Review of "The Human Faces of God" by Thom Stark

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Excerpt Michael Warren reviews the book, "The Human Faces of God", by Thom Stark. Warren's incisive analysis demolishes typical arguments advanced against the Bible and the Christian Faith. Continue reading

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I first learned of Thom Stark’s book[1] from Frank Schaeffer’s blog at the Huffington Post.[2] Frank Schaeffer is the son of the famous Protestant theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer. Francis Schaeffer helped draft the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which Stark attacks in his book. In the 1980’s Frank traveled the United States with his dad promoting the pro-life cause and the importance of Christianity in the creation of Western Civilization and for the West’s survival. But sadly, Frank has now rejected Christianity, and he recommends this book to explain what’s wrong with believing the Bible. That Frank would promote this book demonstrates his own poor reasoning in rejecting Christianity. Thom Stark’s book is full of bad reasons to reject the Bible and the God revealed in it.[3]

 

The Straw Man Inerrancy Claim

 

The subtitle of Thom Stark’s book is “What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide it)”, so a major point of attack in the book is the doctrine of inerrancy. In particular he attacks the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which says that "We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration." Like many liberals, Stark makes the absurd claim that inerrantists like the ones that authored Chicago Statement believe that the Bible is inerrant simply because it claims to be inerrant. A quick glance at the Chicago Statement should confirm that the authors chose not to cite any Scripture to support any of their statements. They add this statement merely to affirm that they believe that their statements about Biblical inerrancy can be shown to be consistent with what the Bible teaches about itself. It’s important that the Bible claims its own inerrancy because that gives us a reason to consider the claim.

 

Inerrancy Derived from the Doctrine of an Absolute God

 

Anyone can claim to be inerrant, but the Biblical doctrine of inerrancy is rooted in the nature of the God that reveals Himself in the Bible. 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 could surprise him with new facts. This type of God could not be anything but inerrant.

 

Why believe in this sovereign God taught in Scripture? It short, because it’s the only way to make sense of the world. Because an absolutely rational God created everything, the universe is rational, and humans made in His image can fruitfully study nature. God makes science possible. Because our Creator is absolutely good, humans must live ethically. But if the universe is ultimately amoral, there is no reason to think that such a thing as ethics exists. We humans are just bags of molecules with no purpose or dignity. An irrational, amoral world is the price of rejecting the inerrant God of the Bible.[4]

 

One of Stark’s lines of attack against inerrancy is to say that the humans to whom God reveals His message cannot be trusted to write it down without corrupting it. Mr. Stark and his liberal crowd have a stronger view of man's depravity than Calvinists do. The biblical 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, as the account of the prophet Balaam vividly illustrates. Even though Balaam tried his best not to prophecy God’s message, he failed and God prevailed (Numbers 22-24). Inspired writings of the prophets can even reflect the prophets’ 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 and other liberals. Furthermore, because the God of the Bible controls history, the text that God inspires can be preserved through the course of history without substantial alteration of the message.

 

Hidden Polytheism in the Bible

 

Another of Stark’s lines of attack against inerrancy is the claim that the Bible teaches polytheism in the early part of Israel’s history, with Yahweh being just one of many gods. Stark recognizes that Isaiah and later prophets taught monotheism, and he says that this means that the message of the Bible changed over the years, and that in turn shows that the Bible is largely a human construct rather than being infallibly inspired by God.

 

Deuteronomy 32

 

Stark finds polytheism in Deuteronomy 32, the Song of Moses.  Stark appeals to the Dead Sea Scroll’s version of this passage, which reads:

 

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

 

“Elyon” is a description, not a name, but Stark sees it as possibly having once been the name of a god that was seen as ruler over all the earth and superior to Yahweh. Why couldn’t Elyon be Yahweh? Stark reasons Elyon must be a supreme god over Yahweh because “a father doesn't give an inheritance to himself.” Unfortunately for Mr. Stark, the Bible often uses that language where there is no other god or other grantor of any nature in view. First, the word translated “inheritance” can be translated as “possession,” so there being two parties - a giver and a receiver - is not a necessary implication of the word. Then we read verses like Exodus 34:9 where 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") is used. Like in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, the "inheritance" is Yahweh preserving the nation of Israel 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." Deuteronomy 4:19-20 parallels Deuteronomy 32:8-9 except that Yahweh is apportioning the heavenly bodies rather than earthly land to all the nations, while taking Israel as His unique possession: "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. 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." This passage shows Yahweh taking (active verb, not receiving) one nation as his own unique inheritance; there is no higher god giving Israel to Him. Yahweh owns everyone and everything in the universe, yet Israel is Yahweh's inheritance in the sense that he commits Himself to uniquely preserve this particular nation for ages to come for the purpose of worshipping Him alone.

