to Bob’s continuing non-replies to these posts (which are public and therefore can be responded to publicly on his blog in new posts there) is as follows:

“Lark 62”I glanced at the most recent for grins. A big chunk was criticism that you haven’t responded to the previous 8 posts, with no hint that he had banned you so you couldn’t reply. Dishonest even for a christian. I think he’s getting lonely in his echo chamber, and without commenters he has nothing to plagiarize from. It reads like he’s trying to goad you into a reply on your blog so he gets traffic again. Thoroughly pathetic. (link)

Bob Seidensticker:  I’ve always seen comments as good feedback that the post meant something. Pretty sad. 6 months ago, I’d have been delighted to have him be interested enough to give thoughtful critique to some of my arguments. I highly doubt that “thoughtful critique” is what they’ve received, and I now have zero interest in trudging through his posts to find out. (link)


Photo credit: spirit111  (Oct. 2017) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]


August 16, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “25 Reasons We Don’t Live in a World with a God (Part 5)” (3-5-18), Bob triumphantly proclaims:

12. Because physics rules out the soul or the afterlife

This is a related argument by another physicist, Sean Carroll. He notes that there is plenty of physics we don’t understand, but the physics of the everyday world is very well understood. If a soul exists, it would need to exist in particles, and it would need particles to convey it into the afterlife. No such particles exist. Unlike “Have you looked everywhere in the universe?” we have looked everywhere for particles that interact in our daily lives. We’ve found them all, and none could explain the soul.

Here’s his critique of hiding places for the soul particle(s):

Could new particles hide from our view? Sure, but only if they were (1) very weakly interacting or (2) too heavy to create or (3) too short-lived to detect. In any of those cases, the new particle would be irrelevant to our everyday lives. (Source)

The Christian god needs physics to build a soul, but physics isn’t cooperating. This doesn’t offer much hope for the afterlife, either. (More)

I hate to be harsh, but folks, this is a level of [philosophical] “stupid” that is almost beyond comprehension, coming from an educated and accomplished man:

After graduating from MIT in 1980, I designed digital hardware, about which I wrote my first book, The Well-Tempered Digital Design (Addison-Wesley, 1986). I have programmed in a dozen computer languages and in environments ranging from punch cards, to one of the first windowing environments, to MS-DOS, to Windows (starting with version 1.0). I am a co-contributor to 14 software patents and have worked at a number of technology companies from a 10-person startup to Microsoft and IBM.

It’s very easily refuted:

1) Physics is a branch of science (like all branches, in fact) that studies matter.  This is not controversial. For example, Wikipedia (“Physics”): “Physics . . . is the natural science that studies matter and its motion and behavior through space and time . . .”

2) Whether matter is all there is (materialism or naturalism) is a separate question.  But that science studies matter is beyond dispute.

3) Because science deals with matter only, it is not within its purview to comment upon spirit or souls or God (an immaterial spirit in most religions). It can only do so if the spirit somehow becomes connected with or intersected with matter (like, for example, the incarnation, where the immaterial God took on human flesh and became man: Jesus Christ; but even then, if we looked at some of Jesus’ cells in a microscope, I highly doubt that we would be able to tell that they were unique “God-Man cells”).

4) Souls (believe in them or not) are not material, by definition. Therefore, physics cannot disprove their existence. It’s apples and oranges. Philosophical outlooks that incorporate souls and other immaterial things are dualism or idealism. These have a long respectable history in philosophical thought (again, agree or disagree). The mind-body problem is one of the great and classic philosophical discussions, that involves this very dispute. Accordingly, an article entitled “Science and religion: Reconcilable differences” on the Berkeley web page stated:

[P]eople of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Many simply acknowledge that the two institutions deal with different realms of human experience. Science investigates the natural world, while religion deals with the spiritual and supernatural — hence, the two can be complementary.

5) There is also such a thing as a dualist atheist (who denies that matter is all there is in the universe). A prominent example would be David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher who has had at least four books on  consciousness and the mind published by Oxford University Press. His Wikipedia entry states:

Chalmers argues that all forms of physicalism (whether reductive or non-reductive) that have dominated modern philosophy and science fail to account for the existence (that is, presence in reality) of consciousness itself. He proposes an alternative dualistic view he calls naturalistic dualism (but which might also be characterized by more traditional formulations such as property dualismneutral monism, or double-aspect theory). . . .

Chalmers argues for an “explanatory gap” from the objective to the subjective, and criticizes physical explanations of mental experience, making him a dualist. Chalmers characterizes his view as “naturalistic dualism”: naturalistic because he believes mental states are caused by physical systems (such as brains); dualist because he believes mental states are ontologically distinct from and not reducible to physical systems.

6) Seidensticker simply assumes from the outset what is his burden to prove (the logical fallacy of circular reasoning or begging the question), by assuming that everything in the universe is matter and nothing but matter (and apparently also that there is no such thing as atheist dualism). And he makes basic category mistakes, as mentioned. Thus, he thinks thatIf a soul exists, it would need to exist in particles, and it would need particles to convey it into the afterlife.” This is all part and parcel of his naive scientism, that I have already critiqued twice.

It’s very elegant and decisive, isn’t it?! Not only has Seidensticker supposedly disproven the existence of the soul and the afterlife (because of physics, no less!), but also, that of good ol’ God Himself (though he seems too intellectually humble to admit the latter accomplishment): all because none of these alleged entities can be, or have been, observed under a microscope or stored for later analysis in a test tube.


He does manage to state one true thing (thank heavens!):we have looked everywhere for particles that interact in our daily lives. We’ve found them all, and none could explain the soul.” Exactly! And they can’t explain the soul because they have nothing to do with a soul, whether or not the latter exists. The soul doesn’t consist of matter.

Not understanding all these basic distinctions of definition and category, Bob cluelessly, quixotically opines: “The Christian god needs physics to build a soul, but physics isn’t cooperating.” Why would it, I inconveniently ask, since — again — it has nothing to do with the philosophical / theological / spiritual question in the first place?


Photo credit: geralt (2-2-15) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons  license]


August 16, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “25 Reasons We Don’t Live in a World with a God (Part 5)” (3-5-18), Bob claimed:

Jesus in the Bible claimed that prayers are reliably answered . . . The Bible has no qualifiers like “if you’re worthy” or “if your prayer happens to line up with God’s plan.”

Earlier, on 5-1-13 (Bob never seems to correct his glaring mistakes, even over several years’ time), he likewise opined:

Brethren, I will speak today on the gospel of John, the sixteenth chapter, verse 24. Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive.” As the National Day of Prayer approaches (May 5, 2016), this verse is both relevant and unambiguous.

But perhaps it’s too unambiguous. Apologists like to water down this verse (and others that declare prayer’s effectiveness) to say that they don’t mean what they obviously mean, so let’s be sure we have this right. Here is this verse in context. Jesus said,

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (John 16:23–4).

A few verses later, we read,

Then Jesus’s disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech” (16:29).

Clearly, we are given no choice but to consider it at face value. “Ask and you will receive” means just what you’d think it means.

[ . . . ]

In Matthew, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” In Mark, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” In John, Jesus says, “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.”

The New Testament unambiguously claims that prayer works, but we all know that that’s wrong, or, said charitably, prayer doesn’t work that way. Apologists handwave that prayer works … for the person doing the praying. Or we’re told that prayers are always answered, but “not yet” or “maybe” are valid answers. This reinterpretation of reality is worthy of North Korea or Animal Farm.

In his book,  Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey (2011), Bob portrays the “somewhat obnoxious” atheist (Jim) in a fictional dialogue, speaking as follows (as reported in a blog post from 10-15-12):

“[T]he Bible . . . makes plain that prayer is supposed to work that way—you ask for it, and then you get it. Prayer is a telephone call to God, and he always answers your call . . . it does say that you’ll get it. . . . Jesus said that if you have faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you will be able to move mountains. Jesus said that prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. Jesus said that whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Jesus said that all things are possible to him who believes. Jesus said, ‘Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.’ No limitations or delays are mentioned.”

It so happens that I wrote about this very issue on Facebook two days ago, in reply to two other (friendly, non-hostile) atheists. I stated:

Prayer is conditional upon being consistent with God’s will. So if we pray (to use an extreme example) for a difficult neighbor to be struck down and not able to talk or walk, that wouldn’t be in God’s will and God wouldn’t answer it.

