Monday, 24 October 2016

Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

This is something I wrote two years ago when challenged to a debate by a guy styling himself "War_Eagle" on CARM. He then failed to show up, pretending he never knew about, claiming to have put me on ignore after issuing the challenge. How very brave of him!

To their credit, CARM were then willing to move the thread to the atheism section, where others could respond. However, they do keep that hidden to casual visitors, so you would eed to get an account to see it.

Slavery in the Ancient world

Slavery was institutional in the ancient world. In many cultures, such as ancient Rome, a slave might have a pretty good life, but many slaves, even in the same culture, were treated badly.

For example in Egypt:
The least fortunate captives were sent to work as slaves in the dreadful gold and copper mines of Nubia and Sinai, where, according to the Greeks, water was rationed and men died in great numbers from exhaustion and dehydration in the desert heat. On the other hand not all the prisoners were enslaved: some were absorbed into the army, where Sherden for instance constituted a large part of the bodyguard of Ramses II.
And of course Roman:
Slaves had no legal status; they were property, ‘tools with the power of speech’. A master’s power over a slave was absolute. Life as a slave depended on the type of work the slave did and whether they lived in the city or the country. Life as a gladiator or in the mines was especially hard and dangerous.
Most had been captured during the various wars that Rome engaged in. The enemies of Rome were well aware that if captured, their inevitable destination was the slave-market. Many chose suicide as an escape.
Nor does it seem that the treatment of the slaves who worked the vast farmlands of Italy was very much harsher than or different from that meted out to African slaves on the American and West Indian plantations in the eighteenth century

Slavery in the New Testament

The problem with the NT is more of omission. While it fails to say slavery is right, it also fails to say slavery is wrong, even when the opportunity is there. If a book regarded as a moral guide discusses slavery and fails to make it clear that slavery is wrong, then it fails as a moral guide.
Ephesians 6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.
Here we see Paul telling slaves to be good, but he fails to tell slave owners that they should free all their slaves, that slavery is morally wrong.
1 Timothy 6:1-2 Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.
Here is clear acknowledgement that Christians were keeping slaves at that time. And what is missing is any verse telling Christians that doing so is wrong. Not even a verse saying Christians should treat their slaves well!
Luke 12:47-48 The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. "But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given."
This is an allegory, so not great evidence, but does suggest Jesus accepted the brutal treatment of slaves as part of life.

Slavery in the Old Testament

The OT has two large sections dealing with how to handle slaves, Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25, but it rears its ugly head as early as Genesis:
Genesis 9:24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
"Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers."

26 He also said,
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth."
Right from the first book of the Bible, we have verses saying that one people are entitled to enslave another.

Instructions for Slave Owners in Exodus

Exodus 21:2 "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 "But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges.[a] He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

7 "If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

12 "Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.

15 "Anyone who attacks[c] their father or mother is to be put to death.

16 "Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

17 "Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

18 "If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.

20 "Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

22 "If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

26 "An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
One of the first things to note is the different rules for different types of slaves. A male Hebrew slave was to be freed after six years - but not so female slaves or gentiles.

The issue of female Hebrews slaves is complicated, and it gives the impression that daughters were sold to be a wife. Is this moral? The implication is that the girl would then be obliged to have sex against her will, i.e., rape. It also suggests women are to be considered little more than property. On the other hand, it does ensure a future for the girl in which she is provided for.

Verse 16 is about taking free people and enslaving them, and is a clear prohibition. But read it in context of the whole chapter, and it is clear that owning and trading slaves is fine. What this law does is to protect free people from becoming slaves. The last thing the slaver owners wanted was to become slaves themselves, so naturally they made that illegal.

Indeed, verse 20 makes it clear that brutal treatment of a slave is acceptable; as long as the slave survives the beating, the law has not been broken. Verse 26 goes on to say that also the slave must not lose an eye or a tooth. All very noble.

