we look at the specific points we have observed in the ‘Content' part
Opening negative remarks.
As I noted above, I believe it
is important to note this starting place. Consider this, four lines
in: “On certain very special occasions, it is
asserted, the divine will was made known by direct contact with randomly
selected human beings, who were supposedly vouchsafed unalterable
laws that could then be passed on to those less favoured.”
before I continue here, may I recommend you read P.31 of our Apologetics
pages, entitled “The Revelation of God.” (CLICK
HERE). Right, let's continue and note the
various phrases in the above sentence.
special occasions” – actually this is quite inaccurate. Certainly
there were one or two very notable occasions when the divine encounter
meant a sharing of the divine will, but by and large these encounters
were on remarkably ordinary occasions, and that is what makes them
notable. God often spoke to individuals in the very ordinariness of
their lives, not at the peak of some great religious experience!
is asserted” – this is the language of doubt. It is emotive
and gives you no room to reason for yourself. His negative emotional
frame is being imposed upon you the reader.
selected individuals” – which suggests they are random only
in the eyes of the author because he doesn't know why they were chosen
and hasn't bothered to either read or think to find out why. There
is nothing random about God's choices, as you will see if you read
that page recommended above.
were supposedly” – more of the language of doubt. As above.
less favoured” – by which we assume he means those who hadn't
been favoured with an encounter with God. How silly is that! So God
can only speak as long as He speaks to large numbers at a time! He
speaks to individuals on purpose - but I'm not going to do all your
thinking for you; you can think that one out!
thus start with emotionally biased writing that imposes on you, with
sloppy and casual and inaccurate comments. This is not a good way
to start a chapter, unless you are just hoping to feed others who
have the same biased presuppositions as you have, and who won't be
bothered to think about the truth.
Objections to the Old Testament:
The emotive language continues: “There are some
very obvious objections”. Well actually what follows are not
obvious; in fact the objections are often frivolous and shallow and
made with little thought. Let's take them one by one:
Varied disclosure to ‘hugely discrepant prophets':
This starts out “several such disclosures have
been claimed to occur.” Wipe away all the non-Biblical ones
if you will, because I am only speaking about Biblical prophets, and
the author is not clear - in fact he is very vague, but as this
is a chapter on the Old Testament, I assume he is speaking about prophets
and laws in the Old Testament only here. Several? Try hundreds! If
it is purely ‘laws' then it is in fact only one ‘prophet', Moses,
yet it is more than just two or three even with him. But he did say
‘prophets' and so if we include the numbers of times that God spoke
to Israel in the Old Testament, it is literally hundreds.
one revelation is not enough – needed various backups:
Well, actually one of the things that I have noted today, is that
when God speaks to people, He does repeat Himself because we are incredibly
good at forgetting what He said or even of hearing it wrongly. The
fact that He repeats Himself simply adds credibility to it.
other times just one revelation to some obscure person:
Well I have to say I don't know who he is referring to here. The only
‘obscure' people might be some of the so-called minor prophets and
nothing they said added to the Law, only confirmed it. I think this
is just inaccuracy here.
revelations are “hopelessly inconsistent”:
Well he wisely doesn't try to give us any examples of the wild accusation.
The amazing thing that I have found of over forty years reading it
again and again, is that it is incredibly consistent! Unfounded and
revelation often comes to nobodies:
Actually his words were “unlettered and quasi-historical
figures”. Unlettered? Does this mean uneducated? Well there
are a couple of very obvious (and these ARE obvious if you've read
your Bible) answers here. The first is, does it matter that they were
uneducated? I'm not sure who he has in mind, but most of the receivers
of divine communication, also experienced divine encounter and power
to verify their words. Education wasn't an issue. The second point
is that if you take Moses, for example, as one of the prime providers
of the divine communication, he was almost certainly a most remarkably
educated individual, having been raised in the courts of the Pharaoh
of his day.
these “obvious objections” come as the
objections of a person with very sketchy knowledge of the Old Testament,
but then he is an atheist, and atheists aren't known for their knowledge
of the Bible and yet keep on blundering in when fools fear to tread.
is a little aside between this and the next section, about the three
monotheistic faiths. I think the idea is, defeat one and you defeat
all three because they all have the same ancestry. That's why the
early books seem important to him but it's a shame he hasn't the courage
to read all the books of the Old Testament, because he would then
realise that this ancestry is supported right the way throughout.