1 John 5:14 (RSV) And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Even something not immediately immoral or amoral wouldn’t necessarily be in God’s will, because He knows everything and can see where things might lead; thus may refuse some requests. When Jesus says “ask and you shall receive,” etc., it’s in a familiar Hebrew proverbial sense, which means that it is “generally true, but admits of exceptions.”

I ran across a wonderful article at the Got Questions site that saved me a lot of time and trouble, researching what I know to be in the Bible. It’s entitled, “Are there any conditions to answered prayer?” and it’s a goldmine of information: all contradictory to Bob’s bogus claims (I’ve added some of the passages and additional thoughts in brackets):

[T]he biblical fact is that prayer has conditions. It’s true that Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). But, even in that statement, we have one condition to prayer: faith. As we examine the Bible, we find that there are other conditions to prayer, as well.

[James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. [6] But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. [7,8] For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.

Matthew 10:51-52 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” [52] And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. (cf. Lk 18:25-32)]

[ . . . ]

2) . . . Paul prayed three times to be healed of an affliction, and each time God said, “No.” Why would a loving God refuse to heal Paul? Because God had something better for him, namely, a life lived by grace. Paul stopped praying for healing and began to rejoice in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). [see the passage below]

[ . . . ]

4) Pray from a righteous heart (see James 5:16). The Bible speaks of having a clean conscience as a condition to answered prayer (Hebrews 10:22). It is important that we keep our sins confessed to the Lord. “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18, NAS).

[James 5:16 . . . The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.

Hebrews 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Proverbs 15:8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is his delight.

See other examples of God not accepting worship because of unrighteousness and rebelliousness.

Isaiah 1:15 When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood. (cf. Jer 11:11)

Isaiah 59:2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear.]

5) Pray from a grateful heart (see Philippians 4:6). Part of prayer is an attitude of thanksgiving.

[Philippians 4:6 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. ]

6) Pray according to the will of God (see 1 John 5:14). [see above] . . .

[ . . . ]

9) Pray unselfishly (see James 4:3). Our motives are important. [see above]

Here is the passage (mentioned above) where St. Paul’s petitionary prayer request was expressly turned down by God:

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh [Dave: many Bible scholars believe this to be an eye disease], a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. [8] Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; [9] but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The prophet Jonah prayed to God to die (Jonah 4:3): “Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (cf. 4:8-9). God obviously didn’t fulfill the request, and chided Jonah or his anger (4:4, 9). The prophet Ezekiel did the same: “O LORD, take away my life” (1 Kgs 19:4). God had other plans, as the entire passage shows. If we pray something stupidly, God won’t answer. He knows better than we do.

Jesus also tells the story (not a parable, which don’t have proper names) in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man, in which two petitionary requests (in effect, prayers: 16:24, 27-28, 30) to Abraham are turned down (16:25-26, 29, 31). Since Jesus is teaching theological principles or truths, by means of the story, then it follows that it’s His own opinion as well: that prayers are not always answered. They have to be according to God’s will.

But wait! Bob says, after all: “The Bible has no qualifiers” and “No limitations or delays are mentioned [for prayer].” Really? It’s sort of obvious, by now, ain’t it?: that Bob often is quite ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches. He displays his biblical illiteracy and ignorance rather spectacularly here (in his book and three blog posts), and comes off looking very foolish (as so often with him). He made claims about the biblical teaching on prayer, not just about prayer in general. And that can be examined, because it’s an objective claim about concrete facts (the text of the Bible). I did that, and the results were not favorable to him.

And rest assured that this is no isolated incident with Bob and wholesale distortions of the Bible. It’s verified every time I have looked into what he claims about Holy Scripture (thus far, seven posts and no end in sight). He appears to get a charge out of continually warring against straw men of his own making.

All — including flat-out lies — for the sake of the noble anti-theist / anti-Christian / anti-Bible crusade, right Bob?


Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures (12-17-12) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]


August 15, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “God Creates Evil” (4-27-18; update of original post from 8-20-14), Bob stated: “God also has no problem with rape (Deuteronomy 22:28–9), . . .” Later in the article, Bob claims that God “advocated” rape. In another paper (originally 12-13-13), Bob opined: “The Bible . . . talks about when rape is okay.” And again on 6-17-15: “[T]he Bible says much about all sorts of embarrassing marriage customs and prohibitions sanctioned by God: . . . rape for fun and profit, . . .”Alright; let’s take a look at his passage and alleged “prooftext”:

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (RSV) “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, [29] then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days.”

First of all, that is not having “no problem” with rape, in the Mosaic law which we believe was given to Moses and the ancient Hebrews by God. Christian apologist Glenn Miller, who runs the wonderful Christian Thinktank website, dealt with the topic of rape in the Bible at extreme length. He commented on this passage as follows:

Here is a clear case in which the rapist has (1) stolen the girl’s ability to guarantee paternity, and by doing so has greatly limited her future options; and (2) has limited her father’s options of arranging a good marriage for her. The rapist is now forced to become what he has cheated the girl out of—a ‘well off’ husband. The fifty shekels bride-price (see below on the Exodus 22.16 passage) is five years worth of average wages, and is the price  paid by the Pharaoh Amenophis III for the women of Gezer destined for his harem! The girl’s future is now assured—she has a guaranteed support source (he cannot divorce her)—and she has a ‘big’ bride-price on deposit. The law has protected someone who was attempting to help the community, by preserving her virginity.

How all that is somehow deemed as God having “no problem” with rape is, I confess, beyond my rational capabilities to comprehend. Of course, Bob, in his rush to mock God and Christianity, neglects (for some odd reason) to also include the passage immediately preceding:

Deuteronomy 22:25-27 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. [26] But to the young woman you shall do nothing; in the young woman there is no offense punishable by death, for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor; [27] because he came upon her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.” (cf. 22:23-24)

Does that sound like God is all gung-ho about rape? The rapist is to be executed. Nothing is to be done to the woman because she has done nothing wrong, and the rape is analogous to someone being murdered. The difference in the earlier case was the woman not being betrothed (the cultural difference of which was explained by Glenn Miller above).

In the article, “What does the Bible say about sexual assault?”, Southern Baptist Katie McCoy writes:

The Bible is not silent about rape. The accounts of sexual assault against women are heartbreaking, even gruesome. But they are not brushed under a rug or hushed up. In fact, of the three accounts describing a woman who was sexually assaulted, each of them precipitated civil war. When Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, was violated by the son of a neighboring ruler, Shechem, her brothers murdered him, his father, and the all of the men of his city in revenge (Gen. 34). After the Unnamed Concubine was gang-raped and left for dead by men in the tribe of Benjamin, the other tribes went to war against them upon hearing of her injustice (Jgs. 19-21). And after Tamar was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, her brother Absalom killed him, and incited a rebellion against his father, King David (2 Sam. 13). Rape was neither covered up nor ignored. Instead, it was answered and avenged. It was such a cultural convulsion that it was answered with outrage and further violence. The cases of rape in Scripture tell us something about the cases of rape we are hearing today: These women must be heard and they must be protected.

Christian apologist Kyle Butt, takes on another unsavory atheist tactic regarding the Bible and rape, in his article, “God did not condone rape”:

Militant atheists of the 21st century delight in accusing God of condoning the most heinous immoralities. They insist that the God of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament, was a murderous villain guilty of far worse than His human subjects. Richard Dawkins accused God of being a “misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (2006, p. 31 [The God Delusion] ).

One attempt that has been made to bolster these unfounded accusations is to suggest that in the Old Testament God condoned rape. Dan Barker commented: “If God told you to rape someone, would you do it? Some Christians, ignorant of biblical injunctions to rape, might answer, ‘God would never ask me to do that’” (Barker, 1992, p. 331, emp. added). If the honest truth seeker were to ask to see the “biblical injunctions to rape,” he would be struck by the fact that no such injunctions exist.

The passage that is most often used to “prove” that God condones rape is Numbers 31:25-40. In this passage, the young women who were taken captive after Moses destroyed the Midianites were divided between the Israelites and the priests. The priests were given responsibility for 32 of the women. Skeptics often suggest that these women were supplied so that the priests could abuse them sexually and rape them. But nothing could be further from the truth. The skeptic errs greatly in this regard either due to his ignorance of God’s instructions or willful dishonesty.

In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, Moses specifically stated what was to be done with female captives:

When you go out to war…and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife (emp. added).