Instructions for Slave Owners in Leviticus

Leviticus 25:39 "‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

44 "‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

47 "‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, 48 they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves. 50 They and their buyer are to count the time from the year they sold themselves up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for their release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired worker for that number of years. 51 If many years remain, they must pay for their redemption a larger share of the price paid for them. 52 If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, they are to compute that and pay for their redemption accordingly. 53 They are to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly.

54 "‘Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
These instructions also make a clear distinction between Hebrew slaves and gentile slaves. Hebrew slaves appear to be comparable to indentured servants, working off a debt for a limited time. Most of the text is about these Hebrew slaves, but with regards to the gentile slaves, we see in verses 44 and 45 that the Bible permits the buying of slaves, that those slaves become the property of your children when you die and they are slaves for life.

Does The Bible Stand Against Slavery?

There are verses that are quoted as being evidence that the Bible does not condone slavery. I shall take a look at some of them.
Exodus 2:23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
I have seen this verse quoted as though it shows the Bible is anti-slavery. Sorry, I do not get it. God allowed the Hebrews to become slaves in the first place. Here we see God finally remembering his promise. He does not say slavery is wrong, he merely decides it is now wrong for his chosen people to be slaves.

When God has freed his people, they settle down and then in a later chapter, God is giving instructions for how the Hebrews should keep others as slaves. There is no suggest God has a moral problem with slavery at all. Only that he has a problem with his chosen people as slaves.

This is like saying the enslavement of blacks in the US was fine because there were laws protecting the white man!
Exodus 21:16 "Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.
This verse is about protecting free men from getting enslaved. Just four verses later, the Bible is saying that it is fine to beat a slave as long as you do not beat him to death, so to claim that verse 16 is a law against slavery is untenable. The same sentiment appears in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy:7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.

Exodus 21:26 "An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
This is about as good as it gets, with regards to gentile slaves. If they lose a tooth or an eye, they are to be set free. think about what it is not saying. If you whip your slave, then that is fine, as long as he does not lose a tooth or an eye. The implication here is that brutal treatment is perfectly acceptable, but there are limits.
Exodus 21:2 "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.
Hebrew slaves seem to have been more like indentured servants. just like the slavery in the US, this was based on racism. You treat slaves of your own race well, the rest can be treated as harshly as you like..
Leviticus 25:10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.
This would seem to be about Hebrew slaves too, as it is talking directly to Hebrews ("you") returning to their clans. Verse 46 in the same chapter makes it clear that gentile slaves were slaves for life ("You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life").
Deuteronomy 23:15 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.
This is to be applauded. But what it fails to say is that slavery is wrong.

The Epistle of Paul to Philemon

The shortest of Paul's letters appears to be Paul asking Philemon to free his slave, Onesimus. However, this interpretation has been challenged. It hinges on verses 15 to 16:
15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
Allen Dwight Callahan pointed out that this could easily mean they are estranged brothers, and hence brothers in the flesh, as well as the Lord, and now Paul is trying to reconcile them. More here:

Let us assume, however, that this is not the case. What we see here is Paul asking a Christian slave-owner to release one slave. What we do not see here is Paul saying slavery is wrong, that Christians should not own slaves, that Philemon should free all his slaves.

There is no condemnation of slavery here, or indeed anywhere in the Bible.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Were The Petrine Epistles Authored By Peter?

Traditionally, Peter was thought to be martyred in AD 64 or 65 by crucifixion, and there seems to be some evidence to support this, include a letter by Clement of Rome written later in the first century, and no reason to suppose otherwise. Much of the argument for Petrine authorship revolves around the dating of the letters. A date later than AD 65 clearly indicates a letter was not authored by Peter.

The issue of motive is an interesting one. Why would an anonymous author want to pass of his letter as that of Peter? The most likely answer is that the author was a sincere Christian, who felt his letter was important, and perhaps was what Peter would have said, and gave it Peter's name to lend it authority within the church.

