October 8, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?”

He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.”

I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 24 installments.

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Romans carried forward this science . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Amirault highlights more biblical examples in a similar article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

October 5, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?”

He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.”

I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath.

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

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

*****

In his article, “How Reliable is Apostle Paul When He Knew Very Little About Jesus?” (12-17-12; rev. 9-4-15), Bob pontificated:

For being the founder of Christianity, Paul knew surprisingly little about Christ. . . . 

Using the gospels as a guide, we’ll find that Paul is a shallow source of information.

If we were to extract biographical information from the gospels, we’d have a long list—the story of Jesus turning water into wine, walking on water, raising Lazarus, the Prodigal Son story, curing blindness with spit, odd events like his cursing the fig tree, and so on. But what information about Jesus do we get from Paul? . . . 

No parables of the sheep and the goats, or the prodigal son, or the rich man and Lazarus, or the lost sheep, or the good Samaritan. In fact, no Jesus as teacher at all.

No driving out evil spirits, or healing the invalid at Bethesda, or cleansing the lepers, or raising Lazarus, or other healing miracles. As far as Paul tells us, Jesus performed no miracles at all.

No virgin birth, no Sermon on the Mount, no feeding the 5000, no public ministry, no women followers, no John the Baptist, no cleansing the temple, no final words, no Trinity, no hell, no Judas as betrayer (he mentions “the twelve”), and no Great Commission. Paul doesn’t even place Jesus within history—there’s nothing to connect Jesus with historical figures like Caesar Augustus, King Herod, or Pontius Pilate.

Perhaps everyone to whom Paul wrote his letters knew all this already? Okay, but presumably they already knew about the crucifixion, and Paul mentions that 13 times. And the resurrection, which Paul mentions 14 times.

This is an astonishingly clueless piece. Once again, the apologist tasked with responding to this sort of bilge (unfortunately, myself) feels like a mosquito on a nude beach: so many opportunities, but where to begin?! Well, here we go.

To take the last paragraph first: obviously Paul mentioned the crucifixion and resurrection a lot because they are absolutely central to the Christian gospel and our theology. That’s why he mentioned them more, even though his readers (being Christians) already knew about them. This ain’t rocket science, folks. But the Christians he was writing to also knew about the fine details of Jesus’ life; therefore, he didn’t need to repeat them. It wasn’t his primary purpose in his letters.

For supposedly knowingsurprisingly little about Christ,” Bob’s own article (in portions that I have not cited) notes many particulars about Paul’s writings, which seem to refute his own grandiose claims. After all, he lists fourteen separate aspects of Jesus and His life (complete with many biblical references) that even he concedes Paul knew about.

According to Strong’s Concordance: a standard biblical reference work, Paul mentions the word “Jesus” 218 times (an average of 2 1/2 times per chapter). In his epistles, he also mentions “Christ” (Greek for Messiah) apart from “Jesus” another 212 times. That’s 430 times total. I had to sit here and laboriously count up all the instances of “Christ” by itself, because an intelligent, educated man claims with a straight face that “Paul knew surprisingly little about Christ.” 

Bob commits a glaring omission in not including the book of Acts (written by Luke) as data concerning what Paul knew and supposedly didn’t know about Jesus. It records many of his words, including sermons, and is basically devoted to his story, starting in chapter 13, till the last chapter (28). Thus, 57% of the book is about Paul (16 chapters out of 28); yet Bob didn’t think it was relevant in determining what Paul knew and taught about Jesus Christ. Go figure! And no, I refuse to spend more valuable time counting up Paul’s use of “Jesus” and “Christ” in Acts. Here’s the searchable Bible I use. Anyone can do it if they wish.

This is how ridiculous it gets in having to refute the ludicrous claims of atheists about the Bible and Christianity: and why very few are willing to do it. Who can blame them? It virtually takes the patience of Job. I’m half-disgusted at myself for doing this very paper, but I know it will do some good, and help some people inclined to believe Bob (or those who want to be able to refute these sorts of pseudo-“arguments”), and so I persevere. Please pray for me. Since prayer can be applied backwards in time (God being outside of time), I know that the prayers of some of you reading this will literally help me write it. Thanks!

Bob spends a great deal of energy listing various elements of the Gospel stories, and argues that it is odd that Paul (granting his conclusion for a moment) doesn’t include them. But why must we accept his premise in the first place? I see no compelling reason why. Protestant apologist Kyle Butt, in his excellent article, “Did Paul Write About Jesus as a Historical Person?” stated:

[Tom] Harpur’s major contention is that Paul did not mention details about Jesus’ life such as His birthplace in Bethlehem, His mother’s name, or His specific miracles. Yet, if the guiding hand of God produced the New Testament documents, it makes perfect sense that such information would not be repeated in Paul’s writings, since it was so thoroughly documented in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In truth, the fact that Paul repeatedly alludes to Jesus in the flesh, but does not reiterate the various details of the gospel accounts, shows that Paul coincides with the Gospel writers, but was independent of them as well. Why would God need to record for the fifth time the various miracles and facts about Jesus’ life in the writings of Paul? Paul consistently dealt with many of the events in Jesus’ life such as His death, burial, resurrection, trial before Pilate, birth according to the seed of David, and the overarching fact that He took on the form of a human. Harpur’s complaint that Paul did not mention enough of the details that are recorded in the gospel accounts is a criterion that he and his fellow skeptics have arbitrarily chosen and that proves nothing. . . . 

The obvious truth is that Paul saturated his writings with the name of Jesus and repeatedly stressed that Jesus had come in the flesh as a historical human being. The details he left out of his writings accord perfectly with what one would expect from divine inspiration, and show that, while he acknowledged the historical Jesus, his writings serve as testimony independent of the gospel accounts.

Catholic Ann Nafziger, in her piece, “If St. Paul’s Letters Are Older Than the Gospels, Why Does He Leave a Lot Out?” adds:

Because he was writing to specific audiences with particular issues in mind, it resulted in a less-than-systematic portrayal of Jesus’ life. For example, when writing to a church that he had founded, if there were no current controversies about the virgin birth or Jesus’ miracles, he wouldn’t have felt the need to address them.

The short answer is that the Gospels (four times!) already dealt with Jesus’ life in its fine details. Paul’s letters largely consist of systematic theology. They are the “theology” / “intellectual” portion of the New Testament: which is quite as necessary as the Gospels are. Different purpose; different content. It’s really as simple as that.

But beyond that basic consideration, in some of his claims regarding alleged Pauline “ignorance” Bob is factually wrong, as I will now proceed to show. Above, Bob wrote: “As far as Paul tells us, Jesus performed no miracles at all.” And later on in his post he elaborates:

Paul indirectly admits that he knew of no Jesus miracles:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:22–3)

Why “a stumbling block”? Jesus did lots of miraculous “signs”—why didn’t Paul convince the Jews with these? Paul apparently didn’t know any. The Jesus of Paul is not the miracle worker that we see in the Jesus of the gospels. . . . 

The Jesus of Paul isn’t the Jesus of the gospels. 

Bob refutes himself (a not uncommon occurrence), because he himself said thatPaul mentions” Jesus’ resurrection “14 times.” Is that not a miracle? Indeed, it is Jesus’ greatest miracle: the conquering of death, and showing that there is an afterlife. The Gospels teach that Jesus raised Himself (it was His own miracle), just as He had raised Lazarus:

John 2:18-22 (RSV) The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he spoke of the temple of his body. [22] When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. 

John 10:17-18 . . . I lay down my life, that I may take it again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again . . . 

Note that Jesus thought His resurrection was the “sign” that the Jews demanded (2:18). He reiterates this elsewhere in comparing His resurrection to the “sign of Jonah” (Mt 16:1-4; Lk 11:29-30): that is, his emerging from the whale (metaphor for His tomb) after three days. Bob’s citing of 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 proves nothing that he claims. Paul’s simply saying that the crucifixion was loathsome to the Jews, and made it harder for them to accept Christianity. There is no hint that “he knew of no Jesus miracles:”. It’s ludicrous. In the same book he mentions the resurrection of Jesus nine times: in 6:14 and eight more times in chapter 15.

Moreover, when Paul recalls the story of his conversion to Christ, he mentions miraculous occurrences caused by “Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8): namely, “a great light from heaven” (22:6, 11), “brighter than the sun” (26:13), and “a voice” [of Jesus] from heaven (22:7; 26:14), which the others around him couldn’t hear (22:9). That’s all miraculous, supernatural stuff (I think even Bob would agree). It’s a “heavenly vision” (26:19).

Bob claims there is “no Trinity” in Paul’s writing. This is absolutely absurd. See my papers on the Deity of Jesus and The Holy Trinity: filled with hundreds of biblical proofs (including scores of them in Paul’s writing).

He claims that there isno John the Baptist” either. But Paul does in fact mention him, in an evangelistic sermon delivered at Antioch of Pisid’ia:

Acts 13:24-25 Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. [25] And as John was finishing his course, he said, `What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’

Bob claims that there is “no hell” in Paul’s writings. He doesn’t use the word, but he repeatedly teaches the concept, some eleven times, as one article on the topic documents, referring to God’s “wrath and fury” towards the unrepentant (Rom 2:8), “wrath of God” (Col 3:6), “tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil” (Rom 2:9), “punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord ” (2 Thess 1:9). “Destruction” here doesn’t mean “annihilation”: as the article explains. 

Bob claims:Paul doesn’t even place Jesus within history—there’s nothing to connect Jesus with historical figures like . . . Pontius Pilate.” Wrong again! (does anyone see a pattern here?):

Acts 13:27-29 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him. [28] Though they could charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed. [29] And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. 

1 Timothy 6:13 In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, [Bob cites this, too, but he thinks the letter wasn’t written by Paul]

Bob thinks Paul has no knowledge of “Judas as betrayer” either. But he is in error again. Paul certainly refers to him here:

1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 

Since Bob himself cited this verse, who does he believe Paul thinks was the one who betrayed Jesus? Not that logical consistency is a very common trait in Bob’s anti-Bible rantings . . . 

Bob also argues that because Paul referred to the disciples as “the twelve” (1 Cor 15:5) at the time Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection, therefore he wasn’t aware of Judas’ death, that decreased the group to eleven. But this is an example of non-literal biblical usage again. As an analogy: in Genesis 42:13, the children of Jacob said they were the “twelve brothers” even though they thought that Joseph (the 12th) was dead, leaving eleven.

It appears fairly plausible, if not certain, that “the twelve” (without “disciples” added) had become a title for the group of men that were Jesus’ disciples and closest companions (see, e.g., Mt 26:14, 47; Mk 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:10, 17, 20, 43; Lk 8:1; 9:1, 12; 18:31; 22:3, 47; Jn 6:67, 71; 20:24; Acts 6:2). Jesus clearly uses it as a title, in this way: “Did I not choose you, the twelve . . .?” (Jn 6:70). The number twelve also had great meaning in Hebrew thought, as many biblical examples show.