It is important to understand that God has never condoned any type of sexual activity outside of a lawful marriage. The only way that an Israelite would be morally justified in having sexual intercourse with a female captive was if he made her his wife, granting to her the rights and privileges due to a wife. Notice that the Israelite male could not “go in to her” (a euphemism for sexual intercourse) until she had observed a period of mourning and cleansing, and he could only “go in to her” with the intent of being her husband.

When the skeptics’ allegations about God condoning rape are demolished by the very clear instructions in Deuteronomy 21, the attack is usually shifted, and God is accused of being unjust for allowing war prisoners or slavery of any kind, regardless of whether or not rape was permitted.  . . .

For the skeptic to imply that God condoned rape, using Numbers 31, without mentioning Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 21, is unconscionable. It is simply another instance of dishonest propaganda designed to discredit God and the Bible.


Photo credit: The Rape of Tamar (c. 1640), by Eustache Le Sueur (1616-1655) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


August 15, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “The Ridiculous Argument from Accurate Names” (6-12-18; update of the original, dated 9-22-14), Bob stated: “Archaeology says that the Exodus didn’t happen.” Many archaeologists say there is little or no archaeological evidence, it’s true. There are plenty of biblical skeptics (not just atheists) and those who wrongly think that the Bible is an unreliable document for historiographical purposes. But it’s difficult to make an absolute statement like this in archaeology and other sciences.

Even if someone said, “we have not yet found any archaeological evidence for the Exodus,” that’s not logically the same as claiming that “the Exodus didn’t happen.” The latter is a far stronger, and far more skeptical claim. Seidensticker (an intelligent and educated man) should know better than that, but his strong anti-Christian bias precludes care and precision in his grandiose claims.

I submit that there is at least some evidence from history and archaeology. It’s not totally absent. Of course most if not all of the evidence is for only parts of the biblical story: verifying it, etc. But if it’s consistent with the story, it is some sort of corroborating evidence. I shall now present some of this for your consideration (links with some quotations):

1) Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (James K. Hoffmeier, Oxford University Press, revised edition: 18 March 1999).

Abstract: Scholars of the Hebrew Bible have in the last decade begun to question the historical accuracy of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt, as described in the book of Exodus. The reason for the rejection of the exodus tradition is said to be the lack of historical and archaeological evidence in Egypt. Those advancing these claims, however, are not specialists in the study of Egyptian history, culture, and archaeology. This book examines the most current Egyptological evidence and argues that it supports the biblical record concerning Israel in Egypt.

Reviews: “This is historical research at its best, with constant attention to primary sources…[Hoffmeier] retains a broad perspective and leaves no stone unturned in his quest to have the epigraphic and archeological evidence shed light on the biblical record of Israel’s sojourn in and exodus from Egypt.”–Gary Rendsburg, Cornell University

Israel in Egypt is one of those rare works that one cannot read without taking notes on nearly every page. For biblical scholars, who are seriously interested in the Exodus and the issues revolving around the historicity of the Bible, especially regarding the origins of Israel, Israel in Egypt could not be more highly recommended.”–Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin

“This volume is a bold and important attempt to infuse the current debate with a reasoned appraisal of biblical, archaeological, and philological evidence. Hoffmeier is uniquely qualified to make such an attempt because he is one of the few scholars who can handle both the Egyptian evidence and the biblical materials.”–Asbury Theological Journal

“This volume will become a classic text for a positive and conservative evaluation of the literary and archaeological evidence for the ‘historicity’ of the Israelites in Egypt.”–Walter D. Zorn, Lincoln Christian College and Seminary

“This well-presented case brims with the type of knowledge most never bother to attain.”–J. Julius Scott, Wheaton College

“The best and most good-spirited defense yet of the conservative position that takes the Biblical “Exodus-Conquest” narratives literally as history.”–William G. Dever, University of Arizona

“Hoffmeier’s study represents the fruit of many years of study in Egyptology and the Old Testament. The work is a substantial contribution to the ongoing discussion on the subject of Israel’s presence in Egypt and represents a view that is in harmony with an appreciation of the Bible as a valuable historical source….This is an excellent volume for introducing the subject it covers.”—Denver Journal

“Hoffmeier’s book is an important contribution to the study of the Hebrew experience in Egypt. Its two major strengths are the author’s powerful refutation of hyper-critical views on the narrative and his presentation of the latest Egyptological data.”–Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

James K. Hoffmeier (PhD, University of Toronto),  has taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels for more than thirty years, and is  professor of Old Testament and Near Eastern archaeology at Trinity International University. He was born and raised in Egypt.

2) “The Exodus Controversy” (Associates for Biblical Research, 2002):

Limits of Archaeology

Many critics who doubt the historicity of the Exodus share a problem: over-reliance on what archaeology can prove. Archaeology is, in fact, a limited and imperfect area of study in which the interpretation of findings, as archaeologists readily admit, is more of an art than a hard science.

Archaeologist Edwin Yamauchi points out the limits of this science when he explains:

(1) little of what was made or written in antiquity survives to this day;

(2) few of the ancient sites have been surveyed and a number have not even been found;

(3) probably fewer than 2 percent of the known sites have been meaningfully excavated;

(4) few of these have been more than scratched; and

(5) only a fraction of the fraction that have been excavated have been published and data made available to the scholarly world (1972: chapter 4).

Considering not only the limits but also the positive side of archaeology, it is remarkable how many Biblical accounts have been illuminated and confirmed by the relatively small number of sites excavated and finds uncovered to date. Even though, regrettably, some professionals go out of their way to present a distorted picture of what archaeology does reveal, it does provide some of the strongest evidence for the reliability of the Bible as credible and accurate history. . . .

3) “The Exodus Is Not Fiction: An interview with Richard Elliott Friedman” (

Richard Elliott Friedman, who holds a Th.D from Harvard, is the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia and the Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization Emeritus of the University of California, San Diego, and was a visiting fellow at Cambridge and Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. He is the author of seven books, including the bestselling Who Wrote the Bible? and Commentary on the Torah. . . .

[Y]our readers may have concluded that scholarship shows that the Exodus is fictional, when, in fact, that is not so. There is archaeological evidence and especially textual evidence for the Exodus. . . .

At a recent international conference entitled “Out of Egypt” on the question of the Exodus’ historicity, one point of agreement, I believe, among most of the 45 participating scholars was that Semitic peoples, or Western Asiatics, were in fact living in Egypt and were traveling to and from there for centuries. And the evidence indicates that the smaller group among them, who were connected with the Exodus, were Levites. The Levites were members of the group associated with Moses, the Exodus, and the Sinai events depicted in the Bible. In the Torah, Moses is identified as a Levite. Also, out of all of Israel only Levites had Egyptian names: Moses, Phinehas, Hophni, and Hur are all Egyptian names. . . .

[T]he architecture of the Tabernacle and its surrounding courtyard matches that of the battle tent of Pharaoh Rameses II, for which we have archaeological evidence, as was shown by Professor Michael Homan in a brilliant combination of archaeology and text (To Your Tents, O Israel, 2005). Professor Sperling had emphasized in the RJ article that, archaeologically, there are no Egyptian elements in Israel’s material culture. But in the Tabernacle we do have those Egyptian elements. . . .

[R]eal evidence exists that the Exodus is historical, with text and archaeology mutually supporting one another. What lies next for us is to give due consideration to this evidence and refine it further in our work.

4) “The Exodus: Fact or Fiction? Evidence of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt” (Biblical Archaeology Society Staff, 3-28-18):

Although Biblical scholars and archaeologists argue about various aspects of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, many of them agree that the Exodus occurred in some form or another.

The question “Did the Exodus happen” then becomes “When did the Exodus happen?” This is another heated question. Although there is much debate, most people settle into two camps: They argue for either a 15th-century B.C.E. or 13th-century B.C.E. date for Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. . . .

A worker’s house from western Thebes also seems to support a 13th-century Exodus. In the 1930s, archaeologists at the University of Chicago were excavating the mortuary Temple of Aya and Horemheb, the last two pharaohs of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, in western Thebes. The temple was first built by Aya in the 14th-century B.C.E., but Horemheb usurped and expanded the temple when he became pharaoh. (He ruled from the late 14th century through the early 13th century B.C.E.) Horemheb chiseled out every place where Aya’s name had been and replaced it with his own. Later—during the reign of Ramses IV (12th century B.C.E.)—the Temple of Aya and Horemheb was demolished.

