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July 25, 2019

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day: “If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.” Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 33 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, The Leaky Noah’s Ark Tale (2 of 2) (9-2-16; updated from a post on 7-4-13), Bible-Basher Bob pontificates:

What was going through God’s mind?

Here’s how God begins the project.

[Jehovah] regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So [Jehovah] said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” (Gen. 6:6–7)

God regrets? God changes his mind? As an omniscient being, why didn’t he see this coming? . . . 

But in the early days, of course, God was merely powerful, not omniscient. And not particularly benevolent either.

I covered this general ground in my treatment of anthropopathism last time. The present issue involves the same dynamics; that is: the Bible states something about God that human beings can relate to. He (at least prima facie in the text, interpreted literally) thinks differently now about something He did. So the text says that He “regretted” it.

Kevin DeYoung, writing at The Gospel Coalition site, stated:

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” (1 Samuel 15:10-11)

In 1 Samuel 15:35, we see a similar statement:

And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Strong words. And surprising too. What does it mean for God to say “I regret”? Can God change his mind? Can we thwart God’s plans? Is God ignorant about the future? Is God just like us in that he makes honest mistakes and sometimes look back at his decisions and says, “Golly, I wish I could do that one over again”? It seems like our God makes mistakes and is forced to change course.

And yet, we know this is not the right way to understand God’s regret because of what we read a few verses earlier in 1 Samuel 15:

And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (28-29)

. . . As God’s ways appear to us, there will be change and variation, but as God is in his character and essence there can be no variation of shadow due to change (James 1:17; cf. Mal.3:6Heb. 13:82 Tim. 2:13). (“Does God Have Regret?”, 10-7-14)

The magnificent multi-volume Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament elaborates a bit more:

To confirm his own words, he adds in 1 Samuel 15:29 : “ And also the Trust of Israel doth not lie and doth not repent, for He is not a man to repent .” נצח signifies constancy, endurance, then confidence, trust, because a man can trust in what is constant. . . . the context suggests the idea of unchangeableness. For a man’s repentance or regret arises from his changeableness, from the fluctuations in his desires and actions. This is never the case with God; consequently He is ישׂראל נצח , the unchangeable One, in whom Israel can trust, since He does not lie or deceive, or repent of His purposes . These words are spoken θεοπρεπῶς (theomorphically), whereas in 1 Samuel 15:11 and other passages, which speak of God as repenting, the words are to be understood ἀνθρωποπαθῶς (anthropomorphically; cf. Numbers 23:19).

Here is the latter passage in RSV:

Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?

The word, anthropomorphically is used several other times in the Keil & Delitzsch Commentary, as we learn from a search function at the online version. Here are two examples:

[Exodus 33:18-23] The manifested glory of the Lord would so surely be followed by the destruction of man, that even Moses needed to be protected before it (Exodus 33:21Exodus 33:22). Whilst Jehovah, therefore, allowed him to come to a place upon the rock near Him, i.e., upon the summit of Sinai (Exodus 34:2), He said that He would put him in a cleft of the rock whilst He was passing by, and cover him with His hand when He had gone by, that he might see His back, because His face could not be seen. The back, as contrasted with the face, signifies the reflection of the glory of God that had just passed by. The words are transferred anthropomorphically from man to God, because human language and human thought can only conceive of the nature of the absolute Spirit according to the analogy of the human form. As the inward nature of man manifests itself in his face, and the sight of his back gives only an imperfect and outward view of him, so Moses saw only the back and not the face of Jehovah. It is impossible to put more into human words concerning this unparalleled vision, which far surpasses all human thought and comprehension.

Keil & Delitzsch comment on the very passage that Bob brought up:

[Genesis 6:5-8] Now when the wickedness of man became great, and “ every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil the whole day ,” i.e., continually and altogether evil, it repented God that He had made man, and He determined to destroy them. . . .

The force of ינּחם , “it repented the Lord,” may be gathered from the explanatory יתעצּב , “it grieved Him at His heart.” This shows that the repentance of God does not presuppose any variableness in His nature of His purposes. In this sense God never repents of anything (1 Samuel 15:29), “ quia nihil illi inopinatum vel non praevisum accidit ” ( Calvin ). The repentance of God is an anthropomorphic expression for the pain of the divine love at the sin of man, and signifies that “God is hurt no less by the atrocious sins of men than if they pierced His heart with mortal anguish” ( Calvin ).

Dr. Bert Thompson, writing for the wonderful Apologetics Press site in 2003 (“Why does God Sometimes Repent?”) observes:

On occasion, within Scripture we find the comment made that God “repented” of certain actions (or intended actions) on His part. [e.g., Jonah 3:10 (RSV): “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.”] . . .

[D]uring the Patriarchal Age in which they were living, Noah and his contemporaries had received instructions on how to live righteously (see 1 Peter 3:18-20), and as long as they continued in this manner, God’s presence and blessings would abide with them. But when they became sinful and unrepentant, He no longer could condone their actions. As a consequence of their sinful rebelliousness, God withdrew His spirit (Genesis 6:3), and pledged to send a flood to destroy all mankind except Noah and his immediate family (6:7). God was grieved (6:6), not because He did not know that this series of events would happen, or because He somehow “regretted” having created man in the first place, but because, having given man the choice to serve Him or reject Him, man had chosen the latter with such unanimity. . . .

The examples described above (from Genesis 6 and Jonah 3) represent situations in which God’s actions were necessary because of the fact that man, although created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), had morphed into a sinful creature. Thus, God’s decision to judge man via a universal flood, or to destroy the inhabitants of an entire city, was dependent upon man’s (negative) response to the conditions of righteousness that God had imposed at an earlier time via His divine commands. . . .

Consider the following passage.

At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them (Jeremiah 18:7-10).

This passage is an explicit statement of the very principle under consideration here—i.e., God’s plan or rule of conduct in dealing with man. God’s promises and/or threats may be either directly stated, or implied. Whenever God, in reacting to a change of character or intent in certain persons, does not execute the threats, nor fulfill the promises He made to them, the reason is clear. If a wicked man turns from his wickedness, God no longer holds the threat against him. If a righteous man turns from righteousness to wickedness, God withdraws the previously promised blessings. It is precisely because God is immutable that His relationship to men, and/or His treatment of them, varies with the changes in their conduct. When the Scriptures thus speak of “God having repented,” the wording is accommodative (viz., written from a human vantage point). As Samuel Davidson has well said: “When repentance is attributed to God, it implies a change in His mode of dealing with men, such as would indicate on their part a change of purpose” (1843, p. 527). From a human vantage point, we view God’s act(s) as “repentance.” But, in reality, God’s immutable law has not changed one iota; only the response of man to that law has changed. Seen in this light, God cannot be accused of any self-contradictory attributes.

Bob (always fair to and accurate about God at all times) also opined:in the early days, of course, God was merely powerful, not omniscient.” I disposed of this self-serving, complately groundless and arbitrary myth about the Bible and its presentation of God’s attributes in the paper: Seidensticker Folly #20: An Evolving God in the OT? (God’s Omnipotence, Omniscience, & Omnipresence in Early Bible Books & Ancient Jewish Understanding).

It’s one thing to simply state, “I don’t believe or accept what the Bible / Christianity teaches.” We understand that this is (broadly speaking) the position of the atheist.

It’s quite another, on the other hand, to state, “The Bible teaches particulars x, y, and z” [in this case, the claim is submitted that God repents or regrets just as men do, and is therefore changeable and not immutable, as classic and orthodox Christianity holds], which opens one up to the possibility of being shown that the claims made are demonstrably false statements as to fact.

The necessity of interpretation is inescapable. If atheists wish to enter into serious, in-depth discussions about what the Bible actually teaches, they’re going to have to understand (at least in a rudimentary way) biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and the wide variety of literary genre present in the Bible: as it is in all languages and cultures of all times. They are in our realm when they want to intelligently discuss the Bible (to the extent that they actually do that).

Bob (typically of atheists) doesn’t do that at all. He assumes that 1) Christians are stupid and ignorant, and that 2) the ancient Hebrews were stupid and ignorant (therefore, so is the Bible). Then he proceeds to “tear down” what he has only a very dim comprehension of in the first place: thus presenting (irony of ironies!) a very stupid and ignorant critique of this, that, or the other in Holy Scripture.

And I will keep pointing out the flimsiness and fallaciousness of all such pseudo-“arguments” as Bob almost certainly continues to offer ample and golden opportunities to do so.

***

Photo credit: God’s Judgment upon Gog (1852), by Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

July 24, 2019

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.” Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 32 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, Top 10 Most Common Atheist Arguments—Do They Fail? (2 of 4) (7-19-19; update of a post dated 6-29-15), Bible-Basher Bob pontificated:

We typically give Christians a pass when they list God’s properties—it’s their religion, so why not? But the Bible gives some very human limitations on God.

