September 10, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes 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 at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make, then, of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique?

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).


This is one of the most bizarre and desperate of a long string of vapid anti-Christian arguments from Bob that I’ve critiqued. He opines in his post, “Atheist Monument Critique: Ten Commandments and Ten Punishments” (9-18-13; rev. 1-26-17):

The other Ten Commandments

. . . Let’s review the story. Moses gets the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20, but the anxious Israelites make a golden calf during his long absence. When Moses sees this, he’s furious and smashes the tablets of the law. He gets a new set in Exodus 34. At the conclusion of this list, we read:

And [Moses] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28).

This is the first time the phrase “Ten Commandments” is used in the Bible, and this version of the law was placed in the Ark of the Covenant. It couldn’t be the other set, since it was destroyed. But this law bears only a vague similarity to the set popularly portrayed as the Ten Commandments: make no covenants with the Canaanites (#1), God gets all firstborn (#5), never boil a young goat in its mother’s milk (#10). Read them yourself.

He links in his last three words to another article: “The Irrelevant Wisdom of the Ten Commandments” (3-9-12; rev. 2-14-14), where he pontificates in elaboration:

Moses goes up Sinai a second time in Exodus 34. God says, “I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered,” so we know that this nothing new, just a replacement set of commandments. But the contents are very different:

  1. Make no covenant with the Canaanite tribes
  2. Destroy their altars
  3. Make no idols (“molten gods”)
  4. Observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread
  5. “The first offspring from every womb belongs to me”
  6. Rest on the seventh day
  7. Celebrate the Feast of Weeks
  8. No leavened bread during Passover
  9. Bring the first fruits of the soil to the Lord
  10. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk”


The chapter ends with these words: “And [Moses] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” This is the first time this label is used in the Bible.

You want to display the Ten Commandments in public? Go for it, but put up this list. It’s the official list, after all. These are the ten that wound up in the Ark of the Covenant.

Contrast this with the story of the first tablets, which concludes at the end of chapter 31, “[God] gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.” There is no mention of a “ten commandments,” and these stone tablets presumably contain all of the rules given in chapters 20 through 31.

False conclusions always flow from false premises somewhere along the line. The key fallacies that lead Bob on to his misguided and false conclusion are two:

1) Being overly concerned with what the two tablets written by the hand of God are called: i.e., “ten commandments”: which title first appears in Exodus 34:28.

2) Equating various instructions given by God to Moses with the second set of tablets.

I shall now explain these factors in detail. Bob himself gives us all the answers we need to refute his own claim (if we look close enough). Bob refers in the above excepts (including Bible quotes) to “tablets” or “two tablets” or “tablets of stone” no less than nine times. Thus, it is beyond dispute that this is what were talking about.

Now, it’s quite true that they are first referred to as “ten commandments” in Exodus 34:28 (and again, in Deut 4:13 and 10:4), but it doesn’t logically follow that the later use of that title, in referring to the tablets, means that something other than these tablets is being referred to. Nor does it prove that the tablets may not have been referred to earlier by that title.

All it proves is that this is the first time in the Bible that the name, “ten commandments” is applied to the stone tablets (and recorded). It’s easy to show that the application is to the aforementioned tablets (of which there were two sets, with the same content).

In summary, simply appealing to the use of the description / title “ten commandments” in Exodus 34:28, which occurred only after the second set was written by God, proves nothing in and of itself. It’s the biblical use of “tablets” that identifies what we are talking about.

Bob doesn’t say what Bible version he is citing. RSV, which is my first choice, uses the word, tables for tablets.  The words, tables or tables of stone or tables of the testimony or tables of the covenant are used 31 times in Exodus and Deuteronomy: all referring to these two rock plates: upon which were written what was eventually to be known as the Ten Commandments.

But Bob’s weak argument claims that the first set of Ten Commandments wasn’t actually that because there was “no mention of a ‘ten commandments’,” while the second replacement set was indeed the Ten Commandments andthe official list” because, well, “This is the first time this label is used in the Bible” and because these were “the ten that wound up in the Ark of the Covenant.”

That argument is frivolous and can be dismissed without further comment. The claim that the content is different in the second set of tablets is at least more interesting and slightly stronger. But he refutes it himself by conceding that the second set was the same as the first set, and “nothing new” (“God says, “I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered,” so we know that this nothing new, just a replacement set of commandments.”) One would think that would settle it, but Bob immediately contradicts it in his next sentence: “But the contents are very different.” 

Huh??!! How can the same “words that were on the former tablets” be on the second set of tablets, yet with different “contents”? Only Bob can explain such a logical absurdity that he sets forth for his readers How does Bob come up with this supposedly different content in the second set of Ten Commandments? He does so by confusing other laws and ordinances that God gave to Moses, with the Ten Commandments themselves.

The Bible states that the Ten Commandments were written by God Himself (first set: Ex 31:18; 32:16; Deut 9:10 / second set: 34:1, 28; Deut 10:1-4). Moses also wrote down various other laws given to him by God (Ex 24:4). These many other laws take up many chapters in both Exodus and Deuteronomy, and Bob refers to them (“rules given in chapters 20 through 31″). But his argument becomes ridiculous again by claiming that “these stone tablets presumably contain all of the rules given in chapters 20 through 31.”

This is contradicted by the inconvenient fact — noted right in the middle of all these enumerated laws in chapters 20-31 –, that “Moses wrote all the words of the LORD” (Ex 24:4). Two stone tablets (able to be held in Moses’ hands) could not possibly contain all the text of chapters 20-31. That is patently absurd. Yet here is Bob stating it. 

God plainly states in Exodus 34:1: “Cut two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which you broke.” The contents are exactly the same. Yet Bob claims that the Bible supposedly teaches that the first set of tablets contained all of Exodus 20-31: which add up to about 9900 words (minus portions of those chapters that are not just laws): all written on two tablets that Moses could carry in his hands. It’s ridiculous to call a supposed written record of almost 10,000 words “The Ten Commandments” in the first place. 

Bob arbitrarily argues that the second tablets contain much of what we see in Exodus 34, because “ten commandments” is first used there in verse 28. He agrees that the first set were written by God, but he mistakenly thinks that the second two tablets were written by Moses, based on an erroneous reading of that same verse, that uses “he” referring to God, not Moses.

Exodus 34:1 (that was quoted by Bob) stated clearly that God wrote the words on the second set, just as He had with the first. Deuteronomy 10:1-4 reiterates this. Yet Bob interprets Exodus 34:28 as Moses writing on the tablets. Lousy exegesis again; these are silly, elementary mistakes. 

The text never identifies the laws in Exodus 34 as the “ten commandments” themselves. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, as recorded in Exodus 20, there were a lot of other laws that Moses wrote down, given to him at the same time. God wrote the Ten Commandments down. It’s the same in Exodus 34: many other laws are also mentioned. It doesn’t follow that they are the Ten Commandments. They are more laws, similar to the ones referred to by Bob as “rules given in chapters 20 through 31.”

Bob tries to come up with ten “alt-laws,” so as to have a supposed “new set” (indeed, the official list”: so says Bob) that was — we are told — different from the first. But his ten are completely arbitrary. If he’s gonna play the game of making Exodus 34 a new set, he has to record all of the laws mentioned, which are clearly more than ten. He can’t pick and choose (with a blindfold on). And this becomes another fatal flaw in his already very weak case. Here are the laws mentioned that his list of ten somehow overlooked:

34:22 And you shall observe the feast of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end. 

Bob included only the feast of weeks, but the feast of ingathering (or tabernacles or booths) is a separate feast (see 23:16; Lev 23:34, 42; Deut 16:13, 16; 31:10, etc.). So that is Ten Commandment #11.

34:23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. 

Hey, it’s another command or law, ain’t it? Why did Bob pass it over, I wonder? It’s Ten Commandment #12.

34:25 . . . neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left until the morning.

Here Bob (oddly) makes the first part of the verse one of the (alt-) Ten Commandments, but not the second part. I wonder: what is his criterion for inclusion? It’s all the more odd and arbitrary because the very next verse also has two parts: both of which he considers part of the New Ten. Go figure. So now we’re up to Ten Commandment #13.

34:14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 

It’s ultra-odd that Bob decided to pass over this command, while retaining the one about idols, seeing that the real Ten Commandments mentions both things: prohibition of other gods (20:3) and of idolatry (20:4-5). Now we have Ten Commandment #14.

I think, by this point, his case collapses of its own weight. It’s a house of cards. This casts no doubt on the biblical text or time-honored understanding of the Ten Commandments at all, but it casts considerable doubt on Bob’s logical acumen and any alleged shred of fairness on his part towards the Bible and Judaism and Christianity.


