Part 2: Review of Thom Stark, The Human Faces of God
By Mike Warren
Part 1 here.
Part 2 here is a response to Mr. Stark's comments found at http://humanfacesofgod.com/?p=321. Mr. Stark's comments are the gray blockquotes.
I don't know how many people want to invest the time to follow this lengthy exchange, but to make it easier, I've divided it into topics:
Why Inerrancy is Important
"Why bother defending the claim of inerrancy? Why can't we say that the Bible is God's word but with errors?" I have seen this question raised by several liberals who have commented on Mr. Stark's book, as well as being raised by Mr. Stark himself in his book. Here is a brief answer: Inerrancy follows from the Biblical doctrine of God. The type of God presented in the Bible must be an infallible God. He is the all-knowing Creator of all that exists who "works all things by the council of his will" (Eph. 1:11). It's impossible for that kind of God to be mistaken about any facts, even the most insignificant historical fact. There is nothing more ultimate than God that would surprise him with new facts. He determines the denotation and connotation of all facts. I could write at length on the Bible's teaching on this. But Mr. Stark claims that this view of God is a "purely philosophical assumption" that has "no rootage in the Bible" (p. 47). Mr. Stark's claim that the Bible teaches that Yahweh is just one finite god among a number of other similar gods (at least at the beginning; he says that later in the Bible the view of God as absolute becomes prominent). I deal with this objection below. Infallibility would not make sense in terms of Mr. Stark's kind of god. Given his view of God as a finite being that was given birth by the universe, it makes sense that Mr. Stark cannot make sense of the doctrine of inerrancy. But even if the Bible does teach that Yahweh is an absolute Creator, you may still ask, "Why believe in an absolute Creator? Even if the Bible teaches it, why should I find that attractive?" The answer to that is that an absolute Creator is the precondition for intelligible experience. If an absolute God did not exist, then reason, ethics, and knowledge would not be possible. Science and language would not be possible. Those who deny such a God can still reason, act ethically and gain knowledge to varying degrees, but their belief system cannot justify it. They can only do these things because the God that they deny actually exists, and they are made in God's image. For more on this, you'll have to see my essay here.
Even though God could not be mistaken, the question must be asked whether God could deceive or deliberately allow a deception. Since God is absolute Truth, God could not lie or command something evil. If God allowed a deception, we would expect that the deception would be in the service of promoting the truth somehow, as in a means for bringing destruction on those who reject God. And that is what we find in Scripture, as with the lying spirit sent to King Ahab's prophets (1 Kings 22:19-23; cf. 2 Thess. 2:11-12). Mr. Stark attempts to prove that for several hundred years God deceived Israel, the nation that he chose to be his holy possession and to give his holy law, by commanding them in his holy law to engage in human sacrifice, even though God would later declare this practice to be most unholy. Beyond contradicting God's nature as absolute Truth, I show below why his argument fails in the exegetical context.
As for the infallibility of the human authors, when it comes to this issue Mr. Stark and his crowd have a stronger view of man's depravity than Calvinists do. They claim that human fallibility prevents prophets from recording God's message with verbatim accuracy. The Calvinist doctrine of total depravity does not mean that people are as evil as possible. It means that all aspects of man's life involve rebellion against God. The Bible affirms that unbelievers can act in accordance with God's law (Rom. 2:14-16). The image of God was marred with the Fall, but it was not totally erased. As the opening chapters of Genesis show, God made man to be in communication with God, and the Creator did not become unable to communicate with his creatures as a result of the Fall. There is no reason that God cannot communicate exactly what he wants to be said through humans who are "carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). God is able to suppress human sinfulness in order to have humans proclaim his message exactly as God intends it to be proclaimed (e.g. Balaam, Num. 22-24). Their inspired writings can even reflect their unique personalities, because their personalities are created by God. Because there is a God who is sovereign over all of his creation, the Bible does not have to be "dropped from heaven" to be inerrant, contrary to Mr. Stark (p.67).
Before I begin with my responses to Mr. Stark's comments about my review, I need to address one of the claims that he makes in his book that I didn't mention in my previous review. It's best to bring it up now because it illustrates a difference between Mr. Stark's liberal, skeptical approach to the Bible and a conservative, inerrantist approach, and it's a difference that runs throughout his criticisms of the Bible.
Mr. Stark claims that David didn't really kill Goliath. He claims that the story found in 1 Samuel 17 was inserted later, and yet Mr. Stark says that the truth of what happened can still be found in the same book. 2 Samuel 21:19 says that an obscure soldier named Elhanan killed Goliath. A very plausible resolution to this contradiction is in terms of minor scribal error. Mr. Stark explains much of it himself. 2 Samuel 21:19 contains an "untranslatable marker indicating that the direct object of the verb is about to follow" (p. 156). This occurs right before the word "Goliath." Yet, as Mr. Stark explains, "with just a jot and a tittle's difference (literally), we get the word meaning 'brother of.'" It's easy to see how 2 Samuel 21:19 could have originally said that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath, but a copyist missed writing the jot and tittle so that "brother of" became the accusative marker. But Mr. Stark doesn't see that this slight difference could be used to resolve the contradiction. Showing his bias, he assumes that the accusative marker was original and "the brother of," as the account at 1 Chronicles 20:5 reads, was added by a devious redactor rather than dropped by mistake. When faced with an alteration that makes the text contradictory, and an equally easy alteration that removes the contradiction, Mr. Stark chooses the scenario that makes the text contradictory.
Then Mr. Stark goes on to criticize a resolution offered by Gleason Archer. Archer argues that 1 Chronicles 20:5 is the original reading. This verse is very similar to 2 Samuel 21:19, but 1 Chronicles 20:5 has Elhanan slaying the "brother of Goliath," like 2 Samuel 21:19 probably originally read, and rather than identifying Elhanan as a "Bethlehemite," the "Beth" part of the word is dropped and the verse reads like the second part of the word, "Lahmi," is the name of the brother of Goliath. Archer speculates that the "Beth" in 2 Samuel 21:19 was added by a copyist to make the word "Bethlehemite." But this view has problems that Mr. Stark points out, like that "Lahmi" is not known to be anyone's name, and it is a Semitic word, not a Philistine (Indo-European) word. Contrary to Archer, it makes more sense to say that "Bethlehemite" is the correct reading, and the "Beth" in 1 Chronicles 20:5 was mistakenly skipped by a copyist at some point to make that word into "Lahmi" (another very slight change is the difference). So I would say that the best explanation is that both of these parallel passages have a copyist error, with the errors being at different points for each verse.
Mr. Stark agrees with Archer that "Lahmi" is the original reading of 1 Chronicles 20:5, but claims that the absurdity of the name is proof that the author was making up history for the purpose of political manipulation. Ignoring the possibility of innocent copyist error in both of the parallel passages, Mr. Stark offers this scenario: The story of the future king David killing Goliath was added after David had reigned in order to enhance his image and the political power of his supporters. The author of Chronicles saw that 1 Samuel 17 contradicted 2 Samuel 21:19, so he attempted to fix things by making "Bethlehemite" into the name "Lahmi." But if this scenario were true, then the author of Chronicles was a moron, and so were the original redactors who inserted the story of David killing Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 without fixing the "true" account in 2 Samuel 21:19. As Mr. Stark points out, 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel were originally one book, which would mean that the political schemers who added the myth of David killing Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 were too inept to fix the true account in the same book. All the author of Chronicles or other scribes had to so was add the jot and tittle to the untranslated marker to make it into "the brother of." But no, the author of Chronicles leaves the contradiction in Samuel, and makes up a name for Goliath's brother that no one has ever heard of, and which doesn't make sense in the Philistine language, and which wasn't necessary to fix the contradiction. And this was a time when all of his readers spoke Hebrew as their native tongue, and at least some of them would have known the Philistine language. The falsehood perpetrated by the author of Chronicles would have been obvious. But Mr. Stark thinks that it is more reasonable to assume that they were all morons.
Mr. Stark says that the insertion of the story of David killing Goliath is like the myth of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and then confessing to his father, as first published in Mason Locke Weems' biography of Washington that was published a year after Washington's death. But the scenario that Mr. Stark imagines happened to the story of David and Goliath is more like Weems' including the story of Washington cutting down the cherry tree in his book, and also saying later in the same book that the gardener had cut down that same cherry tree. If Weems would have thought that this would convince people that Washington cut down the cherry tree, he would have been a moron. And anyone who read the book that included both the fable and the truth, and still believed the fable, would also be a moron. Even Mr. Stark observes, "One would think these conflicting accounts would have been problematic, potentially tarnishing David's reputation. One would think someone would have noticed" (p. 154). At least a few people would have noticed, unless they were all morons. And continuing with the Weems analogy, rather than fixing the contradiction in the Weems biography, another author attempts to fix the problem by writing a second biography of Washington in which the gardener cuts down a cherry tree by the driveway, not the cherry tree by the back porch that Washington cut down; and he adds a further alteration of the story that wasn't necessary and doesn't make sense by saying that the cherry tree by the driveway was called the "lahmi cherrytree." "Lahmi," the Hebrew word for "my bread," is a name that no one has ever heard a cherry tree being called and makes no sense as a name for a cherry tree. What a moron! (It would make more sense to say that "lahmi" was a typo by the second biography's publisher, maybe for the word "lame" or some other similar word, rather than a moronic attempt at deception.) Furthermore, the first biography with the true story and the false one that contradicts it remains in circulation, so people will continue to read both biographies and can see that the accounts contradict each other. This is the scenario that Mr. Stark offers as the most plausible explanation for the different accounts in the Bible of who killed Goliath. Rather than the plausible explanation of minor scribal error, Mr. Stark prefers the explanation of a convoluted tale of moronic political intrigue. If a copyist simply left off the jot and tittle that made the word "brother of," and we still find the error in our extant copies, this shows that the copyists were so concerned about copying the holy scripture accurately that, after the error had been made, they kept copying it the same way, rather than messing with the text in a way that would have been very easy in order to resolve the contradiction or push a political agenda.
There are a couple of other arguments that Mr. Stark offers to prove his case about the David and Goliath story. He points out that in 1 Samuel 16, Saul writes to David's father Jesse to get permission for David to be employed by the king to play the harp and be his armor-bearer; but in chapter 17, which describes David's defeat of Goliath, Saul has to ask whose son David is. But it's not unreasonable to assume that Saul had forgotten who David's father was by the time of David's defeat of Goliath. The permission letter sent to Jesse probably wasn't written by Saul himself. A king would most likely have had a secretary write the letter (one of the servants of Saul mentioned in 1 Sam. 16:15-22), and Saul would have simply stamped his seal on it before a messenger took it off for delivery. (The same secretary probably had to remind Saul of all of his wives' anniversaries and his kids' birthdays as well because he could never remember them.) While it's not unreasonable for the king not to have remembered the name of the father of a young musician and armor-bearer in his employment, the name of David's father became very important after the defeat of Goliath because Saul had promised his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever defeated Goliath (1 Sam. 17:25), which brings the hero's family into the royal family.
Mr. Stark also argues that 1 Samuel 17:54 is an anachronism because it says that David took Goliath's head to Jerusalem, yet "at this time, the people of Israel had no relationship to Jerusalem; it was still under the control of the Jebusites. According to the book of Samuel, it would be many years before David conquered Jerusalem (see 2 Sam. 5:6-9)" (p. 153). But the people of Israel did have a relationship with Jerusalem at this time in that Israelites lived there even though they had not conquered it. When the Israelites initially invaded the land, Jebusites maintained control of the city of Jerusalem, yet Israelites lived with them in the city (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:21). If 2 Samuel 5:6-9 contradicts 1 Samuel 17:54 (again, the same book!), as Mr. Stark claims, the redactor and his comrades must have been pretty careless in carrying out their political scheme of creating government propaganda, or too stupid to see the contradiction.
The general principle that I am illustrating with Mr. Stark's handling of the account of David and Goliath is how liberals think that it is reasonable to assume that the authors of the Bible were morons as a resolution to perceived difficulties in the text. The normal rule followed for interpreting authors, followed at least since Aristotle taught it in his Poetics (Ch. XXV), is that one should be gracious enough not to conclude that an author has contradicted himself until every possible way to resolve the apparent contradiction has been exhausted. But modern liberals promote interpretations that make the Bible into a confused hodge-podge of stories stuck together by redactors trying to assert their political power over others in such a moronic way that they ignore blatant contradictions created by their cutting and pasting. They judge the plausibility of an interpretation without regard to whether it makes the author say contradictory things. We might call this approach The Hermeneutic Of Morons Authoring Scripture, or THOMAS for short. Several other examples of THOMAS will be seen in Thom Stark's treatment of other passages that I discuss below. And I have picked only a few from his book since a critique of every error in his book would take a book itself.
In a response to a critic in a blog, Mr. Stark makes an attempt to address this issue:
What source critics understand is that (1) ancient redactors weren’t as bothered by these sorts of contradictions as we moderns are, and (2) for the most part their M.O. was to faithfully preserve their source material, allowing contradictions to stand. (They hadn’t heard about the doctrine of inerrancy yet.) So a few tiqqune sopherim (pious scribal alterations of the text) notwithstanding, scribes were interested in preserving their source material intact.
