Response to Mike Gantt Review
Mike Gantt has written what he seems to think is a scathing review of my book. (It is a review in twelve parts, and begins here.) He has stated on numerous occasions that I won’t be “very pleased” with what he has to say. In response, I’ll start by stating up front that it’s not that I’m not pleased with the criticisms he makes of my book because they’re good criticisms. I’m not pleased with them because they were a complete waste of my time, many of them bordering on unintelligible. His review is long; I’ll give him that. But part of that is due to the repetition of assertions that appeal only to people who already share his views, and that will otherwise persuade no one else. In reality, many of Gantt’s criticisms don’t even apply to my book. He has beaten a number of straw men; he has concocted claims I am supposed to have made; he has displayed a predilection for guessing at my unspoken motives, and in every case, he has misdiagnosed me. It’s really a sad review. So why am I responding? Honestly, because I’m bored, and because I’m procrastinating on projects I ought rather to be doing. With that said, I’ll get to the blah blah blah, whatever.
[DISCLAIMER: My response to Gantt’s review is full of sarcasm. If you’re offended by sarcasm, don’t read the response. It’s as simple as that. In all honesty, it was the only way I could get through this. Call it a character defect if you will. I call it therapeutic. If Gantt had been a little less confident in his armchair diagnoses of my motives, and a little less prone to flagrant caricature of my views, I’d have written a really nice response with all the cordiality appropriate to a constructive dialogue. But since Gantt’s review was more deceptive than constructive, I gave him the responses his criticisms deserved, in my opinion. If you have a different opinion, you’re welcome to it. I’m not really looking for a discussion about it though. I’ve already wasted enough time as it is. So you’ve been warned. By continuing to read, you agree (a) not to be offended by my sarcasm, or (b) that you won’t complain to me about it if you are. If you complain, you’re in violation of the agreement requisite for the reading of this blog post. ]
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S INTRODUCTION
I am concerned that Thom’s book is obscuring more truth than it is presenting.
That’s a valid concern. Let’s see if it’s my book or Gantt’s review of it that’s doing the obscuring.
As you can tell from the title, the endorsements, the foreword, and the preface, this book presents a liberal Christian view and is an argument against conservative Christianity.
So says Gantt, repeatedly. I’m a “liberal” and the objects of my criticism are “conservatives.” Gantt seems to find these labels useful, even revelatory, throughout his review. But we’ll see as we progress why Gantt’s use of them only serve to obscure the reality of the situation.
My purpose in this review therefore is to stand up for Jesus Christ and for the Scriptures. I believe Thom’s book is destructive of faith in both, even though he may not intend it to be so.
There you have it. At least he’s honest. Gantt’s objective is not to provide an objective analysis of my book, but to “stand up for Jesus Christ and the Scriptures,” because he thinks my book is “destructive of faith in both.” No further comment.
Starting with the subtitle, I do not believe that Scripture “gets God wrong.” Rather, I think we sometimes get Scripture wrong. There’s a world of difference.
I’m glad to know where Gantt stands.
Thom’s great foil in the book is the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy. As I said, I don’t want to intervene in his argument with fundamentalism. Therefore, I’m not interested in defending the Chicago statement (or condemning it either, for that matter). However, I am intensely interested in defending the point of view that Jesus put forth about the Scriptures.
Among other things, Jesus said,
“Scripture cannot be broken.” – John 10:35
He also said something like “even the dots of the i’s and the crossings of the t’s are important” in Matthew 5:17-19. And in Luke 24: 25 “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (italics mine). And there are more references to which we could turn, but I’ll stick with the short and sweet “Scripture cannot be broken” as representative of Jesus’ view.
Think of it this way: Jesus believed that the Scriptures are the word of God. God cannot lie. Therefore, God cannot contradict Himself. Therefore, the Scriptures cannot contradict themselves.
Thus, the view of Thom’s book is at odds with the view of Jesus. I have to choose the view of Jesus as more reliable.
Well, there you have it. Jesus and Thom have different views of Scripture, and so it’s for Gantt a choice between who is more trustworthy—Jesus or Thom. For Gantt it’s a no-brainer. Apt.
Never mind that I discuss at some length Jesus’ view of and usage of scripture. Never mind that I directly confront the issue of whether Jesus’ view of scripture is something we must adopt just because it belonged to Jesus. Let’s ignore all that and appeal to his readers’ loyalty to Jesus.
I have no problem acknowledging the diversity of the Bible’s writings and its authors. But that’s what makes its unity all the more striking. Thom’s book will say that the Bible has many voices. I agree, but where he hears cacophony I hear harmony. And when the subject is Jesus Christ those voices come together in unison: He is the promised Messiah, the Son of God!
If you’re going to follow along to the end, you’d better get used to bald assertions like these from Gantt, and to my non-responses to them.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER ONE
The title of Thom’s first chapter is The Argument: In the Beginning Was the Words. The point Thom tries to make with this chapter is not just that the Bible contains contradictions, but that it is characterized by them. Wow. I’ve heard people say that the Bible is filled with contradictions (I used to say that myself – before I started reading it), but Thom gets really bold and says it’s so full of competing views that it should be called “the Argument” or “the Words” instead of the “Word.”
What this displays is that Gantt has little to no familiarity with mainstream biblical scholarship. He writes as if this idea were original to me. I’m “really bold” for saying it. Gantt has heard lesser claims, but not the one I make! In other words, Gantt isn’t writing from an informed position. Hell, I quote (believing scholar) John J. Collins to the same effect on the very first page of chapter one. That the Bible is comprised of books arguing with themselves is just taken for granted among biblical scholars. But it’s news to Gantt’s ears, and radical news at that. How about that!
To say that the chapter fails to make its point is to give it too much credit. It is spectacularly unconvincing. It’s clear that Jesus and His apostles did not view the Bible the same way that Thom does.
There you go. Case closed, folks.
It is Thom who contradicts the Bible, not the Bible which contradicts itself. How does Thom contradict it? How about starting with the first sentence of this chapter. In it he alludes to John 1:1, and changes “Word” to “Argument.” In other words, where the apostle John wrote “Word” Thom says “Words.” So, in trying to demonstrate that the Bible contradicts itself, Thom begins by misquoting it.
I’m doing my best to refrain from using certain descriptive nouns here. The nicest way I can think to put it is that I think something important might have eluded Gantt here. Well, a couple of things. “Argument,” first of all, is a perfectly legitimate translation of the Greek word logos. But that’s not my point. That’s just my Greek pun. My point is that before the Scriptures came to be seen as a singular Word, they were really an argument with themselves. That’s a point I make very explicitly. I never would have imagined that anybody would have read my opening sentence and thought that I was trying to fool people into thinking that John meant, “In the beginning was the argument.” But I hadn’t been introduced to Mike Gantt when I wrote that sentence. Had I had Gantt in mind when I wrote the sentence, perhaps I would have included an explanatory footnote, stating: “And here I’m not quoting John, but playfully alluding to him.” I apologize for not realizing the playfulness of my allusion wouldn’t be obvious to everyone. Well, no I don’t. My apology is just as playful.
Thus the contradiction lies between Thom and the Bible, not between the Bible and itself.
A stunning demonstration of the fundamental flaw underwriting my book. Well done, Mike.
In golf, they say you should play the ball as it lies. Thom, however, prefers to pick the ball up and place it on some tuft of grass that gives him a chance to really whack it. That is, he just changes the words of the text to suit the point he wants to make. Not only that, he changes the words so that they will mean the exact opposite of what they meant as written. Thom wants to say that “the Bible is an argument with itself” so he takes a passage that says that the Bible has a clear and focused message about Jesus Christ and changes it to say that it is an argument with itself.
Another awe-inspiring and incisive criticism of my modus operandi.
Let us, however, give Thom the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s not trying to mislead, nor even trying make his point, with these initial words. Let’s assume he’s just introducing the subject in a novel way.
Oh wait. After accusing me of “changing the words of the text to suit the point I want to make,” Mike offers . . . a retraction? A what? I’m not sure. I’m confused. Should I be mad at myself for playing fast and loose with the text, or amused with myself for a good pun? I’m in the dark here. Help!
Thom sets up a hypothetical conflict between Ezra and Amos because he reads ethnocentric strains in one and universal strains in the other. But it’s just that – a hypothetical argument, existing only in Thom’s mind – not in the pages of Scripture.
Gantt seems to think I imagine Ezra and Amos duking it out in a bar. That sure would be something! But no, the argument exists not between the historical persons of Ezra and Amos, but between different schools of thought, schools of thought which Gantt goes on to attempt to reconcile:
How can ethnocentrism be reconciled with universalism? Easily. God chose Abraham that all the nations might be blessed through him. The focus on Abraham is ethnocentric and the focus on the nations is universal. Thus the ethnocentrism is for the sake of promoting universalism. The former is pursued in service of the latter. The Messiah had to be from the line of David precisely so that all folks – whether of the line of David or not, could be saved. Ethnocentrism and universalism are not at odds with each other in the mind of God. They complement one another by virtue of the fact that the former is the means and the latter is the end.
Perfect! Well done, Gantt. Now, let’s just see you reconcile Ezra’s actual view of non-Israelites, not the view you’ve pulled from other sources.
Next, Thom attempts to offer another “contradiction,” this time bringing in the book of Jonah as representative of the universal focus of God, and suggesting that Ezra and his colleagues – by contrast – wanted to “hide [Israel’s] light under a bushel.” Nothing in the book of Jonah challenges the book of Ezra, nor does Ezra challenge Jonah. Thom just reads this “argument” into the text. The only readers persuaded by this sort of thing are those who are looking for confirmation of their belief that the Bible contains contradictions.
More assertion without argumentation, more ignoring of the substantive textual issues in my own argument. As for the last claim above, in fact, I was a reader expecting to find unity when in fact I found contradiction. And all of my efforts to reconcile the apparent contradictions did not hold up. But whatever. It’s easier for Gantt to believe that those who disagree with him just believe what they do because they have a confirmation bias than for Gantt to admit to his own. (I’ll refer him to his own words about what’s motivating his review in the introduction.)
Like any good parent, God fashions His counsel around the circumstances and needs of His children. If you have child who has a messy room, you talk about the value of an ordered room. On the other hand, if the child spends too much time in the room, you encourage him to get out and play with the other children. There were times in Israel’s history when they were too myopic and thus forgot their role as a light to the nations. In those times, God nudged them to look outward to the Gentiles. At other times, Israel lost sight of the need for its own purity – for how could they be a light to the Gentiles if they themselves were abiding in darkness? It’s as if Thom has never read Ecclesiastes 3 (“there is a time for [this}, and a time for [that]). It’s like Thom is insisting that there is a contradiction between summer and winter or that there is a contradiction between day and night. These are not contradictions; they are different states of being. God speaks to us according to the need of the moment (Ephesians 4:29). As the needs change, His emphasis to us changes.
Well done again, except for the details of the actual texts in question (all of which you fail to mention). If you the reader want to know the details, see my book (and not Gantt’s review, where they don’t make an appearance).
Next, Thom tries to suggest that Job and Ecclesiastes are “subversive” to the rest of the Bible. Huh? Let’s take them one at a time. If you are looking for an argument in the Bible, we certainly have one in the book of Job. But it’s not God giving conflicting ideas about Himself, it’s human beings arguing about God’s ways. The fundamental point of the book of Job is that while it’s true that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, there is such a thing as undeserved, or at least unexplained, suffering (which foreshadows what will happen to Messiah), and, in any case, we can’t always understand the workings and justice of God in this life because of our limited human perspective.
This would be great if it were actually what Job is saying. But in fact, it’s not. Job says that God was the author of Job’s undeserved misfortunes. Moreover, this would be all great except that it misunderstands the Deuteronomistic perspective against which Job is arguing, namely that all misfortune is a punishment for sin. Hence the concoction of some minor sin on Josiah’s part to explain his very unexpected and anticlimactic death in battle in the Deuteronomistic History. Again, Gantt just isn’t read up on the scholarly literature.
This is why Ecclesiastes says, “Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly” (8:12). And for all the Teacher’s supposed despair in Ecclesiastes, he ends with “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments…because God will bring every act to judgment…” (12:13-14). Those are not the words of a hopeless man. Moreover, why would he say such a thing if, as Thom suggests, resurrection was off the table?
I’m starting to wonder if Gantt even read my book. Did he? If he did, he’d realize that 12:13-14 weren’t written by Qohelet, but by the editor. Hell, if he even read Ecclesiastes itself he’d realize that. Because just four verses earlier (12:9), the author clearly shifts from Qohelet to the editor. Qohelet’s own conclusion, Mr. Gantt, is that everybody dies, and that, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Eccl 12:8). The editor, who wrote later and added vv 9-14, clearly had a different perspective to push.
As for 8:12, Gantt seems to think this speaks to an afterlife or something. Sorry. It doesn’t. All it says is that God will look after those who fear him. But, unlike Proverbs (which it is countering), it acknowledges that sinners often prosper more than the righteous, which isn’t fair. That’s Qohelet’s whole point throughout. Perhaps Gantt missed it.
I could go on, but Thom simply invents “contradictions” and “arguments.” He fails to see the rich tapestry that is the Bible, instead seeing various strands of color that seem to him as clashing.
I could go on, but Gantt simply ignores my actual arguments, so why bother? Oh right. Because I’m bored and procrastinating.
He seems to want the Bible to read like a grade-school catechism or an FAQ page. And if it doesn’t, then it must be contradictory.
Right! That’s it, Gantt. You’ve nailed it.
In the closing section of this chapter, Thom narrates his view of how the Hebrew Bible came together. He assumes Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis (or some variation thereof) which insists that Moses couldn’t possibly have written the five books attributed to Him. Yet Thom just assumes this without offering proof for it. And against it we have the view of Jesus who said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for He wrote of Me” (John 5:46).