  • God changed his mind: “The Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Exodus 32:10–14). He dithered about whether Balaam (the one with the talking donkey) should go on his trip or not (Numbers 22).
  • God doesn’t know everything: “I will go down [to Sodom] and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me” (Genesis 18:21). . . . 
  • God regrets.
  • God lies.

I shall deal with the last two false accusations in papers devoted to each (my next two). Bible-Basher Bob links to involved papers in both instances. I shall dismantle those, and indeed, they are based on the same profound and inexcusable dunce-level ignorance (of the same type) that I am presently critiquing.

This is truly garden variety atheist playbook / boilerplate stuff: complete (I kid you not) with the classic “Can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?” I find it hilariously funny, from my perspective as an apologist, because it is an ongoing silliness that the anti-theist atheist (Bible-Basher Bob being an absolutely classic and quintessential example) prides himself or herself as so intellectually superior to us poor ignorant Christians, who are so stupid and idiotic, and who supposedly believe the most ridiculous things.

But the last laugh turns out to be on him. He is abominably ignorant about rather humdrum, common aspects of biblical scholarship. I hate to upset Bob’s little “ignorance is bliss” fantasy-bubble (it’s like the spank when a baby is born), but (sorry!), here I come with the pin . . .  

When we are faced with alleged biblical contradictions of God changing His mind (a violation of His immutability) or acting as if He is limited in knowledge (which would contradict omniscience), it is a question of biblical anthropopathism. I’ve written about and explained this aspect, and it is nothing new, either. It was widely written about by the Church fathers, prior to the 7th  century and almost back to the beginning of Christianity. For example, Origen (c. 185 – c. 254):

And now, if, on account of those expressions which occur in the Old Testament, as when God is said to be angry or to repent, or when any other human affection or passion is described, (our opponents) think that they are furnished with grounds for refuting us, who maintain that God is altogether impassible, and is to be regarded as wholly free from all affections of that kind, we have to show them that similar statements are found even in the parables of the Gospel; as when it is said, that he who planted a vineyard, and let it out to husbandmen, who slew the servants that were sent to them, and at last put to death even the son, is said in anger to have taken away the vineyard from them, and to have delivered over the wicked husbandmen to destruction, and to have handed over the vineyard to others, who would yield him the fruit in its season. And so also with regard to those citizens who, when the head of the household had set out to receive for himself a kingdom, sent messengers after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us; for the head of the household having obtained the kingdom, returned, and in anger commanded them to be put to death before him, and burned their city with fire. But when we read either in the Old Testament or in the New of the anger of God, we do not take such expressions literally, but seek in them a spiritual meaning, that we may think of God as He deserves to be thought of. And on these points, when expounding the verse in the second Psalm, Then shall He speak to them in His anger, and trouble them in His fury, we showed, to the best of our poor ability, how such an expression ought to be understood. (De Principiis, 2, 4, 4; ANF, vol. 4)

But as, in what follows, Celsus, not understanding that the language of Scripture regarding God is adapted to an anthropopathic point of view, ridicules those passages which speak of words of anger addressed to the ungodly, and of threatenings directed against sinners, we have to say that, as we ourselves, when talking with very young children, do not aim at exerting our own power of eloquence, but, adapting ourselves to the weakness of our charge, both say and do those things which may appear to us useful for the correction and improvement of the children as children, so the word of God appears to have dealt with the history, making the capacity of the hearers, and the benefit which they were to receive, the standard of the appropriateness of its announcements (regarding Him). And, generally, with regard to such a style of speaking about God, we find in the book of Deuteronomy the following: “The Lord thy God bare with your manners, as a man would bear with the manners of his son.” It is, as it were, assuming the manners of a man in order to secure the advantage of men that the Scripture makes use of such expressions; for it would not have been suitable to the condition of the multitude, that what God had to say to them should be spoken by Him in a manner more befitting the majesty of His own person. And yet he who is anxious to attain a true understanding of holy Scripture, will discover the spiritual truths which are spoken by it to those who are called “spiritual,” by comparing the meaning of what is addressed to those of weaker mind with what is announced to such as are of acuter understanding, both meanings being frequently found in the same passage by him who is capable of comprehending it. (Contra Celsus, 4, 71; in ANF, Vol. 4)

I gave a fairly short explanation in my own paper on the topic:

God “condescends” to the limited understanding of human beings, by expressing many truths about himself analogically (as compared to human actions and emotions) so that we can understand Him at all. Otherwise, we would not be able to comprehend a Being so startlingly different and distinct from us and greater than we are. Thus, the passages (in this framework) that say He doesn’t and cannot change are to be interpreted literally, while the ones stating the opposite are to be interpreted figuratively or metaphorically or anthropopathically. 

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Anthropomorphism”) provides a more in-depth definition:

1. Definition of the Term:

By this term is meant, conformably with its etymological signification, i.e. as being in the form or likeness of man, the attribution to God of human form, parts or passions, and the taking of Scripture passages which speak of God as having hands, or eyes, or ears, in a literal sense. This anthropomorphic procedure called forth Divine rebuke so early as Psalms 50:21:

“Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself.”

[RSV: “you thought that I was one like yourself.”]

2. Old Testament Anthropomorphisms:

Fear of the charge of anthropomorphism has had a strangely deterrent effect upon many minds, but very needlessly so. Even that rich storehouse of apparently crude anthropomorphisms, the Old Testament, when it ascribes to Deity physical characters, mental and moral attributes, like those of man, merely means to make the Divine nature and operations intelligible, not to transfer to Him the defects and limitations of human character and life.

3. In What Senses an Anthropomorphic Element Is Necessity:

In all really theistic forms of religion, there is an anthropomorphic element present, for they all presuppose the psychological truth of a certain essential likeness between God and man. Nor, perfect as we may our theistic idea or conception of Deity, can we, in the realm of spirit, ever wholly eliminate the anthropomorphic element involved in this assumption, without which religion itself were not. It is of the essence of the religious consciousness to recognize the analogy subsisting between God’s relations to man, and man’s relations to his fellow.

The Bible repeatedly teaches that God is omniscient:

God alone is omniscient

1 Chronicles 28:9 [RSV] …the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought.… (cf. 1 Ki 8:39; 2 Chr 6:30; Ps 44:21; Is 66:18; Ezek 11:5; Mt 6:8; Lk 16:15; Acts 1:24; Rom 8:27; Heb 4:13)

Psalm 147:5 Great is our LORD, and abundant in power;  his understanding is beyond measure. (cf. Job 36:4; 37:16; Is 40:28; 46:10; 48:3; Acts 15:18)

Romans 11:33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

1 John 3:20 …God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Jesus is omniscient

John 16:30 Now we know that you know all things,… (cf. 21:17)

Colossians 2:3 in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Revelation 2:23 …I am he who searches mind and heart…. (cf. 1 Chr 28:9)

Omniscience is also implied (though not proven) in many passages that describe Jesus’ extraordinary knowledge; these are consistent with omniscience (Mt 9:4; 12:25; Mk 2:8; 14:13-15; Lk 5:22; 6:8; 9:47; 22:10-13; Jn 2:24-25; 4:17-19, 29; 6:64; 13:11).

Additionally, there are many other verses illustrating that Jesus knew the future perfectly, which is consistent with, and suggestive of omniscience, though not a proof (Mt 12:40; 13:1; 16:21; 17:9, 11-12, 22-23; 20:18-19; 21:39; 24:2; 26:2, 12, 21, 31-34, 54; Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; 14:9, 18, 27-30, 42, 49; Lk 9:22, 44; 11:30; 12:50; 17:25; 18:31-33; 22:15, 21-22, 32, 34, 37; Jn 2:19; 3:14; 10:11, 15, 17-18; 12:32-34; 13:18-21; 14:19; 15:13; 16:20; 18:4, 11; 21:18-19).

God is also immutable (cannot change). St. Thomas Aquinas refers to anthropopathism and metaphorical attribution of human qualities to God:

Objection 3. Further, to approach and to recede signify movement. But these are said of God in Scripture, “Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). Therefore God is mutable.

[ . . . ]

Reply to Objection 3. These things are said of God in Scripture metaphorically. For as the sun is said to enter a house, or to go out, according as its rays reach the house, so God is said to approach to us, or to recede from us, when we receive the influx of His goodness, or decline from Him.

As so often, atheists (many of them, alas, former fundamentalists or otherwise relatively theologically uneducated in their past Christian lives) interpret Scripture with a wooden literalism, that massively and relentlessly fails to take into account the rich storehouse of literary genres and expressions (including many figurative, hyperbolic, analogical or otherwise non-literal ones) in the thinking of ancient near eastern / Hebrew culture. This leads them into making many foolish arguments, that — far from revealing ancient Hebrew, biblical, or Christian ignorance –, spectacularly and ironically displays their own.

