Tag Archives: Old Testament

Paul Copan interviewed on the hard passages of the Old Testament

How would you respond to all of the troubling stories in the Old Testament, (conquest, slavery, etc.), and the characterizations of God as jealous and angry and vengeful? Paul Copan has written a new book on those topics and more.

From the Evangelical Philosophical Society blog. (H/T Mary)

What surprising thing did he learn while researching the book?

Surprising—and yet not surprising—is the fact that the more deeply I dug into understanding the ancient Near East, the more the biblical text made sense and the more favorable it looked in comparison to other relevant texts in the ancient Near East.  For example, the strong bravado and exaggeration typical of ancient Near East war texts (“leaving alive nothing that breathed”) was used even when lots of the enemy were left standing and breathing!  What’s more, Israel’s warfare—directed at non-combatants in citadels or fortresses (“cities”)—is tame in comparison to other ancient Near Eastern accounts of, say, the Assyrians.
As far as servitude (“slavery”) goes, this was voluntary and contractual rather than forced (unless Israel was dealing with, say, hostile foreign POWs who might be pressed into service to cut wood and carry water).  Yet Israel’s laws prohibited (a) kidnapping, (b) returning runaway (foreign) slaves to their masters, and (c) injuring servants.  If these three Mosaic regulations were observed during by Western colonial powers, slavery would not have emerged and the nineteenth-century history of the United States would have looked much different.

What kinds of questions will people who read the book be able to answer?

While I can’t cover all the territory I would like in this book, I try to address the range of topics that are most pressing and most frequently raised by the critics.  Part I deals with the phenomenon of the New Atheists and their arguments—and their case against the “Old Testament God.”  In fact, as you can see in the table of contents below, I use their quotations as my chapter headings!  In Part II, I deal with issues related to the nature of God: Is God narcissistic?  Why should God get jealous?  How could God command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?

Part III looks at life in the ancient Near East and how Israel’s laws look in comparison to those of other ancient Near Eastern cultures.  I maintain, first, that while many of Israel’s laws are not ideal (human hard-heartedness is part of the problem, as Matthew 19:8 indicates), they are generally a significant humanizing improvement over other ancient Near Eastern cultures.  God meets his people where they are—with their embedded, fallen moral and social patterns—but he challenges them to greater moral and spiritual heights.  Then I go on to address topics like Israel’s kosher and purity laws, its civil laws and punishments, the treatment of women in Israel, slavery (or better “servitude”) in Israel (and I extend the discussion to include the New Testament), then finally the question of Canaanite “genocide” (which it most certainly is not!) and of whether “religion” produces violence.

In Part IV, I argue that the biblical God serves as the basis for objective moral values and that atheists borrow the metaphysical grounding for human dignity and rights from a theistic worldview in which God makes human beings in his image. Finally, I refer to the role of Jesus Christ as the fulfiller of the Old Testament, who illuminates the Old Testament and puts it into proper perspective.  Moreover, his followers, when living consistently with his teachings, have actually made a remarkable moral impact on the world which scholars in both the East and the West, both Christian and non-Christian, acknowledge.

If some of you are following my debates on Facebook, then you know that I am using this argument against one of the atheists I am currently debating on the topic of spanking. Never, ever let an atheist get away with making moral statements. Moral statements are meaningless in an atheistic universe.

Paul Copan’s new book might be worth picking up because I don’t have anything on that topic. Not many people ask me questions like that, but maybe that’s God’s grace since I would not be able to answer them well anyway. Usually when I read something, he sometimes gives me that question from someone the very same week. It’s very interesting when this happens. But that’s what I mean when I say relationship with God. I mean we work together.

By the way, if you are looking for some good apologetics books for Christmas, take a look at this list at Apologetics 315.

Is the practice of tithing binding on Christians?

Wes at Reason to Stand doesn’t think that it is. He cites the Old Testament verses that are used to support tithing and explains why he doesn’t think they are applicable to Christians.

Then he says this:

Christ fulfills the requirements of the law in the NT. So for the same reason we no longer sacrifice animals on alters or consider buildings as sacred or see the Levitical priesthood as being in effect, we no longer tithe to support a theocratic system of government.

[…]the tithe has not been reinstituted in the NT. And yes, the tithe would have to be reinstituted since in the OT the tithe was given to a specific place (the temple) to specific people (the priests) under a theocratic system or partially independent Jewish state as the case is in the NT until about 90AD when they were eliminated as a sovereign or even semi-sovereign state.

In the NT we are told that we are to give to the poor, the needy, etc. It may be the case that man-made organizations such as 501c3 non-profit businesses may do a good job of filling the needs of the poor and needy. However it is wrong to conflate the ekklesia or assembly of believers with either the temple of the OT (to which tithes were to be paid) or a building/man-made organization which is meant by most pastors who advocate tithing.

Finally, in the NT we are told that our giving should not be under compulsion and in accordance with what we’ve decided in our hearts to give per 2 Corinthians 9:7. A tithe, by contrast stands directly opposed to this sentiment as it is both compulsory (Malachi 3:8-12) and it is a specified amount (Numbers 18:26).

In the NT we are called to practice grace-based giving to those in need. While some may choose to give to organizations that can and often do meet the needs of those in need quite well, others don’t. Neither, however, are sinning in how they choose to spend their money. However it is wrong to assert that the tithe is still in effect today. Especially when what we are supposedly tithing to is 1. not the temple and 2. often horribly mismanaged and/or spent almost exclusively on infrastructure (like props for the big show on Sunday morning).

