Apostate Paul Tobin has attempted to cobble together yet another reply to me. He’s evidently frustrated by my previous reply. And I understand why. Here he’s spent countless hours constructing elaborate strawmen, then sat back to bask in the warm glow after he set them on fire. Then here I come along and douse his effigies.
If only Christians could be more accommodating. Volunteer to stick our neck in the guillotine of the infidel. But unfortunately, we’re too obstreperous to conform to the needs of our executioners.
Before we get specific, we need to address some preliminary issues:
I. All is Yellow to the Jaundiced Eye
Given the fact that Scripture is a collection of documents which were written between the 2nd millennium BC and the 1C AD, we’d expect to encounter numerous obscurities and complexities at this distance from the events. What’s striking is not that we run across so many difficulties, but that we run across so few–comparatively speaking. We’d expect an inspired corpus of ancient writings to contain its share of obscurities. But we wouldn’t expect an uninspired corpus of ancient writings to contain so few. By exaggerating the difficulties, Tobin distorts the issue.
Tobin is like a man who, if he saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, would complain about the fact that Lazarus still had crooked teeth! It kinda overlooks the miracle staring him square in the face.
II. Burden of Proof
i) For some odd reason, Tobin suffers from a persistent mental block on the burden of proof. He keeps dismissing evangelical scholarship solely because it’s evangelical, and he keeps treating “mainstream” scholars as authority figures. He acts as though he doesn’t need to engage the arguments of evangelical scholars.
It has yet to sink into to him that since TCD has its guns trained on the evangelical view of Scripture, and since, what is more, his own contribution to TCD is mainly targeting the evangelical view of Scripture, he can’t assume, at the outset, that evangelical scholarship is worthless. For the evangelical view of Scripture is the very issue in dispute. And he can’t very well disprove the evangelical view of Scripture if he’s going to rehash stock objections to the evangelical view of Scripture, but refuse to disprove evangelical arguments to the contrary.
ii) This shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp. You can’t win an argument if you decline to even engage the argument in the first place. Since TCD is primarily directed at the faith of evangelical Christians, it’s a nonstarter to tell evangelicals to disregard evangelical scholarship just because their scholarship is evangelical! That doesn’t give them any reason to distrust evangelical scholarship. It boils down to the circular objection that evangelical scholarship is worthless because it’s too evangelical!
iii) Imagine if a creationist were to employ Tobin’s methodology in reverse. The creationist set about to disprove Darwinism, but he automatically discounted Darwinian literature from consideration. Whenever he debated a Darwinian, he informed the Darwinian that any appeal to Darwinian literature was out of bounds. The Darwinian could only rely on non-Darwinian literature to make his case.
iv) I’d hasten to add that the contributors to TID don’t have the same burden of proof as the contributors to TCD. The thesis of TCD is that Christians in general, and evangelicals in particular, are deluded. That’s a positive contention, with a commensurate burden of proof.
By contrast, the contributors to TID aren’t attempting to make a case for Christianity. Rather, we’re simply responding to the thesis of TCD. So it’s not incumbent on us to prove the evangelical view of Scripture. Rather, it’s sufficient to knock down the objections presented in TCD.
III. Bad Faith
i) It’s clear from his latest reply that Tobin doesn’t argue in good faith. Take his appeal to “mainstream” scholarship. I already pointed out the deficiencies in that appeal in my previous reply to Tobin. So how does Tobin respond? Does he take that into account? Does he interact with my counterargument?
No. He repairs to exactly the same tactic as if nothing was said by way of response. Apparently he has no fallback argument. He has his pat answers, and when I shoot down his pat answers, he has nothing in reserve, so all he can do is repeat himself.
iii) Here’s another mark of bad faith. I pointed out that most Biblical prophecies are implicitly conditional. He responds by claiming that a prophecy is only conditional if it’s specifically qualified in that respect.
This is despite the fact that in 79n62 of TID, I referenced an article by Richard Pratt in which Pratt carefully documents the fact that the conditionality of most prophecies is a standing policy of God. Therefore, a given oracle of salvation or judgment needn’t state a condition to be conditional, for that’s already understood, given the standing policy enunciated in Jer 18:7-10.
Evidently, Tobin didn’t bother to read that article, even though that article is available online. It is bad faith for him to reiterate objections that have already been answered, because he chooses to ignore the answers. He is acting as if his objections are unanswerable, and he justifies his behavior by his circular contention that he’s somehow exempt from having to examine the preexisting answers before he raises his objections.
iv) Yet another example of Tobin’s bad faith is his response to my discussion of the argument from silence. He acts as if I rejected the argument from silence when, in fact, I patiently explained the limitations of that argument, as well as his misappropriation of that argument.
i) In response to my treatment of prophecy, Tobin apparently commits a basic level-confusion. He seems to think that when that if a prophecy contains figurative imagery, that makes the prophecy figurative in the sense that it ceases to be a real prediction.
Needless to say, that objection is deeply confused. A prophecy phrased in figurative imagery still has a real world referent. Take the fabulous animals in Dan 7-8, or the colorful horses in Zech 6:1-8, or the dry bones in Ezk 37, or the cosmic mountain in Isa 2. This is figurative imagery, yet such imagery personifies real world events.
ii) A metaphor posits a correspondence between the metaphor and the thing it stands for. Some metaphors posit a high level correspondence, while other metaphors posit a low level correspondence.
iii) Apropos (ii), Before you can say what a figuratively worded oracle actually refers to, you must isolate and identify the intended scope of the metaphor. This is really pretty elementary, and it shouldn’t be necessary for me to explain this to Tobin. It’s not as if that’s distinctive to Biblical prophecy. That’s a question of how we interpret metaphorical discourse generally.
iv) I’d add that certain literary genres make greater use of metaphor than others. The Psalms and Prophets are more densely metaphorical than the historical books.
v) In addition, it’s not as if this something that evangelicals have concocted to salvage inerrancy. Take G. B. Caird’s classic monograph on The Language and Imagery of Scripture (Eerdmans 1997). Caird was pretty liberal.