This is one such example. And in the previous 32 installments where I have refuted Bob’s contentions, I showed repeatedly how he neglects of ignores this aspect. It’s embarrassing to have to point out such basic things, but it is what it is. I delved into this aspect at great length in one of my “contra-Bob” papers in particular: Seidensticker Folly #25: Jesus’ Alleged Mustard Seed Error. Excerpts:

Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger catalogued “over 200 distinct figures [in the Bible], several of them with from 30 to 40 varieties.” That is a a statement from the Introduction to his 1104-page tome, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: 1898). I have this work in my own library (hardcover). It’s also available for free, online.  . . .

Bible scholar Kyle Butt, in an article on biblical hyperbole, compares the biblical usage of this type of figurative language to the same kind of application today:

We who use the English language are quite familiar with the use of hyperbole, even though we may not be as familiar with the term itself. When a teenager explains to her parent that “everybody” is going to be at the party, does she mean that literally the world’s population of 6.6 billion people will be there? Of course she does not. She is intentionally exaggerating to make a point. When a teacher explains to his class that “everybody” knows who the first president of the United States was, does the teacher believe all toddlers can correctly answer the question? No. Once again, the teacher is simply using a well-understood figure of speech to convey a point.

In a similar way, the Bible uses hyperbole on numerous occasions. Take John 4:39 as an example. In this passage, a Samaritan woman spoke of Jesus and said: “He told me all that I ever did” (emp. added). Had Jesus really told that woman everything that she had ever done in her life? No, she was using hyperbole to make her point.

In that article, I was only dealing with hyperbole (or, exaggeration): which is but one (though very common) Hebrew non-literal “technique.” The point is that there are many instances where biblical language is not literal, and was never intended to be. The culture at the time understood that, just as we do, today: per the analogies provided in the previous cited paragraph. But somehow many atheists and other biblical skeptics forget all this when they approach the Bible, and all of a sudden everything is interpreted literally. Thus, the Bible (so they think) “obviously” contains many glaring contradictions.

Bob, oblivious to all these explanations, responded to a Christian in the combox of this paper of his, who pointed out to him that sound explanations do exist: “These verses all have bull&%*$ explanations. To see this, explain them yourself and see how convincing they are.” That’s the level he’s at. He knows everything about the Bible, and apparently feels that he can learn nothing. Like I made note of above: I hate to bust his bubble, but folks have to visit [biblical] reality at some point. We can’t all dwell in a mere fantasy land like children often do. Bob will have to realize and acknowledge his own massive ignorance and prejudice (per Socrates’ sage advice) in order to truly learn about the Bible and Christianity.

As it is, his anti-Bible and anti-Christian arguments are relentlessly stupid and ignorant, and one tires of having to explain elementary things relating to literary genre over and over. I hate to be so crass and blunt, but I mean this literally (not figuratively!), and I sure know what I’m talking about, having now directly refuted his nonsense 33 times. Atheists like Bible-Basher Bob are, in effect, trying to do trigonometry or calculus, when they haven’t even gotten their basic arithmetic and times tables mastered.

***

Photo credit: [PublicDomainPictures.NetCC0 Public Domain]

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April 20, 2019

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.” Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 31 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, 9 Tactics Christians Use to Dismiss Bible Embarrassments (2-9-19) Bible-Bashing Bob plays the game of pretending that a logical contradiction is not what it is (“A = not A”). Anyone can go look up the definition of logical contradiction. Check out, for example, “Logical Consistency and Contradiction,” by philosopher G. Randolph Mayes. I’ve written several papers devoted specifically to bogus claims about alleged biblical “contradictions” which in fact, are not at all:

*
Atheist Inventions of Many Bogus “Bible Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 9-4-18]
*
Bob specializes in inventing this very thing. He glories in it. And, as we shall see, he proudly immerses himself in outright lies and falsehoods and absurdities in this present paper, where he reveals himself to be an open, brazen sophist and literally an enemy of logic. Let’s now look at his “reasoning”:

Tactic 1: Technically, it’s not a contradiction

This excuse splits hairs about the word “contradiction.”

This is very clever, but at bottom is pathetic and intellectually dishonest. Bob appears to think that if one can’t prove that an actual (dictionary / classical logic definition) contradiction is present, then all they have to do is redefine what a contradiction is in the first place. Thus, Bible-Bashing Bob plays the game of pretending that the Christian use of the actual definition of “contradiction” is supposedly “splitting hairs”. We’re the ones parsing and redefining and playing with definitions, and engaging in sophistry, you see, not Bob! He projects what he in fact is doing onto the Christians who defend the Bible against outrageous and false attacks. The real definition of “contradiction” is transmogrified into hair-splitting / Bill Clinton “depends on what is is” pseudo-reasoning and ex post facto rationalization.

A contradiction, they’ll say, is a sentence X that clashes with a sentence not-X, and nothing less precise will do. The two statements must directly and unambiguously contradict each other.

Yes, of course. In other words, a contradiction must be what a contradiction is, according to classical logic. A = A. But Bob objects to this. He wants to pretend that instances of non-contradiction are, in fact, contradiction.

They might apply this to the number of women at the empty tomb. Each gospel identifies a different number of women. For example, John says that it was Mary Magdalene, but Luke says Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James “and the other women.” Apologists will defend the Bible by saying that John didn’t say Mary and only Mary was there, so it’s not a contradiction—at least not technically.

Now his game is to equate alleged fine “technical” distinctions as to the nature of contradictions and to object to the identification and proof of contradiction not being present as merely technical: as if it is not what it is.

This approach might work if the question of women at the tomb were the only problem, but there’s much more than that.

Here’s the key to his whole ridiculous analysis. Because he and other Bible skeptics have difficulty in proving actual biblical contradictions (by the dictionary definition of the word), what they do is collect a multitude of pseudo-contradictions which are not logical contradictions at all, and then rant and carry on that there are just so “many“!!! What he neglects to see is that a pack of 100 lies is no more impressive or compelling than one lie. A falsehood is a falsehood. If a hundred proposed biblical contradictions are all refuted and shown to not be so, then the ones who assert them have not gained any ground at all. They haven’t proven their case one iota, until they prove real contradiction.

And, of course, apologists always resolve the contradiction in favor of their conclusion, which is a supernatural fantasy that is about as far-fetched as it is possible to be. . . . 

Well, we are obviously defending the Bible and Christianity and have our bias, just as the Bible skeptic also is biased in the other direction. But we need not necessarily assume anything (by way of theology) in order to demonstrate that an alleged biblical contradiction is not present. That’s simply a matter of classical logic and reason. One need not even believe in “biblical notion X” in order to argue and assert that opponent of the Bible A has failed to establish internal inconsistencies and contradictions in the biblical account involving biblical notion X. One simply has to show how they have not proven that a contradiction is present in a given biblical text. I’ve done this many times in my previous 31 refutation of Bob’s nonsense.

While you’re haggling with them over the definition of “contradiction,” the Bible problem is ignored, which they count as a win.

Again, we are applying the accepted secular definition. Bob wants to pretend it isn’t what it is, so he can claim that there are numerous “biblical contradictions” which in fact do not exist because the fallacies and errors of the skeptical analysis have been exposed for what they are. Thus he very cleverly (but deceitfully) acts as if the definition of “contradiction” is some mysterious, controversial thing, that Christians spend hours and hours “haggling” over. It’s not. It’s very straightforward and it ain’t rocket science.

If something isn’t contradictory, it’s not a “Bible problem” in the first place. But Bob can’t accept that. He must have at his disposal a catalogue of hundreds of “Bible problems” so that he can pretend that he has an impressive, insurmountable overall case. This has been standard, stock, playbook atheist and Bible skeptic tactics for hundreds of years. They keep doing it because it works for those who are unfamiliar with critical thinking and logic (and the Bible). But the problem is that it’s intellectually dishonest.

Bob then gives a prime example of how he tortures texts (two biblical Gospel accounts of the same general events) into alleged “contradictory” status simply because they differ from each other in non-contradictory ways:

What does “contradiction” mean?

To remember how we evaluate contradictions in everyday life, suppose you’re a newspaper editor. Matthew and Luke have been assigned to the Jesus beat—this is such an important story that you want two journalists working on independent articles—and they drop off their stories (their respective gospels) on your desk. How satisfied would you be?

Not very. You’d call them back and tell them to try again. This isn’t merely Luke having the Parable of the Prodigal Son but Matthew omitting it, and Matthew having the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant but Luke omitting it. Space is limited, and those editorial decisions are understandable, but it’s more than that. Did wise men visit the baby Jesus, or was it shepherds? Was Jesus whisked off to Egypt for his protection or not? Did the dead rise at the crucifixion, who first witnessed the empty tomb, and how many angels were at the tomb? Matthew and Luke disagree on each of these and more. In common parlance, these are contradictions. Relabel the problem if you want, but don’t dismiss it.

Again, it’s utterly irrelevant what “common parlance” holds as to the definition of “contradiction.” All that matters is the standard accepted secular / philosophical definition. If contradictions are actually massively present in the biblical text, then Bob wouldn’t have to play dishonest mind games, messing around with the definition so he can force the square peg of his stupid, failed arguments (that I have refuted now 31 times) into the round hole of a “logical contradiction.”