It is worth noting that we do have a Gospel of Peter, which, like the letters, explicitly claims to be the work of the apostle. Christianity nevertheless rejects the Gospel of Peter, so the church itself acknowledges that some texts that claim Petrine authorship were not actually written by the apostle.

Similarly, the Apocalypse of Peter is no longer considered canon, although it originally was, despite claiming Petrine authorship.

1 Peter

There are various reasons for supposing Peter was not the author of 1 Peter. To start with, the theology is Paul's not Peter's.

Secondly, there is no mention of Jesus on a personal level. It does, however, mention the "sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories" in a general way (see also 1 Peter 2:21-24 in particular). It reads as someone who knows Jesus suffered, and is aware of the theology, but not as someone who was there at the time. Even 1 Peter 5:1 ("a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed"), where the author claims to be a witness, there is nothing personal; there is no sense of the author drawing on his own experience.

The style of writing and the philosophy exposed is considered by many to be too advanced for a Galilean fisherman. I will acknowledge he could have used a secretary, and his philosophy could have developed over decades in the church. More significant is that he uses the Septuagint as a source for Old Testament quotes, which certainly is bizarre for a Hebrew-speaking Jew.

In 1 Peter 5:1, the author refers to himself as an elder, a position that appeared later in the church, further indicating a later authorship.

In 1 Peter 1:1 the author mentions "the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia," Various sources on the internet (eg here indicate that this sequence of states was established by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72. I have found only limited support for that claim outside articles dating the epistle, so count it as suspect:

There is no mention of Mosaic law; this was a big issue in the early church, as Acts and the Pauline letters make clear, and that suggests the letter is later, after the issue had been resolved.

The letter finishes "By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you", and some suggest this indicates Peter dictated the letter to Silvanus, which accounts for the good Greek. However, the Greek indicates that Silvanus was the courier, not the scribe.

2 Peter

While scholarship is divided for 1 Peter; for 2 Peter the situation is quite different!

Very, very few people today would argue for Petrine authorship of this book. The Word Biblical Commentary, which is a conservative commentary series, argues against Petrine authorship. Of all of the books of the Bible, this is the one that is most difficult to defend in regard to authorship.

From an article arguing for Petrine authorship:
J. N. D. Kelly in his commentary on 2 Peter confesses that “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.”1 Indeed, from the very start this epistle has had a difficult journey. It was received into the New Testament canon with hesitation, considered second-class Scripture by Luther, reluctantly accepted by Calvin, rejected by Erasmus, and now is repudiated as pseudonymous by modern scholarship.

This is not just a modern view. Here is Origen:
Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of Hades shall not prevail, has left one acknowledged epistle, and, it may be, a second also; for it is doubted.
Why so much doubt? for one thing, 2 Peter 3:15-16 refer to Paul's letters as scripture; the early church would not have regarded them as such, indicating this was written relatively late.

There is some evidence 2 Peter is based on Jude, again giving a later date. This article makes the case that they are similar because both were authored by Jude (so in 2 Peter 3:1, this is the second letter after Jude, not 1 Peter):

Differences in style and vocabulary indicate 1 Peter and 2 Peter have difference authors.

While 2 Peter was eventually accepted as canon, it was considered "antilegomena" by the early church, i.e., there was much debate as to its status even then.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Justifying Genocide

I came across a series of blog posts by a guy called Clay Jones (D.Min. Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University according to his blog) that attempt to justify the destruction of the Canaanite people. It is illustrative of the lengths Christians will go to to rationalise Biblical atrocities.

An issue from the start is how far we trust the Biblical text. The Bible authors clearly had an agenda here; they were themselves trying to justify their conquest of the Canaanite lands. What they were doing was typical of the time; tribes fought each other, and the winner got the land while the losers got slaughtered. Later the Jews were on the receiving end (and it is notable that the Babylonians were considerably more moral by not doing that to the Jews).

