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Response to Reader42 Review

“Reader42” has reviewed my book on Amazon. Here is my response.

<blockquote>I do completely agree with him that the historical-grammatical approach to reading scripture does not work because it assumes that everyone can derive the same correct interpretation on their own which the Bible denies can be done (cf. Luke 24:27, 2 Pet. 3:16) and it forces a singular monist conformity of the texts which are all shaped by different backgrounds and written in different styles.</blockquote>

I never made any such argument, so this reader is “completely agreeing” with a misunderstanding. There is no reason whatsoever that a historical-grammatical reading of the text should prevent us from recognizing the different backgrounds and genres of the texts. In fact, that’s precisely what the historical-grammatical approach sets out to do.

<blockquote>Stark rejects progressive revelation because he thinks that it is too easy but really progressive revelation is what makes sense and if we believe that God speaks through scripture then he have to understand how God might do this.</blockquote>

Again, this reader is not a careful one. I do not reject progressive revelation. I reject “progressive revelation” as an explanation for contradictory views about God, both of which purport to be revealed to us by God. I believe in progressive revelation, but not as a way of explaining away contradictions.

<blockquote>Progressive revelation makes sense because otherwise everything would have been revealed from the start and there would be no such thing as revelation at all.</blockquote>

Yes, quite obviously.

<blockquote>Paul may have affirmed a form of progressive revelation as well (eg. Gal. 4:4).</blockquote>

This is an inadequate prooftext to use to assign progressive revelation to Paul. Nevertheless, obviously Paul (like everybody else) believed in progressive revelation, as do I. The reader is confusing the issue.

<blockquote>Furthermore I think it is a severe mistake when someone reads scripture as if the Bible is some immutable dictation and treats it as if it is God. But it is also a severe mistake to treat scripture as if it is just a cultural byproduct that has nothing to tell us other than the theological views of an ancient culture. I feel that Stark tends to go down the latter path. He seems too eager to wholly assume a political agenda behind the formation of the Bible and that seems to be his starting point in trying to understand it instead of treating it like it is inspired by God.</blockquote>

It’s clear that the reader is offering criticisms from a non-scholarly perspective, which is fine, but not very useful. This also reflects circular reasoning. Moreover, I do not assume a “wholly … political agenda” behind the texts, but it is obvious that politics played a large role in the formation of many of our texts, particularly the ones written inside the king’s court. If the reader wishes to dismiss wholesale critical scholarship as an enterprise, that is his or her prerogative, but such a dismissal does not constitute a rejoinder to the conclusions of critical scholarship. Such a dismissal simply asserts the superiority of an alternate paradigm.

<blockquote>My approach to scripture is to recognize the human elements as well as the divine working through them. I think this is the approach that Jesus and the Biblical authors took.</blockquote>

No argument from me, neither now nor in my book, since this is in fact what I argued.

<blockquote>They recognized that scripture did not flat out say certain things but at the same time they knew that scripture speaks the truth and that we can derive truths from passages even if the passage does not explicitly say what is being derived and even if we do not agree with everything the passage says.</blockquote>

Again, this is precisely what I argued in my book.

<blockquote>When Jesus was confronted by the Sadducees about the resurrection (Matt. 22:23) He didn’t respond by finding a passage that explicitly talked about the resurrection but rather interpreted God’s address to Moses as being compatible and implicit of the resurrection. The author of Exodus may not have been aware of the implications but Jesus knew that the resurrection is true and that God speaks the truth through history and scripture so Jesus saw the conclusion that this passage supports His view. This is what Mathew did in that he knew that the virgin birth was true so he derived the truth by reinterpreting Isaiah 7:14. Paul also did this in reinterpreting the law about the ox eating the grain. Instead of expecting scripture to be a straightforward dictation that says everything we affirm out right we need to recognize that it is written by humans guided by the Spirit. So every statement in scripture is `yes tainted by human hands and thinking’ but also lead into truth by the Holy Spirit.</blockquote>

This reader is simply articulating the hermeneutic of second temple Judaism that I outlined very plainly in my book. S/He is adopting it, which is fine. Again, this is not a rejoinder to my conclusions or to the conclusions of critical scholarship. It is simply the assertion of the superiority of a different paradigm, without argument. Whereas I offered explicit arguments in the book why more honesty with the “human side” of the texts is requisite for faithful interpretation. These arguments have not been addressed by this reader.

<blockquote>If we affirm that God is ineffable then we of course can’t expect for any single verse to fully capture and understand the divine because “the Spirit speaks with sighs too deep for words”, but the alternative isn’t to say the verse completely got God wrong either (which I don’t think Stark would believe that but he doesn’t seem to share the view that God speaks real truths through the authors either).</blockquote>

What seems clear to me is that the reader doesn’t know how to accommodate the perspective I articulate, thus s/he keeps getting it wrong. I obviously don’t believe that the Bible as a whole completely gets God wrong. I expressly state that it very often gets God right. I also expressly state in my book that God often speaks “real truths” through the biblical authors, just not in every case.

<blockquote>So some verses have a fuller picture of God than others because the writers had a better understanding at that point, but that does not mean that the other verses were not inspired.</blockquote>

Whether the genocidal texts, for instance, were inspired or not is beside the point. The point is, this idea that certain discrepancies between texts or ideological opposition between texts can be explained away this idea that one author didn’t have “the fuller picture” is completely wrong. I’ve argued this at length, but the reader (who says I get my “facts” right but my “truths” wrong) hasn’t offered a rejoinder to any of my actual arguments. Some texts, yes, reflect an incomplete picture that is filled out later, and that is fine. Some other texts, however, contain clear and important contradictions. This cannot be explained away by identifying them as an “incomplete picture.” If this reader wishes honestly to disagree with my conclusion, it is incumbent upon him or her to engage in actual specifics.

<blockquote>We have to read scripture in light of reason, all of scripture as a whole, and guided by the Holy Spirit through the Church. So when it seems that something in scripture has not been fulfilled or is not true that is only because we are looking at it from a human perspective and focusing on the human side but if we trust in God and see that He will fulfill and has inspired every verse then we can trust that what it says is the truth. This is how prayer works and I can affirm that God answers prayers, He just may not answer them in the time frame that I expect Him too. We should approach scripture from the view point of how prayer works not how we expect human speeches to work. This view seems to be incompatible with sola scriptura though because the approach goes outside of the direct explicit words in scripture but I reject sola scriptura.</blockquote>

Again, the assertion of a different paradigm (without argument) does not a rejoinder to critical scholarship make.

<blockquote>So I agree with Stark that we cannot look at the human elements of the Bible and think that is how God inspired the Bible by making the authors write down exactly every detail as it happened or in the way they should be understood. So we shouldn’t read stories like the conquest of Cana [sic] or Jonah as if they are history. There may be some historical truth to them but we need to recognize that their style of writing is legendary and not strict history and that not everything they affirm about God or history may be completely factual. But we can recognize the divine truths in them.</blockquote>

I recognize the divine truths in Jonah (and I advocate that recognition in my book). I also recognize what the authors of the book of Joshua were attempting to do with these legends, and I gave an exhaustive list of reasons why (if we are in fact to use reason) the authors’ intended moral message in the book of Joshua should not be accepted as a divine truth. If this reader wishes honestly and actually to engage my conclusions, s/he needs to engage the specifics of my arguments. Otherwise, this is all so much hand waving.

<blockquote>Likewise if certain authors of the Bible didn’t believe in the afterlife we can still see the Sprit speaking through their attempt to understand the necessity or possibility of it (also the Jewish idea of Sheol doesn’t disaffirm the afterlife only it looks to the afterlife as a state of dullness and not a heavenly paradise but that is compatible with theology and scripture as a whole because Christ opened the gates to heaven).</blockquote>

I’ll ignore the fact the this reader obviously doesn’t really understand these issues and is apparently unfamiliar with the relevant scholarship, and just remind him or her that an adequate response to an argument necessitates actually engaging with it. Please examine the specific arguments I make and respond to those. Otherwise one is simply preaching to the choir.

<blockquote>A point I was uncertain on is that Stark argues that belief in the resurrection came later which is apparently true but he says that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the Resurrection because it was a relatively new idea but my understanding of the Sadducees’ approach was that they only accepted the Torah not that they only rejected recent material like Daniel and the Maccabbees, which is why Christ used the passage from Exodus to argue for the Resurrection because it is in the Torah.</blockquote>

As this reader has already noted, Jesus’ use of this passage in Exodus was novel and not historical-grammatical. He invested new meaning in the passage based upon later revelation which the Sadducees rejected. Thus, they had no reason to accept Jesus’ innovative reading of Yahweh’s statement in Exodus. I’m not sure what this reader’s point is or where exactly the confusion lies.

<blockquote>In one of the chapters in his book Stark argues that ancient Israel believed in human sacrifice. The main disagreement I have here is that one of the passages that he uses for support is Micah 6:6-8 because it says “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression” but I am not sure that this verse proves Micah was talking about human sacrifice in the sense of killing because in Ex. 34:20 it says “all the firstborn you shall redeem”. Stark says though that this verse was not used as the normative but was utilitarian. That may be true but that doesn’t mean that Micah didn’t understand it to mean `that the firstborn were not to be sacrificed but to be redeemed as the normative’. Micah could have been talking about offering the firstborn while still redeeming the child.</blockquote>

This is of course utter nonsense, and a cursory look either at the text itself or at my treatment of the text will show why. In Micah there is a crescendo from lesser sacrifices to greater sacrifices, culminating in the greatest sacrifice of all—the sacrifice of one’s firstborn son. If Micah is envisioning the redemption of his son, that would amount to the sacrifice of a lamb, which is anticlimactic after the previous line’s mention of the sacrifice of “thousands of rams.”

<blockquote>Stark also implies that Jesus’ atonement is an example of human sacrifice in the same sense as child sacrifice, but Jesus’ sacrifice should be understood in its own context which is in the backdrop of the Maccabean sense of self sacrifice for others and not in the sense of child sacrifice to appease a blood thirsty deity.</blockquote>

This is false because it’s a quarter-truth. There are many interpretations of Jesus’ death in the New Testament. Paul identifies the death of Jesus as a “hilasterion” (Rom 3:25), which is a propitiatory sacrifice meant to appease an angry deity. Moreover, in the Gospels Jesus himself regularly cites the Isaian Suffering Servant as predictive of his death, investing it with a sacrificial, propitiatory meaning.

<blockquote>Stark says that today’s society still sacrifices people by sending soldiers to die for their country, an example he did not mention though is that parents still sacrifice their children through the act of abortion.</blockquote>


<blockquote>Stark seems to view Jesus as if Christ was just a person of His times. Stark not only thinks that it is problematic to view the Bible as if it fell from heaven but equally problematic to believe that Jesus came down from heaven! Stark argues that Jesus falsely predicted His Second Coming and while I agree with Stark that Jesus was fully human so He must have held human views which possibly may have not been correct it is important that we recognize that Jesus was also fully God as well. I do not think that Jesus was mistaken about His purpose so I cannot agree with Stark that Christ was mistaken about His Second Coming.</blockquote>

This is a fine example as any of circular reasoning. Please engage the actual texts and the specific arguments.

<blockquote>Stark says Christ wrongfully predicted His Second Coming in Mark 9:1 where He says “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” And then again in the Olivet Discourse found in the Synoptics (eg. Math. 24).

I don’t see why Christ’s words in Mark 9:1 are referring to the Second Coming. They could simply mean that some of Christ’s followers would have a realized eschatological view of the resurrection within their own life or they could be in reference to the Transfiguration. Stark doesn’t deal with the first alternative.</blockquote>

In fact I do. Please read it again.

<blockquote>but he does say that the Transfiguration can’t be the fulfillment because it occurred a week later so the promise wouldn’t have been that great, also angels weren’t present, and it doesn’t follow the logic of the discussion. First off we don’t know if the statement in Mark 9:1 was made in the context of the other statements because it is even included in a new chapter in Mark’s Gospel, while at the end of the chapter in Mathew and Luke, but regardless if could have been made at a different point in time than the preceding statements.</blockquote>

This is quite humorous. This reader seems to think that the author of Mark included the chapter demarcations in his original text. In fact, the chapter demarcations were added by Stephen Langton in ca. 1200 CE.

<blockquote>If it was made at the same time though as the preceding remarks there is still no indication that because Mark 8:38 talks about the Second Coming that Mark 9:1 has to coincide with the same statement. Jesus could have been saying `I will come and repay but don’t worry some of you will already know what the Second Coming will be like because I will reveal it to you ahead of time when I am Transfigured before you.'</blockquote>

That is clearly not what Jesus is saying; this reader is simply rewriting the Bible to suit his or her own purposes.

<blockquote>Also I don’t read Greek and maybe the English reads differently but the fact that Jesus said “not taste death until” or “not taste death before” seems to indicate that the Apostles would still die only they would see the kingdom first which would be fulfilled at the Transfiguration.</blockquote>

Yes, this reader doesn’t read Greek.

<blockquote>Now to address the Olivet Discourse. This place is very tough because it does seem that Jesus links the destruction of the Temple with His Second Coming. It is also difficult because each of the synoptics has different wording so it is impossible to know exactly how the conversation went. Mathew’s account is the only one where the disciples ask about the end of the age “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? (Math. 24:3b)” and is the only one that mentions “the sign of the Son of Man (24:30)” and is the only one that talks about the immediacy of the events following the desecration (24:29).</blockquote>

No, it isn’t. The Son of Man coming on the clouds is referenced in all three synoptic accounts, and all three accounts place the coming within the generation of Jesus’ disciples.

<blockquote>In both Mathew’s and Mark’s account Jesus says that the Gospel must be preached throughout the world (Math. 24:14, Mark 13:10) and Luke says the time of the Gentiles must be fulfilled (Luke 21:24). Mathew and Mark mention the abomination of desolation but Luke mentions Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. But those can be seen as two separate things because armies are not an idol being set up in the temple which is what the abomination of desolation is a reference to though it is unclear exactly what idolatry actually took place as the indication.</blockquote>

They are clearly references to the same event.

<blockquote>Jesus also said that He didn’t know the day or hour that all these things would be fulfilled, but Stark says that that is only in respect to the exact day that they would be fulfilled within the next 40 years and shouldn’t be understood as showing complete ignorance of the time of the event.</blockquote>

Correct. I’ve argued this at length in the book and at further length on the book’s website.

<blockquote>While all of Jesus’ words were fulfilled before the destruction of the temple they were not perfectly fulfilled because the Gospel was not proclaimed to all the nations, some (but not many) false prophets arose and I don’t know if any claimed to be Jesus having returned, and a complete fulfillment of the abomination of desolation may not have occurred (although there would have been some sign to indicate as perhaps some form of idolatry or even the armies as Luke indicates).</blockquote>

This is all nonsense. The Gospel had proceeded to the known world by the time of the temple’s destruction. Many “false prophets” had in fact arisen between Jesus’ death and the temple’s destruction. As for the abomination that causes desolation, the Roman standards were erected in the temple, and the temple was destroyed. That seems pretty complete to me.

<blockquote>So we are still waiting for all of Jesus’ words to be fulfilled.</blockquote>

The only thing left unfulfilled is his promised return, which is some 2,000 years past due, according to Jesus’ prediction.

<blockquote>Scriptural prophecy often times has multiple fulfillment as when something is not properly fulfilled at one time it is completely fulfilled at another.</blockquote>

This is a hermeneutical strategy, not an actual property of biblical prophecy, unless expressly delineated in the prophecy.

<blockquote>For example God warned Adam that if he ate from the tree he would die on that day, except that Adam did not die on that day.</blockquote>

The story of Adam and Eve is a fable, not a prophetic prediction.

<blockquote>Christ though being the second Adam did die as He was hung on the tree and said to the thief “Today, you will be with me in paradise (Luke 24:43).”</blockquote>


<blockquote>Another example is that David was promised an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16) but David’s earthly kingdom is not around anymore, that is because it is fulfilled by Christ who has an everlasting heavenly kingdom and is the fulfillment of David. This is how Acts 2 applies Psalm 16 and 110 to Christ as well.</blockquote>

Yes, this is a hermeneutical strategy, not a property of the original prediction. The original prediction of David’s eternal kingdom was false.

<blockquote>There are many more examples and the principle of multiple fulfillment can be applied to the Olivet Discourse as well (this idea is argued by Fr. William Most SJ. In his book Free from All Error). So it is possible that after the Gospel has been preached to the whole world that these events will be fulfilled again in the wars, earth quakes, false messiahs, and abomination of desolation which could be the antichrist since Christ’s body is the true temple (John 2:21) and the antichrist may come and establish himself as if he is the second Christ in imitation of Christ and will be the abomination of desolation (but I obviously don’t know).</blockquote>

I agree with that last bit.

<blockquote>Furthermore, Stark brought up that Jesus said “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” as indication that the Second Coming would occur within the next 40 years but while the things leading up to the destruction of the temple did take place within the next 40 years Jesus’ Second Coming and the things that would be needed to fully take place in order (like the preaching to all the nations) for that to occur had not so we can conclude that the generation has not ended.

There is no reason to think that generation must mean a 40 year span, it can be understood to mean establishment (as well as have a double sense like the other aspects of the discourse). So Jesus can be understood to mean this established mindset of people which is the way the word is possibly used in Math. 11:16, 12:39, 16:4, 17:17, and Duet. 32:20. Jesus spoke in universal terms that transcend time, so He would not be bound to mean people of the next 40 years when He uses the term generation.</blockquote>

No, “generation” cannot be understood to mean the “established mindset of people.” It does not mean this anywhere in Matthew, nor in Deuteronomy, nor anywhere else in all of world literature.

<blockquote>Stark also argues that when Christ said “flee to the mountains” that the expectation was that Jesus would come and rescue them and destroy the Romans. But that is not stated anywhere in the text. Jesus told them to flee to the mountains because Jerusalem was going to be destroyed by the Romans. Fleeing to the mountains is an indication to wait for destruction. There is no indication in the text that the followers were to wait for Christ to return and destroy the Romans there or anywhere in scripture.</blockquote>

Yes, there clearly is, as I showed in my book. This reader simply ignores the argument.

<blockquote>Stark implies that Jesus’ kingdom is viewed as earthly in the synoptics because in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus says “thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is heaven” but this is not an indication that Jesus’ kingdom is earthly. It is prayer for this world to reflect and imitate what God wants.</blockquote>

This is just one example of the earthly kingdom envisioned in the synoptics, and, despite this reader’s objection, it remains a firm example. We cannot change the meaning of Jesus’ words by using other words with different meaning to define them.

<blockquote>Stark says in John’s gospel the kingdom is spiritualized but there is no evidence that John’s Gospel takes back anything from the synoptics nor is there any evidence that John’s Gospel is unhistorical or inaccurate.</blockquote>

Yes, in fact, there is, on all counts, and ample evidence at that.

<blockquote>But it still must be addressed why Jesus answered His followers’ questions about the destruction of the temple and the end times by talking about things that happened and included things that weren’t fully fulfilled.</blockquote>

He didn’t.

<blockquote>To understand this I think that we must understand what Biblical prophecy is. Biblical prophecy is not fortune telling. Rather it is speaking divine truths that we know that God will eventually fulfill, after all the only sign that we will get is that of Jonah.</blockquote>

This reader mischaracterizes my presentation of the character of biblical prophecy, and goes on to display that s/he doesn’t understand what biblical prophecy is either. An education would be useful here. Further, s/he misreads the sign of Jonah. Jesus did not say that “we” would only get the sign of Jonah; he said that his religious opponents would only have that sign. He gave many other signs to those amenable to believing in him.

<blockquote>Stark has a problematic outlook. He thinks that looking for God to intercede in the world and solve all our problems is just looking for a way out. Apparently Stark wants us to try to figure things out on our own (or at least that’s what it seems like) the problem with this is that that approach fails. That is what Adam and Eve wanted in the Garden. In actuality we need God to be the one who comes and saves us and ends our suffering. The best way for suffering to end is to follow Jesus but that means actually following Jesus and not just picking and choosing what we like about His message. If we actually did follow Christ then earth would be as it is in heaven.</blockquote>

I never argued that God’s involvement with our salvation is problematic. It is essential. What I argued is that God struggles with us, and guides us, and corrects us, but a Deus ex Machina doesn’t help us. It simply consigns us to failure. This reader can call my outlook “problematic,” and most Catholics and Evangelicals will agree. That’s fine. They are entitled to disagree. I find their expectations of a Deux ex Machina both factually and morally problematic, for the reasons I articulated in my book.

<blockquote>Stark has a problem though with treating reality with the same sort of consistent logic that he wants people to treat the Bible with. For instance he says that God is beyond categories of monotheism and polytheism. I am confused what sort of category God can be placed in then.</blockquote>

Um, Trinity?

<blockquote>Stark also wants the Bible and religion to totally be about morality. He thinks the message of Christianity should all be about social justice, except again that is an attempt at making heaven on earth on our own means. Christianity is about conforming to the image of Christ.</blockquote>

Am I to understand that conforming to the image of Christ does not involve the pursuit of social justice?

<blockquote>If we do that then earth will be better but until God comes and drives out evil then we are not in paradise because there are people who reject God and prefer darkness to the light.</blockquote>

Who ever said anything about paradise?

<blockquote>Stark doesn’t like the idea of black and white though because he says things are more complicated than that. Except we are all sinners so at the end of the day we either follow Christ and are conformed to His image or we are not.</blockquote>

In other words, black and white because, well, black and white. Apparently there are no shades between conformity and non-conformity to Christ’s image, and apparently the long history of disagreement over exactly what conformity to Christ’s image entails shouldn’t be seen as evidence that such conformity isn’t a black and white matter.

<blockquote>We can’t do it on our own! That is why we must have the Catholic Church and the sacraments in order to guide us in interpreting scripture and help us conform to the image of Christ by the grace we receive through the sacraments.</blockquote>

That’s actually precisely what I argue in my book.

<blockquote>I appreciate Thom Stark for writing this book because he brings forth a lot of good evidence in a clear fashion and he speaks from a sincere perspective and I would recommend that people read this book as I learned a lot from it. It must be read with proper discernment though because Stark is mistaken in his overall conclusions.</blockquote>

I appreciate that this reader learned from my book, but I would also appreciate it if s/he would provide evidence, rather than mere assertions, in substantiation of the claim that my “overall conclusions” are mistaken.

Response to Jim Tweed Review

My thanks to Jim Tweed for writing this good critical review of my book. It’s really a breath of fresh air to me, because the vast majority of critical reviews have so distorted my arguments that it’s nice to see a reviewer who, while disagreeing with my conclusions, still takes care to describe them accurately. Tweed’s summary of my overall argument is pretty good.

I also thank Tweed for taking the time in his review to point out the parts of my argument he thought were successful, specifically, he thinks my arguments against CSBI inerrancy and their hermeneutic of convenience were successful.

Of course, Tweed goes on to state that he was not convinced by most of my arguments, but he only engages one of them in his review, namely, my argument in the fourth chapter on polytheism in the Hebrew Bible. He believes that by exposing the serious problems with my argument here, he will have shown that the remainder of my arguments cannot be taken as seriously.

Unfortunately, Thom’s affable style is perhaps too breezy, particularly in the first few chapters of the book (and also in the meatier middle chapters) he regularly develops his own arguments just enough so as to complete them by citing the relevant critical consensus, and since he seldom (if ever) critically engages that consensus one slowly gets the sense that Thom is uncritically employing that consensus in his arguments.

Either that, or in these particular cases I am in agreement with the consensus.

This isn’t helpful because those who will be most challenged by this book will rightly suspect that Thom is replacing one kind of authority with another when it comes to interpreting their scriptures (i.e. that of the critical consensus).

This strikes me as ludicrous. The only hermeneutical authority I recognize is reason.

It also isn’t helpful for those of us who want to evaluate the success of Thom’s arguments as he does not interact much with those scholars whose analysis is significantly different from his own (the notable exception of Wright in Ch. 8 notwithstanding); rather, the only opposing arguments that he does regularly engage with are the soft balls pitched by inerrantists.

Well, first of all, my book is an argument against inerrancy; hence all the engagement with inerrantists. Second, in many cases, virtually the only people disagreeing with the position I’m arguing are the inerrantists (e.g., the David and Goliath legend). Third, it is simply not the case that my engagement with Wright is “the notable exception.” I engage extensively with several scholars in my chapter on the Canaanite genocides, for instance.

Also Thom’s prescription for reading the more problematic parts of scripture as “condemned texts” must also be judged as inadequate for the reason that it misses the point of why many protestant Christians hold to the CSBI doctrine of inerrancy in the first place. The reason being that such a doctrine serves as a kind of epistemological foundation for the purposes of deriving Christian doctrine from Christian scripture.

I missed no such point; I explicitly addressed this point in my final chapter, at some length. It’s precisely the assumption of the need to make such an epistemological foundation out of scripture that came under my fire in the concluding chapter.

to wit, if our texts are a reasonable approximation of what inerrantists claim to be inerrant texts then it follows that the task of deriving Christian doctrine from these texts can for the most part be reduced to that of interpreting the texts we do have, which is a difficult enough task in its own right. If Thom wants inerrantists to adopt a lower view of their scriptures then he needs to show how they can do so while still recovering those doctrines that are most essential to the faith.

I’m not sure why I need to do this, other than that Tweed has asserted this is what I need to do.

On the other hand, if Thom feels that the whole task of deriving Christian doctrine from Christian scripture is misguided in the first place then he needs to explain why that is so as well.

I think this is imbalanced. At any rate, my job wasn’t to provide a sure way to find “right” Christian doctrine in scripture. That’s not my approach, as Tweed should know since he’s read my book.

The remainder of Tweed’s review engages on section of my fourth chapter—the section on the Song of Moses, specifically the interpretation of Deut 32:8-9.

Thom interprets vv. 8-9 as an etiological narrative that describes the head god of the divine council, Elyon, giving his sons responsibility for governing the different nations as tutelary deities and that Yahweh (the God of Israel) is depicted as being but one of Elyon’s sons who receives governance of Israel from Elyon so that not only is Yahweh not unique as one of the sons of Elyon but that he is not even the head god of the divine council.

A basically accurate summary. Except that I would clarify that my argument is not that Yahweh is not “unique,” per se. Rather, simply that Yahweh is not species unique here.

Needless to say, this interpretation couldn’t be more inconsistent with Christians who confess that Yahweh is the only such god of his kind and that there is no other god greater than him.

I suppose not, at least, if one is an inerrantist. If one is not an inerrantist, then the consensus reading of this text doesn’t stand in the way at all of the Christian confession of Yahweh as the only true God who is species unique.

Thom arrives at this conclusion by saying that Elyon must be considered separate from Yahweh in vv. 8-9 for the following two reasons (see pg. 73n6):

(1) It is said that Yahweh is given an inheritance. A father does not give an inheritance to himself, but to his child.

(2) The text says that Elyon divided up mankind according to number of his children, not according to the number of his children plus himself. Thus, Yahweh is portrayed here as the son of Elyon.

It needs to be pointed out that the one argument Tweed chose to engage in his review is an argument I made in a footnote. The purpose here was not to make an extensive argument, but to summarize the consensus reading, with which I am in agreement. As it happens, I have defended this reading at considerable length here on humanfacesofgod.com.

Let’s assess Thom’s arguments. The problem with his first argument is that nowhere in the text is Yahweh said to be given an inheritance, it is only said that “Yahweh’s portion is his people” and that “Jacob [is] his measured possession,” neither of which mean that Yahweh was given “his people” or “Jacob.”

Tweed’s contention here is absolutely incorrect. The text reads, “Jacob is his allotted inheritance.” The word used for “inheritance” here is nachalah. It is the same root used in v. 8 when the text says that Elyon “gave the nations their inheritance” (the verb is nachal). Nachalah, the noun form of the verb (“to inherit”) is used over two hundred times in the Hebrew Bible, and in all but a small few of those instances, its meaning is unequivocally “inheritance” or (in a few cases) “gift.” While it can at times be translated possession, what Tweed fails to mention/realize is that a nachalah is a possession that is given by means of inheritance. Here are some examples where its meaning is unequivocally “inheritance”: Gen 31:14; 48:6; Num 16:14; 18:20-21; 18:23-24; 18:26; 26:53-54; 26:56; 26:62; 27:7-11; 32:18-19; 32:32; 33:54; 34:2; 34:14-15; 35:2; 35:8; 36:2-4; 36:7-9; 36:12; Deut 3:28; 4:21; 4:38; 10:9; 12:9; 12:12; 14:27; 14:29; 15:4; 18:1-2; 19:14; 20:16; 29:8; over forty times throughout Joshua; Judg 2:6; 2:9; 18:1; 21:23-24; Ruth 4:5-6; 4:10; 2 Sam 20:1; 1 Kgs 8:36; 12:16; 21:3-4; 1 Chron 16:18; 2 Chron 6:27; 10:16; Neh 11:20; Job 20:29; 27:13; 42:15; Ps 2:8; 16:6; 47:4; 78:55; 105:11; 135:12; 136:21-22; Prov 17:2; 19:14; 20:21; Eccl 7:11; Isa 49:8; 54:17; 58:14; Jer 3:19; 17:4; Lam 5:2; Ezek 44:28; Ezek 45:1; 46:16-18; 47:14; 47:22-23; 48:29; Mal 1:3.

Moreover, in the Ugaritic texts (texts Tweed will himself mention later), the sons of God (i.e., junior deities of the pantheon) are also said to have been given “peoples” as their inheritance (nachalah; same word).

So much for Tweed’s objection to my first argument. Now his objection to my second argument:

The problem with his second argument is that it implicitly assumes that the reference to “the nations” and/or “the peoples” following the separation of the sons of Adam in v. 8 must also include the nation Israel. In fact, the writer/redactor of Deuteronomy was quite capable of referring to all the nations and/or all the peoples with the nation of Israel implicitly understood as not being counted among them (Deut 26:19; 28:1, 10, 64; 29:24).

This objection misses the mark. The author/redactor of Deuteronomy was not the author of this Song. This Song is one of the earliest compositions in the Hebrew Bible, predating the composition of the book of Deuteronomy by about three or four centuries. So what the author/redactor of Deuteronomy says about the nations is moot. This is a mistake Tweed will make time and again in his critique.

Tweed writes:

So much for Thom’s arguments, but are there good reasons for identifying Elyon with Yahweh in vv. 8-9? Yes there are! Consider the following:

We will consider the following, and show why each of Tweed’s arguments is based on poor assumptions about the composition of this text:

(1) At the very least the writer/redactor of Deuteronomy that put the work in its final form believed that Yahweh was for all intents and purposes the most high god in Deut 10:17 (“Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God”). Therefore, it seems unlikely that we would find any tradition in Deuteronomy that represents Yahweh as something other than the most high god.

Of course the author/redactor of Deuteronomy believes that Yahweh was the Most High. Tweed ought to have noted that this fact is part and parcel of my argument in chapter four. By the time Deuteronomy was composed, Yahweh was already considered to be the Most High God. Tweed’s objection that “it seems unlikely” that the author would include a heterodox tradition in his composition misunderstands the distinction scholars make between a diachronic and a synchronic reading of a text. The diachronic reading of a text seeks to understand what the different compositions in a given text would have meant as they were originally composed. The synchronic reading of a text seeks to understand how those parts are woven together to form a coherent new composition, giving each part often a new meaning. The reading of Deuteronomy 32 I offered in my book was obviously the diachronic reading, not the synchronic. The synchronic reading is obvious. Nevertheless, the fact that the Masoretes (or some earlier scribes whose recension was preserved by the Masoretes) felt the need to change v.8 from “sons of El” to “sons of Israel” probably indicates that the original language was still considered problematic in a stanchly monotheistic context. At the time Deuteronomy was put together, however, monotheism as we know it now was not yet full grown in Israel’s theology.

(2) Yahweh is said to be the one who “created”, “made” and “established” Israel in v. 6, which is hardly consistent with a reading of vv. 8-9 that understands Yahweh to be one of Elyon’s sons who merely receives Israel from his father Elyon.

This is false. All tribal deities were thought to be the “creators” of their peoples. The word “create” just means “fashion,” “shape,” i.e., out of raw materials. For instance, in Numbers 21:29, the Moabites are said to be the sons and daughters of their deity Chemosh. The idea is that all such deities guided and protected their peoples from infancy to full-blown nationhood. The Code of Hammurabi, again, identifies several junior deities who are said to have “laid the foundations” of their respective nations. This is the same sense in which it is said that Yahweh “created,” “made,” and “established” Israel.

(3) It cannot be the case that Israel is one of the nations in v. 8 because its “boundaries” cannot be “established” as being “separate” from the nations whose lands Israel dispossessed (cf. Deut 4:38; 9:1). In other words, since the task of establishing separate boundaries for Israel and the other nations that Israel displaced is not possible it follows that Israel cannot be one of the nations in v. 8. But since Israel belongs to Yahweh that means Yahweh cannot be one of the sons of Elyon to whom the nation of Israel is not given, which means that Yahweh must be Elyon by process of elimination.

This is a pedantic objection that presses this non-historical, etiological myth for chronological consistency. At the time this was written, Israel was already long established in their territory. New nations were regularly coming up and other nations were disappearing. There is no specific set number of nations here in this text. Moreover, as Paul Sanders shows, it is the peoples, not the land, that are given as an inheritance to the gods. The setting of the myth is, as all scholars recognize, at the dawn of history, before any of these nations had yet come into existence. As such, pointing out that Israel came to its land late means nothing, since at the time the myth is set, no nation yet occupied their land. We’ll talk more about this when Tweed brings up the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.

(4) Yahweh is frequently and explicitly identified with Elyon in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 14:22; Ps 7:17; 9:1-2; 18:13; 21:7; 46:1-7; 47:2; 50:14; 73:11; 77:10-11; 78:17; 83:18; 87:5-6; 91:9; 92:1; 97:9; 107:11) and is also distinguished from the sons of God in Job 1:6. If at least one of these traditions are in continuity with vv. 8-9 then it follows that Yahweh must be identified with Elyon here as well.

This argument completely ignores the point made by the consensus that Deuteronomy 32 is a very early text, predating all of the texts Tweed cites by centuries. By the time those texts were written, yes, Yahweh was identified as El Elyon. But Tweed here ignores that that’s part and parcel of my argument, and of the consensus position. Israel’s theology evolved, so that by the time these texts were written, Yahweh was seen as head of the pantheon. In short, this argument does not at all address my own, and my position is perfectly consistent with all these data.

(5) In the Ugaritic tradition that is paralleled by vv. 8-9 El is the father of 70 sons. Furthermore, the only other reference to the separation (parad) of the nations is in Gen 10, which lists the sons of Adam as separating into 70 different nations after the flood following their dispersal by Yahweh at the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), suggesting that the number of Elyon’s sons in v. 8 is 70.

This suggests no such thing. The Table of 70 Nations in Genesis 10 is dated by scholars to about the seventh century BCE. There are nations listed there that weren’t yet even in existence at the time of the composition of Deuteronomy 32. There is no reference to the 70 nations in Deuteronomy 32. If the Ugaritic tradition is in the background, we have no reason whatsoever to think that Israel is not considered to be one of them at this early period. Tweed is doing the very non-historical-grammatical hermeneutics that he says I successfully exposed in the work of the Chicago inerrantists.

He continues:

Moreover, the later MT reading of v. 8 also identifies the sons of Elyon as being 70 in number by playing off a tradition that understood 70 people from the house of Israel as entering Egypt before the Exodus. Therefore, it is almost certainly case that Elyon has 70 sons in v. 8 who are each given a nation, hence 70 nations. Now, the only part of the Hebrew Bible that lists these nations is in Gen 10, which doesn’t list the nation of Israel, suggesting that the nation of Israel was not counted among the nations in v. 8 (cf. Num 23:9). In sum, Israel cannot be one of the nations in v. 8 as the separation of the nations that is recounted in v. 8 took place during a time before which Israel even began to exist as a nation according to the biblical tradition in Gen 10. However, if Israel is not one of the nations in v. 8 then Yahweh cannot be one of the sons of Elyon by the same argument used in (3).

