Monday, November 29, 2010

A Virgin Shall Conceive

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Matthew 1:23

Arguably, Isaiah 7:14 is the most contested verse in the Old Testament. Although Matthew unequivocally states that this is fulfilled by the birth of the Messiah, the Old Testament indicates a fulfillment during the life of King Ahaz. These two perspectives can be reconciled by the introduction of the concept of a “double fulfillment.” But is this an understanding that Christianity has illegitimately imposed upon the Old Testament?

Leaving a Jews for Jesus meeting, I met a young believer who reluctantly admitted that he thought that the Rabbis had a better understanding of Scripture, in at least one area. He was referring to Isaiah 7:14, perhaps the most contested Old Testament verse: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."

Christianity has traditionally understood this verse as a prophecy of the birth of the Messiah Jesus to the Virgin Mary. The Book of Matthew demands that we understand Isaiah 7:14 in this sense since Matthew 1:23 actually quotes this verse as fulfilled by the Messiah's birth. However, the Rabbis raise four potent challenges against this interpretation.

First, there is no imperative to take "Immanuel" (meaning "God with us" in the Hebrew) as a description of the "child" as Christianity insists on understanding it, as God actually with us in Jesus Christ. Instead, the Rabbis insist that "Immanuel" is merely a name like Daniel or Nathaniel ("El" always means "God" in Hebrew) and not a description of the nature of the person.

Second, the Rabbis correctly assert that the Hebrew word "almah," translated as "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 can also be translated as "young maiden." Furthermore, if Isaiah had wanted to unequivocally say "virgin," he could have used the unequivocal word, "betulah," in this context, not the equivocal “almah.” “Betulah” always means “virgin.”

Third, the prophecy of 7:14 was given to King Ahaz (ca. 735 BC) as a divine sign of what God had promised him--that the two northern kings, Pekah (Israel) and Rezin (Syria), who were threatening his own nation of Judah, would soon be destroyed (Isaiah 7:1-16). The birth of Jesus, which took place over 700 years later, couldn't possibly be a sign for Ahaz. It’s therefore faulty reasoning that insists that the first century Jesus fulfills this prophecy.

Last, and perhaps most troubling, Isaiah's prophecy seems to have already been fulfilled by the birth of his son. Isaiah had prophesied to Ahaz that the promised events of the demise of Damascus (Syria) and Samaria (the Northern kingdom of Israel) would precede the sign-child’s maturation:

“Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings” (Isaiah 7:15-16).

This same prophecy seems to be reiterated shortly afterwards when Isaiah’s wife gives birth to their own child, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz:

“Then I [Isaiah] went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz; for before the child shall have knowledge to cry 'My father' and 'My mother,' the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria’" (Isa. 8:3-4).

Here again, we find the same two elements—the destruction of both Damascus and Samaria preceding the child’s maturation. This seems to indicate that the prophecy had already been fulfilled 700 years before Christ. Therefore, by applying this prophecy to the birth of Christ and “illegitimately manipulating” Hebrew Scripture into saying what it never intended to say, the Christian Church has hidden behind some imaginative and self-serving speculations.

The magnitude of this charge can’t be overestimated. If Matthew is wrong about this verse, then perhaps other parts of Scripture are also wrong. If this is the case, Scripture can’t be completely trustworthy, and although we can still trust in God, we are left not knowing what exactly to trust about Him. If the writers of the New Testament are sometimes mistaken, we are left standing on a shaky foundation. The stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s therefore imperative to undertake this challenge lest our faith withers on a broken vine.

Let's start with the last challenge first. If the birth of Isaiah's son had already fulfilled Isaiah 7:14, then this is a clear case of a multiple fulfillment. This concept suggests that a single prophetic message is sometimes fulfilled at different times and in slightly different ways. It acknowledges that the final fulfillment is often preceded by types. This is clearly visible in the New Testament, which understands the entire sacrificial system, with its holidays and offerings, as prefigurements of Christ. But do the Hebrew Scriptures also provide evidence of this type of foreshadowing--that prophecies and objects are often prefigurements or types of some ultimate realities yet to be revealed? Yes! Although the Hebrew Scriptures are not often explicit about pointing out types, they nevertheless do allude to them. For example, the prophet Zechariah sees the broken, assailed high priest Joshua as a type of One to come.

• “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. 2And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan!... Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ 3Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. 4Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’ 5And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head…8Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are a wondrous sign; for behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH…And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day’”
(Zech. 3:1-9).

This passage abounds in prefigurements and types. Joshua and his companions are symbolic of what the Lord will ultimately do through the Messiah. The filthy garments are symbolic of the sins that God will remove “in one day!” This removal serves as a prefigurement of a justification by grace through faith alone. Joshua was certainly sin-stained. God never corrected the damning accusations of Satan. They were probably true, but the righteous God did something Satan could never understand. He would remove sin through the undisclosed work of a mysterious individual, the BRANCH!

The identity of the “Branch” becomes clearer three chapters later where Zechariah is given another assignment regarding Joshua in his symbolic role.

• “Take the silver and gold, make an elaborate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then speak to him, saying, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: ‘Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the LORD. Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne’’”
(Zech. 6:11-13).

This passage is also replete with types and symbols. A crown is placed upon the head of Joshua, ostensibly making this priest a king! However, Joshua never actually became a king nor was he supposed to. Israel already had a civil magistrate, Zerubbabel. If Joshua had become king, this would have brought him into direct conflict with Zerubbabel. However, we have no evidence that this ever happened. From all indications, they worked harmoniously together to build the Temple. Furthermore, a separation of powers had been strictly instituted in Israel. A priest couldn’t become a king and a king couldn’t become a priest. Only the Messiah was worthy of occupying both posts (Psalm 110). God was revealing through Joshua that He would ultimately bring the two offices together through the glorious BRANCH who would “sit and rule on His throne.” Thus, Joshua was merely a type or prefigurement of Someone greater who would ultimately fulfill the type.

Are we confronted with something similar in Isaiah 7? Could Isaiah’s child be a sign of a more glorious Child? Isaiah says as much!

• “Here am I (Isaiah) and the children whom the LORD has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion”

Of what were they signs? Could Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz have prefigured the Messiah as Joshua did? The narratives regarding Joshua clearly point to a Person beyond Joshua. Does the Isaiah passage point beyond Isaiah’s son? To answer this question, it is imperative that we regard the broader context (Chaps. 7-12) where we find the same elements of the “Immanuel” prophecy recapitulated. These related narratives serve to place flesh and bones upon the original prophecy.

The term "Immanuel" (the conjunction of two very common words: "Immanu", with us; and "El", God) appears only three times in Hebrew Scripture. The first instance is found in Isaiah 7:14. The other two instances are both found in the next chapter. This alone would suggest that the three instances are related in Isaiah's mind (and in God’s)! Additionally, all three uses are unusual, provocative and thematically related.

"Immanuel" is encountered for the second time after a description of what Assyria will do to Judah after Assyria swallows up Syria (“Damascus,” “Aram”) and Israel (“Ephraim”) in 721 BC.

• “Now therefore, behold, the Lord brings up over them the waters of the River, strong and mighty--the king of Assyria and all his glory; he will go up over all his channels And go over all his banks. He will pass through Judah, he will overflow and pass over, he will reach up to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel”
[or “God with us”] (Isa. 8:7-8).

Assyria will conquer Judah "up to the neck" (8:8). This probably refers to Assyria's unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC, which culminated when the angel of the Lord "put to death 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp" (37:36). The prophecy ends with the ejaculation, "O Immanuel,” seemingly an outcry for help to the same individual of 7:14. However, in this latter context, Immanuel seems to be more than a mere human! It would be ridiculous to cry for help to a human in such a hopeless situation. Assyria’s victory seemed assured without miraculous intervention. However, it was this very intervention that turned the tide.

The third instance of "Immanuel" is more striking. In Isaiah 8:9-10, a warning is issued against Assyria and the nations it had overwhelmed and incorporated within the Assyrian army:

• "Be shattered, O you peoples, and be broken in pieces! Give ear, all you from far countries. Gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak the word, but it will not stand, For God is with us
[“Immanuel” in the Hebrew]" (8:9-10).

Despite the overwhelming superiority of the Assyrian army, it will not succeed against the wobbling and panic-stricken Jerusalem ("the neck") for one simple reason--"for God is with us" (the third instance of "Immanuel")! What started out as a cry for help (8:8) has now become a declaration of triumph (8:10)! "Immanuel" is the cause of this triumph. Reading the account of the destruction of the Assyrian army (Isaiah 36-39), it is clear that "Immanuel" can't pertain to Hezekiah, nor to any mere mortal. "Immanuel" (appropriately translated here as "God is with us") holds the destiny of nations within His hands. It's interesting to observe that English translations all render the Hebrew as "God is with us" rather than simply "Immanuel" which consistency among the two prior instances would ordinarily demand.

