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Further Responses to Mike Warren

Mike Warren has written a response to my response, which is quite extensive. It is full of his standard confusions, obfuscations, ignorance, etc., but I’ve responded to a large bulk of his material. Below is a chapter outline of his latest response. I’ve included an asterisk next to the parts to which I’ve responded in this post. I’ve been working on this bit by bit for several months, but I’ve just been too preoccupied with other ventures to give it the attention it doesn’t deserve. What I’ve included should suffice to show that Warren’s general penchant is to find any way possible to ignore the relevant facts and to obfuscate the facts he does address. I may or may not at some time in the future finish responding to the remainder of his material. To be honest, the confusion is so entrenched, knowing where to begin responding often results in dizziness. I’ve offered a complete response to the first seven of Warren’s fifteen chapters. (Note: I haven’t proofread this, so be forgiving of any typos.)

Part 2: Review of Thom Stark, The Human Faces of God
By Mike Warren
• Why Inerrancy is Important (*)
• Resolving Apparent Contradictions and the Liberal Assumption of THOMAS (*)
• Some Minor Disputes About Church History (*)
• Ezra’s Divorce Command (*)
• Pesher vs. Historical-Grammatical Interpretation (*)
• Child Sacrifice Commanded by Yahweh? (*)
• Jesus’ Prediction of the Destruction of Jerusalem (*)
• Polytheism Taught in the Bible and Liberal Bias
• Circularity and Inerrancy
• Archeology vs. the Bible
• Christianity as the Basis for Science
• The Morality of Israel’s Holy War
• The Foundations of Morality: The God of the Bible or Human (Modern Liberal) Consensus?
• Mr. Stark’s Jesus as Savior and Lord
• An Infallible Jesus vs. a Human Jesus

Why Inerrancy is Important

Why bother defending the claim of inerrancy? Why can’t we say that the Bible is God’s word but with errors?” I have seen this question raised by several liberals who have commented on Mr. Stark’s book, as well as being raised by Mr. Stark himself in his book. Here is a brief answer: Inerrancy follows from the Biblical doctrine of God. The type of God presented in the Bible must be an infallible God. He is the all-knowing Creator of all that exists who “works all things by the council of his will” (Eph. 1:11). It’s impossible for that kind of God to be mistaken about any facts, even the most insignificant historical fact. There is nothing more ultimate than God that would surprise him with new facts. He determines the denotation and connotation of all facts. I could write at length on the Bible’s teaching on this.

Yes. I have no argument with this. I never argued that God could be mistaken.

But Mr. Stark claims that this view of God is a “purely philosophical assumption” that has “no rootage in the Bible” (p. 47).

No, again. That’s not what I argued. Warren is attacking a straw man. What I argued is that it does not follow from divine inspiration that the Bible must necessarily be without error. This is the philosophical assumption that Warren and other inerrantists impose without justification.

Mr. Stark’s claim [is?] that the Bible teaches that Yahweh is just one finite god among a number of other similar gods (at least at the beginning; he says that later in the Bible the view of God as absolute becomes prominent).

This has nothing to do with my statement that inerrancy does not follow necessarily from inspiration. This is a distraction, based, apparently, on Warren’s confusion.

I deal with this objection below. Infallibility would not make sense in terms of Mr. Stark’s kind of god. Given his view of God as a finite being that was given birth by the universe, it makes sense that Mr. Stark cannot make sense of the doctrine of inerrancy.

My “view of God as a finite being that was given birth by the universe”? Say what? Warren is concocting this position out of whole cloth. Nowhere did I indicate that my view of God even remotely resembles this. More straw men from Warren.

But even if the Bible does teach that Yahweh is an absolute Creator, you may still ask, “Why believe in an absolute Creator? Even if the Bible teaches it, why should I find that attractive?” The answer to that is that an absolute Creator is the precondition for intelligible experience. If an absolute God did not exist, then reason, ethics, and knowledge would not be possible. Science and language would not be possible. Those who deny such a God can still reason, act ethically and gain knowledge to varying degrees, but their belief system cannot justify it. They can only do these things because the God that they deny actually exists, and they are made in God’s image. For more on this, you’ll have to see my essay here.

I’ll ignore the fact that this is nonsense, and just point out that it has nothing to do with criticism of my book.

Even though God could not be mistaken, the question must be asked whether God could deceive or deliberately allow a deception. Since God is absolute Truth, God could not lie or command something evil. If God allowed a deception, we would expect that the deception would be in the service of promoting the truth somehow, as in a means for bringing destruction on those who reject God. And that is what we find in Scripture, as with the lying spirit sent to King Ahab’s prophets (1 Kings 22:19-23; cf. 2 Thess. 2:11-12).

Note the equivocation. First, Warren refers to God “allowing” a deception. Then he goes on to cite 1 Kgs 22:19-23 and 2 Thess 2:11-12. But in both of those cases the text does not say that God “allowed” people to be deceived. Both texts state expressly that the deception originates from God Godself. It wasn’t that a lying spirit decided to go deceive the Israelite King—the text says that God sent the lying spirit to accomplish God’s own purpose. The same is true in 2 Thess 2:11-12. If I send an agent to do something on my behalf, I am responsible for what the agent does. If I hire a hitman to kill somebody, that doesn’t mean I’m not a murderer. In the same way, if God sends a lying spirit to lie, then God (at least sometimes) lies. It’s quite elementary.

Mr. Stark attempts to prove that for several hundred years God deceived Israel, the nation that he chose to be his holy possession and to give his holy law, by commanding them in his holy law to engage in human sacrifice, even though God would later declare this practice to be most unholy.

No, I don’t attempt to prove that. Warren mischaracterizes my argument. My position isn’t that this is what God did. My position is that this is what the text says God did, but the text was written by Ezekiel, and this is simply his strategy for condemning the institution of human sacrifice in Israel. I don’t argue that this is what God really did; my argument is simply that one cannot claim to be a bible-believing Christian and assert that God doesn’t lie. The Bible clearly says that God lies. Hence, inerrancy terminates in a paradox.

Beyond contradicting God’s nature as absolute Truth, I show below why his argument fails in the exegetical context.

First, note the assumption underwriting Warren’s objection here. The text cannot say that God lies, because God is absolute truth. How do we know that God is absolute truth? Because the text tells us so. The effect this has on Warren is that he has to lie to himself about what the text says in order to preserve his belief that the Bible is without error in everything that it affirms.

As for the infallibility of the human authors, when it comes to this issue Mr. Stark and his crowd have a stronger view of man’s depravity than Calvinists do.

Yeah, no.

They claim that human fallibility prevents prophets from recording God’s message with verbatim accuracy.

Nope. Not what I claimed. Again, Warren has to mischaracterize my argument in order to defeat it. I never did nor would I ever claim that human fallibility prevents prophets or anyone else from writing something without errors. I write documents that do not contain errors all the time, as does Warren. A secretary taking dictation will usually produce an error free transcript of a superior’s words. So, contrary to Warren’s deceptive portrayal of my argument, no, I did not argue that a human is incapable of hearing from God and copying accurately. My claim was merely that, if we believe in free will (which Warren does not, at least not in the sense that I do), it is God who is restrained from preventing error when God’s agents write scripture. And here I do not mean that God is restrained by lack of power, but that God is restrained by God’s own choice, which is a choice rooted in God’s own character.

The Calvinist doctrine of total depravity does not mean that people are as evil as possible. It means that all aspects of man’s life involve rebellion against God. The Bible affirms that unbelievers can act in accordance with God’s law (Rom. 2:14-16). The image of God was marred with the Fall, but it was not totally erased. As the opening chapters of Genesis show, God made man to be in communication with God, and the Creator did not become unable to communicate with his creatures as a result of the Fall.

All of this is attacking a straw man.

There is no reason that God cannot communicate exactly what he wants to be said through humans who are “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

I agree. God is not restrained in God’s ability to communicate clearly.

God is able to suppress human sinfulness in order to have humans proclaim his message exactly as God intends it to be proclaimed (e.g. Balaam, Num. 22-24).

No. Balaam is not evidence in support of this claim. Within the context of the piece of literature here, Balaam chose to do what Yahweh asked. Why? Because he was afraid of Yahweh. Balaam could have chosen to lie, but he didn’t—at least not in this case, according to the narrative (written by a human who may or may not have been making the whole thing up to begin with).

Their inspired writings can even reflect their unique personalities, because their personalities are created by God.

Sure, Warren. Their personalities are created by God, not by genetics, social conditions, life experiences, personal decisions. (Of course, for Warren who is a Calvinist, God personally orchestrated all of this stuff anyway. So this is where it does neither of us any good to argue this point. Warren believes God controls everything that happens; I—and the majority of Christians in the world—don’t.)

Because there is a God who is sovereign over all of his creation, the Bible does not have to be “dropped from heaven” to be inerrant, contrary to Mr. Stark (p.67).

Another straw man. I never said it had to be dropped from heaven in order to be inerrant. I said that this is effectively what the doctrine of inerrancy amounts to. I’m well aware that inerrantists make room for individual authors’ personalities, but, as Warren has made clear he believes, even their personalities were designed by God, which makes my statements that “the doctrine of inerrancy claims that the Bible was, in effect, dropped from heaven” (emphasis added), perfectly appropriate.

Resolving Apparent Contradictions and the Liberal Assumption of THOMAS

Before I begin with my responses to Mr. Stark’s comments about my review, I need to address one of the claims that he makes in his book that I didn’t mention in my previous review. It’s best to bring it up now because it illustrates a difference between Mr. Stark’s liberal, skeptical approach to the Bible and a conservative, inerrantist approach, and it’s a difference that runs throughout his criticisms of the Bible.

Mr. Stark claims that David didn’t really kill Goliath. He claims that the story found in 1 Samuel 17 was inserted later, and yet Mr. Stark says that the truth of what happened can still be found in the same book.

So far so good.

2 Samuel 21:19 says that an obscure soldier named Elhanan killed Goliath. A very plausible resolution to this contradiction is in terms of minor scribal error.

No, it is not at all plausible, let alone “very plausible.”

Mr. Stark explains much of it himself. 2 Samuel 21:19 contains an “untranslatable marker indicating that the direct object of the verb is about to follow” (p. 156). This occurs right before the word “Goliath.” Yet, as Mr. Stark explains, “with just a jot and a tittle’s difference (literally), we get the word meaning ‘brother of.'” It’s easy to see how 2 Samuel 21:19 could have originally said that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath, but a copyist missed writing the jot and tittle so that “brother of” became the accusative marker.

No, it is not “easy to see” this, for all the reasons I provided, with which Warren will attempt (and fail) to dispense presently.

But Mr. Stark doesn’t see that this slight difference could be used to resolve the contradiction.

This is humorous. How is it that I “don’t see” the very position against which I am arguing?

Showing his bias, he assumes that the accusative marker was original and “the brother of,” as the account at 1 Chronicles 20:5 reads, was added by a devious redactor rather than dropped by mistake.

More humor from Warren. That I see the definite direct object marker as original is not due to any “bias” Warren thinks I possess; rather, it’s due to all the reasons I offered, which include the contradictions between the stories in 1 Sam 16 and 17 respectively, the utter implausibility of a Philistine giant being given a Semitic name when the Philistine language was not Semitic, and when none of his brothers or fellow Philistine giants had Semitic names, and the fact that we know Elhanan’s father was from Bethlehem from elsewhere in the book of Samuel. But if we ignore all of the reasons I gave, we can then conclude that I choose to see a contradiction here because I’m blinded by my liberal bias.

When faced with an alteration that makes the text contradictory, and an equally easy alteration that removes the contradiction, Mr. Stark chooses the scenario that makes the text contradictory.

When faced with a patent contradiction in the Bible, Warren chooses rather to believe that those who point it out must have a personal investment in defaming the Bible.

Then Mr. Stark goes on to criticize a resolution offered by Gleason Archer. Archer argues that 1 Chronicles 20:5 is the original reading. This verse is very similar to 2 Samuel 21:19, but 1 Chronicles 20:5 has Elhanan slaying the “brother of Goliath,” like 2 Samuel 21:19 probably originally read, and rather than identifying Elhanan as a “Bethlehemite,” the “Beth” part of the word is dropped and the verse reads like the second part of the word, “Lahmi,” is the name of the brother of Goliath. Archer speculates that the “Beth” in 2 Samuel 21:19 was added by a copyist to make the word “Bethlehemite.” But this view has problems that Mr. Stark points out, like that “Lahmi” is not known to be anyone’s name, and it is a Semitic word, not a Philistine (Indo-European) word. Contrary to Archer, it makes more sense to say that “Bethlehemite” is the correct reading, and the “Beth” in 1 Chronicles 20:5 was mistakenly skipped by a copyist at some point to make that word into “Lahmi” (another very slight change is the difference). So I would say that the best explanation is that both of these parallel passages have a copyist error, with the errors being at different points for each verse.

So Warren accepts my criticism of Archer (and the rest of the inerrantists) that “Lachmi” could not have been the name of a Philistine giant. What he proposes then, interestingly, is that the hypothetical original text read, “And Elhanan the son of Jaar the Bethlehemite slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite.” In short, Warren argues that the text says that Elhanan slew an unnamed Philistine giant. Is this hypothetical reconstruction grammatically possible? Yes. Is it grammatically and literarily plausible? Not at all. Of course, inerrantist interpreters, as I’ve shown, aren’t interested in what’s plausible as long as an inerrant reading is possible. I’m reminded of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.

“What are my chances?”
“Not good.”
“You mean ‘not good’ like one out of a hundred?”
“I’d say, more like one out of a million.”
. . .
“So you’re telling me there’s a chance! . . . YEAH!”

Here’s why Warren’s reconstruction isn’t at all plausible.

(1) The definite direct object marker is used in both verses 17 and 18 in reference to the slaying of the Philistine giants Ishbibenob and Saph, by Abishai and Sibbechai respectively. But in Warren’s reconstruction of verse 19, there would be no definite direct object marker preceding the identification of the giant slain by Elhanan. In every case here, where a proper or definite noun follows a transitive verb, it is preceded by the object marker. This alone is instructive, but not determinative.

(2) Although the definite direct object marker does not appear before every proper and definite noun in biblical Hebrew, the vast majority of the time an accusative proper noun or definite noun is preceded by the object marker. Thus, probabilistically speaking, we would expect to see it here (as we do, but not in Warren’s reconstruction).

(3) If verse 19 did not have the definite direct object marker (as in Warren’s hypothetical reconstruction), it would be a very poorly written sentence. Of course, God’s perfect Word is not without its grammatical problems, but the author of Samuel was quite competent in his Hebrew. The reason it would be a very poorly written sentence is because the subject of the clause consists of a very long construct-chain. Literally, it reads like this: “and slew Elhanan son of Jaar-oregim the Bethlehemite Goliath the Gittite” or (on Warren’s rewriting), “and slew Elhanan son of Jaar-oregim the Bethlehemite the brother of Goliath the Gittite.” Without the direct object marker, this sentence is very awkward. One reason the object marker is there in the actual text is to establish the break definitively between the lengthy nominative construct-chain and the direct object. That’s why the Chronicler (in his own rewriting of the text) retained the object marker by changing the bet (from Bethlehem) into an ‘et (the object marker). The sentence begs for an object marker. If it didn’t beg for one, the Chronicler could have just dropped the object marker along with the word directly preceding it (“oregim”), which he did drop. A little reading knowledge of Hebrew goes a long way.

(4) Warren is arguing for a reading of the text that is preserved by neither 2 Samuel nor 1 Chronicles. Rather than one or the other preserving the right reading, according to Warren, both are wrong. Warren has created a third text (which exists in his mind). Inerrantists, when confronted with patent contradictions, are forever making these magical appeals to “copyist errors.” They can do this because often there is no way to prove them definitively wrong, even if their reconstructions lack any degree of plausibility. That’s fine with them, because if the reading is inerrant, it is to them more plausible than any other reading that is not inerrant. Here is where their faith introduces itself into the hermeneutical process.

One thing we can say for sure, in Warren’s favor, is that he stands within the tradition of the Chronicler, in that he has no problem rewriting the text to suit his own needs.

Mr. Stark agrees with Archer that “Lahmi” is the original reading of 1 Chronicles 20:5, but claims that the absurdity of the name is proof that the author was making up history for the purpose of political manipulation.

I offered another alternative to political manipulation, namely, piety. But yes, it is clear that the Chronicler altered the text. Perhaps the Chronicler just thought he was correcting his source. Nothing deceptive in that scenario. I’m fine with that. But in any case, the Chronicler’s solution was wrong.

Ignoring the possibility of innocent copyist error in both of the parallel passages, Mr. Stark offers this scenario: The story of the future king David killing Goliath was added after David had reigned in order to enhance his image and the political power of his supporters. The author of Chronicles saw that 1 Samuel 17 contradicted 2 Samuel 21:19, so he attempted to fix things by making “Bethlehemite” into the name “Lahmi.”

Warren here fails to mention the other relevant arguments. For instance, it’s not just that 1 Sam 17 contradicts 2 Sam 21:19; remember, 1 Sam 17 also contradicts 1 Sam 16. Both contain a story narrating how David first entered Saul’s court. I discuss this at length in my book, but here Warren gives the reader the impression that my case hangs solely on the discrepancy between 2 Sam 21 and 1 Chron 20. It does not. He will address 1 Sam 16 and 17 below, and I’ll respond when he does.