As Tweed well knows, the MT reading is not the original, and we know this by comparing the DSS recension to the LXX reading. Moreover, not even the MT (as Tweed claims) identifies the number 70. It reads, “according to the number of the sons of Israel.” This could refer to 70, or to 12, or may not be specific at all, but at any rate it is moot, because we know that this was a change made by the Masoretes. The original text reads, “according to the number of the sons of El,” which is a reference to the junior members of the divine pantheon. Genesis 10 does not shed light on Deut 32:8-9 because it was composed several centuries later, and several of the seventy nations identified in Genesis 10 did not yet exist at the time the verses in question were composed.

To sum up, Jim Tweed has chosen one of my arguments (one which I made briefly in a footnote) to use as an example to his readers that my arguments in general are not persuasive. Unfortunately, all of Tweed’s objections and criticisms are either factually incorrect or ignore the actual argument I’m making. Much of the data he cites against my position, I myself cite, and they do not in fact challenge my position. Tweed simply doesn’t seem to understand the way that scholars address these texts in terms of provenance, composition, and the like.

At any rate, my thanks to Jim Tweed for his courteous engagement.

Response to Denny Burk Review

[Cross-posted from Religion at the Margins]

Another Attempt To Discredit My Book Discredits Itself

Denny Burk, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College (of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), has published a review of my book, The Human Faces of God, in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. (For a previous engagement of mine with Burk, see here.) On his blog, his review is entitled, “Another Attempt To Discredit Inerrancy Falls Flat.” In the review, Burk attempts to argue that my book fails in both of its objectives: (1) to discredit the doctrine of inerrancy on a number of grounds, and (2) to provide an alternative way of reading the Bible as Scripture that isn’t confined by the artificial strictures of Christian fundamentalism (these are my words, obviously not Burk’s). But in order to make his case that I have failed on both points, Burk is forced blatantly to mischaracterize my arguments and positions at almost every turn. I hardly recognized the book he was reviewing.

Now, in a number of places, I will willingly chalk up Burk’s mischaracterizations either to sloppy reading habits or to a simple inability to understand my position due to an inability to see these issues from a paradigm other than his own fundamentalist paradigm. Indeed, Burk can only claim that I have failed to provide an alternative to fundamentalism because in order to understand that alternative paradigm, one must first have a paradigm shift. As I stated clearly in the preface to my book, I do not expect my arguments to induce such a paradigm shift among the most devout adherents to fundamentalism. This is not because my arguments are deficient, but because I know from decades of experience in the world of fundamentalism (including years within that world where I myself was no longer a fundamentalist) how powerful the anti-intellectual grip is that fundamentalism tends to have on otherwise very intelligent people.

That said, there are certain points in Burk’s review where it is very hard for me to believe that his mischaracterizations are unintentional. Not infrequently, Burk has taken to changing the wording of my own positions in such a way as to give his summaries of my positions a very different meaning than my actual positions themselves. In one case, Burk deliberately changed the wording of a quote of mine, which had the effect of giving my authentic words almost the opposite meaning. I want to give Burk the benefit of the doubt and say that he didn’t do this intentionally, but if it wasn’t intentional, the best I can offer is that Burk must be incredibly dense. So, I’m put in a position where giving him the benefit of the doubt isn’t really an act of charity on my part. I just see no way to be charitable, as much as I would like to be.

Burk begins his review by comparing my book to the books of Bart Ehrman, which ordinarily I wouldn’t have a problem with, even though I find myself in disagreement with Ehrman almost as often as I find myself in agreement with him. Burk says that my book belongs to “the Ehrman-genre,” though he notes that unlike Ehrman, I wish to preserve the whole Bible as scripture. This latter clarification is one of the few accurate statements made in Burk’s review. But he’ll undo it almost immediately. The problem I find, however, with Burk’s comparison of my work to Ehrman’s is not found in anything he explicitly says, but in the implicit import of the comparison: to Burk’s audience, as he well knows, Ehrman is anathema. And so, Burk is playing a little guilt-by-association game. He’s informing his fundamentalist audience that they have permission to categorize me as “another Ehrman,” which when translated means, “anathema.” The end result is fine I suppose. My position should be as much anathema to fundamentalism as fundamentalism is anathema to me. I just would rather Burk bring his audience to that conclusion after a careful consideration of my arguments (to which we are never treated) or at least an accurate summary of my positions (which we don’t get either), rather than shortcutting the process by painting a scarlet “E” on my forehead at the outset. But don’t hear me playing the victim. I really don’t expect much better from most fundamentalist apologists, and I’m not wounded in the slightest by such tactics. I just point it out to make clear what kind of a “book review” it is that we’re dealing with here. And all that aside, come on. Ehrman did not invent this genre. There’s a long tradition of such books going back long before Ehrman came on the scene, and I’ve read more of those books than I have of Ehrman’s. Apparently Burk has not.

Another thing Burk points out here is that I am, like Ehrman, a former fundamentalist, as I state also in my preface. Again, Burk points this out because, implicitly to his audience, this means that I am doing what I am doing because I am disgruntled and disillusioned. Burk is stating the fact of my former fundamentalism in order to afford his audience the opportunity to make the standard armchair psychoanalysis that fundamentalists use as a defense mechanism against scholars like Ehrman. Of course, what Burk doesn’t know, because he doesn’t really know my story at all, is that between my fundamentalist years and the time I wrote Human Faces, there were about five or six years in which I was neither a fundamentalist nor what Burk would characterize as a “liberal.” I was what’s called a postliberal Christian, Wittgensteinian to be precise, on the model of such Calvinists as D.Z. Phillips and Rush Rhees, or such Lutherans as George Lindbeck. Of course, to a fundamentalist like Burk, it must be hard to tell the difference between Lindbeck and, say, Ehrman, or, say, Satan. But just because a fundamentalist can’t see the distinction doesn’t mean there isn’t a world of difference. And I was a Wittgensteinian postliberal Christian when I began the work that became Human Faces, and in many, many ways, I still am. Of course, in many ways I no longer am, but that’s actually what Human Faces is about for me, as I also stated in the preface. It wasn’t just aimed at fundamentalists or those struggling on the fringes of fundamentalism, but also at my postliberal kin, because I wanted to make it clear why postliberal hermeneutics does not have all the answers for all the problems inherent in Scripture either. So as much as Burk might like his readers to think that I’m yet another disgruntled “former employee” (as I would characterize Ehrman in some of his early books), the reality is that I wasn’t writing from an anti-fundemtnalist paradigm, but from a postliberal paradigm, even as I was forced to move beyond that postliberal paradigm in significant ways.

The second paragraph of Burk’s review consists of another attempt to implicitly discredit my book, by pointing out that the arguments in my book don’t offer anything new to scholarly debates. Burk can mask his motivation in pointing this out by quoting me saying as much in my preface. Burk can pretend he’s simply describing my book as I myself have described it, but he knows that by doing so, he’s providing another reason for his audience not to take my arguments seriously. He characterizes the arguments in my book in his own words as “well-worn,” which obviously has a useful double connotation. It can simply mean, “old,” “tried and tested,” or, as the dictionary defines the term, “repeated too often; trite or hackneyed.” So it’s clear that Burk is bringing this fact up not really to be neutrally descriptive of the content in my book, but rather in order to discredit the same, under cover of a convenient quote from the author himself.

But I have two things to say in response to this. First, while I did say that it wasn’t my goal to offer new hypotheses or material to scholarly discussions (but rather to make the discussions available to a non-scholarly audience), I was being a bit modest. The truth is there are important arguments that I make in Human Faces of God that I think are original contributions to scholarship. Burk no doubt did not identify them when he read the book, and I won’t guess as to why he failed to do so.

Second, see, from my perspective (and I do believe that my perspective is really quite sane here), writing a scholarly book that doesn’t offer radical new hypotheses is a good thing. In scholarship, at least as I was trained by Christopher Rollston, “new” is often a euphemism for “irresponsible.” That’s not to say that advances aren’t made in scholarship, and that new hypotheses aren’t essential to coming to a consensus. It’s just to say that most of scholarship consists of restating what’s already been said but with different details in different contexts. While every generation or so in a given field, some groundbreaking work will be done by one or two scholars, in every generation, most of the scholars who attempt to do groundbreaking work find themselves suddenly on the fringes of the academic community. (#coughtabor.) So from my point of view, taking the consensus, and restating it, either for new audiences, or in the context of a new question, is the meat and potatoes of scholarship (forgive the metaphor, vegans). It’s what most scholars do with themselves, most of the damn time. And I most certainly wasn’t going to be caught dead doing anything else with my first book. It’s called being sane.

Thus, the fact that I am articulating consensus positions in a popular voice (and in a clearer way, in some cases, than I think has been done before), does not mean that my arguments are “well-worn,” as in “hackneyed” or “outdated.” It means, rather, that the scholarly consensus, for the most part, stands firmly behind me as I make my case. In any other world but the world of fundamentalism, that’s rather a good thing.

Now, Burk’s first distortion is rather mild and may just be a case of a bad grammatical choice, but it’s a distortion that is repeated several times subsequently, so while I can give him a pass here, I won’t be able to do so later. Burk writes, “Stark hopes his book will speak to Christians who struggle with biblical inerrancy and who have not found answers to their questions about the Bible. Stark wants them to know an ‘alternative way of being Christian’—a way that vehemently rejects the Bible as inerrant (xviii).”

I do not in fact “reject the Bible as inerrant.” Rather, I reject the inerrancy of the Bible, while embracing the Bible in its entirety, in various different ways, as Burk knows, but will obfuscate later. He should not have said, “vehemently rejects the Bible…” but rather, “vehemently rejects the doctrine of inerrancy.”

Now immediately on to other distortions. Burk writes, “Chapter one contends that the Bible is ‘an argu­ment against itself’ and is hopelessly self-contra­dictory (1).” Burk here actually changes my vocabulary inside a supposed quote. I do not say that the Bible is an argument against itself. I say that the Bible is an argument with itself. That may appear a minor distinction, but the implications are significant. “Against” itself has a much more negative connotation. “With” itself was my choice of words precisely because I am, with John Collins, characterizing the debate that takes place within the pages of the Bible as a healthy thing. If I had actually said that the Bible was an argument against itself, my meaning would have been that the Bible nullifies itself, which I do not believe. Moreover, “hopelessly self-contradictory” is again Burk’s choice of words, not mine, and mischaracterizes the portrait I am painting. I think Burk’s mischaracterizations here are probably just due to his inability to understand my actual position; an inability to come around to seeing that a Bible with contradictions can actually be a good thing. That I think it is a good thing is abundantly clear in a number of places throughout Human Faces. It’s clear in my approving quote of John Collins at the beginning of chapter 1, where Collins says that the Bible is a “collection of writings that is marked by lively internal debate and a remarkable spirit of self-criticism.” See. That’s a good thing. Again at the end of chapter three, I argue that the Bible is not the problem; the problem rather is the artificial construct of inerrancy and the limitations it imposes upon us as moral agents. The solution is to go back to a more ancient way of engaging the biblical texts, which is the form of engagement modeled within the texts themselves, that is, one of engaging in an ongoing argument, with ourselves, and with certain biblical texts. The Bible doesn’t present us a single point of view, but offers us options, and encourages us to struggle to find God in the mix. To engage in that argument with the text, from my perspective, is to participate in the oldest of biblical hermeneutical traditions. And it is the process of the struggle and the argument itself that makes us into properly moral agents. That this is my perspective is abundantly clear, but it is a perspective that becomes distorted in Burk’s fundamentalistic recasting of my argument.

Burk continues to summarize chapters two through ten in one-sentence each. They are more or less accurate, with the exceptions of his descriptions of chapters five and six. Burk writes, “Chapter five attempts to demonstrate the moral inferiority of the Bible by showing that the authors believed in the ‘nobility and efficacy of human sacrifice’ (99).” This is a fairly obvious distortion that Burk could have easily avoided by adding the qualifier “some of” before “the authors,” but this is a distortion that Burk produces consistently throughout his review, as he continually fails to acknowledge that I see different perspectives at work in the Bible. Without fail, he characterizes my criticisms or descriptions of some biblical authors as criticisms or descriptions of “the authors” of the Bible, or simply, “the Bible.” This creates a serious misunderstanding and the primary point of a book review is to inform people who have not read a book about its contents. Anybody who has not read my book will come away from Burk’s review with a very distorted picture of the very clear and consistent view of Scripture that I articulate from the first page to the last. And anybody who has read my book will know that Burk’s review distorts my view. This is unfortunate. For instance, there’s no way that Burk could have even skimmed my chapter on human sacrifice in the Bible without realizing that I argue that the voices that see human sacrifice to Yahweh as noble are earlier voices that were drowned out by later voices from the seventh century on, and it is these voices which became the orthodox ones on the issue. But Burk’s review will lead the reader to believe that I argue that “the authors of the Bible” think that human sacrifice is noble, which makes me sound like a nutcase, which of course works well to Burk’s advantage. Go figure.

And his one-sentence summary of chapter six, while not technically inaccurate, is a bit misleading: “Chapter six highlights ‘Yahweh’s Genocides’ in the Old Testament and concludes that God never commanded such things as the conquest of Canaan.” While it’s true that this is what I conclude, Burk’s description may easily lead the reader to think that my conclusion is based upon a textual argument. But it is not. Rather, it is based upon a moral argument, and on the working assumption that the true God is a moral God. In other words, if the genocides cannot be morally justified (as I extensively argued in one of the longest chapters in the book), and if God is unswervingly moral, then it is not very likely that these genocidal commands came from God. I believe that they did not, because of these two premises, and not because of any textual argument.

From here on out, Burk’s deceptive and distorted statements begin coming in full force, one after the other. As I said at the outset, I would chalk these up to a simple inability on Burk’s part to comprehend a paradigm different than his own, were the distortions not so blatant and, indeed, deliberate. It is almost as if Burk feels he needs to rewrite my book in order to make it easier to dismiss. But certainly an accurate summary, and criticisms of my actual positions, would be more useful and still well-received by his fundamentalist target audience. I just see no justification for Burk’s maneuvers, not even a pragmatic justification. What this displays to me is the profound cynicism embedded into the fundamentalist worldview.

After his single-sentence summaries of my chapters, Burk launches into an attack on a flagrantly straw-man version of my concluding chapter. He writes:

“It is in this final chapter that the futility of Stark’s quest comes into full view. After nine chapters of attacking the historical, theologi­cal, and moral authority of the Bible, he thinks he can offer a way of reading the Bible that will preserve it as Christian Scripture for the church. Since the biblical text taken on its own terms has an ‘evil,’ ‘devilish nature’ that reveals God to be a ‘genocidal dictator’ (218, 219), Stark argues that the only way to read the Bible faithfully is to read it as ‘condemned texts.’”

The distortion here is flagrant. Burk describes me as arguing that “the biblical text” (singular!) has an “evil,” “devilish nature,” that reveals God to be a “genocidal dictator.” He has the nerve to claim that my proposition is to read “the Bible” (singular!) as “condemned texts.” Not only is this utterly deceptive, it is profoundly cynical. As Burk (and anyone who skims my book) well knows, I argue that some texts in the Bible depict God in “evil” and “devilish” ways. At the same time, I show that other texts dissent from these portraits of God and portray God in a morally consistent way. It’s in the very title of my book, The Human Faces (plural!) of God. There is not, on my view, any “God of Scripture.” There are different depictions of God, by different authors in the Bible, and not all of them are in agreement with one another. I argue this from chapter one to the very end. Burk could not have missed it; instead, he opts to utterly hide this fact from his audience. Even when he summarizes my characterization of the Bible as an argument, as we noted, he mischaracterizes this as an “argument against itself.” The reader of Burk’s review has no way of knowing what the very premise of my book is.

And Burk picks up my strong language, again in an effort to discredit me in the eyes of the pious evangelicals. Stark called God evil? Devilish? Anathema! But of course, I did not call God evil or devilish. I argued that there are some wonderful depictions of God in the Bible, and some morally deficient depictions of God in the Bible, and I gave argument after argument in order to support my conclusion that some of these depictions of God are morally deficient. It’s not a conclusion I came to lightly. But the Stark of Burk’s fictional world is a God-hater. In reality, of course, I stand in a long tradition, going back to many of the biblical authors themselves, of believers who in their zeal to honor God have in no uncertain terms rejected deficient depictions of God. I even cited prominent orthodox figures from church history in whose tradition on this I stand.

For instance, I quoted at length from Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, one of the chief architects of the doctrine of the Trinity, and a thoroughly orthodox theologian by any current standard bearing the name. Gregory found a huge moral problem with the tenth plague (the slaughter of Egypt’s firstborn children). In his Life of Moses, Gregory asks, “How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian (Pharaoh) acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right and his left. The infant lifts his eyes only to his mother’s nipple, and tears are the sole perceptible sign of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies pleasure by smiling. If such a one now pays the penalty of his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries: The man who has sinned is the man who must die and a son is not to suffer for the sins of his father? How can the history so contradict reason? (Mos. 2.91)”

Gregory argues that if we are to understand the tenth plague as actual history, then God would have been a perpetrator of a gross injustice. He states in no uncertain terms that there is no holiness in the slaughter of the firstborn, no piety, no justice. He emphatically avers that such a plague would be contrary to moral reason itself. To put it in contemporary terminology, Gregory is arguing that if the tenth plague is historical, and God actually killed the firstborn of Egypt, then God is a moral monster. So much for Burk’s insinuation that I’m a God-hater who comes to the conclusions I come to because I’m disgruntled. Rather, it is my zeal for God that compels me to condemn certain (but certainly not all) texts in the Bible as immoral depictions of God, in Gregory’s words, depictions not “worthy of God.”

Gregory’s solution, of course, is to opt for an allegorical reading of this passage, because morality demands that we reject a historical reading. And as I state clearly in my book, while I am sympathetic with Gregory’s approach and appreciate its intent, I ultimately believe that allegorical readings don’t solve the problem; they just sweep the problem under the rug by changing the subject. That’s not to say that I think we should never use allegory, but my position, as I argue in the book that Burk didn’t review, is that we must first have confrontational readings, much as Gregory’s confrontation with the tenth plague text.—As I stated clearly in the book, it’s not that allegorical readings are a problem in and of themselves (except for the Chicago inerrantists who insist on a historical-grammatical reading). Allegorists like Origen and Gregory consciously chose allegorical readings for texts where the biblical morality could not be salvaged. The problem with them is that over time, this original moral consciousness is lost on subsequent generations, and only the allegories remain, which has the effect of sweeping the moral problems under the rug.—Moreover, just as I do, Gregory used scripture against scripture. He cited Ezekiel favorably in order to condemn a historical reading of the passage in Exodus. And Gregory’s position is mine as well. The Bible has different perspectives, and we can be enlightened enough by the good perspectives in order to identify and confront the bad ones, just as Gregory and so many others of our forebears have done before us.

But according to Burk, I argue that “the Bible” is a condemned text, and that “the God of Scripture” is devilish. This is a monumental deception, and if you’re not convinced that Burk is being deceptive (maybe he’s just being dense), then let’s proceed to his very next sentence:

“It will be useful to read Stark’s prescribed hermeneutic in his own words: ‘[The Bible] must be read as scripture, pre­cisely as condemned texts. Their status as condemned is exactly their scriptural value. That they are con­demned is what they reveal to us about God. The texts themselves depict God as a genocidal dicta­tor, as a craver of blood. But we must condemn them in our engagement with them’ (218).”

The comic irony here is that while Burk claims to be offering “Stark’s . . . own words,” Burk deliberately changes my words and gives them a radically different meaning. So much for my “own words” being “useful.” Burk quotes me: “[The Bible] must be read as scripture, pre­cisely as condemned texts.” And he inserts his own words (“The Bible”) into brackets in place of my actual word. My actual word was “they” (plural, not singular) and “they” referred to certain biblical texts, like the text that Gregory rejected on moral grounds. “They” emphatically did not refer to “the Bible” as a whole, but for some reason, this is the narrative that Burk wants to spin, and he goes so far as to deliberately change my words in a direct quote in order to spin this narrative. I’ll quote the preceding portion of this section of my book in order to make it clear to any interested parties what I was really saying:

The question looms: what are we to do with those texts we find ourselves wanting to condemn? While the scriptures advocate monotheism, the dissolution of the sacrificial system, and the love of enemy, they also advocate a polytheistic tribalism, human sacrifice, and religiously motivated genocide, among other deplorable things. What should our strategy for dealing with these damnable texts be? Should we simply ignore them? Excise them from our canon? The only honest answer to the question I have been able to come up with is this: they must be retained as scripture, precisely as condemned texts. Their status as condemned is exactly their scriptural value. That they are condemned is what they reveal to us about God. The texts themselves depict God as a genocidal dictator, as a craver of blood. But we must condemn them in our engagement with them—sometimes with guidance from other passages of scripture, sometimes without. That they stand as condemned is what they mean for us as scripture. (217-18)

Burk can reject this approach to Scripture. In fact, that’s what I would expect him to do. What I wouldn’t expect, however, is for him to fail even to engage my approach, but rather to distort it into a different approach altogether, so that he can portray me as a more radical critic than I actually am, to the good pleasure of his constituents.

Burk continues: “Stark anticipates an objection: If the texts deserve cen­sure, then why pay attention to them at all, much less give them some kind of authoritative, canoni­cal status? He answers:

To do so is to hide from ourselves a potent reminder of the worst part of ourselves. Scripture is a mirror. It mirrors humanity, because it is as much the product of human beings as it is the product of the divine…. It mirrors our best and worst possible selves. It shows us who we can be, both good and evil, and everything in between. To cut the condemned texts out of the canon would be to shatter that mirror. It would be to hide from ourselves our very own capacity to become what we most loathe. It would be to lie to ourselves about what we are capable of. It would be to doom ourselves to repeat history (218-19).

“So Stark says that the church must appropriate Scripture’s regulative authority in two ways: one, it must face head-on the Bible’s moral and theologi­cal deficiencies, and two, reject for its own life the negative examples in the Bible. In other words, the church should learn to shun the evil ways of the God of Scripture.”

Another flagrant deception. Burk knows full well that I argue that there are multiple depictions of God in the collected works that we call Scripture. I do not believe in a “God of Scripture.” I contend that there are “Gods” in the collected works that comprise the Bible, and some of them are good depictions of God, while others are morally or theologically deficient, for reasons I have provided in detail, none of which Burk has engaged in his “critical review.” So again, the reader of Burk’s review will come away with the false impression that I reject both “the Bible” and “the God of Scripture,” when in fact that is not what I do at all. Burk cannot but impose his own fundamentalist view of the Bible onto me in his attempts to discredit me. Once again, the problem is not with me, or with the Bible, but with the fundamentalist approach to the Bible. Burk’s fundamentalist mind seems to be incapable of even entertaining a perspective other than his own. He is forced to cast me as his opposite within the same fundamentalist paradigm, rather than rightly identifying me as someone with a different paradigm altogether.

Burk continues: “Stark gives several illustrations of how his her­meneutic works out in practice. Since Scripture reveals that both polytheism and monotheism underwrite ideologies of slavery, war, genocide, and racism, the church must reject both poly­theism and monotheism. Instead, Christians should embrace a new ‘conception of the divine nature’—one that recognizes its non-trinitarian ‘plurality’ (221).”

Yet more flagrant distortion, made possible by the insertion of words into my mouth that I never uttered. First, I never stated that what we needed was a “new” conception of the divine nature. “New” is Burk’s word. And neither am I rejecting monotheism, although I’ll allow for some honest misunderstanding here. I am not rejecting monotheism, but critiquing aspects of its origins on the theological scene. Perhaps Burk just can’t fathom that I can be critical of how a perspective came into existence historically (for dubious political reasons) without rejecting that perspective wholesale.

But here’s the real distortion. Burk claims that my “new” conception of the divine nature is one that recognizes its “non-trinitarian” plurality. “Non-trinitarian?” Again, Burk has put words in my mouth that totally distort my actual position. What he describes as my “non-trinitarian” conception of a divine nature in plurality is actually my description of Trinity! My words:

The inadequacies of the text reveal the need for a conception of divine nature that is difference in harmony, unity in diversity. The divine is not one, but neither—in its plurality—is the divine at odds with itself. Thus, while polytheistic and monotheistic conceptions of God have been exposed as mirror reflections of our worst selves, a conception of the divine as difference in harmony represents an ontology—a divine reality—that calls upon humanity to better itself and to become the mirror image of the sacred reality.

I’ll grant again that my words are open to some misunderstanding, but part of that is intentional in order to challenge the reader to stretch a “well-worn” paradigm. But never did I use the term “non-trinitarian,” and while I did say that the divine is “not one,” I also described it as “unity in diversity.” Last time I checked, “unity” means “oneness.” So Burk’s misunderstanding just comes from a refusal to accept the challenge my language presented. When I said that the divine is not “one,” I was referring back to my earlier critique of monotheism as an originally imperialistic ontology. If my language is confusing to Burk, my response is that all Trinitarian language is similarly confusing. That’s because we’re talking about God. So deal with it.

Burk continues: “Since Scripture affirms the nobil­ity of human sacrifice, Christians should recog­nize their own evil propensity for human sacrifice. Once again in Stark’s own words,

Yet we continue to offer our own children on the altar of homeland security, sending them off to die in ambiguous wars, based on the irrational belief that by being violent we can protect our­selves from violence. We refer to our children’s deaths as “sacrifices” which are necessary for the preservation of democracy and free trade. The market is our temple and must be protected at all costs. Thus, like King Mesha, we make “sacri­fices” in order to ensure the victory of capitalism over socialism, the victory of consumerism over terrorism (222).”

A couple of things should be noted here. First, again, Burk has stated that my position is that “Scripture” affirms the nobility of human sacrifice. But of course, my actual position is that some earlier texts within Scripture affirm the nobility of human sacrifice (to Yahweh only), while others from later periods reject the institution of human sacrifice as immoral. Once again, Burk has hidden from view a major and crucially significant aspect of my argument.

The other thing I’ll point out is how transparent Burk’s motivation for quoting this particular excerpt from my book is. He is writing to a conservative Evangelical audience, for whom U.S. wars and so-called “free trade” are as sacred as the doctrine of inerrancy itself. So Burk doesn’t have to comment on this quote; he just has to quote it, and I’m further discredited in the eyes of many if not most of his constituents. The irony of course is that I’m the one here actually critiquing worldly values that contradict both Hebrew Bible (economic) and New Testament (economic and peacemaking) values.

Burk continues with a left-handed compliment: “This is a learned book that is well acquainted with critical biblical scholarship.” My book is, for Burk, acquainted with “critical” scholarship, but not well enough acquainted with fundamentalist scholarship. As if I didn’t undergo four years of training in fundamentalist scholarship at my conservative Bible College. Burk continues:

“Nevertheless, for a number of reasons, The Human Faces of God does not deliver on what it promises. Stark attempts to offer both a convincing case against inerrancy and a viable, alternative way of reading the Bible as Christian Scripture. He fails at both aims.”

It will be interesting to see how Burk supports his claim that I failed at both aims, especially how he supports his claim that I failed the second. But first the first:

“None of the arguments that [Stark] offers against inerrancy are new (as he himself acknowledges on page xvii), yet he treats his interpretation of the material as if it were the settled scholarly con­sensus.”

Actually, while I did say something like this, the fact remains that I have carried some of the debates forward in new ways, for instance in my discussion of the David and Goliath legend, and in my extensive critiques of the genocide apologists, as well as in my extensive critique of Tom Wright’s reading of the Olivet Discourse. But whatever. Nothing new. That’s apparently a criticism. (See why that’s ridiculous above.)

Burk continues: “He promises to pay inerrantists the ‘deep respect of extensively engaging their arguments’ (xvii) and then neglects to interact with leading scholars who have defended inerrancy over the last thirty to forty years.”

Now this, I am forced to say, reflects Burk’s agenda very clearly, and an actual problem with my statement about engaging inerrantists not at all. The reason this reflects Burk’s agenda is because this is an initial criticism he made of my book several months ago, before he had finished reading it, to which I responded on his blog. In that early blog post, Burk quoted me saying that I wished to pay inerrantists the deep respect of extensively engaging their arguments, and wrote in response: “I have to say that I am forearmed against believing that Stark will meet the ideal of that last sentence. I have just perused Stark’s bibliography, and there is not a single reference to the work of Greg Beale, Timothy Ward, D. A. Carson, or John Woodbridge. Has he really paid his respects? It doesn’t sound like it. So far, not so good.”

But in the comment thread I responded directly to this criticism, which is based upon a misunderstanding of my statement. I wrote: “I had in mind my extensive engagement with different Evangelical apologists, Denny, such as Christopher Wright, Tom Wright, Gleason Archer, Walter Kaiser, Norman Geisler and the other drafters of the CSBI, etc. But many of the arguments made by your favored apologists are not original to them, and are of course addressed in my book as well. I look forward to reading your book review.” In a later comment, I stated again, “I’m sure Denny will have much to say by way of criticism, but it’s probably not the best idea to critique it for being something other than what Denny ostensibly expected it to be.”

I then wrote: “The main object of my criticism when it comes to inerrancy is the CSBI, and that’s because of the controversial role it has played in recent years within the ETS. I engage the CSBI extensively, and that took up enough space. Moreover, my arguments there cover the kind of argument Beale makes when he tries to prove inerrancy by arguing that certain texts claim something like inerrancy. At any rate, the quote Denny pulled from my preface says that I engaged ‘extensively’ with Evangelicals, not ‘exhaustively.’ Denny’s rhetoric depends upon a conflation of those two domains. I’m sorry if I disappointed him, but again, I think this has more to do with Denny’s own expectations than anything I actually claimed about the content of the book. Nevertheless, I still look forward to his review. I expect that after he’s finished reading it, he’ll have a better grasp of the approach I’m taking and the primary arguments I’m making. It’s difficult to have a whole perspective based on having read the preface and bibliography.”

Apparently I was wrong. Or rather, even after acknowledging my response to this misguided criticism, Burk was not diverted from his agenda of portraying me as dishonest by claiming to engage inerrantists extensively, which I in fact did. Burk is certainly within his rights to critique me for not engaging his pet inerrantist scholars, but he’s being deceptive by trying to pit my selected bibliography against the statement in my preface, once he had been informed that he was misreading my intent. Once again, “authors intended meaning” doesn’t always play a role in fundamentalist hermeneutics. But let’s move on and address Burk’s specific concerns about whom I failed to engage in my book.

Burk writes: “For example, Stark lodges extensive complaints against New Testament authors’ use of the Old Testament (19-20, 29), yet he has not one word of interaction with the work of Greg Beale or other inerrantists who have done extensive work in typology.”

Burk seems to think my discussion of pesher is some sort of attack on the Bible. Rather, what I’m doing is describing the hermeneutic operative in the late second temple period. My aim here isn’t to discredit the Bible but simply to describe the hermeneutic that was operative among many apocalyptic sects, such as the Qumran sect, and the Jesus movement. The actual response of many of my readers, even those who aren’t Christians, was very positive in the sense that they were able to see that, for instance, when Matthew alluded to Isaiah 7 in his virgin birth narrative, Matthew wasn’t “abusing” the text; he was simply doing what biblical interpreters did in his day. This is only a problem for the specific brand of inerrantists who insist upon a strict historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture. But my point was that that is a foreign imposition onto the text that isn’t at home in the world of the late second temple writers. So many of my readers were able to look at Matthew with new eyes; even some who formerly thought Matthew was just a bad or dishonest interpreter came to appreciate him for what he really was: a first century Jewish author operating as first century Jewish authors operated, and with a good deal of artistry. The reason I didn’t engage with fundamentalist perspectives on “typology” is because that would have been peripheral to the point of this section in my book, which in my mind was a point that very much respected the biblical text. I could engage Beale in another context, and point out all the reasons why much of his language hasn’t been adopted by the consensus, or I could write the book I set out to write. So Burk’s criticism just misses the point.

He continues: “Stark dismisses out of hand the notion that inerrancy is the established position of the church (17, 32), yet he has not one scintilla of interaction with John Woodbridge’s work (nor does he cite the Rogers and McKim pro­posal).”

Now this is ridiculous. I do not “dismiss out of hand” the notion that inerrancy is the established position of the church. I provide numerous reasons why it’s not as simple as all that. I’ve read Woodbridge’s book and the Rogers and McKim book twice each, but I didn’t cite them because I think both approaches are very much wrongheaded. The debate they have between them goes in all sorts of directions it doesn’t really need to go, so to engage them would have been, from my perspective, a huge diversion. The incontrovertible fact is that, for much of church history, while certain important figures made statements about the infallibility or inerrancy of the Bible, they did not share the Chicago inerrantists’ commitment to a historical grammatical hermeneutic, and that makes all the difference. This is a fact which Woodbridge bungles in his work. And this is a point I made very clearly and with extensive primary-source support in my book.

Recall our discussion just above of Gregory of Nyssa, a hugely important figure for early orthodox Christianity. The Bible could be inerrant for him, but emphatically and clearly not in the same way it was for the Chicago inerrantists, because for Gregory, the historical-grammatical reading of certain texts could produce an image of God that is morally reprehensible and must be rejected. Thus, he opted for allegory, which the Chicago inerrantists (due to their apparently unconscious commitment to a modernist epistemology) emphatically reject. So here’s one big case where church history is at odds with the claims made by these modern-day inerrantists. And I detailed others as well in my book.

Origen does precisely the same thing as Gregory: he is confronted with a text that on a historical-grammatical reading is offensive, a text that portrays God in ways that are not worthy of God. (For Origen, it was the Canaanite conquest texts.) He confronts these texts as immoral, and denies that a literal interpretation is possible, if the Bible’s authority is to be preserved. So, like Gregory, Origen opted for an allegorical interpretation, which the Chicago inerrantists reject. And as I pointed out in my book, even Augustine, who had a change of mind on allegory, and later adopted a “literal” hermeneutic, still did not have a commitment to a historical-grammatical hermeneutic. For Augustine, as I showed, the “literal” meaning of the text was not the same thing (necessarily) as the historical-grammatical meaning. In fact, even up until Luther, the “literal” meaning was understood as the theological meaning, which sometimes corresponded to the historical-grammatical meaning, but certainly not always. This is incontrovertible, and is the established consensus position of actual patristic scholars the world over.

I studied these issues under Prof. Paul Blowers (PhD. Notre Dame), who served as vice-president and then as president of the North American Patristics Society. Dr. Blowers himself has written quite extensively on patristic hermeneutics, and I had discussions with him about just this issue as I was writing my book. The fact is (as I showed amply well), while the fathers did make statements about the authority of scripture, the infallibility of scripture, and in a few cases about the inerrancy of scripture, their hermeneutic was so radically different from the Chicago inerrantists that what we actually have are two very different doctrines of inerrancy, one in which the Bible is authoritative or inerrant, but its “inerrant” meaning may not be the historical-grammatical meaning, and one in which the Bible must be deemed inerrant in a strictly historical-grammatical sense.

Of course, Burk discloses none of my extensive discussion of these issues to his readers. Rather, he lies by stating that I simply “dismiss out of hand” the view that I spend several pages undermining. So I do apologize if Burk was offended by the fact that I didn’t refer to Woodbridge, even though my arguments had people like Woodbridge in mind. But what we see here is not a deficiency in my argument, as much as a tactic employed by Burk to make me look uninformed, a tactic which also has the virtue of hiding all the actual information I provided from his readers.

Burk continues: “I daresay that there is not a single objec­tion to inerrancy that he raises that has not already been ably answered in the relevant literature. Yet Stark goes right on as if his case is the only one to be made.”