To suggest that these three "Immanuels" represent three different people is more than sound interpretation will bear, especially since they are all found in two adjacent chapters. The more natural interpretation demands that the same titles or names pertain to the same person. Furthermore, this individual appears to be both human (a "child") and Divine! This conclusion will be born out as we track this “child” Immanuel in two subsequent and related contexts--Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-12.

Let's now look at another concept found in 7:14 which is also recapitulated within the context of chapters 7 through 12 and serves to unify them. This is the concept of the birth of a child:

• “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace here will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever…”
(Isa. 9:6-7).

This prophecy is not only related to 7:14 by virtue of a birth of a special child, but also by divine names. In 7:14, we encountered a divine name or description designating a child. In 9:6 we encounter four divine titles. I don't say "names" because at this point, it should be clear that these can't be mere names – not all four! – but rather descriptive titles of the Child. These four titles contain eight words—too cumbersome for actual names. It would be like naming a child “Anthony Robert Spencer Alan Thomas Arthur Andrew Timothy.”

The first title, "Wonderful Counselor" ("Pele Yoetz" in Hebrew), is clearly divine. "Pele" might better have been translated "awesome" because this term only refers to God or to the wonders He miraculously brings into existence (for example, Exo. 15:11; Dan. 12:6).

"Mighty God" ("El Gibor") is clearly a divine designation because "El" as a free-standing word always refers to God. In addition to this, note that "Immanu El" of 7:14 also carries the free-standing "El" (along with 8:8 and 8:10), establishing another parallel with 7:14. This also serves to rule against "Immanu El" as merely being a name as the Rabbis propose, instead of a description.

"Everlasting Father" is also a divine designation. Who can be everlasting apart from God Himself? Even "Prince of Peace" seems to be a divine reference, for it is God Himself who will bring peace. Jewish interpreters want to understand these divine names as mere reminders that it is God who is performing His works through this child. However, it is this very Child who is called these descriptive titles. Nowhere does the text suggest that He is given these divine titles in remembrance of God!

It strains credulity to say that the "child" of 9:6 is different from the "child" of 7:14. As the "Immanu El" of 7:14 (8:8, 10) will reign supreme, so too will the "El Gibor" of 9:6. Are we looking at two reigning Deities or at one? The child of 9:6 will set up a kingdom with “no end!” This leaves little room for any other divine children or kingdoms.

The context is not complete without chapter 11 where we find another allusion to the Child:

• “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. His delight is in the fear of the LORD, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb… They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea”
(Isa. 11:1-9).

Here we find an enlargement of the portrait established earlier. We find the Child, at long last, reigning in His own kingdom. However, in chapter 11 this child is referred to with slightly different terms. Here He is a "Rod" and a "Branch," born from the "stump of Jesse" (11.1), the father of King David. Unmistakably, this is the same Child who "will reign upon the throne of David and over his kingdom" (9:7).

Other parallels are also clear. Both kingdoms "will have no end" (9:7), an idea which is expressed in 11:9. Both kingdoms will entail the establishment of "justice and righteousness" (9:6; compare with 11:3-5) and endless "peace" (9:7; 11:6-9).

The chapters build upon one another. In addition to the above elaborations upon the initial prophetic germ, the four divine titles (9:6; and the fifth of 7:14) seem to receive an expanded treatment in chapter 11: "Wonderful counselor" in 11:2-5; "Prince of Peace" in 11:6-9. (Perhaps "El Gibor" and "Everlasting Father" are reflected within the entire prophecy of chapter 11 and the prayer of chapter 12.) These parallels each serve to demonstrate that these prophecies are closely related. If this is the case, then one prophecy is illuminated and enhanced by the others, and we must understand "Immanu El" and “child” (7:14) in a way that accords with the other above-mentioned prophecies.

The seed of a prophecy that Isaiah proclaimed in 7:14, and enlarged in 8:6-10, and then again in 9:6-7, he trumpets out in chapter 11. This child is indeed the cause of all the world's rejoicing and it is only natural that this great revelation should culminate in a song of praise (chap. 12).

This song has several interesting characteristics. There are three references to "salvation" ("Yeshua" in Hebrew):

• "…O LORD, I will praise You;…Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation…Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!"

That chapter 12 is part of a single related prophecy (chapter 7-12) is evident. It concludes with "the Holy One of Israel in your midst" (12:6). This seems to be a play on "God with us" ("Immanu El"). The words are different but the theme is the same. All of this suggests that chapters 7 through 12 must be regarded together, as an inseparable prophetic utterance.

If Isaiah 7:14 is part of a greater prophecy (chapters 7-12), then this verse must be understood within the context of this entire prophecy. Any word or phrase needs the context of the sentence, paragraph, and story to be truly understood. Understanding "Immanu El" as merely a human child who was born during the reign of King Ahaz fails to see 7:14 in its broader context. This is an interpretive failure that an unbiased eye would not make.

When the Rabbis translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek about 180 years before Christ for the Jewish world of the Diaspora, they had to deal with Isaiah 7:14. If "almah" was equivocal and could be translated by either "virgin" or "young maiden," the Rabbis had an important choice to make. If they translated it as "young maiden," it meant that they understood the prophecy as having been fulfilled in its totality at the time of Ahaz. If they translated "almah" as "virgin," then they understood that this referred to a miraculous birth that had not yet taken place, a fulfillment which was still awaiting its day. They translated "almah" as "parthenos" in the Greek, a term that always means "virgin!" In light of this, Matthew was simply walking in the expectation of the Rabbis when he applied this prophecy to the birth of the Messiah, Yeshua.

Let's return to the third objection of the Rabbis--that the birth of Jesus (Yeshua) couldn't possibly be a sign for Ahaz, to whom the prophecy was addressed. However, a closer look at the text shows that the prophecy wasn't intended for Ahaz alone. The entire "house of David" was in view.

• “Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you (plural) a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel’”

Isaiah recognized that that the audience for his prophecy went beyond Ahaz. His message transcended its temporal boundaries, and he knew it! The prophecies constituted a sign of something far greater (8:18).

There is another reason why neither Hezekiah nor Isaiah's son could have fulfilled 7:14 in its entirety. A natural birth is hardly a “sign” (7:14). Young maidens are giving birth all of the time. There is nothing unusual about this, nothing that would have the persuasive weight to confirm a seemingly improbable prophecy. Only an unusual birth, a virgin birth, would constitute a legitimate sign, although an embarrassing one for the virgin herself.

Clearly, this prophecy reaches beyond the person and time of Ahaz. In many ways it points to a divine Person standing at the headwaters of history, to a Person who holds the destiny of Israel in His hand. In the strongest terms, it cries out that this is the One for whom Israel has been waiting, the One who would fulfill all the promises of God seated upon "David's throne" (9:7). It would be this Child who would set up an everlasting kingdom (9:7, 11:9) in which there would be no end to peace and the knowledge of the Lord. Although there was a type or a shadow of fulfillment in Ahaz's time, the ultimate fulfillment of 7:14 awaited the Messiah.

My Jewish friend believed that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah, but he was also very conflicted in his understanding of the prophecies. This deprived him of peace. The antidote to the conflict that rages in so many of us is a resolution of the conflict, the perceiving of God’s hidden treasures in the midst of the confusion. This requires persistent work, but even more than work, the grace of God which He pours out liberally upon those weary souls who seek His wisdom (Jam. 1:5, Psalm 51:6; 25:14).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making Much of the Differences and the Commonalities

There are two entirely different ways we can react to other points of view. We can focus in on the differences, or we can rejoice in the commonalities. We can take issue with how some viewpoints represent a rejection of God, or we can recognize that the areas of agreement proclaim that we all live in God’s world and have no choice but to participate in His truths.

Some Unitarian Universalists (UUs) believe in a God; some don’t. Nevertheless, they have a statement of faith, which they term “Our Right Relations Covenant.” I was surprised that I was in agreement with the great majority of their precepts. Here are some of them:

1. “Assume good intentions. Trust in and speak well of one another. Give the benefit of the doubt. Examine my own intentions.

2. Foster an environment of compassion, generosity, fellowship, and creativity. Smile and be welcoming. Share in the responsibilities of the congregational life.

3. Express appreciation and gratitude…Empower others.

4. Promote fairness and decency. Speak out against injustice.

5. Act with respect and humility when I disagree with others.

6. Be forgiving. Be open to hope.”

Why are there such blatant areas of moral agreement? Because we all partake in the same moral laws! However, conspicuously absent is any mention of “God.” Although this statement encourages us to “seek out understanding and wisdom,” the “Covenant” is reluctant to communicate what truths these entail. Instead, it seems to relegate truth to merely a personal choice:

• “Speak the truth as I experience it with kindness, care, and respect.”