 

Another feature of Deuteronomy 32 that Stark ignores is that verses 17 and 21 say that the gods of the other nations are “no gods” but really demons or just statues. This is important in understanding the use of the word "gods" in the Bible. The “gods” of other nations are demons, mere statues, or rulers that are supposed to represent God in matters of justice. 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).

 

One last feature of Deuteronomy 32 that Stark fails to fully reckon with is verse 39 in which Yahweh says “there is no one beside me.” Stark correctly points out that this phrase means that the speaker is claiming to be the greatest, but not necessarily the only one of his kind.[5] In Zephaniah 2:4 the city of Nineveh boasts, “I am, and there is no one beside me,” obviously meaning that Nineveh is the greatest city, not the only city to exist. But even with this qualification, verse 39 contradicts Starks claim that earlier in the song Elyon is being presented as a god greater than Yahweh. And in the context of the song saying that the gods of other nations are “no gods,” for Yahweh to say that “there is no one beside me” does mean that He is the only true God. He is the greatest among all the so-called gods because He is the only one in His ontological class, the Creator of heaven and earth.

 

Psalm 82

 

Another place that Stark finds polytheism is in Psalm 82. This psalm says, in part, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment. . . . I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince’” (Psalm 82:1,6-7). Stark’s allegedly strong proof that the pagan context was the original context is that the language about a divine council of gods in Psalm 82 is just like the religions of Ugarit, ancient Greece, and all the other polytheistic religions of the Ancient Near East (ANE), therefore these parts of the Bible must have been derived from these ANE religions. In the context of the Bible as a whole, however, God rules all other authorities and over the whole universe because he is uniquely the Creator of all that exists. Regardless of whether these sons of God were material or immaterial beings, 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. 

 

Looking only at similarities and not dissimilarities is shallow comparative religion.  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. [6] As the Apostle 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.[7]

 

While immaterial creatures being the sons of God in Psalm 82 would not be inconsistent with monotheism, the last line of the psalm says that these sons of God will die like any human prince, and the text between these quotes indicates that that is just what they are. Verses 2-4 say, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy;  deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”  Condemning these "gods" for judging unjustly by showing partiality to the wicked and failing to provide justice to the afflicted and orphans 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 Stark himself acknowledges.[8] If Psalm 82 clearly teaches polytheism as Stark claims, it's amazing that Jesus, all the other ancient Jewish scholars of Scripture, and Christian theologians had never seen it, but modern Enlightenment scholars found just what served their ideology.

 

The phrase “sons of god” or equivalent wording undeniably applies to humans in many passages (Deut. 14:1, Psalm 73:15, Hosea 1:10). It’s common to hear the claim that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 were fallen angels, but every single reference in this chapter blames the coming flood of judgment on "man" who is "flesh," not angels or some other immaterial beings. As Dr. David Livingston argues, the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 were most likely rulers, just as the context of Psalm 82 indicates.[9] In the constantly violent, survival-of-the-fittest environment described in Genesis 4 and 6, those who would be the rulers would tend to be the biggest brutes of them, which explains why the same word, “Nephilim,” is applied to their sons who were famous for their feats and also to the giant warriors in Moses’ day.

 

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.  But this assumes the evolutionary view of religion rather than taking into account the history of the world as laid out in Genesis.  Undoubtedly, various ancestors of the Israelites held pagan beliefs, but that does not mean that Biblical doctrine developed from paganism.