Let us suppose, however, that the Biblical account is accurate, since we are supposing God exists here.

God Ordered the Canaanite Destruction Because of Their Sins

The first post says it was not genocide because it was capital punishment:
First, the Lord clearly explains that He ordered the Canaanite destruction because of their sinfulness.
Who said they were sinful? God. What is a sin? Disobedience to God. So what this means is that God ordered the genocide because God said that the Canaaites were disobedient to God.

If Hitler justified killing the Jews using that logic, would we give him a pass? Hitler ordered the genocide because Hitler said the Jews were disobedient to Hitler. Does that wash? Not in my book.

Here is a great quote from the first article:
Israel was a theocracy and in Leviticus 20 the Lord is unambiguous that the above sins were death penalty offenses. (To be clear: I do not think that that any of these sins—except for murdering children—should be capitally punished today.)

So the author freely admits that most of the things the Canaanites were supposedly guilty of should not lead to their death in an article where he is trying to justify their death as punishment for those things.

Here is another damning quote:
The third reason it wasn’t genocide but capital punishment is that God didn’t order the Canaanites’ destruction until their society had become completely depraved.
Why did God not step in earlier to stop the supposed sin? What possible motive could he have for allowing it to get into this state - unless he was planning from the start to wipe them out?

Were There Any Innocent Canaanites?

In the second post, the author claims it was right to kill everyone, because they were all guilty. Or to be exact, he claims:
The answer to that is simple: there weren’t any innocent adult Canaanites!
Adult Canaanites. Interesting choice of words.

What of the children? Remember, this is a guy who thinks of all the crimes the Canaanites were accused of, in his opinion only killing children deserves the death sentence.

And yet, when he considers God's slaughter of the Canaanites, he convenient forgets the children! Well, in fairness, he says he will come on to that.

Why Kill the Canaanites’ Animals?
The Canaanites Had Sex with Animals
The Sexualized Animal Must Also Die
So there you go. The Canaanites had sex with animals, therefore it was only right to kill all the animals. I guess that fits with the Biblical idea that a rapist has to marry his victim.

Presumably this guy thinks children who have been preyed on by paedophiles should be executed? Of course not! That is different, so he will apply a whole different rationalisation in that case. Remember, these guys are not trying to be consistent; there is no hope of that!

Wait, all the animals? Did the Canaanites have sex with every animal they owned? Really?

The article mentions a female gorilla that apparently tried to regularly initiate sex with men, and uses this to rationalise killing all the dogs, all the goats, all the horses and all the mules.

The argument is that all the Canaanite goats, having suffered bestiality so much at the Canaanite hands, will thereafter being constantly trying to have sex with men. Are all these animals sufficiently alike? If a female gorilla behaves like that, can we assume female goats will too? That really is quite a stretch.

Talk about clutching at straws...

The Horror of Canaanite Children’s “Family” Life

The horror the author dwells on is child sacrifice. Does the killing of children justify killing the Canaanite children? Of course not. And the author admits this:
But, as I said, this doesn’t answer why the Lord would command that these children, who themselves were victims of a depraved Canaanite culture, should be killed or how that could be fair. 
No it does not.

Why Couldn’t Israel Adopt Canaanite Children?

The author points out that the Israelite soldiers had three choices, kill the children, leave them to starve or adopt them (clearly God cannot look after them because... er... oh right, he does not exist). But, as he goes on to say, adoption was not an option because "it would corrupt Israelite society". He quotes the Bible:
Deuteronomy 20:16-18: In the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction…. as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.
You see, if an Israelite soldier had adopted a five year old Canaanite girl, she would corrupt him. Clearly this five year old would be a big risk to an all-powerful God, her influence would be greater. Better just to kill her on the spot.

As he says:
There is no logical basis to argue that the children would not have grown up to encourage the Israelites to commit Canaanite sin. If the Lord says, every Canaanite must die to keep Israel from indulging in their sins, then we have no reason to think it would be otherwise.
Turns out that God knew that these children would turn his chosen people away from him, and the only way an all-power God had to avoid that was to kill the lot of them. I guess the end justifies the means when you are God.