There we go. Now it’s Jesus versus Wellhausen! Who are you going to trust, Christians?! Where do your true loyalties lie? Of course, the DH doesn’t “insist” that “Moses couldn’t possibly have written the books attributed to Him” (why are we capitalizing the Mosaic personal pronoun?). It demonstrates on hundreds of levels that he didn’t. And these findings are backed up by philology to boot. Gantt is going to make frequent reference to my “assumption” of the DH. I’m curious to know which proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis Gantt has read, and where his exhaustive, consensus-overturning criticisms of JEDP are to be found in publication. Certainly his contributions will be of much benefit to the scholarly community.
Do you notice when you read the gospels that Jesus just doesn’t seem torn and troubled about “contradictions” in the Law and the Prophets? On the contrary, He seems to think they are the word of God and is constantly saying that “such and such must happen in order that the Scriptures be fulfilled.” If it’s just a bunch of arguments, how could it ever be fulfilled? Was the Messiah to be a schizophrenic?
This is one of the unintelligible criticisms I referred to above.
Thom’s view of the Scriptures and Jesus’ are diametrically opposed. Thom wants to make a case that we should accept his view, but he only offers a few contrived and artificial “contradictions.” Thus, as I said at the outset of this post, Thom fails spectacularly to make the point he sets out to make in this chapter. Had he tried merely to say that there are parts of the Bible hard to understand, that some parts are more easily reconciled than others, or that diversity of writings and writers sometimes staggers the comprehension – any of these conclusions, I could have supported. But Thom chose to go much farther than that. He chose to mis-characterize the Bible and thus discourage faith that it has a unifying voice in the Holy Spirit. This is not right. I must speak against it.
Speak, brother! Speak!
I have written bluntly. I respect Thom as a fellow human being, but this first chapter portrays the Bible falsely and it does not seem appropriate to mince words in saying so. Thom is bringing his assumptions and reading them into the text. He is accurately reporting on what he sees when he reads, but he’s seeing through unclear lens of his own choosing. Set them aside and let God speak for Himself to you through the Holy Scripture.
Prophets wrote and spoke the words of Scripture at risk of their own lives. They have borne witness with their blood.
As did most of the false prophets too.
What the Holy Spirit whispered in their souls, they have spoken boldly to the world. Let us not dishonor their sacrifice. Nor let us dishonor the One of whom they spoke so highly…and so consistently: the Holy One of Israel.
And while we’re at it, let’s give three cheers for the troops out there putting their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. A moment of silence if you will.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER TWO
In this chapter, Thom, a liberal Christian, takes to task his conservative Christian brethren.
Let it be known to all that Thom is a liberal Christian.
As I said in the introductory installment of this book review, I have no interest in their intermural arguments. There are liberal Christian seminaries and conservative Christian seminaries, and within some seminaries you’ll find a contingent of each category. The main point of dispute Thom chooses, as we’ve seen, is the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” While I don’t want to dwell on this internecine warfare between the left and right wings of Christianity, I should give a warning to you about Thom’s writing.
You have to read Thom carefully to avoid being misled. For example, in his excursus on Daniel he begins by saying “Although the book of Daniel is set in the sixth century BCE, critical scholars are virtually unanimous that it was not completed in its final form until the mid-second century BCE.” You might get the idea from this there are hardly any scholars who accept Daniel at face value. However, that word “critical” in his sentence might not have caught your eye. It should have, because “critical” in this case is a synonym for “liberal.” This is a point which Thom inadvertently confirms himself when, near the end of the excursus, he writes, “Inerrantists frequently make the claim that ‘liberal’ scholars argue for a ‘late date’ for Daniel…” – that late date being the one he specified: mid-second century BCE. For some reason Thom doesn’t seem to like the label “liberal.” But note that he’s describing a conflict of views between liberal and conservative scholars. Only the way he presents it, especially if you’re not reading with the greatest of care, it comes across like virtually all reputable scholars are unanimous about something that only some knuckle-dragging, Neanderthal “inerrantists” dispute.
This is where Gantt thinks using these labels is revelatory. Of course, he hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about. “Critical” scholar and “liberal” scholar are far from synonymous. There are a host of conservative scholars who are appropriately identified as critical scholars. Let’s take N.T. Wright for instance. He’s a conservative scholar who is for the most part a critical scholar. N.T. Wright accept the consensus on the dating of Daniel, and even uses that consensus position to mount arguments in his own book (especially his book on the Resurrection). So, let’s not be deceived by Gantt’s claim that I’m trying to deceive you. When I said, “critical scholars,” I didn’t mean, “liberal scholars.” I meant just what I said: “critical scholars,” among whom some are more “liberal” and others are more “conservative.”
By the way, I am using the terms “liberal” and “conservative” Christian [in] a descriptive, not a pejorative, way. While Thom sees those Christians to his right in a negative way, I see both liberal and conservative Christians believing what they think is right. I can learn from both of groups, even though I do not consider myself a member of either.
I don’t know which “Thom” Gantt is referring to here, but it isn’t me. Rather, I see everybody in a negative way. I think it’s genetic.
Another warning I’ll give you is that Thom says one thing but then does another. For example, he begins this chapter with “It is not my intention to demonize inerrantists.” If that’s his intention then I’d say he can demonize better unintentionally than most people can intentionally.
Another bit of sarcasm lost on Gantt. Woe is me. Perhaps I’m just a very poor writer? No, that can’t be right, because Gantt says, “The Human Faces of God is well-researched and well-written. Thom Stark is intelligent, educated, and articulate.” Once again, I’m left confused about what to think of me.
Thom defines an inerrantist as “someone who believes that everything the Bible affirms is true, and good, and that it comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.” He goes on to say such a person does not exist. I have a candidate: Jesus Christ. Does Thom – does anyone – think that Jesus did not regard the Bible as true, and good, and as coming from kind, loving, merciful, and just God?
Uh, no you don’t. Let’s try quoting me in context. What I demonstrate is that nobody who claims to believe that about the Bible is able to affirm it in the details, and as I showed, Jesus himself disagreed with numerous biblical authors, not least Qohelet’s view of life after death.
If Jesus believed what Thom believed about the Bible, Jesus would have taught about it what Thom teaches. Instead, He prayed to God saying, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus believed that the Scriptures spoke what was “true, and good, and that it all came from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.” That’s good enough for me.
Terrific! I’m glad Gantt has this settled in his mind. Now, with Gantt’s permission, the rest of us are going to continue the conversation.
By the way, Thom spends much time in this gospel comparing and contrasting various methods of interpretation. In doing so, he displays his scholarship. He is not only a good writer, he is well-educated. He handles history, linguistics, and other disciplines with ease. His prose is so fluid that the various disciplines coalesce into a narrative that is easy for the less-educated to follow. In fact, he reminds me of Bart Ehrman – another, albeit older, scholar who is able to translate academic knowledge for mass consumption. Thom and Bart are taking what has long been known in the academic world and presenting it in popularly written terms for lay people. Unfortunately, both have the same effect on their readers: to encourage the unbelievers and discourage the believers.
Um, shall I provide documentary evidence to the contrary? OK. I will:
(4) Michael J. Izbicki, Review of “The Human Faces of God” in Anglican Theological Review 93/2 (Spring 2011): 362-63.
And so on…
This is because both are simply repackaging the long-held liberal view of Scripture which is, generally speaking, less committed to the idea that the Bible is the word of God than the conservative view.
Oh, are we still claiming that my book has only had a negative effect on the faith of Christians?
Therefore, we have Jesus meeting Thom’s definition of an inerrantist. This leaves Jesus in stark contrast (no pun intended) to Thom, the errantist.
By Gantt’s definition, Jesus was an inerrantist. My point (which remains correct) is that Jesus would not have been a consistent inerrantist.
Thom doesn’t call himself, or those others who think like him, an errantist, but given that Thom’s book is a polemic against inerrantists there could be no more appropriate label.
OK. Call me an errantist. Just don’t call me late for happy hour.
Even though Jesus meets Thom’s definition of an inerrantist,
Nope. He meets Mike’s definition, not mine. But whatever…
the term doesn’t really speak adequately to the issue. That is, someone who believes that the Bible is “true, good, and comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God” is saying much more than simply “I don’t think the Bible has errors.” Such a person goes to the Bible expecting to find the voice of God through a variety of human voices. A person like Thom, on the other hand, expects to hear arguments and contradictions about God, with any voice of God therefore much harder to find.
Now I do. Yes. When I found the contradictions in the text, no. I did not expect to find them. So there goes that whole, well, whatever that is.
Practically speaking, all agnostics and atheists are errantists. That is, they don’t believe the Bible is wholly true as Jesus did. As we have seen, liberal Christians, like Thom, are also errantists but do believe in some parts of the Bible – though they vary on how much and which parts. The odd thing to me is that Thom seems to feel much more comfortable with other errantists – regardless of their stripe – than he does his own self-confessed fellow Christians. Likewise, atheists and agnostics have professed affinity for Thom’s book (notably John Loftus and Ed Babinski, both self-professed former Christians). Thus I am puzzled that while Thom professes an allegiance to the cause of Christ, he writes a book that is extolled by those who are against Christ.
Oh, I see the confusion. Gantt assumes an allegiance to the cause of Christ commits one to an allegiance to the integrity of the Bible. I don’t hold that assumption. See, my allegiance is to truth, first and foremost. And my allegiance to the cause of Christ (namely, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free) is derived from my allegiance to the truth. I have allegiance to the cause of Christ because Christ’s cause is true, not because it’s Christ’s. I imagine Gantt finding that statement revelatory, but for him it should just be a tautology, if he thinks for a moment, and therefore nothing very revelatory at all. Anyway, I’m happy if anybody finds my book useful for dispelling falsehoods. I don’t care if they’re atheist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or drug dealers. Of course, how they use my book is up to them, and I don’t bear responsibility for its abuse. But if an atheist wants to point out to a fundamentalist Christian that they live in a house of cards, and my book is useful for that purpose, great! Let the truth be known. Each person is responsible for what they do with the truth when they find it. Needless to say, at any rate, I don’t find these guilt by association insinuations very interesting.
Presumably, Thom believes that Christians can be either inerrantists or errantists, and further that being an errantist Christian is the better way to be. I might disagree with Thom on this point, but it would not be an unreasonable one for him to make. However, that Christ meets his definition of an inerrantist introduces a dilemma for his claim.
Not really, and if Gantt had read my book closely he’d see why the claim he’s repeatedly making doesn’t hold water. The least he could do, of course, would be to engage my discussion in which I directly engage this question. But no. For whatever reason, Gantt isn’t interested in an actual engagement with my actual positions. He prefers caricature, which is a fine art form. I have nothing negative to say against that if that’s his aesthetic preference; it’s just not very useful in a book review format. But again, I make no judgments.
If you love Christ, then you proclaim with Paul “Whether in pretense or in truth, that Christ is proclaimed, in this I will rejoice.” Or, if you will, “Whether in errancy or inerrancy, Christ is proclaimed, in this I will rejoice.” Thom, however, seems more intent on proclaiming errancy than in proclaiming Christ. And that’s troubling.
Yeah, or, Thom believes that inerrancy is a roadblock to proclaiming Christ truthfully. Either one. I’ll defer to Gantt’s judgment. I know what I mean less and less the more I read Gantt’s review.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER THREE
In the previous installment, I employed the term errantist to describe Thom’s point of view in contradistinction to the inerrantists against whom he argues throughout the book. For clarity, I’ll continue to utilize this in order to make clearer Thom’s intent.
Oh wait. Now Gantt is claiming that the label “errantist” makes “clearer Thom’s intent.” No, not really. “Realist” would be a better label to that end.
I also pointed out that Jesus Christ meets the definition Thom laid down for an inerrantist: “someone who believes that everything the Bible affirms is true, and good, and that it comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.”
Yes, he pointed this out mistakenly, because he misconstrued the broader context in which that definition appeared.
I am solely interested in defending Jesus the inerrantist, as well as the Bible itself, from Thom’s attacks. (Make no mistake, Thom’s book is an attack on the credibility of Jesus and the Bible.)
Not really. In point of fact, it’s an attack on an approach to Jesus and the Bible which is a disservice to both Jesus and the Bible. Anyone (other than the Gantts of the world) who reads my book will realize that my goal is to offer a better way to read the Bible, a way that respects and reveres it more robustly than does the doctrine of inerrancy, which really offers only a pseudo-respect, an all-or-nothing conditional reverence which is more fitting of adolescents than mature adults.
The first argument Thom makes in this chapter is that the Bible is not a self-aware or sentient being. Jesus didn’t teach that it was, nor does anyone else I know, so Thom is arguing with a straw man of his own making.
I love it. A strawman about a strawman. In reality, the point I made is that “the Bible” doesn’t speak about “itself,” but rather that certain authors speak about certain other texts.
Though Thom doesn’t admit it, the canon of the Hebrew Bible was never an issue in the New Testament. Everyone – whether for Jesus or against Him – referred to “the Scriptures” or “the Law and the Prophets” without arousing the sorts of arguments Thom thinks are so relevant.
The reason I don’t admit it is because it isn’t true. There were a number of books whose canonicity was debated or rejected by Jews during and even after the time of Jesus.
People knew what the Scriptures were. That canon of books has not changed in 2,000 years. There are some branches of Christianity (notably Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox) which add some books to the core Old Testament canon, but there is no dispute about what books constitute the core canon.
Gantt should inform the Sadducees and the Council of Jamnia about this!
Thus Jesus was presented a Bible, and its contents were settled enough that He never felt the need to address the subject.