Photo credit: Moses and the Ten Commandments (portion), by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


September 10, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes 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 at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique, then? 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).


Bob wrote in his piece, “Contradictions in the Resurrection Account” (4-9-12; rev. 3-22-13):

How many days did Jesus teach after his resurrection? Most Christians know that “He appeared to them over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3). But the supposed author of that book wrote elsewhere that he ascended into heaven the same day as the resurrection (Luke 24:51).

The post-Resurrection account of Luke 24 (RSV) refers to it being “the first day of the week” (Sunday) after the crucifixion. Then 24:13 says that Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus occurred on “that very day.” The account of this story in Luke appears to unfold in an unbroken narrative, all in one day: ending as follows:

Luke 24:50-53 (RSV) Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. [51] While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. [52] And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, [53] and were continually in the temple blessing God.

First of all, it’s important to note that even ultra-skeptical Bob assumes that Luke was the author of both books (“wrote elsewhere”: i.e., in the Gospel of Luke). Thus, according to him, Luke (or whoever the joint author was, in the skeptical mindset) blatantly contradicted himself in two different accounts of the same thing.

He would have us believe that Luke couldn’t figure out whether Jesus ascended on the same day as His Resurrection, or 40 days later (thus ludicrously asserted both). The Christian replies that Luke wrote the ending of his Gospel, knowing that the Book of Acts would be “Part II”: in which he would give a fuller account of Jesus’ Ascension.

Two clues in the Gospel account suggest that this is not a single day: if one looks closely enough at it. For one thing, if it were supposedly on the same day, Jesus’ Ascension would have been during the nighttime, since 24:29 has the disciples saying, “it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” This would blatantly contradict Luke’s further details in Acts:

Acts 1:9 And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

The second clue is 24:53: “and were continually in the temple blessing God.” If we interpret the entire passage as occurring in unbroken chronology, then this would be right after their return to Jerusalem. But it doesn’t sound like the description of one day. It only makes sense interpreted as a description of their worship practices over a period of time (“continually”).

I would never say, for example, “I returned from my visit to the lake with great joy and was continually in the gym playing basketball.” That clearly doesn’t read as just one night of basketball in the gym, but rather, as many times, over many days. We observe a parallel verse in Acts that makes this interpretation all the more plain:

Acts 2:46-47 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. . . . [“continually” = “day by day” / “blessing God” = “praising God”]

I submit that these factors already give strong indication that the account in Luke wasn’t ever intended to imply a one-day occurrence for all the events recorded (i.e., it was always intended to harmonize with Acts 1). But there is also a literary factor that I think decisively refutes the skeptical “contradictory” interpretation.

Luke uses a literary technique that I will further discuss below, called “compression” (or, sometimes, “telescoping”). Catholic apologist Steven O’Keefe explains, and provides an example:

Luke takes a couple related events which have a large gap between them.

Wanting to save space, Luke omits everything between those two events. . . .

Taken at face value, Luke says Paul escaped Damascus and went directly to Jerusalem:

“Their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. || And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” – Acts 9:24-26

However, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he recounts those same events.  There we learn that after Paul escaped Damascus he actually wandered in Arabia for a while.  Then he returned to Damascus for three years before finally traveling to Jerusalem.  It reads:

“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone | nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.  Then after three years | I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.” – Galatians 1:15-18

Again, if you just read the text of Acts 9:25-26, you’d never know there was at least 3 years between those two verses.

Lucian of Samosata (c. 125 AD – after 180 AD) the Syrian rhetorician, in his treatise, How to Write History, stated:

Rapidity is always useful, especially if there is a lot of material. It is secured not so much by words and phrases as by the treatment of the subject. That is, you should pass quickly over the trivial and unnecessary, and develop the significant points at adequate length. Much must be omitted. [secondary source: Glenn Miller]

In his book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP: 2nd edition, 2007, p. 216), Craig Blomberg took note of this and applied it to the Bible:

Perhaps the most perplexing differences between parallels occur when one Gospel writer has condensed the account of an event that took place in two or more stages into one concise paragraph that seems to describe the action taking place all at once. Yet this type of literary abridgment was quite common among ancient writers (cf. Lucian, How to Write History 56), so once again it is unfair to judge them by modern standards of precision that no-one in antiquity required. The two most noteworthy examples of this process among the Gospel parallels emerge in the stories of Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter and cursing the fig tree.

F. Gerald Downing, in his volume, Doing Things with Words in the First Christian Century (Sheffield: 2000, pp. 121-122) observed that the Jewish historian Josephus (37-c. 100 AD) used the same technique:

Josephus is in fact noticeably concerned to ‘improve’ the flow of his narrative, either by removing all sorts of items that might seem to interrupt it, or else by reordering them. . . . Lucian, in the next century, would seem to indicate much the same attitude to avoidable interruptions, digressions, in a historical narrative, however vivid and interesting in themselves.

Protestant apologist Glenn Miller, in his superb and characteristically thorough article, Contradictions in the Infancy stories?,” states: “this condensation, omission, and telescoping is pervasive in all of biblical literature. . . . this kind of literary style/device is everywhere in the NT narratives.” He then provides many examples (search the above quote to get to them, and see further examples in a separate article by former atheist Steve Diseb).

Michael R. Licona, Baptist New Testament scholar and professor of theology, specializes in the literary analysis of the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies. I shall now cite his article (part of a larger debate), “Licona Responds to Ehrman on New Testament Reliability”:

Compression was a compositional device employed on a regular basis by historians in Jesus’s day. I provide several examples of compression and other compositional devices in my book scheduled for publication this fall, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? (Oxford University Press, 2016).

[Dave: In Licona’s book — mentioned above — on pages 71-72, he noted that Plutarch also utilized compression in his book, Antony and that his work, Pompey omits details on the same events that are included in his Antony and Caesar]

. . . a very large majority of the differences in the Gospels are best explained in view of the compositional devices employed in the writing of ancient historical/biographical literature; those prescribed in the extant compositional textbooks written by Theon, Hermogenes, Quintilian, Aphthonius, and others, and those we can infer from observing patterns in how the same author using the same sources reports the same story writing around the same time but does so with differences.  . . .

Bart points out that the resurrection narratives in Matthew and John have Jesus appearing to them over a period of days if not weeks, while Luke’s narrative has Jesus rise from the dead, appear to all of the others, then ascend to heaven, all on the same day. Bart also observes that Luke contradicts himself at his ascension scene in Acts 1:3 by saying Jesus was with his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection and prior to his ascension. But this is also quite easily explained in view of the standard compositional devices of that day. Luke has obviously compressed his resurrection narrative. For in Acts 1:3 he knows Jesus had [stayed] with them for a longer period.

Why did he do so? Perhaps he was running out of space to write on his scroll. Luke’s Gospel is the longest of the four. Perhaps he compressed his account to move the story along more rapidly for effect. Perhaps it was to place an emphasis on Jerusalem where the church leadership resided and from where the church would spread. One can only guess. We may not be able to know why Luke compressed his narrative. But it is quite obvious he has compressed it.

Since compression was a common compositional device and is easily identified, are we really to regard Luke as an unreliable source and doubt the historicity of an event because he compressed his description of an event? Bart chooses to do so. But I am under no obligation to follow him on the matter. And those who do are required to take the same approach with virtually all ancient historical literature, at least if they are interested in being consistent. And in so doing, they deprive the term “historically reliable” of any practical meaning. [some paragraph breaks added]

Scot McKnight did a review of sorts of Licona’s book, on his blog at Patheos (which also hosts my own blog). He observed:

Plutarch’s Lives are written as rough contemporaries of the Gospels and they are both “lives” (biographies, bioi) and hence seeing how one operates (Plutarch) may provide categories for understanding how the Evangelists were operating. The only assumption here would be that the conventions for biographical writing would be similar. Licona is accurate in this assumption/conclusion.

I want to make it very clear what I am arguing and am not contending. My friend, Dr. Lydia McGrew, who has done intensive study on these sorts of textual disputes, and has written the book, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (2017), made the following helpful comments on my Facebook page, that I completely agree with (edited a bit to make them more coherent for my present purposes):

One should oppose alteration of the facts in such a way that the narrative invisibly appears to be saying something that would, in fact, be false, but that the authors were permitted “by literary conventions” to do on a pretty broad scale. The Evangelists did not invent out of whole cloth the non-overlapping portions of their narratives.

The word “compression” is ambiguous and is one that gets used in two very different ways. Luke wrote quickly and briefly, but he did not deliberately “make” all the events take place on Easter.

