Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The pitchfork revolution

JC [John Curry]: When this statement was offered by Samuel to Saul it wasn't a book of the bible at all. It was presumably spoken first, then written perhaps years later.

SH [Steve Hays]: This flawlessly illustrates the problem of acontextual exegesis.

i) The explanation in 1 Sam 15:2 would be unintelligible apart from a historical knowledge of the event alluded to.

The record of that event, as well as the oracle of judgment, is to be found in the Pentateuch.

So the statement cannot be understood apart from its canonical context.

That includes the Pentateuch.

But between the Pentateuch and 1-2 Samuel (originally one book) are other historical books of the Bible narrating a continuous history up to that point.

ii) The prophet Samuel’s statement is recorded in a book. The book operates at two levels. There’s the historical level of the original events and speeches. And there’s also the narrative level of the authorial viewpoint, after the fact.

The author of 1-2 Samuel is writing with a target audience in mind.

JC: This is the tack taken by Christians. You offer reasons for the executions. None appear anything like the reason actually offered in Scripture. Why do you want to invent other reasons beyond what is in the text? Is it because you can see that the reason offered is evil? I think you can see that this is evil. Because it is wrong to kill someone because of the sins of his long dead ancestors. Do you agree?

SH: It’s not a question of what I’m adding, but what your brother left out.

i) I’m framing my response the way he framed the original challenge. This is how your brother put it:

“Samuel claims that God wants the Israelites to kill every man, woman, child, infant, cattle, etc. That in itself may not be wrong, however note the motive that Samuel attributes to God. This attack is punishment for crimes committed over 300 year prior. The sentence is carried out on infants and nursing mothers who cannot have taken part in the act that caused the judgment.”

ii) I’ve drawn attention to the intervening history, as well as the subsequent history, because your brother was the one who left out the intervening history and subsequent history.

All I’ve done is to rectify his omission. I responded to him on his own level.

iii) Your brother is acting as if Samuel’s statement was made in a historical vacuum. If that were the case, it would be unintelligible.

How does your brother know that this verse is alluding to an event which occurred 300 years earlier? Can he find that information in the verse itself? No.

You see, in order for you and your brother to make a case, both of you must also “go beyond what is in the text.” Your brother’s chronology is not based on 1 Sam 15:2 alone, but on the relation between 1 Samuel and the Pentateuch.

iv) This illustrates the illusion of presuppositionless exegesis. You and your brother imagine that you two are sticking to the words of the text while Gene and I are adding to the text.

No, both sides are construing the text in its canonical context.

The only difference is that Gene and I are not as artificially selective as you and your brother are.

v) I could limit myself to the rationale given in 1 Sam 15:2. I accept the principle of corporate responsibility.

The reason I didn’t limit myself to that rationale is because your brother framed the issue is a misleading way, and so I corrected his deceptive framework.

JC: Saul is not reading. He's listening.

SH: This misses the point in several respects:

i) Even Saul would be unable to grasp the historical allusion without a historical knowledge of the event in question.

This is both a historical allusion and a literary allusion. The source of the historical information is the literary record of the Pentateuch.

ii) 1-2 Samuel are addressed to a Jewish audience. They would bring a cultural preunderstanding to the text.

iii) You and your brother are also assuming the role of readers.

JC: What do you mean by this?

SH: I already discussed the conditionality of oracles of judgment. Cf. Jer 18:7-10.

God could exact judgment without announcing judgment beforehand. The point of an oracle of judgment is give the offending party a forewarning of judgment to come, which, in turn, gives the offending party an opportunity to repent and avert the impending judgment.

That’s a presupposition underlying oracles of judgment.

JC: That is apparent. But I think Samuel is a wicked individual.

SH: Now that you’ve offered your personal opinion, how would you propose to justify your value-judgment?

JC: You are not interacting with the point I've made. Obviously the text doesn't say that it is wrong to kill nursing babies because of the sins of their long dead ancestors. What Bill does is he reads the text in context and talks about the reasons for the execution given by God via Samuel.

SH: So you go beyond the immediate text to construe the text in light of the larger context.

Welcome to the club. That’s what Gene and I are doing as well.

JC: His appeal to J.P. Moreland then demonstrates that the motives that attach to an action determine whether it is moral or immoral, and further that this particular motive attributed to God would make the action immoral.

SH: That’s an inadequate basis for moral valuation. Motives are a necessary, but insufficient, condition of moral valuation. Other considerations are equally germane.

For example, the guilt or innocence of the recipient of the action is also germane to the justice or injustice of the action.

JC: As he explained he knows it through particularism.

SH: Beyond the above-stated inadequacy:

i) This also assumes that particularism is sufficient for the knowledge of right and wrong even after the truth-conditions of moral realism have been withdrawn.