Probably why I didn’t feel the need to address the subject either. Which leads me to some confusion about why Gantt is addressing the subject that I didn’t address. Oh right. He’s addressing it because I am deceptive by not admitting that Jesus had a fairly fixed set of scriptures.
We don’t have to either.
Wait. Never mind. He’s not addressing it.
Next, Thom argues that just because the Bible is inspired by God does not mean it is without error. All I can say to that is if God is inspiring error then there’s no hope for any of us. How can you rely on what He says if He’s prone to error?
All I can say is, it would be nice if Gantt were to engage the actual arguments I make in support of the claim he quotes, you know, at least so as to give his readers some perspective on what I actually mean by what I say.
Thom goes on to argue that just because the Bible is authoritative does not mean it is error free. That is a distinction without a difference. For the Bible to be authoritative as the word of God, it must be presumed to be without error insofar as God spoke what we’re reading.
If you say so, Gantt. I guess everything I said about the question is irrelevant, since everything I said makes no appearance in your “critique.”
To say that we’re reading the word of God but He might be wrong about some of the things He says, sort of undermines the authority, eh?
I suppose you’re right, Gantt. Where should I send my retraction?
Now, we have to quickly acknowledge that we are reading texts in languages other than the ones they were originally written in, that we’re thousands of years removed from the people who wrote them, and that we’re reading copies of what they wrote. So, could there be errors on the page in front of us even though they weren’t there when the prophet wrote them? Yes. And you could add to that the errors in our minds that cause us to misunderstand what we do read. However, what makes us continue to read is the belief that beneath all the intermediate steps, there are words that God wanted us to hear. And, more practically, though we may misunderstand a sentence here or a section there, we will be able to find themes in what is written that will come through clearly, especially when repeated by various writers in various ways. ”Out of the mouths of two or three witnesses, let every fact be established.”
With that last quote Gantt must be exampling what it looks like to misunderstand a text’s meaning, you know, for clarity.
The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not identical. If they were, you could throw away three of them. As it is, they complement each other. They each see Christ from a different perspective. All are inspired by God, but limited by human perception. I have four children. If you were to ask each of them to write a short narrative of my life as they have known it, you could get four similar, yet somewhat differing, accounts. And that’s just what we get in the four gospels. Their diversity does not mean there are errors; rather, the diversity gives us a fuller picture.
Correct. Their diversity does not mean there are errors. Rather, their errors mean there are errors. This is an important distinction and I’m glad Gantt took the time to make it.
I suppose someone could nitpick the biographies by my four children and find seeming points of discrepancy. But that’s all they’d be – seeming points of discrepancy, not actual ones.
Because Gantt’s children are inerrant?
Thom’s style is to pick every seeming point of discrepancy and make as much out of it as possible.
I must have a really awkward style.
Instead, our intent ought to be to find Jesus – to take every piece of data we find in order to receive the mosaic picture the Bible has given us of Him. And as we look to the gospels to do this, so also we should look to the rest of the New Testament, for it, too, is about Him. And do not forget that we should do exactly the same with the Old Testament, for though it was initially written to guide the nation of ancient Israel, its ultimate purpose was to reveal Christ to the world (John 5:39).
This is the word of the Lord. ______ __ __ ___.
“A Legal Controversy” – Thom tackles Matthew 5:17-18, which is a difficult passage for errantists.
For errantists or inerrantists?
His first tack is to sow doubt that Jesus ever said it (A most convenient debating tactic, and one that is easy for an errantist to employ).
Well, I offer a reason for the doubt, but in point of fact my view is that Matthew’s version of the logion is probably original to Jesus, and that Luke changed it for his own purposes. I just don’t say that in the book because which version was original to Jesus is irrelevant to the point I was making.
Then he tries to show that inerrantists aren’t consistent in their interpretation of it (So what? That has nothing to do with Jesus’ faith in the Bible). Lastly, he tries to suggest that Jesus was intentionally leaving out reference to “the Writings” (Puhleeze!) Thom’s goal in each case is to sow doubt in the reader’s mind.
I’m glad to know that’s my goal. I wasn’t aware of it until now. I’m more devious than I’d ever imagined! I had deceived myself into thinking that my goal was to display with clarity that Jesus’ words were altered by different Gospel writers to have different meanings. Now I see that really my goal was just to undermine people’s faith in the Bible. How much do I owe for this session?
Now to get a bit serious, Gantt has misrepresented me in each claim he’s made here. First, I do not show that inerrantists aren’t consistent in their interpretation of Matthew. I show that Matthew, Luke, and inerrantists (including Gantt), all disagree with each other about what this particular logion means. Second, I do not at all suggest that Jesus was “intentionally leaving out reference to ‘the Writings.’” I simply point out that he didn’t make reference to the writings. This is relevant because Jesus would have had issues with at least a couple of books in that corpus.
He never really establishes his case. He just keeps adding new charges. It’s like convicting someone in the court of public opinion by putting forth a never-ending barrage of accusations. After a while, people just assume the person’s guilty.
After reading Gantt, I’m no longer sure what case I was trying to make in the first place. My book must really be a mess.
That’s what Thom wants you to do: assume the Bible has errors. So there’s your choice: join Thom in assuming the Bible is characterized by errors or join Jesus in assuming the Bible is the word of God.
Amen! Follow me as you once followed Christ!
“It’s All About Me” – Here Thom acknowledges that Jesus says the Scriptures are about Himself, but then suggests what he’s going to declare boldly in chapter eight: that Jesus Himself was wrong. This is just a repetition of Thom’s fundamental thesis: the Bible is characterized by errors and Jesus Himself made errors. Take your pick of whom to believe about this: Thom or Jesus? At the end of this section, Thom repeats his unproven charge from an earlier chapter that Job and Ecclesiastes both deny the possibility of life after death and thus contradict Jesus. Just because these two books did not speak explicitly about resurrection in the same terms that Jesus did is hardly warrant for saying that a disagreement exists. Moreover, both imply resurrection even though the books don’t teach the concept explicitly, they do imply it.
Uh, no. Neither book implies it, and both explicitly deny it. Unproven? I’m sorry. Were the extensive direct quotations from both books denying the possibility of resurrection not sufficient proof for Gantt? I’d offer more evidence if I had it. Unfortunately, the direct textual evidence will have to suffice.
Unfortunately, Gantt here offers no commentary on the extensive discussion I provide about what it means for Jesus to be wrong, and whether that’s incompatible with his being sent from God. He offers no commentary on the context of the phrase, “It’s all about me,” and how Jesus’ reading of scripture fits within a larger apocalyptic Jewish hermeneutical framework we can generalize as pesher. None of the evidence or the arguments are relevant to Gantt. What it all comes down to is a choice between Thom or Jesus. If that’s what it really comes down to, then I say choose me, of course. But I’m not convinced that’s at all the choice before you, for the reasons I offer extensively in the book, which Gantt does not feel the itch to address.
“For the Purposes of Discussion” – Here Thom deals with Jesus’ statement that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He insists that Jesus wasn’t saying that Scripture couldn’t be broken – only that those who argued with Him believed that.
No. That’s not what I insist at all. My point is that you can’t base a doctrine on a conditional statement such as the one Jesus made here. Read it again, Gantt. Or save us both the trouble and don’t.
In other words, Thom believes Jesus was using the assumptions of His antagonists against them and not revealing His own view of Scripture. But Thom’s characterization just doesn’t hold up when you read the text. It’s clear that the “subordinate clause,” as Thom puts it,
Um, as grammar puts it.
is inserted by Jesus to make the very point that Scripture cannot be broken (even when it appears hard to believe). It would be redundant otherwise. This was a point therefore on which He and His antagonists agreed – and to use such points of agreement also a valid debating technique, and a more effective one at that.
Here’s another one of those unintelligible ones. “It would be redundant otherwise”? Huh? I’m going to have to side with myself on this one over against Gantt. And no, nowhere do I state that I “believe Jesus was using the assumptions of his antagonists against them.” I don’t state that’s my view. I don’t have a view on the subject. My point is simply that the evidence we have doesn’t allow us to form a rock-solid view about Jesus’ attitude to scripture. We can get a general picture. He treated it as authoritative. But what does that mean? Well, I think it means something very different for first-century Jews than it does for twenty-first-century evangelicals.
“A Spirit-Filled Proof Text” – Here Thom overlooks the fact that the belief of Jesus and His contemporaries was that the Holy Spirit was the inspiration of all the prophets who wrote the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, any mention of that name could evoke thoughts of future writing. It’s certainly not out of the question as Thom suggests.
Another strawman. I don’t “suggest” or otherwise state that such a reading (of Luke 14:16 and 16:13) is “out of the question.” I show that the inerrantists’ reading of it is hardly necessitated by the texts. Gantt seems to think my aim is to prove definitively that Jesus didn’t hold a certain view of scripture. He seems to have lost a sense of context. The context in which I am writing is in conversation with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a document which evangelical bigwigs use to beat other wannabe evangelicals into submission. They derive ironclad doctrines from texts which yield multiple readings, and demand allegiance to their reading if you want to join their “orthodox” club. If you don’t accept their readings, they’ll disparage you publicly or fire you from your position at whatever evangelical institution. Context is king, Gantt.
Thom then makes the unsupported and misleading claim that “much of the New Testament was not written by the apostles.” On the contrary, apostolic origin is the essential requirement for including a book in the New Testament. We have 27 such books, and the reason we don’t have more is that no one could be sure that any others were genuinely apostolic.
Yeah, my claim is unsupported, except for all the footnotes and arguments I provide throughout my book about authorship. But Gantt can’t even get my quote right. I didn’t say much of the NT wasn’t written by “the apostles.” I said it wasn’t written by “these apostles,” i.e., the twelve, i.e., to whom the promise in Luke is made. Come on, Gantt. You can’t even accurately portray minor points in my book.
“Literary Allusions” – In this section Thom says that just because Jesus referred to incidents from the Old Testament does not mean He was saying that they were without error. But, as I’ve been saying, Jesus believed the Old Testament was the word of God – to additionally say it’s without error would be superfluous.
Uh, no. That’s not what I said. I said that Jesus wasn’t interested in whether they had errors in them, and wouldn’t have to have that interest in order to make use of stories for one’s purposes. Read the damn arguments please, Mike. I also said that in all likelihood, Jesus’ view of scripture was pretty much the view shared by most conservative Jews in Palestine in the first century.
“The Heresy of Inerrancy” – In this section Thom argues with inerrantists about whether Jesus was omniscient during His earthly life. Although I don’t buy all that Thom says, I do believe that Jesus indeed grew in wisdom and knowledge and therefore was not omniscient when He was twelve years old. Nor do I believe He was ever omniscient in His earthly life. He was divine, but not omniscient. He gave up omniscience to become human. But He regained it in the glories after His resurrection.
So on what grounds does Gantt insist that Jesus must have been right about the infallibility of scripture? I don’t get it. If Jesus learned just like everyone else, and didn’t know everything, then it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that he held the views he was taught about scripture. Does that mean he held those views because he was divine, or because he was human? Well, the latter is the most we can say, if we accept that Jesus was not omniscient during his earthly life. Let’s put some real thought into this, shall we?
What’s clear is that Thom doesn’t want his readers to grow up to be inerrantists, fundamentalists, conservative Christians, or anything of the kind. He wants you to believe the Bible has errors. That’s very important to him. It’s a point at which he hammers and hammers and hammers.
Sorry, I should have talked about something else in my book-length criticism of the doctrine of inerrancy. And yes, I want you to believe the Bible has errors. That’s my end game. I want to undermine your confidence in the Bible. Regardless of what else I say about scripture, and its integral and positive role in Christian communities, what I really want is just for you to lose your faith in it.
By contrast, I want you to grow up to be like Jesus.
Whereas I want you to grow up to be like Nero, or Satan I guess.
And that begins with regarding the Bible as the word of God, just as Jesus did. If it’s the word of God, of course, it is without error.
A philosophical assumption that comes under direct attack in my book, an attack of course which is not featured in Gantt’s review.
Relevant to this point, Thom closes this chapter with an argument that if you think of the Bible the way Jesus does you’ll stunt your spiritual growth.
A mischaracterization. I don’t say, “If you think of the Bible the way Jesus does.” Those are Gantt’s words. On the contrary, my view is that Jesus argued with some of the authors of the Bible. He took positions contrary to theirs. That’s, for instance, what the whole “man born blind” episode is about.
Of course, such a view is ridiculous on its face. He’s saying you’ll stunt your spiritual growth if you imitate Jesus.
Now Gantt is just lying. I don’t say that, or imply that. He’s caricaturing my argument, and then presenting the conclusion of the caricature. On the contrary, my view is that if you imitate Jesus, you’ll grow spiritually and morally. Imitate him by arguing both from and with the scriptures. That’s how we grow. My view of Gantt is that he has to lie to win an argument (that I wasn’t even having with him).
But leaving that illogical thought aside
Well, even Gantt’s false claim isn’t “illogical.” It’s perfectly logical for imitation of Jesus to result in spiritual retardation, if Jesus was himself a spiritual retard. But neither Gantt nor I think Jesus was a spiritual retard. So that should be irrelevant.
let’s focus on this sentence of Thom’s: ”An infallible set of scriptures is ultimately just a shortcut through our moral and spiritual development.” (By the way, Thom writes these kinds of sentences a lot. They only make sense to those who read them superficially.
Or rather, they don’t make sense to Mike Gantt, for reasons about which I’m not going to speculate.