The question is whether the author is to be understood as deliberately placing the action into a shorter period or merely writing in a way that could be taken to mean that the action took a shorter time period than it did. This is an absolutely crucial distinction. The former means that the author deliberately attempted to create an appearance contrary to fact: a “fictionalizing literary device.” Even Lucian doesn’t advocate doing that.

Luke [in Luke 24] didn’t “put” all of the events on Easter Day. In other words, it is not the case that Luke knew that they took longer but nevertheless attempted to make it look like they all occurred on Easter Day. There is no reason to think that “in the story” as Luke writes it, the events all occurred on Easter Day.

We have no evidence that it was “allowed at the time” or that the Gospel authors would have “considered themselves allowed” to compress in the fictionalizing sense as opposed to the shortened narration sense.

One can give an abridged / CliffsNotes version of a story and a longer one, without inventing anything or fudging facts. That’s what I believe Luke did. One could compare, for example, the many short and long versions of my conversion story to Catholicism. An atheist could “find” a host of “contradictions” in those.

I think this “literary” understanding and explanation quite sufficiently refute the charge of “contradiction.” Its not so much that Bob Seidensticker has done no study of the texts. He goes out and grabs however many standard atheist charges of alleged “biblical contradictions” suit his purpose. Many of these have circulated for centuries, and have long been refuted by Christians. The problem is that he has not studied deeply enough. He appears to have no awareness that Christians have explained the current problem in the manner seen above. I did a search of his voluminous site for “compression” and “telescoping” (in the literary sense). They turned up nothing whatsoever. Bob is blithely unaware of both.

The latter shortcoming is extremely common in atheist “exegesis” (so-called), and in my opinion it is because of the extreme bias. The atheist has no interest in truly understanding biblical texts or in resolving the problems of seemingly clashing texts. It’s too much fun to throw them in Christians’ faces. They usually approach the Bible, as I’ve said for years, like a butcher approaches a hog.

Unless and until the Bible is understood as a sophisticated text, that can be analyzed just like any ancient text (and given the same respect, apart from any religious adherence), atheists will continue to make lousy arguments (largely from mere prima facie appearance), and will end up looking foolish and unprepared and over their heads, as Bob does yet again.

So far it is fourteen critiques of his arguments and absolutely no response from him (despite his confident challenge recorded in my Intro.). Does anyone know if Bob is still alive? If he has departed this mortal coil that might explain his non-answer. But I have a hunch that he is still kicking, up in the hills — like an atheist Elijah — in a secret cave. I’m here waitin’: should he decide to ever venture back into serious, open, and civil discourse with a Christian apologist opponent.


Photo credit: Ascension of Christ (c. 1894), by Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


September 3, 2018

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

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique, then? 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).


Bob states in his post, “10 Tough Questions for the Atheist to Answer” (11-18-13; rep. 4-22-17):

1. How Did the Universe Come Into Being?

Our universe had a beginning, but what caused it? Why is there something instead of nothing?

I don’t know what caused the universe. I don’t even know if asking about a cause (which implies an action through time) even makes sense before time existed. (And I say “I don’t know” simply because I’m parroting the consensus view of physics. If that changes, so will my opinion.)

But there’s nothing embarrassing about pointing out where we don’t know things. Science has plenty of unanswered questions, and highlighting them shows where work needs to be done. It’s not like we’ve ever learned anything new about nature through holy books or divine revelation.

That science doesn’t know something doesn’t mean that Christians do. They still must deliver evidence for the claim “God did it.” Believing by faith won’t do.

I commend him for being honest. I recently asked two other atheists (Anthrotheist and Grimlock) the same thing, and they were both honest enough to give the same answer: “I don’t know.” It’s good to know the limit of our knowledge and to not try to hide it. Many people have a hard time doing that. I’ve never understood why. Anyone who thinks at all ought to quickly recognize how much they don’t know. And it ought to cause us to be less triumphant about lack of comprehensive knowledge in opposing views.

Bob’s answer supports, I think, an argument I have used for years: “the Christian point of view regarding the beginning of the universe is every bit as plausible, and requires no more faith [defined as “acceptance of unproven axioms”] than the atheist view.” To illustrate that, I shall closely follow Bob’s words (with a few necessary changes) and put them into the mouth of a Christian, to show that the two scenarios both involve faith and lack of in-depth explanations:

1. How Did the Universe Come Into Being?

Our universe had a beginning, but what caused it? Why is there something instead of nothing?

God. I don’t understand how He could exist for eternity (never not exist). I don’t even know if asking about a “cause” for God even makes sense. And I say “I don’t know” because it is the consensus view of theology and [theistic] philosophy. If that changes, so will my opinion.

But there’s nothing embarrassing about pointing out where we don’t know things. Theology and the Bible present or deal with plenty of unanswered questions, and highlighting them shows where work needs to be done. It’s not like we’ve never learned anything new about God through holy books or divine revelation.

That theology doesn’t know something doesn’t mean that atheists and scientists do. They still must deliver evidence for the claim “chance /  matter did it” (rather than God, or a “guiding God” as it were). Merely believing for no good reason — without hard scientific evidence won’t do.

Note also that quantum events may not have causes, and the Big Bang was a quantum event. There’s no reason to demand a Big Banger, some supernatural First Cause.

Note also that Christian theology holds that God Himself is not caused, but that the Big Bang [posited through scientific observation, by a Catholic priest] was caused by Him. There’s just as much reason to rationally believe in a Big Banger as supernatural First Cause, as there is to believe that something came from nothing, and was caused by who knows what? The latter is an appeal to ignorance; the former, to rationally solid theology backed up by much serious philosophy.

The Christian might imagine frustrated atheists lamenting how the appearance of deliberate fine tuning makes a deity unavoidable and then hitting on the crazy idea of bazillions of universes so that by sheer luck at least one of them will be tuned to allow life. But that’s not how it happened. A multiverse is predicted by well-established physics—both string theory and inflation.

Note also that events and objects aren’t unique in physics. There’s more than one photon, more than one electron, more than one star, more than one object influenced by gravity, and so on. Why must we be limited to one Big Bang?

Well, let’s get away from computer technicians like Bob for a moment and hear from one of the originators of the multiverse and “cyclic theory” notions: theoretical physicist Paul Steinhardt, who is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science and Director of the Center for Theoretical Science at Princeton University:

[M]y concerns really grew when I discovered that, due to quantum fluctuation effects, inflation is generically eternal and (as others soon emphasized) this would lead to a multiverse. Inflation was introduced to produce a universe that looks smooth and flat everywhere and that has features everywhere that agree with what we observe. Instead, it turns out that, due to quantum effects, inflation produces a multitude of patches (universes) that span every physically conceivable outcome (flat and curved, smooth and not smooth, isotropic and not isotropic, scale-invariant spectra and not, etc.). Our observable universe would be just one possibility out of a continuous spectrum of outcomes. So, we have not explained any feature of the universe by introducing inflation after all. We have just shifted the problem of the original big bang model (how can we explain our simple universe when there is a nearly infinite variety of possibilities that could emerge from the big bang?) to the inflationary model (how can we explain our simple universe when there is a nearly infinite variety of possibilities could emerge in a multiverse?). . . .

To me, the accidental universe idea is scientifically meaningless because it explains nothing and predicts nothing. Also, it misses the most salient fact we have learned about large-scale structure of the universe: its extraordinary simplicity when averaged over large scales. In order to explain the one simple universe we can see, the inflationary multiverse and accidental universe hypotheses posit an infinite variety of universes with arbitrary amounts of complexity that we cannot see. Variations on the accidental universe, such as those employing the anthropic principle, do nothing to help the situation.

Scientific ideas should be simple, explanatory, predictive. The inflationary multiverse as currently understood appears to have none of those properties.

These concerns and more, and the fact that we have made no progress in 30 years in addressing them, are what have made me skeptical about the inflationary picture. . . .

Imagine a scientific theory that was designed to explain and predict but ends up allowing literally any conceivable possibility without any rule about what is more likely. What good is it? It rules out nothing and can never be put to a real test. . . .

My concern was that the multiverse is a ‘theory of anything’, a proposal that allows all possible cosmological outcomes (smooth or not smooth, curved or flat, etc.) and, consequently, is not subject to empirical tests. Some claim that superstring theory allows exponentially many (or perhaps infinitely many) possibilities for the fundamental laws (masses of particles, types of forces, etc.) and that there is no guiding principle to determine which set of physical laws is more probable. . . .

[Q: Are you religious? Can you be a physicist and also believe in God?]