Foibles of the Ten Commandments: Somewhat
rashly, our author embarks on a critique of a set of laws that large
parts of the world throughout history have hailed as possibly the
best synopsis of basic law for a society that have ever been produced.
Let's consider what he says.
the commandments themselves (P.98,99):
rightly insists that the first three are all variations of the same
one. Yes they are, but they are significant variations:
No other gods beside the “I AM” (revealed to Moses – Ex 3), the eternal,
Why? Because there is only one Supreme
Being. Is this obvious? No, the Greeks and Romans obviously didn't
Don't make representations of God in any form associated with the
Why? Because an idol diminishes who
He is and makes you think you can ‘manage' Him.
Don't misuse or distort His name
Why? Because any alteration of His
name changes who you think He is.
second objection is to the “throat clearing
… very serious admonitions” in respect of Ex 20:5 – “I,
the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the
sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who
hate me.” A number of separate but related issues are
here, and he will pick this up again further down the page.
God was originally speaking to the nation He had just delivered from
slavery in Egypt and was offering them (and they had not yet accepted
it – so they were quite clear about the One with whom they were having
dealings) a relationship that was based on His intent to create a
people who would stand out in the world as a people blessed with peace,
harmony and prosperity (which was observable in the following centuries
when they played their part – see shortly).
their part was to stick close to Him and that meant not going the
way of the surrounding pagan nations who were worshipping idols and
offering their children as sacrifices to their ‘gods'. They couldn't
have it both ways – blessing AND idol worship and idol sacrifice –
that's what the reference to Him being jealous means.
the injunction that follows about punishment, please note, is a limiting
one, ONLY to the third and fourth generations, and it is punishment
of those who hated Him and therefore rebelled against Him but still
held on to the name of those who were His people. If they did that
they would no longer represent Him faithfully to the rest of the world.
what this “throat clearing” reference does not do is paint the whole
picture, for we've quoted verse 5 but verse 6 continues: “but
showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep
my commandments.” In other words, any punishment is overshadowed
by the promise of ongoing available love. Put another way, if you
keep my guidance you won't be wasting your time, for my love will
be poured out on generation after generation without end.
you want the even fuller picture, it is worth noting here that, after
Israel's failure and Moses breaking the first set of stone tablets
with the Ten Commandments on, when He gives him a second replacement
set, He describes Himself to Moses in a very reassuring manner which
simply expands on what we have just seen: “The
LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands,
and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6).
you see the emphasis here, right in the early part of Israel 's
history with God? God is COMPASSIONATE,
GRACIOUS, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS, MAINTAINING
LOVE… FORGIVING WICKEDNESS. These characteristics
are uniformly seen throughout the Bible. Yes that verse does continue
with the same warning to future generations but the emphasis is as
we have made it. Did God take pleasure in punishment? No, listen:
“Do I take any pleasure in the death of
the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased
when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23)
author then is upset by the fourth commandment to rest up on the seventh
day of every week. This was, in fact, a safety injunction to stop
abuse by employers and well as countering the tendency of those who
work for themselves to work themselves into the ground. Yes, it was
linked to a remembrance of the Lord, because that relationship was
the key thing that helped Israel
remain different and remain
in a good place. A reminder by way of a holiday seems a pretty good
way of doing that, to me!