But if this scenario were true, then the author of Chronicles was a moron, and so were the original redactors who inserted the story of David killing Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 without fixing the “true” account in 2 Samuel 21:19.

Wrong! False dichotomy. We’ll get to why this is a false dichotomy shortly.

As Mr. Stark points out, 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel were originally one book, which would mean that the political schemers who added the myth of David killing Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 were too inept to fix the true account in the same book.

Nope. That’s not what it would mean.

All the author of Chronicles or other scribes had to so was add the jot and tittle to the untranslated marker to make it into “the brother of.” But no, the author of Chronicles leaves the contradiction in Samuel, and makes up a name for Goliath’s brother that no one has ever heard of, and which doesn’t make sense in the Philistine language, and which wasn’t necessary to fix the contradiction.

Boy this is confused. First, how does Warren suppose that the author of Chronicles would know what does or doesn’t make sense in the Philistine language when the author of Chronicles lived centuries after the Philistines had disintegrated as a people? That’s a head-scratcher.

Second, the name was necessary to fix the contradiction, because without it he would lose the direct object marker, rendering the sentence too awkward and uncharacteristic to have been correct.

Third, the fact that two different books have two different versions of the same sentence, each with a significantly different meaning, gives serious weight to the consensus position that something was wrong with the original. That both preserved accounts contain two different copyist errors, each of which changes the meaning of the sentence considerably, is just a desperate hypothesis. That would be a coincidence with a probability of astronomical proportions. The simplest and by far the most plausible explanation is that the account in Samuel was the original, and that the Chronicler intentionally changed it, motivated either by piety, politics, or the assumption that his source was in error.

And this was a time when all of his readers spoke Hebrew as their native tongue, and at least some of them would have known the Philistine language.

Nope. The Philistines no longer existed. By this time they had already been entirely absorbed into the Babylonian and Persian empires.

And, yes, while all of his readers spoke Hebrew, not all Hebrews could read. In fact, the vast majority could not. And at this stage, anyone who could would have shared the Chronicler’s pro-Davidic slant, as would the illiterate populace. If any Jews at this time didn’t share the Chronicler’s pro-Davidic slant, well, they wouldn’t have had access to his book, not being in his circle and all.

The falsehood perpetrated by the author of Chronicles would have been obvious.

Not in the slightest. Not when the legend of David’s slaughter of Goliath was so popular, and not when the vast majority of the people knew little more than how to spell their own names.

But Mr. Stark thinks that it is more reasonable to assume that they were all morons.

Yeah, this is a deliberate lie on Warren’s part. He knows this isn’t what I think, because he’ll attempt to engage what I actually think below. Warren is very adept at concocting straw men based upon his pet false dichotomies, but now we see that his straw men aren’t always created based upon a misunderstanding of me or on his own confusion. In this case, Warren is lying. We’ll see this clearly in a little while.

Mr. Stark says that the insertion of the story of David killing Goliath is like the myth of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and then confessing to his father, as first published in Mason Locke Weems’ biography of Washington that was published a year after Washington’s death. But the scenario that Mr. Stark imagines happened to the story of David and Goliath is more like Weems’ including the story of Washington cutting down the cherry tree in his book, and also saying later in the same book that the gardener had cut down that same cherry tree. If Weems would have thought that this would convince people that Washington cut down the cherry tree, he would have been a moron. And anyone who read the book that included both the fable and the truth, and still believed the fable, would also be a moron.

Someone here may be a moron, but it’s not any of Warren’s hypothetical characters. This is a false analogy, because while Weems’ biography of Washington was written by one author (Weems), the book of Samuel is composite, and was composed as it is preserved today over the course several generations. Moreover, Warren’s false dichotomy presumes that Samuel always took the same shape wherever it appeared. It further presumes that anyone who spotted the contradiction couldn’t have said, “Well, the account of Elhanan must be wrong.” It presumes that such readers would have had the expectation that the book of Samuel must be inerrant, which is a bad presumption. Warren’s false dichotomy just presumes a lot of things that are entirely without warrant, and display nothing more than the poverty of Warren’s education in ancient literature. More on this below.

Even Mr. Stark observes, “One would think these conflicting accounts would have been problematic, potentially tarnishing David’s reputation. One would think someone would have noticed” (p. 154). At least a few people would have noticed, unless they were all morons.

Nice to see that Warren isn’t above stopping a quotation just short of the sentence that undermines his caricature of my position. Immediately after the portion Warren quotes, I write, “Well, in fact, someone did notice. The Chronicler noticed.” I never said no one noticed. And my position never entailed that anyone was a moron. That’s, again, Warren’s false dichotomy, based on his uninformed expectations of the aesthetics of ancient texts, as I’ll discuss below.

And continuing with the Weems analogy, rather than fixing the contradiction in the Weems biography, another author attempts to fix the problem by writing a second biography of Washington in which the gardener cuts down a cherry tree by the driveway, not the cherry tree by the back porch that Washington cut down; and he adds a further alteration of the story that wasn’t necessary and doesn’t make sense by saying that the cherry tree by the driveway was called the “lahmi cherrytree.” “Lahmi,” the Hebrew word for “my bread,” is a name that no one has ever heard a cherry tree being called and makes no sense as a name for a cherry tree. What a moron! (It would make more sense to say that “lahmi” was a typo by the second biography’s publisher, maybe for the word “lame” or some other similar word, rather than a moronic attempt at deception.) Furthermore, the first biography with the true story and the false one that contradicts it remains in circulation, so people will continue to read both biographies and can see that the accounts contradict each other. This is the scenario that Mr. Stark offers as the most plausible explanation for the different accounts in the Bible of who killed Goliath.

Well, no it’s not the scenario I offer as the most plausible explanation. It’s a ridiculous scenario that Warren has concocted because he doesn’t understand how this literature was transmitted in the ancient world. Warren presumes that the book of Samuel was in “circulation,” when in reality there would have been very few copies, and they all would have been locked up in rooms by the minority elite class. They weren’t “circulating” at this stage.

He further presumes that the Chronicler had access to “the book of Samuel.” Well, he might have. But it may just be that he only had access to the same royal records from which the book of Samuel was composed. Regardless, if there were multiple copies of the book of Samuel (either in circulation as Warren ignorantly claims or, in actual fact, in the possession of a few elite scribal groups, locked away in a “vault”), what good would it do the Chronicler to change his copy of the book of Samuel? None whatsoever. But, what the Chronicler was more than capable of doing was keeping Samuel in the vault and reading his version to the people. The people didn’t have access to these books. Only the elite did. Warren’s portrait isn’t clearly distinguished from the post-Gutenberg world. But in the actual ancient world (not the one in Warren’s imagination), the elite controlled what texts were read to the populace, and when they were read, if they were read to them at all (which would have been rare). Warren’s humorous caricature of the scenario just doesn’t reflect the reality.

Warren’s false dichotomy also refuses to allow that ancient people just didn’t have Warren’s post-Enlightenment aesthetic sensibilities. But in oral cultures, multiple versions of stories circulated. That was their world. Warren doesn’t understand it because it’s not his world. That’s understandable, but not excusable for someone trying to engage in biblical studies.

Finally, Warren himself feels competent enough to tell us what the Bible really said, despite what it says in the two contradictory accounts we have preserved, but apparently he doesn’t think that any ancient readers would be clever enough (at least as clever as he is) to harmonize the texts in their own minds, like he’s done. No, in Warren’s world, either the books don’t contradict each other, or everyone who touched them (whether to read them or to write them) was a moron.

Rather than the plausible explanation of minor scribal error, Mr. Stark prefers the explanation of a convoluted tale of moronic political intrigue.

No, I prefer my actual position, the one Warren can’t seem to wrap his brain around.

If a copyist simply left off the jot and tittle that made the word “brother of,” and we still find the error in our extant copies, this shows that the copyists were so concerned about copying the holy scripture accurately that, after the error had been made, they kept copying it the same way, rather than messing with the text in a way that would have been very easy in order to resolve the contradiction or push a political agenda.

Well, if Warren knew the first thing about Jewish scribal traditions, he’d know that scribes fixed copyist errors all the time. So this argument is another diversion from reality.

There are a couple of other arguments that Mr. Stark offers to prove his case about the David and Goliath story. He points out that in 1 Samuel 16, Saul writes to David’s father Jesse to get permission for David to be employed by the king to play the harp and be his armor-bearer; but in chapter 17, which describes David’s defeat of Goliath, Saul has to ask whose son David is. But it’s not unreasonable to assume that Saul had forgotten who David’s father was by the time of David’s defeat of Goliath. The permission letter sent to Jesse probably wasn’t written by Saul himself. A king would most likely have had a secretary write the letter (one of the servants of Saul mentioned in 1 Sam. 16:15-22), and Saul would have simply stamped his seal on it before a messenger took it off for delivery. (The same secretary probably had to remind Saul of all of his wives’ anniversaries and his kids’ birthdays as well because he could never remember them.) While it’s not unreasonable for the king not to have remembered the name of the father of a young musician and armor-bearer in his employment, the name of David’s father became very important after the defeat of Goliath because Saul had promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to whoever defeated Goliath (1 Sam. 17:25), which brings the hero’s family into the royal family.

Warren again seeks to win an argument by failing to engage my actual argument. Here Warren only discusses the issue of whether Saul would have remembered David’s father’s name. But that’s not the real issue. Yes, it’s perfectly plausible that Saul would forget who David’s father was. What’s not plausible is that Saul would forget who David was! And that’s what is clearly going on here. Warren totally ignores my actual argument. So I don’t have to repeat myself, I’ll just quote my actual argument straight from the book. It will quickly become obvious that, in order to give his reader’s the impression he has resolved the contradiction between the two accounts, Warren has responded only selectively to my argument, and in fact, the one part he responded to was expressly the least important part of the argument:

The independent nature of 1 Samuel 17 is also clear from the obvious discontinuity between 1 Sam 16:21–22 and 1 Sam 17:55–58. In the former passage we learn that “David came to Saul, and entered his service. Saul had considerable affection for David, and David became Saul’s armor-bearer. Saul sent a messenger to Jesse, saying, ‘Allow David to remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.’” As you can see, Saul clearly has intimate knowledge of David, including knowledge of his family background. Yet in chapter 17, after “Saul saw David go up against the Philistine, he said to Abner (his military commander ), ‘Abner, this boy—whose son is he?’ Abner said, ‘King, As your soul lives, I do not know.’ The king said, ‘Find out whose son the youngster is.’ When David returned from slaying the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him to Saul, with the Philistine’s head in his hand. Saul asked him, ‘Who is your father, boy?’ And David answered, ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse, from Bethlehem.’”

The disparity is obvious. In chapter 16, prior to the events of chapter 17, Saul has intimate knowledge of David and has singled him out as one favored among his servants. Yet in chapter 17, Saul not only does not know who David’s father is, he does not even know who David is. It cannot be the case that Saul simply did not recognize David until he summoned him, because Saul and David spoke, at some length, just prior to David’s going out against Goliath (17:31–40). Gleason Archer, an avowed inerrantist, attempts to resolve this contradiction by arguing that Saul is not inquiring about David’s identity in 17:55–58, but only that of David’s father. However, Archer’s explanation fails to convince for a number of reasons. First, when David is initially suggested to Saul in 16:18, David is commended to Saul as “a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite.” Saul then proceeds to dispatch messengers to Jesse in order to request David’s service (16:19). After David came into Saul’s service and Saul developed a strong fondness for David (16:21), Saul sent messengers again to Jesse, asking him to allow David to remain in his service more permanently (16:22). Are we really to believe that Saul did not know the identity of David’s father in 17:55?

More problematic still is Archer’s basic claim that the issue in 17:55–58 is not David’s identity but Jesse’s. In the ancient world, a person’s identity was not distinguishable from their lineage. This is why when David was first suggested to Saul in 16:18, David is not named but simply referred to as “a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite.” Thus, when Saul inquires as to David’s lineage, this is actually an attempt to familiarize himself with David. Moreover, nowhere in 17:31–58 does Saul refer to David by name. He refers to him with language indicating their unfamiliarity, i.e., “boy.” Are we to believe this is the same “boy” who had recently found such favor in Saul’s sight?

It is obvious, therefore, that the story of David and Goliath was not an original part of the narrative of the book of Samuel. What we have in chapters 16 and 17 are two different (and conflicting) accounts of David’s initial entrance into Saul’s court. The account in chapter 17, the more ostentatious of the two, was a later addition.

Warren ignored everything I argued about the fact that Saul did not recognize David, and just made it an issue of Saul remembering David’s father. According to 1 Sam 16, “Saul had considerable affection for David.” But when we come to 1 Sam 17, Saul converses with David face-to-face prior to David’s battle with Goliath, referring to David merely as “boy,” and then when the battle was over, Saul had to ask Abner who David was. The discrepancy is patent to all but the devoted innerantist.

Warren’s debate tactics are both underhanded and transparent.

Mr. Stark also argues that 1 Samuel 17:54 is an anachronism because it says that David took Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, yet “at this time, the people of Israel had no relationship to Jerusalem; it was still under the control of the Jebusites. According to the book of Samuel, it would be many years before David conquered Jerusalem (see 2 Sam. 5:6-9)” (p. 153). But the people of Israel did have a relationship with Jerusalem at this time in that Israelites lived there even though they had not conquered it. When the Israelites initially invaded the land, Jebusites maintained control of the city of Jerusalem, yet Israelites lived with them in the city (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:21). If 2 Samuel 5:6-9contradicts 1 Samuel 17:54 (again, the same book!), as Mr. Stark claims, the redactor and his comrades must have been pretty careless in carrying out their political scheme of creating government propaganda, or too stupid to see the contradiction.

More confusion from Warren. First, note that in Joshua 15, it is the Judahites who fail to drive out the Jebusites in Jerusalem, but in Judg 1:21, it is the Benjamites who fail to drive out the Jebusites in Jerusalem. One text says that the people of Judah live among the Jebusites in Jerusalem “to this day.” The other says that the people of Benjamin live among the Jebusites in Jerusalem “to this day.” Are we really to believe that the Jebusites successfully defended the city of Jerusalem against two separate attacks from two different tribes, and then opened their gates to their enemies and allowed them to live with them from then on? Joshua 15:63 says that the people of Judah were unable to drive them out. It doesn’t say that they chose not to drive them out. It says they were unable to do so. If they had really conquered the city, then why were they unable to drive them out? If they didn’t conquer the city, then why would the Jebusites turn around and say, “OK, enemies, come on in and live among us”? This is utterly implausible.

These historical problems reflect the aetiological nature of these two contrasting accounts. They are meant, on the one hand, to explain the persisting existence of the Jebusites at the time of the writing of Joshua and Judges (i.e., about the sixth century BCE, several centuries after even David’s time), and, on the other hand, to play into the narrative in which all of the land now possessed by Israel was in some way acquired during Joshua’s conquest. It is a mythical portrait of conquest, and the reason the portrait needed to state that the Judahites/Benjamites were unable to drive the Jebusites out is because at the time this history was being written (again, sixth century BCE, not the thirteenth century when it is set), the Jebusites were still there living in the city.

The actual earliest account of Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem is in 2 Samuel 5:6-9, and there it is David (not Joshua, and not the tribes of Judah or Benjamin) who takes the city. Tellingly, in 2 Samuel 5:6-9, there is no mention whatsoever of an Israelite presence in the city. If there were Israelites living in the city, one would think the Jebusites would have used them as leverage when they were resisting David’s assault. But in 2 Samuel, no Israelite presence is mentioned. In fact, Jerusalem is only mentioned once in the book of Samuel prior to David’s conquest of the city in 2 Sam 5:6-9, and that’s in 1 Sam 17:54, which is, as I’ve argued, an anachronism.

The other thing to note is that, even if we were to concede (against all reason) that there was an Israelite presence in Jerusalem before David conquered it after he had ascended to the throne in Hebron, there’s still no reason why David would take Goliath’s head to Jerusalem when 1 Sam 17 says he did. At this time, David was part of Saul’s retinue. He would soon become Saul’s son-in-law. But Saul didn’t live in Jerusalem. Saul lived at Gibeah, and his domain did not extend to Jerusalem. David was from Bethlehem. If David lived with Saul, why on earth would he take Goliath’s head to the Jebusite city of Jerusalem? What nonsense. It’s an obvious anachronism. It’s probably a gloss, added even later than the story in 1 Samuel 17, which itself was a late addition to the book of Samuel.

The general principle that I am illustrating with Mr. Stark’s handling of the account of David and Goliath is how liberals think that it is reasonable to assume that the authors of the Bible were morons as a resolution to perceived difficulties in the text.

The only way Warren is able to “illustrate” this “general principle” is to incessantly put it on my lips in spite of the fact that my argument entails no such thing, nor does it need to. I do not think that the authors and redactors of scripture were morons just because there are discrepancies in the collection of texts that comprise the Bible, any more than I think any ancient author or redactor is a moron because of discrepancies in any ancient text. It’s just that I have a better understanding than does Warren of how ancient texts were produced and transmitted, and a better understanding than does Warren of the storytelling aesthetic of ancient oral cultures.

The normal rule followed for interpreting authors, followed at least since Aristotle taught it in his Poetics (Ch. XXV), is that one should be gracious enough not to conclude that an author has contradicted himself until every possible way to resolve the apparent contradiction has been exhausted.