Lastly, we use numbers in a non-literal fashion in the same way today. So, for example, there is the Big Ten Conference in college football (with our two beloved Michigan teams), which actually has fourteen members. It had ten from 1912 to 1950 (when Michigan State was added), eleven from then till 2011, when it became twelve, and 14 after 2014. From 2011 to 2014, the Big Ten had twelve teams, and the Big 12 consisted of ten teams!

We also use the term “two-by-four” for the common piece of lumber, when in fact, its actual dimensions are 1 5/8 inches by 3 5/8 inches. If such non-literal numbers can be used by us, why not also in the Bible? What forbids it? As with virtually all of these alleged “biblical contradictions” I’ve ever seen, they turn out to be nonexistent. Why isn’t Bob out there also running down the Big Ten for “lying” about the number of their teams?

Bob writes:Not confirmed: There is no confirmation of the post-resurrection appearances in Paul’s epistles.” Bob stumbles upon the truth here (like the unplugged clock, twice a day). But this theme is present in one of his sermons: the one given at Antioch of Pisid’ia, which I now cite for the third time:

Acts 13:30-31 But God raised him from the dead; [31] and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 

What would Paul have said about the philosophical issues that divided the church for centuries? These don’t mean much to most of us today because they’ve long been decided, but they were divisive in their day—whether Jesus was subordinate to God or not, whether Jesus had a human body or not, whether he had a human nature or not, whether he had two wills or not, whether the Holy Spirit was part of the Godhead, and so on. No one knows how Paul would have resolved them or even if they crossed his mind.

Kyle Butt observes:

Is it true that Paul . . . never referred to Him as a flesh and blood human being? Certainly not. . . . 

Not only did Paul repeatedly mention Jesus, but he specifically stressed that Jesus had come in the flesh as a real human being. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul wrote: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” To elucidate what he meant by the word “man,” Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (emp. added).

Any attempt to turn Paul’s phrase “in the likeness of men” into some sort of spiritual, mystical appearance is doomed to failure. Furthermore, Paul more specifically mentioned that “the likeness of men” that he discussed in Philippians meant human flesh. Paul wrote to the Romans about “Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3, emp. added). 

There are many other indications as well; for example:

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. [hard to have “blood” and not be a man]

Colossians 2:8-9 See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. [9] For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily,

1 Timothy 3:16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

It’s also difficult for a spirit being with no body to be crucified. Bob himself says that Paul mentions Jesus’ crucifixion 13 times. I’ll take his word on that; thus, it is 13 times that he refutes his own vapid inanity about Paul not being sure if Jesus had a body or not. For that matter, a spirit can’t be “raised from the dead.” That presupposes a physical body that died and is now back alive. Bob says Paul mentions Jesus’ resurrection 14 times, so he refutes one clueless point of his 27 times. Not bad! Saves me a lot of work . . . 

As to Jesus’ two wills, that is mostly covered in the Gospels, as I have documented, but Paul also makes statements that are consistent with the orthodox Christian understanding (two wills: divine and human).

Jesus being “subordinate” to or in subjection or submission to God the Father poses no problem at all for His deity or for trinitarianism, as Protestant apologist Glenn Miller explains, in extreme (but wonderful!) depth: as is his wont. This aspect as well as the two natures of Christ (also mentioned in Bob’s laundry list above) are strikingly highlighted in this Pauline passage:

Philippians 2:5-8 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 

It’s patently ridiculous to suggest that there is nothing in Paul to suggest his opinions on either of these doctrines. This paper is long enough, Bob has already been refuted over and over (and easily so), and the patience I asked readers to pray for is barely hanging by a thread about now. But we’ll do one last refutation (and it’s a decisive one indeed, if I do say so):

What would Paul have said about . . . whether the Holy Spirit was part of the Godhead, . . . No one knows . . . if [it even] crossed his mind.

Really? Paul cites an Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 6:8-10) in Acts 28:25-27, but with one important language difference. The Old Testament passage says that “I heard the voice of the Lord saying . . .” (Is 6:8). But when Paul cites it, he introduces it as follows: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet” (Acts 28:25). This is a direct (logical) unarguable equation of the Holy Spirit with God. Thus, the question did indeed cross Paul’s mind, and he rendered a definite opinion on it. He makes the same equation in the following passages: 

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [17] If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are. (cf. 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16)

1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 11 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; [5] and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; [6] and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. . . . [11] All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 

2 Corinthians 3:16-17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

I guess Bob, in his exhaustive Bible study, undertaken with the utmost seriousness and intellectual honesty (and particular attention to fine detail) managed to somehow miss all of this biblical information that I found. Anyone can accept it if a man admits to being ignorant about a given subject. We all have thousands of topics we’re unacquainted with. But to claim to be an expert on the Bible and Christian theology, and condescendingly mock millions of Christians — who clearly know exponentially more about these theological topics than Bob does –, is insufferable folly.

***

Photo credit: Orthodox icon of St. Paul’s conversion, photographed by Ted (3-9-11) [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

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October 2, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.”

I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. Bob virtually begged and pleaded with me via email, to dialogue with him in May 2018. But by 10-3-18, his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.” Be that as it may, what does one make (whatever he thinks of me) 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).

*****

In his article, “Yet More on the Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science (2 of 2)” (12-2-15), Bob opined:

This post wraps up our look at science in the Bible. It’s the conclusion of an analysis of Bible verses that contradict modern science . . . 

Let’s continue enumerating scientific errors in the Bible.

Cosmology and earth science

7. The moon creates light rather than reflecting it

God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night (Genesis 1:16).

The sun and moon are said to be greater and lesser versions of the same thing with no acknowledgement that one creates light while the other only reflects it. We see the confusion more clearly in this verse:

The moon shall not cause her light to shine (Isaiah 13:10).

No, the moon doesn’t make its own light.

As a preliminary, readers unacquainted with a basic Christian understanding of the Bible’s relationship to science, should first read my earlier related installment on the topic. In a nutshell, the Bible was never intended to be a science textbook. It was written with a pre-scientific understanding of the world. People reading it had to be able to understand it. It doesn’t follow, however, that it is filled with scientific inaccuracies (as it is still inspired).

In any event, Holy Scripture is written (when dealing with natural phenomena) in phenomenological language: that is, describing things as they appear to (often uneducated) human eyes. The most common example of that, still used almost universally today — something that Bob himself no doubt does –, is saying that “the sun rises” (or “goes down”). This doesn’t imply geocentrism (the earth as the center of the universe), or any other sophisticated cosmological explanation. It’s simply describing it as it looks to us.

Bob apparently can’t refrain from making stupid, clueless pseudo-“arguments” about the Bible and science. Genesis 1:16 above simply doesn’t make any claim as to whether the moon reflects sunlight or generates it’s own light (as the sun does). Bob merely superimposes what he wishes to see onto the passage: a classic, textbook example of what is known as eisegesis, or reading “into” Scripture what isn’t present in a given passage. Genesis 1:16 uses phenomenological language, as just explained. All it is communicating is the notion that the sun lights up (“governs”) the day and that the moon is the most prominent natural light at night.

How something appears is a different question from how something works. So, for example, in describing my camping trip I could say:

I had a greater light [a campfire] to govern my late dinner and setting up my tent, and a lesser light [my battery lantern] to govern my bedtime reading in my tent.

This, too, would be a phenomenological statement that had to do with one thing providing relatively more illumination, and a second providing relatively less. It makes no statement (either in intent or in terms of language) as to how the light in each case was caused or originated. According to Bob’s warped “logic” I would supposedly be commenting that my lantern (utilizing a battery and electricity and a light bulb) functioned in exactly the same way as the campfire (the chemical process of combustion and oxidation). That is beyond silly; likewise, by analogy, so is his wishful, ludicrous interpretation of Genesis 1:16.

But let’s play Bob’s game for a moment, and pretend that the Bible (inspired by an omniscient God) always intends to make scientific statements whenever it refers to anything physical, or the world of nature. If that were true, then would not the following passages imply that the moon reflects the light of the sun?:

Ezekiel 32:7 (RSV) . . . I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. (Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15)

Mark 13:24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, (cf. Mt 24:29; Acts 2:20; Rev 6:12)

If we are to take Genesis 1:16 as a “textbook in astronomy” (again, adopting Bob’s mistaken mentality for the sake of argument), then why not these other passages, too? And if we did that, they would plausibly imply that a darkened sun would then cause a moon without moonlight (since the two things appear correlated in these passages, in a way that is consistent with astronomy). In fact, Bob’s second example of Isaiah 13:10 illustrates the same principle of the moon’s light being caused by the sun’s. Bob conveniently omitted the first part of the passage (without telling his readers, which is a bit sneaky):

Isaiah 13:10  For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light.

RSV has “shed” which could just as easily refer to reflected light, as self-generated light. Whatever translation Bob used (he doesn’t say) has the word “cause.” KJV also has it. Most modern English Bible translations (like RSV) use a word other than cause for the Hebrew rib (or, riyb: Strong’s word #7379) which has a variety of meanings:

NASB / Amplified / REB / NRSV / Goodspeed: shed
NIV / Good News: give
CEV: lose its glow
NEB: refuse to shine
Moffatt: never be bright

Of course — knowing Bob — he could simply argue that all these Bible translators were lying or being deliberately dishonest. It’s an easy out for him whenever the going gets rough . . . 

But Isaiah 13:10 could also be a sort of anthropomorphic language: often also used of God; that is, attributing to God (in a non-literal, poetic manner) human qualities, or to things, qualities that they do not possess. We know that this is common in Scripture. So, for example, Psalm 104:19 states that “the sun knows its time for setting.” This is pre-scientific, anthropomorphic language for the notion of predictable scientific laws, “the sun will go down at a certain, predetermined time” (just as any weather report today will tell us). Or the Bible will use poetic language for what is clearly instinctive animal behavior (it describes in “appearance” language, or in terms of an animal “knowing” what it does by natural law or instinct):

Jeremiah 8:7 Even the stork in the heavens knows her times; and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming; . . . 

The stork no more “knows” or “causes” these things than the moon “causes” its own light. Both instances are non-literal, phenomenological language. Much ado about nothing. What is revealed here is notscientific errors in the Bible” but rather, Bob’s profound ignorance of the literary genres of the Bible, and of the ancient Hebrew worldview. He loves to compare the Bible to other ancient sources and cultures when there is any similarity (which he inexplicably thinks is some sort of “victory” for his perspective); yet he seems unable to undertake any study of Hebrew thinking and how it manifests itself in Scripture.

8. The stars are teeny light sources

The Bible dismisses the stars by imagining their creation this way:

[God] also made the stars (Genesis 1:16).