i) It’s clear that Tobin doesn’t have a clue concerning the nature of Biblical typology even is. That’s not surprising. By his own admission, he suffers from self-reinforcing ignorance. Since he refuses to study evangelical scholarship, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
ii) Biblical typology involves a historical correspondence whereby something earlier foreshadows something later. Being a relation, it involves two or more relata. The antitype is relevantly similar to the type, but not identical to the type. Both type and antitype retain their distinctive historical significance. The type means something in its own time and place, as well as having a proleptic significance–while the antitype means something in its own time and place, as well as having an allusive significance.
iii) As E. E. Ellis has noted, some typical patterns (synthetic typology) focus on the continuities between the old and new order while other typical patterns (antithetic typology) focus the discontinuities between the old and new order. Cf. Prophecy & Hermeneutic in Early Christianity (Baker 1993), 168.
iv) The principle undergirding Biblical typology is that God has prearranged redemptive history such that some things in the past prefigure some things in the future. This is a divinely designed coincidence between the antecedent event (person, place, practice) and the subsequent event (person, place, practice). As Darrell Bock explains,
“Sometimes the OT text only looked to the future, but more often God made a promise and pictured it in contemporary history first, so that the promise presents a pattern of God’s activity in history, which the fulfillment in Jesus only culminates. In other words, God’s promises often work throughout history, rather than merely at a moment of time. Such fulfillment shows God’s hand in all of history in a way that is more marvelous than merely seeing the Bible as making ‘crystal ball’ promises,” D. Bock & B. Fanning, eds. Interpreting the New Testament Text (Crossway 2006), 256.
v) In addition, typology generally operates on an a fortiori plane, where the antitype surpasses the type in some important respect. So type and antitype are both comparative and contrastive.
vi) The only way to disprove typology in principle is to disprove the existence of a God who is able and willing to use history in this revelatory fashion. Is history itself a revelatory medium?
Tobin is nonplussed by my reference to prophetic hyperbole. Yet this phenomenon is easy to document. And one doesn’t even have to quote the dreaded evangelicals to make that point. As G. B. Caird observes: “Prophetic hyperbole is seen at its most vivid in passages where the judgment of God on a particular nation is depicted in terms of cosmic collapse,” ibid. 113. He then quotes Jer 4:23-26:
23I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
25 I looked, and behold, there was no man,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
26I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the LORD, before his fierce anger.
Commenting on this passage, he notes that “Jeremiah’s vision is of the whole creation returning to its primaeval chaos; in the first line he uses the phrase tohu wabohu, which is used elsewhere only of the empty turbulence out of which God created heaven and earth (Gen 1:2; cf. Isa 34:11). But the referent of the vision, what it is intended to predict, is the coming devastation of Israel,” ibid. 114.
Caird then quotes Isa 13:9-11:
9Behold, the day of the LORD comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
11I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
Commenting on this passage, he points out that “On a superficial reading the referent of these verses might appear to be the end of the world, and it is in fact one of the passages out of which mediaeval theology constructed its gruesome picture of the Dies Irae. Yet when we read on it becomes apparent that what the prophet intended to describe, under the symbols of world judgment, was the end of Babylon’s world, and the coming destruction of the Babylonian empire by the invading armies of Cyrus the Mede,” ibid. 114.
He also quotes Isa 34:1-5:
1Draw near, O nations, to hear,
and give attention, O peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that fills it;
the world, and all that comes from it.
2For the LORD is enraged against all the nations,
and furious against all their host;
he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter.
3Their slain shall be cast out,
and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
the mountains shall flow with their blood.
4 All the host of heaven shall rot away,
and the skies roll up like a scroll.
All their host shall fall,
as leaves fall from the vine,
like leaves falling from the fig tree.
5For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom,
upon the people I have devoted to destruction.
Of this he notes how “The stars are to fall from their course and the heavens to collapse on the head of Edom, because they took advantage of Israel’s hour of weakness to seek revenge from ancestral grievances,” ibid. 115.
If the prophets can employ global or even cosmic imagery to depict merely national catastrophes, then they can obviously use national imagery to depict local catastrophes.
Not only is Tobin’s appeal to “mainstream” scholarship inherently defective, for reasons I already gave in my previously reply (which Tobin completely ignores), but Tobin doesn’t even attempt to remain true to his stated principle. For instance, in his latest reply to me, he relies on “scholars” from the lunatic fringe of Bible studies. Look at his footnotes, viz. Don Cupitt, Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, Gerd Lüdemann, Robert Miller, Robert Price, Uta Ranke-Heinemann, John Spong!
VIII. Deluded Scholarship
At one point Tobin quotes Raymond Brown to prove a point. But Brown was a professing Christian. Yet, according to TCD, Christians are deluded. So why would Tobin approvingly quote a deluded scholar like Brown? Likewise, he also quotes Brevard Childs favorably. But Childs was another professing Christian. Now you’d think the opinion of deluded men ought to be untrustworthy. So why does Tobin have such implicit faith in the judgment of deluded men like Childs and Brown?
Moving to specifics:
1. Hays seems to have missed my main point, which was that the culture of those times require that “[g]reat men must have their greatness injected into their DNA from the time they were conceived. Thus the idea of conception by gods, either virginally or via some form of unusual intercourse was a common element in the stories told about them.” 
So Tobin is admitting that he doesn’t have parallel pagan myths specifically involving a virginal conception.
Thus we would expect that stories about Jesus birth would incorporate some element of this cultural theme. The cultures surrounding the early Christians would not have been impressed with any lesser form of conception. Since the stories told in Matthew and Luke conforms to such cultural expectations, we have every reason to doubt their historicity.
i) But that inference is clearly fallacious. If there was a cultural expectation that “great men” would be marked out for greatness by the remarkable circumstances of their birth, then it would be fitting for God to accommodate that cultural expectation. That’s the way to make an “impression.”
ii) But this also disregards the distinctly inauspicious circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth and boyhood. Outwardly speaking, he was a man of humble origins, born to poor, ordinary parents. He wasn’t the scion of the rich and famous.