ongoing comment about honouring parents in order to live long in the
land is short-sighted. As we are increasingly finding, family life
is the foundation of a stable society (have you seen the ongoing articles
in the secular press confirming this?) Once family life collapses
(as it is rapidly doing in the arrogant and godless West) society
collapses. It's simple and it's obvious to anyone except those whose
agenda makes it inconvenient.
concludes with the four “thou shalt not” commands, but waits until
later to comment on them, so we will too.
the tone in which they are delivered and
specific niggles (P.99,100):
has already grumbled about this but he picks it up again now. He puts
in the same category that a local king might have used. We've covered
this already so let's move on.
next objection is purely silly and thoughtless. Why come up with such
obvious commands as you shall not murder, he asks? Surely, he says,
every sensible nation in history would take that as read. Yes, of
course we do, but why is it, therefore, that we all have it written
into our laws. I'm sure the United
States has it written into a
law somewhere; the UK
certainly has – in a whole number of statutes! Why write them down?
So no one can say, I didn't know.
also rambles on foolishly about Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.
What's the point of that, he implies? The answer is that it may appear
obvious to this literate world traveller but it wasn't obvious to
everyone else. The whole point of that parable was that Jesus was
saying be nice to your neighbour (as the Law said) and some picky
atheists asked him, so who do you mean who is my neighbour? History
at that point said that Jews and Samaritans intensely disliked each
other. Jesus says, cut it out, don't have racial boundaries, be nice
to everyone! No, it's not so obvious!
the page he speaks of the “pitiless teachings
of the god of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion
at all”. Where has he been? We've already seen the revelation
about compassion, love, faithfulness, forgiveness etc. but hasn't
he actually read the laws that follow? If he had, he would have caught
exactly the word he uses, the ‘sense of solidarity'. This was a bonded
together people, caring for one another, protecting one another and
ensuring any wrongs were righted and people compensated. These are
final niggle is about the tenth command about not coveting and within
this he objects to a woman being included in the list of things not
to be coveted. This was simply a cultural thing. Within subsequent
Jewish history and certainly Christian history, women were given a
far higher place than normally in the world. It's just covering the
view of the culture of the day. Permissible ignorance?
main objection is against prescribing what a person shall not think.
The problem here is not understanding what coveting means. It doesn't
mean just a casual thought. Use of it elsewhere in Scripture indicates
that it means ‘a purposeful desiring which soon is followed by the
act of taking'. Similarly ‘envy' that he refers to, doesn't mean just
a casual once off wish, but an ongoing desire that is allowed to build
and build. I do not covet my neighbours possessions or even their
wives (!) because I am content with what I have and love my wife very
much. You don't have to covet and you don't have
to envy. The prohibitions are quite reasonable and ARE possible to
what they do not say (P. 100) :
I'm going to assume that we are talking about the Law generally here,
and not just the Ten Commandments, because they are the basic minimums
for a society and do not cover detailed issues which are covered in
the many other laws given through Moses.
is fairly obvious that the author has never carefully studied the
Law of Moses otherwise he would have come across the very things he
says are missing.
Other laws and failure.
The above takes us naturally into some of the specific laws he objects
starts with the law of slavery, and of course, hardly touches the
subject and misses the heart of the law. I'm tempted to do a full
exposition of the laws about slavery but this page is already quite
long. Suffice it to say, the laws of Moses in respect of slavery,
like the rest of the laws for society, were to protect against abuses.
Slaves weren't for life, they were more like the hired help that was
often part of the family. What Moses' law did was regularise what
was a world practice but make it humane and caring, but you really
need to read through the Law intelligently to see that! If you want
more on Slavery, please go to Appendix 3 by CLICKING
about the “insanely detailed regulations governing
oxen,” fail to understand the importance of such animals that
were of immense value in assuring the wellbeing of a household in
a largely agricultural economy.
negative comments about an eye of an eye, etc. simply show lack of
understanding that this was a protective law that limited vengeance
in a primitive society so there would not be a round of increasing
violence and death.