That’s it. 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars are only worth a single Hebrew word in the original (a more literal reading is “(and) the stars”).

Huh? I must confess that I don’t follow Bob’s thinking here. Where’s the beef? When the Bible is in fact poetic and non-literal, Bob doesn’t get it. He’s out to sea. But when it is literal and matter-of-fact, he demands that it be flowery and poetic and more “demonstrative.” On what basis, I wonder, can he dictate to God how He ought to express Himself in Scripture? If there is a God, does that make any sense? Bob wants to instruct an infinitely intelligent, omniscient being how to express Himself? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

How does this passage “dismiss” the stars in the first place? What did Bob expect to see: a 50,000-page essay on the wonders of astronomy? Of course, the passage he is referring to, Genesis 1, is expressing a summary view of all of creation. Thus, the stars are mentioned briefly, along with everything else (human beings get two verses: 1:26-27). It’s a ludicrous observation and demand, that Bob makes. But we have come to expect such vapid thinking from him. The only common thread and only rule in his head is that the Bible always has to be wrong, and good ol’ wiseacre Bob always right.

But in this commentary. Bob acts as if this is the extent of what the Bible discusses as concerns the stars and astronomy (as if the Bible writers couldn’t care less about it; had no natural curiosity about science or the night skies). In fact, there is a great deal, as we find in the lengthy section on the constellations, in the entry on “Astronomy” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. It states:

The principal achievement of the science of astronomy in the centuries during which the books of the Old Testament were written was the arrangement and naming of the constellations, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the same system was known to the Hebrews as that which has been handed down to us through the Greek astronomers. . . . it is probable that they [the constellations] were well known to Abraham before he left Ur of the Chaldees. It has been frequently shown (The Astronomy of the Bible, 158 [read it online]; Astronomy without a Telescope, 5) that these constellations themselves supply evidence that they were designed about 2700 BC. They thus antedated the time of Abraham by some centuries, and since some of their most characteristic forms are found upon old Babylonian “boundary stones,” it is clear that they were known in the country from whence he came out. [cf., “Astronomy in the Bible,” Catholic Encyclopedia]

There are few things more ironically hilarious (though sad, too) than a demonstrably ignorant fool (with regard to a specific topic) going around telling everyone else (including God Himself) how stupid they supposedly are. Bob is an educated man, with a degree in computer science. He’s surely capable of so much more. We don’t expect him as an atheist to agree with the Bible or to praise its wisdom. But we do expect him (as a self-appointed critic of “Christian thinking”) to at least intelligently interpret the Bible, with a bare minimum of required study: to present it as it is: not what he forces it to supposedly “be.”

They’re dismissed as tiny when they’re imagined to fall to earth:

The stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind (Revelation 6:13).

I don’t see anything about “tiny” in the passage. This is highly symbolic, apocalyptic, catastrophic language (as even Bob ought to know, since it is the book of Revelation), with the typical Hebraic agricultural analogy but Bob (as seemingly always) takes it literally, as if it were intended that way. I guess he thinks that St. John in the first century literally thought that distant stars would be as big as figs when they fell to the earth. My patience with this folly is almost to the breaking point.

9. The earth was flooded

The Bible tells us that the entire earth was flooded, but the fossil evidence disagrees (long-extinct dinosaurs and modern animals living in the same habitats aren’t fossilized in the same strata).

The geological evidence disagrees (the impact of the ocean is present in many stone layers, but a global flood isn’t).

The DNA evidence disagrees (clues to a DNA choke point about 4000 years ago should be obvious in all living land animals from their having descended from very few individuals).

And in fact (not according to Bob’s mythology) the Bible agrees with science here, since it doesn’t teach a global flood in the first place, as I have elaborated upon elsewhere, and as The Catholic Encyclopedia (from way back in 1913) also explains.

10. Germs? What germs?

The Bible isn’t a reliable source of health information. . . . physical health and basic hygienic precautions are not obvious and are worth a mention somewhere. How about telling us that boiling water minimizes disease? Or how to site latrines to safeguard the water supply?

Once again, five minutes searching on Google wold have prevented Bob from spewing more ignorance about the Bible. The Bible Ask site has an article, “Did the Bible teach the germs theory?” (5-30-16):

The Bible writers did not write a medical textbook. However, there are numerous rules for sanitation, quarantine, and other medical procedures (found in the first 5 book of the OT) . . .

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818 –1865), who was a Hungarian physician, . . . [He] proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 . . . He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Despite various publications of his successful results, Semmelweis’s suggestions were not accepted by the medical community of his time.

Why was Semmelweis research rejected? Because germs were virtually a foreign concept for the Europeans in the middle-19th-century. . . .

Had the medical community paid attention to God’s instructions that were given 3000 years before, many lives would have been saved. The Lord gave the Israelites hygienic principles against the contamination of germs and taught the necessity to quarantine the sick (Numbers 19:11-12). And the book of Leviticus lists a host of diseases and ways where a person would come in contact with germs (Leviticus 13:46).

Germs were no new discovery in 1847. And for this fact, Roderick McGrew testified in the Encyclopedia of Medical History: “The idea of contagion was foreign to the classic medical tradition and found no place in the voluminous Hippocratic writings. The Old Testament, however, is a rich source for contagionist sentiment, especially in regard to leprosy and venereal disease” (1985, pp. 77-78).

Some other interesting facts regarding the Bible and germ theory:

1. The Bible contained instructions for the Israelites to wash their bodies and clothes in running water if they had a discharge, came in contact with someone else’s discharge, or had touched a dead body. They were also instructed about objects that had come into contact with dead things, and about purifying items with an unknown history with either fire or running water. They were also taught to bury human waste outside the camp, and to burn animal waste (Num 19:3-22; Lev. 11:1-4715:1-33; Deut 23:12).

2. Leviticus 13 and 14 mention leprosy on walls and on garments. Leprosy is a bacterial disease, and can survive for three weeks or longer apart from the human body. Thus, God commanded that the garments of leprosy victims should be burned (Lev 13:52).

3. It was not until 1873 that leprosy was shown to be an infectious disease rather than hereditary. Of course, the laws of Moses already were aware of that (Lev 13, 14, 22; Num 19:20). It contains instructions about quarantine and about quarantined persons needing to thoroughly shave and wash. Priests who cared for them also were instructed to change their clothes and wash thoroughly. The Israelites were the only culture to practice quarantine until the 19th century, when medical advances discovered the biblical medical principles and practices.

4. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” (born 460 BC), thought “bad air” from swampy areas was the cause of disease.

See also: “Old Testament Laws About Infectious Diseases.”

The entry on “Health” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology reveals that ordinary medicinal remedies were widely practiced in Bible times. There wasn’t solely a belief that sin or demons caused all disease (as Bob often implies in his anti-Christian writings, and in this paper: “According to the Bible, evil spirits cause disease.”). There was also a natural cause-and-effect understanding:

Ordinary means of healing were of most diverse kinds. Balm ( Gen 37:25 ) is thought to have been an aromatic resin (or juice) with healing properties; oil was the universal emollient ( Isa 1:6 ), and was sometimes used for wounds with cleansing wine ( Luke 10:34 ). Isaiah recommended a fig poultice for a boil ( 38:21 ); healing springs and saliva were thought effectual ( Mark 8:23 ; John 5 ; 9:6-7 ). Medicine is mentioned ( Prov 17:22 ) and defended as “sensible” ( Sirach 38:4). Wine mixed with myrrh was considered sedative ( Mark 15:23 ); mint, dill, and cummin assisted digestion ( Matt 23:23 ); other herbs were recommended for particular disorders. Most food rules had both ritual and dietary purposes, while raisins, pomegranates, milk, and honey were believed to assist restoration. . . .

Luke’s constant care of Paul reminds us that nonmiraculous means of healing were not neglected in that apostolic circle. Wine is recommended for Timothy’s weak stomach, eye-salve for the Thyatiran church’s blindness (metaphorical, but significant).

Doctors today often note how the patient’s disposition and attitude has a strong effect on his health or recovery. The mind definitely influences the body. Solomon understood this in several of his Proverbs: written around 950 BC (Prov 14:30; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).

Let me close with a paraphrase of an idea from AronRa: When the answer is known, science knows it. But when science doesn’t know it, neither does religion.

That’s not true. As shown, Hippocrates, the pagan Greek “father of medicine” didn’t understand the causes of contagious disease. Nor did medical science until the 19th century. But the hygienic principles that would have prevented the spread of such diseases were in the Bible: in the Laws of Moses.

St. Augustine in the 5th century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th, both rejected astrology long before modern science, while even the most prominent modern scientists in the 16th-17th centuries, such as Galileo, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler firmly believed in it.

I could go on and on, but just a few examples suffice to decisively refute a foolishly ignorant universal negative claim.

And of course, modern science (virtually the atheist’s religion: “scientism”), for all its admirable qualities and glories (I love science!) is not without much embarrassing error and foolishness, and skeletons in its own closet: like belief in the 41-year successful hoax of “Piltdown Man”. This is true even up to very recent times, as I have detailed for atheists’ convenience.

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Photo credit: ulrikebohr570 (“blood moon”) [public domain / Good Free Photos]

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October 1, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.”

I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after virtually begging and pleading to dialogue with me in May 2018) 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).

*****

In his article, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 12)” (7-27-16), Bob wrote, in his characteristically misguided zeal:

Stupid Argument #40: Interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones.

This argument is an attempt to wriggle away from Bible verses that are unpleasant or that contradict each other. “Interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones” is advice from Josh McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (page 48). McDowell makes clear that difficult isn’t the issue at all—it’s contradictions that are the problem. They’re not difficult to understand, only to reconcile. For example, the epistle of James says that salvation is by works but Romans says that it’s by grace. The trick, McDowell tells us, is to find the interpretation that you like in the constellation of competing verses, bring that one forward, and either ignore the others or reinterpret them to be somehow subordinate or supportive of your preferred interpretation. That’s not quite how he puts it, but that’s what he means.

The quest for the “clearer” passage has become a quest for the most pleasing one.

The mere existence of what McDowell euphemistically calls “difficult” passages is an unacknowledged problem. How could verses conflict in a book inspired by a perfect god? If conflicting verses exist, doesn’t that make the Bible look like nothing more than a manmade book? How could God give humanity a book that was at all unclear or ambiguous?

I’m glad he gave a specific example. That means it can be examined and scrutinized. And when it is, guess who comes out looking “stupid”? Yes, you guessed right.

I think Bob is clever and informed enough to know that Catholics and Protestants have wrangled about the relationship of faith to works, and of each to salvation, for 500 years, and so he exploits that to his purposes. It’s a real and important debate, and I have devoted plenty of effort to it as a Catholic apologist, but, the differences are not nearly as great as one might think at first glance, and there is very significant common ground, as I shall show below.

