Tuesday, July 25, 2006

OT ethics in OT times

Among the many objections to the Christian faith raised by unbelievers, one of the favorite lines of attack so to cite one or more examples of OT morality which they find offensive.

Of course, to merely contrast their morality, or lack thereof, with OT morality, does nothing to demonstrate the superiority of their own morality.

Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, all they ever do is to cite something from the OT, and leave it at that, as if quotation were a substitute for argumentation.

Their procedure is: quote>roll your eyes>case closed.

Their inability to mount an actual argument against OT morality only proves the rational vacuity of their own position.

That said, what about OT ethics? It’s true that there’s a brutal streak to some OT injunctions.

And unbelievers appeal to the element of brutality to disprove the OT, and thereby disprove the Bible as a whole.

But this is quite ironic and self-defeating.

The reason for the occasional brutality of OT morality is due to the brutality of ANE culture.

OT law and practice were adapted to the real world situation of Jews living within a predominately pagan culture.

The ancient world was brutal because the ancient world was heathen.

Because Jewish culture was a subculture of ANE culture, there was only so much it could do to refine and humanize the barbarity of the surrounding culture.

To take a contemporary comparison, our military culture is subculture of the general culture. And the culture of the military is harsh compared with the general culture.

That’s because our soldiers are trained to fight our enemies. Our soldiers are trained to kill.

That’s not very nice. But it’s a necessary evil in a fallen world.

It would be nice if we could be nicer, but social relations are a two-way street.

To take a modern illustration, in WWII we used flame-throwers against the Japanese. That’s a very nasty tactic. But their soldiers left our soldiers no choie.

The Japanese war machine was fanatical and ruthless to the nth degree.

That doesn’t mean we should be quite as ruthless in return. But it does mean that, up-to-a-point, it’s necessary to adjust our tactics to the threat level if we hope to survive.

The irony of the unbeliever is that, left to his own devices, he would return us to the brutality of a pre-Christian culture, which is what necessitated the severity of OT injunctions in the first place.

Inspiration and providence operate in tandem. The inspired law code of Moses didn’t function in a vacuum. Ancient Israel was surrounded by enemies and infiltrated by idolaters.

Her law code was suited to the challenges she was facing at that time and place. And to the extent that contemporary conditions revert to pre-Christian conditions, thanks to the Far Left, it will be necessary to take more sterner measures to deal with the unremitting brutality of the threat to civilized behavior.

25 comments:

  1. So what this means, Steve, is that because the Jews were surrounded by pagan, cruel people, this then justifies the Jews in killing nursing babies BECAUSE OF the sins of their long dead ancestors? I don't see how.

    You might take a look at my brother's post over at DC for further discussion on this point.

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/07/particularism-and-christianity.html

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  3. That said, what about OT ethics? It’s true that there’s a brutal streak to some OT injunctions.

    It's "true"?

    I'm sorry Steve, are you merely contrasting your morality with OT morality, and claiming theirs was more "brutal"?

    By what "objective standard" are you calling stoning someone to death for worhipping Ba'al "brutal"?

    That was just the law back then.

    Now we have a law that allows people to worhsip any god they want, and blaspheme those they don't like. Like you do all the time.



    The reason for the occasional brutality of OT morality is due to the brutality of ANE culture.

    OT law and practice were adapted to the real world situation of Jews living within a predominately pagan culture.


    Oh...so now Steve is claiming that morality CAN change depending on the "real world situations" any Jew or Christian finds himself in.
    I thought so.

    So it seems that morality is not absolute according to Steve, but can change according to "real world situations", and that we have no right to judge someone else as "wrong", for slaughtering infants or stoning blaspherers in the "real world situations" where Steve approves of thei actions.

    So it seems Steve is not a moral absolutist after all. Morality is relative to the "situation" and the "person". Thanks for admitting that Steve.

    Thou shalt not kill, unless the situation requires it.

    Seems like a pretty open ended moral law to me.

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  4. Berny,

    I understand that war is sometimes necessary and squirt guns won't get it done. We used flame throwers. Steve says we had no choice. Is that true? I don't know. If we could have killed the enemy with a more humane method I think we should have.