They don’t stand up to any reasonable scrutiny. Watch, and you’ll see what I mean.) Jesus accepted the Scriptures as the word of God and it did not stunt His growth. Nor was it a shortcut for Him. If it was, He would never have had to pray. But Jesus did have to pray. And He had to suffer. And “He learned obedience from the things He suffered.” He didn’t learn merely from the things He read. The Bible in no way answers every question you have to face in life. The Bible teaches you precepts and teaches you about God. It teaches you how to go to Him and wrestle over your moral choices. Jesus Himself was wrestling strenuously in prayer at the end of His life in the garden of Gethsemane. His acceptance of the Bible as the word of God was not a shortcut to the moral life. Rather it was an indispensable guidepost to that moral life. Since God is true He cannot contradict Himself. And since He cannot contradict Himself you can use the Scriptures as a point of comparison for the word of God you receive from any other source. If you do not believe that God speaks, you will be handicapped in all attempts at spiritual growth – for how else would you ever have a means of calibrating your own conscience?
The reason my statements (such as “an infallible set of scriptures is ultimately just a shortcut through our moral and spiritual development”) don’t stand up to Gantt’s scrutiny is twofold: (1) Gantt’s scrutiny isn’t “reasonable” and (2) Gantt isn’t scrutinizing my actual arguments, just sentences of mine he lifts and then invests with his own meanings. Of course we all agree that the Bible doesn’t answer every question we might be faced with. That’s not the point. The point is that some of the answers the Bible does provide will stunt your moral growth, if, that is, you’re committed to the Bible’s inerrancy.
You don’t need to critique the Bible. You need to let the Bible critique you. And if you allow this, your prayers will have more power and your life will have more substance in the sight of God. Thom doubts much of what he reads in the Bible, and he wants you to doubt it, too. Jesus wants you to believe the word of God…and do it.
You heard it here, er, umpteenth, folks.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER FOUR
What I do care about is the harm Thom does to those humble souls who read the Bible seeking to learn about Jesus Christ. He does this harm by trying to convince them that the Bible is not a trustworthy source.
And what I care about is the harm that inerrancy does to those same humble souls. And I do not try to convince anyone that the Bible is not a trustworthy source, just that it’s not a completely trustworthy source. Like everything else in life, we’re going to have to use critical thinking to find good guidance from the Bible.
My position is that Jesus is the revelation of God, and that the Bible gives a trustworthy and comprehensive account of His reality.
Is this a position piece, or a review? I’m confused.
To believe that the Bible is, as Thom says, “…fallible (and fallible in significant ways)” is to put readers of the Bible in an untenable position. Either they have to wonder whether the page they are reading is one of the reliable ones or else they are forced to rely on Thom, or someone else, to tell them which parts of the Bible are reliable.
Or, as Thom argues, we are all forced to rely on the same sources we always rely on when it comes to issues to which the Bible doesn’t speak. The Bible is a good source of insight, but it can’t be our only source of insight, because it’s also often a bad source of insight. It’s only fundamentalists who become paralyzed wondering “which page” they can trust and which they can’t. But spiritually mature people don’t seem to have that fear when reading the Bible.
And at the rate Thom is going, there won’t be many reliable parts left. It’s as if he’s snipping so many parts of the Bible away that he’s transforming it from a holy book to a holey book.
Hardy-har. Good one, Mike. Of course, in reality, I think (and argue) that the Bible is a tremendously useful source for moral insight. But fundamentalists like Mike need it to be all or nothing to make any use of it.
God – as well as His prophets and apostles – went to a lot of trouble that we might have the Scriptures. They did not do so in order that readers of the Bible might be uncertain of its veracity or dependent on other humans for its meaning.
Thom lays out scholarly findings for the lay person, but he’s only giving one side of the scholarly story. There are conservative scholars, just as committed to the tenets of academia as Thom is, who offer research which contradicts Thom’s conclusions.
And we’re stating the obvious because? Oh, right. Because for the fundamentalist, any scholar who says something to confirm the fundamentalist’s bias is right.
Most people don’t have time to explore both sides of the scholarly story to be able to draw their own conclusions. Thom is like the first-year medical student who can impress everyone at the party with his immense vocabulary. If he chooses to argue a medical point, who can argue with him but second-year medical students and above? Therefore, he pounds his reader into submission like a bully on an unsupervised playground pounds away at a smaller kid.
Not to mix metaphors.
I am pointing out, however, that Jesus Himself is supervising this playground. Jesus does not require you to have a graduate degree in biblical studies to read the Bible to profit anymore than He required it of His apostles. The best way to understand the word of God is not to approach it academically but rather to approach it practically. Consider it not in the context of a class or degree, but in the context of your life. Read it with a view to do it. He who does the word of God is the one who comes to understand it as God intended.
So said Joshua at the threshold of the Promised Land.
To characterize the source of most of our knowledge about Jesus Christ as wrong on many points, and important points at that, is to poison a well that quenches thirst for righteousness. May God forgive Thom, for surely he knows not what he does.
While I’m grateful for Mike’s forgiving spirit, I am obliged to reject the offer, on the grounds I haven’t sinned. Despite what Gantt would have you believe, the findings presented in my book are some of the ongoing results of my search for righteousness. That Gantt feels the need to characterize my work as poisonous says more to us about Gantt than it does about me.
Thom’s erudition (and he is no mean scholar) is on full display in this chapter. He plunges into water way over the heads of all but seminary graduates and tells a story of how the Bible is not so much breathed by God as it is a product of its geography and times. His is an old argument, well-known to seminary professors at both liberal and conservative seminaries. The former view it as accepted dogma, the latter view it as age-old heresy.
No, and no. See, in seminaries that promote critical thinking, very little is “accepted as dogma.” And I suppose the heresy is only age-old if by “age” Gantt means, the last hundred years or so.
Now you could go to a seminary library and find the conservative counter-arguments to Thom’s – but is that the way you want to live your life? That is, do you want to have to go to the bookstore or library to find a response every time you read book like Thom’s? This approach can consume a lifetime.
Well, I suppose if you’re going to base your life on the belief that the Bible is reliable, then yes, some investigation into the issues would be a good idea.
Authors like Thom and Bart Erhman can throw mud at the wall faster than anyone can clean it off.
I think Ehrman and I feel it’s the opposite. Fundamentalists can write ill-informed, biased and sloppy apologetics books faster than we can refute them.
For example, there are a group of conservative theologians who have put up a web site called the Ehrman Project to counter the liberal views popularized by Bart Ehrman. But Ehrman’s works are distributed by a large publishing house and reaches far more people than their little web site can reach.
Those poor souls.
It is not unprecedented for Jesus to find Himself surrounded by more accusers than defenders. Therefore, we must always remember that truth is not determined by the number of people who proclaim it.
Which is why I often feel alone when I’m defending Jesus against those who ignorantly dismiss him as an insignificant fanatic or a hate-monger.
At the end of the day, even if you could find and digest all the counter arguments to Thom and Bart, you’d still be stuck with an unpleasant choice: which set of experts to believe?
Generally, I would recommend believing the ones who make the better arguments, further information pending.
They both are trained in matters at which you can only guess. It’s like having to choose between two heart surgeons debating about medical techniques of suturing – you know it’s important, but you lack the vocabulary and skill to decide between them. In the end, you have to rely on your gut. Why not rely on your gut to start with – which in this case is more precisely your conscience – and choose the Man from Galilee to be the one who operates on your heart? Leave the bickering surgeons to themselves.
In short, give your allegiance to truthiness.
I do not object to all the observations Thom makes in this chapter. It’s the conclusion to which he leaps that I object. For him, a survey of ancient Near Eastern literature and a full embrace of liberal orthodoxy about the origin of the Bible lead him full-speed ahead to the conclusion that Moses did not write the books that ancient Israel – including Jesus and His apostles – attributed to him.
A point which has, of course, very little to do with my argument in chapter four.
As for which Israelites did write those books, Thom is sure – with liberal orthodoxy supporting him – that the early authors were polytheists and the later editors and authors were monotheists. He can’t name them, but he knows for sure it wasn’t who the Bible says it was.
Ooh. Burn. Of course, the books of the Pentateuch make no claim whatsoever to Mosaic authorship. That’s later tradition. Again, there is no “Bible” that makes a claim about itself. There are only certain people who make certain claims about certain texts. As for my inability to name the authors of the Pentateuch, guilty as charged. I also can’t name all the authors of other ANE lore, but scholars don’t attribute them to their traditional authors either. I can’t name all of the authors of the Iliad, but Iliad scholars will give you ample reasons why Homer isn’t really one of them. All Mike’s comment here displays is his vast ignorance about how legendary origin texts were formed in the ancient world. He also displays his ignorance about anonymous and pseudonymous authorship in the ancient world. But really what you should take home from this is that, since I can’t give you the names and genealogies of the authors of the Pentateuch, I represent a really silly, pseudo-scholarly position.
Once again, you don’t have to have a graduate education in biblical studies to make your choice of whom to believe: Thom or Jesus.
That’s right. It all comes down to a choice between me or Jesus. All the weight of everything I write is on me and me alone. It’s just my credibility versus that of a two-thousand-year-old peasant who never wrote anything down. Clearly the choice is obvious. It’s a no-brainer. It’s me. Abandon your faith in Jesus and worship me. Not as a divine being. Just as someone with an intellect superior to yours. Take what I say on faith. Do as Mike Gantt tells you. Go with your gut. Don’t waste your time with books. Just believe in me, and my truth will set you free. I have come that you might have life, and have it more or less the way it already is.
And the choice is even simpler than that: Do you believe the words of the Savior brought you to by men who shed their blood in giving their testimony about Him or do you let yourself be pulled back and forth by the argument between errantists and inerrantists dwelling in academic ivory towers?
Ah yes, believe because the martyrs shed their blood to give you their testimony. Because only faithful Jews and Christians have ever shed their blood for their religion.
There’s no denying that polytheism marked the ancient world, just as there’s no denying that monotheism marks the modern world. That’s why some of Thom’s observations have value. However, these observations are framed in an argument from Thom that leads in only one direction: “You should not trust the Bible to be the word of God!” What good are his valid observations if you aren’t allowed to reach more productive conclusions with those observations?
A great point! What good are my observations if they’re not productive? That is to say, what good are my observations if they don’t confirm what you already believe, or what Mike Gantt already believes? The answer? They’re clearly good for nothing. I stand corrected. I hadn’t considered the utility of the facts, so lost was I in their factness.
Jesus Christ, through the coming of His kingdom, pulled the world out of polytheism into the monotheism that Abraham had championed so long before Him.
Yeah, no. Abraham was not a monotheist. He, like most other ancient Near Eastern peeps, was a monolatrist—a believer in multiple deities who worshiped only one.
In his chapter heading Thom asks “Whither Thou Goest, Polytheism?” The answer is “Into the oblivion of history…where the Champion Jesus Christ sent it.”
Should we be playing Carmen for this line? Anyway, Jesus had nothing to do with the dissolution of polytheism in Israelite religion. That happened several hundred years before he broke his mother’s hymen.
In short, Gantt doesn’t disagree with what I write in chapter four. He just doesn’t think we need to worry about it, because, well, just because.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER FIVE
Thom’s animus towards the Scriptures as a source of truth fully blossoms in this the fifth chapter: Making Yahweh Happy: Human Sacrifice in Ancient Israel.
Right. I hate the Bible! That’s why at the end of my book I encourage my readers to continue engaging it, and continue seeking words of life from its pages. That’s why I say that I love it. Because I hate it. I’m using reverse psychology, or something.
Thom’s goal throughout the book has been to destroy the Bible’s reputation for truth among a broader public.
Yes, that is my goal. Not to be honest. Not to share my struggle with the scriptures. Not to encourage others to struggle with them, as I lead on. No, my real goal (unspoken, because I’m a conniving wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing) was always to utterly destroy your faith and stake my claim on the rubble.
It seems to bother Thom greatly that the Bible has a reputation for representing the truth of God. Every aspect of his considerable intellect is brought to service in his goal of making that reputation appear completely undeserved. With each chapter of his book, Thom’s view of God becomes clearer and clearer to us – and it is a dim one. I pray for him.
I pray for this guy too. What’s his email address? I’ll send him a note of concern.
Thom seeks to get his readers to believe that child sacrifice was a normative part of ancient Israel’s worship of God. Underlying Thom’s analysis of the subject is his unwavering acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis (also called J-E-P-D theory). Because he believes there are clandestine authors and editors of the Old Testament, and because he believes Jewish law evolved rather than being handed down through Moses at Mount Sinai, he manages to read a progression in Israel’s view of child sacrifice from favorable to unfavorable over centuries’ time. That is to say, Thom is offering this as another “example” of how the Bible contradicts itself.
“Clandestine authors.” That’s a good one. I’ve always thought of them as scribes under the employ of kings, but maybe Gantt has it correct.
As is Thom’s practice, he employs data that favors the conclusion he wants (that is, you can’t trust the Bible) and omits evidence that doesn’t. For example, in his discussion of Abraham’s uncompleted sacrifice of Isaac he neglects to mention that Hebrews 11:17-19 says Abraham believed that had the sacrifice been completed, God would have raised Isaac from the dead. In other words, Abraham only followed through on the sacrifice because he believed it would not result in the death of Isaac.
Right. Dammit. I should have mentioned the completely irrelevant witness of an interpretation of the text from about two thousand years after the period in question, a witness which speaks of Abraham’s belief in resurrection about 1600 years before such a belief came into existence. I am such a cherry-picker!
Thom also fails to explain why, according to Thom’s theory that child sacrifice was prevalent and approved, Abraham wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to sacrifice a child. Where’s the dilemma for Abraham if sacrifice of children is considered a good thing?
Oh, I see the problem. Gantt hasn’t read Genesis. Well, let me summarize. (I summarized this in the book also, but since Gantt isn’t familiar with Genesis, the details must have been lost on him.) Isaac was the child of promise. Hence Abraham’s conflict. Recommended reading: Genesis 11-22.