During their excavations, the University of Chicago uncovered a house and part of another house belonging to the workers who were given the task of demolishing the temple. The plan of the complete house is the same as that of the four-room house characteristic of Israelite dwellings during the Iron Age. However, unlike the Israelite models that were usually constructed of stone, the Theban house was made of wattle and daub. It is significant that this house was built in Egypt at the same time that Israelites were constructing four-room houses in Canaan. The similarities between the two have caused some to speculate that the builders of the Theban house were either proto-Israelites or a group closely related to the Israelites.

A third piece of evidence for the Exodus is the Onomasticon Amenope. The Onomasticon Amenope is a list of categorized words from Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period. Written in hieratic, the papyrus includes the Semitic place name b-r-k.t, which refers to the Lakes of Pithom. Even in Egyptian sources, the Semitic name for the Lakes of Pithom was used instead of the original Egyptian name. It is likely that a Semitic-speaking population lived in the region long enough that their name eventually supplanted the original.

Moreover, I have done a lot of research about an archaeological finding regarding Joshua: “Joshua’s Altar on Mt. Ebal: Findings of Recent Archaeology” (7-22-14: three months before I visited Israel). Dr. Adam Zertal, Professor, Dept. of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, discovered Joshua’s altar, described in the Bible, in April 1980. Various datings of the site put it shortly after the proposed “late” time of the Exodus (13th-12th century B. C. ). Many archaeologists had been in the habit of utterly denying the conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites. This evidence expressly contradicts them.

Dr. Zertal wrote in November 2004:

The cultic site on Mt. Ebal satisfies the three criteria necessary to identify a biblical site: chronological (beginning of the Israelite settlement), geographical, and the nature of the site (a cultic center with a burnt-offering altar). In view of this analysis, the identity of the biblical story and this site as the first inter-tribal center of the Israelite tribes can hardly be doubted. This is the first time a complete Israelite cultic center, including an altar for burnt offerings, is available for study. . . . The altar on Mt. ‘Ebal is not only the most ancient and complete altar, but also the prototype of the Israelite burnt offering altar of the First and Second Temple periods. The Mesopotamian architectural influence on the structure of the altar is also very interesting, both in its stepped construction and in the orientation of its corners to the north, south, east, and west.
. . . The varieties of animal bones discovered are evidence that the laws of sacrifice were followed from the very beginnings of the Israelite religion. Despite the presence of wild boars in the region, not a single bone of this animal, not fit for sacrifice, was found on Mt. ‘Ebal.

I visited the fortress city of Khirbet Qeiyafa during our visit to Israel (and even collected several artifacts from it. It has been dated to the time of King David (about 1000 BC), and was discovered in 2007.  We also visited the City of David, just south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Eilat Mazar, an Israeli archaeologist, announced in August 2005 that she had found the palace of King David. Meanwhile, there is archaeological evidence of King David (whose existence and/or kingdom had also been questioned):

The Tel Dan Stele [discovered in 1993-1994], an inscribed stone erected by a king of Damascus in the late 9th/early 8th centuries BCE to commemorate his victory over two enemy kings, contains the phrase ביתדוד‬, bytdwd, which most scholars translate as “House of David”. . . . it is likely that this is a reference to a dynasty of the Kingdom of Judah which traced its ancestry to a founder named David. The Mesha Stele [discovered in August 1868] from Moab, dating from approximately the same period, may also contain the name David in two places, although this is less certain than the mention in the Tel Dan inscription. (Wikipedia: “David”)

Lastly, I’d like to reply to one of Seidensticker’s flawed arguments, about biblical accuracy:

If you only want to say that the Bible makes some verified historical claims and so other as-yet-unverified natural claims should also be considered seriously, that’s fine. But surely these Christians want to go further. Surely they want this to support the Bible’s supernatural claims.

I’m happy to grant that the Bible makes many accurate historical references, but having accurate names of people and places merely gets you to the starting gate. It’s the bare minimum that we demand of a historical document. You haven’t supported the supernatural claims; you’ve simply avoided getting cut from the list of entrants being considered. . . . 

Christian apologists tell us, “The Bible isn’t inaccurate in some of its testable claims!” That this counts as a apologetic says a lot for what passes for compelling argument in some Christian circles.

I’ve been doing Christian apologetics for now 37 years, and have been a full-time professional, published apologist for 16 (with ten “officially” published book to my name). I can testify that no reputable, credentialed apologist would make an argument this silly and insubstantial. Of course, one can always find any Tom, Dick, or Harry online, making a pretense of being an “apologist” and doing it, but the point is that those are the exceptions to the rule, and poor examples.

Seidensticker’s constant methodology in his incessant Christian-bashing is to present the poor argument as the usual, or normative one in Christian circles. He rarely differentiates between the arguments of scholars and that of less educated laymen. That is what is called in logic, the “straw man fallacy.”

The legitimate argument from established biblical accuracy is not that this “proves” either biblical inspiration or the supernatural events recorded in the Bible, but that it simply rules out a common objection (a far less ambitious claim). If the Bible were shown to be massively and systematically inaccurate in details, then this would be a strong argument against its inspiration from God. Our true contention, then, is as follows:

1) The Bible has been shown to be accurate again and again by archaeological and historical research.

2) Such accuracy is consistent with (though not proof of) its biblical inspiration. In other words, if the Bible is in fact inspired, we would expect it to also be accurate in details.

3) Therefore, the argument against the Bible’s inspiration based on its alleged historical inaccuracy is defeated.



Photo credit: Mohammed Moussa (9-12-13) Mt. Sinai, Egypt: where Moses received the Ten Commandments [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

August 14, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 2)” (6-22-18; update of a post originally from 10-1-14), Bob stated (the high irony in relation to his post title being almost unbearable to endure): “[T]he evidence for the very existence of Jesus is paltry . . .”

Bob also wrote elsewhere on 6-11-14: “[T]he techniques Christian apologists use to conclude that the Christ story is historical would also lead historians to a similar conclusion about Superman.”

On 12-9-11, Bob opined in his post, “Jesus and Santa: a Parable on How We Dismiss Evidence” (reprinted and modified on 12-14-13, just in time for Christmas):

I can’t prove Santa doesn’t exist. Nor can I disprove leprechauns, Russell’s Flying Teapot, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or God. The thoughtful person goes where the evidence points rather than accepting only the evidence that supports his preconception. [he then cites a bumper sticker for his famous end-quotation: Jesus is Santa Claus for adults.”]

Reiterating on 12-8-17, Bob in his infinite wisdom advises us: “Be careful about dismissing the existence of Santa, because that reasoning may demand that you dismiss Jesus as well.”

And again, on 5-26-14:

Jesus could appear to you, but he doesn’t. He appeared to Paul after he died, so it’s not like he hasn’t done it before. He could appear to give you advice for a tough decision, give you comfort in person like a friend would, or just assure you that he really exists. He doesn’t. . . . 

How do we explain the fact that Jesus has never appeared to you? Jesus is imaginary.

He clarified the above remark on 8-20-18What I meant was, “Jesus as a god who could do magical things, like appear to people, is imaginary.” Since the Christ Myth theory is something I don’t talk about, the nuance of Jesus as a man vs. Jesus as a god isn’t something I usually worry about.

And on 3-5-14“Or maybe Jesus never existed. “

On 8-17-18 Bob made a very revealing comment:

I was concerned about shrillness in the Bart Ehrman camp, the “Of course Jesus existed, and anyone who says otherwise is a dolt!” camp. . . . a reasonable research question should be, “How do you know Jesus isn’t 100% fiction?” I’d put the emphases on the “How do you know?” I’m happy with a Christian scholar saying that Jesus 70% existed or even 90% existed, but the popular attitude seems to be, “Oh, please. Only a hack would even dream to suggest that Jesus didn’t exist as a real person.” That position may be embarrassing 20 years from now, if trends continue.

And on 8-16-18:

Ehrman seems to have made this a big deal such that he’d have an embarrassing time walking back his position, and I don’t know why. Does he just have a thing against Price or Carrier? . . . Your “How do you know it’s not 100% fiction?” is a nice way of focusing the question. Popular Christian apologists try to lampoon the idea, but methinks they doth protest too much.

And yet another on 8-16-18:

The big deal in my mind is that when an atheist says, “Anyway, Jesus didn’t even exist,” they can jump on that with a fairly reasonable argument, citing a broad consensus and Bart Ehrman as an atheist scholar who agrees with them. Avoiding the Jesus myth claim keeps things a little more on track, but if someone wants to jump into that fight, I’ll happily watch. Greg G and others have made a great defense of mythicism, for example.