How does Mr. Stark really know what the intentions of the alleged redactors were? There is no statement by a redactor declaring his intention. It's speculation that there were redactors to begin with (especially since no actual copies of these original sources have ever been uncovered by archeologists), and their intention is speculation on top of speculation, a penumbra formed by emanations. Regarding his first claim that ancient redactors weren't bothered by contradictions, what's the proof? The only proof he offers is an example of an alleged contradiction in the Bible. How apparent contradictions are to be understood is the very point in question, so that's nothing but question begging.
The Bible itself contains evidence against the idea that contradictions didn't bother ancient covenant Jews. Deuteronomy says that consistency with previous revelation is a test of canonicity (Deut. 13:1-4), as does the New Testament (Gal. 1:8-9). (It's not the only test; I have more to say on that below.) The Bible is presented as the word of God (cf. Jer. 1:9; Acts 4:24-25; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21), and the Bible says that God cannot lie (Num. 23:19, Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18), and his word is truth without error (Psalm 119:89, 96, 128, 144, 160; Prov. 30:5-6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17). Then there is the ethical condemnation of lying found in numerous places in the Bible, beginning with the serpent in the garden (Gen. 3:1-5), later enshrined in the Decalogue (Exo. 20:16; Deut. 5:20), and with too many other places in the Old and New Testaments to mention. On the other hand, once something had been accepted by the covenant community as God's word, the scribes were careful to accurately copy the original writing regardless of apparent difficulties in the text, since God said not to add or subtract from his word (Deut. 4:2, 12:32; Rev. 22:18).
Even if Mr. Stark's defense is seen merely as a defence of the internal consistency of the liberal, higher critic perspective, it fails. While Mr. Stark presents the redactors as conservatives do the scribes of the Old Testament, as mere assemblers of a received text, that is not consistent with the heavy editing that they describe the redactors as responsible for. What Mr. Stark calls here "a few . . . scribal alterations of the text" is basic to the liberal view of the origin of the text. They claim, not that written accounts by others were merely added together to form one volume, but that stories were cut up and inserted into each other in all sorts of odd ways (alternating original sources every few sentences, and even making one sentence out of two sources). This would have left a lot of text on the cutting room floor (when an alleged original source is extracted from the Bible, it often doesn't form a coherent narrative), and would have often changed the meaning of the text that was put in a new context.
Mr. Stark narrowly focuses on the apparent contradictions in the Bible, but that is not the only phenomenon of Scripture that is relevant to deducing the intentions of the redactors. Despite some apparent contradictions, a fairly solid observation is that the alleged redactors were successful in weaving together narratives that are, at the least, largely coherent. Most of the books, particularly those named after a single prophet, present themselves as being written by a single author, sometimes with a scribe adding some finishing details; whereas higher critics argue that they are the work of multiple authors with a redactor trying to make the multiple authors look like one author in a way so subtle that it was only discovered within the past two hundred years by some liberals applying a Hegelian/evolutionary interpretive scheme to the text. The appearance of unity seems to have been a higher priority for the redactors than preserving the source material.
And last, liberals usually claim that there was a political motivation behind it, as Mr. Stark mentions in the same blog post: "Their reasons for doing this were often political." The alleged purpose of creating the stories and cutting and pasting them together was to persuade the populace to follow the ruling elite. But a story that contradicts itself loses credibility. I've already shown that contradictions counted against the credibility of the text for the Jews.
In summary, liberals like Mr. Stark argue that the Bible was not received by prophets from God (with the aid of previous historical writings and their God-given natural faculties), but is the product of humans intentionally making it look like they received it from God as part of a political ruse. Conservatives respond that, if the Bible was intentionally made up in an attempt to pull off an effective political ruse, then the human authors, if they had any sense, should have intentionally removed the contradictions that liberals claim to be in the Bible. Since it's unreasonable that the authors of the Bible and it's intended audience were such morons as to not care about contradictions (1. contradictions count against canonicity, and 2. the Scriptures repeatedly condemn lying), the documentary hypothesis is an unreasonable explanation for the alleged contradictions in the Bible. Mr. Stark's response is to minimize the intentionality of the redactors and present them as conservatives do the scribes of the Old Testament, as mere assemblers of a received text. But that is not consistent with other claims that liberals allege about the origin of the text of the Bible: 1) the extensive editing by redactors, 2) a false appearance of unity as a deliberate deception by the redactors, and 3) the devious political motivation of the redactors to fabricate stories that would persuade the populace that the stories were true.
Regardless of whether it offends, the truth is that those who belong to churches that teach that only a small set of Biblical doctrines are important will not have been given the resources to substantively respond to Mr. Stark's arguments, which deal with issues that these pietistic churches rarely spend much time on. Churches in the Stone Campbell tradition belong to that category. It's true that many such people will not even try to substantively respond to his arguments, but that does nothing to refute the previous point. Mr. Stark has obviously left the Stone Campbell tradition now, and his knowledge of the Bible is much greater, although of a distorted perspective.
I am Reformed Calvinist. Some aspects of this view may be arrived at later in church history, but maturity usually does take time. The Enlightenment was later in history than the Reformation, and since Mr. Stark is a follower of Enlightenment philosophy, he should agree with me on that. As for pietists coming to the Bible on its own terms, their strict biblicism is applied in a limited way. They have adopted unacknowledged assumptions from Enlightenment thought, such as an epistemology of Common Sense Realism, on top of just plain bad theology. But the proof of who is using an unbiblical filter is in the exegesis, so let's get on with that.
Actually, Ezra forbids marriage with the following people groups: “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites” (Ezra 9:1). This list is based on two passages in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 7 and 23. The former mentions all but the Moabites and the Egyptians. Deuteronomy 23 mentions the Moabites, excluding them from the assembly. Deuteronomy 23 also mentions the Egyptians, but in contradiction to Ezra: “You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh.” In the law of Moses, the Israelites are expressly permitted to intermarry with Egyptians! Yet in Ezra, the Egyptians are excluded. Why? Because Ezra was a racial purist. As for the “abominations” mentioned in 9:14, they are not specified, nor is there any instance mentioned of an Israelite being led astray into the practice of non-Yahwistic rites. As I’ve argued extensively in chapter six, the claim that Israelites were not to intermarry with certain tribes because they might lead them astray to worship other gods is undermined by the fact that they are expressly permitted and often commanded to intermarry with certain other people from non-Yahwistic tribes! Clearly it was conceivable that bringing a wife in from a foreign culture was relatively safe, if the wife could be made to conform her worship to the Israelite norm. Yet there is no thought given to this in Ezra. The “abominations” practiced by the people of the land were just foreign religious rites—the same things Israelites did but to different deities. At any rate, see pp. 434-36 in John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, for a cogent discussion of the problem of intermarriage in Ezra and Nehemiah.
Collins is no more enlightening than Mr. Stark's own writing. He simply ignores the reason that Ezra gives for requiring divorce is based on moral behavior, not race. Ezra says that these foreign wives were committing the same violations of God's law that God warned the Israelites about violating lest they should also be kicked out of the land like the Canaanites. Since the Israelites had just returned to the land after being exiled for their sins, Ezra was understandably concerned that God would become so angry with them that he would simply wipe them off the face of the earth: ". . . [S]hall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?" (Ezra 9:14). And the foreign religious rites were not "the same things Israelites did but to different deities." Religion back then was not practiced like it often is in modern Western culture, where it mainly concerns private devotion and is irrelevant to the rest of life. Religions were life-encompassing. Many of the sins that warranted exile of the nation were capital crimes: unlawful sexual relations, child sacrifice and necromancy (Lev. 18 and 20). (Ezra did not have to explicitly state which abomination would get them kicked out since the priests he was talking to should have known what Moses had written.) God's judgment of vomiting people out of the land if these particular acts were practiced was ethnically neutral. The judgment applied to the Israelites as much as to the native Canaanite nations: "Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God" (Deut. 8:20). Since this judgment applied even to God's chosen people who were given this land for their perpetual inheritance, a fortiori any people of any ethnicity found practicing these deeds in the holy land had to be removed from the land to avert God's harsher judgment of cleansing the holy land with an invading army. This ethnically neutral law is the basis for the law against marrying women from the Canaanite nations. Those tribes practiced these abominations as an integral part of their culture. Moses had told the Hebrew men that they could marry foreign women, but if these foreign wives practiced the abominable acts of the Canaanites, then they would have had to be removed from the land (exiled or executed). If a Hebrew wife acted like a pagan Canaanite, she would have to be dealt with the same way. If men of any ethnicity acted like pagan Canaanites, they would face the same fate. In Ezra's day, the Egyptian women were practicing these abominable acts in the land of Israel, so they had to be cast out along with others who did the same. Mr. Stark says, "nor is there any instance mentioned of an Israelite being led astray into the practice of non-Yahwistic rites," but that doesn't matter. The wives and their children were practicing the abominations, so they had to be removed.
We can gain further insight into the situation in the book of Ezra by looking at two other prophetic books of Ezra's era: Nehemiah records that the children of these foreign wives were being educated in terms of their foreign, pagan cultures, rather than learning the Hebrew language (Neh. 13:23-27), so they were not learning God's law taught in the Hebrew scriptures. Malachi (possibly a title for Ezra) records that the husbands of these foreign wives had divorced the Hebrew wives that they had married as young men. These good Jewish girls would have raised their children under God's covenant (Mal. 2:14-16). But the men tossed them aside and married foreign women who raised their children as pagans. There is a special concern in Ezra about the priests who had married foreign wives. This special concern makes sense given that the priesthood was hereditary, so the next generation of priests would have included a large number of thoroughly pagan men, which obviously would have severely undermined the religion of Yahweh. The issue is, again, ethical: whether or not the children would be raised to obey the law of Yahweh's covenant. Collins' claim to insight into the mind of Ezra, contrary to Ezra's own stated reason for requiring the divorces, is that Egyptians are included in the list and they were not included in the Mosaic list. But that is actually a reason to say that the rationale was not racist. It shows that, in accordance with what Lev. 18 and 20 teach, any group who acted like the Canaanites had to be treated like Canaanites, regardless of their race. Mr. Stark's examples of Scriptural approval of foreign women marrying Israelites all involve women that entered into covenant with Yahweh (e.g. Ruth), which does nothing to justify marriage to women who practiced detestable criminal lifestyles, and taught their children to do the same, as part of their rejection of Yahweh's covenant.
And one last point on this issue: Even if the worship of the Canannites was "the same things Israelites did but to different deities," that would not negate the abominable nature of Canannite worship. The Bible teaches that the Israelite God, Yahweh, was the Creator of heaven and earth. The Canannite gods were demons or other types of created things being worshipped (Deut. 32:17; cf. Rom. 1:22-25). The creation does not deserve the worship of the Creator, the source of all morality, all facts, and all truth. Mr. Stark views Yahweh as just another finite god that was given birth by the universe. He fails to see the ontological distinction between Yahweh as Creator and the other gods as creatures, so he fails to see the abomination of the worship due to the Creator being given to creatures.
Mr. Warren is being deceptive here. First, he claims I am not aware of the article by Dennis Bratcher when in fact I cite this selfsame article in my book in support of my position. Second, the article by Dennis Bratcher does not say what Mr. Warren claims it says. Bratcher argues (quite rightly) that Matthew uses the Isaiah 7 prophecy analogously to draw out the theme of “God with us.” The reality is, as Bratcher is aware, this is still pesher interpretation and not historical-grammatical. Mr. Warren is grasping at straws here.
My explanation of Matthew's use of Isaiah 7 follows Bratcher's interpretation, but also goes beyond it: Why is God with Israel to save a remnant through all the various judgments brought against her? Because of the Messianic promises made to the Patriarchs. Jesus' birth was not just one more example of God being with Israel; it was the reason behind God being with Israel (or actually the holy seed from Adam onward - Gen. 3:15) all of those times in the Old Testament.
Mr. Stark doesn't cite the "selfsame" article but another article by Dennis Bratcher on the same website dealing with the more narrow topic of the word "virgin" (pp. 28, 243). But whether he was aware of Bratcher's article that I reference or not, here's the problem: He says of pesher interpretation, "An understanding of the prophetic message in its original historical context was entirely irrelevant to the community" (p. 26). But then, when I point to Bratcher's interpretation, which could have been the same interpretation of someone who read Isaiah's prophecy at the time it was written, he says that that's pesher interpretation too.
Mr. Warren fails to take account of Paul’s language (“it was not written for oxen but for us”) and fails to do justice to the broader hermeneutical context of second temple Judaism that I outline in this section. See also the work of Richard Hays which I cite in my treatment of this text, which is the seminal work on Paul’s use of the Hebrew Bible. I simply used this as one example of Paul’s eschatological (rather than historical-grammatical) hermeneutic. There are myriad examples I could have used. See the relevant literature cited in my book.