This is of course hogwash. How can I be “going right on as if my case is the only one to be made” when I’m arguing against other cases the whole time? Pure rhetorical maneuvering here. And as for this claim that there is “not a single objection to inerrancy . . . that has not already been ably answered in the relevant literature,” all I can say is, citations please! Where is the inerrantist, for instance, who “ably answers” my point in the David and Goliath text that while all of the Philistine giants had Philistine names of Indo-European (and not Semitic) origin, we’re supposed to believe that Goliath’s parents named his brother “Lachmi,” a Hebrew word meaning “my bread,” which is actually taken from the word “Bethlechem” as it appears in the original version of the story? Who has “ably answered” this objection? I could go on with a list a mile long of objections I made that I know have not been “ably answered.” But of course, as I showed in my book, for an inerrantist, any “possible” answer that preserves inerrancy is to be preferred to any “plausible” answer that disproves inerrancy. Yes, yes, inerrantists are forever writing “answers” to the challenges posed to their worldview by consensus scholarship. Why then does the scholarly consensus not affirm inerrancy? It must be a massive liberal conspiracy.

Burk now attempts to provide an actual example of a case where I “trot out old objections that have already been answered.” Of course, for his sole example he selects a text that is entirely peripheral to my main arguments, and he also completely misunderstand the nature of my argument in this section, but we’ll get to that. Burk writes:

I could multiply examples in which Stark trots out old objections that have already been answered, but I will limit myself to just one. In an attempt to show that inerrantists do not really accept the Bible’s literal sense, he appeals to 1 Tim­othy 2:12-14 and the fact that many inerrantists allegedly reject Paul’s teaching that women are “inherently more susceptible to deception” (16- 17). Stark says that “the most common strategy to explain away this blatant misogyny” is to impose a distinction between the cultural and the universal (41). For Stark, this is prima facie evidence that inerrantists cannot accept what the Bible really teaches and that they do not practice the herme­neutic that the Chicago Statement preaches. Yet anyone familiar with the literature knows that this is not the “most common strategy” used by inerrantists in dealing with this text. Stark appears oblivious to the work of Doug Moo, Tom Sch­reiner, and many others who argue on exegetical grounds that the prohibition on female teachers has to do with the order of creation, not with the relative gullibility of women.

All right. Let’s break this down. First, another distortion. Burk writes, “In an attempt to show that inerrantists do not really accept the Bible’s literal sense, he appeals to 1 Tim­othy 2:12-14 and the fact that many inerrantists allegedly reject Paul’s teaching that women are ‘inherently more susceptible to deception’ (16- 17).” By quoting my words, “inherently more susceptible to deception,” Burk has made it seem as though I have argued that inerrantists reject “Paul’s teaching” (in Burk’s words). But no. Obviously the majority of inerrantists don’t believe that this is what the author of Timothy is saying. So, contrary to Burk’s characterization, I am not saying that inerrantists are “rejecting Paul’s teaching.” Rather, they argue that Paul is teaching something else. That’s my whole point. That the author of Timothy taught that women are “inherently more susceptible to deception” is my position, not that of most inerrantists, although I do know quite a number of inerrantists who interpret this passage correctly and agree with it!

Next point: “Stark says that “the most common strategy to explain away this blatant misogyny” is to impose a distinction between the cultural and the universal (41). For Stark, this is prima facie evidence that inerrantists cannot accept what the Bible really teaches and that they do not practice the herme­neutic that the Chicago Statement preaches. Yet anyone familiar with the literature knows that this is not the “most common strategy” used by inerrantists in dealing with this text.”

This is incredible. Burk has tried to correct my statement that the “most common” strategy among inerrantists is to take the cultural vs. universal route. He objects by pointing out a handful of scholars who don’t take this approach. Give me a break. I’m not denying that there are other strategies; that’s in fact implicit in what I said. But go into any mainstream Evangelical church in North America and take a poll: the majority will say that this passage applied to that cultural context, but not to our context today. There are countless evangelical scholars who have argued this over the past several decades. Burk is really stretching to portray me as uninformed. But, Burk has put his foot in his mouth, because Douglas Moo himself (whom Burk cites against me) referred to the cultural vs. universal interpretation as “by far the most popular approach among those who do not think that 1 Timothy 2:12 has general application.”1

Of course, I’m familiar also with Moo et al. who try to do away with the second clause of the author’s justification for his rule that women should be silent in the church. But of course, their arguments fail, and certainly haven’t persuaded the consensus of critical scholars (and “critical” applies to a number of relatively conservative believers as well). Here’s Moo’s argument. I’ll break it up and respond piecemeal:

If the issue, then, is deception, it may be that Paul wants to imply that all women are, like Eve, more susceptible to being deceived than are men, and that this is why they should not be teaching men! While this interpretation is not impossible, we think it unlikely. For one thing, there is nothing in the Genesis accounts or in Scripture elsewhere to suggest that Eve’s deception is representative of women in general.

This objection is only relevant to inerrantists who require that all scripture must agree with itself. Moreover, it ignores the time period and the contemporaneous Jewish literature. In fact, although not for Moo, Ben Sira was a part of the Bible of the earliest Christians. And in Ben Sira we find statements such as this one: “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die” (Sir 25:24). Misogyny was pervasive throughout the Greco-Roman world and in its literature, and it was rampant in second temple Jewish literature as well, in which Eve frequently played the role of the evil woman responsible for all the world’s ills. Eve was representative of the folly of all women as well. This is the case in Ben Sira. Let’s look at the preceding verses of the same passage:

Any iniquity is small compared to a woman’s iniquity; may a sinner’s lot befall her! A sandy ascent for the feet of the aged— such is a garrulous wife to a quiet husband. Do not be ensnared by a woman’s beauty, and do not desire a woman for her possessions. There is wrath and impudence and great disgrace when a wife supports her husband. Dejected mind, gloomy face, and wounded heart come from an evil wife. Drooping hands and weak knees come from the wife who does not make her husband happy. From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die. (Sir 25:19-24)

As is clear, the author attributes the folly of all women to its source in the first woman, Eve. So Moo’s first objection really has no import except to those predisposed to exclude Ben Sira from consideration, even though it was in the canon of the Christians at the time 1 Timothy was written.

And let’s not forget how prominent early Church Father Tertullian understood this passage from 1 Timothy:

God’s judgment on this sex lives on in our age; the guilt necessarily lives on as well. You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam; because of your punishment, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die. And you think to adorn yourself beyond your “tunics of skins”? (CSEL 70.59)

Moo continues:

“But second, and more important, this interpretation does not mesh with the context. Paul, as we have seen, is concerned to prohibit women from teaching men; the focus is on the role relationship of men and women. But a statement about the nature of women per se would move the discussion away from this central issue, and it would have a serious and strange implication. After all, does Paul care only that the women not teach men false doctrines? Does he not care that they not teach them to other women?”

This objection is just a grasping at straws. Citing the woman’s deception in the Garden as a justification for the prohibition of women teaching men is not a “move away” from the point; it’s an argument in support of the point. The argument is that, since man came before woman, a woman ought not to have authority over a man, and since woman was deceived (and not man!), a woman ought not to teach in the church. Note that 1 Timothy 14 actually does say, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived,” which is of course patently false. Adam was deceived, by Eve, who was deceived by the serpent. But moving on from that point, Moo’s objection that this reading doesn’t make sense because, “does Paul care only that women not teach men false doctrines? Does he not care that they not teach them to other women?” is a total red herring, for two reasons: (1) The context is teaching in the church, not just teaching in general. So in the church, if a woman were teaching, she would have been teaching over men and women simultaneously. So Moo’s rhetorical question just misses the point. (2) Paul doesn’t have to be concerned about women teaching other women in the privacy of homes if in fact women are to be in submission to their male masters, which is also Paul’s point, because “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” So Moo’s objections just fail utterly to dispense with this deeply misogynistic perspective enshrined in our canon. The plain fact is, as the consensus holds, the author of 1 Timothy argued that women should not teach in church because they are inherently more susceptible to deception than men, as evinced by Eve, before the fall.

Moo continues:

More likely, then, verse 14, in conjunction with verse 13, is intended to remind the women at Ephesus that Eve was deceived by the serpent in the Garden (Genesis 3:13) precisely in taking the initiative over the man whom God had given to be with her and to care for her. In the same way, if the women at the church at Ephesus proclaim their independence from the men of the church, refusing to learn “in quietness and full submission” (verse 11), seeking roles that have been given to men in the church (verse 12), they will make the same mistake Eve made and bring similar disaster on themselves and the church. This explanation of the function of verse 14 in the paragraph fits what we know to be the general insubordination of some of the women at Ephesus and explains Paul’s emphasis in the verse better than any other alternative.2

But against Moo, we’ll quote Moo:

However, Paul tells us remarkably little about the specifics of this false teaching, presumably because he knows that Timothy is well acquainted with the problem. This means that we cannot be at all sure about the precise nature of this false teaching and, particularly, about its impact on the women in the church—witness the many, often contradictory, scholarly reconstructions of this false teaching. But this means that we must be very careful about allowing any specific reconstruction—tentative and uncertain as it must be-to play too large a role in our exegesis.3

So according to Moo, this must not play too large a role in his exegesis, but after all else fails, he’ll use it to salvage a problematic text. And Moo, who argues that 1 Tim 2:12-14 is not limited to a specific context, but is of universal import, finally winds up arguing that one part of verse 14 was limited to a specific context, even though he argues that Eve’s deception is pre-fall and therefore technically a part of the order of creation argument.4 He also cites 2 Tim 3:6-7 as evidence that women were being deceived by false teachers at Ephesus. Let’s look, indeed, at how women are described by the author there:

For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

What a fair-minded description of women! “Silly.” “Swayed by all kinds of desires.” “Always being instructed, never making up their minds.” “Overwhelmed by their sins.” Sounds remarkably like another women we’ve met in the previous letter, who was used to provide a universal justification for the subordination of women to men: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

Moo hasn’t “ably answered” any objection here. He’s simply providing a way out for inerrantists who don’t really like what this biblical text says about women.

And as for Burk’s claim that I’m apparently “oblivious” to the arguments of Moo et al., that’s of course just nonsense, as I myself entertained Moo’s views back in my fundy days. Burk’s whole criticism here, of course, founders on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of my argument in this section of the book. I’m not arguing that every inerrantist adopts the example inerrantist position I’m providing. But I was offering a long series of different texts and pointing out that every inerrantist will have trouble with at least one of them! Every inerrantist is inconsistent somewhere. If not with 1 Timothy 2, then with one of the other texts I cited, surely. That was point: not that inerrantists don’t exist because they don’t agree with any of these biblical passages, but that inerrantists don’t exist because all it takes is for them to disagree with one! That’s the point I made very explicitly in the book; it’s very clear. And so Burk’s criticism here just displays either that he wasn’t reading me very closely, or that once again he is intentionally distorting my argument in order to make it appear that I’m a little nutty. Once again, I can’t decide which option would be giving him the benefit of the doubt, because neither is very desirable, I wouldn’t think.

Burk now moves to his criticism of my alternative proposal for how to retain these problematic texts in the Bible as scripture:

Not only does Stark fail to produce a convinc­ing argument against inerrancy, he also fails to offer a viable alternative. His proposal to read the Bible as a “condemned” text is clever but transpar­ently bogus. It is a little bit like asking an abused wife to admire her abusive husband because of the “mirror” he provides into her own corruption. It is patently absurd, and I doubt that very many actual churchgoers will be compelled to respect the Bible as “scripture” based on the mountain of deficiencies that Stark alleges. If anything, Stark has given readers more reasons to give up on the Bible altogether.

What Burk does here is to replace my metaphor for the condemned texts with his own metaphor, and then to ridicule his own metaphor as absurd. My metaphor of course was to treat the problematic texts as we do the alcoholic uncle in the family:

Certain texts in our scriptures are like that alcoholic uncle we all know. It is easy enough to avoid the problem. Like the uncle, many of the texts don’t show up on our doorstep very often. But when they do show up (and they inevitably do) they are only going to do damage to the family unless the family is willing to sit down and hold an intervention, to confront the problem directly, and to set the ground rules for interaction within the community. Once these ground rules have been set in place, fruitful interaction between the troublesome text and the faith community becomes possible. The “alcoholic uncle” can continue to be a part of the family, and he can actually learn to participate in unique and fruitful ways, providing he is able to acknowledge that he has, and always will have, the disease. In order to save such texts, they must be confronted, their troublesome nature must be truthfully characterized, and they must be branded for life. Only then will they be able to serve a useful function within the life of the community. . . . The reality is that they are a part of our tradition whether we like it or not. Thus to extricate them from the canon would be a massive dishonesty. In condemning them, we must own them. As participants in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we are responsible for these texts, just as the good family takes responsibility for the alcoholic uncle. In order to mitigate the damage these texts can do—the extent of which history has borne out—we must keep these texts close to us. Casual dismissals of the Crusades and of missionary colonialism as aberrations of the faith fail to take responsibility for the complicity of our scriptures in such moral atrocities. The true modern-day Marcions are those who refuse to take responsibility for the Bible’s role in the violent expansion of Western civilization.

My metaphor is perfectly apt. It’s Burk’s own metaphor that doesn’t fit; and that’s why it doesn’t appear in my book. He clearly just can’t understand the words I wrote (what does that say about his ability to interpret texts he doesn’t like in general?). I’m not suggesting that we should “admire” these morally problematic texts, like “asking an abused wife to admire her abusive husband.” I’m saying we must confront these texts for what they are, but that we must also take responsibility for them, because they’re part of us whether we like it or not. That doesn’t mean we allow them to abuse us, as per Burk’s ridiculous metaphor. On the contrary, I’m saying that they have been abusing us. They’ve been abusing our intellect, our moral integrity, abusing our politics and abusing the Other through us. What I’m calling for is for us to stop letting these texts abuse us, to confront them, but also to allow them to remain as reminders to us that we are always capable of being the abusers. How hard is that to understand? Apparently for Burk, it’s very difficult. In reality, the real abusive husbands in this scenario are the inerrantist pastors and apologists who tell those who are struggling with these morally monstrous texts to suck it up and deal with it. I’ve seen this kind of spiritual abuse over and over and over again, and I’ve seen its devastating effects on Christians all too often. And God damn it, I’ve had enough. Haven’t you?

Burk continues with a final bout of nonsense: “In the end—even though he does not say so in so many words—Stark himself has given up on the Bible.” Actually, if he had been paying attention, exactly the opposite is the case. My position is marked rather by a stanch refusal to give up on the Bible. What I have actually given up on is the debilitating and demoralizing fundamentalist approach to the Bible.

Burk continues: “He confesses that he rejects monotheism and the substitutionary atonement of Christ and that he is not in any sense an orthodox Christian (242).”

No, I have not rejected monotheism. It’s just that Burk has rejected basic reading comprehension. I did not state that I have rejected the substitutionary atonement of Christ; I simply was critical of a bastard but popular version of the biblical doctrine. I understand the doctrine rooted in its Jewishness, not in a medieval Anselmian sense, and I quite like it actually, when properly understood. And I did not say that I was “not in any sense an orthodox Christian.” I said that I am not an orthodox Christian, because no such thing exists—a point obviously lost on Burk.

Burk continues: “We have to conclude that Stark’s approach is less a reading of Scripture than it is a raging against it.”

I agree that Burk has to conclude this. But he doesn’t have to conclude this because it’s true; he has to conclude this because he read a very different book from the one I wrote. It’s his own fundamentalist paradigm that forces him to see things this way. But of course, take a look at the blurbs by all the Christians in the first pages of my book, and on the back, and it’s clear that the Christians there don’t share Burk’s opinion about the nature of my reading of Scripture. I do not “rage against” the Bible. I love the Bible; and because I love it, I am compelled to confront the problematic texts within it, while also being compelled to keep those selfsame problematic texts very close to me, for my own benefit.

Burk continues: “Stark loathes the God of the Bible and filters out any depiction of God in Scripture that does not fit into the Stark moral universe. Stark stands over Scripture as its judge. Indeed, his her­meneutic requires it. And he wants readers to join him in his cynical scrutiny of the Bible. The short­comings of The Human Faces of God, however, are extensive and serious, and there are more than enough reasons for readers not to follow Stark down the dead-end trail that he is walking.”

More cynical waste and distortion. Burk should really be ashamed of himself for writing such a terrible book review. I don’t loathe the God of the Bible. Once again, there are many depictions of God in the Bible, and many of them I absolutely love, many I approve of while they make me yet very uncomfortable, and many of them I condemn, out of zeal for God and justice, which must be the same thing, if God is to be worthy of any praise. And yes, with Gregory, and Origen, and C. S. Lewis, and so many other Christians, there are times when we must stand in judgment over certain parts of the Bible. As Lewis said:

Yes. On my view one must apply something of the same sort of explanation to, say, the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua. I see the grave danger we run by doing so; but the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen as all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.

I happen to stand in a long and serious tradition of Christians who take the Bible seriously by refusing to allow its worst texts to deform our moral integrity as agents of God. Burk thinks that I have “failed” to provide an alternative to his fundamentalism, but all that means is that I have failed to provide a fundamentalist alternative to fundamentalism. He thinks that not many Christians will or ought to follow me on this road. I’m of course following my forebears, going back to the great debaters in the Bible itself: Job, Qohelet, Amos, the author of Jonah, Jesus of Nazareth, and so on. And Burk may not realize it because he lives in a fundamentalist bubble, but when it comes to Christians, my ilk have his ilk outnumbered. Neither of course is he aware of the literally hundreds of emails and messages I’ve received from Christians who have affirmed their solidarity with me or thanked me for helping them salvage a faith crumbling under the oppressive weight of fundamentalist Evangelicalism. And while my faith was never so much in jeopardy as the many I’ve encountered wandering near this road, I too owe a debt to my forebears who have preceded me on it, who have lit this terrifying and oft times ambiguous path with lamps of unflinching candor. If it were a choice between the God of Denny Burk and no God at all, then it would be out of zeal for God that I would proclaim myself an atheist. Fortunately, as the majority of us realize, this sacred world ain’t so goddamned black and white.

  1. Moo, “What Does It Mean Not To Teach or Have Authority over Men?” in Piper and Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), pp. 184. []
  2. Ibid., p. 185, emphasis added. []
  3. Ibid., p. 177. []
  4. Ibid., p. 191n33. []

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. []

Response to J.D. Hughes’s Review

J.D. Hughes has written an interesting review of Human Faces. It mostly consists of restatements of my arguments followed by snide commentary to the effect that my position clearly doesn’t comport with a fundamentalist Christian faith. Yeah, well, no duh. In that sense it’s not a very useful review—anyone can glean that from the blurbs and table of contents. It also contains a small number of attempts to refute a few of my arguments, each of which fails miserably. Nevertheless, I am grateful to Mr. Hughes for taking the time to, sort of, engage my work. I’ll quote his review piecemeal below and respond to each of his statements.

There’s no getting around it, Thom Stark’s book contains rank unbelief.

There is getting around it; I’m not an unbeliever. I’m just not a proponent of inerrancy. If inerrancy is the criterion for being Christian, then I guess I’m an unbeliever. But, for millions of Christians the world over, it isn’t, so I’m not.

What’s so disturbing is that it is written to evangelicals, and is endorsed by (some) evangelicals – and is part of a general trend within the scope of evangelicalism toward what used to be called liberalism. Such a book could never have been written even a decade ago, and it is no coincidence that during this time we’ve seen the emergence of the New Atheism.

I find this claim perplexing. A book like mine couldn’t have been written a decade ago? Hughes must not have been reading books a decade ago. Or two decades ago. Or three decades ago. Or what have you. Books like mine have been on the market for over a hundred years, written by many a believing Christian.

Indeed, Thom Stark must surely have Richard Dawkins’ hearty approval – as he utilizes the very same arguments as Dawkins.

This is false on both counts. First, Dawkins would not approve of my work, since it runs directly counter to his. Second, while Dawkins and I sometimes come to similar conclusions, I am in frequent disagreement with Dawkins’ reading of the Bible, and even where our conclusions converge, the arguments that get us there are usually very different. Dawkins tends toward very superficial readings of the text, as he has no training whatsoever in biblical studies. The comparison to Dawkins tells us more about J.D. Hughes than it does about my book.

I’ve spent the last year or so in regular debate with atheists on Amazon comments threads, and can say with certainty that Stark would be in their camp, not mine! This is truly shocking for a professing Christian.

Well since I’m not an atheist, this is patently false. In fact, the vast majority of the scholarly sources I utilize throughout the book to support my arguments are believing Christians—just, you know, not fundamentalists.

Stark doesn’t believe that Yahweh, as depicted in Scripture, is what God is really like.

Correction: I do not believe that Yahweh, as depicted in some parts of Scripture, is what God is really like. I do believe that Yahweh, as depicted in other parts of Scripture, is what God must really be like. At least, that is the hope I possess.

In fact, according to Stark, Yahweh was something of a ‘junior god’ until coming to prominence in Israel’s later history. This is the sort of thing that is usually proposed by unbelieving academics on BBC television documentaries around Christmas time!

Yeah, the scholarly consensus, even among believing scholars. Shame on them for informing the British public!

There’s a chapter titled, “Making Yahweh Happy”, which is about Yahweh’s approval of child sacrifice – yes, Yahweh wanted the Israelites to sacrifice their children to him.

In some of the earlier texts, this is what was believed about Yahweh, yes. In later texts, no. If we’re going to derisively summarize my arguments without providing counter arguments, let’s at least derisively summarize it accurately.

We read on page 113 about “Yahweh’s meddling.”

According to the text itself, Yahweh intentionally hardened the hearts of the Canaanites and Amorites so that they would not pursue peace with Israel. If Yahweh supernaturally hardened my heart in order to prevent me from doing something good, I’d say he’d have meddled with me. Call it whatever you wish; that doesn’t change what the text says, and my point is not undermined.

We also read on page 114 that “one of Yahweh’s favorite punishments was to force parents to eat their own children.”

Lev 26:27-29.
Ezek 5:8-10.
Jer 19:9.

In each of these texts Yahweh sees fit to punish Israelites by forcing them to eat their own children. If the Yahweh depicted in the Bible didn’t see this as a worthy punishment, why does he keep reiterating it? Of course, I don’t believe God really punished Israel in this way. Rather, Israel’s circumstances brought about the horrible situations in which their children starved to death and their parents had to eat their own children in order to survive. But the point is that the biblical text attributes this reality to the will of Yahweh. Jeremiah goes so far as to say that Yahweh himself feeds the flesh of the children to their parents. Hughes’s problem isn’t with me; it’s with the Bible itself.

Yahweh’s actions are even compared with the psychosis of child killer Andrea Yates (page 120) as part of Stark’s wider response to Christian justification of the conquest of Canaan.

Now this is just false. I didn’t compare Yahweh’s actions to Andrea Yates. I compared Christian apologists’ own justifications of Yahweh’s behavior to Andrea Yates’s justification of her behavior (pp. 117-18). And on p. 120 (which Hughes cites), I was quipping, apparently only in an effort once again to prove that fundamentalist Christians have no sense of humor.

And – last but not least – Yahweh is viewed as a “genocidal dictator” (page 208). Have you spotted the similarities with Dawkins yet?

First, the fact that Dawkins and I come to similar conclusions on some of the issues doesn’t mean I’m using the same arguments as the New Atheists. And of course, my agenda is the opposite of that of the New Atheists. Second, the Yahweh depicted in Deuteronomy and Joshua is in fact a genocidal dictator. (1) He dictates the behavior of his people, making him a dictator. (2) He dictated for his people to commit genocide. Even if one wishes to argue that the genocides were justified, one can hardly object on textual grounds to the way I’ve characterized Yahweh. If Hughes has a problem with genocidal dictators, I don’t know why he’s defending Yahweh. A true defender of Moses and Joshua’s Yahweh would be trying to salvage the term “genocidal dictator” from disrepute. Once again, Hughes’s problem isn’t with me; it’s with the Bible.

Stark can speak this way about Yahweh (i.e. concerning the conquest of Canaan) because apparently God never did command it in the first place – the Israelites rather fabricated the notion that Yahweh commanded it.

Yes, that’s what I argue. We can point to the mounds of evidence I provided that this genocide never in fact took place; it was a literary fiction of the eighth century. Or we can again just derisively summarize my conclusion and leave it at that. It’s not my choice to make.

The chapter dealing with this admittedly difficult subject is cynically titled, “Blessing the Nations” – one of a number of occasions where Stark cannot disguise his sarcasm and contempt for what is recorded in Scripture.

Actually, the sarcasm and contempt is not so much for what’s recorded in Scripture as it is for the arguments employed by modern day biblical apologists to try to justify what’s in scripture. It is people like William Lane Craig who argue that killing Canaanite children was for their own benefit. My contempt is for them. The Bible I’ll happily read contextually and without contempt, as I understand it as a product of its times. Again, the contempt is reserved for those modern-day apologists who wish on the one hand to claim that without Yahweh we could have no morality, and on the other hand to claim that slaughtering hundreds of children for being Canaanite is a kindly service rendered.

It is in this chapter that Stark interacts with Chris Wright on the conquest of Canaan. I know Chris Wright, having attended All Souls, Langham Place for a number of years, and have heard him teach on this very subject. Being an Anglican minister, he is clearly no fundamentalist, and handles Scripture with an integrity and reverence that has no place in Stark’s worldview.

Actually, I demur. I’m positive that I treat Scripture with more integrity and reverence than does Wright, because I’ll allow it to stand as it is without trying to make excuses for it. The irreverent thing is to try to distort the text in order to make it comport with our own moral sensibilities. I offer Scripture a much greater respect when I allow it to stand and state my emphatic disagreement with it than does the minister who would change the text in order to make it more palatable than it really is to us. That said, Hughes has provided no rejoinders to my criticisms of Wright’s misreadings of the texts. He’s simply stated supposedly good things about Wright, and false things about me personally.

On this and other related issues, I would also recommend Paul Copan’s, “Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God”.

I would also heartily recommend Paul Copan’s book. Please read it. And then please read my 350-page critical review of Paul Copan’s book: thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf

There are simply too many issues raised in Stark’s book to respond to in this review, but a quick example of erroneous thinking will suffice.

Terrific. Substance is forthcoming.

Stark contends that the Christian scriptures reinforce the institution of slavery. This is plainly not the case. Slavery was part of the Roman world in which the New Testament was written – but if the N.T. authors approved of slavery, Paul couldn’t have written what he wrote to believing slaves in 1 Corinthians 7:21: “…if you can gain your freedom, do so.”

OK. No substance yet. Just a flagrant mischaracterization of my statement. Note that Hughes (rightly) alludes to my saying that the NT “reinforces the institution of slavery.” But then he goes on to argue against me as if I had said that the NT approved of the institution of slavery. Well, I didn’t. Obviously, anyone from Paul’s class is going to believe it better to be free than a slave. But let’s quote the part of the verse that J.D. Hughes saw fit to leave out. The verse in its entirety says: “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let that trouble you. Of course, if you are able to gain your freedom, then use your freedom [for the kingdom]” (1 Cor 7:21).

I never said that Paul “approved” of slavery, as Hughes implied. What I said was that what the NT has to say about slavery only reinforces the institution. I of course quoted two texts on the page Hughes cited, Colossians 3:22 and Ephesians 6:5, both of which command slaves to obey their masters. Not once does Paul condemn the institution of slavery. I didn’t say he approved of it, but his message reinforces the institution. It exhorts slaves to be better slaves, and, at best, exhorts masters to be kinder masters. I don’t think Paul was intentionally reinforcing the institution; but that’s the effect that putting a kinder face on an immoral institution has. Regardless, telling a slave to take the opportunity to become free should such an opportunity arise is a no brainer, but that doesn’t constitute evidence that Paul opposed slavery as such. Everyone believed it was better to be free than a slave; not everyone believed slavery was immoral. Whether Paul thought it immoral or not is a question he never answered.

Speaking of Paul, this is what Stark has to say about 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and women not leading churches. “The reality is that the author of 1 Timothy was simply the product of a patriarchal society, and was thus blinded to the irony that he himself had been deceived by the misogynist myth of male intellectual superiority. The joke was on him.”. Notice that Stark doesn’t believe that Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy (this is pure liberal Christianity); and notice also that the text says nothing whatever about men being intellectually superior (this is eisegesis, not exegesis). To quote Stark himself – in his own response to a Mark Driscoll quote on page 16 – I see no need for further comment!

First, that Hughes thinks adhering to the consensus position that 1 Timothy is pseudonymous amounts to “pure liberal Christianity” tells us a lot about Hughes but not a lot about reality. The vast, vast majority of NT scholars hold this position, including an exceedingly large number of theological conservatives. Even conservative scholars are in the minority on this one.

Second, as for Hughes’s claim that it is eisegesis to say that 1 Timothy 2:12-14 doesn’t reflect the common belief that males were intellectually superior to females, well, I’ll quote 1 Timothy 2:12-14: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Why did “Paul” say that a woman could not teach? Because Eve was deceived, not Adam. This is an argument from the order of creation. The argument only works on the assumption that Eve’s having been deceived is reflective of a defect inherent throughout all womankind. That is why a woman is not permitted to teach: because they are more susceptible to deception than men. This view was held widely in the ancient world, among Romans and Jews alike. It’s not my fault Hughes can’t follow a biblical argument.

In chapter 8, having already made clear what he thinks about Yahweh, Stark now turns his attention to the person of Jesus. The chapter title is another provocative one: “Jesus Was Wrong”. As far as Stark is concerned, Jesus was merely one of a number of apocalyptic thinkers within Judaism at the time, and on page 160 he likens Jesus to false date-setters William Miller and Hal Lindsey – the reason being that Jesus incorrectly prophesied his 2nd Coming and the end of the world within a generation of his lifetime.

There is a significant mischaracterization here: Hughes says that I say that Jesus was ”merely” one of a number of apocalyptic thinkers. This is in fact false. I think Jesus stands heads and shoulders above them all in terms of his activities and his moral teachings. I don’t think Jesus was “merely” anything. Whereas Hal Lindsey was merely a nutjob.

I did compare him to Lindsey and Miller, but the point of comparison was only one aspect of Jesus’ teaching: his prediction of the imminent end of the world. That doesn’t mean I think (much less that I argued) that Jesus was “merely” another Hal Lindsey. But, like Hal Lindsey, and so many others throughout history, Jesus predicted that the world would end soon, and he was wrong. Nevertheless, Jesus was a lot more than that, and that’s why I strongly disagree with atheist John Loftus’s reverse-fundamentalist view of Jesus. For Loftus, Jesus was not more than a false prophet. For me, Jesus was a champion of justice and truth who got God right a helluva lot more than he got God wrong. I believe so much in Jesus’ message that I’d follow him to the cross even knowing that he would be wrong about when the world would end. But for fundamentalists like Hughes, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. I just can’t understand that kind of thinking. That kind of thinking is so tragic.

This is a big subject, and there is an interplay between futurism (events concerning the end of the age – far horizon) and preterism (events concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70 – near horizon) for any student of Bible prophecy to wrestle with. Rather than live with the eschatological tension, Stark prefers to resort to unbelief and liberalism.

Actually, I would have preferred it if Jesus would not have been wrong. But we can’t always have what we would prefer. We can of course ignore the facts that I established at great length in my 50-page chapter on Jesus’ eschatology and appeal to some sort of ambiguous “tension” that doesn’t exist in the text, and we can do so without mounting a single argument against my presentation of the evidence. But what would that profit anybody?

Stark asserts on page 167 that the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, were the ‘conservatives’ – whereas belief in the resurrection was in fact “theologically liberal”. Most evangelicals would say that it was the other way around!

And that wouldn’t be the first time that most Evangelicals would have been wrong.

Stark contends that belief in the resurrection was a relatively new thing. Granted, there’s not much in the Old Testament about the resurrection (although note Job 19:25-26 and Daniel 12:2 – no doubt Stark will claim that Daniel was written as late as the 2nd Century B.C.).

Yes, “no doubt” I will, since in fact I argue that this is the case in the very book Hughes is supposedly reviewing. Daniel 12 was written in the second century BCE, at about the same time that belief in resurrection began to emerge among Jews. Even conservatives like N.T. Wright have no problem with this. In fact, Wright makes the case for this in his much-beloved-by-conservatives apologetics book on the resurrection of Jesus. And he’s not alone of course. Many conservatives accept the consensus position on the dating of Daniel. Only the most ardent fundamentalists insist it must have been written in the sixth century when the story was set.

As for Job 19:25-26, I’ve already written on this text. I’ll just copy and paste what I’ve written elsewhere:

Job 19:25-27 is often cited as evidence that Job believed in an afterlife, despite the fact that the translation of the pivotal v. 26 is quite difficult, and despite the fact that Job elsewhere denies the possibility of resurrection on more than one occasion. Here I’ll quote from Human Faces of God to save time:

Job contrasts the fate of humans with that of trees. Unlike humans, “there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will grow up again, and that its roots will not die” (Job 14:7). Water can bring a tree back to life, says Job, but when mortal humans die, there is no coming back. “As waters evaporate from the lakebed, as a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down, never to rise again” (14:11–12). Although such a view of mortality may sound like a council of despair for us, for Job, in light of his afflictions, death is the only thing he has to look forward to. Job despairs not in the thought of eternal sleep, but only in the thought of another day among the living. His life is simply biding his time “until my release should come” (14:14). When death comes knocking at Job’s door, he will gladly answer, for only in death will calamity find him no longer (14:15–17). Indeed, Job sees in death an escape from the tormenting hand of Yahweh. “As the cloud fades and ebbs away, so those who go down to the grave do not come up. They will never return to their homes, nor will they be seen again from whence they came” (7:9–10). This fact emboldens Job to accuse Yahweh: “Therefore I will not hold my tongue; I will speak up out of the torment of my spirit; I will protest out of the bitterness of my existence” (7:11). Without restraint, Job indicts Yahweh for unjustly afflicting him. He can do this because he knows that death is near, and that then he will be beyond Yahweh’s reach: “For I shall lie down in the dust of the earth; you will seek me, but I will not be there to be found” (7:21). [Human Faces of God, p. 9.]

So what does Job 19:25-27 say? Well, the NRSV translates it this way:

25For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed [naqaph],
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

Again, the key is the translation of v. 26, and I argue that the NRSV gets it wrong. If his flesh is destroyed, then how would he then proceed to see God, “in his flesh”? But naqaph can mean “peel off, strip off, shake off” or “revolve, recur,” or “round off, trim.” Perhaps the verse should translate, “and after my skin has returned to this [body], I will see God in my flesh.” That would make much more sense of the fact that Job is seeing God “in the flesh.” Another possible translation is this: “and after my skin shall shake off this scab, I will see God in my flesh.” That also makes sense of the fact that Job is seeing God “in the flesh.” And that’s precisely the point here: Job is contending against his companions who are saying that he is at fault. Job demurs, saying that he will in fact live to be vindicated. The redeemer (i.e., vindicator) who lives will stand on the dust “at the last,” i.e., when this ordeal is all over, and Job will be vindicated against his accusers and against God. Job, unlike his wrongful accusers, will get to stand before God as he is vindicated. And, as the very next verses go on to state, Job warns that those who accuse him now will be punished with the sword when he is vindicated. This hardly speaks of a resurrection from the grave. Rather, it clearly speaks of Job’s healing, restoration, and vindication as a righteous man. In fact, this is precisely what happened in the story itself.

Thus, Job 19 says nothing about a bodily resurrection after death, and my position entails that Daniel 12 was one of the first witnesses to the radical new view about life after death that was emerging during times of persecution in Judea. So citing Daniel 12 isn’t an argument against my position.

At any rate, I have no idea why Hughes is so scandalized by this one little statement I made—that the Sadducees were the conservatives and Jesus the radical liberal. I’m speaking perspectivally of course. But there’s hardly anything faith-undermining in this statement. Hughes could just say that Jews didn’t believe in resurrection until the second century because it wasn’t yet revealed to them or something. Leave it to a fundamentalist to harp on a minor issue because calling Jesus a “liberal” is tantamount to calling him a crazed lunatic, or something.