better carry on with each carping criticism born out of lack of understanding,
for that is what the next one about witches is all about. Remember,
this is an embryonic nation that relies on its future by maintaining
a relationship with God. Silly, unknowing people snigger about witches
(and let's not confuse fairy tale beliefs with reality) but occult
powers are real and deceptive and so for Israel
in particular the injunction
is to stop anyone even starting to become a witch. The death penalty
(and I know it's coming up later) was a warning not to do something
that was considered a serious risk to the future existence and well-being
of the nation. We think we know better, to our loss.
briefly refers to the laws of sacrifice but doesn't realise that this
was God's way of dealing with guilt in this embryonic people. I cover
this in the previous appraisal in more detail. Please go there. Similarly
I have covered in detail the Sinai executions in the appraisal of
The God Delusion so please see the comments in Chapter 7
of that book's appraisal. CLICK
we end this section we need to refute the silly statement born out
of lack of knowledge: “The Bible may, indeed
does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing,
for slavery, for bride price, and for indiscriminate massacre”.
It does not do any of those things. Read it, understand it, see it
in context, read our notes on other parts of this site, and realise
the folly of this statement.CLICK
The argument of denial by absence is often used, but is not a good
one. To say that there are no archaeological signs of Moses simply
means, we haven't identified anything we've found so far with Moses,
or simply we haven't found anything so far. The history of Biblical
criticism is littered with examples where people said the same thing:
see it couldn't have been because we haven't dug up anything, yet
later the evidence is unearthed.
respect of Moses and the Exodus there are signs of the account being
valid, at least in geographical terms. Professor W.F.Albright, a distinguished
to our present knowledge of the topography of the eastern delta
the account of the start of the Exodus, which is given in Ex 12:37
& 13:20 is topographically absolutely correct.”
atheist critics would not accept this, scholars of the Bible point
out that Moses is attested to as an historical figure by Jesus the
Son of God, as well as by a variety of other Biblical writers. Archaeology
may not have revealed him yet, so watch this space. Just one warning:
names were changed or given at the drop of a hat in Biblical times
and therefore don't necessarily expect the name Moses to appear if
it is in Egyptians records.
The Pentateuch's failings – Moses as an author:
There is a rather silly argument here that argues where most of us
would not be arguing. The argument is that Moses was not the author
of the Pentateuch because in Genesis he wasn't mentioned (no, it covers
history before him!), he's dead at the end of Deuteronomy (completed
by another scribe, yes later!) and he is often named as a person,
in the third person. If this man was genuinely the meekest man on
the earth (as he's described), he doesn't want to draw attention to
himself and actually true humility isn't ashamed to attribute that
description to himself because he knows it's all the work of God.
we find the same somewhat negative writing as he points out that Moses
was healthy right up to the end, and then just died. Yes? What's the
problem? That very often happens with elderly people, and in this
case, the Lord said He would take him home. For detailed reading of
this subject we suggest the book we mentioned at the beginning: The
Inspiration of the Pentateuch by M.W.J.Phelan, and there are
no doubt a number of other similar books as this is a well researched
area where the author obviously has not been.
The death penalty & genocide.
For answers to this section may we refer you to the appraisal of The
God Delusion we have referred to a number of times already, particularly
chapter 7. CLICK
Concluding Misunderstandings: In
the closing lines, the author clearly has a problem with the miraculous.
Please refer again to P.31 on our Apologetics pages to “The Revelation
of God”. (CLICK
HERE) If God
exists, and the Bible is the main testimony to that truth, then if
He is the Supreme Being it should be no surprise that He can intervene
in His world. The fact that throughout the Old Testament He focuses
on the one nation, Israel , is not to avoid the truth that through
them He also revealed Himself to many others, as the Bible actually
does testify. Silly closing comments!
those who would like to take time studying the claims of the Old Testament
about God's love and examining His actions in the light of those claims,
may we recommend you go to "God's Love in the Old Testament"
which is also found on this site, by CLICKING