    But if we killed them with flame throwers BECAUSE 400 years prior their grandparents did something wrong, that's evil. The post at DC that I referred to earlier goes into this in more detail.

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  5. But if we killed them with flame throwers BECAUSE 400 years prior their grandparents did something wrong, that's evil.

    Not if YHWH ordered the hit.

    He is after all...the Godfather.

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  6. TheLordGodEddie7/25/2006 1:44 PM

    So it seems Steve is not a moral absolutist after all. Morality is relative to the "situation" and the "person". Thanks for admitting that Steve.
    Yes, Steve is indeed all over the map with his absolute morality, which only exists in his exegesis and mind. I wonder how many of you Calvinists still stone your disobedient children to death? If not, why not? And what had those laws to do with “war” as you want to justify the brutality of your god’s law in the OT? Sorry Steve, you can’t have it both ways, but then again, you are a Christian, a Calvinist at that – so what’s new? You just deflated your whole argument just when I thought you were onto something. Pooooof!

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  7. I've discussed OT holy war here:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2004/04/im-glad-you-asked-6.html

    And I've discussed OT ethics here:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/03/hit-n-run-atheology.html

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  8. To say that OT ethics is sometimes brutal is not a value-judgment, and so it doesn't require an objective standard of morality to make that empirical observation.

    I didn't say if brutality is good or bad. Moral norms are what we bring to the empirical data, not what we derive from the empirical data.

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  9. TheLordGodEddie7/25/2006 2:25 PM

    I've discussed OT holy war here
    I didn’t bring up the topic of war, but the brutality your god requires of you towards your back chatting brats – i.e. kill them.

    And I've discussed OT ethics here
    Sorry, but that post fail to address why you Calvinists aren’t killing your back chatting brats.

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  10. Wow, this was really bad.

    So by the same logic, a Christian is justified in blowing up abortion clinics, since murder is the only means available to stop these murders?

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  11. To say that OT ethics is sometimes brutal is not a value-judgment, and so it doesn't require an objective standard of morality to make that empirical observation.

    the word "brutal" means "ruthless and cruel" Steve...it IS a value judgment and not an "empirical observation". Sorry you're English is so poor.

    An empirical observation would be:

    In ancient times, someone might be executed for blashemey or heresy, as opposed to modern times, when those behaviors are protected rights of citizens.


    I didn't say if brutality is good or bad. Moral norms are what we bring to the empirical data, not what we derive from the empirical data.

    The term "brutal" means ruthless and cruel. Are you claiming being ruthless and cruel are "good" things "sometimes" Steve?

    You seem confused Steve. Perhaps you should go check your imaginary list of objective morals and get back to us when it's okay to be "brutal".

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  12. George "the animal" Steele7/25/2006 2:31 PM

    Oh, Stevie wants to now say that OT ethics are sometimes brutal and that's not a value judgment. Steve, you pompous wind bag, you high falutin' excuse for an apologist, you make me want to throw up! LOL! You think posting some of your past articles means something to me! C'mon Stevie boy, don't try to confuse me with actual reasoning and factual argumentation, I hate that. You think you speak for all Christians about some objective moral standard. You're just some internet geek who lives with his Mom. You probably have a pocket protector, and multi-colored hat with a pinwheel on top, and wear black pants with white socks! LOL! You feable Christian losers, no one can come close to my brilliance. I will destroy your puny attempts to defend your 3 headed Hebrew tribal deity. Grrrrr. Stand back now, I'm going to punch a whole in the wall next to my Metallica poster, Grrrr. Now, uh, I'm going to go soak my hand in some warm water and take my medication, and when I can think clearly for a few minutes consecutively, I'm going to respond to your tripe. grrrr....

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  13. "But it does mean that, up-to-a-point, it’s necessary to adjust our tactics to the threat level if we hope to survive."

    Whatever happened to God preserving his people? Oh, I see - he does so by commanding them to kill everyone else. Providence. Yep.

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  14. "Brutal" has several different meanings, including "harsh."