Actually I do take account of Paul’s language that “it was not written for oxen but for us.” I interpreted Paul's statement as the observation that God did not have to be concerned that the owner of an ox would not feed his income-producing animal that has a high replacement cost because pure self-interest would take care of that. That's an observation that a reader could have made at the time the law was delivered from Mt. Sinai. It's not a hidden meaning needing special revelation to discern, so it's not pesher interpretation. It's a perfectly acceptable historical-grammatical interpretation.
Hays tries to give Paul's interpretation an eschatological emphasis because Paul says "for us" (di hemas) rather than "for humans" (di anthropous); in other words, Hays claims that Paul thinks that the law against muzzling the ox was specifically written for Paul's ministry, not as an ethical principle for all humanity (p. 165). But the text does not support it. Hays is getting carried away with his interpretive scheme for understanding Paul's writings.
First, there is here no redemptive, christological interpretation of an Old Testament text, nor an argument about the members of the true Israel, which are the two main themes in which Paul makes use of typological interpretations of the Old Testament that find fulfillment in the "end of the ages" (1 Cor. 10:11). He's just looking out for other full-time ministers so that they get treated fairly by being supported financially in their work. Second, Paul believes that there is an aspect of the Mosaic law that "the whole world" is obligated to keep (Rom. 3:19; cf. Rom. 13:4-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). We should be open to Paul teaching that this is one of those aspects of the Mosaic law. Third, Paul argues for the right of preachers to earn a living from their ministry by citing several other types of workers who expect to be supported from their labor: soldiers, vinedressers, and shepherds (1 Cor. 9:7). There is no eschatological significance to these trades. They are examples derived from mundane, universal experience. Paul tells us the reason that he cites the Mosaic law, and it's not to prove that his ministry is the fulfillment of the end of the ages: It's to prove that his analogical reasoning, from these mundane examples to the right of ministers of the gospel to expect material support from their ministry, is not the assertion of mere human authority but is backed by divine authority: "Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same?" (1 Cor. 9:8). Because the law only mentions an ox, he has to explain that it should apply to a human laborer. Then Paul illustrates the application of Deuteronomy 25:4 by citing two more mundane, universal examples of laborers: plowmen and threshers (v. 10). The "for us" phrase is Paul saying that the general ethical principle taught by this Mosaic law applies directly to the current situation that Paul was addressing. Last, Paul affirms that the same principle applied to the previous, Old Covenant dispensation: "Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get there food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:13-14 - the last sentence referring to Jesus' command to the 72 disciples: Luke 10:7; cf. 1 Tim. 5:18). It cannot be clearer that Paul is not teaching that this law applies only his ministry "at the end of the ages."
According to Hays, Paul believes that the Spirit that enlightens him gives him interpretations that are foreign to the Old Testament text: "faithful readers, for whom the veil is removed, will be empowered by the Spirit to generate imaginative intertextual readings" (p. 178). But for Paul, God's Spirit is a source of continuity between the original Hebrew scriptures and his own writings: The Spirit of God that delivered the Old Testament through God's chosen prophets (2 Tim. 3:16) is that same Spirit that enlightens Paul's mind to understand and authoritatively teach God's people God's word (1 Cor. 14:37). Paul teaches in 2 Cor. 3:12-18 that the "veil" that blinds the Jews who do not see Christ in the Old Testament is their sinful thinking ("their minds were hardened" - v.14) that prevent them from understanding what the Old Testament text had been saying the whole time, not their lack of "imaginative intertextual readings." And Paul's reference to the veil of Moses can be seen as simply an apt analogy rather than an attempt by Paul to find a hidden meaning in the OT text that applies peculiarly to Paul's ministry.
Hays comes across as conservative in his assessment of Paul in relation to some of the skeptics that he interacts with in his book, but Hays does not seriously engage conservative, inerrantist theologians who provide interpretations of Paul that show how his references to the OT can be seen as accurately interpreting the OT text. Five hundred years ago, in his commentary on Romans, John Calvin addressed the very objections that Hays raises in respect to Rom. 2:24 and 10:18. Hays may disagree with Calvin's reasoning, but at least he should interact with it. And since Mr. Stark's book is directed against inerrantist views, he should appeal to the support of books that address the views of inerrantists rather than books like Hays' that don't venture outside the provincial world of liberalism. Hays' book is written by a liberal for liberals. He begins his book with the assumption that Paul believes in "the legitimacy of innovative readings that disclose truth previously latent in Scripture" (p. 4). Later, Hays writes, "In cases such as these [1 Cor. 9:8-10 and Rom. 10:18], there is no indication that Paul has wrestled seriously with the texts from which the citations are drawn" (p. 175). He states this conclusion without any interaction, here or anywhere else in the book, with other commentators who have a contrary view. Hays assumes the liberal view that Paul mishandles the OT texts, and while he finds that Paul's handling of the text is sometimes more or less true to the original meaning (like echoes), he does not allow his negative assessments of Paul's use of the OT to be challenged by competing voices. Where Hays attempts to prove his case that Paul was not true to the OT Scriptures, he fails.
I happened upon this statement by C. John Collins that shows that Luke's account of Paul's ministry is contrary to the claim that Paul engaged in Pesher interpretation:
The early Christian missionaries went to synagogues to prove from the OT Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (cf. Acts 17:1-3; 18:26-28). This implies that they relied on and used publicly accessible arguments from the text itself, rather than merely private insights—otherwise, they would be been unjust to hold anyone responsible for failing to see something that was not truly there. Luke praises the Berean Jews, who examined the OT to see whether what Paul and Silas told them was so (Acts 17:11). This implies that the NT invites critical interaction over its appeal to the OT, and is not solely dependent on the "insider's" point of view. (C. John Collins, "How the NT Quotes the OT," ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008), p. 2606)
Mr. Warren attempts a critique of my treatment of Ezekiel 20:25-26, but fails to do justice both to my argument and to the various texts involved: . . . God wanted to defile them as punishment, and so he gave them a bad command, according to Ezekiel, but didn’t tell them it was a bad command. It’s not hard to grasp what Ezekiel is saying. Read my treatment of this text in chapter 5 to get the full picture. Mr. Warren is making a number of mistakes here. First he is conflating different sources (Exod 22 and Deut 28 weren’t written by the same source, and they were written hundreds of years apart). Second, I am not claiming that the authors of the legal material in Exod 22 believed that the command to sacrifice their firstborn was meant to devastate them. My argument is that this is a later interpretation by Ezekiel who is struggling and stretching to dispense with the longstanding tradition of child sacrifice in Israelite religion. Ezekiel is the only one who claims Exod 22:29 was a bad command, given as punishment, rather than given to make them prosper. Originally, the command there to sacrifice the firstborn children to Yahweh was intended to make Israel prosper, because at this stage in Israel’s history, they believed that Yahweh was satiated by human sacrifice.
I didn't have to quote Deuteronomy 28's commentary on the laws given at Mr. Sinai as evidence that God intended the laws of Moses to give the Israelites abundant life. I could have quoted God's words to Ezekiel in the very monologue in question: "So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live" (Ezek. 20:10-11). These are the laws found in Exodus, given from Mt. Sinai. The life-giving intention of these laws are set in contrast to the bad commands that take their life: "Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them" (Ezek. 20:25-26). So it cannot be held that "Ezekiel is the only one who claims Exod 22:29 was a bad command." Ezekiel says no such thing about any commands recorded in Exodus. He says the exact opposite - that those laws were to give them life. And when was the bad command given? The bad command is spoken in reference to what God tells the "children" in contrast to the laws delivered from Mt. Sinai to their "fathers." So the bad command was given at a later date than the commands in Exodus. It would have been given no earlier than near the end of the 40-year wandering in the wilderness, after the "fathers" had died off. But I believe Ezekiel is probably saying that it was given later than that. God tells Ezekiel that "I withheld my hand" of judgment against the children of the Exodus (Ezek. 20:22). The "bad command" of verses 25-26 is called "bad" because it is a judgment. Since God says that he withheld his judgment in the wilderness, this bad command would not have been given in the wilderness. Furthermore, immediately before Ezekiel mentions the bad command, he says, "Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, because they had not obeyed my rules." (Ezek. 20:23-24) Did God scatter the children of the Exodus among the nations while they were in the wilderness? No. He warned them about this judgment in Deut. 28, but he did not carry it out until the Babylonian exile hundreds of years later. And unlike the exile judgment, Ezekiel does not even say, at least explicitly, that God warned Israel in the wilderness that God would bring judgment on them through this bad command. It's simply listed as another judgment brought against them for their disobedience to the law of Moses. (Deut. 28:52-57 mentions the judgment of secretly eating their children because a foreign army besieges them and they are starving, but there is no command related to it.) I previously suggested the time of the bad command being given was during the years leading up to the Babylonian exile when the Bible says that Hebrew kings were sacrificing their children.
(Ezekiel assumes that Deuteronomy 28 was given to the Israelites at the end of the exodus, and therefore he assumes a Mosaic authorship. This is taught by every other writer in the Bible, and every ancient extra-biblical author who speaks on the issue. There is no archeological support for anyone other than Moses being the author of Deuteronomy. The idea of a post-exilic date of Deuteronomy was unheard of until it was brought up by Enlightenment skeptics in the nineteenth century. It is simply a speculation based on interpretations of certain passages that can also be understood in ways compatible with Mosaic authorship. Many other aspects of Deuteronomy don't make sense in terms of a post-exilic authorship, but that doesn't bother the skeptics. They rely, of course, on the THOMAS assumption, rendering the text a confused, irrational product of inept political manipulation.)
I fully understand Mr. Stark's argument. The point of my previous reply was that a plausible interpretation that allows various statements in Scripture to be consistent with one another is to be preferred over an interpretation that depicts God as contradicting himself, and in this case there is a plausible interpretation that avoids a contradiction. Mr. Stark's interpretation is extremely implausible. It is internally inconsistent. Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that the comment about the bad command meant that God was reversing his previous command in Exodus 22:29, then the statements later in the same chapter of Ezekiel are saying that the Israelites were doing an evil thing when they obeyed God's command to sacrifice their children prior to God telling Ezekiel that he was reversing his previous command. In other words, God is telling Ezekiel that obedience to God's explicit, positive legislation prior to God changing his mind about it ("defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers," Ezek. 20:30) was evil. "Defilement" is a deontic concept, not a problem of bad consequences like "devastation." Even if obedience to God's command would devastate the population, like I said before, "it doesn’t make sense that by obeying God’s command the Israelites could become 'defiled' (v. 26)." It doesn't make sense for God to say "your fathers blasphemed me" (Ezek. 20:27) for obeying God's command — to condemn actions committed before God changed his mind about it. It's in this sense that the condemnation of child sacrifice a few sentences after the mention of the bad command contradicts the idea that God gave the command to kill children in Exodus.
Ezekiel says nothing about reinterpreting a command that God had lied about being good for them when it was actually a judgment to devastate them, however much Mr. Stark is attracted to the idea. Ezekiel says nothing about God giving a command that he "didn’t tell them it was a bad command," as Mr. Stark claims. The "he didn't tell them" part is Mr. Stark's conjecture in his attempt to understand how it was that God had given a bad command. Ezekiel affirms that the law given to the Exodus generation was for their good, for an abundant life. Ezekiel shows that he knows, and any other scribes handling the text after him would have known, the consistent testimony of Scripture: Obey everything that God had commanded Moses so that they would have a prosperous life (Josh. 1:7, 22:5, 23:6; Judg. 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6, 18:6, 18:12, 21:8, 23:25; 1 Chron. 22:13; 2 Chron. 25:4, 33:8; Neh. 1:7-8, 8:1, 9:14, 10:29; Dan. 9:11-13; Mal. 4:4). As I pointed out above, Ezekiel affirms it immediately prior to the sentence in which Mr. Stark claims that Ezekiel is saying the opposite. Ezekiel and later scribes simply would have been morons to try to convince people that God had lied to Moses and the rest of God's chosen nation when he delivered his holy law to his servant Moses and that now God wanted them to follow a different practice that contradicted the previous command, and that God had led all of his holy prophets up until (and actually including) Ezekiel to affirm the lie.
There is no evidence that the Jews had interpreted Exodus 22:29 as a command to kill their children as Mr. Stark claims, but even if some in Ezekiel's time had, if Ezekiel wanted them to stop it, would it not have made more sense for him to explain that "sacrifice" in this verse did not mean "kill" but to dedicate to the special service of God? That understanding of "sacrifice" would have been consistent with other scriptures. Previously in the same book, God says, "Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine" (Exo. 13:1). Then a few sentences later God goes on to explain that human children are not to be killed but are to be ransomed (Exo. 13:11-15). When God says several chapters later at Exodus 22:29 that "The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me," it only makes sense to assume that the method is still the same as stated earlier in chapter 13. There is no need for the details of how it's to be done to be repeated later in the same book. As even Mr. Stark notes (pp. 88-89), later in the same book God says that the first born are not to be killed but ransomed: "All your firstborn sons you shall ransom" (Exo. 34:20). God had told the Isrealites that the redemption of the first born children, rather than their actual death, was to be achieved through the dedication of the Levite tribe to the service of God (Num. 3:12-13). Exodus 22:29 has been understood in terms of redemption rather than killing by everyone except some of those dedicated to the THOMAS hermeneutic. Since God tells the Isrealites in the book of Exodus both before and after 22:39 that firstborn sons are to be redeemed rather than killed, only a moronic interpreter would conclude that "give to me" in 22:39 implies that the firstborn sons should be killed. Mr. Stark and his group grasp onto any superficial ambiguities and choose the interpretation that undermines the divine authorship of Scripture.