Bob’s claim is that the inspired Bible contradicts itself in this regard, and that’s just not so. He’s not even accurate in how he describes the views of the books of James and Romans. Bob’s bias is so profound that inevitably, he can’t even get simple biblical facts correct (“what does book x teach about y?”). If he wants to wrangle about biblical interpretation, with one experienced in Bible study, he will lose every time, and the present case is definitely no exception to that pattern.

Bob states flat-out: “the epistle of James says that salvation is by works.” But this is simply not so. In the RSV, “works” appears 13 times in the book of James. Here they are, categorized for ease of interpretation:

Faith and Works are Connected and Inseparable

2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?

2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

2:18 But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

2:20 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? 

2:22-23 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, [23] and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. 

2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 

2:26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead. 

The following passage also applies, even though the word, “works” isn’t present. The concept is (healing and salvation):

5:15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 

Justification by Works (But Not Works Alone)

2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? 

2:25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 

Works Simply Mentioned 

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

What is striking in the above data of “works’ in James , is that it is never stated to be efficacious for salvation by itself (which would be “salvation by works” or the heresy of Pelagianism, which all Christians condemn). In the first category above, we see that works are directly and intimately tied to faith, to such an extent that faith considered by itself without it is indeed “dead” (2:17, 26), “barren” (2:20), and cannot “save” (2:14). The truth of the matter, according to James, is that works are necessary to “show” or exhibit or manifest faith (2:18), and to complete faith (2:22).

James 2:24 (“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”) seems to be capable of two simultaneous interpretations. It sounds like “justification by works [alone?]” but it can just as plausibly be taken to mean “faith alone is not enough for justification, works are also required”. This interpretation is strongly reinforced by all the other passages in the first category above, that are in the same context and chapter, save for 5:15. Indeed, the “faith + works” connection is asserted two verses before, and two verses after. All non-fiction literature has to be interpreted in context.

Beyond that, justification is not the same as salvation. I delve deeply into the interpretation of James compared to other books, with regard to faith and works, justification, and salvation, in the following papers (suffice it to say here that Bob is way over his head, arguing about this, and in very deep waters with no “life jacket” of reason or hermeneutical ability):

Justification in James: Dialogue [5-8-02]

Justification: Not by Faith Alone, & Ongoing (Romans 4, James 2, and Abraham’s Multiple Justifications) [10-15-11]

“Catholic Justification” in James & Romans [11-18-15]

Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in Chapter 20 of His Book, The God Who Justifies [10-9-13]

This leaves James 2:21 and 2:25 (second category), which seem at face value to assert at least “justification by works” (but not salvation by works) but they prove nothing. But they do not, because the immediate context in both cases proves that works cannot be isolate by themselves. 2:21 and 2:25 simply mention works only, but that is not contradictory to the other passages. They would be if they used the language of “works alone”: because that would preclude faith. In the cases of both 2:21 and 2:25, the verses immediately before and after both connect works to faith.

It couldn’t be any clearer than it is. But ol’ Bob proceeds like a bull in a china shop, ignorantly claiming that “James says that salvation is by works.” If the above data isn’t enough to disprove this claim, then we can do more word-searching. “Salvation” never appears in the book. “Saved” or “save” does five times:

James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. [the “word” or the gospel saves]

James 2:14, seen above, states that works and faith save. It logically precludes faith either by works alone or faith alone.

James 4:12 There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor? [God saves; i.e., His grace saves]

James 5:15, seen above, also reiterates that works and faith together save. It’s a prayer, which is a work by another, but it’s a “prayer of faith“: so that faith is also present.

James 5:19-20 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, [20] let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. [this is salvation by means of the divine grace passed along by evangelistic effort: probably including also prayer, given the immediate preceding context of praying (5:13-18, where prayer is mentioned in every verse).

Conclusion: salvation by works alone, without faith, is never ever taught in the book of James. Bob needs to get his basic facts right, in order to make claims that he thinks will establish biblical contradiction. Even despite his gross ignorance of the Bible, hermeneutics, and Christian theology, he could have done the simple word searches that I just did. It wouldn’t have put him out.

Bob also stated:Romans says that it’s [salvation] by grace.” All of Scripture asserts salvation by God’s grace. All Christians believe that. I’ve written many times about it:

St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages) [8-6-08]

Grace Alone: Perfectly Acceptable Catholic Teaching [2-3-09]

Grace, Faith, Works, & Judgment: A Scriptural Exposition [12-16-09; reformulated & abridged on 3-15-17]

Bible on Participation in Our Own Salvation (Always Enabled by God’s Grace) [1-3-10]

Monergism in Initial Justification is Catholic Doctrine [1-7-10]

Grace Alone: Biblical & Catholic Teaching [12-1-15]

Catholics and Protestants Agree on Grace Alone and the Necessity of the Presence of Good Works in Regenerate and Ultimately Saved Persons; Disagree on Faith Alone [5-4-17]

But this doesn’t preclude works (nor, of course, faith in grace). Thus, Romans, like all the other books, mentions salvation or justification by grace, but it also mentions works as non-optional and intimately connected to faith (precisely as James does). In my paper, “Catholic Justification” in James & Romans, I noted:

St. Paul opposes grace and/or faith to works in Scripture, only in a particular sense: the “works” of Jewish ritualism by which the Jews gained their unique identity (e.g., circumcision).

The Apostle Paul doesn’t oppose grace, faith, and works, and in fact, constantly puts them together, in harmony. Here are two typical examples:

1 Corinthians 15:10 (RSV, as throughout) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

Grace and works are for Paul, quite hand-in-hand, just as faith and works are. . . . 

St. Paul states:

Romans 3:28 For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. (cf. 3:20; 3:24: “justified by his grace as a gift”)

But “justified by faith” is different from “justified by faith alone”. The “works of the law” he refers to here are not all works, but things like circumcision. In other words, we are saved apart from Jewish rituals required under Mosaic Law. Paul makes clear that this is what he has in mind, in referencing circumcision in 3:1, asking rhetorically, “Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all” (3:9), multiple references to “the law” (3:19-21, 28, 31), and the following statement:

Romans 3:29-30 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, [30] since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.

Paul is not against all “works” per se; he tied them directly to salvation, after all, in the previous chapter:

Romans 2:6-8 For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.(cf. 2:13: “the doers of the law who will be justified”)

Paul uses the example of Abraham in Romans 4, in emphasizing faith, over against the Jewish works of circumcision as a supposed means of faith and justification (hence, he mentions circumcision in 4:9-12, and salvation to the Gentiles as well as Jews in 4:13-18).

Here are other passages in Romans, where Paul connects faith and works and sees no dichotomy between them (“works” portions highlighted in blue):

Romans 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 

Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 

Romans 3:22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;

Romans 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Romans 6:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

Romans 8:13 for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. 

Romans 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

Romans 14:23 But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Romans 15:17-18 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed,

Romans 16:26 but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith —

Thus, we can readily observe that Bob’s description of the teaching in the epistle to the Romans is dead-wrong, too. What a shock!

Earlier, I alluded to Protestant-Catholic differences about justification. Yes, they are real. But they don’t mean that the Bible contradicts itself. I have shown above in great detail that there is no contradiction in this regard. The two sides wholeheartedly agree about the following:

1. Salvation is by ultimately caused by God’s grace alone.

2. Man cooperates with or at least accepts this free grace in order to be saved.

3. Justification is by faith.

4. Good works are absolutely necessary in the Christian life. It’s questionable that someone is or will be saved, or in the state of grace if these works are not evident in their life

Protestants go on to say that justification is by faith alone, which Catholics deny (and it’s a very involved, confusing discussion). Protestants formally separate works from justification, and place them in a separate category of sanctification (while Catholics essentially conflate justification and sanctification). But it’s also good Protestant teaching to assert the absolute necessity of good works in the saved or elect person, as proof of an authentic faith (which basically brings us back to the emphasis of James again):

Catholic-Protestant Common Ground (Esp. Re Good Works) [4-8-08]

Martin Luther: Good Works Prove Authentic Faith [4-16-08]

John Calvin: Good Works Manifest True Saving Faith [9-4-08]

Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis & Sanctification Linked to Justification [11-23-09]

Martin Luther: Faith Alone is Not Lawless Antinomianism [2-28-10]

Moral of the story: don’t trust atheist and anti-theist polemicist and sophist Bob Seidensticker to be any sort of accurate or reliable guide to Bible teaching. Go to someone who has actually studied the Bible and who understands it, and how to interpret it. In case anyone is wondering, I’ve been intensely studying the Bible for 41 years: 37 of them as an apologist, and the last 17 as a full-time Catholic apologist, with strong credentials and 50 published books and hundreds of “officially” published articles.

I know what I’m talking about in this area. Bob doesn’t; and I highly suspect that his profound ignorance (when someone who actually knows the subject matter confronts him) is a prime reason why he hasn’t uttered one peep in reply to my first 21 installments in this series. It’s virtually certain that he will ignore this reply, too. Just watch and see! If he replies, and I’m made aware of it, I’ll note that here, and will counter-reply, since I (very unlike Bob) am quite confident of my views.

If I am proven to be wrong, I change my mind. After all, I was once a Protestant for my first 32 years (I’m now 60), so I have changed my mind in massive ways, in terms of theology (as well as in many other major moral and political issues).

***

Photo credit: The Good Samaritan, by Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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September 25, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 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).

*****

In his article, “The Great Debate: Theism vs. Naturalism. Where Does the Evidence Point?” (11-17-16), Bob, in his infinite wisdom and profound biblical expertise, “informed” his readers:

Any scientific statement within the Bible that’s true was known by the culture that produced that part of the Bible, and all other scientific claims within the Bible are false.

As will see, Bob frequently thinks the Bible is making a “scientific” claim when it is not doing so at all. That’s one huge problem. If I say, for example, “the stars are twinkling” or “the tide is high” or “lions roar” or “boats float on water” I am not necessarily making scientific statements, but rather, pre-scientific observational ones (that a smart three-year-old could also make. This is what the Bible does as well. One can say all these things without understanding one whit about the science of astronomy, of light and light years, tides (i.e., a result of gravity), feline vocal chords, or buoyancy. Likewise, today we say, “I turned on the light” or “I started my car” without the slightest thought or knowledge of the workings of electricity or the internal combustion engine.

Bob links from his sentence above to another paper of his: “Yet More on the Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science” (11-30-15). This screed is a goldmine of stupefied non-comprehension of elementary biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. I’ve noted time and again that when atheists approach the Bible, they very often (almost always) assume that all interpretation of it is supposed to be woodenly literal and utterly simplistic as well. This leads them into all kinds of insuperable difficulties and they end up looking very foolish indeed (if they run across an actual Christian apologist who will expose their tactics). I think they usually do this based on one of the following two reasons:

1) They assume that the ancient Hebrews were a bunch of Neanderthal dolts, who couldn’t imagine such a thing as poetry or non-literal literary genre.