This hesitancy about treading on God’s domain and speaking in favor of His truth was also reflected in the preacher’s masterful sermon on “Thanksgiving.” He spoke of the necessity of thanksgiving, even in the midst of loss, using the example of the Mayflower Pilgrims who lost 47 of their company of 102 during their first winter. They celebrated their first Thanksgiving during the following harvest. The preacher eloquently reasoned that while their survival had produced thanksgiving, thanksgiving had also been responsible for their survival. While he acknowledged that both life and thanksgiving are a gift, he never mentioned the gift-Giver.

While I found that I could agree much of his eloquent message, I was also keenly aware of the missing parts. How could the Pilgrims truly have been thankful in light of the tragic deaths of 47 of their own, without the assurance that their brethren had gone to a better place? Without God, such thanksgiving could be interpreted as self-centered and insensitive to what others had lost.
As a gift is not complete without the gift-Giver, thanksgiving is empty, meaningless, and even offensive without the One to whom we must be thankful, no matter how much psychological benefit we might derive from this mental attitude.

Should I be troubled about this omission or should I rejoice in the many areas where we humans agree? And there is abundant acreage of agreement. Because this is God’s world, He and His truths are inescapable, however much we might want to escape Him! We can only flout His moral truths at great expense to ourselves. In fact, the personal expenses are so high and painful, that we continually find ourselves having to make excuses for our moral lapses.

Clearly, the UUs make just as many moral judgments as we do. To make such judgments, we have to acknowledge that there are transcendent moral laws, which are either satisfied or violated by our conduct. But why follow them or preach them if there is no law-Giver. Laws cannot be justified without a basis or rationale for them. Although we may preach law without mentioning God, law implies a law-Giver as much as a gift implies a gift-Giver. We can’t hide from God, not really.

An atheist might object to God, but everything he does points to God. Everywhere he turns, he runs into God. While he declares God irrelevant, because natural laws have been able to explain scientific phenomena, he fails to see that these transcendent, immutable, omnipresent, and omnipotent laws all point back to the law-Giver. While he denies God, he inevitably agrees with the things of God. He may not preach God with his lips, but his legs cannot keep off of His paths.

Should we respond to the differences or the similarities – the words that acknowledge God or those that reject God? We need to do both! While a focus on the differences will produce important critical distinctions, a focus on the commonalities reminds us that our God reigns, however much the tongue may protest!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is the Old Testament Reliable?

Many of the challenges that we face come down to this – questions about the reliability of the Biblical accounts. Before I went away to seminary, I subscribed to the “Biblical Archeology Review.” After reading several of the articles, it became clear that all of the authors subscribed to something called the Documentary Hypothesis, which maintains that the OT was the product of a series of scribes – identified as “J,” “E,” “P,” and “D” (some add others) – who had cut-and-pasted the OT into existence over a period of several hundred years (400-200 BC). This would make the Bible the product of a human creative enterprise, and not of truth.

I was very disturbed about this widely accepted theory, but didn’t have a clue how to critique it. I therefore decided to tuck it away into a crevice of my mind and not worry about it until I had the tools to deal with it. However, it didn’t remain in its appointed crevice but secretly crept into my reading of Scripture, infecting me with uncomfortable doubts. As a result, I stopped reading the Bible with the gusto I had prior to this.

Thankfully, someone placed a copy of the late Gleason Archer’s “Survey of Old Testament Introductions” into hands. The text was dry and detailed, but it challenged JEPD and restored to me my Bible. More recently (2003), the eminent Egyptologist, K.A. Kitchen reexamined the reliability of the OT by comparing it with the contemporary archeology and writings of the surrounding cultures. From these comparisons, he has concluded that the Biblical accounts match the corresponding time periods and cultures, precluding a later dating.

Kitchen is a widely respected scholar. Commenting on “On the Reliability of the Old Testament,” Yale scholar William W. Hallo writes,

• “After decades of ‘minimalism’ [the belief that the OT only gives us a minimal amount of solid history], it is refreshing to have this first systematic refutation from the opposite position.”

University of Chicago’s Harry A. Hoffner Jr. adds,

• “Kitchen approaches his subject with the skill and experience of a bona fide expert…His book takes into account the latest discoveries. There could be no better author for a book like this, an author who for over forty years has read, published and taught most of the ancient texts he cites…”

After surveying the reliability of the OT accounts of the Israelite monarchy, Kitchen asserts that the Biblical accounts of Israel’s earlier history are still reliable:

• “The world of Gen. 12-50 is certainly not that of the monarchy period. It is equally not that of Joshua to Samuel, nor of the overlordship of the Egyptian empire from 1550 to the twelfth century B.C. It fits only the period before that, the twentieth to seventeenth centuries.” (495)

• “When we go back (before ca. 1000) to periods when inscriptional mentions of a then-obscure tribal community and its antecedent families…then chronologically typological comparisons of the biblical and external phenomena show clearly that the Hebrew founders bear the marks of reality and of a definite period. The same applies to the Hebrew’s exodus fro Egypt and appearance in Canaan…The Sinai covenant…has to have originated within a close-set period (1400-1200)…The phenomena of the united monarchy fit well into what we know of the period and of ancient royal usages.” (500)

Kitchen claims that the Bible’s historical accounts seem to be authentic based on his comparisons with other cultures from those periods. He therefore concludes,

• “The Old Testament comes out remarkably well, so long as its writings and writers are treated fairly and evenhandedly, in line with the independent data, open to all.” (500)

For many decades, the material hadn’t been treated fairly. Kitchen exposes the JEPD theory as pure speculation:

• “They exist only in the minds of their modern creators (from Witter and Astruc to the present day) and as printed in their published studies…it does not constitute fact, and cannot substitute for it…The standards of proof among biblical scholars fall massively and woefully short of the high standards that professional Orientalists and archeologists are long accustomed to and have a right to demand. Some MSS, please!” (492)

There was never produced a stitch of hard evidence for this hypothesis – no manuscripts or cross-cultural studies. It was Julius Wellhausen who had systematized JEPD into what became known as the “Documentary Hypothesis,” which subsequently commandeered our best seminaries and universities.

• “Not only did Wellhausen (like his peers) work in a cultural vacuum – that is how he wanted it to be, undisturbed by inconvenient facts from the (ancient) outside world. He resented being pointed toward high-antiquity data from Egypt and Mesopotamia, and damned their practitioners for it.” (494)

However, these deficiencies did not prevent this Bible-depreciating hypothesis from taking captive the worldviews of our most esteemed schools:

• “Thus the theorists had a field day for many decades, and what had been merely bold theory became fixed dogma, as though set in concrete. A purely theoretical minimalism (lacking any factual verification) was enshrined as dogma in theology and divinity schools and faculties.” (497)

My argument is not against scholarship or even the university. Without scholarship, we wouldn’t have Kitchen’s or Archer’s refutations! Nor would we even have an English Bible! My concern is about how truth can be so perverted and how our cultural biases can spread unchecked even in our foremost pillars of education. And once these worldviews become entrenched, it requires generations before the evidence can filter in. Wellhausen still remains enthroned in many schools.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Miraculous Accounts of the Hebrew Bible

One atheist claimed that there is no more reason to believe in the Koran than in the Bible. He also claimed that the Bible is a “propaganda piece,” and therefore, its accounts of miracles can’t be believed. Here’s my response:

In the Koran, Mohammad acknowledged that he didn't perform miracles. Muslims also allege that the Bible had prophesied of Him, but none of their examples are in the slightest way convincing.

In contrast, the Hebrew Bible is very unique in many ways:

1. The miracles were performed abundantly and before all the people, even before nations.

2. The entire Bible narrative depends upon these miraculous accounts. If they are not true, then the rest of the narrative doesn’t make much sense. For example, the Bible says continuously says such disparaging things about the Hebrews. It even tells them that they will fail and have to suffer dreadful consequences. They couldn’t even tolerate His presence. (The Hebrew Bible is the very antithesis of a “propaganda piece!”) Why then would they continue to follow His covenant, unless for the miraculous evidences of God’s reality and Word were present?

3. All subsequent accounts are dependent upon the notion that God’s Word was always with Israel (Joshua 8:35). It was read at their holidays and it condemned them when they went wrong. Why would they receive a Word that claimed to be always with them, a Word that contained many miraculous accounts attesting to God’s presence, unless they all knew that these accounts represented historical truth? If the Hebrews hadn’t been eyewitnesses to miraculous Scriptural accounts as Scripture says that they were, they would have had every reason in the world to reject Scripture and follow the other gods who were much more approachable and fun, gods who promoted orgies and all sorts of other “delights.”