God's commandments in the Hebrew scriptures often condemn child sacrifice, with Jeremiah even saying that to command such a thing never entered God's mind (Jer. 7:31, 19:5, and 32:35). Jeremiah began writing prior to Ezekiel, so on Mr. Stark's view, Ezekiel's claim that God had commanded child sacrifice in Exodus 22:29 contradicted what Jeremiah had already written, which would have raised the issue that one of them was a false prophet. Amazingly, Mr. Stark turns God's condemnation of human sacrifice in Jeremiah, that commanding it never entered God's mind, into an admission that God had once commanded it: ". . . why then would Yahweh need to point out that he never decreed the practice of sacrificing children to another god?" (p.96). An answer that should have easily come to Mr. Stark is that corrupt priests had convinced the people that adding worship of other gods, with all the customs that accompanied that, to the worship of Yahweh was okay. It was a similar situation when Jesus later condemned the Pharisees for adding commandments that God had never commanded and which actually violated God's law: "So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. . . . In vain do you worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:6,9). Similarly, modern pietists strain credulity with their teaching that the Bible condemns all alcohol consumption. It's not in the Bible, but they think it is. Numerous similar examples throughout church history could be given. Sometimes Mr. Stark characterizes his position as a problem of "interpretation" of Exodus 22:29 by some Jews, in which case he should agree that there are other reasonable interpretations. But he also characterizes his position as that the original, intended meaning by God was that the Jews should engage in human sacrifice, which runs into the problems of internal consistency mentioned above.
Briefly regarding the account of Japhthah sacrificing his daughter in Judges 11, the account does not include a divine command. Whether God approved it is unstated. Also, whether the "sacrifice" was a killing or a dedication of the daughter to service to God as a perpetual virgin is disputed by competent theologians. Mr. Stark fails to address these alternate interpretations in his book, leaving readers with the impression that there are no challengers to his interpretation.
What Mr. Warren is doing here is just making up the Bible as he goes along. Ezekiel does not say that God hardened the hearts of pre-exilic kings. Ezekiel says that God gave bad commands to Israel back when they were in the wilderness. No amount of posturing or creative renarration is going to change that fact.
Ha! I do no such thing as admit that “the Bible teaches Calvinism.” Mr. Warren is being deceptive again. Here is what I say about the Bible and Calvinism in my book: “Obviously one is going to find love in the text when one approaches the text with that expectation. In the same way, one would find violence in the text when one approached it expecting to find violence; one would find Arminianism when one sought Arminianism, and Calvinism when one sought Calvinism” (p. 37). I think we’re beginning to see a pattern in terms of the lengths Mr. Warren is willing to go to in order to refute my book (and the Bible itself).
In his discussion of the Calvinist views of Jonathan Edwards and John Piper on predestination, Mr. Stark forgets that he wrote: "Unfortunately for every Christian, the perspective of Edwards and Piper is not too far off from some perspectives inscribed in our own scriptures. For instance, in 1 Kings 22:19-23, Yahweh had determined to kill Ahab, the king of Israel, and accomplished this purpose by sending a 'lying spirit' to Ahab's 400 prophets. . . . Even more significant is the claim made in Ezekiel 20." (pp. 65, 66). So not only does Mr. Stark recognize that the Calvinist view is taught in Scripture (at least parts of it), and in way that can't be avoided even if "one sought Arminianism," he also directly relates it to the issue of the bad command in Ezekiel 20. However, he fails to connect the two passages in terms of God's methods, seeing that God could have given the bad command of Ezekiel 20 in the same way that, as Mr. Stark puts it, "Yahweh lied or commissioned a lie" (p.65) to Ahab - by permitting an evil spirit to influence their corrupt hearts. In the case of the bad command in Ezekiel 20, the murderous spirit would have been sent to influence corrupt Hebrew rulers to institute child sacrifice. Like the corrupt Ahab and his corrupt prophets, those murderous rulers would have been responsible for their sinful acts, for the murderous spirit was only successful because the rulers with corrupt hearts allowed themselves to entertain such thoughts.
Mr. Warren uses the word “scandalized” to make it seem as if I am unfamiliar with the long history of interpretation of Gen 22 and to make it seem as if my reading of the text is basically emotional. He is wrong on both counts. His subsequent interpretation of Gen 22 completely evades the points I make about the text in my book. He does not address my argument.
Mr. Stark's argument is that the Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac supports "the logic of child sacrifice" (p. 89). The only kind of child sacrifice that it supports is in a situation comparable to Abraham's - where God will resurrect the child, and that knowledge is received through God audibly speaking to you and performing awe-inspiring miracles as proof that it is God speaking. Since a ram was actually sacrificed, it can be said that Genesis 22 supports the logic of sacrifice. But what is the "logic of sacrifice"? That sacrifices "satiate God," as Mr. Stark puts it? Not if that means that God needs blood for food. The Biblical logic of sacrifice to God is that death is the just penalty for sin. Whereas the logic of pagan human sacrifice was that killing a human would satisfy the wrath of the gods against the others in the community, sacrificing a sinful human does nothing to satisfy God's judgment on other people for their individual sins (Deut. 24:16, Jer. 31:30, Ezek. 18:1-20). The only sense in which killing a sinful human removes God's wrath from a community is when God commanded the community to execute a person for committing some egregious crime, and the community has not carried out the act that God commanded them to perform (e.g. Deut. 19:13). The death of the criminal does not pay for anyone else's sins. The execution removes God's wrath from the community because the community obeys what God commanded the community to do by not allowing a grave injustice from going unpunished. Christ's death can pay for other people's sins only because he didn't have his own sins to pay for. Thus there is no contradiction between the passages that say each person shall die for his own sins, and the doctrine of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice. The animals sacrificed in the Old Testament are symbolic substitutionary sacrifices for the sins of the people. The animal sacrifices do not satisfy the penalty in themselves, but they foreshadow the sacrifice of the Messiah to come.
Mr. Warren is again doing his best to try to discredit me, but he’s only discrediting himself. I am very familiar with the long history of the preterist interpretations of the Olivet Discourse. I was a preterist for years and have read thousands of pages of literature written by leading preterists. When I said that Wright’s reading of the text was “novel” I did not mean that Wright invented preterism; I just meant that he used some novel arguments to argue for preterism.
Mr. Stark doesn't make that distinction in his book. He just says that Wright's approach is "novel" and then proceeds to critique Wright's preterism while making criticisms that are addressed by other preterists that I listed, ones that are actually inerrantists, so they're views would be more relevant to Mr. Stark's thesis.
There are two things humorous here about Mr. Warren’s claims. First, Eusebius does not say, as Mr. Warren claims, that the Christians fled to the mountains. Second, when Jesus told his disciples to flee to the mountains, he was giving them some very poor advice. As N. T. Wright notes, “This is scarcely to be taken as a reference, after the event, to the actual happenings of AD 66-70. For a start, Titus and his legions were occupying the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus, the two highest hills overlooking Jerusalem; fleeing to the hills would mean surrender and/or death.”2 Just one more thing Jesus was wrong about in the Olivet Discourse. Jesus ben Hananiah was certainly on safer ground, as he kept his prediction of the temple’s destruction rather vague.
Wright's comment is really lame. Jesus said that armies would surround Jerusalem, and the Mt. of Olives and some other mountains surround Jerusalem. Anybody with sense would know that the armies would occupy the high ground when they surrounded the city. So it should be obvious that those were not the mountains that Jesus had in mind when he said to flee to the mountains to escape the armies. Any reasonable person would understand "flee to the mountains" to mean that they should get to mountains far away from the conflict where they can hide. Since Eusebius says that the Christians who fled Jerusalem eventually settled in Pella, which is in the mountains of Gilead on the east side of the Jordan Valley across from Samaria, the Christians most likely followed trails northward into Samaria along the edge of the mountains that line on the west side of the Jordan Valley. The Christians probably lived in caves at first, but at some point crossed the Jordan and found Pella to be a good place to settle. Pella had (and still has) a strong, year-round spring, and it had been mostly abandoned not long before then because of a revenge killing by Jews against the Gentile inhabitants, so it had empty houses ready for the Christian refugees to inhabit.
I need to reiterate my point in mentioning Eusebius's statement since Mr. Stark seems to think that he makes an important point to say that Eusebius mentioned "Pella" and not "mountains." My point wasn't to prove that the Christians fled to the mountains, even though Pella is in the mountains. The point was about how first century Christians understood Jesus' command to flee in relationship to what he said about his coming. The Christians fled before the siege on Jerusalem began, so those Christians did not interpret Jesus' words "when you see the abomination of desolation . . . flee to the mountains" to mean that they should flee when they saw the temple destroyed - that is, they did not equate seeing "the abomination of desolation" with seeing the temple destroyed. They would have been slaughtered and enslaved with the rest of the Jews in Jerusalem if they had waited that long. This is just one more piece of evidence against Mr. Stark's claim that Jesus should be understood to say that his return is after the destruction of the temple. Rather, "the sign of the son of man in heaven" (Matt. 24:30) should be equated with the destruction of the temple. The destruction of the temple was Christ's coming in judgment, a sign that he was ruling from heaven and destroying his enemies with a "rod of iron."
First of all, it’s not clear what Mr. Warren is suggesting the “abomination that causes desolation” is. He says it is not the desolation itself. OK. The only hint he gives as to what it is is in his reference to Luke 21:20: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Is Mr. Warren suggesting that the abomination is the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman armies? It seems that’s what he is saying, but again he’s unclear so I could be wrong. What I think he’s suggesting is this: The abomination that causes desolation is the surrounding of Jerusalem by Roman armies in 68 CE, and the desolation itself is the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. If this is what he intends to say, this is frankly a rather silly interpretation. Note here also that Luke does not even use the term “abomination that causes desolation.” Only Matthew and Mark use the term. But Jesus’ use of the term was a reference back to its use in Daniel as a code for the desecration of the temple when Antiochus IV sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the temple altar. That was the “abomination that causes desolation” in Daniel. So when Jesus picks up that term and applies it to the Roman invasion, he means that Rome will desecrate the temple. I would not say that the “abomination that causes desolation” and the “desolation itself” are the same thing, even though Mr. Warren claims my whole case somehow rests on that alleged assumption. Obviously the desolation is subsequent to the abomination, but it is clear that the abomination refers to the desecration of the temple.
As I explained above, a comparison of Matthew and Mark with Luke shows that Jerusalem being surrounded by armies occurs at the same time that the disciples are supposed to see the abomination of desolation, which means that Mr. Stark is wrong to say that Jesus taught that the temple would be destroyed before he came in judgment. Wright equates Jesus' coming with the destruction of the temple, and I agree with Wright on that. As to why they are coterminous, there are a number of possibilities. It could be that the occupation of Jerusalem by gentile soldiers is the abomination. Because Jerusalem was "the holy city" (Dan. 9:24), many Jews held that an occupation by gentile soldiers was an abomination. When the Roman soldiers sacrificed to their ensigns in the temple before destroying it, that was a continuation and climax of the abomination that had begun with their occupation of the city. Or if the "abomination of desolation" specifically refers to the temple, it could be that, when the gentile armies surrounded Jerusalem, they could see, in the sense of understand, that the abomination of desolation was immanent. Another possibility is that Jerusalem is surrounded by armies around the same time that the abomination is committed. The abomination could refer to the slaughter of multitudes of innocent people in Jerusalem by the Zealots in A.D. 67, climaxed by the murder of Zacharias, the son of Baruch, in the middle of the temple after a mock trial (see Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, IV.5.4). As Josephus records, General Vespasian kept his armies outside Jerusalem, conserving his men and supplies by letting the Jews kill themselves (IV.6).
At any rate, all of this is moot, and completely irrelevant to my argument, as well as to the text itself. Jesus clearly says that the temple will be destroyed and that the Son of Man will return to gather elect, all within one generation of Jesus’ lifetime. There’s no getting around that, as I’ve argued extensively in my eighth chapter, and Mr. Warren’s protestations certainly haven’t managed to get around it. Yet they continue:
Jesus only says that "angels" (messengers of either heavenly or earthly origin) are sent out when Jesus comes in judgment against the temple within one generation of his listeners. The actual gathering of the elect is a history-long process. In his book, Mr. Stark says that "There are two fatal problems with Wright's interpretation here: (1) angels also accompany the Son of Man in Mark 8:34-9:1, but they are clearly not human evangelists here" (p. 189 n.33). Although Mr. Stark equates the angels sent out to gather the elect in Matthew 24:31 with the angels mentioned in such passages as Matthew 16:27 and Mark 8:34-9:1, the latter angels are sent in judgment, like the four horsemen of John's apocalypse. But the angels in Matthew 24:31 have a different purpose - bringing salvation to all of the elect. I believe that the best view is that they are human messengers, but they could be seen as heavenly angels who aid humans in the proclamation of the gospel (cf. Acts 8:26, 10:3-7, 12:7-11, 20:23).