But we need to remember that when affirming the resurrection in his disputation with the Sadducees, Jesus appealed to God’s word to Moses way back at the time of the burning bush encounter – that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Therefore, as far as Jesus is concerned, he is “not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). What’s so significant here is that Jesus took the Sadducees back to the Books of Moses – the very ones that they considered to be authoritative. In other words, they SHOULD have believed in the resurrection of the dead!

Hughes needs to reread my discussion of pesher exegesis on pp. 24-26. Jesus is engaging in pesheresque interpretation of scripture here. I don’t fault him for it. That was the way they did things back then. But Jesus’ argument wouldn’t have held any real weight with Sadducees (or with anyone who wasn’t already inclined to Jesus’ apocalyptic worldview). Jesus’ whole argument hinged on this premise that “God is the God of the living, not the dead.” It’s a purely rhetorical argument. There is no reason biblically, logically, or otherwise why we are forced to accept this premise as a priori true. It’s actually really just a semantic game. “You can’t be the God of something that doesn’t exist. Therefore, Abraham must still be alive if God claims to still be his God.” That’s just semantics. In reality, Yahweh was just identifying himself as the same God who was God over the patriarchs of Israel. Jesus’ response to the Sadducees is as fine an example of pesher as one could hope for. It’s not historical-grammatical exegesis.

Throughout the book, Stark presents his readers with old fashioned unbelief and liberalism. The account of David and Goliath, for example, he claims is one of a number of “invented traditions, ideological and propagandistic in nature” (page 208).

Indeed, the facts become old fashioned so quickly these days. (I’m sorry, if you want a real response, then make a real criticism. If you’re going to simply state my position as if the position itself were proof that I’m wrong, then I’m not going to offer the kind of response I normally would.)

Thom Stark concludes that because the Scriptures are not infallible, and Jesus was not infallible, we therefore have no foundation. Indeed!


He then goes on to suggest that this is actually a good thing because it is more beneficial for our “moral and spiritual development” (page 237). An infallible Jesus is “ultimately just a shortcut” (page 237). I kid you not, that’s exactly what Stark is saying. Presumably, this is why another one of his chapters is titled: “Inerrancy Stunts Your Growth”.

Yes, that is a fair presumption.

But it gets even better – or worse, depending on your perspective – as Stark reassures any despondent believers that we needn’t worry because we have the voices of other religions and atheists to aid us in the process (page 238).

Yes, I’d say “other religions and atheists” is a fair summary of the other voices I listed on pp.238-39. And to prove the fairness of Hughes’s summary, I’ll quote those pages:

Yet while we are without a foundation, we are not left without resources. The truth is that God has given us many resources to use together to struggle toward lives that reflect justice and peace. Our scriptures are some of those resources. The unique witness of Jesus of Nazareth within those scriptures is a resource in its own right. But we have other resources. We have our faculties of reason, our experiences, and the experiences of others. We have the voices of the past, the voices of the present, the voices of our elders, our peers, our children, and our enemies. We have the voices of other religions and the voices of atheists. We have the voices of those who suffer. We also have scientific methods of inquiry. We have critical theory, and philosophy, that help us to subject our own basic assumptions and frameworks of thought to critique. We have the Spirit of God. We have our individual minds, and the organic machinations of our communities. We have resources we know not of.

None of these resources is more basic than any other. Each one possesses the right to critique and the obligation to be critiqued by each of the others. Those who ask whether or how we can trust that these resources will lead us in the right direction are motivated by fear—fear of the unknown, fear of uncertainty, fear of the struggle. But the struggle, the pressing on in the face of uncertainties, the commitment to taking the journey together, as Christians, but more basically and more broadly, as human beings—these are the things that make us the kind of virtuous people our scriptures call us to be. The scriptures do not have to be right about everything in order to be useful. They do not have to be the antithesis of darkness in order to give us light. They are clear and cogent and often times conflicting examples of other communities’ attempts to find God in this world, sometimes by means we should reject, sometimes by means we should embrace, and always by means to which we should pay close attention. They are God’s voice speaking to us, but they are not the only place God speaks.

So, yeah… “Other religions and atheists.” A fair summary.

Which reminds me that Stark has previously spoken of Islam in favourable terms earlier in the book – something else that he has in common with a number of atheists today.

Yes, I must only speak of other religions in unfavorable terms. Mustn’t say anything positive about anybody that doesn’t think just like me! That would be… something… really bad!

Stark triumphantly proclaims: “If God can speak to Balaam through an ass, God can speak to a Baptist through an atheist.”

Yes, I proclaimed this very triumphantly. Immediately after I wrote it I threw my keyboard to the ground and claimed everything within a fifty-mile radius for my unmatched brilliance. I also emailed the sentence to my mom to get her approval.

With all due respect, Thom Stark needs to consider something too – that Satan not only masquerades as an angel of light, but he is very, very clever indeed at using Scripture to further his own purposes. Quite frankly, most Christians who love their Bibles and love their Lord will find this book to be diabolically conceived.

So, in other words, “With all due respect” to Thom Stark, he’s under the influence of Satan. Got it.

Response to Gantt’s Response to My Response to Gantt’s Review

Gantt writes a response to my response to his review here, which further displays his antipathy for the details that make a sentence mean what it means. He has also written an “open letter” to me here, which is yet another adventure in missing the point.

My response to both is: ugh.

No further comment.

Response to Mike Gantt Review

Mike Gantt has written what he seems to think is a scathing review of my book. (It is a review in twelve parts, and begins here.) He has stated on numerous occasions that I won’t be “very pleased” with what he has to say. In response, I’ll start by stating up front that it’s not that I’m not pleased with the criticisms he makes of my book because they’re good criticisms. I’m not pleased with them because they were a complete waste of my time, many of them bordering on unintelligible. His review is long; I’ll give him that. But part of that is due to the repetition of assertions that appeal only to people who already share his views, and that will otherwise persuade no one else. In reality, many of Gantt’s criticisms don’t even apply to my book. He has beaten a number of straw men; he has concocted claims I am supposed to have made; he has displayed a predilection for guessing at my unspoken motives, and in every case, he has misdiagnosed me. It’s really a sad review. So why am I responding? Honestly, because I’m bored, and because I’m procrastinating on projects I ought rather to be doing. With that said, I’ll get to the blah blah blah, whatever.

[DISCLAIMER: My response to Gantt’s review is full of sarcasm. If you’re offended by sarcasm, don’t read the response. It’s as simple as that. In all honesty, it was the only way I could get through this. Call it a character defect if you will. I call it therapeutic. If Gantt had been a little less confident in his armchair diagnoses of my motives, and a little less prone to flagrant caricature of my views, I’d have written a really nice response with all the cordiality appropriate to a constructive dialogue. But since Gantt’s review was more deceptive than constructive, I gave him the responses his criticisms deserved, in my opinion. If you have a different opinion, you’re welcome to it. I’m not really looking for a discussion about it though. I’ve already wasted enough time as it is. So you’ve been warned. By continuing to read, you agree (a) not to be offended by my sarcasm, or (b) that you won’t complain to me about it if you are. If you complain, you’re in violation of the agreement requisite for the reading of this blog post. ]


I am concerned that Thom’s book is obscuring more truth than it is presenting.

That’s a valid concern. Let’s see if it’s my book or Gantt’s review of it that’s doing the obscuring.

As you can tell from the title, the endorsements, the foreword, and the preface, this book presents a liberal Christian view and is an argument against conservative Christianity.

So says Gantt, repeatedly. I’m a “liberal” and the objects of my criticism are “conservatives.” Gantt seems to find these labels useful, even revelatory, throughout his review. But we’ll see as we progress why Gantt’s use of them only serve to obscure the reality of the situation.

My purpose in this review therefore is to stand up for Jesus Christ and for the Scriptures. I believe Thom’s book is destructive of faith in both, even though he may not intend it to be so.

There you have it. At least he’s honest. Gantt’s objective is not to provide an objective analysis of my book, but to “stand up for Jesus Christ and the Scriptures,” because he thinks my book is “destructive of faith in both.” No further comment.

Starting with the subtitle, I do not believe that Scripture “gets God wrong.” Rather, I think we sometimes get Scripture wrong. There’s a world of difference.

I’m glad to know where Gantt stands.

Thom’s great foil in the book is the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy. As I said, I don’t want to intervene in his argument with fundamentalism. Therefore, I’m not interested in defending the Chicago statement (or condemning it either, for that matter). However, I am intensely interested in defending the point of view that Jesus put forth about the Scriptures.

Among other things, Jesus said,
“Scripture cannot be broken.” – John 10:35

He also said something like “even the dots of the i’s and the crossings of the t’s are important” in Matthew 5:17-19. And in Luke 24: 25 “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (italics mine). And there are more references to which we could turn, but I’ll stick with the short and sweet “Scripture cannot be broken” as representative of Jesus’ view.

Think of it this way: Jesus believed that the Scriptures are the word of God. God cannot lie. Therefore, God cannot contradict Himself. Therefore, the Scriptures cannot contradict themselves.

Thus, the view of Thom’s book is at odds with the view of Jesus. I have to choose the view of Jesus as more reliable.

Well, there you have it. Jesus and Thom have different views of Scripture, and so it’s for Gantt a choice between who is more trustworthy—Jesus or Thom. For Gantt it’s a no-brainer. Apt.

Never mind that I discuss at some length Jesus’ view of and usage of scripture. Never mind that I directly confront the issue of whether Jesus’ view of scripture is something we must adopt just because it belonged to Jesus. Let’s ignore all that and appeal to his readers’ loyalty to Jesus.

I have no problem acknowledging the diversity of the Bible’s writings and its authors. But that’s what makes its unity all the more striking. Thom’s book will say that the Bible has many voices. I agree, but where he hears cacophony I hear harmony. And when the subject is Jesus Christ those voices come together in unison: He is the promised Messiah, the Son of God!

If you’re going to follow along to the end, you’d better get used to bald assertions like these from Gantt, and to my non-responses to them.


The title of Thom’s first chapter is The Argument: In the Beginning Was the Words. The point Thom tries to make with this chapter is not just that the Bible contains contradictions, but that it is characterized by them. Wow. I’ve heard people say that the Bible is filled with contradictions (I used to say that myself – before I started reading it), but Thom gets really bold and says it’s so full of competing views that it should be called “the Argument” or “the Words” instead of the “Word.”

What this displays is that Gantt has little to no familiarity with mainstream biblical scholarship. He writes as if this idea were original to me. I’m “really bold” for saying it. Gantt has heard lesser claims, but not the one I make! In other words, Gantt isn’t writing from an informed position. Hell, I quote (believing scholar) John J. Collins to the same effect on the very first page of chapter one. That the Bible is comprised of books arguing with themselves is just taken for granted among biblical scholars. But it’s news to Gantt’s ears, and radical news at that. How about that!

To say that the chapter fails to make its point is to give it too much credit. It is spectacularly unconvincing. It’s clear that Jesus and His apostles did not view the Bible the same way that Thom does.

There you go. Case closed, folks.

It is Thom who contradicts the Bible, not the Bible which contradicts itself. How does Thom contradict it? How about starting with the first sentence of this chapter. In it he alludes to John 1:1, and changes “Word” to “Argument.” In other words, where the apostle John wrote “Word” Thom says “Words.” So, in trying to demonstrate that the Bible contradicts itself, Thom begins by misquoting it.

I’m doing my best to refrain from using certain descriptive nouns here. The nicest way I can think to put it is that I think something important might have eluded Gantt here. Well, a couple of things. “Argument,” first of all, is a perfectly legitimate translation of the Greek word logos. But that’s not my point. That’s just my Greek pun. My point is that before the Scriptures came to be seen as a singular Word, they were really an argument with themselves. That’s a point I make very explicitly. I never would have imagined that anybody would have read my opening sentence and thought that I was trying to fool people into thinking that John meant, “In the beginning was the argument.” But I hadn’t been introduced to Mike Gantt when I wrote that sentence. Had I had Gantt in mind when I wrote the sentence, perhaps I would have included an explanatory footnote, stating: “And here I’m not quoting John, but playfully alluding to him.” I apologize for not realizing the playfulness of my allusion wouldn’t be obvious to everyone. Well, no I don’t. My apology is just as playful.

Thus the contradiction lies between Thom and the Bible, not between the Bible and itself.

A stunning demonstration of the fundamental flaw underwriting my book. Well done, Mike.

In golf, they say you should play the ball as it lies. Thom, however, prefers to pick the ball up and place it on some tuft of grass that gives him a chance to really whack it. That is, he just changes the words of the text to suit the point he wants to make. Not only that, he changes the words so that they will mean the exact opposite of what they meant as written. Thom wants to say that “the Bible is an argument with itself” so he takes a passage that says that the Bible has a clear and focused message about Jesus Christ and changes it to say that it is an argument with itself.

Another awe-inspiring and incisive criticism of my modus operandi.

Let us, however, give Thom the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s not trying to mislead, nor even trying make his point, with these initial words. Let’s assume he’s just introducing the subject in a novel way.

Oh wait. After accusing me of “changing the words of the text to suit the point I want to make,” Mike offers . . . a retraction? A what? I’m not sure. I’m confused. Should I be mad at myself for playing fast and loose with the text, or amused with myself for a good pun? I’m in the dark here. Help!

Thom sets up a hypothetical conflict between Ezra and Amos because he reads ethnocentric strains in one and universal strains in the other. But it’s just that – a hypothetical argument, existing only in Thom’s mind – not in the pages of Scripture.

Gantt seems to think I imagine Ezra and Amos duking it out in a bar. That sure would be something! But no, the argument exists not between the historical persons of Ezra and Amos, but between different schools of thought, schools of thought which Gantt goes on to attempt to reconcile:

How can ethnocentrism be reconciled with universalism? Easily. God chose Abraham that all the nations might be blessed through him. The focus on Abraham is ethnocentric and the focus on the nations is universal. Thus the ethnocentrism is for the sake of promoting universalism. The former is pursued in service of the latter. The Messiah had to be from the line of David precisely so that all folks – whether of the line of David or not, could be saved. Ethnocentrism and universalism are not at odds with each other in the mind of God. They complement one another by virtue of the fact that the former is the means and the latter is the end.

Perfect! Well done, Gantt. Now, let’s just see you reconcile Ezra’s actual view of non-Israelites, not the view you’ve pulled from other sources.

Next, Thom attempts to offer another “contradiction,” this time bringing in the book of Jonah as representative of the universal focus of God, and suggesting that Ezra and his colleagues – by contrast – wanted to “hide [Israel’s] light under a bushel.” Nothing in the book of Jonah challenges the book of Ezra, nor does Ezra challenge Jonah. Thom just reads this “argument” into the text. The only readers persuaded by this sort of thing are those who are looking for confirmation of their belief that the Bible contains contradictions.

More assertion without argumentation, more ignoring of the substantive textual issues in my own argument. As for the last claim above, in fact, I was a reader expecting to find unity when in fact I found contradiction. And all of my efforts to reconcile the apparent contradictions did not hold up. But whatever. It’s easier for Gantt to believe that those who disagree with him just believe what they do because they have a confirmation bias than for Gantt to admit to his own. (I’ll refer him to his own words about what’s motivating his review in the introduction.)

Like any good parent, God fashions His counsel around the circumstances and needs of His children. If you have child who has a messy room, you talk about the value of an ordered room. On the other hand, if the child spends too much time in the room, you encourage him to get out and play with the other children. There were times in Israel’s history when they were too myopic and thus forgot their role as a light to the nations. In those times, God nudged them to look outward to the Gentiles. At other times, Israel lost sight of the need for its own purity – for how could they be a light to the Gentiles if they themselves were abiding in darkness? It’s as if Thom has never read Ecclesiastes 3 (“there is a time for [this}, and a time for [that]). It’s like Thom is insisting that there is a contradiction between summer and winter or that there is a contradiction between day and night. These are not contradictions; they are different states of being. God speaks to us according to the need of the moment (Ephesians 4:29). As the needs change, His emphasis to us changes.

Well done again, except for the details of the actual texts in question (all of which you fail to mention). If you the reader want to know the details, see my book (and not Gantt’s review, where they don’t make an appearance).

Next, Thom tries to suggest that Job and Ecclesiastes are “subversive” to the rest of the Bible. Huh? Let’s take them one at a time. If you are looking for an argument in the Bible, we certainly have one in the book of Job. But it’s not God giving conflicting ideas about Himself, it’s human beings arguing about God’s ways. The fundamental point of the book of Job is that while it’s true that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, there is such a thing as undeserved, or at least unexplained, suffering (which foreshadows what will happen to Messiah), and, in any case, we can’t always understand the workings and justice of God in this life because of our limited human perspective.

This would be great if it were actually what Job is saying. But in fact, it’s not. Job says that God was the author of Job’s undeserved misfortunes. Moreover, this would be all great except that it misunderstands the Deuteronomistic perspective against which Job is arguing, namely that all misfortune is a punishment for sin. Hence the concoction of some minor sin on Josiah’s part to explain his very unexpected and anticlimactic death in battle in the Deuteronomistic History. Again, Gantt just isn’t read up on the scholarly literature.

This is why Ecclesiastes says, “Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly” (8:12). And for all the Teacher’s supposed despair in Ecclesiastes, he ends with “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments…because God will bring every act to judgment…” (12:13-14). Those are not the words of a hopeless man. Moreover, why would he say such a thing if, as Thom suggests, resurrection was off the table?

I’m starting to wonder if Gantt even read my book. Did he? If he did, he’d realize that 12:13-14 weren’t written by Qohelet, but by the editor. Hell, if he even read Ecclesiastes itself he’d realize that. Because just four verses earlier (12:9), the author clearly shifts from Qohelet to the editor. Qohelet’s own conclusion, Mr. Gantt, is that everybody dies, and that, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Eccl 12:8). The editor, who wrote later and added vv 9-14, clearly had a different perspective to push.

As for 8:12, Gantt seems to think this speaks to an afterlife or something. Sorry. It doesn’t. All it says is that God will look after those who fear him. But, unlike Proverbs (which it is countering), it acknowledges that sinners often prosper more than the righteous, which isn’t fair. That’s Qohelet’s whole point throughout. Perhaps Gantt missed it.

I could go on, but Thom simply invents “contradictions” and “arguments.” He fails to see the rich tapestry that is the Bible, instead seeing various strands of color that seem to him as clashing.

I could go on, but Gantt simply ignores my actual arguments, so why bother? Oh right. Because I’m bored and procrastinating.

He seems to want the Bible to read like a grade-school catechism or an FAQ page. And if it doesn’t, then it must be contradictory.

Right! That’s it, Gantt. You’ve nailed it.

In the closing section of this chapter, Thom narrates his view of how the Hebrew Bible came together. He assumes Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis (or some variation thereof) which insists that Moses couldn’t possibly have written the five books attributed to Him. Yet Thom just assumes this without offering proof for it. And against it we have the view of Jesus who said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for He wrote of Me” (John 5:46).

There we go. Now it’s Jesus versus Wellhausen! Who are you going to trust, Christians?! Where do your true loyalties lie? Of course, the DH doesn’t “insist” that “Moses couldn’t possibly have written the books attributed to Him” (why are we capitalizing the Mosaic personal pronoun?). It demonstrates on hundreds of levels that he didn’t. And these findings are backed up by philology to boot. Gantt is going to make frequent reference to my “assumption” of the DH. I’m curious to know which proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis Gantt has read, and where his exhaustive, consensus-overturning criticisms of JEDP are to be found in publication. Certainly his contributions will be of much benefit to the scholarly community.

Do you notice when you read the gospels that Jesus just doesn’t seem torn and troubled about “contradictions” in the Law and the Prophets? On the contrary, He seems to think they are the word of God and is constantly saying that “such and such must happen in order that the Scriptures be fulfilled.” If it’s just a bunch of arguments, how could it ever be fulfilled? Was the Messiah to be a schizophrenic?

This is one of the unintelligible criticisms I referred to above.

Thom’s view of the Scriptures and Jesus’ are diametrically opposed. Thom wants to make a case that we should accept his view, but he only offers a few contrived and artificial “contradictions.” Thus, as I said at the outset of this post, Thom fails spectacularly to make the point he sets out to make in this chapter. Had he tried merely to say that there are parts of the Bible hard to understand, that some parts are more easily reconciled than others, or that diversity of writings and writers sometimes staggers the comprehension – any of these conclusions, I could have supported. But Thom chose to go much farther than that. He chose to mis-characterize the Bible and thus discourage faith that it has a unifying voice in the Holy Spirit. This is not right. I must speak against it.

Speak, brother! Speak!

I have written bluntly. I respect Thom as a fellow human being, but this first chapter portrays the Bible falsely and it does not seem appropriate to mince words in saying so. Thom is bringing his assumptions and reading them into the text. He is accurately reporting on what he sees when he reads, but he’s seeing through unclear lens of his own choosing. Set them aside and let God speak for Himself to you through the Holy Scripture.

Preach it!

Prophets wrote and spoke the words of Scripture at risk of their own lives. They have borne witness with their blood.

As did most of the false prophets too.

What the Holy Spirit whispered in their souls, they have spoken boldly to the world. Let us not dishonor their sacrifice. Nor let us dishonor the One of whom they spoke so highly…and so consistently: the Holy One of Israel.

And while we’re at it, let’s give three cheers for the troops out there putting their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. A moment of silence if you will.


In this chapter, Thom, a liberal Christian, takes to task his conservative Christian brethren.

Let it be known to all that Thom is a liberal Christian.

As I said in the introductory installment of this book review, I have no interest in their intermural arguments. There are liberal Christian seminaries and conservative Christian seminaries, and within some seminaries you’ll find a contingent of each category. The main point of dispute Thom chooses, as we’ve seen, is the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” While I don’t want to dwell on this internecine warfare between the left and right wings of Christianity, I should give a warning to you about Thom’s writing.

You have to read Thom carefully to avoid being misled. For example, in his excursus on Daniel he begins by saying “Although the book of Daniel is set in the sixth century BCE, critical scholars are virtually unanimous that it was not completed in its final form until the mid-second century BCE.” You might get the idea from this there are hardly any scholars who accept Daniel at face value. However, that word “critical” in his sentence might not have caught your eye. It should have, because “critical” in this case is a synonym for “liberal.” This is a point which Thom inadvertently confirms himself when, near the end of the excursus, he writes, “Inerrantists frequently make the claim that ‘liberal’ scholars argue for a ‘late date’ for Daniel…” – that late date being the one he specified: mid-second century BCE. For some reason Thom doesn’t seem to like the label “liberal.” But note that he’s describing a conflict of views between liberal and conservative scholars. Only the way he presents it, especially if you’re not reading with the greatest of care, it comes across like virtually all reputable scholars are unanimous about something that only some knuckle-dragging, Neanderthal “inerrantists” dispute.

This is where Gantt thinks using these labels is revelatory. Of course, he hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about. “Critical” scholar and “liberal” scholar are far from synonymous. There are a host of conservative scholars who are appropriately identified as critical scholars. Let’s take N.T. Wright for instance. He’s a conservative scholar who is for the most part a critical scholar. N.T. Wright accept the consensus on the dating of Daniel, and even uses that consensus position to mount arguments in his own book (especially his book on the Resurrection). So, let’s not be deceived by Gantt’s claim that I’m trying to deceive you. When I said, “critical scholars,” I didn’t mean, “liberal scholars.” I meant just what I said: “critical scholars,” among whom some are more “liberal” and others are more “conservative.”

By the way, I am using the terms “liberal” and “conservative” Christian [in] a descriptive, not a pejorative, way. While Thom sees those Christians to his right in a negative way, I see both liberal and conservative Christians believing what they think is right. I can learn from both of groups, even though I do not consider myself a member of either.

I don’t know which “Thom” Gantt is referring to here, but it isn’t me. Rather, I see everybody in a negative way. I think it’s genetic.

Another warning I’ll give you is that Thom says one thing but then does another. For example, he begins this chapter with “It is not my intention to demonize inerrantists.” If that’s his intention then I’d say he can demonize better unintentionally than most people can intentionally.

Another bit of sarcasm lost on Gantt. Woe is me. Perhaps I’m just a very poor writer? No, that can’t be right, because Gantt says, “The Human Faces of God is well-researched and well-written. Thom Stark is intelligent, educated, and articulate.” Once again, I’m left confused about what to think of me.

Thom defines an inerrantist as “someone who believes that everything the Bible affirms is true, and good, and that it comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.” He goes on to say such a person does not exist. I have a candidate: Jesus Christ. Does Thom – does anyone – think that Jesus did not regard the Bible as true, and good, and as coming from kind, loving, merciful, and just God?

Uh, no you don’t. Let’s try quoting me in context. What I demonstrate is that nobody who claims to believe that about the Bible is able to affirm it in the details, and as I showed, Jesus himself disagreed with numerous biblical authors, not least Qohelet’s view of life after death.

If Jesus believed what Thom believed about the Bible, Jesus would have taught about it what Thom teaches. Instead, He prayed to God saying, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus believed that the Scriptures spoke what was “true, and good, and that it all came from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.” That’s good enough for me.

Terrific! I’m glad Gantt has this settled in his mind. Now, with Gantt’s permission, the rest of us are going to continue the conversation.

By the way, Thom spends much time in this gospel comparing and contrasting various methods of interpretation. In doing so, he displays his scholarship. He is not only a good writer, he is well-educated. He handles history, linguistics, and other disciplines with ease. His prose is so fluid that the various disciplines coalesce into a narrative that is easy for the less-educated to follow. In fact, he reminds me of Bart Ehrman – another, albeit older, scholar who is able to translate academic knowledge for mass consumption. Thom and Bart are taking what has long been known in the academic world and presenting it in popularly written terms for lay people. Unfortunately, both have the same effect on their readers: to encourage the unbelievers and discourage the believers.

Um, shall I provide documentary evidence to the contrary? OK. I will:

(1) Holly Henson review.

(2) Sherry Peyton review.

(3) Jeremy Myers review.

(4) Michael J. Izbicki, Review of “The Human Faces of God” in Anglican Theological Review 93/2 (Spring 2011): 362-63.

And so on…

This is because both are simply repackaging the long-held liberal view of Scripture which is, generally speaking, less committed to the idea that the Bible is the word of God than the conservative view.

Oh, are we still claiming that my book has only had a negative effect on the faith of Christians?

Therefore, we have Jesus meeting Thom’s definition of an inerrantist. This leaves Jesus in stark contrast (no pun intended) to Thom, the errantist.

By Gantt’s definition, Jesus was an inerrantist. My point (which remains correct) is that Jesus would not have been a consistent inerrantist.

Thom doesn’t call himself, or those others who think like him, an errantist, but given that Thom’s book is a polemic against inerrantists there could be no more appropriate label.

OK. Call me an errantist. Just don’t call me late for happy hour.

Even though Jesus meets Thom’s definition of an inerrantist,

Nope. He meets Mike’s definition, not mine. But whatever…

the term doesn’t really speak adequately to the issue. That is, someone who believes that the Bible is “true, good, and comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God” is saying much more than simply “I don’t think the Bible has errors.” Such a person goes to the Bible expecting to find the voice of God through a variety of human voices. A person like Thom, on the other hand, expects to hear arguments and contradictions about God, with any voice of God therefore much harder to find.

Now I do. Yes. When I found the contradictions in the text, no. I did not expect to find them. So there goes that whole, well, whatever that is.

Practically speaking, all agnostics and atheists are errantists. That is, they don’t believe the Bible is wholly true as Jesus did. As we have seen, liberal Christians, like Thom, are also errantists but do believe in some parts of the Bible – though they vary on how much and which parts. The odd thing to me is that Thom seems to feel much more comfortable with other errantists – regardless of their stripe – than he does his own self-confessed fellow Christians. Likewise, atheists and agnostics have professed affinity for Thom’s book (notably John Loftus and Ed Babinski, both self-professed former Christians). Thus I am puzzled that while Thom professes an allegiance to the cause of Christ, he writes a book that is extolled by those who are against Christ.

Oh, I see the confusion. Gantt assumes an allegiance to the cause of Christ commits one to an allegiance to the integrity of the Bible. I don’t hold that assumption. See, my allegiance is to truth, first and foremost. And my allegiance to the cause of Christ (namely, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free) is derived from my allegiance to the truth. I have allegiance to the cause of Christ because Christ’s cause is true, not because it’s Christ’s. I imagine Gantt finding that statement revelatory, but for him it should just be a tautology, if he thinks for a moment, and therefore nothing very revelatory at all. Anyway, I’m happy if anybody finds my book useful for dispelling falsehoods. I don’t care if they’re atheist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or drug dealers. Of course, how they use my book is up to them, and I don’t bear responsibility for its abuse. But if an atheist wants to point out to a fundamentalist Christian that they live in a house of cards, and my book is useful for that purpose, great! Let the truth be known. Each person is responsible for what they do with the truth when they find it. Needless to say, at any rate, I don’t find these guilt by association insinuations very interesting.

Presumably, Thom believes that Christians can be either inerrantists or errantists, and further that being an errantist Christian is the better way to be. I might disagree with Thom on this point, but it would not be an unreasonable one for him to make. However, that Christ meets his definition of an inerrantist introduces a dilemma for his claim.

Not really, and if Gantt had read my book closely he’d see why the claim he’s repeatedly making doesn’t hold water. The least he could do, of course, would be to engage my discussion in which I directly engage this question. But no. For whatever reason, Gantt isn’t interested in an actual engagement with my actual positions. He prefers caricature, which is a fine art form. I have nothing negative to say against that if that’s his aesthetic preference; it’s just not very useful in a book review format. But again, I make no judgments.

If you love Christ, then you proclaim with Paul “Whether in pretense or in truth, that Christ is proclaimed, in this I will rejoice.” Or, if you will, “Whether in errancy or inerrancy, Christ is proclaimed, in this I will rejoice.” Thom, however, seems more intent on proclaiming errancy than in proclaiming Christ. And that’s troubling.

Yeah, or, Thom believes that inerrancy is a roadblock to proclaiming Christ truthfully. Either one. I’ll defer to Gantt’s judgment. I know what I mean less and less the more I read Gantt’s review.


In the previous installment, I employed the term errantist to describe Thom’s point of view in contradistinction to the inerrantists against whom he argues throughout the book. For clarity, I’ll continue to utilize this in order to make clearer Thom’s intent.

Oh wait. Now Gantt is claiming that the label “errantist” makes “clearer Thom’s intent.” No, not really. “Realist” would be a better label to that end.

I also pointed out that Jesus Christ meets the definition Thom laid down for an inerrantist: “someone who believes that everything the Bible affirms is true, and good, and that it comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.”

Yes, he pointed this out mistakenly, because he misconstrued the broader context in which that definition appeared.

I am solely interested in defending Jesus the inerrantist, as well as the Bible itself, from Thom’s attacks. (Make no mistake, Thom’s book is an attack on the credibility of Jesus and the Bible.)

Not really. In point of fact, it’s an attack on an approach to Jesus and the Bible which is a disservice to both Jesus and the Bible. Anyone (other than the Gantts of the world) who reads my book will realize that my goal is to offer a better way to read the Bible, a way that respects and reveres it more robustly than does the doctrine of inerrancy, which really offers only a pseudo-respect, an all-or-nothing conditional reverence which is more fitting of adolescents than mature adults.

The first argument Thom makes in this chapter is that the Bible is not a self-aware or sentient being. Jesus didn’t teach that it was, nor does anyone else I know, so Thom is arguing with a straw man of his own making.


I love it. A strawman about a strawman. In reality, the point I made is that “the Bible” doesn’t speak about “itself,” but rather that certain authors speak about certain other texts.

Though Thom doesn’t admit it, the canon of the Hebrew Bible was never an issue in the New Testament. Everyone – whether for Jesus or against Him – referred to “the Scriptures” or “the Law and the Prophets” without arousing the sorts of arguments Thom thinks are so relevant.

The reason I don’t admit it is because it isn’t true. There were a number of books whose canonicity was debated or rejected by Jews during and even after the time of Jesus.

People knew what the Scriptures were. That canon of books has not changed in 2,000 years. There are some branches of Christianity (notably Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox) which add some books to the core Old Testament canon, but there is no dispute about what books constitute the core canon.

Gantt should inform the Sadducees and the Council of Jamnia about this!

Thus Jesus was presented a Bible, and its contents were settled enough that He never felt the need to address the subject.

Probably why I didn’t feel the need to address the subject either. Which leads me to some confusion about why Gantt is addressing the subject that I didn’t address. Oh right. He’s addressing it because I am deceptive by not admitting that Jesus had a fairly fixed set of scriptures.

We don’t have to either.

Wait. Never mind. He’s not addressing it.

Next, Thom argues that just because the Bible is inspired by God does not mean it is without error. All I can say to that is if God is inspiring error then there’s no hope for any of us. How can you rely on what He says if He’s prone to error?

All I can say is, it would be nice if Gantt were to engage the actual arguments I make in support of the claim he quotes, you know, at least so as to give his readers some perspective on what I actually mean by what I say.

Thom goes on to argue that just because the Bible is authoritative does not mean it is error free. That is a distinction without a difference. For the Bible to be authoritative as the word of God, it must be presumed to be without error insofar as God spoke what we’re reading.

If you say so, Gantt. I guess everything I said about the question is irrelevant, since everything I said makes no appearance in your “critique.”

To say that we’re reading the word of God but He might be wrong about some of the things He says, sort of undermines the authority, eh?

I suppose you’re right, Gantt. Where should I send my retraction?

Now, we have to quickly acknowledge that we are reading texts in languages other than the ones they were originally written in, that we’re thousands of years removed from the people who wrote them, and that we’re reading copies of what they wrote. So, could there be errors on the page in front of us even though they weren’t there when the prophet wrote them? Yes. And you could add to that the errors in our minds that cause us to misunderstand what we do read. However, what makes us continue to read is the belief that beneath all the intermediate steps, there are words that God wanted us to hear. And, more practically, though we may misunderstand a sentence here or a section there, we will be able to find themes in what is written that will come through clearly, especially when repeated by various writers in various ways. ”Out of the mouths of two or three witnesses, let every fact be established.”

With that last quote Gantt must be exampling what it looks like to misunderstand a text’s meaning, you know, for clarity.

The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not identical. If they were, you could throw away three of them. As it is, they complement each other. They each see Christ from a different perspective. All are inspired by God, but limited by human perception. I have four children. If you were to ask each of them to write a short narrative of my life as they have known it, you could get four similar, yet somewhat differing, accounts. And that’s just what we get in the four gospels. Their diversity does not mean there are errors; rather, the diversity gives us a fuller picture.

Correct. Their diversity does not mean there are errors. Rather, their errors mean there are errors. This is an important distinction and I’m glad Gantt took the time to make it.

I suppose someone could nitpick the biographies by my four children and find seeming points of discrepancy. But that’s all they’d be – seeming points of discrepancy, not actual ones.

Because Gantt’s children are inerrant?

Thom’s style is to pick every seeming point of discrepancy and make as much out of it as possible.

I must have a really awkward style.

Instead, our intent ought to be to find Jesus – to take every piece of data we find in order to receive the mosaic picture the Bible has given us of Him. And as we look to the gospels to do this, so also we should look to the rest of the New Testament, for it, too, is about Him. And do not forget that we should do exactly the same with the Old Testament, for though it was initially written to guide the nation of ancient Israel, its ultimate purpose was to reveal Christ to the world (John 5:39).

This is the word of the Lord. ______ __ __ ___.

“A Legal Controversy” – Thom tackles Matthew 5:17-18, which is a difficult passage for errantists.

For errantists or inerrantists?

His first tack is to sow doubt that Jesus ever said it (A most convenient debating tactic, and one that is easy for an errantist to employ).