I never answer the first question because I consider religion to be a private matter. My scientific views stand on their own and I would like them to be evaluated independent of my private views about religion. In answer to your second question, it is a demonstrated fact that successful physicists can believe in God. (“Physicist Slams Cosmic Theory He Helped Conceive,” John Horgan [interviewer], Scientific American, 12-1-14)

And how designed does the universe look? The vast majority of the universe is hostile to any kind of life that we’re familiar with. Does creating hundreds of billions of galaxies sound like what a cosmic designer would do if life on a single lonely planet was the goal?

Yeah, why not? We sit here on earth and speculate as to what God (if He exists) should or shouldn’t do, but we have no basis or frame of reference in which to make such judgments. If God wanted to make the universe exactly as we observe it (not yet having discovered life anywhere else), who are we to say that it “doesn’t make sense”? It’s simply arrogant and self-importance exaggerated to the billionth degree.

The mere proposition of “billions of galaxies and planets but just one with life” is no more implausible (assuming a Creator God Who willed it) than the evolutionary “billions of genetic mutations but just one that will bring about a new adaptation or anatomical structure.” If we believe (if we are materialists) that, essentially, blind chance can bring about the constructive mutation, then why can’t we believe that an Intelligent Designer may operate in the same way as regards the entire universe (i.e., one small exception in an exponentially, almost incomprehensibly larger sea of non-exceptions)? One is no less plausible than the other.

The theist and the Christian look at the universe, with the only known life in it being life on earth, including ourselves, and say, “Look how special and unique we are on earth: especially human beings! That suggests a Creator God.” The atheist looks at it and concludes, “it makes no  sense for a supposed God to allow life on just one planet and in one galaxy among billions.” It’s all in one’s perspective.

But I don’t see that Bob’s complaint / speculation here is immediately apparent — let alone compelling — at all. It carries no inherent logical or plausible force, and is based on nothing but his own empty (and biased atheist) speculation that this isn’t the way it “should” be. Where does he get the notion of “should” in the first place? That is the relevant question.

The origin of life is called abiogenesis. Though science has lots of ideas, it doesn’t have a good theory. Nevertheless, science not having an answer gives nothing to the Christian side of the question.

That’s correct. But by the same token, if science is ignorant and has no explanation, we are as epistemologically justified to simply believe that God was the causal agent of life coming into existence, and that it is yet another example of science offering no plausible — purely natural — explanations of the origins of things (the universe and life and consciousness) because matter alone is woefully insufficient to understand or explain any of those things. Assuming the Christian / theistic hypothesis for the sake of argument, the state of current scientific [non-]knowledge is perfectly in accord with what we would expect.

Even if science at length does give us a good explanation of a naturalistic origin of life, this would no more disprove God than the Big Bang does, or evolutionary development of life forms does. You can’t disprove a spirit by means of theories of matter and physics. The sooner materialist scientists get this obvious fact, the better off (and far less frustrated) they and all of us will be. Far better to hold Dr. Steinhardt’s view (“it is a demonstrated fact that successful physicists can believe in God”).

Their argument then becomes “Science has unanswered questions; therefore God.”

This (the old and tired “god of the gaps” canard) is not what I have argued above, or have ever argued, in my now 37 years of doing Christian apologetics. My argument is, rather: “our theological speculation, held in faith, but backed by reason and centuries of theistic philosophy, is at least as plausible and intellectually respectable to hold as the freely admitted non-answers in certain areas of science.”

The materialist-type atheist can always (I suppose) stomp his feet and angrily proclaim, “there is no such thing as spirit! Everything is material!” But of course that is merely what we call “blind faith” or irrational dogmatism” and no rational argument at all. We prefer a reasonable faith to irrational dogmatism and scientism (science ludicrously elevated to a virtual religion and exclusive means of knowledge).


Related reading:

My Atheism web page

My Science & Philosophy web page

My book about science: Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies? [as low as $2.99 as an e-book]


Photo credit: Cygnus Loop nebula: NASA (3-22-12). Wispy tendrils of hot dust and gas glow brightly in this ultraviolet image, taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer. The nebula lies about 1,500 light-years away, and is a supernova remnant, left over from a massive stellar explosion that occurred between 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. The Cygnus Loop extends over three times the size of the full moon in the night sky, and is tucked next to one of the “swan’s wings” in the constellation of Cygnus. The filaments of gas and dust visible here in ultraviolet light were heated by the shockwave from the supernova, which is still spreading outward from the original explosion. The original supernova would have been bright enough to be seen clearly from Earth with the naked eye. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]



August 29, 2018

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

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


Bob, in the midst ofone of his typical (rather ludicrous) “throw out ten one-liners at once to give an illusion of strength” bloviations, exclaimed: “Why doesn’t God make his existence obvious to everyone?” He linked in that sentence to his article, “The Most Powerful Argument Against Christianity” (8-10-16).  There he notes (rather comically, from where I sit) some of the things that Christians contend are instances of God revealing Himself to mankind:

God did appear to people, . . . as smoke and fire to the Israelites during the Exodus. Jesus did miracles, he healed people, he multiplied food, he controlled nature, and he raised the dead. And consider the apostles . . . witnessing the miracles of Jesus . . . Paul’s Damascus road experience . . . 

He breezily dismisses all of this with a line: “how about some of that evidence for us today?” That’s standard atheist argumentation: we can’t trust anything in the past; above all, anything that purports to be miraculous, because David Hume (who was a deist and not an atheist) “proved” in the 18th century that no miracles can ever occur (a universal negative), etc., and anything that relies primarily or solely on the report of those lying, deceitful Christians! Bob goes on to claim:

[N]onresistant unbelief exists. This is unbelief by honest seekers who are eager to know God but reject God’s existence for lack of evidence. Assuming that God desires to have a relationship with us, merely knowing that the other person exists is the mandatory first step in a relationship. God’s existence should be obvious to these seekers and yet it isn’t. This is easily explained by concluding that God doesn’t exist. . . . 

[It’s] probably right that not everyone would believe if God made his existence plain, but that’s a helluva lot more evidence than we have now. Maybe not everybody, but surely millions or even billions more would be convinced and believe if God made his existence clear. 

At this point we’re dying of curiosity to know what Bob — in his infinite wisdom — thinks would do the trick. He tells us:

Let’s make clear what compelling evidence for God would look like. This wouldn’t simply be the clouds parting one day just as you wondered if God existed. It wouldn’t be unexpectedly coming across a photo of a beloved relative who had died. I’m talking about something really compelling—something like everyone in the world having the same dream the same night in which God simply and clearly summarizes his plan. Could that be dismissed as alien technology or mind-control drugs rather than God? Perhaps, but this evidence would be vastly more compelling than the feeble arguments apologists are saddled with today.

Really? This is rather weak. He opts for the “early Bob Dylan method” of determining God’s existence. I refer to Talkin’ World War III Blues (1963), which includes the wonderful line:  “I’ll letcha be in my dream if I can be in yers.”

It surprises me quite a bit that he would propose such a subjective, flimsy scenario of God proving Himself. Usually, atheists — pressed to say what would suffice — will suggest something fantastic like “John 3:16 written in the stars.” Now that would be a rather spectacular confirmation (I agree). But Bob will settle for a universal dream.

This is fascinating, because he, like most atheists I have ever met, continually squawks about empirical evidence being necessary in order for God’s existence to be made manifest. But a universal dream is not empirical at all (at least not in the sense of being observable, replicable, etc.; i.e., standard scientific method). Materialist atheists would say it is empirical because the dream came from brain waves and processes, etc. (but that’s a long discussion itself).

This sort of thing could and would be shot down by skeptics and atheists and agnostics in the same way that Jesus’ Resurrection has been shot down by atheists (the mass hallucination theory: one of their favorite anti-Resurrection rationalization fairy tales). The Bible says that 500 people were eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. So they were all hallucinating, according to this. It’s just as easy to extend that skeptical take to the whole world. They’re all deluded.

After all, there are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world right now who all claim to have had some sort of encounter with God; some reason to believe and “know” that He exists (and that He took on flesh and came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth), and who worship Him. That’s completely irrelevant to atheists. They blow it off as of no import. In the same fashion, the atheist type could blow off a purported dream. Since atheists would also be having the dream, they would have to be skeptical of their own dream. No problem for them! When it comes to God, they always find a way to disbelieve.