Mr. Stark's second objection to Wright on this point is that "Jesus said that the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world would already be accomplished prior to the coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13:10)." But this glosses over details and distinctions that a fuller study of Scripture reveals about the future course of God's kingdom. There was a preaching of the gospel to all the known world prior to the first-century destruction of Jerusalem, but bringing in all the elect is a process that occurs for the remainder of history. Acts 2:5 says "Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven." So on the day of Pentecost less than two months after Christ's ascension "every nation" had heard the gospel. Of course, this is speaking about the world of the Roman empire, not the entire earth. The parallel passage to Mark 13:10 is Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." The word used here for "world" is "oikoumene," which is the same word used in Luke 2:1: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered." Other New Testament passages testify that the gospel was being preached throughout the Roman world (Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6, 23). This would obviously be a short time period because it would be completed before the disciples had preached to every town in Israel (Matt. 10:23), and before the death of some of the disciples (Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27).
But there is something further to be fulfilled in history than just preaching to the nations of the Roman world. The Old Testament predicts that one day all the nations on earth will worship Yahweh (Gen. 17:5-6, 22:18; cf. Gal. 3:8; Num. 14:21; Isa. 2:1-4, 11:9; see more here). Preaching to the nations of the known world (before there is time for every town in Israel to hear the gospel and before all the disciples die) is one thing; converting and discipling whole nations everywhere on earth to submit to the law of God so that wars cease is a much greater task (Matt. 28:19; Isa. 2:1-4). After the destruction of Jerusalem ("Babylon" Rev. 17:5-6, "the great city . . . where the Lord was crucified" Rev. 11:8), there is the millennium where the saints reign with Christ (Rev. 20:4), having been spiritually resurrected and seated with Christ in heaven (Eph. 2:4-6). This "new heavens and new earth" does not come all at once. Christ is given all authority to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18) and Satan is removed from authority to deceive the nations (Rev. 20:3) at Christ's triumph at the cross, but the manifestation of Christ's kingdom on earth must work out gradually over time: " first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear" (Mark 4:28; cf. Matt. 13:31-33; Heb. 2:8). This view of eschatology that I contend that the Bible teaches is called Postmillennialism.
No, “land” does not make more sense of the text, since in the very next verse it is clear again that the scope is worldwide, since the angels of the Son of Man are sent out to the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other, in order to gather the elect and (by implication) return them to Jerusalem. That makes it clear that the word in v. 30 should be read as “the whole earth” rather than just “the local land.” Moreover, why would all of the tribes of the land of Israel mourn at the sight of their liberator, at the very time of the restoration of Israel, when the tribes are being brought out of diaspora? It is not the tribes of Israel that are mourning, but the tribes of the earth, and this is quite clear in the text.
The "implication" of returning the elect to Jerusalem is just Mr. Stark reading into the text. The destruction of Jerusalem is the destruction of the Jerusalem in bondage, as opposed to the Jerusalem from above, which is the New Covenant church (Gal. 4:24-26). The New Covenant church is the new, heavenly Zion (Heb. 12:18-29); the old, earthly Zion is no longer important once the temple and rest of the Old Covenant ritual structure finds its fulfillment in Christ (John 4:21). God's presence and worship of God are no longer to be centered on the physical temple in physical Jerusalem, but on Christ himself (John 2:18-22), who now sits in heaven (Col. 3:1-2). The tribes of Israel mourn because they are responsible for rejecting and killing their liberator, just as the apostate Jews in earlier times killed the prophets sent from God (Matt. 23:29-39). The generation of Jews that killed the Messiah suffered God's wrath to the utmost with the Roman invasion; but God, as always, saved a remnant, which was the beginning of the New Covenant church. Mr. Stark simply ignores my quotation of Revelation 1:7, which equates the "tribes of the land" with "those who pierced him." Although Revelation was written in Greek, it was written by a Jew, and the use of "the land" to be a specific reference to the land of Israel is quite common in the Hebrew language, just as "the city," without any other qualifications, usually refers to Jerusalem in Hebrew.
The ESV translation has, "like men you shall die, and fall like any prince'" (Psalm 82:6-7). Other translations have "any other prince," but I was not placing emphasis on the extra word "other." I was simply condensing the two clauses into "human ruler." That these were actually human rulers fits with the context at the beginning of the Psalm, which Mr. Stark completely ignores: These "gods" are being condemned for judging unjustly by showing partiality to the wicked and failing to provide justice to the afflicted and orphans. This makes a lot more sense in terms of human judges than immaterial gods. God's condemnation of unjust judges for this sort of thing is a common theme throughout the Bible (cf. Isa. 1:23, Amos 5:12, Dan. 4:27). This is the traditional Jewish interpretation of this psalm, and the one that Jesus assumes( John 10:34), as Mr. Stark himself acknowledges (p. 51). Furthermore, "sons of God" undeniably applies to humans in many passages (Deut. 14:1, Psalm 73:15, Hosea 1:10). Once again, it's amazing that Jesus, all the other ancient Jewish scholars of Scripture, and Christian theologians had never seen the necessity of reading Psalm 82 to be teaching polytheism, but modern Enlightenment scholars found just what served their ideology.
"Sons of god" is best understood to be human rulers in Genesis 6. Every single reference in this chapter blames the coming flood of judgment on "man" who is "flesh," not angels or some other immaterial beings:Gen.6:1"men."
v.2 Daughters of "men."
v.3 strive with "man."
v.4 mighty "men."
v.5 wickness of "man."
v.6 sorry He had made"man."
v. 7 blot out "man."
v.12 "all flesh" includes man.
v. 13 end of all "flesh."
v. 17 all "flesh."
v. 21 all "mankind."
v. 23 from "man" to animals.
In his book, Mr. Stark objects that this does not explain why some of the offspring of the "sons of God" and "daughters of men" were giants. But first, we should be careful to note that the height of the Nephilim in Genesis 6 is not discussed, whether tall or otherwise. It says that they were "mighty" and men of "renown." The Hebrew word translated as "mighty" (gibbor), can mean great in strength, or it can mean great in terms of wealth or influence (cf. Ruth 2:1). Genesis 6:4 seems to qualify the word in terms of influence, i.e. "mighty" is defined in terms of being "renowned." As I'll explain, these antediluvian Nephilim were probably renowned because of their deeds of strength, but even if one or all the various meanings of gibbor (strong, wealthy and influentual) applied to both ante- and postdiluvian Nephilim, that does not necessarily mean that they shared the characteristic of unusual height. On the other hand, that unusually big brutes were born to human "sons of God" fits with the theme of chapter 6, which is the extreme and ubiquitous violence of the age. In such a survival-of-the-fittest environment, those who would be the rulers would tend to be the biggest brutes of them. Their sons would tend to be big, strong men as well, and as royalty they would have the wealth and popular attention to pursue extraordinary adventures that everyone would hear about, thus making them "mighty men . . . of renown." One example of the violent strength of the "sons of God" is that they "took as their wives any they chose" (v.2), like hunters capturing prey. And the very next sentence is that because of the human violence God says that he will destroy everything with the flood (v.3).
Although it would make sense for the Nephilim of Genesis 6 to be giants, the text does not necessarily require it. Mr. Stark seems proud of himself that he uses the principle that scripture interpret scripture, rather than his usual "THOMAStic" method of interpreting scripture against scripture, by reasoning that, since the postdiluvian Nephilim were very tall, the antediluvian ones must have been tall as well (p.77). But the principle that scripture interprets scripture should not be confused with what I call a "code-word hermeneutic" in which the meaning of a word in one place in scripture must be imposed on all other instances of the word in the same exact way, e.g. if used symbolically in one place then the word is used symbolically in all other instances, the same exact historical context applies, etc. The principle that scripture interprets scripture should mean that we assume that authors of scripture were aware of how previous authors of scripture used words and were building on the previous teaching, but we need not assume that one author uses words in the exact same way as all the others, or even that the same author always used a word in the exact same way (although this would be less prevelant). The immediate context of the words must be considered, including with the language and historical context of the time of the writing, to see what the most reasonable interpretation of a word is. In the case of the Nephilim, there are certainly strong similarities between the ante- and postdeluvian contexts that warrant Moses using the same word to describe both groups of people, but every detail need not be the same.
There is nothing in Psalm 82 about God being a young "up-and-coming king deity." This claim seems based solely on the fact that, as God's people fight against other nations that occupy Canaan, they are fighting rival religious systems as well. But God fights with other gods and men who try to be like gods throughout the Bible, even in sections Mr. Stark would consider to be monotheistic. The fight begins in Genesis 3 with the serpent, and God is still fighting Satan, his demons, and the men who serve them in the book of Revelation, even though John presents God as sovereign over the course of events.
It seems that Mr. Warren is wholly unfamiliar with the Ugaritic material. If he were familiar with it, he couldn’t make this argument, because the Ugaritic material also has a God who ascends to be judge over the other deities. There is no “ontological” difference between this god and the others. It’s that this particular god has bested the others, defeated all challengers. This is the same thing we see in the Greek pantheon, with Zeus as the king of the other gods. It’s the same in Ugarit, Babylon, and pretty much everywhere—obviously Israel included.
It's almost as if Mr. Stark has never read the Bible. There is nothing in Psalm 82 that is inconsistent with monotheism in the sense of one Creator of heaven and earth, and various other beings, both immaterial and fleshly, that exercise authority under the Creator. Just because the same word, "god," is applied to both the Creator and some creatures does not prove that the same exact type of being is being described. That's simply the fallacy of equivocation. In the context of the Bible as a whole, God rules all other authorities and over the whole earth because he is uniquely the Creator of all that exists. The fact that you can take parts of the Bible and have them make sense in the context of foreign religions just proves that you can take parts of the Bible out of context. To my knowledge, the Ugaritic material does not talk about the origin of the world; it just has various gods fighting each other. As for Greek mythology, Zeus was the king of the gods because he defeated his father, who defeated his father, and ultimately the gods and everything else sprang out of chaos. As Paul noted, the difference between Zeus and the God he served is that the latter is the Creator of all that exists (Acts 14:8-18). The difference between chaos being the origin of all things and an absolute Mind being the origin of things is tremendous philosophically (see here and here). And not only is there nothing in Psalm 82 that is inconsistent with monotheism, as I explain above, the context of judges not providing justice to the weak, orphans and the destitute is more constistent with these sons of God being human judges than immaterial beings.
Mr. Stark assumes that the only paradigm for understanding similarities between Biblical religion and other religions is that the other religions came first, and Biblical religion evolved out of those religions and gradually developed some different beliefs. Various ancestors of the Israelites held pagan beliefs, but that does not mean that Biblical doctrine developed from paganism. The alternative paradigm is that the nations once worshiped the one, true God, the Creator of heaven and earth; but then they departed from it, while carrying on various ideas from the original knowledge of God that became mixed with their various false doctrines. Even though the image of God was distorted in man by sin, it was not erased. Man would continue to be a worshipping creature, although in a deformed way. When God separated Abraham and the heirs of the Abrahamic promise from the pagan culture, the doctrine given by special revelation from God to the chosen nation would contain both similarities and differences with the pagan religions for the reason just noted. Biblical religion came first, then pagan religion. The Abrahamic and Mosaic revelations were restorations of the original worship of the Creator, with some developments at various stages to meet needs of the current situation and to advance toward the ultimate goal of redeeming all nations for the worship of the one, true God. There can also be similarities between Biblical revelation and the writings of non-Israelite culture because Biblical revelation is using a similar language and can make use of popular ways of speaking in those cultures to communicate to the Israelites. Nevertheless, the prophets that produced Biblical revelation used the language available to constantly set that revelation against various ideas and practices of the surrounding culture, even against Israelite culture because the Israelites were often seduced into imitating the pagan religions that surrounded them. In this sense, Biblical revelation did not derive from other Near Eastern cultures or even derive from Israelite culture. Combine this paradigm with rejection of the reasonableness of THOMAS, and you have basically everything you need for the development of traditional Christian theology.