Yes, this would apply to individual authors, but not to composite texts that have been handled by untold numbers of anonymous authors, compilers, and editors. Following Aristotle, I give Paul the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t contradict himself in a single text. I’ll even give him the benefit of the doubt (at least initially) that he doesn’t contradict himself between multiple texts. Of course, we have to allow that there may be contradictions over multiple texts by a single author, given that most human beings tend to change their minds on things. And any reasonable person will allow that there may even be contradictions within a single text by a single author, without concluding that that author is therefore a “moron.” In fact, it would be moronic to come to that conclusion, but that’s the only alternative Warren sees (when it comes to biblical texts), other than sticking his fingers in his ears, closing his eyes, and shouting at the top of his lungs, “There are no contradictions!” But when it comes to texts that were composed over many generations, texts that are composite in nature, that have been handled by untold numbers of anonymous authors, compilers, and redactors, Aristotle’s hermeneutical principle becomes more of a hindrance to sound hermeneutics than a help. Does that mean we should be finding contradictions where there are none? No. Scholars have no trouble pointing out the thousands of cases where two biblical texts agree. Even “liberal” scholars have no trouble reconciling some apparent discrepancies in the Bible. But, because they have good sense, they don’t allow a precommitment to a doctrine of “inerrancy” prevent them from identifying actual contradictions where actual contradictions exist. Critical scholars treat the biblical texts the same way they treat any ancient text. It’s Warren and the other inerrantists who change the hermeneutical rules for the Bible, and the Bible only.

But modern liberals promote interpretations that make the Bible into a confused hodge-podge of stories stuck together by redactors trying to assert their political power over others in such a moronic way that they ignore blatant contradictions created by their cutting and pasting. They judge the plausibility of an interpretation without regard to whether it makes the author say contradictory things.

No they don’t. That is frequently a factor considered by “modern liberals” as they approach the texts. Warren just must not be reading them very much.

We might call this approach The Hermeneutic Of Morons Authoring Scripture, or THOMAS for short.

Brilliant. Use my name as an acronym for a straw man hermeneutic that neither I nor any of my “liberal” comrades employ.

Several other examples of THOMAS will be seen in Thom Stark’s treatment of other passages that I discuss below.

Warren is going to have to pull off the impossible here, since my argument never entails that the biblical writers and redactors are morons. He’s beating a straw man to death, because that’s all he’s got.

And I have picked only a few from his book since a critique of every error in his book would take a book itself.

Well, so far we’re yet to see a single one.

Now we get to the evidence that Warren has been lying this whole time when he claims that my position is that the biblical writers and redactors were morons. He quotes one of my blog posts which explicitly explains that my arguments do not entail this conclusion at all:

In a response to a critic in a blog, Mr. Stark makes an attempt to address this issue:

What source critics understand is that (1) ancient redactors weren’t as bothered by these sorts of contradictions as we moderns are, and (2) for the most part their M.O. was to faithfully preserve their source material, allowing contradictions to stand. (They hadn’t heard about the doctrine of inerrancy yet.) So a few tiqqune sopherim (pious scribal alterations of the text) notwithstanding, scribes were interested in preserving their source material intact.

How does Mr. Stark really know what the intentions of the alleged redactors were? There is no statement by a redactor declaring his intention. It’s speculation that there were redactors to begin with (especially since no actual copies of these original sources have ever been uncovered by archeologists), and their intention is speculation on top of speculation, a penumbra formed by emanations. Regarding his first claim that ancient redactors weren’t bothered by contradictions, what’s the proof? The only proof he offers is an example of an alleged contradiction in the Bible. How apparent contradictions are to be understood is the very point in question, so that’s nothing but question begging.

What a web of confusion. First, this hilarious statement that the presence of redactors in the text is just “speculation” exposes, probably better than anything else so far, how profoundly uninformed Warren is. There’s a big difference between “speculation” and a hypothesis that has been tested and proved over and over and over again for centuries, and has been accepted even by large swathes of Warren’s fellow Reformed Calvinists. We’re in lunatic fringe territory now.

Second, Warren’s claim that archeology hasn’t produced evidence for the existence of redactors is even crazier. Perhaps Warren is unfamiliar with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Perhaps he hasn’t read Jeremiah both in the LXX and the MT. Perhaps he hasn’t read the book of Daniel in a Roman Catholic Bible. Perhaps he’s unaware that the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 was unarguably inserted by a redactor. There are so many different extant recensions of so many different biblical books, to claim that the existence of biblical redactors is just “speculative” is either utterly and tragically ignorant, or downright nuts. Or to put it in terms with which he is more comfortable, either the existence of biblical redactors is speculative, or Mike Warren is a moron.

Third, Warren expects us to provide a direct statement by a redactor that he doesn’t share our Enlightenment aesthetic? What silliness. The evidence that they did not is found in the fact of the multitudinous contradictions that exist, not only in the Bible, but in ancient literature in general, and ancient near eastern literature in particular. The evidence for this is manifold, and is quite patent to those who actually work in ancient texts. Until Warren is willing to engage actual redaction critics who discuss the literary aesthetics of ancient authors and redactors, his objections are without substance.

But note that he provides no argument against my extensive arguments (found more fully in my review of Copan) that ancient redactors had different M.O.s than do modern historians. He simply asserts that I am speculating (which is false). Note further that he only quotes a small portion of my blog post, in which I provide several explanations for the fact that ancient redactors weren’t as concerned with contradictions as we are. Anyway, claiming that I am merely speculating is not enough to justify his incessant and belligerent distortion of my position when he argues that I must think the ancient redactors were morons.

You’ll notice that the vast majority of Warren’s arguments against my position heretofore and hereafter amount to nothing more than this: either Stark’s reading is wrong and there are no real contradictions, or the authors and redactors of scripture were morons. This is the best that Warren has, but it doesn’t even touch on the actual picture. It is not a fault of my scholarship that Warren doesn’t have a background in redaction criticism.

The Bible itself contains evidence against the idea that contradictions didn’t bother ancient covenant Jews. Deuteronomy says that consistency with previous revelation is a test of canonicity (Deut. 13:1-4), as does the New Testament (Gal. 1:8-9).

Oh good grief, Warren knows how to twist scripture to serve his purposes. Here’s what Deut 13:1-4 actually says:

If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents, and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (whom you have not known) ‘and let us serve them’, you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams; for Yahweh your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love Yahweh your God with all your heart and soul. Yahweh your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast.

And here’s Gal 1:8-9:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Neither passage says what Warren wants it to say. One is talking about prophets proclaiming gods other than Yahweh, the other is talking about proclaimers of a gospel other than Paul’s. Neither is talking about historical discrepancies in prose narratives; neither is talking about written revelation; and neither is talking about any test of “canonicity.” Canonicity as a concept didn’t even exist at the time Deuteronomy 13 was written. Warren is grasping desperately at straws here.

(It’s not the only test; I have more to say on that below.) The Bible is presented as the word of God (cf. Jer. 1:9; Acts 4:24-25; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21), and the Bible says that God cannot lie (Num. 23:19,Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18), and his word is truth without error (Psalm 119:89, 96, 128, 144, 160; Prov. 30:5-6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17). Then there is the ethical condemnation of lying found in numerous places in the Bible, beginning with the serpent in the garden (Gen. 3:1-5), later enshrined in the Decalogue (Exo. 20:16; Deut. 5:20), and with too many other places in the Old and New Testaments to mention. On the other hand, once something had been accepted by the covenant community as God’s word, the scribes were careful to accurately copy the original writing regardless of apparent difficulties in the text, since God said not to add or subtract from his word (Deut. 4:2, 12:32; Rev. 22:18).

All of this is a distraction. And while some passages say that God cannot lie, other passages depict God as lying. And Deut 4:2; 12:32 say nothing about adding or subtracting from biblical texts; they speak only of adding or subtracting from the commandments. And regardless of what they claim about adding or subtracting from the commandments, the various legal sources in the Bible show that’s just what occurred. Rev 22:18 says nothing about adding or subtracting from the Bible, but about adding or subtracting from the book of Revelation itself. Perhaps Warren assumes that because Revelation would later be included in the canon of scripture, 22:18 must refer to the whole canon. Whatever.

No one is disputing that many texts in the Bible present themselves or other texts as the word of God. Of course, so did other texts that didn’t make it into the canon, and so did religious and political texts of other nations. Moreover, not every book in the Bible presents itself in this way. I’ve already discussed this all in my book, and Warren hasn’t actually responded to me. The reality is that, especially with the historical narratives in the Hebrew Bible, these did not come to be seen as divine revelation until much later, after Judah lost political sovereignty and Jews became a people of the book. But at the time of their composition, the authors made no claim to divine revelation. The projection of this construct back onto these texts is thoroughly anachronistic.

Even if Mr. Stark’s defense is seen merely as a defence [sic] of the internal consistency of the liberal, higher critic perspective, it fails. While Mr. Stark presents the redactors as conservatives do the scribes of the Old Testament, as mere assemblers of a received text, that is not consistent with the heavy editing that they describe the redactors as responsible for.

This is a straw man. I don’t present redactors as “mere assemblers of a received text.” It’s clear that the position against which Warren is arguing is a position around which he hasn’t got his brain.

What Mr. Stark calls here “a few . . . scribal alterations of the text” is basic to the liberal view of the origin of the text. They claim, not that written accounts by others were merely added together to form one volume, but that stories were cut up and inserted into each other in all sorts of odd ways (alternating original sources every few sentences, and even making one sentence out of two sources). This would have left a lot of text on the cutting room floor (when an alleged original source is extracted from the Bible, it often doesn’t form a coherent narrative), and would have often changed the meaning of the text that was put in a new context.

Yes, they did this too, as did other redactors in other nations and cultures, as scholars of ancient texts are well aware.

Mr. Stark narrowly focuses on the apparent contradictions in the Bible, but that is not the only phenomenon of Scripture that is relevant to deducing the intentions of the redactors. Despite some apparent contradictions, a fairly solid observation is that the alleged redactors were successful in weaving together narratives that are, at the least, largely coherent. Most of the books, particularly those named after a single prophet, present themselves as being written by a single author, sometimes with a scribe adding some finishing details; whereas higher critics argue that they are the work of multiple authors with a redactor trying to make the multiple authors look like one author in a way so subtle that it was only discovered within the past two hundred years by some liberals applying a Hegelian/evolutionary interpretive scheme to the text. The appearance of unity seems to have been a higher priority for the redactors than preserving the source material.

Warren misunderstands my argument, and he also displays only a superficial familiarity with the state of scholarship on these issues. That redactors were sometimes concerned to preserve source material isn’t everything I’ve said on the matter. It’s true in some cases, not true in others. It depends upon the type of tradition in question, generally. And the fact that some redactors or later pseudonymous authors tried to create unity with previous sources doesn’t mean they were concerned with some contradictions in the way that Warren insists they must have been. The seams in these texts (and in texts from other cultures) are very plain. But these composite compositions would have more than sufficed for their purposes. The illiterate populace didn’t devote their lives to studying these texts critically (they couldn’t have done so). Nor did the literate scribes and theologians throughout the centuries, who read the Bible after the construct of divine revelation had been projected onto the canonical texts. They studied the texts, yes, but not critically and not comparatively. Modern scholars know what they know about the composition of these texts because of archaeology, comparative studies, and non-partisan critical scrutiny. A text reads very differently when one is reading it devotionally or as pure divine revelation than it does when one studies it as human literature. Of course, most of the so-called “higher critics” that Warren loathes were believers, and still saw the texts as divine revelation in addition to being human compositions that could be apprehended in the same ways as other human compositions.

And last, liberals usually claim that there was a political motivation behind it, as Mr. Stark mentions in the same blog post: “Their reasons for doing this were often political.” The alleged purpose of creating the stories and cutting and pasting them together was to persuade the populace to follow the ruling elite. But a story that contradicts itself loses credibility.

To a post-Enlightenment reader such as Warren, yes it does. To ancient near eastern tribal cultures? No, not really. Moreover, Warren’s argument requires that the populace had access to the whole books, when in fact they did not. They saw only what the ruling elites who composed these books wanted them to see. The authors of these books would not have foreseen that their compositions would later become canonized and distributed along with other books to be studied as divine revelation in local synagogues all across the Greco-Roman empire. Let’s come back down to earth.

I’ve already shown that contradictions counted against the credibility of the text for the Jews.

No, he hasn’t. He’s distorted scripture, and begged questions, but he hasn’t shown something that isn’t actually true.

In summary, liberals like Mr. Stark argue that the Bible was not received by prophets from God (with the aid of previous historical writings and their God-given natural faculties), but is the product of humans intentionally making it look like they received it from God as part of a political ruse.

Actually, my position is that while the latter did happen, the former may well have happened as well in other cases. It’s not an either/or.

Conservatives respond that, if the Bible was intentionally made up in an attempt to pull off an effective political ruse, then the human authors, if they had any sense, should have intentionally removed the contradictions that liberals claim to be in the Bible.

And conservatives argue this because they’re projecting later conditions anachronistically back onto the periods in which these texts were actually composed.

Since it’s unreasonable that the authors of the Bible and it’s intended audience were such morons as to not care about contradictions (1. contradictions count against canonicity


and 2. the Scriptures repeatedly condemn lying),

Politicians who lie also condemn lying. So what?

the documentary hypothesis is an unreasonable explanation for the alleged contradictions in the Bible.

I think Warren should write this argument up in a good essay and submit it for peer review. It just might very well overturn the consensus!

Mr. Stark’s response is to minimize the intentionality of the redactors and present them as conservatives do the scribes of the Old Testament, as mere assemblers of a received text.

No, that’s a snippet of my position.

But that is not consistent with other claims that liberals allege about the origin of the text of the Bible: 1) the extensive editing by redactors, 2) a false appearance of unity as a deliberate deception by the redactors, and 3) the devious political motivation of the redactors to fabricate stories that would persuade the populace that the stories were true.

Actually, it is consistent with these other realities, because redactors had different purposes for different compositions. But point 2 (the false appearance of unity as a deliberate deception) is a point that is not settled among redaction critics. Warren is not aware of this, I assume, because he doesn’t do much reading in redaction criticism. A large number of redaction critics argue that the false appearance of unity wasn’t a major concern for many redactors. They weren’t bothered by the seams they left; they weren’t always trying to construct a perfectly seamless, coherent narrative; and they had different criteria of coherence than we moderns have. All Warren’s arguments have demonstrated is the paucity of his familiarity with the scholarly literature.

Jack Miles concludes that it is modern readers’ “inability to imagine an aesthetic of disorder, or of deliberately mingled order and disorder, that may separate them most sharply from the ancient writers and editors they study. As they acquire this ability, perhaps by relinquishing what in modern times has been their quasi-religious vocation, they may find that they have less taste for the harmony and smoothness that historical scholarship would impose on the text.”1

Robert Alter, in his seminal volume, The Art of Biblical Narrative, argues that often when redactors juxtaposed clearly contrasting historical accounts, theologies, or ideologies, the redactor’s intention was to confront the reader with a choice, to force the reader to take a position, one way or the other. Far from being “moronic,” or treating the audience as “moronic,” this understanding of the work of some redactors shows a very mature approach to the literature, and displays a profound respect for the moral and intellectual aptitude of the audience. On this understanding, some redactors did not wish to treat the audience as children, telling them how it was, but sought rather to confront them with a struggle the likes of which would produce moral and theological maturity. These redactors juxtaposed multiple sides of an argument, and left it to the audience to come to a conclusion.

Of course, it’s also true that sometimes redactors did seek to minimize the perspective of their sources, to overlay a contrasting paradigm upon them in order to transform one perspective into the perspective taken by the redactor. This clearly happened as well (as many conservatives in fact argue).

Both approaches to conflicting source material are found in the Bible. Both are valid. They are not mutually exclusive. It’s not the either/or that Warren, in his eagerness to sweep source criticism under the rug with a single syllogism, claims.

THOMAS – An acronym for “The Hermeneutic of Morons Authoring Scripture.”
The principle of biblical interpretation assumed by liberals.

This is, as we’ve seen, a lie, made worse by the inept attempt at humor.

Some Minor Disputes About Church History

In my original response, I wrote:

It is unfortunate that Mr. Warren begins his review by insulting the very people he hopes to persuade. Although I have no stake in defending pietism, Mr. Warren’s characterization of American pietism is so polemical and distorted that it tells us much more about Mr. Warren than it does about American pietism. Mr. Warren equates a flowery reading of the nice parts of the Bible and a neglect of the rest with pietism, and suggests that anyone persuaded by my book must not know the Bible very well. He claims that such Christians, in their ignorance, are easy targets for my book. To the contrary, I find that it is often those who are unfamiliar with the Bible who have such a difficult time accepting the arguments I put forward in my book; it is those who cherry pick the verses they like who blindly deny the reality of the conflict within the biblical texts.

Mr. Warren further insinuates that because of my association with the Stone Campbell tradition, I must not be very familiar with the Bible, an alleged fact which explains why I’ve adopted the positions I have. Mr. Warren on this point has alienated any Stone Campbell reader who may have looked to him for reasons to reject my arguments. To suggest that a strictly back-to-the-Bible Protestant tradition like the Stone-Campbell tradition is deficient due to a careless disregard for the Bible displays not the ignorance of Stone-Campbell Christians but of Mr. Warren. These sort of broad, sweeping generalizations and disdainful mischaracterizations of large swathes of American Christians don’t do Mr. Warren any favors, here at the outset of his review, but are unfortunately typical of what is to come throughout.