2) They follow (consciously or not) their own past fundamentalist Christian methods of highly flawed hyper-literalistic biblical interpretation.

I marvel at how often this occurs. Atheists seem almost constitutionally unable to undertake even a rudimentary study of hermeneutics, biblical genre, ancient near eastern / Mesopotamian culture, meanings of Hebrew words, consultation of many online commentaries for any given scriptural passage, or the use of a Bible dictionary, etc. Instead, they approach a Bible passage or theme, assuming that they are the “smart / sophisticated ones” and that ancient Hebrews and Christians en masse are troglodytes, imbeciles, and ignoramuses. Well, some Christians are quite undereducated, having been raised in vastly inferior strains of Christianity. But that is not all Christians. It’s only a small minority of a minority (Protestantism).

Atheists are either aware of these facts, in which case, they are deliberately bashing the straw man of fundamentalism and equating it with all of Christianity, or the best of Christian thinking: seeking out the worst cases of Christian thinking rather than the best, in their ongoing crusade to present a caricatured, warped version of Christianity to the world, to be mocked and ridiculed and dismissed.

The other possibility is that they don’t understand that fundamentalism does not equal Christianity, in which case, they are massively ignorant, both sociologically and in terms of Church history. Oftentimes, they were raised in these environments, and casually assume that they represent what Christianity is. In other words, they think anti-intellectual fundamentalism is the sum of Christianity. They rejected a gross distortion or stunted, miniscule version of Christianity, thinking that it was the Real Thing.

We will see how Bob — again and again — makes the fundamental mistake (no pun intended) of interpreting every passage hyper-literally, when there is no intrinsic need to do so, when the ones who wrote the passage clearly did not think  in that way (nor did historic Christian exegesis), and where every exegetical or cross-referenced or linguistic indication is that the passage was not intended to be absolutely literal.

It’s the “dum-dum” approach: the ancient Hebrews were dumb, and so are Christians (so atheists blithely assume); thus, the Bible is a dumb and stupid document, only fit for mockery and not serious consideration. This leads atheists into all kinds of silly, inexcusable errors in approaching the Bible, as will become abundantly clear in our examples below. If we greatly underestimate our opponent (whether in military matters or in competing worldviews), we will fail and look silly to boot.

Thankfully, Bob manages to stumble upon an intelligent Christian (Augustine), writing about the Bible and science:

Augustine (354–430) rejected the quest for science in the Bible. He said, “We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said, ‘I am sending you the Holy Spirit, that he may teach you about the course of the sun and the moon.’ He wished to make people Christians not astronomers.”

But many Christians ignore Augustine, and the flurry of claims continues. 

Yes, and many atheists ignore him, too, along with folks like Galileo, who correctly observed that “the Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heaven goes.” If Bob would only understand that, he would do much better, but instead, he barges onward, doing the very thing that he just decried.

Let’s move on to . . . science claims within the Bible that don’t line up with what modern science tells us. Do they reveal startling insights into science, or are they simply the superstitions of primitive pre-scientific people? . . . 

Let’s start with claims about cosmology and the structure of the earth.

1. The earth is immoveable

The world is firmly established, it will not be moved (Psalm 93:1; see also Ps. 96:10, 1 Chronicles 16:30).

Real science tells us that the earth is anything but fixed; it orbits the sun, the entire solar system orbits the galactic center, and the Milky Way galaxy itself moves through space.

Now let’s see what an actual Bible scholar teaches about such passages. Dr. Justin Rogers serves as an Associate Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He holds an M.A. in New Testament from FHU as well as an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Hebraic, Judaic, and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. His superb and extremely helpful article, “Does the Bible Teach a Flat Earth?” (2017) explains, in wonderful detail:

A number of biblical passages assert the immovability of the Earth (e.g., 1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalm 93:1; 96:10; 104:5). . . . even if they might be cited as evidence for geocentricity, note that each of them occurs in a poetic context. . . .

Since each passage employs similar language and is applied for the same purpose, we shall examine just one as representative. The relevant part of Psalm 96:10 states, “The world is fixed; it cannot be moved.” Two Hebrew words in particular deserve attention. One is the word “fix” or “establish” (כון, kūn). This term does not fundamentally refer to being fixed in position, but rather to being fixed in permanence. Such can be said of David’s kingdom being “established” forever (1 Samuel 20:31; 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 2:12), or of cities that are “established” (Habakkuk 2:12). These are acts of intended permanence.

In reference to the physical world, the term is not used of the Earth alone, but of the heavenly bodies as well. The Sun, Moon, and stars “are established” by God (Psalm 8:3), as are the “heavens” (Proverbs 3:19). Does this mean the Bible envisions no movement among the heavenly bodies? If one took these passages literally, he or she would be required to say there are no orbits or movements of any astral body anywhere in the Universe. This is, of course, untrue, for even the earliest astronomers could map the stars and motions of the various heavenly bodies, as they serve to mark “seasons, days, and years” (Genesis 1:14). So, if these poetic passages are pressed literally, the Bible teaches that the Earth and all cosmic bodies are static. Is this what the Bible intends to communicate? Of course not. In fact, Scripture elsewhere affirms the movement of heavenly bodies (Jude 13). The Bible simply means to teach that God has programmed His creation to act according to determined, reliable patterns; in that sense, he has “fixed” the world. . . .

The Earth is “set” in the sense that it is well-designed and well-constructed, and therefore functions without deviation, exactly as the Maker intended. It is secure, dependable, and reliable. The season for sowing and reaping, consistent rain, the course of the astral bodies—these are all evidence that the Earth is “immovable” in the author’s intended sense. Derek Kidner appropriately observes: “The first and last lines of verse 10 [Psalm 96] make it additionally clear that this is a prophecy of perfect government, not a pronouncement on—of all things!—the earth’s rotation.” [Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms in Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: IVP, 1975, p. 349) ]. . . . The “fixed Earth” Scriptures are best read as poetic reflections on a world designed for the flourishing of life.

2. The earth rests on a foundation

For the foundations of the earth are Jehovah’s; upon them he has set the world (1 Samuel 2:8; see also Ps. 102:25, Ps. 104:5, Zechariah 12:1).

We’re also told what this foundation is made of.

He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble (Job 9:6; see also Job 26:11).

Apologists might say that “pillars” simply refers to mountains or bedrock, but a more plausible conclusion is that the literal interpretation was the intended one and that the Hebrew cosmology imagined a flat earth surrounded by or suspended on an ocean, as was popular in ancient Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India.

Baptist Bible scholar Bernard Ramm, in his classic work, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1954, 96-102: section on “Biblical Cosmology”), offers a reply to this silliness:

It is improper to construct a so-called modern or scientific cosmology from the Biblical evidence; and it is also improper to try to model one after Babylonian concepts. In that there is no systematic exposition of a cosmology in the Bible, and in that the Bible abounds with either popular expressions or poetic expressions, it is not capable of a systematic construction with reference to a cosmology. The best we can do is to (i) indicate the freedom of the Bible from mythological polytheistic or grotesque cosmologies; (ii) note the general hostility of the Bible to cosmologies which are antitheistic; and (iii) clearly present the theocentric view of the Bible towards Nature.

It is typical of radical critics to play up the similarity of anything Biblical with the Babylonian, and to omit the profound differences or gloss over them. When the Biblical account is set side by side with any other cosmology its purity, its chasteness, its uniqueness, its theocentricity are immediately apparent.

I wrote at length about many related issues of this sort, in my paper, “Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching?”

3. The sky is solid

The cosmology in Genesis makes clear that the earth rests between water underneath and more water in a dome above. We see this in the Noah story when “the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11). . . . 

That dome must be solid to hold up the water. We also see this elsewhere in the Old Testament:

Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies (Ps. 148:4).

When He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed (Proverbs 8:28).

What is this dome made of? Job suggests that it’s made of metal:

Can you, with him, beat out the skies, strong as a mirror of cast bronze? (Job 37:18)

“Beat out” (“spread out” in some translations) is the verb used for hammering out metal.

Dr. Ramm refutes this inane, fatuous nonsense, too:

The cosmology of the Bible is not systematized and is not postulational. It is neither for nor against any of the current and ancient theories of the universe except where they might be polytheistic or in conflict with basic Christian metaphysics. But the Bible does not support Aristotle or Ptolemy or Copernicus or Descartes or Newton or Einstein or Milne . . . it gives us no positive cosmology.

We must consider the efforts of radical critics to impose a cosmology on the Bible as an artificial, stilted, and abortive effort.

. . . [William Fairfield] Warren claims that their approach to the cosmology of the Bible is so wooden, artificial, and literal that the Bible writers would not recognize such a cosmology if it were handed them all written out on a piece of paper. If, he continues, you follow this wooden and artificial approach to the Bible you would have the Bible writers believing in a heaven made of wax or silk or goatshair! [The Earliest Cosmologies, 1909, pp. 24-32]

. . . Orr writes:

The error is to be avoided of forcing the language of popular, often metaphorical and poetic description, into the hard-and-fast forms of a cosmogony which it is by no means intended by the writers to yield. [“World, Cosmological,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, V, 3106]

. . . Gaenssle, a Semitic scholar, takes the radical critics to task likewise for imposing on the Bible a stilted, artificial cosmology that is nowhere clearly and systematically taught in Scripture [“A Look at Current Biblical Cosmologies,” Concordia Theological Monthly, 23:738-749]. He singles out two basic ideas of this reconstruction of the radical critics to show that their contentions are baseless. (i) He examines the word raqia (firmament) which critics have taken to mean a solid something and indicates that its basic idea is that of thinness or tenuity. Citing Isaiah 40:22, Psalm 104:2 and Isaiah 34:4, he asks:

Can anyone with these texts before him seriously and honestly believe that the writers of these words entertained the crude inept notion of a metallic canopy above their heads? [Footnote 38: Ibid., p. 743 . . . the greatest Hebrew scholar of the fifteenth century, Paginus, writing well before modern science translates raqia by expansionem]

The best meaning of raqia is expanse or atmosphere. (ii) He also attacks the notion that the world floats on a vast subterranean ocean . . . As for the word under in the phrase “under the earth” the Hebrew word tachath means not only under but lower. In our own day we speak of lowlands . . . :

Consequently, when the earth is said to be founded on the seas and spread out upon the waters, there is no reason to assume that the Psalmist is singing of an invisible ocean on which the earth rests or is spread out, but only of earthly waters on which the earth touches and over which it is elevated.

. . . The upper, terrestrial ocean satisfies all requirements and it lies below or beneath in the same sense as the Dead Sea lies under Mount Pisgah and the land of Moab. [Ibid., p. 747, 749]

4. The earth is flat

We’ve seen a flat disk of earth before.