Well, I offer a reason for the doubt, but in point of fact my view is that Matthew’s version of the logion is probably original to Jesus, and that Luke changed it for his own purposes. I just don’t say that in the book because which version was original to Jesus is irrelevant to the point I was making.

Then he tries to show that inerrantists aren’t consistent in their interpretation of it (So what? That has nothing to do with Jesus’ faith in the Bible). Lastly, he tries to suggest that Jesus was intentionally leaving out reference to “the Writings” (Puhleeze!) Thom’s goal in each case is to sow doubt in the reader’s mind.

I’m glad to know that’s my goal. I wasn’t aware of it until now. I’m more devious than I’d ever imagined! I had deceived myself into thinking that my goal was to display with clarity that Jesus’ words were altered by different Gospel writers to have different meanings. Now I see that really my goal was just to undermine people’s faith in the Bible. How much do I owe for this session?

Now to get a bit serious, Gantt has misrepresented me in each claim he’s made here. First, I do not show that inerrantists aren’t consistent in their interpretation of Matthew. I show that Matthew, Luke, and inerrantists (including Gantt), all disagree with each other about what this particular logion means. Second, I do not at all suggest that Jesus was “intentionally leaving out reference to ‘the Writings.’” I simply point out that he didn’t make reference to the writings. This is relevant because Jesus would have had issues with at least a couple of books in that corpus.

He never really establishes his case. He just keeps adding new charges. It’s like convicting someone in the court of public opinion by putting forth a never-ending barrage of accusations. After a while, people just assume the person’s guilty.

After reading Gantt, I’m no longer sure what case I was trying to make in the first place. My book must really be a mess.

That’s what Thom wants you to do: assume the Bible has errors. So there’s your choice: join Thom in assuming the Bible is characterized by errors or join Jesus in assuming the Bible is the word of God.

Amen! Follow me as you once followed Christ!

“It’s All About Me” – Here Thom acknowledges that Jesus says the Scriptures are about Himself, but then suggests what he’s going to declare boldly in chapter eight: that Jesus Himself was wrong. This is just a repetition of Thom’s fundamental thesis: the Bible is characterized by errors and Jesus Himself made errors. Take your pick of whom to believe about this: Thom or Jesus? At the end of this section, Thom repeats his unproven charge from an earlier chapter that Job and Ecclesiastes both deny the possibility of life after death and thus contradict Jesus. Just because these two books did not speak explicitly about resurrection in the same terms that Jesus did is hardly warrant for saying that a disagreement exists. Moreover, both imply resurrection even though the books don’t teach the concept explicitly, they do imply it.

Uh, no. Neither book implies it, and both explicitly deny it. Unproven? I’m sorry. Were the extensive direct quotations from both books denying the possibility of resurrection not sufficient proof for Gantt? I’d offer more evidence if I had it. Unfortunately, the direct textual evidence will have to suffice.

Unfortunately, Gantt here offers no commentary on the extensive discussion I provide about what it means for Jesus to be wrong, and whether that’s incompatible with his being sent from God. He offers no commentary on the context of the phrase, “It’s all about me,” and how Jesus’ reading of scripture fits within a larger apocalyptic Jewish hermeneutical framework we can generalize as pesher. None of the evidence or the arguments are relevant to Gantt. What it all comes down to is a choice between Thom or Jesus. If that’s what it really comes down to, then I say choose me, of course. But I’m not convinced that’s at all the choice before you, for the reasons I offer extensively in the book, which Gantt does not feel the itch to address.

“For the Purposes of Discussion” – Here Thom deals with Jesus’ statement that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He insists that Jesus wasn’t saying that Scripture couldn’t be broken – only that those who argued with Him believed that.

No. That’s not what I insist at all. My point is that you can’t base a doctrine on a conditional statement such as the one Jesus made here. Read it again, Gantt. Or save us both the trouble and don’t.

In other words, Thom believes Jesus was using the assumptions of His antagonists against them and not revealing His own view of Scripture. But Thom’s characterization just doesn’t hold up when you read the text. It’s clear that the “subordinate clause,” as Thom puts it,

Um, as grammar puts it.

is inserted by Jesus to make the very point that Scripture cannot be broken (even when it appears hard to believe). It would be redundant otherwise. This was a point therefore on which He and His antagonists agreed – and to use such points of agreement also a valid debating technique, and a more effective one at that.

Here’s another one of those unintelligible ones. “It would be redundant otherwise”? Huh? I’m going to have to side with myself on this one over against Gantt. And no, nowhere do I state that I “believe Jesus was using the assumptions of his antagonists against them.” I don’t state that’s my view. I don’t have a view on the subject. My point is simply that the evidence we have doesn’t allow us to form a rock-solid view about Jesus’ attitude to scripture. We can get a general picture. He treated it as authoritative. But what does that mean? Well, I think it means something very different for first-century Jews than it does for twenty-first-century evangelicals.

“A Spirit-Filled Proof Text” – Here Thom overlooks the fact that the belief of Jesus and His contemporaries was that the Holy Spirit was the inspiration of all the prophets who wrote the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, any mention of that name could evoke thoughts of future writing. It’s certainly not out of the question as Thom suggests.

Another strawman. I don’t “suggest” or otherwise state that such a reading (of Luke 14:16 and 16:13) is “out of the question.” I show that the inerrantists’ reading of it is hardly necessitated by the texts. Gantt seems to think my aim is to prove definitively that Jesus didn’t hold a certain view of scripture. He seems to have lost a sense of context. The context in which I am writing is in conversation with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a document which evangelical bigwigs use to beat other wannabe evangelicals into submission. They derive ironclad doctrines from texts which yield multiple readings, and demand allegiance to their reading if you want to join their “orthodox” club. If you don’t accept their readings, they’ll disparage you publicly or fire you from your position at whatever evangelical institution. Context is king, Gantt.

Thom then makes the unsupported and misleading claim that “much of the New Testament was not written by the apostles.” On the contrary, apostolic origin is the essential requirement for including a book in the New Testament. We have 27 such books, and the reason we don’t have more is that no one could be sure that any others were genuinely apostolic.

Yeah, my claim is unsupported, except for all the footnotes and arguments I provide throughout my book about authorship. But Gantt can’t even get my quote right. I didn’t say much of the NT wasn’t written by “the apostles.” I said it wasn’t written by “these apostles,” i.e., the twelve, i.e., to whom the promise in Luke is made. Come on, Gantt. You can’t even accurately portray minor points in my book.

“Literary Allusions” – In this section Thom says that just because Jesus referred to incidents from the Old Testament does not mean He was saying that they were without error. But, as I’ve been saying, Jesus believed the Old Testament was the word of God – to additionally say it’s without error would be superfluous.

Uh, no. That’s not what I said. I said that Jesus wasn’t interested in whether they had errors in them, and wouldn’t have to have that interest in order to make use of stories for one’s purposes. Read the damn arguments please, Mike. I also said that in all likelihood, Jesus’ view of scripture was pretty much the view shared by most conservative Jews in Palestine in the first century.

“The Heresy of Inerrancy” – In this section Thom argues with inerrantists about whether Jesus was omniscient during His earthly life. Although I don’t buy all that Thom says, I do believe that Jesus indeed grew in wisdom and knowledge and therefore was not omniscient when He was twelve years old. Nor do I believe He was ever omniscient in His earthly life. He was divine, but not omniscient. He gave up omniscience to become human. But He regained it in the glories after His resurrection.

So on what grounds does Gantt insist that Jesus must have been right about the infallibility of scripture? I don’t get it. If Jesus learned just like everyone else, and didn’t know everything, then it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that he held the views he was taught about scripture. Does that mean he held those views because he was divine, or because he was human? Well, the latter is the most we can say, if we accept that Jesus was not omniscient during his earthly life. Let’s put some real thought into this, shall we?

What’s clear is that Thom doesn’t want his readers to grow up to be inerrantists, fundamentalists, conservative Christians, or anything of the kind. He wants you to believe the Bible has errors. That’s very important to him. It’s a point at which he hammers and hammers and hammers.

Sorry, I should have talked about something else in my book-length criticism of the doctrine of inerrancy. And yes, I want you to believe the Bible has errors. That’s my end game. I want to undermine your confidence in the Bible. Regardless of what else I say about scripture, and its integral and positive role in Christian communities, what I really want is just for you to lose your faith in it.

By contrast, I want you to grow up to be like Jesus.

Whereas I want you to grow up to be like Nero, or Satan I guess.

And that begins with regarding the Bible as the word of God, just as Jesus did. If it’s the word of God, of course, it is without error.

A philosophical assumption that comes under direct attack in my book, an attack of course which is not featured in Gantt’s review.

Relevant to this point, Thom closes this chapter with an argument that if you think of the Bible the way Jesus does you’ll stunt your spiritual growth.

A mischaracterization. I don’t say, “If you think of the Bible the way Jesus does.” Those are Gantt’s words. On the contrary, my view is that Jesus argued with some of the authors of the Bible. He took positions contrary to theirs. That’s, for instance, what the whole “man born blind” episode is about.

Of course, such a view is ridiculous on its face. He’s saying you’ll stunt your spiritual growth if you imitate Jesus.

Now Gantt is just lying. I don’t say that, or imply that. He’s caricaturing my argument, and then presenting the conclusion of the caricature. On the contrary, my view is that if you imitate Jesus, you’ll grow spiritually and morally. Imitate him by arguing both from and with the scriptures. That’s how we grow. My view of Gantt is that he has to lie to win an argument (that I wasn’t even having with him).

But leaving that illogical thought aside

Well, even Gantt’s false claim isn’t “illogical.” It’s perfectly logical for imitation of Jesus to result in spiritual retardation, if Jesus was himself a spiritual retard. But neither Gantt nor I think Jesus was a spiritual retard. So that should be irrelevant.

let’s focus on this sentence of Thom’s: ”An infallible set of scriptures is ultimately just a shortcut through our moral and spiritual development.” (By the way, Thom writes these kinds of sentences a lot. They only make sense to those who read them superficially.

Or rather, they don’t make sense to Mike Gantt, for reasons about which I’m not going to speculate.

They don’t stand up to any reasonable scrutiny. Watch, and you’ll see what I mean.) Jesus accepted the Scriptures as the word of God and it did not stunt His growth. Nor was it a shortcut for Him. If it was, He would never have had to pray. But Jesus did have to pray. And He had to suffer. And “He learned obedience from the things He suffered.” He didn’t learn merely from the things He read. The Bible in no way answers every question you have to face in life. The Bible teaches you precepts and teaches you about God. It teaches you how to go to Him and wrestle over your moral choices. Jesus Himself was wrestling strenuously in prayer at the end of His life in the garden of Gethsemane. His acceptance of the Bible as the word of God was not a shortcut to the moral life. Rather it was an indispensable guidepost to that moral life. Since God is true He cannot contradict Himself. And since He cannot contradict Himself you can use the Scriptures as a point of comparison for the word of God you receive from any other source. If you do not believe that God speaks, you will be handicapped in all attempts at spiritual growth – for how else would you ever have a means of calibrating your own conscience?

The reason my statements (such as “an infallible set of scriptures is ultimately just a shortcut through our moral and spiritual development”) don’t stand up to Gantt’s scrutiny is twofold: (1) Gantt’s scrutiny isn’t “reasonable” and (2) Gantt isn’t scrutinizing my actual arguments, just sentences of mine he lifts and then invests with his own meanings. Of course we all agree that the Bible doesn’t answer every question we might be faced with. That’s not the point. The point is that some of the answers the Bible does provide will stunt your moral growth, if, that is, you’re committed to the Bible’s inerrancy.

You don’t need to critique the Bible. You need to let the Bible critique you. And if you allow this, your prayers will have more power and your life will have more substance in the sight of God. Thom doubts much of what he reads in the Bible, and he wants you to doubt it, too. Jesus wants you to believe the word of God…and do it.

You heard it here, er, umpteenth, folks.


What I do care about is the harm Thom does to those humble souls who read the Bible seeking to learn about Jesus Christ. He does this harm by trying to convince them that the Bible is not a trustworthy source.

And what I care about is the harm that inerrancy does to those same humble souls. And I do not try to convince anyone that the Bible is not a trustworthy source, just that it’s not a completely trustworthy source. Like everything else in life, we’re going to have to use critical thinking to find good guidance from the Bible.

My position is that Jesus is the revelation of God, and that the Bible gives a trustworthy and comprehensive account of His reality.

Is this a position piece, or a review? I’m confused.

To believe that the Bible is, as Thom says, “…fallible (and fallible in significant ways)” is to put readers of the Bible in an untenable position. Either they have to wonder whether the page they are reading is one of the reliable ones or else they are forced to rely on Thom, or someone else, to tell them which parts of the Bible are reliable.

Or, as Thom argues, we are all forced to rely on the same sources we always rely on when it comes to issues to which the Bible doesn’t speak. The Bible is a good source of insight, but it can’t be our only source of insight, because it’s also often a bad source of insight. It’s only fundamentalists who become paralyzed wondering “which page” they can trust and which they can’t. But spiritually mature people don’t seem to have that fear when reading the Bible.

And at the rate Thom is going, there won’t be many reliable parts left. It’s as if he’s snipping so many parts of the Bible away that he’s transforming it from a holy book to a holey book.

Hardy-har. Good one, Mike. Of course, in reality, I think (and argue) that the Bible is a tremendously useful source for moral insight. But fundamentalists like Mike need it to be all or nothing to make any use of it.

God – as well as His prophets and apostles – went to a lot of trouble that we might have the Scriptures. They did not do so in order that readers of the Bible might be uncertain of its veracity or dependent on other humans for its meaning.
Thom lays out scholarly findings for the lay person, but he’s only giving one side of the scholarly story. There are conservative scholars, just as committed to the tenets of academia as Thom is, who offer research which contradicts Thom’s conclusions.

And we’re stating the obvious because? Oh, right. Because for the fundamentalist, any scholar who says something to confirm the fundamentalist’s bias is right.

Most people don’t have time to explore both sides of the scholarly story to be able to draw their own conclusions. Thom is like the first-year medical student who can impress everyone at the party with his immense vocabulary. If he chooses to argue a medical point, who can argue with him but second-year medical students and above? Therefore, he pounds his reader into submission like a bully on an unsupervised playground pounds away at a smaller kid.

Not to mix metaphors.

I am pointing out, however, that Jesus Himself is supervising this playground. Jesus does not require you to have a graduate degree in biblical studies to read the Bible to profit anymore than He required it of His apostles. The best way to understand the word of God is not to approach it academically but rather to approach it practically. Consider it not in the context of a class or degree, but in the context of your life. Read it with a view to do it. He who does the word of God is the one who comes to understand it as God intended.

So said Joshua at the threshold of the Promised Land.

To characterize the source of most of our knowledge about Jesus Christ as wrong on many points, and important points at that, is to poison a well that quenches thirst for righteousness. May God forgive Thom, for surely he knows not what he does.

While I’m grateful for Mike’s forgiving spirit, I am obliged to reject the offer, on the grounds I haven’t sinned. Despite what Gantt would have you believe, the findings presented in my book are some of the ongoing results of my search for righteousness. That Gantt feels the need to characterize my work as poisonous says more to us about Gantt than it does about me.

Thom’s erudition (and he is no mean scholar) is on full display in this chapter. He plunges into water way over the heads of all but seminary graduates and tells a story of how the Bible is not so much breathed by God as it is a product of its geography and times. His is an old argument, well-known to seminary professors at both liberal and conservative seminaries. The former view it as accepted dogma, the latter view it as age-old heresy.

No, and no. See, in seminaries that promote critical thinking, very little is “accepted as dogma.” And I suppose the heresy is only age-old if by “age” Gantt means, the last hundred years or so.

Now you could go to a seminary library and find the conservative counter-arguments to Thom’s – but is that the way you want to live your life? That is, do you want to have to go to the bookstore or library to find a response every time you read book like Thom’s? This approach can consume a lifetime.

Well, I suppose if you’re going to base your life on the belief that the Bible is reliable, then yes, some investigation into the issues would be a good idea.

Authors like Thom and Bart Erhman can throw mud at the wall faster than anyone can clean it off.

I think Ehrman and I feel it’s the opposite. Fundamentalists can write ill-informed, biased and sloppy apologetics books faster than we can refute them.

For example, there are a group of conservative theologians who have put up a web site called the Ehrman Project to counter the liberal views popularized by Bart Ehrman. But Ehrman’s works are distributed by a large publishing house and reaches far more people than their little web site can reach.

Those poor souls.

It is not unprecedented for Jesus to find Himself surrounded by more accusers than defenders. Therefore, we must always remember that truth is not determined by the number of people who proclaim it.

Which is why I often feel alone when I’m defending Jesus against those who ignorantly dismiss him as an insignificant fanatic or a hate-monger.

At the end of the day, even if you could find and digest all the counter arguments to Thom and Bart, you’d still be stuck with an unpleasant choice: which set of experts to believe?

Generally, I would recommend believing the ones who make the better arguments, further information pending.

They both are trained in matters at which you can only guess. It’s like having to choose between two heart surgeons debating about medical techniques of suturing – you know it’s important, but you lack the vocabulary and skill to decide between them. In the end, you have to rely on your gut. Why not rely on your gut to start with – which in this case is more precisely your conscience – and choose the Man from Galilee to be the one who operates on your heart? Leave the bickering surgeons to themselves.

In short, give your allegiance to truthiness.

I do not object to all the observations Thom makes in this chapter. It’s the conclusion to which he leaps that I object. For him, a survey of ancient Near Eastern literature and a full embrace of liberal orthodoxy about the origin of the Bible lead him full-speed ahead to the conclusion that Moses did not write the books that ancient Israel – including Jesus and His apostles – attributed to him.

A point which has, of course, very little to do with my argument in chapter four.

As for which Israelites did write those books, Thom is sure – with liberal orthodoxy supporting him – that the early authors were polytheists and the later editors and authors were monotheists. He can’t name them, but he knows for sure it wasn’t who the Bible says it was.

Ooh. Burn. Of course, the books of the Pentateuch make no claim whatsoever to Mosaic authorship. That’s later tradition. Again, there is no “Bible” that makes a claim about itself. There are only certain people who make certain claims about certain texts. As for my inability to name the authors of the Pentateuch, guilty as charged. I also can’t name all the authors of other ANE lore, but scholars don’t attribute them to their traditional authors either. I can’t name all of the authors of the Iliad, but Iliad scholars will give you ample reasons why Homer isn’t really one of them. All Mike’s comment here displays is his vast ignorance about how legendary origin texts were formed in the ancient world. He also displays his ignorance about anonymous and pseudonymous authorship in the ancient world. But really what you should take home from this is that, since I can’t give you the names and genealogies of the authors of the Pentateuch, I represent a really silly, pseudo-scholarly position.

Once again, you don’t have to have a graduate education in biblical studies to make your choice of whom to believe: Thom or Jesus.

That’s right. It all comes down to a choice between me or Jesus. All the weight of everything I write is on me and me alone. It’s just my credibility versus that of a two-thousand-year-old peasant who never wrote anything down. Clearly the choice is obvious. It’s a no-brainer. It’s me. Abandon your faith in Jesus and worship me. Not as a divine being. Just as someone with an intellect superior to yours. Take what I say on faith. Do as Mike Gantt tells you. Go with your gut. Don’t waste your time with books. Just believe in me, and my truth will set you free. I have come that you might have life, and have it more or less the way it already is.

And the choice is even simpler than that: Do you believe the words of the Savior brought you to by men who shed their blood in giving their testimony about Him or do you let yourself be pulled back and forth by the argument between errantists and inerrantists dwelling in academic ivory towers?

Ah yes, believe because the martyrs shed their blood to give you their testimony. Because only faithful Jews and Christians have ever shed their blood for their religion.

There’s no denying that polytheism marked the ancient world, just as there’s no denying that monotheism marks the modern world. That’s why some of Thom’s observations have value. However, these observations are framed in an argument from Thom that leads in only one direction: “You should not trust the Bible to be the word of God!” What good are his valid observations if you aren’t allowed to reach more productive conclusions with those observations?

A great point! What good are my observations if they’re not productive? That is to say, what good are my observations if they don’t confirm what you already believe, or what Mike Gantt already believes? The answer? They’re clearly good for nothing. I stand corrected. I hadn’t considered the utility of the facts, so lost was I in their factness.

Jesus Christ, through the coming of His kingdom, pulled the world out of polytheism into the monotheism that Abraham had championed so long before Him.

Yeah, no. Abraham was not a monotheist. He, like most other ancient Near Eastern peeps, was a monolatrist—a believer in multiple deities who worshiped only one.

In his chapter heading Thom asks “Whither Thou Goest, Polytheism?” The answer is “Into the oblivion of history…where the Champion Jesus Christ sent it.”

Should we be playing Carmen for this line? Anyway, Jesus had nothing to do with the dissolution of polytheism in Israelite religion. That happened several hundred years before he broke his mother’s hymen.

In short, Gantt doesn’t disagree with what I write in chapter four. He just doesn’t think we need to worry about it, because, well, just because.


Thom’s animus towards the Scriptures as a source of truth fully blossoms in this the fifth chapter: Making Yahweh Happy: Human Sacrifice in Ancient Israel.

Right. I hate the Bible! That’s why at the end of my book I encourage my readers to continue engaging it, and continue seeking words of life from its pages. That’s why I say that I love it. Because I hate it. I’m using reverse psychology, or something.

Thom’s goal throughout the book has been to destroy the Bible’s reputation for truth among a broader public.

Yes, that is my goal. Not to be honest. Not to share my struggle with the scriptures. Not to encourage others to struggle with them, as I lead on. No, my real goal (unspoken, because I’m a conniving wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing) was always to utterly destroy your faith and stake my claim on the rubble.

It seems to bother Thom greatly that the Bible has a reputation for representing the truth of God. Every aspect of his considerable intellect is brought to service in his goal of making that reputation appear completely undeserved. With each chapter of his book, Thom’s view of God becomes clearer and clearer to us – and it is a dim one. I pray for him.

I pray for this guy too. What’s his email address? I’ll send him a note of concern.

Thom seeks to get his readers to believe that child sacrifice was a normative part of ancient Israel’s worship of God. Underlying Thom’s analysis of the subject is his unwavering acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis (also called J-E-P-D theory). Because he believes there are clandestine authors and editors of the Old Testament, and because he believes Jewish law evolved rather than being handed down through Moses at Mount Sinai, he manages to read a progression in Israel’s view of child sacrifice from favorable to unfavorable over centuries’ time. That is to say, Thom is offering this as another “example” of how the Bible contradicts itself.

“Clandestine authors.” That’s a good one. I’ve always thought of them as scribes under the employ of kings, but maybe Gantt has it correct.

As is Thom’s practice, he employs data that favors the conclusion he wants (that is, you can’t trust the Bible) and omits evidence that doesn’t. For example, in his discussion of Abraham’s uncompleted sacrifice of Isaac he neglects to mention that Hebrews 11:17-19 says Abraham believed that had the sacrifice been completed, God would have raised Isaac from the dead. In other words, Abraham only followed through on the sacrifice because he believed it would not result in the death of Isaac.

Right. Dammit. I should have mentioned the completely irrelevant witness of an interpretation of the text from about two thousand years after the period in question, a witness which speaks of Abraham’s belief in resurrection about 1600 years before such a belief came into existence. I am such a cherry-picker!

Thom also fails to explain why, according to Thom’s theory that child sacrifice was prevalent and approved, Abraham wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to sacrifice a child. Where’s the dilemma for Abraham if sacrifice of children is considered a good thing?

Oh, I see the problem. Gantt hasn’t read Genesis. Well, let me summarize. (I summarized this in the book also, but since Gantt isn’t familiar with Genesis, the details must have been lost on him.) Isaac was the child of promise. Hence Abraham’s conflict. Recommended reading: Genesis 11-22.

Of course, we know now that God orchestrated the entire Abraham-Isaac event to foreshadow the sacrifice of His own Son. The willingness of the son, the wood, the third day, are points in the outline of that shadow. Thom is not intent that his readers see Christ, however; he’s intent that his readers see the Scriptures as an altogether human document – with no divine hand involved.

Oh, that makes sense. I’d always read it as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Mesha’s son. But I guess Jesus is a good fit too, and probably works better in the broader context.

Next, Thom discusses Jephthah’s daughter, but he fails to mention that scholars disagree about the outcome of that sacrifice. That is, some scholars believe that the virgin was killed and others believe that she was denied the privilege of marriage (hence, “And she had no relations with a man”).

True. I fail to mention that there’s a fringe position that says, contrary to the text, that Jephthah didn’t actually sacrifice his daughter. I should have given it the serious space it deserved, like in a one sentence footnote. I love this phrase, “scholars disagree.” It’s a favorite phrase of apologists. Get a handful of scholars who hold one position against the vast consensus, and pretend that constitutes a lack of consensus. It’s a brilliant tactic. I’d use it myself if I had more nerve.

Even if she were actually killed by Jephthah, there is nothing in the text that indicates God approved – and there were many actions in the book of Judges of which He did not approve.

Yeah, nothing in the text indicating that God approved, except that the spirit of Yahweh was upon Jephthah, and the fact that after Jephthah made his deal with Yahweh, Yahweh kept up his end of the contract. See my extensive discussion of this in my review of Copan’s book, entitled, “Is God a Moral Compromiser?” available freely, well, on Google.

We have the outright condemnations of child sacrifice in the prophets, but Thom manages to find a way to reinterpret even these.

Right. “Thom” manages to find a way, by which Gantt must mean, “the scholarly consensus.” By “reinterpret” he must be referring to Micah 6, which in fact is not a condemnation of child sacrifice at all. It’s not called “reinterpretation.” It’s called “interpretation.” Or, as I prefer in cases like these, “reading.”

The ones that he can’t reinterpret are assigned a later date so that it fits his theory that what God used to enjoy, He later frowned upon.

Right. I “assign” Jeremiah and Ezekiel to a “later date.” They didn’t just happen to live in a much later time. I “assigned” their time periods to them in my omnipotence. We are currently existing in Alternate Universe 11638, which is a universe I created as I was writing my book. Previously, we all existed in AU11637, and in that universe, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were contemporaries of Moses.

A God who changes his mind – that’s the kind of God Thom’s book portrays. Or, perhaps, to put it more accurately, Thom’s book portrays a Bible produced by people whose conception of God changes over time

Yeah, the latter.

– as if God Himself wasn’t even involved.

No, go back a bit. You had it.

Am I being too hard on Thom? I hope not.

If only you would be! My sarcasm is spreading thin.

But I do hope I’m being very hard on his book because I believe it is toxic to sincere and humble faith – even to his own, if he has any left. This book constantly attacks faith in a good and loving God.

No, it attacks faith in a morally monstrous God. It actually advocates faith in a good and loving God.

Or as Thom himself put it, he’s against “someone who believes that everything the Bible affirms is true, and good, and that it comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.”

Well, I’m against the belief, not really the person who believes it. And that’s very different from being against faith in a good and loving God. How shall I explain the difference so Gantt can get a grasp of it? On the one hand, we have faith in a good and loving God. I’m for that. On the other hand, we have faith that the Bible portrays a single God who is consistently always good and loving. I’m against that. I’m against the latter because it’s a false belief. I’m for the former because I hope it’s true, and because it promotes good and loving human behavior.

Thom did not invent the doctrine he teaches. He is simply passing on warmed-over anti-biblical academic dogma – though his presentation is stylishly geared for a popular audience.

So I’m a flashy used car salesman. Got it. By the way, what are you driving, Mike?

Greater condemnation belongs to those who originated so much of this kind of disinformation about the Bible that is published and cataloged in academia. There is nothing wrong with honest historical inquiry, but when that inquiry is systematically used to destroy faith in our Creator and Redeemer then it deserves strong condemnation.

I can get on board with that. As long as John Collins takes the brunt of the beating, I think my book royalties will be worth it.

Thom is not writing a scholarly book, he is writing a popular book that presents a certain scholarly view. Were he writing a scholarly book, he’d be forced to deal more honestly with those who oppose his position. He’d have to put forth their best arguments and then show how his were superior. Instead, Thom puts forth only the weakest of his opponents’ arguments – if any at all.

A claim without any substantiation. I picked the best arguments against my positions I could find. Perhaps it’s just that they look weak to Mike after I got through with them? I admit, N.T. Wright’s preterist reading of the Olivet Discourse looked pretty weak after I got through with it, but Gantt may be surprised to learn that Wright is actually a very reputable scholar whose arguments have been taken very seriously by mainstream scholarship and have persuaded many. As for human sacrifice, my chapter is adequately footnoted for a semi-popular volume, and any time a scholar (such as Richard Hess) has attempted to challenge my readings of the texts, I’ve not shirked back from exposing the insurmountable weaknesses in his “strong arguments.”

I don’t mind that Thom takes a position and seeks to have his reader accept it. I do the same thing myself in my blogs. The difference is that I am trying to build something (faith in Christ) while Thom is trying to destroy it.

Yep. That’s the difference. I’ve already admitted to this. I just want to stake my claim on all the piles of rubble that were once the faith of the faithful. That really is the key difference between Mike and me. Why would I want to build anything anyway? That wouldn’t be consistent with my goal, which is to steal and destroy. All I really want to do is make money off of book sales, and I know that the easiest way to sell a lot of books is to write a book for Christians that tells them everything they don’t want to hear and undermines the very foundation of their existence. Those books sell like hotcakes, which is why I chose to get in on the action myself.

I do not ascribe evil motives to Thom in this regard. He is attempting to destroy belief that the Bible is the word of God because he thinks such a belief is bad for you.

Oh, I’ve divulged too much then. I guess all those times Mike complained about the fact that I charge money for my book while his book is available online for free wasn’t about ascribing evil motives to me either. Good then.

Therefore, both he and I are trying to do what we believe is in your best interest. You, however, will have to decide between our views. I am making the choice clear. I am saying that the Bible is a true and completely reliable witness to the reality of Jesus Christ, our Creator and Redeemer. Further, I am saying that Jesus Christ Himself is the truth – the “pearl of great price” – to which the Bible testifies.

Thom has promised that in the final two chapters of his book he will provide “reading strategies” for the Bible. I look forward to hearing what he has to say in that regard, because so far I can’t see why anyone would want to read a book that he has described as unreliable, which portrays a God he describes as reprehensible (promoting child sacrifice in this chapter, genocide in the next).

Oh, I can help with that. I think it’s because we can learn valuable things even from books that contain bad content. Like an N.T. Wright monograph, or an Anne Rice book (not necessarily the vampire bits, more the prose bits). Especially when those books are actually a collection of books with multiple authors who have different and interesting views on a number of subjects! Those books are very rewarding, spiritually, morally, intellectually, and otherwise, and I happen to think the Bible is the best of the bunch! On the other hand, Mike says it’s all or nothing. So that, I would propose, is really the choice readers have to face. Not between Thom and Jesus (although who you ought to choose in that case is unarguably clear), but between a four-year-old, all-or-nothing, tantrum-thrower’s approach to the Bible, and a mature, realistic, and nuanced one. And I’ll admit, while reading the Bible sometimes makes me want to throw a tantrum, I advocate for the latter approach. It’s better for everybody really.

Before I close this post I should mention how Thom deals with the outright denunciation of child sacrifice made by Jeremiah on behalf of God in Jeremiah 19:5-6. Here’s an excerpt:
“…Jeremiah has Yahweh saying that he ‘did not command or decree’ the practice of sacrificing children to Baal, that such a thing ‘never entered my mind.’ But this strains against credulity.”
It may “strain against credulity” for Thom, but not for anyone who has more faith in Christ than Thom does – or for anyone who has more faith in Christ than they do in Thom.

Right, because that’s what it’s about—how much faith in Christ you have. It’s not about hermeneutics or texts; it’s about the measure of your faith. Remember that, folks, the next time you’re talking with a Mormon about The Pearl of Great Price, or a Muslim about the Qur’an.

Thom clearly does not accept this passage as a message from God through Jeremiah to Israel. Since Thom rejects that explanation, everything else he writes is an attempt to impose naturalistic explanations of how this text came to be.

Yes, let’s ignore the actual reasons I offered why it strains against credulity, and just attribute my incredulity to my anti-supernaturalist bias. Here’s another example of how the fundamentalist wishes to employ naturalistic hermeneutic methodology until such a methodology comes into conflict with the doctrine of inerrancy. I provide other examples in my book. Anyway, Gantt continues:

And I would suppose Thom would say that all those messages in the Bible which are preceded with “Thus saith the Lord” are really just “Thus saith some (lying or deluded) human being.”

No, not all. Because I don’t have an anti-supernaturalist bias. I think God may well have spoken to many men and women throughout history in one way or another. I think evidence for divine inspiration is ample throughout the Bible. I (along with a number of other scholars—some believers at that!) also think that it strains credulity for Yahweh to have to stress that he never condoned sacrifice to a rival deity. Duh! The total obviousness of the claim here leads me and numerous other scholars to the conclusion that something else is going on here in the text. (See my book, or Jon Levenson’s _The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son_ for more details.)

And yes, some prophets lied. No doubt. Others were well-intentioned but deluded. No doubt. And yes, some prophets were genuinely inspired with the truth. Sorry, but Gantt’s sweeping claims about my view of these texts just don’t measure up to reality.

If God is not involved in the production of the Bible, then I’m just not interested in it.

Well, Gantt’s bookshelves must be totally empty, or totally filled with Bibles. Of course, my argument has never been that God is not involved in the production of the Bible. That’s not my argument first and foremost because I wouldn’t know how to substantiate such a position.

And if God is interested in child sacrifice and genocide, then I’m not interested in Him.

On this, Gantt and I are in full agreement. Fortunately, my argument is not that the true God sanctioned child sacrifice and genocide and then changed the old mind. Rather, my argument is that, well, Gantt knows my argument. I guess it’s just easier for him to reject some other position than it is to reject my own. I am very sympathetic with that sentiment. I gravitate further away from positions that aren’t mine as well.

Because Gantt’s critique of my fifth chapter has so far been very short on criticism of my actual arguments and very long on bald statements of his disagreement with my positions, I guess he decided to make up for this absence of substantive criticism by concluding with a nice homily:

There is, however, a kind of sacrifice that God is interested in – and I am, too. It is the willing sacrifice of every human life to His purpose and glory. Such a sacrifice is not a matter of giving your body to be burned, but it is living every moment of human existence not for ourselves but in service to others in Jesus’ name. This sacrifice means denying our lusts and doing the will of God. It means looking out not for our own interests, but for the interests of others. It means loving God above all, our neighbors with our lives, and ourselves not at all. At times this will actually lead to death. It did for Jesus. It did for Stephen. It did for Peter, and Paul, and others. It still does today wherever faith in Christ encounters the most virulent strains of persecution. But whether we face death, or hostility far less, we do well to nonetheless live out our lives sacrificially for Christ. What was written about sacrifice in the Old Testament was intended to point to the more perfect sacrifice which we are privileged to live today: living sacrifice.

May we be living sacrifices in Jesus’ name. May we never consider life in this world so dear that we are willing to compromise integrity before God in order to preserve that life. For we have a greater and much longer life to come (Everyone is going to heaven). ”And they did not love their lives, even when faced with death.” That is the epitaph of all who love Christ with a love incorruptible. And may we be among them.

I have goosebumps.


When you make the subject “genocide” you have already prejudiced the argument. ”Genocide” is one of the favorite arguments of the new atheists for this very reason. People don’t like genocide for the same reason that they don’t like homicide. Those are bad things. Therefore, to get defenders of the Bible to accept the characterization of certain events in the Old Testament as genocide is practically winning the argument even before you start it – for genocide is as hard to defend as homicide.

Look up any definition of genocide. Look up the definition of genocide provided by the United Nations. The description is neutral and perfectly appropriate.

I don’t buy the notion that “genocide” is a legitimate term when God is brought into the discussion. Homicide and genocide have to do with human behavior. God is our Creator and our Judge. He has the power of life and death.