    To say something is brutal=harsh is not a value-judgmental on whether it's good or bad.

    Sometimes it's appropriate to be harsh, at other times not.

    How a policeman should treat his wife and how a policeman should treat a suspect who has a gun pointing in his direction are two very different things.

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  15. Anyone else find this sentence ironic?

    George: "Sorry you're English is so poor."

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  16. "Brutal" has several different meanings, including "harsh."

    To say something is brutal=harsh is not a value-judgmental on whether it's good or bad.

    Is that what you meant Steve?


    Sometimes it's appropriate to be harsh, at other times not.

    How a policeman should treat his wife and how a policeman should treat a suspect who has a gun pointing in his direction are two very different things.

    Steve, according to your objective, absolute morals, what is the absolute moral punishment required by your god for a women who has committed aultery?

    Is it different for a modern Christian woman than it was for an ancient Hebrew woman? I guess it's not "absolute and objective" then.

    It seems according to your biblegod, if a Hebrew King commits adultery and murder, the proper punishment is to supernaturally kill his bastard infant, to teach him a lesson.

    I'm sure you don't mind me calling that a brutal, senseless murder of an innocent life. After all, that's just an "empirical observation"

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  17. So Steve, tell me this: Why didn't God tell Moses to combine the 1st and 2nd commandments, or the 9th and 10th (either choice will do so that what is left is still the Ten Commandments), and add "Thou shalt not own slaves for any reason, nor shall you buy or sell them for profit"? Such a statement would have saved many people from death, torture, and misery.

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  18. I already discussed the penalties in OT law last month. As usually, my critics are behind the curve.

    What I said then was:

    It’s also simplistic to assume that if a certain penalty attaches to a certain crime, the punishment was mandatory.

    Even the OT distinguishes between penitent sinners (e.g. Lev 6:1-7) and impenitent sinners (e.g. Num 15:30-31). And case law is illustrative rather than exhaustive. It doesn’t cover every conceivable contingency.

    So we shouldn’t assume, without further ado, that every capital offense mandated the death penalty despite contrition or restitution. As a couple of commentators explain:

    “[Milgrom] argues that any intentional sin could be reduced to a sin of ignorance by genuine repentance. Whenever a guilty person too this path, he lowered his sin to the level of an unintentional sin and gained the possibility of expiating his wrongdoing through presenting a reparation sacrifice,” J. Hartley, Leviticus (Word 1992), 85.

    This may be a bit of an overstatement since it’s hard to believe that every crime, however heinous, was subject to commutation. Nevertheless, it is fair to suggest that Lev 6:1-7 presents a special case of a larger principle.

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/06/test-spirits.html

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  19. John,

    I discussed slavery with Lippard a few months ago:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/04/lippardian-philippics.html

    But as long as you and other unbelievers are raising the subject of slavery, what's your secular argument for the immorality of slavery?

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  20. Slavery? It's just wrong, silly.

    So, on the one hand your Bible doesn't condemn slavery, which flourished in the evangelical South, and was used to justify slavery. But on the other hand, you say you have an absolute standard for deciding ethical truth in the Bible and I don't. Hmmm. I'm may just a novice at this (so you might say), but it just doesn't sound right to me.

    I can't put my finger on it though. But let's you and I think about it for a while.

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  21. John wrote:
    ---
    Slavery? It's just wrong, silly.
    ---

    The slave owners didn't think so.

    What makes you right and them wrong?

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  22. There is an unspoken assumption here by the atheists that, since Christians believe in objective morals, that we are "moral objectivists."

    But that is simplistic. John Frame has outlined a Christian theory of ethics as being composed of 3 perspectives - the normative perspective (where objective norms are located), as well as situational and existential perspectives.

    So, the situational perspective will inform us in how we apply normative principles. While the commandment (norm) "you will not murder" is always operative, we must take into account situational considerations in order to determine what instances constitute "murder" vs. "justified killing."

    John - if you would have read Steve's previous posts on slavery, you'd know that the Bible condemns Southern slavery, as it was based on kidnapping.