[God] sits above the circle of the earth (Isaiah 40:22).

Our previous analysis showed that this is no reference to a spherical earth (they had another word for “ball” or “sphere”) but simply a flat disk.

Nonsense. See my paper on the falsely alleged biblical assertion in a flat earth. Dr. Rogers also makes mincemeat of this:

One notices instantly that almost every passage cited in favor of the flat-Earth position occurs in a poetic context. To be responsible readers of the Bible, we must respect the genre of literature we are reading. Poetry is to be read differently than prose; it is more expressive, emotional, and metaphorical. . . . a common-sense understanding of how poetry functions prevents us from making erroneous interpretive deductions. To insist that metaphorical language must be interpreted literally is to contradict the original authorial intent. . . .

[W]e cannot locate a single verse in the Bible that teaches the Earth is flat. Neither in prose nor in poetry, neither by means of phenomenological language nor metaphor, do we find Scripture communicating a flat Earth. The flat-Earth theory is an interpretive deduction, usually based on poetic hyperbole. But is a flat Earth even an accurate interpretive deduction? As we will see, it is far from obvious that the Bible teaches the Earth is flat. . . .

[S]uch a literal reading [of Isaiah 40:22] ignores the poetic context and the obvious anthropomorphism. . . . the ancient Greek translation renders the term γῦρος (gūros), or “ring.” Further, the term “on” (על, ‘al) can also be translated “above,” without implying contact with an object (e.g., NASB, ESV). So this passage does not necessarily communicate a spherical Earth, but neither does it imply a flat Earth. . . .

Again, these passages occur in poetic contexts, and it can be dangerous to impose a literal meaning on figurative language, as we have discussed. Unlike God, Job’s friends [Job 22:14; 26:10; 37:18] did not necessarily have a perfect scientific understanding, and are, in any case, speaking hyperbolically in Hebrew poetry. Their words simply reflect a popular expression of God’s complete sovereignty over nature. Nevertheless, one thing is sure: there is no thought of a flat Earth anywhere. The “circle of the earth” is a metaphor to be sure, but not even metaphorically is it understood as flat.

It should be noted that the Hebrew Bible does not have an equivalent for the term “sphere,” which in modern Hebrew is the loanword ספירה (sefîrāh). The word “ball” (דור, dūr) occurs in English translations in Isaiah 22:18, but it is clear from Isaiah 29:3 (the only other place the noun occurs) that it refers to a “roll” of items that have encircled a central object. A related verb form is found one other time in the Bible to describe stacked and perhaps “bound” wood (Ezekiel 24:5). In other words, the shape of such an object is beyond the scope of the term. So, the authors of the Hebrew Bible simply lacked the vocabulary to describe a perfectly round object. We cannot expect them to say what they did not have the words to communicate.

We also find other clues:

And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day (Gen. 1:13).

The six-day creation story assumes a flat earth because a time reference would’ve been necessary on a spherical earth. To see this, suppose God began creating the plants in the morning on Day Three based on the time in Mesopotamia. This means that God began this project in the evening of Day Two in much of the rest of the world (western North America, for example). Only with a time standard (“according to Mesopotamian Standard Time”) would this be unambiguous. . . . 

6. Confused creation order

God created the earth and land plants in the first three days, but the sun wasn’t made until the fourth. Photosynthesizing plants obviously couldn’t survive without the sun.

Compare the order of creation in Genesis with the order we’ve learned through science. In Genesis, it’s first earth, then land plants, sun and moon, fish, birds, land animals, and finally humans. Science instead tells us that the evidence points to the sun being first, then the earth, then the moon. Single-celled organisms were the only life for several billion years. Then photosynthesizing organisms, then land plants, fish, land animals, and finally birds. But Genesis is right that humans came last—yay.

This is absurd, based on reasons already given, as to the Bible’s view of the earth and cosmology. Secondly, it’s well-known that Christians since at least St. Augustine have interpreted “day” in these passages (Hebrew yom) as not confined to a 24-hour period. As usual, Bob merely assumes without argument that “day” here must be a literal 24-hour day. This is not the case at all. St. Augustine wrote:

The narrative does indeed tell us that light was created by God, and that God separated that light from the darkness, and gave to the light the name of ‘day’, and to the darkness the name of ‘night’. But what kind of light that was, and with what alternating movement the distinction was made, and what was the nature of this evening and this morning; these are questions beyond the scope of our sensible experience. (City of God, translated by Henry Bettenson, edited by David Knowles, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1972, 436, Book XI, ch. 7)

Furthermore, Bob interprets the Genesis accounts as both 1) absolutely literal in all respects, and 2) chronological (in the sense that we view sequential chronology today). Neither is necessarily the case at all. I delve into this question at length, citing scholars writing specifically about Hebrew thinking and views of time, in my paper, “Genesis Contradictory (?) Creation Accounts & Hebrew Time.”

We also find a flat earth in the New Testament.

The devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor (Matthew 4:8).

A high spot to see all the world is possible on a flat earth but not on a spherical planet. And consider that a mountaintop from which you could see everywhere on the earth could itself be seen from everywhere on earth. So go outside and look around. It’s there—the claim that it’s on the horizon somewhere is as reliable as the Bible itself.

Give Bob an E for effort, anyway . . . But what wasted brain power! Once again, Bob engages in his relentless wooden hyper-literalism, when the text does not at all require or even suggest it. Barnes’ Notes on the Bible comments on this passage:

All the kingdoms of the world – It is not probable that anything more is intended here than the kingdoms of Palestine, or of the land of Canaan, and those in the immediate vicinity. Judea was divided into three parts, and those parts were called kingdoms; and the sons of Herod, who presided over them, were called kings. The term “world” is often used in this limited sense to denote a part or a large part of the world, particularly the land of Canaan. See Romans 4:13 [RSV: “The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, . . .”] where it means the land of Judah; also Luke 2:1 [“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.”: obviously meaning the Roman Empire], . . .

Likewise, atheists and fundamentalists alike assume that the Bible teaches a literally universal Flood, covering the whole world. This is not true, either, as I explain in my paper, “Old Earth, Flood Geology, Local Flood, & Uniformitarianism.” The Bible doesn’t require the Flood (an actual historical event, as indicated several times in the NT) to have been literally global, as we see in the treatment of the Flood in The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913. That’s another case where an atheists sees the word “world” and automatically assumes that it literally means the entire earth or world. It’s simply more woefully inadequate biblical exegesis.

5. The earth is at the center of not just the solar system but the universe

Here’s another verse we’ve seen before that makes clear that the sun moves around the earth.

The sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again (Ecclesiastes 1:5; see also Ps. 19:6).

Really? This is beyond ludicrous: descending to a level of cluelessness rarely observed, even among atheists who regularly butcher the Bible. Of course this is phenomenological language, which the Bible routinely uses, and which we ourselves use today (in the very same manner), all the time. Watch any weather report and you will hear words like, “the sun will rise at 6:02 tomorrow morning; it will set at 8:30 . . .” According to how Bob interprets the Bible, then, every weather reporter and anyone who says “I saw the sun rise” or “the sun will be going down pretty soon” and similar terminology, is asserting geocentrism. As that is obviously absurd, so also is his contention here. Now why couldn’t he figure that out?: is the question and the marvel. Dr. Rogers comments:

In addition to respecting the author’s intent, we must also respect the audience’s understanding. We often hear cosmic complexities expressed in phenomenological language. In other words, the world is explained as it appears on Earth, or in terms we can understand. Even today, we speak of the Sun “rising and setting,” even though virtually every fourth-grade science student knows that, scientifically, this is not the case. Thus, it should not surprise to find the Bible speaking in similar terms (Genesis 28:11; Joshua 10:13; the Hebrew idiom is the Sun “going”). . . . For God to teach modern scientific astronomy and meteorology to an ancient Hebrew audience would do little good. . . . To hold the Bible’s language to modern scientific standards is a failure to appreciate the original audience of Scripture. The authors were divinely inspired, but the audience was not.

Two more examples are when God played games with the sun, stopping its motion for hours so Joshua could continue killing Amorites (Joshua 10:13) and then moving it backwards to give a sign to King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:8–11). It’s no big deal for God to move things across the sky, but it gets complicated in a heliocentric solar system when “stopping the sun” actually means stopping the earth’s rotation.

Could God have used magic to stop the earth’s rotation so that its inhabitants didn’t notice the deceleration and subsequent acceleration (and report it in the biblical accounts)? Could he have maintained the earth’s protective magnetic field that would’ve been lost if the molten iron core stopped rotating? Sure, but why imagine that instead of the heliocentric solar system known to science since the early sixteenth century?

This is an exceedingly involved discussion, with equally devout Christian commentators holding to several different theories, and this article is already lengthy enough, so I will defer to an extremely in-depth treatment: Glenn Miller’s article, “What about ‘The Fivefold Challenge’?” Readers — after following the link — need to do a word search to get to the relevant section: “Miracle Two: The stopping of the sun by Joshua.” Glenn is delightfully thorough and comprehensive in his reasoning, as always. It’s a feast for Bible students, and perhaps at least some challenge and food for thought for skeptics like Bob.

Suffice it to say in summary that several of the theories do not entail stopping the earth’s rotation or  movement around the sun, etc., and posit far less “cosmologically dramatic” events. This is common in biblical interpretation: reasonable folks can have honest disagreements. But what Christians have in common is an approach to the Bible of high respect, rather than the goal to mock and ridicule, distort and dismiss it: as seen over and over in Bob’s endless anti-Christian, anti-biblical rhetoric and sophistry.

***

This is the 21st installment in my series of critiques of Bob’s arguments. I note that (to my knowledge) he has not made the slightest response to any of them, despite having initiated a challenge that I record in my Introduction above. If he has responded at all, he certainly didn’t make me aware of it; nor did any of his fan club, who love to mock and deride Christians and Christianity as much as he does. It looks, then (at least so far), that Bob is either afraid or unable to defend his own viewpoints against strong critique. One would never guess that, judging by his ostensibly “confident” and “triumphalistic” attitude in his articles. But there it is . . .

***

See my web page: Philosophy, Science & Christianity.

See my book: Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies? (Oct. 2010, 301 pages; only $2.99 as an e-book)

***

Photo credit: God as Architect of the Universe (c. 1220-1230): frontispiece of Bible Moralisee. Science: particularly geometry and astronomy, was linked directly to the divine for most medieval scholars. The compass is a symbol of God’s act of creation. He created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles. Therefore, to seek these principles was to seek and worship God. The Lutheran heliocentrist astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) stated that his scientific work was “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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September 18, 2018

God’s Omnipotence, Omniscience, & Omnipresence in Early Bible Books & Ancient Jewish Understanding

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 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).