Warren responds:

Regardless of whether it offends, the truth is that those who belong to churches that teach that only a small set of Biblical doctrines are important will not have been given the resources to substantively respond to Mr. Stark’s arguments, which deal with issues that these pietistic churches rarely spend much time on. Churches in the Stone Campbell tradition belong to that category.


It’s true that many such people will not even try to substantively respond to his arguments, but that does nothing to refute the previous point. Mr. Stark has obviously left the Stone Campbell tradition now, and his knowledge of the Bible is much greater, although of a distorted perspective.

Is Warren says so.

I wrote:

Of course, though he implies that my deficient views on scripture owe something to my connection to the Stone-Campbell tradition, Mr. Warren has not identified his own Christian tradition, but it is evident from certain remarks that he is likely a Reformed Calvinist. It is humorous to me that someone from a tradition committed to interpreting the Bible only through the filter of later traditions is willing to accuse strict biblicists who strive to come to the Bible on its own terms of flagrant unfamiliarity with the Bible.

I am Reformed Calvinist. Some aspects of this view may be arrived at later in church history, but maturity usually does take time. The Enlightenment was later in history than the Reformation, and since Mr. Stark is a follower of Enlightenment philosophy, he should agree with me on that.

Nope. Because what Warren refers to as “maturity,” I refer to as nonsense.

As for pietists coming to the Bible on its own terms, their strict biblicism is applied in a limited way. They have adopted unacknowledged assumptions from Enlightenment thought, such as an epistemology of Common Sense Realism, on top of just plain bad theology. But the proof of who is using an unbiblical filter is in the exegesis, so let’s get on with that.

“Bad theology” according to . . . a Reformed Calvinist.

Ezra’s Divorce Command

In my original response, I wrote:

Actually, Ezra forbids marriage with the following people groups: “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites” (Ezra 9:1). This list is based on two passages in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 7 and 23. The former mentions all but the Moabites and the Egyptians. Deuteronomy 23 mentions the Moabites, excluding them from the assembly. Deuteronomy 23 also mentions the Egyptians, but in contradiction to Ezra: “You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh.” In the law of Moses, the Israelites are expressly permitted to intermarry with Egyptians! Yet in Ezra, the Egyptians are excluded. Why? Because Ezra was a racial purist. As for the “abominations” mentioned in 9:14, they are not specified, nor is there any instance mentioned of an Israelite being led astray into the practice of non-Yahwistic rites. As I’ve argued extensively in chapter six, the claim that Israelites were not to intermarry with certain tribes because they might lead them astray to worship other gods is undermined by the fact that they are expressly permitted and often commanded to intermarry with certain other people from non-Yahwistic tribes! Clearly it was conceivable that bringing a wife in from a foreign culture was relatively safe, if the wife could be made to conform her worship to the Israelite norm. Yet there is no thought given to this in Ezra. The “abominations” practiced by the people of the land were just foreign religious rites—the same things Israelites did but to different deities. At any rate, see pp. 434-36 in John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, for a cogent discussion of the problem of intermarriage in Ezra and Nehemiah.

Warren responds:

Collins is no more enlightening than Mr. Stark’s own writing. He simply ignores the reason that Ezra gives for requiring divorce is based on moral behavior, not race. Ezra says that these foreign wives were committing the same violations of God’s law that God warned the Israelites about violating lest they should also be kicked out of the land like the Canaanites.

No, Ezra does not say this. Warren goes on to quote a passage in which he thinks Ezra makes this claim:

Since the Israelites had just returned to the land after being exiled for their sins, Ezra was understandably concerned that God would become so angry with them that he would simply wipe them off the face of the earth: “. . . [S]hall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?” (Ezra 9:14).

In verse 10, the abominations referenced are those of the Canaanites back in Joshua’s day. Ezra is referring to the people of the land in general as “those who practice these abominations.” But he makes no statement to the effect that the women who married the Jews continued these practices after coming under the household of a Yahweh worshiper. Note again (as I pointed out in my book) that just prior to Ezra’s arrival, the people from the north came down and asked to participate in the rebuilding of the temple. They wanted to worship Yahweh along with their Judean kin. But the Jews denounced them, because they had mixed their blood with foreigners. That’s the same attitude that Jesus condemns in his parable of the Good Samaritan. Warren would be better off admitting that Ezra and the Jewish leaders of his period were racist, but argue that the historical narrative is not meant to be taken as theologically normative.

Warren also ignores all the arguments I gave in the book that display what is really going on with Ezra. First, Ezra adds new people to the old list of supposedly abominable peoples, and the people he adds were, according to Moses, OK to intermarry with. Ezra’s ethnocentrism is narrower even than that of Moses. Furthermore, I’ve already pointed out the blatant contradiction present in this justification of religious purity. The Israelites were forbidden from intermarrying with anyone within the borders of the promised land; but they were allowed to intermarry with peoples outside the promised land. Does that mean that those outside the allotted borders were pure Yahweh worshipers who practiced none of the abominations of the verboten Canaanites? Of course not. In reality, they worshiped their own deities; they performed human sacrifices; they engaged in cultic sex. The real reason the people within the borders were off limits has to do with asserting political sovereignty over the region. Religious purity is just the excuse used. And by the time of Ezra, it had evolved into outright racism, as is amply clear from the attitude Jews had toward Samaritans, despite the fact that Samaritans were faithful Yahweh worshipers. The Samaritans sought reconciliation with the Judeans, but the Judeans rejected them because they had intermingled with people from outside their stock. This was of course not their choice. The Assyrian empire forced these intermarriages upon them. But that made no difference to people like Ezra.

And the foreign religious rites were not “the same things Israelites did but to different deities.” Religion back then was not practiced like it often is in modern Western culture, where it mainly concerns private devotion and is irrelevant to the rest of life.

I didn’t say it was. This is a straw man.

Religions were life-encompassing.

I never denied this, nor does my position entail such a denial.

Many of the sins that warranted exile of the nation were capital crimes: unlawful sexual relations, child sacrifice and necromancy (Lev. 18 and 20). (Ezra did not have to explicitly state which abomination would get them kicked out since the priests he was talking to should have known what Moses had written.) God’s judgment of vomiting people out of the land if these particular acts were practiced was ethnically neutral.

False. Everyone within the borders of the Promised Land was to be killed or forced out, not just those who practiced particular abominations. Moreover, again, those outside the borders who practiced the abominations were subject to no such judgment, and, in fact, the Israelites are expressly permitted to intermarry with them. Once again, the religious purity justification was bogus.

The judgment applied to the Israelites as much as to the native Canaanite nations: “Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deut. 8:20). Since this judgment applied even to God’s chosen people who were given this land for their perpetual inheritance, a fortiori any people of any ethnicity found practicing these deeds in the holy land had to be removed from the land to avert God’s harsher judgment of cleansing the holy land with an invading army.

This I don’t deny. If you want to live in Yahweh’s land, you have to worship Yahweh. But the ideology which says that intermarriage with those who practice abominations will inevitably lead to religious impurity within Israel is undermined by the fact that Yahweh is depicted as giving Israelites permission to intermarry with other groups outside of the borders of the Promised Land. It’s quite obvious to anyone who has eyes to see.

This ethnically neutral law is the basis for the law against marrying women from the Canaanite nations.

It’s clear why this is false, and why the law is not ethnically neutral. If it were ethically neutral, then the Israelites would have been forbidden from intermarrying with people outside the borders of the promised land, just as they were forbidden from intermarrying with people within the borders of the promised land. The prohibition applies only to the ethnic groups within Israel’s borders. And that is the way it goes with genocide. It’s not the enemy without that is seen as the problem, but the enemy within. It’s always the enemy within.

Those tribes practiced these abominations as an integral part of their culture. Moses had told the Hebrew men that they could marry foreign women, but if these foreign wives practiced the abominable acts of the Canaanites, then they would have had to be removed from the land (exiled or executed). If a Hebrew wife acted like a pagan Canaanite, she would have to be dealt with the same way. If men of any ethnicity acted like pagan Canaanites, they would face the same fate.

Yes, this is obvious, but it misses the point. The point is, the Canaanites weren’t given the option to stop practicing their abominations. Intermarriage was forbidden completely, and they were to be killed or expelled without possibility of making peace treaties with Israel or coming under Yahweh’s banner. The text of Joshua in fact states that Yahweh intervened to prevent the Canaanites from making such peace treaties. Obviously, anyone worshiping a god other than Yahweh was going to pay the price. But the point of killing all the Canaanites was supposedly that allowing them to live would ensure that foreign cults would creep into Israel’s midst. Why, then, does the same logic not apply to intermarriage with people outside Canaan’s borders? To reiterate, this is a classic example of a genocidal ideology focused on the perceived enemy within, even if those within were not really a threat. There’s no question, for Ezra, of whether individual women were or were not a religious threat to Israel. Because they are Canaanites, they are a threat. Let’s come back down to earth.

In Ezra’s day, the Egyptian women were practicing these abominable acts in the land of Israel, so they had to be cast out along with others who did the same. Mr. Stark says, “nor is there any instance mentioned of an Israelite being led astray into the practice of non-Yahwistic rites,” but that doesn’t matter. The wives and their children were practicing the abominations, so they had to be removed.

Warren is making this up. He has no evidence for this whatsoever, whether archaeological or textual. Ezra only says that “the peoples” were practicing the abominations. He does not state, or even inquire as to whether those women who had married Jews continued such practices. Warren has to rewrite the text in order to help Ezra save face, despite the fact that he knows full well that the inhabitants of Judea had this racist attitude toward the people of the land. The evidence for this is ample, long, long after human sacrifices and such ceased in this region.

We can gain further insight into the situation in the book of Ezra by looking at two other prophetic books of Ezra’s era: Nehemiah records that the children of these foreign wives were being educated in terms of their foreign, pagan cultures, rather than learning the Hebrew language (Neh. 13:23-27), so they were not learning God’s law taught in the Hebrew scriptures.

True and false. Nehemiah says the children were not being taught Hebrew, but the language of their mothers. He does not say that they were not being taught Yahweh’s laws. Warren added this to the text as it suited his purpose. Moreover, Nehemiah does not say that they were being raised to practice the religious rites of non-Jewish cultures. It makes no mention of any practice of Canaanite abominations, unless speaking a different language is now to be considered an abomination. This would not be surprising; I live in Texas, where Spanish is considered an abomination by some.

Malachi (possibly a title for Ezra) . . .

The identification of Ezra with Malachi was made by a single targum, much later, and few scholars give this identification any weight. There is no textual evidence for this, and in fact, most scholars argue that grammatical considerations lead to the conclusion that “Malachi” is a proper noun, not just a descriptive title (i.e., “my messenger”).

. . . records that the husbands of these foreign wives had divorced the Hebrew wives that they had married as young men. These good Jewish girls would have raised their children under God’s covenant (Mal. 2:14-16). But the men tossed them aside and married foreign women who raised their children as pagans.

Warren is making this last part up. There is no indication in Malachi that the women were raising their children “as pagans.” The only abomination mentioned in the text is the fact of the intermarriages themselves. In fact, the verse just prior to the portion cited by Warren makes clear that Israel was still offering sacrifices to Yahweh. He rejected them, it says, because of their intermarriages. There is no claim whatsoever that any pagan practices had actually crept into Israel’s camp, and certainly no claim that the children were being reared “as pagans.”

There is a special concern in Ezra about the priests who had married foreign wives. This special concern makes sense given that the priesthood was hereditary, so the next generation of priests would have included a large number of thoroughly pagan men, which obviously would have severely undermined the religion of Yahweh.

This again is false, based on the assumption that the children were being taught pagan practices. The concern rather is ethnic; they were not to mix with the Canaanite peoples—whether their wives were or were not actually practicing Canaanite cultic rites is not an issue relevant to the prohibition.

The issue is, again, ethical: whether or not the children would be raised to obey the law of Yahweh’s covenant. Collins’ claim to insight into the mind of Ezra, contrary to Ezra’s own stated reason for requiring the divorces, is that Egyptians are included in the list and they were not included in the Mosaic list. But that is actually a reason to say that the rationale was not racist. It shows that, in accordance with what Lev. 18 and 20 teach, any group who acted like the Canaanites had to be treated like Canaanites, regardless of their race.

Except, of course, for all the groups outside the borders of Canaan, with whom Israel was given permission to intermarry.

Mr. Stark’s examples of Scriptural approval of foreign women marrying Israelites all involve women that entered into covenant with Yahweh (e.g. Ruth), which does nothing to justify marriage to women who practiced detestable criminal lifestyles, and taught their children to do the same, as part of their rejection of Yahweh’s covenant.

This is false. Yes, Rahab, Ruth and (presumably) Moses’s Ethiopian wife made covenants with Yahweh, but those aren’t the only examples I provided. Contrary to Warren’s deceptive claim that the examples I provide “all involve women that entered into covenant with Yahweh,” I identified all of the peoples outside the borders of the promised land, with whom Israelites are given express permission to marry, and the 32,000 Midianite virgins who were forcibly integrated into Israel at Yahweh’s command. If these women could be integrated into Israel and be expected to adopt purely Yahwistic practices, why not the Canaanites within the borders of the promised land? The answer is because the distinction was delineated by ethnicity.

And one last point on this issue: Even if the worship of the Canannites was “the same things Israelites did but to different deities,” that would not negate the abominable nature of Canannite worship. The Bible teaches that the Israelite God, Yahweh, was the Creator of heaven and earth. The Canannite gods were demons or other types of created things being worshipped (Deut. 32:17; cf. Rom. 1:22-25). The creation does not deserve the worship of the Creator, the source of all morality, all facts, and all truth.

Here Warren is projecting an anachronistic understanding of the word translated as “demons” in Deut 32:17. I discuss the development of Israel’s cosmology at some length in my review of Paul Copan’s book. See footnote.2

Mr. Stark views Yahweh as just another finite god that was given birth by the universe.

Huh? I do? That’s news to me.

He fails to see the ontological distinction between Yahweh as Creator and the other gods as creatures, so he fails to see the abomination of the worship due to the Creator being given to creatures.

No, I don’t fail to see it. I just recognize that it’s a distinction that came late in Israel’s theology. Regardless, this is a red herring, because it was not the worship of other gods by other nations per se that is identified as abominable in the Deuteronomistic code. Rather, it is particular practices that are identified as abominable. If just the worship of other gods is abominable to Yahweh, then why is Israel given express permission by Yahweh to intermarry with Midianite women, and with any people who live outside the borders of Canaan? Note the contradiction here in Warren’s argumentation: one the one hand he says that Israelites were permitted to intermarry with Egyptians back in Moses’ day because the Egyptians weren’t committing the same abominations as the Canaanites, but that Ezra added them to his later list because by then they were (which itself is ridiculous); on the other hand Warren wants to argue that mere worship of another deity is an abomination sufficient to proscribe intermarriage. He can’t have it both ways. Anyway, obviously, the integrated women would be expected to adopt Yahwism, but then, why couldn’t this courtesy be extended to the Canaanite women? The answer: because it’s about the enemy within, i.e., ethnicity, just as with the Hutu/Tutsi and Arminian genocides, and the Holocaust.

Pesher vs. Historical-Grammatical Interpretation

In my original response, I wrote:

Mr. Warren is being deceptive here. First, he claims I am not aware of the article by Dennis Bratcher when in fact I cite this selfsame article in my book in support of my position. Second, the article by Dennis Bratcher does not say what Mr. Warren claims it says. Bratcher argues (quite rightly) that Matthew uses the Isaiah 7 prophecy analogously to draw out the theme of “God with us.” The reality is, as Bratcher is aware, this is still pesher interpretation and not historical-grammatical. Mr. Warren is grasping at straws here.

My explanation of Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7 follows Bratcher’s interpretation, but also goes beyond it:

In other words, Warren uses Bratcher’s scholarship to come to a conclusion to which Bratcher himself does not come.

Why is God with Israel to save a remnant through all the various judgments brought against her? Because of the Messianic promises made to the Patriarchs. Jesus’ birth was not just one more example of God being with Israel; it was the reason behind God being with Israel (or actually the holy seed from Adam onward – Gen. 3:15) all of those times in the Old Testament.

I have no objection to this understanding of Matthew’s theology.

Mr. Stark doesn’t cite the “selfsame” article but another article by Dennis Bratcher on the same website dealing with the more narrow topic of the word “virgin” (pp. 28, 243). But whether he was aware of Bratcher’s article that I reference or not, here’s the problem: He says of pesher interpretation, “An understanding of the prophetic message in its original historical context was entirely irrelevant to the community” (p. 26). But then, when I point to Bratcher’s interpretation, which could have been the same interpretation of someone who read Isaiah’s prophecy at the time it was written, he says that that’s pesher interpretation too.