4. There is a continuous paper-trail from Moses through the latter Prophets, all attesting to the same events. There are no counter indications that Israel had not been feasting on a regular diet of miracles.

5. There is continuity between the OT miracles and those of Jesus, also performed before thousands. Jesus’ miracles were even attested to by His enemies. Even today, Orthodox Jews will acknowledge that Jesus was a miracle worker but claim that He performed His miracles by the power of Satan. This continuity lends credence to the OT accounts.

6. The experience of the Hebrews also reflects the miraculous hand of God – three times leaving their Promised Land and three times returning; persecuted and hated internationally as Moses and the prophets had prophesied and always successful, also as prophesied. We may not be able to now see the miracles of the OT, but we can observe the Jewish people, a present-day reminder of the presence of God.

7. Fulfilled prophecy!

8. The accounts are in harmony with the culture and language of the times in which they were reportedly written. (See Gleason Archer, “Survey of OT Introductions”)

9. These Scriptures are transformational for those who believe.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Social Costs of Pornography

Pornography is just too important and costly to ignore. The following represents at presentation at Kings College (NYC,) January 2009 by Robert Peters, President of Morality in Media:


By way of a brief introduction, I would like to say the following. My father had three stashes of smut in the basement: a stash of Playboy magazines, a stash of “men’s magazines,” and a small stash of hardcore pornography. The latter was under lock & key. I got into all of it while still in grade school.

My primary modus operandi was to connect in my mind (fantasize about) what I read in the “men’s magazines” to the Playboy foldouts that I was most attracted to. I find it amazing that I started writing my own pornography when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, which is an indication to me of how strong the grip of pornography can be on a boy’s life, or a teen’s life, or a young adult’s life.

Like many “boomers,” I fell away from the Lord when I went to college. When by His grace I came back to a faith in Jesus at the beginning of my second year in law school, I was smoking like a steam locomotive, drinking like a fish, and going to Times Square on a regular basis to buy hardcore pornographic magazines. It would take about one year to stop drinking; two years to stop smoking; and seven years to stop going up to Times Square to buy porn. This is another indication of how addictive pornography can be.

I will conclude with this. I did not seek a job at Morality in Media so that I could fight pornography. In April 1985, Morality in Media’s then general counsel, Paul J. McGeady, called me “out of the blue” and offered me a job as a staff attorney. I had met Paul previously but had never said I would like to work for MIM. If anything, my past experience with pornography was a good reason to then say, “No thanks.” When I accepted the job, I planned on staying two or three years.

Going on 24 years later, I must say that part of what now motivates me to stay in this fight is my experience with pornography. I know what it can do to a person. With this introduction, I now turn to the social costs of pornography.

Harm to female participants in the production of hardcore pornography

As with prostitution, so with pornography, there are individuals who seem to adjust
to the “lifestyle.” We often hear from these “success stories” in the mainstream media, as
they defend or promote their livelihoods. But the reality for most women in pornography is not positive. During my early years at MIM, I wondered why a beautiful young woman would choose to be in pornography. I have since come across many sources indicating that most of these women were sexually abused or otherwise badly damaged as children.

One source in particular that surprised me was an article in the Adult Video News (K. Smith, “Awful Truth,” Feb. 1999) about sexual harassment in the production of hardcore pornography. The author stated, “A huge number of people come to the adult industry already disenfranchised, their bodies and their sexuality rendered worthless to them by an abuser.” Mr. Smith also readily acknowledged that sexual harassment was a problem.

Contrary to the perceptions of some, most hardcore pornography is not “just two (or perhaps three) people having sex.” Most hardcore pornography is produced for males, and when males become addicted to pornography, they begin to seek out, in the words of psychologist Dr. Victor B. Cline, “rougher, more explicit, more deviant, and ‘kinky’ kinds of sexual material to get their ‘highs’…”

To gratify these increasingly perverse sexual desires, women in pornography are penetrated by two or more males at the same time, gang banged, slapped, choked, spanked, whipped, tied up, tortured, urinated and defecated on, etc. While the women are often paid to look like they enjoy degradation and violence, the reality is often very different. Some take drugs to kill the pain or numb their sensibilities.

Many of these women also contract one or more STDs; and for all of them, there is a permanent record of the degradation. I also think sexual trafficking is part of the explanation for why there is so much extreme hardcore pornography available on the Internet – content that depicts rape and torture and other horrific sexual behavior. Not all these women are being paid for their efforts. Some (perhaps many) are forced into it.

And when teens and adult males seek this abominable material out, we help create the market that ensures that more of it will be made.

Harm to children who view pornography

Many (most) men who are addicted to pornography were first exposed to
pornography as children. Exposure to pornography can lead to an addiction that robs children of the opportunity to develop in a healthy manner psychologically, morally, and spiritually. Apart from sexual addiction, children are also harmed when they receive a “sex mis-education” from viewing hardcore pornography, which depicts promiscuous, perverse, degrading, and violent sexual behaviors.

And with the advent of the Internet, children are being exposed to pornography at earlier ages and to more extreme content. According to a recent study, C. Sabina, J. Wolak & D. Finkelhor, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth,” CyberPsychology & Behavior, Vol. 11, No. 6, 2008:

Overall, 72% of participants (93.2% of boys, 61.1% of girls) had seen online pornography before age 18…Most exposure began when youth were ages 14 to 17, and boys were significantly more likely to view online pornography more often and to view more types of images. Considerable numbers of boys and girls had seen images of paraphilic or criminal sexual activity, including child pornography and sexual violence, at least once before the age of 18…Some boys had repeated exposure to sexual violence…

I should add that while male children are more likely to become addicted to pornography than are female children, female children can get wrong ideas from pornography about what is expected of them or about how to please a boy.

“Children” are also harmed when their addiction to pornography follows them into adulthood and prevents or ruins their marriages, costs them their jobs, or contributes to them becoming sex offenders. I would add that the effects of addiction do not necessarily end when an individual breaks the habit of viewing and masturbating to pornography. The longer the addiction lasts, the more it can shape an individual’s sexuality.

Harm to children who are sexually abused

Children are harmed when adult predators use hardcore “adult” pornography to entice, arouse, desensitize and instruct their child victims (a common practice).

There is also evidence that many adult predators begin their downward spiral not by viewing child porn but rather “adult” porn. See, e.g., L. Michel & D. Herbeck, “Confessions of a child porn addict” (Buffalo News, 10/17/07), where we read:
“Clarence once enjoyed the adult pornography sites he viewed on the Web. But after a while, the thrill was gone. So he started clicking on some of the ads that popped up on his computer above the naked adults he was watching. He was seeing something new – young teenagers and even young children, posing in the nude, having sex with each other, or being molested by adults. At first, he was appalled. But once the shock wore off, he couldn’t get enough. Like thousands of other men…he was hooked.”
I would add that last year Congress passed a law authorizing the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to combat sexual exploitation of children.

Children are also harmed when they are sexually abused by other children who imitate behavior that they viewed in hardcore pornography. See, e.g., K. Kurtis, “Sex Offenders Younger, More Violent,” AP, 6/9/07 (“And 42 % have been exposed to hardcore pornography, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a 2001 report.”).

Children are also harmed when they are deceived by pornography into thinking that it is OK to send to others photos or video that they have taken of themselves while nude or partially nude or while engaging in sexual conduct. See, e.g., S. Jayson, “Nude Photos: A new way for young people to flirt?” USA Today, 2/16/08. Apart from causing great embarrassment, it can also be a crime.

Harm to marriage

In my opinion, the floodtide of “adult obscenity” (illegal hardcore pornography
that does not depict actual children) has become one of the most pressing moral problems of our time, primarily because of its effects on the family.

It is usually the husband who becomes addicted to pornography. This addiction can negatively affect (destroy) a marriage in a number of ways. A husband may lose sexual interest in his wife; he may act out his perverse or violent porn fueled fantasies with his spouse; or he may choose instead to act out his porn fueled fantasies with a prostitute(s). He may also spend tens of thousands of dollars feeding his addiction. Even if the addiction doesn’t destroy a marriage, it can cause the innocent spouse great pain.

Many women are also concerned about the effect of a father’s porn addiction on their children. A child may see the father viewing pornography or may find it on his computer (or elsewhere). In some cases there is concern about sexual abuse. In particular, the latter becomes a concern when dad’s interest in pornography includes “teens,” incest, pseudo child porn, or actual child pornography. See, e.g., Robin S. Whitehead, “What Do the Courts Say? Child Custody, Visitation Rights & Pornography,” published at

Children are also harmed when addiction to pornography ruins their parents’ marriage.