He can reel off 179 alleged / claimed contradictions (as all Bible skeptics love to do: the mere “appearance of strength”). This proves absolutely nothing because any chain is only as good as the individual links. Each one has to be proven: not merely asserted, as if they are self-evidently some kind of insuperable “difficulty.” 100 bad, fallacious arguments prove exactly nothing (except that the one proposing them is a lousy arguer and very poor at proving his or her opinions). When we actually examine Bob’s arguments individually, we find that they are abominable and pathetic. I’ve done this, myself, probably more than anyone, so I know what I’m talking about, and anyone can go read my refutations of his nonsense.

***

Photo credit: Pinocchio; Schwerdhoefer (8-22-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

***

October 26, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. 

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18: “You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day: “If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18: “you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And again:You’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.” Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 30 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. 

Bob’s words will be in blueTo find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, “Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions (3 of 4)” (10-24-18), Bible-Bashing Bob pontificated:

We’re in the middle of tossing Christianity’s dirty laundry onto the lawn for everyone to examine. Here are five more Bible contradictions that call into question foundational Christian claims . . . 

13. Who should the disciples convert?

At the end of the gospel story, Jesus has risen and is giving the disciples their final instructions.

Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

This is the familiar Great Commission, and it’s a lot more generous than what has been called the lesser commission that appears earlier in the same gospel:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5–6)

This was not a universal message. We see it again in his encounter with the Canaanite woman:

[Jesus rejected her plea to heal her daughter, saying] “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:24–6)

You might say that a ministry with limited resources had to prioritize, but that doesn’t apply here. Don’t forget that Jesus was omnipotent. . . . 

Let’s revisit the fact that Matthew is contradictory when it says both “Make disciples of all nations” and “Do not go among the Gentiles [but only] to the lost sheep of Israel.” There are no early papyrus copies of Matthew 28 (the “Make disciples of all nations” chapter), and the earliest copies of this chapter are in the codices copied in the mid-300s. That’s almost three centuries of silence from original to our best copies, a lot of opportunity for the Great Commission to get “improved” by copyists. I’m not saying it was, of course; I’m simply offering one explanation for why the gospel in Matthew has Jesus change so fundamental a tenet as who he came to save.

This is a ludicrously easy so-called pseudo- [caricature of a] “contradiction” to “resolve”. Here is the answer in summary; then I shall document it in detail from Holy Scripture:

1) Jesus said He came at first to His own Jewish people, as their Messiah (seen in Bob’s citation of Matthew 15:24 above).

2) Accordingly, He at first told His disciples (all Jews) to preach the new Gospel to their fellow Jews only (his citation of Matthew 10:5-6). First things first.

3) This exclusivity was never intended to be permanent. It was simply the first step of the planned wider program of evangelism, which was soon to include the Gentiles, and indeed the whole world. This is indicated in many instances of Jesus Himself reaching out beyond the Jewish people: thus foreshadowing the Great Commission that He would give to His disciples.

Bob makes a manuscript argument for the supposed significant lateness of Matthew 28 (mid-4th century). Luke Wayne tackles this objection in his article, “Is Matthew 28:19 a later addition to Matthew’s Gospel?” He states, for example:

Justin’s student, Tatian, produced a harmony of the four Gospels into one narrative called the Diatessaron which contains the words of Matthew 28:19-20, including the Trinitarian formula. [I added links]

The Diatessaron is dated c. 160–175, so this is about 175 years before Bob claims that Matthew 28 first appears in the manuscripts. The Didache is even earlier: and most scholars regard it as a first-century document. It contains a trinitarian formula identical to Matthew 28:19:

[B]aptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . . (ch. 7, Roberts-Donaldson translation)

[B]aptize {in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit} . . . (J. B. Lightfoot translation)

[B]aptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . . (Charles H. Hoole translation)

Let’s examine whether Jesus reached out to beyond just the Jewish people. One of the better-known instances of that is the incident that Bob himself mentions: the Canaanite woman. But (true-to-form) Bob only cites part of the entire passage, thus taking it out of context. He even bolds the part that he thinks seals his case of a “Jewish-only / nationalist-type Jesus.” Here are the next two verses, that complete the story:

Matthew 15:27-18 (RSV) She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” [28] Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

How can this be?! After all, Bible-Bashing Bob told us that this was a contradiction and that Jesus refused her. At least that’s what one would think, reading his presentation, wouldn’t one? But with the whole passage (blessed context), we readily see that Jesus was merely asking (as He often did) a rhetorical question. In effect He was asking her, “why should I heal your daughter?” She gave a great answer, and He (knowing all along that she would say what she did) did heal her.

I fail to see how this passage proves that Jesus didn’t give a fig about non-Jews. He healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter! How does that prove what Bob contends? Jesus heals a Canaanite girl (after being asked to by her mother), and that “proves” that He only healed and preached to Jews; hence it is a “contradiction”? Surely, this is a form of “logic” that no one’s ever seen before.

Another example, even more famous, is Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-29). He shares the Gospel very explicitly with her, stating that He is the source of eternal life (4:14), and that He is the Jewish Messiah (4:25-26): a thing that she later proclaimed in the city (4:28-29, 39-42).

The text even notes that — normally — Jews avoided Samaritans: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar’ia?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (4:9; RSV). Strike two against Bob’s bogus claims. He’s very ignorant of the Bible. If only he would come to realize that, then he would stop repeatedly making a fool of himself.

A third instance of Jesus’ outreach beyond the Jews is His interaction with the Roman centurion:

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper’na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Note how Jesus not only readily healed the Roman centurion’s servant (8:7, 13), but also “marveled” at his faith and commended it as superior to the faith of anyone “in Israel” (8:10). And that led Him to observe that many Gentiles will be saved, whereas many Jews will not be saved (8:11-12). None of that is at all consistent with Bob’s silly claim that “This was not a universal message.” It certainly was. What more does Bob need to see, to understand that? But there is much more:

A fourth example is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The whole point of it was to show that Samaritans were truly neighbors to Jews if they helped them, as the man did in the parable. I drove on the road (from Jerusalem to Jericho) which was the setting of this parable.

A fifth example is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told His followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

A sixth example is the common motif of Jesus saying that He came to save not just Jews, but the world (Jn 6:33, 51; 8:12 [“I am the light of the world”]; 9:5; 12:46 [“I have come as light into the world . . .”]; 12:47 [“to save the world”]; ). The Evangelists in the Gospels, and John the Baptist state the same (Jn 1:29; 3:16-17, 19).

A seventh example is Jesus praying for His disciples in their missionary efforts: “As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

An eighth example is the parable of the weeds, which showed a universal mission field fifteen chapters before Matthew 28: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; [38] the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; . . .” (13:37-38).

A ninth example is Jesus’ statements that “all men” can potentially be saved (Jn 12:32; 13:35).

The book of Acts recounts St. Peter and St. Paul massively reaching out to Gentiles. I need not spend any time documenting that.

As anyone can see, the evidence in the Bible against Bob’s ridiculous critique is abundant and undeniable. Not that that will stop Bob . . . He wants to talk about “who he came to save”? I have just shown what Jesus Himself said about that. He never says (nor does the entire New Testament ever say) that He came to “save Israel” or be the “savior of Israel.” Anyone who doesn’t believe me can do a word search (here’s the tool to do it). Verify it yourself. He only claims to be the “Messiah” of Israel (Jn 4:25-26): which is a different thing. When Jesus says who it is that He came to save (i.e., provided they are willing), He states explicitly that He came “to save the lost” (Lk 19:10) and “to save the world” (Jn 12:47).

Likewise, St. Paul states that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Last I checked, sinful human beings were not confined solely to the class of Jews or Israelis.

***

Photo credit: Appearance on the Mountain in Galilee (1308-1311), by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

October 26, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did.

But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 28 installments. Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.” And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” 

Bob’s words will be in blueTo find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, “Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions (2 of 4)” (10-22-18), Bible-Bashing Bob pontificated:

Addendum: Or maybe it’s repentance that saves . . . 

What if it’s repentance?

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19).

Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47).

This was stated after he did his usual dumbfounded, clueless woodenly “either/or” analysis of the faith “vs.” works issue, which I have already dealt with (in terms of his arguments), in installment #22. He pretends (what else is new with him?) that one thing contradicts another, when it doesn’t at all (or else he is too ignorant and biblically illiterate to comprehend that they don’t).

The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, with good grace-generated works (freely done) inevitably manifesting themselves and being the proof of genuine faith, in the regenerated person (and regeneration comes through baptism, according to the Bible). All of this is made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross, as mankind’s redeemer and savior.

Except for the baptismal regeneration aspect (rejected by a fairly small minority of all Christians — but not, alas, by Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism), virtually all Christians agree on what I summarized as the requirements and nature of salvation.