First, I’m well aware that Elyon is an epithet. But what is an epithet? A term used as a descriptive substitute for the name or title of a person, such as The Great Emancipator for Abraham Lincoln. So El is referred to as Elyon; the epithet functions as a name. Second, he claims that in Deuteronomy 4, Yahweh is doing what Elyon is doing in Deuteronomy 32. By this he must intend to imply that Yahweh and Elyon are considered to be the same deity. There are two problems with this argument. First, Yahweh is not doing in Deuteronomy 4 what Elyon is doing in Deuteronomy 32. In Deut 4, Yahweh is giving the land of Canaan to Israel, not apportioning the possessions of all the nations, as Mr. Warren claims. In Deut 32, when Elyon apportions to the deities the various nations, he gives the people of Israel to Yahweh. There is no contradiction here. But there are other texts where Yahweh and Elyon are conflated into the same deity that Mr. Warren could and should have used to make this point. But let’s assume for a second that Deuteronomy 4 did conflate Yahweh with Elyon (it does not). Mr. Warren’s argument would still fail because, as I pointed out in my book, and as numerous scholars such as Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman have shown, the poem in Deuteronomy 32 was written very early, ca. the eleventh century BCE (I dated it even more conservatively, earlier, in my book so as not to cause a stumbling block to conservatives). But Deuteronomy 4 was written much later, centuries later. The poetry in the Pentateuch (Song of the Sea, Miriam, Song of Moses, Song of Deborah) is much earlier than the prose narratives. Thus, that is why when we look at Deuteronomy 32, we see an earlier view wherein Yahweh is the son of Elyon. It is not until later, after the rise of the monarchy, that the two are conflated and Yahweh assumes Elyon’s place as high god over the pantheon. Mr. Warren claims that “you only find two gods there if you want to.” Well, no. I didn’t want to, but there are in fact two gods there. A father doesn’t give an inheritance to himself, yet the text says that Elyon gave an inheritance to Yahweh. The text says that Elyon divided up humankind according to the number of his sons (the deities in the pantheon). It doesn’t say he divided up humankind according to the number of his children, plus himself. All of this is clear in my book, but apparently Mr. Warren missed it.
If an actual name of another deity were recorded here, rather than the epithet "Elyon," Mr. Stark's alleged "conclusive evidence" (p.70) for polytheism in this passage would certainly be much stronger. There is no archeological support for "Elyon" being the name of a distinct deity. As a mere epithet, however, it could apply to any god. The only name in the context is Yahweh. You would need a strong reason to overcome this presumption. Mr. Stark thinks that he finds this reason in the logic that "A father doesn't give an inheritance to himself." The rebuttal of this logic was the reason I quoted Deut. 4:19-20, regardless of when Deut. 4 was written. Mr. Stark claims that Yahweh is "not apportioning the possessions of nations" in this passage, but that is exactly what he is doing, even though it is a different type of possession. It's not a possession of particular land, but of the sun, moon, and stars: "And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven." Even though Yahweh apportions things for all nations, this passage shows Yahweh taking (active verb, not receiving) one nation as his own unique inheritance: "But Yahweh has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day." Yahweh owns everyone on earth, yet Israel is Yahweh's inheritance in the sense that he commits himself to preserve this particular nation throughout history for the purpose of uniquely worshipping him alone. In Exodus 34:9, Moses pleads with Yahweh to "take us for your inheritance" rather than destroy Israel for its sins. There is no father/son relationship between Yahweh and another god here, even though the word "inheritance" (or "possession," as it can be translated) is used. The "inheritance" is, again, in the sense of Yahweh preserving the nation uniquely for himself. Exodus 19:5 speaks of Israel being Yahweh's unique possession while he simultaneously owns all the earth: "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." What's being said in Deut. 32:7-9 is this: Elyon Yahweh apportioned the earth to all the nations according to "the number of sons of God" (i.e. the number of the human rulers representing each of the nations when the languages were confused at the tower of Babel), allowing them to go their own way to an extent and follow other gods (who were really "no gods" - Deut. 32:17,21); yet Yahweh has taken the nation of Israel as his special possession, uniquely devoted to worship of him alone for ages to follow. (After the Messiah came from Israel, the prodigal nations were called back to their father, the true God, creator of heaven and earth - Luke 15:1-32; Acts 14:15-16, 17:26-31).
The logic of Mr. Stark's claim is also undermined by the fact that it has to make use of THOMAS. In this very same song, Yahweh says that "there is no one beside me" (Deut. 32:39). Mr Stark points out that this phrase "there is no one beside x" is used in other places and does not mean that no other x exists, but that nothing else is as great as x (Isa. 47:8, Zeph. 2:15). Therefore, he argues that the phrase in Deuteronomy 32 means that no other god is as great as Yahweh, not that no other gods exist (pp. 75-76). But if Stark's interpretation of Elyon's identity is correct, then Elyon is exactly that, a god greater than Yahweh. Furthermore, this song of Moses also includes the statement that the gods of other nations are really "no gods" (Deut. 32:17,21). So in context, when Moses says that there is no one beside Yahweh, that's because all the other so-called gods are not really gods - they are not ontologically on par with Yahweh. The denunciations of these other gods as no gods because they are idols reflects the same way of speaking found in Isaiah's mockery of idols of metal and wood as really no gods in Isaiah 44:9-20. Yet Mr. Stark says that this passage in Isaiah "represents a point-of-no-return in the official theology of Israel" in the embrace of monotheism (p. 84). It that's true for Isaiah 44, it's true for Deuteronomy 32 as well.
The statement in the song of Moses that the gods of other nations are no gods ("They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known" v.17) is important in understanding the use of the word "gods" in the Bible. The gods of other nations are demons or mere statues. They are not really gods in the sense of Creator of heaven and earth, yet this passage still makes use of the popular linguistic convention of referring to them as "gods." Therefore, just because the Bible talks about "gods," this is no proof that beings anywhere close to the same ontological status as Yahweh, Creator of heaven and earth, are being acknowledged to exist. Assuming the contrary will lead to the fallacy of equivocation. "For their rock is not as our Rock" (Deut. 32:31).
Once again, Mr. Stark's interpretation requires us to assume that morons authored Scripture. All those redactors who supposedly cut and pasted all sorts of passages to create the Hebrew Bible never realized that they had allowed this passage to remain that teaches that there is another God greater than Yahweh. And if that's the only way to read this passage, then it's incredible that no commentator realized it for over two millennia until liberals did just a few decades ago, when relativism came to dominate the age and the idea of a universal, absolute authority became anathema to the intellectual establishment.
However pure Mr. Stark claims that his pursuit of truth has been, it's inconsistent with the bad arguments that are found on nearly every page of his book that he has found to be so persuasive, and the one-sided presentation of evidence. There are numerous arguments and evidences that are contrary to the views that Mr. Stark presents in his book, but he seems oblivious to them. If that is because Mr. Stark was trying to create a popular book, not too thick and weighed down by footnotes, then his readers need to understand that they are reading the liberal party line with only a few opposing arguments addressed.
You would never know from Stark’s book, for example, that any scholars have challenged Smith’s view of polytheism in the Bible (see, e.g., Richard Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archeological and Biblical Survey). [MW]
The evidence that Hess presents in his book that challenges Smith's view is that the archeological evidence shows a much a greater similarity between Israelite religion and culture with that of Emar than with the religious practices and culture of urban Ugarit. As for Hess's reliance on the MT rather than the DSS, older does not always mean most like the original when it comes to extant manuscripts. The older ones may have been set aside even if they were in decent condition because they were recognized as more corrupt, and the more reliable ones continued to be copied. With so much use, the more reliable ones became worn out and fell apart, and new copies kept being created, so we find that the more reliable copies are the ones that are the most recent, not the oldest ones that we find. Nevertheless, I don't have any problem following the DSS in the interpretation of Deuteronomy 32. (On another issue - it's ironic how Mr. Hess becomes "an apologist first and a scholar second" for following the MT translation of Deuteronomy 32, but Mr. Stark and his fellow liberals are just following the facts, even though they ignore evidence against their theses at times.)
The Chicago Statement merely says that "WE AFFIRM that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration." That does not equate to saying, "just because the Bible claims to be inerrant, it is inerrant." The authors of the Chicago Statement chose not to cite any Scripture to support any of their statements. They add this statement merely to affirm that they believe that their views can be shown to be consistent with what Scripture teaches about itself. Mr. Stark is fighting with a strawman.
Once again, Mr. Stark can't resist the false assumption that the inerrantist believes that the Bible's claim of inerrancy is a sufficient to make it so. Neither are claims that the Quran and the Book of Mormon are inerrant a sufficient argument to make them so. Mormonism does not even have a God that could be inerrant because they believe in only finite gods. Every god was once a man. Only an absolute, all-knowing God can serve as the source of inerrant knowledge. There are several tests for whether a text should be included in the canon of Scripture. None are conclusive in themselves; together they form a totality of the circumstances test. These tests include accompanying miracles, fulfillment of prophetic predictions, the holy life of the prophet, and consistency with previous canonical texts. Mohammed admits that Allah did not perform public miracles through him. And the Quran and the Book of Mormon (and other Mormon scriptures) contain many significant doctrinal changes from the Bible, even though both Islam and Mormonism claim that their books are a supplement to God's revelation in the Bible. Liberals like Mr. Stark, of course, claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. Those claims have to be answered, at least for the most part because, remember, it's a totality of the circumstance test. It's too much to expect that a revelation from an infinitely wise God given over thousands of years of history in ancient languages to creatures of finite understanding and corrupt reasoning will be without some passages that will be difficult for those creatures to reconcile with one another, especially in a far-removed future time. It's the same principle assumed in science: The natural world is assumed to be rational, but it's so much bigger than our finite minds, it's too much to expect all mysteries of nature to be resolvable.
In two or three pages, Mr. Stark deals with a few arguments by implication. There are many, many more. Each book of the Bible involves its own set of arguments. Mr. Stark complains that the Psalms attest to the inspiration of the law of Moses, but not to all of the Old Testament books. Then he mentions that 2 Timothy attests to the inspiration of the whole Old Testament, but he complains that no list of OT books are included nor the New Testament books. Then he notes that 2 Peter attests to the inspiration of Paul's writings, but does not give a list of Paul's writings nor list the entire canon of Scripture. Apparently, Mr. Stark demands that one place in the Bible list all of the canonical books. That would make things easy, but things don't have to be that easy.
Mr. Stark denies that the scriptures being given by God's Spirit rather than human interpretation means that the Bible is an inerrant authority (p. 47-48, cf. 2 Peter 1:19, 2 Tim. 3:16-17). But Mr. Stark's attempt to disconnect divine inspiration from inerrant authority rests on two false assumptions. First, since Mr. Stark claims that Yahweh is a finite god, the scriptures being directed by Yahweh's Spirit would not yield inerrancy. A finite god would not have perfect knowledge. But as I have shown elsewhere, the Bible teaches that Yahweh is an absolute Creator, not a finite offspring of the universe. An absolute Creator cannot be mistaken about any fact of any nature. Second, Mr. Stark relies on Richard Hays' view of Paul, that God's Spirit gave Paul imaginative interpretations of Old Testament texts; but as I argue above, Hays has imagined a false view of Paul's understanding of inspiration.
Mr. Stark "directly" deals with these claims only by quoting someone else who says that the claims are baseless. Again, there are many lengthy books dealing with this subject, and quoting a conclusory statement is hardly a refutation. To deal with the philosophical question, Mr. Stark needs to deal with the failure of Hume, Kant, and the rest of the secular, Enlightenment philosophers to account for the possibility of human knowledge; and then deal with the response of an explicetly Christian theistic epistemology. Bertrand Russell certainly knew the philosophical landscape in the twentieth century better than just about anyone, and he said about his and his fellow secularists' attempts to account for human knowledge, "Indeed, there is little but prejudice and habit to be said for the view that there is a world at all." I don't know what Mr. Stark is thinking about when he says that he addresses these issues in his book, but we are obviously not talking about the same thing.
The main problem with the alleged archeological evidence against Joshua's conquest of Ai is that the current location identified as Ai is almost certainly wrong. Among several reasons for et-Tell not to be the Ai that Joshua conquered is that Joshua 7:3 says that the city has a small population and Joshua 10:2 says that Ai was a smaller city than Gibeon; yet et-Tell is 27 acres and Gibeon is 12 acres (see Dr. Bryant Wood's article here). If Ai means "ruin," then it could be that the inhabitants of Ai that Joshua confronted were living in ruins from a previous destruction. But some scholars have also questioned the view that "Ai" means "ruin." They argue that it means "a heap of stones," possibly referring to the topography surrounding the city. Many other places have a similar name, and they are all settled towns. While some scholars have assumed that the location of the Ai in Abraham's time (Gen. 12:8, 13:3) is the same Ai in Joshua's day, they could be different cities, or the location of the city could have drifted over time.
But more generally, when we are talking about events thousands of years ago from which so much may never be found because of the decay and destruction over such a long time, it's hard to say that absence of evidence is "clear as day" proof that something did not happen. First, consider that there is no archeological evidence - no change in pottery or architecture - that reveals that the Amorites invaded Babylon around 2000 B.C. and came to dominate it. The only evidence is in the written records. This provides an analogy to the migration of Israelites into Canaan. (Alan Millard, "Amorites and Israelites: Invisible Invaders - Modern Expectations and Ancient Reality" in The Future of Biblical Archeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions, Ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard (Eerdmans, 2004), 148-60.)
Second, not only does archeological data tell us much less then we would like, Biblical data often tells us much less than we imagine. When the Bible tells us that "Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever" (Joshua 8:28), it tells us that the it was left uninhabitated after the fire, but that doesn't really tell us the how extensive the fire was and what exactly burned. When we think of a "city," we think of permanent buildings, but that's not necessarily how the word is being used in the Bible. Some have speculated that Ai was merely a fortress, so it would leave little or nothing in remains.