In particular, I would think “political conservatives” would be concerned about the impact that addiction to pornography is having on marriages, because historically the traditional family has been the building block of society; and to the extent that traditional families lose influence in society, government increases its influence.
In a statement published in TIME (“Candidates on Faith,” 8/7/08), Barack Obama also stated: “[W]e must remember that there are a range of moral-values issues that must be addressed in our families.” I would assert that pornography addiction is one such issue and that reducing the supply through enforcement of obscenity laws will help reduce addiction. Enforcement will also send the message that pornography is a moral evil. In particular, children and young adults (America’s future) need to hear that message.

One concern that I have about so many of today’s youth and young adults viewing pornography on a regular basis is the effect that this will have on their ability to make a marriage work and even their willingness to enter into a marriage. There is evidence that many young men would prefer to masturbate in front of computers than to spend time with a young woman. See, e.g., D. Amsden, “Not Tonight, Honey. I’m Logging On,” N.Y. Magazine, 10/20/03; N. Wolf, “The Porn Myth: In the end, porn doesn’t whet men’s appetites – It turns them off to the real thing,” N.Y. Magazine, 10/20/03.

Connection to violent sex crimes, prostitution & sexual harassment

There are two extremes in the “debate” about whether pornography causes violent sex crimes (sexual assaults and sexual homicides). One extreme is to blame all such crimes on pornography. This, of course, is ridiculous since violent sex crimes have been occurring at least as far back as the Book of Genesis, Chapter 19.

The other extreme is to ignore the mountain of evidence showing a link between viewing pornography (more accurately, addiction to pornography) and violent sex crimes. See, e.g., R. Peters, “Link Between Pornography & Violent Sex Crimes,” 2004 (

In his monograph, “The Effects of Pornography on Adults & Children,” psychologist Dr. Victor B. Cline describes four stages in addiction to pornography: addiction (they get hooked), escalation, desensitization and “acting out.” Of the last stage, he says:

“The fourth phase was an increasing tendency to act out sexually the behaviors viewed in the pornography, including compulsive promiscuity, exhibitionism, group sex, voyeurism, frequenting massage parlors [where prostitution occurs], having sex with minor children, rape… This behavior frequently grew into a sexual addiction which they found themselves locked into and unable to change or reverse no matter what the negative consequences…” [Italics added]

In an article, “Help for the Sexually Desperate” (Christianity Today, Mar. 2008), author
John W. Kennedy observed: “Viewing pornography is nearly always accompanied by masturbation…‘If a guy masturbates to something it would take a prostitute to do, he’s more likely to find one.’” See also, “A facilitator's guide to Prostitution: a matter of violence against women,” 1990, WHISPER - Women Hurt in Systems of Prostitution Engaged in Revolt, Minneapolis, MN (“80% of prostitution survivors…reported that their customers showed them pornography to illustrate the kinds of sexual activities in which they wanted to engage.”). To the extent that addiction to pornography contributes to the demand for prostitutes, it also contributes to sexual trafficking. See, e.g., R. Peters, “Sexual Trafficking & Pornography: The link between the two,” 2008 (

I am also amazed at how many sexual harassment cases that I read about in the local newspapers that involve pornography, sex toys or stripping. See, e.g., J. Martinez, “Ex-VP calls bank honcho horndog,” N.Y. Daily News, 01/23/09 (“charging that her boss was a dirty dog who kept porn handy and asked her if she was into public sex.”).

Connection to organized crime

Until the 1980s, the production and distribution of pornography was in large measure controlled or influenced by organized crime. The successful Mi-Porn operation in the early 1980s changed that state of affairs significantly. Mi-Porn targeted organized crime’s connection to pornography and put many major pornographers connected to organized crime out of business.

But the tentacles of organized crime still touch the pornography world. For example, in February 2005 two individuals linked to organized crime pled guilty in a Brooklyn federal court to various charges in connection with an Internet and telephone based pornography racket that brought in $650 million in 5 years.

The erosion of decency

In a 1973 obscenity case, Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 59, the Supreme Court stated that there is a “right of the Nation and of the States to maintain a decent society.” As pornography continues to proliferate on the Internet and in other media and as “adult” businesses continue to open in communities large and small, Americans are relinquishing their right to live and raise children in a decent society.


Having lived and worked in New York City for more than 35 years, I fully understand that our modern day “explosion of obscenity” is not the only problem our nation faces. But it is a problem that is causing immense harm to marriages and children and that is linked to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, sexual exploitation of children, sexual assaults and rape, on the job sexual harassment, and sexual trafficking. Like a cancer, pornography doesn’t kill quickly, but eventually it will kill.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Interpretation: The Product of Understanding Biblical Language

Often, what seems to be a reflection of the ignorance of the Bible writer is easily resolved once we see that we have interpreted the verses wrongly. A theistic evolutionist challenged me with these verses

• Psalm 93:1 "The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved."

• 1 Chronicles 16:30 tremble before him, all earth; yea, the world stands firm, never to be moved.

These seem to suggest that the writers were ignorant men, locked into the errant worldview of their day, thinking that the earth is immobile. However, the same language is also used to refer to the righteous man:

• Psalm 16:8 I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

Clearly, David isn’t saying that he has now become immobile because the Lord is with him. Instead, he is saying that he will not be broken or destroyed. Likewise, the first two verses are not suggesting that the earth and world are immobile, but rather that they will not be destroyed.

Instead, it’s clear that the Bible isn’t teaching that the world is immobile:

• Isaiah 40:22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Empirical Evidence Against the Viability of Gay Practice

Another Response to a Gay Friend's Blog:

Of course, Scripture demonstrates my position – the practice of homosexuality is self-destructive – more explicitly and authoritatively than any other source of truth, as Florence had pointed out with her citation of Romans 1. However, you subjectivize the use of Scripture as merely a matter of interpretation. I suspect that if I countered by pointing out that whatever you write is also simply a matter of interpretation – on both your part and the readers – you would respond, “That’s precisely my point. It’s all subjective, just a matter of our own individual perspectives. Therefore, we are left to freely grope without objective guidance within the context of our personal relationships!”

Consistent with this, you dismiss the “historical argument” that I’ve presented against the viability of homosexual practice, and now you write about the anecdotal evidence: “this is not an empirical argument and consider this phase of our discussion closed.”

I’m left to ask what arguments are left that you might consider weighty? (I suspect that there are none, and that “the freedom to choose” will trump any evidence.) However, you seem to leave the door cracked to “empirical argument.” However, since we don’t have any statistical studies that have been passed down from ancient Greece and Rome, I have to resort to more recent studies.

The following are stats I gleaned from an ex-gay, now Catholic, David MacDonald ( He claims that the following are stats that the gay community in Canada has also endorsed:

Life expectancy of gay/bisexual men in Canada is 20 years less than the average; that is 55 years.
• GLB people commit suicde at rates from 2 to 13.9 times more often than average.
• GLB people have smoking rates 1.3 to 3 times higher than average.
• GLB people have rates of alcoholism 1.4 to 7 times higher than average.
• GLB people have rates of illicit drug use 1.6 to 19 times higher than average.
• GLB people show rates of depression 1.8 to 3 times higher than average.
• Gay and bisexual me comprise 76.1% of AIDS cases
• Gay and bisexual men comprise 54% of new HIV infections each year… 26 times higher than the average.

These stats argue not only that the gay lifestyle is self-destructive, but also that these problems reflect the fact that they are endemic to it. Although, it seems that LGBTs largely acknowledge this sad reality, they generally counter that these costs are merely the product of stigmatization. However, these same stats seem to be found in even the most gay-friendly environments:

“However, even in the Netherlands, which has been far more tolerant to same-sex relationships and which has recently legalised same-sex marriages, high levels of psychiatric illness, including major depression, bipolar disorder (‘manic depression’), agoraphobia , obsessive compulsive disorder and drug addiction are found.” (Sandfort TG, et al. Same-sex sexual behavior and psychiatric disorders: findings from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS). Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001; 58 :85-91.)

You might retort that these are “interpretations” or only statistical realities that aren’t true for everyone practicing same-sex sex. However, even if you are correct, these stats should coerce us to warn those who want to embrace this lifestyle instead of encouraging it.

Even more significantly, these horrifying stats should prompt us to consider that perhaps there might be something morally wrong about this practice. Perhaps, it is as the Bible asserts:

• “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
(1 Cor. 6:9-10)

However, this isn’t the end of the story. Scripture doesn’t leave us without hope. The next verse asserts:

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (Verse 11)

Those who come to Christ repentantly have become new people. I wouldn’t be writing against the sin of homosexuality unless I was convinced that our God has the perfect remedy (1 John 1:9). We may continue to struggle against our many sins, but the important difference is that we now struggle with our loving and merciful God at our side!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Believe When We Find Some of the Beliefs Repugnant?