The many subtleties and fine points of how it works in standard Christian soteriology (theology of salvation) are clearly way over Bob’s head, but not over the heads of thoughtful, educated Christians, who (quite unlike Bible-Bashing Bob) actually seriously study the Bible. I write about all these things, in scores and scores of articles on my Salvation & Justification web page.

Repentance is clearly the initial human response at the beginning of the process of salvation, above the age of reason (around seven or so). We have to be sorry for our sins in order to be forgiven of them (it’s a two-way transaction): all the way to a hoped-for eventual salvation and entrance into heaven as a reward and fulfillment of all the deepest human desires and yearnings. The whole thing is enabled and made possible only, or ultimately, by God’s free gift of grace. That said: repentance is presented as the first thing humans do in the process: even before baptism (in the case of adults).

I fail to see why Bob thinks that this is a case of biblical contradiction. The Bible teaches that all these factors play into salvation. It’s not contradictory. I document this in my paper, St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages). It’s merely a case of many harmonious factors being involved in one broad thing that the Bible calls salvation or being saved; getting to heaven. Thus, the Bible presents repentance in conjunction with all these other variables: not as contrary to them. I shall now prove that, with the use of a handy Bible search tool:

Repentance and Faith

Acts 20:21 (RSV) testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

Repentance and Works

Revelation 2:5 [Jesus speaking] Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Repentance and Baptism

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Repentance and Salvation

2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.

***

There is no problem whatsoever here, let alone a “contradiction” in the Bible” supposedly, between repentance and any of these other aspects of final salvation.

***

Photo credit: Mary Magdalen Penitent (1585-1590), by El Greco (1541-1614) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

October 23, 2018

1. Christians don’t sin? 2. Universalism? 3. “Tomb evangelism”. 4. Can human beings see God or not?

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did.

But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 27 installments. Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.” 

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 article, “Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions” (10-20-18), Bible-Bashing Bob opined:

You’ve probably seen lists of Bible contradictions. Here are my favorites. Play along at home and see which of these are your list, too.

My focus here is just on contradictions in the Bible. These are mostly clashes between two sets of verses in the Bible, but some are the Bible clashing with reality.  . . . 

1. Christians sin, just like everyone else (or do they?)

Everyone knows that no human except Jesus lived a sinless life. The Bible says:

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

. . . But . . . (plot twist!) ordinary Christians don’t sin.

No one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him (1 John 5:18; see also 1 John 3:6, 3:9).

So which is it—are all people sinners, or are Christians the exception?

Virtually all men have sinned. But it is not the case that it is impossible for a human being to be without sin. Catholics believe the Blessed Virgin Mary was such a person. I’ve explained how we can do so in light of Romans 3:23 above: which is often thrown in our faces by anti-Catholic Protestants: “All Have Sinned” vs. a Sinless, Immaculate Mary? (National Catholic Register, 12-11-17).

1 John is written in largely proverbial, or idealized language. The seemingly absolute statements of 1 John 5:18 and 3:6, 9 are qualified by other statements in context. Of course, believers sin all the time. In proverbial literature, the intention is not absolute and all-encompassing, without exception, but rather, common-sense observation of what usually accompanies a certain state or condition. Thus, John is saying that “those in Christ do not sin,” or, more accurately, “the essence of the person in Christ is righteousness; sin is contrary to the essence of a Christian.” But John further clarifies 1 John 5:18 (what Bob would claim is a “contradiction”) in the first chapter of his epistle:

1 John 1:8-9 (RSV) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10] If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (cf. 2:12)

But in fact it is no contradiction at all, because proverbial literature is not meant to be interpreted in such absolute, airtight terms. Bob (like so many atheists), unthinkingly and automatically applies a wooden, boorish, hostile interpretation, which completely ignores genre and context. I’ve demonstrated time and again that he is guilty of this rather foolish practice, throughout my previous 27 installments.

Now, lest Bob claim that my interpretation is merely special pleading, with no indication in the epistle itself, I would point out to him the following passages, which explain John’s meaning in the three “Christians don’t sin” passages (note especially the qualifying words “if” and “but”):

1 John 1:6-7  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; [7] but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 2:3-6 And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. [4] He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; [5] but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: [6] he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

Thus, it’s no contradiction when both ideas (absence of sin and sin) appear in one passage: because the meaning is rather easily understood in the overall context (that Bob ignores, as usual):

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

Addendum: But why worry about sin? Every one of us is already saved.

Paul draws a parallel between the man who got us into this mess (Adam, who ate the forbidden fruit and gave mankind Original Sin) and the one who got us out (Jesus, whose perfect sacrifice saved us all).

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).

We didn’t opt in to get the sin of Adam, and we needn’t opt in to get the salvation of Jesus. No belief is necessary. Paul assures us we’re good.

This is more asinine foolishness. I’ve already (way back in 2006) wrangled at extreme length about supposed biblical universalism with an atheist far more eminent than Bob: Dr. Ted Drange. This included analysis of Romans 5. The Book of Revelation also makes it very clear that universalism is false and not biblical teaching, and that some obstinate folks definitely end up in hell.

2. The women spread the word of the empty tomb (or did they?)

Women discovered the empty tomb of Jesus and returned to tell the others.

The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples (Matthew 28:8).

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others (Luke 24:9).

Or did they? Mark has a different ending.

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)

And that’s how the original version of the gospel of Mark ended.

Christian apologist Eric Lyons answers this:

Barker, McKinsey, and other critics who point to Mark 16:8 as contradicting Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9 fail to consider that these verses are incongruous only if the writers were referring to the exact same period of the day. The truth is, initially, the women were afraid and silent, as Mark recorded. Then, later that day, they broke their silence and “told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9). Mark’s narrative does not contradict Matthew and Luke, but supplements their accounts. What’s more, if Bible critics were to examine all of Mark’s resurrection narrative, they would learn that following the women’s temporary silence regarding Jesus’ empty tomb (16:8), Mary Magdalene “told those who had been with Him” (16:10) just as the angel had commanded her and the other women earlier in the day (16:7). Thus, Mark defined what he meant when he wrote “they said nothing to anyone.” They said nothing for a time, and then later bore witness of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples.

Now, Bob will reply that 16:10 is from the later addition (and most students of the Bible agree). But Mark 16:7 was not part of the addition and it referred to the angel commanding them to tell others, which 16:10 and Matthew 28:8 and Luke 24:9 confirm that they indeed did. No problem . . .

4. No one can see God (or can they?)

No one has ever seen God (1 John 4:12).

No man has seen or can see [God] (1 Timothy 6:16).

But Adam and Eve saw God. So did Abraham and Moses:

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day (Genesis 18:1).

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11).

This utterly neglects the biblical motif of the “angel of the Lord” who is a visible representation of God. Because Bob’s study of the Bible has been haphazard”: as he admits, he hasn’t taken the time to properly study this. And of course he doesn’t care to, anyway, because he thinks this is yet another of his innumerable fake “contradictions”: which he thinks is a fun and enjoyable pastime, within his overall mission in life of mocking and belittling Christians. In reality, however, he makes an ass of himself (not Christians and Christianity) over and over, as I have documented: now for the 28th time (with no reply from this giant of biblical “scholarship” [choke!]).

The Bible clearly refers to these instances as appearances of angels, or else appearances of things such as fire. What Moses actually saw on Mt. Sinai was a burning bush: a fire that didn’t consume the bush (Ex 3:2-3). But the text shows that the angel of the Lord represented God, Who is in fact invisible:

Exodus 3:2, 4 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; . . . [4] When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, . . . 

Note that it says that “God” called out, but what actually “appeared” was the angel of the Lord. Of course, Bob doesn’t believe anything in the Bible, but that’s beside the point. He is always claiming that the Bible contradicts itself; that it is internally contradictory. And I’m showing over and over that his examples simply don’t prove that. This is no contradiction. God the Father is invisible and can’t be seen. But an angel can represent Him, and as such is sometimes called God, or equated with God: just as an ambassador represents a country.

Bob’s example of Genesis 18 is also easily explained in context, in the same way. The Lord “appeared” but exactly how did He do so? He did through three men, who were actually angels, as I will explain shortly. The very next verse (Gen 18:2) states what he actually saw: “He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him.” Two of them left, on the way to Sodom and Gomorrah, and then the text states: “Abraham still stood before the LORD” (18:22; cf. 19:27). Genesis 19:1 describes these two men as “angels” and then two later passages show how these angels represented God and acted as His agents:

Genesis 19:13, 24 “for we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” . . . [24] Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; (cf. 19:25, 29)

This sort of equation happens several more times in Scripture. Jacob famously wrestled with an angel (again called a “man”: Gen 32:24-25), and then says that he has “seen God face to face” (32:30). Manoah saw an “angel of the Lord”: as the passage states over and over (Judges 13:9, 13-21). Then he said to his wife: “We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (13:22). Gideon and the prophet Zechariah make all this crystal clear:

Judges 6:22-23 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD; and Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” [23] But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” 

Zechariah 12:8 . . . the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, at their head.