*****

In his article, “Response to ‘Nine Not-so-Good Reasons To Be an Atheist’ “ (8-13-18), Bob opined:

The Bible evolved over time. In the early years, the Bible’s religion was polytheistic [I decisively refuted that in my last post!]. Yahweh was similar to the Greek and Roman gods, only gradually becoming omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

This is a false and ignorant claim. In order to refute it (similar to my last paper), we need only find indications from earlier Old Testament  books (I will be using the RSV) of God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence: thus showing that these traits were not ones that merely slowly (“gradually”) evolved over time. 

 

Omniscience (all-knowing)

Job 11:6-9 [Bob calls it “one of the Bible’s oldest books”] and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. . . . [7] “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? [8] It is higher than heaven — what can you do? Deeper than Sheol — what can you know? [9] Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.

Job 34:21-22  For his eyes are upon the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps. [22] There is no gloom or deep darkness where evildoers may hide themselves.

Job 36:4  . . . one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.

Job 37:16 . . . him who is perfect in knowledge,

Psalm 44:21 would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Psalm 139:1-4, 6  O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me! [2] Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. [3] Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. [4] Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. . . . [6] Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:16  Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 147:5 . . . his understanding is beyond measure.

Proverbs 15:11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD, how much more the hearts of men!

1 Kings 8:39 . . . each whose heart thou knowest, according to all his ways (for thou, thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men); (cf. 2 Chr 6:30)

1 Chronicles 28:9 . . . the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought.  . . .

[for much more, see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Omniscience”]

 

Omnipotence (the power to do all that is logically possible)

“Almighty” or “God Almighty” appears 48 times in the Old Testament (excluding the deuterocanonical books): 45 of them in the earlier books (seven times in Genesis and Exodus).

Genesis 18:14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? . . .

Job 5:9-13 who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: [10] he gives rain upon the earth and sends waters upon the fields; [11] he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. [12] He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. [13] He takes the wise in their own craftiness; and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.

Job 9:4-10 He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength — who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded? — [5] he who removes mountains, and they know it not, when he overturns them in his anger; [6] who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; [7] who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; [8] who alone stretched out the heavens, and trampled the waves of the sea; [9] who made the Bear and Orion, the Plei’ades and the chambers of the south; [10] who does great things beyond understanding, and marvelous things without number.

Job 11:10  . . . who can hinder him?

Job 38:12 [God speaking] Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place [?]

Job 42:2 I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted.

Psalm 33:9-10 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth. [10] The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nought; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.

Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.

Psalm 135:6-7 Whatever the LORD pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. [7] He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

Psalm 147:4-5 He determines the number of the stars, . . . [5] . . . abundant in power . . .

Nehemiah 9:6 . . . Thou art the LORD, thou alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and thou preservest all of them; . . .

[for much more, see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Omnipotence”]

 

Omnipresence (present everywhere)

Job 28:24 For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.

Psalm 139:7-8 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? [8] If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!

Proverbs 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, . . .

1 Kings 8:27 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee . . .

2 Chronicles 2:6 But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? . . .

2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, . . .

[for much more, see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Omnipresence”]

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Photo credit: image by Schueler-Design (June 2018) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

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September 18, 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).

*****

In his article, “The Great Debate: Theism vs. Naturalism. Where Does the Evidence Point?” (11-17-16), Bob pontificated:

The Bible itself documents how God’s fundamental properties have evolved. . . . God was initially part of a pantheon, and only later do we get a clear statement of monotheism (Isaiah 43:10, for example). [“. . . Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me”: RSV]

He links to a full treatment of this latest falsehood that he seeks to promulgate about the Judaeo-Christian God and the Old Testament: “Biblical Polytheism” (2-13-13; rev. 1-6-16). He’s filled with self-deluded “confidence” in this one. He clearly thinks he has hit a home run. So sorry to disappoint him . . . Biblical ignorance “triumphs” yet again.

The first of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). (There are two very different sets of Ten Commandments in Exodus, but let’s ignore that for now.) [yeah, I refuted that ludicrous claim, too, not long ago]

Have you ever thought much about the wording of this commandment? Why doesn’t it say that Jehovah is the only god? It’s because this section of the Bible was written in roughly the 10th century BCE, the early days of the Israelite religion, when it was still polytheistic. . . . The next commandment notes, “I, Jehovah, your God, am a jealous God”—jealous because there were indeed other viable options, and Jehovah insisted on a commitment.

Sure, I’ve thought about it. The answer is simple: people were in fact worshiping other [nonexistent] gods; polytheism was the norm in the cultures surrounding the ancient Israelites, so God addressed the issue in this fashion. It’s another way of saying, “Don’t worship any other gods.” We Christians talk in this way all the time. We might say, for example, “Joe has replaced God in his heart with the god of money [or fame, or hedonism, or power, or lust or any number of other idols]”. This is idolatry: putting anything else in place of the one true God; usurping His preeminence over all. This sort of thinking will be explained further as we go along.

The notion of God being “jealous” is clearly anthropopathism: a very poorly understood aspect of the Bible and God’s revelation of Himself (condescending to human understanding) that is virtually never understood by atheists (nor — unfortunately — by many undereducated Christians, for that matter). A search of that word yielded nothing whatsoever on his voluminous blog. He does, however briefly allude to the related concept of anthropomorphism in one post: put up just about a month ago (showing the potential of perhaps actually understanding it to some extent). In the same post, he opined: “The Bible evolved over time. In the early years, the Bible’s religion was polytheistic. Yahweh was similar to the Greek and Roman gods, . . .”

Jewish Henotheism

Let’s use the proper term for this, henotheism. Polytheists acknowledge many gods and worship many gods, while henotheists acknowledge many gods but worship only one. In this view, different gods ruled different territories just as kings did, and tribes owed allegiance to whichever god protected them.

This is asinine. Yes, non-observant Jews who went astray and didn’t follow the Mosaic Law may have done / believed this (as a species of idolatry), but the Bible (even the early — first five — books, or Torah) clearly doesn’t teach it. It teaches monotheism: one true God and no other gods, no matter how many people may worship them. I will elaborate upon this as we proceed.

The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 is considered to be some of the oldest material in the Bible—dating to the mid-13th century BCE. We have several somewhat-inconsistent copies, the oldest being from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

When Elyon divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he established the borders of the nations according to the number of the sons of the gods. Yahweh’s portion was his people, [Israel] his allotted inheritance. (Deut. 32:8–9)

Here we see Elyon, the head of the divine pantheon, dividing humankind among his children, giving each his inheritance. The idea of a divine pantheon with a chief deity, his consort, and their children (the council of the gods) was widespread through the Ancient Near East.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are not the Bible, and so should not be discussed in a debate about same. The RSV version (which I shall use here when I cite Scripture), reads:

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. [9] For the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

Verse 9 refers to the notion of “God’s chosen people” (Ex 3:7, 10; 6:7; 7:4; Lev 26:12; 2 Sam 3:18; many more). Perhaps Bob has heard of that? Or is that not in the Bible, either? Now since Bob brought up Deuteronomy 32, and indeed, states himself that it issome of the oldest material in the Bible,” he might be interested in discovering another portion of it that decisively refutes his silly hypothesis of “early biblical polytheism”:

Deuteronomy 32:39 See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

That’s one God, folks: monotheism: right in what Bob concedes is a very old portion of Scripture. His case is virtually demolished already, but I have much more and am not nearly done! There is more in the same chapter:

Deuteronomy 32:17, 21 They sacrificed to demons which were no gods, . . . They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked me with their idols. . . . 

Huh?! This reinforces the point I made earlier. The Bible refers to other gods, but in the sense that they exist in other religious belief-systems: not because they exist in fact or reality. This verse proves this sort of understanding among the Jews, in (again) a very early passage and part of the Torah. Deuteronomy 28:64 refers to “other gods, of wood and stone” (cf. 28:36 and 4:28, which adds, “the work of men’s hands”). Obviously, the text is saying (along with the noted related ones) that this is all these supposed “gods” are: wood and stone. They have no conscious existence. It’s classic idolatry: that the Jews were judged for again and again throughout the period of the Old Testament.

The Bible consistently condemns other reputed gods as actually no gods at all (i.e., merely imaginary; pieces of wood and stone):

2 Kings 19:15-19 And Hezeki’ah prayed before the LORD, and said: “O LORD the God of Israel, who art enthroned above the cherubim, thou art the God, thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. [16] Incline thy ear, O LORD, and hear; open thy eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennach’erib, which he has sent to mock the living God. [17] Of a truth, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, [18] and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone; therefore they were destroyed. [19] So now, O LORD our God, save us, I beseech thee, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou, O LORD, art God alone.” (cf. Is 37:19; 45:20)

2 Chronicles 13:9 . . . Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods.

Jeremiah 2:11  Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? . . .

Jeremiah 5:7 . . . Your children have forsaken me, and have sworn by those who are no gods. . . . (cf. 10:14)

Jeremiah 16:20 Can man make for himself gods? Such are no gods! (cf. 51:17)

1 Corinthians 8:4-6 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” [5] For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — [6] yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Galatians 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods;

The Old Testament is full of clues pointing to multiple gods. Genesis is a good place to start.

Then [Elohim] said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

We also see plural gods when Jehovah warns them that man mustn’t eat the tree of life (Gen. 3:22) . . . 

[Genesis 3:22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” –]

The nearly magisterial Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament states at Genesis 1:22:

No other explanation is left, therefore, than to regard it as pluralis majestatis , – an interpretation which comprehends in its deepest and most intensive form (God speaking of Himself and with Himself in the plural number, not reverentiae causa, but with reference to the fullness of the divine powers and essences which He possesses) . . .

Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics explains pluralis majestatis:

The term ‘majestic plural’ or pluralis majestatis refers to the use of a plural word to refer honorifically to a single person or entity. It is also called the ‘plural of respect’, the ‘honorific plural’, the ‘plural of excellence’, or the ‘plural of intensity’. In the Hebrew Bible such plural forms are most commonly used when referring to the God of Israel, e.g., אֲדוֹנִ֣ים אָנִי֩ ʾăḏōnīm ʾå̄nī ‘I am a master (lit. ‘masters’)’ (Mal. 1.6), although it can also be used when referring to a human, e.g., אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֲדֹנָ֑יו ʾaḇrå̄hå̄m ʾăḏōnå̄w ‘Abraham his master (lit. ‘masters’)’ . . . [Genesis 24]

Wikipedia, “Royal we (the English equivalent) further explains:

The royal we, or majestic plural (pluralis maiestatis), is the use of a plural pronoun (or corresponding plural-inflected verb forms) to refer to a single person who is a monarch. The more general word for the use of a weus, or our to refer to oneself is nosism. . . .

It is commonly employed by a person of high office, such as a monarch, earl, or pope. It is also used in certain formal contexts by bishops and university rectors. William Longchamp is credited with its introduction to England in the late 12th century, following the practice of the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs.