Hays second point that “Matthew and Luke are written from a Jewish perspective, not a pagan perspective” does not make his case any stronger. After all, December 25th was the date of the birthday of many Pagan gods (i.e. Dionysus, Adonis and Horus) yet early Christianity, which was certainly anti Pagan, had no problems making it the birthday of Jesus as well. 
i) That’s a very odd comparison. At a minimum, Tobin would need to show that the date of Christmas was set by Messianic Jews, who adapted a pagan festival. For if it was set by Gentile Christians, who adapted a pagan festival, that wouldn’t reflect a Jewish viewpoint (pace Matthew, Luke).
ii) In addition, Tobin ignores counterevidence which is damaging to his thesis. As one scholar explains:
Various opinions have been held about the way these dates were chosen. Occasionally it is suggested that December 25th is an adaptation of Jewish festival, but the 4C is too late for Jewish influence to be at all probable. In any case, the Jewish festival in question, the Rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus (Hanukkah), has quite a different meaning, lasts for eight days, and, through it begins on the 25th day of Chislev, Chislev is a lunar month corresponding only roughly to November or December.
The explanation most widespread today is quite different, namely, that December 25th and January 6th are derived from pagan sun-festivals. December 25th is a well-known date for the winter solstice, and, although sun-worship was not originally part of Roman religion, by the 3C it had become such, and a festival for the worship of the sun was established on December 25th by the emperor Aurelian in AD 274. January 6th, however, is only a very hypothetical day for the winter solstice, and no pagan festival on that day is recorded, except a festival of the goddess Core (Persephone) held at Alexandria, to celebrate her annual return from Hades; so the explanation is incomplete. One of the Greek festivals of Dionysus was in January (Lenaea, the “festival of the raving women”), but it was later in the month, and an orgy of this kind would be more likely to have given rise to a Christian fast than a Christian feast. The Western church may perhaps have reinterpreted the festival on December 25th as referring to Christ, the Sun of righteousness, so as to give the pagan observance an edifying new meaning, but what about the Eastern Church and January 6th?
Since January 6th can hardly have been the Christianization of a pagan festival, and was not a turning point in the astronomical year, it prompts a question whether the corresponding western date can have been merely that and no more. After all, December 25th as a date for Christ’s nativity is quite possibly older than the Christian or even the pagan festival on that date, since it occurs in Hippolytus’s Commentary on Daniel 4:23. The text of this passage is somewhat uncertain, it is true, and may be due to an early redactor rather than to Hippolytus himself. The other date for Christ’s nativity, however, can be traced back with greater certainty behind Hippolytus, to Clement of Alexandria, who before the year 200 dates Christ’s nativity on January 6th. This is over a century before any festival of the nativity on January 6th is recorded. Could Clement’s dating, then, be due to a historical tradition that the nativity took place at that time?
Browne’s and Bainton’s articles ought to be much more widely read than they are, for there is still today a strong tendency to assume that a midwinter date for the nativity is not even one of the earliest surviving traditions, and that this date must be due either to the Christianization of a pagan festival at that time of year, or to the contemporary speculation about the “appropriate” length for Christ’s life and its “necessary” alignment with the seasons. If, however, the traditional eastern day of January 6th was known in the church of Alexandria in the last decade of the 2C, it is as old as any of these speculations, and older than any evidence linking the nativity with the pagan festival on the winter solstice. Moreover, if it was known in Alexandria in the last decade of the 2C, it was probably also known there half a century earlier. For in the same passage of Clement, after speaking of the dates for the Lord’s birth, he says, “And the followers of Basiledes hold the day of his baptism as a festival…”
Basiledes likewise belonged to Alexandria, where he taught in the second quarter of the 2C, and though he was a heretic, he would have known the traditions of the Alexandrian church…Tertullian’s knowledge of January 6th as the date of Christ’s birth is confirmed by his apparent knowledge of it as the day of Christ’s baptism, for we have seen that anciently the date commemorated both events.
R. Beckwith, Calendar & Chronology, Jewish and Christian (Brill, 1996), 71-75.
Continuing with Tobin:
Then Hays points to unreferenced “other miraculous birth narratives in Scripture” as providing literary parallels to the virgin birth of Jesus. Presumably, he is referring to women like Sarah (Genesis 17:15-21; 21:1-3), Leah (Genesis 29:30-32), Rebecca (Genesis 25:21), Rachel (Genesis 30:22), Hannah (Samuel 1:10-11, 19-20) and Samson’s unnamed mother (Judges 13). But are these really closer parallels than the pagan stories specifically its major theme –conception by a god? In none of these Old Testament stories was God the direct agency of the birth. In all cases normal sexual intercourse between two humans beings were assumed, God merely “opened the womb” of these old and / or barren women to help the conception – like a heavenly fertility doctor. The virgin birth of Matthew and Luke has God as the direct agency of the conception of Jesus, something we see in the pagan stories as well. The main theme, that a god fathered a child, is one that the stories of Matthew and Luke share with the pagan myths not with the Old Testament tales.
i) Of course there are differences inasmuch as they involve different people!
ii) The circumstances of Jesus’ conception are more exceptional because Jesus is more exceptional. So there’s a natural escalation.
iii) The alleged pagan parallels are disanalogous, for they involve a god who physically impregnates a woman. And, of course, the woman needn’t be a virgin in pagan mythology. Tobin arbitrarily decides what is the “main theme” by suppressing the differential factors which don’t fit his preconceived theory
iv) There are careful parallels in the way in which Luke narrates the birth and boyhood of Jesus and John the Baptist. And one doesn’t have to be a dreaded evangelical to see that. A “mainstream/critical” scholar like Fitzmyer lays them out for the reader. Cf. J. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (Doubleday 1981), 313ff.
Of course there are differences, both because we’re dealing with two different people, and because Jesus is the greater, while John is the lesser.
As for the “opposing literature”, again Hays cites an evangelical work (J.G. Machen)…
Whom Tobin mentions in passing to completely ignore. This is Tobin’s modus operandi: raise objections to the evangelical view of Scripture, then go out of your way to ignore the existing evangelical counterarguments.