Joshua even bowed before and worshiped one such (very impressive!) angel of the Lord, because He represented God:

Joshua 5:13-15 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” [14] And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, “What does my lord bid his servant?” [15] And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so. 

In Judges 2:1, the angel of the Lord speaks as if He were God (who liberated the Jews from Egyptian slavery).

It’s amazing what one can learn if they actually takes the time to seriously study the Bible, isn’t it? Bob’s out to sea, but he doesn’t know it. Ignorance is bliss. He can’t even get it right about Adam and Eve. He apparently either didn’t even read the relevant text, or grossly misinterpreted it, for Genesis 3:8 states that they “heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden.” It never claims that they saw Him. So where did Bob get the idea that they did? I guess he thinks blind people can see, if he equates hearing with seeing. Makes as much sense as all the other examples of his silliness . . . Bob is a living, walking example of Solomon’s wisdom from 3000 years ago:

Proverbs 12:23 A prudent man conceals his knowledge, but fools proclaim their folly.

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Photo credit: The laughing court jester (anonymous: Netherlands: 15th century) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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October 9, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did.

But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 25 installments. Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.” 

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 article, “Clueless John the Baptist” (8-27-12; rev. 3-14-15), Bible-Bashing Bob wrote:

John the Baptist was in prison when he heard the marvelous stories about Jesus, and he sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2–3).

Whaaa … ? This is a remarkable question! John the Baptist doesn’t know whether Jesus is the Messiah or not?

John was pretty clear about who Jesus was when he baptized him. Not only did he recognize Jesus’s priority and ask that Jesus baptize him (Matt. 3:14), but he heard a voice from heaven proclaiming Jesus as God’s son. His conclusion at the time: “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One” (John 1:34).

John’s very purpose was to be the messenger who would prepare the way (Matt. 11:10). How could he not know? . . . 

And John has to ask who Jesus is?

It’s called depression; it’s called despair, or sometimes, the “dark night of the soul.” It may have been only momentary or short-lived, for all we know, and it could have been caused by food and/or sleep deprivation in prison. It shows that John — though a prophet and great biblical figure — was a human being like the rest of us, with the whole range of emotions. In any event, most of us mere mortals have experienced it (even Bob, I would venture to guess). I had a horrific, six-month experience of despairing clinical depression in 1977, at age 18. Blessedly, it has never returned since. But I know of it firsthand. And I was in a nice suburban home, not a horrible prison, like John was.

It may also have had to do (partially or wholly) with the dual Jewish notions of the Messiah: the Suffering Servant and the Triumphant King. John (like many Jews then, and Jews to this day) may have been expecting the latter. We Christians expect the latter, too, and call it the Second Coming.

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers states, regarding Matthew 11:3:

The sickness of deferred hope turns the full assurance of faith into something like despair. So of old Jeremiah had complained, in the bitterness of his spirit, that Jehovah had deceived him (Jeremiah 20:7). So now the Baptist, as week after week passed without the appearance of the kingdom as he expected it to appear, felt as if the King was deserting the forerunner and herald of His kingdom. The very wonders of which he heard made the feeling more grievous, for they seemed to give proof of the power, and to leave him to the conclusion that the will was wanting.

Expositor’s Greek Testament takes the second view:

The effect of confinement on John’s prophetic temper, the general tenor of this chapter which obviously aims at exhibiting the moral isolation of Jesus, above all the wide difference between the two men, . . . Jesus, it had now become evident, was a very different sort of Messiah from what the Baptist had predicted and desiderated (vide remarks on chap. Matthew 3:11-15). Where were the axe and fan and the holy wind and fire of judgment? Too much patience, tolerance, gentleness, sympathy, geniality, mild wisdom in this Christ for his taste.

Apologist Eric Lyons adds:

Skeptics also assume that John’s faith never wavered. They fail to recognize (or accept) that, like other great men of faith who occasionally had doubts (e.g., Moses, Gideon, Peter, etc.), John may have asked this question to Jesus out of momentary unbelief. McGarvey appropriately reminded us that John’s “wild, free life was now curbed by the irksome tedium of confinement…. Moreover, he held no communion with the private life of Jesus, and entered not into the sanctuary of his Lord’s thought. We must remember also that his inspiration passed away with the ministry, on account of which it was bestowed, and it was only the man John, and not the prophet, who made the inquiry” (p. 279, ital. in orig.). John may also have wondered why, if Jesus was a worker of all manner of miracles, was he still in prison. Could Jesus not rescue His forerunner? Could He not save him from the sword of Herod? Jesus’ response to John: “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:6). John (or John’s disciples) may have needed to be reminded to stay the course, even if they did not understand all of the reasons why certain things happened the way they did (cf. Job 13:15).

Even the great prophet Elijah, right after his triumphant encounter with the false prophets on Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs 18:21-40; I’ve been at the spot), descended into despair and became suicidal:

1 Kings 19:3-4 (RSV) Then he was afraid, and he arose and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. [4] But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers.”

We find more confusion in the John the Baptist story when we try to figure out who John really is. Jesus cites an Old Testament prophecy that says that the messenger who will prepare the way for the Messiah would be the prophet Elijah. Jesus then makes clear that John the Baptist is this reincarnation of Elijah (Matt. 11:14).

But wait a minute—in another gospel, John makes clear he’s not Elijah (John 1:21).

This is the problem with harmonizing the gospels: they don’t harmonize. 

I dealt with this so-called “confusion” way back in 2006, in my “Dialogue w Agnostic on Elijah and John the Baptist”:

Luke 1:17 states that John the Baptist would “go before him [God] in the spirit and power of Elijah.” Jesus described him as “Elijah who is to come” (Matt 11:14; cf. Mk 9:11-13) because Hebrew thinking often employed prototypes or types and shadows. It was a way to emphasize a man’s characteristics to simply call him the name of another, since the other represented certain thinks in the Hebrew mind. Elijah was a prophet (one of the greatest), and John was the last of the prophets (Matt 11:9-11).

Matthew 17:10-13 is a parallel to Mark 9:11-13, where Jesus refers to John the Baptist as “Elijah.” But this passage shows that the disciples understood this prototypical thinking, since it tells us “the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (17:13). Moreover, both Elijah and Moses are described as appearing with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3-4). We know that this Elijah returned from heaven is distinguished from John the Baptist (as a person) because even as Jesus and the disciples were coming down the mountain, Jesus referred to Elijah as “already come” and that men “did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands” (Matt 17:12-13).

This (persecution to the death) was true of John (and Jesus) but never of Elijah, so it absolutely proves that Jesus thought John and Elijah were two different men, even though He called John “Elijah” — in prototypical language. It also rules out reincarnation (which is utterly contrary to biblical Christianity anyway) because it shows that Elijah was still alive as a distinct person even after John the Baptist was murdered, whereas in reincarnation, Elijah would have ceased to be when he “moved into” John’s body.

Another notable example of this Hebrew prototypical thinking is the David-Messiah-Jesus parallelism. For example, note this famous messianic passage (familiar to anyone who loves Handel’s Messiah):

Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (cf. Jer 23:5; Lk 1:32)

But Jeremiah 30:8-9 calls the Messiah “David”:

“And it shall come to pass in that day, says the LORD of hosts, that I will break the yoke from off their neck, and I will burst their bonds, and strangers shall no more make servants of them. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” (cf. Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-25: “David my servant shall be their prince for ever.”)

In John 1:21, John himself is simply denying that he is literally Elijah, come back (as Elijah did indeed come back at the Transfiguration). No contradiction; just different senses, explained by the Hebrew idea of prototypes. For much more biblical data on that, see the excellent article by Wayne Jackson: “A Study of Biblical Types.”

***

Photo credit: John the Baptist (c. 1542), by Titian (1490-1576) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

October 9, 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“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did.

But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 25 installments. Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.” 

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 article, “Debunking 10 Popular Christian Principles for Reading the Bible” (3-2-15), Bible-Bashing Bob opined:

The puzzle given is Paul’s statement that “[the human body] is sown a natural body, [but] it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44). Paul is rejecting the imperfect physical body and sees it perfected in the spiritual equivalent. While this was popular Greek thinking at the time, it was eventually rejected by the Christian church. . . . 

The only problem [Jim] Wallace solves is how to hammer the Bible to fit his preconceptions. He goes into his Bible study certain that God raises bodies physically rather than spiritually, and he’s determined to wring that meaning from it. That’s not how an honest person reads the Bible.