 

The alternative paradigm takes seriously the flow of history presented in Genesis in which monotheism came first, and polytheism was a later perversion. In the context of God creating man in His very image to serve as God’s representative to rule over the earth (Gen. 1:26), it makes sense to say that man is a “son of God” since a son reflects the image of his father. As God’s representative ruler over creation, man could even be referred to as a “god,” but only in representative sense, like the police are referred to as “the law.” Ideally, man was “the law” over the creation because man was to carry out and enforce God’s law as God’s representative over creation. This would include a police function over other men after the Fall when men began to act criminally. Genesis 6 reflects this use in calling that subset of humanity that rules over the rest of humanity the “sons of God,” even though these “sons of God” engaged in crimes themselves. Rulers are established by God as His ministers for our good (Romans 13:1-7), although in a fallen world they often fall short of their duty.

 

The account of the temptation of Adam and Eve shows man that tried to become like God in an illegitimate sense of deciding what was good and evil autonomously from God. With the Fall, the first form of polytheism was born. The illegitimate deification of man became mixed with the original, good sense of ruling under God’s authority, so that rulers called themselves gods and claimed to be the offspring of gods that they had invented to legitimize their rule in the eyes of their people.   

 

After the Flood, Noah and the other seven worshiped the one, true God, the Creator of heaven and earth; but soon their offspring departed from it into polytheism again – worshipping man, other aspects of creation, and gods of their own imagination. They still carried on various ideas from the original knowledge of God, but they 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 revelations to the Hebrews were restorations of the original worship of the Creator. In short, the polytheism of all the ANE cultures was a corruption of the creational status of man as God’s representative on earth.

 

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 ANE cultures or even derive from Israelite culture.

 

Alleged Contradictions: Proof that Moronic Political Manipulators Wrote the Bible

 

Another line of attack against the inerrancy of the Bible is Stark’s claim of various contradictions in the Bible that prove, according to him, that the stories were created by devious, non-fictional “Orwellian”[10] redactors to advance the power of their political faction by fooling the populous with the false heroic or fear-inducing tales. First, how does Stark know that these political schemers were behind the contradictions in the Bible? There is no direct admission in the Bible or in any archeological discovery that reveals it. The speculation is simply convincing to Mr. Stark. But it’s not an explanation that makes sense. To make this claim seem credible, Stark claims that the Jews didn’t care about contradictions in the Bible. But there is a great deal of evidence against that, at least for the Jews that cared about faithfulness to Yahweh. 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). 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.

 

Furthermore, the scenarios that Stark envisions to account for the alleged contradictions would require the scheming redactors to be morons, as well as the populous that they were trying to dupe. For example, Stark claims that the story of David killing Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 was inserted into the text to increase the influence of David’s political faction. Stark says that the truth is found in 2 Samuel 21:19, which says that a soldier named Elhanan killed Goliath.[11] If these redactors inserted a whole false chapter into the book of Samuel, but forgot to remove the true account in the same book (Samuel was later divided in two parts because of its length), then the redactors were morons, and so was anyone who read the whole book and believed the false story. A few small pen strokes turn an untranslated accusative marker in 2 Samuel 21:19 into the Hebrew word “brother of,” so that Elhanan kills the brother of Goliath, resolving the contradiction (as 1 Chronicles 20:5 says, although “Lahmi” in this verse is probably a corruption of “Bethlemite”). But rather than this plausible copyist mistake, Stark prefers his tale of moronic political intrigue.

 

Stark also claims that the statement in 1 Samuel 17 that “David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem” (v. 54) must be false because "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)."[12] Again, these allegedly contradictory accounts are in the same book. Those moronic redactors didn’t redact enough to remove the contradiction that makes their inserted fairy tale of David killing Goliath much less believable to the populous that they were trying to dupe, unless they were all too stupid to see the contradiction. With a little more research, Stark should have seen that there is no contradiction. The people of Israel did have a relationship with Jerusalem at the time of David’s youth because the Bible says that 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).

 

Stark makes many more claims about contradictions in the Bible that require the redactors and the populous that they were trying to fool to be morons. The normal rule followed for interpreting any author, 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 like Stark don’t give the Bible that much respect. They 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. Liberals judge the plausibility of an interpretation of Scripture without regard to whether it makes the author say contradictory things. I call this approach The Hermeneutic Of Morons Authoring Scripture, or THOMAS for short. Rather than scripture interpreting scripture, scripture is interpreted against scripture on the basis of extremely dubious speculations about politically scheming, moronic redactors.