I can tell you right now that I only do targeted giving for specific events that the church holds. The rest of my giving is to specific scholars and to build up other Christians who are doing good work with non-Christians.

 

 

How to defend the Biblical view of capital punishment

Here’s a Yahoo News story, and pay attention to the victims and their view of capital punishment.

Excerpt:

The leader of a former gang of Houston teenagers who raped and murdered two young girls walking home from a neighborhood party 17 years ago was executed Tuesday in Texas.

Peter Anthony Cantu, 35, was strapped to a gurney in the Huntsville Unit prison death chamber and administered a lethal injection at 6:09 p.m. CDT. He took a single deep breath before slipping into unconsciousness, then was pronounced dead eight minutes later as relatives of his victims, Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena, looked stoically through a window a few feet from him.

Asked by the warden if he had any last statement, Cantu replied: “No.” He never looked at the witnesses, including his victims’ parents.

“Nothing he would have said to me would have made any difference,” Adolfo Pena, who lost his daughter in the attack, said after watching Cantu die. “He did a horrendous crime to these two girls. He deserved to die and 17 years later, he died. Not soon enough.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Pena, who wore a T-shirt bearing pictures of both girls.

I’ll leave out the brutal details of the crime, and jump to this:

Jennifer’s father, Randy Ertman, who witnessed all three executions, said before Cantu was put to death Tuesday that the apologies meant nothing to him, that it was too late for apologies.

[…]Ertman said if the death penalty was intended as a deterrent, all five members who had been sentenced to die should have been hanged from trees outside Houston City Hall years ago.

“That would be a deterrent,” he said.

Ok, now look at this Fox News article which talks about whether it works to deter more violent crimes.

Excerpt:

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument — whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.

[…]”Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,” said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.”A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. “The results are robust, they don’t really go away,” he said. “I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?”

Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory — if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).

That’s the only question we should be asking – does it work? Not “how does it makes us feel?”. I don’t care how it makes anyone feel except for the victims. I only care about the victims. If the conviction is good, and they accused admit their guilt, the death penalty should be on the table.

The Bible supports the idea of capital punishment, and if you want to explain to people why the Bible supports it, you need to give specific examples, talk from the point of the view of the victims, and reference the relevant research, keeping in mind that academics are vastly more likely to skew the results in favor of the liberal “murderers should not be punished because no one should be punished” view.

How should Christians understand the Old Testament laws?

I found this post by Aaron Brake at Apologetics Junkie.

Excerpt:

Perhaps no area of the Old Testament is more foreign and confusing to modern-day Christians than the Mosaic Law. When reading through the Pentateuch, many believers breeze through the narrative of Genesis only to hit a roadblock when confronted with the overwhelming number of commandments, statutes, and ordinances in the last half of Exodus (not to mention the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

Yes, this is why you have to be careful when telling people to read the Bible, because not all parts of the Bible are good for new Christians! Not only are some parts pretty difficult to read, but the new reader has no framework to interpret what they are reading! I had a non-Christian guy in my office who was starting to read the Bible and he got bogged down in the Old Testament and had no idea whether these laws applied today. It’s a major problem, which is why I recommend everybody start with John instead, then maybe Luke and Acts.

There are two ways of solving this problem that are pretty popular. One way is the covenant model and the other is the dispensation model. I think that Aaron is presenting the covenant model. In the covenant model, the Old Testament laws were part of a covenant made between God and the people of Israel.

Aaron writes:

The Law in ancient Israel served three distinct purposes: relational, instructional, and structural. The Law was given to Israel in order to form a covenant or relational agreement between Yahweh and His people… the Law functioned as a constitution which provided internal structure for the nation as a whole. It provided objective standards by which the Israelites could maintain appropriate boundaries with one another as well as neighboring nations.

Jesus formed a new covenant with a new group of people who believed in his identity as the Messiah and that his death was an atonement for sin. So only the parts of the old covenant that are explicitly carried over to the new covenant still apply to our conduct as Christians.

Aaron writes:

Therefore, the primary interpretive question readers should approach the text with is this: “What does this passage tell us about God and His holiness, about Israel and her sin, and about how Israel needed to obey in order to maintain her covenant relationship with God?” Also ask, “What specific areas of life does God expect holiness and transformation within His people?”

I recommend reading the whole post. I think this is something that should be communicated to people who are coming at the Bible from a non-Christian perspective. Maybe we should have some scholars created an optimal ordering of the books of the Bible so as not to scare people away?

Note: I haven’t really looked into this problem in detail, but the covenant model makes more sense to me.

Christians debate Jewish rabbis on the Trinity and the identity of Jesus

Is God three persons and one being?

This debate on the Trinity was noted in a comment by Woody Lordless.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Cool. I am pleased to see a Jewish teacher get up there and slug it out with our guys.

Was Jesus the Messiah?

Here’s a debate on the question of whether Jesus was the Messiah. I recognize both of these names and have heard them both speak. These are the top guys, unless you go and get Jewish historians like Geza Vermes or Paula Fredriksen.

Part 1:

Part 2:

I want to see a full-length formal debate on the identity of Jesus with some Jewish scholars and some Christian scholars. We should organize a conference and let each side pick their best guys and have it out so everyone else will learn what the arguments are on either side. We should hold the conference at a university, and broadcast it n the Internet, then make the videos available for download after the event.