Tag Archives: Biblical Contradictions

God of Wrath and Love: A Case Study in Doctrinal Non-contradiction Part II

14 Dec

Last week, in “A God of Wrath and Love Part I” we began a four part series examining the text of 1 Samuel 15:2-3 and the apparent conflict between the Old Testament command to exterminate all of the Amalekites and the New Testament depiction of God as wanting all men to be saved.  (2 Peter 3:9)  We looked at what is known about Amalekite society (both from Biblical and extra-Biblical texts) and came to the conclusion that the Amalekites (as a people) were not innocent by any common moral standard.  At the same time, we recognized that, if our society is to serve as a model from which we may (rightly or wrongly) draw conclusions about other cultures, it is highly unlikely that every Amalekite (as an individual) was actively involved in child sacrifice and warmongering.  That word “actively” is where we will start this week’s discussion.

Edmund Burke once said that, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  We see this principle played out daily both in our country and throughout the world.  Indeed, most of us would agree with Abraham Lincoln that, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”  To sit on our hands as we witness evil and do nothing either to alter, to reform, or to remove is, indeed a great crime.

Our judicial system punishes those who by their silence are considered accomplices in unlawful acts and most of us would agree that (at least in the case of heinous crimes) this is only right.  We hold a man guilty not just for molesting a child, but for being aware that the molestation was taking place and keeping silent.  We refuse to excuse not only a boy who walks into an elementary school and begins shooting students and teachers, but also his friend who knew of the plan in advance.  We punish not merely sins of commission, but also sins of omission – the failure to do what is right in the presence of that which is wrong.

That presume that such “sins of omission” were being committed within Amalekite society is not unreasonable, yet even this is not sufficient to establish the guilt of the whole, nor provide any form of defense for the command to kill every man, woman, and child.  Was there really to be no hope at all, even for “conscientious objectors”?

I think that, in this case, we must turn to another passage of Scripture for our answer.  In Joshua 2, we read the story of Rahab, a harlot from Shittim – a town which the Israelites had been ordered to destroy.  Two spies had been sent out to “scout the territory” and return with information that would lead to the eventual fall of the city and the destruction of all who lived there.  Rahab (being a “conscientious objector”) chose to help the men, hiding them on her roof until they had the opportunity to escape.

That she was awed by the God of Israel is obvious… as is her rejection of the lifestyle of the city.  “Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth.”  (Joshua 2:8-12)  Later on, in chapter 6, we read that because of her willingness to embrace the Israelites, her life was spared.  And in Matthew 1:5, we find that she even made her way into the genealogy of Jesus!

Would the same have been done in the case of Amalekite objectors?  It wouldn’t be unreasonable to presume that it would have.  What about objectors who didn’t embrace Israel’s God?  According to this passage, news of the Hebrews’ advance (and the acts which their God had performed on their behalf) had preceded them.  Doubtless, those who objected to the depravity of Amalekite society, but were not ready to embrace Israel’s God, still had time to escape.  Only those without the foresight to do so would be lost.

If you’re anything like me, our explanation so far isn’t sufficient to clear up all of your questions about the apparent conflict in the text (or to convince you of the moral rectitude of either the Israelites or their God).  Next week, we’ll take our case study a step further as we explore the question of God’s patience and love and the role they play in a scene of carnage like this one.  (And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the command to execute all of the children!  We’ll get around to that one too.)

God of Wrath and Love: A Case Study in Doctrinal Non-contradiction Part I

7 Dec

Last week, we took a look at the rule of “Doctrinal Non-contradiction” and the role that it plays in determining what is or isn’t admitted to the Christian canon.  Over the next four weeks, we’ll go in depth with this rule as we examine the apparent contradiction between God’s wrath in the Old Testament and His love in the New Testament – and why most Christians don’t see a conflict at all.

While there are plenty of Old Testament texts which clearly show God as wrathful, I’ve chosen one of the most troublesome for this article.  In 1 Samuel 15:2-3 we read, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”

The wholesale slaughter of any group of people should unsettle us and, for most of us it does.  After all, human history is full of examples of horrific genocide – often senseless and unprovoked.  The strong attack the weak and the weak lose.  It grates against our sense of justice, so to see such an account given within the pages of a book which claims religious authority (especially when the God of that book is portrayed as having ordered the massacre) is appalling.  And even more so when the same volume which presents such an apparently violent and wrathful God goes on to claim that the same deity, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9)

So what do Christians do when we see such seeming conflict within the pages of Scripture?  We begin with a look at both the context of the passage and an examination of our own presuppositions.