Christians have all kinds of evidences (some going beyond merely empirical) for God. Two months ago, I summed them up in two sentences:

Nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” God’s existence. But I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

In case someone asks what all these cumulative evidences are, I have collected a few hundred scholarly articles that present them:

All of this is insufficient for atheists to be persuaded. They blow all of them off with a condescending smirk, and continue to describe belief in Christianity as equivalent to belief in leprechauns, unicorns, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus. I’ve often challenged them — I note in passing — to show me a 2800-year philosophical history of serious, tough-minded defense — by many of the greatest minds in the history of the world — of any of these things, like we have for God, and thus far have received no answer.
It’s by no means obvious or apparent that the “universal dream” would be sufficient to convince atheists.  Some atheists simply don’t want to believe, or reject God, whether He exists or not (i.e., either the concept or the actual Being). They want no part of Him. One might possibly posit that Bob himself is perhaps of this mindset, since he has invented a host of imaginary traits of the supposed God of the Bible and Christianity, that are all false — and I have been systematically showing how they are slanderous caricatures (e.g., that God supposedly loves child sacrifice and chattel slavery and rape, and hates human free will).
Thus far, Bob has utterly ignored my previous twelve critiques (in this series) of his arguments. Not exactly a strong showing of intellectual confidence, is it? He challenged me (see the intro. at the top), I took it up, and he immediately fled for the hills, where he has been cowering ever since (hoping I would tire of this endeavor and go away; sorry Bob!). I encourage you, the reader, to make up your own mind as to how to interpret his behavior. I don’t think it’s rocket science!
I have distinguished between (and argue that the New Testament also distinguishes between) God-Rejecters vs. Open-Minded Agnostics. I have also argued that according to the Bible (specifically Romans 2), the possibility of salvation for the latter category, remains, and that it is wrong for Christians to classify atheists en masse as wicked and evil. We can’t judge souls. That’s God’s job.
The question then remains: “how much does a resistance (either irrational or ignorant or hyper-rational or merely emotional or selfishly motivated) to God’s existence play into proposed ‘compelling’ demonstrations of His existence? “Bob gave this lip service in one clause above, but on the whole, atheists minimize this factor in a way in which Christians do not. The Bible describes this sort of resistance as a profound causal factor:
Luke 16:27-31 (RSV) [Jesus telling a story] And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ [29] But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'” 
Luke 13:34  [Jesus] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 
Romans 1:21-23, 25 [Paul] for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools, [23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. . . . [25] . . . they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. 
Matthew 10:14-15 [Jesus talking to His disciples, sent out to preach the gospel] And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. [15] Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomor’rah than for that town. 
John 6:60-66 [Jesus talking about the Eucharist / Holy Communion] Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” [61] But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? [63] It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [64] But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” [66] After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
In the biblical, Christian worldview, again, non-belief can sometimes be from pure, “innocent” ignorance; simply not knowing, or it could flow from stiff-necked resistance and rebellion and rejection. There are atheists of both types. But if they are of the latter type, no demonstration of God’s existence will be compelling to them, no matter what, because they don’t want it to be. It’s the iron will taking precedence over the mind.
In the final analysis, the Christian view is that God’s existence is apparent to all from His creation:
Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; 
I would contend that this bare statement can be greatly elaborated upon in the teleological and cosmological arguments. It’s true that God’s character is not as easily revealed and is another issue. We believe that that is revealed in His inspired revelation of Himself, in the Bible.
But to the atheist who keeps contending that “God ought to reveal Himself: make it clear!”, we say, “He already has! You either don’t see it, for whatever reason, or don’t want to (won’t) see or admit it.” We vigorously deny that He has not done so. And that’s just one of our 3,921,309 disagreements with atheists (but a very important one).
Photo credit: Doubting Thomas, by Guercino (1591-1666) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
August 21, 2018

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

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


Bob’s hyper-absurd, clueless view on this topic is expressed in his post, “God Loves the Smell of Burning Flesh: Human Sacrifice in the Bible” (7-29-14):

The Abraham and Isaac story in Genesis 22 is often given to show God’s rejection of human sacrifice and, as it is in the Bible today, that may well have been the purpose. But, like a cheerful fairy tale that comes from a darker original, the Isaac story may not initially have had its happy ending.

He reiterated his position with his usual mockery of God, on 8-18-14:

God . . . likes the occasional human sacrifice, which puts him in conflict with Commandment #6 prohibiting murder. Can’t this guy follow his own rules?

Whenever an atheist disagrees with any Bible passage (and/or doctrine), there is always the “textual change!” canard: ready and available to be utilized at the drop of a hat. So good ol’ Bob (always eminently fair to the Bible and Christianity, and scrupulously objective and scholarly at all times) does so. This story was supposedly changed. One of three very stupid, extraordinarily weak arguments he gives for concluding this is that Genesis 22:19 at the end of the story states: “’Then Abraham returned to his servants.’ Alone.”

For Bob, because Isaac wasn’t mentioned in this passage, it proves that he wasn’t there at all, and was therefore, sacrificed. The folks who went and changed the passage to make it a nice fairy tale ending apparently missed this obvious fact of “logic”: thus leaving clues for clever biblical exegetes [cough] like Bob to have an “a-ha!!” moment and unravel the conspiracy, lo, these three thousand plus years later.

To show the laughable silliness of such an argument, compare it to a biblical scene involving David and Saul, in 1 Samuel chapter 26. Saul had been trying to kill young David. David (accompanied by Abi’shai: 26:6-9) had a chance to kill him, and didn’t (26:5-12), because he was the king and “the Lord’s anointed” (26:9, 23). Saul, of course, was surrounded by “three thousand men” (26:2), and it is said that “the army was encamped around him” (26:5), that he was “sleeping within the encampment” (26:7), and that he was with “the army” (26:14) when David talked to him from the mountaintop (26:13-17). The story then concludes with: “So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place” (26:25).

According to Bob’s “logic”, both Abi’shai and Saul’s 3000-man army must both have disappeared in the time between verse 25 and 26, because after all,  26:25 only mentions David and Saul and no one else! Somehow Saul dispatched all those men so he could return alone. Can anyone defy such compelling logic? This is what passes for “atheist exegesis.” It’s only the 46,209,173rd time I have observed such shoddy pseudo-“reasoning” and “Bible interpretation” from atheists, who claim to be so much better at it than us poor, miserable, dumb Christians. Maybe on the 46,209,174th attempt, they will actually get something right.

But doesn’t the Bible reject human sacrifice?

Just in case anyone was unclear that the Old Testament comes from a post-Bronze Age Mesopotamian culture, it tells us 37 times that God loves the pleasing aroma of burning flesh.

Yes: of animals: sacrificed according to Mosaic Law (and if not, He is not pleased by it: Jer 6:20). Why mention that in a sub-section supposedly about human sacrifice? Perhaps it’s because for a atheist like Bob, a rare animal species should be protected, while we slaughter human children in the womb (which he thinks is quite acceptable) by the hundreds of millions. This would appear to place animals on a higher level of value than human beings; therefore, he objects to any animal sacrifice in the Bible (and I assume he must also be a vegetarian, in all consistency). This is not mere speculation. Bob makes it clear:

Your life is more valuable than the life of a slug or a rat, but would it be more valuable than the last breeding pair of bald eagles? What’s more valuable—the life of a random stranger you will never meet or your beloved pet?

Bob stumbles upon and notes the true biblical teaching on child sacrifice (even an unplugged clock is right twice a day!):

Deuteronomy 18:10, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire.”

Human sacrifice in the Bible

The Bible acknowledges that sacrificing humans is powerful mojo, because that’s how the Moabite god Chemosh beat Israel’s god Yahweh (2 Kings 3:27). The combined forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom were about to defeat Moab when the Moabite king sacrificed his son to Chemosh. The result: “There was an outburst of divine anger against Israel, so they broke off the attack and returned to their homeland.” (More here.)

Nice try. There is nothing whatsoever in the text about some supposed defeat of God (Yahweh)by a false Moabite god. That’s simply Bob’s cynical eisegesis. Nor is it proof that God turned against Israel / Judah simply because the word “wrath” (RSV) is present (KJV: “indignation”). Bob assumes that too. The Hebrew is qetseph, which is usually used of God’s wrath, but not always, and not necessarily. For example, Esther 1:18 (RSV): “This very day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will be telling it to all the king’s princes, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty” (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:17). It can also be plausibly interpreted as the wrath of the king of Moab against Israel. The Bible refers (RSV) to “a king’s wrath” twice (Proverbs 16:14; 19:12).

The translation of 2 Kings 3:27 that Bob uses is the NET Bible: a relatively obscure translation. It’s very unusual (perhaps even singular) in that it inserts “divine” into the passage, making it definitively a case of God’s wrath against Israel. But I can’t find any other translation that does this. No one need merely take my word on this. They can consult the online pages with multiple translations of the passage (one / two) just as I did.

God’s prohibition of child sacrifice as an outrageous abomination is very clear. I found 18 passages concerning this in my paper, The Bible’s Teaching on Abortion. Jesus compared the ancient sacrifice of children to hell itself (particularly, child sacrifice to Ba’al or Molech). But Bob is quite capable of blowing that off, as of no relevance:

Though the Bible talks a good story as it rejects human sacrifice, it’s a sock puppet, and you can make the Bible say just about whatever you want.