The Transjordanian places were probably tent cities or encampments and not fortified urban centers as we often find in Canaan, so there is less likelihood of finding preserved remains. Less than a decade ago, the Bible's statement that kings reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel (Gen. 36:31; 1 Chron. 1:43) was considered to be "clear as day" wrong by a consensus of experts because there was no evidence of a state in the area of Edom before the 8th century. The Edomites could have been a nomadic tribe and still had a king, in which case, like the other Transjordanian nations, little or no archeological evidence would remain. But a few years ago a large-scale copper smelting industry was discovered in the area of ancient Edom that lasted over several centuries, and can possibly be dated prior to the monarchy in Israel (see Brian Janeway, “Relearning Old Lessons: Archaeologists Fail To Use Sound Reasoning”). It suggests a high level of organization that would likely be associated with political organization. We would like to know more, of course, but it shows that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The current majority view is hardly the final word.
Regarding the Exodus, Egyptian kings would not have recorded their defeats, only their victories. For the most part, the Egyptian records are propaganda to extol the greatness of the king. The Egyptians rarely wrote about foreigners, especially slaves. The Israelites lived in and departed from Rameses, yet no historical records have been found for any time period in Rameses, despite decades of excavation. The argument by the skeptics based on lack of historical records is a fallacious argument from silence. Then there are the problems identifying the Pharaoh that Moses confronted because Moses did not provide the name of the Pharaoh of the Exodus, and different sources of the Old Testament text contain different years at some points, and some years may have been rounded off to be symbolically significant. I don't favor the symbolic years view, but it can't be ruled out as an impossibility. There is, however, some archeological support the Exodus account, like the Egyptian record of the route that the Israelites followed through the Transjordan nations (Num. 33:45-50). (See Charles R. Krahmalkov, "Exodus Itinerary Confirmed by Egyptian Evidence," BAR 20.5 (1994): 54–62, 79).
Mr. Stark mentions Dibon as a site where some Southern Baptists dug, but didn't find anything prior to the 9th century B.C. (p. 141). But as Krahmalkov shows, the city of Dibon is mentioned in Egyptian records from the era of the Exodus as one of the cities on the route that matches the one that the Israelites followed. Also, Rameses II (1279-1212 B.C.) records that he sacked Dibon in a military campaign, so Dibon was inhabited at the time and big enough to be worth sacking. Given the independent testimony of Egyptian records and the Bible, Dibon was obviously an inhabited city prior to the 9th century, which shows us "clear as day" how inadequate archeological evidence can be to prove that something did not exist or happen thousands of years ago. The remains of Dibon have either been destroyed by nature and/or man over time, or nobody has looked in the right place yet. Christian and non-Christian excavators in the holy land in the past several decades have had a naive view of how easy it would be to dig around and find unambiguous confirmation of biblical accounts of events thousands of years ago.
The Western legal tradition of "innocent until proven guilty" is turned on its head by the minimalists who assume the Bible is false until archeological evidence proves it true. Mr. Stark says that liberal scholars are not biased in their biblical research because they will acknowledge instances where the facts agree with the Biblical account: "Critical scholars regularly point out when and where the text is accurate, or is supported by external evidence" (p. 61). But the fact that the "guilty until proven innocent" approach of the minimalists sometimes finds agreement with the Bible does nothing to remove the bias of the methodology. Archeologists who define science as a search for naturalistic explanations will also agree that historical evidence agrees with the Bible at times, but that still does nothing to negate the bias of naturalism. They will never find evidence for the supernatural since they have a theoretical commitment that excludes it. There are many historical claims in the Bible that their naturalistic commitment will not allow them to acknowledge. Their naturalistic commitment will lead nearly all of them to look for historical facts that conform to evolutionary views of the development of religious beliefs.
Mr. Stark does not make this argument, but liberals often argue that the religious assumptions of the Bible are a bias that does not allow the Bible's historical accounts to be relied on to be true, but the opposite is the case. Naturalistic empiricism, as well as other secular epistemologies, have failed to account for the possibility of human knowledge; and only a theistic worldview, with an absolute, personal being in control of whatsoever comes to pass, can provide a basis for human knowledge, whether scientific, historical, or otherwise (see my essay, "Christian Civilization is the Only Civilization – In a Sense, Of Course"). This is the rational justification of the practice of Christians to hold to the truthfulness of the Bible despite lack empirical evidence or even apparently contrary empirical evidence.
An appeal to pity is an attempt to arouse pity in an audience in order to persuade them to accept your conclusion. I think that any fair-minded reader can see that Mr. Stark's "vivid" portrait of the Canaanites being killed by the Israelites goes beyond being merely informational and is intended to arouse pity in order for readers to accept his conclusion. Maybe Mr. Stark could have made his case more objectively by following the description with the statement that "But even though you may cringe at these descriptions of killing women and children, if God commanded it, and if God is the ultimate standard of morality, then the only rational position is that these actions were moral."
This is almost funny. I charged that Mr. Stark commits the ad Hitlerum fallacy, and his response is that he was merely doing "comparative genocide." What's the point of the comparison if Hitler's wasn't being used as the standard of evil? He commits the fallacy while trying to refute it. As for the charge of inconsistency for condemning Hitler but not the invading Israelites, merely looking for similarities isn't going to identify good reasons for not making the same judgment for both. Merely looking for similarities and not differences is sloppy comparative genocide. Christian apologists have pointed out those differences, but Mr. Stark fails to address those arguments in his book. (Briefly, the differences are that the Israelites followed the command of God, as proven by spectacular miracles, to bring judgment on a people for extremely detestable ethical behavior, not race, and these commands applied to a limited historical time period that has now passed. Hitler's genocide was based on race, in terms of a false, evolutionary, survival of the fittest, mystical nature-worshipping ideology. Liberals often point to the sprinklings of Christian language in Hitler's speeches as proof that Christianity was the rationale for the Holocaust, but the use of Christian language was partly propaganda to cover for a plan to destroy the church, and partly reflected a distorted view of Christianity, with Christ being a non-divine, non-Jew- an Aryan in fact - whose purpose was to fight capitalism. He did not die for the redemption of all races nor was Christ resurrected from the dead according to Hitler. Hitler rejected the Old Testament because it was the book of the Jews and the writings of the Apostle Paul because of Paul's internationalist vision of Christianity. Mystical nature worship was the core of Hitler's ideology, not traditional Christianity.)
The Bible says that there are two factors that marked the Canaanites for destruction: 1) The sins of the Canaanites at the time of the Israelite invasion were particularly wicked (Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18), and 2) God chose the land of Canaan to be a uniquely holy land, i.e. the inhabitants of the land were to practice a unique level of holiness (which was his prerogative as the earth's ultimate Landowner). Mr. Stark acknowledges above that Israelites were permitted to marry the foreign women as long as they submitted to Yahweh's covenant: "Clearly it was conceivable that bringing a wife in from a foreign culture was relatively safe, if the wife could be made to conform her worship to the Israelite norm." So there was no defilement of the holy land with such a marriage. There may have been some tribes outside the borders of Israel that were as wicked as the Canaanites. We know that they were not the only ones to practice child sacrifice in the ancient world. But they were not defiling the holy land, so there was no command to the Israelites to conquer their land militarily. The king was forbidden from owning a large number of horses, which would have been needed for offensive wars in foreign lands (Deut. 17:16). The people of foreign lands were to adopt Yahweh's laws by persuasion (Deut. 4:6; Jonah 1:2), not by military conquest by Israel. And we can make the educated speculation that, as a general rule, since the power of gods were thought by the pagans to be tied to a certain area of land, taking a woman away from her native land and culture and requiring her to live in the land of Israel and to swear fidelity to the covenant of Yahweh reduced the threat of pagan influence from the Old Country compared to marrying a native Canaanite. Taking a wife from another land took the woman out of her pagan culture, whereas taking a wife from Canaan kept her close to her pagan culture.
Keep in mind that Mr. Stark's claim about the motives of the authors of the text are speculative, based purely on the fact that there is a contradiction in God's commands that I've shown does not exist. True to form, Mr. Stark prefers to speculate in terms of the THOMAS assumption - that the authors of this self-serving, politically motivated text and its intended audience were too moronic to notice or care about inconsistencies in the commands of God that the authors had invented in a conquest story that the authors had invented. Since liberals claim that the conquest itself was made up, there were no morally atrocious acts that actually happened that needed justification by inventing commands from God. Why would the authors invent a story that required them to invent unpopular commands from God to justify the story? They supposedly invented commands against sparing the lives of the Canaanites and against marrying Canaanites that put the Jews, both common and upper crust, in a bad light for their continued disobedience to those commands. It seems like a far-fetched scenario on the face of it. Maybe the liberals can add to their speculation by speculating about some plausible answers to these questions raised by their first speculation, but even if they could, that wouldn't prove that their speculated scenario was actually true.
It's not fair to the text to say that the idolatrous practices of tribes from land outside of Canaan "aren't cancerous at all." Evil influence could come from anywhere, but some places were likely to be more influential than others. It's more accurate to say "less cancerous." Numbers 31 is not about the mere act of bowing down to foreign deities. It was about punishing this group of Midianites led by the five chieftains that instigated the attack on Israel (not all Midianites, as Mr. Stark claims in order to create a contradiction with other texts - p.145) for their warfare tactic of sending thousands of whoring women among the Israelite soldiers to seduce them to surrender to their gods (Num. 25:16, 31:15). The non-virgin women were executed because had participated in the act of war (Num. 31:16). The boys presumably would have grown up to be men who could have taken vengeance on Israel, and/or Israel didn't have the resources to absorb them into their population. Even though it appears that Moses had originally commanded that everyone be killed, the virgin Midianite girls were the least dangerous group. They would be taken from their Transjordan homeland into Yahweh's newly established holy land, where they would be less likely to return to their old religion. (If the captive woman refused to follow Yahweh, a godly man would let her go back to her native land - Deut. 21:14.) Again, that's my conjecture about the difference in influence being based on location, but God is not obligated to "clearly-define" his reasons to us. His commands were clear enough to the ones expected to obey them. There was no ambiguity in what obedience to the commands required.
Every human being, except Jesus Christ, has committed sin to warrant death. That's why we all die: "death spread to all men because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12; cf. 1 Cor. 15:21-22). The warfare that God ordered in the conquest of Canaan was a judgment brought on those people for their particularly egregious sins (Gen. 15:13-16; Lev. 18). When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, there were not ten righteous men that could be found there (Gen. 18:22). When God destroyed the world with the flood, Noah had preached for 120 years (Gen. 6:3; 1 Peter 3:19-20; 2 Peter 2:5), yet only eight people entered the ark. We can expect that the Canaanite culture was thoroughly corrupt to a similar extent when God determined that their sin was "complete" (Gen. 15:16). The judgment brought death to more innocent family members as well, but since death is a penalty that they all deserved anyway (and we all deserve), there is no basis to complain about God's injustice. We should be marveling at God's grace that allows any of us to live. This is something that unbelievers can't seem to understand. That's why, when believers thank God that they weren't injured more than they were in some tragedy, unbelievers ask why a loving God would have allowed the tragedy to begin with. The unbelievers prefer to think that the authors of the Bible were sick morons than to have faith that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing, and at times commanding, suffering.
Mr. Stark is avoiding the argument that I made. Whether he wants to call it a "proof" or not, he made an argument, and I argued that his argument was a bad one because it relied on a faulty source of moral knowledge in order to make the claim that we know that God's commands are immoral. That faulty source of moral knowledge that Mr. Stark relied on is what "we all know" - i.e. human consensus about what is moral. But there is no consensus about what is moral (and even if there was, it would provide no basis for condemning the commands of God). As Plato pointed out to Euthyphro, how can you appeal to the gods as a reliable source of knowledge about morality when the gods are frequently fighting and disagreeing over what is moral? Ditto for humans: "But, as you say, people regard the same things, some as just and others as unjust,-about these they dispute; and so there arise wars and fightings among them . . . . Then the same things are hated by the gods and loved by the gods, and are both hateful and dear to them?" But then, Mr. Stark also promotes "intra-communal diversity" about morality rather than moral absolutes (p. 67), so appeal to human consensus as source of moral absolutes to condemn the Bible's absolutes is illegitimate on his own premise. Mr. Stark likes moral absolutes when they fit his personal sensibilities and condemns the very idea of them when they don't.