First, the Israelites were the ones doing the killing here. They claimed it was because God told them to. By Gantt’s logic, any genocide where the perpetrators believe they are acting on divine orders should not count as genocide. So much for the Rwandan genocide, the Holocaust, and so on. Give us a break.

If genocide were an applicable term I suppose you could say that the fact that every human being eventually dies proves that God is guilty of the greatest genocide imaginable (since He’s “killing” the entire human race), but such nomenclature is silly when applied to God.

Gantt could say that, but only because he hasn’t looked up a definition of genocide.

Is every human death to be called a “homicide,” for which we have to defend God for having “killed” the person?

No. Surely Gantt sees the difference between humans killing humans because God told them to on the one hand, and God directly killing humans on the other hand. Surely he sees the difference between God intentionally and deliberately killing human beings as punishment on the one hand, and natural deaths on the other. Example: Abraham died. God didn’t kill him. But the people of Sodom and Gomorrah died, because God killed them. Gantt’s attempt to distract from the obvious is entirely transparent and laughably insignificant.

What happened when God told Israel to invade Canaan and displace its inhabitants was that He was authorizing Israel to conduct a war against the people of Canaan. Israel’s ultimate victory was only guaranteed if they obeyed God, and when they did not obey Him they lost battles. Therefore, it’s not as if Israel was a mighty army invading defenseless people. The battles could have gone either way. Further, God authorized this war because of the wickedness of Canaan – just as He would subsequently allow Israel itself to be kicked out of the land because of its own wickedness.

Yes, let’s ignore everything I wrote about these issues in the book Gantt is supposedly “reviewing.”

Therefore, I believe that the invocation of “genocide” is an entirely inappropriate way to discuss the issues of this chapter.

Oh look! A non sequitur.

Moreover, Thom’s use of a graphic description of genocide from the victims’ point of view as his opening volley is even further exploitation of the term in order to win his argument by emotion rather than reason.

Right, because I made no rational arguments at all, and because any discussion of mass slaughter should be devoid of emotion.

To discuss the chapter at all requires me to use the term “genocide” but recognize in what follows that I’m only doing it for convenience sake – not because I believe such language is logical to use with respect to God.


Thom seems to believe that God didn’t command the genocides he sees in the Bible, but that they were concocted by the Israelites who were fabricating their national history to make themselves look good. This is consistent with his view that the documents we have in the Bible are not the product of God speaking through human beings but rather fabrications by human beings who were falsely claiming divine authorization for their imperial actions. Nonetheless, Thom spends considerable time attacking various justifications of God’s role in these actions put forth by defenders of the Bible. (Strange behavior if you don’t think the texts accurately portray God.)

Strange behavior only if one is not bright enough to recognize that I’m rebutting one argument at a time, each on its own terms.

The only one of these arguments I want to address is the one that is the closest to the one I hold, and that I described to you earlier. Thom calls it the “Divine Punishment” justification and covers it under the sub-chapter heading of that name.
In his argument against divine punishment as an explanation for God’s actions, Thom offers three objections. I will list and address them each in order.

“First, if God knew that the Canaanites were going to become even more depraved, why did He do nothing to intervene in their self-destructive course?”

How does Thom know God didn’t something along those lines?

Because the that’s not part of the story. If God had, that would be part of the story. See Jonah, for example. Whom did God send instead of prophets? Military spies.

Besides, the rich man suffering torment in Jesus’ Luke 16 tale of alterations of attitude in the afterlife certainly thought an extra message from God would be all it took for his brothers to get the message to repent, but it was a vain hope. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for God’s warnings to go ignored. We don’t know all of God’s dealings with the Canaanites leading up to their judgment, but to assume God was unfair with them seems an assumption without warrant.

An assumption without warrant, as long as you’re so committed to the inerrancy that you’re willing to write your own episodes in order to make the Bible conform to your own moral standards, and also to ignore the numerous episodes in the narrative in which God acts unjustly toward the Canaanites, e.g., by refusing to allow them to make peace treaties.

“The second difficulty rests in the question of who deserved the punishment.”

Thom wants here to make the point that no matter how much the Canaanite adults might have deserved punishment, their infants couldn’t have. But who would raise the infants if only the adults were killed?

The Israelites?

And at what age would the line be drawn? And what about children who develop a conscience faster than others? And there are many more complications.

I agree. So, … what? Wholesale slaughter is the solution to these problems?

Thom offers no solutions for this.

Here’s my solution: God, find somewhere else for your people to live.
Here’s another one: God, make all the Canaanite males impotent. (Not the best solution, but way better than genocide.)
Here’s another one: God, keep the Promised Land hidden from human view until the time comes for Israel to enter.
And another: God, Since you know Israel isn’t going to kill all the Canaanites anyway, and since you know Israel is going to worship other gods anyway, skip the genocide bit and order a peaceful migration yet maintain your standards in your commandments. Same result, no child-killing.
And another: God, order them not to kill any noncombatants. Send the noncombatants away with enough food and water for their journey, and guide the Canaanites to another habitable area. Perhaps with your guidance, some will come to put their faith in you.

I mean, I could go on for days coming up with better ideas than genocide, one after the other. Gantt’s claim that I provide no solutions is just another transparent attempt to distract from the horrible reality depicted in the conquest narratives.

He just believes God was wrong, or that the Bible authors’ and defenders’ conception is wrong. Either way is okay with him – just so you believe there is error on this subject where the Bible is concerned.

Right. I just want you to believe the Bible is wrong. I don’t really care what you think about genocide. It’s just the Bible that I’m against.

We have to accept the fact that judgment is upon us in this earth and beyond. However,everyone is going to heaven. Therefore, we should never view the end of life on this earth as the end of the story.

Um . . .

God might not execute judgment in the way Thom would like Him to, but the Bible itself gives accounts of men who complained to God about the way He runs things. God’s pleased we’re using our moral muscle, but we’d be more productive if we applied that sort of thinking to our own lives…unless we think we’re already as moral as we can be.

Something about this scenario sounds familiar.

“If Yahweh wanted to use Israel to punish wicked nations, why did such a crusade conveniently terminate precisely at Israel’s borders?”

Because God did not raise up Israel to be the world’s “enforcer.” Their role was to be a light to the nations. They needed a land for the people, but God did not establish that they should be like Alexander or Napoleon – grasping for every inch of earth they could find. At the height of Israel’s national power – Solomon’s reign – they were a land marked by peace. God had a special purpose for Israel and the borders God gave were sufficient for that purpose. He had other ways to dispensing divine judgment on wicked nations.

Beat that straw man, Mike. Beat it to a bloody pulp!

Thus, the biblical explanation that God’s granting of Canaan to Israel was a manifestation of God’s judgment on Canaan and fulfillment of His promise to Abraham stands. And, as I wrote above, Israel itself became subject to divine punishment when it was exiled to Babylon centuries later because of its own disobedience. ”God is no respecter of persons.”

Yes, let’s ignore the section in which I refute this apologetic strategy as well.

Later in the chapter, Thom rightly points out that Jesus Himself pronounced a judgment of destruction on Jerusalem and likened it to the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. This seems to horrify Thom, but not in the right way. That is, instead of falling to his knees crying out for mercy, He castigates Jesus and God for running creation in such a way.

Yeah, that’s what I did. Or not. As they say, the devil is in the details, and Gantt’s review has been thoroughly exorcized.

God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” ”He desires that all men repent” and be saved from the destruction we otherwise bring on ourselves. Thom seems to miss out on this dynamic entirely.

So did the Yahweh of Deuteronomy and Joshua.

This chapter is just one more of the string in which Thom incessantly flails away at the God of Scripture and the Scripture itself. That is, he is saying that the God described by the Scripture is so evil that He cannot possibly exist, but he is simultaneously saying that the Scriptures themselves don’t come from God and are untrustworthy. If the Scriptures are error-laden, why does Thom go to all the trouble to condemn the picture of God it paints? If the Scriptures are error-laden, then ipso facto they’ll describe God erroneously. That Thom feels compelled to attack both the credibility of the Scriptures and the credibility of their God speaks of a hostility toward both that is other than rational.

I’m awe-struck by the profundity and cogency of this argument. I need to take some time to reexamine my motives.

Strangely, Thom ends this chapter with a promise:
“In chapter 10 I will attempt to show how these texts can still be used…as sacred scripture…”
If you can’t count on the Scriptures to paint an accurate portrait of God, how could you possibly call them sacred?

Yes, how strange of me to say such a thing. That was a typo. I didn’t mean “sacred.” I meant “sacred,” “sacred,” and “sacred.”

I close with an appeal that I have continued to make to you: Why was it Jesus could know all these same scriptures that Thom knows, and yet not be troubled by them as Thom is? On the contrary, Jesus was devoted to them and to the God they portrayed. Remember: Jesus said, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.” What is it that Jesus saw in the Scriptures that Thom did not see? Look in them with a humble heart and you will find it.

Or don’t bother. Just look at me. Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you information.


Thom is sure that Goliath was slain, but he’s also sure that someone other than David did it. He offers an exceedingly painstaking explanation of how he comes to this conclusion. (Why do I get the feeling, having read this far in the book, that Thom would have been just as comfortable writing a chapter here about how he was sure that David did the slaying, but that it was someone other than Goliath who got slain?)

Yeah, I’m not sure why Gantt gets that feeling. Good question.

Gantt’s “review” of chapter 7 is nothing but drivel, so I’ll summarize it for you.

1. Thom’s arguments are found elsewhere in the “liberal” canons, and there are refutations to be found in the “conservative” canons.

2. Thom offers small excerpts from the conservative arguments, but doesn’t copy and paste their entire arguments.

3. Ancient texts have textual issues. Liberal scholars look for naturalistic explanations for these issues; conservatives allow for supernatural explanations.

4. Jesus accepted the Old Testament without question, therefore if we are to believe Thom, we must disbelieve Jesus.

5. Gantt is not going to respond to Thom’s arguments, because that’d just put him in the ghetto. The real point of the David and Goliath story is that it foreshadows Christ’s defeat of death.

In response to 1., no, I make some original arguments, and no, conservatives have not answered all of my arguments. For instance, I point out that lchm (the name of Goliath’s brother according to the Chronicler’s revised version of the account) is a Semitic word, yet the name Goliath, and the names of all of Goliath’s brothers and the other Philistine giants, are not Semitic names but Philistine, and their language has Indo-European origins. Thus, lchm would not have been the name of a Philistine giant; rather, the original version in the book of Samuel has it correct. Lchm is part of the construct bt lchm, and refers to the geographic location from which Elhanan’s father came.

In response to 2., yeah, that’s the way it works in scholarship. You cite the relevant arguments and engage them.

In response to 3., this is a red herring. There is nothing supernatural in the story of David and Goliath, nothing for liberal scholars to make a fuss about, except for the fact that an earlier version of the story found in Samuel has Elhanan, not David, slaying Goliath.

In response to 4., again, the choice between Jesus and Thom should be a no-brainer. I’m way better than Jesus.

In response to 5., nothing.

Now a final quote from Gantt:

Thom’s title for this chapter is The Shepherd and the Giant: Government Propaganda. He begins with the story of George Washington’s childhood encounter with an axe and cherry tree, and how it has been revealed to be fiction. Why in the world Thom doesn’t draw from this the lesson that had David not been the one who slayed Goliath, that fiction would have been similarly exposed by those who knew better, is a question best answered by remembering his goal: he wants you to doubt that the Bible is always telling the truth.

Right, Gantt. Well done. We’ll leave aside everything we know about the development and transmission of legends in the ancient world, and just conclude that I’m a great big bonehead. I made that mistake only because I’m blindly driven by my desire to undermine the authority of the Bible, clearly at the cost of my own capacity to reason.


Although I disagree in the strongest possible terms with the idea that Jesus was wrong, I found myself in agreement with the direction Thom took in the beginning of the chapter. In fact, this chapter is remarkably different from the seven that have preceded it. Thom himself explains the difference in its concluding section:

“The astute reader will notice that the case I’ve made in this chapter has not been against biblical inerrancy. In fact, the case I’ve made has depended on the assumption of the reliability of the synoptic gospels.”

(Gulp!) Why would Thom be willing to assume that the Scriptures are reliable in this case? Oh, I see: if it leads to a conclusion that Jesus was wrong. Now I get it: if a straightforward reading of the Scriptures leads to the conclusion that Jesus was wrong, Thom wants to skip all the textual criticism and take the text at face value!
Any reader – astute or otherwise – would be forgiven for noticing that in this book Thom intends to show the Scriptures unreliable…except where assuming otherwise would allow him to show that God was unreliable. This book is truly deserves a warning label for being hazardous to your faith!

This is getting pretty tiring. First, I don’t believe Jesus is God, so no, my aim was not to show that God was unreliable. Second, the purpose was to show what happens when we treat the text uncritically. But I also happen to believe that for the most part, on the issue of Jesus’ apocalyptic predictions, the synoptics are pretty much accurate. I am persuaded (contra Borg, Crossan, et al.) that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who predicted the end of the world within the lifetime of his first disciples. So it’s not that I would come to a different conclusion were I to engage in historical criticism. I disagree with those who argue that the Olivet Discourse is not original to Jesus, that it was placed on his lips by apocalyptic followers of his, while Jesus himself was not an apocalypticist himself. I think the historical critical issues are important, they’re just not important to the purpose of my chapter, which is to show what I believe Jesus really said.

So Gantt’s tired attempt to paint me as an opportunistic Bible-hater is just ignorant. The point that needs to be made is the point I made: reading the Bible as an inerrantist is inevitably going to lead to a paradox.

Even so, I enjoyed reading this chapter and I wish Thom would have made a separate book of it. Why? So that the evangelical world would be further confronted with the very straightforward case that Jesus indeed predicted the coming of His kingdom in the lifetime of His disciples.

For those who aren’t aware, Gantt is a preterist. That means he believes that Jesus did return toward the end of the first century C.E., just not physically. So, Gantt likes all of my arguments against the fundies who believe Jesus is still coming back as promised, but he doesn’t like my arguments that the return Jesus actually predicted was a physical one, not a spiritual one.

Having concluded that Jesus Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life, I could never conclude that He was wrong about anything. I could easily be made to see that I had misunderstood Jesus about something, but never that He misunderstood something.

There you have it. No matter what, Gantt can’t be convinced of my (i.e., the consensus) position, because Gantt is committed to a certain view of Jesus prior to the fact. ‘Nuff said really.

But if Thom and I agree about what Jesus said concerning the timing of His Second Coming, how then do we get to such radically different conclusions about whether He was right? Let’s break it down.

Thom’s argument is essentially this:
Premise 1: Jesus prophesied that the kingdom of God would come in that generation.
Premise 2: The kingdom of God did not come in that generation.
Conclusion: Jesus was wrong.

I agree completely with Thom on the first premise. I disagree with him on the second premise, and therefore on the conclusion. My argument therefore is as follows:

Premise 1: Jesus prophesied that the kingdom of God would come in that generation.
Premise 2: The kingdom of God came in that generation.
Conclusion: Jesus was right.

As to the second premise you can find a one-page summary of my view at Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again. And I present a full biblical case for this point of view at Whatever Became of Jesus Christ? (it’s the length of a small book).

Here’s an overview of the argument: The timing of the Second Coming was the late 1st Century AD, and the nature of it was spiritual. As for the timing, Thom has made an excellent argument for the timing. And I accept it. Once again, his intellect and writing dexterity weave well, and, in this case, serve an excellent purpose. In fact, I don’t think my chapter on the timing of the Second Coming is as good as his. He is absolutely correct that all the various events Jesus prophesied (e.g. earthquakes, false messiahs, worldwide gospel preaching) can be checked off as completed in the 1st Century. I also agree with the way he dispenses with the standard evangelical or conservative alternatives to the straightforward timeline we see that Jesus gives. He also rightly rejects the “escape clause” of Jesus “not knowing the day or hour.” I also am quite comfortable with the way he handles the “solution” put forth by N. T. Wright. He likes it for the same reasons I do, and rejects it for the same reasons I do. Why am I finding myself in such agreement with Thom on this issue of the timing of the coming of the kingdom of God? Simple. Remember, on this subject he said he was depending on the reliability of the Scriptures. Therefore, we are both working from the same assumption on this point. (Thom and I would probably agree on many other points if he would only keep to this assumption when he studies those other points.)

On this last point, see my comments above.

I should add that Thom also rightly points out that the testimony of the early church as evidenced by the balance of the New Testament was entirely consistent with Jesus’ view about timing. Thom does waffle a bit on John and 2 Peter, but, hey, let’s not be picky with him.

Oh, a disagreement with . . . no argument or rebuttal. Frown.

As to the nature of the Second Coming being spiritual, it is undeniable that the general thrust of the New Testament was to recast the Old Testament in a spiritual light.

Actually, that abstract proposition is quite deniable, and I deny it, along with the vast majority of historical Jesus scholars working in the last forty years.

Moreover, the work of the apostles, which can be seen from Acts to Revelation, was to get the disciples to think in spiritual rather than in fleshly terms. In many circles today, to say someone has “spiritualized” a passage is to criticize him. It’s clear, however, that the same dynamic was true in New Testament times. (“How can a man be born when he is old?” asked Nicodemus. And, in another context, “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you about bread, but about the leaven of the Pharisees?” asked Jesus.) People clung tightly to their fleshly (i.e. physical) orientation.

OK. So he refers to the Gospel of John, which, as I argued in my book, does spiritualize the coming of the kingdom. Points so far scored against my position: 0.

Note how Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1ff indicated that there was to be a progression in understanding among disciples of Jesus from fleshly to spiritual. Paul was pushing for that progression throughout his ministry, the evidence for this being seen in his letters. Nor is the appeal for spiritual, as opposed to physical, perception limited to Paul. The rest of the New Testament shows it also.

An interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3 that virtually no Paul scholars would accept. As for “the rest of the New Testament” showing this push also, er, no.

The mere fact that today’s church considers a spiritual Second Coming as out of the question is testimony to its fleshly and spiritually immature mindset.

If Gantt says so.

Spiritual things are more important than physical things, and more long lasting. When will the church that says the Bible is the word of God take seriously admonitions like 2 Corinthians 4:18 (“for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”)?

The coming of the kingdom of God in the late 1st Century AD, in full accordance with the timetable Jesus laid down, was a heavenly event with earthly consequences. The powers being despoiled were celestial, not terrestrial as they had been in Israel’s past. In times past the Old Testament described how the earth was shaken, but the coming of the kingdom of God was the shaking of heaven, and it had enormous consequences on earth. Perhaps the most notable of these consequences was the passage of humanity from the darkness of polytheism to the light of monotheism. You could say that this change is the most profound distinction between the age of BC and the age of AD.


The change was as progressive as the turning of night to day, but there was that instant when “the sun of righteousness” broke the horizon. There is much more that I could say, and that I have said in the resources to which I gave you in the links above.

So there you go. Not one argument against my arguments against a spiritual reading of the parousia. Not only does Gantt not make any attempt at a refutation, he doesn’t even identify any of my arguments. Once again, the devil is in the details, and Gantt has cast the devil out of his review.

Unlike Thom’s book, you don’t have to pay for any of it.

There it is. Gantt isn’t questioning my motives, except when he does.

In the meantime, recognize the irony that this chapter of his book has brought to light: Thom Stark is saying that the Scriptures can be trusted to present the truth about what Jesus and the New Testament church said concerning the timing of His Second Coming. On this point, I could not agree with him more. I only pray that Thom can eventually bring himself to trust Jesus on the reliability of the rest of the Bible!

Oh indeed, we are drowning in irony here.


I need to acknowledge the lens which Thom says he is using to see the problem he’s trying to solve. That lens is fashioned by the language of “12-step programs.” He says the problem texts of the Bible exist within a “family” of all the texts, and are “the alcoholic uncle,” whom we must “confront” with an “intervention” lest we become “enablers.” This language is important to Thom because its the means by which he distinguishes himself from Marcion, who sought simply to remove the passages of the Bible that offended him. Thom wants to retain and embrace the offending passages, while being sure to recognize them as offensive.

Thom’s approach is impractical from the start. He does not give his readers a list of all the “problematic texts” so that they can distinguish the good uncles from the alcoholic uncles. Perhaps he assumed his readers were highlighting every passage he attacked in his first eight chapters. That would make for a lot of yellow in a reader’s Bible. But even if a reader had done this, Thom’s now told him that “we have only begun to scratch the surface of the problems that exist within the Judeo-Christian scriptures…” Should folks just dip their Bibles in a bowl of yellow ink?

Yes, because it’s my job to tell everybody what’s moral and what’s not. Forget the faith community in which Christians struggle together to work through the Bible. Thom will do all that work for you, and you’ll have more time to watch America’s Next Top Model.

Putting it another way: If this many people in the family are alcoholics, how are you going to find enough sober relatives to do the intervention with you? Maybe it’s time to just find something else to do when family reunions roll around.

Putting it another way: Gantt doesn’t know how to read.

Though Thom doesn’t seem to realize it, he is – by virtue of denigrating so much of the Bible – asking readers to transfer what faith they have in the Bible to his book.

Yeah, that’s what I did. Except, I fully realized it. I don’t really want people to think for themselves. I don’t want people to bring their concerns to their faith communities, argue with each other, argue with the Bible, argue with me. I just said all that to fill in space. What I really want is for people to trade their uncritical allegiance to the Bible for an uncritical allegiance to my book.

Instead of trusting what is read in the Bible, Thom wants readers to trust what he is writing. Thom could say in his defense, “I’m offering arguments and proof for my point of view so people are really deciding for themselves.” But the same is true of the Bible.

Yeah, no. The same is emphatically not true of the Bible. The Bible may be an argument with itself, but it’s not a scholarly argument with itself.

Therefore, should you be persuaded by what Thom has written, be aware that you are still operating in faith…just as you were before. The only difference is that you have changed the object of your faith…from one book to another. You are saying that you think The Human Faces of God tells more truth than the Bible. If you think Thom is more worthy of your faith than those who wrote the Old and New Testaments, then go right ahead. I just cannot imagine anyone in his right mind thinking this.

Who says I want people to be in their right minds? I don’t want people in their right minds. I want people who are willing to blindly trust everything I say. Duh!

Even assuming that Thom is a righteous man and does good to those around him . . .

Bad assumption!

. . . should he be compared to the prophets and apostles who suffered great derision, torture, and death for the truth of their testimony?

No. There’s really no comparison. They’re all ciphers.

Now some of you might want to say, “But wait, Mike – Thom is not the only one with his view of the Bible; others feel the same way.” On this point, I would readily agree with you. In fact, you could find a number of equally well-written books by authors with even more degrees than Thom who would reinforce his point. Thus, you’d have a collection of books espousing Thom’s point of view. But that’s just what the Bible is: a collection of books by respected authors.

Yes, authors such as ______, and ____. And let’s not forget ______. And who could forget “Paul”? Let’s not leave out Shlomo the scribe of king Jeroboam, and Bill, the redactor who incorporated 1 Sam 17 into the pre-existing book of Samuel. Respected gents, one and all.

Therefore, you have to decide which crowd you respect more: the ones with degrees and modern educations, or the ones who lived the times, in most cases were eyewitnesses, and declared their veracity with their own blood. With all due respect to Thom and his crowd (and they are due respect), there’s no comparison here.

For once Mike is right. There’s no comparison.

First, let me address inerrancy as a reading strategy. As is probably clear to you by now, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI), against which Thom argues throughout the book, speaks to more than just inerrancy – it speaks to interpretation (hermeneutics) as well.

Actually, no. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics speaks to hermeneutics, but I engage with that too.

A document that long can’t just be speaking to inerrancy, because it wouldn’t take that many words to make the point.

Mike here is just assuming that the writers of the CSBI are as concise and cogent as he is.

I don’t have any problem with Thom’s injunction to avoid the interpretive mandates of the CSBI, as long as you stick to the belief that the Bible is the word of God.

Which when translated means: I don’t have any problem with Thom’s injunction to avoid the interpretive mandates of the CSBI, as long as you stick to the belief that it is impossible for the Bible to be in error.

To be specific about what I mean when I say that, look to 2 Peter 1:20-21. The key point there is that the Holy Spirit inspired what has been written, and works on the receiving end as well, enabling the interpretation. Thus the Holy Spirit helps the reader of the Bible as well as the writer.

Yeah. Take it from the pseudonymous book of 2 Peter—the Bible never lies.

The first of the other three reading strategies that Thom decries is “allegorical reading.” I agree with Thom that approaching the Bible as nothing but allegory doesn’t make sense. However, if a worthy allegorical meaning is apparent, why ignore it? The apostle Paul himself in Galatians 4 spoke allegorically of an Old Testament passage. The Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture, as He was the author of it. If He shows an allegory, who are we to say He’s out of bounds?

Which when translated means: I agree that we shouldn’t read the Bible allegorically all the time, but if the Holy Spirit whispers to our inner ears that there’s a good allegorical reading of a text, then it’s time to set aside the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. E.g., the Holy Spirit whispered to Mike that David and Goliath is really about Jesus and Death, and, well, universalism. Praise be!

The second reading strategy Thom discourages is that of “canonical reading.” This is a largely an academic reading strategy. It focuses on creating or finding a faith community’s way of interpreting Scripture and seeing the Bible through it.

Yeah, no.

I don’t have any problem joining with Thom in discouraging you from using it. For one thing, it’s academic and, as we all know, Jesus does not require academic degrees from those who would be His disciples.

Yes, any reading of the text that requires you to know something that you wouldn’t otherwise know from your day job at Pizza Hut is not of the Spirit!

The second problem for me with this strategy is that it’s built around a community’s interpretation. That seems to me to substitute the community of faith for role of the Holy Spirit. That’s a bad trade.

Right, because the Holy Spirit inhabits the individual, NOT the community!

The puzzling thing to me about Thom’s description of the canonical reading strategy is that he doesn’t seem to realize how closely it resembles his own.

That’s puzzling to me as well.

Thom clearly holds his views of the Bible with a community of faith – that is, those who are like-minded with him about these issues. If this is not apparent anywhere else, it’s apparent in his footnotes and in the endorsements to his book.

Right. Whoever happens to agree with me is my faith community.

Thom’s view of the Bible, apart from his so far inexplicable continuing attachment to it, sounds very much like that of a liberal or Democrat.

Yes, I have a Democrat reading of the Bible. In other words, I read the Bible and say, “I’m going to change this, and this, and this.” But then I never get around to it.

His views on gender relations, the advancement of western civilization, and a host of other social issues become apparent in the first chapter and are predictable thereafter. (I keep wondering if there’s an Alex P. Keaton in his family who continually participates with Thom in a scripted argument about globalization, culture wars, and the CSBI.)

I do have a brother like that, but he contracted Parkinson’s so now I can’t have a conversation with him without getting seasick. Hence, I’ve become a liberal.

I hasten to say that I do not consider the views of a conservative or Republican on these various issues any more or less legitimate that Thom’s. But they are all just that: group opinions, and largely political. They are not relevant to a discussion about Jesus our Lord.

Because by “Lord,” we don’t mean that Jesus has anything to do with how we live in this world. It’s more an honorific title.

“Canonical hermeneutics” is groupthink, and Thom’s perspective is very much a product of groupthink.

Which when translated means: I don’t know what canonical hermeneutics is at all, and Thom holds positions that other people hold, with which I disagree.

Thom has certainly been individualistic in his expression of the liberal Christian point of view, but it is nonetheless a group opinion he is expressing…and it is that group who has rallied to him and his book.

Whereas nobody shares Mike Gantt’s point of view, which is why he’s right.

I think you are much better off not taking your understanding of the Bible from any other group. Let the Holy Spirit reveal Jesus to you, and walk with Him alone. (And be sure that this will not lead you away from people, but rather to them.)

Which when translated means: if you agree with a lot of people, you suffer from groupthink. Don’t do that. Instead, get your opinions directly from the Holy Spirit. If you do that, you won’t agree with anybody, and you’ll be right.

The third reading strategy to incur Thom’s disapprobation is what he calls “subversive reading.” He is way off base here, because his first example is the New Testament’s appropriation of the martial language in Psalms 2 and 110 to apply to Jesus’ battle with the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Though it may be needless to say, I side with Jesus and the apostles on this point. And they weren’t being “subversive” to the Old Testament texts at all. The spiritual application of these passages had been the ultimate intent all along. . . . There is nothing “subversive” about finding Christ in the Bible – He is its purpose.

All I can say in response is: wow. Mike has the reading comprehension of a fourth-grader.

We come therefore to the end of this chapter from Thom as we have all the others: with no compelling reason given by him for why we should read the Bible.

Right. Because that’s in the next chapter.

The mystery remains: why does he want you to read a deeply flawed book? Maybe in the next chapter we will find the answer.

Right. That’s what I told you at the start of this chapter. Sorry if you thought I was going to change my mind(?).


At the outset, Thom declares his reason for retaining as scripture what he calls “morally and theologically problematic texts.” Because, he says:

“they must be retained as scripture, precisely as condemned texts. Their status as condemned is exactly their scriptural value. That they are condemned is what they reveal to us about God.”

Although this statement is practically nonsensical,…

To a fundamentalist Christian? Sure. To Mike Gantt? Clearly.

…I wish to sincerely commend Thom on a very important point, and at the same time, show how his attitude on this point is consistent with that of Jesus. I am speaking of Thom’s appeal to conscience. Underlying Thom’s critical view of the Bible is, in part, an exaltation of individual conscience. And the exaltation of conscience is a good thing. God said that in the kingdom of God – which is the age in which we live – that He would write His laws on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12). We should therefore be living according to conscience. In fact, the world’s ills today can be traced to the root that we as a human race make so many of our choices in life according to our lusts, our habits, and our fears – rather than according to conscience.

I had no idea that’s what I was exalting, but great! It’s amazing the kinds of things we’re able to find in texts once we finally put aside the debilitating restraints of context and grammar.

If we read in the Bible that David slew Goliath with a slingshot and sword, and thus led Israel to victory, we may rejoice. As we do, however, we know by conscience that this does not mean we are to buy slingshots, or chop people’s heads off, or start a war in the name of God. Do some people do these things? Yes, but only because their consciences have become diseased. How then can a conscience be kept healthy? By reading the Bible, learning of Jesus Christ, and relating to Him. He forgives us our sins and restores our conscience. It’s an ongoing process.
That Thom reads the Bible and doesn’t want to imitate some of the things in that he reads is not necessarily a bad thing. When James and John wanted to imitate Elijah by calling down fire from heaven on the obdurate, Jesus had to rebuke them. He thus “healed” their conscience, and perhaps He would not have had to do so in Thom’s case.

So my conscience is or isn’t a product of liberal Democrat groupthink?

When you read things in the Bible that don’t make moral sense to you, fall back on the things in the Bible that do make moral sense to you. Don’t reject the Bible in the process. It’s one of the primary means God has granted for you to elevate your conscience, as well as keep it healthy.

Which when translated means: Choose for yourself which texts you think are moral and which texts you think are immoral.

As a boy, Jesus surely heard divorce from readings in the Law of Moses. It could have confused him. He could have concluded that God approved of divorce. Jesus, however, came to a different conclusion. And this is because His conscience led Him there. To be a bit more specific, it’s where the Holy Spirit through His conscience led Him. How was that accomplished? Jesus tells us that it was through remembrance of Genesis 2. Jesus thus allowed Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Or rather, Jesus allowed Matthew’s Pharisee characters to misinterpret scripture and based his false interpretation on their misinterpretation. (See my discussion of this passage in my review of Copan.)

When Thom regards his conscience as a higher authority than an interpretation of the Bible that would cause him to do evil, he imitates Jesus. And, of course, this is good. But note that it is the “interpretation” that misled Thom, not the Scriptures themselves.

Right. It’s my interpretation of the conquest narratives that misled me. They don’t actually say that Yahweh ordered Joshua to kill children. That’s just my interpretation. Really, they say something else. I just don’t know what they really say because, as a man with a clean conscience (or so says Gantt), I’ve closed off my ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, who’s waiting to give me the true interpretation.

Where I part company with Thom – and where I hope you do, too – is that for him the “problematic texts” can never be understood except in a negative way,…

Yes, that’s me.

…and must forever stand as that which largely defines the Bible.

Nope, that’s not me. I never said that, nor did I imply it. In fact, I stated the opposite on numerous occasions. But let’s not let my book stop Gantt from his critique of “my book.”

For me, problematic texts are just those I don’t yet understand. For it can never be that I am more moral than God.

Apparently, it can also never be that he is more moral than immoral men who wrote in God’s name. Geez, Mike’s in serious moral trouble.

Thom does, however, want to use “problematic texts” as divine, and here’s how:

“God may not have breathed out the text, but God may still breathe into it, giving it a life and purpose its human authors did not intend.”

Of course, if this is your belief, you could apply it to the reading of any book. So, I’m still wondering why he wants to read the Bible.

Mike’s right. Why would I want to read the Bible when I could be reading the Twilight series? His logic is humbling, and I feel a fool.

By the way, you might wonder why I have continued to use quotation marks around the phrase “problematic texts.” It’s because what’s problematic is in the eye of the beholder. Thom finds the account that David killed Goliath as problematic. Many people don’t. When you approach the Bible with a mindset like Thom’s you are going to come away with a list a “problem texts” like Thom’s. But everyone doesn’t have Thom’s mindset. Besides, when I go to the Bible I’m more interested in finding God’s mindset than imposing my own.

Truly you have a dizzying intellect.

Thom believes he can hear the voice of God through the Bible, as error-filled as he believes it is. In this, I rejoice. He even spends time in this chapter describing how he finds good in all these “problematic texts” he has been identifying. The common theme is that he himself would never do such things, or if he did, he would feel guilty.

Yeah, because I said that… never.

I have no problem with that, but if he’s focused on these things instead of on Jesus when he reads the Scriptures, he’s missing the best part.

Or, I’m not reading it as a one-act play.

Here’s a strategy for reading the Bible: Always read it with Jesus in mind.

Solid advice. I concur.

Always look for Him in the text. Always listen for the voice of His Holy Spirit whispering in your soul as you read. (Occasionally you may find Him gently chastising you to abandon a desire to interpret passage in a certain way…as He had chastised James and John.)

Yeah, I agree.

For further guidance, consider that there’s no better way of learning how to interpret the Old Testament than to watch how the New Testament writers do it.

Yeah, I disagree. See my discussion of pesher exegesis in the first few chapters, a discussion absent from Mike’s “review,” and whose presence could have really helped Mike out in not a few places.

When Thom demonstrates to us how he tries to make some of the “problematic texts” useful as scripture, there is a problem of which he seems unaware. That is, he is simply bringing his own moral code to the passage and applying it. And the moral code he brings is no different than what you could find on, say, the editorial page of the New York Times. In other words, it’s basically a code of social mores – not of personal right and wrong before a holy God.

First, my demonstrations were expressly not meant to be offered as “the reading” of the texts. They were examples. I leave it to faith communities to determine what the texts are going to mean for them. Mike must have missed that extended caveat, which I put just before AND directly after my series of demonstrations.

Second, the New York Times would report me to Homeland Security if they caught wind of my political views.

Now, let me quickly say that I don’t expect Thom to put his personal confessions in a book. But interaction with Scripture cannot be about merely confirming your biases about inter-group social justice issues. It’s got to be about whether you yourself are being just today…to your wife, your husband, your children, your neighbor…your God.

I would say that it can’t be about confirming our biases at all. But whatever.

Thom wants to distance himself from Marcion. He does. Only Thom’s error is worse than Marcion’s. Here’s why: Marcion made a choice about which books of the Bible should be stricken from the canon and he announced it. Whether you agreed with Marcion or disagreed, you knew where he stood. You either disagreed and kept your Bible as it was, or you disagreed and walked away with a smaller Bible. But you still had a Bible! You still had the word of God. You still had the lifeline that Eve was without: a written record of what God wanted us to know.