And another and another and a third on the same day:

The story I’ve heard is that Moses mythicism was in the same camp in the fairly recent past, but it’s held as a very plausible view now, if not the consensus of scholars. The anti-Jesus mythicists might want to focus on the argument and tone down their shrillness just in case posterity turns against them as well.

I’m not a mythicist. But since when did inconvenient facts get in the way of the Armstrong juggernaut?

I don’t deny that Jesus existed.

And on 8-19-18Y’know, if I thought Jesus never existed, I’d probably say something like, oh I dunno, maybe “Jesus never existed.” Or, if you really, really cared so much about what I think, you could just ask me. What a moron. Reading others’ comments have made me consider the Christ Myth theory more favorably, but (as I tried to explain to you) it is not useful to me. So it’s me following the interesting ideas of the commenters, not vice versa.

And on 8-20-18I wonder if some of the strongest evidence for Jesus is just that “well, some dude could easily have been there at the beginning” is the null hypothesis.

And again on 8-20-18And we don’t know when the “events” took place. Yes, the gospels sort of place them in history (Herod vs. Quirinius for the birth and Pilate for the death), but that’s just what they say. If there was a real Jesus, who knows when he was actually born?

Normally, I simply ignore the belief that is called “Jesus mythicism” as intellectual suicide and outlandishly absurd and unworthy of further attention. In my opinion (and not just mine, but the vast majority of historians), anyone who holds to this nonsense is likely to be incapable of rational discussion about theology (or history or philosophy). But since this is a series (and since more and more people believe this hogwash), I’ll make an exception to my rule. I’ve collected a lot of scholarly resources that abundantly refute this historiographically ridiculous position, so I’ll list some and quote from some, too:

Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ (Catholic Encyclopedia)

“You Can’t Trust the Gospels. They’re Unreliable” (Paul Copan)

The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus, The Founder Of Christianity (R. T. France)

Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History? (book by Maurice Goguel, 1926)

A Summary Critique: Questioning the Existence of Jesus [G. A. Wells] (Gary R. Habermas, 2000)

Seldom have recent scholars questioned or denied the historical existence of Jesus.  Of the very few who have done so, G. A. Wells is probably the best known.  In this article, I will outline and then respond to some of his major tenets.

Before turning to this topic, I will first note that the vast majority of scholars, both conservative and liberal alike, generally disdain radical theses that question the very existence of Jesus.  For example, theologian Rudolf Bultmann asserted, “By no means are we at the mercy of those who doubt or deny that Jesus ever lived.” [i]

Historian Michael Grant termed the hypothesis that Jesus never lived an “extreme view.”  He charges that it transgresses the basics of historiography: “if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”  Grant summarizes, after referring to Wells as an example: “modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory.”  These positions have been “annihilated” by the best scholars because the critics “have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.” [ii]

Digressing to a personal story, a potential publisher once asked me to contact a reviewer.  An influential New Testament scholar at a secular university, he had voted to publish my manuscript, but only if I deleted the section dealing with Well’s hypotheses.  He said that Well’s suppositions were virtually devoid of serious historical content.  He only relented after I convinced him that Wells still had some popular appeal.

Wells is aware of these attitudes towards his works.  He acknowledges that “nearly all commentators who mention the matter at all, [set] aside doubts about Jesus’ historicity as ridiculous.” [iii]  He adds, “the view that there was no historical Jesus, that his earthly existence is a fiction of earliest Christianity . . . is today almost universally rejected.” [iv]  He concludes the matter: “serious students of the New Testament today regard the existence of Jesus as an unassailable fact” (HEJ 223).  Even Michael Martin, one of Wells’ few scholarly supporters, draws the rather restrained conclusion that “Wells’ thesis is controversial and not widely accepted . . . .” [v]

[ . . . ]

Wells’ treatment of the many nonbiblical references to Jesus is also quite problematic.  He downplays those presenting difficulties for his position (Thallus, Tacitus), and suggests late dates for others, again in contrast to the wide majority of scholars (Thallus [perhaps second century AD!], Polycarp [135 AD!], Papias [140 AD]).  Yet, he provides few reasons why these dates should be preferred (DJE, 10-15, 78, 139; HEJ, 15-18).

The most important problem for Wells’ treatment is Josephus’ testimony.  In order to dismiss this important Jewish documentation, Wells resorts to questioning both of Josephus’ references to Jesus.  Not only does he disallow them as interpolated comments, but he asserts that this is also “widely admitted” by scholars (HEJ, 18; DJE, 10-11).  But he is so wide of the mark here that one is tempted to question his research altogether.

While virtually everyone thinks that portions of Josephus’ longer statement in Antiquities 18:3 has been added, the majority also think that a fair amount still came from Josephus.  Princeton Seminary’s James Charlesworth strongly concludes: “We can now be as certain as historical research will presently allow that Josephus did refer to Jesus.” [xi]  John Drane adds that “most scholars have no doubts about the authenticity”of the passage’s nucleus. [xii]  Written about 93-94 AD, Josephus’ statement, among other claims, clearly links Jesus to his disciples and connects his crucifixion to Pilate.  It is independent of the gospels, according to Wells’ dating.

Josephus’ second statement refers to James as the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ (Antiquities 20:9).  This also hurts Well’s thesis significantly, because it likewise links Jesus to a first century person who was known to Paul and other apostles. [xiii]  In spite of Wells’ dismissal (without citing a single scholar who agrees–HEJ, 18), Yamauchi concludes, “Few scholars have questioned the genuineness of this passage.” [xiv]

Thus it is no wonder that Wells would dearly like to squelch Josephus’ two references to Jesus.  Both clearly place Jesus in a specific first century context connected with the apostles and Pilate, cannot be derived from the gospels on Wells’ dating, and come from a non-Christian.  Wells even notes that such independent data would be of “great value” (DJE, 14).  So it is exceptionally instructive, not just that Wells dismisses both, but that he clearly wishes his readers to think that contemporary scholarship is firmly on his side when it very clearly is nowhere close.  Charlesworth specifically refers to Wells’ treatment of Josephus, saying that, “Many solid arguments can be presented against such distortions and polemics.” [xv]

[ . . . ]

Why do scholars reject Wells’ thesis?  Because it cuts out Christianity’s heart and even critics refuse to face this (DJE, 205)?  I have argued that there is another reason.  One does not impress scholars by maintaining a thesis at all costs, consistently resorting to extraordinary means to overlook any bit of data that would disprove one’s view.  Even ally Martin realizes that Wells’ arguments may sometimes seem “ad hoc and arbitrary.” [xviii]

But at several points, this is clearly what Wells does.  He often admits that a natural textual reading devastates his theories.  Then he dismisses every historical reference linking Jesus to the first century, making some bizarre moves in the process.  This most obviously occurs in his treatments of James, Jesus’ disciples, and Josephus.  Along with dating the gospels decades later than almost everyone, these and other factors combine to produce the sense of ad hoc argumentation.  But it all seriously undermines his system, as well as eroding his credibility.

Wells appears to declare virtually anything rather than admitting Jesus’ historicity.  Yet, one by one, his house of cards collapses.  This is precisely why the vast majority of scholars reject Well’s claims: he fails to deal adequately with the historical data.

Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels (Gary R. Habermas, 2005)

[A]pproximately one-and-a-half dozen non-Christian, extrabiblical sources confirm many details from Jesus’ life and teachings as found in the Gospels.8 Early Christians such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp provide even more confirmation, writing just 10 years or less after the completion of the New Testament.9 Archaeological sources do not contribute as much corroboration in New Testament studies as they do in Old Testament studies, but there are a number of indications that, when the details can be checked, the New Testament is often confirmed.10

There are a number of pieces of evidence that, especially when taken together, confirm the traditional picture regarding the life and teachings of Jesus. This is not to say that all the pertinent questions have been answered;11 but the available evidence from a variety of angles confirms the strong foundation on which we can base the general reliability of the New Testament reports of the historical Jesus.

Qumran Evidence for the Reliability of the Gospels (Larry W. Hurtado, 1968)

The Historicity of Jesus Christ (Wayne Jackson)

[T]he Jewish Babylonian Talmud took note of the Lord’s existence. Collected into a final form in the fifth century A.D., it is derived from earlier materials, some of which originated in the first century. Its testimony to Jesus’ existence is all the more valuable, as it is extremely hostile. It charges that Christ (who is called Ben Pandera) was born out of wedlock after his mother had been seduced by a Roman soldier named Pandera or Panthera.