Of course, we know now that God orchestrated the entire Abraham-Isaac event to foreshadow the sacrifice of His own Son. The willingness of the son, the wood, the third day, are points in the outline of that shadow. Thom is not intent that his readers see Christ, however; he’s intent that his readers see the Scriptures as an altogether human document – with no divine hand involved.
Oh, that makes sense. I’d always read it as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Mesha’s son. But I guess Jesus is a good fit too, and probably works better in the broader context.
Next, Thom discusses Jephthah’s daughter, but he fails to mention that scholars disagree about the outcome of that sacrifice. That is, some scholars believe that the virgin was killed and others believe that she was denied the privilege of marriage (hence, “And she had no relations with a man”).
True. I fail to mention that there’s a fringe position that says, contrary to the text, that Jephthah didn’t actually sacrifice his daughter. I should have given it the serious space it deserved, like in a one sentence footnote. I love this phrase, “scholars disagree.” It’s a favorite phrase of apologists. Get a handful of scholars who hold one position against the vast consensus, and pretend that constitutes a lack of consensus. It’s a brilliant tactic. I’d use it myself if I had more nerve.
Even if she were actually killed by Jephthah, there is nothing in the text that indicates God approved – and there were many actions in the book of Judges of which He did not approve.
Yeah, nothing in the text indicating that God approved, except that the spirit of Yahweh was upon Jephthah, and the fact that after Jephthah made his deal with Yahweh, Yahweh kept up his end of the contract. See my extensive discussion of this in my review of Copan’s book, entitled, “Is God a Moral Compromiser?” available freely, well, on Google.
We have the outright condemnations of child sacrifice in the prophets, but Thom manages to find a way to reinterpret even these.
Right. “Thom” manages to find a way, by which Gantt must mean, “the scholarly consensus.” By “reinterpret” he must be referring to Micah 6, which in fact is not a condemnation of child sacrifice at all. It’s not called “reinterpretation.” It’s called “interpretation.” Or, as I prefer in cases like these, “reading.”
The ones that he can’t reinterpret are assigned a later date so that it fits his theory that what God used to enjoy, He later frowned upon.
Right. I “assign” Jeremiah and Ezekiel to a “later date.” They didn’t just happen to live in a much later time. I “assigned” their time periods to them in my omnipotence. We are currently existing in Alternate Universe 11638, which is a universe I created as I was writing my book. Previously, we all existed in AU11637, and in that universe, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were contemporaries of Moses.
A God who changes his mind – that’s the kind of God Thom’s book portrays. Or, perhaps, to put it more accurately, Thom’s book portrays a Bible produced by people whose conception of God changes over time
Yeah, the latter.
– as if God Himself wasn’t even involved.
No, go back a bit. You had it.
Am I being too hard on Thom? I hope not.
If only you would be! My sarcasm is spreading thin.
But I do hope I’m being very hard on his book because I believe it is toxic to sincere and humble faith – even to his own, if he has any left. This book constantly attacks faith in a good and loving God.
No, it attacks faith in a morally monstrous God. It actually advocates faith in a good and loving God.
Or as Thom himself put it, he’s against “someone who believes that everything the Bible affirms is true, and good, and that it comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.”
Well, I’m against the belief, not really the person who believes it. And that’s very different from being against faith in a good and loving God. How shall I explain the difference so Gantt can get a grasp of it? On the one hand, we have faith in a good and loving God. I’m for that. On the other hand, we have faith that the Bible portrays a single God who is consistently always good and loving. I’m against that. I’m against the latter because it’s a false belief. I’m for the former because I hope it’s true, and because it promotes good and loving human behavior.
Thom did not invent the doctrine he teaches. He is simply passing on warmed-over anti-biblical academic dogma – though his presentation is stylishly geared for a popular audience.
So I’m a flashy used car salesman. Got it. By the way, what are you driving, Mike?
Greater condemnation belongs to those who originated so much of this kind of disinformation about the Bible that is published and cataloged in academia. There is nothing wrong with honest historical inquiry, but when that inquiry is systematically used to destroy faith in our Creator and Redeemer then it deserves strong condemnation.
I can get on board with that. As long as John Collins takes the brunt of the beating, I think my book royalties will be worth it.
Thom is not writing a scholarly book, he is writing a popular book that presents a certain scholarly view. Were he writing a scholarly book, he’d be forced to deal more honestly with those who oppose his position. He’d have to put forth their best arguments and then show how his were superior. Instead, Thom puts forth only the weakest of his opponents’ arguments – if any at all.
A claim without any substantiation. I picked the best arguments against my positions I could find. Perhaps it’s just that they look weak to Mike after I got through with them? I admit, N.T. Wright’s preterist reading of the Olivet Discourse looked pretty weak after I got through with it, but Gantt may be surprised to learn that Wright is actually a very reputable scholar whose arguments have been taken very seriously by mainstream scholarship and have persuaded many. As for human sacrifice, my chapter is adequately footnoted for a semi-popular volume, and any time a scholar (such as Richard Hess) has attempted to challenge my readings of the texts, I’ve not shirked back from exposing the insurmountable weaknesses in his “strong arguments.”
I don’t mind that Thom takes a position and seeks to have his reader accept it. I do the same thing myself in my blogs. The difference is that I am trying to build something (faith in Christ) while Thom is trying to destroy it.
Yep. That’s the difference. I’ve already admitted to this. I just want to stake my claim on all the piles of rubble that were once the faith of the faithful. That really is the key difference between Mike and me. Why would I want to build anything anyway? That wouldn’t be consistent with my goal, which is to steal and destroy. All I really want to do is make money off of book sales, and I know that the easiest way to sell a lot of books is to write a book for Christians that tells them everything they don’t want to hear and undermines the very foundation of their existence. Those books sell like hotcakes, which is why I chose to get in on the action myself.
I do not ascribe evil motives to Thom in this regard. He is attempting to destroy belief that the Bible is the word of God because he thinks such a belief is bad for you.
Oh, I’ve divulged too much then. I guess all those times Mike complained about the fact that I charge money for my book while his book is available online for free wasn’t about ascribing evil motives to me either. Good then.
Therefore, both he and I are trying to do what we believe is in your best interest. You, however, will have to decide between our views. I am making the choice clear. I am saying that the Bible is a true and completely reliable witness to the reality of Jesus Christ, our Creator and Redeemer. Further, I am saying that Jesus Christ Himself is the truth – the “pearl of great price” – to which the Bible testifies.
Thom has promised that in the final two chapters of his book he will provide “reading strategies” for the Bible. I look forward to hearing what he has to say in that regard, because so far I can’t see why anyone would want to read a book that he has described as unreliable, which portrays a God he describes as reprehensible (promoting child sacrifice in this chapter, genocide in the next).
Oh, I can help with that. I think it’s because we can learn valuable things even from books that contain bad content. Like an N.T. Wright monograph, or an Anne Rice book (not necessarily the vampire bits, more the prose bits). Especially when those books are actually a collection of books with multiple authors who have different and interesting views on a number of subjects! Those books are very rewarding, spiritually, morally, intellectually, and otherwise, and I happen to think the Bible is the best of the bunch! On the other hand, Mike says it’s all or nothing. So that, I would propose, is really the choice readers have to face. Not between Thom and Jesus (although who you ought to choose in that case is unarguably clear), but between a four-year-old, all-or-nothing, tantrum-thrower’s approach to the Bible, and a mature, realistic, and nuanced one. And I’ll admit, while reading the Bible sometimes makes me want to throw a tantrum, I advocate for the latter approach. It’s better for everybody really.
Before I close this post I should mention how Thom deals with the outright denunciation of child sacrifice made by Jeremiah on behalf of God in Jeremiah 19:5-6. Here’s an excerpt:
“…Jeremiah has Yahweh saying that he ‘did not command or decree’ the practice of sacrificing children to Baal, that such a thing ‘never entered my mind.’ But this strains against credulity.”
It may “strain against credulity” for Thom, but not for anyone who has more faith in Christ than Thom does – or for anyone who has more faith in Christ than they do in Thom.
Right, because that’s what it’s about—how much faith in Christ you have. It’s not about hermeneutics or texts; it’s about the measure of your faith. Remember that, folks, the next time you’re talking with a Mormon about The Pearl of Great Price, or a Muslim about the Qur’an.
Thom clearly does not accept this passage as a message from God through Jeremiah to Israel. Since Thom rejects that explanation, everything else he writes is an attempt to impose naturalistic explanations of how this text came to be.
Yes, let’s ignore the actual reasons I offered why it strains against credulity, and just attribute my incredulity to my anti-supernaturalist bias. Here’s another example of how the fundamentalist wishes to employ naturalistic hermeneutic methodology until such a methodology comes into conflict with the doctrine of inerrancy. I provide other examples in my book. Anyway, Gantt continues:
And I would suppose Thom would say that all those messages in the Bible which are preceded with “Thus saith the Lord” are really just “Thus saith some (lying or deluded) human being.”
No, not all. Because I don’t have an anti-supernaturalist bias. I think God may well have spoken to many men and women throughout history in one way or another. I think evidence for divine inspiration is ample throughout the Bible. I (along with a number of other scholars—some believers at that!) also think that it strains credulity for Yahweh to have to stress that he never condoned sacrifice to a rival deity. Duh! The total obviousness of the claim here leads me and numerous other scholars to the conclusion that something else is going on here in the text. (See my book, or Jon Levenson’s _The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son_ for more details.)
And yes, some prophets lied. No doubt. Others were well-intentioned but deluded. No doubt. And yes, some prophets were genuinely inspired with the truth. Sorry, but Gantt’s sweeping claims about my view of these texts just don’t measure up to reality.
If God is not involved in the production of the Bible, then I’m just not interested in it.
Well, Gantt’s bookshelves must be totally empty, or totally filled with Bibles. Of course, my argument has never been that God is not involved in the production of the Bible. That’s not my argument first and foremost because I wouldn’t know how to substantiate such a position.
And if God is interested in child sacrifice and genocide, then I’m not interested in Him.
On this, Gantt and I are in full agreement. Fortunately, my argument is not that the true God sanctioned child sacrifice and genocide and then changed the old mind. Rather, my argument is that, well, Gantt knows my argument. I guess it’s just easier for him to reject some other position than it is to reject my own. I am very sympathetic with that sentiment. I gravitate further away from positions that aren’t mine as well.
Because Gantt’s critique of my fifth chapter has so far been very short on criticism of my actual arguments and very long on bald statements of his disagreement with my positions, I guess he decided to make up for this absence of substantive criticism by concluding with a nice homily:
There is, however, a kind of sacrifice that God is interested in – and I am, too. It is the willing sacrifice of every human life to His purpose and glory. Such a sacrifice is not a matter of giving your body to be burned, but it is living every moment of human existence not for ourselves but in service to others in Jesus’ name. This sacrifice means denying our lusts and doing the will of God. It means looking out not for our own interests, but for the interests of others. It means loving God above all, our neighbors with our lives, and ourselves not at all. At times this will actually lead to death. It did for Jesus. It did for Stephen. It did for Peter, and Paul, and others. It still does today wherever faith in Christ encounters the most virulent strains of persecution. But whether we face death, or hostility far less, we do well to nonetheless live out our lives sacrificially for Christ. What was written about sacrifice in the Old Testament was intended to point to the more perfect sacrifice which we are privileged to live today: living sacrifice.
May we be living sacrifices in Jesus’ name. May we never consider life in this world so dear that we are willing to compromise integrity before God in order to preserve that life. For we have a greater and much longer life to come (Everyone is going to heaven). ”And they did not love their lives, even when faced with death.” That is the epitaph of all who love Christ with a love incorruptible. And may we be among them.
I have goosebumps.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER SIX
When you make the subject “genocide” you have already prejudiced the argument. ”Genocide” is one of the favorite arguments of the new atheists for this very reason. People don’t like genocide for the same reason that they don’t like homicide. Those are bad things. Therefore, to get defenders of the Bible to accept the characterization of certain events in the Old Testament as genocide is practically winning the argument even before you start it – for genocide is as hard to defend as homicide.
Look up any definition of genocide. Look up the definition of genocide provided by the United Nations. The description is neutral and perfectly appropriate.
I don’t buy the notion that “genocide” is a legitimate term when God is brought into the discussion. Homicide and genocide have to do with human behavior. God is our Creator and our Judge. He has the power of life and death.
First, the Israelites were the ones doing the killing here. They claimed it was because God told them to. By Gantt’s logic, any genocide where the perpetrators believe they are acting on divine orders should not count as genocide. So much for the Rwandan genocide, the Holocaust, and so on. Give us a break.
If genocide were an applicable term I suppose you could say that the fact that every human being eventually dies proves that God is guilty of the greatest genocide imaginable (since He’s “killing” the entire human race), but such nomenclature is silly when applied to God.
Gantt could say that, but only because he hasn’t looked up a definition of genocide.
Is every human death to be called a “homicide,” for which we have to defend God for having “killed” the person?
No. Surely Gantt sees the difference between humans killing humans because God told them to on the one hand, and God directly killing humans on the other hand. Surely he sees the difference between God intentionally and deliberately killing human beings as punishment on the one hand, and natural deaths on the other. Example: Abraham died. God didn’t kill him. But the people of Sodom and Gomorrah died, because God killed them. Gantt’s attempt to distract from the obvious is entirely transparent and laughably insignificant.
What happened when God told Israel to invade Canaan and displace its inhabitants was that He was authorizing Israel to conduct a war against the people of Canaan. Israel’s ultimate victory was only guaranteed if they obeyed God, and when they did not obey Him they lost battles. Therefore, it’s not as if Israel was a mighty army invading defenseless people. The battles could have gone either way. Further, God authorized this war because of the wickedness of Canaan – just as He would subsequently allow Israel itself to be kicked out of the land because of its own wickedness.