Elsewhere, Bob wrote:

Paul says, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable … it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (15:42–4). This makes clear that the resurrected Jesus was spirit, not flesh. This sounds a lot like docetism, a heresy that was rejected in the First Council of Nicaea. It also contradicts Luke’s physical post-resurrection Jesus: “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). (4-8-13)

Bob maintains that Paul’s reference to a “spiritual body” is to a pure spirit, with no physical body. This is immediately absurd, since “spirit” cannot have an additional description of “body”. A “body” is physical, and spirits aren’t physical; they are immaterial. Yet Bob appears to think that his flatly absurd interpretation of the passage is the only “honest” one anyone can take. We Christians, according to him, are reading into Holy Scripture things that aren’t there. That’s false, and it is Bob foolishly projecting precisely what he is doing, onto us.

Evangelical G. Shane Morris gives a good refutation of this Gnostic-influenced thinking in his article, “Jesus Has a Physical Body Forever (And So Will We)”:

There’s a common misconception in the Christian rank and file that Jesus’ resurrected body was something other than a real, physical body with flesh and bones, and that our resurrected bodies will likewise be something other than or somehow less solid than our bodies are now. . . .

Christians’ enduring hope has always been what Paul said the creation itself groans for: “the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) This is what it means to swallow up death in victory. A “spiritual resurrection” of any kind isn’t resurrection. It’s a euphemistic redescription of death.

Second, the term “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44 does not, in Paul’s original use, mean what the phrase seems to imply in English. [N. T.] Wright points out that to the original audience, a “spiritual body” understood as an “immaterial body” would be a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing. You might as well talk about solid mist or dry water. What Paul is doing, in context, is contrasting a body of flesh (which is the most common New Testament metonym for fallen humanity) with the body of the Spirit—that is, a body empowered and animated by the Holy Spirit. The Jews and Greeks had words for immaterial beings.

If Paul had meant for us to expect a non-physical resurrection, he could have spoken of “ghosts,” or “spirits.” He did not. For a man of his background, “resurrection” meant only one thing: To get up out of the grave, body and all, and walk again. Jesus left behind an empty grave devoid of flesh and bones. He took them with Him. And so will we. (1 John 3:2) A physical understanding of our resurrection bodies is crucial to the passage, as Paul calls Christ Himself “a life-giving spirit” in the very next verse. Does this mean the resurrected Christ is a mere spirit? If so, what of the central fact of Christian history? What of the empty tomb? Where did the body go? It got up and walked out, scars and all.

Finally, people will sometimes cite the gospel accounts of Jesus entering through locked doors and walking through walls to visit the Disciples as proof that His body was not quite as solid as it appeared. This is a huge non-sequitur, if you consider it for just a moment. This is God we’re talking about. He had spent His entire ministry in a quite ordinary human body, performing miracles that defied the laws of physics (walking on water, disappearing through crowds, being transfigured and shining like the sun, etc.). No one but the Docetic Gnostics ever suggested that this calls into question the corporeal reality of Jesus’ pre-resurrection body.

James Bishop adds:

Paul was, prior to his conversion, a Pharisee. Pharisees held to a physical resurrection (see: Jewish War 3.374, 2.163; 4Q521; 1QH 14.34; 4Q 385-391; Genesis Rabbah 14.5; Leviticus Rabbah 14.9). For instance, one leading scholar by the name of NT Wright, in his 700 page volume, argues that the resurrection in pagan, Jewish, and Christian cultures meant a physical and bodily resurrection (2). Paul held the same view (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:14; Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:20-21). . . .

As [N. T.] Wright articulates: “Until second century Christianity, the language of ‘resurrection’ had been thought by pagan, Jew, and Christian as some kind of return to bodily and this-worldly life” [The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003, p. 83].

The context of 1 Corinthians 15 further bolsters this view:

1 Corinthians 15:35-42 But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” [36] You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. [37] And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. [38] But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. [39] For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. [40] There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. [41] There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. [42] So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.

Does Bob think that Paul thought the moon was a spirit and not physical? It’s absurd. Sadly, the absurd is a frequent feature of Bob’s anti-Christian ravings.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the Greek word egiro (usually “raised” in English) 19 times, referring to resurrection, either of Jesus (15:4, 12-17, 20) or of the general resurrection of human beings (15:29, 32, 35, 42-44, 52). It was used in the verse Bob brought up (15:44). The same word is used in the gospels of the raising of the young girl who had died. She remained human, with her body, after being raised He was holding her hand when she was raised):

Matthew 9:18, 23-25  While he was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” . . . [23] And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, [24] he said, “Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. [25] But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose [egiro].

In John 12, the word is applied to Lazarus three times (12:1, 9, 17: “raised from the dead” and “raised him from the dead”: RSV). In John 12:2, the risen Lazarus is referred to, sitting at the table, eating supper with Jesus: obviously a physical being.  This is what the word means: “a body being physically raised and restored after it had died.”

Jesus was obviously also still in a physical body after He was resurrected, but it was a spiritual body, and so He could “walk through walls” (which modern physics tells us is actually physically possible, in additional dimensions and what-not). He ate fish with His disciples, told Thomas to put his hand in His wounds, which were still visible; was touched by Mary Magdalene, broke bread with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, etc.

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe offer further explanation in the following excerpt their book, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1992):

[N]otice the parallelism mentioned by Paul:

The complete context indicates that “spiritual” (pneumatikos) could be translated “supernatural” in contrast to “natural.” This is made clear by the parallels of perishable and imperishable and corruptible and incorruptible. In fact, this same Greek word (pneumatikos) is translated “supernatural” in 1 Corinthians 10:4 when it speaks of the “supernatural rock that followed them in the wilderness” (RSV).

Second, the word “spiritual” (pneumatikos) in 1 Corinthians refers to material objects. Paul spoke of the “spiritual rock” that followed Israel in the wilderness from which they got “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:4). But the OT story (Ex. 17Num. 20) reveals that it was a physical rock from which they got literal water to drink. But the actual water they drank from that material rock was produced supernaturally. When Jesus supernaturally made bread for the five thousand (John 6), He made literal bread. However, this literal, material bread could have been called “spiritual” bread (because of its supernatural source) in the same way that the literal manna given to Israel is called “spiritual food” (1 Cor. 10:3).

Further, when Paul spoke about a “spiritual man” (1 Cor. 2:15) he obviously did not mean an invisible, immaterial man with no corporeal body. He was, as a matter of fact, speaking of a flesh and blood human being whose life was lived by the supernatural power of God. He was referring to a literal person whose life was Spirit directed. A spiritual man is one who is taught by the Spirit and who receives the things that come from the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:13–14).

To summarize Paul’s doctrine of the general resurrection, I cite the section on that topic in the entry, “Resurrection” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

As the believer then passes into a condition of glory, his body must be altered for the new conditions (1 Corinthians 15:50Philippians 3:21); it becomes a “spiritual” body, belonging to the realm of the spirit (not “spiritual” in opposition to “material”). Nature shows us how different “bodies” can be–from the “body” of the sun to the bodies of the lowest animals the kind depends merely on the creative will of God (1 Corinthians 15:38-41). Nor is the idea of a change in the body of the same thing unfamiliar: look at the difference in the “body” of a grain of wheat at its sowing and after it is grown! (1 Corinthians 15:37).

Just so, I am “sown” or sent into the world (probably not “buried”) with one kind of body, but my resurrection will see me with a body adapted to my life with Christ and God (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). If I am still alive at the Parousia, this new body shall be clothed upon my present body (1 Corinthians 15:53,542 Corinthians 5:2-4) otherwise I shall be raised in it (1 Corinthians 15:52). This body exists already in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1,2), and when it is clothed upon me the natural functions of the present body will be abolished (1 Corinthians 6:13). Yet a motive for refraining from impurity is to keep undefiled the body that is to rise (1 Corinthians 6:13,14).

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Photo credit: The Resurrected Christ Appears to the Virgin (1629), by Guercino (1591-1666) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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October 8, 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 . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” 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.” Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.”

I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, 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, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 24 installments.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive personal attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.” Be that as it may, what is one to make (whatever he thinks of me) of his great (and perhaps in due course total) unwillingness to defend his ideas and opinions against my numerous serious critiques?

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).

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In his article, “Debunking 10 Popular Christian Principles for Reading the Bible” (3-2-15), Bob — ever the scrupulous Bible scholar — opined:

I say that the context of a verse is the entire Bible. . . . Don’t tell me that a verse says something without assuring me that the rest of the Bible never contradicts it.

To illustrate this problem, we’re given the example of the mustard seed, which Jesus calls “the smallest of all seeds.” . . . don’t tell me that Jesus is quoted giving the correct information when the Bible says he doesn’t. And don’t tell me to read a verse in its correct context when you won’t do that yourself.

He mentioned this flawed and fallacious “argument” again, nine months later:

The Bible betrays its uninformed roots when it says that . . . the mustard seed is the smallest seed on earth (Matt. 13:31-32). (12-2-15)

I’m delighted that Bob now wants to consider biblical context. It’s a new concept for him, but we all live and learn. One aspect of that context of the entire Bible is use of various literary genres and figures of speech, etc. These include many non-literal usages.