Thom does us far worse than Marcion. Thom tells us that there are cancerous cells in the body of our sacred writings. He spends over 200 pages of his book identifying diseased cell after diseased cell. Then he tells us that what he has listed has “not even begun to scratch the surface.” Hasn’t he at least scratched the surface? No. Oh, well, hasn’t he at least begun to scratch the surface? No. So, I’ve got a body of literature on my hands that has lots and lots of cancer cells. What am I going to do with it? What if I’m reading a text and Thom’s not around to tell me if it’s problem free?

Use your brain.

Marcion may have been wrong, but he at least left people a path forward. Thom leaves no practical way forward. He has pronounced that the Bible has a disease, and done so with a massive pathological analysis. He gives no method for determining the boundaries of the illness.

Because that would shortcut the process that everybody needs to go through for themselves, and because no single such method can possibly exist. Gantt wants a rulebook. But the nature of reality is ambiguous. That we have to navigate that ambiguity is not a problem with my book; it’s a problem with reality. That my book identifies and accepts the ambiguousness of reality is one of my book’s strengths.

One can only infer that Thom expects all readers to 1) trust him or some other guru for the list of acceptable and unacceptable passages, 2) go to seminary and learn the tools of critical study so as to create one’s own list, or 3) depend upon a community of faith to provide the list.

Nope, nope, and nope. Those would all be invalid inferences.

In all three of these cases you end up trusting a human being rather than God. But if the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that we should have faith in God.

Right. Because our experiences with God are unconditioned by other human beings. That’s why all Spirit-filled Christians agree with each other about what God wants them to do.

Thom spends some time arguing against the notion that he’s contaminated the Bible.

I had no idea I’d argued against that notion. Hadn’t even occurred to me. Good to know.

He does so by likening the Bible to our parents. Given that, he says that it’s immature for us to go from always trusting the Bible to never trusting the Bible – as a headstrong teenager might do with his parents. But this analogy does not hold. We are meant to outgrow the authority of our parents, but we are not meant to outgrow the authority of God.

Yeah, Mike’s analogy does not hold. My actual analogy holds up fine.

That the Bible is the word of God does not answer our every moral question.

At first I thought this was a fragment, then I realized it’s just unintelligible.

But it does mean that we have a place to go to “tune up” our consciences. We have a place to go to learn about the ways of God…which do not come natural to us. Conversely, if we decide that the Bible is merely the word of man and not the word of God, then we deprive ourselves of a sure and certain testimony that God has, in the kindness of His grace, granted us. To reject it as such is to insult Him.

Or perhaps to treat it as such is to insult God. Hmm… the alternatives are paralyzing! Quick, don’t move.

I acknowledge that it is possible for a human being to live a righteous life without the Bible. Abraham did it. But do I think for a minute that Abraham would have rejected a written record of God-inspired thoughts had it been offered him? Not on your life.

Neither would I. Should one ever be offered to me, I’ll eat it up. I’m only human after all.

And consider once again the great trouble to which God and His servants have gone to deliver this grace to us. These are men of whom the world is not worthy. Shall we deprive their writings of their greatest worth – that God Himself inspired them?

What? You’re against the Iraq War?! You dishonor the troops!

Thom speaks often of “the believing community” or “the community of faith” as if these represent an anchor more reliable than the Bible.

Yeah, no I don’t. If Gantt had read me, I clearly state that there is no anchor. In fact, the only appearance of the word “anchor” in my book is in a paragraph in which I argue that we don’t have one. Neither the Bible nor the believing community is an anchor. We have to argue with both of them, and that’s the best we can do. Gantt probably can’t accept this. I understand that perfectly well, as I state clearly in the book. It’s fearful to be faced with uncertainty. Ces’t la vie, comme ils disent.

Read history and see that such communities are notorious for their unreliability – either in ancient times or modern. People are always going astray, whether as groups or as individuals. The Bible, by contrast, is an anchor sure and stable from the past through the present and into the future.

Yeah, no.

As the Bible itself says, “Cursed is he who trust[sic] in mankind; blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5,7).

A fine quote from Jeremiah. Here’s another:

How can you say, ‘We are wise,
and the law of Yahweh is with us’,
when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes
has made it into a lie? (8:8)

If you believe Thom (and those whom he believes) then the Bible becomes to you just the product of mankind. But if you believe with Paul (and those whom he believed) then the Bible is to you the handiwork of God through obedient men.

Pick me! Pick me!

Thom expresses the fear that if he regards the Bible as the word of God he’ll be attempting to be in control. Well, I believe the Bible is the word of God, and it has persuaded me that I’m in control of hardly anything. It was when I believed the Bible was just the word of man that I carried the illusion that I was in control of my life.

Adventures in missing the point.

Thom writes:

“Some will be afraid to live in a world without foundations. To them I commend the foundationless nature of agape.”

But how could we know there was an agape, or trust there was an agape, without God Himself assuring us of it through an unchanging document?

I’m sorry, but that’s a really dumb question.


I am happy to acknowledge that Thom is smarter than I am. He’s better educated than I am. And he’s a better writer than I am. My objection to his book has nothing to do with Thom. I have good will toward him, and respect his accomplishments.

Better educated? Yes, but that means nothing to Mike. Smarter? I don’t know how that would be measured. Better writer? You mean, apart from all of my nonsensical sentences?

Rather, my criticism is of his book and the point it tries to make. The point of Thom’s book – that the Bible is a seriously-flawed book and that Jesus was wrong about a material point in His teaching – is destructive to faith, Thom’s and everyone’s who believes him. The purpose of my review has been to demonstrate where and why he is wrong, and to offer an alternative.

Oh. That was the purpose of the review? I thought it was just to point out that I was wrong, and to offer an alternative, without the demonstration of why I was wrong. I guess I need to read it again.

Thom is like a fellow who says he has a friend who is a murderer, a liar, a racist, and more – but then will act surprised when no one else wants to befriend the guy. Thom then protests, “But I’ve known this guy since I was a kid.” Huh?

Mike is like a fellow who can’t come up with a valid analogy. He then asks all his friends to accept his analogy, and a lot of them do. Then when Thom says, “That’s a ridiculous analogy that misunderstands my position,” Mike says, “Huh?”

I had thought that the issue of the New Testament canon would come up in Thom’s book and so I promised to deal with it. However, it never did, so I’ll comment briefly on it now.

No comment.

Gantt then concludes by saying some other stuff about stuff and stuff.

No further comment.

Response to Steven Garmon Review

My thanks to Steven Garmon for taking the time to write a critical review of HFG. My thanks also for the respectful tone Steven maintained despite his numerous disagreements with my arguments.

Unfortunately, Steven’s criticisms do not hold up against much scrutiny. First, Steven writes:

It seems to me that Stark is quick to point fingers at fundamentalists for trying to force God and the Bible into their own little pre-conceived box, however after reading this book it is apparent to me that Stark is guilty of the same.

This is a claim that Steven fails to substantiate in his review, and one he’d have a hard time substantiating given my apophatic theological approach.

Steven critiques chapter four:

In Chapter 4 Stark begins to pick away at inerrancy by claiming that the first authors of the Bible were actually polytheists. My reaction after reading this chapter was “so what?” I hold an incarnational view of scripture, so I believe that God accommodated Himself to the authors of the Bible.

This is a “solution” to the problem that comes under direct critique in my book, but Steven does not address my criticisms. Unfortunately, an accomodationist view does nothing to change the fact that early texts assume and declare the existence of other deities, while later texts flatly deny them. Now, a Christian may hold to a view of scripture that allows for “progressive revelation,” but this is an approach expressly rejected by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which is the brand of inerrancy under scrutiny in my book. Steven continues:

Obviously, Israel was surrounded by cultures where polytheism, and pantheism I might add, were prevalent.

Pantheism? I’d like to see the documentary evidence for the prevalence of pantheism in the ancient Near East.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the authors, at least at the beginning, still believed in multiple Gods. All this portrays is that God meets his beloved chosen people where they are. It doesn’t show that the Bible cant be trusted.

Unfortunately, this claim does not hold water when Yahweh himself is portrayed frequently in scripture as one who believes in the existence of other deities.

In Chapter 5 Stark attempts to show that God was pleased with child sacrifice and even commanded it. This chapter seemed the weakest to me and it is filled with series of mental gymnastics to make his point.

Another claim Steven fails to substantiate. That early Israelite texts sanctioned child sacrifice in the name of Yahweh is a view held by the majority of Hebrew Bible scholars. I provide an introduction to the evidence underwriting this consensus position. As far as mental gymnastics, Steven offers one example which only serves to display Steven’s unfamiliarity with the relevant scholarship and his complete misapprehension of my position. He writes that I mention

in passing Jeremiah 19:5-6 which clearly states that God is completely against child sacrifice but he quickly dismisses it. This is a common aspect of Stark’s thought that is carried out often (as we’ll see later) where he sometimes cherry-picks things from scripture that he believes can make his point and disregards things that can hinder it.

This is an unfortunate misrepresentation of the facts. In reality, I do not “dismiss” Jeremiah 19:5-6 because it is inconvenient for my thesis. My thesis (the consensus thesis) includes the fact that Jeremiah was a late voice who rejected the institution of human sacrifice, an institution which was previously official. That Jeremiah rejects human sacrifice is not evidence against my position. It only serves to confirm the reconstruction I provide which states that human sacrifice was prevalent in earlier Israelite and Judean religion only to come under scrutiny later, by Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others in a later period. That Steven thinks Jeremiah 19:5-6 is evidence against my position only shows that he did not read my argument with any degree of care. He continues:

He mentions the incident with Jephthah’s daughter, but he makes it seem as if scholars are clear about the outcome, of which they are not. But even if he is correct in his claim, there is nothing in the text that says God approved of it.

Both of these claims are false. First, while a few conservative scholars have argued that Jephthah did not in fact go on to sacrifice his daughter, this is a fringe position that enjoys no support within mainstream scholarship. The vast majority of scholars are very clear about the outcome. Second, there is more than one indication in the text that God approved of the sacrifice, as I discuss both in my book and more extensively in my critical review of Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster? Steven continues:

Chapter 6 deals with the “genocides” committed in the name of God. Now, first off I want to say that Stark already tips the scales in his favor by using the term genocide. This basically hinders the reader from remaining neutral to Stark’s arguments when he starts with the term genocide.

Perhaps if Steven will take the time to look up any definition of genocide, he’ll see that whether we approve or disapprove of the actions of the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan, the conquest is clearly and accurately described as a genocide. I discuss this in detail in my review of Copan’s book.

However, I see no problem whatsoever with God carrying out judgement on nations. He is the creator and giver of life and He has the right to take it away. Stark says that if God knew that the Canaanites were going to become so depraved then why didn’t He do anything to stop their behavior. My response was “Who says He didn’t?”

The answer is, the Bible says he didn’t, and quite frequently.

But even if God didn’t intervene with the Canaanites, so what? We are all responsible for our actions and its not unfair for God to enact his judgement when He feels fit.

Unfortunately, Steven has opted not to engage the pages and pages of argumentation I provide in HFG showing why this attitude creates more problems than it solves. Simply ignoring my arguments does not constitute a counter-argument. Steven continues:

In Chapter 8 Stark progresses [sic] the argument that Jesus wrongly predicted His second coming. This is where we see Stark act out a textbook definition of a double standard. Up until this point in his book he has made the claim that the Bible cannot be trusted to accurately portray God. But, when He finds a verse that is uttered by Jesus himself that he thinks cushions his argument, he doesn’t strain at all to credit its accuracy.

Rather than a “textbook definition of a double standard,” this is rather a textbook example of a careless reader. I don’t ever make the claim that the Gospel accounts can be trusted, and most certainly I do not drop my criticism of the biblical text just because I think a criticism of Jesus will be more interesting. Rather, quite clearly in the book, I state that discussions of the accuracy of the Gospel records are important, but fall outside the purview of the limited scope of my argument. Do I think the Gospels are reliable on every point? Certainly not, as I make abundantly clear with extensive argumentation in multiple chapters of HFG. However, on the question of Jesus’ apocalyptic worldview and predictions, I am of the persuasion, following the broad scholarly consensus, that the Gospels portray Jesus fairly accurately. I believe Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who wrongly predicted the end of the world. I do not believe that the Gospel writers made that up about Jesus. So the disingenuousness exists solely in Steven’s own mind, and not in reality. It also exists in his presentation of my argument. He continues:

Although he considers many alternatives to Jesus wrongly predicting His second coming, he throws them aside and simply asserts that Jesus was wrong.

This claim is utterly absurd. The chapter dealing with these issues is about 50 pages long, and I do not simply “throw aside” any argument. Rather, I take each position apart piece by piece, extensively, and carefully. Steven’s claim here borders on outright deception. I make no simple assertions. I mount an extensive and heavily supported argument from which I draw a conclusion, and a conclusion I personally do not like, as I note in the book as well.

However, there are still MANY more alternatives that Stark failed to consider. I don’t have the space to get into them here, but if you’re interested feel free to check out this link: […]

The link, unfortunately, was deleted by Amazon. Nevertheless, in an already lengthy chapter, I can’t be expected to refute every fringe idea out there.

Also, its important to note that some of Starks conclusions are drawn upon from the Documentary Hypothesis. I don’t know how much he’s adequately researched on this hypothesis, but its becoming a position that is gravely mistaken. A lot of OT scholars have adequately shown the major holes in this theory and its something that I presently think is a weak position.

Aside from Steven’s personal opinions about the Documentary Hypothesis, his characterization of its status within the scholarly community is grossly inadequate. While there have been many developments in the documentary hypothesis since its inception, it remains the consensus, broadly speaking, of biblical scholars actively working within the guild. There are disagreements about dating of the sources and about certain texts and to whom they should be attributed, but that there are at least four clear and ideologically-opposed sources comprising the Pentateuch is not a hypothesis that is going away anytime soon. I don’t know how much Steven “has adequately researched on this hypothesis,” but my research includes having read close to fifty monographs and scholarly articles on JEDP, including the criticisms of JEDP by Cassuto et al. Once again, the fact that some scholars don’t hold to the consensus doesn’t make the consensus any less the consensus. And usually, a consensus is a consensus for good reason, and that happens to be the case with JEDP. Steven continues:

In Thom’s last chapter he valiantly attempts to provide some answers on how to adequately view scripture. In my view, his explanation falls short. If the Bible doesn’t accurately portray God and if it really cant be trusted then why bother calling yourself a Christian?

This displays Steven’s “all-or-nothing” logic, a logic that he shares with other fundamentalists but does not share with me. I can’t make my reasons for being a Christian make sense to him, but unlike fundamentalists, that isn’t my goal either.

His answer to this objection lies in his upbringing and the fact that the Bible has molded him into the person he is today. And? That is an extremely poor reason Mr. Stark.

I’m sorry Steven thinks so. Of course, those aren’t the only reasons I listed, and I have more which I didn’t list in the book. But I’m sorry Steven thinks my reasons for being a Christian are poor. But there’s nothing I can do about that, other than to say that the fact that the Bible has shaped me in ways I’ll never exhaust is more than enough reason to call myself a Christian. The fact that I love and want to emulate Jesus (despite his flaws) is also more than enough reason, a reason I offered in the book which Steven (for whatever reason) failed to mention in his review. He continues:

So, if he was raised as a Muslim and it was the Koran which had molded him, would he then be making the same statement towards Islam? Would he still consider himself a Muslim?

Um, yes. That’s the idea.

Also, if the Bible cannot be trusted to adequately reveal the character of God then why view the Bible as anymore special than the Koran or the book or Mormon? If this is all the closure Stark can provide then Im afraid his view of Christianity is inadequate. Obviously, these are my own opinions and I dont mean to come down too hard on Stark but it really makes me question why he would even call himself a Christian.

Steven of course has the right to question why I call myself a Christian. Long story short, my reasons are very different than his reasons. Of course, my argument (despite Steve’s consistent portrayal of it) has never been that “the Bible cannot be trusted to adequately reveal the character of God.” Those are his words, not mine. I’ve argued that in places it gets God wrong. But I’ve also argued that in places it gets God right. Steven’s questions here for whatever reason ignore the most substantive sections of the final chapter he is critiquing, in which I argue that we must exercise critical reasoning when appropriating the biblical texts as guides for our lives in faith communities. The same is true of any set of sacred texts, or any set of texts at all. The whole point is that we don’t have that book that has come down from heaven the likes of which we can turn to for answers without needing to exercise critical thinking. We don’t have it, and no one does. That’s a humbling position. Which is why when Steven accuses me of trying to fit God “nice and neatly in[to my] ‘Christian’ box,” I am humorously taken aback. Rather, the whole point of my book is to expose the many ways we humans have written and used “scriptures” to fit God into the boxes of our own devising, and to state that faith is what it means to abandon those boxes—to navigate the world without always having clear answers and a clearly defined object of faith.

As for Steven’s charge that I “cherry-pick the evidence to weigh in the favor of [my] liberal Christianity,” again this is a charge Steven has failed to substantiate. His one attempt to do so (in reference to Jeremiah 19:5-6) was an abject failure, displaying that it’s not my argument which is weak, but Steven’s ability to comprehend it.

That said, I do appreciate Steven’s cordial tone throughout most of his review, and I’m grateful he’s brought up the issues he has. I wish him all the very best.

Brian Springer’s Review

Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God is a book that deserves a wide readership. Although this book may appear slim, it packs quite a punch and manages to get a lot done in a short amount of space. It is in part a summary of the current state of affairs in modern biblical scholarship, a rebuttal against biblical inerrancy, and a moving testimony of a man who has spent a lot of time evaluating the scripture that he loves and coming to terms with it on its own grounds.

Many Christians may feel threatened by Thom’s new book, but as a devout Roman Catholic, let me tell you that Thom’s book is anything but threatening. Although the title may appear provocative this book is not an attack on biblical values and Thom does well to critique the ‘ugly’ part of our holy scriptures on it’s own ground, by using the values he derived from it. He moves through the many portraits of God as presented in the Biblical text and sensitively notes how some of them have been used to enact despicable acts of cruelty and violence against those we don’t particularly like. While he does this, he also engages in dialogue with many apologists, both old and new, and criticizes their efforts to explain away some of the more horrifying passages in the Bible. His honesty in doing so is very refreshing and I commend his efforts in showing just how far inerranists are willing to go to defend their positions, however dishonest they are.

And speaking of inerrancy, Thom’s dialogue with it is worth this book’s weight in gold. Mr. Stark, convincingly shows that inerranists are far from being “loyal to the text” as many of the new atheists would have you believe. Inerranists, as Thom demonstrates, often fail to realize just how diverse the biblical worldview is and far from being faithful to it, they tend to impose their own interpretations of scripture [as they think it should be] onto the text itself and twist everything that says otherwise to conform to their own worldview. The Bible deserves better and toward the end Thom sits back and thoughtfully considers what to make of scripture, now that he sees just how human and fallible it is in some places. His answer will surprise many, but it’s worth being heard.

Overall, Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God is an excellent book. It’s short, easy to read, and accessible. It honestly presents the findings of modern biblical scholarship in an understandable way, and it gives us a worthy alternative to fundamentalism. So, buy it, read it, and be amazed.

5/5 stars

Response to Dan Oudshorn Review

UPDATE (04/13/11): Dan has given a short response to my response below. I’ll quote it here and then offer another short response:

[Stark] has a tendency to try and refute critics by talking and talking and talking until nobody gives a damn about the subject at hand (I think he seems to be mistaking the silence of the opposition for something more than that [agreement?]… although maybe he is just happy with the silence).  Regardless, I’m not convinced by everything he writes in his response (by the end of it, you’ll notice that my review never actually accurately reflects anything in Stark’s book…  that made me chuckle!), but I am happy to give him the opportunity to clarify points that certainly were not clearly stated in The Human Faces of God.

I appreciate Dan’s original review because it did force me to be clearer about aspects of my argument that were given shorter shrift. My response (below) was certainly not an attempt to silence Dan, and I do not mistake silence for agreement. I respond in detail to certain critics because I want to clarify my position, where I think I have been misunderstood, so that, once I’m understood, if real disagreement remains, we can actually talk about that real disagreement. Dan and I do have very real disagreements. For instance, we disagree on the question of whether Jesus and Paul expected an imminent divine intervention. But much of Dan’s critique wasn’t a critique of my actual position, so I’m not sure whether Dan and I really disagree on those points or not. That’s why I labor to be perfectly clear, so that if there is real disagreement, it can surface, and we can talk about it (if Dan or anybody else wants to).

Now, admittedly, in light of the negative tone that surfaced in various places in Dan’s original review, I had to struggle a bit to respond evenly and kindly. I did my best, and I think it’s clear that I was trying (both here and on the thread on Dan’s blog), but if there is one thing I would change now about my response (below), I would replace most instances of “This is a mischaracterization of my position” with “Allow me to clarify what I was trying to say.” If I had done that, perhaps the length of my response wouldn’t indicate to Dan that I’m trying to beat him into submission, which I’m not. I value discussion, especially discussion that is marked by charity and goodwill.

Now, Dan says that I claim at the end of my review that he “never actually accurately reflects anything in [my] book.” But I didn’t say that. I said that he had an inability to read what I write within the context of his claims that I am rooted in an American script. In that particular case, he misquoted me as having said that we don’t “need” a divine intervention, when in reality all I said was that we don’t need to wait for it. There’s a big difference. I agree with Dan that we probably need a divine intervention if we’re going to get out of this mess, but I think we should be working to resolve our structural, systemic issues, even (or especially) if no such divine intervention is forthcoming.

Nevertheless, I didn’t claim that Dan never got me right. Dan accurately reflected a lot of what I wrote, but he also got a lot wrong, and I am more than happy to take the blame for that in most cases. But in some instances, where Dan accuses me of being rooted in an American script, for instance, I think Dan’s readings of me in those cases reflect more about him than about me, which is not meant as an insult. I am not accusing Dan of intentional mischaracterization. And I have no desire to malign him in any way. My intent was not to shut him up. My intent was to clarify my position. I may be verbose, and I’ll plead guilty to that.

Once again, I wish him the very best, and once again, I’m grateful for his challenging review.


My thanks to Dan Oudshorn for taking the time to write a substantive critical review of my book. In his review, Dan raises some important issues, makes some good criticisms, and also makes several criticisms that are wide of the mark, displaying inattention to elements of my argument that are clearly stated within the book. Some of Dan’s criticisms also involve assumptions about my personal life and involvements which are mistaken or inaccurate, and on the basis of those assumptions he takes an uncharitable approach to elements of my language in the book. Nevertheless, Dan does state that, “all things considered, this is a very good book and one that I would recommend to those who value the Bible but who have wrestled with it and find themselves dissatisfied with the proposed solutions that they have encountered thus far.” So in stating that some of his criticisms (to be examined below) were uncharitable, I do not mean to state that the review as a whole has that tenor. It is a very good review, and I am grateful to Dan for raising the issues he does raise.

In this response I’ll engage Dan’s criticisms in some detail, piece by piece.

First, Dan says, “Stark builds a convincing case, even though he doesn’t necessarily break any new scholarly ground (as John Collins notes in the forward).”

Yes, and as I myself articulate clearly in the preface. The intention of the book was not to break scholarly ground (although I did mount several arguments in response to certain scholars that have not appeared to date anywhere in print to my knowledge), but rather to make the existing scholarship accessible to the average church-goer.

Regarding my ninth chapter, Dan writes that “he examines and rejects both Brevard Childs’ ‘canonical’ reading of the Bible, as well as more ‘subversive’ or counter-imperial readings.”

This is in fact a misconception about my ninth chapter that other reviewers have had, which indicates that I wasn’t clear enough that I do not reject these approaches per se, but rather find them inadequate on their own as a way of managing the problematic texts. For instance, with regard to the subversive readings adopted by the Horsley school, I’ll just note that folks like Horsley and Elliott themselves do from time to time point out what Schussler Fiorenza argued more programmatically in The Power of the Word, namely, that there is the danger that hidden transcripts will be counter-subverted, and therefore are not a permanent solution to the problem. I just think that concession isn’t given enough space in their writings, and so I added my “vote,” as it were, to that side. But as I point out on pp. 214-16, the subversion of the public transcript by the dominated classes is the best they can do in their situation, and that I am not rejecting that strategy, but rather calling for those of us who are free to do so to move beyond the categories they had to employ for their own survival. My point in chapter nine was not that subversive readings are “bad,” just that they are incomplete deconstructions of worldly power. Necessarily incomplete, and it’s our responsibility to complete them.

Next Dan claims that my “understanding of our contemporary context needs to be sharpened. On multiple occasions, his deployment of current or recent points of comparison is sloppy or problematical. For example, on multiple occasions he compares the texts about the conquest of Canaan to the American history of conquest over the First Nations peoples. Unfortunately, he always refers to that American genocide as though it were a distant past event (cf. p123).  This is simply not the case and the popular State- and Corporate-sponsored oppression, exploitation and genocide of First Nations peoples continues up until this present moment. In this regard, Stark is still too deeply rooted in the dominant script of America.”

This is an untenable accusation, and one that pays no attention to the context in which my references to Native American genocides appear. I am well aware of the continued oppression, exploitation and genocide of the Native Americans that takes place in the U.S., in Canada, in Mexico, and in Central and South America. Dan references p. 123, where I use an analogy to highlight the fact that the Israelites slaughtered the Amalekites for a battle that occurred four hundred years in the past. The analogy was a hypothetical scenario in which a contemporary group of Cherokee slaughtered all of the residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma as retaliation for a battle that occurred four hundred years back in history. Dan thinks this means I am unaware that Native Americans continue to be subject to grave injustices to this day, and that I am “too deeply rooted in the dominant script of America.”

First, this was a hypothetical analogy, not a depiction of actual events, and was thus rooted in an imagined scenario. In my imagined scenario, the Cherokee were retaliating for a battle four hundred years ago; in my scenario, they were not retaliating in response to their long history of exploitation by the State. That was the fictional picture I was painting to make my point. In nowise does this mean that I am unaware of the continued exploitation and genocide against Native Americans, and in nowise is it a reflection of my being allegedly rooted in an “American script” that posits the injustices as a thing entirely of the past. Every analogy has its limitations, and if pressed beyond those limitations breaks down. Now perhaps Dan might respond that if I am aware (as here I “claim” to be) that Native Americans continue to this day to be oppressed, then it certainly doesn’t show in the book. Yes, that’s right. Because I wasn’t writing a chapter about Native American genocide. I was writing a chapter about Canaanite genocide, particularly as pictured in Deuteronomy and Joshua. Just because I didn’t mention the current plight of Native Americans doesn’t mean I’m blind to it. I also made analogical reference to the Nazi Holocaust, but I didn’t make reference to the continuing reality of anti-Semitism and the pervasiveness of portrayals of Jews as subversive, greedy, threatening, etc., in the U.S. and throughout the world. Does that mean I’m not aware of these realities? Hardly. It just means that such a discussion fell outside the purview of my argument about an ancient book. What reference I did make to the Holocaust and the Native American genocides were limited analogies to shed light on that ancient book.

Nevertheless, Dan continues:

Another example of Stark’s rootedness within that script, comes through in his comments about current American wars, which he refers to as “ambiguous” (p222). A few pages later, it’s as though Stark forgets that America is even at war. When he speaks about the apocalyptic dualism between good and evil, he suggests that this dualism may be appropriate in wartime when “it is often necessary to draw up sharp dividing lines between sides in the conflict” but now things are no longer so black and white (p226; cf. 225-226). What Stark neglects here is that America is at war, not to mention the ongoing global class war of the wealthy against the poor that has been steadily increasing over the last several decades. Of course, lacking a strong understanding of our current situation isn’t a weakness unique to Stark. One often sees this amongst scholarly-types who are trying to be relevant but who aren’t sufficiently rooted amongst the marginalized and so end up making inadequate or misleading remarks despite their best efforts.

This is some charged rhetoric, but it’s clear once again that Dan is attributing to me claims I haven’t made. First, when I referred to U.S. wars as “ambiguous,” that was meant as a critique of the contradictory justifications the State and media have employed in order to legitimate them. This is hardly evidence that I am rooted within an American script. I’ll quote the entire passage, in context:

Today we denounce such practices [as human sacrifice] as inhuman and reject as irrational the belief that the spilling of innocent blood literally affected the outcome of harvests and military battles. Yet we continue to offer our own children on the altar of homeland security, sending them off to die in ambiguous wars, based on the irrational belief that by being violent we can protect ourselves from violence. We refer to our children’s deaths as “sacrifices” which are necessary for the preservation of democracy and free trade. The market is our temple and it must be protected at all costs. Thus, like King Mesha, we make “sacrifices” in order to ensure the victory of capitalism over socialism, the victory of consumerism over terrorism. Our high priests tell us that it is necessary to make sacrifices if we are going to continue to have the freedom to shop. Unlike King Mesha, however, in our day it is rarely the king’s own son who is sacrificed; rather, the king sacrifices the sons and daughters of the poor in order to protect an economy whose benefits the poor do not reap. (As Shrek’s Lord Farquaad so profoundly put it, “Some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”) Like martyrs, our children are valorized because of their willingness to sacrifice their lives in yet another war waged to rid the world of war. We invest their deaths with meaning by forcing ourselves to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that their blood affects the productivity of the market and protects a multitude from the threat of violence.

God speaks to us through these texts, if we are willing to listen critically, and calls on us to recognize ourselves in them. When Yahweh demands the sacrifice of Israel’s firstborn children in exchange for freedom from slavery to the Egyptians, when he provides victory in battle in exchange for the pleasant odor of human carnage, we see another of the many human faces of God in scripture. Despite all our pretensions to progress, it seems that there is nothing more human than to hope that our futures can be secured by delivering up our young as lambs to the slaughter. (222)

The above passage, read in its entirety, shows that I am not only well aware, but also thoroughly critical, of the very things of which Dan has accused me of being blind. So when Dan writes that “what Stark neglects here is that America is at war, not to mention the ongoing global class war of the wealthy against the poor that has been steadily increasing over the last several decades,” it is clear that his accusation is sterile. I clearly and unequivocally state in the passage quoted above that not only is American perpetually at war, it is perpetual a war that has everything to do with class and capital.

Dan claims that, “a few pages later, it’s as though Stark forgets that America is even at war. When he speaks about the apocalyptic dualism between good and evil, he suggests that this dualism may be appropriate in wartime when “it is often necessary to draw up sharp dividing lines between sides in the conflict” but now things are no longer so black and white (p226; cf. 225-226).”

Dan completely misrepresents what I’m saying here. I’m not denying that we are currently at war when I say that things are no longer so black and white. Read in context, what I’m saying is quite clear, in fact, and I’m baffled that Dan can be so confident in this accusation. In context, I’m discussing the apocalyptic worldview of first-century Jews, and articulating that the intense demands of discipleship Jesus required of his followers was connected to his belief that the world was in the last stages of a cosmic conflict between the unseen forces of good and evil, a conflict that is to have its culmination, according to Jesus’ belief, within a matter of no more than a few decades. Thus, his call to celibacy, and his demand that his disciples leave their families behind, is rooted in this idea that the world as they knew it was about to come to an end. I argue that such a demand makes sense in light of Jesus’ expectation of an imminent end, and anyone who followed the demand could be considered courageous if it were true that the cosmic battle is really coming to a close within their lifetime. And here is where Dan gets hung up on another of my analogies. I use a “war-time” ethic as an analogy for this apocalyptic perspective. In war-time, a man (a soldier) is considered courageous for leaving his family and going off to fight in what’s considered to be a righteous war. But when it’s not war-time, a man who left his family would not be considered courageous at all, but rather he would be considered irresponsible. I contended that perhaps when some Jews, although wishing that Jesus’ belief in the imminent end were true, chose not to leave their families to follow Jesus, they were making that decision not out of cowardice but out of courage. The belief that one’s own time is the ultimate and climactic period of human history is certainly not a belief unique to Jesus and his early followers, but it’s one that can be very enticing. Many Jews would have wanted Jesus to be right, but perhaps they saw that Jesus was just one apocalyptic prophet among many in that period, none of whom got it right, and therefore, although they wished God was about to intervene as Jesus preached, and were tempted to leave their ordinary responsibilities toward their impoverished families in order to follow him, chose instead to be courageous by grinding it out within their communities, struggling for survival in a world where the prospect of real divine intervention looked bleak. As I stated perfectly clearly in the book, “perhaps they [those who didn’t follow Jesus] saw joining yet another radical revolution as the coward’s way out of the harder task of commitment to one’s family and everyday responsibilities in the midst of a crippling economy and violent world” (226).

My point, therefore, was that those who didn’t follow Jesus were only cowards if Jesus was right that God was about to intervene. But if he was wrong, then perhaps those who didn’t follow him took the more courageous path.

Now, Dan gets hung up because I use “war-time” as an analogy. But again, it’s a limited analogy. I do not mean to say that, absent an apocalyptic war of the kind Jesus envisioned, all we have is peace time. No! There is always war, and not just military wars, but wars at home. Those are the real wars that impoverished human beings have to wage every single day, as Dan well knows. And that was my point. Perhaps those who didn’t follow Jesus’ exacting demands weren’t being cowards, but were choosing instead to be courageous warriors in the struggle for subsistence survival in impoverished communities that had by then heard one too many doomsday prophets to buy into the notion that all their woes were about to be fixed in one fell swoop by a divine intervention. After all, it’s the ideological wars of States that call impoverished men and women to sacrifice their struggle at home for a mythical, ultimate battle against the forces of evil. In the same way, Jesus’ call for men to leave their families to engage in just such an ultimate, cosmic battle against the forces of evil undermined, in this limited sense, his concern for the poor if in fact he was wrong about the imminent ultimate conflict, as I argued he was.

Dan’s attempt to paint my statement that “morality is not always black and white” as an indication that I am somehow forgetting that we are currently (and perpetually) at war just displays that Dan doesn’t understand the analogy I’m making. I am not claiming, as he claims I am, that because we’re not “in wartime” then Jesus’ wartime ethics don’t apply. The argument I’ve made is that if Jesus did predict that human history was about to culminate in an epic battle between good and evil in real history, then Jesus was wrong, and his specific “wartime” (a metaphor) ethic doesn’t necessarily apply. And as I pointed out, if he was right, then the ethic holds, but if not, then the ethic itself becomes a catalyst for oppression and injustice as it gets stretched out over centuries and millennia, when it was really only intended to be applied to a short span of time. We need long term strategies for resistance to injustice, and long term goals for restructuring society around justice. While short-term survival strategies are always necessary, they are not enough, unless the world is actually about to end. That’s my point.

So Dan writes that, “of course, lacking a strong understanding of our current situation isn’t a weakness unique to Stark. One often sees this amongst scholarly-types who are trying to be relevant but who aren’t sufficiently rooted amongst the marginalized and so end up making inadequate or misleading remarks despite their best efforts.” And it’s clear that Dan has entirely missed my point. To be sure, what he describes here is a real problem, and it may be that I am susceptible to this problem in various ways. But in this case, the evidence Dan provides to suggest that I am susceptible to this is actually, when properly understood, evidence to the contrary. What Dan is saying I overlooked was precisely the point I was making.

Next, Dan criticizes my own criticisms of canonical and subversive readings of the Bible. He writes: “It seems to me that Stark (a) doesn’t sufficiently engage the possibilities inherent to some of those readings; and (b) does not recognize the extent to which he himself relies upon, and employs, both of these ways of reading.” He continues:

Beginning with Childs, Stark describes his canonical reading in this way:

“If the texts are going to continue to be useful, they will be useful not as objects of historical curiosity but as dynamic scriptures which are the rightful property of the community of faith… with the intention of providing the community of faith the inspiration it needs to be faithful in a trying world.  As a result, readings that challenge the truthfulness of this or that text… render the texts useless for their intended purposes” (p211).