So really killing children is perfectly moral if you know they will be sinful in the future. Bear that in mind the next time a Christian trots out the free will argument. God is perfectly happy to curtail your free will when it suits him. Not so much when it is the free will of a rapist about to murder his victim.

Christians often like to trot out abortion when discussing dubious morality of the Bible, and this guy is no different.
Many skeptics will howl over this but it’s important to note that many of the atheists and other skeptics who complain bitterly about the Lord’s ordering the taking of the Canaanite children’s lives are hypocritical when they support abortion for any reason. This stance since 1973 has resulted in the United States suctioning, scraping, or scalding to death over fifty-five million babies!
See? Nothing wrong with the Christian God killing children if abortion is okay. Because a foetus is just the same as a child - well, if you re-label it as a baby. Except that this guy is clearly [i]against[/i] abortion; in his view abortion is morally wrong. So how can abortion make killing children morally right?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Bashing Babies on Rocks

Understanding Psalm 137

Psalm 137: 9 How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.

For reference, the Hebrew can be found here:

Why was it written?

Perhaps a bit of historical context is in order. When the Psalm was written, the Jews were in exile in Babylon. Clearly they were not happy about it, and what we read in Psalm 137 is the glee one of the captives feels at the thought of the Babylonian children getting bashed against rocks.

However, as this page makes clear, a lot of good actually came of the exile. The Jewish people developed a strong independence that it is still apparent today, and allowed them to survive the best part of two millennia without a homeland. Furthermore, the Jewish faith was re-made at this time, explain why this tragedy had befallen the people, and to some degree borrowing concepts from the Babylonians (and consequently the Christian faith would be quite different without the Babylonian captivity).

An eye for an eye

One explanation is that the Psalmist was just wanting for the Babylonians what they had suffered. This would fit with the eye-for-an-eye motif of the OT, but the problem is that there is no evidence the Babylonians actually did this.

Just how bad was the captivity?

Probably not that bad, as these pages make clear:

That is not to say the Israelites would have been happy about it, I am sure they were not, but things could have been much worse. They could have been treated in the manner they had themselves treated conquered nations.

Joshua 6:20-21
Deuteronomy 2:32-35
Deuteronomy 3:3-7
Numbers 31:7-18
1 Samuel 15:1-9

It was not God's word

Of course, someone might argument that the Psalm is just some guy's opinion; it does not reflect what God wants or thinks at all. Well, yes, I agree. That is exactly what I believe. As far as I am concerned the whole Bible is just people's opinions. It in no way reflects God's word, because there is no God. From an atheist perspective, this makes perfect sense.

However this is a big problem for anyone claiming the Bible is sacred, or is God's word. As soon as you say this verse is not really God's word, you loose all authority in the Bible. How many of the other 31,101 verses are you going to decide are inconvenient, and not really God's word? Why not all 31,102 all of them?

Here is an example:
Nowhere does it say that God approves of the Psalmist’s request or that he fulfilled it.  Just because it is recorded that the Psalmist wrote the imprecation, doesn’t mean it was approved by God.
So what parts of the Bible are approved by God? How do we know? And why did God, supposedly all-powerful and all-knowing, allow verses he does not approve to get incorporated?

Maybe bashing kids against rocks is okay!

Or so some Christian apologists would have us think.
Also, the critics need to provide an acceptable, objective moral standard by which they can criticize biblical morality.  It is one thing to complain.  It is another to offer a justification for the validity of the complaint.  By what right and by what objective ethical standard do the critics offer moral condemnation against Biblical morals?
It is an interesting strategy. You cannot objectively show bashing kids against rocks is morally wrong, therefore you cannot show the Bible is immoral. However it is rather throwing the baby out with the bathwater (on to rocks, I guess). Does anyone actually believe bashing kids on rocks is ever morally acceptable?