…C.E.B. Cranfield, whose understanding of the historical method is suspect. After admitting that there is “no possibility of any one’s being able to prove the historicity of the Virgin Birth,” Cranfield went on to assert that “no proof of its non-historicity has been produced” forgetting that the burden of proof has to fall on the party that makes an incredible claim.
i) To say the Virgin Birth is “incredible” is, itself, a question-begging claim. Tobin must shoulder his own burden of proof to show why this is incredible.
ii) The historical witness of Matthew and Luke to the Virgin Birth is evidentiary in its own right. That’s testimonial evidence.
2. Next Hays tries to take me to task for stating that the massacre of the innocents by Herod (Matthew 2:16-18) is not historical. His defense? That this is an argument from silence.
Since this red herring is raised very often by evangelicals, let me state unequivocally here – when done properly, an argument from silence is a legitimate form of historical reasoning. An argument from silence can be used to argue for the occurrence of an event despite the silence of the sources  or it can be used to argue for the non-occurrence of a purported event.
i) As I already pointed out in my previous reply to Tobin, the argument from silence is legit if certain conditions are met.
ii) History is not silent on the massacre of the innocents. We have a historical record of that event in Matthew. Even if you deny the inspiration of Matthew (which I don’t), that is prima facie evidence for the event in question.
Yet was the event “minor”? Matthew certainly did not mean for his readers to take this atrocity as a minor one…
Well, that’s inept. It would be a minor event from the perspective of Josephus (if he even knew about it) since Josephus was not a Christian. The event is naturally significant to Matthew because events involving the life of Christ are significant to Matthew. What is significant for one historian is often insignificant for another.
Of course, one always prefers positive evidence, but in many cases, as Collingwood rightly noted, historians and archaeologists simply have no choice but to deduce information from silence.
i) And we have positive evidence for the massacre of the innocents. That would be the record of Matthew.
ii) Keep in mind, too, that for Christians, the Bible is more than evidentiary: the Bible is inspired evidence.
Of course, Tobin rejects that presupposition, but for him to do so requires a separate argument.
When we apply this to Josephus, we find that he was in a position to have the information. He had multiple sources for Herod’s reign (Antiquities 15:6:3)
Notice that Tobin doesn’t cite multiple sources to corroborate Josephus. Rather, he only cites one source: Josephus! He cites Josephus alluding to some unnamed historians. What makes Tobin so trusting?
...and he was born in Jerusalem around 37 CE and lived in that city much of the time until the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 CE. An event such as the massacre of the children described by Matthew is extremely unlikely to have escaped the notice of the Jewish historian.
Since the massacre of the innocents didn’t take place in Jerusalem, Tobin’s conclusion doesn’t follow from his premise. Moreover, the incident took place about 40 years before Josephus was born.
Josephus recounted in detail the crimes committed by Herod in his final years of Herod in “Jewish War” and, especially, in “Antiquities of the Jews.” Given below is a list of the crimes of Herod towards the end of his life as reported by the Jewish historian:
· Herod murdered Aristobolos III the high priest because the 18 year old priest was a Hasmonean(Antiquities 15:3:3);
· He killed Hyrcanus II, another Hasmonean (Antiquities 15:6:2);
· He murdered his wife Mariamme, and his sister’s husband, Joseph in a jealous rage (War 1:23:5/Antiquities 15:7:4-5);
· He killed Mariamme’s mother, Alexandra (Antiquities 15:7:8);
· When he discovered that his brother-in-law, Costobarus was trying to protect the sons of Babas (reputed to be of Hasmonean blood) he had them all killed. (Antiquities 15:7:9-10);
· He had the soldier Tero and 300 of his officers stoned to death (Antiquities 16:11:7);
· He ordered the murder of his sons, Aristobolus, Alexander and Antipater (Antiquities 16:11:7, 17:7:1)
· He had some Pharisees killed because they made a prophecy about his downfall (Antiquities 17:2:4)
· He had two rabbis, Judas and Matthias, burned for daring to remove a blasphemous (to Jews) golden eagle that he placed on top of the temple (Antiquities 17:6:2-4)
· and as he was nearing death himself, he arranged for the members of every prominent family in Judaea to be locked up in the hippodrome in Jericho. All these will be killed at the moment of his death so that all of Judea will be forced to weep at the moment of his death. (Antiquities 17:6:5)
i) Ironically, Tobin’s examples confirm the point I made in my previous reply to him, where I noted that ancient historians don’t focus on the hoi polloi. Tobin responds by ticking off a list of prominent individuals whom Josephus mentions. But the peasant boys whom Herod massacred aren’t in their league.
ii) Also notice that Tobin fails to cite any corroborative evidence for these reported incidents. He simply takes Josephus at his word.
iii) By the standards of TCD, Josephus was hardly reliable. He was a “superstitious” man. Believed in God, angels, miracles, &c. Attributed various events to the pleasure or displeasure of Yahweh. So why does Tobin act as if Josephus is more reliable than the Bible writers?
iv) And it only gets worse. Remember Carrier’s historical criteria, which I mentioned in my previous reply to Tobin? Was Joseph an eyewitness to these events? Did Tobin have a chance to cross-examine Josephus?
What sources did Josephus use? Was he faithful to his sources? Did Tobin have a chance to cross-examine Josephus’ sources?
What doesn’t Tobin apply Carrier’s historical criteria to Josephus?
In stating that “it wasn‘t God‘s intention to avoid the massacre in general”, Hays have completely misunderstood the issue I raised regarding theodicy (the so-called “problem of evil”). Namely, if God is all good, all knowing and all powerful, why does he allow evil to happen? Hays is simply shrugging his shoulders and saying “God is as God does”. In other words, in Hays’ own view (unexamined, from the looks of it), his God is that of a powerful being who does not really care that the children in Bethlehem will be slaughtered by Herod’s men and does what he wants. To many scholars, this issue is, of course, a “problem” in the sense that it is something that needs to be explained.
This is yet another example of Tobin’s studied ignorance. It’s not as if I haven’t expounded and defended my theodicy before. I’ve done so often, and at length.