Respected scholar, the late Bruce Metzger of Princeton, has commented upon this appellation:

The defamatory account of his birth seems to reflect a knowledge of the Christian tradition that Jesus was the son of the virgin Mary, the Greek word for virgin, parthenos, being distorted into the name Pandera (1965, 76).

The Talmud also refers to Jesus’ miracles as “magic,” and records that he claimed to be God. It further mentions his execution on the eve of the Passover. Jewish testimony thus supports the New Testament position on the historical existence of Jesus. . . .

Another line of evidence establishing the historicity of Jesus is the fact that the earliest enemies of the Christian faith did not deny that Christ actually lived (see Hurst 1897, 180-189).

Celsus, a pagan philosopher of the second century A.D., produced the oldest extant literary attack against Christianity. His True Discourse (ca. A.D. 178) was a bitter assault upon Christ. Celsus argued that Jesus was born in low circumstances, being the illegitimate son of a soldier named Panthera (see above). As he grew, he announced himself to be God, deceiving many. Celsus charged that Christ’s own people killed him, and that his resurrection was a deception. But Celsus never questioned the historicity of Jesus.

Lucian of Samosata (ca. A.D. 115-200) was called “the Voltaire of Grecian literature.” He wrote against Christianity more with patronizing contempt than volatile hostility. He said Christians worshipped the well-known “sophist” who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced new mysteries. He never denied the existence of Jesus.

Porphyry of Tyre was born about A.D. 233, studied philosophy in Greece, and lived in Sicily where he wrote fifteen books against the Christian faith. In one of his books, Life of Pythagoras, he contended that magicians of the pagan world exhibited greater powers than Christ. His argument was an inadvertent concession of Jesus’ existence and power.

Extrabiblical Witnesses to Jesus before 200 A.D.  (Glenn Miller, 1996)

Did Jesus Exist? Books for Refuting the Jesus Myth (Christopher Price)

Did Josephus Refer to Jesus?: A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum (Christopher Price, 2003)

Scholarly Opinions on the Jesus Myth (Christopher Price, 2003)

I have often been asked why more academics do not take the time to respond to the Jesus Myth theory. After looking into this question, I discovered that most historians and New Testament scholars relevant to the topic have concluded that Jesus Mythers are beyond reason and therefore decide that they have better things to do with their time.  Here are some examples.

Howard Marshall

In his book, I Believe in the Historical Jesus, Howard Marshall points out that in the early to mid 20th century, one of the few “authorities” to consider Jesus as a myth was a Soviet Encyclopaedia. He then goes on to discuss the work of GA Wells which was then recently published.

There is said to be a Russian encyclopaedia in current use which affirms in a brief entry that Jesus Christ was the mythological founder of Christianity, but it is virtually alone in doing so. The historian will not take its statement very seriously, since … it offers no evidence for its assertion, and mere assertion cannot stand over against historical enquiry.  But more than mere assertion is involved, for an attempt to show that Jesus never existed has been made in recent years by GA Wells, a Professor of German who has ventured into New Testament study and presents a case that the origins Christianity can be explained without assuming that Jesus really lived. Earlier presentations of similar views at the turn of the century failed to make any impression on scholarly opinion, and it is certain that this latest presentation of the case will not fare any better.

Professor Marshall was correct that neither any earlier attempt nor Wells have swayed scholarly opinion. This remains true whether the scholars were Christians, liberals, conservatives, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, or Catholic.  And even GA Wells himself has now conceded that a real figure called Jesus lay behind some of the teaching contained in the synoptic Gospels.

Michael Grant

In his book Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, Atheist historian Michael Grant completely rejected the idea that Jesus never existed.

This sceptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth…. But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms…. To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars.’ In recent years, ‘no serous scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.

[ . . . ]

Rudolf Bultmann

Even the famously liberal Professor Bultmann, who argued against the historicity of much of the gospels, questions the reasonableness of Jesus Mythers themselves in Jesus and the Word.

Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community.


Someone informed Bob of this paper. His response was as follows:

I can’t imagine I’m missing much by not reading it. (link)

Why read it? He has no credibility. Posts like that are the equivalent of The National Inquirer or Weekly World News. (link)

I haven’t read enough to have an informed opinion, so no, I’m not a mythicist.

I’m sympathetic to the mythicists’ arguments, and I own the relevant books by Carrier and Price, but I haven’t read them. As a result, I don’t want/need to engage with those arguments.

For my purposes (showing the foolishness of Christianity), mythicism isn’t a useful tool. I’m sure that if I read those books, I’d have yet more information that would be useful, but the main argument is just a tangent. Getting into that morass simply allows the Christian to say, “Well, Bart Ehrman says you’re wrong, so whaddya gotta say about that??” and so on. (link)

Bob appears to want to play it both ways, as to the existence of Jesus. He compares belief in Jesus to that of Santa Claus, and makes a direct comparison to Superman (a mere cartoon character), and also to leprechauns, Russell’s Flying Teapot, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He states flat-out that “Jesus is imaginary.” He talks about Jesus needing to assure usthat he really exists. He doesn’t.” That doesn’t sound like a very robust existence to me, or like existence at all. Does it to anyone else?

Either he is unwittingly contradicting himself (in his overall haze of confusion), or he is cleverly playing it one way to atheists and another to Christians. Or else (to give the most charitable slant possible to this data, which I sincerely hope is in actuality the case), Bob used to deny the existence of Jesus and no longer does, though he remainssympathetic to the mythicists’ arguments.” People change their views over time. I certainly have. If this is the case, then he needs to go revise (and/or retract) the mocking, smart-ass “doesn’t exist”-type statements that I have documented, lest he confuse his readers as to his position.

Bob’s responses under fire to a fellow Catholic, on his blog (on 15-16 August 2018), suggest that he has either forgotten his own statements (the most charitable, “amnesiac” / “I’ve written 1000+ posts” take) or is deliberately misrepresenting them (the cynical, Bill and Hillary Clinton / obfuscation take):

I’ve never argued that Jesus never existed. Pro tip: taking what Armstrong says at face value can embarrass you when it blows up in your face. He has a tenuous grasp on the truth. You need to fact-check whatever he says. (link)

I’ve never argued either way. What’s your reluctance? Are you remembering all those posts where I argued the question? Point them out to me. Oh wait–I have a stalker who hangs on my every word. Maybe you could ask him. But be sure to get links to the quotes because he has a hard time with reality. What’s hard to understand here? “Jesus never existed” is an argument that doesn’t help me. It’s a tangent. I have far more useful arguments if I were to argue against Christian claims. (link)

Getting back to the atheist propensity to ignore solid criticism: “Grimlock”: who was active on my blog for months and claimed to be interested in dialogue, also commented:

Why should I read anything by Armstrong? I see no compelling reason to do so. (link)

Obtaining valuable information and knowledge are certainly things to strive for. But that doesn’t mean I will be getting that from reading the article to which you linked. Why should I think the article will provide valuable information? (link)

And on 8-15-18, Bob reiterated that he has no intention of interacting with my critiques:

I have no interest in visiting his blog anymore, and if it becomes a cesspool of thoughtless yes-men, then that’s Dave’s loss. Every now and then one of his dittoheads might come over here, and we can show them how their logic stands up in the real world.


On 27 June 2019, Bob showed that he was still playing the same game: talking out of both sides of his mouth, so that he won’t alienate his more fanatical atheist brethren who (unlike him) outright deny Jesus’ existence. He says just enough to make them believe either that he is “one of them” or close enough to be a would-be ally in the battle against established historical truth and facts:

6. “Bonus: Jesus did not (or probably did not) exist.”

“This is so foolish, I have never met more than one relevantly trained atheist who believed it.”

You need to get out more. I’ve met two, Dr. Richard Carrier (doctorate in history) and Dr. Robert M. Price (two doctorates: one in Systematic Theology and another in New Testament).

I’m not well read on the historical Jesus issue and so don’t make this argument, but I also avoid it because it’s tangential. There are much simpler and more effective attacks on Christianity.

Some religions start with real people who actually lived (Joseph Smith for Mormonism, Mary Baker Eddy for Christian Science, Bahá’u’lláh for Bahá’í), and some may not have (Buddha for Buddhism, Lao Tzu for Taoism, Zoroaster for Zoroastrianism). “Jesus was just a myth” is hardly a radical claim. Said another way, providing overwhelming evidence that Jesus was historical would be a difficult challenge.