Oh, I agree with that! It won’t make any sense, and is devoid of logic and reason (e.g., Bob’s analysis here and as seen throughout my many critiques of his anti-Christian bilge), but folks can and often do try to make the Bible say stuff that it doesn’t teach.

If you think God can’t say precisely the opposite of what he commanded before, then you underestimate an omnipotent god! Take a look:

Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal. (Exodus 13:2)

But nothing that a person owns and devotes to the Lord—whether a human being or an animal or family land—may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the Lord. No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; they are to be put to death. (Leviticus 27:28–9)

As for Exodus 13:2, “consecration” is a different concept from sacrifice. The animals could be sacrificed, but not human beings. It simply means “set aside” or “dedicate” a person or thing for the Lord’s use, as can be seen in the many biblical usages of it. What Bob thinks he has proven here is anyone’s guess. Aperson devoted to destruction” is a murderer, and they received the death penalty under Mosaic Law. I don’t see anything here that “proves” that God condoned child sacrifice. Does anyone else?

Undaunted, Bob moves to his final charge:

As if bragging to his drinking buddies, God laughs about it afterwards. To teach the stiff-necked Israelites who’s boss, God said,

So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am Jehovah (Ezekiel 20:25–6).

. . . sacrificing children to gods? Looks like there was a lot of that going around, and not just among the bad guys.

This is a particular sort of “judgmental, sarcastic divine” language that I dealt with in my earlier installment, “Seidensticker Folly #3: Falsehoods About God & Free Will.” The sense here is similar to that of the following passage, four chapters earlier:

Ezekiel 16:19-22 (RSV) Also my bread which I gave you — I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey — you set before them for a pleasing odor, says the Lord GOD. [20] And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter [21] that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? [22] And in all your abominations and your harlotries you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, weltering in your blood.

I’m sure the following commentary will very likely be above Bob’s comprehension and his skeptical bigoted anti-theist-dominated cognitive powers, but I offer it anyway, primarily for the sake of Christians: to better understand this passage, this sort of somewhat complex Hebrew / biblical genre and thinking, and to be able to counter absurd claims about it, such as what Bob offers:

26. I polluted them—not directly; “but I judicially gave them up to pollute themselves.” A just retribution for their “polluting My sabbaths” (Eze 20:24). This Eze 20:26 is explanatory of Eze 20:25. Their own sin I made their punishment.

caused to pass through the fire—Fairbairn translates, “In their presenting (literally, ‘the causing to pass over’) all their first-born,” namely, to the Lord; referring to the command (Ex 13:12, Margin, where the very same expression is used). The lustration of children by passing through the fire was a later abomination (Eze 20:31). The evil here spoken of was the admixture of heathenish practices with Jehovah’s worship, which made Him regard all as “polluted.” Here, “to the Lord” is omitted purposely, to imply, “They kept up the outward service indeed, but I did not own it as done unto Me, since it was mingled with such pollutions.” But English Version is supported by the similar phraseology in Eze 20:31, see on [1052]Eze 20:31. They made all their children pass through the fire; but he names the first-born, in aggravation of their guilt; that is, “I had willed that the first-born should be redeemed as being Mine, but they imposed on themselves the cruel rites of offering them to Molech” (De 18:10).

might know … the Lord—that they may be compelled to know Me as a powerful Judge, since they were unwilling to know Me as a gracious Father.


Polluted them; either I permitted them to pollute themselves, or discovered that they had polluted themselves, or treated them with loathing and abhorrence, as polluted persons.

In their own gifts; either in their gifts which they pretended to bring to me, or rather in their sacrifices they offered to whom, or at least in what manner, they, not I, had chosen; or, which is most likely, gifts are here their first-born, which are more than other children accounted gifts.

Through the fire: see Ezekiel 16:20,21. Most insufferable affront to God, to see those children inhumanly offered to the devil, which, in remembrance of his redeeming the fathers, were consecrated to God! Exodus 13:2; and possibly this was first done when they offered to Baalpeor, Numbers 25:3.

It’s just common sense. If the Bible clearly says something — asserts it (“child sacrifice is an abomination”) 20+ times –, then we can be assured that this is biblical teaching, and (as we believe) what God wants to convey in His inspired revelation to mankind. Even Bob freely concedes that the Bible mostly teaches this. But then he goes on to assert that it is self-contradictory and that the Bible is “a sock puppet, and you can make the Bible say just about whatever you want.”

Christians approach the matter very differently. If we run across one passage that appears at first glance to contradict 20+ that say the opposite of what the one seems to say, we don’t immediately throw out all the others. That would be stupid. We assume that there is likely an explanation for why one appears to differ from the other 20+ (that we have something to study and learn). What I have explained is the plausible explanation: it’s a particular non-literal genre or expression that is seen in other places in the Bible as well.

Bob (throughout his “biblical” critiques) utterly ignores genre, style, cultural and linguistic aspects (and most relevant cross-referencing, too), so for him it’s simple: God loves child sacrifice because (so he wrongly thinks), we have this one passage supporting that assumption. He falsely accuses God, while personally advocating the glories and wonders of legal abortion. He’s the one (not God) who believes in the child sacrifice that he casually assumes in this paper to be a great evil. Thus, he is a liar, blasphemer, and hypocrite to boot.

Moreover, even if a Christian couldn’t understand this one passage and synthesize it with the others, we still have the well-known principle of biblical hermeneutics: interpret the difficult, “hard” or complex passages that are not readily or easily understood, by other clearer passages on the same topic.

It’s really only the same approach that a scholar would afford any literature. Say, for example, that we were studying the thought of Descartes or Plato, and find ten passages in one or the other clearly stating x, but also one that states apparent direct contradiction y. The scholar will go with what he knows, rather than with what he has not yet explained. He either concedes ignorance, or assumes that an explanation will eventually be found, or that the thinker may have changed his mind at some point. In any event, the strong evidence for x is not overcome by the exceptional evidence of y.

It’s the same in science as well. Just about every theory or hypothesis has to deal with anomalies that don’t fit into it. It doesn’t make the scientist throw out the theory because it was not absolutely sufficient to explain every jot and tittle.

The same applies to biblical interpretation. But I have suggested a plausible solution. I’m not saying that no one can figure out or explain in another fashion what Bob casually assumes to be a biblical contradiction. I don’t think this “problem” is anywhere near impossible to resolve.


Photo credit: Aztec human sacrifice (16th century codex) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


August 20, 2018

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

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


In what follows I will be referring to many resources (by number) listed at the end in the Bibliography. I won’t bother to indent citations or put them in quotation marks. Everything will be quotes from other materials, except for my own comments here and there, which will be in blue color. All bolding or italics or capitalizing, and abbreviations (and in some cases, different colors) are in the originals (or in secondary sources that cite the original). See the companion-post, “Slavery in the Old Testament” for preliminaries and necessary background information for the present post. I won’t be reiterating here what is already found there.


I. Definitions

[See source #1 in the Bibliography for an extremely extensive description of Roman / New Testament period slavery: far too detailed and comprehensive to even representatively site here]

The slaveholders [of the New World period] severely misrepresented Paul. First, Paul was addressing nonracial Roman household slavery, a situation quite different from the slavery practiced in the Americas. Household slaves had greater opportunities for freedom, status and economic mobility than did the vast majority of free peasants in Paul’s day; one wonders whether the same term should apply to both U.S. slavery and Roman household slavery. (7; 37)

Any socio-economic class that:

1. people would voluntarily join to achieve greater social status than they could being free;
2. allowed a servant legal rights against their ‘owner’;
3. gave the servant the ability to force a change of owner by seeking asylum;
4. created a realistic expectation of freedom WITH ROMAN CITIZENSHIP around the age of 30 years of age;
5. provided much greater material comforts, security, and earning potential than free status
6. provided access to educational training often unaffordable by the free poor

can hardly be called ‘slavery’ in any New World sense! [It looks so much more like the rigor, discipline, and submission to superiors that shows up in modern military enrollments, in which people submit to military life for a fixed time, in exchange for training, post-service educational payments, medical care, and the like AFTER their term of military service.]