Hays objects to my pointing out that many scholars consider Matthew’s nativity to be based largely on Old Testament accounts, by merely stating: “The nature and relevance of “Midrash” is widely disputed.” Keeping in line with the fact that his “standard works” on archaeology of the Levant are all evangelical ones, his one lone citation of this “wide dispute” comes from a book edited by two evangelicals!
Notice that Tobin doesn’t even present a counterargument.
3. The next topic is the Lukan account of the census by Quirinius. Luke 2:1 had claimed that it was a world-wide census. Yet there was never any world-wide (or “empire-wide”) census under Caesar Augustus. Hays admits that “Luke‘s statement is imprecise” about the census being world-wide. Refusing to admit that this “imprecision” is a mistake and calling it a “hyperbole” for rhetorical effect, he then claimed that “Luke‘s original audience would appreciate that fact.” My question to him is simple – how does he know that ““Luke‘s original audience would appreciate that fact.” My question is rhetorical, of course; Hays does not, and could not know, what Luke’s original audience would have “appreciated.” He is just using this to save his beloved doctrine of biblical inerrancy – rather unconvincingly.
i) Well that’s a double-bladed sword. A writer tries to be understandable. What he means is what he meant his reader to understand him to mean. If, however, we have no way of knowing what the target audience was in a position to grasp, then we don’t know what the author meant to convey. In that event, Tobin can’t disprove the Bible, for he must be able to know what it means before he can even attempt to show that it was wrong.
ii) Imprecision is not synonymous with error. Take round numbers.
Approximation is inherent to natural languages, due to the one-to-many relation between word and object. We can call Fido a “dog,” and Rin-Tin-Tin a “dog,” yet they aren’t the same dog.
iii) Hyperbole is not an error. Hyperbole is a deliberate overstatement for rhetorical effect. And it’s a familiar literary convention.
Hays quoted Stanley Porter’s paper in an attempt to shore up his claim that Luke’s account may be historical. Yet if one reads Porter’s conclusion, it is obvious that the best case he could made was that Luke’s detail may correspond to the Roman census in 6/7 CE - 10 years after the birth of Jesus! As for a census during the time of Herod, all Porter could say was “we simply do not know when or have any determinative papyrological evidence that he [Herod] did.”
i) Which misses the point. Luke’s account matches what we know about censuses and property returns from that general time and place. It fits with the known practice of the times.
ii) And it’s not as if we require independent corroboration of Luke’s specific claim, for any ostensible corroboration would itself be just piece of testimonial evidence–like Luke’s own account.
Finally despite calling my showing the problem with the Quirinius census vis-à-vis Luke’s nativity account “stock objections” – Hays completely ignored the next two pages of my chapter in which I showed in detail why the evangelical “stock reply” of an earlier census under the same Quirinius is impossible. Should I take his silence as implicit acceptance of the failure of the evangelical case here?
But, of course, that’s circular. Tobin is simply comparing and contrasting extrabiblical testimonial evidence with Biblical testimonial evidence. But why privilege his extrabiblical sources as if they constitute the unquestionable standard of comparison? He doesn’t begin to demonstrate that his sources are superior to Luke’s sources, even if they were in conflict.
4. Before we proceed to the next few sections –which deal with fake and failed prophecies – it is important to take a step back and look at the issue of prophecy and the claims made of it by evangelicals. In popular books such as Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands and Verdict” and Lee Strobel’s ‘The Case for Christ” much is make of prophecies –in particular the so-called messianic prophecies - as “evidence” for the truth of Christian claims. It is claimed that the prophecies about Jesus are so many and so accurate that they could only point to him as the messiah.  Thus here we have a claim that is supposed to convince outsiders, people such as myself.
That’s a red herring since I didn’t cite Strobel or McDowell. As far as that goes, here are some good resources on Messianic prophecy:
T. D. Alexander, The Servant King: The Bible's Portrait of the Messiah (Regent College 2003)
G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker 2007)
Iain M. Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham (PR 1999)
Tremper Longman, Immanuel in Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel's Worship (P&R 2001)
J. Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Kregel 2004)
Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (P & R Publishing, 1995)
O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets (P&R 2008)
John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation (IVP 2009)
5. Yet when we look at the passage from Hosea 11:1-2 we do not see a prophecy about the future at all. Hosea was speaking of the past, about the escape of the Israelites from Egypt...
Of course that’s inept. Tobin artificially isolates the type from the antitype. But a typical pattern involves a relation between two or more relata. Tobin might as well say that nothing can be coincidental because no individual event is coincidental–which misses the point.
In the nature of the case, a typical pattern is only discernible in retrospect, since it requires a comparison between an earlier event (person, institution) in light of a later event (person, institution). It’s not a given event in its singularity, but its mirror image, that generates the pattern.
Furthermore note that the second verse, about the Israelites disobedience, is one of disappointment -how does that apply to Jesus? It is indeed ludricrous to see this as a prophecy of Jesus’ family’s return from Egypt.
This illustrates his ignorance of typology, which can be antithetic as well as synthetic.
Hay’s reply? “This is a case of typology.” And that’s it! I shake my head in wonderment when I see the evangelical mind at work. Indeed, what Hays and his evangelical sources calls this “typology”, mainstream critical scholars call “quoting out of context.”
To say that’s quoting out of context doesn’t make it so. Indeed, that begs the question.
Here is what Robert Miller, a New Testament scholar and a fellow of the Jesus Seminar…
The Jesus Seminar doesn’t represent “mainstream” scholarship, but fringe scholarship.
Matthew can connect these prophecies to Jesus only by taking carefully chosen lines out of their surrounding contexts. In their own settings these prophecies wreck Matthew’s project.
i) Which misses the point. Christ is assuming the role of the new Israel. He recapitulates the life of Israel, but he succeeds where Israel failed. Israel is the faithless son, but Christ is the faithful Son.