Yes, let’s ignore everything I wrote about these issues in the book Gantt is supposedly “reviewing.”
Therefore, I believe that the invocation of “genocide” is an entirely inappropriate way to discuss the issues of this chapter.
Oh look! A non sequitur.
Moreover, Thom’s use of a graphic description of genocide from the victims’ point of view as his opening volley is even further exploitation of the term in order to win his argument by emotion rather than reason.
Right, because I made no rational arguments at all, and because any discussion of mass slaughter should be devoid of emotion.
To discuss the chapter at all requires me to use the term “genocide” but recognize in what follows that I’m only doing it for convenience sake – not because I believe such language is logical to use with respect to God.
Thom seems to believe that God didn’t command the genocides he sees in the Bible, but that they were concocted by the Israelites who were fabricating their national history to make themselves look good. This is consistent with his view that the documents we have in the Bible are not the product of God speaking through human beings but rather fabrications by human beings who were falsely claiming divine authorization for their imperial actions. Nonetheless, Thom spends considerable time attacking various justifications of God’s role in these actions put forth by defenders of the Bible. (Strange behavior if you don’t think the texts accurately portray God.)
Strange behavior only if one is not bright enough to recognize that I’m rebutting one argument at a time, each on its own terms.
The only one of these arguments I want to address is the one that is the closest to the one I hold, and that I described to you earlier. Thom calls it the “Divine Punishment” justification and covers it under the sub-chapter heading of that name.
In his argument against divine punishment as an explanation for God’s actions, Thom offers three objections. I will list and address them each in order.
“First, if God knew that the Canaanites were going to become even more depraved, why did He do nothing to intervene in their self-destructive course?”
How does Thom know God didn’t something along those lines?
Because the that’s not part of the story. If God had, that would be part of the story. See Jonah, for example. Whom did God send instead of prophets? Military spies.
Besides, the rich man suffering torment in Jesus’ Luke 16 tale of alterations of attitude in the afterlife certainly thought an extra message from God would be all it took for his brothers to get the message to repent, but it was a vain hope. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for God’s warnings to go ignored. We don’t know all of God’s dealings with the Canaanites leading up to their judgment, but to assume God was unfair with them seems an assumption without warrant.
An assumption without warrant, as long as you’re so committed to the inerrancy that you’re willing to write your own episodes in order to make the Bible conform to your own moral standards, and also to ignore the numerous episodes in the narrative in which God acts unjustly toward the Canaanites, e.g., by refusing to allow them to make peace treaties.
“The second difficulty rests in the question of who deserved the punishment.”
Thom wants here to make the point that no matter how much the Canaanite adults might have deserved punishment, their infants couldn’t have. But who would raise the infants if only the adults were killed?
And at what age would the line be drawn? And what about children who develop a conscience faster than others? And there are many more complications.
I agree. So, … what? Wholesale slaughter is the solution to these problems?
Thom offers no solutions for this.
Here’s my solution: God, find somewhere else for your people to live.
Here’s another one: God, make all the Canaanite males impotent. (Not the best solution, but way better than genocide.)
Here’s another one: God, keep the Promised Land hidden from human view until the time comes for Israel to enter.
And another: God, Since you know Israel isn’t going to kill all the Canaanites anyway, and since you know Israel is going to worship other gods anyway, skip the genocide bit and order a peaceful migration yet maintain your standards in your commandments. Same result, no child-killing.
And another: God, order them not to kill any noncombatants. Send the noncombatants away with enough food and water for their journey, and guide the Canaanites to another habitable area. Perhaps with your guidance, some will come to put their faith in you.
I mean, I could go on for days coming up with better ideas than genocide, one after the other. Gantt’s claim that I provide no solutions is just another transparent attempt to distract from the horrible reality depicted in the conquest narratives.
He just believes God was wrong, or that the Bible authors’ and defenders’ conception is wrong. Either way is okay with him – just so you believe there is error on this subject where the Bible is concerned.
Right. I just want you to believe the Bible is wrong. I don’t really care what you think about genocide. It’s just the Bible that I’m against.
We have to accept the fact that judgment is upon us in this earth and beyond. However,everyone is going to heaven. Therefore, we should never view the end of life on this earth as the end of the story.
Um . . .
God might not execute judgment in the way Thom would like Him to, but the Bible itself gives accounts of men who complained to God about the way He runs things. God’s pleased we’re using our moral muscle, but we’d be more productive if we applied that sort of thinking to our own lives…unless we think we’re already as moral as we can be.
Something about this scenario sounds familiar.
“If Yahweh wanted to use Israel to punish wicked nations, why did such a crusade conveniently terminate precisely at Israel’s borders?”
Because God did not raise up Israel to be the world’s “enforcer.” Their role was to be a light to the nations. They needed a land for the people, but God did not establish that they should be like Alexander or Napoleon – grasping for every inch of earth they could find. At the height of Israel’s national power – Solomon’s reign – they were a land marked by peace. God had a special purpose for Israel and the borders God gave were sufficient for that purpose. He had other ways to dispensing divine judgment on wicked nations.
Beat that straw man, Mike. Beat it to a bloody pulp!
Thus, the biblical explanation that God’s granting of Canaan to Israel was a manifestation of God’s judgment on Canaan and fulfillment of His promise to Abraham stands. And, as I wrote above, Israel itself became subject to divine punishment when it was exiled to Babylon centuries later because of its own disobedience. ”God is no respecter of persons.”
Yes, let’s ignore the section in which I refute this apologetic strategy as well.
Later in the chapter, Thom rightly points out that Jesus Himself pronounced a judgment of destruction on Jerusalem and likened it to the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. This seems to horrify Thom, but not in the right way. That is, instead of falling to his knees crying out for mercy, He castigates Jesus and God for running creation in such a way.
Yeah, that’s what I did. Or not. As they say, the devil is in the details, and Gantt’s review has been thoroughly exorcized.
God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” ”He desires that all men repent” and be saved from the destruction we otherwise bring on ourselves. Thom seems to miss out on this dynamic entirely.
So did the Yahweh of Deuteronomy and Joshua.
This chapter is just one more of the string in which Thom incessantly flails away at the God of Scripture and the Scripture itself. That is, he is saying that the God described by the Scripture is so evil that He cannot possibly exist, but he is simultaneously saying that the Scriptures themselves don’t come from God and are untrustworthy. If the Scriptures are error-laden, why does Thom go to all the trouble to condemn the picture of God it paints? If the Scriptures are error-laden, then ipso facto they’ll describe God erroneously. That Thom feels compelled to attack both the credibility of the Scriptures and the credibility of their God speaks of a hostility toward both that is other than rational.
I’m awe-struck by the profundity and cogency of this argument. I need to take some time to reexamine my motives.
Strangely, Thom ends this chapter with a promise:
“In chapter 10 I will attempt to show how these texts can still be used…as sacred scripture…”
If you can’t count on the Scriptures to paint an accurate portrait of God, how could you possibly call them sacred?
Yes, how strange of me to say such a thing. That was a typo. I didn’t mean “sacred.” I meant “sacred,” “sacred,” and “sacred.”
I close with an appeal that I have continued to make to you: Why was it Jesus could know all these same scriptures that Thom knows, and yet not be troubled by them as Thom is? On the contrary, Jesus was devoted to them and to the God they portrayed. Remember: Jesus said, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.” What is it that Jesus saw in the Scriptures that Thom did not see? Look in them with a humble heart and you will find it.
Or don’t bother. Just look at me. Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you information.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER SEVEN
Thom is sure that Goliath was slain, but he’s also sure that someone other than David did it. He offers an exceedingly painstaking explanation of how he comes to this conclusion. (Why do I get the feeling, having read this far in the book, that Thom would have been just as comfortable writing a chapter here about how he was sure that David did the slaying, but that it was someone other than Goliath who got slain?)
Yeah, I’m not sure why Gantt gets that feeling. Good question.
Gantt’s “review” of chapter 7 is nothing but drivel, so I’ll summarize it for you.
1. Thom’s arguments are found elsewhere in the “liberal” canons, and there are refutations to be found in the “conservative” canons.
2. Thom offers small excerpts from the conservative arguments, but doesn’t copy and paste their entire arguments.
3. Ancient texts have textual issues. Liberal scholars look for naturalistic explanations for these issues; conservatives allow for supernatural explanations.
4. Jesus accepted the Old Testament without question, therefore if we are to believe Thom, we must disbelieve Jesus.
5. Gantt is not going to respond to Thom’s arguments, because that’d just put him in the ghetto. The real point of the David and Goliath story is that it foreshadows Christ’s defeat of death.
In response to 1., no, I make some original arguments, and no, conservatives have not answered all of my arguments. For instance, I point out that lchm (the name of Goliath’s brother according to the Chronicler’s revised version of the account) is a Semitic word, yet the name Goliath, and the names of all of Goliath’s brothers and the other Philistine giants, are not Semitic names but Philistine, and their language has Indo-European origins. Thus, lchm would not have been the name of a Philistine giant; rather, the original version in the book of Samuel has it correct. Lchm is part of the construct bt lchm, and refers to the geographic location from which Elhanan’s father came.
In response to 2., yeah, that’s the way it works in scholarship. You cite the relevant arguments and engage them.
In response to 3., this is a red herring. There is nothing supernatural in the story of David and Goliath, nothing for liberal scholars to make a fuss about, except for the fact that an earlier version of the story found in Samuel has Elhanan, not David, slaying Goliath.
In response to 4., again, the choice between Jesus and Thom should be a no-brainer. I’m way better than Jesus.
In response to 5., nothing.
Now a final quote from Gantt:
Thom’s title for this chapter is The Shepherd and the Giant: Government Propaganda. He begins with the story of George Washington’s childhood encounter with an axe and cherry tree, and how it has been revealed to be fiction. Why in the world Thom doesn’t draw from this the lesson that had David not been the one who slayed Goliath, that fiction would have been similarly exposed by those who knew better, is a question best answered by remembering his goal: he wants you to doubt that the Bible is always telling the truth.
Right, Gantt. Well done. We’ll leave aside everything we know about the development and transmission of legends in the ancient world, and just conclude that I’m a great big bonehead. I made that mistake only because I’m blindly driven by my desire to undermine the authority of the Bible, clearly at the cost of my own capacity to reason.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER EIGHT
Although I disagree in the strongest possible terms with the idea that Jesus was wrong, I found myself in agreement with the direction Thom took in the beginning of the chapter. In fact, this chapter is remarkably different from the seven that have preceded it. Thom himself explains the difference in its concluding section:
“The astute reader will notice that the case I’ve made in this chapter has not been against biblical inerrancy. In fact, the case I’ve made has depended on the assumption of the reliability of the synoptic gospels.”
(Gulp!) Why would Thom be willing to assume that the Scriptures are reliable in this case? Oh, I see: if it leads to a conclusion that Jesus was wrong. Now I get it: if a straightforward reading of the Scriptures leads to the conclusion that Jesus was wrong, Thom wants to skip all the textual criticism and take the text at face value!
Any reader – astute or otherwise – would be forgiven for noticing that in this book Thom intends to show the Scriptures unreliable…except where assuming otherwise would allow him to show that God was unreliable. This book is truly deserves a warning label for being hazardous to your faith!
This is getting pretty tiring. First, I don’t believe Jesus is God, so no, my aim was not to show that God was unreliable. Second, the purpose was to show what happens when we treat the text uncritically. But I also happen to believe that for the most part, on the issue of Jesus’ apocalyptic predictions, the synoptics are pretty much accurate. I am persuaded (contra Borg, Crossan, et al.) that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who predicted the end of the world within the lifetime of his first disciples. So it’s not that I would come to a different conclusion were I to engage in historical criticism. I disagree with those who argue that the Olivet Discourse is not original to Jesus, that it was placed on his lips by apocalyptic followers of his, while Jesus himself was not an apocalypticist himself. I think the historical critical issues are important, they’re just not important to the purpose of my chapter, which is to show what I believe Jesus really said.
So Gantt’s tired attempt to paint me as an opportunistic Bible-hater is just ignorant. The point that needs to be made is the point I made: reading the Bible as an inerrantist is inevitably going to lead to a paradox.
Even so, I enjoyed reading this chapter and I wish Thom would have made a separate book of it. Why? So that the evangelical world would be further confronted with the very straightforward case that Jesus indeed predicted the coming of His kingdom in the lifetime of His disciples.
For those who aren’t aware, Gantt is a preterist. That means he believes that Jesus did return toward the end of the first century C.E., just not physically. So, Gantt likes all of my arguments against the fundies who believe Jesus is still coming back as promised, but he doesn’t like my arguments that the return Jesus actually predicted was a physical one, not a spiritual one.
Having concluded that Jesus Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life, I could never conclude that He was wrong about anything. I could easily be made to see that I had misunderstood Jesus about something, but never that He misunderstood something.
There you have it. No matter what, Gantt can’t be convinced of my (i.e., the consensus) position, because Gantt is committed to a certain view of Jesus prior to the fact. ‘Nuff said really.
But if Thom and I agree about what Jesus said concerning the timing of His Second Coming, how then do we get to such radically different conclusions about whether He was right? Let’s break it down.
Thom’s argument is essentially this:
Premise 1: Jesus prophesied that the kingdom of God would come in that generation.
Premise 2: The kingdom of God did not come in that generation.
Conclusion: Jesus was wrong.
I agree completely with Thom on the first premise. I disagree with him on the second premise, and therefore on the conclusion. My argument therefore is as follows:
Premise 1: Jesus prophesied that the kingdom of God would come in that generation.
Premise 2: The kingdom of God came in that generation.
Conclusion: Jesus was right.
As to the second premise you can find a one-page summary of my view at Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again. And I present a full biblical case for this point of view at Whatever Became of Jesus Christ? (it’s the length of a small book).