How can we have a mature, honest, and sincere faith when certain aspects of the package – eternal judgment and the destruction of the Canaanites, for example – are confusing or even repugnant? One faith-wrestler confessed, “I’d like to be able to believe in Christ, I don’t see how I can believe in the things He endorsed.” This is understandable. Jesus affirmed the eternal judgment more than anyone else.

The Pick-and-Choose Option. Many simply choose those aspects of Biblical faith that feel right to them. Today, this usually amounts to taking the loving teachings and rejecting the judgmental teachings. While at first, this faith might be comforting, in the long run, it fails to deliver. Essentially, this tactic places us in charge. We become the authors of our own faith. This undermines any sense in a genuine trust in God and places it on our own judgments. How can we choose some of Jesus’ teachings and reject the others? Doesn’t this amount to saying that we don’t trust Him? Instead of trusting in God’s judgments, we require God’s words to submit to our own judgments. We’ve made ourselves the captains of our own ships, where we’re in charge and not God.

This option also stands in opposition to the Biblical warnings against adding or subtracting from the Word (Deut. 4:2; 12:42: Rev. 22:19) and abiding in all the teachings of Christ (John 15:14; 14:21-24).

The Rejecting the Mind Option. Many simply will say, “I’m just not going to worry about these things. I know what I believe, and nobody is going to take that away from me.” Both positions represent denial. This position represents a rejection of our God-given minds (instead of rejecting some of His teachings) and leaves us vulnerable to rational attacks. As a result, we respond with defensiveness to questions or opposing opinions and also fail to maturely integrate the faith into our lives. This can only happen as we deal honestly with the challenges.

Besides, this option also violates many Biblical teachings. Jesus taught that we have to love the Lord with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37). Furthermore, we have to be able to make a defense of the faith (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). Thought is also the doorway to renewal (Romans 12:2) and just about everything else in the Christian life (2 Peter 1:2-3).

A Responsible Faith. Essentially, Christians need to be rational and consistent in our use of the Bible. We therefore can’t pick and choose to suit our own prejudices and tastes. Nor can we do this in regards to our faculties and just close one down – the mind – because it presents us with problems. Instead, we need to look squarely at this problem of God’s alleged evil – the toughest problem of all.

The atheist Robert Ingersoll (1833-99) had boldly proclaimed, “Eternal punishment must be eternal cruelty…and I do not see how any man, unless he has the brain of an idiot, or the heart of a wild beast, can believe in eternal punishment.” We can place Ingersoll’s charge into a logical form:

1. If God is perfectly good, just, and omniscient, he must have adequate reasons for doing those things that seem to be morally repugnant – the destruction of the Canaanites and eternal judgment.

2. There are no adequate reasons for God to do these things.

CONCLUSION: This idea of God is incoherent and needs to be modified!

The only questionable premise is #2. If it stands, then the conclusion is logically established. However, it faces several formidable challenges. For one thing, making this assertion exceeds our ability. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga had reasoned that if he was sent to determine of a horse was inside a tent, he would be able to confidently say that it was. However, if he instead was sent to see if there was a microscopic spider mite inside, he would not be able to make such a judgment with any confidence.

This is precisely the problem that we encounter when we come up against God. One seeker asserted, “I will not sign on the dotted line of any statement of faith until I understand all of its stipulations and find them all satisfactory.” This is certainly a good policy when entering into human contracts, but is it so when we’re dealing with God?

Even when engaging science, this policy proves unrealistic. While I believe in science, my knowledge of it is very limited. However, my faith in science doesn’t depend on understanding and approving everything about it. Instead, my trust in science is based upon my very limited experience and understanding of it, even though science has confronted me with some very counter-intuitive conclusions – relativity, the indeterminacy of sub-atomic particles.

Likewise, my faith in Christ need not depend upon my full understanding or comfort with all His teachings. Also, consistent with my faith in science, my faith in Christ can rationally find its basis upon what I do know about Him, even if many things remain unknown.

At this point, the seeker may well counter, “Well, science doesn’t impose on us any offensive moral judgments, as your God does! Besides, if we have a duty to judge Hitler, why not also your God?” This is true. Science doesn’t declare what ought to be, but simply what is! However, there is an element of logical incoherence here. While we do have a duty to judge Hitler, judging God presents additional problems. God is the only possible source of moral absolutes. Without God, each of us is left with our own subjective and pluralistic moral standards and inclinations. Only if there exists a standard of judgment higher and truer than Hitler’s own judgments can we judge him. His actions don’t simply violate my personal standards; they violate truth itself!

Without God, we lack any basis upon which to conclude objectively that we’re right and Hitler is wrong. We’re left only with molecules-in-motion and a multiplicity of moral judgments, none any more authoritative than the others. In other words, we need the God of the Bible in order to judge the God of the Bible. This realization should prevent us from rejecting God.

Besides, if we are truly concerned about countering what is morally repugnant, we can only confront it if we come armed with the moral absolutes that only our God can make available. The poet and atheist, W.H. Auden moved to Germantown in NYC from his Ireland in the early 1930s. While he was watching a news clip in the movie theater about the Nazi invasion of Poland, he was horrified to see the audience rise to its feet, applaud and cry out, “Destroy the Poles.” Auden wanted to take a strong moral stance against their response, but he realized that, as an atheist, his values were merely self-constructed. This sent him into a moral tailspin, resulting in his becoming a Christian.

His conversion and the cognitive rest that it brought not only required a faith in a God with absolute moral standards, but also a God who cared enough about these standards to do something about them. It required that God also be a God of judgment. Only a God of judgment is able to provide an adequate moral basis and foundation for our own punitive and corrective response against injustice.

Perhaps God does have good reasons for those things we find morally offensive? Sometimes, we find that there is a good reason for many things that we thought possessed no value. Baboons need fleas and tics. Without these “valueless” tormentors, baboons wouldn’t groom each other; without grooming, baboons wouldn’t bond and develop social cohesion.

Butterflies require the life and death struggle entailed in attempting to escape their cocoons. One gentleman, observing this struggle, helped the butterfly from his cocoon. However, the butterfly died because it had been deprived of its struggle.

Perhaps we also need death and other severities of life so as to not take life and our relationships for granted. Do you remember the great joy and tears shed when their loved ones had been subsequently rescued from the rubble of an earthquake? Such joy depends upon the reality of death.

Of course, against whatever reasons I might give to justify God’s judgments, the skeptic can always respond, “Couldn’t your God have done things in a better, less painful way? Couldn’t He have created humans who don’t sin?” However, this objection fails to appreciate the limitations of our knowledge. Even in questions restricted to this material world, we are severely limited in our understanding. We are unable to understand the essence of things, although science might be able to describe how they respond relative to their circumstances. However, we can hardly begin to fathom the nature of light, mass, time, space or the laws of physics, no matter how many experiments we might run.

While we are very accepting of the limitations of our knowledge regarding this created world, we become very demanding when it comes to a justification of God’s ways. We indict Him when His behavior doesn’t conform to our standards, our culturally determined tastes. We deem that eternal punishment is something that is simply unacceptable, although there is so much about our own comparatively small lives that we fail understand or even see.

At this point, the seeker might respond, “OK, I realize that my knowledge is very limited, but this doesn’t mean that I have to jump into the arms of your God either.” The Psalmist answers,

“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10).

I know God. I might not know everything about Him, but I know enough to know that He isn’t a sexist, a racist, or a sadist. I know that He is just and will reconcile everything into a just and merciful conclusion, when every knee shall bow and confess that “Jesus is Lord.”

Similarly, I know my wife. If the police call and inform me that she was arrested in a sex-slave trafficking scheme, I know that there must have been some mistake, even though there are things about my wife that I don’t know.

Well, how can we know Him? He’ll reveal Himself:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

At least, give Him a try:

• “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”
(Psalm 34:8-9)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Biblical Slavery was Egalitarian and Humane

Biblical slavery was egalitarian and humane. It was so humane, that many slaves were given the option of remaining slaves – think servants – or taking their freedom when they had the opportunity (Deut. 15:16-17).

However, the skeptics point out that there is a great distinction between being a circumcised Hebrew slave and a foreign slave. Nevertheless, foreigners always had the option of conversion to become an Israelite under the Mosaic covenant and to receive all of the privileges this entailed. However, one skeptic denied that this was an option for slaves and cynically challenged: “Any examples of property being allowed to convert, Daniel?”