What we can do is consider it against Christian morality. If bashing children against rocks is immoral in the Christian morality, then the Bible is show to be inconsistent with Christian morality.

Some translations say "happy" not "blessed"

[This section added 12/May/17]

A Christian really did try this one. Of course they say "happy" not "blessed", they want to convince their flock the Bible is all nice and fluffy.

Nevertheless, the original text says "blessed".

 The Hebrew word is אַשְׁרֵי. And according to here, in the NASB, that word is translated as blessed 41 times and as happy 4 just times. When it says happy, it means the happiness that comes when you are blessed by God.

Some examples to illustrate (these just happen to be the first five from Psalms):
Psalm 1:1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

Psalm 2:12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

Psalm 32:1 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!
Psalm 32:2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

Psalm 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.
In these and in ever other instance in the Bible the word means blessed, and specifically by God. There is no doubt that Psalm 137 states that those who smash the Babylonian babies against rocks will be blessed by God.

Yeah, but atheists support abortion

Yes, many atheist do support abortion, as do many Christians. However, if anyone want to argue that abortion is wrong, but dashing children on rocks is morally right, I look forward to seeing that argument.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

How Fast Do Myths Appear?

In Who was Jesus? A Christian Perspective, William Lane Craig makes this claim:

For in order for these stories to be in the main legendary, a very considerable length of time must be available for the evolution and development of the traditions until the historical elements have been supplanted by unhistorical. This factor is typically neglected in New Testament scholarship, as A. N. Sherwin-White points out in Roman Law and Roman Society tn the New Testament. Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is an eminent historian of Roman and Greek times, roughly contemporaneous with the NT. According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states for these to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be 'unbelievable'; more generations are needed. All NT scholars agree that the gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.

Is this a reasonable claim? I thought I would look at four modern myths, and see how rapidly they appeared. I do appreciate that this is not an exact comparison. Life today is obviously different to life back then. However, we need to think carefully about whether those differences would allow myths to form slower or faster. I would suggest that myths would have a harder time getting established in a world with better communication.

Eating carrots improves eyesight

This is a myth that was started deliberately by the British during the war to obscure the fact that RAF pilots could find German planes at night using Radar. It is a myth that got established within the timespan of WW2, very quickly indeed, though obviously the fact that the British government was promoting it will have accelerated it considerably.

Aliens at Roswell

In contrast, this is something the US government denied. Nevertheless, since 1947 a mythology involving a crashed alien spaceship and government officials performing an alien autopsy and using alien technology has flourished. The Roswell myth became big in the eighties and nineties, with various books appearing, the first in 1980, just 33 years after the incident. A autopsy video even appeared in 1995, within 50 years.

I think what is interesting about this one is that there were people there who knew what had happened, and this myth developed anyway. People wanted there to be aliens at Roswell, and so were willing to believe anything that supported that view.

Could the same be said of the early Christians? I think so. They wanted to believe Jesus was an incredible miracle-worker - God-incarnate even - and so were willing to believe pretty much anything that supported that idea.

At Roswell, the eye witnesses were constrained by secrecy agreements and the site was off-limits to the general public. At the resurrection, the eye witnesses were dead or scattered by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and the site was too far away (given transport at the time) to make a casual visit possible.


Scientology is a religion created by Ron L Hubbard in 1952, with its own bizarre mythology (so bizarre that - before the internet - you have to be in the religion many years before you were ready to hear about it). From wiki:

Among these advanced teachings is the story of Xenu (sometimes Xemu), introduced as the tyrant ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy". According to this story, 75 million years ago Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. Scientologists at advanced levels place considerable emphasis on isolating body thetans and neutralizing their ill effects.

I do not have figures for scientology membership, but it was significant by the eighties, just thirty years after it began.