First, the quote Warren pulls from my book is in reference to the Qumran community specifically, but in actual fact, while what I said is true, this does not mean that a pesher interpretation disregarded original meaning in every case. But my statement about Bratcher’s interpretation is correct; Warren just doesn’t understand my point. I’ll try to be more clear. According to Bratcher, Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7 emphasized not the virginity of the woman but the immanence of God’s presence. Just as the child born in Ahaz’s time was a sign that God was with Israel, Jesus represents the presence of God with Israel, now in the eschatological age. Bratcher’s understanding of Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7 is pesher, not historical-grammatical. The historical-grammatical reading of Isaiah 7 concerns the child born during Ahaz’s reign and that child only. But for Matthew, because he has an eschatological hermeneutic, the prophecy is really and ultimately about Jesus. In Bratcher’s own words, “The emphasis in Isaiah 7:14 is not on the virginity of the mother, but on the immanent birth of the child and the child’s name. It is this emphasis that Matthew uses to make his own theological point about the birth of Jesus” (emphasis mine).3 My original statement in my book was simply that Matthew is not doing historical-grammatical exegesis. He was doing pesher, the crux of which is that any text in scripture, regardless of historical context, is really about our time (the end time), our community, what is happening to us and among us. I would however disagree with Bratcher that Matthew’s emphasis was not also on the virginity of the mother.

Next, in my original response to Warren, I wrote:

Mr. Warren fails to take account of Paul’s language (“it was not written for oxen but for us”) and fails to do justice to the broader hermeneutical context of second temple Judaism that I outline in this section. See also the work of Richard Hays which I cite in my treatment of this text, which is the seminal work on Paul’s use of the Hebrew Bible. I simply used this as one example of Paul’s eschatological (rather than historical-grammatical) hermeneutic. There are myriad examples I could have used. See the relevant literature cited in my book.

Warren responds:

Actually I do take account of Paul’s language that “it was not written for oxen but for us.” I interpreted Paul’s statement as the observation that God did not have to be concerned that the owner of an ox would not feed his income-producing animal that has a high replacement cost because pure self-interest would take care of that. That’s an observation that a reader could have made at the time the law was delivered from Mt. Sinai. It’s not a hidden meaning needing special revelation to discern, so it’s not pesher interpretation. It’s a perfectly acceptable historical-grammatical interpretation.

Warren doesn’t seem to understand the point that pesher interpretation consists of reading texts as if they were written not for the original audience so much as for the eschatological community. Moreover, no, Warren does not take account of Paul’s language that “it was not written for oxen but for us.” Paul is saying that the text isn’t really about not muzzling oxen, but rather about paying ministers of the gospel; but historically-grammatically speaking, it patently is about oxen.

Now Warren is trying to read the command given in Deuteronomy 25:4 as it were intended as a proverb. Warren wants us to believe that it really wasn’t meant as an instruction to ox-owners not to muzzle there oxen, but rather as a general observation that a man should be paid for his labor. To reiterate, Warren writes, “I interpreted Paul’s statement as the observation that God did not have to be concerned that the owner of an ox would not feed his income-producing animal that has a high replacement cost because pure self-interest would take care of that.” This is very lame. An ox owner would feed his ox whether the muzzled it or not. The muzzling of oxen was meant to prevent them from eating too much of the grain. The command prohibits this. This is not a proverb; it is a formal legal command found in a formal legal document. Clearly, there was need to be concerned that some ox-owners might muzzle their oxen.

But Paul says that the verse isn’t really about oxen at all; rather, for Paul, it is “for us,” and not just “for us,” but, in Paul’s actual words, “entirely for us” (pantos di hemas). Note that: Paul says, “entirely for us.” In other words, Paul wants to read it eschatologically, and in doing so, denies that it was originally written on behalf of oxen. If Paul was just extrapolating the principle, that would be one thing. He could have said, “We can learn from the law: do not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain. This principle applies to ministers of the gospel a fortiori.” (Paul probably knew some Latin.) But Paul didn’t say that. What he said was, “Was it written for oxen? Or was it written entirely for us? Undoubtedly, for us!” It’s what Paul actually says that shows us that he is employing a standard first century eschatological hermeneutic (a.k.a. pesher), and not historical-grammatical exegesis. Warren may not like this (and I cannot fathom why), but if we pay attention to what Paul actually says, there’s no other conclusion to which we can come.

Hays tries to give Paul’s interpretation an eschatological emphasis because Paul says “for us” (di hemas) rather than “for humans” (di anthropous); in other words, Hays claims that Paul thinks that the law against muzzling the ox was specifically written for Paul’s ministry, not as an ethical principle for all humanity (p. 165). But the text does not support it. Hays is getting carried away with his interpretive scheme for understanding Paul’s writings.

The text does not support it? You mean, other than the fact that the actual language Paul used in the text supports it? Other than the fact that the context is only about supporting ministers of the gospel? Other than the fact that the first person plurals in the previous verses refer exclusive to Paul’s ministerial entourage, and not to “humanity” in general? Warren simply refuses to accept that Paul would adopt an eschatological hermeneutic in which scripture is really speaking about the eschatological community. Again, I cannot fathom why.

First, there is here no redemptive, christological interpretation of an Old Testament text, nor an argument about the members of the true Israel, which are the two main themes in which Paul makes use of typological interpretations of the Old Testament that find fulfillment in the “end of the ages” (1 Cor. 10:11). He’s just looking out for other full-time ministers so that they get treated fairly by being supported financially in their work.

So what?! Has Warren read the Dead Sea Scrolls pesher commentaries? Pesher interpretations are applied to the most mundane of situations with some regularity. Not everything that is pesher has to be about some central theme. But for Paul, I’d say that the ministry of the gospel in the end times is pretty central.

Second, Paul believes that there is an aspect of the Mosaic law that “the whole world” is obligated to keep (Rom. 3:19; cf. Rom. 13:4-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). We should be open to Paul teaching that this is one of those aspects of the Mosaic law.

I’m open to it! I’m just not sure where he teaches it, because that’s not what he’s doing here. I’ve no doubt Paul believed it was a general principle applicable in just about any situation. But that doesn’t mean that’s what he’s doing here. Pay attention to the actual words of the text, and less attention to what you want the text to say for non-exegetical reasons.

Third, Paul argues for the right of preachers to earn a living from their ministry by citing several other types of workers who expect to be supported from their labor: soldiers, vinedressers, and shepherds (1 Cor. 9:7). There is no eschatological significance to these trades. They are examples derived from mundane, universal experience. Paul tells us the reason that he cites the Mosaic law, and it’s not to prove that his ministry is the fulfillment of the end of the ages: It’s to prove that his analogical reasoning, from these mundane examples to the right of ministers of the gospel to expect material support from their ministry, is not the assertion of mere human authority but is backed by divine authority: “Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same?” (1 Cor. 9:8). Because the law only mentions an ox, he has to explain that it should apply to a human laborer. Then Paul illustrates the application of Deuteronomy 25:4 by citing two more mundane, universal examples of laborers: plowmen and threshers (v. 10).

This is all very confused. First, neither Hays nor I have argued that Paul’s citation of the Mosaic law was “to prove that his ministry is the fulfillment of the end of the ages.” Rather, Paul believes that his ministry is the fulfillment of the ages (indisputable), and that belief underwrites his pesher reading of the Mosaic law here. And the fact that Paul cites mundane occupations with no eschatological significance is not an argument against the position of Hays and myself. Yes, Paul is citing several examples, both from the mundane world, and from scripture, in support of his argument. But it’s his method of interpretation of scripture that tells us he is employing an eschatological hermeneutic.

The “for us” phrase is Paul saying that the general ethical principle taught by this Mosaic law applies directly to the current situation that Paul was addressing.

No doubt Paul believes this, but that is not what he says.

Last, Paul affirms that the same principle applied to the previous, Old Covenant dispensation: “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get there food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:13-14 – the last sentence referring to Jesus’ command to the 72 disciples: Luke 10:7; cf. 1 Tim. 5:18). It cannot be clearer that Paul is not teaching that this law applies only [sic] his ministry “at the end of the ages.”

Another straw man. Neither Hays nor I claimed that Paul said this principle applied “only [to] his ministry.”

According to Hays, Paul believes that the Spirit that enlightens him gives him interpretations that are foreign to the Old Testament text: “faithful readers, for whom the veil is removed, will be empowered by the Spirit to generate imaginative intertextual readings” (p. 178). But for Paul, God’s Spirit is a source of continuity between the original Hebrew scriptures and his own writings: The Spirit of God that delivered the Old Testament through God’s chosen prophets (2 Tim. 3:16) is that same Spirit that enlightens Paul’s mind to understand and authoritatively teach God’s people God’s word (1 Cor. 14:37). Paul teaches in 2 Cor. 3:12-18 that the “veil” that blinds the Jews who do not see Christ in the Old Testament is their sinful thinking (“their minds were hardened” – v.14) that prevent them from understanding what the Old Testament text had been saying the whole time, not their lack of “imaginative intertextual readings.” And Paul’s reference to the veil of Moses can be seen as simply an apt analogy rather than an attempt by Paul to find a hidden meaning in the OT text that applies peculiarly to Paul’s ministry.

Again Warren is confused. Obviously Paul didn’t see his interpretations as foreign to the Hebrew Bible texts. Obviously he believed that God’s Spirit is a source of continuity between the Hebrew scriptures and his own writings. That doesn’t mean he’s doing historical-grammatical exegesis. The Qumran community believed the same thing; they had the same conviction. They actually believed that their interpretations were really present in the texts.

Hays comes across as conservative in his assessment of Paul in relation to some of the skeptics that he interacts with in his book, but Hays does not seriously engage conservative, inerrantist theologians who provide interpretations of Paul that show how his references to the OT can be seen as accurately interpreting the OT text. Five hundred years ago, in his commentary on Romans, John Calvin addressed the very objections that Hays raises in respect to Rom. 2:24 and 10:18. Hays may disagree with Calvin’s reasoning, but at least he should interact with it.

So says Warren.

And since Mr. Stark’s book is directed against inerrantist views, he should appeal to the support of books that address the views of inerrantists rather than books like Hays’ that don’t venture outside the provincial world of liberalism. Hays’ book is written by a liberal for liberals.

That’d be news to Hays.

He begins his book with the assumption that Paul believes in “the legitimacy of innovative readings that disclose truth previously latent in Scripture” (p. 4). Later, Hays writes, “In cases such as these [1 Cor. 9:8-10 and Rom. 10:18], there is no indication that Paul has wrestled seriously with the texts from which the citations are drawn” (p. 175). He states this conclusion without any interaction, here or anywhere else in the book, with other commentators who have a contrary view.

Except for all the commentators Hays interacts with, who hold contrary views.

Hays assumes the liberal view that Paul mishandles the OT texts

This is false. Hays is not arguing that Paul is “mishandling” the texts; that would be an imposition of a historical-grammatical paradigm onto what Paul is actually doing. What Hays argues is simply that Paul is not doing historical-grammatical exegesis. To say that Paul “mishandled” the texts would be a value judgment that Hays does not make. In fact, Hays argues (if Warren will actually read the book) that we should treat scripture much the same way as Paul.

and while he finds that Paul’s handling of the text is sometimes more or less true to the original meaning (like echoes), he does not allow his negative assessments of Paul’s use of the OT to be challenged by competing voices. Where Hays attempts to prove his case that Paul was not true to the OT Scriptures, he fails.

Again, Hays doesn’t make “negative assessments” of Paul’s hermeneutics. Hays actually wants us to learn from the way Paul read scripture. And my aim in my book was not to make a negative assessment of Paul’s hermeneutic, but simply to show that the Chicago Statement’s commitment to a historical-grammatical hermeneutic puts them at odds with the Bible itself.

I happened upon this statement by C. John Collins that shows that Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry is contrary to the claim that Paul engaged in Pesher interpretation:

The early Christian missionaries went to synagogues to prove from the OT Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (cf. Acts 17:1-3; 18:26-28). This implies that they relied on and used publicly accessible arguments from the text itself, rather than merely private insights—otherwise, they would be been unjust to hold anyone responsible for failing to see something that was not truly there. Luke praises the Berean Jews, who examined the OT to see whether what Paul and Silas told them was so (Acts 17:11). This implies that the NT invites critical interaction over its appeal to the OT, and is not solely dependent on the “insider’s” point of view. (C. John Collins, “How the NT Quotes the OT,” ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008), p. 2606)

This is a bad argument. Ancient Jews so inclined shared with Paul the eschatological hermeneutic that allowed them to find Jesus of Nazareth in the texts of the Hebrew Bible.

Finally, as I pointed out in my original response to Warren, Paul’s use of the oxen law is just one example of many of Paul’s employment of a pesher hermeneutic. Another example is Paul’s reading of the Abrahamic promise found in Gal 3:16, where Paul, taking his cues straight from the Qumran playbook, capitalizes on the fact that the word “seed” in the Abrahamic narrative is in the singular, and uses this to argue that the “seed” of Abraham was not Israel as a plurality, or even Isaac, but Jesus Christ. This is pesher exegesis par excellence—finding a hidden meaning in the scriptures that speaks directly to the eschatological community’s own convictions about what God is doing in their midst, with no real regard for a historical-grammatical reading of the text. I could spends dozens of pages adding example after example of Paul’s use of pesher.

Child Sacrifice Commanded by Yahweh?

In my original response to Warren, I wrote:

Mr. Warren attempts a critique of my treatment of Ezekiel 20:25-26, but fails to do justice both to my argument and to the various texts involved: . . . God wanted to defile them as punishment, and so he gave them a bad command, according to Ezekiel, but didn’t tell them it was a bad command. It’s not hard to grasp what Ezekiel is saying. Read my treatment of this text in chapter 5 to get the full picture. Mr. Warren is making a number of mistakes here. First he is conflating different sources (Exod 22 and Deut 28 weren’t written by the same source, and they were written hundreds of years apart). Second, I am not claiming that the authors of the legal material in Exod 22 believed that the command to sacrifice their firstborn was meant to devastate them. My argument is that this is a later interpretation by Ezekiel who is struggling and stretching to dispense with the longstanding tradition of child sacrifice in Israelite religion. Ezekiel is the only one who claims Exod 22:29 was a bad command, given as punishment, rather than given to make them prosper. Originally, the command there to sacrifice the firstborn children to Yahweh was intended to make Israel prosper, because at this stage in Israel’s history, they believed that Yahweh was satiated by human sacrifice.

Warren responds:

I didn’t have to quote Deuteronomy 28’s commentary on the laws given at Mr. Sinai as evidence that God intended the laws of Moses to give the Israelites abundant life. I could have quoted God’s words to Ezekiel in the very monologue in question: “So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live” (Ezek. 20:10-11). These are the laws found in Exodus, given from Mt. Sinai. The life-giving intention of these laws are set in contrast to the bad commands that take their life: “Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them” (Ezek. 20:25-26). So it cannot be held that “Ezekiel is the only one who claims Exod 22:29 was a bad command.” Ezekiel says no such thing about any commands recorded in Exodus. He says the exact opposite – that those laws were to give them life. And when was the bad command given? The bad command is spoken in reference to what God tells the “children” in contrast to the laws delivered from Mt. Sinai to their “fathers.” So the bad command was given at a later date than the commands in Exodus. It would have been given no earlier than near the end of the 40-year wandering in the wilderness, after the “fathers” had died off. But I believe Ezekiel is probably saying that it was given later than that.

This whole argument is based upon Warren’s naïve assumptions about the composition of the legal code in Exodus. Mr. Warren believes that Exodus was written by Moses, that the legal code was transmitted at Sinai. In reality, it was composed over a long period, with some strata fairly early in the monarchical period, and some strata dating to the post-monarchical period.

Now, Warren speculates that the bad command referenced in Ezekiel 20:25-26 would not have been given until the late pre-exilic period. The text itself, of course, belies this. Verse 23 says, “I swore to them in the wilderness.” Yes, the “them” here is the children of the original wilderness generation. But it is the children in the wilderness that is the direct antecedent of the “them” found in verse 25, when Ezekiel says, “I gave them statutes that were not good.” Yes, it was not that generation who would be scattered among the nations. But the “them” is clearly the children in the wilderness.

Regardless of when we date the “bad command” of which Ezekiel speaks, here are the facts:

(1) The Israelites were practicing child sacrifice.

(2) Ezekiel states that Yahweh gave to the Israelites a “bad command” which was the command to sacrifice their firstborn. (Note, the command did not involve a mlch sacrifice, which is distinct from a firstborn sacrifice. A mlch sacrifice could be a sacrifice of any child at any age, but usually toddlers.) Now, Warren will later try to dispute that this is what Ezekiel says, but we’ll see why Warren fails below.

(3) Exod 22:29b issues a command to offer Israel’s firstborn as sacrifices, and it provides no provision for the redemption of the firstborn. It says, simply, “the firstborn of your sons you shall give me.” “Give to me” refers quite obviously to sacrifice, because the very next verse reads, “You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: for seven days it shall remain with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.” Clearly what is in view here is sacrifice.

Now, scholars have inferred that Ezekiel is referencing the law in Exod 22:29b. They have done so for several reasons. They argue that the Israelites who practiced this form of child sacrifice (the firstborn on the eighth day) found some support for this in the legal code. Ezekiel confirms that Yahweh did issue such a command, but spins it so that it was given as a punishment for their disobedience. Whether the law found in Exod 22:29b is exactly what Israelites were using in support of their practice, and/or exactly what Ezekiel had in mind is a hypothesis, a decent one, but is not of very great import either way. Nevertheless, Warren’s only argument against this is that in Ezekiel’s narration, the “bad command” came from Yahweh after the legislation at Sinai. The only way Warren is able to make this argument is to assume that the legal code found in Exodus was complete at the time of Ezekiel’s writing. This is not a realistic picture, and is not an argument against the actual consensus position. Ezekiel would not have had the book of Exodus sitting in front of him. He would have had knowledge of oral traditions, and perhaps some access to various different legal sources, yet to be compiled into the book of Exodus we now have. Of course, this is not a picture that Warren is willing to accept, since he is committed to the Mosaic authorship of the book of Exodus. So the situation here is one of ships passing in the night. Well, I’ve turned on the spotlight so it’s clear to the reader what’s really going on here. But regardless of what whether Ezek 20:25-26 refers to Exod 22:29b, we have in both cases references to a command of Yahweh to sacrifice the firstborn of Israel. That Exod 22:29b provides no provision for the redemption of the firstborn is one of the reasons (not the only reason) that scholars argue that this code dates to an earlier period.