You can’t answer the epistemic question in the affirmative until you address the metaphysical question of whether there is a right or wrong to be known in the first place.

What makes something right or wrong? What metaphysical conditions must be met for moral truths to exist?

ii) And that’s just the first step. Even if you came up with a well-founded system of secular ethics, the next step would be to show that human beings, as defined by secular science, are property-bearers of right and wrong attitudes and actions.

In other words, even if, from a secular standpoint, there’s such a thing as right and wrong, this doesn’t mean that human beings have rights or can be wronged.

A secular ethicist not only needs to establish a system of secular ethics, but he must also establish that his secular value system is applicable to human beings as human nature is also defined by secularism.

Secular ethics and the secular anthropology nature must coincide.

For example, Peter Singer regards infanticide as licit rather than illicit.

So, if we were to judge 1 Sam 15:2 by the yardstick of a secular ethicist like Singer, then it would not be an evil action.

JC: Moreland is not assuming theism in his argument.

SH: He may not be assuming theism at that stage of his argument, but according to your bother’s summary of the lecture, Moreland “goes on to make the case that a ‘Divine Law Giver’ makes the most sense of morality and moral knowledge.”

So Moreland’s lecture is an exercise in natural law theorizing, which is a subdivision of natural theology.

You unbelievers keep showing up at the battlefield in your underwear. You act as if you can wing it and learn on the job.

But if you’re going to go up against Christianity, then you need to be conversant with exegetical theology, historical theology, moral theology, natural theology, philosophical theology, polemical theology, and systematic theology, as well as working out you own worldview on such elementary issues as metaethics, metaphysics, metascience, and epistemology.

As it stands, you keep getting slaughtered because you don’t know either side of the debate. It takes more than pitchforks and attitude to get the job done.

When the gunfire begins, you unbelievers reach for your holsters and find them empty. You slap your forehead and exclaim: “Guns! We forgot the guns!”

The surviving half of your battalion skedaddle back to base, and return well-armed.

But when you pull the trigger, nothing happens. You slap your forehead and exclaim: “Bullets! We forgot the bullets!”

The surviving quarter of your battalion skedaddle back to base and return with ammo.

But as you’re loading your guns, your comrades are dropping like flies. You slap your forehead and exclaim: “Helmets! Flack-jackets! We forgot our armor!”

The surviving eighth of your battalion skedaddle back to base and return well-armored.

When you come under aerial bombardment, and look for cover, you slap your forehead and exclaim: “Maps! We forgot the maps!”

The surviving one-sixteenth of your battalion…

I’m sorry, John, but debating with the Debunkers is too much like a turkey shoot to feel very sporting.

If time and again you’re caught up short, then your negative assessment of Christianity was intellectually premature in the extreme.

If every time I debate one of the Debunkers I’m having to tutor the Debunker on both sides of the argument, then the Debunker is in no position to render an informed judgment against the Christian faith.

You guys need to step back several paces, take a deep breath, and seriously reconsider the miniscule data-base on which you decided to jettison the faith.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This attack is punishment for crimes committed over 300 year prior.

    Wrong. 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. (I Sam 15.1-2) this is a 'posture' statement, as opposed to just an immediate event statement--this "being set against Israel" speaks to the constant actions of Amalek across many geneations. This attack is an attack for 300 years of constant raids and posturing as well as the abominations of their religion, not simply the events of the Pentateuch. God judges Amalek in Deut. and then allows them time to reform, but He gives them no covenant. He lets them observe His power in Canaan where the Canaanites are driven out, and yet they still attack Israel and kill their women and children. They do not, so now he executes judgment. The Amalekites were a cruel, active, and hostile force, on Israel's immediate border. Israel was forbidden to attack other border kingdoms (by the biblical God), but Amalek had been actively oppressing Israel for at least 200+ years (without provocation), beginning with their first week of freedom from Egypt, to the more recent slave-capture, pillage, and scorched-earth aggressions in the book of Judges. The only active suffering up to this point was by Amalek on Israel. What's more, 1 Sam. 15:33 tells us exactly why the infants were killed and why God commanded Saul to attack. It was not merely the past, but the present: 33But Samuel said, "As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women." And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the LORD at Gilgal. We also know from ANE archaelogy that these people had been raiding the land of Palestine for generations, sacrificing children, and all other manner of evil.

    In spite of all reason, Amalek continued to destroy land, people, crops, cattle, and to haul off people for sale as slaves in foreign markets--people who had only recently been freed. This is not your normal 'angry neighbor'--these are terrorists, slave-traders, andals, these are unreasonable, cowardly aggressors (unlike the Canaanites, who mostly migrated away; or the Jebusites, who resorted to deception).For Israelto enjoy a moment's peace in the land of promise, Amalek must be rendered non-hostile. Without some kind of self-defense action on the part of Israel, Amalek would simply continue inflicting 'active suffering' on Israel's families, their food, their freedom, and threatening the stability of the nation by killing the women and children. Something had to be done--somehow Amalek must be stopped.