Angels of Mons

Early in World War 1, the British had to beat a retreat from Mons in Belgium. Some months later a short work of fiction by Arthur Machen appeared in the Evening News, a London newspaper, describing how mystical bowmen had appeared during the retreat to aid the British.

It was less than a year after that that people were claiming these ghostly bowmen were angels, and that they had actually been there!


Myths can appear fast!

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Nature of the Resurrected Body

What will it be like for people in heaven? What sort of bodies do they have? The Bible does not address this much so we have to speculate, but we get a few hints.


The biggest text we have on this issue is by Paul:
1 Cor 15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown [l]a perishable body, it is raised [m]an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, [n]earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, [o]we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
The resurrected will have new bodies, heavenly bodies, suitable for entrance to heaven. Paul says more in his sequel:
2 Cor 5:1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.[a] 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
He is not talking about a ghost, but a physical body. Not flesh and blood, but a heavenly body. Our physical bodies are frail, are prone to illness, and age. Not so the heavenly body!

Also worth pointing out this verse, which makes it clear Paul believed it was possible for a person to visit heaven outside of his physical body:

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
It is worth remembering that the custom among Jews was to bury the body in a tomb to allow the flesh to rot away, and then, perhaps a year later, to collect the bones and place them in an ossuary. Clearly Paul cannot have believed anyone dead for any appreciable time would be resurrected in his or her original body!


Another hint in Matthew, this time quoting Jesus himself:
Mat 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
No marriage. What does that say about sex? Do you think the resurrected are free to have sex with whoever they like? Or no sex at all? Christianity makes a big deal about sex outside of marriage; in the afterlife, either sex outside of marriage is morally right, or there is no sex. The latter seems more likely to me (unless promiscuity in heaven your reward for abstinence on earth?).

Lust is considered one of the seven deadly sins, and would certainly not be permitted - or even possible - in heaven, which further argues against sex in heaven.

This makes me wonder about other earthly matters: Do people wee and poo in heaven? If they do not, do they need to eat? As Paul says, the new body will be imperishable; it will not decay. Why think you need food to sustain such a body?


A couple of other verses to think about:
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
Acts 13:34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’

Paul and the Apocalypse

Paul expected the apocalypse in his lifetime. He discussed how the dead would be resurrected, but what of the people alive at that moment? He makes it clear that they too will be changed. You cannot get into heaven in your current earthly body, but that is okay, God will transform your current body into a heavenly body, so you too can enter heaven.
Phil 3:20 For our [m]citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;21 who will transform [n]the body of our humble state into conformity with [o]the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

1 Cor 15:51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised [r]imperishable, and we will be changed.

Jesus' resurrection

With regards specifically to Jesus, we read in Acts that God did something special to allow the disciples to see Jesus in his new body:
Acts 10:39 We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the [ad]land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a [ae]cross. 40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
It does also mention Jesus ate and drank after the resurrection. That sounds like a physical body. Indeed, the Gospel of John has Thomas inspecting the crucifixion wounds.
John 20:24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
This is clearly Jesus raised in his original body!

Of all the discrepancies between the resurrection accounts, for me this is the big one. According to Paul, Jesus was raised in a new body. According to the later gospel writers, he was raised in his original body.

The explanation is in the word "later". By the time Matthew Luke and John were written perhaps half a century had passed and many, if not all, the original witnesses were probably dead. Taken together with problem with the post-resurrection sighting of Jesus in Jerusalem, we can be sure that all these accounts are pure embellishment.

Jewish Beliefs

Some Christians respond by saying that Paul was a Jew and therefore had a Jewish view of the afterlife, i.e., a belief in a physical resurrection. This claim fails for two very different reasons

Firstly, there was no monolithic Jewish view of the afterlife. Judaism had splintered into numerous factions, with their own beliefs on the afterlife. The Saducees, for example, believed there was no afterlife. To claim that a specific man was Jewish and therefore had the standard Jewish belief is just plain nonsense.