Here’s an overview of the argument: The timing of the Second Coming was the late 1st Century AD, and the nature of it was spiritual. As for the timing, Thom has made an excellent argument for the timing. And I accept it. Once again, his intellect and writing dexterity weave well, and, in this case, serve an excellent purpose. In fact, I don’t think my chapter on the timing of the Second Coming is as good as his. He is absolutely correct that all the various events Jesus prophesied (e.g. earthquakes, false messiahs, worldwide gospel preaching) can be checked off as completed in the 1st Century. I also agree with the way he dispenses with the standard evangelical or conservative alternatives to the straightforward timeline we see that Jesus gives. He also rightly rejects the “escape clause” of Jesus “not knowing the day or hour.” I also am quite comfortable with the way he handles the “solution” put forth by N. T. Wright. He likes it for the same reasons I do, and rejects it for the same reasons I do. Why am I finding myself in such agreement with Thom on this issue of the timing of the coming of the kingdom of God? Simple. Remember, on this subject he said he was depending on the reliability of the Scriptures. Therefore, we are both working from the same assumption on this point. (Thom and I would probably agree on many other points if he would only keep to this assumption when he studies those other points.)
On this last point, see my comments above.
I should add that Thom also rightly points out that the testimony of the early church as evidenced by the balance of the New Testament was entirely consistent with Jesus’ view about timing. Thom does waffle a bit on John and 2 Peter, but, hey, let’s not be picky with him.
Oh, a disagreement with . . . no argument or rebuttal. Frown.
As to the nature of the Second Coming being spiritual, it is undeniable that the general thrust of the New Testament was to recast the Old Testament in a spiritual light.
Actually, that abstract proposition is quite deniable, and I deny it, along with the vast majority of historical Jesus scholars working in the last forty years.
Moreover, the work of the apostles, which can be seen from Acts to Revelation, was to get the disciples to think in spiritual rather than in fleshly terms. In many circles today, to say someone has “spiritualized” a passage is to criticize him. It’s clear, however, that the same dynamic was true in New Testament times. (“How can a man be born when he is old?” asked Nicodemus. And, in another context, “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you about bread, but about the leaven of the Pharisees?” asked Jesus.) People clung tightly to their fleshly (i.e. physical) orientation.
OK. So he refers to the Gospel of John, which, as I argued in my book, does spiritualize the coming of the kingdom. Points so far scored against my position: 0.
Note how Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1ff indicated that there was to be a progression in understanding among disciples of Jesus from fleshly to spiritual. Paul was pushing for that progression throughout his ministry, the evidence for this being seen in his letters. Nor is the appeal for spiritual, as opposed to physical, perception limited to Paul. The rest of the New Testament shows it also.
An interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3 that virtually no Paul scholars would accept. As for “the rest of the New Testament” showing this push also, er, no.
The mere fact that today’s church considers a spiritual Second Coming as out of the question is testimony to its fleshly and spiritually immature mindset.
If Gantt says so.
Spiritual things are more important than physical things, and more long lasting. When will the church that says the Bible is the word of God take seriously admonitions like 2 Corinthians 4:18 (“for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”)?
The coming of the kingdom of God in the late 1st Century AD, in full accordance with the timetable Jesus laid down, was a heavenly event with earthly consequences. The powers being despoiled were celestial, not terrestrial as they had been in Israel’s past. In times past the Old Testament described how the earth was shaken, but the coming of the kingdom of God was the shaking of heaven, and it had enormous consequences on earth. Perhaps the most notable of these consequences was the passage of humanity from the darkness of polytheism to the light of monotheism. You could say that this change is the most profound distinction between the age of BC and the age of AD.
The change was as progressive as the turning of night to day, but there was that instant when “the sun of righteousness” broke the horizon. There is much more that I could say, and that I have said in the resources to which I gave you in the links above.
So there you go. Not one argument against my arguments against a spiritual reading of the parousia. Not only does Gantt not make any attempt at a refutation, he doesn’t even identify any of my arguments. Once again, the devil is in the details, and Gantt has cast the devil out of his review.
Unlike Thom’s book, you don’t have to pay for any of it.
There it is. Gantt isn’t questioning my motives, except when he does.
In the meantime, recognize the irony that this chapter of his book has brought to light: Thom Stark is saying that the Scriptures can be trusted to present the truth about what Jesus and the New Testament church said concerning the timing of His Second Coming. On this point, I could not agree with him more. I only pray that Thom can eventually bring himself to trust Jesus on the reliability of the rest of the Bible!
Oh indeed, we are drowning in irony here.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER NINE
I need to acknowledge the lens which Thom says he is using to see the problem he’s trying to solve. That lens is fashioned by the language of “12-step programs.” He says the problem texts of the Bible exist within a “family” of all the texts, and are “the alcoholic uncle,” whom we must “confront” with an “intervention” lest we become “enablers.” This language is important to Thom because its the means by which he distinguishes himself from Marcion, who sought simply to remove the passages of the Bible that offended him. Thom wants to retain and embrace the offending passages, while being sure to recognize them as offensive.
Thom’s approach is impractical from the start. He does not give his readers a list of all the “problematic texts” so that they can distinguish the good uncles from the alcoholic uncles. Perhaps he assumed his readers were highlighting every passage he attacked in his first eight chapters. That would make for a lot of yellow in a reader’s Bible. But even if a reader had done this, Thom’s now told him that “we have only begun to scratch the surface of the problems that exist within the Judeo-Christian scriptures…” Should folks just dip their Bibles in a bowl of yellow ink?
Yes, because it’s my job to tell everybody what’s moral and what’s not. Forget the faith community in which Christians struggle together to work through the Bible. Thom will do all that work for you, and you’ll have more time to watch America’s Next Top Model.
Putting it another way: If this many people in the family are alcoholics, how are you going to find enough sober relatives to do the intervention with you? Maybe it’s time to just find something else to do when family reunions roll around.
Putting it another way: Gantt doesn’t know how to read.
Though Thom doesn’t seem to realize it, he is – by virtue of denigrating so much of the Bible – asking readers to transfer what faith they have in the Bible to his book.
Yeah, that’s what I did. Except, I fully realized it. I don’t really want people to think for themselves. I don’t want people to bring their concerns to their faith communities, argue with each other, argue with the Bible, argue with me. I just said all that to fill in space. What I really want is for people to trade their uncritical allegiance to the Bible for an uncritical allegiance to my book.
Instead of trusting what is read in the Bible, Thom wants readers to trust what he is writing. Thom could say in his defense, “I’m offering arguments and proof for my point of view so people are really deciding for themselves.” But the same is true of the Bible.
Yeah, no. The same is emphatically not true of the Bible. The Bible may be an argument with itself, but it’s not a scholarly argument with itself.
Therefore, should you be persuaded by what Thom has written, be aware that you are still operating in faith…just as you were before. The only difference is that you have changed the object of your faith…from one book to another. You are saying that you think The Human Faces of God tells more truth than the Bible. If you think Thom is more worthy of your faith than those who wrote the Old and New Testaments, then go right ahead. I just cannot imagine anyone in his right mind thinking this.
Who says I want people to be in their right minds? I don’t want people in their right minds. I want people who are willing to blindly trust everything I say. Duh!
Even assuming that Thom is a righteous man and does good to those around him . . .
. . . should he be compared to the prophets and apostles who suffered great derision, torture, and death for the truth of their testimony?
No. There’s really no comparison. They’re all ciphers.
Now some of you might want to say, “But wait, Mike – Thom is not the only one with his view of the Bible; others feel the same way.” On this point, I would readily agree with you. In fact, you could find a number of equally well-written books by authors with even more degrees than Thom who would reinforce his point. Thus, you’d have a collection of books espousing Thom’s point of view. But that’s just what the Bible is: a collection of books by respected authors.
Yes, authors such as ______, and ____. And let’s not forget ______. And who could forget “Paul”? Let’s not leave out Shlomo the scribe of king Jeroboam, and Bill, the redactor who incorporated 1 Sam 17 into the pre-existing book of Samuel. Respected gents, one and all.
Therefore, you have to decide which crowd you respect more: the ones with degrees and modern educations, or the ones who lived the times, in most cases were eyewitnesses, and declared their veracity with their own blood. With all due respect to Thom and his crowd (and they are due respect), there’s no comparison here.
For once Mike is right. There’s no comparison.
First, let me address inerrancy as a reading strategy. As is probably clear to you by now, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI), against which Thom argues throughout the book, speaks to more than just inerrancy – it speaks to interpretation (hermeneutics) as well.
Actually, no. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics speaks to hermeneutics, but I engage with that too.
A document that long can’t just be speaking to inerrancy, because it wouldn’t take that many words to make the point.
Mike here is just assuming that the writers of the CSBI are as concise and cogent as he is.
I don’t have any problem with Thom’s injunction to avoid the interpretive mandates of the CSBI, as long as you stick to the belief that the Bible is the word of God.
Which when translated means: I don’t have any problem with Thom’s injunction to avoid the interpretive mandates of the CSBI, as long as you stick to the belief that it is impossible for the Bible to be in error.
To be specific about what I mean when I say that, look to 2 Peter 1:20-21. The key point there is that the Holy Spirit inspired what has been written, and works on the receiving end as well, enabling the interpretation. Thus the Holy Spirit helps the reader of the Bible as well as the writer.
Yeah. Take it from the pseudonymous book of 2 Peter—the Bible never lies.
The first of the other three reading strategies that Thom decries is “allegorical reading.” I agree with Thom that approaching the Bible as nothing but allegory doesn’t make sense. However, if a worthy allegorical meaning is apparent, why ignore it? The apostle Paul himself in Galatians 4 spoke allegorically of an Old Testament passage. The Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture, as He was the author of it. If He shows an allegory, who are we to say He’s out of bounds?
Which when translated means: I agree that we shouldn’t read the Bible allegorically all the time, but if the Holy Spirit whispers to our inner ears that there’s a good allegorical reading of a text, then it’s time to set aside the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. E.g., the Holy Spirit whispered to Mike that David and Goliath is really about Jesus and Death, and, well, universalism. Praise be!
The second reading strategy Thom discourages is that of “canonical reading.” This is a largely an academic reading strategy. It focuses on creating or finding a faith community’s way of interpreting Scripture and seeing the Bible through it.
I don’t have any problem joining with Thom in discouraging you from using it. For one thing, it’s academic and, as we all know, Jesus does not require academic degrees from those who would be His disciples.
Yes, any reading of the text that requires you to know something that you wouldn’t otherwise know from your day job at Pizza Hut is not of the Spirit!
The second problem for me with this strategy is that it’s built around a community’s interpretation. That seems to me to substitute the community of faith for role of the Holy Spirit. That’s a bad trade.
Right, because the Holy Spirit inhabits the individual, NOT the community!
The puzzling thing to me about Thom’s description of the canonical reading strategy is that he doesn’t seem to realize how closely it resembles his own.
That’s puzzling to me as well.
Thom clearly holds his views of the Bible with a community of faith – that is, those who are like-minded with him about these issues. If this is not apparent anywhere else, it’s apparent in his footnotes and in the endorsements to his book.
Right. Whoever happens to agree with me is my faith community.
Thom’s view of the Bible, apart from his so far inexplicable continuing attachment to it, sounds very much like that of a liberal or Democrat.
Yes, I have a Democrat reading of the Bible. In other words, I read the Bible and say, “I’m going to change this, and this, and this.” But then I never get around to it.
His views on gender relations, the advancement of western civilization, and a host of other social issues become apparent in the first chapter and are predictable thereafter. (I keep wondering if there’s an Alex P. Keaton in his family who continually participates with Thom in a scripted argument about globalization, culture wars, and the CSBI.)
I do have a brother like that, but he contracted Parkinson’s so now I can’t have a conversation with him without getting seasick. Hence, I’ve become a liberal.
I hasten to say that I do not consider the views of a conservative or Republican on these various issues any more or less legitimate that Thom’s. But they are all just that: group opinions, and largely political. They are not relevant to a discussion about Jesus our Lord.
Because by “Lord,” we don’t mean that Jesus has anything to do with how we live in this world. It’s more an honorific title.
“Canonical hermeneutics” is groupthink, and Thom’s perspective is very much a product of groupthink.
Which when translated means: I don’t know what canonical hermeneutics is at all, and Thom holds positions that other people hold, with which I disagree.
Thom has certainly been individualistic in his expression of the liberal Christian point of view, but it is nonetheless a group opinion he is expressing…and it is that group who has rallied to him and his book.
Whereas nobody shares Mike Gantt’s point of view, which is why he’s right.
I think you are much better off not taking your understanding of the Bible from any other group. Let the Holy Spirit reveal Jesus to you, and walk with Him alone. (And be sure that this will not lead you away from people, but rather to them.)
Which when translated means: if you agree with a lot of people, you suffer from groupthink. Don’t do that. Instead, get your opinions directly from the Holy Spirit. If you do that, you won’t agree with anybody, and you’ll be right.
The third reading strategy to incur Thom’s disapprobation is what he calls “subversive reading.” He is way off base here, because his first example is the New Testament’s appropriation of the martial language in Psalms 2 and 110 to apply to Jesus’ battle with the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Though it may be needless to say, I side with Jesus and the apostles on this point. And they weren’t being “subversive” to the Old Testament texts at all. The spiritual application of these passages had been the ultimate intent all along. . . . There is nothing “subversive” about finding Christ in the Bible – He is its purpose.
All I can say in response is: wow. Mike has the reading comprehension of a fourth-grader.
We come therefore to the end of this chapter from Thom as we have all the others: with no compelling reason given by him for why we should read the Bible.
Right. Because that’s in the next chapter.
The mystery remains: why does he want you to read a deeply flawed book? Maybe in the next chapter we will find the answer.