God tells Ezekiel that “I withheld my hand” of judgment against the children of the Exodus (Ezek. 20:22). The “bad command” of verses 25-26 is called “bad” because it is a judgment.

Actually, Ezekiel never calls the “bad command” a “judgment.” The judgment, in Ezekiel’s mind, is the exile. The bad command precedes the exile, and therefore precedes the judgment. Even if we were to construe that effect of the command (i.e., the actual death of Israel’s firstborn) as a “judgment” (although Ezekiel never puts it that way), it would not be the command itself that is the judgment (as Warren claims) but the carrying it out.

Since God says that he withheld his judgment in the wilderness, this bad command would not have been given in the wilderness.

No. This is incorrect. What Ezekiel means by God withholding judgment in the wilderness is that God did not send them into exile in the wilderness. This is quite plain in the text.

Furthermore, immediately before Ezekiel mentions the bad command, he says, “Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, because they had not obeyed my rules.” (Ezek. 20:23-24) Did God scatter the children of the Exodus among the nations while they were in the wilderness? No. He warned them about this judgment in Deut. 28, but he did not carry it out until the Babylonian exile hundreds of years later. And unlike the exile judgment, Ezekiel does not even say, at least explicitly, that God warned Israel in the wilderness that God would bring judgment on them through this bad command. It’s simply listed as another judgment brought against them for their disobedience to the law of Moses.

No, this is not correct. It is not “listed as another judgment.” Warren’s argument is also confused. Why would Yahweh warn Israel that he was going to give them a bad command? If the point of the bad command was to judge Israel by bringing devastation on them, why would Yahweh warn them that that’s what the bad command was really intended to do? “I’m going to give you a bad command, so that when you obey it, you’ll be sorry you did.” That would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?

(Deut. 28:52-57 mentions the judgment of secretly eating their children because a foreign army besieges them and they are starving, but there is no command related to it.) I previously suggested the time of the bad command being given was during the years leading up to the Babylonian exile when the Bible says that Hebrew kings were sacrificing their children.

(Ezekiel assumes that Deuteronomy 28 was given to the Israelites at the end of the exodus, and therefore he assumes a Mosaic authorship. This is taught by every other writer in the Bible, and every ancient extra-biblical author who speaks on the issue.

This is quite humorous. First, we have no indication that Ezekiel had access to the book of Deuteronomy. Second, the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy is most certainly not taught by “every other writer in the Bible.” Yes, those who mention the authorship of Deuteronomy ascribe it to Moses, but that was the fiction concocted by Josiah and Hilkiah in the first place. Of course they thought it was Mosaic. That is entirely irrelevant. Third, I’m not sure, but is Warren suggesting that the prophecy in Deuteronomy 28 that Yahweh would make Israel eat her own children is supposed to be a parallel to the bad command to sacrifice their firstborn? I can’t imagine this is what Warren would be suggesting, but then again, if that’s not what he’s suggesting, I can’t figure out why he thinks the two issues are related? Eating your child because you’re being starved out by foreign armies has nothing to do with the institution of child sacrifice. Warren’s reference to Deuteronomy 28 is just a red herring.

There is no archeological support for anyone other than Moses being the author of Deuteronomy.

No, just textual support. Of course, there is no archaeological support for Moses being the author of Deuteronomy, and there is quite patent and obvious archaeological evidence indicating that this wouldn’t have been possible. The Hebrew script hadn’t been invented yet, and Israel didn’t develop the ability to write prose narratives in the Hebrew script until the ninth century at the earliest (over four hundred years after Moses). Maybe Warren wants to argue that Moses wrote the Pentateuch in Akkadian Cuneiform or something, while wandering through the desert day and night, and serving as chief judge, etc. etc. We’ll await the evidence in support of this argument.

The idea of a post-exilic date of Deuteronomy was unheard of until it was brought up by Enlightenment skeptics in the nineteenth century. It is simply a speculation based on interpretations of certain passages that can also be understood in ways compatible with Mosaic authorship.

Of course, scholars do not argue for a post-exilic date of Deuteronomy. They argue that it was composed about a century before the exile, with some minor redactions during the exilic period.

Many other aspects of Deuteronomy don’t make sense in terms of a post-exilic authorship, but that doesn’t bother the skeptics.

Which is why that’s not what they argue. Of course, Warren omits the hundreds of aspects of Deuteronomy that don’t make sense in terms of Mosaic authorship, such as mention of cities that didn’t exist until the eighth century BCE, etc.

They rely, of course, on the THOMAS assumption, rendering the text a confused, irrational product of inept political manipulation.)


In my original response to Warren, I wrote:

Finally, Mr. Warren seems to be confused with his reference to the fact that Ezek 20:31 condemns children sacrifice. Of course he condemned it! As I argue, his whole interpretation of Exod 22:29 serves the purpose of his condemnation of child sacrifice. He wants to dispense with the institution, and his novel interpretation of Exod 22:29 is his means for doing so. (The fact, therefore, that Mr. Warren thinks v. 31 challenges my thesis shows that he did not understand my clear argument to begin with.) The redactors, who worked after Ezekiel, shared Ezekiel’s disdain for the institution of sacrifice. There would be no reason for them to change this text. Mr. Warren then continues, saying, “Of course, his interpretation also contradicts many other passages in which God condemns child sacrifice.” Yes, I am aware of this. That is in fact my argument. The Bible contradicts itself because it was written by different authors who disagreed with each other. He asks, “Isn’t there an interpretation with less problems? There certainly is: God gave them these evil statutes indirectly, by allowing evil rulers to institute these evil statutes (cf. Rom. 1:28).” The trouble is, that is not at all what Ezekiel 20:25-26 says. I understand this is what Mr. Warren wishes Ezekiel says, but the reality is that it is not what Ezekiel says. Ezekiel doesn’t say God gave them the bad command indirectly. He says that God gave them bad commands in the wilderness, because they had been disobedient and he wanted to punish them. Their disobedience preceded God’s giving them bad commands. Read my treatment of the text to see why Mr. Warren’s protestations are in vain.

I fully understand Mr. Stark’s argument. The point of my previous reply was that a plausible interpretation that allows various statements in Scripture to be consistent with one another is to be preferred over an interpretation that depicts God as contradicting himself, and in this case there is a plausible interpretation that avoids a contradiction.

First, there is nothing plausible about Warren’s interpretation. Second, why is a non-contradictory to be preferred, unless one assumes that the Bible has a single author? Here again is where Warren’s faith commitments interfere with sound exegetical practice.

Mr. Stark’s interpretation is extremely implausible. It is internally inconsistent.

Again, Warren thinks it is “internally inconsistent” because he posits a single divine author to the texts. But when we don’t come to the texts with that assumption, and let them stand on their own, the contradictions are plain, and there is no “internal inconsistency” whatsoever.

Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that the comment about the bad command meant that God was reversing his previous command in Exodus 22:29, then the statements later in the same chapter of Ezekiel are saying that the Israelites were doing an evil thing when they obeyed God’s command to sacrifice their children prior to God telling Ezekiel that he was reversing his previous command. In other words, God is telling Ezekiel that obedience to God’s explicit, positive legislation prior to God changing his mind about it (“defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers,” Ezek. 20:30) was evil.

See, here is a straw man. I’ve never argued that God “changed his mind” about it, nor is that what I argue Ezekiel is saying. In Ezekiel’s mind, God was always against child sacrifice; the reason God commanded Israel to perform child sacrifices is because God, in Ezekiel’s mind (or at least in his rhetoric), wanted Israel to discover for themselves that sacrificing their children was a bad thing.

“Defilement” is a deontic concept, not a problem of bad consequences like “devastation.” Even if obedience to God’s command would devastate the population, like I said before, “it doesn’t make sense that by obeying God’s command the Israelites could become ‘defiled’ (v. 26).” It doesn’t make sense for God to say “your fathers blasphemed me” (Ezek. 20:27) for obeying God’s command

That’s not what I argue Ezekiel says. Ezekiel says they blasphemed God by going after other gods, not by sacrificing their children to Yahweh. Yes, Ezekiel does say, “I defiled them through their very gifts,” after he says that Yahweh gave them a bad command to sacrifice their children to him. But the reason they are “defiled” by their gifts is because God is actually against child sacrifice, according to Ezekiel. God wanted to defile them, in order to bring them around to a knowledge of himself as Yahweh. That’s what the text clearly says. “I defiled them through their very gifts, in their offering up all their firstborn, in order that I might horrify them, so that they might know that I am Yahweh.” I don’t understand why Warren can’t wrap his head around this. There is nothing difficult to understand here.

— to condemn actions committed before God changed his mind about it.

Straw man.

It’s in this sense that the condemnation of child sacrifice a few sentences after the mention of the bad command contradicts the idea that God gave the command to kill children in Exodus.

This is an unsuccessful argument. I’ll further explain why below.

Ezekiel says nothing about reinterpreting a command that God had lied about being good for them when it was actually a judgment to devastate them, however much Mr. Stark is attracted to the idea.

Why would Ezekiel state that he is reinterpreting the command? Even if he consciously did so (which I am not arguing), why would he state that’s what he’s doing? This is a silly point.

Ezekiel says nothing about God giving a command that he “didn’t tell them it was a bad command,” as Mr. Stark claims. The “he didn’t tell them” part is Mr. Stark’s conjecture in his attempt to understand how it was that God had given a bad command. Ezekiel affirms that the law given to the Exodus generation was for their good, for an abundant life. Ezekiel shows that he knows, and any other scribes handling the text after him would have known, the consistent testimony of Scripture: Obey everything that God had commanded Moses so that they would have a prosperous life (Josh. 1:7, 22:5, 23:6; Judg. 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6, 18:6, 18:12, 21:8, 23:25; 1 Chron. 22:13; 2 Chron. 25:4, 33:8; Neh. 1:7-8, 8:1, 9:14,10:29; Dan. 9:11-13; Mal. 4:4).

I really don’t understand how Warren sees a contradiction between the laws being given “for Israel’s good,” and those laws including “a bad command.” There is no contradiction whatsoever. It’s not that difficult to wrap one’s head around. I am reminded of the time my father caught my brother smoking. His response was, “You want to smoke? Here, smoke.” He then gave my brother a full pack of cigarettes and told my brother to get in the closet and smoke it in its entirety. My father issues a “bad command” (i.e., something that was really harmful to my brother), but it was, quite consistently, also “for his good.”

Here I’ll quote Harvard scholars Jon D. Levenson who explains Ezek 20:25-26 in precisely these terms. Levenson writes that the “laws that were not good”

are YHWH’s retaliation for idolatry, but they are not in themselves idolatrous, only lethal, “rules by which they could not live.” . . . [T]he assertion in Ezekiel 20 is not that God left a wayward Israel to their own devices, or that he froze them in a posture of defiance like that in which he froze Pharaoh. Rather, the point is that because the people in their rebellion refused to obey YHWH’s life-promoting laws . . . he in turn saddled them with bad laws that would, nonetheless, ultimately serve his sovereign purpose.4

The ultimate, long-term intention of the bad command (as stated expressly by Ezekiel) was to bring Israel (through suffering) around to a proper knowledge of Yahweh. Even the bad command was for their good, according to Ezekiel’s logic.

As I pointed out above, Ezekiel affirms it immediately prior to the sentence in which Mr. Stark claims that Ezekiel is saying the opposite. Ezekiel and later scribes simply would have been morons to try to convince people that God had lied to Moses and the rest of God’s chosen nation when he delivered his holy law to his servant Moses and that now God wanted them to follow a different practice that contradicted the previous command, and that God had led all of his holy prophets up until (and actually including) Ezekiel to affirm the lie.

There is no evidence that the Jews had interpreted Exodus 22:29 as a command to kill their children as Mr. Stark claims, but even if some in Ezekiel’s time had, if Ezekiel wanted them to stop it, would it not have made more sense for him to explain that “sacrifice” in this verse did not mean “kill” but to dedicate to the special service of God?

The problem is, that’s not at all what it means, as I already pointed out. The very next verse uses the same language to refer to the sacrifice of animals. So the reason Ezekiel didn’t do that is probably because Ezekiel knew better than Warren what the command meant.

That understanding of “sacrifice” would have been consistent with other scriptures. Previously in the same book, God says, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (Exo. 13:1). Then a few sentences later God goes on to explain that human children are not to be killed but are to be ransomed (Exo. 13:11-15). When God says several chapters later at Exodus 22:29 that “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me,” it only makes sense to assume that the method is still the same as stated earlier in chapter 13. There is no need for the details of how it’s to be done to be repeated later in the same book.

Here are Warren’s naïve assumptions about composition creeping in again. Just because Exod 22:29b comes later than Exod 13 in the text as we have it now, that does not mean that’s the order in which they were really composed. They come from different sources, and Exod 22:29 is earlier than Exod 13. But for Warren, Moses wrote it all, so there’s no point in even engaging in this argument on either side.

As even Mr. Stark notes (pp. 88-89), later in the same book God says that the first born are not to be killed but ransomed: “All your firstborn sons you shall ransom” (Exo. 34:20).

And as Warren should know, my position (as with the consensus) is that the redemption provisions are later than the stark, provisionless command in Exod 22:29. Warren can make this argument all he wants; it just won’t be useful in arguing against the consensus position.

God had told the Isrealites that the redemption of the first born children, rather than their actual death, was to be achieved through the dedication of the Levite tribe to the service of God (Num. 3:12-13).

No Warren is conflating yet another source. Again, ships passing in the night.

Exodus 22:29 has been understood in terms of redemption rather than killing by everyone except some of those dedicated to the THOMAS hermeneutic.

No. Rather by those who understand the difference between diachronic and synchronic readings of the text, as all actual critical scholars do. Scholars understand that individual texts have pre-histories, but that the texts often take new or altered meanings once they are spliced together with other sources. That’s not at all what Warren calls a “THOMAS hermeneutic.” No one is denying that after the final redaction of the Pentateuch, Exod 22:29b would have been read in light of Exod 13 and Exod 34, where provisions for the redemption of firstborn children are offered. We’re not stupid. But scholars are not merely interested in the synchronic reading of the text (as with Warren). Scholars also want to read the texts diachronically, because this helps us to understand the sources of Israel’s theology, and how Israel’s theology developed over time. Warren really should have no objection to a diachronic reading of these texts, since for him it’s only the synchronic that matters anyway. But whatever.

Since God tells the Isrealites in the book of Exodus both before and after 22:39 that firstborn sons are to be redeemed rather than killed, only a moronic interpreter would conclude that “give to me” in 22:39 implies that the firstborn sons should be killed.

Straw man. See previous comment.

Mr. Stark and his group grasp onto any superficial ambiguities and choose the interpretation that undermines the divine authorship of Scripture.

Right. That’s our motivation when choosing between interpretive options: Which option most undermines divine authorship? That’s obviously the same motivation scholars of ancient texts have when employing the same methods to other texts, such as Homer’s Iliad. Which interpretation most undermines the divine authorship of the Iliad? That’s the one we want.

God’s commandments in the Hebrew scriptures often condemn child sacrifice, with Jeremiah even saying that to command such a thing never entered God’s mind (Jer. 7:31, 19:5, and 32:35). Jeremiah began writing prior to Ezekiel, so on Mr. Stark’s view, Ezekiel’s claim that God had commanded child sacrifice in Exodus 22:29 contradicted what Jeremiah had already written, which would have raised the issue that one of them was a false prophet.

Either that or Ezekiel didn’t have access to the Jeremian scribal tradition. Or Ezekiel and Jeremiah were talking about two different issues, which in fact they were. Jeremiah was talking about mlch sacrifices; Ezekiel was talking about firstborn sacrifices. But once again, Warren’s argument here sums up thusly: “If Thom is right, then the Bible contradicts itself.” Well, yeah. It would follow that, if I am right when I argue that Ezekiel and Jeremiah had contradictory ways of dispensing with the institution of child sacrifice, then Ezekiel and Jeremiah had contradictory ways of dispending with the institution of child sacrifice.

Amazingly, Mr. Stark turns God’s condemnation of human sacrifice in Jeremiah, that commanding it never entered God’s mind, into an admission that God had once commanded it: “. . . why then would Yahweh need to point out that he never decreed the practice of sacrificing children to another god?” (p.96). An answer that should have easily come to Mr. Stark is that corrupt priests had convinced the people that adding worship of other gods, with all the customs that accompanied that, to the worship of Yahweh was okay.