Mr. Stark gives evidence that his standard of morality, human consensus, is inconsistent, but it's even more so than he admits. "We all know that it is immoral to kill a child once it is viable," except for those who disagree. They disagreed in the culture of the Roman empire where fathers had the right to kill their children, regardless of the will of the mothers. To the extent that there is a consensus against it now, it is a product of the Bible's influence on modern civilization. Early Christians often rescued babies left to die by exposure. But those like Mr. Stark are writing books to undermine the moral authority and influence of the Bible on the basis of a worldview that undermines the justification for calling anything unethical. The trend among the secular elite is to devalue the life of human babies. Well-respected, tenured philosophers in modern universities have argued that it is not immoral to kill a child once it is viable or even after it is born since they define the moral quality of personhood as a function of mental abilities (e.g. Dr. Peter Singer). As for ardent pro-choicers not believing that it is immoral to kill a child against the mother's will, that depends on how ardent they are. Some population control advocates have favored killing viable human beings for the good of the ecosystem without regard to the "irrational" desires of their mothers, and although China hasn't made infanticide against the mother's will part of their official policy, there are credible reports of ardent pro-choice officials making it happen.
What "we all know" becomes a vapid standard of morality for Mr. Stark to judge anything by given that Mr. Stark explicitly rejects "infallible answers to moral and ethical questions" in favor of "intra-communal diversity" as the basis of ethics (p. 67). If diversity of opinion is valued about what is right and wrong, then we should not value the "elitism" of appealing to what "we all know" to condemn others, whether they be Bible-believers or professional thieves. We should celebrate disagreement about what is stealing, murder, etc. if Mr. Stark's call for moral diversity were taken seriously. This kind of moral flux, in a universe in which morality does not make sense anyway because it is ultimately amoral rather than ruled by an ultimate Moral Agent, provides no support for a civilization. It reflects the twilight of civilization the more it is believed and the more Mr. Stark's goal of undermining faith in Biblical authority is achieved.
The Foundations of Morality: The God of the Bible or Human (Modern Liberal) Consensus?
I never claimed that Mr. Stark says "humans are gods." Those are my words to characterize his position. I say that it is an accurate characterization because he takes an exclusive attribute of the God of the Bible and ascribes it to humanity. In that sense, he is making humans into gods, yet with humans retaining all the other human weaknesses. The attribute that he transfers from the true God to humanity is the ultimate authority to declare ethical laws. Mr. Stark's ultimate authority to declare ethical laws is human consensus. He claims that there is some kind of god influencing the human consensus, but he does not allow that god to speak. Mr. Stark does not allow any moral authority to speak that is higher than the human consensus. He claims that moral maturity requires humans to figure out what is moral without listening to God: "A good teacher does not issue orders one after the other and demand assent from her students; a good teacher shows the students how to come to the right conclusions on their own" (p.68). But this comparison of God with a human teacher is a false analogy. The human teacher is not God, not the absolute source of all knowledge, including ethical knowledge. The human teacher and her students are all fellow creatures, all dependent on God to give them any knowledge that they could possibly posses. If God is the source of ethical laws, then we cannot know those laws unless he communicates them to us. And if humanity has rebelled against God as the Bible teaches, then human consensus will often be wrong about ethical laws. On the other hand, if God is not the source of ethical laws, then God is not absolute but is just some sort of finite power within the universe. That view of God gives humans the right to determine their own morality, autonomously from God, just as Mr. Stark's analogy with the teacher implies. So not only does Mr. Stark raise humans to divine status in a sense, he reduces God to a finite, near-human level, rather than treating God as the source of all existence that deserves our unreserved worship and obedience. Furthermore, whatever god is directing human consensus, he is directing it to have diverse views about right and wrong (p. 67), so Mr. Stark's god is making contradictory and constantly shifting commands - and yet Mr. Stark complains that the Biblical God is contradictory.
Mr. Stark claims that he does not teach that "humans would do a better job than the humanly-constructed Bible," yet he proposes a better moral guide than the Bible: human consensus. Seems guilty as charged to me.
I never denied that Mr. Stark condemns a lot of things and believes that morality exists, but the point I made was that he has no rational justification for believing in morality in terms of his worldview. Not only is ethics arbitrary and constantly in flux in terms of his consensus view of ethics, the concept of ethics does not make sense if there is no absolute, infallible God that communicates his moral law to humanity. Mr. Stark knows right from wrong in some degree only because the God he rejects actually exists.
Mr. Stark has forgotten once again what he wrote in his book, that he wrote in favor of principles "which militate against our modern sensibilities as good capitalists" (p.228-29). I am not claiming that this quote makes Mr. Stark a crusader for socialism. It's just that all of his examples of the parts of the Bible that Mr. Stark likes are ones that promote liberal political causes, according to his interpretation of those passages. I did not mean to claim (I could have made myself clearer here) that promoting these liberal political causes is his main purpose for writing the book. But neither are his political remarks irrelevant to his thesis: Mr. Stark's examples of "what we all believe" about morality is one of his reasons for rejecting much of the Bible, and the examples of these allegedly shared beliefs in the concluding chapter (and a few others sprinkled in other chapters) are all modern liberal political causes. He may not be as liberal as his one-sided examples would a lead a reader to believe, but his lengthy response to my review about the rights of foreign immigrants shows no recognition for any reason to restrict immigration, which shows that Mr. Stark's mind, on this issue at least, is immersed in pure left-wing ideology. (Ancient Israel did not have laws against immigration, but neither did it have a welfare state; abolish the second and you can have the first - the immigration position of 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul). I also raise the issue of Mr. Stark's references in support of liberal political causes to point out Mr. Stark's hypocrisy of alleging an implicit political motive as the evil behind nearly everything he doesn't like in the Bible, yet he explicitly makes references to his own political motives as part of his reason for writing his book.
While Mr. Stark says that he does not deny that Jesus is Lord, in the next breath he says that we need to be "critical of the language of lordship," so obviously someone has been talking about Jesus being Lord in a way that Mr. Stark does not like, and I am sure those people are those with traditional Christian views. Mr. Stark does not mention his objection to the language of lordship in terms of ancient slavery in his book. I was thinking of other statements that he makes. He says that he only accepts a god who "does not issue orders one after the other and demand assent" (p.68). So Mr. Stark wants a "Lord" who doesn't tell him what to do. That pretty much empties the word "Lord" from any meaning. This god is supposedly influencing human consensus, but this a type of "consensus" that promotes "diversity" of moral views (p. 67), so however this god is directing human opinion about morality, he is doing it in contradictory and shifting ways - except when Mr. Stark wants to condemn the Bible; then the consensus becomes absolute - "exterminating the Canaanites was wrong!"). ; Mr. Stark's writing posted online makes clear that he rejects the traditional Christian view of Jesus as God. But since he believes that the Bible teaches polytheism, even if Mr. Stark were to believe in that Jesus is God, that God would be a finite being competing with similar finite gods in a world that none of them completely control. Considering all this together, Mr. Stark's God is a "lord" in a practically meaningless sense, especially compared to the traditional conception of Jesus as the God who created and sustains the universe (John 1:3, Heb. 1:2-3).
With regard to being savior, Mr. Stark condemns the barbarity of Jesus for calling for a judgment on Jerusalem that will be greater than the one brought on Sodom and Gomorrah because Jerusalem rejected him as savior (pp. 133-34). This condemnation of Jesus means that Jesus was not morally perfect, and therefore could not save others from their sins through his sacrifice on the cross. And then Mr. Stark criticises the idea of Christ's sacrifice as an endorsement of human sacrifice in general: "early Christians began to interpret the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as a sacrificial death capable of satiating the wrath of Yahweh" (p.99). And we can't forget that Mr. Stark argues that Jesus is a false prophet for being wrong about his return at the destruction of Jerusalem. It's clear that whatever minimal sense Mr. Stark regards Jesus as Savior and Lord, it falls far short of the traditional Christian view. To say, "I do not deny that Jesus is Lord and Savior," is equivocation.
He doesn't reject a God that issues moral commands, but rejects a "divine command format"? And he thinks that the Bible is contradictory?
First, according to the original series of books, The Fundamentals, that defined fundamentalism, Calvinists are not a fundamentalists. The Stone-Campbell Movement of Mr. Stark's youth is fundamentalist. As Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, the way that the word fundamentalist is used today, it's basically an F-word to describe anyone who takes God more seriously than you do. Second, Biblical faith is not contrasted with knowledge. That's a common error of atheists (see here). Mr. Stark rejects the faith that the Bible is perfect knowledge from God. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). Mr. Stark rejects the Mosaic law as knowledge revealed by God, except for some parts that match Mr. Stark's moral sensibilities. Faith can involve things that we don't know, like trusting God that he knows something that we don't, but even that is based on knowledge that God has given us, namely knowledge about God from the Bible. Third, Mr. Stark's claim of ignorance here is false humility. He claims to know a lot of things to support his claim that he really doesn't know much of anything. As Ludwig Wittgenstein observed, "doubting itself presupposes certainty" (On Certainty, §115). You can't be skeptical about something without having a more certain standard of truth by which to judge that the other thing is likely a falsehood. Mr. Stark assumes that his sensibilities about morality and his claims of an unstated political ploy behind nearly every apparent contradiction in the Bible are, among other claims, a sufficient basis of knowledge to reject the Bible as the perfect word of God. If the Bible is the perfect word of God, then you wouldn't expect God's commands to us sinful, finite creatures to always match our sensibilities, nor would you expect that sinful, finite humans would have no difficulties in reconciling every statement in the Bible with every other statement, especially in regard to an ancient past of which we can only have limited, imperfect knowledge. Despite his denials, Mr. Stark claims to know more about morality and ancient history than a God who would infallibly inspire the Bible.
Fourth, Mr. Stark's claim about not believing that secularity exists is another example of his use of equivocation to make himself seem more like a traditional Christian than he is. "Secular" is derived from the Latin meaning "of the age," and Mr. Stark wants morality defined by a human consensus of this age rather than accepting the Bible as a morality coming to us from outside history and applying to any age. My best guess is that Mr. Stark does not believe in secularity in the sense that he believes that "god" is involved in everything in life, rather than there being a religious/secular dichotomy in life; but his god is one that cannot speak from outside of our age, outside of what humans of our age think morality should be. So in the sense of wanting a this-worldly morality, Mr. Stark is a complete secularist. Mr. Stark's god is bound within the current age, not transcendent above it.
Related to this claim about secularism and infallibility is Mr. Stark's claim that to "an indispensable part of being human is to be a product of one's own time and place" (p. 55). I didn't address this criticism in my original review, but Mr. Stark repeats in his comments at Amazon, so he must be really proud of it. Not only is it a misguided attack on the Jesus of the Bible, but it reveals Mr. Stark's blind bias that he would make this claim without realizing that the inerrantist would not accept the premise of his argument. Why should we accept Mr. Stark's definition of a human? It's not the dictionary definition. How about "human" means having a body that possesses human DNA? At least that's a definition that you can find in a dictionary. How about "human" means being created in the image of God? That certainly has a Biblical basis. Jesus meets both of those definitions of human, but neither involve being a product of one's own time and place, unless some unstated philosophical baggage is brought in. Mr. Stark offers his definition of human in the context of the teaching of the Creed of Chalcedon, which teaches that Jesus has both a divine and human nature. But if Jesus is God in the flesh, and God transcends created time and place, then Jesus' teachings need not be a product of his time and place. At the very least, as God in the flesh, Jesus had potential access to knowledge beyond his own time and place. Mr. Stark's definition simply denies the divine nature of Jesus. He attempts to defend Jesus' humanity at the expense of his divinity, and so his definition ends up violating the Creed of Chalcedon. Since Jesus had a human nature, and Scripture indicates that some epistemic limitations went along with that (Matt. 24:36), he could have made innocent mistakes about some facts. On the other hand, since he was the Messiah, the Prophet of all prophets, who was to have God's words put in his mouth (Deut. 18:15-19), with the Spirit giving him wisdom, understanding and knowledge (Isa. 11:2), of whom God the Father spoke from heaven and said "Listen to him!" (Matt. 17:5), we would not expect him to make statements of factual error in his public ministry. He would certainly not make errors in his claims about future events, since that is a test whether a prophet is true or false (Deut. 18:21-22). Any statements of factual error would most likely be limited to his youth, as he "grew in wisdom" (Luke 2:52).
Mr. Stark's definition not only excludes the divine nature of Jesus, it excludes the very existence of the God of the Bible - an eternal, absolute God that can communicate with normal humans. Jesus did not even have to be God in the flesh to proclaim a message that was not "a product of one's own time and place." The test of fulfilled prophecy (Deut. 18:21-22) applies to normal human prophets as much as it applies to the Messiah. The God who is above created time and place can communicate without distortion to humans because humans were created in the image of God, intended to have fellowship with God (Genesis 1-3). God does not have to suppress the individual personalities of human prophets because those personalities are created by God. Sin does not erase the image of God in humans. God is able to suppress human sinfulness in order to have humans proclaim his message exactly as God intends it to be proclaimed (e.g. Balaam, Num. 22-24). That any prophecy of Scripture is a product of the human imagination is specifically denied by 2 Peter 1:20-21: "Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Of course, this does not mean that human prophets never make statements with factual errors at any time in their lives; but from what Scripture teaches about the Messiah, at the very least we can say that God would have been much more attentive to guide the Messiah into truth than any other prophet who ever lived, especially during his public ministry when the Father had audibly spoken from heaven to endorse Jesus' message (Matt. 17:5; Luke 3:21-22, 9:35).