Since typology involves a relation between two (or more) different events (persons, institutions), typology necessarily involves repetition with variation, not replication.
ii) Mt 2-4 is crisscrossed with exodus motifs. And second exodus typology is already well entrenched in OT usage. Matthew understands the paradigmatic nature of certain OT events in the same way that OT authors understood them. As one scholar notes, “Prophecy had used the Exodus pattern to speak of the return from Exile, and this in turn had become the language of eschatological expectation (see Is 40:3-4; 42:14-55:13, passim; Ezk 20:33-44; Hos 2:14-15; 1 QS 8:12-18; etc.)” J. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 2005), 123n160.
Let me repeat the point I made above. The claim that the details of Jesus’ life is supposed to prove to skeptics that Jesus was the messiah.
I never made that claim. I’m not trying to prove anything to a “sceptic,” any more than I’d try to prove something to a paranoid psychotic. Given Tobin’s (selective) commitment to the hermeneutic of suspicion, he has put himself beyond the reach of reason.
How does calling an obvious non-prophecy a “typology” help this attempt along in any way?
Since Tobin doesn’t make a good faith effort to grasp the structure of typological fulfillment, his question doesn’t merit any further response.
6. Hays tried to defend the non-prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 but stating that although ”almah” does not mean virgin it could mean so.
This is just inept. To begin with, that’s not what I stated. What I actually said is: “Tobin fails to distinguish between sense and reference. Even if the Hebrew term didn‘t mean “virgin,” it could still be referring to a virgin. ”
Evidently, Tobin is too ignorant of lexical semantics to know the rudimentary distinction between a word’s intension (meaning) and a word’s extension (reference). To recur to my previous example, the word “dog” can denote many different dogs, even though it’s the same word. The word means the same thing when it is used to designate two or more canine referents.
Such an explanation does not hold water. There exists a perfectly good word for virgin in Hebrew –“bethulah”. Had Isaiah wanted to make clear in 7:14 that the prophecy is regarding the mode of conception, he would have used “bethulah” here. That he did not, means that the prophecy was not about the manner of conception.
Since Tobin is not a Hebraist, it would be pointless for me to debate with him his interpretation of the term. For some informed analysis to the contrary, cf. G. Wenham, Betulah 'A Girl of Marriageable Age” VT 22, (Jul., 1972), 326-348
The whole context does not even hint of a virgin birth.
i) Among other things, that disregards the miraculous connotations of a divine “sign” (7:10,14) in Isaian usage (par. 38:3-7).
ii) In addition, as one commentator observes, “Such a ‘supernatural’ understanding of Isa 7:14 is also supported by the fact that its language is closely similar to Gen 17:19, which foretells the miraculous birth of Isaac to the barren and aged Sarah,” R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 2007), 56n60.
Hays then quotes a convoluted passage from yet another evangelical apologist which boils down to the author postulating two layers to the passage: the first one which describes the times of King Ahaz and another obscure one which “seems to belong to the undated future.” Yet the presence of this “second layer” of meaning is a mere supposition made to save the prophecy.
Again, this is simply incompetent. Motyer demonstrates that Isa 7:14 forms part of a literary unit, consisting in Isa 7-12. And he also documents a progressively unfolding, diachronic motif. The career of the child doesn’t begin and end with Isa 7. The career of the child extends beyond the immediate situation in Isa 7. True to form, Tobin tries to dismiss what he cannot disprove.
Needless to say non-evangelical scholars do not share such an obviously apologetic view. Let us look at some comments from scholars about this issue, the first in question & answer format from renowned New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan.
i) Crossan is not a “mainstream” scholar.
ii) Quoting his opinion has no argumentative value. Opinions don’t amount to arguments. An opinion is only as good as the supporting argument.
Here is a comment on the use of Isaiah 7:14 by Matthew and modern evangelicals by the late New Testament scholar Raymond E. Brown…there is no evidence that they foresaw with precision even a single detail in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Which begs the question.
Thus mainstream scholarship is virtually unanimous in concluding that Isaiah 7:14 does not referring to the virginal conception of Jesus and has been grossly taken out of context by Matthew.
It’s ironic that “free thinkers” like Tobin find it necessary to fall back on the argument from authority. Genuine free thinkers don’t revere the status quo. Whenever Tobin must retreat into the argument from authority, that’s a backdoor admission that he can’t make a reasoned case for his position.
Needless to say serious New Testament scholars do not share this views and thinks that Isaiah 7:14 does not refer to Jesus’ virgin birth and that the whole passage has been taken out of context by Matthew to make it ”fit” as a prophecy about Jesus.
And why would Matthew feel the need to rip an OT passage out of context? After all, unbelievers like Tobin assure us that Matthew felt free to invent stories whole cloth. So instead of making the verse fit the story, why not make the story fit the verse? If Matthew was as loose with the facts as Tobin would have us believe, then it would be simpler and easier for Matthew to make Jesus fulfill OT prophecy by concocting stories about Jesus which were tailor-made to fit his prooftexts.
The fact that Matthew doesn’t cut-and-tailor his stories to fit his prooftexts is powerful evidence that Matthew felt constrained by the stubborn historicity of the events he reports.
7. Next Hays turn to my note that the prophecy in Isaiah 19:5-7 – that the river Nile will dry up – has never been fulfilled.
It is quite interesting that he attempts two mutually contradictory explanations for this. First (i) he tries to argue that these verses are not to be taken literally and that they are merely “poetic imagery”. Then, just to cover all his bases, he noted that [in (ii) & (iii)] that the passages could be referring –literally this time! –either to a “temporary national disaster” or to the drying up of the irrigation canals or distributaries in the delta rather than the Nile itself.
This is yet another example of Tobin’s intellectual ineptitude:
i) To begin with, there’s nothing inconsistent in offering mutually contradictory interpretations if one represents my own interpretation, while the contrary interpretation responds to an opponent on his own terms. That’s the difference between an internal critique and an external critique. I can accept Tobin’s literal interpretation for the sake of argument, and then respond to him on his own grounds, without committing myself to that interpretation.
ii) In addition, if the correct interpretation of a particular passage is in doubt, then there’s nothing wrong with proposing more than one possible interpretation. We do that all the time. And that’s hardly limited to the exegesis of Scripture.