Accordingly, I have to conclude that the NT-period “slavery” in the Roman Empire is not similar enough to New World slavery for this objection to have its customary force. The gap between NT ‘servanthood’ and New World ‘slavery’ is simply too great for us to identify them with each other. (1)

The Greek word (doulos) can be translated “slave,” or sometimes “servant” or “bondservant,” and often referred to people who had a surprising level of legal and social status in the first-century Greco-Roman world. Most were not “slaves” from their birth, or for their whole life, or because of their race—for instance, the Roman jurist Gaius (second century) claimed that most slaves were prisoners of war who actually would have been slaughtered if not made slaves. (6)

II. Summaries and Overviews

Given the complex situation, we would NOT expect blanket commands to ‘free the slaves’, if for no other reason than that infanticide-rescued infant slaves and aged/infirm/sick slaves would become critically destitute. [We might expect a general encouragement away from a slave system, though.]

We do find statements that ‘move’ the church away from general slave-system orientation:

1) Paul explicitly denounces slave-trading, which would have restricted the supply of slaves to Christian households [1 Tim 1.9-10]

2) Paul tells free people to NOT become slaves [1 Cor 7.23]

3) Paul tells slaves to become free, if they can [1 Cor 7.21]

4) Paul encourages Philemon to ‘free’ Onesimus in that epistle [verse 21]

But the historical situation was too complex to issue such a blanket ‘free them all’ statement:

  • Many slaves were still in infancy or childhood, rescued from infant exposure/abandonment.
  • Many slaves were acquired in infancy or childhood, with life-care being provided by owner.
  • Many slaves were aged or sick, without means to live in ‘freedom’.
  • The social relief systems of the Empire would have been inadequate to care for these needy people. [Later, the emperor Julian will lament about this–that it is only the Christian community that provides welfare services to the needy of the world.]
  • There were known legal limits to manumission (and probably others), some before an owner’s death and some at death.
  • There was a growing body of legislation and intellectual support for amelioration of the slave’s conditions, and the trendlines were very favorable to the slave.

Had Paul somehow been able to get the Empire to free the ‘slaves’, the economic and social chaos would have been unimaginable. The sheer size of the slave population was immense. . . . From a practical standpoint alone, it would have been impossible to have issued some unilateral emancipation command to the Christian community. (1)

The NT data we have looked at certainly doesn’t “sanction” it, but rather strongly encourages the church to move away from it, and explicitly condemns those elements of it that were clearly wrong (e.g., slavetrading, deprivation, malice, anti-community social views of it)–the very elements in New World slavery that are problematic. We have seen already how a blanket emancipation would have been inappropriate (given the type of slave-system it was), and as an institution it was too ambiguous and too flexible to deserve a judgement of ‘holy’ (sanctioned) or ‘evil’ (condemned). (1)

Summary and conclusions:

  1. The slave-system described in the NT period is very dissimilar to New world slavery, especially in regards to the more horrific and troubling aspects: lifetime slavery, forced/violent enslavement, no chance for improvement in conditions, no legal recourses against owners, bad living conditions, lowest possible social and economic status.
  2. As such, its ethical character relative to New World slave is very different.
  3. It was a much more neutral, flexible, varied, and ambiguous institution–blanket ethical pronouncements against it or for it would have been inaccurate.
  4. Accordingly, the institution itself could not be considered ‘inconsistent with’ the gospel of freedom, and the NT clearly denies the idea that a master “owns” a servant (only the Lord owns them both)!
  5. I have to conclude that the NT-period “slavery” in the Roman Empire is not similar enough to New World slavery for this objection to have its customary force.
  6. Given this character of the institution, the NT teachings address obvious problems with the praxis and role enactments.
  7. The general Christian principle of ‘freedom’ creates several passages that encourage the church to move away from (and avoid) the practice.
  8. The general view of the NT that change should be instituted from “the inside outward” and should be a matter of individual moral decision explains the phenomena within the book of Philemon.
  9. The complexity of the historical situation also argues against the feasibility of any ‘unilateral abolition’.
  10. Accordingly, we cannot correctly accuse the NT of “condoning slavery” in any traditional sense.
  11. The use of the servant-heart of Jesus as a goal did NOT legitimize the institution in any way; the anti-slavery injunctions clearly show that.
  12. The NT does not expect unconditional obedience to masters; indeed it required disobedience in cases of moral wrongdoing (similar to cases of required civil disobedience).
  13. The NT literature is too ‘occasional’ and too early to be expected to deal with ALL social implications of the good news of God’s action in Jesus Christ, but we do have strong pro-freedom elements and instructions therein anyway.
  14. The early church saw the institution itself as neutral/useful for raising funds for social relief, yet demonstrated a decided preference for manumission.


Now, what emerges from this rather detailed study, is that most of the passages in the NT relating to slavery were not even speaking about what we could consider ‘slavery’ today (i.e., New World slavery). Given what ‘slavery’ was like in Paul’s day, we should not be morally ‘surprised’ at the absence of a blanket manumission statement by him, or at the absence of a major Empire-wide anti-slavery campaign on the part of the emerging church. The data that we DO have in the NT lays clear groundwork for refuting New World Slavery (almost all of which was based on slave-trading and piracy–explicitly condemned by Paul and fought by the early church). By the time slavery loses its ethically ambiguous character as an institution (i.e., in the slave trade of the New World period), it cannot legitimately ‘use Paul’ to defend itself, for it had mutated into something quite unlike either Hebrew “slavery” in the OT, or “household slavery” in the NT.

So, it is incorrect to say that the bible “condones slavery” (in the modern connotation of that phrase). (1)

Christians could not change the legal system. A slave rebellion would have led to the execution of the rebels. There were also legal restrictions concerning the number of slaves who could be freed and freeing them early (before the age of 30) could bar them from becoming Roman citizens (Lex Fufia Caninia and Lex Aelia Sentia).

Commanding Christians to free their slaves would not therefore have been legal, nor would it have worked as, by state law, some of those slaves would still not have been free. But Christians were commanded to love others as Christ loved us. That meant that people could no longer be treated as slaves, but Christians would then become the servants of all, as Christ was (Philippians 2:7). (2)

There were slaves during New Testament times. The church issued no edict sweeping away this custom of the old Judaism, but the gospel of Christ with its warm, penetrating love-message mitigated the harshness of ancient times and melted cruelty into kindness. The equality, justice and love of Christ’s teachings changed the whole attitude of man to man and master to servant. This spirit of brotherhood quickened the conscience of the age, leaped the walls of Judaism, and penetrated the remotest regions. . . .

Christ was a reformer, but not an anarchist. His gospel was dynamic but not dynamitic. It was leaven, electric with power, but permeated with love. Christ’s life and teaching were against Judaistic slavery, Roman slavery and any form of human slavery. The love of His gospel and the light of His life were destined, in time, to make human emancipation earth-wide and human brotherhood as universal as His own benign presence. (3)

Some critics claim, “Jesus never said anything about the wrongness of slavery.” Not so. He explicitly opposed every form of oppression in His mission “to proclaim release to the captives … to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18 NASB; cp. Isaiah 61:1). While Jesus did not press for some economic reform plan in Israel, He did address attitudes such as greed, materialism, contentment, and generosity.

New Testament writers addressed underlying attitudes regarding slavery: Christian masters called Christian slaves “brothers” or “sisters.” The New Testament commanded masters to show compassion, justice, and patience. Their position as master meant responsibility and service, not oppression and privilege. Thus, the worm was already in the wood for altering social structures.

New Testament writers, like Jesus their Master, opposed the dehumanization and oppression of others. In fact, Paul gave household rules in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 4 not only for Christian slaves but for Christian masters as well. Slaves are ultimately responsible to God, their heavenly Master. But masters are to “treat your slaves in the same way” — namely, as persons governed by a heavenly Master (Ephesians 6:9). Commentator P.T. O’Brien points out that “Paul’s cryptic exhortation is outrageous” for his day.

Given the spiritual equality of slave and free, slaves even took on leadership positions in churches. Paul’s ministry illustrates how in Christ there is neither slave nor free, when he greeted people by name in his epistles. Some of these people had commonly used slave and freedman names. For example, in Romans 16:7,9, he refers to slaves such as Andronicus and Urbanus (common slave names) as “kinsman,” “fellow prisoner,” and “fellow worker” (NASB). The New Testament’s approach to slavery is contrary to aristocrats and philosophers such as Aristotle, who held that certain humans were slaves by nature (Politics I.13).

Paul reminded Christian masters that they, with their slaves, were fellow-slaves of the same impartial Master. Thus, they were not to mistreat them but rather deal with them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul called on human masters to grant “justice and fairness” to their slaves (Colossians 4:1, NASB). In unprecedented fashion, Paul treated slaves as morally responsible persons (Colossians 3:22–25) who, like their Christian masters, are “brothers” and part of Christ’s body (1 Timothy 6:2).3 Christians — slave and master alike — belong to Christ (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). Spiritual status is more fundamental and freeing than social status. (4)

[T]he principles set forth by Jesus and His apostles, if followed, would result in the abolition of all types of abusive relationships. Slavery would have been nonexistent if everyone from the first century forward had adhered to Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 7:12: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” Any discussion of slavery would be moot if the world had heeded the words of Peter: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8). . . .