And in the combox:

All that supernatural stuff surrounding the Jesus story makes me wonder if that makes it inherently less plausible. There’s nothing supernatural around the Robin Hood story. Or William Tell, or John Henry, or King Arthur (ignoring the Merlin bit). And if there is, the story survives after you remove the supernatural. In the case of Jesus, nothing remains if you remove the supernatural stuff. (6-27-19)

Yeah–Jesus as a real man or not doesn’t change things for me. Nevertheless, some of the more erudite commenters here have studied it (Greg G comes to mind), and I find their comments quite interesting. (6-27-19)

I don’t make the “Jesus was a myth” argument, though that to me is a very plausible possibility. . . . Lots of people, even non-Christians can believe that Jesus existed as a real person. Jesus as a myth or legend remains very plausible. (7-18-19)


Photo credit: Head of Jesus (1891), by Enrique Simonet (1866-1927) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


August 14, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 5)” (7-6-18; update of a post originally from 10-13-14), Bob stated:

The Bible record many instances of God imposing on people’s free will. “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12), for example, and he gave ungrateful humans over to “shameful lusts” (Rom. 1:26). “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples” (Psalms 33:10).

Likewise, Bob waxes eloquently on 8-11-14: “Am I an atheist because God hardened my heart? If so, why do I deserve hell when it was God’s doing?”

Let’s take each claim in his first statement above in turn. I’ve already written elsewhere about most of this, so I trust that the reader can forgive me if I provide a link. But I’ll cite key portions of papers I cite, for readers’ convenience.

“God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

Romans 9 is perhaps the very favorite Bible passage of Calvinists, because they deny human free will; therefore, they welcome this passage that appears at first glance to support their position. Upon closer inspection, it does no such thing. I wrote about this in my paper: Romans 9: Plausible Non-Calvinist Interpretation. It involves somewhat subtle and complex argumentation, and analysis of the Hebrew way of thought, which was very different from our western, Greek-oriented classical logic thinking, and so will have to be read.

In it, I cite biblical scholar Marvin Wilson, author of Our Father Abraham, (which I have in my own library). He talks about the notion of Hebrew “block logic”:

[C]oncepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine. This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antimony, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension — and often illogical relation — to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic. . . .

Consideration of certain forms of block logic may give one the impression that divine sovereignty and human responsibility were incompatible. The Hebrews, however, sense no violation of their freedom as they accomplish God’s purposes.

He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12),

I’ve dealt with this objection at great length and in great depth; examining the biblical data, and in reply to a Calvinist. The easiest way to explain that this is not a contradiction of human free will is to note not only the passages where God is said to have “hardened” someone’s heart, but also the ones where they hardened themselves:

Exodus 8:15 (RSV) But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, . . . (cf. 8:19)

Exodus 8:32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.

Exodus 9:34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. (cf. 9:7, 35)

Deuteronomy 15:7 you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,

1 Samuel 6:6 Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? . . .

2 Chronicles 36:13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnez’zar, who had made him swear by God; he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel.

Job 9:4 who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?

Psalm 95:8 Harden not your hearts, as at Mer’ibah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Proverbs 28:14 . . . he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Hebrews 3:8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,

Hebrews 3:15  while it is said, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

The two motifs have to be harmonized, and they easily can be, once Hebrew thought is better understood. It may be a biblical paradox (one of many), but that’s not the same as a logical contradiction. Here’s how I explain it in my “biblical” paper above:

God allows such people their freedom to rebel, which in turn entails the devil getting in there and making things worse (just as God allowed the devil to tempt Job: Job 1:12). So in a sense to say that “God did so-and-so” when He simply allowed it to take place, is an assertion of God’s overall Providence. God is asserting that He is in control. . . .

Strictly speaking, that isn’t how God thinks or acts, but it was an anthropomorphism to help practical, concrete, non-philosophical Hebrew man be able to relate to the mysterious, transcendent God.

The bottom line is that men harden themselves in rebellion and God allows it. . . . If people rebel, God will withdraw His grace and protection from them, and so in a sense He did it. But it was always essentially man’s rebellion.

he gave ungrateful humans over to “shameful lusts” (Rom. 1:26).

This is simply a variation of what we saw in the last two examples. Rebels against God hardened their hearts against him, and so it is said in a particular sense that God hardened them (meaning that He allowed it, incorporating their free will into the equation). He didn’t cause it or make it inevitably come about, as if they had no free will. The larger passage shows this clearly. Seidensticker, with his nefarious motivations of always mocking the Bible and God, only shows that par t that seems to support his contention. Here’s the context:

Romans 1:18-26 (RSV)  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; [21] for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools, [23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. [24] Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, [25] because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. [26] For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.

See how the causal chain works there? Humans with free will decided to not believe in God or follow His will. Then God “gave them up.” In other words, He let human free will take it’s course. It’s as if God were saying, “okay; you don’t want to follow Me and do what is best for you? You know better than do about that? Very well, then, I’ll let you become blind and deluded. See how well off you’ll be then.”

I’ve put the key actions of rebellious human beings in the passage in red, and God’s response in blue, to make it more clear. It’s all in the bolded text. They decided in their free will to sin and not believe in God. “Therefore” and “For this reason” God gave them up: “because” of their sins. It’s quite clear and undeniable that they have free will and that it;s their fault. God caused none of it. He simply decides to let them have their way and withdraw His grace at a certain point. It’s like someone who loves someone else with an unrequited love for twenty years. It’s never returned, so at length they finally decide to give it up and stop desiring the other person, or hoping they will act accordingly.

“The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples” (Psalms 33:10).

This is an instance of God’s judgment, which, I suppose, is an act contrary to man’s will (who wants to be judged?), but it is a perfectly just one, and not at all contrary to God’s will. It’s the same motif again, that we have seen in the above three examples: men reach a point of rebellion that is so determined and :hardened” that God gives up on them and judges them. Sometimes it is entire nations, as in this verse. Hence we have in Scripture, many “if . . . then” conditional prophecies:

Joshua 24:20  If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”

1 Chronicles 28:9 “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off for ever.

2 Chronicles 7:17-20 And as for you, if you walk before me, as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances,[18] then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, `There shall not fail you a man to rule Israel.’ [19] “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, [20] then I will pluck you up from the land which I have given you; and this house, which I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

2 Chronicles 15:2 If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

If a person or nation rebels against God and is intransigent and won’t repent, then God will eventually judge. But it never had to be that way. It wasn’t predestined, or fate, and God didn’t cause it or overcome their free will. They freely chose to reject Him. And this rejection and this judgment can also include entire nations, because responsibility in the Hebrew / biblical worldview is not just individual, but also corporate. I’ve written a lot about the judgment of nations:

Judgment of Nations: A Collection of Biblical Passages

Judgment of Nations: Biblical Commentary and Reflections

God’s Judgment of Humans (Sometimes, Entire Nations)

Israel as God’s Agent of Judgment

Is God an Unjust Judge? Dialogue with an Atheist

God’s “Punishing” of Descendants: Unjust?

Conclusion: As usual with anti-theists, Bob chooses to blame God for things that are clearly man’s fault. He butchers the Bible in order to supposedly use it as a hostile witness against God. I submit that that attempt of his abysmally fails, as just shown.


Photo credit: God the Father, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


August 13, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 5)” (7-6-18; update of a post originally from 10-13-14), Bob stated: “Atheists have better mental health than religious people.” He linked to one article, that in turn cited one scientific study. Of course, virtually any question or issue that would be the subject of a scientific study won’t yield unanimous results in such studies. One can always find one study that will support just about any conclusion. The task, then, is to look over the literature devoted to a given topic, and find some sort of overall consensus, if there is one to be had. This is how science (including medical and social and psychological science) works. Sometimes the results are very mixed and inconclusive. One must follow the facts one way or the other, and mixed results compel us to conclude, “studies at the present time are inconclusive, so we can’t say that we know for certain about topic x. Further studies are needed, . . .”

I followed the latter procedure, which I submit is both more objective and scientific than Bob’s quick potshot (his almost constant modus operandi), based on one lone study. I shall cite five, and several of those note many other concurring studies in their own reviews of the relevant literature on mental health as related to religion. As is well-known, one of the talking-points of atheism for hundreds of years is to claim that religion is itself a mental illness, and/or that Christians are so gullible and devoid of reality in their beliefs, that it amounts to a scenario whereby the religious person can be said to be mentally afflicted, or at any rate, much more so overall than atheists. Anyone can talk a good game. What does the psychology research actually suggest (I minored in psychology and majored in sociology in college, by the way)? Make up your own mind:

1) “Research on Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health: A Review” (The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, May 2009):

[S]ystematic research published in the mental health literature to date does not support the argument that religious involvement usually has adverse effects on mental health.