 

Liberals are Merely Unbiased Followers of the Facts

 

Stark presents inerrantists as ideologically biased in their treatment of the evidence related to their claims, yet he says that liberal proponents of higher criticism just follow the facts: “[T]he ideal of the critical scholar is a degree of objectivity; the ideal for the inerrantist is bias.”[13] His characterization ignores all sorts of philosophical issues concerning empiricism and interpretation. Everyone has presuppositions, and “objectivity” will be defined differently for people with different presuppositions. Stark ignores the demise of the verification and falsification criteria of logical positivism. Contrary to the naturalistic empiricism of logical positivism, all facts are interpreted facts. Facts do not “speak for themselves” – i.e. facts are not known apart from philosophical assumptions.[14] He ignores how secularists define “science” to mean naturalism, making it a foregone conclusion that their “scientific facts” will exclude evidence of the supernatural. He ignores interpretive issues that directly relate to biblical archeology, like the debate over processual archeology versus postprocessual archeology. He pretends that there are no secular biases in research. [15]

 

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. Stark contends that liberal scholars are not biased in their biblical research because they will acknowledge instances where the facts agree with the Biblical account: "[T]here is no reason in principle why the critical scholar is required to ascribe error to the text. Critical scholars regularly point out when and where the text is accurate, or is supported by external evidence."[16] 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. Their methodology wrongly requires them to find error in the text when archeology has yet to find confirmation.

 

Other sources of secular bias could be named. The “THOMAStic” bias toward the explanation of moronic political manipulation to interpret the Bible has already been mentioned. To cite one more example, 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. Their naturalistic commitment will lead them to look for historical facts that conform to evolutionary views of the development of religious beliefs, as Stark has done.

 

Archeology and Its Limits

 

As one would expect, Stark cite lack of archeological evidence as proof that the Old Testament is wrong. His claims about Jericho and Ai are adequately answered by Dr. Bryant Wood.[17] It’s true that there are some disconnects between what the Bible describes and what some current archeological evidence seems to say, but we have to recognize the limits of archeology as well. Not only are all facts interpreted facts, but the facts we have are much more limited than we would like. As the secularists are fond of saying, science is always provisional. Empirical evidence can’t even settle who shot JFK just a few decades ago, even though cameras were rolling. When we are talking about events thousands of years ago from which most of artifacts 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, as Stark claims.

 

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 Ai was left uninhabited after the fire, but that doesn't really tell us the how extensive the fire was and what materials burned and what wouldn’t. 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 Transjordan 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 Transjordan 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.[18] 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.

 

Stark repeats the claim that there is no evidence of the Exodus. But one problem with this is that 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 argue that some years have been rounded off to be symbolically significant, although I don’t favor that view.[19] There are also problems of discrepancies between radiocarbon dating and archeological dating of the reigns of the Pharaohs.[20] There are challenges to the conventional dating of the reigns of the Pharaohs, such as the New Chronology school arguing for overlapping reigns of some Pharaohs.  There is, however, some archeological support of the Exodus account, like the Egyptian record of the route that the Israelites followed through the Transjordan nations (Num. 33:45-50),[21] and the name “Israel” being inscribed on an Egyptian statue base that dates prior to the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386–1349 BC), placing it about the time of the Exodus.[22]

 

Stark mentions Dibon as a site where some Southern Baptists dug, but didn't find anything prior to the 9th century B.C.[23] But as Charles 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.[24] 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. There has been a tendency for Christian and non-Christian excavators in the holy land in the past several decades to have a naïve view of how easy it would be to dig around and find unambiguous confirmation of biblical accounts of events thousands of years ago.

 

Liberal Consensus Condemns God’s Alleged Commands

 

Like other critics of the Bible, Stark attacks the morality of the God of the Bible as evidence that these stories are myths rather than divinely inspired. Stark says that “we all know”[25] that the things that God commands in the Old Testament are immoral, like the command to kill all the Canaanites. Stark is setting up a consensus of his liberal friends to overrule God. Basically, the opinions of his liberal friends take the place of God’s commands as the ultimate authority in Stark’s worldview. He says that he does not want a god that issues moral commands,[26] which of course leaves the word of man to be the ultimate moral authority.  But it’s a self-defeating moral philosophy. These god-like liberals are products of an ultimately amoral, impersonal universe, and the idea of morality makes no sense in such a world. Stark and his liberal pals see themselves as the most enlightened of the human race, but the more that their basic philosophy of life is accepted, the more that the moral foundations of civilization are eroded.