This is humorous. Of course it occurred to me that “corrupt priests had convinced the people that adding worship of other gods . . . to the worship of Yahweh was okay.” But of course, Warren here, once again, entirely ignores the actual argument I made, and it’s again the argument representing the consensus of scholarship. The arguments isn’t simply that, because it would be strange that Yahweh would decree the practice of sacrificing children to another god, therefore the text is fishy. Warren presents a caricature of my argument in order to make it look like a non sequitur. But here’s what I actually argued in the book (from the same page that Warren cites rather selectively):

It is important to note that the divine name Baal originally was just a generic Semitic term for “lord.” It was frequently applied to Yahweh and only began to be equated in every case with a distinct Canaanite deity in the eighth century, with the ministry of Hosea. This is reflected in the names for Saul’s son and grandson. In the book of Chronicles their real names are preserved: Ishbaal and Meribaal. The first name simply means “man of Baal” and should just be understood as “the Lord’s man,” not as an indication that Saul’s son worshiped a deity other than Yahweh. But the Deuteronomistic Historian (the author of the book of Kings), who was not favorably disposed toward Saul’s dynasty, changed the names of these two sons of Saul to Ishboshet and Mephiboshet. Bōšet means “shame,” thus turning “the Lord’s man” into a “man of shame.”

Jeremiah, a contemporary of the Deuteronomistic Historian, shared Hosea’s predilection to associate “Baal worship” with idol worship. But it is clear that there is a long history in Israelite religion of identifying Baal with Yahweh. By the seventh century, when Jeremiah writes, the identification of Baal as a false deity was quite well established among the elites, though not necessarily in the popular or mainstream religion. This complexity is reflected in the text cited above; there are a number of semantic tensions. For instance, 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. If Baal is not Yahweh, and all worship of gods other than Yahweh has always been condemned from the earliest times, even in polytheistic Israelite religion, why then would Yahweh need to point out that he never decreed the practice of sacrificing children to another god? This is a classic case of “methinks thou dost protest too much.” Taking into consideration what we have outlined above with regard to the original semantics of “Baal” as an honorific epithet for Yahweh, it seems that beneath the surface of the text we can discern a situation in which popular Israelite religion is sacrificing Israelite children to “Baal,” i.e., Yahweh, but the religious elites equate Baal with a foreign deity, a god other than Yahweh.

This seems to me the only way to make sense of the text. What Jeremiah’s language comes down to, then, is an early attempt to equate child sacrifice in general with idolatry. It is clear from the legends of the binding of Isaac and from the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter, as well as from the traditions represented in Exod 22:29 that child sacrifice was performed for Yahweh. Jeremiah’s strategy for condemning child sacrifice, then, is (following Hosea) to depict “Baal” as a foreign god, and thus to relocate the practice of child sacrifice under the theological category of idolatry. (Human Faces of God, pp. 96-97.)

Warren totally ignores the major argument I make and simply sums up my argument from this statement: “For instance, 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. If Baal is not Yahweh, and all worship of gods other than Yahweh has always been condemned from the earliest times, even in polytheistic Israelite religion, why then would Yahweh need to point out that he never decreed the practice of sacrificing children to another god? This is a classic case of “methinks thou dost protest too much.” What Warren has done is very dishonest.

The fact is, there is more than ample evidence that this is what Jeremiah is doing here—he is recharacterizing legitimate Yahweh=Baal worship as the worship of a foreign deity. This is something that Jeremiah does throughout his oracles. Scholars refer to it, as I pointed out, as the polemicization of Baal worship. Jeremiah’s reference to Baal is polemical. Historically speaking, at this stage in Israel’s theology, Baal was another name for Yahweh in Judean tradition. That Jeremiah engages frequently in this kind of Baal polemic has been shown over and over again in the scholarship. See for instance the essay by Armin Lange, “‘They Burn Their Sons and Daughters—That Was No Command of Mine’ (Jer 7:31): Child Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible and in the Deuteronomistic Jeremiah Redaction” in Human Sacrifice in Jewish and Christian Tradition (ed. Finsterbusch, Lange, and Römheld; Brill, 2007), 109-132. Lange shows that in Jeremiah, the term “Baal” is a polemical term “often used to attack a religious practice that was part of Israel’s YHWH cult” (130). Lange shows multiple examples throughout Jeremiah where various figures are criticized as “Baal worshipers” when in fact they are Yahweh worshipers. Lange shows that Jer 7:31 “must be understood as attacking Israelites who actually sacrificed children to YHWH. In turn, in Jer 19:5 and 32:35, the claim that Israel sacrificed children to Baal is a polemic disqualification of a YHWHistic sacrifice as non-YHWHistic. The Dtr Jeremiah redaction discredits YHWHistic child sacrifices as sacrifices to Baal. This polemic agrees well with the approach to child sacrifices found elsewhere in Dtr literature” (130-31).

In short, Warren has concocted another straw man designed to make my argument appear absurd and unsubstantiated, while totally ignoring the actual content of the argument I made. This is a pattern in Warren’s apologetics.

Warren continues down the same road:

It was a similar situation when Jesus later condemned the Pharisees for adding commandments that God had never commanded and which actually violated God’s law: “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. . . . In vain do you worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:6,9). Similarly, modern pietists strain credulity with their teaching that the Bible condemns all alcohol consumption. It’s not in the Bible, but they think it is. Numerous similar examples throughout church history could be given.

This is all built upon Warren’s straw man.

Sometimes Mr. Stark characterizes his position as a problem of “interpretation” of Exodus 22:29 by some Jews, in which case he should agree that there are other reasonable interpretations. But he also characterizes his position as that the original, intended meaning by God was that the Jews should engage in human sacrifice, which runs into the problems of internal consistency mentioned above.

This is a total mischaracterization of what I’ve said. I said that the tradition preserved in Exod 22:29b was being interpreted by many Israelites and Judeans (Warren keeps calling them “Jews,” which is anachronistic) as a command to sacrifice firstborn to Yahweh. (By the way, as Lange points out, the only form of child sacrifice ever condemned in the Bible is mlch sacrifice, never firstborn sacrifice.) Yes, there were other interpretations, but the question isn’t which is more “reasonable” so much as what does the evidence tell us would have been the most primitive meaning of the command. But nowhere did I ever argue, as Warren accuses me of arguing, that “the original, intended meaning by God was that the Jews [sic] should engage in human sacrifice.” I don’t believe God would earnestly contradict Godself or have a change of mind on something like this any more than Warren does. My position does not entail that the true God literally gave Israel the original command to sacrifice their firstborn. My position has always been that these are cultural traditions about deities, and that the true God at various times intervened to provide corrections, but not to the extent of producing a flawless, perfectly internally consistent collection of books. Warren’s mischaracterization of my position stems from his underdeveloped ability to think outside of his own Reformed Calvinistic box.

Warren continues:

Briefly regarding the account of Japhthah [sic] sacrificing his daughter in Judges 11, the account does not include a divine command. Whether God approved it is unstated.

I’ve shown repeatedly why this isn’t the case; Warren can ignore my arguments all he wants to. He continues:

Also, whether the “sacrifice” was a killing or a dedication of the daughter to service to God as a perpetual virgin is disputed by competent theologians. Mr. Stark fails to address these alternate interpretations in his book, leaving readers with the impression that there are no challengers to his interpretation.

The idea that Jephthah dedicated his daughter to lifelong service rather than sacrificing her is one taken up by an extreme minority of scholars, most of whom are conservatives. There is no credibility to this position whatsoever; it has been amply refuted by scores of scholars. And whether a scholar is generally competent doesn’t mean that scholar’s argument for a specific reading of a specific text doesn’t reflect a lapse in competence, a lapse adequately explained by embarrassment over the content of the text.

In Warren’s original review, he wrote that I admitted that “the Bible teaches Calvinism.” I responded:

Ha! I do no such thing as admit that “the Bible teaches Calvinism.” Mr. Warren is being deceptive again. Here is what I say about the Bible and Calvinism in my book: “Obviously one is going to find love in the text when one approaches the text with that expectation. In the same way, one would find violence in the text when one approached it expecting to find violence; one would find Arminianism when one sought Arminianism, and Calvinism when one sought Calvinism” (p. 37). I think we’re beginning to see a pattern in terms of the lengths Mr. Warren is willing to go to in order to refute my book (and the Bible itself).

Warren now responds:

In his discussion of the Calvinist views of Jonathan Edwards and John Piper on predestination, Mr. Stark forgets that he wrote: “Unfortunately for every Christian, the perspective of Edwards and Piper is not too far off from some perspectives inscribed in our own scriptures. For instance, in 1 Kings 22:19-23, Yahweh had determined to kill Ahab, the king of Israel, and accomplished this purpose by sending a ‘lying spirit’ to Ahab’s 400 prophets. . . . Even more significant is the claim made in Ezekiel 20.” (pp. 65, 66). So not only does Mr. Stark recognize that the Calvinist view is taught in Scripture (at least parts of it), and in way that can’t be avoided even if “one sought Arminianism,” he also directly relates it to the issue of the bad command in Ezekiel 20.

I’m sorry, Warren, but your claim that I said that “the Bible teaches Calvinism” is not supported the quote you’ve mined above. I said that 1 Kings 22 and Exodus 20 were “not too far off from” Edwards and Piper. That’s a far cry from saying that “the Bible teaches Calvinism.” Hell, not even Calvin taught Calvinism! Warren continues with more nonsense:

However, he fails to connect the two passages in terms of God’s methods, seeing that God could have given the bad command of Ezekiel 20 in the same way that, as Mr. Stark puts it, “Yahweh lied or commissioned a lie” (p.65) to Ahab – by permitting an evil spirit to influence their corrupt hearts.

I’m sorry, but how does this undermine my argument? Answer: not in the slightest. Obviously the same methodology is expressed in both 1 Kings 22 and Exodus 20. In both cases, Yahweh lies in order to punish disobedient people. That was my whole point. I’m not sure if Warren is suggesting that I failed to see the very point I was making, or if he is suggesting that by not expressly connecting 1 Kings 22 and Exodus 20 I was somehow trying to hide the fact that they both reflect the same methodology. Neither suggestion, of course, would be accurate. Warren continues:

In the case of the bad command in Ezekiel 20, the murderous spirit would have been sent to influence corrupt Hebrew rulers to institute child sacrifice. Like the corrupt Ahab and his corrupt prophets, those murderous rulers would have been responsible for their sinful acts, for the murderous spirit was only successful because the rulers with corrupt hearts allowed themselves to entertain such thoughts.

I certainly wouldn’t deny the human recipients of Yahwistic lies any moral responsibility for their hard hearts, but the mere fact of their hard hearts does not somehow magically erase the fact that Yahweh lied to them. And for the record, in principle I wouldn’t wish to argue that Yahweh is morally guilty for lying to unjust rulers. But of course in the specific case of Exodus 20, the bad command (allegedly) from Yahweh to sacrifice children is not a command I think can be excused in the manner in which Warren wishes to excuse it.

Now for Genesis 22. In my original response, I wrote:

Mr. Warren uses the word “scandalized” to make it seem as if I am unfamiliar with the long history of interpretation of Gen 22 and to make it seem as if my reading of the text is basically emotional. He is wrong on both counts. His subsequent interpretation of Gen 22 completely evades the points I make about the text in my book. He does not address my argument.

Warren now responds:

Mr. Stark’s argument is that the Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac supports “the logic of child sacrifice” (p. 89). The only kind of child sacrifice that it supports is in a situation comparable to Abraham’s – where God will resurrect the child, and that knowledge is received through God audibly speaking to you and performing awe-inspiring miracles as proof that it is God speaking.

Unbelievable. Warren wishes to import the midrashic commentary on Genesis 22 found in Hebrews 11:19, written two thousand years after Abraham was purported to have lived, as if it’s an element of the story in Genesis 22. This is inerrantist hermeneutics par excellence, and a rather flagrant example at that. Genesis 22 makes no mention of any such belief in resurrection on the part of Abraham. Nor does it make any reference to God performing “awe-inspiring miracles as proof” that God is speaking to Abraham about the possibility of a resurrection of Isaac. In fact, Hebrews 11 makes no mention of any such confirmation miracles either. Warren is just, apparently, making this up.

Obviously, more than seven hundred years after child sacrifice had been condemned in Israel, the author of Hebrews is going to have a different perspective on Abraham’s motivations than any tradition composed well prior to that condemnation of child sacrifice. The lengths to which Warren will go to apologize for the Bible never ceases to amaze me. The issue is not how Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac was understood 2000 years later than the story’s setting. The issue is what kind of traditions the much earlier story reflects about primitive Hebrew religion.

Nevertheless, Warren continues:

Since a ram was actually sacrificed, it can be said that Genesis 22 supports the logic of sacrifice. But what is the “logic of sacrifice”? That sacrifices “satiate God,” as Mr. Stark puts it? Not if that means that God needs blood for food.

I never suggested that’s what it means.

The Biblical logic of sacrifice to God is that death is the just penalty for sin. Whereas the logic of pagan human sacrifice was that killing a human would satisfy the wrath of the gods against the others in the community, sacrificing a sinful human does nothing to satisfy God’s judgment on other people for their individual sins (Deut. 24:16, Jer. 31:30, Ezek. 18:1-20).

Yes, let’s quote three late traditions which run counter to earlier traditions. And let’s ignore that a sacrifice for sin has nothing to do with the sacrifice of Isaac, or the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter, etc. Let’s ignore all the scapegoating executions too. The fact is, the biblical ideas about the purposes of sacrifice are various, and, contrary to Warren’s unsubstantiated (and unsubstantiatable) claim, sin is not the only reason the Bible gives for the necessity of sacrifice. Obviously, that’s a primary reason, but it’s hardly the only one.

Also, I should point out that Warren’s presentation of the logic of “pagan” human sacrifice is totally inadequate. Yes, some ANE cultures believed human sacrifices could satiate the deity’s wrath against the whole community, but there were numerous other reasons for sacrifice. Moreover, the fact is, sacrifice also served to satiate Yahweh’s wrath against Israel too. And in fact, that’s the whole point of Yom Kippur. The guilt of the people is transferred to the sacrificed animal. Same goes for the scapegoat.

Warren continues:

The only sense in which killing a sinful human removes God’s wrath from a community is when God commanded the community to execute a person for committing some egregious crime, and the community has not carried out the act that God commanded them to perform (e.g. Deut. 19:13). The death of the criminal does not pay for anyone else’s sins. The execution removes God’s wrath from the community because the community obeys what God commanded the community to do by not allowing a grave injustice from going unpunished. Christ’s death can pay for other people’s sins only because he didn’t have his own sins to pay for. Thus there is no contradiction between the passages that say each person shall die for his own sins, and the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice. The animals sacrificed in the Old Testament are symbolic substitutionary sacrifices for the sins of the people. The animal sacrifices do not satisfy the penalty in themselves, but they foreshadow the sacrifice of the Messiah to come.

Besides the fact that this is all a red herring, having nothing to do with my argument, Warren again displays his inability to read the texts historically; he’s only able to read them as a Christian inerrantist. He can only understand the Mosaic sacrifices in light of the book of Hebrews, and not on their own terms. Rather than presenting any sort of a challenge to the arguments that I actually make, Warren has simply exampled the selfsame problems with inerrantist hermeneutics that I critiqued in my second and third chapters.

Jesus’ Prediction of the Destruction of Jerusalem

Warren writes:

The Christians fled before the siege on Jerusalem began, so those Christians did not interpret Jesus’ words “when you see the abomination of desolation . . . flee to the mountains” to mean that they should flee when they saw the temple destroyed – that is, they did not equate seeing “the abomination of desolation” with seeing the temple destroyed. They would have been slaughtered and enslaved with the rest of the Jews in Jerusalem if they had waited that long. This is just one more piece of evidence against Mr. Stark’s claim that Jesus should be understood to say that his return is after the destruction of the temple. Rather, “the sign of the son of man in heaven” (Matt. 24:30) should be equated with the destruction of the temple. The destruction of the temple was Christ’s coming in judgment, a sign that he was ruling from heaven and destroying his enemies with a “rod of iron.”

This is an incredibly weak argument. The “abomination that causes desolation” was a codeword for a sacrilege on the temple. That’s the reference in Daniel. Simply because, historically, some Christians fled before the attack on the temple does not mean, as Warren wants it to mean, that Christians would have interpreted Jesus’ words to mean something other than an attack on the temple. All it means is that some Christians fled Jerusalem before the temple was attacked. So, no, this is not a piece of evidence against my reading. It is actually very clear in the text that the abomination that causes desolation refers to a siege of the temple. Matthew says, “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains” (24:15-16). Here it is quite clear that Jesus refers to a sacrilege committed against the temple itself. Contrary to Warren’s wishes, in Matthew it is at this point that Jesus instructs them to flee to the mountains. Also, contrary to Warren’s misreading of the text, it is not the Christians or Jews in Jerusalem specifically Jesus tells to flee; it is “those in Judea,” a much broader geographic specification. If some had already left Jerusalem but remained in Judea, the time of the temple’s siege was the time to get out of Judea altogether.

The same is clear in Mark: “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains” (13:14). Again, quite clearly the desolating sacrilege refers to a siege of the temple, and they are instructed to flee Judea after this has taken place.

Luke is slightly different from the other two: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it.” Warren obviously wishes to follow Luke in some ways, but not in others. Here the codeword “desolation” appears again, but in this case Jesus instructs them to flee before it occurs. But again, the desolation refers to the siege itself. So in Mark and Matthew, Jesus instructs them to flee after they have seen the desecrating sacrilege erected in the temple, while in Luke, Jesus instructs them to flee before this takes place. Regardless of which version(s) of this logion the Christians in Jerusalem had access to at the time, at least some fled before the fact. Warren wishes to make an argument about the meaning of Jesus’ words based upon how he thinks some Christians interpreted them in the face of impending doom. This is silliness.