While some studies report no association between religious involvement and mental health, and a handful of studies have reported negative
associations, the majority (476 of 724 quantitative studies prior to the year 2000, based on a systematic review) reported statistically significant positive associations. [Dave: that’s 65.7%]


Prior to 2000, more than 100 quantitative studies had examined the relation between religion and depression. Among 93 observational studies, two-thirds found significantly lower rates of depressive disorder or fewer depressive symptoms among the more religious.


Prior to 2000, at least 76 studies had examined the relation between religious involvement and anxiety. Sixty-nine studies were observational and 7 were RCTs. Among the observational studies, 35 found significantly less anxiety or fear among the more religious, 24 found no association, and 10 reported greater anxiety.


Unfortunately, there are relatively few studies—particularly from the United States or Canada—that have examined the relation between religion and psychotic symptoms. In an earlier review of the literature, Koenig et al identified 16 studies. Among the 10 cross-sectional studies, 4 found less psychosis or psychotic tendencies among people more religiously involved, 3 found no association, and 2 studies reported mixed results. The final study, conducted in London, England, found religious beliefs and practices significantly more common among depressed (n = 52) and
schizophrenic psychiatric (n = 21) inpatients, compared with orthopedic control subjects (n = 26).

2) “Religion and Mental Health: Current Findings” (Dr Simon Dein, Royal College of Psychiatrists):

In the past twenty years there has been increasing attention given to the relationships between various dimensions of religiosity and mental health. By now several thousand studies have been conducted demonstrating positive associations between the two (Koenig, King and Carson 2012). On balance those who are more religious have better indices of mental health.


[O]n balance it appears that being religious improves mental health . . .

3) “A Systematic Review of Recent Research on Adolescent Religiosity/Spirituality and Mental Health” (Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 2006, Issue 2):

Abstract: Twenty articles between 1998 and 2004 were reviewed. Most studies (90%) showed that higher levels of R/S were associated with better mental health in adolescents. Institutional and existential dimensions of R/S had the most robust relationships with mental health.

4) “Explaining the Relationships Between Religious Involvement and Health” (Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 13, 2002, Issue 3)

Abstract: There is increasing research evidence that religious involvement is associated both cross-sectionally and prospectively with better physical health, better mental health, and longer survival. These relationships remain substantial in size and statistically significant with other risk and protective factors for morbidity and mortality statistically controlled.

5) “5 reasons atheists shouldn’t call religion a mental illness” (Chris Stedman [himself an atheist, who consulted atheists in the article] Religion News Service, 2-24-14)

“Religion and mental illness are different psychological processes,” said atheist and mental health advocate Miri Mogilevsky in a recent email exchange. “[Religious beliefs may] stem from cognitive processes that are essentially adaptive, such as looking for patterns and feeling like a part of something larger than oneself.” . . .

“People who cannot leave the house without having a panic attack or who feel a compulsion to wash their hands hundreds of times a day are experiencing symptoms that interfere with their ability to go about their lives,” Mogilevsky said. “Except in extreme cases, religion does not operate this way.”


“Religion is many things—a famously indefinable concept—but for our purposes we can use the word to refer to supernatural belief systems and institutions built around them,” said David Yaden, a researcher at The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center who works in collaboration with UPenn’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, in a recent email exchange. “If that is our definition, religion absolutely cannot be [categorized] as a mental illness.”

“In fact, empirical evidence sometimes points to the opposite conclusion,” Yaden said, citing the work of Dr. Ken Pargament. “When it comes to facilitating mental health, empirical data demonstrates that religious people have more positive emotion, more meaning in life, more life satisfaction, cope better with trauma, are more physically healthy, are more altruistic and socially connected, and are not diagnosed with mental illness more than other people.”


Photo credit: Clard (Nov. 2017) Schizophrenic art fantasy [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

August 12, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 5)” (7-6-18; update of a post originally from 10-13-14), Bob flatly stated: “Christians are not more generous.” He linked to a separate detailed post: “Top Religion Story of 2012” (12-31-12). In that piece, he notes a study described in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (10-3-17). This indicated that Christians gave more to charity, but Bob spun that finding as follows:

Drop religious donations, and the Bible belt drops from the most generous part of the country to the least. . . . But why discard donations to religious organizations? Because, though they’re nonprofits, religious organizations’ charity work (feeding or housing the needy, for example) is negligible.

Okay, that’s an interesting take (I observed several other atheists using it, while researching this post, so it appears to be “playbook”); he contends that charity given to a church is less so because churches have relatively more overhead than groups like the Red Cross. That may very well be (I grant this claim for the sake of argument), but I would submit that that’s irrelevant to determining how generous the giver is. For the giver, the amount they give is what it is, and indicates their heart, regardless of how efficiently their donation is used. Apples and oranges. Thus Bob’s dismissal of the poll findings here appears rather desperate.

By his reasoning if Person A gives $100 to an organization that uses 70% of it for overhead to maintain itself, and Person B gives $50 to an organization that uses 20% of it for overhead, Person B is more generous, even though he or she has given half the amount, because $40 of the $50 goes to the actual work of charity, whereas only $30 of the $100 does. But again, that is no reflection on the generosity of the giver! It may reflect badly on how wise or informed his or her choice of charity was, but not on the generosity exhibited.

Another study in the same magazine (11-25-13), reported:

The more important religion is to a person, the more likely that person is to give to a charity of any kind, according to new research released today.

Among Americans who claim a religious affiliation, the study said, 65 percent give to charity. Among those who do not identify a religious creed, 56 percent make charitable gifts.

About 75 percent of people who frequently attend religious services gave to congregations, and 60 percent gave to religious charities or nonreligious ones. By comparison, fewer than half of people who said they didn’t attend faith services regularly supported any charity, even a even secular one.

Everyone knows that political conservatives as a group are more religious than political liberals. Studies also show that conservatives are significantly more generous than liberals. And again, religion (specifically factored in one portion of the survey) was key. Nicholas Kristof, in an op-ed in The New York Times: “Bleeding Heart Tightwads” (12-20-08) observed:

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, Who Really Cares, cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so. . . .

It’s true that religion is the essential reason conservatives give more, and religious liberals are as generous as religious conservatives. Among the stingiest of the stingy are secular conservatives. . . .

[I]f measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes. . . .

Conservatives also appear to be more generous than liberals in nonfinancial ways. People in red states are considerably more likely to volunteer for good causes, and conservatives give blood more often. [book title italicized; in the original it was in quotation marks]

A Barna Research study (6-3-13) shows the same:

A person’s religious identification has a lot to do with whether or not they donate to causes they believe in. Evangelicals were far and away the group most likely to donate money, items or time as a volunteer. More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months. Comparatively, 27% of those with a faith other than Christianity say they made no charitable donation in the last year—a number more than double the national rate (13%). One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans.

So does research from the BBC (reported in The Telegraph on 6-9-14):

Research commissioned by the BBC found that people who profess a religious belief are significantly more likely to give to charity than non-believers. . . .

Overall as many as seven in 10 people in England said they had given money to a charity in the past month. But while just over two thirds of those who professed no religious faith claimed to have done so, among believers the figure rose to almost eight out of 10.

John Stossel and Kristina Kendall reported for ABC News (11-28-06):

[T]he single biggest predictor of whether someone will be charitable is their religious participation.

Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money: four times as much. And Arthur Brooks told me that giving goes beyond their own religious organization:

“Actually, the truth is that they’re giving to more than their churches,” he says. “The religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly non-religious charities.”

And almost all of the people who gave to our bell ringers in San Francisco and Sioux Falls said they were religious or spiritual.

The Philanthropy Panel Study concurs as well (article of 10-30-17):

David King, director of the Institute on Faith & Giving at the school, said the “Giving USA Special Report on Giving to Religion,” released on Oct. 26 by The Giving Institute, reaffirms what many researchers in the field have long known: that there is a “substantial connection between religion and giving.”

“Religious affiliation really matters,” Mr. King said. “Someone with a religious affiliation was more than two times more generous than someone without a religious affiliation. And among those with a religious affiliation, religious intensity really matters. Those who attend services were much more likely to give, whether it’s monthly or weekly. We really see the connection grow with continued involvement in a religious community.” . . .

[R]eligious people also contribute to other types of charity at similar or higher rates than their secular counterparts.


Photo credit: angiechaoticcrooks0 (3-2-15) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons  license]



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