A Jewish article, “The Genesis Plurals,” by Paul Sumner, takes a different view: “Historically, most Jewish commentators have said the Creator is here speaking to the angels of the heavenly assembly, his divine court.” Either way, a reasonable non-polytheistic interpretation is possible and plausible.

Bob anticipates the angelic interpretation and replies as follows: “[W]hy imagine an angelic assembly when the polytheistic interpretation of Genesis simply growing out of preceding Canaanite culture is available and plausible?”

Well, it’s because that interpretation has already been blown out of the water by the arguments above. Deuteronomy 32: believed by Bob to besome of the oldest material in the Bible,” expressly renounces polytheism and asserts monotheism (32:17, 39; cf. 4:28; 28:36, 64). 

Psalms is another old book that has fossilized the earliest forms of Judaism. We see the assembly of the gods mentioned several times.

[Elohim] stands in the assembly of El; in the midst of the gods he renders judgment (Psalm 82:1). . . . 

And many more verses celebrate Jehovah while acknowledging the existence of others.

For [Jehovah] is the great God, and the great King above all gods (Ps. 95:3).

All the gods bow down before [Jehovah] (Ps. 97:7).

I know [Jehovah] is great, and our Lord is superior to all gods. (Ps. 135:5)

All of this has already been explained, too. It’s simply a manner of speaking (more poetic). The bottom line, in any event, is that there is but one true God, and other reputed “gods” “are no gods,” as we saw above: stated repeatedly in the Bible. The Psalms include this understanding as well (thus are neither polytheistic nor henotheistic, as Bob claims):

Psalm 40:4 . . . those who go astray after false gods!

Psalm 83:18 Let them know that thou alone, whose name is the LORD, art the Most High over all the earth.

Psalm 86:10 For thou art great and doest wondrous things, thou alone art God.

Psalm 89:6 For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,

Psalm 96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the LORD made the heavens. (cf. 97:7; 115:4; 135:15)

In a recent post, we’ve seen where the Bible documents how Yahweh lost a fight with the Moabite god Chemosh (2 Kings 3:27).

Nonsense. I have already refuted this “exegesis” in installment #12 of this series.

Deuteronomy [apparently excluding the Song of Moses / chapter 32 portion: according to Bob] was written after the conquest of Israel and before the conquest of Judah, in the 7th century BCE. The philosophy has now moved from henotheism to monolatry. Like henotheism, many gods are accepted and only one is worshipped, but now worship of other gods is forbidden.

Hogwash. The other “gods” of other cultures were never accepted — never allowed to be worshiped in the Mosaic law — and were renounced as nonexistent, as I’ve already shown from Deuteronomy 4:28 and 28:36, 64. Moreover, Exodus and Deuteronomy clearly teach an exclusive monotheism:

Exodus 8:10 . . . there is no one like the LORD our God. (cf. 1 Chr 17:20; 2 Chr 6:14)

Deuteronomy 4:35, 39 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. . . . [39] . . . the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (cf. Neh 9:6; 2 Sam 7:22; 1 Kgs 8:23; Is 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 14, 18, 21-22; 46:9; 47:8; Hos 13:4)

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD

Second Isaiah (the second part of Isaiah) was written later, near the end of the Babylonian exile. Here we find the transition to monotheism is complete.

Monotheism and the forbidding of worshiping other imaginary “gods” was already in place in the Torah, as shown above and below.

The very idea of an idol is ridiculed in Isaiah 44:9–20. Can a man cook his meal over a fire made from half of the tree he used to carve his idol and imagine that an idol from so unrefined an origin is really a god?

What explains this migration to monotheism? A major factor was the Babylonian exile. 

There was no “migration” because the mockery of false, nonexistent gods and material idols representing them was already present in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy:

Genesis 31:19 . . . Rachel stole her father’s household gods.

Genesis 35:2, 4 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; . . . [4] So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.

Exodus 20:23 You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.

Leviticus 19:4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 4:27-28 And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. [28] And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of men’s hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. (cf. 29:17; 1 Chr 16:26; Is 2:8, 20; 31:7; 37:19; 44:10, 15, 17; 46:6; Jer 1:16)

The Babylonian exile (after 586 BC) took place after even Bob’s dating of Deuteronomy (7th c. BC). Therefore it can hardly have caused this supposed “migration” or evolution into true monotheism.

Checkmate. Game, match, set.

***

Photo credit: Duncan Hull (8-9-08): “Greek gods, take your pick” [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]

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September 11, 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).

*****

In his article: “The Irrelevant Wisdom of the Ten Commandments” (3-9-12; rev. 2-14-14), Bob writes:

[C]hapter 34 has this savage claim, “[God] will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Ex. 34:7). And yet, three books later, we get this contradiction: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16).

I’ve heard this rationalized this way: Deut. 24 is talking about what man must do. Man needs to treat people fairly and punish only the wrongdoers. Ex. 34 is talking about what God will do. God has a long memory and will hold a grudge against you to punish your descendants. It’s odd that Christians would imagine that God does something that is clearly immoral in our eyes. Anyway, God figures it out later: “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

This passage and its erroneous interpretation are old chestnuts of anti-Christian polemics. But at least it is understandable that it would be a difficulty (at face value), because this is a somewhat complex concept to fully understand. Thus, this is a much more serious and worthy objection than the sheer nonsense I dealt with in my previous installment, about two supposed sets of Ten Commandments.

It so happens that I thoroughly dealt with this “problem” eight years ago, in my article, “God’s ‘Punishing’ of Descendants: Is it Unjust and Unfair?” The arguments there are involved and complex, so I urge readers interested in this topic to read the whole article. But I’ll highlight some of the major themes here (and add a few new things to “flesh out” the Christian argument even more).

Exodus 20:5-6 (RSV) you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, [6] but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (cf. identical passage Deut 5:9-10)

John W. Haley, in his book, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Springdale, Pennsylvania: Whitaker House, n.d.; possibly 1992, originally published in 1874, pp. 86-87), provides perhaps the best short summary of this theme that I’ve seen:

[W]e may say that Jehovah “visits” the iniquity of the fathers upon their children, in that he permits the latter to suffer in consequence of the sins of the former. He has established such laws of matter and mind that the sins of parents result in the physical and mental disease and suffering of their offspring. . . . “injustice” is no less chargeable upon the author of “the laws of nature” than upon the Author of the Bible.
*
Even if the above text conveys the idea not only of suffering, but also of punishment, yet the language, “unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,” indicates children who are sinful like their parents . . . Plainly children are intended to imitate and adopt the sinful habits and practices of their parents; hence, being morally, as well as physically, the representatives and heirs of their parents, they may be, in a certain sense, punished for the sins of those parents.
I think passages of this sort are (at least to some extent) of an anthropomorphic nature: they exaggerate God’s traits in a non-literal way in order to make Him more understandable to man. Another (I think, rather close) analogy would be the theme of “God hardening hearts”: which I have shown to be another way of saying that “God in His providence allowed Person X to harden his own heart.” All the relevant biblical texts along those lines, when considered as a whole, show this clearly. Bob made this argument and I refuted it in my earlier paper in this series: “Seidensticker Folly #3: Falsehoods About God & Free Will.”
*
As in that instance, the present one is a matter of precisely understanding the literary nature and intent of the “difficult” passages in conjunction with many other passages that clarify it as “not nearly as bad as it sounds at first.” Even Bob — albeit in his usual sneering way –, in a sense acknowledges that other passages “balance” the “hard sayings.”
*
He sees it, of course, as absurd contradiction (one motif is wicked and evil, the other good); we see it as the key to understanding the whole thing: the more obscure passages are explained and interpreted by many more clearer ones. Bob always looks for contradictions and absurdities in the Bible, and so (surprise!) he “finds” them. We assume (in our Christian belief in inspiration of Scripture, as God’s revelation) that passages can ultimately be harmonized, and so we usually conclude that this is in fact the case in particulars.
*
In my paper on this issue, I listed (in their entirety) twenty Bible passages that clearly teach that every man is judged for his own sin, not that of another. For example:

2 Kings 14:6 But he did not put to death the children of the murderers; according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses, where the LORD commanded, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, or the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall die for his own sin.” (cf. parallel passage 2 Chron 25:4)

Jeremiah 31:30 But every one shall die for his own sin . . .

2 Maccabees 7:32 For we are suffering because of our own sins.

1 Peter 1:17 . . . who judges each one impartially according to his deeds . . .

Moreover, by consulting all related passages, we find at least three in which both concepts are present together (inter-generational punishment and individual accountability):

Exodus 34:6-7 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Numbers 14:17-20 And now, I pray thee, let the power of the LORD be great as thou hast promised, saying, [18]`The LORD is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.’ [19] Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray thee, according to the greatness of thy steadfast love, and according as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” [20] Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word;

Jeremiah 32:17-19 `Ah Lord GOD! It is thou who hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for thee, [18] who showest steadfast love to thousands, but dost requite the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God whose name is the LORD of hosts, [19] great in counsel and mighty in deed; whose eyes are open to all the ways of men, rewarding every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings; (cf. 31:30 above)

This suggests that such punishment “to the third and fourth generations” applies only to children who deliberately choose to follow the sinful ways of their parents, and is not stated in any absolute sense that would preclude individual pardon. Thus, the two strains are not ultimately contradictory, once one understands the sense of the passages. These three passages provide the interpretive key within themselves: God forgives repentant sinners, but punishes the individually guilty. Note that Exodus 34:6 provides a counter-balance of mercy to Exodus 34:7. Bob cites 34:7 while ignoring 34:6.

If we are to make much of God talking about punishment over three or four generations (setting aside how to interpret that, for a moment), then we ought to also notice three passages that strikingly highlight God’s extraordinary mercy:

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

1 Chronicles 16:15 He is mindful of his covenant for ever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, (cf. identical Ps 105:8)

So the “good stuff” and the mercy is described as lasting for a thousand generations, and the “bad stuff” for only four. That’s 250 times longer for the good things, compared to the bad. The merciful motif is much more prominent (even in the Old Testament) than the judgmental / wrathful God motif. But if one read only atheists blasting God and the Old Testament, they would get the distinct impression that it is the other way around.

For much more on this issue, see the superb article, “Generational Curses: Biblical Answers to Questions Raised by the phrase ‘visit the inquities to the third and fourth generation’ “ (Bob DeWaay, Jan/Feb. 2002). That wonderful examination is an example of serious Bible study and exegesis. By strong contrast, Bob (like so many atheists) merely “toys with” the Bible in a superficial, non-serious, fallacious way.

He doesn’t get it, and he obviously refuses to be corrected (as he claimed in his words that I cite at the top). We’re now up to 16 papers of this series, and we have not heard one peep back from Bob.

***

Photo credit: God the Father, by Guercino (1591-1666) [public domain / Wikipedia]

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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 collapse 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]

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