As far as non-Biblical history goes, our information concerning the Amalekites is pretty scarce.  We know that they lived in the land of Canaan and that (like most of the locals), their social life was… well, anti-social.  Temple orgies were pretty common as was child sacrifice.  War was the norm, so there’s nothing here to contradict the Biblical claim that the Israelite conflict with the Amalekites was the result of an unprovoked assault against the Hebrews before they ever even entered the Promised Land.  (Exodus 17:8-16 and Deuteronomy 25:17-18)  We are told in Judges 6:2-5 that the Amalekites continued to harass Israel even once they were settled in the land, devastating everything they encountered as they enacted total war.

This isn’t to say that Israel was never at fault or that they never did anything to aggravate the situation (Numbers 14:44-45), but it does clarify what was going on and goes a long way towards challenging a few of our natural assumptions.  To begin with, the Amalekites were not “innocent” bystanders who got in the way of the advancing Israelite army only to be obliterated.  Most of us would agree that adults (in general) are capable of moral judgment and, as a result, are responsible for their own actions.  Most of us would also agree that slaughtering children or engagement in unprovoked warfare against a weak people (Deuteronomy 25:18) are morally despicable acts.

But this still doesn’t fully explain why a God presented as loving in the New Testament would order such a wholesale slaughter in the old.  Surely, not every Amalekite was engaged in these horrific practices!  I won’t argue there.  If we are to judge by what we know of our own society (rightly or wrongly), there is, indeed, a good chance that not everyone who was of Amalekite lineage was guilty of these crimes.  But by that very same standard, we are forced to draw several other conclusions as well… and we will take a look at these next week as we continue our case study.

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept As Scripture: Cultural Understanding

16 Nov

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken a look at the role that “The Test of Value” has played in establishing the Christian canon.  We’ve looked at both science and history and spent some time examining what they can and can’t tell us about the world which surrounds us.  We’ve considered their importance in forming an accurate picture of world events and taken a look at ways in which they help us establish the truth or falsity of an account.

Today, we’ll shift our focus slightly as we begin to delve into yet another test for Holy Writ: that of non-contradiction.  We’ll examine some apparent logical and doctrinal inconsistencies within the pages of the Bible and consider the part that non-contradiction plays in determining what stays and what goes.  But before we get started, let’s take a moment to examine the role of cultural understanding and the ways in which our comprehension of other societies (like those discussed in “Archaeology and Historical Accuracy”) can influence our perception of the Biblical account.

To begin with, it is important to recognize that both Christians and other earnest seekers of the Truth have often found what appear to be “contradictions” within the pages of Scripture – places where two or more accounts are not in agreement with one another.  Such contradictions (if they really are contradictions) would be sufficient cause to discard the passage of the Bible in which they are found and (in some cases) the Bible as a whole.  For this reason, it is important that we not take such textual disagreements lightly.  At the same time, it also pays not to be too hasty in our judgment.  (Wouldn’t it be a shame to throw out something perfectly useful just because we didn’t understand how it worked?)  Things are not always what they seem and a sincere investigator must take the time to learn the facts before he comes to a conclusion.  Many times, the facts which are most relevant are the cultural ones.

Take, for example, the accounts of the reigns of the Israelite and Judean kings from the books of Kings and Chronicles.  An astute observer will notice that the length of their reigns is not always the same from one book to another.  Even other Old Testament accounts seem to leave the actual length of rule in doubt and, for years, scholars were stumped by this discrepancy.  Clearly, both accounts couldn’t be correct – so which one was and why?

It took some digging (literally) to discover that the time-keeping issue unearthed by modern scholars wasn’t actually a discrepancy at all.  The apparent conflict originated not in a logical contradiction, but from a cultural oddity: the two kingdoms, while being adjacent to one another, operated on two different calendar systems – both of which accurately portrayed the reigns of the kings according to the standards of the culture.

In the accession system (used by Israel throughout its entire history), if a king reigned for the last month of a year, he was counted as having ruled for the entire year.  In the non-accession system, however, only full years of a reign were considered.  During the rule of the kings, Judah began with the accession system, switched to the non-accession system, and then switched back – leading to an apparent (but not actual) inconsistency with the Israelite account.  The difficulty then, is not one of contradiction, but of having attempted to understand two separate ancient cultures in light of modern practice.

Such details go a long way to confirm the inerrancy of Scripture.  Had the accounts been written hundreds of years after the events had taken place, a different time keeping system would have been in use.  It is likely that the author would have utilized this more “modern” method – leaving the accounts of the kings’ reigns to be proven inaccurate (and inauthentic) at a later date when the details of accession and non-accession time-keeping were uncovered

Meanwhile, an accurate cultural understanding goes a long way towards smoothing over many of the apparent discrepancies contained within the Christian canon.  The moral of the story?  Before discarding the Bible (or any portion of it), take the time to gain an understanding of the culture in which the text in question actually originated.  Like the scholars who discovered the Israelite and Judean calendars, you may be surprised by what you unearth!

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