That he suggested (ii) & (iii) means that the “poetic imagery” is merely an ad hoc attempt to “solve” the problem of the non-fulfillment of the prophecy. Where there is poetic imagery, the context is quite obvious – like when Isaiah compares Egypt to a “drunken man staggering in his vomit.” (Isaiah 19:14)
Well that’s silly. Tobin acts as though a writer can only use figurative imagery in the case of explicit similes. But that’s demonstrably false.
In the case of the drying up of Nile we get a literal follow up of the consequences of such a disaster in the verse following Isaiah 19:5. As a result of this drying “The streams of Egypt will be diminished and dried up. The reeds and flags will wither away.” (Isaiah 19:6) The sown fields will be dry (Isaiah 19:7) and “the fishermen will lament” (Isaiah 19:8) because you can’t fish in dried up rivers.
The suggestion that the drying of the Nile is a figurative description for economic decay does not hold water. Since there is a literal description of economic decay (dried fields, extinct fishing industry etc) as a direct consequence of the drying river. There is nothing in the passage to points to the idea of a drying Nile being “poetic imagery.”
This objection is equally inept. For these picturesque details continue to depict the consequences in the same aqueous imagery. But, of course, if Isaiah was using figurative language, then it comes as no surprise if he systematically depicts the overall event in aqueous metaphors involving the presence or absence of water. That’s part of a coherent word-picture, where you use consistent picture-language in your figurative description. For instance, take Paul’s extended military metaphor in Eph 6:10-17.
If Isaiah uses the Nile as a symbolic metonymy for the Egyptian economy, then we’d expect him to employ the same type of imagery throughout.
His literal explanations fails as well. The passage was clearly referring to the disastrous effects of the drying of the river. A drying up of tributaries or irrigation canals would not have dried up all the streams and sown fields and caused fisherman to lament!
It would cause them to lament if their hot spots dried up.
As for a “temporary national disaster” I think Hays knows by now that non-evangelicals demand evidence before accepting any assertions or suggestions. Since Hays offer no historical evidence, we can safely reject his suggestion.
The onus lies on Tobin to show that Isaiah actually forecast a permanent drought.
8. As for Isaiah’s failed prediction of the Damascus ceasing to be a city forever (17:1-2) Hays invokes poetry once again (“homonymic trope”). He quotes yet another evangelical apologist who speculated that due to the use of some word play between “from being a city” (moir) and “a heap” (moa), the “message” Isaiah presents should not be taken literally. Instead of complete destruction, we are told that all the prophecy meant was that the city will be left without power and influence.
However, just because some poetic device is being used does not automatically mean that the literal meaning is to be abandoned.
But since the choice of the word “heap” is dictated by the exigencies of the pun, and since, moreover, that forms a parallel with the fate of the city, it would be awfully wooden to press the imagery beyond its playful scope.
For instance, we are told in Genesis 17:19 that God named Abraham’s and Sara’s son Isaac (Hebrew - Yitzchaq) because Abraham had earlier laughed (Hebrew - tzachaq) at the suggestion that his aged wife could become pregnant. Are we to conclude that the story is not to be taken literally because of the presence of this wordplay between Yitzchak and tzachak?
i) We’re to conclude that Isaac is not a literally belly laugh.
ii) Tobin also commits a level-confusion. The prophecy is literal in the sense that it has a real-world referent. Divine judgment will befall Damascus. But the terms of the fulfillment are figuratively expressed, through rhetorical word-play. Therefore, one must make allowance for the rhetorical device when we consider the way in which the oracle eventuates.
Indeed, regardless of the play with words, mainstream scholars understand this prediction literally. Commenting on verse 17:1-3, this is what Brevard Childs…
Quoting a “mainstream” scholar is not an argument. It’s just a cop-out. And it’s also counterproductive, for two can play that game. Every time he uses the argument from authority, I can parry with a counterargument from authority.
9. Next Hays turns to my pointing out that the prophecy of the fall of Tyre by Ezekiel (26:7-14) failed to materialized even by Ezekiel’s own admission (29:17-20). His answer is confused. On the one hand he claims that the prophecy was a conditional one and thus the fall could be averted if the prophet’s call was heeded. On the other hand, he seems to be claiming that Nebuchadnezzar’s siege “appears to have been a success, as Ezekiel had prophesied.” Somewhere in the middle between these two hands, Hays accuses me of “arguing from silence.” I am not sure what to make of this middle argument, since he does not elaborate what he means.
i) I explained exactly what I meant by his resort to the argument from silence
ii) There is nothing confusing about what I said. A prophecy can be fulfilled in either of two different ways, depending on how the condition is met:
a) If the threatened party relents under pressure (e.g. a siege), then he may avert the threatened consequences. And since the oracle of doom was implicitly conditional, that outcome is consistent with the terms of the oracle.
b) If the threatened party refuses to repent, and suffers the threatened consequences, then that outcome is also consistent with the terms of the oracle. For the terms of fulfillment are framed such that either of two different outcomes is consistent with bilateral nature of the conditional: If you do A, then B will result–but if you do C, then D will result.
Sorry if Tobin is too slow to keep up with the argument.
Let us look at his first defense, that the prophecy is a “conditional one.” of course, there are conditional prophecies – prophetic warnings as it were – in the Old Testament.  Is this particular prophecy in Ezekiel an example of this? The answer is clearly “no.” In Ezekiel 26, the tone is one of judgment and condemnation – there is no talk to conditions here.
I see that Tobin was too lazy to read the article by Pratt which I footnoted to document the conditional nature of most OT prophecy–even though Pratt’s article is only a mouse-click away.
For his second defense, Hays quotes another evangelical apologist who asserted that because Tyre eventually became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, the siege may be considered successful. Yet this misses my point. The prophecy in Ezekiel says that God will turn Tyre into a “bare rock” and ensuring that it will “never be rebuilt” (Ezekiel 27:14), not about a “successful siege.” In other words, the prophecy was that Tyre will be completely destroyed – this is not the equivalent of being a vassal state!
i) Of course, that’s just another illustration of Tobin’s ham-handed exegesis. He interprets OT imagery with all the finesse of a hillbilly preacher.
ii) And I quoted two different OT scholars, not one.