The skeptic’s criticism that the New Testament does not speak against the abolition of slavery is misguided for any number of reasons. First, an attempt to generalize and condemn all types of slavery fails to take into account prison, personal debt, indentured servanthood, and a host of other morally permissible situations. Bankruptcy laws, prison terms, community service hours, and garnished wages are morally acceptable modern equivalents to certain types of slavery that were prevalent during the time of the biblical writers. Second, Jesus and the New Testament writers always condemned the mistreatment of any human being, instructing their followers to be kind, loving, and compassionate, whether they were slaves or masters of slaves. (5)

III. Verse-by-Verse Analysis

Matthew 5:25-26 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

Many of the types of servanthood or slavery in the New Testament are identical to the morally permissible types discussed earlier in this article. For instance, much first-century slavery discussed in the Bible centered on the fact that a person had accrued massive debt, and thus had become a slave or servant due to this debt. . . . From Christ’s comments, it can be ascertained that the person in this text who does not make the effort to agree with his adversary could risk being thrown into prison until that person “paid the last penny.” This situation involved a revoking of individual freedoms due to the fact that the individual owed an unpaid debt—a debt that originally was owed to the adversary, or one that resulted from a fine imposed by a judge.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus told a story about a servant who owed his master ten thousand talents. A talent was a huge sum of money that would be the modern equivalent of many thousands of dollars. It could easily have been the case that this servant had become a servant due to this enormous debt, or was being kept a servant because of the debt. Debt slavery was still a very real form of restitution in New Testament times. Such a condition absolutely cannot be used to argue that God is an unjust God for letting such take place. (5)

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The Biblical emphasis on new creation in Christ (via identification with His death) would argue for removal of many ethnic, social, or cultural ‘barriers’ between people. (1)

This was a revolutionary idea, given that Roman intellectuals, while lamenting some aspects of slavery, generally held slaves to be of lesser worth than free men. One example of this is the philosopher Seneca who, although he discouraged merciless corporal punishment, compared slaves to valuable property like jewels one must constantly worry about. According to Joshel, “Seneca sees slaves as inferiors who can never rise above the level of humble friends” (Slavery in the Roman World, 127). In contrast, slaves in the early Church were not stigmatized. (8)

Ephesians 6:5-9 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. 9 And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

The biblical motif of Christ as Lord over all elements of created existent would argue that all relationships would be transformed somehow by His Lordship. This is definitely the case, because Paul centers each aspect of the slave-owner relationship around their individual accountability to the Lord. (1)

Colossians 3:11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

The unity in Christ obliterated social/ethic/gender barriers. (1)

Colossians 4:1 Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

The Biblical emphasis on kindness toward others, respect, and goodness would preclude abuse of slaves by masters, as well as respectful behavior toward owners. This shows up in the ‘household codes’ of Paul, in which the role enactments are required to be characterized by goodness and high-ethics. (1)

1 Timothy 1:8-11 Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, [9] understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, [10] immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, [11] in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

“Kidnapers” (“menstealers” in KJV; Strong’s word #405) is the Greek word andrapodistais. According to Ralph Earle (Word Meanings in the New Testament), it refers to “slave traders.” W. E. Vine (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) concurs: “a slave-dealer, kidnapper, from andrapodon, a slave captured in war . . . “A. T. Robertson (Word Pictures of the New Testament, commentary on 1 Tim 1:10) agrees also:

Men-stealers (andrapodistai). Old word from andrapodizw (from anhr, man, pou, foot, to catch by the foot), to enslave. So enslavers, whether kidnappers (men-stealers) of free men or stealers of the slaves of other men. So slave-dealers. By the use of this word Paul deals a blow at the slave-trade (cf. Philemon). 

[I]n keeping with the Old Testament injunction that anyone kidnapping and selling a person involves himself in immoral conduct, Paul certainly distinguished between certain types of slavery practices that were inherently wrong, and others that were not intrinsically sinful. (5)

Philemon 15-17 Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, [16] no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. [17] So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.

[O]ne final consideration has helped me think about this over the last few years, and deepened my conviction that the Bible as a whole is utterly opposed to any form of slavery: Philemon.

It is surprising that Philemon is not brought into this discussion more consistently, since it was Paul’s letter to a slaver owner (Philemon) about his runaway slave (Onesimus). In fact, the whole occasion for Paul’s writing is that Onesimus, since running away from Philemon, has become a Christian. . . .

In other words, Paul dissolves the slave/master relationship, and erects in its place a brother/brother relationship, in which the former slave is treated with all the dignity with which the apostle himself would be treated. Thus, even before the actual institution of slavery is abolished, the work of the gospel abolishes the assumptions and prejudices that make slavery possible.

Paul’s epistle to Philemon may not amount to a full abolitionist manifesto—after all, like the other passages above, it’s operating in a particular context and doesn’t speak at the societal level. Nonetheless, I think it shows how the logic of the gospel is utterly opposed to slavery. (6)


IV. Sources

1) Does God Condone Slavery in the Bible? [NT] (Glenn Miller, Christian Thinktank, 12-30-99).
2) Does the Bible Support Slavery? (Peter J. Williams, BeThinking).
3) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (James Orr, gen. ed., 1915) (“Slave; Slavery”, by William Edward Raffety).
4) “Why Is the New Testament Silent on Slavery — or Is It?” (Paul Copan, Enrichment Journal).
5) The Bible and Slavery (Kyle, Butt, Apologetics Press).
6) “Why It’s Wrong to Say the Bible Is Pro-Slavery” (Gavin Ortlund, The Gospel Coalition).

7) Defending Black Faith: Answers to Tough Questions about African-American Christianity (Craig S. Kenner & Glenn Usry, IVP Academic, 1997).
8) “The Bible Is Not Silent on Slavery” (Catholic Answers).


Photo credit: Piergiuliano Chesi (8-2-14). This and three other statues of chained slaves, placed at the base of the Monument of the Four Moors at Livorno, Italy, might have been made with actual slaves as models, whose names and circumstances remain unknown. [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license]


August 20, 2018

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I. Definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Summaries and Overviews

Rights of Slaves:

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

(1) Freedom.

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

(2) Good Treatment.

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

(3) Justice.

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

(4) Family.

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

(5) Voluntary Slavery.

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

(6) Money or Property.

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

(7) Children.

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

(8) Elevation.

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

(9) Religious Worship.

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

(10) Gifts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Comparisons with Slavery in Other Cultures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV. Verse-by-Verse Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slaves / servants rested on the Sabbath also.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V. Sources

1) Does God Condone Slavery in the Bible? [OT] (Glenn Miller, Christian Thinktank, 11-9-97; updated 3-18-04).
2) Does the Bible Support Slavery? (Peter J. Williams, BeThinking).
3) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (James Orr, gen. ed., 1915) (“Slave; Slavery”, by William Edward Raffety).

4) Slavery in the Bible (Bible Apologetics).
5) The Bible and Slavery (Kyle, Butt, Apologetics Press).
6) Commentary on Exodus (Burton Coffman, Abilene, TX: ACU Press: 1985).
7) Why was slavery allowed in the Old Testament? (Compelling Truth).
8) What About the Bible and Slavery? (Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier).
9) Slavery and the Old Testament Law (Andrew Schmidt, The Briefing)
10) The Bible Against Slavery (Theodore Dwight Weld, New York: The American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838).
11) Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (4 vols), David Levinson and Melvin Ember (eds), HenryHolt: 1996.
12) A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (2 vols). Raymond Westbrook (ed). Brill: 2003.

13) Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman (main ed.), DoubleDay: 1992 (s.v. “Slavery, Old Testament”).
14) The Israelites, B.S.J. Isserlin, Thames and Hudson: 1998.
15) Hebrew Law in Biblical Times, Ze’ev Falk, Eisenbrauns: 2001 (2nd ed).
16) Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (eds). IVP: 2003 (s.v. “Slavery”).
17) Word Biblical Commentary (multi-volume).
18) The JPS Torah Commentary (5 vols). Nahum Sarna (gen ed). JPS: 1989.
19) Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. Ken Campbell (ed). IVP: 2003.
20) Does the Old Testament Endorse Slavery? An Overview (Paul Copan, Enrichment Journal).


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

August 17, 2018

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


August 16, 2018

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

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


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

12. Because physics rules out the soul or the afterlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s very easily refuted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


August 16, 2018

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A few verses later, we read,

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

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

[ . . . ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ . . . ]

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

[ . . . ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ . . . ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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