    These "why didn't God specifically say X, Y, and Z" arguments are very weak, BTW. God is under no obligation to give us revelation to our prescribed level of specificity. That does not logically contradict the Bible's sufficiency.

    Or is this just another form of the POE? "Why didn't God help us avoid all this pain by doing X, Y, Z". But that's old territory, too, and Steve has made plenty of posts on POE.

    Additionally, mankind's sin nature guarantees the presence of sin, regardless of how specific God is in his revelation. Assuming that this counterfactual would have guaranteed the non-existence of Southern slavery is more than a little foolhardy.

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  23. Loftus is an intellectual freeloader. We Christians dutifully respond to the objections of unbelievers with argument and evidence, but for their part, all we get in return is their ipse dixit.

    Why, from a secular standpoint, shouldn't one meat machine enslave another meat machine?

    Why, from an evolutionary perspective, shouldn't one highly evolved ape exploit another ape?

    Historically, slavery was a cultural universal. And is still practiced in some parts of the world.

    By what standard does an atheist like Loftus think his moral intuitions are superior to the contrary intuitions of his forebears?

    If you want a serious discussion of slavery, read John Murray's Principles of Conduct, 93-102.

    If you want a frivolous discussion, just read Loftus.

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  24. Steve:

    First, I want to make it clear that I have loads of respect for you. I read Triablogue daily (I've read every single post for months now) and it's truly my favorite site on the entire web. You do a fantastic job and I praise God for your amazing work in dismantling all kinds of heresies and atheists. I know of few, if any, who do it better.

    Second, I want to make it clear that I see the possibility that my disagreement is merely borne out of my misunderstanding you here.

    But it appeared to me, at least, that your initial post here seemed to imply that the "harshness" or "brutality" (without a value judgment being rendered, I realize) is due to the brutality around Israel. And this seemed to be communicating the point that the penal sanctions of the Older Testament were given because the nations around Old Testament Israel were brutal and not because those penalties are precisely what is deserved by the crimes for which they are prescribed.

    That just doesn't appear to square with Scripture, in my estimation. The Bible seems to make it clear that the laws of the Older Testament prescribe what they prescribe simply because that is exactly what the crimes for which they are given deserve--that is, "an eye for an eye." The author of the book of Hebrews, moreover, proffers an argument for the justice of hell on the premise that, according to the Mosaic law, "every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution" (Heb. 2:2). The term "just retribution", I think, communicates what I am getting at here: that the particular penal sanctions of the Mosaic Law were given just because they are what those particular transgressions deserve.

    Of course, granting what I'm claiming here, the atheist's objection to the Mosaic Law, Christian ethics in general, and Christian socio-political ethics in particular, still can't even approach getting off the ground at this point for reasons you have already so aptly mentioned, not the least of which their lack of objective moral absolutes with which to measure Biblical law, and which could serve in an alterative moral system.

    Could you clarify a bit or let me know what you think about my thoughts here? It could be that I merely misinterpreted you, perhaps by taking your claim regarding the brutality of the pagans round Israel, and the fact that you didn't mention the inherent justice of the laws as meaning that you didn't think those laws were inherently exactly what the crimes deserve.

    To be as transparent as possible, I'll freely admit here that I'm coming from a staunchly theonomic perspective. Thanks, Steve.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

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  25. Is slavery wrong if the purpose of it is to pay off a debt you incurred? I guess we just like to file for bankruptcy these days instead... Anyone equating Southern slavery with the slavery mentioned in the Bible is just plain ignorant of what they're talking about. Just because Southern slave owners tried to defend their odious slave system from the Bible doesn't mean they received the Bible's stamp of approval. There is no justification in Scripture for such a system as instituted in the antebellum South. Obviously it didn't receive the favor of God, since He destroyed it in His providence. John Loftus, or any other atheist, if they're going to be consistent, don't have any ground to stand on if they want to say slavery is wrong. In Darwinism it's survival of the fittest baby...Oh yes, we have inter-subjective value judgments. OK, but don't say Southern slavery is wrong because those slave owners had inter-subjective value judgments that were different from yours. What makes yours superior to theirs?

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