10. Next Hays tackles the failed prophecy of Ezekiel 29:8-12 where the prophet predicted that Egypt will be a place of desolation and waste, that it won’t be inhabited for forty years and that Egyptians will be scattered through various nations in a Diaspora.
Hays reply? Oh, it’s the prophet taking “poetic license” which involves “an element rhetorical exuberance”. In other words, one shouldn’t take this too literally.
This is, of course, standard modus operandi of evangelicals, when the clear sense of a passage reveals the Bible is wrong, mistaken or inaccurate - invoke poetry!
i) There’s no disputing the fact that OT prophets frequently express themselves in poetic terms. That goes with the genre.
ii) Also, Tobin’s comment is ignorant–as usual. I quoted an OT prof. from Fuller Seminary. Now anybody who knows anything about the history of Fuller Seminary would be aware of the fact that its faculty are not committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. Leslie Allen has no antecedent objection to impugning the accuracy of Scripture. Likewise, I previously quoted Goldingay in reference to Isa 17:1-2. But, once again, Goldingay doesn’t subscribe to the inerrancy of Scripture. He has no hesitation about imputing error to Scripture.
But Tobin is ever the victim of his self-reinforcing ignorance.
He has done this earlier of course, when Luke’s claim that the census was “worldwide” is pointed out to be mistaken, Hays says it’s “hyperbole!” (25)
And I provided a supporting argument–which Tobin ignores.
To show the baseless, ad hoc, nature of Hays’ apologetics, consider this passage from Deuteronomy 28:63b-68:
“Yahweh will rejoice over you to cause you to perish, and to destroy you; and you shall be plucked from off the land where you go in to possess it. Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, which you have not known, you nor your fathers, even wood and stone. Among these nations you shall find no ease, and there shall be no rest for the sole of your foot: but Yahweh will give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and pining of soul; and your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall fear night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, “I wish it were evening!” and at evening you shall say, “I wish it were morning!” for the fear of your heart which you shall fear, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see. Yahweh will bring you into Egypt again…”
In the passage of Deuteronomy, most evangelicals would have no problems seeing it as a direct literal prediction – and a successful one at that. It shows Moses prophesying that the Israelites will be scattered (as happened after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BCE [2 Kings 17] and Judah to the Babylonians in 586 BCE [2 Kings 25]) and that some Israelites will flee to Egypt (2 Kings 25:26). No evangelical has asked that we consider this particular prophecy to be taking some “poetic license.”
i) This passage contains some clearly poetic, hyperbolic language, so that undercuts his point.
ii) The back-to-back sanctions in Deut 27-28 are textbook examples of conditional prophecy. If you do X, you will be blessed–but if you do Y, you will be cursed. So that directly undercuts his point as well.
This passage is similar in form to that of Deuteronomy 28:64-68 we see above. So why is this passage in Ezekiel not taken as a literal prophecy like the one in Deuteronomy? Why is it Ezekiel and not Moses is the one who is taking “poetic license” which involves “an element rhetorical exuberance”? The answer is simple, Hays and his evangelical apologists have no choice but to assert without evidence that Ezekiel 29 is “rhetorically exuberant” because the prophecy failed.
This conclusion piggybacks on the false premise I just exposed. Better luck next time!
11. Another failed prediction of Ezekiel is that Nebuchadnezzar with conquer Egypt (29:19-20). Hays accused me of utilizing “an argument from silence” and of “selective skepticism” – in what context, I am not clear.
i) His selective scepticism is evident from the fact that he has no independent basis for asserting the failure of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Do other ancient sources say this did not happen, or do they not say this did happen? Those are hardly equivalent propositions.
ii) And even if he had putative counterevidence, he would merely be comparing biblical testimonial evidence with extrabiblical testimonial evidence. But even if he denies the inspiration of Scripture, a conflict between two ancient historical sources does not point in any particular direction. That doesn’t tell you which is right and which is wrong.
iii) And it’s not as if ancient, extrabiblical sources operate by the canons of methodological naturalism. Ancient extrabiblical historians are just as “biased” and “superstitious” (from a secular standpoint) as Biblical historians.
iv) For that matter, Tobin rarely quotes primary sources. At best, he usually treats us to quotations from one of his favorite liberal critics. But that doesn’t give us an opportunity to directly compare the Biblical record with other ancient records which allegedly contradict the Biblical record.
Tobin keeps making these dogmatic pronouncements about what really happened, as if he was there–digital camera in hand. His confidence is out of all proportion to what he could actually know.
I do not think any measure of “poetic license” can interpret being given the land of Egypt and to carry off her multitude into exile to merely attacking it.
i) Why not? If, as I already documented, OT prophets use cosmic language to depict merely national judgments, then why is that a stretch?
ii) Beyond prophetic conventions, it would also behoove Tobin to bone up on the literary conventions of ANE conquest accounts. Cf. K. L. Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (Sheffield 1990). Hyperbole was a standard feature of this genre.
iii) Moreover, Tobin is also assuming that Ezekiel’s oracles of judgment can only be realized within a narrow time frame. But as Gleason Archer points out, the actually wording allows for multistage fulfillment. What one conqueror begins, another can finish. Indeed, a country can be gradually subjugated by a series of hostile powers. Cf. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan 1982), 276-78.
12. Hays then moves on to the failed prophesy of Jeremiah. I had noted that Jeremiah 36:30 prophesied that Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, shall have no successor. Yet 2 Kings 24:6 says he was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin.
Calling my statement “deceptive”, Hays then quotes an evangelical apologist which states that “Jehoiachin’s succession was not a valid one but only a token one”! Why was it not valid? “[B]ecause he was immediately besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, surrendered in three months, and then went into exile.”
The only sense I can make of this apologetic is that Hays is claiming that the reign of Jehoiachin was too short (3 months) to be valid. Since when did length of reign become a retroactive judgment on whether the investiture of the monarch is valid? It doesn’t.
The fact that he was deposed clearly signals the illegitimacy of his reign, from the viewpoint of the royal historian. Tobin needs to bone up on the poetics of narrativity.