In fact, the first command regarding circumcision and inclusion into the covenant specifically mentioned those “bought with money from a foreigner”:

“This is my covenant with you [Abraham] and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring.” (Genesis 17:10-12)

Israel was to be a model of inclusiveness. Abraham had been forbidden from maintaining a class distinction between circumcised and uncircumcised. All could and should come, all were to be under the covenant of God, and none were ever turned away! However, there was one holiday – and only one – in which the foreigner couldn’t partake unless he was first circumcised:

“Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it…An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD'S Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you." (Exodus 12:44-49)

Interestingly, Passover was the only holiday that required those partaking to be circumcised. It was also the only holiday that commemorated a specific past event. The other holidays are strangely peculiar in not having a similar commemorative focus. It has therefore been widely recognized that the other holidays are instead prophetic – pointing to a future time when circumcision would no longer be an issue, and not to the past.

There was no indication of any racial superiority in any of Israel’s legislation. Instead, Israel was always reminded that they had been slaves so that they would be gracious to their slaves and that a single egalitarian set of laws would suffice for all – whether Jewish or not. Instead, Israel was to be a model society for the surrounding nations:

“See, I [Moses] have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut. 4:5-8)

Sadly, Israel failed to live up to their laws and their righteous God, and perhaps we fail to see the righteousness of these laws because we never objectively examined them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Knowing Why We Believe

Many TV evangelists proclaim, “Just believe,” but they never tell us “why” to believe. This is very important because we want to be sure that we believe the right beliefs!

Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law professor, states that Andrea Yates, the Texas mom who drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001, believed they "were 'stumbling' into the throes of the devil and were going to burn in the fires of eternity…By killing them, she would save them from this fate. … Satan would be vanquished."

For Yates, her beliefs might have felt as real to her as ours feel to us. How do we know that Yates had been deluded, while we are in touch with spiritual reality? We have to take a step back from what we are feeling and invite our minds to play their ordained role. This is just what the Bereans did. They didn’t simply believe in their heart what Paul was preaching. They checked everything against the truth of Scripture:

• “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”
(Acts 17:11).

Jesus also warned against thoughtless faith: "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid” (John 5:31). He then clarified that he should be believed because of all of His confirmatory evidence – miracles, Scripture, and the testimonies of the Father and of John the Baptist.

The Biblical faith was never a faith that was to be accepted blindly. It not only required a change of heart, but also a change of thinking based upon the evidence:

“One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deut. 19:15).

This principle especially pertains to the things of the faith. It is no wonder therefore that Jesus taught that we had to love God with all of our being, including our minds:

• “Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'”
(Matthew 22:37).

If we only have the evidence of the heart – perhaps like Andrea – it is difficult to talk to others about our faith. They too have evidence of the heart for whatever they believe. They may ask you, “Why is your experience any more valid than my experience?” Without the evidence of the mind, there is little more that you can say. Besides, the adroit skeptic will charge you with arrogance for suggesting that you have the truth based on your subjective experience.

Therefore, Christian maturity isn’t just a matter of love but also of wisdom. Paul wrote:

“Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Cor. 14:20).

Becoming an adult requires that we can not only explain what we believe but also why we believe it (Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15). Without this necessary ingredient, we are not only depriving ourselves of assurance, but we will also be defensive in the face of skepticism and doubt.

Biblical Interpretation: Making the Correct Distinctions

It is not hard to point out verses that appear to contradict one another. One skeptic, who protested against my essay in defense of God destroying the Canaanites, pointed out this “contradiction.”

• Deut. 24:16 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.

• Exodus 34:7 "maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

While the first verse seems to indicate that God’s form of justice is in line with our own – only the guilty party is to be punished – the second indicates that He punishes the children and grand-children…for the sins of their parents.

This apparent contradiction is easily resolved by simply recognizing that the first verse mandate how we humans are to do justice, while the second is a revelation of how God does justice.

However, this raises another question – “Why should God’s way of doing justice be different from ours? Isn’t He supposed to be our role model?” This is true. However, there are areas – some forms of judgment – where we can’t act in the place of God. We are only capable of seeing the outer man, while God can judge the inner man. He’s also omniscient. Therefore, it was God who chose David to be the next King of Israel and not the wise prophet Samuel:

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

Biblical interpretation requires that we make the right distinctions, but how do we know what are the right distinctions. Well, often we find these distinctions in the verses themselves. For instance, in Exodus 34:7, it reads, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished,” signifying that God is the Judge here. From the context of the Deuteronomy 26:14 passage, it is clear that God is giving instructions to Israel for how they must do justice. However, sometimes making the right distinction depends upon an overall understanding of Scripture.

(If you are interested in these types of questions, I will be giving a course on Thursday evenings starting in February on Biblical Interpretation: Controversial Verses.)

An Atheist Responds to the "Genocide of the Canaanites"

One atheist responded to my essay on the “Genocide” of the Canaanites this way:

• “Could there have been a better way to approach the issue other than genocide?The answer should be an obvious "yes". You're deity, if it existed, is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. The fact that you seem to think that the massacre of people by people is the best option available to such a being makes your entire argument ridiculous in the extreme. Your deity could have ceased their existences, caused them to repent freely (he would know exactly what that would have taken), kill them all with a thought, not have set things up such that they sinned to begin with.”

Basically your argument goes like this:

1. God could have chosen a better solution than the destruction of the Canaanites.
2. I can even think of better solutions.
3. Therefore, your concept of god is incoherent and even sub-human!

Here are some of the problems with your reasoning:

1. Your understanding of “omnibenevolence” isn’t a Biblical one. Clearly, God has presented Himself as a judge of wickedness, and I suspect you would be the first to complain if there wasn’t any punishment for the criminal who mugged and raped you.

2. Once again, you position yourself as if you have a true moral standard by which to judge God, and because He hasn’t performed up to your standard, He can’t be God. However, as an atheist, you lack any basis for an objective moral standard. You fail to realize than you need God in order to judge God! (I love the way He set things up!)

3. To conclude that God could have chosen a better solution to deal with the Canaanites would be like a first grader concluding that his math teacher could have chosen better materials. The first grader lacks the knowledge to make such a judgment, and perhaps you do too! We can’t even comprehensively answer the simple questions about God’s workings – “Why is the grass green or the sky blue; why does water boil at 212F?” In fact, it is easy for us to naively question about any aspect of this world, “Why couldn’t have God done things better? Why does there have to be pain, loneliness, disease and death?” You can make any of these questions into an indictment against God, if you lack the humility to understand the limitations of your own knowledge?

4. Meanwhile, you think that your solutions are better! You think that you would make an excellent Creator! Do you really know enough? Can you define the nature of light or time or even matter? Can you explain where DNA comes from, or life, or freewill, or consciousness, or the laws of physics? Can you explain how it is that the universe is so incredibly fine-tuned? Yet you believe in all of these things, but you deny the God who so clearly made them (Romans 1:18-32)!

5. The source of Christian assurance doesn’t rest upon the fact that we understand everything that God tells us. Instead, we recognize that if the Bible is truly His Word, there will be many things that we don’t understand. Likewise, our belief in science isn’t based upon our ability to understand everything about His world. We certainly can’t! How much less so the Creator Himself! However, there are many other reasons upon which to base our faith in science.

6. You suggest that God could “kill them all with a thought, not have set things up such that they sinned to begin with.” Perhaps His glorious plan depends upon visual and profound reminders of judgment and the price that sin exacts? Maybe we first need to learn about the consequences of our hatred of truth? How can you conclusively rule out this possibility? Perhaps instead, your objections are not a product of rationality but your aversion to God and His promised judgment? This is Jesus’ conclusion:

• “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
(John 3:19-20)

I pray that you will seek so that you will find (Matthew 7:7-11). I sincerely pray for this!

University Censorship

Ottawa’s Carleton University (CU) announced that its student pro-life group now faces decertification unless it “renounces the pro-life beliefs expressed in the club’s constitution.” (November 16, 2010,

Now why would a university – and universities pride themselves on their open examination of ideas – demand that their student pro-life group renounce their ideology, especially one upon which Western Civilization rests? If they were advocating violent jihad or the forcible imposition of shariah law upon its unwilling university staff, its prohibition might be more easily appreciated. However, this isn’t the case:

“Khaldoon Bushnaq, Vice-President of Internal Affairs for the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA), wrote the club by e-mail on Thursday saying they would not be recertified because their constitution violates CUSA’s Discrimination on Campus Policy, which purports to uphold ‘a woman’s right to choose.’”

Increasingly, universities, both in Canada and the USA, are adopting positions of intolerance – “If you don’t agree with us, we’ll shut you down!” This stance is problematic in many ways:

1. Recertifying its pro-life group doesn’t remove a woman’s right to choose. However, she might have to listen to speech she finds unpleasant, but that should be part of the university experience.