 

But as for a better understanding of God’s command to exterminate the Canaanites, we need to remember that 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. Regarding the “fullness” or “completeness” of the Canaanite’s wickedness (Gen. 15:16), we can compare it to God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which case there were not ten righteous men that could be found there by the time God determined that they had to be destroyed (Gen. 18:22). Also, 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.”

 

Since God chose the land of Canaan to be particularly holy, this meant that there may have been some tribes outside the borders of Israel that were as wicked as the Canaanites, but they were not subject to the same judgment. 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. These were commands of extermination were confined to a particular time and place, not universal commands for all times.

 

Since God treated the land of Canaan differently from other lands, does this make God unfair to the Canaanites, especially to the children who were killed along with the adults? 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). 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.[27] We can never fully understand the ways of God, but the only alternative to living with this mystery is to have complete mystery, complete darkness – an ultimately irrational, amoral universe in which there is no possibility of knowledge or ethics. That’s the price of rejecting the inerrant God of the Bible.

 

Michael Warren authors the blog, Christian Civillization. This article has been published here with permission from the author.

 

Endnotes:



[1] Thom Stark, The Human Faces of God:  What Scripture Reveals When it Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It) (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011).

 

[2] Frank Schaeffer, Was Jesus Wrong? (10/25/10).

 

[3]  I respond to some additional claims in Stark’s book at http://www.christianciv.com/humanfacesofgod.htm and http://www.christianciv.com/humanfacesofgod2.htm.

[5] The Human Faces of God, 75.

[6] The “formless and void” of Genesis 1 is not equivalent to the chaos from which the world is made in polytheistic mythology. See David T. Tsumura, Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Stories of Creation and the Flood: An Introduction.

[8] The Human Faces of God, 51.

[10] The Human Faces of God, 15.

[11] The Human Faces of God, 154-59.

[12] The Human Faces of God, 153.

[13] The Human Faces of God, 61.

[14] See Willard Van Orman Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”; Imre Lakatos, "Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes" in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, edited by Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1970); Greg L. Bahnsen, Science, Subjectivity and Scripture

[15] See Interpreting Archeology, Ian Hodder, ed. (Psychology Press, 1995).  For a recent article concerning biases in geology see Andrew Curtis, The Science of Subjectivity, Geology (v. 40 no. 1 p. 95-96, doi: 10.1130/focus012012.1). For comments on this and other articles, see “Chinks in the Scientific Method” at Creation Evolution Headlines.

[16] The Human Faces of God, 61

[20] See Hendrik J. Bruins, "Dating Pharaonic Egypt," Science, Vol. 328, 18 June 2010.

[21] See Charles R. Krahmalkov, "Exodus Itinerary Confirmed by Egyptian Evidence," BAR 20.5 (1994): 54–62, 79.

[23] The Human Faces of God, 141.

[24] “Exodus Itinerary,” 57-58.

[25] The Human Faces of God, 102.

[26] Stark claims that moral maturity requires humans to figure out what is moral without listening to God. He argues this based on a false analogy between God and a human teacher: "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" (The Human Faces of God, 68). Of course, unlike God, the human teacher is a finite, dependent creature like the students, not the origin of all that exists, including moral standards.

[27] For more on the problem of evil, see Greg Bahnsen, The Problem of Evil.

Comments Comment RSS

4/30/2012 1:00 PM #

Points well made. To say that the Bible must be taken literally opens up more questions than it answers. The Scripture was transmitted in the mind, understanding and literary method of its time. Literal can be meant to coincide with current language. A new Hebrew translation of the Hebrew Bible recently published in Israel demonstrates how language changes (and loses in translation). Something that is written means a particular thing that the writer intends the reader to comprehend. All to often the Bible has been translated, interpreted and bent to fit the meaning someone else intends to put upon it (mainly to prove a point that they are making). It is essential to study and understand the mindset of the recipients of the inspired Word, otherwise the Bible becomes a "ouija board" perversion of what is intended to be an all-encompassing guide to living.

Tom Brennan - 4/30/2012 1:00:25 PM

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