Stark then identifies three problems with this: (1) the final form of the text was not chosen by the community of faith but by the theopolitical elites; (2) diverse voices are lost and problematical texts are buried; and (3) no clear determining factor exists as to who determines the what “canonical reading” actually is (p211-212). This is fair enough, but it seems to me that Stark only engages in a slightly tweaked variation of this reading, and a tweaking that is susceptible to [the] same criticisms. Thus, in treating some scriptures as “condemned texts,” he asserts that what readings are appropriate will vary from context to context and that “each confessing community must decide for itself how to make these and other texts useful for its own purposes” (p219).  Later, he again affirms that “the proper place for critical appropriations of scripture is within the believing community” (p235).  To me, this sounds a lot like a canonical reading and one that is still exercised without clear determining factors as to what might make this reading valid.

Now, this is a useful criticism, but one that mischaracterizes my position. My third criticism of Childs (which is also one of Brueggemann’s criticisms of Childs) is that his readings of the text can be susceptible to being arbitrary. By positing an “overarching narrative” through which he reads all the texts, he often muffles the various contending voices within the texts in order to conform them to this overarching narrative. The problem is it is not clear where this overarching narrative should come from. How do we determine what is the “right” overarching narrative?

Now, my position is that the texts need to be read historically-grammatically and with reference to all the necessary utilities such as source criticism, etc., first and foremost. So our goal is to read the various texts in their own voices, to let them say what they want to say, without imposing theological constructs of our own devising upon them, in effect changing their voice. But here’s the crucial point: it is our application and appropriation of the texts, within the community, that is open for discussion. And as I articulate on numerous occasions in my final chapter, that discussion is one that doesn’t terminate, and the choices that are made about how to apply and appropriate the texts are choices that must be made in specific contexts, according to the needs of each community. This is not arbitrary, but contextual, and is the product of a continuing discussion that draws upon the various voices in scripture in order to discern what the community must do as it seeks to resist injustice and engage the world. In short, my position is that there can be no “clear determining factors as to what might make this reading valid,” if by that Dan means to refer to factors that transcend specific contexts. While Childs wants to posit an overarching narrative within which to understand scripture, I reject any overarching narrative at all (both within scripture, and within the community) that should be used to control our application and appropriation of scripture. Rather, the various voices in scripture must be brought into conversation with a variety of competing narratives that are rooted in the real experiences of the believing community, from context to context. The process is not arbitrary; far from it. It’s the opposite. It’s contextual.

Dan continues:

I’m not sure if Stark goes beyond “burying” problematical texts. Rather, instead of burying them, he rejects them, but his criteria for doing so seem just as arbitrary as Childs. That is to say, while Childs (as a representative of a believing community) may be less committed to the truthfulness of a text and, by that means, escape a harsh confrontation with some texts in order to affirm a God committed to life, Stark (as a representative of a believing community?) confronts the same text in order to own it by condemning it, thereby ending up in the same position.

This is a mischaracterization of my position on a number of levels. First, I do not “reject” the problematic texts, and I do not “own them by condemning them.” I condemn them, but in doing so, own them. That means, condemning the problematic texts is not a matter of “rejecting” them, but of holding them closer still precisely because they reveal condemnable aspects even of our modern selves. We need the problematic texts in our scriptures as a mirror of our own problems, so that we can see what they are.

Now, to Dan’s claim that I end up in the same position as Childs. Emphatically no. Childs bypasses the confrontation of the text, thereby making his “life-affirming” readings of the text susceptible to ideological infiltration by the problematic texts he glosses over. In Childs’s approach, our condemnation of the texts remains unconscious, and for that reason we are unconsciously susceptible to their influence. So although Childs and I both want to appropriate the texts in life-affirming ways, my strategy insists on a conscious confrontation of the problematic texts so that when we get to the point where we are making life-affirming use of them, the community will be much less susceptible to the infiltration of the problematic texts’ death-dealing ideologies. That’s why Childs and I do not end up in the same place, despite the prima facie appearance that this is so. One hermeneutic reflects an unconsciousness, the other is a pursuit of a robust consciousness. Having said all that, I am glad Dan made this criticism, even though it misunderstood my position, because this is an important point to bring more clearly into the light.

Dan continues:

For all its stronger commitment to historical criticism, Stark’s proposed reading ends up sharing a great deal in common with the inerrantists with whom he is arguing: both permit prior commitments to dominate their readings of the Bible.  Just as historical criticism cannot be used as the basis for belief in biblical inerrancy, so also historical criticism cannot provide Stark with the criteria needed to determine if this or that text is condemnable.  As much as Stark rightly criticizes inerrantists who propose “plain” readings over “literal” readings (i.e. who permit an ideological overcoding to provide a previously determined meaning for any given text), we see the same ideologically-motivated methodology at work when Stark describes the “condemned texts” in this way:

“Through these texts the voice of God speaks to us today, calling us to reject self-serving ontologies of difference, to abandon any allegiances to tribes or nation-states that take precedence over our allegiance to humanity itself and to the world we all inhabit (p120 [sic, actually p. 220]).”

Of course, the condemned texts literally say nothing like this.  So, while I find Stark’s approach to have a better ethical value than the approach taken by the inerrantists, their hermeneutics may be more similar than both parties care to admit.

This criticism is another important one, that again misunderstands my position. Dan claims that I “permit prior commitments to dominate [my] readings of the Bible.” But this is not so, at least according to my ideal. Dan is missing the distinction between my reading of scripture on the one hand, and my critical appropriation of scripture on the other hand. This is a crucial distinction that Dan misses, allowing him to level this charge. I’ll elaborate.

My hermeneutic is to read the various texts (many of them composite) historically-grammatically, in order to discern the voices of the various authors and get a clear sense for what they want to say. That is my reading of the text. In this part of the process, I do not want to impose my own judgments about the text onto the texts. (Obviously there are potential biases or sometimes just a lack of data that will prevent me from getting a text just right in terms of finding the author’s voice, but the ideal is to root those biases out and to be honest when there is insufficient evidence.)

Now, once we’ve found the author’s voice, then it becomes incumbent upon us to engage in dialogue with the text, and to make any criticisms we think are necessary. This is the part of the process where the texts, in their own voices, are critically appropriated for the purposes of the community. This is not at all the same thing as the inerrantists who blindly insist that their reading of the text is what the text is saying, unaware that their assumptions are disfiguring the various voices therein. I’m surprised that Dan missed this, because I discuss this distinction at length in the final chapter, under the heading, “Everybody Chooses.” I’ll quote an excerpt from this section at length:

The criticism that the inerrantists make of critical readings of scripture is that they are arbitrary. They accuse readers of arbitrarily picking and choosing which are the “condemned” texts and which are the “inspired” ones. Or rather, they accuse readers of dismissing the texts they do not like, and retaining only those the so-called “liberal worldview” can stomach. Again, however, as we have seen, the inerrantists are no less guilty of picking and choosing which text they believe and which they deny; it is only that inerrantists hide their disagreement with certain texts by reinterpreting them to conform to the texts they prefer. Inerrantists pick and choose; they simply do not or cannot admit to it. What I am calling for is honesty in this process. We all emphasize certain scriptural perspectives to the neglect of others. I am suggesting that being conscious and open about that fact will actually help to prevent us from being selective arbitrarily and will force us to struggle to find good reasons to make the choices that we make. Everybody makes the choices. If they do not realize they are making the choices, then they are more susceptible to having made those choices arbitrarily or for poor reasons. The process of determining which texts to condemn and which to affirm, or which texts to read with caution and caveats, is a process that must not end. It is a struggle that each generation must take up anew, as they seek to be relevant actors in their societies with the Judea-Christian scriptures as a resource. (235-36)

Dan quotes me saying that “through these texts the voice of God speaks to us today, calling us to reject self-serving ontologies of difference, to abandon any allegiances to tribes or nation-states that take precedence over our allegiance to humanity itself and to the world we all inhabit” (220). He then comments that “Of course, the condemned texts literally say nothing like this.” That’s correct. They don’t! And that’s my point. He misses another important distinction, which is very clear in the argument.

The distinction is between the human faces of God which are in the text on the one hand, and the voice of God which speaks to us today through these human texts, calling on us to recognize our own deficiencies in the deficiencies of the human texts. So, contrary to Dan’s portrayal of my position, it is not that “the texts” tell us to “reject self-serving ontologies of difference.” The texts tell us to embrace them! Rather, it is God—speaking through the human texts as we come to them to hear God’s voice—who calls us to reject those self-serving ontologies.

And again, as I state in several places, the process of determining what the texts say, and the process of determining how to critically and constructively appropriate what the texts say, are two separated but necessarily related processes, and they must, I argue, be carried out in that chronological order. We can’t know how best to appropriate a text for a community until that text is heard in its own voice, because if we are not conscious of what that voice is saying, we are susceptible to its infiltration either now, or later on down the line. But the second process, the process of figuring out how to appropriate the texts, that is the process of listening for the voice of God. In short, the first process seeks to hear the voices of the Biblical authors. The second process seeks to hear the voice of God. They are related, but cannot be confused. Inerrantists (always) and canonicists (often) confuse those two distinct processes, and that’s what I argue gets us into trouble.

Perhaps Dan wants me to articulate some clear system by which the “right” appropriation of the texts may be secured; this seems to be the need lurking behind his criticisms here. My response is that there is no “right” way to do this. The “right” way to do this will vary from context to context, and I, as an individual, cannot determine what this is on behalf of any community. This leads us into to Dan’s next criticism:

I’m curious to know how Stark’s reading is one that is really produced by a “believing community.” It seems to me that his reading is produced by one person struggling to make sense of scripture (one person, it should be noted, who also is rooted more amongst the elite than the oppressed). I don’t know how it is the result of a “confessing community” struggling to make sense of the Bible. I’ve heard from others that Stark operates in isolation from faith communities so I don’t know if he follows the methodology he prescribes. After all, Stark concludes with some pretty individualistic and personal words: “I am proposing [this reading] because to me it represents the most honest struggle–it is the only way that I know how to navigate our moral universe” (p241, emphasis added; no real sign of any “believing community” here).

There’s a lot to unpack here. Dan continues to misconstrue my argument, this time rather egregiously. First, to answer his questions:

My reading of these texts is the product of intense personal struggle, and struggle with other Christians in various Christian communities. They began years ago, during my undergraduate studies, where I was engaged in a home church community, and where I was also a fully participating member of and Sunday School teacher in a United Methodist church. They have continued to the present. I currently do not attend a church. Next month, however, my family is moving to Texas, where my wife and I will be working full time in another United Methodist church, and part of my involvement will include developing free education programs for impoverished and minority communities surrounding the church, and coordinating interfaith dialogue and cooperative interfaith work within the communities. This kind of work has been my vision for years, and now that I am about to finish up my graduate coursework, I am excited about diving into it. I don’t know who the “others” are from whom Dan has heard that I “operate in isolation from faith communities,” but whoever they are, they clearly aren’t close enough to me to know who I’m engaged with, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Now, what Dan’s questions/criticisms here entirely miss is what I clearly stated in my book twice, once at the beginning of my proposed appropriations of the problematic texts, and a second time at the end of that section. I’ll quote what I said in order to show how Dan’s criticism here is a flagrant mischaracterization of what I was doing in the final chapter:

These are my own applications of the text, and I do not pretend that they are necessarily the right or the only applications that should be drawn from the text. Of course, what is the appropriate use of the text will vary from context to context. Each confessing community must decide for itself how to make these and other texts useful for its own purposes. In what follows I am merely attempting to show how it is possible to hear God’s word, despite it. . . . These have been my own attempts, and I do not pretend that my musings should take the place of the discernment of the community. Each community must decide for itself how to make these and other texts useful for its own purposes; I have only made a few suggestions in the hope that my readings may prove useful to some. I have wanted to show how it is possible to hear God’s word, despite it. Beyond my own proposed readings, however, my argument has been that we must be honest with our scriptures, and that in many cases confrontational readings must be adopted, if we are to be honest with ourselves. (pp. 219, 231, emphasis in the original)

So, when Dan implies that I am being inconsistent if my proposed applications of the text weren’t derived from a community’s struggle, he is being disingenuous. I clearly state, twice, that the purpose of providing my “proposed” applications was to demonstrate the kind of thing I’m talking about. The purpose was emphatically not to say that my suggested appropriations are what every or even any community ought to adopt.

That said, many of the appropriations of the text that I modeled in that chapter were forged out of contexts in which various voices in my Christian community contributed to a way of engaging these texts constructively. This began in a house church, continued in an “established” church, and will continue in new contexts as I find myself within the graces of various communities.

Now, that said, there is nothing inconsistent about having personal readings of scripture, and struggling as an individual with the text. In fact, everyone must do this. But when it comes to the question of how to appropriate scripture within and for a community, these personal struggles and ideas must be brought to the table within the community for discussion. That’s how it works. The community then discusses, argues, agrees, disagrees, and finds ways to use the text that contribute to the life and work of the body.

The fact that I conclude my book with individualistic language, as Dan notes, is perfectly consonant with my position that the scriptures, insomuch as the church wants to use them, must be appropriated by the community. I conclude my book with individualistic language precisely because I wanted to refrain from imposing myself on those communities. These are some of the reasons I identify as a Christian, and this book is a reflection of a very personal struggle. But it is still a struggle that was born, continues, and will always continue, in dialogue with Christian communities and other communities among whom, by grace, I find myself.

Dan subsequently launches into a rather petty and inaccurately one-sided rehashing of an old dispute between us, to which I will offer no response, other than to say that if Dan wants to have that story, blessings upon him. I’ve put it all behind me. I harbor no ill will and I hope and expect that Dan and his work among the dehumanized will continue to thrive.

Moving on, Dan has a lengthy paragraph on my critique of subversive readings which assumes the misconception I’ve already addressed above, so I won’t revisit it, other than to state that it is not inconsistent for me to employ “subversive” readings and then to criticize them for not, in themselves, being sufficient. I can employ a subversive reading, but then go on to do the rest of the deconstructive work that completes the process. And as I pointed out in the book, people in contexts of domination are not to be faulted for keeping the subversive transcript hidden. The only point I’m making in that section of chapter nine is that the language of imperialism that was subverted in contexts of domination needs to be further deconstructed and, in fact, utterly dismantled and replaced, in situations where we can do that and not be publicly executed for it.

Now, on to Dan’s final point of criticism, my treatment of Jesus and Paul’s apocalyptic expectations. Dan writes:

All my previous criticisms have not been directed at Stark’s primary work in this text: exegesis. In fact, his exegesis is very strong throughout… except on this point. My first quibble is that Stark makes contradictory statements about the nature of Second Temple Jewish apocalypticism and never resolves them. Thus, on the one hand he approvingly quotes Dale Allison, who asserts that the apocalyptic perspective is marked by “a passive political stance” (p165) and goes on the assert that Paul espoused “a strategy of political quietism” because he believed the end of the world was imminent (p202). Consequently, he concludes that the apocalyptic perspective leaves “no room for any form of engagement… At most political responsibility is narrated in sectarian terms. To be politically responsible is to be sectarian” (pp226-27; emphasis removed).

On the other hand, however, Stark asserts that the apocalyptic system contained beliefs that were “politically explosive” and “freed one up to walk a dangerous path of hard-line opposition to Rome and to the puppet temple regime in Jerusalem” (p167).  Further, he argues that Jesus’ (supposed) belief in the imminent end of the world functioned as a “pertinent sociopolitical/economic critique” and “was a complex beautiful, and incisively accurate expression of outrage at the existing world order, and a clarion call for fidelity to a new social system based upon justice rather than exploitation… it was the cry of the revolutionary spirit” (p229).

Thus, Stark concludes that the “revolutionary impulse was right… but the waiting for a miracle to make it happen–that was wrong” (p230).  Thus, he rejects what he takes to be an apocalyptic “ethics of waiting” that removes us from the present pursuit of justice and “renders world history a cosmic joke” (p228; cf. pp227-28).

Dan’s criticism here misses the mark entirely. Although there is an apparent tension between these two facets of apocalyptic thinking, there is no real contradiction at all. First, I’ll quote John Collins from his seminal volume, The Apocalyptic Imagination:

The apocalyptic literature does not lend itself easily to the ontological and objectivist concerns of systematic theology. It is far more congenial to the pragmatic tendency of liberation theology, which is not engaged in the pursuit of objective truth but in the dynamics of motivation and the exercise of political power.

There are, of course, enormous differences between the view of the world advanced in the apocalypses and that of any modern liberationist. The apocalypses often lack a program for effective action. While the Maccabees took up arms against Antiochus Epiphanes, the “action” of the maskilim in Daniel was to instruct the masses and wait for the victory of Michael. In the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, 4 Ezra and 3 Baruch divert their attention to the mysteries of God. The visionaries were seldom revolutionaries. Their strong sense that human affairs are controlled by higher powers usually limited the scope of human initiative. The apocalyptic revolution is a revolution in the imagination. It entails a challenge to view the world in a way that is radically different from the common perception. The revolutionary potential of such imagination should not be underestimated, as it can foster dissatisfaction with the present and generate visions of what might be. The legacy of the apocalypses includes a powerful rhetoric for denouncing the deficiencies of this world. It also includes the conviction that the world as now constituted is not the end. Most of all, it entails an appreciation of the great resource that lies in the human imagination to construct a symbolic world where the integrity of values can be maintained in the face of social and political powerlessness and even of the threat of death. (283)

So while it may appear to Dan that my statements that apocalypticism was “quietistic” on the one hand and yet “revolutionary” and “political” on the other hand are mutually exclusive, the fact is they are not. Many apocalyptic Jews had a radically revolutionary vision of liberation and of a just society, while at the same time advocating patience and quietism, in terms of direct engagement with empire, on the other. This quietistic strategy is underwritten by the assumption that God is about to intervene in history and liberate God’s people from oppression. Other apocalypticists promoted violent revolution, to be sure, but the Qumran sect, the apocalyptic community that produced Daniel, Jesus and Paul, and so many other Jewish apocalyptic movements rejected the violence in favor of patience, on the assumption that the salvific divine intervention was near.

For instance, The Community Rule, an apocalyptic text found at Qumran, says:

I will pay to no man the reward of evil; I will pursue him with goodness. For judgment of all the living is with God, and it is He who will render to man his reward. I will not envy in a spirit of wickedness, my soul shall not desire the riches of violence. I will not grapple with the men of perdition until the Day of Revenge.

The nonviolent stance here is informed by the assumption of a “Day of Revenge” in which God will vindicate the righteous over against their oppressors. Compare this with Paul’s language in Romans 12 and 13:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. . . . And do this, understanding the present time: how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. (Rom 12:19—13:1, 11-12)

The quietistic stance toward government, which counsels against direct action against empire, is informed by the assumption that God will take vengeance upon the sect’s enemies, and that, indeed, “salvation is near.”

So while the revolutionary vision and the radical critique of the system is there in Jesus and Paul, there is also an advocacy of nonviolence and patience, in light of the fact that their deliverance is at hand. Both The Community Rule and Jesus and Paul spoke of doing good to one’s enemies, and both movements also anticipated an imminent day of judgment on which God would vindicate those who waited for justice. Thus, my statements were not contradictory, and thus had no need to be “resolved,” unless one assumes that critiquing the empire and forming alternative sub-communities on the one hand, and taking a quietistic (i.e., nonviolent, no direct engagement, militarily or within the political system) approach to imperial domination on the other hand, are somehow mutually exclusive. They’re not.

And I should also point out that although Dan characterizes this as an example of a problem with my exegesis, I see no exegetical discussion going on here. This is a conceptual problem. Dan continues:

Stark’s remarks do not make sense of the actual activities of Jesus and Paul. Jesus and Paul did not exhibit any sort of political quietism. There were actively involved in working towards the goals of the just reign of God in the here-and-now of their moments in history. There was no passivity, no sitting back and waiting involved. That is why they were both condemned as impious terrorists and executed by the political authorities. Stark’s whole line of criticism falls apart when his picture of apocalypticism is compared to the textual witness to the lived lives of Jesus and Paul.

Yeah, either that or Dan is again mischaracterizing my argument. Take for example the language I used to describe Jesus and Paul’s activities in the final chapter:

The revolutionary impulse was right. The curse upon the existing world order was valid. The expression of hope in a new beginning was vital. The creation of counter-cultural communities which function as signs of this new beginning was not only noble but necessary in order for the revolution to be successful. But the waiting for a miracle to make it all happen—that was wrong. Now when I say it was wrong, I do not mean to condemn the early Christians. After all, Jesus and Paul were prudent to encourage their followers not to do anything that would bring the wrath of Rome down upon their heads. (230)

Maybe Dan just has a different definition of “quietism” than I’m using. Perhaps I used the wrong word, but I think that my subsequent characterizations of their activities should have made it clear what I meant. I don’t mean that they just sat on their asses and did nothing. And I don’t mean at all that they weren’t political actors. By “quietistic,” I simply referred to the prohibition on engaging in violent revolution, the prohibition on engaging in public protests against unjust policies (i.e., taxation; see Rom 13), and the obvious prohibition on attempting to achieve political power within the Roman system or the temple system.

But I clearly articulate that Jesus and Paul engaged in political activity, that they engaged in the formation of counter-cultural communities which were, in my words, “signs of this new beginning [that were] necessary in order for the revolution to be successful,” and in Dan’s words, “goals of the just reign of God in the here-and-now of their moments in history.” That’s the same thing. I agree with Dan that there was no “sitting back,” and I didn’t claim there was. But I disagree with him that there was no “waiting involved.” Certainly, it’s not idle waiting. (I never made that claim.) But there was certainly waiting, as is abundantly clear throughout the teaching of both Jesus and Paul. The waiting was for the divine intervention that would make their preparations for the coming of the kingdom worthwhile. But throughout the entire waiting period, they were to be making those preparations. This is perfectly clear in my argument, and I make this clear on a number of occasions. Here’s one example. In Acts 1:7-8, Jesus “does not deny that he intends to deliver Israel from Rome. He simply declines to tell them when. . . . Jesus does not want them fixated on the precise date; instead, he tells them that they will receive special power to testify about him in anticipation of his return. Pentecost is therefore presented by Luke as the empowerment of the disciples to prepare the world for the Messiah’s coming to restore the kingdom to Israel” (203-04, emphasis in original).

Now, Dan quotes me thus: “[Stark] concludes that the apocalyptic perspective leaves ‘no room for any form of engagement… At most political responsibility is narrated in sectarian terms. To be politically responsible is to be sectarian’ (pp226-27; emphasis removed).”

What I mean by this is not that early Christianity was nonpolitical, and not that it didn’t have a vision for the whole world, but that its interim strategy for the period before the divine intervention did not involve a strategy for transforming worldly political structures. Rather, it was the sectarian community alone that was to model what the whole world would look like after God intervened. Thus, “to be politically responsible is to be sectarian.” The Christian’s political responsibility was to “sign” the coming universal kingdom of God by reflecting its policies within the Christian communities. But Dan doesn’t quote my entire statement here. I go on to say that “this makes sense because the sect believes that what it is doing is directly connected to the fate of the entire world. The trouble is that the world is still waiting for the church to make good on that promise, two thousand years removed” (227).

If it’s still not clear, I’ll put it differently. The sectarian interim ethic of first century Christianity is not problematic in and of itself. I state this quite clearly on a number of occasions. It is right. It is necessary. And, because of the Roman domination system, it’s the absolute best they could hope to do. Where it fails is as a long term political program, world without end. It only works if in fact God is soon to intervene to make everything come out right. As I articulate later on the same page, “Jesus’ ministry of compassion was depicted as a sign of an impending new world order. Such charity was not a solution to the problem, but a glimpse at what the kingdom of God will look like when it comes. That may be all very well when the consummation of the kingdom of God is expected to take place within a few decades, but with a two-thousand-year margin of error, such charity itself becomes an injustice” (227).

A further way to articulate this problem is that, while the political program Paul developed within the churches—an astonishing international economic alternative to empire—was absolutely the right program for powerless groups under empire, failed, because of its inherent short-sightedness, to articulate a vision for justice beyond the bounds of the church. It didn’t anticipate a situation in which God never showed up to make the rest of the world look like the church. But that’s the situation we’re in, and thus (and I would have thought Dan would think this uncontroversial), we need more than charity and mutuality. We need to engage the world outside the church and seek to transform its own structures. We need a bigger vision than just a vision of justice within the church, and in order to achieve it, we need a bigger program than just a sectarian one. Why? Because God hasn’t shown up yet to fix the world for us.

So when Dan characterizes my position as a rejection of an “apocalyptic ‘ethics of waiting’ that removes us from the present pursuit of justice and ‘renders world history a cosmic joke,’” he misconstrues the nature of my critique. First, I never characterize the apocalyptic ethic as an ethic that “removes us from the present pursuit of justice.” On the contrary, the apocalyptic ethic is precisely to pursue justice by establishing it within the apocalyptic communities, while waiting for God to intervene and make the rest of the world look like those faithful (and just) communities. So I hope this clarifies for Dan what my argument actually is. What he’s critiquing isn’t at all my position. Dan continues:

Stark never adequately resolves the tension he sees between passive sectarianism and revolutionary action that I just mentioned.

That’s because I in fact do not see a tension between them. Dan continues:

Here, it seems to me that he has referred to some of the dominant scholarly voices who have studied apocalyptic literature, and he has pulled out key quotations, but he doesn’t seem to have delved fully into the discussion. Here, one notices the range of perspectives found within Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic traditions. Some voices are more passive and quietist, others are more active and revolutionary. Some are more reformist, others are more radical. Some are more rooted at the margins. Others are more rooted at centres of power.  Given that, it is worth asking where Jesus and Paul fall within that spectrum. This would help Stark to not make contradictory statements.

As for the charge that I haven’t delved fully into the discussion: First, this is the longest chapter in my book and I had a lot to fit into it. Second, it’s not a whole book on apocalypticism; it’s just one chapter. Third, it’s a semi-popular book for a lay audience. So for that reason I tried to limit my engagement with other positions, rather than try to answer each and every objection that could come from any direction. I dealt with dissenting positions that are the positions normally represented in my target audience, and I gave a thorough and very close exegetical argument for my position.

Now, I am fully aware of the wide variety of political approaches in first century apocalyptic Judaism. I made reference to this fact on p. 229, where I noted that some were violent, while others were nonviolent. But I dissent from the characterization that the “passive and quietistic” voices should be presented in contrast to those that are “more active and revolutionary.” Yes, there were some militant apocalyptic Jews, in every period from the Maccabees to Bar Kochba. But as for the rest, I think the distinction between “passive and quietistic” on the one hand, and “active and revolutionary” on the other, is a simplistic one. The truth is that most apocalyptic movements were passive and quietistic in some respects, and active and revolutionary in other respects. All apocalyptic Jews were revolutionary, in the sense that they had a revolutionary vision for the world and made incisive, revolutionary critiques of Rome and often of the Temple regime in Jerusalem. And none of them were “passive and quietistic” in the sense that they just sat back and waited. Even the Qumran community, which was even more sectarian than Christians, was working to prepare for the coming battle between the forces of good and evil. Their withdrawal (which is disputed at any rate) was their form of action, and it was invested with revolutionary significance. So when I say that Jesus and Paul were both revolutionary and quietistic (I never in fact used the word “passive” to describe Christianity), I am not making “contradictory statements.” It’s just that Dan seems to have trouble understanding that Jesus and Paul could have different policies for how to engage different groups of people. You’ll note that Jesus never publicly and directly opposes Rome, but he does publicly and directly oppose the Temple regime. So, “passive,” in one sense, on the one hand, and “active,” in one sense, on the other hand. But even Jesus’ activism against the Temple regime didn’t have an immediate overthrow of the regime in view. He protested the temple (something Paul told the Roman Christians not to do against Rome), but he didn’t try to take it over. For that, he waited. Once again—active and passive, both at once.

Now, Dan’s next claim is, I must say (and I’m trying to be as nice as possible), utterly ridiculous:

My second quibble with Stark’s reading of apocalypticism is his acceptance of the thesis that both Jesus and Paul believed in the imminent end of the world (cf., for example, pp160-61 on Jesus and pp125, 199-201 on Paul). He doesn’t really argue the case for this but simply accepts the work of other scholars. [Emphasis mine.]

I don’t argue the case that Jesus believed in the imminent end of the world?! Is Dan kidding? Did he accidentally skip the thirty-one pages (pp. 168-199) of sheer exegesis I devote to arguing that Jesus believed in the imminent end of the world? I simply “accept the work of other scholars”? Seriously? In those thirty-one pages of exegesis, I barely make any reference at all to other scholars. It’s entirely my own close, careful exegesis of the text. The one scholar I do engage in this section is N.T. Wright, who I argue against, and not by citing “other scholars,” but by a painstaking process of critiquing his exegesis by my own exegesis! I am utterly baffled here. First, Dan says that his problems with my argument on Jesus and Paul are “exegetical” in nature, then he says I don’t do exegesis but just rely on other scholars. And not once does Dan actually contest a single point of my exegesis, not a single point from the thirty-one pages devoted to Jesus alone!

Now it’s true that when I got to Paul, I made shorter work of it. Why? Because the chapter was called Jesus Was Wrong, not Paul Was Wrong. After 35 pages arguing that Jesus was an imminent apocalyptic thinker (31 of which were exegesis), my intent in the concluding section of the chapter was to show that the early Christians’ views were consonant with the case I had just made for Jesus. But with Paul, contrary to Dan’s characterization, I still argued from at least seven separate Pauline passages from almost as many Pauline books. Dan critiques me because I only cite two scholars in support of my thesis on Paul (J. Christiaan Beker and J. Paul Sampley). But the claim that I made no real argument is flatly untrue. And, moreover, the thesis that Paul believed in an imminent parousia is hardly controversial! Even the most ardent Evangelicals (remember my audience) readily accept this about Paul, while wishing to deny it about Jesus. Thus, Jesus got more shrift because his was the tougher sell. And contrary to Dan’s claim that my position was the dominant scholarly position twenty years ago but is no longer dominant today, it remains the dominant position by a longshot. Yes, there is ample dissenting literature, but no more now than there was in times past. And not every Paul scholar who adheres to the dominant position writes a book on Paul.

Dan writes, “I see good reason to believe that Paul longed for Christ to return during Paul’s lifetime, but I remain unconvinced that Paul was certain of this.” That’s fine. Although I never used the word “certain” to describe Paul. I used the word “expectation.” Dan continues, “Thus, as Oscar Cullmann noted half a century ago, if Paul was proposing an ‘interim ethics,’ that interim extends until today.” This is a fine claim but I demur, for reasons stated already in the book. And if Paul’s interim ethics are supposed to extend to today, then that means we never should have abolished slavery—that is, insomuch as we’re followers of Paul’s ethics.

Again, when we look at the actual activities undertaken by Jesus and Paul, that ethics is not problematical because it does not espouse passivity or quietism or telling those who are suffering to “wait it out” (cf. p227).

Actually, that’s not what I say on page 227. On page 227 I say that the perfectly adequate interim ethic of Jesus and Paul (adequate given their apocalyptic assumptions) only becomes an ethic of “waiting it out” if we try to extend it, world without end. So Dan is again mischaracterizing my argument. Jesus and Paul clearly established temporary measures to care for those who were suffering, but the scope of those measures was limited and it wasn’t a permanent solution to the causes of human suffering in the first place. That’s my argument there. Dan continues:

My third quibble is with Stark’s final outright rejection of the apocalyptic perspective for contemporary Christians due to what he perceives as its “intractable problems” (p225; cf. pp225-30).  I’ve already mentioned some reasons why this perspective might be misplaced and one also thinks of the writings of Nate Kerr and Douglas Campbell (as well as the Pauline reflections inspired by Alain Badiou) as a sufficient refutation of this suggestion.

I have no problem with those who want to reimagine the categories of apocalyptic to make them relevant to a world with no conceivable end (such as Kerr and Badiou). In fact, as Stephen O’Leary (who I quote in the book) argues, there are two different modes or strands of apocalyptic thought throughout the ages—what he calls the “tragic” and the “comic” frames of apocalyptic. The “tragic” refers to an apocalyptic that uses its symbols to refer to specific historical situations in linear time, whereas the “comic” refers to an apocalyptic that uses its symbols to refer to general sorts of events and situations that repeat themselves throughout history. And as he notes, the tragic is often reread as the comic when its expectations are upset. This is what the early church did with apocalyptic after their expectations were upset, this is what Augustine did in what O’Leary terms “Augustine’s Anti-apocalyptic Eschatology,” and this is what the sort of “Hauerwasian apocalypticism” and other brands of academic apocalypticism are doing—reading the apocalyptic material within the comic frame, making it relevant to a cyclical pattern in a world without end. That’s fine as far as it goes, and it has its value, but in my book I’m more interested in reading the language of Jesus and Paul as they intended it, not as it was later reinterpreted so that it could continue to function within the community.

Now, Dan’s final point:

One of Stark’s problems with the apocalyptic outlook is that he thinks it relies upon waiting for a miracle, a happy ending brought to us by some deus ex machina (cf. pp228, 230). Bluntly stated, Stark seems to have a problem with God intervening in history (one of his objections to the doctrine of inerrancy is that it “denies the human authors of scripture [their] free will” [p63]).

I’ll pause here to comment. Dan misrepresents me here in this quote. I’m not saying that I have a problem with God denying human authors of scripture their free will. I’m arguing, in that context, that it’s a problem for Christians who are committed to free will theism. Second, there’s a difference between intervention and doing everything for us. I don’t object to divine intervention per se. As I said in the book, I believe in a God who “struggles with us.” That means I believe in a God who helps, guides, corrects, all those things. But that’s different from the picture of a God who swoops down and in a single movement solves all of our problems for us while we stand back and watch. It’s that kind of deus ex machina that undermines, in my humble opinion, the drama of human redemption. Dan continues:

Yet, it seems to me that the Bible is full of deus ex machina moments. The whole notion of Jesus coming as a (divine) Messiah is one of those moments. Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road is another. Hell, creation is this sort of apocalyptic Event. It’s hard to reject a longing for the parousia of Christ for this reason, while holding on to much of anything else in the Bible.

I disagree, for the reason I just stated. There is a difference between intervention to help us along or, in the case of creation, to get things rolling, and an intervention that solves all of our problems for us when we weren’t able to resolve them for ourselves. Once again, I believe that God struggles with us to help us resolve our issues, but I find objectionable the idea that God should come in and fix everything for us. That shifts the locus of action from human beings as moral agents, to the omnipotent (or at least superpotent) divine for whom nothing is really at stake.

Furthermore, unlike Stark, I do think we are very much stuck waiting for the miracle for which he says we do not need to wait. I’ve been involved in the struggle for justice and abundant life for all (and not just for some) for more than ten years now and, despite all our best efforts, I know we are absolutely fucked if God does not come and intervene. To say that we need no miracle seems to go back to where Stark is rooted. Getting closer to the margins may change his mind about that.

First, every time Dan has attempted to show that I’m not in touch with the margins, it’s been based on a serious misreading of me. This is no exception. Second, I certainly don’t deny that I need to be moving ever closer to the margins. I’m closer now than I was five years ago, and I’ll be closer next month than I am right now. But that’s really irrelevant to this, despite Dan’s repeated attempts to bring this back to my elitism.

The fact is, Dan has again misquoted me. I never said that we “need no miracle.” That’s what Dan said I said. What I said is that we do not need to wait for the miracle. And my reference wasn’t to Jesus’ ethic so much as what it has become in fundamentalist Christianity—which delays pursuing justice until Jesus comes back on May 21st 2011, or what have you. So once again, Dan’s accusations about my being out of touch are rooted in his inability to read what I actually write.

Of course, when Dan says that “I know we are absolutely fucked if God does not come and intervene,” I don’t disagree. I suspect that we are absolutely fucked, although I hope we aren’t. But I don’t want to pursue justice because I’m convinced it’s going to win out. I want to pursue justice because justice is justice.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank Dan for taking the time to write this review. He brought up some very important issues, and for that I’m appreciative.

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