    Obviously the text doesn't say that it is wrong to kill nursing babies because of the sins of their long dead ancestors.

    No, it does not, and neither does ANE custom, and the Law itself does not either. So, where is your justification for your belief that it is wrong to do so coming from? The principle throughout all ANE culture is one of corporate as well as individual responsibility, so you cannot impeach God's motive here without impeaching the secular code of ethics of the day along with it. Moreover, you lose the concept of covenant in it as well, where the fathers could accept the covenant, its curses and blessings, and then the children are judged and even rewarded because of the affirmations and reaffirmations of their fathers. You also lose the imputation of Christ's righteousness on the elect thereby securing their salvation. This concept cuts both ways, through the federal heads of the races as well as the families of Noah, Jacob and Amalek.

    The very name of God in Exodus 34: 5 - 6 discusses both social and individual culpability for sin in God's judgments. Also, the OT is littered with this idea. In Genesis 9:25 - 27 Canaan is cursed, bearing his father Ham's punishment. Why? Because the punishment fits the crime. Ham shamed Noah, so God cursed Canaan shaming Ham. This becomes a national curse carried out in view of the covenant people and the Canaanites themselves, making Ham servants of Shem. Later, Esau shames his father Jacob, who loved him above his brother, and thereby recapitulates Ham's sin by selling his birthright. He is then cursed in his children (Gen. 27:37-40), being made to serve Jacob and live by the sword, and this includes Amalek in his lineage. Again, the punishment fits the crime, his son and his descendents bring shame upon Esau and the whole of Edom.

    Let's look at the text too: Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord. 2 “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. (I Sam 15.1-2)
    this is a 'posture' statement, as opposed to just an 'event' statement--this "being set against Israel" was ruthlessly maintained from generation to generation of Amalekite. Then we have: And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites (1 Sam 17.15). Here the emphasis is current state of the Amalekites. These women and children are killed because the Amalekites not simply because of the events centuries prior, but because for generations, including the one in which this happened, they had been killing women and chidren as well as the men defending them. 1 Sam 15:33 informs us more about vs. 1-2.. (You can tell Bill that that too is part of the context). "But Samuel said, "As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women." And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the LORD at Gilgal." So, again, the punishment fits the crime, the infants are killed because Amalek had been kiling children. "An eye for an eye" is the standard of the Law operating here in both the historical background and the immediate events, so there is nothing evil or unjust here, unless you think that the punishment should be less than the crime to which it was indexed. Asserting that would be a conflation of mercy and justice, and in fact, contrary to any statement that the punishment should be less than the crime, because mercy presupposes guilt and thus justice, so you can only make that objection if you agree that they are guilty. God is under no obligation to be merciful, that's what defines mercy, it is free and sovereignly dispensed (Ex.33:19). What's more you can't argue that Israel took an arm or a life for "an eye"because the Amalekites had acted in a manner worthy of utter extermination already and their infants and wives are killed because they had been killing infants and women, so we still have "an eye for an eye," no injustice is done.

    Even in texts where you find individuals explcitly held responsible for their own sin, you find a caveat, and that caveat is that they do not agree with the sins of their fathers. In the OT, when a descendent is punished for "the sins of their fathers", it is normally referring to "sinning in the same way and character as their fathers"--NOT punishment for the actual acts of the fathers. These infants and their mothers were already outside the covenant community, without hope, and reprobated by God from the covenant. There was no chance they would not, when they grew up, disagree with the sins of their fathers. They would grow up to repeat these crimes too. But let's assume they should have been allowed to live for a moment. Which do you find preferable for them after the attack: slavery, dying in the desert, or sacrifice in the fires to Molech?

    What's more they are already counted as guilty by the imputation of Adam's sin, so they don't deserve to exist, much less be born. So, we're already on a premise that they are not "innocent" of sin and thus not worthy of death anyway.

    Moreover, due to the generations of attacks by Amalek on Israel, the Amalekites are on borrowed time going back 300 years. The day had to come when God would call time and bring the conflict to an end. These children thus die as a consequence of their fathers' wickeness for a multiplicity of reasons, including the actions of their fathers in taking the lives of Israelite men, women, and children without provokation. What's more, there is every possibilty each and every one of them went to heaven and not hell anyway if we assume your own view of their moral innocence, so, by your own standards, this action should be a merciful and gracious action, for God does not allow them to live to be sacrificed to Molech or turn into savages worthy of death. It may be reprehensible to you, but you have provided no justification that prohibits corporate participation in the sins of the fathers or that it is inherently evil.