The parable of the mustard seed is an example of hyperbole, or exaggeration, which was very common in ancient Hebrew culture (and indeed, in most — if not all — cultures in the world and throughout history). First, let’s look at the relevant passages:

Matthew 13:31-32 (RSV) Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; [32] it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (cf. Lk 13:18-19)

Mark 4:30-32 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? [31] It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; [32] yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 

Matthew 17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

Luke 17:6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, `Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 

Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger catalogued “over 200 distinct figures [in the Bible], several of them with from 30 to 40 varieties.” That is a a statement from the Introduction to his 1104-page tome, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: 1898). I have this work in my own library (hardcover). It’s also available for free, online. Bullinger continues, in the Introduction:

All language is governed by law; but, in order to increase the power of a word, or the force of an expression, these laws are designedly departed from, and words and sentences are thrown into, and used in, new forms, or figures.

The ancient Greeks reduced these new and peculiar forms to science, and gave names to more than two hundred of them.

The Romans carried forward this science . . . 

 These manifold forms which words and sentences assume were called by the Greeks Schema and by the Romans, Figura. Both words have the same meaning, viz., a shape or figure. . . . 

Applied to words, a figure denotes some form which a word or sentence takes, different from its ordinary and natural form. This is always for the purpose of giving additional force, more life, intensified feeling, and greater emphasis.

Bullinger devotes six pages (423-428) to “Hyperbole; or, Exaggeration”: which he defines as follows:

The figure is so called because the expression adds to the sense so much that it exaggerates it, and enlarges or diminishes it more than is really meant in fact. Or, when more is said than is meant to be literally understood, in order to heighten the sense.

It is the superlative degree applied to verbs and sentences and expressions or descriptions, rather than to mere adjectives. . . . 

It was called by the Latins superlatio, a carrying beyond, an exaggerating.

I shall cite some of his more notable and obvious examples (omitting ellipses: “. . .” ):

Gen. ii. 24. — “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.” This does not mean that he is to forsake and no longer to love or care for his parents. So Matt. xix. 5.

Ex. viii. 17. — “All the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt”: i.e., wherever in all the land there was dust, it became lice.

I Sam. xxv. 37. — Nabal’s “heart died within him, and he became as a stone”: i.e., he was terribly frightened and collapsed or fainted away.

I Kings i. 40. — “So that the earth rent with the sound of them.” A hyperbolical description of their jumping and leaping for joy.

Job xxix. 6. — “The rock poured me out rivers of oil”: i.e., I had abundance of all good things. So chap. xx. 17 and Micah vi. 7.

Isa. xiv. 13, — “I will ascend into heaven”: to express the pride of Lucifer.

Lam. ii. 11.— “My liver is poured upon the earth, etc”: to express the depth of the Prophet’s grief and sorrow at the desolations of Zion.

Luke xiv. 26. — “If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother”: i.e., does not esteem them less than me. So the verb to hate is used (Gen. xxix. 31. Rom. ix. 13).

John iii. 26. — “All men come to him.” Thus his disciples said to John, to show their sense of the many people who followed the Lord.

John xii. 19. — “Behold, the world is gone after him.” The enemies of the Lord thus expressed their indignation at the vast multitudes which followed Him.

Note that in Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6, cited above, a double hyperbole is used: 1) faith only as large as a small mustard seed (even just a wee bit!), can bring about 2) mountains and trees being uprooted and moved. Bible scholar Kyle Butt, in an article on biblical hyperbole, compares the biblical usage of this type of figurative language to the same kind of application today:

We who use the English language are quite familiar with the use of hyperbole, even though we may not be as familiar with the term itself. When a teenager explains to her parent that “everybody” is going to be at the party, does she mean that literally the world’s population of 6.6 billion people will be there? Of course she does not. She is intentionally exaggerating to make a point. When a teacher explains to his class that “everybody” knows who the first president of the United States was, does the teacher believe all toddlers can correctly answer the question? No. Once again, the teacher is simply using a well-understood figure of speech to convey a point.

In a similar way, the Bible uses hyperbole on numerous occasions. Take John 4:39 as an example. In this passage, a Samaritan woman spoke of Jesus and said: “He told me all that I ever did” (emp. added). Had Jesus really told that woman everything that she had ever done in her life? No, she was using hyperbole to make her point.

Gary Amirault highlights more biblical examples in a similar article:

[T]is verse is a hyperbole, an exaggeration for effect:

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24, NIV)

It is not too difficult to determine that this is a hyperbole, an exaggeration. Because the English language is full of Bible terms and phraseology, this Hebrew idiom has become part of the English language. Therefore most English speaking people know the real meaning of that phrase: “You pay close attention to little things but neglect the important things.”

However, here is a hyperbole that the average Bible reader may miss and formulate doctrine from which may end up being harmful to themselves and others.

“Everything is possible for him who believes.” (Mark 9:23b, NIV)

The Bible is full of exaggerations like the one above which are not to be taken literally. Careful attention, comparing scripture with scripture, knowing the Bible and its author thoroughly, making certain not to necessary apply things to ourselves which weren’t meant for us individually and some basics about the original languages are needed to prevent us from misinterpreting various scripture verses like this one. . . . 

“If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out…” Matt. 5:29 (I met a Christian who actually tried to pluck out his right eye because he had a lust problem. This is an example the kind of problem a Bible translation can cause if one is not informed of the various figures of speech found in the Bible.)

Understanding all this now, and getting back to the passages on the mustard seed, we now accurately understand their intention and meaning. J. Timothy Unruh explains, in his article, “The Parable of The Mustard Seed and its alleged contradictions”:

The subject question of this study deals with another one of the infamous “apparent contradictions” found in the Scripture, this one regarding the physical characteristic of the mustard seed in the above quoted parable, namely the size of the seed itself. The passage refers to the seed as being “the least of all seeds” which is to say, the smallest of all seeds. Given this information from the Scripture, an objection has been raised that there are other seeds which are smaller than the mustard seed, among these are the petunia, the begonia and the orchid. While the mustard seed is about 1/20th of an inch in size, with the smaller petunia seed about 1/50th of an inch and the yet smaller begonia some 1/100th of an inch in size, the even yet smaller orchid seed is so tiny that a 10 to 30 power microscope is required for the eye to see it in any detail. Furthermore, the microscopic spores of mushrooms, lichens, and molds, which also are seeds, are so tiny and lightweight that even the slightest currents of air may carry them vast distances aloft. These too are seeds for the word spore itself means “seed.” Therefore the mustard seed is technically not the smallest seed of all. The objection has been pressed even further to say something like, “Since the mustard seed isn’t the smallest of all seeds then Jesus was wrong, and if Jesus was God and made everything, He should have known that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed! . . . 

[W]e next turn our attention to an evaluation of the intent in the parable itself and then make a decision as to whether or not the Lord was trying to be technical or non-technical in His usage of the seed as an illustration. Naturally, any gainsayer would relish the technical interpretation at this point because therein he sees his opportunity to overthrow the integrity of the Bible. We must look at the passage in context of the objection and ask ourselves whether the parable is designed to be a lesson in botany, or a lesson of a much deeper significance and importance. To the casual reader with even an elementary understanding of the Word of God it should be rather apparent that the Lord had the latter purpose in mind. The parable of the mustard seed exemplifies the principle often exercised in Scripture which makes use of one thing in order to illustrate the meaning of a greater truth. In other words, an object lesson is being given here. Such is the mechanism which makes a parable so workable and meaningful. The Proverbs of Solomon are full of such illustrations. . . . 

Jesus himself is known for speaking in hyperbolic or parabolic statements, hence the parable. We should not think that people were any different thousands of years ago. It should, as well, be realized that the expression “the least of all seeds” is figurative and oriental, and that in a proverbial simile no literal or technical accuracy is to be expected. It was a hyperbolic expression to emphasize “very small.” Of course, we know there are many seed types smaller than the mustard seed. It is thus quite evident that the Lord, in His popular teaching, adhered to the popular language, and the mustard seed was used proverbially to denote anything very minute. Very likely, in Israel the mustard seed was the smallest of all garden seeds. In such case the literal truth about the comparative size of the mustard seed in the parable still holds after all. The Scriptures simply do not find it necessary to make a habit of championing such careful and superfluous elaborations. The tiny orchid seed was not likely known, let alone planted, in ancient Israel. The mustard seed was simply a familiar convenience to draw from in order to make an important point.

The frequent use of such hyperbole throughout Holy Scripture (including often by Jesus) quite adequately explains this use of “mustard seed.” If it wasn’t intended absolutely literally, with surgical accuracy and rationalistic, scientific precision, but rather as a poetic exaggeration, the “problem” vanishes. To mangle a popular metaphor, Bob “can’t see the forest for the seed.” If he would take a day or two to study biblical literary genre and various figures of speech, he would avoid many embarrassing errors in the future.

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Photo credit: carlfbagge (4-15-17) Wild Mustard in Bloom: Shoreline Park, Rancho Palos Verdes, California: 2.5 meters (8 feet, two inches) tall [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

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