Secondly, Paul clearly changed his religious beliefs. Even if he originally believed in a physical resurrection, he also believed Christianity was wrong. He had a life-changing experience on the road to Damascus that is pretty well documented. We know it changed his mind about Christianity. Why would it not also change his mind about the nature of the resurrection?

Remember, what Paul saw was Jesus appearing as a bright light. He saw no physical body. If he became convinced this was the resurrected Jesus, then he must have also become convinced that the resurrected body was (or resembled) a bright light - whatever his view on the resurrected body had been prior to that.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Abortion and the Fundamental Christian

Abortion is a tricky moral subject, one I am thankful I have never had to deal with on a practical basis.

It is also a topic Christians like to trot out whenever their are floundering in a moral discussion. They assume all atheists are pro-abortion, and so, whatever the topic, say atheists cannot be moral if they condone the murder of humans.

Is a single cell with human DNA a human being? We all shed skin daily, and that skin is dead cells with human DNA. No one sheds a tear for those cells, so why shed a tear for a fertilised cell?

The fertilised cell has the potential to be a person, but is not itself a person. It has none of the attributes that we value in our fellow man. Nevertheless, Christian fundamentalists insist that a fertilised cell has the same rights as an adult, and specifically that killing a fertilised cell is murder.

What they do not seem to realise is that a huge number of fertilised cells never make it to the second week of pregnancy:

Here is a page at MedlinePlus, which appears to be a US government agency:
Around half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among women who know they are pregnant, 15 to 20 out of every 100 will have a miscarriage. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage drops after the baby's heartbeat is detected.

Other links:
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a majority of pregnancies never go past the first few weeks, and even after a clinical diagnosis of pregnancy (using ultrasound), there's still about a 25 percent chance of miscarriage. Many miscarriages occur so early in the pregnancy that the woman may not have even been aware she was pregnant.
It’s estimated that almost half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage — many occurring just weeks after conception. Once a woman knows she’s pregnant, the chance of a miscarriage is 15-20 percent, with the majority happening in the first 10 weeks.
It’s estimated that almost half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage — many occurring just weeks after conception. Once a woman knows she’s pregnant, the chance of a miscarriage is 15-20 percent, with the majority happening in the first 10 weeks.
A miscarriage is a pregnancy that spontaneously ends before the 24th week. Unfortunately, miscarriage is very common, with around 10 to 15% of recognized pregnancies ending this way (1, 2). Most happen within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (3, 4) and it is thought that as many as 40% of eggs that are fertilised miscarry, although frequently too early in pregnancy to be noticed (5).
Miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of all known pregnancies end this way, and more than 80 percent of these miscarriages occur within the first 12 weeks. There is a lot of debate over the actual rate of miscarriage, however, because you may have one before you even know you're pregnant. In these cases, the loss usually goes undocumented. When these unrecognized losses are taken into consideration, the estimated rate of miscarriage is anywhere from 50 to 75 percent.
It is thought that as many as half of all pregnancies miscarry before the fertilised egg even implants in the womb. Early after implantation, and before a pregnancy is clinically recognised, around 30% will miscarry.
Research has shown up to 70 percent of all conceptions end in miscarriage.

The risk is around 15 or 20% once the woman knows she is pregnant. This is the figure usually quoted, because afterall this is the figure a pregnant woman wants to know about. This link makes that very clear; it is talking about confirmed pregnancies:
A miscarriage is when a pregnancy is lost before 24 weeks of pregnancy. It is thought that around one in five confirmed pregnancies ends this way.

If half of pregnancies fail like that, that means that for every person alive today, there was a fertilised egg that failed to make make to to the second week of pregnancies. That is billions of dead human beings, dead babies - as Christians define them.

And this is how God engineered us! If you prefer, this is how God chose to curse mankind. Either way, this is billions of people dead because of God.

Worth thinking about when fundamentalist Christians are accusing atheists of condoning murder.