As for Warren’s claim that the destruction of the temple was Christ’s coming in judgment, and not the abomination that causes desolation (desecrating sacrilege), none of the Synoptic Gospels agree with him. In Mark and Matthew, the desecrating sacrilege is performed by the Romans and it involves an erection (of the Roman ensigns) in the temple. In Luke, it refers to the Roman siege of Jerusalem as well. But in each and every case, the “coming of the Son of Man” occurs after the destruction of the temple, as I showed, while Warren has failed to show otherwise:

In Matthew, the coming of the Son of Man occurs “immediately after” the suffering of “those days,” i.e., the days which include the desecrating sacrilege at the temple. In Mark, again, the coming of the Son of Man occurs “after that suffering.” And in Luke, on the one hand, the people are instructed to flee when they see the desolation coming to Jerusalem. On the other hand, when they see the portents in heaven and the coming of the Son of Man, they are told the contrary: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The former is described as “desolation coming near;” the latter is described as “redemption coming near.” The clearest reading is the one I offered: the Romans will come to destroy the temple, then the Son of Man will come to liberate God’s people and pour out God’s wrath on the nations. Warren has provided zero reasons to accept any other reading.

In my original response, I wrote:

First of all, it’s not clear what Mr. Warren is suggesting the “abomination that causes desolation” is. He says it is not the desolation itself. OK. The only hint he gives as to what it is is in his reference to Luke 21:20: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Is Mr. Warren suggesting that the abomination is the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman armies? It seems that’s what he is saying, but again he’s unclear so I could be wrong. What I think he’s suggesting is this: The abomination that causes desolation is the surrounding of Jerusalem by Roman armies in 68 CE, and the desolation itself is the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. If this is what he intends to say, this is frankly a rather silly interpretation. Note here also that Luke does not even use the term “abomination that causes desolation.” Only Matthew and Mark use the term. But Jesus’ use of the term was a reference back to its use in Daniel as a code for the desecration of the temple when Antiochus IV sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the temple altar. That was the “abomination that causes desolation” in Daniel. So when Jesus picks up that term and applies it to the Roman invasion, he means that Rome will desecrate the temple. I would not say that the “abomination that causes desolation” and the “desolation itself” are the same thing, even though Mr. Warren claims my whole case somehow rests on that alleged assumption. Obviously the desolation is subsequent to the abomination, but it is clear that the abomination refers to the desecration of the temple.

Warren responds:

As I explained above, a comparison of Matthew and Mark with Luke shows that Jerusalem being surrounded by armies occurs at the same time that the disciples are supposed to see the abomination of desolation, which means that Mr. Stark is wrong to say that Jesus taught that the temple would be destroyed before he came in judgment.

This is dead wrong. It’s a pity Warren doesn’t show us an actual comparison of the Synoptics on this point (as I just did above), because if he had, we’d see that his words are vacuous. Warren misreads Luke, and then wishes to harmonize Matthew and Mark with his misreading of Luke. Here’s his misreading of Luke: “Luke shows that Jerusalem being surrounded by armies occurs at the same time that the disciples are supposed to see the abomination of desolation.” No, this is incorrect. In Luke, the “desolation” is “near” when Jerusalem is surrounded by the armies; the desolation has not yet taken place. (One would think this would be quite obvious, but apparently not to a preterist.) Warren apparently just can’t acknowledge that Matthew/Mark disagree slightly with Luke. As we saw, in the former two, the people are instructed to flee after they see the erection of a sacrilege in the temple (the language is crystal clear). In Luke, they are instructed to flee before this takes place. There’s a real disagreement there, however minor. But one cannot harmonize them by changing the meaning of Matthew and Mark to comport with a meaning that Luke supposedly has, but actually doesn’t have. Warren is way off, and again, he has provided no legitimate evidence that my reading (that Jesus taught the temple would be destroyed before he came in judgment) is wrong.

Warren continues:

Wright equates Jesus’ coming with the destruction of the temple, and I agree with Wright on that. As to why they are coterminous, there are a number of possibilities. It could be that the occupation of Jerusalem by gentile soldiers is the abomination.

No. Again: “the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place” (Matthew); “when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be” (Mark). In both cases, the abomination that causes desolation refers to something being erected in the temple in both Matthew and Mark. (Luke doesn’t refer to an “abomination” at all; he just carries over the word “desolation” into his version, which makes sense because unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke doesn’t have a Jewish audience.)


Because Jerusalem was “the holy city” (Dan. 9:24), many Jews held that an occupation by gentile soldiers was an abomination. When the Roman soldiers sacrificed to their ensigns in the temple before destroying it, that was a continuation and climax of the abomination that had begun with their occupation of the city.

Some fancy maneuvering here. Again, there’s no question that Matthew refers to a “desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place,” and that this refers to the erection of the ensigns of the Roman soldiers. There’s nothing in any of the texts about any sort of gradual abomination, as Warren rather humorously wishes to suggest. Yes, Jerusalem was referred to as “the holy city,” but not “the holy place.” “The holy place” referred to the temple. It is the official term for the outer holy area of the temple, surrounding the “most holy place,” where the ark was kept for a time.

Warren continues to skirt the facts:

Or if the “abomination of desolation” specifically refers to the temple, it could be that, when the gentile armies surrounded Jerusalem, they could see, in the sense of understand, that the abomination of desolation was immanent.

Yes, that is what Luke says, with the exception that Luke mentions no abomination whatsoever—he only refers to the desolation of Jerusalem. But at any rate, that is not what Matthew and Mark say.

More from Warren:

Another possibility is that Jerusalem is surrounded by armies around the same time that the abomination is committed. The abomination could refer to the slaughter of multitudes of innocent people in Jerusalem by the Zealots in A.D. 67, climaxed by the murder of Zacharias, the son of Baruch, in the middle of the temple after a mock trial.

Except that, again, Matthew and Mark both say very clearly what the abomination is: it’s the erection of a sacrilege in the temple. It’s not the execution of Zacharias in the temple. It’s the erection of a sacrilege in the temple.

The most ironic thing about all of this is that the two Gospels that do refer to the abomination (Matthew and Mark) both follow up their description of the abomination with the injunction, “Let the reader understand.” #facepalm

In my original response, I wrote:

At any rate, all of this is moot, and completely irrelevant to my argument, as well as to the text itself. Jesus clearly says that the temple will be destroyed and that the Son of Man will return to gather elect, all within one generation of Jesus’ lifetime. There’s no getting around that, as I’ve argued extensively in my eighth chapter, and Mr. Warren’s protestations certainly haven’t managed to get around it.

Warren responds:

Jesus only says that “angels” (messengers of either heavenly or earthly origin) are sent out when Jesus comes in judgment against the temple within one generation of his listeners. The actual gathering of the elect is a history-long process.

It’s quite clear from the context and from parallel passages that the angels here are celestial, not early messengers. But this claim that the “gathering of the elect is a history-long process” is just Warren imposing his post-millennialism onto the text. He wants to interpret this as evangelism. But it is described rather as a “gathering.” That is, a “bringing in.” The elect already exist, and the angels are sent to gather them in, not to go and make disciples. The Preterist reading strains against all credulity. Warren responds to my discussion of the parallel passages in my book:

In his book, Mr. Stark says that “There are two fatal problems with Wright’s interpretation here: (1) angels also accompany the Son of Man in Mark 8:34-9:1, but they are clearly not human evangelists here” (p. 189 n.33). Although Mr. Stark equates the angels sent out to gather the elect in Matthew 24:31 with the angels mentioned in such passages as Matthew 16:27 and Mark 8:34-9:1, the latter angels are sent in judgment, like the four horsemen of John’s apocalypse. But the angels in Matthew 24:31 have a different purpose – bringing salvation to all of the elect. I believe that the best view is that they are human messengers, but they could be seen as heavenly angels who aid humans in the proclamation of the gospel (cf. Acts 8:26, 10:3-7, 12:7-11, 20:23).

This is nonsense. Again, they are sent to gather in, not to evangelize. If you’ll recall, Christ’s messengers were already sent out to the four corners of the earth to evangelize some forty years past, at the Great Commission. What this describes is not a planting of seeds, but a reaping of the harvest from the seeds that have already been planted.

And while yes, the angels in Mark 8 are angels of judgment, my point stands: the event is the same in both passages (the coming of the Son of Man), and thus it stands to reason that the “angels” in both passages refer to celestial, not human, beings. Obviously some of the angels are tasked with judgment, while others are tasked with gathering in the elect. What is clear is that in no case is there any mention of evangelism in these Son of Man passages. As I pointed out, the evangelism to the world had already been commissioned a generation before this event.

Warren attempts a response to this:

Mr. Stark’s second objection to Wright on this point is that “Jesus said that the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world would already be accomplished prior to the coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13:10).” But this glosses over details and distinctions that a fuller study of Scripture reveals about the future course of God’s kingdom. There was a preaching of the gospel to all the known world prior to the first-century destruction of Jerusalem, but bringing in all the elect is a process that occurs for the remainder of history.

Warren doesn’t seem to understand what “bringing in” means. A “fuller study of Scripture” would make it clear to him that it refers to an end of diaspora—a return to Jerusalem—and not to the act of evangelism.

He continues:

Acts 2:5 says “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” So on the day of Pentecost less than two months after Christ’s ascension “every nation” had heard the gospel. Of course, this is speaking about the world of the Roman empire, not the entire earth. The parallel passage to Mark 13:10 is Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The word used here for “world” is “oikoumene,” which is the same word used in Luke 2:1: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Other New Testament passages testify that the gospel was being preached throughout the Roman world (Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6, 23). This would obviously be a short time period because it would be completed before the disciples had preached to every town in Israel (Matt. 10:23), and before the death of some of the disciples (Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27).
But there is something further to be fulfilled in history than just preaching to the nations of the Roman world. The Old Testament predicts that one day all the nations on earth will worship Yahweh (Gen. 17:5-6, 22:18; cf. Gal. 3:8;Num. 14:21; Isa. 2:1-4, 11:9; see more here).

Note that in the very argument Warren makes, he undermines himself. He notes that Mark 13:10 and Matt 24:14 say that the gospel will be proclaimed “throughout the whole world,” and that then “the end will come.” He then makes my argument for me, showing that the word used for “whole world” was a term referring to the Roman realm. So, according to Warren, “the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the Roman realm, and then the end will come.”

The simple fact that Warren is unable to face up to is that the authors of the Gospels, and of the Hebrew Bible texts, didn’t know how big the world really was. So when they spoke of “all the nations of the earth,” they were just speaking about the nations they knew existed.

Warren continues:

Preaching to the nations of the known world (before there is time for every town in Israel to hear the gospel and before all the disciples die) is one thing; converting and discipling whole nations everywhere on earth to submit to the law of God so that wars cease is a much greater task (Matt. 28:19; Isa. 2:1-4).

Say what now? What does Matthew 28 say about making “whole nations” “submit to the law of God so that wars cease”? Uh, nothing. Matthew 28 speaks of making disciples from among the nations, not making “whole nations” into disciples. This is Warren’s postmillennial Christian dominionism imposing itself on the text again. Isaiah 2 is a utopian text and there is no basis whatsoever for his attempt to harmonize it with the Great Commission text. But on Jesus’ view, the world of Isaiah 2 would take place after “the end,” not before it. There’s a little thing called apocalypticism that emerged within Israel between the time that Isaiah was written and the time that Jesus preached.

Warren continues:

After the destruction of Jerusalem (“Babylon” Rev. 17:5-6, “the great city . . . where the Lord was crucified”Rev. 11:8),

Uh, no. Babylon refers to Rome. You can’t string two verses together from different chapters and just baldly claim they are talking about the same thing. Jerusalem is identified as Sodom and Egypt in Rev 11. But Babylon refers to Rome throughout Revelation. It is Rome in Revelation 14:8. It is Rome in Revelation 16:19-20 (Rome has islands; does Jerusalem have islands?). It is Rome in Revelation 17 (Rome sits on seven hills; does Jerusalem sit on seven hills?). And it is Rome in Revelation 18 (the cities of the earth grew rich on Rome’s excessive luxuries; did they grow rich on Jerusalem’s excessive luxuries?). This just goes to show how committed Warren is to his preterism, which includes a pre-70 CE dating of the book of Revelation. Obviously more committed than he is to the Bible. Nowhere does Revelation speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, not as a future event.

He continues:

there is the millennium where the saints reign with Christ (Rev. 20:4), having been spiritually resurrected and seated with Christ in heaven (Eph. 2:4-6). This “new heavens and new earth” does not come all at once. Christ is given all authority to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18) and Satan is removed from authority to deceive the nations (Rev. 20:3) at Christ’s triumph at the cross, but the manifestation of Christ’s kingdom on earth must work out gradually over time: ” first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (Mark 4:28; cf. Matt. 13:31-33; Heb. 2:8). This view of eschatology that I contend that the Bible teaches is called Postmillennialism.

Yes, that is what it’s called. That’s all I’ll grant. Yes, the growing of the kingdom is gradual, according to Mark 4:28, but the gathering of the harvest is instantaneous, according to Mark 4:28. This is what Warren isn’t allowed to see because of his commitment to a silly eschatology. At the Great Commission, the disciples were sent out to plant the seeds. For a generation, they cultivated the seeds. But then it was harvest time, when the Son of Man came and the angels were sent out (not to cultivate) but to “gather” the elect. The harvest, according to Mark 4:28, is “at once,” i.e., quick. That’s what “gather the elect” means. It’s not difficult to understand, unless you have some commitment that would make it impossible for you to accept this, like, say, a commitment to the view that Jesus could not possibly have been wrong.

In my original response, I wrote:

No, “land” does not make more sense of the text, since in the very next verse it is clear again that the scope is worldwide, since the angels of the Son of Man are sent out to the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other, in order to gather the elect and (by implication) return them to Jerusalem. That makes it clear that the word in v. 30 should be read as “the whole earth” rather than just “the local land.” Moreover, why would all of the tribes of the land of Israel mourn at the sight of their liberator, at the very time of the restoration of Israel, when the tribes are being brought out of diaspora? It is not the tribes of Israel that are mourning, but the tribes of the earth, and this is quite clear in the text.

Warren responds:

The “implication” of returning the elect to Jerusalem is just Mr. Stark reading into the text.

No, that is Mr. Stark have a background in apocalyptic literature, and understanding that the gather of the elect always referred to the end of the diaspora, i.e., the return to Jerusalem. I’m not “reading into” the text. I’m reading the text against its literary background. Warren is “reading into” the text by ignoring its literary background.

The destruction of Jerusalem is the destruction of the Jerusalem in bondage, as opposed to the Jerusalem from above, which is the New Covenant church (Gal. 4:24-26).

Warren uses a prooftext for his allegorical understanding of Jerusalem but the prooftext isn’t speaking about judgment against Jerusalem.

The New Covenant church is the new, heavenly Zion (Heb. 12:18-29); the old, earthly Zion is no longer important once the temple and rest of the Old Covenant ritual structure finds its fulfillment in Christ (John 4:21). God’s presence and worship of God are no longer to be centered on the physical temple in physical Jerusalem, but on Christ himself (John 2:18-22), who now sits in heaven (Col. 3:1-2).

Mr. Warren is fond of citing Hebrew Bible passages about eschatology when he thinks they support his position, but he ignores all the ones that make it absolutely clear that a return to physical Jerusalem and an annual pilgrimage of the nations of the earth to physical Jerusalem is what’s prophesied (e.g., Zech 14). Once again, we see the hermeneutic of convenience at work. It may work on the biblically illiterate, but it doesn’t work on the rest of us.

Warren continues:

Mr. Stark simply ignores my quotation of Revelation 1:7, which equates the “tribes of the land” with “those who pierced him.” Although Revelation was written in Greek, it was written by a Jew, and the use of “the land” to be a specific reference to the land of Israel is quite common in the Hebrew language, just as “the city,” without any other qualifications, usually refers to Jerusalem in Hebrew.

If I ignored it it’s because it’s silly and I must have considered it not worth my time to respond to, given all the other silly arguments I was responding to. But I’ll respond now. Revelation 1:7 most emphatically does not “equate” the “tribes of the land” with “those who pierced him.” Here is what Revelation 1:7 says:

Behold, he comes with the clouds,
and every eye shall see him,
also those who pierced him,
and because of him all the tribes of the land/earth shall wail

There is no equation of the subjects of line three with the subjects of line four. The statement is that (1) every eye will see him, (2) including those who pierced him, (3) and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him.

Note also that just two verses earlier, the same word for “earth” appears, but this time it is clear it does not refer to the land of Israel. It refers to the “kings of the earth,” over whom Jesus is ruler. So, in context, the word refers to the whole earth. And there is no textual indication whatsoever that “tribes of the earth” and “those who pierced him” are equated in v. 7. Warren again points to textual evidence that doesn’t exist, to serve an agenda that isn’t biblical.

  1. Jack Miles, “Radical Editing: Redaktionsgeschichte and the Aesthetic of Willed Confusion,” in The Creation of Sacred Literature (ed. Richard Elliott Friedman; University of California Press, 1981). []
  2. Thom Stark, Is God a Moral Comrpomiser?, pp. 222-27. []
  3. http://www.crivoice.org/isa7-14.html []
  4. Jon D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, 7-8. []