2. This stance contradicts the very purpose of the university – to demonstrate that reason and argumentation should prevail over brute force and suppression of unwanted ideas. Instead of opening the mind, it narrows the domain of acceptable thought and speech.

3. While CU bases its case on anti-discrimination, they are acting in a hypocritical manner by discriminating against its pro-life student group.

4. Every political or religious group – any group standing for a cause – necessarily takes a stance discriminating against other stances. They believe that they’re right and their opposition is wrong. Well, that’s just life, and you can’t legislate against life.

5. Recently, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hastings Law School in their refusal to recertify a Christian Law student group. Hastings argued that this group had a religious test for membership and leadership and thereby violated the school’s policy against religious discrimination. However, the Court’s decision was based upon domain confussion. While the University of California Hastings Law school must act in a just and a non-discriminatory manner, the essence of student groups is one of discrimination. It is perfectly legitimate for students to form a women’s support group or the “Young Democrats” and discriminate against males and Republicans. Likewise, a judge must be impartial and just in the courtroom, but when he throws a party, he is free to invite whomever he wishes. While CU might not have the freedom to discriminate in certain matters, it shouldn’t deny this freedom to its student groups.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The “Genocide” of the Canaanites

In The Age of Reason (1794), Thomas Paine wrote, “Whenever we read the obscene stories…the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which…the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent if we called it the work of a demon, than the word of God.”

Now, “genocide” has become the word of choice of almost every “new atheist,” especially in regards to God’s instructions to totally annihilate the Canaanites residing in the land promised to Israel. Even the "Christian" evolutionist Karl Giberson parrots this indictment:

“In The God Delusion [evolutionist and New Atheist Richard] Dawkins eloquently skewers the tyrannical anthropomorphic deity of the Old Testament—the God that supposedly commanded the Jews to go on genocidal rampages and who occasionally went on his own rampages, flooding the planet or raining fire and brimstone on wicked cities. But who believes in this deity any more, besides those same fundamentalists who think the earth is 10,000 years old? Modern theology has moved past this view of God.”

Therefore, it’s imperative that the believer is prepared to respond (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3; 2 Cor. 10:4-5), rather than to fearfully flee and avoid any further contact.
In the Christian Research Journal, Clay Jones responds,

• “The ‘new atheists’ call God’s commands to kill the Canaanites ‘genocide’, but a closer look at the horror of the Canaanites’ sinfulness, exhibited in rampant idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality, reveals that God’s reason for commanding their death was not genocide but capital punishment.”
(“Killing the Canaanites,” vol.33/#4, 31)

Indeed, God had nothing good to say about them. Instead, He continually warned Israel against their practices:

“Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her. Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion. Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.” (Leviticus 18:20-24)

Jones’ own research agrees with the Biblical assessment of the Canaanites:

“Like the Ancient Near East (ANE) pantheons [of gods], the Canaanite pantheon was incestuous. Baal has sex with his mother Asherah, his sister Anat, and his daughter Pidray, and none of this is presented pejoratively…There should be no surprise that bestiality would occur among the Canaanites, since their gods practiced it…There was absolutely no prohibitions against bestiality in the rest of the ANE.” (32)

If their Gods were their role models, we shouldn’t expect that the Canaanites would rise an iota above them, either sexually or according to any other moral measure. These revelations also support the Biblical account of the entire male population of Sodom attempting to rape Lot’s two male visitors (Genesis 19). In Genesis 18, we were told that if God had found just 10 righteous people in that town, He wouldn’t have destroyed it. Evidently, they weren’t present! (The blinding and numbing power of sin is so powerful that when Lot tried to warn his “sons-in-law” regarding God’s immanent destruction of Sodom, they thought he was “jesting” (Gen. 19:14). Evidently to them, Sodom wasn’t such a bad place, which would warrant divine judgment. It was home! Indeed, we eventually become complacent, even to the most blatant and destructive forms of criminality!)

However corrupted the Canaanites might have been at this point, God had informed Abraham that He would give them an additional 400 years, “for the sin of the Amorites [Canaanites] has not yet reached its full measure" (Genesis 15:16). Meanwhile, despite all of the miraculous evidences that this just and righteous God had manifested to Canaan and the surrounding nations, none of these nations ever confessed and repented of their ways.

God had performed wondrous miracles in Egypt “that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16). And the whole “earth” did hear about what had taken place and also of the Israelite conquests before entering into the Promised Land. However, rather than leading them to reassess their sinful lives and the God of Israel, they formed military alliances to resist the Israelite onslaught. However, one prostitute in Jericho did respond appropriately to the evidence and was rescued:

“We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.” (Joshua 2:10)

Jones is right. It wasn’t a matter of genocide but of capital punishment meted out to a hardened and unrepentant people. In fact, there is no account in the entire Bible of an individual or a people who sought God’s forgiveness, and it was refused! Israel’s God had another reason to not wait any longer in bringing judgment upon the Canaanites:

"Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” (Exodus 34:15-16)

Sadly, Israel didn’t always take this danger seriously, even after seeing God’s judgments, and brought upon themselves what had happened to the Canaanites, as their God had warned:

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites.” (Judges 10:6-7)

Generally, at this point, the atheist will complain that a real god wouldn’t be so punitive because human beings don’t deserve such punishment. But how can we blame God, when we too have our punishments and jails. How can we blame God for being judgmental as long as we are judgmental! Perhaps, once we find a better way of dealing with unacceptable behavior – bringing criminals to court, or failing students, or firing employees – that we can point the finger at God.

There is also another reason that the skeptic scoffs at the judgments of God. Peter explains that the scoffers of his day “deliberately forget” about God’s judgments (2 Peter 3:3-8; 2:4-9), sensing in them their own doom. If they forget or dismiss these as myth, then the skeptics can assuage their troubled conscience regarding any future prospects of divine judgment against them (Romans 2:14-15; 1:18-32).

However, there’s a more difficult problem. The Canaanites had babies, who hadn’t yet done evil. Doesn’t their destruction violate God’s claims of being a just God? I’ll try to make some suggestions:

1. One theologian suggested that if God created them, He has every right to take them away, and whenever He wants. He returns us all to the dust. It’s just a matter of when. (In light of this, the skeptic’s beef is against death itself!) In the same way that I can destroy my painting, God has a right to destroy His own workmanship.

The skeptic will respond, “A painting is very different than a sentient being!” Of course, this is true, at least to us. But for the God, who can create innumerable “children of Abraham from stones,” there is little difference in terms of our intrinsic value. Instead, we are valued because our Creator has placed His love upon us, and He has promised to be just. It’s not because we think ourselves so wonderful that we are wonderful, but because He thinks we are!

Again, the skeptic will respond, “How is justice served by killing an infant?” This is the essence of the problem. However, God has a lot of room in which to work – all eternity – to right any “injustices.” Curtailing our lives by 70 years – we all are going to die anyway – is nothing in comparison to a potential eternity. Some theologians have strenuously argued that all children who die before the “age of accountability,” will be in heaven eternally. Although this idea is appealing, its Biblical support is arguable.

2. Nevertheless, we still remain with the question, “How is justice served by killing an innocent infant?” We can respond with another question: “Is justice truly served if God communicates to the Hitler’s of this world that the implications of their crimes will not touch their children?” In fact, life itself teaches us that children have to suffer for the follies and punishments of their parents (Num. 14:33). This knowledge should make us all the more diligent to do right! As a probation officer for 15 years, many probationers would understandably tell me, “I now have a wife and children, and so I have to get my life together for their sake!” Perhaps it is according to the wisdom of God that our children’s fate should be so closely tied to our own! Perhaps our understanding of justice is too truncated.

3. God has promised to lay upon the children the sins of the parents. Anyone can see the consequences of this promise. We inherit the sins and weaknesses of our parents through an invisible process of osmosis (Exodus 34:7). Perhaps we might find that by unlocking the secrets of epigenetics, we will find the mechanism of this transfer. (We now understand that lifestyle- induced changes to our epigenetics will be passed on to our progeny.) If this is the case, then it might follow that the Canaanite children have already been irreversibly tainted with the sins of their parents – sins that would eventually corrupt Israel. (However, I don’t think that this should now be a concern, since, by coming to Christ, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9; Titus 3:5) and also our children (1 Cor. 7:14)).

These are not explanations of why God had also ordered the destruction of infants. I must admit that I don’t fully understand and can only hope to offer possibilities. However, those who have learned to trust in our Lord, trust Him enough to know that He will reconcile everything justly and lovingly!

Our Savior wouldn’t be so punitive if there was no hope, no remedy for evil. One pastor, Carlton Pearson, claimed that he had turned away from the Biblical God because He thought that God lusted after the destruction of the wicked. Instead, the opposite is true:

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).