Right. That’s what I told you at the start of this chapter. Sorry if you thought I was going to change my mind(?).
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S REVIEW OF CHAPTER TEN
At the outset, Thom declares his reason for retaining as scripture what he calls “morally and theologically problematic texts.” Because, he says:
“they must be retained as scripture, precisely as condemned texts. Their status as condemned is exactly their scriptural value. That they are condemned is what they reveal to us about God.”
Although this statement is practically nonsensical,…
To a fundamentalist Christian? Sure. To Mike Gantt? Clearly.
…I wish to sincerely commend Thom on a very important point, and at the same time, show how his attitude on this point is consistent with that of Jesus. I am speaking of Thom’s appeal to conscience. Underlying Thom’s critical view of the Bible is, in part, an exaltation of individual conscience. And the exaltation of conscience is a good thing. God said that in the kingdom of God – which is the age in which we live – that He would write His laws on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12). We should therefore be living according to conscience. In fact, the world’s ills today can be traced to the root that we as a human race make so many of our choices in life according to our lusts, our habits, and our fears – rather than according to conscience.
I had no idea that’s what I was exalting, but great! It’s amazing the kinds of things we’re able to find in texts once we finally put aside the debilitating restraints of context and grammar.
If we read in the Bible that David slew Goliath with a slingshot and sword, and thus led Israel to victory, we may rejoice. As we do, however, we know by conscience that this does not mean we are to buy slingshots, or chop people’s heads off, or start a war in the name of God. Do some people do these things? Yes, but only because their consciences have become diseased. How then can a conscience be kept healthy? By reading the Bible, learning of Jesus Christ, and relating to Him. He forgives us our sins and restores our conscience. It’s an ongoing process.
That Thom reads the Bible and doesn’t want to imitate some of the things in that he reads is not necessarily a bad thing. When James and John wanted to imitate Elijah by calling down fire from heaven on the obdurate, Jesus had to rebuke them. He thus “healed” their conscience, and perhaps He would not have had to do so in Thom’s case.
So my conscience is or isn’t a product of liberal Democrat groupthink?
When you read things in the Bible that don’t make moral sense to you, fall back on the things in the Bible that do make moral sense to you. Don’t reject the Bible in the process. It’s one of the primary means God has granted for you to elevate your conscience, as well as keep it healthy.
Which when translated means: Choose for yourself which texts you think are moral and which texts you think are immoral.
As a boy, Jesus surely heard divorce from readings in the Law of Moses. It could have confused him. He could have concluded that God approved of divorce. Jesus, however, came to a different conclusion. And this is because His conscience led Him there. To be a bit more specific, it’s where the Holy Spirit through His conscience led Him. How was that accomplished? Jesus tells us that it was through remembrance of Genesis 2. Jesus thus allowed Scripture to interpret Scripture.
Or rather, Jesus allowed Matthew’s Pharisee characters to misinterpret scripture and based his false interpretation on their misinterpretation. (See my discussion of this passage in my review of Copan.)
When Thom regards his conscience as a higher authority than an interpretation of the Bible that would cause him to do evil, he imitates Jesus. And, of course, this is good. But note that it is the “interpretation” that misled Thom, not the Scriptures themselves.
Right. It’s my interpretation of the conquest narratives that misled me. They don’t actually say that Yahweh ordered Joshua to kill children. That’s just my interpretation. Really, they say something else. I just don’t know what they really say because, as a man with a clean conscience (or so says Gantt), I’ve closed off my ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, who’s waiting to give me the true interpretation.
Where I part company with Thom – and where I hope you do, too – is that for him the “problematic texts” can never be understood except in a negative way,…
Yes, that’s me.
…and must forever stand as that which largely defines the Bible.
Nope, that’s not me. I never said that, nor did I imply it. In fact, I stated the opposite on numerous occasions. But let’s not let my book stop Gantt from his critique of “my book.”
For me, problematic texts are just those I don’t yet understand. For it can never be that I am more moral than God.
Apparently, it can also never be that he is more moral than immoral men who wrote in God’s name. Geez, Mike’s in serious moral trouble.
Thom does, however, want to use “problematic texts” as divine, and here’s how:
“God may not have breathed out the text, but God may still breathe into it, giving it a life and purpose its human authors did not intend.”
Of course, if this is your belief, you could apply it to the reading of any book. So, I’m still wondering why he wants to read the Bible.
Mike’s right. Why would I want to read the Bible when I could be reading the Twilight series? His logic is humbling, and I feel a fool.
By the way, you might wonder why I have continued to use quotation marks around the phrase “problematic texts.” It’s because what’s problematic is in the eye of the beholder. Thom finds the account that David killed Goliath as problematic. Many people don’t. When you approach the Bible with a mindset like Thom’s you are going to come away with a list a “problem texts” like Thom’s. But everyone doesn’t have Thom’s mindset. Besides, when I go to the Bible I’m more interested in finding God’s mindset than imposing my own.
Truly you have a dizzying intellect.
Thom believes he can hear the voice of God through the Bible, as error-filled as he believes it is. In this, I rejoice. He even spends time in this chapter describing how he finds good in all these “problematic texts” he has been identifying. The common theme is that he himself would never do such things, or if he did, he would feel guilty.
Yeah, because I said that… never.
I have no problem with that, but if he’s focused on these things instead of on Jesus when he reads the Scriptures, he’s missing the best part.
Or, I’m not reading it as a one-act play.
Here’s a strategy for reading the Bible: Always read it with Jesus in mind.
Solid advice. I concur.
Always look for Him in the text. Always listen for the voice of His Holy Spirit whispering in your soul as you read. (Occasionally you may find Him gently chastising you to abandon a desire to interpret passage in a certain way…as He had chastised James and John.)
Yeah, I agree.
For further guidance, consider that there’s no better way of learning how to interpret the Old Testament than to watch how the New Testament writers do it.
Yeah, I disagree. See my discussion of pesher exegesis in the first few chapters, a discussion absent from Mike’s “review,” and whose presence could have really helped Mike out in not a few places.
When Thom demonstrates to us how he tries to make some of the “problematic texts” useful as scripture, there is a problem of which he seems unaware. That is, he is simply bringing his own moral code to the passage and applying it. And the moral code he brings is no different than what you could find on, say, the editorial page of the New York Times. In other words, it’s basically a code of social mores – not of personal right and wrong before a holy God.
First, my demonstrations were expressly not meant to be offered as “the reading” of the texts. They were examples. I leave it to faith communities to determine what the texts are going to mean for them. Mike must have missed that extended caveat, which I put just before AND directly after my series of demonstrations.
Second, the New York Times would report me to Homeland Security if they caught wind of my political views.
Now, let me quickly say that I don’t expect Thom to put his personal confessions in a book. But interaction with Scripture cannot be about merely confirming your biases about inter-group social justice issues. It’s got to be about whether you yourself are being just today…to your wife, your husband, your children, your neighbor…your God.
I would say that it can’t be about confirming our biases at all. But whatever.
Thom wants to distance himself from Marcion. He does. Only Thom’s error is worse than Marcion’s. Here’s why: Marcion made a choice about which books of the Bible should be stricken from the canon and he announced it. Whether you agreed with Marcion or disagreed, you knew where he stood. You either disagreed and kept your Bible as it was, or you disagreed and walked away with a smaller Bible. But you still had a Bible! You still had the word of God. You still had the lifeline that Eve was without: a written record of what God wanted us to know.
Thom does us far worse than Marcion. Thom tells us that there are cancerous cells in the body of our sacred writings. He spends over 200 pages of his book identifying diseased cell after diseased cell. Then he tells us that what he has listed has “not even begun to scratch the surface.” Hasn’t he at least scratched the surface? No. Oh, well, hasn’t he at least begun to scratch the surface? No. So, I’ve got a body of literature on my hands that has lots and lots of cancer cells. What am I going to do with it? What if I’m reading a text and Thom’s not around to tell me if it’s problem free?
Use your brain.
Marcion may have been wrong, but he at least left people a path forward. Thom leaves no practical way forward. He has pronounced that the Bible has a disease, and done so with a massive pathological analysis. He gives no method for determining the boundaries of the illness.
Because that would shortcut the process that everybody needs to go through for themselves, and because no single such method can possibly exist. Gantt wants a rulebook. But the nature of reality is ambiguous. That we have to navigate that ambiguity is not a problem with my book; it’s a problem with reality. That my book identifies and accepts the ambiguousness of reality is one of my book’s strengths.
One can only infer that Thom expects all readers to 1) trust him or some other guru for the list of acceptable and unacceptable passages, 2) go to seminary and learn the tools of critical study so as to create one’s own list, or 3) depend upon a community of faith to provide the list.
Nope, nope, and nope. Those would all be invalid inferences.
In all three of these cases you end up trusting a human being rather than God. But if the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that we should have faith in God.
Right. Because our experiences with God are unconditioned by other human beings. That’s why all Spirit-filled Christians agree with each other about what God wants them to do.
Thom spends some time arguing against the notion that he’s contaminated the Bible.
I had no idea I’d argued against that notion. Hadn’t even occurred to me. Good to know.
He does so by likening the Bible to our parents. Given that, he says that it’s immature for us to go from always trusting the Bible to never trusting the Bible – as a headstrong teenager might do with his parents. But this analogy does not hold. We are meant to outgrow the authority of our parents, but we are not meant to outgrow the authority of God.
Yeah, Mike’s analogy does not hold. My actual analogy holds up fine.
That the Bible is the word of God does not answer our every moral question.
At first I thought this was a fragment, then I realized it’s just unintelligible.
But it does mean that we have a place to go to “tune up” our consciences. We have a place to go to learn about the ways of God…which do not come natural to us. Conversely, if we decide that the Bible is merely the word of man and not the word of God, then we deprive ourselves of a sure and certain testimony that God has, in the kindness of His grace, granted us. To reject it as such is to insult Him.
Or perhaps to treat it as such is to insult God. Hmm… the alternatives are paralyzing! Quick, don’t move.
I acknowledge that it is possible for a human being to live a righteous life without the Bible. Abraham did it. But do I think for a minute that Abraham would have rejected a written record of God-inspired thoughts had it been offered him? Not on your life.
Neither would I. Should one ever be offered to me, I’ll eat it up. I’m only human after all.
And consider once again the great trouble to which God and His servants have gone to deliver this grace to us. These are men of whom the world is not worthy. Shall we deprive their writings of their greatest worth – that God Himself inspired them?
What? You’re against the Iraq War?! You dishonor the troops!
Thom speaks often of “the believing community” or “the community of faith” as if these represent an anchor more reliable than the Bible.
Yeah, no I don’t. If Gantt had read me, I clearly state that there is no anchor. In fact, the only appearance of the word “anchor” in my book is in a paragraph in which I argue that we don’t have one. Neither the Bible nor the believing community is an anchor. We have to argue with both of them, and that’s the best we can do. Gantt probably can’t accept this. I understand that perfectly well, as I state clearly in the book. It’s fearful to be faced with uncertainty. Ces’t la vie, comme ils disent.
Read history and see that such communities are notorious for their unreliability – either in ancient times or modern. People are always going astray, whether as groups or as individuals. The Bible, by contrast, is an anchor sure and stable from the past through the present and into the future.
As the Bible itself says, “Cursed is he who trust[sic] in mankind; blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5,7).
A fine quote from Jeremiah. Here’s another:
How can you say, ‘We are wise,
and the law of Yahweh is with us’,
when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes
has made it into a lie? (8:8)
If you believe Thom (and those whom he believes) then the Bible becomes to you just the product of mankind. But if you believe with Paul (and those whom he believed) then the Bible is to you the handiwork of God through obedient men.
Pick me! Pick me!
Thom expresses the fear that if he regards the Bible as the word of God he’ll be attempting to be in control. Well, I believe the Bible is the word of God, and it has persuaded me that I’m in control of hardly anything. It was when I believed the Bible was just the word of man that I carried the illusion that I was in control of my life.
Adventures in missing the point.
“Some will be afraid to live in a world without foundations. To them I commend the foundationless nature of agape.”
But how could we know there was an agape, or trust there was an agape, without God Himself assuring us of it through an unchanging document?
I’m sorry, but that’s a really dumb question.
RESPONSE TO GANTT’S CONCLUSION
I am happy to acknowledge that Thom is smarter than I am. He’s better educated than I am. And he’s a better writer than I am. My objection to his book has nothing to do with Thom. I have good will toward him, and respect his accomplishments.
Better educated? Yes, but that means nothing to Mike. Smarter? I don’t know how that would be measured. Better writer? You mean, apart from all of my nonsensical sentences?
Rather, my criticism is of his book and the point it tries to make. The point of Thom’s book – that the Bible is a seriously-flawed book and that Jesus was wrong about a material point in His teaching – is destructive to faith, Thom’s and everyone’s who believes him. The purpose of my review has been to demonstrate where and why he is wrong, and to offer an alternative.
Oh. That was the purpose of the review? I thought it was just to point out that I was wrong, and to offer an alternative, without the demonstration of why I was wrong. I guess I need to read it again.
Thom is like a fellow who says he has a friend who is a murderer, a liar, a racist, and more – but then will act surprised when no one else wants to befriend the guy. Thom then protests, “But I’ve known this guy since I was a kid.” Huh?
Mike is like a fellow who can’t come up with a valid analogy. He then asks all his friends to accept his analogy, and a lot of them do. Then when Thom says, “That’s a ridiculous analogy that misunderstands my position,” Mike says, “Huh?”
I had thought that the issue of the New Testament canon would come up in Thom’s book and so I promised to deal with it. However, it never did, so I’ll comment briefly on it now.
Gantt then concludes by saying some other stuff about stuff and stuff.
No further comment.